Happy things

We’ve had some exciting developments in the last few weeks.   My mind has been all over the place with preparing to leave Kosovo, making plans for home leave, and thinking ahead to what needs to happen when we arrive in Tbilisi (pesky little details like finding a job and a nanny), and we were also away for 9 days on our road trip.

Almost immediately after learning we’d be moving to Tbilisi, we reached out to the CLO (Community Liaison Office) there to ask to start receiving their newsletter (talks about events happening, things to see in the area, and a classified section for cars and other items for sale).  We enjoy receiving the updates to give us an idea of what life will be like for us.  We were also loosely keeping an eye on the cars listed for sale.   JR has loved his our car since he bought it in Columbus several years ago.   It’s a VW Passat and it’s been paid off for a while, so we didn’t really plan to buy something new.   The government will ship one POV (privately owned vehicle) for us to our next post, just like they shipped the Passat here.  So that was really the plan all along.

Until we saw the listing for a 2008 Toyota Rav 4.  We both like Rav 4s, and this one had really low mileage, one-owner, and the price was reasonable.  Operation Convince JR to Buy a Car began in earnest.  Somewhat surprisingly, he immediately agreed to list our car for sale here, and said as long as we could sell our car, we could buy the new one.  The catch was that we had a very limited time frame to figure this all out, and not much time at all for our car to be on the market.   But I can happily report that we have sold our car, and signed a contract to buy the Rav 4!  A great bonus is that the car will be ready for us upon arrival, so we won’t have to wait a few months to have a vehicle in Tbilisi.

I applied for four EFM (eligible family member) jobs there, and had a phone interview for one of the positions that sounded really interesting.  They offered me the job and I quickly accepted.  My start date won’t be determined until my security clearance is sorted out, but it is a huge relief to have my employment figured out already.   The newsletter also advertises available nannies, and we found someone to interview and hire – all over e-mail and Skype.  I feel like we are already so ahead of the game for Tbilisi!

But I saved the best update for last.  WE GOT TICKETS TO SEE GARTH BROOKS WHILE WE’RE HOME!!!  This is really like a dream come true.  You may recall that I have always, always hoped for a chance to see Garth perform live.   I’m like, Jessie Spano excited over here.

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A pretty successful packout!

We had our packout on Monday.  We packed out quite early – almost 3 weeks before our departure – because it was basically the only day JR could be there given his current work schedule.  There is always so much going on during pack out that we both wanted to be present to handle any issues and to ensure things were being packed properly and sent to the right places (either onward to Tbilisi or to a storage unit).

To prep, we spent the last few months going room by room and getting organized.  This included donating or throwing away a lot of extra stuff.  I also made a list of the main things we would want to have in our checked luggage, and which items we’d want in our UAB (air freight).   I packed clothes and items for the baby for the next 3 weeks and for home leave.   She has the least amount of stuff because almost all of her summer clothes are at my mom’s house, so she’ll have much more on our return trip.  Then JR and I did the same for ourselves.  It’s kind of pain to use valuable suitcase space on work clothes with such a short time remaining at work, so my coworkers will see me repeating outfits during my last few days.

Once our suitcases were packed, I designated the bed in the guest room as our UAB pile and we started placing things in there.   I included most of my work clothes, shoes, hangers, a laundry basket, and then a bunch of kitchen items like baking sheets, pots and pans, food processor, rice cooker, some tupperware, ziplock bags, and other miscellaneous things.  Other important items were Abby’s high chair, bath tub (I assume at some point she probably outgrows the little Fisher Price Whale Tub, and it may well be while we are home, so who knows how useful it will be once we get to Tbilisi), her play mat and extra books and toys.

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UAB, first round

While we were doing all of this, we were also tossing things in the laundry room or bathroom – my designated “safe” zones that would be shut off completely from the movers.  We kept our passports, keys, phone chargers and a bunch of miscellaneous stuff in there, and we continued adding things even once the movers arrived.   Our social sponsor in Tbilisi has kindly offered to accept a few packages for us before we arrive, so right before we leave we are going to mail a few boxes with sheets, towels, some of our work clothes, and the toys we kept here for Abby.

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The laundry room of shame

On the morning of our packout, we loaded up Abby and her pack n’ play and dropped her off at the nanny’s house for the day.  When we arrived at home, we did a final sweep through the apartment to make sure all of our important items were in their designated places.  This is about the time the nanny texted me to say that we’d failed to pack a single binky.  We also forgot her snack cup and sippy cup.  #Momoftheyear.  Thankfully our nanny is amazing and it didn’t cause too much of an issue for her or Abby.

The movers arrived around 9am.  I was expecting 4 guys but 8 showed up. They started working immediately, and like always, I was shocked by their speed.

