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 coffee lattes. I hope you'll enjoy this glimpse into our lives.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Three More Months...Done

Part of the fun of Foreign Service life is the daydreaming.  Most of us are constantly dreaming of the "what if's" and the "where to's."  What if we get assigned to (name your top or last choice)?  Where would we visit if we were in (name that country again)?  Maybe someday we'll get (name it)!

Turkey, baby!  We're Istanbul-bound, Summer 2017.
For us, our "what if?" is actually known; our bidding was done in September!  And we're excited to say we'll be moving to Istanbul, Turkey for three years, starting in summer 2017!  YES!!  It's always been a daydream assignment for us and we couldn't be more pleased.  I've already researched schools and housing and have looked at the potential job market for me because I just can't help myself.  If you're living this kind of nomadic life, you totally know what I mean.

But what absolutely sucks about this lifestyle is our inability to fully live in the moment.  And if you're trudging through an unaccompanied assignment (which, yeah, we're doing right now), it's all the harder.  For me, I'm currently planning things in increments of three months.  Each seems to be pegged around when the fab hubby is home on R&R.

My blog has, once again, taken the back burner.  Maybe it's because I'm honestly crazy busy.   I mean, come on!  Three kids, all in different schools, a full-time job, a dog, two cats, all the stuff of regular life.  And I'm flying solo.  Or maybe it's because time seems to tick by oh-so-slowly and blogging just reminds me of it.  Or maybe it's because I'm afraid of the emotional roller coaster writing seems to bring out in me.

But here we are again, three more months done.  We're pretty close to the half-way point of our Baghdad separation.  Because tonight, I'll be picking up the fab hubby at the airport for three weeks of R&R.  It's been a long, long three months.  But at the same time, it's weirdly been a blur.

Summer.  Big kids enjoyed a month of glorious sailing and surfing with their besties in California.  Friends since our Cairo days, the kids have managed to stay close, despite the miles separating them.  I was only super jealous since I couldn't go with them to catch up with our friends as well!

School started and The Tween is now in Middle School.  He's in all honors classes (except for English, which his says is his nemesis) at his own choosing.  He's also in Model U.N. and Band (trumpet).  This nerd mom couldn't be more proud.  Abby is now in 5th Grade, also in Band (flute) and she has started Irish Step Dancing.  {Again, nerd mom proudly pats self on back.}

Kellen turned FIVE and I suddenly feel old old OLD.  He's no longer a baby, and long past the toddler phase.  I have to watch my language around him because any time I swear, he's sure to point out my effing transgression.  Dinosaurs and super heroes are center stage, but he's still trotting right behind the big kids hoping they'll accept him and play with him, despite the age gap.

As for me, well.  Let's just say you don't gain 20 pounds in a year because you've been taking good care of yourself.  I like to portray myself as having it all together (because honestly, I usually feel like I mostly do), but when push came to shove, I was sadly willing to back off of the running to keep my sanity.  My work schedule and home stuff keep me crazy enough and trying to fit in running regularly is rough.  As injury upon injury piled up due to inconsistent running, I had to make a choice.  I'm really kinda ashamed that I made the wrong choice initially.  It was sooooo much easier to choose chocolate cake and the couch instead of a brisk walk after work, time and time again.  Next thing I knew, nothing fit, not even my scrubs.  It's bad when the elastic-waist scrubs are digging in.

I begrudgingly started with a walk at my lunch break at work.  I picked up a Fitbit (a high tech pedometer) thanks to a friend's recommendation {that would be the mom of the kiddos my kids flew out to Cali to see last summer -- dang I miss her!} and I just made the tiny commitment to walk most everyday.  Increasing my steps, decreasing the cake and couch time.  It honestly kinda sucks, only because it's never instantly gratifying.  But I've stuck with it, and added some running (slow) back into my days.  It takes months to lose fitness and it takes way more time to regain it.  It's incredibly frustrating.  But I signed up for the Army 10-Miler to keep myself on track.

In October, I ran that race.  Sluggy slow, but injury-free.  And 10-pounds lighter, which I'm thrilled with.  I'm still walking at work and running on the weekends and whenever I can sanely squeeze in a couple extra miles.  It feels good to be back on the road and taking care of myself again.

