Patriotism as a Verb

Patriotism in America is often loud. And bombastic. There is a certain kind of patriotism that is demonstrated by having a giant flag flying from the back of your pickup truck. By equating a Christian god and country in all things “American.” By loudly proclaiming your fandom of a political leader or party.

This has never been my form of patriotism.

My patriotism is quieter. More personal. My patriotism sees the difficult history of our country but also a future path for all Americans. My patriotism is demonstrated in the work I’ve done over the last decade behalf of our diplomats and their families, people who serve our country overseas, working to create a more just and democratic world. And in the work I did the decade before that as a middle school English teacher, fostering the next generation of civic leaders and decision makers. And in the two years I spent as a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural China, creating individual connections on a grassroots level.

My patriotism is not a display, but an action.

I’ve never discounted my patriotism, but I also don’t use it as a defining character trait. It’s just not something I spent a lot of time considering. Not until I moved to a military base in rural Midwest America that is.

Settling in for three months of service alongside Department of Defense and Homeland Security colleagues, I found a patriotism that I hadn’t recognized in myself before.

In the earliest days of Operation Allies Welcome, as I watched Afghan guests step off of buses into our reception center, having endured days of difficult travel, proceeded by herculean efforts to even make it onto evacuation aircraft, the desire to help these people who had been our allies for twenty years was overwhelming. The feeling of debt to the Afghans who worked at Embassy Kabul in support of our diplomatic mission, to those who served as interpreters for our troops, to those who provided protection to our American colleagues across Afghanistan, and to those who supported our forward operating bases as cafeteria workers, cleaners, and drivers, sat heavily on my heart. Some of these newly arrived guests were fluent in English, earned higher degrees from a variety of western institutions, and lead NGOs, held political office, and headed international schools. Others had little to no formal education, were preliterate in their own language, and had minimal travel experience within Afghanistan, let alone internationally. For many, loading onto a military transport plane was the first time they had ever taken a flight.

As days went by and Operation Allies Welcome evolved from the crisis of standing up a small town nearly overnight and the literal welcoming of guests to Fort McCoy to a more steady state of supporting the needs of the refugees as they work through the resettlement process, the feeling of being called to this work didn’t diminish. Some afternoons I sat alongside Afghan women leaders who wanted to talk about how many days it had been since the Taliban had allowed young girls to go to school and about how they could get access to the internet needed to continue their work in support of vulnerable Afghans at home. Other days I participated in conversations with groups of college-aged young women who were getting ready to continue their educations as universities across the United States. We talked about what college in the U.S. is like, but also about their obligations to support their fellow young women. Most of these young ladies opted to not wear headscarves, but some still did. We talked about choice and how in the United States, both of those options are valid and highly personal. I told them about how I too was raised in an extremely conservative and controlling religion and how I cried the first time I went in public in a tank top, not because it wasn’t what I wanted, but because decades of having someone else dictate how I presented my body to the world was hard to just push aside. We had open and vulnerable conversations about what it means to be a woman, to have choices, to give consent, to dream big dreams and to support each other in those ambitions.

Week turned to months. Weekend after weekend passed without a day off. And yet, I had no desire to be anywhere else. Fort McCoy was the best way I knew how to show appreciation to these people who were decades-long allies of the United States. But it was also how I knew to show gratitude to my fellow Department of State colleagues- all those who had served at mission. They had personal connections to the people, the culture, and the country and by supporting OAW, I supported them.

I own exactly one piece of clothing with an American flag on it (a jacket, that I overpaid immensely for at the Fort McCoy PX, but would have paid double that because I was freezing one afternoon!).  I don’t play Lee Greenwood on loop on Independence Day. And I am always willing to have a frank conversation about where our country can and should do better. Patriotism isn’t about stars and stripes on your shirt. It isn’t about how loudly you can proclaim your loyalty to a leader who has created a cult of personality. It’s welcoming new refugees into your community and into your kids’ school. It’s learning about your neighbors and their culture and traditions. It’s about making tomorrow better than today.

