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Winter vacation in Costa Rica.

We flew from Tbilisi (Georgia) to Munich, Munich to Newark, NJ, and finally to San Jose, CR.  A 40 hr. voyage with time in Newark to have a great visit with my sisters, Julie & Gina who come just to see us for a few hours.  I’m not sure how we were awake and still functioning.  We arrived in CR late at night so went quietly to bed.  The fun began about 7:15 the next morning when Kylan knocked on the door and greeted us with big hugs.  What a tremendous feeling!  Auden was awake already but he didn’t know us so we warmed up to each other gradually.

Family time was our intention and we had lots of it.  Everyday we walked Kylan to school and went to get him at lunch time.  That gave us mornings to spend letting Auden get to know us.  We read lots of books, played with baskets of toys, watch him zoom on his little bike and explore his neighborhood.  It didn’t take long to connect.  When A. went down for a nap we had lots of time with K.  Both boys are adept at the Ipad and loved sitting with Grandpa to find new games, practice the alphabet or listen to Thomas the Train stories.  We took walks, went to the park, took K. to swimming and gymnastics, and did lots of bike riding.  We spent one day at the beach playing in the surf (which was very warm) and digging in the sand.  Both the boys are going to be great swimmers!

Enjoying some of the foods we missed so mcuh was such a treat….Steve’s great pancakes, sandwiches, pastas, even cereal was delicious with bananas and strawberries.  We had a personal tour of the Peace Corps office in San Jose.  And the new supermarket at AutoMercado was beyond temptation and full of delicious  things to eat.  We also were able to visit PriceSmart ( a big box membership store) where we purchased new sheets for our bed and some huge bags of dried fruit.  We had a fun day at the BioPark where we explored some animal habitats that support environmental concerns and finished with lots of energy in the playground.

Stephen and Dana took a leisurely night away from home with us there which they enjoyed. As our time was winding down, Stephen had to leave on a business trip to the Maldives for “17 sleeps” as K. would say.  We had such a good visit but, at last, it was time to return to our work in Georgia.  We left on Sunday, January 20, early in the am before little boys were awake. That makes leaving just a smidge easier on Grandma.  We landed back in Batumi, as planned, on January 21st …..tired souls but feeling  so very blessed for this special Winter vacation.

Here are some pictures of our days in Costa Rica.

Relaxing in Auden's room with family photos.

Relaxing in Auden’s room with family photos.

Driving a big rig.

Driving a big rig.

Kylan and Auden in their fort on the beach.

Kylan and Auden in their fort on the beach.

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A quite beach on the Pacific side of Costa Rica.

A quite beach on the Pacific side of Costa Rica.

Auden in his new Georgian shirt.

Auden in his new Georgian shirt.

iPad time with Grandpa.

iPad time with Grandpa.

Story time with Grandma.

Story time with Grandma.

Look what Santa brought!  Family enjoys watching Kylan experiment.

Look what Santa brought! Family enjoys watching Kylan experiment.

Time for Yoga?

Time for Yoga?

Am I photogenic or what?

Am I photogenic or what?

What would you like to hear?

What would you like to hear?

"I love Grandma and Grandpa so I love Georgia."

“I love Grandma and Grandpa so I love Georgia.”

Look at my spinning wheel.

Look at my spinning wheel.

Where is Alice?

Where is Alice?

Kylan getting ready to dive.

Kylan getting ready to dive.

Grandma and boys playing on the iPad.

Grandma and boys playing on the iPad.

Brothers.

Brothers.

Resting during our day at Parque Deversiones.

Resting during our day at Parque Deversiones.

Just in case it rains.

Just in case it rains.

Where is everybody?

Where is everybody?

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happy-new-year-wallpaper-8

Dear Family and Friends.

As we sit here this December 31st, 2012 Christmas music plays on the iPad and gifts are being wrapped. This isn’t as strange as it sounds, 0ur traditional Christmas day has passed but here in Georgia the orthodox Christmas, January 7th, is fast apporaching.  Gift sharing is done not on Christmas day but on New Year’s eve.  It feels strange, because as you walk the streets of Batumi or go to the bazaars you will see christmas tree vendors hard at work while others shops have mounds of trimmings still for sale.  This is an especially happy time for Suzanne as she really loves Christmas and to have two so close together has put her in christmas heaven!

