Hey Look Ma, I Made It!

We made it to Cairo! The travel was not terrible but the jet lag has been tough. The kids are actually doing okay but JR and I are both struggling. Here’s a little recap of our trip.

We left Orrville at 11:30am on Wednesday. Once again we hired Ohio Connection to help transport all of our luggage. With a new family member, we are now allowed ten checked bags. Amazingly that wasn’t enough so we ended up with ELEVEN suitcases and paid out of pocket for the extra one. $200!. Even though we spent two days packing, weighing, and rearranging the bags, I still held my breath as each one went on the scale at the airport. The first two came in at 50.5. When the third went on and showed 51.4, the employee gave me a look and I pleaded with him, “Sir, we are moving to Egypt! Please!”. Thankfully he let it slide and the rest of the bags stayed closer to that 50 pound limit. We also checked two car seats, and had two strollers with us to gate check. Needless to say, we were a sight at the drop off.

In preparing for the trip, I decided that ready-to-feed disposable bottles would be the most convenient. More on that mistake later. At security, they told us they would either need to open each bottle (which basically makes them unusable) or I had to submit to a full pat down. There was no question of course. I told the lady if that was the worst thing to happen to me that day I’d be just fine. She was extremely thorough but it was still the best alternative.

We ate a quick lunch and then waited at the gate. It was a really short flight to DC, and the only problem we had was feeding Jake. It was time for him to eat but he wouldn’t take the bottle. He just kept crying and pushing it away. We had given him one of these bottles in a test run a few days before we left and didn’t have a problem, so I tried not to panic. He slept a little bit and by then we were in DC.

After walking a good distance and taking a shuttle, we found an empty gate to sit for a moment and try feeding him again. The big kids were happily entertained with sticker pads.  I pulled out a new bottle and tried to feed Jake again. And again, he refused. Now I was panicking. It was 5 hours since his last bottle, and he typically eats every 3 hours. We were preparing for a 8 hour flight ahead  and I had a screaming, hungry baby and no way to feed him. A million thoughts were running through my mind. I honestly wondered if he and I would have to stay back in DC for a night to get his regular bottles before we could leave. Knowing it was a long shot, I asked Justin to try to find an employee or store and ask if they sold bottles anywhere at Dulles. Amazingly, he came back a few minutes later with a bottle! Although it wasn’t our regular brand, Jake thankful gulped it down. Such a huge relief. I told him to go back to the store and buy more to get us through the trip. So PSA, Hudson News at Dulles Airport does sell baby bottles. They were only $2.99 each, which I think is kind of a steal because we would have been at their mercy and paid whatever to get them.

On the flight to Frankfurt Abby was in a window seat, JR in the middle, then William in the aisle seat. I sat across from him in a middle section of four seats with Jake beside me. He cried on and off the first hour, and I worried we were in for a rough flight. But after that he fell asleep and seriously didn’t make a peep until it was almost time to land.

Abby and William were excited to use the in-flight entertainment, but we couldn’t get their headphones to work with it. I asked a flight attendant who told me, quite pleased with herself, this was because they have weird sets that require headphones with two prongs. This is illogical. They are basically requiring you to use their cheapy headphones that they pass out at the beginning of each flight, individually wrapped in plastic. I’m no environmentalist usually but come on! Doesn’t it make more sense to allow people who have their own headphones (so, basically everyone) to use those? Rather than a system that prohibits it? Also annoying because their headphones didn’t fit the kids’ head very well. Okay end of rant.

The iPads worked for a while and we ate the food we packed. We have completely abandoned plane food. Someone please let me know if it improves some day. We packed an insulated lunch bag with yogurt, string cheese, pepperoni, grapes and apples. I also had some bread and Jif To Go and made sandwiches for us.

It wasn’t easy getting the kids to fall asleep. They couldn’t get comfortable, even with our 1st Class Kids Pillow, which inflates like a footrest to extend the seat so a kid can stretch out more. I wound up holding Abby as she fell asleep. JR moved William to the window seat and let him stretch across the middle. When he finally fell asleep, JR asked the woman behind us if he could sit in the empty seat beside her and she graciously agreed. We laid Abby down by William and managed a little sleep ourselves.

In Frankfurt we barely had time to grab some pretzels and croissants, play in a small play area and then change diapers before boarding again for our third flight. The flight was full, and the best seats they could offer were four across in the middle and one single seat on the aisle in the next row back. I started out there, putting JR with all the kids. I immediately fell asleep and that hour was pretty much the highlight of my day. I woke up when Abby needed help trying to watch a movie and the headphone jack didn’t work well, so I switched seats with her. That little rockstar was perfectly content the rest of the flight sitting in a row by herself, watching a movie and enjoying some of the snacks I passed to her. William snuggled up in my cardigan and fell asleep again.

 

Three hours later we landed in Cairo! The airport was a flurry of activity and kind of a blur. I was just telling JR that one weird thing about this life is that you meet new people (in this case the employees who helped us at the airport as well as our social sponsor/my future coworker) when you would rather not be meeting anyone for the first time. After almost a full day of travel with 3 kids, I did not feel or look my best. So of course immediately after landing a man introduced himself to us and we realized he’s my new supervisor. Great to meet you sir, I promise I usually look a little less disheveled.

My big takeaways from this trip:

1. I pack too many toys/activities. William’s backpack was stuffed. Really, they only need iPads, headphones, and a few small new toys to occupy them. They both loved this Melissa and Doug sticker pad, as well as their Water Wow! books. For Abby, my mom sent her a surprise to open on the plane – a small Baby Born doll. William’s surprise was a $3 pack of plastic dinosaurs. That’s all they took out of their bags! I had also packed small play doh containers, crayons and coloring books, books, a magnetic block set, and other crap no one cared to touch.

Enjoying their surprise items.

2. A two hour layover sounds great but it is just barely enough time for us if we have to change gates and move through a big airport.

3. We took two strollers this time. I know my five year old should be able to walk and even carry or roll a bag at this point, but life is just easier when we can load everything on our stroller and push them. Jake and Abby were in the double and William was in my new favorite travel stroller, the Zoe XL1. It’s super lightweight, folds with one hand, pushes easily with one hand, great canopy and almost fully reclines.

Proof the kids carried their bags for a minute.

So we made it and we live in Egypt now. More to come!

 

This is PCS

When we planned out our home leave, I stacked June with most of our travel, naively thinking we’d have plenty of time to relax in July. And because I’ve been in Ohio for SO LONG (7 months!!), I thought I had a head start on most of the admin tasks and endless to-do items.

I was wrong.

Now to be fair, we’ve had a lot of fun in July. We drove down to Columbus for a play date and lunch with our friends K & L from Tbilisi. We were connected to them before they moved to Tbilisi by a mutual friend, Jessica, who served in South Africa with them and previously in Kosovo with us. By a lucky coincidence, Jessica and her husband Jeremy are also on home leave and in Ohio! They met us for lunch and it was an awesome worlds-colliding kind of moment.

We enjoyed the 4th of July festitives in my hometown. We attended the one two years ago during our last home leave and we wanted to try and make a tradition for the kids. The parade was huge hit, with the Abby and William collecting more candy than they could possibly ever consume. Abby has also turned out to be a bit of a thrill seeker, she wanted to ride all the rides at the carnival. Unfortunately for her she’s not quite tall enough yet, so she had to settle for the kiddie rides.

On the 6th, JR and I flew to Hartford, CT to visit our friend from law school, Erika, and her family. They showed us around town, treated us to some delicious local pizza and then the next morning we all drove to Boston together. JR had never been before, so we hit up all the big sights. We did a walking tour of the Freedom Trail, had delicious Italian in the North End, went out on a sailboat, ate crab and lobster (ok only JR did that, but I did try a bite!), and walked around Harvard Square. JR is fascinated with the Boston accent so every once in awhile he’d point out things so he could practice. For instance, he told me several times “hey look, there’s the habaaa (harbor).” I told him that his accent was horrendous and to please stop embarassing me. My requests were ignored, but we managed to have a great time.

So that was the fun stuff. But in the middle of all that, the PCS (permanent change of station – moving to a new post) stuff was adding up. We received an email the week of the 4th telling us due to a recent rule change, we could no longer ship 4 wheel drive vehicles to Cairo. Initially, we were told that since our Honda Pilot was an all wheel drive, it would probably be okay to send. But a week later we were officially told that our car was considered an SUV/4WD and we could not ship it. We were told that they were working to resolve the issue but had no hope that it would be resolved within the next few months. After some email exchanges with the Embassy, the options were to store our car in the U.S. for our entire tour, or risk sending it to Egypt knowing the restriction and facing a $70/day storage fee at the port.  For a potential 4 year post, neither of these choices made sense.

This was totally unexpected, and especially since we purchased a new (to us) SUV in January, we were panicked. This led to a frenzied week of researching 2 wheel drive vehicles with enough room for 3 car seats. Spoiler alert – we are now a minivan family.  We lost quite a bit of money trading in our car so soon after purchasing it. Due to issues with getting the car title when you finance it and permission to take it overseas, we had to pay cash for the minivan. So financially, it hurt. And it also just took away time, time spent researching cars, calling dealerships, trying to sell ours, etc. that we were supposed to be spending on leave with our family. Not at all something we expected to deal with at the last minute.  (Note, six days after we traded in our car, lost several thousand dollars and hurriedly purchased a minivan, we were notified that the ban on 4 wheel drive vehicles in Cairo had been lifted and we were now welcome to ship our Pilot. Except we no longer own it. I have no words.)

We are working through the seemingly endless task of sorting, organizing, and prioritizing all of our things. We have one air shipment of 400lbs going from Ohio to Cairo, and had to get everything together for that. Now that we are a family of five, we’ll have ten checked bags, so we started packing those as well. I’m worried we won’t have enough room. We’ve acquired so much stuff (especially toys – SO MANY TOYS – thanks Mom!) while we’ve been here. And the baby stuff, they require so much!

For fun, in our free time, JR and I each spend way too much time on the phone with various customer service representatives. I called Lufthansa to try and confirm seats for our flights to Cairo. After a signficant wait, they told me I have to check with United because it’s a United booking. Now, what’s really fun about this is that JR called United last week and they told him it’s a Lufthansa flight and they couldn’t help us. I explained this to the Lufthansa agent, and she was insistent she could not help me. I hung up, called United, waited on hold, and explained my situation again. This is where it gets good! United once again told me their hands were tied, only Lufthansa could help. I very kindly asked the woman to call Lufthansa on the other line and help me resolve this. She did, and eventually Lufthansa gave us our seat assignments. One full hour of my life I’ll never get back. (I’d also like to note that I took issue with the fact that it cost $35 per ticket to reserve seats in advance. She kept saying “well since you prefer to sit together.” No ma’am, I don’t actually prefer to sit with any of my children on an 8 hour flight, but since they are 5, 2.5 and 5 months old, I’m pretty sure it’s legally required that we sit together. But sure, let’s act like this is a want, not a need.)

While I did that, JR played a fun game of calling CVS, then our insurance company, back and forth over and over again, trying to get our insurance to approve a one year supply of his prescriptions. Another hour lost.

Meanwhile, we are trying to fit in everything else. Hair cuts, swim lessons, doctor appointments, dentist appointments, and on and on it goes. Jacob has had a terrible cough and congestion for two weeks. Abby woke up covered in a rash two days ago. It’s fine. Everthing is fine.

One week to go!

 

 

And just like that

Our tour is over and we’re leaving Kosovo.   It’s been a wonderful two years.  We have made great friends, explored new places, and even expanded our family.  I really had no idea what to expect when we started this adventure, but this was a good tour for us and although there have been challenges, we will miss Kosovo and we are very thankful for our time here.

Some of my favorite pictures and memories from the last two years.

first weekDinner at Tiffany’s our first week in Pristina

albania 1Berat, Albania with Amy

 

rugovaRugova Gorge

singingKaraoke at Pacific Rim.  Don’t stop Believiiinnnnnnn’!!!

santorini 2

santorini 3santorini
Santorini, Greece

paris vaux

new years 2 new years
Paris, Vaux le Vicomte, and ringing in the New Year at the Sacre Coeur

first picWelcoming Abby to the world

lake ohridWine tasting at Lake Ohrid, Macedonia

shelbyI’m not sure I can call it a highlight, but I can’t skip over Shelby (and I have an update to share soon!)

croatia 1 croatia 2 croatia 3croatia 4
Our wonderful trip to Dubrovnik, Croatia with my parents

elephant Abby’s first Halloween

 

family 1 family 2 family 3 family 4
Spending precious time with our families and Abby’s first Christmas

romania pic
And one last picture of our awesome road trip last month

Lamtumirë, Kosovo!