This is PCS

When we planned out our home leave, I stacked June with most of our travel, naively thinking we’d have plenty of time to relax in July. And because I’ve been in Ohio for SO LONG (7 months!!), I thought I had a head start on most of the admin tasks and endless to-do items.

I was wrong.

Now to be fair, we’ve had a lot of fun in July. We drove down to Columbus for a play date and lunch with our friends K & L from Tbilisi. We were connected to them before they moved to Tbilisi by a mutual friend, Jessica, who served in South Africa with them and previously in Kosovo with us. By a lucky coincidence, Jessica and her husband Jeremy are also on home leave and in Ohio! They met us for lunch and it was an awesome worlds-colliding kind of moment.

We enjoyed the 4th of July festitives in my hometown. We attended the one two years ago during our last home leave and we wanted to try and make a tradition for the kids. The parade was huge hit, with the Abby and William collecting more candy than they could possibly ever consume. Abby has also turned out to be a bit of a thrill seeker, she wanted to ride all the rides at the carnival. Unfortunately for her she’s not quite tall enough yet, so she had to settle for the kiddie rides.

On the 6th, JR and I flew to Hartford, CT to visit our friend from law school, Erika, and her family. They showed us around town, treated us to some delicious local pizza and then the next morning we all drove to Boston together. JR had never been before, so we hit up all the big sights. We did a walking tour of the Freedom Trail, had delicious Italian in the North End, went out on a sailboat, ate crab and lobster (ok only JR did that, but I did try a bite!), and walked around Harvard Square. JR is fascinated with the Boston accent so every once in awhile he’d point out things so he could practice. For instance, he told me several times “hey look, there’s the habaaa (harbor).” I told him that his accent was horrendous and to please stop embarassing me. My requests were ignored, but we managed to have a great time.

So that was the fun stuff. But in the middle of all that, the PCS (permanent change of station – moving to a new post) stuff was adding up. We received an email the week of the 4th telling us due to a recent rule change, we could no longer ship 4 wheel drive vehicles to Cairo. Initially, we were told that since our Honda Pilot was an all wheel drive, it would probably be okay to send. But a week later we were officially told that our car was considered an SUV/4WD and we could not ship it. We were told that they were working to resolve the issue but had no hope that it would be resolved within the next few months. After some email exchanges with the Embassy, the options were to store our car in the U.S. for our entire tour, or risk sending it to Egypt knowing the restriction and facing a $70/day storage fee at the port.  For a potential 4 year post, neither of these choices made sense.

This was totally unexpected, and especially since we purchased a new (to us) SUV in January, we were panicked. This led to a frenzied week of researching 2 wheel drive vehicles with enough room for 3 car seats. Spoiler alert – we are now a minivan family.  We lost quite a bit of money trading in our car so soon after purchasing it. Due to issues with getting the car title when you finance it and permission to take it overseas, we had to pay cash for the minivan. So financially, it hurt. And it also just took away time, time spent researching cars, calling dealerships, trying to sell ours, etc. that we were supposed to be spending on leave with our family. Not at all something we expected to deal with at the last minute.  (Note, six days after we traded in our car, lost several thousand dollars and hurriedly purchased a minivan, we were notified that the ban on 4 wheel drive vehicles in Cairo had been lifted and we were now welcome to ship our Pilot. Except we no longer own it. I have no words.)

We are working through the seemingly endless task of sorting, organizing, and prioritizing all of our things. We have one air shipment of 400lbs going from Ohio to Cairo, and had to get everything together for that. Now that we are a family of five, we’ll have ten checked bags, so we started packing those as well. I’m worried we won’t have enough room. We’ve acquired so much stuff (especially toys – SO MANY TOYS – thanks Mom!) while we’ve been here. And the baby stuff, they require so much!

