"In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps."

Saturday, October 27, 2012

In Texas, My Home Sweet Home

HOWDY!!!!

I am sitting here in my parents new house in Magnolia, TX with a tummy full of Chic-Fil-A chicken biscuits, feeling happy, relaxed, joyful, Isla is out with her Pawpaw feeding Penelope the Pig, baby Fin is toddling all over the place, Cookie is going to make me chocolate pie... ahhh, so many good feelings!

This was the best, most easy trip I have ever taken with Isla.  Everything went completely right, unlike last time where I had something small go wrong every step of the way, which really added up by the time I got home, or the time before last when both Isla and I got sick and threw up on the the plane... this time was perfect!

Having Nick help me in Moscow made a world of difference... I don't know if I can go back to doing it without that extra help.  Everything went so well.  In the spirit of Thanksgiving these are a few things I am thankful for!

- Nick, for being such a HUGE help to me in Moscow, and helping me get through pre-security in Moscow.  I let him go without helping check-in because he had a taxi waiting and they hadn't opened the line yet... BUT
- As soon as they opened up the check-in counter, I was pretty far back in line, but the lady motioned me come over and cut in front of a bunch of people and check-in with Isla in the Business class line!
- No lines at customs and immigration and security!
- A place to sit down while waiting to get in the glass area where we board the plane.
- A lady who let me pre-board with the people in wheelchairs - that's before Business and First class!
- An almost empty flight!!! So Isla and I got an entire row to ourselves :).  There were even some rows still empty after everyone spread out.
- Isla, for peaking in being a difficult travel companion!  She played on the iPad almost the entire time... I tried to get her to play with me a little bit, but she only wanted the iPad.  I figured if she was happy... why push it???
- The workers at Bush Intercontinental airport for quickly bringing up the strollers and NOT forgetting about them and sending them along with the luggage to baggage claim! They have forgotten the strollers the last two times - that is a big airport to be carrying a toddler through, not to mention dealing with immigration while holding a tired, whiny toddler!

Literally the only thing that went a little bit wrong was having to wait forever in the immigration line in Houston (I am thinking about signing up for the preferred traveler program or whatever it is called)!  I'm not complaining because I was fine, but I got moved to a bad line, and while I was the NEXT person in line, I watched the snaked line disappear, the line I had just been moved from clear out and that kiosk be shut down, and the people two people behind me go and get in another line and get through immigration before me :).  There always has to be something!!!

Anyway, I hope that this trip goes much smoother than the last time and we don't spend 90% of the time sick.  To minimize that, I am taking a good week to rest and get over jetlag.  I always try to push it and go, go, go, but if I get sick, then I can't see anyone.  Plus, I've noticed with this pregnancy if I push it, I tend to get a lot of abdominal pains and cramping. I am also NOT going to go and drive all over Houston, and hopeful try to arrange for people to at least meet me half way or come visit me at my parents - seriously, you would be surprised by people! Even after flying half way across the world, some people still expect Nick and me to drive all over the gigantic Houston area, and refuse to come see us or meet us halfway, even though they say they really want to see us... whatever.  Not doing it this time! You want to see us, you come to us.

So that's it, we'll be in Houston for most of the next six weeks.  Nick's sister will be having her third little baby next week, so Nick's mom will stay with her for 6 weeks while she heals from her c-section, so we won't be spending that much time in Temple.  My mom and dad FINALLY finished their big house after living out on the Thistle Patch for 9 years so no more two bedroom, one bath garage apartment filled with my mom, dad, me, Nick, Isla plus any other grandchild or relative that happens to be in town!  I really want to do a post on the Thistle Patch so you can see where I live when I am in Texas - its where I was married and its one of my favorite places.

Nick flies in in two weeks, and then he goes onto Calgary for training.  I will join him for three days in the beautiful Canmore-Banff area, while Isla stays with my mom and dad.  I love Alberta, I had a friend in high school from there and was able to visit, plus one of my work projects when I worked was there so I traveled there quite a bit.  I look forward to spending some quiet time with Nick... its already a good trip as far as I am concerned because we used points for my flights and our hotel (I know I am like a broken record but I LOVE free stuff and deals!!!).

