An Illustrated Walk Through My Neighborhood

It was a crazy week month two months (more on that later) and I finally had a quiet weekend at home. Alone (more on that later, too). I promised myself that I was going to take a walk down to Prospero’s Bookstore and buy myself a new book. For absolutely no good reason except I wanted to take the walk and I wanted a different book than the ones on my shelf. It is about a two mile walk (maybe less) through a really interesting neighborhood and I just couldn’t stop taking photos.

IMG_0408My electric blue puffer jacket goes with EVERYTHING, Baby!

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It is extremely easy to eat well in Tbilisi.

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Be careful – these are Frah-Gee-Ley!

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Looking at this never gets old.

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Neither does this.

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I am here to tell you that there is nothing like a pile of pink sequined sheep holding wallets and sweaters on their backs to make me think, “Hey, I should buy my husband some expensive Italian clothes!”

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This is some powerful makeup they are selling in M A C.

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These little bronze statues are all over the place downtown. I love them.

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HEAVEN!!!

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Little statues everywhere.

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Leaves were everywhere. It was extremely windy today and I think the leaf-sweeping ladies might get Sundays off. Monday is going to stink for them.

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I should probably look up who this guy is; I really like his regal posture.

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And his lion fountain.

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This lady is always here, right next to the McDonalds. Don’t be tempted to buy her an ice-cream cone. Once, I saw a girl do that; she does. Not. Like. Ice-cream. Maybe because it was freezing and rainy that day; I don’t know.

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Everything looks more romantical by moonlight streetlight.

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I really love these old grapevines growing up the side of apartment buildings. Sometimes they are as big around as trees.

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And I love these old cars. Unless I am behind them on the way to work; then I really don’t like them at all. (I need my friend Alijon to tell me which is older: the car or me?)

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I do not know who Samo is, but this is absolutely no kind of way to share the news!

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Everybody’s door is better looking than your door dreams of being. (Do not even ask me about my door. It has to fend off the zombie apocalypse. It has no time to get pretty).

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Hey! I kind of like this one.

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And it comes in different colors. With some of the world’s craziest headbands. (How to decide)?

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I wish Mark was here. This is a great place to stop on the way home and share a beer and a bowl of peanuts. Not the same alone, alas.

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Seeing the Ferris Wheel never ceases to make me smile, either.

Fur

Now, now! Even a fur isn’t going to keep you warm if you don’t do your part!

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Late night cheese run, anyone?

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I love these alleys.

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And these courtyards.

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They had me up ’til the deer-antlered woman.

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Slept through your alarm? No problem! Just throw Benetton’s super-trendy new jacket over your nightie and you are ready for a day in the office.

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Have you found yourself with only one tire on your car? This shop in our perehod can set you up.

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At long last, SUPPER!

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And lunch!

And because I know the suspense is killing you, this is what I bought.

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I’ll let you guess which one is already impossible to put down.

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New Job, First Week

One of the big upsides to the whole Whoa, We’re Going to Georgia Incident of 2014 was that a job I’d only dreamed of opened up just as I found out. Chances like this don’t happen twice in an overseas tour so I went into high gear researching the position description and polishing my CV and making sure it matched every point (oh, Daily Muse, it was a textbook example if I say so myself). I talked to colleagues, lobbied for myself (and called in reinforcements) when a wrinkle with our orders threatened to undo the whole thing, and rounded up recommendations. I procrastinated writing my writing sample then enjoyed a brainwave and hammered the thing out; jittered my way through the day of my interview, then sat down, made some notes about relevant experiences and then proceeded to remember them AND to ask an intelligent couple of questions at the end. Then I went back to being jittery while I waited for a result. I’m not sure much productive happened at The Job I Actually Had (up until then The Job I Really Loved) after I got the call that I got the call that I got The Job That I Really Wanted; I was just so happy.

Then came of a couple of months of doing all that stuff I wrote about already and then came actually moving to Georgia before beginning the Waiting For All The HR Stuff To Happen phase. Finally, last Monday I got up, put on my big girl clothes, and went to The Job I Have Been Waiting For. And here is how that went:

1. Wake up and discover the cold that seemed to be going away has come back with a vengeance.

2. Be very grumpy because this is the first cold I have had in over three years. What?! I thought I was cured of this – and I get sick for my first day of work at The Job I Really Want? No one calls in sick on their first day.

3. Really, no one calls in sick for work on the first day. GO TO WORK!!!

4. Arrive at work to discover that the only other person working on the same issues as me – also known as The One Who Knows Everything – has had to start maternity leave a little bit early and there is no overlap.

5. Discover that not only do we have seven hundred projects we are working on before Christmas, one of them is happening Right. NOW. And I am The One Who Knows Nothing At All. And who is stupid with a cold.

6. Fortunately there is Wonder-Intern who is more than able to tie on her cape and save the day all while graciously pretending I’ve added something meaningful to the process.

7. Not that I could have if I wanted to since computer access is not one of the things you are provided with on the first day.

8. Neither is a working phone.

9. By the end of Day One I have to restrain myself from audibly whimpering because I want to go home and burrow in my covers so badly.

10. Day Two brings more of the same only by this time my colleagues are mentally referring to me as Typhoid Mary and I am given the green light to take myself home in the early afternoon.

11. I do not get home in the early afternoon because I made the ill-advised decision to drive myself home. Several hours later, I finally got unlost and crawled under those covers again.

12. A two Benadryl night happily results in a return to The Land of the Living. I show up for work but cannot remember anything about Day Three. I suspect I spent it trying to figure out how you fit seven THOUSAND projects into a six week calendar.

13. Day Four is the day I’ve been looking forward to for months: I get to accompany a guest speaker to a series of lectures in the city. http://www.michaelrohde.com/html_home.cfm?menu_itemID=797649&load=html turns out to not only be phenomenally talented (one of his pieces is exhibited in The Chicago Art Institute! And I sat next to him in the car! And talked about my mom!) and hyper-intelligent, but also patient, humble, and immeasurably kind. He was the perfect visitor for a Person Who Does Not Know Her Job Yet to support. He deserved better but honestly was far to patient to ever mention it. Thank you, Michael!

14. Day Four is also when I learned what I figure will be the defining lesson of my tenure: Wash Your Hair Or Else One of the Most Popular TV Stations Will Ask You to Give Them a Surprise Interview. Ask me how I learned this one…

15. Relax, this one has a happy ending: I did not give the interview. I wisely found someone who knew what they were talking about and got them in front of the camera, and I called it good judgment and a job well-done.

16. Day Five was even better than Day Four – we got out of town to take our guest to visit a local development project: reWoven. It was a beautiful sunny day after lots of rain. Alas, typically, I recognized the sun and promptly forgot the rain and chose to wear regular professional shoes. Lesson Two: Rubber Wellies Are Your Friends; Do Not Neglect Them in the Closet. Still, mud washes off and we enjoyed a truly informative look at the traditional Caucasus rug weaving process.

A new carpet is born!

A new carpet is born!

17. Four Day Weekend! I needed all four to process what happened during the previous five days. Clearly if this threw me for a loop, my future as a Wall Street Floor Trader is bleak.

Today I returned from my weekend and happily got a handle on my schedule including all 70 THOUSAND projects looming over my head. I had a couple of conversations and got a good feeling for what my job is when we are not at panic stations, and left with a feeling that it is as I dreamed – an exciting mix of some of the best aspects of my last two jobs. Got a new project for us? No worries – I got this (just let me go wash my hair now).

Looking Back on Summer Vacation

It the last evening of “summer” vacation for me. I have to pick out my good clothes, pack my lunch, and get a good night’s sleep because in the morning I’ll return to work, this time as part of the Cultural Affairs team in Tbilisi, Georgia. I was excited that the job was available, even more excited when I was hired for it, and am thrilled to begin – while still mourning the end of a really pleasant three-month break.

So, since it is obvious I did not spend my time writing blog posts, what did I accomplish the past three months?

1. Hagoghutyun Yerevan!
Once we wrapped up our jobs and sent our belongings hither and yon in the most complicated set of shipments, we got on our various planes back to the United States. Everybody but me had complicated work arrangements; I got the longest vacation of all.

2. The Bride Wore Blue Shoes!
We got the entire family assembled to celebrate the marriage of our very own adorable college-sweethearts, Claire and Steven. Their down-to-earth love and devotion shone over the entire day while their quirks were on full display from the Dr. Who color theme to the Star Trek processional. And after the obligatory formal stuff everyone enjoyed the All-ages Dance Party of All Time!

Wedding

 

3. You Have a Quirky Race? We’re In!!!
You don’t have to be fast to agree that racing is the best part of running, so I had my eye out for the most unusual local races my family and I could participate in. Though every race was fun, in retrospect, I think the best part of all was how eagerly my parents joined in! We celebrated the Veg Fest by running the “Largest Tofurkey Trot in the United States,” raised money for awareness of heat injuries by running a 7km Soaker Run during which we were squirted by supersoakers and sprayed with firehoses, and wrapped up the season by joining 30,000 others in a colored cornstarch extravaganza at The Color Run. Along with fitness, we gained a new appreciation for our home city as we ran through parks, city streets, and neighborhoods that we had either never visited or had forgotten about.

Tofurkey Trot!

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Tofurkey Trot, Soaker 7, and Color Run!

Tofurkey Trot, Soaker 7, and Color Run!

4. Left Coast Here We Come!
For years, I’ve been The One That Was Always Somewhere Else. My loyal family has visited in me “on location” but I had never returned the favor for my sister. Given that I had nothing but time on my hands, this was the summer for a trip to Seattle. We spent three days cramming in: Pike Place Market, Seattle Center, a pilgrimage to the Seattle Public Library, a Mariner’s Game, Port Townsend, hunting for agates on the beach, eating doughnuts as big as our heads at Sluy’s Bakery in Poulsbo before spending a day paddleboarding and swimming (dodging a bazillion jellyfish) in Liberty Bay. We left knowing that there would be a place for us when the day finally comes to spend some time in one place.

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Seattle (I'm finally here! And as long as I am, I think I'll make sure the Space Needle is bolted in securely)!

Seattle (I’m finally here! And as long as I am, I think I’ll make sure the Space Needle is bolted in securely)!

5. Buffalove!
So when did my hometown get all cool?! From the Taste of Buffalo (one of the country’s largest two day food festivals) to the Jack of All Trades Festival at Larkinville (I’m pretty sure there was no such place when I still lived in Buffalo!), from Buffalo Lighthouse park to the Botanical Gardens, from Bisons Baseball to the Thursday night concerts at Canalside, from Elmwood Village to Allentown, we enjoyed a city that felt youthful and energetic and offered us as much food, entertainment, and cultural opportunities as we could cram in.

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Larkinville, Coffeeshops, Record Stores (in which I went all fangirl over The Smiths, Botanical Garden, Waterfront, Elmwood-Bidwell Farmer's Market, Science Museum (Mummies!), and MOBY!!

Larkinville, Coffeeshops, Record Stores, Botanical Gardens, Elmwood-Bidwell Farmers' Market, Science Museum & Mummies, and MOBY!!!

Larkinville, Coffeeshops, Record Stores, Botanical Gardens, Elmwood-Bidwell Farmers’ Market, Science Museum & Mummies, and MOBY at Canalside!!!

6. Lobstah, Sun, and Sand!
Because hanging out, running races, and visiting interesting places was so strenuous, Sal and I had to take a break to the beach at the end of summer. We joined my parents on the southern Maine coast for two weeks of art museums, lobster dinners, days spent laying on towels reading books, and swimming in the ocean. It was awesome – I suggest it to anyone! But that wasn’t enough for us, so we then repaired to Gloucester where we added a couple of nephews and some more time spent soaking in salt water and sun.

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Lobstah Dinnahs, Ogunquit Museum of American Art, and Glosta!

Lobstah Dinnahs, Ogunquit Museum of American Art, and Glosta!

7. Off to School!
Finally, it was time to face facts – it was time for college to start. So my sister-in-law graciously drove a nervous mother and daughter into Boston so Sal could be installed in her dorm-room. Cue the usual excitement and anxiety: this is AWESOME! This room is so SMALL! I’m going to MISS YOU! I can’t wait to START!!! Walking away from each other for months and months goes down as one of the hardest things in an admittedly very blessed life, but sometimes great things call for you to do the hard thing and I am so proud of and happy for her.

8. Gamarjoba Tbilisi!
The adventure begins again! Though we thought we’d be moving to Moscow, recent events changed our plans to a move within the Caucasus. It was our shortest move ever and we were disappointed to think it would be not as much of a change as we have gotten used to, we were very happily surprised to see how much difference there could be in a mere 160 miles. I’ve been here such a short time that I’m only gathering impressions at this point, but there seems to be more openness, more variety, and more progressive energy here. Things are bound to feel different personally since this is our first home as empty-nesters and the first time we’ve had a downtown apartment. So far we’ve gone out of our way to take advantage of our surroundings, enjoying coffee in different cafes, buying our veg from different greengrocers, and not eating one single dinner at home as I spent 15 hours a day unpacking our household goods this week.

Tbilisi at night

Tbilisi at night

And now, farewell summer and hello to the excitement of a new job. I am assured that there is never a dull moment in Cultural Affairs and I look forward to fact that my job will make it inevitable that I will learn about this interesting place from the roots up.

With a Little Help From My Friends*

* A word which here means: All the people I know and love!

