Hey Look Ma, I Made It!

We made it to Cairo! The travel was not terrible but the jet lag has been tough. The kids are actually doing okay but JR and I are both struggling. Here’s a little recap of our trip.

We left Orrville at 11:30am on Wednesday. Once again we hired Ohio Connection to help transport all of our luggage. With a new family member, we are now allowed ten checked bags. Amazingly that wasn’t enough so we ended up with ELEVEN suitcases and paid out of pocket for the extra one. $200!. Even though we spent two days packing, weighing, and rearranging the bags, I still held my breath as each one went on the scale at the airport. The first two came in at 50.5. When the third went on and showed 51.4, the employee gave me a look and I pleaded with him, “Sir, we are moving to Egypt! Please!”. Thankfully he let it slide and the rest of the bags stayed closer to that 50 pound limit. We also checked two car seats, and had two strollers with us to gate check. Needless to say, we were a sight at the drop off.

In preparing for the trip, I decided that ready-to-feed disposable bottles would be the most convenient. More on that mistake later. At security, they told us they would either need to open each bottle (which basically makes them unusable) or I had to submit to a full pat down. There was no question of course. I told the lady if that was the worst thing to happen to me that day I’d be just fine. She was extremely thorough but it was still the best alternative.

We ate a quick lunch and then waited at the gate. It was a really short flight to DC, and the only problem we had was feeding Jake. It was time for him to eat but he wouldn’t take the bottle. He just kept crying and pushing it away. We had given him one of these bottles in a test run a few days before we left and didn’t have a problem, so I tried not to panic. He slept a little bit and by then we were in DC.

After walking a good distance and taking a shuttle, we found an empty gate to sit for a moment and try feeding him again. The big kids were happily entertained with sticker pads.  I pulled out a new bottle and tried to feed Jake again. And again, he refused. Now I was panicking. It was 5 hours since his last bottle, and he typically eats every 3 hours. We were preparing for a 8 hour flight ahead  and I had a screaming, hungry baby and no way to feed him. A million thoughts were running through my mind. I honestly wondered if he and I would have to stay back in DC for a night to get his regular bottles before we could leave. Knowing it was a long shot, I asked Justin to try to find an employee or store and ask if they sold bottles anywhere at Dulles. Amazingly, he came back a few minutes later with a bottle! Although it wasn’t our regular brand, Jake thankful gulped it down. Such a huge relief. I told him to go back to the store and buy more to get us through the trip. So PSA, Hudson News at Dulles Airport does sell baby bottles. They were only $2.99 each, which I think is kind of a steal because we would have been at their mercy and paid whatever to get them.

On the flight to Frankfurt Abby was in a window seat, JR in the middle, then William in the aisle seat. I sat across from him in a middle section of four seats with Jake beside me. He cried on and off the first hour, and I worried we were in for a rough flight. But after that he fell asleep and seriously didn’t make a peep until it was almost time to land.

Abby and William were excited to use the in-flight entertainment, but we couldn’t get their headphones to work with it. I asked a flight attendant who told me, quite pleased with herself, this was because they have weird sets that require headphones with two prongs. This is illogical. They are basically requiring you to use their cheapy headphones that they pass out at the beginning of each flight, individually wrapped in plastic. I’m no environmentalist usually but come on! Doesn’t it make more sense to allow people who have their own headphones (so, basically everyone) to use those? Rather than a system that prohibits it? Also annoying because their headphones didn’t fit the kids’ head very well. Okay end of rant.

The iPads worked for a while and we ate the food we packed. We have completely abandoned plane food. Someone please let me know if it improves some day. We packed an insulated lunch bag with yogurt, string cheese, pepperoni, grapes and apples. I also had some bread and Jif To Go and made sandwiches for us.

It wasn’t easy getting the kids to fall asleep. They couldn’t get comfortable, even with our 1st Class Kids Pillow, which inflates like a footrest to extend the seat so a kid can stretch out more. I wound up holding Abby as she fell asleep. JR moved William to the window seat and let him stretch across the middle. When he finally fell asleep, JR asked the woman behind us if he could sit in the empty seat beside her and she graciously agreed. We laid Abby down by William and managed a little sleep ourselves.

In Frankfurt we barely had time to grab some pretzels and croissants, play in a small play area and then change diapers before boarding again for our third flight. The flight was full, and the best seats they could offer were four across in the middle and one single seat on the aisle in the next row back. I started out there, putting JR with all the kids. I immediately fell asleep and that hour was pretty much the highlight of my day. I woke up when Abby needed help trying to watch a movie and the headphone jack didn’t work well, so I switched seats with her. That little rockstar was perfectly content the rest of the flight sitting in a row by herself, watching a movie and enjoying some of the snacks I passed to her. William snuggled up in my cardigan and fell asleep again.

 

Three hours later we landed in Cairo! The airport was a flurry of activity and kind of a blur. I was just telling JR that one weird thing about this life is that you meet new people (in this case the employees who helped us at the airport as well as our social sponsor/my future coworker) when you would rather not be meeting anyone for the first time. After almost a full day of travel with 3 kids, I did not feel or look my best. So of course immediately after landing a man introduced himself to us and we realized he’s my new supervisor. Great to meet you sir, I promise I usually look a little less disheveled.

My big takeaways from this trip:

1. I pack too many toys/activities. William’s backpack was stuffed. Really, they only need iPads, headphones, and a few small new toys to occupy them. They both loved this Melissa and Doug sticker pad, as well as their Water Wow! books. For Abby, my mom sent her a surprise to open on the plane – a small Baby Born doll. William’s surprise was a $3 pack of plastic dinosaurs. That’s all they took out of their bags! I had also packed small play doh containers, crayons and coloring books, books, a magnetic block set, and other crap no one cared to touch.

Enjoying their surprise items.

2. A two hour layover sounds great but it is just barely enough time for us if we have to change gates and move through a big airport.

3. We took two strollers this time. I know my five year old should be able to walk and even carry or roll a bag at this point, but life is just easier when we can load everything on our stroller and push them. Jake and Abby were in the double and William was in my new favorite travel stroller, the Zoe XL1. It’s super lightweight, folds with one hand, pushes easily with one hand, great canopy and almost fully reclines.

Proof the kids carried their bags for a minute.

So we made it and we live in Egypt now. More to come!

 

This is PCS

When we planned out our home leave, I stacked June with most of our travel, naively thinking we’d have plenty of time to relax in July. And because I’ve been in Ohio for SO LONG (7 months!!), I thought I had a head start on most of the admin tasks and endless to-do items.

I was wrong.

Now to be fair, we’ve had a lot of fun in July. We drove down to Columbus for a play date and lunch with our friends K & L from Tbilisi. We were connected to them before they moved to Tbilisi by a mutual friend, Jessica, who served in South Africa with them and previously in Kosovo with us. By a lucky coincidence, Jessica and her husband Jeremy are also on home leave and in Ohio! They met us for lunch and it was an awesome worlds-colliding kind of moment.

We enjoyed the 4th of July festitives in my hometown. We attended the one two years ago during our last home leave and we wanted to try and make a tradition for the kids. The parade was huge hit, with the Abby and William collecting more candy than they could possibly ever consume. Abby has also turned out to be a bit of a thrill seeker, she wanted to ride all the rides at the carnival. Unfortunately for her she’s not quite tall enough yet, so she had to settle for the kiddie rides.

On the 6th, JR and I flew to Hartford, CT to visit our friend from law school, Erika, and her family. They showed us around town, treated us to some delicious local pizza and then the next morning we all drove to Boston together. JR had never been before, so we hit up all the big sights. We did a walking tour of the Freedom Trail, had delicious Italian in the North End, went out on a sailboat, ate crab and lobster (ok only JR did that, but I did try a bite!), and walked around Harvard Square. JR is fascinated with the Boston accent so every once in awhile he’d point out things so he could practice. For instance, he told me several times “hey look, there’s the habaaa (harbor).” I told him that his accent was horrendous and to please stop embarassing me. My requests were ignored, but we managed to have a great time.

