This one hurts

My grandpa passed away on Saturday. He was 80 and his health had been declining for several years, but still it hurts.

My grandma wishes to have the services as soon as possible, for closure and her own well-being, and I completely understand. Our home leave travel plans are for us to depart this coming Saturday but we can’t get home in time for his funeral, and it hurts.

My grandparents let us live with them during our R&Rs, home leaves, and maternity med-evacs to Ohio. They welcome our loud, busy family into their home for weeks and even months at a time and offer us housing, food, a car, their cell phones, pretty much anything they can to make our stay a little easier. Talking to many other families in the Foreign Service, we know how lucky we are to have such a strong family support system whenever we go home. I am beyond grateful that we were recently home with them for over three months during my pregnancy med-evac and I spent a final Christmas with my grandpa. I have photos of him holding both of my babies when we brought them home from the hospital, and I have this picture of him holding them both at Christmas. I’ll cherish it forever, but it still really hurts.

My grandpa believed in hard work and teaching us the value of a dollar. He went with me to purchase my very first car, a 1992 Honda Civic (my dream car!). I think it cost around $3500, and I only had half of that. He paid the rest up front for me, and then went with me to the bank as I took out a small personal loan for the rest. The man was generous to a fault, but it was also important to him that we all worked hard and learned that nothing comes for free. My mom loves to tell the story that he made her build – like literally from scrap – her first car. When my sweet Civic had a flat tire and I was clueless on what to do, Grandpa was my first phone call. And while he happily changed my tire for me, he also insisted I sit right there beside him to learn for myself. He could make a teachable moment out of just about anything. I’m grateful for the many life lessons he shared with me, and though I’ll carry them with me always, knowing he isn’t here to do the same for my kids, hurts.

My grandpa was a proud U.S. Army  Veteran and served in the Vietnam War as a Green Beret. He was assigned to Detachment B-56, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces, in Vietnam. As he was riding in a helicopter on a resupply mission over enemy territory, the helicopter was hit with several rounds of antiaircraft fire, burst into flames and crashed. He was shot and severely injured with burns all over his body. Despite his injuries, he led himself and two surviving crew members to safety. For his strength and bravery he was awarded the Silver Star and a Purple Heart with one oak leaf cluster. He was still hospitalized when he received his medals and had no recollection of it. In 2011, when we told his story to Senator Sherrod Brown, he graciously hosted a Medal Ceremony for him in our hometown. In addition to reading his citation and officially repinning him with his medals and awards, Senator Brown presented my grandpa with an American flag that had been flown over the U.S. Capitol Building in his honor on September 11, 2011. It was such a special day for my family and gave us an opportunity to thank my grandpa for his service and sacrifice.

 

Grandpa spent some time in the hospital this past Christmas, and for a few weeks he was in a transition care unit as he regained his strength. I spent a few afternoons with him, just talking and playing checkers. I wondered if it was appropriate to let him beat me, but then that wasn’t an issue because he beat me twice. I think he might have cheated. Grandpa loved telling jokes, often at the listener’s expense (read: me) and he had such a deep, happy laugh. I can hear him saying some of his favorite phrases like “Bullshit” and “Aww Hell No!”  He was funny, loving and kind. He was unquestionably the head of our big family and someone we all turned to for advice and wisdom. I knew this day would come and yet I can’t believe it happened.

I’m so proud to be his granddaugher and of the wonderful life he lived, and I believe he is in a better place now. I’m thankful that he knew how much we all loved him but still, this one is going to hurt for a while.

Make new friends, but keep the old

Many, many moons ago I was a Girl Scout, and I remember singing that song at summer camps. I think about those lyrics quite often in this crazy overseas life. Making friends is one of the best and worst parts about the foreign service. In some ways it’s great because I like meeting new people and I’ve already been so fortunate to make new lifelong friends. On the other hand, making new friends can be intimidating and awkward. You’re starting completely from scratch at each new post, just hoping to find someone (and if you’re really lucky, a few someones) that “gets” you.

