London Trip

A few weeks ago I took a trip to London. It was for a couple of purposes- to see doctors I can’t see here in Kyiv, and also to visit one of my best friends, who lives in London.

In the event that you need to see a specialist that you are unable to see in the city that you are posted, you can be medivaced to the regional city closest to your post. In our case, the medivac city is London. When you are medivaced, airfare and per diem are paid for, provided that there is urgent need to see a specialist in your regional medivac city. Since there was no urgency – I was just being proactive about establishing care and wanted to see doctors more frequently than the annual visit recommended by doctors back in the U.S. – I chose to self fund this trip.

Since my friend lives in London, I was able to stay with her for free, and my flight was super cheap (about $100 USD). The only real expenses were the out of pocket costs for doctor visits and any spending money for food and souvenirs. I planned to submit reimbursements for my medical costs through our health insurance plan, so I saved up for months to pay the medical costs up front.

Most of the reputable doctors are based on or around Harley Street in London, so I chose some highly recommended places and made appointments all within a couple days of each other. The doctors I saw were top notch and I was impressed by private healthcare in London. I was able to get in for some additional recommended tests straight away.

The only downfall for my trip was the timing. I decided to book the trip a few months ago, prior to knowing the start date of my job. Unfortunately the trip ended up being the week after I started my job, so I had to take time off without pay. The good news is that my supervisor was completely fine with me taking time off work so soon after starting the job.

My trip was great- I got to spend time with my friend and her family, the doctors were wonderful, and I had the best time getting acquainted again with London, since I had not been there in over 11 years. I got to explore Regents Park, the West End, went shopping at Harrods, and had high tea at the Shard. I was craving Indian food, Starbucks, and Steak and Ale Pie, so I got my fill while I was there. In addition I was able to get some Christmas shopping done for my husband.

London is magical at Christmas time, and I am already looking forward to coming back again. It ended up being a way more expensive trip than I had originally planned, but I have no regrets in going – it was much needed for my mental health to see an old friend and to have peace of mind about my physical health as well. Without further ado, here are some pictures of my London trip!

The Circus

A couple of weeks ago, the opportunity to purchase tickets to the National Circus of Ukraine came up through the Embassy, so my husband and I decided to go. Some of my husband’s coworkers and their families ended up purchasing tickets as well, which we were super excited about to see them outside of the work environment.

When we mentioned to some of our friends at the dog park that we were going, they told us they were not impressed with the circus here. Thus, my expectations were very low. I ended up being very impressed with the circus and had the best time. Adults and children alike were entertained. There were dogs, birds, tigers, horses, acrobats, contortionists, gymnasts, and of course clowns. In addition, there was a live band that played during the show.

The animals all looked very healthy and well taken care of, and the choreography was impressive. One of my husband’s coworkers commented that there were moves in the acts he had not seen before, and he had been to quite a few circus performances prior to this one.

I can’t write about the circus without mentioning that there were the squat toilets in the bathroom. It was not my first time encountering them, but it was my first time using one. What can I say, sometimes you just have to suck it up and put your big girl pants on.

Other than the toilet situation, I highly recommend going to the circus here. It was such a wonderful experience and a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend an afternoon!!

EFM Employment

When my husband accepted his position a little over a year ago, we both knew there would be a period of time that I would be unemployed. We have been able to manage living off of one paycheck thus far, but we have not been able to save money or make extra payments towards debt. Thus, I made it a point to look for employment prior to moving here so I would be a working woman again as soon as possible after arriving at post.

My goal was to work at the Embassy, since they have great benefits and the pay is better than what I would make here on the local job market in Kyiv. An added benefit is I would be able to carpool to work with my husband:) However, positions do not always open up right away that a person would be qualified or interested in, and if you accept a position, it can take months to receive the required security clearance.

Earlier this year, a position opened up that was a perfect fit for me. I applied and was quickly selected for an interview. Within a week or two, I was offered that position. One caviat- the position was contingent on me obtaining security clearance. I knew from my husband’s application process for his job that the security clearance process can take a while. Most people told me that the process can take three to six months. A few weeks ago, I received a phone call that my background check came through and I was cleared to start my position!! After a little over six months of unemployment I am now officially a working woman again – I am so excited!!

