Saturday, August 27, 2005

And now for something completely different

I've talked about my son; how wonderful, entertaining, exasperating, loving and perfect he is. I can't imagine not having this child in my life. Every day is a new experience with him. To see the world through the eyes of a three year old is a truly miraculous thing.

And I've talked about my pregnancy. Not much, but I've mentioned it here or there. What I haven't really mentioned is how incredibly different this pregnancy is from pregnancy with Blaine. When I was pregnant with Blaine, I was truly the pregnant woman in bloom. I loved it. I had slight morning sickness, but never really was pukey. I didn't have any weird food cravings. I enjoyed almost every minute of my pregnancy and couldn't wait to do it again.

Now that I'm doing it again, I know that this is my last pregnancy. Discounting all the problems I have just getting (and staying) pregnant, I know without a doubt, that I cannot and will not put myself through this again. This pregnancy is HARD. Really, really hard. First came the debilitating morning sickness that didn't confine itself to the mornings. It was more like all-day sickness. I couldn't eat. If I ate, I threw up. You know it's bad when you start planning your meals based on what will be easiest to puke back up a half an hour later.

When the morning sickness started to wane, I got the stomach flu. And if you think morning sickness is bad, well, the stomach flu is ten times worse. In 7 or 8 weeks of morning sickness I lost about 10 pounds. In 4 days of stomach flu, I lost 10 pounds. It was horrible. At one point the health unit here was considering hospitalizing me for dehydration - which I think scared my body into keeping fluids down. (If you could see Georgian hospitals, you would understand.)

Now that the morning sickness and the stomach flu are gone, I am dealing with intense food cravings. And not just normal "boy I'd like a sandwich" type cravings. No, I'm craving dill pickles slathered with mustard. Or dill pickles on Dorito Nacho Cheese chips. I can eat a jar of dill pickles a week. I don't care for chocolate - which is seriously odd since prior to this pregnancy, I lived for chocolate. It's just weird.

But the biggest, most unexpected difference with this pregnancy? This baby is a girl. We just found out yesterday. A girl. How delightful and surprising and amazing all at the same time. There hasn't been a girl in David's family (on the paternal side) in generations. It's going to be great. I can't wait to meet her.

Monday, August 22, 2005

The Dollar Store

In the US, there is a "dollar store", or a variation of the dollar store in almost every town. You know what I'm talking about - the "99 Cent Store" or the "Dollar Plus!". I generally never shopped at the dollar stores - unless I was looking for cheap coloring books for my son the scribbler or Search-A-Word books in large print for my grandparents. Apparently the dollar stores do high volume business in those two items, because it seems they always have them.

When we moved to Georgia in April, our second day here our friend Gina took us shopping. We were headed to Goodwill, the large German supermarket, and there was road work and we had to detour. As we took the detour, through a section of Tbilisi called Didube, we came across the "Dollar Store". Gina immediately stopped and we got out of the car and went in to check it out. The store had just opened and Gina was shocked. After living in Georgia for 2 plus years, she stood in the middle of the store at one point and said "I'm just so overwhelmed! I don't know where to start!".

You see, almost all the products in the Dollar Store are American products. Mostly off-brands, much like you would find in a US dollar store, but some name-brand products as well. Dave and I were not so shell-shocked, since we had just come from the states, but for the expats who have lived here for a while, the Dollar Store was BIG news. You could get generic pop-tarts, cookies, mustard, mayo, etc. all for a dollar fifty-five. (I don't know why they call it the dollar store when everything is a dollar fifty-five AND you actually pay in Georgian Lari, so everything is really almost 3 lari. Maybe because it would make the sign on the front of the store too complicated.)

Anyhow, I now adore the Dollar Store. After living here almost 5 months, it's nice to be able to go into the Dollar Store and shop. It's small, about the size of a 7-11 store in the US, but all the products are labeled in English and they are all kind of comforting and familiar. I buy Tom's brand peanut butter crackers by the boxfulls (they were the only thing I could keep down in the first few months of my pregnancy). I buy Gatorade for David. I buy birthday cards and wrapping paper.

They just opened a new branch of the Dollar Store in the Gldani section of Tbilisi. We got an email last week about the "Grand Opening" and it claimed it was much bigger than the original store in Didube. Dave and I set out on Saturday to find the store. 2 hours of driving around and stopping for directions (with our bad Russian skills and their poor English skills, it's amazing but we were able to get decent directions) we found the store and had to stand in line to get in. The store is big, almost twice the size of the original Dollar Store. And the selection - well, they have quite a bit more stock (Sunny Delight juice! David was in heaven - he loves that crap. Blaine, on the other hand took one taste and declared it "yucky".) and quite a bit more selection. Now that I know how to get there, I see many more trips to the Gldani Dollar Store in my future.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Happy Birthday Fred

Since you never respond to email (subtle hint there for you bro), I decided to post your birthday wishes here, in public blogging land.

So, for those of you who are not my OLDER brother, let me tell you a little bit about him; think of it as a birthday homage to my OLDER brother. Did I mention he is OLDER than me? He is. OLDER that is.

As I may have pointed out, my brother is OLDER than I am. And, growing up, you would think that he would have looked out for me, taught me things, been a shoulder to cry on. Right? Wrong. We HATED each other. Really, until high school (and even sometimes during high school) he and I fought on a daily, if not hourly, basis. My mother, I am sure, wonders how she ever survived.

But as he got OLDER and matured some, he turned out to be a pretty decent guy. (I did not need to mature. I have always been wise beyond my years. If you don't believe me, I don't care. This is my blog. Get your own blog and you can make up your own version of the truth.) He went from being a punk, pain-in-my-ass brother to being a pretty stand-up guy. I give a lot of credit to his wife, Kathy, for putting up with him all these years. I think his meeting her and settling down had a lot to do with his growing up. That and their son, Warren, who is now (God help me) 19 years old. I used to babysit this kid - change his diapers, rock him to sleep, play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with him - and now he is in college. Freaky.

Back to Fred. He decided he wanted to be a cop. Interesting choice of profession for a young man who had always been *just this side* of the law throughout high school. I think it would be safe to call my brother a teenage hooligan, yet he decided he wanted to enforce the law. And he does a damn good job of it. I was very proud of him when he graduated from the police academy. I remember the night he graduated was the same night the first college theatre show I ever directed was opening. I made it to his graduation and had to skip out right after he was handed his diploma to make it over to the theatre in time for the curtain to go up.

I'm still proud of him. He and Kathy have had 2 more kiddos, Elizabeth and Erin, who are just the coolest girls that I know. They have just bought a great house in the same town our parents live in. In the same town that we went to middle and high school in. The same town that he has worked as a cop for more years than I can remember. Some of us need to move on and move out (me) and some of us are happy building a great life where they are (him). I'm happy for him. He also has a very generous spirit and is a pretty cool guy*. You know, now that he is OLDER.

And I still need him to pick me up from the airport in November, so how about you respond to your damn Email bro? (Unless you are suffering from Alzheimers and keep forgetting, which, given your age, wouldn't be shocking.)

*Unless you take long (over 12 hour) car trips with him. Then all bets are off. He and I cannot travel together by car EVER again. EVER. But the airport is only a short trip, so we should survive.

Friday, August 12, 2005

I do not know why

The formatting is so screwed up in my previous post (Georgia - it's SMOKIN'). I have diddled around with the HTML trying to figure it out, but the problem eludes me.

I will have the resident web guru (AKA, David) take a shot at it tonight when he gets home from work.

Georgia - It's SMOKIN'

Let me start this entry with two quotes from Georgia with Armenia: The Bradt Travel Guide, Second Edition by Tim Burford:
Georgia has among the highest levels of tobacco use in the world with most men
smoking most of the time, as well as 28% of pregnant women and 35% of
breast-feeding women. An average 8,900 million cigarettes are consumed every
year in Georgia, 2,200 per capita, against a world average of 1,600 per capita,
and smoking-related deaths will soon account for about 20% of male deaths.
And another little gem from the travel guide:
However, when the Ministry of Health tried a poster campaign in Tbilisi all the
billboard sites were bought up at once by Philip Morris, manufacturers of
Marlboro cigarettes.
So, as you can see from the above quotes, Georgians like to smoke. They smoke all the time. They smoke while eating, driving, talking, walking. The smoke where ever they want, when ever they want. They can buy cigarettes very cheaply from black market dealers, and, if they are short of cash, they don't have to buy a whole pack. You can buy just one cigarette at a time if you would like.
One of the reasons I actually LIKE to go to McDonalds here (I normally loathe McD's) is because it is a SMOKE-FREE environment. It's almost like blasphemy to the Georgians to have a smoke-free environment, but for some reason they honor the ban at McDonalds. They also don't smoke while shopping in Goodwill, the large supermarket here, but the do smoke while sitting in the front of the store at the little coffee and soda cafe. They might not smoke in church, but I have not been in a Georgian Orthodox church yet, so I cannot say for a fact that they don't.
Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop? It's like walking into a fog. "Yes, I'd like some chocolate ice cream with some sprinkles and a layer of nicotine!"
Local grocery stores? "Look honey, each package of potato chips comes with a free side of ashes!"
Taxis? Forget it, your taxi driver smokes and he doesn't care if you don't like it.
Doctor's offices? Of course they smoke in there. While sitting under the "NO SMOKING" sign.
Restaurants? I have yet to go to a restaurant (with the exception of McD's, not that I really count them as a restaurant per se) that bans smoking. Usually David, Blaine and I are the only three in the restaurant that are NOT smoking. Waiters and waitresses look at us like we have 3 heads when we hand them back the ashtray and tell them "we don't need this".

Hotels? Smoke central. The Sheraton, where the US Embassy has their health unit, is a smokers paradise with ashtrays every 5 feet. Hell, people smoke in the elevators.
Now, I used to smoke. I loved smoking. LOVED IT. Miss it like mad. And I would smoke again in a heartbeat if I (a) didn't have an impressionable 3 year old with me almost all the time (B) wasn't pregnant and (c) didn't know how incredibly bad for me smoking is. But being in Georgia is almost like not having to be a reformed smoker. I passively smoke so much - I probably inhale more smoke here than I did when I was actively smoking. Scary, but true.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

I get by with a little help from my friends

When David and I* decided to join the ranks of the Foreign Service and move every two to three years to countries/cities that most people have never even heard of we knew we would be giving up many of the creature comforts of home. What we didn't expect was the support, love and care packages that have been sent to us. So, please indulge me for a few moments while I blog a big ol' thank you.

My first letter after we arrived here came from a dear friend in Seattle. It's seems slightly funny to call someone you have never met a dear friend, but I do consider Kristin as such. She is an "internet" friend. Someone I have never talked to face-to-face, but have poured my heart out to via the magic of computers. Her letter brought a huge smile to my face and touched my heart.

Another internet friend, Nicole, has sent me care packages of oreos, books and most importantly, videotapes of crap reality TV. She and I joke that we share a brain - and our taste in reading material and television shows is proof of that. She taped so many shows that she thought I might like and she was dead on right about every single one of them. I'm now addicted to "Hell's Kitchen" and cannot wait to receive my next care package from her with more videotapes. Once again, Nicole and I have never met in real life, but it really doesn't matter. When she had her third child (her first girl!) earlier this year, I couldn't have been happier for her.

Mary. What can I say about Mary. She amazed me. She read my blog entry about trying to make chocolate chip cookies and went out and made up an amazing box of goodies for me. Cookie sheets, flour, brown sugar, vanilla, various bags of chips, spatulas - so much stuff. I was so overwhelmed when I opened the box I just sat down and cried at the thought that went into it. Now, Mary and I have met, once, in the real world. But she and I would never have known each other if it weren't for the internet.

My parents and my husband's parents. Well, obviously I have met them in real life. They continuously send the most delightful packages full of love. I adore getting mail from them. Not to mention the magazine subscriptions they have signed us up for (though I'm still not thrilled with David's subscription to "Stuff" magazine. LOL)

Our friends back in the states who sent packages for Blaine's birthday this year. Donna, Randy, Katie, Lukas and Heidi, Scott, Nicholas and Julie & Claire. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You helped make a little boy's birthday so wonderful.

And there are others who have said they will send things or have packages in transit to us - I just want you all to know how much just the THOUGHT means to David and I. We love and appreciate you all. Sometimes getting mail is the highlight of our week and it's because of all of you. Thank you so much, from the bottom of our hearts. We will never, ever forget your generosity.

*Yes, I said David and I. Even though he is the one with the official paying job, it's not a job he would have taken without my full support and I had an equal say in the decision making process. Once again, you can see why I love this man so much.

Monday, August 01, 2005

All the Gori details

On the 4th of July, David, Blaine and I set out on a trip to Gori. Gori is about an hour and a half from Tbilisi and is the birthplace of Stalin. There is a museum in Gori dedicated to Stalin and everyone who had been there told us it was a must-see, just based on the pure creepiness factor.

The road to Gori was quite good, by Georgian standards, very little bumping and swerving to miss pot holes, which is how I judge most trips these days. The scenery was breathtaking. Seriously, if you head out of Tbilisi 15 minutes in any direction, you encounter some of the most beautiful land in the world. It really is just gorgeous. Everything is so green, and even though we are in the hot summer months, everything is still in full bloom.

