April 12, 2014

Just another day at work...

Technically speaking, since 1/8 of my job is to plan events.  Now, I can't take full credit for this one.  I only helped a teeny bit, as this was mostly my coworker's doing.  She knew of this amazing sailing tour company (and the taco place, and the gelato shop...), and I just aided a little bit in the end of the planning.

Since part of our portfolio is to get folks out and about (yes, including ourselves) we often opt to do things that aren't difficult to do on one's own, but might be easier the first go-round as a group.  Two weeks ago, it was hiring a sailing company to take us on a 5 hour roundtrip just off the coast of San Juan del Sur, a beach town along the Pacific Ocean in southern Nicaragua.

The drive to SJDS (as oft abbreviated here) ran around two hours, but can run more if one ends up behind a horse & wagon or slow moving truck.  Highways here aren't quite the same as in the States, so always best to allot more time in case the drive is a bit more leisurely.  This is not a bad thing, though, as fruit stands overflowing with watermelon and pineapple dot the road to the beach and it's never bad to have a bit more fresh fruit (oh, the watermelon juice one can make here...).

We had decided in advance to spend the night (and, yes, loved our hotel), but were not able to check in until after our sailing adventure ended.  We were all hungry by the time we arrived in SJDS a little before noon, so fueled up first at Taco Stop.  All varieties were good (I loved my fish tacos) and one can get good, fresh guacamole upon request.  

Someone is all set for a day of sailing.

We arrived at the docks (parking is secure, and only for those sailing) a bit early, and entered around 1 p.m. After last-minute trips to the bathroom and changes, we split up into two groups,  so that we would not overload the water taxi.  Thirty minutes later, all 25 plus were happily on the catamaran and headed out into the water.



The dolphins showed up right on time.

We sailed for approximately an hour and a half, most of that time enjoying fresh pico de gallo, guacamole, ceviche, and amazing views to include dolphins and whales sidling along our boat.  After the relatively short sail, we anchored 20 or so yards out from Playa Blanca. 

Playa Blanca...freezing water, gorgeous beach!


Our transportation for the afternoon...

Yes, the name says it all...a gorgeous pale sand beach that lines a short jaunt of the Pacific.  The water is very clear and cold (says the person who dove in not realizing just how cold the water was).  There were plenty of tide pools formed in the rocky areas, and the kids enjoyed watching the pigs (from a local beach house) amble down and around the surf.  We spent a good 45 minutes to an hour there and after meeting a few friendly tourists from London on vacation, we waded a bit woefully back to the boat so that we could sail back to the dock.

Everyone loved exploring the tidal pools.

I won't write much more about the trip, as I feel like many journies in Nicaragua, it's one a person needs to experience for his or herself.  I can impart that it's utterly amazing until I'm blue in the face, however, it might not be until a reader is laying on the ropes in the boat, facing the wind, noshing on the pico de gallo and feel like every care in the world has disappeared that he or she might truly understand what a journey it was and how sad we were that it only lasted 5 hours.

Someone knows how to seriously chill.

That was not the end of the weekend, though, and we can't ignore the night we spent at Villas de Palermo.  It was set back a mile or so on the outskirts of town, and a bit difficult to navigate getting there at night. However, once we arrived to check in, Peter set the location in the GPS, and we knew we would not have any issues later that night.

Our villa was pricey (269 USD plus IVA), but gave us a generously sized 2 bedroom and 2 bath (one per story) space with a small kitchen.  We did not do any cooking (not enough time) but it certainly would have been possible.  The decor was rustic and comfortable and my only complaint was forgetting an extra pillow from home (and a blanket...the a/c kicked into overtime, to my surprise).  We were all quite exhausted after the sail, and headed to bed early in order to rise early and enjoy a morning swim before we headed home.

When I think hotel pool...well, this fits the bill.

The overnight included a sufficient continental breakfast, and the local coffee was just perfect.  We watched a cruise ship in the distance make a slow turn throughout breakfast, and the kids ate, changed, and hopped into the pool to enjoy a few hours of swimming before we checked out.  We decided to lunch there before departing, as there isn't much on the road, and we were amazed by the food (and reasonable prices).  Lots of veggies and fresh fish, but the steak lover was also happy with her filet.  My only complaint? They were out of lobster ceviche...guess I will have to save that for the next trip?  


Note:  San Juan del Sur is approximately a 2 hour drive from Managua.  Parking is available at the marina while one is on the sailing tour, and street parking is ample if you stay in town for dinner.  We highly recommend the sailing company, Nica Sail & Surf, and loved our stay at Villas de Palermo. If you have lunch in town, Taco Stop is the bomb, and don't forget to try the gelato at Super Frutto.



March 22, 2014

Kelsey, my wee Nugget

you turn 12 today! I meant to type this post last week, but between last-minute surgery, and my trip to Ft. Lauderdale, well, life got in the way.

I'm not actually home yet, but will be by the time you turn 12 at 3:45 or so this afternoon (since we were two hours later at the time of your birth while on medevac from Caracas...and then authorized departure...our lives were never dull).  I won't be there to make a birthday pancake in the morning, but knowing you as I do, you will be just fine with Dad making the special birthday breakfast. And while I wish we could have our big celebration tomorrow, we will have a spectacular time celebrating another friend's birthday and have a big bash for you in a few weeks.

Happy birthday, my dear sweet girl.  You are such a thoughtful and generous spirit.  Miss you, love you, and hope 12 is an awesome year for you!

March 06, 2014

It's time to close a chapter....

Though if you know me, you know this has been coming for a long time.  A few weeks ago, I headed back to the States, ostensibly for a fun trip, maybe to check up on the house and make sure it was behaving, see friends, and just enjoy the luxuries of Target and Whole Foods, even if I really didn't need much from them.

The real reason behind the trip, though, I kept a bit quiet.  Those who needed to know did, and I left it at that. It was time for the dreaded annual visit and ogram, and I really just didn't want to have the focus of an 8 day trip be on two hour long appointments.  More importantly, for the first time since this whole nasty business happened, I realized I was okay going to these appointments. I didn't let them stress me out as much, and knew that nothing would be up.  

To clarify: I didn't think anything would be up in the past. However, I'd let doctors, nurses and radiologist idle comments bother me, and this time I vowed to ignore them.  I did fairly well, all things considered. 

I had the 'gram' first, and I suppose it could have been worse. Over quickly, got the usual (but not as pushy this year!) "you *might* want to consider an MRI later in the year" and that was that.  A friend went with me for moral support, and I am happy to say the entire thing lasted maybe 45 minutes and soon we were happily on our way out the door.

Next up, after numerous iced mochas at favorite haunts, and many, many, many good meals (but SO rich!), was the actual annual check-up.  This time, unlike last year, I got a push for an MRI, but not until the summer (I said okay *if* we are back).  Of course, it was coupled with that dreaded phrase, "because you are so young." I am so, so, so tired of that.  Just say, "because" and be done with it.Being told that I'm too young, and no one this young 'gets' it implies that somewhere along the way I did something or somehow this is all my fault.  I know no one else my age or younger appreciates the "you're so young" bit and it really just needs to bite the dust.

Other than that, nothing major or unexpected.  I was told as of next year, due to my reconstructive surgery being more natural, I will end up having a normal ogram on both sides. I'd often wondered why I hadn't in the past, and apparently new logic dictates that, yes, it makes sense.  While I can't say I'm thrilled, nor do I feel the ograms are the end-all, be-all, it's like I'm even more back to my old normal. Both sides, just like it should be.

So, there we have it. I went back to the States for my medical exams, and all is well.  While I was there, it occurred to me how little these doctor appointments meant to me.  They are, at this point, an inconvenience at best.  I have not had any treatments in years, I'm not recovering (or anticipating) any surgery, and short of when I look in the mirror, I don't really think about what happened anymore.

I realize not everyone feels this way, but for me, that is a very good sign. It means, to me, that it's time to close the door on this whole nasty business.  I take care of myself and according to my lifestyle review, should never have had the whole thing happen in the first place.  Therefore, it's time to put it behind me once and for all.  I only have one remaining yearly exam, maybe an MRI this summer, and then it will be just normal annual check-ups from here on out. 

What does this mean?  Well, you are likely to never read another blog post on the topic. I simply don't have the enthusiasm or desire to write about something that never should have affected me in the first place.  Everyone is more than aware of my anti-pink stance (and that won't change), but there are so many other topics that need discussion other than the fact that I'm still tired of an overly pinked disease that is neither sexy nor fun.  I mean, really, isn't everyone waiting with baited breath for my long overdue article on tax tips for those on unaccompanied tours?  Way more exciting!  

