Christmas in Cairo, Part Deux

Happy New Year! We had a really busy two weeks full of food, presents and family time. My mom arrived on the 21st and definitely made the most of her visit.

She brought some holiday cheer in the form of Christmas light necklaces, headbands, and one bag completely full of presents, crafts, and my Grandma’s famous peanut butter fudge.

She made crafts and tons of cookies with the kids.

       

We tried our best to get a decent photo of all three kids… It is what it is.

We marveled at the Christmas morning gift-opening aftermath and wondered where we would put ALL THAT STUFF. The size of our apartment already has us limiting the amount of toys that are out at one time and I had a toy-rotation even before the holidays began. So that continues to be challenge.

We took my mom around to the sites, visited a few pyramids, and Abby posed with another camel.

We played a lot of Guess Who?, which brought back some great childhood memories for me. Abby also received the game Outfoxed from her Aunt and Uncle in Kansas City, and it’s a really fun game for kids. Highly recommend.

Took my mom on a felucca ride on the Nile. The kids loved the ride but William was sad he didn’t see any crocodiles.

Didn’t want to let a whole holiday season pass with no snow, so we visited Ski Egypt, an indoor snowpark/skiing/tubing place at the Mall of Egypt.

Skiing in the desert. Go figure.

My mom constantly put JR and I to shame and gets an A plus for effort at all times. She even brought out some science experiments, including constructing and painting a volcano that they  “erupted“ outside the apartment.

JR and my mom took them to the Children’s Museum in Heliopolis. They learned about tombs, mummies (maybe a little too much detail on the mummies) and digging for artifacts.

We were really impressed with the ease in which my Mom became accustomed to Cairo. She downloaded Uber and WhatsApp and had no trouble making her way around our neighborhood. Which is amazing considering it took us months to feel at home.  She had several massages since she was, technically, on vacation.  She took Abby to the hair salon for blow outs, manicures, and they even went back a second time with William and both kids got haircuts. All in all, a pretty impressive showing by mom.

It really was so wonderful having her here and we can’t wait to see her again!

My first Mother’s Day

No big deal, but last week JR and I welcomed a beautiful baby girl into the world.  Abigail Grace was born on May 3, weighing a whopping 7lbs, 3oz.  She’s healthy and happy, and we’re having a great time figuring out this parenting business.

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Last year on this day, JR and I had just packed out of our apartment and we were living in a hotel in DC, about to move to Kosovo.  I talked him into having brunch at our hotel that morning.  More than once, he asked me how much the brunch would be and I said I wasn’t sure of the price, but probably around $40.  They were offering bottomless mimosas and I couldn’t resist.  We were having a fantastic meal and taking them up on that mimosa deal.  Justin remarked “you know, this will probably be the last Mother’s Day that you aren’t a mom.”  Tears welled up in my eyes and I told him that was a really sweet thought.   It was a perfect meal and we were having a great time…until the bill came.  It was $79 BEFORE tip and JR’s reaction looked like this:

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Oops.

Anyway, fast forward one year and here we are!  I woke up this morning to some sweet baby snuggles, a card from JR that made me cry (but what doesn’t these days?), and then went out to lunch with the other moms in my family.  It still feels a bit strange to refer to myself as a mom, but we are having a lot of fun together so far.  Well, I’m having fun and I’m choosing to believe she thinks I’m great!

Happy Mother’s Day to my mom, my mother in law, my grandmothers, aunts and dear friends and moms-to-be!

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(Note – the car seat picture was taken before the nurse came in to show us how to properly tighten the straps.  She just looks so cute and tiny in there!)

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Valentine’s Day in Bulgaria

We did Valentine’s Day a little bit differently this year.  We traveled to Bansko, Bulgaria, a popular ski resort town, for a weekend of fun with a group of friends.

