Monday, April 29, 2013


I finally got confirmation from CWT that my and Alex's tickets are changed. I went into the airlines' web sites and got us seats together (except for the 40 minute flight where no non-premium seats were available. Sure, some stranger can sit next to the 5 year old on the 19-seater). This is really happening. Tomorrow is Alex's last day at school due to the long holiday. We're both sad and excited together, and having lots of talks about how that's normal and OK.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Security Clearance, for the nth time

The joining-the-foreign-service process is like a marathon. Every step you successfully take leads to more, and just when you think you see the finish line you realize it was a mirage and really it's still several hurdles ahead. OK that's a mixed metaphor, the process is so long and arduous one metaphor isn't enough to capture it all.

Although more and more spouses of FSOs are joining the foreign service, the majority of the ones I know of declined to use their "deferrment" option and instead take the first A-100 class they can. With an 18 month "ageing off" window from being put on the register to being dropped off, and the security clearance we get when mere hopefuls has a different expiration date from the one we get as actual FS employees, it means not too many people are in the situation of having their clearance expire before they either join A-100 or drop off the register. I am one of those rare individuals.

The first time I asked my Registrar about what to do, she told me nothing could be done until after my current clearance expired. This would mean, with certainty, I would not make it into the January 2014    
A-100 class, which has been my hope and dream since the day I learned I passed the language exam.

Then I remembered. Another EFM/FSO actually went through this exact same thing! And I sort of know his wife through the blogosphere! So I quickly got in touch and this lovely couple were so incredibly helpful and specific and the EFM/FSO said it was OK to reference him specifically when I spoke with my Registrar and even gave me some diplomatically worded ways to say "No, really, I AM right" and ....

I called my Registrar, explained why I was taking her time when we'd already exchanged a handful of emails on this exact topic, and dropped some names and dates. After putting me on hold for maybe 2 minutes, she came back to me and said I could start the process within the week or two and even, kindly, suggested I email her to remind her next week if she hadn't sent me her part of the process yet.

I am giddy. One hurdle smoothly cleared. And all because I "waste time" reading blogs.

Friday, April 26, 2013


I'm reading David McCullough's John Adams. Nearly to the end, I just found my very most favorite quotation, "Having failed at nearly everything he ever tried, he had lately been elected to Congress."

Not much seems to have changed in 200 years.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

This isn't how I wanted it to end

Our family is supposed to depart St Petersburg, likely forever, in June.

But instead, Alex and I have to curtail. We thought we could medevac, but it is within the month before PCS and therefore we can't. When we leave in less than 2 weeks, we are not coming back.

We had plans for May, one of the best months in Piter. Alex was supposed to perform in one last school production, which would have been a goodbye for everyone as this is the last year of detsky sad and the kids all scatter to different schools next year. We were supposed to have time to revisit favorite places and share meals with friends. And try to eat up some of this load of food we accumulated.

Most of Russia will shut down May 1 and not reopen until after we're gone. People go away on vacation. Alex's last day with some friends may well be tomorrow. We're lucky that when faced with medical problems that nobody local can figure out, we have the opportunity to travel elsewhere. We are lucky that although we now have an odd, uncomfortable block of time in the USA without husband, son, or any more stuff than we can fit into 2 suitcases, we have plenty of options of where to go and what to do. We know that we're only cutting a month off the end. But this month was meant to be filled with goodbyes and will now, likely, be filled with a gaping silence.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Wordless Wednesday

Concert and Ballet and Hockey, oh my!

A couple of weeks ago we had what was for us a crazy busy weekend.

On Saturday, one of our Consulate colleagues performed in a cello concert (accompanied by a pianist - the teacher of several of the Consulate kids and a parent or two) at the CGR. Our game plan was that Terry and Alex would go and Z and I would stay home as it was naptime. Thus, I can't say much about the performance other than everyone reports it was very good and there is video I hope to view. When Z woke from his nap the first thing he said was "Can I bring doggie [stuffed animal] to the big house [CGR]?" So we went, hoping the concert had ended by the time we arrived. It had. So we got to hang out with

The next day we went to the children's ballet production of Sleeping Beauty at the Gorky Culture Palace out in a part of town where we had never been. Because the dancers were kids, some of the spectacular moves that make me love that ballet so much were toned down, but overall Alex and I enjoyed it, the boys got antsy.

We rushed home from there to get the kids a bit of naptime, because when we woke them we were off to hockey! Terry's been playing on an intramural type league and that Sunday evening was "skate with your kids" night. Alex couldn't participate as she was still in the cast and Zoltan was very eager outside the rink, very iffy inside. In the end Zoltan skated a tiny bit and we all got to see Terry play a bit and I got photos and video that will probably never see the light of day. A couple of the other kids inspired ours and they both said they want to skate more. I'm pretty sure Alex would have been on the ice if she could have. So, if we're here when they do another round, it will be another family night.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Happy Earth Day!

13 years ago today I went on a first date with a guy I met in his own kitchen. He was the new roommate of a friend from graduate school and I went with some other friends to their housewarming party. Funny how I don't remember the date of the party. But I do remember I had papers and exams and although we soon started talking every night on the phone, we hadn't seen each other since the party.

We decided to check out the Earth Day doings on the National Mall and met up at noon. The conversation never stopped and it felt like we'd already known each other forever. Fourteen hours later we were still talking, I was seriously starting to fall asleep, but he hadn't kissed me yet. And then he did....

Sunday, April 21, 2013

I blame the next 10 lb on customs

We just discovered we aren't allowed to ship back home USA acquired items (i.e. commissary, Cans, jars and boxes we had assumed we would be using for the first few months of new-home are now lost to us. For a lot of this stuff we feel that slight twinge we all feel whenever we spend money and then never experience the value of the expenditure (think: clothes "just in case" you lose weight or have that perfect event; gym memberships; gift cards, etc). But there are a few items causing a bit of heartache.

Today the kids helped me make maple sugar cookies. Dinner was meatball subs with homemade tomato sauce (organic diced tomatoes). Then maple sugar candy. When the kids settle down I'll be making maple bread pudding. Tomorrow we may do homemade pizza (bonus: the crust will rid us of some whole wheat flour). We seeing a pattern here? It is entirely possible I will use so much maple syrup that I will voluntarily never have any again. For at least a few months.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A busy week, but finally progress!

It's hard to write about an overwhelming experience. And some of the personal stresses of the last couple of weeks have even been good ones.

In the space of week we have decided to medevac Alex for her various medical issues that need testing to figure out (on Monday we should know for sure whether MED agreed); we first unsuccessfully, then successfully, bid on a home (different properties); listened and watched in horror as the Boston Marathon, MIT shooting, and West, Texas tragedies unfolded - each of which involved a location near and dear either to our own hearts of hearts of good friends. I am thrilled to report that my father was not at work so never in harm's way.

Now that we seem to be heading the right direction with Alex we have nothing to do except wait to hear when the appointments are set up and then we can worry about flights and hotels. Now that our bid has been accepted and we've made the calls we needed to make for inspection and appraisal, there's nothing to do except wait for those reports to come back. The cortisol surge of the last few weeks hasn't abated yet and is looking around for a good target.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sleeping Beauty

In my 4 years in St Petersburg, I have seen the ballet Sleeping Beauty 4 times.

1. Mariinsky, classical interpretation
2.Ballet on Ice, a child-friendly performance. Alex and I agreed that it wasn't good enough ballet or good enough ice skating and the two should not be merged.
3. Mikhailovsky, Nacho Duato's interpretation. My favorite of all time. I may try to see it one more time before we leave here.
4. Children's Ballet at the Gorky Culture Palace. Zoltan's first ballet. Very modified due to children dancing it.

It probably goes without saying that this is my favorite ballet.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

CKA Hockey - Playoffs

[Editor's note: this event took place 2, maybe 3 years ago. I edited the post to add labels. Somehow it re-posted as of today. Love technology]

Wow do they take their hockey seriously. We went to a playoff game on Defender's Day (aka Men's Day) and it was a great game. Spartak scored a tying goal with 3 seconds left on the clock, and CKA won in overtime. And we still got home in time for the sitter :)

Some interesting points.
1. The Moscow fans get their own section and it is blanketed with Policia (formerly militsa, in any case the riot police) The photo is from my phone so it isn't so good but there is literally a police officer sitting on either side of the aisle on every single row. Terry tells me they do this for every game, even when the other side only had 6 fans at the game. Wowsers.

2. There is a special CKA fan section, you need to be on some special list to even sit there. These folks are hard core, they have their special chants and arm movements, and the flags. Oh, the flags. I took some video of them cheering for something great the CKA did, I don't remember what. Enjoy.

Friday, April 12, 2013

A home for our weary heads...

... or not.

Twice in the last few weeks we told our realtor to get a contract ready for us to sign, then learned in the middle of that process that the house had just gone under contract to some other lucky buyer.  This time, at least, we managed to actually complete a bid and successfully transmit it to the seller's broker.

We wait until Monday to find out our bid is rejected (we're not too hopeful, it isn't the strongest bid in the world). And then back to the drawing board. But, hey, this is farther than we've gotten so that has to count for something!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Riga Day 2, a.k.a Radisson Blu

The next morning we were at the Radisson Blu by 11am for our spa day. Little did we know how much of a day it would be!

On the booking for our spa treatments was a line about showing up an hour in advance to take advantage of the Thermal Suite and Relaxation Area. It meant a whole floor devoted to DIY relaxation: eucalyptus scented steam rooms; saunas; heated glass tile benches; an outdoor "vitality pool" (yes, OUTDOOR. It was heated. Super cool); a "shower experience", basically a sort of trail you can walk through where the showers vary from cool to hot, from a rainforest type overhead to an all-over 6-nozzle dealio; male and female relaxation room with these Posturpedic type beds, cozy with terry cloth "sheets" and blankets over them, soft music and dim lights, and headphones you can plug into each bed/chair's own listening station; and a sort of common room with fruit, tea and water to snack on.

I didn't bring my camera up there, but here's some photos from the espa web site:
(top) This is the outdoor vitality pool. It has a couple of waterfalls that you can see to the right, and one whole side is benchlike and jacuzzi type bubbles blow through that way.
(bottom) this is the "experience shower" trail.

But I get ahead of myself.

We check in for our treatments, ditch our coats in the cloakroom, and are shown to the changing rooms where we are each handed a towel, robe, and slippers. These slippers are real; I think the soles are cork or something similar, whatever Birkenstock uses. The lockers are in 2 sizes, decent and enormous. We each chose enormous because why not? In the changing room in addition to the normal bathroom, showers with aromatherapy shampoo and body wash and hair dryers, are a bathing suit centrifuge, light-up makeup mirrors and flat irons.

 Quickly changing into our bathing suits and wearing our robes we head up to relax. Although we didn't get into every steam room or sauna, we hit one of everything that place had to offer. We were chatting and sipping tea when our spa professionals came to fetch us. When I got to the room, it had all the expected: soft lighting and music, aromatherapy wafting in the air. The lady gave me a plastic bag for the bathing suit and a pair of disposable panties to wear and said to change and get under the covers. The massage table thing had what looked just like sheets made of terry cloth, with a cozy blanket thrown over it. We had wondered how comfortable our relaxation would be in wet bathing suits as we go straight from the water relaxation to the treatment - and this was the answer. They think of everything!

The facial turned out to be facial/scalp massage and hair treatment/shoulder and neck massage. When she said it was over I had to gather the energy to get up. Next was the post-treatment relaxation room, which came equipped with more of the lounge chair - Posturpedic bed things with terrycloth sheets and blankets, plus tea, water, dried fruit, nuts and adorable little cookies we decided had to be healthy because they wouldn't serve anything else. The 3 of us had the room to ourselves so we chatted, rested, ate and drank.

After about an hour of that we decided it was time to move on to the next thing. It just so happens the Radisson Blu houses the Skyline Bar, with famous panoramic views of Riga. It was lunchtime for us so we went for some food and drink and pretty views.

 And as we chatted and looked around and ate and drank and drank some more, we decided we had made a mistake not picking up a table right by the window, so we had to move.

We saw the sun set.
We got comfortable.

And, at 10:23pm my friend remembered that our coats were still at the coat check at the spa.

As I am normally the speedy one in the family I volunteered to race down there to fetch our coats or get someone in the hotel management to open the door as we assumed the spa was long closed. Turns out it closes at 10:30pm. I did have to wait about 5 minutes for someone with a key to come by, but we didn't have to take a cab home in our sweaters so I call it a win.

Riga - day 1

Friday I hurried the kids to sadik and rushed back to the house because the taxi was arriving at 9:30am.  We got to the airport and checked in. Boarding, arriving, getting cash from the ATM, taxi ride with a driver listening to Russian radio got us to the hotel - all smooth as silk. We grabbed a drink and snack at the hotel and waited excitedly for our other friend, who we expected any minute.

This is how the ladies' weekend began. Travel with one small carry-on bag, reading the magazine on the plane, moving easily from one thing to the next.  Terry had his turn last month when he visited a friend in Sweden, and this weekend one friend from Petersburg and I met another friend from Lithuania in the mid-point of Latvia.

By the time our friend arrived at the hotel to meet us, it was Happy Hour at the hotel bar. Her travel SNAFUs dictated that we take advantage of the buy 1 get 1 free cocktails (well, in Latvian and English it said BOGO. In Russian, interestingly enough, it said buy 2 cocktails get the 3rd one free. Hm)

The in-flight magazine highly recommended a restaurant in the old city not too far away so we went. First, the building was adorable (seen below). Appetizers were phenomenal. I had a cream of chestnut soup with duck, I forget if it was roasted or smoked but anyway it was delicious. One friend got an elk goulash and the other had beef carpaccio. Then the mains came. I am so glad my soup completely filled me up, as my pheasant was so dry and overcooked I  could barely swallow a bite, and actually had to take a sip of water to help it go down. One friend's catfish was undercooked although the asparagus that was the real reason she ordered the dish was perfect. The third friend, just like Goldilocks' littlest bear, had a perfectly juicy lamb.
 After dinner we stopped at the wine bar a few doors down from our hotel and ordered a bottle to share. The proprietor was extremely cordial, especially as we were the last people to leave the restaurant and had only bought a bottle of wine.

On the way back to the hotel we saw this interesting Riga phenomenon of bicycle rickshaws. As I never saw anyone riding in one, I wonder what kind of business they get. The rickshaws each have a blanket to keep you cozy in the snow and they all pipe out pretty loud music.

Monday, April 8, 2013

And now she reads

Today I went to the book store and found some "my first reader" type books in Russian. I know Alex is ready, I hadn't realized how ready.

Tonight she read the entire book of Masha and Medved. 25 sentences. She didn't know the meaning of every word but then neither did I. After dinner I read the book to her and we talked about what was going on.

We are opening a whole new chapter! I am so happy Bukvoed is having a big sale on children's books this month!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The countdown really begins

Plane tickets, purchased. Hotel for rest stop, booked. Dates for packout, still tentative but in process. Pre-packout survey date set, if that counts.

On our list of "must do" before we go ... only 2 things we'd be heartbroken if we didn't do:
1. One more day at Elagin
2. One more shashlik night in Tavrichesky Sad.
  2.a) and if I could get to one more Mikhailovsky ballet before we go, it would be great. However I do recognize I have been completely ballet spoiled, probably gone more time in the last 4 years than in at least the 20 years preceding it if not my whole life.

The main points on that list are entirely dependent on Mother Nature, who doesn't seem to be a big fan of Piter this year. We'll see how much we get accomplished.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Russians and their language

It is well known to people who have ever tried to speak Russian to a Russian that they are very particular about how their language is spoken. "Muttonburger" gets wide-eyed stares, "Moo-ton beurh-gher" get the waitress scribbling in her pad. So far as a I know every detsky sad has a speech pathologist who comes by to check that the kids are able to speak properly.

So it should come as no surprise that all over town for the last few months have been these billboards proclaiming:
"Let's Speak Like Petersburgians"

At first I had no idea what it was all about. T explained that it's meant for people who are not from Moscow/Piter but other Russian speaking countries or other parts of Russia who may not
speak "properly".

One billboard I saw a few months ago went through numbers. This one seems to have negotiation and worker type words (agreement, facilitate, draw/scoop, quarter/block ...  but then "utterly"?)