London Trip

A few weeks ago I took a trip to London. It was for a couple of purposes- to see doctors and to visit one of my best friends.

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 go on medivac to the regional city closest to your post. In our case, the medivac city is London. When on medivac, 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, one night at a hotel, and 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. My trip ended up being the week after I started my job, so I had to take time off without pay. Luckily 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 explored 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. I was also able to buy some Christmas gifts for my husband during that time.

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 made for an even more fun event.

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 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, as luck would have it, 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 six and a half months of unemployment I am now officially a working woman again – I am so excited!!

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 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 together accounted for a good 30-40 hours per week of my time!!!

We recently hired a part time housekeeper and a dog walker to take care of some of the household 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 writing this blog, as it is a great creative 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 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 Embassy spouses, also known as EFMs. One of those rights of passage 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

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 back in the United States, 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 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!!

Old Car Land

This past weekend the hubby wanted to go to what he said was a classic car show called Old Car Land. Admittedly, cars are not really my “thing,” but I wanted to take advantage of being outside on a crisp beautiful fall weekend day, so I went along for the ride.

As with everything in Ukraine, this “car” show was completely unexpected and totally cool!! What I thought would be an exhibition of a bunch of old cars ended up being an event with planes, helicopters, motorcycles, military paraphernalia, and new and classic cars, some brands of which I have never heard of.

One of the highlights for me was they had vendors selling different flavors of mulled wine, which I zeroed in on shortly after arriving. It was a crisp, cool autumn day, and the hot spiced wine was greatly appreciated!! I was impressed by how nicely refurbished the interiors of some of the cars were. One car even had a map on the window of all the places that car went during a road trip this past summer. It went to quite a few countries all over Eastern Europe!!

The cost ended up being around $20 for the day- around $12 USD admission to Old Car Land for the both of us and $8 USD total for popcorn, a cup of mulled wine for me, and whiskey for the hubs, which made for an affordable and nice weekend day date for us.

Old car land also had a lot of food vendors selling popcorn, cotton candy, grilled meats and veggies (one vendor grilled hotdogs in the hood of a car), and as stated above, my favorite, mulled wine.

It’s Fall, Y’all!!!

Fall is my favorite time of year!! I fell in love with the season when I lived in New England for eight years. New England knows how to make a person fall in love with fall. I went apple picking (which also meant that I enjoyed fresh apple cider and cider donuts), I experienced Salem, Massachusetts during the month of October, I ate my fair share of Dunkin pumpkin muffins and pumpkin donuts, I watched Patriots football, I wore all the cute fall clothes, enjoyed the cooler weather, watched trees turn yellow, red and orange, and when I walked outside, the sound of leaves crunching under my feet made me so happy. It was glorious.

Now that I am living in a place that has four seasons again, I am fully enjoying all the fall things again. Our apartment is decorated for fall (thank you Amazon and Walmart!). The leaves are changing color. The weather is cooler so I have been breaking out the lightweight jackets, scarves and boots that I have been longing to wear for years (not much use for them in Florida where fall weather is 90 degrees with 80 percent humidity). I am loving hearing the sound of the crunch of leaves under my shoes. Pumpkin, apples and butternut squash are in season here as well (the apple cider is amazing!).

Although fall has been great so far, I can’t help but to reminisce about some of the things that I took for granted living in the United States that make fall “fall” for me. Apple picking, cider donuts, canned pumpkin, Dunkin Donuts pumpkin muffins and pumpkin donuts, Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte, and fall scented candles. And unfortunately there is a big time difference, so the first football game of the day starts around eight o’clock at night, which is nearly bedtime for me (yes, I go to sleep ridiculously early).

Alas, that is how things are when you choose to move overseas. The only option is to make the best of it, put on your creative hat, and try to substitute when you are able to. I was able to order pumpkin muffin mix online. They sell cider at the Le Silpo grocery store, so I will attempt to make homemade cider donuts. As for candles, I am going to look for some at Epicentr this weekend. Wish me luck!! As for football, I will attempt to record a game that we can watch on Monday night instead of Sunday.

So, I will leave you with a few pictures that capture this fall for me thus far..enjoy!!

We Got A Dog!!!

