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.  🙂

 

 

Adventures in Babysitting

I know, I know you aren’t supposed to call it babysitting when it’s your own baby.  But it made me think of the movie and I loved that movie.  I don’t understand why Elisabeth Shue wasn’t a bigger star.

Anyway, two weeks ago when JR left for training in DC, I tried to be all positive mental attitude “you can do this!”  In reality, I felt more like this:

elisabethshue

 

steve-carrell-nooo

For the most part, things have gone swimmingly.  Abby is smiling, giggling, and showing a little more personality each day.  It’s clear she adores me.

more abby

But we’ve also had our share of mishaps, including one coming home from grocery shopping.  Let me back up though, to a time when I was pregnant and my mother texted or e-mailed me DAILY to tell me about certain specific baby items that I simply HAD TO HAVE in order for me and the baby to survive.   She was particularly stuck on me having a grocery cart seat cover for Abby.

grocery

(note, that is not my kid)

My initial response was “Why would I need that?  Why would I ever take my baby to the grocery store?”  My mother was appalled to say the least.  Horrified even, that I would deny her future grandchild a weekly trip to get groceries.  We went back and forth, round and round for a few days.  My argument was simple.  I’m a creature of habit.  Almost every Sunday morning, around 9am, I drive – alone – to Viva Fresh and buy groceries for the week.  Before Viva Fresh, it was the Giant store in Alexandria.  And before that, the Kroger  in Columbus.  JR isn’t even invited.  I like to do this by myself.  So, why would I take the baby?  Wouldn’t it be more logical for the baby to stay home with him?  The funny thing is that my mom was seriously perturbed by the whole thing and the baby wasn’t even born yet.

Neither of us could see the other person’s point of view.  At this time, we have no shopping cart cover for poor Abby.  However, I did take her to the grocery store last week.  I had to because apparently you can’t leave them home alone at this age.

The trip itself was fine.   Except that her infant car seat is SO HEAVY.  It’s supposed to be super convenient to take her in and out of the car, but there is nothing convenient about feeling like my arm is going to fall off.   She also takes up the entire space of the shopping cart, so I had to strategically place groceries around her.

abby viva

When we arrived at home I surprised myself by successfully backing into our garage, something I’ve never been able to do before.  I was feeling a little proud and maybe even smug.  I figured I could carry Abby (in the ridiculously heavy car seat) and all the groceries through the garage and up the stairs in one trip.   Well, trip I did.  I made it a few steps before catching my foot on the uneven surface in our garage and me, the bags, and the baby went sprawling.  She was the last thing to drop and she landed totally upright (unlike me).  I turned around to check on her, worried that she’d be screaming in a second because it had probably scared her, but my sweet girl was fast asleep and still snoring.  Couldn’t be bothered, that one.  Meanwhile, I was feeling like

ross

Not my finest moment.  I’ve also had a few hiccups with bath time.  Bath time is super easy with two people, and JR and I have a nice system that works for us.   On my own it’s a different story.

Last night I carried her into the bathroom and turned on the water.  We have a detachable shower head:

shower head

So I took it down and laid it in the bottom of the tub to wait for the water to get warm before I filled her little baby tub.  I would have just stayed in the bathroom and taken her clothes off there, but I suspected she had a dirty diaper so off we went to her room to get changed.  When we returned to the bathroom, I was in for a surprise.  The shower head had flipped over so that the water was spraying directly up from the tub and all over the bathroom.  A full on rainstorm in the bathroom.  There was SO MUCH WATER.  All I could do was laugh and carefully make my way to the tub to turn it off, getting us both a bit wet in the process.  Mind you, she’s naked.   I think she may have peed on me during the chaos  but I can’t be sure because I was pretty wet from the shower head anyway.  Sigh.

The important thing is that we both survived, and JR is coming home TOMORROW!!

laughing

Christmas in July!

Hooray – our consumables shipment arrived last week.  It truly felt like Christmas to open the boxes and find the items I had purchased back in April.  Even more important than delightful food and drinks for us, Abby’s crib and mattress arrived.

The first night we put her in there to sleep, we found her completely flipped around the next morning.  Apparently she enjoys the extra space!

abby crib

This was our second consumables shipment.   If you are at a post designated to receive consumables, you can ship up to 2500lbs in two separate shipments, as long as your second shipment is sent out before the start of your last year at post.   When we first shopped for consumables in May of 2013, it was a big guessing game, and I definitely got too excited about purchasing giant quantities at Sam’s Club. Which would explain why, more than a year later, we still have an almost full container of Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce just hanging out in our fridge.