Should anyone be concerned, this does not mean I am not up for discussing the issue should someone need to chat with me. I have no issues with one-on-one conversations, especially if for support purposes, God forbid anyone else goes through something similarly awful.  However, it's simply not a part of my life anymore, and I can't drag out that which simply doesn't interest me.  It had been waning for the past two years, but I finally realized on my trip home, that as far as I am concerned, it's over.

I think, if nothing else, it really hit me when I had a completely unexpected and intrusive conversation regarding my health during my trip. No, friends, none of you.  A completely random conversation with a near stranger where I was asked everything from why I'm not on Tamoxifen (seriously, that again?) to attempting to stresss me out about my daughters' futures.  I am just not sure I can express how infuriated I was or how intrusive I found such a discussion.  No matter what the intentions, I had not had a discussion like that with anyone in a very long time, and hope never to have another one again. It was full of comments, some criticism, and a lot of unexpected and unsolicited advice, none of which I needed. It. Hurt.

So, I'm finished. I'm over it and I've moved on. I'm happy to provide a shoulder to lean on, an ear in need, but I will not be blogging about this anymore, because it's not a part of my life. I'm happy, healthy, basically back to my old normal, and the assumption is that I will never, ever deal with this again.  This in no way negates the amazing and overwhelming support I received while I was dealing with everything, and I will never forget that.  However, it's time for me to move on...

Speaking of support, while I was back in the States, I had a chance to meet up with a bunch of fellow Foreign Service bloggers. I've been lucky enough to have already met a number in person, and made the acquaintance of a few more that night.  We had several hours of lovely conversation and discussion at Lebanese Taverna (you just can't have too much LT in one trip), and I realized how grateful I am for this lovely group of folks. Even if we don't get to see each other terribly often, there's a kinship in the FS world that can't always be described in words, but really just makes the lifestyle so much easier.  Thanks to everyone who came that night and *if* we make it back this summer, I'm totally up for another blogger night out!


A grand night that included: Fabling, The Wandering Drays, Just Us, Schlink Attack, Freckle-Faced Girl, Travel Orders, Like Nomads, B Files, and Is It Better Than A Brownie.




February 20, 2014

Portrait of a 6 year old

Yes, he is asleep, but he technically turned 6 two hours shy of midnight. If you remember, Nick came into the world early on that snowy February day in Reykjavik.  Early enough that when we alerted our families in America, they said, "Born late on February 19th," forgetting for a moment that it was well into the 20th for us.



A quick look back...

3D VIKA 29+_28
29 weeks old and already we can see the family resemblance...
About 20 minutes old...



Visiting his first glacier a day shy of three months.


Sailing with the sissas on the Salty Dog and acclimating to America.


Loving fall in California...almost 9 months old.


First Christmas....


And he's one!

Newly two....

Three came with lights and sirens out of nowhere...


Four barreled down on us like a freight train....
Five was thrown at us like an unexpected snowball....


And now we are being drawn into six...

Happy birthday to our 'amazingly intense yet knows when to break into Gangnam Style for comic relief' Little Guy.  The LG who is rapidly becoming bilingual and assimilates like his sisters...new country, new school, new language, new friends...no worries at all. The LG who has limitless energy, yet still craves his quiet time.

Happy, happy birthday, Little Guy!

January 27, 2014

It's official: Granada has become our new El Hatillo...

El Hatillo was our go-to place in Caracas. Whether we had guests in town and wanted to get out without too much driving or we simply had a free Sunday and wanted to get out of the apartment, it was our place.  Maybe a 30 minute drive from Caracas, it was easily accessible and the drive was not so long that Cait's sensitive belly would get too upset.

You see, Cait used to have motion-sickness issues. Now the dear child can read The Lord of the Rings upside down and sideways in a rapidly moving vehicles. Back then? Not so much. Due to this issue, we just didn't travel too much. Even a trip to Colonia Tovar, just over 1.5 hours away, was a recipe for trouble, and trips were kept to under 45 minutes one way. I should also explain it wasn't just the ride in the car, but that the roads were not always in the best shape, side roads were very bumpy, and the roads were both curvy and hilly. Not ideal conditions for anyone, much less one prone to such illness.