I have never been a dog person, or a pet person for that matter. My first memory of a dog was my grandparent’s dog, a Golden Retriever, knocking me to the ground inside their living room when I was around 5 years old. Big dogs intimidate me because of this memory and small dogs annoy me because 99% of them jump on me. And I do NOT like it when dogs jump on me. I never had a desire to have a pet, and I never had a pet until eight years ago when I moved in with my husband. He had a cat, and I was miserable- I did not like the experience at all. She destroyed our couches, peed on the carpets, and did not, as Marie Kondo would say, spark joy for me.

And even though he already had a cat, my husband always said he wanted a dog. For years the situation was not ideal for us to have one, however. We both worked and were away from the house for most of the day, and we lived in apartments with no doggy door, no backyard, and our landlords/apartment buildings/HOAs did not allow dogs.

When we moved here to Kyiv, my husband again stated (for the millionth time), that he wanted a dog, but I did not think he was serious. I gave my husband so many reasons why we should not get a dog.

“It costs too much”

“I will have to clean up all the messes”

“Our house will have dog hair all over it”

“Our house will smell if it goes pee on the carpets”

“We will have to cut dinner and outings short to be back by certain hours to walk the dog”

“The dog will destroy the furniture”

“We are living in a place that snows 5 months out of the year and is freezing November through late March- do you really want to walk the dog in sub-zero temps when the sidewalks are icy?”

“It will cost us thousands of dollars each time we go from post to post for airfare, vaccinations, etc.”

My husband told one of his coworkers he wanted a dog, so his coworker, being a dog owner and pet lover, sent him email after email on the daily with info on dogs that need to be adopted here in Kyiv. One day, my husband showed me a picture of a Shepherd mix, and asked my opinion. I replied, “oh, she’s nice,” in a noncommittal tone, like I always have when he shows me pictures of dogs. A few days later, he said to me “the guardian of the dog is bringing her over on Friday, we’re getting her.”

So, on Friday the 13th of September, we got a dog. A ten month old Shepherd mix we decided to name Mila. We had a translator come to help us with the paperwork and communication with the guardian. The following day we took Mila to the vet to have a chip put in her and to have them verify that she is sterilized, which we also needed the translator’s help with.

For a week and a half, I have been getting acclimated to having a dog. I am still not a dog or pet lover, but she is slowly growing on me. Despite going pee 3 times on our bedroom rug, I’d say she’s pretty much the perfect dog. She is good natured, is socialized pretty well with other dogs, and is small enough (at 45 lbs) that I am not intimidated by her size. She also listens to me most of the time.

The irony is that my husband wanted a dog, yet I am the one who is doing the bulk of the work!! I have spent a lot of time researching natural and organic dog foods, watching hours of YouTube video on dog training, and ordering all the things for the dog (LED dog collar, Kong toys, dog treat container, doggie bowls, dental bones, mat to go under the dog bowls, dog brush, dog treats, dog food, carpet deodorizer, doggie bags, etc.). Every day I feed her, walk her, sweep up massive amounts of dog hair, and spend all day with her while my husband is at his job.

I also have to have most of the doors shut when I am at home, because she is not to be trusted to go into other rooms by herself yet. This has led to me feeling trapped and claustrophobic, which has not been good for my mental health. Everything I’ve read states dogs are good for mental health, but for me, it is the opposite thus far. I have already had a massive anxiety attack, which thankfully my friend called me despite a 7 hour time difference to help me calm down and talk it out. To alleviate my sky high levels of anxiety and stress, I made my husband promise that we would get help with a dog trainer and part time housekeeper ASAP. The amount of extra cleaning that I have to do is no joke!! I realize this is just a season, and soon she will be house trained (I hope)!

It has been a big adjustment for me, and I never realized how much puppies are like two year old children. You have to watch them all the time, your sleep is cut short, they demand lots of attention, you talk more about pee and poop than you ever have before, they have tons of energy, there are toys scattered throughout the house, and you have to feed them multiple times a day. And they make messes that you have to clean up.

On the other hand, dogs also do hilarious things that make you laugh every day, you are forced to play and kind of be a kid again, and they give you lots of hugs and kisses. I now easily make my step goals thanks to daily walks, and my dog brings out a nurturing side and motherly side of my personality I never knew I had.

Without further ado, I present to you our new fur baby, Mila!