Donald Frady Park in Falls Church, VA.

This was my first Mother’s Day as a single mom, so I was very happy to spend part of the day with my lovely friend VK and her family. My son adores her two children, so it’s always extra nice to spend time with them because the kids are happy, and we get some girl time. 🙂

The day got off to a bit of a rough start though. Our dog started whining urgently around 6:30am. I figured he had to go to the bathroom, but I didn’t want to take him outside quite so early. And I really wanted him to use the new Porch Potty that I’d purchased for him. He’d peed on it successfully when we first got it but then hadn’t touched it the rest of the week.

So I opened the patio door and went back to bed. I prepared myself mentally for that the fact that one of two things was going to happen: either he was going to use the potty, or he was going to crap on the living room floor, and I’ll have to clean it up. I resolved not to get cranky if he did the latter, which is good, because that’s exactly what he did. I was fairly disappointed though. Why had I bought this thing if he wasn’t going to use it?

I’m now considering Plan D, which is to start coming home on my lunch break to let him out. Although, in retrospect, he’s rarely had an accident when we’re not home. It’s usually in the middle of the night or early in the morning when he’s not feeling well. But still he clearly needs more opportunities, and I hate leaving him alone all day. I have vowed to myself that our next post will be one where the housing has YARDS available.

After I cleaned up the living room, we had a quiet breakfast, enjoyed our free Sunday donuts from the apartment clubhouse, and then we managed to make it to church for the first time. We’d never really gone while we were overseas, but it was something I’d been wanting to do after things calmed down a little, and we could incorporate it into our weekly routine.

Falls Church, as its name suggests, has many lovely churches, and I enjoyed the one we went to. My son chose to stay with me rather than join the children’s program. He kept saying it was because he was shy, which he’s not, but I wasn’t going to push him. And he managed to stay somewhat calm and quiet through the entire service, which was a miracle in itself. Afterward he said it was because he didn’t want to leave me sitting alone on Mother’s Day. Aw, what a sweetheart! If I do say so myself.

From there we spent the afternoon at VK’s. The kids got to play, and we got to chat and wander around the neighborhood. We checked out their annual spring street fair, which was a little quiet due to inclement weather. But I’m happy not to be in crowds, and they had ice cream and a cake walk. 🙂 (We had done a bit of wandering around our own neighborhood the previous day and found a beautiful Victorian park in the middle of town that reminded me of London.)

Unfortunately A developed a migraine by the end of the day and ended up vomiting into a zip lock bag on the way to the car. But he napped in the car, rested a bit once we got home and was fine by bedtime.

So Mother’s Day was a bit like our life at the moment: a bit messy in parts but mostly positive with some good friends and quality time. I was thrilled that he still came home from school with a handmade Mother’s Day card, and I even managed to score a couple of roses. As far as I was concerned, it was perfect. 🙂

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Today is the 10-year-anniversary of my marriage. I’m not quite sure how I feel about that since my husband and I separated in January. This is the first time in 10 years that we will not be together on our special day. When you walk down that aisle and imagine your future together, you never think this is where things are going to end up.

I’m not going to use this as a platform to vent about it as the whole situation is just overwhelmingly sad for our whole family. But unfortunately it is the right thing as well. I only mention it here because this is a blog about our life in the Foreign Service. If the structure of that life changes then so does the blog and what and how I write about it.

So I will take this moment and simply reflect on the good times we had over the last 10 years. And we will see where things go from here.

Checking out some local cherry trees in Kenwood, MD.

Another month has flown by, and summer is swiftly approaching…not that that will make a real difference in my life at the moment. But A will get to experience his first American summer break from school.

On the business end, I’ve started work at FSI (woo hoo!!). So happy and thankful that it all worked out. And the campus is gorgeous right now with all the cherry blossoms in bloom. Things are finally in motion, and we should be getting our household goods packed out from Iceland this week.

Here in our current home, we had our rental furniture removed and our stuff delivered from storage, which has been interesting. There are a few things we put in there back in 2011 when we joined, a few things from when we left Belize in 2013, and all of my mom’s things from after she passed away.

So I’ve been lovingly going through each box and deciding whether to keep or donate. I’d love to keep everything of my mom’s for sentimental value, but some things just aren’t that meaningful…like a random set of 12 white coffee mugs. Not even sure why she had those. But I’m happy to keep a lot of the knick-knacks she had from when I was a kid that so remind me of her.

On the fun side, we made it out to California to visit friends and family for spring break, and we had such a wonderful time. I don’t see my dad and step-mom as often as I’d like, so it was really lovely to spend some time with them. They’ve been in the same house since I was a kid, so it’s very grounding and comforting and warm and happy, which felt extra good after the chaos of the last few months.

While we were gone, I boarded the dog at a local kennel. It had potential, other than being twice as expensive as the kennel in Iceland, but it had some concerning results. Like he contracted giardia and had diarrhea in the apartment several times before I could get him to the vet. Ugh, SO nasty and disgusting…especially now that we have carpeted floors.

He also had a massive scab on one side of his face. I don’t know if he got that trying to escape from his crate at night or from another dog. Either way, I wasn’t impressed. He’s such a little love bug, there have been a few times at various dog parks here in the States where the dogs have been mean or aggressive, and he’s ended up hiding under a bench. Poor little guy. I’m sure he’s missing his home in Iceland. I know I am!

On a more positive note, we continue to try and get out and about locally and spent Easter at a friend’s house, complete with egg-hunt for the kids, champagne, a lovely dinner and wonderful company. We also caught up with some friends from Antarctica and went out to dinner one evening and to the Air & Space Museum at Dulles the next day.

Speaking of food, I’ve also signed up for Hello Fresh! We had our first box last week, and A and I had a lovely time cooking up a fancy burger meal together. So things are puttering along toward normalcy. When our HHE arrives, and our apartment is finally in order, I will finally begin to feel settled. Wonder what’s on the bid list for 2020.

Rocklands Farm Vineyard.

They say the greatest source of stress and personal conflict is when you expect things to be different than what they are. So I’ve finally stopped fighting reality and am coming to terms with our here and now. And things are actually going quite well!

Our three big priorities were finding a school for A, housing for our family, and a job for me. I would just like to take a moment and thank the Powers That Be that everything has gone so smoothly and turned out so well.

School: We checked into a couple of small private schools, but I didn’t feel like they were a very a good fit for A. I’d heard good things about our local public school, so we enrolled him there in February…and he absolutely loves it. He’s had a couple little playground dust-ups, but nothing out of the ordinary.

He loves his class of 20 2nd graders…a big change from his small K-2 group in Iceland. (I think there are about 700 kids in his elementary school.) The staff is fantastic with behavioral specialists, counsellors and social workers all right there in the school. He even said he likes the school better than the one in Iceland because they have so many fun activities.

The only down side is that he’s hungry quite a bit of the day. They don’t do morning snack like they did in Iceland, and the lunch break is quite short. So my slow, easily-distracted, extremely chatty eater never seems to finish his food. But it could be worse!

Housing: We’ve been in corporate housing since January, and I’ve been driving around the different neighborhoods, looking online and calling the occasional rental agency in search of a new home, but nothing felt right. Either I didn’t like the house, or the neighborhood, or the price…or everything was awesome, but someone had just rented it…or they didn’t allow dogs.

I realized we had become quite comfortable in our temp housing. It’s spacious for DC, has a lovely view, is in a nice area, is only 10 minutes from A’s school, allows large dogs, and even has a pool for those hot DC summers. So I talked to the leasing office, and it also turned out to be quite reasonable for the area. So as soon as our medevac ended, I signed a one-year lease, and we don’t even have to move out of our apartment. Yay!! Very happy.

Job: I have one. Yay again! I don’t want to jinx it by talking about it too early, but I might have actually found another gig at FSI, which makes me so incredibly happy. I have officially accepted a handshake and will hopefully be paneled next week and be able to start work in April.

And to top it all off, we got a few inches of snow!! So I got to watch the snow fall, and my sad Arctic heart is starting to mend a little. Schools were closed (because it’s the mid-Atlantic region, and they don’t know what to do with snow), so we found a sledding hill and made a snow penguin. A actually went outside to play with the neighborhood kids for the first time after recognizing a couple kids from school and had a great snow-ball fight. Then we come in for cuddles and hot chocolate.

We’ve gotten out and about some more with friends, had playdates, checked out a syrup festival in Maryland, a vineyard, the National Arboretum, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Snow day!

 

Lining up for a pancake breakfast at the Syrup Festival in MD.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

And I’ve been able to catch up with lots of old friends as well! AF came out to visit for a week from California, woo hoo! We did more hanging out and chatting than exploring, but we did spend a lovely day in Alexandria where we checked out the old Torpedo Factory that is now an art gallery, visited the Apothecary Museum, the beautiful Colonial church that George Washington attended, and had lunch at a lovely Irish pub.

Apothecary Museum, Alexandria, VA.

Christ Church, built in 1773.

O’Connell’s Restaurant & Pub (photo courtesy of DanielOConnells.com).

I was also able to see two childhood friends that were here for separate conferences…one a friend that I was a summer camp counselor with in California in the ’80s, and the other a friend from high school in Alaska. And there’s even a friend from Antarctica working as a science fellow at State this year. So DC is turning out to be pretty awesome!

This weekend, we’re boarding the dog and heading out to California for spring break to visit family and more friends. Another yay! So we are settling in, and the future is looking pretty bright. Spring is all about renewal after all. So Happy Easter, everyone!!

A winter’s day in Reykjavik, Dec 31, 2017.

So…2018 seems to have started off with a bang. Things have changed significantly in our lives since my last post. In the middle of January we were medevaced back to DC for what I thought was going to be a couple of weeks of counselling for my son. So I packed a single bag for A and I to share, put the dog in a kennel, and one of our co-workers agreed to watch and feed our cat at the house.

Well, things haven’t quite gone as planned. A couple weeks has turned into a month, and we’ve been informed that A is going to need extensive therapy…probably for the next year, and that we need to start immediately.

So we’re currently on extended medical leave and will not be returning to Reykjavik to finish our tour. Before the taxpayers get nervous, don’t worry…I’m not getting paid to not work. I’m blowing through the two months of sick leave that I’ve accumulated over the last seven years.

I found out officially on Friday that he will not be cleared to go to Brussels this summer. So after months of waiting for the handshake…it arrived today via email, and I had to turn it down.

I am so utterly disappointed and still trying to process our abrupt change in circumstances. BUT I know that we will get through this eventually. Assuming I stay with State until I retire, I still have a good 20 years left in the Foreign Service, so I’m sure we’ll have plenty of time to get out and about again (knock on wood). And the important thing is to get my kiddo the care that he needs.

For now we’re working on refocusing our lives here. The folks at Embassy Reykjavik have been absolutely fantastic and supportive. They helped me ship the dog here last week, and our Management Officer even brought the cat over as accompanied baggage on her way to training to save us some money. They’ve found our spare keys and moved our cars from the short-term parking to more secure locations.

I was hoping we could get a UAB shipment with some more clothes and toys, but apparently we have to wait until we officially change posts for that to happen. So we’re making due with what we have…plus a few extra toys from Target.

We have to find a school for A so he can finish second grade. Since this was originally going to be a short trip, I didn’t bring his birth certificate or any of his school or immunization records that he’d need to register. But I was able to reach out to his school in Reykjavik and to the medical office at Embassy London, and they all sent me his records electronically, which was awesome.

Happily I had done quite a bit of research on DC when I thought we were being posted here at the end of last summer. Guess I should’ve hung on to that FSI position after all! But I’m sure something will work out, and we’ll be settled in a few months.

But I will truly miss Iceland. At times it felt like three years was too long to live in such a quiet place. But I hated to leave so abruptly…without being able to say a proper good-bye to all of our friends or visit our favorite restaurants one last time. Maybe catch one more aurora or a good snow storm or swim in a hot spring.

Ironically it’s pretty much been snowing the entire time since we left. Figures! Meanwhile it was 66F here in DC yesterday. I guess I will just have to keep my fingers crossed that we’ll get one good Mid-Atlantic dumping before the end of winter.

In the meantime we’ve tried to get out and see the sites and not make things all about the medical appointments. We’ve been to the Air & Space Museum, the National Zoo, and there was a pretty cool traveling dinosaur exhibition at the armory the other day. And we have some great current and potential friends that are posted here. So we shall keep our heads up and make it feel like home eventually.

Reykjavik’s insane annual fireworks (photo courtesy of NordicVisitor.com).

Happy New Year, everyone! Well, 2018 is in full swing, and it hasn’t been too bad so far. 😉 We had a very nice and quiet Christmas holiday. My hubby and I usually split the childcare duties when it comes to school breaks, so I took a few days off and had the whole week of Christmas at home.

We watched a few movies, played some games, and pretty much just chilled in our pajamas all week. But I did manage to do a few things over the holiday season that I’d been meaning to but hadn’t quite gotten around to over the last couple of years…like attend A’s school Xmas bazaar, visit the Xmas market in Hafnarfjörður, and the Reykjavik botanical garden in the snow. We also had a lovely Xmas Eve get-together with some embassy friends and got in a rare date night with a performance by the Hallgrimskirkja choir.

Marshmallow snowmen at the school Xmas bazaar.

Hafnarfjordur Xmas Market.

Speaking of performances, we were super excited to watch A actually participate in his first school performance on a real stage…and he did such a great job! Last year, at the ripe old age of six, he refused to participate and sat on my lap in the audience while his class sang songs on stage. This year his class did a short skit about Santa, complete with three-page script. Not only did he remember all of his lines as Elf #1, but he was prompting his classmates as well…whether they wanted him to or not. 😉

We also had the annual staff families Xmas party at the embassy. My hubby has a knack for interior design and, as CLO, spent a couple days decorating the embassy and setting up for the party. The whole place looked so festive and lovely! He had some fun crafts set up, and the kids decorated cookies and made classic ornaments out of beads and pipe cleaners. Then we had a visit from two of the 13 Icelandic Santas and danced around the Xmas tree according to Icelandic tradition. As much as he loves dancing, A does not like to dance around the tree…apparently he finds it repetitive and “a waste of time.”

A’s class doing their Santa skit.

Dancing around the tree at the embassy party.

Other than that, he was in a fairly good mood this holiday season…all things considered. I thought he might not want to watch Xmas movies, or maybe he’d take every opportunity to point out that Santa wasn’t real. But for the most part things were business as usual, which made me happy.

Since we were home, we figured it would also be a good time to knock out another two birds, so to speak, and had Thorfinn neutered…or “castrated” as they like to put it here. This way we could keep an eye on him all week and make sure he recovered well. We had picked up some lovely Xmas ornaments in London over Thanksgiving, and one of them looked quite a bit like the dog. So A suggested we give it a cone, so they could match. Ah, the holidays.

Thorfinn and his sympathetic ornament.

Reykjavik Botanic Garden in the snow.

Looking back, 2017 was a pretty good year. We had a gorgeous winter storm in February (yes, I actually do consider that a highlight 🙂 ), and A had his first real day of learning to ski. Thorfinn appeared in his first set of Icelandic dog shows. We got some great international travel in to Prague, Rome, Venice and London…and some good local travel up to the Arctic Circle and the Westfjords. And we had a ton of visitors, which also makes me happy. 🙂

2018 will be a big year of change for us as we head back to the States for home leave and on to Brussels to see what our next adventure entails. I don’t really have any resolutions…just to survive the impending move. I’d love to lose some weight, as always…and have told myself that I can buy a designer dress for the Marine Ball if I lose 60 lbs between now and November…lol. I’m also starting an online class next week about the history of Art Nouveau in Europe, which has a fun chapter on Belgium. So we’ve got some projects in the works. We shall see how it goes!! Best wishes to all!

Santa shot by hunter.

We killed Santa this year. And I’m surprisingly depressed about it.

Our seven-year-old son has been asking questions about Santa for years, and we’ve always played them off with noncommittal responses or drawn from themes in classic stories. Q: How does Santa fit down the chimney? A: Christmas magic. Q: How many reindeer does Santa have? A: Eight plus Rudolph. Q: Is Santa real? A: What do you think?

But lately our son’s questions have become much more focused and elaborate, and I’ve found myself having to come up with creative responses that felt like an outright lie. I was starting to wonder if he suspected the truth and was pushing for a straight answer.

I started reading about the best way to break the bad news to your kids. There were some cute ideas online, but some of them involved stringing along an even more complex lie than the idea of Santa Claus actually existing.

His daddy had talked to him off and on over the last couple weeks about how he believed that Santa was a spirit…the spirit of Christmas, of giving and kindness and joy. That Santa was based on a real person named St. Nicholas that cared very much for children. Our son later pulled me aside and whispered conspiratorially, “Daddy doesn’t believe that Santa’s real, but we do.”

A friend suggested a letter approach that had worked well for them a few years back. I was thinking over the possibility on Tuesday morning as I drove A to school when he suddenly asked me, “Mommy, if we left on an adventure to find Santa’s house, could we?”

My mind went blank, and all I could think of was telling him the truth. I heard myself saying, “No, baby, I think you’re old enough to know…”

I heard him fall back heavily against the car seat. He didn’t cry. For a moment he didn’t speak. And then he let me have it. A long litany of accusations…how we’d lied to him the whole time…and how “embarrassing!” that he’d believed us. And why did I have to tell him now??? Couldn’t I have waited until after Christmas??

I rallied and told him all the wonderfully encouraging things I’d read about Santa and the Christmas spirit. His reply, “You said Santa is like a spirit. So when you’re giving me presents and writing ‘From Santa’ what? Are you possessed by Santa?”

I felt awful. Surprisingly, he seemed to recover fairly quickly. We checked in with his school, and they said his day had been fine…nothing out of the ordinary. When Daddy picked him up at the end of the day, they talked about it a bit, and he said he wasn’t really too upset anymore. And he seemed to be his genuinely enthusiastic self when I came home from work…showing me a new scrape that he’d picked up on the playground.

But the horrible overwhelmingly sad feeling hasn’t left me. Maybe it’s because this is just one more major milestone that my son will pass as he leaves his childhood behind. Maybe it’s the fact that Santa will never be “real” in our home again.

Or maybe, if we want to get into some serious psychotherapy, it’s because my mom died 16 days after our first Christmas in Iceland. Our second Christmas in Iceland was our first one without her. Now, on our third and final Christmas in Iceland, I’m supposed to deal with the death of Santa. I’m honestly not sure if I can.

The hubby and I don’t get out for date nights nearly as often as we should. On Saturday night A’s school had a fun drop-off event for the younger kids as a fundraiser for the older ones. For 3,500 ISK (about $35), some students from the higher grades watched the kids for four hours, let them play and watch a movie, and fed them something my son described as noodles and ketchup. I assume it was pasta and red sauce, but with teenagers in charge, anything is possible. 😉

By a lovely coincidence, the choir at Hallgrimskirkja was giving their Christmas performance at the same time. So we were thrilled to drop A off at the school and cruise over to the church for an evening of Icelandic Christmas music.

The choir at Hallgrimskirkja (photo from the Mótettukór Hallgrímskirkju FB page).

Afterward we braved the cold streets of Reykjavik and did a bit of pub hopping. We were going to grab a bite at ROK, a cute little restaurant with a turf roof across from the church, but they were booked for the next two hours. So we ventured off the main drag onto a side street looking for a quieter venue.

We eventually came across a cozy-looking place called Smakkbarinn on Klapparstígur that was warm and inviting and had some appealing winter holiday decor. And it was a perfect choice. The customer service was fantastic, very attentive and friendly. We had a couple of Viking Christmas beers and ordered six tapas to share.

Sharing some tapas…pictured are fish fritters, duck breast and pork belly with Viking Christmas beer. Yum!

We still had some time to kill before pick up, so we strolled along and popped into the Chuck Norris Grill on Laugavegur, because they also had Christmas beers on tap, and it’s fun to read the sayings on the wall. Like: CHUCK NORRIS HAS A BEAR SKIN RUG IN HIS LIVING ROOM. THE BEAR ISN’T DEAD, IT’S AFRAID TO MOVE.

