Friday, March 29, 2013

Go Gevalia!

And on a lighter note ... I have to give a shout out to our coffeemaker.  If, hypothetically, someone were to turn on the coffeemaker without having ever put any water in, the thing simply shuts itself off. Almost immediately. Yay for no burnt pots or electrical fires!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wordless Wednesday

This vs. That

Last week Terry had training in Portugal. He did this:
Some beautiful building on the water
 Some beautiful monument on the water
A seagull eating a rat. Notice the water flows, as in it isn't ice

Ah, wine

Meanwhile, I was home with 2 kids who had just gotten over Daddy's last trip. Alex had all the medical issues going on. We did this:
Yep I let Zoltan have the camera. Heck, Terry doesn't like it (camera) anyway.
 They gave him that lollypop free. Alex's was red.
That sign says "Happy Phone" above the seafoam green telephone
 Playground at the detsky sad when we went to pick Alex up after our special day together
 Of course, Alex and I had to hit the same cafe on our special day.
 The tea here is amazing. And comes with a little cookie.
 Super heroes duking it out

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A different view on medical care overseas

Back in October, Alex started coughing. I don't know much about the first week or so, it happened while I was in Tver and the family caught a cold - which was to turn into more than a cold for each of them.

She hasn't stopped coughing. At first the teachers and other parents thought she was still sick and I was accosted and accused for bringing her to school. This continued even after a month - c'mon guys, anyone with an iota of reason knows than more than a month later you don't still have a cold. And she clearly didn't have tuberculosis.

We went through all the obvious things, bronchitis, allergies etc and the coughing never let up. We saw an ENT who diagnosed post-nasal drip. I cut dairy out of her diet in case it was causing the PND. And yet ... she woke up every morning coughing, and spent some time coughing every night before falling asleep. Sometimes she woke in the night coughing. Naptime at school was the same.

A couple of months into all this mess, she told me she had a tummy ache. She pointed pretty high up her chest. We gave her 1/2 a Tums. A few weeks later, it happened again. Then, constant tummy aches, and daily heartburn. I get on the trusty old internet and ... GERD. All the symptoms, none of the causes. The Consulate doctor is away. A friend hands me her bottle of Zantac 150, we look up dosage for children and haphazardly chop up a pill for Alex.

A week later Alex still coughs but not as much. She says her tummy hurts less, but it still hurts every day. I put her bed up on some thick books but I'm not sure it's high enough. We got to see the Consulate doctor, who wants her to finish dinner 3h before bedtime. Yeah, Russian kids go to bed way later than American ones - she's still at detsky sad 3h before bedtime. Doc agrees GERD but is concerned as to why Alex has it - she's not a baby, not an adult, not overweight, doesn't eat any offending foods, etc etc.

She first recommended an endoscopy. Here they are usually done without anesthesia as "without" it's 15 minutes, "with" you have to plan 24 hours in the hospital. So we got to stress out for a few days about whether that is something we want to do at post or if we can/want to medevac. Sounds ridiculous for a 15 minute procedure but the quality of medical care received at post, especially diagnostically, has been bad enough several people have had to medevac after tests in order to get better tests. I am not making Alex go through an endoscopy twice.

THEN we hear back, after the local doctor confers with the American doctor in Moscow, that she first recommends doing a test for h.pylori bacteria as it is the likely cause of this. Does this test exist in Russia? We don't know yet and thus need to continue to worry about Alex's GI health.

Just one more thing that would be so much easier if we lived in the USA. At least we can get broken arms set properly here - something not true at every post!
[note, this post was written in draft form, the last sentence included, before Alex fell and broke her arm again. Quel coincidence!]

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Some good things about being posted overseas

As already mentioned, Alex broke her arm yesterday. She fell off the bed, started screaming and crying in that way that means "I didn't just bruise something" although I did get the ice immediately in hopes we were all wrong.

In the USA ... I don't actually have any idea what I would do in the USA. Show up at an emergency room? Call her pediatrician?

In Russia, I immediately called our local doctor, the one who comes to the Consulate every week and is American board certified. Best of both worlds. She called the private clinic closest to us, found out when we could come in for a consult with the pediatric doctor on call (this is a weekend of course) and get an x-ray if he concurs it's necessary. I kept Alex in ice and TV until it was time to go - a little less than an hour.

When we got to the clinic and checked in, we were told to go right up to the pediatric floor. The doctor met us as we were coming out of the elevator. After he checked Alex out, we did have to wait about 10 minutes before heading down to X-ray. When we got there, we waited about another 10 minutes before we got in for the X-ray. They ushered me out of the room (last time they let me stay, just gave me my own lead apron thing) and I saw the x-rays as they came up on the screen. I knew about as soon as the docs knew that yep, she broke her arm across both bones.

From there we went directly to the room where the doctor, who had been with us throughout, met up with an assistant and put on the cast. He told me when to come back next week, and that was it. I paid $350 that I hope insurance will reimburse me for and got home about 2 hours after I left the house.

From friends' stories back home, I imagine the snacks and activities I had throw into my bag before leaving would have been much more heavily utilized had this occurred in the USA.For this trip, the Leapster was more than enough.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Here we go again

322 days ago, this happened.

Today, Zoltan and I were playing in my room.We were pretending to sleep in my bed with 2 stuffed animals who were not doing a very good job of sleeping. Alex came in and perched at the foot of the bed. Too close to foot of the bed, apparently, because she soon rolled off the bed onto the carpeted floor. Cue up the screaming and crying. And holding her hand. And actual tears.

I started to feel nauseated.  Isn't she going through enough right now medically?

Got ice on the arm, got her watching TV to calm down and give it some time. Maybe we're wrong about this. And it is Saturday afternoon and Terry's not here.

When she said she wanted to go get an x-ray like last time my heart sank. Called the Consulate doc, called our upstairs neighbor to see if they could keep Z til Terry got home and we watched another show to distract her til it was time to go.

I was standing in the technician room with the doctor while Alex was in the other room getting the x-ray. I could see myself that damned black line crossing both bones in her lower arm. Here we go again ...

Friday, March 22, 2013

We Have Orders!

Which means that we will now be allowed to pack up our stuff, buy plane tickets, and actually travel from Russia to the USA this summer. Now, it's REAL.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

More things the kids say

Some of these are old, and some are things we have had to say to them, but they need to be preserved for posterity before they are forgotten:

Parent: No Alex, don't hammer the cheese

A: I'm talking to pop-pop.
M: is he saying he misses you?
A: no. he's saying is that baby's teddy bear and are you allowed to play with it?

A: I'm a ballerina! I have a dress, and my legs are strong, and I can dance

Parent: No Alex, I don't want a real pee-pee in the pretend potty

Z: I want to go out! I want to go out in the city!

A: (after pretend trick or treating) Halloween candy is separated into M&Ms, chocolate, candy and french fries

At dinner:  Mommy, no singing. You have to eat your dinner

T: Tell my why you want to go into the dining room. I want to hear your reasoning.
A: That's an excellent question. I want to go in because I want to.

A: No Benjamin, I can't play right now. I'm eating a cookie.

A: Zoltan, you like to do everything I do, so why don't you eat your grapes? I'm eating my grapes.

Wordless Wednesday

Sunday, March 17, 2013

79 days

We don't have actual orders yet so this is only proposed/theoretical. But the real day will be within days of the one we're aiming for. 79 days. After 4 years. Doesn't seem like enough time.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Zoltan has self confidence

Zoltan has been due for the a haircut.  So tonight we gave him one.  After is was all over the following conversation took place.

Me: Zoltan you look sharp.
Zoltan: Yeah I look sharp!
Zoltan: Mommy, I look sharp! 

If nothing else this boy has self confidence.  He does not require a lot of coaxing to tell you how good he is.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Russia vs. Belgium: The Chocolate Edition

The FS Swap is an awesome concept created by a blogger currently in Moscow. As I'm newly active in the blogging community (well, "this year" new)it was the first time I'd heard of it and I was thrilled and excited to sign up for it.

In the sign-up thread, a blogger in Belgium mentioned she needed to be matched with a chocolate-lover because, duh, she'll be sending treats from the [alleged] world capital of chocolate goodness. She phrased it better. I replied she needed to be introduced to the joys of Russian chocolate. And thus, the chocolate taste test was born. We weren't matched with each other for the swap, but we each sent off our favorite chocolate to the other to try.

The contenders
Yeah, silly ol' me didn't think to photograph the goods until most of the Belgian had already been eaten. But it is still clear to see the concept.

The verdict
Presentation: Belgium hands down. Look at this pretty box and beautiful pieces of chocolate with the name of the chocolate's source.
Texture:  Belgium. It is completely smooth.
Flavor: Russia.

