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!

 

 

Home Leave 2017

We just wrapped up six weeks in America visiting family and friends, vacationing, shopping, and eating everything in sight (okay maybe only I did that last part). Some of the highlights and a ton of pictures:

  • We arrived just in time for 4th of July festivities in my home town. I haven’t been home for our town’s parade and carnival for several years. It was really special to be back and to share all of the fun with Abby and William. At first Abby did not know what to think about the parade, but before long she was all over the place scooping up candy and yelling for more. Similarly, she started out a bit nervous about the carnival rides but once she started she didn’t want to stop riding!

 

    

 

  • Abby finally had her first haircut. You can’t really tell, but at least we can say we did it!

  • We went to roughly 37 doctor’s appointments. Both kids had their well child visits, both kids got sick (Abby with viral croup, William with a stomach virus and THEN viral croup) and two trips to a specialist to diagnose and treat William’s allergies. He’s allergic to eggs and potentially peanuts, so we’re now “treating” him by building up a tolerance to peanuts at home. Sort of like Wesley in the Princess Bride with iocane powder. So far so good.

  • I had so much fun visiting with my friends. We went to wineries, spas, out to dinner, cookouts, and more. I learned how to use Snapchat filters and how to Boomerang (still a work in progress). I listened to Body Like a Back Road, I’m the One and Despacito on repeat. JR started calling it the summer of Jenni which has a really nice ring to it.

  

  • We did another great American road trip. JR and I rented a minivan, loaded it down, and drove down to Anna Maria Island, Florida. My mom and brother generously offered to fly the kids down, and my sister met us there as well. We rented a house a few blocks from the beach with its own pool and settled in for a week of fun and relaxation. Anna Maria was a perfect spot. Although the beaches were a bit crowded, the soft, white sand and clear waters made up for it. We had two golf carts that we drove all over the island, and if you ever go, you absolutely must visit The Donut Experiment. It was amazing!

 

  • After Florida, we slowly made our way to Knoxville, Tennessee to spend time with JR’s brother and his family. We made a very important but brief stop in Atlanta to meet Thatcher, the newest member of the T family! We were so sad to say goodbye to the T’s when they left Tbilisi, so it was a real treat to see them for a short visit and meet little Thatcher.
  • In Knoxville we spent most of our time watching Abby play with her cousin Katie, eating more good food, and we fit in a trip to the Knoxville Zoo (which insists on being called Zoo Knoxville which is weird). Highly, highly recommend this zoo – the animals, exhibits and staff were great. Abby rode a camel and fed a giraffe! The layout was really easy for walking around on a hot day with a stroller, and they had a nice splash pad play area included with admission. It was one of my favorite days during our trip.

                                                                                                                                           

 

  • We ended our road trip with 4 nights in Gatlinburg with JR’s whole family. 11 adults and 10  kids! Abby and William had so much fun with all of their cousins and we loved watching them play together.

 

  • Lessons learned after a road trip to Florida and back: It was a lot of driving time. I think we put over 2,500 miles on our rental car in 18 days. For comparison, we’ve lived in Georgia for two full years and we’ve put about 8,000 miles on our car. For the most part our kids did really well, but anytime a child is crying in the car even for a few minutes it feels like forever.
  • We made it back to Orrville just in time to finish up our consumables shopping (so much beer) and a few last trips to Dairy Queen.
  • Six weeks at home was really wonderful. We’re grateful to our friends and family for making time to see us and working around our crazy schedule. As much as we all loved our time in America, we are happy to be back in Tbilisi and settling in for two more years.

Raspberry Beret

Friday night there was an official 4th of July party at the Ambassador’s residence for very important people. Because we are not very important, and somehow JR lucked out and did not have to work at the event, we were invited to attend after 9pm. This worked out well, because if we had arrived at 5, I would have been ready to go home at 10.

The Ambassador’s residence was newly renovated and beautiful. They had great food, fun decorations, and an awesome band. There was this cake:

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For a half a second (or maybe a half a minute – but who’s counting?), I thought it was in the shape of Texas. Oops. The cake was still in tact when we arrived and we think nobody wanted to be the first to cut into it because it looked so nice. In fact, I’m not sure the cake was ever actually served!

We danced and we sang and we danced some more. The singer was fantastic, and she is apparently competing in a European version of The Voice (or American Idol/X Factor/something else). We cheered for an encore, and to my ABSOLUTE DELIGHT, she sang “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” (Fun fact, I walked down the aisle to that song, performed by two violinists.) Once the band was done, we switched to various people plugging in their iPods and taking turns as DJ. The Ambassador was getting ready to play the Prince song “When Doves Cry”, but after looking at the list of available songs JR told her if she wanted for people to dance to Prince, it needed to be “Raspberry Beret.” She was a bit skeptical (and maybe surprised that he fancied himself a Prince expert) but let him play the song. The dance floor loved it. The Ambassador told him he made the right call, and asked him to continue DJing, a responsibility he took quite seriously. (Fun Fact #2, when JR and I were in law school he enjoyed playing music and half-jokingly referred to himself as DJ JD.)

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As I said, the music selection was serious business.

On Saturday we had a trip planned to visit a fruit farm and food processing plant outside of the city. The event was part of a week-long visit from a group from Iowa, who were in town to sign a Sister City and Sister State agreement in Kosovo. (You can read some more about it here: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/06/13/iowa-kosovo-sister-state-deal/2420239/ and here: http://oskynews.org/?p=57290.) We were treated to a great lunch and then given a tour of the farm and the plant. It brought back memories of my time working in the factory at Smucker’s. (It was a short term job – I’m not really cut out for manual labor. But I did have fun there and I’m VERY proud of my hometown and Smucker’s connections!) We also took a walking tour of the orchards.

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Oh and I finally learned how to take a panoramic picture on my iPhone. All in all, a very successful weekend!

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4th of July

We had a great day yesterday celebrating the 4th. We were invited to a cook out in the afternoon, and I wanted to make strawberry and angel food cake skewers. I’ve made them before, and it is so easy. Buy an angel food cake at Kroger, along with fresh strawberries and blueberries. Wash the fruit and cut the tops off the strawberries. Cut the cake into small squares, and then thread onto the skewers. So fast and easy.

It was a little bit more involved here in Kosovo. First, there is no Kroger, and no pre-made angel food cake. Bondsteel sells some cake mixes, but not angel food. My mom was nice enough to send over a couple of boxes of cake mix (she also included Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, because she’s awesome like that.) Unfortunately, stawberries are no longer in season here, and blueberries are not yet in season, so I needed to buy frozen. And I had to visit three different grocery stores just to find the blueberries.

Once I had all of my ingredients, it was almost smooth sailing. The angel food cake is supposed to be cooked in a bundt pan. Don’t have that. Of the recommended options, I only had an 8.5in loaf pan. So I had to make three small cakes. But it turned out nice enough!

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The cookout was really nice, tons of great food and lots of red, white and blue. After the cookout, we wanted to walk downtown to Mother Theresa (the pedestrian boulevard) to see the local 4th of July celebration. I’m not sure if there are any other countries that celebrate America’s Independence like Kosovo. There was a stage set up on the street and the first speaker said so many wonderful things about our country, and what our country has done for Kosovo, and how they were happy to celebrate with us. Kosovo’s president, Atifete Jahjaga, and our Amabassador, Tracy Jacobson, also gave speeches. (The first speaker spoke in English and Albanian. The president spoke in Albanian only, so I didn’t understand. When our Ambassador stood up to speak, I assumed she would speak English. I forgot she speaks at least 5 other languages, including Albanian, so she addressed the crowd in Albanian. She is awesome.) The whole time they were speaking, there were images flashing in the background of American leaders.

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Next, the Iowa National Guard Band performed a few songs, including God Bless America. I was feeling a little bit homesick, but I was also feeling proud. Proud to be an American, proud to be in Kosovo, and incredibly proud of JR and his colleagues (here and around the world) for all of their hard work. (I have a great video of the band performing, but I can’t figure out how to upload it.)

We went back to our place to relax and hopefully see a few fireworks, which we did! Then, because no 4th of July is complete unless I’ve listened to Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless The U.S.A.” at least three times, I started watching various YouTube videos of the song and of course ended up in tears. Since I was already crying, it seemed logical to search for videos of “surprise military homecomings”. Don’t EVER do that, unless you want to ugly cry.

This one ruins me every time. I realize I’m posting the video, but really you should not watch this unless you are alone and you have tissues.

Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday!