Category Archives: Foreign Service

Almost a month in Rio

I’ve been thinking about the blog so much lately – I WANT to write, and at the same time I feel like there’s nothing to write about.

Remember when I used to run?  Since feeling hip pain after the MCM 10k at the end of October, I took a ton of rest, got massages, stretched, iced…  And the pain?  Is still there.  Sure, it’s not in my face the whole time, but once a day I get a reminder that things are not ok.  That if I do even a short run, it’ll be back to being super sore again.

But I’m still not settled.  I haven’t been brave enough to start driving here, even though my dad has been so generous and let us borrow his car, since ours will take about a decade to get here.  It’s been super hot so I haven’t really explored much around us either – I’m walking distance to Ipanema and Copacabana (a 15 minute walk!) and not once have I ventured out.  I hate using the baby as an excuse, but having her in the car with me, does make me more hesitant to go out and explore with Rio’s crazy drivers.  The extreme record-breaking heat and blazing sun, does make it tougher to go out of the house for hours at a time with a ten month old!  And we’ve been at our new (fabulous!) apartment for almost 3 weeks, and my toes have yet to touch sand – and the beach is only a mile away!  (I’m in love with being at the beach, it makes me truly happy and recharges me, always, so this is a big deal!)

So the thought of searching for a good orthopedist to check out my hip just seems like too much work.  I know this is temporary, I know that I need to start setting a routine for myself again. 

We have a gym downstairs and Ellie’s video monitor gets reception at the gym so really, why haven’t I gone yet to get back into the swing of things?  (I’m not going to lie, I’m kind of afraid, because remember when I could lift heavy-ish weights?  Ha, yeah, now it’ll be interesting and humbling.)

Maybe it’s because our things aren’t here yet.  It’ll be a few more weeks for our air shipment (UAB) to be released, and the rest of our stuff only gets here in another couple of months (or more).  It’s hard to make a home a home when you don’t even have things like spices to cook with, a bath mat (we ended up using hand towels for that – we don’t want to slip – so now no hand towels), your baby’s crib is still not here and you miss your own pillows (though surprisingly the pillows we got in our welcome kit turned out to be pretty comfortable – and I’m super picky!).

Gosh, and if I sound like I’m not liking Rio so far, it’s not true.  I have seen my parents multiple times a week, and my brother at least once a week since I arrived.  I haven’t lived in the same country as them since 1999!  And now my baby brother is a few minutes away!  He comes with his wife Lara every weekend and we have beers out in the balcony!  We play in the pool with Ellie!  And I can have this every weekend for the next 2 years – I’m already dreading leaving!

And the consulate folks?  So warm and friendly!  For real!  This is such a HUGE contrast from Manila!  I met some amazing people there, and by the time we left, I had found my place and was sad to leave so many good friends behind, but the vibe was just so different.  Maybe because it was such a big embassy and everyone was spread out all over the place.  Or because people’s feelings about Manila varied so much (it was very much love or hate and though we loved it, there were lots of hate about the place).  I had such a hard time at first when I met so many other spouses who said “let’s go out for lunch next week!” “I’ll invite you over to my pool!”  “I’ll give you a call so we can plan something!” and then they would never text me back.  It was such a tough time when I was brand new in a country, didn’t know anyone, so I had such a hard transition (and I never really wrote much about it, because how can you write about people who you still hope will be your friend and not out of pity?).  Sure, by the time I left, I had made some incredible friends, lots of expats (thanks to the MADS pregnancy and moms group) as well as other embassy folks.  But the first year?  It was tough!

But here?  Our neighbors have invited us over multiple times.  Everyone who said “you should come over sometime” actually followed through.  And they’re NICE.  Like truly, genuinely fun people who I would be friends with even if we weren’t all thrown together in a foreign country. (Yes, I know, Brazil is not foreign to me, but after 17 years away, it’s pretty foreign to me too…) 

And our apartment is so big we have had multiple discussions of “so should we make this the guest room and the other one the workout room, or would that one be better as a guest room?” – if the place was small, the decision would have been made for us – what a good problem to have!

And for real, I’m typing this looking at this view…  (Literally taken right now.)

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Though we had nets installed (since this baby will be getting into trouble soon, and though it was a small fortune, I rather have no accidents), so my view is more like this:

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But I’m getting pretty damn good of taking pictures avoiding the net completely!

And Ellie?  She’s getting cuter every day…

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Cannot believe we’re starting to plan her first birthday!  Where did the time go?

And today may be a good time to explore.  I have our balcony doors wide open and actually have goosebumps on my arm from the breeze coming in.  It’s a “chilly” 72 degrees right now, so if the rain stays away, I’m definitely going for a walk with this chick after her swimming class!

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Filed under Brazil, Foreign Service, Rio!

It’s time.

If moving isn’t usually stressful enough, you get a dog throwing up 2 weeks ago and hearing the vet say words like “surgery” (luckily, there was no need), you have your movers showing up to do a survey and say you’re right at your weight allowance, only for that to end up being twice as much when they pack you up a week later – and a $4,000 bill (AAAAAAHHHH!!!). 

So among everything else that needs to be done, driving to Stafford, VA, with a 9 month old, to put half your life into storage becomes part of your to-do list (but you reduce that bill to $500, so it’s worth it). And when the movers were so creative labeling your boxes, with things like “Bow and Arrow” as part of the contents – and if you need to ask, no, you do not own a bow and arrow – it makes the whole deciding what stays what goes much more challenging and time consuming.  You’ll find out what ended up staying behind that you actually really needed in a few months…

Now, fingers crossed that the shippers actually show up to pick up your car, because that too had to be complicated, because of course the State Department had to ask for a document that doesn’t actually exist – thanks to the bank owning your car, not you – and after lots of phone calls to your bank and the DMV, each thinking you’re an idiot because, hello, what you’re asking for doesn’t exist, and we already gave you a letter allowing you to take the car with you, your bank and the VA DMV finally agree in making up something to satisfy State.  But now it’s too late to get a shipper to pick the car up, because yes, they decided not to book that until you provided such document.

Then today was spent driving to Richmond to get a USDA stamp on the health certificate that allows your cat and dog to tag along with you.  (No incidents there – not everything has to be filled with drama, thankfully.)

And then, the whole housing issue.  Where will you live?  Will you go to temporary housing?  They do know that in a little more than 2 weeks you will need a place to stay, right?  After 6 months in temporary housing, you would love a place you can call our own again (who wouldn’t?), so there was lots of stress and sleepless nights.

And this morning, finally, you get the best news imaginable!  No, you didn’t get the neighborhood you wanted, but your building has so much more than you expected, that the fact that the beach is a mile away (instead of, you know, a couple of blocks away), doesn’t even bug you.  You will have a pool.  A POOL!  It’s very rare that buildings in Rio have a pool, so that never crossed your mind as a possibility!  You’re even hopeful that there may be a lap pool as google maps give you just the slightest hint of that.

And this is more or less where your new home will be, come January 2014…

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So yes, today we found out we’re getting a sweet 4 bedroom apartment, and did I mention we will have access to a pool?  A pool folks!  As much as I love the beach with all my heart (and I seriously love the beach with all my heart), with a soon-to-be-toddler, a pool will be much more doable than the ocean (see those waves at the bottom of the picture?  They’re the real deal), specially on a day to day basis when husband is busy doing work-things and I’m alone with the kid.  I’ll still go to the beach a lot (A LOT), but this place sounds amazing!  And Karl even gets to metro to work instead of dealing with buses and Rio traffic!

And our place is across the street from Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas (it has a 7.5km jogging path around it, and things like paddle boats), and a mile to Copacabana Beach on the right, or a mile to Ipanema Beach towards the bottom of the picture.

We will have to wait until January, but our plane takes off in 3 days (to the hour!) and off we go to the next adventure.  We will be taking some well-deserved vacation at my parents (even closer to the beach) until the new years.

Oh, and can you believe this chick is already 9 months?

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And let’s face it, considering how much still needs to be done before we leave, next time you hear from me will likely be from the Southern Hemisphere! 

(And I know, I have sucked in replying to comments lately, thanks to reading them one handed on the iphone, but I promise I read them all, so please keep on commenting!)

Ah, and for the record, my hip?  Still bad.  Feet?  Still painful.  Someone will need to see a doctor after landing.  *sigh*

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Filed under Foreign Service, Rio!

45 Days. Commence Freak out.

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When I first set up my countdown app for our move to Brazil, it seemed like such a long way out – Ellie wasn’t even born yet!

And here we are, 5 months after leaving Manila, 4 months after getting settled in DC, and in a month and a half we start the whole process again.  Sorting air shipment (600lbs) from freight (max of 1,000lbs we have leftover from Manila) from personal luggage (two 70lb bags for each of us).  Figuring out the pets’ vaccines and international health certificates.  Figuring out what we will need as soon as we arrive, and what we can wait a little longer for.

I thought that having time in DC would mean I would be hopping in the metro every day and exploring museums, but the shutdown of the ONLY elevator to the metro in Crystal City ruined that fun, because I cannot bring a stroller, and though both Ellie and I love her carrier, my poor feet can’t handle multiple hours with the extra weight on.  (The elevator has been out of service since JULY.  It was meant to be back up in October, yet nothing has been done.  So much for living close to the metro convenience!  WMATA sucks big time.)

I also thought I would have so much free time!  But life with a baby doesn’t lead to a lot of it.  Now that Ellie has set times for her naps (and boy does she get cranky if she misses it), my days revolve around them.  Sure, I’m letting her dictate my time, but life for her is going to go upside down again (in 45 days!) so let the girl get her rest now.  Ellie is an easy baby, so I honestly cannot complain, but she likes company, she likes interaction, so that leads to even less free time.

But you know what?  I love it!  NEVER in my 20’s being a stay at home mom was something I craved for.  I had ambition and wanted a career!  But being at home with her is such a luxury!  I know a lot of my friends who work would take my place in a heartbeat, specially when their babies were still so little.  I know it won’t last forever – DC life is far from affordable, and if we’re ever back here for an assignment (instead of training like now), we won’t get free housing, so back to work I go.  But until then?  I’m enjoying the time with my little girl.

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I started sorting things out as much as I can, started making lists of things that need to be done before we go (quite a bit).  Trying my best to see friends, but it’s been so hard to fit it all in, as crazy as that sounds!

And of course, the fact that we still don’t have a housing assignment, even though Karl starts work 58 days from now, is not helping.  I’m hoping the delay eventually leads to good news and we get the neighborhood we want (Leblon – near the beach, not too far of a drive from my parents place in Barra, not as touristy as Copacabana).  I know others arriving in Brazil after us (but not necessarily in Rio) who already know where home will be.  Not knowing adds to the stress.  In this lifestyle full of unknowns, I try to grab for every little certainty we get.

And running is still going, or at least it was.  I’m still not any faster, and not any more graceful, but I was doing ok until the MCM 10k.  Then that afternoon my right hip felt very tender to the touch, inflamed really.  But it didn’t hurt to walk on it, so I ran 4.25 miles on Wednesday and definitely felt during the run.  And since then it hasn’t gotten any better and it’s been hurting to walk.  Like I need more injuries!  So skipping today’s run and debating the Wilson Bridge Half Marathon I had signed up for on Sunday.

I do keep meaning to update this blog, I’ve just had no inspiration, but soon I’ll be back posting daily again, I know it, that like everything else, writing comes in cycles.

For now, guess who turned 8 months (8 MONTHS!) yesterday?

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Filed under Foreign Service, Random

Leaving Manila…

A very rare moment here in our place:  Ellie is asleep, during the day, in her crib (!!!) and I have two (TWO!) free hands.  Have I mentioned how much I miss typing with two hands?

So despite being late in updating a lot of things (like trips from almost a freaking year ago, how home leave in OBX was awesome, how my running is going badly, how the podiatrist said I will need surgery in both feet, etc, etc), I figured now it’s a good time as any to update on the last few weeks in the Philippines.

It was tough leaving Manila, I left a lot of amazing friends behind that I miss dearly.  As much as being back in the US of A is awesome (awesome!), I wish I could have packed up all my friends with me.

Before leaving Manila, I got to do a lot on that last month…  I said goodbye to my Brazilian friend and her twin girls (cannot believe they’re a year old now!).

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I went to Puerto Galera for the first time and got to pack my diving stuff after a year away…  And yes, I got a couple of last dives in!  Yay!  Never got my 50th dive, but I did leave the Philippines with 49 dives under my belt – which is pretty good, considering there was a 9 month pregnancy in the midst of that.

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We stayed in Buri Resort, and it was lovely…

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Yep, we had our own plunge pool, and it was a two bedroom/2 bath/2 stories villa – which we shared with friends – with an amazing view!

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Then 6 moms, 7 babies, one yaya all took a flight then a boat over to Siquijor Island…

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And aside from a stomach bug I caught at the last night, it was lovely to spend a couple of days with them and to just relax and hang out with this view… 

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And with this pool.  We got two villas in Coco Grove, each with two floors and two full bathrooms, and it was perfect!

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Before leaving I ordered a Filipino quilt for Ellie at the AWCP Bazaar, since I wanted her to leave with something from the country she was born in.

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After almost 2 years, Karl finally got his braces removed!

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In the midst of moving madness, I thought it was a good idea to pull out this broken plug from our wireless router and electrocuted myself (I do not handle sleep deprivation well and make stupid decisions…).

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I took more cute pictures of Lily and Ellie…

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Our place got packed up and all we had left was ugly embassy furniture – and we won’t see our stuff for another year, until after we get to Brazil.

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I got one last shopping trip done in Greenhills.

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And had one last meal at my favorite restaurant in Manila, Alba.

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The pets hung out on our ugly now-uncovered embassy furniture…

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We went a few more times to Salcedo Market across the street from us.

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Had more amazing ice cream at Merry Moo (Salted Caramel, Honeycomb and Cookies & Brownies are our favorite flavors).

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Got more of the amazing fruit only found in Asia, like mangosteen…

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Lanzones…

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Dragon Fruit…

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Rambutan…

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I will NOT miss seeing the cow lechon every Saturday! (I’m a very much hypocrite carnivore – don’t show me the animal!)

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I had the worst haircut of my life by the same stylist who had given me the best haircut of my life…  This was my 4th time with the same stylist at Hair Philosophie.  I left in tears (then took scissors to it myself a couple of days later so I could wear it down again).

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Went to Legaspi market…

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Ellie wore her Department of State onesie (that Karl’s coworkers gifted him) to represent!

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I had a great goodbye party thrown by Una (sadly we didn’t get a picture with everyone later, we were too busy eating and chatting!).

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Una also gave us this super cool Filipino painting.  I will not miss the jeepneys!

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Una and Naomi came over on my very last day, and Naomi went all general on me and got me to get on to packing, and weighing every single piece of luggage I had, which means Karl and I actually had free time later for a foot massage and dinner.

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We woke up at 3am and left to the airport to what was (and hopefully will always be) our worse travel experience ever.  Cely, our helper and yaya to our pets, said goodbye to Lily and Lucas through many tears.

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Turns out what we were dreading the most, going through NAIA, was the easiest.  We were very mistreated in Japan, and kicked out of the Delta lounge because we had pets (even though they were quiet, and we were allowed to be there with pets as long as they were in their carrier), Lucas broke out of his carrier and almost escaped, and I had to McGyver the thing mid-flight…

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And this is how the inside looked like.  Somehow no one noticed and we went 7 more hours in flight with the carrier looking like this, got through a connection in Detroit and boarded our next plane with no issues.  He also pooped himself because he was so freaked out (Lily’s blanket that she had since the day she came home to us was sacrificed), broke his claw and had multiple cuts to his little nose.  I had to spend the rest of the time with a hand inside the carrier petting him.  It got very tricky when I had to hold Ellie with one hand to nurse her and had my other hand petting Lucas, with both Ellie and the carrier on my lap. 

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Then we finally arrived in DC, bought a brand new car which we love, and headed to the start of our much needed rest in the Outer Banks, NC.

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Pictures from our home leave at the beach to come…

(And for the record, the last half of this post was typed mostly one handed.  This chick will not sleep for long during the day.  *sigh*)

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Filed under Foreign Service, Manila, Philippines, Travel