Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Update From A Slacker

I've been slacking on all fronts lately.  Slacking in my parenting: isn't it ok for Sidney to have chips before dinner (after all, they are oregano flavored), slacking in my cooking: dinners have been from the freezer or a box more often than not as of late, slacking in keeping up with friends:  I blame the time difference but what about those who are in the same city, and slacking on my blogging:  enough said.

I started out 2012 (yes, a short 31 days ago) with the best of intentions. Dinners were going to be timely affairs with all of us sitting at the table together.  More often than not, they are served late, hence Sidney's chip eating.  We were going to have home cooked meals on a nightly basis and I would try a minimum of two new recipes a week.  This was to justify the numerous cooking magazines that clog our mailbox.  Year to date, I've tried exactly one and even that was met with mixed results.

In 2012 I planned to Skype with friends and family, respond to email and Facebook messages as I received them, and get together with my Albanian based girlfriends on a regular basis.  I apologize to friends who are still waiting for return emails and to our families whose Skype sessions have been cancelled (or gasp forgotten).  Today, on the last day of the month I finally managed to have lunch with a friend.  I loved every minute of it and am now kicking myself for not getting my act together sooner to do this more often.  After all, it is our friends that sustain us.

I've made a few blog posts this year but not the regular, though provoking ones I had hoped to write. Instead I'm complaining about my slacking.

I could make excuses but I don't really have any.  Yes, its cold and gray but it is every January and I have always managed to be more productive in past years.  I'm working this year but I've worked more hours in the past and still managed to feed my family well.  I don't know why this year is different but it is.

So on the eve of February- a short month after all- I vow to shed my slacking habit and be more productive.  I'm going to strive to have one thought provoking blog entry each week, I'm going to actually return all of those emails that fill my inbox and I'm going to cook nutritious dinners and have them on the table by 1900 each evening.  There, I've written it down for the world to see so I must follow though.

With that, I had been go start working on dinner.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Trials Of A Trailing Spouse

Trailing spouse.  That is the quaint term bantered about within the State Department and DOD when referencing those of us who follow our better halves from one job posting to another.  Sometimes these moves are from state to state while other times they are international moves.  Regardless of the locations, the general logistics are the same.  The trailing spouse sacrifices their own career to ensure that household goods, medical records, and the family pet make it from one location to another.   We make sure the new house is set up and the children are enrolled in new schools.  We find the new doctors, grocery stores, and playgrounds.   We make sure things run smoothly at home while our spouses are at work.  You get the idea.

Did I ever imagine that I would join these ranks?  Heck no!  I worked hard on my undergraduate degree, graduated, and worked my way up in a career field, that while not what I had pictured myself doing, was fulfilling. I went back to graduate school with the hopes of giving myself an additional step up in my career. 

And then I met Glenn.  Ah, the things we do for love.  I lived and worked in Massachusetts and he was in Virginia. I had more flexibility in my job-  being in the Navy does not provide any flexibility!- so I was the one to quit my job.  My friends thought I was crazy; my family thought I was crazy; heck there were a few times that I also suspected I really was crazy.  I did it anyway and I can honestly say that I don’t regret it. However, as an educated, independent woman, I thought I knew what I was getting into.  But alas, perception and all the research in the world does not equate into reality.

With each  move, I’ve been able to find a job.  I count myself lucky in this respect since so many Americans are currently unemployed. Ironically, with each new job I find myself with fewer “professional” responsibilities and  a corresponding reduction in pay.  A recent peak at my paycheck showed me that I am making less money now than I did during my summer breaks in college.   Yes, I am now employed and I have a job outside of the home, but it is by no means a career. 

A few facts about us trailing spouses.  Despite the common perception, we are well educated.  Among my “trailing” friends, the majority of us have advanced degrees and most of us have attained more formal education then our spouses.  The majority of us did have careers are one time.  We are independent- we manage 6-12 month separations from our spouses and keep the home fires burning.  We are adaptable and flexible- maybe not by choice- but regular  moves, ever changing orders and unpredictable work schedules require us to be.   We can quickly turn strangers into friends.  Moving to a new location at regular intervals requires us to get to know our surroundings and make new friends (it’s a lonely life if you can’t manage to do this). 

AFN has recently begun airing a new infomercial that lauds the skills of trailing spouses. They don't call us this but we are the audience they are targeting.   The very skills I mentioned above are the ones this infomercial points out as making us more marketable in the job force.  An all too cheery voice tells us that employers want us and we too can have meaningful careers when we return stateside. 

Yes, we have the afore mentioned skills but how do we translate them onto a resume and more importantly into an interview?  Flexibility, ability to multitask, independent thinker are all key catch phrases but under what title do we label our job?  “Move Coordinator”, “CEO of the Home”, or “Organizer in Chief”?  

These are but a few of the thoughts I have been pondering as of late.  How will I be able to find a meaningful job, or gasp, a career, when we return to the United States?  What will my resume say about me and my experiences?  I don't know.  But if any of you are looking to hire an organized yet flexible, dedicated, multi-tasking military spouse, please give me a call. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

All The Water You Want To Drink

One of the perks of our current location is our ability to take quick and easy trips around Europe.  In keeping with this idea, we recently spent Martin Luther King weekend in Rome.  We were the ultimate tourists and visited the City's top attractions- the Vatican, Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Trevi Fountain.  It was a whirlwind few days that was made especially so with a two year old in tow.  However, because we had a two year old with us, we saw these sights through his eyes.

I'm putting it mildly when I say that Sidney is obsessed with water. Uji (Albanian for water) is the first word he learned when we arrived in Tirana and he never misses an opportunity to investigate the water around him.   I even shipped Sidney's new water table to Albania ahead of our arrival so that it could be here waiting for him.

The irony of this love of water is that we live in a country where water is not potable.  Sidney can play with the water in the sink but he can't drink it.  (This of course, makes bath time a challenge).  His aforementioned water table is only filled with distilled water.  The giant water distiller in the kitchen makes for hours of potential water playing fun.  Visits to the Embassy require keeping a tight hold of his hand lest Sidney end up in the courtyard water fountain.   (This has happened on more than one occasion).  The smallest sidewalk puddle is reason enough to stop and play.  (Of course, the real challenge arises in explaining why he can't drink the water).

The child can spot water from a mile away.  His excitement at riding the ferry from Albania to Italy was compounded by all of the water that surrounded us.  "Uji, uji, uji" became the refrain of our waking hours once on board.

Sidney comes by his love of water naturally.  I've been told that Glenn loved water and water fountains as a child.  Glenn grew up and joined the Navy which gave him the opportunity to spend months at sea surrounded by nothing but water.  Even today, his biggest complaint about life in Albania is the fact that there aren't any water fountains, and when there are, it is not safe to drink from them.

Sampling the water at the Trevi Fountain
Given this, both Glenn and soon Sidney, were very excited to be in Rome- a City whose fountains are legendary. A stroll through Piazza Navona took well over an hour due to the three- yes three- large fountains that line the plaza.  The Trevi Fountain?  Not only was there so much water to look at but there were fountains to drink from.  (I'll admit that I even drank from a fountain there and I never drink from fountains in any location).  For Sidney, the highlight of the trip to St. Peter's Basilica was the fountain in Piazza S. Pietro.  From a two year old perspective, each space in the bridge over the Tiber River requires investigating.  After all, a different vantage point can make the water below look all new.  While I enjoyed the historical aspect of the ancient ruins of the Roman Forum, my two boys used our explorations as an opportunity to locate and drink from every drinking fountain we came upon.

