Thursday, November 17, 2016

Mid-fall in Chisinau

I always love fall, and I am falling for fall in Chisinau!

It has been wet and cool and crisp and delightful.

Also, the low sunlight coming through my bedroom window in the morning is divine (that is what I try to remind myself when the sun sets at 4:30 and makes me sad!): 

We are a long ways from the beginning of fall, when leaves had just begun to flutter down and wash up on the shores of sidewalks and curbs. Now, the leaves are almost all down, and have settled in as temporary cement, filling in the potholes and cracks in the sidewalk. 

On days when the kids were sick this last week (meaning I was stuck inside A LOT), I would make an excuse to go to the store for something, and Jesse would insist that I not rush while I was out. What followed was several leisurely walks, basking in the light coming through the barren branches. The lack of foliage this time of year always feels like a revelation to me, literally--I can suddenly see further than I could before, and buildings that used to be obscured by trees are now visible. 

One of those days, the Moldovan flag on our street looked really lovely: 

And it's hard for me to get over how beautiful I find the colors of fall: rich oranges, reds, yellows and browns that make the world seem like it's full of golden light at any time of day. 

I sat in my bedroom window the other week and painted the trees out in our courtyard. I meant to take a photo for this post but forgot (I will try to remember to soon), though I don't think it was terribly good. What was most delightful was mixing the right watercolors for the job--taking time to observe and mix just the right shade of golden brown for this tree, and noticing that the tree next to it was a slightly brighter shade. It was really soothing to spend so much time noticing and appreciating the fall colors, and I highly recommend it!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Kids in fall and such

Some fall miscellany:

Since the kids have been sick lately, I haven't felt comfortable taking them to the park. As such, we have spent WAY too much time at home, so I've been trying to find ways to break up the mediocrity. On a day when Nikolai was feeling a little better (and complaining about being "BORED!") I put together a little spider web hunt for him in the kitchen. First, I showed him how to draw small alphabet letters (he knows the big ones but not the small ones) and had him write each one on a little square. Then I made him leave the room while I strung up a bunch of string, criss-crossing the room  and taping up the letters as I went. When I was done, he had to come in and find the letters in order by climbing under and over the strings. It was a fun learning activity and I hope to do more things like this in the future!

I took these next photos a few weeks ago when the leaves had just started falling (they're mostly down now!). Some of the maple leaves here are GIANT, and Nikolai wanted to pose with this one in front of his face: 

On a different fall day, we went out into the courtyard and played in the leaves, including having a giant leaf fight. Afterwards, Niko and I built this little fairy house:

This photo is even older (and those of you that follow me on instagram or facebook have already seen it). We've started a new tradition of making homemade hot cocoa on Sunday evenings just before the kids go to bed, and I LOVE it. I always sort of wanted to make homemade hot cocoa in America, but it seemed like so much work when I could buy powdered stuff at the store. But I can't find powdered hot cocoa here and I had really been wanting some (especially for that 2 week period when it had gotten cold but the city-controlled radiators in our Soviet-era apartment weren't working yet--brr!!), so I finally got the chance to make it from scratch! I think this is a tradition we are going to carry on long into the future. 

Also, please notice Miriam's frilly floral blouse layered over a stripey shirt. The child has been obsessed with changing her clothes lately and that was what she chose! Obviously, she gets coerced into changing her clothes again before we leave the house ;) 

Monday, November 14, 2016


Guys, it has been SUCH A WEEK. I woke up to the election results on Wednesday completely dumbfounded by what America had done in my absence (REALLY? Donald Trump is going to be president??) and spent the next few days in complete denial. This was only compounded by the fact that the kids have been sick (more accurately we've all been sick, but in different degrees of severity). Nikolai missed preschool all week, meaning my schoolwork was disrupted (luckily, this was a slow week) and neither kid left the house for a week. 

Needless to say, we're all going a little crazy. 

The kids have only been a little lower-energy, with how sick they feel/act coming and going (though not going enough for us to call them "better"). 

During a burst of energy the other day, Nikolai knocked over this chair and both kids proceeded to climb all over it:

I was actually completely astounded at how flexible Miriam was. She's basically doing a split here!!!

