Social Sponsor Extraordinaire

Last month, JR and I volunteered to act as social sponsors for a new couple that would be arriving at post. I was excited to have something to do, and started e-mailing with them right away. As a social sponsor, you reach out to your people before they arrive to see if they have any questions, offer to get some groceries for them to have when they get here, pick them up at the airport, make sure their house is in good shape, and things like that.

I know that I asked our social sponsor about 200 questions before we came. K and L, our social sponsorees, seemed very laid back and relaxed, not a lot of questions before we met. I asked if I could pick up some food for them, and they asked for milk, yogurt, and fruits and vegetables. Now, I don’t really eat vegetables. So when I went to the store to shop for them, I stood there staring at the produce section for a while trying to think what they might want. A person doesn’t just eat a raw onion, right? It never dawned on me that you might just pick up a tomato and eat it. I bought them some carrots. And then I moved on to the fruit. I do better with fruit.

I coordinated with the Embassy’s Motor Pool to have a driver meet me at the airport to pick them up (to make sure we had room for all of their luggage). Since I didn’t know what they looked like, the driver made a sign with their names on it. I felt very official waiting for them! Once they arrived, we loaded the bags into the Embassy van, and I took them to their new home. They have an awesome house, and it’s located pretty close to us. That night, I took them out to dinner and some other friends joined us to welcome them to post.

We made plans to visit Skopje, Macedonia that Saturday. I’ve been through Macedonia when we traveled to Greece, but we did not have a chance to explore the city. We had a nice day just walking around, there are tons of little shops, cafes, and a strange amount of statues. Everywhere. One store had old military items like coats, helmets, and weapons. They also had a very cool collection of old currency. JR and I are planning to go back soon. It’s definitely a place where he could spend some time.

I’m glad we were able to sign up as social sponsors, and get some new friends out of it, too. It’s really nice to have someone helping you through the transition of arriving at a new post, and I’m happy we could pay it forward!

Parking Problems

Sometimes coming up with a title is harder than writing a blog post.

I haven’t been writing a lot since we got back for a few reasons. JR has been working a lot of overtime, and I didn’t feel well for a while after we returned (terrible allergies and jet lag), and we just haven’t been doing anything that exciting.

But we were relaying this story at dinner last night and I thought it was worth sharing on here, even if it happened several weeks ago. I like to think I’ve become a real natural at driving here. One with the people, you might say. So when our car needed the brakes checked and a headlight replaced, it made sense for me to take care of it during the day while JR was working. The biggest concern JR had is that I tend to believe every single thing the car repair people tell me. I just nod along and smile, assume they’re being honest, and hand over my credit card. The last time I got an oil change on my own (for my new car) it cost me $80 at a Jiffy Lube that advertised $30 oil changes. JR was not pleased, but I have no idea what went wrong.

It was pouring rain that day, and a drive that would normally take me 15 minutes was made significantly longer by the weather and this crazy construction they have going on that created a detour on a major road. The detour can get pretty backed up, so one of our friends showed us an alternate route that involves a bunch of one lane roads and praying you don’t get into an Albanian driving standoff with someone coming the other direction.

I was feeling feisty, so I decided to try that alternate route on my own. To turn off, you have to edge up past this GIGANTIC hole in the road.

car 1.2

car 1.1

Note the complete lack of orange cones, or any type of warning that you maybe shouldn’t get too close. It’s especially fun at night!

I made it to the dealership, and they determined our brakes were fine, so after getting the headlight fixed (only 14 Euros!), I was back on my way home. Traffic had become much worse, and the rain continued to come down. In Kosovo, it’s acceptable to drive in whichever direction is most convenient to YOU, regardless of the flow of traffic or logic.

car 1.3

car 1.4

I made it all the way home without incident. I was feeling really proud of myself. I pulled into our narrow garage, and realized I had driven too close to the side. I was halfway in when I felt the car hit something. I stopped and looked out the driver’s side window to see that the left side of the car was completely up against the garage. Crap. I didn’t know if it made more sense to pull forward or backwards – what would minimize the damage? I put the car in park, hoping to get out and investigate further. Well, given how tiny our garage is, I couldn’t get my door open. I was stuck.

car 1.5

I called JR at work. Our conversation went something like this.

Me: Oh hey, just wanted to let you know I’m home, but I’m kind of stuck in the garage.
JR: What do you mean you’re stuck in the garage?
Me: Well I scraped up the car on the side, and now I can’t get out of the door and I’m scared to move and cause more damage. So I’m stuck.
JR: I’m sorry but I’m at work – I’m not sure what I can about it right now?
Me: Oh nothing! I know you’re busy. I just wanted you to know that I was stuck, in case I’m sitting here when you get home. Just a heads up!

We got off the phone and I pondered my next move. I texted my upstairs neighbor, and luckily, she was home and able to come down stairs and direct me so I could drive the car out of the garage. Now I just park on the sidewalk outside of our building like everyone else.

O-H! I-O!

Last week we went back to Ohio for JR’s sister’s wedding. I was excited to see our family and friends, and also excited to eat at some of my favorite places! We left on Wednesday morning, and after 3 flights and 19 hours of travel, we landed in Ohio. JR and I were torn on where to eat first, so we played Rock, Paper, Scissors to decide between Marion’s Pizza and Penn Station. I won, so we headed to Penn Station, which was an excellent decision I must say.

On Thursday, I got to see some of my friends and do some outlet shopping. Oh and we had dinner at the Cheesecake Factory, which was amazing. I was actually at the Cheesecake Factory 3 times total on Thursday and Friday, but it wasn’t really my fault and I only ate there twice.

Friday I got my hair cut (woohoo!) and then the whole family headed over to the wedding location for the rehearsal and dinner. There were over 60 people at the wedding rehearsal alone if that tells you the size of the immediate families involved.The lovely bride realized that she didn’t really have anyone to coordinate the rehearsal (lining people up, telling people when to walk and all that jazz) so I volunteered. Organizing and bossing people around is right up my alley – I learned from my mom and my aunt!

Saturday was wedding day (and I managed to sneak in a quick lunch at Chick-fil-A!). It was a beautiful ceremony, and we were so happy to be able to celebrate with Meredith and Andy. They put so much thought into every detail of the wedding, and it looked wonderful.

We had a surprise baby shower for JR’s brother and wife on Sunday morning, and after that we got to visit my family!

A few things I learned from a short trip back. First, we didn’t have working cell phones at home and it was AWFUL. I realize I’m too dependent on my iPhone, but even an old school flip phone would have let me text friends and family and it would have helped with making plans. What did people do before cell phones?? The second thing is that we need to get rich so we can fly business class. Immediately. Airplane seats are just not that comfortable when you’re sitting in them for 9+ hours, and it’s a clever form of torture by the airlines for economy passengers to walk through business/first class upon entering and exiting the plane.

Finally, we thought we were saving some money and shipping costs by stocking up on a few items while we were home. We bought cans of cream of chicken/mushroom soup, Manwich (you have no idea how much I love a sloppy joe), teriyaki sauce, and JR refused to leave any beer behind at his parents, so we packed a 12 pack. Well…when we picked up our bags in Kosovo, the large duffel (why is spell check telling me this isn’t a word?) bag was wet and had the delicious smell of teriyaki. All of the soup cans were dented. And we lost one beer (I think this bothered JR the most, not the fact that his good suit was now beer soaked, or that two of my bras were marinated in teriyaki).

Lessons learned! Most importantly, it was clear this was just too short of a trip, and hopefully we can stay longer next time!

Get a Haircut and Get a Real Job

It’s officially the longest I’ve gone without a haircut since I can remember, and the longest I’ve gone without a job since I first started working in high school (with the exception of first semester of law school, because we weren’t allowed to have a job). I keep thinking of a song my stepdad used to sing around the house – “Get a haircut, and get a real job. Clean your act up and don’t be a slob. Get it together like your big brother Bob.” Great song.

I’ve always liked to make money. Ashleigh, my childhood best friend, and I had a Snoopy Snow Cone machine and spent one summer selling delicious snow cones to our neighborhood friends.

snoopy

When the Snow Cone business slowed down, I had to get creative. In our house there was a random box of these strange glass figurines that were actually perfumes. As a 10 year old, I had no use for perfume. But I had the awesome idea that I could make potpourri! I pulled up grass from our yard and put it in little sandwich baggies, and then poured perfume all over the grass. I sealed up the baggies, loaded them into my wagon, and walked around the neighborhood selling my homemade potpourri. Shockingly, it was not a very successful business.

Like many teenage girls, I did a lot of babysitting while I was growing up, and I liked it. But what I wanted most was a real job. When I was 15, I started working as a hostess at a small cafe in my hometown. I thought it was the greatest job ever. I got to dress up nicely, talk to people, and like many a young hostess, I felt like I was super important.

Since then, I’ve had a lot of part time jobs. In high school, I worked at a tanning salon, and as a waitress, and that was also the year my friend Kristen and I started a purse and embroidery business. It started when I was envious of another friend’s Gap purse, and my grandma said she could make it for me. She actually sewed me a purse out of a dishtowel! I was super impressed, and saw visions of selling purses all over the world. Kristen and I learned how to sew a few different shapes and sizes of purses, and started taking orders from family and friends. We debated on a name for our new business, and decided on The Bag Ladies (although Purses for the People was a close second). We even had business cards (what I wouldn’t give to still have one of those).

We spent every Sunday morning at Jo-Ann Fabrics, and then we went straight to my grandma’s house to sew for the afternoon. We sold our purses at craft shows, and we even had a display at a store in town. We also made personalized fleece blankets. Sadly, we were headed off to separate colleges and our business venture ended.

The summer before college I was an on-call factory worker for the GREATEST JELLY AND JAM MAKER IN THE WORLD. While it was pretty cool to see how a factory worked, it was only about 2 hours into my first day on the job that I realized I was not cut out for manual labor.

smuckers

During college, I worked as a computer lab assistant, a sales associate at Things Remembered and Gap, a waitress, a resident advisor for my dorm, history department assistant, a receptionist for an advertising agency, and a bank teller (a terrible job for someone with a lifelong struggle with math). I usually had two part time jobs during school, mostly to help pay for my Banana Republic credit card.

With law school came more serious jobs and more responsibility. Although two summers ago, a Jeni’s Ice Cream shop opened across the street from our house in Columbus and I just had to work there. It combined my love of ice cream, sales, and talking! It was maybe the greatest job ever. My boss (a sweet 21 year old student) told me that I really set the bar high for the other scoopers at our shop – which I took as a very nice compliment.

All this to say, it’s been very strange for me to be unemployed for this long. My parents (I’m blessed to have three of them) instilled a strong work ethic in me from a very young age. Truthfully, it’s hard to feel like I’m doing my part when I’m not working or bringing home a paycheck.

I’m feeling very optimistic that my employment status will change soon. Oh AND, in equally important news, I have a haircut scheduled for this Friday.

Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car

Our weekend started off with great news – our car has arrived in Pristina!

car

I am super pumped to drive. I’m less excited about parking in our garage. It is teeny tiny. First I tried reversing in, and that didn’t work. Then JR hopped out and tried to give me directions, and I was still not getting anywhere. The guards on mobile patrol were passing by, and they tried to help too – in between laughing and pointing. When I finally managed to get the car into the garage, I got a bit too excited and rammed into our freezer with the front end. Oops.

I’m told it looked something like this:

So, I’ll try to work on that.

Also this weekend, JR was skeptical (I feel like I’m always writing or thinking that sentence. I think he spends a lot of time being skeptical of me.) when I told him I really wanted him to watch part of Keeping up with the Kardashians with me. I gave up KUWTK last year. I realized that I was fast-forwarding most of the episodes, and that I hated every single person on the show, except sometimes Khloe. And occasionally Kourtney. Anyway, so a few people had mentioned to me that the Kardashians went to Greece and that I should check it out, so I did. At first they were in Mykonos, and since that’s not where we went, I didn’t really care. But then they did a boat tour and I was practically yelling at the screen – they went on the exact same boat that we were on! I got JR to watch and he agreed it was pretty cool to see Captain Ted, George and Nancy (the boat crew) on TV with the Kardashians. In the next episode, Kourtney and Scott had dinner at Dimitri’s, the same restaurant we went to in Amoudi Bay. It was very cool to see all that on TV.

Saturday night we went to the opening of an American-style craft brewery here in Pristina called Sabaja Brewery. It was such a fun event, and we were all more than happy to support the new businesses owners at their big opening. Our Ambassador and the Kosovo Minister of Finance both spoke and congratulated the owners on their entrepreneurship and hard work. (More about Sabaja Brewery here: http://birrasabaja.com/?page_id=203&lang=en).

sabaja 1

sabaja 2

995974_10101489516394143_507136020_n

And that was our weekend!

Home Sweet Home

So, our HHE arrived on Monday! Most of my week was spent unpacking, organizing, moving and cleaning, although I did take a few breaks. (Thank you Jessica for the wonderful brunch yesterday! In my dream housewife world, there would be brunches several times per week.)

JR is allowed to take one day of administrative leave to help when our things arrive, but his office is crazy busy right now so he didn’t think he’d be able to miss a day. Honestly, I thought this was just fine because I pictured myself as super woman and figured I could handle it all on my own, and he’d be all surprised and the house would be in great shape when he got home.

That SO did not happen. I totally underestimated how much would be going on at once. We had one moving crew that was supposed to arrive around 9am to pick up the extra furniture in our place that we wanted removed, and another moving crew coming at 10 to deliver all of our things. There were also different people delivering an extra freezer, and an electrician coming to install an outlet in the garage. They basically all showed up at 10. There were so many people, all of them asking where does this thing go (excellent question, considering every item was wrapped/boxed and not exactly expertly labeled, so it was kind of a guessing game), is this piece staying or leaving, and on and on. It got hectic in a hurry. Luckily, JR was able to come home at noon to help out!

IMG_1011

IMG_1012

IMG_1014

IMG_1015

IMG_1018

We quickly started running out of room for boxes, and places to stand. The movers will unpack the boxes and pull things out, but after we did that with maybe ten boxes, there wasn’t any more room to put things down.

IMG_1019

IMG_1020

IMG_1021

IMG_1025

Once everything was inside and the movers were gone (they did a fantastic job!), JR asked me how I wanted to move things around and set up the rooms. I started explaining my vision (I’m pretty certain that once the word “vision” comes out of my mouth, JR stops listening to whatever else I have to say) and we got to work.

We made some good progress, and we were so excited to have our bed, our couch, and our TV set up Monday night. JR had to get back to work Tuesday, and I had high expectations for how much I could get done that day. The tricky thing is that sometimes I like to focus on a less important task that doesn’t really help the big picture. I wound up spending most of the morning color-coding the closets and refolding/organizing (and occasionally trying on) clothes. Oops.

But I’m happy to report we are pretty much done! Obviously we still need to organize some things, but the place really looks and feels like our home. Now for a little tour.

Office/Storage/Kitty’s Room
IMG_1049

IMG_1050

Our bedroom
IMG_1051

IMG_1052

IMG_1053

The closet. So, somehow when we first got here, JR took over this closet. I decided that was not going to work long term, and suggested that it should belong to me. He didn’t go for it, so we are sharing the closet. Allegedly, compromise is important in a marriage.
IMG_1054

Guest bedroom
IMG_1055

IMG_1056

Laundry room
IMG_1057

Bathroom. The shower curtain rod is all the way up to the ceiling, and when we tried to hang our shower curtain we realized it doesn’t reach down to the tub. So now I need to go shopping for a new one.
IMG_1059

Living Room
IMG_1061

IMG_1062

IMG_1063

Dining Room/Kitchen
IMG_1064

IMG_1065

IMG_1066

IMG_1067

Home sweet home for the next two years!

From Legal Writing to Kosovo

When we told friends and family about our upcoming move to Kosovo we were often met with confused looks and/or blank expressions. What usually happened next was a short geography lesson (understandable, considering I had to check the map myself after our assignment). And a lot of people asked us “why?” Why are you moving overseas, and why Kosovo. Totally logical questions. For us, it was the start of an adventure we’d wanted for a long time.

JR and I met during orientation our first year of law school. We were randomly assigned to the same 4 person group for a project in our Legal Writing class. As we became more than friends, it was clear that he had dreams and goals that would take him outside of Ohio, and if it worked out the way he hoped, outside the country. I was thinking if we stayed together his plans would somehow transform into my plans for us – to never leave Columbus. It’s rare, but sometimes I’m wrong. 🙂

During our third year of law school, JR spent a semester working overseas with the Department of State, and he started focusing on a future in the Foreign Service (FS) as a Foreign Service Officer (FSO) (it’s the government – they LOVE acronyms). Getting a job as an FSO is no easy task, but JR kept trying. Meanwhile, we graduated law school and both found work as attorneys in Columbus. Life was pretty good, but he was still hoping for something more.

In August of 2011, he received an e-mail notice for an interview in DC. It turned out the job he would interview for was one he had applied for in August 2010 – an entire year earlier! We didn’t know what to think or expect.

The next several months were part excitement, part torture. There were still many hoops to jump through after he had passed the interview portion, and no guarantee of a job at the end of it all. There were reference checks, security clearances, medical clearances, and a lot of waiting – it was big year for us. It’s hard to plan for your future when so much is up in the air, but we figured, why not really challenge ourselves? So we added an engagement and wedding into the mix. Go big or go home.

Finally (I’m crying as I write this, because I just remember it so clearly and I’m a person who cries a lot), one morning in March JR walked into my office and handed me a letter. It was his official employment offer and start date. Holy cow, this was happening. We celebrated that night, and it was exciting and emotional. I was, and still am, so incredibly proud of him for his perseverance and commitment to his dreams.

Since we had less than two months to make plans until he had to move in May (also not to mention, we were still right in the middle of wedding planning), we drove from Ohio to D.C. for a short weekend to go apartment hunting. After getting over the initial shock of how much we’d be paying to live in D.C. (it’s ridiculous!), we chose a small 1 bedroom apartment that could barely fit 2 people and one portly cat. Our plan was for JR to move first in May, and I would join him after our wedding that August or September. (As I’m writing this, I’m realizing August has always been a big month for us. It was the month we first met too!)

It was a strange summer apart, filled with the anticipation of getting married and moving to DC, and knowing our time in DC would be short. JR was in training for his job which included language training and once that was complete, we’d be moving overseas for our first tour. We were very fortunate that for JR’s job, his supervisors gave everyone a list of the available assignments and countries, and asked that we rank our top 5. We were told they would try to take our preferences into consideration, but there were no guarantees. We ranked Kosovo #1 for many reasons – we’d heard great things about the work the US is doing here, the Kosovars are friendly and welcoming to Americans, and the location in Eastern Europe.

And here we are! After one year in DC (well only 9 months for me), we find ourselves in Pristina, Kosovo, starting our great adventure.