Friday, May 4, 2012

Adventure and Mis-adventure Vilnius: Prologue

We wanted to check out Vilnius and visit friends there. We booked a flight. We spent more time than we should have researching apartments to rent, going back and forth with our friend who lives there about locations and other issues.  We finally booked a place with Apartments Inn ( We paid our deposit.

Fast forward to 7 days prior to travel. I'm tidying up loose ends and realize I never wrote back to the place letting them know what time we're arriving, so I send a quick message. The reply:  Oops. We never booked the place for you, someone else is in it right now and won't leave before you get here.


They added that they do have another apartment available, but it's on the other side of town and had other inconveniences. We're pretty much up the creek so we say OK I guess we have to take it, but it would be nice to get some compensation for the trouble.  They offer a measly 5 Euro per night discount on an apartment that is more expensive than the one we were going to stay in AND didn't meet our needs as well as the first one.

We spend all the free time we have for 2 days trying to find something else. We realize if this is the service we're receiving from this place before even arriving, what can we expect when we get there. We cancel and request our deposit back.  We book at the Stikliai, which has apartments as part of its hotel. We realize we're going to pay more than twice what we had planned to pay for our housing.

What we didn't realize yet was that it would be totally worth it! Here are some photos of the place:

The courtyard outside our apartment

The living room and kitchen. Why yes, that is granite on the counters.And a whole bunch of pretty glass tchotchkas along the top of the cabinets that were once within easy range of little fingers.

Our bedroom had pillars. Need I say more?

Adventure and Mis-Adventure Vilnius: Zoltan

Part I:
On Saturday we filled the Sequoia and headed to Trakai, famous for its castle on a lake, its Turkish Jewish history, and its meat pies (kibinas). Other than the oppressive heat, everyone was pretty happy. The kids picked dandelions, the adults took photos of the castle and the kids.

We took refuge in the shade of trees just on the waterline. Zoltan had been gathering rocks and throwing them into the lake.

He had two fistfuls and started to run headlong toward the water. Before anyone could stop him, the land stopped but he didn't. I was doing something else and suddenly was met with the view of a hysterical screaming Zoltan being carried by Terry and clearly dripping wet from the armpits down. Still clutching two fistfuls of rocks, that he continued to hold onto throughout the next steps.

We quickly undress him and get his sweatshirt on (we had just finally convinced him to take it off moments beforehand ...) As Terry was putting a new diaper on, our friend was in quiet conversation with her youngest, who's the same age as Alex. She had worn a dress with leggings that day, and the leggings were quickly stripped off and Zoltan had his new outfit. You can see that he did recover from his trauma to enjoy the rest of the day.

He did finally drop the rocks, too.

Part II:
The next morning we were heading out. The kids had been arguing whether we should take the elevator or stairs. Zoltan seems to have no love for the elevator - he always asks to hold someone's hand whenever we're in it. BUT he does love to press those buttons. In the end the decision was made to take the stairs so Terry and I head off to the right, while the kids are still by the elevator to the left. We hear screaming. This is not as unusual as one would hope so we just yell over our shoulder to Alex "Why is Zoltan crying?" as she is usually the cause. Alex appears by our side. We realize Zoltan is still screaming. *#&^(@*&^  He pushed the button, got into the elevator, then the door closed. He was alone and trapped.

Luckily it's a small hotel and nobody had called the elevator in the 10 seconds it took to get there and press the button to "call" it and thus open the doors. Obviously, we took the stairs that morning.

Tallinn Airport

Since having children, most factors involved in travel have taken on a whole new rating scale. If it makes my life easier - super! Historical or esthetic value have taken a back seat to comfort, convenience and most of all: keeping the kids happy and quiet.

Tallinn airport, oh how I love thee!  You are so adorably small and yet in our collective 10 hours within your walls we had to turn on Dora for all of 45 minutes.

These are some of the reasons why:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Cadets on the move

Something you don't see every day in the metro: a group of what looked like cadets or new recruits, anyway they all looked 12, all wearing the uniforms and coats of something military and each with a duffel bag at his feet. They were standing in formation, 4 deep and maybe 10 across? Waiting for the metro. It's been a long time since I wished I had my camera on me. Using my phone didn't even occur to me as there was no way Terry would have let me post a photo of the anticipated poor quality it would have been. So I leave it to your imagination.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Take Your Child to Work Day

The official date of Take Your Children to Work Day for 2012 is April 26. To coincide with spring break, however, I organized the Consulate's first ever TYCTWD on April 11.

