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!

 

 

Three!

Another year has passed and we are now the proud parents of a three year old. Abby is funny, kind and very talkative (she must get that from her Dad). We think she is exceptionally smart and beautiful, but we’re probably biased. She makes us laugh all the time. When she is in trouble and we threaten to take something away, she has a killer pout and will immediately say “but ___ is my favorite!” You can insert literally anything in the blank and if we’re saying she has to listen or we’ll take it away, it suddenly becomes her favorite thing ever. When she sees us watching her about to do something she shouldn’t, she’ll say “Don’t look at me, okay?”

She loves singing and making up songs, usually a variation of something from Daniel Tiger. We’ve been dealing with a little bit of separation anxiety when I leave for work in the morning, so our solution is to talk about it. That’s what she asks for each morning before I go, “can we talk about it?” We sit on the stairs and I remind her that I have to go to work, but that I’ll be back at the end of the day. I say “why will I come back?” And she will sing the Daniel Tiger song “Grown ups come back, at the end of the day, grown ups come back.” The best part is she recently added “to see little girls” at the end, and now we’ve made a big joke as she adds a few more lines “to see little Williams, and Abigails, and little Sopos.” It’s adorable.

She loves William and plays with him gently about 90% of  the time. We have to remind her that he is little, but mostly she sings to him and says things like “It’s okay William, sister is right here. You don’t need to cry buddy.” Here’s a video of her singing to him that makes my heart explode.

We had been talking a LOT about saying goodbye to the binky again (round 2.) We had two different tactics, one was trying to get her to agree to throwing them away and being ready, and I was also secretly poking holes in them before bedtime. Per the internet, if you poke one or two holes and gradually increase the amount of holes in the pacifier, it loses it’s effectiveness and kids just don’t want them anymore. So we started doing that, but then one night Abby was being particularly difficult about bedtime and I called JR upstairs for reinforcement. He found me outside of her room furiously stabbing holes in the pacifier as if it was a voodoo doll. “What happened to gradually?” he asked. I just glared at him.

After deciding to throw away two of them a few days earlier because they were “broken”, on the morning of her birthday she threw away her last one. She didn’t cry, although we did offer her chocolate as a temporary distraction. Bedtime that night was really rough, and the second night was still pretty bad although better than the first. On the third night Sopo put her to bed because we were out to dinner, and of course she went to bed without so much as a peep! Bedtime is still a bit of a struggle for us, but I feel 97% sure we’re done with the binkies. No, make it 90%.

We celebrated her birthday twice, the day of and with a party this weekend. When she woke up on Wednesday (her birthday) she called out from her room “Is it my birthday? When is it going to be my birthday?” I went in and reassured her that it was in fact her birthday and now she was officially three. She requested chocolate chip pancakes so we went downstairs to make them together. JR put together her big gift from my parents the night before, a Paw Patrol tricycle, and she was so excited to see it waiting for her downstairs. We felt like we’d given her a pretty great birthday morning, but then Sopo arrived and put us to shame!

The funny part is her stating at the end “That’s not a bone cake!” because for a long time she has repeated her request for a Paw Patrol bone cake with sprinkles. I visited a bakery here with a picture and hoped for the best. The baker did not speak English, but I had Sopo on the phone trying to translate for me and the bakery also had an employee who spoke English helping us. Whatever was said worked because I could not believe how perfectly the cake turned out! Now, it was about three times larger than I pictured, but is too much cake really a bad thing?

We lucked out with perfect weather for her party and enjoyed the afternoon celebrating with friends. The best part of all was my sister, Jamie, arriving early Sunday morning to make it in time for Abby’s party! Thanks to everyone who celebrated with us from near and far!

See you in Scotland, part 2

Catch up on the first part of our trip here.

Oban

Monday morning, JR and my mom went to pick up our rental car at the train station in Edinburgh while I stayed back at the apartment with the kids. It took way longer than any of us were expecting and I started to worry. With no way to contact them I wondered if they’d already been in an accident – perhaps forgetting to drive on the opposite side of the road. Finally, they pulled up and we began the extremely difficult task of fitting all of our luggage into the minivan. Here’s the thing, I tried to pack light, I really did. But we still had way too much stuff. Add in my mom’s suitcases and we just did not have the space. Yes, suitcases, plural. She could not fathom the kids not having Easter baskets in Scotland – the horror! and she also packed a million activities for her and Abby to do.