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Although we have a total weight limit of 600lbs for our UAB, the plan is to split our shipment with 300lbs from Pristina and 300lbs from Ohio.  So we had our primary UAB pile, and then if we were underweight, I had another pile/section of things to add.  Even with all of that, we were only at 220lbs.  This led to me running around the apartment scooping up more things to add to UAB.  In the future, I’ll have even more things ready to go if we are underweight, because by the time we realized we could add more, most of the kitchen and Abby’s toys had been packed, and those items would have been the most beneficial to add to our UAB.

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The movers making a box to fit our big TV.  Pro tip:  Keep your TV boxes!

And just like that, it was over and all of our things were loaded into the van.  With our living room furniture gone, we had to improvise a bit to watch House of Cards.

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The next day the warehouse guys dropped off a living room set and a bed for us.

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Now we just need to survive the next two weeks sharing a queen-sized bed and two pillows.  And see if the movers will come back to pack up the box they forgot.  🙂

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Balkan Road Trip, Part III

In case you missed Part I or Part II.

Day 7:  Belgrade, Serbia

Our night in Timisoara was a bit rough because Abby had a bad cough which kept us up most of the night worrying about her.  Still, since we were already up and on the move, we were able to get on the road to Belgrade early and we arrived by 10:15am using Romania’s awesome highways, which was great after so many long drives.   Much of our drive was two-lane roads, often with lots of curves, so finding a nice highway in the Balkans was a treat!

When planning our trip, I had trouble finding a place in Belgrade that met all of our needs (walking distance to city center, parking, and suites) that stayed under budget.  I turned to Airbnb, which we used for our trip to Paris.  Immediately I found a perfect 2-bedroom apartment that was a ten minute walk to main areas we wanted to visit.  It was only $108 for two nights, so it was a great deal.   We met the owner’s mother outside the building to get the keys and information for our stay, and since Abby seemed up for it we went exploring.

We strolled along Knez Mihailova (the pedestrian street) and enjoyed the great weather.  I was totally surprised and excited to see a Vapiano’s restaurant right near our apartment.  We’ve been to Vapiano’s a few times in DC and I love their food, so we agreed to go there for dinner.  By the time dinner rolled around, Abby was over being out and about, so we just made a quick stop to order food to go.  We waited by the bar and I asked for a sweet white wine.  The bartender said, “would you like wine with bubbles?”  Splendid idea, kind sir.  Bring on the bubbly!

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Day 8:  Belgrade, Serbia

We set out early in the morning with plans to see Kalemegdan Park and the Belgrade Zoo.  I have a lot of feelings about our visit to the Zoo.  Although it’s located within a park, it’s also very much in the city center and portions of the zoo and animal enclosures back up directly to busy streets, which seemed very odd.  It’s not stroller-friendly, there were a ton of steps.  Most concerning were the actual enclosures for the animals – they all seemed too small and nothing like what the animal’s natural habitat would be.  I’m not anti-zoo at all, I love the zoos we’ve visited in Ohio (especially the Columbus Zoo!).   I just felt badly for most of the animals and at times, I also questioned the safety of the animals and visitors because sometimes it seemed like we were a bit too close for comfort.   It didn’t help that we passed by an exhibit with the gate keys still in the lock.  I won’t share many pictures because I think they are mostly sad, but here are a few.

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By the time we left the zoo and the park, it was 10:30am and we’d already walked 7,600 steps (thank you, Fitbit).  We stopped for a quick lunch and then went off in search of Skadarilja, a small neighborhood with restaurants and bars.  I don’t know what the problem was, but we absolutely could not find this area.  We walked in a full circle TWICE (and these were big laps!) and would occasionally ask for directions, and still we missed it.  When we finally found it, I was so over walking and looking for it that I barely noticed it at all.  The neighborhood had a lot of nice shops and cool cobble stones but at this point Abby and I had enough of sightseeing for the day.  We stopped for a quick drink and then headed back to the apartment. The Fitbit said we hit 16,000 steps around 2pm, so that called for a nice, long nap.  For dinner, JR found a nice local restaurant, Zavicaj, right around the corner from our place.  It was perfect for the last night of our trip!

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Day 9:  Pristina

We were on the road early and made it home by noon.  Back to reality!

A few random thoughts if you’re thinking about a similar trip.  A good stroller (we use the City Mini GT) and carrier (I love the Beco Gemini) are essential.   So many places are not stroller friendly, and it’s so much easier to wear her in the carrier, and we can take turns with it.  Some of our friends recommended the Totseat for a traveling high chair.  This thing is the best and has saved us on many occasions.  It’s easy to use, folds up small, weighs nothing, and is a life-saver when the restaurant doesn’t have a high chair.

Even with the long drives and weather issues, we had a wonderful trip.   It’s always fun for us to see new places, and we hope we can pass along the travel bug to Abby!

 

Balkan Road Trip, Part II

We left off here.

Day 4:  Brasov, Romania

After the unexpected cold and rain we experienced in Bucharest, I checked the weather forecast for Brasov and it looked like snow showers.  I thought surely that could not be right, it’s April for Pete’s sake!

