Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day Weekend

We've had a great three-day weekend here.  Saturday Jeremy was invited to play for the Embassy's team in a local softball league.  Other teams include Russians and Cubans and other expats.  Jeremy returned home happy, if slightly sunburned and with welts up and down both legs.  Apparently the outfield is right next to a giant patch of stinging nettle.  He ran in there twice.  You can't say he's not a team player (although you could make a joke about Pavlov's dogs). 

On Sunday we went to church in the morning and then I took Jeremy to Perekryostok Zelyoniy, my current go-to grocery store.  He observed that we could spend a lot of money if we didn't pay attention to prices.  Certain exotic fruits that I didn't recognize cost up to $30 per kilo.  A 10-inch shaker of red pepper flakes was also about $30.  We bought some Hungarian bacon for about $6 a pound - not terrible, but certainly more than we'd spend on bacon in the U.S.  It was very, very salty.

In the evening, we joined some new friends and their children for a barbecue.  Jeremy reconvened with the men later on for some vodka and whiskey.  To get to the meeting site, he had only to walk out our back door, walk down the grass about 300 feet, and walk into someone else's back door.  Good stumbling home distance, although he behaved well.  Monday was his day to get up early with Natasha.  He's learning.

Today we went for a walk down the Stariy Arbat (Old Arbat Street).  It's a pedestrian road lined with pricey souvenir shops and outdoor cafes.  We had lunch at "Asia Cafe."  I opted for the "Business Lunch" bento box (which included, among other things, maki stuffed with chicken ...).  Jeremy went for raw fish, with tuna nigiri, a tuna roll and a tempura eel roll.  He pronounced it decent.  Prices were probably about 30% higher than our favorite place in Virginia, but the food wasn't as tasty.  To be expected.

And now the weekend is over.  We're about to commence our evening routine of heading to bed at least an hour before we intend to sleep.  It doesn't get dark here until after 10, and even at 11:30 the sky isn't totally black.  So we go up to our bedroom early and draw the curtains, then watch a DVD or something on the computer for an hour to convince ourselves that it is night time, before turning out the light.  It's worked pretty well, but I have to make sure not to look back at the curtains after turning out the lamp - there's always still some daylight peeking in.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

First grocery fail

Natasha and I explored a new grocery store today, Zelyonii Perekryostok.  It's a bit over a mile's walk from the Embassy, slightly downhill when you have no groceries to lug, and uphill when the stroller is a bit heavier.  Nice store.  Baby was sleeping when we got there, but woke up about 15 minutes in.  She has become quite whiny lately when she's not getting my full attention, so I couldn't spend the time really checking out my options.

I wanted to make pizza for dinner tonight.  I had in my head a vision of a very Italian style pizza.  Thin crust, not too much sauce, light on the toppings, fresh basil, salami instead of pepperoni, etc.  Natasha was in full whine mode by the time we got to the cheese section, so I grabbed the first thing I saw with "mozzarella" on the label.  The fact that each slice was individually wrapped should have been a warning ...

Because, yes, although it was billed as mozzarella, what I actually bought was basically American cheese.  I HATE American cheese.  And even if you like it, you could hardly argue that it belongs on pizza.  So my beautiful, thin-crust Italian pizza ended up looking like this:

It didn't taste as awful as it looks, but the cheese did leave that awful processed film on the roof of my mouth.  Better luck next time, I guess.

Excuse me while I talk about poop

I actually think it's kind of amazing that Natasha is eight months old and we have yet to discuss poop on this blog.  Well, today's the day.  We started using cloth diapers with her when she was three days old.  They worked great for us and we happily used them exclusively until she was about seven months old.  Then we switched to disposables temporarily for a couple reasons.  First, I had a pretty good case of morning sickness, and dealing with poopy diapers made me vomit.  You still have to deal with poop when you use disposables, but with cloth, once a baby gets more in her diet than breastmilk, you have to scrape the poop off the diaper into the toilet, so there is an extra poop-handling step.  I also didn't feel like handwashing diapers in hotel bathrooms while in transit, so we started using disposables.  We tried several different brands, and while I did find that one worked better for us than the others, I truly hated them all.  Up-the-back poop all the time, leaks and worst of all, the stink!  I don't know who thought that scenting disposable diapers was a good idea, but I have to say that it's not.  When Natasha pooped in her disposables, the smell was this putrid mix of poop and chemical perfume.  Kind of like when someone tries to cover up a bad case of BO by putting on perfume.  Not good.  Plus, we had several times more blowouts in a month of using disposables than in seven months of using cloth. 

Anyway, we've been in Moscow over a week, and I was still using disposables until yesterday, because it had been awhile since I'd done diaper laundry and I had built it up to be something more difficult than it is.  But yesterday was the last straw.  Natasha woke up soaking wet.  Then around 11 a.m., she pooped all over herself and me.  I couldn't stand to put another Pampers on her (not least because of their recent smear campaign against cloth diapers - sorry folks, but at least cloth doesn't give babies chemical burns!), so I pulled out one of my Bumgenius 3.0 pocket diapers.  No more blowouts.  No more leaks.  No more wretched poop-perfume stink.  I freaking love cloth diapers.  I really hope I can keep up with it when #2 arrives.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

As promised

A few photos of the weekends excursions to Gorky Park and Red Square.

Most people have to pay to get into Gorky Park, but among those who get in free are veterans, children under 7, orphan children and those serving in Afghanistan (but apparently serving on the American side doesn't count).  Also, apparently, Mount Rushmore is a ride at Gorky Park.  I haven't seen the actual Mount, but it seems to me that the presidents look a bit more pissed off in this version.

There's also a pretty serious log flume ride - tickets are only $8.30 per ride (and that's after the $2.70 charge to get into the park).

When you get sick of the rides, you can take in the view of the river.

Natasha liked it, too.

And then all these women in wedding dresses walked by.

And that was kind of weird, but we were ready to go home, so we walked to the Metro.

Then the next day, we went to the Kremlin.

And we checked out the eternal flame for the unknown soldier.

Apparently, there were military games going on in Red Square.  Complete with rock climbing races (apparently the world cup of climbing is going to be held in Moscow this year).

And mini-football.

And teenagers dancing suggestively in hot pants (doesn't that shimmy say "military games" to you?).

There was also a skate park.

But it was pretty warm and I was wearing a black shirt, so we took the obligatory Red Square photo and headed to find shade and ice cream.

And then Natasha discovered pigeons.  I don't think they liked her too much, though.

And Stalin and Lenin were there, escorted by what I can only guess was Gone With the Wind Barbie, Limited Gold Edition.

And then we went home.  Long day.


Well, it's actually Sunday at 1 a.m. here.  Stupid jet lag.  Somehow Jeremy is not as affected by it as I am, and I'm not taking any naps!  Natasha has been asleep for over four hours, and Jeremy for one, yet here I am, surfing the Internet and trying to tire myself out.

It was an eventful day.  Our social sponsors here at the Embassy took me to Auchan, a local "hypermarket" (yes, it's just what it sounds like: a grocery store on steroids).  We spent about an hour and a half there, and that last 30 minutes was spent waiting in the checkout line.  I picked some household effects like a mop and bucket, and a couple of glass mugs for tea, since the ones in our welcome kit are too small for my thirst these days.  Then it was onto the grocery section, which was completely overwhelming.  In Armenia, there were rarely very many options for any one particular product, so, if you wanted rice, you maybe had two choices.  At Auchan, there were like 13 different types of rice.  My Russian is good enough to understand what I read, but not good enough to read fast, so it takes forever to analyze the choices.  I was relieved to get to the produce section, where I could just recognize things.

For the most part, the prices were not too outrageous (unless you count the $20/kilo cherries - totally insane).  I've found so far that the cheaper things are on par with regular prices in the U.S.  Thing is, I used to buy mostly on sale - and I have yet to find similar prices on most items here.  My frugal soul insists I must be able to stick to the same budget we had in the U.S., but I know I need to either give up that dream or stew in frustration for two years.  Point: Washington.

Then this afternoon, Jeremy, Natasha and I headed out to Gorky Park.  We took the Metro which wasn't too daunting.  A woman gave up her seat for me immediately - not sure whether it was because we had Natasha with us, or because she could tell I was pregnant.  Whatever the reason, it was nice to see polite behavior on public transportation.  Point: Moscow.

Gorky Park was very different from my memories of 20 years ago.  It is now a respectable amusement park, complete with a bouncy house, log flume, and a couple of surely vomit-inducing roller coasters.  Jeremy lamented that Natasha won't be old enough to ride on the bumper boats before we leave (you have to be three years old), but I'm sure he'll find some guys around the Embassy who will be happy to join him in that endeavor.

We took a bunch of photos and will post them soon.  I'm off to try to go to sleep.  Stupid jet lag.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Things we have learned in Moscow

1. Baby jet lag is awful.  Jeremy and I have been making a heroic effort to stay up until 10 each night, only to be awakened a couple hours later by Natasha, sitting up in her crib and wanting to play.

