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/

 

Travel is fun, they say

The good news is we survived the return to trip to Tbilisi and it went about as well as we could have hoped. The bad news is that jet lag with a 7 week old and a 2.5 year old is THE WORST. Thankfully it only took about a week for us to fix our sleep schedules but it was a very rough 7 days.

We flew out of Akron Canton, which is a small regional airport about 40 minutes from Orrville. Because we flew into Cleveland when we arrived, this was considered a cost-construct trip (since we wanted to fly in and out of two different airports, we were responsible for any difference in price – in this case it was $25 per ticket which was worth it to us). Akron Canton is closer, and it’s much more convenient because it’s just so small. I also liked the flight schedules better. The downside is that when you cost construct a ticket, you lose some of the benefits you might otherwise have received. In this case, we could have had a day room at the Hilton hotel in Munich during our 9 hour layover as part of our trip. I didn’t know if we were making a huge mistake by foregoing that option. We could have paid out-of-pocket for it but I heard the business lounge was really nice (and we did receive passes to that). Also, the Hilton is kind of a haul through the airport and the day room hours are 9am to 6pm. We were scheduled to land around 1pm and leave at 10pm, so I didn’t know how useful it would actually be.

We left for the airport at 2:30pm on Tuesday, January 24. As I mentioned in my last post, we received William’s diplomatic passport and visa to Georgia via FedEx at 10:30am that same morning. We like to live dangerously like that (no, actually we don’t, but the whole process is the biggest pain and it took 67 emails to get someone from the Georgian Embassy to help us out). We hired a van from HMC Car and Limousine to transport our luggage and JR while my mom drove me and the kids. Our final count was 8 checked bags, 1 convertible car seat (checked), 1 infant car seat (carried on), 1 double stroller (gate checked before each flight), 3 carry-on backpacks, and 1 diaper bag. It looks overwhelming but I felt like we had considerably less to carry after we checked in. Using backpacks was a game changer.

I’m also really happy with our double stroller. We used the Britax B Agile Double. It’s super easy to push, both seats fully recline for the kids to lay down, and we fit through every door we encountered. It also folds easily and quickly.

airport-1

Checking in at Akron Canton was super smooth and easy. There was only one other person in the entire security line. We were able to take our time and not feel so rushed which is how we usually feel during check in and security. It may have been my imagination, but all the employees were even friendlier than at other airports. I think this is how VIPs must feel while traveling. Maybe that’s why we enjoy this airport so much?

There’s a small children’s play area so we hung out there and let Abby play until it was time to board our first flight to Chicago.

airport-2

It was a small plane with a 2-2 seat set up and our seats were not across from each other, JR was one row up. It wasn’t a big deal since the flight was so short and both kids did great.

flight-1

We had an almost 4 hour layover in Chicago. We took our time walking to our gate and stopped for dinner at Chili’s. The area we were in wasn’t very crowded so we let Abby run as much as she wanted in hopes of tiring her out. Before boarding we changed her into PJs and hoped for the best.

chicago

On this flight we had the window and aisle seat of one row and the window and aisle of the row directly behind it. I sat with William in his car seat and JR was with Abby in front of us. He inflated her 1st Class Kids Travel Pillow  (watching JR try to quickly and discreetly blow up the pillow is always amusing).

blowing

As soon as lift-off we encouraged Abby to lay down and sleep. She tried and tried, and she would fall asleep for a little bit and then wake up. She was very tired (it was probably 11pm/12am at this point) and quickly became frustrated and upset. I asked her if there was anything I could get her or do for her to help her sleep and her reply of “I want Nana” about broke my heart. The plane was not full, so JR moved a few rows back and we let Abby spread out across the two seats to hopefully sleep better. I continued to sit in the row behind her with William, who to our amazement, slept almost the entire flight. He woke up about half way through for a bottle and diaper change, then went right back in his car seat and back to sleep.

Once both kids were asleep I decided to try the unthinkable and watch a movie. I only used one headphone so I could listen for them and kept leaning forward to check on Abby. Once when I started to look up all I could see were her two little feet in her pjs sticking out in the aisle from the floor. She had rolled right off the seat and was less than thrilled to find herself on the ground. Oops. I settled her again, and moved her pillow more to the center of the two seats to hopefully act as a barrier and keep her from falling again. She rolled off only once more so I suppose it was a limited success.

After landing in Munich we walked straight to the Lufthansa Business Lounge. We ate some breakfast there and then found a place to sit down and relax. We took turns showering- this was my first time showering in an airport and it was really nice. The bathrooms are spacious and clean, and they provided shampoo, razor, shaving cream, shower cap, towels, and a hair dryer. We knew we were going to take advantage of this so JR and I had each packed a full change of clothes in our backpacks. I felt like a brand new person after that shower! We let Abby play on the iPad while William alternated between eating and sleeping. The lounge was right beside a small kids play area so JR took her out there to play a few times.

lounge-pic

Overall, I’m glad we went with the lounge passes instead of the hotel room. It helped that the lounge was empty for most of the day and we were able to create our own little area to camp out.

The final flight was a little rough – we were all over it and in desperate need of our beds and our own space. Thank goodness for Daniel Tiger, a binky and a snack cup to carry us to our final destination.

flight-32

JR and I were so relieved to finally touch down in Tbilisi. Abby kept saying “are we in Georgia?  What’s Georgia?” As we waited for our luggage at baggage claim, the poor girl had her first accident in months. She was really upset so I tried to calm her down and rush her off the bathroom to change clothes while JR handled the bag collection and kept an eye on William. Once she was all cleaned up, we met up with our motorpool drivers and made our way to the cars (it took two vehicles to haul all of us and our stuff).

Let me tell you, installing two car seats at 6am after 30 some hours of travel, in the cold, is not fun. As I buckled William in I could smell a dirty diaper but I thought the best thing was to just ignore it and hurry home. Just as the cars started moving, Abby said she had to pee. Again. Awesome. The entrance to the airport (you cannot go back in through the area we came out of) was on the other side of the entire building. Did I mention it was 6am and cold? And that our baby had a dirty diaper? I did what anyone would do – I took her to the side of the parking lot and held her off the ground so she could go. I can only imagine what our drivers were thinking.

Finally we were in the cars on the way home. Abby sang every single song she knows at least twice. We pulled up and let her run into the house first and she was so, so excited. “My kitchen!” “My baby” “My flashlight”. Every toy delighted her. I wonder how much of all of this her little mind really understands, but she was definitely happy to be home. And so were we – we all slept for about six hours.

That six hours felt great but wasn’t nearly enough.  The next several days were our toughest to date, but everyone is back to normal now and we are so glad to be home!

 

Catching up

I had really good intentions of blogging while we were in Ohio for my maternity med evac, but as evidenced by my lack of posting, that clearly did not happen. The good news is I can blame my absence on the arrival of William James, born December 9, 2016.

He’s basically the cutest and we’re all adjusting to life as a family of four!

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JR says that William already looks “distinguished.”

How we spent the rest of our time at home:

  • We spent Thanksgiving with JR’s family and it was really nice. His sister and her husband hosted the extended family and the food was so fantastic, there weren’t ANY leftovers. That says something about the food, but it created a real crisis for me when it was 7pm that evening and I was searching for a hot meal. At approximately 52 weeks pregnant at that point, JR knew it was a serious situation and helped me find a place that was open so we could order carryout. If you’re ever in this predicament, Applebees is open on Thanksgiving. You’re welcome in advance.
  • My due date was quickly approaching in December and William showed no signs of making an appearance. After scheduling an induction date with my doctor, JR and I showed up at the hospital on December 9 ready to have a baby. My doctor was confident I’d have a baby by early that evening (in fact, she broke down the plans for the day according to meal times, we’ll do this at breakfast, this around lunch, and baby will be here in time for you to eat dinner – she really gets me). As much as we both said we had no idea if we were having a boy or a girl, clearly we were both expecting a girl because we were completely shocked when the doctor said “It’s a boy!”.
  • Some of the highlights of that day (aside from meeting our baby boy!) included Abby’s visit, being done with labor by 6pm and able to EAT, and my sister having Pizza Hut breadsticks delivered to the hospital for me (this is a birthing tradition for us) shortly after William’s birth. She’s awesome like that. Everything went perfectly, but the next morning both Abby and JR tested positive for strep throat. Less than ideal to say the least. JR spent the next 48 hours parenting from behind a mask.

