Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Mikhailovsky Theatre

Through a fantastic fortuitous set of circumstances, I finally got to see my second ballet in Petersburg this weekend - and my first at the Mikhailovsky Theatre. The location is fabulous, only 2 blocks from the Gostiny Dvor metro or in good weather (and not in cute shoes) a 1/2 hour walk from home. The theatre is smaller than Mariinsky - which isn't exactly bolshoi either compared to USA venues - so it feels much more intimate. The performance was fantastic. The tickets were way cheaper. Maybe a true connoisseur would detect flaws that would render Mariinsky the preferred venue but I am not that good. I am thrilled that I'm going back to see the Nutcracker there next week!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Thanksgiving

(this is a little late)
I am thankful for so many things. For the Consulate employee who, rather than try to explain how to get to the place that could fix our busted stroller tire, decided he'd just get it fixed for me. For the same man who decided that, rather than do it over Thanksgiving and get it back to me on Friday, he'd get it done Wednesday. For the other Consulate employee who brought the tire home with him so it wouldn't be locked up in the Consulate over the holiday and then brought it to me Thursday morning so that, when Zoltan decided he didn't like his crib for morning nap, his babysitter could take him for the walk in the stroller that just about guarantees sleep. For being able to have a babysitter, who first got Alex to school so I could work on the apple pies I needed to make for Thanksgiving, then helped me with the pie preparations when everything was falling apart and Zoltan wasn't sleeping but we didn't have the tire yet, then ran out with Zoltan to walk him to sleep once we had the tire in our possession.
People are - in general - kind, generous and thoughtful. I'm thankful that I get to experience these gifts on a regular basis.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Pinkalicious

This morning Alex started to "read" (recite) Pinkalicious to the nanny. She has to ask me to explain the first page - "What does it mean, too much rain to go outside?"

No such thing in Petersburg.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Galleria

A second mall has just opened up in my neighborhood. It doesn't open til 10am - including the grocery store - but when I was finally able to get into the place I was thrilled. It's an Okey Express, but had 90% of the items on my list. I didn't get to check out the mall but it has a baby room with changing facilities on every floor, an underground parking lot that advertises how many open spaces it has, and either already or coming soon is bowling & billiards (pool). The best part? From the moment I got into the mall (and the store opened late so there was additional time before I could actually begin shopping) to the moment I walking into my building bursting with groceries was one hour.

Monday, November 22, 2010

My very Russian Sunday afternoon

     Weekends are always tricky with the kids' afternoon naps. Alex wakes Zoltan when she goes back there because he's so sensitive; Zoltan wakes Alex when he goes down because of the screaming. Sunday we put Zoltan down first, then 30 minutes later brought Alex in to her room. Scream, scream, the baby's awake.

     Terry took the hit on Saturday so Sunday was my turn to go walk him in the stroller for however long he was willing to sleep. I took him to Mikhailovsky Gardens. He fell asleep, and after about 10 more minutes I sat down on a bench where someone must have sat recently - the snow had been wiped off. I opened my thermos of hot tea and sat there drinking and reading my book while Zoltan slept in the stroller next to the bench.** 15 minutes passed. It began to snow. The tea was long gone. 15 more minutes passed. I couldn't feel my fingers. It began to snow harder. Zoltan was swatting at snowflakes in his sleep so I pulled out his rain cover to protect him, and decided he'd napped long enough and it was time to go home.

** This sentence is the quintessential Russian part, except that I wasn't wearing stiletto boots and an adorable but largely useless hat.

Stockmann's

The new Stocksmann's store on Nevsky opened this week and I am already in love. Yesterday when Zoltan refused to be happy and Alex was napping I sent Terry out to check the place out and get Z out of the house (he's happier out and about, just like his big sis). Terry came home with tons of exciting news, the Stockmann's grocery store is just like Lend (the gourmet store that has all the stuff nobody else has like American brand cereals and maple syrup) but waayyy closer. They also have Lindex, our new favorite children clothing store that has ridiculously affordable clothes, Baskin Robbins in the food court, H&M, and I don't even remember what else. It's a whole 10 minutes walk from our house!
 
With Zoltan walking as of 3 days ago, I was able to run over to H&M and buy him some boots so he can play outside. Even with broken elevators and massive crowd of people the whole door to door transaction was 45 minutes and no car time.

The extra super awesome part is they have the big slow cooker 220W so we don't have to run it through the transformer. We've become big slow cooker fans especially now that I am working, we also use it for making stock after our friend's information that she just puts all the stuff in the slow cooker and lets it go for a couple of days. So now we don't have to schedule stock making. In fact, at one point over the weekend we had stock in one cooker and apple sauce being made in the other. Yum!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Halloween at the Preschool

Of 12 preschoolers, only 2 have 2 American-born parents. One kid was only 18 months old - and in Russia - last Halloween. Alex, however, participated in the traditional Halloween trick or treat in mom's neighborhood and was old enough to remember it. As it turns out.

The decision was made that "because the kids don't know any better" the treat bags would be filled with healthy food. They got raisins, Fig Newtons, peanut butter crackers, and fruit jellies.  The kids didn't actually trick or treat for them because the larger space we were supposed to have for their Halloween party got double booked and we were ousted. The regular classroom doesn't have enough room to move around that much so a group of parents quickly filled the bags with all the stuff and handed the ready-made bags to the kids. As there were plenty of treats at the party, the kids didn't really even look at their bags til it was time to go home.

When we got home, Alex eagerly asked for her treat bag. The crestfallen look on her face made me wish I had substituted at least 1 or 2 pieces of candy for the stuff in her bag.

He's walking

Last weekend Zoltan took an unaided step toward me - twice in a row. But there were no spectators even though it was the weekend and Terry was home. Today, he did the same for Terry!  Then later in the evening he stood for almost a whole minute, then took two steps forward before sitting down - right in front of both of us and while we were on the phone with a grandparent. I think the days before he's officially a walking are probably single digits!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Party Bus

The 30 seater party bus comes with a stripper pole in the back. The 15 seater has leather couches in a semi circle around the stripper pole. It's cheaper to rent the bus, in either case, with the stripper because there's a fewer hour minimum for rental.

At this point you're asking for the punchline. But instead, here are some photos (to come). And the backstory....

We were going on a tour of the Baltika Brewery. Russia has a no-tolerance policy on drunk driving, and the public transit option takes 90 minutes from door to door, if all goes well. In researching how to get us to and from the brewery, our friend discovered the Party Bus. Here's the third party synopsis of his conversation with the bus rental people.

Friend: I'd like the bus without stripper. We don't need it for 4 hours though, can you get a better rate?
Company Rep: Well, if you rent the bus with the stripper, there's only a 2 hour minimum for rental so it's cheaper.
F: I don't want the stripper.
CR: But it's cheaper... How about you rent the bus with stripper, but we don't send the stripper along.
F: No, I don't want to risk the stripper accidentally showing up.
CR: But it's cheaper!
F: NO STRIPPER.

In the end, he got the "stripper" rate without the presence of the stripper. A good thing, because everyone's first comment upon entering the bus was "Where's the 'tansey pole'"?

More rules and regulations of the Party Bus include no opening alcoholic beverages while on the bus (you have to open the bottles outside, then get back on the bus to drink); no standing on top of the bus; no throwing things from the bus ... you get the picture.

This experience totally deserves its own posting, but the Baltika Brewery tour itself deserves its own shout out, which is forthcoming. As are the photos.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Marchelli's

Friends of ours have a standing date night every week. I am both impressed and amazed. I try to keep in mind they only have one child but still .... for months I have been promising myself that Terry and I will go out more. We finally picked a night and decided to make this a routine event - not every week, but at least every other.

We knew the sitter was coming in a few hours, and we had no idea where to go. Terry makes a strange request - Italian food (we never go out for Italian), and further surprise - it sounded good to me. There's a place just down Vossitanya a few blocks so we decide to try it out. It's next door to a new Czech brewpub looking place so that was our backup.

First, the drinks. I had a glass of the midrange Montepulciano. It was very mediocre. Drinkable, but it had me wondering what the house wine was like. Terry got the home brew, which turned out to be almost a wheat beer. I really liked it and offered to trade but he liked the wine even less.

Starters: I had the Caesar salad with warm chicken (there was no plain Caesar options) and Terry had vegetables with Feta. Turns out he was the big winner on that course. My salad was oozing with too much dressing and the dressing had way too much anchovy in it. It was fine, to be honest, but nothing to love. The pesto drizzled over the chicken was nice but the chicken itself was tasteless, which was strange given that it was so moist. Terry's salad was so fresh and refreshing. The dressing was light and just the right amount, it was basically a Greek salad with really good ingredients. Yum!

Main: I wasn't too hungry so I got the smoked tomato soup. Delicious! We tried to figure out how it got the smoky taste which was strong but more in the finish than the first taste. I have to imagine they smoked tomatoes then cooked and pureed them into soup. Terry got a spaghetti with spicy tomato sauce and salami. I didn't taste but he wasn't impressed.

Dessert: T stayed simple with ice cream and cappuccino. Turns out he's definitely the overall winner for tonight. I figured the desserts are all outsourced so there's a decent chance the apple strudel is tasty. Wrong! The pastry was heavy and soft and the fruit tasted lemony. It did come with cinnamon ice cream, which was tasty. In a city where a cheap blini takeout place serves loose leaf tea, I don't know what higher end places see in Althaus brand. The jasmine tea was worse than the stuff I got $3 for 100 bags in Chinatown.

Final verdict: If we actually want to go out for Italian food, we'll definitely be back. The standout dishes were good enough to warrant trying other dishes to find a full winner meal for each of us, and the location can't be beat.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Gotta love the Jews

My kids have waayyyy too many toys. It's ridiculous. We hide half of them and rotate every month or two because all at once they are overwhelming. So, because Hanukkah is 8 days of giftgiving madness, I asked my mom to substitute some of the toys with donations in the kids' names. She said fine, but she wanted Jewish charities. Fair enough.

In the spirit of getting the shopping done early, mom made the donations last month. We received in our Thursday mail run the nice notifications that a donation had been made in the names of our kids. The envelope also included .... drumroll please ....
Thank you notes and envelopes for A & Z to send back to mom to thank her for making the donations.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Photos of Tsarskoye Selo

Sorry for the delay.  I have been fighting  a cold so I am going to bed earlier then usual.  This has slowed down the editing process.  Anyway here are that photos from Tsarskoye Selo.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Hurricanes are in Town

On Monday the Carolina Hurricanes were in town to play the St Petersburg SKA in an exhibition game. Lynne tried to put together an outing to game for the consulate. Unfortunately by the time we went to purchase the tickets there were only 7 seats left and none of them together. The CG was able to get some tickets from the NHL people on the ground. So, a bunch of Consulate people went to the game in the end. I would like to thank the NHL for helping us out with the tickets. All in all the game was really fun. The Ska ended up winning 5-3. It was interesting watching the Hurricanes play on the larger ice and with international rules. Also North American hockey is just tougher. Most of the hitting and all the fights were won by the Hurricanes.

One strange thing about the arena is that you cannot drink in the stands. During intermission everyone piles out to the concourse to get drinks and food. Then quickly drinks and heads back to the stands. It is very odd that you can drink almost everywhere in the city but not in the hockey arena’s stands. Last observations is that during the lineup announcement all the Hurricane players came out and perfectly lined up along the blue in nice orderly fashion. While the Ska players came out some lined on the blue line some skated around behind the blue line. They were very laissez faire about the whole thing. After being here for so long it reminded me a lot of Russian society. It is orderly but only so orderly.

Weekend Excursions

Heather and Diana are in town to enjoy the sights of St Petersburg. They have been going gangbusters to see as much as possible. On Saturday Lynne and I went with them to Tarskoye Selo. Of course we went in Catherine’s Palace and saw the Amber room. Pictures will follow as soon as I get a little down time. The key word the grounds and the palace is Ostentatious. My god, talk about over the top. The grounds are lovely but still a bit showy for my taste.

On Sunday Heather, Diana and I went to Peterhof. Again photos will follow in the near future. Very similar in style to most of the major St Petersburg palaces. The bonus on this palace is we happened to get lucky and follow an English tour guide around the palace. My Russian translation of the signs was a bit lacking. The overall best part was time of year. It was early enough that the fountains were still running, but with winter fast approaching the trees were starting to turn colors. It really was lovely with the changing colors. Hopefully soon enough there will be photos up.

one more reason i love Russia

The other night we went to a hockey game, it was approx. 10 km away from our house. I had to go late and meet everyone there, and I had planned to drive. As I was leaving the house Terry called to say traffic was awful and parking was sparse so I may want to take the metro. @#$%$%

The closest metro is a 10 minute walk away. I had no tokens so I had to wait in a rush hour type line for a token (the machine was broken). There was a huge backlog of people getting onto the escalator. BUT ...

the reason the line was so long getting onto the escalator was that everyone who was only standing (not walking) down stayed on the right side. Mind you, Petersburg has the deepest subway in the world so these escalators go a long, long way down. Seriously, NOT ONE PERSON was standing on the left side. I walked down the entire way. Take that, D.C. You suck!

With the walk, the line to get the token, and having to change trains to a different line, it was 40 minutes from my door to walking through security at the arena. I am so in love with Petersburg!

Monday, October 4, 2010

hockey

 
Carolina Hurricanes playing the Petersburg SKA tonight. Fun game. Two
players got a time out for 'fisticuffs.' that word is not used often
enough by far.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Visitors

The end of our hosting season ends with my sister in law and a family friend who brilliantly ditched the husbands and kids and came to see us and Petersburg. The excitement of arrival was marred by the absence of one of their bags :( and although it arrived to the country the next day, we didn't get our hands on it until the day after. That's a long time to wear the same outfit!

These ladies don't seem to need much in the way of food or sleep, they are an inspiration to a newer mother like me. In 3 days they have seen Catherine's Palace, Peterhof, the Hermitage, Church on Spilled Blood, St. Isaac's Cathedral, a folkshow and ballet at Mariinsky. They have metro'd, bussed, cabbed, Hydrofoiled, and ridden in our car. And of course walked.

Terry or I joined them for most of these excursions. Photos will be put up when they are ready, but trust me, the fall colors are fabulous and touristing is so much nicer with fewer people and no oppressive heat.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Old Town

The next day it was time to check out Old Town! We parked right by Viru Gate, and as we walked in Alex kept stopping to look at the various arrangements at the row of florists. I eventually had to promise her that we'd get flowers on our way home but we couldn't carry them with us all day. She then moved on to window shopping. My girl is all girl. Isn't she adorable in her skirt and tights?

Our guide book had a suggested route to take, including detours to check out the view from various ramparts. I won't bore you with the details, you can see the pretty photos we took here. It was a perfect day, a bit cool and not too sunny. We ate outside and Zoltan made friends at a neighboring table. We took note of all the embassies we saw along the way - many countries seem to have located their embassies right in the center of old city and we were pretty envious of some of the locations. Some of the buildings were beautiful, some had historical significance. I took some photos of interesting architecture. Unfortunately, one of the buildings I liked was the Russian embassy. Oops! It didn't seem to hinder our ability to leave the country when it was time, so I guess they weren't TOO bothered by it.

We generally like to get non-souvenir-ish souvenirs when we travel, so we ended up wandering around looking for something that struck our fancy. In the end, Alex, Zoltan and I got hats (really warm, handmade wool hats. Yeah you can get them in Russia but 1. not as cute and 2. not fleece lined so they aren't scratchy. Brilliant addition)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The tide turns

This is where we start to have fun :-)

When we got to the museum, we discovered it was Potato and Bread day, with exhibits and displays about different varieties of potatoes, breadmaking, fresh butter, and more. Further, there is some kind of organic festival too and lots of produce and goods available. Yummies!!!!

The place is really well done, and huge. It kicked the rear end of the one in Helsinki, in our communal opinions. Alex and I went on a horse-buggy ride around the museum and I realized that after almost two hours there we'd only traveled maybe 10-20% of the place, and that was without going in to most of the exhibits. There was an accordion and violin duet that totally got Alex's toes tapping. An excerpt is below. We swung on the 8 person village swing. Alex danced to the band playing at a different location. She played on a wooden horse, a wooden cow, and wooden riding toys (they kinda looked like sheep). We ate yummy treats. Zoltan napped in the stroller. When the weather turned and rain started sprinkling, we decided to cut and run. Alex, as should be obvious, missed her nap. As we drove back to the house around 5pm local time, we realized it was eerily quiet in the back seat. Yep, both kids asleep. And the camera in the trunk :(

Comedy of Errors, without the comedy, Part II

The next morning we were awakened, as usual, by the sound of a crying baby. Checking my telephone clock, I saw it was 5:30am – the time Zoltan had been waking all week. He's in a new place, he's getting my cold, I'll just get him up and we'll have an early nap. All sounds fine except for one thing that hadn't completely registered in my mind – it was 4:30am local time.

I nursed Zoltan, made tea for my poor sore throat, thanked my wisdom in going to bed what seemed so ridiculously early the night before. We played a while and were eventually joined by Terry. I started talking about possible plans for the day and he tells me I may need to take the kids somewhere on my own and drop him off at the hospital, because …

he'd been having chest pains since the afternoon before

So I fed Zoltan while Terry got on the computer and started researching heart attacks. We started gathering the diaper bag essentials, setting the nearest hospital into the Garmin, and going back and forth between freaking out and reassuring ourselves that it didn't have enough of the warning signs to be a heart attack, but it could be something slower but equally as dangerous.

In the end, we waited for Alex to wake up and Zoltan to take a nap then comparatively calmly got into the car and drove into town.

Guess what? There's a marathon in Tallinn today and half the roads are closed, other roads are merely blocked off. Between the map, Garmin, and Terry's internal guiding system, we make it to the hospital. We can't figure out where to go or even if we parked in a legal spot, so I insist that we just need the diaper bag and kids, nothing else, as I could go back to the car. We finally make our way to the emergency room where Terry stands in line while I seat the kids and pull out snack traps in the waiting area. Next thing I know Terry's heading back somewhere and we're not allowed to go with him. Pretty much what we expected. We settle in.

Then I realize I hadn't brought my car keys and Terry hadn't given them to me before he disappeared. I had 2 toys, few snacks, no drinks and no change for the vending machine. We hadn't even gotten the stroller out of the car. Sugar booger.

Between playing in the grassy area outside and eating snacks, plus the water cooler the nurse was able to point us to in a pretty open area – it was Sunday morning around 9am so the place was pretty dead – I managed to keep the kids happy for over an hour. Finally I had to ask a nurse to either let me back there or get Terry to us because I needed the car keys. She went and fetched them for me, and we went to get the stroller out of the car to take a walk. I went back into the hospital to try to use the bathroom (all locked!) and ran into Terry checking out. Everything checked out, but the doctor didn't give any instructions for follow up, nor did he mention what was causing Terry's pains. We decide to toss Tartu off the itinerary and get back to Russia where we can consult with the RMO and decide what, if any, next steps were needed. Given the doctor's apparent unconcern, though, we decide to stay in Tallinn for the planned duration.

So, homeward bound for lunch and to figure what to do next. Tallinn had been so empty we thought today may be a good day to go to the old city, on the other hand the traffic re-routing was challenging enough maybe going to the open air museum would be a better bet. We settle on going back to Tallinn … get thoroughly confused with the detours … and head on to the open air museum.

The rest of the day

After a quick stop at the just-over-the-border McDonald's – why do we seem to eat there more often when traveling in foreign lands than we ever do at home? - we were back on the road. We weren't sure what troubles we'd have getting back over the border into Russia, nor what problems we could have going between Estonia and Lativa. We decide to toss Riga off the itinerary.

About an hour before we got to the apartment we rented, we learned a valuable lesson. Zoltan's tolerance for car rides is just about 6 hours. Unfortunately, we were 7 hours door to door. The last hour was pretty screamy. Not a big deal on a normal day, but today it was extra-super rough.

The apartment was outside the center area, close to the water. It had 3 bedrooms and a living room upstairs, kitchen and bathroom downstairs. Good enough for us, much better than a hotel! There was an apple tree right outside the doorway so we started a tradition of picking Alex up to choose an apple she wanted to eat. They were really, really tart. Not Granny Smiths but definitely as tart. She loved them.

The events of the day coupled with our early cold-inspired awakening meant that everyone was in bed by 9pm local time. Being away for such a short trip and only one hour's difference meant most conversations about time involved the question “local or home”? Kids don't tell time so they were still living on Russia time – up early, bed early.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Comedy of errors, minus the comedy. Part I

The holiday began uneventfully enough. Left the house "early morning" Petersburg time (right about 9am), decided to trust Garmin and although the route was pretty slow, it was all within the time it had calculated for the trip so we weren't delayed. Not too many problems on the road, Zoltan fell asleep and Alex was surprisingly entertained for us not giving her TV to watch.

We got to the border around 11am. Given that the line was a mere 3 cars, we decided not to try to flaunt the red plates and snake ahead. Our turn arrives, we go to the window and present our passports. The lady says something about a "green card" and we understood that was what the Estonian car insurance document was called, so we handed that to her as well as our Russian car insurance documents. After some bad English (them) and very bad Russian (us) we figured they were asking for our Russian car registration document, which is a laminated green card.

Well, the very day before we had been told by someone at the Consulate not to leave that card in the car but instead to leave it in the apartment, in a safe if we have one. So, Terry had brought the card into the house after work. Fewer than 24 hours before this moment, the card sat securely in our glove box. The Russians first try to figure out why we didn't have it. They tell us to go back to our car and wait there. We hand the kids snacks and discuss our options (go home and try again tomorrow. Go home and try again later today. Go home, period) They eventually call us back to tell us to move the car out of the way and they would call to the Estonians and see if they were willing to let us into the country without the Registration. At this point the kids were getting pretty grumpy, so we hauled out the Archos for Alex and got her watching Mickey Mouse, and I nursed Zoltan. Not too much later, they asked for Terry again so he went back to see what the answer would be. The woman gave him our passports and told him to go ahead. By this we assumed she meant the Estonians had OK'd the situation. Ha.

We drive across to the Estonian side of the border and the rigamarole starts again. The official asks for our documents. We hand him our passports. He asks for the insurance documents. We realize they were still sitting in the booth on the Russian side. So, the Estonians let us do a U-turn out and cross the border again. At this point we're pretty happy to have red plates, as we get to jump the line. The line wasn't so long in either direction, but go around a few times and every delay adds up. At this point we're debating just going home but we have to get our insurance documents anyway, as the Russian docs were sitting with the Estonian ones. When we get to the Russian side, on the other side of the fence from where we had been, the woman who greeted us was very confused as to what we wanted. Terry's Russian was up to the task, but just barely. She told us to stay in the car and we saw her going over to the other side. Not too long afterwards, she returned with a folder we recognized in her hands. Our documents!

One more U-turn and one more short drive across the border. We hand the Estonians the passports and insurance docs again. They ask for registration. Sigh.

