Family, friends and Dairy Queen

I’m always a few weeks tad behind, but here are some highlights from our R&R in Ohio:

  •  Being around friends and family reminds of just how much I miss them. Life is great in Georgia, but I had so much fun while we were home.
  • The radio. You don’t realize how much you miss it!  There were so many great songs on the radio, but most importantly, I’m a full-blown Belieber now.  If you aren’t listening to Justin’s Bieber’s “Love Yourself” you are missing out.  I also love this cheesy “Stand By You” song by Rachel Platten. I was driving alone singing that song and having an emotional moment and thinking how much I loved JR and I would totally stand by him, and as the song says “I’d walk through hell for you.”  But then I thought to myself…eek.  Hell would be so hot.  My feet would burn so quickly!  So maybe not quite that much?

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  • JR had a week long training in DC, and on his way to Ohio he stopped in Gettysburg, PA for the night and toured the battlefield next morning. There’s a great tour guide program that allows you to pay a very reasonable fee for a private, certified guide who you pick up and they’ll actually drive your car for you as they show you the sights.  He said it was one of the best historical tours he’s ever been on and highly recommends it.  http://gettysburgtourguides.org/guided-tour-rates/
  • My grandparents wanted to take all nine – yes, NINE – of their great-grandchildren to Build-a-Bear for Easter.  I do not totally understand the pull of BAB, but kids love it and it’s insanely expensive so hooray to the company owners.  A $35 limit per kid was set, but of course my Mom was all “well, if Abby needs something additional I’ll just pay for it.”  Mmhmm.  She’s 2, I don’t think she actually needs anything.  Abby picked out a cute cat that we like to think reminded her of Annabelle and enjoyed the stuffing process.  Then it was time to shop for accessories.  My Mom would not hear it when I insisted the cat did not need an outfit because she’s a cat.  Next thing I know, I’m buying TWO pairs of sparkly flats for the cat.  Two, because she has 4 paws of course!  Okay, but it was all worth it when Abby put on these fake glasses and danced around the store. 
  • We had our first ER visit.  The day before we left, Abby had a cough in the morning that sounded much worse when she woke up from her nap.  My mom thought it sounded like croup, and we didn’t want to take any chances before traveling so we made our way to the nearest Urgent Care.  Which was closed.  At 4pm on a Saturday. What is the point of an urgent care??  That left the ER as our only option for her to be seen that day, and ultimately I’m glad we went.  The doctor agreed that it was probably viral croup and gave her a dose of steroids before sending us home.  She seemed totally fine the next day, thank goodness!

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  • American roads and highways.  After driving in Tbilisi for several months (think Mad Max Fury Road meets Mario Kart) we were amazed with the driving. Nobody driving the wrong-way on the highway, everyone in their lanes, stopping at lights, even blinkers for goodness sake!  At our first 4-way stop in Ohio, another driver politely waved us on and JR said “Can you believe how nice that man was? This is amazing!”
  • Many people we meet think we live in the state of Georgia.  Even though I always try to say “we live and work overseas in Tbilisi, Georgia” hoping the “overseas” part will tip them off, we still confuse people.  A nurse at the doctor’s office asked if I was local and when I said “No, I actually live overseas in Tbilisi, Georgia, near Russia” she said “Oh, so you drove up here then?”  Well, not exactly.  JR had a similar encounter where he told someone we live overseas in Georgia and she replied,”Goodness, I bet the South is having better weather than we are right now.” It’s understandable that strangers are confused, some of our own family and friends still think we live in Russia.  To be helpful, see the map below.  Georgia borders Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey and the Black Sea.