Yes, our time in Rome was a wonderful, water filled weekend.  Now we're back in Tirana- the City of non-potable and unreliable water.  We're back to explaining to Sidney that he can't drink water out of the tap and that puddles here are more apt to be toxic than not.  Last night Glenn put Sidney to bed- after a bath that was more of a battle to not drink the water- and we noticed that there was one reliable water related thing in this country.....our monthly water bill had been thrown over our gate and was sitting in the yard.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Ushering in 2012 With A Big Bang

The view from our third floor balcony
From the moment we arrived in Albania, people have been telling us that we must stay in Tirana for New Years. Albanians and Americans alike told us that if we stayed here, we would witness celebrations like we have never seen.  And after last night, I can say that New Years in Tirana is like nothing I have ever experienced.

We had been told to expect fireworks and told that our street would resemble the wild west as the midnight hour neared.  Now Albanians seem to love their fireworks.  When a local fireworks storage facility caught fire last month, Albanians were horrified not by the fire, but by the thought of losing all of those fireworks. During the summer wedding season, brief firework displays are a nightly occurrence.   Knowing this, we anticipated a few more flashes of light in the sky but that was about it.

The days leading up to the end of the year were ordinary enough; the usual crazy traffic, pushing crowds in the grocery store, and sense of post-Christmas let down.  I had been told that New Years is to Albanians as Thanksgiving is to Americans. This accounted for the herds of turkeys being peddled on the sides of the roads.  I was just thinking of the holiday as an opportunity for another four day weekend (at the Embassy we get two days off for the holiday- American New Years and Albanian New Years).

New Years Eve morning was cold and clear. With schools being out for the winter break, the neighborhood kids were out on the street early using our gate as a springboard for their basketball.  An occasional firecracker exploded in the neighborhood but even that wasn't unusual.  As the afternoon wore on the number of exploding firecrackers increased but it was by no means crazy outside.

Around 2200 the neighborhood kids started a bonfire in the road.  I knew we had been in Albania too long because I found this amusing rather than alarming.  The number of exploding firecrackers increased and a few kids went as far as throwing them over the wall into the Turkish Embassy compound next door.  The local guard force chased them off into the dark and again the street returned to a relative calm.

As the midnight hour approached I struggled to stay awake but I figured since I had lasted this long - for the first time in many years- I might as well stay awake for the remaining 15 minutes.

At the strike of midnight it seemed as if the entire city exploded in a burst of fireworks.  Unlike in the United States, Tirana doesn't have an official, government sponsored fireworks display. Fireworks are legal and it seemed as though every resident had their own personal stash.

For well over an hour the sky was illuminated with exploding fireworks.  We had a spectacular view from our third floor balcony. All of our neighbors were in the street, or on their roofs, shooting off fireworks, bottle rockets, and for the smallest of neighbors, sparklers. A few came precariously close to us, landing in our yard.  I saw this happening all over the City and but realized that in a land of concrete houses with clay roofs, the chances of a fire starting were pretty slim.

Glenn and I couldn't believe what we were seeing.  As Sidney slept inside, unaware of the exploding world around us,  we watched as the light display continued on and on.  The air was heavy with the smell of gun powder.  Everyone was right; we were witnessing a display unlike anything we had ever imagined.  Back in Norfolk, the mere sound of a firecracker had the cops investigating. (We remembered one Fourth of July when Glenn and his friend Chris shot off a few small fireworks in our yard. Within minutes the police were swarming our street searching for the source of the explosion).  But we aren't in Norfolk anymore. We're in the land of unregulated pleasures where anything goes.  

In the dawn of the new year, the smell of gun powder still lingers in the air.  An occasional firecracker continues to explode in the neighborhood, but then again, that is the norm.  Like most of our experiences here in Tirana, words and pictures just cannot do them justice.  New Years had been described to us and we didn't believe it until we too had experienced it.

Now 2012 is here and it literally started with a bang.  My one hope is that the rest of the year is quieter and less exciting than the first few minutes were.  Here's to a happy new year!