Wednesday, October 17, 2018

О Новом Доме

Last days of summer. On our porch.Для нас этот год неожиданно оказался годом больших перемен. Смена места жительства, пусть и не в таком глобальном масштабе, как иммиграция, дело непростое.

Фантазировали и мечтали о своём доме мы давно, но было страшно и в плане финансов, и в плане адаптации к несколько иному образу жизни, и, конечно, в плане отрыва от семьи и друзей.

Early fall.Когда прошлым летом мы ездили смотреть дома в Нью-Йорке и Нью-Джерси, у меня не было чувства, что я готова решиться на переезд. Каждый раз после поездки на осмотр продающихся домов, почему-то начиналась мигрень. Да и школы, которые были основным из движущих нас факторов, хоть и выигрывали в сравнении с Нью-Йоркскими, все же не были так хороши, как хотелось.

Ещё я думала, что у меня в Бруклине есть хорошая подруга, найти замену которой мне представлялось почти невозможным. По правде говоря, мои дружеские чувства к ней делали мысль о переезде менее привлекательной. Однако, в конце прошлого года я сильно в ней разочаровалась, и хотя процесс осознания односторонности дружбы был неприятен, он убрал ещё одно препятствие для переезда. Теперь отрываться тяжело было только от родителей, но они очень поддерживали нас в решении улучшить уровень жизни для нас и детей, хотя им, конечно, очень бы хотелось, чтобы мы жили с ними поблизости.

Colorful backyard.Когда в конце февраля Даня предложил съездить и посмотреть дома в Коннектикуте, я не была уверена насколько серьёзно мы относились к этому процессу, но желание вырваться из ставшей тесной квартиры и избежать стресса поступления в среднюю школу возрастало экспоненциально.

К своему удивлению, я поняла, что готова переехать в один из увиденных нами домов. Местность вокруг показалась мне умиротворенной, дом светлым, и вообще возникло чувство, что это оно — то самое, что мы искали и где нам будет хорошо!

Colorful fall in Ridgefield.Как уже писал Даня, на следующей же неделе мы связались с агентом по продаже и поставили нашу квартиру на рынок. Продалась она очень быстро и за хорошую цену. Конечно, нам очень хотелось купить дом таким образом, чтобы и за две ипотеки не платить если дом купить слишком заранее, и не переезжать на съемную квартиру в противоположном варианте. Все вышло так, как мы хотели, хотя нервов этот процесс стоил немало. Даня уже писал об этом, повторять все подробности не буду.

Мы живем в доме уже 3 месяца. Мне очень нравится! Конечно, есть вещи, которые были удобнее, когда проживаешь в маленькой квартире в большом городе, но всё же плюсы пока сильно перевешивают минусы.

Из того, что мне нравится: Continue Reading
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Monday, March 30, 2015

I am a Driver

Alёna's first fillup.Yesterday we went to Petco to get some food and litter for Shublik. And you know who was driving? Me!!! I finally got my driver’s licence!

The lack of driver’s licence was bothering me for years. For some reason I thought that it’ll be close to impossible for me to learn how to drive (kind of like when I was a child I though that I would never learn to light a matchstick or to tell time). My permit expired for the second time over 2 years ago, and I did not even bother to get a new one until this February since I thought there was no point anyhow.

This year, however, my mom decided that the time has come to do something about this situation. She already pushed my sister to get a licence a few years back (and helped to watch the kids during the process, which is considerably more time consuming in Belarus than here). My sister is very happy and loves being at the wheel now.

So my mom said to me:
– Why don’t you try to get a licence while I’m visiting you guys? Even if you won’t be able to get fully ready for the test before I leave, you should at least start taking classes and such.

Old old photograph of Alёna doing some learning.And I thought, why not. I’ll have to do it sooner or later, and obviously, sooner is better. Danya also really wanted me to get a licence for a long time now, so he was all for it.