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  • The Price is Right.  Enough said.
  • We have some really nice grocery store options here, but there is still something that blows my mind when I see the cereal or bread aisle at Buehler’s.  So. Many. Options.  Also, every single fruit or vegetable is practically without blemish. It’s overwhelming and amazing.
  • My sister came home the first weekend we were in town to see us and take care of some wedding planning.  I was super excited for cupcake tasting with her, and I also went to her florist appointment.  The wedding stuff made me nostalgic for my own big day, so I made my whole family watch our wedding DVD – the ceremony and the highlight reel – just to get everyone in the spirit!
  • At one point JR was looking at our credit card statement and said “How many times have you been to Dairy Queen?”  I told him to stop judging.lay-off-me-im-starving-gif
  • I was on the hunt for a pair of sandals for our nanny’s son.  One night JR said, hey we have some down time, why don’t we run to Target and you can get the sandals and I can pick up some beer. Note that this was my first trip to Target in about 9 months.  $204 later, we walked out of the store with a six-pack, no sandals, and a whole bunch of other stuff that I really, really needed.

That sums up our R&R –   family, friends, Dairy Queen, explaining where Georgia is located, and overspending.  It’s a long haul to return home but we’re grateful for the opportunity to do it.

Catching up

We are already more than halfway through our visit home and like always, it amazes me how quickly it passes!  More than a month ago, we were making our way to Ohio.  We had a really smooth day of travel and received so many compliments on Abby.  She was so quiet, smiled at everyone, and made traveling a breeze – except for one minor hiccup.  We had about 2 hours left on our Frankfurt to D.C. flight, and I picked her up to carry her to the bathroom.  She chose that moment to spit up – an unreasonable amount – directly down my cowl-neck sweater dress.  I stood there frozen as I felt it run down my neck, chest, and pool in my belly button.  Abby and JR were not bothered in the least but I was horrified and stood in the aisle in shock for quite awhile.  Cleaning myself up in the tiny airplane bathroom was no small feat.

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We’ve been really lucky so far, but I’m already nervous about our return travel because since we’ve been home, Abby is increasingly on the move. She half scoots, half crawls all over the place.  It’s going to be much more difficult to contain her now that she’s on the go!

This trip has been all about spending time with both of our families.   We were happy to have a nice Thanksgiving in Dayton, and we’ve been going nonstop since then.  JR had to be in DC for two weeks for training, so Abby and I kept ourselves busy visiting with family and friends and shopping.  A lot of shopping.  Kohls and Target are addicting!

A few months ago I applied for a job – basically it’s another program the State Department is trying out to employ more spouses overseas.   There are hard-to-fill consular jobs at some of the embassies and they want to try to fill those spots by qualified spouses.  You can learn more about the program here.  Honestly, it’s a bit confusing and it feels like a lot of hoops to jump through when we have no idea if we’ll end up at a post with a position available. At the same time, I don’t want to miss an opportunity for work, and from what I’ve read about consular jobs, I think I might really enjoy it.

The first step was to take an online exam with four different parts.  It wasn’t easy and many of the questions were awkwardly worded, so I didn’t have much confidence, but I did pass.  Next I was asked to participate in an oral assessment/interview in D.C.  Travel to DC is not provided, so we wanted to schedule my interview during a time we would already be in the States.  Since JR was going to be there, I decided to make a long weekend out of it and had my interview on a Friday morning and then planned to spend the weekend with him in D.C. while Abby had quality time with my family in Ohio.

I had to be at the interview at 6:50am on Friday – seriously?!  I almost showed up like this but JR  talked me out of it.

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I was with two other people and first we did a 45 minute case management exercise where we reviewed several hypothetical office issues and drafted a recommendation.  After that, I had to wait for about 20-30 minutes before they called me back for my actual interview.  It was nerve-wracking because the two women interviewing me read from a script and explained that they would not be providing any feedback, or really engaging with me in any way outside from asking questions on the script.  I’m used to a slightly more relaxed setting and some back and forth, and that was not happening here.  They just looked at me stone-faced and offered no reaction to my responses.  I waited another 30 minutes after I was finished until I was called back and told that I passed.  Hooray!  Except I’m really not sure what happens next.  From what I gather any employment will all depend on where we end up (we really have no idea right now, which is kind of disappointing because we had hoped to have our assignment already  – possibly another blog post by itself) and what type of jobs are available at post.   So, it has the potential to be a good thing but we won’t know for a while.

