One Month In – Lima Recap

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Well here is your long overdue update of how I’m settling into my new life in Lima!  I’ve been here for just under a month now, and have had time to marvel at my ocean view, get car sickness from my commute, fall completely in sync with my boss and coworkers, and spend a scary couple of hours trying to get home on a Friday night.  As you can see, this has been a mixed bag, which is completely normal.  One day I’m on cloud nine, can’t believe my good fortune for getting this assignment, and even a few hours later I’ll find myself cursing this place, my lack of Spanish, and this whole crazy life.  So here it is, the good, the bad and the ugly of my first few weeks in Lima.

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Housing – My apartment, in a word, is incredible.  It’s directly on the coast, modern, spacious, close to shops and restaurants and bars, and is directly on a walking path that includes cute puppies, hundreds of joggers, bikes, couples walking hand in hand, and more cute puppies.  It is, however, LOUD.  My housing reps at the Embassy made this very well known in their review of the neighborhood, but naively I thought it wouldn’t bother me.  The car alarms, the sirens located on the parking garage doors that go off every time someone enters and exits the lot, the youths yelling to their buddies as they walk down to the mall…ooof.  I’ve found my dehumidifier is a decent white noise machine, but even that can’t drown out the sound of a 98 Taurus.

lomo-saltado

The Food – When I told people I was moving to Peru, everyone went on and on about how much I’d love the food, and they were right.  If you don’t eat seafood (which I only recently started doing) it could get old quick, but there’s no shortage of delicious, innovative, fresh, flavorful dishes to try.  Restaurants range from Gastón Acurio establishments to Chifas, local Chinese/Peruvian takeout restaurants.  Peru is well known for their ceviche, which I lovingly refer to as “fish cooked by science,” but admittedly none of it has looked appetizing to me.  Hopefully when the weather turns warmer, a cold bowl of essentially raw fish will look more appetizing.

lima traffic.jpg

Traffic – I was warned that Lima’s traffic was bad, it was everyone’s loudest and most consistent critique of life in this city, so I was prepared for madness.  Since I’m new to the Embassy and it takes a while to get my license plates, insurance, etc, the Embassy offers a shuttle to and from work for 45 days at the beginning and end of your tour, for a small fee.  I’m picked up before 7 every morning by a large passenger van, and our driver carefully dodges through Lima traffic to get us to work, typically an hour later.  Did I mention I only live 6 miles away?  Going home is usually worse, and on more than one occasion has resulted in me getting sick upon exiting the vehicle – the starting and stopping, quick acceleration and swerving to avoid oncoming, belligerent drivers are unavoidable, I don’t blame the Embassy drivers for this one bit.  Hopefully my car will be street legal soon, and I’ll start navigating these crazy roads for myself.  It will likely be much more stressful, but hopefully will make me less sick in the process.  Think of all the audio books I’ll be able to finish w/ 2 hours in the car per day!  Tons of people hire drivers and just rely on taxis to and from work every day, and its entirely possible I’ll end up doing the same if the commute becomes too threatening, but for now I have every intention of driving myself, thankyouverymuch.

hola

Not speaking Spanish – Because my job supposedly does not require me to know Spanish, the Foreign Service did not send me to language training.  It was the same for Bosnia, I didn’t need it for work, so they shipped me off to a foreign country and basically told me to take classes when I got there.  One problem – this place absolutely does require Spanish for my job.  I will be spending late nights and early mornings at the airport, dealing with customs and baggage handlers that only speak Spanish, I have meetings with telecom providers to prepare for upcoming visits, and they only speak Spanish.  I am required to set up my own home water deliveries for my apartment – in Spanish.  The warehouse and facilities workers I work closely with in the Management section seem to only speak Spanish…whoever decided this position should not be language-designated was sadly mistaken.  I’ll enroll in language classes once things aren’t quite so new, but for now I struggle through each daily interaction with my head hung, and a quiet “Lo siento, no hablo Español.” (And that is probably not even grammatically correct, but whatevs.)  Happily I’ve made some friends WHO ALL GOT LANGUAGE TRAINING FOR THEIR JOBS, and they are kind enough to do a lot of translating for me, excited for the practice.  The DoS really needs to change this policy, its insane.

culture-shock

Culture shock – This is nothing new, and happened to me about 10 days into my first post.  My pattern this time goes something like this:

  • Enjoy a delicious restaurant with new Embassy friends!
  • Home phone goes out and causes alarm system to chirp in the middle of the night for no reason for several days 😦
  • Kick ass at work and knock out a bunch of projects!
  • Take two hours to get a taxi home from work, leaving you on a dark street corner with a dying phone, wondering if you’ll get kidnapped or mugged 😦
  • What a lovely apartment, with a fancy new stove!
  • None of my pots are compatible with this stove, guess I’ll buy new ones 😦
  • Wow, look at these interesting items at the grocery store, I get to try so many new things!
  • None of this stuff at the grocery store looks familiar 😦
  • Living in Lima will be such a great opportunity to learn a new language!
  • For the love of god would someone just speak to me in English? 😦

You get the idea.  The things that make me happy one day are the same things that nearly kill me the next.  It’s getting better, the more I’ve had a chance to settle in and get accustomed to my new normal, the easier it gets from here.  I’ve made some new friends, am expecting my household effects as early as next week (!!!), will soon be able to drive my own car, and I can see this grouchy fog lifting after each tiny victory.

That’s it for now!  Hope to do another posting after my weekend trip to Paracas next month.

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Onward Assignment

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So when I was hired, it was made very clear that while my personal preferences would be taken into consideration, ultimately the “needs of the service” were going to dictate where I went, especially for my first and second tour.  For my first assignment, I got my one and only “Flag Day,” complete with a dramatic and exciting presentation of my flag for Bosnia.  Sarajevo was my #1 choice by a landslide, and I was surprised and thrilled to get assigned here.  This tour has been everything I’ve wanted and more, and though not without its problems, I have absolutely no regrets about my time spent here.  If I remember, I’ll do a nice recap before I depart in July.

flag day

My second bidding process was significantly less dramatic, and gave me the tiniest view into how this is going to go for the rest of my career.  My Career Development Officer (CDO) emailed everyone that was going to be bidding on a Summer 2016 assignment with a list of open positions, what languages were required (rare in my line of work,) the approximate hardship (ranging from 0 for places like Sydney, all the way up to 45 for Beirut) and the date they’d need us at our onward assignment.  Ultimately I would have been fine with any of the choices, I did my research and saw the merits and drawbacks to each of them.  I submitted my list and waited to hear back.

Happily, a few weeks later I got an email from my CDO congratulating me on my new assignment for LIMA, PERU!  I’m thrilled to say Lima was my #1 choice, so I need to start playing the lottery immediately to cash in on this run of good luck.

So, what made me pick Peru?  Here’s a brief synopsis of the country I’ll call home in August 2016!

*Machu Picchu – this one is a no-brainer.  This Incan treasure built high up in the Andes was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.  I have a feeling I will have a lot of visitors who pass through Lima on their way to see this site.

machu picchu

*The food & drink – Peruvian cuisine has only recently exploded onto the international culinary stage, but its made a big splash.  I’m looking forward to sampling fresh ceviche and trying every pisco sour I can get my hands on.  (Even though I’m still a little freaked out by ceviche, it’s fish “cooked” by citrus juice, which is frankly just creepy if you let yourself think about it too much.  Never been much for raw or nearly raw fish.)

*The weather – while it’s never going to be all that sunny on the coast where I will likely live, that’s quite ok with me and my very pale skin.  It’s never going to be all that cold or all that hot, think 70s most of the time.  I’ll genuinely miss snow and rain, but am looking forward to putting away my snow boots away for this tour.

miraflores

*Time Zone Benefits – Lima will either be either equal to or one hour ahead of St. Louis, depending on daylight savings.  It’s going to make a world of difference when trying to keep in touch with family and friends back home, not to mention getting support from Washington DC when I need it for work stuff!

historic lima

*Alpacas – no explanation needed.  Just look at them!

alpaca

There are a ton of little reasons why I’m excited about Lima, though there’s plenty of reasons to dread it.  Terrible traffic, scary drivers, plenty of crime and shady taxi drivers, a very busy Embassy environment with high level visits already on the horizon, etc.  But it’s all part of the adventure, isn’t it?

So for now I’m making the most of my tour in Sarajevo: scheduling my last visits to the coast, soaking up all the Krompirusa I can handle, and spending all of my free time with the amazing friends I’ve made here.  It will be over before I know it.

Reggaeton Montenegro

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Long overdue post about another trip.  Just more proof that I am working way too hard and having too much fun to take the time to post these updates.  While it does seem like I play all the time, it’s truly not the reality.  I’ve been staying very busy at work, it’s just not fun (or appropriate) to blog about.  So trust me, it’s not ALL fun and games.  About half and half.

One of the biggest perks about this part of the world is the proximity to nearby countries that I wouldn’t have necessarily visited otherwise.  A good friend had served in Montenegro previously and offered to play tour guide, so a small group of us hopped in a couple cars (Poor Cami the Camry worked hard that weekend) and headed off for a weekend of relaxation and fun.

We headed down tiny, barely enough room for one car roads, and I clutched the handle of my door for dear life.  This is in no way a statement about the drivers, the roads themselves were dirt, elevated, with no rails.  I was petrified.  We finally made it to our first stop of the trip: Žabljak, a small village at the base of MIGHTY DURMITOR, a mountain that may or may not have dragons inside.  (No, I still can’t pronounce Žabljak

Polar Star Cabin

Polar Star Cabin

We moved into a cozy cabin at Polar Star, made a fire, and took a trip out to a nearby restaurant for some awesome, hearty winter food. Kacamak now ranks very highly as one of my favorite things ever ever…what’s not to like about cheese-infused mashed potatoes?

The next day we headed to a gorgeous hike to a frozen lake.  

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Good thing I brought my snow boots!

Bliss

Bliss

After our hike, falling in the snow a few times in the process, we were off to our next stop: Bianca Resort & Spa in Kolasin.

Swanky resort!

Swanky resort!

We treated ourselves to fluffy robes, massages, pedicures, and in general a very relaxing evening including a visit to a local bar before heading out to the ski slopes the next day!  I was with one expert skier and two ladies that had never been before….we decided to opt out of paying for lessons and I’d teach them the basics.  (And I do mean basics, I’m no pro myself.  Not even close.)  We did a couple passes on the bunny slope with moderate success, then decided we would ultimately be much happier with sitting at the bar with mulled wine, sunshine and snacks.

Ski bunnies

Ski bunnies

Eventually my fellow skiier got me off my butt and coaxed me out onto the slopes.  Ever since I took a nasty fall earlier in the season I’ve been a big chicken, so I am a little ashamed to say I only did one run the whole day.  I hate getting old.  I miss feeling fearless!

Yes, I'm wearing a helmet.  I'm too old and fra-gi-le not to

We caught a cab and headed back to the resort for more pampering, then headed to the best dinner of the trip at Restoran Vodencia.  Truly one of the best meals I’ve ever had!  Simple, rustic, flavorful food with some of my favorite people…what’s not to love?  We slowly made our way back to the hotel on the ice-covered sidewalks, and enjoyed our last evening at the lovely hotel.

Yum!

Yum!

On the drive home the next day we took a couple detours to visit two Monasteries: Moraca and Ostrog.  While Moraca was lovely, Ostrog knocked my socks off.  We found ourselves at the base of a mountain, and we were instructed to look up…see that tiny speck of white built into the top of the mountain?  Yeah.  We’re going up there.  And yes, we will take a tiny, not even truly one lane, switchback-filled road.  That was not my favorite drive.  One of my biggest regrets was not taking better pictures of this place, especially from the base so you could truly see how far up it was!

We decided to grab some lunch at a nearby restaurant, then we notice something is a bit…off.  Well what do you know, the side of the mountain is on fire.  We’re not sure if it was a controlled burn that went awry or something else entirely, but we found ourselves at a completely abandoned restaurant, with employees running outside every few minutes to check and see how close the fire was getting to their restaurant.  We ate our delicious lunch in a bit of a tense environment, and when we finally finished and got back to our cars, the fire was just about ready to cross the road and block our path home.  We rushed out of there and got to safety immediately!

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We finished our drive home, and I was so thankful to have great friends and tour guides along for this adventure.  This won’t be my last trip to Montenegro, I can assure you!

b montenegro

Christmas with Baby Sis

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So this week I’m preparing for some more visitors (Mel and Phil!) and I realized I hadn’t yet recapped the time spent with my last visitor, Shannon!  No time like the present, eh?

So I was truly dreading my first Christmas away from home, but as it turns out, my little sister was going to have a break from school so she’d be able to spend the holidays with me, YES!  She flew in a few days before Christmas, I got us thoroughly lost on the way home from the airport, and gave her a quick tour of Sarajevo.  She crashed early from jet lag and we prepared for the busy holidays ahead of us.

Her 2nd night in town was Christmas eve, and we spent the evening over at Frank and Lita’s annual Christmas Eve soup/bonfire/mulled wine/scotch drinking extravaganza.  Shannon got to meet my work friends, we ate some incredible turkey stew and pumpkin/shrimp bisque, and we also introduced her to the ever-popular Bosnian beverage: rakija.  You know when someone pulls out an old water bottle with a stick inside that is filled with homemade moonshine, it’s going to be quality stuff.

Vinegar or booze?

Vinegar or booze?

The next day was CHRISTMAS!!! We opened gifts, watched Christmas movies, and made an absolute feast from the comfort of my apartment.  It was so weird not being home but felt wonderful having Shannon here to continue carry out Cain family traditions with.  Christmas Vacation viewings, making sugar cookies, and stuffing our faces silly with turkey (with BACON, natch), scalloped pineapple, broccoli rice casserole, and pie.  So great.

christmas cookies

bacon turkey

Facetime with my parents, I miss them so much!

Facetime with my parents, I miss them so much!

The next day we hit the road very early, on the way out of town for our next adventure…to Dubrovnik!  I had been to the Croatian coast but not this particular city so I was excited to have someone to explore the city with.  Every single one of my upcoming visitors wants to go too, so this will not be my last visit I’m quite sure.  We hit the road and passed through the gorgeous city of Mostar for lunch, shopping, and looking at pretty bridges:

Mostar

Mostar

After about 5 hours in the car and one gorgeous drive along the coast, we made it to Dubrovnik, checked into our hotel, and then headed into the city to meet some friends for drinks and dinner at Pupo then drinks at a nearby irish pub.  Great night, we grabbed a cab and headed back to the hotel for some much needed rest!

We had an absolutely gorgeous view of the ocean from our room when we woke up, and enjoyed a complimentary breakfast at the hotel before heading into town via the bus.  It was a jam-packed day, and we started with the cable car!  We rode a tram from the bottom of the hill to the top of a nearby peak, and I was quite proud of Shannon for not freaking out along the way.  Our view:

So. High!

So. High!

We headed back into the city and had an awesome seafood lunch at Wanda where I had an AMAZING spicy seafood dish, I’ve discovered I am getting less and less creeped out when I’m served seafood with their heads still on.  Next on the list was walking around the city walls, which turned out to be my favorite part of the trip.  Got some amazing views of castles, coastlines, gorgeous blue water and great views of the city itself.  A must for any trip to Dubrovnik!

So pretty (and not just the girls)

So pretty (and not just the girls)

Such a cool city

Such a cool city

By the end of the day we were EXHAUSTED, grabbed some dinner, and were probably in bed by 8:00pm.  We are a couple of wild and crazy girls.  We knew we had to hit the road early the next day to beat an incoming snow storm, so we rolled out early to make our way back to Sarajevo.

The drive home was significantly less enjoyable than the drive there, because it was either snowing or raining the ENTIRE DRIVE.  By the time we got past Mostar It was actually snowing pretty heavily, and the mountain passes were getting pretty dangerous.  I kept getting concerned texts from my guy friends asking if I was ok, if they needed to come pick me up, and to keep them posted of how the roads were.  I love my friends.  We FINALLY made it home after an amazing trip.

I had to work (boo) for a few days, so Shannon took in the sights of the city.  She did a tour to learn about the seige, and also took a trip up to the top of Jahorina to eat Bosnia’s version of the doughnut.  I worked.  Why must I always work?  I introduced Shannon to some of my favorite restaurants and wines, and we had a great couple chill days in the city.

Before you knew it, it was New Years Eve.  Sarajevo takes this holiday VERY seriously, and has a huge party in the street right outside of my apartment.  Instead of battling crowds and the cold, we decided to throw a party at my place with drinks, snacks, and fireworks visible from my window.  Had an AWESOME night, in fact we all ended up sledding in the park outside my apartment.  Had such a fun night ringing in 2015 with my baby sis.

Before you knew it, it was time for Shannon to go home 😦  I was SO EXCITED to have my first visitor in this part of the world and very sad to see her go.  Thanks for coming, baby sis!  I love you to pieces.

Love this girl

Love this girl

Journey to the Center of the Universe

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I thought that November flew by, but December really must have set the record in my book for quickest month in the history of months.  I knew it was going to be difficult to be away from my family during the holidays, so I was quite honestly dreading how this was all going to go down, but turns out, fate had other plans in mind.

So my father has been battling some minor heart issues on and off for years and years.  We have a history of heart problems in my family so he is quite often getting checked out, monitoring his heart, making sure to fit in exercise and the right meds to keep on track, but he had an electrical problem in his heart that just simply would not resolve itself.  Well after trying this, that, and everything else they could think of, it was time to resort to surgery to get things settled.  Low risk?  Sure.  But I was worried, and my boss could tell.  We talked about it and decided that i would never regret going home for the surgery, and it was better to be safe than sorry.  So I booked a last minute flight and was happy to see this smiling face when I stepped off the plane:

My Mom!!!

My Mom!!!

We drove home from Chicago, catching up on this and that, and I spent the rest of the weekend around home.  It was so wonderful to catch up with my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and of course my goofy siblings.  And of COURSE I was so excited to see these little ladies and read them a long-overdue story.  They still remember me, so that’s good.

Frozen, of course

Frozen, of course

We headed to the hospital on Monday morning, and wished dad all the luck in the world with his procedure.  As we were leaving his hospital room as they were preparing to take him into surgery, my mom spoke to the nurse and asked them please not to remove my father’s wedding ring, as he has never taken it off “since I put it on him.”  Woa.

**I’m getting a little verklempt…talk amongst yourselves.**

They agreed that they’d leave it on and we walked out to the waiting room, full of anxiety and trying to keep emotions in check.  He was going to be fine.  Yes he was yes he was yes he was.  Because I said so.

Now, something you need to know about the Cains is that they are THERE FOR EACH OTHER.  So sure enough, 1/4 of the massive waiting room became overrun with family, waiting around to hear the news on Dad’s procedures.  We did bagel and pizza runs, caught up with each other, and tried keeping our mind off the situation at hand.  I addressed Christmas cards, Mel attempted to do homework, but mostly we just sat around.  And waited.

Naturally, the only time I left the waiting room in 7 hours (to go get drinks for everyone), the doctor came in to update my mom on how dad’s procedure went.  We were so pleased to learn that everything went as good as could possibly be expected, and he was in recovery now.  We alerted the Cains, they all breathed a heavy sigh of relief, and everyone else went home.

We went to Dad’s room, and naturally after a long procedure like that he was considerably groggy, and in a lot of pain from lying flat on a table for most of the day.  Unfortunately he wasn’t allowed to get up and walk around yet, so we tried every means possible to get him more comfortable, ultimately asking his nurse to hop him up on some pain pills until he was allowed to move.  Shannon and mom played super nurse, I think my only contribution was taking dad’s socks off cuz his feet were hot.  I get awkward in hospital rooms, as it turns out. But not as awkward as Mel 🙂

The girls gave PaPaw kisses and we decided that most of us should leave and let Dad rest, Mom would stay behind.  We departed the hospital after a LONG and very emotionally draining day, and decided there was only one way to end such a stressful day:

YES

YES

Chorizo and cheese sauce makes everything better

Chorizo and cheese sauce makes everything better

Happily Dad was released from the hospital soon after, and I got to spend the rest of the trip at home making sure he lived according to the doctor’s instructions (you tell my father not to lift over 10 pounds…see how well he takes that.)  He’s one of the most independent, self-sufficient, always-gotta-be-doing-something guy I’ve ever met, and the fact that he wasn’t allowed to pick up his nieces or even refill the humidifier drove him nuts, so we hunkered down with LOTR marathons and lots of naps.

Over the next couple days I did whatever I could to soak up as much “home” as possible before heading back to Sarajevo:

The original, thank you very much.  (Also, dad loves being in pictures)

The original, thank you very much. (Also, dad loves being in pictures)

Lots of staring at the tree for no reason at all

Lots of staring at the tree for no reason at all

Opening early Christmas presents with the girls (Yes, I bought them food.  It's their favorite thing!)

Opening early Christmas presents with the girls (Yes, I bought them food. It’s their favorite thing!)

