15 March 2015
After more than six years in Armenia, the Blackmer family has found a new home...for now! Can you guess where we are? Here are some hints.
It's a place where we can watch the sun set over the sea...
This seawall runs along a promenade a 3-minute walk from home.
...where the adhān echoes over the rooftops...
The view from our window.
...where the pastries are oh, so sweet...
...and fresh produce is available year-round, adding delicious color to dreary winter days...
...where brutal combat was the ancient form of entertainment...
This Roman amphitheater is across the street from our building.
...but where today the people smile and welcome you graciously!
Rada, left, and Ana, right, care for baby Amira in the nursery while Mommy and Daddy work.
25 December 2014
It's our last Christmas in Armenia, and the first with our little sugar cookie Amira!
Wishing you all the very best in the coming year.
Peace, love, and snowflakes...
Jarred, Angela, Nathan, & Amira
This handsome elf is growing up so fast...
...but of course, he's still a kid!
Nate helps Amira open her very first Christmas present...
...and into the mouth it goes!
24 October 2014
Our little girl is two months old! Even though it was a regular weekday at home, I decided to dress Amira up in a nice outfit (before she outgrows it) and shoot a few portraits to mark this special day. Unlike the sleeping pictures I used in the birth story/one-month post (yellow dress), she was mostly awake for these photos, and her personality really came through. I think I'll have to get one of these framed -- if it's possible to pick just one!
Later, she and I were playing, and she was in a pretty good mood, so I thought I might as well start recording. Here's what we got -- please excuse my baby-talk voice!
Later, she and I were playing, and she was in a pretty good mood, so I thought I might as well start recording. Here's what we got -- please excuse my baby-talk voice!
(And in case you're wondering how I got that little bow to stay put: hair gel.)
The boys are on fall break next week, so I'm hoping we can all spend a lot of time together, go downtown -- or out of town -- and enjoy the great weather. Maybe we'll even try for family portraits!
Until next time...
23 September 2014
Last year, following the heartache of unsuccessful adoption attempts, Jarred and I decided we were ready to have a second child of our own. Kind of backwards, right? I think people usually decide to adopt when they are unsuccessful in their attempts to conceive -- as always, we are not like most people!
Before long, we had worked out the ideal timing of the pregnancy, birth, maternity leave, etc., and by Thanksgiving we were on our way to baby number two! At Christmas we informed Nathan that he was finally going to become a big brother, and he was thrilled. At six years old, he was mature enough to learn the [simplified] facts of human reproduction, and he was more than happy to be involved every step of the way. He came to my OB appointments, watched fetal development videos with me online, reminded me to take my vitamins and eat healthy snacks every day, told me to move away when there was someone smoking nearby, and watched with fascination as my belly -- and other parts -- grew larger, counting down the weeks until the estimated date of delivery: August 19th, 2014. Even my students were excited, and I have to commend them for putting up with my mood swings and complaints throughout the second semester, on top of all the other pressures of school, college applications, and teenage life in general!
Other expat moms we know have traveled back to their home countries to give birth, and Jarred and I considered what was best for our family. On the one hand, we wanted to give birth in the U.S. again in case of any unexpected medical emergencies, like what happened with Nathan (if you don't know, look up "congenital d-TGA"), but because the baby was due so close to the start of the school year -- Jarred had to be back at work on August 25th, and Nate's first day of school was the 28th -- that meant that there was a good chance that I would have to stay with my parents in Florida to recover from the birth, so Jarred and Nate could go back to Armenia without missing school; then at some point I'd have to fly back to Yerevan with a newborn (my mom offered to accompany me). But I didn't want to be separated from my boys, so we decided it was better to deliver here if everything looked normal, and keep the U.S. as a backup plan in case we discovered was an above-average risk of birth defects.
Luckily, we had an excellent OB-GYN, Dr. Abovyan, who monitored everything very closely throughout the pregnancy and confidently assured us that we would have a healthy baby. I also consulted with Nathan's cardiologist in Orlando, as well as my aunt's OB-GYN and a recommended radiologist in Washington when I had to travel there in June for work. Their findings aligned with Dr. Abovyan's opinion, and I was able to relax and stop worrying about a repeat of Nathan's condition and other major issues.