This is a short post to our blog.  We just wanted to share our heart felt wish of a very blessed and happy new year for you all.

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Christmas Greetings and New Year’s Wishes from Georgia

Our first Christmas in Georgia and our new little tree!

Our first Christmas in Georgia and our new little tree!

“And Ma in her kerchief and I in my cap had just settled down for a long winter’s nap”.

How ironic that Clement Clark Moore should know what we are experiencing here in the Republic of Georgia!  A few nights ago while nestling under our covers to get warm we both happened to realize that our heads were cold.  And this wonderful line from the famous poem came to mind.  Now we can say that we understand why people covered their heads at bedtime.  And ’tis indeed a few nights before Christmas!

With this post are special pictures of some of our favorite Christmas memories….many of them from our tour of European Christmas Markets in 2010.  Like all of you we have so many wonderful memories of past Christmases…. our decorated homes & trees, singing carols with friends through the neighborhood, special visits from friends and family, the little ones’ bright eyes as they open their packages and special homemade delights to enjoy!

Christmas here in the Republic of Georgia will certainly be different.  They don’t celebrate on December 25 as their religious heritage is Georgian Orthodox.  Their celebration is on January 7th and does not include the giving of gifts.  We will have new experiences to share as we try our best to incorporate all these special days which will also include New Years Day.  We are told that this is the biggest celebration of all in Georgia with fireworks galore and small gifts being shared.  We are looking forward to all of this.

We will certainly miss being with our family.  David and Tasha will spend the days visiting with Tasha’s family and also with Stephen, Dana and the boys who will be in Colorado.  Our very special treat is a 2 week trip to Costa Rica to visit with Stephen, Dana, Kylan and Auden.  And it will be warm…..maybe even hot!

We want to send our very warmest wishes to all of you our dear, faithful family and friends.  May your celebration of the birth of Jesus bring hope and joy anew into your lives.  And may the New Year hold blessings large and small for all those you love.  May it proclaim peace for our world and in our hearts.

გილოცავთ  შობა ახალ  წელს!

Merry Christmas — Happy New Year

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Winter in the Country of Georgia, Gonio Village

All the stories we read prior to coming to Georgia about the cold winters are turning out to be true.  For a while during November and the first part of December the weather was almost mild.  Yes the nights were chilly, but it did not require wearing long underwear or our big winter coats.   Well that has all changed for the time being.  Winter in the coastal village of Gonio and the town of Batumi is marked by a lot of rain.  Several times this past few weeks Suzanne and I have wondered if we would see Noah float by as the rains came down in torrents for hours on end.  FYI the location of Noah’s Ark is suppose to be around the corner in Turkey.

Then there was the thunder.  Really loud thunder.  Really close lighting strikes, at least they appeared to be.  The Black Sea was raging with heavy swells and high waves.  The water was so rough it literally created new beaches.  The beaches here at the Black Sea are not the sandy ones seen in many of the travel pictures of far away resorts. Rather they are full of different sizes of very smooth beautiful stones.  I know we mentioned this before and even sent pictures but it doesn’t hurt mentioning again because when you see the sea as rough as it was and witness its power pulling at the stones and throwing them around you stand in awe.

Now back to the cold.  This past week and a half the temp took a dive from upper 60s to upper 40s.  Now that may not sound cold to you but when you add the moisture and the wind it gets bitter.  We are really lucky because we are a coastal city, the PCVs on the interior and in the mountains have been having snow and really cold temps.  The things that increase the feel of cold is cement and cinder blocks which the buildings are made of here in Georgia.  When you observe buildings being constructed you would think this country has a monopoly on concrete and rebar.  As a result the rooms, no matter if it is a house or school or office, hold their cold once the temperature drops.  Many times we find the temperature outside warmer than in the place we happen to be, home or work.  Many people here wear coats in the workplace and, when it really gets cold, gloves.  Learning to type with gloves on is not the easiest skill.

Just last week one of the other PCVs here in Batumi posted on Facebook that she was still cold in bed even with several layers of clothes and a hat.

We haven’t had snow here in Gonio/Batumi but the hills, North, East and South,  are  covered with the white stuff.  The ski areas are open ( yes they do ski here in Georgia where the Caucasus rise higher than our Rockies).  One PCV is getting a group together for a ski trip in January.  Unfortunately we will be in Costa Rica soaking up the sun in hopes of storing up enough to last through the rest of winter.

Please don’t take this posting as a complaint.  We are trying to give you a taste of a different part of the world.  If there is one thing we hope to leave here it is the notion that central heating is not a bad idea and should be considered for future buildings.  Not sure if this will catch on, but we will keep the thought alive every day, especially on those cold days when we find ourselves wrapped in our three layers of clothing and sitting at our computers.

Well that is my winter weather report for here in Georgia.  And, as we say in Georgian იმედი მაქვს თბილი ამინდი მალე (I hope for warm weather soon).

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THANKSGIVING

It hardly seems possible that we are finishing our 7th month in Georgia.  But it is true.  It is also hard to believe that we just celebrated our first PC Thanksgiving…in fact, we had 2 celebrations:  one with all the volunteers gathered in Bazaleti and another with a few PC friends here in Batumi.  Our 1st celebration was with over 100 people at a conference center where we were also joined by the ambassador and his wife after a week of language, safety updates, general sharing of al kinds, and choosing of new committee members.  We had turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, beans, gravy, rolls, pumpkin pie, apple crisp and other goodies!  There was also sufficient wine of all varieties ….enough to satisfy everyone.  Can you imagine the clean up?

The Ambassador and his wife serving the volunteers.

A good feast was had by all.

 

Everyone ready to enjoy full plates of food.

On Turkey Day, we gathered in Batumi with 4 other PC friends and repeated the process.  Only this time, more intimate conversation and less noise.  BUT…the same amount of wine.  (In case you aren’t aware, wine flows freely  in Georgia.  Both store-bought and homemade.)  We ended our smaller meal with a freshly baked apple crisp from my mother’s recipe!  It was yummy!

Amy, Adam, Tami and Richard filling their plates.

Suzanne preparing her apple crisp.

This year we gave thanks for so very many blessing.  Not only all of you who are so generous in reading this blog but for our many new friends, our good health so far and for the family with whom we live.

Winter is coming.  The petchi stove is in the house and working its magic.  However, that magic doesn’t come all the way up to our second floor room.  So, our small electric heater is now doing its best to take the chill off our living space.  From all reports this is a much milder late Autumn than last year.  We understand from many that this time last year there was much snow and extremely cold weather with no sun for many days at a time.

The very best news for us is that we have attained the language level that the PC requires and are free to stop our tutoring.  We will not, however, as we both want to achieve a greater vocabulary and fluency.  So we will continue with a tutor but in a much more relaxed atmosphere and after some time off.

School is getting better but is still a challenge for Suzanne.   In another week, Suzanne will be attending a 3 day workshop on Project Design and Management which will give the skills to write a grant to help fund a project that the school needs.  Tom’s work is developing as he finds his niche with his organization.  He has completed the 1st half of a Capacity Assessment of the organization which will help him develop much-needed trainings.  We both have English Clubs at our work sites.

Among the many fruit trees surrounding our neighborhood are the Mandarin trees. They are ripening now and today we went to watch Meri (host Mom) gathering the harvest.  Their family has quite a lot of trees but they are plentiful throughout the area.  All the children are bringing to school.  We also had a taste of an orange pulled right from the tree which was sweet and juicy with no seeds.  Amazing.

Meri clipping Mandarins from the tree.

Tom and Meri picking fresh Mandarins.

What delicious fruit.

A bountiful harvest, and this is only the beginning.

We close with some pictures of recent days  you might enjoy.  We love hearing your comments and your emails about what is happening in your busy lives.