Also, a few Miriam tangents: 

1) I'm sorry all of my photos of Miriam are terrible (ok, actually all of my photos are terrible but that's because the cheapo smartphone I bought has a terrible camera and it doesn't cope well with the poor lighting in our apartment). But also, she's also just in that blurry stage of life where she never stops moving and is impossible to get a good picture of. I suppose in a few months she'll slow down a bit (Niko did, at least) and maybe I'll start to get half decent photos of her again, but until then she'll continue to be the Incredible Blur. 

2) Miriam talks A TON. Like, she says probably 200 words (we listed at least 150 and she's learned more since then) and can say basically anything she needs. This is completely nuts to us, because she's only 21 months old and at 21 months Nikolai said maybe 30 words tops. But she still surprises us a lot by popping out a word we didn't know she knew. For instance, the other day I was watching the Daily Show with headphones on while I made dinner, and she came up and was looking at the screen for a few minutes. After a bit they put a picture of Donald Trump on the screen, and without hearing the audio and with no prompting whatsoever, she pointed at the picture and said, "Tump!"


Yes, really, I was mortified. 

Ok, back to the kids being sick (because that topic is still preferable to the election). Jesse has made several trips to the Pharmacy to get medicine (because the idea of me trying to communicate with a pharmacist is a joke) and brought back some medicine the doctor recommended. But alas! It was in Romanian!

So I got to pull up google translate to try and figure out how to properly medicate my child ;) 

(Yes this photo is blurry and terrible, but it is actually a pretty fitting visual for how I've felt this week). 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Expat Depression

Hello everyone! It's been a long time since I posted--I know. I kept meaning to post and telling myself "oh maybe tomorrow I'll write," which obviously never happened. 

The number one reason I haven't written is because I've been depressed, and feeling depressed makes me not want to talk to the people I love (weird, huh, seeing as that's something that might help me feel better!).  In general I suffer from some anxiety and a modicum of depression, but I've found myself able to overcome these with an active lifestyle and, at times, some counseling. 

But since we moved to Moldova and the excitement and newness of living in a new place wore off, a specific variety of depression that many on the interwebs have labeled "expat depression" has set in, and set in hard. 

One day a few weeks ago I was sitting at home, feeling sad (a hallmark of depression, I know) but not really knowing why. I knew that I've been having a hard time with not being able to communicate with anyone, and feeling frustrated because my online schooling (which incredibly convenient) means I spend a great deal of my time in our apartment (and not much time out of the house). It's emotionally draining to always have to respond, "I'm sorry, I don't understand" in a language I don't speak. It's frustrating to always have to rely on Jesse to order for us at a restaurant for us, or to have to wait for him to be able to come with me if I need to buy something that requires talking to someone (basically anything that isn't sold at the grocery store). 

In the midst of feeling all of this, I suddenly thought to google "expat depression" and a blog post written a few years ago by a woman in a similar situation to me (albeit in Germany) popped up.

I've linked to it, but I want to quote a few parts that really spoke to what I've been feeling. 

"All of this has brought me to a place I don’t really want to admit to. I’m feeling depressed, lonely, irritated and confused about what exactly it is I’m doing here.

I’m also feeling selfish, ungrateful and completely idiotic because I’m pretty sure my former self would tell my current self to wake up and realize what an awesome opportunity I’ve stumbled into."

It's terrible to feel like I'm in the middle of this incredible experience and feeling awful. It's really, really bad. 

But the post went on to list 10 things that the author has done to combat this kind of depression. Her list was completely eye-opening to me, helping me realize things that I could do to feel better. 

Her list is really great, so I'm going to include it here with how I've done most (though not all) of the things on the list. 

1. Look at how people deal with managing run-of-the-mill depression.
She suggests doing things like eating healthy, exercising and being creative. I've found that eating unhealthy makes me pretty happy so I haven't implemented the first part, but I have realized that 15 minutes of pilates a day (or every other day) does wonders for my brain chemistry (seriously, I started exercising and felt MILES better in 3 days, and then I got a cold and couldn't exercise for a week and started backsliding again). I think, regardless of what post-expat life looks like, this is a thing I should continue. I've also started making time on Sundays to sit on a sunny windowsill and paint, which leaves me feeling calmer and with a better sense of well-being. 

2. Learn the language. This is probably the biggest change that that blog post inspired me to make. I realized that so much of my anxiety and depression about living here revolved around speaking neither Romanian nor Russian, and that if I really wanted to feel better I needed to do something about it. I had tossed around the idea of just doing an audio course of Russian, but after some deliberation I decided to find a Russian tutor (I felt guilty at first about learning Russian instead of Romanian, but then I realized that I can practice Russian with Jesse and I'd likely have more success that way). After shelling out a ton of money, I started meeting almost immediately with my awesome tutor, Olga. I go twice a week and not only have I been learning Russian at a breakneck speed (I can now have elementary conversations about introducing myself, the weather, talking about what I did yesterday, and my family, and I'm getting pretty good at reading Cyrillic), but it provides me with an excuse to get out of the house for an hour and a half twice a week without children. I still can't understand 96% of what people say to me in Russian, but I do pick up a lot more words than I did before. In general, I'm also much more confident when engaging in a conversation with someone I need to buy something from (the only interactions I really have) and can understand more of things I hear around me (side note: it was surprisingly isolating to walk down the street and realize I could understand NOTHING that was being said around me. But that is changing!) 

3. Find something you really love about the place. If you've read this blog at all since we moved here, you already know the answer to this: FOOD. I love the food here! There's that pastry store we love around the corner, an awesome restaurant delivery service we enjoy (that brought us some incredible crepes the other day), and really delicious, inexpensive cookies and chocolate at any grocery store. There are times when I'm at the store and trying to not be super consumerist and buy something that looks delicious, but then I realize that I'm excited about the prospect of trying something new and yummy, so I let myself buy it instead of restraining myself. I try not to do this every time, of course, but giving in sometimes brings me joy. 

4. Find something your really hate about the place, and learn to laugh at it. This one is tough, but it's probably the propensity of strangers to comment on your child's appearance/well-being. We've had strangers tell us that Miriam's bangs are too long and are bad for her vision, strangers notice that her pant legs have gotten hitched up, exposing 1 inch of bare leg in the mildly-cold weather, and well-meaning teachers tell us that Nikolai should be wearing more layers. It kind of drives me crazy to feel like I have to dress my children not so much for the weather as for other people who will feel the need to tell me how to take care of my child. Yes, I know, they're doing this not to be judgmental but to be helpful, but it still DRIVES ME NUTS. But Jesse and I are learning to make jokes about it--for instance, when Miriam screams when we're combing her hair and we give up rather than make the neighbors think we're torturing her, we joke "Well, someone at the park is going to comment on her messy hair!"...We're working on it. 

5. Seek out something that reminds you of your country. Baking. Baking reminds me of America. I brought all of my old recipes and we've found ways to make most (if not all) of our baking recipes here. Baking has always been a comforting experience for me, and I'm glad it continues to be so here.

6. Keep in touch with your friends, wherever they are. As I mentioned above, feeling depressed has made this harder. I called my mom for the first time in weeks yesterday (and ended up spending the whole time talking about the election. Sorry mom!) and haven't called my sister in even longer. I need to reach out my Ann Arborites but haven't had the energy to. But I want to and know that it'll make me feel better! 

7. Know that things will take longer. In the blog post, the author says, "Everything will take more time than you think. Of course I mean things like getting used to your neighborhood or getting official documents. But I also mean things like grocery shopping and other errands." This is completely true. Getting groceries not only has to happen more often but I often spend a lot of time in an aisle, trying to figure out if I'm buying the right kind of yeast, or if I can find dental floss at this store (the answer is often no). But making sure to go to the store at a time when I don't have to take the kids and don't have to rush home has helped alleviate some of the stress of grocery outings taking longer, and I'm learning to enjoy strolling the aisles, checking out what's similar and different from products at home (for instance, spices all come in packets instead of plastic jars, and every container of everything is about half the size of a similar product in America). It's the little things that make this part easier.  

8. Plan something to look forward to. This part is hard, because our finances are limited and we might only get one trip out of the country while we're here (despite the fact that it's incredibly cheap to travel to other countries here). But every weekend we make sure to plan a family outing into the city, where we go out under the guise of running errands but mostly are trying to explore. I'm already planning another post on these so I won't go into much detail, but knowing that I get to explore the city after a long week at home with the kids always makes me excited. 

9. Find other expats. We're working on this one too, but it's hard. We did find an expat parents group here, but they mostly meet on weekday mornings when Niko is at school, Miri is napping and I'm doing schoolwork. We've gotten to go once though (when they had it in the afternoon) and it was really great (I met an awesome Frenchwoman named Amandine who has been here for 5 years). I don't know if we'll get to go much in the future but it's something I'm looking into. 

10. This too shall pass. This one, combined with all of the above, helps me a lot. On days where things still feel hard, I remind myself: in 9 months, this will be all over. I only have a little while to live here, and I want to enjoy what time I have. 

All of that being said, I still have a hard time often, though on the whole I'm feeling MUCH better now than I did 4 weeks ago. The things I've been working on have helped a lot, and I hope to look back at this post when things are hard to remind myself of the ways I can try to feel better. 

To end this post on an unrelated note, here's some pictures of the embroidery I bought at the city day festival, and some embroidery Nikolai has been doing: 

Nikolai is in a major "if you're doing it I want to do it too" phase (though not when it comes to things like eating dinner or not throwing fits). He saw me doing my embroidery and wanted to do one too, so I sketched him out a car and showed him how to stitch.  

He did probably 75% of this one (though there's an airplane that he did when he was finished with the car that he did 96% of).

He really wanted to do a cross-stitch like me, so we hunted down the store that sells them and bought him one. Alas, I think it's too complicated for a 4 year old, but I think we'll do it together!

In an unrelated closing note: if you have any beloved activities that you've done with a 4/5 year old, will you let me know about them? I'm looking for more things to do with Nikolai and would love ideas!

Family Adventure Time

Something I look forward to these days is Saturday afternoons, when we embark on what I've named in our google calendar as "Family Adventure Time." When the weather was better this often meant exploring a new park, and lately it usually means "go find a place where we can find Miriam some winter shoes" (which ended up being like $20 and made me kinda angry because paying $20 for shoes she's going to wear for 3 months is NUTS) or "go find a place where we can buy a small trashcan for the bathroom."

Shopping here is so different from shopping in America. First of all, everyone in America has a car, so if you need something (like an appliance, or clothes, or whatnot) you can jump in your car and go to Target or Walmart or some other giant aggregator that sells everything under the sun to get it. Second of all, Americans tend to shove everything (food, paper products, medicine, office supplies, birthday cards, camping supplies, kitchen appliances) in even a run of the mill grocery store and call it good. So if you need something random (like a glue stick or dental floss), no worries! Just pick it up (if you remember!) the next time you're at Kroger. The other thing we did in America was to just order it from Amazon (all hail Amazon prime!), so often a trip wasn't even needed. 

But here, not everyone has a car, and grocery stores mostly sell groceries (I'm shocked!). There are places that are Target-esque where you can find everything under the sun, but they're further away and a hassle to get to. Amazon might be an option here, but we've heard conflicting stories about how complex customs can be here, so we haven't tried that yet.  Lots of things are sold in giant indoor (and outdoor) markets here, and you kind of have to know the market well if you need to find something random. 

Take, for instance, bobby pins: 

I had no idea where to buy a bobby pin in Chisinau. I've always just bought them at the grocery store in the past, and they don't carry them here! We looked at several stores, and even a few pharmacies, with no luck. I thought they might carry them at a beauty supply store, but I haven't seen any of those here (and couldn't find any on the web). We've been in several markets since we've been here and I always sort of casually glanced around to see if any stalls we passed had them, but I still hadn't seen any. I was starting to think we were going to need to resort to desperate measures to find some (either shaving off all of my hair or asking a Moldovan acquaintance where to find some [and yes both of those felt viable]). 

We had finally decided to ask someone where to find them when we happened to be passing a street side vendor selling hair accouterments (those are really common here). I've passed these before and never seen bobby pins (and wouldn't know what to call them if I wanted to ask if they had any) but lo and behold! This vendor had some on the table! I grabbed a bunch (for $.75!) and felt like we had accomplished something truly terrific. 

After shopping, we ventured out to a local barbecue place. It was started by some Americans that came to Chisinau as peace corp volunteers but then decided to stay. Being from the South, I can decidedly say that it was Good Barbecue (though not being vinegar-based, it was not the One True Barbecue) and we will definitely go back. 

On the way home, Nikolai was tired of walking and Miriam was tired of riding in the stroller, so they switched places: 

On the way home, we passed through the triumphal arch in the city center. It was beautifully lit with a Moldovan flag in the middle:

I had one of those moments (that I have a lot when we're out exploring the city) where I felt in awe of this place, and excited to be living here. And that is why I love Family Adventure Time!