Sunday, September 14, 2014


And did I mention my husband left me?

That's right. We arrived in Moscow in mid-August. We moved houses twice before we landed in our "real" house. We accepted our air freight. We accepted our sea freight.

And then, after a few days of unpacking, my husband fled the country.

(To be fair, he did an awful lot of the unpacking himself before he left. But still.)

Then my son got sick, and I got to figure out how to get to his school (and back again) via metro and bus. Then my daughter got sick, but thankfully she was at home when it started; no bus trip for me.

Then the cat and dog arrived from Jordan. Such Foreign Service pets they are - the shipping agent informed me that they would be "overnighting in Dubai." I've never overnighted in Dubai. Perhaps that's why it cost over 5K to get them here?

The note on Yogi's crate. Not sure who wrote it, or why, but in my mind there's a great backstory...

Then Aidan had his birthday sleepover, with 3 new friends. I made a triple batch of pizza dough, a double chocolate layer cake and a double batch of pancakes for breakfast. Oh, and I had to make the syrup, too, because I didn't want to go in search of the bottled stuff (at Moscow prices, no less).

I got sick, too, a few days ago. I'm lying here on the couch, stuffy-nosed and sore-throated, listening to the rain on the windows, dreading the moment when I have to drag myself out to take the dog for another walk. I'm also wondering why I never learned to light a fire in a fireplace myself. 50 degrees and raining: it's fireplace weather today, for sure.

At least, once Bart gets back here, I'll have a really good excuse for why I didn't finish unpacking all of the boxes. And hopefully he'll bring me some "sorry you had to walk the dog all by yourself caramels" when he comes back. (Hint. Hint.)

Saturday, September 13, 2014


He's kind of a miracle baby, that Aidan of ours. I got pregnant with him while still grieving after a horrible, horrible miscarriage. And then, when he was just 6 months old, he got so sick. We curtailed out of Kazakhstan when the State Department "Class 5'ed" him - it doesn't get much worse than that. There was talk of brain damage, disability, death.

But he rallied, our Aidan did. You'd never know today that he had such a rocky start. He's smart and strong and sensitive, with the best laugh I've ever heard in a kid.

He says he wants to be a dentist when he grows up.

I love this kid. Can't believe he's eleven, though.
Kazakhstan, 2004, before he got sick.

Virginia. 2006?
Virginia, 2006.

Lake Placid, 2007.

Beijing, 2008.
First day of kindergarten.
Thailand, 2008.

Beijing, 2009?

Hong Kong, 2010.

Beijing, spring 2010.

Beijing, spring 2010.

Germany, 2011.

Germany, 2011.

Amman, 2014.

Amman, 2014.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Vegetable shopping, Moscow-style

Yesterday the CLO brought a group of newbies to Dorogomilivo Rynok, a huge outdoor market not far from the Embassy. I used to go shopping there every week, but I couldn't remember how to get there, so when they asked me to come along and help translate, I jumped at the chance.

It was all pretty much as I remembered, though certainly cleaner and less crowded than before. The same vendors with their heavy southern accents, the same "foreigner tax" - they jack up the prices when they see Americans coming, whether or not we speak Russian.

It's not easy to get to - about 20-30 minutes travel time via metro and on foot. But, unlike the grocery stores, they have loads of produce, often at reasonable prices, usually quite fresh. And it's huge. For comparison's sake, here's a photo of the place I normally do my vegetable shopping:

The "Fruitmania" vegetable kiosk.

This lady is directly across from the Embassy, a 5-minute walk from my house. But it's a tiny little kiosk, with only the basic produce - carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, onions...  

The Rynok, by comparison, has everything, according to season: hot peppers, purple basil, berries, melons, nuts and spices; pickled cucumbers, pickled garlic, pickled everything, all available for sampling. Vendors sell home-harvested honey, baklava, meat, bread, pastries, cheese and homemade sauces.