Traditionally, JR and I make lasagna (truth, he normally makes it) and we watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  The first time we celebrated Valentine’s Day, we’d been together for about 4 months.  JR was not so much into making things official, so no girlfriend title had been bestowed upon me.   When he talked to his family about me, he was very casual and didn’t provide many details.  In fact, one of the only things he shared with them was that my favorite movie was Crossroads (not entirely true, but I do love that movie) and I’d never seen Lord of the Rings, so he didn’t see us staying together for very long (muahahha, little did he know!)

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Anyway, back to present day.   We got up Friday morning and picked up our friend Katie to make the drive to Bulgaria.  JR and I are always excited to add a new country to our list.  We only had a few problems with directions, and we only made two stops (this was a real feat considering Katie and I are both pregnant).

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The drive there took about 6 hours.  We had lunch and then napped before meeting up with everyone else for dinner and drinks.  The next day, JR treated me to some quality time at the spa – I had a relaxing massage and facial.   We rode the gondola up to the top of the mountain to check out the view, which was beautiful. Even though we were at a ski resort, neither of us skied. Obviously, I couldn’t, and I’m not sure if JR chose to sit out in solidarity, or because these mountains looked a bit different than any ski resorts in Ohio.

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Gondola ride up. Only the top of the mountain and the ski slopes had snow.
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I had no idea paraskiing was a thing – looked terrifying!
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Saturday night we had a big group dinner, complete with a birthday surprise for Katia!
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We drove back on Sunday and didn’t get lost once. It was a really fun weekend and very cool to visit a new place.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays!

Yesterday we celebrated our first Christmas in Kosovo, and our first Christmas morning together – ever!  Christmas has always been an important holiday for both of us, and in the past, we weren’t quite willing to give up our own family traditions in order to spend it together.

We were released early from work on Tuesday, so JR and I went home to relax for a bit before starting dinner.  I talked him into buying a ham from the commissary (best 19 Euros we’ve spent in a while) and we had mashed potatoes and corn to go with it.  I wanted to make the table look nice so I used our place mats and cloth napkins that we received for our wedding.  Those things never come out of the drawer.  And for good reason – I almost cried when JR actually USED his napkin.  Hello, it’s for decoration only.

JR went a little crazy on presents this year.  Historically, he’s a better gift giver than I am.  I take some responsibility for this but I’m also very easy to shop for, and he’s not.   He went a little overboard this year shopping the markets in Bangkok, so I had maybe 30 presents under the tree (not just from him, though).  He had maybe 6 presents.  Not exactly even-Steven.   To make matters worse, I was not really excited about any of the gifts I had purchased for him.  Case in point, we each opened one gift on Christmas Eve .  He gave me a beautiful scarf from Bangkok.  I gave him a luggage scale.   He smiled and pretended he was pleased with the gift, but upon further discussion, we both burst out laughing because really, I mean who wants a luggage scale for Christmas?  Holy not exciting, Batman.  Luckily he’s a good sport. Also, I did finally come up with a great gift idea for him, it just didn’t occur to me until December 24th.  So he’s going to get a random gift in January that will hopefully make up for my Christmas (and recent birthday) short-comings.

We both received some great gifts from our family and friends, including lots of fun stuff for the baby.  In my early bid for 2014 Mother of the Year, I have yet to purchase a single thing for said baby.  I suppose I should start doing that soon.

We were invited to Amy’s house for a fantastic Christmas dinner with some of our other friends.  We are so thankful to have met such wonderful people here – it really makes it easier to be away from home for the holidays.

Our lovely hosts!
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Tomorrow we’re off on one more exciting adventure to wrap up a really great year!

Catching up

I had a wonderful visit with family and friends in Ohio for almost 2 and 1/2 weeks.  Unfortunately, I didn’t take many pictures – the only ones I took were of the delicious food I enjoyed! I joked with my mom that I spent most of my visit napping and eating. It’s not really a joke, because that’s basically what happened.

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Before I left for Ohio, we celebrated our first Thanksgiving abroad with some of our good friends. We had turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, pumpkin pie, and so much more. We were even able to watch the Macy’s Day parade and some football so it actually felt pretty similar to being at home!

