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.

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!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Firing Up the Blog (Yup. I KNOW. It's Been a Ridiculously Long Time.)

16 Wonderful, Amazing Years.

The worst part about totally falling behind on blogging is that I start to lose perspective on where to start up again.  All I can think is:  "OMG!  I've got so much to write about.  Where do I begin?! How far back should I go?!"  Sometimes, I even start to wonder whether or not I should continue writing or if I should just take down the blog.

But no matter how I look at it, this blog is truly so much more than just the last five months of lost [well, fallen behind] writing.  And so even though I've been slacking, I love writing and keeping track of my family's crazy fun adventures.  When I'm old{er} and wise{r}, I'll be so glad that I DIDN'T take it down.

So I guess the best place to start is exactly where I am right now.

Wow. We adopted two kittens, Latte (L) and Chai (R).
So much can happen in just five short months!
This past week, the fab hubby and I celebrated our 16 YEAR ANNIVERSARY.  16 years.  That's a freaking long time, people!  I personally think we're a pretty awesome couple.  And this year, while we couldn't celebrate it with a nice little trip somewhere sans kids, we DID in fact celebrate it with carnitas tacos.  This is a big deal because honestly, the Mexican food in the NoVA area is generally disappointing.  We're picky, you know, having lived in the mecca of Mexican food.  [That would be SoCal, of course.]  And until recently, we'd found absolutely nothing that compares to the awesome food you find in SoCal.

Funny thing is, I never would have found this most amazing taco place if I hadn't started a new job in early December.  Yes, I know. I seem to change jobs frequently.  But when the opportunity to work with one of my bestest friends in the whole world presented itself, I absolutely couldn't turn it down.  Mel and I had worked together at the Embassy in Cairo (she's a kickass pediatrician) when both of our fab hubbies were posted there together.  When she and her hubby PCS'd [that's a Permanent Change of Station for you non-FS/non-military types] only one short year after our arrival, I was pretty heartbroken.  I looked back at that blog entry from April, 2012, forgetting that I had written this:

I think that at least for now, it's ok for me to mourn what I'm losing - my friend going to another post.  But I know I've made a life-long friend.  Who knows?  Maybe our husbands will get posted together someday?  Maybe it will even be in the U.S. where we can laugh and reminisce about all the crazy traffic in Cairo while we sip lattes in Starbucks.

That's me and Mel.  We're an awesome team.
And we love us some lattes!
Never would I have dreamt that this would be a reality so soon.  This past August, my awesome friend's hubby PCS'd to D.C., same as us!  They bought a house in NoVA (near where we live!) and she found a job quickly (like I said, she's a kickass pediatrician).  In November, her new office posted a position for a nurse.  Of course, I had to apply!  It was bittersweet leaving NIH - I had met so many amazing nurses and made lifelong friends.  And, I loved working with the children.  Honestly, those kids taught me so much about life and love and learning to live in the moment.  It was hard leaving, but this opportunity was simply one I couldn't turn down, especially since our lives are about to change crazily again next June.

It was recently bidding season for the fab hubby, and after much discussion [trust me; this is putting it mildly], he bid for an unaccompanied hardship assignment in Baghdad for summer 2015.  He was paneled for it and is set to PCS on June 1st, for one year.   During his tour in Baghdad, the kids and I will stay in Virginia.  Unfortunately, hospital shift work at NIH will simply not work for us once the fab hubby leaves for Baghdad.  I knew I'd have to leave next NIH next June, and I wasn't quite sure what I would do once he left -- work or stay home?  And so this new job with my awesome friend worked out for more reasons than just the greatness of working with her!  The pediatric office is in Arlington (closer to our home and the kids' school!), with 'normal' working hours (Monday - Friday!) that fit with our daycare for Kellen AND the kids' school.  No more weekends.  No more holidays.  And the chance for me to continue doing what I love --- being a nurse.  [Oh, and not to mention --- located right by the GREATEST TACO PLACE ON THE EAST COAST.]  Win. Win. WIN!

Other things that happened in the last five months?

We took a family road trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.  Except for the **bleeping** 16 hour drive it took us to get there (and the drive back, of course), we had a fabulous time.  Sunshine.  Mickey Mouse.  Lots and lots of money blown on absolutely nothing of importance, except that we had a great time just being the normal American family.  Sweetness.

The Toddler officially moved into kidhood, turning four in October.  ::sigh:: He's getting so big, so fast.

Officially FOUR.

Never, ever get between a boy and his birthday cupcake.

And as if I couldn't feel old enough by my youngest baby becoming a child, I turned 29 for the TENTH TIME in November.  And well, you should celebrate a decade of 29 in style.  So the fab hubby got some friends of ours from Cairo together and we all went to Old Town Alexandria for a lovely lunch.  And cake.

Celebrating a decade of 29!

Christmastime came around and we had to put the entire household into quarantine.  I had some sort of disgusting upper respiratory infection [Yo! When you think about the number of kids who cough in my face on a daily basis, it's actually a wonder I'm ever NOT sick.]  Owen, The Tween, was miserably sick with BOTH flu and strep throat.  Gross.  The bummer of it though (besides being grossly sick) was that we had to cancel all plans with our family from Ohio for the holiday weekend.

On the bright side, we absolutely got our money's worth out of Amazon Prime and Netflix over the five days we spent in quarantine.  Owen and I watched all of the Resident Evil movies in the comfort of jammies, on our couch eating a heckuva lot of tacos.  Don't judge us.

This is pretty much our Christmas card for 2014!

Thankfully, by the following week, we were well enough to leave our house on New Year's Eve.  We headed over to our friends' home and enjoyed a night of food, gossip, and music.  Of course, we're all old, and so we were out the door, headed home by 9PM, and I was zonked-out asleep by 10PM.  It was pretty awesome.

New Year's Eve with awesome friends!

So welcome, 2015!  2014 was a great year of 'normal' for our family!

Here's to an awesome year of lattes!!

 And now for the requisite Orlando vacation pictures!!

As normal as normal gets!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Some Things Never Change

That's me and Krista four-wheeling in Giza in 2012.
Total rockstars.

WARNING.  This entry is long with a gazillion photos.

Ok. Read on!

So there's nothing like a last-minute three-week TDY that the fab hubby has to take to Tel Aviv to remind you that it really does take a village.  Last minute as in five days notice.  We weren't shocked when it happened; he's TDY'd before, but it's always such a hustle for us when it really happens.

What do we do with the kids?  That's always THE big question.  I work full time at NIH, odd hours (afternoons) and am frequently not home between 5pm and 11pm.  Our daycare closes at 6pm (the fab hubby picks him up).  Plus, I had a five day solo mini-vacay planned (AND FULLY PAID...NONREFUNDABLE) during the surprise TDY in which I was headed to SoCal to see one of my Cairo besties.  WAAAHHHH!!!

So I put the calls out to our posse:  grandparents, friends, co-workers.  And within an hour of receiving the fab hubby's "hey, I gotta TDY" call, we had it completely worked out.  COMPLETELY.

We would drive the kids to Ohio to the grandparents' house where they'd stay for most of the three weeks.  I would work my scheduled hours, get my trip to California (!!!), spend one of the weekends in Ohio with the kids (thanks to a co-worker who took two of my weekend shifts!), drive back to Virginia for the week for work, and then the fab hubby would return, drive to Ohio to get the kids,  drive back to Virginia, and we'd all live happily ever after.



I know.

We've done the crazy more times that I'd like to admit.  Stressful, yeah.  But doable.  And like always, we'd make this doable as well.  Kids get an awesome summer in Ohio with grandparents.  I'd get my trip to SoCal and my job would essentially be unaffected.  Fab hubby would do the TDY.

The only snafu would be if the TDY was extended.

Which, of course, it was. For nearly one week.  WAAAAHHHH!!  But after a few texts, our rockstar neighbors (friends from Cairo, you know!) were able to arrange it so that I'd have help during the evenings I worked until he was back.  Whew.

Feel the burn?  I unfortunately did.
Unknowingly feeding the ulcer in California.

During this craziness, I found myself sitting in an ER one evening, having left work with chest pain.  Since I'd recently flown and taken two long car rides back and forth from Ohio,  I was concerned the pain might be a possible blood clot in my lungs (pulmonary embolism).  I didn't even want to contemplate the possibility of a cardiac issue; because you know, nurses aren't always good at identifying personal health issues.  I begrudgingly knew I had to get it checked out.  Four hours, lots of blood work, an EKG, and a X-ray later, I walked away with clean cardiac bill of health.

But my diagnosis?  Gastritis.  Probably an ulcer.  Feel the burn indeed.

I've had low-level heartburn off and on for years.  And truthfully, it typically rears its ugly head most often when I'm stressed.  Thinking back, I can remember the worst of it when I was pregnant, when the fab hubby was in Baghdad, during a particularly dicey time in Cairo, and during the end of my solo stint in California, when the kids had to evacuate from Cairo.  Add the crazy amounts of NSAIDS I take for my arthritis (ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin) and stir in the crazy amounts of coffee I drink?  It's a wonder I have a stomach lining at all.  But I've only ever once had to see a doctor about it (that was when the fab hubby was in Baghdad).

This time, it was just different - a constant heaviness with lots of pressure.  The burning sensation would come and go, but the pain was non-stop.  Pain meds, eating, Tums.  Nothing helped.  The ER visit was honestly a bit embarrassing for me.  I'm not one to go to the ER, and frankly I remember patients like me when I worked there.  But at least I now know what's going on.  The ER doc put me on something specific for GERD/ulcers and I'm following up with a gastroenterologist.  No NSAIDS (or at least a lot fewer -- bad for my arthritis, good for my stomach!), but thankfully the ER doc did say he WASN'T concerned about my coffee binging habit.  Score.

But stress?  Well, some things just never change.  I can't help the craziness of our lifestyle (And yeah, I know.  We picked this!  So I'm not complaining!  Just stating the obvious.).  And I like to think that I have a pretty good handle on stress, but sometimes my body just says otherwise.  In any case, the fab hubby comes home tomorrow afternoon (!!!!), and we're all stoked.  Pretty much half of our summer was burned away by this TDY (Again, no complaints.  Just stating the obvious.).  And we're looking forward to {hopefully} having a little family time.  Labor Day weekend is my scheduled holiday to work, but the kids are so excited to get the weekend with their dad.  And school is starting up next week, so it will definitely be nice to get back to the "normal."

The magnificent Double Double.
Best burger on the planet.
And what about my mini vacay?!  IT WAS AWESOME.  Remember my friend from Cairo who PCS'd to SoCal last year and then took in my two oldest for nearly three weeks when they evacuated from Cairo?  Yeah.  THAT AWESOME FRIEND.  Well, despite our kids having been able to catch up twice in the last year (summer 2013 surf camp! and spring break 2014), Krista and I had not been able to do so since I left Cairo in February 2013.  Sure we did the "see ya" high five (also know as having a quick Double Double at In and Out Burger) when I picked up the kids at her home last summer before I drove cross-country to the East Coast.  But other than texting and phone calls, we had not had the chance to REALLY catch up.

{{Sob.}}  I missed my friend.  So when some lucky scheduling at work gave me five days off in a row, the fab hubby told me I should fly out to California to see her!  (As always, he's truly fabulous.  He knew how much I had missed her since leaving Cairo.)

Now, I know this lifestyle of "hello! goodbye! hello! goodbye!" can make me worry that maybe things won't be the same when we catch up with our friends.  I'm sure there are plenty of other FS peeps out there who feel the same.  We just don't talk about it.

Yeah, I honestly was a little worried.  BUT I WAS WRONG!!  So wrong.  It was like nothing had changed.  {{Sob.}} So relieved!

Absolutely nothing had changed! We talked.  And talked.  And laughed.  And talked some more.  Four whole days and we could have done more.  The beach.  Old Town San Diego.  We still have so much in common, even though we're not in Cairo anymore.  Some things, the greatest things!  They never change.

