Hamilton and Jacob

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

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

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

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

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

 

The first few weeks

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

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


Two healthy babes!

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 
Yes, our snowman is wearing a skirt.

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

 

Tbilisi-Munich-Newark-Cleveland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paris Part 1: Direct Flights and Crepes

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

3 days in London

When I realized I would be heading back to London for a quick 3 day trip, I somehow convinced JR that I should take Abby along. I’m so glad I did, because I don’t know when we would have an opportunity like that again and it was pretty cool traveling with just her on a girls’ trip to London. Well, cool and a touch exhausting. It’s hard to be set up for success for any trip when you have to wake up at 2am and leave for the airport by 2:45. Abby popped right out of bed (the idea of going to bed with her clothes on just thrilled her) but had a harder time than expected saying goodbye to her Dad. She perked up during the car ride and our first flight, but tiredness set in once we arrived at the Istanbul airport for our layover.


All smiles on the first flight

If you fly out of Tbilisi and connect anywhere, you have to go through security again. It’s a huge hassle and particularly awful in Istanbul, where the security line was backed up as far as the eye could see. There wasn’t even a line to join, as the spot where we were backed up was just a mass of people trying to get ahead of each other. It was hot, we only had an hour to catch our next plane, and Abby was already over it. Splendid. Luckily, I made eyes with an employee (I told JR that during this trip I really perfected a look of exhaustion and desperation coupled with kindness) and we were ushered ahead, skipping the ENTIRE line. Victory! I convinced Abby to take a nap during the second flight, and then had to cajole her along at Heathrow because it was a lot of walking. I debated bringing the stroller but figured it would be unnecessary and man, was I wrong. I hoped we could get into our room right when we arrived, but we were still too early and early-check in wasn’t an option. After a quick lunch I went to my favorite burger place that I insist on visiting each time I’m in London and then took her to get pasta. When we returned to the hotel the room was finally ready. Abby gets really excited about hotel rooms. Her face was priceless when we walked into the super simple room, she couldn’t wait to pick a side of the bed, pull things out of the backpack, and of course, jump on the bed.

Over the next few days we enjoyed the Big Bus Tour, the London Eye, and several great playgrounds. I like the hop on, hop off bus tour because you can see a lot at once, and it’s also a nice transportation option to get to the different sights and parts of the city. For the London Eye, if you enter the ticket office, go directly to your right and use the self-service kiosk to save time, as the ticket line was quite long when we arrived. I considered paying more for a Fast Track ticket, but opted for a standard which was still expensive. Fortunately, the line moves quickly and we probably waited a total of 20 minutes, and we were kept moving almost the whole time.

Jubilee Playground is located directly behind the London Eye and I would say it was perfect for kids 4 and up looking to let off some steam. There was another small playground just a few minutes’ walk from Buckingham Palace, located in St. James Park. It had restrooms for children, picnic tables, and a small food vendor outside, and would entertain toddlers and more. The best playground in my opinion was located in Hyde Park, the Diana Memorial Playground – and is perfect for all ages. We absolutely loved this place and would have stayed much longer, but Abby had woken up around 5am that day and was in need of a nap. All of the playgrounds were fenced in and well-maintained.


Jubilee Playground


Playground at St. James Park


Diana Memorial Playground – our favorite!

On the way to dinner one night, I saw Hamleys Toy Store up ahead and made a critical parenting error.

Me: Abby, we’re about to walk past a super expensive toy store. We can go inside and look, but we can’t buy anything. Do you want to look or should we just skip it?
Abby: Let’s go!
Me: Okay, we can, but remember, we really cannot buy anything in this store, okay?
Abby: Mm hmm.

60 seconds later…


Of course I didn’t let her buy this! How would I even get it home? Plus it probably cost 200 pounds.

But then she saw this bear (wearing a purple dress and a crown) and gave me puppy dog eyes and I couldn’t say no. I’m weak.

We had dinner at the Rainforest Cafe, and she was very entertained by the animals and sounds of the faux rainforest. Dinner was expensive and not particularly tasty, but she enjoyed herself.

From her point of view, the highlights were drinking hot chocolate, the playgrounds, ICE CREAM!, and staying in a hotel together. When we went to bed that first night she gave me her biggest smile and said “This is just like having a sleepover, Mom!”.

We were both happy to get home to JR and William, but I loved the one-on-one time with my sweet girl.