Welcome to the Wandering Drays!

Not all who wander are lost...

Welcome to my blog dedicated to my family and our crazy foreign service life. Never content with staying in one place, we are excited to share our journeys. We've survived an unaccompanied tour (Baghdad.), multiple TDYs, and enjoyed a two-year family assignment in Cairo, Egypt. Most recently we've been assigned in the DC area, and now the fab hubby is serving another unaccompanied tour in Baghdad while the kiddos and I safehaven in NoVA. I write about what I know. Which is mainly kids, tween drama, gross pets, dealing with lots of government info, our moving adventures, being a nurse, running, living on too-little sleep, and an addiction to Starbucks lattes. I hope you'll enjoy this glimpse into our lives.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

For the Love of COFFEE! A Fully Portable Espresso and Coffee Bar for Our Home

A focal point for my love of coffee.

So, we're renters here in NoVA.  Which I love.  Because we've already done the whole "Ohhhh!  We need a house!" and we bought such a house -- in Ohio -- when we got married {16 years ago} and now we still own that house, but are currently renting it to friends.  It's our home of record, having established it so very long ago.

But anyway, when the fab hubby got assigned in DC two years ago, we had absolutely no interest (or the down payment for that matter) in buying a house.  So we rent.  And we got incredibly lucky -- wer're renting from some very, very awesome FS friends.  We never even had to navigate the "fun" of the rental market in DC/NoVA/MD.  Score!

One of the projects I've been dreaming of establishing in our home is an espresso/coffee bar.  But, because we rent and because we move so frequently {Please, PLEASE let the bidding gods be kind to us this summer!}, it needed to be, above all...portable.

Of course, the fab hubby in all of his fabulousness, knew that I'd been dreaming of such a project.  And for Mother's Day this year, I received this...
Shiny!  My newest hobby.

And well, that machine morphed into this gorgeousness in our kitchen.  100% portable and ready to go, anywhere in the world!  As if my espresso fixation wasn't enough before, I now have the machine and the space to tinker with the greatest, most delicious substance in the world.  Coffee.  And with the fab hubby gone in Iraq over the next year, it's so nice to have a new hobby I can obsess over...

Check out this gorgeousness!  A fully portable espresso/coffee bar.
With useful space underneath!

Homemade creamer!  Getting my domesticness on.

Hee Hee.  Truth.
And oh, my!  I made that delicious latte.

Another view.

And yeah.  Another view.

Well, the shirt says it all.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Admitting the Suckage of Another Unaccompanied Tour

Family selfie at Harpers Ferry, WV.
The fab hubby left for Iraq two weeks ago.  Yeah, I've been avoiding writing.  For MONTHS.  Because I just wasn't ready to put it into words.  Avoidance is a game I play all too often.

It's hard to identify that point when I mentally checked out from admitting it.  And it happened long before he even left for Baghdad.

"THIS TIME it will be different," I lied to myself, fulling knowing I was lying to myself.

"THIS TIME it will be easier," I lied to myself.  Because, you know.  We've done it before and we're used to it.

"THIS TIME I won't dwell on him leaving; I'll enjoy the time we have," I lied to myself.  Knowing that even though I would indeed enjoy the time together, I would still be fretting over his leaving.


Well.  This time sucks as much as the last time.  And it doesn't matter how much we do this, it never seems to get easier, no matter how familiar it is.

But I avoided it -- as evidenced by my clear lack of writing for the last five months.  I put on that smile; that brave face; I told myself I was too busy to write, too busy to admit that this sh*t is real. It's easier to avoid it than to confront it.  Because we DO know what we're doing, we DO know that we'll get through this, we DO know that our relationship and our family is stronger than the gaping physical distance between us.  We have friends and family who love us and support us.  I have a job that allows me to work AND be there for the kids.  Win. Win. Win.  Right?

