Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Year in Review: 2013

So this is my obligatory end-of-year post, in which I attempt to end things on a high note (or at least recall all the best moments over the past 12 months). I'll be honest, 2013 and I aren't parting on the best of terms, but I'm hopeful that 2014 will be a good year. And I can't complain too much about 2013, considering I got to visit no fewer than six countries (France, Turkey, Spain, Switzerland, England, and Mexico, plus Russia and America), made new friends all over the world, saw my besties several times, spent quality time with my family, watched my awesome little boy grow and learn so much, and, oh yeah, got pregnant with another little boy. And even though my writing isn't going as well as I'd like, I DID pen another novel, and that's got to count for something, right? Plus I got to know a lot about myself, everything from how much I despise dill (trust me, once you've been served dill on everything from sushi to pizza, you'll be done, too) to how much I love traveling alone (when else does a mom get to finish an entire novel in one go?).

Rather than ramble on, I thought I'd share photos of some of my fave moments of 2013. I hope you all have a very happy New Year's, and here's to an even better 2014!

In January, at a children's shelter in Russia, where a little girl named Irina stole my heart.

In February, hanging in Paris with my favorite people.

In March, when my twin sister Sarah and best friend Kim came all the way to Yekat.

In April, cavorting on the beach in Spain.

In May, spending the day with this guy at a bird sanctuary outside of Yekaterinbug.

In June, eating the BEST THING EVER in Gruyere, Switzerland.

In July, strolling through Hyde Park with this gorgeous lady.

In August, enjoying some fresh air in Binghi.

In September, stealing a few moments in DC to confirm baby #2 (and snuggle with baby #1).

In October, watching my gorgeous sister Amy marry the love of her life in Chicago.

In November, spending time with the love of MY life in Cancun.

In December, sledding with my crazy 4-year-old Jack.

And now, at 24 weeks pregnant, bidding 2013 a fond farewell!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Foreign Service Fridays: Do Your Homework

Lessons were learned the hard way this week on Most Eligible Family. Fortunately, John comes home tomorrow for a few weeks, and I'm really looking forward to having face-to-face "private" conversations in the same time zone. I hope everyone has a fabulous pre-holiday weekend!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

And the Winner Is...

Sorry for the delay in the giveaway results! I've been pretty busy with Jack (who now refuses to nap - I guess I should be glad I made it four years) and just trying to get used to a new routine in Montana. It's amazing how much more time I had when I was working... Fortunately, Jack started preschool today and I'm hoping a few free mornings a week will give me the chance to get back into blogging and writing. Also, John is coming home this Friday, which means I won't be a single parent anymore (not for three whole weeks, anyway!). Thanks for bearing with me during these crazy past few months.

So, without further ado, I'm happy to say that the winner of the $20 Amazon gift card is:


I will email you with your prize ASAP! Thanks to those who commented. I love you guys!

Friday, December 13, 2013

My 100,000 Page Views Giveaway!

Sheesh, with this major blogging break I haven't quite hit the 100,000 mark as fast as I expected! The good news is I'm at 99,915 page views, and I'm calling that close enough since I should be at 100k by tomorrow!

So if you'd like to win a $20 Amazon gift card just in time for the holidays (or slightly late for my fellow Jews), please leave me a comment with your email address or some other way to contact you if you win. This is just my small way of saying thank you for following and taking the time to read this blog over the past several years.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Mommy Mondays: It's A...


Wait, what?

That's right, we're having another boy. Despite what my supposedly psychic half-sister, and pretty much all my friends and family, and even the crazy lady in the park in Miami told me, baby #2 is most definitely a boy. In fact, "definitely a boy" were the exact words of the ultrasound tech. She carefully typed out "IT'S A BOY" on the screen and gleefully pointed out the scrotal sack, just in case it wasn't obvious that we weren't having a daughter with a tiny third leg.

It's a little late now to pretend I wasn't hoping for a girl. After all, it's not something I've ever been shy about putting out into the universe. I have wanted a daughter since I was a little girl myself. I know some people will think I'm petty and selfish for having a preference of the gender of my child, although personally, I think it goes without saying that above all else, I - and every other parent on the face of the earth - want a healthy baby. And I am so grateful that this little guy seems to be developing right on track and has all his parts (and I do mean all of them).

But one of the things you guys tell me you appreciate about my parenting posts is my honesty, and while I realize many of you might not understand my feelings, I wouldn't be true to myself - or any of you - if I said I wasn't pretty sad about the fact that I'm not having a daughter.

Just in case you're wondering, I do understand how this whole chromosome thing works. I knew the odds were 50/50 and I certainly wasn't guaranteed a daughter. But as much as I tried to prepare myself for the possibility of another boy, there was a part of me - has always been a part of me - that simply believed I was meant to have a girl. Not because of the dresses and the tea parties and the dolls and the prom and the wedding (although I do want those things, so, so badly), but because I really wanted the opportunity to raise a happy, secure, confident girl. I never envisioned a future without a daughter. It just didn't seem possible. To be honest, it still doesn't. (Although as the saying goes, "balls don't lie." Or was that "ball"...)

The day after the ultrasound, when I was in the car with John and his brother, they started discussing their best Christmas ever, most notably the go-kart they received. "Is he old enough for a dirt bike?" Mike asked. "Or maybe a quad?" "He's definitely almost ready for a go-kart," John responded (somehow managing to ignore the "not on your life" look on my face). And while I am so happy that John will get to relive his favorite childhood moments with our sons, it was also a painful reminder of the things I won't experience with a daughter. Several people have said to me, "There's always the third," and I appreciate their optimism. But I don't think a third is in the cards for us. My sanity has always been hanging on by a rather precarious thread. Two boys will probably stretch it even thinner. A third would break me for sure.