New kicks from Aunt B

New kicks from Aunt B

Met Shannon and her crew for the greatest pizza in Monticello.  Ahhh 4-H Camp memories...

Met Shannon and her crew for the greatest pizza in Monticello. Ahhh 4-H Camp memories…

Yes, most of my pics are food themed.  What's your point?

Yes, most of my pics are food themed. What’s your point?

Before I knew it, it was time to go home…ouch.  The good news is that I had a visits from Shannon, Mel and Phil coming up, a trip home in April to look forward to, MORE family visits over the summer and fall…this goodbye was significantly less difficult than the last one.  But of course I miss my family to pieces, so I still hated saying goodbye anyway.  Thank you to modern technology for allowing me to text and video chat with them as often as I want.  I couldn’t imagine doing this job even 10 years ago before those options existed.

Shannon’s friend Ashley offered to drive me up to Chicago since my family was attending a wedding on the day I flew out, so we made our way up to the suburbs so I could fit in a quick visit with my Chicago friends en route to the airport.  I was SO thrilled that Laura (and Everly!), Scott, Jeri (and Bailey!), Danni and Ryan were able to meet me for lunch before my plane took off.  I stuffed myself with yet another American comfort food (sinfully rich Mac and Cheese) and headed for O’Hare.  With a heavy heart I headed back across the pond towards my life and my work.

It was INCREDIBLE that I got to see some of my family and friends over this quick trip home despite the crappy circumstances, and I was so sad that I didn’t get a chance to sneak in a trip to St. Louis, see my braintrust, attend Tony and Traci’s wedding, or ever really adjust to the jet lag in such a short amount of time.  But I have a trip home in April to look forward to, so that made things easier to process.  Thank you to EVERYONE for your kind words regarding Dad’s surgery, to my boss and coworker for covering for me at work while I was gone, to my family and friends who took time out of their busy lives to spend time with me…I love you all more than I could ever possibly say.

And more than anything, thanks to this crazy guy for every single thing he’s done for me throughout these 30 years.  Everything I have, everything I have ever accomplished is owed in part to his example of what hard work should look like.  I love you, Dad!

dad

 

I didn’t blog in November…my bad

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I am not great at blogging.  I mean once I sit down to write the thing I think I do ok, but getting myself to sit down at a computer and write a post after sitting at a computer all day at work is quite a feat.  I tend to start out very strong with the blog posts and slllloooooowly they get less frequent until I forget about the thing entirely.  Luckily I have friends and family members who keep me on track, letting me know exactly how long it’s been since I posted.  OK FINE I guess it’s time.

How about this post covers the entire month of November, eh?

I Feel Pretty

The different branches of the Armed Services tend to throw balls (ha) every year, and since Marines provide Embassy security, we get to celebrate with them every year on/around their birthday.  This was my very first Marine Ball and I am quite certain it will not be my last.  Since I live in a part of the world where women are tall and thin (and I am not quite those things,) I needed to look elsewhere for dresses, and happily found a gorgeous beaded one online from Macys.  I re-used shoes from my years of bridesmaid-ing, and opted to do my own hair and makeup.  (Ladies, learn how to do your own updos.  It will save you tremendous amounts of time and money in the long run, I can promise you that.)  This was my result.

Is it just me or does the beading on the dress slightly resemble the Death Star?  Cuz that's what I see.

Is it just me or does the beading on the dress slightly resemble the Death Star? Cuz that’s what I see.

I didn’t have a date (I mean when do I ever?) so I attended with a group of my military friends who were all looking mighty fine in their formal attire.  It was honestly an incredibly fun night, full of laughing and dancing, and I’m so glad I went!  In looking ahead for next year, I’m already starting to mentally prepare myself to work up to the double cheek kiss greeting (I’m so damn awkward) and planning to perhaps invest in a less beaded dress next year.  I kept snagging a strand and leaving a trail of slippery beads wherever I went.  Not quite the effect I was going for.

Zee Germans

This job has many hardships, though if I’m being honest the perks outweigh them by a landslide.  One such perk is being sent to Germany for 4 days for training classes and meetings.  I got to go to the US Consulate in Frankfurt for a few days, and enjoyed an insane amount of pork (often hard to come by in these parts,) the always outstanding selection of Apfelwein (cider) and many beer options, seeking out good Asian food, and practicing my extremely rusty German language skills.  Oh, and the Starbucks.  Mustn’t forget the Starbucks.

**Side note: When I lived in the US I maybe MAAAAAYBE got Starbucks once a month, if that.  Suddenly I am an expat and the first thing I do when I leave Bosnia is find a Starbucks.  What’s that about?  I was never obsessed with it before.  Where is this coming from?**

I met a friend from the 132nd who was also there for training, and we walked all around Frankfurt, seeing the sights and eating all of the things.  Sad to say I missed the Christmas Market by ONE WEEK!  They were setting those little wood houses up everywhere, and I made a mental note to make SURE I got to a Christmas market next year.

Now don’t get it twisted, the main reason I took this trip was to work, and I got to spend plenty of time in the Consulate building, a former German hospital that may or may not be haunted.  The original marble staircases remain and have deep grooves from the many years of use.  I’m told that ghosts are not uncommon, and that the security guards have even reported seeing them.  I’d believe it.  I’m used to the Embassy in Sarajevo, where I could walk from one end of the building to the other in less than a minute…the Consulate was a different story.  I was glad I wore comfortable shoes because the compound is MASSIVE and I got lost multiple times trying to find my way here and there.  Some pics of Frankfurt for you to enjoy:

Memorial for the books that the Nazis burned

Memorial for the books that the Nazis burned

Pork, slices apples, spaetzel, and gravy.  I LOVE GERMAN FOOD

Pork, slices apples, spaetzel, and gravy. I LOVE GERMAN FOOD

Romerplatz - city square rebuilt to look the way it did before the WWII bombings

Romerplatz – city square rebuilt to look the way it did before the WWII bombings

Not a ton of pics, worked most of the time and when I was out and about it tended to be raining.  Ohhhh well.

My first Foreign Service Holiday

I feel like there are certain milestones in my life that I can point to and say “That, that right there made me feel like a grownup.”  Buying my first home.  Getting a headboard and not just using a metal bed frame.  Realizing I can’t wear flip flops all day because it will make my feet hurt.  Oh, I don’t know, moving across the world.  And most recently, hosting my very first Thanksgiving.  I have a great group of friends here that are all without their families as well and we decided to join together for turkey and fixins’, parades, football, and booze.  The Embassy did a bulk order of fresh turkeys from a nearby farm, I dry brined the thing overnight in the fridge and the next day gently separated the skin from the bird and massaged herb butter allllllll over it.  Then I covered the turkey in a lattice of Bosnian Bacon, lined the bottom of the pan with veggies, and hoped for the best.  And oh, was it the best:

Bacon Turkey.  Burkey?  Turkon?

Bacon Turkey. Burkey? Turkon?

I spent a tremendous amount of time researching recipes, shopping, prepping, and cooking mashed potatoes and INCREDIBLE gravy, green bean casserole, scalloped pineapple, cornbread stuffing, and homemade pecan pie and pumpkin pie tarts (only because I don’t own two pie pans so I had to improvise.)  Bosnia doesn’t have nearly the amount of pre-made ingredients that I’m used to, so this was great practice in making things from scratch.  If I say so myself, things turned out pretty well, and I stuffed myself silly in the company of my friends.

Pecan Pie and Pumpkin Pie tarts

Pecan Pie and Pumpkin Pie tarts

Ta daaaaaaaa!

And there you have it: my month of November.  December is already halfway over so yeah…you’ll probably get that post at the end of January.  Don’t judge me!! :/

What has Brenda been up to?

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So a dear friend pointed out that I hadn’t posted in a couple weeks, and she hoped that it was because I was having so much fun over here that I simply couldn’t carve out the time to post anymore.  I realized that was partly true, and that I had some mini stories to tell to my faithful readers that you may or may not care about.  Here we go!

Brenda tries not to die

So if you read my Istanbul post you’ll know that I was battling some kind of nasty sickness that seemed to subside halfway through my trip.  Well I got back home, had a few more days of pseudo-good health, and then BOOM, everything changed.  I was battling crazy high fevers, alternating between freezing/burning up, had zero energy, coughed incessantly and had a terrible time catching my breath.  It became clear that it was time to seek professional medical attention.  I went to one of the Embassy doctors, they checked me out and decided that it was really likely that I had pneumonia, and I received a good scolding for waiting as long as I did to go to the dr.  I was given 5 days of crazy strong antibiotics, an nebulizer for breathing treatments 2x a day, and was put on bed rest for 4 days.  No work, no nothing.  It’s the most sick days I’d ever taken at one time in my life, and it was not a great week.