Farewell folks, I am going to get dressed and then take a nap!  I will be spending the next few days resting and catching up on email.  Also, I made a comment about Mt Email in my post a few days ago, which in restrespect may have come across as a please to stop emailing me, it wasn't! I LOVE getting email, please don't stop adding to Mt Email!!!

Signing off!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Jordan Day 1: Relaxation by The Dead Sea

We flew to Jordan on a Sunday, and we had to get up really, really early.  I couldn’t help but snap this photo of our sleeping beauty before we left! 

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We had to fly out of Krasnodar since it was the only way we could get to Jordan without overnighting in Moscow. It was a long day of travel. We left our apartment at 7 AM and we didn’t get into Jordan until 8 PM that evening (with 1 hour time change). We also decided to rent a car in Jordan and we also got a GPS unit to help us navigate! I am glad that we did… although it took us down some majorly shady streets at times.  We were a little on edge finding our hotel on the Dead Sea because there was so much road construction, but eventually we made it!

We slept in the next morning and went down to breakfast.  This was Nick’s breakfast – chocolate covered pancakes, chocolate croissant, and hot chocolate Smile.  I chose my husband well!

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After breakfast we went and checked out our hotel – The Jordan Valley Marriott and Spa.  It was so nice!  It was the perfect place to relax with a playground for Isla and three pools, plus a fancy, schmancy Spa.  The best part is that for a good chunk of our stay we were able to use points!

As soon as Isla saw the pool, all she wanted to do was swim!  She loves to swim, and I wish that she had more opportunities to do so.  We don’t get to go that often in Russia; usually we swim only when we are in the states or on vacation.  I am really proud of how brave she is!

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We started her out in her “boat” as she calls it, and she had so much fun going down the hotel’s waterslide all by herself!  I probably would have only taken her down with me because it was a fast, long slide, but Nick is the one who encouraged her to do it by herself, and I am so glad that he did.  He is much better at letting her new try things than I am.

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I love this shot of Isla hamming it up for the camera!

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She was really good about waiting her turn and giving the person before her time to get down the slide.  I don’t know how she did that so well!  Its not like she could see them once they left her point of view.

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I took this shot from the top of the slide – you can see the pool and then the Dead Sea and Israel beyond that.

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Catch!

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After our pool time, we headed down to the beach to slather on some Dead Sea mud and float in the Dead Sea.  I thought Isla would love the mud, but she wasn’t really into it…

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Nick took Isla in, and she spent about 30 seconds in the water before she started screaming to be let out!  I think her skin was a little bit too sensitive.  We took her out and thoroughly rinsed her off, but she still fussed the entire time we were by the sea!  It was passed nap time at this point, and she had had such a long, tiring day the day before.

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I stayed with Isla on the beach while Nick got his turn to float!

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AHHHH! The Dead Sea monster…

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Just kidding, its only me. It was my turn for the beautifying mud! Didn’t really help…

Cue the waterworks again, Isla was NOT happy with me putting mud all over myself!

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My turn to float!  It was so relaxing, my pregnant body could have used a little more time in that water, but it was time to get Isla out of there!

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After floating in the sea, I had a facial and a pregnancy massage in the hotel’s spa.  It was the fanciest spa I have ever been too!  It is something I could definitely get used to.

While I got my spa on, Nick and Isla went and checked out the kids indoor play area since the playground was closed.

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After that, it was bedtime, we were tired. It was the perfect introduction to Jordan, and the perfect follow up to a long day of travel!

Pack It Up, Pack It In.

Let me begin…

So I am packing up our bags today because tomorrow we head out for Houston!  We will get in Friday afternoon.  I admit that I have been dreading this trip home, but God has done so much to lighten my burden this time that I am not nearly as worried as I normally am.

Usually we fly out of Krasnodar airport, which is 3 hours away on a bumpy, miserable road. This time we are flying out of Anapa, which is only 1 hour away on a miserable, bumpy road.  This way we don’t have to get up and going so early and we have less time on bad roads!

Sometimes I have my bad driver, who is like negative help, and once even abandoned me at new airport terminal (unlike any check-in area had ever seen) with a ridiculous number of suitcases and my toddler.  This time I have my precious driver Andrey who always looks out for us, helps us get our bags checked, and never leaves Isla and mines sides until we are out of sight when we pass through security.

Usually I fly S7, which flies from Anapa to DME so I have to fly into DME National and fly-out of DME International the next day.  This time I am flying Aeroflot so I get to fly into Sheremetyevo so I only have to deal with DME on my outbound flight!!!! This is huge.

Usually Nick is out of town or staying in Novo, so Isla and I are all alone.  This time he will be in Moscow already!  So we will get to see him Thursday night before we fly out Friday to Houston, and he will be able to help me with Isla in the evening and morning!

Usually I have no help checking in a DME, and it’s the worst airport ever. I am all alone as I get Isla, her stroller, and our luggage through our airports pre-security before I even check in.  This time Nick is coming to DME to help me check-in and get as far as he can before he leaves us!

Usually before we even get on our 12.5 to 14 hour flight from Moscow to Houston, Isla is exhausted so she is extra naughty, and I am exhausted from travel, traffic, and late nights and early mornings that I am at my patience’s end.  This time I know she may be tired and I may be tired, but I think that having Nick to help me will make a world of difference in my patience and energy.

Usually it is a struggle to get Isla to sleep on the plane.  Not because she is usually difficult at bedtime, she just has a hard time falling asleep outside of her bed. This time I have a feeling we won’t have trouble!  She was a rock star at falling asleep on the plane at Jordan.  All we had to do was be kind, but firm, and she seemed to understand what was expected of her.  I am very thankful for this.

There will be some things that stay the same, we still have a 2 hour flight Thursday.  We will still have to drive HOURS in Moscow traffic because it is so bad, but I know that the little breaks that I am getting will make a HUGE difference. I only wish that we had known that Nick would in Moscow this week so that we could have flown up together and stayed a day or so in Moscow with him, but it was an expensive hassle to change the tickets.

I also think that Isla may have peaked as far as being a difficult travel companion.  I thought once she had her own seat she would be easier and easier, but she has only gotten harder to corral and travel with as she has grown.  She is so active!  I think that she was better on the planes to Jordan, and hopefully she will have peaked and become easier to travel with from here on out – she’s 2 1/2 and I praying that this is so before the new baby comes.  Its hard on little munchkins, I know!

Ok now back to packing!  I have my usual frantic search for the latest and greatest new toddler iPad apps, sorting clothes, figuring out what snacks to purchase (not PRUNES this time), putting together Isla’s goody bag that will only entertain her an hour or so…

As you have probably figured out, I did not get but half of my to-do list done before we left… sigh. Mt Email just keeps piling up and I am trying to figure out how I want to smuggle my Jordan pictures to Houston so that I can blog about it there… but first, TO PACKING!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Turkey Vacation Recap

 

Recap of our time in Turkey…

Constantinople NOT Istanbul

WOW.  There is so much to see in Istanbul.  I have always wanted to go, and honestly visiting it was a dream come true!  I love history and seeing a city that has undergone so many transformations over the years and is the bridge between Europe and Asia… it was neat-o, for sure.  Also it was years before I realized that Constantinople is now Istanbul, and that makes me a little sad because calling it Constantinople makes me think of emperors and crusaders and merchants and spices and so many things that were the stuff of my childhood imaginings.

Topkapi Palace

I am sure that I come across as anti-guided tours on this blog, but that is not true at all because I love ‘em!  I would love to have someone who knows what we are looking at show us around, but we have found from experience that that is not a really a good fit for us with a toddler.  And I am too cheap to hire a private guide, so that is why we usually rely on our guide books.  Topkopi palace was a place where I was really wishing that we had a guide, but I had my trusty Rick Steves and I just did my best to narrate where we were going. Epic fail.

