Thursday, September 11, 2014

Happy Naadym!

Naadym is a festival held once a year here in T-land, and this year it was pretty nearby so we got to go out and get a little bit involved.  But more on that in a bit.

First off, don't you like the above picture?  I recommend clicking on it to see it closer up. The "T camels" (there are only a couple of people who still have them) are well-known touristy photo objects here, but we had no pictures of them until recently.  We were going down the road, saw them resting nearby and Bobbie snapped this sort of artsy soft-focus picture (no photo effect added, her camera just fuzzed it out by itself for some reason) that I personally really like.

Anyway, summer life.  We take advantage of the warm weather to get outside as much as we can, which the boys usually take advantage of to get as wet/muddy as possible!  But then they come home and cuddle with their dog and look so cute it's impossible to get upset.

And then it's back outside to see who can climb the monkey bars (which, as you can see, were definitely designed with safety as the top priority) the highest.  Can you spot them almost to the top?  

Fortunately, no one has slipped and broken a wrist/ankle.  Yet.

But enough about our regular, boring lives.  This is a post about Naadym!

Once a year, people from all over T-land get together.  Historically this was a gathering of nomads for trade and other events, so everyone brings their yurts and sets them up.  I didn't get any pictures of the horse racing or wrestling but those are big features.

Of course, in the modern age someone has to haul water and run a generator for everyone to have power and such, so the government does a good job of trying to balance the desire to keep everything as traditional as possible while also allowing for modern conveniences.

It's sort of like a state fair, so there are of course booths set up to sell you anything and everything.  Our favorite was the delicious Vat of Plov seen below, made the traditional Uzbek way with a ginormous round pot and a whole bottle of oil.

This gentleman can handle all your traditional healing elixir needs, including literal snake oil.

One of my favorite thing to see was the displays from the reindeer-herder sections of T-land.  They have a bit of a different culture to the rest of T-land as their area is too wooded for sheep so they breed and raise reindeer.  Their dialect is a bit different and we don't have any close friends from this part of the state so it was interesting to see their houses.  They live in American West-style teepees, including one that was lined with reindeer skins.  Apparently it's quite warm, even in -50 degree weather.

And that's it for tonight.  The lovely Bobbie has promised to write a post very soon, so if there's not something up on here about her adventures (including preparing food for the governor!) in the next week or so drop her an email and complain. ;-)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Father-Son Camping Trips Parts 3 and 4

I really wish the forward-facing camera on my phone was half-decent, because I love the above picture from my recent camping trip with Matthew.

Anyway, this has been a month full of interesting activities, half of which I'll leave for Bobbie to post about later.  For my part of it, I'm going to just fill you in on all the latest things that are going on with me.  We put the pine nut production line on hold for the summer as the quality of the nuts we were getting wasn't the best.  As a result, we've been able to do some family things, celebrate my birthday, and mostly get back into culture and language study in preparation for some stuff we want to start next year.  So let's get into it!

So last month was my birthday, and my lovely wife took me out for sushi.  There aren't a lot of casual dining restaurants in town but sushi is one of the options and since both of us enjoy it we try to go a couple of times a year.  We turned the above tray into the bottom one in about 30 minutes!

It's been nice to have some more fun times with the boys as well.  If you'll recall from last year, we have a tradition that I take each of them out for a one-on-one father/son camping trip once a year (obviously in the summer).

This year, first up was Steven.  His favorite game is to throw rocks into the river (especially if there is some sort of "target" to aim at) so we did a lot of that.

Of course, you have to have hot dogs cooked over the fire if you go camping!

So yeah, we had a great time.  I'll post some pictures of my trip with Matthew in a sec, but first, take a look at our garden!  The corn is doing surprisingly well, and the Brussels sprouts are shockingly big and full.  Not so much the iceberg lettuce, but you can't win them all.

Even the okra has grown.  We're not going to have much of a harvest before the frost, but I'm mildly surprised that we're going to get anything at all.  I reckon we might get 5-10 pods, which isn't much, but hey - better than nothing!

Anyway, back to camping!  This time it was Matthew's turn, and he's really a huge outdoorsman.  Steven likes camping but in the end could take it or leave it.  Matthew, on the other hand, LOVES to be outside.

First we set up the tent, with Matthew so cheerful he was just about unable to stand still long enough to put the poles in.

Then he tried Steven's favorite game of rock-throwing, but really preferred to just roam and explore.