Enjoying a cup of American style coffee at a McDonalds in Tbilisi.

Lighting a candle in a 7th century Georgian church.

Suzanne enjoys a chat with the Ambassador and our Country Director.

A Tbilisi landmark in lights at night.

All 81 Peace Corps Volunteers in the country of Georgia!

Blessed Advent season to all!

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Surf’s Up!

Just a quick post for those thinking about surfing. We had several rainy days this past week and the Black Sea was really heavy almost like the Atlantic Ocean. I took a couple of pictures and a short video clip to share with you.

Rough seas today.

Stormy Weather at the beach.

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41.56853, 41.57322

The coordinates above are for our house in Gonio.  Copy them to Google Maps and you will see the roof of the house.  I thought this would be a good time to show you our living quarters, modest as they are.  So the pictures here are from different spots and covers those rooms which we usually use.

First, here is the front of the house,  The host family lives on the first floor, we live in a roon on the second floor.

Our two story guest house.

Here are several pictures of the guest rooms on the second floor.

The large common room for the three guest rooms.

Our room is on the second floor, but off from the other guest rooms.

This view is from the porch looking into our room.

Our hunble room. Small but we are making it a place to live.

A quick shot of the bathroom. See we don’t have to squat.

Now some views of  other parts of our location.

This is the way we go down to the lower floor. Can you believe we woke up one morning and the cow was standing at the bottom of the stairs?

A view of our upstairs porch.

From the upstairs porch, laundry hanging over the yard.

A side area where we can hang close. There is a upstairs kitchen to the letf which we could use if we wanted.

We do somethings in the kitchen.

Suzanne at the kitchen stove with a big pot of grapes.

Tom boiling milk for our breakfast cereal.

Besides cows, we also have other visitors on the porch:

Every so often the chickens come to visit, just like the cow.

And just to give you a feeling of our mornings play this video.

Hope this was interesting for you.  Stay tuned for the next update.

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Early signs of Winter

Lots of things let us know that Winter is on its way….leaves falling, children in school, no fresh veggies left in the garden, etc.  But in Georgia there is one clear sign: the cutting, chopping and storing of wood for the petchi stove.  In the villages, central heat is not available.  Most homes rely on a small wood burning stove which they bring into the house in early October.  it is vented to the outside of the home and generally heats only one room.  This room becomes the center for all family activity for the next ??? months.  Even some of the cooking is done on/in this stove.  It may also be that even when it is on, everyone will be wearing several layers of clothing to stay warm.  So the issue of having lots of wood is critical.

For several weeks now we have been observing huge logs being dumped onto the roadways of the villages.  Some may have access to getting their own but most families buy it and it is delivered as logs.  Then the saws appear and cutting begins.  After that chopping is done and the wood is stacked for drying before being put into some kind of storage shed or covered porch area.  You will notice from our pictures the incredible amount of wood that is needed for a winter season. In our family both Dad and son have been chopping for weeks, a little at a time.  They stack it to dry for a few days and then store it.  the man power and hours are very long.  We’ll let you know come May how warm we were able to stay.  Hopefully, it will not be like last winter which was the worst anyone could remember for coldness.

These past weeks have given us some time to relax, do a bit of planning, and get to know Gonio and Batumi.  We’ve walked miles, been in lots of different shops, bought produce at the big bazaar on Saturday, and enjoyed our first American coffee (thanks to a box from family)!  We had to search out a French press and are happy with the results .Tom is settling in nicely at his office and will start an “English club” with his co-workers this coming week.  Suzanne had limited success with a summer camp as the participation was small but enthusiastic.  School starts on Sept. 17th and there will be lots of planning and conversations with my counterparts before then.  The schools have a lot of new books this year so we will be learning them together which should be a plus for me.

We have located the only Catholic church within hundreds of km and luckily it is in Batumi.  It holds about 300 people and is usually full.  It’s all in Georgian, of course, but the presider comes out before Mass and if he sees strangers he chats with them.  He gives us a page with the English translation of the readings and his homily.  There is very good participation and lay involvement as readers, musicians, cantors, etc. They sing some things in Latin (Kyrie and Our Father) and the Gospel is read in Georgian and Russian.

