Slump and Stuff

I started a post last week about being in a pretty deep slump. And I wouldn’t say I’m out of it, just that I’m coping, or at least finding ways to cope better. There is a handy chart somewhere that shows the different phases of adjusting to life in a new place. Initial honeymoon phase, then a period of culture shock, then you slowly adjust. There’s more to it but that’s the general gist.

I probably experienced a similar feeling in Tbilisi but I either don’t remember it or I’ve subconsciously blocked it out, the way we don’t recall the worst parts of child birth or newborns. Because if we did remember how bad it was, why in the world would we ever sign up to do it again?! I know this just a normal part of things and that it will get better. Right?

Let’s focus on the positives. We got our stuff! Our HHE (household effects – 5400 pounds of toys, clothes, furniture and books) and our UAB (unaccompanied air shipment). Normally JR and I would have both been at home the day everything arrived, but I wasn’t able to take off so he coordinated the delivery. He sent me updates throughout the day. At first I was thinking, oh this is going pretty smoothly, and also I really lucked out not dealing with it all. Then the pictures started to give me intense anxiety.

This truck arrived with all of our worldly possessions.

Here come the boxes.

William was an excellent supervisor. 


I bet you are wondering, why did they pack so much food? Does it make sense to pack food that will sit in boxes and storage containers in 100+ degree temps for more than 4 months? Just know that I am wondering the same thing.

I also cracked up laughing when I opened the box that my former Tbilisi colleagues packed for me. They packed out my work desk and made sure to include 4 McDonalds ketchup packets. It’s the little things in life, you know?


Because everyone needs a cooler in your bedroom. 

 


JR was focused on the top priorities, which included immediately unpacking and displaying his Halloween decor.

 


He was also busy shaming me for a bit of over purchasing I did YEARS ago before we packed out for Kosovo and Georgia (I know you can relate, KBS!)

The anxiety only increased when I arrived home and basically walked into an episode of Hoarders. There was stuff everywhere. Every surface, almost every available floor space, I mean just everywhere. Our treadmill doesn’t fit anywhere except our living room. It’d be one thing if we used it for it’s actual purpose, but I like to use it for clothes and storage so having it in the living room is really quite inconvenient.

My first priority was making a path to the beds and clearing them off so everyone could sleep that night. After the kids were in bed, JR and I were working on our bedroom. I grabbed our duvet from the top of the dresser and turned to put it on the bed. This huge, heavy mirror that sits propped up against the wall on top of the dresser came crashing down, rebounding off the dresser and then slamming down on the floor. Not awesome.

Even worse, I had just set up these two acrylic jewelry holders I liked and placed my rings in them. The holders lay in pieces on the floor and my rings were scattered. We found two pretty quickly but my wedding band was missing. I was so upset. There were open boxes and piles of stuff everywhere. I was convinced we wouldn’t find it. Frustrated, I told JR I was going to sleep and we’d deal with more in the morning.

A few hours later during the night I woke up to a loud crash. I was convinced the mirror fell down again but when I turned on the light I couldn’t see that anything had happened. JR started looking around and opened his closet door to reveal that the entire shelf and hanging bar had collapsed in a pile on the ground. He looked at me and then just quickly shut the door and said, “that can wait until the morning.”

Over the next few days we made progress little by little, including finding my wedding band! While I wish we weren’t still hauling our gigantic living room furniture all over the world, it is so comfortable and it makes us feel like we are at home. The kids are playing happily with all of their toys and loving the playroom set up. Now that we are in an apartment we don’t have an obvious place for our outdoor toys, so all 37 of them are parked outside our front door and crowding the walkway. No doubt the neighbors are loving this and wondering who allowed the circus to move in. All we need is a few spare tires and a broken refrigerator to really complete the look.

Hopefully my sister doesn’t mind the mess because she arrives TOMORROW!

 

 

 

Hey Look Ma, I Made It!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

My big takeaways from this trip:

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

Enjoying their surprise items.

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

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

Proof the kids carried their bags for a minute.

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

 

This is PCS

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

I was wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One week to go!

 

 

Six weeks in!

We’ve already been in country for more than six weeks – I can’t believe it!  So many things have happened in the last few weeks, but here are the highlights.