I know I’m lucky to have the friends that I do. Some of my earliest memories include meeting and becoming best friends with Ashleigh in Mrs. Lehman’s first grade class at Maple Street School. She was so cool and I knew I wanted to be just like her. Almost 30 years later, Ashleigh is still one of my dearest friends, and while we no longer fight over who gets to ride in the front seat, I still kind of want to be like her. I’ve written before about my hometown group of girlfriends and how much they mean to me. We’re reuniting again in just a few weeks and I can’t wait to see them. I also have a fun date planned with my very best friend from college, and some of the awesome people JR and I met in law school are making the pilgrimage to Orrville in July for a cookout. I’m counting down the days until these visits!

When we decided to live overseas, saying goodbye was hard. Staying in touch means making time to see each other when I’m in Ohio and that often requires months of advance planning, but my friends are pros at this and are no longer surprised when I email them 6 months out asking them to set aside a date for some quality time while I’m home. We email, text and call as often as we can and we’re grateful for the time we have together. Still, I miss out on birthdays, get togethers, play dates and other fun things. I’ve asked them to stop having fun without me but no one seems interested in that request.

Arriving in Kosovo with no job and no friends, I knew I needed to find my people quickly. And thank goodness I did. Without Amy and Jessica, I probably couldn’t have made it through that first tour. It helps so much to have someone else who knows exactly what you are going through when you experience the highs and lows of the foreign service. Our time in the same country (actually, on the same continent as we’re on 3 different ones right now) was short-lived, but thankfully they’re just a gchat and a few time zones away.

I dreaded starting over once again in Georgia. I know I’m a broken record about this, but the first few weeks and months in a new place is really draining on me. Before we arrived I was emailing with ET, the wife of one of Justin’s future work colleagues. She offered to answer any of my questions about life in Tbilisi, and while I initially tried to reign in my crazy, I let it all fly after just a few exchanges. I could tell instantly by her responses that she was my kind of people. When we landed and I had no phone, no car, and definitely no friends, she swooped in and I loved her from the start. Our husbands and kids became friends, and they introduced us to more of their friends, and it all seemed so easy and comfortable. We expected to have 3 years here together but they left early for a great new job offer. Happy for their good fortune but sad to lose them, we enjoyed our last few weekends together and finally got around to taking pictures. Amazingly, in the year+ that we spent together, ET and I didn’t have a single photo of the two of us until the night before we left!

Our girls


Our farewell photo shoot

I was fortunate to have other girlfriends still at post when I returned after having William, so I didn’t have to start all over, but there were some new arrivals and potential friends to be made. Constantly putting yourself out there to make new friends can be tiring. Most people assume I’m an extrovert, but I definitely have introvert tendencies. I also struggle with social anxiety sometimes and worry about silly things when I meet someone new. Should I send her a Facebook friend request or is it too soon? Can I wear yoga pants to your house?  Do you like dessert? Were you team Noel or Ben, Big or Aidan, Brandon or Dylan? (The correct answers are Ben, Aidan, Dylan.)

In the beginning I’m questioning myself constantly. It’s a huge relief when I can do things like send a mid-morning text saying I need to vent and then show up at a friend’s house and she has mimosas ready (thank you, Marisa) or respond to an invitation to come over with “Okay, I’m coming over but I’m still in the clothes I slept in” (thank you, Bridget).

Friendships and goodbyes have been on my mind as we enter another summer transfer season. Some of our great friends and their families are departing, including the above mentioned Marisa and her daughter, K, who is Abby’s best buddy. These two are full of mischief and giggles, and it’s been so much fun watching them grow up together the last two years.

 

As Marisa keeps reminding me, it’s not goodbye, it’s see you soon. So to my amazing friends all over the world, I’ll see you soon!

 

Don’t Take it Personal

I’ve been singing Monica’s “Don’t Take it Personal” (so easy to sing along…It’s just one of them days, that a girl goes through) all weekend. It was just one of those weekends where I was up and then down over everything, big and small.

First, the weather has been super frustrating. We had a few days of sunny warmth, then came rain, then came the wind. The wind here is no joke, I’m not sure I’ve talked about it much but it can ruin your plans, and even your weekend. We wind up stuck inside because the wind is blowing so hard it’s really unpleasant going outdoors. Abby is a very dramatic child and she will run up to us, with tears in her eyes, that we have to move all of her outdoor toys to the garage or else they’ll blow away. Sometimes JR goes along with it, other times he tells her to stop being silly, of course her toys will be fine. Unfortunately we were wrong about the new little slide we put in our backyard, because it slammed into our fence and spent several days laying in two pieces in our yard. Sopo put it back together but it blew over again yesterday so we’ll see how long that thing actually survives out there.

When it’s not windy or rainy (or both) it’s been cold. Like really cold. The kids’ rooms were down to 64 degrees for a few nights. You might think we should turn on the heat, and you’d be right. But there is some weird quirk with our heating and cooling system where you have to submit a work order and ask the Embassy workers to come out and turn off your heat and turn on your AC at the start of the summer. It was getting warm at the beginning of May so we went ahead and did that, and now it appears we jumped the gun a bit. JR pulled a few space heaters from the garage and we plugged them in around the house. Mostly I wanted to warm up the kids’ bedrooms, but I was too paranoid to leave them on upstairs overnight. So this morning – when they both treated us to early wake-ups at 4:30 and 5am (why God, why?) – their rooms were 64 and 63 degrees. Not ideal.

JR is a control officer for a VIP this week, which means a significant amount of extra work for him. A control officer handles all the details of a visitor’s trip – they coordinate motorpool and attend all the meetings, they prepare briefing binders with all the necessary memos and background paperwork, they pick up the visitor at the airport and escort them to their hotel and to all events, and they’re on call for anything that might come up at the last minute. I wasn’t surprised when he told me he had to work late Friday, but my intentions of making pizza went out the window and I thought we should just order in. Apparently many others had the same plan because Dominoes said it would be a 2 hour wait. Back to Plan A of making pizza myself (although Sopo was still there and very kindly offered to make the dough while I played with the kids.)

When JR made it home that night, he said there had been last minute changes to all the paperwork and the binders weren’t completed correctly, so he would need to go back into work Saturday morning. In addition to driving to the Azerbaijani border to pick up the visitor and take her to her hotel that afternoon. Awesome. William and Abby have been waking up earlier and earlier, and when I first heard William Saturday morning, I reached over to shake JR awake and say my favorite words “your turn.” But he was already off to work. By the time he got home later that morning, I was already over the whole day (at 9:30am!) and told him we would most certainly be ordering Baan Thai (one of my favorite delivery places here, one of the few that can consistently find our house and we can order in English) that night for dinner.

I realized while he was gone that we were going to run out of William’s formula. His formula has been a constant issue for us since we returned to Tbilisi. He seems to be reacting to something in the Similac and Target versions we have tried, so we finally found a German brand, Hipp, and a specific type of hypo-allergenic formula that seems to work for him. We usually have to try a few grocery stores and pharmacies to find it, and then they often only have two boxes at a time. A box lasts about 3 days. So now it’s Saturday night, it’s POURING down rain, and I have to run out to the grocery store as soon as JR gets home because we need formula. I went to Goodwill, the German grocery store closest to us, and they didn’t have it nor did the pharmacy. You know the feeling when you run out to the store to get ONE THING, and they don’t have it. I was so frustrated – over the weather, over everything.

We finished up the formula we had left and I ordered a few different brands/types on Amazon, and Sunday morning sent JR to Carrefour hoping he’d find a few boxes. He texted me that they had 8! I instructed him to buy them all. He actually left a few just in case some other family was running around in the same predicament. Now we’re at least set for a few weeks.

It was not my  best weekend. We had another work event, spouses included, on Sunday evening which wound up being quite enjoyable but it was just a tiring weekend. But in an effort to end on a good note, all that rain led to these beautiful rainbows!

See you in Scotland, part 2

Catch up on the first part of our trip here.

Oban

Monday morning, JR and my mom went to pick up our rental car at the train station in Edinburgh while I stayed back at the apartment with the kids. It took way longer than any of us were expecting and I started to worry. With no way to contact them I wondered if they’d already been in an accident – perhaps forgetting to drive on the opposite side of the road. Finally, they pulled up and we began the extremely difficult task of fitting all of our luggage into the minivan. Here’s the thing, I tried to pack light, I really did. But we still had way too much stuff. Add in my mom’s suitcases and we just did not have the space. Yes, suitcases, plural. She could not fathom the kids not having Easter baskets in Scotland – the horror! and she also packed a million activities for her and Abby to do.

JR did a great job of driving us quickly out of the city and it didn’t feel like driving was much different (easy for me to say, sitting in the back). The kids took naps and we made plans to stop near Loch Lomond on our way to Oban. Everything was going great at this point. The scenery was beautiful, the roads were narrow but in great condition, and we were feeling good! Abby woke up shortly before our scheduled stop and she started complaining about being in her car seat. Not totally unusual for her, and we aren’t in the car for long periods of time in Georgia so I tried to reassure her that we’d be taking a break for lunch soon. We stopped at the Kilted Skirlie, which has nice views of the Loch and is also located next door to an aquarium. There was a small little carnival-like area set up outside that had some rides, so Abby enjoyed that.

She wasn’t that hungry at lunch but I convinced her to eat a few more bites of pasta with the promise of ice cream (two things I would come to regret). We stopped by the rides again briefly before we left and then we were back on the road. I figured the kids would nap for most of the 2 hour drive to Oban. I was wrong.

About an hour in, Abby was awake and complaining that her stomach hurt. I didn’t think too much of it, honestly. I offered her my phone so she could watch a show in hopes of distracting her, and when that didn’t fully do the trick, I gave her a binky – a surefire way to make her happy. She was still telling me she wanted to be out of her car seat. A few minutes passed and my mom suggested we turn off the show in case watching it was making her feel worse, and we encouraged her to sing songs and look out the window. Suddenly, she was vomiting. A lot. She was sitting behind the passenger seat, William was in the middle, and I was on the other side. I leaned over him, resting my hand on her chest when she started throwing up. I sort of tried to catch it? I didn’t really know what to do, I think she has only vomited once before in her life and it was definitely not in the car. I told JR to pull over, but we were basically in the middle of nowhere on a very tiny road.

She continued to throw up as he pulled up beside a small B&B. My mom ran to the door and asked the owner if we could come inside to clean her up in a bathroom. The woman was super nice and wanted to help, but said she didn’t have any available bathrooms we could use since all the rooms had guests, so she offered  her kitchen area instead. Abby was very upset – a combination of being covered in puke and not feeling well – as JR carried her inside to start cleaning her up. My task was to find a change of clothes for her in the mess of suitcases crammed into the back of the van. I managed to yank out a pair of pajamas and a spare blanket. Meanwhile, my mom was trying to clean the car seat and throwing soiled clothes to the ground, including my jacket and Abby’s blanket (that Paw Patrol blanket was so disgusting I would have preferred to throw it in the trash, but Abby would have lost her mind). The car seat was a mess. Everything was a mess. I carried the pajamas inside and found Abby had calmed down and JR said she was just fine after he got her dirty clothes off. The very nice lady had offered her a Capri Sun, a warm washcloth and a towel. She passed me a plastic bag for our dirty clothes, along with a bucket of soap and water and a rag to clean up the car and car seat.

We did the best we could in cleaning and decided to flip Abby’s car seat forward-facing for the rest of the day. I’m a big proponent of rear-facing (read more here and here) but my heart was breaking for my poor girl and I would have done anything to try to make her feel better. (She’s rear-facing again now that we’re home and I hope to keep her that way until she outgrows the height and/or weight limits for her car seat). We still had an hour to drive and needless to say, I did not have the most positive outlook. She did throw up once more about 10 minutes down the road, but she managed to get almost all of it in a plastic bag so we had minimal mess that time. She then fell asleep for the rest of the drive.

  
Before and after shots. Also these chickens showed up, because why wouldn’t there be chickens to laugh at our predicament??


To the owners and staff of the Glengarry House B&B, thank you a million times over for helping us!

When we arrived in Oban, we were tired, smelly, and over it. I was also really cold because my jacket was in the bag of soiled clothes. While we love using AirBnBs, one downside is you can’t just waltz in like you would with a hotel. You need to link up with the owner to exchange the keys (although a few places we’ve used have key boxes which is much more convenient). Well, to connect with the owner you need to call or text them, and we didn’t have a SIM card for the UK. So we arrived at our place and I’m running around like a crazy person, in and out of nearby stores, trying to pick up wifi so I can get in touch with the owner so we can get into the apartment. Not ideal. Some kind ladies let me just use their phone so I called the apartment owner and she showed up about 5 minutes later.

We were SO relieved, Abby especially, to be done with the car! And our apartment was really lovely and right in the center of town. Once we settled in a bit, we walked down to a restaurant called Piazza for dinner. It was delicious and had great views. Worn out from our exciting day of travel, we called it an early night and spent the rest of the evening relaxing in our apartment.

