Posted in WashingtonDC

Tour of Stone Tower Winery

Stone Tower Winery Tasting Room.

My last free Friday has come and gone, and what a lovely Friday it was. I’ve been trying to do special things in my time off that I can’t do with my kiddo. Virginia has a surprising number of vineyards and wineries, so I booked myself on a tasting tour of Stone Tower Winery in Leesburg.

The tour started at 11am, and it started off well with a tasting of their Wild Boar Blanc de Noir, which is a white sparkling wine made from black grapes. I sat on a comfy couch in the tasting room sipping my sparkling wine and waited for the rest of our tour group to arrive. Their tasting room was lovely with a rustic barnyard feel to it and an amazing view over the valley.

There were five of us total, and once we were all accounted for, we boarded a long golf cart with four rows of seats, with our glasses in hand, and set out with our guide to tour the vineyard. The tour description said there would be some walking involved, so I imagined we’d be wandering through the grape vines, but we never did…only whizzed past them in the golf cart.

Tasting room interior.
View from the deck over the vineyard.
Passing by the vines.

Instead, we stopped at the highest spot on the property and took in the views while our guide gave us a history of the winery and talked a bit about the wines they produce. We sampled our second bottle, which was their 2020 Estate Chardonnay.

I’m not really a fan of chardonnay and think it tastes a bit dull and soapy. But this one was quite nice, fresh and fruity, and almost reminded me of a pinot grigio. Our guide explained that the lack of butter and oak flavors, which apparently is what I don’t like, is due to the fact that the wine had been aged in stainless steel containers instead of oak barrels. I will have to remember that from now on!

From there we moved on to the processing warehouse where they do a lot of the actual pressing. Our guide pointed out that they have one of the most expensive chardonnay presses in the world…it’s made by Coquard Presses in France and retails for a couple hundred thousand dollars. At this point we tasted the 2019 Kristi Chardonnay, which was a more traditional chardonnay that I don’t like.

Our next stop was another processing space below the tasting room that also had rows of barrels. Here our guide chatted about the different types of barrels and how to read the markings on each one. Once inside we tried something a little different, their 2020 Estate Rosé, which was made from red Bordeaux grapes and aged in old French oak barrels. It was a dry rosé and quite tasty.

Bins of pressed grapes.
Rows of barrels.
The final product.

That was pretty much the end of our tour of the property, and we proceeded to a private dining room just off the tasting room and were able to order lunch. They had some lovely sandwiches on the menu, but I eat a lot of sandwiches at home, so I ordered a Prosciutto and Artichoke Wood-Fired Pizza, which was preceded be a nice salad and followed by a Pumpkin Tiramisu. It was all super good, but the prosciutto was a bit tough after being cooked again in the oven.

While we were dining, we sampled three red wines: a 2013 Wind Swept Hill, a 2013 Hogback Mountain, and a 2013 Petit Verdot. My palate is clearly not refined enough as they pretty much all tasted the same to me. And we finished our list off with a 2016 Wild Boar Cellars Port.

The people in our tour group were lovely. One couple had a membership and actually treated myself and the other couple to a bottle of wine of our choosing, which was so amazingly kind and generous. I picked up a bottle of our first chardonnay that was light and crisp and enjoyed it just yesterday.

The price of the tour after fees and taxes came to $155, and it included the tour itself, the food, and eight wine samples. The whole thing lasted about three hours, which I thought was an excellent amount of time. I would highly recommend the tour if you’re ever in the area and do plan to take my son back some weekend to enjoy the family restaurant. Cheers!

Posted in WashingtonDC

Lunchtime Symphony at the Kennedy Center

View of the Kennedy Center from Shutterstock.com

Two more lovely Fridays off have passed. I seem to be alternating lazy and relaxed with some kind of adventure. So two weeks ago, I started the day by going back to bed after my kiddo went to school…I haven’t been able to take a good nap or really sleep in since my ex and I separated in 2018. I slept for a solid hour and a half, which was amazing. The only thing that woke me up was my alarm telling me to get ready for my massage!

