December 19, 2013

Call us medical

expats, if you will.  Or, really, dental/orthodontic expats would be more accurate.  We didn't bid on Managua knowing how inexpensive, yet good, the dental care would be, but it's definitely something we will keep in mind for future bidding.

We've known for a while that at least two of our three children would need braces at some point in time.  Kelsey still has a wee bit of time, where as Caitlin was nearly over due by the time we moved here.  She was close (but not quite ready) in California.

Then we moved to Virginia, Peter went to Iraq, all you-know-what broke loose, he came back and that was the end of that.  I was lucky to get the kids to the dentist (which nearly required valium for me, as it turned out Nick liked the dentist even less than the lady who cut his hair), and I completely forgot about things like well check-ups and such.  Thank goodness the kids have immune systems like rocks from all of that rolling in the dirt and such.  The dentist we finally stuck with (Nick finally liked) noted that Cait was finally ready for braces some time during our second year in VA. This was all well and good, however, braces are notoriously expensive.  When you are still recovering from a year of lost extra income and dealing with unexpected medical issues, braces aren't something you want to think about.

We did have dental insurance, but had not yet come close enough to being able to use the orthodontic portion (and, of course, now they've cut the waiting period in half), and FSBP only covers so much.  Then we started to think about the possibility that we might have to wait, no matter what, as we knew we would be moving and that any work on Cait would take at least 2, if not 3, years...time we no longer had in Virginia.

We ended up finding a great local orthodontist in Falls Church.  Cait went to see him twice for thorough exams and just as I was trying to calculate exactly how much we would have to lay out for braces, the doctor came to the conclusion that while it wasn't spectacularly ideal, it would be far better to wait until our arrival in Managua.  We could have one doctor see Cait through the whole deal, and we had started to research the issue and noted that prices seemed to be a bit lower.

Now that we are here, I can say "a bit" doesn't cover it.  Without even submitting our claims to our regular insurance company, our maximum yearly dental exam bill (2 times a year x 5 people) would be $300/year.  Subtract out the insurance paid, and it will run us about $60/year out of pocket (which will be paid from our health FSA).  

Given that we were so close to being to the end of the waiting period, we opted to start Cait with the orthodontia.  We then asked the price and without batting an eye, the dentist said, "$1600.  You pay $300 down and then $54/month for 24 months."  I repeated the information back to her with a stunned look and she had the look of understanding.  She knew we were used to the higher prices in the States, and like many, were surprised that something like this could be so affordable without insurance.

Then I started thinking about the dental insurance we had planned on keeping.  I did the math and realized that we would pay more in premiums over one year, than we would for Cait's braces (paid over two).  Additionally, our regular health insurance will cover the cost of the first $1000 of Cait's orthodontia.  In the end, we will owe $600 out of pocket, all of which will likely be paid from our FSA.

It didn't take long for us to realize that given it was open season, we needed to make a few decisions.  After taking another long, hard look at the numbers, we opted out of dental insurance for next year and likely won't think about it again until we go back to the States (and even then, we will have to really run the numbers).  And the irony of something so basic (good dental and orthodontia) being so reasonably priced, is not lost on me.  As much as we think of the U.S. as being so advanced, they have a lot to learn about reasonable pricing for medical care, as well as dental.  Even a recent trip to the ER (an hour long visit) only ran $69 (which is less than our co-insurance payment in the U.S.).  

After we received the quote, we set up a visit with the orthodontist.  He did a tiny bit of preliminary work two weeks ago, and then today was the big day:  the braces.  I figured Cait didn't need me pacing in the waiting room, so I grabbed lunch across the street.  Thirty minutes later I returned, and 5 minutes after that, she was completely ready to go.  I knew it would be fast, but that was ridiculous.

During that last 5 minutes, I signed the paperwork, paid the cash down payment, and received the receipt that, when we returned home,  I promptly filed online with our insurance.  We will go back (for now) monthly, have the braces checked, and pay the $54 fee, providing there is nothing to be fixed (broken brackets, etc.).  She's not entirely thrilled, but we are ecstatic, knowing that instead of stressing about paying (egad) I don't know how much for braces, that money will instead be put in other savings accounts.  Her teeth will be nearly perfect, and our wallets still intact thanks to the low cost and being able to save $1600 plus a year on dental insurance.  And we are also thinking that Kelsey should be ready soon, so might as well take that plunge, too, while we are here...

 

IMG_6176
A rare photo of Cait smiling with the new jewels. The photo cost me a chocolate muffin, but worth it for the smile.


 

 

December 08, 2013

I'm not a Black Friday kind

of gal. The idea of getting up any earlier than I absolutely must to buy stuff I don't need at prices lower than regular price just does not appeal to me.  Even if we were in the States, I can't imagine wanting to stand in lines like that (or deal with such crowds) for any reason.  And when you are living in a developing country, you quickly learn to redefine "need."

We might want a grill for our outdoor patio, but let's face it, that's a want.  Our kids might each want their own iPad (an example, no one has yet asked), but that's so not going to happen, since they each already have computer access when they need it.  I want new cookware, but other than one particular pan, do we really *need* it? No.

Hence, I find the race each year to the stores to be entertaining at best.  Quite honestly, I don't even know what people could want to buy. We had Black Friday sales here (which lasted all weekend), which I found to be just bizarre.  If anything, seeing the spread of the idea is just depressing. Then there is the whole Cyber Monday idea and the shopping just never ends.  Occasional shopping I certainly understand, but this manic-crazed thing is just not my cup of tea.

Instead of making me feel better about the approaching holidays, it's just seems rather sad to me. I'm reminded of my mom, who was so good about buying gifts all year round, really finding unique items that people wanted, catching every hint, and then squirelling things away until it was time to start wrapping.  She thrived on real craft fairs (hand crafted wooden items, pottery that had been lovingly shaped, glazed, and fired, and the like), and managed to find exactly what folks wanted and needed.  Oh, sure, she still shopped traditional stores when need be, but took her time and still managed to find the perfect gift for everyone, even the year she died.

To give myself credit, I tried.  However, after she died, Christmas lost a lot of its luster.  To this day, I still randomly find myself in a market thinking, "Oh, that would be perfect for Mom!" and then it hits me 5 seconds later that it just doesn't matter. After a few years, I finally started to get back into enjoying the holidays, until fall 2010 hit.  Christmas again took a blow, as it's very hard to enjoy when you are in the midst of recovering from something you shouldn't have to deal with, ever.

Each year has gotten a bit better, but even with Peter home last year, it was still stressful as he was absent during so much of the 'prep' time.  I found myself doing  a lot of last-minute shopping (which I loathe) and vowed it would be different this year. 

Unfortunately, this year I've been thrown off by a new schedule and a lack of seasonal changes.  The schedule I can deal with, but the lack of seasons just throws me off.  While it's nice to know that we may be able to swim outside on Christmas afternoon, it's hard to get into the mood hearing Feliz Navidad in the stores while I'm wearing shorts and Tevas.

Then last Friday rolled around....it was the much-anticipated holiday fair that was put on in the Embassy by my office.  I can officially say that as long as I have this fair to look forward to each year, I will have no problem getting myself psyched up for the holidays.  We had such an amazing range of vendors, from local smokehouses to those who made adorable hair baubles for wee ones to absolutely amazing handcrafted wooden creations.

Finally, gifts that I know cannot be duplicated, and not only would they not break my wallet, they would help fill someone else's.  From the father/son duo making the wooden salad bowls that would run close to $100 in the States, to the handmade pine needle baskets, we had so much choice.  Suddenly, I was not only glad that had brought my shopping basket, but wished I'd thought to bring a few more reusable grocery bags.

Here are just a few of the samples from the day...and just think, if you visit, I'm sure we can arrange for you to meet with any one of the vendors, should it not be fair time.

IMG_6107
Teachers' gifts, homemade marshmallows, and a pine needle basket from Fabretto.


 

IMG_6109
Handcrafted leather purses. Think similar to Coach, but with one third of the price tag.



IMG_6110
I misunderstood the propietor at first and thought he said, a pair of hand-carved earrings would be $50. Nope, 50 Cordobas (local currency), which equals $2.
 
 
IMG_6111
Hand-made barrettes and headbands...utterly adorable!

 

IMG_6112
The paintings and designs were all created by children with disabilities and are available for sale year-round at a local children's hair cuttery.
IMG_6113
More leather goods...
IMG_6114
We might have purchased a set of salad bowls...
IMG_6116
Pine needle baskets made by women in the Pinos Fabrettinos initiative.
IMG_6117
Nica HOPE jewelry is made by children who benefit from Fabretto's programs. You can read about some of the artisans here.

If you are enchanted by either the jewelry or the pine needle baskets/coffee, you can see more online and purchase from Fabretto!  Click here and you can see all of the items available for purchase.  Oh, and, yes, we might have been a bit selfish...we did buy ourselves an early Christmas gift, but at $38 for the whole set, just couldn't pass it up.

 

IMG_6138

Christmas shopping that gives in several directions and far more directly to those who need it.  Unique items that can't be found elsewhere...did I mention we also have a spring fair?  Just saying....

 

November 28, 2013

The pie is cooling

on the wire rack on the counter, while the turkey in the fridge is well into its brining cycle.  I have a schedule for cooking tomorrow so that the green bean casserole, cranberry compote, turkey, and stuffing are all the appropriate temperature when served at dinner tomorrow afternoon and I will theoretically somehow fit in a 3 mile walk.  All in all, it's shaping up to be a relatively normal Thanksgiving dinner. That in and of itself is a treat.

The past few years have been challenging.  We had the weird Thanksgiving in 2010 (courtesy of me), the following year was tricky, as we were already looking ahead to Peter's departure and knowing we'd be apart for Thanksgiving 2012.   Then Thanksgiving 2012 rolled around and I realized I was still carrying a lot of stress from the past few years.  And this year?

Finally, we are together as a family.  We are happily ensconced in our new home and have no desire to travel over the holidays (especially considering Friday is a workday for us).  We have the ability to procure our favorite Thanksgiving dishes, and interestingly enough, it's not an unknown holiday here. The kids' school held special celebrations in the lower grades, though the turkey was substituted with local fried chicken.  

The best part of being here is that  we don't have to stress about the craziness of Black Friday, work or no work.  We can simply have a day off today and won't have to fret about insane traffic on Friday (well, any more so than normal).  Lovely!

For all of that and so much more, we are grateful.  Finally, after a long three years we are in a happy place again, and it is just feels so good. Here's hoping wherever you are and however you celebrate, that the day will be just as you wish it to be.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

 

IMG_6058

 

 

 

 

 

November 23, 2013

Sometimes you wake up

and realize you want to go to a volcano right now.  It's the weekend, you have nothing planned, there is one 20 minutes down the road, and you want to go see what it's all about.  The beauty of living in Managua is that we can do just that on a moment's notice.

Our trip to Somoto Canyon last week reminded us that we need to get out and do things while we can. Sometimes we get caught up in work and life and forget that our time here is limited.  Last night we discussed a brief visit to the volcano today and it was agreed we would all head out in the morning.

Or afternoon, as the case may be when it takes over an hour just to wake up the teenager.  However, given it was a lazy day, we didn't have to stress about meeting anyone at a certain time or worry about being home for anything this evening.  We sussed out restaurants near the volcano and figured we would have a nice local lunch before our hike, however brief or long.

IMG_6007

The one issue we have here is finding actual directions to places.  Addresses as we know them really don't exist.  Most addresses are in relation to a monument or landmark (said landmark does not need to be in existence now, which can be tricky for newcomers).  So, we had a bit of a hard time finding our lunch destination.  It was supposed to be kilometer 13.5 on the highway, however, it didn't state which side.  Even more confusingly, the actual map on Trip Advisor pointed to a completely different area.  We drove around for a while, eventually found another restaurant that happened to overlook Laguna de Masaya, and made us even more eager to make our way to the top of the crater.

 

IMG_6014

After lunch, we found the entrance to Masaya fairly easily (it's right on Carretera Masaya, how's that for directions!) and proceeded to go in. Unfortunately, we were stopped at the beginning, as nowhere did we read that the entrance cost was 100 Cordobas per person (everything we found simply said 100 Cordobas, and we assumed per car...nope).  Luckily, our friend ATM saved everything and we were back at the entrance 10 minutes later.  We paid just over 20 USD, and made our way inside.

We could have stopped at the grand and rambling visitors center (one of the nicest we've seen here), but opted to go straight to the top.  We knew we were not in danger of visiting only once, and given this was more of a visit to scope out what we could do, we kept driving.  The first leg was very lush and green, but that quickly gave way to wide open fields.  Wide open lava fields, which excited all of us to no end since that quickly took us back to our time in Iceland.

IMG_6016

 After a 4 kilometer ride, we reached the parking area.  We stopped, noted the cowboy up on the hill, and headed over to the crater.  It was a bit, er, smoky, so the view we had changed frequently as the wind shifted. IMG_6018

I think, though, despite our late start, it was a perfect day to see a bit of what the area had to offer.

IMG_6021

Like Iceland, Nicaragua can be very "at your own risk." This does not bother us, as the views are unobstructed by fences and such.  A little common sense, of course, in such areas, goes a long way.

 

IMG_6027

 Lava rocks were most definitely made for climbing, at least according to the little guy....

IMG_6030

The cross in the above photo is from a baptism the volcano received in the 16th century.  Due to its frequent eruptions, the volcano was feared by Spanish settlers and indigenous peoples alike. The baptism was held in the hopes that the devil could be removed from the volcano. Just for the record, the exorcism didn't 'take'...

IMG_6032 This view randomly reminded us of Iceland. Perhaps just due to the vast open plain and knowing that the growth was just barely concealing fields and fields of black lava.

IMG_6036

A certain someone admitted once at the top of the volcano, that she was very glad to have made the trip.

IMG_6038

It's not a day til you are completely and happily covered in the dust from 300 year old lava rocks.

IMG_6023

No worries, none of us slipped off the ledge.  However, we are sufficiently intrigued and we will likely return many times.  We are hoping to make a visit over Thanksgiving break in order to take the tour of the bat caves,  will return another time to hike Sendero Los Coyotes (a roundtrip hike from the visitor center to the Lagoon), and last, but not least, we will go back up to the crater and hire a guide to take us up further on horses.  Many of the trails require guides, and given our good experiences with them thus far in Nicaragua, I'm happy to hire someone who truly knows the lay of the land.  Now, what to do tomorrow....

 

 

November 18, 2013

I realized yesterday

that never in my wildest dreams as a child, could I have projected to what my life has become.  I was a bit shy and retiring,  a likely perfect definition of a wallflower.  And not that much has changed for me personality-wise, but lifestyle, oh, yes.  I dreamed of travel as a child.  I dreamed of living in exotic locales, where it was winter all year long, summer all year long, seasons reversed or the same, with the exception of everyone speaking a marvelously different language.  Moreoever, I wanted my children to have that same opportunity.

I wanted them growing up and knowing the world.  To hear the pride in my son's voice when he reminds people he was born in Iceland, yet he knows that his heritage is American.  To see my daughter's friends span the globe.  They may live in however many different countries, but they share the same angsts and joys in life, no matter where their roots are for the moment.  Perhaps the best was watching Kelsey jump off a rock into the water in the middle of canyon in northern Nicaragua.  No fear, just following her friends with sheer excitement about the opportunities life gives us. 

988375_10201125068392381_714075935_n
There's my wee nugget, jumping fearlessly....

To say yesterday was another "this is why we moved to Nicaragua" moment would be an understatement.  As part of my position at the Embassy, Co-Community Liaison Coordinator, I planned to a trip to Somoto Canyon, which is so far north, it practically touches Honduras.  I was a bit nervous, having never actually made the trek before, and no idea what to expect.  I can only say it was so much more than I could have imagined.

Somoto Canyon is actually a fairly new tourist attraction, having really only opened to the public in 2004.  Given that it appeared to be a 3 hour drive (in reality, have 4 good hours each way without stops), and that I was planning for what could be a large group, I wanted something fairly inclusive.  Guides and lunch would be the plan, given that none of us had been before, and every review of the tours indicated that even the most-prepared hikes benefited from someone who really 'knew' the canyon.

I Googled and researched like crazy, and hit upon review after review of the Soriano family guide group on Trip Advisor.  Lo and behold, not only were the reviews stellar, but they had a website!  Pictures, tour descriptions, and confirmation that one could have inclusive tours that included guides, safety equipment, lunch and the like.  I sent off an email and a day later, I was sold.

I heard back from Brian, who runs the set-up of the tours and received more information than I knew what to do with.  Actually, thanks to him,  I now have a lovely 4 page .PDF with all of the info one needs for a trip to the area, to include directions, local hotel listings, and a food menu.  I was still a bit worried, as $25/person seemed like quite a bit (factoring in the drive there and such), until he mentioned the words "group discount."

Within days, we had a group set, and being the most thoughtful organizer that he is, Brian allowed us to run two tours concurrently.  For those who had younger children or simply didn't want the standard tour, he offered that they could do the shorter tour.  It's not quite the same hike, and you utilize inner tubes to float up to a pool of the canyon where the younger set can do small, fun jumps without the fear of scrambling up wet rock and then staring down a meter...or 20?

After a frantic week of planning (I had just finished up another major event at the Embassy on Friday), Saturday morning arrived suddenly.  We* packed up as much gear as we thought we needed based on my communications with Brian.  I still was not entirely sure how wet we would get (very!), or whether we needed good shoes for the walk and float (Tevas/Keens are best).  One minutes I worried that I was wearing shorts for the hike, however once it started, I was grateful I had left the longer pants at home.

We were able to secure a shuttle at the last minute, and for our group, that was likely best. For those who have fewer numbers in their tour, I would recommend driving up the night before and staying in Somoto (or at the Hacienda). Then you need only wake up and walk/drive to the hacienda near the entrance to the canyon. No worries about getting up at the crack of dawn, or who has to drive four hours in a row.

We met up with Brian, who runs the actual planning, and Henry, whose family runs the guide company, just outside the family's hacienda.  Once we were all set for the ride to the canyon (swimsuits on, check, shorts and t-shirts that can get wet, good hiking/water shoes, sunscreen applied & full water bottles), we re-boarded the bus and drove a kilometer up to the entrance.

Sadly, I've misplaced my Garmin, so I'm only guessing, but the hike from where we stopped along the Pan-American Highway must have been close to 2 kilometers (the total trip maybe 4-6?).  The path started off rocky, turned into fields and eventually ended in a long winding trip down to the water that was extremely muddy and fast at times.  One minute we were stopped to view the canyon below us, with Honduras mere kilometers away, the next minute we were back on the path, sometimes skipping down slightly slick rocks, other times carefully putting one foot in front of the other.  We hugged the side of the rock with one arm, and without an iota of embarrassment, held the carefully proffered hand of the guide in the other.

IMG_5947
Not just one guide, but three, in addition to Brian.  It is a family business run by Henry Soriano, and he and his cousins were our guides.  I would not go through the canyon again without them.  They knew instinctively when we needed help, when we didn't, and were there in a heartbeat if we made the mistake of stepping down into the water and putting all of our weight on the rock that was just a wee bit too slippery.

IMG_5949
Just before we descended to the water...
IMG_5965
After our first leg of floating down the river...


Before we knew it, we had managed to get down to the beginning of the float down the canyon.  We all had been given life vests, and tightened them before we made the final few steps down to the water.  There was a natural water slide down one rock and before we knew it, we were sliding down into the shockingly cool (but welcomingly so after the hike) water.  The next two (I'm guessing) two hours were spent floating, climbing out of the water, posing for pictures as we jumped, flipped, swam, floated some more and made our way down the canyon.

IMG_5959
 A view up the canyon:  spots of color on the rocks (mid-photo) are clothes drying in the sun, after being washed by local women in the river


On one hand, I wish I could describe every moment in detail. On the other hand, it was such an overwhelming experience that I would do a disservice to tell you every single thing, as you may think it's an experience not for you or you need only live vicariously through my words.  To watch my 5 year old proudly lead the floating pack down the river, to see my 11 year old scramble up rocks and insist on jumping off with no pause or hesitation...or watching my husband do higher than normal jumps as he knew the kids would always remember his fearlessness more than their own.  And to see our entire group have the same awesome experience was exhilarating.

I could go on and on.  The follow-up hike, having my best only Spanish conversation yet with one of the guides who didn't speak English.  The meal (fresh veggies, handmade corn tortillas...), the welcoming feeling at the hacienda as though we were family. Did I mention the video and photo montage Brian put together for us?  He even caught one of Kelsey's jumps on video! By the time we left, and I was hugging Henry good-bye, I could not believe the small price we had paid for a day that we will likely remember for the rest of our lives.  Well, that is until we return, as we have decided that we might need to visit at least every 6 months.  

I can only say that Nicaragua has really started to tug at my heartstrings.  And while I can't wait to return to Somoto Canyon,  I have a feeling Nica has so much more in store for us. Do we really only have two and a half years left? 

 

*If you are wondering, Cait was sick and missed the outing, but no worries, she will go next time!  

For more information about the tours, please contact Brian T. or Henry Soriano at Somoto Canyon Tours.  They will assist you with the planning, and have advice on everything from hotels to haciendas (you can also stay with local families) and which tour is best.  I just can't recommend them enough.

November 10, 2013

The 238th Birthday Ball

for the Marines at post was held last night.  If you are my friend on Facebook or in a group with me, you have likely read about my stressing over dresses for said event.

For a variety of reasons, it has been years since I have really had to dress up for an event.  Not that I don't like to get gussied up, but I simply haven't had to do so.  Comfort is also an issue for me, as high heels generally don't get along with my feet and given that it's hard to find clothes to match my body type, I could spend hours trying to find something that fits just right.

As much as I was excited for the ball, by early September, I was completely over trying to find a gown. I could not try on any dresses prior to leaving the States, as either I had not had the abdominal surgery (which changed my clothing size) or I was still in pain and swollen from it.  I figured I would order a dress once we arrived at post and that would be that.

July flew into August, August became September and suddenly I was worried about how many dresses I would have to order from Nordstrom.com and in what sizes.  One size in one brand would be a different in another.   I found a few cute dresses and then finally threw in the towel and told Peter he'd have to go without me.  Well, that did it.

I was informed in no uncertain terms that I was going to the ball and it would be in the dress of my dreams.  I then responded that if he expected me to go to the ball, he'd have to find the dress.  As it happened, Peter was prepping for a week long conference in the VA area and he took me up on the challenge.  He took my measurements, approximate dress size, colors that would be acceptable and basic styles to Nordstrom with him one night in mid-September.  After looking around at dresses, and consulting with an adviser, he sent me two photos.  One dress was navy, one was black.  I looked at the black dress, realized he had picked a dress I'd been admiring online (unbeknownst to him), and told him it was okay to purchase.

Four nights later, he came home with a suitcase stuffed to the gills with bacon, cheese, coffee, bath goodies, and 'the' dress.  I waited until the kids were asleep that night, and then looked at it, trying to decide if I should try it on or wait.  What if it didn't fit?  What if the look was wrong?  What if....

I slipped out of my clothes, and carefully took the dress off the hanger.  I started to slip it on, went into Cait's room to look into her longer mirror and realized everything was off.  The back lacy area was extremely loose and everything from my chest to my waist was bunched together. I reached up, tugged a bit, and realize the interior slip had gotten stuck and it threw everything off.  I pulled it down, and...perfection.

The dress fit like a glove even without my Higher Power Spanx that I would eventually purchase in order to avoid any last minute worries about panty lines and such.  I couldn't believe it, yet at the same time, I realized that perhaps 16 years or so of marriage has a few advantages...you learn a person's style, you know their sizes, and you know what will fly and what won't.  With this one, he hit a home run.

Now, mind you, this did not mean that I did not have to stress about shoes, jewelry, make-up and the like.  I kept forgetting how quickly time would fly, and before I knew it, the ball was within two weeks.  I rapidly ordered the Spanx a friend recommended, picked out a pair of shoes from Zappos that looked comfy, but cute, made mani/pedi appointments for myself and Caitlin, and the day of the ball, managed to schedule make-up and hair at quite the last minute.

I had found the Beauty Lounge last summer on a friend's recommendation. The owner had mentioned how she personally creates her own natural make-up line and I kept thinking back to that as the ball neared. I realized I would rather someone else give it a go, lest I end up looking pale and wan in each photo.

While her nail technicians took care of my hands and feet in the morning, the makeup stylist took care of my hair and makeup in the afternoon.  An hour after my arrival, and my hair was carefully pulled back and pinned with two gorgeous flower pins.  My skin was no longer of its normal pallor, but now glowing and I believe it's safe to say my eyes popped out a bit.  With only two hours remaining until ball time, I headed home to dress.

Since I was wearing a cute pair of dressy sandals, I donned my dress, the shoes, a favorite pair of earrings that I inherited from my mom, and I was ready.  We left, in a rainstorm of course, and headed to the Intercontinental, where the ball was held.

And?

 

IMG_5862
I could not have picked a more perfect dress myself....


The night was amazing.  Due to the nature of Peter's job, we were at the head table and it was just a lovely experience. Given all the Marines do for  us, it was an honor to attend the ball, enjoy dinner with them, and then spend hours dancing, mingling, taking photos, and just relaxing. And now that I've gotten through the first ball of our Managua tour without too much stress, I think it's safe to say I already have ideas for next year's dress.  Perhaps I'll be up to picking it out myself, but if not, comforting to know I have a back-up stylist just in case....

 

 

IMG_5866
Cait's first ball, and she managed to pick out her own dress. One minor alteration (easy and inexpensive here) and it was perfect!



and my favorite photo....

DSC_4667

 




October 30, 2013

Selva Negra

Our first outing actually occurred a few weeks ago, which is nothing short of a minor miracle.  Normally we arrive at post, end up having too much settling in to do, come to the conclusion we can't drive up a hill without a child getting sick (Caracas), or realize that overnight travel within said country is expensive and we have a worn-out traveler (Iceland).

We had no luck traveling much of anywhere in Caracas other than for day trips. We spent so much time on the side of the road with Cait (who has now since outgrown the affliction) and we pretty much gave up after our day trip to Colonia Tovar (poor thing still can't look at strawberries).  Then Peter had three years of constant travel and he viewed moving to Iceland as a vacation in and of itself.  

While the rest of us had ants in our pants about traveling, Peter was thrilled to have nowhere to go other than work and the occasional meeting at the base.  After watching Love Actually with him, and hearing him comment "Oh, that really does look like the inside of 10 Downing Street!" or listening to  him give a play-by-play of events most people only heard about on the radio, I was ready for travel. However, the travel/work/schedule gods conspired against us and we had all of two overnight trips while in the country.

Enter our move to Nicaragua: I refused to move here without a notarized statement that we would travel no matter what.  Certainly he did not do much in Kabul, we didn't go crazy our last year in the States, and since none of the kids have sickness issues, we were homefree right?

Well, for the most part.  We were desperate to go somewhere, anywhere, this summer, but did not have a car.  (Please, do not even suggest that we should have rented one.  Driving my own car here makes me nervous, and a rented car simply would have sat in the driveway.)  Then school started, I started working, and all of that free time started to disappear.  We kept thinking about days away, then nixing it due to things that came up. Finally, a friend suggested Selva Negra for Indigenous Peoples Day weekend. 

We realized we couldn't spend the whole weekend, only a night, as the kids had school on Monday (and driving up Friday night was a no-go), but we forged ahead with planning.  And so very glad we did.  

IMG_5667
Selva Negra is a unique coffee farm and resort in the mountains of Matagalpa originally established by German settlers, and if I may say, more of what I expected to see in Nicaragua.  It is roughly a 3 hour drive (I would allow 4), much of it on a two lane highway, and one can easily be slowed down by tuk-tuks or the ever present horse and wagon.  Scenic, yes, but still something to consider when planning trips or travels.

 

IMG_5669
Rooftops reminiscent of cottages in Iceland....

IMG_5674
If this isn't a giant reminder to relax....

We drove up early Saturday morning and considering the twisting and turning it took to get into Selva Negra, I am very glad we opted to drive during the day.  It gets dark here very early (6 p.m. at the latest), year-round, and you really don't want to drive on unpaved roads in the dark here...trust me and your car will thank you.  We finally entered the estate itself by a small guarded gate. There were not many signs, but we finally found a sizable (by local standards) parking area that was across from the office.  We parked, stepped out of the car and...

 

we were amazed. It was at least a 20 degree, if not 30 degree, difference between Managua and Selva Negra.  The gardens were lush and green and designed around recycled materials.  One lettuce garden utilized glass bottles as mini-greenhouses and the entire area just felt so relaxed and safe.  We checked in, received the key to our bungalow (two beds, one bath, & an extra cot ran $105 plus IVA for the night), and opted for a lakeside lunch.  

 

IMG_5682
Lakeside...

IMG_5686
IMG_5687
Good times...

IMG_5705
We began to feel as the owners had designed the lodge for families that needed that feeling of being able to wander without worrying.  A playground was built right next to the lodge, sizeable and fun for all of the kids, and they could wander freely with no worries about traffic or safety.  The air was so clean, the environment so calm, and the food good (mostly organic, too).  From the local coffee to the Hibiscus juice, nothing that I wouldn't try again.

 

IMG_5712
IMG_5723
We planned on spending the weekend with friends, and they arrived soon after lunch was over.  We decided it was the perfect time for a hike (as after dark would have been tricky) and set off on a 2 kilometer hike through the cloud forest.  While I wish I'd thought to bring my hiking boots (turned out Pete had grabbed his, not mine, as I thought), it was certainly doable in sneakers (but very muddy, so closed-toe shoes definitely recommended). And while 2 kilometers may not sound like much, it was very hilly, lots of slick and muddy areas, and especially disconcerting when halfway through the LG decides he has to go to the bathroom that minute.


IMG_5727
Leaves are very, very big here...

We survived, of course, and followed up the hike with drinks and then dinner by the lake (pretty much the only place to eat...and that was fine by us).  Dessert was amazing and I highly recommend the mocha cheesecake.  While Peter and I retired to the bungalow to put the LG to bed (poor guy fell asleep sitting up on the couch), the girls spent hours carousing outside and in with their friends.

 

 

IMG_5703
Solar power heated water...

The next morning brought breakfast by the lake and an early departure for us.  Nick had a birthday party he couldn't miss (the 5th in 10 days), and he simply couldn't miss it. Kelsey stayed behind to enjoy a bit of horseback riding, and then drove home in her friend's car. It wasn't the longest of overnights, but so good to get out of the city, and a place we can see ourselves returning to many times.  They also plan events centered around holidays, to include a Halloween/Oktoberfest celebration the following weekend.  If you have flexibility in your travels, always worth it to check out what might be happening during your visit.  Oh, and bring your long-sleeve shirt, long pants, and jacket.  You won't need them in Managua, but a visit to Selva Negra is not complete without them...

 

October 17, 2013

It's like Christmas!

Perhaps because nearly every box in our house is labeled "X-mas," or maybe because we keep finding unexpected 'gifts' in our boxes.  If you are curious, yes, our household effects arrived today and we are mighty stoked.

IMG_5770
At the not-so-crack of dawn, a moving truck of appropriate size pulled up, out jumped 6 guys, and within minutes we were staring at 6 very large, very full, wooden crates with Peter's name plastered all over them.  It started out very nicely, with Peter directing boxes hither and yon, basing directions on box labels (note to selves:  when you have two girls, label boxes accordingly, not just "girl's room").  I happily attacked Scramble on the couch, as the whole answering the door thing just tuckered me out. 

IMG_5775
Then I realized if I didn't start unpacking, someone else might, and everything might really turn upside-down then.  I started with the easy stuff, boxes labeled "X-Mas."  I am so excited, as we finally have a dedicated holiday item closet near our bedroom.  I couldn't wait to line all of the Easter, Halloween, and Christmas items neatly up on the shelves, and started ripping off the brown paper covering the boxes of decor.

IMG_5776
Apparently, however, in some areas, X-mas also means pool toys.  Books can also be X-Mas, as well as anything related to other holidays, towels, sheets, you name it.  However, pool toys are good, as they can go right out on the terrace where they will soon have their own storage bin while they wait...

IMG_5783

 

Speaking of the terrace, look what else arrived!  We have the sweetest little private road where Nick can happily ride and scooter for hours.  Don't think it took him more than 10 minutes to get his helmet on and get going once he got off the bus.  

And perhaps better than the bike or at least excitement nearly on the same level?

IMG_5790
Oh, yes, the trampoline! Our backyard paradise is now 1/4 complete...just need to get the playhouse built, the garden started, and maybe one more addition.

 

IMG_5797
Want one?!

Naturally, we found a few things that maybe shouldn't have been packed...but would moving be as much fun if we always remembered to empty the sugar bowl and remind the movers not to pack opened bags of buggy-like looking wild rice? I think not.

And now for a rest in my own bed, the first I have had since May 29th...ah, life is good!

 

 



 

October 10, 2013

Catarina began with a bang, and ended with several

whimpers.  We headed out with 4 of us on Sunday to visit this town that is fabled to have an abundance of gardens and nurseries, as well as a majestic view of Laguna de Apoyo.  While technically only 30 minutes from our house, it probably took a good 45 between the time on the highway and once we turned off onto the road to Catarina. The highway is officially a highway, but speeds race from horse and wagon to frustrated driver in a race car;  how fast you can travel depends on which one is in front of you.

We traveled as we tend to do here, which is to go in a general direction and look for signs.  Peter then inputs the coordinates of the location into the GPS for a return trip (occasionally he has in advance), but for those less skilled in that arena, or on vacation, one can simply turn where it says "Catarina" on the highway and soon arrive in the small town that winds uphill.  

Like many towns here that we have explored, the roads appear to the be the size of a one way road in the States, but manage to have cars, as well as tuk-tuks and large trucks going in both directions.  After driving up, up, up the road to Catarina and passing many small nurseries and craft stores, but no real place to stop, we drove straight into *the* parking area for Catarina.  As with other touristy areas here, there was someone selling the infamous yellow parking tickets.  We paid the 20 cordobas (80 cents or so), drove into the area, and Peter managed to squeeze into a normal, but tiny space.

We ambled out of the car and could immediately see why this would be such an attraction.  Even from the parking lot, 50 yards or so from the overlook, we could catch glimpses of Laguna de Apoyo.  We headed over, past more stores of handicrafts (wooden toys, brightly colored dresses, handmade sandals) and recommended restaurants to view the, well, view.

 

IMG_5622
The view....

As soon as we reached the sidewalk, we found ourselves climbing down the hillside. Stairs of sorts are built into the hillside in most places, except where Nick wanted to climb. In those areas, we found jumps of 4 feet to 20 feet down to the area closest to the guardrail.  Oh, of course, the boy jumped down as many as he could, giving me just slight heart palpitations.  I'm all for free play, it's just those landings that include jumps of more than 15 feet or so (or 5) make me a bit nervous.  We tried a few photo ops and you can see for yourself how they came out.  Yes, the hair, I know.

 

 

IMG_5623
The .5 person in this was not thrilled by the photo op.

 

 

IMG_5626
The upswept hairdo fell down, and sadly, I didn't realize until post-photo. Oops.


After a few minutes of walking, admiring the horses, and watching a vendor hawk rental binoculars, we decided it was time for a late lunch.  We stopped by the cafe puported to have the best view and were promptly serenaded when we sat down. 

 

IMG_5633
They were great and we tried to tip appropriately. I handed them 100 Cordobas (approximately 4 USD) and they promptly tried to give us change. We said to keep it, of course, and finally they acceded. If you are curious, $4 is just 84 cents shy of the daily minimum wage.

 

IMG_5632
Dragon fruit juice, yum.

 

We enjoyed our surtido (sampler), though found that with the view came a lot of bees via the open window.  Peter and I both had a chance to finally try jugo de pitahaya (dragonfruit juice) and we were pleasantly surprised.  Dragon fruit has been a bit tart in the desserts we've tried, but was clearly sweetened just a tiny bit and was very pleasant to enjoy with the plantains, rice, veggies, and chicken.  The only issue came when we tried to pay and ended up using all of our handicraft cash on lunch. The propietor of the cafe had failed to mention that their credit card machine was broken.  Unfortunately, ATM cannot fix everything in Catarina, as the nearest one is 30 minutes away in a neighboring town.

After lunch, we attempted a walk around to look at the different crafty stalls.  Kelsey had to loan us cash for lunch, so we had but a few cords left that would not buy even smallest trinket.  However, as it turns out, we were not long for Catarina.  She was tired, Nick was finished looking at the view, and we decided to head home.  As we were walking out, one of the infamous bees from lunch headed our way.  Kelsey tried to brush it away, but it stuck around and slammed a stinger right into her arm.

The poor thing burst into tears, and while I promptly pulled out the stinger, the spot started to swell and her arm ache.  Luckily, there was a shaved ice vendor standing not 5 feet away, and Peter barely had to say a word before he handed him a chunk of ice.  I applied it to Kelsey's arm while she wailed and hoped for the best.  While it certainly didn't kill her, by the time my mother died she was extremely allergic to bee stings and given how far we were from anywhere, I can't say I wasn't a little nervous.  Two minutes later the shaved ice vendor, who had continued to slave away over his ice grater, passed a handful of shaved ice to Peter for Kelsey and promptly rejected Peter's offer of the meager 13 cords we had left after paying for lunch.

We bagged the ice, bagged the rest of the trip, and headed home.  45 minutes later Kelsey was feeling much better, and there were no signs of any reaction.  While it wasn't our best day to explore and Catarina was a bit hot, sweaty, and crowded, we managed to enjoy a good lunch, a great view, and experience a kind-hearted gesture from someone who probably could ill afford it.  Hopefully, we can actually enjoy shaved ice next time, and just hurry away before the vendor can argue about the extra large tip.

September 30, 2013

From what I read, fall is

beginning to hit in the States, at least in areas where the foliage normally turns from green to gorgeous yellows, oranges, and reds, before the leaves drop to the ground.  Having spent most of my childhood in a part of the south where these changes did not occur (green leaves to brown overnight), I have grown to appreciate the splendor that is autumn in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

This year, for obvious reasons, the only change we might observe here is to crank the A/C a bit more, as the days seem to get progressively warmer and more humid.  Or maybe it just seems warmer, since tomorrow is October 1, and by now in northern Virginia, we'd at least be pulling out sweaters or throwing on the occasional jacket.  Instead, I am enjoying photos that friends post on Facebook, baking pumpkin muffins courtesy of tetra-pak organic pumpkin, and thinking that I will only need a sweater at work for those days when  it seems the A/C is overdoing it.

There is another change I am not seeing here and before I mention it, I will just say how grateful I am.  For if there is nothing more disturbing when back in the States, as when I see the gorgeous fall colors corrupted on an annual basis by the pink.  You may remember this post I wrote early last October.  I was trying desperately not to be smacked by the pink, and yet, true to form, I managed to spend the whole month being hit with it.

While I have seen a few items here and there, to include a pink ribbon on the ajo polvo (ground garlic) at the store (yes, this is inexplicable to me, too), or the cover of a local magazine that discusses Cancer de mama (Really? Amazing how everyone seems to forget men are also affected), that is about the sum total.  There is a  local race, but it is under-advertised (by U.S. standards) and I have only seen one small poster on the local highway thus far.

What does this spell for me?  Total and utter relief.

There is nothing worse, in my opinion, than not only being diagnosed with something so awful, but to have it happen in the middle of an "awareness" month.  The problem is that there is no dearth of awareness, especially in the U.S.  There is pink everywhere in October, if for no other reason than companies want to look good by sharing in the pink.  After all, if you slap a pink ribbon on something, everything will magically be okay.

Let me assure you, that's not the way it works.  A pink ribbon does not change your diagnosis, it does not save your boob, it does not keep you from a painful surgery and recovery (or five, in my case).  A pink ribbon does not mean money will go anywhere.  When you see that pink ribbon, do you stop to look at the fine print? Do you read exactly where the money will go, what money is left after various and sundry administrative fees are deducted from it, corporate style salaries are paid, and the cost of advertising is removed? Do you find yourself buying a product just because it has a pink ribbon on it, because someone you know was affected, and you just want to help? 

If so, then stop.  Stop and find out who slapped that pink ribbon on the product.  Find out where the money goes (and if it's that giant K company, I would put that product back on the shelf and stop buying that brand), and what exactly it's how it's going to be used.  Ask yourself if you are buying the product because you really need it or because you somehow feel even the pittance of money that goes to said organization will really help.  Put the product back, write the name down, go home and then research the heck out of the product, the organization benefiting from said trickle-down donation, and decide if then that purchase will really do any good.

The reality is that no amount of pink ribbons will stop this from happening, nor will it give back to those of us who have lost so much throughout the years.  The truth is, the pink is just a giant slap in the face that reminds us every year for 31 days that a nasty cell infiltrated our bodies and forced us to have a few really bad weeks/months/years.  Corporations that may well make cancer-causing products then try to convince us that since they put a symbol on their product, it somehow means they really care and want to help us. If you want to donate to a facility that actually performs research, send the money directly to them and bypass the middle (and very expensive) man.

Breast cancer appears to be the only sickness that is supposed to be deemed as cute and pretty.  People seem to believe if you hand someone who is dealing with it a cutesy plaque with a pink ribbon, he or she will be so enraptured with the color, that somehow they will forget the doctor visits, the tests, the constant invasive questioning, the surgeries, the pre or post-surgical treatments, and most of all, that he or she may have lost a body part that not everyone deems necessary, but some  like to have.

The flip side of the coin is that people focus so much on awareness of one topic, they completely forget about others issues or that awareness, in and of itself, does very little.  Awareness did not save me from anything.  It did not change the course of my treatments, and in fact, if I needed awareness in any arena, it would be what it would be like to live with all of the changes the surgeries would foist on me. I knew when something was not right with my body and that's why I went to the doctor. Not because of a pink ribbon or a bra campaign on Facebook, but because a lump that does not go away after a week or two might not be mastitis.  Just like if I had a loose or painful tooth, I would go to the dentist. I don't need someone telling me every day for a month to see the dentist if my tooth hurts.

I would love to see less pink and more time spent on awareness of post-surgical and treatment changes.  Doctors tend to spend so much time focusing on the "getting rid of" that they forget just how much damage it can do to one's body and mind.  I know if I knew then what I know now, I would have radically scaled back my primary surgical choice and reminded my surgeon that it was my body she was dealing with, not hers. Survival factors (though I have no plans on dying from anything but crankypants old age), would be no different and I would feel less mutiliated (yes, really, some of us actually feel that way...and you know what? It's okay!)

I would have been far more vocal with my first oncologist and fired her the moment she told me that "No chemo was not a get out of jail free card," while discussing the Tamoxifen issue.  After all, if this wasn't my fault (something I was repeatedly told), why was I to feel that I was supposed to be in jail?  Never mind that she could not prove to me that Tamoxifen could be helpful, even more importantly, not fatal with my family history of pulmonary embolus issues. Last, but not least, she told me she would not be held liable if anything happened to me. Um, right.

I would have loved an awareness that my getting back to normal revolved not around overtreating something that was removed from my body and likely never to return, but simply getting on with my life. The counselor who told me to just "take 18 months off" had clearly never been through anything similar and I would have given anything for her to be aware of the pain her words caused me. 

Instead of shaking in my boots and just trying to breathe when the first radiation oncologist screamed at me that I "might be stage 3" (no evidence to support that from any tests),  I would have told him where to stick in and walked out of the room.  In fact, the only doctor who I still would consider seeing (but I don't need to do so) from the first *set,* if you will, is the plastic surgeon.  He actually commented that he was grateful I didn't fire him. I just smiled and nodded, but probably should have told him that since he treated me like a person with a few brain cells to rub together, I did not find the need to send him down the not-so-primrose path the others took.

Let's have awareness that those who are dealing with this issue might need nurturing, hand-holding, or just a day to bloody forget about all of the decisions they are struggling with. They might want to not stress about meals, extra money for child care, or who is going to walk the dog while they are recovering.  Be like all of my amazing friends around the world who brought me food (okay, those in the tri-state area), organized said bringing of food, collected donations (insanely helpful for the extra daycare Nick needed), brought me warm blankets, and called to gossip about anything but what I was going through.  They took me to lunch, we stressed about Foreign Service stuff, and they kept me going when I was enmeshed in a sea of painful pink.  They didn't use words like battle or survivor (those are also on my bad list), but instead reminded me about the joys of bidding and insisted on conversing about where we would go next.  And...that got me through.  Not glittery pink scarves or not walks that went nowhere (and required insane amounts of money just to register), but friends and their awareness of what really mattered.

