Some of you may already know a little bit about this, but for those of you who don’t, let me tell you a little bit about what my childhood was like. My father was (still is, kinda) an employee of the US State Department Foreign Service. What this meant for us was that every 3 – 4 years, our family would pack up our house, say goodbye to our friends, and move. Usually to somewhere across the globe.

Canada, c. 1993? 94?


So, the short story is, I lived in a lot of places. The long story actually tells you what those places were. Sooo, starting chronologically we’ve got…

Hong Kong
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Reston, Virginia
Warsaw, Poland
Falls Church, Virginia
Taipei, Taiwan
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Harrisonburg, Virginia
And finally, I’ve resettled back in Falls Church (for now).

Reston, VA, 1995?

Whew. Granted, not nearly the same amount of moves that your average military family has to endure, but I think the varying continents helps draws additional points in my favor. And of course, the bonus of LIVING in these kinds of places is that you get to TRAVEL to even MORE places. I’ve been to Palau, Thailand, Italy, France, Germany, the Caribbean, and all over the United States (including Alaska and Hawaii!).

angel warsaw
I actually have no idea when or where this was taken, I just love it so much.

Now, as an (almost) adult who is (somewhat) level-headed and can objectively appreciate all of the amazing opportunities I was given by living overseas, I can of course say that I had an incredible childhood. But, as a 5-, 9-, 13-, and 16-year-old? The appreciation was, um, let’s say, a little less blatant (er, sorry again, mom and pops). I had a pretty hard time adjusting each and every time we moved, and even though I would never have gotten to do a lot of pretty flippin’ awesome things if I hadn’t lived overseas, the leaving, the saying goodbye, the packing up and taking off part… it was always very hard.

Poland, 4th grade (98?) and apparently NOT HAPPY WITH THIS CLASS PRESENTATION.

But, I adapted. Because you have to. And I still had my family with me every step of the way, and I made new friends every place I moved to (and kept in touch with a few of my old friends–but you have to remember that the internet was juuuust becoming a thing during a lot of these moves, haha), and obviously, I turned out okay. And because of this particular experience–moving, which can be hard enough when you’re just moving houses or counties, let alone entire continents–I used to pride myself on my adaptability. My ability to cope with change. I even wrote my college admissions essay on it (it was quite moving, I assure you).

Falls Church, 5th grade (1999)

Falls Church, 6th grade (2000)

So by the time I was leaving in 2004 to move from Taiwan to Canada for my senior year of high school (yeah, I will say, moving right before your senior year definitely blows) I was actually pretty okay with it. Moving from the states to Taiwan in 2001 had been a horror story I’m sure my parents NEVER want to retell, so I was determined to be a lot, well, better this time around. And similarly, when it was time to graduate high school and move to college, I was pretty used to it. I was sad and would miss my friends, of course, but my adaptability kicked in and things clearly turned out okay in the end. And I really loved that super-adaptable part of my personality.

Taiwan, 2004

Ottawa, 2005

Unfortunately, the older I get (and yes, I know I’m hardly an age that qualifies as even being considered “old”, but I am indeed older than I was before) the less adaptable I become. I used to pride myself on not only dealing with, but embracing change, move to a new place, get a new job, find new friends, change my hair, take up a new hobby, whatever–all with the snap of my fingers. But now? The very concept of moving exhausts me. I think about chopping off my hair without warning (like I’ve done a zillion times in the past) and I start to hyperventilate. And I think about all the various ways that this year is going to change my family dynamic–my brother’s wedding, my sister’s baby–and I start to feel a little uneasy. Not because those latter things are bad–just the opposite! They are AWESOME things that I really can’t wait for (you should see the baby shower plans we have to celebrate that little fetus, hehehe). But, the fact remains that they will also change a lot of things. I mean… I may or may not have cried just a little when I realized that this past Christmas was “The Last Christmas” our family would be spending as a whole, same-generation unit. (Oh, believe me, I know how that sounds. I’m emotionally unstable. Just roll with it.)

Jenny’s Rehearsal Dinner, 2008

I think part of it is honestly that even with all the moves and plane rides and whatnot, the one thing that has remained pretty much CONSTANT through it all is, well, my family. So things that threaten to change our family dynamic (even in positive ways!) make me more anxious than other kinds of change. I know that probably sounds weird and selfish but, hey, so am I.

JMU Graduation, Harrisonburg, 2009

So, I’m trying to re-teach myself how to adapt. To look forward to the wonderful things that change brings, instead of focusing on what it, uh, changes. heh. And I’m making myself remember that none of the great experiences in life ever came from standing still.

Do you consider yourself an adaptable person? Or do you struggle with change?

PS: I have literally never had more fun picking out photos for a post than I did for this one. Awkward child, me? No waaaaaay. 😉


  1. I would like to say that I am a roll with the punches woman, but I’m situation dependent. sometimes I roll with it, other times I get anxious about it. Buying a house and moving in? Roll with it. We got the whole thing unpacked and set up in a weekend (save for cable). Getting married? simultaneously anxious, excited, and “eh, what happens, happens” about it.

    I think it’s awesome you got to experience so many countries :-).

  2. Sing it, sister.


    Knowing young women like you who have (due to military or other careers chosen by their parents) grown into strong, successful women because of(/despite?) their upbringings gives me hope that the credit for screwing up my future children can belong to me instead of to the army.

  3. I’m completely rubbish at little change, much better with big stuff. Having a younger generation does change the family dynamic. I think it was Nigella Lawson, who said that when you have children, you stop being the photo and become the frame. That’s exactly what happened when the nephew was born, my brother and I have a much better appreciation for each other nowadays, I see what a good father he is and he loves having a babysitter! Seriously though, you’re allowed to miss the old set up but I reckon within a week of your niece turning up, you’ll wonder how your family ever did without her!

  4. I am awful, awful, awful with change. And it’s kind of freaking me out that I graduated from COLLEGE when you were in 6th grade!

  5. I can totally relate to this. My family has gone through a lot of changes in the last couple of years, and it can be stressful! My older sister is married with two daughters, I got married this past spring, and my little brother is fresh out of college and single. This was the first year we’d ever NOT been together on Christmas day, and it was SO weird.

    But, this is how I think about it, and perhaps it will help you feel more excited and less anxious about the changes: last summer when my whole family was at the beach together I thought, Our story isn’t over yet. Heck, all the characters haven’t even been introduced yet! With each addition we’ve had- my brother-in-law, nieces, husband- the family dynamic has become richer. It excites me to think that our story is just getting started in some ways. There are weddings to plan and babies to make! Yes, the chapter about the two sisters and their brother is over, but there’s a whole book ahead, and it’s a GOOD book.
    Hope that helps! 🙂

  6. I really like that 4th grade/Poland picture…

    I moved around a lot in Germany, then to England, and then Virginia, and switched a lot of schools during those times. And I went to a lot of riding camps and trips in my youth (haha… I’m old), so I was often away from my parents. Took my first flight+trip without parents when I was 4 or 5.

    Never understood those people in college that got so home sick that they dropped out, but I guess I had an advantage there.

  7. We only switched houses when I was a kid. From my old house to an apartment while our current house was being built, and then to the current house. I deal with change by preparing myself for it (I went to the town I eventually went to college in three times before I even applied). I don’t like sudden change, and I usually get pretty grumpy when it happens. And by grumpy, I mean “Holyhell!whatisthatfrackingbitchdoing?Whatisherproblem?!” It’s not pretty. 🙁

  8. ahhhh, memories <3

  9. I feel that I’m pretty adaptable to change. When I graduated from college I moved to a city (I grew up in a town of 1,000) where I had never stepped foot in, didn’t know a single soul and didn’t have a car. It was tough, especially since it’s so much harder to meet friends when you’re not in school. That being said, almost 5 years(!!) later, I love this city and have embraced everything it has to offer 🙂

  10. I LOVE this post. And you. It is so easy to get dragged down into the weeds when thinking about all the change that is happening (good OR bad) that you don’t want to make any change at all! I am guilty of this ALL. THE. TIME. I know you’ll get a handle on it and become excited about it in your own time 🙂

  11. Sarah W.says:

    I love the pics! Such a cutie pie!
    I have never dealt with change well and still don’t, but I have an anxiety disorder 🙁
    Although, I think the traveling the globe would be fabulous!!