For fun, in our free time, JR and I each spend way too much time on the phone with various customer service representatives. I called Lufthansa to try and confirm seats for our flights to Cairo. After a signficant wait, they told me I have to check with United because it’s a United booking. Now, what’s really fun about this is that JR called United last week and they told him it’s a Lufthansa flight and they couldn’t help us. I explained this to the Lufthansa agent, and she was insistent she could not help me. I hung up, called United, waited on hold, and explained my situation again. This is where it gets good! United once again told me their hands were tied, only Lufthansa could help. I very kindly asked the woman to call Lufthansa on the other line and help me resolve this. She did, and eventually Lufthansa gave us our seat assignments. One full hour of my life I’ll never get back. (I’d also like to note that I took issue with the fact that it cost $35 per ticket to reserve seats in advance. She kept saying “well since you prefer to sit together.” No ma’am, I don’t actually prefer to sit with any of my children on an 8 hour flight, but since they are 5, 2.5 and 5 months old, I’m pretty sure it’s legally required that we sit together. But sure, let’s act like this is a want, not a need.)

While I did that, JR played a fun game of calling CVS, then our insurance company, back and forth over and over again, trying to get our insurance to approve a one year supply of his prescriptions. Another hour lost.

Meanwhile, we are trying to fit in everything else. Hair cuts, swim lessons, doctor appointments, dentist appointments, and on and on it goes. Jacob has had a terrible cough and congestion for two weeks. Abby woke up covered in a rash two days ago. It’s fine. Everthing is fine.

One week to go!

 

 

Summer Road Trips

I know I say this every summer, but time is really flying by. Our official home leave began in June and it practically passed in a blink. We spent almost every day traveling, and if we were at home, we were doing laundry, going to some sort of appointment, or packing for another trip.

It started June 2 when I flew to DC to meet JR for his consultation days. He officially left Tbilisi on the 1st and needed to be in DC for a few days before coming back to Ohio. Since I’d been technically managing the kids solo for so long, we (mostly I) thought it made sense for me to take a much-neded break. Of course it was great to be back with my lovely husband, but a real highlight of the trip was meeting up with my friends from Tbilisi, some I hadn’t seen in 2 years! We had a great time catching up.  And just by chance, I messaged another set of old friends from Tbilisi and they had arrived in DC that very day. We spent less than 2 hours together because of hectic schedules, but in this weird life you take what you can get.

The other awesome thing we did – renting electric scooters and riding them all over the city. How did we just find out about these? It seems rather juvenile and dangerous but seriously, SO MUCH FUN. JR said I was giggling like Beavis and Butthead all day. I don’t know what that sounds like but I’m going to go with it’s a happy sound.

We were back in Ohio for a few fun-filled and busy days with the kids before we drove to West Virginia for a week of mandatory training. The training is about countering potential threats you might encounter living overseas. Recently the State Department updated it’s requirements and now wants all government personnel to complete this course before going to their next overseas post. Spouses are highly encouraged to attend as well but it’s very hard to get a seat because everyone else has to take the training too. Luckily I was able to go, and we’re also quite fortunate that my parents were able to take care of the kids while we were gone.

I knew we’d be in training all day, but I thought we might enjoy some kid-free time in the evenings and explore the area a bit, but honestly we were exhausted each night. We did enjoy a few dinners out, including one with a colleague recently departing from Cairo who was able to give us some great tips about life there.

Despite a rental car fiasco (it’s a long story and Enterprise heard from me more than once when we returned), we found the training interesting and enjoyed the parenting break. The course ended late Friday afternoon, which meant we didn’t make it back to Ohio until about 10:30pm that evening. We spent the entire Saturday doing laundry and catching up with the kids, while also trying to pack for our big road trip and vacation. Sunday started off terribly. I woke up around 6am and found myself standing in a 1/2 inch of water covering our bedroom floor in the basement of my grandma’s house. It took a few hours to clean up the mess (huge thanks to my aunt and her husband for coming over with a shop vac and helping us). We managed to finish up packing and loading the car late that evening.

At JR’s insistence, we started our road trip just before 4am the next morning since we had to go from northern Ohio to Knoxville that day. Our hope was the kids would fall back asleep for a few hours, which they eventually did but at first everyone was wide awake and chatty.  Here’s a sampling of our conversation:

William: I have a booger on my hand, can you get it?
Me: (grab booger, sigh audibly when I can’t find a tissue, fling said booger out the window)
Abby: Mom, when your water breaks, does it break at the doctor’s office or the hospital or like where?
Me: Well, it can happen anywhere really.  Usually it happens at the hospital just before the baby comes out.
William: Where did you put my booger?
Me: I threw it out the window.
Abby: “Do they clean you up?”
William: Why?

