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.

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!

  

 

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

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Love those smiles!

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:

 

 

Preschool Days

We hit a major milestone in our family a few weeks ago when Abby started preschool. She’s in the 3 year old “Jolly Stars” class at the international school right beside our neighborhood. We knew she’d attend this school, but we still met with the director earlier this summer to ask questions and learn more about the program. He was very patient with me as we went through my long list of questions ranging from “What happens if she doesn’t eat lunch?” to “Do you have safety drills for an active shooter on the campus?” I’m definitely that parent.

 

On her first day, she was so excited to put on her backpack, meet her teacher and classmates, and she wasn’t phased at all when JR and I said goodbye. She handled it the same the next day, but then we had a weekend together and that following Monday was rough. She cried, she was so upset and didn’t want me to leave. And it was awful. I felt like a terrible mother, even though I knew she would be fine. I knew she liked school, I knew she was safe and happy there – even though I knew all of those things, it broke my heart to leave her there crying. She did that multiple times the second week, but I’m happy to report weeks 3 and 4 were tear-free!

We love asking her about her day and hearing her version of events. Who she played with, what she learned, what they’ll do tomorrow.  She was thrilled to bring in her seashells from our Florida vacation for her first Show-and-Tell, and she loves visiting the library. She’s not too happy with their lunch options yet, but we’re not giving up because I really, really do not want to pack a lunch every day.

When she’s not amazing us with her vocabulary and sweetness, she is testing our limits by being a normal three year old. (Or so my mother says, I’ve insisted the child might actually be possessed.)

William also had his own little milestone -he’s 9 months old now! He is crawling, babbling (JR thinks he’s saying Dada already but we won’t be counting his first word until he says Mama), has two bottom teeth, and he has the best giggles. Just like Abby at this age, he’s a Daddy’s boy. He lights up when JR enters the room or cries if he walks away. When I walk in he’s kind of like, oh you again.

He’s tried so many new foods and I’m learning new recipes and ideas to avoid eggs. The first round of egg-less banana bread turned out just okay, but the second recipe we tried was much better. I’m going to continue to tweak it a bit because we really like muffins/bread in our house so it would be great if we had more options for him to eat. The egg-free pancakes were no good. I mean the kids ate them, but I was not impressed. This is all pretty new for me. I’m decent in the kitchen but I’m a strict recipe-follower. Many of the recipes that are egg free are also designed for kids with other allergies, so they might avoid dairy, nuts, wheat and/or soy. Since we only need to replace the eggs, I’m making some changes to existing recipes and hoping for the best.

It’s fun watching Abby and William try to “play” together. Right now that means him following her around and trying to take her toys. Little does she know this is just the beginning!

 

We’re losing sleep but having a great time with these two, although recently I looked at JR and asked, “How did we get here? Wasn’t it just yesterday that we were out all night at Lodge Bar?” Time flies!

 

Don’t Take it Personal

I’ve been singing Monica’s “Don’t Take it Personal” (so easy to sing along…It’s just one of them days, that a girl goes through) all weekend. It was just one of those weekends where I was up and then down over everything, big and small.

First, the weather has been super frustrating. We had a few days of sunny warmth, then came rain, then came the wind. The wind here is no joke, I’m not sure I’ve talked about it much but it can ruin your plans, and even your weekend. We wind up stuck inside because the wind is blowing so hard it’s really unpleasant going outdoors. Abby is a very dramatic child and she will run up to us, with tears in her eyes, that we have to move all of her outdoor toys to the garage or else they’ll blow away. Sometimes JR goes along with it, other times he tells her to stop being silly, of course her toys will be fine. Unfortunately we were wrong about the new little slide we put in our backyard, because it slammed into our fence and spent several days laying in two pieces in our yard. Sopo put it back together but it blew over again yesterday so we’ll see how long that thing actually survives out there.

When it’s not windy or rainy (or both) it’s been cold. Like really cold. The kids’ rooms were down to 64 degrees for a few nights. You might think we should turn on the heat, and you’d be right. But there is some weird quirk with our heating and cooling system where you have to submit a work order and ask the Embassy workers to come out and turn off your heat and turn on your AC at the start of the summer. It was getting warm at the beginning of May so we went ahead and did that, and now it appears we jumped the gun a bit. JR pulled a few space heaters from the garage and we plugged them in around the house. Mostly I wanted to warm up the kids’ bedrooms, but I was too paranoid to leave them on upstairs overnight. So this morning – when they both treated us to early wake-ups at 4:30 and 5am (why God, why?) – their rooms were 64 and 63 degrees. Not ideal.

JR is a control officer for a VIP this week, which means a significant amount of extra work for him. A control officer handles all the details of a visitor’s trip – they coordinate motorpool and attend all the meetings, they prepare briefing binders with all the necessary memos and background paperwork, they pick up the visitor at the airport and escort them to their hotel and to all events, and they’re on call for anything that might come up at the last minute. I wasn’t surprised when he told me he had to work late Friday, but my intentions of making pizza went out the window and I thought we should just order in. Apparently many others had the same plan because Dominoes said it would be a 2 hour wait. Back to Plan A of making pizza myself (although Sopo was still there and very kindly offered to make the dough while I played with the kids.)

