London!

JR and I just got back from a wonderful quick trip to London.  I don’t think London gets enough credit – all the parks and green space, the fascinating history, the people are exceedingly polite, and for JR’s benefit, there are pubs on almost every corner.

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JR was also appreciative of the “people respecting the queue” since it’s sometimes lacking from our everyday lives abroad.

My amazing mother perfectly timed up her summer visit to Tbilisi so that JR and I could take off for a few kid-free days.  Traveling to Tbilisi takes 3 flights and a LOT of time.  She left Cleveland around 7:30pm on a Sunday, quick layover in DC, a 9ish hour flight to Munich + a 9ish hour layover there, and finally she landed here at 4am local time on Tuesday!  As a show of our appreciation, we promptly left her in charge of Abby just 24 hours later. In case that wasn’t enough to deal with, Abby started feeling sick right before we left.

We took a quick trip to the med unit and left with a Nebulizer and some breathing treatments.  Hey Mom, welcome to Tbilisi, here’s our sick toddler, we’re out!

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(Abby was fine, just a bit of a cough that went away after a few days.)

Really, all that quality time with Abby was the highlight of her trip.  My mom made friends with everyone she met, people on the plane, the electric cart driver at the Cleveland airport (no really, they’re on first name basis), and all of our neighbors. She kept herself busy holding picnic lunches in our yard, making Froot Loop necklaces with Abby’s friends, fruit popsicles and bead bracelets, and the list goes on and on.  I have no idea how we will entertain this child now that she is gone!

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Meanwhile, we had a beautiful 3 days in London and probably my favorite trip there to date!  We saw Book of Mormon (hilarious, highly recommend), visited Westminster Abbey and the Churchhill War Rooms, wandered around Carnaby Street and through the parks, and did a day trip to Oxford (and a walking tour there with entirely too much walking, in my opinion).  JR’s favorite parts were the history of Oxford and, of course, enjoying a pint in J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis’ favorite local pub, The Eagle and Child.

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British food doesn’t get the recognition it deserves and we probably ate more than was necessary.

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Can’t wait to go back!

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Family, friends and Dairy Queen

I’m always a few weeks tad behind, but here are some highlights from our R&R in Ohio:

  •  Being around friends and family reminds of just how much I miss them. Life is great in Georgia, but I had so much fun while we were home.
  • The radio. You don’t realize how much you miss it!  There were so many great songs on the radio, but most importantly, I’m a full-blown Belieber now.  If you aren’t listening to Justin’s Bieber’s “Love Yourself” you are missing out.  I also love this cheesy “Stand By You” song by Rachel Platten. I was driving alone singing that song and having an emotional moment and thinking how much I loved JR and I would totally stand by him, and as the song says “I’d walk through hell for you.”  But then I thought to myself…eek.  Hell would be so hot.  My feet would burn so quickly!  So maybe not quite that much?

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  • JR had a week long training in DC, and on his way to Ohio he stopped in Gettysburg, PA for the night and toured the battlefield next morning. There’s a great tour guide program that allows you to pay a very reasonable fee for a private, certified guide who you pick up and they’ll actually drive your car for you as they show you the sights.  He said it was one of the best historical tours he’s ever been on and highly recommends it.  http://gettysburgtourguides.org/guided-tour-rates/
  • My grandparents wanted to take all nine – yes, NINE – of their great-grandchildren to Build-a-Bear for Easter.  I do not totally understand the pull of BAB, but kids love it and it’s insanely expensive so hooray to the company owners.  A $35 limit per kid was set, but of course my Mom was all “well, if Abby needs something additional I’ll just pay for it.”  Mmhmm.  She’s 2, I don’t think she actually needs anything.  Abby picked out a cute cat that we like to think reminded her of Annabelle and enjoyed the stuffing process.  Then it was time to shop for accessories.  My Mom would not hear it when I insisted the cat did not need an outfit because she’s a cat.  Next thing I know, I’m buying TWO pairs of sparkly flats for the cat.  Two, because she has 4 paws of course!  Okay, but it was all worth it when Abby put on these fake glasses and danced around the store. 
  • We had our first ER visit.  The day before we left, Abby had a cough in the morning that sounded much worse when she woke up from her nap.  My mom thought it sounded like croup, and we didn’t want to take any chances before traveling so we made our way to the nearest Urgent Care.  Which was closed.  At 4pm on a Saturday. What is the point of an urgent care??  That left the ER as our only option for her to be seen that day, and ultimately I’m glad we went.  The doctor agreed that it was probably viral croup and gave her a dose of steroids before sending us home.  She seemed totally fine the next day, thank goodness!

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  • American roads and highways.  After driving in Tbilisi for several months (think Mad Max Fury Road meets Mario Kart) we were amazed with the driving. Nobody driving the wrong-way on the highway, everyone in their lanes, stopping at lights, even blinkers for goodness sake!  At our first 4-way stop in Ohio, another driver politely waved us on and JR said “Can you believe how nice that man was? This is amazing!”
  • Many people we meet think we live in the state of Georgia.  Even though I always try to say “we live and work overseas in Tbilisi, Georgia” hoping the “overseas” part will tip them off, we still confuse people.  A nurse at the doctor’s office asked if I was local and when I said “No, I actually live overseas in Tbilisi, Georgia, near Russia” she said “Oh, so you drove up here then?”  Well, not exactly.  JR had a similar encounter where he told someone we live overseas in Georgia and she replied,”Goodness, I bet the South is having better weather than we are right now.” It’s understandable that strangers are confused, some of our own family and friends still think we live in Russia.  To be helpful, see the map below.  Georgia borders Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey and the Black Sea.

map

  • The Price is Right.  Enough said.
  • We have some really nice grocery store options here, but there is still something that blows my mind when I see the cereal or bread aisle at Buehler’s.  So. Many. Options.  Also, every single fruit or vegetable is practically without blemish. It’s overwhelming and amazing.
  • My sister came home the first weekend we were in town to see us and take care of some wedding planning.  I was super excited for cupcake tasting with her, and I also went to her florist appointment.  The wedding stuff made me nostalgic for my own big day, so I made my whole family watch our wedding DVD – the ceremony and the highlight reel – just to get everyone in the spirit!
  • At one point JR was looking at our credit card statement and said “How many times have you been to Dairy Queen?”  I told him to stop judging.lay-off-me-im-starving-gif
  • I was on the hunt for a pair of sandals for our nanny’s son.  One night JR said, hey we have some down time, why don’t we run to Target and you can get the sandals and I can pick up some beer. Note that this was my first trip to Target in about 9 months.  $204 later, we walked out of the store with a six-pack, no sandals, and a whole bunch of other stuff that I really, really needed.

That sums up our R&R –   family, friends, Dairy Queen, explaining where Georgia is located, and overspending.  It’s a long haul to return home but we’re grateful for the opportunity to do it.

We’re Back!

We made it back to Tbilisi last week and our return travel was light years better for everyone involved.  There were some struggles but overall, it was a much, much better experience.  Looks like my sister can still have her wedding in October!

There were many advantages to the return journey.  For one thing, we flew out of Cleveland at 6:15 p.m., as opposed to our Tbilisi departure which was originally scheduled for 5 a.m.  JR and I were able to sleep in and take our time closing up the suitcases, and then we enjoyed a nice Easter lunch with my family.  Abby even had a nap before we left for the airport.  We all started out in better moods, and much more rested.

The better moods were quickly changed when we checked in at the American Airlines counter for our first flight to Chicago.  The attendant told us our bags could not be checked all the way to Tbilisi, so we’d have to pick them up at baggage claim in Chicago and RE-CHECK them before boarding our flight to Istanbul.  This meant that instead of just going to our next gate in Chicago, we would have go to baggage claim and wait for our bags, then make our way to the Turkish counter, recheck our bags, go through security again, and then find our next gate.  JR repeatedly asked them why we had to do this but they just said that since American Airlines didn’t have an “agreement” with Turkish Airlines, we would have to get our luggage to Turkish ourselves.  JR didn’t think there’d be enough time in Chicago to do all this but we figured we’d deal with the problem as best we could when we landed.  And deal with it we did.

As soon as we landed in Chicago, we hustled to baggage claim.  JR paid for two luggage carts, and even then it was difficult for us to maneuver because I was pushing Abby in her stroller while JR had to push one cart with each hand.  The first thing we had to do was find a spot to open Every.Single.Bag and rearrange our items because the weight limit for American Airlines, which we had planned for, is 50 lbs, while Turkish Airlines only allows 44 lbs per bag.  Thankfully we had enough extra space in our last two bags that we didn’t have to throw away anything (I was really fearing for my 5 packages of bacon and 4 pounds of frozen cheese at this point, but they made the cut!).

Next we had to transport ourselves and said luggage from Terminal 2 to Terminal 5.  Easy peasy – we’ll take the tram!  Oh wait, you aren’t allowed to take a luggage cart on the tram.  After the first employee said it couldn’t be done, the next one said they’d make an exception for us and she also helped push one of the carts. Upon arriving at Terminal 5, we were greeted by a lengthy but not terribly long line at the Turkish counter.  At this point Abby was asking for water, she had finished her sippy cup and we didn’t have any bottled water with us.  There wasn’t a vending machine in sight.  Since we had a 2.5 hour layover, we assumed we’d have time to eat dinner and relax before boarding.  But like most things when traveling, we were wrong.

Once we rechecked our bags, we had about 90 minutes left so we felt pretty good about the situation.  Until we saw the largest security line JR or I have ever seen.

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I was a tad unhappy.  So much for our leisurely layover, at this point we were concerned we wouldn’t make the flight.  I felt especially bad for Abby.  We use the layovers for her to run around, stretch her legs and burn energy, and she was confined to her stroller almost the entire time.  She was not pleased.  By the time we collected our things from the security checkpoint, we heard the last call for our flight over the loudspeaker.  I told JR to run ahead so they wouldn’t close the doors on us.  We made it, but we were annoyed and frustrated. Running through airports is becoming a family tradition.

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The great news is that the flight itself was pretty great.  We settled in to our seats and Abby started playing with the in-flight entertainment system.  We fed her while we waited for dinner service (huge thanks to my Mom who helped out by packing us peanut butter sandwiches, grapes, apples and cheese – this was way better than all the snack/junk food we packed ourselves).  We’ll always try to remember to bring fresh food with us from now on. Shortly after we ate, we laid her down between us and like magic, she fell asleep.

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She slept off and on this way for several hours (so did we), and then she started getting uncomfortable.  We could tell she needed to stretch out a bit more, so I moved to the window seat and JR took his Kindle and walked around/stood in the galley while Abby and I slept.  It was really  nice, I was able to stretch out some more and she was laying flat across the aisle and middle seats. We probably slept like this for almost 3 hours.  She rolled off onto the floor at one point, but she barely cried and was quickly asleep again. In fact, we woke her up when we had about 45 minutes remaining in the flight.  #MAJORWIN.  The overnight flight made a huge difference.

Our layover in Istanbul was just over 2 hours.  It’s a crowded airport with not enough seating.  Not my favorite.  Our time passed quickly enough and finally we were on our LAST flight home.  We landed in the pouring down rain and freezing cold, but all six bags, although wet, made it and we were safely at home about an hour later.

My general advice on flying with a two year old:  Don’t do it.  Okay that’s probably not fair, everything worked out fine in the end but definitely be prepared for a less than relaxing journey!

 

Never again

Picture this.  It was 11pm on a Wednesday night and JR and I were headed to bed.  We were leaving for our R&R back to the States on a 5:15 a.m. flight, so we had our alarms set for 2:30am, and motorpool scheduled to pick us up 45 minutes later.

JR received this text message:  We’re sorry, your flight from Tbilisi to Munich has been canceled.

pesci

Awesome way to start our R&R.

I called Lufthansa directly while he phoned the Embassy hoping to reach one of the ladies who handles travel arrangements.  While the Lufthansa guy was telling me we needed to wait until Friday to fly out, JR had much more luck with Khatuna from the Embassy’s office.  It took almost an hour and several phone calls, but she was able to reroute us on a flight to Warsaw at 5:50 a.m. and then a connection to Munich that would put us back on our original itinerary.  Huge thanks to the travel office for helping us in the middle of the night. An additional flight was not desirable, but manageable.  The catch?  One of us needed to be at the airport 3 hours prior to our departure to confirm and pick-up our tickets from the Lufthansa counter. Since the entire flight to Munich had been canceled we knew that others were probably trying to catch the Warsaw flight and we did not want to lose our new tickets.

At this point it was midnight.  We had the option of all 3 of us leaving our house at 2am and waiting much longer at the airport, or one of us could drive to the airport right then, pick up the tickets, and drive back home and (hopefully) get a bit more sleep. I drew the short straw, so I cranked up the Taylor Swift and made my way to the airport in search of the Lufthansa counter – which doesn’t exist. Because of course it doesn’t. I talked to security and waited in a back hallway for the “office” to open.  Once the staff did arrive I waited while they had a chit chat and a cup of coffee before they were able to assist.  I was fading fast when they printed the tickets, but I was in a great mood because we had managed to overcome this big hurdle and surely we’d have smooth travels ahead.

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Our flight to Warsaw was uneventful.  The last minute change somehow gave Abby and JR premium class seats, and he very kindly allowed me to sit a few rows back and sleep most of the flight while he dealt with Abby.   We were late leaving so we landed at 7:20 – the exact departure time of our next flight.  The airlines sent a representative to meet us and a few other passengers and they rushed us through customs, security and the airport to the waiting plane.  This time we all had premium class seats and once again, we foolishly thought the worst was behind us.  Who would have thought the Polish have the best customer service?

In Munich, we found a small play area for Abby and spent over an hour there letting her burn off some energy.  It was relaxed and we were feeling good. We took our time walking to the gate for our next flight, and on the way we heard our names called over the loudspeaker.  I was confused because we had more than 40 minutes until take off, but we picked up the pace and walked up to the gate agent.  She kindly informed us that JR was not booked on the flight.  Abby and I had tickets, but during all the changes earlier the previous night/that morning, somehow JR was added to a Lufthansa flight leaving several hours later.

I was panicked.  That’s actually an understatement, I was internally freaking out.  For weeks now we’d been operating under the new plan with all of us flying together to DC.  To have this sprung on me moments before we were supposed to board was not okay. As JR calmly explained the mix up to the gate agent, I was going through our carry-on bags and separating our things in case we couldn’t fix it.  After what felt like forever (but was probably only 5-10 minutes) they acted like he would be able to go with us, but the other employees were insisting that Abby and  I  board immediately or we would miss the plane.

I pushed Abby as slowly as I could, but before long we were at the end of the jet way and the flight attendants were asking us to board.  I told them I was waiting for my husband.  Again, this wait felt like forever because I truly didn’t know if he was going to be allowed on the plane.   I’m not sure I’ve ever been so relieved to see his face as I was when he finally appeared.

Now came the hard part.  The 9 hour flight with an almost two year old.  We settled in and hoped for the best, and to her credit, she did really well until about the last 2 hours.  But that last two hours was really awful.  We tried every trick we knew to get her to sleep or at least calm down. She was exhausted (at this point she had probably slept for a total of 3-4 hours the whole day, and it was still Tbilisi time for us, so about 10pm and well past her bedtime).  She was screaming and crying and really could not be consoled.  She would snuggle up and close her eyes, but less than a minute later she’d be at it again because she couldn’t get comfortable. She kept saying “night night, night night” and I felt like the worst mother ever, because my poor kid just wanted to be in bed sleeping.  Although I had though it to myself several times, this was the first point where JR and I actually said aloud to each other “never again.”  We are never, ever doing this again. (Note that my sister is getting married in Ohio in October, so never again means we’ll have to find a way to cancel or relocate her wedding).

We finally landed, and bless the kind people who sat around us and told us what a great kid she was and how she did so well on the plane.  Seriously, I was so tired and stressed and just plain sad in that moment that their nice words nearly made me cry.

DC was the final stop for JR, and I started to mentally prepare myself for doing the final leg of our journey solo.  I thought we’d have more time together, but quite quickly after we left the plane we had to head in opposite directions.  We said a quick goodbye and then Abby and I made our way to customs.  I had to take her out of her stroller for her passport picture, which she hated.  Then we waited at baggage claim for our 3 checked bags.  When I had pictured this part of our trip I thought JR would still be with us, but since he wasn’t I had to make do and I gave Abby my iPhone to watch videos while I waited on our bags and loaded them on a luggage cart.

Pushing the luggage cart and stroller simultaneously was no easy feat, but we managed.  We rechecked our bags and made our way through security and then to our gate. We only had about 20 minutes before boarding so we used that time to buy some water and stretch our legs.  The plane was outside on the tarmac and as I took Abby out of her stroller, another passenger offered to help me.  I think he meant help with my bags, but at that moment Abby tried to take off while I collapsed her stroller so I asked him to grab her hand so she didn’t run under the plane.  He held on to her while I put the stroller on the luggage cart and I thanked him profusely.  Meanwhile, JR was in another part of the airport waiting for his luggage that never arrived.  He had work meetings the next day, so as soon as he made it to his hotel he had to run out and buy a shirt, tie and pants.

The flight to Cleveland was only 50 minutes.  50 minutes!  We can do this, I thought.  Then we sat on the plane for an hour waiting for fuel.  Never again, I said to myself for the 100th time that day.

It was snowing and freezing when we touched down in Cleveland, but I didn’t care.  It was great to see my parents waiting for us.  Abby fell asleep in her car seat on the ride home, and barely woke up when we changed her and put her to bed. My mom and brother took the monitor so I could sleep as much as possible, and I actually felt well rested the next morning.  Once I showered and ate breakfast, I settled on the couch and watched Abby light up as she played with my parents.  She kept running to them and hugging them, calling for them anytime they left the room.  All I heard all day was “Nana!!  Papu!!” And pretty quickly I thought, yeah, we’ll do this again.

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Hello, Gorgeous

Isn’t she lovely?

mixer

I am finally – FINALLY – the proud owner of a Kitchen Aid Mixer!

JR was completely against this purchase since I first brought up the idea approximately forever ago. The truth is I didn’t have much going for me to justify the expense. I’m not exactly known for my skills in the kitchen and in our previous apartments, there was nowhere to store another big kitchen appliance. So I let my dream fade away for a long time, but then our neighbors started showing up at our door with freshly baked goods. Breads, hot pretzels, scones, you name it, Rachel bakes it (she has an awesome food blog: http://www.tastychao.com). And you know what she uses?  A Kitchen Aid Mixer. Suddenly, JR started to see the light. Or he just wanted me to shut up about it.  Either way, our very own mixer arrived via Amazon and we are BOTH loving it.

The new mixer timed up perfectly with our newest Netflix obsession, The Great British Bake Off. Although neither of us are big fans of cooking show competitions, we watched Season 1 of this show and highly recommend it. It was enjoyable and relaxing, and made us want to bake! The competitors were all so friendly to each other and it was a definite change from the normal American reality shows. Only one season is available online, so once we were finished we tried to watch other cooking shows like Iron Chef and and Chopped, but the yelling and hysteria didn’t do it for us.  We just like watching friendly Brits bake in the English countryside.

The very first recipe I tried with my mixer was a knock-off Macaroni Grill rosemary bread. It didn’t look exactly like it should have, but it tasted delicious. And I made bread – from scratch!

bread

Inspired by Rachel, we made soft pretzels. So good. And not as hard as I feared, although it’s tricky to cook them all the way through without burning the tops and bottoms.

soft pretzels

In the 3-ish weeks we’ve had the mixer we’ve also made pizza dough, pumpkin bread, cupcakes, and strawberry muffins. I’m in love!

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Lest you think I’m suddenly a baking pro, there have been some failures. Some big ones. I tried to make a strawberry layer cake and when I went to flip it onto the cooling rack, it completely fell apart. I’m a work in progress.

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**********

We took a break from the kitchen the other weekend long enough to make a day trip to Gori, birthplace of Joseph Stalin. There is a small museum that includes his childhood home, pictures, some of his personal belongings, and even his private, armored train car. The entrance fee was around 10 lari and included a tour guide. Our guide was Giorgi and he was really great, patient in answering our questions and saving me from knocking over an exhibit while I was holding Abby (oops). It’s hard to describe the feelings towards Stalin in Georgia, particularly in Gori, given his notorious place in history. As Giorgi explained, it’s not that they’re celebrating the man but rather they recognize the large role Stalin played in world history and especially the country of Georgia.  We thought Giorgi did a great job of presenting the basic facts about his childhood, rise to power in the Soviet Union, and the dark side of his leadership.

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Word of warning – the museum is not heated and even on a mild day in February, it was frigid inside.  It was so cold we could see Giorgi’s breath during the tour.

stalin train
Stalin was apparently very afraid of flying, so he used this train car to travel to Potsdam and Yalta to meet with the Allied leaders during World War II. The train car is bullet proof and included its original furniture and fixtures.

After walking through the museum and Stalin’s train car, we finished the tour at his childhood home. The small house, where Stalin’s parents rented a single room, stands in its original location with a monument-like structure built around it. Giorgi opened the door and invited us to look around the inside, which he said remains just as it was when Stalin lived there (I’m a bit skeptical). Abby was not content to stand within the small roped off entrance, so Giorgi lifted the rope for her and invited her to climb right up onto Stalin’s bed. Weird, but we went with it long enough to take a photo.

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abby stalin
Again, I’m not sure I believe this was really Stalin’s childhood bed, but pretty weird either way.  

Annabelle

Our sweet 9-year old cat Annabelle died this past Friday night.  She had some kidney problems that started in the fall, and after a few rounds of blood tests, antibiotics, IVs, and a change in cat food, we thought she had recovered but over the past several weeks her health deteriorated quickly.  The local vet was kind enough to make several house calls to set up IVs and administer another round of antibiotics. We hoped she would be able to turn it around but unfortunately, she couldn’t.

JR and I were only together for a year and a half when he agreed we could get a cat.   Nerd law students that we were, we made sure to have terms in place before we started looking for one – things like how we would handle expenses (50/50 split), who she would live with (me most of the time) and what would happen if we split up (I would take her).  We met Annabelle at the Capital Area Humane Society in March of 2007.  We waited until we found an orange kitten since JR grew up loving the comic strip Garfield and loves the color orange (Go Vols!). Initially, we were considering taking home one of her sisters, but she batted JR’s head as we walked away (her cage was eye-level, on top of another cage) and he changed his mind saying that “she chose us.”  She was tiny and furry and so much fun.

bath relaxing

younger 2 younger

Annabelle lived in more places and countries than many humans.  She moved with us to multiple apartments in Columbus, our apartment in DC, and then our homes in Kosovo and Georgia.  She was well-traveled but as you might imagine, did not enjoy flying.  I sobbed the first time we dropped her off at the United counter at Dulles to make the trek to Kosovo.  The employee assured me that she would be fine and when we landed in Pristina, we could pick her up in a special designated area for pets.  To our shock (although after living in Kosovo for a while it all made sense) Annabelle’s crate was the first piece of “luggage” to arrive on the baggage carousel with the rest of the suitcases.  Special pet area, sure.  You would have thought we were transporting an exotic zoo animal through the airport with all the stares and strange looks we received from the local Kosovars.

We rocked her world again when we brought Abby home, although I don’t think she took too much notice until Abby could crawl.  She was always sweet with Abby, allowing her to pet her and hug her all the time (really it was more like Abby would drop to her knees and try to lay down on Annabelle to show affection.) Her treatment to Abby always amazed us since she usually treated other people with indifference or total disdain. When Annabelle became sick this time and she wasn’t moving around as much, we kept her in the guest room.  Every morning and night, Abby asked to check on her and asked us if she was “all better.”

abby plank christmas

We are sad to lose her and our house feels different without her.  She was wonderful to us and exhibited more patience with Abby than we ever would have expected. We will always have a special place in our hearts for Annabelle.

She will be missed.

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annabelle

 

Throw pillows and bed skirts: A House Tour

I’ve been waiting to do a blog post about our house until it’s perfect and I have everything exactly how I want it.  The problem with this plan is that JR and I are at odds as to which items we need for the house and which items are just fluff that I want to spend money on.  (Spoiler alert:  He thinks basically everything I want is unnecessary).  I’ll concede on one thing:  bed skirts.  Why why why in this day and age do I need a bed skirt?  The idea of them seems so old-fashioned.  Unfortunately, every bed frame in our house needs one but we only own one.  I just can’t bring myself to spend money on something I dislike so much, but I recognize the beds look bad without them.  Blah. I’ll buy them eventually, but not today.  Don’t judge me.

Another sticking point that was recently resolved: new throw pillows.  I had been asking for them for years months, but JR was of the opinion that we had perfectly good throw pillows and it would be a waste of money to replace them.  He’s really into the “if it ain’t broke” line of thinking, whereas I’m a bit more “ohh look something shiny and new, let’s buy it!”  Luckily, Christmas rolled around and voila, new throw pillows!

Aside from wanting to buy new things, I am so, so happy with our house.  It’s plenty big enough for us, we have a great little yard, and we love it.

Now for a photo tour. Standing in the foyer, there is a half bath to the right and a small set of steps down to the left that lead to the laundry room, garage, and the lamp closet (so named because the Embassy LOVES lamps and our house came with approximately 100, so I stuffed several in that closet).
entry 2 foyer 2 foyer

 

Our living room/playroom.  It’s important to note her toys are put away neatly like this approximately once a month, or whenever I need to take a picture to share publicly.
l room 3playroom

l room 2l room 1

 

Dining room and kitchen.  I am thrilled to have so many cupboards!  When we received our housing assignment, they included pictures and I immediately counted every single cupboard.
kitchen 3 kitchen 1 kitchen 2

 

We also have a good-sized pantry. We look like milk  hoarders.  And yes, we keep milk in the pantry.
pantry

 

Our house is kind of split level so the master bedroom is located up a half flight of stairs.  Here’s our room and bathroom.
bedroom 2 bedroom

bath 2 bath 1

 

Up another half flight we have a big landing space with JR’s bathroom, a linen closet (a linen closet!), Abby’s room and a guest room.  Separate bathrooms and a king-sized bed are keys to our marital bliss.
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Abby’s room is the biggest room in the house and has an attached bathroom.
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abby 3 abby bath

 

In the FS you don’t pick your house or furniture so sometimes it’s hard to make it feel like your own, but we feel completely at home here and we’re really looking forward to being settled for the next 3.5 years!

Back in business

I haven’t blogged in a LONG time.  I started a few posts and kept meaning to go back and finish them and well, I didn’t.  So I’ll just make a fresh start of things and do a little catching up here.

  • The holiday season in Tbilisi was wonderful.  We spent Thanksgiving with friends, enjoying a delicious turkey and all of our other favorites, including pumpkin pie (Abby ate her piece AND JR’s.  I knew better than to offer to share mine!).  They did an incredible job hosting 10 adults and 8 kids, and it reminded us of all of our Thanksgivings back in the States.
  • December flew by.  There were work parties, the Embassy kids’ party (see below for Abby’s pure joy at meeting Santa), and about 87 boxes from various retailers and family to sort through. We spent most of Christmas day in our pajamas, taking our time opening gifts and playing with Abby’s new toys, before having dinner with our friends and their kids.  Our favorite part of Christmas was giving Abby her play kitchen,  which we bought for $50 from the next door neighbors who were leaving for their onward assignment.  JR loved it because it was already put together.  With all the parts and screws, it probably would have taken him hours to build.
  • My mom came to visit!  She was here for about 10 days and we had the best time.  We  Skype with my family almost every night and it’s part of Abby’s evening routine to talk to Nana.  (Even when she plays with her toy phones and we ask who she’s talking to it’s inevitably “Nana” or “Papu.”) Abby was thrilled to spend time with her Nana, and Nana clearly felt the same way.  I had planned a lunch and trip to the spa for facials and massages, and when I was telling my mom the details, she started crying.  Not out of joy, mind you, rather she said “I’m just going to miss Abby.”  All because I wanted to spoil her for an afternoon!  She pulled it together, though, and we had a fun afternoon at the Radisson Blu spa.
  • We’re making plans for our first R&R, and although we could travel just about anywhere in the world, we’ve decided to visit Ohio. In March.  That’s what missing family (and Dairy Queen and Target) will do to a person!  The plan is for Abby and I to fly back a week before JR, so I have less than two months to panic about traveling alone with her.
  • JR and I each turned a year older.  Crazy that we met and started dating when I was 22!  Oh our youth.
  • That’s basically it. We’re boring.  But I’m determined to blog more frequently in 2016.  Until then, here are a bunch of pictures from the last few months.

 

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Swinging in Rike Park

 

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Playing in the big sandbox at QSI (the international school nearby)

 

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Abby was really excited to see Santa and Tovlis Papa, the Georgian Santa

 

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Showing off her shades and playing with stickers in her new tutu

 

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TbiliKids and Christmas market with Nana

 

penguins selfie
Sopo, Abby’s nanny, has been putting her hair in pigtails the past few days and I think it’s the cutest thing ever.

 

Halloween fun

We had the best Halloween weekend here!  JR and I haven’t lived in a neighborhood with Trick-or-Treat-ers in a few years, so we were really looking forward to passing out candy and taking Abby around to a few houses.

We started the weekend with trick-or-treating at the Embassy.  Sopo, our nanny, dropped Abby off in her costume all ready to go with braids in her hair. She does the BEST job with her hair.  I don’t know what kind of Jedi-mind tricks she uses to make Abby sit still, but I have no such luck!

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Blurry but cute!

Abby was immediately interested in putting all candy in her mouth, wrappers included.  She was displeased when I took the candy away, so in a quick attempt to appease her, I handed her a fun-size Twix.  JR was quick to point out that I’d made a huge mistake.  Chocolate everywhere.  Not a good plan when you a) are carrying your child around in your work clothes and b) need her costume clean again the next day.   We didn’t take any pictures of her chocolate-covered face, but once she had her first taste of that sugary goodness, she was hooked.

The CLO did an amazing job organizing the event.  There were over 150 kids, most offices decorated and passed out candy, and they had games, food, and activities for the kids as well.

Saturday was the neighborhood trick-or-treat.  JR and I had considered a few different costume ideas, ideally something that wouldn’t cost much and was easy.  As always, my mom helped with a package that included some granny clothes from Goodwill and a very classy nightgown in a 2XL to help us pull off our family costume:  Little Red Riding Hood, her grandma, and the big bad wolf.

family pic

We realized Abby might be afraid of the wolf mask, so we had it sitting on the counter for a few weeks and occasionally took turns trying it on.  She was not into it at first but by the weekend she didn’t seem bothered at all!

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It was so much fun seeing everyone dressed up and spending time with our friends and their kids.  After we passed out candy for a while, we walked down to a friend’s house for snacks and a special Witches Brew beverage while the kids played.  When I commented that I didn’t think I Abby received any Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, my friend E handed me her very last one, stashed in her pocket.  That’s true friendship.

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Little Red Riding Hood, worn out

Can’t wait to do it again next year!

When in Rome – Part 1

We just came back from an awesome week-long trip to Rome.  It was my first visit (and Abby’s!) but JR has been a few times before and loves the city.

Traveling with a full-blown toddler was…rather challenging.   This was our first time flying with Abby as a lap-infant and well, she’s not an infant anymore.  We had two flights of about 2 hours each, plus a 2 hour layover in Istanbul.  When we checked in online, we saw that there were quite a few empty seats and decided to take a slight risk and select one window seat and one aisle seat in hopes that no one would pick the middle seat and we would have the whole row to ourselves.  Worst case, if someone did take the seat, we planned to ask them to switch and we’d deal with Abby between us.  Luckily, it worked out for all 4 flights and we were really grateful for the extra space.

flight
She’s a fan of Skymall!

But even with the extra room, there is nothing quite like having a child literally strapped to you – using the infant seat-belt extender thingamajig – and throwing a fit.  She had to be belted to one of us during take-off and landing.  Let’s just say it was not the highlight of the trip.

We debated on whether to bring the City Mini GT or our umbrella stroller for our trip and figured since we’d likely be carrying the stroller frequently, the lighter weight and the carrying strap-on for the umbrella stroller made much more sense.  It was a great choice and we were really happy with it, even on the rough cobblestones.  We used the Summer Infant 3d Lite Stroller.  I also wanted a new bag for the trip (shocking, I know).  I’m so over both of our diaper bags at this point and I thought a backpack would be much more convenient for walking around.  Who knew backpacks were so expensive though?  We didn’t need anything specifically designed like a diaper bag, and I wanted decent quality, but again, not spending $100 on that.  We picked the High Sierra Loop Backpack and it was perfect and affordable.

Bag
It’s about time she starting carrying luggage.  Also, don’t you wish you could travel in your pajamas?

Day 1
We left our house at 5am and drove ourselves the airport.  It was much more convenient to take our own car so we could have Abby’s car seat with us, and we learned that our diplomatic plates meant free parking at the airport.  Score!  We arrived in Rome at 2pm local time (2 hours behind Tbilisi) where we were quickly greeted by our driver.  I highly recommend Rome Chauffeur.  We booked them online and it was totally worth it to have a driver waiting for us when we arrived, complete with an installed car seat in the van.

Chaffeur

It took about 45 minutes to get to our apartment near Piazza Navona.  Once again we used AirBnb instead of a hotel.  We like having a kitchen (although this one didn’t have a lot of basics like paper towels, salt and pepper, or a skillet) and more space.  The apartment itself was great and the location was awesome.  It did require a significant amount of babyproofing, though.  As soon as the owner left we had to quickly rearrange some things to keep all her knickknacks out of Abby’s hands.

Although we were pretty tired, Abby was not the least bit interested in taking a nap, so we set out to explore the neighborhood.  There were restaurants and cafes everywhere, and tons of small streets and alleyways.

piazza navona
Piazza Navona

We stopped at a random restaurant with the best bruschetta ever.  Literally.  We were also super early for dinner because of the 2 hour time difference and the toddler but oh well, like I said we were exhausted and didn’t care at that point.   We made a quick stop at Carrefour Express – they crammed so many essentials into a very tiny space!  We were able to buy diapers, fruit (blueberries and strawberries!!!), and milk among other things, and then we headed home for the night.

Day 2
We woke up early Saturday morning and made breakfast at the apartment (scrambled eggs in a sauce pot – do not recommend).  The forecast called for rain all day, so a few days earlier we had changed plans and moved our Colosseum tour from Saturday to Tuesday.  The forecast for the whole week didn’t look promising, but we were hoping it would change (and it did!).  We set out for the Pantheon with our stroller and this rain cover plastic thing that Abby HATED.

rain

Just a few minutes into our stroll and I knew we would be in for a tough day.   The Pantheon was uncrowded and we were able to take our time walking around.  It’s really kind of amazing to just stroll down a small street and then boom, it’s there to your right.  We walked to Campo de’ Fiori and checked out the various fruits, veggies and other goods for sale at the market they set up every day in the piazza.  Abby was completely over the stroller by that point so we went back our place for a long nap.  It was a good time to head indoors because it was pouring while she (and we) slept.

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Abby at the Pantheon

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Campo de’Fiori

We ventured back out later in the day to walk along the Tiber and then we went to the Trevi Fountain, which was unfortunately closed and there wasn’t much to see there.  It was a disappointment, and as we walked back towards our apartment it started raining again.  I suggested that we stop for wine – and animal crackers for Abby – and wait out the rain while enjoying the people watching and view of the Pantheon.  The restaurant was called Hostaria Pantheon and we both enjoyed it so much that we went back 2 more times.  We even had the same table each time, and it was a highlight of our trip!
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Waiting out the rain at Hostaria Pantheon
Day 3
We woke up to a sun-filled morning, thank goodness!  We walked to the Carrefour to pick up some lunch stuff  and then slowly made our way to Villa Borghese.  It’s most famous for the museum, which you need to purchase tickets in advance for, but we went for the grounds.  We wanted some space for Abby to play and enjoy the nice weather.  It was a great way to spend the morning, and we had a picnic for lunch. I had hoped to rent a golf car there, but neither of us remembered to take our driver’s license with us.  Instead we rented this little family bike cart and drove it all over.  We had hoped to make it back our place for Abby’s nap, but she passed out in the stroller right we as left.  On to plan B:  Immediately find a place for wine and appetizers and take full advantage of her stroller nap.
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View from Villa Borghese
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Playing, picnic, and bike ride in the park.
That night we had our very own date night in Rome.  A few weeks ago, we reached out the Community Liaison Office (CLO) at the Embassy in Rome and asked if they had a list of recommended babysitters affiliated with the Embassy.  I exchanged a few emails with one woman from the list, Helen, and after checking her references we asked her to babysit for us a few times during our visit.  I was nervous the first night, but she was wonderful and Abby did great.  Helen sent me a few pictures while JR and I enjoyed a relaxing dinner nearby.  Can’t beat that!
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to be continued.