Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Zen and the art of Drexel maintenance.


As we near the end of our time here in Sarajevo, the urgency of 'getting stuff done before packout' has increased. One of those things would be the furniture we don't own, but have to take care of while we're at post.

The Drexel.

So, if you are getting ready for you first post, already at your first post, or an old hand at this but looking for other ideas to make your life easier (and take less of a hit on your pocketbook at the end of a tour), keep reading.

 I like saving money, and I don't like to spend it on things I don't have to (like damages to furniture I don't own), so I try to keep embassy furniture as clean as possible over the course of a tour. This is no easy feat because the furniture has a tendency to wear easily (poor fabric, weak seams, poorly designed casters, etc.). But when you add kids, you are pretty much guaranteed stains, all the time. That you will need to clean, all the time. So, this week has been solely focused on fixing the Drexel. Not that I haven't been cleaning it all along (I have!), but the less time we have here, the less time I have to fix anything before we pack out and no longer have access to tools that would help. For the purposes of this post, I am going to cover upholstered furniture, wood furniture, and lamps.* If this is your first post, or you are headed to your first post, I will add that you should go and document any damage you see on the furniture in your home on the list of items that GSO will give you when you arrive at post. Also, take photos of said damage. Do this before you turn the list back into GSO and make sure they are aware of this damage because you don't want to end up at the end of a 2-3 year tour paying for something you are not responsible for.

NOTE: Yes, you could probably find someone locally to perform the cleaning and or repairs. I get that. So this post might not be for everyone. But at some posts contracting the work to someone on the economy is more costly than others (Western Europe for example) or you may not have the language skills to arrange for the work to be done. Or you know, you just want to do it yourself or not spend the money. To each their own.

UPHOLSTERED FURNITURE

 Unless you want to clean your furniture by hand, all the time, you should probably get a combination carpet cleaner/upholstery cleaner. Sure, you can get slipcovers for your sofa, but that doesn't stop liquids and children from getting to the sofa underneath that slipcover. Also, not every piece of Drexel can be easily slip covered with a off-the-shelf slipcover. Unless you are crafty, and even then your slipcover is not going to stop a determined kid or pet. You can see our handy-dandy carpet and upholstery cleaner (1) (pictured in the photo at the top of this post). That thing has pretty much paid for itself already, because it has managed to clean our GSO issued carpets and the upholstery more times than I can count. It is not 220, however it does just fine on a transformer. If you are at post, have DPO, have kids or pets, and you have time to order one so it arrives before you leave, you should get one. Total time saver.

 For those of you at a pouch-only post, and in desperate need of a way to clean upholstery (but you have no access to an upholstery cleaner or carpet cleaner), this is a very basic formula for spot cleaning your carpet or upholstery:

DIY spot cleaning carpet or upholstery recipe

¼ cup of white vinegar
¾ cup of warm water
½ tablespoon of dish liquid soap



Directions:
Mix all the ingredients in a plastic spray bottle to make a cleaning solution. Spray the mixture onto the soiled fabric and scrub the area in a circular motion. Repeat the process until your sofa is clean. Clean your cloth with warm water and use it to remove the excess soap from the fabric. Blot the cleaned area with a dry cloth to remove the moisture. Let it dry.(2)
Also, you can machine wash (COLD) the cushion covers on Drexel sofas and chairs. You just need to remember three things when you do so:

1. Close the zippers before you was them.
2. Wash them on the cold cycle.
3. You can let them air dry, or you can let them dry on the low heat/delicate cycle briefly - maybe ten minutes maximum. Any longer than that, and you risk shrinking the cover. It will still be damp, but you can put the cushion back in and the cover can finish drying that way.

Once all this stuff is dry, I plan on getting to work repairing the seams that have gone wonky on the furniture and accompanying pillows. I have upholstery needles (3) for that purpose because while a normal needle would work with the pillows, it would be a pain in the ass and not very successful to work on the furniture with a regular needle. For those of you who are not sewing savvy, the internet has tons of videos (4) on upholstery repair and stitching hidden stitches (5) (which is what you are going for when stitching upholstery).

WOODEN FURNITURE

Hidden or removed knobs (glass in door frame for inspection).
I am leaving any issues with wooden furniture last, because we really don't have anything that stands out as serious damage. As my kids are the kind to repeatedly open and close the doors on buffets and media centers, I have already reversed or removed all the handles on these doors, and removed the glass so that it can't get damaged or cracked.

Door pull moved to interior of door.
Any food-related debris or 'mystery debris' comes off easily with warm water and a rag. Always start with a mix of warm water/dish soap and a rag when cleaning your wooden furniture. It is the easiest way to determine what is actual damage versus food junk/mystery/junk/dust/whatever on the surface. For actual damage to the wood, I have wood putty sticks (6) that help with the smaller stuff, like minor scratches. If you are not able to get wood putty, you can use a walnut (7) to fill in minor scratches on your furniture. Or a crayon. Whichever is handy. Short of hiring someone to fix seriously damaged wooden furniture, if you are in need of help for something more serious that light scratches (but not as severe as a broken media cabinet door), there are a lot of resources online showing you how to repair damage to wood. (8) However, there is one wood repair DIY you should know about if you have kids and/or pets, and that is what to do if someone decides to gnaw on or claw something made out of wood. Which you can find here, as a step by step guide.

LAMPS

Whether you like them, hate them, or are indifferent, you may find yourself in need of instruction on how to repair those Drexel lamps. To repair the electrics, go here. And another how to on repairing the electrics, courtesy of The Guardian, can be found here. For a guide on how to repair lampshades, go here.

Happy Repairs!

*You may or may not receive carpets as part of your furniture at post. If you do, know that addressing any stains when they happen combined with use of a carpet cleaner will keep those boring beige area carpets looking brand new (and fluffy) for your entire 2-3 year tour.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Modo dictu



 As mentioned in an earlier post, we went home on R&R to Florida for the holidays. It was awesome, and the weather was pretty amazing our entire time there. We did it for the usual reasons (family, friends...holiday at home!). Getting a break from the air pollution (which was horrible our first year at post in the winter) was a goal as well. We also went back for medical checkups. You might be saying to yourself, "Why would anybody go home on R&R and get routine medical exams done?"

  Maybe you've never run into this problem before at a post during your FSLife, yet. I know how it sounds. I have thought the exact same thing, word for word, in response to someone else saying it to me. It's ok if you think i'm just a crazy crank who is never happy and or paranoid after reading that. I have some days when I think that, too. But for those of you who don't know or have not guessed it yet, the answer is because post does not have local providers on the economy capable of handling routine checkups. This was the situation I found myself in last November, during my yearly wellness visit, when I was told flat out by MED that I would have to go home for a pap smear, and a mammogram.

SURPRISE! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Happy Birthday, indeed.

  So, the choice to go home was also a convenient one because it meant I could go home to my doctors and get everything taken care of without a language barrier, and (relatively) fewer delays in insurance paying for stuff. Even if it was all taking place during the holidays. It also meant we could take the kids to their pediatrician and maybe get something to help with the cough they'd had for eight months. And a trip to the dentist for both kids. And a trip to the eye doctor for the whole family, and anything else that might be necessary. Fun times!

  Thankfully for us, we have a place in South Florida to go home to (from the before-times) for R&R, home leave, etc. Having a car back home also helps. It makes things a little easier for us since all we have to do is switch on the power, have a cleaning service stop by, and get the internet/cable hooked up.

  But this is certainly not the case for everybody in the foreign service. So, here is my very simple post-it note sized list anybody could use if they found themselves in this very position. I have not included any doctors on this list because while I could point someone towards doctors in Florida**, most people already have that covered wherever they call home in their home state. The last section is totally comprised of Florida things* (because hey, if you have to go back home for R&R and medical stuff, why not do it in a place with warm weather and beaches), so feel free to alter the last section to suit your own personal needs. Or just plan a trip to Florida. Whatever works for you.

THE LIST OF STUFF TO MAKE YOUR R&R/'MEDICAL TRIP' EASIER***

HOUSING

Execustay - While we don't need to secure housing for R&R or home leave right now, I have used this service to arrange for lodging during OB medevac and home leave for our family. They handle arranging for everything so you don't have to- internet, phone, furnishings, etc. Additionally, they also take pets, and you earn Marriott points. You can even get housekeeping and additional services if you want.  Execustay is very responsive about addressing problems with your rental during your stay, and finding you a new unit if (for whatever reason) they can't correct the problem with the original property.

National Corporate Housing - We have used NCH for our time in DC when training is required before heading to post. They are also quick and responsive, and non-intrusive. A good choice if you can't get what you're looking for with Execustay.

TRANSPORTATION

Super Shuttle - Do you have a pile of luggage, a kid (or more) and pets that all need to fit into the same transport to and from the airport? Super Shuttle is your friend. Drivers are hit and miss, but this is probably the best service for getting everything in one vehicle to and from the airport.

Execucar - Also a good option to get everything in the van to and from the airport. Their vans are fancier than Super Shuttle.

If you know where you are going, when, and you have your arrival and departure dates already, you can always compare car rental prices (and get a better deal than last minute probably) at car rentals dot com for the full run of your trip. If not, you are probably better off visiting car rental sites directly.

*FUN STUFF

Biscayne National Park

Everglades National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park

Big Cypress National Park

Fairchild Tropical Gardens

Fruit and Spice park

Robert is Here

Tate's Comics

Mai Kai

Miami Metrozoo

The Jungle Queen!

Bonnet House

Parrot Jungle

Monkey Jungle

Coral Castle

Drift diving off the coast of South Florida

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

Any of the Florida Keys

Kennedy Space Center

Lion Country Safari


(SOME) DOCTORS THAT TAKE FSBP IN FLORIDA  **

Femcare - For all your OBGYN needs. Dr. Bass is pretty much the only reason I am not dead. As such, I cannot recommend him enough, ever.

Worldwide Pediatrics - Dr. Millon is awesome, as is pretty much everybody at Worldwide Pediatrics. Although I have not used the service, this pediatric office also offers adoption services.

Cardiology Consultants of West Broward - They don't have a website, sadly, but they are great if you need any cardiology work done.

Pembroke Pink Imaging

Super Smiles - Dentistry for the kids (and probably adults)! Pediatric Dentistry / Family Dentistry / Orthodontics

South Florida Oncology & Hematology - Also no website, but a great office if you need an oncologist or hematologist.

*By their very nature, most of the really quirky attractions to see in South Florida are tourist traps. You have been warned!

** I know I said I didn't list any, but then I decided to anyway.

*** Not a very complete list, kind of bare bones.


Monday, January 30, 2017

You don't have an eternity



  There are a lot of things I could be writing about. Right now I have three other halfway-written posts on less inflammatory topics- but to be honest, the current political climate back home has my undivided attention for the moment. President Trump's executive order “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States” does not represent in any way the country my parents fled to in order to start a new life for themselves. So consider this post my PSA for those of you who maybe don't know where to start, feel a little helpless, or have trouble coming up with the words to say as a private citizen when contacting your representatives in the Senate concerning this order.

   The big master list of U.S. Senators, their current stance on the order, and contact information is available here.

  As I know that some people (like me) have a hard time working off form letters as a basis for their own personalized letter, I include my letters to Senator Rubio and Senator Nelson as a variant to the current form letters floating around. I realize that the contents are likely not applicable to 99% of those writing, but it does give a more personal take on the issue.


Senator Rubio,

My name is _______________. I am a U.S. citizen and a voting constituent in your state. I am writing to you today concerning President Trump's Executive Order "Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States".  I am part of the first generation in my family to have been born in the United States. My parents fled the oppressive regime of Castro's Cuba (similar to the refugees of today) for the chance at a new, better life of freedom and opportunity in America. If it were not for our country's values of religious tolerance, diversity, and nondiscrimination my parents would not be citizens today- nor would I, my brother, or my children.

As the child of Cuban immigrants, you and your family also benefited from these values. So I am asking you today why you have not taken a public stance against this executive order? The people being targeted by it are students bettering themselves by pursuing an education in our country. Visitors entering into our country to spend time with family, or experience for themselves all the good things our country has to offer. Refugees who have already gone through a two-year (or more) process of vetting before being given approval to enter the country.  People who have served our country in war zones in varying capacities- putting themselves and their families at risk because they believed in what we stand for.  U.S. Green Card holders who are legal residents of our country.

I personally know people who have served this country and have family that are now scared to leave for fear that they will be denied reentry to their country- their home, because of this executive order. So I ask, where do you stand on this issue? I would like for you to make your position on it public, because your current silence is tantamount to tacit approval. As a daughter of immigrants, I find such a stance intolerable.

Thank you for your time, and attention to this email.


Senator Nelson,

My name is _______________. I am a U.S. citizen, lifelong Democrat, and a voting constituent in your state. I am writing to you today concerning President Trump's Executive Order "Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States".  I am part of the first generation in my family to have been born in the United States. My parents fled the oppressive regime of Castro's Cuba (similar to the refugees of today) for the chance at a new, better life of freedom and opportunity in America. If it were not for our country's values of religious tolerance, diversity, and nondiscrimination my parents would not be citizens today- nor would I, my brother, or my children.

As you are our state's Democratic representative in the Senate, I am asking you today why you have not taken a public stance against this executive order. The people being targeted by it are students bettering themselves by pursuing an education in our country. Visitors entering into our country to spend time with family, or experience for themselves all the good things our country has to offer. Refugees who have already gone through a two-year (or more) process of vetting before being given approval to enter the country.  People who have served our country in war zones in varying capacities- putting themselves and their families at risk because they believed in what we stand for.  U.S. Green Card holders who are legal residents of our country.

I personally know people who have served this country and have family that are now scared to leave for fear that they will be denied reentry to their country- their home, because of this executive order. So I ask, where do you stand on this issue? I would like for you to make your position on it public, because your current silence is tantamount to tacit approval. As a daughter of immigrants, I find such a stance intolerable.

