It will be fun, they said

Actually no one said that, I just wanted to make sure my mom left Zurgovani at least once while she was visiting, so I made reservations for one night at Lopota Lake. JR and I took Abby to Lopota with some friends a few years ago, and I thought it would be a nice trip to make with my mom and both kids. And it really did seem like a nice idea – that is until we actually started driving.

(Important backstory. First, JR stayed home, for multiple reasons, so my mom was the navigator while I drove. Also due to a slight error in judgment, my cell phone spent some time in water last week and is on the fritz.)

We borrowed a phone from our friends for my mom’s visit, and I planned to use the Google Maps on it for directions. Almost immediately, we missed a turn. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a huge deal but in Georgia, you can’t really just turn around. You have to keep on going until you’re finally able to make a left, then you need to take about 5 more lefts before you’re back on track. When we corrected our mistake, I looked down at the borrowed phone to realize it had about 50% battery life left. Not great for the start of a 2+ hour road trip. And it didn’t bode well for us that we’d been on the road for about 20 minutes and had barely made it out of town.

The first hour was relatively fine. William slept, Abby watched a few shows on the iPad. Then William woke up and he was less than thrilled to be a) awake earlier than usual and b) stuck in his car seat. When he started crying, Abby started crying either in sympathy or just to torture me more, take your pick. This was also at the time the road turns into switchbacks that last forever. Both kids were terribly upset and I was regretting every life choice that led me to be in that car at that moment. Just then I heard the unmistakable sounds of vomit. Abby helpfully announced “William’s throwing up!”. Awesome.

I was panicked because there was no immediate place to pull over, as we were halfway up a mountain. Around one of the curves I saw what looked like a large space to park, so I pulled over and glanced around to see a truck, a van that looked deserted, and no one in sight. Just as I opened my car, my mom yelled “bees!”. Because the spot I picked to stop was a bee colony. Of course.

We drove a bit further down the road and pulled off at spot that was just large enough to get me out of the way of traffic. It didn’t feel all that safe but we didn’t have any other options at that point. I opened William’s door and wanted to cry. Mind you, he was chipper at this point, feeling pretty good apparently. But he was absolutely covered with vomit. The car seat was covered. And do you think I learned my lesson from Abby’s carsickness in Scotland last year, and had a spare outfit, paper towels, wet wipes and plastic bags ready to go for an easy clean up? No, I did not.

My mom and I carried him to the opposite side of the car and stripped him down, then cleaned him with wipes. My mom then did her best to clean out the car seat, but it was soaked. I decided to just keep him in his diaper because I thought he might puke again and we only had two other outfits for him for the trip that were conveniently buried at the bottom of our 27 bags in the trunk. We laid a thin pair of pants down between his poor little naked body and the wet car seat and when I started to strap him in, the screaming began again. I felt TERRIBLE. Abby also started crying – AGAIN – because she felt bad for William and had decided she no longer wanted to be in the car. We had a full hour left to drive and no end in sight to the switchbacks. I wanted to call JR and beg him to charter a helicopter and put me out of my misery. But we soldiered on.

Both kids fell asleep eventually, and we had about 20 minutes of relative peace just as we arrived at Lopota. The resort is spread out, so after you park you can walk down a little ways to the administration building to check in, and once you’ve done that, they have bellhops who drive trolleys and large golf carts around to move you and your things to your room. There was a separate small building before the check-in for the gift shop. My mom had William in his stroller, just in his diaper (come at me, bro), and Abby walked into the check-in area with me. She was bored quickly because there was a long line, so I sent her back out to wait with my mom. More waiting, more waiting, then Abby came back to show me the very overpriced but adorable hat she conned my mom into buying for her.

As she was coming in I saw a flurry of activity outside – I could see out the two large windows on either side of the door, which was also open – that a large 4×4 ATV looking thing had crashed into the building we were in, about 10 feet away from us. It had also very clearly hit or run over a person, although I couldn’t see that part because it was happening below the window, but I saw a small crowd gather to push the ATV back off the person and trying to offer help. It scared the crap out of me. In the split second it happened, I looked down to make sure Abby was at my side and that I could see my mom and William out the other window. I didn’t know if it was a child or an adult that had been hit, but I really feared the worst. Thankfully, the adult employee who was hit was okay except for scrapes and bruises, although she looked very shaken. My mom saw it all happen and said that two young kids – Abby’s age – were playing on the ATV which was parked on an incline with a rock in front of the tires to act as an emergency break. The rock moved, the ATV started rolling down the hill and no one could stop it until it hit the woman and the building. Ugh. Very glad no one was seriously injured.

Despite all of this, we actually had a really nice time once we settled down. The family size/triple rooms are huge. We requested a ground floor room which is perfect because there is a nice large patio and we were right in front of the main pool that we used (there are I think 4 at least on the property now).  We enjoyed a few long walks around the lake, stopping at the Kids Club which had some toys, drawing space, and a large sandbox.  Both kids loved feeding the ducks. Lopota’s food doesn’t impress me, and it’s expensive, so we packed a lot of snacks. I was dreading the ride home, but thankfully an Embassy colleague recommended a different route. It added about 20 minutes, but it was relatively straight so that was a huge help. No puking and minimal crying – I’ll take that as a win!

  

 

3 down, 1 to go

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

FOUR

We have a four year old! Actually we’ve had one for a few weeks now but the fact remains, she’s 4!

For her party, Abby once again had a very specific cake request. She wanted a Minnie Mouse cake with bows. We browsed online and found a picture for the local bakery, and they replicated it exactly! Didebuli in Digomi does a fantastic job with cakes. Our bounce house is going on its 3rd or 4th year of life and showing the signs. Recently it popped a big hole (apparently 7 kids is the breaking point) that JR was able to repair before the party with some heavy duty glue and strips of canvas. Abby had a great time with all of her friends and was as thankful as a four year can be for all the presents.

We are excited to see what this year has in store for Abby and our family. Three had some really, really rough moments where we learned that Abby is fiercely determined when she sets her mind to something, whether that is staying up for hours at night and fighting bedtime or insisting on wearing not just one, but two skirts (tutus, as she calls them) every single day.  Dropping her nap six months ago made a huge difference for us and made our bedtime routine relatively enjoyable again. As for the issues with her outfit choices… I mean here is a sampling of what she would prefer to wear if left to her own devices. We’ve reached a sort of compromise that she can pick her own clothes on the weekends, and for school days she picks either a top or bottom and I do my best to convince her to wear a somewhat matching piece.

With this new birthday came a new haircut! I do miss those long beautiful curls but brushing it every day was not fun.

Abby loves school, her teachers, and playing with her friends. We’re trying to give her some independence to play outside by herself and she loves that. I’m very thankful for our neighborhood and all of the parents who let this wild group of kids run up and down the street, in and out of houses, without a care in the world. My heart aches when I think about leaving this place. For now, we’re soaking up every minute of laughter and fun!

 
Outside fun and a semi-orderly line at the neighbor’s house while waiting for water balloons

 |
Love those smiles!

La Dolce Vita

Alternate title: 10 days of wine and gelato.

We just returned from a pretty amazing trip to Italy. JR’s Dad visited us in Tbilisi for 5 days beforehand, and we enjoyed showing him our favorite spots around town. JR also took him on an overnight trip to Kazbegi and a quick trip to Gori.

For the full Tbilisi experience, he had the pleasure of a 2:45 am airport pick up with us. A giant 16-person mini bus picked us up (the only available vehicle that could accommodate us and all of our stuff) and dropped us at the airport. As we shuffled to the Lufthansa check-in, I realized we were missing one car seat. JR quickly called the driver, who kindly returned to the airport to drop it off. Major crisis narrowly averted.

Our flight to Munich was uneventful. We were scheduled to have a layover of just under 5 hours, but it turned into more than 6. That’s a little long for my taste. I went back and forth over which stroller to take on this trip and even though my Britax B Agile Double is like a best friend to me, I was worried about trunk space and narrow Italian streets, so we took our City Mini Single GT. We still wanted William to be in his car seat on the flight, and it’s a giant beast of a seat so we borrowed our friend’s car seat cart for the airport transits. This thing is amazing! It was very easy to wheel around, even with Abby riding in it.  Best of all, she fell asleep in it for HOURS at the airport. We propped her up at an angle near the gate and let her sleep. Since we don’t take a car seat on the plane for her anymore, we checked her car seat in this great new travel bag I bought (I actually also just bought her a new car seat all together. I’m really keeping this industry in business – and JR displeased.) Highly recommend both of those items if you travel frequently!

 

My mom met us in Munich which was a surprise for Abby. We loved the new play area near Gate K9, it was perfect for both kids and had seating for adults. After getting as much energy out as we could, it was finally time to board the flight to Florence. It was delightfully short, and the airport is super tiny so we were on our way to our rental car in no time. My mom stayed back at the airport to wait for my sister to arrive and that’s when things started to derail.

JR’s Dad stayed with the kids while we picked up our car and tried to install both car seats. Car seat installation is the bane of my existence. Once that travesty ended, I drew the short stick and got to sit in the middle seat between the two car seats. Sit is not entirely accurate, as I was more wedged in between them and couldn’t put my shoulders back. Oh well, it was only going to be a 45 minute drive to our rental. Or so we thought.

Neither of us had a data plan for Italy, so we were relying completely on my Google Maps print out. Mistake! All it took was one missed exit and we were totally off track. It was super difficult to turn around and make our way back to the original mistake, so we kept getting further and further mixed up. That’s when Abby started complaining about her stomach, and did I mention William had already been crying the whole time? The kids were hungry and cranky. I thought William might have needed a diaper change, so JR pulled off on a side road and literally changed him on the hood of the car. #parentsoftheyear

After TWO HOURS of driving, we finally arrived at our rental in Greve in Chianti. It was a little more rustic than I expected, although to be fair the pictures we saw were accurate. It was also super super cold outside the day, and possibly colder inside this house. And I saw death traps everywhere for the kids. I rushed JR and his dad back out the door to find the closest grocery store so we could make dinner. And then I was alone with two hungry, cranky kids for the longest 45 minutes ever.

Eventually they came back, my mom and my sister arrived in their own rental car, and we all sat down for dinner and a glass of wine. We toasted to our arrival and the excitement of being together in Italy, and all was well.

To be continued.

 

Bakuriani

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

The Merriest

Happy New Year!

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

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


Christmas Eve

 
Christmas morning

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

During the rest of their visit we explored Tbilisi…

…ate khinkali

…saw The Nutcracker at the Tbilisi Opera House

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

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

William is One!

The happiest little baby boy in the world is now the happiest one year old!

 

 

William is smiley, mischievous, and so much fun. He has eight (8!) teeth, a ton of hair, and he started walking a few weeks ago. Nothing can stop him now – except his sister. She’s about 80% loving, 10% indifferent and 10% terrorizing. We’ve enjoyed so many adventures together as a family of four this past year. We went to Scotland, welcomed my sister to Tbilisi, returned to the States for a fun-filled summer with friends and family, took a road trip through Florida and Tennessee, celebrated Halloween and Thanksgiving, and many other fun adventures in between.

Here are some recent pictures of this happy face and his wild sister. We are going to do a small birthday party when my family arrives in a few weeks, assuming I can master baking an egg-less cake. Sidenote – I did bake my very first pies, mostly from scratch, I definitely used canned pumpkin but I made my own crust – for the first time ever at Thanksgiving and they turned out pretty well! Hopefully I’m on a roll.

  

The last several months have been busy and challenging for us. I finally started my new job as the CLO (Community Liason Office) Coordinator at our Embassy. I love it, but it definitely requires a lot of energy and focus. At home, Abby is every bit of her 3 and a half years old. She can charm you and wrap you around her little finger, and then turn around and crush your dreams of sleep, happiness, anything really. According to the internet and the dozens of friends and parents I’ve surveyed, this is all pretty standard for her age. And so, we wait patiently or in my case, not so patiently, for her to turn 4 and leave some of this crazy behind. If you are a parent who thinks age 4 was harder than age 3, please, I beg of you, do not comment or reply or inform me of this news in any way, shape or form.

Family picture last year and this year: