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.
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.
For comparison’s sake, here’s what Van and Clara looked like the last time we were in Budapest:
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.
Categories: Around the house
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 stuff. 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?
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.
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.
Categories: Holidays, Statistics, Travel
I haven’t posted anything since Thanksgiving and it appears I’ve become a holiday blogger, kind of like an Easter and Christmas Catholic (I can’t even claim to be that anymore). Our holidays in numbers and pictures:
Eight cousins! We got to see all eight of Clara and Van’s first cousins, plus some assorted aunts and uncles and cousins-once-removed (or maybe 2nd cousins; I’ve looked it up before and am too lazy to look it up again.).
Seven airports, six airplanes: I was mentally prepared to send a few nights in airport hotels when we booked flights in December and January that would take us through Belgrade, Frankfurt, Washington, Indianapolis, Chicago, Syracuse, and Boston, but aside from short delays on the two domestic legs, all was smooth flying. Our Boston-Frankfurt flight, in fact, was loaded up and ready to go so quickly that the pilot said we had to wait 45 minutes before we could take off or else we would arrive in Frankfurt before the airport opens at 5:00 AM and would have to circle there. (Thank God we didn’t. The wind was terrible and I nearly puked in the 10 minutes that we had to circle waiting to land.)
Five Christmases: We opened the presents that arrived in the mail before we left, and got presents again in Bloomington, Chicago, New York state, and Boston! And then we when got home, we found out that Santa had left the stuff that was too big to pack in our house in Belgrade. I’m not sure Clara is going to accept that there will be no more presents for her until the end of August.
Four beds: We stayed in four places on this trip, three times with family, and once in the borrowed apartment of friends who were out of town.
Three Mexican restaurants: We didn’t get out much on this trip, but did manage to eat at three different Mexican restaurants.
Two rental cars: Which means two car seats lugged through six of those seven airports.
One caveat: Here is the reason there are no photos of Grandma, Mr. Sidney, or the Cleveland cousins:
All in all, it was a great trip to see family even if it doesn’t quite qualify as “vacation.” (Apologies, family. We had a great time and you are all fantastic hosts, but “vacation” requires fancy beds, dinners out, and preferably a pool.) Thanks to the cold weather in the United States and a slight iPad addiction problem, we didn’t get out of the house nearly as much as we should have although we did get in trips to the Chicago Science & Industry Museum, the Lego Discovery Center, and roller skating. We’ll see how the 6:30 AM wakeup goes tomorrow for school and work. We failed at getting back on the Serbian timetable when everyone slept in past 1:00 PM today.
Categories: Holidays, Quotes
This year, I am thankful for so many things:
– For our continued health and general well-being
– For our family and friends, and the technology to keep in touch with them when no one except Ian writes actual letters anymore
– For another 9 months in a city, country, and assignment that we love
– For an onward assignment to an exciting new place that we know next-to-nothing about
– For a work-life balance that I’m happy with, thanks to living abroad where I can afford to have people help take care of my children and clean my house, so that when I’m not at work I can spend time enjoying my children and exploring the world with them
– For the kids having school today so that Ian and I can can spend the whole day cooking without kids underfoot
– And for some material things – wine delivered to my door, the firepit outside, and for online reservations to see “Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1″ on Saturday night (reserved loveseat and all)
This year, we’re skipping the turkey and trimmings altogether and are hosting a Moroccan-themed Thanksgiving. I have no patience for turkey-thawing and always forget and find myself Googling “cooking frozen turkey” about 3 hours before I want to serve it. My mashed potatoes are terrible, and pies take too much work. That’s not to say we’re not doing a lot of work – just that we’re serving food that we actually like at the end of all that work.
I’m working on instilling some thankfulness in the kids. It’s hard to do (see the part about lifestyle above), when the kids have learned that if they throw something on the floor, someone else will clean up after them. This year, Clara reports that she is thankful for “mommy, her apron, and that she has everything she wants.” (I stopped her there, on the high point.) Van, for, “his kitchen.” And then I lost the scrap paper I was writing down their thankfulness on. So much for those precious memories.
Happy Thanksgiving from Belgrade!