Monday, May 23, 2016

Things I Will Miss

With less than 40 days to go, I am in that space where one is frantic at the thought of how much needs to be done to leave post, and yet - it is still too early to do all that much of it.

I peer in the storage closet and survey the towels (air freight!), the medicines (trash), soap and toothpaste (give to a neighbor), the suitcases (hide so the movers don't pack!).  But none of this can be done yet. I look in my kitchen cupboards and try to think of a recipe that might use the last can of fava beans, the dried garbanzos, the box of long-life tofu.  The piles of paper on my desk clearly need to be sorted: shred or scan?

I make lists: File insurance forms.  Email car salesmen.  Research cell phone plans.  Write final plans for each of my clients.

The list never gets shorter.

The last few weeks pass in a frantic blur of we forgot to and if only we'd....  But also.  Also, one tends to get highly annoyed those last few weeks. Why do we need to apply for exit visas, anyway? Why did they tear down the last remaining vegetable market? The traffic.  Lord help me, the traffic.  I won't miss that at all. I spent 2 hours round trip just driving one of my kids to a party last weekend. That's one way, people.  Fortunately, another parent agreed to manage pick up, because that was already more hours of my life than I cared to give to a Moscow highway traffic jam. And the bureaucracy! Just last weekend, we were informed that the Ministry of Culture plans to charge us almost $700 (plus taxes and duty) just to be allowed to export four clocks that we brought here with us two years ago. That's right: we owned them when we arrived.  Our shipping manifest clearly says so. Three of the four aren't even of Russian origin. And yet.

There are, though,  things I will miss.

My friends M and A will be moving here a few short weeks after we leave (which I guess means I will miss them too, quite literally).  Knowing that they will arrive soon has made me look around with their eyes instead of my own, trying to see what they will see when they arrive. The candy-corn-domes of St. Basil's. The White House lit up at night.  The babushki selling berries by the side of the road. Birch leaves, shiny and green against white bark, with their distinctive papery rustling at the slightest breeze.

I will miss being able to walk out my door and stroll a few short minutes to the metro, or a bus stop, taking me almost anywhere I need to go.  I will miss Dorogomilovo, my local green market, where they know me well enough now to ask if I meant to leave zucchini off my usual list.  I will miss the spice guy there, with his scoops of spices for 25 cents apiece, and the yogurt lady, who sells me homemade yogurt and cheese.

I will miss being able to walk down the Arbat, people watching and drinking coffee.  I will miss my kids' teachers, and their school in general. I will miss the vegetarian restaurant over by Patriarchs Ponds, the one I first walked to a year ago with a new friend, B. I will miss M and her husband W, who are the glue of this community, between the movie nights to which they always invite my kids, and the emergency hairstyling they are always willing to provide for special events. I'll miss H and T  and B and A and so many others. I'll miss my clients, the ones who make my days in the gym more fun. I'll miss being able to pick a scraped-up kid up off the sidewalk, dust her off and say, well, let's limp over to the doctor's office and see what they have to say about this.

For now, though, I miss none of this.  For now I am elbow deep in donating old clothes and hunting for the lids to our lego bins.  I'm trying to get the kids interested in my 15-minute drawer challenge, the one where we (okay, I) pick a drawer, set a timer, and clear that sucker out. I have a lead on a decent cell phone plan in the U.S. I'm chatting with car dealers (okay he's doing that, because yawn), narrowing down our car choices. I'm clearing bookshelves and scanning insurance records. I'm getting the whole family medically cleared to leave post, and fitting in one last dental appointment per person. (Yes. It is just as expensive to get a cavity filled in Moscow as it is in the U.S. Cash upfront and pray the insurance kicks in later.)

None of this is particularly fun.  But it's all part of the life we're leading.  You'd think I'd be a pro at it by now.  But with each successive move it gets harder and harder to pack up and move on. It helps to hang on to the things you will miss, to remember that there is a reason, after all, that we do this to ourselves. This is what makes us who we are. Boxes full of things.  Heads full of memories.

We're almost there.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016


With about 60 days to go here at post, I've been busier than ever, trying to get everything done that needs doing.

Everyday life is busy enough, with sports teams and birthday parties and music lessons and everything else that goes with being a parent. We also hosted some visitors for a few weeks, so we got to spend some time showing them our favorite places in and around Moscow.  Oh, and we made another quick trip to St. Pete, where some of us visited the Summer Palace and some of us visited the emergency room.  So that was fun, if a bit scary.

My last little baby celebrated her first Holy Communion here in Moscow just last week. I don't consider myself to be very religious despite the fact that I'm a regular churchgoer.  That said, I always tear up at events like these. There's just something about a baptism, a first communion, or any other important church moment. I always feel my grandparents hovering there - even the ones I never met - and it ties me to my roots somehow, knowing they are there watching over us. I know: it sounds weird.  But there you have it. I believe it to be true.

And she was gorgeous, in a dress made by her Nana:

The weather in Moscow has finally turned warm. The tulips are starting to push up through the earth, and the trees all sprouted leaves one day last week. I woke up at 430 this morning and it was already light out.  Odd how quickly winter turns to spring, despite the fact that it feels unending when you're in the middle of it.

We have plane tickets out of here, and we theoretically have space booked for the cat and dog as well, although I've never once had their travel work out, so fingers crossed there's a first for everything.  We have pack out dates set, though we have yet to start the purging and organizing that need to happen ahead of the day.  We are researching cars and computers and phone contracts so we can hit the ground running when we land in the States.

I suspect I won't be too sad to leave when the time comes.  I didn't make a lot of friends in the past two years, and the ones I did make are mostly leaving around the same time as we are. So there won't be much for me to miss.  But I know the kids are already having a rough time planning their goodbyes, so it'll be an emotional departure.

Less than 60 days to go before the next adventure gets underway. Time to focus...

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Two more articles

Somehow, in the bustle of ordinary life, I forgot to link to these two recent articles of mine:

The first, from Time Magazine, is about depression.

The second, also in Time, discusses the fact that infants understand more than we give them credit for.

Back soon with a real post.

Friday, March 18, 2016

To Catch a Leprechaun

If you know me at all, you know that I am not a holiday mom.

Holidays are just not my thing. I mean, I like them, sure.  But I'm not a mom who does themed birthday parties, or makes green eggs on Dr. Seuss day, or hides an elf on a shelf, or any of those other over-and-above things.

I have no problem with other moms doing those things. You want a Little Mermaid party, complete with mermaid cake topped with fondant fishies? Go for it. Is your elf layout Pinterest worthy? Great. But I lack the creativity - and the patience - to pull off those kinds of things. I know this about myself, so I don't even try to compete on that level.

In our house, even the tooth fairy is a slacker.  She seldom remembers to come the first night the tooth is under the pillow, and she never left a note in her life until the kids starting writing to her and requesting answers.

Santa does pretty well. He actually has different handwriting from mine, so they can tell it's from him and not us.  And he always shows up on time - unless the pouch mail is stuck in the States.

The Easter bunny does a great job around here.  But that's mostly because my husband is in charge of that, jelly bean trail and all.  If it were up to me, they'd get quite a bit less candy in those baskets - and more of it would be the kind of candy I could steal from them while they were away at school.  Seriously, Peeps? Waxy milk chocolate bunnies? And don't even get me started on Cadbury eggs. Disgusting. What's wrong with a simple box of Fran's dark chocolate caramels?

St. Patrick's Day is what I'd consider a Level Three holiday.  I know it exists, but it doesn't require any effort whatsoever on my part. I don't own a single item of green clothing, and I'd never drink a green beer.  It's just another day to me.

Last year, for the first time ever, my kids seemed aware of the holiday. My daughters were a bit disappointed when they came home from school that day because all of their friends were talking about the green cereal and the green milk that they'd had for breakfast, and the frosted green cakes their moms made for dessert.  Why, they wanted to know, didn't we do anything green for St. Patrick's Day? So I quickly put a drop of green food coloring in the bottom of each of their dinner glasses.  At dinner, when I poured sparkling water into the cups, the water fizzed green.  They were delighted with the magic, and so was I - such an easy trick!

This year, on the evening of the 16th, A started scrounging around for tape and boxes and scissors.

"I'm making a leprechaun trap,"  she explained.

"Hmmmm..." I replied non-commitally.  I don't even know what a leprechaun trap is.  She cut and glued and taped for a few hours while I got dinner organized and cleaned up afterwards.  Then we all went to bed and I gave the trap exactly zero thoughts.

Until the next morning, that is.

On the morning of the 17th, she ran downstairs to check the trap.  I felt a vague sense of unease as she bolted past me on the stairs.  Leprechaun trap?  Was I supposed to participate in some way in this trapping thing?

She reached the dining room, where her complex pile of boxes sat on the table, untouched by leprechaun hands.  The look of disappointment on her face just about killed me. She had apparently genuinely believed that there was going to be a leprechaun in that box when she woke up. And here I'd thought it was a mere art project. She went off to school in a foul, foul mood.

Later that morning at the gym, I told my friend AG about the morning's trauma.

"No problem," she said.  "My mom used to toss gold glitter around and tell me the leprechauns had made the mess.  You just need to find some glitter and she'll be happy."

So I posted a plea on Facebook - where else would one turn to find glitter at the last moment in Moscow? Within minutes, another friend, MP, replied that she was on her way with glitter and foil shamrocks.

Soon enough, she rang the bell (wearing a perfectly festive green coat because of course she had the right outfit, too), holding a bag of glitter, shamrocks and gold chocolate coins. And she explained to me that the trick to the leprechaun trap is that it doesn't actually catch any leprechauns.  Apparently, her daughters build a trap every year, and every year they awake to discover that once again, the leprechaun has managed to escape the trap.

"You have to destroy the trap," she explained, "so they can see that the leprechaun escaped.  Sprinkle the glitter all around. Then they'll try to figure out how to build a better trap next year."

If there's one thing I'm good at, it's destroying arts n' crafts projects.  You should see me try to make a play dough farm animal.  It's ridiculous how much effort I put into it, when the end result always looks like the same sticky blob propped on 4 smaller leg-shaped blobs.

So I destroyed the trap. I punched a hole in the side, pulled the ladder out, stole the coin and buried the whole thing in glitter.  It looked pretty good when I was done.

When A came home that night and saw the trap, she was overjoyed.  A leprechaun! She'd almost caught a leprechaun! Now she could tell Bobby at school that he was wrong when he said there's no such thing.

The only problem? Well, she reallyreally wanted to write the leprechaun a note.  I explained that it was too late - the day was almost over, and there'd be no more leprechauns for a year.

Dear reader, she wrote it anyway.

What to do? I decided that I could safely ignore the letter because the holiday was practically over.  So I left it on the table and went to bed.

March 18th. Holiday over, with only a bit of disappointment about the fact that the leprechaun didn't write back.  I'm starting to write this blog post about leprechaun traps.  I hear K from the study: "mommy, how do you spell leprechaun?"

I tell her, and go back to making dinner.

A half hour passes.  Suddenly - a bloodcurdling scream from the dining room.  It's A.  I have no idea what has happened, and I run to her in a panic.

A is standing in the middle of the room, shaking and waving a paper at me. "Sally!" she screams.  "She wrote to me! SALLY THE LEPRECHAUN WROTE TO ME!!"

I look at the paper, and sure enough, it's a note, typed in green ink, signed by Sally the leprechaun.  And it's addressed to A.  It wasn't there just an hour ago, but it's there now, no mistaking it.

A reads it aloud, and the detail is astounding.  Sally the leprechaun mentions the fishbowl in A's classroom, tells how clever she thought the trap was, and finishes by writing "tell your cool sister I really loved her leprechaun drawing."

A is thrilled.  K is standing next to her, reading over her shoulder, grinning ear to ear.

"Mom," K whispers in my ear later on, "you know it wasn't really a leprechaun who wrote that letter, right?" She smiles proudly.

Yes, K, I know.  But did you know that your little sister already wrote another note to Sally, asking for a photo?  You'd better get busy.

See that hole? I made it myself. Don't tell A, though. She thinks Sally did it.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Beijing Friends in London

There are a lot of different types of people in the Foreign Service.  Well, duh.  There are loads of types out in the world in general.  But there aren't many other places you could choose to work where you get tossed together so closely with these other types.  You don't get to choose who goes to post with you (if only!), and once you arrive, you have to find your tribe of friends from among the "types" that are already there. There are a few types who show up at every post, and your job is to sort out which of them you want to avoid. Your job is to find your tribe amongst the teeming herd of strangers.

Avoid the Complainer.  Sure, everyone complains sometimes.  But the person who never stops complaining is going to bring you down, hard.  Smile broadly when you see her coming, and refuse to engage, on any topic. The Complainer is related to the Last-Poster, the person who constantly tells you how much better life was at their last post. (Confession:  I've got quite a bit of Last-Poster in me.  What can I say? I'm working on it.) Then there's the Food Critic. She takes great pride in the fact that she only eats local food, to include scorpions, sea urchins, rooster feet or whatever revolting thing may be on the menu in your country, and she looks at you in disdain if you decline to partake. And then have you met the spouse who wants to know where your spouse works before she can decide whether you're worthy of her attention?  Best to avoid her, too.

The worst is when you meet someone you really like, but it turns out she's a Short-Timer.  If she's leaving soon, you'll never break into her orbit because she's already focused on the next place and she doesn't have any desire or need to make new friends.

No, you want to find people who arrived around the same time you did, who have kids around the same ages as yours, whose spouses work with - but probably not for - your spouse, and who are genuinely excited to be at post, hardships notwithstanding.  As for the rest of it - religious affiliation? political party? hobbies?  - you'll have to work with what you've got. Some of my oldest and best FS friends are what I would describe as "conservative Christian" - pretty much the opposite of me in terms of world view.  And yet we had so much fun together at post, arguing politics as we explored our new city together. They were smart about their views, as I am about mine, so we could discuss big topics in a way I can't with most people. They ended up becoming the godparents to our second child, and we've stayed in touch ever since.

The staying in touch thing?  That's really really hard.  There are always seasonal friends - the ones you bond with at post but then drift away from afterwards, until you can't even quite remember their names.  But if you're lucky, and you work at it, you'll end up making a few lifelong friends every time you move to a new post.

For me, Beijing was the place where I acquired the biggest pile of lifelong friends.  The stars just lined up there: a solid group of people arrived at the same time as I did.  Our spouses all knew each other, our kids all played together, we started Chinese language classes together, we lived just a few doors down from one another.

Then there was the fact that Beijing was a hard place to live. The language, the pollution, the size of the city, the fact of never being able to blend in, of being constantly watched, and photographed, and criticized.  You try learning to drive in a city of almost 12 million people, with multi-lane highways and road signs you can't read. Chances are you'll bond pretty hard with the person who is brave enough to navigate from the passenger seat. That time J and I made a wrong turn and ended up trapped in a closed-off bike lane, driving the minivan about 2 miles an hour behind an old guy on a three-wheeled bike? Well, it was the first time I'd ever tried to drive in downtown Beijing, and the two of us are still laughing about it all these years later.  I made a lifelong friend that day, along with starting a string of traffic tickets.  J's the person who went with me to pay those tickets when the time came, too.

M was new to post - she and I were still getting to know each other that day when she burst into my house, frantic and barefoot, carrying a critically sick baby in her arms. She brought him in and I talked her down as we tried to summon emergency help, together. We don't really talk much about that day, but it's there, between us.

When I brought my baby home from the hospital, S was the one who showed up to rock her so I could get some rest.  She was the one who lined up her kids as babysitters when I needed a break.  And, because she's forgotten more about fashion than I'll ever know, she was the one who helped me navigate the tailors and the fabric stores and the jewelry makers.

When J lost the baby, sweet baby Lily, the rest of us sat with her and held her hand, looking at the tiny newborn pictures and crying with her. When I lost my hearing - a small thing compared to losing a baby - these women brought casseroles for the family while I was on medevac. Later on, when the deaf thing became a part of who I was rather than a medical emergency, these women helped me find ways to make it funny.

So many things about Beijing made it the hardest place I've ever lived.  But having people to share the hardship with? That made it one of the best places I've ever lived.  People always ask me: would you go back there?  I'd go visit, sure.  But to live? Absolutely not.  I feel fortunate to have escaped with most of my health still intact. Also, there's the fact that it wouldn't be the same without my tribe, and I have no interest in starting over without those ladies by my side.

Last week I flew to London, where I met up with M, J and S - three of my closest Beijing friends.  One lives in London now.  Another is elsewhere in Europe. And the third recently moved back to the States from South America.

It's been a long while since we've seen each other.  The last time I saw J was when we hugged goodbye in her driveway in Shunyi, back in 2010. Yet we picked up right where we left off, with laughter and "remember whens?".

We wandered around London, hitting a few major sites like Kensington Palace, Big Ben and Covent Gardens. But mostly what we did was find a cozy table in a pub somewhere, eating (and eating! and eating!), drinking and reminiscing.  We weren't speaking Chinese, but what we were saying surely sounded like a foreign language to everyone within earshot.  Jenny Lou's.  The Nut Hut.  The Dooz. Remember the restaurant with the tiny little plates?  The guy with the x-rated DVD shop? The dead watch batteries? The dead car battery.  Sunny Gold Uggs. The Elvira hairdo.  The bozo tie at the Marine Ball. The ball pit.  Hungry Horse.  The smell of Pinnacle Plaza on a smoggy morning. The seizure. The ambulance ride. That one weird neighbor. Topless Euros at the kiddie pool.

I haven't laughed so hard, or so inappropriately, in a long, long time.

They bring out the best in me, these friends of mine.  S is the same age as me, but she's more like a wise older sister: calm, steady, always there to listen when you need to talk. You will never hear a critical word about anyone come out of her mouth. Steadfast in her faith but never preachy.  She is someone whose path never would've crossed mine in the States. But I am a better person because of her example.  M is a tough woman: fierce, smart and sometimes raunchily inappropriate. It takes a long time to break through that exterior and get her to admit her weaknesses, but once you're in, you're in.  You'll feel as though you've earned that friendship, because she doesn't pass it out to just anyone. J can make anybody laugh. Even when she's wading through the toughest times possible, she's still smiling. She wears all of her emotions on her (always fashionable) sleeve, and she's not afraid to make a fool of herself. She taught me the art of being silly and not giving a damn whether the rest of the world likes it. And me? I am braver, goofier, smarter and kinder than I used to be because these women made me so.

Thank you, my friends.  I'm so lucky that the stars lined up and brought you all to my Chinese doorstep. Let's not wait so long for the next reunion.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Peredelkino Writers' Colony

Take Kutuzovsky Prospect - a ten-lane, traffic-choked boulevard - about 10 miles out of Moscow, hang a left, and you'll find yourself suddenly and unexpectedly in the middle of a forest, surrounded by dachas (Russian summer cottages).

You're in the Peredelkino writers' colony.

I'm not sure how many writers actually live and work there these days, but back in the last century it was home to several famous writers, and that's why we made the short trek out there last weekend.

Our first stop was the Pasternak dacha, home to Boris Pasternak (known to most Americans as the writer of Doctor Zhivago). If you're a fan of Russian literature, you absolutely must make a stop here.

It was a neat little house. Pasternak lived there in the 1950s -  he died there in 1960 and was buried in a cemetery just down the road. The house was left pretty much just as it looked when he died, right down to the ancient (still working) refrigerator and an old Soviet tube television set. 

He has kind of a sad little history.  He was announced as the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958 - there is a photograph in the dining room showing him as he received the news and was giving a toast - but he was forced by the Soviet government to turn down the prize. He fell in love and began a relationship with Olga Ivinskaya while he was married to Zinaida Pasternak (his second wife).  The guide talked of their great love for one another but that, quite frankly, depressed me a little bit.  I mean, nobody mentioned the wife, who was stuck with him until he died even though he was in love with somebody else.  His lover spent quite a few years in a prison camp because of her relationship with him - the government saw her as a way to get to him.

All quite depressing really.

But the house was beautiful.  Quiet, simple, unadorned.  When we visit the house-museums of Russian writers, I always like to see the desks where the writers worked, just to get a sense of their personalities.  His office was austere, but I liked it.

The view of the dacha from the main road.

... and up close.

The office where Pasternak worked.

Soviet tube television.  Our guide said she'd had one of these as a girl.  Apparently you fill up the glass front with water to make the image on the screen appear bigger.

Pasternak's death mask.

Smiling.  They survived the tour, with all of the talk of Soviet repression, and prison camps, and awards turned down, and cancer, and death.

Next stop:  the dacha of children's writer Kornei Chukovsky, just down the road. Now this place was seriously cool.

All Russians know Kornei Chukovsky from childhood.  I guess he's sort of their version of Dr. Seuss.  There were bunches of kids at his dacha, taking tours and running around on the grounds.  The vibe was totally different from Pasternak's place.  It wasn't pristine and quiet.  It was a bit chaotic, eclectic, books everywhere, children's toys, fun decorations. 

That's the shoe tree behind the kids, in front of the dacha. The idea of the shoe tree comes from one of Chukovsky's famous stories. As I recall, it's a tree upon which grow shoes, not fruit.

Shoe tree up close.

Running in the yard behind the house.

A lamp in his office, painted with images from his stories.

Chukovsky's work space.

"What's that?" A wanted to know.  "A telephone? But? How does it work?"

From there we went to the nearby church complex housing the Patriarch's dacha for some tea and a quick look around.

And finally, we stopped at the cemetery next to the church, where both Pasternak and Chukovsky are buried. It was quiet - we were the only visitors, perhaps because everyone else knew the paths were covered in slick sheets of ice. Really treacherous in places.

Pasternak's simple tombstone, which is said to change in appearance as the light changes during the day.  His wife is buried to the right. No idea where his mistress ended up.
...up close.

Tombstones for Chukovsky and his wife.  One of their daughters, Lydia, herself a famous writer, is buried right next to them.

Monday, February 22, 2016

St. Petersburg weekend

The kids had a week off of school. (Again! They are forever getting holidays over here...) All of their friends were planning to spend the week touring exotic places like Thailand, Prague and Morocco.  We are in save-for-the-states mode, so we're not going anywhere that fancy any time soon.  We decided that a quick trip to St. Petersburg would be more in the financial realm of possibility, and so, two days ahead of the holiday, we swung into action and bought train tickets.

The Sapsan train is great.  It's a high-speed train, hitting speeds over 200 km/hr, so it only takes 4 hours to get to St. Pete from here. It's clean, it's comfy, it's easy - so much better than the overnight trains we used to take all those years ago - and it costs a bit over $100 per person.

B has some friends in St. Pete, and when we told them where we were planning to stay, one of them said, "No, no. let me make the reservations for you. I know a place." And that is how we ended up forking over about $450 dollars for one night in a two-bedroom suite at the Astoria, a 5-star hotel directly across the street from St. Isaac's Cathedral.

Okay, so $450 isn't cheap.  But we would have needed 2 separate rooms at the other hotel, which was perfectly serviceable, if a bit less conveniently located. So we were already planning on spending around $250 over there, plus cab fare to get around town.  We decided to splurge, because when will get a chance to do this again? And it was just one night after all.

Well, perhaps because it's slow season for tourists over here and the hotel wasn't full, or perhaps because B's friend is more well-connected that we know, we showed up at the hotel to discover that we'd been upgraded.  Same price, but they put us in the presidential suite.

You guys.  I've been in exactly one hotel room ever that was fancier than this (the Mandarin Oriental in San Francisco, if you must know, for a business trip, when I was also upgraded to some crazy fancy suite because of how much money my company was spending to be there one week long ago).  The room was beautiful. Correction: the rooms were beautiful. An entry hall, a dining area, a sitting room, and two bedrooms, each with an amazing view of the city below.

K feeling posh as she admires the fruit platter and chocolates in one (yes, one) of the living areas between the bedrooms.

The view from my bedroom in our suite. St. Isaac's, the fourth largest cathedral in the world and the largest orthodox cathedral anywhere.

More to the point, the hotel staff were awesome.  Seriously awesome.  When they did the turndown service in the evening, they left milk and cookies for each of the kids, plus little stuffed dogs on all of their pillows.  They were so kind to the girls, bringing them chocolates and chatting with them as we waited for our ride back to the train station the second day.

Totally worth the splurge.  Except I wish we'd stayed long enough to try out their spa.  It was definitely different from the living accommodations in my old dorm, just a few minute's walk down the road.

So anyway.  Stay in the Astoria if you get a chance. You will love it.  On to our trip, though.

We left our bags and ventured out. ("Why can't we just stay in the hotel, mom? Pleeeease??")

We walked and walked and walked some more, down the canals, past my old dormitory and on into Starbucks, because it was seriously cold and I needed tea! Then on to the Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood, and then still further, to a vegetarian restaurant that we discovered the last time we went to St. Pete.  There was a serious lot of walking involved.

Kids at the beginning of our walk, in front of St. Isaac's.  Still smiling.

A, in front of Kazanskii Sobor, trying to recover from the massive meltdown she had when I wouldn't buy her a gold coin in Starbucks. Seriously, kid. Isn't cocoa enough?

Made it to the Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood. K isn't in the picture because by now she was angry about some random thing. Isn't traveling with kids fun?

Us. Happy.

After an early dinner, we walked back along the canals to the Faberge Museum. We didn't get tickets in advance because somebody didn't get her act together to buy them before they sold out.  I'm not going to say whose fault that was, but let me say in her defense that she had an appointment to get her hair cut for the first time in months and she figured she could buy the tickets when she got back from the appointment but apparently the museum is super popular so it sold out by mid-morning but her hair looks great so it all worked out in the end.

(Unless you count the fact that we had to stand in line for an hour to buy tickets to get in. Bygones.)

The museum is not big - it takes longer to buy tickets than it does to walk through it.  But it is so worth a visit.  They have a collection of jeweled Faberge eggs, which were made for Tsars Alexander and Nicholas before the Russian Revolution. The museum also houses dishes, silver and other interesting items. And the building itself, the Shuvalov Palace, is amazing - a pre-revolutionary mansion that was beautifully preserved. 

The next day, we walked to the (mercifully much closer) Central Naval Museum.  We'd never been before, but it was recommended to us by some colleagues at the Consulate.  And it was great. We spent the whole morning there and could have stayed longer.  All of the kids were riveted.  The museum houses Peter the Great's own boat - the first boat of the Russian Navy.  It continues on through the centuries, exhibiting weaponry and uniforms from Peter the Great's time up through modern times. It was a huge space, with multiple galleries.  If you ever get a chance to go, do it. But note that there is no signage is English.  If you don't speak Russian, you'll be guessing at what you're looking at.  It's tricky even if you do speak Russian - some of technical language in the displays was a bit beyond my reach.

Peter the Great's boat.

There were huge figureheads from ancient boats displayed along the walls of the main hall. Creepy and cool.

That's it. We ran out of time and trotted back to our hotel to pick up our luggage and catch a cab to the train station. While we waited for the cab, the hotel staff served us mint tea and fancy little cookies on china from the Imperial Porcelain Factory.

Four-plus hours later, we were back to reality here in Moscow. No more fancy china.  No more homemade chocolates.  Just grilled cheese, veggies and a pile of laundry before bedtime.

Please. Write your own stuff.