Friday, January 18, 2013

More Christmas, More Winter Fun

The fun of Christmas struck again when Grandma Kate's eagerly-awaited package, full of beautifully wrapped gifts, arrived early this week. We managed to connect with her on Skype so she could watch the boys open them up. Luckily, I managed to snap one shot of all the gifts under the tree before they got ripped open, thus ensuring that my mother-in-law will still love me. :)

As always, the presents were perfect choices for Misha and Sebby. Sebby loves Clifford, and now we have a new Clifford book to read at bedtime.

Misha was fascinated by his Mysterious Magnets Junior kit. He immediately showed off how his magnets attract and repel ...

making the paper man "float" above the table.

Another puzzle for Sebby! This "Five Little Monkeys" themed one was right up his alley, and he jumped right in to connecting the pieces as he sang the song.

Ta da!

Misha also got a cool paper airplane kit. The two we have made so far have proved to be excellent fliers. The books is far more detailed than I expected, and to really create proper elevators, ailerons, rudders, and canopies, we may need to consult Uncle Aaron.

To top it off, each boy got his own battery-operated toothbrush, which is exactly what they needed to get them to brush a little longer and a little more carefully. Especially since Misha is getting permanent teeth now, these toothbrushes are a wonderful idea.

Thank you so much, Grandma Kate!

Our friend Saule also visited us and bestowed newly-knitted, matching caps upon the boys! They now wear them to school every day.

And we still visit our little sledding hill, which fills up with lively children in colorful hats and scarves, sliding down on sleds, plastic bags, or on their own feet. Misha is easy to identify in his three-pom-pommed jester hat. Sebby is in brown.

Back to the top!

Here is a cute video of Sebby and Misha cruising down the small but slick hill, with a whirlwind of Russian chatter all around.

People always tell me I have really cute kids. I honestly don't know what else to do except to agree with them!



Monday, January 14, 2013

Skiing Adventures

Misha all bundled up and skiing like a pro.

This winter, Misha and I got to go skiing for the first time in our lives - Misha at age 7 and me at 32! Since Kyrgyzstan is covered in mountains, it's a great place to learn. And since its ski resorts aren't huge and fancy, it's also a cheap place to learn. We got lucky because one of Josh's students works at the ski base Zil just outside of Bishkek, and he often has room in his car to take us out and back for the day. Josh went with him a few times over our winter break to ski and snowboard (which came back to him quickly despite the several-year interlude), and the last two Saturdays, Misha and I went along as well. Josh was able to give us pointers, ride with Misha on the ski lift, and help us stand up when we were all tangled up in our skis.

Misha and I were very proud of our first-day achievements. We managed to ski down the mountain, on our own, five times. Skiing in itself is not hard; it's everything else - like slowing down, stopping when you want to, getting back up when you're down, or side-stepping up the mountain to collect your ski poles that you dropped behind you or a ski that popped off ...

Misha did a great job. Eager to jump right in and try it by himself, he fell often on the first run down the mountain (as did I), but after that, he was cool and confident, snow-ploughing down with his skis pointed together in the front to control his speed as Daddy showed him. Every time our paths criss-crossed, he would chirp happily, "Hi, Mom!" and keep right on going.

We've been told that Zil is one of the nicer ski bases near Bishkek. It's not huge; it has one chair lift and two small pole lifts, and only two or three ski paths. It's missing a lot of luxuries, meaning you have to go to the bathroom in a freezing outhouse and put your ski equipment on by your car. However, there is a small cafe that serves tea and shashlik. And it's more than enough to have a lot of fun! (The biggest resort in Kyrgyzstan is in Karakol, by Lake Issikyl, attracting a lot of tourists.)

Josh in action

At home in the mountains

Here's a short video of Misha and me on our first day. Watch near the end for little Misha in his red-kneed snowpants and me in the blue coat/black pants!

The following Saturday, this past weekend, we had the perfect chance to go again. Sebby's day care was open, making up for days it was closed during the vacation, so we didn't even need a babysitter like last time. Thick, wet snow was falling in Bishkek, but by the time we got to the mountains, it had turned into dry, fine snow. The roads weren't the best, and we had to wait at a few points where smaller cars had gotten stuck in the snow and had to be pushed out, but the snow was nice and fluffy on the ski paths. It was so fluffy that at first Misha and I couldn't figure out how to move, much less pick up any speed, on our skis. Eventually, we learned how to shift our weight to get the skis to glide, and we cruised our way down the mountain many times. Each time we did, the weather became foggier and foggier, first allowing me to see three chairlifts in front of me, then only two, then only one ... In the end, we were skiing down almost completely blind. It was impossible to tell sky from ground, let alone where any path was. I was afraid to get behind or go ahead for fear of losing Josh and Misha, and one time I skied right into the ditch, thinking I was on the right path!