Most of all, take fall to be aware that life is short and needs to be enjoyed. Put down that pink-beribboned item, go outside and breathe in the autumn air. Enjoy the foliage, go to a corn maze, and pick some apples or pumpkins.  Life can be short for any one of 18,000 plus reasons, and buying into the pink ribbon program (like the $200+ pink Uggs) won't change that.  Do think of us when you pick a pumpkin (we will miss that this year), just don't pink it, k?

 

September 23, 2013

Two weeks ago Nick

came home from school and let us know that his teacher was away due to a death in the family. He wasn't entirely sure whether it was her mother or grandmother (and at one point, decided it was both). I sent his teacher a very general email the following Monday and offered our condolences.  She replied that she was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love from the children when they learned of her grandmother's passing, and that Nick had offered sweetly, "My grandma went to the sky, too." 

I normally try to be a bit more original, but I thought last year's post said it quite succintly.  Feliz cumpleanos,Mom, from all of us, especially from the Little Guy who adores you and knows of your importance despite having never met you.

Love you and miss you. 

September 20, 2013

Que busca, mi niña?

Was the refrain I heard over and over, from the moment we stepped into the local market in Managua. The kindly grinning vendor, garbed in the traditional Nica outfit, and not at all overwhelmed by the large basket balanced ever so delicately on her head, was sure she could help me. It was our second trip to the Roberto Huembes market and to say it dwarfs the Masaya market is an understatement.  While I was really just looking (my common refrain), I couldn't help but be charmed by her insistance, even if I was well-stocked on cacao or rosquillas.

We investigated the Huembes market for the first time two weeks ago when we had a borrowed car and a need to escape our home.  Our house is large and beautiful, but isolated and we are still adjusting to not having a wealth of neighbors or kids simply running around all hours of the day.  We packed ourselves up and as Cait was busy snoozing, as teenagers are wont to do on weekends, we took our empleada instead.

I'd love to give directions to the market, but if you know Managua, you know that's a bit difficult. I'd say it's 20 minutes from our house, not in the direction of Masaya and that's about as close as I can get.  The market itself stumbles around a large area of Managua and is not confined to one building. We had little trouble finding the turn for parking, but then did not know what the guard-like person was selling in the middle of the road when we turned in. Parking passes? Lottery tickets?  We opted out and attempted parking in the first lot to the left.  The spots just seemed odd, so we backed out, went back out to the left and found a larger, more spacious lot with lined spaces.  After parking and declining the ever-popular car wash offer from the lot guards, we headed into the market.

The outer shops reminded me of Masaya.  Cookies and other sugary treats were proffered constantly.  Stopping to look or even check one's watch will have several people offering samples or pointing out the goods they have to offer.  We had nothing in mind on the first trip, other than allowing our empleada to give us a brief tour.  It was more intense and packed than we expected and this surprised the kids.  They were a bit overwhelmed, and we ended up limiting our purchases to thread and doughnuts (well, at first glance they looked similar).

IMG_5420
The thread was a happy surprise. Very inexpensive and a wide variety of colors.  The "doughnuts" were actually a type of cookie that seemed to taste like corn.  A bit crunchier and not as sweet as we expected, but now we can say that we've tried them. I've done a bit of searching, and if I've found the right recipe, they are called rosquillas and are a sort of doughnut-shaped cornbread cookie. 

 

IMG_5421
Perusing the wares...

We left not long after the doughnut discovery, but ended up back at the market only a week later.  The office in which I now work had thoughtfully created a city tour and several of us opted for the excursion that would give us an overview of some of the more historic areas.  Many of the areas covered were on my previous trip, however, Peter had not had a chance to see any of the sights and the tour guide was able to offer interesting historical tidbits. 

We began in the original downtown that has never really recovered from the earthquake in 1972.  We were not able to visit the cathedral or see the eternal flame, as there was a rather large event taking place.  However, we did get a chance to enter the waterfront park that we opted out of during our first tour a month prior, Puerto Salvador Allende.

It seems to be touted as sort of a boardwalk style entertainment area.  There are several restaurants and had a festival with local dancers on the day we visited.  While it was very different from the other areas of downtown Managua, there didn't seem to be an overwhelming amount of actual activities.  There was an extremely clean and bright playground (actually, most play areas are very colorful), however, there was no shade and even past noon, the sun was shining brilliantly.  We are not even to the really hot season, and we could not imagine staying there longer than half an hour or so.  There was a walk out to the lake, but the fence surrounding it was a bit obstructive of the view and of course, there would not be any water activities due to the pollution.

IMG_5437

 

IMG_5439
A recycling bin! I was beyond pleased. I think it's amusing every item on the trash can is actually compostable and not trash, but still...this is good.

After 30 minutes there, we were sufficiently sweaty and packed back into the air-conditioned bus.  We continued through the city and even returned to Lome de Tiscapa.  It was gorgeous, as usual, if not a wee bit warm.  The final leg of the trip had us revisit the Huembes market.  I was a bit weary after the long ride, and had nodded off several times on the bus, but figured I needed to give the market a go in case I missed something the first time.  Did I ever...

IMG_5465
Wow! Blurry, but you get the picture...

 

IMG_5466
We didn't really peruse the meat section, but wanted to capture a view of it.

IMG_5467
Yep, dog food in bulk.

Turn a corner and tables are magically filled with everything from potatoes to ginger, and corn to spices and flowers and....Vegetables seemed so ripe and recently picked, unlike much of what you find in the stores, and the selection was far larger than I had seen at any fruit stand.  No idea if anything was remotely organic, but at least it looked fresh and had to be straight from the farm. To say it was a coup to find this place would be an understatement.  The bag of tomatoes ran me 80 cents and the ginger...maybe 20 cents?

IMG_5468
I can't say it's easy to find on one's own if you are only in town for a bit, but if you have a few days to explore or live here for any length of time, the market is worth a visit.  If not for the fresh produce, perhaps for the local outfits (the children's traditional clothing is so bright and happy), then perhaps for a small wooden toy or other locally made treat.  Be cautious with your belongings, but enjoy, as it is definitely a shopper's paradise for local goods.

 

September 07, 2013

Like a breath of fresh air

Last weekend, we had our first chance to really leave the city since our friends left in early August.  We still don't have our car (word on the street is it *might* be ready Monday) and to say that I had cabin fever was an understatement.

The kids were getting out of the house each day, but the only way I could get out would be to either schlep into the Embassy with Pete (a 35 minute crazy ride one way) and stay there all day and/or pray that a kind soul would offer me a ride to the grocery store.  While we knew we would live a bit far out, we didn't realize until we arrived just how in the middle of nowhere we live.  We certainly have little noise to deal with, but we don't have a pool or access to recreational facilities and after a while, tend to feel a bit trapped.

Now one might say, "Why not get out using local transportation?"  Not to decry this option, but, well, I can't is the long and short of it. There is no subway, I have not begun to understand the way the bus system works and while the tuk-tuks look adorable, I don't always feel safe riding in a car. The poor condition of most roads and the many obstacles in them such as potholes, dogs, and the famous fire juggler (though technically he hangs in the middle of a lane on the highway) can make driving here a rather stressful experience.  

Last weekend, we lucked out and managed to find an automobile to borrow.  While I'm still a bit nervous not being in our own car, the ability to get out and about when we need it is amazing.  Even better, Peter had Monday off, but the kids did not, so we managed a whole alone-time day.

I let him plan the day as he would be driving and therefore, whatever he felt doable would work for me.  We had originally hoped to do a trip to Aqua Nicaragua over the weekend, but that was based on the car arriving in a more timely manner.  Since that didn't happen, we've postponed that to a later date in the not-so-distant future.

Instead, he decided we should explore Laguna de Apoyo.  We didn't get started too early due to a surprise massage for me in the morning at the Beauty Lounge, which my poor back desperately needed.  The stress of settling in, adjusting to the local food climate (I finally ended 5 weeks of nearly consistent feeling sick on Sunday), and not having slept in my own (very comfy) bed since May 29 conspired against me and caused quite the stiff back.  Everything caused pain and I am thankful that between the massage and a few adjustments with the bed and a/c, the pain is now seriously diminished. Now maybe I can run faster than the chickens on my runs!

We headed out of the city on the main highway, and stopped for a quick lunch at a local grill.  Way more meat than I needed to think about, but it's a very popular option and we had plenty of leftovers for Nick's lunch the next day.  Once back on the road, I'd like to say it took another 30 minutes to arrive at the entrance of the nature preserve. However, I could be off as I nodded off in the car and only woke up when we hit the occasional random (yet ever present) dip in the road.

Once paying the fee to enter, we drove in and found ourselves on a narrow winding road that we shared with folks walking, dogs,  the occasional biker, and more than one woman with a heavily loaded basket of goods atop her head.  We really weren't sure entirely where to go, so headed off to the right at the first fork in the road.  It seemed like a heavily residential area, with an eco-lodge, but nowhere really to just stop for the afternoon.

We then turned around, and headed back up the road and took what would have been the left turn.  We passed one day stop that we had heard of, The Monkey Hut, and then kept going to see if we could find Abuelas, another popular stop.  We drove until the road became a rutted mess and not much later found Abuelas. The parking scenario seemed iffy at best and with the condition of the road and not actually owning the car, we felt it best to turn around and return to the Monkey Hut.

IMG_5425
The sign advertised day visits and a space right up front was begging for our car to be put in it.  I had glimpsed the lake from the drive, but once stepping out of the car, it was a sight to behold.  Given that it was a Monday, there were few people visiting and the view was amazing and unfettered. Just a large, clear lagoon with a few kayakers and swimmers dotting the lake.

IMG_5426
We headed down to the lagoon and managed to bump into a few friends who had the same idea.  They had a bit more experience on the day visit to the Monkey Hut and we realized that it would be the perfect place to take the kids for a weekend day of fun.  For $7/person, you can swim, kayak, float on a tube, snorkel or just snooze away on a lounge chair overlooking the lake.  One would presume it might be cold, but the geothermal vents warm it up.  Note: the depth is variable.  While extremely shallow around the edges, it deepens quickly and at the deepest point hits in the neighborhood of 800 feet. Needless to say, despite being strong swimmers, think we will use life jackets when we do our kayak tour.

IMG_5427
The Monkey Hut has rooms for rent, though they are under renovation right now.  We watched some of the work and with the way the wood saw was whining frequently, I have no doubt it will be ready for guests soon.  In addition to the recreational facilities, one can also get a taste of comida tipica at the Monkey Hut or pizza at another restaurant along the shore.  Be sure to bring cash (effectivo) with you should you decide to visit, as the entrance fee will need to be paid that way and the internet is not the best there at times.  We had to pay our fees by credit card and it took several tries and the receptionist walking around quite a bit before she could find the ideal connection spot.

IMG_5428
Even though we were only there for maybe an hour, just hanging by the lake saw the stress of the move and the adjustment period begin to melt away. I found myself planning our next day trip there, a bit selfishly sans kids, so that we can take as much time as we want to lazily explore the lagoon by kayak or innertube.  If you happen to be planning a visit to us any time in the near future, do not forget your swimsuit, as the lagoon will be at the top of our to do list!

