Wednesday, December 8, 2010


It finally feels like winter around here.  After weeks and weeks of fantastic fall weather, we were lucky enough to have a taste of winter last Friday evening.  Although it tried to snow all day on Friday, it was more of a snow drizzle (snizzle?) all day, amounting to not much more than a touch of white on only the coolest surfaces.  About the time we arrived home (5:15ish?), it began to really snow.

Katie and I went for a walk, which was beautiful.

As it does anywhere, a fresh layer of snow transformed the city into an entirely new place.  Sounds are different, the light is different, traffic changes pace; it's all new again, for the first time.  There's something invigorating to me about snowfall.  It's not unlike the first rain of autumn, or the first day you see your breath, or the first time you pass through the tunnel and find yourself at Tunnel View.

On Saturday, it was clear and cold.  We walked to school just to enjoy the snow.  It was a beautiful day.

Now, about the air pollution...  it's worse when it's cold and calm.  A serious inversion took up residence for a few days.  Thankfully, it has improved recently, but we worry it will be quite common through the winter.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


A dear friend recently told me, "Time for  a new blog."  And she was absolutely right.  So, first off - Thanksgiving.

It was a bit bizarre to work on that Thursday, to have no plans to be with family, and not to get our usual double Turkey feast :).  I felt a bit better about life when I realized that even though we didn't get the day off, I could still do Thanksgiving activities with my kids.  Here's a brief story about one of them.  I found a cute project online - making pilgrims using plastic spoons as bodies.  I knew, or thought I knew, that we could get the spoons at the "Super Market" nearby.  So, Wednesday night Peter and I go there, and encounter 0 spoons.  Peter offers to walk to Beta store - a larger store that is further away.  We part ways so I can go do shopping for dinner at the bizarre.  He calls me from Beta and says, "They only have 8 blue spoons and a bunch of forks."  We decide forks might work and my kids could glue on faces.  Let me tell you about the forks - their twines were dirty, they had been rewrapped, they were extremely cheap...hmmm... a new recycling method anyone?  I would like to see Raley's or SPD or Save-Mart selling obviously used plastic silverware :)

Back to Thanksgiving...
That Saturday truly felt like Thanksgiving. The "foreign hires" at school all pitched in to put on a real feast for the whole staff.  The hustle and bustle of getting everything prepared was so much fun.  Peter and I (with help) peeled, sliced, cooked and mashed 25 pounds of potatoes.  Oh, and we made some delicious apple cider.  There were three oven-baked turkeys (delicious), one deep fried turkey, and ham and pineapple.  Green bean casseroles, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes,  an oriental salad, rolls and I'm sure a few things I've forgotten filled the table.  Here are some pictures of the preparation.  We used the school kitchen and then loaded everything up and took it to our director's home.

These two lovely people are Linda and Earl.  Linda teaches 5th grade at the school.  She and her husband got to school at 6:30 in the morning to cook the turkeys, make green bean casseroles and so much more!  There wouldn't have been a feast without them.
 Peter here is doing a ninja job at grilling up some garlic for our mashed potatoes.
Alan, from Great Britain, made custard.
I'm Peter's encourager!  Good job on the garlic!  Keep it up!
Whew, that was a lot of potatoes!

Now some pictures of the feast and the party.  It was super fun to see locals trying and enjoying our traditional Thanksgiving food.

The deep fried turkey in progress!
Our good friend Wes.

Our crazy, fun friends!
Kids played stick the beak and eyes on the turkey.
I forgot to grab my bottle of wine!
Goof balls, all three!
The toy guns rather clashed with the Thanksgiving decor :)
Caught in the act!
Our friends, Victor and Natasha and son Daniel.
All in all, it was a fantastic day! 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The darker (and lighter) side of . . . Pomegranates.

So, I know that the color of fruit varies from variety to variety for a number of reasons; due to different growing climates or as a result of different minerals in the soil, what have you.  I've been noticing (and enjoying) the pomegranates around here for the last month or so, and have been pleasantly surprised to find that the lighter colored 'nates have a robust and sweet flavor.  Mind you, the darker 'nates have more flavor, but tend to have a bit of a tart side that the lighter ones don't.  When I say lighter and darker, I usually mean that the light ones are a dark pink, while the dark ones are a deep ruby color.  Here's an example of the deep ruby color:

Anywho... I went to the market today to pick up a few items for the week ahead and I saw some good looking pomegranates, so I picked one up.  It looked and felt good.  Upon my return home and after ripping into it to prep it for eating, I was absolutely astonished!

Now, I love pomegranates.  Many of you know that.  They are a great source of antioxidants, etc. etc. etc.  Bottom line, they're delicious, though somewhat difficult pieces of fruit to eat.  In addition to being somewhat cantankerous to enjoy from an ease-of-use standpoint, they are notorious for their propensity to leave stains on anything that their juice contacts.  (If you're currently situated in 440A Lower Grass Valley Road, a quick look at the "kitchen" floor will attest to this.)  This can be exasperated by the fact that preparing pomegranates for human consumption usually requires at least a little bit of tugging or ripping, which often leads to a rupturing of the fruit's delicious flavor-capsules.  In short, pomegranates can stain easily...


Unless there is no pigment in the pomegranate!  Upon pulling this 'nate apart, I was amazed to find that it had almost no color whatsoever.  I was so excited by this, that I went back to the market to get a "regular" pomegranate for comparison.

So that you know, the white pomegranate was pink on the outside, and it has good flavor.  Much sweeter than the (very) tart red one in this picture, but not as flavorful.

Signing off,
~The Fruit Lover

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Things that have become normal for us...

Running the hot water for 7-10 minutes in order to convince it to make its way up the pipes from the bottom of the building.  If it takes less time, one of our neighbors has already run the water.

Stopping in at the fresh Turkish bread shop after school to get a "baton" (loaf) if we need it for dinner.

A dessert of nutella and baton.

The smell of cigarette smoke.

Hitting up the "Supermarket", the bizarre (lots of fruits and veggies), and then maybe the bread shop on our weekly shopping trips.

Walking to get our groceries, walking to church, walking just to walk.

Looking like a fool when attempting to speak or understand Russian.

Going up and down our 7 flights of stairs.

Being stared at while running, particularly if we happen to run in the evenings.

Lighting the stove with a match.

Waiting for the next not-so-busy bus.  Avoiding the marshukas.

Wedding processions that sound and look like a stream of cop cars - lights, sirens, everything except validity.

Eating eggplant.

Cars creeping into, or through, the intersection before the light turns green.


Gunshot sounds outside our windows.  Thank you boys with firecrackers.

Taking off our shoes when entering our home, and anyone else's.

Finding our bills hanging out of our decrepit mailbox at the base of the building or in the door jam of the front door.

Not knowing exactly what the bills are for.

Getting a portion of our paycheck in crisp hundred dollar bills every month.  Okay, this still doesn't feel normal.

Searching for Mozzarella cheese - it can be found.   Not thinking about cheddar cheese.

Changing money at one of the many "oben ballyuts" across the street.

The fancy footwork that is sometimes required to maintain one's balance on the autobus.  There is a certain sway, a certain rhythm our bodies have quickly learned.

The friendly faces of people selling their wares on the street.

Not understanding what people are saying around us, and not expecting too.

Speaking as though no one around us can understand.  This might be a bad habit to keep.

Spending less than .25 cents each per day for transportation to and from school.

Getting in a car and not reaching for a seat belt.  Being pleasantly surprised if there is one. 

Asking our school secretary/administrative assistant for help when we have an apartment concern, or when we just need help figuring out where and how to take a vacation.

Having the rest of "our" world be a day behind.  At least we always know what's coming.

Spending more on a weekly coffee than we would if we ate 8 samcis.

Having time in the evenings to blog, read, study Russian, plan, scheme, and dream.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Petroglyphs and Cholpon-Ata

Issyk-Kul, day two.

We had received a tip from none other than Victor to take a taxi into Cholpon-Ata and go to the petroglyphs, the marina, and the museum.  Victor is one to pay attention to.  He knows his stuff and he's just one of those pleasant people you want to get to know better.  I am truly glad to have him around the school.  He's simply great.

We arranged for a taxi from the sanatorium to Cholpon-Ata and were dropped off at the petroglyphs.  One of our co-workers (Cate, from MN) joined us for the day.

This is a very cool area situated on a large alluvial fan.  Numerous large boulders are strewn around the entire place, many of which have the carvings on full display.  The site is dated back to around 2000 BC.  This is much older than you and I.  In fact, it's much older than even your parents.  Along with the carved stones, there were many stone circles which have been identified as more recent (1000 BC), though still older than you and I.

We had another day of beautiful weather, and enjoyed being outside greatly.  We walked from the petroglyphs back to town, which brought us by a local cemetery.  Many of the graves are traditional Islamic markers, though most of them have pictures of the deceased, which tells me that this is not a devoutly Muslim culture.  It was interesting all the same.

After the cemetery, we walked down to the lake.  Although we didn't actually make it to the marina, we did have a nice little snack in what felt like a picnic table-less cove on Lake Tahoe.  The yellow of the birch trees was fantastic.

Following this brief snack, we walked the main street in Cholpon-Ata and found a small cafe for lunch.  We had what is become our favorite fall-back, Логман (lahgman) and followed it up with a trip to the museum.  The museum has local, Kyrgyz historical artifacts going as far back as possible, and bringing us up to Kyrgyzstan's independence in 1991 (ish).  It was great, although the descriptions were in Russian and Kyrgyz only.

All told, a good day.  The fall colors by the lake were great.  Here's what I believe is an apricot tree.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

It's, uh... Cool!

So, the sanatorium didn't float our boat so much, but it sure was in a great location.  In fact, we didn't even have boat, so we'll never actually know.

We made arrangements with a local taxi driver to pick us up after breakfast at the hotel entrance.  It seems odd to pay someone to cart us to a hiking destination and pay for them to wait all day (or even a few hours) for us.  We have to remind ourselves that this is great money for him, and he seemed genuinely pleased at the thought of sleeping some of his day away.  For the record, the day cost us about $24.00, including about 45-55 minutes of travel each way.

I had talked with Victor (the amazingly knowledgeable, helpful and enthusiastic local hire who works exclusively with the secondary students and teachers) about places to hike near Cholpon-Ata/Bosteri.  He gave me the name of a beautiful valley just east of Bosteri.  Apparently, you can hike from Kazakhstan into Kyrgyzstan in a couple of days when the snow is off of the pass.  We might have to look into this for next year.  Anyway, it's a place called Grigorievka valley (Coordinates of where we turned around: 42.834153,77.429323).

Now, I don't know a lot about parts of Colorado, but I couldn't help but think that this could be somewhere near Glenwood Springs.  It also had touches of Hwy 395 near Gardnerville, or even further south nearer the Mt. Dana area.  Though the trees rooted closer to the lake were still in full fall foliage fanfare, the deciduous among the trees in the valley had all but lost their summer coat.  It did not, however, detract from the beauty.

We hiked up this rather worn dirt road along a beautiful creek/river.  There were even times that we thought of our frequent trips to the Sierra Buttes and the beautiful creeks in that area.  On occasion, we found evidence of yurts.  We assume that these yurt sites are kept for summer-time tourist hosting in a campground-like setting.  You can see me standing in the middle of the yurt.

After hiking for about two hours, we found ourselves looking west-by-northwest, towards Kazakhstan and some towering peaks.  It should be noted that the weather was beautiful all day long.  A few clouds, an occasional breeze, and numerous transitions from rolled up sleeves with stowed jackets to being bundled up with gloves and hats. We sat on a small patch of dry ground and had a lunch of Clif Bars (Carrot Cake, and Cool Mint Chocolate, treats we brought with us from the states) and some tea cookies.

We needed to head back to our waiting and dozing taxi driver, so we headed back down the valley.  I'll leave you with a few parting shots...

