Happy Easter from sunny Belgrade!

Posted April 5, 2015 by egracon
Categories: Uncategorized

At least, it was sunny and beautiful yesterday when we had the Embassy Easter party.  Today, it’s in the 40s and rainy.

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This year, they upgraded the bunny costume.  Better costume, but not nearly as funny as a hungover, unshaven cafeteria guy as the Easter bunny:

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The End-of-Tour Revolving Door

Posted April 3, 2015 by egracon
Categories: Uncategorized

First off, let me be clear: This is not meant to discourage guests. We love guests, and love showing off our lives and our town, and if we don’t want you to come, we’ll say so.

But our guests do have a tendency to bunch up in those last 6 months when people panic and realize that we’re about to leave, and if they’re going to see some off-the-beaten-path place that they wouldn’t travel to otherwise, that they need to come NOW.  In February 2005 in Istanbul, we had seven friends at once.  (You know who you are.  Some of you had to sleep in the living room, if I remember correctly.)  In spring 2011 in Morocco, we had three sets of back-to-back guests.  And we are currently taking an 8-day guest-free break between a string of three guest sets and the arrival of the the next (who shall remain nameless until after she’s safely home just in case robbers are among the 10 readers of this blog).

First, our college friend Sarah came to visit and to celebrate her and Ian’s shared 40th birthday.

Then Cousin Stephen came through town.  The kids loved him, and I got to check a must-see monastery off of my list.

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And finally, our friends Randy & Shandra and their daughter Audrey came to visit.

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We saw them in January in Chicago, but the real blast from the past are these photos of Clara & Audrey together five years ago, and now:

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The reservation line’s still open.  (Hint, hint, Aunt Regen.)

The Birthday Begins

Posted March 15, 2015 by egracon
Categories: Uncategorized

Van is closing in on three.  This is his third birthday in Belgrade, and the first where I didn’t impose a shamrock cake on my St. Patrick’s Day baby.  (He picked the green t-shirt himself, though.)  We doubled up with another family to share birthday party space and costs and not to torture our colleagues and neighbors by making them go to two kids’ parties in two days, although admittedly kids’ parties here do involve alcohol so they’re not all bad.  Fun was had by all although the pictures are mostly a blur of kids and cake.

Birthday boy, or the rodjedanac.

Birthday boy, or the rodjedanac.

Clara wanted to take the flowers home until she realized they were pure sugar.

Clara wanted to take the flowers home until she realized they were pure sugar.

The best gift.  Top that.

The best gift. Top that.

Over the Hill in Budapest

Posted February 22, 2015 by egracon
Categories: Uncategorized

We took advantage of the confluence of a 4-day weekend, Clara’s February school break (the European “ski break”), a visit from our friend Sarah, and Sarah and Ian’s 40th birthday to head for Budapest.  We’d been once before, also in the winter, but our list of places to go is long and our time here relatively short, so compromises must be made.  We got relatively lucky with sunny but cold days.  When we first came to Belgrade, we thought that we’d find ourselves hopping over to Belgrade all of the time, but that just hasn’t happened due to work, and life, and the joys of traveling with kids.

All in all, a good trip.  We did a nighttime bus tour of the city all lit up (Clara insisted on sitting on top of the open-air bus and while it seemed tolerable when we started, we were frozen solid by the end of the hour-long ride); toured the opera (me and Sarah); spent most of a day riding a Metro, tram, and cogwheel railway to ride the Children’s Railway, only to have Clara and Van fall asleep the moment we were warmed up and seated on the train; ate goulash and drank Hungarian wine; and climbed around the Fisherman’s Bastion.  I could easily spend more time there, but saw enough that Budapest can now be successfully checked off the “must visit” list.

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For comparison’s sake, here’s what Van and Clara looked like the last time we were in Budapest:

Clara vs. Homework

Posted February 11, 2015 by egracon
Categories: Uncategorized

IMG_1933 (853x1280)So, Clara has homework.  In kindergarten.  Twice a week she is supposed to read a short book assigned by her teacher, and then write something in her reading journal about the book.  She likes the reading part, and happily will read the book to anyone who will listen.  But getting her to write in her journal is a battle.  She’s lazy about writing both at school and at home.  And because Ian and I are both working full-time now, I don’t want our babysitter to have to fight the fight with her, so homework gets squeezed in to the hour we have between dinner and bedtime.  She’s resorted to writing “I like XXX”  or “It is about YYYY” every time, and while I know she has more complex thoughts and could write more, I also figure that her genes will kick in eventually and she’ll be more enthusiastic about writing, so may not pick this particular battle this time.

