Well…

It’s hard to say what kind of year 2018 was. I think it’s safe to say that it was one of the most difficult of my 47 years…along with 2016. But I can also say that A. and I survived our first year with me as a single mom.

For all practical purposes January 11 was the day my marriage ended. Coincidentally it was also the day my mother passed away two years earlier. So January 11 sucks. Might have to mark it as an annual day of mourning.

But I have been truly blessed by and thankful for all the wonderful people that are still in my life. And the parts of this year that shine brightest are the times that I spent with them…coffees, lunches, visits, phone calls, messages. Even if I didn’t get to see you in person, I love you all!!

So here’s the summary of my 2018 big events, good and bad:

January – Medevaced to DC, marriage ended.
February – A. started school in the US, dog and cat arrived from Iceland, visit with friend from California.
March – Officially curtailed from Iceland, trip to California for spring break.
April – Started working at FSI, dog contracted Giardia (seriously, that was a big disgusting event for me).
July – Car and HHE arrived from Iceland.
August – Trip to Toronto for summer break.
September – A. turned 8 and started 3rd grade, visit with friend from Iceland.
October – Visit with friends from the UK.
November – Visit with step-dad from Alaska, trip to New Hampshire for Thanksgiving.
December – First Christmas as a single mom, beginning of government furlough from work.

I bought some champagne for New Year’s Eve but never opened it. I was happy to see this year come to a close but didn’t quite feel like celebrating. As we all know, life doesn’t necessarily tie up nicely at the end of the calendar year.

My resolution for 2019, other than the usual lose 50 lbs, is to be more authentic. I’ve spent a large portion of my life, particularly the last 10 years, not telling people what I think or how I feel because I imagined it would make them unhappy, or put them in a bad mood, or they wouldn’t like me. And it’s turned out to be a fairly unhealthy way to live. Being emotionally honest with yourself and other people actually takes a surprising amount of effort! Well, for me at least. So I’ve got my work cut out for me.

But I like to think that at this time next year, the champagne will be flowing! We will not only know what our next post is, but we will only have six months left in our DC tour and will be making plans for our imminent departure. 😉

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Arlington National Cemetery with Christmas wreaths.

I have been officially furloughed for the last three weeks, and even though it is not an ideal situation…and a very difficult one for many…I’ve actually been enjoying it. Alone time is the one thing I have not had since my husband and I separated last January…so the last three weeks have actually been fantastic.

My son and I had a lovely quiet Christmas and New Year together, even though we didn’t get a white Christmas, we got to visit with friends that made it extra special. Then my son was in winter break day camp and started back to school on Jan 2, so I have been taking long naps, having lunches with girlfriends, had a nice spa visit and massage for my birthday last week, and binge watched entire seasons of Mercy Street and Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce. And I’ve even gotten out and about to see a few DC sites…like the Christmas wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery (Department of Defense is still open) and the Fabergé exhibit at Hillwood House.

Hillwood House was amazing. It’s a two-story mansion and garden estate that was last owned by Marjorie Merriweather Post who left it to the city as a museum. Marjorie was one of the wealthiest women in America at the time (with a net worth of $5.7 billion in today’s money). She inherited the Post Cereal Company at the age of 27 when her father passed away. She was married four times, and her third husband was the US Ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1937. They happened to be in Russia when the Soviets were dumping all of the imperial and religious art onto the market and selling it cheap. So Hillwood House has the largest collection of Russian decorative art outside of Russia…including two Fabergé Easter eggs and the original 1883 A Boyar Wedding Feast by Konstantin Makovsky. SO GORGEOUS.

Imperial Faberge Easter eggs at Hillwood House.

I also enjoyed visiting Arlington Cemetery. Even though this is my fifth time staying in DC, I had never made it there. It was an appropriately cold and misty day, and the wreaths, all 350,000 of them, were a touching reminder that every single stone has a story and a family. My mission while I was there was to find the grave of Antarctic explorer Rear Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd Jr. I spent about 45 minutes looking for his stone then finally gave up…the place is so huge. But then I was thrilled to find his section on my way out.

