I got sick a couple weeks ago…really sick. Like I don’t think I’ve ever been that sick in my life. I woke up one morning (a couple weeks after my son had had a quick case of bronchitis), my chest was tight, and I was feeling extremely tired. But we had fun plans for the day with a friend, and you never really know for sure if it’s going to be a big deal or just an off day.

So I got out of bed, took a shower, and we went to lunch, then went downtown and went to the Natural History museum, then drove over to Alexandria for gelato and walked around. It was about 95 degrees, which sucks to start with, and I could slowly feel the strength and energy draining from my body.

The next day (Monday) I went to work for a couple hours and couldn’t stop coughing. I knew it had to be bronchitis and immediately made an appointment to see the doctor. She didn’t seem too concerned, made sure that it wasn’t the flu, and I managed to talk her into giving me antibiotics since they’d worked almost instantly for my son.

I wanted to get better as soon as possible because we had a big family trip to Alaska planned, and we were scheduled to leave on Sunday.

Unfortunately she didn’t give me the same antibiotics that worked so well for my son, she gave me different ones…and told me that I should start feeling better in about 48 hours. Well, 48 hours came and went, and I couldn’t even visualize what feeling better might look like as I coughed and wheezed all day and night, completely lost my appetite, and had a fever off and on throughout every day. I tried to watch TV on the couch, but it was actually overstimulating. So I basically stared at various architectural features inside our apartment and drank water for a week…and eventually acknowledged the fact that I was going to have to cancel our trip. Happily, I had purchased the ticket on air miles, so it was a simple online cancellation and small fee when we rebook.

The challenging part was that I still had a kiddo and a dog to take care of. Thankfully, the kiddo was in his last week of summer camp, so I could just drop him off in the morning, and then pick him up around 5:00. And he was almost nine years old, so he was actually pretty helpful and well behaved. The dog was pretty well behaved too, but I had so little energy, I looked like something out of The Walking Dead when I took him outside and could only make it about halfway around the parking lot before going back in. When it became clear that things weren’t improving, I finally drove 15 minutes down the road and boarded him.

The doctor’s office was, of course, closed over the weekend, and my doctor was out on Monday. So by the time I saw her again on Tuesday, a full week had elapsed, and things had pretty much gone downhill. I’d lost seven pounds (mostly water unfortunately), and my oxygen levels were below 90, so she sent me off to get a chest x-ray at the Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington. Nothing like driving all over when you’re sick. A few hours later, the x-ray confirmed that I had pneumonia, and my doc started talking about putting me in the hospital.

Well, that wasn’t exactly convenient for me. What would I do with my kiddo? They reassured me that he could stay with me, but how the hell was I supposed to feed him? The idea of wandering through endless hospital halls looking for meals was much more exhausting than sitting semi-comfortably at home. And I’m sure he would’ve totally freaked out if he saw me all tubed up like Peter Quill’s mom at the beginning of Guardians of the Galaxy.

So I pretty much refused and insisted that we try new medicine first. My doctor was annoyed, but agreed to give me different antibiotics, an inhaler, and steroids. Not sure why she didn’t give me an inhaler the week before when I was clearly having breathing problems, but hey, better late than never.

Happily, all the new meds worked, and I felt visibly better the next day. My doc did manage to make me nervous though…lecturing me about the fact that people die from pneumonia every year (although my chances of death were probably only about 5%, very comforting)…and how I had a little person counting on me to take care of him. But the right meds helped drastically…even though they had a few side effects.

At one point, I took my temperature, and it was 94.9F. As anyone who loves living in cold temperatures knows, your body goes into hypothermia below 95, and your heart, nervous system, and other organs cease to function normally. I thought of telling the doctor but figured she’d put me in the hospital immediately. My normal temperature is always a bit lower than 98F, and at least it wasn’t a fever. So I vowed to keep an eye on it…and it crept up to 96F a couple hours later.

I also developed a massive rash on my face. It was clearly a reaction to either the new antibiotics or the steroids. Again, probably should’ve informed my doctor, but I’ve had food allergies for years and know when I would normally get worried. My tongue wasn’t swollen, it wasn’t spreading, and my breathing wasn’t any more difficult than it had been before, so again, I figured I’d keep an eye on it…and take some Benadryl. I only had to get through three more days of pills.

And I did!! Two weeks of sick leave and one scrapped family vacation later, I was finally on the mend and feeling well enough to return to work. The annoying cough apparently is going to linger for some time, but at least my lungs no longer sound like someone is letting air out of a pinched balloon.

It is a total bummer being a single mom and not having family close by to help out in these situations. If my mom had been alive, she probably would’ve been on the next plane. But we made it through. And one of my awesome girlfriends came and picked my son up a couple times when he was out of camp the last week for playdates so that I could rest, which was so appreciated!! She even offered to take him overnight, but he didn’t want to leave me. Thank you, CA!!

I have also learned an important lesson…that it is absolutely not worth pushing it when you’re not feeling well. I always tell my son to listen to his body. I guess it’s about time that I listened to mine as well.

Advertisements

Restaurant Week at Circa.

Because I love food and restaurants, I was very excited about this summer’s DC Restaurant Week. They have a handy website where you can sort by neighborhood and mealtime. So I tracked down two restaurants near work for lunch last week. All participating restaurants charge $22 for an appetizer, main course, and dessert.

On Monday, two co-workers joined me, and we went to Circa in Clarendon. And it was…okay. We all had the Brussels + Blue appetizer, which was pan-fried Brussels sprouts, Applewood smoked bacon, a thick balsamic vinegar, and blue cheese dressing. It was really good…even though two of the three of us spent a significant amount of time in the bathroom after lunch. Not sure why, but this was the only food item that we had in common.

Unfortunately, the main course was rather disappointing. I ordered the Rustic Italian Flatbread, which turned out to be just sausage pizza with a fancy name. One friend had the Circa Burger, which was also pretty basic, and the other had the Blackened Chicken Mango Salad, which was also okay.

For dessert, two of us had the Dark Chocolate Torte with crème anglaise, candied walnuts, whipped cream, and raspberry coulis. We thought the torte would be nice and cakey, but it turned out to be a brick of fudge with a bit of sauce on it. Way too rich. I ate half and brought the other half home to my 8-year-old, but he didn’t like it either.

I’m also a bit judgey with waitstaff having spent the better part of my 20s working in various restaurants, and I know that basic customer service doesn’t take that much effort. So I notice certain things…like if you make eye contact with your customers when they’re walking out after their meal and don’t bother to say thank you or have a nice day.

I might expect this overseas, but in the US where people are supposed to make money on tips and actually be pleasant, it annoys me. I also asked for a glass of sauvignon blanc. She didn’t tell me that they had two options, she just gave me the one that was the most expensive.

So the best part about our lunch at Circa was the company…and the fact that I found a parking space right in front of the restaurant.

Today, I went out solo for lunch #2. I picked McCormick and Schmick’s in Crystal City because I was in the mood for seafood. (Honestly, when am I not in the mood for seafood?) Again, first thing I noticed was the lack of customer service. I walked through the door, and the host completely ignored me. He was on the phone filling out an elaborate banqueting services request, which is fine. But he didn’t even acknowledge that I was there. So after a few minutes, I simply walked past him to the bar area and sat myself at a nice table near the window.

Restaurant Week at McCormick & Schmick.

The bartender wasn’t effusively friendly, but she was pleasant enough and brought me a Restaurant Week menu when I asked for it. I was starting to wonder though when she disappeared, and it took almost 20 minutes to bring me the dessert, even though I was only one of two people in her area.

But the meal was okay. I started with a cup of She Crab Soup, which tasted like clam chowder with really dry and overcooked chunks of crab in it. Wouldn’t order that again.

For the main, I had the Chicken Française, which was super good. It was a large thin piece of chicken crusted with Parmesan and served with mashed potatoes, Mediterranean caponata (eggplant and celery in sweetened vinegar), and lemon butter.

I chose the Crème Brûlée with diced mangoes for dessert. The bartender said it took a long time because they had to cut the mangoes. But in the end, it wasn’t that great either, as the mangoes were under-ripe and fairly bitter. There was a layer of mango sauce on the bottom of the cup that made the cream coagulate, and the caramelized sugar tasted burned. But who knows, maybe I’m just being really picky today.

I’ve had similar restaurant experiences since I’ve been in DC…where part of the meal is great, but the rest is unremarkable. So far I have only been WOWed by two places…Jaleo in Crystal City and Ambar in Clarendon. They both happen to be tapas restaurants. Jaleo is Spanish, and Ambar is Balkan, and the food was just amazing. The flavors, the creative combinations, and the presentation were all fantastic. I would highly recommend them!

And that is what Restaurant Week is all about! Trying out new places that you might not normally visit for a much more reasonable price. 🙂 Bon appetit!

National Museum of American History.

My son was recently vocalizing his displeasure about the fact that he’s supposed to be American but will have only lived in the United States for a little over three years when we (hopefully) depart next summer for our next overseas post.

I haven’t spent too much time thinking about this because, to me, it was just a given that he’d spend most of his childhood abroad when we joined the Foreign Service. But I have been focused on trying to give him a solid snapshot of American culture and experiences while we’re here.

I am happy to report that this year he has had a fantastic summer…a good old-fashioned American summer, if I may. Here are some of his chronological highlights over the last couple of months:

  • Spent a day at the beach on the Chesapeake Bay and sailed on a pirate ship.
  • Spent five weeks of summer day camp with his best friend.
  • Visited the National Aquarium with his best friend on her birthday.
  • Had a sleepover with his first-ever best friend as his family was transiting through Virginia from Toronto to Oslo.
  • Got to “pick crabs” for the first time.
  • Learned how to dive off a diving board at summer camp.
  • Passed the test and received his next level of belt in Taekwondo.
  • Ate a lot of hot dogs, ice cream and popsicles, and spent hours and hours in the pool.
  • Will be spending a week at the end of summer visiting extended family.

I too have had a pretty fantastic summer and have enjoyed the beach and the pool and visiting with wonderful friends.

This last weekend my friend CL came out from California for a few days. She last visited us in London in 2014. So it was nice to spend the first day just relaxing and getting caught up. But Sunday we managed to get out and about and went down to the Mall and visited the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. My son was excited to see the Marvel exhibit, even though it turned out to be pretty small, and I was looking forward to seeing Julia Child’s kitchen. She donated it to the museum in 2001.

The description on the museum’s website says, “The last three of Julia’s television shows produced in the 1990s were filmed in this kitchen. To turn the kitchen into a set, producers removed the table, chairs, and back wall cabinets, where they stationed the cameras. They added curtains to the windows, mounted light poles on the ceiling, and installed a large cooking island in the center. On television, Julia and her guest cooks used her kitchenware.”

The Batmobile and Wonder Woman’s costume.

Julia Child’s kitchen.

After that we drove over to the Watergate Hotel and had afternoon tea in the Kingbird restaurant. Of course, the Watergate complex is famous for the 1972 political scandal where five people broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Office Building causing President Richard Nixon to resign. The hotel has a pretty good sense of humor about it too. When I called to make our reservation, their “hold music” was a recording of Nixon giving a speech. The tea was lovely as well.

Afternoon tea at the Watergate Hotel.

And summer is not over yet! We have one more friend who might come visit in a couple of weeks, and then we head to Alaska for the last week of summer before school starts. This summer is flying by! I hope you are all enjoying yours as well.

It is that time of year again, where the folks that are planning to transition during the summer of 2020 are starting to research potential posts…unless they’re like me and start doing it as soon as they arrive at their current one. What can I say? I like to be prepared.

If you are considering bidding on Washington, specifically FSI, I can offer you my personal pros and cons, which I’m sure say more about me than DC. 😉

Pros

  1. Convenience – You are back in America after all. Everyone drives on the right. English is the official language. Customer service is actually a thing. You can get your Amazon Prime orders in the mail the next day instead of waiting for six weeks to get something through the pouch. You can have hundreds of different restaurants and grocery stores deliver to your door…or even pick up your McDonald’s order, should you so choose. If you work at FSI and live in Falls Church, the commute to schools and housing is extremely short and pleasant. I can usually be to work after dropping my son off at before-school care in 20 minutes or less depending on traffic.
  1. Proximity to U.S. Friends and Family – I am making it my mission to visit as many of our family and friends that we normally don’t see when we’re overseas as possible. In May, we visited one of my best friends from college whom I hadn’t seen in about nine years. In August, we’re heading up to Alaska to visit some extended family that my son has never met. And in November, we’re going to Wisconsin to see one of my cousins and his family. The last time I saw him was at our grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary in the mid-1990s…so about 20 years ago! His son is pretty much my son’s only cousin around his age…even though technically he’s a second cousin. But he’s super excited to meet him. 🙂
  1. Positive Work Environment – I can’t speak to life at Main State, but working at FSI is extremely pleasant. As I mentioned in my last post, the campus is gorgeous throughout the year. There’s a ton of parking, and an annual parking pass is very reasonable. There’s a cafeteria, ATM, convenience store, library and gym all on site. Flexible work schedules are available, and everyone’s pretty laid back and relaxed.
  1. Variety of Activities & Culture – There is a TON of stuff to do here. Whether you’re single or have a large family, you can enjoy everything from DC site seeing, restaurants, and bars to beaches, battlefields, amusement parks, world-class museums or pick your own farms. There is truly something for everyone. I particularly love the regional food fairs, the cherry blossoms in spring, and the fireflies in June that you normally can’t find west of Texas.
  1. Local History – This could probably go under the “Variety of Activities” heading, but I wanted to make it its own bullet, because I have developed a new and sincere appreciation for the amount of history in this area. This is the fourth time I’ve been in DC, and I never really paid much attention to it before. Growing up on the West Coast, I was vaguely aware that that the Declaration of Independence was here. Been to nearby Gettysburg, check. Mt. Vernon, check. But I’ve been able to find amazing things over the last 18 months…specific, off-the-beaten path, storied treasures like those that I found all over when we lived in Europe. For example, the original stone markers that indicated the boundaries of DC in the late 1700s; still-functioning English taverns scattered across Virginia from the 1600s; and the abandoned fleet of 230 wooden ships from World War I in Mallows Bay, MD, that are now a National Marine Sanctuary. It makes me happy.

Now on to the things that make me less happy…

Cons

  1. Cost of Living – OMG, I will never again complain about the cost of living overseas. Any place where you have your housing paid for is a win. While not quite San Francisco prices, the cost of housing in the DC Metro area is absolutely ridiculous. Our rent and utilities, including cable and internet, is just shy of $2,500 a month for a small, somewhat beat up, two-bedroom apartment. Granted, I chose it for its location to work and a particular school, so that’s on me. But this little chunk takes up about 70% of my crappy government salary…so I’ve had to dip into my savings on a monthly basis to cover the rest of our living expenses…and travel, of course. I cannot WAIT to get back overseas.
  1. DC Attitude – A lot of people in this town are a bit arrogant. You can really see it in how they drive. People scream up behind you and start honking even though you have nowhere to go to get out of their way. Or they completely block the middle lane of a six-lane road so they can make a left turn across a double yellow line and three oncoming lanes of rush hour traffic and don’t give a crap how many people are backed up behind them. I myself only give people a polite honk (cough) when the light has turned green…and they’re still texting on their phone.
  1. Bursting the Home Illusion Bubble – This could also be a bit of a pro, but being back in the US bursts that little “everything works better at home” illusion that one might develop when one has been overseas for a while. We often had power outages in Belize, but we had a generator, so they didn’t last long. During the last big thunderstorm in DC, power was out at our apartment complex for about 15 hours. In London I thought it was insane that it took six weeks to get an appointment to hook up our cable. After moving here, it took two months for Dish Network to figure out that they couldn’t upgrade my cable because the new boxes weren’t compatible with the system in our apartment. Customer service is important, but you can still get crap service, which makes it even more irritating. My apartment has a locked security door, so packages are often dropped off (and sometimes lost) at the front desk or returned to sender. These things are good to remember when you’re trying to get settled abroad and are frustrated by the process. It’s a reality check.
  1. Hot Summer Weather – Again this might be a pro for some, but…ughh…I hate the heat. And I hate humidity. The average summer temperature from June through September (a good four solid months) is in the mid-90s with at least 50% humidity, which quickly shoots you over the 105F heat index. I have found this to be much more manageable this time around, because I have a car and don’t have to stand melting in the sun waiting for the shuttle or the metro like I did on previous stays. But if you’re here for a long TDY or language training, it would suck.
  1. Transitioning from a “Domestic” Tour – Speaking of language training, if you are lucky enough to get a language-designated post and get to come back to FSI between overseas tours and be paid by the US government to learn a language, State will also pay for your temporary housing and give you per diem to cover meals and incidentals for the duration of said training. HOWEVER, if you are transferring from DC (aka a “domestic” assignment) to overseas, you…are…on…your…own. No subsidized housing, no per diem. So plan to spend another year or so on that ridiculous rent until you pass the language test.

So there you have it folks, the things I have enjoyed, and the things that I have not, while living and working in the DC area.

Happy bidding!!

Arlington Hall circa 1943 (photo course of Wikipedia).

One of the many things I like about working at the Foreign Service Institute is its history. I’ve been slowly working my way through a great audiobook on my daily DC suburban commute called Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II by Liza Mundy.

Our entire campus used to belong to an all-girls’ college called Arlington Hall that started in 1927. During WWII it was “commandeered” by the Navy, and the USG never gave it back. It became home to the Foreign Service Institute in 1993. I love that I can see the building above through the window in my office.

As you can tell by the book’s title, it’s all about the women…most of them students at prestigious women’s colleges or career teachers…that had been recruited to be code breakers during the war. It really brings the women’s stories and the campus during that period in history to life.

Some of them focused on decoding messages about Japanese plans and movements in the Pacific, which would’ve directly affected my paternal grandfather who was deployed to that area as a gunner’s mate on a destroyer at the time.

Many of the women were housed in temporary dorms called Arlington Farms. They were demolished in the 1960s, but once stood where the visitors’ center and the Women In Military Service For America Memorial currently are in Arlington National Cemetery.

Comparison map of Arlington Farms (courtesy of Wikipedia) and current Arlington Cemetery (Google maps screenshot).

A photo of life in Arlington Farms housing by Esther Bubley (Library of Congress Archive).

The lives of the women were documented by government photographer, Esther Bubley, who had a pretty amazing career herself. In addition to government work, she shot pictures for Pan Am, Pepsi-Cola International and the Irish Tourist Board. You can visit her online gallery here.

So if you’re a Foreign Service employee and bidding on FSI this summer, which will be the subject of my next post, the local history is definitely one of the “pros.”

Splashing in the Chesapeake Bay.

This is our second summer in DC, and we FINALLY went to the beach. I’m pretty familiar with West Coast beaches and Florida beaches, and I have a clear picture in my head of New England beaches. When I think of Mid-Atlantic beaches, I think of the Outer Banks in North Carolina. When I hear “the Eastern Shore”…I think of New Jersey reality TV. I figured Virginia beaches were somewhere in the middle.

So I’d been researching lots of options. I scoured articles with titles like Coastal Living’s “10 Best Small Towns on the Chesapeake Bay” and Southern Living’s “The Eastern Shore: Virginia’s Best-Kept Secret.” I’ve been hearing about Chincoteague Island since I joined the Foreign Service, so it’s definitely on my bucket list…but it also takes three and a half hours to get there from our house, which is a lot of driving for a short weekend.

Lots of people in the DC area go to Rehoboth Beach and Ocean City in Maryland for a quick jaunt up the coast. But they sounded really crowded…and one co-worker confirmed that the vibe is a lot like Daytona Beach, which isn’t what I was looking for. Basically I wanted the Mid-Atlantic version of a my ideal New England beach…sailboats, seafood and beautiful airy accommodations. So I settled on Kent Island in the Chesapeake Bay Area.

When looking at accommodations online, I quickly learned that it is best to avoid the beach on a long holiday weekend. The Hilton Garden Inn was already sold out for every weekend in the summer. And the ACTUAL Chesapeake Beach Resort had a two-night minimum. I also quickly trashed my ideas of a dog-friendly getaway. So I planned for a regular two-day weekend and decided to go big on the hotel, since it was just for one night, and hope for some ambiance.

The Inn at Chesapeake Bay Beach Club (photo courtesy of http://www.mainlinetoday.com.)

I chose the Inn at Chesapeake Bay Beach Club. It was certainly pretty, with a cute beach theme, two restaurants and an outdoor fire pit. But for the price, I found it kind of annoying that they weren’t actually by the beach; they couldn’t separate my king bed into two, so I had to sleep with my 8-year-old (who rocketed out of bed at 3:30am to vomit in the bathroom), and there was no room service for a lazy Sunday breakfast. (And the neighboring Chesapeake Beach Resort was so much cuter!!!) But it was only an hour’s drive from our house.

The room wasn’t supposed to be ready until 4:00, so I decided to have a leisurely morning leaving the house, drop the dog at boarding, and tool our way to the beach…the beach at Dirty Dave’s Tiki Bar.

The beach at Dirty Dave’s Tiki Bar.

Tropical drink selfie.

Before you judge my parenting choices, rest assured that Dirty Dave’s is not named after a local pervert; it’s named after the owner of the attached Kentmorr Restaurant and Crab House and his occasionally dirty kitchen apron.

The tiki bar was fantastic. Located right on a child-friendly private swimming beach with buckets and shovels for the kids, hammocks and palm trees, it had a thatched roof and served yummy tropical drinks and decent snack food like pizza, burgers and hot dogs. The water was surprisingly cold, but I still spent a couple of wonderfully relaxing hours with my toes in the sand while A played in the water.

