Summer Road Trips

I know I say this every summer, but time is really flying by. Our official home leave began in June and it practically passed in a blink. We spent almost every day traveling, and if we were at home, we were doing laundry, going to some sort of appointment, or packing for another trip.

It started June 2 when I flew to DC to meet JR for his consultation days. He officially left Tbilisi on the 1st and needed to be in DC for a few days before coming back to Ohio. Since I’d been technically managing the kids solo for so long, we (mostly I) thought it made sense for me to take a much-neded break. Of course it was great to be back with my lovely husband, but a real highlight of the trip was meeting up with my friends from Tbilisi, some I hadn’t seen in 2 years! We had a great time catching up.  And just by chance, I messaged another set of old friends from Tbilisi and they had arrived in DC that very day. We spent less than 2 hours together because of hectic schedules, but in this weird life you take what you can get.

The other awesome thing we did – renting electric scooters and riding them all over the city. How did we just find out about these? It seems rather juvenile and dangerous but seriously, SO MUCH FUN. JR said I was giggling like Beavis and Butthead all day. I don’t know what that sounds like but I’m going to go with it’s a happy sound.

We were back in Ohio for a few fun-filled and busy days with the kids before we drove to West Virginia for a week of mandatory training. The training is about countering potential threats you might encounter living overseas. Recently the State Department updated it’s requirements and now wants all government personnel to complete this course before going to their next overseas post. Spouses are highly encouraged to attend as well but it’s very hard to get a seat because everyone else has to take the training too. Luckily I was able to go, and we’re also quite fortunate that my parents were able to take care of the kids while we were gone.

I knew we’d be in training all day, but I thought we might enjoy some kid-free time in the evenings and explore the area a bit, but honestly we were exhausted each night. We did enjoy a few dinners out, including one with a colleague recently departing from Cairo who was able to give us some great tips about life there.

Despite a rental car fiasco (it’s a long story and Enterprise heard from me more than once when we returned), we found the training interesting and enjoyed the parenting break. The course ended late Friday afternoon, which meant we didn’t make it back to Ohio until about 10:30pm that evening. We spent the entire Saturday doing laundry and catching up with the kids, while also trying to pack for our big road trip and vacation. Sunday started off terribly. I woke up around 6am and found myself standing in a 1/2 inch of water covering our bedroom floor in the basement of my grandma’s house. It took a few hours to clean up the mess (huge thanks to my aunt and her husband for coming over with a shop vac and helping us). We managed to finish up packing and loading the car late that evening.

At JR’s insistence, we started our road trip just before 4am the next morning since we had to go from northern Ohio to Knoxville that day. Our hope was the kids would fall back asleep for a few hours, which they eventually did but at first everyone was wide awake and chatty.  Here’s a sampling of our conversation:

William: I have a booger on my hand, can you get it?
Me: (grab booger, sigh audibly when I can’t find a tissue, fling said booger out the window)
Abby: Mom, when your water breaks, does it break at the doctor’s office or the hospital or like where?
Me: Well, it can happen anywhere really.  Usually it happens at the hospital just before the baby comes out.
William: Where did you put my booger?
Me: I threw it out the window.
Abby: “Do they clean you up?”
William: Why?

This was seriously the first 3 minutes of our ride. Onward to Tennessee!

As I said we all slept for a few hours while JR drove. When they woke up, I passed them iPads and snacks to hold everyone off until we stopped for breakfast. We went to a Cracker Barrel, usually one of my preferred places to stop when we’re on the road. The kids enjoyed running up and down the big porch with JR and playing on the rocking chairs while I stayed inside with Jake and waited for our food. The food was kind of blah. I mean it’s breakfast and that’s simple and isn’t that kind of what they’re known for? Oh well, back in the car we went.

I had planned a second stop in Kentucky that included a nearby playground, but it was pouring down rain and the kids were antsy sooner than I expected. We kept driving until we found an exit with a Chick-Fil-A, my favorite place to take a break with the kids. They enjoyed the indoor play area while we fed Jake and had an early lunch. Back in the car again. Everyone was kind of over it at this point, but I think they all fell asleep again for another hour or two. We made one last stop at a McDonalds just to change Jake’s diaper before finally arriving in Knoxville. We were greeted by JR’s brother, sister-in-law and their two girls, as well as his twin sister, husband, and their baby who is just a few months older than Jake. Everyone was excited to see each other again and my crew was especially happy to be out of the car.


(note: that was a plastic snake.)

We spent our time in Knoxville exploring the city, visiting JR’s college friends, taking little hikes, and mostly just hanging out and watching the kids play together. They had so much fun playing and singing “Rocky Top” all day, everyday. If you don’t know, Rocky Top is the University of Tennessee’s fight song and is the greatest song in all the land (JR made me write that). It was also William’s first time sleeping in a big kid bed, as we put him and Abby together in their cousin’s bed each night. The first night he kept getting up, and I kept threatening him with a crib. This was a completely empty threat and stupid thing to say because I had no crib for him. Thankfully the bluff finally worked and after that he was fine.


How cute are these cousins?

Our visit ended way too soon, but we had to continue on our way to Florida. On Thursday morning we packed up (and let me tell you, we were using every spare inch of our car for this trip) and drove about 3 hours to a suburb outside of Atlanta to visit JR’s high school friends. They hosted us for the night and it was perfect. They have a big new house with a finished basement and separate guest area, and a lovely backyard and deck. They grilled out, offered wine and beer, and their kids kept our kids running and laughing the whole time. They even let off some awesome fireworks in their backyard. We’re so glad we were able to see them, and thankful they put up with our crazy crew in the middle of the work week!

We made our last overnight stop in Gainesville, FL. We used Marriott points to stay at a Springhill Suites which had plenty of space for the five of us and an outdoor pool. The next morning we stopped at Depot Park, a great playground and splash pad about ten minutes away in hopes of wearing the kids out before the final stretch of driving to Anna Maria Island.


Success!

And then finally, at last, we made it to the Island! I didn’t take nearly enough pictures of our vacation. We stayed in the same rental house that we used two years ago. The pool and proxmity to the beach, as well as the five bedrooms and one floor layout make it perfect for our family. My parents, brother and sister were with us and we had such a wonderful time. They took Abby and William to the Magic Kingdom for a day while JR and I stayed back with Jake. The kids were in heaven!

 

At the end of the week, JR made a treasure hunt for the kids, with a map and some clues along the way. Abby was over the moon. The hunt ended on the beach where she and William dug up buried “pirate treasure” (aka, way too much money on silly junk toys!). It was sweet though.

The end of a vacation is never fun, but it was particularly nice that we did not have to drive back to Ohio with the kids. My parents and brother VERY GENEROUSLY offered to fly all 3 kids back with them to Ohio. They had Jake on his very first flights! Brave souls.  As we dropped them off and hurried back to our car before they changed their minds, all I could think was “May the odds be ever in your favor!”

 

 

 

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.

abby plane 1 abby plane 2

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.

bedhead

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.

champs

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!

Party in the USA

Somehow, it’s been a month since Abby was born.  Here are a few highlights of the last 4 weeks!

– We were surprised on our second day in the hospital when a photographer came in for an impromptu photo shoot.  Abby was barely 48 hours old, so we had low expectations for the pictures.  The photographer did a really good job of soothing her and trying some different poses, but when she showed us her price brochure, we knew we weren’t interested, especially because we had a scheduled appointment with a local photographer a few weeks later.   She came back to our room a few hours later to show us a slideshow she’d created with the photos.   Next thing you know, we are all in tears (me, JR, and my sister who was visiting), and I told JR we just HAD TO HAVE the $160 package.  Even more surprising is that he agreed without another word – that should tell you what a smooth operation this lady was running (and how sleep deprived we were)!   Some of our favorites:

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And the picture that makes my heart explode:

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– Our girl would prefer to sleep the day away, so in an effort to keep her awake more, I’ve started singing to her.  It’s quite unfortunate for her because I can’t sing on key to save my life. (You would be surprised to learn that I was part of a group that won FIRST place in our junior high talent show, performing as back up singer for our good friend K.  The song was “Nobody Knows it But Me”, which over the years my family has changed to “Nobody Knows How to Sing.”  My part was tragic.)  Anyway, I wanted to sing songs to Abby and I was racking my brain, the only thing I could come up with was “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”   Drawing a complete blank on other kid songs, I started singing Kesha and Miley Cyrus to her, much to JR’s dismay.  But when I sang “Party in the USA” complete with moving her around – you know, nodding her head like yeah, moving her hips like yeah – I’m telling you the child was loving it.  It was a sweet bonding experience.

– We’ve had so many visitors the first several weeks, and it’s been fun introducing Abby to our friends and family.  It was especially nice to welcome our friends Shawn and Amanda, and their little guy Logan.  Shawn is one of our dearest friends from law school (he was the bell ringer at our wedding, a very important job!) and he always dreamed of visiting Orrville.  Abby was glad to give him a reason to finally make the trip!

shawn orrville

– JR had to leave on Sunday for two weeks of training in DC.  I’ve been solo parenting (and I use that word VERY loosely, considering my grandparents are upstairs and my mom is always nearby to help) for barely 3 days now and holy cow.  We had our biggest diaper blow out to date, I failed to properly pack my diaper bag twice, and I’m convinced the baby hates me.  Maybe things will get better? (Since writing that sentence, the diaper situation has continued to decline.  Yesterday while changing her, she managed to put her foot in her dirty diaper, and then she deliberately kicked me with said foot, and made a huge mess.  Abby 10, Jenni 0.)  We’re headed to DC for the weekend to visit JR and I can’t wait!

abby one monthabby pink outfit