Friday, October 26, 2012

Updates...with Photos!

As you can probably tell, times are a changin' for the Armstrongs over here in Macedonia!  I am usually the type of person to grin and bear whatever comes my way (albiet with complaining to my nearest and dearest.)  This is our life, a life of constant change.  But this time...this time, for some reason, I am having a HARD time with our life changes.  I've decided that I'll just embrace it.  Not sure if that is a good or bad thing, but it is what it is.  I just can't seem to find my groove here in Macedonia.  One of my dear friends that I met in Bulgaria VERY early on (who is still living there) keeps reminding me of our weird/wild first months in Bulgaria.  They were STRANGE and WEIRD for sure!  But I still appreciate those times, they were all part of the process.  With this move, I was not prepared AT ALL!  We had no time and I truely believe that is why it's so hard this time around. 

There are many great things about this country.  The people are SO nice and welcoming!  For instance, check out all of this produce that was given to by neighbors and co-workers.

 We also have been gifted home made Ajvar from our neighbor.  This time of year Macedonian's start preparing for the winter and jarring all of the lovely fresh produce.  Ajvar is a mix of roasted red peppers and eggplant.  I think it's delish on a piece of bread!
Other great things include a REAL town square and an old town (as I've mentioned before.)  There are a TON of crazy statues, which as a non-Macedonian, I sort of think are interesting.  It sounds like a lot of locals just find them a bit tacky...again, personally, I think they are interesting.

 Matt with Mother Theresa.  Mother Theresa, who was ethnic Albanian, was born in Skopje.

 What is assumed to be a statue of Alexander the Great (formally called "the man on the horse) which would probably upset the Greeks since Macedonia and Greece have a "name issue" with the name Macedonia.  There is also a region of Northern Greece called Macedonia.
                                                              The Arc 'd Skopje:)
                                      Matt standing in Mother Theresa's child hood home.
 The main plostad (or square) with the big Skopsko sign (in Cyrillic, of course.)  Skopsko is the Macedonian Nat'l Beer.
 A couple of weeks ago on a BEAUTIFUL day, we went to check out the opening day of a wine festival in the city center.  I thought it would be a GREAT way to try different Macedonian wines. Turns out you buy a whole glass of wine, at each booth, and the glass is filled to the brim.  I didn't like my chosen glass so we ended up leaving the festival for a walk around town and dumped my wine in the grass.  Bummer.
 Another new statue.  A man and a woman embracing, not sure who it is?
 Sitting on a bench, enjoy the day and people watching.
 We strolled down to the river.
 Look at these neat statues!!!
 Matt allowing me to play photographer in the afternoon light!
 My favorite statue, of Filip the I or II (not sure) waving his fist in the direction of Greece...(not my favorite because of what it stands for, just like the big burly man and his fist.  Must stay politically correct here, people...:))
                                                               The Vardar River.
                                                          Another interesting statue.

The old train station turned museum.  I think it is fascinating that the clock on the building stopped at the exact time that the Great Earthquake of 1963 that essentially leveled the city. 

So there you have it.  I still must post about our fabulous trip to Ireland with friends from D.C., next week maybe.

For now, I hope everyone has a great weekend!!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Making a home...

So our shipment  of things arrived from Bulgaria yesterday and Matt and I took the day off from work to receive the items and get organized.  Our total shipment weighed one half of what we are actually allotted and all I could think is 'how in the world do we have SO much stuff?!?!'. This is what it looked like just after the movers left.

Above is Matt.  I asked him why he smiled for the photo because what we had to do was NOT fun.  He said he was happy to have our stuff.  So sweet.  Ha.  I was NOT smiling.  It's so hard to make a house a home! And I am so freaking anal about being perfectly organized. I want to put things away correctly.  Anyway, this is what the house looks like tonight after one full day and one evening of unpacking. 

Andlike I said, this is after SO MUCh work.  But we are making progress which is a good thing since we have our first visitor this weekend.  Yikes!

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Now don't get too excited about the title of this post people...I just couldn't come up with anything more creative!!  So yesterday we were on our way home from work and this little sedan drove by (at a normal speed) and a CHILD was standing up with his head out of the sunroof!!  Of course, I couldn't get my phone out quick enough to snap a pic!  This is something that drives me NUTS overseas.  I guess there are no child safety laws, and if there are, they are certainly not enforced.  Even in Bulgaria we would see a car zooming down the road and there would be a kid walking around the back seat belt of course.  I might have to look into it more while I am here and figure out why kids are not required to sit in safety seats.  Can you parents imagine??

In another news, Matt's car was booted yesterday...this makes me chuckle.  Sounds like it was resolved pretty quickly and the fine was not too terribly steep...I still laugh. 

Speaking of money, the money here is crazy to me.  It's something like 42 of their denomination = 1 dollar.  So lunch costs 400 denars.  the grocery bill is 4000 denars...I can't even process it properly. 

We are making movement in receiving our things from Sofia...I'm HOPING it will arrive SOON SOON SOON!  I think that will make us feel really settled.  The other thing that I really need to work on is a housekeeper.  The laundry doesn't magically disappear anymore...the pile just grows and grows...To me, a housekeeper is THE perk to living overseas!  Hopefully we will find someone good here who does not insist on stealing from us like our first housekeeper in Bulgaria...

I am SO SO happy that tomorrow is Friday!!  We actually have something social and perhaps FUN to do tomorrow night.  Matt suggested I bring my mug ;) 

Everyone have  a great weekend and hopefully I'll be able to start sharing some photos really really soon!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Murs Mug!

So since we have arrived in Macedonia I have been "testing" out different Macedonia wines.  BTW, so far, do not compare to Bulgarian wines.  They are more expensive and not as good.  But that is besides the point.  We have no wine glasses!  So I drink my wine out of a coffee mug!  So classy!!  For those of you that know Matt, you know that he calls alcoholic beverages "Murs"  as in "let's go get some Murs tonight!"  or, "are you all Mursed?"  you get the point.  So last week when he wasn't working, he would come home and I would be having my evening cup 'o wine and he would say "you got your murs mug all filled up??"  Now I think I need a special cup/glass just for this.  But until we have proper stemware...this is what I am working with:

Welcome to Macedonia!

Hello everyone!  We've touched down in Macedonia, our new home.  Not to be confused with the ancient Mesopotamia.  Below is a map for you because, why on earth would you know where this teeny tiny country is located?? :) Just next to Bulgaria and just north of Greece.  Should prove to be a pretty ideal location for regional travel.  Travel to the rest of Europe? Not so much!  The flights from here are horrible and expensive!

So, first impressions?  The country appears to be very small and the capital city, Skopje is small as well.  I think there are about 600,000 people in Skopje and 2 million in the entire country.  We have a mountain here much like we did in Sofia.  But overall, the land appears to more dry and arid.  The landscape reminds me a lot of Greece.  Dry, rolling hills, etc.

The people overall seem much friendlier.  I understand hardly any of the language (even though it's quite close to Bulgarian...the stresses on words are so different.)  There is much more of a muslim population here than in Sofia.  The other night we slept with the window open and could here the morning call to prayer, pretty cool.  

 At the moment, I am busy comparing everything to Sofia...the city, the embassy, everything.  I really do miss our Sofia life.  Which is funny, coming from someone that proclaimed to many people that Matt and I could live anywhere.  I know we will be fine, but it is definitely an adjustment.  The good thing about living overseas is that you learn a lot about yourself.  I used to think that change was exciting, now I'm learning that I like to be settled.  I hate the unsettled feeling.  We had a wonderful, well greased machine of a life in BG and now we are starting from scratch again.. 

On positive notes, we love our house.  It's strange for apartment people to actually be in a house, it feels so big to us!  We have rooms we don't even go into!  Our living area is great and provides space and comfort that we did not necessarily have in our "treehouse" of an apartment in Sofia.  I also enjoy our little backyard.  I haven't perfected our bathroom situation yet.  I've heard our master bedroom and bathroom gets EXTREMELY cold in the winter, which doesn't surprise me since it is currently pretty cool and it's 80 degrees outside.  I don't love the set up and am not sure what I can do to make it a bit more conducive for me.  We DO have an American washer and dryer, which if you remember our early days in Sofia then you'll remember doing laundry was one of the great mysteries of the world for me there!  So the American washer and dryer and the ability to actually have DRY and clean clothing is like hitting the jackpot for me!

Funny things that have happened so far:  our first day in town we had to call the "emergency maintenance hotline" because we blew the fuse to our entire downstairs and could not find a circuit breaker that was tripped.  Turns out we have a breaker box outside.  That same day, someone in our house (who shall remain nameless) was messing with our alarm system and set it off.  Of course, being day one, we had NO idea how to shut it off.  It was SO loud and there were flashing lights everywhere!  Local embassy guards were dispatched to our house and after about one hour of working with them, we were able to silence the alarms.  Needless to say, I'm sure the whole neighborhood is aware that the new Americans have arrived!  Lastly, Matt keeps loosing the cat outside!!  He'll go outside and leave the door partially open and the cat slinks out.  He comes in and a few minutes later we are both usually like "where's Chloe???"  and then the mad dash to find her ensues.  She's fascinated with the outside but there is a HUGE doberman next door that could easily hop the fence and gobble up our little old lady!  We can't be having that.  As I type this blog the backyard light came one, it's a motion sensor.  And suddenly I see an orange tabby cat walking around our porch, looking in our windows.  Perhaps these two have maid friends when no one is looking? 

This past weekend we made our first trip up to Kosovo to Camp Bondsteel.  It still sounds so funny to me.  Anyway, Bondsteel is a Nato base about an hour away from us.  They have a Taco Bell (another jackpot for us!) and a Burger King.  It probably sounds gross to those of you stateside but when you have the opportunity to have a little TB in a foreign country, you just can't pass it up!  They also have a little commissary and PX where we can get many of our necessary American fixin's.  Skopje is what is called a "consumables" post.  As in, you are allotted a certain amount of weight to specially ship in food since the local market leaves a little something to be desired.  They have no cheddar cheese...for the love!  So it's nice to know we can scoot up to Bondsteel sometimes to get our staples.  There happened to be some big event at the base that day so our Ambassador was there and we met him in the Taco Bell line for the first time!  A little's weekend #1 for us and we are already at the TB!  I started work yesterday and during his meeting with all of the different section chiefs he introduced me and shared with the entire group how we met over Tacos at TB this past weekend...nice 'eh?

We still do not have our shipment of items from Sofia, much to my dismay.  I am THE WORST at packing for this type of thing so I ONLY brought flip flops, running shoes, and too pair of my most uncomfortable (but cutest) work heels.  I have no jacket, only light sweaters.  I never even considered that it may be October before our things arrive!!  Hopefully the come quick!

No pictures yet because I forgot the cord to connect the camera to the computer, of course.  But I plan to get out this weekend and begin photographing away!

Stay tuned for more updates and PICTURES!!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Dog Days of Summer

Nothing really exciting to report on our end this summer.  We are literally in the dog days of summer with no vacations planned actually, nothing exciting in general planned.  And it's been HOT here lately as well so being outside much is not awesome.  So, needless to say I'm BORED!  Sure, there are plenty of "chores" to do, but nothing FUN!  I guess the beauty of Macendonia is that we'll be able to hop in the car and be at a Greek beach within a few hours.  I could definitely use some beach time about now!  I really wish I was here, right about now:

With a good book and an icey cold beverage!! Mmmmmmm, heavenly.

In other news, I'm trying to cook and eat more VEGETARIAN lately.   In fact, I haven't had meat in a few days now.  I'm thinking maybe we'll try the whole veg thing during the week and do meat on the weekends or something.  I still LOVE a good piece of meat, but everything that I've been reading all points to meat being BAD.  Plus, we are so lucky to have all of the delicious summer fruit and vegetables available to us!  So a good opportunity to take advantage and try be a little healthier at the same time!

Also on the agenda is to plan a trip here in early September:

We have some friends planning a trip to Ireland and want to meet up with us.  We haven't been yet so hopefully it'll all work out.  It'll be SUPER close to when we move, but I'm trying to stay relaxed about the whole thing. 

But for now, I'll continue to dream I'm here:

And there you have my random collection of thoughts as of late....

Sunday, July 8, 2012

July 4th Week

We had quite a celebratory week for the 4th of July here in Bulgaria.  The Saturday before Matt and I hosted a summer soiree at our house.  For no particular reason really.  We do not host things nearly enough because I'm always afraid that our place is too small.  We really love our apartment but because it's an apartment seperated into 2 floors it definitely has a cosey feel.  Anyway, we bit the bullet and decided to have a gathering before many of our friends move away this summer.  As usual, with any party, I didn't take ANY pictures during the party because I was too busy hostessing.  We did manage a few before the party though:

 Our spread of food.  My mom had sent some 4th of July decorations in a care package so we used them for the party.

 Looking out over the mountain from our patio.  My flowers this year are HUGE, I guess from all the rain in May. 
The bar.  Matt, of course, was in charge of this.  I did make Sangria and Margaritas.  I'm still finding sticky spots from the Margs.  Ugh!

Then on Tuesday, July 3rd, we had our official national day celebration at the embassy.  This year the Ambassador wanted something "relaxed", he didn't want people in suits and ties and wanted more of a "backyard bbq feel."  Let me tell you, most receptions that I've been to are very similar.  In a hotel ballroom, with the same food and drink, in business/formal attire.  I think this year was a success for sure.  Our guests seemed to enjoy themselves, and we did too, of course.

                                                          The original diplomats.
                                                     Old Ford (I think they were fords??)
 The Ambassador (in the denim) receiving the colors from the Marines.
 The Marines.  I'm always impressed by how sharp they look in their dress blues.
 And at the end of the function, we even had fireworks! 
 Chloe's idea of relaxing on the 4th, well any day really, I just happened to be home to catch her lazing about on the 4th.

Then, later in the evening, some friends of ours opened their home for a Mexican Fiesta/4th of July celebration.  I told Matt that all I wanted for my birthday was enchiladas and other mexican food.  Because our place isn't condusive to children, our friends agreed to host.  Our friends recently had a little baby.  I was holding the baby for awhile before  I needed to get up and help the hosts.  I asked Matt to take the baby.  He asked if I could just prop her up on the couch.  haha.  So he took her and the boppy and this picture cracks me up.  They are both looking at each other like "hmmmm, what are we doing here???"

 Our awesome spread.  Two kinds of enchiladas, two kinds of rice, dips, homemade guac, homemade salsa, the whole nine yards!
After dinner, and when it was dark enough, all of the women and children went to a balcony in the house to watch the "men" set of fireworks.  And boy were they fireworks.  They were HUGE!  Lets just say one of the neighbors was less than please with us....whoops!

Some when my birthday rolled around the following day, July 5th, we were EXHAUSTED!!  After work we decided to just stay home, Matt made us a delicious salad for dinner, and relax. 

Overall it was  a fabulous week!  This weekend has been super low key and I think we'll head to the pool today for a cooling dip. It's been a little hot here (not nearly as hot as back home thought...)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy 4th of July!!

Happy 4th of July everyone!  This is definitely one of my favorite holidays.  I think it's a little bit of the summer fun associated with the 4th, the fact that it's one day before my birthday, and A LOT the meaning of this day.

  I really hope everyone is enjoying celebrating this day and our FREEDOM!  with those nearest and dearest to you.  The past couple years for us tend to be a little awkward.  Here we are, thousands of miles from home, dedicating our lives to upholding the ideals that make our country so great.  I know this may sound  a bit dramatic because we aren't on the battle lines, with guns, fighting our enemies first hand.  But we have definitely committed both of ourselves to representing the best country in the world abroad.   I think as American's we often loose sight that, without a doubt, we are citizens of the greatest nation in the world.  Being oversees and having the opportunity to experience cultures from other countries often, we are reminded even more frequently that there is nowhere better, nowhere like the US of A.

So on this day, I hope you will take a moment to say a little prayer or take a moment to reflect or think a positive little thought (whatever your beliefs are) for all the people that make sacrifices everyday to provide us with the life we are accustomed to both at home and abroad.   Today I know I thank ALL the great patriots of our nation with all of my heart!  God Bless the USA!!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

What's next???

So we are closing out our tour here in Sofia this summer and getting ready for our next adventure.  I seriously can't believe that we prepared for so long to move here and now it's coming to an end.  Just this week I have MAJOR mixed emotions about our move.  For one, I'm not really THAT excited for our next country and 2) I'm used to living here, I have (in all honesty) the best job I've ever had.  BUT, at the same time, because everyone else has started to leave the embassy for good I have the fear of missing out and am ready to go.  I think everyone else's "short-timer syndrome" is rubbing off on me! 

Anywho, as you probably already know, we are moving here, in September:

See, it's JUST next door to Bulgaria.  We will literally pack up the car(s) and leave work on a Friday and start at our new Embassy the following Monday.  That's so weird to me for some reason.  On a positive note, I got a job!  I interviewed for three different positions and was offered the job as the Secretary in the Political Office.  Of course they don't call it secretary, it's some other more "glamorous" name but let's just call a spade a spade.  I think it was the best job out of the 3 and I think I'll have the chance to do some really interesting things.  I'm just NOT used to being chained to a desk....which is sort of the point to a secretary-right?  I know I sound really negative, I guess that's where I am at this point in time.  I know it'll be fine, and it'll be an adventure, and we'll get used to it.

 Oh, Matt just returned from a trip to Skopje and he was able to see our new HOUSE!  So that's fun.  We were assigned to a house and Matt said it's BIG.  Keep in mind, we are used to apartments so any type of house would be big for us.  So that's exciting.  We'll have a house and a little yard.

So that's where we are at for now.  Finishing up our time in Bulgaria, preparing for our move.  We are having a Summer Soiree at our place this weekend so I'm trying to come up with some fun appetizers.  Next week we have the 4th of July party at the embassy (our biggest event of the year) and then next week is my birthday day.  My lovely husband has planned a mexican fiesta for me (my only request for my birthday!)  I'm looking forward to hanging out with friends and stuffing my face with mexican food, which I've been craving like crazy lately!  Luckily I had a dinner with some girlfriends last night and they were all craving mexican food as well.  Since we dont have any mexican restaurants here, we'll all join forces and create a feast together.  Yum!!

 Hope you all have a wonderful 4th of July (one of my most favorite holidays!)  

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Last Stop!

The last stop on our great amazing road trip was to the Bulgarian Black Sea resort town of Sunny Beach.  I had yet to go to the Black Sea so we thought spending the last part of our vacation and Matt's birthday at a beach resort was perfect.  But first we had to get there...

Seriously.  This is what we were dealing with.  Also, the border crossing was something out of a 1960s horror film.  I wish I had pictures.  We had to get out of the car, go into a building and see 3 different people to clear the border on the Turkish side.  There wasn't a lot of English speaking here.  Also, the 3rd and final man to stamp our passport was around the side of a building having a Turkish tea, smoking a cigarette, and stamped our passports on a tree stump.  Crazy.

I don't have any pictures of our day time activities.  I was underwhelmed with this resort town.  Lots of Russian, British and German tourists come here to vacation.  The beach isn't that great and it's really centered around cheesy tourist stuff and binge drinking.  Huge clubs and bars everywhere. It was nice to have  a pool day, though.  

We headed back to Sofia...and I was SO happy to sleep in my own bed again.  We had once last day to do last minute things with Dan and then I made a big homemade meal and birthday cake to celebrate Matt's birthday.  It was one of the best meals we had on our trip, if I do say so myself!  haha. 

And that, my friends, is the end of our trip.

Now we are hunkered down in Sofia for the summer before our big move very soon!!

