Hunting the Hummingbird - by David C Hoffman

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Five months

We arrived back on US soil five months ago today!

It's one of those things where you can feel like "it's only been five months?! Kuwait was a LIFETIME ago!" and "how has it been five whole months already? It's gone by SO FAST!"
And they're both accurate statements. 

I know this to be true: Repatriation has been harder than I'd anticipated.
The best quote I've found to sum-up the underlying vibe to the last five months is this one:
" Robin Pascoe, author of Homeward Bound, writes: “Re-entry shock is when you feel like you are wearing contact lenses in the wrong eyes. Everything looks almost right.”

Just, yes.  

Two years is a long time. And while things around Portland are familiar, enough has changed that it just feels...different. Almost right. 

And then there are things that feel really right, like falling back in with our friendships right where we left off...this is SUCH a blessing and we're so happy to be around our friends here again...it's also sometimes strange when it feels like we've picked right back up...like, did Kuwait really happen???

I don't know how to explain it well, mainly because I don't really understand it myself.

But we've been trying to give ourselves lots of grace and patience during this season...lots of home time, not a lot of plans...trying to help all four of us feel settled. 
We told the kids we're not going to get involved in sports or dance or music or anything extracurricular until the Spring, as we feel we just need time to learn how to do day-to-day life again here as peacefully as possible. 
Dave and I both have felt like down time here together is pretty critical right now. The kids are doing GREAT in school, have made good friends, and really love life back in Portland...but they also have *just started* to express less anxiety any time Dave and I have needed to both leave (either for overlapping work schedules or a date), even if it's their aunt babysitting. This tells us they're still needing a little more stability to feel comfortable...their world looks VERY different than it did just six months ago...so we're trying to be extra patient and intentional. 

I've meant to hop back on this blog long before now, but haven't made it happen.
I'd like to blame it on being busy, but the truth is I've read four books and watched countless hours of Netflix, so that just can not be true.
I think it's just felt like a whole thing to dig back into our travels and try and organize pictures and remember what to write about...but maybe I'm also a little sad to see it wind down to an end??
This little space of the internet has served as such a journal for me, and writing here has helped me process a lot of things. I think part of me has been delaying wrapping it up over here =).
Or perhaps I'm just lazy.
It really could go either way.

But I don't want so much time to pass that I've forgotten things I'd otherwise love to document, and so a few days ago I dove back in and have been organizing our Amsterdam days, and it's been really fun! I keep saying "Man we had such a great trip!" over and over as I write posts.
Before I wrap up our journey home, and our little "Oregon Tour", I want to write a bit about how the first five months back in America have been.

I don't really know where to begin, so I'm just gonna kinda dive right in...





I can not get enough of the Fall colors. 
They are STUNNING to me...




I'm so thankful for our little rental home.
When we first landed, we hopped right on the buy-a-house train and I was pretty determined to make it happen right away. The housing market was insane at the time, but I felt strongly we could pull it off and needed to be really proactive. 

We put an offer in on one house, and it had only been on the market 36 hours. 
We offered full asking price and buyers pay closing. 
There were FOUR other offers, and we did not win.

After that I felt like we needed to just settle already (clearly my passions can change on a dime. I'm a delight to be married to), and would worry about purchasing a home in another season. 
It was within six weeks of school starting, and I had no idea where our kids were even going to Second Grade. That just began to overshadow everything else, so we started looking at rentals.
We found a cute house that worked for us fairly quickly, and were moved in by mid-August.
It's been a great home for us! 

We really love the area.
I've seen deer more often than not when I'm out on walk/jogs, and look at my view most the time...
As a native Oregonian, three years ago that view would not have been deemed picture-worthy to me, but after spending two years living in the desert, I find this little spot so beautiful! I stop nearly every time and just stare for a bit.

We signed a one year rental lease, and we'll re-evaluate things in the spring.
For now, I just feel thankful to have a safe, warm place to call home. 




We've been loving ALL THE FALL THINGS.








It's been really fun to be able to do things like the Pumpkin Patch and make turkey crafts out of handprints with cousins.


