Catching up

I had really good intentions of blogging while we were in Ohio for my maternity med evac, but as evidenced by my lack of posting, that clearly did not happen. The good news is I can blame my absence on the arrival of William James, born December 9, 2016.

He’s basically the cutest and we’re all adjusting to life as a family of four!

img_0870 img_0876

img_0897 img_0912

JR says that William already looks “distinguished.”

How we spent the rest of our time at home:

  • We spent Thanksgiving with JR’s family and it was really nice. His sister and her husband hosted the extended family and the food was so fantastic, there weren’t ANY leftovers. That says something about the food, but it created a real crisis for me when it was 7pm that evening and I was searching for a hot meal. At approximately 52 weeks pregnant at that point, JR knew it was a serious situation and helped me find a place that was open so we could order carryout. If you’re ever in this predicament, Applebees is open on Thanksgiving. You’re welcome in advance.
  • My due date was quickly approaching in December and William showed no signs of making an appearance. After scheduling an induction date with my doctor, JR and I showed up at the hospital on December 9 ready to have a baby. My doctor was confident I’d have a baby by early that evening (in fact, she broke down the plans for the day according to meal times, we’ll do this at breakfast, this around lunch, and baby will be here in time for you to eat dinner – she really gets me). As much as we both said we had no idea if we were having a boy or a girl, clearly we were both expecting a girl because we were completely shocked when the doctor said “It’s a boy!”.
  • Some of the highlights of that day (aside from meeting our baby boy!) included Abby’s visit, being done with labor by 6pm and able to EAT, and my sister having Pizza Hut breadsticks delivered to the hospital for me (this is a birthing tradition for us) shortly after William’s birth. She’s awesome like that. Everything went perfectly, but the next morning both Abby and JR tested positive for strep throat. Less than ideal to say the least. JR spent the next 48 hours parenting from behind a mask.

img_0902

  • Once we had William home and settled, it was time to focus on Christmas! It was really wonderful to spend the holiday with our families, and Abby reveled in the attention. She was (is) completely spoiled but it was so much fun to see her excitement over Santa and all the presents.

img_1158 fullsizerender-3
Taking a picture of two kids is much harder than one!

  • Abby’s reaction to Santa Claus. What a difference a year makes!

This year  fullsizerender-4

vs. last year  abby-1

  • We spent much of our remaining time going to a dozen appointments and working on the paperwork to take William home to Georgia. No joke – his visa arrived at 10:30am on the Tuesday that we left, with our flight leaving at 4:30pm. Nothing like the last minute!
  • Abby is really obsessed with him.

img_4006-1 img_3862
Give William some space Abby! (said at least 100 times a day)

  • We’re so happy to be back in our house in Tbilisi and slowly life is returning to normal – at least a new normal. I’m planning to write another post soon about our travel back!

A few more pictures of my sweet babes!

alp-8-xl alp-9e-xl

 

We made it!

Happy to report that Abby and I landed safe and sound in Cleveland last Friday, following a mostly uneventful journey. She did AWESOME on our flights. We received so many comments and compliments on how quiet and well-behaved she was, which I’m choosing to believe is a direct reflection on our parenting, not the unlimited Kindle Fire and binky time she had while we traveled.

We started out early Friday morning with a 1:30am wake up. I didn’t wake Abby until our driver had arrived, and then I dressed her while JR installed the car seat and helped load the car. She was immediately excited about our travels and talked happily the whole way to the airport. We had two separate ticket reservations – Abby and I were traveling on my med-evac orders, while JR was booked under his own order because he was headed to a training course in DC. An added delight to all this travel nonsense is that we always struggle with being seated together. For the 4 hour flight to Munich, Abby and I had a middle and aisle seat, while he had a middle seat directly behind us.

