Friday, December 31, 2010

These are a few of my favorite things...

Well, really just one of my favorite things. Everytime we come to Kimberley we go to a German restaurant in the Platzl (what a great word.) This is Portobello Mushroom and Red Pepper Spaetzl (another great word.) I don't pick favorites very often but I love this stuff!!!

Christmas Concerts

We attended the traditional school Christmas concerts this year for all three girls. Unfortunately they were all separate concerts for a total of about 5 hours of listening pleasure. Marcy's came first. Below is the entire 8 year olds class (equivalent of grade 3):

And here is Marcy. (Ask me sometime about that boy Muhammed standing behind her.)

Emily's concert followed closely after (both held in the school music room.) Here is the entire 10 year old class (equivalent of grade 5):

Emily sang with her class and also sang Rudolph in Spanish with her Spanish class, thus the reindeer ears below. She and her friend Kaitlyn were the only ones to don the antlers!
Emily also played the recorder with two students from another class. This was supposed to be a solo since she was the only one to volunteer but these older students decided to play as well at the last minute. I think Emily was disappointed and she made sure we knew that the other two messed up on part of the song.
Olivia's concert was on a Sat evening off campus and lasted 2+ hours. Olivia was not very excited about attending but I think she had fun because we couldn't get her to leave a bit early to beat the traffic out of the parking lot. It was a mini holiday variety show but Olivia just performed with her 13 year olds class and Spanish class.

Working at the school I know how many teachers had to pitch in to put the concerts together. There are only 2 music teachers for the whole school. The language teachers all put together their own acts and classroom teachers gave up lots of time for practice schedules. I wonder if they do a Spring concert also??


While Madeline was visiting in Almaty over Thanksgiving we drove up to Chimbuluk for the afternoon. Chimuluk is the local ski resort and is currently under intense construction trying to get ready for the Asian Games being hosted in January. We stopped to check out the Medeo skating rink - largest outdoor skating rink in the world apparently. Former Soviet athletes used to come here to train. You can see the rink below us in the photo (that's turned the wrong way) below:
We were there on a Friday afternoon and as you can see there were not alot of people on the ice. You can also see how big it is considering that at the near end there is a full hockey rink.
Chevron has a cabin up at Chimbuluk and that weekend was our turn to use the cabin. We stayed overnight without much to do since the ski resort is not open yet. Next day we took the girls skating at Medeo. What a difference a day makes! It was sooo crowded.

Emily and Marcy still had a good time skating. It seems to be the new thing we do. Skate where we can. Marcy did say she was a bit scared by all the people on the ice who did not know how to skate. Olivia, Frank and I planned to skate but there were lines to pay, lines to get skates, lines to return skates, and lines to collect your skate deposit. We gave up. Olivia will get her own skates for Christmas so we don't run into this problem anymore. It seems we skate enough these days.

Madeline and I stopped for a closer look at Medeo when we were there. We spied the sign below inside the gates. We are open to any explantion anyone can give about what this sign might mean. I can only guess that it's a really bad English translation.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Enbek FC

After much searching around we found Emily a soccer team to play with. She is now the only girl member of Enbek FC (and the only girl member of the league that we can tell so far.) The team is a local club and she's playing with 10-11 year olds. Enbek is the Kazakh word for "work", not sure how that applies as a team name. She is hanging tough with the boys - about middle of the pack skill-wise but does really well in game play. She'll definitely improve playing with them. And this is no wimpy league. They practice indoors right now but the -15C (5F) temperatures this morning did not keep the off the fields for a game. Here are couple pics from the game before my camera froze (just kidding - ran out of batteries!)

Emily's only problem right now is the fact that the coaches speak Russian only. Luckily 2-3 boys speak English and Russian and one in particular (a Korean who speaks English as his THIRD language) makes sure that Emily knows what is going on. And Emily is picking up quite a bit of Russian on her own.

Welcome to the family

We are proud to annouce the addition of "Chinook" to the family. He's a 4-month old, 30 lb., mostly chocolate (let's call him dark chocolate) lab. All you Calgarians will recognize his name but you might also be interested to know that the word "sheenok" in Russian means "puppy". A perfect fit!
We got him at the puppy market in Almaty today. We went with the intention of looking for one to adopt after the holidays. Something we could put "on hold" and pick up when we get back. We found this guy (among MANY cute labs out there - tough decision) and the breeder offered to let us take him for this week and then they would keep him again for the two weeks we'll be gone over Christmas. Everyone was very excited about this prospect. Except maybe poor Snuggles who is a bit overwhelmed and does not know how to put a puppy in his place so instead endures the jumping and biting and licking. Here's the happy crew:

After a long afternoon of romping around outside and inside and running up and down the stairs and playing with toys and going for a walk and being led from room to room, Chinook finally passed out. (Too early for my liking - I have no doubt he'll be up in the middle of the night.)
No one was happier than Snuggles that he was finally calm. Snuggles missed his afternoon napping time and was happy for some peace and quiet for a little while.

