Thursday, December 25, 2014

White Christmas

We woke up this morning to a bit of a light dusting of new snow. As December 25 is not a holiday in Russia, we more or less followed the usual routine of taking kids to school and detskii sad. However, A's class was having a little New Year's show, so we decided to let K come and see it instead of going to her class (her show is tomorrow, Boxing Day, and the final rehearsal was today, but she already knows her lines as well as several of the other kids'). When the little show was over (and we got K and A dressed again, no small task itself), we stepped outside to see this:

   With a stroller in this, it took quite a while to get home: -8°C, feels like -17° (about 18°F and 1°F, for those of you that are metrically challenged…), low visibility, low traction, stiff breeze but inconsistent direction, etc. We were wishing we'd brought our little sled — though you can't use that all the way, either, because they do keep some areas cleared and salted.

    We eventually made it home for some Christmas hot chocolate and naps, but here's the view out our kitchen window down onto the yard:

So if anybody's "dreaming of a White Christmas," drop on by — we've got what you've been missing.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Advent Calendar 2014

Thank you, Grandma B... for the Unicef Advent Calendar.  It was loved by all...

(this is, in order, child 3 and child 2)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Holiday Decorations outside

Moscow does go in for Holiday decorations in a big way, but here they are New Year's decorations.  They arent really out in force until mid December, and then are around until almost the end of January (usually).  I dont have time for sight seeing, but on my way somewhere else, I got a couple of snaps of a few outside decorations.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

putting up the christmas tree

Second year of using our first artificial tree.  Dad doesnt like putting it together, would prefer a real tree.  Mom loves the fact its already here in a box and doesnt have to be searched for new every year. 

Plus kids love "helping" Dad put it up. 

It didnt get decorations on that day.  Took a bit.  But hey, got the tree.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Food Court Ice Cream...

Well, at least one company (should be obvious in the photo) carried over a marketing trick from the US to Russia.  Of course our kids loved it....

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hair Bows

Grandma B sent some long pink ribbons in the mail (thank you Grandma!).  This is what the girls decided to with them:

And yes, I let them go to school like this.

Friday, October 17, 2014

First Snow

snow flurries Friday night.  Didnt melt overnight.  Not much, but there.

This photo and the last two posts brought to you courtesy of a new app we found for the iPad, called Posts.  S is almost never at the computer, but carries the iPad everywhere.  And open wifi on some subway lines! 

Welcome Fall

In E's first grade class they put on a show "welcoming fall."  This is E (in glasses) and her best friend, both dressed up as "fall" dancers.   Down below is a photo of (most of) the class in their "fall" outfits. Most of the children performed short poems or songs, or had lines in the "skit" to welcome fall. E's contribution was to be part of a dance with other girls, which she did very well.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

We will have weather whether or not....

The first two weeks of September, we had perfect weather, bright and clear and fall season.

The last two weeks of September, we had some cold days, doubling up sweaters & jackets, got out kid hats.  Still bright (except for getting up an hour before sunrise), still fall, but really brisk.  Every color leaves you can imagine.  Maple, ash, birch, oak, linden, an amazing variety.  And a lot more trees than it seems if you assume first that we live in an entirely concrete jungle.  No grassy places to walk, just decorative edges around the buildings, fenced off from people.  

Then we had two weeks of much milder temperatures, back down to just a sweater.  

This week has been gloomy and five kinds of rain, at least (mist, drizzle, light rain, intermittent, occassional), so you never travel without a raincoat or umbrella.  Most umbrellas, tho, dont stand up well to the unpredictable bursts of wind.  

Moscow isnt a "windy" city as such, but you get lots of unpredictable breezes twising their way between 5-story and 14-story buildings, gusts of air across wide thoroughfares with buses exhaust eddying across the roads, and wind forcing itself like an elephant through alleyways, cutting like a knife through unseasonable coats. 

Today, we are expecting temperatures around freezing, with real feel of just below freezing, so we got out the early winter gear.  Snow pants, which are called "shtani" in Russian.  We use the Russian word because last year the girls did NOT want to wear "snow pants" if there wasnt snow.  So they are "cold pants".  Our two year old A was excited to see her spring cold suit (jacket/shtani), which she tried hard to put on herself.  Our four year old K insisted on wearing her shtani.  She was so excited going to preschool in shtani--now I can be like the other kids! 

