An eventful vacation

We’re back!  We drove home from Parry Sound, Ontario on Saturday and today is Nate’s first day of A-100.  This week we get  the bid list!

We had a blast at the cottage, although our time spent there was not without minor hiccups.  We were there to open up the cottage and get it ready for habitation during the summer months, which involves fun things like putting the water pump in the lake, catching the mouse that has been living large in the kitchen towel drawer, cleaning, etc.  Overall we had a lovely time, ate lots of yummy food, visited with good friends, and soaked up the sun on the dock and in the water.

But there were some slight hiccups.

This was my first time “putting in the water,” and it was baptism by fire.  Thank goodness we are friends with the cottage neighbors, as they proved truly indispensable.  We spent maybe 6 hours on Sunday trying to put in the water, having discovered several leaks in the rubber tube running down to the lake.  We replaced the old tube with a chunk of new tube and we were good to go!  That is, until about 5 pm that same day, at which point we had no water again.  The next morning we headed out again and discovered that the new tube was just a tiny bit wider than the old tube, so it came apart.  That’s an easy fix: just tighten the metal clamps that hold it all together.  After that we discovered that there was a broken valve in the water pump itself.  So after another 5 hours of putting in the water, we (or, more accurately, Nate and our neighbor) finally conquered it and we had no additional problems with the water for the rest of the trip.

I’m slightly ashamed to admit that at one point I said “I’m tired of doing this,” and I left and took Athena for a walk. And then I puttered around the cottage and ate lunch. Thankfully Nate and our neighbor were more dedicated to the task than I was.

Athena and I relaxing, which is exactly what we're good at

Athena and I relaxing, which is exactly what we’re good at

And then there was a mouse.  It was a brazen little mouse, running freely around the kitchen while I was standing there preparing dinner.  Sadly the mouse is not longer with us.  We would have preferred to catch and release it someplace in the woods far from the cottage, but setting a mouse trap and dealing with the consequences is far easier than trying to actually catch it without injury.

However, I balanced out my creature-killing karma by helping not one, but three, turtles safely cross the road.

Saving the best “minor hiccup” for last, we, along with four neighbors, got stranded in a stalled motorboat in Georgian Bay.  It was a beautiful evening, and we were headed to a restaurant only accessible by boat.  We were motoring along, taking in the sunshine and stunning scenery when all the sudden the boat stopped.  Nate and I thought someone had intentionally stopped the boat to give us more time to enjoy our surroundings, but sadly that was not the case.  After spending 20 minutes or so, with no one coming by to help, trying to figure out what to do next, we finally saw another boat in the bay. It was heading straight towards us, and it turned out to be the guy who lived on the private island we were anchored near.  He (Charlie was his name) towed us to his dock and we all climbed out of the boat onto the private island.

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The no-longer-functional boat tied to Charlie’s dock

A word about private islands: Georgian Bay is loaded with them, and many of them have houses built on them.  As you might imagine, not everyone can have a house on a private island.  First you need to be rich enough to buy a fricking island.  Then you have to be rich enough to build a house on it, which involves bringing in supplies by boat.  Obviously not a cheap endeavor.  So, we enjoy the private islands and their fancy houses from afar, pointing out the ones that are our favorites, knowing that we’ll never be rich enough (or have friends that are rich enough) to have one ourselves.

As you might imagine, finally setting foot on a private island was pretty darn exciting.  This particular island had a massive log cabin-mansion and a gorgeous deck with a hot tub, complete with an amazing view of the Bay and the setting sun.  Charlie invited us inside, and I made a bee-line for the deck.  I figured if we were stuck, I might as well leave the problem-solving to everyone else and make the most of my surroundings.

So, I sat there, enjoying the view (and wondering what we would do next), and a boat came by.  The people on the boat waved to me on the deck and my first thought was “Holy shit!  I wonder if they think I live here?!”  I waved back, thinking to myself “Why yes, friendly people on that boat, I am here because this is a beautiful place to be, not because we are stranded!”

Ultimately we paid Charlie to motor us back to our dock, and then we grilled brats for dinner.  The next day we used a different boat to motor to the restaurant, tempting fate by taking the exact same route.  We made it there and back just fine, which we know is due to the fact that this time we were all very well prepared to be stranded.  We had flashlights, the Coast Guard phone number, sun screen, bottled water, several fully charge iPhones, and other necessary items.

Athena had a great time swimming, chasing the squirrels and chipmunks, treeing a raccoon, playing fetch, sunning on the dock, and snoozing in her favorite lawn chair.  She was also very happy that this summer she didn’t have to get in any boats, especially in the dinghy, which is her least favorite of all. Athena did very well in her crate on the 13 hour-long car rides there and back– good practice for the eventual flights when we leave for our first post, wherever it may be!

Athena sunning herself on the dock, and, yes, Nate is wearing a swimsuit

Athena sunning herself on the dock

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Pros of being a local hire

We already live in Northern Virginia, so we don’t need to move in order for Nate to start A-100.  Those that do need to move to the area have their housing in NoVa paid for and they get per diem.  We do not.

In order to not dwell on the fact that we are missing out on hundreds of dollars every week, here’s a list of the pros of being a local hire:

  • We don’t have to move (yet).  Moving, even with professional movers, is a huge pain in the ass.  We will have to do it eventually, but it’s one less time then all the out-of-towners.
  • We get to stay together.  Nate’s job is here.  My job is here.  Simple enough.
  • Athena can keep her yard.  Yes, I called it “her yard” because, let’s be real.  She rules the roost.  She also gets to keep her swimming pool and doggy friends.  When she’s happy, we’re happy.