– We moved from our TDY (temporary) house into our permanent house and it’s beautiful and we love it.  Due to a scheduling conflict, I was actually not here the day we had to move, and of course, on that same day we were scheduled to receive ALL of our shipments, not just UAB (which usually arrives quickly) but also our consumables and HHE (which usually arrive later).  We are super grateful to have all of our clothes and furniture so fast, but it made for a crazy day that JR had to handle solo.  So far we only know of one major casualty:  the power cord for our TV has not been located.  We ordered a replacement cord online, but it hasn’t arrived yet so we’re lucky that a new friend had one we could borrow for a bit.

– We are almost done unpacking and getting settled into our new house.  When I arrived, despite giving JR and the GSO guys what I thought were really clear instructions, I found every.single.bed in the wrong bedroom.  That meant that we spent the first few hours taking apart every.single.bed and moving each one to the correct room, instead of unpacking.   Lesson learned, nothing will keep me from being here for move-in day in the future.

pivot

– Our neighborhood is awesome.  In real life, it’s everything JR would prefer to avoid – small gated community, identical houses very close to each other, and far from the city center.  But this isn’t real life and we don’t own it, and it’s perfect for our time in Tbilisi.  We are so grateful for the little community, and especially how many little kids live on our street.  A few times now we’ve come home from work to find Abby outside with her nanny playing with other kids, and it’s exactly what we wanted.  Our yard is even bigger than I had expected, and we have a beautiful view from our back patio.  After living in an apartment most of our adult lives, it’s awesome to be able to walk right outside from our front or back doors!

– I started working and I’m really enjoying it so far.  I barely have a clue what is going on, but my co-workers are patient and nice, and so far it seems like it will be a good fit for me.   Things are also going very well with our nanny, and that makes it a lot easier to leave for work in the mornings.

– We are street legal!  Although we bought our car the day after we arrived, we couldn’t legally drive it until we completed our registration.   And we couldn’t be registered until we received our Diplomatic IDs which took 3 weeks.  In the meantime we had to rely on taxis, which was a huge pain with Abby’s car seat, and annoying for JR to get to work because sometimes they pull up within 2 minutes and other times it takes 15.  Being able to drive ourselves around is so much easier and we feel like we can finally explore the city.  On the one hand, I feel prepared to drive here after living in Kosovo, but at the same time Tbilisi is a much bigger and busier city (with poles that come out of NOWHERE. Yes, I already backed into a pole), so there will still be a learning curve.

dumb and dumber

– Many people talk about the honeymoon phase of arriving at a new post.  For me, I definitely experience that, but with intervals of “oh my gosh, this is terrible, I can’t live like this” – typically in reaction to something that is relatively trivial, like for example the pedestal sink in my bathroom (why, why why would ANYONE ever want one of these in their master bath!?).  Other issues, like the serious ant invasion, stress me out but I’m hopeful we will get them resolved soon.   I was just talking to a friend about this sort of thing, how the highs you experience are very high, but the lows can be really low.  Being able to react rationally and keep a sense of perspective is something that I’ve tried to work on with all of our travels.  Don’t sweat the small stuff, and all that jazz.

 

– Having friends wherever I am is really important to me.  I’m lucky to have so many great friends from various stages and places in my life, and while sometimes the prospect of making new friends is daunting, I know I need to do it to make this place a happy home.   Everyone we’ve met has been so welcoming and helpful, but at first you still wonder, will I really make close friends here?  If I had any doubt, a text from a new friend that ended with “pick me up, Thelma!” helped me realize that we’ll have lifelong friends here in no time.

Step-Brothers-Did-we-just-become-best-friends

 

Home Leave

Our first home leave was fun, busy, and expensive, so basically exactly what we predicted.  We were all ready to leave Kosovo (although right now I’d give my right arm for some fresh bread from our little bakery) and our travel home was uneventful.  From the time we set foot in Ohio, we had a pretty crazy and ambitious schedule.  Of course, nothing could stop me from getting a strawberry margarita as soon as possible.  Oh wait – the first time I ordered one the restaurant did not have a liquor license for Sundays, and the second time I tried the server told me they were all out of strawberries.  Soul crushing but I did eventually have one and it was everything I had hoped it would be. kanye

Only a few days after we recovered from our jet lag, it was time for Abigail’s first birthday party (only 2 weeks after her actual birthday)!  We had a family party at my grandparent’s house and it was simple and perfect.  She was totally uninterested in her cake, but I can assure you she has since come around to the idea of sweets!

abby cake DSC_6189

The following week JR, Abby and I set off on a little American road trip.   We figured if we could do the same through Eastern Europe, the U.S. would be a breeze.  Our car (generously loaned to us by JR’s dad) was so ridiculously full I wasn’t sure we would make it out of the driveway.  That’s what happens when you will be on the road for more than two weeks and some of your family members, who have smartly chosen to fly, use you to haul their extra stuff (if you know my mother, you know this included a box fan, because she can’t sleep without one).  We started off with a night in Dayton with JR’s family and to pick up his dad, who rode with us to Gatlinburg where we met the rest of my in-laws.  We rented a large cabin about 20 minutes from the city, and it was perfect for our big group – 11 adults and 8 kids from ages 1-12.   Each of the 3 levels had two large bedrooms and bathrooms, and living/family room space with TVs, pool table, foosball table, and an awesome theater room.

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JR’s brother and sister-in-law (A & S) live in South Knoxville and love kayaking and rafting, and offered to take the whole family on a white water rafting trip (many thanks to my sister-in-law Joanna who stayed behind with the little ones!).   It was so much fun.  We had perfect weather and such a nice afternoon with everyone.  We spent the rest of the weekend relaxing, making meals together, watching the kids play, and a little bit of time exploring Gatlinburg (it was very crowded over the holiday weekend).

kayak

We had a little scare at the cabin when we saw a copperhead snake laying in the pathway where the kids were chasing each other with water balloons, which led to a scramble to get rid of said snake and the loss of a kitchen knife.   Despite the deadly snake scare, it was hard saying goodbye – JR’s family is big and spread out, and it’s really hard to see everyone, but we always have so much fun when we do and it’s especially fun for all of the cousins to play together. We definitely hope to repeat this trip again in the future!

After Gatlinburg, we spent two nights in Knoxville with A, S, and their daughter Katie, who is 5 months older than Abby.   JR went to college there and was happy to be back, even for a short visit.  We were able to meet up with two of his friends and their son, and we spent the rest of our time watching Abby and Katie play in the pool and run around the yard.  The second night of our stay was the toughest of the whole trip.  Abby woke up around midnight screaming and crying and could not be consoled.  JR handles these moments far better than me, I didn’t know what to do.  I felt terrible because she was waking up the whole house (they also have a one-year old), and it seemed like nothing would settle her down.  I told him we needed to get in the car and drive.  He said, drive where?  I was like, I don’t know, to a hospital?!  Clearly something is wrong!  Obviously nothing was wrong, she was just having an off night and I don’t handle lack of sleep well.  Eventually, he was thankfully able to get her back to sleep.

The rough night meant little sleep for all of us, and a less than ideal start to the next morning.  The biggest problem was that was one of the only days of the entire road trip that we had a really tight schedule.  We had to drive over 5 hours and make it to North Carolina in time to visit with our friends and put Abby down for a nap, all before meeting my Dad and other family for dinner at 5:30 that evening.   Although she did fine for the first part of the drive, the last 2.5 hours were torture.   Ideally we would have been able to stop and take a long break, but we just couldn’t and I felt terrible for her (and us).

road trip

Thankfully, she crashed for a long nap when we made it to our friends’ house and we were able to relax for a bit before we had to leave for dinner.  Our visit with my Dad and family was short, but I’m so glad we were able to see them while we were there.   We also had breakfast with them the next morning before starting our drive to Florida.

Even though we wanted to drive 6-7 hours that Friday, JR and I were determined to have a better travel day and let Abby dictate our schedule.  Let me just say, thank you Cracker Barrel!  We stopped there after her morning nap and it was great.   We took turns inside at our table, ordering and waiting for food, while the other person played outside on the porch with Abby.  She waved at everyone, rocked in the tiny rocking chairs, and walked all over.  We were there for at least an hour, and it was well worth it.   She was perfectly content to get back in the car after that and even took a long second nap.   Just outside of Jacksonville, we saw an exit with a few hotels and decided we should stop for the evening.   First we tried the Hampton Inn and Suites – I ran into the lobby to ask if they had suites available, and if I could see one first because it was pretty critical for us to have a room that had a separate place to put her pack n play so we didn’t have to go to sleep at 8pm with her.   It wasn’t until I checked out the third hotel – a Fairfield Inn and Suites – that we found a room set up that would work for us and we called it a night.

Saturday was our final leg of driving and we were so excited to see the beach, my family, and to hand Abby off to another adult.  Ha.  Just outside of Sanibel Island, we stopped at a Publix to stock up on groceries for the week.  Abby was thrilled with her ride.