When we had the previous cold spell (+5 celsius) someone brought their daughter to the "baby preschool" (As class) wearing already the pink cold suit which we just got out today for our youngest.   This dad thinks Muscovites are weird about the cold.  In Siberia, this isnt cold.  

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Schedules, Or "A Week Like Any Other"

As anyone with kids from five to eighteen will appreciate, once school is in session, a parent's life is dictated by when the kids have to be where.  Our day during the school term looks like this:

2 parents get up at 6.15 to get dressed & ready.

Wake up three kids at 6.45.

Breakfast, read scriptures (we just finished the Gospel of John today)

Get three kids dressed, put change of clothes in a bag to go (each girl now has her own drawstring bag, sold as a bag for extra shoes, but can be used for anything....

Comb hair, put in elastic bands

Get on shoes (why is one shoe always missing in the morning? even tho you coulda sworn they were both there the night before!) 

Get on jackets or raincoats, depending on likelihood of rain. 

Parent #1 leave with E to go to first grade by 8.00 am at the latest.  7 min walk.  

Once at the school, E uses an electronic card to go through a closed turnstyle.  Parents not allowed.  Like every other "civilized" and "cultured" institution in Russia, the school has a "garderobe" or set of coat racks, on the first floor past the turnstyle.  E takes off her coat and changes her "street" shoes for "inside" shoes (hence the shoe bag) and goes upstairs to the second floor to her classroom.  

Paint is peeling from the exterior walls of the school, and falling off the walls in her classroom, but the teacher has a computer, a screen, and as of last week, the classroom has an "interactive board"  (smart board?) but the software wasnt installed correctly so the magic pen doesnt work. 

Her classes start at 8.30, but the teacher starts at 8.20 with "morning exercises" done by their desks.  classes are generally 30 min long, with breaks in between.  The first grade has four main lessons: "Grammar" (Russian language),  "Writing" (cursive penmanship in Russian), "Math" and "The World Around us" (some social studies, but mostly trees, plants, ie environment).  Children start school at 7 (or 6 1/2) in Russia, but it is assumed on Day 1 of first grade that children can read and write their letters (in block print), and that they can read aloud basic sentences.  This they are expected to learn in the final year of "preschool", either in daytime lessons or evening "supplementary" lessons (which is what we did, since our preschool didnt have the daytime school readiness lessons).  But everyone does read and write at least a bit on first day of first grade.  There is also Gym class 3 times a week, Art once a week, and Music once a week.

If S is teaching that day, S takes E to school and then heads over to the bus to the subway for a 45 min commute to work, arriving 9 or 9.15 for a 10.30 class, which runs until 1.30 (with a break in the middle). S teaches in a brand newly re/constructed building in the very center of Moscow (Metro station Lubyanka, if you look on a metro map), but her office is in an "overflow" building 5 min walk away.  

Parent # 2 leaves either at the same time or no later than 8.10 and takes K and A on the bus one long stop, which is only 3-4 min in off peak, but at 8.15, it crawls along in really slow traffic on our side street which clears up a bit when the bus turns on to a major thoroughfare, where it stops next to the metro entrance.  The next bit involves getting a small child K and a not much lighter 2 y old in a stroller across this same major thoroughfare.  This involves navigating an underground pedestrian tunnel—most large streets in Moscow are crossed this way, some have ordinary crosswalks, and only a few have built pedestrian bridges up & over—down a double flight of stairs, through a crowded tunnel, fight against the foot traffic streaming into the metro (think Fezziks line "Everybody mooove!"), and then navigating the stroller up the double flight of stairs at the other side.  

Note the frequent mention of stairs.  Sorry, we cannot invite Judy to come visit Moscow.  Many metro stations have escalators, and most apartment buildings over 5 stories tall have elevators (including ours), but everywhere else, it's stairs.