And then we started driving.  Straight up snowstorm in the mountains.  It was supposed to be one of our shorter driving days, but it still took us over 3 hours to get to Brasov from Bucharest.  Also, did I mention that we switched out the snow tires for regular tires a week prior to our trip?

When we arrived in Brasov our GPS kept telling us to turn on streets we weren’t able to turn on, so finally we parked the car and JR walked to find Casa Albert.  We didn’t realize our hotel was located directly on the pedestrian street in the old town, which was mostly a great thing except the part where we had to unload and carry all of our luggage/stroller/pack n’ play.   We had lunch at the hotel’s restaurant and then drove about 35 minutes to Bran to see Bran Castle, alleged home of Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration to Dracula.

 

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Really, all they know is that Vlad spent some time imprisoned at Bran Castle and they think the castle was described in the book Dracula.  Still it was a beautiful castle to see and the snow made things even prettier (and also very cold).  The decor inside wasn’t that impressive but the courtyard and views were great.

After our castle visit, we went back to our room so Abby could nap.  I sent JR out on a mission to find a place for dinner that was non-smoking and served pizza.   During the recon mission he would send me pictures of the few places he had found while I waited for Abby to wake up.  We wound up at Prato, very close to our hotel and one of the best choices we made our whole trip!  First, it was not crowded, no smoking, and we had great service.  They had a plastic highchair that worked perfectly for Abby (a rare find) and best of all, great food and wine.   A great end to the day.

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Abby’s “I’m not impressed” face in Brasov.

Day 5:  Brasov, Romania

We started our day with a great breakast at our hotel, and then made our way to Peles Castle.  Peles is located an hour away, back towards Bucharest, and it would have made more sense to stop and see it while en route to Brasov, but it is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays so that didn’t work.  Although it wasn’t snowing when we arrived, there was plenty of snow and ice on the ground so we took our time making it up to the castle.  The trip was totally worth it because Peles is beautiful inside and out.

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We made a quick pit stop to feed Abby before visiting the castle.  She made friends with this older gentleman who decided to join us at our table.

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It was very crowded and took forever to buy tickets.  They offered a general exhibit ticket for 20 Ron (about $5) that allowed you to walk around by yourself on the ground floor only, or you could buy a 50 ron ticket ($12) and take a 75 minute guided tour of two floors.   We didn’t want to do the tour because it had already taken us a while to get there and buy our tickets, and we thought Abby might not have the patience for that.  We chose the general exhibit ticket and then spent an absurdly long time trying to find the entrance.  All the signs said “Enter here for English language tour” – which was not the ticket we purchased.  Finally, thanks to a very kind woman who spoke Romanian, we were informed that because it was so crowded that day, they weren’t allowing anyone to walk around on their own, and we would just be added to an English language tour.   A nice bonus for us considering we didn’t pay for that tour, but kind of unfair to all the other people who did pay full price.  The tour was informative, but long, and we still wound up leaving the castle before they moved on to the second floor.

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Back in Brasov, we walked around the town some more and went inside the Black Church, built during the 14th and 15th centuries.

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It was almost dinner time and JR asked what I wanted to do.  I directed him straight back to Prato!  I like what I like, what can I say?

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Abby was happy to be back at Prato too!

I raved about the wine again, and at the end of our meal JR asked our server for a bottle to take home.  My plan is to save it for a nice summer night once we’re settled in our new house in Tbilisi!

Day 6:  Timisoara, Romania

Timisoara was on our list mainly as a rest stop because the drive to Belgrade was too much for one day.  It was quite a long haul, but at a few points we were on this fancy new highway which was great.  I was driving while we were trying to find our hotel, and I turned right exactly like the GPS instructed me to when I was met almost immediately with flashing lights and a police car pulling me over.   Oops.  I told the nice policeman that it was the GPS’s fault that I was going the wrong way on a one-way and I showed him the proof, but according to him, I’m also expected to read the road signs.  He was really nice though and gave us corrected directions to our hotel without a ticket.

We stayed at the NH Timisoara and although we had booked a standard room since we were only staying one night, when we arrived we asked for a suite and they upgraded us for free!  The suite didn’t have a completely separate room for the baby but it was a good size and we were able to tuck her away in a separate corner/hallway so she could sleep.  As with most of our stops, the minibar is key when you spend your evenings in  your hotel room.  In the U.S. I wouldn’t dream of taking anything from the hotel minibar.  In my mind, a can of coke would be $7, plus a 25% service charge, plus a restocking fee of $3, all while there is a vending machine at the end of the hallway.  Over here the minibars are priced so well it makes me giddy.  Bring on the wine, bottled water, and snacks!

We ventured out again for dinner and thought we were heading to the main city center and square, but it turned out to be something like a ghost town.  We were on our way to a top-rated restaurant on TripAdvisor, La Strada, but everything seemed closed, the streets were completely torn up for a construction project, and we joked that it looked like a scene from The Walking Dead.  To our surprise, the restaurant was open and the food was great.  The menu was much smaller than we were led to expect from the reviews, but we were happy with our meals.

To be continued.

