Thursday, January 30, 2014

Skiing in Bakuriani

The Saturday before MLK day, we left Gabriel with the nanny and drove to Bakuriani, a ski resort 2.5 hours west of Tbilisi.  Bakuriani is known as the more child-friendly ski area in Georgia, and unlike Gudauri (which is a bit closer), Bakuriani actually had snow.

There are two separate ski areas in Bakuriani - the bunny hill, which features a one-passenger ski lift and a rope tow - and the larger adult area with a gondola and lifts.  We stuck to the bunny hills.  Jeremy and the girls had skis borrowed from friends, and I rented a set from a guy at the bottom of the hill for about $3/hour.

Turns out, we could have brought Gabriel.  They had strollers on skis for rent.

Or perhaps he would have preferred a rocking horse on skis?

So Jeremy and I decided we'd each go up with a girl.  The problem was the lack of two-person lifts.  To go up, we had to use the rope tow - that thing with the disk attached to it, where you sit on the disk. Only we had to sit on the disk, use one hand to hold on to the rope, and the other to hold up a kid.

Yeah, it wasn't pretty.  Natasha and I fell on our first try.  I will say she was a trooper when we finally got going; I had a vise grip on her, around her armpits, and it could not have been comfortable.

When we got to the top of the hill, I realized that perhaps it was unwise not to do at least one test run by myself first.  After all, the last time I went skiing, I was pregnant with Natasha but did not know it yet.  That was awhile ago.

So I positioned myself in snow plow, with Natasha between my legs, but I just could not get going.  Later I figured out that those $3/hour skis were not waxed, or rough-bottomed, or something.  Anyway, Jeremy ended up having to go down with Zoia, then take off his skis and walk back up to get Natasha.  

I skied down to Zoia and got her up, then we actually got going.  The only proof I have is this crummy picture from Jeremy's Blackberry.  Note the armpit stranglehold.  Yeah, I'm not a good enough skier to teach someone else how to ski.

When we got to the bottom of the hill, I asked Z if she wanted to do that again.  She didn't.  Phew.  Neither did I.  We hung out at the (very overpriced) cafe and had tea and juice while J and N did a few more runs.

We bought Natasha an apres-ski cream horn.

Then we found a restaurant and had lunch, including spicy and delicious "Mexican potatoes" and chkmeruli, which is one of my favorite Georgian dishes.

Chkmeruli seems to come slightly differently every place I order it, but it is always made of chicken and always has lots of garlic.  The best varieties, like this one, come swimming in a bowl of delicious and surely fattening sauce.  This one tasted like it had yogurt in it.  I really need to do a post about Georgian food.

On the way home we stopped for some Georgian fruit roll-ups (hanging on a rope at the top of the photo).

The woman tried to sell me some pine cone jam - really, there were tiny pine cones in it.  I should have bought some just to taste it.

And then we drove home.  The crazy wealth juxtapositions in Georgia never cease to amaze me.  We drive through villages like this:

And then stop at rest stops like this (which contains a grocery store and clean bathrooms!):

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Move over, Emeril!

Way back in 2005, on a first date that neither of us thought would actually lead anywhere, Jeremy cooked me dinner.  He lived in a typical apartment in downtown Yerevan; his kitchen was equipped with a two-burner travel stove and a toaster oven. Somehow he managed an impressive dinner of chicken in Roquefort sauce, roasted fingerling potatoes, a cucumber and tomato salad and bread pudding for dessert.  Though I generally only like potatoes with a suitably high fat-to-starch ratio, those fingerlings were good and I ate them all.

Although I wouldn't say we are foodies in the annoying sense of the word, we do enjoy a good meal.  Our favorite date is a tasting menu at a new restaurant, and we are big fans of Top Chef (we even own all the cook books).

So Jeremy was pretty excited to be offered the opportunity to appear on a Georgian cooking show as part of his job.  His task was to present some typically American food to a Georgian audience.  He had to consider local tastes, and the availability of ingredients.  After polling both American and Georgian friends, he settled on a menu of pork chops with fried apples and twice-baked potatoes.

The segment aired on New Year's Day on Georgian TV.  The video is below - it is dubbed in Georgian but if you listen hard you can still hear Jeremy talking.

We're thinking of sending the clip to the Food Network and are taking name suggestions.  "Foreign Service Foodie?"  "The Diplomat's Kitchen?"


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Preschool performance

Natasha's preschool does two large-scale performances each year.  When we were deciding whether/where Natasha would go to preschool, we attended their June "spektakl'" and were floored.  This is serious business.  They perform on a stage at a nearby university, with rented costumes and the help of a professional choreographer.  Natasha was enthralled, and asked repeatedly to go to "performance school."

This year's first spektakl' took place last Sunday.  We knew from last year that we would need to get there early to claim seats in the 150-person theater.  

It was a good thing, because there were at least 30 people in standing room only, by the time the show began.

I can't tell you exactly what the show was about, since about 75 percent of it was in Georgian.  But as near as I could figure from the Russian dialogue and visual clues, there was a vignette involving a spoiled princess and her exasperated tutor (so hilarious, this kid).

There was also an adorable hip hop dance featuring boys in ethnic costumes, some of whom breakdanced.

At 4 years old, Natasha is one of the younger ones at the school, which enrolls students as old as 6. She didn't have any speaking parts this time (though the director assures me she will in the summer - maybe I gave off a "stage mom" vibe), but she did have a non-speaking role as the circus ringmaster.

She was also a snowflake (in the back in this photo).

And she was a butterfly in the spring dance.

It was lucky that when we dropped her off an hour and half before curtain, I noticed that a lot of the parents had bouquets of flowers.  That thought hadn't even occurred to me, but we hightailed it to a nearby flower shop where I am sure I got entirely ripped off, and bought our daughter some roses.

She would have been VERY disappointed if she had been the only one of her friends not to get flowers, so, phew!

All's well that ends well.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

I'm here - and also over there.

Man, we have been sick. Sick sickity sick.  And just when I thought we weren't sick anymore, Gabriel puked.  Then a few days later, Natasha puked.  And today Zoia was complaining that her tummy hurt.

I am sick of being sick.

Started a new blog, though.  A proper sewing blog so I can get all the sewing stuff that many of you could not care less about, off this blog, and make this blog more about life and traveling.  So if you do care about sewing, you can read about my projects in depth at The Itinerant Seamstress.  Or, you know, not.  Whatever.  I'm breezy.  (Please comment if you got that!)

And if you don't care about sewing, stop back here later this week.  I will have new posts then, promise.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


Christmas morning has changed a little every year, as the kids have gotten older and maybe a little more into gifts.  This year was the first year N really "got" it.

Dead sprint into the living room.
Z was a bit more reserved.  Turns out, she thought Santa would be waiting for her.  She wasn't pleased that he had just dropped some toys and run. (Which is funny, because she refused every opportunity to meet the big guy this year).

I can't believe he didn't stay.
G spent most of the morning crawling around the floor with this (old) brush.

The gift opening continued after church.  Illness prevented me from sewing their dresses this year, so they wore last year's, which still fit (but just barely for Z).

G did get a new outfit.

S Pozhdestvom Christovym!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Chichilaki - the Georgian Christmas tree

Christos Rozhdayetsya!

While the traditional evergreen Christmas tree (or New Year's tree, as is more commonly practiced in this part of the world) is still popular here, Georgians have their own unique Christmas tree tradition - the chichilaki.  Chichilakis are pruned hazelnut brances that are shaved so that thin pieces of wood hang down in a cascade of spirals that is said to represent the beard of St. Basil the Great:

Because of the link to the saint, chichilakis were banned during the Soviet period.

They are typically decorated with berries, according to my reading, and the ones I have seen range from eight inches high to taller than me:


They are meant to be burned on the day before the Epiphany (because Christmas is 12 days long, people!).  We plan to try to save ours to display it again in the future.  Think packing peanuts will work?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Holiday happenings

After months and months of sticking around the house on the weekends due to massive and cumulative sleep deprivation (Gabriel will be a year old in just six weeks ... at some point he has to figure out how to sleep through the night, right?), well, we finally decided that enough was enough and we needed to get out.

So on New Year's night we drove downtown to see the lights ... of which I somehow neglected to get any good photos.  But we did capture the girls' first cotton candy experience.  It was great until they dropped it.  Ah well, never too young to learn to hold on tight, right?

Then on Thursday we headed up to Gudauri, the ski resort about two hours north of Tbilisi.  There wasn't enough snow on the bunny slope to teach the kids to ski, but we did a little sledding and then rode the gondola up where there was more snow and a few skiers - and a killer view of thick cloud cover floating slightly below the peaks.  Natasha worked on her snow-angel technique.

Yesterday we went to a New Year's kids' performance of Zolushka (Cinderella) at a theater downtown.  The girls were enraptured.  We will try to hit some more performances like this before we leave town.  They are just at the age to start enjoying them.

Then today we made a gingerbread house.  I had actually baked the pieces a couple weeks ago, but today we assembled it.  It is not structurally sound and I fully expect that it will have collapsed by tomorrow morning, but the girls had fun.