So while I know I should be celebrating the impending arrival of baby boy #2, a part of me is mourning the baby girl that wasn't meant to be. I love Jack more than I ever thought was possible, and despite the fact that it seems highly unlikely I could ever love another boy that much, I'm 99.9% sure I will. Who knows, maybe I have a latent soccer-mom gene that will kick in in eight years or so. Maybe we'll adopt a daughter some day, or maybe one day I'll wake up and realize I'm okay without one. (Sure, that hasn't happened in the past 33 years, but you never know.) Maybe a life full of superheroes and dragons will prove to be a lot simpler than one full of Barbie and Bieber.

Besides, I never really liked the color pink very much anyway.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Quick Traveling Re-cap

Some of you may recall my crazy travel schedule from a Facebook post a ways back. Some of you may have thought I was insane. Some of you were right. So far our whirlwind trip has been wonderful, but I do feel a bit displaced. We had a great time at my sister's wedding in Chicago (seriously, it was amazing and beautiful and I can't wait to see photos!), but between the 30 hours of travel, jet lag, illness, and Jack's night terrors caused by exhaustion, we left Chicago slightly more bedraggled than when we arrived (and that's saying something). I had some bleeding in Chicago and was fortunate to have four sisters around to insist I rest, but any mother of a three-year-old knows there is truly no rest for the weary.

Then we spent one night with Sarah in DC, the rest of the week with my amazing friends Mark and Lauren in Maryland, another week with my other amazing friends Courtney and Peter in Rhode Island, then three nights in an apartment in DC, and now we're in Sarah's house for the week. I canceled my plans to visit even more awesome friends after I had some more bleeding when I left Rhode Island last Friday. Fortunately I had an ultrasound and everything looks just fine, but I figured my body was trying to tell me something.

Of course, I'm still flying to Miami on Sunday, then Cancun for a week, then back to Miami, and then to Montana. (Despite what my body is telling me, I refuse to miss my child-free week in Cancun.) But aside from all the madness, things have been pretty fabulous here in America. It's finally sinking in that I don't have to go back to Russia, and that I can slowly ease up on stuffing my face with American food since I will have it at my disposal for quite some time. I feel so lucky to have so many wonderful friends (and family members) willing to host Jack and me for a few weeks! All in all, it feels pretty darn good to be home (even if "home" doesn't really exist at the moment).

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Things I Love Thursdays: There's Going to Be a Baby

When we found out I was pregnant, we knew we were going to need a little help breaking the news to Jack. I did some scouring for books that were about the actual pregnancy, not about being a big brother or having a new baby in the house (we'll get to those later I'm sure). I also wanted something cute, because I'm shallow like that. When I stumbled across There's Going to Be a Baby by husband-and-wife team John Burmingham and Helen Oxenbury, I knew I'd found just what I was looking for.

This book might be a little abstract for younger children, but for a 4 or 5-year-old, I think it's just right. The mom explains to her son that a baby will arrive in the fall, and then answers some of the little boy's questions about the baby. Most of the pages depict the mom and son on various outings, imagining what the baby will be when it's older. At first, the boy isn't thrilled with the prospect of the baby. When he imagines the baby as a zoo keeper, he muses over the possibility of the baby being eaten by a tiger. I guess this might be off-putting to some people. I found it hilarious.

Another page shows the boy standing up in his bathtub, announcing to his mother out of the blue that the neighbor's baby threw up all over the carpet. I love the humor in this book, and the illustrations are adorable with a vintage feel to them. The images of the baby performing his various imagined activities - banker, chef, sailor - are cute and silly, and Jack particularly likes looking at them. He also likes that the little boy wants to name the baby Spider Man.

By the end of the story, the boy begins to warm up to the idea of the baby, and I always get a little teary-eyed on the last page (granted, I'm pregnant). I was surprised by how well Jack responded to the book. He wants to read it almost every night, and he's memorized some of the questions and refers to the book when we talk about the baby - the last line is something like, "We're going to love the baby, aren't we?" and Jack has said multiple times that he wants "to love the baby." Ultimately, I feel somewhat indebted to this book for helping Jack get excited about the baby, instead of denying its existence all together like he was at first.

If anyone has any must-have reads for soon-to-be siblings, please share in the comments!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Writing Wednesdays: NaNoWriMo and My First Giveaway

Many of you know that National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) is just around the corner. Last year I participated and ended up with a shiny new novel at the end of November. It was so much fun and I really enjoyed doing it, even if I never ended up querying the novel (I entered it in a few contests and received some requests, but several agents suggested I switch it from third person to first person, and I'm in the process of doing that now, although I have other projects I'm more focused on).

Unfortunately, my crazy travel schedule for the month of November means I can't participate this year. I'm disappointed - it's such a great motivator, and there's nothing like drafting. But it just isn't in the cards. Instead, I'm going to take the month of December to finish a novel I started before moving to Russia (you may remember it - it's based on a Russian fairy tale). I needed to actually live in Russia to do the novel justice, and now that I've spent over a year here, I feel ready to really buckle down and write it. I already have the first 60 pages and a solid outline, and I'm looking forward to tackling this one. Plus, with a baby coming in April, I figure I need to get in all the writing I can before then.

In other news, I'm rapidly approaching my 100,000 page-view mark. I know that's not really a big deal, but it still feels like something worth celebrating, and I'm long overdue for a giveaway on this blog! So, when I get to 100,000 page views, probably some time in the next two weeks, I will be giving away a $20 gift card to Amazon! I know many of you aren't writers or avid readers necessarily, so you can spend the gift card however you want. You don't even have to be a follower (although I always appreciate it). People who want to participate can simply leave their name and contact info in the comments and I'll pick someone at random. I promise I'll give a heads up when the day approaches.

In the meantime, I'm leaving Russia (forever, most likely!) the day after tomorrow, so I'm pretty frazzled, but I'll try to blog in the coming weeks (especially for the giveaway). And if anyone else plans on drafting in December and wants to join me, let me know!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Mommy Mondays: Morning Sickness, the Biggest Lie Ever

A few weeks ago, when I was in the throws of morning sickness hell, I turned to John and said, "The worst thing about the first trimester is the fact that I can't complain about it on Facebook."

John looked at me and asked, "Really, that's the worst thing?"

