Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Heading into Eid

Everyone needs a break.  I think we're actually still recovering from our trip back in August, or maybe that's just me, but we're just plain ready for some time to stay home and play games and knit and read and watch TV and clean out a few more cupboards and closets and just Be.  I was sick last weekend but if you've been reading Facebook you know that I've actually been sick since we got home.  Things were off.  I knew they were but I just shrugged and pushed on and felt bad without putting my finger on just what was wrong.  Ask Ian, for weeks I told him that things just weren't right.  But it's not like there was a fever to point to, or stomach cramps, or a broken toe.  There wasn't a headache or a sore muscle or an aching back.  Then last week something physical did happen so I went the antibiotic route and the change was amazing.  For a day I felt AWESOME, like the huge cloud over my mind had lifted and I realized that the prior weeks I wasn't just off but actually really sick. 

The fact that I didn't quite understand that I was ill is both weird and, I'll admit, pretty darn scary.  How could I not know?

Unfortunately, last Wednesday I got slammed with a cold which I really didn't need, and that brought back the physical trouble I thought I'd taken care of, so I'm back on antibiotics and slowly recovering from, well, everything.  It's been a long week.  Thankfully I think the brain fog, or whatever it was, is gone.  I don't feel off anymore and that's a good thing.

I'm still easily crankified about everything though, my sense of humor is no where to be found and that's sad.  Could that be me at 40, the new normal?  Cranky about everything?  Get off my lawn!

No, I refuse to believe that.  I'll take the long Eid weekend and find myself again.  At the very least I'll reach my goal of finishing my blanket and that will put a smile back on this face :)

And sleep.  Sleep is good.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Things, they are achangin'

Last week was a tough week at work, nothing felt like it went right. There was more frustration than joy and that is unusual for this position.  I think part is that our boss and boss' boss and boss' boss' boss have all changed and they're all working out how our Post runs and with that comes a certain amount of uncertainty that we didn't have the past year.  Uncertainty leads to a lack of guidance and a level of confusion that I haven't experienced before.

I'm a little off and that's OK.  Goodness knows the world doesn't revolve around my comfort zone.  If it did, we'd all stay at home wrapped in a fuzzy blanket reading a non fiction novel while sipping a pumpkin-spiced-something coffee in silence.

If I could then make it rain or softly snow, and if I only had a fireplace.... oh you get the idea.  At my core I'm a hermit.

So to make a hermit's life more comfortable we've been cleaning out and rearranging.  The biggest problem with interior designing (if I can be so bold to use that term with gov't issued anything) is having too much stuff and right at the top is too much furniture.  We've had too much furniture in this house for the past 2 years.  It's not just our daughter's move to college and the reorganization of her room, but the overall need to see the two years ahead of us and know that we needed to change things up.  Five high back formal chairs, a room rug, 2 headboards, 2 night stands, 2 bedroom lamps all make their way back to the warehouse.

Our living room is now much more open.  Our little walk-through room (really, there's no way to make that room useful) is open.  And the room formerly known as "Katherine's Room" has been dubbed "The Lair."  Bunk beds are moved in to clear floor space yet still give Katherine a place to sleep when she visits, a computer desk takes up a corner (IKEA wasn't a totally shopping loss), and a TV cabinet with TV is along the wall.  Our challenge now is finding reasonable, movable floor seating for kids.  We searched high and low at IKEA and came up dry.  The current thought is Bedouin tent seating.  That sounds reasonable, right?  Oddly enough, finding it may be even a greater challenge.  We have two years.

We're also taking this opportunity to clean out.  A large stack of shoes went out the door which allowed us to move the shoe racks to a more secluded spot.  Becca got a rug from IKEA and she's full force into cleaning her room. More items are heading out.  Books will be re-homed to the CLO library. Dusting, vacuuming, and scrubbing are a go.  Two sets of patio furniture made it to the upper deck so once I have some lighting we can sit out there in the evening and our patio isn't jammed with chairs.

Less stuff equals more room to breathe and an easier time to clean.

And a better feeling about sitting in my jammies with a cat on my lap and a coffee in my hand.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Home Again, and the costs that go with it

Ah, home leave.  The time when you're reminded of all that is good with the U.S.  The copious amounts of food and food options (the grocery store... oh my!).  The streets with lines that don't fade after a week, and the absence of circles.  Stop signs that are followed, even at midnight in a silent neighborhood.  Weather that changes. Baristas who can spell your name.  The friendliness of everyone, especially in CA where the thought of not saying Hello doesn't seem to cross anyone's mind.

I like the U.S.  I like visiting the U.S.  I like that traveling west is easy on the body and mind and jetlag is a mild and short-lived nuisance.

