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.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

How United Airlines Made Me Cry...Again

Consider this an unwelcome "Part 2" in the Series.  I can only hope there won't be a Part 3 ever.  And warning...this is a long one.

We've been back in Cairo now for two weeks, and I've still been seething over the treatment we received from UNITED AIRLINES.  NOT ONCE (delayed and cancelled flights), NOT TWICE (lies about when our lost luggage was sent to us --- gone for a week!), BUT THREE TIMES (you'll read about this one soon enough...).

Remember our travel saga from the beginning of our R&R?  If you missed it, click RIGHT HERE, and you too can relive our first United Airlines nightmare.

In summary, on R&R from Cairo, we decided to take the kidlets to Orlando.  We cost-constructed our travel as follows: Cairo --> Orlando ---> Pittsburgh (we're from NE Ohio) --->Cairo.

Our first leg was a UNITED AIRLINES codeshare with Lufthansa (4AM flight out of Cairo) which was cancelled 2 hours before takeoff.  Not cool.  Rebooked on another airline, we made it to Orlando eons later than initially planned.  Our checked baggage and stroller didn't arrive with us, but US Airways (which I now have a lot of love in my heart for) gave us a rental stroller, toiletries, and information about how to submit claims for expenses due to delayed baggage.  Our baggage arrived to our rented condo 48 hours later, our stroller 72 hours later, and US Airways kept in contact with us daily with updates until it all arrived.  In fact, US Airways is so awesome, that they have already sent us a check for the costs incurred due to our delayed luggage.  If only we could have flown on US Airways for all our flights!

Fast forward one week.  Our flights were booked Orlando to Dulles to Pittsburgh. To make a very long and painful story short(ish), United delayed our first flight by so much that nearly missed the flight in Dulles.  But the flight in Dulles to Pittsburgh was cancelled, so it ultimately didn't matter.  UNITED AIRLINES offered us this:  rebook 48 HOURS LATER (as in 11:00PM on a Saturday night) and a 10% coupon to an airport-adjacent hotel.  Wow. Just. Wow. 48 HOURS.  A worthless 10% off the hotel rack rates.  No way to get home.

So we decided to grab our luggage and rent a car and drive to Ohio.  But if you remember, they sent one of our bags RICHMOND, VIRGINIA.  Why? They had no idea and told us so.  I went to Colorado (for the military for my annual training) two days later with not a stitch of personal clothing.  I can only say, thank goodness they didn't send my military gear to Richmond.

Honestly, I kinda sorta thought that when we came to the end of our R&R, the Universe (or at least UNITED AIRLINES) owed us one.

When the fab hubby's parents dropped us off at the airport in Pittsburgh, I was ready.  I'd already checked the flight status --- On Time!  *Happy Dance* Toddler strapped in Britax on rolling cart? CHECK! Big kids loaded up with electronic goodies and sugary snacks? CHECK!  We were headed to Cairo.

But, of course, disaster, also know as UNITED AIRLINES, strikes.  When the fab hubby tried to check us in at the counter, we were in for a shock.  They had no record of our itinerary.  NO FREAKING WAY.  We pulled out our travel info and the ticket dude frantically looked for something in the computer, anything, about us.  He said "Were you on a flight from Dulles to Pittsburgh three weeks ago that we cancelled and tried to rebook you two days later?"  DUDE.  WERE WE EVER. "Ummm...someone deleted your tickets to Cairo."

This was where I became a wee bit psychotic.  I stepped up to the counter.  "Listen. We had tickets to go to Cairo today.  I don't care what YOU have to do to get us home.  But you're going to get us home and I don't care how.  I don't care if you have to fly us from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles to China to CAIRO, but you are getting us home and it's not gonna be next week.  It's going to be today."  The poor kid.  He was actually nice and trying his hardest, but he was obviously frightened of me.  I had *that look*.  Plus, my left eyeball was twitching uncontrollably.

*typing*typing*typing*typing*franticphonecall*typing*franticphonecall* -- that was the United guy trying to help us out.

Ultimately, he wasn't able to get us out of the airport that day.  Instead, he booked us on nearly identical flights (Pittsburgh-->Dulles-->Frankfurt-->Cairo), but with a 9 hour layover in Dulles (shoot me).  I was waiting for an offer of help from United (one would think they would put us up in a posh hotel for this error), but no.  No offer, no assistance.  How very UNITED AIRLINES of them.

We called the fab hubby's super fab parents and they came and picked us up.  I felt pretty bad, because we'd already said our goodbyes. What an emotional roller coaster.

Plus, I was already mentally checked-out.  I was ready for home.  Our own beds, our own stuff, our car, our dogs, our jobs.  Our life.  It's in Cairo.  Hmmm...considering how I was feeling about Cairo just three months ago, maybe I should thank UNITED AIRLINES for helping me to see just how much Cairo had become home.  I didn't realize how much I loved it until I couldn't get to it.  So I guess in this muddle, there was a little silver lining.  But I think I would have preferred to have found out a different way.

In any case, we returned back to Ohio, did our best to enjoy the day and then readied for a different day of travel.  We arrived back at the airport bright and early the next morning.  As we checked in at the counter, we were told to "hold on, we might be rebooking you on different flights."  I looked at the fab hubby.  I quietly said "I can't take it.  If anything happens today, I'm just warning you, I'm gonna lose it."  And I stepped away.  The ticket counter girl retuned after a long phone call and said we were remaining on the booked flights.  She handed us our boarding passes - we noted that none of the seats on the Frankfurt to Cairo flight were seated together.  Not even close.  But we decided that we'd deal with that issue once we got to Frankfurt.  We found our terminal.  Sat down.  And waited and waited.  And waited.

DELAYED flight.  ARG!!  Of course.  An hour late, but still with the layover scheduled in Dulles, we had time.  The fab hubby took the kids for a walk; I sunk into the chair to play some Words With Friends.  And then it happened.  An announcement.  "Attention United Flyers.  Flight XXX to Dulles has been cancelled.  Please step up to the customer service counter in a single line.  Thank you."

That was it. I was done.  I grabbed all of our stuff (because the fab hubby was walking the kids) and hauled myself over to the line as fast as possible. I know the game - you gotta get in line up front or you'll be waiting for hours.  I could feel it.  The pin pricks behind my eyes.  The tingle.  Blink blink blink.  Don't let it happen.  Don't be that girl.  Don't.Cry.

The fab hubby and the kids were walking back - I saw them in the distance.  Jason mouthed to me "What's Wrong?" And like that, I was full-on insane.  My voice boomed across the terminal, "THEY CANCELLED THE FLIGHT".  It came out of my mouth in a deep, throaty, demon-like pitch.  I had no idea my voice could even sound like that.  Everyone around me moved about 10 feet away.  You could hear a pin drop.

My uncontrollable left eye twitch was back and with a vengeance.  Jason came up and calmly looked at me.  "I'll take your place in line.  Go with the kids."  I nodded.  I would not cry I would not cry I would not cry.

About 45 minutes went by and the fab hubby was back.  We were to be put on a flight to Newark and then to Frankfurt and then Cairo.  Two issues though:  1)the flight to Newark had the potential to be cancelled (it was currently delayed) and 2) we were on standby.  I wish I could say I was an awesome wife and I hugged him and told him he was so awesome getting us a new flight, even though it had issues.  Nope.  Instead I directed all my raging psychopathic anger on him.  I coolly looked at him (with my twitching eyeball) and said "and you left the counter?!!??  I wouldn't have left the counter.  You idiot.  You just got screwed.  Because either they are going to cancel that flight or we just won't get seats."  Damn.  I hate myself.  (Just now, typing out what I said is painful.  I now realize I was full-on crazy and I can't believe I treated him like that.)  But the fab hubby?  He went on being extra fabulous, sat down and started reading.  He refused to fight with me about it.  He took the high road, and with grace.  *More pin pricks at my eyes.* I could feel the tears coming.  I took a walk through the terminal and managed to brush them away.

I just wanted to go home.

An hour later, a miracle occurred.  The flight to Newark wasn't cancelled (they brought in a different plane, since the originally scheduled one was having 'technical difficulties' and was unflyable.  BTW - that's why the flight to Dulles was cancelled.  The plane didn't pass the pre-flight checks.)

And then about fifteen minutes later, another miracle occurred.  A really nice, really helpful UNITED AIRLINES employee brought us boarding passes to the Newark flight.  Three tickets for first class and two tickets for the row just behind first class.  Bona fide tickets.  I nearly cried, but out of happiness.  Of course, since I was so awful to the hubby, I desperately made sure he (and the big kids) sat first class; the toddler and I took the seats behind.

But then.  I looked out the window.  I saw our checked bags and the stroller on the tarmac from our originally planned Dulles flight. I knew immediately that we would get to Cairo but that it was incredibly questionable as to whether or not our bags (and the beloved stroller) would get there.  I asked the person who had helped us with the tickets and she said they were keeping them there to board them onto the Newark flight with us.  I didn't want to push the issue.  Gawd.  She could take our tickets away. (Really.  UNITED AIRLINES had already proven how easy it is to delete tickets.)

We subsequently made it to Newark and then Frankfurt.  In Frankfurt, my husband checked at the counter about our flight.  Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that when we were in Pittsburgh, UNITED AIRLINES had been unable to print one of the boarding passes for our Frankfurt to Cairo flight for Jason.  They told us it was because they had booked him first class and that they couldn't print first class boarding passes out.  When he checked in at Lufthansa, they told him that UNITED AIRLINES couldn't even issues first class tickets out!  And because of this, he, along with two of the kids' tickets had been cancelled (no idea why two of the kids' tickets were cancelled, but they were).  ARRG!!!  Lufthansa was able to fix the errors and issued us all boarding passes - and in roughly (and I really do mean just roughly) the same area of the plane.  *sigh of relief*

We found our terminal and sat down to relax.  While waiting, we saw three people from Cairo we knew!  Ah, the small world of the Foreign Service. I love it.  We were going home!

The flight home from Frankfurt was pretty uneventful.  Three of us were seated beside each other (and only because someone was kind and switched seats with Abby).  Owen was seated in the middle of a row behind me (with a very kind women who was happy to talk with him during most of the flight).  The fab hubby had a seat right behind Owen.  Truly, we were just happy to have seats.

Next thing I knew, we were in Cairo.  As I watched the conveyor belt spit out only one of our checked bags, I was pretty resigned.  We filed for the two lost bags and the stroller.  Inshallah, they would show up in a few days.

(And miracles of miracles, they did.)

Home. Home. Home. Home. Home.  We were home.

So, recap.  In a nutshell.  Our R&R travel nightmare. UNITED AIRLINES and our codeshare flights:
*Originally seven booked flights
*FIVE delayed/cancelled flights
*An attempt by UNITED AIRLINES to rebook us 48 HOURS later on a crappy late-night flight
*No help for hotel or rental car
*Luggage lost three times (only two related to UNITED AIRLINES), Stroller lost twice (only once related to UNITED AIRLINES)
*An ENTIRE DAY lost because UNITED AIRLINES deleted our tickets
*No offer of hotel even though it was UNITED AIRLINES that deleted our tickets
*Two flights affected by faulty planes (but thank you, UNITED AIRLINES, for not flying them.)

The flight from Pittsburgh to Newark.  Happy Bubs.
He's actually become a super traveller.

Love this.  Abby snuggled up to me on the flight to
Frankfort as best she could.

Exhausted.  Flight to Frankfort.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Coming to an End

Our month-long R&R is coming to an end here in the U.S.  Lots of emotions about that, and I'm not sure I'm ready just yet to pour those emotions out into words.

For now, I'll leave it at this:  It's been awesome.

We're leaving to head back to Cairo in two short days. On Monday we'll embark on yet THREE more UNITED AIRLINES flights.  Painful.

But we did get our luggage back from them, all of it.  And again, thank you kind stranger in London for finding and returning Abby's beloved iPad.  It means the world to her.

Enjoy these pics.  They are from our trip to Melbourne Beach, Florida.  We spent a week in Florida this trip, taking the kids to Disney and LegoLand.  But of course, we had to visit the beach!  We spent the afternoon frolicking and watching storms roll by.  It was beautiful.

My favorite shot.  Note the storm rolling by.

Abby has always loved the ocean.


Waiting for that perfect wave.
Kellen's middle name is Murphy.  It means "sea-warrior."  Fitting.

Friday, August 3, 2012

More Happy Stuff and Pictures from Disney!

It was three weeks ago, when we embarked on our first family R&R from Egypt.  Ah, memories...running, literally, through Heathrow Airport to catch a plan to Philadelphia (and ultimately, Orlando)...only to discover when we were in the depths of security, far beyond the terminal in which we had arrived, that Abby had left her beloved iPad on the plane.  At that moment we had to choose between the iPad and America.  We chose America.

Abby with her iPad - she got it
for her 7th birthday in March.
Poor Abby.  She was heartbroken.  But she took the news like a champ, fessed up to forgetting it in the seat pocket in front of her on the plane.  She didn't cry.  She hardly even sniffled.  I promised her that I would check with the airport and see if anyone had found it and turned it in.  But, honestly, I thought I was just appeasing her.  I never thought she'd see that iPad again.

We got to Orlando and I checked online with the airport.  You'd be shocked to learn how many very expensive (yet critical to family travel missions) electronic devices are found in the airport.  The airport listed no fewer than ten iPads found and turned it.  Could one of those be ours?

Thank you, Apple.  For keeping awesome records of my purchases.  I found the serial code in my Apple account and sent as much info about the iPad as I could.   Serial number.   "Leather-like blue cover."  "Mostly kid games/aps."  "Pictures of her with her baby brother - blond hair, blue eyes, and videos of giggling and silliness."  

Please.  Oh, please oh please oh please.  Let someone have turned it in.  Let someone have taken the time to open it and realize that it belongs to a kid.  Because my baby is really heartbroken.  She FaceTimes with her friends and family with it.  She reads books on it.  She emails me the sweetest emails.  Please oh please oh please.

Three days later.  I got an email from Heathrow!  It was found!  Thank you, dear stranger, for taking the time to turn it in!!!

I filled out info to have it shipped and paid the shipping fees.

When I left for Colorado, it wasn't delivered yet.  I panicked, because recently the US Post Office has changed it's shipping policy on electronics. Now, items with lithium batteries can no longer be shipped to an APO.  If the iPad didn't arrive to my fab in-laws house before we left for Egypt, Abby wouldn't see that iPad for about a year!  

No worries though! Because today when I got home from work, I had this sweet email in my inbox waiting for me from my little Abby:

On Aug 2, 2012, at 5:28 PM, Abz wrote:

I miss you
Sent from my iPad

*My Heart Melts*  Thank you, DHL; Thank you, Apple; Thank you, Heathrow Airport; and especially...Thank you, Kind Stranger.

And now some more R&R pics.  This time from our trip to Disney's Animal Kingdom.  Our favorite Disney Park!

The whole family!

Abby bought this bear with her own money!

Learning about fossils.  (Owen had all the answers!)

He's always been an amazing climber.

Bubs trying his hardest to climb!  I remember about 7 years ago we took
a trip to Disney, and Owen was this age doing the same thing.
This photo really brings back memories.

Explorer Bubs.

Kellen is a little angry here - he wants to keep climbing!

My favorite picture of the day.

Kellen rockin' a Beatles shirt.

Abby's favorite - the elephants (look really closely at the background).

Watching for lions.

Love her toothless grin.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Happy Stuff and Pictures From Legoland!

R&R is awesome.

First of all, there is a Starbucks practically everywhere I go.  REALLY.  Every.Where.  I'm sure in my pre-Cairo days, I knew this.  But somehow, over the past year, I forgot.  I keep worrying, actually panicking!, when I see one that it will be the last Starbucks for hundreds, if not thousands, of miles.  And so, I go to nearly every Starbucks I see.  I'm not gonna lie.  It's completely, totally, undeniably awesome.
Enjoying a cake pop from

Second, UNITED AIRLINES returned our bag! One week, countless phone calls, and one final demanding call from me saying "GIVE ME YOUR SUPERVISOR" resulted in a FedExed bag to Ohio. Sure, I've been working for the Army these past two weeks in Colorado and haven't seen my clothes yet, but the fab hubby back in Ohio assures me that all is there.  And, UNITED AIRLINES did give me a nice clothing allowance to compensate me for having no clothes while I'm in Colorado.  I think maybe they were just worried that I was going to show up on YouTube butt-nekkid singing something like "UNITED AIRLINES took my underwear and won't give it back."

Stop taking this for granted!
Third.  And dude.  THIS IS AWESOME.  Taco Bell makes tacos with shells made out of Doritos.  Yes, this bloggy entry is full of italics AND CAPITALS.  I say again, TACOS WITH SHELLS MADE OUT OF DORITOS.  My fellow Americans!  Stop taking this awesomeness for granted!! Go out and get a taco! And a latte!

And so, what you've been waiting for.  Lots of photos from our family R&R.  Tonight, I bring you pics from our Legoland Florida days.  If you have kids like ours who absolutely looooove Legos, then you need to go there.  Lots more photos from R&R to follow throughout the next few weeks!

That's right!  WELCOME!

If only I could get Owen to smile!  So hard being a 'tween'.

His first merry-go-round ride!

One of my favs.  All three getting along.

Little Bubs tried to run away.  Luckily, he's got a super fast big bro!

While the big kids and the fab hubby were on a rollar coaster, I took
Kellen to the kiddie area.  He had a blast!

Just before the ride.  I think Owen might be nervous.
Abby practiced her fly arms.

But they ended up loving it!

And finally!  When he's not looking at me...
I caught him smiling!

Fake Egypt. Fake Donkey.  Amused.

More fake Egypt!

Lego kid in-training.

Sassy Latte.
Even Lego Darth Vader needs a Latte every now and then.

Legoland has a water park!  This is the only pic we got,
since we were all busy swimming!
Cooling down with popsicles!