Saturday, February 28, 2015

Home Leave Part 1 - Christmas in New Mexico

Sorry, folks, still no Hong Kong for you! I feel bad that I haven't recorded anything we did for home leave (and we did a lot!). After our trip to NY and our return to DC to wrap up my consultations, check out, pack out, etc. We jetted off to Albuquerque, which is our official home leave destination. C joined us in DC from school and we all flew together on the first leg of our trip. We spent a wonderful 10-days with my family. First it was just the immediate family (that being my parents, sisters, and their families), and then my parents hosted the first ever extended Pu family reunion. Our family is Jewish, so it wasn't really a big deal for everyone to get on a plane and fly into NM on Christmas Day. We had a lovely 2-3 days with my cousins, aunts, and uncles, some of whom I hadn't seen in over a decade. It was great to connect with my extended family all of whom are lovely people with interesting stories to tell. It reminded me of my childhood when we would spend every Thanksgiving at my grandparents' home in Connecticut. My grandmother loved entertaining and loved having her extended family around. She always had huge dinners for 30+ people, and we would stay for 3-4 days hanging out with my cousins while our parents booked a hotel room and got away from their kids! My parents extended the same courtesy and took all of our children that were out of diapers, which was such a cool opportunity both for us parents to get away for a few nights and also for our kids to hand out with their cousins. J and her cousin Y are the same age (off by a few months, so they're actually a grade apart), and A and his cousin A are about 1.5yr apart, so they really had a good time together. Going through my photos, I realize I have way to many to share all the amazing memories, so I'm going to have to split them into different posts. Here's the first batch from our days leading up to Christmas.

 Look how happy they are before all the minions descend to take over their house.

Trimming the tree.

Making our own stockings. 

Cousin Love!!

Christmas morning with the whooooole family. :)

Christmas Baby 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Going Waaay Back

So I know I haven't been posting much about our new home, but I feel like I need to get out all of the stuff that we've been doing over the last couple of months (you know, all the stuff that kept me too busy to post!) before I launch into our new life here in Hong Kong. Otherwise I'll never get around to it! Anyway, we're going to go waaaaay back to early December just after I finished my Chinese test. We took an extended weekend trip to Buffalo to say our goodbyes to Husband's family and meet up with some Cali friends who flew out to see the Bills take on the Packers in one of the last regular games of the season. This game was a big deal for me because Aaron Rogers was my fantasy quarterback, and he has been killing it all season, helping me make it to the last round of our ffb playoffs. If you know us at all, then you know we take our ffb league very seriously (and there is some serious money at stake. 1st place takes home $800!). Since I have never, ever (ever!) seen Buffalo win a game in person, and since Greenbay had had such a great season, we just assumed this game would be a massacre, so we were overjoyed when our Buffalo D stood up and held the Packers to no TD and several interceptions. We crushed them! It was an awesome, awesome game!! Of course, it meant that I also lost my chance at any ffb payout, but I think it was worth it. We had some amazing seats - 5th row right on the sideline. Our Cali friends had a blast, too, in spite of the 15 degree weather. My mil took the kids for the night (we bought her Bob Seger tickets to say thanks!) We stayed on the Canadian side of the border overlooking Niagara Falls, which is really an amazing view and a lot more fun than the American side, which is kind of run down and depressing, actually. I hadn't seen these particular friends since we were living in California (Husband's old boss and his wife, so he's seen them a lot during his travels back and forth for business), so it was great to catch up and just have some adult time. 

I'm also really glad we had the chance to spend some time with Husband's family. They are not the nomadic types like my family is, so we have little chance of seeing them while we're overseas. We've gone back and forth in our feelings on this. On one hand, I feel very frustrated because I feel it's unfair to expect us to travel to them all the time. On the other hand sometimes we just have accept that people are who they are, and it's unfair for us to expect them to change after all these years. If they're not comfortable traveling then so be it. It means we won't get to see them as often since we can't afford to travel a family of 6/8 all the way back to the US while we're posted abroad, but we all make our own choices. We choose to live a life that takes us around the world, and they choose not to take part in it. Doesn't mean we don't still love each other, but it does mean that the relationship won't be as close as one or the other might want. I guess that's just life. Anyway, I'm so glad we were able to see them one last time before we started our newest adventure.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Terribly Neglectful

of my blog as of late. But, surely I can be forgiven considering we just moved back to the other side of the world after galavanting through the US on home leave, right? Right??!!