After the stairs, then there is a ten minute walk to get to the preschool, but that is mostly tree-lined side streets (and lots of curbs), and the worst is over.  K gets dropped off to her shiny new building officially by 8.30, but the entire trip takes 30 min, and so sometimes we arent there until 8.40 or 8.45.  Each classroom has its own changing room, children have individual cubbies (like lockers without locks, or like the YMCA), where they take off their coats, "street" clothes, and change into "inside" clothes.  This is a very rigid expectation, all the parents help their kids change, but neither parent nor child (except us) complains about how ling this takes, dressing at home, then redressing again at the preschool.  Its just a way of life.  But it certainly cuts down on laundry, since inside clothes migt get lunch spilled on them, but have no sand or mud from outside, so if they dont spill, the kids can and do wear the same inside clothes a few days in a row (again, except for us, just different habits).  Allow K 10 minutes to finish changing shoes (she already comes in her inside clothes bec we dont have time to wait another 20 min for her to change clothes too.

Her day schedule looks like this: 8:30 to 8:50 Breakfast (cooked, either porridge or egg something), 9:00 - 10:00 am "lesson" time, 10:00 "second breakfast" (a piece of fruit, apple, pear etc), 10:30 to 11:45 play outside time, 12:00 to 1:00 lunch (hot cooked meal, including 'first' course = soup, 'second' course = cooked main dish, meat, chicken, or fish, with something like noodles or potatoes on the side, 'third' course = something else, sometimes a bit sweet (crackers, fruit, or kompot (homemade juice boiled from fruit, K likes pear best), but not candy or cake). 1:15 pm to 3:15 nap time, 3:30 "snack" time, something cooked and "filling" (noodles, or a small meat patty, etc). 4:00 to 5:00 pm, free play (parent pick up permitted), then 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm, outside play time (parent pick up by 6:00 pm requested, tho officially they are "open" from 7:00 am until 7:00 pm).  Other preschools have slight variations on the time, but not the order.  Some preschools have only bread at 3:30 and something "filling" for "dinner" at 5:00 then play outisde.  "Lesson" time for K is one in the classroom (20 min) such as gluing, cutting, pasting, drawing, or clay, and one out of the classroom.  Two times a week is Music (which is learning little songs but mostly a lot of dancing around) and Gym claass twice a week.  Once a week is "swim", this preschool actually has a very small, very shallow pool, where a teacher teaches them in turns in groups of 4-5 kids basics of pool safety and going under water.  I cant imagine actually getting strokes across a pool that small, certainly not for 6 year olds, but it is such a rare thing for a preschool to have a pool, and the girls have loved it.  

From dropping off K, then you walk around behind the new building to the old building, where A has a little class of other two year olds, in a "group of short time stay" (I kid you not, thats what it is called).  Drop off permitted any time from 8:45 until 9:00 or so, but if later the teacher is not strict about it, the way that K's teacher is strict (biiiig trouble for coming after 9:00 am to regular preschool class, never do that again).  Again, each class has its own changing room, same routine of switch street clothes for outside clothes.   She has a nice teacher, and the size of the group varies, since it is all entirely optional at her age.  They play with toys or do clay, or have a little music time, from 9:00 to 10:45.  Then they put on their street clothes and go play outside from 11:00 am, with parent pick up from any time after 11:00 until 12:00 noon, when that teacher goes home.  This is the one thing they are strict about.

So, A really likes her class, and playing, but is also really glad when she gets picked up.  

However, her pick up time is 12:00 noon, and the earliest K can be picked up is after lunch at 1:00 pm.  (earlier is not allowed!!!!!). So the parent on pick up duty has to decide whether to wait an hour for K, and then take them both home, by which time they want to play with each other and not nap at home (and we all know what a 2 yr old who skips a nap is like by evening....) OR, one parent picks up A and takes her home and gets her down for a nap, then the other parent picks up K either at 1:00 pm or at 4:00 – 5:00 pm.  

E's class day is finished at 12:20.  Some parents pick up their child then.  Most other parents signed up for "extended day" which doesnt cost extra, but kid can stay until 6:00.  It costs 100 R per day for lunch, which is part of "extended day".  Its pricey for what a kid eats, but most parents figure since they are allowed to charge for lunch but not for the afterschool hours, they are using the former to subsidize the latter.  Tho maybe not, since unlike preschool where food is prepared on site, and distributed to classrooms, the school has a contract with a food service company whcih brings it in daily and the kids eat in the cafeteria.  So E has lunch (same kind of 3 courses as described above) 12:30 to 1:30, then they run around outside until 2:30 or 3:00.  Then she either has the choice of sitting in class until we come get her (any time after 1:30), and finishing her homework and writing notes to friends, etc, or in E's case reading a book, OR, she can go to "clubs", so we opted for "clubs" (also free, also at the school).  She has Music (where they learn Russian folk songs -- ask her about playing the spoons some time!) two days a week Mon and Wed 2:30 to 3.30 and Bead club Tue and Fri 3:00 to 5:00 pm.  She is VERY good at making things with beads! 

Then we pick up K between 4:00–5:00 and E sometime around then as well.  Everyone is usually home at 5:00 or 5:30.

Dinner 6 ish.  Baths on alternate nights, E finish homework, noisy play time, bed time.  We aim for 8:00 pm but its been closer to 8:30 or 9:00 pm more often than not.

Then we finish dishes, laundry, our own work, etc, and stumble into bed around 11:00.

Total travel times involved here: detskii sad drop off, about 90 minutes, school drop off about 30 minutes round trip. Detskii sad pickups, 2 at an hour each, or one at 2 hours, including wait time between the two detskii sads. School pickup, about 40 minutes (have to wait for her to come downstairs, and get outside clothes on.) Grand total, about four and a half hours just getting kids to and from their lessons.


Monday, October 6, 2014


We have been really busy and not posted photos lately.  So here is the recap:

E officially started Russian public school 1st grade on 1 September.  After a couple of weeks of difficulty, she is really doing very well.  How many 7 year olds do you know who can do homework independently in a foreign language?

Worst part is that the school never announces anything on paper unless its a form we have to sign.  Everything is told to the children verbally and they are expected to go home and tell their parents.  Parents of school children anywhere know that is a recipe for disaster.  Now try it in a foreign language.

K went back to her same preschool, same teachers, same set of kids on 1 September.  Well, they added a new teacher, but the other two are still there, plus all the kids are the same (maybe 1 new one?).  Welcome to Russia, where if they can keep a group together, they will.

(E's first grade class, for example, will sit in the same seats and have the same teacher and no student reshuffling for 4 years, until they go to the 5th grade.  This is not specific to her school. It's Russian government education. )

A (now officially 2 years old) started a preschool class mornings only on 2 September.  9 am to 12 noon.  It is technically the same preschool as K, but it's in the old building next door, so it doesn't "feel" like the same preschool, either to the kids or to the parents who have an extra drop off/pickup.  The first week, A was really not sure about this, and was a bit hesitant about being left, but never left.  She was ready for the adventure.  By the second week, she was going cheerfully off to class after taking off her coat.  Sure, she still runs to meet us when we pick her up, but she really enjoys having somewhere to go & other kids to play nearby.

S is teaching two classes on research methods at the university.  One is Wednesdays for 3 hours, one is Thursdays 3 hours.  It is about the most essential but most boring class to teach (says S).  They are on different levels, and slightly different subjects, but it gets very confusing, who heard which lecture last?

A is traveling for a couple of paid events this month and next.  He is waiting for something to come out of some interviews he has had lately.  

So, the kids are growing, changing, learning Russian.  We are about the same we were a year ago.  Well, except a little more Russian-ish.

And thankfully completely out of the loop of US news & not-news.

So many people in Russia live so precariously, or are so busy, they don't have time for nonsense.  Now that is us, too.

Money, again

Yes, the ruble is collapsing. Especially against the dollar. 

Sept 2013, 31 R = 1$, now, 40 R = 1$. 

I didn't realize the US economy was doing better, but evidently it is. 

Did I mention we get paid in rubles?  Hired by a Russian university, we have no other options.  It is also illegal to "peg" any price or payment to a foreign currency amount.  But since 1999, that didn't matter, since the ruble was held stable by actions of the Central Bank, so that the ruble bounced around 30 R to 1 $ (29-33) for more than a decade after the 1998 default. But the central bank decided in 2014 to let the ruble "float", to not "prop it up", to not keep the exchange rate within certain bounds.  They have gradually been phasing out their "prop" so the ruble is falling like with gravity. 