I was looking for him because Admiral Byrd led five expeditions to Antarctica, was the first person to reach the South Pole by air, and “was the commander of the first U.S. Navy Operation Deep Freeze in 1955–56, which established permanent Antarctic bases at McMurdo Sound, the Bay of Whales, and the South Pole.”

According to Wikipedia, he “was one of the most highly decorated officers in the history of the United States Navy. He is, probably, the only individual to receive the Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross and the Silver Life Saving Medal. He also was one of a very few individuals to receive all three Antarctic expedition medals issued for expeditions prior to the Second World War.” Apparently I completely missed the massive statue they have for him somewhere in there. So I guess I will have to go back. But in the meantime, here is a picture of me next to his bust at McMurdo in 2007 and an internet pic (because the camera on my current phone is crap) of his tombstone in Arlington (minus the wreath).

Admiral Byrd’s bust at McMurdo Station and his gravestone in Arlington.

We’ll see what next week brings…

October & November have flown by. I could write pages and pages about everything that we’ve done but don’t have enough time, so I’m just going to blog in pictures. Here’re some of the highlights:

September/October

We had a lovely dinner with friends and checked out the Viking ship Draken Harald Hårfagre when it visited the DC Wharf at the end of September. It was even more meaningful because we’d visited the same ship when it docked in Reykjavik last year.

Draken Harald Hårfagre at the DC Wharf.

We went to Oktoberfest in Vienna, which was a lot more fun for my son than I thought it would be. Lots of fun food, beer and entertainment, and we got to meet the mayor who was serving beer.

We had dinner with friends from Iceland that are currently posted here and a playdate with new local friends.

Had two lunches with Foreign Service friends at work.

Went to a Halloween party, which was my first party since my husband and I separated. I managed to get through an hour and a half and then completely ran out of material for small talk.

Had a fabulous visit with friends from the UK. Unfortunately our current place is too small to have people stay overnight, but we were able to spend a day out together picking pumpkins at Great Country Farms and a couple evenings relaxing at our place, chatting and catching up while the kids played.

The pumpkin patch at Great Country Farms.

We went to the Phillips Collection to see the Nordic Impressions art exhibit. I was excited to find my favorite Kjarval painting that wasn’t in his museum when we visited it in Reykjavik.

“Amazon Woman of the Mountain” by Johannes Sveinsson Kjarval.

We went trick-or-treating in our apartment complex on Halloween. Our dog escaped at one point and chased screaming children down the hall, which was hysterically funny because he’s so sweet and friendly.

November

We took the dog out to visit the Manassas Battlefield one weekend, then checked out the Meadowlark Botanic Garden the next and generally enjoyed the fall colors.

Canons at the Manassas Battlefield.

My step-dad blew through for a quick visit over Veteran’s Day weekend. So we met up with a friend, went to Mt. Vernon for their Colonial Market Fair and had lunch at Gadsby’s colonial tavern in Alexandria.

Prosciutto and fresh cheese sandwiches at the Colonial Market Fair, Mt. Vernon.

Another weekend, we had dinner with another set of friends from Embassy London that are currently posted here.

We flew up to Boston for a lovely Thanksgiving with friends that I used to work with in Antarctica. They’re currently living in Concord, NH, so we spent a great holiday with them, ate lots of turkey, watched it snow, and even got to do a bit of Christmas tree hunting in the woods.

A snowy Thanksgiving view from our friends’ house in Concord, NH.

Looking forward to more holiday fun in December!!

Apple picking at Great Country Farms.

“ANOTHER festival?” my son complained as I informed him of our day’s upcoming adventure. But I managed to swing him around to at least pretend that there’s no such thing as too many country festivals! And we were going to have a friend along. 🙂 My lovely Icelandic coworker, BF, from Embassy Reykjavik was in town for a little less than two weeks for training. So we were able to get together for lunch at FSI and have a weekend daytrip!

We picked BF up at her hotel in Arlington and set off for Great Country Farms in Bluemont, VA. I’d always thought of Northern Virginia as a suburban extension of Washington, DC and one of the Mid-Atlantic States. But apparently it’s very rural, full of farms and national parks, and very much a part of Southern American culture.