Istanbul and the Black Sea

The next portion of our trip we headed to Istanbul.  We got up early on Tuesday morning and hit the open roads.  Getting to Istanbul was an adventure.  First of all, we did NO research and depended solely on our GPS which kept wanting us to drive ALL the way back to Sofia (the other direction) then to Istanbul.  Getting through Bulgaria was the first crazy part since there are no highways.  I navigated us using maps...I am NOT going at map reading!  We crossed into Turkey and had a beautiful highway!  It was awesome!

Sidenote:  I was scheduled to have a phone interview for our next Post.  I had planned that we would pull over on the side of the road and do the interview while the guys stepped out of the car for to give my privacy.  The interview kept getting pushed back due to "technical difficulties."  So this panel of folks calls me about 5 minutes after we wind up in dead stopped traffic in the middle of Istanbul.  I have no choice but to do it then and there.  At the same time our GPS went totally haywire and had NO idea where we were going.  Matt's trying to navigate the CRAZED traffic, I'm in the front seat answering "scenario" type questions with a panel of interviewers and Dan is in the back seat trying to read a map.  Craziness.  The interview lasted 35 min and when I got off the phone we still had no idea where the hell we were!  For the record:  I wasn't offered that position, but another position rather.

Once we finally found our hotel, it ended up being RIGHT across the street from the hotel we stayed in last time.  I had no idea, Matt did all of the planning.  It was nice because we had an idea of the area.

Now, this was our 3rd time to Istanbul in the last 15 months.  Surprisingly we didn't repeat anything while we were there.

 One of the only photos of the 3 of us, taken by a man trying to get us into his carpet shop.  Blue Mosque in the background.
 Hagia Sophia photo.
This photo is totally inappropriate, I knew.  One of my favorite things (so weird, I know) about this part of the world is all the stray animals.  It's amazing to watch them mix with the normal population.  In Turkey there are SO many kitties.  We were at Topkapi palace here and I was just amazed out how brazen/not bothered this cat was, there were 100s of people around.  When you gotta go, you gotta go I guess. 
 Entrance to the Palace.
 Beautiful views of the bosphorous straight and Marmara Sea.

 I love the turkish colors in their tiles/pottery.  Well, since being oversees it turns out I have an obsession with pottery in general.  For instance there was this jar/vase that I saw last time we were in Istanbul and didn't buy it because I couldn't bargain it down enough...I HATE to barter, Matt's even worse.  Well, this time I went back to the very store and bought the exact jar/vase because I had been thinking about it since our last trip.  I'll have to take a photo and post.

The palace Harem.  In my opinion the Topkapi doesn't do a great job of explaining/helping you understand how life was back in the days of the Sultans.  There's another palace, The Dolmbache that does a WAY better job and is much better to see (even though all the books tell you to go visit this palace.)
 We've never been into the Blue Mosque so this time we decided we'd do it. 

 You have to take off your shoes (luckily I had socks!)  and it says that women should cover their heads.  Once we were inside there were some women without headcoverings, not sure why they had to abide by different rules?
 Our second day we decided that we needed to go for a boat ride.  We weren't feeling the public ferry's (Matt and I had done this on a previous trip) so we decided to rent an entire boat!  We all agreed it was our favorite part.  The afternoon cruise was PERFECT and GORGEOUS!!

After our cruise we were a couple of Turkish beverages deep and decided to go gather some previsions before we headed out for dinner.  While Matt and Dan were gathering I stumbled into this pottery store (shocker) that had a carpet shop in the back.  If you don't know, Turkey is famous for it's carpets (like many places in the middle east) and purchasing a rug is quite the experience.

I"m pretty sure the above carpet is the one that I ended up purchasing.  I would know exactly because it's still rolled up in the bag because I'm too afraid to unpack it for fear that our cat will have our way with it.  I have promised myself that our new house will have lots of hardwood floors and I will use BOTH of our Turkish rugs there :)
Ok, I was going to do the Black Sea in this post (it'll be a quickie) but I think it's been too long of a post already so I'll save it.

Until next time.

P.S.  I DEFINITELY need to figure out how to be more concise and to the point.  I am SO long winded.  ha.