Our second day in Oban was supposed to be a highlight of the trip for JR and I – we had planned a full day boat tour of several nearby islands. Unfortunately, it was too rainy and windy and the tour was canceled. We were so disappointed! Although I can’t personally recommend it, if you are in the area I would definitely look into Staffa Tours. With no plans for the day, we set out walking along the water front for a while before finding the Oban Chocolate Company. Now that was a trip highlight! We ordered the ultimate chocolate fondue and enjoyed every bite.

 

 

 

The weather didn’t look to be improving, so my mom took Abby to an indoor play place called GoBananas while William and I napped at home.


It doesn’t get any sweeter than this!

JR did his own little walking tour around town.


Pictures of the Oban Distillery, McCaig’s Tower and looking out over Oban

Later we met up for drinks. Luckily no one was bothered by William hanging out with us.

Yep.

Back at the apartment, Abby helped my mom color Easter eggs.

We picked up dinner on our way home at Oban Fish and Chips (super quick and delicious – highly recommend!) and spent another evening relaxing at the apartment. Oban was a nice stop, but I think the weather and our troubles getting there prevented me from really loving it as much as I would have otherwise.

To be continued.

 

See you in Scotland!

That’s how we ended our last video chat session with my Mom before we both made our way to Scotland from Ohio and Georgia, respectively. Deciding on our second R&R plans was not an easy task. We’ve barely settled back into life here after our med-evac to Ohio, and we now have a 4-month old and a toddler. Not the most ideal time to take a vacation, but we charged ahead. Visiting Scotland was a bucket list trip for JR and I, particularly a road trip to see as much of the country as possible. We’re not out to win any parenting medals so we quickly realized the only way we could have the trip we wanted and enjoy ourselves would be to bring someone else along – enter my wonderful mother!

We were able to spend 9 fun and busy days in Scotland last week all together and it really felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Possibly because I’d never again want to take a Scottish road trip with my two young children. It was challenging and often exhausting, but also full of laughter and great memories.

Edinburgh

We met my mom at the Edinburgh Airport Saturday morning. Abby was calling out “Nana, Nana” as I pushed the stroller through the airport. William, life of the party as always, was passed out. The kids did really, really well on both flights. Because we were flying Turkish and we connected in Istanbul, we were subject to the new electronics ban which prohibits any electronics larger than a smart phone in your carry-on bag. Our default entertainment plan while flying is to let Abby have free reign of the iPad or Kindle Fire, so we were less than thrilled to learn of the new policy. It all worked out fine, first because we loaded up our iPhones with some of her favorite shows and also because Turkish is quite kid-friendly and helpful, and they had in-flight entertainment available on both segments of our trip.


Snuggling on the plane

After a few hugs and hellos, we made our way to our driver and vehicle. We hired Sun Transfers and we had no complaints about the service we received picking us up (our return trip was another story). Although we were initially told our AirBnB would not be available for early check-in, the cleaning service advised us they were nearly finished with the apartment. That was great news and allowed us to unload our stuff before walking to Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar for lunch. Everyone was in need of a nap so we made quick work of the food and then returned to our apartment. The location was fantastic, just a few blocks south of the Royal Mile, which was our first stop after naps.

 

We were in Scotland, so we expected a lot of rain, but we really lucked out, especially that first day. It was sunny and beautiful.  We walked along the Royal Mile, visiting shops, watching street performers, listening to bagpipe players, and of course JR stopped for his first pint in Scotland. It started to get a bit late and we needed dinner, so we made our way back towards our apartment with plans to find either a quick place to eat or carry out. There was a Pizza Express nearby and it looked very family/kid friendly, so we decided to eat in. Probably a mistake. William woke up from his nap and was just not having all the noise, they brought Abby a huge glass of milk that she promptly spilled everywhere, and it took forever for them to take our order. It was also pretty expensive for a meal that I’d call just decent, but pizza and pasta are about the only two things Abby is sure to eat for dinner right now so it worked for us.

 

We spent the next morning at the Edinburgh Castle. We took a wrong turn as we walked towards it and wound up having to climb what felt like hundreds of steps, but the views were worth it.

