So long, 2018

It’s hard to believe 2018 is over. We are excited and sort of ready for all the changes 2019 will bring – a new baby, a new country/home/hopefully job, and lots of time with family and friends.

We had a really wonderful Christmas at home with the kids. They were spoiled rotten, but it was so much fun to watch their excitement build. JR and I are not tech-savvy people, but we recently added an Amazon Echo to our house. So far, it works great as a kitchen timer for baking cookies and it plays endless rounds of Christmas music. And the endearing, never annoying on loop, Baby Shark Do Do. On Christmas Eve, we all went to see the new Grinch movie at the theater. I was impressed that William sat through the whole thing, but the snacks and popcorn certainly helped. Abby and I were also supposed to share a popcorn but she wouldn’t even let me put my hand in the bag. She picked out a few pieces at a time and rationed me. At one point she said “I don’t think your baby is supposed to each this much popcorn.”

Christmas morning was a blur but really enjoyable. Per usual, Abby enjoyed multiple outfit changes. Her big gift this year was a dress-up clothes closet and tons of new costumes and princess dresses. She was over the moon! William’s favorites included a new fire truck and the book Little Tug, which we’ve read at least 72 times already.

And every day since, we find her dressed in outfits like this:

Our good friends hosted a kid party for New Year’s Eve, complete with a 6:30pm countdown and ball drop, confetti, and lighting paper lanterns outside. It was a perfect send off to the year.

Christmas and all the preparations were a definite highlight to this month. There have been many other highs and lows – stressing out over bidding and waiting on an assignment (more to follow on this), the government shutdown and worrying how it would impact our travel home (at the moment we should be okay so we’re keeping our heads down until we make it to Ohio), and then I got hit with a terrible stomach virus a few days ago that kept me in bed for 2 days and I’m finally feeling better (thank you JR for taking care of me, the kids and everything else).  We travel home in just a few days, so here’s hoping for smooth travels, everyone staying healthy, and a wonderful 2019!

Paris Part 1: Direct Flights and Crepes

Sometime last year, I was at an Usbourne Books party and saw the cutest book about Paris so I purchased it for Abby. I love reading it with her, and started to fantasize about taking a family trip to Paris. We were planning to use our last R&R tickets to visit Ohio this November (we haven’t been home since last summer, which is the longest I’ve been away since moving overseas), but those plans were scrapped when we learned we were expecting baby #3! Knowing we’d be heading home in January for a maternity med evac, that left us with no plans for this fall and suddenly, my Paris dreams weren’t so far fetched.

I thought it might be a stretch to convince JR, but he not only agreed, he also suggested we invite my parents along! The new direct flight on Georgian Airways to Paris was a big selling point. We aren’t located that far from the major European cities, but there are very few direct flights, and the connections/layover times are not desirable. For the flight to Paris, it left at 3:20pm on a Friday. In the afternoon. As in, daylight hours. Practically unheard of in Tbilisi, and such a strange feeling for us to be boarding a plane in the middle of the day!

We decided to bring two single strollers instead of our Britax double. I thought we might struggle with the side-by-side stroller walking in the city, and since my parents were with us, we might split up and each need a stroller at some point. I also learned my lesson when taking Abby to London – she gets very whiny about walking too far (no clue where she gets that!). When we landed in Paris, I was annoyed but not totally surprised to learn our gate checked strollers would be delivered at baggage claim. You know, because when you gate check, you don’t do it so you can have the item as soon as you get off the plane, but what you REALLY WANT is to wait until the absolute last items have come off the baggage carousel to track down an airport employee so you can wait another 15 minutes for your strollers to be delivered.

Aside from that, our travel was uneventful and we had a driver waiting for us at the airport for convenience and our desire for car seats for the kids. We hired Allonavette, and we were very happy with their service. The driver had a large van, with comfortable and spacious seats, and most importantly, two installed car seats. He dropped us off at our rental apartment in the Marias district and the kids passed out immediately. I was able to almost completely unpack. I’ll put in a plug for packing cubes again. They are a game changer! I pulled the cubes (Abby’s clothes, William’s clothes, pajamas/bed stuff, toiletries, outerwear, and my clothes) out of the suitcases and put them in drawers or closets. It’s so nice to get the suitcases put away and feel a bit settled right after arriving someplace new. While I was doing that, JR ran out for a few groceries. It was almost 11pm by then, but my superstar husband still found me a crepe and brought it home for me.

