Two more eventful weeks have passed in Reykjavik, and we’re finally starting to get settled. We’ve moved into an awesomely huge and airy house with a fantastic backyard, picked up (registered and insured) our car, and received all of our household goods from London.

Strangely enough, we haven’t received our airfreight from Arizona yet because Mr. I’ve-Been-Doing-This-for-35-Years-and-Don’t-Need-a-Scale, packed our shipment 60 pounds over the limit (and I’m referring to the packers, not my husband ;) ). Of course, all my work clothes were in our airfreight because it’s usually quicker and you want those first. So I’ve been wearing the same couple of outfits for the last three weeks. The glamour of overseas living.

Speaking of overseas living, if you have kids, you may have come across a little TV show called Lazy Town. You may or may not have known that the show is produced in Iceland. And there is actually a kids’ fun run on the day of the Reykjavik Marathon called the Lazy Town Run. Needless to say, we had to participate.

Again, a ridiculous number of people showed up for a small city. So they ended up breaking us into several groups. The first group would run their distance and get their finishing medals, while the rest of us were entertained by the Lazy Town cast back at the starting line. The race was supposed to start at 1:30. But I’m pretty sure we stood on the road waiting for at least 45 minutes. But we finally did our bit, and A got his first real racing medal, which was super cute.

A section of the Reykjavik Marathon.

A section of the Reykjavik Marathon.

Cute little blondies.

Cute little blondies.

The cast of Lazy Town.

The cast of Lazy Town.

Running along Skothúsvegur.

Running along Skothúsvegur.

The last week has also been fairly busy with work. We even had a NATO general come visit, as well as some coworkers from London. So we had them over to our place for lunch one day and then joined them for our first lunch in a traditional Icelandic restaurant a couple days later. I ordered the halibut and lobster but had a bit of N’s amazing horse steak. I couldn’t bring myself to order it because I like horses. But it sure was tasty, if I do say so.

Not wanting to leave you on that note and potentially horrified, I’ll close with something a little more pleasant. The auroras came out last night! And apparently they were bright and beautiful and really early in the season. It looks to be fairly clear at the moment. And Aurora Service Europe says they’re going strong at the moment. So maybe we’ll get a peek tonight when it gets dark enough. Fingers crossed!

I am happy to report that our transition to Iceland has been one of the best that we’ve had in the Foreign Service! We had been dreading the 18-hour flight (with layovers) from Tucson to Reykjavik with the four-year-old, but he was a peach the entire trip. No fits, no accidents. He ate his snacks, played his games and slept the entire overnight flight from JFK to Keflavik.

And our sponsor also has been the single best sponsor we’ve ever had. Our sponsor in Belize was great, the one in London non-existent. But this awesome guy not only met us at the airport and took us grocery shopping, but he’s also picked me up and dropped me off every day for work, organized a playdate this weekend so all our kids could meet, and checked on us over the weekend to see if we needed anything. If only they were all so thoughtful!

We’ve been in temporary quarters for the first week, so we haven’t really had the chance to settle in yet. But we should be moving into our “permanent” house AND getting our car on Monday. And we’ve also managed to spring the cat from the cat hotel, and get out and about a bit.

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The view from our temp housing with the Hallgrímskirkja on the hill.

On Friday, I joined a group from the embassy and met up with more volunteers from the Blue Army (a local environmental NGO), Landvernd (Iceland Environment Association), and the Icelandic Nature Conservation Association (INCA) for an Environmental Clean-Up Day on the Reykjanes Peninsula.

We spent about five hours wandering the lava fields and cleaning up debris along the rocky beach…enough to fill two trailers! It was a great way to get out and about, do something good for the community, and get to know our staff a little more. One of them even said something quite memorable as we were walking along: “It’s healthy to clean the earth. It’s good for the soul.”

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Pretty little beach house.

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Me and the beach-cleaning crew getting organized.

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One of the trailers that we filled with rubbish (the small one).

On Saturday we did something a little less healthy, we briefly attended the third annual Reykjavik Bacon Festival. We are all bacon lovers and were actually looking forward to it. But when we arrived we were shocked to discover a ridiculously dense London-style crowd with massive queues for the half-dozen food tents that were set up.

We finally just picked a queue only to find out when we finally arrived at the front of the line that they didn’t accept cash, and we needed to back a few blocks to the longest line we’d seen and get tickets. At that point we were pretty much done. So we just continued on a little walk through town to the famous hot dog stand.

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Bacon banner.

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Bacon brownies.

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The rainbow road recently painted for the Gay Pride celebrations.

The hot dog stand was supposedly built in 1937 and has served visiting celebrities and dignitaries equally. I like a good hot dog, so I guess I had rather high expectations. Unfortunately, it didn’t do that much for me. Maybe I’ll come around eventually, but I guess I’m too much of a fan of the American variety. The hot dogs in Iceland are mostly lamb with a bit of pork and beef thrown in. And they top them with crispy fried onions, sweet brown mustard and spiced mayonnaise.

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Famous Icelandic hot dog.

After the dog, we stopped at a playground, walked along the sea, checked out the big steel Viking ship sculpture by Jon Gunnar Arnason that looks a bit like a scorpion, and A got to throw a few rocks in the water. That and the aforementioned playdate on Sunday, and it’s been a pretty great first week!

I think the only downside is that none of us grown-ups have been sleeping well in the temp housing, and I’ve been rather warn out from the trip and the first week of work, and managed to come down with a cold. But I’m sure it’ll sort itself out soon enough.

Daddy and A throwing rocks in the sea.

Daddy and A throwing rocks in the sea.

We had three more great visits with people in the last couple weeks. One of my best friends from eighth and ninth grade in Alaska lives in Arizona, so we met up with her and her daughter for dinner at a nearby Cheesecake Factory. I hadn’t seen her since the mid-‘80s, so it was great to see her and do some catching up.

Another girlfriend that was my roommate the first two years that I lived in Florida is here in AZ with her family and lives near Phoenix. They were kind enough to load up the family and drive almost two hours to spend the day with us.

We’d only recently found each other on Facebook, so we also had lots of fun catching up to do and had a blast meeting each other’s families. She has two young kids, and one of them is a little boy about our son’s age, so we all had pizza for lunch, spent some time in the swimming pool, and watched the boys play Lego Marvels. Probably the most fun our son has had while on home leave.

My cousin DK also came out from California for a week. We hadn’t seen her since our wedding, and she hadn’t met A yet, so we all chilled and shopped and BBQ’d and swam…and even managed to get in a trip up to the Kitt Peak Observatory.

Kitt Peak is a little over an hour drive from northern Tucson. It was supposed to be 106F in town, so we were looking forward to some cooler temperatures up at 7,000 feet. I hadn’t thought about the sun though and got a nice sun burn on my chest that quickly welted into heat rash…ugh.

But we got to see a few of the telescopes, and caught the last 30 minutes available for solar viewing, which was really neat. I’d never viewed the sun through a telescope before. They had two different set ups…one to see the solar flares and one to see sun spots. It was pretty amazing. A fun final family adventure in Tucson…and with that…our home leave has ended. See you all in Reykjavik!!11822746_10153324960867891_2222049274617217006_n

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…aka the Pima Air & Space Museum and the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) “Boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

The first time I heard of this place was while watching Can’t Buy Me Love with Patrick Dempsey and Amanda Peterson back in 1987. That was one of my all-time favorite high school movies, and I’ve wanted to visit the Airplane Graveyard ever since.

Scene from "Can't Buy Me Love" - Sneaking over the wall (internet photo).

Scene from “Can’t Buy Me Love” – Sneaking over the wall (internet photo).

Admiring a plane salvaged from the sea (internet photo).

Admiring a plane supposedly salvaged from the sea (internet photo).

I believe this is a  Grumman F-4 Panther (internet photo).

I believe this is a Grumman F-4 Panther (internet photo).

Surprisingly, most of that date scene wasn’t actually shot at the Boneyard, it was filmed at what was then called Bob’s Air Park. “Bob” has since passed away, and most of the yard was purchased by K-Tech Aviation that continues to recycle old aircraft and sell them for parts.

The difference between the recycler and the Boneyard is that the recycler is completely private, and the Boneyard is run by the Air Force as official government storage. The planes are also in much better shape in the Boneyard.

The story Patrick Dempsey’s character tells about pilots reminiscing over salvaged planes from the bottom of the sea or gazing at charismatic aircraft riddled with bullet holes…those planes would probably not have been found in the gov’t storage but over at the recycler.

A T-37 Tweet on "Celebrity Row" with a bunch of Boeing C-135s in the background.

A T-37 Tweet on “Celebrity Row” with a bunch of Boeing C-135s in the background.

A few rows of the massive C-5 Galaxies.

A few rows of the massive C-5 Galaxies.

Driving by K-Tech on the way back from the Boneyard.

Driving by K-Tech on the way back from the Boneyard.

Not sure how you go about visiting K-Tech. But you can take a nice air-conditioned bus tour of the Boneyard if you book it through the Air & Space Museum, which we did. The prices weren’t bad at all…$7 for adults and $4 for kids.

Entry to the museum was also $7 for adults and free for kids, and they had a huge selection of planes from all different eras and had some that the kids could crawl in. Obviously the ones on the base were only military, and we weren’t allowed to get off the bus. The museum also had a nice display on “Women in Aviation” and a hanger dedicated to space exploration.

Me by an F-4.

Me by an F-4.

Air Force One used by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson from 1961-1965.

Air Force One used by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson from 1961-1965.

NASA Super Guppy 1965-1995.

NASA Super Guppy 1965-1995.

A model display of the Space Shuttle.

A model display of the Space Shuttle.

I figured we’d be there for a couple hours in the morning. But we (me, hubby, son and grandma) arrived at 9am to avoid the worst of the heat, and the first Boneyard tour wasn’t till 11:30am, and it last for over an hour. A lost interest fairly early on and spent most of the time taking pictures of the imaginary zombies running alongside the bus.

After the tour we were a bit peckish, so we stopped into the museum café called the Flight Grill and had some of the best blue cheese burgers we’ve ever had. A even ate most of his slice of cheese pizza. We didn’t end up leaving until almost 3:00. But it was a day well spent!

N and A checking out the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.

N and A checking out the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.

A's favorite display...an interactive WWII cockpit.

A’s favorite display…an interactive WWII cockpit.

Cool tri-fin tail on a TWA Lockheed Constellation 1943-1958.

Cool tri-fin tail on a TWA Lockheed Constellation 1943-1958.

We arrived in Tucson on a Saturday afternoon…and the airline had already lost all four of our bags between DC and Phoenix. Technically they weren’t lost, they just missed the connection somehow. So they delivered them about 8:00 that night.

My mom picked us up at the airport and drove us to her little condo complex where we’d rented a three-bedroom unit. We figured we were probably gonna die in the 100F+ heat, but so far it hasn’t been too bad. The vacation rental was almost half price compared to their winter rates for obvious reasons, the AC works well, and there’s a pool, gym, and BBQ area, so we’re pretty happy with it so far.

Vacation rental complex with the Catalina Mtns in the background.

Vacation rental complex with the Catalina Mtns in the background.

My mom has been loaning us her car, so we’ve been able to get out and about. We’ve mostly been in chill mode this last week and have been visiting with grandma, relaxing from the trip, and enjoying the giant American grocery stores. Found a frozen yogurt place and visited three times.

On Friday, we had big excitement in the form of a visitor from California! My best friend since childhood, AF, popped out for a long weekend. So we did more of the same while she was here…visiting, BBQing, swimming, going to grocery stores, and eating frozen yogurt. :) We also had a fun girls’ afternoon and had our tootsies painted. Alas, she had to get back to work. But it was so great to see her!