Trying to kill some time before 4:00, I had planned to visit the nearby historic downtown of Stephenville, but it was too hot to be wandering the pavement. Instead, we popped into Chesapeake Chocolates, and my son had fun picking out his favorites among the nautical-themed shapes…sharks, crabs, sailboats, lighthouses. All kinds of cute stuff.

Then we cruised over to the hotel. Our room was ready early, so we checked in, then immediately went out and swam in their new pool, which was also rather chilly. That evening we met up with a friend from the Antarctic who currently lives on a boat in Annapolis with her boyfriend and a couple of seafaring cats. I had last seen them in Iceland a week or so before we left, so it was lovely to see them again stateside.

We met them at the Bridges Restaurant for dinner a few miles down the road in Grasonville. The restaurant was more crowded than I expected, so I’m really glad DR made reservations. But it was right on the water, and they poured a healthy glass of wine. I had a delicious crab pesto pizza with roasted tomatoes, spinach, mozzarella and provolone. And DR seemed to enjoy the shrimp and grits with grape tomatoes, smoked Andouille sausage, yellow onion, lemon and light Tabasco sauce.

I had thought of trying the soft shell crab, which is an area specialty. According to Wikipedia, soft shell crab is “a culinary term for crabs that have recently molted their old exoskeleton and are still soft.” I thought of having it deep-fried, but the fact that it looked like a large tarantula made me change my mind. So I was happy that I’d ordered the pizza.

Crab pesto pizza, fancy breakfast coffee and crab eggs Benedict.

The next morning, I continued my crab theme with crab eggs Benedict in the hotel restaurant. They put them on a very dense biscuit instead of an English muffin though, so that was a little disappointing. But we were now fueled up and ready for Sunday’s next adventure…on a pirate ship.

I knew that I wanted to get A out on the water and had thought of going out on the Schooner Woodwind. But I had actually been on the Schooner Woodwind before…with my ex-husband…on our honeymoon…and that wasn’t the energy I was looking for. Pirate Adventures across the bridge in Annapolis was the perfect second choice.

Most of the other kids were a bit younger than A, but the trip was hysterically funny. They got to paint their faces and dress up, and the crew was in full character the entire time. When onboard, they played games and searched for treasure in the water that had been planted by the staff and marked with a buoy.

But the best part was the water cannons. Both sides of the ship were lined with water cannons, and the kids got to blast a competing pirate floating in a nearby dinghy. They even got to shoot consenting restaurant goers on the pier armed with giant squirt guns. I seriously cannot remember the last time I laughed so hard. My son had sooooooo much fun…and we didn’t even get sunburned.

Pre-sail face painting.

Our pirate ship…sailing to tunes of “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

Consulting the treasure map.

Shooting tourists with a water cannon. 🙂

I would definitely go back to Dave’s Tiki Bar, and I would like to actually eat at the Kentmorr Restaurant and Crab House sometime. I would also highly recommend the pirate adventure. I wouldn’t stay at the Inn again…maybe try to find a vacation rental instead, but they often have a minimum stay of 2-3 nights, so we’ll see.

Anyway, I would say our first excursion to the beach was a success. And I think next time, we will try a new destination…St. Michael’s perhaps. Stay tuned!

I thought I’d do a little blog post on my experience of divorce in the Foreign Service…and try not to be too biased about the whole thing. There are a few good articles on the subject out there already.

One excellent FS blogger wrote this one for AFSA: “Surviving Divorce in the Foreign Service.” This post on Diplopundit also has some good info: “It Happens: Divorce in the Foreign Service.” And here are some general State Department resources again from AFSA. There is also a work-life program that offers legal referrals and discounts.

But everyone’s experience is different and completely dependent on their personal situation. Five key things caught my attention during our divorce that folks contemplating the same path might want to pay attention to: timeline, residency, direct-hire status, financial costs, and child custody laws.

Timeline

Considering the fact that our divorce was extremely straight forward, this whole process took a LOT longer than I was expecting. It wasn’t contested; we didn’t really own any property, so we just split all our junk down the middle when we received our HHE. He didn’t seek custody or alimony or ask for any of my retirement, and I didn’t seek child support. REALLY simple. But from the time I approached my lawyer last March, it would be 15 months before our divorce was finalized.

Two main things can contribute to this. First, if your spouse checks out of the whole process early on and leaves it up to his lawyer. If he chooses to, he can sign the papers at any time, but if he chooses not to participate, it has to go through the court system, so a judge can rule on things like custody and division of assets along the way. So I had to appear in court twice…and the trials lasted for less than 30 minutes each. Nothing too dramatic or emotional…just expensive and time consuming.

The second thing that slows the process down is if your spouse’s lawyer misses court dates…basic ones about scheduling that you didn’t have to attend. Apparently if they miss a court date, it has to be rescheduled…sometimes it’s rescheduled for an entire month later. But YOUR lawyer will probably be there, so they will still bill you for however long they spent in court that day waiting for the other lawyer to show up. And so it drags on.

Residency

Before I could file, I had to prove that I had been a resident of the State of Virginia for six months. So even though we split up in January, I had to wait until August to file. I have NO idea how this would work if we were still overseas. So the fact that we had been reassigned to DC made that part a lot easier.

But we still had to figure out what date to use…the date that we arrived in DC in January, the date when A started school in February, or the date I signed my lease or received my official government transfer orders in March? In the end, we chose the earliest one that could legally meet residency requirements.

Direct-Hire Status

I thank the Universe every day that I am a direct-hire employee. I’ve read too many stories about how the spouse (Foreign Service or otherwise!), who has dedicated the last however-many-years of his/her life raising the kids and running the home, finds themselves in a desperate situation…suddenly separated, asked to leave post with or without the kids, no home to go to, no career to fall back on. It’s terrifying.

Where do you go?? How do you pay your bills?? How do you take care of the kids, if you have them?? How do you pay for a lawyer?? (If you are now concerned about my husband as a FS spouse, never fear, he is being well taken care of, and his parents paid for his lawyer.)

Costs

Many people don’t like to talk about money. I’ve worked for companies where people are discouraged from asking each other about their salaries. So forgive me, if you feel this is too much personal information, but I think it’s a very important part of the process to consider.

Our divorce cost me about the same as our wedding cost my parents…a whopping $10,000. So be prepared! If you’re lucky, you have a back-up plan, a good savings account, and family and friends to rely on for emotional support. Hopefully, you BOTH have people that are standing by you.

Child Custody

Most Foreign Service families spend the majority of their careers overseas. When families separate there are some major laws around who is allowed to take the children, when, where, and for how long. If you have joint custody of your children, you need serious documentation from the other parent showing that you can take the children overseas.

So you need to know the difference between “physical” and “legal” custody. We agreed that I would have sole physical and legal custody of our son for many reasons…not the least of which is so that we don’t run into legal problems when we transfer to our next foreign post.

And that’s my experience in a nutshell. Some people have it easier; some people have it much, much worse. Some people have a shocking ability to hide who they truly are and what they’re capable of until it’s too late.

I will end this blog post with a thankful heart that I get a second chance and send you all blessings and hope for a bright future whatever your situation.

Saguaro cactus in the Sonora Desert near Phoenix, Arizona.

One of the things I’m trying to accomplish during the two years that we’re in the States is to see as many of the awesome friends and family as possible that we haven’t had a chance to visit with while we’ve been overseas. So for some of them, it’s been a while!!

I was super excited to plan a trip to Arizona for the long weekend and see my friend and college roommate LH and her hubby. I literally had not seen her since I was pregnant with A…so about nine years. (Where does the time go??) And it’s soooooooo nice to reconnect with someone you’ve known for a long time. You get to catch up on the details of their lives and get that warm, fuzzy and grounded feeling all at the same time. 🙂

Their two kids are grown and out of the house, but A did not lack for entertainment. We met up with some of LH’s friends who also had an 8-year-old boy and visited the Goldfield Ghost Town. It’s a super cute little Old West town complete with a (really high) zipline, ice cream, restaurant, and lots of fun kitschy shops. My son’s favorite part was the zipline, once he finally got up the courage to go on it. He was also itchin’ for an old-fashioned cowboy gun and a sheriff’s badge. I’m sure he would’ve liked a 10-gallon hat as well, but it wouldn’t have fit in our luggage.

Part of the main street in Goldfield Ghost Town.

120-foot high zipline.

The second day we spent a couple of hours at the OdySea Aquarium in Scottsdale, which wasn’t as big as the Baltimore Aquarium, but it was pretty impressive for being in the middle of the desert. A is currently on a shark kick, so anything to do with sharks makes him happy. Part of the wall in the ground-floor bathrooms was made up of viewing glass for the shark tank, which was a unique feature. And the aquarium itself was part of a much larger complex that also had a Titanic exhibit (of all things), mirror maze, butterfly wonderland, animatronic dinosaur world, bumper boats, and a splash pad with music and bubbles. I found out later it also had an ice bar, so we’ll have to visit that next time. 😉

OdySea complex, home to the aquarium in Scottsdale.

Some aquarium highlights.

But the best part of the trip was hanging out with LH and her hubby at their place. They had a lovely heated pool in the backyard, and A was in it as often as he could get someone to watch or join him. The day that we left he showed up in the living room after breakfast in his swimsuit. I told him we wouldn’t be able to swim because we had to head to the airport. And he said, most indignantly, “What about my morning dip??”

The only thing that marred our good time was the flights. I had intentionally packed only carry-on luggage since we were just going for a couple days and figured it would save time in the airport. I’d streamlined my liquids and cosmetics to make sure they were all under the required amounts and would fit in a quart-sized Ziploc. But we ended up having to “gate check” our carry-ons because they’d overbooked the flights and supposedly didn’t have enough space.

Except…they didn’t “gate check” them, they threw them under the plane with the checked luggage, so they had to be retrieved from baggage claim both times. AND there ended up being a ton of empty overhead space. So the whole thing really pissed me off for some reason.

ANYWAY, we had a great time while were in Phoenix, and I’m really glad we went. Next time we will have to stay longer! I do love the desert…in the spring before it hits 100F. And it was pretty amazing to be there when the cacti were blooming. That was a first for me. I didn’t get a good shot myself, but here’s one I borrowed from the internet. Enjoy!

Viking in costume.

Yep, you read that right. We went to a Viking festival in Manassas, VA this weekend. Apparently this isn’t the first place that most people think of when they hear the word Viking, and I’ve been on the receiving end of a few raised eyebrows when I describe our weekend activities. But it was great fun! I even enjoyed it more than…gasp…the one in Iceland.

I had a fairly difficult time trying to find any kind of dedicated website about it, but they do have a FB page with some info. The festival was started last year by two women…one of whom is from Iceland but has lived in Manassas for the last 30 years. The other woman is of Norwegian descent and sits on the board of the Sons of Norway in Fairfax.

And it was much bigger than I expected! It was even larger than the Scottish festival that we went to last summer. They had music and dancers, food trucks, vendor stalls, reenactments and even a Viking ship that “sailed” down I-95 from Philadelphia. Everything you would hope a Viking festival would be.

A checking out the shields.

Pottery vendors in costume.

We went with a friend and her two daughters (the same ones with whom we’d visited an actual Viking ship last October). We were super lucky and found close street parking, then wandered around until the kids had had enough, which was conveniently right before it started to seriously rain. The kids seemed most interested in watching the reenactments, checking out the wares for sale (they each picked out a faux fox tail), and watching a guy make chain mail.

After the festival, we dropped them all home and stayed for pizza, beer, video games and good conversation. It was a great day all around. 🙂

“The Norseman” visiting from Philadelphia.

I love wildflowers. When we lived in London, I planned our fifth anniversary weekend around the hope of seeing carpets of bluebells in the Forest of Dean. Unfortunately we only found a small patch. It was lovely, and the medieval forest was really wild, so to speak. But I was a little disappointed.

Common bluebells in the Forest of Dean, UK.

In Iceland, my wildflower needs were filled in the months of May and June by the fantastic lupine that has spread all over the country. It was so gorgeous!! Loved it.

Stunning lupine near Geysir in Iceland.

So when I saw that the nearby Riverbend Park was advertising Virginia bluebell tours, I couldn’t help dragging my son along. Virginia bluebells are slightly different than common bluebells in that they have a sweet little trumpet shape.

We didn’t make it on the tours themselves, but I plotted out on the map where they had walked, so we got to meander along at our own pace for free. It still wasn’t quite the “carpet” of flowers I kept visualizing…for one thing they were a bit too tall and bushy and far between. But they made me happy. And it was a fun outing in a lovely park.

Fun Fact: A portion of the 710-mile Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail (PHT) runs through the park for those much more motivated than I am.

Virginia bluebell.

Bluebell path and fallen trees.

Thorfinn trying to throw himself into the Potomac at every opportunity.

The pleasant waterfront picnic area.

Archives

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and are not attributed to any government organization.

Frequent Flyers

  • 68,355 Passengers

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 64 other followers

Advertisements