This conversation took place on Thursday, and I got my permit the following Monday, which was February 9th.

I contacted some of my friends who took driving lessons in the last 5 or so years, and Ignat recommended driving instructor named Oleg. Ignat passed the test on the first try, and so did his friend who recommended Oleg to him, so the stats were in my favor.

I took 12 or 13 lessons with Oleg and practiced 3-4 times with Danya. I have to say that instructor for me was necessary because I had a fear of driving in our regular car with no additional break pedal. Plus, Oleg knew exactly what examiners are looking for on a test and he made sure I learned everything by the book.

Another old old photograph.Oleg recommended to schedule a test in Staten Island instead of Brooklyn. He said that the examiners over there are really fair, and the testing areas are less challenging than in Brooklyn. I followed his advice, but it took me two days of sitting by the computer to actually schedule the test. The places over there disappear quickly and there is very little choice over the date which is open for scheduling at any given time. It happened so that I scheduled the test on the day when my mom was flying back to Belarus. She did not mind.

I was taking the test in Oleg’s car, so he drove me to Staten Island in the morning and we had one last lesson to familiarize with the terrain. The test itself took about 10 minutes. The examiner, a lady in her late 40s, was really nice. She said that I am a bit slow and gave me some points for wide right turn and observation on intersection, but gave me a pass nonetheless. I was so happy, I almost cried!

Now I need to practice. I am a bit nervous when I am at the wheel, but I guess it is normal. Danya says that I seem to make right decisions, but need to work on execution. Hopefully, one day I’ll be able to enjoy driving!

By the way, classes cost $40 an hour, and the car for the test is another $120. Oleg often spent a little over an hour during out classes, which was nice of him.
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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Tennessee Trip Highlights

Time really flies. It’s been more than a week since our vacation has ended and I, as usual, am having trouble figuring out which way to go about these posts. So I decided to just pick out some general categories about the whole trip and then split off location specific notes into separate posts.

Hotels


Throughout our trip we stayed at five different places. Four of those places were Hilton properties. We did not take advantage of our points for any of these since we’re saving them for our November trip, but we did get the full benefits of our Diamond VIP status.

Park Vista by DoubleTree. Gatlinburg, Tennessee.All Hilton properties are great. Clean, big rooms, nice blankets, good breakfasts. I would rate them all at four out of five starts with the exception of one. The hotel where we spent six nights — the longest and most important part of our vacation was just superb and by far the best one of our trip. It was Park Vista by DoubleTree (Hilton property) located right on the edge of Great Smoky Mountains in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Our hotel. 15 stories atop a hill.Everything about it was great. The hotel itself was located on top of a mountain located right in the middle of a forest. We got upgraded to the top, fifteenth, floor. We had a balcony with a great view of Gatlinburg and the mountains that surround it.

View from the inside.This hotel had a very nice breakfast included with a chef that would cook hot to order meals. We also took advantage of the on property restaurant practically every day. Once we ate directly at it, but mostly we would order some dishes to go to bring up to our room and had our dinner while Anechka was tucked in for the night in the same room.

Other Hilton properties that we stayed at were located in Hershey, Pennsylvania — right near PA capital of Harrisburg, Chapel Hill, North Carolina — not far from NC capital of Raleigh, and the last one was located in Arlington, Virginia — right across the bridge from Washington, DC.

Skyland Resort at Shenandoah National Park.Our only non Hilton hotel was a lodge located right inside Shenandoah National Park. We did stay at the same lodge at the end of 2010. However because we had to reschedule our trip we ended up having to take the only left over room. It was located in a different part of the lodge (cabins are all over the property) and was somehow way below the standard that we are used to.

DoubleTree at Gatlinburg.Floors we were not covered with carpet and cold. Beds were small, mattresses were old. Arosha kept falling off the bed throughout the night. Hot water would run out before one could take a quick shower. There were no laundry facilities and we couldn’t do without them because of Anna’s diapers (more on that later). And it smelled like … — well, it just smelled.

