Thursday, July 24, 2008

The High Life

For all of it's, well, lack of charm in the winter, Moscow is one of the world's nicest cities in the world to live in in the summertime. Everywhere you look, there are parks, bursting with green, and the weather is stellar. We've been taking advantage of this fact as much as possible these days.

B even seemingly has instituted a required quota of vitamin D absorption for the family every day, so we've been getting outside more regularly of late. It seems she doesn't want a repeat of our arrival in the States in the spring, when people asked us why we were so yellow (seems a lack of sunlight causes jaundice). Anyway, we're getting stocked up while we can!

So, many of you know that we've been on the hunt for another apartment. Our landlady came at us with a hefty (read: almost double!) rent hike, so that put us on the hunt. After searching high and low, we realized just what a great deal we were getting on rent last year. Only $1000/month for a 2-bedroom! Sounds outrageous when you consider that it's not as nice as the place we had for $500 in the US the year before we came, but when you compare it to some of our options it starts to look great, even at almost twice that price.

I've included a map for those of you with a Y chromosome, and in it you'll see our best option after much searching. Indeed, we were able to find a place that was a little cheaper (and a lot smaller, further from everything as the map shows, and much lower quality). However, by the time you add up the real estate agent fees, moving fees, and the cost of selling all our furniture only to buy new stuff in a year, it only saved us a tiny bit. Once we realized that, we decided just to stay put and trust him. If you're looking at the map, the office is where we go every day to study, and downtown Moscow is to the north. Our lives might get tricky this year, but we know the one who owns the cattle on a thousand hills!

It's been good to get back into our studies, if at a slower pace than we were doing when we were here last. Unfortunately, our teacher went on vacation pretty much right when we got back, so for now we're self-studying in various ways until she gets back. Mostly I've been helping B and our friend Julie review some of the basics, and I've started to read the Chronicles of Narnia in Russian. You may laugh, but even kids' books are tricky when you're at my level. Fortunately, I've read them in English many times, which helps to fill in the gaps when I don't know a word or something. I have learned a lot of new vocabulary, though (who knew that Mr. Tumnus is also a фавн in Russian?)

On Tuesday night we had a friend over from one of the -stan countries (the one we used to want to work in). It was a fantastic conversation, which I can't really get into here, but I was thrilled to finally get beyond the surface in Russian and be understood! Maybe I didn't forget as much as I thought in the US. Anyway, we made some brownies for dessert, but left the pan of batter waiting on the counter while something else cooked.

It seems that I'm not the only one who likes brownie batter! Of course, we had to discipline Steven, which was hard as everyone was trying hard not to laugh so he'd understand that this was a no-no.

Enjoying the weather outside again. Steven really likes to swing, especially these two-seaters where he can share a ride with Mommy.

Of course, we can't have all the pictures be of Steven. Matthew's getting more interactive these days, and here he is smiling for all he's worth. Oh, and he rolled over the other day. It's funny, I remember that being such a big deal with Steven but it seems to be just another event for Matthew. I guess we need to make an effort to be excited about both of their accomplishments, even if we've seen it done before.

While I was in the US, my parents let me copy all of our old photo albums that they had scanned onto my computer. I thought you might enjoy some of the pics of me (that'd be J, just in case anyone was unclear) growing up. And so, I present, for your viewing pleasure, the _ family men (I'm on the far left):

What a muscular bunch! Oh, and of course, there was the classic "Family at Arms" photo that was hanging on everyone's fridge when we went home on furloughs. I'm on the left again, rocking the sports glasses. Actually, as an experiment, if you remember this photo being on your fridge, reply in the comments. I'll be interested to see how many there are - it was definitely a more "unique" choice than most of the other people in my parents' line of work.

That's about it. I might dig up a few more of the family pics from jungle days for future blogs, since I think they make a nice change of pace.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Возвращение!

Steven rummaging through the luggage

Yes, dear readers - we are back in Russia, we have resolved all internet-related difficulties, and are now prepared to post more of the information you all crave about our lives! Stop pretending you don't crave it. It's really nothing to be ashamed of. :)

Anyway, we are finally back in Moscow. While we had a great time in the US, it's good to get back home (and no, I don't want to reengage the semantic debate on the term "home" as it applies to The Wandering Family).

But lo, we have pictures of our last week in the US, and it appears that you will have to suffer through them before you will be privileged to enjoy any sights of Moscow with us. Well, that and the fact that we just unpacked our camera, and haven't had a chance to use it here yet, that is. Onward we rush, into the aforementioned pictures:


So, we wanted to make the most of our memory-making time, so we decided to take the kids to the beach with the whole family. We had to drag some of the entourage kicking and screaming, but after much gnashing of teeth, we arrived.

