Sunday, September 25, 2016


Food is one of the things I was worried about most in moving to Chisinau. Many questions plagued me: how expensive will it be? Will there be markets, or grocery stores? Will I be able to communicate enough to buy food? Will the local food be good? Will we be able to find food for the picky Niko to eat?  Will we be able to find ingredients to cook the things we're used to cooking? 

I have been relieved on almost all of those fronts. Food isn't too expensive, local food is delicious, I've managed to make it through transactions to acquire groceries, we can find most of the things we need to cook the way we're used to, and Nikolai has...well, we're still working on that one. 

So let's break some of that down! First, here's how to buy groceries in Moldova. 

1) Enter the grocery store. If you're carrying a large bag, put it in a locker at the front of the store before getting a basket. Proceed through the little metal swing-gate to the produce section. 

2) Find all your groceries! But be forewarned--don't get more than you can carry home! For us, this has meant sending Jesse to the grocery store on Saturdays with a large backpack to get most of our groceries, and then making 2 mid-week stops for milk, yogurt, bread and Russian cookies (we are addicted!). 

3) Approach checkout warily. Refresh yourself of how to say important phrases in Romanian, namely "Excuse me, I don't understand," and "Repeat, please." DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. 

4) Place your items on the conveyor belt (and you will always have a million items, even though everyone else only has 2-3 items. When do these people buy the rest of their groceries!! I cannot figure it out). 

5) The cashier will ask you in Romanian, "Do you need a sack?" Respond "Da" (conveniently the word for "yes" in both Romanian and Russian), and she'll scan a plastic grocery bag (they have barcodes on them) for you and then begin scanning your items. 

6) This step is very important: DO NOT GET COMPLACENT! Just as soon as you start looking around, digging in your purse for your wallet or something, the cashier will ask you something in Romanian and you won't have been paying attention. Lucky for you, responding, "Excuse me, I don't understand" in your broken Romanian will usually get the cashier to repeat what they said, and this time your very limited Romanian-trained ears will pick up on the words "enough" "sack" "one or two." After a moment of feeling flustered, you'll realize that she's asking you if one sack is enough, or if you need two. Jubilantly hold up two fingers and butcher an attempt at saying the word "two" in Romanian. 

7) After scanning all of your items, the cashier will tell you your total (which you won't understand, because it's in Romanian, but luckily there's a little screen with the numbers on it). Hold up your debit/credit card to let her know that's how you'll be paying (because trying to say it in Romanian is prohibitively difficult at present), then insert your card to pay. A few moments later, your receipt will print and you'll be out of there. 

8) Pat yourself on the back. You did it!

A receipt from our local grocery store, Linella

As for cooking, we've been able to make many of our recipes from home (though bringing out own cumin and chili powder helped, and we're going to be in trouble when our stash runs out!). It helps that we were already pretty used to making things from scratch, without relying on a lot of things like boxed mixes or canned soups. Sure, we can't find enchilada sauce, but we've found a spicy tomato sauce that's a decent replacement. We've been about to find good (though pricey) tortillas, and rice and pasta and beans are blissfully the same almost anywhere.

One welcome difference came when we made buttermilk pancakes. The only buttermilk-type thing Jesse could find was called "soured milk," which sounded right but also made us a bit wary. We went ahead and used it, figuring we could always make plain pancakes if it turned out terrible (that's basically been our practice for finding substitutes here--go ahead and try it, and make something else if it's terrible!). 

Far from being terrible, the pancakes turned out GIANT and fluffy and delicious! 

We don't have syrup here so we use jam, which, as it turns out we use tons of, because it is also our peanut butter substitute. 

Jesse has done most of the transactions here that required ordering things, because everyone speaks Russian. It's honestly been a bit frustrating to not be able to be self-sufficient in that regard, so the other day I had Jesse teach me to order some ice cream. I approached the cashier to order, and bless her heart, she smiled bemusedly at my broken Russian instead of grimacing or scowling. A few awkward sentences later, I had procured the ice cream pictured below. Huzzah! 

Finally, speaking of food one last time: Our landlady came by the other day to check on some things, and while she was here she pulled a few toys for the kids out of storage. One of them was this little toy kitchen. I remembered that I had seen some cheap plastic play food at the grocery store, and went to get it that afternoon.

The play food was funny--yellow plastic strawberries, pink bananas, and green chicken, with cups and plates that had stickers on them saying things like "Interesting." 

They matched the kitchen well though, which had stickers on it saying "Wonderfu."