As we enter Gori, we notice that it is quite different from Tbilisi. Where Tbilisi is always congested with cars and people, Gori looks more like a ghost town. We passed very few cars on the road going into the center of town and saw very few people out in front of shops and homes. It almost felt like we were in a cheesy horror flick - you know the kind, where the clueless couple pulls into an obviously spooktacular town but they think it's all just jim-dandy until the zombies come out and start eating them? Yeah, that's kind of what it felt like. We located the museum with no trouble at all. Considering it is in the center of town and all roads lead to it, well, it would have been kind of hard to miss.

We get out of the car and head to the museum. There is a lady in the lobby of the museum who informs us of the cost of entry - I believe it was 2 lari per person (about a dollar US) - and then points at our cameras and tells us that if we want to take pictures it will cost more money. Every 2 pictures would cost us 1 lari. Then she points at the video camera that David is holding and tells us that if we want to take video, it will cost 20 lari more. David tells her that we won't video but gives her 5 lari extra for pictures. So, now we can take 10 photos of the museum. And to make sure we stick to this, the lady follows us through the whole museum watching what we do and keeping a tally of every time the flash goes off.

The museum itself was quite creepy. Stalin's death mask, enshrined on the second floor, was cast only 6 hours after he died (as we were breathlessly informed by the picture-counting museum lady). The place was dark, dusty, and everything was in Russian or Georgian. Now, I can passably read Russian, but it takes me a few minutes, and when you are trying to translate and keep track of your wandering 3 year old at the same time, well, things get difficult. The only light in the building came from the high windows - many of our pictures didn't turn out because it was so dark. Once we were finished inside the museum we were led outside by the picture counter so that we could visit Stalin's original home, which is on the grounds of the museum. It was small and not that interesting to be completely honest. After visiting the house, she led us over to Stalin's personal train car. Much more interesting, especially considering that they had Stalin's favorite chair in the "living room" portion of the train car and the museum lady practically begged David to sit in it and have his picture taken. He did sit, and Blaine crawled up on his lap, and I snapped my tenth and final photo.

I'm back and I'm exhausted

We finally have internet again. Of course we have gone from a high-speed (well, high-speed by Georgian standards) wireless set-up to a DSL line that is almost like having dial-up service again. Ah, technology. But at least we can connect, get email, touch base with friends and, most importantly for me, shop for books.

We almost were not able to get back on-line. For 3 days the internet company kept coming out and "working" on our DSL and could not get it to connect. They even (or so they claim) went to the phone switch here in town and checked our phone lines. After 3 days of this jockeying around they told me that "tomorrow" they would have someone from the phone company come out and test our lines in the house and run a test line for the DSL. I told David about this when he got home from work and Dave decided to try to tackle the DSL problem himself. Dave is an expert (in my not-so-humble opinion) on all things computer and networking. Heck, this is what he used to do for a living for almost 10 years so he should be, right? Well, once again he proved himself smarter than the average bear and managed to get our DSL line to connect after only 10 minutes of fiddling around with it. What 2 Georgian technicians couldn't do in 3 days, my husband did in 10 minutes. Now you see why I keep him around (aside from the great father, loving husband, resident scary bug killer and car fixer gig that he is so good at).

As for the exhaustion part. Well, aside from the fact that I'm almost 4 months pregnant and am constantly chasing the world's most stubborn 3 year old, we had a bar-b-que yesterday for a new family in town. It was our first big party since arriving in Tbilisi and David was pretty positive that we would have a small showing. Ha. Ha. Luckily I planned otherwise. All day Saturday I cooked, baked, and otherwise prepared. By the time the party rolled around I was ready. 10 pounds of potato salad, a huge bowl of cole slaw, baked beans, apple crisp, brownies, bruschetta, 20 hamburgers, 20 hot dogs, 30+ chicken and beef shish kebobs with peppers, onions, and garlic, 50 chicken wings (spicy hot, naturally), chips, dips, vegetable trays, green salad, cheese trays, 3 cases of beer, a few bottles of wine, more juice boxes and bottles of water than my refrigerator could hold.

Over 50 people showed up. We ran out of hot dogs, hamburgers, water and paper plates. I have no idea how the paper plate thing happened as I had a costco-sized stack of about 200 plates, but now I know to plan better next time. Running out of bottled water was unexpected - I thought we had more than enough, but it was a real scorcher of a day so people drank twice as much water as beer, much to my consternation. Now I have refrigerator full of beer plus a cooler still full. I can't drink, Dave rarely drinks and I don't know what the hell I'm going to do with all this beer. Ha. Maybe I'll have another party. I still have about a pound or two of potato salad left. Hey everyone, I have beer and potato salad, come on over!