Preschool Days

We hit a major milestone in our family a few weeks ago when Abby started preschool. She’s in the 3 year old “Jolly Stars” class at the international school right beside our neighborhood. We knew she’d attend this school, but we still met with the director earlier this summer to ask questions and learn more about the program. He was very patient with me as we went through my long list of questions ranging from “What happens if she doesn’t eat lunch?” to “Do you have safety drills for an active shooter on the campus?” I’m definitely that parent.

 

On her first day, she was so excited to put on her backpack, meet her teacher and classmates, and she wasn’t phased at all when JR and I said goodbye. She handled it the same the next day, but then we had a weekend together and that following Monday was rough. She cried, she was so upset and didn’t want me to leave. And it was awful. I felt like a terrible mother, even though I knew she would be fine. I knew she liked school, I knew she was safe and happy there – even though I knew all of those things, it broke my heart to leave her there crying. She did that multiple times the second week, but I’m happy to report weeks 3 and 4 were tear-free!

We love asking her about her day and hearing her version of events. Who she played with, what she learned, what they’ll do tomorrow.  She was thrilled to bring in her seashells from our Florida vacation for her first Show-and-Tell, and she loves visiting the library. She’s not too happy with their lunch options yet, but we’re not giving up because I really, really do not want to pack a lunch every day.

When she’s not amazing us with her vocabulary and sweetness, she is testing our limits by being a normal three year old. (Or so my mother says, I’ve insisted the child might actually be possessed.)

William also had his own little milestone -he’s 9 months old now! He is crawling, babbling (JR thinks he’s saying Dada already but we won’t be counting his first word until he says Mama), has two bottom teeth, and he has the best giggles. Just like Abby at this age, he’s a Daddy’s boy. He lights up when JR enters the room or cries if he walks away. When I walk in he’s kind of like, oh you again.

He’s tried so many new foods and I’m learning new recipes and ideas to avoid eggs. The first round of egg-less banana bread turned out just okay, but the second recipe we tried was much better. I’m going to continue to tweak it a bit because we really like muffins/bread in our house so it would be great if we had more options for him to eat. The egg-free pancakes were no good. I mean the kids ate them, but I was not impressed. This is all pretty new for me. I’m decent in the kitchen but I’m a strict recipe-follower. Many of the recipes that are egg free are also designed for kids with other allergies, so they might avoid dairy, nuts, wheat and/or soy. Since we only need to replace the eggs, I’m making some changes to existing recipes and hoping for the best.

It’s fun watching Abby and William try to “play” together. Right now that means him following her around and trying to take her toys. Little does she know this is just the beginning!

 

We’re losing sleep but having a great time with these two, although recently I looked at JR and asked, “How did we get here? Wasn’t it just yesterday that we were out all night at Lodge Bar?” Time flies!

 

Adventures in flying with two kids

Note:  Yes, another traveling with children blog. Unfortunately, coping with travel is a large part of the Foreign Service, and writing about it is cheaper than therapy. So sorry, but not so sorry for more in-depth analysis of airline seating assignments. 🙂

I can sum up our recent travels with these two pictures. Abby full of sass at the airport, and William succumbing to jet lag back in Tbilisi.

Our home leave departure from Tbilisi was pretty uneventful. We waited in a crazy long line at the airport and didn’t even have time for a restroom break before boarding our first flight to Amsterdam.

We had a 4+ hour layover there so we found a place for lunch and then made our way to this really fantastic play area. It had a huge plane complete with a cockpit that made noise. It was semi-enclosed so you could sit at one end of it and feel confident your kid couldn’t go anywhere. Abby enjoyed herself and I found a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream sandwich for myself. #winning

 

The flight from Amsterdam to Detroit was very long. We had the middle section with 4 seats together, so JR and I were each on the aisle with the kids in between us. It was a bit annoying when we wanted to switch our seats because we had to walk past several rows to the restrooms to cross over to the other side. I really can’t remember much about this flight except being annoyed that I accepted the meal because I didn’t eat any of it (airline food and I don’t see eye to eye) and then the food and tray table were in my way for a solid 30 minutes before they came around to clear them up.

