Travel is fun, they say

The good news is we survived the return to trip to Tbilisi and it went about as well as we could have hoped. The bad news is that jet lag with a 7 week old and a 2.5 year old is THE WORST. Thankfully it only took about a week for us to fix our sleep schedules but it was a very rough 7 days.

We flew out of Akron Canton, which is a small regional airport about 40 minutes from Orrville. Because we flew into Cleveland when we arrived, this was considered a cost-construct trip (since we wanted to fly in and out of two different airports, we were responsible for any difference in price – in this case it was $25 per ticket which was worth it to us). Akron Canton is closer, and it’s much more convenient because it’s just so small. I also liked the flight schedules better. The downside is that when you cost construct a ticket, you lose some of the benefits you might otherwise have received. In this case, we could have had a day room at the Hilton hotel in Munich during our 9 hour layover as part of our trip. I didn’t know if we were making a huge mistake by foregoing that option. We could have paid out-of-pocket for it but I heard the business lounge was really nice (and we did receive passes to that). Also, the Hilton is kind of a haul through the airport and the day room hours are 9am to 6pm. We were scheduled to land around 1pm and leave at 10pm, so I didn’t know how useful it would actually be.

We left for the airport at 2:30pm on Tuesday, January 24. As I mentioned in my last post, we received William’s diplomatic passport and visa to Georgia via FedEx at 10:30am that same morning. We like to live dangerously like that (no, actually we don’t, but the whole process is the biggest pain and it took 67 emails to get someone from the Georgian Embassy to help us out). We hired a van from HMC Car and Limousine to transport our luggage and JR while my mom drove me and the kids. Our final count was 8 checked bags, 1 convertible car seat (checked), 1 infant car seat (carried on), 1 double stroller (gate checked before each flight), 3 carry-on backpacks, and 1 diaper bag. It looks overwhelming but I felt like we had considerably less to carry after we checked in. Using backpacks was a game changer.

I’m also really happy with our double stroller. We used the Britax B Agile Double. It’s super easy to push, both seats fully recline for the kids to lay down, and we fit through every door we encountered. It also folds easily and quickly.

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Checking in at Akron Canton was super smooth and easy. There was only one other person in the entire security line. We were able to take our time and not feel so rushed which is how we usually feel during check in and security. It may have been my imagination, but all the employees were even friendlier than at other airports. I think this is how VIPs must feel while traveling. Maybe that’s why we enjoy this airport so much?

There’s a small children’s play area so we hung out there and let Abby play until it was time to board our first flight to Chicago.

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It was a small plane with a 2-2 seat set up and our seats were not across from each other, JR was one row up. It wasn’t a big deal since the flight was so short and both kids did great.

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We had an almost 4 hour layover in Chicago. We took our time walking to our gate and stopped for dinner at Chili’s. The area we were in wasn’t very crowded so we let Abby run as much as she wanted in hopes of tiring her out. Before boarding we changed her into PJs and hoped for the best.

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On this flight we had the window and aisle seat of one row and the window and aisle of the row directly behind it. I sat with William in his car seat and JR was with Abby in front of us. He inflated her 1st Class Kids Travel Pillow  (watching JR try to quickly and discreetly blow up the pillow is always amusing).

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As soon as lift-off we encouraged Abby to lay down and sleep. She tried and tried, and she would fall asleep for a little bit and then wake up. She was very tired (it was probably 11pm/12am at this point) and quickly became frustrated and upset. I asked her if there was anything I could get her or do for her to help her sleep and her reply of “I want Nana” about broke my heart. The plane was not full, so JR moved a few rows back and we let Abby spread out across the two seats to hopefully sleep better. I continued to sit in the row behind her with William, who to our amazement, slept almost the entire flight. He woke up about half way through for a bottle and diaper change, then went right back in his car seat and back to sleep.