My favorite part of the day was when we woke up in the morning.  He opened his eyes and immediately started to cry.  "Why are you crying? What's wrong?" I asked.  "I'm awake, Daddy," came the reply, "that means that now we have to go home!"

So we ended up spending half the morning there enjoying our fire and exploring a bit more.

On Saturday I was all geared up for a nice day of sleeping in, but in T-land you can never really make any plans because if a friend calls and needs help on the spur of the moment you're committed to help out.  And help out I did, and it was actually a good time to catch back up with a man I haven't seen in a while.  He needed help re-drilling his well.

Of course, normally a well is dug by a giant rig on the back of a truck pounding a pipe deep into the earth, but this is T-land and so we can't have that.  Instead, elbow grease is the key.  And, of course, hopefully you remember to bring along more than one bottle of water because obviously you won't have a functioning well if you've been called in to repair one.

This is the drilling "machine," it's basically just a heavy pipe with a cap on one end, and three people lift it up and slam it down onto the end of the pipe that's going into the ground.  On a good blow you can get it to penetrate about a centimeter or so, if you hit a rock obviously you'll be slowed up for a few blows at least.

Needless to say, it's hard work, and more importantly, thirsty work.  Next time I'm asked to help out on one of these jobs I'm definitely going to bring some more water along!

Anyway, eventually we got the pipe 8 meters into the ground at which point it was theoretically able to deliver some water, though I had to go before we got the pump attached and got it working.

Thanks for stopping by, as always.  Bobbie should have a post up soon about her latest adventures, including meeting some local leaders and serving them cake!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Can't Think of an Interesting or Fitting Title

Just, like, "Life," or something, maybe?  Anyway, blogpost title creativity notwithstanding, things are going pretty well at Wandering Family headquarters these days.  Production has paused at the pine nut facility while we try to sort out the sales side of the business, so that's given time to return to language study and things while we wait for all that to be arranged.  (Please lift up sales, by the way; we need to get a few contracts for regular sales soon in order for things to operate smoothly through the fall.)

Anyway, Bobbie has returned to her cake baking as an occasional thing to do to help build relationships and to just enjoy her hobby.  Above is a recent example she made for a friend's wedding, and she already has a deal arranged to do another wedding cake next month.

Below is what really takes up all our time; two active boys!  The summer weather is the perfect time for us to get outside and enjoy the limited months we have where outdoor activities are possible, so we've been doing that as much as we can.  And of course, like for all little boys, a bit of tree climbing is always fun!

I think I may have introduced you to our swing before?  Matthew got a swing for his birthday; the local swingsets are all broken or have parts missing so we take our own rope.  It's really easy, actually - I pre-tied all the ropes so all we have to do is swing them over the swingset, tie one knot and voila! - a functioning swing.  The boys love swinging, and then after a half-hour or so we untie it and take it home (it would definitely get stolen if we left it up).

I haven't taken a picture of the garden in a few weeks so this is when everything was still just coming up, but it's been a pretty decent success.  The iceberg lettuce and chard aren't doing well, but the spinach, salad greens, corn and even okra (much to my surprise, that last one) are doing OK.

I know, to look at me you definitely wouldn't think "That guy probably really likes a leafy green salad" but it's true, I do!  It's probably down to craving it since we don't get any fresh vegetables for a really long time in the winter, and when they're available in the summer I wolf them down whenever I get a chance!  Throw a few radishes and pine nuts in with these fresh greens and it's like heaven.

Sorry I don't have a lot of pictures this month.  Please keep lifting us up, as I mentioned we need to get sales going for the pine nut business very soon, plus we're trying to get back into language study so you can be thinking about that as well.  See you again soon!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Wandering Faster

Well, I've already had more than one person ask if we were pregnant again (!), so I guess I didn't word that bit on our last post about how we had a "big surprise that will change our lives" very well!

No, just to clarify.  It's a surprise that changes our lives, sure, but not THAT much.  It is something that allows the Wandering Family to increase the range and extent of our wandering - a new car!  Well, not new.  New to us, though.  It's a 2005 Toyota Succeed, with the extremely dubious figure of 160,000 kilometers on the odometer (many Russian cars have had their odometers wound back).  Not that we're complaining, though, it's the first time anyone in our family has owned any car that was fewer than 10 years old, and we love it.

