Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Banner Day

Shout-outs to my mom, aunt Anna and Pam for the packages. Big thank yous to Carol and Fred, Jamison and Michelle, Grandpa and Grandma Richart, the Sokwins, Shiree and Ken, Jason and Sarah, Larry and Holly, and Tim and Jena for the cards and gift certificates. And mad props to the publishers of Money and Shape magazines. You all made our day.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

This might not come as a revelation, but ...

... sometimes it occurs to me that it might be nice to live near your family all the time, rather than just visiting for a couple weeks a year.

I know, it's crazy.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Knitting love

So, it turns out that having little with which to occupy oneself contributes to an increase in the frequency of blogging. I didn't think I had all that much of a life in D.C., but it turns out that I was wrong. Interestingly, having fewer outlets through which to occupy one's time (going shopping, going to church, cooking meals, commuting) also appears to translate to a general preoccupation with the minutiae of life that would otherwise remain unremarked-upon. Like the washers and the stoves, and so on.

I have reacted to this abundance of free time by breaking out the knitting again. I've also begun reading knitting blogs, of which there many, and which I find very addicting. I do not plan to turn this into a knitting blog (though if Jeremy doesn't start holding up his end of the computer, I may decide I have the license to do it), but I will devote the occasional post to this, one of my favorite pastimes.

So here's my recent progress. I finally knitted a replacement beanie for Josh (his was stolen back in March). I don't know whether he reads this blog; I guess I will find out because I am posting a picture of the new beanie below. Don't worry Josh, the colors are not nearly as bright as they appear in this photo. They are very muted and manly, I swear. Hope it fits!

I had wanted to start making a sweater; however, I do not have enough of any one yarn to pull that off at the moment, and as I have never made a sweater before, I didn't want to worry about any colorwork. But rather than jumping online and buying new yarn, I decided I needed to engage in a bit of "stashbusting," as they say in the knitting blogosphere. This is why:

So ... after I finish my current, secret project, I'll have to find lots of little projects to whittle down my stash, especially those in the bottom right photo, which include all the leftovers from previous projects. Requests will be entertained.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas (Western)

Merry Christmas!

Jeremy and I celebrated the day in an all-American fashion: breakfast from the dining hall, followed by some presents, and flag football with the Marines (for Jeremy) and knitting in front of an episode of Gilmore Girls (for Masha). Then we went to a Christmas dinner hosted by one of our neighbors in our apartment building, and came home for some more knitting (and reading, for Jeremy).

Also, as a Christmas gift for you, our loyal reader(s), we finally took some pictures of our apartment:

Again, sorry for the flipped photo; we still have no iPhoto:

And the best part - our bathtub cubby. It's actually really cozy for baths. Go ahead, rotate your head and try to imagine it.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Kabul chicken soup

So, Jeremy is sick again (or maybe still sick from the nasty cold/congestion/bronchial cough thing that knocked him down right before we departed DC).

So, I did what any good wife would do - I went to the dining hall and asked if I could buy a chicken off them to make some chicken soup. I also got onions, carrots and garlic (there is no celery here, apparently), and tried to get noodles but all they had to offer was penne and fettucine, which I guess would have worked, but I don't like such big noodles in my chicken soup.

So I came home, sauteed some onions in my stock pot, and was slightly suspicious when that took 20 minutes to do. After the onions were done, I put the chicken in the pot and covered with water, put the lid on, and left it to boil. It took nearly an HOUR to reach boiling. Yes, the stove was on. My stockpot is a relatively small one, and I have made all manner of things in it, including soup, over the years, and it has never taken so long to boil. Jeremy blames our teeny tiny European ceramic/electric range. I think I do too. I guess maybe altitude also could have something to do with it (we are at 5800 feet). In any case, cooking looks to be a frustrating exercise here.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Get to go to the Doctor

Well, the compound here is nice and cozy, but everyone gets a little claustrophobic, even with the biggest of compounds. So, after 96 hours here, I decided that I needed to go and get my finger checked out. Masha had been nagging to get it looked at, but come on, it's just a jammed finger from my last basketball game in DC. Thank you Justin, by the way.

The doctor here thought I should go get it x-rayed, as it was still swollen 2 weeks after the incident. Hey, anything to get off compound. Masha was jeaaaaaaaaaaaaalous!

So, I got permission to go off compound and head into Kabul to go to the German medical facility here. Below are a couple of pictures from the ride into town. Sorry they are blurry, but I couldn't ask the driver to stop and let me get out. Those are the rules.

Oh, and the two x-rays were $12 total. Eat that, managed care!

A little bumper to bumper with three lanes on a one lane road never hurt anyone:

Apparently it's a big emergency when no one has weapons. Seriously, can't be without your AK-47.