More waiting as officials decide what to do with us. One official comes up and copies down our VIN number. Eventually they seem to decide the car really, most likely, is ours and they say it's OK to go into their country. Yay!!! It wasn't the several hours at the border that others have encountered, but it was close to 2 when all was said and done.

Here I take a quick digression. The importance of the Registration card is to prove the car is indeed ours, meaning it wasn't stolen. Many stolen cars make their way in or out of Russian and it's a lucrative black market. BUT …. here's the thing … our car is a 1994 medium blue Corolla. Seriously, WTF?? Who would bother to steal the damn thing and who would buy it anyway? We're expecting to drive it til it dies then be required to pay someone to take it away from us. Seriously.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Comedy of Errors, without the comedy, prelude

We were excited to take a trip to the Baltics. Our original plan involved hitting all 3 capitals: Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius. When we got out guide book and started mapping out a planned route, we realized it would take at least 2 weeks to make the trip without excruciatingly long days in the car. Schedules, timing, those silly Jewish High Holidays meant we had just about 10 days to accomplish the trip. Vilnius fell off pretty quickly. An evaluation of our children's temperaments caused all the one-night stopovers in smaller towns to fall off as well. In the end we were going to spend 4 nights in Tallinn, 3 nights in Riga and 2 nights in Tartu. We found apartments to rent in each city, as hotel rooms are more challenging with our kids than the kind who nap easily and deeply (I have heard of these kids and have even seen one or two, but have difficulty believing they truly exist). We had fabulous visions of days leisurely wandering around pretty cities, seeing the outdoor sights and stopping at cafes for snacks and lunch, then evenings quietly at “home” while the children slept peacefully.

Ha! Read on for our adventures …..

Friday, September 10, 2010

working woman!

After a too short lived flurry, I've basically retreated into my hole again. Not that there aren't things to report about, but I have less than no time. The main event is that I'm working at the Consulate in the same position I held in Malta - CLO - but also preschool has begun with its joys and headaches, and finally the International Women's Club, of which I am co-president this year.

We're off for a short driving holiday tomorrow assuming Terry can get our travel requirements in order, which means we should have some time to at least comment on the things we're seeing and doing while away from home.

Happy Fall everyone and L'shana Tova for those who celebrate.

Friday, August 6, 2010

unfriendly city

In the store today I dropped my diplomatic ID card on the ground when I searched my pocket for correct change. A lady actually came running outside after me to return it to me. Who says the city is an unfriendly place??

milk

The refrigeration in Spb stores isn't very good. In the last 3 weeks I have had to throw away 5 bottles of milk because they went sour before their due dates, several were sour in the store as I tried them immediately upon arrival home. I had gone to different stores and even had different brands of milk.

I think long life milk is going onto the next grocery list.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Learning the language

Before we came to Russia, we got an intensive 8 week course in the language. This was followed by our 4 week home leave, in which we practiced nothing and forgot everything. With many fits and starts, several months after our arrival we finally started the post language program, which permits 2h/week of language instruction.

Suffice to say, we're treading water and no more.

Since the economic crisis of 2008, the restaurants are barely ever full. Reservations are rarely needed. In our time here, I have now made reservations 3 times. The first 2 times were in English, speaking with a person whose English seemed pretty good. Both times, there was no reservation when I got to the restaurant at the appointed date and time (happily, it was never a problem as mentioned previously - even the night there were 8 of us). The third time I decided to try it in Russian. I was able to convey everything the person asked!!! And, better yet, they had the reservation when we showed up! Hmmmmm.

Divo Ostrov

When my dad visited earlier this month, we took the opportunity to go try out the local amusement park - Divo Ostrov. Located on Krestovsky Ostrov (ostrov = island) it is a mix between a local fair and Disney. We went during the week, which partly explained the absence of people; the oppressive heat may have also played a part - smarter folks were probably flocking to the water park.

You can either pay per ride or get a day's pass. We opted for the pay-per-ride but will give it a good think next time. There were plenty of rides Alex was big enough to go on, and some required adult accompaniment and some didn't; some charged for the adult accompaniment and some didn't. There was also a decent couple of sets of playground equipment, one for the preschooler and one for older kids - free of charge. In addition to the kiddie rides, there were plenty of adult ones with roller coaster and bungee jumping things I would never set foot on, as well as an arcade, a roller-skate rental, a Segue rental, plenty of tchotchkes to buy, some fair-type games, and several cafes. Given my bulk of experience in the USA with these types of parks, I was amazed at the tastiness and the reasonable prices at the cafe. I shouldn't have been, of course, as Spb is one of the better food cities I have lived in (or, for that matter, visited).

No funnel cake though :(

Friday, July 30, 2010

chuckle

This would have been funny if it had happened to anyone other than me (OK, fine, it did happen to me and I was laughing quietly to myself about 10 minutes later). Alex's behavior has been appalling for the last few weeks (long story, not relevant). So today she was in the stroller and told me she was hungry. I gave her 1/2 of her PB&J sandwich. She ate some, then proceeded to rub the rest of it all over her hair! Needless to say, even if it weren't a bath night already, it would be.

Monday, July 26, 2010

more details

Terry is, thankfully, back in Spb. His one week of training in Budapest became about 4 days then an almost-no-notice trip back to the USA for his grandmother's unexpected death/funeral. As fabulous Vonage gives me free calls to Hungary, I was the conduit between his family and him to figure out details and arrangements.

This one will probably get a bit whiny as it was an almost intolerable 10 days without Terry. First, he left the same day my father did, so we'd had no real opportunity to manage household things in the week beforehand. Second, Petersburg had a record heat wave that began right around the time my dad hit town. Being "record" means that it was way hotter than it had EVER been at least for such an extended period. So, the fact nobody had a/c made sense, but didn't make it tolerable. The kids couldn't sleep well and were cranky. Zoltan decided to go on a bottle strike, I wasn't making enough milk for him, so he got almost dangerously dehydrated. This did nothing good for his mood and really he spent most of the days screaming. Alex was further miserable because she really noticed Terry's absence and punished me (as the only one around) because she missed him and he wasn't here. It was almost comical when she demanded Grammy read her the books when we video chatted, and when Terry started to read the 4th book she said she wanted someone else to read it. I was so grateful when she decided to forgive him upon the moment of seeing him, rather than spend days being miffed. I even had help most days for at least a half day - but the kids were so miserable I think I would have needed 3 people all day to manage.

Oh, and Zoltan cut tooth #6 during this time too.

Next update will be about fun stuff we did when my dad visited

Saturday, July 17, 2010

overview update

In the last month:
- Alex finished preschool until September
- Zoltan started crawling like a fiend and cut 4 teeth
- I got a job offer at the consulate (haven't started yet)
- My father visited for a week
- Terry left for a week of training the same day my father left
- Petersburg got record high temperatures. It is worth noting almost nobody here has air con, including us. Hot children are miserable. Hot babies are worse

I have lots to write about between the places we went with my dad and lessons learned on the travel front (from previous post). They will have to wait until Terry's return.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

welcome home

After three too-short weeks back in the USA, during which we saw my "little" nephew get Bar Mitzvah'd and got three whole days at the cabin, we are back home. One thing I say more emphatically every time we travel - it sucks with little kids. Just sucky-suck sucks. Alex is the new superstar, thanks to the Dramamine that I administer unapologetically - this was the first long haul she did not get sick after, due to getting some shut-eye for once. Zoltan, however, brings us back to hellish reality. The upshot is - no more long hauls until Congress makes us return to the USA in a year.

So we return to our home and ... wait for it .... burst pipes, puddle-y bathrooms, 3 inches of water in the basement and the musty smell of mold. AND the next day, when we really wanted to open all the windows are air things out, we had to have our windows closed all day because of cleaning the outside of the building. At least it isn't our problem to fix, GSO came on Tuesday, found and fixed the leak (an upstairs neighbor's apartment got some demo for that) and put stand fans in our bathroom to try to dry it out so they can seal the wall back up. We're still showering in the guest bathroom because there's a home in the wall in ours, and the back of the apartment is still a bit musty, but all in all I can't really complain. And it is wonderful that Terry didn't have to be the one scouting through the wall looking for leaks and cutting and fitting new pipe.

It took a good week to recover but assuming good weather our adventures will resume this weekend. And now that Terry's helped me set up so I can email my posts, there will be more blog activity. It's sad how many thing we've done this spring that didn't get recorded and now nothing but the fact that the experience happened is in our memories, but such is life.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Tavrichesky Park is Open!!

Tavrichesky Park is where Alex and I spent most of our waking hours last summer. It closes for a month or two in spring when things get really muddy and sloppy, and re-opens around May 1. This weekend the weather has been beautiful (in between the rainstorms, which occurred 3 separate times yesterday, interspersed with hot bright sunshine)

Yelagin Island

We went to Yelagin for the first but far from last time with some friends last weekend. What a treat! It is a car-free park, full of trees and grassy areas and a petting zoo, cafes and fresh air. Alex loved picking weeds to feed the sheep and next time we'll remember to bring bread for the birds. We even ran into some new friends who live a few blocks away ... and we're totally envious of such a great location (although of course we also like being walking distance to downtown Piter, so I guess you win some, lose some).

Here's the wiki entry, which does not do justice to the experience.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Russian Medicine

When you mention "mastitis" to a woman who has ever breastfed, it's like talking to a man about someone getting kicked in the groin - to a one, the women cross their arms over their chest and wince. And for good reason.