Chinook had only one accident in the house today but the girls took him out about every 15 minutes so he wasn't given much chance to mess up. He already knows the sit command but only if you say it in Russian and give his rear a little nudge. We'll have to work on his English language skills! Much work to do after Christmas.
PS Kazakhstan seems to have lifted it's Blogger ban - at least temporarily. Maybe someone hacked in and made it available. Hoping it stays this way!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Moscow Kremlin

Frank had to be in Moscow for business Wed through Fri so we thought we'd take advantage of the travel opportunity and spend the weekend here. While it's quite cold we are very glad we came. It's an amazing city and I wish we had more time. My worry now is that we will say "been there, done that" and go somewhere else instead of coming back someday (when it's warmer!)

We started our tour of the city at the Kremlin. They have an amazing museum inside and the guide did a great job of explaining Russian history while showing us the highlights. The Kremlin is a walled city or citadel built and rebuilt several times over but the wall surrounding it and the 20 towers are original (if I remember everything correctly.) Here are some photos of the various towers, all different and individually named:

Inside the Kremlin is Cathedral Square because it is ringed by churches. There are 3 specific churches of importance. One was the "daily" church for the csars and emporers which connected to the Kremlin buildings. Csars, emporers, etc were baptised there. The second is where they held coronation ceremonies (pictured below) and the third, where all were buried up until Peter the Great who was buried in St. Petersburg. (They are quite bitter in Moscow about that whole St. Petersburg thing!)

This is the largest bell in the world and was meant to be placed in the bell tower of another church in Cathedral square. It is 200 tons! But, while it was cooling in it's cast (or whatever you do when you are making a bell) there was a big fire which went so far as to burn the wooden scaffolding around the bell. The dramatic change in temperature caused it to crack an a 7 ton piece broke off. So it's never been wrung with it's 1 ton clapper and now it's just a really big bell.

Here are Frank and fellow Chevron-ite Jason in front the portion of the Kremlin still in use by the Russian government today. There was surprisingly little security. The guide said it's because everyone knows if you get to close that they'll just take you around a corner and shoot you. I'm not sure how much she was kidding.

Really hope we make it back to Moscow someday. It's definitely somewhere I'd like to spend more time, see more of, and read up on in more detail.

Red Square

Part of today's tour was the infamous Red Square. At the entrance there is a spot called the first kilometer. It is from this spot that all distances in Moscow are measured and it is lucky to toss a coin from this spot and make a wish. Emily and Marcy took the chance to make a wish. The older ladies and men behind them make their living scrambling for the coins as soon as they hit the ground.

This is the "ceremonial" entrance to the Kremlin from Red Square. This is the most accurate clock in all of Russia we were told. Now how do you know that and how exactly can you tell when there is no second hand? Anyway, it's always been important and even today the ringing of the clock bells is broadcast on Russian radio at 6am and 12am everyday (a very big deal at 12am on New Year's Eve!)

There is a big skating rink in the middle of Red Square. The tour guide says this is one of things that amazes her most about the changes in Russia. She says 15 years ago a skating rink there could not have been imagined. Frank took Emily and Marcy skating. Too cold for Olivia (who stayed at the hotel) and me (I found a grocery store inside the adjacent mall!)

The lit up building in this photo is a modern mall built in the early 1900s. Because Red Square was used as an open air market they thought it appropriate to build an indoor market as well. It's very high end with all the expensive international names.

Oops, these photos got uploaded out of order. Here are Marcy and Emily at the skating rink with St. Basil's and the Kremlin entrance in the background.

Last is the Balshoy (sp?) theatre - famous for ballet and opera. It's not exactly in Red Square but close by and we passed walking back to the hotel. Thought we should have a photo. It's been under renovation for about 4 years and is almost ready to fully reopen. Apparently only one section of the complex has been in use.

Wow! St. Basil's

I just have to say that this is the coolest church I have ever seen! So, I think I'll just post the photos because they speak for themselves.

God Bless America

Considering where we are it's amazing to see so many American restaurants, hotels, and stores. Today the tour guide was explaining how Stalin had seven "towers" built in the city to create a more interesting skyline. Two were built as hotels - the Ukraine Hotel and the Lenin-something Hotel. They are still hotels but are now a Radisson and a Hilton. There is also an amusement park at Gorky Park. One of the rides is a US Space Shuttle. It's just not what I expected.

While we were here the girls and Frank decided to have McDonald's for dinner. (I generally pass on McDonald's except for stealing french fries.) It was the craziest McDonald's I have ever been in. It was packed with long lines for food and people standing around with trays waiting for a place to sit down. Once again, unbelieveable. The Russians have certainly embraced American fast food. Couldn't resist a photo of the Russian McDonald's:
Had to get a photo of Olivia eating McDonald's. Last year she saw the movie Super Size Me and refused to eat fast food again. She has held to it pretty well unless given no other options. But, having been fast food deprived, without a single US outlet available in Almaty, she has been craving Wendy's. She settled for McDonald's and enjoyed every bite:

Moscow Zoo

Frank had to work on Fri while we were in Moscow for the weekend so the girls and I had to come up with something to do on our own. We decided, despite the cold, to go to the zoo. I figured that a zoo in that climate must have plenty of indoor venues. We were pretty resilient at the start despite the 14F temperature. Here are the girls at the start of our visit with the Japanese Macaques. These monkeys don't mind the weather and we were okay at this point:

Later we saw some polar bears who also don't mind the weather but you can see that the girls are a bit more frozen at this point. We didn't even really stop to watch the polar bears who were playing and jumping around. We were in pursuit of the next indoor spot!

Here are the indoor photos. Much more enjoyable! We spent alot of time watching the elephants, especially the baby. We stuck around long enough to see them get fed. One elephant was very greedy and swept big pile of food to his own spot with his trunk. The baby elephant spent alot of time eating the middle of a loaf of bread and leaving the crust behind, just like kids would do.

We spent the longest time inside with the orangutans, especially this little guy who sat by the glass the entire time with a big one we decided was the grandma. He especially liked Marcy's gloves - if she put them up to the glass he would try to bite at them. I could have watched him for a long time. In this photo he was blowing his lips against the glass, again, just like a kid.

One more stop inside was the Africa area. They had meerkats and zebras and giraffes and ostriches and antelope and warthogs. Despite the smell we preferred to be inside. Olivia says her coat still smells like the zoo!

We went back to the hotel for a swim in the much overheated fitness area of the hotel. It was a great way to warm up!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Since I cooked Thanksgiving dinner back in September when I brought in contraband turkey, we decided to take the easy way out and attend the AmCham dinner at the InterCon hotel. The girls got dressed up and Madeline was in town for the week so it was a very nice way to spend the evening. With some Kazakh twists.
We joined some Chevron friends who have daughters Emily and Marcy's ages - built in friends.

Marcy and Jordan both said it was the best Thanksgiving ever. They didn't eat much but enjoyed the slides and running around drinking free flowing soda and ice cream.

The food was pretty good. The turkey was turkey and the mashed potatoes were really good (but they obviously did not plan well and when they ran out they had to serve rice as a substitute.) The stuffing was interesting but actually very good - it had hard boiled egg in it chopped very small. And the gravy was orange???? (maybe tomato-based????) Dessert was typical buffett table dessert selection but Madeline brought pumpkin pie ingredients with her so I made two pies that we all ate very quickly.

They provided entertainment for the children (and food - hot dogs - our kids ate turkey, etc.) which included a huge bounce house that was quickly overwhelmed and eventually vomited on. They also had some characters to supervise party games. Being that it was an American party they had (I guess) what they figure was an American theme. Minnie and Mickey and Snow White and some Santa looking elf guy. Apparently, Shrek had been at the party early on but I heard he got in the bounce house where some older boys violently tackled him and he left.

As I said, a nice evening but definitely not your typical Thanksgiving dinner. I think it was a bit too chaotic for me. Maybe next year we will get some roast chicken and have pseudo-Thanksgiving at home.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Girl Scout hike

We finally got to take our Girl Scout hike up in the mountains 2 weeks ago. It was a really nice day 30 minutes down the mountain in Almaty and much more snowy than we expected higher up. But worse than the snow was the mud since our hike took us across the sunny side. It wasn't as cold as you'd expect so other than the mud it was a very nice little trek.

This is the after shot. Most everyone is still smiling. If we had all the parents who hiked in the picture there would be less smiles. The adults were definitely less tolerant of the mud and mess than the girls.
It actually was not an easy hike. Our guide decided to leave the trail and do a little "bushwhacking" for fun. I think this is when she lost the adults enthusiasm.

At the top of the hike there was a nice flat spot used as a helicopter pad. Lots of snow and a good place to stop for a drink and snack before heading back down.

I think we'll hike again in the spring. It was a hit with all the girls. Not sure we'll get so many parent volunteers next time!!