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?

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And ducklings!

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

Baby Shower Fun

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I’m pretty sure I have the best friends in the world. Definitely the best party planners! Last weekend Katie and Elizabeth (featured above!) threw me the sweetest baby shower. The theme was “Welcome to the World Baby G” and all the decor had to do with travel – like a Baggage Check for the gift table, In-Flight menu for the meal, and luggage tags and trail mix as party favors.

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The best part was seeing so many of my girlfriends – including one special guest who traveled all the way from Nebraska!
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Katie is super crafty and talented, and she MADE THESE (well, not the wooden toy. But she could probably totally do that too). Such sweet gifts and very meaningful!
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Knowing me as well as they do, the hosts only planned one game: matching celebrity baby names to their parents. I follow my celebrity news VERY closely, so I felt pretty confident about this one. They were tricky though – for example, did you know that Toni Collette has a son named Arlo Robert? (Random side story. One morning in law school, when JR and I had been together for maybe six months or so, we sat down for class and started the routine of setting up our laptops, and checking the news online. Almost at the same time, we both gasped and said something like “oh my gosh!” I glanced over at JR’s computer, assuming he was looking at the same news tragedy as me. His screen showed the CNN homepage, and there had been a ferry boat collapse in Egypt with over a thousand people on board. This was not, in fact, the same news I was reacting to at that moment. I had opened up to People.com and read that Richie Sambora and Heather Locklear were divorcing, and I was shocked and hurt. It seemed best not to bring it up with him right then, though.)

Baby G was certainly feeling the love. The hosts made sure JR didn’t feel left out, these two gifts were picked out especially for him!

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It was a great afternoon, and I’m so thankful for my wonderful friends!

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:

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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!

Mardi Gras, TLD, and a surprise shower!

This past weekend was our last weekend together before JR heads off to training for work and I go back to Ohio for maternity leave. Mostly I appreciate that time is moving forward, but I’m not excited about being apart for so long, so I wanted to really enjoy our time together.

Friday night, the marines hosted a Mardi Gras party complete with gumbo, jambalaya, king cake and beads.   JR was in charge of the jambalaya and made a triple batch – an impressive feat considering the size of our kitchen.   It receieved rave reviews and the pots were emptied pretty quickly. Guests were encouraged to wear purple and gold, but I’m currently rotating about 4 different shirts that fit over my stomach, and they are not in those colors. Luckily no one seemed to mind.

Saturday was a very special Terrific Lady Day.   We started using this term after watching an episode of The League, when one of the characters tells his friends that he’s giving his wife a Terrific Lady Day where they do whatever she wants.  It’s a rare treat but I love TLD.

This is how I felt when I woke up early Saturday morning:

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I laid out my vision for the day – first we’d go grocery shopping, and then come home and clean. JR was not impressed, but those things make me happy! He suggested that I schedule a massage appointment, and I was able to talk him into a couples’ massage. Halfway through TLD, I assume JR was thinking “never again.” We finished up the day with a delicious dinner and watching Dallas Buyer’s Club (highly, highly recommend that movie! I adore Matthew Mc-however you spell it, and teared up a bit during his Oscar acceptance speech. Also, you should watch True Detective on HBO.)

Sunday morning, Amy picked me up for a brunch at Jessica’s. Breakfast foods and brunching are very high on the list of things I miss about living at home, so when Jessica sent out an invitation for a brunch, I replied within seconds! Turns out, my very sweet, and very sneaky friends had planned a surprise shower for me! We had a great spread of food – homemade cinnamon rolls, meatballs, eggs, waffles, fruit, and french toast casserole. We played a quick game to try to figure out the baby’s sex, but it was a draw. Looks like we’ll have to wait until May (which is driving my poor mother CRAZY).

I wish I would have taken more pictures, and I particularly wish I would have remembered to skinny arm and strike a better pose when standing next to Jessica. I swear, I’m not that big. It’s just the most unflattering angle I could have picked, but I wanted to post a few anyway because she did such a great job of putting this together.

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I’m not really ready to talk about it yet, but some of the great friends we’ve made in Kosovo won’t be here when we get back. That’s the norm for life in the foreign service, but it’s still new to me and I’m definitely not ready to say goodbye to these wonderful people who have helped make Kosovo our home for the past year.

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.

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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.

Picking a baby name

I’ve been naming my hypothetical children for as long as I can remember. I like to think my taste has changed and matured over the years.