Athena and her best friends, the L’s, AKA The Pointer Posse

  • We have time.  Time to fix up our house so we can rent it out.  Time with Nate’s parents.  Time with our friends. Time to figure out what to do with our stupid Honda Accord with a broken transmission and an expired safety inspection.
  • We are not abandoning our garden.  We have raspberries, blackberries, tomatoes, green beans, peppers, lettuce, zucchini, and snap peas all coming in.  And there is still hope for our fig tree which seems to have died over the winter.
  • We get to go on vacation.  While others are moving to DC, unpacking and readjusting to life here, we will be having a blast on the lake in Canada.  It will be awesome.

Okay, that’s all I got.  But those things are pretty huge, really.  I love our life here, and I’m glad we get to spend at least a few more months in Alexandria!

Before A-100

There are probably people out there who are/will be reading this blog who aren’t our friends and family.  This the internet, after all, so that’s just what happens.

Maybe these strangers (welcome!) just received their A-100 invite, or their spouse/partner did.  If so, this post is for you.

I was going crazy with the small amount of information we had received before Nate’s A-100 class started.  We knew the date he started and that was it.  And that, if you are terribly excited and dying to know more, isn’t enough.

Eventually, maybe 5 weeks before the A-100 start-date, Nate got a very large packet in the mail with some official-looking documents, a bunch of informational pamphlets (including one for the DC aquarium which I’m pretty sure is closed), a handbook called “Let’s Move,” (oh wait, that’s not it) “It’s Your Move,” and loads of paperwork.  It wasn’t very exciting.

Then two weeks (exactly) before June 30 he got several emails with several attachments, including info for spouses.  Finally!  The A-100 class that was two classes before Nate’s is sort of chaperoning them through the A-100 orientation process, answering questions, organizing some social events, and being otherwise awesome.

The really cool thing is that spouses and partners (also called EFMs, or eligible family members, which I suppose also includes children) are involved in pretty much everything except the A-100 classes.  EFMs can even do language training!  How great is that?  Sometimes I wish I didn’t already have a job so I could just go to language classes all day.  There is an orientation class for EFMs, and a bunch of other smaller seminars at the FSI.  It makes a lot of sense, really.  The Foreign Service can’t just send FSOs overseas with their unprepared families and expect things to go well.  It’s nice to already feel included in the community.

So, don’t worry, you’ll know more soon!  And until then, just keep surfing the internet.

Off we go

This weekend we are heading to Canada for a week.  A week!  Nate and I are really looking forward to it, and I know Athena would be excited if she understood what was happening.

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Water, sand, and a doggie obstacle course. What isn’t to love?

Normally there is no way that I would tell the internet and anyone who might happen to read this blog that we are leaving our house unoccupied for a week as of this weekend, but I know no one will read this post until after we get back.  In fact, no one will read any of this blog until after we already know where we will be posted.  It is all part of my plan to ensure that I remain employed at my job until at least August 1, at which point it will rain flowers and chocolate, the angels will sing, and I will be 100% vested.

So, yes, I am blogging knowing that no one is even reading.

Anyhow.  Nate’s parents have a house on the lake in Parry Sound, and we have gone there almost every summer since I moved here.  Athena loves it more than anyone.  She gets to go swimming, explore the woods, piss off the squirrels and chipmunks, pretend she’s a person and sit on the deck chairs, and basically run free the entire time.  It’s doggy paradise.  There’s still a lot to do before we leave (important stuff, like buying s’mores fixings) but the plan is to leave early Saturday morning.

She knows there are squirrels and chipmunks up there somewhere.

She knows there are squirrels and chipmunks up there somewhere.

It’s a little crazy knowing that when we come back it will be time for Nate to start his A-100 class.  Time flies!

Reality: yard work

We have a large yard.  By Northern-Virginia-close-to-the-metro standards, anyway.  In most of the rest of the country, a third of an acre probably isn’t a big deal.   But it is for us, both literally and figuratively.

Back in 2010, the first thing that drew us to our current home was the yard.  And we know that when we rent out our house, the yard will be an important factor.  A big green oasis, t’s a dog owner’s dream!  Plenty of space to run around and have playdates, trees that provide cool shady spots, and areas along the fence perfect for basking in the sun.  People with human children would probably like it too.

We let the yard go wild when we were in Southeast Asia last month, and it’s taken us several weeks and four separate mowing sessions to, uh, tame the beast.   Yesterday we spent most of the evening outside mowing, weed-whacking, raking, trimming trees and bushes, uprooting trees, and weeding.  Now that Nate will be around on the weekends, we have lots of yard projects we’d like to do, like putting brick pavers around the garden beds, finally building a fire pit, and other stuff I’m not remembering.  Athena had a fun time with a tree as her new chew toy.

Yard work is exhausting, but it’s rewarding.  The results of your efforts are immediately visible, and I am all for instant gratification.

Also, if anyone has any advice on how to install fieldstone borders around our garden beds (aside from hiring a contractor), I’m all ears!

The start of something new

I’m sitting here at my desk, “working” and obsessing over our future life in the Foreign Service.  Nate starts his A-100 training class at the end of the month and it is all I can think about.  I daydream about potential postings, worry about how Athena will handle the plane ride, wonder what life will be like (parties! free housing! parties! moving every two years!?), and fret about how much money we’ll spend getting our house ready to rent.

Nate, on the other hand, is as cool as a cucumber.  I wish I had his ability to just sit back and let the time go by until June 30th.
Athena, obviously, has no idea what’s going on, and her primary concerns are finding the optimum snuggle spot and when she might get fed next.  The good news is that she can still get her BarkBoxes when we are overseas!  Man, does she have a rough life or what.