In Memorium: Mr. Craig

Posted July 10, 2015 by egracon
Categories: Uncategorized

Our dear friend Craig died in March after a long fight with cancer, and Ian is back in the U.S. to attend his memorial service today on what would have been his 42nd (?) birthday.  Craig was one of those people that Clara loved instantly.  Craig was between jobs the year that we lived in the DC area while I was studying Serbian, and Van was being born, so he came by frequently to hang out with Clara and Ian.  As Van’s due date approached, and we still didn’t have a clear plan for who would take care of Clara when I went into labor, Craig became our go-to guy.  In the end, we didn’t need to call on him, but I had no doubt that Craig would have jumped in his car in the middle of the night and taken excellent care of Clara for as long as we needed.

And over the last year or two, when the cancer really started to beat him up, it was sometimes shocking to see how skinny he had gotten, or how little hair he had, or how easily he tired.  Clara never seem surprised at his appearance during our regular Skype calls, even though I was shocked every time.  When he died, we struggled with telling Clara because she had loved him so.  And we chickened out for several weeks, until one evening when Clara asked how he was doing and Ian told her the truth.  We’d been watching “Totoro” that week, and Clara had the theme song stuck in her head, and after she cried for a while, she said to Ian, “Now I have Totoro and Mr. Craig stuck in my head.”

And then Ian texted that to me and I burst into tears in the Serbian equivalent of Chipotle.

We miss you, Mr. Craig.

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Waterfalls and bears, oh my!

Posted June 22, 2015 by egracon
Categories: Travel

We spent the weekend in Plitvice Lakes, an amazing national park in Croatia with dozens of lakes and possibly hundreds of waterfalls.  (I’m sure the website says, but I’m feeling too lazy to even Google for a number.)  Ian and I had been there before 10 years ago, but it’s pretty enough for a repeat visit.  We spent a full day hiking, in between international calls to our bank to get them to unblock our debit cards so that we could get enough money from the ATM to pay the hotel bill (cash only), and then another full day driving across 1/2 of Croatia to get to an abandoned-bear sanctuary only to find out that the bears were sleeping in the middle of the day.  And ate the freshest trout we’ve ever eaten, and pork right off the spit, and spent the in-between moments pretending to be either the puppies from Paw Patrol or Elsa & Anna, which is pretty much what we do every day. of. our. lives.

So to sum up, it was an amazing weekend getaway!

IMG_0028 (1280x853) IMG_0038 (853x1280) IMG_0045 (1280x853) IMG_0046 (1280x853) IMG_0052 (1280x853) IMG_0081 (1280x853) IMG_0086 (1280x853) IMG_0096 (1280x853)And my favorite quote from the trip, when I was telling them that I did not want to hear another peep from their shared room, Van said, “But sometimes I hiccup in bed.”  And Clara said, without missing a beat, ” Sometimes I barf in the car.”

One Down, Twelve (Years) to Go

Posted June 22, 2015 by egracon
Categories: Uncategorized

Clara’s first year of formal school wrapped up last week with a flurry of end of school performances, and parties, and playground face-painting.  She learned a lot this year, and amazes me at how well she reads, although she’s still resistant to writing for some reason.  We couldn’t have asked for a better kindergarten teacher – Miss Claudia was always cheerful, and sweet, and knew exactly what Clara’s strengths and weaknesses were.  Clara’s having a tough time knowing she won’t be back at the same school in the fall, although four of her 12 classmates are leaving, so she’s far from the only one.

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Traveling With Kids, Step 4 1/2: Don’t Take the Kids

Posted May 18, 2015 by egracon
Categories: Uncategorized

So, I’ve written about traveling with kids – Where to Go, How to Go, Where to Stay, What to Pack.  The long-awaited next installment will be What to Do.  Which I’ll get to eventually because, well, kids and job and moving and life keep getting in the way.  (A preview: Don’t expect to do more than two things in any given day, especially if you are traveling with nap-age kids.)

You know what’s much, much better than traveling with kids?

Traveling without them.

We love the kids.  We love traveling.  We don’t mind both at the same time, and it’s certainly not worth staying home all the time just to avoid the hassle of traveling with them.  But really, adult vacation is worth its weight in gold.  So for my, ahem, 40th birthday, we set off for Paris. By ourselves.  Missing three wake-ups and two bedtimes with the kids.  And it was fabulous.

It was a rough week at work.  I value work/life balance and I usually have it.  In this particular job, I rarely work past five and pretty much never weekends.  I check my email once or twice in the evening after the kids go to bed.  But due to an unfortunate confluence of conferences, VIP visits, employee evaluations, and our usual high season, I worked every evening the week before we left, which added to the guilt.

And then there was that pesky fear that something would happen and the kids would be orphaned while we were off gallivanting in gay Paree.  I’m usually not overly sensitive about the horrible things that happen in the world every day.  But every so often, there’s something that really gets to me – the Amish school massacre, or the Sandy Hook shootings, to give two tragic examples.  The German Wings suicide/crash was one of those things – for some reason, that plane crash hit me so much harder than the other airline disasters this year.  If I hadn’t already bought our tickets and booked our travel before that, I would have changed our destination to somewhere we could drive.  But I had already bought the tickets and booked the houseboat on the Seine, and I know, logically, that air travel is not all that dangerous, so off we went  – seatbelts buckled, eyes closed during turbulence, trying not to think of my orphaned children, to landing in Charles de Gaulle at dawn on my 40th birthday.

When Clara was 1 1/2, we took two nights to go to a music festival in Morocco without her, and Ian and I have both traveled individually for work and personal reasons, but this was the first time we’d both left in four years.  We have two babysitters that we love and trust, and that are affordable compared to what we’d pay in the United States for 64 hours of babysitting.  So off we went.

Here are just a few of the reasons I’m glad we did:

– Two amazing dinners, one at a Vietnamese restaurant, one at a French bistro.  Both requiring reservations and starting after 8 p.m.  (Still light when we finished after 10 p.m., though!)

– Getting to stay on a houseboat on the Seine.  It had enough room for four, and a kitchen and laundry facilities, but getting on and off the boat was treacherous and would have been impossible with little ones.

– Not turning on the TV on the houseboat even once.

– Walking until our legs were exhausted, and then walking some more.

– The Musee d’Orsay.

– Wine.

– Sleep. (Not enough, since the trip required one 4 a.m. wake-up and one 6:15 a.m. wake-up to catch flights, but still uninterrupted. And on a houseboat on the Seine.)

– Learning to play petanque – a bocce-like game involving heavy metal balls that Van and Clara would have lobbed at each other.

The kids spent their weekend riding amusement park rides that don’t meet American standards, riding in our babysitter’s husband’s car without carseats, eating ice cream and popcorn, and getting fingerprint smudges all over our iPads.

In short? The guilt was totally worth it.

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Ian boards the Chalik

Ian boards the Chalik

The Great Tick Debacle

Posted May 7, 2015 by egracon
Categories: Uncategorized

It’s been ages since I posted and things have happened in the meantime, but I think I’m losing some blog steam.  We post most of our pictures on Facebook so the re-posting of things for blog purposes seems kind of pointless, but then I know that some people do read the words, and we have people in our lives who don’t use Facebook (!!) so maybe it is worth it.  But that’s a decision for another time.

So, anyway, a blog-worthy story.  (Don’t tell me if it’s not.)

Taking a walk around the neighborhood on Monday night, and I notice a black spot with red around it on Clara’s back.  Ack, tick!  So we rush home, grab the tweezers, quickly Google tick removal, and I attack that tick with a vengeance.  It’s in good, and I tug and tug and Clara cries, and then I ask Ian to get a flashlight because it’s kind of dim in the living room and I can’t really see what I’m doing, and then the tick pops out with some blood and I put it in a ziplock because Google said to.  Clara stops crying, I put on some neosporin and then I examine the tick.  And it’s not a tick at all. Its just a little scab.  A tick-shaped scab, mind you, that I’ve just yanked off my kid’s back.  But rather than admit to this particular parenting fail, I continue to pretend it was a tick and don’t tell Clara that I’ve just caused her unnecessary pain.

Fast-forward three days to today, when we get a note from Clara’s school nursing tell me that her teacher found a tick on her and that the nurse removed it and packaged it up in case we want to get it tested for diseases.  A real, live tick, somewhere in her hairline on the back of her neck.  It was so tiny I’m not sure how Clara felt it or the teacher found it, but now Clara thinks she is a complete tick magnet and wants to know why ticks don’t like Van as much as her, and I still haven’t owned up to my lie and the false-alarm tick.

Not a tick. Not a scab.  Just a ladybug that kept landing on Clara at lunch in Prague.

Not a tick. Not a scab. Just a ladybug that kept landing on Clara at lunch in Prague.

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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.)


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