Monday, December 28, 2009

Old Friends

I wasn't really unhappy. The sun was in my eyes. And look: I'm holding presents!

I have known the two women next to me in the photo above for a million years.

The blond on the far right has been my friend since something like third grade. We lived next door to each other when I was in elementary school.  The reason we are standing in front of a Chinese place for this photo is that when I was a kid, we always went out for Chinese food on my birthday. Once we had a terrible fight in the middle of her driveway regarding who GOT to be the princess and who HAD to be the queen. Hair was pulled. My friend had recently broken her arm and wielded that cast like a cudgel. At the time, I swore I'd never play with her again. That lasted until she came back over to my house about an hour after the fight, knocked on our front door, and asked if I could come out.

When I was in sixth grade, we moved to a different school district. The woman in the black jacket has been my friend since  . . . what? Seventh grade? She hates it when I tell this story, but the truth is that we were standing in line at the school cafeteria, and she kept punching me in the arm. I told her, "Will you stop hitting me!" She says she just wanted to get my attention. Apparently it worked.

These two probably know more about me than my husband of 22 years. Give them a call if you want the real inside scoop.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas at the Dacha

Yesterday, since I woke up at 2:00 in the a.m., I was sort of fried by the time we finished dinner. I served the ham, Jamie Oliver's my famous roasted pumpkin soup (which I make without the chestnuts since I am too lazy to forage for them), a tossed green salad, and baguettes.

I forgot to served the chocolate gateau I got at Trader Joe's.

I did remember that I had to get the Mallard Morning started before I totally melted down.

Poor Friend Valentina. She schlepped all the way here from A-town only to have me sort of fade away and crawl off to an early bed.

But before I did that, I made the Mallard Morning.

The Spouse had a college roommate named Dubber. Mallard Morning is Dubber's mom's recipe. Just now I was googling Mallard Morning to see if I have been making it correctly, and lo and behold, here is the original recipe PLUS a picture of Dubber's mom!

I have never put mushrooms in Mallard Morning. And I cut up bread instead of using croutons, but that is because I generally live places where I can't buy ready-made croutons. But those would be good, too.

ANYHOO . . . I like to make it the night before and then bake it in the morning. I didn't have any room in the fridge for the pan, so I covered it with plastic wrap and put it in the backyard.

In the night it rained.

A lot.

I had to pour a lot of rain water out of the pan, beat up a few more eggs and milk, and stir it all real well before I put it in the over. Shhhhh! Don't tell anyone.

But I think it turned out okay.

I also made Blueberry Boy Bait, but I forgot to hold back half the blueberries for the topping, so I had to use raspberries. I guess now it is Blueberry/Raspberry Boy Bait.

It was a hit.

Off to watch the children open presents now.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Snapshots

Yes, it is 5:46 in the a.m. right now. I woke up at 2:00 a.m. Thought I might as well use the time to finish some preparations for tomorrow and update the blog. It's my Christmas gift to you.

So yesterday (Dec 23), my father, LR, tells me he needs the car to go to the dentist around 11:00 and later, around 6:00 to have a drink with his buddy, Baker.

No problem.

Because I am jetlagged, I am up with the lark (way before 5:00 a.m.). I send The Spouse some emails.

No response.

I send some text messages.

No response.

I remember that he had already warned me that he was going to be in meetings with "the other side" at their offices all day.

Oh. Right. That explains it.

Later, my new computer arrives (it is soooooo lovely). Of course, I rip open the box practically before the FedEx/UPS Dude has let go of it.

[Me (to FedEx/UPS Dude): Oh! Oh! Oh! You brought my present! Oh! Is everyone happy to see you today?

FedEx/UPS Dude, grinning: Yeah. Today is pretty good.]

No point waiting until Christmas to open it. I mean, after all, I can use the new computer to talk to The Spouse who is now trapped in Closing Hell until Tuesday, Dec 29 at the earliest.

Merry Christmas to me, Merry Christmas to me! I am thrilled with my present.

I set up the computer. I figure out how to connect to the Interwebz. Loyal Hungarian Cat Sitter pops up on Gmail chat.

"Hi there," she writes. "I was just over at your place to feed your cats."

Hmmm. That's odd. But not out of the realm of possibility. I can certainly see The Spouse being too busy remember to tell her that his travel plans have been postponed.

"The Spouse is still in Moscow," I reply. "Didn't he talk to you?" He told me he had spoken to her/delivered keys on Monday.

"Oh?" she's perplexed.

I text Spouse "WTF?! LHCS doesn't know you are still in town!" I know he's busy, but this has the potential for some real hilarity.

Apparently she is texting The Spouse simultaneously.

The Spouse, who I have not heard from all day, replies, "In Conference Call Hell. Will call her later."

LHCS and I have a few more exchanges about how funny this all is, and then we both wander off.

My brother and his wife and I decide we will have pizza at their place later.

Six o'clock comes. LR leaves for his appointment. "Save some pizza for me," he calls back over his shoulder. "I'll want dinner."

My brother, who lives across the street, calls, and says now is a good time to come over. They have ordered the pizza and opened a bottle of wine.

We sip. We chat. We review their recent home improvement projects. We eat pizza.

LR comes blasting in their front door. "I'M BACK. I BROUGHT A LADY FRIEND. HOPE YOU DON'T MIND."

No, no. Of course not. LR lives to date.