The California trip was a much-needed break.  I returned home happy.  Although with the kids and the fab hubby gone during this time (kids in Ohio with the fab grandparents; fab hubby in Tel Aviv), the house felt way too big and way too empty.  Work was great and I got in some good trail runs, but it was just so lonely at home.  The fab hubby and I?  We've done some serious time apart.  His training in 2008 was nine months away from us.  In 2010 he did three additional months of training before leaving for Baghdad for a year.  And in 2013, I departed post six months ahead of my family.  Plus, don't forget the two month TDY he did in 2013, just as we were reunited!  But we're good together, even when we've had a lot of time apart.  It's just one of those things that never changes.  And so when a "short" TDY comes up, I usually don't think much of it.  Four weeks?  Bah.  We could do that standing on our head.

But I guess I should also be the first to admit that some TDY's are just harder than others, even if the time apart is less.  And this was definitely one of them.  Maybe it's because the kids were also gone - and it smarts too close to my six solo months in California.  Or maybe it's just that the timing - it was super last minute and maybe I wasn't mentally prepared for summer to come to a halt so quickly. I dunno.  But it's been tough.

Thankfully, I've got my village!  Lots of friends checked in on me, and I did countless coffee dates and lunches.  I really couldn't be more lucky!

Plus, another friend from Cairo --- she and her family just PCS'd to DC!  I haven't seen them in over two years.  And my high school BFF?!  She had some free time and drove in for a couple of days to hang with me.  And in both cases?!  Yup.  I was worried.  I fretted.  I hadn't seen either of these two friends in a long, long time.  What if things just weren't the same between us?

Seems like I ought to learn.  Some things, they never change, no matter what.  Some friendships, they withstand the tests of time, the tests of growing older, the tests of moving and not seeing each other for long stretches of time.

And we just pick up right where we left off.

I've know Rose for nearly 30 years.  30 YEARS!
We met in 5th grade.  Our friendship is still going strong.

Because you can never have too many sippy faces.

Hanging at the pool with my friend Mel and her adorable daughter.
Lazing in the pool?  One of those things we did in Cairo!
I love that some things never change.

Some more crazy, beautiful moments of summer:

I know said one and done last summer. But I lied.
Krista took me to get some ink done that I'd been contemplating for awhile now.
Don't let this calm face fool you.  I was only looking good for the camera.
This one HURT.

M gorgeous family tree.
Inside of my left wrist/forearm.

Loving us some Starbucks.

Old Town San Diego.  Fresh, handmade tortilla.

Carnitas and friendship.  Doesn't get better than this.

Arranged marriages are no bueno.

Blended horchata.
(It's a traditional Mexican drink that I used to have all the time
when we lived in Los Angeles.  The blended is something I've
never had before.  Total awesomeness.)

San Diego, overlooking Coronado Island.
I love it here.

Yes, this.  Wanderlust.
The fab hubby brought me to San Diego in 2004, long before he
joined the Foreign Service.  But I remember it as being the place
that planted the seeds of travel/new careers in our minds.  I loved it there
so much and because of it, I wanted to see more and do more.
But I've always wanted to go back.  There's no place like it.

Treating Krista's people to some fine cupcakes in San Diego.
My kids miss these kids so much.

Because goodbyes are always easier when burgers are involved.

Had a chance to catch up with my friend Shannon in
Long Beach.  At my favorite cupcake place in the whole world!
We've known each other since 2009 -- we worked in the same
ER together.  She's amazing!

The extra weekend I was in Ohio?  I took the kids to a petting zoo that the fab
hubby and I used to take them to all the time when we lived there.
Such a great trip down memory lane.

Owen and the most adorable baby camel.

Abby finally getting up the courage to feed a giraffe.

Kellen always had the courage to feed the giraffe.

Really cool play structure at the petting zoo.  Pirate ship!


Goat on the right.  Goat on the left?

He got the light-up monkey sword and not the giant stuffed giraffe.
I may have chosen poorly.

Owen eating crickets.

Gross.  Really. Crickets!

One of my many, many trips (three of them!)
back and forth to Ohio in August.
Thankfully, there's multiple Starbucks on
the Pennsylvania Turnpike!