 

 

 

August 22, 2013

Little signs...

that our house is finally feeling more like our home. Yes, I know home is where the heart is, but sometimes it's nice to have a few items that just really remind you of your family and not just Drexel Heritage.

 

IMG_5366
UAB or Unnacompanied Air Freight is finally delivered to our house nearly 6 weeks after it arrived in country. It actually beat us to the Managua, if you can believe that.

 

 

IMG_5369
I had just unpacked this when he arrived home from school. Like Christmas...no, better.

 

 

IMG_5370
After two months of waiting, I finally have my new tea kettle, a small moving treat.

 

 

IMG_5371
Hours of play...hours. Best thing we packed in the UAB.

IMG_5376
The cat also found a play spot.

IMG_5387
Stroke of genius: thinking to throw the plasma car into UAB at the last minute. Nick, riding around our extremely not-so-traveled (and gated) street. The little hill just ahead leads to the large, flat area that is our driveway (and play space).

 

 

IMG_5395
Last, but not least, today's DIY project: Nick's indoor playhouse. It's still in process, just needs a bit of decorating and a lamp, according to Nick.

 

 

IMG_5390
China gives the playhouse two non opposable thumbs up.

 

IMG_5375
The only thing that we discovered that had been lost yesterday. 

 

 

IMG_5374
Yep, another tooth. Nick lost his other bottom front tooth while at school.

And the car?  HHE (boat freight/household effects)?  Well, the car is on a boat making its way here and the HHE has been here for several weeks, so it should only be a matter of time.  Now to enjoy a cup of coffee in *my* mug....

August 19, 2013

15 years ago

IMG_5348
I received a late birthday gift for my 26th birthday (yet, somehow I still just turned 29...a miracle!).  Yes, my now not-so-wee Cait was born and today, gulp, she turns 15.  They say time flies, but really...

IMG_5340
An example of one of the many invitations available for those celebrating a 15th birthday.  If Cait were to have a quinceañera, I have a feeling the invites would have more of a Star Wars theme, but that's just a guess...

So, to my nearly towering over me, brilliant and insanely talented in the realm of all things artistic daughter, Happy, Happy Birthday.  May you enjoy the day despite the fact the fact that it's been a crazy summer and for the first time in your life, you have to go to school on your birthday. More people to sing feliz cumpleaños to you?

IMG_5345
The birthday girl y su hermano.

August 13, 2013

Surprise! Someone is

growing up quickly and it's making me a wee bit sad. Yes, it is my birthday today, but no it's not me.  Well, not growing up at least.

I should thank everyone first for the birthday wishes.  I ended up having a very quiet day at home, minus the incessant banging in the front hall (the former rock garden in our living room is being replaced by a tiled in area and will be a mini-study of sorts).  I was able to get in a run, take a 2 hour nap, and shower before the kids came home from school, so a fabulous day right there.

 

IMG_5307
Watermelon & feta salad, mushrooms & rosemary in a soy ginger vinaigrette and a carpacchio of corvino. Or yummy, as we call it.

Peter decided we should have a dinner out, so we stopped at Ola Verde.  I was even treated to dessert on the house by the owner, Carla.  My dragonfruit cheesecake arrived complete with a glowing candle and was, as is all food at Ola Verde, simply delectable.

We went straight home after dinner as Peter had something *terribly urgent* to do. I was carted off to the family room with Nick where he made several excuses as to why we should just stay there for a few minutes.  Not long after that, I was called into the dining room and surprised by cake and presents!

 

IMG_5308
Surprise! Cake and presents! The kids baked this while we were at dinner. Are they awesome or what? (If you are counting, yes, it's a 2 dessert birthday.)

By far, though, the biggest surprise of the evening?

IMG_5313
Can you see what's missing?

 

IMG_5315
Someone lost his first tooth.

 

IMG_5318

It had been loose for a few days (he was a bit, uh, perturbed when he first noticed) and he spent quite a few minutes really wiggling it tonight. Finally, after much discussion, he decided I could reach in and attempt to gently tug on it (I think the loose-ness was getting to him).  Five seconds later, and the tooth was out.

IMG_5320

As if it wasn't enough he started Kindergarten this week, now this.  Well, it certainly made for a birthday I won't forget and how does one write Tooth Fairy in Spanish?

IMG_5302

August 12, 2013

And they are off....

Well, actually, they are back now.  However, for quite a bit of time today, all three of my children just...disappeared.  Something called a school bus showed up, swallowed up my kids, and the next thing I knew, tears were springing into my eyes as I had just put my baby on the school bus.  All three babies in fact, one of whom is taking AP European History this year.  You know, the one who used to babble on and on about her father working in the "Ombassy" in "Caracalus" is now a high school sophomore.  The middle baby is starting middle school and my uber-wee one started kindergarten.

Photo_1[1]
Take one*...

Not only was the bus on time, it was, in fact, early and showed up at 6:19 (yes, A.M.).  School starts at an hour in which no one should be awake, much less in school, but this is actually a blessing in disguise as guess who else has to get up at the same exact time to get ready to go to work?  And guess who gets to sleep in on non-first days of school?

 

 

Photo_2[1]
Happy campers!

Nine hours after they left, they arrived back home.  Nick gave a quick summary of school while getting off the bus, "It was fine, okay, it was all fine!"  A very subtle way of asking me not to interrogate him about the first day I suppose.

 

All in all, things went well and the kids seemed thrilled to go.  After all, we still don't have a car, so it's go to school or stay home and pick up litter/watch tv/color/watch mom pull her hair out and you know, that kind of fun only lasts so long.  I suppose it's also a good thing that the academic year has commenced as I *may* start work soon.  I accepted the job of Co-CLO coordinator and I have oh, so many ideas and very eager to get going. 

Photo
They said to label everything!

 Until I start, however, I have a few other things to accomplish...like labeling everything Nicholas owns that *might* go to school. Thank goodness for Mabel and her labels!

* I know, uniforms, what's up with that?!  I generally do not like them for a variety of reasons,  having worn them for some time in school.  They did not accomplish the task of putting everyone on *equal* ground when I had to wear them and I've always been thrilled my kids could be themselves in school.  However, here things appear to be different and they actually like them, so whatevs, right?

Somewhere in the Middle

is exactly where we are right now.  We are still busy exploring, albeit more on foot than in a car, since el carro just left Baltimore Thursday night (fingers crossed it will be here in a few short weeks), and I am finding myself back in that unique sort of limbo of being neither a resident nor a tourist.

I find myself walking or (even better) running around the neighborhood like I own it, but I still can get lost on the way home.  I pity the poor dogs who appear to be owner-less and worry about the scarily scrawny cats slinking through the sewer. I wonder when I will drum up the courage to head over to the comedora and get my gringo self a true Nicaraguan lunch meal that could feed an army for USD $2.

I envy those who have the grazing cows and chickens. I wonder how one is so lucky to have such a variety of fruit trees in their yard.   A trip to the the miscellania or the pulperia for an extra mango or banana is never necessary, if you have your own orchard.  We were excited to disover both naranja agria and limon in our yard (sour orange and lime), but I still find myself having a pang of jealousy when I run past the full trees, ready to drop the fruit at any moment.

IMG_5243
A sweet pooch making a meal out of a dried out coconut...not an uncommon sight.

Last week, we opted for a leisurely walk through the neighborhood. We have had 2 major holidays in the past 10 days and I wanted to glimpse the church that hosted the reason for the holidays, that is maybe a 1-2 miles from our house. 

While not an easy walk, as one must navigate twisty one lane roads (no sidewalks) that are occupied by everything from tuk-tuks to speeding SUVs, it is definitely an interesting one.  As I've written before, unlike other areas, our neighborhood is a mishmash of housing and life styles.  The moderno y privado condominiums are right next door to a small house of corrugated metal with chickens in the front yard and a clothes line strung from the door to the nearest tree (note to self: reminder to string up clothes line out back).

IMG_5247
Chickens are everywhere here. While I'd love to have a hen in a backyard coop, rather glad the roosters are a mile or more away.

IMG_5249
The new condominium complex...


 

IMG_5250
The house across the very, very narrow street.

 

IMG_5252
A tuk-tuk or moto-taxi racing along said street.


IMG_5253
The entrance to the gravery, as Nick calls it (or cemetery for everyone else). 

 

IMG_5254
Unlike cemeteries in the U.S., many graves appear to be more homemade. Simple crosses clearly carved by hand, and plants dot the tops of the graves rather than elaborate monuments. However, I found them to be more meaningful in that they were likely created by family and friends.

 

IMG_5255
Another grave with a touch of fancy glasswork...

IMG_5259
Las Sierritas Parish Church, where the celebration begins and ends. Well, the celebrating continues long after Minguito returns home, but...

I'd write more on the topic, but I think a better explanation of the holidays can be found here.  While there was definitely a bit of drunken revelry and other less formal celebrations happening, there is a very serious belief in the power of Santo Domingo. I have heard stories of that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.  The kind that make you want to see the celebration up close, inhale the scents and the sights and the sounds of the day.  Now if I can just find a local friend to take me next year so I can better appreciate and photograph the day...

 

August 03, 2013

Saying good-bye,

or "See you later," as we often do, is one of the hardest parts about being in the Foreign Service.  You arrive at post, meet many new folks, start to make new friends, and then within days or weeks, it's already time for one of your new amigos to leave post. Sadly, this is happening to us today.  Two new friends are leaving post and we can only hope that my incessant chattering about FS life (and how to find everything you need to know about FS life via a Google search) repaid a wee bit of the kindness they showed to us in our first few weeks.

They not only showed us Granada two weekends ago (how time flies), but one of them managed to carve out a great deal of time during the weekdays, despite her impending move, in order to show us around Managua.  Last Thursday afternoon, she took Nicholas, Kelsey, and I on a whirlwind tour of downtown Managua, to include Parque Historico Nacional Loma de Tiscapa. 

Now, remember as  you read that we are so very new to the area.  While we are trying to get out and about quickly, we are also attempting to settle in and learn as much as possible about our new home.  So, I may not include as many details as I should in these first few posts, only as I am still learning and gathering information. For instance, our first stop on our downtown area was an emergency bathroom stop.

I don't necessarily recommend trying to randomly find a public toilet downtown or at least along the shoreline of Lake Managua.  Easy to locate, it was not!  We eventually found a bar/restaurant that was not open, but had a restroom.  The lone occupant lounging at a table did not mind us borrowing the restrooms, but not sure that will always be an option.

We attempted to drive further up the shoreline, as we heard there was a boardwalk.  It's entirely possible we were already on the boardwalk and didn't know it.  We simply found a bunch of restaurants and bars that were open-ish.  There appeared to be a fairgrounds, and beyond that what *looked like* a water park.  Unfortunately, there was a fee to drive into the park and no information given out about what was actually there.  So, we made a quick u-turn and vowed to investigate online before returning to the possible water park.

Our first real touristy stop was the old cathedral of Managua. An imposing stone edifice that sadly cannot be toured by anyone other than the guards who quietly watch it from inside.  The 1931 earthquake damaged it greatly, and while it was repaired, the 1972 earthquake just about destroyed it completely.  While it is still standing, it is not safe to be toured. I have heard conflicting reports about whether it can or will be repaired, so only time will tell. 

 

046
There are rumors of very wealthy couples being able to utilize the cathedral for wedding ceremonies. However, due to it's precarious state, one must follow along a certain path or risk further damage or injury.

 


The old cathedral is located in the Plaza de la Republica, near the Palacio Nacional de la Cultura that houses the Museo Nacional.  We opted to save this for another day, and after ambling around the plaza a bit more, the LG offered a rare photo op.

 

051
The LG allows a photo at the War Memorial.

Our tour guide of the day then offered that we might like to visit Loma de Tiscapa.  This was maybe a 1o minute ride, including a windy road up to the top of the elevation (note: it runs 20 cordobas to enter the park).  Up, up, up we went, past a military complex on our left and amazingly colorful playgrounds to our right.  While they are not the fancy-pants playgrounds of the U.S. (slides are metal! Swings are made of wood!) they seem to satisfy those who stop to play. In fact, we had every intention of partaking in the fun, but the kids, well, all of us, were a wee bit hot, tired, and parched by the time we were leaving Tiscapa.

 

 

052
That's lake Managua in the distance...

053
This is the canopy or where one starts his or her zip line tour over the Tiscapa Lagoon. It goes off to the right for what seems to be an insanely long distance. My stomach hurts just looking at it... maybe next year? Oh, did I mention you can also do the zip line upside down?

055
The Tiscapa Lagoon. It really is amazing to view it from the Canopy (beginning of zip line tour).

 

 

056
The shadowy monument to Augusto C. Sandino, a hero to many, who was assassinated here in 1934.

 

We also visited the (very few) remains of the former presidential palace.  It was also seriously damaged in the earthquake of 1931 and destroyed by the 1972 quake.  A few walls remain just a few meters from the zip line entrance.  There are also remains of a former prison just a few steps away.  Apparently, "going to Loma" didn't always have the same meaning it might have today. 

The last task of our day was to attempt to feed Nick's leftover hot dog bun to a stray dog hunting around ceramic pots in the parking lot.  Yes, I realize a hot dog bun may not be the healthiest choice, however, the kids were so upset to see yet another starving pooch looking for anything to eat.  We see so many on a daily basis and it's just heartbreaking.  In our case, it may be wallet breaking, as Nick gave me yet another lecture the other day on "dogs with no owners" and how we need to feed them, take care of them...and he always manages to say this when I have just glimpsed from meters away, the ribs of yet another hungry puppy. Not every one appears to be on his or her own, but just so many of them have that appearance.  Another topic we need to learn more about and we certainly have the time.

 

 

 

 

July 28, 2013

Our schedules are picking up

and the days seem to be moving faster. Instead of waking up and wondering what will we do each day, I'm beginning to wake up and wonder what we won't do.

It ended up being a packed day that began with nothing more than a hair cut for Cait on the schedule. We managed to finagle lunch out and shopping with friends (just school uniforms, but another item checked off our to-do list).  After a brief stop at home, I headed out for an unexpected dinner with new friends.

Dinner was just lovely.   We dined at one of my new favorite restaurants/organic markets in Managua, Ola Verde.  The owner has created a fabulous indoor/outdoor cafe that serves only the best organic treats in the area and at quite reasonable prices.  

Photo 2
Starters included the tray of treats shown above (tofu, pita, tzatziki, shaved carrot slices with dill, mushrooms with rosemary and a slice of eggplant with a tomato salsa atop).  Three of us easily split, but it could also double as a dinner for one.  

I wondered if the gazpacho and my vegetables Indian style (curried and served with raita) might be too much, but it was perfect.  The amounts are not the gargantuan American style plates, but just enough. Filling, but not overwhelming and my glass of house sangria was the perfect accompaniment.

We ran out of time for dessert or coffee, but I still managed a few minutes to peruse the market.  I found fresh bread, pitas, tortillas, and a slice of dragonfruit cheesecake to split with Peter later tonight.  The owner had offered when we first met two weeks ago that she might have a connection for organic butter.  Tonight she was able to place an order, and on Tuesday, I will have at least 4 pounds of real butter for our baking needs.  (Butter here is not 100% butter, but a combination of margarine and butter, and we are not margarine folks...).

Even better?  I had a chance to chat with the owner about possible activities for those of us interested in learning more about cooking (local treats, pasta...you name it) or the farm-to-table movement in Nicaragua.  Normally, that really piques my interest.  However, it has also become work-related for me.  As of yesterday, I accepted a part-time position and let's just say that I will be quadrupling my efforts to ramp up my knowledge of activities and explorations within Nicaragua.  

It seems like we just arrived and I'm already thinking that we *only* have three years here...here's hoping we make the most of it.

 

July 25, 2013

Granada

I'll admit it:  despite a fairly decent (actually amazingly easy) arrival, we managed to be a little stir crazy by the end of last week.  Between *real* internet taking a while to be installed (in hindsight, not that long, but it felt that way at the time), a slight bug issue (it's fixed future visitors, no worries!), and a feeling of being stuck in our gorgeous, but slightly secluded home, it all took a toll.  By the weekend, I wanted out and far away out.

A new friend heard our prayers as she was taking us around the city on Thursday and offered us a trip to see Masaya (the volcano) from afar,  the Masayan artisan market,  and the city of Granada on Saturday.  Not only would we get out of the city, but would get a chance to sample more comida tipica, and an idea of what else needed exploration within an hour's reach.

While we did not actually drive within reach of the volcano (it was pouring and we are saving for a bit later), we now know exactly how easy it is to get there.  Once we get to the highway, it's basically a straight shot, save for a right turn at the entrance of the park.  Once we passed the volcano, we headed to the handicrafts market in Masaya.  

 

001
These might be too pretty to eat.

002
The colors....

005
Doll hammock, anyone? I might get one just because....

Now some reports online will say it's too expensive, others will say it's too touristy.  Are you kidding me?  I was out of my house, in the middle of a new country and exploring.  Overpriced and touristy or not (I wonder if the naysayers have shopped in the U.S. recently), we had a great time.  From the hammocks (for everyone, including doll-sized hammocks), to the batidos (fruit smoothie), we enjoyed soaking in the culture, the amazing colors and the artisanry on display.  The wood work alone had us in awe. Then the pottery, paintings, and jewelry...given we have three years here and many other markets to explore, we only invested in a few items, to include a gorgeous wooden coaster set and a shell jewelry box designed as a puzzle, however we left happy.  

 

011
A hammock in process....

013
I'm sorry, we thought we ordered the grande batidos. Hello!

Upon departing the market, we headed to the town of Granada.  Located a mere 45 minutes (approximately 45 kilometers) from Managua, Granada is an easy drive along the Carretera a Masaya. We drove into the town expecting Managua and were surprised by the bright colors and colonial architecture.  The town also acts as part of the shoreline for Lake Nicaragua.  A drive past the lakefront was mandatory and included monkey, cow, and donkey sightings.  Yes, the LG was thrilled, as were the girls.  Of course, once he saw the naked children frollicking in the lake, he wanted to follow suit.  Given how close the animals were grazing and what I've read, swimming might not be on the agenda any time soon.  We headed that off with a promise of comida tipica for lunch and continued investigating the shoreline and surrounding area.

 

019
Granada's now defunct train station. It's been closed for years (though reportedly has a restaurant inside), but still maintains its original beauty.

025
Cows grazing by the shore of Lake Nicaragua. 

Lunch was downtown in a cozy cafe with an indoor garden.  We snagged a table outside and were able to enjoy lunch despite the fact that a raging storm was only inches away from our table. Our grilled steak, chicken, cheese, frijoles molido, and tajadas (fried plantains) were amazing, we managed to find room for a post lunch treat of gelatos and crepes (both appear to be quite popular here, to the kids' delight).

 

028
Our view at lunch...


We wandered about the city a bit more, but did not opt for any particular tours.  Given that we have three years, it seems like we should stretch out our trips a bit more.   We don't want to rush the exploration and we now have the perfect place to spend a random free Saturday or maybe a U.S. holiday.  Especially given that we did not have a chance to visit the Choco Museo where one can even make his or her own chocolate...um, yum?!

Did I mention how excited we are to have three years to explore here? Our lifestyle can sometimes be overwhelming, but the rest of the time it's utterly amazing. More amazingness soon, I promise....

 

July 21, 2013

11 days in....

we are still very much here, experiencing the ups and downs of life in Managua and adjusting to a bit more of a learning curve than we expected.  It's always that way, though, isn't it?

It's interesting to mesh one's ideas of a place with the reality.  My mind was resting on the eco-friendly beach shores of the Pacific Ocean, not necessarily within the city itself.  I figured it was better just to see it, than to try to imagine what life would be like here.  Even with the internet, it's nearly impossible to grasp the full picture until you arrive. And the verdict?

I have no idea.  There are many aspects thus far that we love: the house, the yard, and, yes, to an extent, the isolated area in which we live.  We are not next door to much, but this gives us a bit more outdoor open space and definitely a lot of peace and quiet.  While we were lucky that our neighborhood in Annandale was well-established, we forgot just how quiet an area can be, minus the chirping of the birds and the occasional daytime fireworks (yes, this is a bit confusing to me).

 

985
Nick enjoying the new yard. The word spacious does not do justice to describe the yard's size.

Conversely, I am trying to adjust to the new shopping scene, if you will.  By shopping, I do not mean mall hanging about, which we do not intend to do often.  We really don't *need* much from the mall and there is a new Lego store being built.  So, uh, won't be spending much time there!

 

No, the shopping scene would be the food.  I must say, my first grocery experience was a bit startling.  One day I am at my organic market in the Virginia suburbs thinking about how in the next few days I will be engaged in a whole new food market type of experience.  I had no idea what to expect, though I suppose I could have done a bit more research.  I knew there was at least one independent market & restaurant that catered to the more natural scene.  However, I was not prepared for the grocery store experience at all.

At first I was surprised by the overall modern feel of the market.  Managua, by all appearances, is a very diverse city.  One might pass a small home constructed from corrugated metal sheeting with chickens running loose in the front yard (I would love a  chicken in my backyard, if I could be assured the dog would allow it.), then pass a restaurant that serves comida tipica smack next door to it, with a fruit stand next to that.  Right next to that might be a rather fancy condominium complex, with cafes that would have you thinking you are in a downtown American city.  All within a few meters of one another. 

So I was a bit surprised by the lights, the overflowing shelves, and the grandiose feeling of the store.  I think, in my mind, I expected more of a farmers paradise.  Instead I found a grocery store that took me back to our years in Caracas.  The immediate scent of laundry detergent was overwhelming, the day-glo colors of the cleaning products (we are vinegar & baking soda types), and the aisles of processed foods and *health* products overwhelmed me.  I eventually made my way through, needing really only fresh fruits, vegetables, and a bit of  meat.  While by all appearances, it was very clean, I still struggle with figuring out how everything is processed.  

Lest anyone decide this is a food snobbery thing, I assure you, it's not.  Remember what happened a few years ago?  There's a good reason I avoid meats with antibiotics and hormones and am careful about the dairy I choose.  Obviously, fruits and vegetables are a wee bit eaiser, but I am still learning all of the new local foods, so I'm not extraordinarily well-versed.  I worry if I'm just missing the explanation (yes, I've Googled extensively) or if nothing is labeled for a reason.  