And of course.  The fab hubby returns tonight! All the usual prep work is complete.  A new pair of specs and a haircut for me.  I've splurged on bi-weekly housekeeping and oh my gawd is it completely and utterly worth it.  The house is spotless and I'm not yelling at kids to (halfheartedly) scrub toilets and vacuum the floors.  I've also written out a calendar so the fab hubby isn't at a loss of remembering when and where the kids are day-to-day, because although the weekly crazy is etched in my head permanently, he's been gone from the household crazy.  It's all gonna be fuzzy (and a blur for him).

Plans are made for the rest of month.  Every weekend is of course already booked and the fab hubby is home this R&R for Thanksgiving.  We're meeting up with family for turkey day, but the weekend after will be spent at Great Wolf Lodge with some friends.  Because dude.  I turn 40 that weekend and nothing says party like an indoor water park and bazillions of children running around.  We embrace the crazy.

Ack.  I just admitted I'm turning 40.  I'm considering just celebrating 39 again.

Here's a photo tour of the blur from end of summer until now:

Post-Surf Camp gang.  I'm pretty jealous, having missed out.

Abby, sailing!
Owen and his buddy Josh, sailing.

These girlies have known each other since Cairo.
Oh, and In-N-Out.  Again, jealous.

Geek squad and a bromance.

End of summer fun at our community pool.

Boys will be boys.

Middle School = Locker Time.

Socks and ghillies (dance shoes) are a must for Irish Step Dancing.

Weekend of the Army 10-Miler; I took the boys paddle boating in D.C.

Epic photobomb by the Washington Monument.

In case you're wondering what Five Years looks like.
Newborn on the left.
5yo who loves toy spiders on the right.

I adore him.

Requisite birthday party at Chuck E Cheese's.

Five burning candles.

Blow them out!

Getting my bib for the Army 10-Miler.
And my shirt says how I feel most days.

I was a slug but I did it.
And I'll do it again.

On the trail, taking care of myself with a good run.
And a sassy new haircut to boot.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Separated Frequently, but Never Really Apart

Nearly 20 years together.
Way back in March, 2008, I packed up my car and drove cross-country from Ohio to California.  I was in my early 30's, had been married for nine years, and had two young kids.  No one accompanied me on this trip, which would last four months.

The fab hubby had accepted a job with Department of State and was scheduled to begin his nine months of training in Washington DC in July 2008.  I'd been working as an ER nurse in a busy trauma center for a little over a year and had been offered a lucrative 14-week contract assignment in Bakersfield, California.  The contract assignment would finish just before he'd set off for training.

Many friends and family thought we were a touch crazy.  Me headed away from my family for a job for such a long time, only to be followed by the fab hubby setting off solo for an extended period of time to start a career with the Foreign Service.  Truthfully, maybe, *just maybe,* we also thought we were a bit crazy.  Neither I nor the fab hubby liked the idea of being separated for so long.  And we worried about the kids (who were only five and three; the idea of a third kid hadn't even entered our minds at the time).

We especially worried about the kiddos.  But when we sat down and crunched the financial numbers, my contract assignment brought us in the extra cash we needed, as well as the travel nurse experience I wanted to add to my resume for further job opportunities.  Jason's new job with the Foreign Service seemed like the adventure we wanted for our family, and the required training was just part of the package. It seemed MORE crazy for the kids and me to follow him to DC (and other various training sites) for the nine months of his required training, and so we hung back in Ohio until his first posted assignment.

First night home on R&R!
2008 was sort of the marker for the beginning of separations.  We were naive and didn't really realize how often it would happen.  Or maybe I should say I was naive and didn't realize how often it would happen.  Looking back, the fab hubby was honest and up-front about the job options overseas (and those posts we would be unable to accompany him to if assigned), the likelihood of frequent TDY's (temporary duty assignments), as well as the necessity of travel on his part.  I was crazy ready to see the world and in the big picture of this in my mind, it didn't really seem like we would spend all that much time apart.

But in reality, we've spent nearly 50% of our time so far in the Foreign Service physically separated.

Our time in the Foreign Service.

I never really thought that I would be one of those wives who would identify herself so strongly with her husband's job.  But the Foreign Service is really a family lifestyle choice as well as an individual career, as I've personally found.  At times, it's even been a career choice for me.  I honestly don't think I could pin down at what point I started using phrases like "we bid" and "we'd like to be assigned to..." I don't know at what point I considered myself "in the Foreign Service," but honestly it was a pretty natural transition.  When I meet other State employees or EFMs (Eligible Family Members), I always get weirdly giddy and say "We're in the Foreign Service, too!"

Someone missed his Daddy very much.
Today, I dropped the Fab Hubby off at the airport for his 36-hour journey back to Baghdad.  This is the sixth time in his career I've dropped him off at the airport for a flight to Baghdad.  I don't think I could accurately remember the number of times I've dropped him at the airport for his various TDY assignments, trainings, or other sundry travels.  Today's flight marks the end of his first R&R of our year's unaccompanied tour.

Yes, unaccompanied tours completely suck, as I've mentioned before.  No matter how many times you do them, it never really gets any easier.  But the R&R's are definitely one of those things that truly make an assignment like Baghdad more manageable.

We're often asked how our marriage can withstand the test of frequent separations; the stress of moving; our near future essentially unknown (seriously --- we have no idea where we'll be this time next year).  I think those are reasonable inquiries.  It IS hard on a family and a marriage when those things that many consider concrete ("home", time together, etc.) and fundamental to a couple are constantly in flux.

I'm not sure there are any easy answers to this.  Maybe, mostly, it comes down to us.  That we BOTH agree that what we're doing is important and meaningful.  That we BOTH agree that it is important to us to show our children the world, the beautiful differences and similarities of cultures, and for them to grow up understanding they they can make a difference in this world.  And of course, that we BOTH love and support each other in all this craziness.  It's an adventure that we're doing together, just as any other couple growing older together is doing each and every day.  Ours just happens to be a roving adventure.

Jason's had a whirlwind of an R&R.  He arrived home in mid-July and left just five days later with the kids to road trip to Ohio for some camping and to catch up with family and friends.  I stayed in Virginia (I have a full-time job, yo!) during this time.  However, he arrived back here in Virginia just a little over a week later, sans kids (thanks, grandparents!).  Which gave me and the fab hubby SEVEN FULL KID-FREE DAYS TOGETHER.

I was even able to take three days off work leading into this past weekend.  During which we hopped into the car and drove to Virginia Beach for some much-deserved time together.  Our hotel was directly on the beach and everything we needed was within walking distance.  It was completely glorious.

We've been married for nearly 17 years.  And yeah, a bunch of our "vacation" conversations revolved around the kids (we did miss those little boogers, even though we were so grateful to get some solo time) and bidding and where we'll be hoping to head to next.  [It's bidding season, yo!]

But we also talked about so much other stuff.  Of buying that perfect piece of paradise for our retirement (even though it's in 15 years or so!), of my little dream of opening a coffee shop when we *finally* settle down in retirement (ha!), of all the places we'd like to visit (not necessarily to live in), and of past happy memories.  I can't even count the number of times we said "remember when...?"  We talked of everything and of nothing.  And just basked in being together.

Honestly, looking back at all our years together, it's a little painful when I realize just how much time we spend separated.

And, I just achingly miss him. When he's gone, I kinda feel like a piece of me is missing.  I mean,  I don't spend all my time sorrowful and moody when we're separated.  But on days like this, when I've just spent a glorious seven amazing days with him, it is even more difficult saying goodbye.  Today was one of the worst airport drop-offs I've done.  I frankly just wasn't ready to give up more of our time.

I know we'll get through this separation.  Because we always do.  The days will turn to weeks and then the weeks to months.  And then it will be November, and suddenly he'll be home for his second R&R and (more importantly!) we'll be mid-point through the year of separation.

We're so good together, and even though we're frequently physically separated by distance, we are never really apart.  Maybe THAT is what truly makes all of this awesome craziness doable.

Balcony of our hotel on the BEACH!

It was so hard leaving this view!

Fireworks -- the view from our balcony!

Seriously, very awesome.

Together, as we should be.

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.