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 journey. We've survived two unaccompanied tour (Baghdad 2010-2011 and Baghdad again in 2015-2016), multiple TDYs, and enjoyed a two-year family assignment in Cairo, Egypt. The fab hubby is currently learning Turkish for our next assignment...Istanbul, Turkey! We leave for Turkey sometime in summer 2017. 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, yoga, running, living on too-little sleep, and an addiction to coffee lattes. I hope you'll enjoy this glimpse into our lives.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

[Somehow] It Ended Up Exactly As Planned

Spending a stress-free moment with the little man.
After a bit of a snag, and a whole lot of worry, our passports and visas arrived via FedEx today.  No fanfare; no cheering.  In fact the FedEx dude casually dropped the package on our front porch without even a knock on our door.  Which, in hindsight, was probably a good move on his part - had he knocked, I likely would have opened the door, burst into tears and covered him with sloppy kisses while chanting "thank you thank you thank you!"

Turns out that it's not uncommon for visa stamps to hiccup along the way to their final destination (that would be to our passports and then to us).  But without that stamp, we couldn't have entered Egypt legally.  I spent a few afternoons last week calling special issuance and asking them eagerly if they'd heard from the Egyptian Embassy about our visas.  Much to their credit, they were incredibly patient with me, explaining the process and letting me know that sometimes it takes a bit longer than usual.  I panicked and emailed some spousey DS friends, who confirmed all of what special issuance told me.  

But me and my type-A-psychotic-need to have it all done exactly the way we planned got the better of me. If the visas didn't process in time, we'd have to change our travel dates. 

CHANGE OUR TRAVEL DATES? It screamed over and over in my head.  

How can that be? We have to leave on the day already set - we have someone moving into our house literally the day we are scheduled to fly out.  And packout is just two days before we fly-out.  Everything needs to occur precisely along the timeline we've established.

UNACCEPTABLE! It screamed over and over in my head. And over and over and over.

I was sick, nauseous, couldn't sleep.  I felt as though we had lost control over everything we had worked so hard to get in order.  It's hard planning this so far away from Main State - we haven't done it before, and everything is new to us and takes probably three times as long to figure out.  (Maybe we'll look back at this on our next move and laugh?!).  Where would we go for that time while we waited - a hotel?  But we wouldn't have a car?  We'd need a rental.  But I'm supposed to start work the 11th in Cairo; I'd already put in my notice at work in Ohio.  How would we get the kids to school here in Ohio if we weren't in the district (because of the hotel)? When would we find out when we actually could fly out? How would I get the dog's international travel papers re-vouchered since it has to be 14-days or less before flying, if we only had a few days notice?!  This is only a small sampling of the questions reeling through my mind.

Somehow I'd forgotten that things have a way of falling together.  Everyone told me to relax, that most likely they'd arrive in time for our set plans, and if not we'd figure everything out.  It always works out that way in the end.  But I couldn't accept it.  I couldn't let it go.  The feeling of losing of control over everything suddenly was overwhelming, suffocating.

I wish I could say I did just got over it and accepted things the way I should; that I found I could let go and not be so perfectly in control over every detail to the way I envisioned it.  But I'll never know if that is ultimately how I'd respond (although I truly hope it would be).  Because we got an email yesterday about the visas stamps being en route to our home via FedEx.  Which arrived so very quietly today.

*Happy Dance* 

Now our plans continue along the path we set, and things seem to be coming together the way we planned.  I know that I need to figure out a way to deal with things like this because honestly, these are the kind of things that are likely to happen multiple times over the span of our FS moves and the hubby's career.  Maybe next round of visas and packout planning...I'll learn to let things just...be.

But I'm going to have to save that for next round.  

Having been able to [finally] relax, I asked the fabulous hubby to take the kids and me to the lake today for a nice afternoon in the sun.  He was just glad to have me NOT asking questions about our upcoming move and enjoying something other that the arrival of our passports with visa stamps.  I was, too.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Back to the Crazy

Ridiculously comfy robe and slippers.
It's been something like seven years since Jason and I had a couples-only vacation.  No kids, no kids, and uh...no kids!  We spent four glorious days in Old Town Alexandria, VA.  Leisurely lunches and dinners everyday at beautiful restaurants. Thai food, sushi, seafood, yum! Starbucks galore.  Running along the Potomac.

A romantic river cruise.  Catching up with FS/DS friends. Raiding the mini-fridge at our hotel. Wearing the ridiculous, yet oh-so-comfy hotel-provided zebra robe while watching overpriced pay-per-view movies.  Sleeping in late.  And more Starbucks.  In fact, Starbuck went with us on vacation.  Sweet little pup enjoyed the kid-free time, too.