Sanctions do not affect the ordinary citizens of Russia on the whole. Might be a few imported items not on the shelves, but there are no empty shelves (imports being replaced by domestic products), and not all imports have been affected (yet). 

However, internal inflation is also going up in Russia generally and in Moscow in particular. Officially the inflation rate (Aug 2013 to Aug 2014) is over 7.5%. But in the year we have been here, a lot of food, clothing, and other consumer items have increased by 10-20%. Including our rent. 

No one starves in Russia but the poor. I used to say Russia is a country where it's easier to be poor (than in the US). That isn't true in Moscow.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Is there really a Moscow Markup?

S was in the US for 8 days: a conference in San Francisco 4 days, one day on each end for "provisioning," plus one day travel on each end.

Provisioning is the activity known to all expats (and others who travel from Russia to the US) of acquiring things which are lower price in the US or only obtainable in the US.

All basic needs can be met in Russia, for a price.  But we had left things at Grandma & Grandpa's house in southern California, so S went "shopping in the attic" to bring back a few things we couldn't carry last year (including 20 lbs of books! and a 16 lb winter coat).  

Oh, and then there were the 30 lbs of books from the conference, too.

But she also made 3 trips to Target and two to Costco to get stuff which can only be found in the US--Land's End girls swimsuits & dresses, bike shorts from Target, baking powder and liquid vanilla--or are much cheaper in the US (contact solution, for example).

Except that the price for contact solution is only cheaper at Costco.  The Target price, for example, at $10 for a 12 oz bottle, isn't much less than what we pay here 355 rubles for 300 ml.

So, after over $500 of purchases, S got to the airport with three large checked bags of 50 lbs each plus a wheeled carry on of 35 lbs, a backpack (also 20 lbs), and the 16 lb coat.  From Moscow to LAX, on Aeroflot each traveller may take 2 bags for free, and Frequent flyer status entitles the traveller to one extra free bag.  That was three.  But for some reason, flying from LAX to Moscow, each traveller may take 1 bag for free, and the one extra for frequent flyer.  So S had to pay the third bag price ($150).

So, are things really cheaper in the US than in Moscow?

Only for things found "shopping in the attic."

For everything else, there's Mastercard.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Moscow Markup

Everything in Moscow costs more, but this is especially true for childrens things.  But with only children, having two parents and four grandparents doting on one child, maybe the cost of gifts isnt so bad.  Maybe 900 rubles (not quite $30) for a brand name stuffed animal doesnt seem a lot. Maybe 2000 rubles for sneakers doesnt seem like much if you dont have three kids to buy for.

But then, maybe we have been out of touch.  S (the mom for these thre kids) is currently in the US for a conference, and prices arent as cheap as we remember.

The difference is that $30 buys a brand name toy of high quality, or $60 buys a good pair of shoes, in the US.  In Moscow, that equivalent in rubles buys a cheap pair of shoes which fall apart.

In the US, you can shop in fancy stores and get good quality, or Walmart and pay less for junk.  In Moscow, the junk is junkier, but if you know where to go, you could pay walmart prices, but thats shopping on the street or open air market.  Anything in a store is more.  But going to a store doesnt guarantee great quality.

For example, cheap dollar store stuff costs 100 rubles, or $3.  Thats the Moscow Markup.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Fourth Birthday with friends

K had a party with friends on the Saturday after her birthday.  We met friends in a new park.  That means taking lunch and park toys and a stroller on the tramvai (streetcar) for half an hour.

First we met K's friends from detskii sad at the tram stop to get to the park.  This was Leila and her daughters Rada (5 almost 6, from E's class), and Alyona (3 turning 4).  Then after the half hour tram ride, we met our Russian friends Vitalii, Anna and their three children Katya (3 almost 4), Vlad (2), Benni (1).  Then our American friends and their 4 children joined us.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Middle child turns 4!

So, first things first--

Life is uncertain, eat desert first!

That is, we let the kids have cupcakes for breakfast.  But because these were from silicon molds, for some reason they had flat tops, so Mommy turned them upside down before frosting them -- purple of course.  K had a hard time blowing the candles out the first time, but seemed quite delighted

Then it was rush rush to leave on time for preschool.  Yes, they are still going to preschool all summer, and they feel like they are the only kids not out for the summer.  For example, in their preschool, there were 7 rooms of 20-25 children each, and for July and August, there is 1 room of 31 children.  And some preschools are probably closed completely with one or more parent on vacation taking the child/ren for the summer, preferably out of town.  (Most people in Moscow believe that the city is an unhealthy place for children in the summer, and believe the only healthy place for them is out in the summer cottage or at camp, that is, surrounded by trees and a river.  No child would argue with that!)

But, to compensate for being in preschool, K had the really rare experience for a summer birthday of being able to celebrate her birthday at school, with a few of the children from her previous class in her new combined class.  And since there is only one classroom operating (to allow as many staff as possible to take vacation), it is an all ages class, so K and E are in the same class as of 30 June, until end of August when E will start 1st grade in Russia and K will go back to her age graded class.

For whatever reason, K's class has had a lot of birthdays in the past quarter.  It seems like every day or every week there would be another goodie bag and K would say "oh, ___ had a birthday today".  And then every time, E says, "I want one."  But goodie bags, snacks, or cookies from the birthday child to the other school children isn't obligatory, and either E had no one in her class with a birthday, or parents  in that group made less fuss.

Needless to say, K couldn't wait for her turn to have a birthday at preschool.  After breakfast (8:30-8:45), and some time that should have been "lessons" (but not over the summer), they have a fruit ("apple time") about 10 am, and then after that comes the celebration.  But since parents aren't invited, this record depends on K's account (with a little help from E):

They have the "imenik" (=birthday person) stand in the middle and everyone else stands around in the circle.  Then they hold hands in the circle and walk around the person singing a little song.  K was able to repeat enough of it that we could find the words on the internet.

Как на [имя] именины 
Испекли мы каравай. 
Вот такой вышинЫ, 
Вот такой нижинЫ, 

Вот такой ширинЫ, 
Вот такой ужинЫ. 
Кого хочешь выбирай! 

Кого любишь выбирай! 
Я люблю конечно всех, 
Только [имя] -- больше всех!

You can also find the tune on Youtube.
If the link doesn't work, copy and paste this text into youtube: 

Каравай - детская песенка на день рождения

Then after the song, they stop in the circle and clap their hands to syllables while they say the Russian words for "happy birthday" -- "s'dnyom [clap] rozh[clap]dyen[clap]ya[clap].  "Sdnyom rozhdyenya".  A total of 4 times.  
After that, they went back to the routine of changing their shoes for going out for "outside playtime" (recess), followed by lunch.  [E wants you to know that in this classroom they only have spoons, not only for "first dish" (soup, which is obligatory) but also for "second dish" (vtoroye bludyo), which is usually something with a bit of meat.  
Usually most kids, including ours, stay all day.  Preschool, after all, is for parents who work.  Today, Daddy picked them up after lunch when the other kids changed into pajamas for nap time.  
The goodie bags we gave to the teacher to distribute.  In order to not disrupt the class, the teacher puts one goodie bag on top of each child's cubby (mini locker), so that each child gets to take it home.  Ours consisted of: bright shiny paper gift bag (itself part of the gift, since they are usually re-gifted), Choco-pie (yep, kids love them here too), a few candies, and a little sand shovel & a shape for the sand.  
Happy Birthday K, part 1. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Back to the Zoo

After a few weeks of really hot temperatures (28-30 celsius), we had a couple of weeks of rain, which really cooled things off.  It's been somewhere like 10-15 celsius, almost raining, which is the best weather you can hope for June in Moscow.

Wednesday, we pulled the kids for the day out of preschool (which unlike school is available all summer, and we've kept them in just for everyone's sanity, at least it gives them something to do).

First they came with on trip to the embassy to add pages to mommy's passport (did you know you could do that?  It looks messy, but is perfectly legal, if you pay the exorbitant fee).  Of course, that was the day S wasn't carrying much cash, and the credit card machine at American Citizens Services (bullet proof glass alive and well at the teller windows here) wasn't working, so S had to take 3 little kids on a wild goose chase to find the ATM of the bank we currently use (which we will have to change thanks to a stupid US law requiring foreign banks to disclose account information of US tax payers, but that's a future problem for a future post).  After walking a mile, getting cash, walking back a mile, the kids wanted to play with the American toys in the waiting room, but the process of them taping extra pages into the center of the passport only took 10 minutes.

Then, on to the real reason for ditching preschool--the Moscow Zoopark!

Unfortunately, the sort-of threatening to rain did not completely deter enough parents and kids (all schools grades 1-11 finished the school year at the end of May), so it was a bit crowded, but hey, nothing like the last time we went to the zoo was New Year's Day when it was the only thing open in the whole city--and free that one day--it was so crowded then you couldn't move through the zoo for the crowds, worse than the metro at rush hour or Auchan on a Saturday.

The best part about the Moscow Zoo is the price -- 300 rubles per adult (thats about $8) and children under 18 are free!  Can you imagine?  A Zoo for kids where kids are free?  Of course, only "large families" like ours really benefit--most families have two or more adults accompanying their one child/grandchild--but when you pay for two and get three free, it's a great deal!

Not to mention it is a fun zoo, lots more variety than you would expect.

The downside this visit was they have really ramped up the construction which has been ongoing all year.  Lots of outdoor exhibits are temporarily closed while they do more landscaping, resurfacing walkways, and who knows what else.

First we let them play a bit in a really amazing play place:

Then we rushed them past some animal exhibits (some we've seen before like the lynx & bobcats, others not, like the giraffe) in order to be on time for the Dolphin Show!  K cried later we missed the giraffe.  Of course, if she had said that was important, we would've stopped, but how could we know?

As you can see, we got front row seats: (E in blue, daddy, A in pink jacket, K in purple jacket--she is always in purple!, mommy photographer)

The show started with a sea lion, who sat on the rock & waved a flipper and clapped, but didn't feel like chasing the ball in the water today, so she was sent back to her pond before we could get a photo.

The dolphin, though, second up, named Linda, was having a blast.  Clearly loved doing the tricks (here she is carrying one ball in her front flippers, and another ball in her mouth, moving across the pond vertically, using only her back flippers):

and loved her treats:

and loved her "strokes":

The third act was a small beluga, who tried doing some of the same tricks as the dolphin, and wanted to please the trainer and show off

but lets face it, a 1-ton whale is just not as graceful as a dolphin:

And as anyone with kids knows, it's impossible to photograph what they are watching and photograph them enjoying it at the same time, though that didn't stop Mommy from trying:

Then, after the show, we saw two of the three elephants outside

who flatly refused to look at their admiring public:

We also saw a zebra and a camel and the nocturnal animals, none of which we had seen on previous trips.

We didn't see the whole zoo, the kids were exhausted from the long march to/from the ATM, so we went home.  But at that price, we can afford to go and just see a few things.  The hardest part of the trip is getting there and back (two metro trains and a tramvai.)  Although on the way home we tried a different route, 1 metro train and 1 longer trip on a tramvai.  With a stroller, the fewer times you change public transport, the better.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Like father, like daughter...

Little A's paternal relatives will recognize the similarity.  When her daddy was little, this was his favorite (only) way of eating olives.   The bigger kids won't touch them, but A thought this was great.  

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Summer Flowers

This must have been on our way to church.  This is outside the front door of our apartment building.  Our "concierge" loves flowers and spends a lot of time on her plants in this bit of dirt out front.

S made the three dresses a couple of years ago (bought smocked fabric).  The littlest one is sewn on to a T-shirt, the other two are sewn dress tops with the smocking sewn onto it.

Our three "flowers". :-)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Happy Birthday Daddy

Continuing the trend of eating cake and dashing out the door for birthdays, this was daddy's turn.  He is all dressed up to get on a plane to go to Novosibirsk for another junket.  He had to leave first thing in the morning, so the kids saw him for a total of half an hour on his birthday.

But we couldn't not have something, even though it was breakfast time, so this is a bought pastry as a cake stand-in.  After the song, of course.

This is after he successfully defeated the self-relighting trick candles:

Happy Birthday, daddy.

Of course, for kids, any excuse to eat cake for breakfast is a good one.

P.S. Later that same day, our good friends in Novosibirsk Mark and Irina met him, let him stay in a relative's empty apartment, and brought him a real cake and stayed to help him eat it.  So he got a birthday party after all.