Enjoying my last trimester and celebrating the 4th of July with some light hiking in Virginia before returning to Yerevan for the final countdown to delivery day.
Once we were sure we would have the baby in Yerevan, I began preparing myself for an Armenian birth experience. After hearing from women who had given birth here, I wasn't sure what to expect. Armenia isn't exactly renowned for world-class medical care, yet obviously there are healthy babies born here every day. I hadn't heard any complaints from local Armenians, but I got mixed feedback from diaspora women and women with dual citizenship who were able to compare their experiences to previous births in developed countries. Particularly nerve-wracking were stories like those of Lara Aharonian, co-founder of the Women's Resource Center. Again my concerns were allayed when our doctor took us on a tour of the new "premium" maternity ward at Erebouni Medical Center, which opened in spring 2014. Of course, the outside of the hospital (and most of the inside) still looks like a run-down, underfunded, Cold War-era institution...but not the maternity ward! For more details, keep reading.
After a productive but restful summer, we all felt ready to meet the baby (and I was ready not to be pregnant anymore in the height of summer). Friends and family members made "bets" to guess her birth date. August 19th came and went, and so did the 20th, 21st, and 22nd...everyone lost the betting game. At an appointment with Dr. Abovyan on the 23rd, we discussed our options. To avoid an increased risk of complications, he didn't want the pregnancy to continue beyond 41 weeks, and told me to be prepared for a medical induction on the 26th if the baby wasn't born on her own before then. I asked him if he could perform a membrane sweep, a procedure which had worked to kick-start labor in my first pregnancy. He agreed it was worth a try, and asked me to return the following morning.
At 11:00 AM on Sunday, August 24th, Dr. Abovyan performed my membrane sweep and sent me home. Anxious, I kept myself busy cleaning the kitchen and making a batch of granola bars. I felt some cramps, but didn't think much of them. After a while, I sat and drank a cup of red raspberry leaf tea, a drink I hadn't tried before, but which I had heard is traditionally used to promote uterine contractions and lactation. My cramps became more intense, and I went to my bedroom to lie down and rest. When the cramps didn't subside after about 30 minutes, I got up and tried doing some stretches and yoga poses. Unlike my Braxton-Hicks contractions, which I had been feeling since early June, these sensations didn't go away; in fact, they were coming quite regularly, and getting stronger, too. This was it. We told Nathan that the baby was ready to be born; he was very worried seeing me in pain and didn't know what to say or do, so he ran to his room and returned with this adorable, hastily made drawing:
We loaded our already-packed suitcase into the car, dropped off a nervous but excited Nathan with his overnight bag at a friend's house, then called the doctor and told him we were on our way to the hospital. Jarred timed my contractions as we drove. Upon arrival, Dr. Abovyan evaluated my progress and said that though my cervix had begun to efface, it was not dilated yet. The baby's heart beat was normal, and I was admitted to labor and delivery around 3:00 in the afternoon.
Just admitted to labor and delivery, about 3:00 PM.
Although our Armenian friends had informed us that husbands were generally not allowed -- or brave enough -- to stay with their wives (unless perhaps you gave the right person a "gift"), this was, thankfully, not the case at Erebouni. After the doctor said things were going well but would still take a few hours, Jarred called our parents in Florida to give them an update. While making sure I was laboring as comfortably as possible, Jarred realized he had forgotten to pack his own overnight bag. He figured he could go home, grab a few essentials, and be back in less than an hour. No problem, right? When he returned an hour and a half later, breathless and stressed out, he told me a crazy story:
As Jarred drove away from the hospital, he got a phone call. A police officer saw him using his phone while driving and pulled him over. Of course, everyone here uses their phones while driving, even bus drivers, so this was unexpected. Then the officer gave Jarred a really hard time about driving on a foreign driver's license...something no other traffic cop has ever cared about before. Jarred asked him how much money he wanted, and the cop insisted he didn't want any. They argued, the cop wanted to tow the car to some impound lot, Jarred pleaded for compassion since his wife was in labor, the cop didn't care, and finally -- assisted by the negotiation skills of our employer's procurement officer -- Jarred, ahem, "persuaded" the officer to let him go.
