2 Months In..

Here’s a little I’ve learned in these past two months living abroad:

1)Knowing where to shop for food and home goods is absolutely key. And I do believe there is a workaround to just about everything. Even if that solution means ordering something online. Ask around, use the CLO (Community Liason Office) as a resource, but I am telling you, things I didn’t think I would find here after going to 6 or 7 stores I ended up finding. So ask around.

2)Things will be different to what you’re used to, and that’s OK. Another country’s version of Mexican seasoning might be different from what you are used to, people might park cars on sidewalks, KFC might not have biscuits or extra crispy chicken breasts, but just roll with it. There will be things that each country has that you will love (hello online grocery ordering and Georgian food), and some that you don’t. That’s part of the adventure of living abroad.

3)PCS (Permanent Change of Station), A.K.A., moving from one country to another is brutal. It is mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting. It is stressful. PCS weight gain is a fact and the packers will try to pack things that they shouldn’t. But the good news is that you realize you can survive on few items, and it doesn’t last forever. And when you get your HHE, it is like the best day ever.

4)Embassy folk truly are amazing, giving, and so welcoming. I could not believe how quickly that they have become friends, sounding boards, and a wonderful support system.

5)Take language lessons!!!! Trust me on this, it will help with everyday life. And Google Translate is a lifesaver.

6)Having facilities come and fix things around the house and hang up artwork is kind of awesome. As is packers helping unpack your HHE.

7)Use every weekend that you can to explore!! Go to all the parks, malls, aquariums, festivals, and things that you can. Take trips around the country or to neighboring countries. Take advantage of the fact that you are living in a different country for what is in the grand scheme of things is a short time and make the most of it.

8)Missing important events back in America kinda sucks. In the past couple of months we have missed birthdays, a high school reunion, and a funeral. Do what you can to be included such as FaceTime and let people know that you really wish you could be there in person.

9)Do what you can to maintain a “normal” everyday life. Subscribe to Netflix or Hulu or YouTube TV to watch your favorite shows, make FaceTime dates with family and friends back in America, and for goodness sakes occasionally suck it up and pay the higher price in the commissary for some familiar foods.

10)Leave as many U.S. electronics at home as you can (sell or donate them) and buy local electronics with local plugs and voltage at post. Even though we are provided a few transformer boxes, you will want your transformer for other more important electronics such as computer or the living room T.V. You don’t want to risk ruining your hairdryer, flat iron, or precious kitchen standing mixer or the transformer provided at post from using said U.S. voltage electronics. Also, you might have to use your U.S. voltage appliances in interesting ways, such as this:

Yes, that’s a griddle on the floor of our kitchen. Ahhh glamorous overseas life…

Oh Happy Day- HHE arrived!

To follow up on my post a little while ago, our HHE arrived on Monday!! It took the movers a grand total of two hours to unload and unwrap everything, and only one thing broke- a red wine glass. So, I will call this a success!!!

The movers were very efficient and professional. They helped put boxes on top of my closet, rolled out rugs and moved my dining room table so that a rug can be put under it, and put the bottoms onto the TVs. They handled everything with upmost care.

For the past 3 days, I have been washing every kitchen dish, cup, bowl, utensil, etc., doing about 5 loads of laundry per day for all the towels, blankets, etc. in the shipment (this includes our regular laundry), wiping down the grime from some of our stuff due to being in a crate for about 2 months, and organizing/putting everything away. I still have more to do, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It has been labor intensive, but not as stressful as the packout. Lesson learned- at the next post we go to I will hire someone to help with all the cleaning and laundry when HHE is delivered:)

Monday night my husband hooked up our new TV to speakers, a computer, and a PS4 (yep, perks of being married to a techie). Our apartment is already feeling warmer, cozier, and homier. And I never thought I would be so excited to use our dishes again, eat with our silverware, or drink out of one of our Starbucks mugs. But I was ridiculously excited. It’s the little things in life that I took for granted that make me happy I guess. Like being able to work out with my heavier weights again!! Also I was able to buy flowers (sunflowers) for the first time in a long time because I have a vase to put them in now!!!!

Now the only thing left to do is to have facilities come out and hang all the artwork. That’s right, they come to your home and hang everything for you!! Hopefully they will come tomorrow. Until then, I will keep on cleaning and organizing, and take some time to stop and smell the roses that I intend to buy today for the living room:)

Waiting for HHE…

When you are living the foreign service or military life, you move from place to place approximately every two to three years. The reality is that you spend a few months (if you’re lucky) of each post without most of your household items, personal belongings, and artwork.

Unfortunately I am the type of person that has an innate drive to “nest.” The very first thing I want to do when moving to a new place is unpack and decorate, which is quite difficult when living at a hotel or temporary apartment and/or without your possessions for months. Add the fact that I am currently unemployed and home for a good part of the day staring at the white walls, to say the least I have been experiencing very real anxiety lately due to not having my fully decorated “nest.”

We packed out the end of April, and for the last 4 or 5 weeks my husband and I have lived either in a temporary apartment or hotel, with just belongings that fit in a suitcase (ummm OK, so we each have three huge 36 inch duffel bag suitcases and a carryon suitcase but you get the idea). We have been extremely lucky that our UAB (Unaccompanied Air Baggage) arrived one week after arriving to post. In our UAB we packed additional clothes, pillows, towels, hangers, a few small household items, and bed linens. Usually UAB is delivered 1-3 months after arrival to post, so we received our UAB unusually fast.

It varies from post to post, but it takes 3-6 months (usually) from packout until the time you receive your HHE (Household Effects). It consists of kitchenware, artwork, decor, and other miscellaneous personal belongings. It arrived in Europe two weeks ago, but it has been on hold in another country waiting to clear customs. We do not have an answer for how long our HHE will take to finish clearing customs, and to continue on to us in Kyiv. At very minimum, it will take another week and a half, two weeks for our HHE to arrive, which will bring us to the three month mark from packout.

Because we know it is in Europe, we know it won’t be too much longer until it arrives here in Ukraine (I hope). That has prevented me from going to Epicentr (a hyper market here in Ukraine which is a combination of Target and Home Depot the size of IKEA, maybe a little bit bigger) and buying all the things for our home to make it a little more “homey.”

Anyhow, we are playing the waiting game. And anyone who knows me knows that patience is not one of my strong suits. Therefore, my current status is I am waiting impatiently for my HHE, hoping that it arrives soon so that we can finally have the rest of our belongings which will finally make this apartment feel like “home.”

How to Grocery Shop Abroad

One of the main differences between grocery stores in the U.S. (at least in the places that I’ve lived) and Kyiv is instead of large one-stop grocery stores with a wide variety of items, here there are smaller grocery stores with a more limited selection. When it comes to grocery shopping, we are extremely lucky that we can find most things here in Kyiv at our local grocery store. However, there are times when you just want certain foods and spices/seasonings that you are used to from America that aren’t sold at the local grocery store.

Add in the fact that my husband has a dairy allergy, and I have had to come up with solutions for grocery shopping. These challenges are nothing I haven’t found a way around. In the past 4.5 weeks or so of living here, these have been my hacks for grocery shopping:

Grocery Store:

Get things like eggs, milk (yes, they have lactose free milk), juice, bread, tortillas (I was shocked to find this!), tea, coffee, mayonnaise(even the vegan kind), granola, ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, honey, cooking oil, peanut butter (yes!!!!) rice, pasta, (most) meat, pasta sauce, veggies, and fruit, rice cakes, and most cleaning supplies (called household chemicals here).

Online Grocery Delivery:

I have gotten heavy things like bottled water (we can’t drink tap water here), and things I can’t always find in the grocery store such as lactose free butter, lactose free yogurt, bacon (the kind at the grocery store near us isn’t cured like what we are used to in the U.S.), and some flavors I enjoy of jam. These are delivered to my door (if you place your order early enough, it can be delivered same day) for 69-79 Hryvnias ($3 USD). Being car-free at the moment, carrying heavy items is not fun, which is why I choose this option for heavy or bulky items. You can also order pretty much all of the things listed in the Grocery Store section above through this method of shopping. I suspect I will use this option a lot in the winter when I don’t want to walk to the grocery store in the snow and in sub zero temperatures:)

Embassy Commissary:

The size of a mini-mart, we have a commissary at the Embassy that we have utilized for convenience to get American goods. You can get some things that you can’t find at the grocery store such as vanilla extract, a selection of baking ingredients and mixes, a small selection of frozen American foods, American cereals, marshmallows, coconut oil, some spices, and canned black beans (since black beans aren’t popular here in Ukraine).

Walmart.com:

In approximately 2 weeks, you can have delivered stuff such as taco seasoning, spices, brownie mix (for people like me who don’t care to make from scratch when Ghiradelli does such a good job of making a mix), Panko bread crumbs, popcorn, cereal that is not sold at the commissary, steel cut oats, cupcake liners, and dairy-free chocolate chips, along with most other household goods that Walmart sells that are not liquid. That is important- no liquids, gels, or aerosols can be shipped overseas via our DPO (Diplomatic Post Office). Just be aware that when you buy food from Walmart, they sell them in jumbo size or multiples of the same item.

Welcome to Kyiv

Our first two and a half weeks or so in Kyiv have been a whirlwind of activity. I have started Russian lessons, learning how things operate around here, exploring the city, and my husband started his job. To say the least, we have definitely been busy!!!