Such a difficult choice.
But like all good things, it had to come to   an end.  And with the end of our vacation was the return of the "crazy." Oh, back to reality we go.  Back to the prep for our Cairo move.  Which is only 2 weeks away.  Back to UAB, HHE, and OMG (yeah, that one NEVER gets old, right?).  Back to being consumed by non-consumables (Oh, yes, I DID go there! I got more jokes where this came from, folks.  Lots more.)

[Side note: I guess we're actually really lucky not to be consumed by consumables like my friend at A Daring Adventure.  I'm pleased not to drop $3K into toilet paper and Downey fabric softener.  My stock-up for our non-consumables assignment Cairo includes my favorite store brand diapers for Kellen, a few good Yankee Candles, and Luna Bars.  I know where my priorities are. Thankfully, not in t.p.!]

A VERY difficult choice!
Back from VA and getting ready for the dreaded packout.  We've done it twice before. But not for an international move.  So I'm a wee bit stressed, I'll admit it.  Thankfully, the stars have aligned just right and granted us a freebie:  Kids are going to be in school here in OH next week starting Wednesday and we don't packout for another week and a half after that, so....I can organize without the big kidlets vulturing all over me. Sure, the baby will be around, but honestly, by the time you get to the third munchkin you start to realize that life was truly easier with just one hanging on to you.  I can go through the big kids' stuff and *cough cough* "ORGANIZE" (translation...throw some of their excess stuff OUT or send to a donation center).  I can pack suitcases for us to live out of for 5-6 weeks.  I can FINALLY decide what needs to be air shipped with our UAB.  Let's see...#1: Espresso Machine.  #2: Uhhh....Everything else, I can figure out later.

So long vacation, you were super awesome.  Hello [dreaded] packout! But soon, yes VERY soon. We'll be in Cairo.

I promise, PROMISE! To take some pictures of our "organized" piles of stuff as we get closer to PDay (That's Packout Day, Peeps!). I KNOW you're dying to see the crazy.  But until then, enjoy the non-crazy...

On our Potomac River Cruise.  Awesome.

Happy to be back to this...
...and this...
...and of course, this.

Monday, August 15, 2011

So, if you need me...

Or rather, I should say "us". If you need "us" (and by "us", I mean me and the fabulous hubby), we won't be there. We left from Ohio yesterday and came out to Old Town Alexandria, Virginia for four days.

And by four days, I mean four fabulous child-free days. No drool, no boogers, no 3am feedings. No boo-boo's, no throw-up, no crying, no screaming, no door slamming, no chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese dinners.

We choose restaurants based on the total number of children seated in the restaurant. If there are more than two, we move on. Unless there is only one and that child is screaming and crying, then we still move along.

Starbucks is a double stop everyday. Unless we feel a third is needed.

So far, we've gone shopping and haven't bought a single item that a child could love [Yet! We'll be Lego and Bitty Baby shopping tomorrow, of course!] I have, however, treated myself to three new pairs of shoes.

We had dinner with my husband's brother and his wife today. First time we've been out to see them without kids in, like, eight years. In fact, the last time I saw my sister-in-law, we had to go dumpster-diving in McDonald's with the kids for her glasses. Not cool.

Hotel is posh, the pup has traveled with us, and Jason and I are enjoying some much-needed couple time. I'm doing a long run tomorrow AM; later this week, I'm catching up with some DS spouses; plus, weather-permitting, Jason and I kayak the Potomac. And will have no fears of any of our darling munchkins falling into the river. Perfect.

[but...you know...we miss them, anyway.]

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Belonging and Belongings

Community kids' pool in our small town's park.
Our small town, Ohio. While I may no longer feel as though I belong here, I certainly still feel like there are things here that belong to me.  Perhaps it's too early to be saying goodbye to those things, and taking the requisite trips down memory lanes.  But this is likely the last time we'll actually live in this house, despite still owning it long after we've moved to Cairo and then on to our next assignment.  It will be ours on paper alone, our  tax 'home of residence' but unlikely to be our residence ever again.  We're lucky to have friends we trust to care for it and live in it while we head off overseas.

Nearly thirteen years; that's how long we've owned our small 1920's white stucco house. Jason and I were married in 1999 and bought this sweet little home the month after we got married.  We had no business buying a house, but we wanted to put down roots right away and make a life together.  We used every dollar we had in our bank account (most of it received as gifts from our wedding) for the small FHA down payment.  I remember sitting down to sign the papers with the cash in my purse; the closer told us how much we owed and it was just $100 less than what we had.  We frivolously spent the rest on a celebratory dinner, and then drove to our new home, keys in hand, and jumped up and down on the 'FOR SALE' sign.

