Saturday, March 31, 2012

Friday Adventure

Zoltan's nannies are fabulous, as I've mentioned a few times. Among other things, they take him all over the town, and he's been to museums I don't even know the location of. Lately he's been transiting the city via "rolly-bus", aka trolleybus. Alex has become envious.

With this in mind, I decided to keep Alex home Friday and have an adventure. We went down to Nevskiy and popped onto the first trolleybus we saw (#7). It was pretty crowded and Alex, in the underneath part, couldn't see much but the kids were thrilled anyway. At one point we passed some former palace or mansion and it had Greek style statues adorning it. Zoltan yelled out "Mommy, they're maykin'd (naked)" One lady standing by us started giggling. I think she understood English.

We got out at the last stop as the stroller was too big and the bus too crowded to get out earlier. We ended at ploschad Truda so I had some sense of where we were. I had thought we'd head to the Neva as Zoltan loves water but he started complaining of being cold - I didn't have the fight in me to force him into his snowpants when he refused to put them on in the morning. So instead we headed toward Nevskiy with a short stop for photos with St Isaac's while the kids enjoyed their snacks.

On the way home we got onto a regular bus (avtobus) and were positioned right by the door so this time Alex could see stuff. All in all they were pretty stoked with the day. Of course it began with TV (Charlie and Lola, the first time they watched one) and ended with a play date so there's little to complain about.

Passover preparations

The joys of overseas life! Not like I didn't know Passover was coming, but here I was with 6 days left - no matzah and no menu. Kudos to the internet: I found a "30 Minute Seder" plus a full seder's worth of recipes, all ingredients of which can be found locally. And, surprisingly, a matzah recipe! (this one:

Of course, if I could find specially supervised flour here I would also be able to find mass produced matzah*, so mine aren't technically kosher for Passover. Given my level of observance of late, though, this is definitely a step up.

* = OK, OK, the Grand Choral Synagogue store probably has matzah just as they had Hanukkah candles, but I wasn't going to have any opportunity to get there before Friday.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Fabulous resource for studying Russian

I'm kind of a dork, and I'm OK with that. I study Russian not only because it's my only hope for ever having gainful, continuous employment but because the language has completely sunk its nails into me (why didn't it do this 10 years ago when my brain actually wanted to hold things like genative case and perfective verbs?). Anyhoo ...

This site was recommended by someone on the chat group for FSO hopefuls:

It totally rocks my world. It gives super short (a couple of minutes) broadcasts of current events in Russian spoken slowly and clearly. It has a glossary to go with each broadcast. It has listening comprehension exercises at the end. These broadcasts have been going on since 2004. There are about 100 of them. By the time I finish them all I should be able to listen to news on TV or radio.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Mommy's favorite game

I posted this on Facebook, but that doesn't provide a lasting memory and this one is too good to forget.

Alex: Mommy, I want to play a game with you. What's your favorite game?
Me: Cleanup
Alex: What's your next most favorite game?

Monday, March 26, 2012


I can't believe I never wrote about this! On the corner of the street where we live is a beautiful, special occasion type restaurant called Molochovets Mechta (Molochovets' Dream). It had been recommended by some major foodies, but for some reason our first 2.5 years here we continually gave it a skip. Then we decided to go for my birthday dinner the night before my birthday.

[reprinted from a report I gave a friend about dinner right afterwards - I certainly wouldn't remember all the details now!] Dinner started with an amuse bouche of a smoked fish that's like salmon but not exactly (syomga), then I had a salad that was shredded apple and celery with smoked duck (the dressing was mayo/creamy) and Terry had solyanka. There was sorbet to cleanse the palate, I think it was champagne but couldn't 100% be sure. Main for me was a local fish that's like a Zander (same family as a walleye) in a simple butter sauce and fried cauliflower and T had moose in a berry sauce (he wanted the venison but they were out). The fish was amazing, we have never been able to cook it to taste like anything so I was excited to see what a pro chef would do. I was clearly the winner that night as Terry enjoyed the solyanka but reports it isn't as good as the CGR chef's version, and the moose wasn't exactly what he wanted.

I was stuffed after that but Terry ordered vanilla ice cream. Home made. We had cappuccinos and were just sort of hanging out because we didn't want to go anywhere and it hadn't been enough time in our minds to make it worth our nanny's while, so eventually I made some room in my belly and had chocolate ice cream. mmmmmm. then i was up til 3am - I blame the cappuccino.

Our second round was in honor of Terry's birthday, a bit belated as I had the flu that week. That night I tried the schi (very strange as it was written as "sorrel soup" in the English menu) and the halibut; Terry had an apple and berry salad and veal loin with blue cheese sauce. His starter was fine but nothing special but the veal was perfect - Terry didn't love the sauce but it's incidental anyway to the cut and cooking of the meat. Again we had an amuse bouche, it was a mushroom pate (veggie in honor of Lent - they actually had a Lent menu) My meal was fine on both counts but neither course was as good as the last time. I finished with hot chocolate, the super awesome Russian kind that is thick and tastes like like a melted chocolate bar. It was the perfect amount and perfect ending for me, although my favorite hot chocolate in the city is still Guell's.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sleeping Beauty on Ice

Alex and I, as well as some friends and their daughters, went to see Sleeping Beauty on Ice. It was performed at the Rimskogo-Korsakova Conservatory, not at any of the ice arenas, which was a bit interesting.

The costumes were beautiful and the skating very pretty. I liked how they kept pretty true to the ballet. I really thought Alex would get into it, as she's been ice skating and her instructor used to be an ice ballerina not too long ago.

Nope, she prefers "real" ballet to this. She even prefers hockey to ice ballet. Maybe she's a purist.

Friday, March 23, 2012

It's Spring, sort of

In Piter the temperatures have been frequently (but not always!) above freezing, leading to ice underlying veritable pools of melting snow. The other day started with snow, moved into sleet, then hail, finally settling on rain. That became snow again by bedtime.

It probably doesn't need saying, but this is NOT the most wonderful time of the year.

This is what happens during naptime

... when we don't actually nap. RIP rainbow slinky.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Small victories

Russian is a difficult language to master. The more I learn the more I realize I don't know. I'm pained when I hear an FSO with a 3/3 or 4/4 tell me that they don't feel comfortable with the language or don't know how to say something simple (of course, at FSI there is a very different focus on what vocabulary is taught, but still ... a "high school graduate level speaker" should be able to buy curtains!)

Terry and I were lucky to get into the 8 week language program before heading to Russia, we learned useful basics such as how to ask directions or buy 2 kilos of apples at the market. As importantly, we learned what likely responses would be to such questions. Once hitting the ground we got into the 2h/week language class and practiced reading billboards and signs. All in all, not much instruction. I probably only got to class half the time between the whole newborn-who-doesn't-sleep thing and later the job-gets-in-the-way-of-personal-activities thing.

Then I passed the FSOA. I need those language points now! Upon my return to Russia last summer I became more diligent in class attendance, asked my teacher to give me supplemental homework, and basically kicked it into high gear. Of course, the rest of life still marched on and I still didn't get much more than 1h/day of Russian study.

I've been studying Russian with varying intensity for 3 years now.

Two weeks ago, I made a restaurant reservation without once slipping into English. This week, I reserved tickets to a performance over the phone ("Sleeping Beauty" Ballet on Ice, I hope Alex enjoys it and gets motivated to go back to skating!) also entirely in Russian. This one was more complex as I was asking for specific seats and also needed to figure out where to obtain the physical tickets. I picked up the tickets yesterday and they are exactly the seats I thought I ordered and cost the exact price I thought they should!

If I put as much effort into learning Spanish as I have in learning Russian, I'd be pretty darn fluent by now. But my small victories are sustaining me in my quest for basic literacy.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Our kids like sausage.

We have some sausage fans in our house.  As you can see in the video below.

Chocolate money

Terry and I were out tonight so it was up to my nanny to watch the kids this evening. We give Zoltan chocolate when he uses the potty when he's got underpants on (he prefers to go commando so we're working on encouraging underpants). I forgot to reload the chocolate so our nanny went out and bought some today. It was chocolate coins.

So, the evening passes, he uses the potty, and the nanny gives him and Alex their coins (to avoid the drama we just give her a treat when he gets one). Alex understands immediately what it is and peels the foil off to get to the chocolate. You'd think after the number of times I have read Silverlicious to these children that Zoltan would also figure it out.

Nope. The nanny is distracted talking to Alex right after giving out the coins so she misses that Zoltan has left the room. Until he comes back yelling "pinky bank! pinky bank!"

Yep, the chocolate went into the piggy bank.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

European capitals

One of those "only in the Foreign Service" moments: a friend had Game Night and we were playing Outburst! The topic was European Capital Cities. Of course we got all 10 but the funny part was that before the last one we thought of - Athens - we had yelled out Bucharest, Tirana, Pristina, Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Lublijana, Budapest, and Valletta. None of those, of course, were on the list.

And of all the capitals to forget about until the end, it was the one most in the news right now. Doh!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The coolest shared-babysitting plan ever

We have new neighbors in our apartment building. They have kids older, younger, and similar ages as our kids. As has already been mentioned, barriers break down quickly in the foreign service - if you only have 2 years to be friends with someone (or less!) you waste less time finding out if you want to be friends.

The wife suggested a babysitting exchange: after the kids go to bed one evening, we go out while one of them comes down and stays with the kids. Another night one of us travels the stairway to do the same. We had our first test this weekend, when Terry and I went out for a belated birthday dinner (I inconveniently had the flu over his birthday weekend, even on the big day itself. I guess it's lucky that he doesn't think it's any big deal. He went to the hockey game that night anyway). We were worried because the night before Zoltan had been up about a million times before our bedtime, so I was ready for that "he won't stop screaming" phone call. Nope, the kids didn't make a peep all night.

This weekend will be our turn to monitor a sleeping house. Keep fingers crossed for us that it works out as well as the first run.

I know in the USA - where babysitters are exorbitantly expensive, at least compared to here - friends may not live bathrobe-and-slippers-commute close, but I do think it is a brilliant way for couples to get a bit of alone time outside the house. At first, Terry said he didn't want to do it too often because we can't necessarily afford to go out all the time. My perspective is different: if we do this regularly, there's no pressure to "do something special because we're paying a nanny for this". We can just take a walk, check out an art gallery, get shwarma and sit in the park.