My husband’s supervisor met us at the airport with a big SUV for our many bags. We cannot thank her enough for what she did for us that day!!! She took us to our temporary apartment right in the city center and instructed us on how to use the washer, dryer, etc. and also pointed out some sites and stores to check out along the way. She also bought us some groceries (meat, fruit, vegetables, tea, honey, bread) to hold us over for a few days, which we thoroughly appreciated.

Luckily we arrived on a Friday, so we had a weekend to settle in and get over jet lag. We did a lot that weekend- We explores some of the sites (St. Sophia’s Cathedral, the Maidan, and Golden Gate Park, among others) and tried out restaurants around the area (we found a fantastic seafood restaurant, and Georgian food is highly recommended those who have never tried it before!). We also basked in the beautiful weather and tried to come to terms with the fact that we are finally living here now!!! In Europe!!!

The following week was busy with meetings for both of us at the Embassy, my husband jumping in right away with his job, getting internet installed, and me finding grocery stores, dry cleaners, etc. in the area and getting essentials for the apartment that we did not take with us to post. UAB arrived Thursday of our first full week here so we were able to have our own pillows, towels, and the rest of our clothes and hangers, among other things. I spent a good portion of Thursday doing laundry and unpacking about half of the UAB and finding a place for things.

The following weekend was more of a recoup and rest weekend with a little more sightseeing thrown in, then the next week I started Russian lessons, had a hair appointment at a beauty salon, tea with other Embassy spouses, and discovered the wonders of online grocery delivery!! Yes folks, they can deliver groceries, household items, etc. to your door same day!!! It saved me the trouble of going to two or three different stores and trying to decipher what items are without the help of Google Translate.

From my limited time here thus far, here are my impressions of Kyiv:

1)It is very hilly. I have a feeling my legs will have nice definition by the time I leave here.

2)Most servers at restaurants speak English, there are English menus (or items in English) at a large amount of restaurants, and there are many signs around town in English. In fact, we stumbled upon a pub that had country music playing and U.S. memorabilia on the walls. A good amount of stores have workers who know some English. In general, I’d say this city is pretty easy to get around if you don’t know the language. If all else fails, use Google Translate.

3)There are coffee shops (sometimes multiple coffee shops) on every corner. Coffee is a big deal here and the locals really like it.

4) You can get pretty much anything you need here, you just have to know where to go. Yes, that includes peanut butter!! I found a lot of American brands such as Tide, Dove, Kleenex, Glade, Lays, Pringle’s, and Colgate, and also Barilla pasta and pasta sauce, and there are non-dairy milk and yogurt options here!!

5) The variety of cuisines in restaurants is noteworthy. There are French, Italian, Sushi, Ukrainian, American, Middle Eastern, Uzbekistan, and Georgian restaurants, among others.

6)Cost of living is sooo cheap!! Most things are about 1/2 to 1/3 the price compared to the U.S.

7)There are so many trees, parks, and greenery around here. Very lush and beautiful landscape.

8)Drawbacks/inconveniences- Appointments need to be made in advance for pedicures and hair styling. No walk-in places like in the U.S. Also, it takes 2-3 times longer to wash and dry clothes.

9)The streets are narrow (well, except for the main streets) but the sidewalks are wide. I suspect that is because the snow will accumulate in snowbanks on the sidewalks during the winter.

10) Food: more variety than expected in the supermarket. Right now, lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, onions, cucumbers, radishes, avocados, bananas, oranges, mangos, lemons, kiwis, and apples are the produce you will typically find at the grocery store. I do have to say that the potatoes are excellent here, along with the honey. I have started to see street vendors selling strawberries though. Other differences, if you order a salmon salad, you will probably get raw salmon (like lox) on your salad. And pretty much every salad has a hard boiled egg on it. If you order cheesecake, you just might get this:

Well, those are my first impressions!! I will have some follow up posts soon on the excursions around town that my husband and I have gone on in the past few weeks..

The Packout

Hi All! Now that I have a minute to collect my thoughts, I took some time to tell about the move overseas.

These past few weeks have been a complete blur for me. It all started about three weeks ago with the packout. Two days of backbreaking work, sweat, running around, and answering all the questions from the movers. We had professional movers move everything for us and a person came to clean our apartment after, but it was still two very long and exhausting days.

Day 1:

I ran to Dunkin Donuts to get food and coffee for myself and the movers. Two movers came to move our UAB and HHE, which for those who aren’t in the know of foreign service acronyms are Unaccompanied Air Baggage and Household Effects. We were allotted 450 lbs for the two of us, and arrives by air much quicker than HHE, which goes by the literal slow boat.

We had an area blocked off for UAB with stuff we wanted sooner – towels, pillows, clothes, some household goods, etc. Somehow we filled our 3 allotted boxes that the movers had for UAB but were still underweight by 80 lbs!!! I was pretty annoyed because I could have found 80 lbs worth of stuff to send if the movers would have had another box that we could have filled. I will have to plan better next time and put some heavy smaller items in UAB!