  12. ahhhh……THIS. This is something i can relate, too. (British) Air force brat here – i did my fair share of moving, too. I always prided myself on my ability to adapt, too…but you’re right! I am finding it harder the older I get! Yet, i can’t stop moving. The moment i graduated I took off to Japan, and now New Zealand. I haven’t been ‘home’ in a while…but I often wonder what ‘home’ is for me. At times I envy the hell out of people who have that solid home base with friends and family in ONE place, but I wouldn’t change my experiences, the people I’ve met, the places I’ve seen for anything. I feel so fortunate to have travelled so much. I’m just wondering where I should go next…it’s nice having the choice to move, but…yeah…hard to explain…

    @ Aileen – your kids will thank you for the experiences they have as military kids. Honestly!

  13. Elisabethsays:

    I think I used to be ok with change, but the older I get, the more comfortable with the same routine I seem to get. I graduated college 8 years ago & have been saying since then that I’m going to graduate/medical school (and moving away from the city in Ohio where I’ve lived my entire 30 years). However, I have yet to make that happen… I’ve worked at the same job since college (without much advancement because it doesn’t really exist in my career) & have definitely gotten way too comfortable with my routine/steady paying job. I really feel like this year that I need to just make the leap & go for it! I’m hoping to start working on some prerequisites (for med school or PA school) this summer. I think if I can make a small step, I’ll do it 🙂

  14. Marisolsays:

    Honestly, I don’t know any FS kids who transitioned well to coming back to the States. It’s such a huge culture shock, added to being around people who are seriously proud not to have ever been anywhere except FC or VA. It was a bit alienating to come into a small school system that had so many kids who’d been through all of elementary and high school together. I know my family took longer to adapt here than anywhere else. But, the longer we all stayed here, I think it has become to leave. When my brother moved up north, it was pretty hard to see him go. When my parents went abroad again, that was even worse. It’s nice having everyone within mins of each other, rather than many hours of plane rides away.

  15. I like to say that I’m great with change.. until I actually have to do it. Moving is new and exciting for me, but I hate having to wait for other people to get their things together. I usually just take over the whole process and facilitate it start to finish because if I can’t control the change, I don’t want to be a part of it lol. How messed up is that?

  16. Loved this post, Gretchen. The ability to make friends is something I so admire in other people. I was born and raised in a tiny town, so I had the same friends from preschool to senior year. When I went away to college in Baltimore, the hardest part was learning how to make friends. I realized then that I’d never had to do it before — I didn’t even really know how to “meet” someone. Totally bizarre. I’ve changed a lot since then, but I still tend to be socially awkward around new people, and I think it’s because I was surrounded by the same people for most of my life.

  17. Hi Gretchen! I nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award if you want it. I love both of your blogs and am so excited about your Terra journey. I just bought your book last week and can’t wait to start reading!

  18. OKAY SRSLY…if we turned back time and retook that photo, i would’ve shoved Jonathan out of the picture…that photo is never gonna go away is it? hahahah ugh constant reminder of being 16…

  19. I totally appreciated this post. Recently moving to a new town has forced me to put my adaptability hat on (is there such a thing?)… It’s tough but exciting 🙂

    Also, my hometown is near Ottawa!

    Finally, the grumpy picture of you presenting to your class is hilarious!

  20. Love this!! I had no idea that you lived in SO many places! I’ve lived in the same town my entire life (except for moving 30 miles east for college and then coming back!).
    I love the photos- and you were SO cute. But seeing the dates on them makes me remember how young you are- almost a decade younger than me! But that never makes a difference when we’re together, friend!
    I have a love/hate relationship with change. More love. I’ve embraced it. I constantly change things in my life that make me unhappy (or stand in the way of my happiness). And there’s been A LOT of change in the last year (mostly due to quitting my teaching career). And even BIGGER changes coming soon. All really, really good things though.

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