Sokos Flamingo (Helsinki, Last)

On our return, we couldn't find any better flight routings than the one that had us overnighting in Helsinki. As it's been 3 years since our last Finland trip, we decided it was as good a plan as any and started looking for appropriate lodging for 1 night, arriving in the afternoon and departing around lunchtime (ha! but that's another story).

Sokos Flamingo Hotel is 3.4km from the airport and located within a mall. The family rooms (which number more than half of all hotel rooms) come with the standard European two-double-beds-pushed-together-but-not-fooling-anyone-this-isn't-a-king and ... wait for it ... Murphy bunk beds. The kids were tickled pink to get to sleep in bunk beds, and when they weren't in use we could fold them back up into the wall. Gold Star #1.

The regular city bus that went to the airport also stopped about 100ft from the door of the hotel. Check-in was fast, and at the desk is a little stepstool for little ones to participate if they want. Gold Star #2.

Although we didn't participate, they have a waterpark in the hotel and I think there's deals if you stay at the hotel. I know when we ended up at Hesburger that evening there's a window into the waterpark so the patrons can get their burgers. Gold Star #3

At breakfast there's a "children's" table with, among other things, pancakes and Cocoa Puffs and child sized bowls, plates, and silverware. Right next to it is the Gluten-free table which may be coincidence but I liked that kids with food intolerances had their cereal and cookies right next to the other kids'. Gold Star #4.

The mall the hotel is located in has 2 grocery stores. Prizma in Helsinki is like Target (which now makes the Prizmas here look so sad and small). We ended up buying the kids' raingear there because the prices were so reasonable and for the first time the kids got to choose what they wanted rather than just get handed whatever we - or Bubby - ordered for them. Gold Star #5.

And the best Gold Star of all:  there's a children's playroom place where, for a daily fee of 6 Euros (Zoltan) and 12 Euros (Alex), minus the 20% for staying at the hotel, the kids can run and jump and play and climb to their hearts' content. The tables for adults to hang out have a full supply of magazines. I even got to catch up on some woman's fashion magazine from 6 months ago in English while the kids entertained themselves. Because Finnair changed our flight to be 5 hours later than the one we booked, we had a lot more time on Sunday to kill and I really don't know what we would have done if this place hadn't existed. Oh and if they hadn't opened 2 hours earlier than usual due to the Finnish school holiday this week - it normally doesn't open until noon. Sadly, there was a camera mishap so there isn't a single photo, but here's a link to the place's web site:

Wordless Wednesday

Monday, March 11, 2013

This means "I miss him"

The kids prefer me. This isn't any kind of secret, because kids are also tactlessly and brutally honest. Sometimes, I have to imagine parenting isn't exactly fun and games for Terry.


He was away this long, long, kids-home-from-school-for-3-days long weekend.  Zoltan has been potty trained decently well since he was 2, and has averaged no more than one accident a month for a good 6 months. He peed his pants Every. Single. One. Of. The. Four. Days. Daddy. Was. Gone.

When you're parenting your kids solo, the hours between bedtime and wakeup are especially precious. And, apparently, especially rare. Each night Terry was gone the kids took a solid hour to settle down and go to sleep ... heck I don't know if they were asleep but they stopped calling for me so I'll take it. They also fell immediately out of their previously and only recently acquired habit of not waking until 8am or later. Oh no, 7am is good enough for them now!

Not getting enough sleep makes people crabby. Especially children who haven't quite learned to articulate their emotions yet. The bickering, squabbles, just plain being mean to each other was about to drive me crazy and one morning the kids were informed that I was taking them outside to play because they were driving me crazy. Not my proudest moments but I managed not to say anything really damaging to them so I call it a win. They sometimes fight going out, but it is an instant mood booster for them and it's a double whammy because it is an instant mood booster for me too, so everyone is happier. Until one kid reaches the front door before the other and then everything is a trauma again.

From the moment Terry walked back in that door, the kids became the sweetest, most loving, most affectionate children one could wish for.  Oh how I dread his next business trip.

Saturday, March 9, 2013


Tonight, we were looking at the clock while I held him after he 'had a bad dream' 5 minutes after I put him down. He was reading the numbers out loud to me - he's working hard at reading them correctly as he's inclined to start on the right, not the left. After the number changed and he read it to me, he then said "I think the 3 is going to catch the 2".

