Wednesday, October 7, 2015

One Week, Two Articles

I have two new publications this week.

The first is in Time Magazine - my first ever for that pub.

And the second is on Scary Mommy.

Click on the links to go take a look.

In other news: it is snowing in Moscow. Snowing.

I'm not ready.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Monument Graveyard

We're currently experiencing a bit of an Indian summer here in Moscow. We've had more warm, summery days in the past week than we had all summer long. Very strange weather for Moscow.

I'm not going to complain about too much sunshine, though.  Everyone in Moscow, locals and foreigners alike, is spending as much time as possible outdoors, trying to get one last dose of vitamin D in their bones before winter sets in.

I guess that's why the monument graveyard was so crowded last weekend.

It isn't really called the monument graveyard, not officially. But that's what people have always called it, ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Back before the collapse, there were loads of Soviet statues in Moscow: Lenin, Stalin and other lesser-known Communist elite were up on pedestals all over town.

After the collapse, Russians pulled those statues down. But what to do with them? Many were relocated here, unceremoniously dumped in the park. It used to be fun to wander around those toppled statues. These days, they're still in the park, but they've been put back up on their pedestals. The effect isn't quite as eerie as it once was. 

There are hundreds of other statues in the park, which I think is officially referred to as "Muzeon" or "Park Skulpturi ЦДХ." (If you're interested in visiting, you'll find it behind the Central House of Artists, across the street from Gorkii Park.)

"We demand peace."

Iron Felix

Felix Derzhinsky, the first director of the Cheka (Soviet secret police). This statue stood in the square outside the Lubyanka prison, where Derzhinsky's office was located. I think it's almost a legal requirement that you put the word "notorious" in front of the name Lubyanka prison. Terrible things happened in that prison during Soviet times, and this guy is one of the people responsible for the horror of it.  I was actually in Moscow when they toppled this statue, during the coup of 1991, although I didn't see it happen and I didn't even know it had happened until days afterwards - all television and radio broadcasts in Moscow went dark that day, so nobody knew just exactly what was going on. Scary times.

Peter the Great, off in the distance.

Monument to the victims of repression.

Stalin, minus his nose.

Don't remember the name, but I liked this one.

"The Dancer"

Christ the Saviour, across the river in the far distance. Peter the Great to the right.

Saturday, September 19, 2015


If you've ever lived in Russia (or Armenia or Turkey or Syria or...), then you've no doubt fallen in love with chechil cheese (Чечил in RussianՉեչիլ in Armenian).  That's it: the white stringy stuff in the photo above.

It's a brined Armenian cheese that is kneaded and pulled into dense strings. You can eat it plain, chop it in salads, melt it into khachapuri (Georgian stuffed cheese bread).

We buy it by the kilo at the open air market here. And then it promptly vanishes from the refrigerator.

You can also buy it smoked, but that's a little too tough and salty for me to consume in large quantities.

(See, MOOCie? I've been trying to scare you off of moving here, but truthfully, there are a lot of things to love about this place. Chechil is just one of them.)

If you happen to live near an Armenian market in the States, go ask if they have this cheese. So good...

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


The calendar page flipped over on the first of September, and the earth tilted ever-so-slightly on its axis, bringing our short summer to an abrupt end.

It is cold here already. Cloudy, drizzly, temperatures in the 50s. Winter is going to knock me over any day now, but I still haven't told you much about our summer.

Summer can be lonely at posts like Moscow, because most the of foreign service and expat families flee post to go "home" for the summer. We opted not to do that, in part because we didn't want to split the family, leaving Bart behind to work, in part because Moscow summers are beautiful, and in part because it's too expensive to travel all that way: rental cars, restaurant meals and hotel rooms add up quickly if you don't stay with family, and if you do stay with family, they generally grow weary of your presence after 10 days or so.

Moscow summers are beautiful, and this past one was no exception. It was a strange sort of summer - it never really got hot, seldom even got warm. But it was sunny, with long, long days - the sun rose at 3 am for awhile there, and didn't set until an hour before midnight.

When it didn't rain on the weekend - which is to say, very occasionally - we went out exploring.  Gorkii Park (fun and fascinating), the Pushkin House Museum on the Arbat (boring!), the Old Red October Chocolate Factory grounds for family photos.  The Tretyakov Museum. The Chekov House Museum. We went to a Fourth of July celebration at Spaso House (the Ambassador's residence), and then in August, we returned to Spaso for a going away party in honor of some dear friends. Then of course we did quick trips to Portugal, Estonia and Finland (scroll back through the blog if you want to see those photos).

All in all, it was a good, if short, summer.

In the garden at the Chekov House Museum. Rainy day.

Making s'mores. Rainy day.

Tretyakov Museum. Because raining.

Not raining! So we did a little family photo shoot with Kelly from gigglepic.

Christ the Savior Cathedral. Not raining. Ferociously hot.

Heading to Spaso House on our 21st anniversary.