Of course, the Fab Hubby knew I was all about not admitting anything sucks.  Hiding. Avoiding. Deflecting. Redirecting.  He tried to get me to talk about it; I discounted his concern.  All those generic phrases I use come back to me in short snippets.  "I'm fine."  "I'm not worried."  "This won't be so bad."  He knew I was lying to him and to myself.  But of course, in his fabulousness, he didn't push the issue.  Because he knew that at some point I'd be back at my desk writing it all out, realizing I had mentally checked out during those months leading up to his Baghdad date, and that I'd be peeved at myself for having so easily allowed myself to do so.

When he was asked to arrive to Baghdad a month earlier (May instead of June), we agreed -- better to get it going than to wait around for it.  I personally figured that's one less month of dread.  But suddenly, we had 5 weekends left, and so much to do.  A long weekend with friends, a couple days for us without kids, some family and friends visiting --- all of it needed to be done in so little time!  And of course, there's UAB packout and all the great goodness that goes along with that.  Thankfully, I wasn't directly involved with it, with the exception of "Honey! Do you know where my {insert obscure item name} is??!!" For the record, I NEVER know where those obscure items are.

Suddenly, I could really justify the "I'm too busy!" to blog about his prep for Iraq.  Or our awesome weekend to the mountains of Virginia with friends.  Heck, I'd already missed blogging about The Tween turning 12 and flying (Solo!) to Louisiana to see his bestie.  I'd neglected to write about Abby turing double digits in March!  With the accelerated leaving-for-Baghdad date, I could justify any "too busy" I needed to.  Which just allowed me to avoid avoid AVOID my feelings about the whole "WE'RE DOING ANOTHER UNACCOMPANIED ASSIGNMENT!"  Again.

So yeah.  Here I am.  Looking back on the last few months and hating myself for falling into that trap.

Things that suck about this separation?  Already truly knowing how difficult it is to be apart, but knowing that this chosen (and completely voluntary on our part!) assignment works best for our family for what we need right now.  We've moved every one to two years for the last six years.  This year that he's spending in Iraq allows the kids to complete a third year in a school without being moved.  This was (is!) really important to us.  And hopefully, this unaccompanied assignment will push the biding gods toward being kind to us {Because yo!  Bidding for summer 2016 is upon us very, very soon!}  It sucks that such an assignment is honestly the best choice for us for right now.

Other things that suck?  The guilt that goes along with my so easily being able to switch over to solo-parent-Heather mode.  We've done so much time apart (whether it be short TDYs or his previous one-year assignment in Baghdad in 2010 or my 6-months in California in 2013) that we know how to survive on our own.  And, guiltily, there are some things that I like about it.  I like having the king size bed all to myself and stealing the fab hubby's body pillow and his t-shirts when he's away.  There's way less laundry with one less adult.  His alarm doesn't wake me in the morning (nor does his hitting the snooze button for the next 20 minutes).  I can cook essentially the same four meals I like over and over and he won't be here to give me the stink eye, since he doesn't like repetitive meals.  Or leftovers.  Yeah.  Stupid stuff like this makes me feel horribly guilty.

Other things that suck?  The having to explain over and over and over again (with justification) about why the fab hubby is gone for a year.  And the pitied looks I get from people when I mention it.  Now, I know I don't have to justify our choices to others or even explain myself to them.  But, well, it just seems like it happens all the time.  I loathe it.

And of course, the big one.  HE'S IN BAGHDAD and I'm not with him.  It's tough on the kids and it's tough on me and yeah.  I know it's tough on him.

Deep.Breath.  I always feel better when I admit stuff like this.

But somehow I always end up in the trap of avoidance and fake tough faces.  I want others to see me as the strong, supportive wife (because I am) and I don't want my weaknesses to show.  I love our FS life in general, and I want to be positive about our experiences, even the difficult ones like this.  My husband loves his job, including assignments in Baghdad, and well, this is just part of the job -- and we knew it going into this lifestyle.

So here we are.  Only four years out from our last unaccompanied assignment (also Baghdad) and less than two years out from when I was on a nurse contract assignment in Los Angeles while the rest of my family was in Cairo.

I think maybe, one of the the hardest things for me is giving up the "normal".  The nice, awesome, regular family normalness we had for the past couple years here in NoVA.  It's been amazing and I am mourning the loss of normal.  Of laundry and snooze alarms and dinner time and switching off who-helps-with-homework night.  Of hanging out on the couch with the fab hubby after the kids have gone to bed to watch late-night TV and talk about our day.  It's the daily stuff -- the regular life stuff -- that I miss so desperately when it's gone.

It's going to be a long, tough year.  But I already knew it was going to be --- I just didn't want to admit it.

Some things I should have celebrated in writing long before I got to this point:

He's 12!! And eating mammoth-sized burritos.

She's 10!! Where did time go?  DOUBLE DIGITS!

My parents came to visit!

I took my dad sightseeing in style with our BFF coffees!

We took a long weekend with friends and their kiddos.
This is at Luray Caverns.  We then spent a long weekend in Massanutten!

Family photo-op! 

At Massanutten, VA.  His first time riding!
Abby!  With the Fab Hubby and Owen on horses in the background.

All three kiddos did the this course!

First time rock climbing!

That's Owen and Abz on the zip line.  Makes me want to barf.

This happened.  Some friends wanted to wish the Fab Hubby farewell.
We did so with Mexican food and this craziness. Oh, Yeah!

Hiking in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Just gorgeous.

The Tween putting on some parkour moves.

Ah.  Yankees.

More in Harpers Ferry, WV!

I dropped the fab hubby off at the airport for his flight to Baghdad.
And got us some sippy-face action on the way home.
Don't judge me.

This is actually a tough one.
Kellen has been drawing maps at school on "how to get to my Daddy".
(((my heart breaks))) 
Don't know what I'd do without this girlie.
I'm so lucky to have her as my friend AND I get to work with her!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Firing Up the Blog (Yup. I KNOW. It's Been a Ridiculously Long Time.)

16 Wonderful, Amazing Years.

The worst part about totally falling behind on blogging is that I start to lose perspective on where to start up again.  All I can think is:  "OMG!  I've got so much to write about.  Where do I begin?! How far back should I go?!"  Sometimes, I even start to wonder whether or not I should continue writing or if I should just take down the blog.

But no matter how I look at it, this blog is truly so much more than just the last five months of lost [well, fallen behind] writing.  And so even though I've been slacking, I love writing and keeping track of my family's crazy fun adventures.  When I'm old{er} and wise{r}, I'll be so glad that I DIDN'T take it down.

So I guess the best place to start is exactly where I am right now.

Wow. We adopted two kittens, Latte (L) and Chai (R).
So much can happen in just five short months!
This past week, the fab hubby and I celebrated our 16 YEAR ANNIVERSARY.  16 years.  That's a freaking long time, people!  I personally think we're a pretty awesome couple.  And this year, while we couldn't celebrate it with a nice little trip somewhere sans kids, we DID in fact celebrate it with carnitas tacos.  This is a big deal because honestly, the Mexican food in the NoVA area is generally disappointing.  We're picky, you know, having lived in the mecca of Mexican food.  [That would be SoCal, of course.]  And until recently, we'd found absolutely nothing that compares to the awesome food you find in SoCal.

Funny thing is, I never would have found this most amazing taco place if I hadn't started a new job in early December.  Yes, I know. I seem to change jobs frequently.  But when the opportunity to work with one of my bestest friends in the whole world presented itself, I absolutely couldn't turn it down.  Mel and I had worked together at the Embassy in Cairo (she's a kickass pediatrician) when both of our fab hubbies were posted there together.  When she and her hubby PCS'd [that's a Permanent Change of Station for you non-FS/non-military types] only one short year after our arrival, I was pretty heartbroken.  I looked back at that blog entry from April, 2012, forgetting that I had written this:

I think that at least for now, it's ok for me to mourn what I'm losing - my friend going to another post.  But I know I've made a life-long friend.  Who knows?  Maybe our husbands will get posted together someday?  Maybe it will even be in the U.S. where we can laugh and reminisce about all the crazy traffic in Cairo while we sip lattes in Starbucks.