To which I replied, "Well, no, the worst thing is morning sickness. But it would make me feel a lot better if I could bitch about it publicly."

Morning sickness is a big, fat lie. Because if you've had it, you know that "morning" really doesn't come into play. It should be called "all-day nausea," or maybe "the pregnancy plague," because it's like having the damn stomach flu for two months (or longer for some people; I can't even fathom what it's like for the women who have hyperemesis gravidarum - at least that has a suitably serious title). If you're extra super lucky like me, it gets worse as the day progresses, so that you end up running for the toilet at 1 a.m. Yay!

I had morning sickness with Jack, and it sucked royally. But this time has been way worse. At least last time I could go to Trader Joe's and buy the few things that appealed to me (I remember one bizarre trip where I came home with a can of Spaghetti-O's, a box of lime popsicles, and a cantaloupe). Here, though, my pickings are slim. I craved the same sorts of things: anything cold and refreshing or doughy and tomato-y, but it was much more difficult to procure them. I also have a serious aversion to garlic and roasting vegetables, which I can't recall having last time (although I don't recall John being obsessed with those things four years ago, either).

I also don't remember having dysgeusia last time, or what I like to call bad-taste-in-mouth-at-all-times disease. Nothing I ate could get rid of it. I read somewhere that vinegary foods like pickles help (I wonder if that's where the cliche of pregnant women being obsessed with pickles comes from...), but wouldn't you know it, we didn't have any freaking pickles. I can't blame Russia for that, at least. We just didn't have any. And of course, with all-day nausea comes fatigue, weight loss, and a general inability to function, which is WAY worse when you have another kid to take care of. 

But perhaps the actual worst thing about the first trimester is that men don't understand morning sickness at all. I get it, it's hard to fathom that brushing your teeth or swallowing a pill can actually cause someone to vomit, but I'm not sure how much proof John needed. Apparently more, because he has been shoving vitamins and supplements at me like a dealer. I even found proof online that it's okay to eat whatever you can stomach during the first trimester, but John was undeterred in his quest to get me to drink green smoothies and take eight spirulina tablets a day. And despite me having to hide out in our bedroom every time he roasted anything, he persisted in his nightly broccoli and brussel sprouts (*vomit*) routine. 

Fortunately, I'm finally feeling better. Last week I was able to eat fairly normally, and this week my appetite is really kicking in. Which is great, considering I'll be in America on Friday. First stop, Chicago for Ann Sather cinnamon rolls, followed by Baked and Wired in DC (I was too sick for cupcakes the last time I was there - can you even imagine?), whatever is good in Rhode Island, bagels with tempeh bacon and cream cheese in Norfolk, an early Thanksgiving in Miami, and all the guacamole and virgin margaritas I can handle in Cancun. Second trimester, here I come!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Foreign Service Fridays: Some Thoughts on Pregnancy and the Foreign Service

Today at Most Eligible Family, I attempt to explain some of the reasons I'm leaving Russia (in one week! Eeek!). Have a wonderful weekend all, and wish me luck with packing!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Things I Love Thursdays: Butternut Squash Wrap

John and I have a tendency to buy produce that looks decent without really having a plan for it. I guess we just get so excited at the prospect of fresh produce (we eat a lot of frozen veggies over here) that our stomachs get ahead of our brains. So when John picked up a butternut squash the other day, I kind of wondered what we were going to make with it, especially since John doesn't eat wheat or sugar. I find the elimination of those two major food groups rather limiting, while John could happily live off of vegetables roasted in oil and garlic powder for the rest of his life. Unfortunately, I have had a major aversion to the smell of roasting anything since getting pregnant, so we've had more than a couple arguments over this subject of late.

Once it was clear my tried-and-true butternut squash recipe (cut it in half, bake it, and stuff it with butter, bread crumbs, and brown sugar - yum!) wasn't going to pass muster, I searched in vain for something that didn't require roasting or include wheat. Naturally, while I was out having a cupcake with Barbara (wheat and sugar - take that!; on a side note, they opened up a gourmet cupcake shop ACROSS THE STREET FROM MY HOUSE two weeks before my move. Nice.), John sent me a recipe to make for dinner that night. And guess what? It involved roasted squash! Argh! But I decided to give it a shot anyway, mostly because I was lazy.

Here's the recipe that inspired our meal. Unfortunately, we didn't have arugula, I didn't have time to roast walnuts, and we're out of red wine vinegar (I don't know where I'm expected to get apple cider over here). So we improvised. Here's what our version ended up like:

1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
2 tbsp (approx) macadamia nut oil
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cinnamon
salt to taste

Toss all that together and roast on a baking sheet at 400 degrees Fahrenheit (or 204 Celsius if you're not in America) for 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile...back at the ranch:

1 package of any kind of greens you can get your hands on (we used baby swiss chard)
1/2 can white beans (garbanzos would work too)
chopped raw almonds
olive oil and apple cider vinegar to taste
more salt if you're in our family

Now, John, being John, ate his salad as a salad. Me, being pregnant and finally allowed to eat carbs, wrapped mine up in a flour tortilla. Let me tell you, Sweet Green couldn't have done it better. And best of all, the house didn't stink because the squash only roasted for a little while and we used yummy fall spices instead of garlic. If you feel like mixing it up, you could add cranberries or raisins, feta or blue cheese, and you could easily substitute the squash with pumpkin. If you're one of those fortunate people within 1,000 miles of a head of kale, or fresh spinach, you could use that too. Even romaine would be good. The possibilities are endless!

(Alas, we ate it all before I could take a picture. So you'll just have to take my word for it that it was deeeelicious!)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

We're Expanding...

We're expanding! Or, more precisely, I'm expanding while John and Jack go about their normal routines. But some time in late April of next year, we'll be adding a new member to our family!

It's a little early for an announcement like this (I'm 13 weeks pregnant), and believe me, I have debated when and how to share the news a lot over the past few months. But since the news doesn't just stop at "we're having a baby," and things are getting down to the wire, I figured it made sense to let people know what was going on now, rather than waiting.

