Tag Archives: family

This is the end…of home leave

As all good things must come to an end, home leave is over. The weeks have flown by seeing family and friends. While in some ways I didn’t do nearly as much on this home leave as my last, doing nothing was probably better for me, coming out of Baghdad. It gave me time to just hang out with my family, get to know them and let them get to know me better.

This past weekend I went to a family reunion, the first big one since 2000. In my last post I mention the number 200; I underestimated and the numbers are closer to 300 in my family! That includes my aunts, uncles, cousins, kids of cousins, and kids of kids of cousins. It’s seriously insane. How insane, you ask? We needed name tags at our family reunion, specifying your name and lineage (e.g. Daughter of X who is son of Y.) Seriously, craziness. But it was fun seeing them all together again. I was also pleasantly surprised that I have a few readers of this very blog among my family members. 🙂 Here’s a random pic to give you an idea of sheer numbers – and this is just a small percentage of everyone was that was there:


The rest of home leave has consisted mostly of unpacking all this stuff! I am still living in a land of boxes with no end in sight. But at least now I have silverware, dishes and pans – I am able to cook again! I made homemade gyoza the other night and my date and I made sushi, which were both delicious! Gyoza are really very simple to make (even the wrappers!) and I’m glad I made enough to freeze! I found a great grocery store in the neighborhood for sushi grade fish, which made proper sushi (rather than my makeshift Baghdad sushi.) Here’s a pic (which is also much better than the Baghdad sushi picture):


Thanks to a wonderful friend, I also got to go see The Eagles in concert! It was an awesome concert – highly recommended. Joe Walsh is just amazing on that guitar, and it’s crazy how many great songs they have had. Today I had a Baghdad out briefing class and stopped into my new office to see firstly, where it is so I can find it Monday when I start, and secondly to say hello. I walked in and I instantly knew I was in the right place – my name was on the desk. 🙂 Said a quick hello, then saw a few more old friends on my way out the door. You really can’t turn around without seeing someone you know! I walked to and from work today, which was pretty great – it’s pretty close and I’m looking forward to being able to walk! The bus line is also very convenient, for those days I don’t feel like walking. I’m so excited! I’m also going sailing this weekend – I can’t wait!!

What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

Home leave is not only a time to get in touch with what’s going on in America, it’s also a time to get back in touch with those friends and family you don’t get to see while living overseas. I’m fortunate to have a lot of both, and home leave can be both exciting and a little tiring, trying to see everyone and do everything. So, as I come to the close of my home leave, I look back to see what I’ve learned about myself during home leave. I’ve learned a lot, so here’s a top ten – in no particular order…

1. I learned just how much I love music – music makes Darlene’s world go round. I could listen to live music every day and not get enough.

2. I make friends very easily. In my three days in New Orleans, I made three new facebook friends. Traveling alone helps to make new friends – I’ve learned the best way to make new friends is to sit at the bar and start chatting.

3. Family traditions can be passed on to people that aren’t technically your family, but have been around so long that we count them as such. Family traditions can include VFWs and karaoke.

4. Living out of a suitcase kinda sucks, but I’m grateful I got to see as much as I did on my home leave.

5. Class reunions can be fun, but nothing beats seeing the people that really care about you. And the people you really want to see at the reunion aren’t usually the ones that show up. Some people look great, some people you can’t recognize, and others just haven’t aged well. You end up chatting with people you never talked to in high school.

6. After getting another tattoo while on home leave, I want to get another one – now comes the process of figuring out what that one will be. Hopefully it won’t take as long to figure out as this one did. They are contagious – I’m sure of it. I think it’ll have something to do with music.

7. I realized how much I care about people that I haven’t seen for a really long time, and how much I miss having them around me. I love moving on to new adventures, I just wish I could take people with me.

8. I need to let go of people that aren’t present, in the moment, WITH me, when they’re with me. I need to not be just an option – I need to feel wanted. Most of my friends are, and I love them for that. A few aren’t, and I’ve realized that’s not good for me. I need to be worth it for them, or there’s no reason for me to make the effort.

9. Everybody loves traveling Pooh. From my new friends in New Orleans, to former classmates, to my friend that has a picture of Pooh in Rome up on his fridge – most are jealous of how many places he’s been.

10. Twenty years ago, I thought everyone was like me. I now realize how unique I really am, but at the same time how similar I am now, as a person, to how I was back then. Apparently I’ve been like this for awhile, I just didn’t know it. Old friends see this – but it took them telling me how they saw me back then to realize it.

Friday I start my new adventure – in-processing and training for a couple weeks. I’ll let you all know how it goes!

Viva Las Vegas

What do you think of when you think of Vegas? For most people, Vegas means gambling, showgirls, headliners, and excess. What do I think of? Family. I always leave Las Vegas happier than when I got there, because of my wonderful extended family there. And of course, when I win a little money, it makes me even happier! 🙂

I had a great stay in Vegas – I have some wonderful cousins that let me stay with them. While hanging out with the kids and just watching them interact, I realized something about myself. I watched the older one patiently talk to the younger when he kept on wanting her attention for anything and everything – “Look at this, look at that, hey, hey, hey…” I realized that because I was the youngest, I never had that experience growing up. I didn’t have to have that patience because no one demanded that I pay attention to them. It wasn’t really until I had nieces and nephews that I experienced that. Even then, it was a definite adjustment. I would say patience still isn’t a strong suit of mine, especially when it comes to people, but I’ve gotten a lot better. I’m much more patient with kids than I ever used to be.

I also realized that this may be part of the reason why I don’t want children. Because I didn’t have these experiences as a child, I didn’t grow up with kids younger than me, so I was always trying to be older to keep up with my siblings. Because we’re so close in age, trying to be older wasn’t so hard, because I didn’t have to try to be MUCH older. Sometimes people thought I WAS the older sibling.

I’m off to Key West now – looking forward to some fun, sun, and beaches – and more interesting insights into myself. I’m having a great home leave! See you around the bend.


I’m Going Home

And so starts home leave. For those of you that don’t know what home leave is, here’s a quick explanation. For employees of the U.S. Government doing extended tours overseas, home leave is congressionally mandated leave after an overseas tour. It’s designed to reorient and re-expose us to the United States. You know, so we remember what it’s like back here.

It’s easy to lose touch with lots of things. My first day back, I turned on the TV and saw a political ad – I don’t think I’d seen one in the last 2 years. It was a little strange. Getting used to the culture of customer service again is an adjustment as well. Belgians…well, let’s just say they aren’t known for their customer service skills. The dizzying array of choices here is overwhelming at times.

The more I serve overseas, the more I realize how important home leave is. When I look at the TV lineup and don’t recognize half the shows, I realize it. When I know what’s going on in the world because of my job, but I don’t know how Americans feel about it, or if they care, I realize it. When I hear myself saying thank you over and over, just because people are so nice and friendly, I realize it. It reminds me of what America means, for better and for worse.

Some people complain that it’s a hardship, as you’re required to be back in the states, but you’re also required to figure out where you’ll stay and how to pay for it. Home leave is paid time off and a plane ticket. Where you stay is up to you, personally and financially. While it can be difficult, it’s important to reconnect. Not only with the U.S., but with friends and family as well. I’m currently in Las Vegas, staying with my cousins. I haven’t seen them in two years; it’s wonderful to see them and just be around family. More relatives tonight, even more as I travel through the rest of my home leave. I look forward to all my time in the states, even as I look forward to my next adventure.


Where is home?

One question that’s always asked when living overseas is “Where is home for you?” This is always a hard question for me. Where is home? It reminds me of an American Forces Network commercial. “Do you mean where I was born, or where I lived the longest, or maybe you mean where I live now?” If it’s a foreigner asking, it’s easy enough to say “the United States.” But for others, who want to know where in the U.S., it’s a little more difficult.

I was born in California, but that’s never been home. I grew up in Minnesota, and my family has moved back there from Vegas, but it doesn’t really feel like home anymore. I lived in Las Vegas for seven years before I joined the Foreign Service, but I don’t have very many ties to Vegas anymore, so that doesn’t feel like home either. Home, in my mind, is where I live at any particular time.

The first time I realized this was about a year after joining the Foreign Service. I remember chatting online with my niece one day back in 2008. I was living in Nigeria. I had come back on my R & R to the states for a visit. I had gone to Las Vegas to visit my then-husband and other friends and relatives, then up to Minnesota to visit the family, including this niece. I flew back to Nigeria; a few days later I was chatting with her, and she asked me if I was home. I said yes. She asked me when I was going back to Africa. I told her, no, I mean I’m at home in Africa. It was this moment that I realized what the definition of home was to me. I realized how quickly my concept of home had changed. Home, for better or for worse, is where I sleep at night. It’s where I work. It’s the friends I have lunch with. It’s where I feel comfortable. Abuja was home; Brussels is home; Baghdad will be too. And wherever I go from there. Home is where the Foreign Service sends me.

But really, home is more of an idea than a place. Home is where you can laugh and hug and catch up with friends and family. Home is in the arms of someone you care about. Home is where you are loved; home is all over the world, as long as your friends are there!

Where is home for you?


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