 

  

William was asleep in his carrier and my mom went off chasing after Abby while JR and I did the free guided tour. The tour just walks around the outside of the main buildings and only lasted about 45 minutes, but it was informative. JR wanted to visit longer, so my mom and I took the kids to the Princes Street Garden to find a playground. The walk there was so nice, although the hill was a bit steep, but it weaved back and forth through these bright yellow flowers. The park and playground were the perfect end to our morning.

 

In the afternoon we visited the National Museum of Scotland. It was fantastic for kids – so much to see and do, Abby really loved it.

We went to the Whiski Rooms for dinner, and while they did a double take when we tried to enter with our huge double stroller, we found section in the back that could fit all of us and our stuff, and we enjoyed possibly my favorite meal of the trip! My fish and chips was delicious and JR sampled haggis for the first (and last) time. Let me save you the Googling: Haggis is a savoury pudding containing sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock and cooked in a sheep’s stomach. All together now: Yum!

To be continued.

Frozen

No, this is not a post about letting it go or sisterly love.

Sorry.

It’s about my current EFM (eligible-family member, that’s what I am as JR’s spouse overseas) employment situation. While we were on our maternity med evac, I interviewed for and was offered the position of CLO Coordinator at the Embassy. I’ve wanted this job basically since I learned it existed and I cried when I opened the email. Granted, I was 57 weeks pregnant and an emotional time bomb, but the point is, I was super excited. The Community Liaison Office (CLO, get it?!) is tasked with things like welcoming and helping newcomers adjust at post, providing crisis management and support services, acting as a liaison for spouses and family members interested in employment and schools, planning events for the Embassy community, and being a general source of information.

We had a wonderful CLO when we arrived in Kosovo (cheers to you, JBF!). It was our first post and in many ways, we were clueless. For me, I was anxious to feel settled and to start working as soon as possible. The CLO was helpful in sending out job announcements, discussing possible opportunities for other community involvement in Pristina, and they had weekly events that we could participate in to get to know the city and people. As soon as we learned we were headed to Tbilisi, I immediately emailed the CLO here. I asked to be added to their newsletter and weekly mailing lists. Both of those include advertisements for nannies and vehicles, which allowed us to line up a nanny and a car before we had arrived at post. I also reached out to ask about employment opportunities, and the CLO wrote back right away with information about the types of positions that would be available when we arrived.

Transitioning to a new post and home is not easy for me. In the Foreign Service, some of life’s most stressful events happen not only all at once, but repeatedly every few years. Moving to a new country, where English is definitely not the main language, establishing a new home, starting a new job (or being without a job), making new friends – it’s a lot. You are living in a brand new place, but often only in your temporary housing, you don’t have most of your things, no car (super fun when you need to install a 30lb car seat to take your child anywhere – and then you made it to the grocery store in a taxi but you STILL have the 30lb car seat to deal with), not even knowing how to find a grocery store or a Diet Coke (spoiler alert, they only have Coke Zero here). While others may land on their feet faster, I rely on the CLO office a lot in the beginning, and their support has made a huge difference for me and I want to pay it forward.

I’m super, super excited about this new opportunity. But there’s a REALLY big catch. Perhaps you recall that the new President signed a Federal Hiring Freeze on January 23, 2017. This freeze has major implications for current and hopeful federal employees, and it’s also a pretty big deal to us EFMs. It can be extremely challenging to find an Embassy position as an EFM. At our current post, there are more spouses who want to work than there are available jobs. Financially, it would be really hard for us to continue in this lifestyle if I were not employed. Mentally and personally, I want to be working. I like working. I’m lucky that my current/old position is allowing me to stay on until things are resolved. It’s mutually beneficial because they can’t announce the vacancy for my position or hire for it until the freeze is over. But others here are waiting and waiting and WAITING for a job. And it sucks (sorry Mom, I know how you feel about that word.)

EFMs provide critical support to our Embassy missions around the world. It saves the government a big chunk of money to hire someone who is already living here as opposed to paying to move an officer here. It’s also impacting spouses and families in ways I hadn’t considered. There are several posts that are unaccompanied – meaning they are considered too dangerous for families to live there. An exception can be made in some situations for spouses who obtain an EFM job at the unaccompanied post. In those instances, the spouse can live and work with the officer at the post, so it’s no longer unaccompanied. For people who had these plans coming up in the next few months, everything is on hold for them until the freeze is lifted. This could mean the officer will depart for the post as arranged, but the EFM/spouse can no longer go because they no longer have a job. Or a place to live. Oh and they’ll now be separated from their spouse for an unknown amount of time.