So, on lazy Sundays, we would head to El Hatillo. There was a little parking lot off to the right at the entrance of the town. Really a packed dirt lot, but organized and always someone keeping an eye on the cars.  We stroll about the town, enjoy the level walking area (our neighborhood in Caracas was very hilly), walk through Bolivar park and enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. We'd admire the artistry on display on the buildings and the brightly colored businesses.  No trip was complete without a stop in Hannsi.

Hannsi could be compared to the artistans market in Masaya here, but perhaps  on a slightly smaller scale. It was one shop within itself, not a compilation of many vendors under a shared roof as you will find in Masaya. Hannsi had all of the local crafts, and one could find anything within their travel trinket price range. Closing my eyes now I can still see the shop, watch a 2 year old Cait toddle around and admire the handicrafts and remind myself of the slew of guests we took the little town to enjoy a quiet day.

We are finding ourselves again having those occasional lazy Sundays. With our weeks being so hectic, and even most weekends filled with activities, we are embracing those days that we can completely call our own. We knew that we would have a whole day of free time today, and with having only Nick in the house, we figured it was time for another trip to Granada.

I'm usually too involved watching the scenery to time the trip, but I'd say it runs anywhere from 30-45 minutes one way. Traffic usually is not too much, one might only get slowed down by the occasional horse and wagon or moto taxi chugging along in front of use. The trip has us pass by Masaya (the volcano) and lots of small shops and restaurants that we note for future visits.

We eventually pull into Granada and each and every time are awed by the Colonial architecture.The colors are bright and cheerful, and even the hospital that appears to be falling apart has its own mystique while in disrepair. It is slated for rehabilitation, though I find it to be fascinating as is, covered with vines and seemingly open to the public, at least for photos, until the work begins.

Our destination depends on the day. Last Monday, an Embassy holiday, found us unable to go to our new favorite cafe, so we ended up back at Nectar, a couple of blocks from the cathedral in the center of town. We followed that up with a trip to Coco Berry Spa. I had a massage on hold from October, and combined it with a manicure and pedicure.  I normally don't stress those sort of beauty treatments but when one's entire shoe wardrobe consist of sandals and flip-flops (and the occasional running shoe), it's a nice occasional treat.

Love the interior design of every building I've seen in Granada.

Today was just a lunch and a trip to a new bakery. The cafe we wanted to visit on Monday is closed Monday and Tuesday, so we headed there for lunch today. I had heard of the cafe in the fall, but didn't have a chance to taste a sampling until the holiday fair at the Embassy. The proprietor stopped by with a few sandwiches and desserts. Peter and I shared the Mombacho ham and brie sandwich that day for lunch. The ham was so tender and slightly smoky and melded just perfectly with the brie. The bread, if memory serves, was a sundried tomato (which is only improved by being freshly out of the oven). We had visited the cafe in December before a day of last-minute Christmas shopping, and had been waiting for a day to get back.

Hanging outside Expressionista...

Today was the day. We snagged a parking space out front and entered the Expressionista  and were promptly greeted by the owner, Andres. We had the place to ourselves and set up in the rear of the cafe with a comfy couch/chair arrangement just next to the open air garden. Much of Granada is styled like this and it gives a very spacious feel to the restaurants, shops and museums. One thinks they are entering a small restaurant, and the reality is a large open space in the middle, usually filled with impressive gardens, such as in the Choco Museo, which we visited briefly in December.

Nick next to a cacao tree in the interior garden at the Choco Museo in December.

The furniture set-up in Expressionista is ecletic and comfy. Menus are written on chalkboards and include fresh organic options from Eggs Benedict to a garlic soup with scoops of fresh watermelon (there is a set menu and one that changes daily). Handcrafted brews (hard to find here) are always on the menu and today I simply had to try the vanilla ale. It went perfectly with the garlic soup, and my half of the mombacho ham and brie sandwich on freshly baked raisin and nut bread. Nick had the other half of my sandwich, and when hearing that Nick was not fond of brie, Andres styled his half with a manchego on the side (which Nick just gobbled up). Peter opted for the Boeuf Bourguignon which was amazing (at least according to my palate). Freshly-squeezed orange juice (likely from a nearby tree) accompanied their meals and I finished mine up with a latte.

While we would have loved to spend the whole day there, the girls had errands to run and would need to be picked up from their friends' house soon thereafter. We had just enough time to stop by a new bakery, Pan de Vida. We first heard about its existence when a friend mentioned that a location would be opening up soon in Managua. We only heard that there was a location in San Juan Del Sur, and didn't realize there are actually several, to include one in Granada.  We tested a few of their cookies last Monday on a brief visit, and were hooked.

Today is their "Cinnamon Bun Sunday" and one has to hope they make it into the bakery in time.  Tucked away in a small storefront on Calle de Arsenal, the bakery appears to be small on the outside, but is in fact cozy and light-filled on the inside. There is a large wood-fired stove to the left and a simple glass-fronted cabinet on the right with the day's wares. While we ended up just missing out on the cinnamon rolls, we were able to snag the last three oatmeal cookies. The baker had just taken out a few pieces of focaccia bread, so we quickly asked for two to accompany our dinner. We also learned that since they are continually baking, one can put in a request, wander around Granada for a bit and return for their baked good of choice. A whole wheat roll had just been placed in the oven, and had we had a bit more time, we would have taken that home with us.


The best news? The new Managua location is not terribly far from us here. If the store follows suit of the Granada location, there will be baking classes for children and a cinnamon roll Sunday that we will have no excuse for missing. Crusty breads will be available on a daily basis and who doesn't need a good peanut butter cookie after a long day at work?

Regardless of the closer bakery, we will still enjoy our trips to Granada. While we have seen quite a bit, we realize that we have in all likelihood merely scratched the surface on the offerings. Here's hoping we use our time wisely over the next 2.5 years and enjoy many more days there before we head out for good....


A larger than life Nativity (well, for Nick) that we happened upon in December. Notice an extra little face in there?


January 18, 2014

Today was a volcano day...

though unlike our trip to Volcan Masaya in November, we actually planned today's outing several days in advance.  We also didn't just peer into this volcano, we dove right in.

Well, waded in, jumped in, you get the picture.  Today was our first complete trip to Laguna de Apoyo.  We had visited before for the purposes of scoping it out, but hadn't actually spent an entire day there.  Oh, what we have been missing.

Today's trip was spurred on by the opening of a new beach club, Laguna Beach Club.  The owner is a friend of a friend and had a grand opening special.  For just $5 apiece (including a free drink), we could spend the day lounging in a chaise, hanging on the beach (a bit rocky, but nice shady spots), swimming in the cools waters of the lagoon, enjoying a fresh and healthy lunch courtesy of the nearby comedora or kayaking in the sizable freshwater-filled volcanic crater.  Naturally, we chose all of the above.  

We arrived just before 11 a.m. and were the first ones there.  We had no trouble finding the beach club and were impressed by the ample parking (often hard to find around the lagoon).  We were immediately greeted by the owner, and she gave us a tour of the club.  The scent of the freshly cut wood floors permeated the air as we walked.  Plenty of changing rooms, hotel rooms if one wanted to stay overnight, showers, very modern bathrooms but with local touches, such as stone sinks hand-carved and brought down from Esteli.  As one walks out of the hostel, there is a Zen garden designed by internationally recognized Japanese Feng Shui practitioner (and scientist) with a bridge over the garden that leads to the amazing view of the lagoon.

Further down the path and to the left is a small, but spacious bar where one can order breakfast, lunch or dinner from the comedora.  There is a bar for everything from Coca cola normal to caipirinas.  We each enjoyed a good-sized (but not overwhelming) meal and our tab for food came to just under $22.00.  Our bar tab for several sodas and a couple of dacquiris (virgin for the kids upon request) was just about $10.  Though of course we did not spend most of the day in the tiki hut, but in the water.

The sun was quite brilliant when we arrived, and we slathered ourselves with lotion before heading down to the water.  The beach club provides everything from kayaks to life jackets and it's all included in the entry fee.  The attendants were just that, and made sure we had all of the water toys we could use.  The kayaks were by far the best feature and although the winds were high and the waves strong, the kids were not stopped from spending hours splashing about and boating about our portion of the lagoon.  

Cait had a babysitting job waiting for her tonight, and we all have to be up early tomorrow for another local trip with friends.  We hated to do it, but finally had to drag the kids out of the water at 4 p.m. I'll not name names, but at least one parental unit in our car was so exhausted from hours of kayaking fun that she could not keep her eyes open on the ride home.


Cost for entry, food, and bar?  $51.65 plus about $2 for the entry fee to the lagoon itself.  Exhaustingly fun time had by all?  Priceless.


Did I mention the lush tropical greenery?



January 13, 2014

One of the frustrations

I have been reintroduced to lately is that of blogging overseas.  Clearly, I want to relay our experiences, however, I want to be careful to portray a balanced viewpoint. I was a bit overwhelmed when we first arrived in Managua, and constantly have to remind myself that my idea of a situation is simply that: my opinion. My viewpoint isn't necessarily shared by the person in that situation.  

Needless to say, discussions on Facebook such as who wore what to the Golden Globes or keeping your child in a rear facing car seat til age 5, are almost laughable to me.  My visions every day are so incredibly far away from that sort of world that it's really hard to balance all of my worlds sometimes and I find myself stuck and quiet.

I end up not writing as much online lest I put too much of my Stateside thinking into a post.  I've realized if I try to understand the nuances of every cultural difference, I might drive myself crazy. Instead I have to step back, observe, and simply try to figure out where I might be able to make a difference in helping and where I am just interfering by foisting my cultural mores where they don't belong. It's a very fine line.

I've decided that I will blog observations without trying to make inferences. I am not judging good or bad, merely trying to reflect what I see on a daily basis.  Otherwise, if I don't write these down, I will forget.  I will just have the glossy photos I took, but not every single image of what life is like outside of the States.  To not have that would do a tour injustice.

Yesterday we were driving to the airport in a car that was not our own.  After leaving our neighborhood, we turned onto the highway.  Almost immediately, we stopped for a red light.  Now, this is not true at all intersections, but at many here, there might be a form of entertainment, whether it be the fire juggler or a 6 year old boy tossing limes in the air.  A show of a local's talent or skill.  It is, in my opinion, risky at best, but as I wrote, I'm a visitor, not a rule maker.

The show yesterday was a variation on one I have seen before.  A mother is in the middle of the highway.  As traffic stops, she quickly runs out into the lane.  Her child, maybe age 9, nimbly climbs up her back.  A 3 or 4 year old then climbs up atop of that child, and settles upon her shoulders.  She takes two oranges and claps them together.  She smacks them in her face, upon her body, and back together again.  They are all three a bit dirt-smeared, but happy while entertaining.  Quickly, before the light changes, the children scamper down their mother's back.  They hang with the mother and run from car to car, hoping for payment for the show.

I would not have been able to open the window, had they stopped by.  However, they don't, they continue down the one lane of traffic, hoping to collect before they return to the middle of the highway to prepare for their next show.  The light changes, and we drive away, knowing it is but one of many shows we shall see during our time here.


December 30, 2013

I tend to stress about things a bit

from time to time. I take a seemingly innocent pain or pang and despite my best attempts, somehow turn it into something that it's not.  And having the ability to search anything night or day on Google doesn't help when you are trying to avoid that which has got you a wee bit scared.

About three weeks after we moved here, I began to have a crazy back pain. I chalked it up to a bad mattress (ours hadn't arrived yet, and my back just can't handle firm mattresses) and realizing the a/c was directed right on my spine. I switched sides of the bed, ordered a tempur-pedic like mattress pad, and the pain slowly started to go away. In fact, the only time it really returned would occur when I was attempting to do a back bend of sorts during yoga.

One friend wisely suggested I quit trying to do back bends (and also suggested I avoid Google...well, 1 out of 2 isn't bad) while I tried to figure out what was wrong with my back.  The pain never completely went away, but only occurred at certain times. It wasn't getting any worse, didn't prevent me from running or other exercise, but it was still there when I moved certain ways.

Finally, one day I got up the gumption to go to the health clinic. I figured given it was likely not something horrible, maybe I should figure out what it really was.  I was given a quick exam, briefly expressed my worst fears, and it was suggested I get an x-ray as that might help determine what it was.  Of course, it was assumed that I just had a back issue related to a slight scoliosis, but what exactly was it?

So, that afternoon Peter and I headed to the imaging center and for a whopping $60, I walked out with several x-rays of my lumbosacral region.  While it only took an hour, it was a stressful hour as I feared the worst.  When I was first taken back to the x-ray room, I was so freaked I didn't catch everything the technician told me.  Luckily, I quickly figured out I was supposed to change into the gown hanging on a stand.  I only screwed up once by putting it on backwards.  Well, until I tried to stand for the x-rays.