Balkan Road Trip, Part I

JR and I had been talking about taking a long road trip ever since we arrived in Kosovo.  We are fortunate to have U.S. and local holidays off from work, and last week gave us a great opportunity for an extended trip that only used a few annual leave days.   We were considering a few options – one that included Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia; one that included those countries as well as Hungary; and one that took us in the opposite direction to tour Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia and Italy.   Ultimately, we decided on the first option.  We didn’t want to be overly ambitious with our driving plans because of the baby, and we felt that we would probably still get to Italy and Slovenia in the future, but we weren’t as sure about the other countries, so we didn’t want to miss out on this chance.

Keri, a friend who used to live here, sent me a copy of the itinerary she and her husband used for their trip and I followed it pretty closely.   I spent more time researching hotels than I care to remember.  I’m a big planner, and a worrier, and I wanted to make sure we had rooms with plenty of space for the baby.   Although we enjoyed our trip to Lake Ohrid, neither of us wanted to spend our evenings whispering with Abby sleeping at the foot of our bed, so we wanted suites and we needed parking for our car.  We also aimed to spend no more than 6 hours in the car per day for Abby’s sake and for our sanity.

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Day 1:  Sofia, Bulgaria

We were up early Saturday morning and on the road to Sofia by 8am.  We used a combination of our GPS – which doesn’t always get it right and is easily confused, some printed maps, and my phone when I could get it to work – to help us get to our hotel.   Abby was pretty easy going about the drive.  After babbling to herself in the backseat for about 45 minutes, she took a nice, long nap.  When she woke up, we found a place to stop to feed her and change her.  JR walked into the restaurant first and I said “check the bathrooms for changing tables.”  Um, I’m not sure what fantasy world I was living in that made me ask that question, because I don’t recall ever seeing a changing table anywhere in the Balkans.  At this particular stop, we were able to find a nice area to change her, but overall, when we were on the road we changed most of her diapers on our laps in the backseat.  Which I don’t really recommend.

We made it to our hotel, Grand Hotel Sofia around 2pm.  Parking and check-in were super easy, and they helped us with all of our bags (it was kind of embarrassing how much stuff we had, especially since I had planned to pack lightly).   Although we were all ready for a nap, we decided to walk around instead, so we explored the area near our hotel and went in a few stores.  It was a pretty day to be out and about, and we went to a German restaurant for dinner (really we went there because JR wanted to try the beer).   It was a nice, short visit to Sofia but we enjoyed it!

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Day 2:  Bucharest, Romania

It felt like a really lonnnnng drive to Bucharest.  Although we got an early start from Sofia, somehow we (okay, this may fall on my shoulders) didn’t realize that our directions had us crossing a river by ferry to get to Romania.  When we pulled up at the border crossing/ferry platform around 10:45 a.m., we were informed it didn’t open until noon.  Not ideal, but we didn’t really have any other options because no one spoke English well enough to help us figure out if there was another crossing that did not involve a ferry.  You know, like a bridge.  We found a small cafe and ordered lunch (thank you, sweet waitress who at least understood the word chicken) and waited it out.  We returned to the border crossing closer to 12, and we almost missed our ferry because they were in no rush to review our passports.  We just barely made the ferry, and decided to let Abby practice her driving skills.

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Funny little story about the border crossing on the other side.  That guy was also taking his sweet old time with our passports so I was already a bit agitated when he came up to the window and said “Excuse me, but I am wondering why does your daughter have a different surname than you?”

I was immediately hot and ready to be all “Um, you have no idea what you are talking about” but before I could start talking, he showed JR the mistake.  Abby’s tourist passport has her last name spelled wrong by one letter.  First, seriously?!  How did that happen?  And how has no one, in SEVERAL border crossing/flights/checks noticed until now?  Thank you, Mr. Romanian Border Patrol Agent.  Luckily, once we showed him that her diplomatic passport matches our last name, he let us go without any other questions.  But we’ll need to get that fixed ASAP.

We continued on to Bucharest and by the time we arrived, we were completely over being in the car.  Especially Abby.   Luckily, we found our hotel easily and we were quickly impressed by the service at Epoque Hotel.   While we checked in, a bartender brought us glasses of champagne and the bellhop unloaded our car and took our luggage to our room.  My kind of place!  We had a one-bedroom suite with plenty of space for all of us, so we settled in and put Abby down for a nap before venturing out.

The hotel was right beside a huge park that had a small carnival and vendors lined up for Easter celebrations.  We made our way to the Old Town and unfortunately, we weren’t all that impressed.  Instead of old buildings, churches and shops, it was mostly pubs and bars.  And massage parlors.   It was kind of underwhelming and definitely not our scene with the baby in tow.  We found a small burger restaurant that was almost empty and sat down for dinner.  As soon as we ordered, the tables started to fill up and everyone began smoking.  Bleck.  I know it’s just the way things go over here, but I still hate it and we try to avoid it whenever possible.  We moved to a bar table closer to the door and took turns walking around with Abby outside until our food arrived, and then ate our burgers and fries (which were delicious!) quickly before heading in for the night.

