I’m Back!

In the last year I’ve wondered whether or not I want to keep blogging. I don’t always have exciting or funny stories worth sharing, especially since I’m not actually that funny (at least not intentionally, according to my husband), and other times I just can’t find the energy or time. Earlier this summer I decided I did, if for no other reason than to share stories of our lives with the kids someday. So here we go, starting now and hopefully using some time this year to catch up on the 1.5 years I missed (thanks COVID).

Last week we were scheduled to return to Cairo after 6+ weeks of home leave in the US. A few hours into a pretty stressful morning at the airport, I texted my girlfriends to say “Hey! At least I’ll have something to blog about again!” A friend quickly reminded me to be careful what I wished for….and she was right.

It all started two days before our scheduled travel back to Cairo. Abby, JR and I were required to get COVID tested to go back. We used an urgent care one town over, one of the only places nearby that guaranteed results and a stamp in less than 24 hours. Egypt inexplicably requires a wet stamp or QR code, which is not standard in America. We did the nose swab – much more pleasant because they no longer try to reach your brain – and continued our day packing and preparing. That evening, Abby and JR’s results came back negative but mine were inconclusive. Awesome. First thing the next morning I called their office. The nurse was very helpful, she said the lab would run the results again but wouldn’t know the results until around 11am. Since we were less than 24 hours out from our departure, I had to find a backup plan.

We also had to return our rental car to the Akron Canton airport that morning, so we made our way there while I found a testing place about 30 minutes from Akron that offered results in less than an hour. After returning the car, we waited outside the other new testing place until 11am, when I heard from urgent care that my test was still inconclusive. I went into the testing place, took a second test, and quickly got my negative results – thank goodness!

After spending the morning running around, the afternoon was dedicated to more packing. William was missing his favorite new toy, so I was out in the garage searching my mom’s car for it when I saw my travel stroller in the corner. Here’s my inner monologue: “Oh! I would have completely forgotten about that, thank goodness I came out here. I’ll move it over to this pile….wait. Where is the other stroller? Where is the City Mini? No. No. NO!”

I went back in the house and asked my mom and JR if either of them had removed the City Mini stroller from the rental car we had just returned earlier that morning. Nope. And so, JR was off to the airport for the second time that day to retrieve it. Thankfully, the nice people at Enterprise were able to grab the stroller from their Lost & Found rather quickly.

Also yes, we still travel with multiple strollers. Come at me, bro.

The rest of the day passed without issue. I couldn’t sleep that night and dreaded my 4am alarm, but once we were up and moving I was ready. Except our transportation to Cleveland airport never showed up. They were supposed to come at 5:15 and JR started calling them about ten minutes later. The driver said he had a flat tire and was 40 minutes away. But during the next call 15 minutes later he said he was still 40 minutes away. Alarm bells were ringing. We quickly had to think of a Plan B in the likely event that the driver wasn’t going to make it on time.

My mom and I had the kids in her car driving to my grandma’s house on the other side of town to borrow her van. Keep in mind, it’s super early in the morning. It’s dark out, and my elderly grandma is sleeping. My mom and I are calling her repeatedly. We have a garage door opener to her house, but the door to get inside is locked and we know she sets the alarm. My mom is looking for keys get in the house (her copy was conveniently back at our house), but we’re also scared to use it even if we find it because the alarm will go off and it will probably scare the crap out of grandma. Eventually we decide to drive back to my mom’s house to get her key. Poor JR is just standing in the dark driveway with all of our luggage, pacing and waiting for someone to show up. Just as we drove away from her house, grandma called – she’s awake! So we rush back to her house, grab her van, call the driver who was still MIA and inform him his services won’t be needed anymore, go back to my mom’s to load the luggage, and race to the airport.

JR is reassuring me the whole drive. We have enough time, this is okay, just don’t get a speeding ticket. At the airport, I parked grandma’s van and then met everyone else at check in. We said a hasty goodbye to my mom and got in line to check-in. At the check-in counter, the United employee informed us that William’s passport didn’t have the required 6 months validity for travel to Egypt. He was about 20 days short. Mind you, it is 7am at this point. Our flight leaves at 8:35. The security line has grown alarmingly long and goes further than I can see. I am PANICKED. I started texting my coworkers, asking them to have someone from the travel office at the Embassy call me. I got a call from Susan, who worked some serious magic. She spoke to the gate agent, explained why this was all ok and not an issue, and then we just had to wait for the gate agent to get approval from her supervisor. The minutes were ticking by. I asked her if we were going to make the flight. She said she would get us to the front of the security line and we should be fine.

And she was right! After about 30 minutes at the counter, we were checked in and being ushered to security. We collected our things after the checkpoint and started husting to our gate which is always, without fail, the furthest gate from security. How is that possible? But we made it, even with a few minutes to spare, boarding the plane at 8:15. I’m dripping sweat, my heart is racing, and I am like, wow that was enough excitement for the month/year! We settled into our seats and I sent that fateful text to my girlfriends – “Hey! At least I’ll have something to blog about again!”

About 15 minutes later, the pilot came on the speaker and said we were experiencing a maintenance issue and would be slightly delayed. Because of course. I wasn’t too concerned because we had a full two hours to transfer in Dulles airport. Around 9, the pilot further explained the maintenance issue and said it could take some time (no specifics were given). He said anyone with a tight transfer in DC should get off the plane to speak to the United agents to rebook. JR and I discussed and felt like we still had time, even if it meant another race through the airport in Dulles. At 9:30, the pilot gave more details and said they needed to get a part from a different aircraft, install it, and then run through safety checks. I called Susan at the Embassy again – bless her – to talk through our options and we got off the plane. The kids were SO confused. Because our onward flight was Egypt Air, there wasn’t another flight from DC to Cairo until…two days later. Awesome.

After another hour plus of waiting and phone calls and lines and decisions and begging for our luggage to be taken off the plane (we got 8 out of 9 bags back, which is it’s own story), we found ourselves waiting outside the airport for my mom to pick us back up, a mere 5 hours after we had said a tearful goodbye.

We sure made the most of that extra 40ish hours in Ohio, redid our COVID tests (my third in 4 days – FUN!), said our goodbyes once more, and I’m happy to report that we are now back in Cairo! The second attempt two days later went much smoother than the first, with the only notable exception being William face-planting in the Cairo airport and having the worst nosebleed I can recall seeing. Blood EVERYWHERE and kids screaming going through customs. The perfect way to end about 24 hours of travel.

Now we’re recovering from jet lag and settling in for two more years in Egypt!

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.

Home Leave

Our first home leave was fun, busy, and expensive, so basically exactly what we predicted.  We were all ready to leave Kosovo (although right now I’d give my right arm for some fresh bread from our little bakery) and our travel home was uneventful.  From the time we set foot in Ohio, we had a pretty crazy and ambitious schedule.  Of course, nothing could stop me from getting a strawberry margarita as soon as possible.  Oh wait – the first time I ordered one the restaurant did not have a liquor license for Sundays, and the second time I tried the server told me they were all out of strawberries.  Soul crushing but I did eventually have one and it was everything I had hoped it would be. kanye

Only a few days after we recovered from our jet lag, it was time for Abigail’s first birthday party (only 2 weeks after her actual birthday)!  We had a family party at my grandparent’s house and it was simple and perfect.  She was totally uninterested in her cake, but I can assure you she has since come around to the idea of sweets!

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The following week JR, Abby and I set off on a little American road trip.   We figured if we could do the same through Eastern Europe, the U.S. would be a breeze.  Our car (generously loaned to us by JR’s dad) was so ridiculously full I wasn’t sure we would make it out of the driveway.  That’s what happens when you will be on the road for more than two weeks and some of your family members, who have smartly chosen to fly, use you to haul their extra stuff (if you know my mother, you know this included a box fan, because she can’t sleep without one).  We started off with a night in Dayton with JR’s family and to pick up his dad, who rode with us to Gatlinburg where we met the rest of my in-laws.  We rented a large cabin about 20 minutes from the city, and it was perfect for our big group – 11 adults and 8 kids from ages 1-12.   Each of the 3 levels had two large bedrooms and bathrooms, and living/family room space with TVs, pool table, foosball table, and an awesome theater room.

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JR’s brother and sister-in-law (A & S) live in South Knoxville and love kayaking and rafting, and offered to take the whole family on a white water rafting trip (many thanks to my sister-in-law Joanna who stayed behind with the little ones!).   It was so much fun.  We had perfect weather and such a nice afternoon with everyone.  We spent the rest of the weekend relaxing, making meals together, watching the kids play, and a little bit of time exploring Gatlinburg (it was very crowded over the holiday weekend).

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We had a little scare at the cabin when we saw a copperhead snake laying in the pathway where the kids were chasing each other with water balloons, which led to a scramble to get rid of said snake and the loss of a kitchen knife.   Despite the deadly snake scare, it was hard saying goodbye – JR’s family is big and spread out, and it’s really hard to see everyone, but we always have so much fun when we do and it’s especially fun for all of the cousins to play together. We definitely hope to repeat this trip again in the future!

After Gatlinburg, we spent two nights in Knoxville with A, S, and their daughter Katie, who is 5 months older than Abby.   JR went to college there and was happy to be back, even for a short visit.  We were able to meet up with two of his friends and their son, and we spent the rest of our time watching Abby and Katie play in the pool and run around the yard.  The second night of our stay was the toughest of the whole trip.  Abby woke up around midnight screaming and crying and could not be consoled.  JR handles these moments far better than me, I didn’t know what to do.  I felt terrible because she was waking up the whole house (they also have a one-year old), and it seemed like nothing would settle her down.  I told him we needed to get in the car and drive.  He said, drive where?  I was like, I don’t know, to a hospital?!  Clearly something is wrong!  Obviously nothing was wrong, she was just having an off night and I don’t handle lack of sleep well.  Eventually, he was thankfully able to get her back to sleep.

The rough night meant little sleep for all of us, and a less than ideal start to the next morning.  The biggest problem was that was one of the only days of the entire road trip that we had a really tight schedule.  We had to drive over 5 hours and make it to North Carolina in time to visit with our friends and put Abby down for a nap, all before meeting my Dad and other family for dinner at 5:30 that evening.   Although she did fine for the first part of the drive, the last 2.5 hours were torture.   Ideally we would have been able to stop and take a long break, but we just couldn’t and I felt terrible for her (and us).

road trip

Thankfully, she crashed for a long nap when we made it to our friends’ house and we were able to relax for a bit before we had to leave for dinner.  Our visit with my Dad and family was short, but I’m so glad we were able to see them while we were there.   We also had breakfast with them the next morning before starting our drive to Florida.

Even though we wanted to drive 6-7 hours that Friday, JR and I were determined to have a better travel day and let Abby dictate our schedule.  Let me just say, thank you Cracker Barrel!  We stopped there after her morning nap and it was great.   We took turns inside at our table, ordering and waiting for food, while the other person played outside on the porch with Abby.  She waved at everyone, rocked in the tiny rocking chairs, and walked all over.  We were there for at least an hour, and it was well worth it.   She was perfectly content to get back in the car after that and even took a long second nap.   Just outside of Jacksonville, we saw an exit with a few hotels and decided we should stop for the evening.   First we tried the Hampton Inn and Suites – I ran into the lobby to ask if they had suites available, and if I could see one first because it was pretty critical for us to have a room that had a separate place to put her pack n play so we didn’t have to go to sleep at 8pm with her.   It wasn’t until I checked out the third hotel – a Fairfield Inn and Suites – that we found a room set up that would work for us and we called it a night.

Saturday was our final leg of driving and we were so excited to see the beach, my family, and to hand Abby off to another adult.  Ha.  Just outside of Sanibel Island, we stopped at a Publix to stock up on groceries for the week.  Abby was thrilled with her ride.

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We failed to consider just how full our car already was, so the final stretch of our drive was ridiculous as I sat in the back seat covered in groceries.  We seriously could not have fit one more item in our car!  Finally, we were driving over the causeway and onto Sanibel Island.  My parents, brother and sister arrived less than 20 minutes after we did, and we settled into our condos (we rented two ground-floor beachfront condos that were next door to each other).  The set up was perfect and we had the best week.  We rented a canopy for the beach and set up our chairs, along with a small plastic baby pool and toys for Abby, and relaxed every day.

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We know how fortunate we are that we were able to spend a week there together, and especially that we had 4 other adults with us who were fighting over Abby gave us a much appreciated break.  Even better, my mom had offered to fly Abby back with them as a lap-infant, saving her (and us) from a long return trip back to Ohio together.

A highlight of the end of our vacation was SUPPOSED to be a a Garth Brooks concert, which you may recall I’ve basically waited all of my life to attend.  Well, Garth’s team failed to consider the Stanley Cup in their venue selection and this led to the concert being completely canceled since Tampa’s hockey team made the finals.  It still hurts to discuss. I sent Garth a strongly worded message on Facebook but he hasn’t replied yet and the whole horrible situation has completely changed my opinion of him.

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We finally made it home (no thanks to me – I probably drove a total of 4 hours of our 16+ hour return trip and constantly asked “are we there yet”) and used the next few days to do finish our consumables shopping, which included two separate trips to Wal-Mart and 6 full carts and a trip to The Party Shop in Wooster to pick up JR’s 17 cases of beer.  Not kidding on that one.  We had two of the nicest, slowest older gentleman handling our pack out on this end, and even though it was only consumables and 300lbs of UAB, it took them almost the same amount of time as it took the Kosovo movers to pack up our entire apartment.

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As one last American hurrah before our departure date, JR and I spent a long weekend in German Village, where we lived in Columbus before we moved.  We rented a fantastic apartment on AirBnB and enjoyed eating and drinking at our favorite places and meeting up with our friends for dinner and a comedy show.  It was perfect, but a bit bittersweet for me because I loved our life in Columbus before starting on this crazy foreign service train, and it reminded me of the things I miss.  I’m incredibly grateful for the time we were able to spend at home, reconnecting with everyone, and especially for Abby to have that time with our families, it was worth the busy schedule and extra expenses!

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