Category: It’s the FS Life for Me

True Confessions of a Foreign Service Homeschool Mom

Prior to our packout from Ukraine more than two years ago, I organized and labeled plastic bins with all the books we were keeping.

I asked the movers to keep them organized how I had them and fill the extra space with packing paper or pillows. I requested that they be wrapped in packing paper and then taped, to further protect the contents and not have nasty sticky residue on the storage boxes when we unpacked.

When we moved, I saw the boxes wrapped and taped as I requested.

Unpacking in Nassau, I discovered that actually everything I so carefully organized had been dumped in to cardboard boxes. Miscellaneous stuff had been instead packed in the plastic containers.

My careful organizing and sorting was all for naught.

Our new post had zero bookshelves.  When we finally were able to find bookshelves to purchase, we unboxed only the most vital books.

The rest have been on the landing by the stairs for the past two years…

Two years.

They have been a resentful reminder that sometimes my efforts are so easily undone.

I’m tackling it today…  I’m under no illusion that I’ll finish it any time soon.  My goal is to uncover enough of my special books to start Kindergarten (!) With A5 after Labor Day.

And hopefully, I’ll have them sorted and labelled again before our move next summer.



What is Your Family Theme Song?

Music is as integral to me as my own DNA. My life has become a continual soundtrack, with music underscoring the most powerful and even the most banal moments of my life.


The soundtrack of our lives, the music in our DNA. . .  I believe music woven through our lives rings true to the human experience.


The truth of this has meant we identified family “theme songs” which characterized different eras of our family’s life.


As a young couple with little kids scratching out a living in the middle of nowhere West Texas, we really felt we were “you and me against the world.”  Simple life, lots of work, so much love. The best Valentine’s Day ever was indulging in ordering pizza with the kids. Then the radio played  I’ll Stop the World and Melt with You and we danced in each other’s arms on the back porch.


When we were in Ukraine with a church-planting team, we had a houseful of preschool/kindergarten boys who militantly sang Lead On O King Eternal. My daily life seemed like I was “rallying the troops” for homeschooling, meals, outings, clean up. The hymn fit our life.


The boys got older, we moved to the US, and they had their first year in a traditional school. It wasn’t a bad year, but it wasn’t for us. The next year, Hubby was in grad school, homeschooling the kids, and talking to them about Foucault while making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  I was working.  We felt like we were bucking the system again, and weren’t going to be Another Brick in the Wall.


And truthfully, hasn’t that been the anthem of every homeschool family at some time?


Now as we are entering our last year in Nassau, and the crazy process of bidding on our next post is looming, our Foreign Service family theme song has been playing in my head a lot.  We dance around the kitchen, dream about the next place we’ll live, and prepare our hearts for the good-byes here.


“Roam,” the B52s


Fly the great big sky see the great big sea
Kick through continents bustin’ boundaries
Take it hip to hip rock it through the wilderness
Around the world the trip begins with a kiss

Roam if you want to, roam around the world
Roam if you want to, without wings without wheels
Roam if you want to, roam around the world
Roam if you want to, without anything but the love we feel



I’d love to know what your family theme songs have been through the years!  Or, talk to the kids — is there a song they thing “fits” the family best right now?


Home, In The Bahamas

We evacuated Nassau to the Florida Gulf Coast ahead of Hurricane Matthew. We came home Sunday.

The short version? Nassau and New Providence were greatly spared. No deaths related to the storm were reported. So much worse was expected. We thank God.

The long version? Wow. It’s so much worse than I expected, based on the positive reports I had when gone.

It’s all about expectations.

We expected devastation from Hurricane Matthew. So we are thankful it wasn’t. I expected to come home to “not so bad,” but it is bad. Friends have it worse than we do. And it landlord is taking care of repairing the damages to our home and yard.

Much of our fencing is down. Some parts just torn off, others have wooden posts split in half.

Shingles litter the yard. That’s expected — they’ve been coming off even in normal rain storms.

Broken glass of a type and color I didn’t even realize were on our windows are on the back patio. Lots of damage to the roof and attic dormer windows — I think that’s where the glass is from.

Splintered wood is piled up in the yard from the initial clean up. The biggest tree in front of the house has already been taken away. The royal palms in the front are fine. The avocado tree is down.

Two ficus trees flanked the entrance sidewalk. One is gone and the other use on its side, roots in the air. I assume that means the landlord thinks it can be salvaged and replanted.

The white rose bush which always looked scraggly but grew beautiful roses is gone.

I can see in my neighbor’s backyard, for the first time. The vegetation on both sides and privacy fence are down.

There are workmen on our roof and in the attic, whether we are home or not. They have ladders from the roof to the balcony to the ground. They haven’t asked to come in, but they could come in even without asking if they wanted to.

Part of the wall along the stairs to the attic has tumbled down completely. The ceiling in an upstairs bathroom crumbled down completely.

And yet, it really isn’t so bad.

I have family in New Orleans. When we visited a year after Hurricane Katrina, I was shocked at how bad things were driving through the city. My grandparents had to replace everything on the first floor, and the walls were still torn out downstairs when we visited. A full year later, and he was still washing dishes in the laundry sink and had card tables set up as counters because the kitchen wasn’t completed. We stayed in my brother’s FEMA trailer. I know it really isn’t so bad here.

But it is hard coming back to the chaos after the storm. It is hard knowing that we have it easy, when so many others have it much harder.

“The” Ukraine and “The” Bahamas

Weird cross-cultural hang up. . .

In Ukraine, it is a serious political faux pas to say “The Ukraine” — as many of us grew up saying during the Cold War. It implies that Ukraine is “the borderlands” of Russia, and that Ukraine isn’t a state in its own right.

However, the proper term here is The Bahamas. It’s on the government documents and money.

But, I just. can’t. say. it. I can’t say “The”. . .

I hope I’m not offending any Bahamians or making another political faux pas by just saying Bahamas.

Wedding Registries and Moving Overseas

A new Foreign Service Officer is getting married soon and is about to head off to her first post.  When she asked about wedding registry and wishlist items for this transient lifestyle, these are the things I’ve found helpful over the past four years.


  • High quality knives (I’m borrowing my son’s Henkel knives… a gift from my mom to my budding chef.)
  • Comfy, queen sized sheets.
  • Towels.  I tend to be plain Jane, and like having white ones which will match a variety of decor and can be bleached.  Some people, however, find all whites get grey or reddish with water overseas.  In theory, the boys each have a different shade of blue or brown for their personal shower towels.  Doesn’t really work that way in practice.  I love having huge bath sheets, and think I need to indulge in getting a pair of those soon.
  • I’d skip asking for accent pillows or other decorative items — your style and taste will change over the years, and it is fun to find treasures in  various countries.
  • Pouch only means no mailing glass. We bought lots of picture frames for framing all the great photos we took and artwork we found. A digital photo frame is great, too!
  • Do you have a good camera? If not. . . definitely worth putting your wedding money towards!
  • Lots of glassware and mugs. Having more than 12 of everything is nice,  and I prefer having inexpensive ones with plain lines which blend with various tableware and seasonal decorations. I don’t stress when one breaks. Maybe this is more important to me with a houseful of boys!  (FWIW, it is pretty standard issue to have a dining room hutch, so you have a place to store your glassware!)
  • I like having certain kitchen items. . . not that I’m a fab cook, but I do a lot of it. . . So I like having my Blendtec, really big crockpot, iron skillet, cupcake pan and carrier, serving pieces, big glass bowls, etc. We do some entertaining, but it is usually casual, so I have basic stonewear and not china. Some people love having their china sets that they take everywhere and add to through the years, though.
  • Holiday items.   We don’t go all out like some friends do, but it is SO important to our family to pull out the same Advent calendar and Christmas card holder in house after house. It sure is nice to open a box and make it feel like home around the holidays. I love having my red, white & blue tablecloths for Independence Day and any other summery event. (Btw, I usually buy two of the same tablecloths now, so that if I have my dining room table fully extended to seat 12+, I can have it completely covered.) I have my little Thanksgiving salt and pepper shakers. I enjoy collecting holiday items where we live.




Our first overseas move was 13+ years ago, with a nonprofit organization and no shipment.  We did just fine with what we brought on the plane (lots of luggage, since we had lots of kids!)   No matter where you live, you’ll need to be flexible — even in the US.  It just requires a little more creativity to live on the economy in other places.   But it is really, really nice to have a household shipment with each move we make with the Department of State.  Frequent moves are challenging, and opening up a box and putting things on the wall to feel like home make a big difference.   This list summarizes what I’ve found to be the most useful for making life smoother and making it home wherever we are.

Memorial Day 2014




Hubby is outside of Kyiv.  He’s spent this weekend as an election observer during this key Ukrainian election.  He emailed me at 5:45am, while they were still counting ballots.  He’ll be home on the evening train tonight.  We will have our family memorial time tomorrow.

It is always odd to be overseas during distinctly American holidays.  Other countries do have days similar to Memorial Day, days to remember those who have given their lives in the fight for freedom or for their country.  In Ukraine, probably the closest thing is Dyen Pobyedi, “Victory Day,” which was May 9th.   Right now, with the tumult and the fighting and the shock that it is going on here in Ukraine, Memorial Day feels even more poignant.



“Dulce et decorum est”

The bugle echoes shrill and sweet,
But not of war it sings to-day.
The road is rhythmic with the feet
Of men-at-arms who come to pray.

The roses blossom white and red
On tombs where weary soldiers lie;
Flags wave above the honored dead
And martial music cleaves the sky.

Above their wreath-strewn graves we kneel,
They kept the faith and fought the fight.
Through flying lead and crimson steel
They plunged for Freedom and the Right.

May we, their grateful children, learn
Their strength, who lie beneath this sod,
Who went through fire and death to earn
At last the accolade of God.

In shining rank on rank arrayed
They march, the legions of the Lord;
He is their Captain unafraid,
The Prince of Peace . . . Who brought a sword.

Joyce Kilmer