But lo and behold, who should enter my brother's house behind LR . . . it is not a lady friend.


Everybody had been in on it, including (of course) the Cat Sitter. When I consider the depth of the plotting in order to surprise me, I am beside myself. How wonderful. What a great Christmas present!

Now, in exchange for escaping the Closing Hell, which is very much real and on-going, The Spouse has to fly to DC on Sunday afternoon and stay there until Tuesday afternoon. But at least he is here for Christmas!

The children, who he expected to be the excited ones, were too jetlagged and sleepy to really respond. But they also are too young to realize how funny and thoughtful the whole thing was. To me, it's the planning that went on behind the scenes that makes it special.

So here are my two wonderful Christmas presents:

Speaking of holiday snapshots, I have two others from yesterday.

The first was at the drug store. Standing in line in front of me is a woman wearing a red suit, a green winter coat, and assorted Christmas froo-froo. She is delighted to have discovered a white stuffed dog that is also all Christmas-y. Further, when you squeeze its tail, it barks Jingle Bells. She makes it bark over and over, thoroughly enjoying her find. Grinch that I am, I think it will become really, REALLY tiresome in about 20 minutes.

Second snapshot was in the ham store. I had reserved a ham before leaving Moscow. Originally I intended to take it with us to The Spouse's Ancestral Village as an offering. At the time I went to collect it, I had decided we would eat it ourselves, sans Spouse, on Christmas Day.

As is typical at the Ham Store at this time of year, the parking lot is full and the line of customers goes out the door. My Moscow friends will be amused to note that there was a Ham Store employee stationed at the door, controlling the flow of the crowd, but, to my mind, functioning as Ham Store Face Control. I crack myself up.

Further, there is a Ham Store Rent-A-Cop standing by the cash registers. I refrain from asking him if he's had to break up many ham riots. I also wonder if it is frowned upon to take my just-purchased ham and stand out in the parking lot and scalp it for twice the price I paid for it.

That would be bad and not in the Spirit of Christmas, right?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Turning Japanese

Oy, what a time I've had of it.

Here's how the journey went.

Original flight plan: Moscow-->DC-->Columbus, Ohio

Saturday, Dec 19: Went to Domodedovo Airport, Moscow. Flight to DC cancelled due to Storm of the Century. Told "Go home, you will fly tomorrow." Went home, dragging our suitcases, and CALLED United. Told hold time would be up to 90 minutes. After about an hour I was told "There's nothing until Dec 27." Booked that, but, on advice of airport and phone people, returned to Domodedovo the next day.

Sunday, Dec 20: Returned to Domodedovo at 8:00 in the a.m. (This involved getting up around 5:00 a.m., taking the Metro to the train and the train to the airport, all the while dragging our suitcases.) Check-In opened at 8:30. Stood in the line as instructed. I was second. Then they said, "Oh, if you were on yesterday's cancelled flight, please come over to THESE windows across the aisle." That put me about ten people back.

They served us, one-at-a-time, to reroute everyone. They re-booked me Moscow-->Tokyo-->Chicago-->Columbus. Oh, but starting out of SHEREMETYVO Airport, which is across town. Flight scheduled to leave at 5:50 p.m.

Dragged suitcases back to train, Metro, home. The Spouse dutifully met us at the Metro and helped. Had some lunch, a little rest, and then dragged suitcases to the Metro, went to the OTHER train station, and then the OTHER airport (Sheremetyvo).

Flight departure delayed. Sat on plane for a couple of hours before departing for Japan (a nine-hour flight), but think this is okay because we had a six-hour layover in Tokyo.

Notice that one of the in-flight movies is Julie & Julia (hooray!), but cannot watch it or any other movie because none of the seats in our row has a functioning sound system. Merde.

Monday, Dec 21, I think: Now is when things get hazy because of the time differences. Arrived in Tokyo.

[Sidebar: No one yells at us in Security. In fact, not only is everyone extremely sweet and polite, but they offer us SLIPPERS when we have to submit our shoes for x-ray. SLIPPERS! No blue plastic shoe covers. The contrast between Russian and Japanese cultures is mind-blowing. Or maybe it's the jet-lag.]

Have about 5 hours to kill because of the delayed flight. Found what they call a "Dayhotel" in the airport. This gets the three of us three hours with three single rooms. Each room has a shower, a single bed, slippers, and some toiletries. The toilet is down the hall. I think it cost me about $70 total. I installed each kid in a room, took a shower, and had a nap.

Checked out of Dayhotel, and went off and found some sushi in the airport. It was lovely. Found the gate. They begin to board. We get seated (two on one side of the plane and one on the other, but whatever) when they announce we have to deplane. Oh, and take all your stuff with you. Delays continue for hours. A small child has a total meltdown in the waiting area. Never seen a tantrum of such epic proportions. Finally they announce that they are very sorry, but the flight is postponed until 2:00 the next day. They bus us all to hotels. A father has a total meltdown in the hotel reception area. I have never seen a tantrum of such epic proportions. We start to bond with other passengers. Get eight hours of decent sleep.

The following morning around 10:00 a.m., we return to the airport where we learn that no one will be there to deal with us before 12:30. The airline staff begins to re-book our connections after Chicago, one-at-a-time, until they realize that if they do all of us, we will not make our scheduled 2:00 departure time. Thankfully, we are processed before the staff abandons the project.