The only thing that it had going for it was the fact that it was located right in the woods and we had a nice porch where Arosha could play with leafs, sticks, stones and all other things he loves playing with. And the restaurant was nearby as opposed to the other cabins from which one had to climb atop a rather steep hill to get to it.

Arligngon, Virginia.Overall this contributed to us cutting our Shenandoah stay one night short. We ended up adding the night to our Tennessee stay which proved to be a very good move on our part.

Pools


The hotel in Tennessee had probably the best pool we’ve encountered during all our previous travels. It had a pair of shallow pools for kids, a hot tub, and an adult pool with a two story high slide leading right into it. Arosha loved it. I would put him between my legs, we would lie down on our backs and slide down right into the water. I have to admit that it was quite fun for me as well.

Pools at Gatlinburg DoubleTree.There was another smaller slide leading into the kids pool, but it was a tube going through the wall. It was pretty dark inside and only on our last day I managed to talk Arosha into trying it. He had to go through it alone as I would not fit into it. So when he was ready to go in I told him that I’ll run down to the pool and catch him at the bottom.

The first time by the time I got there I saw a huge splash and Arosha managing to get above water on his own. Naturally he wanted to go again. On the second time by the time I got down to the pool I heard yelling coming through the tube:
– Ready??
– Ready.
– Ready???
– Ready!

Water slide.The next thing I see is Arosha flying through the tube with complete terror on his face. He splashes down into the pool, jump out with with complete ecstasy written all over his face. Again! Third time went very much like the previous run. Same “readies”, same terror, same happiness.

Alena also took Anna out to the pool. She also enjoyed it along. Alena would hold her in the water with her head above it and they would “swim” around the pool. One time Arosha and I talked Alena into trying the slide. We practically had to coerce her into it. Eventually she reluctantly agreed.

Another view of the slide.When she got up there I told Arosha — now listen to this! And then we heard multiple high pitched yells, screams and howls. She did end up liking it too. I’m glad we made her try.

Our other pool experience was rather sad. While we stayed in Arlington we decide to go to the pool. Arosha got all dressed, all prepared, totally happy. We all also got dressed for the pool. Then we couldn’t figure out which floor it was on. When we went down to the lobby to inquire where it is it turned out that this was the only hotel of our stay where there was no pool. It was a complete tragedy for poor Arosha. So much preparation and anticipation and such a fiasco. He was crushed. That will teach us a lesson for the future though.

Our Car


Our car has served us admirably. I’m really enjoying the “utility” part of our SUV. The cargo space easily fit a pair of large suitcases, a stroller and a good number of smaller bags and purses, while still allowing us to pull a cover over them.

Shenandoah fog and our car.The ride was comfortable and higher vantage point makes for a better trip — you can see more. Distronic made driving for 2,000 miles easier on me. Our car fully loaded with four people and a lot of cargo came out with a very respectable MPG of 26. That’s with mixed highway and city driving. We had to fill up only 4 times and that’s considering that we never waited for it to fall below 1/4th of the tank. Diesel rules.

One thing to note is that while I feel rather well driving Mercedes in and around New York it felt a bit awkward everywhere else. It attracts too much attention and really stands out. Something like Chevy Tahoe would feel somehow safer and more comfortable in that respect.

Another trail.However while before I never wanted anything to do with SUVs now I’m a big fan of an SUV as a family car. It is safe, heavy, stable and allowed us to easily park in all kinds of “off-road” ditches while in the parks.

Kids


Our kids did great. We feared that 400 miles in one day was not doable without many problems. Our original plan was to split it into two days when we left Shenandoah one day early. Turned out it wasn’t a problem at all. We kept planning to stop at 200 miles, 300 miles, but they just kept doing well. Only towards the end a little amount of crying ensued from Anyuta. Arosha had zero issues at all.

On the trail to Laurel Falls.The totally love nature. We could not drag Arosha away from anywhere. Sticks and stones, rivers and puddles. Arosha’s kind of paradise. Anyuta also was very happy to sit on the ground and taste grass, flowers, sticks and just plain good old dirt.

Arosha did great on hikes. We did numerous long hikes on steep trails that were about 3 miles in length and he walked them on his own without any problems. Anna on the other hand refused to sit in her ergo for the most part and Alena had to carry her. I don’t know where she gets the strength and energy. Us driving our stroller around was totally pointless. We haven’t used it once.

Nature fun.Sleeping in one room was perfectly fine too. We thought that’d all have to go on Anna’s schedule and go to sleep at 8pm. However once Alena did put her to bed we could still sit around and do other stuff. Arosha could watch some cartoons or all of us would go through our pictures we took throughout the day. Or we would eat dinner using bathroom sinks as dinner tables. It all work out rather well.

Laundry


Now this was a first for us. Because Anyuta is allergic to disposable diapers we have to use washable cloth ones. And as a result we had to do laundry every other day. Shenandoah was the worst. No laundry facilities and the closest town was 30 minutes away. Hot water would run out. Alena did hand wash them in the cold water.

View from the window of our Gatlinburg hotel.We dried them everywhere. Radiators, tables, TVs and so on. The best place though goes to the dashboard of our car while the car was sitting in the sun and we were away on a walk of some kind. Other hotels did have laundry facilities, yet it was still quite annoying to say the least.

Food


Food was … boring. This country is full of steak houses with very little variety. By the end of the trip we could not look at steaks, burgers and potatoes. We did eat at a nice Mexican restaurant once and one Cuban hole in the wall place. While in Washington we ended up running into a completely random and cheap Chinese place that was in China Town which was well reviewed by New York Times as it turned out. By most evenings my appetite for any food was nowhere to be found so we mostly ate from the appetizer sections of the menus.

Bullfish Grill at Pigeon Forge, Tennesssee.One thing that worried us slightly was the fact that Anyuta would always cry before at any kind of a restaurant. But Alena figured out a perfect solution. She can sit very well in a high chair on her own. Alena would put a plate in front of her and would put all kinds of non-choke hazard vegetables on that plate — string beans, broccoli, slices of carrots and so on. Anyuta would reach out for them and taste them. That kept her occupied rather well and would could eat in peace.

Overall


Overall it was a really nice road trip. A great vacation with an exception of one nightmarish night in Shenandoah. I’ll explain in more detail later. Otherwise we got very lucky with the weather, spring was in full bloom and we’ve seen a lot of beautiful and interesting new places. It was fun for all four of us and it was not as hard as we thought it would be. It actually wasn’t all that hard at all. Our kids are great.
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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Good Timing

Our M-Class braving the storm.It looks like we timed well our truck purchase. This winter is proving to be quite snowy already and there is no way I would’ve been able to get home yesterday if I was driving a rear-wheel-drive car. From many years of experience — if it’s snowing — you let the car sit. It is quite hard to get it around the block, forget about 60 mile commute.

Solid ice.I have claimed for years that there is zero need for me to have an all-wheel-drive car, but yesterday it sure felt nice to be in a car with a grip of 4MATIC — Mercedes-Benz implementation of all-wheel-drive. I think I do not want any other car without this option. Even little C-Class that we had for several days came with it and I felt really comfortable driving it in the snow.

Needs a wash.The car performed well all around. It felt like my personal little fortress — calm, warm, stable and rather well self-driving while stuck in traffic thanks to Distronic. So far I’m very happy. However at the moment our MB must be the dirtiest car in all of Brooklyn.
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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Day Trip To Pisa

Leaning Tower of Pisa.When we were planning our trip we couldn’t make up our mind whether we should rent a car and drive or if we should stick to trains as it has worked so well for us in Japan. After thinking and thinking we decided to go ahead and get the driver’s license anyhow and possibly try to rent a car for a single day, but traveling by trains seemed like an easier and less stressful thing to deal with and that’s what we did1. We ended up not visiting any small towns, but it was the right decision for the first trip.

Tuscany.We moved from city to city by rail via bullet trains. We used public transpiration around those cities and that was definitely the right thing to do. Even though city centers are quite busy and streets are tiny that wasn’t the scary part of driving. The scary part was the fact that there are some no driving zones even though roads lead there and tourists tend to drive into those parts and get fined. Plus who wants to deal with looking for parking on vacation?

The streets of Pisa.But having a European driver’s license in hand we figured that visiting Pisa would be a great time to try renting a car for a day. We were staying in Florence for 3 nights and Pisa is only 60 miles away. We weren’t quite sure if we’ll want to spend the day outside of Florence or if we’ll want to spend that day in Florence itself. However several things tipped the scale towards a drive to Pisa.

The streets of Pisa.First we arrived to Florence pretty early on Sunday. Somehow we budgeted the whole day for the train ride, but since the ride wasn’t all that long we ended up going to downtown area on that very day and saw a good portion of what we wanted to see — Duomo. We also did our climb to the top and took a good set of pictures. Our second objective in Florence was Uffizi Gallery and it was closed on Monday — we had Tuesday for that. Third is the fact that Pisa Tower is a very famous place and being so close to it and not seeing it would not make sense. And fourth was simply the fact that we wanted to get some out-of-the-country car renting experience under our belt.

In our Fiat on our way to Pisa.Before the trip I looked for car rental places, but all of them were near the central train station close to downtown or the airport. Neither one seemed exactly convenient, but I made a reservation near the train station, thinking that we’ll be spending time in the center of the city anyhow. On Monday morning we couldn’t really decide whether we still should do it. Driving out of the center is one thing, but not knowing where to drive is a whole other matter. Instead we went down to the reception desk of our hotel and asked if there were any rental places around. Turned out that Eurocar Rental was 5 minute walk away.

Our Fiat Panda.That’s where we went. Slowly moving guy, by American standards at least, said that they did have cars and their rates were very comparable to the rates that we got online for downtown rental. We also decided to include a GPS unit and all possible insurances that they were offering in addition to the mandatory theft insurance — none of my credit cards were offering insurance to cars rented in Italy and neither did my own car policy. The total for the day came out to $127. There were no hidden fees that and no problems whatsoever.

Central Pisa.One funny moment or maybe a silly moment for us was that we decided to boast how cheap the gas is for us in the U.S. and how we can easily afford to drive big, V8 powered cars to which the guy gave us a sobering reply: “Our medicine is free. My kids will go to college for free.” And something else along these lines. In his words it’s nice to be middle class in Italy, but if you want to be rich you have much more chances of making it in U.S. I personally will take my chances. All other countries are fun, but there is no place like home and New York is it.

Our Panda.Now that was a long introduction. At this point we finally got into our Fiat Panda which sported a 1.2 litter engine at the most, but which was unexpectedly roomy. The car came with a manual transmission. Luckily for me I had a pretty lengthy manual transmission experiment running during my younger days, so I had no problems driving a stick. All the traffic was also no big deal after New York. And with the help from our GPS unit we were soon speeding away from Florence and on our way to Pisa via autostrada A11.

Pisa.Weather-wise the day was less than stellar, no put intended. It was the only day when it actually rained throughout all of our trip. But it worked out OK for us. It only rained while we were driving and when we arrived to our destination the rain stopped. Rain was one of the reasons why we took a big highway straight to Pisa instead of small back roads. Another reason was the fact that we sill weren’t too sure of our navigational abilities, so we took the surest route. We hoped that on our way back we’ll take some smaller road and hopefully will get to stop in some small towns. Alas, that’s not how it worked out.