Saturday, September 24, 2016


Chisinau is the biggest city I've ever lived in, and it's a very different dynamic to live somewhere with so many people (Chisinau is about 700,000 people or so). One very noticeable difference is that there always seems to be something going on downtown, and because we live not that far from downtown, we can often hear the festivities through our open windows. There are many evenings where at 10 pm we'll be getting ready for bed, and we'll still hear music from some event or other going on. Instead of finding this annoying, I usually find it a charming reminder of living in a vibrant town full of life. 

A few days ago, we heard music coming from downtown all day long, and after dinner decided to head on over to see what all the hullaballoo was for. 

It turned out there was some kind of techno-color fest going on (sponsored by a local cell phone company), complete with ear-splittingly loud bass and colorful chalk to throw at each other. 

We didn't get in on the chalk action (I'm not sure the kids would have liked either it or the overly loud music) but it was fun to walk downtown and see TONS of people out enjoying it. I think there was also some sort of diversity festival going on (if we understood the Romanian signs correctly...) but most of that had wrapped up during the day, so we just saw them taking down banners. Either way, it was a pretty cool celebration! 

I think I took this picture that same evening--the sun setting over the square, with  the statue of Stefan cel Mare obscured by a sun flare. Sunset is already getting earlier here (it was at about 9 when we got here, but has been pushed back to around 7:50, just 4 weeks later!) and it was lovely to be out and about in the city with the sun's dying rays. 

Alright, this is a little bit of a tangent, but a neat perk of living downtown is that we live next to tons of embassies from countries all over the world. We always pass in front of the British embassy, where there are tons of these concrete pillars. Nikolai has dubbed them "lasers," and usually tries to convince us that we need to run through them. See, even our kids enjoy the city! ;) 

Friday, September 23, 2016


Street names here are commonly named after people, and it's interesting living in a city where I recognize almost none of the eponyms (with the one exception being the Russian poet Pushkin, who Jesse loves, so I definitely recognize that one). 

One of the streets near us is named after Alexei Sciusev (pronounced "Alex-ay Shoo-suhv"). 

I had no idea who he was, but apparently the house he was born in and lived in during his youth is further down on the street, with a cool relief bust of him on the side:

After doing some research (*cough* Wikipedia *cough*) it turns out he was a famous Soviet architect, and one of his most notable creations was Lenin's mausoleum--you know, the super cool building in which they placed Lenin's embalmed body (it's still on my bucket list to go inside and see it!).

In case you're not a crazy Russophile and don't know what it looks like, here's a photo I took from when we visited Moscow in 2011:

Crazy, huh? It's a small (Soviet) world after all!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Tree / Stump

Looking up from where I was pushing Nikolai on the swing the other day, I noticed how lovely the trees looked against the blue sky (or "ky!  ky!" as Miri would say). Fall is arriving swiftly here in Chisinau and many leaves are already starting to change color (though this photo was taken just before that started to occur). I'm really looking forward to seeing what fall will be like here!

Speaking of trees, here is a stump that we always pass on our way home from the park:

I took the kids' picture on it once, and then the next time we passed by it, Miriam climbed up on it and started asking for me to take another picture (I believe her exact words were, "own! own!" [phone]).

And now I have to take a picture of the kids on it every time we pass! I kind of like the idea--I think I'm going to take a picture every time and then make a giant college of it when we move. Most of the pictures might be the kids being silly and blurry, but I think it'll be fun!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Little Sillies

I don't have much to say for this post, so instead I'm going to share some photos and videos of our awesome kids. They're kids, so obviously they're crazy and drive us nuts sometimes, but it's also impossible to not remember how amazing and vivacious they are too. 

Sweet smiley Niko:

Super Miri:

Messy icecream face:

And Niko dancing to two different Kishi Bashi songs on two different days (we went on a major kick of that album last week, with the Niko requesting it several days in a row so we could all dance. I was happy to acquiesce!). 



Tuesday, September 20, 2016


As part of my Masters of Library Science, I'm doing some research (along with a Romanian professor of mine) at the National Children's Library. 

A few weeks ago, I went to meet with the assistant director (who speaks English very well), and she showed me around their lovely library. In addition to the research I'm doing (which I'll talk about more below), we're both hoping to involve me in some English-speaking activities at the library this fall. So far, we're thinking about me being part of an English-language debate activity for teenagers, and maybe even doing an English-language storytime for Preschoolers. I'm very excited about the prospect of both!

A few years ago, they had the library renovated, and had a local artist paint this lovely mural. I don't recognize many of the storybook characters, but I spotted Pippi Longstockings!

I also briefly met the assistant director of the National Library, who was also incredibly kind and very talented. These women are doing the amazing work of spreading literacy and knowledge in Moldova, and it is hard to explain how much I admire them. On my way out of the National Library, I noticed the awesome book relief carvings on the doors:

As for the research I'm doing: I'm trying to gather statistical data about the Children's Library from 1990 to 2015, looking at numbers of patrons, book loans, visits, the size of the collection, language of the collection, and more. I've started some of this research by combing yearly reports put out by the library, some of which have statistical data in them. Unfortunately, they're all in Romanian! So I've been doing a lot of copying and pasting into Google Translate, and then a lot of scratching my head when the translation comes out gobbledygook. It's been slow going but I've gotten better at it, and the limited Romanian I've already learned has helped a little. Yay for technology!

And speaking of technology (but not speaking of libraries), we've been really grateful for google hangouts, whatsapp, and facebook messenger, which have all allowed us to contact our family, friends and loved ones while we've been here. It doesn't matter how many times I punch in my mother's number on google hangouts and hear her phone ring 5,000+ miles away in Utah, it always feels miraculous to me. 

Thanks, family, for putting up with the 7-9 hour time difference and for calling and messaging at all kinds of hours of the day and night. We love you and miss you all!

Monday, September 19, 2016


Even as the weather turns cooler, we are spending a lot of time at local parks. 

Nikolai is learning to swing on his own (albeit begrudgingly):


The blurry picture below is the only one I have of the lovely tree-lined entrance to the main park. It has busts of Moldovan writers lining it, and it's always a joy to walk down. 

Niko spotted this climbing wall the other day and made it all the way to the top. I was very impressed!

Ok, I already posted this one on Instagram but I just can't get over how old Niko looks here. It's nuts! Also, almost every time we go to the park, the kids both beeline to this silly little bouncing seat. Niko, having longer legs, obviously makes it there first. Miriam, eternally feeling the fire of injustice, often throws herself into the dirt in protest. It's a lovely tradition. 

Here's Nikolai at the top of a playground:

Oh, I've been meaning to mention: most (if not all!) playgrounds here have these little exercise areas next to them, with all kinds of equipment for working out. I think the idea is that parents can work out while their kids play, but I also like the idea that being able to exercise is a public good and people ought to be able to have access to exercise equipment (as opposed to having to pay for a gym membership). Sure, I see little kids playing on it a lot, but I also see a fair amount of adults that look like they've come there just for that purpose, which is cool. 

Last week we explored a new city park, Valea Trandafirilor. It's a little ways away (we had to take a bus instead of walking) but it's huge and has three lakes in it. One of the lakes has paddle boats for rent, and I think we might try one next summer (when we're more sure Miriam won't try to dive out into the water). 

It's a good thing there's so many great parks here, because we like spending time at them!

Monday, September 12, 2016


We're in this strange space where we keep referring to Michigan/America as 'home.' Without thinking about it, we'll say to Niko, "Remember back home, how we'd...." Or we'll say, "When we move back home next year..."

These kinds of sentences always end with us feeling a bit flummoxed and strange. "I mean, when we move back to America," we end up saying. 

The truth is, 'home' is a strange concept for me right now. 

I grew up in North Carolina (but without a huge sense of being "North Carolinian" or whatnot), but my family doesn't live there anymore, and I haven't kept in close contact with anyone that does. I went to school in Utah, but that never really felt like home. The place my parents live now feels home-ish, but it's still not my home. 

The place I've felt most at home in recent years (it's also the place I've lived the longest in the last decade) was Michigan, but we don't live there anymore, and likely won't when we move back to the U.S. 

In truth, I feel fairly rootless, unmoored. Where is my home? What do I mean when I say the word?

When we first got here and were living somewhere temporarily, we started referring to it as 'home' to the kids, I think in part to regain a sense of normalcy in an unfamiliar place. Upon moving to our permanent apartment, we quickly switched to calling it home. And it already feels homey--our Soviet-era apartment with its plastic sunflower tablecloth and kitchen sink that is 4 inches too far in the corner to really feel comfortable (remind me to post a photo of it sometime).

The kids chase each other around here, squealing and yelling (and sometimes crying, depending on if Miriam is still happy about the chasing) and making messes. Jesse sits at the desk, re-writing lesson plans for when classes start in a few weeks. I munch on ginger cookies and read a collection of short stories on my kindle. Home is settling in around the edges of things. 

Some photos of home lately:

Miriam found all of the boxes I stashed from our new appliances (I'm saving them to make crafts with Niko) and all of our plastic and reusable bags and spread them all out across the kitchen floor. Side note: those boxes have now been moved out of baby-reach.

We miraculously found tortillas at the grocery store, and Nikolai ate one into the shape of Batman. He was so proud!

Sunday, September 11, 2016


We have been making things. 

Nikolai saw Jesse sitting in a chair and made a picture of him:

The model

The artwork

I don't know if you can tell, but he drew Jesse's legs bent at just the right angle and even tried to draw them crossed, by making one shorter than the other. Atta boy!

We couldn't consider ourselves fully moved in until we made cookies. We didn't have brown sugar or shortening, but they turned out pretty tasty anyways!

I bought a big bag of plain brick legos before we moved (we needed more) and busted them out when we got into our new apartment, so we've all spent a lot of time making things with them. Nikolai and I built this sweet tree house (pardon the terrible colors, my phone dislikes the lighting in our living room):

I bought some cheap modeling clay at the grocery store, and Nikolai and I had some fun making tiny monsters and Pokemon:

Finally, we haven't really been making money (sure, Jesse's getting paid by the fellowship, but it's not quite the same thing), but we have been using our fair share of Moldovan currency. 

Pictured, I have the 1, 5, 10 and 50 Lei bills, with 5, 10 and 25 bani coins. 

For context, 1 Leu is worth about 5 cents and 50 Lei is worth about $2.50. A bus ride costs 2 Lei and a liter of milk costs 15 Lei. 

Of the coins, the 25 bani is worth 1 cent, and the 5 is worth just $.002. Though the dollar is fairly strong against the Lei (meaning just because 15 Lei for milk is cheap for us doesn't mean it is for Moldovans), banii are fairly pointless and it seems like many merchants don't use them. 

What is very interesting is trying to get used to a currency system where a large number like (like 200 Lei) actually isn't that much money (it's about $10). It's sort of strange to see huge numbers and think that it's actually fairly affordable (though this might be leading me to throw endless amounts of bags of cookies in our cart at the store, saying, "it's only 20 Lei! It barely counts as spending money!") 

We had this problem when we visited Russia 5 years ago too, when $1 was worth about 37 rubles (fun fact, now a dollar is worth 64 rubles. Poor Russians and their crashed economy! Thanks a lot, Putin!) 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Out and About

Exploring a foreign country is a slow process when you're homebodies. Why go out and see the awesome city, when you could stay inside and be so cozy and happy? 

A few times a week, we suppress the urge to be cozy and go out into the great beyond.

Our entry hall has double mirrors on it, perfect for family selfies during shoe-putting-on time!

We often pass by this water-tower-turned-museum, and it's fun to see it up close. We can see it from our bedroom window and at night, it's all lit up with colorful lights (that are impossible to take a picture of, so take my word for it).

A few blocks from the water tower is a large lake. Lots of people go there to relax, fish, or exercise (by running loops around it). We mostly go for the playground :)

Oh, and for cheesy photos. 

The lake isn't far so Nikolai likes to ride his* scooter. 

*by "his," I mean the scooter left for us to borrow by our landlady Tatiana. Thanks, Tatiana!

Miriam has been boycotting both the baby carrier and the stroller lately, so she often gets to walk.It's a slow and often painful process (she often trips and scrapes her knees!), but at least she sleeps well at night! Oh, and it keeps her from screaming bloody murder. ;)

Friday, September 9, 2016


Nikolai started preschool on Monday. We dropped him straight into a Russian speaking class (he only speaks a few sentences of Russian, so this was a risk!), but he has come home pleased as punch every day, to our extreme delight. I was really nervous that he wouldn't take to it, or that it would be too hard to understand the teacher, or that he would be sad to be gone from us for so long (4.5 hours every day!). But he comes home every day proud of what he did and eager to show off what he learned. It makes my heart kind of burst, and he feels suddenly so grown up. I'm not really sure what to do with this feeling.

Needing to drop Nikolai off at 8 am means that our mornings have to start earlier than they used to. While Jesse was in school (and even while I was working, because my earliest shift was at 10), mornings were a pretty relaxed affair for us--Jesse would get up and need to leave by 8 or so, but me and the kids would laze about, have some breakfast, watch tv, and eventually get dressed and head out for the day. 

Now, we are waking up at 6:45 every day so we all have time to get up and get ready before shipping out at 7:50. It's the first time in about 5 years that I have willingly woken up before 7, and it's actually surprisingly delightful. Sunrise here is cheery and pink, and all the buildings around us take on a lovely colorful glow that makes me pleased to wake up early (instead of my usual grouchy). 

Mornings might not be as lazy as they were before, but they're still surprisingly cozy. We all sit around in our jammies for a bit and drink some yogurt (you didn't read that wrong--everyone has yogurt here that is thinner and can be sipped instead of spooned. I love it!), I have a glass of mint tea (because I'm not usually hungry before 8), and Jesse and I exchange glances over the kids' heads, marveling at their lovely sleep-smooshed hair and rosy faces. 

And then, sometimes, Niko says, "Daddy, tell me more about the Voyager!" So Jesse continues on the tale he began last night, about the Voyager space probe and its contents, and what it might be like if aliens found it.  

And then I get to have a marveling moment all to myself, amazed at what incredible people I get to share my life with.