Monday, January 31, 2011

Big News!

I've moved one more step closer to the possible eventuality of becoming a foreign service officer - I passed the QEP. Of course, the window to choose a test date for the Oral Exams is this week, and we have no idea when we'll be allowed to take our Home Leave, so it is still to be seen if I'll be in the USA at the right time to take the thing. I made a relatively conservative guesstimate of when I'm likely to be home given various possible scenarios. Keep your fingers crossed.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Brought low

When you last saw the Mad-Zac clan we were returning from a vacation fraught with minor annoyances and major family bonding time. Turns out the family that flu-s together stays together or something like that.

Zoltan, the one who got the stinking flu shot (well, Alex did too) was the first to fall. Sunday night a week ago he woke in the middle of the night with the kind of burning up fever that terrifies a parent. Of course our children's thermometer's battery was dead and we somehow didn't notice we had 2 other digital thermometers. Whatever, burning up is burning up so we got Motrin into him, tried to soothe him until the meds had a chance to kick in, and hunkered down for a night of intermittent wakeups, screams, fever reducer administration and generally not a whole lot of sleep. Alex's ability to snooze throughout the whole experience is testament to how far she's come and the merits of sleep training, but that's a digression.

Next to fall was Terry, who came home "early" on Tuesday (as in, right at quitting time), and didn't make it back for a full day of work til this week. I was next on Wednesday. It really is a lot like mastitis without the painful breasts! Friday I managed to get Alex to preschool (so grateful for the car, I never could have gotten her the mile walk on foot) and Terry and I took turns trying to care for Zoltan, who seemed to have turned a corner and was in good health and fine spirits other than his refusal to nap. We even pulled out Baby Einstein in desperation. He watched it as much as he watched Big Bang Theory. We called our nanny and begged her to come on Saturday.

Saturday was definitely the worst day for both Terry and me. We ended up bringing Terry and Zoltan to the doctor, Zoltan mostly because of his refusal to sleep caused us to worry about an ear infection. He did have fluid but not an infection so I'm glad we took him.

One of the four medicines the doctor prescribed for Terry is the most amazing drug I've ever experienced for a stuffy nose. It's a nose drop of some sort, probably something the FDA would run from in horror, BUT within 1 minute of administration you go from completely stuffed up to breathing completely freely. And the stuff cost a whopping 8 Rubles (approx. 22 cents, give or take). It took 24 hours for me to stuff up again after taking it, although Terry definitely didn't last so long.

And now I'm feeling worse again? These kids will, literally, be the death of me!

Friday, January 14, 2011

First haircuts

My friend Heather inspired me. Her son is one month older than Zoltan and got his first haircut last week by her hands and the family hair clippers. I told Terry he was welcome to cut Z's hair whenever he liked, as he's been bugging me about Z's "hippie looking" long hair.

Today was the day. Alex helped Terry comb Z's hair, then the clipping began. Z was pretty indifferent to the whole thing, but he really didn't like Terry getting too close to his ears and didn't like when Terry pulled out the haircutting scissors to do a final trim on the parts that still annoyed him.

I commented that he wasn't a baby anymore, he looked like a boy. Alex didn't accept any of the explanations I tried to give her as to why I said that (she's deep into the "why" phase) and in the end demanded a haircut RIGHT NOW.

I figured with long hair and a slight wave, nobody would notice the imperfections of the very tiny trim I intended to give her. She fidgeted the entire time, so it was a very imperfect cut, but I don't think it is noticeable. We'll see if anyone asks about her hair when they see her next week when she returns to preschool. The one thing I will say is it seems a lot healthier. We'll see if it's any easier to comb.

Had we lived in the USA, they definitely would have gotten their haircuts by professionals, but this was probably way less traumatic for them - at least, the photos many of my friends have sent of their kids' first haircuts seem to indicate the home remedy may be easier to take.

Seen on the streets

I keep forgetting to mention, the other day I saw a woman walking her baby in the pram ... with the tiny little kick-me dog riding in the bottom basket. It was pretty cute, unfortunately I didn't think fast enough to get a photo with the phone camera ... probably wouldn't have come out well anyway.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Terry told me I had to blog about something that's gone right on this trip so here is my posting on Aeroflot. No, seriously. We took Aeroflot through Moscow to get to Antalya. Both flights were comfortable and comparatively new Airbuses. We had no troubles getting milk into sippy cups before takeoff and the children's meal we ordered for Alex was perfect – a lot of fruit, chicken nuggets that were actually mostly chicken, juice box of 100% juice and packed in a brightly colored really sturdy cardboard box so it could take being brought down to her level (i.e. on the seat between us). On the “long” flight Alex was handed a real canvas backpack stuffed with markers, coloring book, a hat, socks, a 20 or so piece puzzle, and a booklet of mazes and games. I, carrying Zoltan, was handed a bag with diapers, a pack of wipes, a disposable bib and bottle. Both flights were on time. Meals were tasty and every meal had a juice box, which we squirreled away for Alex. Flight attendants were helpful. I seriously would love to fly this airline every time I fly from now til forever.

Addendum: return flights were just as good. Terry didn't think to order a baby meal for Z but I saw one and it was 3 jars of reliable baby food (i.e. I could see one was Gerber) and a box of Parmelat milk. I wish we had ordered one! Too bad we won't be flying again before Z is out of baby food. Still loving Aeroflot

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

First Full Day, More Impressions

Other than Zoltan's 3 screaming wakeups (each 2 minutes or less, Alex slept through each) the kids did pretty well the first night. We had put them to bed roughly when we wanted them to sleep to shift their schedules and I guess Z was so overtired he couldn't make the morning transition. Breakfast opens at 7am, we were up at 6am. Even Alex couldn't sleep through the crying at that hour, she got right up. There was a thunderstorm the first night and it was still damply chilly in the morning. The walk over to the main building was refreshing to say the least. After we ate we checked out the playground and beach and the kids had a blast. We were glad we'd thought to bring rain pants for each. Then it was time for Z's nap – Terry took Alex to the indoor pool while I stayed behind to put Z to bed and deal with yet more issues (the safe was locked and unopenable so the front desk said someone would come at 10am to unlock it for me. This was probably the one and only time that everything happened perfectly – he came at exactly 10 and the whole transaction took 2 minutes).

Then the phone starts ringing. It's the front desk saying something about us forgetting to sign our credit card slip. Huh? That usually doesn't happen until the end of a stay. Whatever. A bellboy gets sent to our room with the slip to sign. It's just a credit card slip with the amount and signature line, no itemization of what we're paying for. I ask what it's for, the guy speaks no English so he calls someone, puts me on the phone and the guy says we just forgot to sign the slip yesterday and to sign it now. I say my husband isn't here and we'll deal with it when he gets back. The bellboy leaves the slip with me and leaves. A few minutes later the manager guy comes himself and asks for the slip. I tell him I want my husband to see it, he says he needs it back for the accounting department – something about us losing the paper – so I give it back to him. I still think this is incredibly sketchy especially given the nightmare the hotel put us through Turns out it's relatively legit, at least Terry says the cc was charged but nobody gave him anything to sign – the paper he got didn't have the signature line. So he signs and all is well.

More reasons not to come here: the high chairs have not been cleaned once. We have used the same one 3 times a day for 3 days now and it's all the same crumbs and leftover food. We have been wiping the tray and seat with our wipes or if not too bad with water and napkins. Disgusting. Also the tables are not always cleaned and never have all the tables been cleaned. This morning we never found a clean table for breakfast but we found one with only crumbs and no spills on the tablecloth and they had new silverware on the table so we figured it was good enough and sat down.

There's no ATM at the hotel, in fact the nearest one is 4km away in front of a different hotel. The hotel told us 4 different buses we could take to get there but never told us the bus fare. Babysitting is 10 Euros per child per hour, which does seem to be the going rate but is scandalous to me, especially as the kids would be sleeping (we were thinking of trying an adult-only dinner at the reservation restaurant). So, we're just going to keep them up a bit late one night to try it out because even if we wanted to pay for babysitting, we don't have enough cash to do so and no motivation to schlep over to the nearest ATM for more. We had to adjust the kids' schedules anyway due to time zones so we just decided to shift them a bit more to see if we could get them to sleep later, and be up later. The latter worked, but the former not so well. It doesn't help that the footballers are up at 6am for their practice – except the ones who are in the rooms right by us apparently are deep sleepers because their phones ring on and on and on at manage to wake us all quite well but not the intended sleepyhead.

As a safety precaution (I assume) the room door sounds an alarm when it is opened to remind the occupant to shut it (again, I assume). The alarm isn't TOO loud, thankfully, because the one for our room has started to sound the moment the door is opened rather than wait a reasonable time for a person to actually walk across the threshold and shut the door and then determine whether it was shut properly.

Can you tell I am entirely NOT in love with this place?