During a short break, a group of Kyrgyz picnickers called out a greeting to us. When we responded in Kyrgyz, they instantly invited us to come and eat shashlik with them. ("Kelingiz! Chai ichesiz! Shashlik jesiz!" - Come, drink tea, eat shashlik!) How could we refuse? We had been smelling the wonderfully wafting aroma all day. They were so flattered that we had learned their local language that they offered us shashlik with onion and vinegar, hot tea, juice, and even vodka, which they insisted on making several toasts with. It's an amazingly good feeling now that we are good enough to understand enough Kyrgyz to have a decent conversation. 

As if intentionally trying to end the day on a good note, the sun popped out and burned off the mist just in time for one last run down the hill. We grabbed our skis and ran up to the lift, where the guards eventually gave in and let us and a few other stragglers board the lift, even though it was a few minutes after 4:00. We rode up, appreciating the full, clear view of the breathtaking mountains. After a fun, speedy run, we were ready to take off our skis and drive home to Sebby.

We forgot the camera in the car all day, but here are some mental photos for you:

* The chairlifts receding eerily in the fog.

* Josh and Misha appearing out of the mist on their skis.

* The group of cheerful Kyrgyz friends (former classmates) and their wives, smiling and laughing and filling up our tea cups.

* Each individual strand of my bangs outlined in fuzzy white frost, making me look like some kind of albino Raggedy Anne.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

С Новом Годом! Happy New Year!

In Kyrgyzstan (and the Russian world), Dec. 31 combines many of the traditions that we Americans generally divide between Christmas and New Year's. Everyone stays up until midnight, awaiting Dyed Moroz's visit (when he will sneakily stash gifts under the tree, as stockings are not big here), watching fireworks galore at the big moment, drinking champagne, feasting on salads and lamb and sweets, and spreading warm wishes for the coming year. Since Josh and I lean more toward the "Christmas morning" celebration rather than opening gifts on Christmas Eve, we decided we would open all our gifts as a family on the morning of New Year's Eve. Kind of a random concoction of traditions, but it worked out fine.

Our best monster cookies for Santa

Look what Santa brought!

As is usually the case, Josh and I spent over an hour the night before wrapping up last gifts, arranging everything perfectly in the living room, adding a glass of milk beside the plate of cookies that Misha was so insistent upon (having forgotten to leave milk for poor Santa last year), putting final touches on a treasure hunt for Misha, and asking each other if we really got the kids enough presents. We didn't go too crazy for Christmas this year, for various reasons. (The kids already have a lot of toys, plus taking them all back with us whenever we leave will be impossible -- not to mention the simple fact that they will be happy regardless of how much you spend on them.) We reassured each other that we did have enough, and the next day confirmed it in full. Kids are kids, and often the smallest of presents are the ones they prefer most of all.

As if to drive home this point, Sebby came wandering into our room at 7:30 in the morning, when it was still dark out, having just visited the living room and pulled out one little surprise from his stocking. He announced in quiet ecstasy, "I got a CANDY CANE!" This was not a big, red-and-white, sleek and smooth candy cane. This was a little multi-colored limp thing, broken throughout and crushed nearly to powder, maintaining its shape only because of the plastic wrapping. (No other kind of candy canes exist that I have seen here.) And it didn't matter a bit. He was delighted.

Exploring the stockings and other gifts left by Santa

Sebby lost no time in chomping the head of his chocolate Santa.

Misha was up too, of course, marveling over the cool 3-D car puzzle that Santa left beside his stocking. I turned on the living room lights and, while Daddy attempted to wake up, I watched the kids dump out their stockings and ooh and ahh over their cool treasures: magic notebooks that opened with a code, chocolate Santas, Hot Wheels, balloons, little wallets, markers, and pens. I loved Misha's spirit of generosity when he discovered a little container of bubbles in his stocking, and Sebby said with some worry, "I don't have any bubbles." I immediately heard Misha offer, "You can have my bubbles, Sebby." But then Sebby found his, which he loved to blow at the confused cats.

We were surrounded by bubbles all day.

A little ship left by Santa for Misha

Sebby's elephant book from Santa

Sebby is really into puzzles lately, which Santa obviously knew.

When Daddy came out, the kids proudly showed them their new things, and Sebby and I put together his huge ocean puzzle from Santa. Eventually, we got around to opening the presents under the actual tree. Sebby loved ripping off the paper, and after each gift, he said, "I wanna open one MORE padarok!" (present) He bopped over to the tree, picked one out, checked the label, and brought it over to stack up in the middle of the living room.

This year's gifts featured a number of homemade gems from Misha, including a Mystery Code Castle and a little piano that he made for me, a yurt diorama for Josh, number flashcards for Sebby, and a book of cat pictures for his cat. In addition, we got several adorable puzzles, Lego sets, and new books from from Grandma and Grandpa and Tanya and Aaron. And Grandma Kate's gifts are still on the way, so the fun will continue. Thanks, everyone!

Photo fun:
Misha's gift to his cat.

A diorama for Daddy

The piano Misha made for me

My "Mistry Code Casl" from Misha

Puzzles from Grandma and Grandpa!

A new Rubik's Cube for Daddy

The Indian in the Cupboard from Tanya, which Misha is enjoying so much that he begs me not to stop reading

Moon rover legos from Grandma and Grandpa

Little yurts and wallets

What's inside?

More printed-out Magic cards for Misha

A build-it-yourself robot (that seems ridiculously hard considering the 3+ label)

Beautifully packaged ornaments made by Nara and Tanya

A fun new zoo animal book

Sebby bringing out a present for mom

a coloring book from Misha

new cups and spoons for the bath

play-dough dinosaur moulds

a beautifully-wrapped gift from Misha ...

which turned out to be a horse that opened up to reveal a letter to Sebby.

a photo puzzle starring himself

a new Pooh puzzle from Grandma

Harold and the Purple Crayon, from Aunt Tanya

dump truck!

cute Russian story books

A favorite Russian story about a turtle
The rest of the day was spent, of course, playing with new toys - building the legos, doing the puzzles, reading the books -

Sebby's moon rover
Misha's rover, complete with a moonscape we drew

Fun in the tub
 and completing the treasure hunt we had prepared for Misha. The day before, Josh and I created several secret codes and clues, some easy, some harder, using English, Russian, math, and maps. When we presented Misha with the envelope for the first clue, he was eager to jump right in.

Clue preparation.

Misha checks out his "tools" for the hunt.

Sebby helped with the first clue, which started them on their way to collecting puzzle pieces.

Decoding ...

He had to use a globe to identify countries and collect letters to spell the next clue.

Eventually he had all the puzzle pieces, which revealed

A poem about Aslan and a mission to find a secret wardrobe.

But alas, it was locked. Luckily another clue pointed him toward the key.

Following certain numbers of steps and collecting a clue from a Rubik's cube led him ...

... to the key hanging on the tree.

Time to open the lock

and collect the prizes!
More Magic game cards for Misha

and a scooter for Sebby (with a monster from Tanya riding it).

 Though it took him a good hour and a half, Misha said he "loved" doing the treasure hunt. That and the little notebook that opens with a code were his favorite presents.

That evening, we were invited to Pasha and Marina's to see a real Russian New Year's family celebration. First, the food:

Selyodki pod shuboi, or Herring Under a Coat, a very popular salad made with fish, pototoes, beets, onion, carrots, egg yolks, and mayo. On the upper right, holodyetz (made from boiling meat and bones and served cold with all the juices). Bottom right, garlic deviled eggs.

A delicious leg of lamb, seasoned and baked in the oven.

Chuchok, a traditional Kyrgyz treat of horse sausage.

Another fish salad

Marina and me with our wine

Pasha and Josh with their samogon

We were joined by both Pasha's mother and Marina's mother, and we talked and snacked while the kids played. The four boys - Vladik, Yarik, Misha and Sebby - got to do fireworks Kyrgyzstan style, that is, shoot Roman Candles out the balcony window and do sparklers in the kitchen!

At midnight, we listened to Russian President Putin in Moscow comment on how fast time goes and how much our children have grown and offer his wishes that everyone will be more selfless in the coming year, making our communities and government better. Right about then, the fireworks display out the window was revving up. A small government display could be seen in the distance, but the real show was simply the huge fireworks set off by individual people in the yards between the apartment buildings. The kids were caught up in watching the fireworks out the window, and when they turned around, they discovered that Dyed Moroz had already come and gone, leaving behind pretty packages. Vladik and Yarik swooped upon their presents and had everything opened up in minutes. It was after 1 a.m. before we even got back home!