Shortly before we reached the taxi, these guys answered the question I had been mulling over in my head for the whole day.  Things looked promising on this creek.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Welcome to The Kyrgyz Seaside Sanatorium

The Arrival

We began our day by congregating on a corner, awaiting the arrival of 3 other co-workers.  The  five of us piled into a right-hand drive Honda van and began the journey.  Out of the city, through various towns and villages for 2 hours we drove.  We stopped at a "rest stop" - not quite the same as the ones along I-5- for an early lunch.  Fantastic, delicious lagman was on the menu.  Back on the road again, we journeyed two and a half more hours until we reached The Kyrgyz Seaside Sanatorium.  

Through a gate, up the stone stairs, past the tallest rose bushes we've ever seen, through the glass doors.  BAM.  The smell of solvents and/or musty carpet was the first to greet us. It is clear that this place is operating at a fraction of its former glory.  Continuing through the indoor gardens to the reception desk...

After dancing on our heads to communicate, the receptionist and I finally had success.  Truth be told, I enjoyed being the only one in the group who could at least dance and gesture and speak well enough in Russian to be understood and serve as a interpreter for everyone else.   We found out that the group would eat lunch today and we were all assigned rooms 611,610,609 (our room), 608.

My thoughts:
"What?  No. We have great co-workers and they are quickly becoming our friends....but please...I'd rather not have a room in the midst of them.  Something already tells me that this place is not bursting at the seams, please, lady, put us in a different room.  But how does one ask that in Russian?  Oh well, we must make the best of the situation."

Off we go to our respective rooms.  Peter and I enter only to see two single beds.  Groan.  Down we go, (after I frantically looked through my russian notes for the word "bed" with no luck) back to the receptionist.  With some more dancing, gesturing and befuddled Russian words,  she gives a room with 1 "bolshoeye"(big) bed, and it is a few doors down the hall from the others.  Well, success there.  Back up to our new room, we enter, unload and ponder.  Hotel rooms are lonely places and ones from the Soviet era are worse.  Our souls begin to tremble.

Down we go to lunch where we are seated all at the same table as our co-workers.  And a very Soviet, very institutional, lunch stared us in the face.  Gulp.  Mashed potatoes swimming in butter, a carrot/cabbage salad, who knows what kind of meat.  More food than we needed and none that we would choose.  The panic began to rise.

Other friends from school had come to this place a couple of days previous.  At the end of lunch Chris came over to tell us the scoop.  The hackles rose on the back of my neck, the fight or flight reflex kicked in and all I could think was "Flee!  Flee from the doctor who would poke and prod you.  Flee from the mineral baths that await you! Flee from the shower and fire hose experience!  Flee from the naked massages!  Flee from the mysterious "rock room" and aromatherapy!  Flee from mud and electricity!  Flee from walking around with prescriptions in your hands for all these things! Flee from, oh gosh, flee from paying extra for colon cleansing!  FLEE!!!  Get out!  Leave now!"

Peter, I do believe, was feeling the same panic as I.  And so we fled.  Directly.  As soon as it was appropriate to leave the lunch table, we took our coats and sprinted (basically) outside.  We were more homesick in that moment than we have been all fall.  We felt stranded, in a place that we didn't pick out because we couldn't, eating food we weren't thrilled about, far away from a town, using a language we couldn't communicate in, with the option of paying extra for things that made us want to run away.  We would not be partaking in any of the aforementioned treatments.

A long walk through run-down sport courts and a track that has been reduced to a single-track through the weeds took us to the lake, and what a lake it is.  About 350 miles of shoreline, sitting at almost exactly a mile above sea level, and surrounded by hulking mountains.  This was all the therapy we needed.  A nice relaxing walk along the beautiful beach restored our spirits greatly.  Maybe it wouldn't be so bad.  Maybe we would be able to get out of there with our lives and our sanity intact.  (This raises the question as to why it's called a sanitorium...  do they suck one's sanity, or refresh it?  I guess it depends on one's perspective.)
(A new friend always brings great joy... this guy did not disappoint)

Back in the hotel, we immediately went to the receptionist and arranged for a taxi to come and get us the next morning and take us to Gregorskoyie valley where we would be able to hike the day away.  It wasn't all bad.  We watched the sunset from our room.

More to come...