Patriotism may grammatically be a noun.

But in practice, it’s a verb.

Breaking Point

The chirp of a dying smoke detector.

That was my emotional breaking point.

Not the day I thought I had thoroughly screwed up a local staff employee’s job out of Embassy Kabul. Not the day I sat with a young woman as she told me she thought she was pregnant while the father of her baby was back in Afghanistan and had not been heard from in weeks. Not when we faced the possibility of measles or drug resistant tuberculosis within our guest population. And not when I sat with guests as they told their stories of escape and survival to a variety of press outlets.

None of these secondary traumas on a military base broke me the way a dying smoke detector in Pentagon City did.

After ninety days at Fort McCoy, working long, stressful hours, carrying the weight of 13,000 refugees and their stories, I arrived back in my DC-area apartment, tired to the bone and harboring the tell-tale signs of a head cold. Wanting nothing more than to eat the chicken and macaroni lovingly put in my fridge by a friend earlier in the day, I walked into my home, dropped by two oversized duffle bags and prepared to flop down on the new couch that had been delivered in my absence. I am not sure my rear had even hit the couch cushion before the undeniable chirp of the alarm squealed in my ear.  

As I looked around the apartment, searching for the source of the godforsaken chirp, my eyes landed on the flat plastic disk sitting flush with the ceiling of my living room. Normally, my super high ceilings are a bonus to my small apartment, but when it comes to needing to do maintenance, they quickly become an issue. Tired and wanting nothing more than cheesy carbs (after all, my body was accustomed to fried cheese curds on a regular basis), I dug through the entryway closet to get my stepladder, teetered on the top step and attempted to pull the detector off the ceiling.


And again.

With no luck.

It would rotate slightly, but with no leverage and balancing on a wobbly ladder in socks, progress eluded me. Worried that breaking it would set off the alarm to the entire building, I hopped down and called the front desk, not wanting to be the reason eighteen floors of people had to evacuate their homes on a cold Saturday evening.

Of course, on a weekend night, there are no maintenance folks on the premise. The lovely concierge promised me that whatever I did would not set off the alarms for the entire building and offhandedly mentioned that whatever I broke could be fixed on Monday.

I took this as the green light to do whatever I needed to do to get the chirping to stop.

Whatever I needed to do.

Back up the stepladder I went, this time with a screwdriver and a hammer in hand. Leveraging the disk off the ceiling a few centimeters, I was able to slide my fingers under it and pull hard enough to get it to come off, only to discovered it was connected by a bunch of red and black wires. Remembering the less than subtle message from the front desk, I used my screwdriver to loosen all the wires and with a bit of a yank, the entire apparatus fell off the ceiling and into my hands. (The hammer turned out to be unneeded, but you never know…)

Standing there, finally in silence, my eyes darting between the plastic pieces in my hand and the wires dangling from my ceiling, I couldn’t help but feel a comradery with the smoke detector. It was just doing its job (and to be fair, doing it well) and I broke it. I didn’t want to tear it off the ceiling- I would have gladly run to CVS for a battery if that would have done the trick, but in a moment of crisis, we each did the best we could.

On Monday, the very kind maintenance man came to my apartment and asked no questions about the many plastic pieces on my kitchen counter. He just competently reconnected the wires and reinstalled the disk on the ceiling, leaving with a wave and a smile as I was in my den on a work call.

While the smoke detector was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, it was also a metaphor for my time in Wisconsin. (What English teacher wouldn’t love both an overused idiom AND a metaphor only relatable to about a dozen readers in a single essay?) But, in many ways, that was Fort McCoy for me. I gave everything to that mission for ninety days, came home a little broken, needing a battery recharge, but fixable.


Ninety days.

It can be a lifetime.

It can be a moment.

It can be both of these at the same time.

And it can change everything.