So, to make a long story longer, Jack and I will be leaving Russia in ten days. Permanently. It's a complicated topic and one I will explain in more detail later, but for now, let's just leave it at: I didn't feel comfortable getting the majority of my prenatal care in Yekaterinburg. I also didn't love the idea of spending another winter here, pregnant, or waiting until I get put on bed rest again to make the journey back to the States with Jack in tow. So Jack and I will be spending December, January, and February in Montana with my parents, and then we'll meet John in DC some time in March.

I'm obviously thrilled to be returning to the US next week, but it's a little bittersweet, because I feel like I didn't quite finish my time in Russia. I wanted to see St. Petersburg, go dog sledding and horseback riding in the mountains, and maybe get just a little less terrible at Russian. I'll miss my job and our Consulate family, the Russian friends I made, and this glorious, massive apartment, the likes of which I'll probably never see again.

But this pregnant lady is also beyond excited about the prospect of being with family, seeing good friends, and eating all the amazing delicacies I have missed so much these past 13.5 months. Wish me luck packing (I have to decide which clothing I won't miss for the next year and a half, since the majority of our stuff will go to storage next year and remain there until we go to Peru in June of 2015), pray we get our upgrade on the looong journey to Chicago next week, and above all else, THINK PINK!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Foreign Service Fridays: Thank You, Russia

Today I take a minute to reflect on the ways Russia has improved my life by improving my child. You can find that post on Most Eligible Family. Happy three-day weekend, everyone!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Things I Love Thursdays: Pumpkin Everything

I love fall for many reasons (the fashion, the crisp air, the crunchable leaves, etc.) but one of my absolute favorite things about autumn is pumpkin season. It's probably a good thing pumpkins aren't available year-round, because I'd likely get sick of them. But I love going to the pumpkin patch, roasting pumpkin seeds, making pumpkin pie, sipping on a nice hot pumpkin steamer, and even pumpkin decorations. Here are a few of my favorite things from around the Web.

Adorable (albeit worthless) 2" velvet pumpkins from Catbird.

This ridiculously amazing pumpkin meringue pie from Martha Stewart.

Gorgeous glass pumpkins from LukeGilveyGlass.

Pumpkin macarons from Trader Joe's? Say what?!

Jack as a pumpkin...er, baby.

Normally I skip the whipped cream on my Starbucks drinks. Not on this puppy.

I have neither the time, nor the patience (nor the pumpkin), but still...

Monday, October 7, 2013

Dinner as a Metaphor for Life - Sort of

Tuna. Noodle. Casserole. Taken on their own, three rather innocent words. Put them together, however, and you have a recipe for... DISASTER!

Okay, so under normal circumstances, Tuna Noodle Casserole (or TNC as we'll call it from here out) is a relatively benign food. In fact, it's very benign-ness was why I decided to make it on Sunday afternoon. A friend had mentioned making it for her kids on Facebook, and - though I can't say I've eaten much TNC in my past 33 years of life - it sounded good for some reason. Comforting. Gooey. Rich. AMERICAN! I scoured the interwebs for a recipe that didn't call for cream of mushroom soup or a ton of mayo and found something that fit the bill. John even agreed to eat some, as long as I used corn pasta instead of wheat (because as you all know, wheat is the devil in our house).

John and Jack headed to the Hyatt for their Sunday afternoon swim and I gathered the ingredients. Naturally some substitutions were in order. I hate celery, so I left that out, and I'd forgotten to buy mushrooms, so I hoped they wouldn't be too greatly missed. We only had one large can of tuna left, so I knew the dish would be light on the T, but I had the peas, the milk, the butter, the onions and garlic and whatever else was in there. I started boiling water for the pasta, chopped up the onion, preheated the oven, and got to work.

Then things started to go wrong. The pasta finished too quickly and had to be set aside, along with the sauteed onions and garlic. I was still fairly chipper at this point, but as I scanned the recipe I realized I'd made a very serious oversight. The recipe called for a roux. And if you know anything about a roux, you know it involves two ingredients: butter, and flour.


That's when the panic set in. The pasta had congealed into a stiff yet somehow slimy mass of yellow noodles, and the onions and garlic were withering before my eyes. I scoured the cabinets for some kind of flour substitution, came up with a disgusting quinoa flour-based roux that immediately went down the drain (which immediately began to clog) and tossed aside one bizarre flour after another looking for something John would eat. By the time I had decided he'd just have to deal with the 1/4 cup of flour (in the entire massive recipe), I realized we didn't even HAVE regular flour. I proceeded to make a passable roux with organic pastry flour, butter, and heavy cream (since John didn't want me to use regular milk; lowfat anything is also the devil in our house). Then I threw in the thawed peas, tuna, the dried-up onions and garlic, along with the hardened blob of noodles, and proceeded to weep.

With tears streaming down my cheeks (okay, not really, but I was pretty pissed off at that point), I texted John my apologies.Then I shredded some cheddar cheese over the whole thing (I didn't even think about using the called-for bread crumbs) and shoved it into the oven.

The recipe that started it all. Here's the link if you feel like torturing yourself.

Over the next 25 minutes, while the bane of my existence proceeded to bubble and brown nicely, I debated whether or not John would humor me and eat the casserole, or if he would stand his ground and refuse it. On the one hand, John is very dedicated to his little no-wheat experiment, and even though Sundays are his "cheat day" (meaning he'll stomach the occasional oat or buckwheat kernel), I had a terrible feeling he wouldn't bend the rules for TNC. On the other hand, he's not an idiot. Surely he would see how hard I had worked, the substitutions I had made on his behalf (corn pasta ain't like regular pasta, I assure you, and those bread crumbs would have really added something), and how truly furious I would be if he refused my from-scratch dinner. I sat, and waited, and fumed, already anticipating his reaction.

Just as the casserole finished, John and Jack walked through the door. Jack seemed happy enough and immediately wanted to know where dinner was. But John. Oh John. The downtrodden - yet somehow determined - look on his face told me everything I needed to know. He would not condescend to eat the TNC. Even when he saw my face wither like so many sauteed onions, even as my hopes crumbled like the bits of bread I would not get to eat, even as the color rose in my cheeks the way that beautiful casserole had browned in the oven, still he would not yield.

So I dished up the casserole for Jack and myself while John warmed up a disgusting bowl of grechka. I can't seem to describe it properly for people, so here's a photo:

I assure you the only tasty thing in this photo is the butter. 

Now, grechka is what you or I know as buckwheat. How many times have you eaten buckwheat in your life? Assuming you occasionally order buckwheat pancakes, and assuming they actually use buckwheat flour in those pancakes, that's probably the extent of it. But Russians love buckwheat. It's generally served like this for breakfast (sometimes with milk and maybe something to sweeten it - which grosses me out because grechka is naturally savory) or as a side dish a la rice with lunch and dinner. Sour cream is a common topping, as are fried eggs. And butter is pretty standard. I have learned to stomach the stuff in my time here, but I will never - I repeat, NEVER - like it. John loved it since his very first encounter during language immersion last year. Jack, like his mama, was not a fan. But Katya, our nanny, is nothing if not persistent, and after serving it to Jack pretty much every day for a year, he appears to have developed some sort of taste for the stuff. Here's what happened next.

Jack, who had just started to eat the TNC (he'd never had it before and was skeptical), took one look at Daddy's bowl of plain (PLAIN!) grechka and said, "I want some of Daddy's porridge." He then proceeded to push the TNC out of his way and help himself to heaping spoonfuls of buckwheat nastiness.

And that's when I really started to cry.

So, you may be wondering, how IS life like a Tuna Noodle Casserole and not, say, a box of chocolate? Because sometimes, you work your ass off for something - maybe it's your job, or your novel, or DINNER - and no one wants anything to do with it. Sometimes your hard work isn't acknowledged or appreciated. Sometimes you want to throw your hands up in there and scream, "Why do I bother??" (Sometimes you might literally do this.)

And sometimes, you just have to suck it all up, grab a fork, and eat that TNC all by yourself. And guess what?

It was freaking delicious.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Foreign Service Fridays: снег! aka Snow!

Yep, it's already snowing here in Russia. Apparently we're skipping fall this year. A few fun facts about Russia in winter and a scary picture of a local water pump await at Most Eligible Family. Happy Friday all!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Mommy Mondays: How To Train Your Preschooler

It seems a bit risky to even mention this, like I'm tempting fate or jinxing myself, but here goes: I *think* we may have turned a corner in Jack's behavior. Four is only a few months away, and it appears - although this could of course be just a momentary lull or the calm before an unforeseen storm - that Jack is getting easier.

Don't get me wrong. Three has been tough. Maybe not as bad as Two (Two was pretty hellacious), but it hasn't been an easy year. Between potty training (nope, still not ready to talk about that), the true mastery of the art of whining, and a lot of adjustments on all our parts, we haven't exactly been a house full of happy campers this year. But lately, for maybe the last month or two, Jack has become a slightly more docile, reasonable, and obedient pet. Er, child.

For one thing, the kid is really getting great at traveling. He knows the whole drill, from climbing in and out of his car-seat/stroller at escalators and security checkpoints to raising his little arms above his head in the scanner thing at the airport (which, I have since learned, is not actually allowed for kids; Thanks, Russia, for repeatedly irradiating our child this past year). He knows that the Frankfurt airport means free pretzels in the Lufthansa lounge and, if he plays his cards right, a toy in duty free. Of course, it helps that John and I have learned from all our past mistakes and now pay the money and miles for upgrades and make sure to have a fully-charged iPad on hand. But honestly, Jack has been a trooper. It's made life a lot easier, considering how much traveling we do.

Jack, relaxing in style on our flight home to the US.

He also seems happier in general, and I'm not really sure what to chalk that up to. He's been extremely affectionate lately, voluntarily planting kisses on my cheeks out of the blue and insisting on extra snuggle time on the couch (we went through a dark period where he barely tolerated my kisses and then wiped them away with the back of his hand), and he's constantly singing and dancing, which can't be a bad thing. He's gotten very good at expressing himself, and he often remembers please and thank you all on his own. As in, "Mommy, get me out of this chair RIGHT NOW! Pweeeaaaaase."

I'm not saying it's all roses out here. Getting Jack ready for bed is an exercise in anger management - I swear it would be easier to put lotion on a 40-pound eel than it is to moisturize this child. He has learned, somehow, to play John and I against each other, blatantly ignoring my refusal of whatever he wants (generally more television) and turning directly to his father and asking as sweetly as possible. And he often makes unreasonable (and sometimes horrifying) demands. Here was a fun conversation the other day, while we were looking at ultrasound pictures in his baby book:
Jack: "Mommy, I want to go back into your belly through your belly button."
Me: "Sorry, buddy, that's not really how it works."
Jack: "It will be okay after I cut a hole in your belly and go back in."

So, yeah, occasionally it's like living with a tiny sociopath, but he's a very sweet, pleasant, and oftentimes polite sociopath. And really, what more can a parent ask for?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Mommy Mondays: A Quick Trip Home

Some of you may have noticed on Facebook that I was home in the US last week for a short trip. I didn't announce it for two reasons. 1) I really wanted to surprise one of my best friends by randomly showing up at lunch (because how often do you get to really surprise someone?) and 2) I knew we'd have very little free time for visiting with friends. John needed some dental work and Jack and I decided to tag along, and I'm so glad we did (even though the jet lag is killing me).

That was my first time in the US since January, and it was glorious! Perfect fall weather, loads of time with my sister, delicious food, and that surprise I planned went off without a hitch. And of course we'll be back again in November (for three weeks instead of the initially planned one) so I'll get to see everyone else then. I did randomly run into one friend at the zoo, which was awesome. Here's how that conversation went.

Jack, standing by the otters: "They didn't go poo poo yesterday!"
Another little boy standing nearby: "Poo poo!"
Me: "Okay Jack, that's enough thanks."
Woman standing behind me: "Hi Jack, hi Mara."

And then I turned and saw that my friend Jill was there! So that was mildly embarrassing but also a nice surprise.  For those who have been living under a rock (or in Siberia), there's a new carousel at the National Zoo which, guess what, has an octopus!! (It also has a baby buffalo, a cuttlefish, and a large newt, if octopuses aren't your thing.)

Sha Sha and Jackie on the carousel.
Jack and I kept busy during the day by walking around and taking a lot of naps, and by visiting the "fishquarium," which is really the saddest (and possibly most expensive) of the DC attractions. It redeemed itself by having an octopus. John got in some good running and worked for a couple of days (boo), but we had some nice family time too. Mostly, there was a lot of this:

John, Jack, Sha Sha, and Minky, of course.

And frankly, there hasn't been nearly enough of that in my life lately. I can't believe I get to go back in a month! Weehoo!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Mommy Mondays: Mommy is a Big Fat Hypocrite

Despite the fact that I have the mouth of a petite and beardless truck driver, I have been lucky in one thing: Jack rarely picks up on my swearing. There have been plenty of opportunities, believe me, especially with the swear words I tell myself are relatively harmless, like "crap" and "dammit." Perhaps he hears these words so frequently that they are no longer novel. Maybe he files them away with the other innocuous and banal words he has no use for, like "however" and "eventually."

Whatever the case, we've been lucky, and I'm grateful for it. But the other day, Jack did something unthinkable. He called Daddy "stupid."

John and I both froze. "We NEVER use that word," I told Jack firmly (I have a pretty scary pissed-off-mommy voice). "You apologize to Daddy right now." Jack's lower lip started to tremble and his eyes began to well with tears. He knew he was in trouble, but I'm not sure he knew why he was in trouble. Stupid is a tough concept for a three-year-old to grasp, I would guess, and I don't think he meant it literally. Still, I figured we'd better nip that one in the bud. Jack apologized to Daddy and promised to never say the word stupid again. He then proceeded to use it repeatedly, as in, "We don't say the word stupid." Le sigh.

After Jack had moved on to something else, John and I looked at each other. "Where did he learn that word?" John asked. "I have no idea," I answered, but I had my theories. "Probably from one of the many age-inappropriate movies we let him watch, like Lilo and Stitch or Cars." Yes, we told ourselves. It was our over liberal use of the television that was the problem. Blame Disney!

Yesterday, John took Jack to the dermatologist for what I suspect is a staph infection next to his mouth. I've seen these twice before and have a pretty good idea of what they look like, and I'd been treating it with the anti-bacterial cream we used on the last one. While it wasn't getting worse, it wasn't getting better, so we figured we'd better let a doctor look at it. John called me from the doctor's office to tell me that the dermatologist had declared it food-related allergies and to put him on a hypo-allergenic diet (which shouldn't include things like grapes, or coffee, because, you know, we were totally giving our three-year-old coffee).

When John got home I was livid. This was supposed to be the very best private clinic in town, and they diagnosed a localized rash on our kid's face as food allergies, then proceeded to recommend a specialized diet without doing allergy testing. Lo and behold, when I stopped using the anti-bacterial cream, the rash spread, so I'm pretty sure it IS a staph infection and the Russian cream isn't doing the trick. In my ranting to John, I uttered one very foolish sentence: "Seriously, are these people stupid?"

Jack's ears, which must have been tuned to the "stupid" channel, perked up instantly. "Mommy, you don't say the word stupid. You have to apologize to me and go on time out."

Oh boy.

After apologizing profusely, putting myself on a time out, and offering a silent mea culpa to Disney, Jack forgave me and allowed me to return to the kitchen. Where he then proceeded to talk about how Mommy had said the word stupid, which is a very bad word indeed.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Foreign Service Fridays: Say Hello, Wave Goodbye

I've had to say a lot of goodbyes lately out here in Russia. It makes me sad :( Hopefully I'll have more hellos in my future. Read about it here, if you please. And have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Things I Love Thursdays: YOU!

Guys, this is my 400th post on Scribble Babble! Thanks to all of you who read, follow, comment, and encourage me to keep this blog going. It's a lot of work and sometimes I'm not sure it's worth it (I mean really, I started this thing for the same reason most aspiring authors do - to have a "platform" - and I'm pretty sure no agent or editor has ever glanced at it), but the occasional message or comment telling me I made you laugh or smile or think is more motivating than you know.

So here's to all of you for giving me a reason to write something other than the weird stories I make up in my head. They may have been what inspired me to start this blog, but YOU are the inspiration for every post since then.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Writing Wednesdays: Name That Genre!

I'm hoping some of my writing friends will be able to help me out today. I can't figure out what genre to call my novel, and it's driving me slightly insane.

Right now, I'm calling it upper YA fantasy, since the MC is 18 and it doesn't quite fall under New Adult (she hasn't gone off to college yet, and this whole NA subgenre thing is still a little shaky, right?). An agent called it urban fantasy despite the fact that I labeled it plain ol' fantasy. Why? I suppose because it starts out in the "real world," which is where urban fantasies take place, in - duh - an urban setting.

But, the MC is only in the real world for the first chapter. Then she goes to a parallel world (or "secondworld," which is apparently a thing I'd never heard of until recently). It's definitely not high fantasy (fantasy wherein the world of the novel is THE world from what I can tell), and I'm not sure if it's contemporary fantasy (a genre whose definition I find very difficult to pin down, but seems to be fantasy set in the modern world; mine isn't). Is it dark fantasy? I mean, it's pretty dark, but it's definitely not horror. As you can see, it's a pickle.

Honestly, I didn't think it mattered that much (an agent should be able to figure out what it is from the query letter, right?). But following all the Pitch Madness tweets, many of which call out mislabeled pitches, has made me paranoid. Does it matter? Is the sub-genre really that important?

