Back in Ohio

Surprise, we’re back in Ohio! How did we end up here?

I’m trying to remember when coronavirus really became a daily concern for me. I think it was mid-February when we started reading news reports about a bad outbreak in northern Italy and Milan. I was on the elevator at work and remarked that I hoped this wouldn’t impact our trip to Italy in late March (we planned to fly in to Milan and then drive down to Lucca to meet my parents for vacation). A colleague turned to me and said “You probably aren’t going to Italy.”

I was sure he was overreacting. The rest of February passed with visits from Tbilisi friends and regular routines, but towards the end of the month the news out of Italy was grim. We were constantly checking the news, talking about the potential of canceling the trip, and feeling really sad about it. The first week of March, after the CDC raised the Italy travel warning to a Level 3, we canceled. It wasn’t that simple, because we had tickets for my parents, our tickets, car rentals, and our AirBnB reservation in Lucca. After what seemed like endless phone calls, tears, and time spent on hold, we were able to cancel and receive refunds for everything. We are thankful for that.

The ripple effects of this outbreak are beyond my comprehension. Every day I find a new thing I think is the “most” sad, in addition to the lives lost. High school seniors missing their last semester and graduation. Weddings canceled. Nursing home residents without visitors. People losing their jobs, unable to pay their bills. It’s all awful and really sad. And I know how incredibly lucky we are, but I’m still pretty sad about the ways it has impacted us.

I spent nearly every day in March worried about coronavirus, personally and professionally. It became a daily topic at work, and then it completely took over my workday. At home we worried about our own health and the medical care available in Egypt. On March 15, the State Department said that anyone at an overseas post who thought their health might be adversely impacted by staying at post could go on Authorized Departure. Authorized Departure is a type of evacuation where you have the option to stay or go. The next day the Egyptian government announced they would close their airport for 2 weeks starting March 19. JR and I barely had time to even consider whether we would want to take the AD. He was leaning towards it, and I was against it. I didn’t want to uproot everyone, I didn’t feel like I could make that decision and pack so quickly, and I didn’t want to leave my job. We talked it over and agreed to reevaluate and not make a rushed decision.

We spent the next several days discussing and going back and forth endlessly. There were many tears. We considered the quality of the health care, the ability to hunker down and practice social distancing, the challenge of keeping the kids away from other kids in our apartment complex, whether or not we could telework (luckily we are both able to), and many other considerations. I struggled with the idea of abandoning my responsibilities. My job description is literally to support the Embassy community, and it feels like when things got tough I left.

Ultimately, I agreed with JR that it would be best for us to make plans to leave when the airport reopened. We informed our supervisors and friends, and started packing. We had flights for April 1. We told the kids, which was in some ways easier and harder than I expected. They really just rolled right along with it, even as I explained we weren’t certain when we could leave because the airport was closed, we were leaving because of coronavirus, and we didn’t know how long we’d be gone. We told our nanny, and that was incredibly difficult.

As April 1 approached, we worried endlessly that the airport would not reopen. I also doubted our decision. Many of our good friends chose to stay. I wondered if we’d done the wrong thing, we were overreacting, were we putting ourselves at a greater risk by traveling and going to the US.

On March 25, the Prime Minister announced the airports would remain closed until April 15. That’s when I started to feel a little panicked. We knew we wanted to leave, but we were unsure when we could. The situation in America was only getting worse, but we still wanted to be in Ohio. There were rumors at work that we might have an opportunity for a special flight for Embassy employees and American citizens who were trying to leave Egypt, but no one knew when the flights would happen or how much notice we would have.

Our bags were strewn around the apartment in various stages of preparation. When we grocery shopped we didn’t know how much to buy. I felt overwhelmed daily. Of course, we were also trying to telework and do e-learning with Abby, while William and Jake were home. Our nanny was there but the kids knew we were there and would scream like banshees at our bedroom door for attention to complain about the most recent atrocity one had inflicted on the other. There is no office in our apartment, no desk, no space for working from home. We sat on our bed and worked side by side, and when JR had conference calls I worked from the floor of my closet.

If you have well-behaved children, if you are managing to telework and homeschool your children, if you start each day with a color-coded schedule and stick to it, cheers to you friends. Let me assure you that was NOT happening in our home. Also to those of you just trying to survive right now, cheers to you as well.

Last weekend we learned there would be flights available on April 1 and 3. We requested the 1st, quickly finished our packing, and finalized our plans to leave. After one VERY long travel day, which I’ll write about soon, we arrived safely in Ohio. The day we arrived Governor DeWine announced that all incoming people to the state of Ohio must self-isolate for 14 days. We had already planned to do just that at the farm house we are renting but it was one more sobering announcement.

Things here are much different than I anticipated, but we are incredibly grateful to be home.

 

 

 

 

Catching up

I had a wonderful visit with family and friends in Ohio for almost 2 and 1/2 weeks.  Unfortunately, I didn’t take many pictures – the only ones I took were of the delicious food I enjoyed! I joked with my mom that I spent most of my visit napping and eating. It’s not really a joke, because that’s basically what happened.

cat

Before I left for Ohio, we celebrated our first Thanksgiving abroad with some of our good friends. We had turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, pumpkin pie, and so much more. We were even able to watch the Macy’s Day parade and some football so it actually felt pretty similar to being at home!

The next day, I woke up early to catch my flight(s) home. As soon as I landed in Newark, I could smell the McDonalds. You don’t realize how much you miss it until you can smell it, and my nose led me to a large order of fries and a fountain Diet Coke with no ice. Pure bliss! Plus, I was able to use my debit card for the first time in months, which felt super exciting. That same debit card would later get me into trouble at Target, Old Navy, Sephora, and various other places. What, it’s Christmas!

Thanks to my Mom, I was scheduled for a doctor’s appointment while I was home so I could meet my OB (selected by my Mom, of course) and have another ultrasound. Everything went well, and my mom and sister were able to see the baby and we took pictures and video for JR. They showed us some images in 3D which frankly alarmed me, but I was assured the baby will look better in person.

Lest you think that JR spent that two weeks pining away for me in Kosovo, he was actually in Bangkok for work. I like to think he was still pining a bit. I’m trying to convince him to do a guest blog and write about this trip, but considering how motivated I’ve been to blog myself, this is looking less and less likely. To summarize, he stayed safe during the protests and he enjoyed all of the markets and local vendors.  His suitcase was 22lbs overweight on his return flight because of all the presents he brought back!

Now that we’re both back home (home is such a funny word to me right now, because I feel like I have a few homes!), we are back to work and getting ready for Christmas. JR excels at wrapping presents and traditionally wraps his own once I put them in a box, so he’s been hard at work on that. Our CLO office and friends here have planned several fun holiday events. So far we’ve had cookie exchanges, a silent auction, a door decorating contest, and an Ugly Christmas Sweater competition on Friday. Also, one of our friends is having a Winter Solstice party tonight, so we’re headed over there shortly.

I can’t believe Christmas is next week!   I mentioned we have a lot of presents, right?

tree 2

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!