After that we finished up our date night with a floodlit stroll through the public sculpture garden behind the Einar Jonsson museum. The air was frosty, but the stars were out, there was no wind, and the company was excellent. So it was an absolutely wonderful way to spend a gorgeous evening.

“Skuld” (Fate) by Einar Jónsson in the public sculpture garden behind his museum.

Bruges, Belgium.

We have another two months before we even get an official handshake, and some do say in the FS that no post is truly certain until you’re on the plane. So I acknowledge that things can still change between now and this summer. But I did have to submit A’s school admissions application this month to secure a place for him next year, and that has made the whole Brussels thing a lot more real.

And what an amazing school it is too! In Belize we had a super sweet nanny who came to our house, adored A, and was fantastic with him. In London, we picked a nursery that was as close as we could come to affordable and near the embassy. So it was small and worn, but it served its purpose. Here in Iceland, we followed the crowd to whichever of the two international schools the rest of the embassy folks were going to, and we’ve enjoyed it. It’s cute and quirky and has around 200 kids in it.

But Brussels…OMG Brussels. We queried half a dozen schools there and were only approved for the one that could offer him the 1:1 ADHD support that MED is requiring for us. But what a school it is. It is five times bigger than his current school with over 1,000 children on a 15-acre campus. It’s practically a university! It has its own swimming pool, gymnastics arena, dance studio, fitness room and sports hall. To say I am impressed with the facilities is an understatement. We’re making a special trip out to Brussels in the spring to meet the staff, tour the school and discuss any special education requirements they would like to put in place for A next year.

I’m also excited about Brussels in general. At one point, I was convinced that we were going to be posted to Paris, and I was thrilled that I’d just passed the language test and was going to get to use some French. So when we didn’t get Paris, I was pretty disappointed.

But I will still get to use some French and think Brussels will be even better for the following reasons:

  • I lived in France in my 20s and have never been to Belgium, so it’s somewhere new and exciting for both of us.
  • Belgium also has other awesome towns to visit like Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges. So we’ll have all kinds of fun Flemish and French culture and history to explore.
  • It’s in a great location in Europe…only 2 hours from London on the Eurostar (we couldn’t have picked a closer post), three hours from Paris, and shares a border with France, the Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg.
  • It’s smaller and more manageable. The metro area has a population of only 2 million, which is 1/6 the size either Paris or London.
  • The housing is better. (Apparently most folks in Paris are housed in tiny old characterless US military barracks from the 1960s, which are fairly unappealing.)
  • As stated above, the school is amazing!!

Keeping our fingers crossed that everything stays on track!

One of the fun things about being in the Foreign Service is, of course, buying cool local items and souvenirs. My nick-knack cabinet is getting a little full, so I’ve actually tried to cut back on the bric-a-brac, but have recently discovered an entire series of items that I might have to start collecting: local nativity sets.

Until today, I’ve never actually owned a nativity set. Without getting all religious on you, I grew up believing that the nativity is at the center of Christmas beliefs and traditions, and after 20 years of kind of doing my own thing, I am circling back around to a firmer commitment to those beliefs. So it is a lot more meaningful to me this year than it has been in decades past.

Also this year, I saw an FB post by a bunch of Foreign Service folks about the nativity sets that they’ve collected all around the world. Some of them were fairly standard for what you’d see in the States. Others were amazing arrays of local craftsmanship and materials from every possible continent. So I felt that this would be a good time to buy my first local nativity set.

So here they are, both of them, because I couldn’t decide on which one to get. The first one is a local set handmade out of Icelandic wool that was exactly what I was looking for.

Icelandic wool nativity set. (Photo found on Pinterest)

And here is the other one…probably imported from the States and made in China from cheap resin. But it made me smile, and is a perfect reminder of my time spent in Alaska and my love of all things polar. 🙂

At the moment, they’re both still in a bag in bubble wrap, so I’m posting identical photos I found of them on the internet.

Arctic Nativity. (Photo found on Pinterest.)

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