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!

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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.

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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.

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Six Months

It’s hard to believe we’ve been living here for six months already. Time is going by so quickly. It’s especially crazy to think that in another six months or so, we’ll be talking about bidding on our next post (in addition to a few other life changes!). I bought two cartons of milk at the grocery store this morning, and when I got home, I put one in the fridge and one in the pantry, without thinking much of it. And then I realized how that is something I’d never do at home, but it’s perfectly normal here, because milk is different and can be stored at room temperature. Look at me adapting!

Work is going really well. Right now I’m working on a project involving youth leaders in Kosovo. Some figures estimate that more than half of the population of the whole country is under 25. Unemployment rates are also alarmingly high, around 45%. Young people are the future here (and everywhere, really) and there is no shortage of bright, motivated youths in Kosovo looking for opportunities to better themselves and their country. I’m also working on some of our educational and professional exchange programs. So far, I’ve had the chance to travel to a few different cities and I really love that I can see more of the country.

Last weekend was the 238th Marine Corps Ball which is an annual birthday celebration of the Marines and is usually one of the largest formal events each year for Embassy communities worldwide. It was fun to get all dressed up for a fancy night out with our friends and to witness the formal ceremony put on by our Marine Detachment here at post.

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In other exciting news, we hired a housekeeper! I made a rookie mistake by agreeing with JR that we wouldn’t hire a housekeeper until I had a job. I won’t fall for that again. But now we have a lovely lady named Yllka who will be coming once a week (hopefully twice a week soon, I just need to work on a power point presentation to convince JR of why that will be better for everyone). What Yllka lacks in texting ability, she makes up for with charm and excellent cleaning skills. It is the best feeling in the world to come home to a clean house. I still prefer to do my own laundry, but I happily hand over the ironing to her. I think I’d rather scrub floors than iron – I hate it that much.

Of course, I still feel this desire to clean before she comes. I don’t want her to think we’re slobs. For a few years when I was younger we had someone clean our house on Fridays. I always remember my mom’s rule – if your room isn’t picked up, the door stays shut and she’s not cleaning it. And then I’d have to do it myself. I didn’t understand it then. Why am I cleaning up BEFORE a housecleaner comes? But it stuck with me, and now I like to have things neat and put away before someone else cleans.

We also just got our first bulk order. So, we have an employee association here, and if you are a member, you get a few benefits like a discount on dry cleaning, discount at the commissary, and you can participate in the bulk order. Every few months, we get an e-mail with a few spreadsheets attached, listing out all of the items available for purchase. Then the association makes one large order through a military base in Germany, and a month or so later, the items arrive here. The spreadsheets are daunting. There are like 40,000 items available. And sometimes the name is written in shorthand, and you have to kind of guess exactly what it is, and how many you are actually ordering.

It’s also tricky because you are ordering in bulk (hence the name). JR does not understand why we needed 12 boxes of pancake mix. I, on the other hand, feel confident that we’ll eat them all. If not, we’ll give them out as gifts. One family ordered a CASE of mayonnaise, and they said they’ll eat every jar. A few other items we ordered:

– Roasted garlic triscuits
– tater tots
– texas toast
– pillsbury biscuits
– chicken noodle soup

Very happy we have an extra freezer!
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Our commissary recently had a Grand Opening. It’s a small store, but they’ve managed to fit a lot of stuff in there. I helped with ordering, and you can see that reflected in some of the items for sale, like Smucker’s Strawberry Jam, Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie, more Diet Coke than I could drink in a year, and Oreos. It’s nice to have easy access to a few favorite items from home, and I think the commissary will do really well.

Hard to believe that next week is Thanksgiving, but we’re looking forward to it!