Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Old Friends

An old friend and colleague came through town not long ago. I hadn’t seen him in about a decade. Back when we first joined the Foreign Service, he was already a capital-S Somebody in the State Department. But for some unknown reason, he and his sparkly, fiery wife took a liking to us, and they took us under their wing at our very first overseas post. In many ways large and small, their mentorship and friendship changed the course of our FS lives.

I’ve blogged about him and his wife before - perhaps I'll link to that story later. The two of them represent the best the Foreign Service has to offer – everybody I know who has worked with them, or for them, or near them, was changed for the better by the experience. It was so nice to get to catch up again, if only for a bit. And it was a good reminder for me that sometimes, this crazy life of ours affords us the opportunity to learn from the most interesting people in the oddest places.

Monday, April 13, 2015


So today I took my parents to Novodevichy. I've blogged about this place before: it's one of my favorite sites in all of Moscow - and conveniently located down the street from Mama Zoya's, an awesome Georgian restaurant.

We took Ainsley and Aidan - the other two stayed home. We met up with some friends to tour the cemetery and then parted ways for lunch (though Aidan went with them - I guess they were more fun than us!)

Outside the cemetery gate.

Boris Yeltsin's grave site.

I guess if you have to be dead, this isn't such a bad place to be dead in.

Monastery guard tower, with church in the background.

Grave marker, but I don't know for whom.

Monument to victims of a plane crash.

Raisa Gorbacheva's grave site.

Inside the monastery.

Church wall detail.

Nana and Bampa.

Love this cute little church.

Outside the building where the Regent Sophia was imprisoned by Peter the Great.

The stove in Sophia's prison.
And that's it. No idea yet what's planned for tomorrow.

Sunday, April 12, 2015


Another gorgeous spring day in Moscow today, so we spent the entire day outside, touring the Zamoskvorechye district of Moscow with my parents.

Located south of the Kremlin (St. Basil's is visible in the distance) and tucked into a bend south of the river, Zamoskvorechye is known for its old churches and wooden architecture. It's also known as the place where the Tretyakov Gallery is located, though we didn't have time for that today.

We had a great tour guide with us, which made it really interesting. There are so many stories behind the buildings: famous authors lived in the district at various times during its long history, along with wealthy socialites, royalty, merchants and streltsy troops. And so many churches still standing: the Kadashi Church, the Church of the Beheading of John the Baptist, multiple churches of St. Nicholas, the Church of St. George... on and on, each more impressive than the last.

It was hard to choose pictures for this post.

We started at the Novokuznetskaya metro station. Like many of Moscow's metro stations, this one is crazy ornate. The mosaics and carvings on the walls and ceiling were designed in honor of the Red Army soldiers of WWII.

Then on to the neighborhood, with its quiet lanes and onion-domed churches.

Church of Saints Mikhail and Fyodor

Church of the Beheading of John the Baptist.

Random tiny church inside the courtyard of another church.

My parents!

A brief break to feed the pigeons outside the Tretyakov.

Martha and Mary Convent, founded by the Grand Duchess Elizabeth after her husband was assassinated in 1905. She herself was later killed by the communists (tossed down a mine shaft, poor thing). She was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church and is now considered a "local saint."

Here's something I didn't know. On Easter Day - and today is Easter according to the Orthodox calendar - many of the churches allow regular folk to climb the bell towers and ring the bells. So each of the kids took a turn high up in the tower of the Martha and Mary Convent, playing music that could be heard throughout the district. It was my favorite part of the day, watching them do that. Of course, I love the sound of church bells in general (even last night at midnight, when the church next door to our house played joyful and LOUD Easter bells for a good 30 minutes while I was trying to sleep...).

Kyra trying out the foot pedals that control the biggest bells.

Church of St. Nicholas of Pyzhi

An old wooden house, still standing in a courtyard just off the main street. A famous playwright lived there, back in the day.

Vendor selling Easter gifts outside St. Clements Church.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Signs of Spring

Last week it was still wintry. In fact, just two days ago, the wind was so cold that it turned rain into snow midair as I drove to the airport to pick up my parents.

But today it is 57 degrees.

It is 6pm as I type this, and the sun is still high in the sky, blasting me in the eyes. The windows are wide open. (Though admittedly I'm wearing a sweater. I'm not an idiot!)

I looked out my back door, and this is was I saw, sprouting next to our teeny little patio:

Isn't that the most amazing flower you've ever seen? And I had no idea it was there, waiting to sprout up, during that dark cold winter of ours. Right outside my door, it waited for me. The metaphor is just pathetically obvious.

I am so ready for sunshine, for spring.

I took my parents down to the Arbat yesterday, to look around at the old buildings and try out some Russian food. Today the whole family went to Patriarch's Pond and then out to lunch. Big adventures are coming up over the next few weeks!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Easter Day in Photos

Wow. That was exhausting.

The Easter bunny didn't get everything set up until about midnight.  But the youngest two woke up bright and early, ready to start their morning.

In Amman, we could lock the door to the living room, and the bunny conveniently hid the baskets on the other side of that door, so tired parents could sleep in.  Not so here.

The jelly bean trail was a huge hit - most especially with the cat. I suspect we'll be finding jelly beans under couches and cabinets well into 2016.

The jelly beans in general were a huge hit. (Note you can still see the remnants of Ainsley's face paint from the day before. It's not worth the argument to get her to wash the stuff off before bed.)

The baskets were hidden well. It took awhile for the kids to find them in the dumbwaiter. (Yes, we have a dumbwaiter. No, we don't let the kids ride in it, much to their chagrin.  It was put in the house to move between the family kitchen in the basement and the main dining area upstairs. I thought it seemed a bit silly at first, but have you ever tried to carry a roasting pan full of turkey up a curved staircase with a dog and a cat underfoot? I love that dumbwaiter.)

The boys have had the same baskets since they were babies - a gift from Nana and Pop. I guess they are too old for them now, but I don't care. I love those baskets. And so the boys will have them until they go off to college.

I'm smiling, thanks to the miracle of coffee.

Kyra has been learning to knit. It turns out she had the perfect-sized blankie for the bunny she found in her basket.

Kyra is also my little religious one. As soon as baskets were found and breakfast consumed, she called the man who coordinates the altar servers and asked if she could be one. He said yes, so she changed and rushed out the door to church. She did a pretty good job, too.

"We're a good team," said Bart after dinner was over. He takes care of candles, linens and other fancy decor, while I take care of the meal. So the table looked lovely, and the homemade gnocchi disappeared in minutes.

All in all, it was a lovely Easter day.
Please. Write your own stuff.