Home Leave 2017

We just wrapped up six weeks in America visiting family and friends, vacationing, shopping, and eating everything in sight (okay maybe only I did that last part). Some of the highlights and a ton of pictures:

  • We arrived just in time for 4th of July festivities in my home town. I haven’t been home for our town’s parade and carnival for several years. It was really special to be back and to share all of the fun with Abby and William. At first Abby did not know what to think about the parade, but before long she was all over the place scooping up candy and yelling for more. Similarly, she started out a bit nervous about the carnival rides but once she started she didn’t want to stop riding!

 

    

 

  • Abby finally had her first haircut. You can’t really tell, but at least we can say we did it!

  • We went to roughly 37 doctor’s appointments. Both kids had their well child visits, both kids got sick (Abby with viral croup, William with a stomach virus and THEN viral croup) and two trips to a specialist to diagnose and treat William’s allergies. He’s allergic to eggs and potentially peanuts, so we’re now “treating” him by building up a tolerance to peanuts at home. Sort of like Wesley in the Princess Bride with iocane powder. So far so good.

  • I had so much fun visiting with my friends. We went to wineries, spas, out to dinner, cookouts, and more. I learned how to use Snapchat filters and how to Boomerang (still a work in progress). I listened to Body Like a Back Road, I’m the One and Despacito on repeat. JR started calling it the summer of Jenni which has a really nice ring to it.

  

  • We did another great American road trip. JR and I rented a minivan, loaded it down, and drove down to Anna Maria Island, Florida. My mom and brother generously offered to fly the kids down, and my sister met us there as well. We rented a house a few blocks from the beach with its own pool and settled in for a week of fun and relaxation. Anna Maria was a perfect spot. Although the beaches were a bit crowded, the soft, white sand and clear waters made up for it. We had two golf carts that we drove all over the island, and if you ever go, you absolutely must visit The Donut Experiment. It was amazing!

 

  • After Florida, we slowly made our way to Knoxville, Tennessee to spend time with JR’s brother and his family. We made a very important but brief stop in Atlanta to meet Thatcher, the newest member of the T family! We were so sad to say goodbye to the T’s when they left Tbilisi, so it was a real treat to see them for a short visit and meet little Thatcher.
  • In Knoxville we spent most of our time watching Abby play with her cousin Katie, eating more good food, and we fit in a trip to the Knoxville Zoo (which insists on being called Zoo Knoxville which is weird). Highly, highly recommend this zoo – the animals, exhibits and staff were great. Abby rode a camel and fed a giraffe! The layout was really easy for walking around on a hot day with a stroller, and they had a nice splash pad play area included with admission. It was one of my favorite days during our trip.

                                                                                                                                           

 

  • We ended our road trip with 4 nights in Gatlinburg with JR’s whole family. 11 adults and 10  kids! Abby and William had so much fun with all of their cousins and we loved watching them play together.

 

  • Lessons learned after a road trip to Florida and back: It was a lot of driving time. I think we put over 2,500 miles on our rental car in 18 days. For comparison, we’ve lived in Georgia for two full years and we’ve put about 8,000 miles on our car. For the most part our kids did really well, but anytime a child is crying in the car even for a few minutes it feels like forever.
  • We made it back to Orrville just in time to finish up our consumables shopping (so much beer) and a few last trips to Dairy Queen.
  • Six weeks at home was really wonderful. We’re grateful to our friends and family for making time to see us and working around our crazy schedule. As much as we all loved our time in America, we are happy to be back in Tbilisi and settling in for two more years.

Raspberry Beret

Friday night there was an official 4th of July party at the Ambassador’s residence for very important people. Because we are not very important, and somehow JR lucked out and did not have to work at the event, we were invited to attend after 9pm. This worked out well, because if we had arrived at 5, I would have been ready to go home at 10.

The Ambassador’s residence was newly renovated and beautiful. They had great food, fun decorations, and an awesome band. There was this cake:

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For a half a second (or maybe a half a minute – but who’s counting?), I thought it was in the shape of Texas. Oops. The cake was still in tact when we arrived and we think nobody wanted to be the first to cut into it because it looked so nice. In fact, I’m not sure the cake was ever actually served!