Unless I totally missed something when we went strawberry/cherry picking at Hollin Farms, it was just your basic farm with fields and orchards spread over a few low rolling hills. Great Country Farms blew it out of the water. This place was part farm, part farm-themed amusement park. It had a farm shop, wagon rides to the fields for apple picking, marshmallow roasting, a tire hill for climbing, three playgrounds with swings, a rope maze, corn maze, moon bounce, oversized chess board, and ninja obstacle course. All of which we did…or at least watched my son do.

Tire mountain.

Ninja obstacle course.

Then we made our way across the road and past the apple orchards we’d just been scouring, and up the hill to the Bluemont Vineyard tasting room. We’d asked one of the cashiers at the farm if they served food in the tasting rooms, and he’d said not really…just hot dogs and pizza, which sounded fine for us. But boy was he wrong! As their website states, they had a “full menu of farm-to-table, seasonally rotating fare as well as traditional items to enhance your wine tasting experience.”

So we settled in on their amazing deck with views over all of Loudon Valley and ordered a super yummy Taster’s Board with French bread, prosciutto, salami, three kinds of cheese, almonds, pickles and dried cranberries. We also shared The G.O.A.T., which was a long flatbread with fig spread, more prosciutto, goat cheese, arugula, and caramelized onions. It was SO GOOD…up until my eight-year-old boy tried to ingest an entire mouthful of prosciutto, choked on it momentarily, and then regurgitated it all in a big lump onto the middle of the tasting board like a bird. Happily, we’d already finished our food.

Along with our meal we’d chosen a very reasonably-priced small portable wine tasting to accompany it. For $10 we were given cute rustic little wire caddies with six tasting glasses and a card describing the contents of each glass in order. The boy got into the spirit and used our empty glasses to preside over an orange soda tasting, which he he insisted we participate in.

When not sipping orange soda, we tried the 2017 “Autumn” Apple wine (described on the card as “bright, fruity, and semi-sweet”), the 2016 Farm Table White (grapefruit, crisp, rounded), the 2016 Vidal Blanc “The Cow” (sweet, tropical fruits), the 2016 Petit Manseng (dried apricots, lingering acidity), the 2015 Farm Table Red (light tannins, fruit-forward), and the 2016 Merlot “The Ram” (black cherry, raspberry). We both preferred the Autumn Apple white and the Farm Table Red, so I picked up a few bottles on the way out to enjoy later.

The deck of the tasting rooms at Bluemont Vineyard.

Our tasting caddies…and orange soda.

We had driven through the tiny downtown of Bluemont (population 3,000) on the way to the farm and noticed they were having a town fair. So we decided to stop in on our way out. Unfortunately it had become quite hot and humid, so we walked through rather quickly on a mission to get some ice cream, which felt a lot further away than I’d originally thought…stopping occasionally to peek in a tent at the handcrafted goods or watch a short performance. The ice cream was housed in the Bluemont General Store, which was super cute and felt like it hadn’t changed much since it opened in the 1840s.

Eventually we returned to the dirt parking lot and headed back toward DC. It had been a wonderful day out! Who could go wrong with friends, family, wine and fun. 🙂

View of the Toronto skyline from Centre Island.

One of the joys of being a newly-single parent is that I’m now solely responsible for taking care of our son when he’s sick, off school or there’re no camps in session. This summer there was one week where he had nothing going on, so I decided to take advantage of the time off and visit some friends of ours from our first post in Belize who are now stationed in Toronto.

This being our first time leaving the country without his father, I found out from Canadian immigration that I had to have documentation to prove that I wasn’t trying to kidnap my own child and spirit him away overseas. I was a little stressed about this at first, but by the time the trip came around, I had all my ducks in a row, and in the end…no one even asked…and we had a fabulously smooth and fun adventure.

We hadn’t seen our Toronto friends in five years, and our boys had been best friends when they were toddlers. So I was very happy to see them hit it off again, now bonding over their favorite video games, while us moms relaxed, drank a bit of wine and got caught up on all the details of half a decade of family life. The boys got to sleep in bunk beds in the same room, so A was super excited, and I had the rare opportunity to sleep in a room by myself and not get up until after 8am.