Of course, my mother being who she is, took 3 seconds after she realized that Steven might burn with so much time in the sun, she whipped up an improvised jacket by cutting some holes in a towel. He seemed to like it.

They even enjoyed building some sandcastles together!


The waves were, well, not exactly crushingly huge in the swell department. Here I demonstrate how to shred 18 inch waves for our Russian friends, who don't exactly have an illustrious history of surfing and maybe won't know any better.

We also managed to get Matthew dedicated our last Sunday, after which we got together with all our friends for a farewell dinner.

First, though, we had to at least try to get a decent picture of the boys. Not a bad try, I guess. We still have not managed to get a good family picture with all four of us, but this will have to do in the meantime.
Of course, any two of us - that's not a problem. It's just when you try to get both kids, B, and me all at the same time, well, not so good.

The farewell dinner, which mostly consisted of all our friends trying one last time to fatten us up, was by most accounts a success.

We also managed to get one last picture of Matthew and his cousin Natalie, born only one day after he was. It's mostly here for the "Aaaaaaawww" factor.

And that was about it. We'll have to fill you in more on our trip here later, but the short version is that we got here without any major problems. Actually, on our long flight across, we were soooo blessed to be on a half-full flight so we could lay the kids down and rest.

We're slowly adjusting to the time difference, wishing we could convince the kids to rest when the sun is still out, but overall we're doing well. Thanks for thinking of us, and we'll have more on the housing situation when we know a bit more.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Happy Birthday USA!

So, it's the 4th of July, and we haven't posted in a while. It seems that all our friends decided to wait until the last minute of our time in the US and then all invite us over at once! Unfortunately, having not yet mastered the art of warping the time-space continuum to the point where we can be in two places at once, we're limited to just one at a time. That's kept us quite busy, with lunch and dinner invitations most days. And while it's been really good to catch up with people, I think next time we'll be more proactive about inviting ourselves over to your places a little earlier in our visit! :)

Anyway, on to the pictures:


One of our first stops since our last post was to visit our friends Rich and Lydia. We had a good evening catching up with them. After dinner, they invited some friends from their family group over for dessert, since they had some orphans from Belarus staying with them for the summer. Anyway, the idea was for us to chat with them in Russian some, which we did, but somewhere along the line it morphed into a giant pillowfight that threatened to consume the living room decor. Sorry, Lydia! I guess you'll know better than to invite us over again.

One of the neatest things about being back in the US has been getting to see our boys and grandparents getting to know one another. J's family has had us over to eat and spend time quite often, and we've been living with B's parents, so we've gotten to see both of them quite a bit. In the above picture, Steven's Aunt Kellie is taking him for an airplane ride of sorts.

He seems to really like his grandmothers (and really, who doesn't like their grandmother?). Here Steven sleeps on J's mom's chest while we visited with some friends from a local family group.

While we were at the same people's house, we decided to try our best to get a decent family photo. Unfortunately, we didn't get anything that great, and due to cropping and recropping this picture turned out a little weird. Of course, I've only played with it for a minute or two, so hopefully we'll have a decent family picture soon with both kids in it for all of you.

We also got over to see our friends Mike and Martha last week, and our friends Dan and Valerie came over as well with their little boy Cooper. It wasn't as chaotic as you'd think with three toddlers in the same house at the same time, but it wasn't relaxing either.

B's sisters took her out to dinner the other night just to spend a bit more time with her before we leave, and here's a pic of them dressed and ready to head out.

Of course, the boys' maternal grandparents are worried that they might not turn out culturally as "American" as they'd like (what, you mean like me?), so they're doing their best to expose them to the culture here. ;-)

Last night they took B and Matthew to a minor league baseball game while I got to go waterskiing with some other friends (sorry, no videos of that bit of contra-athleticism exist to humiliate me later). To me it looks like Matthew has the look of a football/soccer fan being forced to watch a baseball game - utter and complete boredom. Maybe he'll turn out after all!

video

They even tried to get him to dance to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame"! Disgusting!


Of course, today was the 4th of July, which requires that you celebrate with what else - food! Hamburgers, hotdogs, chili, fixin's, tea, ... you know, the essentials.


Of course, since your humble narrator's birthday is coming up soon, I got to pick out the cake. The cake on the right was my choice (the hand is there just to give a sense of perspective) - a punchbowl cake complete with layers of chocolate cake, chocolate pudding with Amaretto flavor, whipped cream, and crushed Heath bars. Heavenly!

My cousin Daniel managed to teach Steven the art of giving him 5, and here he's displaying his new skill. Ah, the challenges of raising a boy-genius!

Seriously, though, it is funny to watch kids learning things that you've taken for granted for longer than you can remember - they take so much joy in simple things.