Thank you for your time, and attention to this email.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Home for the holidays.

We are home for the holidays.


After a scary last weekend in Sarajevo where it looked like the smog would prevent our departure, we escaped on a plane and (after a transfer in Vienna) made our way back home to Florida, for the holidays. We have been here since the beginning of the month, and enjoying every minute of it.




Monday, November 21, 2016

The Most Dangerous Game


Have I mentioned we like to cook?

We do. And when conditions allow for it, we like to invite as many of our friends at post over for food as we can. Sometimes, we can get away with it easily because we have the space, like when we were in Ashgabat. Sometimes, like here, not so much. There's a limit to how many people we can find room for, so all our events at the home have been smaller as a result. This past week was the embassy thanksgiving potluck / trivia night. As we won't really be celebrating Thanksgiving at post, we brought our Thanksgiving (minus our yams :( ) to the potluck. As it was not in our house, this made it even easier to make food for more than eight people. We ended up bringing a turkey, gravy, green bean casserole, corn, and last but not least, flan.

For those of you who don't know what flan is- it is a custard dessert, made with sweetened condensed milk. You could say it is similar to Crème brûlée (which I also like), but you would be wrong because Crème brûlée is like a 'delicate' version of flan. Flan is like its older, bruiser of a sibling that smacks you in the face with flavor.With Crème brûlée, the sweet, sweet caramel is on the top. With flan, it lurks at the very bottom of the pan, underneath the flan itself*.**



Like the picture above, of my loaf pan before I poured the flan mixture inside and set it to cook in the oven. You may be wondering to yourself how I got the caramel in the pan, coating the sides and bottom.

That, my friends, is the most dangerous (and tricky!) part of making flan. This caramel sauce is made in the loaf pan, on the stove.

Sugar close to caramelizing!
If you try to move the sugar around too much, it will crystallize in the pan. So, you have to let it sit till it begins to melt and caramelize (usually beginning in the center of the pan). Shortly thereafter, it will spread to the rest of the sugar and (while wearing oven mitts or using pot holders!) you can begin spreading the caramel onto the sides of the loaf pan. Word of warning- if you try to make this stuff, don't burn yourself with the caramel because it is like lava and you will be in horrible pain if it comes into contact with your skin!


As I cannot give you my mom's recipe for this (because she'd kill me), I can point you to a very similar recipe online for flan that you can make and get similar delicious results. I will also say that if you have not already, you should invest in a temperature gauge for your oven, so you have the accurate temperature at all times. Also, you might want to strain the flan mixture as your pour it into your loaf pan. And cover it with aluminum foil before placing in the water bath inside the oven.

Another not as perfect (but still delicious!) flan from this week.


Happy cooking!


*...because most of the time you never get to pop the flan out of the loaf pan, because people just start getting slices and scooping out caramel before you can flip it and make it presentable.

** Which is why I have no pictures of the finished flan, as it was devoured in short order at the potluck before I could take photos. :(







Monday, October 31, 2016

Trick or treat

Today is Halloween.
Today is handshake day.

We now (officially) know where we're going for our next tour. Home for the next few years is...

(drum roll)


SOON(ish)

Mérida, Mexico!

To say that we are happy about our next post would be an understatement. Honestly, when it came up on the list, I didn't think we'd get it because of reasons. But we did. For once, I will not have to worry about language (the bane of all spouses married to a specialist because they don't get language training), because I already have Spanish. The kids will get to learn it in school, and probably become way more fluent than me, which is awesome and terrifying at the same time. We will be a short plane trip to the US, so our PCS jet-lag with 2 kids won't be horrendous. There are tons of awesome things to see. All the Mayan ruins and visits to cenotes! Beaches you can drive to!

For us, handshake day has definitely been a treat.

Friday, October 14, 2016

High anxiety.



 October is my favorite month of the year, however, this month has been (so far) a very stressful month as it is also BIDDING SEASON. Which is really not fun if you are (like me) a compulsive researcher and worrier. It is now the middle of the month, and next week is the last week of the season. In theory, you should have an inkling between next week and October 31 where you are going to go next but like everything else in the FSLife there are no guarantees, because as we all know the answer to almost every question is

...it depends.


  Regardless, it is still bidding season even if it is late into it, and as such I offer you, dear reader, the opportunity to ask me about the FSLife here in Sarajevo, or any other post I have been at. As the Germans would say, es tut mir leid *(or not), I am no ray of sunshine. I will not sugar coat the answer to your question. If that's the kind of information on a post you want, i'm the person to ask. So, if you want, send your questions to:

I'll answer them as best as I can.


*possibly up there as one of my favorite phrases in German.