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  • Once we had William home and settled, it was time to focus on Christmas! It was really wonderful to spend the holiday with our families, and Abby reveled in the attention. She was (is) completely spoiled but it was so much fun to see her excitement over Santa and all the presents.

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Taking a picture of two kids is much harder than one!

  • Abby’s reaction to Santa Claus. What a difference a year makes!

This year  fullsizerender-4

vs. last year  abby-1

  • We spent much of our remaining time going to a dozen appointments and working on the paperwork to take William home to Georgia. No joke – his visa arrived at 10:30am on the Tuesday that we left, with our flight leaving at 4:30pm. Nothing like the last minute!
  • Abby is really obsessed with him.

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Give William some space Abby! (said at least 100 times a day)

  • We’re so happy to be back in our house in Tbilisi and slowly life is returning to normal – at least a new normal. I’m planning to write another post soon about our travel back!

A few more pictures of my sweet babes!

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A whirlwind

Abby and I have been home for a month and it’s gone by in record speed. One thing that hasn’t changed – it’s still 100 degrees (approximately) outside.  It’s November, and I packed fall/winter clothes, so it would be GREAT if it could cool down a bit. (Note, while it may be 70 this Friday, it is actually supposed to snow on Sunday. I love you, Ohio.)

The first weekend we were home, the timing worked our perfectly and I was able to meet up with a few law school friends who were in town to show off their darling baby girl.

krissy-shower

And the next day one of my closest friends from high school had a party to introduce her new baby girl, and our whole group was reunited for a few hours!

ash-shower

A few days later I flew to DC to join JR for a long weekend. I barely took any pictures of the weekend – womp womp, but most of it was spent eating at some of our favorite places and relaxing. I did get one picture of our reunion with Amy, our dear friend from Kosovo!

amy

Meanwhile in Orrville, Abigail was having the time of her life with my mom, stepdad and brother doting on her and attending to her every possible desire. They went to story hour at the library, a pumpkin patch and a farm, and had tons of fun.

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Abby enjoyed multiple Halloween events dressed up as Doc McStuffins. She was thrilled with all the candy she received trick or treating. It’s hard to teach your child to only take one piece when the generous people passing out candy kept telling her, “go ahead, take a few pieces!”

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Could these kids be any cuter?

Then it was time for my little sister’s wedding! JR was able to get home early and he surprised Abby and I at the rehearsal. She was so cute when he snuck up to say hello. She did okay with her flower girl duties at the rehearsal, but she was perfect at the wedding! She tossed all of her flowers and at the end of the aisle she threw her hands up and triumphantly announced “I did it!” She earned herself a fancy cupcake which she promptly devoured.

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My sister was a gorgeous bride, and she and Mark had a wonderful time celebrating with their family and friends.

wedding

After that crazy two weeks, I was happy to welcome one of my best friends from law school to Ohio for the weekend. We splurged on a hotel room in Columbus and visited some of our favorite places (Roosters and Bexley Pizza Plus!), and did a little shopping. Since we both have toddlers at home, we thought the best possible way to spend a Saturday night was at the movies and then going to bed by 10pm.  And it was glorious.

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JR had to return to Tbilisi for a little bit, but he is back with us now and we’re both teleworking for a little while. It’s hard to believe that next week is Thanksgiving, and we’re just a few weeks away from my due date!

We made it!

Happy to report that Abby and I landed safe and sound in Cleveland last Friday, following a mostly uneventful journey. She did AWESOME on our flights. We received so many comments and compliments on how quiet and well-behaved she was, which I’m choosing to believe is a direct reflection on our parenting, not the unlimited Kindle Fire and binky time she had while we traveled.

We started out early Friday morning with a 1:30am wake up. I didn’t wake Abby until our driver had arrived, and then I dressed her while JR installed the car seat and helped load the car. She was immediately excited about our travels and talked happily the whole way to the airport. We had two separate ticket reservations – Abby and I were traveling on my med-evac orders, while JR was booked under his own order because he was headed to a training course in DC. An added delight to all this travel nonsense is that we always struggle with being seated together. For the 4 hour flight to Munich, Abby and I had a middle and aisle seat, while he had a middle seat directly behind us.

We asked the man assigned to the window seat in my aisle if he’d be willing to take JR’s middle seat instead so we could be seated together (yes, we cringed while asking and felt terrible.  No one wants a middle seat.) To his credit, the man just nodded and switched with us. It actually worked out well as no one else was seated in that row, and he was able to have his window seat and extra space anyway. JR encouraged me to move back as well, where I took an aisle seat and slept almost the entire flight and he hung out with Abby. She fell asleep for about half the flight.

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It was around 7am local time when we landed in Munich.  We found a small empty play area and hung out there for a while before making our way to a restaurant for breakfast. Our gate was in H, but we knew another play area was set up near G28, and since it was just a floor below us, we walked down there to let Abby play for over an hour. I think our layover was about 4.5 hours, and it really wasn’t bad at all. Our theory was to try and let Abby play and run off any excess energy in Munich so she could get the most sleep on the longer flight.

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As soon as we boarded the flight to DC, we set up our 1st Class Kid Travel Pillow. We heard about it through other foreign service folks who are more travel savvy than we are and decided to give it a try. JR inflated it himself (supposedly you can use the vents over your head, but we were still nervous the flight attendants might say we couldn’t use it, so I didn’t want to call attention to it). It only took him a few minutes and then we wedged the pillow on the floor in front of Abby’s seat, filling the gap so she could put her feet up. It was well past her regular nap time, so I encouraged her to put her head on the pillow and try to sleep. She was able to nap for about 2 hours while I watched Me Before You – the movie was fine but I felt like a fool sobbing at the end of it.  Maybe better watched in private. For $30, we think the pillow was worth it and helped her to sit and stretch out more comfortably.

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Abby really did not complain or cry at all during the long flight. Towards the end she was definitely acting tired and over it, but we all felt that way. I spoke to the flight attendants to ask if we could have anyone help us upon landing. Since JR was staying in DC, I would be on my own with Abby and all of our things, and I was particularly worried about collecting all of our bags (4 bags and one heavy-duty car seat) at baggage claim, along with our stroller and carry-on bags, and making it through customs and security by myself. They said not to worry, there would be porters available at baggage claim who could help. Mm hmm. Sure.

From the moment we got off the plane, it was a rough 2 hours. Almost immediately, a rude United employee was directing JR one way and Abby and I in the opposite direction, and he was very short with us and gave us less than a minute to say goodbye. Abby and I made our way to passport control and the line was crazy long. She was very patient, mostly in an exhausted daze, so she sat quietly in her stroller as we waited in line. I was super hot (my temperature is 10 degrees higher at all times while pregnant), and carrying the backpack and pushing the stroller, all I wanted was to sit down.

At the self-serve kiosk, you scan your passports and pose for a picture. I knew my picture wouldn’t be good, but I really outdid myself. When I handed the printed photo to the customs agent, he laughed and said “Oh that’s a keeper.” I was going to put the picture here but it’s literally too embarrassing to post publicly.

The next part was frustrating – I started asking if anyone could help me collect my bags and push them to the drop off point further down the hall. The employees smiled but looked at me like I was crazy. I walked up to a nice looking gentleman wearing a flourescent vest and asked if he could help me. He totally wanted to say no but I looked just stressed enough that he felt bad and grabbed a luggage cart while I pointed out our 4 bags. He pushed the cart and I pulled our 30lb car seat behind me and pushed the stroller with my one free arm and my stomach. Fun times!

Relieved to have made it through customs in one piece, I was really bummed to see another long line and security checkpoint. Abby had fallen asleep in her stroller and I dreaded having to wake her. I accepted that I would be very slow moving through security. As I bent down to wake her up, the TSA guy reminded me that I needed to collapse the stroller. I knew this, it was just very difficult to manage while holding my toddler. I pushed it up on the conveyor with our other bags and turned to walk through the metal detector. They asked if Abby could walk through by herself, and bless her heart, she was crying and so tired but she did and waited for me to grab her again. She was crying for her stroller, so I hurriedly pulled it off and set it up for her. She nestled in and fell back asleep immediately. I was relieved and grateful that we’d made it through the parts I worried about the most, but at this point I was sweating, starving, and I really need to find a restroom.

Of course our gate was 10 miles away. Okay, maybe closer to a ten minute walk, but it felt like forever. I had about 20 minutes to order some food, eat a burger and fries quickly, use the restroom, and then it was time to board our last flight! There wasn’t a jetway so we walked outside and Abby surprised me by being happy to wake up. A very nice lady held her hand while I put the stroller on the luggage cart and we boarded the flight. She was quiet and sweet and before we knew it, we were landing in Ohio! So many of the passengers had a kind word about her and what a trooper she had been, and one brought our gate checked stroller right to me. A huge thank you to all of those who helped make our day of travel a bit brighter and bit easier just by being nice.

We made our way to baggage claim where my parents were waiting and it was the BEST feeling to see them! Abby slept on the car ride home but woke up ready to play and hang out as soon as we arrived at their house.  And I was more than happy to let their reunion continue while I immediately went to bed.

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La Vida Lopota

For Labor Day weekend, we joined some friends and their kids at Lopota Lake Resort in the Kakheti (read: wine) region of Georgia.  The drive took about 2.5 hours and despite some very windy roads, it was relatively easy. A friend tipped us off that we should specifically request ground floor rooms in the S building, which we reserved several weeks in advance. Alas, when we arrived those rooms were not available, but the L building, right next door, suited us just fine.  I do recommend the ground floor rooms because of their great patios and you get to avoid the stairs!

Although the weather had cooled a bit, we still took advantage of the multiple swimming pools right away. The food at dinner was decent, but a bit overpriced. The restaurant decorated their walls with bottles of wine (full bottles, which is important to this story).  JR asked the server for a glass of that specific type of wine and the server hesitated, saying “Oh. I will have to check if we have that.”  We all looked around bewildered because there were dozens of bottles around us, including one within arms reach by  JR’s head. The server returned a few moments later to confirm that unfortunately, they did not have that type of wine available.

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Oh well, he ordered a beer instead.

The next morning after breakfast the air was a bit cooler and we noticed that some of the other guests’ children were bundled up like it was full blown winter.  I think it was maybe between 65-70 degrees?  The weather did not keep us from a last dip in the pool!  We only stayed one night so we didn’t explore all of the grounds, but there was plenty to do and we will definitely visit again next year.

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We spent the rest of the weekend relaxing at home. Our friends from down the street came over for a farewell dinner – they are headed back to the U.S. for a few months.  Abby and their daughter, K are best buds and I was really sad to say goodbye!

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One last hug!

On Monday, Abby helped me make cookies.  She was quite impatient waiting for them to  bake!

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We closed out the weekend with a sunset bike ride.

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No really, what do you do?

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JR has been with USAID for over 4 years now (and recently received a promotion!), yet I’m pretty sure our friends and families still don’t know what he does. Which is normal, my sister is a chemical processing engineer (I think?) and she’s explained it to me a few times and I’m just like, oh mm hmm, I see! When really I do not. At all. I’m also at a different job with an agency I’d never heard of before I applied, so it stands to reason that no one has a clue what I do either.

JR is a Contracting and Agreement Officer for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). USAID is an Executive Agency tasked with promoting democracy, economic growth, and peace and stability in developing countries around the world (I stole that directly from their website. Citing my sources and all that jazz). He’s part of the USG’s Diplomatic Corps, otherwise known as the Foreign Service, which USAID’s website explains as:

Through their dedication, technical skills, and creativity, Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) drive American foreign policy towards its objectives of global peace, stability, and prosperity. USAID FSOs are responsible for developing and managing foreign assistance programs that encompass   economic growth and trade, agriculture and the environment, education and training, democracy and governance, stabilization and conflict mitigation, global health, and humanitarian assistance.  USAID FSOs work in close partnership with the governments and people of more than 100 countries in five regions of the world, with private voluntary organizations, universities, private businesses, trade and professional associations, other donor governments, faith-based organizations, and other US government agencies. They assess country needs, prepare strategic plans, design and evaluate programs, oversee budgets and contracts, and report on results.

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Specifically, JR has the legal authority to solicit, negotiate, award, and possibly terminate any agreement that USAID enters into in a given country. In order to do his job he has what’s called a warrant that allows him to obligate money on behalf of the U.S. government. Since the U.S. government is the largest purchaser of goods and services in the world (by far), the process of obligating money on its behalf is heavily regulated. Another way to look at it is that he’s a “business advisor” for the government and ensures compliance with federal contracting laws.

Here’s a very generic example: If USAID had funding for a new education program, such as sending students to the U.S. for master’s degrees in economics, they would need an implementing partner to manage the program. First, they would announce that they have this program and that U.S. or local organizations can bid on it if they wish to be chosen to run it. Then USAID would review all the bids, make sure everything is compliant with legal regulations, and then select the best implementing partner/bid for that particular program. Someone at USAID also has to oversee the implementing partner to ensure they are managing the program correctly and make any necessary adjustments to the contract/agreement. This all includes a lot of paperwork. JR has the legal responsibility for all of those components.

So that’s JR’s job in a nutshell. Makes perfect sense, right?

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We will spend most of his career overseas, although we may be posted to DC at some point for a 2 or 3 year tour.

My job is Program Coordinator for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) in Tbilisi. If you are like me and had never heard of DTRA, you might be surprised to learn that DTRA is a pretty large agency just outside of D.C. with almost 2,000 employees. Here’s a snapshot of the main objectives of DTRA:  http://www.dtra.mil/About/WhoWeAre.aspx.

In Georgia, DTRA supports Embassy objectives including Euro-Atlantic integration, international cooperation, and peace and security measures.  One of the biggest areas of work is the Cooperative Biological Engagement Program. Basically, the U.S. has a strong interest in ensuring that Georgia understands best practices in biosafety and security, is prepared to handle infectious diseases or outbreaks, and enhancing international research partnerships. You can read more here:  http://georgia.usembassy.gov/embassy_offices_andotheragencies2/defense-threat-reduction-office.html

Like my job title says, I coordinate. We have visitors and contractors from the U.S. and they need assistance scheduling meetings with Georgian officials and people within the Embassy. I also attend the meetings and report back to our office on what is happening and any action that we need to take to facilitate things. One of my first tasks was the opening of a boat basin in Batumi, funded by DTRA. It was a large-scale project so we had high-level Embassy representatives attending and I was responsible for contact with the front office of the Embassy, coordinating the schedule, and writing up the speech and press information for the event. I’m learning new things all of the time and I really enjoy the work.

My position is specifically for EFMs (eligible family members – typically, spouses or partners of foreign service officers). At any given post, I can apply for all of the EFM positions that seem to fit my interests and background. It’s unlikely I’ll be hired as a divorce attorney, but I hope I can continue to find interesting work while we live overseas.

So… that’s what we do.

The Secretary, My Mom and a Baby

Secretary of State John Kerry visited Tbilisi on his way to the NATO Summit at the beginning of July. JR and I weren’t involved in the logistics of his visit, but it was really interesting to see just how much goes into every detail of planning a VIP visit at the Embassy and in the city.  Embassy employees were invited to a short meet-and-greet with him before he departed and we went to see him.  I had no idea I was such a huge John Kerry fan until I saw some of these pictures.

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My smile could not be any bigger. Clearly, I am smitten.

After a fun 4th of July weekend (that included my first trip to the Hard Rock Cafe in Tbilisi – we now have a Hard Rock here!), we only had to wait a few more days for my mom’s second visit to Georgia.  I already wrote about us ditching her immediately so we could enjoy a quick trip to London, but luckily she had 2 full weeks here so we were able to spend some quality time together.

We went out to dinner with friends and my mom – who is a pickier eater than me (and that’s really saying something) – shocked us all by trying quail.  One minute we’re chatting and the next I look over and she’s nibbling away on some grilled quail.  I was impressed!  She said it tasted pretty good, but I’m not quite ready to try it myself.

Most of her visit was spent as “Nana”, which is all she really wanted, although she also enjoyed some lazy afternoons at the pool.  On her last weekend, she helped me (okay to be fair she did most of the work) host a turkey dinner at our house for a few friends.  I ordered a turkey back in the fall before we had plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and we spent both holidays with friends and didn’t need to prepare our huge bird.  I had no idea when we’d use it and this seemed like the perfect time, especially considering I’ve never cooked a turkey.  We had a minor crisis when we realized the “turkey bag” I thought I had was actually a cellophane bag and those are apparently not the same thing at all.  The bag burst and we thought our turkey was doomed, but my friend Elizabeth came to the rescue with an extra bag that was in fact designed for cooking a turkey, and we were able to enjoy a wonderful dinner!

My mom would have been content to spend all of her time in our little gated community just enjoying Abby’s company, but we made a last minute decision to drive to Kazbegi, home to Mount Kazbegi and the small village of Stepantsminda.  The drive took us just under 3 hours, which would have been a bit shorter but we had to stop many times for cows in the road.

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We checked into Rooms Hotel and had a picnic lunch on the patio, enjoying the perfect weather and gorgeous views.  JR and I wanted to see the famous Gergeti Trinity  Church, which sits high on a mountain overlooking the city (I never know the distinction between a hill and a mountain.  I’m from Ohio, so they all look like mountains to me).

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You can hike up to the church, or drive in your own car or pay a taxi or guide to take you.  Surely you can guess that I was not interested in the hiking option.  Instead, we hired a guide to ride in our car while JR drove us up the mountain. It was a really rough drive.  Our poor car and my poor stomach.  But the church and the views were absolutely worth it.

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We met up with my mom and Abby back at the hotel for some relaxation and dinner before heading in for a peaceful night of sleep.  Or so we thought.  Apparently, it was the opening night for a brand new club on the other side of the valley and the thumping base played ALL.NIGHT.LONG.  I’m not kidding, you could still hear it at 8am. We woke up a little grumpy but wanted to enjoy a few more hours at the hotel, so we had breakfast together and then spent over an hour at the indoor pool.  Abby’s attitude towards pool time is hit or miss (heartbreaking for this former Orrville Otter and my husband, a Black Oak Swim Club record holder) but she was totally into it!  She “swam” up and down the pool and jumped into our arms over and over again.  I was sad to check out and look forward to another visit, hopefully without the club music!

Before we knew it, it was time for my mom to head home.  Our goodbye was a little easier this time because we know we’ll see her again in about 11 weeks, when we head back to Ohio to await the arrival of baby #2 in December!

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