JR’s flight was much better than the rest as there was a new beverage option on the KLM flight, Sweet Water 420. This was one of JR’s favorite beers years ago living in Tennessee so he was overly excited that he could drink good beer – FREE good beer – on the 9 hour flight.

We landed in Detroit and starting imagining the possibilities of where we might eat during our 4 hour layover. Before we could find a restaurant though, we had to deal with a very long wait for our stroller. Instead of being available right when we exited the plane, our stroller (and the stroller of a mom traveling solo who was furious and I felt terrible for her) was whisked off to some unknown part of the airport. We had to make our way through customs, passport control and baggage claim and we continued waiting for another 15-20 minutes until someone located the strollers. Finally, time to eat!

To our excitement, the airport offered a Longhorn, Chick Fil A and Max and Erma’s. Decisions decisions! We opted for Max and Erma’s and walked a very long way to find it. But it wasn’t there, because we went in the wrong direction. We were hungry at this point so we went to Gordon Biersch instead. This was an expensive mistake. They didn’t have the drink or sandwich I wanted and the food was subpar, but the meal still cost us an arm and a leg. Welcome to America! Thankfully, William was a doll and Abby slept through the entire layover.

 
Sometimes you feed your kid on the floor of an airport.

We boarded our last flight to Cleveland and it was so gloriously short I can’t even complain that William was pretty fussy for it. My mom and sister were waiting for us in Cleveland and we were all happy to be “home.”

Our six weeks of home leave flew by, and then it was time to fly back to Tbilisi. We started off with another quick flight from Cleveland to Detroit, and this time in Detroit we had learned our lesson and located the Max and Erma’s. The airport map showed there was a kid’s play place nearby – perfect! Abby was not impressed with Detroit’s version of a kid’s play area. They did have a tram that ran the length of the terminal and we enjoyed riding that back and forth for a while before it was time to board.

We had my preferred seating arrangement for this flight (the plane was set up as a 2-4-2) so each kid had a window seat and we took turns in the aisle seats beside them. This flight didn’t start out so well. My TV screen didn’t work – first time that has ever happened to me! I didn’t think it was a huge deal because I rarely get to watch something, but the screen wouldn’t go black which was really annoying when I tried to sleep. We switched seats while JR tried to sleep and during that time I actually watched 1.5 movies! I saw all of Deepwater Horizon (really good!) and more than half of the new Beauty and the Beast (so good, hope I can finish it someday!).

Also, JR happily ordered a Sweet Water 420 again that promptly exploded when he opened it since it was partly frozen. Not a great situation on a plane. He was not amused.

I really wanted Abby to sleep for most of the flight and she was fighting it hard. She threw an all out temper tantrum that in reality probably lasted just a few minutes but in that moment, with the plane dark and the majority of the people around us sleeping, it took hours off my life. I struggled with how to make her calm down and be quiet. In a moment of total frustration, I leaned down close to her and in my meanest Mom voice said “If you do not stop right now I will take you to the bathroom.”

There was no point to my threat. Why was I going to take her to the bathroom? It’s small and doesn’t smell great. I don’t want to hang out in there. I realized how silly I sounded so I leaned back in my seat and closed my eyes for a few moments to calm down and think of another solution. She saw my moment of weakness and pounced. She tapped my arm and tearfully asked “But, do you still love me?”. Straight to the heart, that one. I teared up, starting hugging and kissing her and assuring her I loved her no matter what and the whole thing was MY fault anyway. I then gave her more snacks and another show before trying the sleep thing again.

We had a 4 hour layover in Amsterdam and it was not pleasant. We’d been traveling for a long time already, with very little sleep, and our clocks thought it was about 1am. William slept pretty much the whole time and didn’t even wake up when I took him out of his stroller so we could board our last flight. And the last one was brutal because to be honest, Georgian Airways does not have wonderful service and it was 5 hours long and everyone was over it. But we made it, all of our bags made it, and after a short week and a half of dealing with jet lag we are all finally back to normal.

My tips:

  • Pack a few spare plastic bags to use as trash bags so you don’t have trash poking out of every seat back, and you don’t have to wait for the flight attendants to come around and collect it.
  • We’re still very happy with our 1st Class Kids Pillow. JR figured out how to use the overhead air to inflate it most of the way and then we place it in front of Abby’s seat for the long haul flights.
  • Less is more. I still cram Abby’s backpack full of activities and toys, but she rarely pulls out more than her blanket, baby doll, and headphones. The ipad is where it’s at for travel days. JR and I also each have a full backpack, plus William’s car seat, the carrier (love the Beco Gemini), and our double stroller that we gate check.
  • I wish I would have splurged on the Ready to Feed formula bottles. All of William’s bottles take up so much space, and then when we’re done we just put the dirty ones in the backpack again. With the RTF bottles, you can throw them away when you’re done. The catch is, the box of RTF bottles they sell at the store only comes with 1 nipple for 8 bottles (dumb). So you have to order extra nipples on Amazon in advance and I didn’t think far enough ahead on that one.
  • If you find yourself excited that your flight offers Sweet Water 420 beer, and the one you open is half frozen so it explodes all over you and your tray table, you can use a baby’s burp cloth to clean up the mess. And then put the smelly wet burp cloth in one of the aforementioned plastic bags for the duration of your travel.
  • Not all family restrooms are created equal. Amsterdam has these amazing family restrooms with a futuristic automated sliding door, a changing pad, seating area and sink, along with a toilet and sink that is kid-sized (there’s a regular size one in there as well). Meanwhile the Detroit “Family” restroom is just a larger-than-average bathroom that didn’t even have a changing table. Not helpful.
  • Don’t do it. I’m mostly kidding, but travel with two kids is hard! Prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and remind yourself it has to end eventually.

Home Leave 2017

We just wrapped up six weeks in America visiting family and friends, vacationing, shopping, and eating everything in sight (okay maybe only I did that last part). Some of the highlights and a ton of pictures:

  • We arrived just in time for 4th of July festivities in my home town. I haven’t been home for our town’s parade and carnival for several years. It was really special to be back and to share all of the fun with Abby and William. At first Abby did not know what to think about the parade, but before long she was all over the place scooping up candy and yelling for more. Similarly, she started out a bit nervous about the carnival rides but once she started she didn’t want to stop riding!

 

    

 

  • Abby finally had her first haircut. You can’t really tell, but at least we can say we did it!

  • We went to roughly 37 doctor’s appointments. Both kids had their well child visits, both kids got sick (Abby with viral croup, William with a stomach virus and THEN viral croup) and two trips to a specialist to diagnose and treat William’s allergies. He’s allergic to eggs and potentially peanuts, so we’re now “treating” him by building up a tolerance to peanuts at home. Sort of like Wesley in the Princess Bride with iocane powder. So far so good.

  • I had so much fun visiting with my friends. We went to wineries, spas, out to dinner, cookouts, and more. I learned how to use Snapchat filters and how to Boomerang (still a work in progress). I listened to Body Like a Back Road, I’m the One and Despacito on repeat. JR started calling it the summer of Jenni which has a really nice ring to it.

  

  • We did another great American road trip. JR and I rented a minivan, loaded it down, and drove down to Anna Maria Island, Florida. My mom and brother generously offered to fly the kids down, and my sister met us there as well. We rented a house a few blocks from the beach with its own pool and settled in for a week of fun and relaxation. Anna Maria was a perfect spot. Although the beaches were a bit crowded, the soft, white sand and clear waters made up for it. We had two golf carts that we drove all over the island, and if you ever go, you absolutely must visit The Donut Experiment. It was amazing!

 

  • After Florida, we slowly made our way to Knoxville, Tennessee to spend time with JR’s brother and his family. We made a very important but brief stop in Atlanta to meet Thatcher, the newest member of the T family! We were so sad to say goodbye to the T’s when they left Tbilisi, so it was a real treat to see them for a short visit and meet little Thatcher.
  • In Knoxville we spent most of our time watching Abby play with her cousin Katie, eating more good food, and we fit in a trip to the Knoxville Zoo (which insists on being called Zoo Knoxville which is weird). Highly, highly recommend this zoo – the animals, exhibits and staff were great. Abby rode a camel and fed a giraffe! The layout was really easy for walking around on a hot day with a stroller, and they had a nice splash pad play area included with admission. It was one of my favorite days during our trip.

                                                                                                                                           

 

  • We ended our road trip with 4 nights in Gatlinburg with JR’s whole family. 11 adults and 10  kids! Abby and William had so much fun with all of their cousins and we loved watching them play together.

 

  • Lessons learned after a road trip to Florida and back: It was a lot of driving time. I think we put over 2,500 miles on our rental car in 18 days. For comparison, we’ve lived in Georgia for two full years and we’ve put about 8,000 miles on our car. For the most part our kids did really well, but anytime a child is crying in the car even for a few minutes it feels like forever.
  • We made it back to Orrville just in time to finish up our consumables shopping (so much beer) and a few last trips to Dairy Queen.
  • Six weeks at home was really wonderful. We’re grateful to our friends and family for making time to see us and working around our crazy schedule. As much as we all loved our time in America, we are happy to be back in Tbilisi and settling in for two more years.

This one hurts

My grandpa passed away on Saturday. He was 80 and his health had been declining for several years, but still it hurts.

My grandma wishes to have the services as soon as possible, for closure and her own well-being, and I completely understand. Our home leave travel plans are for us to depart this coming Saturday but we can’t get home in time for his funeral, and it hurts.

My grandparents let us live with them during our R&Rs, home leaves, and maternity med-evacs to Ohio. They welcome our loud, busy family into their home for weeks and even months at a time and offer us housing, food, a car, their cell phones, pretty much anything they can to make our stay a little easier. Talking to many other families in the Foreign Service, we know how lucky we are to have such a strong family support system whenever we go home. I am beyond grateful that we were recently home with them for over three months during my pregnancy med-evac and I spent a final Christmas with my grandpa. I have photos of him holding both of my babies when we brought them home from the hospital, and I have this picture of him holding them both at Christmas. I’ll cherish it forever, but it still really hurts.

My grandpa believed in hard work and teaching us the value of a dollar. He went with me to purchase my very first car, a 1992 Honda Civic (my dream car!). I think it cost around $3500, and I only had half of that. He paid the rest up front for me, and then went with me to the bank as I took out a small personal loan for the rest. The man was generous to a fault, but it was also important to him that we all worked hard and learned that nothing comes for free. My mom loves to tell the story that he made her build – like literally from scrap – her first car. When my sweet Civic had a flat tire and I was clueless on what to do, Grandpa was my first phone call. And while he happily changed my tire for me, he also insisted I sit right there beside him to learn for myself. He could make a teachable moment out of just about anything. I’m grateful for the many life lessons he shared with me, and though I’ll carry them with me always, knowing he isn’t here to do the same for my kids, hurts.

My grandpa was a proud U.S. Army  Veteran and served in the Vietnam War as a Green Beret. He was assigned to Detachment B-56, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces, in Vietnam. As he was riding in a helicopter on a resupply mission over enemy territory, the helicopter was hit with several rounds of antiaircraft fire, burst into flames and crashed. He was shot and severely injured with burns all over his body. Despite his injuries, he led himself and two surviving crew members to safety. For his strength and bravery he was awarded the Silver Star and a Purple Heart with one oak leaf cluster. He was still hospitalized when he received his medals and had no recollection of it. In 2011, when we told his story to Senator Sherrod Brown, he graciously hosted a Medal Ceremony for him in our hometown. In addition to reading his citation and officially repinning him with his medals and awards, Senator Brown presented my grandpa with an American flag that had been flown over the U.S. Capitol Building in his honor on September 11, 2011. It was such a special day for my family and gave us an opportunity to thank my grandpa for his service and sacrifice.

 

Grandpa spent some time in the hospital this past Christmas, and for a few weeks he was in a transition care unit as he regained his strength. I spent a few afternoons with him, just talking and playing checkers. I wondered if it was appropriate to let him beat me, but then that wasn’t an issue because he beat me twice. I think he might have cheated. Grandpa loved telling jokes, often at the listener’s expense (read: me) and he had such a deep, happy laugh. I can hear him saying some of his favorite phrases like “Bullshit” and “Aww Hell No!”  He was funny, loving and kind. He was unquestionably the head of our big family and someone we all turned to for advice and wisdom. I knew this day would come and yet I can’t believe it happened.

I’m so proud to be his granddaugher and of the wonderful life he lived, and I believe he is in a better place now. I’m thankful that he knew how much we all loved him but still, this one is going to hurt for a while.

Make new friends, but keep the old

Many, many moons ago I was a Girl Scout, and I remember singing that song at summer camps. I think about those lyrics quite often in this crazy overseas life. Making friends is one of the best and worst parts about the foreign service. In some ways it’s great because I like meeting new people and I’ve already been so fortunate to make new lifelong friends. On the other hand, making new friends can be intimidating and awkward. You’re starting completely from scratch at each new post, just hoping to find someone (and if you’re really lucky, a few someones) that “gets” you.

I know I’m lucky to have the friends that I do. Some of my earliest memories include meeting and becoming best friends with Ashleigh in Mrs. Lehman’s first grade class at Maple Street School. She was so cool and I knew I wanted to be just like her. Almost 30 years later, Ashleigh is still one of my dearest friends, and while we no longer fight over who gets to ride in the front seat, I still kind of want to be like her. I’ve written before about my hometown group of girlfriends and how much they mean to me. We’re reuniting again in just a few weeks and I can’t wait to see them. I also have a fun date planned with my very best friend from college, and some of the awesome people JR and I met in law school are making the pilgrimage to Orrville in July for a cookout. I’m counting down the days until these visits!

When we decided to live overseas, saying goodbye was hard. Staying in touch means making time to see each other when I’m in Ohio and that often requires months of advance planning, but my friends are pros at this and are no longer surprised when I email them 6 months out asking them to set aside a date for some quality time while I’m home. We email, text and call as often as we can and we’re grateful for the time we have together. Still, I miss out on birthdays, get togethers, play dates and other fun things. I’ve asked them to stop having fun without me but no one seems interested in that request.

Arriving in Kosovo with no job and no friends, I knew I needed to find my people quickly. And thank goodness I did. Without Amy and Jessica, I probably couldn’t have made it through that first tour. It helps so much to have someone else who knows exactly what you are going through when you experience the highs and lows of the foreign service. Our time in the same country (actually, on the same continent as we’re on 3 different ones right now) was short-lived, but thankfully they’re just a gchat and a few time zones away.

I dreaded starting over once again in Georgia. I know I’m a broken record about this, but the first few weeks and months in a new place is really draining on me. Before we arrived I was emailing with ET, the wife of one of Justin’s future work colleagues. She offered to answer any of my questions about life in Tbilisi, and while I initially tried to reign in my crazy, I let it all fly after just a few exchanges. I could tell instantly by her responses that she was my kind of people. When we landed and I had no phone, no car, and definitely no friends, she swooped in and I loved her from the start. Our husbands and kids became friends, and they introduced us to more of their friends, and it all seemed so easy and comfortable. We expected to have 3 years here together but they left early for a great new job offer. Happy for their good fortune but sad to lose them, we enjoyed our last few weekends together and finally got around to taking pictures. Amazingly, in the year+ that we spent together, ET and I didn’t have a single photo of the two of us until the night before we left!

Our girls


Our farewell photo shoot

I was fortunate to have other girlfriends still at post when I returned after having William, so I didn’t have to start all over, but there were some new arrivals and potential friends to be made. Constantly putting yourself out there to make new friends can be tiring. Most people assume I’m an extrovert, but I definitely have introvert tendencies. I also struggle with social anxiety sometimes and worry about silly things when I meet someone new. Should I send her a Facebook friend request or is it too soon? Can I wear yoga pants to your house?  Do you like dessert? Were you team Noel or Ben, Big or Aidan, Brandon or Dylan? (The correct answers are Ben, Aidan, Dylan.)

In the beginning I’m questioning myself constantly. It’s a huge relief when I can do things like send a mid-morning text saying I need to vent and then show up at a friend’s house and she has mimosas ready (thank you, Marisa) or respond to an invitation to come over with “Okay, I’m coming over but I’m still in the clothes I slept in” (thank you, Bridget).

Friendships and goodbyes have been on my mind as we enter another summer transfer season. Some of our great friends and their families are departing, including the above mentioned Marisa and her daughter, K, who is Abby’s best buddy. These two are full of mischief and giggles, and it’s been so much fun watching them grow up together the last two years.

 

As Marisa keeps reminding me, it’s not goodbye, it’s see you soon. So to my amazing friends all over the world, I’ll see you soon!

 

Don’t Take it Personal

I’ve been singing Monica’s “Don’t Take it Personal” (so easy to sing along…It’s just one of them days, that a girl goes through) all weekend. It was just one of those weekends where I was up and then down over everything, big and small.

First, the weather has been super frustrating. We had a few days of sunny warmth, then came rain, then came the wind. The wind here is no joke, I’m not sure I’ve talked about it much but it can ruin your plans, and even your weekend. We wind up stuck inside because the wind is blowing so hard it’s really unpleasant going outdoors. Abby is a very dramatic child and she will run up to us, with tears in her eyes, that we have to move all of her outdoor toys to the garage or else they’ll blow away. Sometimes JR goes along with it, other times he tells her to stop being silly, of course her toys will be fine. Unfortunately we were wrong about the new little slide we put in our backyard, because it slammed into our fence and spent several days laying in two pieces in our yard. Sopo put it back together but it blew over again yesterday so we’ll see how long that thing actually survives out there.

When it’s not windy or rainy (or both) it’s been cold. Like really cold. The kids’ rooms were down to 64 degrees for a few nights. You might think we should turn on the heat, and you’d be right. But there is some weird quirk with our heating and cooling system where you have to submit a work order and ask the Embassy workers to come out and turn off your heat and turn on your AC at the start of the summer. It was getting warm at the beginning of May so we went ahead and did that, and now it appears we jumped the gun a bit. JR pulled a few space heaters from the garage and we plugged them in around the house. Mostly I wanted to warm up the kids’ bedrooms, but I was too paranoid to leave them on upstairs overnight. So this morning – when they both treated us to early wake-ups at 4:30 and 5am (why God, why?) – their rooms were 64 and 63 degrees. Not ideal.

JR is a control officer for a VIP this week, which means a significant amount of extra work for him. A control officer handles all the details of a visitor’s trip – they coordinate motorpool and attend all the meetings, they prepare briefing binders with all the necessary memos and background paperwork, they pick up the visitor at the airport and escort them to their hotel and to all events, and they’re on call for anything that might come up at the last minute. I wasn’t surprised when he told me he had to work late Friday, but my intentions of making pizza went out the window and I thought we should just order in. Apparently many others had the same plan because Dominoes said it would be a 2 hour wait. Back to Plan A of making pizza myself (although Sopo was still there and very kindly offered to make the dough while I played with the kids.)

When JR made it home that night, he said there had been last minute changes to all the paperwork and the binders weren’t completed correctly, so he would need to go back into work Saturday morning. In addition to driving to the Azerbaijani border to pick up the visitor and take her to her hotel that afternoon. Awesome. William and Abby have been waking up earlier and earlier, and when I first heard William Saturday morning, I reached over to shake JR awake and say my favorite words “your turn.” But he was already off to work. By the time he got home later that morning, I was already over the whole day (at 9:30am!) and told him we would most certainly be ordering Baan Thai (one of my favorite delivery places here, one of the few that can consistently find our house and we can order in English) that night for dinner.

I realized while he was gone that we were going to run out of William’s formula. His formula has been a constant issue for us since we returned to Tbilisi. He seems to be reacting to something in the Similac and Target versions we have tried, so we finally found a German brand, Hipp, and a specific type of hypo-allergenic formula that seems to work for him. We usually have to try a few grocery stores and pharmacies to find it, and then they often only have two boxes at a time. A box lasts about 3 days. So now it’s Saturday night, it’s POURING down rain, and I have to run out to the grocery store as soon as JR gets home because we need formula. I went to Goodwill, the German grocery store closest to us, and they didn’t have it nor did the pharmacy. You know the feeling when you run out to the store to get ONE THING, and they don’t have it. I was so frustrated – over the weather, over everything.

We finished up the formula we had left and I ordered a few different brands/types on Amazon, and Sunday morning sent JR to Carrefour hoping he’d find a few boxes. He texted me that they had 8! I instructed him to buy them all. He actually left a few just in case some other family was running around in the same predicament. Now we’re at least set for a few weeks.

It was not my  best weekend. We had another work event, spouses included, on Sunday evening which wound up being quite enjoyable but it was just a tiring weekend. But in an effort to end on a good note, all that rain led to these beautiful rainbows!

See you in Scotland, Part 3

Previous posts about our trip: Part 1 and Part 2.

Whitebridge

We set out Wednesday morning, waving goodbye to Oban and hoping beyond hope that we could avoid car sickness as we drove to our next AirBnB in Whitebridge. I spent a lot of time mapping out our drive and searching for the perfect place to stop that would allow Abby to eat and play before returning to the car. William is a rock star in the car at the moment so it was all about Abby. The first part of our drive was beautiful and easy, and we stopped for lunch in Fort William at a place called Crofter’s Pub. Then my mom and I took the kids to the Nevis Center (think a big community rec center) that had a huge indoor play space. Our girl was in heaven. JR initially balked at the idea of spending our limited vacation time at a play place, but he knew Abby needed to have fun too and frankly, she wasn’t all that impressed with the rainy Highlands so far.

JR explored Fort William while we played and played. It was exhausting but exactly what we wanted for her before we drove the remaining hour to our cottage. Or so we thought. Shortly into our drive, our GPS told us to go left over Spean Bridge. Unfortunately, there was some type of accident so they had placed “Diversion” signs and had a few workers standing there telling us we could not go left. We didn’t have an alternate route planned, so we asked one of the men if staying right/straight would lead to Fort Augustus (we named this larger town because Whitebridge is so small) and he said “yep”. We didn’t have much choice so we stayed on the road. I looked down at GoogleMaps on my phone and started panicking. There appeared to be no other roads to turn left on anytime soon. I also knew, from hours of research and planning this trip, that based on the route we would take from Whitebridge to Edinburgh when we left in a few days, there may not be any other route for us.

The bottom left is Fort William, where we began. Spean Bridge is circled in blue, and that’s where we faced our detour. Instead of continuing about 40 minutes straight up to Whitebridge, we had to follow the route lined in red. It was a 2.5 hour detour. TWO AND A HALF EXTRA HOURS IN THE CAR WITH A BABY AND A TODDLER PRONE TO VOMITING. I was displeased.

Amazingly both kids did great in the car, and as we finally approached Whitebridge it started to sprinkle even though the sun was brightly shining. I turned to look out the window and saw this incredible double rainbow. I took it as a good sign that we were almost there!

We made it to our little cottage in the middle of nowhere, and I cannot say enough about this place. It was exactly what I pictured and hoped for when we planned our trip. The property was lovely and there was a creek perfect for throwing rocks just a few steps away.

 

The next morning we set out for Fort William to take a boat cruise on Loch Ness. The tour was an hour long and made all the more enjoyable by Abby calling over the side of the boat, “Nessie, Nessie, where are you?!” I asked where Nessie could be and Abby wisely guessed the grocery store.  Loch Ness was much larger than I imagined and very cool to see. Although we didn’t actually see Nessie, I’m confident she was lurking nearby.