JR did a great job of driving us quickly out of the city and it didn’t feel like driving was much different (easy for me to say, sitting in the back). The kids took naps and we made plans to stop near Loch Lomond on our way to Oban. Everything was going great at this point. The scenery was beautiful, the roads were narrow but in great condition, and we were feeling good! Abby woke up shortly before our scheduled stop and she started complaining about being in her car seat. Not totally unusual for her, and we aren’t in the car for long periods of time in Georgia so I tried to reassure her that we’d be taking a break for lunch soon. We stopped at the Kilted Skirlie, which has nice views of the Loch and is also located next door to an aquarium. There was a small little carnival-like area set up outside that had some rides, so Abby enjoyed that.

She wasn’t that hungry at lunch but I convinced her to eat a few more bites of pasta with the promise of ice cream (two things I would come to regret). We stopped by the rides again briefly before we left and then we were back on the road. I figured the kids would nap for most of the 2 hour drive to Oban. I was wrong.

About an hour in, Abby was awake and complaining that her stomach hurt. I didn’t think too much of it, honestly. I offered her my phone so she could watch a show in hopes of distracting her, and when that didn’t fully do the trick, I gave her a binky – a surefire way to make her happy. She was still telling me she wanted to be out of her car seat. A few minutes passed and my mom suggested we turn off the show in case watching it was making her feel worse, and we encouraged her to sing songs and look out the window. Suddenly, she was vomiting. A lot. She was sitting behind the passenger seat, William was in the middle, and I was on the other side. I leaned over him, resting my hand on her chest when she started throwing up. I sort of tried to catch it? I didn’t really know what to do, I think she has only vomited once before in her life and it was definitely not in the car. I told JR to pull over, but we were basically in the middle of nowhere on a very tiny road.

She continued to throw up as he pulled up beside a small B&B. My mom ran to the door and asked the owner if we could come inside to clean her up in a bathroom. The woman was super nice and wanted to help, but said she didn’t have any available bathrooms we could use since all the rooms had guests, so she offered  her kitchen area instead. Abby was very upset – a combination of being covered in puke and not feeling well – as JR carried her inside to start cleaning her up. My task was to find a change of clothes for her in the mess of suitcases crammed into the back of the van. I managed to yank out a pair of pajamas and a spare blanket. Meanwhile, my mom was trying to clean the car seat and throwing soiled clothes to the ground, including my jacket and Abby’s blanket (that Paw Patrol blanket was so disgusting I would have preferred to throw it in the trash, but Abby would have lost her mind). The car seat was a mess. Everything was a mess. I carried the pajamas inside and found Abby had calmed down and JR said she was just fine after he got her dirty clothes off. The very nice lady had offered her a Capri Sun, a warm washcloth and a towel. She passed me a plastic bag for our dirty clothes, along with a bucket of soap and water and a rag to clean up the car and car seat.

We did the best we could in cleaning and decided to flip Abby’s car seat forward-facing for the rest of the day. I’m a big proponent of rear-facing (read more here and here) but my heart was breaking for my poor girl and I would have done anything to try to make her feel better. (She’s rear-facing again now that we’re home and I hope to keep her that way until she outgrows the height and/or weight limits for her car seat). We still had an hour to drive and needless to say, I did not have the most positive outlook. She did throw up once more about 10 minutes down the road, but she managed to get almost all of it in a plastic bag so we had minimal mess that time. She then fell asleep for the rest of the drive.

  
Before and after shots. Also these chickens showed up, because why wouldn’t there be chickens to laugh at our predicament??


To the owners and staff of the Glengarry House B&B, thank you a million times over for helping us!

When we arrived in Oban, we were tired, smelly, and over it. I was also really cold because my jacket was in the bag of soiled clothes. While we love using AirBnBs, one downside is you can’t just waltz in like you would with a hotel. You need to link up with the owner to exchange the keys (although a few places we’ve used have key boxes which is much more convenient). Well, to connect with the owner you need to call or text them, and we didn’t have a SIM card for the UK. So we arrived at our place and I’m running around like a crazy person, in and out of nearby stores, trying to pick up wifi so I can get in touch with the owner so we can get into the apartment. Not ideal. Some kind ladies let me just use their phone so I called the apartment owner and she showed up about 5 minutes later.

