Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Time honored rituals - the freezer cleanout

Every year, part of our preparations for a decent chunk of time out of the house (i.e., R&R, last year it was our "PCS") we do a drawdown on leftovers. So tonight's dinner was mystery brown shmoo from a tupperware in the freezer that didn't even have a date on it. We guessed it might be tortilla soup and I cooked up some tortillas chips to go with it.

It was some kind of chili. And REALLY tasty. The tortillas went with it pretty well. And we have absolutely no idea what recipe we used, it wasn't a usual one, so we may never make it again.  I hate when that happens.

I think we need to keep a Sharpie by the freezer and label our meals.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Happy 7 year anniversary!

Of course, I didn't even realize today was our anniversary until 2:30pm, at which time I called Terry and said "Do you know what today is?" in the "you're in trouble voice" and told him to look at his calendar. Happy man, he did get it on the first try.

We kinda suck, don't we?

Sunday, July 29, 2012


A few tidbits just from today ...

Zoltan crying "Mommy! Mommy!" this morning during my entire trip to the bathroom, because I didn't want him to join me and Terry kept him captive in the living room. Now that's love when 2 minutes is just too long to be out of eyesight!

Terry offering to take the kids alone to the grocery store this morning so I could go back to bed, even though the reason I was so tired was that I was out too late last night. Usually my attitude is "you were out having fun, if you're tired too bad". Taking the kids to the grocery store alone is something we just don't do, as the havoc Zoltan can wreak is monumental. Now that's love! [note, I didn't take him up on the offer, but the offer itself was golden]

Not sure if this should concern me, but although we have a ridiculous quantity of play food items, lately whenever Zoltan makes something for us to "eat" (roast, soup) it is always his sleep lovey Blabla presented to me in the pan or pot. Terry says it means he'll farm well, as he doesn't mind eating his pet.

Zoltan: Allie, if you eat your lunch you can have a chocolate muffin.
Me: No, Zoltan, they are carrot cake muffins.
Zoltan: I'm talking to Allie.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Creative Home Maintenance

Anyone who knows us knows Terry is a do-it-yourselfer. In fact, if there is any way he can just do it himself, he prefers that. Our first post was LQA and if he had his tools with him I think the whole experience would have been less painful. Now we are in a "normal" post, in Government housing, and we have GSO to do the home maintenance.

We had a huge project throughout most of the winter, replacing the risers in the entire building. If you, like me, used to think risers were the slightly raised flooring many conferences and lectures put their panels and speakers are on so the audience could see them, you would, like me, be wrong. (well, not wrong as that is one definition, just not applicable here). Risers are also some kind of pipe used in plumbing. While the risers were being repaired, our kitchen and all bathrooms were in their turn torn apart, and the bathrooms got renovated at the same time.

Since the new flooring was put into the bathrooms, we have had the grout coming up. This is because the floor wasn't leveled before the tile put in, so the grout will come up every month or so until the floors are leveled.

Or not.

Because this week, when they regrouted for the 3rd time, they used some kind of flexible grouting that will move with the shifting tile and not come out.

Why do something right when there's a workaround?

Monday, July 23, 2012

St Petersburg Mining Institute Museum

It just doesn't sound that exciting, does it? My geologist friend aside, what could be interesting to see at a mining museum? And nobody who'd been before could really describe what was so special in a way that made it sound very special ... so here's my attempt as it is relatively fresh in my mind.

Our contact met us at the front entrance, brought us in, and gave us some history. The Institute was founded in 1773 by Catherine II and was originally only an educational academy. It was part of the military so the students all still wear uniforms, although they no longer give swords to the #1 student each year (we did however get to see one of such swords in a display case).

Then our tour guide came and we began with a visit to the special exhibit room, which houses the prize items in the collection. There's a shelf of Faberge figures...
... another sword on which is depicted all along the blade/scabbard a famous battle ...

... a collection of raw silver and gold nuggets ...

...then on to the main collection.  I totally dig the enormous hanging periodic table and already plan this will be some year's science project for one of my kids. 
 There are rows and rows of cases of rocks. Our guide picked out the most important or interesting ones to tell us about. There's a display showing synthetic rubies and sapphires next to natural ones. We learned that only blue topaz will keep its color against constant sunshine but yellow or other colors fade. We saw marble statues and learned about the type of marble that makes figures of people look so real. If course I forget now, but there's some quality of it that lets skin actually look like skin. Don't you want to pick up this happy baby?

We learned that minerals are individual molecular forms and rocks are composed of composites of minerals.

This table has a bronze bottom crafted here in Russia and the top is a piece of petrified wood from Arizona (and now, again, all I can think is "There is no ... Arizona ... no Painted Desert, no Sedona...") Wood gets petrified when it is buried deep into the earth, such as from an earthquake, and the minerals in the earth seep in and cause chemical transformations. Did I mention this is really pretty?
 This is a stone that when you strike it with something metal - we had a key - will ring like it's metal itself?

And what's not to love about a Russian Imperial crest made of forks and knives?

We got to see a number of pieces of mining equipment - most are models of real sets as the stuff is quite big but some is the original. That's 400,000 year old water in that glass jar, came from more than 3 kilometers down in Antarctica. They found bacteria down there that actually came back to life when they warmed it up.

In a part where we can't take photographs I saw a huge gold nugget about the size of a newborn baby that weighed more than me. We saw a part of an iron meteor (did you know meteors are rock, rock/metal, or metal?) that weight some large number of tons and learned it came from a meteor shower that happened about 60 years ago, whch means we're in luck as they only occur about every 200 years (they do a LOT of damage).

For those who want to check it out themselves, the place now opens tours to the public at 11am and 1pm every Saturday. Tours are in Russian of course.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sunday Brunch at Grand Hotel Europe

I'd heard about this brunch, and finally an opportunity to go arose, so Terry and I decided to have an early anniversary celebration. Our reservation was for 1pm, which is when the brunch opens. I take issue a bit with a brunch that does not begin until 1pm - that's lunch - but I quickly got over it.

We started with a glass of champagne and headed to the cold zakuski and salads. The smoked fish (3 different kinds) were all too smoky for me, the beef carpaccio too bland (although later it seems to have gotten seasoned, so I guess I just dove in too early). The satsivi was good, as were a couple of other salads I no longer remember. Should have been taking notes during the meal! They also had a whole row of fresh juices and milkshakes so I made a carrot-orange mix. Later I tried something red and it's some kind of mixed berry with an emphasis on strawberry. Both were very yum. Terry got the fresh OJ alone and reported it was very fresh squeezed.

Next was blini with red ikra, smetana, and chives plus potato pancakes I dabbed some cranberry vodka sauce on, a few pieces of sushi and maki, and some fresh salmon, one cold smoked and one one marinaded. The blini was excellent, the potato a bit too spongy but the sauce was delish, and I thought the smoked salmon was the highlight. The tuna sushi was inedible and I unfortunately warned Terry too late so we both got a mouthful. The rice was off too, but the salmon maki wasn't too bad and it satisfied my seaweed craving. We were served a small glass of vodka for this course.

There's some Asian theme running through the hotel this month so a cart came by with duck moo shu. I jumped on it as I super love duck. The bird was a bit dry and the sauce a bit too salty. Disappointment, although I should have known better to expect good east Asian food in Piter.

Next up, the meats. I got a slice of prime rib, a slice of veal, and a too-big portion of fish pie. These were, hands, down, the highlights thus far. The fish pie was too much only because I was already stuffed to the gills by this time, but it was 3 layers of different fish with the rice layer and the pastry all around it. Y.U.M.  We had red wine with this.

Finally of course came the dessert. I said to Terry I was going to find a way to stuff some of everything into my belly but really, that was an empty threat. I did manage to taste the blini with fruit sauce, a small skewer of fresh fruit, a cake we were attracted to by its enormous blackberry adorning each slice, some fresh passion fruit, several truffles (mint, coconut, some kind of tea) and a cappuccino. Later the waiter also brought me mint tea, which my belly sorely needed.

We spent a bit more than three hours eating, and it is now 5 hours since we stopped. I still haven't felt the slightest pang of hunger, although my stomach is no longer bloated or painful.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Finally photos of New Holland Awesomeness

The free library has a bit of a plexiglass type overhang for those rainy days

The community garden plot for the kids of Pavlovsk (they wuz here)

This is the scarecrow.

Amazing Leto sculpture/sign

Kids playing on said sculpture/sign

In this little kiosk building thing there's stalls from Shyrpa, Probka, Clean Plate Club, and more

There is also outdoor table tennis. A tournament is going on between the diasporas of St Petersburg.

A little waterfront seating

The best thing of all ... the play area. I didn't get photos of the amazing bean bag mountain on the other side of the building (the red siding you can see, it's actually an old shipping container). Inside the building there's all kinds of crafty and arty things for kids, mostly for kids over 7 and nothing for kids under 5.

Zucchini bread marathon completed!

Approximately 200 muffins taking up a lot of space in the freezer, but truly it's the only way to eat zucchini from about October to about May. At least I can get out of the kitchen now.

In other notes, I am more than halfway through the epic The 900 Days, THE seminal nonfiction book about the Siege of Leningrad. Light summer reading!

And, finally, we have plane reservations! Our trip home is now way more concrete than it had been this morning.

Photos of New Holland to come ....

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Mnemonic Devices

I'm looking at December and it's getting bigger and bigger on the horizon. I think I really need to step up my Russian studies ... which is a bit crazy as there are only so many hours, I do have this job thing they want me to do to get my paycheck, and the whole reason I've given for quitting my job upon our departure to the USA for R&R is so I can study Russian full time upon our return. So basically I'm freaking out even though I have a logical plan in place that should get me where I need to go by the time I need to be there ... it just requires me to WAIT to be able to turn full steam ahead.

That went longer than I thought. The point to this is I started looking up better methods to make vocabulary stick in my mind. Enter the mneumonic device. I started with a few words I'd been getting mixed up, such as "to memorize" (запомнить) and "to remind" (напомнить). Memorize and запомнить both have "Z" in them. напомнить is like NA[g]-remember, which is of course remind. So far so good.

Then in my homework I saw the word for "noteworthy" (достопримечательный). My neumonic for this is "Do stop, make a sandwich and tell me". Yes, my 9 syllable sentence is 2 longer than the 7 syllable word.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Peter's Walks new boat tour

We took advantage of the beautiful weather to do our second Piter boat tour in 3 years. Yes, we've been remiss!  This time we wanted to check out what our favorite tour company had to say. Peter's Walks only started their tours within the last month, so the almost empty boat wasn't a huge surprise although it was a huge shame. Good for us, though, as it allowed the kids to roam a bit and use up some energy while both Terry and I got to listen to the tour guide.

Our tour guide was young and enthusiastic and did a good job personalizing the tour, answering questions and making conversation. His English was impeccable.

There was some issue with the boat, so we had to wait about 15 minutes. The kids took the opportunity to have a snack.

When we took our original tour in 2009, we saw the Neva, Moika and Fontanka rivers. This time, we accidentally got on the water on Red Sails day, and were unable to get onto the Neva at all. No matter as it meant we were able to meander through canals, under bridges, and around sights and monuments using a totally different perspective.

For example, here's the backside of the Mariinsky Theatre - not kept up quite as well as the front, eh?

I happen to be a big fan of all the Petersburg bridges and got a chance to snap many that I'd never seen before.

Another exciting aspect of today was how lightly we traveled. A & Z each had a backpack, I had my purse and T slung the Uppababy over his shoulder when someone wasn't in it. We even took the metro with the kids; I don't remember ever doing that with both of them before. Of course by the time we got home at exactly naptime, everyone was exhausted, dirty and grumpy. It was a great day!

Buddy Bears

What are the Buddy Bears? In Berlin in 2002, someone got the idea and artists started decorating 2 meter tall bears. According to the web site, there have been various iterations over time - at first the bears were on all fours like the Einstein Bear still is, now they stand with arms up "holding hands". In its present form, there's a Buddy bear from every member state of the UN and they tour around the world promoting tolerance. Except when the 4 year old gets bored, runs off and can't be found easily. Then, there's very little tolerance for such behavior and we go straight home.

We tried to get photos of the kids from each country they have visited, unfortunately they got bored about 4-5 photos. Alex announced she wanted to only shoot with bears she liked best, then made a beeline for Sudan. Which of course was next to the USA (It comes next alphabetically in Russian). Here's a snippet of what we did manage to get.

We tried to get photos of the kids in front of the countries they had been to, but Zoltan refused to move out of the way for this one. Oh well, he will get to the UK one day and then this will be accurate.


Kids riding the Einstein bear. See Alex being a good big sis and holding on to Zoltan so he didn't fall off.


Russia. Note that it's just Z and me. This is because this is when Alex ran off. I love the Khohloma design.


We agreed to dog-sit a friend's pup when he went away for a long weekend. I thought it would be a great time to let the kids experience a dog and to remind us how much we don't want one in the FS. Our friend assured us the dog was, if anything, overly submissive and had plenty of experience with kids. Hm.

The intro was as good as could be. The kids bounced off the walls and ran and screamed a lot but she was shielded from them and being petted by me so her freaking out was muted. She drank some water and wandered the house a bit. Eventually she settled down when we invited her onto the couch (she's definitely used to the good life!).

Unfortunately for the experience, she never really got calm. She only peed once a day even though we took her out more often than she's used to. Having her around brought back the visceral reactions of having had Kirby - every time she approached a new dog, I tensed. That probably didn't help her or the other dog view each other as new friends, although she did well enough.

Also, on our first night, Zoltan accidentally stumbled over her and she snapped at him. She growled many times when he got near. Saturday morning I got the idea of letting the kids feed her bits of bacon to reinforce that they are friends. It helped a bit but not enough.

I was amazed and impressed with Zoltan - he did a spectacular job of being gentle with her when he actually got close. I'm sad that he said he wasn't being gentle with her, I believe he didn't think he was because of her reaction. Alex fared much better, even when she tripped over Chancey the next day (just as Zoltan had) the dog had no reaction. Of course, Alex was, in general, quieter and slower than Z and not tearing around on a riding toy.

In the end, I am glad to have had the experience. It solidifies many things that have been nebulous: 1. No dogs while we're in this job, and quite frankly maybe not ever. It's just a PITA and for now my kids provide all the companionship I can handle, and then some.  2. Any dog we do get will be a puppy so its neuroses are unique to our lives and we're not worried about what s/he lived through before we got him/her.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The funny things kids do

We love our nannies. They are amazing and when we largely part ways in just a few weeks we'll all be sad. Yesterday when I came home from work and had to wake Alex from her nap, she started crying and saying she didn't want me, she wanted the nanny. She was still tired, a bit hungry, and generally distraught. Then she asked me to hold her. So, yup, I was holding and comforting my daughter for the fact that I was me and not the nanny.

I am pretty sure the irony escaped her.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Puttin' Up

No, this post isn't about how the kids handle the fact that mommy can only give one of them my full attention at a time. It's about berries in the winter!

We got 4 kilos of berries this weekend at the rinok, 2 blueberry and 2 raspberry. Here's the stats of how we processed them:
-- 9 jam-jar-size jars of jam
-- 6 babyfood-jar-size jars of jam
-- one half-liter jar of blueberries in light syrup
-- one mixed berry cobbler ... heaven! Which then led to using up the random cup's worth of whipping cream ... more heaven! and using the KitchenAid, meaning that I could pour in the cream, toss in the sugar, turn it on and go do something else for 5-10 minutes.... you get the picture. It was yum.
-- unknown number of small bowls of berries. At first they were naked, then they were topped with whipped cream.

Next week we're going back for another 4 kilos.

Shall we talk about the peaches?
Friends of ours who served somewhere that these peaches were plentiful introduced us to them about 3 years ago. I'm not the family peach lover and I remember being unimpressed. For some reason I picked up a few a week or so ago and ... wow.

As mentioned previously, Zoltan is a picky eater. He rarely lets an unknown food pass his lips and many previously loved foods soon fall to the same fate. Imagine how thrilled I was the day he asked me for a bite of my peach? Now, 2 kilos within 2 days later, the kids aren't yet showing signs of slowing down on their gorging. Of course, Terry and I have put in our fair share of the eating too :)

Alex is Terry's spitting image

and we have several recent examples to cement the deal.

1. She was doing puzzles backwards (upside down?) Either way, the picture was facing the floor and she was putting pieces together solely based on how well shapes fit together. Terry does this regularly.

2. She took a toy apart and tried to put it back together. Unfortunate results, now Terry's going to have to try to salvage the toy.

3. She complains of being too hot when it's 70 degrees outside. Actually, that's all of us these days.

Friday, July 6, 2012

New Holland

Of course it was the first day +30C that I decided it was time for us to check out New Holland. I'd heard too many good things and it was Friday - my day off. After somehow requiring 1.5h to get the kids fed, dressed and pottied, and all the snacks and other "just in case" accoutrement prepared, we ran out of the house before something could pull us back in.

The 22 bus is surprisingly convenient, as Ploschad Truda is a переход (underground crosswalk) and a block away from the entrance to the island. From the moment we walked in we were entranced. After crossing around a building that was being renovated, we saw the LETTERS.  лето, ("summer") is spelled out in letters a bit higher than me and are perfect for climbing (for example, E makes a stairway and the O is boxy enough for both kids to fit inside the hole). Then we saw the children's play area. It's not the typical jungle gym, rather it's one of those indoor soft-foam obstacle courses and soft foam shapes to stack or climb on, just outside. It's covered over to there's protection from rain and - more importantly today - sun.

It's much smaller than I thought it would be, although I know they are continuing construction and I am sure more and more of the island will open up over time. The community garden is about as big as my living room, with about a dozen plots. The cafe was very nice, my veggie panini fresh and clearly made after I'd ordered it.

My biggest complaint - my only real complaint - is the lack of shade. The cafe had a lattice-type structure over it so we weren't in direct sunlight, but I had promised Alex a picnic and couldn't deliver because the only trees - about 4-5 of them - are right by the entrance and we didn't notice them til we were on our way out.

All in all, it's worth schlepping over there a few times this summer. Who knows, maybe we'll go back tomorrow with Terry and actually take a few photos*.

* photos were in fact taken, but on my phone, the quality of which Terry finds overly dubious and only under duress will camera phone photos be allowed on the blog. Sometimes it's a pain to be married to a photo snob.