Now that it's Fall/Winter, we've loved all the chilly weather. We have the fireplace on pretty much every evening =).


David has had a breakfast burrito made with pork sausage, eggs and spinach nearly every single morning since he's been back to work.


I thank the multiple staff members that wear safety vests and monitor the parking lot each morning at school drop off pretty much every single day. There's just so much ORDER I can hardly stand it.



But, I mean, it hasn't all been easy.



There have been some really hard things as well.
The reverse culture shock has taken me by surprise in random areas.
I've struggled mightily with how prominent gun violence is here in America.
I mean to tell you it has broken me. 

We just never had to worry about that at all in Kuwait.

There was a school shooting a few hours away from us in September, and then our kids' school had a "lockdown drill" (where they practice for an active shooter) and one of our kid's LOST THEIR MIND with fear over the whole idea of it.

I watched as my baby sobbed and panicked and said things like "but Momma, if a bad guy comes into the school we're supposed to get down in the classroom and put our hands over our mouths to keep quiet, but Momma you know I can't cry quietly when I'm scared!! I'm afraid the bad guy is gonna find our class because I'm crying too loud but I won't be able to help it!!"
Gah.
What does one say to their child in response to that?!?
One of my kids, carrying the weight of their classmates lives on their shoulders.
I can not accept this as a new normal.
We are a wealthy and intelligent First World country, and we can do better.

It's been really challenging to wrap my mind around.
Guns just were NOT an issue in Kuwait.
If I'm not careful, I can find myself easily overwhelmed with the things here that we have to "deal with" that we did not over in the Middle East, and forget that we've in fact lived here before.


But. Then...then I'll be volunteering in my kids' class and see how incredibly sweet their teacher is, and how the whole staff is just so supportive of kids feeling comfortable and safe there, and how much time they take caring for the students hearts...and I have to choke back tears because it's SO DIFFERENT from the school last year in Kuwait, where things like one of my coworkers parking all our preschoolers in front of the movie Jurassic Park and telling them if they didn't behave and watch quietly then the dinosaurs were going to come through the TV and attack them.
Yes, that really happened.
And I was powerless in moments like those...I mean, what could I do? I wasn't there to change things, and wouldn't have the chance to even if I'd felt capable.

So I shoved it down, comforted in the quiet, and told myself we were doing the best we could with what was in front of us.
But that kind of thing became harder and harder to witness and then shove down as the months wore on, and knowing we were heading home soon is the only thing that kept me from completely losing it over those situations.




It's been more expensive to return than we'd anticipated.
We did great on budgeting for cars and moving costs and re-stocking the pantry/house in general.
What we hadn't anticipated was being robbed, and having to replace SO many of our things.
We had a $2,000 insurance policy (which we're still working on getting actually reimbursed for) but it's cost us more than double that to replace everything.
Big things like the washer and dryer, TVs, computer...medium things like the vacuum, ALL our lamps (the hell?), David's tools...and one million annoying small things, such as about 65% of our dishes, all but two towels, our toothbrush holder, our pizza stone, the mop, David's CDs (but not mine...I'm actually oddly offended by that one), my insulated lunch tote, etc.
It has just added up, man.
But, how could we have planned to needing to replace so much of our stuff??



Unpacking was a much longer process than I'd foreseen as well. Since our things had all been in storage, e.v.e.r..y.t.h.i.n.g. had to be washed and dried before it could be put away in it's new home.
Also, we had SO MUCH STUFF that we'd forgotten about!
When you've lived away from the majority of your things for two years, I guess it's easy to forget about some of it.
I felt SUPER overwhelmed right up until the unpacking was completed.
I kept lamenting "how do we have so much stuff? Our previous house was only 990 square feet! And people stole a ton of our stuff, too! HOW IS THERE STILL SO MUCH?!?"