Fortunately, this was the worst thing that happened that day. As soon as Jarred returned to the hospital, he was by my side the whole time, helping me focus on my breathing, and supporting me physically and emotionally. He even set up iTunes on his MacBook to play some Miles Davis. Things started moving quickly...so quickly I was no longer keeping track of time. I requested an epidural, which was administered by a stern but kindly anesthesiologist (who spoke English fluently); immediately afterward my water broke; and shortly after that, I could feel the baby descending. Time to push! The nurses (who were clearly enjoying the jazz music playing in the background) transferred me to the delivery bed, and at 8:30 PM, as the bluesy strains of "One for Daddy-O" filled the room, Amira Tamar Blackmer entered the world!
Fathers are welcome in labor and delivery at Erebouni Medical Center, and a good thing, too: there's no way I could have done it without Jarred, my #1 coach... in the gym and the delivery room!
At last we had our "Armenian" daughter! It felt wonderful to hold my little girl, to hug her and feed her and look into her eyes as long as I wanted...since Nathan had been whisked away immediately after his birth due to his health problems, I didn't get a chance to do all these things with him until he was discharged a few weeks after his heart surgery. We called the big brother right away and gave him the good news, which he couldn't believe and needed us to repeat a couple of times! Then Jarred emailed the first few baby photos to our parents, and I spoke to my mom for a minute. I couldn't help but be grateful to be living in the 21st century, to be able to take advantage of constant connectivity and instantaneous communication with relatives, even while giving birth on another continent!
Mommy-baby bonding time.
After resting for about an hour, we were transferred to our recovery suite, which was like a large hotel room. There was a queen-size bed with a stylish zebra-striped bedspread, a comfortable fold-out sofa, coffee table, a dining table and chairs, a bathroom with a spacious shower, a mini-refrigerator, flatscreen TV, more closet and shelf space than I knew what to do with, a changing table, air conditioning, and big windows with blackout curtains. (This was a medium-large sized room -- we had also been shown the VIP Suite, with a huge living area and two bathrooms, when we took the tour a few months ago. Smaller rooms are also available.) There was a call button next to the bed that rang at the nurse's station down the hall, free wi-fi (weak signal, though), and bottled water replenished daily. A huge advantage over other local hospitals is the fact that maternity patients are served three meals a day (nothing gourmet, but generous portions of simple homestyle foods). There was also a small cafe on the same floor in case family members or visitors wished to eat. This was nothing like the Soviet horror stories I had heard in the past -- talk about progress!
Big brother Nathan sits on the sofa with his new baby sister. He laughs when she loses a sock and her toes tickle his leg.
Amira and I recovered well in such luxurious accommodations, with assistance from the incredible medical team. We were required to stay for three days, and throughout each day, we received visits from my OB/GYN, two pediatricians, the deputy-director of the maternity ward, and the very attentive team of nurses and cleaning staff. So I had plenty of opportunities to ask questions or request pain medication or help in any aspect of our care. And when I needed help in the middle of the night (which I did because Amira had some bad reflux) or at any other time, I simply pressed the call button and a nurse arrived within a few seconds. Almost every detail of our stay met or exceeded the level of professionalism and service I would expect in a Western facility...
There were just a few things missing (literally), but because of the "horror stories," I came mostly prepared. The hospital did not provide maxi pads, bar soap (only a cheap liquid soap at the sink), shampoo, nipple cream, or important baby supplies like diapers, wipes, towels, or burp cloths. It seemed I was expected to bring these things myself (although neither my doctor nor anyone one from the hospital informed me in advance). I hadn't thought about nipple cream -- I didn't need it with Nathan since I was pumping and storing rather than breastfeeding for his first few weeks while he was on a strict diet of IV fluids and air, poor baby. Yet even though the nurses didn't have any to give me, they offered to send someone down to the apteka (pharmacy) on the ground floor and purchase some if I gave them the money. So in the end, I still had everything I needed, with relatively little inconvenience. And honestly, from admission to discharge I believe the nurses were more friendly, patient, and understanding -- despite our language barriers! -- than the nurses assigned to me after my first birth at Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women in Orlando.
Saying goodbye to the dedicated ladies who made our hospital stay so comfortable.
