Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Northern Lights

Here are a few more photos of the Aurora Borealis from our recent trip.  It was a short light show both nights but quite wonderful.  Hope you enjoy.

Russian Museum Member Evening

This year we have a membership to the Russian Museum. Between its physical convenience (30 minutes walking, or 25 minutes by metro/walking) and its convenient hours (open Mondays,the only major museum here to do so) it's been a fabulous thing to have.

The Russian Museum is technically comprised of 4 buildings and the Summer Garden (which is, for now, still free). Several times a year after the museums close for the night, Members are invited for an evening of art, music, food and drink.

This month we went to the Marble Palace, one of the buildings in which we'd never yet been. Just walking up was a sight, there's a good amount of marble on the facade. The evening featured a temporary exhibit so we didn't get to see many of the palatial rooms, but that just leaves something to go back for.  The exhibit was very modern, which was an interesting contrast to the 200-ish year old surroundings.

My favorite part was this glass sculpture that emitted tones as people moved around it or touched it. I am sad to say that I forgot to take photos of it.
There was a sign like this on the pedestal: 

And then hand written on the wall, in both English and Russia, with an arrow pointing to the sculpture, said "Please feel free to touch the glass."

So of course people touched it. And the dejournaya came and yelled at them for touching it.It was a bit like slapstick comedy.

We ran into a friend there, and when we went to find the bathroom she was at the garderobe (next to the bathrooms) getting her coat and offered us a ride, so we didn't stay for the lavish display of hors d'oeuvres that people were just starting to crowd around when we left the room, but they looked numerous and delicious and I hope the next evening will have a similar spread and we'll have to try it.

Instead, we hit Il Patio, which is a chain restaurant we visited for the very first time only about a year ago and now frequently return to because their pizzas are pretty good and the Caesar salad tastes just like a Caesar salad. I became a bit pre-melancholy about our return to the USA and the expense of housing and the 6 months we'll be living on one salary. We won't be able to have museum memberships or pay for a babysitter for a night out, or even logistically be able to go out on a Tuesday with the length of our commutes and the very shortened time we'll have with our children on a daily basis (as compared to now with our 15 minutes - 20 if we're feeling lazy - walk to the Consulate).

If the photos pass Terry's muster, we'll post some of the photos from the evening .... some day .... after he gets through all the Finland photos.

[Edited to add photos]


Reindeer Herding day

On our second day in Finland we went out with the reindeer herder and got to feed the reindeer. We also got to see Russia. It didn't look any different from Finland.

There isn't too much to say about that day - we planned badly and didn't dress the kids warmly enough, even though we wrapped her in blankets and a reindeer hide Alex got very cold and didn't truly warm up til we got to the fire for lunchtime, so we spent a lot of time worried.

Here's the kids at the beginning of the day, still warm and happy and playing in the snow while the older folks learned how to throw a lasso.
 And here they are feeding the reindeer.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The first day

We were up unfortunately early for how late we all got to bed, and of course all bellies grumbled. We got some coffee into the adults and granola bar into the kids and by the time we were dressed and coherent it was time for breakfast. During breakfast one of the staff members asked me what the kids eat for dinner, so they could be sure to have something on hand they'd eat. More on that later.

After breakfast we got the kids and me our gear - the place provides snowsuits, hats, boots, pretty much everything. The gear is good, but it turns out for a modestly warm day like today (only -2C) Lands End does just as well. The Kamik boots kept the kids' tootsies warm and I have to give a shout out - some of the resort's boots are Sorels, which have been the other boot we've used and recommended.

The morning was meant to be cross country skiing. Between Zoltan's faulty skis and the complexity of the activity the kids quickly dropped out. No matter, the experience started on the lake out the back of the resort, and the tobaggans and sledding hill were feet away. In essence, we waited for the group to return and got a bunch of runs in. You can see how happy the kids were!
 Having so much fun, in fact, that nobody thought to give them (or ask for) a snack. So a ravenous, about-to-grump group entered the dining area. We quickly load the kids up with rice, bread and fruit and I notice the only hot meal offered is a cabbage roll ... with pork. I ask if there's anything else as I don't eat pork and they say they will do something for me. I am a bit skeptical about what exactly will happen, and start to load up on salad and rice. And then, as the kids are pretty well finished with their meals, a delicious chicken curry appears at our table. Terry gladly helped me eat it.

After lunch we had to rush a bit to get everyone on the potty and back into snow gear for the afternoon activity - snowshoeing. So. Much. Fun. Zoltan this time agreed to hang out on the sled, and Alex made it about halfway before she also wanted a ride.

Here's Alex eating snow. I think this place has never seen tourists like us. When the guide heard Alex was eating snow her response was "No, you don't want to do that, it's very cold!" Um, for my kids, -2C is not cold.


Monday, February 25, 2013


What I will not miss about living overseas: the teensy tiny "practice" washing machine and dryer with forever-long cycles. We were away for 6 days. There was exactly 1 potty mishap requiring a spare set of clothing (OK there were 2, one was today). The washing machine has been run continuously for just shy of 14 hours. We still have a load left. Aaaaruugh!

The hunt for the aurora

When we wandered off the airplane into the velvety black night and headed toward the building of the airport, we were pretty well done. It had been a long day of travel, especially for a mere 2.5 flight hours (I may have mentioned this previously).
Right at the entrance of the arrivals area were several people holding signs for the people they were meeting and bringing to hotels. None bore my name. I started to worry. Terry went to get the bags and I went to find the phone number of the hotel, hoping that our ride was simply running late. I watched a couple of guys hustling into the building and, yep, one had our sign. Huge sigh of relief.

We were at the hotel before 8pm, and the night runs went out at 9:30. During dinner one of the guides came by to tell us the aurora was starting, very faint but you could see something in the sky if you knew what to look for. We abandoned our dinner and ran out, but it was truly faint and we did not know what to look for. But, it gave us hope for the rest of the night.

After dinner was a race to get the tired grumpy kids to bed, which required a decent bit of unpacking to find pajamas and such. For the first time, they did not stay up chatting when put to bed in the same room. They were beyond exhausted.

Terry had gone out with the group with a promise to SMS me if the aurora put on its show. I unpacked as much as possible, organized things and by 10:30pm local time (midnight thirty to my body) I decided I was done.

No sooner had I lay down when the phone started to sing. Aurora! I threw on my coat, boots and hat and ran outside to see what I could see. At first it was nothing much, a faint fuzziness that could have been clouds moving around had the night not been so clear. I texted back that it was here but faint. Then I looked up again and saw a brilliant streak of green move across the sky. And more.

We both got to see the aurora on the first night here ... the rest is just icing on the cake. And what icing!

Helsinki airport

We did our research and knew Helsinki airport had 4 children's play areas. Two were within an easy distance of our next gate so we wandered toward the farther one, as we had 3 hours to kill.
Small, but very well done. Here's some photos.

Note to American airports and businesses catering to children:  In most of the major airports in our country, there are plenty of pockets of dead space about the same size as this play area. This one was sponsored by a manufacturer of winter clothing, they had their logo everywhere and also had stacks of their catalog within the rooms. Brilliant. If we ever end up anywhere cold enough again, we are likely to buy this company's products. It's a huge win-win situation.

But I digress. We gave the kids about an hour in the one place, then moved them to the closer-to-out-gate space, which was a bit smaller. Between the play areas, eating, and watching planes come and go, the time passed quickly.

We left the house around 11am local time, and got to the hotel 11 hours later. A bit annoying as we were only in the air about 2.5 hours, but it gave us a dry run for our PCS and other future trips and I am so proud and amazed at how far the kids have come as travellers. We had a Trunki and a roller bag for their carry-ons and they actually fought over who got to roll the roller bag rather than who got to sit on the Trunki. Their moods stayed relatively good even as naps got missed and healthy food not eaten. Because we knew we didn't have a lot of airtime and the airports were entertaining enough we brought little in the carry-ons - little enough that just about every snack got eaten and just about every toy played with. Success!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

He can add!

Alex is our smartypants in the family. At 5, she speaks 2 languages, reads a bit in both, and can do addition, subtraction and multiplication. She's serious and extremely reserved, often shying away from friends she warmly speaks of in absentia, when confronted with their actuality.

Zoltan seems destined to be the charmer. He has an infectious laugh and easygoing personality. At 3 he can't identify the letter "A" (but he does know "Z").

Today we played a bit after school in the school playground. As my usual rule when I want to get them home, I gave them each 5 pushes on the swing. Alex was first. As I called out "three!" on her third push Zoltan looks at me and says "So she has two more."

There is hope!

Wordless Wednesday

Monday, February 11, 2013

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Grand Maket

More than a year after hearing rave reviews of this place, we FINALLY ventured down to the south side of town to see the miniature Russia exhibit "Grand Maket".

What the heck were we waiting for? We already have plans to go back at least twice - once with the kids and once just the adults. Including the short snack break, we were there more than two hours and everyone wanted to stay longer but daddy knew traffic might be bad and it was naptime.

The exhibit captures the environment and a bit of the culture from every major region in Russia, and has trains, cars, trucks, tractors, buses and maybe metros (we never saw them but there are 2 metro stations so maybe we weren't patient enough) running around. There's also planes, helicopters, hot air balloons, boats and more that are grounded; i.e. not moving. The terrain goes from the taiga to the mountains, from beaches to permafrost. Realistic down to the traffic jams and crazy construction, the exhibit absolutely blew us away. We even got to joke that we no longer lament never getting to Kizhi, as there was a miniature island with replica wooden buildings and I am sure Terry could have caught it at an angle that could have suggested we were actually there, sort of.

On the way to the exhibit there's a windowed workroom so you can see the engineers putting together trains and other parts of the exhibit. At the exhibit itself there are plenty of places where you can push a button and make things happen, from starting construction workers digging and jackhammering, to felling trees in the forest, to lighting up a lighthouse.