We were SO relieved, Abby especially, to be done with the car! And our apartment was really lovely and right in the center of town. Once we settled in a bit, we walked down to a restaurant called Piazza for dinner. It was delicious and had great views. Worn out from our exciting day of travel, we called it an early night and spent the rest of the evening relaxing in our apartment.

Our second day in Oban was supposed to be a highlight of the trip for JR and I – we had planned a full day boat tour of several nearby islands. Unfortunately, it was too rainy and windy and the tour was canceled. We were so disappointed! Although I can’t personally recommend it, if you are in the area I would definitely look into Staffa Tours. With no plans for the day, we set out walking along the water front for a while before finding the Oban Chocolate Company. Now that was a trip highlight! We ordered the ultimate chocolate fondue and enjoyed every bite.

 

 

 

The weather didn’t look to be improving, so my mom took Abby to an indoor play place called GoBananas while William and I napped at home.


It doesn’t get any sweeter than this!

JR did his own little walking tour around town.


Pictures of the Oban Distillery, McCaig’s Tower and looking out over Oban

Later we met up for drinks. Luckily no one was bothered by William hanging out with us.

Yep.

Back at the apartment, Abby helped my mom color Easter eggs.

We picked up dinner on our way home at Oban Fish and Chips (super quick and delicious – highly recommend!) and spent another evening relaxing at the apartment. Oban was a nice stop, but I think the weather and our troubles getting there prevented me from really loving it as much as I would have otherwise.

To be continued.

 

See you in Scotland!

That’s how we ended our last video chat session with my Mom before we both made our way to Scotland from Ohio and Georgia, respectively. Deciding on our second R&R plans was not an easy task. We’ve barely settled back into life here after our med-evac to Ohio, and we now have a 4-month old and a toddler. Not the most ideal time to take a vacation, but we charged ahead. Visiting Scotland was a bucket list trip for JR and I, particularly a road trip to see as much of the country as possible. We’re not out to win any parenting medals so we quickly realized the only way we could have the trip we wanted and enjoy ourselves would be to bring someone else along – enter my wonderful mother!

We were able to spend 9 fun and busy days in Scotland last week all together and it really felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Possibly because I’d never again want to take a Scottish road trip with my two young children. It was challenging and often exhausting, but also full of laughter and great memories.

Edinburgh

We met my mom at the Edinburgh Airport Saturday morning. Abby was calling out “Nana, Nana” as I pushed the stroller through the airport. William, life of the party as always, was passed out. The kids did really, really well on both flights. Because we were flying Turkish and we connected in Istanbul, we were subject to the new electronics ban which prohibits any electronics larger than a smart phone in your carry-on bag. Our default entertainment plan while flying is to let Abby have free reign of the iPad or Kindle Fire, so we were less than thrilled to learn of the new policy. It all worked out fine, first because we loaded up our iPhones with some of her favorite shows and also because Turkish is quite kid-friendly and helpful, and they had in-flight entertainment available on both segments of our trip.


Snuggling on the plane

After a few hugs and hellos, we made our way to our driver and vehicle. We hired Sun Transfers and we had no complaints about the service we received picking us up (our return trip was another story). Although we were initially told our AirBnB would not be available for early check-in, the cleaning service advised us they were nearly finished with the apartment. That was great news and allowed us to unload our stuff before walking to Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar for lunch. Everyone was in need of a nap so we made quick work of the food and then returned to our apartment. The location was fantastic, just a few blocks south of the Royal Mile, which was our first stop after naps.

 

We were in Scotland, so we expected a lot of rain, but we really lucked out, especially that first day. It was sunny and beautiful.  We walked along the Royal Mile, visiting shops, watching street performers, listening to bagpipe players, and of course JR stopped for his first pint in Scotland. It started to get a bit late and we needed dinner, so we made our way back towards our apartment with plans to find either a quick place to eat or carry out. There was a Pizza Express nearby and it looked very family/kid friendly, so we decided to eat in. Probably a mistake. William woke up from his nap and was just not having all the noise, they brought Abby a huge glass of milk that she promptly spilled everywhere, and it took forever for them to take our order. It was also pretty expensive for a meal that I’d call just decent, but pizza and pasta are about the only two things Abby is sure to eat for dinner right now so it worked for us.

 

We spent the next morning at the Edinburgh Castle. We took a wrong turn as we walked towards it and wound up having to climb what felt like hundreds of steps, but the views were worth it.

 

  

William was asleep in his carrier and my mom went off chasing after Abby while JR and I did the free guided tour. The tour just walks around the outside of the main buildings and only lasted about 45 minutes, but it was informative. JR wanted to visit longer, so my mom and I took the kids to the Princes Street Garden to find a playground. The walk there was so nice, although the hill was a bit steep, but it weaved back and forth through these bright yellow flowers. The park and playground were the perfect end to our morning.

 

In the afternoon we visited the National Museum of Scotland. It was fantastic for kids – so much to see and do, Abby really loved it.

We went to the Whiski Rooms for dinner, and while they did a double take when we tried to enter with our huge double stroller, we found section in the back that could fit all of us and our stuff, and we enjoyed possibly my favorite meal of the trip! My fish and chips was delicious and JR sampled haggis for the first (and last) time. Let me save you the Googling: Haggis is a savoury pudding containing sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock and cooked in a sheep’s stomach. All together now: Yum!

To be continued.

Frozen

No, this is not a post about letting it go or sisterly love.

Sorry.

It’s about my current EFM (eligible-family member, that’s what I am as JR’s spouse overseas) employment situation. While we were on our maternity med evac, I interviewed for and was offered the position of CLO Coordinator at the Embassy. I’ve wanted this job basically since I learned it existed and I cried when I opened the email. Granted, I was 57 weeks pregnant and an emotional time bomb, but the point is, I was super excited. The Community Liaison Office (CLO, get it?!) is tasked with things like welcoming and helping newcomers adjust at post, providing crisis management and support services, acting as a liaison for spouses and family members interested in employment and schools, planning events for the Embassy community, and being a general source of information.

We had a wonderful CLO when we arrived in Kosovo (cheers to you, JBF!). It was our first post and in many ways, we were clueless. For me, I was anxious to feel settled and to start working as soon as possible. The CLO was helpful in sending out job announcements, discussing possible opportunities for other community involvement in Pristina, and they had weekly events that we could participate in to get to know the city and people. As soon as we learned we were headed to Tbilisi, I immediately emailed the CLO here. I asked to be added to their newsletter and weekly mailing lists. Both of those include advertisements for nannies and vehicles, which allowed us to line up a nanny and a car before we had arrived at post. I also reached out to ask about employment opportunities, and the CLO wrote back right away with information about the types of positions that would be available when we arrived.

Transitioning to a new post and home is not easy for me. In the Foreign Service, some of life’s most stressful events happen not only all at once, but repeatedly every few years. Moving to a new country, where English is definitely not the main language, establishing a new home, starting a new job (or being without a job), making new friends – it’s a lot. You are living in a brand new place, but often only in your temporary housing, you don’t have most of your things, no car (super fun when you need to install a 30lb car seat to take your child anywhere – and then you made it to the grocery store in a taxi but you STILL have the 30lb car seat to deal with), not even knowing how to find a grocery store or a Diet Coke (spoiler alert, they only have Coke Zero here). While others may land on their feet faster, I rely on the CLO office a lot in the beginning, and their support has made a huge difference for me and I want to pay it forward.

I’m super, super excited about this new opportunity. But there’s a REALLY big catch. Perhaps you recall that the new President signed a Federal Hiring Freeze on January 23, 2017. This freeze has major implications for current and hopeful federal employees, and it’s also a pretty big deal to us EFMs. It can be extremely challenging to find an Embassy position as an EFM. At our current post, there are more spouses who want to work than there are available jobs. Financially, it would be really hard for us to continue in this lifestyle if I were not employed. Mentally and personally, I want to be working. I like working. I’m lucky that my current/old position is allowing me to stay on until things are resolved. It’s mutually beneficial because they can’t announce the vacancy for my position or hire for it until the freeze is over. But others here are waiting and waiting and WAITING for a job. And it sucks (sorry Mom, I know how you feel about that word.)

EFMs provide critical support to our Embassy missions around the world. It saves the government a big chunk of money to hire someone who is already living here as opposed to paying to move an officer here. It’s also impacting spouses and families in ways I hadn’t considered. There are several posts that are unaccompanied – meaning they are considered too dangerous for families to live there. An exception can be made in some situations for spouses who obtain an EFM job at the unaccompanied post. In those instances, the spouse can live and work with the officer at the post, so it’s no longer unaccompanied. For people who had these plans coming up in the next few months, everything is on hold for them until the freeze is lifted. This could mean the officer will depart for the post as arranged, but the EFM/spouse can no longer go because they no longer have a job. Or a place to live. Oh and they’ll now be separated from their spouse for an unknown amount of time.