This was seriously the first 3 minutes of our ride. Onward to Tennessee!

As I said we all slept for a few hours while JR drove. When they woke up, I passed them iPads and snacks to hold everyone off until we stopped for breakfast. We went to a Cracker Barrel, usually one of my preferred places to stop when we’re on the road. The kids enjoyed running up and down the big porch with JR and playing on the rocking chairs while I stayed inside with Jake and waited for our food. The food was kind of blah. I mean it’s breakfast and that’s simple and isn’t that kind of what they’re known for? Oh well, back in the car we went.

I had planned a second stop in Kentucky that included a nearby playground, but it was pouring down rain and the kids were antsy sooner than I expected. We kept driving until we found an exit with a Chick-Fil-A, my favorite place to take a break with the kids. They enjoyed the indoor play area while we fed Jake and had an early lunch. Back in the car again. Everyone was kind of over it at this point, but I think they all fell asleep again for another hour or two. We made one last stop at a McDonalds just to change Jake’s diaper before finally arriving in Knoxville. We were greeted by JR’s brother, sister-in-law and their two girls, as well as his twin sister, husband, and their baby who is just a few months older than Jake. Everyone was excited to see each other again and my crew was especially happy to be out of the car.


(note: that was a plastic snake.)

We spent our time in Knoxville exploring the city, visiting JR’s college friends, taking little hikes, and mostly just hanging out and watching the kids play together. They had so much fun playing and singing “Rocky Top” all day, everyday. If you don’t know, Rocky Top is the University of Tennessee’s fight song and is the greatest song in all the land (JR made me write that). It was also William’s first time sleeping in a big kid bed, as we put him and Abby together in their cousin’s bed each night. The first night he kept getting up, and I kept threatening him with a crib. This was a completely empty threat and stupid thing to say because I had no crib for him. Thankfully the bluff finally worked and after that he was fine.


How cute are these cousins?

Our visit ended way too soon, but we had to continue on our way to Florida. On Thursday morning we packed up (and let me tell you, we were using every spare inch of our car for this trip) and drove about 3 hours to a suburb outside of Atlanta to visit JR’s high school friends. They hosted us for the night and it was perfect. They have a big new house with a finished basement and separate guest area, and a lovely backyard and deck. They grilled out, offered wine and beer, and their kids kept our kids running and laughing the whole time. They even let off some awesome fireworks in their backyard. We’re so glad we were able to see them, and thankful they put up with our crazy crew in the middle of the work week!

We made our last overnight stop in Gainesville, FL. We used Marriott points to stay at a Springhill Suites which had plenty of space for the five of us and an outdoor pool. The next morning we stopped at Depot Park, a great playground and splash pad about ten minutes away in hopes of wearing the kids out before the final stretch of driving to Anna Maria Island.


Success!

And then finally, at last, we made it to the Island! I didn’t take nearly enough pictures of our vacation. We stayed in the same rental house that we used two years ago. The pool and proxmity to the beach, as well as the five bedrooms and one floor layout make it perfect for our family. My parents, brother and sister were with us and we had such a wonderful time. They took Abby and William to the Magic Kingdom for a day while JR and I stayed back with Jake. The kids were in heaven!

 

At the end of the week, JR made a treasure hunt for the kids, with a map and some clues along the way. Abby was over the moon. The hunt ended on the beach where she and William dug up buried “pirate treasure” (aka, way too much money on silly junk toys!). It was sweet though.

The end of a vacation is never fun, but it was particularly nice that we did not have to drive back to Ohio with the kids. My parents and brother VERY GENEROUSLY offered to fly all 3 kids back with them to Ohio. They had Jake on his very first flights! Brave souls.  As we dropped them off and hurried back to our car before they changed their minds, all I could think was “May the odds be ever in your favor!”