Tuesday, November 4, 2014

So long, Moscow!

(It's been so long now that I can't remember exact details of this experience, but I suppose exact details don't matter.)

A university car picked us up from Spring's apartment early in the evening on August 12th. It was a large van with plenty of space for our stuff, and for each of us to sit comfortably with a seatbelt. I had saved a small surprise toy for each of the children to keep them happy and busy on the drive there.

We must've followed this red car for quite some time (because it was in several of my pictures as we drove to the airport). OR, maybe they were following us! Dun-dun-duuuuuuuuun!!! Perhaps Russia was spying and just making sure we were truly leaving the country.

The drive was long and traffic was bad, but we finally made it to the airport. Whoo-hoo!

Not surprising, the check-in line was eternally long! Jon was a gentleman and let me sit down with the children while he waited in line. Kate, James, and Bruce would run back-and-forth to be with Daddy for a time. (Kate is dramatically showing off all of our luggage.)

Spring was SO sweet to send us with a dinner. She made us Korean sushi called kimbap. We didn't get a chance to sit down and eat until around 9 o'clock that night. Of course, I didn't realize it was already so late. :( Because of my acid reflux (which always gets worse during stressful times), I try not to eat past 7 PM. However, I was STARVING and I was going to be awake the majority of that night travelinging in an upright position anyway, so why not?! It was sooooooo good!!! What a treat! Thank you, Spring!

Our plane (Air Astana), preparing for boarding!

Getting situated in our seats. It was already waaaaay past bedtime for our lambs, but everyone was much too excited for sleep.

As the airplane took off, poor Kate looked out of the airplane window a little forlornly, feeling sentimental about leaving Moscow. She really grew a lot during our three years there and, I think, felt empowered by the many challenges that she overcame. She felt the sting of leaving more than any of us. Honestly, I didn't really look back. (I know Kate, James, and Bruce hope to return some day. Maybe we will. You never know where life will take you.)

I do know that I was ready for this new adventure that we were beginning as a family! I am ready to face our joys and struggles here. 

I have so much *hope* for our lives here in Astana, Kazakhstan!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Last Day in Moscow

From the moment we woke up on Tuesday morning (our moving day) till noon, our family scrubbed and cleaned the apartment as best we could. We were so grateful to the LDS sister missionaries for coming to help us clean our apartment to ease the workload. They became some very good friends of ours those last several months.

The apartment, though very beautiful, was left filthy for us when we moved in last February. It was so discouraging to have cleaned our old apartment so thoroughly and then move into the new apartment only to have to clean again. And, although our landlord was NOT easy to work with, and we really didn't want to do *him* any favors, we wanted to clean the apartment really well for the next tenants. Sort of a I'm-sorry-your-stuck-with-a-pill-of-a-landlord sympathy gift. ;) 

(When we first met the landlord, he seemed very agreeable, but I think it's just because he wanted us to take the apartment. But, as soon as we moved in, he would come in each month, inspect every room, and point out any flaws accusingly, even if they'd already been there before we moved in.)

William pretending to sleep on the rug that we've moved to vacuum under.

Around noon, we were completely finished. We had done all our packing on Monday so that we could just focus on the cleaning on Tuesday. We pulled all of our luggage out to the hall by the elevator and wondered what we should do. Our landlord wasn't supposed to be coming for another two hours. We wondered if we should sit around and wait or go do something and come back.

I don't know if it would be considered luck or complete rudeness that our landlord arrived right then (as I said, *2* hours early!). I suppose it would be the former, since we WERE ready, but you could you imagine if we had not been ready?!

He brought two buddies with him. Who knows why. Maybe they were for moral support or protection (because he planned to be a weenie towards us). The poor guy is really short and petite, but he's still a bully and was slightly intimidating to me, even if I towered over him. So there would have been no need for bodyguards. :-)

The landlord marched through the door with purpose and did the water and electricity readings to see how much we owed him, and then instead of doing a full apartment inspection, like we were told he was going to do, he walked straight to the hall (where James had picked off paint), and then to the living room couch and complained about the wear on the leather. 

Well, we were quite aware of James's destruction in the hall and we were more than willing to pay for it. However, the wear on the leather couch was there before we arrived and we had discussed that with him and his son, asked for a leather conditioner (which they never brought), and we even complained that the mattress in the hide-a-bed was missing so the couch was sagging and nearly unusable in that large section (but they never brought a new mattress, like promised). Shockingly, he had the nerve to demand $500 from us to replace the couch. We were not going to pay for damages that were not ours, but we were very willing to pay for what was. He would not listen that the damage was previously there. He would not listen to any discussion. We tried to be reasonable, but he would not. Then, his cell phone rang and he walked out of the room. 