That's me and Mel.  We're an awesome team.
And we love us some lattes!
Never would I have dreamt that this would be a reality so soon.  This past August, my awesome friend's hubby PCS'd to D.C., same as us!  They bought a house in NoVA (near where we live!) and she found a job quickly (like I said, she's a kickass pediatrician).  In November, her new office posted a position for a nurse.  Of course, I had to apply!  It was bittersweet leaving NIH - I had met so many amazing nurses and made lifelong friends.  And, I loved working with the children.  Honestly, those kids taught me so much about life and love and learning to live in the moment.  It was hard leaving, but this opportunity was simply one I couldn't turn down, especially since our lives are about to change crazily again next June.

It was recently bidding season for the fab hubby, and after much discussion [trust me; this is putting it mildly], he bid for an unaccompanied hardship assignment in Baghdad for summer 2015.  He was paneled for it and is set to PCS on June 1st, for one year.   During his tour in Baghdad, the kids and I will stay in Virginia.  Unfortunately, hospital shift work at NIH will simply not work for us once the fab hubby leaves for Baghdad.  I knew I'd have to leave next NIH next June, and I wasn't quite sure what I would do once he left -- work or stay home?  And so this new job with my awesome friend worked out for more reasons than just the greatness of working with her!  The pediatric office is in Arlington (closer to our home and the kids' school!), with 'normal' working hours (Monday - Friday!) that fit with our daycare for Kellen AND the kids' school.  No more weekends.  No more holidays.  And the chance for me to continue doing what I love --- being a nurse.  [Oh, and not to mention --- located right by the GREATEST TACO PLACE ON THE EAST COAST.]  Win. Win. WIN!

Other things that happened in the last five months?

We took a family road trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.  Except for the **bleeping** 16 hour drive it took us to get there (and the drive back, of course), we had a fabulous time.  Sunshine.  Mickey Mouse.  Lots and lots of money blown on absolutely nothing of importance, except that we had a great time just being the normal American family.  Sweetness.

The Toddler officially moved into kidhood, turning four in October.  ::sigh:: He's getting so big, so fast.

Officially FOUR.

Never, ever get between a boy and his birthday cupcake.

And as if I couldn't feel old enough by my youngest baby becoming a child, I turned 29 for the TENTH TIME in November.  And well, you should celebrate a decade of 29 in style.  So the fab hubby got some friends of ours from Cairo together and we all went to Old Town Alexandria for a lovely lunch.  And cake.

Celebrating a decade of 29!

Christmastime came around and we had to put the entire household into quarantine.  I had some sort of disgusting upper respiratory infection [Yo! When you think about the number of kids who cough in my face on a daily basis, it's actually a wonder I'm ever NOT sick.]  Owen, The Tween, was miserably sick with BOTH flu and strep throat.  Gross.  The bummer of it though (besides being grossly sick) was that we had to cancel all plans with our family from Ohio for the holiday weekend.

On the bright side, we absolutely got our money's worth out of Amazon Prime and Netflix over the five days we spent in quarantine.  Owen and I watched all of the Resident Evil movies in the comfort of jammies, on our couch eating a heckuva lot of tacos.  Don't judge us.

This is pretty much our Christmas card for 2014!

Thankfully, by the following week, we were well enough to leave our house on New Year's Eve.  We headed over to our friends' home and enjoyed a night of food, gossip, and music.  Of course, we're all old, and so we were out the door, headed home by 9PM, and I was zonked-out asleep by 10PM.  It was pretty awesome.

New Year's Eve with awesome friends!

So welcome, 2015!  2014 was a great year of 'normal' for our family!

Here's to an awesome year of lattes!!

 And now for the requisite Orlando vacation pictures!!

As normal as normal gets!