Board plane, fly 11 hours to Chicago.

Watched an episode of Grey's Anatomy (a show I have never seen), something called Royal Pains, a documentary called It Might Get Loud (which I recommend), Elf (I was so exhausted by now that this made me cry, that's what a mess I was), Julie & Julia (finally!), and the last Harry Potter movie (which I had already seen, but what the heck).

Arrive Chicago around 11:00 a.m. Tuesday, Dec 22. Flight to Columbus scheduled for around 1:00 p.m. Get through Immigration, Baggage Claim/Customs, return bags to airline, and make way to gate to learn flight delayed about two hours.

I don't know what time we arrived yesterday, but it was afternoon.

Had a shower, two martinis, carryout Chinese, and went to bed.

Woke up this morning to find kids up. Asked one, "What time is it?" She replies, "It's 6:30." I was done sleeping, so stayed up (LR, my father, is an insomniac, so he is ALWAYS up).

Put some laundry in, had some coffee, and started checking email. Wondered why The Spouse wasn't seeing my email activity and calling. Realize time on the computer says 5:45 a.m.

Kid's watch was still on Tokyo time.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Got up at 5:00 a.m.

Took the 7:00 a.m. train back to Domodedovo.

Check-in desk opened at 8:30. I am second in line.

Then they told all of us to go over to those check in desks. Now I'm behind a bunch of people. But there are more behind me.

Left Domodedovo on the 11:30 train back to town.

I will fly out. Tonight at 7:20 p.m. From Sheremetyvo.

And I will arrive in the Ancestral Village tomorrw around 6:00 p.m.

After going through Chicago.

And spending six hours in Tokyo.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

I Dreamed a Dream

They told me at the airport "Come back tomorrow. All will be well!"

"How are you planning to overcome the laws of physics and get two planes worth of people on one plane?" I asked.

"Come at 8:30," they said.

"But won't the whole delayed world be here tomorrow? Shouldn't I try to come earlier?" I asked.

"You can," they said.

I went home and called United. Was told, "Due to high call levels, expect delays of 90 minutes."

I held for an hour. Thankfully, I have just (finally!) cracked the code and can use SKYPE. The call cost me nothing. A nice lady was glad I did not yell at her. She told me the best she could get me was Sunday, Dec. 27. "But go to the airport tomorrow, too!"

"They told me to return tomorrow," I said. "They said I would have priority. I didn't believe them."

She had no information about what the plan was here, but said it was possible there is a local plan. "I'm showing nothing," she said. Then she thanked me again for being nice to here.

Meanwhile, I read a post on one of the local expat forums where a guy on our flight said he was rebooked for Dec. 23. The Spouse said "WTF?!" because when, a few days ago, he tried to move his flight today because of work issues to Dec. 23, they told him all they had on Dec. 23 was Business Class (which his firm sprung for, thankfully, but now it looks like he could arrive before we do if we have to go on Dec. 27).

In the meantime, the friend of a friend took United up on the hotel-at-the-airport option. She told my friend that United told her they would have two planes tomorrow.

I have two thoughts on this:

1. It's the only way, and
2. How on earth did they get their hands on a second plane?

BUT! I am getting up at the ass crack of dawn and taking the train back out there. Because I'd really rather not wait until Sunday.

Just sent kids to bed. They so do not want to wait for next Sunday. The sleigh is in the Ancestral Village, you see . . . Santa's sleigh.

I'll Be Home For Christmas . . . Eventually

For people who travel as much as we do, we can be remarkably stupid.

I knew yesterday that D.C. (our port of arrival) was bracing for "the storm of the century."

La lala lala.

I looked at and and commented about how making the connection to the Ancestral Village was certainly going to be dicey.

Got up this morning, dragged our bags through the Metro to the train, congratulated myself that the worst part of the trip was now over, and took the train out to the airport.

Only to discover that the flight has been canceled. Or postponed until tomorrow.

All of which I could have figured out by looking at . . . wait for it . . . you'll never guess . . . ready? . . . THE AIRLINE'S WEBSITE.

In my defense, The Spouse didn't think of it either.

Between the two of us, I don't think we've ever had a flight canceled. Delayed? Sure. But never canceled.

It was originating here, for Pete's sake. If the weather here had been like D.C.'s I would have called the airline.


So we had a nice round trip out to the airport and back.

Everyone was hungry and cranky by then (who can eat breakfast the morning of a long trip?), so we went out for lunch.

Now I'm going to have a little nap because the airline told us to be back at the airport tomorrow at 8:30 for a noon flight.

I plan to be there at 8:00.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Your Russian Word of the Day

It's REMONT (Ремонт in Cyrillic).

A word that strikes fear in the hearts of all who hear it.

It means renovation or repairs.

As in "the apartment has a full European remont" (ours doesn't). Or "they are remonting our building." Or when one of the escalators on the Metro is closed, they usually block it with a barricade that says Ремонт.

Everyone hates living through a remont because it is so chaotic and messy and noisy and, well, just dreadful. I have heard that some people actually move out of their apartments temporarily while having them remonted. That way the workers can just sleep there and work around the clock (which is illegal, but since when has fear of doing something illegal ever stopped anyone in Moscow?).

When we moved into this apartment two years ago, we were told that we could store some items on the stairs to the attic. It is a secure space with a gate and a lock. We have a (forbidden) key, and so do the neighbors (who stored a LOT of things there).

Quite some time ago, prior to last Christmas perhaps, someone from the building maintenance crew came to us and said we had to clear everything out of there because they were going to remont the stairwell (or podyez in Russian). So our boxes of Christmas ornaments moved into our bedroom. The cats sleep on them.

But nothing happened for ages.

Until about the time The Spouse was in the hospital (about two weeks ago now).

A team came in and began actually repainting the stairwell. It was dreadful quality work. With the same dreary colors as before. No sanding and only minimal priming. Thick paint just slopped on top of existing thick paint. And the paint fumes! Made my head ache and my eyes water.

To add insult to injury, before the work could be finished, someone (surely the workers) stole all my umbrellas. Then they dropped their tools and vanished.

Seriously, I have kept all my umbrellas in a big brass pot outside our apartment door for two years, and no one has ever touched them. Until about ten days ago when they took every single umbrella (including crap kid umbrellas). But not the brass pot.

A few days ago, a nice man and woman, apparently fellow building residents, came by with a document they wanted me, as a Representative of the Apartment, to sign regarding a remont of the building exterior. She wanted me to sign immediately, but I begged off explaining that I am not the owner . . . let me have my husband read it . . . maybe I'll scan it and email it to the landlords  . . .

When I mentioned the proposal to remont the building exterior to The Spouse, he said, "Given how well the podyez remont is going, I can't imagine what the exterior remont job is going to look like!"

Then we all forgot about it.

I mean, I still step over abandoned paint buckets by the elevator on the ground floor. And there remains badly wiped up spilled paint on our landing. But like anything you see daily, we soon became immune to the mess. And, frankly, I have always thought we win the award for "Crappiest Podyez" anyhow.

Yesterday afternoon, arriving home with the girls, I noticed the following taped to the wall of the elevator. I saw the words Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost . . . the Russian Santa) and assumed it was some sort of kid holiday party.

When The Spouse got home much later, he insisted I go take a picture of the notice because, "It's hilarious, and I want to read it carefully later." (Click on the image if you want to see a bigger version of it.)

This he did, and he sent me a translation a few moments ago. The notice says

Dear residents of Entrance No. XX
of XXXXXXXXX St., Building no.XX
Like all of you, I am looking forward to the New Year 2010 and am preparing for it.  I planned to visit all of you and wish you well.
But!!!  Your Entrance 
Is in a Disgraceful and Dreadful State
I do not believe that I will be happy about my visit.  Moreover, you will be embarrassed that you were unable to get the management company to fulfill its contractual obligations regarding maintenance of the entrance way and stairwells.  As you all know, they haven’t done anything for a month, and this is not sufficient.  Moreover, they have abandoned the repairs of your entrance way and left it cluttered with debris.  I dare surmise that it will be this way until long after the time for my visit.
I think your guests and relatives will be unpleasantly surprised by your indifference to, and disdain of, basic cleanliness.
If you, as I, are upset by this blatant situation and lack of respect to you on the part of the management and the local administration,
please note the following telephone numbers and I suggest
Very truly yours,
Grandfather Frost
For a city with a budget of 40 billion dollars, this is a bit strange….
So that explains the list of phone numbers and addresses that was posted next to this. It wasn't Rent-A-Santa at all!

Isn't that a hoot?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Well, That's Just GRATE!

Long day, partially because I got roped into playing Mama Cop at the Noël en musique au lycée français. Four hours of my life I'll never get back.

I agreed to help out because there is so little I can do for the school, being French-impaired and all, and this was language-lite. I asked when the Nice French Mom called me and guilt-ed me into doing this: "Do I have to talk? To kids?"

"Mais, non," she replied. All I had to do was glare and shush people.

The four hours consisted of kids from the school's upper grades performing musical numbers for their peers.


So the peers tend to get bored and bavarde.

That's French for blabbermouth. Isn't it a great word?

But seriously. I sat (well, actually I stood) through FOUR HOURS of
  • "Boughi-Boughi Thonkie-Thonkie" (er, that's "Boogie-Boogie Tonky-Tonky")
  • "Au Champs Elysées" (twice)
  • "A Time for As" . . . you know, from Romeo and Juliet
  • A soul-less rendition of "Hot n Cold de Katy Perry"
  • A different "Boughi-Boughi"
  • CHOPSTIX for God's Sake
  • Some kid playing "Smoke on the Water" badly
  • A passionless version of "Listen to Your Heart"
  • A dreadful version of "You Are Not Alone"
  • And two bands.
Oy. The bands.

If the administration had any idea what those English lyrics meant, I somehow doubt they would have been allowed to perform in school. And what was up with the go-go dancer? Her already short skirt kept creeping higher and higher until, I kid you not, her cootchie was right there. I looked at the younger kids in the audience at that point. Hilarious. They were just stunned.

I had such hopes for the geeky red-headed kid with the electric guitar. I was SO sure he was gonna fire up AC/DC's "Shook me All Night Long." I was SO SURE.


Say what you will about American education, but I went to high school with some talented musicians. On my walk back to the Metro I counted off at least five classmates of mine who were concert level. A couple are professionals.

My kids, of course, were stellar. (These are my first attempts at using the "video" feature on my camera. And uploading videos. Bear with me.)

But I digress.

I got home and found I still had some of that lovely bolognaise sauce in the freezer. AND the remains of the Chunk O' Parmesan.

Which I set about grating.

Note to self: don't use the box grater. Use this thing to grate cheese:

Or you'll end up with a Knuckle Sandwich. Ew.

Yeah. That's a SpongeBob Band-Aid. I just grabbed one.

Then I applied this tried-and-true cure:

Ah! All better.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Favorite Things

No comment on this one. It's been a while, it seems, since I've had any vodka.

Babysitters who make wonderful crafts with the kids.

How DID she do that?

And tonight they made this:

They didn't have green paper, so they painted paper green. They left a water glass and brushes full of paint, but still. That's creative.

Then there are these. I bought these great handmade socks on the street today.The woman who sold them to me was so cute. She made these herself.

And these.

SQUIRRELS! I mean to give these away, but I also covet them.

Then there are socks:

And a pair I am wearing. So warm.

Note the August Bike Injury Scars. Yes, I still have the marks from THAT.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Um, People . . . It's DECEMBER, and We're in MOSCOW

A funny thing is happening on the Interwebz since the temperature here dropped to some seriously cold levels.

All of the expats in Moscow are posting about how cold it is where they are.

"My thermometer says -22C!"

"Forecast is -17C for tomorrow!"

"Hey! It's cold out!"

"Did you see how cold it is?"

We've even started commenting on how much we are all commenting. And we're arguing about the validity of the wind chill factor like we're the love children of Al Roker and Yukon Cornelius or something.

Frankly, it has only been this cold once before since I've been here. Last winter was sort of a yawn. I mean, if you're going to live in Moscow, you want a real Russian winter, right? Everyone said, "Oh, it will be cold, but the sun will shine and the skies will be blue!"

I had forgotten what blue skies look like. It still gets dark around 3:30, it seems. But at least it's bright out until then.

The sun at such a low angle combined with the condensation created by anything warm makes the city look very pale and almost delicate.

Add to that the frost on the windows. Thankfully, we have double everything, so the frost is on the outside layer of windows, not inside. And it is very pretty.

For the record, it was -23C/-10F on the way to school this morning according to the sign outside the Metro. 

Here is a view from the girls' room. The view is hazy because the window is frosted, not because of the glare from the sun (the window faces west, and this was before noon).

Makes the girls' room actually look nice.

Don't tell them, but I broke down and did a little cleaning in there today. I usually maintain a strict Hands Off! policy. But it had really reached a new low. And, in fairness, they have little time to do much about it before we get on the plane on Saturday.

Oh, and I know I suggested in a previous post that The Spouse may have to take a detour through Sweden before joining us at the Dacha, but as of this morning it appeared that no delay in his travel plans would be necessary.

Assuming the Doctor approves.

He went to London on Sunday and returned back home at 3:00 this morning. I was as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, but the fact he is now taking blood thinners should mean his risk of any problem is actually lower now.

Still. I'm glad the trip to Sweden seems to be off. Two round trip flights and a long-haul to the US all within one week feels like playing with fire.

He has a lung scan scheduled for tomorrow. So fingers crossed and all that. I'll keep you posted on our travel plans.

Monday, December 14, 2009

It's a Small World

I am, believe it or not, incredibly patient with All Things Computer. But this is largely because I am Change Averse.

I've mentioned this characteristic before in regards to travel and new experiences in general.

I don't like change or new experiences very much. And I'll suffer through no end of inconvenience to avoid having to Try Something New.

But The Spouse is getting me a new computer for Christmas and boy, oh boy, am I ready for that! Especially today.

Dear God, why is my computer so freakin' slow today?

Maybe it knows I've already mentally dragged its sorry ass to the DUMPSTER! and it is just stickin' it to me one more time.

I know I am getting a new computer because The Spouse called me the other day and asked me what he was getting me for Christmas this year. As in, "Did you already buy yourself something for Christmas?"

I had not. Because I don't know nuthin' about computers.

There was a time, back when I got paid to go to an office, when I would, honestly, go through the manuals that came with the software when I didn't have anything to do.

Really. It's true. Because there was also a time when I sometimes got paid to document software. And I know hardly anyone ever opens those manuals. And documenting software is about the most thankless job out there.

Okay, teaching first grade is the most thankless job out there.

But documenting software for a living is B-O-R-I-N-G.

So I would, from time to time, read the software and go through the tutorials. Just because I could.

Alas, I cannot do that with this computer because, you see, we bought this computer in Austria and that means I have a German operating system. Also I have an Argentine copy of Word.

So after having the computer yell at me in idiomatic Viennese, it is such a pleasure to open up Word. Because Spanish is sooooo easy.

Why did I ever complain about Spanish verbs?

The subjunctive? Bring it on.

Two forms of the verb to be? Child's play.

Because even The Spouse has to resort to google at times in order to translate some of those German error messages.

My new computer is a Dell Inspiron 1545 Intel Pentium Dual Core T4300, 2.1GHz 800Mhz, 1M L2 Cache. I don't know what any of that means. I do know it is being shipped to the Winter Dacha in the Ancestral Village, and that it is scheduled to arrive there about ten minutes before I have to get back on a plane to return to Moscow.

As long as it gets there.

But none of this has anything to do with what I sat down to write about. It is what came to me as I tried to load photos off my camera and onto my PAINFULLY SLOW COMPUTER THAT IS GOING TO THE DUMPSTER AND I AM NOT EVEN KIDDING.

