Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Beet Has Gone On

I've moved up in the world to my own domain at

Please follow me there and note the new address.


The Expatresse

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Out With the Old?

Thanks to Author Julia for suggesting the title of today's blog entry.

I swear, Moscow was handing out some heavy, angry energy on my last few days there.

I sliced the back of my heel on a friend's stairs. I slipped on some ice and wrenched my knee. I stepped in a small hole and twisted my ankle. Banged my leg under a restaurant table. Workers cleaning ice and snow off the roof dropped a load that just missed me and the girls.

It was as if Moscow really didn't want me to leave. Or was expressing some profound anger that I was.

Yesterday was Travel Day, and I woke with very unstable stomach.

I attributed it to stress.

You see, there was an issue with getting a Power of Attorney for the move, and I thought that it was very possible that The Spouse would have to stay behind in Moscow to deal with it.

Then there was the snow, which would have grounded any airline except Aeroflot.

Add to this all the headaches of getting the cats through the bureaucracy at the airport.

I ended up going to the airport in a taxi by myself, and the driver had the heat cranked. At one point I thought I was getting car sick.

My vet, Yuri, and his wife, Valeria, accompanied us to the airport, and Valeria worked her miracles both in the vet office there and at check-in (somehow she arranged for us to have a whole row to ourselves which meant an invaluable extra two seats as it turned out).

I was feeling worse and worse. I bought a Sprite, this is how bad I felt, thinking it would make me feel better. I was hot. I was cold. I could NOT get comfortable.

Long story short, about three hours into the flight to Paris, The Expatresse utilized TWO, count 'em, TWO "air sickness bags."

I had to hand the first one to The Spouse. That's love, you know. When you can hand someone your bag of vomit.

I went and sat in the loo for a bit, but by then the crisis had passed.

The rest of the journey was uneventful.

First impressions:
  • We arrived at the Luxembourg Airport about 7:00 p.m. Where did everybody go? Other than the nice lady at the car rental desk, and the nice man in baggage claim, no one was there.
  • Where was all the traffic? It was 8:00 p.m. on a Monday night when we drove to the temporary apartment. Where did everybody go?

The apartment is light and airy and spacious, although it is really only one bedroom, and The Spouse and I have the foldout couch in the living room, and it is on the third floor (fourth as Americans count it) with no elevator, but that won't kill any of us.

It has a dishwasher in the kitchen and a washing machine in the "keller." There is a bakery right next door, and a place to park our rental car in front. There's free WiFi, and plenty of channels in French (and God knows what else) for the kids. We watched an episode of America's Next Top Model last night, and I don't know what the subtitles were. Maybe Dutch?

It is going to have to be home for a while, too, as the moving company cannot release our shipment until we receive a "certificat de residence" which we cannot possibly have before our original delivery date of April 1.

Why do the moving companies ask you when you want to take delivery when it is rarely, if ever, anything you can control? Why do they even ask?

I expect we will be here until at least May 1, which helps justify the 27 kgs of excess baggage I paid a small fortune for yesterday. I just thought we might need something other than winter coats.

The other very fun thing is that I have already driven a car! I drove The Spouse to work this morning AND found my house again. This was my first big victory as I did not study the corner of our street for landmarks on my way to his office. It really is so terribly simple it is laughable: go to the corner, turn left, and continue until you get to the street his office is on. It is a 15-minute journey round-trip. The ease of it really did make me laugh: this is so NOT Moscow.

More evident to the un-Moscow-ness of it all:

Cats, happy to be done traveling, enjoy the view.

Behind our building is a park.

This is, apparently, a lot of snow for Luxembourg.

Skittles in the kitchen.

The view in front of our building.

What a nice, sunny day.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Parting Glances








Saturday, February 13, 2010

Time for Some Comic Relief

I have a statistics counting site that tells me where my readers come from. It has lead me to some interesting places.

An entry on my Bratislava blog became the subject of discussion on some political forum when they got to talking about how The Spouse and I were voting for each other on Hot or Not. What can I say? I think we were having simultaneous mid-life crises.

This week I noticed a lot of traffic coming from a site called WEDINATOR. So I went over to have a look, and there in the COMMENTS is a link to my blog.

Thank you Kind Wedinator Reader!

Russian wedding pictures seem to be a hit on the site, because they also had this picture (see below, if you dare). I had seen it somewhere else before . . . anyone who knows Moscow will recognize the city immediately. That is, if they can see the city.

It is a bit over-the-top, if you'll pardon the pun.

I Dunno If You're Gonna Want to Read This

It's just more of me whining about My Bad Day.

You might want to navigate away from this page now.

Okay. But don't say I didn't warn you.

Moving is just stressful no matter how many times you do it. I will make a little plug for my current moving company, Crown, as they are, so far, creating a much more professional experience for me than when I moved to Moscow. I won't mention any names as your mileage may vary.

Let's just say I should have stuck with AGS. Worst mistake I ever made regarding a move.

I mean, I actually called the other company for a quote about moving us to Luxembourg and could not get their Expat Contact Lady to return my calls. In fact, the Estimate Gal who eventually came out to do the survey even said, "Oh, she never returns calls . . . she only emails."

All well and good, but how am I supposed to email you when you have my computer on your truck?

They didn't even follow up with a call to see who I had chosen.

Who doesn't call a potential client to ask for their business?

Meanwhile, Crown has not given me anything in exchange for the mention here. Unless you count letting me shout at their Documents Dude on the phone this morning.

It wasn't his fault. It was the Idiot Notary preparing the Power of Attorney documents. And Documents Dude, in his defense, actually went out of his way to be helpful.

And what was his thanks? Having to listen to me cry on the phone and make snarky remarks.

In my defense, why is it that people, especially professional movers, don't grasp that when you are in the middle of a move like this you really Do. Not. Have. Anything.

Dox Dude made the mistake of suggesting I print a document. That would be fine except your team very efficiently PACKED MY PRINTER. Yesterday.

[NB: Seriously, they went through our place like a dose of salts. They originally said they would need 2.5 days to pack and load us. And they did it in 1.5 days. They managed to take the piano out without me even hearing it. Unlike when The Clowns brought it in. Up. Every. Step. For. Seven. Flights. BAM. BAM. BAM.]

Okay, okay. Here's my whole day.

7:30 a.m. Left New (temporary) Apartment and dropped kids off at school.

[NB: The New Apartment is just fine. Really. But the toilet makes me laugh. It is a "water closet." As in my knees hit the wall making the whole process not unlike the stateroom scene out of A Night at the Opera.]

I mistakenly thought I could relax for a bit, enjoy a coffee and maybe a little breakfast, while I waited for HR Babe at The Spouse's old job to get to work. I thought I would breeze in and sort out a few details. Never occurred to me that she might have meetings until 11:00.

Sheesh. The nerve.

So I ate half a cheese omelet and then went to what we are now referring to as the "Old Apartment."

I cleaned the bathroom and started on the kitchen when The Vet called to say she had my travel documents. She came over and explained everything I will have to do at the airport on Monday.

She left at 10:45. I know because I had set the alarm on my phone to go off reminding me to go see HR Babe.

In the meantime, I had several snarky conversations with Crown's Document Dude. Including the one as I was leaving the building that frustrated me so that I started to cry.

The details aren't that important.

But the short version is what notary won't accept your actual passport when Russian Immigration will, but insists on a translated form that then has to be notarized? It's not like our names on our Russian visas aren't already in Cyrillic.

Got to HR Babe's office around noon and filled out some forms so The Spouse can have some life insurance until we buy him another plan in Luxembourg.

Because when you work for an American company, things like life insurance come with the job. But insurance is not a benefit with a European employer because they all have insurance through their country. And so will we once we have a residency permit. Health insurance anyhow.

The life insurance we will have to buy. In the meantime, since The Spouse had that little pulmonary thrombosis scare while the rest of you were eating turkey and cranberry sauce, I thought I might want to extend his current policy.


Except, they want a check.

I haven't written a lot of checks since 1999 when I started living abroad. But I do still own a checkbook.

Which the movers very efficiently packed.

Because, I don't need it. Usually.

So I had to call American Blogging Girlfriend Katbat and ask her to write me a check.

"When you come back," said HR Babe, "just leave the check in an envelop at Reception."

"Um, HR Babe," I had to ask. "Can you give me an envelop?"

She was horrified, and did and even gave me a sleeve to carry the copies of the insurance forms. Because I am really without anything I normally have access to.

I'm about as prepared as the family pet. And it's extremely stressful.

Baboo finished school at 1:00 p.m. I stopped at the bank before and took a LOT of dollars out of the ATM to give to Sister Katbat and then ran around looking for one of those machines to feed money into for my phone. They are everywhere when you don't need one and curiously missing when you do. And boy, oh, boy, now that The Spouse has a Lux number and we aren't both with the same Russian service provider, is my phone ever costing me a mint!

Took Baboo to the New Apartment and then ran across the street to Hoover down a Big Mac Combo Meal.

[NB: There's a McDonald's across the street from us now. I can count on one hand the number of times I have been in a McDonald's since we moved to Moscow. Mostly I walk in and walk out because there is NO PLACE TO SIT. McDonald's just celebrated 20 years in Moscow, and it is as popular as ever.]

While I was sitting there inhaling French fries, my phone rings.

It's Natasha from the Luxembourg office. She's handling our travel details. She wants to know the measurements of my cats' travel cages.

Which would have been really easy to answer even yesterday when I had access to measuring devices, but now I. Do. Not. Have. Anything.

Quick: Tell me where to buy a measuring tape in Moscow! Metric or English, it doesn't matter.

I know of two hardware stores . . . and a few of those places in the perehods where you can get yarn and embroidery kits . . . but tick-tock, tick-tock . . . Natasha is two hours behind me, but she still needs the information today.

I admit to crying again while snarfling French fries, wasting an awful lot of my phone credit blubbering to Natasha about my helpless state, and wondering if I choked on the fries if anyone would try to rescue me or if they would just push my lifeless body under the counter where I was sitting, happy to have found a seat in McDonald's.

Realized I could ask Katbat, a confessed sewer, if she had a tape measure while I was over at her place utilizing her banking services.

Loyal Beetnik, Katbat truly is One-Stop Shopping. She lent me her measuring tape, which I must return this weekend.

I dropped the check off for HR Babe (thankfully Katbat lives across the street), picked up second child at 3:00 p.m. (who, like her sister, was weepy about her Last Day . . . heartbreaking to watch) and 5 liters of water (which is heavy!), and took both to the New Apartment before running back to the Old Apartment to measure the cat cages.

Got back to New Apartment around 5:00 p.m.

Now, as I type this, having the benefit of a very nice dinner out and a healthy portion of vodka, all of this seems so silly. But at the time I was just holding on until this moment.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

EU 998

Here's a tip for traveling with pets to the EU.

You need a form. EU 998.

The Veterinary Certificate for Domestic Dogs, Cats, and Ferrets Entering the European Community for Non-Commercial Movements.

If you google it, you will find lots of nice websites offering to sell it to you for $7.50 a copy.

Or you can just go here and get it for free.

Oh, and if you need it in other EU languages? Say, for example, you are going to Luxembourg, and they really want the bilingual (French/English) version? Then go here and scroll down until you find it.


And free.

Monday, February 8, 2010

One Week From Today . . .

. . . and what'll we do with Luxembourg?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

I'm So Tired, I Can't Even Come Up With a Funny Title for This Blog Entry

Oy, such a day I've had of it.

Yeah, I'm going to complain a little. But man, oh, man, it was TOUGH out there today.

Oh, it was deceptively pretty outside because the temperatures were, once again, rather mild. Only -7C, which, in the sun (of which there was plenty), was right nice. As long as the wind wasn't blowing. Which, unfortunately, it was.

This, combined with the Zamboni-ed quality of our city sidewalks . . . well, to quote a favorite blogger of mine, JESUS FISHSTICK CHRIST! Somewhere, and I swear it was this week, I read that Russia or maybe just Moscow is having the worst winder since, oh, say the Siege of  Leningrad, but now, try as I might, I cannot find it. (I did stumble on this, however: "The big freeze of ’63: People fell ‘like skittles’" is a little too close for comfort.)

Long story short I had to TAKE CHILDREN TO SCHOOL this morning, which wasn't too horribly awful,except for the first part of the walk, right outside our building, which is also slightly downhill.

Then I had to GO TO THE AMERICAN EMBASSY (long, boring story involving FS-240 forms, the elusive DS-1350, and one notarized copy for $30; yes, thank you, my tax dollars hard at work), but my appointment was for 9:00 (earliest available) and, as we learned when we went on Monday, one will inevitably arrive at 8:30 and there's precious little to do in the neighborhood except to stroll around, and this is what I attempted to do (I did identify and then stand in front of the Chekhov House which I knew was nearby because Blogging Friend Dina mentioned it this week), but the wind was so strong and the sidewalks so slippery (and I had, foolishly, not worn my Yak Trax), that I was white-knuckled and drenched in sweat by the time 9:00 rolled around.

After I WENT HOME, but stopped to buy The Spouse nuts at the perehod between Mayakovskaya and our place. It was on THE WALK HOME FROM NUT SHOPPING, that I noticed, with a certain irony, that the parking lot/sidewalk in front of the GAI/Traffic Police Building was not only CLEAN and DRY, but had been SALTED.

Ah hem.

Not even the sidewalk in front of the US Embassy is SALTED! What is up with that anyhow? I have it on good authority that every stick of furniture in the embassy comes directly from the US of A and that the ambassador himself eats his breakfast off of a FIESTAWARE plate, for God's sake, that rests on a COLONIAL STYLE table. Well, the American ambassador in Bratislava did anyhow. As do I. The Fiestaware, I mean. Not the Colonial style furniture. But the point is: wasn't there any room for a little Morton's in the old diplomatic pouch? Can't anyone help a fellow American who is down on her luck?


But I digress.

I went home and barely sat down when The Spouse called and asked would I please GO BACK TO THE SCHOOL TO COLLECT SOME DOCUMENTS. Which I did.

Interesting thing happened here: I had exited the Metro and paused to put on my Yak Trax (I am a slow-learner, but I do eventually catch on), when a woman came up to me and begged me (in Russian) to PLEASE, PLEASE TELL HER WHERE I GOT THESE THINGS BECAUSE, HAVE YOU NOTICED? IT'S LIKE DEATH OUT HERE! When I told her I bought them v Amerike, she wept.

Then, before she even turned away, ANOTHER woman came up to me and started telling me that I needed a massage and that she was a professional and a doctor and her name is Galina and here is her number and lots of other details that I did not get because she was speaking in Russian. The funny thing here, other than the fact that I am almost completely sure that I fell asleep on the Metro twice today, was that seconds before I was accosted by the weeping woman, I was on the Metro escalator reminding myself to BREATHE and draw ENERGY from the Universe and all that other good granola stuff they tell you in yoga class. And I was even thinking, "I could use a spa when this move is over. Or at least a yoga class." And I tried not to fall asleep again on the escalator, but to BREATHE or at least remember to KEGEL and BAM! Whaddya know: the Universe does, indeed, provide. In the form of Dr. Galina, Massage Therapist. Who, other than the fact she was offering massages to total strangers on the street, seemed normal and even comforting, sort of like Sada Thompson in Family or Dianne Wiest in Law & Order.

I did escape and completed my errand at the school and then CONTINUED ON TO THE SPOUSE'S OFFICE where I delivered the documents I had collected that morning from both the embassy and the French school and even stayed to have a little lunch with him in one of the restaurants in the basement of his building.

[Note: We ran into The Spouse's Tall, Handsome, and Humorless German Former Big Boss today, and while the three of us were discussing what it is like to suddenly work for a company that isn't American and doesn't provide life insurance as a benefit and how you have to buy your own but you can keep the existing policy for a little while after leaving the American employer but only with coverage up to $125,000 which is better than a sharp stick in the eye but won't keep me and the girls forever without me heading back to the workplace after 11+ years away, I decided to blurt out that, "No, but it will keep me going long enough to find another husband  . . . maybe get a little work done first," and Tall, Handsome, Humorless German Former Big Boss just looked appalled. I blame the icy sidewalks for my inability to self-censor.]


Ah, sweet liquor eases the pain.

In other, totally unrelated news: There is a kid at the girls' school, let's call her "Heather," who has the dubious reputation for being the school's Self-Appointed Fashion Police. Famous in song and legend, I finally caught a glimpse of her as I walked the girls to school this morning. "Heather's" signature line this year is "You have to take action!" She also likes to make click-y noises while pointing with a finger-gun.

Today, she approached Baboo in the lunchline and said, in French of course, "Psst. C'mere." When Baboo responded, Heather pointed at Baboo's shirt and said, "Stripes are SO last year." Pointing then to another kid (who Baboo reports had "pants on the ground") she told Baboo, "Ça, c'est bien!" 

Baboo responded by raising an eyebrow.

The playground, or in this case the lunch room . . .  it is a cruel place.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

In Which I Pay It Forward

With temperatures soaring in Moscow this week (we are hovering right below freezing as I type) the hot debate among the expat crowd here is whether (geez, I can't stop the puns) we prefer last week's bitter cold (super cold = sun, blue skies, and relatively clean sidewalks, such as Moscow sidewalks are) to this week's tropical climes.

Warmer Weather = Sidewalk Hell

Honestly, I am sure there are plows in Moscow, but the streets I walk on sure haven't seen any. And this heavy, wet snow, while, um, heavy, is easy to shovel off the sidewalks.

Where are all our hardworking Tajiks?

And didn't our Mayor promise to divert all of Moscow's snow? What's up with that?

It is a mess out there. So much so that yesterday I finally put on my Yak Trax (again, no money changed hands here between me and the good people at Yak Trax except when I purchased four pairs of their product).

Mine look like this pair. Except I have lived in Moscow long enough not to be caught dead in shoes this boring. Even my Very Practical Winter Boots have some style. They just have day-glo green Yak Trax on them now.

The Verdict: Both The Spouse and I concur that our ability to navigate the city streets yesterday, while still difficult, was MUCH IMPROVED once we donned our Yak Trax. I did have to pop mine off to enter the Metro (they don't seem the thing to wear on a slipper, marble-esque floor), but it was easy enough to do.

I did not break out my pair until later in the day when I went to collect the children from school. Earlier in the day I went without, and let me tell you, it was rough going. Even the supposedly clean surfaces in the perehods/street underpasses were treacherously slippery.

Which is why when I passed an old woman, inching her way along the perehod, WITH A CANE, making weeping/whimpering noises, I had to turn around and go help her.

I cannot count the number of times total strangers here have helped us. Not just in my grocery store (where they refuse to sell me anything they deem is not fresh), but on the street, too. More than once we have had to ask for directions and when folks don't know they often go find out for us. It's quite sweet and very moving.

So I had to at least offer to help this woman.

She was old, but dressed well enough: good solid shoes, a fur hat, a thick sheep-skin coat. She had her wits about her. She just could not find any purchase on the floor surface. Since my Russian is virtually non-existent, I couldn't understand the outpouring of chatter when I first offered her my arm. I don't know if she had fallen (she didn't have any telltale wet and smudgy spots on her coat) or just went out to run an errand having misjudged the severity of the street surfaces.

She was happy to have me help her, however. I linked arms with her and held her hand and slowly, slowly we made our way through the perehod and up the stairs to street level. There is no way she could have done this on her own.

Once we reached street level, she seemed unsure exactly which way she wanted to go. She knew the address, however, and in typical Muscovite fashion, she asked several passersby until she got what she needed.

A young Russian man asked if we needed help. If I could have spoken to him, I would have said, "Yes! I have no idea how far this woman needs to go!" But my companion told him, "No, no, we're doing fine," much to my disappointment.

She had a small plastic bag that she held in the same hand with her cane. It seemed to contain one of those local newspapers and an open can of Coca Cola, among other things. She was very concerned that the Coke would spill out of the can and onto the contents of the bag. I was wondering why she didn't just discard the can (we passed several trash cans), but at one point she stopped, got the can out of her bag (with great difficulty), and had a swig.

I can't say I wasn't ever-so-slightly tickled to see her enjoying one of my favorite American products.

"Are you French?" she asked me.

Nope. American.

That seemed to please her. Oh, this was one of those times that I desperately wished I spoke better Russian. It would have been so interesting to have a real conversation with her.

Once up on the sidewalk, we began inching down the street. I know this section of sidewalk, and there is a point in front of an office building where the surface stone changes (for aesthetic purposes) to something I nearly killed myself on earlier that day. I was not about to let her navigate that by herself.

Thankfully, we stopped just as we reached that point.

"I don't know what number this is," she kept saying. "What number is this?"

I couldn't see an address, but while we were standing there, the Concierge Dude for the building saw us and came out. He was able to tell her that we had passed her destination, but only just.

So back we went while younger, speedier Moscow flowed like water all around us.

I got her to the door she declared was her destination, and held it for her so she could go inside.

"Beautiful! Beautiful!" she kept telling me, and gave me big kisses on my cheeks.

I don't know how she got home, but I hope she had a little help.

In Moving News: I guess we are T-12 Days since we leave Moscow February 15. Although the movers will handle all the packing, there are a million and one details left to sort out. Remember to have the water people come and take their cooler back. Sort out interim health/life insurance coverage until new kicks in. What on earth are the cats going to travel in? And what am I going to do with them (and the children) next Wednesday when the movers are here (short day at school that day, The Spouse will be out of town, and we won't have a temporary apartment in Moscow until the following day)?

In the Good News Column, we will have a rental car waiting for us in Luxembourg when we arrive, as well as temporary digs. We can go there directly from the airport. The question is, how long do we think it will take us to find a permanent place to rent? Two weeks? Four?


The mind reels.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Čizi Piži Redux

As those of us who travel all know, the best (that is funniest) stories involve embarrassing language snafus. Or horrible foreign toilets. Or both.

But I'm just going to talk about food this time.

Both The Spouse and I have had our disasters with misunderstanding a foreign menu and ending up with something we did not expect.

It happened to me on my First Ever Trip to France. We had been in Paris for several days, and I thought I had gotten the hang of the French dinner menus: you pick a price category or menu, and then you can usually select from several options in that price range. I wanted to branch out a little and try something new, so I ventured into Fish World and ordered something that sounded a bit more romantic, more poetic. What I thought was the French version of those menu items you find in a Chinese restaurant that give no clue as to the actual dish ingredients. You know like Happy Family or Three Delicacies Over Sun Moon Lake.

I ordered Aile de Raie, which I knew meant Wing of Ray.

What I did not expect was that it really meant WING OF RAY. As in skate. In a lemon caper sauce.

I was hungry, and this was not at all what I wanted, and The Spouse had ordered a really nice Merguez couscous, and he was hungry too and not into sharing.

I wept and, because we were in France, mimed a ray, hoping to garner pity, but to no avail.

His turn came years later in Bratislava at a restaurant called Voch. I don't think it is there anymore, but they used to serve this fantastic dessert called something like an Emperor Pancake or Kaiserschmarrn. Oh, God, it was good.

So we go one night, and we are sitting outside in the square there ordering our dinner, and The Spouse finds an item on the menu called Čizi Piži.

He quizzes the waiter in Slovak: "Is it good?"

Waiter, noncommittally: "Umm, yeah. I guess."

The Spouse sees the Slovak word for baked in the description: "So it's baked?"

Waiter: "In a cream sauce."

The dish arrives, and that was when we learned the Very Important Lesson in Slovak:

Pečeň does not mean baked.

It means LIVER.

Pečeny means baked.

Today, I met The Spouse for lunch. There is a restaurant in the building where his office is that features a daily Business Lunch. We had the same thing in Slovakia: the restaurant offers a fixed menu for a reasonable price. It's quick and, as long as you like the offering, it can be a good value. Order off the regular menu at lunch time and you will throw the kitchen into chaos as they are prepared to whip out the Business Lunch Menu.

So we have started getting the Business Lunch when we go there. The choices on the menu today are some sort of chicken dish with rice or a fish dish with mashed potatoes. I had a fish dish the last time I was there, so I opt for the chicken dish.

So does The Spouse.

It comes with a nice salad of salted tomatoes, cucumbers, and grated carrots and a bowl of meat solyanka . . . very delicious and typically Russian.

Then the main course comes.

Well, you can probably see where I'm going with this.

It's chicken, alright. In a cream sauce with sauteed onions over rice. But not chicken fingers or even chicken thighs.

It was CHICKEN GIZZARDS. куриные потрохи.

"I had NO idea it was going to be organ meat," The Spouse says as he and I pick around out gizzards and eat only the rice and onions.

"I thought that it would be a shape or cooking method," he sighs as we leave the restaurant. "Not a body part."

Burning Down the House?

I really should be focusing more on arrangements for the move. Or at least washing the breakfast dishes and running the vacuum. I could put a load of laundry in to run while I type.

All of which is a lot more useful, at the end of the day, than sitting around thinking about my sweaty elbows.

Maybe they are "sweating" elbows.

I dunno. All I know is I woke up in the wee hours of the morning and the crooks of my elbows were positively wet.


Who gets sweaty/ing elbows?

I don't suppose anyone really wants to read about my menopause symptoms. At one point I thought that perhaps the blog would be more of an Everywoman thing, with the emphasis on my age group. The location would just be an after-thought.

The (Peri)Menopausal Mom Who (As It Just Happens) Lives in Moscow.

But that angle never really got any traction, as the kids say. Rather than hitting those Comedic Female Moments We All Can Relate To, it seemed instead to generate a room full of readers who coughed nervously, crumbled their programs nosily, and stared at their shoes uncomfortably. Amidst microphone feedback.

But it seems like there should be SUCH good material to be mined there.

I've seen other blogs with a regular Too Much Information feature. TMI Monday or something like that.

Sweating elbows.

That probably qualifies as TMI.

Or maybe it's a DIY problem.

Maybe they are merely the product of an over-heated Moscow apartment (it is a balmy -3C outside this morning, yet the heating is still cranked for colder temperatures). Maybe the Humorless French Doctor Across the Street was right: maybe I have not yet had a proper hot flash.

The Spouse always said I was wrong not to explore a career in HVAC.

I have a friend from childhood who recently relayed the story of how she woke one night. She toddled off to the bathroom, as so many of us do, and while there, became convinced she was dying of a heart attack or worse.

"I was burning up," she told me. "Suddenly, just BURNING UP. I couldn't move. I started crawling back to the bedroom, calling for my husband to come help me because I was certainly dying!"

Husband was just as mystified, and, well and truly frightened for her well-being, offered to call 9-1-1, when it hit her. She wasn't suffering from a heart attack.

It was a hot flash.

Call me callous, but that's a funny story.

Speaking of heat, here is a Devil Cat shot for you.

Crooky is definitely in her Climbing Phase. This Being-On-The-China-Cabinet is a recent thing, and I don't care for it at all. I suppose if she were an outdoor cat, she would be getting stuck in trees. So in that case, I prefer the china cabinet. But I am not looking forward to her knocking the whole thing down.

Okay. Enough procrastination. Housework Waits for No Woman.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

God Makes Them

Yesterday The Spouse, Baboo, and I went out to the market at Izmailovsky (Metro Partizanskaya). Skittles had a play-date/sleepover.

I've been many times before, but I wanted to get some things before we leave Moscow. Namely a fur hat for The Spouse, one for Skittles that covers her ears (her white fluffy one does not), and fur scarves like the one I bought for myself in Suzdal. (See photo here.)

Here are the girls in their hats.

Aunt Heidi is now the proud owner of the white hat.

I already have a crazy Russian hat that I love.

The City of Moscow shut down part of the market, but just the rabbit warren of vendors hawking cheap Chinese-made crap outside the "vernisage."

Unfortunately, Baboo was charged with remembering to bring my camera and she forgot. So no photos of the shopping. But if you look on Google Images you will find other people's photos.

Since I bought all our chapki (hats) from a dealer there before, I came armed with cash, prices I was willing to pay, and ready to bargain.

We got The Spouse a hat like this, but a better one (no suede) for about a quarter of this price. I got Skittles a white hat like Baboo's pink one. She is thrilled. Plus, two fur scarves (better than mine, I'm afraid to confess).

We had shashlik from one of the shashlik stands. Because it is winter, they directed us to the dining room upstairs, behind the grills.

I had never been there before, and it was very Russian-y, I tell you. It was not heated at all, but enclosed with lots of windows, like a sun porch. No one took off their coat to eat. Two men at the table next to us were eating all sorts of sausages and pickled vegetables, smoking endless cigarettes, and splitting a bottle of vodka between them. They were cheerful and boisterous.

There was a babushka-type clearing tables. The Spouse saw her saving uneaten meat in a plastic bag. Whether it was for herself, street dogs, or to go back on the grill for the next customer, I told The Spouse, "I am going to leave her a tip."

We left her 20 rubles. She was gobsmacked. "Spasibo," she told The Spouse.

Although I wasn't feeling a burning need for any more Uzbek ceramics (I have some, although they are really, really lovely), I said I wouldn't mind wandering by the vendors' stands, just to see.

I looked. But I didn't find anything calling my name.

What I DID find were these whimsical ceramic figures that I absolutely did not need at all.

The little one is for you, VW.

The vendor was a very large woman in a chapka like mine that rode so low on her face I could not see her eyes. She spoke a mile a minute about her products (in Russian, of course):

Her: "We don't do it [make the ceramic items] for the money. We do it for art. Doing it for the money is senseless."

Her: "We don't know how we make them [the decorative designs on the pieces]. God makes them."

Her: "It's cold today. I'll give you a discount because it is so cold."

Her: "You can see yourself reflected in their eyes."
Her: "They will be lonely. You need to buy more!"

Her: "Each piece is unique. No two are the same." 

Her, noting a chip in a piece: "Let me give you another one. It's the same. That one has a bad ear."

She had a Laika dog I kind of liked.

Her: "She's looking up at the stars."

Then I noticed the piece below.

When she turned it around to show me the back, I had to have it.

I don't know the significance of the rabbit (or the mosquito), but that clenched the deal for me.

Yeah, yeah, I know: more tchotchke clutter to dust and break. And right before moving, too. But I only regret the things I DON'T buy.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Moscow By Night and By Day

I hesitate to share this link because I do not believe it is in any way representative of the majority of Russian women. That said, it's like a car crash: you cannot help but look. And I will say that I have come across this demographic in Moscow.

I sat next to one last night.

Now, in fairness, Russian women outnumber Russian men, so they have a lot of competition. They tend to be extremely well-educated, attractive, and smartly put together at all times. Age and BMI is no excuse: above all else, you must be well-dressed, well-shod, and womanly (I hesitate to say "feminine," for that could carry a negative connotation: Russian women are not weak nor are they subservient).

That said . . . Moscow is . . . well . . . Moscow.

So I was at this little Thank You Do last night in a local English-style pub. (No, they didn't give me anything for mentioning them . . . the Thankers paid.) The owner or manager or General Big Cheese stops over to chat with us briefly about some plans he has to promote the place with the expat sports crowd.

And he brings along his companion.

I don't know if she was his steady or his Pay-As-You-Go. But she was a hoot. Asian features (I thought maybe she was Thai or Chinese, but the Russians with me said no). Pretty and very slim. In the tightest, most sprayed-on-looking lavender mini-dress I have ever seen. Bare legs. Super high heels.

Honestly, she looked at me and I looked at her, and then I looked at the woman across the table from me and she and I both rolled our eyes.

And then I turned to Miss Thing and said, in all sincerity, "Girl, you are working that dress."

That was it. We were officially BFF.

"What clubs do you go to?" she asks me.


" . . . I went to Krisis Genre once . . ." I say meekly.

"Oh, that's not a good club," she tsk-tsks. "You should go to We Are Family. It's a good club." She then proceeds to describe someone she saw dancing the last time she went there.

"A drag queen?" I keep asking, but she didn't seem to get what I was saying. Hmmm. Maybe she's the drag queen? Note to self: If I ever see her again, I will look for an Adam's apple.

"You should go," she repeats.

"Now how am I supposed to get past face control in a place like that?" I ask her.

"Oh, you just reserve a table," was the [obvious . . . duh-oh!] answer. "Then there's no face control."

N.B. Reserving a table in one of Moscow's ultra-popular clubs could run you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

We are from vastly different planets.

But she gave me her number. Just in case, I guess.

I was still laughing a few moments later out on the street as my hostess hailed us a gypsy cab. The driver was charming and courteous, if gold-toothed. He chatted amiably with my companions, all of us more covered in warm, winter clothing than not, as we flew through the dark Moscow night. I was home within five minutes.

Today had its own adventures. We had to run an errand at the Luxembourg embassy. It's over near the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. The church is another one of those rare places where photos are not permitted, so I don't have any to share of the interior, but you can read about it here.

Outside was a real winter day. In spite of the Mayor of Moscow's claims that he would seed the clouds and prevent snow from falling in town, we had gray skies and light, but steady snowfall all day.

Very Russian-y.




This is the famous House on the Embankment. Wikipedia gives a very bland description of it here. A more thorough explanation about the significance of this building can be found in this blog.  

Can you see the ghost of one of the Seven Sisters in the background?

Here you can see the dreadful statue of Peter the Great. This article gives the background.

And here we are looking towards the Kremlin. The Moscow River is actually frozen. We could see footprints in the snow on it.

By then it was lunchtime, and at first we thought we'd head back to The Spouse's office as there is a quick, but uninspiring restaurant in the basement. But we spied a cafe/pizzeria next to the cathedral and ventured in. When we lived in Slovakia we had lunch together more days than not, so it was a really nice treat to sort of have a date in the middle of the day. We just had the set lunch menu or "business lunch," but the cafe was elegant and chic and the weather outside delightfully frightful.

Then it was back to work for both of us.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

"A Thing in Life"

Our kids are teetering on the Cusp o' Adolescence these days. The Baboo One even has a few blackheads along the side of her nose.

The Baboo One has taken to spending more and more time in the bathroom examining herself in the mirror, and she tends to close the door now to do so. She was in just such a position the other night, examining her misbehaving pores, when she spied Skittles, peering at her through the opening left by the ever-so-slightly-ajar-door (no door in our place closes properly).

Skittles assessed the situation and declared, "Pimples. A thing in life."

We think it's "spot on," pardon the pun, and a great comment on so many of life's "things." We've starting substituting anything that vexes us for "pimples."

"Icy Sidewalks. A Thing in Life," for example.

You know, the last two winters were sort of ho-hum here, and I was actually a bit worried that we would never get to experience a Proper Russian Winter, and that, years from now, we would look back on our time in Moscow and remark, "You know it never got very cold," and feel cheated.

Well, I am getting my money's worth this winter. And I don't mind, really. I mean, if you're gonna be in Moscow, this is the weather you want!

Boy, oh, boy, has it been cold this week. So cold, in fact, that I've actually taken to SHUTTING the little windows in our apartment (fear not: I always open them in such a way that the cats cannot get out). Highs have been around -16C, and the lows have been in the mid -20sC.

The good part about this sort of Really Cold Weather, or, perhaps I should say the reason for this Really Cold Weather is the clear blue sky. No Clouds = Extra Cold. So we've had glorious sunshine sparkling off the golden onion domes. It is a lovely thing.

Honestly, today I was Out and About running various errands, and the air was full of tiny, twinkling snowflakes. Not a cloud in the sky. The sun was shining, but there was this glitter all around me. It's probably the result of condensation from car exhaust or something equally horrible. But at the moment, it was magical. Just magical.

What is NOT fun about this weather is the City of Moscow's insistence that Salt On Ice Is BAD! Oh, they "clean" the sidewalks. They shovel and sweep, removing any terrain on which your boots might find purchase until it's smoother than an NHL hockey rink after the Zamboni's been by.

I taught the kids to say "slick as snot," but, honestly, snot would provide better traction.

May I introduce Exhibit A:

The photo above was taken at 7:30 this morning on our trek to school. Long story, but we all had to go today. See the sidewalk? No? Neither can I because it is COVERED IN FREAKING ICE AND SNOW!

The one above is the entrance to our building, otherwise known as The Plaintiff's Steps.

It's about 11:30 in the a.m. See how clean our walkway is? And they've been working on it, too!

I stood by, at the ready, in case I had to help the woman in the hat go up the steps. I can barely do it, so I was worried I'd see her fall and break a hip before my very eyes.

Here's a guy working on a larger part of the sidewalk near our building. You think he's got the whole area clean with his twig broom (at least that creates SOME texture on the ice/snow). But click on the photo and blow it up: the sidewalk isn't clean. It's all BROWN AND ICY. Just in case you started to get all confident or something.

This has nothing to do with ice, snow, or treacherous surfaces. It's just funny. What cat lies like that?

Speaking of funny, you might get a chuckle out of this.

I've been wearing my "winter silk" long-johns the past few days. They aren't too, too heavy and really do help keep me warm when I'm outside. But today, when I got home from one of my many jaunts about town, I was too lazy to take them off. I only took off my pants ("trousers," to you Brits) since I was home alone and the long-johns are not too warm to wear in the house if they are all I have on.

Mine are black with a little bit of lace trim around the ankles. Very fetching.

So I'm typing away on email or something and the doorbell rings. The one to the door to my apartment, not the exterior door to the building. I go and look through the spy-hole, and there's a guy there, with a tool bag and a uniform. Like a Repair Dude.

"GAS!" he shouts cheerfully, and I remember: I saw him last year!

Against the advice of my Faithful Russian Girlfriend in Bratislava, I open the door and let him in, only then realizing that I am wearing these dumb, black, silk long-johns. They are opaque enough, but it isn't really the sort of thing one wears to receive guests.

I don't know what Gas Dude's goal is. Last year he puttered around my kitchen, smelling strongly of vodka, until he gave up looking for whatever it was he needed. He's sort of avuncular and not at all threatening.

This year was not so different: he looked at my stove (and in cabinets and around the fridge and under the sink), all the while chatting cheerfully in idiomatic Muscovite. He was not at all flapped by my attire. Instead, he politely ignored it, filled out a form, thanked me, and left.

Gas Dude (or maybe Black Long-Johns?): A Thing in Life.

Babble Update: 15??!! The blog is currently at Number 15??!! Oh, there's a lotta love in the room. Thank you all so very much.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Beet Goes On . . . Literally

Oh, Loyal Beet-nik. What a long, strange trip it's been.

And it seems that our time in Moscow is just about over.

Next stop: LUXEMBOURG!

No, I don't really know anything about Luxembourg either, other than what I have gleaned from the Interwebz over the past few days. But, it looks interesting, and it's happening soon (say, mid-February).