Well, we are back up and running, all settled into our new home in Hong Kong. We arrive a few weeks ago to find almost all of our things were already here and waiting for us. So we landed, I checked into work, and two days later all of our UAB and most of our HHE arrived. It was a little overwhelming to start adjusting to living in a totally new place and then suddenly also have to figure out how to unpack your 5 bedroom mega-home in the Philippines into your small (but spacious by HK standards) 4-bedroom apartment with no storage. But manage we did, and threw out a ton of stuff along the way. I could almost feel the disapproval from the movers as we marked one thing after another for disposal! The end result, however, is that we have a nice, cozy apartment with enough of our stuff to make it feel like home and enough space that we can still move around.*

After taking the first couple of weeks to get settled into our apartment, we're also getting to know our new city and our new neighborhood. Our neighborhood is right on Hong Kong Island and is more upscale than other areas. This means, of course, that all our neighborhood amenities (groceries, etc.) are also on the pricier end. It's unfortunate because there is literally a grocery store in the high rise across the road, which is soooo convenient. But pay $5 USD for a quart of milk really hurts. I mean, it really, physically hurts. *sigh* So, as we've started venturing out, I've realized I can get much of what I need in other parts of the city for far less if I'm willing to inconvenience myself more. Things like milk, eggs, etc. I'll probably still buy at the pricier store since I'm not willing to buy that sort of thing if it's made in China.** Meat, also, can be a problem. There are some online delivery markets run by expats that have imported meats, but their prices reflect their origins. I'm looking into wholesale sharing through a mom's group I've joined, which may be our best option for getting good quality meat that I can actually afford to eat.

Husband has employment in hand, but unfortunately, is still waiting on his clearance to be processed. Nothing is more frustrating than arriving at post and wanting to work with an office that desperately needs you to work, and yet there's nothing you can do but sit around and wait because the clearance process is so ridiculously long. What's even more ridiculous is that Husband had his clearance from working at our previous post, but it apparently cannot transfer over and he must start the whole process over again. EFM (eligible family member) employment is one of our main concerns, and seems to be a rising concern for most modern FS families, but the Department seems to be very slow in its response. Admittedly there are far more programs available today then there were even just a few years ago when we joined, but adding a handful of positions does not really address the growing problem of a large pool of highly educated and career-minded EFMs, more and more of whom are men. We're crossing our fingers that the clearance process won't prove too lengthy and he'l at least be able to start before the summer.

The kids have settled into school nicely, as well. This transition was the hardest by far for all of our offspring. Not only did we have to say goodbye to C and leave her behind in the US, but J & A are also at and age where they are feeling the effects more strongly. They had really assimilated into their school in Virginia and were very nervous about having to make friends all over again, particularly A who has a harder time making new friends then his sister. They both worried over this particular bit on and off for the full extent of our home leave. So it was to my great relief when they both came home after the first day of school beaming from ear to ear with nothing but positive things to say about their school. We had visited the day before to get them registered, meet their teachers, and get their uniforms, and I had gotten a good feeling but it was nice to hear the positive reviews from the kids. I feel kind of blessed that the big, flagship school here turned us down flat (they took one look at A's IEP and let us know that it wasn't worth our time to apply). The school the kids are attending is very small, each grade has about 25-30 kids. There are only 10-15 kids per class and each class has 2 teachers giving them a ratio of approximately 1:7. They are also very Montessori-ish with a hands-on approach to everything. Unfortunately, they are also very expensive. The 3rd graders (and up) are required to have a school lap top and also go on a class trip.*** This year their trip is to Xi'an in mainland China. A parent also has to go to chaperone, so you're paying for 2. Let me just say that those fees are not cheap. So while we might be reaping the benefits of going to a smaller school, we're also certainly paying for them!

We've already found and hired a nanny. We weren't sure when Husband would be able to start work and did not want to repeat the exercise of scrambling to find someone (anyone!) like we did in the Philippines. So we took our time and interviewed over a period of two weeks before hiring. Our new nanny is also Filipina, she's even from Cavite, but she's been in HK for 18 years. Her last employer was American, too, which makes me feel like we'll be a good fit for each other. And so far, so good. N seems happy, so I'm happy, too.

As for myself, I'm also adjusting to work. It helps that I'm doing the same thing I did at my last post, so the learning curve isn't so high. The pace of work is slower, but we've a much more varied and interesting pool of applicants. After I've been here for a while and my case backload has grown, and I've taken on more of a portfolio, then I imagine that work will become more fast paced. But I can't discount how nice it is to have a position where I'm in and out on time, and I can walk from home to work in less than ten minutes.

*so that the baby can move around without destroying everything, that is. N, who has always been extremely mobile has turned into full fledged Destructo Baby(!!) since learning to walk.
**Just google it if you're not sure why I would be reticent.
***The rule of thumb is, if it's something that wouldn't be provided by a US public school then it's something that you pay for out of pocket.