When stretching his arms as wide as he can, he doesn't say "I love you this much" but instead "I love you this hugs."

Friday, March 8, 2013

Happy International Women's Day

If I were allowed to put up photos all willy-nilly I'd share what Terry got for me before jetting off to Sweden, but you'll just have to know it's a sweet pot of very happy yellow flowers and I love them.

I'm also realizing that I haven't really said much about this holiday and this is now my 3rd one in Russia. It's essentially Valentine's Day and Mother's Day wrapped together but so much better because it is for every woman. Not just ones with kids or in relationships. Flowers, already a ridiculous racket in Russia, are given by everyone to everyone, seemingly. Restaurants get booked and the cafes have heart shaped treats or stunning cakes in honor of March 8.

At the Consulate, and I can only speak from experience for the one section I used to be part of, the gentlemen in the section put on quite a spread. They fill a table with different dishes, fruit and sweets, all for the women they work with. I hope/imagine this kind of thing goes on all around the country.

So, to all the women I know,
С Международным Днём Женщин

Monday, March 4, 2013

Ivalo Airport

Ivalo is a very small city - with 4000 people, no university and no full-scale hospital it barely earns its 3-gate airport.

BUT, in that tiny space they find room for a children's play area. And once my kids found it, they quieted down.  That's the other point I want to make about making airports more friendly towards children - it makes the children more "friendly" to adults, by getting them happy and out of the way.

Here's the one photo that Terry allowed me to keep even though it is horribly out of focus. I promised him I would make it very clear in this post that he does not authorize this photo and wishes I would delete it.
The thing in the foreground is a kiddie sized table with two wooden puzzles on it. There were also 2 plastic bins with toys and books.

The family sees the light (Finland cont'd)

Our 3rd night we were on the schedule for the entire family to go to the aurora camp to try to catch a peek at the lights. We hemmed and hawed a bit about whether we should really bring the kids and in the end decided the sky was clear and it's a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Nobody remembers why Terry opened the door about 30 minutes before we needed to leave for the adventure, but after a moment's glance outside we started bundling everyone up at lightening speed. The aurora was out!!!

We got no photos as the camera was all packed up for the trip, but we got outside with enough time to show the kids and to watch for 5 minutes or so before heading to the meeting point. And no, I don't have faulty math. It takes a while to get all that clothing on.

We thought we did a super job bundling the kids up this time, but Alex did complain a bit about being cold. The nice part of the aurora camp is there is a field house with a fire going and people poke in and out to see what's going on. Terry and I traded off being inside and outside, but as we let the kids bring their LeapPads they couldn't have cared less if we were there or not.

The aurora never showed up as well as it had in the earlier evening.  We got a couple of photos that show it faintly, but the clouds started appearing soon after we got to the camp.  We ended up calling it a night earlier than the planned return time, apparently that's common when the weather just plain sucks.

Here's the one I took. And at least the kids got to see it, although they are not likely to remember it as they really didn't seem to care.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Husky dogsled ride

Alex: tights, corduroy pants, regular socks, ski socks, long sleeved T shirt, hoodie, her own Lands End snowpants and jacket, the hotel-provided Finnish brand coverall-type snowsuit. Estonian super warm hat. Scarf double wrapped around her face. Mittens.
Zoltan: just about the exact same gear.
Lynne: Longjohns, polartec fleece ski pants, jeans, long sleeved T shirt, flannel shirt, thick wool sweater. hoodie. Two pair of ski socks (one thicker than the other). Hotel-provided coverall snowsuit. Hotel-provided lined leather mittens.

We did have to open the door to our little apartment while we were bundling up but, I'll be honest, there were a couple of points when we were having our snack and petting the dogs that we all got cold. Yup, that's what I said. And mind you, we are people who spend an hour at the playground when it is -20C in Piter.

We have precious few photos from the day and nothing of the dogs in action. This is because Terry was busy hanging on and Lynne had two little heads right where she would normally hold a camera. And besides, it was extra super cold while the dogs were running and my hands would freeze right off and then I would probably drop the camera.

But we do have some photos from the day. The kids enjoyed the ride but they liked petting the dogs even more!
  Doggies getting a rest

Friday, March 1, 2013


Awesomness is the 5 year old helping the 3 year old learn his Russian poem for his school performance next week. She already has it memorized from Tuesday night when our nanny was helping him with it.