I went and had an extremely painful deep-tissue massage at Massage Envy and ended up with pressure welts on my skin for the next two days. Probably won’t do that again. But I was definitely looser! After the massage I had a nice bento box lunch at a nearby Japanese restaurant, went home and had a couple glasses of champagne, and streamed grown-up movies till my kiddo came home from school.

For my Friday adventure the following week, I went to a lunchtime concert at the Kennedy Center! If you count a brief six-month stint back in 2008, I’ve lived in the DC area for almost four years off and on, and I’d never been to the Kennedy Center. And I haven’t been to the symphony since we left Iceland. So I was thrilled to find a lunchtime concert featuring DC-area native and violinist Hilary Hahn.

Hilary started playing violin when she was three years old, first played with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra when she was 11, and she has released almost 20 albums and DVDs. She’s won three Grammys and recorded soundtracks for films such as The Deep Blue Sea and M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Musical Score.

Another fun fact: The violin she uses was made in 1864 by French craftsman Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume and is a copy of a famous Italian violin named Il Cannone Guarnerius that was made in 1743 and owned by composer Niccolò Paganini.

The Hall of Nations and the Kennedy bust.
Entrance to the Concert Hall.

For my day at the symphony, Gianandrea Noseda conducted, and the main piece on our program was Brahms’s Concerto in D major for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 77. The symphony opened with “The Star-Spangled Banner”, and everyone in the audience stood. I’m not sure if they do that every time since we’re in DC, but it seemed very well rehearsed! I have never heard a symphony version, and it made the hair on my arms stand on end.

I’m no musician, but I played piano for a few years when I was a kid, so I can appreciate other people’s talents! I’ve always been amazed by the fact that professionals can do an entire performance without any sheet music.

They played Brahms for about an hour, and when it was finished Hilary and the conductor gave each other a huge hug. It was super cute. Then we had an intermission and about 30 minutes of another piece by an African American female composer from the 1930s named Florence Price. The music was absolutely beautiful all around.

When the concert was over, I wandered around the Kennedy Center a bit and enjoyed the outdoor fountains and the views of the Potomac River. The main building opened in 1971, and this year marks its 50th anniversary. It was originally going to be called the National Cultural Center, but it was dedicated as a memorial to JFK after his assassination and is run by the Smithsonian.

The terrace facing the river.
Me by the fountains on the terrace.

The center is home to a concert hall, an opera house, a large theatre, and five smaller venues. Apparently there’s a free rooftop terrace with 360 views as well, which would’ve been great to see, but I didn’t realize it at the time. They also have three levels of parking underground for a whopping fee of $25.

But it was such a lovely day, and I’ve decided that I might have to find more lunchtime concerts and take more time off in the future when schedules allow.

Posted in WashingtonDC

A Spooky Day Out in Georgetown

Lovely old buildings in Georgetown.

One of the things that I love about being overseas is that you get all federal and local holidays off. The kids are usually still in school for the federal ones, so a single mom can get some well-deserved grown-up time. Back in the US, you just get the federal days, but the school kids are usually off too, which means zero personal time.

But it’s all good because, for the first time in my career, I’ve hit our annual leave cap and actually have “use-or-lose” leave. So I have two whole weeks of vacation days that I have to use before the end of the year, or I lose them. My training team currently has a lull between classes, so I thought now would be a perfect opportunity to take some time off. Rather than take it all in one chunk, I’m taking five consecutive Fridays off…as well as a week for Thanksgiving break…and I am very excited about it!

My first Friday off, I lounged around the house then spent the afternoon getting ready for my son’s 11th birthday party the next day. But the following Friday…I had a day out in Georgetown! I’d been to that part of DC a couple times before but never as a tourist.