I must say it has been extremely useful for me to be at home to take care of everything house related, and I can’t imagine someone living this life alone without someone home at least in the first few months of moving to post. There needed to be somebody at home to let in technicians, handymen, and movers at least a dozen times in the first few months.

Not to seem ungrateful for the job of housewife (or house manager, as my husband jokingly refers to me), but it has been as far from a relaxing and unstressful experience as you can get. For those who think that an unemployed EFM sits around all day eating bon bons and drinking wine, I beg to differ. The past six months I have been a housekeeper, the sole cook, errand runner, daytime dog walker (most days twice per day), financial planner, accountant, personal assistant and professional organizer for our household. I have also been a language student and blog writer on top of those responsibilities. Those tasks alone accounted for a good 30-40 hours per week of my time!!!

To prepare for me going back to work, we have recently hired a part time housekeeper and a dog walker to take care of some of the responsibilities I have taken care of while unemployed. My husband and I will split cooking duties again (yay!!!), and he will have to help with some errands, however I will most likely have to continue the never ending tasks of laundry and picking up after my husband.

I will hopefully also be able to continue Russian lessons a couple times a week and will continue with this blog, as it is an outlet for me. Working will give me a sense of purpose again, and a chance to use my college degrees and previous work experience. I will be able to continue contributing to my retirement account again and make extra payments toward debt. I am beyond grateful and excited for this new chapter in my career!!

Dental Care in Kyiv

Always one to be proactive and on top of going to the dentist every six months, I started inquiring early on about dental care here in Kyiv. I was assured by the doctor on site and another EFM that good quality standard cleaning and dental work is something I can get done here. More than one person recommended a particular dental clinic, so a couple of weeks ago I made an appointment for my husband and myself to get a cleaning.

Walking in to the clinic, I was very surprised at the level of cleanliness. We were given booties to put over our shoes. The dental hygenist and dental assistant wore masks, gloves, and hairnets. They even had my husband and I wear them while in the dental chair. My husband had his cleaning first, then was seen by the dentist. Right away she identified that he had a crack in his tooth (which my husband was aware of prior to the visit), and they went to another room for an X-Ray.

I stayed in the dental room while the assistant sanitized everything, from the tools used down to spraying and wiping the dental chair. It was my turn. Boy, my gums did feel sore afterwards, but my teeth felt very clean. The dentist came in to check my teeth and confirmed that I have no new cavities and no other issues with my teeth.

My husband and I were both given brochures with tips of daily home dental care (brushing, flossing, mouthwash, etc.). The total cost for the both of us for this visit, including X-Rays, was $200 USD, which for us not electing to get dental insurance through my husband’s employer this year, was fine with us. I had dental insurance through my previous employer and we both went to the dentist for cleanings in April.

We are waiting on the dental clinic to call us regarding a follow up on the care needed for my husband’s cracked tooth. However, he and I both feel very comfortable getting whatever further dental work that needs to be done here in Ukraine.

Hosting My First EFM Coffee

There are certain rights of passage for EFMs, and one of them is hosting events, teas, and/or dinners with other EFMs and coworkers of your spouse. So when the email came a few months ago from CLO that they needed people to host the monthly EFM coffee, I signed up for the month of October. I had been prepared by my mother-in-law and the CLO office that up to twenty-something people could attend. I figured it would give me enough time to unpack, organize, and decorate the apartment, observe what other EFM coffees were like for reference, and to come up with some recipes to impress.

EFM coffees are an opportunity to meet and socialize with other Embassy spouses and to commiserate on everyday life and challenges of living abroad. You get advice, someone to talk to who understands what you are going through, and in general just have a good time.

The EFM coffees I had attended since June had an attendance of anywhere from four to twenty four people, so I did not know how many people to expect. My wonderful mother-in-law sent recipes, and I scoured the internet for fall brunch ideas, and settled on a menu. I also ordered fall decorations to make our apartment festive for the event, and for fall in general.

On the menu was:

Egg muffins with bacon and cheddar cheese

Egg muffins with broccoli and cheddar cheese

Pioneer Woman baked French toast

Pumpkin Bread French Toast (gluten free)

Apple Strudel Muffins

Fruit salad

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Rice Krispie Treats

Brownies

An assortment of beverages such as coffee, tea, juice, wine, sangria, and champagne

I must add that there was a bake sale going on the following day at the Embassy, so I made plenty for my husband to bring in the next day for coworkers and the bake sale.

The day before, I was given a headcount of RSVPs from CLO. Needless to say, I was relieved because there were fewer people than I had anticipated. A fun fact about me is that I have anxiety about people coming to my house. I hosted a bridal shower and a Halloween Party for a good amount of people before, but those events were stressful for me. The apartment needs to be perfectly clean, there needs to be enough food and drink, and I am usually worn out from cleaning and cooking for hours that I usually don’t relax enough to enjoy myself.

The days leading up to the event I prepped as much as possible. Two days prior I baked pumpkin muffins for the pumpkin bread pudding, made cookie dough, and my husband and I made a trip to Le Silpo for food and drinks for the event. The day before I prepped the overnight baked French toast and pumpkin bread pudding, the Rice Krispie treats, and sangria.

I woke up at 5AM the day of the event to get most of the baking done- cookies, brownies, and the apple muffins. I also put together the fruit salad. We recently hired a part time (5 hours a week) housekeeper, and she came in that morning to come to do last minute cleaning. I could not have have done it without her!! One hour prior to the event I put the overnight French toast and pumpkin bread pudding in the oven, started the coffee, put all the plates, silverware, glasses, etc. out, got ready, and put the egg muffins in the oven right as event was about to start.

Although I received great feedback on the food, it took a lot out of me. I don’t know how people host parties and make it seem so effortless- but I think I pulled it off!! I am lucky that I have been able to witness and help in the preparation of my in-laws hosting large family gatherings of about twenty four people for Christmas for about 8 years now, so I have learned a little along the way. It sure helped but maybe next time I’ll host a lunch instead to give myself more time to prepare!!

National Museum of Folk Architecture and Life of Ukraine

One of the places that had been on my “must see” list while here in Ukraine was the National Museum of Folk Architecture and Life of Ukraine. My friend’s visit last weekend was the perfect excuse to see something new and to be outside in the glorious sunny 70 degree weather we had that day.

Learning from our parking fiasco the previous day at the Mezhyhirya Residence, we immediately parked about 700 meters from the entrance on the side of the road and walked to the entrance. We paid our fee of about $2 USD each and we were on our way!!

A reconstruction of traditional Ukrainian villages, the National Museum of Folk Architecture and Life of Ukraine was quite expansive, showing architecture of the different regions of Ukraine. There were buildings we could tour of an old school, a church, several houses, and so on. It was interesting to see the old kitchens, living rooms, workshops.

In addition to traditional buildings on the grounds, there were food and craft vendors and performers. All in all, it was a wonderful day filled with good food, music, and a glimpse into traditional Ukrainian life!! I want to visit again in the early summer to see the field of sunflowers in full bloom!!

Mezhyhirya Residence

This past weekend a college friend of mine came to visit, so of course we showed her all around town. We went to a mix of places my husband and I have been before, and new places to all of us. We took her to St. Sophia’s Cathedral, the Maidan, and Khreschatyk Street the first day, along with a traditional Ukrainian Restaurant, Pervak. Pervak was very touristy, but the food was good and the flight of infused vodka shots was the perfect way to start off my friend’s stay here in Ukraine.

One of my husband’s coworkers had recommended the Mezhyhirya Residence as a top place to show visitors, so we decided to go there on her second day visiting us. At first I was cursing my husband’s coworker because the line of cars to get to the Mezhyhirya Residence was backed up for over a kilometer. It took us nearly 45 minutes to get a spot on the side of the road, and then we walked about 10 minutes or so to walk to the entrance. In retrospect, it would have been easier and much faster to park at the end of where the cars were parked on the side of the road and walk.

My initial annoyance was curbed shortly after we paid our entrance fee of approximately $6 USD per person and saw the beautiful grounds. Mezhyhirya was a monastery for many years before it became the summer house for former Ukrainian presidents. In 2014 it became a national park open to the public. There was a tennis court, golf course, ponds, a lake, a zoo, a few cafes, classic cars, and many more things to see on the property. It was a picture perfect fall day, so we enjoyed a few hours strolling the grounds. The residence was so stunning that I saw some brides and grooms having their wedding photos taken there!!