BBQ sauce

 

It’s not that easy to calculate how much of a given item you will need for an entire year (or more).   We’re also very lucky that we can order many food products from Amazon prime, and our Embassy opened a commisary last year so we can stock up on other essentials there.   Another lesson learned – expiration dates.  We purchased two large bottles of ibuprofen that are sitting unopened in our apartment.  They expire in September 2014.   Maybe we’ll have a lot of headaches in the next few months?

You also have to consider storage.  We don’t have a lot of extra space, so there are rubbermaid storage bins stacked tall all over our apartment.  Some have shampoo and conditioner, the aforementioned ibuprofen, and some other favorite things.

This shipment was a bit easier because I knew what we could get in Kosovo, and I knew what we missed the most.   For JR, that was beer.   There isn’t a lot of variety here, so I went to The Party Shop (8 months pregnant) and called him from the store to discuss prices and quantities.  The store owner was super helpful and he ordered everything I requested and had it boxed up for me to pick up a week later.

A sampling of the beer order:

beer

JR looked something like this as he opened the boxes:

carlton

 

My needs were very simple.  I am a Jif Peanut Butter fanatic.  I really think if I ever ran out of peanut butter, I’d have night terrors.   You can buy a small jar at the military base, and our commisary carries extra chunky -but WHO eats extra chunky PB?  It’s meant to be smooth and delicious.

peanut butter

We’ll see if that lasts me for the next year.

The other thing I really miss is cereal. (Well, that and ice cream, but you can’t ship ice cream, sadly).  And I don’t do grown up cereal, I want the sugary deliciousness of Froot Loops, Fruity Pebbles, Lucky Charms and the like.   This is what $200 at Walmart will get you!

cereal 1 cereal 2

Any guesses on how long that cereal will last?   My goal is Thanksgiving!

It’s almost time to bid

In this crazy life we’re living, it’s hard to believe we’ve been calling Kosovo home for more than a year (well, a little less than that for me due to my maternity med evac stint in the US) and that our time here will end next summer.  And even though that is still a year away, it’s almost time to bid on our next assignment.

JR’s bidding process is probably different from State Department FSOs, so I can only speak to how it works for us.   We will receive a list of available positions and their locations, along with the length of each tour.   Most tours are four years.  Some locations, such as Kosovo, are considered hardship posts and are two year tours.  Finally, there are a few one year unaccompanied tours (UT), in locations that are considered too dangerous or unstable for your family to go with you.

We knew when we joined that JR would have to complete at least one UT during his career.  It’s really tough to think about spending a year apart, and it’s even harder to try to figure out when it would be best to do this.  Now, while Abigail is too little to remember him being gone?  Or when she is older and could Skype with him and look forward to his visits home?  Right now, we don’t feel ready to face a separation.  If we’re forced to, of course we’ll deal with it, but don’t expect him to pull a Katniss this bidding cycle.

katniss

Currently,  we’re in a weird waiting period because although we have some idea of what positions will be open, we really don’t know for sure.  All we can do is think about what factors are most important to us, and what locations might be a good fit.  And we also have to prepare ourselves to wind up somewhere unexpected and possibly undesirable.  Try as I might, I’ve been unable to convince anyone that the Bahamas or France are developing countries in need of US support.

Our considerations for bidding this time around are a bit different than last time.   We have Abby to consider, and if we end up at a 4 year post, she’ll be starting preschool there.  So now we find ourselves researching preschool options all over the world.   Two other major concerns are safety and medical – specifically with regard to malaria.  Malaria is a serious threat in many of the countries that we may serve in, and we would need to consider the risks of having Abby take anti-malarial medication daily for several years.  I’ve done a small amount of research on this already and we are very concerned about the possible long-term side effects.

Another major factor for us is the availability of spousal employment.   Many countries do not have bi-lateral work agreements that would allow me to find work on the local economy.  In countries where that may be an option, it’s unlikely that I would have the requisite foreign language skills needed and it’s also likely the pay would be significantly lower than what I would have recieved for the same job in the States.   Ideally, I’d like to find work at USAID or the Embassy.  I enjoy my current position in the Public Affairs office and it would be great if I could do something similar at our next post.   Another option is to consider some type of telework or web-based job.   I honestly wouldn’t know where to start.  And knowing myself, I would prefer a job that gets me out of the house and interacting with people on a daily basis.
Right now it’s a big guessing game.  Which posts might be open, who wants to go where, and which countries will be on the list we turn in for assignment?  As Tom Petty said, the waiting is the hardest part.