My mom clearly picked a popular name for my birth year. In fact, a few years after I was born, a book came out called “Names Beyond Jennifer and Jason.”
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It’s only a little bit ironic that my cousin, born six months before me, was named Jason. My family latched on to the J names, way before those Duggars started popping out kids. I have two siblings and seven first cousins, and their names are: Jamie, Joey, Jeremy, Jason, Jerid, Jonah, Jacob, Justin and Jolene.  What we lack in naming creativity we make up for in love. 🙂

There’s some debate in my family over how my name came to be spelled with an “i” instead of the more traditional “y” or the dreaded “ie”. First, it seems very logical to me that when you take the -fer off of Jennifer, you get Jenni. Why is that so hard for everyone else? But indeed, I wind up correcting the spelling of my name constantly. And I cringe when I see it misspelled. Plus, I was never able to buy trinkets with my name on them, because they were ALWAYS made for a Jenny, not me. I imagine my life would have turned out differently if I had a Lisa Frank pencil with my name on it.

So, I have a certain sensitivity to giving our child a name that they will always have to spell for people. Same goes for pronunciation, although I haven’t had any trouble there.

When I was in grade school, I just knew I’d have a daughter named Felicity when I grew up. She was the most beautiful, and classiest, of all the American Girl Dolls. For a boy, I was obsessed with the name Tristan after Brad Pitt’s incredible, life-changing (for me anyway, at age 11) performance in Legends of the Fall.  If I had another daughter, her name would be Anastasia, from my favorite character in The Babysitter’s Club. She went by Stacey, but her full name was Anastasia Elizabeth McGill. How classy is that?! This name stayed with me for a long time, as my interests changed from Ann M. Martin books to the Russian Romanov empire and the famous story of Anastasia.

I was much more sophisticated in high school, and I read every Danielle Steel book I could get my hands on. One of my favorites, to this day, is called The Ring. The main character’s name is Ariana, and I thought it was the prettiest name in the entire world. I was set, no need to look any further on names!

Then, in my mid-twenties I found the ultimate baby girl’s name – Ava Grace (me and the rest of the US, apparently). JR’s good friends S & B had their first baby a few years after he and I started dating, and named her Ava Grace. I was crushed. The fact that I wasn’t pregnant – or anywhere close to having kids – was irrelevant.

Once, JR and I were on a long car ride and baby names came up. I told him my then-obsession was the name Keegan. Now, my version of the story goes like this. After I told him the name, he pondered it for a bit and said he thought it was an okay-sounding Irish name. In my mind, I thought the matter was settled. Months later when I revisited the topic, he told me he hated the name and would never consider it. I reminded him of our conversation in the car. According to him, it was unfair for me to start talking baby names in the car while he was trapped with me for a set period of time, and he just nodded along to what I was saying to change topics and hopefully stop discussing babies. How rude.  Even now, from time to time if we pass an unfortunate looking guy on the street, JR will say “that’s probably a Keegan.”

Now that this conversation is no longer hypothetical, it’s funny how easily we agree on some things, and yet we are MILES apart on others.  The first time we had to pick out bedding together, it seemed like our relationship was doomed.  Hopefully our marriage can survive this baby naming business.

Early appointments

This is another post I began writing back in September. It’s about pregnancy and babies, and if you aren’t a big fan of those things (at the moment, I find them both to be overrated), you might want to skip this one!

By joining the Foreign Service, we knew that life would be a bit different for us than if we lived and worked in Ohio (or anywhere in the States, really). Although I don’t have a direct comparison point, I think we’re getting some exposure to how different things can be overseas.

First, we told our families very, very early on about the pregnancy. It just so happened that we found out while we were in Ohio over Labor Day when we were there for JR’s sister’s wedding. Under normal circumstances, we think we would have kept the news to ourselves for awhile, but honestly, I never thought we’d have the chance to tell our families in person, and I didn’t want to miss out on that. And my mother’s reaction absolutely made it worthwhile! She almost fainted and had to be propped up by JR!

When we arrived back in Kosovo, I called our health unit at the embassy and made an appointment. I assumed at the first appointment they’d just do a blood or urine test to confirm the pregnancy, and then we’d schedule a follow up down the road. Our main medical officer, J, was out of town, so G, her assistant, was able to meet with me. She asked me some questions and gave me a bit of information about what would likely happen during the first trimester. Then she said, “We would give you a pregnancy test here to confirm, but ours are expired, so…we’ll just go with your results.”