The technician told me to point at my belly button, and I did. However, he wasn't thrilled with the way he was pointing (or maybe didn't believe the location) and called Peter into translate.  That didn't change a thing, but I felt a little better on the off-chance he asked for some crazy position that would require a dictionary for me to translate the request.  As the technician ran off the first time to hide and snap the x-ray, shouting "No respire! No respire! No respire!" I just suddenly couldn't help but think of people who visited the States without having much English.  

While I understood enough of what he was saying, I could only think of those who might be in a similar situation, but not understand what was going on...or not have insurance and thus, not know how to pay for it.  He kept changing my position, running and hiding while shouting "No respire!" and I continued to think about scary medical situations in foreign lands, as it was less frightening than what I was stressing over.

Finally, after an hour, we were headed back to the Embassy.  The x-rays were reviewed and while I understood the commentary on the diagnosis sheet, it was helpful again to hear that there was likely nothing wrong with me other than old age.  However, since it was only an x-ray, there are certain things that would not show. 

The offer of an orthopedist was out there, and since visits are but $40 (yes, for a specialist), I opted to go and just get a definitive diagnosis.  A week later I found myself in his office.  I explained my basic history, he did a quick exam, and then he asked a more thorough history and I had to discuss, well, that of which I don't like to speak. Thankfully, it was a short conversation and he said he was sure nothing had anything to do with that, but an MRI would likely show exactly what was going on.

At first that seemed logical. Yes, an MRI. Of course, it will show any issues with my spine and that will be that. It wouldn't be anything too scary and then I could get going with physical therapy.  Then it hit me I better check the price of said MRI, since we have to pay out of pocket and then be reimbursed.  Then I realized that I also needed to ensure that we didn't need to precertify AND that we would absolutely be reimbursed...as in, was the reason good enough to get reimbursed?

I set up an appointment for the day after Christmas, and a few phone calls confirmed that there would be absolutely no issue getting reimbursement for the test.  We even took names down just in case, but everything indicated it would be fine.

Finally, the 26th arrived. I'd spent the 25th halfway enjoying Christmas and halfway fearing the next morning.  I was not fearing the MRI itself, but what the results might say...and I'm not the sort of person who generally shares these fears in advance with anyone (except a few people, like Peter, poor guy). After my worst fears were realized three years ago, it's hard to believe that any test will ever fall in my favor again (the fear lingers even though I've not had an issue since).  We arrived on time, only to find there were several emergencies ahead.  

Two hours later, we were called back by a delightful technician named Edwin.  He was cheerful and chatty and loved discussing his training time in the U.S. He set me up in the machine, and 5 minutes later I was slowly being encased in the tube.  Now, I've only had two MRIs before in my life, and I guess I've been lucky enough to have the open MRIs.  I never understood the issue with claustrophobia before last week.

Now I get it.  The minute he sent me up in the tube, I started a mild freak-out. He asked if I was okay, and I lied and squeaked out a feeble, "Yes!" just so I could get the test over with.  I realized things were much better if I just closed my eyes, and managed to soothe myself into a nap of sorts.  By the time the first set of clanging came through the headphones, I  was nearly asleep.  I kept dreaming odd dreams, as one would expect, and would wake up reminding myself not to move.

Finally, much sooner than I expected, Edwin called out that the test was over and I had done very well.  Guess the twitch in my leg towards the end didn't affect anything after all.  He then stated that my resultados would be ready the next day after 12 p.m.

Despite our best efforts, we could not get an appointment with the doctor over the phone so that I could just get the review of the MRI completed.  After work on Friday, we headed straight to the imaging center. They had already shuttled the results off to the doctor.  We had a lucky moment when we headed up to the office and one of the few secretaries in the office was his.  She managed to get an appointment for Saturday a.m., and we headed home so I could stress some more and Google more nefarious diagnoses.

Saturday morning came and we had back and forth with Nick as to whether he'd go with us or stay home with the sissas.  I was so nervous, I didn't care which, but realize if something was really wrong, I'd prefer he not be there.  He ended up opting to stay home and we hurried to the hospital. The doctor wasn't quite there yet, but arrived quickly after his secretary called him.

We sat in the office and he started reviewing the MRI charts.  I did the worst possible thing of trying to look at them at the same time and silently freaked out, even though nothing (to my not-so-knowledgeable eyes) appeared askance.  Well, not in the way that I fearedc.

Finally, as the doctor was reviewing the films with us and going over the physical therapy I should start (for being, well, for lack of better terms, old and fat), I said something like, "So, there's nothing weird in there?"

He then said, "Oh, no, there are at least 3 weird things here!" and started showing me the areas that were not in such fabulous shape.

Peter then finally broke into the conversation and said, "No, she means there's no...(insert scary word here)!"

The doctor just looked, shook his head and sort of laughed.  "No, no, no, nothing like that!"

And there we have it. I'm old, need to lose weight (duh, but since I'm still having pulled muscles from last summer's surgery, insanely vigorous exercise is not terribly easy), and I have a bad back.  I'll start (inexpensive, I'm sure) PT soon, make sure I spend half my lunch hour at work doing something active, take up tennis again, get more massages,  and will soon (two weeks, maybe?) be able to swim on a daily basis in my own backyard.

More importantly, I haven't Googled anything in the past 24 hours...well, anything medical that is. Now if I can just keep that up for a very, very, very long time.

December 24, 2013

Christmas Spirit

Last night, as I was wrapping gifts, I remembered that Nick did not have anything specifically for Kelsey. Sure, he could add his name to our gifts, but it's always nice to have a little something from him.  I somehow completely blanked on shopping, and while it would have been ideal for him to find something at the holiday fair, I didn't think about it until it was over.

Today as I was working in the office, he popped in with a wrapped gift and said, "Look! I'm giving this to Kelsey!" He had found something of his he thought she would like (I'd said nothing at this point), went into my room, and covered it with bits and pieces of leftover wrapping paper (those scraps always come in handy).  He taped it up, and brought it into me to ask for help with the card.

I folded the paper for him and he wrote out the card, taped it to the gift, and put it under the tree.  I know what he gave her (no worries, nothing living), but won't spoil the surprise.  I can't wait to see the look on her face tomorrow, as it's interestingly enough, not terribly different from her gift to him (already wrapped, under the tree, and sparking many questions from Nick).



How I love the creativity this time of year inspires...

December 21, 2013

Nothing says Christmas like

a real tree.  The beauty of nature in one's living room, even with the occasional shedding of pine needles, has no comparison.  I vowed early on that I would always have a real tree for Christmas, no matter what.  There was nothing like walking into a house with a real tree that just imparted the Christmas feeling.

We have only broken that vow once, when we acquired a tree from the base in Reykjavik for Christmas 2005.  It was last-minute, and as I was terribly sick and grief-stricken, my only thoughts were of not really wanting to deal with Christmas either way.  In addition to being a 110 tree in a 220 country, it was a pain in the rear to put together and take down.  It just screamed "fake tree" and we donated that sucker as soon as we remembered to take it down in February.

We deliberately did not bring an artificial tree to post with us, as we figured either we would A. find a real tree somehow, B. travel locally for Christmas and not bother, or C. if truly desperate, buy an artificial, but only a used one.  Artificial trees just have so many chemicals in them that make them flame-retardant, that I really don't want one around unless we are truly desperate.  Even then, I'm thinking we'd just do without or find some kind of real alternative.

Luck was with us and we learned in the early fall that our favorite organic market sells trees each year.  We had to wait for our tree stand to arrive, but we are not early tree people anyway.  The stand arrived this week, and when we went to pick out a tree, we learned a fresh batch would be in by Friday.

Last night, we headed over to the market.  The actual tree saleseman was not there, but we were able to put a hold on our favorite tree to be picked up today.  It was not too large or heavy, and looked like it would fit perfectly in the back of the car.  Peter and I enjoyed a leisurely dessert (is there anything better than passion fruit mousse?) and glass of wine and then headed home.  

While we all all would have loved to return to pick up the tree, it's a good thing we didn't.  It barely fit in the car with only Nick and Peter inside.  I was woken up by Nick upon their return, "Hurry, mommy, hurry, you've got to see what we did," and surprised by the tree being perfectly set up in our living room.

Normally, we always put non-Santa gifts under the tree as soon as they are wrapped. However, the kitten has already scaled the tree once, and declared war on the pine cones in a table decoration...so we will have to see.

A few hours and only one collapse later (turns out Peter had forgotten to lock something), the tree is up, lit, and fully decorated.  The scent of pine is filling the air, the needles that fall can be swept outside, and when all is said and done and the 12 days of Christmas are over, the tree will be properly composted.

I don't know that we will spend Christmas at home each year while posted here, but 'tis so lovely to know that while we are here we do have the real option....

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