 

 

 

Cat Sitting 101

One of the hardest things about leaving Pristina for 3 months was leaving our cat, Annabelle.  It’s a really long time to be away.  We considered multiple options but knowing our cat’s aversion to travel and conversations we had with our last vet, we decided to have someone look after her here in our home.  Annabelle is not a high maintenance cat, and we’ve been able to leave her alone for a few days at a time without any trouble.  Any longer and we usually have a friend stop in to refresh her food and water and check on her.   3 months felt like way too long to ask a friend to commit to, and I also wanted someone coming at least every other day so she wouldn’t get too lonely or feel abandoned.

Finding the right cat sitter proved to be a very difficult task.   Our housekeeper, Yllka, has checked on our cat previously.  She is perfectly capable of filling her food and getting her fresh water, but she is not really a pet person so she doesn’t interact with her.  By that I mean, she tries to to stay as far away from her as possible.   There is a young girl at post (we’ll call her E), I thought she was maybe 11, and I thought she seemed up for the job. I mean, I was babysitting kids at her age so surely she could handle a cat!  To make JR more comfortable I told a wee white lie and said she was 12.   That didn’t turn out so well for me when a few weeks later – after I hired her, of course – our young cat sitter revealed that she was 9.  NINE!

clueless gif

Feeling nervous about this lapse in judgment, I asked Yllka if she would also check on kitty when she came by to clean each week.    For my own comfort, I made Yllka and E (our not even a pre-teen cat sitter) each a calendar with clear instructions of which day each person should come to the apartment and spend time with the cat.

Even with that plan in place, I was sick with worry about leaving kitty for so long.  So we gave another set of keys to our friend Keri, who is totally dependable and great with cats.  She offered to come by occasionally for us and make sure Annabelle was doing okay.  She also agreed to be our “in case of emergency” contact and serve as a go-between if Yllka or E had questions.   So basically we had 3 different cat sitters.   Not exactly efficient.

I’m confident that Yllka and E both gave it their all, but there were a few minor issues.

One day, I e-mailed Yllka to see how things were going (shocker, the 9 year old does not have an email account).   It can be difficult to communicate with Yllka via text or e-mail.   She speaks English well, but relies on the help of translating programs on the internet when she needs to write to us.  Here was her reply:

“I hope you are well. Today was the place purified and pour fawn cat food and water every thing is okay., I would like you to go on 20 June for holiday turkey for 7 days after which you will go back to Kosovo on June 21 but i in time that you have given June 24 is the day you have to work or can I free this day and come to work after the holiday to come.”

It only took me a minute or two to realize she was just letting me know that the cat was doing fine and she would be headed to Turkey for a vacation.  She was also nice enough to attach a few pictures of Annabelle with her reply.

A few weeks later, Keri messaged me on FB to pass along a text she’d received from Yllka.

“Hi Kerri Sorry that I write to you in this time! To Jenni a shingle is finish to buy I can buy you for a cat is to because there is more in the box Thanks Yllka”

Smart lady that she is, Keri figured out that a shingle had something to do with needing more cat litter.  Yllka very generously purchased the litter for us and left us a receipt to reimburse her upon our return.

While the logistics were a bit tricky at times, Annabelle did just fine without us, and so far she hasn’t tried to eat the baby.  Yet.  🙂

 

 

 

Sweating the small stuff

Yesterday I was catching up with a good friend from home (who shall remain nameless but is hopefully in labor!) and telling her that my boss had approved me working part-time for a few months to allow me to transition back from maternity leave.   She asked how that would impact the nanny (it won’t, we’re still keeping her regular hours and I’ll just send her home early most days) and whether or not we’ve asked her to clean or help around the house.  I was explaining that  I wanted to keep our housekeeper, so for now we’ve only asked the nanny to  help with baby stuff – bottles, her laundry, and straightening up toys and books.  I realized, to a non foreign service person, I sounded maybe a bit spoiled.

If only she knew where my night went after our chat.

JR and I went to dinner at one of our favorite places that just reopened, Pacific Rim.  We ordered a large bottled water, and the server brought out glasses with ice and poured them before we could say anything.  Now, normally I wouldn’t really think much of this, but as I was catching up on missed e-mails yesterday, I read an updated notice about the water in Pristina – reiterating that the tap water is not safe to drink.  And I think it’s safe to presume that the ice was made with tap water.  I wound up not drinking any of it, and JR just poured his water into a glass without ice.  I told him that the revised guidelines recommended bleaching raw fruits and vegetables, to protect from contamination.  Bleaching produce is not uncommon for FS folks living overseas, but I’ve certainly never had to do it.

While we were at dinner, he mentioned that his office offered him the chance to do a TDY (short-term work in another location) out of the country next week.  He was willing to pass it up, but it’s important that he has these opportunies for professional development and growth.  I told him he should absolutely go, and I would make do.  But I didn’t say it without reservations.  In my head I was remembering how difficult it was when he was in DC for two weeks, and that was while I was not working and had tons of family help around.   As it is, he is tentatively scheduled to make two  2-week trips back to DC in the near future without us. I know many, many people face separations from their spouses and families, but I hate it.  Sometimes I want to yell “I didn’t sign up for this!”  Except we did.

After dinner, we made our way home and started the bedtime and bath routine with Abby.  Our main bathroom (we have a second toilet in the laundry room) was again covered in ants.  Right beside the toilet and the bathtub.  I was so annoyed and disgusted.  Now, if I lived in Ohio, I would have immediately gone to Kroger or Walmart to buy Raid and ant traps.  Alas, not an option here.  In fact, I’m not certain where they would sell ant killer, and I also have doubts about my ability to purchase that on my own.   I’m afraid I’d buy something not safe for use indoors, and that’s not a risk I want to take with the baby and our cat in the house.  JR helped me hose down the bathroom (literally, we used our detachable shower head and sprayed all the ants down and into the drain on the floor) and we called it a night.

This morning, I had to visit no less than 3 different rooms in our house just to try to straighten my hair.  Some of our electronics can be plugged directly into the wall with the help of a small plastic adapter, making the prongs fit.  Other items must be plugged into a transformer, which is a heavy, unweildy box that sits on the ground.   Our house came with 4 transformers.  Those have served us reasonably well so far.  We use one in our living room for our TV, computer, and other electronics.  One in the kitchen for our toaster, blender, and other kitchn applicances.  There’s also the one in our bedroom which I use for my blow dryer and straightner.  We never really used the 4th one, although we moved it into the baby’s nursery assuming it would come in handy.

Well, it would come in handy if it worked.  The US plugs don’t stay in, they fall out or hang there precariously, causing whatever is plugged in to shut on and off constantly.  It seemed unsafe (not to mention incredibly annoying) so we moved that transformer out of Abby’s room and swapped it with the one in our bedroom.   Let me tell you how frustrating it is to try to do your hair when the applicance turns off every 5-10 seconds.  Eventually, I gave up and went to the kitchen to get that transformer, carried it to the bathroom, and used it there (ants and all).  I had to carry it back to the kitchen so I could use my toaster, which I can’t even keep on the counter anymore, because we now have a drying rack and bottles taking up valuable real estate in the kitchen.  If JR and I were picking our own apartment, this kitchen would not make the cut.

My one wall, 3 small countertops kitchen.

IMG_1065IMG_1067

Don’t get me started on trying to cook and prepare food with the limited space, but this morning all I wanted was some %$&* toast!    Assigned housing is a part of life in the FS.  I’m sure at some posts this is considered a really great kitchen, and for others it’s definitely on the small and inconvenient side.  (It’s important to add here that housing is one of the benefits that we receive in the FS, and JR feels very strongly that we should not complain about things we receive for free.)

As with everything in life, there are good things and bad, and you have to learn to take it all in stride.  I hesitated to post this, because the majority of the time, we are happy here and thankful for all of the opportunties that JR’s job brings us.  But I figure everyone is allowed to have a grumpy day, right?

And I always have JR to send me things like this.

britney

 

Leaving on a jet plane

This has been in my head all day.

Great movie, great scene. Anyway, no romantic goodbye with JR today because he’s on a beach in Thailand, no doubt missing me greatly. I can tell because he sends me pictures like this:

beach

Meanwhile, in Ohio, I’m pretty sure it’s snowing. Go figure.

I’m really looking forward to going home and spending time with friends and family (and eating all of my favorite healthy foods.) But it’s a strange feeling, leaving our apartment, our cat, my job, and all of our friends here for so long. I mentioned before that when we return this summer, some of our closest friends will have moved on to different posts, and there will be a group of new arrivals here. Oh, and we’ll have a baby with us, so that’s exciting and terrifying all at the same time!

baby 2

Next time I post I’ll be in the O-H-I-O!