I love this place.

It does take some getting used to - the Rynok isn't quite comparable to, say, Wegmans, with its pre-washed lettuce, saran-wrapped meat and refrigerated sushi. But still: I walk in and immediately start dreaming up recipes based on the foods in front of me. Pasta with pesto sauce, perhaps? Spinach salad with strawberries and roasted walnuts? Or maybe kidney beans mashed with khmeli-tsuneli, an Armenian curry that I ran out of years ago and bought from the first spice stall I passed yesterday. I start calculating carefully, making sure I don't buy so much that I can't haul it all home.  (I remember vividly that time in 2000, when I had the baby strapped to my chest in a baby carrier, yet I made the stupid, stupid decision to buy a enormous watermelon in addition to my regular purchases. By the time I made it home, I couldn't feel my fingers. I barely avoided having to abandon the melon by the side of the road. My biceps didn't recover for days.)

Yesterday's Rynok, in photos:

The center aisle, piled high with produce. Vendors chat while they wait for customers to pass by.

Khachapuri, bread stuffed with salty suluguni cheese, baked on site, hot and delicious.

Through that window you can catch a glimpse of bakers kneading dough for pastries, regional breads and khachapuri.

In the mood for red meat? You'll have to tell one of these guys what you want,
and he'll hack off a piece of animal just for you.

Action shot!
(No. I don't buy meat here. Because, ewww. All of those animals pieces dangling from hooks? Can't do it.) 

If it's chicken you want,
these guys were probably strutting around the yard on those giant chicken claws just yesterday.

I'm told they leave the fur on so you know the rabbit is fresh. Not for good luck at all.

Planning a party? Get your caviar here.
That's it. I bought basil, pickles, spices, cabbage-stuffed pastries, white honey... I even splurged on some super expensive, end-of-season raspberries. I would've bought more, but I was busy helping other people with translation so they could shop, too - I always like translating for these kinds of events because it reminds me of how far I've come from the days when I struggled just to ask the prices of things. And I got to hang out with some fun people. I've already found a few who might be worthy of nicknames on this blog some day in the future. I'll keep you posted on that.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

100 Weekends

Really, when you think about it, that's all you get in a 2-year assignment. And of course, some of those weekends will be taken up by school events, or weather events, or summer vacation. So it isn't a ton of weekends to see a place as big as Moscow. Especially when we both have so many favorites from days of yore that we want to show the kids. So we're going to try to get out and see something every weekend that we can.

Last weekend we metro'ed to Kievskii Vokzal and bought tickets for the Moscow River boat cruise. I had to threaten to throw Ainsley overboard to the crocodiles, but that tiny lie was enough to buy her cooperation. And, truth be told, it ended up being fun - even the weather cooperated. We got to see a ton of major sites (Gorkii Park, Christ the Saviour Cathedral, St. Basil's, Red Oktober Chocolate Factory...) without a ton of walking. Win-win!

Settling in, slowly-slowly.

Our HHE and missing UAB all showed up over two long days this week, and we've been digging ourselves out from under the pile ever since. This is the time when I am truly in awe of my husband.  I don't know how he does it, really I don't, but he moves boxes and knick knacks and bookshelves around until a home starts to emerge from the wreckage. A real home. Me, I just frantically move things from room to room but never actually accomplish anything. Frustrated with my total lack of progress, I walk into whatever room he's been holed up in and find it transformed.

Usually this is the point when I throw my hands up in surrender and retreat to my kitchen to bake with my newly-discovered kitchen things. Teamwork.

I'll spare you the pictures of the looks-like-a-crime-scene house. Below are a few photos of last weekend's adventure.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Settling in...

Settling in, but not really, because tomorrow we move again. This time, inshallah, to our real house. Last move for two years, knock on wood, fingers crossed, etc. etc.