Now imagine your American ob/gyn telling you they can’t give you a pregnancy test because theirs are expired?! I was a bit concerned.

G told me that our health unit doesn’t have a lab, so they have an agreement with a European Union agency here, and we’d do lab work there. Then we’d go to a local clinic for my first ultrasound. G schedules the appointments, and she accompanies me to them and to ensure my comfort, translate, etc… As promised, she took care of the scheduling and called me to say that we had two appointments that Friday.

The lab was a quick stop, just a blood draw and then with JR in tow we went to the clinic for our first ultrasound. We were previously warned (by my mom, mother in law, and the internet) that it was unlikely we’d see anything this early. Truthfully, I don’t know if she scheduled one so early because I seemed nervous, or if it’s standard practice here. Either way, we were excited to get some actual from-the-doctor confirmation that I was pregnant.

The clinic is run by a German husband and wife and they are both ob/gyns. My appointment was with the wife and for the life of me, I can’t recall her name at this moment. Her English skills are…not so great. She says she can understand it, but she’s more comfortable speaking in German. Luckily, G speaks German and acted as a translator. We were already quite nervous, but it really added to our nerves that we couldn’t understand a word the doctor was saying, and we had to wait patiently for a translation. It was particularly hard during the actual ultrasound, because both women were pointing at the screen and having a lively conversation back and forth, while I just laid there and JR held my hand. Thankfully, G translated that everything looked to be okay, and we scheduled a follow up appointment.

So far, we’ve been paying out of pocket for the tests and appointments. They give us receipts (in Albanian and German, no less) that we can submit to our insurance company in the States via e-mail. We were concerned about translating the receipts, but our insurance company said that was unnecessary and we can submit them as-is, which is a relief!

This is all very new to us, but we are slowly figuring things out. We are grateful for the care we’ve received here, and we know we are in good hands (language barriers be damned). It’s incredibly convenient to have such an accessible medical unit, and to be able to make an appointment or walk in anytime we need something. Talking to parents with small children at post, it seems that it’s a great benefit to have such access to medical care.

More London

Our first stop Friday morning was to walk across the Tower Bridge, and then take a tour of the Tower of London. The Tower is guarded by Yeomen Warders, more commonly known as Beefeaters, who are retired members of the Armed Forces and technically their job is to guard prisoners of the Tower. Now they act as tour guides, and we had a really enthusiastic and funny guide to show us around. We saw Traitor’s Gate, the spot where Anne Boleyn was beheaded, and the Crown Jewels. In a stroke of pure genius, they have those moving sidewalks (people movers, like in airports) that move slowly past the Crown Jewels display so that people can’t stand in front of each item forever and prevent others from seeing things. So smart, those Brits!
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After that we started the bus tour to see the the city. One unexpected sight while in London was the amount of signs promoting the NFL and people wearing NFL jerseys. There was a huge promotion of the NFL going on in the days leading to the game on Sunday where San Francisco was playing the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium. One of the tour guides on the bus was explaining this game to the tourists and remarked that San Francisco was playing the “Jacksonville Jackals.” JR corrected the tour guide and said that they’re actually playing the “Jacksonville Jaguars” but he then went on to say “it doesn’t matter, the team’s rubbish anyway.”

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We saw several street performers – playing bagpipes, guitars and other instruments, but I was most impressed by these guys. I could have stared at them for hours! Seriously, how do they do that?

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We also did a walking tour called “Ghosts and Gaslight”. Our tour guide was fun and showed us around to several local pubs while telling us legends and ghost stories.

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JR tried a Sherlock Holmes Ale at this stop.

On our last night, I still hadn’t found my cheeseburger. I knew I needed to visit an American establishment to ensure I got what I wanted, and JR made quite a fuss when I suggested Five Guys. So, I convinced him to let us eat at the Rainforest Cafe (he’d never been to one before). Oh how I will pay for that choice. First, even though we went at a random time, it was beyond packed with kids running around screaming. JR kept saying “why are we eating at a Chucky E. Cheese in London??” I didn’t even care because my dinner was so delicious, and I followed it up with a fantastic dessert. I was also excited because they appeared to have fountain soda, which we never get here in Kosovo (or really in Europe anywhere). I had 3 Diet Cokes with my dinner and enjoyed each one. Free refills, hurrah! Until our bill came. We were charged 2.85 pounds PER Diet Coke.

I spent $14 in Diet Coke. Oops. JR’s face looked something like this.
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Overall, we had a great trip and hope we can visit again soon!