2. Don't hire a porter in Sheremetov Airport.  We had 12 pieces of luggage including a stroller and carseat and there was no way we were going to be able to get them all out to the street at one time.  Once you pass through security with your baggage, there's no going back to the claim.  So when a porter asked whether we needed help, we said yes.  We had used them at Reagan and JFK, so weren't unfamiliar with the process.  I asked the lady who had come to pick us up what the standard was for tipping in Moscow, and she suggested $10.  So after he loaded our bags into the van, we gave him the equivalent in rubles and started to climb in ourselves, when I heard him exclaim, "Girl!"  I turned around and he presented me with a laminated card on which was written the standard rates for porter services.  $5 per BAG.  That's $50, total.  Ugh.  I don't believe there is any alternative to a hired porter as I didn't see any carts standing around for passenger use, so there was probably no way around it. But then again, I don't actually know whether the laminated card was official, so it's possible we got totally swindled.  I hate feeling stupid in a new country.

3. and Fox on Demand are blocked in Russia.  Probably other on-demand sites we haven't tried yet are also blocked.  This actually isn't being done by the Russians, but by the network television stations who don't want their shows viewed outside the United States.  Boo!  I'm guessing it has something to do with fear of pirating, but, hey, network TV guys, guess what?  The bad guys are going to find ways to do the bad stuff no matter what, so all you're doing is stopping slightly homesick expats from watching their favorite shows and getting a little piece of home in the process.  Thanks a lot.

4. Muscovites love babies.  Yesterday, Natasha and I ventured out to a grocery store about a mile from the Embassy.  I had fully expected brusque and impatient treatment from the locals, as per their reputation.  That didn't happen, either because I speak Russian, or because Natasha's smile is so darn cute.  I'm pretty sure it was the latter.  We even got waved across the street by the driver of a shiny black Mercedes with tinted windows who actually stopped for us.  Totally unexpected, but very, very nice.

5. Apparently the layette shipment we are authorized following the birth of #2 is subject to the same limits on box/item size as our air shipment was.  Which means we will not be able to ship a full-size crib to Moscow for the new baby.  Which means I have to start thinking about alternatives.

6. There is a shwarma stand around the corner from the compound.  Yum.

7. Compound life is really convenient so far.  Jeremy can come home for lunch.  Natasha and I can play on the playground up the stairs from our apartment.  The commissary, pool, gym, gift shop, etc., are right across the street.  There is a church literally a minute's walk from the front compound gate.  A little produce stand around the corner.  And two Metro stops within a five-minute walk.  And probably lots more stuff we haven't discovered yet.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Leaving soon and some news

We're still here, but packed out and hoping to be in Moscow next week.  There were a few delays while we waited for visas and clearance updates, but we finally got word last week that all three of us would be flying.  Which will give Natalya and I a chance to enjoy a Moscow summer (highs this week in the 70s and sunny, according to before returning Stateside to await the arrival of the littlest Richart.  Yep ... we're due this fall with baby #2!  Jeremy will play with probabilities and hope to time his trip back to coincide with the birth.  I've heard too many stories of Foreign Service babies being born while dad is still on the plane, so wish us luck!  With any luck, this labor will be a little shorter than the last one ...

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Packing out ... again

Jeremy and I are organizing the house for packout today. We've organized the master bedroom and are now taking a short break. The hardest part, once again, was sorting my shoes. Jeremy, ever the helpful spouse, tried to encourage me to add more pairs to the giveaway pile. He asked "Are they comfortable?" and "When was the last time you wore them?" Both of which are valid questions to apply to clothing in general ... but not shoes. Shoes have their own set of rules that most men just don't understand.

Yes, I have at least a dozen pairs that I have not worn in the last year (although, really, my feet were too pregnancy-bloated during most of that time to fit into any of them). But how can I get rid of that pair of horribly uncomfortable 3.5" fuschia satin D'Orsay pumps when I know how terrific they look with a pair of dark jeans OR a strapless satin gown? And it's entirely possible, isn't it, that in the next few years, I will buy a summer dress that goes perfectly with my sort-of-retro blue-white-and-tan strappy sandals. And then I won't need to buy a new pair of shoes to go with it.

It's true that only four pairs of shoes went into the giveaway bag this time around. But it's also true that I have only bought two pairs of shoes in the last 12 months. So we're actually operating on a shoe deficit and, by rights, I am really owed two pairs. At least. Hear that, honey?