So that was the fun stuff. But in the middle of all that, the PCS (permanent change of station – moving to a new post) stuff was adding up. We received an email the week of the 4th telling us due to a recent rule change, we could no longer ship 4 wheel drive vehicles to Cairo. Initially, we were told that since our Honda Pilot was an all wheel drive, it would probably be okay to send. But a week later we were officially told that our car was considered an SUV/4WD and we could not ship it. We were told that they were working to resolve the issue but had no hope that it would be resolved within the next few months. After some email exchanges with the Embassy, the options were to store our car in the U.S. for our entire tour, or risk sending it to Egypt knowing the restriction and facing a $70/day storage fee at the port.  For a potential 4 year post, neither of these choices made sense.

This was totally unexpected, and especially since we purchased a new (to us) SUV in January, we were panicked. This led to a frenzied week of researching 2 wheel drive vehicles with enough room for 3 car seats. Spoiler alert – we are now a minivan family.  We lost quite a bit of money trading in our car so soon after purchasing it. Due to issues with getting the car title when you finance it and permission to take it overseas, we had to pay cash for the minivan. So financially, it hurt. And it also just took away time, time spent researching cars, calling dealerships, trying to sell ours, etc. that we were supposed to be spending on leave with our family. Not at all something we expected to deal with at the last minute.  (Note, six days after we traded in our car, lost several thousand dollars and hurriedly purchased a minivan, we were notified that the ban on 4 wheel drive vehicles in Cairo had been lifted and we were now welcome to ship our Pilot. Except we no longer own it. I have no words.)

We are working through the seemingly endless task of sorting, organizing, and prioritizing all of our things. We have one air shipment of 400lbs going from Ohio to Cairo, and had to get everything together for that. Now that we are a family of five, we’ll have ten checked bags, so we started packing those as well. I’m worried we won’t have enough room. We’ve acquired so much stuff (especially toys – SO MANY TOYS – thanks Mom!) while we’ve been here. And the baby stuff, they require so much!

For fun, in our free time, JR and I each spend way too much time on the phone with various customer service representatives. I called Lufthansa to try and confirm seats for our flights to Cairo. After a signficant wait, they told me I have to check with United because it’s a United booking. Now, what’s really fun about this is that JR called United last week and they told him it’s a Lufthansa flight and they couldn’t help us. I explained this to the Lufthansa agent, and she was insistent she could not help me. I hung up, called United, waited on hold, and explained my situation again. This is where it gets good! United once again told me their hands were tied, only Lufthansa could help. I very kindly asked the woman to call Lufthansa on the other line and help me resolve this. She did, and eventually Lufthansa gave us our seat assignments. One full hour of my life I’ll never get back. (I’d also like to note that I took issue with the fact that it cost $35 per ticket to reserve seats in advance. She kept saying “well since you prefer to sit together.” No ma’am, I don’t actually prefer to sit with any of my children on an 8 hour flight, but since they are 5, 2.5 and 5 months old, I’m pretty sure it’s legally required that we sit together. But sure, let’s act like this is a want, not a need.)

While I did that, JR played a fun game of calling CVS, then our insurance company, back and forth over and over again, trying to get our insurance to approve a one year supply of his prescriptions. Another hour lost.

Meanwhile, we are trying to fit in everything else. Hair cuts, swim lessons, doctor appointments, dentist appointments, and on and on it goes. Jacob has had a terrible cough and congestion for two weeks. Abby woke up covered in a rash two days ago. It’s fine. Everthing is fine.

One week to go!

 

 

6 weeks

Somehow Jacob is already 6 weeks old! He’s growing like crazy. He loves to eat and sleep, and that’s really all he does right now.

We had family photos done by Ashley Lindeman again and they turned out so well. Very grateful for these three adorable kids!
Abby picked out her own necklace, telling me her outfit needed “a little pop of color.” Even though it was like herding cats, we were able to bribe  them with treats long enough to get a few good shots.

We took Jacob for his passport pictures a few weeks ago. Like his brother and sister before him, he went through this delightful tradition of laying on a piece of poster board on the ground while adults hover above trying to get a picture. It was not easy, but we thought we nailed it.  Last week we finally had all the forms we needed for his application so we went to the title office downtown. Right away they told us the picture was too close to his face. So once again I found myself on the floor at Rite-Aid kindly asking my newborn to open his eyes, look straight ahead, and keep his mouth closed.


