Tuesday, September 18, 2018


So excited! Our stuff is coming on Monday! Yes, it’s not a great day for it to be delivered - lots of rescheduling to do, husband has an evening event, babysitter has to move her schedule around to help with the kids. But we’ve been living out of suitcases for over two months - since the end of June for the kids and me since we were traveling to Grandparents immediately after the end of the school year. It’ll be here after lunch.Time to recycle all the yogurt containers I’ve been using as tupperwares.

2pm. No stuff. Nada. No communication either ... We track down the shipper’s dircet line ...

What do you mean you’re not coming ....


What a shirt show. Which brings me to some thoughts about why this feels like they cancelled Christmas.

In our previous moves we did not have to wait this long. Through a combination of factors that I won’t comment on, this is the longest we’ve had to wait before we can setttle in. And since packout this time was very difficult, we did not use up our UAB allowance. We have been living in a minimalist fashion for a while now. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I want to set up my house.

Ya see, when you move every 2-3 years, you don’t have time to waste in making your new location “home.” Say yes to everything social, hit the ground running exploring, be patient and trust that one day soon grocery shopping won’t be a four hour ordeal. But it wears you down.

And getting the HHE, especially with kids, is essential to this process. It’s essential to morale. I have a friend who just moved from one city in China to another. She said “seven years ago we arrived with four bags, today we are leaving with two kids” and a boatload of stuff. She got her stuff quickly so wasn’t as happy to see it - absence makes the heart grow fonder. I have another friend who in her youth was a great traveler. Originally fromTurkey, she met her American husband in Germany, had a baby, and immediately moved to the DC area permanently. Since having a child she says, “I don’t want to go anywhere.”

Everyone’s different, but stability is key. Thank goodness this is a three year assignment. Now how can I make that longer ....

Neighborhood crusin’

Friday, September 7, 2018

Baby dragons and a 800 year old castle

We are quickly discovering one of the best things about life in Ljubljana: all those amazing Slovenian destinations I’ve been stalking on instagram for the past year are day trips!

 An hour’s drive brings you to beautiful and fascinating places. We can see a whole bunch of stuff before Kyle can deploy his “are we there yet” song.

Predjama Castle is 800 years old and the “largest cave castle in the world.” For this visit we only visited the outside, but if you buy a ticket for a tour you get to explore inside the cave network behind the castle.

Apparently one of the knights who owned this castle “died on the toilet after being betrayed by a servant.” I have to find out what that means.

On this visit to the park we spent most of our time in the Postonja Caves, searching for baby dragons.

There is a train that takes you deep inside the cave network, which is the largest in Europe. I’ve been in caves before and I’ve never seen anything like this. The train moves pretty quickly, so hang on to your hats, or in this case, your Ben.

We did find a baby dragon - in an aquarium. We weren’t allowed to take pictures of them but you can see what they look like here: https://www.postojnska-jama.eu/en/wonderland-stories/baby-dragons-secret-stories/.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Tivoli City Park

Ljubljana prides itself on being the “greenest European capital,” and no wonder. If you live in one of the beautiful places you of course want to preserve it. Why do you think Oregonians get so excited about the environment? Slovenians, however, take environmentalalism to a whole new level. Recycling bins are larger and more prevalent than garbage cans, and apparently there aren’t very many rules as to what you can’t recycle. Anything goes! We even have city compost bins on the residential streets. At first I was super excited about this, but then I realized that they only pick up the organic waste once a week. There’s a science behind composting, and that’s not it. 

Like Tirana (and NYC) Ljubljana has a central green space inside the city limits. This park is huge, and has urban sections with playgrounds and cafes and duck ponds as well as forests with hiking trails. The first picture was taken about a ten minute walk from our house.

There’s also a modern art museum, where you can take printmaking classes. Follow the paintings!

There’s something  especially calming about city buildings you can see from inside a big park.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

First Impressions

And, after three years in Arlington, we’re back overseas! Leaving DC was by far the most difficult PCS we’ve ever done. For one thing, our car and HHE are still not here. We parted with our car on July 12 and packed out about a week later, and apparently our stuff is taking the scenic tour around the Horn of Africa. As far as we can tell it’s currently vacationing in Greece. Thanks, JK Moving Company. Meanwhile, we shall continue to ration our four spoons and three plates (yes, we broke a welcome kit plate). Although we are all going to be doing a happy dance around the Mazda, I’m sure I’ll be overwhelmed by our stuff whenever it does decide to join us. In the meantime, I’ll continue to stew and keep the kids away from the coffee cups we borrowed from our neighbors.

This is our third overseas tour, and we are very happy with our housing assingment. It is light and spacious and comfortable, and in a great location. This is the first time we have lived out in the community instead of on a compound, and while at first that felt very different I’m already used to it. Other than apparently rampant bike theft, crime is rare in Ljubljana, and Slovenia in general. And our bikes are in Greece so we have no worries.

Which brings me to my first impression of our home for th next three years: this place is insanely calm. The drivers are moderately aggressive and cyclists are EVERYWHERE, but laws are enforced and the infrastructure is as good as any other developed country. Compared to my other experiences of moving to Manila and Albania (and even DC), the calmness has been something I have had to get used to. Now that it’s September and everyone is back from vacation, life is picking up a bit, but in general Ljubljana feels like a “big city” with a small town attitude.

Now that’s not to say that I’M calm. I am of course constantly overwhelmed, mostly by the language. It took me more than a month to figure out how to say “hello” dobra dan and “thank you” hvala. The boys started school a couple of weeks ago, and they have a full schedule of classes all day followed by after school activities, half of which are even inlcuded in our tuition fees. Kyle is of course enrolled in ALL the sports as well as robotics, and Ben is taking yoga (and I will join him!). My first impression of the school and the kids’ teachers is very positive. There are a few adjustments to adapt to, but the most difficult problem so far as that Ben is napping at school and then won’t go to sleep  at his normal bedtime. And yet is somehow still overtired. TBD how that’s going to work itself out.

I have been hired as a rover admin at the embassy, but my security clearance is still 3-6 months out. While it would be nice to have the income to offset Ben’s private school tuition, not working is at least giving me plenty of time to do important things like write this blog and stare at Julie. I could probably do with a little more mental stimulation (which, btw, was not a problem in either of our 20% hardship tours - just an observation of hardship vs non-hardship tours). Having written that, I feel motivated to get off my bum and go join YogaAnytime.com. First 30 days are free with the code ANNIE.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The W is my Destiny

The W is back. 

This past summer we relocated to our next post: DC. We were sad to leave beautiful Albania - especially our beautiful helper and babysitter, Liza, and our million dollar view of Mt. Dajti. But we are glad to be back in the US, soaking up its benefits of proximity to high-quality healthcare, frequent visits with stateside friends and family, and first-world living. 

The W is surprising. 

And October is a lovely month to be in the US. Apple picking, fall festivals, beautiful weather, Halloween with young kids, and pumpkin mania. A couple of weeks ago I texted my husband from Trader Joe's and told him that pumpkin hysteria was in full swing. He requested that I "buy all of it." 

The W spares no one. 

And yet, October is also approximately 90 days post transfer, which means the new post honeymoon is over; let the Fall Funk begin. 

The W is the W curve of cultural adjustment, which I think looks like this:

The Funk always takes me by surprise. And of course it's not always a fall funk. Last time I moved in the spring, so it was a summer funk. 

People in the nomadic community throw around the term "culture shock," but my favorite descriptive term for this process is "transition fatigue," because it happens when you move back for a domestic tour too. 

Even in the US, we professional nomads have to reestablish ourselves in the new place. That means: new house, new friends, new school, new job, new coworkers, new car (maybe), new everything. It's exhausting.

BUT, according the the W, it gets better. And I remember it getting better. Until it starts again. Which is why my #1 bidding preference for next time is: ability to extend. 

Unless the new place sucks, of course. ;)  

Saturday, January 11, 2014

My 3 Day Detox

No, I wasn't IN detox. I cannot imagine what that looks like in Albania, if it even exists. In response to my holiday overindulgence in the last few weeks of 2013, I began 2014 with a gentle detox.

I've always wanted to try this, but have never before had time or the interest in doing the work that is necessary to make a detox accessible--and edible. And believe me, it is a lot of work. Although the ingredients are simple, creativity is required in taking those ingredients and making them into something that I'd want to eat, as opposed to eating plain vegetables and counting the hours until I can eat bread again.

My husband also tried the detox. He was miserable anyway. Even with all the cheating.

On December 31, as I sipped my glass of champagne, my body began to scream at me. It had been whining for the last couple of weeks, but it had reached its limit. My knees were hurting, my skin pale, and I was exhausted. And yet, it was the holidays! Have another Christmas cookie!

By New Year's Day I had decided to do something radical about my diet, but waited, of course, until we came back from Prague. A mini-vacation in the Czech Republic is certainly not the time to begin a detox.

We landed in Tirana on the 5th, and on the way home I stopped at my favorite vegetable market to stock up on produce. One of the benefits of doing a detox in Albania is that the produce is fresh, delicious, and inexpensive. If I decide to do this again in the spring there will be even more variety, and it will be fresher and cheaper. It is not organic, but it can't possibly be coated with as many chemicals as produce available in the US simply because it deteriorates faster from a fresh state and tastes better.

I used a template from Mind Body Green as an outline, and started the first full day we were home. I did not follow a strict plan, but completely eliminated wheat, dairy, sugar, and alcohol, and drank tea instead of coffee in the morning. I ate a lot of fruits, vegetables, walnuts, almonds, and cashews. I couldn't find the rubber seal for our blender until the second day, so the first two smoothies were pretty exciting. Note: a food processor is NOT a substitute for a blender.