Here's a sample of what's to see...

A different kind of date day

We have recently started what I hope will be a monthly tradition, at least while I am still not working and the kids are still in preschool. On the first day, Alex and I brought Zoltan to school, then went off on a day of just the 2 of us.

First up - a treat at the local cafe, as it was only 9:30am and nothing we planned to do was open yet. Fortified, we went shopping for socks and tights as Alex seems to be going through a bit of a growth spurt. Then she chose trolleybus as our transport and we headed to the Russian Museum, where we have a membership.

Above she is showing me which picture is her favorite in the room. We played that game to get her to actually look at each piece of art, not just run from one room to the next.

After only about 40 minutes she was whining she was hungry - art apreciation does work up an appetite - so back on went all our winter gear and we headed out in search of lunch.

Here she is doing some coloring while I finished eating. She didn't like her plain pasta (?!?!?!) but she did like my soup - as I thought she might - so she wasn't hungry.

For getting home she chose the metro, and by the time we got home it was naptime, she was so exhausted she said she was looking forward to it! Her nap was surprisingly short, so we had time for a pedicure and a full High-5 magazine before going to pick up Zoltan. Usually with the magazine we only have time for a few of the stories, so going all the way through one is a decently big deal.

Zoltan and I had our date day later. I had planned a day of trying out all the local transits - bus, tram, metro, etc but he actually insisted in recreating Alex's day. So we brought Alex to school and off we went to the metro to go to the museum.

Learning from past mistakes, we went for treat/snack after getting off the metro, right before heading to the museum.  In the museum, he first whined about not wanting to carry his backpack, and wanting a snack, every 5 minutes. Eventually, though, he got into it. It might be because I let him carry the camera, and even take some photos. I'll have to remember that for my next outing with Alex. Unfortunately, Terry the Photographer deleted every damn one. I thought it was pretty cute that he got the bottom half of every painting and a bunch of the wall/floor. Terry was not amused.

We had gotten yelled at by a dejournaya for getting too close to one of the paintings.She said we couldn't go any closer than the "line" on the floor ... here's Zoltan carefully checking to see he's on the right side of it.

And a photo of him in front of a favorite painting.

For the return trip home, he wanted to take the trolleybus - basically a reverse of what Alex and I had done. Then he decided he didn't want to have lunch in a cafe but instead to go home for PB and J. Soon after lunch began he told me he wanted to go to nap and not finish lunch. Sure thing, baby!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Go Fish a whole new way

Today the kids got mint tea with honey at breakfast. Of course, it was served in their photo mugs, and somehow those mugs morphed into the day's beverage vessel, moving into water after the tea and later juice. At snack time the kids invented a "go fish" type game where one would ask the other if he or she had a particular color on the mug's handle (Alex's handle is a bunny with a carrot, Zoltan's is a snake).

At dinner, they continued the game. They also, as usual, ate the food they knew and liked and ignored the rest. When Zoltan asked for a color Alex didn't have and she said "go fish" I said "that means you have to take a bite of dinner." Without protest he did! And not too long later, the plate was empty.

Trying to stay one step ahead of these kids is exhausting!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

A day of firsts

Yesterday was a big day for me. 2 major firsts occurred:

1. I finally received the flat iron that I finally bought and finally used it. What the heck have I been waiting for?!?!?!?  If you know me personally or know anyone else with Julia Roberts-type thick wavy/frizzy hair you'll know what I mean. And this flat iron is amazing, I didn't have much time so I did really thick sections of hair and wasn't careful about getting the whole thing, but the overall effect was perfect. Better yet, it is even straighter and glossier the next day!

2. I made yogurt for the first time. A friend who left post a full year ago gave us her yogurt maker and then it sat in our closet. Yesterday I pulled it out and went for a trial run. Let's just say the minute the containers are clean again I start experimenting with rice/coconut milk yogurt recipes because this stuff, mixed with our homemade jam, is far too good for me to resist. And then things get really ugly.

[edited to add:  I indeed made Terry scrape his yogurts into other glass jars and made a small batch of coconut milk yogurt. ooooh sour milk how I have missed you!! I'll be trying again with rice milk, and again with a rice/coconut mix and will report back]

Friday, February 1, 2013

Another register update

Apparently right now is when all the superstars are racing through their Oral Exams and landing on the register ahead of my 5.47 - so I've been pushed into the high 20's on the shadow register - not a hireable place to be. And of course right now is when there are no classes in the foreseeable future to drain those ranks. And ... well, they changed the rules once and who knows if, when or how they will change the rules again.

All that leads to this: I officially accepted the extra bonus CNL points and have agreed to serve 2 tours at Russian speaking posts.

I am now #7 of 93. For perspective, when I first got on the register I was 124 of 124. When I passed language I was #17 of 73. That was about 6 weeks ago. 20 more people on the register in that time (shudder).