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Day 3:   Bucharest, Romania

We were hoping to do some sightseeing, but when we woke up it was pouring rain and cold outside.  Still, we were in a new city and we thought we should power through so we bundled up, grabbed our umbrellas and went outside.  And then promptly turned back around.  Nope, too cold and gross out.   We were both feeling a bit bummed because it seemed like we’d be stuck in the hotel room all day and that was not what we had in mind.  JR suggested that we order room service (not something we do frequently, and always feels like a treat!) and THEN he said I should go down to the spa for a massage while Abby took her afternoon nap.

I was all

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as I raced down to the spa for a fantastic body scrub and massage.   It was so relaxing and the perfect way to spend a rainy day!

The “Day of Jenni” (as we later named it) continued with dinner.  I was just in the mood for a classic American meal, complete with a cocktail and dessert.  It took some convincing, but JR agreed to have dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe.  I had a strawberry mojito, bbq pulled pork sandwich, mac n’ cheese, AND a hot fudge brownie sundae.  JR thinks we should experience the local cuisine everywhere we go but sometimes I need a little slice of home.  Fantastic day in my book!

One more quick plug for our hotel there – we picked the room rate that included breakfast, and it was a great choice.  They had a buffet with fresh fruits, breads and croissants and pancakes, and made-to-order omelettes.  Highly recommend!

To be continued.

We have tickets – kind of

When I started this post it was titled “Holy cats, we have plane tickets!”.  But it was silly of me to think things could be so simple!

We’re faced with two issues regarding our travel home.  First, JR is currently planning to attend a  one-week training in DC, so we were all flying together to DC, and then just Abby and I would continue on to Ohio.   But now there’s a strong chance that this training will be canceled, so we would need to change his ticket.  And it was only because of this particular training that we all wanted to fly through DC, so if the training is off the table, we can take a different route home.

The different route is important because it feeds into problem #2.  The cat.  Right now we’re supposed to fly on Austrian Airlines to Vienna and then DC, and then a United flight to Columbus.  Austrian had no trouble making arrangements for Annabelle to fly as checked baggage on both flights and the cost is $200.  Okay, great.  But, they noted that I needed to call United directly to book Annabelle on the DC to Columbus leg.  I called and that’s where things went downhill.  United informed me that Annabelle would have to be flown as cargo.  In order to do that, we have to take her to their cargo center at Dulles (located at the airport, but not within the terminal) and check her in 2 hours prior to our flight.  We’re scheduled to land in DC at 2:05, and our flight to Columbus leaves at 5:20.

Hmm.

I’m quite concerned that we will not have time to retrieve Annabelle and our other bags, clear customs, deliver her to the cargo office in time, and check our bags all over again for the final flight.   Oh and United is charging $300 for the cat for this short flight! NOTE: It costs more to ship our cat on one domestic flight with United than it does for a transatlantic flight with Austrian.  Urgh.

We’ve thrown out some different options – such as renting a u-haul minivan and driving ourselves home from DC.  This would actually get us home faster, and would probably cost about the same.  The problem is that JR has never recovered from driving Annabelle from Columbus to DC in 2012.  He loves her but swears he will not drive in the car with her again.  Apparently she yowled like she was being tortured the entire time and it was miserable, so when I suggested this option, he responded with:

 

hard pass

Regardless, we aren’t making any changes until we know what’s happening with JR’s training, so it’s wait and see at this point.  But we still have dates and we’re down to about 6 weeks, which is crazy.  On Friday, the movers came to do a pre-packout survey.  Basically they go room to room and we talk about which items are going to storage, which items are going to Tbilisi, our UAB (air shipment), and all sorts of other details.   They looked a little concerned when they saw the size of our couch.   Our pack out date is just a few weeks away now and full-blown panic is starting to set in – we have so much left to do!

Preparing for our next move

It seems like all I do these days is look at the calendar, make plans and make lists.  We have less than 3 months left in Kosovo!

When we leave, we will go back to the US for several weeks for Home Leave.  Home Leave is required by law – we have to return to the US to reacquaint ourselves, eat hot dogs, and be all American.  For me, that means visiting with family and friends, eating at all of my favorite places, and an absurd number of trips to Target and Kohls.  For JR, he just sees money flying out of his  our bank account.

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Home leave is a really nice benefit, but it can be incredibly expensive.  We don’t own a home or a car in the US, and we’ve heard stories from colleagues about how quickly lodging, rental car and food costs can add up during your required stay in the States.  In addition, we will be stocking up on consumables for our time in Georgia and buying other neccessities (okay, and some wants!) while we’re home.  We are incredibly fortunate that we have an apartment we can use at my grandparents’ house, and several family members who are willing to loan us a car.

But before we can start home leave, we have to pack out here.  One really nice thing is that we don’t have to do the packing ourselves.  However, we have to decide how to sort our belongings into different shipments, try to anticipate how much of our stuff will fit in our next house, and we try to time it up correctly so we can get our shipments in Tbilisi as soon as possible.