What I don't like is being told that ever couple years we have to go back and we are essentially dropped on the east coast into Virginia, our home of "residence" even though we don't own a house there anymore, and are told "see you in a minimum of 20 working days, and not a day less."

Is it going too far to say it feels like being deported from home?  All our stuff and our cats and our car and jobs and school and friends (except those who have abandoned us) are in Amman.

Twenty working days (watch out for holidays, they don't count) equals at least 26 days on the ground if you arrive the evening before the first working day and leave the morning after the last working day.  We had 30 days in the U.S. to re-acclimate ourselves.

Many people plan for this trip.

Some have a family home they can return to.  A month at a family beach house or a cabin in the woods sounds divine.

Some stay with family members.  An in-law suite or a converted detached garage is a gift.  A borrowed family "extra car" can go a long way toward mitigating the cost of home leave.

Some have a savings fund dedicated to this mandatory home leave, putting their pennies aside so that the trip is paid before before they step foot on American soil.

Four weeks in the U.S. without a home, a car, or a real purpose to being there other than "go be American" is a costly venture. Having fun costs money.

Some take it on the chin and buckle down for months after to pay it all off.

We weren't going to hop from family member to family member, sleeping on floors and couches, and we weren't going to impose on my parents for a full month.  We don't have a family home to squat in. We also needed some form of transportation the entire time, something big enough for 6 and a lot of suitcases.  At the same time we got one kid off to college and another busy with her campus tours which meant visiting school after school after school because a visit can make a world of difference.  Just ask Rebecca who discovered that some of the things she absolutely didn't want, were found at places she realized she'd actually really like to go.  Don't underestimate the power of a tour and a walk around campus for a kid trying to unravel what she's looking for in a university.

And while we're still paying off our 3 year posting in the States (yes, still) we weren't able to save the amount a month of fun in the U.S. can cost.  A month times 6 people. No single hotel rooms or rented Priuses, or dinners for two. Egads.

The naysayers will argue that there are ways to travel on the cheap. Yes, there are.  There are also ways to get very heated about every dollar spent while arguing with kids over every ice cream they don't need, every ride at a carnival, every parking fee for every museum, and every souvenir.  Of course we didn't buy everything they asked for.  We didn't go to Disney or Universal while in L.A.  We managed a free tour of Sony Pictures with a friend.  We did stay with my parents for 2 weeks and ate them out of house and home.  The kids had pocket money for items they were desperate to buy and we agreed to look the other way (really.. who needs fake goo from the La Brea Tar Pits to suffocate little plastic saber tooth tigers in?  My kid does.).

And we did want this to be a fun and comfortable trip for all of us.  If we have to be there, make the most of it, right?  AirBnB provided our residence in CA.  Not knowing the city, and always hearing how terrible the traffic is, I went with a place close to the airport.  Homes further away were much more inexpensive, I know this.  I made up for a bit of the expense with a HomeAway houseboat for our place in MA. Boston is even more expensive than L.A.  Who knew? We tried cheap car rental in London last summer and it was pretty awful as far as difficulty of use and customer service.  They charged us $1000 for a scuff on the bumper.  Seriously, stay away from Green Motion - Heathrow car rental if you have the choice - and you do.  If only I'd researched them first.

Every home leave is different, and we certainly know people who go to the States every opportunity they get.  They have a plan, a rhythm, a set-up that works for long-term visits.  For us, it really is a box to check, a headache to plan, and a hit to the bank account.  If we had a big reason to go back, we would.  If we could go for a week or two to visit my parents, we would. College tours can be crammed into a quicker trip.  No one there wants to see us that much (as the lack of visits to our home in the Middle East would attest).

So we'll spend our next few months paying off the trip we had to take, and skip a couple trips we'd like to take.

Would I change the way home leave is run?  Absolutely.

- Get us to where we want to land, not an address we pay taxes to but may no longer have any sort of other connection, or a place that doesn't fit the need at this point in our life.

- Subsidize at least the direct hire's lodging and car.  You're requiring him to go back, so pick up his tab.

Here's an idea, why not treat home leave like a 1-month U.S. TDY for him with the coverage that goes with?

And really, the State Dept doesn't care if the rest of the family takes home leave or not.   Ian could have gone with the two girls... situated one at university and toured with the other, and hung out with his in-laws.  I'm not sure he would have been keen to do a month long vacation (and it has to be vacation... if he claims work for anything, he has to add days of non-work to equal that minimum of 20 days leave) on his own, but sometimes I think I should have just stayed at Post and worked because taking a month of LWOP hurts - a year working does not equal a month of vacation if you've taken ANY days off that year at all, which I had - while paying far more for that month stateside for 6 of us than I would have spent staying in Amman.  I would have kept my month of my salary.

The more I think of it, the more I like the home leave TDY idea.

Sounds reasonable, no?

