Sunday, February 27, 2011

Beer as far as the eye can see...

There's a company that provides duty free goods to diplomats, the best deals are on alcohol and very occasionally we and others at the Consulate place orders with them. They are located in Denmark, I'm not really sure where the goods are located, but in any case they aren't local so after an order is placed some time passes before the delivery - which occurs at the Consulate.  We ordered 3 cases of beer. As our car still isn't accessible, a friend drove Terry home with the goods.

That's the background. The story is that the shipment sat at customs for a few days, and then the cases sat in our friend's car. Short story - all 3 cases were "refrigerated."  Our fridge at home doesn't fit 3 cases of beer if we also want any of the food and drink we need to survive to also fit inside. What to do?

We opened the window in one room and now it's the "cold room." We're also slowly (as in, whatever we can carry each day when we go to work) carrying beer into the Consulate to store in a fridge there. Finally, we had some people over Saturday night and told them we were only serving beer.

The moral of the story - don't order beer through this company in the winter.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Peacock Clock

In Pavillion Hall of the Hermitage Museum stands the golden Peacock Clock. 95% of the time it stands dormant, but on Wednesday afternoons (usually) the Master of the Clock winds it up and it chimes the "hour". First, a spherical cage around the owl spins and bells attached to it chime. Then, the peacock fluffs out its tail feathers, displays them, then turns to show off to those standing on the other side (which is now the wall, so he's basically mooning the observers - but I am sure in Empress Catherine's court, was more open space). Finally, the cockerel on the right side starts singing/crowing. The whole performance is maybe 5 minutes.

Our Consul General had a great idea of a morale-boosting pick-me-up and suggested we organize a trip to see the Clock. When our folks contacted the Hermitage, they instead offered to have a special showing just for us at a different time and date. It was a great plan, except for the large tour group that happened to be in the room as people started gathering, and they got the bulk of the space right in front before the majority of us arrived. We got the kids to the front anyway, and those who really wanted to see the performance were able to do so.

Here's a link to more information about the clock, here's a YouTube video of its performance, and below is a clandestine photo of the clock (clandestine only because Terry hasn't edited it first, we're allowed photography there)

Lapland restaurant

At the far end of 5th Sovietskaya, on a residential street completely deserted on a cold winter's night, stands Lapland. At least, the eponymous restaurant. Upon entering, it's a great representation of a northern cabin, all light wood, high ceilings, some pelts and antlers around the rooms. Right by our table was a children's sized table with some Ikea toys to play with. They have a tasty home brew beer and a menu full of fish, game, and arctic circle berries in the sauces (cloudberry, arctic buckthorn, lingonberry - the last of which isn't quite so northern but close).

We got the bread basket, which had some unique pairings such as "gray bread" with beetroot and something I forget, maybe celery root? The butters were also doctored and tasty, I remember one had garlic and something else, the other had mushroom. We also had an amuse bouche, which usually makes me love a restaurant on the spot. It was tasty, although the server never identified it for us there was definitely a smoked fish, cmetana, and shredded beet. yum!

Terry ordered a salad with smoked rock trout for starter, and I had smoked cheese soup with venison. They were both a bit sweet for Terry but I thought they were fabulous. If only that had been my meal!  We made the cardinal mistake of ordering the same main as it sounded soooo good on the menu - braised venison with mashed potatoes, sour pickles and lingonberry sauce. The sides were fine but the venison ... I'm not a texture person, but it was like eating venison-scented mush. I couldn't finish.

Things picked up at dessert, where I had the buckthorn-mint sorbet and Terry had cloudberry - mine was better. The cappuccinos were also perfect. We will definitely give it one more try, next time with different mains! One complaint - yes expensive restaurants are, well, expensive, but seriously, our bottle of water was 450 Rubles ($15). It's the $2 water at the grocery store. All other markups I forgave, but the water annoyed me.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

It wasn't the frozen lock

We got lock de-icer (yes, this product does exist and even has what it is in helpful English) and the locks still won't work. SO now we wait for warmer weather to use our car again. Those studded snow tires, that brand new battery, just going to waste ....

Saturday, February 12, 2011

It was so cold ...

Sounds like the beginning of a joke, but the joke is on us if anything. So our car has been having troubles with the locks - the automatic locks aren't working properly so some doors don't unlock with the auto locks, some don't lock, and in general when it gets below freezing there's liquid in the driver's side door so the key can't even get in the lock all the way so we have to go to the passenger side, unlock it, then lean across the entire seat to unlock the driver's side because the passenger side auto locks don't lock OR unlock anything.

We have some concerns about the car surviving the tour. Especially as we have another 2 years here. Terry keeps saying the problems are cosmetic, the engine is solid yadda yadda

Today proved me right. The drivers' side lock was as usual nonfunctional and today the passenger side made the clicking sound but didn't raise the lock enough to actually open the door. He couldn't drive to the grocery store because he couldn't get into the car.

How thrilled are we that Okey Express opened last month about a 15 minute walk away? Can't carry as much, but can get the necessities purchased. Now we're looking into anti-freeze stuff for the lock. Exciting times.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ice Skating

Back in December the Consulate was offered and accepted a Master Class in ice skating taught by a former Olympic competitor and current coach of Olympic hopefuls. I "had" to go as it was my event, Terry and Alex came too for the skating. It was a great time, I had completely forgotten how much fun skating is.

This was also our test experience to see if Terry's dream of Alex going to Penn State on a hockey scholarship could ever possibly be realized. She had a great time on the ice, especially when the current skater being trained by this coach took her and led her around the ice.

So, we asked around, found a skate instructor who speaks some English, and Alex - on her 3rd lesson - skated on her own for a little bit. She is happy to go to her lessons, is dead on her skates after 1/2 hour and has a good nap later. Win-win. Today's lesson was also her first on her very own new skates - we had been renting previously and the new ones arrived this week. It's not too long before she'll be skating circles around mom & dad ....

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Winter in Petersburg

The photo isn't great, taken with my phone and all, and this is seriously delayed as it was taken on December 24, but this is the sun in the sky just before noon right around the solstice.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Big News!

I've moved one more step closer to the possible eventuality of becoming a foreign service officer - I passed the QEP. Of course, the window to choose a test date for the Oral Exams is this week, and we have no idea when we'll be allowed to take our Home Leave, so it is still to be seen if I'll be in the USA at the right time to take the thing. I made a relatively conservative guesstimate of when I'm likely to be home given various possible scenarios. Keep your fingers crossed.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Brought low

When you last saw the Mad-Zac clan we were returning from a vacation fraught with minor annoyances and major family bonding time. Turns out the family that flu-s together stays together or something like that.

Zoltan, the one who got the stinking flu shot (well, Alex did too) was the first to fall. Sunday night a week ago he woke in the middle of the night with the kind of burning up fever that terrifies a parent. Of course our children's thermometer's battery was dead and we somehow didn't notice we had 2 other digital thermometers. Whatever, burning up is burning up so we got Motrin into him, tried to soothe him until the meds had a chance to kick in, and hunkered down for a night of intermittent wakeups, screams, fever reducer administration and generally not a whole lot of sleep. Alex's ability to snooze throughout the whole experience is testament to how far she's come and the merits of sleep training, but that's a digression.

Next to fall was Terry, who came home "early" on Tuesday (as in, right at quitting time), and didn't make it back for a full day of work til this week. I was next on Wednesday. It really is a lot like mastitis without the painful breasts! Friday I managed to get Alex to preschool (so grateful for the car, I never could have gotten her the mile walk on foot) and Terry and I took turns trying to care for Zoltan, who seemed to have turned a corner and was in good health and fine spirits other than his refusal to nap. We even pulled out Baby Einstein in desperation. He watched it as much as he watched Big Bang Theory. We called our nanny and begged her to come on Saturday.

Saturday was definitely the worst day for both Terry and me. We ended up bringing Terry and Zoltan to the doctor, Zoltan mostly because of his refusal to sleep caused us to worry about an ear infection. He did have fluid but not an infection so I'm glad we took him.

One of the four medicines the doctor prescribed for Terry is the most amazing drug I've ever experienced for a stuffy nose. It's a nose drop of some sort, probably something the FDA would run from in horror, BUT within 1 minute of administration you go from completely stuffed up to breathing completely freely. And the stuff cost a whopping 8 Rubles (approx. 22 cents, give or take). It took 24 hours for me to stuff up again after taking it, although Terry definitely didn't last so long.

And now I'm feeling worse again? These kids will, literally, be the death of me!

Friday, January 14, 2011

First haircuts

My friend Heather inspired me. Her son is one month older than Zoltan and got his first haircut last week by her hands and the family hair clippers. I told Terry he was welcome to cut Z's hair whenever he liked, as he's been bugging me about Z's "hippie looking" long hair.

Today was the day. Alex helped Terry comb Z's hair, then the clipping began. Z was pretty indifferent to the whole thing, but he really didn't like Terry getting too close to his ears and didn't like when Terry pulled out the haircutting scissors to do a final trim on the parts that still annoyed him.

I commented that he wasn't a baby anymore, he looked like a boy. Alex didn't accept any of the explanations I tried to give her as to why I said that (she's deep into the "why" phase) and in the end demanded a haircut RIGHT NOW.

I figured with long hair and a slight wave, nobody would notice the imperfections of the very tiny trim I intended to give her. She fidgeted the entire time, so it was a very imperfect cut, but I don't think it is noticeable. We'll see if anyone asks about her hair when they see her next week when she returns to preschool. The one thing I will say is it seems a lot healthier. We'll see if it's any easier to comb.

Had we lived in the USA, they definitely would have gotten their haircuts by professionals, but this was probably way less traumatic for them - at least, the photos many of my friends have sent of their kids' first haircuts seem to indicate the home remedy may be easier to take.