I honestly have no idea anymore.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Things I Love Thursdays: Orange is the New Black

I know, I know, two TV shows in a row. You probably wonder what the heck else I do besides watch television. But Orange is the New Black is not something I'm ashamed to admit I love. This Netflix exclusive is freaking brilliant, even if I totally didn't believe John when he first told me about it.

Here's the premise via Wikipedia:

Orange Is the New Black revolves around Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a woman from Connecticut, living in New York City, who is sent to the women's federal prison in Litchfield, NY, for 15 months after being convicted of transporting a suitcase full of drug money for Alex Vause (Laura Prepon), an international drug smuggler and Chapman's former lover.

I didn't love Schilling in The Lucky One. I thought she was kind of annoying, actually. But I have to eat my words about her now, because she does an amazing job as Piper. You can't help rooting for her character, even when she does some pretty stupid things. And while the other inmates see her as a rich, snobby white chick, I feel like a lot of people will identify with her character (minus the whole drug mule thing).

Piper's relationship with her fiance, played by Jason Biggs, and Alex, her ex-girlfriend, are interesting, but the best part of the show, hands down, is the other inmates. There are some amazing performances in there, characters who will make you laugh and cry. I love Red, the Russian cook, and Crazy Eyes, a somewhat insane but sympathetic character who wants to make Piper her wife when she first gets to prison.

See if you can spot "Red" and "Crazy Eyes."

The best performance, however, is probably Taryn Manning as Tiffany "Pennsatucky" Doggett, a former meth addict who murders a nurse at an abortion clinic after the nurse makes a snide comment. A Christian lawyer ends up taking on her case, and Tiffany becomes a born-again Christian who leads the other meth heads in prison. She is a truly despicable character, and I love her.

The show aired in July and the beauty of it is, the entire show is available at once. Sadly, we finished all 13 episodes, but I'm excited for Season Two. If you have Netflix (or a nice friend who does), it's definitely worth checking out.


In some ways, marriage and writing are a lot alike. They are both a process, both things we choose out of love. They are also often the very definition of a labor of love (we should take vows when we decide to become writers; for better or worse seems like a big one). And mostly, they both require a whole lot of dedication, compromise, and commitment.

Today, John and I celebrate two anniversaries. The big one: nine years of marriage. The smaller but perhaps more impressive one: one year in Russia. I'll tell you what - if you ever want to test the strength of your marriage, join the Foreign Service.

In all seriousness, I am so grateful for the past nine years with the love of my life. We have seen our share of challenges: moves to Florida, Texas, California, DC, and Russia; two deployments; one plane crash; depression (mine); extreme endurance sports (his); career changes; loss of loved ones, etc. It isn't always easy to stay committed during those rough patches.

But we have had more than our share of joy as well: a beautiful, healthy child; amazing friends all over the world; supportive family; getting to travel more than I ever dreamed; and doing all of it with my best friend. I am truly blessed.

Happy 9th anniversary, sweetie! I love you!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Foreign Service Fridays: Hooray for Summer Turnovers

I'm happy to report a new-old friend has come to Yekaterinburg. I wrote a little about her on Most Eligible Family. Happy Friday y'all!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Things I Love Thursdays: Lost Girl

Here in Russia, we have limited access to American television. Without a VPN, it's impossible to watch Netflix, Hulu, HBO, etc. Unfortunately, even with the VPN, our somewhat crappy Internet makes it difficult to use these services, even though we pay for them (boo). The one thing that generally works, for reasons unknown, is Netflix. (Hulu, for the record, sucks. The shows pause to load every two or three minutes and sometimes you never get past the ads. Amazon Prime is a total disaster and iTunes can't be trusted. It's enough to drive an insane girl insaner.)

If you have kids you already know that Netflix is awesome. Jack gets into these movie ruts where he wants to watch the same thing over and over ("A Turtle's Tale II" just came out - I clearly have some negative karma to burn off), and Netflix works great for that. They have "Thomas," random Disney movies (Mer-lan aka "Mulan" is a big hit at the mo), "Dinosaur Train," etc. However, for adults, Netflix is not great at updating their programming. I go to the "new releases" page and it's the same thing week after week. But every now and then, John and I stumble across a series we've never watched before, and we find something we can watch for a few weeks on a daily basis. This is helpful in avoiding those "what do you want to watch?" back and forth debates which never end happily.

I came across "Lost Girl" in my "recommended for you" section a couple of weeks ago. It's a Canadian paranormal show about a succubus named Bo who doesn't know where she came from and has only just discovered there's a whole world of light and dark fae out there. Bo refuses to choose a side, however, and with the help of her trusty human sidekick, Kenzi, and a werewolf-cop named Dyson, she becomes a private investigator for faes who can't get human cops to take their cases.

Kenzi (Ksenia Solo) and Bo (Anna Silk)

I'm not gonna lie, it can be cheesy (a la "Grimm" and "Once Upon a Time"). The special effects are pretty lame and there are some awful one-liners. Still, I'm kind of hooked. I like Bo, but I love Kenzi. She's cute, spunky, and she's got some great lines (While speed dating: Oh, my favorite literary quote about regret? Wow. Fun! Ummm. Well, I think it was the great poet, uh… Ludacris, who said “regret is fo suckas, fo suckas, fo suckas. Regret is fo suckas. Bitch.”). Dyson is oddly appealing and the acting is pretty good. It's possible my standards have just been lowered considerably in the past year, and it ain't no "Game of Thrones," but it has kept me occupied the past three nights while John was in Moscow.

And lately, that's good enough for me.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Mommy Mondays: My Baby Can't Read! (And I'm Okay With That)

Jack's never exactly been what you'd call an ambitious child. He crawled around 8 months, walked around 14 months, and as far as potty training goes...well, you know that story.

Fortunately, I'm not totally obsessed with numbers. Of course I would worry if Jack was seriously behind on things, but I was secretly grateful that he was on the slower end with crawling and walking. I never understood why some people get so competitive about that stuff. Frankly, I preferred it when my baby had the mobility of a butternut squash. It's when they start wandering that you're really in trouble.