I did want to stop by and grab dinner, but no dice.

Maybe this would be a better place. Maybe for our anniversary.

Week 1 report

Highlights of the week:

We experienced our first mortar blasts, though Jeremy slept through it and I woke up briefly wondering what was falling down in the living room before going back to sleep. I don't think we were in any real danger; we heard that they weren't actually aimed at us.

I spent a day and a half doing laundry. Our laundry room is equipped with European washers and dryers.

It took me 15 minutes just to figure out how to work each of them, then another two hours per (tiny) load in the washer, and about five hours per load in the dryer. You have to put them through the dryer twice, because after the first 150-minute cycle, your clothes are about as dry as if you'd blown on them through a straw for two and a half hours.

And we have Christmas-ified our apartment.

The other thing that happened is our computer went haywire, and Jeremy spent most of yesterday trying to fix it. Our iPhoto is still messed up, and though I've tried to rotate the photos using another program, they won't save that way, which is why you have to view them at a 90-degree angle. Sorry about that.

Lastly, Jeremy found out that the finger he thought he'd jammed playing basketball in the States a few weeks ago is actually broken, so he got to leave the compound (!) to get an xray. He's being a little bit lazy about posting about his adventure, but hopefully I'll get him to do that today.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Day Two, and Three

It's 6:30 p.m. here in Kabul, and I am listening to church music and gazing at our Christmas lights while waiting for Jeremy to return from the dining hall - er - cafeteria, with dinner. We continue to be more or less satisfied with the cafeteria (a good thing, since we've only been here just over 72 hours). They have a decent variety, and so far, there has been some sort of South Asian dish on the menu at each meal - various curries, and today there was a vegetable biryani. We're starting to realize, though, how poorly we prepared our consumables shipment. We're stocked up on cereal and instant oatmeal and paper towels, but plan to order some staples like pasta and tomato sauce so we can "cook" at home. And I will start trying to figure out how we can acquire fresh ingredients once in awhile so that we can cook a proper dinner.

Friday is the big day off here, so yesterday, we went to the weekly bazaar at Camp Eggers, which is probably about half or two-thirds of a mile away. It's one of the only ways to get off compound on a regular basis, and we are told many members of the mission staff go very frequently. It's a very nice bazaar, with a good variety of goods, including carpets, ridiculously cheap pashminas, gemstones and semi-precious stone jewelry (most notably lapis lazuli), and of course, carpets. We are definitely going to spend some money there. Unfortunately, the bazaar being on a military base, I can't take pictures of it.

Then last night we attended two parties, one of which was held in an apartment in our building. Met a lot of folks, including the resident poker sharks, one of whom also happens to be a musician. It will be good to be busy.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Dry mouth and jet lag

It's 5 a.m. Kabul time, and I have been awake for about 40 minutes now. Jeremy is sleeping away blissfully in the bedroom, completely unfairly, I might add. It is so dry here that, even with the humidifier going, I woke up twice in the middle of the night with dry mouth on the order of a very big night out.

Our first impressions: the compound is dusty, and smaller than I'd expected (we arrived at around 1 p.m., and by the time we'd had dinner, we'd randomly run into all three of the people we already knew here). Our apartment is very nice, with large windows and built-in Armed Forces Network, and larger than the shoebox we lived in in Arlington. We'll post pictures after we get our tree up today. There are three apartment buildings on the compound, and everyone else (about half the staff, I'm told) lives in converted shipping containers, or "hooches," as they are known.

At first glance, the cafeteria food appears not to be opposed to weight loss if you are careful. I had some really good spinach and potato curry for dinner.

A yellowish haze hangs over us, the byproduct, we are told, of thousands of burning tires. I am already noticing that when I blow my nose, the results are a darker color than normal.

More to come.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

On the other side

We are here. This is how it happened.

Monday evening at 10:30 p.m. EST, we departed from Dulles for Dubai via Paris, nervous, excited and most of all, anxious to arrive in Kabul. Our journey to Dubai was unremarkable. We exited Dubai International's shiny Terminal 1, and were at our hotel at 11:30 p.m. Dubai time on Tuesday (2:30 p.m. Tuesday EST). We got up at 4 a.m. in order to make it back to the airport - Terminal 2, which is considerably less shiny, and which, judging from the departures screen, might more aptly be named "Danger Depot."

I was taken with the Christmas tree in the duty free shop.

Probably, we should have paid more attention to the people sleeping under it - that might have better prepared us for the ensuing 32 hours. Events unfolded thusly:

7 a.m. Designated boarding time

7:30 a.m. We are informed that the flight has been delayed until 9 a.m. due to bad weather.