All of our children have been born here.  I remember being pregnant with Owen - was that really nine years ago? - and Jason worked hard all one day to surprise me with a newly painted nursery.  Why I chose bright lime green is beyond me.  But it was beautiful at the time to me and the gesture was very sweet.  He and I were both working long hours at our jobs, and had little time together since we worked opposite shifts.  Later when I was pregnant with Abby, Jason and I decorated her room in flower fairies.  I remember staying up late one night with him laughing/crying/laughing over an Ikea crib that we struggled to put together, despite the 'easy-to-read' picture directions.  And then Kellen.  This little guy hasn't had a room to himself yet; just a sweet little crib in the room with me.  With Jason gone this past year in Baghdad, it was so good having the little babe in the room with me for late night feedings and cuddles.

Thirteen years, minus the one year we were in Los Angeles.  But we knew we would be returning here; we knew Jason would be going to Baghdad and the kids and I would be heading back to Ohio almost as soon as we arrived in Los Angeles.  This time, the move will be different.  We won't be back.  It's hard realizing that home will no longer be home.  What will be "home" after all our next posts?

We spent yesterday at the pool.  Our small little town has a kid's pool at the park.  High school seniors run the park in the summer and lifeguard at the pool and run kids activities in the community center.  Abby and Owen are practically fixtures at the park, arriving as soon as they fill the pool and staying until nearly sundown.  I ran out and picked up some dogs at our favorite local 'Hot Dog Shoppe' and we had a picnic in the park.  Then a couple of games of tag in the pool.  Kellen enjoyed the pool, splashing and grabbing at the pool toys. The kids are just so glad to have Daddy home.

Jason and I returned back to the house and Kellen took a nap.  I laced up my sneakers and went for a run.  I saw Abby as she was still playing in the park; she waved and blew me kisses as I passed by.  I turned left at the same road I always turn on and I snaked my way through the residential area and then to a busier street, past the pizza shop and past the Dairy Queen.  How many times have we ordered pizza from there?  How many times have the kids and I walked to the Dairy Queen for a treat?  I continued my run up the hill, past the gas station I always fill-up at.  Further up the hill to where the trees thin out and the sun beats down hotter.  It was humid and buggy and I was suddenly reminded of the weather patterns I'm not so fond of here in Ohio.  But I run in it anyway.  Along the top of the hill, past the water tower, and the kids' school.  Where Owen and Abby both started Kindergarten, but where Kellen will never attend.  Where I volunteered with the PTO and worked book fairs and led a couple of craft classes for the kids, despite my lack of craftiness.

I made the turn to head back down the hill and eventually past the park again.  Abby was back in the pool, and she stood and waved and blew me kisses so frenetically that you'd think she hadn't seen me in years.  I ran past our neighbors' houses; Abby's BFF who lives across the street; Owen's friend who lives down the hill; the neighbors on either side of us who've lived here as long as us, and the neighbor and his wife across the street who have lived here for many many more years than us.  Owen ran out of the house and hopped on his bike to head off to see some friends.  Kellen awoke and he and Jason and I sat out on the front porch and enjoyed the smell of our neighbor's grill nearby.

Jason's been home from Baghdad now for two weeks; it honestly feels more like a vacation, not like reality.  He's home with the kids everyday and I pick up a few shifts at the ER here and there. But the wait to move to post and the chaos with organizing packout and passports and visas and the shopping trips to get the items we'll need next post so interrupts regular life - no, actually engulfs regular life! - and makes everything else feel surreal.  And reminds us that we just don't belong here anymore.

Owen is enjoying the summer but asked the me the other day if I think he'll make friends in Egypt.  "Of course, sweetheart, you make friends everywhere you go," I said.  And he does.  But I know he's a little nervous.  Abby is scared and excited all the same time, too, and worries she won't make friends as good as the ones she has here.  I know I'll miss my besties, too.  But I also know that I'll make some great friends everywhere we go.  Someone mentioned to me that with technology nowadays it's so much easier to keep in constant contact with friends now, and she's right.  That is a bit of a comfort, too.

Yesterday was a good day for me to say goodbye to those things here that I love.  Because it's the last time it's going to feel anything like "normal".  The next four weeks are going to be hectic; we're camping this coming week; next week Jason and I have a nice (no kids!) mini-vacation to D.C.; the week after the kids will start school (only two weeks here in the States) and we'll do packout; the week later will be the aftermath of packout and final goodbyes to our friends and family.  And then we fly out to Cairo.  Truth is...I'm very excited, but a little nervous, too.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Passports That Almost...Weren't

Four weeks.  That's the current countdown to Cairo.  And before 0900EST today we didn't have our required diplomatic passports for State-ordered travel. Well, the hubby did. But he's been doing this whole travel under orders things a whole lot longer.  But the rest of us - that's me and our three darling munchkins - only had regular travel passports.