First and second attempts

Usually, we would be frantically finising paperwork, waiting on passports and visas, and doing a ton of last minute prep before returning to post. And while we are actually doing all of those things, we’ve decided that the kids and I will not be going back to Tbilisi. It’s still a little hard to say that, even though we made the decision a while ago. We gave it a lot of thought and went back and forth on what made the most sense for our family. Our official departure date from Tbilisi is the first of June, which would have given us about 7 weeks back there. During that time, we would spend most of it preparing to leave and packing out with 3 kids underfoot which doesn’t sound easy or fun. The kids are also really settled here. Abby loves her school, and she’s taking gymnastics and swim lessons each week. William and Jacob are doing great too. When we really thought about the packing, the flights and the jet lag, just to turn around and do it again 7 weeks later, the decision became pretty clear.

I’m still really sad about it. I can’t believe I won’t see my house, my friends, or coworkers again, or the city that we have come to love over the last 4 years. When we left in January, we never considered this possibility. I don’t even know if I made my bed! (No, actually I’m certain I didn’t. We left the house at like 3am. I definitely did not make my bed.) We also had to weigh how this would impact the kids, especially Abby. Luckily she is really happy here and we are getting into a routine. It will all change next week when JR leaves, but we’ll work it out.

We are taking advantage of every nice day, and all of the fun and cheese America has to offer. We’ve been to parks and playgrounds, we took everyone bowling, and we even went to Chuck E. Cheese.  JR built the kids a play structure in the backyard and they love it. They have changed and grown so much in the last 3 months, and for the most part we are enjoying it. William’s tantrums leave a lot to be desired. Recently I’ve tried to ignore him when he does it, which leads to him shaking is fist or whatever toy is in his hand at me and saying “Do you hear me Mommy? Do you hear me??” Delightful, truly.

We are making plans for Cairo. I’m applying for jobs and we enrolled Abby in school (I can’t believe she is going to kindergarten. I have a LOT of feelings.) Lots of changes on the horizon but we are excited!

 

Hamilton and Jacob

Some pretty exciting things have happened over the last month. We welcomed our third baby, Jacob, into the world about three weeks ago. And JR surprised me with tickets to see Hamilton just before the baby arrived. If you think it’s a little odd that I’m putting Hamilton on the same level as having another child, well then you probably haven’t seen Hamilton.

It was SO, SO good. Months ago, when we knew we’d be in Ohio and that the show was touring in Columbus at the same time, we looked into buying tickets. They were super expensive and we decided we’d just wait for an opportunity down the road. JR gave me my Valentine’s card a few days early, which made me a little suspicious that something was up even though we had agreed no gifts this year. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the tickets to the show! We were a little nervous because I was 38+ weeks pregnant, so we made sure to pack our hospital bags in the car just in case when we drove the hour and a half to Columbus. JR joked that the tickets were so expensive that if I went into labor during the show I had to stick it out til the end. Luckily it was a non-issue and we were able to enjoy every second of the performance. If you have a chance to see it, you absolutely should. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack ever since.

In fact, we listened to some of my favorite songs from the musical while I was in labor. I cannot say enough good things about my doctor here, and how lucky I feel that she was able to deliver all 3 of our children. And she’s a Hamilton fan, so she was singing right along with us. Jacob was born on 2/22 and we are in love. I knew he would be our last baby, so it was a day full of last moments and lots of emotions.

Most of the newborn stuff is coming back to us, but juggling 3 kids (even with a tremendous amount of help from our family) is definitely a new challenge. We’re taking it day by day. Abby is embracing her big sister role and William is indifferent for the most part.

Hopefully the next time I write I’ll be getting a little bit more sleep!

 

Our Next Assignment

In the craziness of the last several weeks (government shutdown, the holidays, returning to Ohio, more government shutdown) I sort of blocked out all the stress and ultimately, relief, we dealt with during this bidding cycle.

Although the official bidding cycle for our next overseas post didn’t start until August, we were talking about potential posts all year. JR and his colleagues made informal inquiries to various places and tried to guess which jobs and locations would make the list. When the official list was released, we still had to wait because the priority bidders (folks currently serving unaccompanied tours) are the only bidders in the first round, as an incentive to go to those dangerous/hard to fill posts. We were also told that certain places on the list, even though they were on there and we would be interested in being posted there, would not be filled for one reason or another. We waited anxiously for the priority bidding round to finish so that JR could make a push for the places we really wanted to go that remained open.