To bring it back to how this is directly affecting me and my fellow EFMs at this post, we are all in a crappy state of limbo. Waiting for the freeze to end, waiting on security clearances, waiting for jobs to be posted, just waiting. Our current CLO coordinator is departing at the end of April. She has one part-time assistant who will be leaving in June. Those positions – and a second assistant – cannot be filled until the freeze is over. The work they do is particularly important during upcoming transition season (starts in May because many FSOs with children try to move during the summer to be ready for the next school year) and if we were to face any type of security or crisis situation here.

I can’t put into words how frustrating and disappointing this situation is as a whole. We are constantly reading news about major threats to the State and USAID budgets. I want to yell – do you not know what kind of work is being done here and why it’s so important? Even our top military leaders think cutting funding is disastrous and would threaten citizens at home and abroad.

I don’t know that anyone is listening, though. To be more productive with my frustrations, I’ll include these links that explain the issues further (and far better than I can). If you only have time for one, please click on the first as it’s super short and really explains how much the State department does with such a small amount(1%. One teeny tiny percent!) of the federal budget.

So until next time, I’ll just be waiting for the thaw.

What do the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) do for the American people? With just over 1% of the entire federal budget, they have a huge impact on how Americans live and how the rest of the world perceives America.
https://www.state.gov/r/pa/pl/2017/267416.htm

State department funding is critical to keeping America safe.
http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/27/politics/generals-letter-state-department-budget-cuts/

Trump’s Cuts to USAID Would Imperil the United States

A helpful breakdown of foreign aid.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/world/which-countries-get-the-most-foreign-aid/

 

The Great Mistake

Parenting a toddler is hard. Yes, it’s fun and exciting, but it’s also really challenging at times. We do the best we can and hope she won’t require too much therapy as an adult.

Right now Abby is on an “all by myself” kick. This is a phrase we hear 50 times a day. Of course, she only wants to do something ALL BY MYSELF when we are in a hurry to get out the door, but if it’s a time that my hands are full or William is crying, she is suddenly incapable of doing even the slightest thing without assistance. She’s so smart and can express herself so well that we sometimes forget how young she is, and we have to remind ourselves to be as patient as possible.

We’re dealing with a lot of change in our house and in many ways, we thought Abby was handling it really well. But we may have taken her generally good-natured attitude and adaptability for granted. I knew that we needed Abby to move from her crib to the twin-size bed in her bedroom when we returned to Tbilisi with William. I have no interest in buying a second crib and at almost 3, it didn’t seem like it would be a huge deal. I had also toyed with the idea of taking away her binkies at the same time, but while we were in Ohio we discussed it with friends and thought it might be too much transition at once. We started talking to her about giving them up when she turned 3 and that seemed like a good plan.

However, she latched on to something I said BEFORE I had thought this all through, the idea that she could not have binkies in her big girl bed. So when we returned to Tbilisi and really started talking up the move from her crib, she would say “and no binkies!” and we just rolled with it. I didn’t do any of my normal research or weeks of agonizing over what to do. We let her lead the way, and when she proclaimed one night that she was ready to sleep in her big girl bed and give up the binkies, we thought Okay! Great idea, kid!

And so began Night 1 of the Dark Days. That first night was tough but I know from other parents’ experiences that it could have been worse. It was just really difficult because she regretted saying she was ready, but we felt that we had to commit to the change. Night 2 was great, and I smugly thought the worst was behind us and wanted to pat myself on the back for how well it had all gone. But the nights and naps since then have been hard, and I’m afraid it’s not getting any better. Our wonderful sleeper is now afraid in her room and struggling with separation anxiety. Despite Abby loving the owl nightlight we borrowed from a friend, or the addition of 35 stuffed animals in her bed, it still hasn’t made a significant change. No amount of cereal and chocolate for breakfast is helping her go to bed without crying and now I’m crying at night.

