Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ice Museum

Back in December I saw a fascinating advert for the "Ice Fairy Tale". Constructed outside of a shopping center in the southern part of Petersburg, it boasted a winter fairyland including bell towers, a maze, snow maidens, and evil sorcerers all built out of over 1000 tons of ice and 300 tons of snow.

I wanted to go over Christmas long weekend. I wanted to go during the 10 days of New Year's holiday. It was going on through March so we kept postponing and postponing. This week is fabulous - two holidays! Monday was an American holiday so Terry and I had a "date day" and Thursday is a Russian holiday - no preschool - so we decided to do a family day. We asked another family with kids our kids' ages if they wanted to come too and we caravan-ed out to the mall.

A few navigational hiccups later, we arrived at the place. It definitely looked a bit disappointing from the outside, which was frustrating as we spent about 20-30 minutes extra in the car (due to said hiccups). But then we went inside. It was amazing. You can see our kids sitting on a throne made of ice. Unfortunately, my husband claims almost none of the other photos came out :( There was a huge heart in ice all studded with flowers on the inside, that was my favorite. There was also a maze of ice blocks, about the height of a 1st grader so the adults could look over the whole thing and keep an eye on their kids but the kids got to wander and get "lost".

The outdoor ice slide was a bit disappointing as it was near freezing today so the melt erased any amount of slickness it originally had.

There was also a 2 tiered slide made from linoleum stapled to a wooden structure. We totally are making this at the cabin! My friend and I each went down this one with one of our kids. We thought our coats were long enough to keep our bottoms dry through the slide and onto the ground. Ooops!

After the outdoor fun, we went in the mall for lunch. The kids got Burger King for the 2nd time in 2 days - lucky them!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Arctic Hysteria

For President's Day, Terry and I had a little "date day" - nanny came for Zoltan, Alex went to preschool (American holidays sure aren't holidays for the Russians!) It was all last minute as I thought until Sunday night I might have to deal with an IWC mini-crisis but it got resolved enough that my Monday freed.

Although there are many items on the Petersburg "bucket list" we hadn't yet checked off, we're also realizing that we don't care that much about some of the Must See sites. I'd also noted an exhibition at the State Russian Center of Photography ( that looked interesting, called "Arctic Hysteria". The museum is interesting, it takes up half of two very separate floors (meaning, to continue the exhibition we had to go out the door, down the stairs, and ring the bell for the second part of the museum to let us in, show the tickets we had purchased on the floor above, and then be admitted). The artists were Finnish, and the art was varied. Our favorite piece was this one. Terry is astonished that I like it, I tell him I studiously ignore that the bunnies are stuffed - as in, formerly lived.

We also discovered a new artist to admire, Ilkka Halso.

Then we lunched at Russkii Dachinki on Nevsky. My Greek salad was great, and that's about all we can say about it. The pelmeni were the worst I've ever had and most of my pelmeni experience comes from the frozen food aisle.

Baby's Rock-a-bye

Some time in the last 2 years, Alex decided she could singlehandedly stop Zoltan's crying no matter what caused it (even if it was her own action or inaction). I think she got the idea from one of her "I'm getting a baby sibling" books, where the girl sings her baby a little baby song.

The song goes like this "Baby's rock-a-bye, Baby's rock-a-bye, Baby's rock-a-bye..." over and over in a singsongy voice.

2 interesting things regarding this song happened in the last week:

1. For no apparent reason, one evening Zoltan asked Alex to sing the song. He even said "please" and asked several times. She, also for no apparent reason, steadfastly refused.

2. On a different occasion, when Alex was crying over something, we hear this little voice singing "Baby's rock-a-bye, Baby's rock-a-bye, Baby's rock-a-bye..."

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Butternut squash smoothie

The kids love smoothies. I love that I can usually sneak into smoothies foods they won't normally eat, as well as simply give them foods they can't get well other ways (any ideas for other good ways to use frozen fruit? I hate how they are mushy when thawed, they have to be used IN something - like a smoothie).

I honestly can't recall how the idea came to me, but I decided to get a butternut squash figuring I'd eat it if nobody else in the family did (I'm the only fan ... or rather I WAS). I also thought to add a bit of the baked squash to the kids' smoothie to give them some nutrition different from what they were already having. I looked up Butternut Squash Smoothie to see what flavors would go well with it and in the end decided to make a smoothie with the rest of the squash. Oh YUM. And the best part is Alex loved it too. Even Terry liked it. Zoltan wouldn't go near it.

So here's the recipe:
  • Butternut squash baked until tender (about 1h)

  • 1 banana

  • 1/2 - 1 cup of milk (can be rice, soy, almond etc. I used rice)

  • 1 tsp cinnamon (or to taste)

  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger (or to taste)


Combine everything into a blender. That's it.

* The proportions listed are just guidelines. I didn't measure anything except the spices. I also didn't have quite enough rice milk and used some ice to thin it. It was still thick so when I poured it for Alex I put in a bit of cow's milk for her so she could get it through her straw.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


I've spent many a fine evening at Korovabar on Karavannaya - with girlfriends. Terry had never gotten there yet so when he really wanted a steak that he didn't cook himself, we schlepped to Stroganoff. There's no good way to get there so someone can't have a drink when we go, which does damper a nice steakhouse dinner. As much as everyone raves about Stroganoff, I've never felt the hype, but I kept thinking maybe I just didn't remember it well as I haven't been as frequently or as recently.

Nope. Korovabar has it all over Stroganoff. The meat is at least as good (I still maintain it's better at Korovabar, it's seasoned a bit more strongly and has a lot more flavor), the prices are better and it's a heckofalot more convenient.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Ingenuity and creativity

Alex attends a Russian preschool. Her teachers don't speak English (well, their English is even worse than my Russian so I just go about as though they don't speak any). When they post notices I take a picture on my phone and then look up the vocabulary if I'm feeling adventuresome, or I just ask someone to translate otherwise.

There was a notice on Thursday but I only got around to translating it today. I got as far as: We need to urgently inoculate Alex against something that isn't in the dictionary. Google Translate to the rescue!

p.s. - it was measles. She's has her MMR. We're all cool. Maybe next time I'll be sure to translate the same day though!

Saturday, January 28, 2012


Our new Consul General invited the Consulate to accompany him on a tour of Lenfilm back in December. Lenfilm, for those who don't know (I didn't) is a film studio in Petersburg that was basically Russian Hollywood. Every important movie was filmed there, and even actresses such as Elizabeth Taylor and Jane Fonda came through a few times. The studio only shoots about one movie a year itself, but its space, sets, props etc are used continually by other studios.

Terry can probably add more but I'll just finish with a few photos of the place.

The set of Sherlock Holmes (his study of course)

Original old films and some of the stars showcased in them (photos above)

Props, for when you need just the right old typewriter

Monday, January 16, 2012

Peter the Great's Original "Palace"

In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day Terry and I decided to do a bit of touristing. One place we'd been meaning to see was Peter the Great's Summer Cottage, and as part of the Russian Museum it is open on Mondays (most museums are not).

I hadn't done my homework so I didn't realize the cottage was literally entirely enclosed in an "outer" brick building so I was surprised when Terry pointed it out and said it was the one (the cottage was made of wood).

Observation #1: The place is super, duper tiny. It's 3 small rooms, constructed in 3 days - although Terry noted there must have been many days beforehand spent cutting the lumber.

Observations #2: For the Russian price of 70 rubles it was totally worth seeing. For the foreigner price of 200 rubles, I'd have given it a skip.

We hadn't paid for the "photos permitted" ticket so I just got a couple of shots of the outside.

After the museum it was lunch time. We pretty much stumbled upon Troitsky Most, a restaurant that's been on the Consulate list of recommended restaurants forever and we never gave it much thought. It is vegetarian, so I thought Terry might not want to stay but he did and ... YUM. He even liked my mushroom plov. We'll definitely go back whenever life takes me to the Petrograd side.

Friday, January 13, 2012

the kindness of strangers

Russia observes New Year plus Orthodox Christmas over the first 9-10 days of January, depending on the location of weekends. When the host government is closed, generally, US Embassies and Consulates are closed too. So, we just had a great week's vacation without having to use annual leave.

Relatively early in the long week, I dropped my Russian identification card (my diplomatic ID). It isn't tragic - it meant I had to carry around my diplomatic passport for identification and when the Consulate re-opened apply for a new card. Carrying the passport is a bit of a hassle and a stress as pickpocketing is the most likely crime any foreigner is likely to encounter here.

In the morning of the first day back I get a phone call at the Consulate. The woman speaks Russian so my instinct, as usual, is that she has the wrong number. But I focus my attention on figuring out what she's saying and - yep - she found my card. She can meet me the following day to return it to me. At one point, when I couldn't understand the name of the metro station she was saying and I mentioned the station closest to my house to give her context on which line I would take, she said she was comfortable coming to my station. (!!!) When we met, she was exactly on time.

What I said to her as I thanked her profusely was that in the USA, nobody would have done what she did. Then I wondered if I was being jaded about my own country or just realistic. Then I read this Washington Post story.

My inverate skeptic

This Christmukkah Terry and I participated in a form of "direct charity" via a blog I have come to love, Rants from Mommyland ( The gist was that mothers in need wrote to the bloggers, and people who wanted to help also wrote in, and we were matched up. We sent store gift cards in whatever denomination we felt comfortable giving. It was a total exercise in trust and faith, perfect for the holiday season.

My husband is a skeptic and that's being gentle. Our compromise was that I'd sign up to help 2 people and we'd send each half of what I really wanted to send - that way we were a bit "protected" as it was very unlikely that both of our matches would be scammers.

Read THIS to see what happened to one of the bloggers in the aftermath of the experiment (warning, if you have any heart you'll tear up a bit).

In today's mail came a thank you note from one of our matches (the online store sites required a return address on the gift cards, so she got it there). My husband's comment was that it was no guarantee that she hadn't been a scammer. It kinda make me want to smack him upside the head, but instead I stared at him until he agreed that was ridiculous.