A few technical points on bidding for potential posts: 1) You are allowed to bid on a minimum of 4 and maximum of 8 posts/positions; 2) You are required to bid on one unaccompanied post, one “hard to fill/critical post”, and one “priority post”.  Those can change each year. 3) JR has to interview for and lobby for the positions he wants. 4) Ultimately, the post, DC, and other powers that be meet to determine who goes where. Yes, your list and preferences are considered, but they also have to consider the needs of the agency, employees and families with medical limitations, and a million other factors.

The priority round ended I believe at the end of September, leaving JR a few weeks to really push for the positions he wanted. He was in close contact with people from those posts, through emails and informal calls as well as official interviews. It’s a delicate dance and guessing game. Posts can rank up to 3 people that they want to fill their opening. Ideally, the posts you rank high will also rank you high. But some posts don’t want to divulge how they are ranking you, so it feels a lot like a middle school relationship. Do you like me? Ok but do you like me as much as I like you? Give me a hint!

We were right in the height of all of this when we took our family trip to Paris. We were dealt some blows (one post had two positions in SE Asia we were super excited about and planned to bid high, and then at the last minute we were told they wouldn’t be filling either of those jobs after all) and some surprises (a post we had written off completely asked JR for a last minute interview and said they were really interested in him). It made for a tense vacation and lots of agonizing and going back and forth about how to rank our list, where we coud possibly end up, what was best for JR’s career, and what was best for our family.

At the end of October he submitted his bid list. We felt really great about our top 4-5 places, less so about the bottom 3. Then came several more weeks of waiting. We were told assignments would start to be made the first week of December. In addition to pregnancy insomnia, I was having trouble falling asleep while waiting for late night or super early morning email notices from DC (Tbilisi is 9 hours ahead) that would seal our fate. The first round of assignments was released December 6 and JR’s name wasn’t on it. Unfortunately, our number one post was listed, but with another name beside it. Double whammy. Over the next two weeks, more and more rounds of assignments were made and each time, JR’s name was not on it. It was so disappointing and frustrating each time another notice came out. We knew that a potential shutdown was looming, which would certainly stop assignments for a while, and we also knew there was a possiblity JR would not be assigned at ALL and we’d have to start the entire process over again in January. The stress and anxiety was really wearing on us and I found myself struggling to focus on the holidays.

The government shutdown on Friday, December 21 at midnight. A few hours before that, while we were sleeping, Round 7 of the assignments was released and finally, FINALLY, we made the list. We are super excited for our next adventure because we are moving to…

 

CAIRO, EGYPT in summer 2019!!

The first few weeks

Having done this transition back to America a few times now, I thought I had a good plan for our first few weeks. JR was scheduled to fly us to Ohio, then fly to DC two days later and spend about a month there with training, consultations and a work conference. We didn’t want to be apart that long so we bought tickets for the kids and I to meet him there over MLK weekend. I also wanted to get our doctor’s appointments scheduled and done as soon as possible, in case there were any issues that would require follow up. This included meeting with William’s allergist to hopefully do a food challenge to test his egg allergy.

Well you know what they say about plans – everything kind of fell apart. As you are likely aware, the government partially shutdown at the end of December and just reopened after 35 days. All of Justin’s work trip was canceled, although incrementally as the powers that be hoped things would resolve and then they didn’t. This made it difficult for us to anticipate whether we’d still go to DC, whether he’d still be with us, and just generally made planning impossible. Jet lag also hit us really hard, so trying to maintain a schedule right away was tough. We wanted Abby to start preschool here and we also signed her up for gymnastics (happy to report she is enjoying both) but that meant a lot of in and out of the car and places we needed to be at certain times that first week. Both kids were scheduled for well-child checks, and we had to take William for a blood draw for his allergy test a week before appointment with the doctor. They tried both arms and couldn’t get enough blood – super stressful for everyone and especially him. We had to take him back the next day to do it again and thankfully they managed to get what they needed.


Two healthy babes!

Once the results of the blood test were in, we took William to Cleveland to meet with his allergist, Dr. Eli Silver, for a food challenge. We prepared a scambled egg and they checked on us several times over a 2 hour period as we gave him increasing amounts. Happy to report that William is officially allowed to eat eggs now! A huge thank you to Dr. Silver, who started working with us when William was just six months old. He initially had an allergy to eggs and showed a likelihood of developing a peanut allergy, but thanks to Dr. Silver and his recommendations, we are free of the epi-pen and he’s cleared to eat anything he wants! This mostly includes Goldfish and air, but he does seem happy about the eggs.

As I mentioned, Abby started preschool here right after we arrived. She goes 3 mornings a week (quite a change from her full time schedule in Tbilisi) but she is really enjoying it. We were wondering how well she’d do the first week – it’s a lot of change and new things at once, but it helped so much that she has a friend here, Eden, that she’s known since she was first born! Since we video chat with my Mom almost every day and she sometimes watches Eden, they’re able to keep in touch. They have the sweetest friendship and having Eden with her as she started at her new school helped her so much.

 

First day of preschool, and a bonus pic of these two when they were only a few weeks old!

After a rough first week of adjusting, we are all settling in nicely now. Abby in particular is cracking me up with her observations about the world and some of the new things she’s learning. Her preschool is based in a church so she’s coming home with some new questions for us. We’re doing our best to navigate them.

Recent conversation:
Abby: Did you know that when you are dead you are not really dead, you just go to another country?
Me:  Do you mean Heaven? It’s not really another country. Some people believe our spirit, what makes you you on the inside, goes there when you die. But dead is dead, sweetie.
Abby:  What do we do in Heaven?
Me: No one really knows. People believe you are really happy there though.
Abby: Oh, so we can watch tv and have snacks there?

She also continues to bring her own unique style to each day.

Other things we’re enjoying (sort of) are lots of snow and cold in Ohio. The kids made snowmen and “helped” JR shovel. The cold has been fun and all, but I’m definitely not looking forward to this “polar vortex” they are expecting the next 3 days!

 
Yes, our snowman is wearing a skirt.

A real highlight for Abby was a trip to Cleveland with her Nana. They visited the Children’s Museum, stayed in a hotel, and saw Disney on Ice. These two are living their best lives!

 

Tbilisi-Munich-Newark-Cleveland

Two weeks ago we finished packing our bags, said goodbye to friends, and loaded into two Suburbans to make our way to the airport. The first red flag occurred when we realized that the cars didn’t have the car seats we requested. Usually I wouldn’t even think about driving on a Georgian road without car seats but it was in the middle of the night and a decision had to be made, and to be honest it wasn’t even that difficult of a decision because I wasn’t about to install two car seats right then. The drive went fine and the kids sang Georgian songs all the way there, to the delight of our driver. The car behind us was hauling our 7 suitcases, car seats and stroller. It only takes about 35 minutes to get to the airport in the middle of the night, which for me is just enough time for the adrenaline to start to fade and my eyes to get heavy. No time for that!

When we parked and unloaded, JR and I counted the bags and we were one short. Holy panic. We cut it close when we arrive at the airport because I want to avoid waiting around for an extra hour before such a long day, but it was quickly clear to me there wouldn’t be enough time for a driver to go back and pick up our bag and then return to the airport before we departed. We’re standing outside the airport, it’s cold, the kids are confused and I didn’t know what we should do. We asked one of the drivers to call the guards at our house to ask if there was a spare suitcase hanging out on our porch that was mistakenly left behind. Just as he got on the phone, someone came up to us and pointed back about 30 feet away at a lone suitcase hanging out on the sidewalk. Somehow the other driver unloaded it but missed bringing it to the rest of the group. Crisis averted.

The flight to Munich was fine. It’s just under 4 hours and the kids mostly ate breakfast and watched shows. I talked up our 3 hour layover in Munich, telling the kids how we’d find an awesome playground and have time to play.  There was a play area we’ve stopped at on almost each flight, shortly after we made it through security. It’s okay but not as nice as others they have, so we didn’t stay long. We picked up some soft pretzels on the way to our gate area, hoping we’d have one of the newer, bigger play areas close by.  We walked and walked and walked. We had to go through another security screen (this was our third time that morning. They asked us a bunch of questions, then sent me and the kids off to one side while JR had to go through the whole deal again). After that, we were at some random lone gate at the far end of the airport. No food other than vending machines, and certainly no play area. I was disappointed – Munich is usually a great layover spot for us but due to our gate location it was a bummer this time. The kids barely noticed and chased each other around the waiting area while JR went off in search of more hot pretzels to tide us over.

Because I was on a med evac ticket and we couldn’t get seats together, we qualified for extended economy seating for the flight to Newark. I definitely noticed and appreciated the increased leg room. We all fell asleep shortly after takeoff and that got us through the first 2 hours of the flight.

The remaining 6.5 hours, however were ROUGH. Abby did mostly fine, she watched the in-flight movies and her iPad, had a ton of snacks, and didn’t complain too much. William was a different story. He’s not that into shows or the iPad yet and he refused to let me sit by him (which meant JR didn’t really get a break the rest of the flight) and required near constant entertainment. Not easy to do when you are confined to a small space and trying to make minimal noise to not disturb those around us trying to sleep. You can tell yourself “it’s only one day, this will end eventually, people deal with much more difficult things than this” and then you look up and only 3 minutes have passed since you last looked at the clock. And then if you’re me, you hate everyone and question all life choices that led you to be trapped on an airplane with two small children for another 6 hours.

We landed in Newark grateful to be in the America finally, but that passed kind of fast because to be honest, the Newark airport is kind of awful. We waited a lifetime for our bags. We paid a well-worth it $20 for a porter to help us collect them and transport them through passport control and customs. I highly recommend doing this because it allowed us to pass two lines, and it was a bit of a walk from point A to point B, and would have been very difficult even with both of us, considering the amount of luggage we had plus the kids in their stroller.  We rode a tram to our gate and then had to go through security for the FOURTH time. The line was long and William had a dirty diaper. I asked the first TSA agent if they had a family line. She gave me a ‘you must be joking’ look and then shook her head no. She did take a moment to ask me “So, when do you blow up?”. I can only guess she meant when am I due to have this baby? Although no one has ever asked me in such flowery terms before.  After winding through the aisles we asked a second agent if we might be able to bypass the line due to William’s diaper and she very nicely let us move to the front. The next agent spent a few moments looking over our boarding passes and IDs, and while she did I filled JR in on what the previous lady had asked me. The woman with our IDs looked up and said “that’s not the kind of joke you want to make in an airport.” Um…yeah, got that, thanks. I’m just relaying WHAT YOUR COWORKER JUST SAID TO ME TWO MINUTES AGO. It was around this time of hating everyone and everything that I added Newark to my list of places I plan to never return.

Also while going through security they made me empty all of our water bottles (including the kids – usually they just take them to the side and check them?) and they told me to pull all of the food out of our bags. I was incredulous. We had food shoved in every nook and cranny of our 3 carry on bags. I’ll note again this was our FOURTH TIME going through security for the day. Needless to say I was grumpy and hungry when we finally made it to our gate area to find a restaurant.  Abby was passed out in the stroller, but William colored happily while JR and I gorged on chicken fingers and mozzarella sticks.  The two appetizers, grilled cheese for William, and two soft drinks totaled over $50. Missed you, America!

We had more than 3 hours to wait after we finished eating. JR, being a super person and having more energy than me, pushed the stroller around until both kids passed out.

It was a long layover without much to do and we were exhausted. We were in such a state of mind that we actually had a conversation about not bringing the kids back with us to Tbilisi since we’re only planning to be there for like 6 weeks or so and didn’t want to put them (or us) through the experience again only to have to have to do it all over again when we come back this summer for home leave.  While I was making my points, JR said that we really shouldn’t make any important decisions given our lack of sleep.  To be continued, sir.

So finally it was time to board our third and last flight to Cleveland. Both kids were still sound asleep. I carried Abby on the plane and he grabbed William (while simultaneously collapsing the double stroller – impressive feat) and we made it on our last flight. Abby laid across two seats and slept the entire way, and William slept on JR’s lap until the last 5 minutes. Even though JR’s arms were numb, we couldn’t have asked for more at the end of the day.

My parents were waiting to pick us up and the kids perked up when they saw them. It helped that Nana had promised to have Christmas cookies and juice for them. All of our bags arrived and just one hour later we were home sweet home for the next 3 months!

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!