Slump and Stuff

I started a post last week about being in a pretty deep slump. And I wouldn’t say I’m out of it, just that I’m coping, or at least finding ways to cope better. There is a handy chart somewhere that shows the different phases of adjusting to life in a new place. Initial honeymoon phase, then a period of culture shock, then you slowly adjust. There’s more to it but that’s the general gist.

I probably experienced a similar feeling in Tbilisi but I either don’t remember it or I’ve subconsciously blocked it out, the way we don’t recall the worst parts of child birth or newborns. Because if we did remember how bad it was, why in the world would we ever sign up to do it again?! I know this just a normal part of things and that it will get better. Right?

Let’s focus on the positives. We got our stuff! Our HHE (household effects – 5400 pounds of toys, clothes, furniture and books) and our UAB (unaccompanied air shipment). Normally JR and I would have both been at home the day everything arrived, but I wasn’t able to take off so he coordinated the delivery. He sent me updates throughout the day. At first I was thinking, oh this is going pretty smoothly, and also I really lucked out not dealing with it all. Then the pictures started to give me intense anxiety.

This truck arrived with all of our worldly possessions.

Here come the boxes.

William was an excellent supervisor. 


I bet you are wondering, why did they pack so much food? Does it make sense to pack food that will sit in boxes and storage containers in 100+ degree temps for more than 4 months? Just know that I am wondering the same thing.

I also cracked up laughing when I opened the box that my former Tbilisi colleagues packed for me. They packed out my work desk and made sure to include 4 McDonalds ketchup packets. It’s the little things in life, you know?


Because everyone needs a cooler in your bedroom. 

 


JR was focused on the top priorities, which included immediately unpacking and displaying his Halloween decor.

 


He was also busy shaming me for a bit of over purchasing I did YEARS ago before we packed out for Kosovo and Georgia (I know you can relate, KBS!)

The anxiety only increased when I arrived home and basically walked into an episode of Hoarders. There was stuff everywhere. Every surface, almost every available floor space, I mean just everywhere. Our treadmill doesn’t fit anywhere except our living room. It’d be one thing if we used it for it’s actual purpose, but I like to use it for clothes and storage so having it in the living room is really quite inconvenient.

My first priority was making a path to the beds and clearing them off so everyone could sleep that night. After the kids were in bed, JR and I were working on our bedroom. I grabbed our duvet from the top of the dresser and turned to put it on the bed. This huge, heavy mirror that sits propped up against the wall on top of the dresser came crashing down, rebounding off the dresser and then slamming down on the floor. Not awesome.

Even worse, I had just set up these two acrylic jewelry holders I liked and placed my rings in them. The holders lay in pieces on the floor and my rings were scattered. We found two pretty quickly but my wedding band was missing. I was so upset. There were open boxes and piles of stuff everywhere. I was convinced we wouldn’t find it. Frustrated, I told JR I was going to sleep and we’d deal with more in the morning.

A few hours later during the night I woke up to a loud crash. I was convinced the mirror fell down again but when I turned on the light I couldn’t see that anything had happened. JR started looking around and opened his closet door to reveal that the entire shelf and hanging bar had collapsed in a pile on the ground. He looked at me and then just quickly shut the door and said, “that can wait until the morning.”

Over the next few days we made progress little by little, including finding my wedding band! While I wish we weren’t still hauling our gigantic living room furniture all over the world, it is so comfortable and it makes us feel like we are at home. The kids are playing happily with all of their toys and loving the playroom set up. Now that we are in an apartment we don’t have an obvious place for our outdoor toys, so all 37 of them are parked outside our front door and crowding the walkway. No doubt the neighbors are loving this and wondering who allowed the circus to move in. All we need is a few spare tires and a broken refrigerator to really complete the look.

Hopefully my sister doesn’t mind the mess because she arrives TOMORROW!

 

 

 

No really, what do you do?

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JR has been with USAID for over 4 years now (and recently received a promotion!), yet I’m pretty sure our friends and families still don’t know what he does. Which is normal, my sister is a chemical processing engineer (I think?) and she’s explained it to me a few times and I’m just like, oh mm hmm, I see! When really I do not. At all. I’m also at a different job with an agency I’d never heard of before I applied, so it stands to reason that no one has a clue what I do either.

JR is a Contracting and Agreement Officer for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). USAID is an Executive Agency tasked with promoting democracy, economic growth, and peace and stability in developing countries around the world (I stole that directly from their website. Citing my sources and all that jazz). He’s part of the USG’s Diplomatic Corps, otherwise known as the Foreign Service, which USAID’s website explains as:

Through their dedication, technical skills, and creativity, Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) drive American foreign policy towards its objectives of global peace, stability, and prosperity. USAID FSOs are responsible for developing and managing foreign assistance programs that encompass   economic growth and trade, agriculture and the environment, education and training, democracy and governance, stabilization and conflict mitigation, global health, and humanitarian assistance.  USAID FSOs work in close partnership with the governments and people of more than 100 countries in five regions of the world, with private voluntary organizations, universities, private businesses, trade and professional associations, other donor governments, faith-based organizations, and other US government agencies. They assess country needs, prepare strategic plans, design and evaluate programs, oversee budgets and contracts, and report on results.

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Specifically, JR has the legal authority to solicit, negotiate, award, and possibly terminate any agreement that USAID enters into in a given country. In order to do his job he has what’s called a warrant that allows him to obligate money on behalf of the U.S. government. Since the U.S. government is the largest purchaser of goods and services in the world (by far), the process of obligating money on its behalf is heavily regulated. Another way to look at it is that he’s a “business advisor” for the government and ensures compliance with federal contracting laws.

Here’s a very generic example: If USAID had funding for a new education program, such as sending students to the U.S. for master’s degrees in economics, they would need an implementing partner to manage the program. First, they would announce that they have this program and that U.S. or local organizations can bid on it if they wish to be chosen to run it. Then USAID would review all the bids, make sure everything is compliant with legal regulations, and then select the best implementing partner/bid for that particular program. Someone at USAID also has to oversee the implementing partner to ensure they are managing the program correctly and make any necessary adjustments to the contract/agreement. This all includes a lot of paperwork. JR has the legal responsibility for all of those components.

So that’s JR’s job in a nutshell. Makes perfect sense, right?

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We will spend most of his career overseas, although we may be posted to DC at some point for a 2 or 3 year tour.

My job is Program Coordinator for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) in Tbilisi. If you are like me and had never heard of DTRA, you might be surprised to learn that DTRA is a pretty large agency just outside of D.C. with almost 2,000 employees. Here’s a snapshot of the main objectives of DTRA:  http://www.dtra.mil/About/WhoWeAre.aspx.

In Georgia, DTRA supports Embassy objectives including Euro-Atlantic integration, international cooperation, and peace and security measures.  One of the biggest areas of work is the Cooperative Biological Engagement Program. Basically, the U.S. has a strong interest in ensuring that Georgia understands best practices in biosafety and security, is prepared to handle infectious diseases or outbreaks, and enhancing international research partnerships. You can read more here:  http://georgia.usembassy.gov/embassy_offices_andotheragencies2/defense-threat-reduction-office.html

Like my job title says, I coordinate. We have visitors and contractors from the U.S. and they need assistance scheduling meetings with Georgian officials and people within the Embassy. I also attend the meetings and report back to our office on what is happening and any action that we need to take to facilitate things. One of my first tasks was the opening of a boat basin in Batumi, funded by DTRA. It was a large-scale project so we had high-level Embassy representatives attending and I was responsible for contact with the front office of the Embassy, coordinating the schedule, and writing up the speech and press information for the event. I’m learning new things all of the time and I really enjoy the work.

My position is specifically for EFMs (eligible family members – typically, spouses or partners of foreign service officers). At any given post, I can apply for all of the EFM positions that seem to fit my interests and background. It’s unlikely I’ll be hired as a divorce attorney, but I hope I can continue to find interesting work while we live overseas.

So… that’s what we do.

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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Trying to be a blogger

If you are reading this, then you probably know that I’m Jenni, and I just moved to Kosovo with my husband and our fat orange cat, Annabelle. I’ve kind of always wanted to have a blog, but I lacked a purpose. I’m not crafty or super domestic, and I don’t really excel at anything (unless celebrity gossip counts?). But now, I can do this and keep our families and friends up to date on our lives over here.

It’s also possible that some day this could be helpful for another couple or individual looking to move overseas, particularly someone who works for the US government. I read a lot of blogs and found them incredibly helpful as we prepared for this big change.

I really wanted to spring for the $100 premium blog package, but my husband was not impressed with my visions of becoming the next Bethenny Frankel or Jen Lancaster. So this is my cheapy free blog for now. Speaking of my husband, he would currently prefer to remain anonymous (which is kind of funny considering the ONLY people reading this know his full name and probably lots of other identifying information) and so I want to humor him. I need to come up with a nickname for him (Scrooge comes to mind – kidding). For now I guess I’ll go with JR.

So, I’m currently a housewife unemployed. Hopefully that means I’ll be able to update frequently. Um, I really have no idea how to end this. Good bye? Xoxo, Gossip Girl?