When JR made it home that night, he said there had been last minute changes to all the paperwork and the binders weren’t completed correctly, so he would need to go back into work Saturday morning. In addition to driving to the Azerbaijani border to pick up the visitor and take her to her hotel that afternoon. Awesome. William and Abby have been waking up earlier and earlier, and when I first heard William Saturday morning, I reached over to shake JR awake and say my favorite words “your turn.” But he was already off to work. By the time he got home later that morning, I was already over the whole day (at 9:30am!) and told him we would most certainly be ordering Baan Thai (one of my favorite delivery places here, one of the few that can consistently find our house and we can order in English) that night for dinner.

I realized while he was gone that we were going to run out of William’s formula. His formula has been a constant issue for us since we returned to Tbilisi. He seems to be reacting to something in the Similac and Target versions we have tried, so we finally found a German brand, Hipp, and a specific type of hypo-allergenic formula that seems to work for him. We usually have to try a few grocery stores and pharmacies to find it, and then they often only have two boxes at a time. A box lasts about 3 days. So now it’s Saturday night, it’s POURING down rain, and I have to run out to the grocery store as soon as JR gets home because we need formula. I went to Goodwill, the German grocery store closest to us, and they didn’t have it nor did the pharmacy. You know the feeling when you run out to the store to get ONE THING, and they don’t have it. I was so frustrated – over the weather, over everything.

We finished up the formula we had left and I ordered a few different brands/types on Amazon, and Sunday morning sent JR to Carrefour hoping he’d find a few boxes. He texted me that they had 8! I instructed him to buy them all. He actually left a few just in case some other family was running around in the same predicament. Now we’re at least set for a few weeks.

It was not my  best weekend. We had another work event, spouses included, on Sunday evening which wound up being quite enjoyable but it was just a tiring weekend. But in an effort to end on a good note, all that rain led to these beautiful rainbows!

Three!

Another year has passed and we are now the proud parents of a three year old. Abby is funny, kind and very talkative (she must get that from her Dad). We think she is exceptionally smart and beautiful, but we’re probably biased. She makes us laugh all the time. When she is in trouble and we threaten to take something away, she has a killer pout and will immediately say “but ___ is my favorite!” You can insert literally anything in the blank and if we’re saying she has to listen or we’ll take it away, it suddenly becomes her favorite thing ever. When she sees us watching her about to do something she shouldn’t, she’ll say “Don’t look at me, okay?”

She loves singing and making up songs, usually a variation of something from Daniel Tiger. We’ve been dealing with a little bit of separation anxiety when I leave for work in the morning, so our solution is to talk about it. That’s what she asks for each morning before I go, “can we talk about it?” We sit on the stairs and I remind her that I have to go to work, but that I’ll be back at the end of the day. I say “why will I come back?” And she will sing the Daniel Tiger song “Grown ups come back, at the end of the day, grown ups come back.” The best part is she recently added “to see little girls” at the end, and now we’ve made a big joke as she adds a few more lines “to see little Williams, and Abigails, and little Sopos.” It’s adorable.

She loves William and plays with him gently about 90% of  the time. We have to remind her that he is little, but mostly she sings to him and says things like “It’s okay William, sister is right here. You don’t need to cry buddy.” Here’s a video of her singing to him that makes my heart explode.

We had been talking a LOT about saying goodbye to the binky again (round 2.) We had two different tactics, one was trying to get her to agree to throwing them away and being ready, and I was also secretly poking holes in them before bedtime. Per the internet, if you poke one or two holes and gradually increase the amount of holes in the pacifier, it loses it’s effectiveness and kids just don’t want them anymore. So we started doing that, but then one night Abby was being particularly difficult about bedtime and I called JR upstairs for reinforcement. He found me outside of her room furiously stabbing holes in the pacifier as if it was a voodoo doll. “What happened to gradually?” he asked. I just glared at him.

After deciding to throw away two of them a few days earlier because they were “broken”, on the morning of her birthday she threw away her last one. She didn’t cry, although we did offer her chocolate as a temporary distraction. Bedtime that night was really rough, and the second night was still pretty bad although better than the first. On the third night Sopo put her to bed because we were out to dinner, and of course she went to bed without so much as a peep! Bedtime is still a bit of a struggle for us, but I feel 97% sure we’re done with the binkies. No, make it 90%.

We celebrated her birthday twice, the day of and with a party this weekend. When she woke up on Wednesday (her birthday) she called out from her room “Is it my birthday? When is it going to be my birthday?” I went in and reassured her that it was in fact her birthday and now she was officially three. She requested chocolate chip pancakes so we went downstairs to make them together. JR put together her big gift from my parents the night before, a Paw Patrol tricycle, and she was so excited to see it waiting for her downstairs. We felt like we’d given her a pretty great birthday morning, but then Sopo arrived and put us to shame!

The funny part is her stating at the end “That’s not a bone cake!” because for a long time she has repeated her request for a Paw Patrol bone cake with sprinkles. I visited a bakery here with a picture and hoped for the best. The baker did not speak English, but I had Sopo on the phone trying to translate for me and the bakery also had an employee who spoke English helping us. Whatever was said worked because I could not believe how perfectly the cake turned out! Now, it was about three times larger than I pictured, but is too much cake really a bad thing?

We lucked out with perfect weather for her party and enjoyed the afternoon celebrating with friends. The best part of all was my sister, Jamie, arriving early Sunday morning to make it in time for Abby’s party! Thanks to everyone who celebrated with us from near and far!