Way back in April...that's when I first become cognizant that I needed to light a fire under my bum and get things in action.  The kiddos and I had neither regular nor dip passports.  Meaning the furthest we could travel would be California. Or Maine. Or Florida.  You get the picture.  After my small meltdown, I finally got all the stuff needed to get our passports.  In late May, Jason and I took the kids to the post office and officially applied for the needed NINE passports for our family (regular and dip).  But I only had official birth certificates to send for one or the other.  Regular passports are processed at a different facility from dip passports.  So the postal clerk chose to send our birth certs with the regular applications and not the dip applications.  Not what I would have chosen, but it was what it was...

Two weeks later, I got a call from Special Issuance - they couldn't process our dip passports without certified copies of birth certificates.  HOWEVER, since the regular passports were in process, they could in fact process them as soon as the regular passports processed.  A mere week later, I received all of our regular passports.  I was feeling all confident and secure that our dip passports would follow behind.  Nada followed.

Fast forward to July.  Jason was one week out from arriving back Baghdad.  It had been seven weeks since our original application for all passports.  I called Special Issuance.  Explained that we had received our regular passports and wanted to know where the dip passports were.  Oops.  They forgot to contact us and let us know that the copy of orders for Cairo they had on file were preliminary and not official.  Thankfully, I had the official in my email, so I forwarded them that day.  I even made a follow-up call to make sure the email arrived.  The person I spoke with told me "I don't see them here, but I'm sure someone else in the office has them. Thank you." Umm...

Jason arrived home two weeks ago and I'll admit passport stuff was pretty much all forgotten.  It's been so nice just being a family, that actually, almost all has been forgotten!  But here we are now a month out, and talking about our move.  Figuring what days to packout.  What to take.  Double checking with the kid's school in Cairo, getting the stuff we need.  New bedding.  A mattress pad/cover (Thanks Jen and Becky!).  Visa stamps to Cairo.


I speed-dialed Special Issuance.  No answer (well, it was 4:00pm on Monday).  Jason called them the next day.  It was lunch time.  He called again in the afternoon.  Voicemail only.  Wednesday came and I called the office first thing at 0830 (the magic day for getting things done in government, I swear!).  I got a live person.  Who pulled up our files and said there was a note that the supervisor had denied the passports.  But didn't say why.

WHAT!? WHAT!?! WHAT!!!!  But we need Visa Stamps and we can't get them put on something like a napkin you know! We must have those passports and we need them now - it take two weeks for Visa Stamps to process, and we only have four weeks until we move, and I need an extra week cushion for my own sanity and for the governmental hiccups!

She calmly told me I needed to send an email to the generic address that she recited over the phone.  That I needed to put all our names in the email with our DOBs and departure date.  REALLY!?  This is what you need?  Because it's all in the computer - with our applications and travel orders!  Still, I frantically typed out an email that went something like this...

Dear Person-Who-I-Hope-Can-Actually-Help-Me,
I'm freaking out because we leave for another country in one month. I don't know if we'll be able to actually enter said country because although I was told that dip passports process faster than travel passports, I have yet have to receive them.  It's been 2 months since we applied for these.  Here's the information you requested, even though you already have it in front of you.  If you'd like, I will happily send it in a follow-up email should this first one mysteriously end up in the wrong department.  Enjoy your lunch.  Please contact me for any other duplicate information you might need.  PS I need these within the week.  
Sincerely, Psychotic Heather

Ok, obviously, this isn't what I wrote. (I'm not usually anywhere near this sarcastic, but at the moment, that was all that went through my head!)  I actually wrote a nice, desperate email pleading our case, with the requested info.  And followed up the email with a call.  That got me a different person - and I wish I could remember her name - who was very helpful and after putting me on hold (instead of asking me to call back!) told me someone was working on our applications and should have it figured out by the end of the day. She asked that I please call in the AM for a follow-up.  YES!  Thank you! I *heart* you!

This morning, I got up and planned to make my 0830EST call.  But Jason stopped me.  Because in his hands...he had the passports.  Our super awesome Special Issuance contact had Overnight Shipped them through FedEx and they arrived today!

Looking back over the two months...where I went wrong (can't blame it all on the system, now can I?)...I should have made a note in my calendar and made phone calls in late June, not mid-July.  We would have had them much sooner.  But all's well that ends well.

Really, had we known about the process way back in the day, we would have applied through FSI (here's A Daring Adventure's take on it) when Jason was training in D.C.  But hindsight is always 20-20, right?  At least we got them.

Now we just need to get our Visa Stamps...

A family of passports.