It’s not just limited to night time. She’s had some epic tantrums the last few days, the likes of which we haven’t seen in many months. I know in the big picture it’s only been a week, but right now I can’t see the big picture and I’m really sad and feel like we made a huge mistake. We’ve had some moments of levity, like the other night at dinner when JR was explaining to her why she couldn’t have a treat after she ate. He told her that our actions have consequences and the way she acted had a direct correlation to how we responded…and right as he said the words “direct correlation” he looked over at me and we started laughing at how ridiculous that sounds talking to an almost 3 year-old. Pretty sure that concept is a bit advanced for Abby.

Basically, I think we made a mistake by forcing too many changes at once. Not only with losing her crib and her binkies, but Abby is adapting to a new baby at home, less attention from her parents, and being back in Georgia after spending almost every day with her Nana for 3 months. It’s too much and I have serious regret about it. Her binkies bring her so much comfort, and while it seems that she has grown up so much recently, the truth is she’s still very young and in need of that comfort and reassurance. We don’t know if giving them back to her is right call. It’s been a week, maybe the worst is behind us, and has all this turmoil been for naught if we throw in the towel now. But all I can think is that we are trying to teach her that people make mistakes and when we do, we should try to correct our actions. And I think we – actually me, since I led the charge here, I messed up.  The binkies are coming back.

If she goes to kindergarten with a pacifier in her mouth, I’ll have this blog post to look back on fondly and remind me of yet another parenting mistake!

 

The Bath House Experience

JR and I took advantage of President’s Day to spend an afternoon sans kids downtown. It was a gorgeous day and we decided to visit the Royal Bath House to relax in the famous Georgian sulphur baths.

tbilisi-baths-2 tbilisi-baths-3

Tbilisi actually means warm river, and the hot mineral springs led to the development of the bath house district downtown called Abanotubani. There is some archaeological evidence finding Roman-style baths in the city as far back as the 1st century but the baths became increasingly popular at the height of the Silk Road. During the period of the Russian Empire, even famous bathers like Alexander Pushkin and Alexandre Dumas enjoyed the healing waters in Abanotubani.

bath-1

You can enjoy public baths and rub elbows with the locals or you can get your own private bath for more money. For 95 gel, we reserved a private room that included a cold bath, hot bath, sauna, changing room, and relaxation room with couches and chairs for 1 hour. Overall it was a very large space all to ourselves, and we felt comfortable as we changed into our swimsuits (technically you’re supposed to be naked but no thank you very much, we packed our suits).

bath-2 bath-3 bath-4

bath-6 bath-5

JR ordered a beer and we enjoyed soaking in the hot bath for awhile before there was a knock on the door. In walked a stern looking woman for my scheduled Kisa (part massage, part body wash and scrub). Even though this was on the edge of my comfort zone I wanted to try a traditional Georgian bathhouse experience. After looking at the historical pictures displayed on the walls of the bathhouse entrance, JR politely declined his own Kisa.

img_4369 img_4368 img_4367 img_4366

She motioned me toward the marble ledge and indicated that I should remove my suit and lay down. I put my hand protectively over my chest and said “no thank you”, but she gave me a look and a hand motion that left no room for argument. I pulled down the top of my halter-style one piece and gave her an embarrassed look like, um will this suffice? (Interesting note, this is the same swimsuit I was wearing when I was borderline taken advantage of by a masseuse on the beach in Santorini!) She nodded yes. I am NOT a naked person, so this whole scene was particularly humorous for JR.

I laid down on the ledge and she immediately starting sloshing buckets of hot water on me and my now very exposed skin. I was trying hard not to laugh. She pulled out a loofah and rubbed it all over me, and then gave me a swift swat on my thigh to tell me it was time to turn over. This is when JR actually said “this is hilarious, can I get another beer?” since he knew how uncomfortable I was. I was facedown for a bit as she used the loofah on my back, and then she gave me another swat on my butt when it was time to flip back over.

smack

Next, she used some delicious smelling soap and a linen bag to create a ton of bubbles that she sudsed all over me. There was no room for modesty, there was nothing between me and this lady as she did a very thorough job with the washing. She briefly used a small sponge that felt like a brillo pad but luckily it wasn’t too intense and didn’t last long. Finally she doused me with more buckets of hot water, then gave me one final swat and proclaimed  “Bce” (pronounced “vse ” – Russian for all done!).

Once my Kisa was over, we had about 30 minutes left to enjoy the baths and the sauna. Despite my awkwardness, the experience was more enjoyable than I expected, and definitely something everyone should try at least once in Tbilisi!