In late-August, I got a phone call from the Department of State, asking if I’d be willing to go to a yet-to-be-determined military base in support of our evacuation of Afghan citizens out of the Hamid Karzai International Airport. I said yes, thinking it would be an interesting professional opportunity and a good way to use the crisis management and community building skills I’ve fostered over my years of CLO-ing to support my Department colleagues and the allies who served our mission overseas for the last twenty years. I thought I would pop in, do some good work for a few weeks, and then go home and continue living/working the COVID-era life I had been for the last year.

I was wrong.

Those ninety days forever changed my world.

I am changed by the unforgettable images of our allies getting off planes in rural Wisconsin without shoes, with bruises and burns from fighting their way passed the Taliban and into the Kabul airport, with just the clothes on their backs, bags left behind as people were prioritized over packages.

I am changed by my daily conversations with our Afghan guests, many of whom directly supported our country over the last two decades. These allies fed, protected, and interpreted for our armed forces and then were forced to flee because their service to us put them and their families in danger. I will forever carry their fear and doubt as they look to rebuild lives in a foreign land, a place where they are uncertain of the welcome they will receive, where they don’t speak the language, don’t understand the unwritten rules of day-to-day life, and will be forced to rely on the goodness of others to put together new, and hopefully brighter, futures. Balancing that anxiety and apprehension, I will also carry with me the joy and gratitude of mothers when I told them that not only were their young daughters allowed to go to school, but that attendance was compulsory- that their girls would go to the same math classes, the same English classes, the same PE and music classes as their brothers. Conversations where I explained that America’s public school system would provide an equal education to all of their children, building pathways for both boys and girls to higher education and to skills training, opportunities that would essentially hand the keys of success to this next generation were highlights of my time on base.

I am changed by the stories shared with me over drinks at the base bar. Listening to DoD colleagues tell their stories of their time in Afghanistan, of the redemptive nature of this mission, of how they see Operation Allies Welcome as chance to repay the debts that they personally and the U.S. government as a whole accrued over the last two decades on the ground in Afghanistan. I watched a military colleague reunite with his interpreter and open his home as a place of refuge. I listened to an officer, with shining eyes, talk about how seeing the Afghan kids playing soccer on a military base is healing and creates a way forward for him, as well as for those young people who will be our next teachers and doctors and lawmakers.

I am changed by the strength of dedicated and educated women from Kabul who coalesced into a cohort that met weekly to talk about the needs of the refugees, but also how they could continue their work for underrepresented and vulnerable Afghan populations. I was honored to listen as strong Afghan women pushed visiting U.S. Congresswomen on points of feminism, education, and support for their initiatives, asking them to hold firm against the Taliban. Rather than wanting to talk about the dining facilities and recreational opportunities, the things the Congresswomen came ready to explore, these government, NGO, and educational leaders wanted to be clear that while their gratitude for the American evacuation is immense, they are Afghani and will return as soon as it is safe for the to do so. They will go back. They will rebuild. They will not give up on the country they love.

I am changed by my interagency team members. I learned to trust and rely on my Department of Defense colleagues. I am awed by their ability to quickly leverage resources in a time of crisis and by the deep care and concern they showed on a daily basis for our guests. I also learned to push back when I had a different point of view as those colleagues, or when I had a concern for an individual/group that I felt needed prioritized over base leadership’s set plan. I learned to identify rank on a uniform, but also that a uniform doesn’t mean unchecked authority and that my position, while not worn on my chest, carried a weight of its own. I learned that Red Cross can and will make things happen when they see a need, but also that they are temporary and we have to say goodbye sooner than either side would like. And I learned that DHS is a far-reaching agency that capably took over as lead federal agency and that the Coast Guard brings an impressive skillset to the table.

