Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Party time!

There are a few problems with hosting an office holiday party in a place like Moscow. The first is that the office is likely to be huge. We had about 100 people in our house to celebrate with us last weekend - agents and engineers and Marines and all of the rest of them, along with spouses and children.

It was insane. I cooked for days.

The second problem I can think of is that, in a place like Moscow, not everyone is eager to be featured on social media sites. So I didn't take too many pictures of our guests. But I can assure you there were a lot of them. There were people on all three floors of our house, many of whom I'd never even met before.

And the third problem is that you can't just say to yourself, "oh, that looks good, I'll bake some of those!" Because you may find, as I did, that even after trips to the outdoor markets and 5 separate grocery stores, you still can't find things like blue cheese, or puff pastry.

And so I ended up with 200 toasted walnut halves but no filling to stuff them. I made something up, involving cream cheese and honey mustard and other random ingredients fired into the food processor until it tasted good. I bought the wrong kind of pastry (non-puff), so my cheddar tarts and baked brie were out. I still have a wheel of brie in the fridge (purchased at store #4), so maybe that will be breakfast one day soon. I have a bit of a brie addiction, so it doesn't live long in our house.

I made peppermint cookie bark and macadamia sea salt fudge and sugar cookies. Chocolate cinnamon butter cookies, gingerbread snowmen and walnut dream cookies. 7-layer bars and fruit sushi - frushi, if you will. And I was nowhere near finished. Hummus and dips and cheese trays and caramel corn and carpal tunnel in my fingers and so on. 

Plus many of our guests brought treats. I thought the table might collapse under the weight of it all. There was an impromptu cheesecake contest to determine who'd brought the best one. There were gallons of cider and mulled wine at the beginning, all gone within 2 hours. I can't even count how many kilos of vegetables I bought, hauled home and then chopped for the veggie platters.

It was insane. 


Here's the thing. (And don't tell Bart I said this, because I can't admit it it him, or I'll lose some of my long-suffering spouse points.) 

It was also kind of fun.

No pictures of the guests. But here are some before pictures of the food. Doesn't this make you so hungry?

Those stuffed walnuts on the left almost made me cry.

Peppermint cookie bark is the most delicious thing on the face of the planet.

Walnut dreams.

Mini chocolate mousses (mice? meese?)

Caramel corn yum want more now.


The fabulous host and hostess.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Thus the Christmas season begins.

We spent last weekend decorating.


Which already marks this holiday season as different from last year, when Bart joined us from Baghdad via Skype. It was a strange and lonely holiday.

I looked back at last year's pictures this morning and was amazed by how much the kids have changed over the past year. And, of course, by how much our lives have changed. Last year we celebrated in two separate cities in the middle east. This year, one city, quite a bit further north.

But setting up the tree(s) has a way of making it feel like home. I'm not the biggest Christmas fan - that's all Bart in this family - but I'll admit that pulling out the same ornaments, year after year after year, has a comforting way of bringing home into the new house.

After our wedding, we went on a honeymoon to Mammoth Lakes, in California. We were casting about for a souvenir when we wandered into a Christmas store, and we decided right then that we should start an ornament collection to commemorate what we assumed would be loads of Christmases together.

Here's one of those first ornaments:

 And another. That was our first baby, Sammy the dog.
 We've since collected all over the world, in Thailand and Finland and Jerusalem and so many other places. I love looking at those ornaments and remembering all of the places we've been. We bought this one during our first posting in Moscow. It seemed ridiculously expensive and scarily fragile. Somehow we've managed not to break it... yet.
 This one we bought one home leave, many years back, in Lake Placid, New York.
 Beijing, China.
 Cooperstown, New York.

 Last summer in Los Angeles.

Kyra found this one, with her baby handprint, made in Virginia.
 Aidan liked the Vashon Island ferry boat ornament. We caught the last ferry off the island to go to the hospital in Seattle when it was time to deliver baby Aidan.

Every year Shay compares his handprint to the one on the ornament.
 Ainsley was annoyed to discover we have plaster handprint ornaments for the other three but not for her. She did not accept my defense that I bought the three plaster cast sets before she was even born, when I thought our family was already complete.

Even the dog and cat got involved in the decorating this year.
 Okay, well, the cat grew bored pretty quickly, but she still hung around.
At some point over the years, we expanded from ornaments to nativity sets, stockings and Santa Clauses. Because we ran out room for ornaments on the four trees. Yes. Four.

The original Santa mafia, from our first tour in Moscow:

We just bought this guy a few weeks ago.

We have nativity sets from all over the world. Rome:

 I don't know where this one is from, but Bart's mom gave it to him. It's teeny tiny - see the plates behind it to get a sense of how small it is. He had it in Baghdad last year.

 This one is from Bethlehem, and was made by our friend Annie's uncles.

 Another Russia one, bought from the artist himself a few weeks ago.

A gift from Bart last year. We're plowing through the cider and cocoa this season.

One reason this season is better than last: this guy is back with us.

 Oh, we have too many stockings, too. These are Armenian.
 And these are Russian:

Us, in front of one decorated tree.

And perhaps the best pictures of the season so far. Apparently the kids weren't tired of each other after all of the decorating excitement, because they decided to celebrate with a group hug turned dog pile.

And thus begins another holiday season.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Sledding, sort of.

There isn't much snow on the ground here in Moscow, but that didn't stop the youngest three from trying to sled down the hill near our house last weekend.

Still hoping for a white Christmas.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The month (give or take a few weeks) in review

So, if we're FB friends, then you already saw this picture weeks ago. But my sweet husband keeps asking why I don't post a photo of us at the Ball, for posterity's sake.

Truthfully? It's because I wore the same dress and posted practically identical photos two years ago. Don't judge - I have 4 kids to put through college, so I don't exactly have a spare ball gown fund spilling out of my purse.

But here you go:

All together now: awwwww...

Another night in November, we braved below-freezing temps and took the kids to the Puppet Theater to see The Night Before Christmas. It was in Russian, sure, but we figured the story would be familiar, so the kids would be able to follow along. Boy, were we ever wrong. It turns out the Russian version is nothing like the American one - something about a witch who stole the moon? and some guys hidden in sacks? and a man falls in love but the woman doesn't love him back? I don't know. I speak Russian, but it turns out I don't speak Puppet. We left during the intermission. But we did get this great photo in front of the theater, and once we got back home I regained the feeling in my frozen toes, so it was all worthwhile.

Rich people and their cars. This one was ugly enough that we had to stop for a photo. Note to rich people everywhere: Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. Exhibit A:

Thanksgiving: it really did happen. But the next 3 photos are the only proof I have...

Today we took the kids to see the Nutcracker at the Kremlin Palace Theater.  Here you see Ainsley during intermission, peering into the orchestra pit.

We couldn't take pictures during the ballet, but I snapped these ones at the end - which I think we all agreed came about 20 minutes too late. Kyra loved it until then, when she fell sound asleep. Ainsley loved it, too, but inexplicably had a meltdown because I had the audacity to ask her to smile for a photo.

A detail from the inside of the theater, which was originally built back in the 1960s to host Communist Party congressional meetings.

Kyra woke up afterwards and said she loved the show.

The view when we left the theater. I should note that it was only about 4:30 in the afternoon when this photo was taken. The days are getting way too short for my liking.

Back soon with a holiday update!
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