Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sauerkraut and sour dough

I have begun writing this post several times over the last few days, but I keep starting over because it just gets too long and unwieldy.  I've been thinking a lot lately about making some changes to our family's diet.  I'm not talking about low-carbing to lose weight or anything like that (though I would like to know how it is that I've been following the Couch-to-5K program for the last six weeks and just ran nearly 2 miles straight yesterday and have yet to drop an ounce).  No, what I'm looking for is a healthier way to eat, that will improve all of our immune systems and help Natasha overcome her eczema.  We've been fighting with it for two years now, and I know there has to be a better way.

I've done a lot of reading, and to be honest, it's completely overwhelming.  We have decided to try the Feingold diet, which, while generally recommended for ADHD, is also supposed to be effective against eczema.  It's a two-pronged approach.  The first part involves cutting out all artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, and most preservatives. 

I thought that part would be easy - I cook mostly from scratch - or so I used to tell myself - and try to avoid junk.  But a quick sweep through our cabinets found quite a bit more yellow No. 5 and artificial flavor than I would have predicted was in there.  Goodbye, Honeymaid graham crackers.  Goodbye, cookie sprinkles.  Goodbye, candy melts.

Part 2 involves eliminating salicylates, which is are naturally occurring food chemicals, from the diet.  Apparently, many of N's favorite foods - apples, grapes, berries, raisins, cucumbers, and more - are chock-full of salicylates.  We have already noticed that she has allergies/intolerances to foods like tomatoes and oranges, and now I know that they are also high-salicylate.  I am a little skeptical of a diet plan that just eliminates certain fruits and vegetables, but I am just sick of seeing my toddler scratch herself to bloody pieces.  It's worth a try, anyway.

As I am shifting my family over to this diet, I have realized that I do rely on freezer items for meals once or twice per week.  Many of these items are not compatible with our new diet.  Like vareniki - which are little Ukrainian raviolis stuffed with potato or cabbage.  So this weekend, I spent hours making over 100 vareniki.  This batch is potato-pumpkin-thyme.

And in my reading, I have come across ideas from other diets that make sense to me.  Mostly that everything we are used to buying prepackaged from the grocery store - like bread and cheese and yogurt and sauerkraut - is much better for you if you make it yourself.  So yesterday I started a jar of sauerkraut.  It needs to ferment in there for awhile, so I am not sure when we will actually eat it.  But here it is, in its infancy:

I've also got a bag of sourdough starter that someone gave me last week.  Sourdough - real sourdough - is supposedly a lot better for you than quick-rise yeast bread, because the bacteria in the starter breaks down the hard-to-digest stuff before you even put it in your mouth.  I think I'm getting that explanation right, but I've a lot of reading yet to do on the subject.  Anyway, this starter was given to me along with a recipe for Amish Friendship Bread.  The recipe calls for a box of instant pudding, which would have turned me off even before I started doing all this reading.  So I'm going to try to use the starter to make a real bread that doesn't have artificial flavors and carnuba wax, whatever that is, in it.

Stay tuned.

Friday, December 23, 2011


We got some real snow this week - about 10 inches' worth.  I've been taking the girls out in it every day.  As pretty as it is, it appears Z is not a fan.  She spends most of her outdoor time crying.  We shoveled a large pile of snow onto our back patio, though, and I'm hoping that maybe once we get it hollowed out into a little cave, she might like to sit there.  The cave in the bottom photo belongs to a huge snow pile made by the plows elsewhere on the compound.

N, on the other hand, loves sledding.  Perhaps this weekend, after Jeremy finishes working (boo), she'll get a good chunk of time outside without her baby sister sobbing.  I imagine it puts a damper on the fun.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Of snow and muck

It has been unseasonably warm in Moscow lately.  We've had snow nearly every day for the last couple of weeks, but the flakes have mostly been of the sort that just kind of drift aimlessly in the air and never actually land.  When we have had fat, purposeful flakes, the ground has been too warm for accumulation, and so they just become insta-slush when they hit the pavement.  The warm(er) weather has been nice, but the dreary sky is really easier to take when there is fresh, beautiful snow on the ground.

So everyone was thrilled when we got 3-4 honest-to-goodness inches yesterday.  Natasha got to do some sliding.

This was before I dug her little bum-sled out of the closet.
Z has been taking really long naps lately, and missed out on the fun.

But she was happy to pose in front of the tree.

Today the snow began to melt.  But in midafternoon a bit of golden sun peeked through the clouds, and I raced to get the girls dressed.  As luck would have it, Z decided that the most opportune time to poop was after I had dressed her.  So I peeled off her coat, her bib overalls, her fleece pants and her tights, and unsnapped her undershirt onesie and her long-sleeved onesie ... while Natasha began to sweat through her similarly layered ensemble.  By the time we made it outside, the sun had gone.