So that's our story! Our little cherub came home on August 27th, just before Nate's first day of second grade. He is a proud and loving brother, and we couldn't be happier to have two wonderful, healthy children. Our family feels complete.
Our birth announcement, created at Shutterfly.com and sent to family and friends around the world.
Nathan usually smiles for his annual back-to-school photo, but this year, he was upset because he couldn't spend more time with his new baby sister...she had come home only the day before, after all!
Happy first month, sweetheart!
Amira is Arabic for "princess." Tamar is Hebrew for "date palm," and is also the name of a legendary Armenian princess, a powerful medieval Georgian queen, and in ancient Georgian mythology, the goddess of the sky and summer. Our daughter's name will always remind us of the beauty, history, and romanticism we've grown to love about this very special corner of the earth called the South Caucasus.
I hope that our birth story will give other expats an idea of "what to expect when you're expecting" in Armenia. Things definitely aren't as bad as they used to be, especially at Erebouni Medical Center, so don't be afraid to conceive here if a(nother) child is in your life plans, or feel like you have to travel to another country for prenatal care or to give birth. As you can see, we had a very positive experience overall, with a sweet baby girl as our reward! Feel free to contact us if you want to know how to reach Dr. Abovyan or wish to ask questions about pregnancy and birth in Armenia!
27 May 2014
have embarked on a sacred journey through the epic series and evolution of Ian
Fleming’s dynamic character: the ever competent, debonair, sophisticated, self
destructive, womanizing, master of one-liners, international agent of espionage
caricature, James Bond.
began with a record-setting cold winter and endless excuses to not go to the
gym after school. It was too cold to run
outside, and it was too dangerous to drive all the way to the gym on that ice
and snow. Plus, I had to make dinner, do
the dishes, help with homework, do my own homework, have band practice, and
spend time with the family. See, I can
keep going. So, to eliminate my excuses,
I quit the band, sold my drums, and bought a commercial treadmill, weights, a
bench, and a yoga mat. I pulled the
treadmill up to the 36-inch flat screen and surround sound studio speakers and
browsed my movies collection for something to keep me pumped, and energized to
run. So, I thought ‘What’s better than
the series of movies with the greatest amount and most elaborate chase scenes
had only seen the Bond films with Pierce Brosnan, so I could never participate
in the debates over which film was best, which Bond was best, etc. I never paid attention to the James Bond
marathons TBS would play on Thanksgiving Day.
I did, however, watch Austin Powers, and picking up enough from
pop-culture, I could infer what James Bond was about. I enjoyed the silliness of Austin Powers,
which I now appreciate on 23 more levels, since it was clearly not supposed to
be an action movie. My first real Bond
experience in high school put me off the films altogether. I walked in on the opening scene of Goldeneye
when Bond raced a motorcycle off the cliff, and free-fell to catch up with the
falling plane to board it and correct its trajectory to complete his miraculous
escape. This was so cartoonishly over
the top, nonsensically moronic and unrealistic, I wondered how they could watch
this. Frustrated the others wouldn’t
change the channel to something else more rational, I stormed out and found
something else to do. I just didn’t
wasn’t until 2nd year of college, when I was dragged to a screening
of Brosnan’s last appearance, Die Another
Day. I was impressed. I enjoyed the special effects, the action and
then… it hit me. I got it. When I saw the invisible car, it was clear to
me that the entire point of Bond is what I sneered at with contempt in
Goldeneye. It is what I defined as a
“Cheese Factor.” The Cheese Factor was the point and what had to be outdone
with each new installment, with each new Bond, villain, villain’s death, gadget,
girl, chase scene, innuendo and plot. I
enjoyed discovering this new, exclusive genre that Bond carves for itself. I appreciated the Cheese. I proceeded to watch all the most recent
Bonds with Pierce Brosnan. I enjoyed
them all. I admit, I was excited to
re-watch the scene that turned me off years before. I had new respect for the fantastical
stunt. I cheered!
years after my first positive James Bond movie-going experience, I committed to
watching all 23 films in succession. It
is overwhelming to imagine planning to sit and spend 80+ hours watching movies.