What I was going to write about was that The Spouse had to fly to London last night.

(Yes. I know. He also has to fly to Sweden on December 20, which, you may note, is ONE DAY AFTER  he was supposed to fly to the Ancestral Village. But this is all fodder for another blog entry.)

Since The Spouse normally takes the girls to school, when he is away then I have to take the girls to school. I decided to use the opportunity to hop over to the gym right after and do my swim.

As I was walking up the sidewalk in front of the Radisson hotel . . . the lovely, salted sidewalk of the Radisson hotel . . . the only salted sidewalk I have ever seen in my time here in Moscow . . . I saw, standing in front of the hotel, a guy I knew from Bratislava.

He was Food and Beverage Dude for the Radisson there back about the time I was IWC Women's Club President. So Food and Beverage Dude was my good friend. I used to have to hotel kitchen cater my own parties for me because the food was good and extremely reasonably priced. I just loaded everything into the back of my car (ahhh . . . the car! I used to have a car! I even drove it myself!) and kept it all in the garage which was like a giant Walk-In Refrigerator in the winter.

Anyhow, I think I scared the bejeezuz out of him because I could not remember his name, but walked up to him and said, "I KNOW YOU!" His eyes got really big for a moment until he figured out that I was not some Deranged Stalker in a Big Russian Fur Hat.

Isn't that funny? I mean, it makes sense that he would end up at another Radisson. It even makes sense that he might work for a Radisson in Russia. But that he would happen to be standing outside on a day when I changed my routine and happened to walk by?

Things like this happen to me all the time in Moscow.

A funny story about F&B Dude requires you to know that he is not a very big person. He is one of the most professional people I have ever met. Impeccably dressed. Always on the ball. But he is not much taller than I am and I probably out weigh him by a good 30 pounds.

You have to know this for the story to be funny.

He liked my kids. And my kids always liked the chef statue that stood in front of the hotel restaurant in Bratislava. You've seen them, right? It looked sort of like this. Except the hand that held the sign broke. So it was useless to F&B Dude, and he told my kids they could have it.

Like I need a chef statue.

Anyhooooo, I went to the hotel to pick up the statue. F&B Dude was not about, so I told the restaurant manager that I was there to pick up the little man.

That's what I said. "The little man." Because I didn't speak Slovak very well. I figured the manager would know what I mean. I even gestured. I held my hand about chef statue height.

He told me to wait a moment.

When he returned, he did not have my chef statue with him. Oh, no. He brought me F&B Dude.

Speaking of Food and Beverage, I saw Jamie Oliver make this pumpkin soup on the teevee the other night. I made several modifications to it:
  • I didn't have any coriander seeds, so I just used garlic and chili pepper on the roasting pumpkin.
  • I didn't have any chestnuts, so I roasted a zucchini and added that to the soup instead.
  • I used my regular (Hungarian) bacon. 
  • I had fresh sage, but it had been in the fridge for a while, so it was sort of dried sage. I didn't use a lot, because I didn't want the stick-like stems in the soup. But I crushed up some leaves with my fingers and added them.
It was so good, I have roasted some more pumpkin today, and I'm making another batch.

What happened to the chef statue, you might ask?

In Bratislava, there was a place out by one of the malls where you could drop off certain things that didn't really belong at the landfill and that the garbage collection people would not take away. I lived there for almost seven years and did not figure this out until a few weeks before we moved to Moscow.

One day, while the children were safely playing at someone else's house, I took Chef there rather than move a broken statue to Moscow. And, although the Internet said the place would be open, it was not.

So I carefully lowered Chef over the fence and drove away fast fast.

The next day I came back with more things to drop off. The facility was open. And Chef had a position of honor by the front gate.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Submitted for your consideration: WONDER VISION!


Isn't that a riot? I get handed this at one of the Metros now and then. I love how Stevie is, at long last, freed from the darkness. Free at last, free at last!

In other news:
  • Cat-O peed in the tub this morning. Uh-oh.
  • Someone stole ALL my umbrellas. I kept them in a brass pot on the landing outside our front door. They have been there for TWO YEARS. The whole mess o' them disappeared last night. Crap kid umbrellas. Nice new IKEA umbrellas. The umbrella I bought at Crate & Barrel last summer. Who would take ALL my umbrellas?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Thanks, Kate, for the tip!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Oh, the Weather Outside Is Frightful

Yesterday afternoon around 3:00, I suddenly looked out the window and realized something was different:

Same scene, about 9:00 p.m.

Playing with the flash. Now you can see the snowflakes. And the Continuing Hell that is Moscow Rush Hour. It's after 9:00 in the p.m. people!

And, again, this morning:

The sidewalks have been swept, so they should now be Nice and Litigiously Slippery. Perhaps today is the day to try out the YakTrax I brought back from the US.

Seriously, though. This is what I signed up for. If I am going to live in Moscow, I want it to be snowy.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Snapshot: Moscow on a Monday

Things are actually sort of normal here, Chez Beet. By that I mean everyone who was supposed to went to school/work this morning. And the temperature outside is actually -3C.

Much more what one would expect for Moscow in December, no? None of this +6C rubbish.

I got roped into accompanying Skittles' class on a field trip today. So what follows are some snapshots I took along the way.

But first, for your reading pleasure, I have included a vivid image of "Hell As I See It." Or maybe as I "Feel" it.

Imagine, if you can, that you on your way to the school wearing a pair of tights with a dress. And the tights are, apparently, older than you realized.

As are your undies. Elastically speaking.

So old, in fact, that midway between your front door and the Metro, you realize that the tights are not only sagging, but they are actually sliding down off your body.

Pulling the tired old undies with them.

Your bare behind is al fresco, albeit covered by your dress and coat. But, baby, it's still cold outside!

Now imagine ducking into alleys and trying to PULL UP said undies and tights without flashing Greater Moscow.

Good times.

I'll try to erase the horrific image now undoubtedly searing into your brain, by sharing some slightly more Family Friendly Shots.

I'm not really sure which museum we visited with the class today. My best guess is that it was the Museum of Packaging. Which sort of makes sense because I vaguely recall another mother saying once that her kid's class went to what she thought was a Museum of Labels. It could have been this museum.

There were lots of labels.

It's a very small museum, just one room, really. On my map that block of Novaya ploshad is marked "Polytechnika Museum." Maybe . . .

The kids heard a lot about packaging, however. The history of glass containers, paper, barrels, cardboard.

And we saw some packaging.

Yuri Gagarin on matchboxes, for example.

My Star Dog friends, Strelka and Belka on a tin.

Then kids got to play with all sorts of cute things other kids made out of recyclables. 
I swear, the little guy on the left looks like he has the words E coli on him. 
It can't really say E coli. Can it?

This doll was made out of candy wrappers. Isn't she fabulous?

This fairytale illustration was also made from candy wrappers. 
Note the icon made from an Alenka chocolate bar wrapper.

Here's Alenka again, this time masquerading as a Mexican Madonna.

But enough of the Mystery Museum. Let's go back out and hit the streets, tights and undies still dragging.

The shrubs are all wrapped up for winter now. 
This site is a shady sidewalk cafe during warmer weather.

The Russians are really into the Chinese New Year animals. 
Everywhere you look now you see tigers for sale in anticipation of the upcoming Year of the Tiger.

This is an illustration of how much I confuse the two alphabets now. Recently I have seen a lot of people on the Metro reading a book called Legends of the Arbat. I can actually read that in Cyrillic. The title, that is. Arbat, in Cyrillic, is Арбат. I actually thought, at first, that this was a poster for a movie version of the book. It's not. It's for the movie Avatar.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Jewelry Makes Me Feel Funny . . . But Don't Let That Stop You

Like anything for sale in Anthroplogie, I get all . . . GIMME, GIMME, GIMME! when I look at jewelry. I don't know why. Half the time I acquire pieces, and then I don't even wear them.

I just want them.


In Anthropologie, I'm so overwhelmed that I never buy much.


But especially the bedding.

Like that's all going to fit nicely in my suitcase.

I also have a lot of very nice jewelry from Robert Redford's catalog.

Back before we had kids and I still had a Job-Outside-the-Home, I used to mark up catalogs as a sort of entertainment. I just wanted to consider the items for a while, but I rarely, if ever, ordered them. Like shopping at T.J.Maxx or Odd Lots: sometimes I just like to put the items in my cart for a while. But then, I put them back. I got to have them for a few minutes, and I wasn't that much happier for having done so.

One year around Valentine's Day, The Spouse uncovered one of these Wish-List-Catalogs and ordered everything in it that I marked.

It. Was. Great.

Almost as good as the year he went to Burdine's and got me a lovely sapphire and diamond ring, and even though there was a purse-snatching in progress, the clerk held on to him like grim death, thoughtfully suggestive-selling him other items while her colleagues begged her to "Please, give us the phone!" and then "Please, dial 9-1-1!" because the perp had shoved the victim down and she had bonked her head. Every time I wear that ring I wonder if that poor anonymous shopper is okay.

That was The Valentine's Day to End All Valentine's Days because that ring was the Grande Finale in a series of gifts that also included
  • The Largest Garfield Card Ever
  • A Dozen Red Roses
  • A Whitman Sampler 
  • and the thing I wanted most . . . dinner at the now-defunct Las Puertas in Coral Gables, Florida.

He really outdid himself that year. I don't think he's reached those heights since.

Anyhow, I was bopping along, reading comments on a recent post by one of my very favorite serious bloggers,* and I found a comment by the woman who has this site.

I've been a very good girl, Santa. Can I please have this?

 Or this?

Preferably both?

* She's not "serious" as in "humorless." She's serious as in "seriously makes me snort my coffee out my nose, that's how hard I am laughing."

These Boots Were Made for Walkin'

A while ago I bought these winter boots.

You need to know, if you care about me at all, that I used to be REALLY EASY TO SHOP FOR. Shoe-wise, that is.

So easy, in fact, that my mother used to call me The Imelda Marcos of the Midwest.

Seriously. I could buy shoes from catalogs. Alas, those days are long gone.
I'll spare you the details of my Podiatric Hell. My kids are probably the best people to ask about how annoying it is now to go shoe shopping with me.

Why can't I find stylish, dare I say it, CUTE shoes that don't hurt?

But I digress.

I found myself a nice pair of winter boots. Stylish enough. And, oh, so comfortable.

Then, one day, a few weeks ago, tragedy struck.

On my way out the door to get the children from school, the zipper on my right boot suddenly refused to zip. I pulled. I swore. I got the tool box out and tried to find a way to maximize my leverage. Or maybe it was my torque.

Nothing doing.

I tried, in the late afternoon gloom that is Moscow in November, to see if I could identify what was wrong with the zipper teeth.

I had to go get my reading glasses in order to see the black zipper on the black boots in my dimly lit hall.

I even applied soap, hoping to entice it to S-L-I-D-E. No luck.

NOTHING LOOKED AMISS. What the hell was wrong with the stupid zipper?

Eventually I was able to get the zipper zipped past the Problem Area. I was even able to get my foot in the boot. But the zipper gaped open below the Problem Area. And proceeded to get worse.

Oh, spit.

After consulting with my trusted Moscow Expat Friends, I confirmed what I suspected:
  • Russian women break boot zippers, too.
  • Boots are expensive.
  • Any of the Shoe Repair Kiosks all over Moscow ought to be able to repair or replace the zipper.
  • I should expect to spend about 200 rubles ($7US).
  • Which is less than I was quoted to replace a much shorter zipper in the Ancestral Village this summer when I took in a pair of ankle boots I essentially trash-picked out of the detritus of my father's third wife's belongings. (They have fur around the ankle, and are CUTE CUTE CUTE. But not as comfortable as my tall boots. No way.)

There is a nice shoe repair kiosk in the Mall-Under-The-Street about 800 meters from my door.

Just far enough that I want to make sure the shop is open before I go over there. It's not on my way TO anywhere I regularly go.

So, of course, I went over the other day, carrying my one boot in a bag. And even though the sign in the kiosk window said it should be open, it wasn't.

So I got to take my boot to the grocery store.


The Spouse said he would go with me on the weekend, but then he ended up in the hospital. I wore the boot anyhow, feeling like everyone in Moscow was Staring at The Gap in My Zipper.

I'm sure it was barely visible to the naked eye, but I was very self-conscious.

So yesterday I thought I would try again.

I girded my loins, put my boot in a bag, and marched off to the repair kiosk.

Let me just tell you that December 3 shall henceforth be known as Saint Shoe Repair Dude Day. Because Shoe Repair Dude fixed my boot zipper!

Yes, he had to faff about with it a bit, going through the same WTF?!-It-Looks-Like-It-Should-Work-Just-Fine Analysis I did.

He got out tools, and then different tools, and then still different tools.

I was frantically practicing in my head just how I was going to mime "Can I pick it up tomorrow?" when he suddenly solved the problem, demonstrated it several times for me, and charged me 50 rubles.

That's like a buck seventy-five.

I was so grateful that I bought a tube of Super Glue and some black shoe polish from him.

Well, not grateful, exactly. But feeling guilty cuz I only had a 1000-ruble note.

This was the high point of my day. I'm still all giggly about my Newly Refurbished Boot.

Sad, isn't it.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Love This Site

I don't usually push this sort of thing because I am, essentially, very lazy myself.

But I happened to notice that this particular contest ends tomorrow. So I can't whine and grovel and annoy you about it for very long. Especially since I will probably forget all about it myself in a few minutes anyhow.

But if you have a moment, be a love, eh? I'm curious to see what would happen.

I mean, if you don't, things could get ugly.

I'm just saying.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


BEFORE: Wednesday, 5:17 p.m.

AFTER: Wednesday, 7:17 p.m.

He was sent home with three drugs (one inject-able) and the cardiologist's blessing to do whatever he feels up to doing. Follow up on December 7. Cleared to fly. And drink wine.

Food Is Love

I was the recipient of an EXCELLENT good deed today. See, the Festive-Spirit-Peace-On-Earth-Good-Will-To-Men thang has reached even here in Moscow where it is already dark as I type at 3:22 in the p.m.

The Spouse has been in the hospital, lo these many days. But fret not! He is due to be sprung later today. In fact, as soon as I post this, I'm going over to the hospital to hang out with him. For. The. Last. Time.


And Yay! for the Interwebz, which is how I met Fellow-Blogger-in-Mockba-Girlfriend. The other day Fellow-Blogger-in-Mockba-Girlfriend told me she was cookin' up a mess o' marinara sauce and would be sending some my way.

Today was the day.

She called me this morning to say she was going to have someone bring it over to me and was now alright?

Are you kidding me? Homemade spaghetti sauce delivered to my door? You betcha now is alright.

And, sure 'nuf, about 20 minutes later the Delivery Dude called to say he was out front, so I scampered down to the street to be handed the MOST HEAVIEST GROCERY BAG EVER.

There was, like, a GALLON of sauce in there.

Mmmmmm. Sauce.

I was thinking, "Gee, I'm down to a crust of Parmesan cheese . . . I'll have to duck into the grocery store on my way to pick up Skittles from school."

(As you may recall, while Baboo is Quarantined for Strep, Skittles is still forced to attend school. It's been like that scene in Madeline when all the little girls cry, "Boo! Hoo! WE want to have our appendix out, too!")

But I digress.

Do you know what Girlfriend did?

Girlfriend included a wedge of  Parmesan cheese in the Care Package!


Do you have any idea how expensive Parmesan is here?

Sauce, cheese, and even a bag o' pasta! Girlfriend is THE BEST!

This is not just dinner. This is love.

I will pay it forward. I promise.

'Tis the Season to Be Jolly!

The Spouse is being released from the hospital later today.

Film at eleven.