Discouraged, and knowing that there was no reasoning with this man, we left a large chunk of money (what we owed him for electricity and water, and what we thought was a generous amount for our damages) on the shoe cabinet near the front door,...and we walked out.

We gathered our four, sweet lambs, grabbed our luggage (none of us were unburdened), took the elevator down, said goodbye to the concierge, and though it was a tremendous struggle (and painful!) with all of our stuff, we kept on walking until we had a fair distance between us and our landlord.

We decided to stop at a park and let the children get some energy out, since we had been working from the moment we had woken up without any rest. 

Thankfully, we had packed snacks (drinkable yogurt and popcorn). Our lambs were so happy to have some freedom! Jon and I were so happy to sit and rest our feet! :-)

Homeless in the park with our belongings.

One of the first things Jon did at the park was program his cell phone to refuse the landlords calls.

After a long, nice break at the park, we ordered a taxi and went to our friend, Spring's apartment. She had stored some of our luggage overnight. We're glad that we didn't have to worry about that luggage as well when we walked out on the landlord a few hours earlier!

Spring offered to watch the children so that Jon and I could have one last date in Moscow. It was such a generous, sweet offer!  Of course, we took her up on it!

William playing with Spring's hat

It was especially hard to say goodbye to Spring when it was time to leave for the airport. We had a lot of fun times with her this past summer!

Last stop: the airport! It was so weird to think we only had a few more hours left in Moscow, Russia!

Last Sunday, Last Ride on the Metro

Our last Sunday in Moscow was when it finally hit me that we were really leaving. There are many, many things I will NOT miss about Moscow, but our church ward definitely isn't one of them! I just love our ward and will miss everyone very much!

I will not, however, miss the insanly early mornings to get to church and the many hours of travel!

James and Bruce messing around at the bus stop just before we got to church. In all our traveling, someone often fell on the ground by accident or being silly and spoiled their Sunday outfit with dirt.

The children's Primary saying goodbye to them.

After church we had some really good friends who invited us to their house for dinner. It was very generous of them and the food was delicious! It really wasn't very often that we were invited to other people's homes while we lived in Moscow -- it's just too big of a place and too hard to travel!

Our friends offered to drive us home, but we knew it would take two precious hours out of their day, so we just offered to take the back metro home. Besides, it would be our very last time on the metro so we thought we'd enjoy one last trip.

Sundays in Moscow were difficult and exhausting!  They were NOT a day of rest for us! One or more of us would always fall asleep on the metro ride home.

Goodbye Semyonovskya, our metro station! (Bad pic, I know, but I only remembered to take a picture as we were already going up the escalator.)

Fireworks for Crimea

From our living room window, we actually got to witness celebratory fireworks when Russia gained Crimea. It was quite a fireworks show in Izmaylovsky park. It felt kind of weird to be witnessing a celebration that the U.S. seemed so against.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

James Graduates from Detski Sad

I wish I would have written a post about James's Russian detski sad graduation back in at the end of April when it happened, but I didn't. That was during my "blogging break". I missed blogging about a lot of great stories. :(

The graduation was about a month and a half before we pulled James out of school for the summer (we could have technically left him in all summer long, but I like to give my children a summer break). Unfortunately, because the graduation was so early, James assumed that that meant he was done with school right then and there, so it was quite a chore to get him to school every morning for over a month after that!

The graduation was cute, but very long, especially for a group of 5 to 7-year-olds. I don't think Americans have the same length of attention span as Russians.

The children in James's class did some performances for the parents. (James was very distracted by the balloons on the ceiling.)

James is in the back with the blue shirt.

I thought it was funny that the children sang a song about saying goodbye to toys (in school). James was very indignant about that because he thought that meant he was done with all toys permanently, even at home.

Jon stayed home to watch William, but Kate came with me to support her brother (she had just gotten out of school and she was still wearing her school uniform).

Bruce's class also came in to perform for the graduating class. We *had* sent some dress clothes for Bruce to wear, but for some reason his teachers didn't change him. I don't know whether he had just woken up from nap or what. 

James receiving his yearbook, graduation gift (a slap on watch), cute medal, a single rose, and a balloon.

My poor, neglected boy needs a haircut!

James's yearbook is like a children's board book. It's such a neat yearbook with a lot of great pictures, and SO durable! We will treasure this keepsake! (He is especially proud of his medal.)

After such a long ceremony, we were ready to head right home, but little did we know that they had prepared a snack for the children as well. More waiting!...

James has now started "first class" here in Astana, Kazakhstan. He seems excited about his teacher and his new friends.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Bruce pulled out his own tooth

After breakfast one morning, Bruce got upset about something and sat in his seat at the table stewing while wiggling his tooth. Suddenly, he gasped happily and held out his tooth for us to see. He pulled it out all by himself! It was a great mood booster; he was so proud!


This summer we invited our friend, Spring over a lot. We knew time was running short, and we wanted to spend as much time together as possible before our move. Bruce and Spring have a special relationship. We miss you, Spring!

Hiding Spot

We had a long, L-type couch that rounded around the corner and left a large space behind. When we first moved into that apartment, we filled the space with items we didn't know where else to store, like suitcases and flattened boxes. However, once the movers had taken most of our stuff away, the space was now open and free. The corner was a perfect spot for the children to go back and "hide"and play. They loved it! Too bad we couldn't have left that space open the whole time we lived there.

(You can see the detail in the wallpaper, but sadly you can't see the gold sparkles in it. It might sound tacky to have sparkles in the wallpaper, but it was really pretty.)

Breakfast Fort

Our apartment's kitchen window in Moscow faced East, so in the morning the sun would shine right in on us as we ate breakfast. We only had a sheer curtain, so it didn't save us much from the intensity of sunlight. Poor Bruce had the worst of it. 

One morning, however, Bruce decided to take matters into his own hands and make this fort from cereal boxes to shield himself from the sun.

Kate turns 10!

Since Kate had such a big birthday party last year, I had expected to keep this year's birthday simple. However, Kate would only turn 10 once, so I offered to let her invite one friend. She chose her good friend, Izzy, from church. And, since Kate has been really enjoying American Girl stuff, and all of the girls in the books turned 10 on their birthdays, I thought it would be fun to have the theme for the party be "American Girl".

Well, the "one friend" ballooned into two more families which added four more children, making a total of nine children and six adults. I still kept things fairly simple (for me) for the party and Kate helped a lot.

Kate helped me decorate. She set up this display with all her dolls and even made them party hats. The dolls are wearing traditional Russian headdresses that Kate made out of paper.

The party started with lunch. We ordered Domino's Pizza. (One thing that really helped me to keep things simple was that we'd already shipped most of our stuff out and we only had the bare necessities.)

We got cute straws with puffy paper fruit on them. I think Kates was a pear.

Izzy came first thing in the morning and helped Kate decorate cupcakes along with her brothers.

Make a wish...

We even made teeny-tiny cupcakes for the dolls. We didn't really use them except for taking this picture. People loved eating the tiny ones, though.

Present time!

One of the families we invited over was our good friends, the S's. They have three little girls. Their oldest daughter (E.) and Kate are good buddies. I was so touched to find out that when E. heard that it was Kates birthday, she really wanted to *MAKE* Kate a ragdoll. She did most of it by hand, with help from her mom on the dress (if I remember right). Isn't that the sweetest, most thoughtful thing?! Kate had just finished reading the book "Little House in the Big Woods" and decided to name her ragdoll Charlotte.

The other family we invited were some Russian friends we met through James's detski sad class. James and their little girl, Liza, became friends, and then the family would often invite us to their home. We felt strongly that we should reciprocate and have them to our house finally. Their oldest daughter made this for foil doll for Kate.

I could kick myself, I didn't get a picture of the gift Izzy gave Kate. It was really cute! She got an activity bag with a horse on it, and inside were yummy American snacks, a homemade tic-tac-toe game, and some really fun stuff for art.

Jon's and my surprise gift to our sweet birthday girl was two American Girl mini dolls. When Kate first opened the gift bag, she wasn't exactly sure what they were. This pic is when she finally figured it out. 

Most of the birthday guests, but we're missing four.

Kate made a game of Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Horse. Of course, I forgot to set aside the eye mask for a blindfold, it was already packed up and taken away, so we just used a dishtowel.

Some other activities we did for the party: an American Girl bingo game, American girl wordsearch, and coloring.

After all the other party guests left, Kate and Izzy played dolls, then we ate dinner together, and afterwards we watched the new American Girl movie "Isabelle". We had a lot of fun having Izzy spend the day with us. 

Hair salon

So, our "simple" birthday for Kate turned out much bigger than expected, but it didn't take too much planning, was not too expensive, and it ended up being a lot of fun. 

Happy 10th birthday, Kate!