Adventures in flying with two kids

Note: ¬†Yes, another traveling with children blog. Unfortunately, coping with travel is a large part of the Foreign Service, and writing about it is cheaper than therapy. So sorry, but not so sorry for more in-depth analysis of airline seating assignments. ūüôā

I can sum up our recent travels with these two pictures. Abby full of sass at the airport, and William succumbing to jet lag back in Tbilisi.

Our home leave departure from Tbilisi was pretty uneventful. We waited in a crazy long line at the airport and didn’t even have time for a restroom break before boarding our first flight to Amsterdam.

We had a 4+ hour layover there so we found a place for lunch and then made our way to this really fantastic play area. It had a huge plane complete with a cockpit that made noise. It was semi-enclosed so you could sit at one end of it and feel confident your kid couldn’t go anywhere. Abby enjoyed herself and I found a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream sandwich for myself. #winning

 

The flight from Amsterdam to Detroit was very long. We had the middle section with 4 seats together, so JR and I were each on the aisle with the kids in between us. It was a bit annoying when we wanted to switch our seats because we had to walk past several rows to the restrooms to cross over to the other side. I really can’t remember much about this flight except being annoyed that I accepted the meal because I didn’t eat any of it (airline food and I don’t see eye to eye) and then the food and tray table were in my way for a solid 30 minutes before they came around to clear them up.

JR’s flight was much better than the rest as there was a new beverage option on the KLM flight, Sweet Water 420. This was one of JR’s favorite beers years ago living in Tennessee so he was overly excited that he could drink good beer – FREE good beer – on the 9 hour flight.

We landed in Detroit and starting imagining the possibilities of where we might eat during our 4 hour layover. Before we could find a restaurant though, we had to deal with a very long wait for our stroller. Instead of being available right when we exited the plane, our stroller (and the stroller of a mom traveling solo who was furious and I felt terrible for her) was whisked off to some unknown part of the airport. We had to make our way through customs, passport control and baggage claim and we continued waiting for another 15-20 minutes until someone located the strollers. Finally, time to eat!

To our excitement, the airport offered a Longhorn, Chick Fil A and Max and Erma’s. Decisions decisions! We opted for Max and Erma’s and walked a very long way to find it. But it wasn’t there, because we went in the wrong direction. We were hungry at this point so we went to Gordon Biersch instead. This was an expensive mistake. They didn’t have the drink or sandwich I wanted and the food was subpar, but the meal still cost us an arm and a leg. Welcome to America! Thankfully, William was a doll and Abby slept through the entire layover.

 
Sometimes you feed your kid on the floor of an airport.

We boarded our last flight to Cleveland and it was so gloriously short I can’t even complain that William was pretty fussy for it. My mom and sister were waiting for us in Cleveland and we were all happy to be “home.”

Our six weeks of home leave flew by, and then it was time to fly back to Tbilisi. We started off with another quick flight from Cleveland to Detroit, and this time in Detroit we had learned our lesson and located the Max and Erma’s. The airport map showed there was a kid’s play place nearby – perfect! Abby was not impressed with Detroit’s version of a kid’s play area. They did have a tram that ran the length of the terminal and we enjoyed riding that back and forth for a while before it was time to board.

We had my preferred seating arrangement for this flight (the plane was set up as a 2-4-2) so each kid had a window seat and we took turns in the aisle seats beside them. This flight didn’t start out so well. My TV screen didn’t work – first time that has ever happened to me! I didn’t think it was a huge deal because I rarely get to watch something, but the screen wouldn’t go black which was really annoying when I tried to sleep. We switched seats while JR tried to sleep and during that time I actually watched 1.5 movies! I saw all of Deepwater Horizon (really good!) and more than half of the new Beauty and the Beast (so good, hope I can finish it someday!).

Also, JR happily ordered a Sweet Water 420 again that promptly exploded when he opened it since it was partly frozen. Not a great situation on a plane. He was not amused.

I really wanted Abby to sleep for most of the flight and she was fighting it hard. She threw an all out temper tantrum that in reality probably lasted just a few minutes but in that moment, with the plane dark and the majority of the people around us sleeping, it took hours off my life. I struggled with how to make her calm down and be quiet. In a moment of total frustration, I leaned down close to her and in my meanest Mom voice said “If you do not stop right now I will take you to the bathroom.”

There was no point to my threat. Why was I going to take her to the bathroom? It’s small and doesn’t smell great. I don’t want to hang out in there. I realized how silly I sounded so I leaned back in my seat and closed my eyes for a few moments to calm down and think of another solution. She saw my moment of weakness and pounced. She tapped my arm and tearfully asked “But, do you still love me?”. Straight to the heart, that one. I teared up, starting hugging and kissing her and assuring her I loved her no matter what and the whole thing was MY fault anyway. I then gave her more snacks and another show before trying the sleep thing again.

We had a 4 hour layover in Amsterdam and it was not pleasant. We’d been traveling for a long time already, with very little sleep, and our clocks thought it was about 1am. William slept pretty much the whole time and didn’t even wake up when I took him out of his stroller so we could board our last flight. And the last one was brutal because to be honest, Georgian Airways does not have wonderful service and it was 5 hours long and everyone was over it. But we made it, all of our bags made it, and after a short week and a half of dealing with jet lag we are all finally back to normal.

My tips:

  • Pack a few spare plastic bags to use as trash bags so you don’t have trash poking out of every seat back, and you don’t have to wait for the flight attendants to come around and collect it.
  • We’re still very happy with our 1st Class Kids Pillow. JR figured out how to use the overhead air to inflate it most of the way and then we place it in front of Abby’s seat for the long haul flights.
  • Less is more. I still cram Abby’s backpack full of activities and toys, but she rarely pulls out more than her blanket, baby doll, and headphones. The ipad is where it’s at for travel days. JR and I also each have a full backpack, plus William’s car seat, the carrier (love the Beco Gemini), and our double stroller that we gate check.
  • I wish I would have splurged on the Ready to Feed formula bottles. All of William’s bottles take up so much space, and then when we’re done we just put the dirty ones in the backpack again. With the RTF bottles, you can throw them away when you’re done. The catch is, the box of RTF bottles they sell at the store only comes with 1 nipple for 8 bottles (dumb). So you have to order extra nipples on Amazon in advance and I didn’t think far enough ahead on that one.
  • If you find yourself excited that your flight offers Sweet Water 420 beer, and the one you open is half frozen so it explodes all over you and your tray table, you can use a baby’s burp cloth to clean up the mess. And then put the smelly wet burp cloth in one of the aforementioned plastic bags for the duration of your travel.
  • Not all family restrooms are created equal. Amsterdam has these amazing family restrooms with a futuristic automated sliding door, a changing pad, seating area and sink, along with a toilet and sink that is kid-sized (there’s a regular size one in there as well). Meanwhile the Detroit “Family” restroom is just a larger-than-average bathroom that didn’t even have a changing table. Not helpful.
  • Don’t do it. I’m mostly kidding, but travel with two kids is hard! Prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and remind yourself it has to end eventually.

See you in Scotland!

That’s how we ended our last video chat session with my Mom before we both made our way to Scotland from Ohio and Georgia, respectively. Deciding on our second R&R plans was not an easy task. We’ve barely settled back into life here after our med-evac to Ohio, and we now have a 4-month old and a toddler. Not the most ideal time to take a vacation, but we charged ahead. Visiting Scotland was a bucket list trip for JR and I, particularly a road trip to see as much of the country as possible. We’re not out to win any parenting medals so we quickly realized the only way we could have the trip we wanted and¬†enjoy ourselves would be to bring someone else along – enter my wonderful mother!

We were able to spend 9 fun and busy days in Scotland last week all together and it really felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Possibly because I’d never again want to take a Scottish road trip with my two young children. It was challenging and often exhausting, but also full of laughter and great memories.

Edinburgh

We met my mom at the Edinburgh Airport Saturday morning. Abby was calling out “Nana, Nana” as I pushed the stroller through the airport. William, life of the party as always, was passed out. The kids did really, really well on both flights. Because we were flying Turkish and we connected in Istanbul, we were subject to the new electronics ban which prohibits any electronics larger than a smart phone in your carry-on bag. Our default entertainment plan while flying is to let Abby have free reign of the iPad or Kindle Fire, so we were less than thrilled to learn of the new policy. It all worked out fine, first because we loaded up our iPhones with some of her favorite shows and also because Turkish is quite kid-friendly and helpful, and they had in-flight entertainment available on both segments of our trip.


Snuggling on the plane

After a few hugs and hellos, we made our way to our driver and vehicle. We hired Sun Transfers and we had no complaints about the service we received picking us up (our return trip was another story). Although we were initially told our AirBnB would not be available for early check-in, the cleaning service advised us they were nearly finished with the apartment. That was great news and allowed us to unload our stuff before walking to¬†Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar for lunch. Everyone was in need of a nap so we made quick work of the food and then returned to our apartment. The location was fantastic, just a few blocks south of the Royal Mile, which was our first stop after naps.

 

We were in Scotland, so we expected a lot of rain, but we really lucked out, especially that first day. It was sunny and beautiful. ¬†We walked along the Royal Mile, visiting shops, watching street performers, listening to bagpipe players, and of course JR stopped for his first pint in Scotland. It started to get a bit late and we needed dinner, so we made our way back towards our apartment with plans to find either a quick place to eat or carry out. There was a Pizza Express nearby and it looked very family/kid friendly, so we decided to eat in. Probably a mistake. William woke up from his nap and was just not having all the noise, they brought Abby a huge glass of milk that she promptly spilled everywhere, and it took forever for them to take our order. It was also pretty expensive for a meal that I’d call just decent, but pizza and pasta are about the only two things Abby is sure to eat for dinner right now so it worked for us.

 

We spent the next morning at the Edinburgh Castle. We took a wrong turn as we walked towards it and wound up having to climb what felt like hundreds of steps, but the views were worth it.

 

  

William was asleep in his carrier and my mom went off chasing after Abby while JR and I did the free guided tour. The tour just walks around the outside of the main buildings and only lasted about 45 minutes, but it was informative. JR wanted to visit longer, so my mom and I took the kids to the Princes Street Garden to find a playground. The walk there was so nice, although the hill was a bit steep, but it weaved back and forth through these bright yellow flowers. The park and playground were the perfect end to our morning.

 

In the afternoon we visited the National Museum of Scotland. It was fantastic for kids – so much to see and do, Abby really loved it.

We went to the Whiski Rooms for dinner, and while they did a double take when we tried to enter with our huge double stroller, we found section in the back that could fit all of us and our stuff, and we enjoyed possibly my favorite meal of the trip! My fish and chips was delicious and JR sampled haggis for the first (and last) time. Let me save you the Googling: Haggis is¬†a savoury pudding containing sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock and cooked in a sheep’s stomach. All together now: Yum!

To be continued.

Family, friends and Dairy Queen

I’m always a few¬†weeks¬†tad behind, but here are some highlights from our R&R in Ohio:

  • ¬†Being around friends and family reminds of just how much I miss them. Life is great in Georgia, but I had so much fun while we were home.
  • The radio. You don’t realize how much you miss it! ¬†There were so many great songs on the radio, but most importantly, I’m a full-blown Belieber now. ¬†If you aren’t listening to Justin’s Bieber’s “Love Yourself” you are missing out. ¬†I also love this cheesy “Stand By You” song by Rachel Platten. I was driving alone singing that song and having an emotional moment and thinking how much I loved JR and I would totally stand by him, and as the song says “I’d walk through hell for you.” ¬†But then I thought to myself…eek. ¬†Hell would be so hot. ¬†My feet would burn so quickly! ¬†So maybe not quite that much?

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  • JR had a week long training in DC, and on his way to Ohio he stopped in Gettysburg, PA for the night and toured the battlefield next morning. There’s a great tour guide program that allows you to pay a very reasonable fee for a private, certified guide who you pick up and they’ll actually drive your car for you as they show you the sights. ¬†He said it was one of the best historical tours he’s ever been on and highly recommends it. ¬†http://gettysburgtourguides.org/guided-tour-rates/
  • My grandparents wanted to take all nine – yes, NINE – of their great-grandchildren to Build-a-Bear for Easter. ¬†I do not totally understand the pull of BAB, but kids love it and it’s insanely expensive so hooray to the company owners. ¬†A $35 limit per kid was set, but of course my Mom was¬†all “well, if Abby needs something additional I’ll just pay for it.” ¬†Mmhmm. ¬†She’s 2, I don’t think she actually needs anything. ¬†Abby picked out a cute cat that we like to think reminded her of Annabelle and enjoyed the stuffing process. ¬†Then it was time to shop for accessories. ¬†My Mom would not hear it when I insisted the cat did not need an outfit because she’s a cat. ¬†Next thing I know, I’m buying TWO pairs of sparkly flats for the cat. ¬†Two, because she has 4 paws of course! ¬†Okay, but it was all worth it when Abby put on these fake glasses and danced around the store.¬†
  • We had our first ER visit. ¬†The day before we left, Abby had a cough in the morning that sounded¬†much worse when she woke up from her nap. ¬†My mom thought it sounded like croup, and we didn’t want to take any chances before traveling so we made our way to the nearest Urgent Care. ¬†Which was closed. ¬†At 4pm on a Saturday. What is the point of an urgent care?? ¬†That left the ER as our only option for her to be seen that day, and ultimately I’m glad we went. ¬†The doctor agreed that it was probably viral croup and gave her a dose of steroids before sending us home. ¬†She seemed totally fine the next day, thank goodness!

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  • American roads and highways. ¬†After driving in Tbilisi for several months (think Mad Max Fury Road meets Mario Kart)¬†we were amazed with the driving. Nobody driving the wrong-way on the highway, everyone in their lanes, stopping at lights, even blinkers for goodness sake! ¬†At our¬†first 4-way stop in Ohio, another driver politely waved us on and JR said “Can you believe how nice that man was? This is amazing!”
  • Many people we meet¬†think we live in the state of Georgia. ¬†Even though I always try to say “we live and work overseas in Tbilisi, Georgia” hoping the “overseas” part will tip them off, we still confuse people. ¬†A nurse at the doctor’s office asked if I was local and when I said “No, I actually live overseas in Tbilisi, Georgia, near Russia” she said “Oh, so you drove up here then?” ¬†Well, not exactly. ¬†JR had a similar encounter where he told someone we live overseas in Georgia and she replied,”Goodness, I bet the South is having better weather than we are right now.” It’s understandable that strangers are confused, some of our own family and friends still think we live in Russia. ¬†To be helpful, see the map below. ¬†Georgia borders Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey and the Black Sea.

map

  • The Price is Right. ¬†Enough said.
  • We have some really nice grocery store options here, but there is still something that blows my mind when I see the cereal or bread aisle at Buehler’s. ¬†So. Many. Options. ¬†Also, every single fruit or vegetable is practically without blemish. It’s overwhelming and amazing.
  • My sister came home the first weekend we were in town to see us and take care of some wedding planning. ¬†I was super excited for cupcake tasting with her, and I also went to her florist appointment. ¬†The wedding stuff made me nostalgic for my own big day, so I made my whole family watch our wedding DVD – the ceremony and the highlight reel – just to get everyone in the spirit!
  • At one point JR was looking at our credit card statement and said “How many times have you been to Dairy Queen?” ¬†I told him to stop judging.lay-off-me-im-starving-gif
  • I was on the hunt for a pair of sandals for our nanny’s son. ¬†One night JR said, hey we have some down time, why don’t we run to Target and you can get the sandals and I can pick up some beer. Note that this was my first trip to Target in about 9 months. ¬†$204 later, we walked out of the store with a six-pack, no sandals, and a whole bunch of other stuff that I really, really needed.

That sums up our R&R –¬†¬† family, friends, Dairy Queen, explaining where Georgia is located, and overspending. ¬†It’s a long haul to return home but we’re grateful for the opportunity to do it.

We’re Back!

We made it back to Tbilisi last week and our return travel was light years better for everyone involved.  There were some struggles but overall, it was a much, much better experience.  Looks like my sister can still have her wedding in October!

There were many advantages to the return journey.  For one thing, we flew out of Cleveland at 6:15 p.m., as opposed to our Tbilisi departure which was originally scheduled for 5 a.m.  JR and I were able to sleep in and take our time closing up the suitcases, and then we enjoyed a nice Easter lunch with my family.  Abby even had a nap before we left for the airport.  We all started out in better moods, and much more rested.

The better moods were quickly changed when we checked in at the American Airlines counter for our first flight to Chicago. ¬†The attendant told us our bags could not be checked all the way to Tbilisi, so we’d have to pick them up at baggage claim in Chicago and RE-CHECK them before boarding our flight to Istanbul. ¬†This meant that instead of just going to our next gate in Chicago,¬†we would have¬†go to baggage claim and wait for our bags, then make our way to¬†the Turkish counter, recheck our bags, go through security again, and then find our next gate. ¬†JR repeatedly asked them why we had to do this but they just said that since American Airlines didn’t have an “agreement” with Turkish Airlines, we would have to get our luggage¬†to Turkish ourselves. ¬†JR didn’t think there’d be enough time in Chicago to do all this but we figured we’d deal with the problem as best we could when we landed. ¬†And deal with it we did.