7:30–9:30 a.m. Airport officials manning gates 2 and 3 play ping-pong with miserable travelers who just want to know which gate their flight is departing from. Finally, a mob bum rushes gate 3 to board. Judging from our fellow passengers' staggering inability to form an orderly line, it appears that nobody in this part of the world went to kindergarten.

10:30 a.m. Take off!

1 p.m. (Kabul time, which is half an hour later than Dubai time) - The plane comes within 100 feet of the runway, and we catch a brief glimpse of squat houses and lots of dust of Kabul before the plane inexplicably ascends.

1:15 p.m. The captain langorously informs us that the runway was snowy, so we will of course be flying to Zahadan, IRAN, to bide our time until the weather improves. I rack my brain, without success, to try to remember what, if anything, I was taught at FSI about what to do if your plane happens to get routed to Iran.

1:45 p.m. Captain gets on the intercom again, and, between yawns, tells us that, actually, we'll just go on to Dubai now. Jeremy and I are relieved and vaguely disappointed all at once.

3:30 p.m. As we touch down in Dubai, the cabin crew thanks us for our business and invites us to fly Kam Air again. Enjoy your stay in Dubai, they say, as though it is perfectly normal to fly five hours only to arrive right back where one began.

4 p.m. We depart the plane and proceed back into the departures area of the terminal. In the terminal, no one can tell us what is going on. No one from Kam Air is at the gate. Passengers descend upon the hapless gate attendant, shaking pitchforks and demanding information, until he runs away, ostensibly to locate a Kam Air official.

4:20 p.m. Gate attendant returns to inform us that no one from Kam Air is in the airport. They have all gone home. He calls Kam Air’s city office and is told someone is on his way

5 p.m. Kam Air employee arrives. Passengers descend vulture-like upon him, demanding to know why he wasn’t here when we got off the plane. He protests that he did not know we were coming back. Good point. If only, if ONLY there were some sort of device that would enable the pilot of a plane to communicate with the ground!

Once the riot subsides, the Kam Air employee tells us we will be departing at 7 p.m. Seasoned Kabul residents express dismay, since they know that flights never, ever land in Kabul after dark. Also, a Kam Air plane crashed into a mountain on a snowy day almost exactly three years ago.

6:30 p.m. Kam Air tells us our flight has been canceled. We are stuck in departures. Our bags, quite properly, are en route to arrivals. No one has any idea how to unite us with them. A security force of small men who are generally complacent to the point of negligence, becomes amazing riled up when we try to leave departures to go back through to arrivals. It is decided that the only possible way we can clear immigration (and thus reach our bags, at arrivals) is to relinquish all 115 of our passports to a gate attendant, who, as far as we know, will put them in a bag and go off to have an extended smoke and coffee break before returning to us, having conveniently forgotten both the purpose of his excursion, and our travel documents.

6:30 and 1 second p.m. Passengers protest. Loudly.

7:30 p.m. The gate official has been persuaded to see reason, primarily because a burly Australian contractor's promised to turn his face into oatmeal if he tries to take our passports away.

8 p.m. Finally in line at immigration, we find ourselves having to argue with the immigration officials, who are apparently opposed to doing their jobs. They say there is no way they can get 115 of us through immigration because – wait for it – we all have different immigration circumstances (visas, no visas, entry stamps, deportees). We agree that yes, that is true, and that is why we all go through one at a time instead of in a big mob (the kindergarten thing again). It takes the better part of half an hour to convince them.

9 p.m. We finally make it through immigration, collect our baggage, and are waiting in line for a cab to our hotel.

10 p.m. We check into a hotel and then head to a noodle shop (appropriately named Yum!) for some much-needed food.

11 p.m. We pass out on the bed.

3:45 a.m. Wake up call. Totally refreshed, we spring out of bed, check out, and head back to Danger Depot. Aside from confusion over departure times and gates; the usual, elbow-thrusting mob of people; and the fact that we took off two hours late, this morning was unremarkable. I had this exchange with the security guy after the metal detector detected metal in my shoes:

Guy: You have gun?
Me: No.
Guy: You have bomb?
Me: No.
Guy: You have knife?
Me: No.
Guy: You have grenade?
Me: No.
Guy: OK. If you have gun, shoot only the pilot.

And he walked away chuckling with the air of a man who knows he is blessed not only with an unparalleled sense of humor, but incomparable good looks to boot.

Fast forward.

We got on the plane.

We did not look our best.

I passed the time by arranging the more interesting items at my disposal into unconventional configurations, and then taking photographs of them. Like this Kam Air barf bag and our wedding rings.

Then we landed at the airport in Kabul, and there was much rejoicing.

And then our driver handed us bulletproof vests and asked us to put on our seat belts.

The End. For Now.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Still from Dubai

After 10 hours at the airport and five in the air, we are ... still in Dubai. Hopefully we'll make Kabul tomorrow. We'll post the scoop once we are in Afghanistan. For now, we'll say that our story involves snow and/or fog and/or technical problems and/or President Karzai, and a near emergency stop in Iran. It's quarter to 11 here now, and we're going to try to catch a few hours' sleep before heading back to the airport at 4 a.m.

From Dubai

Well, here we are in the balmy UAE. There is a Christmas tree in the lobby and there are palm trees in the courtyard. We leave for the airport in about 90 minutes. Currently we are waiting for room service, and Jeremy is watching Al Jazeera (in Arabic, which, no, he does not speak). Ooh, room service just arrived, and there's a rose on the tray and everything. Time to eat!

Monday, December 10, 2007

T minus seven hours ...

We are really going! We've packed our bags, repacked our bags, eaten our last sushi, and even filled out an online survey for the corporate housing company we used the last few months (felt good to vent about the staggering incompetence they call customer service). We'll be blogging next from Kabul. Or from Europe if our connection is delayed. Or from the UAE if our hotel room has free wifi and jetlag is keeping us up. In any case, we won't be in the U.S. anymore.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving this year was a big one for the new Richarts. It was the first Thanksgiving I'd spent with my family since 1996 (a banner holiday, as I had the flu and spent the whole weekend in bed). And it was Jeremy and my first holiday as a married couple. Wanting to get some good holiday time in with both families, we spent Thursday with my folks in Virginia, and then flew out to Omaha for the weekend for some classic Richart family hijinks. Some highlights follow.


The tornado that blew through right before dinner.

My green beans coming out of the oven.

Mom singing to the turkey. (Come on, doesn't yours?)


Jeremy and Jamison feeding a new family obsession: Blokus, the best game you've never heard of.

The last leg of the Thanksgiving games at the Richart household: the Thanksgiving cruise to rescue pumpkins from the island.

Glad I stayed on dry ground ...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

What we left out of the boxes

Yesterday morning, Jeremy was in the walk-in closet getting ready for class, and he noticed a lot of empty hangers. That were supposed to go into our shipment to Kabul. Oops. Guess we'll just have to stack our clothes on the floor.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

At least our stuff is on its way

The packers took our stuff yesterday. We still have over three weeks before we leave, but I am a firm believer in packing out early. Since I absolutely detest the organizing/purging/cleaning process that goes into a pack-out, I figure that, if I get it over with early, I'll be able to relax and enjoy the last few weeks before leaving for post. Jeremy doesn't believe me.

Monday, November 12, 2007


I went to a Jeremy-sponsored cooking class at Williams Sonoma this week. It was awesome - like being right up there in Rachael Ray's face, only this was a man from Georgia (the state, not the country) who was only slightly less perky. I learned a bit about cooking on copper pots and pans (am now desperately wanting them, but we can't buy anything until after Kabul) and about how to make herbs last longer in the fridge (chop 'em up and pour a little olive oil over them - will keep for two weeks). Super fun. Below is a photo of a dinner I made (actually pre-cooking class, but I am proud of it nonetheless). Herbed pork tenderloin, mashed maple sweet potatoes and braised kale with bacon. Yum!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Honeymoon Part 2

During our honeymoon, we went to Luray Caverns, and visited the New Market battlefield, site of a Civil War battle involving cadets from the Virginia Military Institute. Being from Nebraska, Jeremy had never been inside caverns or visited a Civil War museum.

We couldn't resist the maze at Luray Caverns. It's actually kind of tricky and worth a visit if you are passing through.

Then we hit the caverns.

Hmm, maybe better without the flash?

According to our tour guide, a stalactite "holds tight to the ceiling" while a stalagmite "might hit the ceiling." Maybe I'll pull that out at my next Embassy reception. I suck at small talk.

This is a photo of the underground lake at Luray Caverns, which perfectly reflects the stalactites above it.

Then we went back to the resort, and Jeremy put the stupid crown on again.

On our way back to DC, I introduced Jeremy to another great Shenandoah Valley staple - Waffle House.

Then we stopped at the battlefield. Pretty Virginia.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Honeymoon Part 1

Jeremy shows off his ring.

A hike in the hills ...

Jeremy thinks he's "king of the house" or something now. I'd make more fun of him, except ...

... yes, that is me making dinner in my wedding dress three days after the wedding.

And then we played golf.

Jeremy limbered up ...

... and then got the golf cart stuck in a ditch.

But not before I had had a chance to drive it.

Also, I'm really good at golf.

Out, out, damn ball!

to be continued ...