As we close in on 11 continuous years of living overseas (plus an additional 3.5 years before that), and as we are looking at another two or so coming up, and as I’ve been running around in circles for at least seven hours a week, I’ve had plenty of impulse to reflect on what I’ve learned and who I’ve learned it from. Sure, I’ve learned some things myself, but the skills and perspectives that serve me best have been little gifts from the people who share their time with me – both family and friends. I suspect that in most cases the message resonated more with me than they ever would have suspected. Here’s a few highlights:

 

1. The more people you meet, the more people you can be friends with.

This is my articulation of a thought shared with me by my Aunt Carol. One year I was sitting with her as she was writing her Christmas Card list – over 400 handwritten cards! I was sad and lonely in the middle of a move from Heidelberg where I’d made a few friends, to Indiana where I pretty much knew no one. Amazed at the number of cards she was writing, I asked if they were official cards from her college (she was at the top of the administration here then, now she’s here – check it out!).

Aunt Carol: No, these are all my personal friends.

Me: ???!!!

Aunt Carol: Yes, I write a card to everyone I’ve ever known or been friends with.

Me: You have over 400 friends?!

Aunt Carol: Yes, because I’ve moved and worked in different places, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many wonderful people I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

Me: <lightbulb turns on over head>

This one lightbulb may be responsible for the next 20 years of the story. I don’t know if I could have faced this lifestyle if I hadn’t completely committed to this sentiment. It doesn’t change the fact that every time we move, I spend weeks (months) whining about how I do not want to make new friends, I quite like the ones I have, thank you very much. However, now I am confident that I will make new friends  and that later I will not be able to imagine never having gotten to know them. 

 

2. It is not the grand gesture that friends require, but simple presence.

About 10 years ago, I had the chance to help out my friend Kelly who needed a ride from point A to point B in Germany. As we chatted, she shared a story with me about a friend she almost lost. The crux of the problem, it seems, was “Writing the Perfect Letter,” or in other words, those times where you don’t communicate with a friend because you want to take the time to write something beautiful and long and deep but you are taxi-driving mother of three, etc. The letter never gets written because there is no time to craft this masterpiece and time passes and people begin to feel neglected. Kelly is lucky enough to have a ballsy friend who called her on it, and I am lucky enough to be friends with Kelly and <lightbulb!>. Alas, I still suffer the same impulse but now I am more aware of it. And better yet, now I have Facebook (yes, I am an old lady, give me a break) which is a perfect platform for the little ways to show you are still interested, that you still care. And now I do things like make a standing (okay, I’m bad at this too) appointment to talk to my sister. It sometimes feels weird since speaking infrequently has created this subconscious belief that there should be some major news to share every time we talk, but every time there’s enough to say that the phone finally cuts us off. 

 

3. Friends happen – let them!

My friend Bobbi sits at the top of my list of People I Can’t Imagine Life Without. I am sure this is familiar territory for her. She has one billion-squillion friends by actual count and each and every one of us counts her among the dearest. She is a professional friend and it is with a cold shiver down my spine that I reflect that I almost missed the chance. (As if – she lets no one slip through her clutches!) 

It is a sad truth about me that if you tell me I have to like something, I run the other way, and before I met Bobbi everyone told me I. Was. Going. To. Love. Her. 

Nope. Not me, boy!

Then she appeared on the scene (back from summer leave) and I just walked right on by. Except she cornered me at Back to School Night and said, “Hey, aren’t we neighbors? Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. You should be the emergency contact in case my daughter needs to be picked up from school, and I’ll be yours.” Okay, sounds like a good idea, Person That I Don’t Know At All. 

Next, she sat across from me at a lunch where neither of us could decide on which sandwich to order. “Okay,” she stated, “here’s what we’re going to do. You get the Tuna Melt (or whatever) and I’ll get the French Dip (or whatever) and we’ll each eat half and then trade.” Okay, sounds like a good idea, Person That I Barely Know.

Next, I hurt myself rather badly while my husband was serving in Bosnia. Strangely (or not) we had the identical Saturn station-wagon with the important exception that hers was automatic and mine was manual. “So your left knees is hurt and you can’t work the clutch? Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. Let’s trade cars until you are better.” Okay, sounds like a good idea, Person That I’m Getting Acquainted With.

The thing is, she was always right there and she always had the right plan. She’s the friend who’s brave and bold and outspoken when you are standing around a little timid and never-going-to-ask-for-help. In the beginning I had no idea of what to make of her – (so bold!) but she was so fun and so generous and so loyal that (and I remember the moment as <lightbulb!>) I finally realized, Oh, hey, she’s my friend!

And thank God for that or I would have missed out on some of the best parts of my life. 

And now I know that you don’t really make a friend. You live your life, you be true, you help and listen and stand by and  support, and you let yourself be open to all of that from someone else. And over time you look back and discover, Hey, that’s my friend! I’m glad I’m here and that I had the chance to share my life with them.