Remember Shelby?

Of course you do!  I wanted to share a little update from M & L, Shelby’s amazing adoptive family:

“She’s definitely a daddy’s girl.

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She’s learned lots of new things including “lay down” and “stay”.  She runs right to her crate when we say “Shelby bed.”

We’re still having some challenges with the other dogs getting used to having her in the pack (note, Shelby now has FOUR brothers and sisters), but it gets a little better as time goes by. She loves to play in the backyard, and Lobo is her best friend- whether he likes it or not!!

She likes to play with her little rubber tire and snuggles for head pats.

Her paw healed well. She is missing a nail and one of her paw pads didn’t heal quite right, but you’d never know given how she runs and jumps and plays. It doesn’t seem to bother her at all.

The vet didn’t have insight as to her breed – we may do a doggy DNA test at some point to find out.”

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Makes my heart happy to see and hear about Shelby doing so well.  Thanks again to everyone who helped make it happen!

And just like that

Our tour is over and we’re leaving Kosovo.   It’s been a wonderful two years.  We have made great friends, explored new places, and even expanded our family.  I really had no idea what to expect when we started this adventure, but this was a good tour for us and although there have been challenges, we will miss Kosovo and we are very thankful for our time here.

Some of my favorite pictures and memories from the last two years.

first weekDinner at Tiffany’s our first week in Pristina

albania 1Berat, Albania with Amy

 

rugovaRugova Gorge

singingKaraoke at Pacific Rim.  Don’t stop Believiiinnnnnnn’!!!

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Santorini, Greece

paris vaux

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Paris, Vaux le Vicomte, and ringing in the New Year at the Sacre Coeur

first picWelcoming Abby to the world

lake ohridWine tasting at Lake Ohrid, Macedonia

shelbyI’m not sure I can call it a highlight, but I can’t skip over Shelby (and I have an update to share soon!)

croatia 1 croatia 2 croatia 3croatia 4
Our wonderful trip to Dubrovnik, Croatia with my parents

elephant Abby’s first Halloween

 

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Spending precious time with our families and Abby’s first Christmas

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And one last picture of our awesome road trip last month

Lamtumirë, Kosovo!

If there was a problem, yo, I’ll solve it

Since we packed out, we are living the high life with the Embassy Welcome Kit.  Welcome Kits can vary by post, but they are intended for pretty short term use.  We’ve been using ours for over two weeks, and it can be frustrating having just one dish towel and four forks.  Every day is an adventure when you go to make food and realize you are missing at least one essential item.

The very first problem I encountered was the bowls.  I love, love, love cereal, and it just so happens I have one last box of Froot Loops to enjoy.  The provided bowls are super shallow and definitely not intended for cereal.

No worries, I’ve been using this random glass bowl they included for an unknown purpose.   When JR wants cereal for breakfast, we eat in shifts and wash out the bowl in between.  Teamwork!

bowlsThe bowl on the left is the wee one which is about an inch deep.  No good for cereal!

Just before pack out, I had a breakthrough in the kitchen and made pizza dough from scratch for the first time ever. It was so good – and so surprisingly easy – that I made a second batch and tossed it in the freezer.   When I pulled it out the other day to make pizza, I realized I didn’t have a rolling pin.  What to do?   Well one thing we still have in abundance is wine!  So I washed and dried a bottle, and then put a little flour on it.  Voila!

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Even though we’re sometimes behind on pop culture and sports over here, JR was still interested in the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight.   The fight was scheduled to begin around 5am local time, so he and some crazy friends planned a viewing party.   It pained me to think of sending him to a party without a dish of some sort, but there was no way I was going to be awake to prepare something before he left.  The bigger problem is our lack of supplies.   Then, I realized a simple solution.  Bacon.  We stocked up on bacon during our last trip to Bondsteel, and we still have a few packages in our freezer.  We cooked it and put it in a Ziplock bag (that’s as fancy as it gets these days) and I’ve been told it was well-received at the party.  I mean who doesn’t love bacon?

With just a few days left to go, our time with the welcome kit and our dwindling food and wine supply is almost up.   One nice treat is that I have an excuse to finish our last bottle of champagne.  This afternoon, I told our nanny that I was going to have a glass of champagne.  She said, “oh are you celebrating something?”  I thought for a second…”um, yes!  Celebrating this lovely afternoon.”

I think that’s a perfectly good reason for champagne!

cheers

5 Pros and Cons on life in Kosovo

Some of the FS blogs I follow are doing the top 5 pros and cons of their current posts to help out future bidders who are researching where to go next.  So here are my top 5 about Kosovo.