We asked the man assigned to the window seat in my aisle if he’d be willing to take JR’s middle seat instead so we could be seated together (yes, we cringed while asking and felt terrible.  No one wants a middle seat.) To his credit, the man just nodded and switched with us. It actually worked out well as no one else was seated in that row, and he was able to have his window seat and extra space anyway. JR encouraged me to move back as well, where I took an aisle seat and slept almost the entire flight and he hung out with Abby. She fell asleep for about half the flight.

flight-9

It was around 7am local time when we landed in Munich.  We found a small empty play area and hung out there for a while before making our way to a restaurant for breakfast. Our gate was in H, but we knew another play area was set up near G28, and since it was just a floor below us, we walked down there to let Abby play for over an hour. I think our layover was about 4.5 hours, and it really wasn’t bad at all. Our theory was to try and let Abby play and run off any excess energy in Munich so she could get the most sleep on the longer flight.

flight-1 filght-5

flight-7 flight-8

As soon as we boarded the flight to DC, we set up our 1st Class Kid Travel Pillow. We heard about it through other foreign service folks who are more travel savvy than we are and decided to give it a try. JR inflated it himself (supposedly you can use the vents over your head, but we were still nervous the flight attendants might say we couldn’t use it, so I didn’t want to call attention to it). It only took him a few minutes and then we wedged the pillow on the floor in front of Abby’s seat, filling the gap so she could put her feet up. It was well past her regular nap time, so I encouraged her to put her head on the pillow and try to sleep. She was able to nap for about 2 hours while I watched Me Before You – the movie was fine but I felt like a fool sobbing at the end of it.  Maybe better watched in private. For $30, we think the pillow was worth it and helped her to sit and stretch out more comfortably.

filght-3 flight-2 flight-4

Abby really did not complain or cry at all during the long flight. Towards the end she was definitely acting tired and over it, but we all felt that way. I spoke to the flight attendants to ask if we could have anyone help us upon landing. Since JR was staying in DC, I would be on my own with Abby and all of our things, and I was particularly worried about collecting all of our bags (4 bags and one heavy-duty car seat) at baggage claim, along with our stroller and carry-on bags, and making it through customs and security by myself. They said not to worry, there would be porters available at baggage claim who could help. Mm hmm. Sure.

From the moment we got off the plane, it was a rough 2 hours. Almost immediately, a rude United employee was directing JR one way and Abby and I in the opposite direction, and he was very short with us and gave us less than a minute to say goodbye. Abby and I made our way to passport control and the line was crazy long. She was very patient, mostly in an exhausted daze, so she sat quietly in her stroller as we waited in line. I was super hot (my temperature is 10 degrees higher at all times while pregnant), and carrying the backpack and pushing the stroller, all I wanted was to sit down.

At the self-serve kiosk, you scan your passports and pose for a picture. I knew my picture wouldn’t be good, but I really outdid myself. When I handed the printed photo to the customs agent, he laughed and said “Oh that’s a keeper.” I was going to put the picture here but it’s literally too embarrassing to post publicly.

The next part was frustrating – I started asking if anyone could help me collect my bags and push them to the drop off point further down the hall. The employees smiled but looked at me like I was crazy. I walked up to a nice looking gentleman wearing a flourescent vest and asked if he could help me. He totally wanted to say no but I looked just stressed enough that he felt bad and grabbed a luggage cart while I pointed out our 4 bags. He pushed the cart and I pulled our 30lb car seat behind me and pushed the stroller with my one free arm and my stomach. Fun times!

Relieved to have made it through customs in one piece, I was really bummed to see another long line and security checkpoint. Abby had fallen asleep in her stroller and I dreaded having to wake her. I accepted that I would be very slow moving through security. As I bent down to wake her up, the TSA guy reminded me that I needed to collapse the stroller. I knew this, it was just very difficult to manage while holding my toddler. I pushed it up on the conveyor with our other bags and turned to walk through the metal detector. They asked if Abby could walk through by herself, and bless her heart, she was crying and so tired but she did and waited for me to grab her again. She was crying for her stroller, so I hurriedly pulled it off and set it up for her. She nestled in and fell back asleep immediately. I was relieved and grateful that we’d made it through the parts I worried about the most, but at this point I was sweating, starving, and I really need to find a restroom.

Of course our gate was 10 miles away. Okay, maybe closer to a ten minute walk, but it felt like forever. I had about 20 minutes to order some food, eat a burger and fries quickly, use the restroom, and then it was time to board our last flight! There wasn’t a jetway so we walked outside and Abby surprised me by being happy to wake up. A very nice lady held her hand while I put the stroller on the luggage cart and we boarded the flight. She was quiet and sweet and before we knew it, we were landing in Ohio! So many of the passengers had a kind word about her and what a trooper she had been, and one brought our gate checked stroller right to me. A huge thank you to all of those who helped make our day of travel a bit brighter and bit easier just by being nice.

We made our way to baggage claim where my parents were waiting and it was the BEST feeling to see them! Abby slept on the car ride home but woke up ready to play and hang out as soon as we arrived at their house.  And I was more than happy to let their reunion continue while I immediately went to bed.

falling

 

 

Three Airplanes

That’s what we keep telling Abby about our upcoming trip to Ohio – that we’ll take 3 airplanes and then we’ll see Nana and Papu waiting for us at the airport. She repeats it back and when I ask, she promises to sleep on the plane. Likely story.

We are inching closer and closer to our departure date and I’m feeling those familiar pangs of anxiety about a full day of travel. There’s no way around it, it’s not easy to travel to or from Tbilisi. I dream of a day in the future when there is a direct flight to the U.S. For now, we’ll leave our house at 2:30am and travel for about 26 hours to make it home. We have terrible luck when it comes to these long hauls (missed flights, lost strollers, canceled flights) so I’m preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.

One of the most daunting things, besides packing for 3 months, is all the paperwork and procedures that go into having a baby while posted overseas. The State Department has this very useful Pregnancy Guide. It’s 37 pages long, with a ton of information and links to help you understand the process of med-evacing, receiving per diem, adding a new baby to your travel orders, and obtaining the baby’s passport and visa. The passport and visa keep me up at night – so many steps that we need to take right away while we’re in the newborn haze of limited sleep. I created my own checklist of everything we need to do with references to the guide and other documents we used with Abby. So much to worry about it, but it will all get done eventually.

When I’m not worrying about leaving or packing, we’ve been enjoying the cooler weather around here and our last few weeks with our friends. We’ve also been embracing fall around our house with some baking. Abby loves to help in the kitchen, so we made some of Justin’s Aunt Diane’s famous pumpkin bread and my family’s pumpkin cookies.

abby-baking-2  abby-baking
Waiting for things to bake is the hardest part

abby-1
Bounce house fun

abby-5 abby-6

abby-3 a-hair
Sopo (Abby’s amazing nanny) has been outdoing herself lately with Abby’s hair. I’m going to need a few tutorials before we leave so I can keep this up.

Now we are in the final countdown – time to say goodbye to friends and prepare for the land of Target, Dairy Queen, and traffic laws!

Orrville Tourism

JR has been home with me for just over two weeks now, and we’re enjoying ourselves in our lovely little basement apartment.  Our roommates continue to be very friendly and accommodating – thanks Grandma and Grandpa!  I’m teaching JR all the quirks of living in my small town.   He’s been to Buehler’s several days in a row now, and he’s quite used to running into relatives there.   He knows my order at the Dairy Queen, and his reaction to seeing Amish buggies has calmed down a bit.

We’re both getting a little bit stir crazy waiting for the baby to arrive.   We had really nice weather this weekend and JR asked me to look into local attractions in the Orrville area.  Ha!  Maybe he’s not adjusting as well as I thought.  Yesterday we went to the fairgrounds (mmm, Lerch’s donuts and fresh squeezed lemonade) for the Wayne County Home and Garden Show.  Today we drove down into Amish country and visited Rolling Ridge Ranch – it’s a big animal farm that lets you feed the animals directly from the wagon.   Those animals are crazy!  They come right up to the wagon and bury their noses in the bucket of feed you are desperately trying to hold on to, while avoiding the hot breath and slobber from the animal.  There were water buffalo, camels, deer, elk, pigs, zebras, ostriches, kangaroos, and zedonks – a cross between a zebra and a donkey, who knew?

photo 1 (4) photo 1 (5) photo 1 (6) photo 2 (3) photo 2 (4) photo 2 (5) photo 3 (3) photo 3 (4) photo 3 (5) photo 4 (3) photo 4 (4) photo 4 (5)

And ducklings!

photo 5 (2)

Who knows what other wild and crazy activities we’ll try out in Orrville before this baby arrives.

Being Home

I’ve been home for almost three weeks and it feels like time is flying by. Which is great because I can’t wait for JR to be here, but also a little concerning because I’m not totally ready for the baby to arrive. I mean I’m definitely over being pregnant, but the whole newborn thing is still a bit intimidating. Surely we’ll figure it out.

It’s been strange, but really nice being at home. I spent all of my college years living with roommates, and once I graduated, I hoped to never have a roommate again. Right now, I have two of the best roommies ever. They’re quiet, they offer to cook me dinner, they let me borrow their car (I’m rocking that minivan), and I love spending time with them. I feel pretty lucky to get this extra time with my grandparents (and all of my family). It reminds me of how much I miss all of them, living so far away.

Last weekend, my aunt Krissy and my sister hosted a wonderful baby shower for me. JR’s family came up, and I was also able to see my extended family (we’re kind of a big a group). Everything was so nice and I was overwhelmed by the generosity of everyone. I’m not sure where we will put all the great baby gifts, or how they’ll all get back to Kosovo, but this baby will surely have everything he/she needs! I failed to take even a single photo during the party, but it really was beautiful!

One of my best friends from high school was in town last week, and I was finally able to meet her baby boy! Normally when we see each other, it’s a quick visit because we are both busy trying to see all of our other friends and family. This time we were both in town for a whole week and we managed three visits! It was so fun to catch up and spend quality time together. I think overall, that’s been the nicest part of being home. My visits with friends and family don’t feel rushed, I’m able to actually spend a lot of time with the people I care about the most.

Speaking of which, I’m off to Columbus for the weekend to see some of my favorite people in the world!

Med-what?

The first time I heard the term medevac (medical evacuation) we were having brunch with one of JR’s friends (R) who was, at the time, stationed in the newest country in the world, South Sudan. JR was still in the hiring process, and I was playing 20 million questions with her about the job, the lifestyle, and everything in between. R had some personal experience with medevac and was explaining some of the details to us. Essentially, if the medical officer at post determines that your illness/injury/whatever requires a level of care that is not accessible locally, you will be medically evacuated to your post’s designated medevac site. For many countries in this region, that’s London.

In my head I was picturing helicopters, flashing lights, emergency personnel and a rush to get the patient out of the country as quickly as possible. While I’m sure in some unfortunate instances it may happen like that, a medevac can also be an event that is planned for months in advance, such as when a woman returns to the US to have a baby.

It’s the general recommendation that FSOs and their EFMs give birth in the U.S. I believe if I were adamant about remaining here they would not force me to leave. However, JR and I are both comfortable following the recommendations of State and the doctors here, and they advise that I return to the U.S. by 34 weeks. So from the time we confirmed my pregnancy and due date, I had an expected departure date. I can choose to leave post earlier, and if I have any medical complications or there are concerns, post can decide to send me earlier.

I have the option of returning to anywhere in the U.S. to deliver. I will be there for about six weeks before the baby is born, and will remain there until the baby is six weeks old, at which point the baby will obtain his/her own medical clearance and passport, be offically added to JR’s travel orders, and we will return to Kosovo (if that sounds simple, let me assure you – it won’t be. The to-do list looks very complicated and we’ve heard it can be very time consuming and difficult to get this all processed within six weeks.) There was really no question that I would be going to Ohio. Now, if I were the FSO, I might opt to deliver in DC, because then I’d have the possibility of working up until the baby’s birth.