Fun with beach toys.

A rare smile from Mrs. Grouchypants.

I told you it had started to melt.  Kids, though - they aren't bothered by a little thing like mud.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Gorky and the GAP

Having read in a local weekly that there would be a Christmas bazaar every weekend in December at Gorky Park, we headed down there this morning. 

I was a bit confused by the GAP-logo-emblazoned yarn-bombed lamp post.  More on that in a minute.  The sign - which is a bit GAP-like too, right? - says "Winter in the park."  The bazaar itself was nothing too interesting - most of the kiosks were empty, and what vendors there were looked bored and cold.  We bypassed them for a stroll over the ice rink.  I didn't get any great photos of the entire rink, but it is pretty cool.  It has all these offshoots that loop around the park.  Too bad the kids are still too young for ice skating.

Then we headed inside for some hot chocolate.  The air was only about 34 degrees, but it was also pretty windy.  And I wasn't wearing my long johns. 

Natasha loves hot chocolate.  She's in for some disappointment back in the States, though, I tell you what.  Russian hot chocolate is literally melted chocolate in a cup.  They serve it with a spoon.  And sometimes a glass of milk on the side.  No flaccid Swiss Miss packets here, nyet! (Z totally missed out, having fallen asleep in the stroller not long after we arrived).

After we'd warmed up some, we started heading back out of the park when we ran across a sign telling us in clever Russian to connect with GAP (or knit - the verb used can mean either one), and pointing us to what is apparently the largest knitting installation in Russian. 

So we walked over and found this:

Some subsequent Googling revealed that this was a public effort.  I am still not entirely sure how the GAP ties in.  I'm guessing there is some corporate sponsorship going on.

As we exited Gorky Park, once a symbol of all things Soviet, Bing Crosby crooned that most American of Christmas songs, Mele Kalikimaka, over the loud speaker.  And somewhere under Red Square, I'm sure the father of the U.S.S.R. would have rolled over in his tomb, were it not for the fact that there's nothing left in him but sawdust and mummy juice.

Monday, December 12, 2011

It's really dark

We've all been very tired lately, and I am sure the weather and the sheer darkness has something to do with that.  I took these photos last Saturday morning, whilst clutching tightly to my take-along coffee cup.
8:17 a.m.
8:47 a.m.
10:06 a.m.


This weekend was the big community holiday party at Spaso House, the U.S. ambassador's residence.  It's a huge get-together with Santa Claus and Ded Moroz, several enormous Christmas trees, lots of cookies and music.  This year it was scheduled for naptime, but we decided to go anyway.  The girls had a good time AND we still got a nap out of them when we got home at 3 p.m.  Then in the evening, the girls joined me and a few other festive souls for caroling around the Embassy compound.  Natasha loved dancing to the music, and Z was very well behaved in the stroller.  Unfortunately, we did not get any photos at all of the caroling, and not a single good photo at the holiday party :(  Here are the best of the bunch.

The visit to Ded Moroz and Snegurochka was a predictable failture.

Z has inherited her father's tendency towards red-eye.

Seriously, I had to red-eye-correct every single photo of her.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Of sleep and time

Twelve nights later, we are over the jet lag.  Hooray!  Last night we moved the girls back into the same room, and they both slept through the night for the first time since our return.  I think Natasha had been a bit lonely with Zoia in the other bedroom.  They both slept until 8:30, which was pretty awesome.  J and I are happy to have our bed back, too, as we had been sleeping on the fold-out couch in the guest room/craft room/office/dumping ground.

Also, the days are very dark here now.  I think that probably affected our adjustment time, too.  The pictures below were taken just before 4 p.m. yesterday ... and we still have two weeks to go until the darkest day of the year!

3:56 p.m.

3:57 p.m.

P.S. Moscow, bring on the snow already.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What I learned on the Internet today

It might surprise you to learn that I am one of those people who is paranoid about the Internet.  I'm obviously not quite ready to hide out in a cabin in the mountains, but I hate Facebook and am always wagging my finger at certain siblings for revealing too much in their photo albums.  Etc.

But that said, I recognize there is a lot of good on the Internet.  It certainly enables me to keep in touch with my family with an ease that we only dreamed about 20 years ago.  I also love online shopping, Pinterest, Ravelry, My Fitness Pal, and a number of other sites.  But probably the neatest thing about the Internet is how it can teach you to do stuff.  Almost all my knitting know-how came from Youtube videos.  And today, during my kids' three-hour nap (yay!) the Internet gave me the idea to make these cute little handwarmers and even taught me a couple basic embroidery stitches with which to embellish them.

And then I made them.  They are filled with rice and fit into the palm of your hand.  You microwave them for 30 seconds, then slip them in your pockets for a winter stroll. 

One thing the Internet hasn't yet taught me is how to take
non-blurry indoor photos on a winter's day.
Also, I know that my whipstitching needs work.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

O Christmas Tree

We decorated our tree on Friday night.  We knew we wouldn't have a lot of space in our Moscow apartment, so we bought a pre-lit 4.5-footer at Target after Zoia was born.  It's a good size for this place, but Jeremy definitely misses having a taller tree.  I don't know whether you can get nice live trees in Georgia, but if not, we'll probably be shopping for a 7-footer after the holidays.

This will be N's third Christmas, but it is the first time she has helped decorate the tree.

She took the task very seriously, and actually hung quite a few ornaments (yes, on the same section of light-wire, but still, I was impressed). 

Zoia was pretty crabby, but she helped a little before going to bed.

It's been up four days and we haven't had any accidents yet.  Isn't it pretty?

P.S. N slept through the night last night!!  Wahoo!  We're on night 10 - fingers crossed that Z does the same tonight.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Winter twig tree

On Friday Natasha and I decided to make a winter twig tree while Zoia napped. First we gathered the twigs outside.

Then we put them into an empty wine carafe alone with a string of pearl beads that didn't make it onto the Christmas tree.  I think we needed more beads, though.  Then Natasha hung some ornaments on it.  We used old glass ornaments that it would not break my heart to lose; however, I wanted to give them a fighting chance, so the tree's home is the top of our bookshelf.

My poor jet-lagged girl staring at her finished creation.  When Papa came home, she pointed excitedly and yelled "A dih da!"  (Translation: "I did that!")

Sunday, December 4, 2011

December 3

Hello from jet lag hell.  It's the middle of the seventh night and I want to jump out the window.  When is this going to end?

This morning we roused the girls and decided to take a long walk after breakfast to get that natural light that is supposed to be so good for resetting our clocks.  Of course, Moscow winters are gray, gray, gray, and there was no sun to be seen today.  Instead, drab apartment blocks on the New Arbat.

Though our walk was brightened by Christmas lights, which, thankfully, Moscow does well.

We also ran into the beloved Russian cartoon character Cheburashka.  Having cut her teeth on Chuck E. Cheese during our trip to the U.S,, Natasha was intrigued by Cheburashka and kept running over to him, only to turn tail and run, horrified, if he took a step towards her.   

We took a stroll down the Stariy Arbat, where Natasha wanted to ride the Cafe Moo-Moo cow.  He's not very rideable, unfortunately.

We decided to get some sushi for lunch after Z passed out in the stroller (I guess there wasn't enough sun for her).  N enjoyed dipping the kappa maki into the soy sauce but not so much eating the actual roll.

Then we ran into a singing band of Hare Krishnas - a rare site for Moscow, to be sure.

We stopped at the Sedmoi Kontinent grocery store on our way home.  The girls have only recently discovered the candy in the check-out aisle.

Back home, they played on the balcony while Papa strung some Christmas lights - pictures of that to come.

Please go to sleep.  Please please please.

Friday, December 2, 2011

We made votive candle holders

We are on day six in Moscow and, as I have complained recently, the jet lag is murder.  I don't have the brain power to think of a more interesting or witty title for this post.  Also, I don't want to get on a plane again until they are at least 10 and 11.

I know you are wondering why we are crafting when we are so freaking tired?  Well, we're also battling a nasty phlegmy coughy cold thing, so we haven't had any playdates since we've been back.  And I have to find something to fill the time while we're under quarantine.

On Wednesday we turned old baby food jars, tissue paper and glue into candle holders.  First we tore up the tissue paper.  I was surprised that N was not interested in this, but in fairness, I had just woken her from a long nap and she was a bit peeved.  Z is always up for ripping paper, though.

N did pretty well painting the jars with glue (I mixed Elmer's School Glue with an equal amount of water), but her attention dropped off when it was time to affix the tissue paper to the glue-painted jars, so I finished it for her.  Z painted a little, but mostly just sucked the glue off the brush.  I was too tired to care. 

This activity held our attention for about 15 minutes.  Minimal mess.  We didn't break any jars and no one died from glue poisoning.  Not terrible.  Next time I think we need to do more layers of tissue, or maybe use brighter colors - I had a few pastels in the mix.