There are some good points. Between the playground, beach and indoor pool Alex has been loving life. The Turkish food is excellent, the pide at dinner every night is amazing, in fact Zoltan ate meat for the first time - devouring a piece of pide with minced meat. I was excited the first night because the desserts sucked, so I thought I could work my way back to pre-Thanksgiving weight. Fortunately or unfortunately, there have been several really delicious treats at each meal since. The two times we called for housecleaning to be at a certain time it was within 15 minutes of our request.

WOW Restaurant

I meet up with Terry in the main building and give him the news. At least we have somewhere for Zoltan to sleep and it only took FIVE requests to make it happen. There's a “kids restaurant” next to the main restaurant so I head in to check it out. Yep, a room with an animal border at chair rail height but not very child friendly setup. The waiter setting up the food tells me yes it's the children's room but it's not for children now, it's for the footballers (soccer players for you Americans). I ask if it's just tonight or every night. Every night, but there's children's things in the main restaurant. I check it out, and it's sort of true. BUT … no milk. They had hot milk for coffees and we put that in the sippy cup to let it cool in the room's fridge so we would have milk for the morning but it turns out Z doesn't like cooled hot milk. How is there no cold milk? We even asked a waiter for milk, noting that there must be cold milk in the kitchen to create the hot milk, but no dice. Our workaround has involved bringing both kids' sippy cups and an empty small water bottle to breakfast every morning and filling everything with cold milk before leaving, then running back to the room to get it all into our fridge before they warm up. It's viable, but why do we need to resort to this? The only reason there's even milk at breakfast is for the cereal.

Some things in the restaurant are impressive. A good quantity of fresh fruit, simple biscuits (no sweeter than what you get in Russia), they even have 2 types of baby cereal with a stick blender and cup right there. We tried blending the soups at night but so far Z has rejected every one. I think the soup phase has ended and he is now where Alex was at 1 year – eating dairy, fruit and bread and nothing else. When the only high chair we saw had neither tray nor straps the waiter brought us a different one almost immediately. There's also 2 child sized tables, one of which Alex commandeered the first morning.

World of wonders

The trip was pretty much as expected, although Alex's refusal to nap on the plane even after Dramamine was a bit of a surprise. We managed, not too much crying or screaming from either one, got our bags, found a taxi that didn't seem to rip us off, and got to the hotel in short order. We thought that meant the adventure was over but k'sajolania (unfortunately), it was just beginning.

First the hotel assigned us to rooms that were, at the time, already occupied. The format of the resort is that everything is open to the outside, so it meant standing outside in a chilly walkway while the porter called the front desk to get us a new assignment. He then brought us to the exact same rooms 2 floors below the ones originally assigned but – they weren't connecting rooms. And the one smelled like smoke.

We called the front desk again. They first didn't believe the rooms didn't connect, then tried to tell me they didn't have any more connecting rooms because it's winter and only part of the hotel is open now etc etc. She tried to give us a dublex, which is the usual family room consisting of 2 rooms on 2 floors with an open stairway in between. No door. With my kids that doesn't work. While she's going through all this I am on my way back to reception, fuming. I actually had a pretty serious back and forth email exchange with a customer relations guy for the hotel chain about how we had to have connecting rooms or we had to go to a different hotel and he promised connecting rooms. I told the front desk about it, asked if the guy worked at this hotel or the corporate office, nobody seemed to know his name so I guess he's not at this location. In any case we're at the front desk and after some time they find connecting rooms for us. One is ready now, the other is still being cleaned and will be ready in a little while.

We ask/reconfirm for the 2nd time that a baby cot be brought to the room (we had asked for it when we originally checked in) and go to the ready room. Alex and I lay down and Terry takes Z for a walk to nap. About 15 minutes after Alex finally quieted down someone is pounding on the door next to us. Taking short breaks, the pounding continues for 10 minutes, at which point I get up and tell the guy that the room is now empty and in fact I'm waiting for the key. I throw in a “after 10 minutes of not answering the door, maybe it should occur to you the room isn't occupied or the guy isn't going to answer” but I don't think the guy was quite bright enough to figure that out. It also appears that our connecting rooms are the only not-soccer-player rooms in a block of a couple of soccer teams. It also explains why the phone in the kids' room kept ringing last night. The first time we were able to unplug the phone, the 2nd time we couldn't figure where the ringing was coming from and the 3rd time we had to find our way into their bathroom in the dark to take that phone off the hook. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

My getting up got Alex up – she must have still been in light sleep. I told her we would lay down for 10 more minutes then we could get up and she agreed reluctantly but without any real fuss. In that time, thankfully, she did in fact fall asleep. There was a knock on the door and it was the hotel bringing the key for the other room and to unlock the connecting doors. I reminded the guy we had asked for a baby cot (#3) and he said it would be brought up.

I brought a suitcase into the kids' room and started to unpack. Terry and Z came, I hear that Z never fell asleep – a very strange thing for him in the stroller and as tired as he was – and that Terry saw almost the entire grounds and there's a lot for the kids here. We discover there are no drinking glasses in our room and only one in the kids' room, we are one towel card short (they are presented at the pool to get a towel, we really want one per person), and we have no face towels in the room. Normally in my adult life I never use them and I do often wonder why every hotel usually gives us a dozen but trying to bathe a baby without one is challenging.

About 45 minutes after the last request for the baby cot, I call the reception area and ask again for it (#4). We get Alex up and Terry takes the kids to the restaurant with a stop at the front desk to request the baby cot again (#5) and to get another key for our room – the keys are required to provide electricity for the room so we really can't manage with only one. I had a couple of things I wanted to finish doing so I was going to catch up. As I rounded the last corner before the walkway to the main building, I see a housekeeper with a laundry cart that has a toddler bed sticking out of it. I confirm where she's going and head back to the room with her. In my mind I'm thinking “You don't even have any pack and plays, you're just going to put that mattress in the laundry cart and I'm going to have to complain AGAIN and this is becoming a nightmare.” but I did keep my mouth shut. A good thing, as she pulled the pnp out of the cart after bringing the mattress into the room.

Her mobile rings and I hear her talking in Turkish but I notice the word “mama” and I say it's probably my husband. When she gets off the phone she says the front desk was calling because the papa was there asking about the cot. She tells me she was eating and even left her dinner to come bring the cot. I tell her I'm sorry that happened to her but we asked for it the first time more than 2 hours ago so it's really unfortunate if nobody told her we needed it until just then. I was feeling some sympathy for her, just caught in the middle of a bad situation. THEN she tells me she got a call an hour ago and even then she was eating.

WTF?!?!? So an hour goes by and she still doesn't deign to get us the pnp and it takes another call to get her ass moving? I told her our baby didn't get his nap today because we didn't have a bed for him and I left before I ripped her head off.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

no heat

A month or two ago, there was a cold snap and some kind of work being done in the building that required us to have no heat for a day or more. I don't even really remember the details of the situation. Adults are often out of the house or can just put on a sweater, but the little ones had to be able to nap during the day so I remember demanding space heaters for their rooms even though this was only going to be one day if all went well.

I am so glad I did that! We have no heat in the building and it's -10C outside. Our split pack is heat and A/C, and with the space heaters the kids are cozy. It is supposed to be repaired tonight so keep your fingers crossed ...

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Adorable cafe

There's a cafe on Zhukoskovo near us that opened this summer and I have meant to go a million times. One day when I was having special time with Alex we went for lunch. I can't really comment on the food, it was fine but it was the basic fried ham-and-cheese in pastry type thing and a sweet treat so there's only so much room for error .... BUT ...

There's a bird cage with 2 colorful birds (parakeets maybe?), toys and stuffed animals on a high shelf for patron use, a ton of Ikea goodies for the kiddies (the plush dessert set, roll of paper and crayons, etc). It was set up for new year with decorated trees and snowflakes and winter scenes. The tables are well spaced for a stroller, there's booths and wide comfy chairs with wraparound arms that help kids not fall off. The kicker for me, Alex's milk came with a bendy straw cut to exactly the height of the glass. Little touches like this make me want to go back every week. If it's open this week it's on the agenda for a special treat with Alex on one of the days we've got babysitters coming for Zoltan.

Awesome park now open

The park across the street from the rinok at Nekrasova was pretty shady when we arrived, then it was under construction for what seemed like forever. It finally opened around the beginning of December and I forgot about it for a few weeks, then finally took Alex there last week.

It is fabulous. The play area is at the back and the back entrance near Octyabrskaya Theatre is the nearest way in, which means it's close enough to our house that Alex will walk it even in all her snow clothes. All the equipment is perfectly sized for a 3 year old, with the snow and ice I didn't like her doing everything by herself but she could in the summer. The stretch of ground at the end of the slide is ice and there's a "catch-pit" type thing so when she goes down super fast and then continues the ride on the ice she does get stopped. We went again today and I was a little surprised how many other kids were there, I hadn't expected so many parents to leave the house after all the celebration last night.