Word of advice- bring the towels, pillows, and hangers with you in your checked luggage if you can if you are going to post. Or mail them to post before you leave so they will be there when you arrive. Same with pans, cups and plates. Trust me on this.

From reading other foreign service blogs, I thought there would be at least 3 or 4 movers, but there were only 2 there, and they worked tirelessly with hardly any breaks from 9:30 – 4:30. I watched them carefully pack everything we were taking to post. We were also underweight in HHE by about 1,000 lbs!! This makes me feel better because it gives us a little leeway to buy some stuff here in Kyiv. A chunk of that amount was also household consumables, so that will not be included in our next HHE.

I swept and cleaned as stuff was packed up, even though we had a cleaner come. There was an embarrassing amount of dust and debris and some items I thought I lost!! (Hello, earrings and necklace).

After day 1 I of course decompressed with a tasty beverage

Day 2:

Day 2 started out the same. This time there were 4 movers and it went much quicker. They started around 10 and were done by 2:30. It was bittersweet looking at stuff that will be in storage for (we believe) 18.5 years!! By then we probably won’t want any of the stuff, but hey, we’re keeping it anyways. Among the items in our HHE was furniture and precious momentos, as well as some camping equipment and bicycles.

After the movers left I raced to the cable company to return our cable boxes and came back in time for our house cleaner, who did a phenomenal job of making our apartment sparkling clean. I then checked in to my hotel later that evening and crashed hard after taking a well deserved soak in the tub in the hotel room.

It was mentally draining, answering questions about what stuff went where, keeping an eye on the movers to make sure they pack our stuff nicely (at one point a mover started to wrap a Kleenex box with about 2 tissues in it for storage. I literally had to remove it from his hands and say “that’s staying here, no need to pack this!”). It was physically exhausting cleaning out the fridge and pantry and sweeping up after the movers and scrubbing the walls and baseboards with Mr. Clean magic erasers. It was emotionally draining looking at items that I hope are shipped safely or that I won’t see again for a long time.

Even with all the emotions and physical drain of the packout, I have to say it went well with only a few hiccups, which is the best that anybody can hope for.

6 More Weeks…

It’s hard to believe that the past 3 months have gone by so fast. What have I been up to?

Here it is in numbers:

67-Current streak on Duolingo (i.e., days in a row of learning Ukrainian)

38-# of years around the sun

3-# of flights to D.C. to see my husband

2-# of times my husband has been able to come to Florida to see me:)

2-# of meltdowns I have had (my poor husband)

Countless-

#of online orders for clothing, household goods, etc. to prepare to move overseas

# of trips to the clothing drop offs in the area to drop off bags of clothes

We are entering the home stretch of our time in the United States(well, for now), so we have both been busy with the logistics of preparing for an overseas move. Diplomatic passports, visas, flight arrangements, international drivers permits, and pack out have all been scheduled and/or completed. I have been busy purging many items from our house that do not bring me joy (thanks Marie Kondo!) and working away at my job.

We had wonderful visits in February and March for Valentines Day and my birthday, exploring D.C. and it’s wonderful culinary scene. I was able to see an old friend that lives in Arlington, and my husband and I were able to meet up with some of his old friends that he met 20+ years ago in South America.

It has been a good thing that I have been to D.C. so many times, because I have been able to test out jackets of varying weight for the winter temps. I have been craving winter temps ever since we moved to Florida (call me crazy, I know), so I was ecstatic to feel cold weather again. My husband also has been reacquainted with living in a colder climate after living in Florida for 3 years.

More travel has already been scheduled between now and when we leave for the Ukraine- I am going up to D.C. again to see the cherry blossoms, have a mini reunion with some of my hubby’s friends, and to get set up with our new bank. My hubby is coming down to Florida to do some final purging of his stuff, final doctor visits, and getting his vehicle ready to ship overseas. Also, we are going up north to see his brother get married before we leave!!

It is a huge transition for me- I will be unemployed, leaving a career I have had for over 15 years, living in another country- that I do not speak the language of fluently, by the way- and my husband and I are going to have to be on the same page using one budget and living off of one paycheck for the first time in our married lives. The anticipation of this got to me, so being human and all, I had a couple of meltdowns. Both during visits to see my husband in D.C. My poor husband- he deserves so much credit for putting up with me, a demanding training schedule, and organizing the logistics of the move. I acknowledge he is under so much stress too. But we are working through it and excited to be FINALLY settled in Ukraine soon.

I know I will miss many things about living in the United States, but I am sooo ready to be living full time with my hubby again. FaceTime really has been so good for our relationship, but it is no substitute for being with my hubby in person. There is so much to look forward to and we can’t wait for our adventure to begin in 6 weeks!!!

P.S.- here are a couple of pictures from the famous Georgetown Cupcakes we visited during my birthday weekend.