The next morning we woke up ready to explore. We took a walk along the Seine over to the Ile Saint-Loius (where JR and I stayed during our last visit when I was pregnant with Abby) before making our way to the Notre Dame Cathedral. Abby was really excited, but kept asking when she’d see the Eiffel Tower. We let the kids chase pigeons in front of the cathedral before making a loop around the building. It’s a small park with 3 little things for kids to crawl on.

 

We returned home and waited for my parents to arrive from the States. Our apartment was on the 2nd floor of a busy street, with huge windows that opened to a faux balcony – great for fresh air, terrible for child safety – and the kids loved waiting to see Nana and Papu pull up in their taxi. After an afternoon of naps and relaxing, and helping Nana unpack her suitcase full of goodies, we walked towards Les Halles, a large shopping center that has a renovated play area beside it. The place was packed! It was probably 80 degrees, and there were kids everywhere. It was a great spot to let the kids play, and I wish our apartment had been a bit closer to it (it was about a 20 minute walk). At Abby’s insistence, we took the metro to the Eiffel Tower, trying to time up our arrival with sunset and the lights turning on. I got that one way wrong, but Abby went nuts when she saw it from the distance. I loved her excitement and enthusiasm when she saw it for the first time and it only amplified the closer we got to the tower. Also, to the entrepreneurial geniuses who now walk around the areas near the Eiffel Tower selling wine by the bottle or glass – GOOD ON YOU, BUDDY. Excellent idea.

I had big plans for our Sunday, but woke up feeling terrible. After weeks of every member of my family having strep throat, it was finally my turn. I sent JR, the kids and my parents off to the Louvre with plans to meet up later. Well you know how plans work. The Louvre was packed so they skipped ahead to the Tuileries Garden, which I promised them would have a great playground. Turns out the big play equipment was roped off and being repaired.

They managed some fun anyway and both kids were ready for a nap. Well, kids and dad.

That night we took the metro to the Arc de Triomphe and then made our way slowly down the Champs-Élysées. Our whole group perked up when we saw a Five Guys (you know how I feel about American hamburgers!). It was crazy expensive but delicious. My parents offered to take the kids home for baths and bedtime, so JR and I stopped by Frog Revolution to sample some local craft beers.

On Monday, we walked back to Notre Dame first thing in the morning. It’s nice to get there before the crowds and lines start to form. JR, my mom and Abby went inside while William and I enjoyed pain au chocolates outside. An older couple could not stop staring at William – must have been that blonde hair – and started taking a bunch of pictures of him. I figured it was harmless, but did find it a little strange when the woman even came close to pose beside him while her husband continued snapping away. This face though, I get it!

We walked to Sainte Chappelle, one of my favorite sights. It was great to visit a second time, because it was partially being renovated during our last trip. Then I lead everyone on a longer than expected, warmer than expected, walk to the Luxembourg Gardens. Fear not, I told them, it will all be worth it when we arrive at this magical playground I’ve read about online! Here are some of the photos of what we expected to find:

Image result for poussin vert paris Image result for poussin vert paris

The reality, after an additional 10-15 minutes of trekking through the huge, but beautiful, park grounds, looked nothing like that. The play structures were removed, the ground was dug up, and the whole area looked like a field of dirt. I’d been promising Abby a trip to the best playground in Paris, and I honestly wanted to cry! Funny how the internet neglected to tell me the playground was being completely renovated. Ugh. Abby took the news in stride, much better than me. JR asked what I wanted to do instead, and I said just order me an Uber, I need a nap. And so he did. My mom and I took the kids home while he wandered around a bit longer, searching for things far more interesting than the next playground.

Back at home, my parents made a second attempt (and were successful!) to visit the Louvre while the kids and I napped. When everyone was together again at the apartment, they offered to cook dinner for the kids so JR and I could go out. I was super excited to try a fondue place, Pain Vin Fromage, so we set off. JR was not overly impressed but man…cheese, ham, bread…I was in heaven. The restaurant was teeny tiny, and the manager was horrified that we didn’t have a reservation. He said we could stay as long as we finished by 8:30 (no problem pal, that’s my bedtime) and he stuck us in the furthest corner table he could to prove his point. Really this just allowed me to feast on my melted cheese in private, so I was fine.

Halfway through our trip, I was feeling better so we made our final plans to visit Disney Paris on Tuesday! To be continued.

 

 

 

3 down, 1 to go

It’s hard to believe we’ve lived in Tbilisi for three years already and we have just one year left. Four years seemed like an incredibly long time to live in a country I knew nothing about and a city I could barely pronounce before arriving, but now I’m afraid our remaining time will pass by too quickly. Abby had just turned 1 when we arrived – now she’s four and we have added sweet William, so things have certainly changed for us!

 
Note that the recent picture above was taken at Carrefour. Yes, she wore a dress, a play tutu, necklaces, fairy wings and a tiara to the grocery store. I’ve given up. 

One of the best things about a four year assignment is that we haven’t had to worry about bidding in several years. Our grace period is over now and I’m already feeling some anxiety and stress about the bidding process this fall, our options, and the uncertainty ahead. I know there are no perfect posts, and I also know that we’ll deal with whatever comes our way.

Two weeks ago, Abby had her last day of preschool. Her class held a little celebration, singing songs and showing off their achievements for the year. We’re so grateful to Ms. Natela and all of the staff at QSI for instilling a love of school and community in our girl. Onward to the 4 year old class next year!

QSI has a summer camp program that Abby is attending for the next two weeks, but in July we’ll be spending more time at home because my mom is coming back! We are so, so excited for her visit. I’ve mentioned many times that it’s not easy traveling this far, but this will be my mom’s 4th trip to Tbilisi and we’re so thankful that she loves to visit us. I told her that I had a few simple tasks for her during her time: 1) teach Abby to swim, 2) teach Abby to use the brakes on her bike, and 3) get William to stop whining. She laughed and said “okay that’s week one, what else?”. We’ll see how that turns out!

Most of our summer days are spent playing outside and at the swimming pool. William in particular is loving summer – wearing what JR describes as “tasteful tanks”. Here are a few more pictures of our summer days!

 

 

 

 

La Dolce Vita: Florence and Siena

So as I mentioned, our travel day on Thursday was pretty exhausting. In a real bonehead move on my part, I asked JR to reserve tickets to the Accademia Gallery to see the David at 8:45am Friday morning. In my defense, my internet research said to make reservations in advance and that first thing in the morning was the way to go.  What I failed to really consider was that we’d be traveling most of the day Thursday, probably not sleep well that night, and that our rental house was a 45 minute drive from Florence. And that doesn’t even take parking into account, which we realized would be a big issue. I convinced everyone that it was well worth it to call the 60 euro reservation a loss and plan to sleep in.

We woke up Friday morning with zero plans, but after slowly making breakfast and getting ready, I figured it still made sense to head to Florence and enjoy the nice weather while we had it. After the fiasco the previous day, I refused to drive anywhere until we had phones with data on them. We made a quick stop in town for SIM cards before driving to Florence. Our AirBnB host recommended parking at a hotel that was a 15 minute walk from the main sights, and to our surprise, driving there and parking was quite easy. We stopped for lunch at a fantastic sandwich place, I’ Girone De’ Ghiotti, right off the main walking street. I spent a good amount of time researching and planning for our day in Florence so that we could make the most of our time and eat well, and this place did not disappoint! Just around the corner we made our first (of many) stops for gelato at Perche no!  It was fantastic of course and it was the first gelato experience for JR’s dad, William and my mom.

 
Lunch at I’ Gerone De’ Ghiotti

    
Gelato stop and walking with a monkey on my back.


We saw the Palazzo Vecchio, Piazza della Signora, the Duomo, the San Lorenzo Market and Ponte Vecchio. In between the sightseeing, we found time to stop for wine, espresso, and the Disney store. You know, typical Italian things. My mom and sister took Abby in and returned with a princess outfit complete with shoes and a crown. Our girl was truly in her element there.

It was a wonderful day but quite long, and poor William was overtired and couldn’t fall asleep on the way back to Greve. Everyone wanted to go out to dinner but we didn’t want to risk the inevitable meltdown, so JR stayed behind while the rest of us went to La Cantina, a wonderful local restaurant in Greve. We loved this place from the moment we walked in the door. Alessandro, the owner/manager/concierge/I don’t know what, greeted us with fist bumps and a smile. As we sat down the servers brought over glasses of prosecco. And since neither my mom nor JR’s Dad drink, my sister and I were treated to two glasses each! They had a large menu and delicious food, and treated us to dessert wine and a plate of sweets when we were finished. When we left, we assured Alessandro that we’d return (and we certainly kept that promise).

That night, part of a sweet little annual tradition between Abby and my mom, they colored Easter eggs together. My mom packed all the supplies, just like she did last year in Scotland!

Greve has a big market in their square on Saturday mornings so we started the next day there. Lunch was at Antica Macelleria Falorni, the oldest butcher shop in Greve, founded in 1806. William fell asleep in the stroller, so my mom took Abby to a playground while the rest of us enjoyed an early afternoon wine stop. Many of the restaurants we visited included a 2 euro “cover charge” for water, bread, and basically just for sitting down. So stopping for wine usually included a light snack – no complaints from me.

We all met at the playground and enjoyed some downtime watching the kids play.

I started looking up dinner options and was surprised to discover that many recommended restaurants closed between lunch and dinner, and that meant they didn’t reopen until 6:30/7pm, or later in some cases. Not ideal for our kids who usually eat dinner at 5:45 pm. Or me, let’s be honest. And so that’s how we justified returning to La Cantina for the second night in a row.

On Sunday we spent the morning exploring the property around our house.

We ate lunch at home and then drove about an hour to Siena, one of the most famous cities in Tuscany. The drive was beautiful and easy – it helped that William slept the whole way. We parked at Il Campo and there were clear signs for it including some that updated with the number of free parking spots on each level. It was just a ten minute walk to the main square, Piazza del Campo.

Siena was beautiful and Piazza del Campo was unforgettable. It was a bit windy, but otherwise I could have spent hours people watching and wandering the streets. Twice a year Piazza del Campo is transformed into a horse track where the 17 neighborhoods of Siena challenge each other in a famous horse race called “Palio.”

 

We stopped for gelato at Grom (highly rated but just okay to me, I quickly became a gelato expert). On our way to the Duomo, Abby passed out in the stroller. We kept William moving with the promise of blueberries, and it was so funny watching him wobble down the streets. JR, his dad, my sister and I did a quick visit inside the cathedral. It was really impressive and well worth it.

We returned to Piazza del Campo and I had the genius idea that JR and I should climb the 400 steps up the Torre del Mange, a tower over looking the square. I regretted the idea around the 50th step, but we made it to the top!


400 steps! 

I had hoped we could spend more time in the town, but the weather was cooling quickly. Abby was still sound asleep in the stroller and we knew William was more than ready for a nap, so we made our way back to Greve. Huge thanks to my sister for wearing William (no small feat since he’s over 25lbs now) while Abby hogged the stroller. And thanks to all three of our traveling companions for staying with the kids so JR and I could enjoy a date night that evening!

To be continued.

 

CLOs in KL

A few weeks ago I traveled to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for a week long Community Liason Office (CLO) training. It was my first trip to Asia, and the first job training I’ve had in a very long time, certainly the first since JR joined the Foreign Service. There were 19 other CLOs and the whole week was wonderful. The group leading the training did a fantastic job of keeping things interesting, and I have a ton of great new ideas (now I just need to find the time to implement them) for Tbilisi. I also feel like I made 19 new friends!

It was a long journey to KL, with two interesting things that happened just before we landed. With no warning or preamble, a voice on the intercom announced  “Carrying drugs into Malaysia is a federal crime and punishable by death.” Alrighty then. Images of Brokedown Palace flashed through my mind as I imagined a lifelong prison sentence in a foreign country, with no Kate Beckinsale to keep me company.

A few minutes later, another unexpected announcement: “In accordance with local laws, the flight attendants will now walk through the cabin spraying insecticide.” Um, okay? I covered my face and hoped for the best.

Once I reached my destination, it was pretty smooth sailing. The days were packed with training and then some scheduled evening events, and when we didn’t have something organized as a whole group, smaller groups broke off and made plans for dinner, shopping and sight seeing. I had a great time and enjoyed the chance to do something new and different. Here are some pictures from the trip.

Although it was only a week away from post and I met so many amazing people, it was probably the longest I’ve been away from my family. Traveling solo was fun but I was ready to go home!

Bakuriani

We took advantage of our 3-day weekend, packed our 27 bags, and drove to Bakuriani, a ski resort town about two and a half hours from Tbilisi. Our kids are not the greatest car travelers and honestly, packing up so much stuff to manage two nights away is a lot of effort. Still, I want to enjoy Georgia and these opportunities while we can. I booked a two-bedroom apartment with decent reviews and then put on my game face to tackle the packing situation.

I will say that buying packing cubes has been a total game changer for me. It makes it so much easier for me to pack up each family member in one cube, and then put all of our stuff into one larger bag instead of hauling individual bags for each person. It limits my overpacking. I still overpack, but I only put in as much as I can fit in the packing cube. I bought a few different brands in multiple colors so I can color code. When it was all said and done, we had one huge clothes bag, an extra bag for just the snow gear, a stroller, extra blankets, toy bag, food bag, and a cooler. Oh and the pack n’ play and extra mattress for my precious William’s sleep. I felt like I’d done so well but that is really a LOT for two nights away.

We stayed at the Hotel King David in their newly opened two bedroom apartment. The apartment itself was great. The kitchen had all the basics, including a full size fridge, microwave, two burners, and dishes. It is set a few feet apart from the hotel so it felt a little secluded and it was pretty quiet, which we appreciated. It was centrally located so we could walk anywhere we needed to go and had free parking. The parking was a bit annoying the morning we went to leave because a car had parked right up to our back passenger door, leaving me no way to get Abby strapped into her car seat. Also when JR started loading the car that morning, the front door to the hotel was locked. He couldn’t get out. There wasn’t an attendant at the front desk so he went down to the kitchen for assistance. He tried to explain how concerning the locked door was, that there could have been a fire, and the woman just kept smiling at him and saying, yes but there is no fire! You see, it’s fine! Breakfast was included but not served until 9am. My kids are awake by 6:30 so that didn’t do us much good. Overall, we were happy with the space, but a little concerned about the locked doors and the price was a bit high for the area.

There were two main kid-friendly areas, one right near the ski slopes and the other a few minutes in the opposite direction that had an ice skating rink, sledding hill, play areas and small rides and attractions. A few weeks ago I took Abby ice skating here and she really liked it, so we waited for the rink to open (website says 10am but what they really mean is 11am). The skating rink had an option for a half hour skate with an instructor, so Abby was off for her second lesson while William played in a special area for little ones. They both loved being pulled around on the sled, Abby especially enjoyed making JR pull her up and back down the little hill a few dozen times.

We are not skiers, but Abby said she wanted to try. I wasn’t sure if she’d really go for it, but the ski instructor seemed really nice and she happily went off with him up the hill. It was awesome watching her come flying back down the hill, with a huge smile on her face and asking to go again. I’m really glad she tried it and hope I can take her again.

Abby also absolutely loved being in a hotel. She thought it was so much fun and kept telling me she wanted to stay there for “the long day”, which is her way of staying for a long time.

 

 

Even though it’s not exactly relaxing to travel with our kids, the long weekend went by quickly and we were glad to enjoy a weekend away exploring more of Georgia.

 

The Merriest

Happy New Year!

December was a super busy month for my office, so I was definitely ready for a holiday break. My parents and my brother arrived in the early morning hours of the 22nd. After 24+ hours of travel, they were exhausted and excited to take showers and head to bed. Unfortunately for them, my neighborhood had no water! In a complete lack of preparedness on our end and contrary to emergency planning instructions received from the Embassy, JR and I had no extra bottled water for drinking, coffee, teeth brushing – nada at our home. He ran out to the store while we rationed what was left in our Brita pitcher in the fridge. I couldn’t imagine going to work without a shower, so we packed our bags to shower at the Embassy’s gym. Thankfully the water was restored by about 9am. While this allowed them to shower, Abby had other ideas about letting them rest. She kept them busy with crafts, games, and talking nonstop. No idea where she gets that.

We took them to Shadow of Metekhi, a great restaurant with beautiful views, for their first taste of Georgian food and dancing, and then spent the rest of the weekend in Christmas mode. Abby was really into Santa and all things Christmas. We’ve been singing Rudolph every night at bedtime since August (note, we are STILL singing Rudolph. She’s not ready to move on.)


Christmas Eve

 
Christmas morning

Abby’s favorite gifts were a small stuffed mouse JR bought her in Armenia, a camera from Nana and Papu, and her big girl bike. My mom was really skeptical when we (read: JR) put the bike together without the training wheels. I just wanted to see how she did without them since she did so well on her balance bike , but everyone else acted like I was crazy so I made her put on all sorts of protective gear just in case. To all of our amazement, she was riding solo within in a few tries! We were so excited for her and she was certainly very proud of herself, but adamant about no pictures!

During the rest of their visit we explored Tbilisi…

…ate khinkali

…saw The Nutcracker at the Tbilisi Opera House

…went to the Tbilisi Zoo where Abby had her face painted for the first time

and generally enjoyed all of our time together. It was truly wonderful to have our family visit us here during the holidays and we miss them already. Counting down to our next visit!