Athena’s life lately and PCS plans

Athena looking sheepish because she knows that’s not her toy

Some of you might not know, but this blog is named for our dog Athena. Back when I started According to Athena in 2014 she was the center of our universe and my initial intention was to make the blog largely about our life with a dog and her life in the Foreign Service. Looking at my posts over the past few years, obviously that hasn’t really happened. Heck, part of that time I wasn’t even living with her when she and Nate were living the single life in Dhaka after we got evacuated out. But, rest assured, Athena is doing well, and I think she’s going to be very happy when we PCS and she (hopefully) has a huge yard to call her own.

Our plan is to drop Athena off at our favorite boarding facility here in Oman, where she will stay for at least two months while we go back to the US for a few weeks of training and a month of home leave. Then one of our friends will bring Athena to us. There’s a direct flight from Doha to Windhoek, so the travel time won’t even be that long. This way we are able to avoid a lot of stressors for her, including two very long flights across the Atlantic and back, jet lag (yes, dogs get jet lag and it’s miserable), traveling at peak summer heat, and figuring out what to do with her during home leave. Plus we only have to pay to ship her once, rather than twice.

We know Jebel K9 will take excellent care of her, and hopefully our grand plan works out! It’ll make life a lot easier for everyone, plus our friend who is bringing us Athena gets a free ticket to visit us in Windhoek. We are taking care of as much of the veterinary side of things right now as we can, including updating vaccinations and rabies shots, and hopefully she’ll be squared away by the time we leave in July.

As she’s getting older, I worry about how she’ll handle 24+ hours in her crate without being let out, especially when it gets hot, and I’m really glad we’re able to (hopefully, fingers and toes crossed) avoid that this time around.

Athena had lots of adventures over the winter, including camping trips, time at the beach, and cozying up to visitors. We also discovered that her stomach can no longer handle chicken, which was a bit of a puke-filled wild ride. She’s not allergic to chicken, she just can’t eat it without throwing it all up. Luckily we got that resolved quickly and relatively easily, and our house has been dog vomit-free since.

The weather is getting hot these days, and our walks are becoming shorter. She’ll only walk so far before she just plants her feet and won’t walk any further unless we turn around. I’m not one to argue with her, since I’m usually miserable outside too. (As you can imagine, the days of lovely morning runs on the beach are over.)

She knows change is coming, maybe because we’re sorting through boxes, or she can just sense it in the way that dogs are able to know these things. I’ve felt bad for her with the lack of easily-accessible outdoor space here in Muscat. In Dhaka we had an apartment, but at least we had that lovely rooftop grassy area. Here’s there’s literally a cement carport and a tiny patio off the kitchen.

It’s not easy having a dog in the Foreign Service, and we’ve been lucky to have a good support network for Athena at both our posts so far. Windhoek seems like a relatively dog-friendly place, as long as she doesn’t get too close to the huge spiders and snakes we’re probably have in our theoretical yard. She’s done a surprisingly good job at handling change, and she’s learned to love her alone time in her crate. She knows it’s her safe place where no one can bother her, and that makes traveling with her much easier.

Good girl, Athena!

Stopping to smell the flowers

Relaxing at the beach

Posing with one of her favorite toys

Athena and her buddy (who we’ve named Ginger)

Basking in the carport

Keeping the donkeys away from the campsite

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Cramming it all in

I already miss my morning runs along the beach.

In my last post I mentioned making a list of all our remaining weekends so we can make sure we cross everything off our bucket list. At this point that strategy has been paying off and we’ve been able to visit several old favorites and also cross some new destinations off the list! I’m not letting myself go down the “this is the last time I’ll ever see x, y, or z” path because that would just be too depressing. Instead I’m enjoying every minute and soaking in as much as I can.

One of my favorite views in Oman: The Al Ain beehive tombs and Jebel Misht

A few weeks ago we went back to Wadi Damm and I was reminded of why it’s easily one of my favorite wadi hikes. It’s not too challenging (in fact, every time we figure out how to make the hike even easier) and the payoff with the beautiful pools at the end is top-notch. This last time we went a week after some big rain storms and I’ve never seen that much water in the wadi before. It was incredible. What’s usually a dry drive was full of splashing through puddles and streams. On the hike out of the wadi we got to talking with some young Omani men and they invited us to share lunch with them. Two hours later, we left the wadi stuffed with watermelon, rice, and chicken. We topped if off by stopping to explore some new ruins that, somehow, we’d never noticed before. The road that leads to Wadi Damm is quickly becoming one of my favorite roads in Oman, there’s so much neat stuff to do off of it. Plus, there’s a really nice clean public toilet that even has toilet paper!

Wadi Damm

How had we never noticed this huge ruined village right beside the road?!

Date palm plantations and a small stream behind the ruins

We were planning to go to Thailand over Eid, but instead we’re going to stick around and squeeze everything we can out of our remaining time in Oman. We’ve done a lot of exploring, but it’s shocking how many new places there are to see! Last weekend we went to Ain Sahban, which deserves its own blog post. That place was incredible. We have plans to finally go camping at Jebel Shams and Jebel Akhdar, and to stay at one of the fancy mountain resorts. There are dive sites I haven’t been to yet that I want to try, ruins to wander through, and a few forts that look interesting.

Sunset by the Mutrah souk

The most scenic chunk of sidewalk in Muscat

I finally printed some of my favorite photos from our time in Oman, and I have plans to go to a framing shop. We’re so used to electronic copies of photos, sometimes it’s hard to remember to actually print them. I also finally took the gemstones I bought in Sri Lanka to a jeweler in the souk to get set and made into jewelry. I don’t know why I decided to save all these things to the last minute, but better late than never, I guess.

Taking care of business at the jeweler

We’re lucky we have an amazing onward assignment to look forward to. If we were going someplace crappy I don’t know I’d manage leaving here. I’d be an emotional basket case.

It can be hard to be present in the Foreign Service, and that’s something I’m really mindful of.  It’s easy to get caught up in the future and what’s coming, sometimes even if it’s a long ways away. But we haven’t left Oman yet: we are still here. I shouldn’t be sad about leaving when we still have 10 more weeks to make the most of and enjoy with our friends.

We are trying to eat as many masala dosas as we can before we leave

Departing means cleaning out the pork drawer in the freezer! Carnitas tacos, yummmmm.

PCS tips from someone who may or may know what they’re doing

Dhaka pack-out: Just a few of the boxes 

 PCS, or permanent change of station, time is upon us! We are leaving in Oman in less than three months. Yikes. We are preparing for our third PCS and, while I am by no means an expert, I have some helpful advice for folks that are PCSing, especially for the first time. This is mostly in chronological order, and I hope it’s helpful!
Make a bucket list and strategize to get it all done. For me this meant that in January I made a list of all our remaining weekends in Oman and started planning what we were doing when. I know it sounds crazy, but I wanted to make sure we could fit it all in! Or maybe you have several big purchases to make, like art, furniture, or carpets. Make a budget and start finding the best places to procure what you’re looking for.

We made sure to find time to go back to Wadi Damm

Start sorting through your stuff several months ahead of time. This way you can sell things of value that you don’t want any more rather than frantically giving them away a few days before your pack-out.

Order the essentials and ship them several weeks before you are scheduled to arrive. Do an Amazon or jet.com box full of Tupperware containers, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, parchment paper, fluffy toilet paper, and whatever else you think you might need. Along these lines, change the address for your Amazon subscribe-and-save well in advance and then your subscribe-and-save items are there waiting for you.

Don’t spend too much time prepping for your pack-out. Yes, you should carefully consider what you want to put in UAB, but that’s about it. Put your UAB in a separate, easy-to-identify location and then let the movers do their thing. In normal circumstances, there’s no need for colored post-its, a careful labeling system, or any of that. Ultimately, all your shit will get packed and it will arrive where it’s supposed to. Unless the boat sinks or something.

Pack your suitcases and then shove them away in a bathroom with a sign on the door telling the movers not to enter. This way you know how much will fit in your luggage and you have all the necessities (for us this means passports, VPN router, my favorite kitchen knife, AppleTV, expensive jewelry, clothes, etc.) all in one place and you know they won’t get packed).

Watching all our stuff get packed up during our very first pack-out in Alexandria

Ship your mattress. I am so glad we did this. Nothing is worse than sleeping on a bad mattress for two years or more.

When you arrive, say “yes” to everything. Even if you’re tired or it seems like something you might not enjoy, do it anyways. Take advantage of every opportunity to meet the community members and learn more about life in your new location. It’ll be exhausting and sometimes challenging, but you never know when you’ll meet your new best friends.

Let the movers unpack the boxes. Put all the leaves in that dining room table and be prepared ahead of time! When things are strewn all around your house and everything is covered in stuff, you are much more likely to put everything away than you would be if it all stayed in the boxes. Also, it is so much easier when the movers take away the boxes and packing materials versus having to do it yourself. Maybe the idea of strangers touching all your stuff makes you uncomfortable, but at least have them unpack anything breakable. Otherwise you can’t document what arrived broken and you won’t be able to submit a claim.

Our kitchen in Dhaka after our HHE was delivered. Believe it or not, we were able to make dinner in our kitchen that night

Our kitchen in Muscat following HHE delivery. This is a great way to make sure everything gets put away as quickly as possible. As someone who likes an organized kitchen, this is hell.

Hi, my name is Kathryn and I have a china/glassware problem.

I hope this was helpful, and it’s time for me to start following my own advice!

Where I try to not think PCSing and it doesn’t work

Omani winters: what’s not to love?

We only have about seven months left in Oman. I try to not think about leaving, but it’s hard not to. People ask about our upcoming PCS frequently, and when I’m bored I google Namibia.

One thing that I’ve discovered through my Namibia google searches is the thing that is travel blogging. Like, quitting your job, doing a ton of sponsored posts, filling your blog with ads and affiliate links, and traveling the world with almost zero personal expenditures. And, dude, travel blogging is popular! I’m kind of on-the-fence about it. I thought travel blogging was, uh, traveling and then writing about it, but this is a whole new level of bonkers, the main goal of which appears to be giving everyone FOMO. On the other hand, some of them do actually have some useful information. But it’s funny how many blogs have the “Perfect 2-Week Namibia Itinerary!” and none of them are the same. How can travel be that fun when you have to monetize everything? I guess it is basically your job. But I am a creature of habit and I like having someplace to come home to, rather than being gone for months on end. I also enjoy not having an agenda or being beholden to anyone or anything when we travel.  While it’s fun to share our adventures to random places, this will definitely never be a “travel blog.” I’ll leave that to the bleach-blonde ladies with $300 sunhats and their handsome beaus.

Now that the weather is consistently good, we went camping at Fins Beach a few weeks ago. The spot we wanted was taken, so we picked a rocky area along the coast with no one nearby. In hindsight, we probably should have kept driving to find somewhere better. There was garbage everywhere, and both of us spent at least 30 minutes picking up trash and broken glass while Athena ran around eating everything she could get her mouth on. M chased after her yelling “Don’t eat that!” She did not listen (and then literally vomited sand and ash when we got home. Fun times). It was just kind of one of those camping trips where stuff kept going wrong: we forgot a cork screw, M kept falling on the rocks, Athena kept running off into the night chasing god-knows –what, etc.  Oh, and after putting M to bed I saw one of the biggest and ugliest spiders I’d ever seen, right next to our tent. Nate came over and threw a rock at the spider, killing it. We figured out that it was a camel spider, and then we spent  20 minutes googling camel spiders under the stars and comparing notes. The next morning, once we were in the car on our way back to Muscat, I was just relieved that no one stepped on glass, got sliced by the rocks, or bitten by a spider.

Campsite amongst the rocks and shrubs

But look at that view!

Athena looking sheepish after I found her eating something she shouldn’t

Athena surveying all the missed snacking opportunities

The coast and Athena after sunrise

We’ve taken a break from our weekend adventuring to go to holiday parties, host game nights, go to National Day celebrations, and a number of other events. December has been crazy busy so far, and it will get even busier shortly with a string of guests through the end of January. I’m also training for the 2019 Muscat half marathon, and my mornings are spent hitting the pavement before sunrise. Every time I go for a run and I’m tired and wishing I was still in bed, I look at the ocean and make myself relish the opportunity to run in such a beautiful place. In Windhoek, I don’t know where I’m going to run. It’s rated critical for crime and running outside isn’t advised. So I’m making extra effort to cherish my runs here in Muscat.

Muscat views during an early-morning run

I’m *really* going to miss this

We went to Salalah last week to escape the craziness, and we did absolutely nothing adventurous there. We ate ourselves silly every morning and then I went to the beach, pool, or gym, while M went to the Kid’s Club. At night we’d put M to bed and then go downstairs to sit by the pool and have cocktails. One evening we went to the souk, which was the most underwhelming souk experience I’ve ever had. Over half of the souk area has been torn down and the remaining booths all sell nothing but frankincense and incense burners. I came away empty-handed. We stayed at the Anatara (which offers per diem rates during the off-season) and one thing I was very surprised by was that their pastry chef was amazing. Usually baked goods in countries without a strong baking tradition range from mediocre to bad. But the pastries and baked goods at the Anatara were excellent. It took every ounce of my self-control to not eat the entire tray of cinnamon rolls each morning.

So fancy at the Anantara

Vacation ingredients: sunshine, sand and water

Salalah sunset

Literally every stall was selling “incense and perfumes”

M eyeing the frankincense

Life is good and easy right now. I’m relishing these moments while the weather is nice, things are calm and quiet, and it feels like Oman is our oyster. Soon we’ll be PCSing and life will be hectic, with a whirlwind 7 weeks in the US before arriving in Windhoek. Then who knows how long it’s going to take to feel settled. To find our favorite restaurants and stores, be able to drive around and not get lost, find easy weekend getaway spots, make friends (the real kind, that you can talk to about everything, not just what your kids are doing), get our stuff and put everything away, find the good dog-walking routes, etc. I’m dreading that shit. I was talking with a close friend about our PCS, and when I told her our departure date she stuck out her lower lip and gave me the saddest face. And it hit me: we are going to leave Oman and all our friends. And it’s really going to suck. I will probably be a sobbing mess.

See? There you go. I’m trying so hard to not thing about leaving, but it’s always there, in the background. Even when I try to avoid it, sometimes that’s what I turn to.

On that depressing note, we are about to head out on a family walk with M and Athena. It’s in the 70’s and maybe I’ll even wear a long sleeved shirt and make M put on some pants. Oman, we are not done with you yet!

What’s here (beaches, restaurants, our car) and what’s not (our HHE)

We’ve been in Muscat for over two months now, and at this point it seems like the honeymoon phase will never end. Oman is incredible and we still have so much to see!

Our favorite way to spend the day

We set the goal of going to the beach at least once a week, and so far we’ve been hitting our target. We’ve explored several beaches within an hour drive from Muscat and there are some really amazing ones. Our beach tent/shelter thing just arrived in the mail, as did Marlowe’s camping chair which he is very excited about, and we are slowly getting fully outfitted for our beach days. I haven’t had this much beach time since I was a kid and it is a lot of fun.

Before arriving here we’d basically stopped going to restaurants because M isn’t patient enough to sit still for that long. Personally, if I go to a restaurant and I’m sitting there enjoying a nice meal, I get annoyed if a toddler is yelling a few tables away or a shrieking child goes running past. The last thing I want to do is subject other people to something that drives me absolutely nuts. But here, everyone likes kids. If M is running around a restaurant, everyone smiles at him and reaches out to touch his blond/white hair. So we’ve slowly started to explore local restaurants and there are some great ones. Lots of restaurants have water features and, if you go outside, stray cats which are obviously a huge hit with kids.

Our car, her name is Jasmine, arrived from the US last week, and today she got an inspection, new tires, and diplomatic plates! For the first week after she arrived she was essentially just an expensive car port ornament, since we had no plates and couldn’t drive her anywhere. They checked the window tint during the inspection and Jasmine’s rear-most windows are very lightly tinted, which thankfully wasn’t an issue. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. Then there was the tires… I remember when a tire blew on our SUV in Dhaka and it was an all-day fiasco. Our driver went to three different shops to get prices on tires, and we ended up spending an arm and a leg. Here I drove to a mechanic, they gave me a reasonable quote, and it was done in an hour.

Our Dhaka HHE is still not here. It’s really annoying. This is one of those things that I struggle with because we are so lucky to be getting a shipment at all on the government’s dime and what kind of spoiled brat complains about that. It is, after all, just stuff and at least it will get here eventually. I left Dhaka in July 2016 so I’ve been living without my Dhaka things for nearly a year and a half. Clearly it’s stuff that I can survive without. On the other hand, I really like most of the things I left in Dhaka and it would be great to put some pictures on the walls. It would also be nice to have more than 4 dinner plates (but why am I complaining about how many dinner plates we currently have? How awesome is it that the State Department provides a welcome kit with dinner plates and stuff to tide you over until your shipments arrive? I should be grateful we have any dinner plates at all.) Plus I want my mattress and blankets. And my Dutch oven, awesome toaster, cake pans, serving dishes and cutting boards.

While snorkeling I saw a turtle!

Rather than ending on a whiney note, I’ll leave you with this: I was on a snorkeling trip and one of the women on the boat asked if there were sharks. Our guide, an Omani, said, “You’re in the sea, of course there are sharks. But you’re in Oman, so they are very friendly.” I doubt that’s accurate, but I appreciate the sentiment!

 

Preparing for Muscat and home leave

In about a month we depart for Muscat! I’m so excited. I feel like I shouldn’t be because I’m just setting myself up for disappointment, but I can’t help it. I absolutely can’t wait.

Nate has finished up his training, and we stayed busy exploring parks and playgrounds, going to various Smithsonian museums, catching up with friends, going for walks and hikes, and eating at more restaurants than one might consider healthy.

We are living in Arlington for the first time ever. I’m not going to lie, I was a little wary of living here after spending six years in Alexandria, but I love it. There’s an incredible network of running/biking trails, loads of parks and playgrounds, and lots of good restaurants, and the metro is a 15 minute walk away. We still drive down to Alexandria a lot, but we are happy with our temporary apartment in Arlington and we would definitely stay here again.

We bought a car to ship to Muscat, and that was kind of a mess. We decided to buy from CarMax and they made us jump through lots of hoops to buy a vehicle for export. I don’t really understand why, because why would they care what we do with car after we buy it? We could drive it off a cliff if we wanted to. The other serious car-buying hurdle was that Oman has very strict vehicle import rules on window tint and apparently it is actually impossible to get undarkened windows for some vehicles. It was a stressful pain in the butt, but we are now the proud owners of an ugly Honda named Jasmine (because the car is the same color as Jasmine’s clothes in the Disney version of Aladdin). Maybe the color will grow on me.

The weather in Arlington has been really gross and hot lately but I’ve been making myself go outside and try to learn to deal with it because Muscat will be even hotter. Right now it’s 95 degrees outside with a “feels like” temperature of 106 here. In Muscat it’s 92 degrees with a “feels like” of 112 and it’s NEARLY MIDNIGHT. How can that be?! I can’t just never go outside during the summer months there, so I’m trying to prepare to whatever extent that’s even possible.

Soon we will start our road trip back to the Midwest for Nate’s home leave. The idea behind home leave is “to ensure that employees who live abroad for an extended period undergo reorientation and re-exposure in the United States on a regular basis,” according to the Foreign Affairs Manual. Where better to get reoriented and re-exposed to the US than in America’s heartland? One might think that perhaps staying in Virginia for the past two months might be enough re-exposure to life in these United States, but that’s not how it works. Home leave can be a little tricky because unless you happen to have a furnished vacant house someplace, you have to stay with family or find somewhere to stay. We are taking the stay-with-family route and hoping we don’t wear out our welcome along the way. At least with taking home leave now we’ll have a chance to stock up on some amazing cheese to bring to Muscat with us!