It's been more challenging to feel settled than I'd anticipated.
It's hard to articulate it, really, but basically it's this nervous energy in the house when we're out of things to do.
When all the chores or fun are complete, we just kinda bump into each other and feel...unsettled.
As I mentioned above, Dave and I have had to be really intentional about fighting through that.
Yes it's important to stay active, but it's not important to be busy.
We're blocking out weekend days on the calendar where we just stay home together.
If anyone leaves, it's a quick errand to pick up dinner or grab milk for breakfast the next day.
We all just hang around the house, all day.
Sometimes we do things together for a bit, but most the time we just try and share space.
It forces us to be creative in finding ways to relax and enjoy time in our home. Together.
And it's only been a few weekends, but we've already noticed a calmer vibe around here.
Everyone is feeling more settled.
Finally.


We weren't even home two months before I had a speeding ticket.


But other things have been better, or easier than I'd expected.
Being around our friends here is totally easy. I had worried a bit that maybe so much had happened in each of our respective lives over the last two years that we'd have awkward re-introductions.
Nope.
Slid right back in like buttah.
I credit social media for a lot of that, and being blessed with friends that were really intentional about staying connected with us while we were away!
And also, we just have awesome friends.



I'm still in awe in the bigger grocery stores...LOOK AT ALL THE CRACKER OPTIONS! AND THE CEREALS!!! AND!! THE!! WINE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Five months in, Dave and I still find places like the doctors office and the DMV delightfully orderly. We both remark, stunned, about road signs just *warning* us about possible traffic disruptions.


If the kids need construction paper, I can go to a myriad of stores within a two mile radius that will have it stocked. I don't have to ask on a expat Facebook page which stores other expats have found construction paper in recently.



I know I just lamented above about how I felt like we had too much STUFF when we unpacked, but I also love having all our things again!! And I LOVE having pictures up on the wall again!

I smile just about every time I come up or down the stairs and see these!



I've already started listening to Christmas music whenever I'm in the car.
I know Thanksgiving hasn't happened yet.
I don't care.
I can celebrate them both, while soaking it alllllll up.



And being back in the States and settled has meant some really fun things!

Our little family gained a new member in September...

 This is Astrid. 
She has brought nothing but JOY to our home, and Dave and I could not be more grateful.
She's cute and playful, and makes us all giggle when she runs around the house pouncing on things or chases her tail.
She's sweet and cuddly, and tolerates the kids hauling her all around the house.
We really could not have asked for a better kitten for our family, and every time I find myself feeling overwhelmed and like life has just been too hard lately, I'm reminded of Astrid and what a WIN she's been for our family.

She's still a little kitty and does things like scratch at my brand new kitchen mat (stupid thieves stole all our mats and rugs) but I don't even care. She's just so sweet and fun, and brings so much happiness to all of us that she can scratch up all the mats she wants...



She rarely whines and has used her litter box from day one. She purrs easily and is content to be held for long periods, which is lucky for her and us, because we're a kitty-cuddling-family =)







She's the sweetest.





Our son just came inside, just now as I was finishing up this blog post, from nearly two hours of playing outside.
Just running around, engaged in imaginary battles, throwing pretend touchdowns, and moving around outdoors.
As he took off his hooded sweatshirt, gloves, and handed me his wet shoes to place in front of the fire place,  I studied him and then asked "you really like playing outside, don't you?" To which he replied "yeah. It's like camping. I would just go outside our tent every morning and play, even if it was cold. And now I can just go out our house!"
He's so happy here.
To be clear, he was perfectly fine in Kuwait.
He would have remained perfectly fine had we chosen to renew and stay longer.
But he's just thriving here. 
He loves to be outdoors, no matter the weather, and gets cranky with me when I tell him it's too cold or too wet to go outside (which is rare!)...


...he loves that his school does recess outdoors two times a day, rain or shine.
He's usually the first one up in our family, and I find him cuddled up on the couch with a blanket, watching cartoons when I make my way downstairs.
He loves going to school and is ready early every morning.



And Sister is just thrilled to finally have a kitty. As I wrote about above, that cat has been such a source of joy to us. Sister especially. She's waited so long to own a cat of her own, and is just head over heels in love with Astrid...


...she's loving her teacher so much (we all do! She's so fun and SO kind!), and even earned a "problem solving" award at school last month. 
She loves playing with friends, but is also always up for a stay-home-in-our-jammies day as well. 
She's super thrilled that we have ALL our kitchen utensils again (our mixer! the blender!! the griddle! the crock-pot!!!!!!), and is always asking if she can help me cook or if we can bake something together. 





David is back at his job and so thankful to be there. He loves the school, and has a renewed energy to teach these students here who have travelled far and are highly motivated to learn.
He misses being able to ride a bike or walk to work, but he even loves his commute =). He hated driving in Kuwait and is thrilled by the law and order to traffic here.
We've been feeling settled enough now that the other week he got his creative juices flowing again, and began drawing afresh...


Can't wait to get those beautiful pieces of art framed and hung up.




I've been back at my old work since early September, and am just so happy there. I get to work with the most amazing people and we have the best time.
Our crew on Halloween...

I'm currently working three days a week, with the occasional Saturday half day in the mix. It's proving to be a pretty great schedule!


So...that's a random, wordy wrap-up of our last five months living back in the United States of America.

We miss our friends back in Kuwait very, very much. We miss the familiar warmth of the Arab people (I've been known to embarrass Dave on at least two occasions when I practically rushed women in hijabs and abayas...I can't help it! I just feel so drawn to them!!) We miss the shwarma. We miss the view of the Persian Gulf out our living room window. We miss our apartment's pool. We miss the odd ease of it -even in the chaos- and the freedom that came with knowing we could live there but still had our "real life" waiting for us back home...something about being back here feels so permanent, in a good way, but also in a very serious way. Like it all matters more now, or something...such is the life of a former expat, I suppose.

We remain incredibly grateful for the experience, and very blessed in our life here in America.



Thanks be to God. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Amsterdam - the first few days



We made it! 

The train ride was so pretty, but we were SO HAPPY to be in Amsterdam!

I'd flown into and out of Amsterdam on my way to and from Portland for my sister's wedding, and just what I saw from the airport I'd adored! I really, really wanted to come back and visit for a bit before we headed back to the States, and I'm so glad we were able to make it happen.

I pretty much fell in love with Amsterdam. 
I kept asking David "don't they need ESL teachers here? Can't we just live here?" and he kept replying "Kendra, why are you choosing to ignore that everyone here already speaks English?" 
Because I was willing it to be so.

Anyways.

Well we may not get to live there, it sure was a fabulous five days.

We rented an Airbnb right near downtown, and it had a lovely little play area directly in front of our door...


The kids thought this was pretty fantastic...



There was a houseboat (with rooftop patio!) and crane blocking our view of the canal from our front door...




But you could easily walk over and peak at it...


The place was super cute...


...and we settled in quickly =)



It had a living room, kitchen, and half bath upstairs, and then down the spiral staircase to two bedrooms and a bathroom...






the world's tiniest bathroom sink ...





Okay, so you're gonna need to brace yourself for 8472 pictures of canals, boats and rowhouses. Just accept it. It's happening.
Amsterdam was just so lovely.
I could not help myself.






We decided to take a walk around and explore downtown...













I could not get over how seriously adorable these tiny little cars were! 
And that teeny spare tire? I die!









































And when you're in Holland, you must drink Heineken...
 





 





 
 
 

 (she was pretending to be a kitty cat asleep up here...she's not sad or in trouble or anything ;) )




Our second evening there, after the kids were in bed for the night, I sat on the windowsill with a glass of wine and watched the sunset over the canal...


I remember this so vividly.
I was thinking about how beautiful Amsterdam was, and how lucky I felt to be able to spend five days there with my family. And how we'd just been in lovely Paris with great friends. And how we were headed to see Iceland soon. And how we'd survived - and eventually, thrived, - spending two years living in the Middle East together.



I looked over at David and told him in that moment, it'd all been worth it. Every single moment. Even with the challenges and hard times and medical scares and just all of it, I still felt just so incredibly blessed to be sitting there, slowly sipping a glass of wine, watching nighttime appear over the nearby canal, having spent the day wondering around Amsterdam.