I’m a film buff, so in preparation for my day out, I watched two movies that were filmed in Georgetown, namely the 1973 version of The Exorcist and St. Elmo’s Fire. I had seen part of The Exorcist at a fifth-grade sleepover, of all places, but had never watched the entire thing since. It was better than I was expecting and not nearly as terrifying as I thought it would be since the special effects were so old-fashioned. I don’t usually watch horror films because I don’t enjoy being afraid of my own shadow on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night, but it’s such a classic. This entry from Wikipedia really sums it up.

The Exorcist was released in 24 theaters in the United States and Canada in late December. Despite initial mixed critical reviews, audiences flocked to it, waiting in long lines during winter weather and many doing so more than once. Some viewers suffered adverse physical reactions, fainting or vomiting […]. Heart attacks and miscarriages were reported; a psychiatric journal published a paper on “cinematic neurosis” triggered by the film. Many children were allowed to see the film, leading to charges that the MPAA ratings board had accommodated Warner Brothers by giving the film an R-rating instead of the X-rating they thought it deserved, in order to ensure its commercial success. Several cities attempted to ban it outright or prevent children from attending.

It was the first horror film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture and won the awards for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound. Linda Blair, who played a demon-possessed 11-year-old, won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress and an Academy Award nomination for the same.

And there are lots of great filming locations to visit. The beautiful Healy Hall at Georgetown University was built in 1879 and is a National Historic Landmark. You can also see the house where the family lived in the film and the notorious steps where two of the characters died.

The gothic Healy Hall at Georgetown University.
The Exorcist house on the right, and the entrance to the steps on the left.
The infamous Exorcist Steps.

There are a few recognizable places from St. Elmo’s Fire, but most of it was shot in a backlot in Los Angeles. And there are lots of other lovely things to see in the area. The Federal-style architecture is gorgeous, and much of the town is on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s full of shops and lovely restaurants, and the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal runs 184 miles from Georgetown to Cumberland, MD, dotted with picturesque locks and edged by the towpath where the horses used to walk along and drag the barges through the water.

Lock 4 of the C&O Canal.
The C&O Canal and towpath above Lock 4.

After checking out some of the sites, I met up with some lovely ladies that I’d worked with at the US Embassy in London for lunch at Filomena Ristorante near the canal. Even thought it’s still September, they had all their Halloween decorations out, which is fabulous as far as I’m concerned. It’s never too early! There was a giant spider towering over the entrance, and we enjoyed lobster pizzas, pasta, and a couple glasses of wine surrounded by mummies and monsters. It was a fantastic day out altogether!

Filomena Ristorante…with giant spider.
Super yummy lobster and shrimp pizza!
Posted in WashingtonDC

Exploring Southern Maryland

Entrance to the Calvert Marine Museum with Drum Point Light in the background.

A couple weeks ago we drove over to Maryland for the St. Mary’s County Crab Festival. It was almost a two-hour drive, so I wanted to make sure there were a few other things in the area that were of interest in case the crab festival was a bust. Turns out there were quite a few things to do.

The crab fest was okay. It was at the St. Mary’s County Fairground and had lots of picnic tables set up under shady trees. There was an antique car show and a market in one area. We headed straight for the food, but there weren’t many options…only three food trucks selling steamed crabs, crab cakes, and crab soups. I didn’t feel like putting all the work into picking crab, and the last crab cake I’d had was really dry.

My son wanted lobster, which they didn’t have. So I got him the next best thing at the Cajun food truck…crawfish and French fries…and funnel cake. It was so hot that I ended up not being that hungry, so I had an alligator dog. None of the food was that great, and the lines were really long. I did see one item after we sat down that looked much better than any of the others. It was a big pile of crab meat on top of cheese and tater tots. We ended up sharing a table with a family that was eating one, and they said it looked better than it tasted. So the crab fest was “meh”. But we really were just there to grab lunch and move on.

Picnic tables in the shade at the St. Mary’s County Crab Festival
Funnel cake…yum.

Our next stop was the Calvert Marine Museum. The museum has been around for about 50 years and has a fantastic collection of fossils from the sandy Calvert Cliffs. They also had a great exhibit on sharks, some displays on maritime history, lighthouses, and the nearby naval base. They even have an entire lighthouse outside on display as part of the museum.

Shark exhibit.
Fun with shark exhibit.

The Drum Point Light was built in the late 1800s and originally located off Drum Point at the mouth of the Patuxent River. It is one of the last four surviving screw-pile lighthouses in the Chesapeake Bay. A screw-pile lighthouse is basically a lighthouse that’s been screwed into some kind of supporting base pillars (aka piles) that have been shoved into the ground. You can go inside it, but we just admired it from the outside.

For us the main attractions were the otters. They had an outdoor habitat and an indoor area where they could sleep and just chill in a plastic igloo. I didn’t realize there was an outdoor area at the time, so we might have to go back! But there were three of them sleeping in the tent inside, then two came out to have a dip in the little pool and a drink of water. They were so cute!

Otter hanging out in the indoor play area.
View of Cove Point Light from the gate.

Our next stop after the Marine Museum was the Cove Point Lighthouse. But the gate was closed when we arrived. Apparently it’s only open on Sundays and Wednesdays. So I just took a picture and got back in the car. I also wanted to go to the quiet and shallow beach at Flag Ponds Nature Park, but on August 24 they posted a bacteria advisory on their website. I kept checking back, but it’s never gone away, so I’m curious if they forgot to update it. They stop testing the water after Labor Day, so who knows. Lots of reasons to go back!

But our final destination was worth the wait. It was the Cove Point Park Pool. There’s a waterpark somewhere nearby, but it was $50 each to get in. This was a lovely community pool with two water slides, a kids’ pool with lots of bells and whistles, a floating obstacle course, and a snack bar. It also had two diving boards and a lap pool. I basically spent two hours sitting happily on an underwater bench hiding from the sun and watching my kiddo go up and down the waterslides. Admission for non-county residents was $8 for adults and $6 for kids, and it wasn’t as crazy busy as community pools near DC. It was a perfect way to end our day.

Cove Point Park Pool
View of the kids’ pool.
Posted in WashingtonDC

Ja, Dahling!

Prost Bavarian Food Hall, DC.

My son has been in a German phase lately…except on the alternate days that he’s in a Russian phase. Back in June, he asked me if there were any German restaurants that we could go to. I did a little research and figured we’d check out a Bavarian Food Hall in downtown DC called Prost.

I hate parking downtown, so I always try to make every trip worthwhile. In keeping with the German theme, I figured that we’d try to visit a few other sites in the area. According to the Goethe-Institut (a non-profit German cultural association), 7th Street was the main drag for German businesses in the late 1800s. Prost was one block over on 6th Street.

We parked a few blocks up in a residential neighborhood, and I did a pretty impressive parallel parking job, if I do say so myself, thanks to the back-up camera on my car that now lets me get within inches of people’s bumpers…mwa ha ha.

And the food hall was lovely. It wasn’t huge, but there was a covered outdoor area and an indoor area that was bright and artsy with a high ceiling. We sat at a little table with fresh flowers and ordered bratwursts and a nice big draft beer for me.

Delicious draft beer at Prost.

Sixth Street was also home to the Saint Mary, Mother of God Catholic Church, which used to be called St. Mary’s German Catholic Church and was founded in 1845 by German immigrants. I was hoping to see the stained-glass window and the pipe organ inside, so after we finished our meals, we walked down to the church but arrived just when a service was letting out. We didn’t want to be intrusive, so we opted to investigate some other sites in the area and come back later.

Saint Mary, Mother of God Catholic Church.

The flow of immigration had changed slightly as time went on, and in the 1930s the neighborhood became more Chinese than German, and the area from H and I Streets between 5th and 8th Streets eventually became DC’s Chinatown. There’s a beautiful traditional Chinese gate called the Friendship Archway that was dedicated in 1986 and is one of the largest ceremonial arches outside of China.

Friendship Archway, Chinatown

After getting a few pics of the arch, we went back to the church, but the doors were now locked. So we called it a day and drove over to Arlington for Cicada Sundaes!

Most of May through July in the DC area had been overshadowed by the 2021 cicada invasion of Brood X. Wikipedia said it’s also known as “the Great Eastern Brood” and “is one of 15 broods of periodical cicadas that appear regularly throughout the eastern United States.”

If you don’t know much about cicadas, they live under the ground for 17 years, then emerge with a hard exoskeleton that they shed ALL OVER THE PLACE. Then they climb up into the trees, make a ton of racket, mate, lay eggs in the trees, then die. Then the larva hatch, drop down and burrow into the ground, and pop out again 17 years later.

Cicadas shedding on the fence near our house.

I heard on the news while driving one day that Toby’s Homemade Ice Cream was selling Cicada Sundaes and that they were a huge hit. So I had to check them out. Fear not, there were no actual cicadas involved…just ice cream with pieces of waffle cones for wings and red M&Ms for eyes. They were awesome!

Cicada Sundaes!
Posted in WashingtonDC

Baby Goat Yoga

Baby goat love! Or maybe it just wants to eat my mask…

As much as my son used to love to draw when he was littler, he has entered a very self-critical phase lately. For my birthday this year, I couldn’t even pull a handmade card out of him, and the schools don’t seem to be encouraging them to do it in class anymore.

So not unlike many other relationships that I’ve had, I figured if I wanted to feel special on Mother’s Day this year (or any other occasion), I’d have to arrange something myself. I took us to the grocery store and had him pick out a card for me, I bought myself some flowers and a fancy tin of Mother’s Day tea… and I booked us a session of Mother’s Day Goat Yoga!

The yoga was held at a place in Reston called Roer’s Zoofari. It’s a family-owned zoo that’s gotten mixed reviews regarding how well suited they are for taking care of animals, so I was a bit hesitant. And it wasn’t particularly cheap. But my curiosity won out, and we were scheduled for a 10am session.

They chew on everything.

We arrived a few minutes early, but the yoga time coincided with the opening time of the park itself. So they made us all stand around outside until exactly 10am. Once it finally got going, the surprising part was that people actually attempted to do a full hour of yoga surrounded by baby goats. I made it about five minutes before abandoning it completely to capture any creature that walked by and give it a good scratch between the ears.

My son was a little disappointed because the event took place in a large grassy area with covered picnic tables, so there was a lot of room to roam, and the baby goats weren’t really concentrating on our area. So we just picked up our blankets and moved to where they were. He then seemed quite happy to feed them grass and watch them poop on people’s blankets.

Happiness. 🙂

They did pass out bottles to the human kids and let them feed the goats, which was particularly cute. And we were able to take some cute photos, plus a mediocre buffet picnic lunch was included. I probably wouldn’t do it again, but it was fun to try it at least once!

Posted in WashingtonDC

Favorite Nature Spots

Since we’ve been back in the US, we’ve been mostly taking it easy. Not planning to go overseas again for several years, I’ve really tried to scale back on the travel (gasp) and other unnecessary expenses, which is fairly easy in a pandemic.

Cherry blossoms at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens.

So I’ve been keeping an eye out for cheap stuff to do locally. Happily there are quite a few options in the DC area. Lots of parks and free museums and the local events are starting to pick up again. And you can’t beat the cherry blossoms in the spring.

This year, I didn’t have to venture too far as our housing complex had a ton of gorgeous blooming trees. We had the cherry blossoms in the spring, magnolias, rose bushes, and bright fiery crepe myrtles in every shade from pink to lavender to red in the summer.

But we did venture out a few times. One of my favorite spots to visit is the Meadowlark Botanic Gardens in Vienna. It’s not technically free, but it’s pretty inexpensive to visit. Right now it’s $6 for adults and $3 for kids and seniors, or an annual pass for a family is $50. This year I got an annual pass then remembered that I’m not going to use it for half the year because it’s too hot outside. Oh, well. You go five times, it’s pretty much paid for itself.

The gazebo at Meadowlark Botanical Gardnes.

In April we did our (now) annual pilgrimage to Riverbend Park to see the Virginia bluebells. This year the Fairfax County Park Authority had set up a couple of telescopes, and we got to peek through them and view an eagle’s nest on Minnehaha Island in the Potomac River.

Virginia Bluebells at Riverbend Park.

We also checked out Foxstone Park, which is famous for being the spot where career FBI double agent Robert Hanssen used to make covert drops under the bridge for the Soviet Union. He was eventually arrested for espionage in 2001 in the park as well and sentenced to 15 life terms without parole. Always exciting stuff around DC!

Posted in WashingtonDC

Hello Again!!

Well, I had a solid eight months away from the blog and realized that I didn’t need to leave altogether. I apparently just needed a break and some space to clear my head after the emotional upheaval of having to curtail again.

And I miss sharing my stories! I assumed no one would be interested in my blog if I was no longer overseas, but who knows…maybe there’re some folks out there that would find our in life in the DC area mildly entertaining. Plus it motivates me to get out of the house and find something fun to write about. So I am rebranding the blog…”In-Flight Movie – DC Edition.”

To rewind a bit, we had a surprisingly smooth trip from Geneva to DC back in January. I opted for a longer flight with multiple connections rather than getting up stupid early or having to overnight somewhere along the way and drag all of our stuff to and from the airport. So we flew Geneva to Amsterdam to New York to DC, which was a whopping 20 hours from door to door.

My son was an absolute peach. He had to be exhausted, but he kept it together and didn’t fall into a crying heap on the floor in the airport like he did when we arrived from Iceland in 2018. It’s amazing what a difference three years can make in a child’s maturity level.

Happily, we didn’t have any COVID-related travel issues. We had a waiver from the Dutch government since we were traveling on diplomatic passports, so we didn’t have to show proof of negative COVID tests while transiting Amsterdam. And the CDC’s dog ban hadn’t kicked in yet, so we got our pup back safe and sound.

I wasn’t thrilled with the pet shippers this time around though. The Swiss one double charged us for a few things but suggested I “consider it a tip” rather than them pay the bank transfer fee to reimburse us. And the DC-based one took over a week to pay the Swiss part of their invoice, so the exchange rate went up, and they passed on the increase in the exchange rate to me that came to an additional $150. Needless to say, I am happy to not have to worry about moving the dog again anytime soon.

We stayed in temp housing back in Falls Church for a month while waiting for our stuff to arrive…and ended up right down the hall from the apartment we’d rented for the previous two years…lol. State paid for some of it, but we couldn’t afford to stay their indefinitely, so we moved into our (empty) permanent accommodation for another month while continuing to wait for our HHE. Nothing like doing virtual work and school from a blow-up bed and a rocking chair.

But our stuff and our car arrived eventually. I’m still working virtually, but my son went back to full-time, in-person school in April, which is awesome. And he’s been thrilled to reconnect with some of his old friends. Since then he’s been in camps on and off this summer, but I didn’t feel the need to schedule every week since I wasn’t using it for childcare. Now it’s hard to believe that summer is almost over already!

As much as I’d rather be overseas, we are home and safe and living within our means, so I’m less stressed about money. And we’ve had a few local adventures! So stay tuned, and I’ll start posting those shortly.

Posted in Foreign Service

Farewell 2020; Farewell Blog!

At our first post in Belize in 2011.

Well, I think it’s about that time, folks, to wish you all a fond farewell. In April it will have been 10 years that I’ve been writing about our lives, and this June will mark 10 years since I joined the Foreign Service. This is my 446th blog post.

If we were going back to the States for a tour or two, I’d probably keep it going. But if we’re going to be there for the better part of the next decade, that kind of takes the “foreign” out of my Foreign Service blog. So instead of looking back at 2020, I will briefly reflect on 2011-2021.

The first five years were definitely the best for our family. If you like, you can read my Five-Year FS Anniversary post here. We started in Belize, then went to London, and afterward started our tour in Iceland. London was where we were the happiest. And I have loved living in Europe in general…the history, the architecture, the variety of cultures, the food, and the easy travel.

The last five years have been full of loss and disappointment. But never in the career choice. The Foreign Service and the Department of State have been a surrogate family, providing resources when life outside of work got hard. Even now I have a place to land when we leave Geneva and will continue to stay in the Foreign Service, hopefully until I retire at age 65.

Now that we’re heading back Stateside, I am thankful for what has been an amazing period in my life serving my country overseas. I’m thankful for all the friends that I have made along the way and all the family and friends that made the effort to come and visit us abroad.

And I’m thankful for my readers! I’ve loved reading your comments and knowing that someone out there was sharing and enjoying our adventures. I wish you all the best in your future and the very happiest new year in 2021. Stay safe and healthy out there!

Ciao!!
Posted in Switzerland

Preparing for Departure (Again)

I think I had one more item left on my Geneva arrival checklist (buy the mandatory annual Swiss highway sticker) when I started my departure checklist. I have yet to buy the sticker since it expires at the end of the year and have just been avoiding the highways, for the most part. So I probably won’t bother.

And now I’m a good way into my departure checklist for our second international move within six months. So far, it looks like this:

Initiate curtailment process. Considering that I don’t actually want to leave, it was ironic that I had to chase a few people along the chain of approval to get this taken care of. But I’ve learned that the more control you’re able to have over the transfer process, the less stressful it is in the end…kind of a controlled crash rather than one that leaves an impact crater.

Request official packout and shipping of household goods and POV. Schedule packout date and POV pickup. Coordinate pre-move housing inspection and shipping survey. Complete half a dozen import forms for Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Get travel orders, reserve plane tickets, book and pay for cat on all legs of flight. There are still no direct flights from Geneva to DC. So the “best” route we could get is going to take 15 hours and involve changing planes twice. But I was able to find something that didn’t involve us getting up at 4am or spending the night somewhere along the way and having to drag the cat and all the luggage out of and back to an airport.

Shipping the dog! That’s right, not only did I have to pay an exorbitant amount of money to ship our dog to Switzerland in the time of COVID…but now I get to do it again in the other direction! I nearly had a heart attack when our US-based shipper said that prices were now three to four times what we paid in August, which would be more than what I paid for our car.

But since then the prices have come back down, and I’m actually relieved to “only” be paying a fee similar to what it cost to import him the first time. It’s all relative, isn’t it. I still need to get both pets examined by a veterinarian and get health certificates and fill out the shipping and customs forms, but this time I don’t have to jump through the hoops of driving three hours away to get anything stamped by the USDA.

Find somewhere to live. I am working on buying a place, so that’s been an interesting process as a first-time home buyer. But we won’t have any furniture until our stuff arrives from Switzerland, so I also had to find temporary quarters until then, which happily the State Department does subsidize. So I’ve been figuring out how all that works.

Register my son for school. Thankfully, he will now be in US public school, so we don’t have to go through an application or acceptance process. But I do have to send them all of his school records and fill out a dozen registration and health forms.

Beyond that, it’s all the usual preparation…updating addresses for all the banks and credit cards, cancelling cable and internet services and returning equipment. Setting up new cable, internet, and cell phone service back in the US.

Speaking of school, I picked up my son’s personal items from the office the other day. And considering the impact of their decision on our lives, I tried my very best to be kind and diplomatic. There were two people there at the time who wished us the very best for our future and happy holidays.

On the way out, one of them came running up to me and handed me his school pictures that had just come in the day before. His beautiful school pictures in his cute little uniform. I held it together until I made it to the forest path across from the school…and then cried the rest of the way back to our house.