As soon as we landed in Chicago, we hustled¬†to baggage claim. ¬†JR paid for two luggage carts, and even then it was difficult for us to maneuver because I was pushing Abby in her stroller while JR had to push¬†one cart with each hand. ¬†The first thing we had to do was find a spot to open Every.Single.Bag and rearrange our items because the weight limit for American Airlines, which we had planned for, is 50 lbs, while Turkish Airlines only allows 44 lbs per bag. ¬†Thankfully we had enough extra space in our last two bags that we didn’t have to throw away anything (I was really fearing for my 5 packages of bacon and 4 pounds of frozen cheese at this point, but they made the cut!).

Next we had to transport ourselves and said luggage from Terminal 2 to Terminal 5. ¬†Easy peasy – we’ll take the tram! ¬†Oh wait, you aren’t allowed to take a luggage cart on the tram. ¬†After the first employee said it couldn’t be done, the next one said they’d make an exception for us and she also helped push one of the carts. Upon arriving at Terminal 5, we were greeted by a lengthy but not terribly long line at the Turkish counter. ¬†At this point Abby was asking for water, she had finished her sippy cup and we didn’t have any bottled water with us. ¬†There wasn’t a vending machine in sight. ¬†Since we had a 2.5 hour layover, we assumed we’d have time to eat dinner and relax before boarding. ¬†But like most things when traveling, we were wrong.

Once we rechecked our bags, we had about 90 minutes left so we felt pretty good about the situation.  Until we saw the largest security line JR or I have ever seen.

line

I was a tad¬†unhappy. ¬†So much for our leisurely layover, at this point we were concerned we wouldn’t make the flight. ¬†I felt especially bad for Abby. ¬†We use the layovers for her to run around, stretch her legs and burn energy, and she was confined to her stroller almost the entire time. ¬†She was not pleased. ¬†By the time we collected our things from the security checkpoint, we heard the last call for our flight over the loudspeaker. ¬†I told JR to run ahead so they wouldn’t close the doors on us. ¬†We made it, but we were annoyed and frustrated. Running through airports is becoming a family tradition.

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The great news is that the flight itself was pretty great. ¬†We settled in to our seats and Abby started playing with the in-flight entertainment system. ¬†We fed her while we waited for dinner service (huge thanks to my Mom who helped out by packing us peanut butter sandwiches, grapes, apples and cheese – this was way better than all the snack/junk food we packed ourselves). ¬†We’ll always try to remember to bring fresh food with us from now on. Shortly after we ate, we laid her down between us and like magic, she fell asleep.

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She slept off and on this way for several hours (so did we), and then she started getting uncomfortable.  We could tell she needed to stretch out a bit more, so I moved to the window seat and JR took his Kindle and walked around/stood in the galley while Abby and I slept.  It was really  nice, I was able to stretch out some more and she was laying flat across the aisle and middle seats. We probably slept like this for almost 3 hours.  She rolled off onto the floor at one point, but she barely cried and was quickly asleep again. In fact, we woke her up when we had about 45 minutes remaining in the flight.  #MAJORWIN.  The overnight flight made a huge difference.

Our layover in Istanbul was just over 2 hours. ¬†It’s a crowded airport with not enough seating. ¬†Not my favorite. ¬†Our time passed quickly enough and finally we were on our LAST flight home. ¬†We landed in the pouring down rain and freezing cold, but all six bags, although wet, made it and we were safely at home about an hour later.

My general advice on flying with a two year old: ¬†Don’t do it. ¬†Okay that’s probably not fair, everything worked out fine in the end but definitely be prepared for a less than relaxing journey!

 

Never again

Picture this.  It was 11pm on a Wednesday night and JR and I were headed to bed.  We were leaving for our R&R back to the States on a 5:15 a.m. flight, so we had our alarms set for 2:30am, and motorpool scheduled to pick us up 45 minutes later.

JR received this text message: ¬†We’re sorry, your flight from Tbilisi to Munich has been canceled.

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Awesome way to start our R&R.

I called Lufthansa directly while he phoned the Embassy hoping to reach one of the ladies who handles travel arrangements. ¬†While the Lufthansa guy was telling me we needed to wait until Friday to fly out, JR had much more luck with Khatuna from the Embassy’s office. ¬†It took almost an hour and several phone calls, but she was able to reroute us on a flight to Warsaw at 5:50 a.m. and then a connection to Munich that would put us back on our original itinerary. ¬†Huge thanks to the travel office for helping us in the middle of the night. An additional flight was not desirable, but manageable. ¬†The catch? ¬†One of us needed to be at the airport 3 hours prior to our departure to confirm and pick-up our tickets from the Lufthansa counter. Since the entire flight to Munich had been canceled we knew that others were probably trying to catch the Warsaw flight and we did not want to lose our new tickets.

At this point it was midnight. ¬†We had the option of all 3 of us leaving our house at 2am and waiting much longer at the airport, or one of us could drive to the airport right then, pick up the tickets, and drive back home and (hopefully) get a bit more sleep. I drew the short straw, so I cranked up the Taylor Swift and made my way to the airport in search of the Lufthansa counter – which doesn’t exist. Because of course it doesn’t. I talked to security and waited in a back hallway for the “office” to open. ¬†Once the staff did arrive I waited while they had a chit chat and a cup of coffee before they were able to assist. ¬†I was fading fast when they printed the tickets, but I was in a great mood because we had managed to overcome this big hurdle and surely we’d have smooth travels ahead.

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Our flight to Warsaw was uneventful.  The last minute change somehow gave Abby and JR premium class seats, and he very kindly allowed me to sit a few rows back and sleep most of the flight while he dealt with Abby.   We were late leaving so we landed at 7:20 Рthe exact departure time of our next flight.  The airlines sent a representative to meet us and a few other passengers and they rushed us through customs, security and the airport to the waiting plane.  This time we all had premium class seats and once again, we foolishly thought the worst was behind us.  Who would have thought the Polish have the best customer service?

In Munich, we found a small play area for Abby and spent over an hour there letting her burn off some energy.  It was relaxed and we were feeling good. We took our time walking to the gate for our next flight, and on the way we heard our names called over the loudspeaker.  I was confused because we had more than 40 minutes until take off, but we picked up the pace and walked up to the gate agent.  She kindly informed us that JR was not booked on the flight.  Abby and I had tickets, but during all the changes earlier the previous night/that morning, somehow JR was added to a Lufthansa flight leaving several hours later.

I was panicked. ¬†That’s actually an understatement, I was internally freaking out. ¬†For weeks now we’d been operating under the new plan with all of us flying together to DC. ¬†To have this sprung on me moments before we were supposed to board was not okay. As JR calmly explained the mix up to the gate agent, I was going through our carry-on bags and separating our things in case we couldn’t fix it. ¬†After what felt like forever (but was probably only 5-10 minutes) they acted like he would be able to go with us, but the other employees were insisting that Abby and¬†¬†I ¬†board immediately or we would miss the plane.

I pushed Abby as slowly as I could, but before long we were at the end of the jet way and the flight attendants were asking us to board. ¬†I told them I was waiting for my husband. ¬†Again, this wait felt like forever because I truly didn’t know if he was going to be allowed on the plane. ¬† I’m not sure I’ve ever been so relieved to see his face as I was when he finally appeared.

Now came the hard part. ¬†The 9 hour flight with an almost two year old. ¬†We settled in and hoped for the best, and to her credit, she did really well until about the last 2 hours. ¬†But¬†that last two hours was really awful. ¬†We tried every trick we knew¬†to get her to sleep or at least calm down.¬†She was exhausted (at this point she had probably slept for a total of 3-4 hours the whole day, and it was still Tbilisi time for us, so about 10pm and well past her bedtime). ¬†She was screaming and crying and really could not be consoled. ¬†She would snuggle up and close her eyes, but less than a minute later she’d be at it again because she couldn’t get comfortable. She kept saying “night night, night night” and I felt like the worst mother ever, because my poor kid just wanted to be in bed sleeping. ¬†Although I had though it to myself several times, this was the first point where JR and I actually said aloud to each other “never again.” ¬†We are never, ever doing this again. (Note that my sister is getting married in Ohio in October, so never again means we’ll have to find a way to cancel or relocate her wedding).

We finally landed, and bless the kind people who sat around us and told us what a great kid she was and how she did so well on the plane.  Seriously, I was so tired and stressed and just plain sad in that moment that their nice words nearly made me cry.

