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.

Bid List

Tuesday, on his second day of A100, my husband received the official bid list. The amount of countries on the bid list for IMS was 1 country for each IMS candidate in his A100 class. Surprisingly, there were countries on the list that I had been reading about recently on various Foreign Service blogs. He told me Tuesday evening that he needed to turn the bid list in with his rankings high to low on Thursday, so I spent an hour or two researching posts before I called it a night.

After spending the majority of Wednesday researching pretty much every post on Tales From Post and other blogs, I responded with my list in order from top to bottom ranking.

Later that night we FaceTimed and talked through the pros and cons of each post, and even looked at YouTube videos together of a good amount of cities to get an idea of the downtown areas, streets, and basic vibe (done by real, everyday people, not a visitor’s center). In the end, after almost 2 and a half hours of negotiation, we ranked each city from top to bottom.

We both feel good about our rankings, and now fingers crossed we get a post that is at the top of the list!!

A side note, the week has gone by pretty quickly, and I am not as sad/blue as I was on Sunday. FaceTime and being generally busy at work helps!! Also, I am amazed at how the house is strangely still clean and I spend not even a fraction of the time picking up stuff/tidying up in the morning as I usually do with my husband away:)

A100 Starts..

Well, my husband left this morning for DC. A100 starts tomorrow, and he has to check into his temporary apartment, attend a happy hour with his training class tonight, and somewhat settle in before he starts his new job as an IMS bright and early tomorrow! Training should last 22 weeks, according to his paperwork, which means that we will be leaving for post in April (I think..)

In other news, these past few weeks have been busy for my husband with travel, seeing friends, shopping for last minute items for A100 training, getting the official offer of employment and travel orders, sorting out housing in D.C., and saying goodbye to his wonderful coworkers he’s had over the past 3 years.

On my bucket list for Florida was to see Naples and St. Augustine, so we took a quick day trip to Naples and also went to St. Augustine for my husband’s birthday earlier this month. We took a trip to California last weekend to see my brother, grandma, my dear college friend, and my husband’s cousin and his family. This weekend, we saw his best friend and his wife, and we celebrated Thanksgiving with some good friends here in Florida.

It is bittersweet to have training start right after Thanksgiving, as I had thoughts of “this is going to be my last Thanksgiving in the U.S. for a very long time.” It must be the full moon right now, but I am very emotional about “lasts” of things in America and having to live here in Florida while my husband is in D.C.

Little things, like doing laundry yesterday and opening my husband’s sock drawer and finding it empty have brought tears. And goodness, when we drove to the airport this morning I was a mess.

Being apart from my husband for 4-5 months is going to be rough, but I seek solace in the fact that, in addition to Face Time, I will see him in 2 weeks for flag day, then about a week and a half later for Christmas. In January, my mom and brother will visit for about a week, which should keep me busy. My husband still has to sell his car and motorcycle, and tie up some loose ends, so he will be making a couple of quick weekend trips here before we leave for post.

Well, that’s about it for now. I will post again later this week when we receive the bid list- I am very excited to see what cities and countries will be in it!!

The Journey Begins

Welcome to my blog!!  For those of you who are not familiar with the term “Trailing Spouse,” it refers to a person who follows their spouse (or significant other) for a job opportunity.   In my case, I will be following my husband for the adventure of a lifetime – traveling the world together!!

We found out this month that he was offered the position of an Information Management Specialist with the State Department.  At this time, we do not know where we are headed – we will find out in December.  All I can say is that this process has been loooong (over 2 years since he applied!!).  My husband has lived in quite a few countries, so he is familiar with expat life abroad.  I, on the other hand, have lived in the U.S. my entire life so this is brand new to me.  To prepare myself, I have been reading blogs of other trailing spouses and FSOs to get an idea of what life might be like living abroad.  Those blogs have been tremendously helpful and have eased my anxiety (somewhat) of living the life of a trailing spouse.   This is the reason I started this blog – to share my experiences as a trailing spouse living abroad (in addition to giving friends and family updates on our lives of course).

Some of the challenges of being a Trailing Spouse are moving every 2-3 years (check, for all of my adult life this has been the norm), not knowing where you are headed to next (check, I have not planned a move more than 6 months in advance, so this is the norm), and living in a country where you most likely do not speak the language or know the social norms/culture (ummm well does South Florida count? j/k ).

Of course nothing can truly prepare you for this life as an expat trailing spouse, but I am going to go out on a limb and say that my experiences thus far in my 37 years of life have given me an idea of what life is like living abroad.  My dad is from South America, I grew up and have lived in areas with a fairly diverse population, I have traveled to Europe, South America, the Caribbean, and Central America. I have lived in dry and mild climates (California), hot and humid climates (South Florida), as well as climates with four seasons (Boston). South Florida in particular has prepared me as most of the population is from another country, so it is common to hear Spanish, French, and Russian in my local grocery store and apartment building. My husband’s family also lived abroad in a similar situation moving every 2-3 years for 20+ years, so I have been soaking up advice from them.

My husband is a little over a month away from leaving for A-100 training, so we have lots to do – sell items we do not wish to keep, figure out what we intend to keep, and figure out where the items we intend to keep go (storage, HHE, or UAB).  We have been looking up the best banks to have an account with overseas, hustling to get as much debt paid off as we can before leaving, and much more.  Since I need to work until the packout date (which can be anywhere from January to June, from what I can gather), it will be very difficult for me to keep focused at work because all I want to do is start this new adventure already!!  Stay tuned for the real, awkward, and funny tales of an expat living abroad.