Not happy

Not happy

I slept about 16 hours a day, watched basically the entire Netflix catalog, and took the opportunity to recharge my batteries.  4 days at home seems like a dream, I’m sure, but when you live alone it is terrible.  Nobody to talk to, nobody to bring you Sprite.  Nobody to wake you up at 2:00am when you need to take more cough medicine.  Luckily my friends here seriously stepped up to the plate, and took amazing care of me.  I had more offers than I could count of people asking what I needed at the store, bringing me food, watching movies with me…I was so incredibly touched by everyone’s care and generosity, I’m a very lucky girl to be here with these amazing people.  I’m happy to report I now have a clean bill of health, and am making sure that I don’t push myself quite as hard between work and play anymore.

Brenda becomes a superhero

I was pretty hesitant to find a new hairdresser here in Sarajevo. I looooooooved my old stylist from the STL area (Hi Natasha!!) and knew it was going to be really hard to fill her shoes.  Finally my stupid grey hairs (ugh) started showing and it was clear I needed to find someone local.  It was suggested that I check out a local salon who’s owner grew up in Chicago, was great with cuts and color, and who spoke ENGLISH!  I made an appointment for some fun fall color.  My hairdresser was incredibly sweet and helpful and agreed to give me some fun fall color.  I love red in the fall and we decided on a bold red with light highlights, and it was going to be great.  She added the color, and I loved it.  It was such a gorgeous shade and she did an incredible job!  I looked like a damn superhero, and loved it.

…and then a few days later, I decided I just didn’t look like me.  No matter what I did, I couldn’t get used to the bright red hair I saw in the mirror.  I talked to my hairdresser and begged her to let me come back and change things up, and she was SO helpful in coming up with ways to tone down the red and save the day.  I spent 3.5 hours in her chair for my follow up appointment and took up her whole morning, but she was so sweet and kind and took amazing care of me.  I’m happy to report I’ve still got red hair, but with highlights and lowlights added in, and I LOOOOOOVE it.  I will definitely be returning to her salon.

Before and After

Before and After

Brenda becomes a murderer

So an unfortunate part of the foreign service lifestyle is how often your new friends get another posting and leave you behind.  One of the very first people I met in this country had their tour end, and he and his wife were getting ready to pack out from their apartment in Sarajevo.  They had an amazing rooftop patio lined with houseplants, and were desperate to give them good homes.  I was happy to oblige, and took in several of their “harder to kill” varieties as I don’t have the greatest track record when it comes to keeping plants alive.

Hello new friends!

Hello new friends!

Long story short, four of them are now close to dead one month later.  And people seriously want me to bring kids into the world?!

Brenda gets super old

My 30th Birthday was on October 4th, a Saturday.  I wouldn’t necessarily say I had a lot of anxiety about turning 30, I’m actually pretty thrilled with where I am in my life right now, but I do have kind of a birthday curse that has followed me around for the past 8 years or so, I purposely kept bday plans very low key or nonexistent because when I planned something, I could pretty much guarantee something awful was going to happen.  But this year my friends decided I needed to celebrate, and offered to throw me a Birthday BBQ at their house.  We had an enormous cooler of beer, a counter full of liquor, a grill full of delicious grilled chicken and sausage,  homemade birthday mac and cheese, cheesecakes, and a house full of my friends.  I was so touched with gratitude, (again these people take amazing care of me here,) and I had a great time entering my 30’s!

Complete with candles, for crying out loud

Complete with candles, for crying out loud

***

So there you have it, a few summaries of the things I’ve been up to here.  While we don’t have pumpkin patches and apple orchards here for me to enjoy, this has been a great fall, and I am feeling pretty great right now.  Missing my family and friends back home like crazy, and I hate that I’m missing their big life events (having kids, turning 30, losing loved ones, losing and getting jobs, etc.)  Hoping to plan a trip home in early 2015, will keep you posted with those specifics so I can maximize my visits.  Love you all, thank you all so much for checking in and supporting me in this crazy lifestyle, I’m so lucky to have you in my life 🙂

~B