But, since I had another mission, to run every day without excuse, I was
excited to continue where I left off. I
would watch the movie just for the time I would run, which was between 30 and
45 minutes, depending on which scene I was ending on. A chase scene demanded that I run non stop
until the chase ended. Each day, I
resumed the movie where I left off the day before. Two or three movies in, I decided I would try
to make some notes about each one so I wouldn’t forget them and so I could
participate in those debates I excluded myself from, next time armed with a
wealth of fresh researched knowledge and thoughtful opinions about each
the Brosnan era, Daniel Craig helped re-brand the James Bond franchise, and
bring a bit more credibility, and less cheese in Casino Royale. I did not
support the new direction and new Q-less, Moneypenny-less, cheese-less, face of
Bond. The decade was already steeped in
the real Middle East war, waterboarding, and dramatic political shit. We were stoked on the cheese-less Bourne
films and Spy Games and the like, so the familiar fans of Bond needed that escape
from that hard core action and looked to their favorite International Man of
Mystery for relief. So, I was relieved
and fully satisfied with the latest episode, Skyfall, when many of the abandoned elements of classic Bond were
revived with an excellent sense of taste and James Bond-like class and dignity.
I loved the premise that was repeated in this film. The repeating theme of ‘going back to roots’,
‘back to the old way’ gave me hope. Several
scenes were obviously speaking to the audience who missed old Bond and was
trying to communicate the message that we should move on, move forward like
when Bond double takes and says to Q when he receives his issue and new
gadgets, “A gun and a radio, not exactly Christmas, is it?” and Q responds,
“What were you expecting? An exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that
anymore.” Bond had to defend this theme earlier
in the same scene when he was sizing up Q and reminding him that despite the
new remote technology that can start and end wars, he is not just someone to
pull the trigger, but someone who needs to decide when not to pull it. Nonetheless, together with the modern
facelift of the franchise, Bond emerged victorious as always, but not without a
waft of cheese reminiscing with classic Bond by bringing back the Aston Martin
DB5, a revived swagger in the 00 branch, Moneypenny, and the subtleties that
belong between her and Bond. The series
was indeed only shaken, not stirred.
the evolution of the Bond films was an exciting and educational glimpse into 50
years of sociology, pop-culture, fashion trends, music, technology, progress of
civil rights, some political issues, and social issues like the film industry’s
definitions of masculinity and femininity, and racial tolerance. These will probably be the topics that drive
my discussions about Bond. I began
writing notes, but I found myself trying to organize my essays and the
categories kept expanding and demanding more and more elaboration. So, I decided then, to simply delete
everything in each paragraph, and organize the same categories and create a
ranking system on a spreadsheet. I am
sure I have already forgotten details about each film and rendered myself
inadequate in any real Bond-buff debate.
However, I did catalog my opinions about each so that I can express my
opinions about which ones I like and which I don’t.
have to remind the readers that I am aware of the controversy and the conflict
that will ensue. I suppose that’s the
fun of it. I am also aware of my bias. I grew up in the digital age, one of
political correctness and gender equality progress. I know my impression of films before my
generation will be incomparable to today’s explosive, sexy, CGI, and technical
complexity. So, I tried my very best to
shed my bias in my rankings and try to apply scores to elements that could be
more fair to avoid my natural sway. I
will try to show this by identifying how I could prefer older films to newer in
some categories. Here are my categories:
This category is a measure of the movie’s basic plot and its direction it takes
the audience and all for what purposes.
What are the problems, conflicts, connections and relationships? What is the solution and how it is
executed? For example, A View to a Kill was terrible, but The Spy Who Loved Me was excellent!
Bond: This will be the most controversial and
subjective category but I must explain the elements of the Bond character being
measured. This is the general feeling
and overall effect the actor had on me.
Physical appearance and credibility in action sequences are important,
too… sorry Tim Dalton. Delivery of
Bond-esque character traits and continuity of character type are measured.
This is the complexity and evilness of the villain, again, in the James Bond style. How strong and important to the plot is the
villain? How many are there, and who is important? Jaws, really? Who plays the best Dr.
Evil? Like, Emilio Largo from Thunderball was a weak villain in the
story, but Dr. No from Dr. No, and
Hugo Drax from Moonraker were
I know I could be easily discredited just being from the 90s generation, but I
know enough about the history of technology and progress that I can gauge the
awesomeness of the gadgets with a fair amount of objectivity. So, I measured the coolness of the devices,
but also how they are used, and how they affect the story or conflicts. Were they integral inventions to solving the
problem, or just awesome for the sake of extending the movie’s list of
gadgets. So, the gadgets in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service were
weak, but For Your Eyes Only was
great… even though the movie sucked in every other area.
Girl: Perhaps another setup for some bar
fights, and anti-gender equality with the sexist and chauvinistic objectification
of women, let me weasel my way out of this by saying that the movies did all
those things, I am just judging them J This category measures the strength of the
woman in the role. I know earlier films
prohibited the woman from an equal degree of power as in today’s films, so I
considered that. How useful is the
woman? How did she affect the story? Over-all
hotness! Was she hot and couldn’t act? I
think I succeeded to see through the decade trends and forget the hair-style,
makeup and all the other things associated with eras I can’t identify
with. For example, despite the atrocity
of the 80s, I still found Tiffany Case from Diamonds
are Forever (’71) and Kara Milovy from The
Living Daylights (‘87) both hot and excellent characters. So, just understand, that I saw past their
trendy exterior and period trends and tried my hardest to imagine them all
without clothes at all.
All: This category is simply my own
opinion for its over-all entertainment value.
How much I enjoyed it. This is
left without the value of the gadgets and girls, plot and villain, this is how
much I nodded my head in content and satisfaction.
This is the sum of all values of the categories valued from 1-5. The lowest possible score is 6 and the
highest score is 30.
suppose if I wanted to watch a movie and call it my favorite, I don’t know if I
would organize by Over-all or by Total.
Total is by ranking the elements, but Over-all is my immediate opinion
only moments after I finished the film. This
score simply represents my enjoyment.
In this chart, I have them organized first by date, then by Total. So, let the debates begin. I invite them.
|The welcome screen at the start of the exhibit|
|Q Boat- The Word is Not Enough- 1999|
|The Wetbike- The Spy Who Loved Me- 1977|
|Bell Textron Jetpack- Die Another Day- 2002 This was a reminiscent allusion Sean Connery's flight in Thunderball- 1965|
|Story boards and production clapper board from Goldeneye- 1995|
|More story boards of chase scenes|
|Rolls Royce Silver Cloud- A View to a Kill- 1962|
|Acrostar Jet- Octopussy- 1983|
|Aston Martin DB5- Goldeneye (in scene)- 1995|
|Little Nellie- Wallis WA-116 Series 1- You only Live Twice- 1967|
|Car Plane (1974 AMC Matador Coupe)- The Man With the Golden Gun- 1974|
|Chase scene story board|
|Wet Nellie (Lotus Esprit S2)- The Spy Who Loved Me- 1977|
|1937 Rolls Royce Phantom III- Goldfinger- 1964|
|1969 Mercury Cougar Convertible- On Her Majesty's Secret Service- 1969|
|Crocodile Submarine- Octopussy- 1983|
|Ernest Blofeld's Mini Submarine- Diamonds Are Forever- 1971|
|Aston Martin DB5- Thunderball- 1965|
|Surf board with gadgets inside- Die Another Day- 2002|
|Aston Martin DBS V12- Casino Royale 2006 and Quantum of Solace 2008|
|1971 Ford Mustang Mach 1 Fastback (on two-wheels)- Diamonds Are Forever 1971 and a Honda ATV|
|Cool Car Toys and the spiky tires from Die Another Day|
|BMW Z8 with all the usual refinements- The World Is Not Enough- 1999|
|BMW 750iL flying off a roof- Tomorrow Never Dies- 1997|
|Same BWM being returned to the car rental place via roof top|
|Renault 11 Taxi in its half-intact form just before it was split again into two making just ¼ of a car- A View to a Kill- 1985|
|Left: Bajaj RE Taxi- Octopussy 1983 and Right: Citroen 2CV- For Your Eyes Only- 1981|
|Aston Martin V8 Vantage Volante- The Living Daylights- 1987 and from my favorite chase scene ever!... The Cello Case|
|Jaguar XKR- Die Another Day- 2002|
|Aston Martin v12 Vanquish in y moment of epiphany when it appears- Die Another Day- 2002|