Once both kids were asleep I decided to try the unthinkable and watch a movie. I only used one headphone so I could listen for them and kept leaning forward to check on Abby. Once when I started to look up all I could see were her two little feet in her pjs sticking out in the aisle from the floor. She had rolled right off the seat and was less than thrilled to find herself on the ground. Oops. I settled her again, and moved her pillow more to the center of the two seats to hopefully act as a barrier and keep her from falling again. She rolled off only once more so I suppose it was a limited success.

After landing in Munich we walked straight to the Lufthansa Business Lounge. We ate some breakfast there and then found a place to sit down and relax. We took turns showering- this was my first time showering in an airport and it was really nice. The bathrooms are spacious and clean, and they provided shampoo, razor, shaving cream, shower cap, towels, and a hair dryer. We knew we were going to take advantage of this so JR and I had each packed a full change of clothes in our backpacks. I felt like a brand new person after that shower! We let Abby play on the iPad while William alternated between eating and sleeping. The lounge was right beside a small kids play area so JR took her out there to play a few times.

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Overall, I’m glad we went with the lounge passes instead of the hotel room. It helped that the lounge was empty for most of the day and we were able to create our own little area to camp out.

The final flight was a little rough – we were all over it and in desperate need of our beds and our own space. Thank goodness for Daniel Tiger, a binky and a snack cup to carry us to our final destination.

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JR and I were so relieved to finally touch down in Tbilisi. Abby kept saying “are we in Georgia?  What’s Georgia?” As we waited for our luggage at baggage claim, the poor girl had her first accident in months. She was really upset so I tried to calm her down and rush her off the bathroom to change clothes while JR handled the bag collection and kept an eye on William. Once she was all cleaned up, we met up with our motorpool drivers and made our way to the cars (it took two vehicles to haul all of us and our stuff).

Let me tell you, installing two car seats at 6am after 30 some hours of travel, in the cold, is not fun. As I buckled William in I could smell a dirty diaper but I thought the best thing was to just ignore it and hurry home. Just as the cars started moving, Abby said she had to pee. Again. Awesome. The entrance to the airport (you cannot go back in through the area we came out of) was on the other side of the entire building. Did I mention it was 6am and cold? And that our baby had a dirty diaper? I did what anyone would do – I took her to the side of the parking lot and held her off the ground so she could go. I can only imagine what our drivers were thinking.

Finally we were in the cars on the way home. Abby sang every single song she knows at least twice. We pulled up and let her run into the house first and she was so, so excited. “My kitchen!” “My baby” “My flashlight”. Every toy delighted her. I wonder how much of all of this her little mind really understands, but she was definitely happy to be home. And so were we – we all slept for about six hours.

That six hours felt great but wasn’t nearly enough.  The next several days were our toughest to date, but everyone is back to normal now and we are so glad to be home!

 

Catching up

I had really good intentions of blogging while we were in Ohio for my maternity med evac, but as evidenced by my lack of posting, that clearly did not happen. The good news is I can blame my absence on the arrival of William James, born December 9, 2016.

He’s basically the cutest and we’re all adjusting to life as a family of four!

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JR says that William already looks “distinguished.”

How we spent the rest of our time at home:

  • We spent Thanksgiving with JR’s family and it was really nice. His sister and her husband hosted the extended family and the food was so fantastic, there weren’t ANY leftovers. That says something about the food, but it created a real crisis for me when it was 7pm that evening and I was searching for a hot meal. At approximately 52 weeks pregnant at that point, JR knew it was a serious situation and helped me find a place that was open so we could order carryout. If you’re ever in this predicament, Applebees is open on Thanksgiving. You’re welcome in advance.
  • My due date was quickly approaching in December and William showed no signs of making an appearance. After scheduling an induction date with my doctor, JR and I showed up at the hospital on December 9 ready to have a baby. My doctor was confident I’d have a baby by early that evening (in fact, she broke down the plans for the day according to meal times, we’ll do this at breakfast, this around lunch, and baby will be here in time for you to eat dinner – she really gets me). As much as we both said we had no idea if we were having a boy or a girl, clearly we were both expecting a girl because we were completely shocked when the doctor said “It’s a boy!”.
  • Some of the highlights of that day (aside from meeting our baby boy!) included Abby’s visit, being done with labor by 6pm and able to EAT, and my sister having Pizza Hut breadsticks delivered to the hospital for me (this is a birthing tradition for us) shortly after William’s birth. She’s awesome like that. Everything went perfectly, but the next morning both Abby and JR tested positive for strep throat. Less than ideal to say the least. JR spent the next 48 hours parenting from behind a mask.

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  • Once we had William home and settled, it was time to focus on Christmas! It was really wonderful to spend the holiday with our families, and Abby reveled in the attention. She was (is) completely spoiled but it was so much fun to see her excitement over Santa and all the presents.

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Taking a picture of two kids is much harder than one!

  • Abby’s reaction to Santa Claus. What a difference a year makes!

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  • We spent much of our remaining time going to a dozen appointments and working on the paperwork to take William home to Georgia. No joke – his visa arrived at 10:30am on the Tuesday that we left, with our flight leaving at 4:30pm. Nothing like the last minute!
  • Abby is really obsessed with him.

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Give William some space Abby! (said at least 100 times a day)

  • We’re so happy to be back in our house in Tbilisi and slowly life is returning to normal – at least a new normal. I’m planning to write another post soon about our travel back!

A few more pictures of my sweet babes!

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Tbilisi Zoo

Last weekend we met up with our friends and their kids to visit the Tbilisi Zoo.  We could not have picked a better day for it, the weather was perfect.

You may recall hearing about the terrible flooding in Tbilisi last summer, and the awful stories about what happened to the zoo.  (WARNING: graphic pictures) Around 300 animals were killed and many were wandering the streets after the flood destroyed many of their enclosures. One of the animals that escaped, Beggi the Hippo, became world famous when she was found wandering the flooded city streets.

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People help a hippopotamus escape from a flooded zoo in Tbilisi, Georgia, Sunday, June 14, 2015. Tigers, lions, a hippopotamus and other animals have escaped from the zoo in Georgiaís capital after heavy flooding destroyed their enclosures, prompting authorities to warn residents in Tbilisi to stay inside Sunday. (AP Photo/Tinatin Kiguradze)

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This was our first visit and I wasn’t sure what to expect.  We knew it would be quite different from zoos in the U.S. and our expectations were low given that the flood was just over a year ago, but we were pleasantly surprised by what we saw.

We can happily report that Beggi the Hippo seems to be doing well. Her current enclosure leaves a bit to be desired, but there is evidence of progress all over the zoo. They are working on the existing enclosures and also building a brand new zoo at a new location. Zoo experts from the U.S. were recently in town to provide training on animal care and exhibit design.

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We purposefully arrived just before the gates opened which allowed us to walk around pretty much by ourselves for at least an hour. With no crowds, we could let the kids run ahead and scope out the animals first, but we had to stay on guard a bit because many of the enclosures had basic fencing and we didn’t want to lose any little fingers to a hungry lemur or monkey.

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With safety standards and enclosures not quite up to American standards, you can get really close to the big animals. Realllly close. Abby threw a fit when JR stopped her from trying to pet the rhinoceros and his donkey friends.

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In addition to the animals, the zoo had a few small areas with carnival-like rides and attractions.  Tickets were cheap – just 1 Lari each, and most rides cost 1 or 2 Lari. The kids had a great time on the little flying airplanes, the trampoline and the tea cups.

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Our group enjoyed the Tbilisi Zoo and we hope to go again soon!

A highlight of our weekend was the Tennessee Volunteers beating Florida after 11 long years.  Although neither Abby nor I stayed up to watch the game, we made sure she showed her spirit during the day!  Go Vols!

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La Vida Lopota

For Labor Day weekend, we joined some friends and their kids at Lopota Lake Resort in the Kakheti (read: wine) region of Georgia.  The drive took about 2.5 hours and despite some very windy roads, it was relatively easy. A friend tipped us off that we should specifically request ground floor rooms in the S building, which we reserved several weeks in advance. Alas, when we arrived those rooms were not available, but the L building, right next door, suited us just fine.  I do recommend the ground floor rooms because of their great patios and you get to avoid the stairs!

Although the weather had cooled a bit, we still took advantage of the multiple swimming pools right away. The food at dinner was decent, but a bit overpriced. The restaurant decorated their walls with bottles of wine (full bottles, which is important to this story).  JR asked the server for a glass of that specific type of wine and the server hesitated, saying “Oh. I will have to check if we have that.”  We all looked around bewildered because there were dozens of bottles around us, including one within arms reach by  JR’s head. The server returned a few moments later to confirm that unfortunately, they did not have that type of wine available.

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Oh well, he ordered a beer instead.

The next morning after breakfast the air was a bit cooler and we noticed that some of the other guests’ children were bundled up like it was full blown winter.  I think it was maybe between 65-70 degrees?  The weather did not keep us from a last dip in the pool!  We only stayed one night so we didn’t explore all of the grounds, but there was plenty to do and we will definitely visit again next year.

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We spent the rest of the weekend relaxing at home. Our friends from down the street came over for a farewell dinner – they are headed back to the U.S. for a few months.  Abby and their daughter, K are best buds and I was really sad to say goodbye!

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One last hug!

On Monday, Abby helped me make cookies.  She was quite impatient waiting for them to  bake!

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We closed out the weekend with a sunset bike ride.

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No really, what do you do?

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JR has been with USAID for over 4 years now (and recently received a promotion!), yet I’m pretty sure our friends and families still don’t know what he does. Which is normal, my sister is a chemical processing engineer (I think?) and she’s explained it to me a few times and I’m just like, oh mm hmm, I see! When really I do not. At all. I’m also at a different job with an agency I’d never heard of before I applied, so it stands to reason that no one has a clue what I do either.

JR is a Contracting and Agreement Officer for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). USAID is an Executive Agency tasked with promoting democracy, economic growth, and peace and stability in developing countries around the world (I stole that directly from their website. Citing my sources and all that jazz). He’s part of the USG’s Diplomatic Corps, otherwise known as the Foreign Service, which USAID’s website explains as:

Through their dedication, technical skills, and creativity, Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) drive American foreign policy towards its objectives of global peace, stability, and prosperity. USAID FSOs are responsible for developing and managing foreign assistance programs that encompass   economic growth and trade, agriculture and the environment, education and training, democracy and governance, stabilization and conflict mitigation, global health, and humanitarian assistance.  USAID FSOs work in close partnership with the governments and people of more than 100 countries in five regions of the world, with private voluntary organizations, universities, private businesses, trade and professional associations, other donor governments, faith-based organizations, and other US government agencies. They assess country needs, prepare strategic plans, design and evaluate programs, oversee budgets and contracts, and report on results.

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Specifically, JR has the legal authority to solicit, negotiate, award, and possibly terminate any agreement that USAID enters into in a given country. In order to do his job he has what’s called a warrant that allows him to obligate money on behalf of the U.S. government. Since the U.S. government is the largest purchaser of goods and services in the world (by far), the process of obligating money on its behalf is heavily regulated. Another way to look at it is that he’s a “business advisor” for the government and ensures compliance with federal contracting laws.

Here’s a very generic example: If USAID had funding for a new education program, such as sending students to the U.S. for master’s degrees in economics, they would need an implementing partner to manage the program. First, they would announce that they have this program and that U.S. or local organizations can bid on it if they wish to be chosen to run it. Then USAID would review all the bids, make sure everything is compliant with legal regulations, and then select the best implementing partner/bid for that particular program. Someone at USAID also has to oversee the implementing partner to ensure they are managing the program correctly and make any necessary adjustments to the contract/agreement. This all includes a lot of paperwork. JR has the legal responsibility for all of those components.

So that’s JR’s job in a nutshell. Makes perfect sense, right?

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We will spend most of his career overseas, although we may be posted to DC at some point for a 2 or 3 year tour.

My job is Program Coordinator for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) in Tbilisi. If you are like me and had never heard of DTRA, you might be surprised to learn that DTRA is a pretty large agency just outside of D.C. with almost 2,000 employees. Here’s a snapshot of the main objectives of DTRA:  http://www.dtra.mil/About/WhoWeAre.aspx.

In Georgia, DTRA supports Embassy objectives including Euro-Atlantic integration, international cooperation, and peace and security measures.  One of the biggest areas of work is the Cooperative Biological Engagement Program. Basically, the U.S. has a strong interest in ensuring that Georgia understands best practices in biosafety and security, is prepared to handle infectious diseases or outbreaks, and enhancing international research partnerships. You can read more here:  http://georgia.usembassy.gov/embassy_offices_andotheragencies2/defense-threat-reduction-office.html

Like my job title says, I coordinate. We have visitors and contractors from the U.S. and they need assistance scheduling meetings with Georgian officials and people within the Embassy. I also attend the meetings and report back to our office on what is happening and any action that we need to take to facilitate things. One of my first tasks was the opening of a boat basin in Batumi, funded by DTRA. It was a large-scale project so we had high-level Embassy representatives attending and I was responsible for contact with the front office of the Embassy, coordinating the schedule, and writing up the speech and press information for the event. I’m learning new things all of the time and I really enjoy the work.

My position is specifically for EFMs (eligible family members – typically, spouses or partners of foreign service officers). At any given post, I can apply for all of the EFM positions that seem to fit my interests and background. It’s unlikely I’ll be hired as a divorce attorney, but I hope I can continue to find interesting work while we live overseas.

So… that’s what we do.

Mtatsminda Park

We took Abby to a small amusement park that overlooks the city called Mtatsminda.  The drive took about 30 minutes from our place and parking was frustrating because we didn’t know exactly where the entrance was located or where we should go, just that it was by the park.  You can park at the bottom of the mountain and take the funicular up which would probably have been a more convenient option in hindsight.  We skipped it thinking it would just delay our arrival and I wasn’t sure how much Abby would care about the funicular, but we’ll definitely try that route next time.

The park was larger than expected, and it was hot so I became quickly annoyed when we couldn’t figure out where to buy tickets for the rides.  After walking around for a bit, JR came through in the knick of time by locating a ticket booth where you purchase a card and can put as much/little Lari as you want on it.  We also stumbled upon a map of the park at that point, which also included ride prices – very helpful!  They ranged from about 1-5 Lari.  Abby is still a bit small for many of the rides there, but we found a few that she really enjoyed.  The flying bumblebees and the carousel were big hits. She did not understand why she had to exit after the ride was over and it took a lot of explanation (and crying) for Abby to agree to exit the rides. I think JR took her on those bees at least 3 times.

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They also had a few smaller arcade-style rides including cars that move and play music which she enjoyed.  Her favorite by far was the trampoline though. It was just a small kids trampoline with the netting around it, and I have no idea how much they charged us or how long you are supposed to “ride”, but she jumped forever.  She loved it.

We took a break for ice cream and this was probably the highlight for all of us.  Abby’s eyes were so wide when she grabbed the cone, and she made us laugh while she made a mess eating every single bit of that ice cream. It had cooled down a little by this point and we really enjoyed the people-watching and the view of the city.  We did encounter some trouble during our bathroom break.  The restrooms near the kid area had Turkish toilets.  Not my favorite thing under any circumstance, but particularly less so with a newly-potty trained toddler.  We improvised and lived to tell about it (note – apparently there are regular toilets in the cafe near the funicular.  Clearly, the funicular would have solved many of our problems.)

We had a really nice afternoon and we definitely plan on going back!

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Paw Patrol to the rescue!

Somehow I let a whole month pass without even attempting to write a blog post. Oops!

May was a wonderful month here. There were multiple local holidays, including Memorial Day, so we had long weekends and several short weeks. Glorious!  Instead of doing something really cool, or travel to a beautiful destination, we made the adult decision and took advantage of the first long weekend to try the 3-day potty training method with Abby. We debated the idea for a bit but she was showing signs of readiness so we cleared our schedules, read helpful tips on the internet, and purchased supplies.

The first day was absolutely terrible. The book we were trying to follow recommended having your child spend the whole day indoors, completely naked/bottomless, and you watch them like a hawk every second to catch them going to the bathroom, then whisk them off to the potty. Constantly watching your child is actually exhausting and tedious. By 10am JR and I were looking at each other and wondering how we’d survive the entire day. JR kept a running tally and by the end of the day the score was Abby 7 and Parents 7. A 50/50 split but that’s still a lot of Clorox and we were not mentally prepared.

Luckily, we turned a corner on day 2. We threw out the idea of going naked and went with some “big-girl” underwear. Abby is a huge fan of the show Paw Patrol, so we gave her some special Paw Patrol underwear and made a big deal about keeping them dry. Suddenly things started to click for her!

Yeah Paw Patrol!

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Of course, there were still a few accidents that day but nothing like the catastrophe of the first day.

Day 3 was even better and we couldn’t believe how quickly Abby took to the sudden change. After about a week it felt like we could safely say she was potty trained (we’re using pull-ups for nap and at night, although sometimes I think she could skip those, but I’m not willing to risk it and deal with the potential mess).

Another big milestone for our girl – she turned 2! We celebrated by having a joint party with our friend’s daughter. I didn’t get any good pictures of the birthday girl, but there is a video of Abby on my lap while everyone is singing Happy Birthday, and at that exact moment she stuck her fist in her cake. It didn’t mess it up too much, but she was furious that her hand was covered in frosting. All eyes were on us and I didn’t have any way to clean her up, so I first tried to wipe it off in my hand, and then I resorted to sticking her fist in my mouth and licking the frosting off myself. Put that in the “sentences I never expected to write” column. The party was great fun and thanks to the hard work and creative mind of my dear friend Elizabeth, minimal effort on my part! A win all around.  🙂

Over Memorial Day weekend, we met up with friends of ours and their two kids in Borjomi, a town about 2 hours away. Shortly after we arrived at the hotel, it started pouring down rain while we ate lunch. Abby took a long nap (and so did we) and when she woke up we went down to the pool.  She was totally uninterested, but she sure did look cute in her swimsuit! The rain stopped so we spent some time walking around the hotel grounds and playing at the playground before heading downtown with our friends.  It’s a smallish town but there is an amusement park, cable car, and some restaurants and cafes.

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We hopped on the cable car and enjoyed beautiful views of the city and waterfall. On on our ride back down the attendant wanted to smoke, and being so thoughtful to the children and passengers on board, he just stood with the door partially open and blew his smoke outside -while the car was moving. A great comfort, really. Below is a picture I found online that illustrates the open door, now just imagine it looking that way as we traveled back down the mountain.

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We had a nice dinner in town and then returned to our hotel for a fantastic night of sleep. We splurged on the deluxe suite so Abby’s pack n’ play was set up in a separate room and that meant peace and quiet for all.

Since we were off on Monday for Memorial Day and we still had our nanny working, JR and I drove to an ancient rock/cave town called Uplistsikhe (good luck pronouncing that!), a few kilometers away from the town of Gori. It’s one of the oldest urban settlements in Georgia and dates back to the Early Iron Age which is around 1200-550 B.C.E. (thanks Wikipedia!).

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Most of our time has been spent enjoying the warmer weather (although this past week has been all rain and cold) and playing outside. When it was finally warm enough to bring out the water table and our baby pool, a few of the neighborhood kids came over to play. We set up the other pool and even more kids showed up. We had a great time, but made the mistake of storing the pools on our back patio. The wind here is insane, and it’s especially bad in our neighborhood because we’re up on a hill. The little round pool blew away one night and hasn’t been seen since!

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Hello, Gorgeous

Isn’t she lovely?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

stalin house stalin house 2

 

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

Throw pillows and bed skirts: A House Tour

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

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

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

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

 

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

l room 2l room 1

 

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

 

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

 

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

bath 2 bath 1

 

Up another half flight we have a big landing space with JR’s bathroom, a linen closet (a linen closet!), Abby’s room and a guest room.  Separate bathrooms and a king-sized bed are keys to our marital bliss.
guest room justin bath

 

Abby’s room is the biggest room in the house and has an attached bathroom.
abby 1 abby 2

abby 3 abby bath

 

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

Rockin’ out in Sighnaghi

Finally, our first trip outside of Tbilisi!  Last weekend, we left Abby with her nanny so we could visit Sighnaghi and spend a night away.  We left Saturday morning around 10am, and we had an easy and uneventful 2 hour drive. We rocked out to the CDs I bought JR for Christmas:  The Essential Michael Jackson, Phil Collins’ Hits, Tracy Chapman Collection, Garth Brooks Ultimate  Hits, and perhaps most importantly, I Will Always Love You: The Very Best of Whitney Houston. 

whitney

Important backstory:  Years ago, when we were living in German Village, our car was broken into and my immense, treasured CD collection was stolen.  I’m still sad about the injustice.  It had almost every CD I’ve ever owned, from every phase of my life and some of my more questionable musical choices. From Green Day’s Dookie to Aerosmith’s Permanent Vacation and Get a Grip, Bon Jovi’s Cross Road and These Days to Tupac’s Greatest Hits and Nelly’s Country Grammar, all the Garth Brooks CDs, and almost everything from Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw.  Maybe the bigger blow was the loss of my mix CDs, labors of love from high school through college and law school, CDs and songs that instantly brought me back to a certain place and time and held tons of memories.  I could go on and on about this, but the point is, I lost all of my CDs and the few that JR had kept with mine.  Since that time, too broken-hearted (and cheap) to replace them, I’ve only purchased a handful of new ones:  All of Taylor Swifts albums, several Glee soundtracks, Guns N Roses Greatest Hits, and the Rock of Ages movie soundtrack.  Not exactly easy listening for JR.  It’s never been a big issue because we rarely drove in Kosovo, but now in Tbilisi we drive to work and almost every day, he complained about my beloved Taylor or Glee.  So I decided to put him out of his misery and I bought CDs from some of his favorite artists for Christmas. The end.

Sighnaghi was quiet, chilly and beautiful.  We stayed at the Kabadoni Hotel and our room had a great view of the valley and mountains.  I’ve heard good things about the spa, but we didn’t try it this time.  The town is quite small so it didn’t take long to walk around, and we made our way to the walking path along the city walls.  There were a few towers you could attempt to climb up, but the stairs were not in good shape.  JR the adventurer went up while I kept my two feet safely on the ground.

 

city walls towers 2towers 1
Walking the city walls, and pictures from JR’s climb up one of the towers

signagi 1 signagi 2

 

signagi 3
Please ignore my ridiculous face in this picture.  I was joking about how I see all these people on FB/IG doing this sly, closed mouth smile at the camera, and I said I should try that instead of my normal big teeth, lots o’gums grin.  And well, you can see how well that worked for me.  BUT – it’s a beautiful picture of the mountains – those are mountains, not clouds! –  in the background.

We went to Pheasant’s Tears for dinner and wine.  The server asked “Do you trust our chef, we do not have a menu?” and I felt a little panicky.  I smiled and said, “Sure, but I mostly like chicken and bread.” She brought out several wines for us to taste and once we picked our favorites, we did not have long to wait before the dishes started to appear.  Fresh Georgian bread, cheese and yogurt, spinach with caramelized onions, vegetable bean stew, khinkali with potatoes and onions (my favorite!), and some delicious chicken.  It was so much food, and it was really good.  The restaurant was cozy and inviting and the service was excellent.  We will be sure to go back.

In the morning we had a quick breakfast at the hotel, took one last long look at the mountains, and then made our way back to Tbilisi.  It was the perfect choice for a night out of town, and I think we’ll try to go back in the summer!

hotel
View from our balcony