We danced and we sang and we danced some more. The singer was fantastic, and she is apparently competing in a European version of The Voice (or American Idol/X Factor/something else). We cheered for an encore, and to my ABSOLUTE DELIGHT, she sang “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” (Fun fact, I walked down the aisle to that song, performed by two violinists.) Once the band was done, we switched to various people plugging in their iPods and taking turns as DJ. The Ambassador was getting ready to play the Prince song “When Doves Cry”, but after looking at the list of available songs JR told her if she wanted for people to dance to Prince, it needed to be “Raspberry Beret.” She was a bit skeptical (and maybe surprised that he fancied himself a Prince expert) but let him play the song. The dance floor loved it. The Ambassador told him he made the right call, and asked him to continue DJing, a responsibility he took quite seriously. (Fun Fact #2, when JR and I were in law school he enjoyed playing music and half-jokingly referred to himself as DJ JD.)

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As I said, the music selection was serious business.

On Saturday we had a trip planned to visit a fruit farm and food processing plant outside of the city. The event was part of a week-long visit from a group from Iowa, who were in town to sign a Sister City and Sister State agreement in Kosovo. (You can read some more about it here: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/06/13/iowa-kosovo-sister-state-deal/2420239/ and here: http://oskynews.org/?p=57290.) We were treated to a great lunch and then given a tour of the farm and the plant. It brought back memories of my time working in the factory at Smucker’s. (It was a short term job – I’m not really cut out for manual labor. But I did have fun there and I’m VERY proud of my hometown and Smucker’s connections!) We also took a walking tour of the orchards.

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Oh and I finally learned how to take a panoramic picture on my iPhone. All in all, a very successful weekend!

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4th of July

We had a great day yesterday celebrating the 4th. We were invited to a cook out in the afternoon, and I wanted to make strawberry and angel food cake skewers. I’ve made them before, and it is so easy. Buy an angel food cake at Kroger, along with fresh strawberries and blueberries. Wash the fruit and cut the tops off the strawberries. Cut the cake into small squares, and then thread onto the skewers. So fast and easy.

It was a little bit more involved here in Kosovo. First, there is no Kroger, and no pre-made angel food cake. Bondsteel sells some cake mixes, but not angel food. My mom was nice enough to send over a couple of boxes of cake mix (she also included Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, because she’s awesome like that.) Unfortunately, stawberries are no longer in season here, and blueberries are not yet in season, so I needed to buy frozen. And I had to visit three different grocery stores just to find the blueberries.

Once I had all of my ingredients, it was almost smooth sailing. The angel food cake is supposed to be cooked in a bundt pan. Don’t have that. Of the recommended options, I only had an 8.5in loaf pan. So I had to make three small cakes. But it turned out nice enough!

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The cookout was really nice, tons of great food and lots of red, white and blue. After the cookout, we wanted to walk downtown to Mother Theresa (the pedestrian boulevard) to see the local 4th of July celebration. I’m not sure if there are any other countries that celebrate America’s Independence like Kosovo. There was a stage set up on the street and the first speaker said so many wonderful things about our country, and what our country has done for Kosovo, and how they were happy to celebrate with us. Kosovo’s president, Atifete Jahjaga, and our Amabassador, Tracy Jacobson, also gave speeches. (The first speaker spoke in English and Albanian. The president spoke in Albanian only, so I didn’t understand. When our Ambassador stood up to speak, I assumed she would speak English. I forgot she speaks at least 5 other languages, including Albanian, so she addressed the crowd in Albanian. She is awesome.) The whole time they were speaking, there were images flashing in the background of American leaders.

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Next, the Iowa National Guard Band performed a few songs, including God Bless America. I was feeling a little bit homesick, but I was also feeling proud. Proud to be an American, proud to be in Kosovo, and incredibly proud of JR and his colleagues (here and around the world) for all of their hard work. (I have a great video of the band performing, but I can’t figure out how to upload it.)

We went back to our place to relax and hopefully see a few fireworks, which we did! Then, because no 4th of July is complete unless I’ve listened to Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless The U.S.A.” at least three times, I started watching various YouTube videos of the song and of course ended up in tears. Since I was already crying, it seemed logical to search for videos of “surprise military homecomings”. Don’t EVER do that, unless you want to ugly cry.

This one ruins me every time. I realize I’m posting the video, but really you should not watch this unless you are alone and you have tissues.

Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday!