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

Almaty


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.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Carry-on only weekend

The other day Terry and I had what I've started calling "a spirited discussion" about how much travel is actually likely when we get to Frankfurt. I have visions of the four of us, backpacks in place, jumping on trains and jumping off a few hours later in other countries.  He believes the type of luggage-heavy travel we've been doing the last 7 or so years is our permanent fate.

So, I found an easy way to test my hypothesis:  we were in Almaty this weekend, three-days-two-nights, carry-ons only.  Each of the bags we chose to carry fit under the seats in front of us, even if they did not ultimately rest there.  We carried the usual clothing and toiletries, books, toys, games and electronics (yes, we had paper and Kindle books), plus Alex and Zoltan each carried a blanket and stuffed animal.  In addition, as it was below freezing in Astana but hit the 60's during the day in Almaty, we all wore warm jackets and I carried three fleeces in my bag - mine, Alex's and Zoltan's. We even had a bit of spare clothing for the "you-never-know" type incidents children are famous for (no, Zoltan, we will never forget when you were three and fell into the water in Lithuania and had to borrow our friend's daughter's leggings). We did not have spare shoes, which became an issue when we realized the sneakers Alex was wearing were not only impractical but actually would start to bother her feet after a time.  Of course, that just meant more time in Almaty's many adorable cafes!

Of course, as they kids age they will wear bigger clothing and need bigger bags. But they will also be able to shoulder bigger bags full of their bigger stuff.  I call it a win.

Monday, March 7, 2016

514

Astana does boast a few decent restaurants.  We hadn't found anything to write home about, though, until now.  I am so grateful for friends who held a birthday dinner at 514, which gave me the chance to first - know of its existence and second - try it out.

The name 514 comes from the Montreal ZIP code, and I now have it muddled in my mind but the chef and/or owner have connections to the city. The interior gives a definite "we're not in Central Asia" vibe with pulsating music, black walls, crystal chandeliers and fake trees lit up in white Christmas lights.  But what we really care about is the food.

Sublime.

The bread that comes to the table is freshly made, slightly grilled, and accompanied with an oil and vinegar dipping tray.  Terry ordered a "chicken salad" starter, which was a lovely lineup of roasted veggies with some roasted chicken pieces mixed among them.  He then continued onto the burger which was enormous and messy but he reported very tasty.  My main was in my mind the highlight of the entire restaurant:  slow cooked beef ribs. It is hard enough to get beef ribs in the USA; to have something so tender, so falling-off-the-bone, and so well sauced would have made my day in Washington.

The only downside as I see it is that they only have two desserts on offer each night and they are not often anything overly exciting. Tasty, sure, but lacking the wow factor of the savory food.