A Summer of Change

“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Home leave is always an interesting time. Not to be scoffed at, it gives Foreign Service Officers who have been serving abroad twenty-five days of paid time off between tours, provided they spend the time in the United States.

Yes. Please. Thank you.

With that said, it is often referred to as “homeless leave” by those who have been in the service and experienced it a time or two (or seven or eight). Home leave is paid leave for the officer, but for a trailing spouse, it is just more time of unemployment and a month of a credit card on fire.  We are lucky enough to stay with family (displacing a poor seven-year-old into her brother’s room for a month, one that just happened to span the first week of school), but even with a roof over our heads, purchases like a rental car for the entire time, many, many meals out each week and of course just the lure of American stores makes the numbers on my billing statement raise at a rate that feels commiserate with the national debt. (Have you seen that digital board that constantly rolls through the numbers? That is my credit card right now!)

Nearly five weeks in Idaho, (which included a day trip for me to the Shoshone Ice Caves- a kitschy roadside tourist attraction straight out of 1950s, a shiny new motorcycle license for Thad and lots of time with friends and family for both of us) weren’t the end of our time living out of suitcases through. From the Gem State, we flew to Washington DC (yet again, not a great experience with United, but I’ve chronicled those pains many times on this blog and have given up on public griping) where we took up residence in a hotel.

Hotel living seems like a glamorous proposition: a front desk that greets you by name, maids to make your bed each day, room service any time of the day or night, and a paper delivered to your doorstep each morning. These are all great perks that we’ve gotten over the last few weeks, and yet not enticing enough to make me want to stay longer. Because, although we have access to all of the above, I’d rather have the front desk concierge for the rather expensive apartment I am leasing do the daily greeting, I’ll make my own bed if it means I have a washer and dryer to do laundry on a regular basis, the room service food is terrible and I’ve eaten way too many meals sourced from the nearby CVS and let’s be honest, everything in that early morning Washington Post newspaper I read online the night before.

I am ready to give up my not-so-glamorous hotel living to move into my apartment. It might be small. It might be one bedroom. But it is mine.

I’m ready now.

Today.

Heck, I was ready yesterday.

But, there will be no grand move or end to suitcase living until our shipments arrive. While we have a cute apartment down in Chinatown, it is unfurnished and as much as I’d like to move in today and settle in, we are without a bed, without kitchen supplies of any kind and missing most of the essentials of daily living. (Although, in a brilliant end-of-tour-my-mind-is-mush decision, we did include our TV and PS4 in the air shipment, so that is here and will be delivered Friday. I have nothing to sleep on or cook with, but I can run over some innocent bystanders in Grand Theft Auto, I can score a touchdown or two in Madden NFL, and I can boogie and bop the afternoon away with Just Dance. Decisions were made. I must stand by them.)

Back to that poor seven-year-old I displaced for five weeks: I am feeling her pain. While we were home, both she and her little brother went back to school (second grade and kindergarten, respectively.) The transition was not easy. The school day itself went fine, but once they got home, it was as if all their crazy energy they corralled during the school day was released, a bit Exorcist-style. At the time I was amused by it (mostly because I was not their mom or dad, trying to find a way to channel the changes into positivity), but now I feel a bit more empathy for the disruption they felt in their little minds.

Change is tough on the brain.

We’ve been in Washington DC, hotel-living, for going on three weeks now and in all that time I’ve yet to come up with a regular schedule/rhythm. I find myself watching hours of cable TV (something I’ve not had the luxury of doing in years, but also something that has made me love commercial-less Netflix with a newfound passion). In the last few weeks I’ve read a mere three books (less than half of what I normally do), but I have said yes to 492 dresses, I’ve learned that being naked in the jungle makes one afraid, and that it takes about $50,000 in renovations to flip a house. All quality pieces of information. I’ve been to the hotel gym zero times and this is my first blog update in well over a month. (The first one is laziness and a ridiculous notion that I will wait for “my” gym at the new apartment and the second I partially blame on the fact that our hotel internet only works in the entryway to the room, so all web-related tasks have to be done sitting on the floor in what amounts to a small cubby, laptop plugged in around the corner and pillow under the butt for a bit of cushion. (My once-broken tailbone is hollering at me right now, as a matter of fact.)

That air shipment that is scheduled to arrive on Friday marks the beginning of the end to our summer of suitcases. It isn’t enough to get us fully situated in the new place, but enough to hopefully get my mind wrapped around the next year of DC-living and start to settle my boggled brain into routines that will soon be comfortable norms. (And hopefully get this floundering blog back on track!)

 

 

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Passing the Travel Bug from One Generation to the Next

I’m not sure when the plucky little insect had its first nibble of my pasty flesh, but as long as I can remember, travel has been a part of who I am. As the kid of two public school teachers, my travel wasn’t as far-flung as it is now, but even without a passport, it seems like we were always on the go when we had a chance; the travel bug claimed another sweet victim. Summers were spent loaded up in a camper, touring the Northwest with a booth at many of the big arts and crafts shows that were abundant in the 1980s, my parents selling beautifully handcrafted woodwork under their Shadowtree label. (Totally not legal or considered “good parenting today,” but I have to say that we had some good times riding in that camper shell and we are definitely no worse the wear for those hours. We played games, read novels, colored in coloring books, completed workbook pages from the ones we carefully picked out from the teacher stores the weekend before…oh yes, and spent a decent chunk of the time writing notes on paper, bashing our fists against the window to gain parental-attention and tattling on each other via notebook paper and crayons. I seem to remember there being written complains about bathroom needs and hunger pains as well.)

As we got older and the summers of woodworking sales gave way to volleyball camps and piano lessons and G/T summer school classes, the suitcases gathered no dust. Road trips to the Redwoods, wanderings through Yellowstone National Park, spying bison and the first kind of hotpot I knew (China would introduce me to a whole new world of wonder with the same name) and a family trip to the nation’s capital marked our spring breaks.

Shiny new blue passport in hand and bags packed, next came studying abroad in the Dominican Republic, a trip to Haiti, semana santa in Puerto Rico and a scuttled (and often lamented still today) trip to Cuba.

A decade later Peace Corps would scratch the itch left behind by the travel bug, in no way lessening it. Rather, that little bug bite became a life-long infection that has seen us returning to Chengdu with the Foreign Service, spending a couple of years in Kuala Lumpur and now eagerly awaiting this summer’s bidding season when we will see where our next pushpin will land on the map.

All of this to say, for me the love of travel started young and I am excited to see it continuing in my niblings. Last weekend, one of my nieces had the chance to go to Portland with her family for a short road trip. They just spent a few days in the awesome Oregon town, but I think she still managed to hit most of the main tourist attractions. Upon her return to Idaho, as an avid reader of In Search of the End of the Sidewalk (okay, I am not sure she ever reads it, but I do think she checks out the pictures sometimes) she decided to sit down and do a bit of travel writing herself, putting together a blog post of her own.

So, without further ado dear readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Miss Keira, a budding traveler (we’ll have to get that passport in the works ASAP) and burgeoning writer.

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Party in Portland

To begin, this is what my family did this weekend.  First, we drove to our hotel.  It was a six-hour drive.  Can you believe that?  On our way, we saw a huge waterfall.  At the hotel, my brother Keegan and I had to share a bed but that was OK.  He ended up sleeping on the floor one night anyway.  

The next morning, we woke up and got dressed.  Did I mention that my mom was in a parade?  The parade was awesome!  My favorite float was a jaguar made out of all different kinds of flowers.  All around his float were dancers who had wooden bells on their boots.  

After the parade, we went to Voodoo Donuts.  Those donuts were amazing!  I got a VooDoo doll donut.  It was shaped like a doll and had raspberry filling that was supposed to look like blood.  There was even a pretzel stick stabbed in the heart.

Also, I got to go to Powell’s.  Powell’s is a huge bookstore that was one city block.  There were different rooms for different kinds of books.  My favorite was the pink room with all of the kids’ books.  I got a book called The Lunch Witch and I read it in one and a half days.  The girl in the book turned into a frog.  

Finally, it was the day that we went home.  Portland was awesome but we had to go home.  We packed up our things and left the hotel but before we went home, we got to go to OMSI.  This is a museum about science.  We went with my mom’s friend Heather and her son Logan.  We got to see a 3-D printer and there was a tsunami machine where I got to build a house that would not get run over by the waves on the shoreline.  We got to levitate foam balls on air pressure machines in a big room full of balls tubes. 

All in all, Portland was amazing.  I like to travel and go on vacations because I get to see new things.  Someday, I would like to go visit Wisconsin because I hear that they have cheese.  

 

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Not a Pioneer

If you are of a certain age (not to give anything away, but let’s say 30-something), you probably remember eagerly awaiting your turn on the one classroom computer to take your chances on Oregon Trail. (Actually, when I was in first grade, I remember having to go to the hallway to use the computer, which was on a rolling cart and had a Puff the Magic Dragon on the screen when it booted up. I have no recollection about whether that was part of a particular program or had to do with the operating system, but I loved that giant green dragon with smoke billowing from his nose. Computer time!)

I remember rushing through my phonics workbook so that I could get my name on the computer-user list early, as nothing was more exciting than taking chances on a virtual trek across the United States in search of the bountiful land promised by the Oregon territory.  (To be fair, I always rushed through my phonics workbook. It was utterly boring. And worse than the phonics pages themselves was the fact that the teacher then told me to color in all of the pictures when I was done. I remember being extremely annoyed by this request, as even at the young age of six I could detect busy work when it came my way. Coloring in the socks, fox and clocks in no way taught me that “cks” and “x” had the same sounds, but it did keep me from being first to the pillow pile with my library book!)

But I digress.

Oregon Trail.

I loved that game, green screen and all. Hunting was a huge part of surviving to the end of the game and I was an ace at taking down a bison or two (big and slow, no skills needed), but the squirrels and rabbits alluded my slowly typed “POW”s and “BANG”s. Wild game may have kept virtual-me alive long enough to fall victim to typhoid, dysentery and snakebites, but I’ve recently been reminded IRL (you know, gamer code for “in real life”—I’m hip like that!) that I was never cut out to be a pioneer.

I just don’t have a tough bone in my body.

A few weeks ago, I was home in Idaho for the holidays (the first time in years!) and was greeted by falling snow the very first morning. Luckily, I brought home my one pair of pants and my one hoodie so that I had something to wear to Target where I could pick up another sweater or two. (Right there you can realize how un-tough I am. My first stop Stateside was Target.) That beautiful snow that covered the ground through Christmas morning set the perfect scene for a winter wonderland holiday season, but it also dropped several feet of wet, sticky frozen mess on the deck/roof of my parent’s cabin in central Idaho. Not long after the wrapping paper had been bundled into the recycling bin and the last of the holiday treats were consumed, we headed north to do a bit of snow shoveling. I’ve never loved winter, but after spending nearly two years acclimatizing to a low of 75 degrees, when the thermometer in the car hit -7, I knew I was going to be in trouble! As soon as we got to the cabin, folks geared up for the cold weather, heading outside to shovel and snow blow, taking weight off the deck and making room for the roof snow to come off in sheets. Realizing I was in no way prepared to face the freezing temperatures, not in terms of clothing or mental toughness, I quickly volunteered to tend the home fires.

Literally.

With flames raging in the fireplace, I made it my task to make indoors nice and cozy so when the shovel-bearing folks came in, they’d be able to thaw their fingers and dry their layers. I also spent the morning entertaining the young ones who quickly got tired of the cold. (Snow is fun when it is above freezing, but below that mark, it doesn’t take long for a little body to chill all the way through, even with sleds calling their names.) Plus, on top of fire tending and child entertaining, I made lunch for the entire work crew. (Alright, those of you who know me well are starting to think this must all be a dream. That is more domestic duty than I’ve done in my entire life! But I promise, those options were far more enticing than facing the cold, wet snow in jeans and a hoodie.)

So, I am not tough when it comes to cold. Fact established. I would have died from exposure on the Oregon Trail.

(After complaining about being frozen for a few weeks, my vacation was over and it was time to head back to Kuala Lumpur, work and my “real” life. I was looking forward to some warm weather and eating on patios once again, but it seems my complaining bit me in the butt. Let’s call it temperature karma. An embassy near the equator with no air conditioner. That is what I found on Monday morning.  The details are long and uninteresting, but basically there were generator problems, which meant AC problems, which meant our office was 96 degrees on Monday. [Not an exaggeration.] Tuesday was not better. )

Temperature isn’t the only thing that would have prevented me from being a hardy pioneer. The first major obstacle to my successful reincarnation as an outdoorsy survivalist? Food. As a matter of fact, I would most surely have died of starvation before the elements got to me. I may have made it through the virtual continent crossing on wild game and my wits, but on a day to day basis, I’m more likely to starve than eat something strange.

Case in point: Today I ordered a chicken quesa from the food truck parked outside the embassy. (Chicken quesa= chicken meat and cheese in a soft taco shell, folded over like a taco.) I ordered it plain, figuring that minus the onions and sauce, it would be an acceptable lunch and get me through the afternoon. I was wrong. I am not sure how much actual chicken meat made it into my quesa (quesa is not a thing!), but I can tell you that I must have had close to half a chicken’s worth of chicken skin in that thing. I tried to discreetly pick it out, but when I pulled on a huge, slimy chunk, I almost lost what I had already eaten. Enough of that. I pulled the tortilla off and ate that and then supplemented today’s lunch with some chocolate. Not an option for pioneers!

In the end, it appears that I was just never meant for the life of crossing the continent in a covered wagon. If the food that was entirely “meat on the bone” didn’t cause me to starve to death, the inclement weather over the passes would definitely have done me in. (And don’t even think of the possibility of the two combining in a macabre Donner party-esque manner.) As a matter of fact, I’m not sure I survived the virtual trek too many times, even as I was sitting in a warm classroom, avoiding the busy work of phonics sheets. I’ll stick to my white-meat boneless chicken breasts, my humid Malaysian climate with the comforts of AC a few steps away, claiming the giant beanbag/pillow as my own personal reading corner.

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