Pedicures from The Art of Nails.

Pedicures from The Art of Nails.

We do have a few touristy things planned while we’re here like the Pima Air & Space Museum, dinosaur museum, children’s museum, Old Tucson Studios and the Kitt Peak Observatory. I wouldn’t mind taking A to see Meteor Crater and the Petrified Forest…but the idea of spending hours in the car is far from relaxing.

I also need to get my driver’s license renewed at some point, since I’ve hit my limit on annual overseas extensions, and it will finally expire this year. But for now it’s just nice to be on vacation. :)

Travel is obviously my favorite thing in the world, or I would probably find a nice quiet job somewhere in the States. I am ecstatic about us moving to Iceland, but I’m also aware that we will have fewer travel opportunities due to its isolation and how small the country is.

With that in mind, I’ve been prepping for three years at a small post and doing some online shopping while on home leave. Since we’ve practically reached our weight limit for shipping, we’ve forgone such things as multiple sets of winter tires for the car and will just have to buy them at post. The cheap craigslist patio furniture will now be purchased at Ikea in country, etc.

But there are a few things that I am still determined to get here and either stuff into our UAB or get into one tiny supplemental HHE shipment, even though we’ll probably have to pay for part of it.

There are three things in particular that I think will greatly improve our activity levels during both the summer and winter that also make my inner child giddy and happy. Because these are items that either I haven’t had since I was 12 years old…or I’ve wanted since then. :)

So here are my big purchases for home leave this year:

1. Bicycle

bike

Huffy Deluxe 26″ Ladies’ Cruiser Bike

2. Telescope

telescope

Celestron NexStar 130 SLT Computerized Telescope

3. Digital Piano

piano

Suzuki Classroom Digital Teaching Piano

And there you have it. I see lots of bike riding with the family on the long summer weekends. I can share and improve my amateur love of astronomy. And I can start teaching A how to play piano while getting back into practice myself. I think these will all be excellent investments!

After my slightly whiny last post, we have officially wrapped up our two-year tour in London and returned to the US for training and home leave. The last couple of weeks were really lovely, and I’m happy that I got to spend some quality time with our best local friends and some great ladies in my office outside of work. We’ve had lunches, dinners, a BBQ and one last summer picnic in Hyde Park.

Our embassy driver picked us up four hours before our flight to compensate for Monday morning rush-hour traffic. So we got to Heathrow in plenty of time and didn’t have to rush. The flight over was an American Airlines code share operated by British Airways, so that was awesome. BA is so much nicer than AA, if I do say so. And we were on an Airbus 380-800, which is the massive two-story number that also happens to be the world’s largest commercial passenger aircraft.

Here’s a shot of the THREE jetways leading to our plane…

British Airways Airbus 380.

British Airways Airbus 380.

Our son was a little restless now and then, but he didn’t have any screaming meltdowns on the eight-hour flight or at any other part of the day. And I also got to watch three WHOLE movies because BA lets you start your in-flight entertainment the minute you sit down and continues it until 20 minutes after landing. So that and a couple complimentary glasses of wine made for a very pleasant trip.

AND we actually managed to get a two-bedroom apartment in corporate housing! So it was a pretty great day overall. It’s funny being back in the States though, DC in particular, with the big cars and the American Colonial architecture that looks like something out of a theme-park to me at the moment.

But it’s nice to be “home” where things are just a tiny bit easier and you can plug your appliances directly into the wall without an adapter. So I will sign off and leave you with this song that I’ve had stuck in my head for the last two days.

Our living room mostly packed.

Our living room mostly packed.

So it’s been kind of a rough week! PACKOUT: First of all, we had our HHE packed out on Monday and Tuesday. It was fairly uneventful, barring the fact that they were 30 minutes late and sent three guys instead of the four they’d said were coming. But they still managed to get it all done in two days. They’re coming back next week to collect the UAB.

The annoying part is that we supposedly have 7,100 lbs worth of stuff. We are only allowed 7,200. So all the items we were planning to get out of storage and all the supplies we were planning to buy for Iceland on home leave…are now obsolete, because we would be over our shipping allowance and have to pay for international shipping out of pocket, which we can’t afford.

The really curious thing though is that we only had 5,000 lbs of stuff when we packed out of our four-bedroom HOUSE in Belize. And we got rid of quite a bit more after we got to London and realized we had no space for it in our comparatively little apartment. Yet somehow we’ve supposedly acquired an EXTRA 2,000 POUNDS. I might have to call bullshit on that one.

DAMAGES: We also had to pay $200 in damages for various bits of government furniture for the first time (scratches on dressers, etc). But I suppose it could’ve been worse.

OAKWOOD: We have stayed at the Oakwood corporate housing properties twice during training. The first time we were there for about two months and got a two-bedroom apartment. The second time, we were there for a month, were told that there were no two-bedrooms available and squeezed into a one-bedroom where our son slept in a crib in the living room. This time we’re going to be there for less than a week but again were told we’d be in a one-bedroom.

We put our housing request in back in February. So I spent a couple days going back and forth with them because I couldn’t believe that there was not a single two-bedroom available in the half dozen properties in the DC metro area when we’ve given them almost six months’ notice.

And then they gave me the long and short of it. They prioritize according to family size, length of stay…and I would guess pay grade, even though they didn’t say it. So basically we will never get what we want unless they have no one else to give it to. Another reminder of the lovely government hierarchy.

KID: And our son is not handling the changes well. He was two the last time we moved and didn’t seem to care. This time, he’s almost five and is on an emotional rollercoaster. He doesn’t seem particularly worried that he’s leaving nursery and all his friends (and is quite excited about moving on to big boy school).

But he’s acting out in other ways. The first day he came home after the movers had left, he realized the TV was gone and burst into tears. I’d like to think it was just an outlet and that he’s not actually emotionally attached to the television, but who knows.

Every night since then he’s come into our bedroom once in the middle of the night, and again around 5am. At that point I can no longer sleep since I have to be up at 6:30, so I usually let him crawl in with us. Both mornings I got out of bed before he did, and he was completely irate that I’d left him there sleeping…even though his daddy was crashed out next to him. I’ve done that many times in the past, and it was no big deal. I know he’s stressed, so I’m trying to be patient with him. But I’m stressed too!!

CAT: Yesterday, I took the cat for her third and final vet visit, but she knew it was coming this time and clawed the crap out of me. Then they gave me the bill, which came to almost $500 USD for three visits. Maybe it’s better that we’re no longer buying a bunch of supplies in the States!

And then somewhere on the 15-item checklist on “how to import your cat to Iceland,” I missed two little words. They wanted copies of her paperwork “at least” 5 days before she arrived. I’d gotten it in my head that it was “within” 5 days before she arrived. Just like her health certificate has to be “within” 10 days before she arrived. So yesterday I received a nice email from the Food and Vet Authority saying that I’d missed the deadline, and the cat was no longer going to be allowed into the country.

That’s about the time that I completely fell apart and started crying at my desk.

All that work!!! All that money!! I couldn’t even blame it on the vet strike. I had f*d it up all on my own!! So I had a good cry, then sent them the paperwork and a pathetic email. And…happily…they accepted my late documents and approved her import. Still keeping our fingers crossed that the vets don’t go back on strike on July 1.

So, yes, I am officially ready for home leave and a much-needed vacation…and a COLOSSAL margarita from some awesome Mexican restaurant in Arizona. And I promise that someday soon I will again post something fun and upbeat on this blog. :)

Ivan the Terra Bus. Specialized passenger transport vehicle manufactured by Foremost (Canada) that resides at McMurdo Station and is part of the US Antarctic Program fleet.

Ivan the Terra Bus. Specialized passenger transport vehicle manufactured by Foremost (Canada) that resides at McMurdo Station and is part of the US Antarctic Program fleet. (Photo: http://ciresblogs.colorado.edu/antarcticuavs/2012/10)

The Tundra Buggy fleet in Churchill, Manitoba, manufactured by Frontiers North Adventures for polar bear tours.

The Tundra Buggy fleet in Churchill, Manitoba, manufactured by Frontiers North Adventures for polar bear tours. (Photo: http://breathinstephen.com/the-next-great-adventure)

The MAN 8x8 off-road Personnel Carrier, originally built for the German army and now used in Iceland for glacier tours.

The MAN 8×8 off-road Personnel Carrier, originally built for the German army and now used in Iceland for glacier tours. (Photo: http://www.get-married-in-iceland.com/clacier-vehicle-from-ice-explorer)

Photo: flickr/linecon0

Those of you who don’t follow Icelandic news and politics, which is probably most of you, may not have heard of the labor strike that’s been going on since April. Hoping for better wages, it started with about 10,000 workers mostly made up of general laborers, wholesale food service workers (slaughterhouses, fish factories, etc.), and some from the tourist industry and cleaning services.

And they even had the following schedule:

April 30: Work stoppage from noon until midnight.
May 6 and 7: Work stoppages from midnight until midnight.
May 19 and 20: Work stoppages from midnight until midnight.
May 26: General strike begins at midnight.

Then things got a little more serious. Other unions, such as the Association of Academics (BHM), which includes health professionals (nurses, midwives and veterinarians) also went on strike…indefinitely, and frightening headlines started to appear in local and international newspapers:

The Verge: Iceland is running out of meat because of a vet strike.
Bloomberg: Iceland Running out of Burgers as Vet Strike Causes Meat Crisis.
Reykjavik Grapevine: Vet Strike Getting Serious: KFC To Close Due To Chicken Shortage.

All the while I’m thinking, gee, that sucks. I hope the people get what they need, but I also hope the food prices aren’t too high when we arrive.

At the end of May Iceland Review reported that 40 percent of Iceland’s workers were on strike, and in such a small community, as you can imagine, it was affecting everyone.

But for some reason, I never connected the dots until I read this: Dog Refused Entry to Iceland due to Strike (Iceland Review). Vet strike: dog deported or destroyed (Iceland Monitor).

And then it clicked…no vets…no animals being inspected at customs…no pets being allowed into the country. OMFG…our cat is due to arrive in Iceland in two weeks to begin her mandatory month-long quarantine. If there are no vets, she will be refused entry and returned to the UK. She will miss her quarantine window, her blood tests and health certificate will expire…and she will have to go through the process all over again. Not to mention the fact that we’re LEAVING THE COUNTRY, have already paid for a plane ticket to Iceland, and still have to get her into quarantine at some point.

THIS IS NOT THE KIND OF STRESS I NEED!!

So I did what every responsible pet owner would do…I called our London vet to confirm they’d sent her blood tests to a UK lab and not an Icelandic one where they would sit and go bad. I emailed The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), not even expecting a response if they were all on strike. I called the quarantine facility that had not responded to any of my random emails over the last month when I sent them the cat’s flight information.

So you can imagine how relieved I was when both MAST and the quarantine folks responded and told me not to worry, Parliament was meeting that very day to create legislation to end the strikes. And end them they did. Now the headlines in Icelandic papers are saying things like:

Strike called off: waffles time!
Beef is back!
Parliament crushes strikes.
Law On Nurses Strike Passes, Resignations Follow En Masse.

And the best sentence I’ve ever read: “Vets will be returning to work today…”

BUT we’re not out of the woods yet. “The bill passed on Saturday calls for all strike action to be halted until 1 July and for the parties involved to use that time to strike a deal. If this does not happen, the case will be sent to a court of arbitration.” That’s the day our cat is supposed to arrive in Iceland. If the vets go back to striking that day, we’re screwed.

I guess all we can do is keep our fingers crossed, watch the news reports, call the quarantine facility the morning that she flies, and come up with a Plan B…just in case. Such is life in the Foreign Service when you have pets. Have I mentioned that we’re thinking of adding a dog to our family?

 

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