The Spouse got a new job (something neither of us was especially looking for . . . a virtual friend from one of the expat forums sent him a message right after Christmas and said, "Dude, you might want to apply for this!"). It's a good job with lots of room to grow professionally. In fact, it sounds like it might be a lot of fun, and not just because it has to do with VODKA!

Isn't that funny? So perfect for us. A fun product in a truly multi-lingual country (they have three official languages: French, German, and Luxembourgish).

Party at Beets' place!

So the Million Dollar Question is: SHOULD I CREATE A NEW BLOG? Or should The Beet Go On?

The Spouse came up with the title to this blog after watching me flail about with boring ideas. I've been brainstorming new blog titles, but I thought I'd share a few and let you all weigh in with your thoughts and title ideas. I haven't asked him for any help yet.

First, in keeping with the idea of using a song title in the blog title and recognizing that Luxembourg is a DUCHY, I could call the Luxembourg blog PASS THE DUCHY.

Yeah, I know. Now I have the song stuck in my head.

Then there are titles with plays on the word Luxembourg:
  • If LUX Could Kill
  • LUX Can Be Deceiving
  • LUX Like a Winner to Me
Then there are possible titles with plays on Luxembourg's size (since it really is tiny . . . only about 500,000 people in the whole country . . . I mean duchy which is smaller than Rhode Island).
  • 999 Square Miles
  • Bigger Than a Bread Box
  • Size Does/Doesn't Matter
And while there are a million details to work through regarding the whole move, THIS is the burning question for me.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ticking Away the Moments That Make Up a Dull Day

Not really dull: just sort of everyday. IF you live in Moscow.

Thursday, I went out to find a place to get a new battery for The Spouse's watch. Easier said than done. LOTS of places had signs that said "Watch Repair." But when I inquired, they would apologize (or shout) that there was no "Master" there. In two places the clerks pointed down the street.

I headed down the street, twice, but had no luck until I ran into a French friend (her kids are classmates of mine).

"Oui, there is a place near here," she told me. "You continue up the street a while . . . maybe 400 meters. By the church on the left is a small street. Turn onto it, and you will see a door with a sign. Go through the door and downstairs. But I can't promise he's any good."

It was one of those typical Moscow places that you would NEVER in a MILLION YEARS be able to find if you did not know it was there.

But I found it, and the Master was on duty, and not only did he have the tools to open the watch, he had the right battery, AND he cleaned up the watch a bit for me before putting it back together and charging me 400 rubles.

"Do you want a receipt?" he asked me in Russian. "It's got a two-year warranty."

I declined the receipt.

"TWO YEAR WARRANTY!" he shouted after me as I left. "ALL THE BEST!"

Friday, the girls were hungry after school, so once we entered the Metro perehod (under-the-street-mall) I bought us all sloiki (pastries). We were standing outside the Metro entrance, eating our sloiki, when a man walked by and said something to us. Twice. He was clearly addressing us.

"Any idea what he said?" I asked the girls.

"I'm pretty sure he said 'Eat with you mouth closed'," said Baboo.

Today, we had to go sign up for after school activities for the second half of the year. It was extremely well-organized, and so we were in-and-out in all of ten minutes.

Since we were already up, fed, and dressed, and since Baboo had recently remarked that she wanted to see inside St. Basil's, we decided it was a perfect day to walk over to Red Square and go in St. Basil's.

I don't know why they all look so morose. I made them stand here because this is THE first Star/Crap Dogs stand I ever photographed in Moscow.

But when we got to Red Square, we realized that Lenin's Tomb was not only open, but there was virtually no line. I'm the only one in the family who had seen Mr. Lenin. After the trip to Gorki Leninskiye, it seemed appropriate to make sure everyone made the pilgrimage inside Lenin's Tomb. So we did!

The reviews:

Baboo: He was waxy and weird. I would have enjoyed it better if it hadn't been FREEZING!

Skittles: Mlah! Don't waste your time!

The Spouse: That was weird. Wow, look at all the flowers in front of Stalin!

The Kremlin wall has a necropolis where you can find "Iron Felix" Dzerzhinski, Josef Stalin, Konstantin Chernenko, Yuri Gagarin, and American John Reed, among others.

No cameras allowed in Lenin's tomb or along the wall, so no pictures to share. You have to check your cameras (including phones with cameras) for 20 rubles each at a small office in the History Museum building.

Then we went inside St. Basil's Cathedral. The inside is especially beautiful and my lousy camera cannot begin to capture what a jewel box it is.

I took lots of pictures of the murals. In case I ever decide to paint my dining room walls.

St. Basil, who is interned in the cathedral, was really a bit passionate in his beliefs. Next to his tomb was a sign with information about his life. He was apparently a "Fool for Christ" and what the sign called a "nude walker." That made me run right home and google him.


 St. Basil's tomb.

Here is St. Basil doing his famous Nude Walk. 
Religious Zealot or Neighborhood Nutter? 
You Make the Call.

There are windows in the cathedral. I was able to take a few pictures from inside.

Lenin's Tomb is blocked by the statue.

A lovely blue sky. We've had great weather the past few weeks, actually. Yes, it's been cold. But it's been sunny like this: not a cloud in the sky.

Souvenirs for sale inside St. Basil's. We bought a book about czars and a Faberge-type egg charm. blog contest update: As I type this I am currently ranked #28 over here. NUMBER 28!!!!!! That is SO COOL, and I thank all of you for voting for me. Today was especially wonderful as I watched my blog ranking pass that of Mommy Wants Vodka, a blog I and LOTS of other people follow. She's actually well-known in the Blog-O-Sphere. And, she's been nominated for more serious competitions, namely this one over at the 2010 Weblog Awards. Go over there and vote for her (and The Bloggess). Spread a little love.