Thursday, May 27, 2010

Some people are just nice.

I resigned myself to another day of emails, issues and headaches but that's not what happened. Last ngiht I received an email clarifying for me why our travel orders were not working out for us. In a nut shell my husband drove up to DC thus not allowing the kids and I to fly up to DC to join him. I understand now that everybody has to travel the same way and it wasn't that the gov't didn't want to pay for us to go but rules are rules and we should have driven up with him if we had wanted them to pay for it. Had he flown, we all would have been issued flight allowances and that would be the end of it. Live and learn. The orders could not be changed and that was final.
So I thought. I just received an email from my travel regulation guru that said he may have a solution and he'd get back to me. He didn't have to do that for us, we're not even his responsibility. He rocks. If it turns out that nothing can be done, I am fine with that now, having made my peace with it last night but what a great bonus that would be !
The second amazing thing that happened to me today was that I had my dh drop my beloved, slightly aged, Audi off at a garage to have a once over before we sell it on our way to NZ. They gave it a clean bill of health after checking EVERYTHING and told me to have it picked up at 5 and there would be no charge ! What ? I have never heard of such a thing. After I argued with the man and told him that he'd have to charge me something, he said no. He's just happy to have us as a new customer. Uh, ok. Well, that's a first.
So after feeling like a red headed step child who has been kicked around for the last 3 weeks, I am having a great day. And anyone who is reading this who owns an German car...take it to Volks Works in Falls Church. What better recommendation do you need ?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Waiting to move

Pack-out done ? Check. UAB ready ? Check. Hotel Booked ? Check. Just waiting for school to get out. Flights booked ? Check. I'm ready.

Finding the right answer to your question

I have noticed, in our very short FSO career ( March A-100) that the answer to many questions regarding ANYTHING is "it depends". The guide books help and do contain the answers to most questions but you have to know where to look. I have found that the experienced folks on "livelines" can be an invaluable asset to navigating the many, many pages of regulations. Remember though, that not all of the liveliners are in the Foreign Service. So some questions pertain to us and some don't :)
Here's an example: I had been following the thread about shipping cribs in UAB to DC for A100 training. Some people said yes, you can take them, some no. When the real answer was, "it depends". Apparently you can get permission to take a crib for your infant as long as it falls within the appropriate size, age of baby, etc. Basically they don't want you shipping conversion beds like the kind that start as a crib then transform into a toddler bed, then twin. A reasonable rule. But, you have to know who to ask and wht those rules are specifically. And, as always, the final decision is at the discretion of the tech making your orders (sigh).
Do your homework, read the manuals and ask as many questions as you want. For the most part, the FS folks are willing to help whenever they can.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Ask for everything and be specific

Learned a new lesson today about the state department. You have to know what to ask for and ask for it specifically.

If you are a spouse waiting behind to get the kids through school ( an April or May hire) you have to ask for your own separate travel orders. Make sure the travel tech knows you will be travelling separately or you will not get travel orders at all. I have been made to feel like a complete idiot by my husband's HR tech simply because I was not informed. Apparently if you do not travel to DC with your spouse, as in the same car or airplane, for training, you are not entitled to travel to DC after the fact. You are then supposed to go directly to your first post directly from your home. This would be helpful to know up front.

However, exceptions can be and almost always are made. Unless you are unlucky enough to get an HR tech who is a bully. Then you really have to advocate for yourself. If you know the rules and are given misinformation, ask someone else to help you. I don't know why it has to be this way but that's the way it is. Nice right ?

I will say that we have encountered mostly incredibly helpful and kind people along the way. My husband's CDO is amazing and cheerful, Mimi Cuff in transportation is super sweet and helpful. I'm sure I have exhausted her with my neediness. Sorry Mimi. And some random man named Damien did his best to steer me in the right direction though he did not have a dog in this fight and was probably wondering why on earth I was contacting him. But my hero of the day is Dave Anders who is a travel guru and my new Knight in shining armor.

Thanks Dave, you saved my sanity today.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

2nd day of worlds best movers

I was wondering if our movers would be able to maintain my label as "best movers ever" on day two and the storage unit. Day one was easy, we essentially had clothes, a few knick knacks and stuff we needed to survive in NC for the last 6 months. Keep in mind that 90% of the furniture we have here is not ours.
The storage unit was another story. We crammed a 3500 square foot house 5 br, 3.5 baths, into a 10 x 26 storage unitl. And every square inch was packed full. Now, we moved ourselves last time so our packing skills were a bit lacking and lots of things got knicked, scratched and broken but we were prepared for that. I think the movers were expecting to just unload the storage unit and put it on the truck. Not so. We had to unload, unpack, sort and repack everything. I could tell that the jovial mood of the first day was not going to make a repeat appearance.
They did, however, remain pleasant, professional and patient with me as I insisted on going through stuff and holding them up at times. This is a big no no in the moving world but I think they felt sorry for me and let me slide.
I had to leave at one point to pick my older son up at school (45 minutes away) and some stuff got packed that I knew I didn't want but what can you do? I am a single parent for the next 6 weeks and no back up this week. I wish I knew more people in Tryon.
Anyway, big shout out to Joe & Kristin for looking after Ewan for 6 hours and feeding him too. You rock.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Wow, great movers

Though they were a bit late, I had the best movers ever. When you have to move, ask for Dave. He was awesome. Day 2 tomorrow, lets see if he can keep up the good work.
Travel coordinator at the State Department...not so much.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Moving, Renovating and Separation

Experts say that moving, renovating / building a home, and separation are some of the most stressful times for a family. Then why on earth are we doing all 3 at once?

I dunno, we seem to be a family that needs it, I would guess that most Foreign Service families are the types that thrive under these conditions. I feel remarkably calm. The only thing that has really been stressing me out lately is walking into my younger son's room. It can only be described as "disgusting". I'm not a neat freak but generally like a tidy house and I routinely straighten up the kids rooms but I have no idea how on earth Ewan can get his room so gross so quickly.
So, as I prepare for move number 30 (no, that's not a typo) I am being really choosey about what I load into boxes. It is hard to be sentimental about every art project, mother's day gift, baby clothes,etc. when you are only allowed 7200 lbs. of personal effects. I'm not giving up the giant lizard we acquired in South Dakota though, he's family.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Pack Out

You never really realize how much unnecessary stuff you have until you have to sort it and pack it. How many wallets does one person need? Note books? Wind breakers?
We are allowed 18000 pounds of personal furnishings total in storage. Of this, 7200 pounds can go to our new post along with an additional 700 pounds of "baggage". It sounds like a lot of weight but considering that we have 2 enormous dining room tables weighing 500lb each, not to mention the 1000+ books that we've accumulated over the years and it is adding up quickly.
My new rule is "if I don't LOVE it, and if it won't make me happy to find it in our shipment in New Zealand, it gets donated"! But not the ceramic ashtray :)