Some of you met our new Aurora friends, Jeri and Greg, who were also accepted to the Peace Corps.  They are on their way to Rwanda in two days.  We wish them well in their journey which will be much like ours yet totally different.

Finally, thanks to all of you who take an extra minute to write a comment on the blog.  It helps us to know that you are with us in Spirit and that is an important encouragement for us.  We could not be here without the many ways in which you each have helped to form us and we are very grateful for that.

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Now a couple of small videos

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Life in Gonio

After 3 weeks in Gonio we have visited almost every magazia and walked most of the roads to gain a sense of our new community.  People live in the most unusual places where you don’t think there is a home.  If you follow the cows that roam the roads every day you will find most of these places.

The cows come out in the morning and walk wherever they please.  Sometimes this is annoying to the drivers as they like to stand in the middle of the road.  Hitting a cow is a costly expense as they are considered someone’s income.  You will pass them walking by themself, with their family or in herds.  The other part of this phenomenon is that you always watch exactly where you are walking!

Each morning Tom goes to the main road to catch a bus into Batumi where, during August, he is working a short day.  Georgia is like most of Europe.  In the month of August many things just stop.  Everyone is on holiday.  Schools are closed and classes don’t start until Sept. 15th.  I do have some things to do until then (preparation and a “english camp”) but I have a lot of time for myself right now.  It’s glorious after our 3 months of stress-filled days to be able to read a book or take a walk.  We also are currently looking for a tutor to continue our language study.  The Peace Corps has a definite level they want us to achieve.  Some volunteers have made it already but we have not. So they will pay for us to have a tutor several times a week until the next testing date in November.

We go down to the beach for walks or to just sit and relax a bit or maybe eat an ice cream that we buy on the way.  We haven’t ventured into the water.  Unlike the ocean, the drop once you wade in is very quick to maybe 2 feet or so.  Little ones are always with adults and most have some sort of floating device around thier bodies.  The water is a bit warmer than the ocean water although it’s been awhile since I experienced that.  No sand as I think we’ve mentioned but the stones are really beautiful and not difficult to walk on.  This is a resort area for Georgians and there are many families here now.

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We are official PC Volunteers and have moved to Gonio.

It has been an exciting few days. At 4:00 AM on Thursday (July 19th) our city, Telavi, was hit with a very strong and damaging storm. Unbelievable rain, hail, wind. The city was decimated with roofs torn away from houses, power lines downed and windows shattered.  All vegetation, grapes, gardens, fruit trees and even large trees were heavily damaged or completely destroyed. It was sad and hard to leave on Friday as we departed for our swearing-in ceremony and travel to our new home.

Friday was our swearing-in where we left the throes of trainee and became official Peace Corps Volunteers! The ceremony lasted about two hours and featured a Georgian men’s singing group at the beginning, speeches from American and Georgian dignitaries, the actual moment when we took the official oath and ended with a few songs from a Georgian women’s musical group. I hope the pictures will do this justice.

After the excitement ended we packed Tom’s director’s car with all our luggage and headed off to Gonio/Batumi where we will hopefully spend the next two years fulfilling the Peace Corps’ Mission.

One week later…..

Our new home is in Gonio, a small village just south of Batumi.  Actually Gonio is part of Batumi but still has the village characteristics and life style.  Our new host family consists of five members,  Nodar, host father, Meri, host mother, Margarita, host grandmother, Aleko, host brother and Eliso, host sister.  Nodar is a medical doctor working in a local clinic, Meri is a teacher who teaches at the same school as Suzanne and Margarita is a retired teacher.

This first week was the beginning of our integritation into the local community, learning bus and marshutka routes, finding local magazias (markets) and walking the neighborhood.  There is only one main road through Gonio and it leads right into Turkey which is about 7 miles down the road.

This is a costal area and the one big attraction is the Black Sea which is a little over 500 meters from our house.  The Black Sea beach is stoney instead of sandy but the stones have been polished and smoothed by the water and they are easy to walk over.

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