Another not-rainy day! So we went to Gorkii Park. And ate cotton candy, of course.

Summer's over. Back to school on a cold and - wait for it - rainy day.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Last Day in Tallinn

We spent one last day strolling around the Old City of Tallinn, Estonia, before it was time to head home to Moscow.

AG told us to make time to visit Schnelli Park, just behind the Old City walls. So glad we did - it was beautiful, and we were the only tourists there.

Bridge over the lake in Schnelli Park.

The walls of the Old City are up there, behind us.

On her way back up to the princess towers.

Back in the Old City again, at one of the scenic overlooks. It's a beautiful city from pretty much any angle.

The girls modeling their souvenir sweaters.

My friend M recommended this particular Indian restaurant, which we never would have found on our own. It was inside a courtyard, well off the main street. Beautiful setting. Fantastic food. I love having FS friends who have been everywhere and can recommend restaurants in pretty much any city in the world.

Last night in town. Random Estonian guy offered to take our family photo.  "Why would you come all the way to Estonia?" he asked, sounding positively perplexed.  But it was so worthwhile. I'd highly recommend you visit, if ever you get the chance.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Ferry to Finland

The next morning, we hopped on a ferry, and 2 hours later, voila! We arrived in Helsinki, Finland. We grabbed lunch at one of the sidewalk cafes, wandered around the waterfront, bought souvenirs, ate ice cream, visited churches, bought coffee.... all in just a few hours, before it was time to head back to the ferry dock.

Finland was actually part of the Russian Empire, back in the day, which may explain why it felt sort of familiar. Lots of Russians wandering the streets alongside us.

(Posting this photo for my parents, who have spent many an hour in the ferry lines in Seattle. This ferry was ginormous.)

Hugging. Not even thinking about pushing each other in. Weird.

Church #1. The Uspenskii Cathedral.
Church #2. The Helsinki Cathedral. (Perhaps the kids would like our family vacations more if we spent less time at cathedrals and more time at ice cream parlors? Dunno...)

Random canal we found while walking all over town trying to find an ATM that was actually working so we could afford to get back on the ferry to Tallinn. Yeah. So that was fun.

And we were back in Tallinn by bedtime.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Our Estonian Weekend

Right before the school year started again, we took the kids for a long weekend in Estonia and Finland. We chose those 2 countries because they were easy and cheap to get to from here (with a family of six, even the cheapest trip gets pricey, quick.)

I was in Talinn, Estonia, back in 1990, when it was still part of the Soviet Union. But B and the kids had never been, and truthfully, I didn't remember much about it, except that it was freezing in the late fall and there was nothing to eat. The only time we'd ever been in Finland was for our heart wrenching medevac in 2002 - so it's safe to say I didn't remember much about Helsinki, either, except for an ambulance and an operating room.

This post will be mostly pictures. Smiley, happy pictures. Because that's what you're supposed to post when you go on vacation, right? Truth be told, though, it wasn't all smiley. You try dragging four kids around cobblestoned streets and making them pose for pictures every three minutes, the weekend before school starts, when all of their friends are finally back in town after a summer away. See how far you get before the squabbling and the this-is-so-lame starts.

I remember asking my father-in-law once, several years ago, how they managed to drive from New York to Florida in the summertime without killing each other. I mean, did their kids not fight? Did they actually have fun together as a family? How did they do it? He gazed off in the near distance for a few moments before laughing and answering "time erases the bad parts."

So. Time. Eventually I will forget the parts about the squabbling kids and the cranky adults and the broken ATM machines. I will remember only the chocolate truffles and the blue skies and the cafe mochas and the fairytale towers.

Ainsley and Kyra fell in love with the Old City of Tallinn because it reminded them of a fairytale, with its turrets and towers and steeples. The boys were enamored of the hot chocolate at Pierre's, a small cafe and chocolate shop tucked away in a quiet little alley off the main roads.

It really is an impressive little town, with so much more going for it now than back in Soviet times. Restaurants, souvenir shops, sidewalk cafes, loads of tourists... and so much history.

The streets are lined with sidewalk cafes, with just enough room for tourists to stroll past. Very few cars.

The central square, full of doll house buildings.

Pierre's. (Thanks, AG, for the recommendation, or we'd never have found it!) Homemade truffles, cocoa, coffee. We actually went there twice...

There were life-sized dolls all over town. A made it her mission to pose with every last one of them.

Part of the Old City walls.

Totally fake smiles. I forced them to stand there smiling or risk losing the hot cocoa I'd promised them.

This church. The Cathedral of St. Mary. So beautiful, inside and out. Plus you can climb to the top and look out over the whole city and the Gulf of Finland.

View from the top of St. Mary's.

The inside walls of St. Mary's are decorated with medieval coats of arms.

Here's a view from one of the scenic overlooks in the Old City.

Alexander Nevsky Church

Stay tuned for more soon...
Please. Write your own stuff.