When we leave Kosovo we’ll have our six checked bags with us, plus the baby and the cat.  We each get two bags with a 50lb weight limit (and we are usually at 49.5lbs per bag).   We’ll have all the clothes and other items we need during home leave (the baby monitor and sound machine are top priority in a carry-on because I would be in a panic if we lost either of those), as well as anything we’ll need immediately upon arriving in Georgia.   I think we should be fine with six large checked bags, but I really want to minimize our carry-on situation, because that is what gives me the most grief while we travel and I’d rather not look like this again at the airport:

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Speaking of which, how soon until Abby can carry her own bag?  Next year maybe?

The rest of our stuff is divided into two major categories – Unaccompanied Air Baggage (UAB) and Household Effects (HHE).

Our UAB is our air freight shipment.  We can have up to 600lbs sent by air, which should arrive in Georgia anywhere from a few weeks to 2 months after we do.  Most Embassy housing is furnished, but we prefer to have our own couch and bed with us.  So those items, and everything else –  clothes, books, kitchen items, all of our other wordly belongings- make up our HHE.  That will typically arrive 2-3 months after we do.  You can have up to 7200lbs of HHE shipped.  We will also have our car shipped from Pristina to Tbilisi.  It may take several weeks or a few months to arrive.

The government will store any excess items that we do not want to take to post.  Initially we weren’t planning to send items back to storage during this pack out, but we have SO MUCH STUFF, so we have to send some back.  We already have two small storage units in DC from our previous packouts.  What’s crazy is that I barely remember what we have in each unit, and they are stored in two separate lots – one from our Columbus move and one from our DC move.  I have no idea when we’ll ever retreive these things or if we’ll even want them when that day comes.

I’m going to be much smarter about our UAB allowance this time around.  When we arrive in Tbilisi, we will have a furnished house and a welcome kit provided by the Embassy.  The welcome kit contains sheets, towels, dishes, a few small appliances, and some miscellaneous things, like a TV.  It’s helpful, but it’s really not enough to make do while you wait for your HHE.  For example, our welcome kit here contained dishes for 4, and two bath towels.  Two bath towels = too much laundry.  So we’ll be including towels, pillows, and some other comfort things in our UAB.  We will also have the baby’s high chair and pack ‘n’ play, several of her favorite toys.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around the best way to handle things the day of the pack-out.  Our apartment is on the small side and each room is pretty full. Ideally, we can have a spot that we designate as UAB items, and a spot with our designated checked baggage.  We don’t want to risk either of those piles getting mixed in with our HHE shipment.  And in our previous packouts, we’ve been shocked by how quickly the movers box things up, so you really have to be on alert and watching for issues.

It’s a lot to think about and plan for, and I’m always getting new tips and ideas from other FS families.  Here’s hoping this is our best pack out yet!

 

Confessions of a Minimalist Hoarder

Way before JR joined the FS, he told me that if we were going to be moving every few years, we would need to “live a minimalist lifestyle” and downsize our belongings.  I didn’t understand why he was directing that at me when he is clearly the one who has trouble letting go of things (see the awful brass tables he refused to part with that are now collecting dust in storage) but as each pack-out comes and goes it’s clear we both have some issues.

Not this bad:

hoarder 2

but not great either.

As we prepared for our very first pack-out from Columbus, we were able to sell, donate, and throw away a decent amount of clothing, movies, and odds and ends we just didn’t use anymore.  I drew a hard line at keeping these movies.  I don’t care that they are VHS and we don’t own a VCR.  I don’t care that you can probably get them on Netflix.

vhs

In case you can’t read the label, the 4th one is my homemade copy of the final episodes of 90210, recorded in 2000.  I’m realizing it may be time to say goodbye, but I’m just not there yet.  Don’t judge me.

Our life right now is consumed with pre-move planning.  This is our third pack-out, and I really, really, really want to do it better this time.  In an effort to be more efficient and organized, I made a list of the items we need to go through in each room, and we’ve been tackling that list for the last several weekends.  I’m quite proud of how much we’ve been able to get through, and I feel better knowing we’re doing it now instead of waiting a few weeks prior to our actual pack-out date.  But again, it’s clear we have problems when it comes to hoarding or refusing to let go of certain items, regardless of logic.  A few examples:

I assume many women can relate to keeping a pile of skinny jeans in their closet.   The size on my smallest pair is laughable to 32-year-old-post-baby me, but no way in hell I’m getting rid of them.  Because you just never know!

dumb and dumber

Turns out I’m also something of a deodorant hoarder. I really had no idea!  One of my fears is being somewhere with no deodorant so I’m always buying it anytime I see it on sale, or  when I place a new Amazon order, I end up mindlessly adding it to my cart.  Always better to be prepared, right?