Obviously, purchasing a car meant taking a trip over the mountains out of T-land, to a magical city known as Krasnoyarsk.  Ah, Krasnoyarsk.  A city with peanut butter and marshmallows in the stores, a city with fast food restaurants with displays for kids to poke their heads through for photos, a magical place!

Sadly, I didn't actually take very many pictures there.  It would look too much like your home city to be interesting, anyway.  Much better is the beautiful Siberian scenery on the way:

Eventually, driving our own car (full of peanut butter, marshmallows, and the like, of course), we got back home.  One tire blowout on the road, but fixed quickly enough.

I must be turning Russian, because where in America I would almost never wash my car, I felt a compulsion to go down to the river to enlist my sons in a project to immediately wash off all the dirt the road had added to our new baby.

They hated it

Oh, and I just popped this post up really quickly to avoid any more of you thinking we were going to announce a pregnancy any time soon (seriously, not happening), but thought some might be interested to see the latest progress in our little experimental garden.  From front: American spinach, sweet peas, salad greens, and Russian spinach, all growing nicely so far.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


Summer is the best, isn't it?  Especially when it comes after 7 months of winter!  So, what do we do here when it heats up?

Well, Bobbie does this year-round, but the first picture I have is of some of the cakes she made this month.  She started doing this a few years ago for some friends and it has blossomed into a sort of tiny cakes-for-order business.  No money is made, but fun is had, and more importantly relationships are strengthened.  This one was part of an order for a party for some kids leaving kindergarten to start school in the fall.

Above: school-related items, below: a copy of a Russian cake she found online with a stylized figure going off to school.

Last post we mentioned Matthew's birthday, and one of the presents he got was a swing.  Unfortunately, all of the playgrounds we have here are missing their swings (with one exception - I think we posted a picture of the lone surviving swing in the city a few posts back?).  Anyway, we don't leave this one out on the playground because it will get stolen but I rigged up a way to hang it up with ropes and we can set it up in just a few minutes every time we go outside.

The other fun outdoor project of late has been a garden!  Our pine nut facility has to have a rather large area as there are sanitary requirements for the septic to be at least 50 meters from the well.  So, we have a lot of space behind the building that's not being used for anything, and we decided to take advantage to see if we can't grow a few things there.  Just three raised beds (all Russian gardens are raised beds, pretty much), so it's more of an experiment than anything but the boys still love it.

Of course, all of our friends think the expanse is the perfect place to plant potatoes and can't understand why we wouldn't just do that.  Perhaps this illustrates a difference in cultural values, but my take on it is that potatoes are so cheap in the fall as to be virtually free, and I don't see the point in putting in all the labor to grow them if I can just buy them for next to nothing.  

So what did we plant instead?  Mostly long shots, plants we brought over from America that we can't get here in the stores.  Sweet corn and especially okra are very unlikely to succeed, but who knows?  If you're growing a garden for fun you may as well take a few chances on stuff like that and hope to get lucky.  Most of the rest (spinach, peas, squash, Swiss chard, salad greens, lettuce, and Brussel sprouts) should do pretty well.  In fact, since I took these pictures a week ago most everything has at least sprouted, so we'll see how it goes.

Our soil had to be reinforced with some organic material as it was pretty much just a sandy loam (I knew there would be some benefit to that soil science class all those years ago!) and the boys have had a great time with it all.

Unfortunately it requires a good deal of water as it runs right through the sandy subsoil, but that's why we had boys, right?  

Found this interesting: a pretty decent-sized snake on our property the other week, sunning itself.  Don't know how they make it through the winters; must be a pretty deep cave somewhere around?

The pine nut facility, by the way, is in full swing.  This is a picture of one day's produce - around 100 kg.  You may think "wow, that's nothing" but it's worth a decent chunk of change and if we can be consistent with that amount we can start heading towards profitability in short order.

Boxes loaded up onto pallets, ready for someone to pay us for them so we can send them out!  Recent contacts with potential customers have been encouraging so hopefully in a few weeks we'll have fewer pallets just sitting there.

This is what the boxes look like right before they get sealed; 4 vacuum-sealed bags of 3 kilograms each in every box.  That's an awful lot of yummy!

 Again, as always, thanks for stopping by.  We love you guys and look forward to hearing from you - see you again in a few weeks.  In fact, we should have a surprise in our next post, something that will be sure to change the lives of the Wandering Family!