Wednesday, October 28, 2015

American History in a Box

American kids growing up abroad miss out on US history. Stories abound of children experiencing their very first year in a U.S. public school in their third, sixth or tenth grade, devastated because they don't know the Pledge of Allegiance or which states were the original 13 colonies. U.S. History in a Box fills that gap.

We ordered the K-1 set for Zoltan and the 2nd/3rd grader set for Alex. It has been a blast! It comes with a workbook of suggested activities and questions/quizzes, books to read, and puzzles and games.  We've been reading several of the books (on citizenship, the civil rights movement, the presidents, and native Americans) and playing with the puzzles and games. The kids even made up an awesome game using the U.S. map floor puzzle (each state is a separate piece, except for some of the smaller, New England states. We're OK with that):  the 6 year old steals 3-5 states, and the 8 year old has to guess which ones they were.  Given that she couldn't pronounce half the states' names when we first put the puzzle together, this is a great way to reinforce our nation's geography.

Monday, October 26, 2015


Just like that, the little blob Alex used to call, simply, "baby" is six!  His personality is deepening into everything we gleaned from his early years - stubborn, determined, loving, silly, and with "dance moves" to die for.

Today was the first day back to school after a week's holiday, so it was nice to sleep 15 minutes later than a usual school day - we drove the kids into school today to bring in the cupcakes.  He got the dinner of his choice - Burger King, complete with a crown and a toy (hilariously, the toy is a protractor, albeit Simpson's themed). Back home for the gift, cards (Bubby's made it last week) and the ubiquitous Bubby phone call because Happy Birthday must be sung.  He was happy to receive his batch of coupons, and he had asked me a month or so ago to remind him that he asked me to help him choose when to use them, so that he doesn't use them all in a month and then get upset when Alex uses hers. He had gotten pretty grumpy when Alex, who is quite a saver, used a couple of her coupons in September.

What did the last year hold for him?  He made good friends in Russian and English. He "graduated" from sadik, which is what would correspond to "preschool" except it is so much more.  He got his orange belt in karate and is so proud when he is one of the kids selected by their sensei to model the moves in the front of the room, or to interpret for Alex and our other friends who don't speak Russian.  He started big school, dispensed with naps for the most part, and made a best friend. He started reading and writing.  He has been exploring his rich imagination, causing his teacher and I to both marvel - during the parent teacher conference - at the plausible sounding whoppers he's told each of us. Must remember to document the story of a field trip that (allegedly) culminated in him swimming in an electric shark.

Happy birthday baby! I can't wait to hear what you think up next.

Monday, October 12, 2015


My baby girl is a big eight years old!  What did this year hold for her?

We made chocolate cupcakes with white frosting for her to bring to school and had more cupcakes at night as her birthday cake. Her favorite meal - chicken corn chowder - is back on the menu thanks to cashew milk.  She got to sleep late and I drove the kids to school, partly for a treat and partly in order to hand over the cupcakes.

At night she opened a present from her Grammy and Pappy and fielded a phone call from Bubby, who was not happy to hear the card she mailed three weeks ago still hadn't arrived. Alex was pretty happy with this year's batch of coupons - new additions being "one day she doesn't have to do any dishes" and "one movie and popcorn of her choice" - she and Zoltan have been having some serious difficulty lately cooperating on the movie choices, which we have started putting on during Sunday afternoons when they would normally have been napping. She got to use one of last year's coupons after dinner - 30 minutes on the tablet - and still has one more left!  We'll have to encourage her to be a little less parsimonious this year and use up what she has.

In terms of the last 365 days, some highlights include her very first sleepover (with her best friend, the weekend before said friend left post); returning to school and finding at least one best friend still around;  starting karate and dombra lessons (we bought her a dombra this weekend so she can practice at home); being allowed to come home from the bus on her own - using her key - and not met at the stop by the nanny.

Her maturity in all things other than matters relating to her little bother continues to grow and I sometimes marvel at the conversations we're able to have, or the ideas, thoughts, or conclusions she manages to think up. She still devours books and still wants to be a teacher.  One of the very sweet kids-working-together experiences is that she helps Zoltan with his spelling words each week, concluding the week with a quiz in advance of his test at school.

Happy birthday baby!!

Saturday, October 3, 2015


Back when Zoltan was in sadik last year, Sensei Talgat came every week to teach karate to the kids. A friend of ours also brought her son to the studio where he taught for additional lessons. Before we went home for the summer we brought Zoltan there, once for a lesson and once to test for his orange belt.

He is a completely different child on the mat. He is focused, hardworking, serious.  Today the kids went together for the first time, Alex in her white belt and with two friends who are also giving it a go; Zoltan was especially proud to be the interpreter and, as a more senior student, to help out.

The lesson is in late afternoon, so by the time they were done with the rigorous workout (I wanted to jump into class!) they were exhausted and starving. They ate dinner with practically no complaint - a rarity, especially for a new dish.  We're all loving karate!

Monday, September 21, 2015

A very big week for Zoltan

Two wonderful things happened this week:  One, Zoltan was his class' Star of the Week. Then Sunday night his very first tooth, that had been wiggling for weeks, finally came out!  It turns out he does have the same tooth fairy as Alex (we weren't sure) so he got a new toothbrush and a few hundred tenge - apparently this tooth fairy has kept up with currency fluctuations and knew the tenge is worth less now than when Alex lost her last tooth.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Thank you internet

Because of the internet, and the ridiculously low (comparative) cost of nuts in central Asia, I have started making cashew milk rather than worry about shipping in enough boxes of rice milk, and expiration dates, and nobody even likes it all that much anyway.

Because of cashew nut milk becoming a regular staple, and doing some experimenting with the recipe (more sweet vs. more savory), I have come up with a version of the milk that I decided would be a good cow's milk substitute for Alex's favorite, birthday-request dinner - that she hasn't tasted in two years.

It turned out delicious.  I have a very happy little girl who will scarf this down tomorrow night while the rest of us eat enchiladas smothered in cheese.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

He's turning British

Within 24 hours of beginning school at his British school, this was the conversation I had with my son:

Me: Zoltan, did you leave your sweatshirt at school?
Zoltan: My what?
Me: Your sweatshirt.
Zoltan: Yes mommy, I left my jumper in my locker.

Of all the Britishisms I love, and there are many, jumper is the solitary one I can't stand. It gives me scary flashbacks of that unfortunate skirt/overalls combo wardrobe item too many poor little girls had to wear in the 1970s.

Monday, September 7, 2015


The kids are junior archers! A couple of weeks ago we went into the steppe for a picnic and for them to practice shooting the bow.  When they focused on what they were doing, they did a pretty good job hitting the target.  Especially Alex. She got competitive when Zoltan hit the target first.
Not pictured here are the lovely rows of trees, clearly planted rather than rising on their own, that we wandered through when they took breaks. And the farmer and his cows that appeared at the end of the lane around the time we finished for the day.

We went back this weekend  for more practice. My little princess wore her pretty dress, and hooked the quiver into the elastic waist of the leggings we made her wear to protect her legs.  Her aim is getting better and better.  Zoltan ... well when he actually aims he hits the target. We should have a few more chances to go out before the winter hits.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


We were supposed to go camping last weekend. The weather was turning up perfect, and we figured it was the last (and first) chance this year to go. We had everything packed up. We had the shashlik we'd make for dinner all marinading in the fridge. And then the menfolk (male-folk?) each came up with a medical reason that the trip would not happen.  So since we couldn't bring Mohammed to the mountain, we brought the mountain to Mohammed. Translation: We set up the tent in Zoltan's room. And then the kids and I slept there overnight. Before bed we turned all the lights off and let them put on the headlamps we'd gotten for camping. You would have thought we'd gotten them a puppy and gave them chocolate cake for breakfast and dinner the way they squealed and cheered.  We do still hold out hope of getting that tent outside...

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Day of Knowledge

September 1, the Day of Knowledge, is a traditional first day of school in at least two countries where I have lived (Russia and Kazakhstan).  Today the kids met their teachers, listened to a lot of speeches, and then went home by lunchtime. Tomorrow will be the first real day of school.

We're happy that Alex's class is pretty much still together, and one of the very few new kids is another American!

Zoltan snagged a class with several friends, so although he was nervous and grumpy, we think he will settle into class faster than if he'd been with a full slate of strangers. Of course, one thing that makes it easier is that we don't bring him in - he rides the bus - so he can't cling too much.

Alex, in Key Stage 2, now has to wear the blazer and house tie. Appropriately, we just watched Harry Potter 2 over the weekend so she liked pointing out the similarities in attire. Edmonstone is most like Ravenclaw because it has blue. (And Ravenclaw is the house for the cleverest pupils ... and, you know ...) Sadly, Haileybury has no cloaks. I'd dig cloaks. I wouldn't even complain about the ridiculous prices if it were for cloaks.