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, July 19, 2015

The Third Child is the ONLY Child...Temporarily

Children.  We have three of them.  The first two are only 26 months apart.  The last one?  He's five years younger than the middlest.  Now, I don't claim to be an expert on children, although I am a pediatric nurse [ha!]; but I can tell you, the third child is without a doubt the luckiest of the bunch.

Giant Panda.  Meet Kellen.
Of course, kids come with no handbook.  So the firstborn is sorta the 'test' child.  He's the one I utilize the most for figuring out this mom gig.  Mistakes, successes, trials and errors?  Most of them get hammered out with him.  Especially when it came to babies.  Oh, I loved being a first-time mom.  But it was definitely the most difficult of times.  I was positive that every-single-little-tiny-decision-was-important.  He was breakable.

The second?  Well, she's the one I was able to "fix" all the mistakes I made with the first.  You know, having figured out the baby thing with the first one, I could focus on making it 'right' with the second. 


By the time the third one came along, I was really just exhausted.  And I knew from Kid One and Kid Two experiences that there's surprisingly very few mistakes to really be made.  

So Kid Three?  He's just super chill and easy going.  Headstrong, always laughing and having a good time, and downright loving.  He's really kinda the tag-a-long kid, since his big brother and big sister are so much older than he is.  But they love him and they tolerate him always trying to hang with the big kids.  At least mostly.

And now it's summer.  Owen is 12, Abby is 10, and Kellen, the 'baby,' is four years old.  With the fab hubby off in Iraq, I was concerned about the two oldest once school let out for the summer.  Kellen is in daycare -- so he's not really an issue.  But what to do with the big kids to keep them out of trouble, not bored, and not desperately missing their Dad?  I shipped them off to SoCal for a month to hang with some of their besties they'd met in Cairo.  Yeppers.  Two days after school finished for the summer, I herded those two off to Dulles and they flew to SoCal.  Off for an adventure of surfing and sailing.

Awesome mom points, I know!

But this ingenious plan left the tag-a-long kid with no one other kids to tag-a-long with.

Those devious eyes.

Dang! It's been a long time since I had just one kid in my radius.  Usually, I just say "kids go play" and well, they do.  But Kellen?  He's really never been on his own, especially for such a long period of time.  He's never been an only child.  Until this summer.

And oh, did he fall into the groove quickly.  All the Mom attention he can handle!  The Xbox (and Owen's room --- shhh!) at his mercy!  All the popsicles he could ever want...all to himself.  Kids' movies, the zoo, the pool, playgrounds galore, and a newly decorated bedroom, just for him!

Truthfully, I've loved this time.  It's not that I don't miss the big kids (because I totally do), but having Kellen all to myself has been an interesting adventure.  I love looking at the world through his four-year-old eyes.  Of course, with no big kids around, he's had the chance to really do things that are geared toward four-year-olds.  And with his daredevil-I-can-do-and-be-anything easy nature?  He's exhausting, but so totally awesome at the same time.

Later this week, our solo time will end when the big kids fly back home (!!!) and next weekend the fab hubby is home for his first R&R (YES! Really!).  But we have definitely made the most of our time...

One of our many playground dates.

Took him to see 'Jurassic World'.  We hit the candy store first!

This place is a kid's dream!
At the Reston Zoo with friends.  Kellen and Lily, holding hands.

Feeding a budgie!

Double budgies!

Kellen, Noah, and Lily checking out the alligators!

Back to the mecca of candy!

These three.  So fun!

Yeah.  I treated him to ice cream after a day at the park.

Now that's how you eat ice cream!
A picnic at the park!

Ham and cheesy.

Kellen took this pic for us!   FS friends...and one is off to Nepal this month!

New big boy bed!

He picked the bedding out himself.

We were there to see Minions, but he loves PacMan, too!

After the Minions movie, I got a major haircut...
And Kellen got ice cream as a reward for being so good!

On the Metro, headed to the National Zoo.

Elephants in the background!

Hanging with me and checking out the bear.
The stingrays were surprisingly his favorite of the day.

Sippy faces!

Again.  Those.Eyes.  He owns me because of those baby blues!

TWO stuffed pandas?! Mom is such a sucker.

Pretty much a perfect ending to an amazing adventure.

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!