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I have a love/hate relationship with this exercise book JR refuses to throw away.  A former client gave it to him and he says he might use it “some day” for exercises.  A part of me thinks it’s funny and the other wants to tear my hair out looking at it on our bookshelf.  I’ve tried to convince him that he can surely find those same exercises on that new  invention we call the internet, but he won’t listen.   The best part is that I thought including this in my blog would publicly shame him into throwing it away.  I asked if we could finally toss it and he replied “But the thing is, the book has some really great exercises!”

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Last weekend, I went through my boxes of pictures and mementos.   I was able to throw away a few things (and I had a good laugh – WHY was I keeping the empty jewelry box from the first pair of earrings JR gave me?  Why did I keep a mint from our Carnival Cruise in 2007?)  I could not, however, part with this shirt.  My memory tells me that my mom bought this for me when she went to Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet concert in 1987 and left me home to miss out on the all the fun.  Back then this shirt fit me like a nightgown.   Now, I couldn’t tell you the last time it fit me in any capacity, but that’s irrelvant.  I’ll treasure it always.  🙂

Here’s a picture of my Mom (wearing the shirt) and I, circa 1987-1988, and a picture of the shirt now (with a bonus Abby picture, to give you an idea of the size).

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As you might imagine, the minimalist lifestyle is a work in progress.  But how can I get rid of a classic like a Bon Jovi Slippery When Wet official tour shirt??

Maybe for our next pack-out.

Another post about traveling with a baby

We arrived back in Kosovo last week, and we’ve spent our time dealing with a sick baby and getting over jet lag.  It seems like we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel now because we all slept great last night.

Our return trip was mostly uneventful.  Even though we mentioned to our families – more than once – that we had limited space in our luggage and apartment for toys, we were still left with an alarming pile of stuff.  We managed to cram this pile of toys

toy pile

into one of our suitcases, and we only had to mail back one good sized box full of books and puzzles.   I finally realized that one of my biggest stressors when traveling (spell check tells me this is not a word, but I’m leaving it) is having so much stuff to lug around the airport, and on and off each airplane.  It’s overwhelming.  Funny that it took me this long to figure it out, but I think it was partly because previously I flew solo with just one small carry-on earlier in the month.  After we checked in, I put Abby in my Beco (baby carrier/baby wearing, whatever) and we put my purse, JR’s shoulder bag, the diaper bag, and my carry-on bag on top of the stroller/car seat combo, and I started pushing that while JR managed the two bigger carry-ons.  That’s 6 bags, plus a stroller and car seat, plus a baby to carry through several security checks, planes, and airports.  It’s a lot.

We connected in Newark, and had to take a shuttle bus to Terminal B.  When we exited the bus at the door to Terminal B, the employee said “Didn’t they tell y’all that there isn’t an elevator here?”bored employee

Um, no, no they did not.  If they had, probably we would have found another route.  The bus had just pulled away, and we are standing there with all of our things piled on our stroller, as she continued to stare at us.  JR said, well what would you suggest we do?   Her response involved waiting for some other shuttle option to pick us back up, take us back to where we started, and we could find an alternate route ourselves.  Helpful, that one.   I loaded as many bags as I could on my shoulders, JR did the same, and then while I had the baby he picked up the stroller and car seat and we hoofed it up the two flights.  Not ideal, but we managed.

Regardless of the troubles we had, Abby made herself comfy on the plane.  Here she is hanging out, and playing peek-a-boo with some kids behind us.

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When we finally landed in Kosovo, only 1 of our 4 checked suitcases came out at baggage claim.  I was kind of over it at that point and just wanted to go home, but we had to wait over an hour to make a claim for the bags.  I figured there wasn’t anything in those bags that we couldn’t live without, and hopefully they’d show up soon.  At that point I didn’t realize that my winter coat, hair dryer, the baby’s thermometer, and various other necessities were in fact in those bags.  Thankfully, they were delivered to our house the next day without any other issues.

Of course, with so much stuff and such a long trip, we expect a few problems but this trip was pretty decent.  I wrote out a long post several months ago that had tips for flying with a newborn and I never published it.  You can find it here.  Now that Abby is older, the focus is on less stuff overall but more toys and food.  Also, a tip if you use a stroller bag for gate checking.  In our experience the stroller in a bag is just confusing, and the employees are more likely to lose it or place it with regular checked luggage since they can’t tell that it’s a stroller within the bag.  From now on we’re going to skip the bag and just collapse the stroller right before we board the plane. We gate-checked our stroller but it was nowhere to be found on the tarmac when we departed the plane in Vienna.  After realizing that the stroller must be with the other baggage, JR quickly ran to the tail of the plane to wait for the baggage coming on the conveyor belt.  Thankfully, he recognized it and was able to grab it from the baggage guys.

Surely one day we’ll get the hang of it.  Right?

Traveling with an infant

Note:  I wrote this back in the summer after our first experience flying with the baby.  Not sure why I never published it, but here it is.

I was very nervous about traveling with Abby.  When we left Ohio she was not quite 7 weeks old – which is very little to be going on such a big adventure.  Three flights, a 24 hour delay, and two days later, we made it home and she didn’t show the slightest bit of stress.  Adjusting her to local time was an entirely different issue.

I spent a lot of time online reading up on suggestions and tips for traveling with a baby.  I found it very helpful, and I think our preparation helped keep me calm (okay, by the end nothing about me was calm, but that wasn’t because of the baby) and made the trip much easier.

My packing list for the baby:

1. Stroller.  We have the City Mini GT.  It’s a bigger stroller, but we love it and felt it was necessary for the uneven pavement and roads here in Kosovo.  Many people recommend taking an umbrella stroller for airport travel, but Abby is still too little for one of those.  It was really helpful for moving through the airport, especially because we had Abby’s infant car seat with us and that beast is heavy.   We also have a Stroller Bag – so just before we boarded each plane, we collapsed the stroller and gate checked it.  (As you may recall, that didn’t turn out so well for us on Turkish Airlines, but I digress).

2. Car Seat and Base.  Our car seat is the Britax B-Safe.  Abby had her own ticket for each flight (per the travel orders from JR’s work) so we knew we would be taking her car seat on the plane with us.   However, I did not know what to do with the base of the car seat.  We had used it constantly in Ohio, because we were always on the go, in and out of the car.  I didn’t want to buy a separate base and ship it to Kosovo becasue those things are pricey.  I also didn’t want to try to pack it in one of our bags.  We had 5 checked bags, our maximum allowance, and each bag was stuffed to the brim and weighed 49 pounds (50lbs is the max).   So, when we boarded the plane, I had Abby in my K’Tan and we carried the car seat attached to the base – so basically to anyone else, it looked like just one piece.  We quickly realized it would be next to impossible to get the seat belt around the car seat when it was attached, so we took the base off and placed in an overhead bin.  I’ve heard that you can gate check the base without charge, but I wasn’t sure if that would work.  Ideally, we won’t have to fly with the base again because it was just one more item to carry around, but we had to get it home with us somehow.

3.  Baby carrier.  We have two carriers – the K’Tan and the Beco Gemini.  I love them both for different reasons, and the K’Tan is the one we used while traveling.  It’s similar to a Moby Wrap but far less complicated.  There were several advantages to wearing Abby through the airport.  I did not have to take her out or do anything special when we went through security, but they did have me use a metal detector instead of the body scanner.  Oh, and they ran a wand over my hands and checked the results of that, but no one touched the baby, and I didn’t have to fuss with getting her in and out of her stroller.  And of course, it allowed my hands to be free to carry other things, and eat when we stopped.

4.  Boppy pillow.  I was a little torn on bringing this.  On the one hand, it was just one more thing to carry, and we seriously had SO.MUCH.STUFF.  On the other hand, it gives your arms a nice break when you are holding the baby or feeding her.  We didn’t know how much time Abby would spend in her car seat and how often she would want to be held.  Luckily for us, she really did sleep most of the time in her seat.

5.  Diaper Bags.  Yes, that’s plural, because we have a bit of a war on the homefront over who has the better diaper bag.  I used mine primarily as a purse and also I had back ups in it, and we used JR’s for all the necessities.   We packed about 20 diapers (which at first seemed like overkill, but when we were stuck in DC and doing a count of our remaining diapers, unsure of when we’d actually arrive in Kosovo, I wound up going on a last minute diaper run just to be safe).   We also had several bibs, burp cloths, multiple changes of clothes for Abby, and a change of clothes for each of us (that was in case she spit up or pooed on us, but turned out to be handy when we had to overnight in DC anyway).   Extra ziplock baggies for dirty clothes, and small trash bags for dirty diapers.  We also had a few small toys. Oh and we packed at least ten pacificers, just in case we lost 9 of them.

We debated on the best way to take Abby’s formula and bottles with us.  We bought Similac Ready-to-Feed bottles.  They are a bit pricey, but it was very convenient (although each pack of bottles only comes with one nipple and they don’t tell you that on the box.  Luckily we had extras at home from the hospital).   We also had a few extra bottles and formula on hand just in case, but this meant we didn’t have to measure out and mix bottles on the flights.   One security guard commented to me that the bottles were just under the size allowable, but honestly I thought you were permitted to take any amount of formula/food for the baby, so his comment surprised me.

I also carried the most recent medical records for me and Abby, as a precaution.

Misc. Tips

– It’s a good idea to feed the baby or give the baby a pacififer during take off and landing to help their ears.

– When you need to change a diaper on the plane, try to take just the necessities to the bathroom (changing pad, wipes, fresh diaper and trash bag) because it’s SO TIGHT in there and there really isn’t room for a big diaper bag, nor is there any place you’d want to put that down.  Because gross.

– It’s not a bad idea to become a master at changing your baby while holding her.  That came in handy more than once.

– 55 minutes is probably not enough time to make a connection in Dulles, especially if you are carrying around all of the items mentioned above.

– Hope for the best, plan for the worst.  And whenever possible, drink a margarita.  🙂