While our prime motivation was just to visit, we also got a chance to see a bit of the city, which is convenient since it’s on the projected 2020 bid list as a potential next post. Our first day out, we made it to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) with a stop at the Duke of York pub for lunch.

Royal Ontario Museum, photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Kids being kids inside the ROM.

Another day we took a water taxi over to Centre Island, spent some time at the Centreville Amusement Park and let the kids change into their swimsuits and cool off in the water at Chelsea Beach and again at the Lakeshore Splash Pad. On other days we visited the Toronto Zoo, had lunch at a lovely Italian restaurant called Terroni (yumm!) and tagged along on their meet-the-teacher event at the kids’ school (also excellent for potential school research).

Waiting for the swan boats on Centre Island.

Splashing in the water at Chelsea Beach.

In the end we were very sad to go, and my big boy was visibly fighting tears and rubbing his eyes in the car on the way to the airport. It’s amazing how nourishing it can be for your soul to rekindle special friendships. And I will always be thankful for the wonderful friends we have made in the Foreign Service and the life that allows our paths to continue to cross. Love you all!!

I love me some food. I also love cookbooks, restaurants, themed cooking shows, celebrity chefs, and books about food history. Yet I hate to cook. I think cooking is (or at least can be in the right hands) an amazing combination of art and chemistry.

I despise my own cooking in general because it is neither of those…instead it tends toward the bland (child’s palate) and functional. I’ve tried everything I can think of to get myself motivated, but it’s just not there. I feel like a great meal deserves hours of careful preparation and a well-stocked elaborate pantry…neither of which I have or plan on attaining anytime soon. So I have always loved going to restaurants as a special treat.

Early in our marriage, the hubs and I enjoyed going out for drinks and dinner, and when our son came along, we switched to cheaper work lunches that didn’t require a babysitter. Later on I enjoyed sneaking out for the occasional solo lunch to enjoy some rare alone time (now that I’m a single mom, it is rarer still).

I’ve been through DC during the summer several times but have never been able to catch restaurant week in mid-August. So when I pinned down the dates this year, I stalked their website and tried to find the best options for restaurants near my work. Happily I made it to three of them. One with my lovely coworker JJ, one with my London lunch buddy EB, and one solo lunch date with myself. And they were all fantastic.

The general approach to restaurant week is that you get a three-course meal at any of the participating restaurants for $22. JJ and I started off at Yona, which is a trendy Japanese restaurant on the corner of Wilson Blvd and N Quincy Street in the Ballston area of Arlington. Like many DC restaurants, it’s not huge, but it had a very Zen interior with lots of light from the windows and bright wood beams and furniture.

We both started with the Shrimp Tempura Roll, then I had the Miso Porky Ramen with a Japanese melon soda to drink, and JJ had the Chicken Curry Ramen. She had the Miso Chocolate Chip Cookies for dessert, and I had the Coconut Sticky Rice with passion fruit, mango, lime and tapioca served in a little takeout container. We both really enjoyed the food…JJ even ordered takeout for dinner that night. And the presentation was creative and artistic. Five stars!!

Restaurant Week lunch at Yona.

A few days later I met EB at Rustico, which is an American gastropub with lots of yummy beers on tap around the corner from Yona. I started with the Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese, and she had the Cheese & Herb Risotto “Tots”. We both agreed that the tots were rather underwhelming compared to their description, but anything with goat cheese is good, as far as I’m concerned, so I was happy with my salad. We both ordered pizzas for our mains and were shocked by how big they were. She had a couple slices of hers, and I made a dent in the middle of mine by avoiding the exterior crust. Neither of us thought we had room for dessert, but the Chocolate Lava Cake was pleasantly tiny and full of flavor.

I washed mine down with two little beer tasters. One was a kolsch made in Missouri called Schlafly Kölsch. According to the beer menu, it was fermented with Gaffel Kölsch ale yeast. The second was a pale lager from Maine called Two Lights. This one was fermented with champagne yeast, hopped with Amarillo, Simcoe and Nelson Sauvin, and finished with sauvignon blanc must. And you could certainly taste the sauvignon blanc…yummy! Of course, any beer served in a snifter makes me happy.

Lunch at Rustico.

The last restaurant I tried was a super cute little French place on the border of Falls Church and Arlington called La Côte D’Or Café. I went by myself and soaked up the atmosphere. There were only two other groups in the restaurant. One was a couple that had been married for 63 years and another was a group of four ladies ranging in age from mid-60s to late 70s (I would guess). They happily discussed everything from the scholastic progress of their grandchildren to a vacation house that had just sold in France to one’s nine-year career as a nanny for a local family.

While their conversations floated around me, I tried the Potage Bourguignon, which was a leek, cabbage and potato soup. It was very tasty, but for some reason I was thinking it would be creamy, so I’ll have to go back and try something new next time. For my main, I had the Seafood Crepe full of tiny scallops, shrimp and mussels. It had great flavor, but I didn’t love the presentation as it was served baked in a dish so it looked more like lasagna. I finished off the meal with the bread pudding…again, good stuff, but I would’ve liked it a little sweeter and creamier (and smaller). But, hey, this one was the closest to our apartment, so I will certainly have to revisit it and try other things on the menu.

La Côte D’Or Café

So Restaurant Week is over, but all three restaurants that I tried have regular inexpensive lunch specials that rival the restaurant week menu and prices, which is great to know. Bon appetite!!

Hoarders image courtesy of the internet.

Our HHE arrived at the end of July. It’s taken me almost a month to write about it because it’s taken me about that long to sort through it. I was really excited and impatient for it to arrive, but I was also dreading the logistics of it. Our house in Iceland had been about three times the size of our apartment in Virginia. Nothing like severe downsizing to motivate you to purge your belongings.

The fact that we’re going through a divorce made some aspects easier and some harder. It was harder because my soon-to-be-ex-husband was no longer available to help receive things and sort through them, and our physical things carried more memories and emotional weight this time than they ever have in the past.

State was awesome and agreed to do a split delivery for me. So I intended to have the majority of his things deposited in a temporary storage unit, while my and A’s things came to the apartment. Conveniently, most of our belongings had resided in fairly separate spaces in our house, so it wasn’t too difficult to draw a line through the middle of the shipping manifest and deliver them accordingly.

The hubs’s family lives here in Virginia, and they’ve expressed varying levels of support since January. Those had diminished significantly in the last few weeks and were approaching open hostility. So I was pleasantly surprised when they actually moved his things out of the aforementioned storage unit by the date I had politely requested, so I didn’t incur additional fees.

The Little Man has been doing his best to show a brave face through all of this, and he’s done remarkably well. But in the midst of the chaos that was our apartment for most of August, he managed to squeeze in a few screaming meltdowns…which is quite understandable considering all the change and upheaval he’s been through.

But things are calming down. Since our arrival in Virginia, he’s become afraid to be alone at night, so we’d been sharing a bedroom with separate beds, and I figured we might as well turn the second bedroom into a storage room. This has helped dramatically, and the living room, kitchen and dining area are almost back to normal. He came into the living room one morning this week and declared, “There’s so much space!” So I guess I’m heading in the right direction, and our place no longer resembles an episode of Hoarders.

Now that our things are finally here, the Reykjavik commuter car has been sold, and all the paperwork has been processed, we can finally close the book on our tour in Iceland. With it ends the last seven years of our life as a family of five (including the furry children) in the Foreign Service. But we are still a family of four. And we will continue to ground and regroup and enjoy a season in our home country until it’s time for our next overseas adventure…in 2020…not that I’m planning. 😉

Map of Iceland by Giraffarte at Dreamstime.com.

Bidding for the 2019 Summer transfer season is quickly approaching. We’re not on that cycle, so I’m not overly focused on it, but I thought I’d give my two cents on the Pros & Cons for folks that might be considering throwing their hat into the ring for a tour at Embassy Reykjavik.

Pros

  1. It’s Iceland!! And Iceland is really popular right now. So friends that might not have come to visit you yet might do it now! Icelandair is still running their free stopover program that started in the 1960s (!) and really took off in the 2000s. So you can either stop there at no cost on your way to Europe or go directly on Icelandair or on their discount airline, WOW, which has some pretty decent fares. Both are adding new US destinations all the time. From the East Coast it’s only a 5-hour flight, depending on your departure point. And some Icelandair flights even simulate an aurora for passengers with colored cabin lights on night flights. 🙂
  1. Housing – All the housing that was in our housing pool was amazing. Most commutes were under 20 minutes. Some folks lived in larger houses in the suburbs, which still weren’t very far away, and others lived in apartments downtown…most with sea views. Our house was 15-mins from the embassy, had two stories, a basement, a fenced backyard, a garage, and two solariums. And it bordered a park where we walked our dog every day. Some folks even had saunas and hot tubs. It was awesome!
  1. Proximity to Mainland Europe – There’s not much in the way of Baroque architecture or 1,000-year-old castles, but Iceland is still part of Europe and has a long and interesting Viking history and Nordic culture. For a small capital city with only 200,000 people in the metro area (London had 13 million), it has an impressive amount of international cafes and restaurants. Even though flights to mainland Europe weren’t always as short and cheap as I would’ve liked, it just depended on your destination. You could get to Edinburgh in two hours, where Athens took the better part of a day. But they’re still shorter and cheaper than coming from the US!
  1. Family Friendly – Icelanders don’t love kids the way Italians love kids, but they trust them, and they trust other people. So it’s a very safe society where children are allowed to run around and be themselves without being micromanaged by the government. They actually do leave their babies in the stroller outside the restaurant or café when they’re inside…without fearing a visit from Child Protective Services. And it’s a very active society, so you can get your kids out in nature instead of being glued to the electronics.
  1. Nature – I could follow this point with no words and a few hundred pictures of how gorgeous the landscape is (do a Google image search on “Iceland nature”). But I’ll try to keep it somewhat brief. Waterfalls, glaciers, ice bergs, hot springs, black sand beaches, basalt columns, geysers, auroras, snow, volcanoes, lupine, puffins, whales, swans, horses, seals, sheep, reindeer, arctic fox, and every outdoor sport you could possibly imagine.

 

Jack Nicholson’s character at the end of “The Shining.”

Cons

  1. Climate – Twenty hours of daylight/darkness…whichever you like least. I loved the dark winter…it’s cozy and cuddly and promotes great sleep. But I hated waking up at 3am in the summer to go to the bathroom and being blinded by the sun, then tossing and turning for hours because your body now thinks it’s time to get up. Some people hate the cold or the rain. If so, don’t bid on Iceland! I love the snow, so I would actually put climate in the “pros.” 🙂
  1. Isolation – Like the daylight/darkness, this might bother some people more than others. I think it might be easier for families that are naturally plugged into certain social structures like schools or churches. We had a very small Embassy staff and still had two people curtail…both were single women. A lot of local folks are related to each other and already have all the friends and family that they need, so it can be a tough society to break into. It can also create a bit of a pressure-cooker effect. If you have any personal issues that need dealing with, Iceland can blow them wide open…again, that also might be a good thing.
  1. Island Time – Even though it was an island in the North Atlantic and not the Caribbean, no one was particularly in a hurry to get things done. I suppose some people might view this as a positive thing, but it could get a little frustrating if you actually wanted to accomplish something. It took a repair guy over six months to fix a tile he had broken in the solarium floor when looking for a leaky pipe. He would never email us or take our calls, but he would show up unexpectedly at the house at dinner time, and if we didn’t let him in right at that moment, we wouldn’t see him again for months. Which leads to my next point…
  1. Communication – Three weeks into the school year, the local school was still making changes to the class schedule. Many people that were invited to embassy events would never RSVP; they would just show up…or not. Half the time our business contacts would simply not respond to email. Word of mouth was a big thing, so if you weren’t in the loop, you just didn’t hear about things. It once took me three months to pay a bill for having my car detailed because no one would return my calls or emails to tell me how much it was.
  1. It’s REALLY expensive. More expensive than London if you take out housing and just compare the cost of living…particularly restaurants and alcohol. And things like hotels, parking and admission to the Blue Lagoon increased even in the two years that we were there to take advantage of the booming tourist economy. The Blue Lagoon now scales the price throughout the day according to how busy it is during the hour that you want to arrive. But it’s still cheaper than living in DC and paying for your own housing!

So those are my thoughts! Iceland will always have a special place in my heart. Half way through our tour another 18 months seemed like a really long time. But in the end it went so fast, and we had a hard time letting it go.

Best of luck!!

My little Hyundai. ❤

After six long months, my beloved personal vehicle finally arrived from overseas and was delivered to me safe and sound first thing on Tuesday morning. I purchased this car when I found out that I was pregnant with my son, and it’s been to every Foreign Service post with us.

Even though the State Dept has very strict rules about shipping your vehicle stripped and empty, mine was shipped from my last post in May with the studded winter tires still on it, and the summer tires loaded in the back. So I was happily surprised to find that the summer tires were still in the car when it arrived and had not been stolen. Since the vehicles are not locked in order to be moved, it’s a definite risk. And I’ve known people who have even had their hubcaps stolen in transit.

With this in mind, I was even more surprised to find that every single item that was in the car when I unknowingly left it Iceland in January was also still in it…and even a few more from my husband’s vehicle…like car seats, children’s gloves, windshield frost scrapers, a parka, an empty soda can, and about two dozen of my music CDs and audiobooks. So again, very thankful that none of it disappeared en route.

Now the big item on the agenda was to get it registered in the state of Virginia, which first requires an emissions test and a safety inspection. Since they removed the license plates before shipping it, I had no tags. When I tried to get a DMV trip pass online, it wouldn’t go through because I don’t yet have a Virginia driver’s license. So I took a chance and surreptitiously drove her on down to the testing and inspections place around the corner from our apartment. Unfortunately, they weren’t doing inspections because they were out of stickers. So I took the car to the next closest place on Google maps, which was about a 10-minute drive into Arlington.

I waited in line for an hour and passed my safety inspection. But because it had been sitting in a container for the last two months, it failed the emissions test. The guy at the counter told me that I needed to drive it an additional 75-100 miles and then come back. Exqueeze me?? 100 MILES?? Knowing that I still had studded tires and no plates, I tried to figure out how to avoid becoming one big moving violation.

I decided that there was really no way around it, and the Dulles Airport access road would be the best bet for a somewhat isolated route that would cover a decent amount of mileage in a short period of time. From Arlington it’s about 20 miles out to the airport, so technically I would have to make two trips. But I figured that “75-100” was a fairly large swing, and I crossed my fingers that one 40-mile roundtrip would be sufficient. Needless to say I was a little nervous when I passed the police car parked at the construction site on the side of the road…and when a black Acura decided to randomly tailgate me for about 5 miles when there was no one around in either direction to prevent him from easily passing. But nothing came of it, and I finally returned and passed my emissions test.

Next was the Dreaded Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. The curse of the VA DMV is that no one is ever able to get what they need done in one trip. (Read my fellow FS blogger’s post about their five trips to the DMV here.) So I was extra careful to print out the checklist and make sure I had every single piece of documentation they could possibly want: proof of emissions test, proof of safety inspection, proof of address, proof of insurance, title, ID, and a completed registration application.

I went online to see which DMV within a 15-mile radius had the lowest wait time and headed over to one in Arlington, which was the only one showing less than an hour. When I arrived there were about 120 people waiting, but they had 22 customer service windows open, so I did manage to get in in a little over 65 minutes.

I was confident that this would be my one and only visit and that I had everything I needed. Of course I was wrong. It took them about two minutes to find my name in their system and see that I had lived in VA before I got married…and of course had a different last name. So even though I have been married for over 10 years, was able to show them no less than five forms of government ID with my current last name on it, and have held drivers licenses in two other states…they refused to register my vehicle without first seeing my marriage license. I WAS SO PISSED.

I was even more annoyed when they agreed that if I had never lived in Virginia before and had walked in off the street from some random state that it wouldn’t have been a problem. But because I already had an account, they had to change my name, and the DROPDOWN box for a name change only had three choices. Time to think outside the dropdown box, people!!!

I finally just accepted the fact that I had no choice. And my customer service agent was actually very sweet and apologetic, and promised that if I retrieved the marriage license before 5:00pm that I wouldn’t have to wait in line again and could just walk right up to her window. Happily I actually DID have my marriage license at home among my vital records, otherwise it would’ve been sitting in a box with the rest of our household goods in the Port of Baltimore. So I did retrieve it and was finally able to get my brand new VA license plates…and picked the one with the little lighthouses on them, which made me a tiny bit happier.

As a resident of Falls Church, you are also required to register your vehicle with the city so they can get your tax money. But at least it only takes 10 minutes, and they’re not nearly as ridiculous. So I knocked that out on the way to pick my son up from camp at the end of the day.

The final challenge was to get the studded tires off my car. I had left it at the shop where it was tested and was driving around in a rental car. They said it would only take a couple hours, and they’d give me a call when it was ready. When they did call, it was to tell me that my tread was gone and that I needed new tires. I did know this, so I agreed to purchase a new set.

What I didn’t realize was that they didn’t have them in stock and were going to order them from another location. So they were NOT ready by the end of the day. Nor were they ready by the end of the next day when it was time to return my rental car. This also pissed me off, so I decided they could stick it (which was very satisfying after my experience with the DMV)…and I was going to retrieve my vehicle regardless and just take it somewhere else. But they offered to knock $50 off the price, so I picked it up anyway and plan to bring it back on Saturday morning.

So I’m still rolling around on studded tires hoping to make it through the next 24 hours without getting a ticket. I didn’t realize how LOUD they were on normal pavement, and the security guards at work are now giving me a good-natured hard time. But hopefully it will all be resolved this weekend, I can take the extra set of tires out of the back and take her for a thorough cleaning. And then all will be right with the world.

A lovely lunch with EB at Rus Uz in Arlington.

I love to eat. And I love to try new foods. I don’t particularly like to cook, so eating out is one of my favorite pastimes when we’re overseas. Happily the DC area has a ton of restaurants, annual food festivals, food trucks and neighborhood food fairs. They also have an impressive amount of ethnic eateries.

I’ve decided that in lieu of overseas restaurants, I’m going to spend the next two years checking out the foreign fare that’s available locally. I started doing this a couple months ago without realizing it when I had a craving for shawarma. There’s a great little place in Reykjavik called Ali Baba, and we used to go there for lunch fairly regularly.

I didn’t find any shawarma in my immediate area at the time, but I did find some Mediterranean flavor at a Greek place called Plaka Grill. Conveniently, they have two locations in Vienna and Falls Church. I visited the one in Vienna, and it was a great spot with lots of options. I’ve been there a few times now and have tried the lamb and chicken gyros, dolmadakia (stuffed grape leaves), calamari, hummus and baklava. All very tasty. My son even ate the better part of a chicken souvlaki skewer when I took him.

Plaka Grill (internet photos).

Last week I finally tracked down a shawarma place conveniently located between work and our doggy daycare. It’s called Haifa Grill. Technically the address is in Falls Church, but geographically it’s in Bailey’s Crossroads. Their shawarma was about twice the size of the ones in Iceland for half the cost. It didn’t quite have the same flavor, of course. I think the folks that owned Ali Baba were from Pakistan, and I have no idea where the family that owns Haifa Grill is from…maybe Haifa! 😉 I’ll have to ask them. But it was yummy. I think next time I’ll try the smaller pita version.

Haifa Grill (internet photos).

Today I tried something completely new…plov! It is the national dish of Uzbekistan and made up mostly of seasoned rice, lamb, carrots, onions and raisins. It was super yummy, and I would definitely have it again. I met up with EB, a friend that I met while working in London, who has become my lunch buddy since we arrived back in January, and went to Rus Uz. Another great family-run restaurant, Rus Uz in Arlington serves both Russian and Uzbek dishes with favorites like borsch, caviar, blinis, beef stroganoff, and chicken Kiev as well as plov, manti (Uzbek dumplings), and lots of other things in between.

I first read about this place in a fellow FS blog, Collecting Postcards. Currently in Australia, the author was posted in Uzbekistan for her first tour. You can read her review of Rus Uz here…and follow her adventures!

Rus Uz interior (my photo 🙂 ).

Well, that’s it for the moment. I’ll see what other exciting places I can find and keep you posted. Bon appetit!

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