I packed suitcases and kitchenware this morning for as long as I could stand it. Then I decided to come here instead. I could've gone to the store, but A.) do I really need more stuff to move tomorrow? We can live without yogurt for a day, and B.) it's raining outside.

We have seen more rain in the 13 days since arriving in Moscow than we saw in a typical year in Amman.

Today on compound.

We've been out and about already. First we dragged the kids to Red Square. I didn't get a single good picture with my camera phone though, so don't tell them, but we'll be going back soon. Poor kids.

Over the weekend we took advantage of a respite in the rain one evening and walked across the Moscow River to try a Georgian restaurant. I've been making khachapuri (dough stuffed with cheese and fried) for years, ever since my housekeeper in Armenia taught me how - it's everyone's favorite meal, and the kids were eager to try the real thing. I was eager to stop making it from scratch. Three of the kids loved it; one pronounced my khachapuri better. Go me! Jury still out on who makes better krasnoe lobio (spicy mashed kidney beans), me or the Georgians.

On our way back across the river after dinner, we stopped to take this photo. The building in the foreground is the Russian White House. That weird sunset reflection to the right? That's the sun hitting our Embassy - that's where we live.

Next we hit the Old Arbat. I first saw the Old Arbat back in 1989, or 1991, or something like that. It was - and is - a beautiful pedestrian walking street, with cafes and shops and historic old buildings.

It does look a bit different now. When we were first posted here in '99, there was none of this. Now, in addition to Starbucks, there's a pretzel shop. A Shake Shake. All sorts of American stores. It's kind of cool and kind of sad, all at once.

 I always did like this church, between the Arbat and the Ambassador's residence.

Overall, my first impressions of the city are favorable. The Russians have clearly spent a ton of money updating the infrastructure, and everything in the city center appears cleaner, safer, less chaotic than it did all those years ago.

I'm still finding my footing. Haven't found a decent store yet, at least not within walking distance, and I'm fighting off a teeny bit of panic, a fear that we're all going to starve. It's nothing, really: I do this at every new post. I stroll the aisles of the stores in search of something familiar, and when I don't see it right away, I get all stress-y. I'm kind of a crazy health food cook, and the sight of a bag of flaxseeds, or a box of tofu, does wonders for my mood. It's okay - I recognize the feeling and I know it'll pass, eventually. For now though: arghhhhh. What am I gonna feed my family? (That doesn't involve much chopping...?).

More later. I guess I should get back to packing up that welcome kit and facebook-stalking all the people I am missing right now. You know who you are.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Pearl Strikes Again

A knock at the door.

It was a new neighbor, stopping by to introduce himself to me.

"My daughter has been playing a lot with your daughter Angelina," he explained.

Angelina? I stared at him, confused.

"That's not her name," Kyra helpfully explained.

The man at my door looked more confused than me.

I looked down at Ainsley, who was closely examining her shoes, and asked "have you been telling people your name is Angelina?"

"Well," she replied, "it is my nickname."

So, okay. If you hear any stories about some crazy new kid on compound named Angelina, just remember, it can't possibly be my daughter. Her name is Ainsley.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

First Day of School, Moscow

And wasn't it just the last day of school in Amman?

Today my youngest three put on uniforms and climbed on the bus to their new school. (The eldest doesn't have a uniform in high school. And how is it possible that he is in high school??)

My camera is still dead, so I took these pictures with my phone. Some day I guess I'll get a new camera. But not just yet. Sigh.

Anyway, here's a little something for the grandparents...

1st grade. She looked adorable going there. Coming home, not so much: a big accident on the playground left her with a  nasty scraped face, poor thing. She said 1st grade is "howwible."

3rd grade. She loved reading and writing today.

6th grade. He said middle school is "kind of fun, but kind of freaky."

9th grade. He isn't yet sold on the awesomeness of school or  post in general.

I spent the day cleaning and making my first grocery store run. I may have also taken a nap in my quiet house. I'll never tell.
Please. Write your own stuff.