Honestly, we got the worst pictures at Topkopi palace too and Isla was being naughty, naughty, but we did the best we could!  She was soooo tired of her backpack at this point – part of the reason why we decided that we weren’t ready to give up on strollers and also why we decided to trade in a for a lighter model on our Toro.  I really wanted to wait in line to see some of the treasures and jewels, and see the famous Topkapi dagger.  So we did, and it was pretty unpleasant trying to take turns keeping Isla happy.  They didn’t allow pictures inside though…

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We also paid extra to visit the Harem, and I had a lot of fun explaining it to Nick.  There was an excellent section about it in our Rick Steve’s guide book, and apparently my husband had many misconceptions about what exactly went down at a Harem.

Upon learning that the women all had separate bedrooms -

Nick: You mean it wasn’t just like one big, girls’ locker room???

Upon learning that the Sultan did not get to sleep with hundreds of women, but only a select few, in addition to his wives, and that the “nighttime arrangements” were kept on a strict schedule (arranged by his MOTHER no less) -

Nick; Yes, but could you SCHEDULE two women on the same night???

Upon learning that there was usually a favorite wife and/or concubine who received extra privileges -

Nick: Don’t worry, Stori.  I would have made sure that YOU were the favorite.

I don’t know if other women would appreciate his sense of humor, but he always keeps me laughing, and those who know Nick, know that I have nothing to worry about from him and other ladies Smile!

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Anyway, we looked around the beautiful palace and then we were on our way!

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The Blue Mosque

We also got to visit the Blue Mosque, which was very interesting.  I had never been inside a mosque before.  I came prepared and even bought a head covering before I went inside since my guide book warned me that they would often not let you in if you weren’t well covered, but they weren’t too strict about what people were wearing.  They even had pieces of cloth to hand out for people to cover their heads or their arms, etc.  Even with that though, the dress code was much more lax than I had been lead to believe. Also, I know our pictures are bad, but our camera’s battery died because I forgot to charge it before we left Russia and I also didn’t bring the charger, a mistake I will never make again! So all of these photos on this post are from Nick’s iPhone.

We arrived during prayer time, so we had a few minutes to kill.  Isla entertained us by dancing in the courtyard. 

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Awkward family photo… its also a little bit disconcerting to see myself with a hijab on.

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It was too immense to get good photos on the iPhone, but here is the beautiful blue dome.

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As I mentioned before, whenever we are in another house of “worship” we always make a point to pray as a family that Jesus would be known as Lord even there, and that one day everyone who worshipped in that place would acknowledge the risen King.  However, we try to be respectful about it, so we usually pray quietly just the three of us in a corner; it was fairly quiet in the Blue Mosque even with all of the tourists. 

As soon as we were done praying, we lifted our bowed heads and Isla said at the top of her lungs -

“Isla pray Jesus! Isla pray Jesus! Isla pray Jesus!”

She was sooo proud of herself, and kept repeating herself very loudly and smiling, and we didn’t want to shush her for being so excited about praying, however we did hightail it out of there as fast as our little Christian legs could carry us!

Her look says it all “Why are we leaving Mama?” I also love Nick’s expression, he’s proud, but not sure what to do.

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The Cisterns

I love ancient engineering!  LOVE IT.  We are so arrogant in our modern times over the things we have created and invented, but people have been creating amazing inventions for centuries that help improve people’s quality of life… including ancient plumbing systems!  And they didn’t even have forklifts or cranes or bulldozers or computers or calculators!  Ok maybe they DID have an endless supply of cheap, replaceable labor… Sad smile.  Still its cool to see and hear how people used to manage and build things for basic necessities that we take for granted.

Ok I am reviewing my pictures from the Cistern and these are the worst iPhone pictures EVER!  So if you want to see what we saw click HERE and see how incredible it is!  You can also see the famous giant Medusa head!