Parking meter and street signs.It took us an hour to get to Pisa. We spotted the tower from quite a bit away and soon after easily found parking fairly close to the central district of the city. There was a ton of elaborate signs explaining the parking rules, but in the end it came out to operating a very similar in use parking machine that New York City is covered in. We dropped the coins in, it spat a printed ticket out that goes behind the windshield. The restricted traffic zone was also very clearly marked, so I don’t think there really was a danger of us crossing into it accidentally.

Restricted traffic zone.We left our car and went on a hiking tour around Pisa. The town itself was somewhat of a cross between Florence and Rome architecture-wise, although the number of tourist was noticeably smaller than that of the other two cities. And beside the tower and central cathedral there really wasn’t much to do as far as our itinerary went. Even though the city itself has numerous other historic churches we decided to limit our whole Italian trip to the most famous locations in order to avoid a complete mess of memories at the end of our vacation.

Central Cathedral and Tower of Pisa.The famous tower itself is indeed a sight to behold. I knew the tower was leaning, I didn’t realize how much. It really stands at freakishly steep angle. In fact the angle was so freakish that we decided to forgo the climbing to the top tour — our only such omission during the whole trip. We took a good number of pictures, although I ran into another problem here. While all the normal towers on my pictures were falling down because of wide-angle distortion, this one was actually coming out straight. Quite ironic. As a result I don’t really have any pictures that I’m proud of from this particular place.

Mediterranean Sea coast.We walked about around the central area, took some more pictures of the main cathedral and headed back to our car. Our next objective was try to head up north along the coast of Mediterranean Sea as far as the day (sun) would allow. We actually wanted to get all the way to Manarola for its picturesque views and it was only 60 miles away, but there just wasn’t enough time. The sun was getting close to horizon by the time we were only half way there. So we stopped in one of the coastal resort towns — Marina di Pietrasanta — and took a nice walk along some pier and watched the sun set over the water. The town itself was virtually deserted, but it probably is bustling with activity during the summer months.

View from the pier.At this point we got back into our car and headed back to Firenze. Since it was dark out already we ended up not stopping or taking detours towards any of the small towns, even though we took a different road back. When we were getting closer to Florence I went into some panic mode — I know, so unusual — thinking that we won’t find the rental place, our hotel or any gas stations to fill the car up at. I really wanted to return the car this day and not have to wait until morning and worry about this chore the next day.

Resort town of Marina di Pietrasanta.“Strangely enough” there was no problem finding anything, although gas bill came out quite high even on 1.2 litter engine. We turned the car in and were back at our hotel room at around 7pm. Now I could truly relax and reflect on the experience of this fun and unique day. We decided not to take a bus to the center of the city and went to local restaurant for dinner on a recommendation of our hotel staff. We walked through the modern yet quite neighborhood of residential Florence, ate our dinner and drank our wine at Mi Amor restaurant, and were asleep soon after getting back to our cozy room of our Hilton Garden Inn.

  1. We did the math and buying a pass like we did in Japan didn’t make financial sense. In Japan the reservations were included in the price of the pass. In Italy reservations are mandatory and are not included in the price. []

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Random Ramblings

Get out of my way, I do not care where my brake pedal is.Yesterday we drove out to Floyd Bennett Field to give Alena some driving lessons. She’s got her Learner’s Permit this Monday.

Get out of my way, I do not know where my brake pedal is.Just two random photos from the series. “Get out of my way, I don’t care to know where my brake pedal is.” And “Get out of my way, I don’t know where my brake pedal is.”

Then it started raining. And it keeps taking breaks and then resuming again. And it keeps going still. I want to publish a photo, but there is already one posted that represents the mood just right.

New York for Obama t-shirt.And on a different topic we ordered a pair of Obama t-shirts with Alena. The site advised to get one size bigger then you normally get and while that works fine for me it was a mistake for Alena. We’ll see if it shrinks after a wash.

P.S. Yes, I know. Car wash. Must take car to.
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