The rest of the weekend in D.C. was really wonderful.  Our dear friend Jessica was in town, and she recommended that we have dinner with her at Founding Farmers Friday evening.   We aren’t food critics at all but it was delicious.  They had bacon lollipops.  Genius.  I was also excited to catch up with my friend Sam over a boozy brunch that Saturday.

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The best part about the weekend was just having down time with JR, being able to eat dinner without rushing, and sleeping in!   It was great, but I was also happy to get back to Abby.  Now we are full speed ahead to Christmas, and looking forward to presents, baking cookies, and maybe even Abby’s first Santa visit!

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!

Leaving on a jet plane

This has been in my head all day.

Great movie, great scene. Anyway, no romantic goodbye with JR today because he’s on a beach in Thailand, no doubt missing me greatly. I can tell because he sends me pictures like this:

beach

Meanwhile, in Ohio, I’m pretty sure it’s snowing. Go figure.

I’m really looking forward to going home and spending time with friends and family (and eating all of my favorite healthy foods.) But it’s a strange feeling, leaving our apartment, our cat, my job, and all of our friends here for so long. I mentioned before that when we return this summer, some of our closest friends will have moved on to different posts, and there will be a group of new arrivals here. Oh, and we’ll have a baby with us, so that’s exciting and terrifying all at the same time!

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Next time I post I’ll be in the O-H-I-O!

R&R

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Soon I will be leaving for my first R&R (rest and recuperation) trip back home. Here’s my very basic understanding of how R&R’s work in the Foreign Service.

Your posting determines how many R&Rs you receive during your tour – I think the norm is one R&R per two years. Kosovo is considered a hardship post, and so officers and their EFMs (eligible family members, that’s me!) are entitled to one R&R per year. That means that JR’s work will pay for one airfare ticket for each of us to the designated R&R location – which for Kosovo is London – or to anywhere in the U.S. If you wish to use your R&R ticket to visit some place different, you can do that, but you have to pay the difference in the ticket price.

You can take R&R for as long as you like, obviously subject to your vacation allowance and how much time you can spend away from the office. You do not get any special leave or paid time off while on R&R, so you are using up vacation days when you go. Or in my case, going LWOP (leave without pay, because I haven’t been working long enough to accrue any paid time off). It seems like the standard length of an R&R is two weeks, but again, it’s up to the officer and their family.

There are a few other restrictions to keep in mind, but we have heard that if you have extenuating circumstances, there may be exceptions to these rules. You can’t use an R&R ticket until you’ve been at post for six months, and you can’t use a ticket in the last six months of your tour. You must use one ticket per year. So really, with us arriving in mid-May 2013, we couldn’t use our tickets until now, but we have to use one of our R&R tickets by May 2014.

A nice perk is that we don’t have to use our tickets at the same time. This is especially helpful for JR & I, because we plan to use his first R&R ticket to allow him to fly home when the baby is born. My flight at that time will be covered under the med-evac (I’ll do my best to explain the med-evac later). Basically, this meant that I have an R&R ticket to use or lose, and I’m only going to be here until late March, 2014. I’m also thinking that as I get further along in the pregnancy, international flights will be less comfortable/desirable.
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When we looked at the calendar to decide when it would make the most sense for me to visit home, we considered other factors like JR’s work and travel schedule, the holidays, and whether or not I could visit a local ob/gyn while I was home. For a while it looked like my trip may not happen due to ongoing budget issues and pesky paperwork details, but we got the final approval a few weeks ago!

So while yes, I could technically use my ticket to visit Florida, California or even Hawaii, if you know me, you know where I’m headed – O-H-I-O!!!