I am changed by the colleagues who quickly crossed the line into lifelong friends. Together, we celebrated the ups and downs of our personal and professional lives. One passed the Foreign Service oral exam and one received an invitation to the next Foreign Service training course- both huge accomplishments that I was honored to be able to celebrate with them. One found out his wife was expecting their third child. One needed a wedding dress, so five of us loaded into an SUV and headed to Chicago to buy something pretty and white and lacey. (We also threw axes, drank expensive champagne, toured a distillery, shut down two different bars on Halloween eve, ate Argentinian empanadas, legit Japanese ramen, Mexican food truck offerings and cold pizza delivered to the Airbnb at 5AM. And then did cultural penance for the extravaganza of Halloween eve with a visit to a prestigious art museum.) We may have stepped away from our lives for ninety days, but the world kept moving us forward.

I am changed by evenings sitting in a hotel lobby, each of us searching for a way to take our minds off of the powerful but emotionally exhausting work of the day. I’m changed by the conversations over microwave dinners off plastic plates we all bought at Wal-Mart, dressed in leggings and fuzzy sweaters, drinking a variety of increasingly stronger beverages from hotel-provided paper cups. I’m a better person because of long chats on the couch with someone who started as a stranger and ended up more than that. I see the world differently because of hours of sitting on the lobby floor, having my hair braided and unbraided by a colleague as she talked about her dramatic evacuation from her Peace Corps site in the very earliest days of the global COVID lockdown.

I am changed by ninety days of grueling hours, only three days of which I did not work. (See Chicago shenanigans above for two of those days.)

I am changed by the stories of our Afghan guests.

I am changed by the relationships with my State Department and interagency colleagues.

And I am changed by the choices in my own life.

I am changed.

Petal Power: Meet Petunia

I was a late bloomer.

Bikes. Talking bikes here.

I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was in the 4th or 5th grade, as we lived in the country on a road with no shoulder that was well-traveled by barreling sugar beet trucks and lumbering tractors. The nearby canal bank made for great adventures, but as a haven for goat-heads, it was best left to well-covered foot-traffic. (Those rainbow thongs- yes this was pre-“flip flop” era- that were all the rage in the 80s were not good protection from the spiky edges of nature’s version of stepping on LEGO. Except nature is crueler. You don’t have to pluck LEGO out of your own flesh.)

Once we did get bikes, we rode them endlessly in the neighborhood behind our place, flying down asphalt hills and hoping our brakes would at least attempt their jobs, giving boosts to friends when their bikes were sidelined by flats, and pedaling our hearts out to escape the barking dogs that roamed freely.

Since the endless days of childhood summer, I’ve ridden bikes off and on, but never owned my own again. I’ve had a few bike experiences, but always on borrowed wheels.

The last time I was in Lima, I took a bike tour of the city, which was great until I crashed (who waxes sidewalks?!), bruising both my back and my pride and obliterating the banana I had in my backpack for a snack later.

2020 and the pandemic lockdown introduced me to DC’s Capital Bike Share, which I used all of last summer to transport myself into the eerily empty National Mall, but I got tired of trying to figure out when/where bikes were available at the various racks and carrying my own Lysol wipes to avoid COVID cooties.

So, time for an investment.

I looked online at more bikes than you can count. But, every time I found one I was interested in, it was “out of stock.” Between the desire for alternate forms of transportation and bunged up global supply chains, bikes were not easy to come by. And they certainly don’t give bikes away! Before I started looking, I was thinking $100 bike from my ShopKo days would do the trick.

Ha! How little I knew. (And how old I am!)

I quickly realized that if I wanted something a bit nicer than the ones put together by 16 year olds in the back of the department store, I was going to have to raise my budget. (Having been an 16 year old working in a department store, I am well aware of the backroom shenanigans, and while fun as a participant, I’d rather not trust my commute to those yahoos.)

After looking online several times and then getting annoyed at the options, the prices, the overall hassle, I had mentally walked away and given myself over to another summer of rolling on the red shared bikes in DC. Until, the spouse of a friend and former middle school teaching colleague posted a BEAUTIFUL bike she recently got and I was back in the game!

It wasn’t going to be cheap, but since I don’t have a car/insurance payment, I decided to chalk it up to transportation needs and make her mine.

