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8 posts from May 2013

May 30, 2013

Hi, ho, hi, ho, it's off to the OR I go...

So as you are reading this, I'll likely be zonked out for the best nap I've had in months.  Yep, tomorrow is my 5th (I think?) surgery in 3-ish years and hopefully this will finally wrap things up (or tighten, more appropriately) for me for a good, long time! I am soooo tired of everything being dragged out.

In case you missed anything, I have what is essentially a hernia on the right side of my abdomen.  My abdominal wall collapsed over there and I can fix it or look half-pregnant (as in, on one side) for the rest of my life.  Think I'm gonna go with "fix-it" or  I will never be able to enjoy the fruits of my tummy tuck (okay, courtesy of the DIEP) labors. 

I have to be at the hospital at 10 a.m. tomorrow, the surgery is scheduled for noon and we should be home by the evening?  I have no idea about recovery, except that it generally takes two weeks and that those first two weeks will not include yoga or running.  I might have to catch up on my movie watching though, so feel free to send your recommendations my way.

I suppose one should not necessarily look forward to a surgical procedure, but this thing has been a royal pain in my side for nearly a year.  It can't be cured naturally and I'm really over the pain I'm in when I run or do yoga or sneeeze...you get the picture.  

The one good thing is that Peter is home and he can handle all of the day to day stuff.  It's been a while since he's really had to do it all, but I think he'll be just fine.  I might find 1,000 empty Coke Zero bottles on recycling day, but if that's the worst of it...

Now, medical stuff is not always fun, so let's move onto the good stuff!  Guess which family has:

  • has a housing assignment (and all 5 of us are in love with it, especially the teenager with her own private bath)
  • applied for new diplomatic passports
  • figured out they don't need visas (one less thing to stress about)
  • might have a pre-packout surve and packout dates soon

and...(this is a big one)....

we have an actual itinerary for our flight to Managua, to include seat assignments!  Of course, that means it's now time to work on the pet shipping side of the move equation, up the decluttering and organizing, plan home repairs and small improvements, arrange the car shipment, and the list goes on.  I tell you, the fun with moving never ends. Then again, this keeps our lives exciting and that's a good thing in my book.

Now, about that nap....


May 24, 2013

Oh, I had the homecoming

 all set.  Despite the fact that I told Peter he could take a cab (even transferred money to him to look *legit*), I sent out a flurry of emails last night in order to get the kids out of school early so we could have the welcome party of the century at the airport.  

I could just see it: the sweet posters the kids made, the video that would have me tearing up, the way the world would just stop the moment Peter stepped through the doors after going through customs and then I remembered...

This is Dulles, for cripe's sake, I'll be lucky to squeeze in photos between the valet picking up "Astley" (could it be Rick?!) and the guy schlepping 6 precariously placed boxes plus luggage on the biggest cart I've ever seen.  Then there was the poor dog, clearly from the Lufthansa flight who was a bit over the whole travel thing and wanted the world to know all about it.  This left me staring off into space and all I could think of was China, who will be going through something similar in a few weeks.

I mediated arguments over why Peter's plane hadn't landed prior to our arrival at the airport, who got the last sip of vanilla bean Frappucino, why the straw was not going back in the cup after it landed on the floor, who got how much of the chocolate chip cookie, and why I really, really, really had to take photos of them holding up their welcome home posters.  Thankfully, customs was in high gear today and I only had to have Nick 'hide' behind one of the columns for 15 minutes or so, before Peter walked through the doors.  Oh, and sorry to those other unsuspecting Lufthansa passengers he might have surprised by accident, one has to practice, you know!  

Oh, and if you scroll all the way down, you will see my attempt at a very brief video of a little guy surprising his dad...


Photo 2


Photo 4
Take 1?


Photo 5


Photo 1
A close-up...and yes, the three of us have one long name.


Photo 3
A special message from Cait.



Photo 1
So happy together!


Oh, and that video?  I did manage to get a wee bit of one...



May 23, 2013

I can't call my husband...

can't call, text, send email, and semaphore is totally out...and that's a good thing.


'Cause after one very long (or short, depending on the day) year that boy is headed home!  Yes, he is on the second of two flights and is slated to land at an awfully early hour on Friday for what will be his last Kabul-Dubai-DC flight for this tour.