  

We had lunch in town and then my mom took Abby to a small ceramics place to let her paint.

We dropped JR and Abby off at the cottage for naps while my mom and I drove to Inverness with William. Really she just wanted to try out driving, so we made a few loops through the city before returning home. I can’t say enough how beautiful it was just driving through the countryside. We were constantly stopping to take it all in.

  

Once we had the whole group together again my mom suggested we take a short drive to a nearby waterfall, the Falls of Foyers. I was led to believe we would park our car and voila, the waterfall would be right there. In reality there was bit more walking/hiking/stair climbing involved, which would not have been so bad except for the 17 pound baby strapped to my chest. Still, it was beautiful and well worth the effort!

 

The next day we drove around to the other side of Loch Ness to visit Urquhart Castle. The castle is set right beside the Loch and though mostly ruins now, we had fun exploring some of the towers and walls that remained.

Abby was still calling out for “Nessie” even at the castle. My mom and I made sure to get a picture for our local paper in Ohio, the Orrviews!

JR and I had a date night in Inverness and stopped in the small town of Dores on the way home to visit this little beach area. Once again, it started sprinkle just a bit but the sky remained clear and beautiful.

Back at the cottage Mom and Abby made use of her extra suitcase weight with craft time and a little kite flying.

The next morning we said goodbye to our little place and started the trek back to Edinburgh, stopping at Blair Castle along the way. We used our break to explore the grounds (we skipped the actual castle because we mostly wanted to be outside stretching our legs) which had deer, horses, a playground, a great little cafe, and tons of space to run around.

 

Back in Edinburgh, we were less than thrilled to realize our last apartment was up 3 sets of super steep, very warped stairs. JR deserves a medal because he carried most of the luggage up (and back down the next day) all by himself. The apartment was the most modern and maybe the largest we stayed in, and I wish we had more time there because it was set up really well for us. But it was our last night in Edinburgh so we set out quickly to walk around and eat dinner. The plan was to finish eating then take my mom and the kids back to the apartment, help them get settled, and then JR and I were going back out. I hadn’t had much time to myself during the trip so after dinner I asked if they wouldn’t mind doing that part without me and JR could just meet me at a bar later. Because my husband and mom are both really great people, they agreed and I set off on my own for a bit.

JR met me at The Dome and we had drinks before moving on to another place I’d read about called Voodoo Bar. Meh. It was trendy and youthful and I’m not really either of those things. As we were walking away, I saw another bar that was featuring live music. I LOVE live music and I love a good cover band, so I wanted to check it out. While we ordered our drinks the guy on stage began playing “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and I was sold. We stayed there the rest of the evening and I pretended I was back at the Lodge Bar in Columbus. We sang along to “500 Miles”, “The Gambler”,  and “Mr. Brightside.” I got a little too excited when I heard him start singing “Almost Heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River.” The crazy thing is the entire bar was singing along and going nuts for John Denver. It was an unexpected and fantastic way to cap off our night.

The next morning my mom flew back to Ohio and we made our way back to Tbilisi. Abby would not sleep on the first flight and she was completely exhausted by the time we landed in Istanbul. She passed out in her stroller and I started worrying about how she’d do on her next flight home. I asked the gate agent if there were any empty seats and maybe we could switch so that Abby had a window seat (my logic is she has more space/can sleep better up against a window, but when we sit in a row of 3, William’s car seat has to be the window seat). The most amazing airline employee ever gave us two (TWO!) full rows to ourselves in the back of the plane.

If I were planning the same trip again, I would have either added one day at each spot, or removed Oban from our itinerary to save on some of the packing/unpacking all the time. But if the weather were nicer and we were able to go on our planned island boat tour, it could have been the highlight of our trip. Who knows? We would also love to visit other parts of the country because it seems like we barely scratched the surface of what Scotland has to offer. We had an incredible time, and one more huge thank you to my Mom for coming with us and helping us make so many great memories!