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We failed to consider just how full our car already was, so the final stretch of our drive was ridiculous as I sat in the back seat covered in groceries.  We seriously could not have fit one more item in our car!  Finally, we were driving over the causeway and onto Sanibel Island.  My parents, brother and sister arrived less than 20 minutes after we did, and we settled into our condos (we rented two ground-floor beachfront condos that were next door to each other).  The set up was perfect and we had the best week.  We rented a canopy for the beach and set up our chairs, along with a small plastic baby pool and toys for Abby, and relaxed every day.

DSC_6826DSC_6828DSC_6890me and abby

 

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We know how fortunate we are that we were able to spend a week there together, and especially that we had 4 other adults with us who were fighting over Abby gave us a much appreciated break.  Even better, my mom had offered to fly Abby back with them as a lap-infant, saving her (and us) from a long return trip back to Ohio together.

A highlight of the end of our vacation was SUPPOSED to be a a Garth Brooks concert, which you may recall I’ve basically waited all of my life to attend.  Well, Garth’s team failed to consider the Stanley Cup in their venue selection and this led to the concert being completely canceled since Tampa’s hockey team made the finals.  It still hurts to discuss. I sent Garth a strongly worded message on Facebook but he hasn’t replied yet and the whole horrible situation has completely changed my opinion of him.

LC

We finally made it home (no thanks to me – I probably drove a total of 4 hours of our 16+ hour return trip and constantly asked “are we there yet”) and used the next few days to do finish our consumables shopping, which included two separate trips to Wal-Mart and 6 full carts and a trip to The Party Shop in Wooster to pick up JR’s 17 cases of beer.  Not kidding on that one.  We had two of the nicest, slowest older gentleman handling our pack out on this end, and even though it was only consumables and 300lbs of UAB, it took them almost the same amount of time as it took the Kosovo movers to pack up our entire apartment.

beer order

As one last American hurrah before our departure date, JR and I spent a long weekend in German Village, where we lived in Columbus before we moved.  We rented a fantastic apartment on AirBnB and enjoyed eating and drinking at our favorite places and meeting up with our friends for dinner and a comedy show.  It was perfect, but a bit bittersweet for me because I loved our life in Columbus before starting on this crazy foreign service train, and it reminded me of the things I miss.  I’m incredibly grateful for the time we were able to spend at home, reconnecting with everyone, and especially for Abby to have that time with our families, it was worth the busy schedule and extra expenses!

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The Trek to Tbilisi

I started to get anxiety about our travel to Georgia a few weeks before we actually left.  How would Abby do? How would the cat do?  Most importantly, how would I handle it all?  We do our best to be as prepared as possible, but you can only do so much, and we’re humans, so we make mistakes.

This was our first time flying with Annabelle, our cat, in the cabin with us.  Previously she has flown as excess checked baggage, but the airlines we were using this time did not allow that option.  She is not a great traveler, and we were quite concerned that she would howl and make noise the entire time.  We took her to the vet in Orrville for our required health certificate and asked for suggestions, and he recommended a mild sedative for her.  Thank you, thank you, thank you, kind vet.  Annabelle was calm and quiet from the time we left until we arrived at our house in Tbilisi.  A miracle!

passed out kitty
(Disclaimer – not a real photo of Annabelle)

My mom wanted to take us to the airport, but we had too many bags for one vehicle so we also hired a van to help transport our luggage.  This was our first time flying with Abby’s new convertible car seat (we purchased the Britax Boulevard Clicktight).  It is a beast, weighing in at almost 30lbs.   Since the new seat doesn’t click into our stroller like the infant seat did, we used a bungee cord to latch it to the stroller and we pushed it like that, while I wore Abby in my Beco.  This was the most convenient way for us to move through security, because they allow me to walk through without removing Abby, and they also didn’t require us to take our stroller/car seat contraption apart.

Our first flight was short and sweet, and we arrived in Detroit only a few minutes before boarding began for our flight to Amsterdam.   The seat arrangement was 2-4-2, and originally we were assigned 3 seats in the middle section.  There are rules about where a car seat can be on the plane, and I didn’t love the idea of how we would have to set up if we were in the middle section.  We switched so that we had the aisle seat of the middle section and then the aisle and window seats directly across from that.  We put Abby’s car seat next to the window and took turns sitting beside her, which actually worked out really well (during my time in the other seat I got to watch an entire movie!).   Abby did pretty well, but because her car seat is so big, we couldn’t position it rear-facing with a nice recline, and I think that contributed to her lack of sleep on that flight.

We arrived in Amsterdam about 7 hours later, landing at 5:30am local time (about 11:30pm EST).  Abby and I waited with all of our things while JR picked up our gate-checked stroller.  Or so we thought.  Apparently, our stroller didn’t make the flight.  This is the second time that has happened to us!  What is the point of gate-checking an item?  I was too tired to fully express my rage.  I calmly asked the attendant where we should go to file a claim, as I was certain our item wasn’t really missing, as much as it was just sitting in Detroit.  She was insistent that we could not file a claim in Amsterdam, we would absolutely have to take care of it with Delta/KLM in Tbilisi.  When I explained that there is no Delta/KLM at the Tbilisi airport, she was like, oh well, bummer for you, try there anyway!

Okay, so no stroller, nothing can be done at the moment, moving on.   I’m not sure we could have physically moved through the airport without assistance.  I asked her if she could call one of the golf carts over.  She said, oh sorry those cannot transport baggage.  She also said Abby and I couldn’t ride on them anyway because they can’t transport babies.  So basically those golf carts that always look like an ideal way to move through an airport are completely useless, in my humble opinion.

She brought us over the wee tiniest luggage cart we’d ever seen.  Sigh.  We loaded up and tried to locate their Baby Lounge in the airport, which I’d read about online.  It was pretty glorious.  It’s a separate large room with a long counter and sinks for changing babies, and then 8 sleeping pods.  Here are some photos:

IMG_0635 IMG_0636

Amazingly, Abby went right to sleep in one of these cribs and slept for over 3 hours!  This was quite a feat considering that you could hear EVERY sound in this room, including one dad who was coughing like he had the Black Plague.   One minor complaint – the seating for adults leaves a bit to be desired.   You can see where a person could sit beside the crib, but I wanted to sleep, not sit.  JR and I contorted ourselves into some crazy different positions using our carry on bag and the floor to try to get a few hours of sleep.  I also seriously contemplated crawling in the crib.

Finally, it was time to leave Amsterdam and board our final flight to Tbilisi.  The flight took about 5 hours, and we were all exhausted.  Abby’s car seat did not fit in the seat rear-facing, so we flipped her around and she slept almost the entire time, which allowed us to sleep as well.  We landed in Tbilisi around 5:30pm local time (9:30am EST).  All of our luggage was there – hooray!

Of course, when we spoke to their lost and found to fill out a claim for our stroller, the employee was shocked that we didn’t handle it in Amsterdam.   He insisted the claim form should have been filed with KLM there.  I was displeased.

angry little girl

Thankfully, the Embassy driver was able to help us file our claim, and he and JR’s work sponsor took us to our TDY house where we feasted on homemade chicken noodle soup, salad and bread (thanks to our fantastic social sponsor Laura!) and promptly passed out.

We did not have internet or a phone at first, so I was unsure where to start hunting down our stroller.  Sunday morning, I sent my Mom a FB message (using JR’s work phone) with all of the information and asked her to look into it.  Amazingly, the stroller was found in Detroit and delivered to our door Monday afternoon.  Two takeaways from this trip – gate checking is not a guarantee that your item will arrive at your destination, and my mom can get things done for me even from thousands of miles away.  Thanks Mom!

Greetings from Tbilisi!

tbilisi

Wow, I haven’t blogged since we left Kosovo, which already seems like so long ago.   We were in the States for about 6 weeks, and then last weekend we made the trek to Tbilisi.   Tbilisi was in the news everywhere recently due to major flooding, which caused severe property damage, over twenty casualties, and escaped zoo animals.   You can read more here.  On a happier note, just the other day a missing penguin was found alive!

I want to write about what we did during home leave and our travel over here, but it may take me a bit to catch up.  For now, we are settling in slowly.  Abby and I both have serious jet lag.  It’s very unpleasant to be wide awake during the wee hours of the morning.   We are living in temporary (TDY) housing for a few weeks while our permanent house is being cleaned and painted (the tenants just left on Monday).   Our TDY place is in the same neighborhood as our permanent housing and we are really excited to be here.

It’s overwhelming to arrive in a new country, but quickly we’ve been reminded how the FS is full of friendly faces and people willing to lend a hand.  On our first day checking in at the Embassy, one woman that we had just met was entertaining Abby with toys while I had to run off and take care of a few things.  Multiple people offered trips to the grocery store, food, toys and baby items for Abby, and helpful tips about life here.   I look forward to being one of the settled ones and paying it forward to newcomers in the future!