Greetings from Tbilisi!

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Wow, I haven’t blogged since we left Kosovo, which already seems like so long ago.   We were in the States for about 6 weeks, and then last weekend we made the trek to Tbilisi.   Tbilisi was in the news everywhere recently due to major flooding, which caused severe property damage, over twenty casualties, and escaped zoo animals.   You can read more here.  On a happier note, just the other day a missing penguin was found alive!

I want to write about what we did during home leave and our travel over here, but it may take me a bit to catch up.  For now, we are settling in slowly.  Abby and I both have serious jet lag.  It’s very unpleasant to be wide awake during the wee hours of the morning.   We are living in temporary (TDY) housing for a few weeks while our permanent house is being cleaned and painted (the tenants just left on Monday).   Our TDY place is in the same neighborhood as our permanent housing and we are really excited to be here.

It’s overwhelming to arrive in a new country, but quickly we’ve been reminded how the FS is full of friendly faces and people willing to lend a hand.  On our first day checking in at the Embassy, one woman that we had just met was entertaining Abby with toys while I had to run off and take care of a few things.  Multiple people offered trips to the grocery store, food, toys and baby items for Abby, and helpful tips about life here.   I look forward to being one of the settled ones and paying it forward to newcomers in the future!

 

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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We have tickets – kind of

When I started this post it was titled “Holy cats, we have plane tickets!”.  But it was silly of me to think things could be so simple!

We’re faced with two issues regarding our travel home.  First, JR is currently planning to attend a  one-week training in DC, so we were all flying together to DC, and then just Abby and I would continue on to Ohio.   But now there’s a strong chance that this training will be canceled, so we would need to change his ticket.  And it was only because of this particular training that we all wanted to fly through DC, so if the training is off the table, we can take a different route home.

The different route is important because it feeds into problem #2.  The cat.  Right now we’re supposed to fly on Austrian Airlines to Vienna and then DC, and then a United flight to Columbus.  Austrian had no trouble making arrangements for Annabelle to fly as checked baggage on both flights and the cost is $200.  Okay, great.  But, they noted that I needed to call United directly to book Annabelle on the DC to Columbus leg.  I called and that’s where things went downhill.  United informed me that Annabelle would have to be flown as cargo.  In order to do that, we have to take her to their cargo center at Dulles (located at the airport, but not within the terminal) and check her in 2 hours prior to our flight.  We’re scheduled to land in DC at 2:05, and our flight to Columbus leaves at 5:20.

Hmm.

I’m quite concerned that we will not have time to retrieve Annabelle and our other bags, clear customs, deliver her to the cargo office in time, and check our bags all over again for the final flight.   Oh and United is charging $300 for the cat for this short flight! NOTE: It costs more to ship our cat on one domestic flight with United than it does for a transatlantic flight with Austrian.  Urgh.

We’ve thrown out some different options – such as renting a u-haul minivan and driving ourselves home from DC.  This would actually get us home faster, and would probably cost about the same.  The problem is that JR has never recovered from driving Annabelle from Columbus to DC in 2012.  He loves her but swears he will not drive in the car with her again.  Apparently she yowled like she was being tortured the entire time and it was miserable, so when I suggested this option, he responded with:

 

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Regardless, we aren’t making any changes until we know what’s happening with JR’s training, so it’s wait and see at this point.  But we still have dates and we’re down to about 6 weeks, which is crazy.  On Friday, the movers came to do a pre-packout survey.  Basically they go room to room and we talk about which items are going to storage, which items are going to Tbilisi, our UAB (air shipment), and all sorts of other details.   They looked a little concerned when they saw the size of our couch.   Our pack out date is just a few weeks away now and full-blown panic is starting to set in – we have so much left to do!

Preparing for our next move

It seems like all I do these days is look at the calendar, make plans and make lists.  We have less than 3 months left in Kosovo!

When we leave, we will go back to the US for several weeks for Home Leave.  Home Leave is required by law – we have to return to the US to reacquaint ourselves, eat hot dogs, and be all American.  For me, that means visiting with family and friends, eating at all of my favorite places, and an absurd number of trips to Target and Kohls.  For JR, he just sees money flying out of his  our bank account.

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Home leave is a really nice benefit, but it can be incredibly expensive.  We don’t own a home or a car in the US, and we’ve heard stories from colleagues about how quickly lodging, rental car and food costs can add up during your required stay in the States.  In addition, we will be stocking up on consumables for our time in Georgia and buying other neccessities (okay, and some wants!) while we’re home.  We are incredibly fortunate that we have an apartment we can use at my grandparents’ house, and several family members who are willing to loan us a car.

But before we can start home leave, we have to pack out here.  One really nice thing is that we don’t have to do the packing ourselves.  However, we have to decide how to sort our belongings into different shipments, try to anticipate how much of our stuff will fit in our next house, and we try to time it up correctly so we can get our shipments in Tbilisi as soon as possible.

