I’ve Got a Pocketful of Gold, Now in Search of Silver

Transitions are tough. I feel like I sit down at my laptop and write a version of this blog post every couple of years. If I haven’t written it, I’ve definitely thought it. And I know I’ve had this conversation over sandwiches in Washington DC with Rory, fried rice in Chengdu with Stephanie, chocolate chip cookies in Kuala Lumpur with Jaclyn, and HST cafeteria lunch with Kristie. These memories stand out in my mind like sunflowers in a garden patch.

Each move is different and comes with unique challenges, both socially and when it comes to the embassy/consulate itself. The transition always entails its own twist with new work, new colleagues, new housing, new money, new stores, new food, new everything it seems.

Except the things that don’t change.

The challenge of finding a new friend group always looms. This hearkens back to the days of middle school when you’d walk into the cafeteria, quickly scanning for your clique and having a mild panic attack if they were nowhere to be found. Where do you sit? Do you take your tray to an empty table and sit alone, hoping some other lost soul will join you? Or do you take a deep breath and chance rejection by asking if there is an open seat at a pre-established table? This is how the first weeks (months?) at a new post feel. Sometimes you meet someone early on and just click and you’ve got your next few years all lined out for you, but other times you meet person after person, all of them (okay, not all, but I am trying to be diplomatic) lovely, but none with whom you just click. This can be especially difficult as a married couple without kids, as the built-in networks formed on playgrounds and back-to-school night are not ours to have. (How creepy would we/could we be?)

This current move definitely takes the cake in terms of difficulty. In Caracas, there seem to be extra challenges, as movements are restricted and getting out and about before our car arrives has proven to be difficult. There are a few options available, but they are not available 100% of the time. Walking isn’t the safest option, so I’ve gone from DC where I walked two miles to work each morning and two home in the evenings, plus regular sightseeing with visitors to being at the mercy of anyone willing to pick me up and take me anywhere! (Seriously, I am willing to go anywhere to get out and about. Last week I went to several liquor stores with a diplomatic spouse here who was getting ready for a farewell party. I’ve also been to the butchers and school supply shopping with soon-to-be colleague because she was running errands and offered to take me along. In the US you could easily convince me to go back-to-school shopping with you, as I’m a hoarder of all things stationery-related, but the butcher? That’s going to be a tough sell.)

On top of that, our housing is not ready so we are headed into our third week in temporary housing. The apartment we are in is fine and would be sufficient for the entire tour, but knowing that it is not home has made it hard to settle in fully. Most of my clothing is still stored away in packing cubes (I’m obsessed with packing cubes- I will preach to powers of the cube any day of the week), piled up in my enormous L.L Bean rolling duffel bags, waiting for a closet to call home. I pull out just what I need to get by (which is minimal since I am not getting out nearly as much as I had hoped) and have tried to maintain some semblance of organization, but alas, the room with all my PCS luggage in it is starting to look like a tornado touched down.

And don’t even get me started on spending money. That is a long and complicated blog post all its own, but suffice it to say that while I have money in the bank, the current economic crisis makes it nearly impossible to spend it locally and without our VPN set up (waiting on permanent housing!), many US commerce websites are off-limits. When I went in search of a bit of retail therapy last week, I was unceremoniously shut down. Those adorable lightweight sweaters that Land’s End sent me multiple emails about and even a coupon for? Nope. Couldn’t browse my options. The perfect relaxed jean capris that would look great with my bird blouse and Chuck Taylors? Kohl’s won’t let me visit, so they are a no-go as well. I have money. I wouldn’t mind parting with a bit of it for something cute and sparkly. But, alas, it is not meant to be.

But, this isn’t meant to be a page-long Debbie Downer post, but rather a reminder to myself (and all of us) that transitions are tough and we should be thoughtful of one another in this crazy Foreign Service lifestyle. If you are settled at post (or heck, even in the States, not living a semi-nomadic life of if you are headed back to school this week [looking at your Kels-a-roo, Keeg, and Keira!] ) take note of who is new. Invite them over. Check in with them. Over the last seven years I have met some amazing people and made life-long friends. Some of those were people who I was introduced to on my first days in a new place and others are people who came in behind us in the transition process, but whether we were there first or they were there first is inconsequential. We connected. We bonded. We became friends. I just need to take a deep breath and remind myself that the same will happen here in Caracas.

I’m reminded of a song I learned before I became an early Girl Scout dropout. (That’s a long story, but the crux of it is I didn’t make it through Brownies because those chocolate brown uniforms were hideous.) When I Googled the lyrics, I realized it is much longer than my 6-year-old brain stored away, but the opening lines are what I can still hear rattling around at times of transition:

Make new friends,
but keep the old.
One is silver,
the other is gold.

I’ve definitely got a pocketful of gold, so now it’s time I go in search for the silver.




Jake and Lily by Jerry Spinelli

Jake and Lily by Jerry Spinelli

Twins. It is not a new topic for fiction, especially not  for young adult fiction, so Jerry Spinelli breaks no ground with his newly released novel, and yet,  even knowing that the same-birthday sibling world has been explored numerous times, if you are going to go there again as an author, you need to create something new. Spinelli attempts to make his mark in the twins-literature world by having pre-teen, differing-sex, opposite ends of the personality-spectrum kids tell their story in a first-person point of view through alternating chapters.

It’s a shtick.

A shtick I could get behind in other circumstances, if it was done well. (My going-into-sixth-grade niece was working on a book this summer and she was considering narrating the story from two points of view-one human and one animal-in an alternating chapter format. She was on to something. She’s also eleven years old.) But really, the format isn’t the problem as much as the stereotypical portrayal of twins.

I’ve known twins, not ever been super close friends with any, but I’ve been around them growing up and through my adult life. I realize they have a special connection, but the story told by Jake and Lily is one made for Maury Povich! They can read each other’s minds, they sleepwalk to the same destinations and they can never, ever play a game of hide-and-go-seek.

Outside of its stereotypical twin-ness, the tale is a great one that will be relatable for many middle school kids. Jake and Lily are siblings, and also best friends, but as they get older, their interests differ and they begin to grow apart, which Jake is fine with, but the transition becomes a painful one for Lily, who feels deserted and left behind. This type of relationship transition is as common as pimples amongst the middle-school demographic. As kids expand beyond the world of elementary school, their personalities evolve and old friendships don’t quite fit like gloves anymore.  The twin-part is irrelevant.

On top of the expansion and evolution of friendships, Spinelli digs into the ever-more-talked-about world of bullying. His presentation of the bullies is one that rings true. The boys don’t start out trying to be mean, but a small comment from one, which garners a laugh from the others, grows into ever bigger words and actions that quickly become hurtful to others. The group of boys being bullies didn’t start out with that as their intention, but though a single leader, with a strong personality, the boys all soon fall into his patterns, accepting his actions until property destruction brings their behavior into a new light.

Jake and Lily is a great young adult novel that explores themes near and dear to the hearts of those entering the scary world of middle school. Most kids pushing the boundaries of adolescence will feel the pain of changing friendships, will experience the sting of bullying (on one or, more likely, both ends) and will be forced to expand their own horizons. Jerry Spinelli does a great job of illuminating what could be considered rather mundane, day-to-day growing pains, giving them the spotlight to shine in the eyes of the readers.

If only he would do it without the twin-gimmick…

Jerry Spinelli’s newest publication, Jake and Lily earns: