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!!!

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!

‘Ello, Ducky

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I can’t even remember where it started, but in college my friends and I would say “Ello, Ducky” with a British accent. I think it was a combination of our trip to Salzburg, Austria, and wishing we had accents and trying to pretend we did, and also our obsession with the classic Amanda Byne’s film, What a Girl Wants. A certain someone’s college boyfriend constantly reminded us, “You’re not British.” Apparently fake accents are only fun for the people doing them. Anyway, that was in my head the whole time that JR and I were in London.

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We also said this to each other often during our trip. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a great movie.

For certain posts throughout the world, the quality of local medical care is such that they med-evac (medically evacuate) FSOs or their dependents to that location. London is the med-evac point for Kosovo, and that’s where they wanted to send me to get some standard tests at the end of the first trimester. Because I was considered on official “med-evac” status, my flight and hotel were covered, but we had to pay for JR’s flight. It saved us a decent amount of money for him to fly on a separate flight, so we planned to rendezvous at London’s Heathrow airport. We also decided, since we would already be in London from Wednesday to Friday, to extend our stay by two days and leave on Sunday (the hotel and any costs for extending the stay were paid by us).

We arrived at Heathrow on Wednesday afternoon, and while waiting for a cab, JR was having some flashbacks to his last visit to London during a study abroad semester in Wales his junior year of college. Something tells me that first trip to London – all carefree and young – was a bit different than this visit with his pregnant wife!

We took a cab to our hotel, and after checking in, I was determined to find a pub with a cheeseburger. He was excited to visit a pub for different reasons. Unfortunately, the British aren’t known for their cheeseburgers. We had a decent meal, and then went back to our hotel for naps. We found a great italian place for dinner – garlic bread, delicious. We passed by at least 100 bars advertising champagne and cocktails and I was quite disappointed that I couldn’t partake!

The next morning we woke up early for our appointment. It was walking distance from our hotel in a residential neighborhood. I was very, very nervous. I mean, I spend my life in a perpetual state of nervousness, but I was almost sick with worry. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long and the ultrasound tech called us back to the room to get started. In prior ultrasounds, you really couldn’t see much (well, JR said he saw the flicker of a heartbeat, but I really didn’t. I faked it for the doctor though, because I felt like a terrible person since I couldn’t see it.) This time, as soon as the image came up on the screen, it looked like an actual baby. Holy cow. We were able to hear the heartbeat, and take video of the images. It was a huge relief and a happy moment for us.

The doctor, who goes by Mr. instead of Dr., met with us briefly, told us that everything looked great and they just wanted to do a quick blood test and then send us on our way. The whole thing lasted less than an hour, so we had an entire day to check out the city.

It was sort of a last minute trip, which meant we didn’t really budget for it, and holy cow, that was a mistake. I mean, the city was very neat to see and we had great weather, but I was kind of put off by the crazy high prices for everything. We’ve become used to the lower prices of of food and drinks in Kosovo. And although we lived in DC, where the cost of living is quite high, the majority of the sights are free admittance.

So imagine our surprise when we walked up to the London Eye, excited to take a spin, and tickets were 18.90 pounds each. JR did a quick conversion in his head (the perks of being married to man who likes to budget) and we realized it would be $61 USD for both of us. Where I come from, you can ride a ferris wheel at the local carnival for two bucks! We wanted to make the most of our visit without breaking the bank, so we did a bit more research to figure out which places we were most interested in seeing, and we bought tickets for a hop on/hop off bus tour of the city.

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London Eye that we did not ride.

We did have one major splurge during our trip. We bought tickets to see The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre. It was such a great show. The performances and music were so cool to see live, and we were really glad that we treated ourselves to it.

Some more pictures, and another post about our trip to coming soon!

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Me and Big Ben

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Westminster Abbey

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Churchill

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Lion King!

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View from our seats

An Important Test

I wrote this post shortly after finding out I was pregnant. I’ve written a few other posts about the experience so far, and now that we’ve shared the news, I’ll publish those soon.

I’d been looking forward to our trip home for weeks. I was excited for JR’s sister’s wedding, to see our families, to eat great food, and also to have a fabulous day of shopping, topped off by dinner and drinks with my friend Elizabeth.

Elizabeth knew we had talked about trying to have a baby in the fall, and would occasionally ask me if I was going to accidentally get pregnant and lose the ability to drink while I was home. I reassured her it wouldn’t happen that way!

On the Sunday before we came home, I reailzed I was one day late. I did not think I was pregnant, I just thought something was up. (I’m very much a worst-case scenario worrier, so I actually thought my ovaries just up and quit working).

I had purchased some local pregnancy tests the last time I was near a pharmacy. They are only 1 euro each, and from the packaging, they look nothing like what I’m used to seeing at home. But when in Rome, right?

So Monday morning I took one of those tests and it was negative. Same result on Tuesday. Elizabeth was checking in with me regularly, and it was nice to chat about it, because JR was very unconcerned about my status. This is probably due to the fact that in the past, I’ve had a few times where I was CERTAIN I was pregnant, and I’d scared him half to death. So he takes everything I say with several grains of salt.

We traveled all day Wednesday. At the Dulles airport, as we were going through security, there was a very pregnant woman in line beside us. She asked to skip the scanner and be patted down instead. JR jokingly touched my stomach and said maybe I should do the same. I swatted his hand away and told him to stop messing around! Thursday morning when I woke up, I took another Kosovar test. There was the faintest pink line. Now, it’s like 6am. JR is asleep, and I’m furiously Googling “What does a faint pink line mean”. All signs on the internet (which is never wrong) pointed to pregnant. I woke JR up to tell him that I thought I could really possibly be pregnant. He said “hmm okay” and rolled back over to sleep.

We had to pick up a rental car that morning, and I was going to be gone all day visiting two of my friends. I had a lot of anxiety and didn’t trust the Kosovo test, but I wanted answers! We picked up two fancy digital tests at CVS (much to the chagrin of my very frugal husband who thought the digital was an unnecessary expense), and headed to get the rental car. I realized that we wouldn’t have time to go back to his parents’ house to take the test, and I did not want to wait until that evening to figure it out (plus, if this was all a big misunderstanding, I wanted drinks a drink at dinner!).

This led to me taking the test in the bathroom at the Budget Rental Car store. It came back invalid – basically saying I’d done something wrong and it couldn’t give me an answer. Seriously, expensive digital test?? I was really bummed, but I had to get going. I know JR felt bad that I had to leave right then and we still didn’t know.

I had a lovely day with my friends, and Elizabeth and I did lots of great outlet shopping. She was convinced I was pregnant, and teased me about buying pants and dresses that might not fit for long. I was becoming more convinced that I wasn’t. We had dinner at Cheesecake Factory (where I refrained from the booze, but not the cheesecake). At the end of dinner, she said, why not just take the other test right now?

So for the second time that day, I took a test in a public bathroom. Keeping it classy! But this one came back with an answer – pregnant!

O-H! I-O!

Last week we went back to Ohio for JR’s sister’s wedding. I was excited to see our family and friends, and also excited to eat at some of my favorite places! We left on Wednesday morning, and after 3 flights and 19 hours of travel, we landed in Ohio. JR and I were torn on where to eat first, so we played Rock, Paper, Scissors to decide between Marion’s Pizza and Penn Station. I won, so we headed to Penn Station, which was an excellent decision I must say.

On Thursday, I got to see some of my friends and do some outlet shopping. Oh and we had dinner at the Cheesecake Factory, which was amazing. I was actually at the Cheesecake Factory 3 times total on Thursday and Friday, but it wasn’t really my fault and I only ate there twice.

Friday I got my hair cut (woohoo!) and then the whole family headed over to the wedding location for the rehearsal and dinner. There were over 60 people at the wedding rehearsal alone if that tells you the size of the immediate families involved.The lovely bride realized that she didn’t really have anyone to coordinate the rehearsal (lining people up, telling people when to walk and all that jazz) so I volunteered. Organizing and bossing people around is right up my alley – I learned from my mom and my aunt!

Saturday was wedding day (and I managed to sneak in a quick lunch at Chick-fil-A!). It was a beautiful ceremony, and we were so happy to be able to celebrate with Meredith and Andy. They put so much thought into every detail of the wedding, and it looked wonderful.

We had a surprise baby shower for JR’s brother and wife on Sunday morning, and after that we got to visit my family!

A few things I learned from a short trip back. First, we didn’t have working cell phones at home and it was AWFUL. I realize I’m too dependent on my iPhone, but even an old school flip phone would have let me text friends and family and it would have helped with making plans. What did people do before cell phones?? The second thing is that we need to get rich so we can fly business class. Immediately. Airplane seats are just not that comfortable when you’re sitting in them for 9+ hours, and it’s a clever form of torture by the airlines for economy passengers to walk through business/first class upon entering and exiting the plane.

Finally, we thought we were saving some money and shipping costs by stocking up on a few items while we were home. We bought cans of cream of chicken/mushroom soup, Manwich (you have no idea how much I love a sloppy joe), teriyaki sauce, and JR refused to leave any beer behind at his parents, so we packed a 12 pack. Well…when we picked up our bags in Kosovo, the large duffel (why is spell check telling me this isn’t a word?) bag was wet and had the delicious smell of teriyaki. All of the soup cans were dented. And we lost one beer (I think this bothered JR the most, not the fact that his good suit was now beer soaked, or that two of my bras were marinated in teriyaki).

Lessons learned! Most importantly, it was clear this was just too short of a trip, and hopefully we can stay longer next time!

Mirusha Falls

I contemplated several different titles for this blog post, including “Our First and LAST Hike with Jessica”, “Why I Don’t Hike”, and “You Said We Were Taking a Short Uphill Walk.”

Jessica had the day off on Friday and offered to take Stacey and I to Mirusha Falls, a waterfall and swimming hole about an hour outside of the city. Now, Stacey and I aren’t the most outdoorsy people, but Jessica assured us that it wasn’t really a hike, more of a short uphill walk to get to the top of the falls and the place she wanted to swim. We both want to see more of Kosovo, and we were feeling adventurous so we said let’s go!

The drive was very pretty, and we only made a few wrong turns. It’s not always easy to find things here. Eventually we made our way to a very small, windy and bumpy road that promised the waterfalls were ahead. We parked and started walking.

This is the kind of “hike” I was imagining.
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Right away we saw the beautiful waterfall, a large pool of water, and a few stands to buy refreshments and enjoy the view. It was gorgeous. I was thinking, “Oh, yeah, this took like 5 minutes and we’re here. I don’t even think it was uphill. How fun!” Little did I know, Jessica had other plans for us.

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We started to make our way up what she called a trail, but I use that word very loosely. My thoughts alternated between “JR would be so proud that I did this” and “How proud will he be if I’m dead”.

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It didn’t take long before Stacey and I were starting to struggle, even though Jessica hadn’t broken a sweat. She just continued on her merry way – upright, I might add, while Stacey and I were using more of a bear-crawl approach on all fours.
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We heard whistling from down below, and looked to see the men from the restaurant waving at us and trying to get our attention. Stacey thought they were trying to tell us that we had gone the wrong way, but Jessica and I thought they were just saying hi, so we just kept going. A few minutes later, we realized one of the young men had actually climbed up to get us, to tell us we were in fact headed the wrong way. Oops!

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Right before he stopped us, I swear Jessica was about to head directly up that cliff. There is no trail there!

So we had to backtrack through some tricky areas, but eventually we got to the next waterfall. Stacey and I were quite relieved to take a break, and we got some nice pictures.

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Jessica informed us it was time to keep moving, we STILL hadn’t reached the swimming spot. This is how we felt about that.

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We struggled uphill a bit further, and came to another waterfall and beautiful pool of water. Now, a word about me. I don’t think I have EVER just jumped into water like this. I can rock a swimming pool, I usually do okay in a lake with a lot of other people, and you know how I feel about the ocean, so when Jessica said it was time to swim, I was a bit scared. But I didn’t want to chicken out! I came this close to asking if there was any Kosovar Loch Ness Monster I needed to worry about, but I threw caution to the wind and jumped in. It was absolutely freezing, but it felt awesome. We couldn’t believe we were the only people up there.

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Look at those bathing beauties! 🙂

I totally want to go back with JR. I have a very romantic notion of frolicking under a waterfall, like the scene from Cocktail (what a classic!) with “Run for the Shelter of Your Love” playing in the background. I’m sure he’ll be super pumped to play along. If you don’t immediately know what I’m talking about, shame on you.

The hike back down was pretty rough. Considering how much trouble we had finding a trail on the way up, it’s not surprising that we got lost. Jessica thought she had found the way down, and wound up going down a really steep incline. She couldn’t get back up. She thought she would find another way out, and said that Stacey and I (experienced hikers that we are) should try to find another way and she’d meet us at the bottom. How could that plan possibly go wrong? Stacey and I quickly realized we were not cut out for doing this on our own. We made our way back to where we had left Jessica, thinking she was long gone and we’d just try to make our way following her. Turns out, she was standing right where we had last seen her, and she was kind of stuck. She couldn’t find another way out, and she didn’t think she could get back up to us on her own.

Poor thing. After seeing Stacey and I struggle the whole morning, it’s no wonder she was skeptical when I told her I could help her. But we got her back up, and with our little group reunited we managed to make our way back to the bottom of the waterfall, with just a few scrapes and a lot of dirt covering us. Oh and we got to see this guy cliff jump/dive from pretty high up! Can you spot him sitting on the cliff?

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It was a really awesome way to spend the day, and I can’t wait to go back. Thank you Jessica and Stacey for such a fun experience!

Hakuna Matata, part 2

Alright so what else happened on our honeymoon…

JR really wanted a cigar, and a store attendant said there was a smoke shop in Kamari. That’s all the guy said – no store name, no address, just try the town of Kamari. So we were driving through the town, and as I said, there are people out on the streets trying to get you to enter their store or restaurant, so I suggested we just pull up and ask someone. The conversation went like this:

Me: Excuse me sir, we’re looking for a shop to buy cigars?
Man: You want to smoke?
Me: Yeah, is there a place that sells cigars?
Man: You want pot?
Me and JR: No no, we’re just looking for cigars, tobacco.
Man: Oh. Wait, are you sure you don’t want pot?
Me and JR: No. Just tobacco thank you.
Man: Okay. There’s a cigar store right down this street.

How nice of him to give us options!

We had dinner at a restaurant called Panorama, which had beautiful views. We were taking some pictures afterwards, and I stood up on this little ledge area overlooking a cliff. JR stepped back to take a few pictures, and as I was transitioning to another pose (skinny arm) I lost my balance and almost fell. He came rushing over, and refused to get the skinny arm shot after that.

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This is like the complete opposite of skinny arm.

After dinner, we wanted to take a sneak peak of our second hotel (even though we weren’t checking in until Thursday morning). We drove the 4-wheeler to Imerovigli, and we were astounded by the views. Very different on that side of the island. Where we originally stayed had all the nice beaches but Imerovigli has these towns situated on cliffs that you always see on postcards. Since we were already in town, we decided to go in and see if the owner was around, just to say hello. She was so wonderful! She invited us to sit and have a complimentary glass of wine on the patio and just enjoy the view. We left there SO excited that we would be staying there.

This is my excited face.
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When we did check in on Thursday, Ioanna told us she had upgraded our room (because, as she said, “I liked your faces”). Our room and the view was amazing!

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The hotel was just great. They served us breakfast on our balcony each morning. We spent the afternoons by the pool enjoying drinks and watermelon. Apparently it’s a thing in Greece, because after several meals, we were given a complimentary plate of watermelon.

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The hotel encouraged us to drive down to Amoudi Bay, in Oia, for dinner and a beautiful sunset view at Dimitri’s. It was pretty incredible!

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On our last day, JR surprised me and arranged for us to take a sunset boat tour on a catamaran. I’ve never been on a boat like that in the ocean (fear of sharks and all) but it was so cool. We were able to swim in the hot springs by the volcano (not so much hot, a bit warm), then we stopped at a private beach for a delicious dinner, we swam at the White Beach (you can only get to it by boat), and finally saw the sun go down over the Aegean. It was such a fun way to end our trip, and a great surprise.
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