On the speaking front, I always figured Jack was about average. Compared to a lot of Russian kids his age, he's positively verbose. But now I'm starting to think ahead to next year, when Jack will be in American preschool once again. And I have a feeling there's going to be a new milestone all the moms are buzzing about: reading.

When Jack was around a year old, my grandma and her boyfriend watched a Your Baby Can Read! infomercial and were immediately sold. Not much later we received the entire set, complete with flashcards, books, and DVDs. I didn't really care one way or the other if Jack could read at 18 months, but I knew my grandma had spent a lot of her meager income on the set, so nearly every day for six months or so, Jack and I "practiced" reading.

Okay, so what I really did was show Jack the flashcards occasionally (he spent most of his time chewing on them) and turn on the DVD player in the afternoon. I figured it was a good excuse to let Jack watch a little TV and get some me-time in while I was at it. Jack enjoyed the obnoxious kids singing Old McDonald, and for what its worth, he did actually learn to wave when the word came up on screen. But was he reading War and Peace at age two? Not exactly.

Lately, Jack is really interested in letters and phonics. He's known his letters for a while now (although that was mostly thanks to an iPhone app, and he only knew capital letters; whoops) and we read several stories at bedtime every day, but reading wasn't even close to being on my radar. Then he discovered the Leap Frog videos on Netflix, and before I knew it, he was telling me that "M" makes the "mmm" sound. (Thank you Scout and your annoying animal friends!). He broke out his old baby words book the other night and spent ages going through it, word by word.

"What word starts with cat?" he asks, clearly a little confused by my "What word begins with C?" type questions. But in just the past few days, he's learned all of his lower case letters and seems almost as interested in the words as the stories themselves. Yesterday we were in a parking lot and he began "reading" a sign: "What's this letter? I. What's this letter? K. What's this letter? E. What's this letter? A." (I guess I need to teach him that he doesn't need to ask himself which letter it is out loud every time).

What's the upshot of all this? My kid can't even come close to reading. But he's trying, and that's what I love. As we watch him struggle to equate a capital G with a lower case g, John and I stare at each other with something like awe. It's amazing to me that a kid (ANY kid) can not only grasp such a concept, but that he even wants to. Having made a half-assed attempt to learn another language in the past year (one with a really wonky alphabet), I know how daunting it can be. I tend to think of English as being "easy," but then I wonder how the hell I'm supposed to explain that cat and celery both begin with C and sound completely different. Thank goodness for actual teachers.

My mom likes to tell me how my brother started reading before Kindergarten; apparently I was the slowest to learn (I was also the last one to be potty trained and tie my shoe laces; being a triplet was not always good for my self-esteem). But guess what? I read the most of all three of us now, by far. And I'm also perfectly capable of tying my shoes and using a toilet. So there! In the end, there's only one thing that matters to me: that Jack enjoys reading. I don't have a timeline, just a goal.

Potty training, on the other hand, is an entirely different story.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Foreign Service Fridays: The Thing About Stereotypes

I considered telling you all about my visit to the Russian dentist today, but it was too traumatic to relive just yet. So instead, here's a little post about stereotypes. Happy, happy Friday all!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Writing Wednesdays: Music and Writing

I'm not one of those people who listens to music when they write. I can handle some background noise, and even music that I don't know, but if there's a song on where I know the words, I get all caught up and start singing.  Fun, but not so productive for the writing.

However, music definitely inspires my writing. In fact, I got the idea for my current novel from a song while running on the treadmill. (And no, I won't tell you which song yet, because it's too embarrassing.)

I've never had a playlist for any of my books before, but this time, I do! Well, sort of. It's not really in any kind of order, but here are some of the songs that either go with specific scenes or just helped inspire my novel in general:

Alex Clare "Too Close"

Ellie Goulding "Your Biggest Mistake"

Of Monsters and Men "King and Lionheart"

Kesha "Animal"

Imagine Dragons "Radioactive"

Florence and the Machine "Shake it Out"

The Killers "Flesh and Bone"

So, what about you? Do you write to music or have a book playlist? And by the way, if you haven't seen the video for Radioactive, go watch it! Puppet cage fighting? Awesome.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Mommy Mondays: A Trip to Binghi

This weekend, we took a little trip out to the countryside - to the village of Binghi, to be exact. We needed a mini getaway and this ended up being the perfect solution. You see, I had been wanting to visit the nearby town of Kunary to see a famous house belonging to a blacksmith for a while now (you'll see why in a second). Then I found out about Stefan, a German man who runs a "bed and breakfast" in nearby Binghi.

Stefan has three yurts on his property, where you can sleep for the night in relative comfort. He also has a beautiful garden and a lovely wife who cooks up delicacies from said garden. We went with our friends who work at IKEA (they have a 5-year-old daughter) and another couple from the German Consulate, along with the wife's brother and his girlfriend. We had a wonderful time exploring Binghi, hanging out in the garden, eating, and watching the kids play. There's even a banya, which John was happy to take advantage of (I think I'm good on the banya front). I am so happy my friend told me about this place, because we will definitely be going back!

Now I'm going to show you a million photos. Enjoy!

The yurts!

Stefan's front yard.

The backyard (complete with geese).

A view of Binghi.

A tractor. Duh.

This man makes walls. You have to build your own doors.

I'm pretty sure you know who these people are.

John chillin' next to the giant pumpkin (which Jack broke. Sigh.).

Sergey Kirillov's house (sadly under renovation).

Still gorgeous, though!

Just another brightly colored house.

This little babushka sold us some lovely blueberries.

Flowers near a yurt.

John strolling with some neighborhood sheep.

The greenhouse.
No idea what these are called,  but they are gorgeous.

We got a private saxophone concert!

"Dancing Queen." Naturally.

Our German friend playing with Jack by the banya.

Jack climbing the stairs (despite me telling him not to 8,000 times).

Jack and Anna at an icon studio and museum.

One of the icons painted at the studio.