Thursday, August 27, 2009

10 hours to go, and counting

The kitchen counters are clean and shiny. The bathtub drain and bathroom floor are hair-free. I moved my stuff off of his dresser, and put away all of the toiletries that had migrated to his side of the bathroom counter. My laundry is put away. My “to do” piles have been removed from the kitchen counter. I wanted to wash the bathmats and sheets, but a broken dryer means those chores will have to wait (hopefully just until Friday evening). My car is clean, and my hair is freshly cut (holy cow it grew out quickly).

The fridge and pantry are stocked with everything I think Nick might want: fizzy water, good cheeses, lamb kielbasa, good milk, and olives. The fridge is nearly exploding with fresh produce from the farmers’ market: spinach, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, snap peas, onions, eggplants, corn, green beans, nectarines, blueberries. Nick said he’s been missing fresh produce; I will restock at the Dupont market on Sunday if need be. Tomorrow I will pick up some fresh bread.

The plane and train tickets for Chicago/Lansing/NYC/DC are purchased. I've made hotel reservations in New York, and bought our tickets for “The 39 Steps” and “Hair”. I spread the word about the DC shindig. I've booked appointments with the Sears repair man (for the dryer) and the contractors (getting estimates on replacing our windows). I scheduled our couple’s massage (wedding gift), our dinner at Minibar, and a flying trapeze lesson. The “honey-do” list is getting long, and is posted on the fridge.

I can't think of anything else to do.

I’m ready. I’m not ready.

I can't wait.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Deadline shmeadline

Well, August 18th has come and gone. It has now been 91 days since Nick left for Afghanistan, and we are officially past the 90 day deadline for having the movers return to complete our pack out.

We haven't heard a peep from HR. Not a single word about a single one of our many questions. Nick pursued several different avenues while trying to find out what we're supposed to do with our belongings, about whether we'll be able to have the movers return once I'm added to Nick's travel orders (TA) or if we'll be responsible for the cost of packing our stuff and the 2 years of storage. All we got in response was one gibberish email that didn't answer the question....and then silence. Going on 3 weeks of silence.

Here is what Nick asked:
I am still waiting on details regarding my spouse accompanying me to post. But when she is assigned, what is the policy for having the movers come and pack her out and put the rest of our household-effects into storage, especially since it will most likely be 90 days after my pack out?

Here's the gibberish:
If after we see the original TA – we will see if it needs to be amended to bring your wife to post...With travel orders/TA packers cannot come and pack her out – think back the process you had to go through not to long ago yourself – paper work had to be in place before any pack out or communications with packers could take place.


Nick is hearing whispers from the HR office in Kabul that they've received notification of my clearance. But we've heard many whispers from HR over the past few months, and have learned not to believe anything they tell us until we have written proof in our hands.

At first I took comfort in the thought that we are having such a tough time with HR because of Nick's position. He's not really in the foreign service, and he's with USAID, who seem to get the short end of the support-for-overseas-posts stick anyway (at least compared to what State Department employees get). Then I came across this post on The Perlman Update, and discovered that we could be in for a lifetime of HR frustrations.

I'm curious: in large organizations, does HR ever function well?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

There's a hole in my hand

The only kind of circus injury I don't like....

Friday, August 14, 2009

Q&A: 2

Presenting the second installment of this semi-regular feature. Your burning questions answered!

1. How is Nick doing?
Nick is doing pretty well. He's had rough days here and there.

2. What exactly is he doing over there?
Something with data? Databases? Which maybe involve some international donors?

I really have no idea. Nick and I technically work in the same field, but the US Government and the World Bank speak completely different languages. I'm sure he does something fun and awesome and super-rewarding, but you'll have to ask Nick for the specifics.

3. How's he handling living in a hooch?
Funny thing that. Nick actually had to move out of his roomy double hooch into a regular single hooch. HR put him in the double hooch at first because they thought I'd be coming to Afghanistan right away. But I'm not there yet, and another couple arrived at post and needed the hooch...and so Nick was sent on his way.

His new hooch is a cozy, one room box, with bunk beds. He told HR that he can't have a roommate because he's got two peoples' stuff and needs the top bunk for storage.

I think that Nick's move (and the apparent shortage of housing for couples) does not bode well for our living situation once I am in-country. Married and sleeping in bunk beds? Fun times.

4. What's the status of your security clearance situation?
It seems that the investigators finished their work and submitted the final report some time in early August, although I don't have concrete proof that this has actually happened. Assuming that it has, we're now waiting for the adjudicators to make the determination as to whether I'm a threat to national security or not. The target completion date is August 28, but I've heard that the target date doesn't mean much.

5. Were you able to get an extension on the deadline for packing out your apartment?
We don't really know what's going on there. Nick emailed HR asking whether we would be held to the original deadline (90 days from Nick's date of departure = August 18th), or if the deadline would reset once his travel orders are amended to include me. We didn't get a clear response. We emailed again asking for clarification, but our contact had moved jobs. Nick has now emailed another person, and we're still waiting for a response.

At this point, I'm ready to just let it go. If we are held to the original 90 day deadline, it's too late to do anything about it. Not only do I think that it would be impossible to get the movers scheduled on such short notice., but there's no way I can get all of our stuff --including all of my belongings that have been living in storage in MD for the past 4 years -- ready for a pack out in 3 days.

6. Is the Embassy holding the job for you?
No clue.

7. When do you think you might be going over?
No clue.

8. Have you received any help or support or even just clear information from HR at all?
I think you can guess the answer to this one.....

9. What's Nick's daily life like?
I've been urging Nick to write a "day in the life" post. I hope that he'll get around to it soon, and then he can tell you all about it in his own words.

But here's a brief idea of my understanding of his daily life: wake up, call wife, go for a run, shower, icky breakfast food, workity work work, icky lunch food, meetings meetings meetings, icky dinner food, video games, talk to wife, go to bed.

10. When do you get to visit?
Ah, the $10,000 dollar question. Nick will be in the US from August 28-September 17. We're trying to make it so he can visit with everyone, but his schedule is pretty tight, and we might have to save a few of you for his next visit. Here's the plan thus far:
  • Aug 28-Sept 2: Washington DC
  • Sept 2-4: Naperville, IL
  • Sept 4-7: Lansing, MI
  • Sept 7-10: NYC
  • Sept 10-13: Washington DC with Chris & Jill (Attention DC folks: We'll be having a little get together on Saturday, Sept 12. Details coming soon!)
  • Sept 13-17: Washington DC

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The return of Circusliz

In my last post I promised to share how my efforts to deal with Nick's absence are good for the economy. In my attempts to fill up all of my free time (and I have a lot of it, too much for my own good really), I've developed a new addiction -- well, an old one really, just with a new outlet.

Circus is back in my life.

I might as well just hand my entire bank account over to TSNY DC. But right now, circus = therapy, so I'm willing to pay up. And like I said, good for the economy blah blah blah.

Here's a quick glimpse of the return of Circusliz.

This is me on the silks, one of the few aerial acts I never had chance to try in my earlier circus life. Don't let the picture fool you; I'm not very good. But it is a good challenge, a fantastic workout and a lot of fun.

It's also somewhat painful, in a Spanish web kind of way. Here's the burn I got on the back of my leg from doing an inverted descent, ie. sliding down the silks while hanging upside down by one leg. My first circus injury in 7 years, and I wore it with pride!

Continuing on with the's the massive bruise, nasty scrape, and swollen ankle I received during my first flying trapeze class, courtesy of a wonky Birdie to the catcher. (The straight line across my ankle is the bruise, not a shadow. It was bizarre!)

I haven't flown in 7 years; I haven't flown to a catcher in at least 9 years! It. Was. Awesome. And again, I bore my injury with pride and excitement.

It's a sickness, really.

For any of my DC friends who are thinking of giving flying a try: you won't walk away from your first lesson looking like this. I promise.

My college/circus friend Chrissy stopped by on her way to West Virgina where she's working as a circus coach for the summer. She took this gorgeous picture of the fly rig at its outdoor location in downtown DC. It will be moved to an indoor location at the Navy Yards in the fall, so that the school can stay open year round.

I'm not posting any pictures or videos of me on the flying trapeze yet. Nick's never seen me fly; I'm signed up for two classes while he's home on leave, and I don't want to ruin the surprise.

But just in case you need additional proof that Circusliz is back, feast your eyes on the guns.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Catching up

Clearly I have been lax in my blogging duties. It's not because I've been lacking anything interesting to say; it's more of a motivational issue. I've been having a hard time committing to and completing anything. It's as if the limbo of not knowing if I'm leaving soon or not has permeated to all other aspects of my life. (Update: my background investigation is complete, and we assume that the investigator submitted the report to the adjudicators. Now it's all up to them to decide my case). Work, blogging, writing wedding thank yous. I am just kind of...waiting, in this very unfocused, hazy, and impatient state. It doesn't make for good self-reflection; trying to put my jumbled thoughts into some sort of logical order is difficult without patience. And since most of what I want to share in this blog is self-reflection...well, you get the idea. I end up pretty unsatisfied with every word I manage to eke out.

Anyway, after giving up on yet another unfinished blog entry, I suddenly recalled that I never finished sharing our experience with Nick's pack out. And my next thought was "Hey, storytelling doesn't require any self-reflection!" The get-out-of-jail-free card. So without further ado, I present The Great Pack Out 2009.

Here's what the apartment looked like the night before the movers came. I have no idea how we managed to get the pullout couch open for Chris. We could barely walk in the apartment with it just as a couch! We had to put the coffee table in the kitchen to open the bed. Missing are pictures of the piles in the hallway, the bedroom and under the breakfast bar.

May 20. The movers arrived at 9:15AM on the dot, with boxes, tape guns and piles of packing paper in hand. They were led by Robinson.

They came, they saw, they packed. Witness the efficiency of their operation. Apologies for the shaky camera work. I was sitting on the counter in the kitchen, since there was no where in the apartment to stand except for the bedroom. This makes me give serious thought to hiring movers for every future move, even if we're just moving around the corner. Forget U-haul.
Also, forget Chris and that damn slinky (you can hear it in the background). As if my nerves weren't completely fried already. That stupid slinky noise was so soothing. I escaped to the office pretty quickly.


It was all done in a little over 1.5 hours. The boxes were packed, loaded into containers, and driven off to languish in a DC warehouse for a few weeks (I hope you all still remember our entries about the household goods drama. Our blog's not that long!) We were still left with a mess, but a much smaller, much more manageable mess. To be honest, I'm still digging out. Nick will be the first to admit that he didn't do his part to get the house ready to be completely packed out (assuming I get clearance one of these days). So I've been trying to sort through what he left behind, guessing at whether the random computer bits and tools he left scattered around are important or just more junk.

But even though Nick's pack out didn't magically transform the condo into an uncluttered Eden, at least we were able to walk around our living room:

Chris flew back to Nashville that afternoon, and Nick and I spent our last evening together at a midnight screening of the new Terminator movie. Guy and Avery were there too. Aren't I a nice wifey to have given up my last evening alone with my husband so that he could watch a crappy movie with his bromance buddies?

Nick left on May 21. I took the day off from work, and we spent our day running some last minute, not-so-minor errands. There's nothing like waiting until the last minute to go through the State Department's checklist of "Things to do before departure." We found we did not have: extra copies of Nick's passport, extra copies of his travel visa, extra copies of his travel authorization, extra copies of his medical get the idea. We also filed important paperwork at home, like the condo documents, and made an attempt to sort out the random junk Nick was leaving behind. We rode our bikes to and from our errands, we held hands as we rode, and we lamented how much we would miss doing inconsequential stuff like riding our bikes around DC while holding hands.

Then it was one last look at the condo, one last photo together, one hot walk to the metro, one quick metro ride, a chocolate snack courtesy of Guy, and then Nick was gone.

I'll pick the story up from there in my next blog entry, which will include a little self-reflection, and some honest insight into the life of a foreign service spouse during an unaccompanied post. Here's a preview of what will be discussed: how my attempts to close the the Nick-sized void in my life by throwing money at it are good for the economy.