You Can’t Take it With You

Posted February 11, 2015 by egracon
Categories: Around the house

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We’re within six months of leaving Serbia, and while we’re not counting down – on the contrary, we’re only leaving reluctantly – it is time to start taking stock of all of our stuff.  We can take most of it with us – 7,500 pound of personal possessions plus a car, plus another 7,500 or so pounds of stuff that we can send to long-term storage – but that doesn’t mean we should.  And then there’s the stuff we really can’t take – spices, alcohol, perishables, open containers, batteries, candles, matches, flammables – although every Foreign Service Officer will admit to hiding away a candle or pack of batteries in a “packed by owner” box.  I have a pressurized can of camping fuel that has been to three countries with me entirely unintentionally.  I had no idea we had it until I unpacked the camping gear last spring for the first time since before Clara was born.

But back to the stufbottles (1280x956)f.  We have reached that time in an overseas tour when we must take stock and stop buying.  There are decisions to be made.  Should we buy a new bottle of Worcestershire sauce only to throw it away in six months minus the one tablespoon we needed for a recipe?  Or suffer for six months in a house devoid of Worcestershire sauce?  Do we buy outdoor toys and gear this summer knowing we’ll be living in an apartment for at least the next three years?  Now is the time to start some creative cooking – how can use up a can of pumpkin, a jar of beets, a can of tuna fish, and a jar of molasses?


Traveling with Kids, Step 4: What to Pack

Posted January 13, 2015 by egracon
Categories: Travel

Back in August, when I wrote Traveling with Kids, Step 3: Where to Stay, I promised that Step 4: What to Pack was just around the corner.  But I really only get motivated to write the “Traveling with Kids” series when I’ve just returned/recovered from a trip with the kids and am thinking about what we could have done better.  And jet-lagged.  And afraid that I will not be able to sleep tonight because it is Serbian Orthodox New Year’s Eve and the fireworks are already starting at 9:00 PM.

Ahem.  What to Pack.
IMG_8615 (1280x853)There are two very distinct sets of packing rules when traveling when kids – car packing and airplane packing.  Car packing: take as much as you can carry.  As long as you’ll have a safe place to park the car, fill it up.  Take clothes for all four seasons, including multiple pairs of footwear.  Take rain gear.  Take baby-carrying gear AND a stroller.  Take food for the car, and food for when you get there.  Bring a stockpile of beer and wine, and a means of opening those things.  Take diapers for the whole trip.  Take an extra blanket.  And a flashlight.  Take a map and a GPS.  Bring beach towels.  Take a DVD player.  Take only what you need into your hotel room or rental place, and use the car like a closet.  Our car is relatively small, and camping is the only time that we’ve really had trouble fitting everything we wanted into the car, and that might be because we wanted to take a queen-sized air mattress, pillows for everyone, a cooler full of food, AND a pack ‘n’ play.

Airplane packing is another story altogether.  Pack only what you can carry.  Think about how you will get to the airport and from the airport to your lodging.  Can you carry it?  And the child who will inevitably fall asleep 10 minutes before the plane lands?  Even pushing a stroller requires a free hand, so do not pack more suitcases than adult hands.  If you need a car seat, you have to take it, and they’re free to check, but that doesn’t make them any less heavy and bulky.  Pack for only the weather you are most likely to encounter, skip the extra footwear, and plan to wear clothes multiple times.  Use hotel towels or buy cheap beach towels and beach toys when you get there.  Your kid can probably use a straw or drink from a real cup rather than hauling multiple sippy cups.  But don’t skimp on airplane snacks / bribes.  The difference between screaming toddler and happy toddler might just be that pack of gummy bears.  Carry at least two full spare outfits for anyone under 2, and one spare outfit for anyone over two.  If you don’t, someone will projectile vomit.

Never forget — YOU CAN BUY IT.  Unless we’re talking passport, car seat, flattering bathing suit, or something similarly expensive and legally-mandated, you can buy it when you get there or live without it.  I’m not saying to get on a plane completely empty-handed, just not to sweat the small stuff.  It never hurt anyone to have an extra toothbrush / deodorant / hairbrush / cell phone charger / underwear / flipflops / sunglasses.  Caveat: if you are arriving in Germany or Austria after noon on Saturday or anytime on Sunday, you CAN’T buy it.  Everything will be closed, and you fill find yourself wandering for miles looking for an open convenience store run by heathens who will sell you milk and diapers on the Sabbath.


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