Posted in Belgium, Iceland, WashingtonDC

Life in Limbo

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.

Posted in Belgium, Iceland

Hello 2018!

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!

Posted in Belgium, Iceland

Trying Not to Get Too Excited

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!

Posted in Belgium, Foreign Service, Iceland

Change of Posts!

In true Foreign Service fashion, fate hasn’t quite finished with us this bidding season. We had pretty much figured we’d be heading to Washington and had verbally agreed on a position there. But since this particular job is at a different grade than I actually am, I am considered a “stretch bidder.” This means they weren’t able to officially offer me a written contract or “handshake” until stretch season in February. So we’re all pretty much just hanging around wading through the bureaucracy.

Since all of bidding is akin to moving a bunch of chess pieces around, it should come as no surprise that one of the top two posts we were bidding on in Europe contacted me a couple days ago, almost a full month after bidding has ended, to let me know that their #1 candidate had fallen through and asked if I wanted the job.

So this is where things got awkward. I had already verbally agreed to the job in DC, but my current supervisor, and the half dozen officers and fellow OMSs whose advice I asked, all told me that without a written handshake, I am under no obligation to follow through with the position.

Also, people curtail all the time, which means they not only accept a handshake, but they actually get all the way to post before they change their mind. So turning down a verbal is not necessarily a huge deal. Better for them to know ahead of time when they can still plan.

But I can’t help feeling extremely guilty, like I’m breaking up with a really nice guy to go out with someone else. Funny how much emotion we can attritube to this process. Plus I feel like this re-introduces an element of uncertainty. Who knows what else could happen between now and February if we start changing things around.

But hey, I try to remind myself that the whole reason we joined the FOREIGN Services is to go to foreign places, which DC is not. It’s a beautiful and exciting city; it’s in a section that I enjoy working; it will save us at least 50K in rent; I will get to use a bit of French; and our son is pretty much guaranteed to get better support at one of the few international schools that had actually accepted him. Plus they have awesome beer and chocolate. 😉

So as of today, our next post is…