Friday, August 8, 2014

CA & MA & VA

Aug 1: fly Amman to London to DC.  British Airways lost all 6 checked bags in London.  Crashed overnight in Annandale, VA

Aug 2: stock basic stuff for carryon travel (i.e. underwear), fly to L.A.

Aug 3: several mall visits for clothes, lunch at Olive Garden

Aug 4: visit UCSB, lunch at In-n-Out Buger, wandered through SB and the wine tasting zone, see our college friend, Linda

Aug 5: Warner Bros lot tour, picked up suitcases that were FedExed to us, lunch at Lenny's Diner with FS friend, Brian, visited Santa Monica Pier

Aug 6: Visit to USC, L.A. Live with lunch at Smash Burger, Hollywood walk of fame

Aug 7: LMU visit, mall time, lunch at Del Taco, Sony Studios lot tour with our college friend, Linda, dinner at ColdStone

Aug 8: La Brea tar pits, lunch at The Counter, tried to go to Griffith Observatory but it was packed, so on to Universal City Walk

Aug 9: Venice Beach, lunch with Brian and Jen, kids watched a bikini show, drove around UCLA, to airport and the freezing Admirals lounge for the redeye to Boston

Aug 10: arrive Boston (with luggage!), breakfast at IHOP, Boston ComicCon, find houseboat

Aug 11: Tour Boston University, dinner at Longhorn Steakhouse

Aug 12: Swan boat ride at Boston Public Garden, visit Robin Williams memorial at "Good Will Hunting" bench, walked a chunk of the Freedom Trail, dinner at Durgin Park with Jerry, Julie, and kids at Faneuil Hall

Aug 13: rain and more rain.  Toured Emerson College, lunch at Panera, "Guardians of the Galaxy"

Aug 14: Cambridge and wander around Harvard.  The rain stopped.

Aug 15: Drive south.  Stopped in Hoboken, NJ for some Carlo's Bakeries treats, wandered store to store looking for "Dead Poet's Society," which is unavailable in any store or on-line, arrived in Hershey, PA

Aug 16: Hershey Park.  All kids are Jolly Ranchers now.  Reminder: never ever go to an amusement park on a Saturday in summer.

Aug 17: drove to Annandale, VA.

Aug 18: Jonathon's 13th birthday, Harper's Ferry Adventure Park for Aerial Park, hunted for minigolf, ChikFilA, bowling (Becca's 4 X in a row!), Trappist jams, sushi place that ended up being a Korean restaurant

Aug 19: shopping at Target for college, Tysons Corner

Aug 20: moved Katherine in to her dorm, lunch at Taco Bell, skating and Coldstone at Kettler

Aug 21: parent info day at college - all day, Blackfinn Pub

Aug 22: Becca, gma, and M back to BJs and Tysons, Ian ordered a suit and glasses

Aug 23: DSW for successful shoe shopping, Ian and Nicholas at Nats game with Gooden/Heltons

Aug 24: pool time with Diane and girls

Aug 25: Becca and Nicholas out with Nick and Alex, J with us to Alexandria, ferry to National Harbor, PEEPs!, dinner at Cintron home

Aug 26: Potomac Mills for final shopping push, Becca overnight with Alison, dinner at Anthony's

Aug 27: Ian to DC for meetings, dinner with Ellis and Gooden/Heltons at Four Sisters

Aug 28: Ian in DC all day, zoo with kids, dinner with Rosenbergers at Foggy Bottom

Aug 29: Visit with Stromayers, ice cream with Bolognesi fam

Aug 30: Lunch with Katherine at Ballston, depart to Amman

Aug 31: Layover in London at expensive lounge

Sept 1: Home.

Friday, July 25, 2014

This shouldn't be happening

During PCS (permanent change of station) season, dreams flood my nights.  Stories of rushing water, fear, heights, loss of people, loss of items, loss of control.  Last night was one of those, a little different than the others (each PCS has common threads), but with the same sense of loss of control.

Last night's involved packing up all out worldly belongings and sending them off, but for our bags in the car.  The car we drove off until... we didn't.  The car was stolen, along with the last of our belongings.  And our household good were lost as well.  We ended up at what felt like the old Seiling house.  They had moved on, yet their home was full of items including closets packed full of clothes, all in order of color.  Jenna has a lot of clothes.  I recall felling panicked about finding a piece to wear, not only to fit but more to not offend Jenna. The rooms had decorations on the walls and furniture on the floor.  Our kids meandered the sprawling villa, pulling out odds and ends, and then the school bus... why it was a school day and the kids had to catch the bus, who knows.

The only problem is we're not PCSing next week. I shouldn't have any worries about this trip, right? It's a month-long mid-tour home leave and we're coming back.

I hope.

No really, things can turn on a dime here and last August we were looking at an authorized departure at Post so...

We hope to see you again, Amman.