DC was the final stop for JR, and I started to mentally prepare myself for doing the final leg of our journey solo. ¬†I thought we’d have more time together, but quite quickly after we left the plane we had to head in opposite directions. ¬†We said a quick goodbye and then Abby and I made our way to customs. ¬†I had to take her out of her stroller for her passport picture, which she hated. ¬†Then we waited at baggage claim for our 3 checked bags. ¬†When I had pictured this part of our trip I thought JR would still be with us, but since he wasn’t I had to make do and I gave Abby my iPhone to watch videos while I waited on our bags and loaded them on a luggage cart.

Pushing the luggage cart and stroller simultaneously was no easy feat, but we managed. ¬†We rechecked our bags and made our way through security and then to our gate. We only had about 20 minutes before boarding so we used that time to buy some water and stretch our legs. ¬†The plane was outside on the tarmac and as I took Abby out of her stroller, another passenger offered to help me. ¬†I think he meant help with my bags, but at that moment Abby tried to take off while I collapsed her stroller so I asked him to grab her hand so she didn’t run under the plane. ¬†He held on to her while I put the stroller on the luggage cart and I thanked him profusely. ¬†Meanwhile, JR was in another part of the airport waiting for his luggage that never arrived. ¬†He had work meetings the next day, so as soon as he made it to his hotel he had to run out and buy a shirt, tie and pants.

The flight to Cleveland was only 50 minutes.  50 minutes!  We can do this, I thought.  Then we sat on the plane for an hour waiting for fuel.  Never again, I said to myself for the 100th time that day.

It was snowing and freezing when we touched down in Cleveland, but I didn’t care. ¬†It was great to see my parents waiting for us. ¬†Abby fell asleep in her car seat on the ride home, and barely woke up when we changed her and put her to bed. My mom and brother took the monitor so I could sleep as much as possible, and I actually felt well rested the next morning. ¬†Once I showered and ate breakfast, I settled on the couch and watched Abby light up as she played with my parents. ¬†She kept running to them and hugging them, calling for them anytime they left the room. ¬†All I heard all day was¬†“Nana!! ¬†Papu!!” And pretty quickly I thought, yeah, we’ll do this again.

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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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R&R

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Soon I will be leaving for my first R&R (rest and recuperation) trip back home. Here’s my very basic understanding of how R&R’s work in the Foreign Service.

Your posting determines how many R&Rs you receive during your tour – I think the norm is one R&R per two years. Kosovo is considered a hardship post, and so officers and their EFMs (eligible family members, that’s me!) are entitled to one R&R per year. That means that JR’s work will pay for one airfare ticket for each of us to the designated R&R location – which for Kosovo is London – or to anywhere in the U.S. If you wish to use your R&R ticket to visit some place different, you can do that, but you have to pay the difference in the ticket price.

You can take R&R for as long as you like, obviously subject to your vacation allowance and how much time you can spend away from the office. You do not get any special leave or paid time off while on R&R, so you are using up vacation days when you go. Or in my case, going LWOP (leave without pay, because I haven’t been working long enough to accrue any paid time off). It seems like the standard length of an R&R is two weeks, but again, it’s up to the officer and their family.

There are a few other restrictions to keep in mind, but we have heard that if you have extenuating circumstances, there may be exceptions to these rules. You can’t use an R&R ticket until you’ve been at post for six months, and you can’t use a ticket in the last six months of your tour. You must use one ticket per year. So really, with us arriving in mid-May 2013, we couldn’t use our tickets until now, but we have to use one of our R&R tickets by May 2014.

A nice perk is that we don’t have to use our tickets at the same time. This is especially helpful for JR & I, because we plan to use his first R&R ticket to allow him to fly home when the baby is born. My flight at that time will be covered under the med-evac (I’ll do my best to explain the med-evac later). Basically, this meant that I have an R&R ticket to use or lose, and I’m only going to be here until late March, 2014. I’m also thinking that as I get further along in the pregnancy, international flights will be less comfortable/desirable.
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When we looked at the calendar to decide when it would make the most sense for me to visit home, we considered other factors like JR’s work and travel schedule, the holidays, and whether or not I could visit a local ob/gyn while I was home. For a while it looked like my trip may not happen due to ongoing budget issues and pesky paperwork details, but we got the final approval a few weeks ago!

So while yes, I could technically use my ticket to visit Florida, California or even Hawaii, if you know me, you know where I’m headed – O-H-I-O!!!