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Another random comment, I also really wanted to go here because I read that it was “kid friendly” and thought it would be good for Isla!  I have learned though that “kid friendly” does NOT equate to “toddler friendly”!  Although Isla loved the fish swimming in the shallow water and kept pointing to and saying “fishy”, she also wanted to leap in the water!  If you look at the picture above on the far right, you can see that the guardrail along the sidewalk was not even remotely kid proofed.  So we had to carry a very unhappy girl the entire time because all she wanted to do was run along the walk ways and dive in after the fish!

Hagia Sofia

We wen to Hagia Sofia on our last day, and I am so glad that we did because we thought we might not make it!  Isla was asleep when we got there so we just decided to go in separately with the guidebook, while the other waited around outside… because of this we had to take dorky self portraits!

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The dome was HUGE and incredible!  It was built in the 6th century and the dome is one of the largest ever built! Talk about impressive early engineering… of course my structural engineer LOVED it. Smile  Nick took this picture and you get a better idea of just how massive this place is.

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It makes me sad that this was once a Christian church, but is now a mosque.  However, the Turkish Muslims are very sweet and are making an effort to recover a lot of the Christian history and make it easy for Christians to visit there.  They don’t require any special clothing to visit, and there are several areas where they are excavating Christian frescos and other things.

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Bosporus Cruise

So no visit to Istanbul is complete without a cruise on the Bosporus!  Our friends had told us that you could take a cruise for almost nothing on a public boat and we considered doing that, but we decided that we wanted a guided tour in this case since Isla would be free to move about the boat and we wanted to know what we were seeing.  We made huge mistake however because booked an inexpensive tour, and the guide was terrible!  This is one of those instances where we should have just cheaped out all the way and gone on a public boat with no tour or paid extra and done a really good boat tour!

Still I am glad we went.  We greatly enjoyed ourselves! Who doesn’t love riding in a boat?

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We were also able to go down below the deck and let Isla run around freely and play with another little girl, which she loved!

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Random City Shots

One night we went to a big mall near our hotel and ate McDonald’s ice cream and did a little hunting at their big supermarket for American foods that we cannot get here in Novo. Just wanted to include it here although its not that interesting…

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Istanbul is famous for its Spice Market and Bazaar! We went and walked around, but it was a little bit overwhelming because it was so crowded.  Nick was encouraging me to buy a nice carpet in Istanbul, but I admit that I froze and couldn’t decide what kind to get!  Nick and Isla were with me, and as sweet at Nick was being, they are not the best shopping partners and who knows which vendor is a good one?  Maybe one day I will come back with my Mama…

Oh, another thing – we were there while they were filming a new James Bond movie with Daniel Craig – best James Bond EVER!  I am torn between thinking that’s really cool, and being annoyed because so many of the streets were roped off from tourists!

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Our little backseat driver!

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Someone is a leetle tired of the crazy crowds!

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Just the two of us… and little bit of Isla’s hair!

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I love what a great dad Nick is, seriously, the best Dad I have ever seen.  He takes so much pleasure in spending time with Isla… and me too, which also makes him the best husband I have ever seen!  Is he perfect? No, but he’s pretty close!

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On Our Way Home

I mentioned before that all of the flights to and from Russia leave at ungodly hours!  So we had Isla dressed in her jammies before we left. 

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Of course we couldn’t get her to fall asleep until around 1 AM, right before we were finally allowed to go through security even though I had spent hours walking her all over the airport… thankfully security just let us take her right on through! Smile 

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I’ll never forget when I traveled with Isla at 8 months old within the USA and she had little pink, pleather baby booties (you know, the kind that don’t even have soles) that were about a millimeter thick and security made me go back through and TAKE THEM OFF!  They have also let me take a sleeping Isla through in Russia in her stroller too… I am so glad that airport security in other countries is generally staffed by people who are smart enough to realize that a BABY is probably not going to be a threat!  It makes traveling with children so much easier…

Anyway, I am definitely coming back to Istanbul one day, even though we saw most of it, and I also really want to return to Turkey and see more of it.  It was such a nice, relaxed vacation, and I am so thankful that I was able to finally see the city that I had always dreamed of visiting!

Pure and Undefiled Religion

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