When we leave Kosovo we’ll have our six checked bags with us, plus the baby and the cat.  We each get two bags with a 50lb weight limit (and we are usually at 49.5lbs per bag).   We’ll have all the clothes and other items we need during home leave (the baby monitor and sound machine are top priority in a carry-on because I would be in a panic if we lost either of those), as well as anything we’ll need immediately upon arriving in Georgia.   I think we should be fine with six large checked bags, but I really want to minimize our carry-on situation, because that is what gives me the most grief while we travel and I’d rather not look like this again at the airport:

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Speaking of which, how soon until Abby can carry her own bag?  Next year maybe?

The rest of our stuff is divided into two major categories – Unaccompanied Air Baggage (UAB) and Household Effects (HHE).

Our UAB is our air freight shipment.  We can have up to 600lbs sent by air, which should arrive in Georgia anywhere from a few weeks to 2 months after we do.  Most Embassy housing is furnished, but we prefer to have our own couch and bed with us.  So those items, and everything else –  clothes, books, kitchen items, all of our other wordly belongings- make up our HHE.  That will typically arrive 2-3 months after we do.  You can have up to 7200lbs of HHE shipped.  We will also have our car shipped from Pristina to Tbilisi.  It may take several weeks or a few months to arrive.

The government will store any excess items that we do not want to take to post.  Initially we weren’t planning to send items back to storage during this pack out, but we have SO MUCH STUFF, so we have to send some back.  We already have two small storage units in DC from our previous packouts.  What’s crazy is that I barely remember what we have in each unit, and they are stored in two separate lots – one from our Columbus move and one from our DC move.  I have no idea when we’ll ever retreive these things or if we’ll even want them when that day comes.

I’m going to be much smarter about our UAB allowance this time around.  When we arrive in Tbilisi, we will have a furnished house and a welcome kit provided by the Embassy.  The welcome kit contains sheets, towels, dishes, a few small appliances, and some miscellaneous things, like a TV.  It’s helpful, but it’s really not enough to make do while you wait for your HHE.  For example, our welcome kit here contained dishes for 4, and two bath towels.  Two bath towels = too much laundry.  So we’ll be including towels, pillows, and some other comfort things in our UAB.  We will also have the baby’s high chair and pack ‘n’ play, several of her favorite toys.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around the best way to handle things the day of the pack-out.  Our apartment is on the small side and each room is pretty full. Ideally, we can have a spot that we designate as UAB items, and a spot with our designated checked baggage.  We don’t want to risk either of those piles getting mixed in with our HHE shipment.  And in our previous packouts, we’ve been shocked by how quickly the movers box things up, so you really have to be on alert and watching for issues.

It’s a lot to think about and plan for, and I’m always getting new tips and ideas from other FS families.  Here’s hoping this is our best pack out yet!

 

Home Sweet Home

So, our HHE arrived on Monday! Most of my week was spent unpacking, organizing, moving and cleaning, although I did take a few breaks. (Thank you Jessica for the wonderful brunch yesterday! In my dream housewife world, there would be brunches several times per week.)

JR is allowed to take one day of administrative leave to help when our things arrive, but his office is crazy busy right now so he didn’t think he’d be able to miss a day. Honestly, I thought this was just fine because I pictured myself as super woman and figured I could handle it all on my own, and he’d be all surprised and the house would be in great shape when he got home.

That SO did not happen. I totally underestimated how much would be going on at once. We had one moving crew that was supposed to arrive around 9am to pick up the extra furniture in our place that we wanted removed, and another moving crew coming at 10 to deliver all of our things. There were also different people delivering an extra freezer, and an electrician coming to install an outlet in the garage. They basically all showed up at 10. There were so many people, all of them asking where does this thing go (excellent question, considering every item was wrapped/boxed and not exactly expertly labeled, so it was kind of a guessing game), is this piece staying or leaving, and on and on. It got hectic in a hurry. Luckily, JR was able to come home at noon to help out!

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We quickly started running out of room for boxes, and places to stand. The movers will unpack the boxes and pull things out, but after we did that with maybe ten boxes, there wasn’t any more room to put things down.

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Once everything was inside and the movers were gone (they did a fantastic job!), JR asked me how I wanted to move things around and set up the rooms. I started explaining my vision (I’m pretty certain that once the word “vision” comes out of my mouth, JR stops listening to whatever else I have to say) and we got to work.

We made some good progress, and we were so excited to have our bed, our couch, and our TV set up Monday night. JR had to get back to work Tuesday, and I had high expectations for how much I could get done that day. The tricky thing is that sometimes I like to focus on a less important task that doesn’t really help the big picture. I wound up spending most of the morning color-coding the closets and refolding/organizing (and occasionally trying on) clothes. Oops.

But I’m happy to report we are pretty much done! Obviously we still need to organize some things, but the place really looks and feels like our home. Now for a little tour.

Office/Storage/Kitty’s Room
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Our bedroom
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The closet. So, somehow when we first got here, JR took over this closet. I decided that was not going to work long term, and suggested that it should belong to me. He didn’t go for it, so we are sharing the closet. Allegedly, compromise is important in a marriage.
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Guest bedroom
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Laundry room
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Bathroom. The shower curtain rod is all the way up to the ceiling, and when we tried to hang our shower curtain we realized it doesn’t reach down to the tub. So now I need to go shopping for a new one.
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Living Room
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Dining Room/Kitchen
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Home sweet home for the next two years!