To bring it back to how this is directly affecting me and my fellow EFMs at this post, we are all in a crappy state of limbo. Waiting for the freeze to end, waiting on security clearances, waiting for jobs to be posted, just waiting. Our current CLO coordinator is departing at the end of April. She has one part-time assistant who will be leaving in June. Those positions – and a second assistant – cannot be filled until the freeze is over. The work they do is particularly important during upcoming transition season (starts in May because many FSOs with children try to move during the summer to be ready for the next school year) and if we were to face any type of security or crisis situation here.

I can’t put into words how frustrating and disappointing this situation is as a whole. We are constantly reading news about major threats to the State and USAID budgets. I want to yell – do you not know what kind of work is being done here and why it’s so important? Even our top military leaders think cutting funding is disastrous and would threaten citizens at home and abroad.

I don’t know that anyone is listening, though. To be more productive with my frustrations, I’ll include these links that explain the issues further (and far better than I can). If you only have time for one, please click on the first as it’s super short and really explains how much the State department does with such a small amount(1%. One teeny tiny percent!) of the federal budget.

So until next time, I’ll just be waiting for the thaw.

What do the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) do for the American people? With just over 1% of the entire federal budget, they have a huge impact on how Americans live and how the rest of the world perceives America.
https://www.state.gov/r/pa/pl/2017/267416.htm

State department funding is critical to keeping America safe.
http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/27/politics/generals-letter-state-department-budget-cuts/

Trump’s Cuts to USAID Would Imperil the United States

A helpful breakdown of foreign aid.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/world/which-countries-get-the-most-foreign-aid/

 

Travel is fun, they say

The good news is we survived the return to trip to Tbilisi and it went about as well as we could have hoped. The bad news is that jet lag with a 7 week old and a 2.5 year old is THE WORST. Thankfully it only took about a week for us to fix our sleep schedules but it was a very rough 7 days.

We flew out of Akron Canton, which is a small regional airport about 40 minutes from Orrville. Because we flew into Cleveland when we arrived, this was considered a cost-construct trip (since we wanted to fly in and out of two different airports, we were responsible for any difference in price – in this case it was $25 per ticket which was worth it to us). Akron Canton is closer, and it’s much more convenient because it’s just so small. I also liked the flight schedules better. The downside is that when you cost construct a ticket, you lose some of the benefits you might otherwise have received. In this case, we could have had a day room at the Hilton hotel in Munich during our 9 hour layover as part of our trip. I didn’t know if we were making a huge mistake by foregoing that option. We could have paid out-of-pocket for it but I heard the business lounge was really nice (and we did receive passes to that). Also, the Hilton is kind of a haul through the airport and the day room hours are 9am to 6pm. We were scheduled to land around 1pm and leave at 10pm, so I didn’t know how useful it would actually be.

We left for the airport at 2:30pm on Tuesday, January 24. As I mentioned in my last post, we received William’s diplomatic passport and visa to Georgia via FedEx at 10:30am that same morning. We like to live dangerously like that (no, actually we don’t, but the whole process is the biggest pain and it took 67 emails to get someone from the Georgian Embassy to help us out). We hired a van from HMC Car and Limousine to transport our luggage and JR while my mom drove me and the kids. Our final count was 8 checked bags, 1 convertible car seat (checked), 1 infant car seat (carried on), 1 double stroller (gate checked before each flight), 3 carry-on backpacks, and 1 diaper bag. It looks overwhelming but I felt like we had considerably less to carry after we checked in. Using backpacks was a game changer.

I’m also really happy with our double stroller. We used the Britax B Agile Double. It’s super easy to push, both seats fully recline for the kids to lay down, and we fit through every door we encountered. It also folds easily and quickly.

airport-1

Checking in at Akron Canton was super smooth and easy. There was only one other person in the entire security line. We were able to take our time and not feel so rushed which is how we usually feel during check in and security. It may have been my imagination, but all the employees were even friendlier than at other airports. I think this is how VIPs must feel while traveling. Maybe that’s why we enjoy this airport so much?

There’s a small children’s play area so we hung out there and let Abby play until it was time to board our first flight to Chicago.

airport-2

It was a small plane with a 2-2 seat set up and our seats were not across from each other, JR was one row up. It wasn’t a big deal since the flight was so short and both kids did great.

flight-1

We had an almost 4 hour layover in Chicago. We took our time walking to our gate and stopped for dinner at Chili’s. The area we were in wasn’t very crowded so we let Abby run as much as she wanted in hopes of tiring her out. Before boarding we changed her into PJs and hoped for the best.

chicago

On this flight we had the window and aisle seat of one row and the window and aisle of the row directly behind it. I sat with William in his car seat and JR was with Abby in front of us. He inflated her 1st Class Kids Travel Pillow  (watching JR try to quickly and discreetly blow up the pillow is always amusing).

blowing

As soon as lift-off we encouraged Abby to lay down and sleep. She tried and tried, and she would fall asleep for a little bit and then wake up. She was very tired (it was probably 11pm/12am at this point) and quickly became frustrated and upset. I asked her if there was anything I could get her or do for her to help her sleep and her reply of “I want Nana” about broke my heart. The plane was not full, so JR moved a few rows back and we let Abby spread out across the two seats to hopefully sleep better. I continued to sit in the row behind her with William, who to our amazement, slept almost the entire flight. He woke up about half way through for a bottle and diaper change, then went right back in his car seat and back to sleep.

Once both kids were asleep I decided to try the unthinkable and watch a movie. I only used one headphone so I could listen for them and kept leaning forward to check on Abby. Once when I started to look up all I could see were her two little feet in her pjs sticking out in the aisle from the floor. She had rolled right off the seat and was less than thrilled to find herself on the ground. Oops. I settled her again, and moved her pillow more to the center of the two seats to hopefully act as a barrier and keep her from falling again. She rolled off only once more so I suppose it was a limited success.

After landing in Munich we walked straight to the Lufthansa Business Lounge. We ate some breakfast there and then found a place to sit down and relax. We took turns showering- this was my first time showering in an airport and it was really nice. The bathrooms are spacious and clean, and they provided shampoo, razor, shaving cream, shower cap, towels, and a hair dryer. We knew we were going to take advantage of this so JR and I had each packed a full change of clothes in our backpacks. I felt like a brand new person after that shower! We let Abby play on the iPad while William alternated between eating and sleeping. The lounge was right beside a small kids play area so JR took her out there to play a few times.

lounge-pic

Overall, I’m glad we went with the lounge passes instead of the hotel room. It helped that the lounge was empty for most of the day and we were able to create our own little area to camp out.

The final flight was a little rough – we were all over it and in desperate need of our beds and our own space. Thank goodness for Daniel Tiger, a binky and a snack cup to carry us to our final destination.

flight-32

JR and I were so relieved to finally touch down in Tbilisi. Abby kept saying “are we in Georgia?  What’s Georgia?” As we waited for our luggage at baggage claim, the poor girl had her first accident in months. She was really upset so I tried to calm her down and rush her off the bathroom to change clothes while JR handled the bag collection and kept an eye on William. Once she was all cleaned up, we met up with our motorpool drivers and made our way to the cars (it took two vehicles to haul all of us and our stuff).

Let me tell you, installing two car seats at 6am after 30 some hours of travel, in the cold, is not fun. As I buckled William in I could smell a dirty diaper but I thought the best thing was to just ignore it and hurry home. Just as the cars started moving, Abby said she had to pee. Again. Awesome. The entrance to the airport (you cannot go back in through the area we came out of) was on the other side of the entire building. Did I mention it was 6am and cold? And that our baby had a dirty diaper? I did what anyone would do – I took her to the side of the parking lot and held her off the ground so she could go. I can only imagine what our drivers were thinking.

Finally we were in the cars on the way home. Abby sang every single song she knows at least twice. We pulled up and let her run into the house first and she was so, so excited. “My kitchen!” “My baby” “My flashlight”. Every toy delighted her. I wonder how much of all of this her little mind really understands, but she was definitely happy to be home. And so were we – we all slept for about six hours.

That six hours felt great but wasn’t nearly enough.  The next several days were our toughest to date, but everyone is back to normal now and we are so glad to be home!