Sunday, March 30, 2014

Kid birthday, Georgian-style

Last Thursday, when I picked the girls up from school, one of the teachers handed me an invitation to a classmate's birthday party.  For the next evening.  Starting at 8 p.m.

Yes, 8 p.m.

I had heard of these late-night kid birthday parties before, for they are the stuff of legend around the Embassy.

"Can you believe it?  My kids are in bed at 8 p.m.!"

"My daughter's Georgian classmate doesn't go to bed until midnight."


I did not want to go.  J didn't want to go either.  I think I've mentioned justafewtimes how sick this house has been over the last few months. We are tired, people.  I'd been getting to bed before 9 myself most nights lately. 

But the girls were dying to go and I figured it would be good for them to socialize with their classmates outside of school.  So we went, and they had a blast.

There were princesses.

And Hello Kitty and clowns and dancing.

And bubbles.

And Roman candles - shooting out of the cake, and later out of the dance floor!

We closed the place down (at 10 p.m.). The kids obliged by sleeping in an extra hour until 8:30 the next morning.

I should note that this was not a typical Georgian birthday party - it was a typical wealthy Georgian birthday party.  The mother of the birthday girl (who made her entrance in a fur shrug and ball-gown tutu, though sadly I missed that photo opportunity) was wearing Christian Louboutin platform heels.

This is one of the odd things that Foreign Service kids encounter overseas in developing countries.  Many of the locals who can afford private school tend to be very wealthy.  This means that, as the kids get older, it is likely that they will have classmates who have personal drivers, designer clothing, extravagant allowances, and often a minimum of parental supervision.  I went to school with kids like that in junior high school in Tel Aviv, and my siblings encountered the same in junior and high school in Tashkent and Kyiv.

As I pare down for the move and try to get my kids into the mood to do the same, I'm finding that there are lessons both in their classmates who "have everything," and in the gypsy kids on the street who have nothing.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


I was lucky to grow up in a family that vacationed most years - sometimes twice.  Whenever we were living in the U.S., we took a summer vacation - either to the beach or the mountains - and sometimes a winter cross-country ski vacation.  When overseas, we always used our R&R tickets to travel home and spend quality time with the grandparents.  In the days before Skype and Youtube, and when McDonalds was only found in the United States, my father felt that yearly trips home were important for his children to stay in touch with their American roots.

In the global age, the latter point isn't such a concern for families anymore, and since we are moving back to the States this summer, we had actually planned to take an R&R to Israel in late March or early April of this year.  But due to some unforeseen circumstances at work for J, he ended up taking last week off.  Our family has been thoroughly beaten with the sick stick this winter, and we couldn't even contemplate packing up the kids and dragging them somewhere (even by car) for more than a day trip.  Seriously, I feel like my entire house is covered in snot.  And other stuff.

So a staycation it was.

We kicked off our staycation with a planned day trip to Stepantsminda. 

That line at the top of the map is the Georgian/Russian border.  Stepantsminda is the nearest town to Mount Kazbeg, which is the highest mountain in Georgia.  There is a famous and oft-photographed church there which we were hoping to see.

It is worth noting that we took this trip the day after we worked in the garden without our jackets on.  I remember hearing stories of life in Beirut's glory days, when you could swim in the morning and ski in the afternoon.  Georgia sometimes feels like that.  There is a lot of varied weather within a short radius of Tbilisi.

Gudauri, a ski resort on the way to Stepantsminda, had gotten a fair dumping of snow that morning, with total accumulation of 12-18" forecast for the day.

Not long after we passed through Gudauri, we were stopped.  The pass between Gudauri and Stepantsminda was closed for plowing.  The first officer we spoke to said it would not reopen until 7 p.m. (we arrived at 11 a.m.). The next officer told us it would reopen sooner, but he wasn't sure.  We waited for about 40 minutes.

After the Tinkerbell movie had ended (in-car DVD players are the best!), we decided to cut our losses and head for home. 

Day trip fail.

We arrived home pretty tired; I think I went to bed at 8 that night.  The rest of the week we sent the kids to school and were much more low-key. 

Stay tuned for more exciting staycation adventures.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Garden surprise

It must be noted that I am a very lazy gardener.  Last fall, I planted the garden, and when it became clear that it wasn't going to produce much, I just left it for dead.  Didn't water it, didn't weed it, etc.  Bad gardener!

So, when I returned to the garden last weekend, I wasn't surprised to find that a good part of it was choked with weeds.  I was, however, very surprised to find a number of teeny tiny plants that had survived the winter (and more strikingly, my neglect).

Teeny tiny lettuces (post-weeding).

 Teeny tiny snap peas.

Teeny tiny kale.

 One teeny tiny beet, roughly in the center of the photo.

 J also built me a raised bed (background) which I will plant with lettuce, spinach and a few herbs. 

We went to the garden center to pick up soil, and while there, the girls each picked out two flowering plants (to the right in this photo, they each have their own window box), and we bought six strawberry plants.  The raspberries and blackberries I bought last summer did horribly after I planted them into the ground (which is basically just building materials left over from the houses piled up with some clay), so I figured I'd try putting the strawberries into containers.

We'll see what happens!

Monday, March 10, 2014

End of tour: The state of the pantry

With less than four months to go until we head home, I've been taking stock of what remains of our consumables and trying to use up what's left.  As always, there are things that we didn't bring enough of, and things of which we brought way too much.  So I find myself having conversations like this with our kids:

Sorry, no more hot fudge sauce.  Why don't you top your ice cream with some yummy homemade sweet chili sauce instead?

We're out of ketchup, but this Trader Joe's Yellow Curry Sauce will be delicious on your fries!

As our whole wheat rotini stash dwindles, I find myself thinking of creative ways to use up rice vermicelli (a little of that stuff goes a long way and I have LOTS).  I also have, like, a case of rice vinegar and about three cases of light coconut milk.  We could eat curried rice noodles every day for the next two months.  We've been making smoothies just about every day using frozen fruit and coconut milk so I think we will be able to use that up.  But five bags of shredded coconut?  I guess I should start making macaroons (not to be confused with macarons, which I should also get cracking on,  to use up all the almond meal in my freezer).

62 cans of coconut milk
18 cans of refried black beans
13 bottles of rice vinegar
12 boxes of quinoa
11 packages of rice noodles
10 jars of almond butter
7 bottles each of TJ red and yellow curry sauces
6 jars of coconut oil
6 pounds of sushi rice
5 packages of shredded coconut
5 pounds of brown rice rotini
5 bottles of vanilla extract
4 bottles of Trader Joe's goddess dressing
4 bottles of maple syrup
4 pounds of almond meal
3 bottles of tamari
3 pounds of whole wheat rotini
2 pounds of red lentils
2 liters of fish sauce (why I thought I needed to buy that stuff in liters escapes me at the moment).
2 5-lb sacks of whole wheat flour

And a partridge in a pear tree.

Quinoa burgers, anyone?

What's left on your pantry shelves at the end of a consumables tour?

Friday, March 7, 2014

A walk

Last weekend dawned sunny and warm(er).  So we decided to take a walk up the hill behind our house.  

The girls made sure to bring walking sticks (aka poles from my drying rack).

We stopped and had a little snack picnic of crackers and Georgian fruit leather.

The girls explored this valley, which sadly was filled with old shoes and rusty barbed wire.

We ran into a local shepherd and his flock.

And then we went home for lunch.

Sunday, March 2, 2014


Last weekend we went out to eat with some friends.  There is a restaurant very close to our house that we drive by every day but have never gone into.  It is along a major highway with a parking lot under a crumbling bridge - I guess I figured that it wouldn't be a very good restaurant because it is in such a strange location.  As it turns out, the food is Georgian, with the standard preparations that don't vary that much from establishment to establishment.

Like many of those other places, this place had a rustic decor and live music.  What set it apart, though, is that the live music started earlier than 9 p.m. We went at 5:30 and the music began shortly thereafter.  The patrons at the table next to ours were already knee-deep into a bottle of vodka when we arrived, and were happy to dance with the girls.

Yes, we let the girls dance with strangers.  We were all right there, and this is Georgia.  Everyone loves kids (in the good way, not the gross way) and the perv ratio is smaller here than in the U.S.

I actually have a theory on this.  I don't think the human impulse is different here.  But I do think that things like horrible crimes against children are the "luxury" of a comfortable society.  Here, your average Georgian has to spend a lot more time worrying about finding work, or affording the next meal, or heating their home (if they are lucky enough for that).  That kind of life just doesn't leave a lot of time or energy for pervy indulgence.

The band played local instruments and sang the wonderful harmonies Georgian music is known for.  The band members were in their early 20s at the oldest but had I just heard their voices on a recording I would have assumed they were middle-aged.  The singing was excellent.

Drumming on the floor to provide accompaniment to Z's moves.