While you are on medevac, you are entitled to a per diem allowance for housing and food and miscellaneous expenses. Depending on the anticipated length of your medevac, you can choose to stay in a hotel or a short term rental, but the rate must meet the per diem amount or you will be responsible for the difference. If you have the option of staying with family and wish to do so, then you do not receive any housing allowance, but you do receive the food/miscellaneous portion of the per diem. Luckily for us, my grandparents have a basement apartment that is just waiting for me to move in (I’ve already started to refer to them as my roomies). You can look up any city’s per diem rates here: http://www.gsa.gov/portal/content/104877?utm_source=OGP&utm_medium=print-radio&utm_term=perdiem&utm_campaign=shortcuts

Additionally, my flight home and return flight are covered by the medevac, although techinically when I fly back with the baby, the baby will fly on JR’s travel orders, not on my medevac orders.  The baby will have his or her own plane ticket, which is nice so that I can bring an infant seat on the plane, but seems like it would be much more useful if they wanted to pay for my mom to have a plane ticket to fly back with me.  🙂  But before we can do that, we’ll go through the 30 step process of getting the baby cleared and permitted to travel. JR’s travel to join me for the baby’s birth is not paid for, so we will probably use his R&R ticket to cover that expense. We are still working out the details of his leave -how much time can he take, when should he fly back, and things like that.

Phew.  That is a LOT of information and probably more than anyone actually cares to know about this process.

bored

Fun with Numbers

I love reading other people’s blogs.  There are a ton of pregnancy or parenting specific blogs and they do weekly updates with all sorts of information that I find fascinating to read, but I have zero desire to share my symptoms or weight gain or even worse, the status of my belly button right now.

However, I’ve been a bit obsessed with numbers, countdowns and to-do lists, so I figured I could share some of the things running through my head these days.

I’m 26 weeks pregnant.  The first 20 weeks seemed to go by very slowly, but now I feel like time is flying.

I’m probably leaving Kosovo in 7 weeks (how did that happen?!) and will spend more than 3 months in Ohio to have the baby.  I haven’t lived in my hometown for that long since the summer of 2005.

While pregnant, I have flown about 25,500 miles and been to 5 countries (7 if you include layovers in Germany and Austria, but those don’t really count).  I’ll tack on another 5,000 miles to get home in March.   On my last flight to the US, I asked Lufthansa how much it would cost to upgrade my economy seat to a business or first class ticket, because I’m concerned that when I’m ginormously pregnant I won’t even be able to pull the tray table down at my seat.  For a mere $3,000, I can upgrade to a fancy seat that reclines to a bed.  Or, I could pay $150 for a seat with 5 extra inches of leg room.  Looks like it’ll be standard economy seating for me!

We are still figuring out many of the logistics of me being away from Kosovo for so long.  First, we need to find someone to take care of our cat during the time that JR is with me in Ohio.  We’ve never left her for this long before and I feel awful about it.  We’ve talked about flying her back with us, but we decided it would be worse for her to have to make two long distance flights in a short period of time.   She didn’t really enjoy it that much the first time and it was also upsetting and stressful for us.

Apparently we also need a place for this baby to sleep.  We ordered a crib, mattress and some sheets from Amazon.  They wouldn’t ship to our DPO address, so I had to use the Diplomatic Pouch – and frankly, I have no idea if they will actually arrive here or not.  Over the next few weeks we plan to rearrange some furniture, try to get rid of extra stuff and reorganize our place, and make room for what seems like the 95 different baby holder devices we registered for (I still can’t really tell you the difference between a bouncy seat, a swing, a pack n play, and a rock n play).

We have probably 10 different baby books at our place.  I’ve started most of them and finished none.  Maybe if I worked on that, it would shed some light on the various baby holders we’ll be using!

99 days til my due date.   Holy cow.