A Super Breakfast
- banana
- frozen berries
-handful of walnuts
- ice and water

- handful of spinach
- peach 
- handful of almonds
- ice and water

Dinners consisted of salad, a variety of steamed vegetables, and protein. The first night I cooked salmon with olive oil, lemon, and salt in the slow cooker, and the second night I adapted Dr. Oz's recipe for lentil soup. The third night was quinoa with lightly roasted vegetables, and my husband had chicken. Salad dressing was olive oil, lemon juice, and a dash of dijon mustard.

Salad toppings
- avocado
- green peppers
- tomatoes

Tabouli with quinoa instead of bulgar.
- parsley
- cucumbers
- green onions
- tomatoes
- quinoa
- olive oil
- lemon juice

Lentil soup
- red lentils
- onions
- carrots 
- tomatoes
- olive oil
- cumin
- bay leaves
- freshly made vegetable stock

I was extremely pleased with the results. I felt energized and less inflamed by the end of the first day, and my knee pain had disappeared by the second day. My skin improved, and I lost a little sag in my waist and bum. I never felt hungry. 

There are many reasons to do a detox, but one of them is to shock yourself out of bad eating habits. I plan to stick to smoothies for breakfast and lunch, and do what I can to make our dinners healthier while not alienating my husband. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Friendsgiving in Albania

I love celebrating Thanksgiving overseas. What's not to like? Food, wine, friends, and the ability to afford to pay someone to entertain the toddler and help with clean up.

For a traditionalist Thanksgiving stickler, celebrating American holidays overseas certainly comes with challenges. Substitutions for certain ingredients are required, and last minute turkey buying is not an option. On the other hand, the likelihood of dramatic family blowouts is much, much lower.

Of the three Thanksgivings we have spent abroad, we have hosted two dinners for our friends and their children. In 2010, I spent the holiday in my 12 hour/day yoga teacher training. However, I did bring pie. Yes, I fed pie to a bunch of yoga teachers-in-training, and our guru. And I left class early so that I could make the community Thanksgiving potluck feast at Manila's American Recreation Club.

The next year, we had just returned from OB Medevac with our newborn baby, but, feeling the need to reconnect with our friends at post after four months at home, had a few people over for Thanksgiving dinner. That was probably the easiest Thanksgiving I will ever host, as I not only had help with childcare and dishwashing, but I had a cook. That year, I did not practice the tradition of burning myself while manhandling the turkey in and out of the oven.

This year we had nine adults, six children, a baby, and our housekeeper/babysitter for Thanksgiving dinner. We ordered a "turkey over 12 lbs" from AERA, and a 24 lb butterball behemoth arrived. Our Ambassador's wife saved us the trouble of trying to thaw this monster by sharing that turkeys can be cooked from the frozen state. I will never thaw a turkey again.

I started cooking on Sunday. We had invited our non-fowl eating friends to join us, so I made a mushroom gravy that was way better than its turkey pan cousin. Even my meat-loving husband loved it. Of course we also made turkey pan gravy as well. One can never have too much gravy. Or pie.

On Tuesday I made my second pie ever. My first pie was on Saturday for a friend's pre-Thanksgiving feast, and because it actually wasn't terrible I gathered my courage and tried again. Pecans cannot be found--at least not easily--in Albania, so I made a walnut pie. According to the internet, New Englanders have walnut pies at Thanksgiving all the time. I didn't know that pecans didn't go farther north than Washington, D.C. I had learned a few things from my first experience, and this pie turned out pretty darn well.

My husband had showed me how his grandmother used her thumb to make the pie crust decorative. When I was finished I couldn't recognize myself.

On Wednesday I made roasted sweet potatoes and pears from a recipe posted on Facebook by our CLO. This is amazing sweet potato dish that is much, much better than a sweet potato casserole, unless, of course, you want dessert for dinner.

Fresh cranberries are also not easily found, so, in addition to opening a can of cranberry sauce purchased from the commissary, I made an orange-lemon ginger compote. I thought it was a perfect substitute, but I'm not sure anyone else tried it. I got the recipe from a British Christmas food website, so maybe they could sense that it wasn't American. Anyway, it tasted great.

Finally, the turkey. The 24 pounder that we roasted from a frozen state. Best turkey I've ever cooked, and I'll never go back. Thank you, Anne!

We had a little drama around mid-day on Thursday when, according to the meat thermometer, it appeared that the turkey was already done. But it turned out perfectly--and fully cooked. This method seems to help avoid drying the meat out in the oven. I didn't get a picture of the turkey before my husband made these freaky cuts in it.

I did burn myself. Twice, on the forearm and wrist. I need longer oven mitts.

And here is our happy table, right before we sat down and demolished it. Everyone brought something, so we had more food than we and our children could eat.

Happy Thanksgiving!