The next day, I woke up early to catch my flight(s) home. As soon as I landed in Newark, I could smell the McDonalds. You don’t realize how much you miss it until you can smell it, and my nose led me to a large order of fries and a fountain Diet Coke with no ice. Pure bliss! Plus, I was able to use my debit card for the first time in months, which felt super exciting. That same debit card would later get me into trouble at Target, Old Navy, Sephora, and various other places. What, it’s Christmas!

Thanks to my Mom, I was scheduled for a doctor’s appointment while I was home so I could meet my OB (selected by my Mom, of course) and have another ultrasound. Everything went well, and my mom and sister were able to see the baby and we took pictures and video for JR. They showed us some images in 3D which frankly alarmed me, but I was assured the baby will look better in person.

Lest you think that JR spent that two weeks pining away for me in Kosovo, he was actually in Bangkok for work. I like to think he was still pining a bit. I’m trying to convince him to do a guest blog and write about this trip, but considering how motivated I’ve been to blog myself, this is looking less and less likely. To summarize, he stayed safe during the protests and he enjoyed all of the markets and local vendors.  His suitcase was 22lbs overweight on his return flight because of all the presents he brought back!

Now that we’re both back home (home is such a funny word to me right now, because I feel like I have a few homes!), we are back to work and getting ready for Christmas. JR excels at wrapping presents and traditionally wraps his own once I put them in a box, so he’s been hard at work on that. Our CLO office and friends here have planned several fun holiday events. So far we’ve had cookie exchanges, a silent auction, a door decorating contest, and an Ugly Christmas Sweater competition on Friday. Also, one of our friends is having a Winter Solstice party tonight, so we’re headed over there shortly.

I can’t believe Christmas is next week!   I mentioned we have a lot of presents, right?

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I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes

Yeah, I know. It’s not even Thanksgiving yet, but we put up our Christmas tree and decorations last night. In our defense, we both have a lot of travel coming up after Thanksgiving and we realized that we wouldn’t be able to put up Christmas decorations until mid-December. JR was ready to get started and I asked him to hold off until I could make a Christmas playlist on Spotify. He didn’t want to wait, but when I threatened to sing my favorite songs instead, he quickly agreed to wait.

So this is our Christmas tree. We’ve had it for years but we weren’t able to put it up last year since it was in storage while we lived in our itty-bitty apartment near D.C. Our little Christmas tree seems rather small this year so next year we might have to invest in a larger tree.

tree

We normally don’t dress up our cat but we make an exception around Christmas. As you can see, she really enjoys it too.

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JR handles all the gift wrapping – not just for Christmas, but all occasions. He even does his own gifts sometimes because I’m that bad at it and he says I “do it wrong.” Admittedly, I have trouble cutting a straight line, I don’t know how to fold the corners and I seem to lose every battle with the tape. I know it’s not that complicated but I can’t seem to grasp how to wrap gifts well. Luckily, JR does a great job and he actually enjoys wrapping gifts around the holidays. Now we just need our gifts to come in the mail from Amazon. We’ve been buying gifts online increasingly over the years, but now that we live overseas we really are at the mercy of the mailing system so here’s hoping Amazon runs a tight ship this holiday season!

After we finished decorating we watched the movie Love Actually. Ohhh do we call her chubby? I hate Uncle Jamie! There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus? So many great quotes, I could go on and on. But first, we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving, and then it can be all Christmas, ALL THE TIME.

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Halloween Fun

As I’ve surely mentioned at least 100 times, Halloween is JR’s favorite holiday. In addition to his tight pumpkin-carving schedule, he was also busy this past week with several events at work, including the kid’s trick-or-treat, the huge kid’s party, and the adult party on Friday.

JR and I have carved pumpkins together almost every year since we started dating. I typically do the standard triangle eyes and toothy grin, but JR has always liked a challenge. In the last few years, he’s really stepped up his game and he’s crazy good at carving pumpkins. Not only does he carve them well, but he enjoys carving several each year. This leaves me with pumpkin guts and seeds all over the house, but it’s his thing. Here are a few he did this year:

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scary pumpkin

On Wednesday, the little kids visited the Embassy and went to each office to Trick or Treat. They were adorable in their costumes! One of our friends had a spare Scooby Doo costume hanging in her office, and I convinced JR to put it on “for the kids.” It was hilarious, but he would not allow any photos!

Thursday night, the CLO hosted a huge Halloween party for what seemed like hundreds of kids! All of the American families, the locally employed staff and their children, and a group from a local orphanage were invited for a night of fun. I walked over to help with some set up, and I was so impressed by how much stuff they had, and how cool it all looked. There were games (I was in charge of the Witches’ Hat Ring Toss), face painting, a haunted house (which was so well done), food, and so much candy. JR had a werewolf costume and spent the whole party in a cage in the Haunted House. Some kids were pretty scared, others wanted photos with him! Everyone seemed to have a great time, and we are lucky to have a such great people working in our CLO office to organize and run these events!

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This was my job during the party.

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I told you they did a great job with decorating. I couldn’t capture the haunted house very well, but it was very cool.

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My favorite werewolf! He was going for “An American Werewolf in Kosovo/Diplomat Werewolf.”

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One of the volunteers just so happened to have a full suit of armor!

Finally, Friday night was the adult party. I wore the costume my mom made for me (because she’s fantastic) and JR went as Cousin Eddie. One of our other friends was very excited to wear the Scooby Doo costume. The Count and Countess won the costume contest! JR plans to step up his game next year and take the title.

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Creepy Clown photobomb!

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Hello, October

At first I thought September was kind of dragging along, and then all of sudden it’s October. Funny how that works.

Over the weekend, Stacey and her husband hosted a cookout for the whole Embassy community, and it was great. They had a ridiculous amount of meat – pork and beef bbq ribs, hamburgers and chicken – and everyone else brought a side dish. Because they are from New Orleans, JR wanted to make his special jambalaya. It worked out great for me because I didn’t need to cook, and everyone at the party loved it. Success!

Apparently people from New Orleans take their grilling quite seriously – look at that thing. This was the second round of meat, I was probably busy eating and didn’t get a picture the first time, but the whole grill was full.

cookout

There was also a surprise guest there – this ADORABLE little puppy. One of JR’s co-workers found the puppy wandering around outside the Turkish Embassy, and took him home hoping to find a permanent home for him. When JR first told me about the puppy, we had a lengthy discussion about whether we should get a dog right now (spoiler alert, this does not end with us getting the puppy!). We agreed it wasn’t great timing, but that was before I actually saw this adorable creature, and when I did, I wanted to take back everything I’d said and take him straight home. Logic prevailed, and our friend Amy, who’s been looking for a puppy, adopted him! Isn’t he the cutest thing?

puppy

Now that it’s October, Halloween planning is in full swing. It’s JR’s favorite holiday, and he’s coordinating all the volunteers for the children’s party hosted at the Embassy. At last year’s party, they went through 150lbs of candy in an hour! So our CLO office has been asking for candy donations. JR forwarded the e-mail along to our families, and they have been AMAZING and have sent so much candy for the kids. (I swear, it’s for the kids. JR won’t even keep it in the house because he’s deemed me somewhat untrustworthy around candy). Here’s a picture of just one package we got.

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Our families have been awesome about sending care packages. Most food items are available here in some capacity, but it’s still really nice to have my mom send me a random package with jello, frosting, muffin mixes, and mints! Now if we could just figure out a way for her to send me an East of Chicago pizza, I’d be set!

In case you were curious, it’s October and I’m still not working. I’m really close, but the government shutdown is not helping my situation. At this time, JR is going to work per usual, and we are very much hoping that his paychecks are not delayed. No one really knows what to expect or how long this will last. I am disappointed that it came to this, and I really feel for our friends who were sent home from work yesterday, and don’t know when they can return. My proposal is that we kick everyone out of the House and Senate and start fresh with new people. Except Sherrod Brown, because he’s basically perfect.

So stay tuned to see if I ever actually work again!

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!