PROS:

1. The people.   I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more welcomed anywhere in the world than here in Kosovo.   Almost everyone we encounter is kind and welcoming, and many of them express gratitude for everything that America has done to help Kosovo with its independence and economic progress.   In Pristina, there is a statute of Bill Clinton and a store named Hillary.   There are so many places in this world where our help is not appreciated, and where people might have reservations about being identified as Americans, but not here.   The 4th of July celebration was really incredible to see – surely it’s not the norm for other countries to celebrate our Independence Day, but they do here!

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2. It’s affordable.   I was talking to my mom the other day and telling her how we eat a lot of eggs, because they’re easy and cheap and Abby likes them.  She asked me how much a dozen eggs cost.   I realized I had absolutely no idea, I just assumed they were inexpensive because most things are here.  I usually spend about 30-45 euro ($33-50) a week at the grocery store.  I did check last week and a carton of eggs was .87 euro (I think, things are not always labeled clearly, and there is also that language barrier).  A loaf of delicious bread from the bakery is .30 euro.  At our favorite restaurant, we usually both order steak, have one or two glasses of wine, and spend around 35 euro.  You can save a lot of money living in Kosovo, but you have to watch out for…

3. Travel opportunities.  Kosovo is located within driving distance of some amazing places – Greece, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, and Romania, just to name a few.   If you have the time, you can drive further to visit Slovenia, Hungary, or Austria, or take a ferry to Italy.   We could spend another two years here and still not see everything this region has to offer.

4. Embassy community.  This has changed considerably over the last several years.  At first, Kosovo was an unaccompanied tour, and then it changed to allow spouses to join, and then children under 5 could come as well. I think it’s only been in the last few years that they made it a full accompanied post, allowing school-aged children to live here as well.  Our Embassy is working hard to catch up with the changing family environment.  The CLO office is always scheduling a restaurant night out, day trips, and regional trips.  You make friends really quickly in this life, and this post was no exception.

5. Walking to work.  We think it’s awesome that we can walk to work in 5 minutes and walk downtown for dinner in 15 minutes.  We rarely drive our car except to get groceries at Viva Fresh (on the other side of town) or if we’re headed away for the weekend.   This also allows for couples commute, which is a real highlight for JR.  🙂

CONS

1.  Winter/Air pollution.  Winters can be long and tough in Kosovo. I’m from Ohio, so I’m no stranger to frigid temperatures and snow, but the winter can really wear you down here.  One of the biggest problems is that people burn coal in their homes for heat, which produces an awful smell and pollutes the air.  It soaks into your hair and clothes the minute you step outside and lingers with you all day.  It’s unpleasant to breathe, and we kept Abby inside for most of the winter to limit her exposure to it.

2.  Litter.  There is SO.MUCH.TRASH here.  Everywhere you look.  Areas that should be clean and beautiful, green spaces, rivers, all of it is often ruined by trash strewn all around.  It’s disheartening to see such a beautiful country plagued by this problem.

3.  Stray animals.  It’s a running joke (admittedly a sad one) that when people leave Kosovo they don’t take a traditional souvenir, they take a new pet.  Or 2 or 3.   There are an abundance of stray cats and dogs all over Pristina, and most of the country.  It is sad to see, and most people cannot resist and end up adopting at least one pet during their tour.   The few shelters that exist are overcrowded and lack funding, but there are so many other pressing issues for the country to resolve that I doubt this problem will be resolved anytime soon.

4. Lack of personal space.  I like a little elbow room when I’m checking out at the store, or waiting in line for something, but that’s hard to come by here.  People often get in your personal space and stand just a little bit too close.

space
I thought this was funny regardless of the grammatical error.

5. Groundhog’s Day.  It can feel like every day is the same here.  JR and I often pass the same people, at the exact same spot, walking to work each morning.  We almost always eat lunch at the small restaurant on the compound, and there’s a rotation of about 3-5 things we eat, while sitting with the same people (hi Lori!) every day.   I think the lack of variety and choices can wear on you – and this is coming from a person who would eat macaroni and cheese and peanut butter all day, every day and be happy as a clam.  I share some of the blame here since we’ve become set in our routine, especially since the baby came.  Small changes are happening though, like new restaurants are opening or Sabaja, the craft brewery that many folks enjoy.   So it’s a minor con, but it makes the list.

 

 

 

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.

sbtb

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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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!