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.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Viva La Packout! FS Blog Round-Up Week-ending 7/29/11

UAB, HHE...OMG.  It's summer, and while for many in the FS, that means vacations and home leave, for others it means PACKOUT.  If you're like us, no matter how excited you are about the next post, you dread the deadly PACKOUT.  Because you know that despite the best of planning, many things will be lost, broken, eaten, forgotten.  You will ship the wrong things and store the items you need the most.   What you think should get there quickly (UAB) will end up being NOT AT ALL WHAT YOU NEED.  Four months later, the stuff you really wanted and needed...will end up arriving with your HHE.

Or how about the $$$ you unload out-of-pocket before packout getting all the stuff you need for your next post?  Target, Walmart, Sam's Club, Costco.  We've all been there and we've all spent Way. Too. Much.  And then thought of more of what we'd need after leaving the store.  Now, I'll admit - we're newbies to the overseas packout.  We have, however, made two domestic moves in 1 year, and it was...painful.  The first move, we got our orders a mere three days before the moving company arrived to pack our stuff from Ohio to Los Angeles.  I, personally, was PSYCHOTIC.  The fact that my husband still speaks to me to this day after the way I reacted to the first moving cluster circus really speaks of his awesomeness.

On arrival to L.A., our UAB arrived just a few days after us.  The moving company (only one guy) arrived with our TV (65 lbs) and our two boxes of clothing that we thought we'd need.  The clothing boxes were encased in a metal cage.  Not to mention the moving dude refused to haul the TV up the stairs to our second floor condo.  I told him I wouldn't sign for delivery until it was in my living room.  Needless to say, he figured out a way to get it up the stairs.  As for the boxes encaged in a weird metal-basket-weave thing (why I didn't take a photo, I'll never know), I used a crowbar to cut into the open spaces and dug our items out.  One by one.  Ah. Memories.  Thankfully, our move back to Ohio just one year later was uneventful and easy.  Although 1 1/2 years later we still have many things still in boxes.

So here we are.  Just 5 weeks out from our first overseas packout.  I thought this week, the theme for the FS blog round-up could be packout, since my mind is certainly on it, and so are so many other's...

The McDaniel Family is a good seven months from packout, but already losing sleep over it.  I feel your pain!  However, Juliana is much smarter than I - she's got her lists in an excel spreadsheet.

Nomadic Dan at 110to220 has a great archive of blogs, beginning from May when he arrived back in the States but his unaccompanied luggage did not.  My favorite?  The adventures of his car going mudding. But don't giggle too quickly, because here's what happens when things go wrong.  Thankfully, every State Department fairy tale has a happy ending, and shortly he will be reunited with his vehicle and scooter.

Rebecca at S as in Smylie pulled an archived feed for packout shopping/retail therapy support!

The Benily Family has had some difficulty in the past with their packout's transit when some much-loved items never arrived.  Sadly, later when they went to inspect some items in storage, they were moldy and ruined.

As for suggestions for packout success, the Kern Family provides visual aids! Lists! And tips!  I will be using their system for sure next month.

Becky at Small Bits pulled an archive for us, from recent organizing and downgrading and sorting in prep for their packout.  They're in transit from post to in-between-post to post.  I also love the ideas and suggestions she has for keeping kids busy with minimal stuff while waiting for transit!

Special thanks to Sadie for taking the time to put into words her emotional experiences with packout.  Her 1-year anniversary in Saudi Arabia is coming up very soon.  Sadly, her very sweet pooch, Hattie, passed away this time last year.  Here is her touching tribute to her wonderful pet.

What about pack-in?  Hello Talaly has received their UAB!  Merry Christmas!

Well, That Was Different is currently in 'recovery' from their packout and arrival to post.  As they like to point out, things happen in three's.  And here they are, coming up for air!  I like how this blog points out that nowadays it's so easy to keep in touch that goodbyes are different than they used to be.

Got kids?  (We do!)  Here's 3rdCultureChildren's post on dealing with packout and suggestions on how to let your munchkins be involved.  Really really good stuff!

And lest you start to think packout is all work and no play, There is Fun to Be Done's poetry about the 'Night Before Packout' reminds you to stay sane.  And happy.

In other non-packout related news...

I've received a couple of recommendations on this post.  Hannah at Young Millimania Across the Globe writes a great piece about how she is feeling right now with her Dad in Iraq while she's in Amman.  I love this blog.  She touches on some really great points about what's 'home'.  Thanks, Hannah!

Ok, I'm outta here.  Thanks for all the submissions, FS Bloggers.  You make this Round-Up thing easy!

If you would like your blog to be added to this submission or if you have a recommendation for an add-on, please email me! I will happily add it to the feed.

My hubby's UAB from Baghdad.
Obviously still in the living room nearly a week after
he's home. But why unpack what's just going to be re-packed
in a mere 5 weeks? Besides, it's an awesome shelf for keeping
stuff away from sticky baby fingers.  Obviously.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Bring It On! FS Blog Round-Up Shout-Out for Week Ending 7/29/11

Feeling crazy over here at the Wandering Drays.  My hubby just got back from Baghdad on Friday [insert happy dance here] and his UAB arrived a mere three days later.  No kidding.  Something crazier? It could have been delivered LAST week, but I simply wasn't available to accept to such delivery.  I got to dictate delivery date and (sorta) time. Sweetness.

So, I'm up for the Round-Up again, and this week's optional theme is:  PACKOUT!  That's right.  It's packout season for many of us, and I want your stories.  The good (ha ha! right.), the bad (more likely), and the ugliest (most likely).

*Submissions are due this Friday, 7/29/2011 by noon EST.  I'll post the entry late afternoon on Friday.  If you miss the deadline - no worries.  Drop me an email because chances are, I'll still be working on it!

*Packout is an optional theme.  I'd also love some archived feeds if you got 'em.

*Post your submission at the bottom of this blog entry (preferred method) or you can email me directly!

Happy blogging!

UAB from Baghdad.
Not sure the hubby will even unpack this.
We're outta here to Cairo in less than 6 weeks!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Buh-Bye, Iraq!

After enduring more than 24 hours of travel, a turbulence-induced vomiting person sitting RIGHT BESIDE HIM, and a 3 1/2 hour delayed flight from D.C. to Pittsburgh...my much better half has finally arrived home.  Exactly where he belongs.

Lunch at Red Robin, who I have to give special kudos to --- our meals were on the house after they found out Jason had just arrived in from Iraq; a quick stop to treat a special girl at Toys R Us; and a drive home in humid rain.  And now home.  For a bit of normalcy.  We have six weeks of downtime to unwind before we fly to Cairo.  We all need it; time together as family can be hard to come by! 

For those who have asked me how I survived the past year with three kids and a hubby in Iraq (and don't forget those six months in D.C. for training!), I have but a list of five essentials.

2. Antacids
3. Stash of Chocolate for late nights (or wine if that's your thing)
4. Running
5. Strong Support Network (friends, family, work)

In the right proportions, these will get you through anything.  Late night? Got to work an early shift at the ER? Triple-shot latte (actually, make it two).  Kids won't go to bed until 11:00pm and you have two more hours of stuff to get done?  Chocolate.  Lots of it.  Kid accidentally breaks one of your few adult treasures - a precious bowl from Tiffany's? [Sobbing] and a call to a good, good friend.  Stories about Iraq in the news makes your stomach churn in ways you never thought possible?  Antacids. And another call to a really good friend.  Stressed to the max and feel like you're gonna snap the head off of the next person who asks your for something?  Long, long, LONG run.  Maybe you can even run a race with some friends.

See?  This list of five is exactly what you need.

To everyone who's been through this with us - and you know who you are! - Thank you for your love and support.

And that's it for now...because I'm off to go see my favoritist person in the whole world, who's been on the opposite side of the world from me for far, FAR, too long.

My favoritist person.  In the whole world.
Where he belongs.  Abby and Kellen were so happy
to see Daddy!  Owen is at Cub Scout camp this week,
but will see him tomorrow evening at family night.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Finally. Just One Week.

I'm feeling melancholy tonight, thinking back over my husband's unaccompanied Baghdad assignment.  It's been nearly 1 1/2 years since Jason started the seemingly never-ending journey to Iraq.  Six months in D.C. for training; nearly a year in Baghdad.  And now, we have just a week. One teensy weensy week.  But the longest week.  Ever.  To get through.

In just one week...Jason will be home.  And I won't have to look forward to NOT looking forward to him heading back to Iraq.

Come to think about it, in just one week...

I alone won't have to bandage up boo-boos and wipe away tears when the kids fall and get hurt.  And I alone won't fail at mending broken hearts when friends hurt the kids' feelings.

There will be a real cook in the house.  One who makes meals.  That actually taste good.

Someone else will be here to carry the never-ending mountains of laundry down two flights of stairs to the basement.

I won't have to eat lunch alone in a restaurant reading a newspaper.

I won't have to walk through the house with the cell phone hoping for great reception in a room that won't dump our call into the black hole abyss of dropped calls.  Or hold my free hand over one ear while squishing the cell phone up to my other ear as tightly as possible so I can hear him better.  Because even a call that I can barely hear him is better than no call at all.

I'll be able to get mad at someone else, other than the kids, for using up all the hot water just before my shower.  Or for using my towel.  Or for forgetting to put a new roll of toilet paper in the bathroom on the dispenser.

We'll watch the kids as they catch fireflies with the sun drifting off into the horizon.  We'll both hear the baby as he tries to say new words and watch as he climbs into things he has no business climbing into.

We'll stay up late and talk about our dreams and plans.  And listen to the kids giggling upstairs as they pretend to fall asleep.

I won't go to sleep every night feeling all alone in a house full of sleeping children.

We'll be a family again.  All together, as we should be.  What a journey we've made to get back to exactly where we belong.

We'll both get to watch this little guy get into trouble.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Solo Running Vacation - (Mostly) Hold the Solo

Me with Jen, a fellow DS spouse,
blogger, and friend.  We love
And Starbucks.
How often does a crazed, sleep-deprived Momma get the opportunity to take a weekend for herself, no kids involved?  Rarely!  So when the chance to take a weekend for some running in the D.C.-area came up, my parents offered to take the kids off my hands so I could enjoy the weekend.  Alone.  All by myself.  Solo.  Seriously good stuff.

I've traveled on my own before.  In 2008, I did an RN contract in Bakersfield, CA while the hubby and kids stayed back in Ohio.  For four months.  During that time, I traveled to San Francisco and did a bike tour of the Bay.  I also drove out to Redondo Beach (Los Angeles) to spend a weekend and do some running.  I like running especially on vacations, because it's a great way to see an area.  I've run on nearly every vacation we've ever taken - Orlando, Williamsburg, San Diego, Sequoia National Forest; if we've been there, I've run it.  But whether I'm alone or on a family vacation, I pretty much always run solo.

Yesterday I did something different than I usually do - I signed up for a group running tour.  We started in Georgetown (I LOVE Georgetown!), running our way up the hill to the University, then the National Cathedral, and finally the National Zoo.  We finished out a few miles in Rock Creek Park.  7.5 beautiful miles total, with 7 other runners.  And I mean full-one, 100% legitimate runners who discussed their next ultra-running events (50+mile races).  I totally felt out of my league, but I ran it anyway, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  No iPod to listen to; instead, I chatted with my fellow runners and enjoyed the company.  Even sorta started to feel like a legitimate runner myself, as I was able to keep up with their pace.  I usually run solo, but this group run was a great part of my running vacation.  

I had anticipated heading off to the National Mall and running a few more miles, taking in some of the sights.  But I was honestly tired after the Georgetown run and didn't feel up to  fighting the high-travel season traffic.  So I found a Starbucks, grabbed a frappaccino along with a chicken pita, veggie and humus plate and headed down to the Potomac.  I had a picnic lunch with a gorgeous view of the Key Bridge and Roosevelt Island.  Did I mention I had no kids with me?  The most relaxing lunch!  NOT lunch spent trying to save three lovely children from nosediving into the river.  Good stuff.

After lunch I headed back to the hotel for a shower.  Faced with almost two hours of free time, I did what any self-respecting, totally exhausted, haven't-slept-in-eight-years Momma would do.  I took a nap.  And didn't awake to screaming children. Then I headed off to the mall and treated myself to a nice little gifty: a matching wallet for my much-loved Juicy Couture purse that Jason got for me last Christmas.  More. Good. Stuff.  What girl doesn't love stuff?

Finally for Saturday, dinner.  Dinner was spent at Maggiano's with some fellow DS spouse friends.  I'm not gonna lie. I was a bit nervous meeting everyone "in real life".  One friend is also an RN (works Trauma, too.  Coincidence?  I think not!) and we've referred to each other as pen pals for the past year.  Another friend is a fellow blogger and WordsWithFriends aficionado.  We've played countless games together.  What if we all didn't 'click' and get along?  Well, not to worry.  The seven women who met up that night got along so well that we were in the restaurant for over three hours.  Maggiano's was not pleased.  But we had a great time!

And Sunday?  The perfect ending to the perfect weekend.  A non-solo run (5K) with the DS Divas, a group started up this year for all the Diplomatic Security Spouses world-wide who wanted to be a part of a running group...just for us!  We have 30 members world-wide.  Six of us were able to meet in DC for a run.  It was great.  Fellow spouse and blogger Jen has taken up running the past year and we finished the race together, never stopping once to walk.  Not a single bit!  As for those spouses scattered throughout the world?  I set up a page through Running-log.com where everyone could log in and input their miles.  So far for the day, we have nearly 40 miles world-wide.  Our logo?  "DS Spouses RUN The World!"  (And on T-Shirts no less, thanks to the hard work of three other spouses!) Super chicks.

The final icing to my weekend was a solo run I did on a whim just before I left.  I was heading out from Rock Creek Park (where our Diva run was held) to McClean, VA where my hotel was.  I decided to drive by the National Mall and see if I could find a cushy parking spot to do a quick run.  Success!  I found one between the Washington Monument and the White House.  Definitely NOT coincidence. I took it as Divine Intervention.  I had always wanted to run the National Mall, but have never had the opportunity. So I grabbed my iPod and did a loop around the White House, the Washington Monument, and past the front of the Lincoln Memorial.  Even BFF Latte got his picture taken in front of the White House.  Super duper good stuff.

I grabbed a shower at my hotel, ordered a quick room-service lunch (awesome) and then hopped on the road back to Ohio.  It was a short but absolutely perfect weekend.  Completed over 13 miles of pavement and trails, and had the opportunity to meet up with some friends offline and in real life.  Really, perfect.

Oh, and an update (7/12/11)!  I was so focused on the running weekend that I can't believe I didn't even mention my Friday night! I arrived at my hotel at 3:00pm and got settled in and headed right out - because my friend, Connie, had made arrangements for us to get facials and massages!  How did I forgot to include that?  We had a spa day, and then dinner and ice cream.  It was great to catch up with her.  Again, a perfect, PERFECT! weekend.
Georgetown University.  Beginning of tour.
Tow path. End of tour and 7.5miles!

BFF Latte in front of the Key Bridge.  See the helicopter?
I do believe that was Marine One!

Lunch solo at the Potomac.

DS Divas D.C.  There are lots more of us world-wide!

Swanky parking spot. This is right by my car!

One very special house.

There's an obelisk growing out of my head.

Another view of the White House.

BFF Latte gets all the fun.

This is what I came home to.
A standing baby!  Next up
is walking.  ::sigh::

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Let the Countdown to Cairo Commence

I'm so giddy I can hardly stand it.  In the past three days I've actually had time to sit down and talk with my husband and we're on track with planning our upcoming move to Cairo.

First!  We have flight reservations.  Break out the smelling salts cuz I know you just swooned.  We leave on September 4th.  Pittsburgh to NYC to Cairo.  Eleven hours direct flight from NYC to Cairo.  Barf and bring on the Xanax.  But at least it's a direct flight.  I'd hate to have to deal with a layover with the following items:

*Two adults
*Two children
*One 10-month old very active baby
*One 5-month old very active puppy
*Five suitcases
*Five carry-ons
*Five personal items
*One Britax car seat
*One Cicco full-size stroller
*One Pack-N-Play
* One Starbucks Triple Shot Soy Latte.  Maybe two depending on the size of my headache.

Second!  We appear to be CORRECTLY in-process to get diplomatic passports.  Our travel passports have arrived in the mail and special issuance is handing our dip books.  One more item to check off --- Visas to enter Cairo! --- and we're fully legit.

Third!  We have an assigned house in Cairo!  Four bedrooms, three baths, gorgeous hardwood floors, and green space nearby.  The extra bedroom alone is worth the move.  Since his birth, Kellen's crib has been in my room in our small Ohio home (I say "my" room as opposed to "our" room since Jason's been shacking up in Baghdad for the last year).  Kellen is not a quiet sleeper.  It will be uber nice moving him into his own room.  Plus, Jason has done his homework for me and mapped out our location.  The all-important distance to the nearest Starbucks...wait for it...only 2.3km! I can run that in less than 15 minutes.  Because I've heard the traffic in Cairo is killer.  So maybe running for a latte fix instead of driving for a latte fix may be in order.

Forth!  We're stocking up on the important things.  I have in my reserves three jumbo boxes of diapers, three months worth of formula, and six large jar Yankee Candles.  I can think of nothing else that we'll need since we'll have PX to shop at and an APO to have items shipped to us.  I *heart* amazon.com and target.com.  'Nuff said.

And FINALLY!  Jason will be home in under 20 days.  Each day creeps by, but at the end of the day it's one less day to go.  Looking at the calendar, I realize we have only 9 weeks until Cairo.  We're loving our time here with our family and friends and enjoying the summer as much as we can.  But the countdown has started and we can hardly wait to begin our journey to Egypt!

(Photo from some obscure internet site)
Not only is there a Starbucks in Cairo,
there are actually many!  But if I'm right,
this is one that is actually near to our home.
And it's IN A MALL.  I can get my latte and my
shopping fix all in one awesome trip.