Oh, never mind, I can email and text, and he can call me (for the low, low price of $2.50/minute!), because he is still waiting for a flight that will get him out of Dubai. After two flight changes, it looks like he will finally leave Dubai in 3 hours, head to Frankfurt for a brief stopover and then arrive in our neck of the woods sometime in the early afternoon tomorrow. This is what I get for writing this piece ahead of time...

I was actually going to save this post for his arrival, but given that our busy-ness is going to ramp up a bit once he's home, I thought I'd get it out of my system now.  You see, over the past year, I've come up with a few UT (Unaccompanied Tour) tips.  I'm not sure they will be remotely useful, but since they've come in handy for me, I figured I'd share since I'm so thoughtful that way. 

Now, not to sound all Negative Nellie, but I'll start with the "What not to do."  (If you are curious, Cait flipped a coin...).

1.  No regrets.

If you are like us, in one sense, you had a choice where to live:  don't regret it.  You might get folks asking why you didn't run here, there, or stay where you were (might not have been possible).  Just tell them what's done is done and there is no ideal in this scenario.

2. Don't pull the Kabul card too often.

There is a time and place.  Genuine emergency?  Absolutely.  DMV hassling you because you lost your license and insisiting you have to retake your test even though you absolutely, positively are a regulation licensed driver (and they can see proof on their computers)?  Yep, this might be the time.

Okay, this didn't actually happen *this* time, but I had no guilt about pulling the Baghdad card back in 2010 in order to get a license.  I had 3 kids who needed to be places, an unblemished driving record, a husband 6,300 miles away, and had done everything in my power to get a replacement license, but was being held back by the local DMV's refusal to even try and understand my scenario. A quick phone call solved that little problem in a jiffy, because there really are problems that are unique to those in the Foreign Service. (For the record, I tried to resolve without intervention on 4 separate occasions...but the nature of the issue was entirely due to us being FS.)

Then there are those days when I'm just stressed and tired and want to remind people that my husband is serving his country and goshdarnit, I shouldn't be stuck in this line/traffic/on hold and I just keep quiet. For I all I know, the person receiving my misplaced wrath might be in the same scenario and/or just had something worse happen.  Yes, it's pretty awful to have your husband sent over there for a year. However, bad stuff happens to people every day in *this* country and it helps to realize when the card is necessary and when it's just a crankypants moment. 

3. Don't read every piece of advice you find on UTs, follow it all and then wonder why things seem screwed up *if* they aren't perfect.

One size doesn't fit all.  What works for one family will not necessarily work for another.  Want my laundry list of things we didn't do?

  • No countdown jars (for us, too obvious a reminder/we'd never have the time)
  • No Skyping on a regular basis (we let the kids decide when/if to Skype)
  • No planned daily/weekly/monthly phone call for the kids (see Skype rule)
  • No extra stress on the fact that the kids were experiencing something unusual*
  • No extra preparations, workbooks or classes (do those exist?) for the kids regarding the UT


This is far from our first separation** and if there is one thing I have learned throughout the years, it's keep it SIMPLE.  We knew trying to figure out some grand plan to make it feel like Peter was here for a year would not work for us.  We also did not want to make time pass so quickly so that a year that might be filled with otherwise super moments is now just that year we tried to get through and forget (save that for other things!). We knew games and such wouldn't make Peter come home any faster, but might just remind the kids of how much we were focusing on his absence, instead of just going about our lives. 

I'm not saying to ingore the situation entirely.  You may well need to vent (so, you could, uh, say, start a Facebook group or something for those experiencing UTs) or feel like celebrating the success of getting through the year, so you have a huge party when he/she comes home, or plan a fabulous trip.   Great! However, don't feel like if it's been 6 months and all is basically well  that everything will suddenly fall apart.  It won't (well, it didn't for us).  Oh, and we are doing one sort of special post UT thing for the young'uns, but not something I can discuss here just yet...

4. Don't do it all!

Huh?  How can I not do it all, when I'm the only parent?  

My husband's one rule this year?  He was accessible 24/7, barring accidents/incidents/downed phone lines & internet.  If the kids needed to talk with him in the middle of his night, we were to call ASAP.  He woke himself up at horribly early hours to *participate* in family birthday parties, he made doctors appointments and ordered a new cable box for us during downtime, and did not miss one parent-teacher conference (so, if he can make it....).  

When Peter was on Secretary's Detail, we were lucky to get phone calls when he traveled (every other week).  Skype did not exist and even if it had, his schedule was so erratic, it would have been useless. Even email was tough as he was on the plane so much and did not have access the way we do today. So three years on Secretary's Detail vs. this UT?  No question, the UT hands down.  If nothing else, schedule-wise, so much easier and less stressful for all of us.

Well, if that's what I'm *not* supposed to do...what DO I do?

1.  Relax.  

Seriously.  Treat yourself to the extent you can.  Get a massage (hey, FSBP covers $60 per massage x 40 per year!), a mani/pedi, a grueling workout or a dinner out.  Yoga really helps me and I try to get to 2-3 classes/week.  Find a way to just let go.  No, you can't do it every day (well, I couldn't), but you when you do find pockets of time (the 4th Saturday of the 8th month...),  give yourself the excuse you need to just chill.

2. Keep your eyes on the prize.

Yes, this year might be a wee stressful. You might just find your 4 year old running around  shouting, "There's one of me and three of you!" on a regular basis.  You might wonder why everything around the house seems to fall apart three weeks before your spouse is slated to return or why you suddenly need a new car when you aren't moving for 6 months and really don't want to buy one yet.

Then you remember you have a follow-on post.  You actually *need* a new car and wouldn't it be nice to break it in over here? Yes, the dishwasher is broken again, but the kids are happily playing and you are going to show it this time who's the boss.  Plus, this time next year if the dishwasher breaks, you can either fix it yourself or call the GSO as you will be happily ensconced in your new home overseas (feel free to change to fit your scenario).

3.  Let your kids do more.

Chores won't hurt them and may in fact, make them stronger.  (Mind you, chores were already very much a part of our kids' lives, but we had to step it up a bit this year.) Yes, it might be a tough year, but helping out more might make it easier vs. harder.  Short of fixing the dishwasher, I don't think there is a task I haven't given to the kids at one time or another (okay, except for that Nicholas tree trimming business...that was all his idea).  From the cat box to dog walking, I will outsource anything!  Heck, I'm to the point where I can take an hour long nap and wake up to find 3 lbs of from scratch cookie dough chilling in the fridge, courtesy of Kelsey.  Might not be great for the waistline, but soooo good.

4.  Say no.

It can be done!  In fact, I've done it a lot this year and I'm actually kind of proud of it.  I'm not saying I sat around eating bon-bons all day long, far from it.  However, when I knew I was stretched too thin, I just took a step back.  I didn't try to make every single kids event and we haven't exactly been perfect churchgoers this year.  However, this ability allowed me to really be where my kids/volunteer jobs needed me, instead of going nuts and then just snapping.


That's it.  We have about ?? hours until Peter is home for good and I can't say I'm not thrilled.  Yes, I'm happy to have this year over and move to our next post.  I'm also not saying the year was perfect. I know now there are several changes I would implement should we ever do this again (never say never in the Foreign Service).  However, I'm also glad that we went about it the way we did.  Our way won't necessarily work for everyone, but it never hurts to share, right?  

Oh, and if you are interested in that Facebook group...you know where to find me.


*sometimes circumstances will dictate a mention, however, I found these to be few and far between.

**We have had significant separations when I was pregnant with Cait (and on bedrest, yippee!), with one baby, with a baby and a preschooler, and with all three kids (at varying ages).  At no time during these separations did we have household help or was living near family an option.  So, pretty much on my own 24 hours/day until Peter returned...just to clarify, lest anyone think I don't know what it's like with a younger crew....







May 17, 2013

It's like a little clue...

So, we have sort of something coming up soon.  Well, okay, it's today.  Kind of a celebration of sorts, except that not all parties will actually be together, thus hampering said festivities.  So, the real party or, say, fantastic getaway (yes, that is a hint)  might have to wait a few weeks.  In the meantime, we can play guess the event!

Could it be a birthday?

Well, no.  Not yet.  I know Peter probably feels a year (or maybe 20 years) older after his time in Kabul, but it's not here just yet.


Maybe it's Valentine's Day?

Duh, that was in February.  However, since I forgot to post this sweet memory way back when, I'll post it now.  After all, it sort of relates to today's general theme.  


Anyone care and try to guess the special message one of us sent to the other our senior year of college?  I'd give you a hint, but if you know Peter at all, this one's a no brainer.

Or...could it be...16 years?!


That's it!

Happy Anniversary, my love.  It's been 16 very fascinating years and here's to many more...


Oh, and one week...one week!  Woot!

May 13, 2013


No, I didn't write a whole book (saving that for a rainy day), but today, after months of hard work, writing, rewriting, edits galore, and swearing I was reviewing the last copy of my chapter for the final time, it happened:  AAFSW's latest book was published, with my wee bit of writing inside.

This guide to moving while in the Foreign Service is an amazing compilation of stories concerning the sometimes harsh reality of picking up your entire household and taking it to (most likely) another foreign locale every 2-3 years.  Whether it is preparing for a move (no matter what your methodology...completely organized to just randomly throwing stuff in a box), trying to prepare children for said move, adjusting to new locales, or dealing with sudden and unexpected loss, this is your must-read.  The authors spared no expense to bring you perhaps the most comprehensive, honest, and, yes, at times, gut-wrenching guide to getting through that craziness that is known as a permanent change of station.

Lest I spill too many of the beans, I am not going to divulge any more about the book other than to say that the authors and editors did an absolutely amazing job.  I know one of the editors in particular was insanely patient with me.  She was nothing but encouraging as I tried to complete my chapter while going to school full-time, being a full-time single parent, and dealing with everything that goes along with that.  I wish I could say my writing might be one of the more lighthearted pieces, but that's not exactly the case. However, you should finish the essay with the knowledge you need to tackle that special, yet sorrowful, type of move, though I sincerely hope no one else has to go through such a trial.

Without further ado, I present AAFSW's latest and greatest:  

The Foreign Service Companion:  Moving Your Household Without Losing Your Mind

Now, run off and read it already!  And, yes, you may purchase it paperback form or buy it for your e-reader and enjoy immediately.

May 12, 2013

It's been 8 years

since I have been relegated to simply writing about Mother's Day, rather than actually calling my mom and wishing her a happy day.  So much time has passed, yet in one moment I can pull up so many memories.  Not all fabulous, of course, she wasn't perfect, but that made her human and real.

So, Mom, assuming you somehow can telepathically get this message (you know that was one of your talents), Happy Mother's Day...and Grandmother's Day, since you have three insanely tall, beautiful, and smart grandkids.  In fact, sometimes I look at Nick and wonder if you didn't have a little input...that blond hair, those blue eyes, and his spirit!  It's like your spirit, when it was allowed to shine.

And since it seems like it's been a while, I dug up this fab photo of you holding me when I was a wee one.  Gotta love the hair and the dress, but can't say that I am not glad those times have passed. 

This is hard.  See, you were supposed to still be around...remember how you promised you'd live forever, so you could be that nagging old mom, grandmom, and great-grandmom?  Sigh.  Wish you'd kept that promise.  Then you would be here to impart to the kids your great life lessons.  

How you knew when to coddle a wee bit and when to back off.  How you never, ever judged or assumed about me and how you let me learn about myself and grow into my own beliefs. Reminded me that I needed to be my own person, and if I made mistakes in becoming that person, it would never change your love for me.

Sigh.  If I could just go back in time, fly home, and smack those idiot doctors who ignored your medical history, I would in a heartbeat.  I can't though...and I have only regrets about that.  Instead, here's a photo of a Little Guy who knows as much or more about you than his sisters.  

And despite the fact he's never met you, he loves and misses you.  We all do.









May 07, 2013

It's official

that Nicholas appears to have the same love affair with books as his sisters do.  While we are lucky that he appears to enjoy their vast collection of bookish hand-me-downs, he has a few interests that were not around when they were young.  Given we can only take so much with us when we move in two short months, we try to utilize the local library as much as possible.  


Just love this...

Today Nick's buddy Nate stopped by for a while, so we had a group trip to the library.  It occurred to me on the way that A. it had been a while since we had visited the library and B.  Nick should be eligible for a library card, given that he mastered the writing of his name quite some time ago.



I apparently missed the news that they stopped that whole "one has to write his or her own name to get a library card" years ago, as now one can get one at age two.  Or maybe I knew that and subconciously figured he should wait until he was old enough, as that would make the event a wee bit more special.  Who doesn't remember the excitement of getting that first library card?

I can't say the clerk was terribly excited about Nick's new card, but I gather he sees this sort of thing every day.  However, I can't say I didn't swipe away a tear watching him *sign* his name and get his official passport to book heaven (and two key cards, which just cracks me up).  


Possibly his favorite part of a trip to the library.

After much fussing at me over the photos ("Will you stop taking pictures?!"), we headed over to the scanner so he could handle his first official check-out.  Mind you, he's checked out many a book on my account (and I have the paid receipts for fines to prove it!), but it's definitely exciting to slide your own card under the scanner and check them out 100% by yourself.  


Sometimes you just want to stop time and freeze it for a few moments.  Today it's a library card, tomorrow it's...nope, not gonna think about tomorrow yet.  Just going to go peek in on the LG sleeping sweetly and think about today one more time.

May 05, 2013

Sunday used

to be a day of rest in my mind.  However, being that I am now a geographically single parent, that has gone out the window.  Well, maybe it's not really a day of rest for anyone with active children.  However, when you are reduced to one driver in the household, the activity level sometimes seems twice as insane.

Not really relevant to this post, but up until this year I used to occasionally get weepy thinking about Cait driving one day.  More importantly, she used to remind me frequently that she would be able to drive in "x" amount of time (x=very short).  Then, one day, I realized if she was just a wee bit older, she COULD drive, whether it be to youth group or the store.  I started romanticizing the idea of another driver in the household, and suddenly she took a step back.  Driving became a lot less interesting when Mom suddenly had errands 1.5 years out.  However, in the end, all of the romanticization in the world didn't buy me another driver. 

No, I remained insanely busy.  In fact, so much so, that I can't claim to be disappointed that winter swim (for Kelsey) ended tonight or that both CCD (Sunday School for Kelsey) and Way (Cait's youth group) end in three weeks.  In fact, I might be doing a happy dance, especially now that soccer has started (for Kelsey) and it's bumping into CCD.  (Yes, we've skipped CCD twice now for Kelsey to play soccer.  Judge not lest you have been in my exact same cleats.)

One weekend was utter craziness.  We skipped CCD in order for Kelsey to play a make-up soccer game (she is loving, loving soccer).  Nick then had a birthday party that began approximately two hours after the soccer game ended and we'd have to leave said party 15 minutes early to get to winter swim.  As I was driving home from the soccer game, it hit me that if I didn't go to the store that second, I'd miss out on everything I needed for the next day.  

So, without hesitation, I barked out orders for the kids (did I mention gifts were not wrapped for the party nor had a card been crafted?), grabbed my basket and grocery bags, and headed out for the store.  The result?  I came home an hour later laden with groceries, headed inside, and found a beautifully (and obviously very kid-wrapped) gift on the table and two ready for a party kids.  Kelsey had covered the gifts in comic strips and worked with Nick to create a homemade card (She wrote the to and from, he wrote the names and drew the picture inside).  The sweetness of the activity would have brought tears to my eyes, if only I had time to find a tissue to wipe them.  

Fast forward two weeks, and not only has my oven broken (think it's the ignitor...if not...hope Sears is having a sale!), but in addition to all of the weekly nuttiness, Monday is International Day in Kelsey's class.  I find this out on Friday and decide to make my two day, from scratch chicken noodle soup.  Then Kelsey decided to bake her incredible sugar cookies (trust me...they are insanely delish). Of course, I say "Yes, you can make cookies!" before I remember the oven is shot and slightly relieved,  I remind her of this.

She just looked at me.

"But I want to make cookies!"  she stated emphatically.

"Great!" I told her.  "Find a place to bake them, and you can go to town!"

This was Friday afternoon.  Saturday morning, she asks me if she can bake them if our neighbor lets her use her oven.   I remind her this requires her to make all arrangements and short of buying ingredients, I am out of this equation.  Figuring that was that, I worried about my end of Interational Day and went about my day.

Not an hour later, Kelsey comes popping in the kitchen, asking if we have enough butter.  I reminded her of the no oven scenario.  She responded with, "Oh, J's mom says I can come over tomorrow and bake whenever I need to do so!"

And bake she did.  I bought the ingredients, officially tested the dough and final product, but otherwise stayed out of the process.  Kelsey even decorated *my* cookie for me when I was too busy at our house making dinner.  In the end, she had an amazing batch of cookies and I had the realization that once again, as much as it can be difficult to be a family apart, you realize just how much you or your kids are capable of doing on their own.

I'm sure it seems silly to some.  Really, your kid asked a neighbor if she could borrow her oven? She then just followed a recipe and created an amazing dessert from scratch and schlepped it into school to share with her classmates? That's it?  But my kid can...

I know.  They are amazing, aren't they?  When we give them tools, teach them how to do things and then set them (somewhat) free, isn't it just wonderful to see what they can do on their own?  

Sometimes I feel guilty that I simply don't have the time to coddle my children.  Love them and teach them, yes, coddle them, no.  Then I watch them, see all they can do, and thank my lucky stars I step back when I do.