Tuesday, September 30, 2014

I drove my car

The car is here, cleared customs, registered, insured and ready to drive. We only noticed after we got it home that the windshield wipers have gone missing, as well as the rim to the tire that got destroyed in shipping (the benefit of a big car is full sized tires as spares!) I'm hoping motorpool can find those items today. We still need to buy tires as we have no spare right now ...

Sunday, September 28, 2014


There's a gourmet food store in town that people talk about because they sometimes get in bacon. When Terry went to check it out last week, they were out of bacon but told him they would have ribeye later in the week if he wanted to get some. Mmmmm ribeye. We knew it would be a treat and would definitely cost more than it would at home. We were prepared to pay up to double the usual cost because, you know, we're overseas.

I went to the store today and asked about the ribeye. Yes they have it, here it is. How much does it cost?  "Sixteen [and change]".  "Sixteen thousand?"  "Yes."

Friends, we declined to buy the $90.00 per kilogram ribeye.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Cashew milk

Astana is a consumables, Pouch-only post. There are few non-dairy milks to be found around town and the only ones I have heard of so far are ones I don't drink.  What does this mean? Any non-dairy milk I drink must be procured within the year after my arrival, and too bad that expiration dates don't quite take me all the way to the end of the tour. So, we will be experimenting with the home-grown variety.

On our super-productive trip to the rinok this weekend we found the nuts and dried fruit vendor and got a small volume of cashews to work with for our first experiment. We'd heard it was a super easy nut to milk and if the blender/food processor is good enough you don't even need to strain anything.

First off, we don't have our ship freight so we don't have the awesome Ninja blender. We have the tiny food processor that attaches to the 220v stick blender motor. Second off, ignore the first off. With our inadequate equipment and the need to strain the liquid I still managed to make something I wouldn't mind drinking with a chocolate chip cookie, PLUS a small batch of homemade cashew butter.  Cashew butter is relatively tasteless, or perhaps something is missing from the recipe?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Adventures in fresh produce

We love us some farmers markets, rinok, produce stands, whatever you want to call them. Although we had a major packout fail this time and didn't pack spices in air freight, when you have fresh produce you don't need much additional flavor. Plus, we like to do some "putting up", and made sure to put canning supplies in air freight.

All this leads to ... the weekend farmer's market running in Astana through the fall, wherein farmers from some nearby areas bring in their produce every weekend at low, low prices. We decided Saturday that it was a good use of our time to figure out the bus schedule and route and pile everyone out to the "сельскохозяйственная ярмарка" (agricultural fair). 

Unfortunately, by the time we got out of the house and the bus got through traffic, it was mid-day. The hoardes of people (yes, I used that word intentionally and ironically) meant that any stop at a stall to try to buy some of the food we came to buy would take longer than our patience and hunger levels could tolerate. For example when the kids and I went to the honey stand, a woman in line was calling out another woman for just walking up to the front and told her they had already been waiting 1/2 hour.

Conveniently, the mall next to the fair held Burger King, so it was lunch and back home for us. Getting what value we could from the experience, we silenced the whining Alex by telling her that when you try something new, sometimes it is wonderful and sometimes it doesn't quite work out.  The kids got 2 bus rides out of it, so they should have been pretty happy. 

We were wary, but in need of ingredients for various culinary projects so Sunday we headed out again. This time we got out earlier in the day, made the kids take backpacks with toys and snacks to keep them entertained while they waited for us to hunt and gather, and went to Evrazia.  The best way I can describe it is that it is as close to Sennaya Ploschad as anything I have found here so far. There's inside and outside vendors, selling all kinds of meats, farm fresh eggs, dairy products and fruit and veggies. Oh and honey too!

We got tomatoes, peppers and onions for salsa. We got three different varieties of apples for sauce, apple chips, and pie (one variety was pretty fresh/sour). The strawberries should have been passed over, but we ended up incorporating them into apple-strawberry sauce. I can't wait to make scrambled eggs from the 10 (they don't sell by the dozen here) that Terry chided me into buying - I was sure they would all break all over everything on the bus ride home. Can you tell which egg in the photo is store bought vs. market? And of course the honey! It is so good that offering the children bread and honey for treat elicits squeals, not groans.  We'll be back often.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The one where we mess up pretty big

With care and attention, Alex has been healthy and medicine-free for about six months.

And then we moved to another country.

We thought we were still being diligent. We kept her away from known dangers, and even read the labels on the chocolate bars (thank you Kazakhstan for having so much delicious non-milk chocolate!!) Without our stuff to make it, though, we had to buy our bread from the store. And this was our ruin.

We tried a few different types of loaves and found a good sandwich bread, and then we found this bread.  I have been told it is actually Uzbek or Tajik, but anyway it is in our grocery store and delicious. The week we discovered it we ate 4-5 loaves in the week.

I have had no confirmation about this but I suspect the bread is made with milk. In retrospect, the taste and consistency definitely point to milk in the recipe. I also only now remember that we had to read labels carefully in the USA because so many brands of bread had milk.

Alex has been coughing for a week, and I had a massive dairy reaction last week as well.  She's been back on medicine and the coughing doesn't seem to be quieting down as quickly as usual but Terry tells me I'm misremembering. I hate when I'm an idiot.