After much consideration (okay, mostly whining to friends on Facebook and WhatsApp), I finally took the leap and headed over to Spokes Bikes in Ballston. Almost decided, but not quite ready to tap the card, I watched the exact same bike wheel out the door while I waffled. It’s a lot of money and I was feeling like I needed to be all in our all out. The pressure was on. Until, the lovely salesman (who instantly knew the author of the quote tattooed on my forearm, so bonus points) said I could put a minimal hold fee down and have two weeks to consider it. This is exactly what I needed to ease my mind. I knew my pretty bike wasn’t going to go out the door (she was the last one!) but I could also go home and sleep on it a few more days. Needless to say, as I walked home that afternoon, the sale was already made. The shop impressed me with their customer service and openness to a new bike owner- there was no elitist aura like I had felt at other shops.

When was the last time I owned a bike? Maybe middle school! Definitely before high school when I was given the keys to the glorious Bedrock that would be the wheels for all three McDaniel kids. But, I was probably as thrilled with rolling my bike out of the shop at 40-something as I was with getting handed the keys to high school freedom at 16!

So, I’d like to introduce you to Petunia, my blush pink Specialized Roll Sport bike. As she is quite photogenic, I plan to bring you pictures of her summer adventures as we wander the metro DC area together. Join me here for regular “Petal Power” posts and she and I putter our way around town.

(Also, feel free to share your biking advice for this newbie! I only have about a quarter of an idea about what I’m doing when I’m out there “petal-ing” around.)

Introducing Petunia and the new Petal Power tag!

Caracas Quarantinis, Long Walks (not on the beach), and Some HotJamz

Up until now, I’ve avoided booking myself a ticket on the COVID-writing bandwagon. The internet is already full of homeschooling (gone wrong- will 2020 be the year teachers finally get the raises they deserve?) stories and baking tutorials that I could never hope to live up to (I realized yesterday I didn’t even own ketchup- I apparently have the kitchen skills of a sad 13 year old) and first-person essays about how we all need to learn a new skill and come out of isolation as better people.(Who needs new hobbies? I prefer Friday night Quarantini Zoom calls with my former Caracas-crew where I get pro tips about convict workout videos available on Amazon. Spoiler alert- they are heavy on the pushups and you have to supply your own teardrop face tattoos.) (Additional important information- I just looked these up and they are FREE with an AmazonPrime account. This changes everything…) But as it looks like it will be longer and longer before I book a ticket anywhere else, maybe it is time to join the masses with a post for all seven of my loyal blog-readers. (We’ll not talk about the tickets to Taipei and Kuala Lumpur and Accra and Ho Chi Minh City that had I to cancel this spring. That discussion would go in a direction that we’ll deem “mentally unhealthy” and bury away for another day.)

Travel used to look like packed REI duffle bags (purple and monogrammed, of course!) and international tickets (see above parenthetical about voided trips) and a Jansport (pink with lots of pockets) full of books. Then just getting to Main State became a bit of a daily adventure with a llama-covered lunch bag (pb&j, cheese stick, and Cheez-Its), trains running on reduced schedules, and a Jansport (gray polka dot with just two pockets) loaded with my to-do list and planner. Now that I am fully ensconced in the “work from home” life, travel looks like a phone tucked into the waistband of yoga pants, a pair of Nikes, and Shell’s HotJamz on Spotify.

Oh, how the world has changed in four short (long?) months of one Blursday after another. As much as it pains me to admit it, on more than one morning as I brushed my teeth- the one necessary hygiene undertaking that MUST be completed before logging into work- I have had to ask Alexa what day of the week it was before she played my morning NPR updates. Hair brushing and face moisturizing happen on a mid-morning break and a swipe of mascara and pinch of blush only brighten my face if I’ve got a Teams call on the docket. (Side note: Always give your colleagues a 15-minute heads up if you are going to video call. It’s only humane. I can do a quick “tra-la-la-la-la” when my phone rings at 10AM and I realized I haven’t spoken out loud yet and don’t want to sound like a crazy old man grumbling into the line, and then answer as if I’ve been holding high level conversations all morning, but when that video call unexpectedly pops up on my screen, I cannot run to the bathroom, bust out the Caboodle and throw together enough face to not look on the brink of death in the time it takes before you hang up. 15 minutes. It should be a rule as sacred as the 5-second rule for food on the floor.)