I of course had to get to the bad part at night, and the night before a holiday at that. I managed the night and in the morning went about finding a doctor as I knew I needed antibiotics. It was comical when the Russian doc tried to communicate with me before the English speaking nurse came in. When he finally decided to agree with me that yes it's mastitis he "prescribed" in addition to the antibiotic the following practice: soak a cloth in vodka, completely cover the affected breast with it, cover that with plastic and wrap it all up in a scarf. Leave it on for 30 minutes 2x a day. They even did a treatment on me before I left the clinic. The 'net only talked about alternating cold and warm compresses .... but you know, there's a million uses for vodka!

Our babysitter also suggested leeches. I planned to be entertained by that suggestion too but then Terry told me there is a resurgence in the medical use of leeches.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Only in Russia

I drove to get Alex from preschool the other day to see how bad it is. Took longer to drive than it normally does to walk, not a big surprise. The big surprise was on my return, a car was stopped in the middle of the road so we were routed onto the sidewalk for about 1/2 block til we got to the corner. It was actually a part of the sidewalk with a really steep curb so I wasn't sure our little Corolla would make it, but it did.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

I've gone native

We've had a heat wave in Piter - it's been in the 20s Fahrenheit. We were going over to a friend's house, driving. We'd go from our front door to the car, which was parked right outside, and we'd park at our friends' lot right at their building. Maybe 2 minutes outside at each end for the kids. I asked Terry if he thought we needed to put Alex in her full snowsuit. He looked at me incredulously, then asked if I were in Mass. would I have put her in a snowsuit. I thought he meant when I was growing up so I said of course not, then do we want her to wear a jacket that goes with a snowsuit or her jacket that's just a jacket. He got very confused because he'd meant he thought there was no way I'd leave Alex without a snowsuit if it were that temp when we were home 2 months ago.
20 Fahrenheit is mild weather. I usually have my coat open at that temp (hat only because I don't have only-ear warmers anymore). I wonder how summer's going to hit me?

Sunday, January 31, 2010

They know their smetana

The Russian word for sour cream is CMETAHA (pron. smetana). The different varieties can take up a whole shelf in the little produkty. CMETAHA comes in different cream percents, we generally get either 15% or 20% but there are varieties with as little as 5% and one time I accidentally bought the 42%. We ended up mixing that one with 15% to make it more palatable.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Imperial Porcelain Factory tour

The Consulate organized a tour of the Russian Imperial Porcelain Factory on MLK Day. We took the opportunity to leave the kids with the babysitter and went. The tour guide brought us through where the Masters work (Artists are the ones who develop the new designs and artwork for pieces, Masters replicate them by hand). It's funny, it was basically like a regular office building with desks in a room but instead of computers they had thousand-dollar pieces of porcelain and tons of different paints.
The tour guide explained what ingredients go into the porcelain, how it's poured into molds, where the term bone china came from (yep there's real bone in there - wild animals, so they say). She also explained the two different ways of firing porcelain and how the firing both shrinks the piece as well as changes the color of the paint. Cobalt goes on black but comes out the well-known dark blue.
We then went to the gift shop, where we looked at pieces that cost hundreds of thousands of rubles (roughly 30 rubles to the dollar) They were significantly less intricate, smaller, and less ornate than the pieces we saw being worked on. Hm.
Here's some more information about the factory

Friday, January 8, 2010

The dark side of Petersburg

We had our first, terrifying to us as parents, experience with frostbite yesterday. Terry and Alex went sledding in Tavrichesky Park, where we had spent at least 4 days each week in the summer. They got home just in time for lunch, and while Alex was eating I noticed her cheeks looked strange. It looked like someone had drawn on her face, in a waxy white, little circles right over the apples of her cheeks.
I commented on it to Terry and then we both ran for the computers to look up frostbite. It was definitely frostnip if not full blown frostbite We can't be entirely sure as Alex couldn't articulate for us very well how she felt. We went right into the home remedy (warm wetness .... if it had been feet we could have had her immerse them in water, as it was her face we just kept re-warming washcloths.) As she thawed it started to hurt and she didn't want to let us near her. Then out came the Motrin "Motrin makes you feel better" she kept saying after we gave her a dose. After a while her cheeks got back a lot of color and we had debates over how supple her cheeks were (the frostbite makes then hard, you know the home remedy worked when the skin is supple again). It was naptime and we decided nothing would get worse if we waited 2 hours for medical care so we put her down as usual.
The upshot is that it looks like she's totally fine, but now we are pretty freaked out about having her outside for any length of time. Of course, her cheeks will now be sensitive to the cold so she probably won't want to be out that long anyway.
We're looking into balaclavas.