Disclaimer: I am also working with Alex's school to check out the lunch menu to be sure there wasn't anything verboten there, but I don't dine there and I also had a big reaction. The bread is the only thing that didn't either have a label or was clearly safe like fresh fruit. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

UAB forts

One thing that has become a tradition for our family with each UAB shipment is the follow on cardboard forts.  We pack a couple of box cutters and a roll or two of packing tape in the UAB boxes.  When they are emptied we give the kids a play area that they are so excited to have.  Another benefit is that the three walled cardboard used for UAB is it really sturdy, so you can make dual level structures.  We could probably go higher but I have visions of Zoltan wiggling out of a window back down to the floor for a nasty bump on the noggin.  So when UAB showed up the kids were very very excited to the see all the big boxes.  The first night we put together a relatively simple structure with two levels (Upper right photo).  The kids each agreed on one entry box being their own houses and the two in the middle are the shared house.  You have to go through one or the other kid's house to get the shared house.  They were quite pleased with the arrangement.

This tour is unusual that we also got an HHE by air shipment. The movers in Maryland packed it just like any other UAB shipment.  So we have lots and lots of boxes this time.  I decided to expand the fort some the next night.  I added another bottom section but not actually attached to the the first section.  Then I added a second section on the second level that you can use to as a bridge to go from one side to the other.  Alex was showering when I finished this up.  She can out and went in the fort and proceeded to go to the second level when she saw the new addition.  Her words were something like "Hey what the? Oh Cool!!"  Unfortunately the written word can not really catch the confusion in her first statement followed by the excitement in here second.  Not sure how many of these we will build before they become boring to older kids (or they just don't fit) but right now it is such fun to watch.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Air Freight!!

Glory glory be. 23 days after arriving at post our air freight has arrived. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Welcome kit life

Now that our air freight is here (glory, glory, blessed be - finally!) I will try to explain what it is like to live off the "welcome kit". Mind you, I am not trying to compare our "privations" to the lives of the impoverished, for whom even our meager surroundings may seem a bounty. But for those of you reading at home in your stocked houses or apartments, imagine this:
  • You have to do laundry frequently because nobody has enough clothing to last a week.
  • Down to the salt and pepper (in our suitcase this time!) if you want to make a meal, you must go out and buy every single ingredient. You don't already have in your pantry a bottle of olive oil, a jar of basil, a can of baking powder. Now repeat this experience a dozen times or more. And while we're at it, remember you have no car and you're new in town so you have to hand carry home every item you buy and you might get lost in the process. And sometimes you have to go somewhere else for your fruit, or your meat, or your dry goods - not a lot of one-stop shopping outside the USA. Good for building muscles!
  • Your children have four toys so they spend a lot of time aggravating each other for entertainment. You can't count how many times you have told them about your friend's aunt whose toys throughout childhood were "One red pencil. And one blue pencil. You at least have more than that. Now go play."
  • For two-pillow sleepers it is especially challenging to get a night's sleep, as the welcome kit pillows are more like one-half pillow. I resorted to snitching the kids' lovey-pillows if they weren't sleeping with them that night.
  • Tummy bugs cause real panic, because there is exactly one set of sheets per bed. If the vomit doesn't make it into the bowl, the kid sleeps on a bare mattress until laundry can be completed. (We were blessed with sufficient notice, decent aim, and very good friends who loaned us a set of sheets).
  • On a similar vein, on laundry day nobody can dry their hands or take a shower either, as there is also exactly one towel per person. Extra bonus for the exfoliation skills of the towels we have, as they are at least half sandpaper (be careful drying those sensitive spots!)
Ah, yes, the glamorous life!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


I worked a long, long day on Tuesday. Kids were already in bed when I got home.  But, there was a delicious plate of plov waiting for me, as well as tomato and cucumber salad (lots of dill of course!)  The house was clean, the laundry folded. And Terry was happy, because he did absolutely nothing to make all of that happen .... well, nothing except do his job, thus ensuring two salaries with which to pay our almost-full-time housekeeper/nanny.

Worth. Every. Penny.

I can't wait for the next meal she makes for us!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Photos of Astana

I am a little slow in getting some the photos of our first days in Astana.  Finally I have the first batch edited and up online.  The photo on the left will take you to the album.  The photos are from our walk down the Nurzhol Boulevard (formerly the Green Water Boulevard).  This is a pedestrian walkway the goes all the way from the President's residence called Ak Orda to big tent.  The official name of the big ten is Khan Shatyr.  It has a shopping and restaurants and on the top floor an indoor beach with pools.  Very expensive from what I hear.  Although might be worth the cost in the -40 winter days.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Where's our stuff?

When our home in Astana is at full complement, we will have received four shipments: UAB (air freight), HHE by Air (extra air freight), POV (our car), and HHE (ship freight - the bulk of our stuff).  In the normal course of things, UAB and HHE by air arrive within 2-4 weeks after an employee gets to post, the car and HHE arrive within 2-4 months.

Our car will arrive the same week as one set of air freight - juuuust inside the 4 week timeframe. The other set of air freight hasn't even been scheduled yet, nor has the bulk of our stuff. Alex and I are running out of rice milk, we are running out of meals that can be cooked in two pots and/or one small pan, and we all will need hats and scarves soon as the temps are into the 30s Fahrenheight at night already. I am totally patting myself on the back for packing everyone's winter coats and the kids' sleeping bags in our suitcases.  I am eternally grateful for the new friend who has loaned us a blanket indefinitely, as our welcome kit blanket can't hold up to Astana September nights.

Zoltan came down with something last night. We had to borrow a second set of sheets from a friend in case he vomited in the middle of the night and didn't grab the bowl in time, because we have exactly one set of sheets per bed.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A day of firsts

Alex started school for real today. She rode the bus for the first time and was collected at the bus stop by our new nanny for the first time.

Zoltan started at detsky sad today.

Terry started teleworking today.

Our new housekeeper/nanny started working today. Our house is so pretty and clean!