The stir-crazy hit hard today. I don’t know if it was the gorgeous sunshine coming in through my sliding glass door or Diet Cherry Pepsi I have been mainlining or the really productive video call (I know, right?!) at the end of the day, but when 3 o’clock rolled around, I needed out of the “office.” (The office right now has two main spaces- a gorgeous desk that I am going to claim I built, which is “kinda’” true, but was mostly a matter of some basic hex key turning, pulled together with a flamingo-printed swivel chair and sitting on a high pile carpet on my living room floor, folded between the couch and the ottoman like a deformed pretzel. I vacillate between the two spaces, mostly dependent on where the current kinks in my back lie, but also occasionally by where my laptop is plugged in and how close to dying without a charge it is.)

Regardless of why, I had ants in my pants.

So, I changed out of my day sweats (differentiated from my pajamas only by the fact that they are what came out of the dryer first this morning) and into yoga pants, tied up my green and pink sneakers (I’m kinda’ dying for a new pair of brightly colored kicks..maybe a post-isolation treat) and headed out the door to stretch my legs for a bit. Opting for music over an audiobook (I needed something that required less brain power), I chose the aptly named “Shell’s HotJamz” station on Spotify and headed out. I must say, the curator of that playlist deserves a raise. She deftly maneuvered from Bon Jovi and Madonna to  Nirvana and Cake with a fun swerve into Nick Jonas and Maroon 5. And, not to be left out of the menagerie of genres, an occasional Clay Walker or Reba McIntyre made a showing in the rotation as well.

I was that crazy person this afternoon that you switch sides of the road to avoid. (Luckily, any sidewalk changing can be chalked up to social distancing and is now not only appropriate, but encouraged!) Walking through the gorgeous neighborhoods of highly manicured yards in Aurora Hills, I air-drummed along with the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Californication”, fist-pumped to Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” and finger-wagged at TLC’s “Scrubs” with the best of them. Luckily, the only real witnesses to this momentary madness were the beautiful red cardinals flitting between sculpted shrubs and the bushy-tailed fox that meandered up the road, as if social distancing were his cue to retake the Washington D.C. suburbs.

Do I know that these long walks, meandering through neighborhoods that I will never be able to afford are good for me? (Ironic, right?) Of course. Do I make it out each day to get lost trying to find a route to the Air Force Memorial without getting run over on a freeway? Nope. I always have good intentions, and yet some days it is easier to log off work and curl up on the couch with a new book or the latest episode of a reality TV show. The hard truth of it is that some days I am going to “HotJamz” it around the District and others I’m going to “warmcuddlz” under a heat blanket on my sofa. As long as I’ve not broken down and started doing “Convict Conditioning” in my workplace (because, you know, my living room would have to do triple duty for relaxing, working AND gyming), I’m chalking it up as another successful Blursday.



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I’m Choosing My Own Adventure

Life in the Foreign Service is a bit like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. There is a basic plotline that the story is going to follow (A-100, 2 directed 2-year tours, promotions, mid-level tours, etc.) but that main narrative can take more twists and turns than the Road to Hana, depending on the choices you make:

  •  Unhappy with your housing assignment? To appeal, go to page 5. To stick it out and find cool things about what you have, go to page 11.
  • Struggling to find EFM employment? To publicly complain/blame others, go to page 14. To update your resume/interview skills and keep plugging away, go to page 21.
  • Don’t know where to go on your next R&R? To spin the globe and pick a spot based on where your finger lands, go to page 23. To just go to Singapore and people watch at the Merlion yet again, go to page 31.
  • Getting kicked out of your host country with less than 48 hours to prepare? To pack calmly and methodically and with thoughtful intent- Not an option. To pack after not sleeping for more than 24 hours and after working a 17-hour day- This is your only option. Turn the page. Keep reading.

With all its ups and downs, I know I live a charmed life and have no room to complain. I checked this book out from the library and refuse to return it, regardless of what lies on the next page or the one after that. Fines be damned.

Thad’s job with the Foreign Service allows us to travel the world, living in and visiting far-flung corners of the globe that seemed unattainable to my 8th grade self, sitting in second period World Geography with Mr. Shake, grumbling about having to memorize countries and capitals. (If only at the age of 14 I knew that I would visit Borneo multiple times and stand on the geographical center of the Asian continent and take a death-defying flight over Angel Falls and plummet down a hillside in a giant hamster ball in New Zealand. Maybe I would have focused more on the location names and less on the how to best color-code my map to get the right mixture of ROYGBIV before stashing it away in my knock-off Trapper-Keeper.)

The Foreign Service lifestyle has given me the chance to choose my own adventures that led to bathing with elephants, holding a koala, petting a panda (illegally, but I saw my chance and took it), cuddling a wombat, sharing my water bottle with a quokka, and swimming with dolphins and sea turtles.

But it has also taken some crazy turns that make me think it would have been nice to hold my place with a finger while I took a sneak peek at the outcomes of the options provided.

This last tour in Caracas took would definitely have been nice to cheat and see my full range of options before picking. (Not that I would pick differently, but maybe I’d change a few decisions along the way.) Getting pulled out (or kicked out, depending on your point of view) of the country with a mere moment’s notice meant leaving behind all of our personal belongings. As of right now, nearly everything in the apartment I have been living in for the last five months is not mine. I own two dish towels (thank you Shannon!) a vintage typewriter (long story about how it ended up here, but thanks Melys and Matt!) and what came out of Venezuela in my luggage a few months ago, including way too many scarfs and not enough sundresses. It was January and I had no plans to be here until June!

I do not have my photos from our time in Peace Corps China. I do not have the thoughtful Christmas gifts sent by friends and family over the holiday season. (My new Caboodle!) I do not have the ugly circa-1970 orange and yellow casserole dish that is perfect for a two-person family and that I love so much. I do not have the wall hanging my best friend quilted for me a few years ago. I do not have my hilarious #2 pencil costume for Halloween or my awesome beach hat that got to go to the beach one last time the weekend before we evacuated. I do not have the fertility gourd that was our going away gift from our danwei (Communist work group) leader in Chengxian. I do not have my books or my patio chairs or my super comfortable memory foam mattress topper.

This things are all still in my apartment in Caracas. The bed is made. The towels are hung. I could walk in tomorrow and take up my life without missing a beat. (I know this because our amazing housing team from Embassy Caracas sends me pictures each week, letting me know that all is well.)


There are so many things that I do not have, but all is not lost.

Today, I added one more thing to the collection of “items I own while on Ordered Departure.”

Today, a daring escape was made!

Today, I was reunited with an old friend who has been to sleepovers and family vacations and college and study abroad and Peace Corps and a million other places with me.

Zugly, my dear buddy that I wrote about in “Moments” successfully made his way out of Venezuela (I wonder if the immigration team photographed his visa on their personal cell phones, much like they did mine on my last trip out) and to Washington DC. It took the help of a wonderful member of our local staff in Caracas to get him on a plane (carry-on—no luggage hold for Zugly!) and bring him “home” so he’s ready to embark on whatever adventure story we pick up next.


We are still awaiting a final say on where our next book will be set- it could be Asia or South America or Africa or here in Washington DC. It is still up in the air, but wherever the globe stops spinning, I’m ready to choose. Ready to choose to be excited for the new adventure. Ready to rejoin the hunt for employment. (Hopefully it is a short one!) Ready to uncover a new neighborhood, meet new colleagues, and make new friends.

It is time. I am ready to choose my next adventure with Zugly in the suitcase and a promise to always add him to the top of the evacuation pile.