It all started like this: one of the FSOs sent me a message saying "Hey, are you planning anything for TYCTWD"? It was 2 weeks prior to what eventually became the date for the event. I hadn't even thought of it. I thought there would be no interest at all - maybe some parents would be interested to bring their kids but none of the staff who would need to help me pull it off would want to take the time out of their busy schedules. We're a very small post - not just in size of personnel but in terms of physical size. No lunchroom. No "grounds". No Marines (most of the fun stuff happens with Marines).

All the other CLOs were talking about it on our listserv as many embassies and the State Department in general take the event very seriously. So I browsed some ideas, talked with some of the staff (ones who have kids of their own were the first as they also had a vested interest in keeping them entertained during the week off) and in 24 hours had put together a small program and sent out the dual-language invitation to all staff to register their children for the event.

I was pretty sure I couldn't handle more than about a dozen kids. In the end I took 14 and we had a wait list half as long. So much for no interest!
There were, as always, a couple of hiccups as I had not communicated clearly what I wanted from everyone. I don't think the kids noticed. One interesting observation - we had 2 main parts of the program: getting fingerprinted with RSO and having a visa interview with Consular. We had split the kids into 2 groups to make it easier to manage and to lessen the downtime for them. In each group, I noted the employees involved in the event were much more "showman-y" with the 2nd time. More relaxed/communicative/did more stuff with them. I think the adults had initially underestimated how interested the kids would be in their jobs.

Heck, I won't even be doing this job next year, but I am already planning how to make next year's event even better (and able to accommodate all the kids who want to come).

Having a visa interview

Getting fingerprinted

Monday, April 16, 2012

Fashion Week

So this post won't do much for dispelling the rumors of our high-falutin' fancy pants diplomatic lives.

It was Aurora Fashion Week in Piter, and the Consulate was able to score some tickets. Some friends and I went. It should go without saying this was my first fashion show, and I had no idea what to expect.

An American, Thom Browne, was the headliner and the main show. At 11:00pm. So Russian! We went a bit early to check out the place and other shows but TB was our main purpose. The first show we went to went like this: The show was to start at 9:00pm. Around 9:00pm we wandered over to the crowd of people massed together like Indians at the train station and started weaving our way towards the front. We got as close as we could then waited, crushed alongside the other 100 or so people like Japanese getting into the subway. When the bouncers finally started letting people, the 4 of us who'd gone together got a bit separated but only for moments and eventually we all squeezed through. We even found seating for 3 of us, which was fine as only 3 of us were in heels.

The show itself ... first 4 men in shorts and T shirts, then 4 women in similar gym attire (with super high heels). Sweatshirts .... nothing interesting. Nothing very pretty. One of my friends couldn't get over how unappealing the models were. In sum, maybe worth it to have the experience but certainly not worth our time. We had thought initially that when we got into the show we'd just stay put so we could keep our seats for the next show, but everyone had to clear the room between shows.

We decided to skip the 10:00pm show and save our energies for Thom so we went to get a drink and while milling about we found some more people we knew, including the guy who got us the tickets who was in the VIP section. He did eventually come slumming and hang out with us for a while, and when it came time to line up for TB he invited one of my friends to go with him. Good thing for her as she's the only one of us who saw anything. We got back into the scrum, which at first seemed smaller and calmer than the previous one but after 30-40 minutes of jostling we decided we didn't care that much and our feet hurt so went to get another drink and sit down.

About 15 minutes after we'd settled down - and been checking the progress of the show on the video monitors 20 feet from where we sat - a crowd began to fill into the area where we sat. I recognized some of the people who'd been standing near us; most of the crowd never got in to see the show. We should have quit earlier but at least we got some comfy seating from bailing as early as we did. At least we could watch the show on the video monitors when our conversation didn't take our attention away.

We decided to skip the after-party, figuring it would involve as much standing, waiting and being crushed as the shows had and after one aborted attempt (turns out some bars actually close for Easter. This place isn't as heathen as some might think!) we settled in for some food and beer at the Telegraph. Good wife that I am, I noted they carry 2 Scotches T likes although we could buy a bottle through PJs for the price of a glass.

I got home at 2:30am, which I never do as wake-up time is wake-up time no matter what bedtime was. The kids miraculously slept til 8:00am. I guess daddy being away affected them more than I had thought - which means he's never allowed to travel without us again!

Sunday, April 15, 2012


It's funny that this month's Blog Roundup topic is "Chaos." Terry's been away this week so I have been single mom, plus I had 2 events at work, 2 IWC-related events and 3 Russian classes - each one of which required preparation, organization, and stress until the thing concluded successfully. And it's Passover so my food choices and severely limited. To top things off, for some reason the cloth diapers decided this was the week to start repelling liquids.

I knew the kids would be acting up more, feeling cutoff from daddy's attention and being unable to articulate their worries (will he ever come back?) In the morning I was able to "zen" my way through it even though Z was waking at 6:30am. At the end of the day my patience was not in such sharp focus and the kids got put to bed more abruptly than usual on more than one night, and paid me back for it by not settling down until 9:00pm (an hour after being put down). I drank more liquor and ate more ice cream this week than I usually do, even breaking into the Maker's Mark that T asks me not to use as I dilute it with ginger ale anyway.

I'm lucky the nannies do laundry and the house cleaner comes on Thursdays or things would have been really, really dire around here.

T came back yesterday and I went out last night. The kids were silent before 8:30pm and woke this morning at 8:00am. I guess with daddy home they were more relaxed and able to sleep better?

Shoot, was I supposed to say something productive?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Massive Parenting Fail

Tonight when I put Alex to bed I promised to come back and check on her - usually I do that 5-10 minutes later.

On the computer during those 10 minutes, I saw a video I'd been waiting for - a panel discussion on "Building Resilience in Foreign Service Kids" - was uploaded. 40 minutes later Alex is on the potty and yelling for me.


Anyway, here's the video.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

My first seder

This is not literally my first seder; that one occurred pre-memory. This one is the first seder I've prepared. In Malta I was pretty irreligious, here in Petersburg we had Orthodox friends to visit on Passover. This year I've made matzah, charoset, potato kugel, meringue for dessert, and will soon throw the lamb into the oven. As the kids are 2 and 4 I have printed out the "30 Minute Seder". I've made sure we have horseradish, grape juice for the kids' wine glasses, and discovered celery can sub for the parsley I forgot to buy at the store. And I have an orange.

I remember in college meeting a floormate who was also Jewish (not exactly a novelty at Columbia) and she said her parents were pretty agnostic until she was old enough to start asking questions, and then they joined a synagogue and started going on Friday nights. Now that I have a 4 year old I totally understand those parents, although I am hesitant to try to seek out the only not-Orthodox congregation in the city - differentiated from the only Orthodox congregation (not too many Jews left in Russia) - and highly doubt the service would be understandable to me anyway. There's also the internal battle of "what do I want to teach my children"?

In the USA it's easy. I find a congregation I like, enroll my kids in Hebrew School and basically let someone else do the heavy lifting. The synagogue would organize the Sukkot, Hanukkah and Purim festivities and there would be friends we'd meet to plan a joint seder together. Being overseas requires a deeper involvement. Alex will ask a lot of questions tonight and I know I won't have the answers. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Where do clothes come from?

Alex, all excited, told me the other day two of her girlfriends at school had "skirts made from jeans." I told her if she really wanted, we could get her one. She got confused. "How can we do that?"

My 4 year old daughter has never, in her entire life, gone into a store for the purpose of purchasing clothing. We have amazing friends with well-placed children (each one about 2 years older than my kids, along gender lines) so we get boxes of hand-me-downs during Home Leave that we ship to the next post. To fill in the gaps we either buy online or my mom shops and sends stuff to us. Very rarely I've needed to buy locally but even then it's a solo trip. Clothes come home with mommy or daddy from work or we get them from boxes in the storage closet.

I can't quite decide if this is fabulous or tragic.