 

971
Comida tipica at a despedida.  I'll admit it, I had seconds...it was so good.

So, my first trip to the store was a bit jarring.  Given that I've become accustomed to much more from scratch cooking, perhaps my biggest culture shock was just how much processed food exists here. There are organic producers, but one must suss those out a little bit more.   In addition to the local market and restaurant, Ola Verde, there are also independent producers of organic products.  Of course, there are also the roadside stands that have a plethora of fresh fruit that I assume to be organic.  I still wash it carefully, but somehow having the farmer/fruit picker sell it directly to me allows me to trust the origins a wee bit more, as I do with the farmers markets in the U.S.

 

If anyone is curious, my stressing about the processing of the food has not stopped me from trying it.  Origins aside, I have yet to find something that I have not liked.  Granted, we have stuck to the more traditional fare.  I have no interest in fast food (we will avoid the McDonald's for three years...) and from ground refried beans to the grilled meats we've tasted, we've not found one thing to not like.  Even the local Italian restaurant serves wood-fired pizzas that are fresh and full of flavor.  And with the exception of my half and half ( I do miss that...) there is not much we cannot get here, from sushi to organic arugula (which will soon hopefully be growing in my backyard).

 

989
The first meal cooked by our empleada. I will just say, especially for potential visitors, she is an amazing cook...

Here's to three years of a food exploration, to include sussing out all of the local organic farmers and really having a complete list of the delights that can be found here.  Oh, and remembering to copy down all of the recipes of the amazing comida tipica that our empleada has been dishing out for us...

 

 

 

July 11, 2013

Well, we are here....

But no regular Internet just yet, so this will be short and sweet. We have a great house (somewhere in Managua) that is beautiful, if not a bit confusing.

The other day Nick told me he wanted to play with Lego bricks in the living room. I went to what I thought was the right spot and he said, "No, not that living room...sigh...let me show you which one!" So, we are not lacking in space and three days in, I am still forgetting which room is a bathroom and which is a storage closet (plenty of both).  And did I mention the jetted tub in our bathroom? Um, yes, between the backyard, a huge expanse of gardening space and the spa tub, I'm so in my happy place.

The trip was basically uneventful, but I did have a minor worry on the ride home from the airport that I was suddenly overwhelmed and exhausted and what if I completely failed at this whole FS thing? It disappeared about 5 seconds later, when I decided I would just have to take it one day at a time (or maybe one minute?).

One of the kids also had a minor freak out upon arrival at the house. I won't say which one, because that won't help. We had a few tears, a few short talks, and nothing since then.  Sometimes they get bored, but that's okay since boredom generally sparks creativity.

The cat has had zero issues, and is settling in happily. He is rapidly testing every piece of furniture, and will be pleasantly (I hope) surprised when the dog arrives Monday night. Though her presence might interrupt his heavy schedule of napping and more napping....

And now I must go and figure out how to turn off the sprinklers...in the middle of a hurricane-like rain storm. Hasta luego!

 

Well, we are here....
Every table is a Lego table in our house and this one came with padding. Woot!

 

 

Well, we are here....
Our *fur-in* service gato trying to be way stoic about the whole moving overseas thing.

 

 

Well, we are here....
No one will dare sit here as no one wants to be responsible for disturbing the cat....

 

July 06, 2013

The butterflies in my

stomach have begun.  Flitting around, just as I try to nod off to sleep at night or sit down for 5 minutes to compose  a list of everything we haven't accomplished yet.  

Part of me feared this day would never come and now that it's nearly here, I am trying to put the brakes on time.  Three weeks ago I was nervous as I knew we couldn't order anything online and have it included in our shipments.  Now we can't order anything online and have it by the time our flight takes off on Tuesday.  In fact, my one poor sandal will have to make a very lonely trip down by USPS to Managua by itself.  I completely forgot about the repair, took in the shoe, and was told it wouldn't be ready until next Saturday.  Oops.  

I keep thinking of how much we still have to do at the house.  (Did the movers pack out any bathroom cabinets?!) and, yet, each day we add in more.  A haircut here, a new laptop there, what about school shoes on Monday?  Meetings are still being scheduled, last-minute going away sleepovers are not out of the question, and I have yet to even pack a bag.  However, we do have all of our bags and will spread them out tomorrow in our living room in a mock pack-out sort of scenario. I can't wait to see Nick manage his two large rolling duffles and his Batman carry-on. 

 

Photo-1
New haircut, check. New laptop, checkity-check.

 

Oh, the move?  Egad, a nickel's worth of free advice:  don't ever move right after surgery.  There was no way for me to avoid it, but, oh, to have been able to bend over, twist and turn and not feel like I was spraining my entire body while organizing our whole house would have been lovely.   Peter did the bulk of the work, but still, all of the putting in different piles was still exhausting. 

While the packing part went fairly quickly (8:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. on Monday, 9 a.m.- 3 p.m. on Tuesday?), it was exhausting trying to keep up with the packers.  We would check on them and do almost hourly walk-throughs, but they still forgot two cabinets in the kitchen, packed a mattress we repeatedly told them to leave behind, and forgot our Rubbermaid shelves in the garage (a bonus for our renters!).  

In the end, it could have been worse.  The movers were fast, we figured out the errors, and the company corrected them!  The mattress was pulled and the two cabinets of dishes were packed out and made it into HHE.  The shelves had to stay, but those were the least of our worries.

Now, we just have to finish up those last bits of laundry, remember who needs copies of the house keys, the power of attorney for the new windows, data plan for the phones, suspension request for the phones once we arrive at post, all of the cat certificates, the shoes in the front hall closet, my last minute need to have (but, yes, would be fine without) items, and I still have to finish cleaning out the freezer before the cleaners show up on Monday.  Then we have other house bits to stress over, but thank goodness for the internet, right?

I really shouldn't feel completely woefully unprepared as at least I remembered to order and ship cat food, linens, my first Drugstore.com order in ages, and figured out prior to leaving that both girls would need laptops this year.  (Guess who does not need one for kindergarten and is a bit miffed about this turn of events?).  Given that we can get nearly everything we need in Managua or by mail, I should quit worrying, especially since we are trying to downsize.

Yes, I have come to the conclusion (again) that we just have too much stuff.  Part of the issue is that I inherited too much at too young of an age, part is having three kids, and part is not always wanting to part with the past.  I decided to change that this time around.  I can't count the number of bags of baby clothes I gave away or consigned.  

We gave away boxes of toys, furniture we no longer need, and had the girls really take hard looks at what they want vs. need.  And reminded them just how low our storage estimate was, in case they really couldn't part with things.  I'm hoping three years of slightly more spacious (and perhaps better organized) bedrooms will remind me that I like open, fairly uncluttered spaces and we need to keep the stuff level down in order to have that. Given that we shipped fewer than 6,000 lbs in HHE (boat freight) to post, we are not off to a bad start.

 

Photo 4
At least we have 3 years...

 

Photo 5
to unpack all of this and the contents of 7 other rooms.

 

And then I realize that even with the past 5 weeks just racing by, maybe a few butterflies aren't a bad thing.  After all, isn't this what we wanted, what I've been working for since Peter left for Iraq? Granted, I had to work even harder after the whole mess began in the fall of 2010 and I have to remind myself for every nervous flutter, there is a sudden jolt of happy.

I mean, my goodness, I'm not just nervous, I'm, well, excited.  I'm so happy and relieved to be back on track.  I won't blame the illness for derailing our plans, as it didn't.  It was my reaction to it.  On one hand, I did take my time and analyze my choices.  In the end, I think most of the decisions (most) were good, solid ones and I'm not unhappy with them as a whole.

I am unhappy that I lost myself for a while.  I let myself go.  I lost myself in doctor-speak and fear mongering about things that would likely not happen. I still remember the doctors who kept telling me to take time off from life, that *that* was the cure, the fix for all that ailed me.  

It wasn't.  I took the time, took too much time, and put myself in a space far worse than the original. Despite my best intentions, I listened to those who didn't understand my life. I thought I was making my own choices, but I still let fear guide me too much until I found doctors who understood our lives and realized the fix was in getting back overseas. Now I know better and won't make that mistake again.

Three days from now we will be arriving at our new home.  Bring it, butterflies, I can't wait.

 

June 29, 2013

The good news is

that I have the all-clear from my surgeon. The bad news is that simply means that I don't have to return to see him before I leave (um, in 10 days!).  Sadly, it isn't really an indicator of pain being that much less or me being able to do that much more.

While I had hoped to be perhaps thinking about running by now, or maybe even just a few yoga stretches, I've had a bit of a setback this week.  While last week I finally felt like I was well enough to start walking more, unfortunately, I think the move interfered with my healing.  While I didn't intentionally try to lift or move anything I shouldn't, I spent most of the last week twisting, turning, lifting, squatting, sometimes bending, and there was a lot more physical exertion than over the past three weeks.

By Wednesday of this week my pain level began to rise.  It gradually worsened until Thursday evening I was in tears on the way home from dinner.  I had long since run out of pain pills and no amount of Advil was helping. Short of resting in bed, nothing helped with pain. Note:  Pretty much impossible to rest in bed 24 hours a day while you are trying to move overseas.

Since my surgical follow-up was today, I figured I could eke it out pain-wise until I got to the doctor and then beg and plead for more Percocet.  Yes, I realize how that sounds, but when you are having the kind of pain I am having, it is a need.  I didn't even bother sitting down in the waiting room or exam room, as that would only mean having to recover from that.  

The doctor entered the room, saw me standing and figured out fairly quickly that I was still not exactly ready for so much as a couch to 5 K.  He had me remove the binder I've worn for the past month, took one look at the surgical site, and asked my permission to have a physician's assistant take a look.

Why?

Well, despite my discomfort, apparently, I am healing quite well.  While I may not feel fantabulous, the improvement in the way I look is about 1000%.  The doctor had a fun time trying to explain just how awful the bulge was...

"It was THIS (holds right hand about a foot out from the right side of my abdomen) big!"

I have to admit, despite the slow recovery, he's right. It's amazing what a bit of mesh and a few little pieces of hardware can do to improve one's body.  And if you are wondering if this was a vanity thing, if you know me, you know it's not.  I simply want a body that is not causing me constant pain and that is not what I had.  Right now, I'm having recovery pain.  Prior to the surgery, I had regular pain doing anything and no amount of exercise did anything for the bulge.  It was just growing and without surgery, would never improve.

In fact, although I haven't really lost much weight, and obviously, I can't do too much to improve my musculature right now, I was thrilled to put on a pair of jeans for the first time and have them fit me evenly (and a teeny bit loose).  I had given up wearing nearly anything but yoga pants prior to surgery, simply because I had to have something stretchy to fit over the bulge.  Not fun, I tell you, not fun.

Oh, and the move?  I'll save that for tomorrow, but I will say had I not had the interference of the surgery and recovery, it would easily qualify as our most-organized move ever.  It's not over yet, but if things keep rolling along as they have been, I may not be a complete mess when we board the plane next week. Fingers crossed! 

 

 

 

June 21, 2013

With nary a care for my health,

I spent the day working in the garage.  While Peter did the heavy lifting, I sorted through toys, papers, memorabilia and found everything from my Presidential Fitness Award (the pin) to our original marriage certificate (um, yeah, that should not be stored in the garage).  Don't ask.

Unlike previous moves, where I pretty much just pointed and said, "Pack it all," we have decided to try and be uber- organized (cue laughter now).  We actually have our shelves in the garage sorted by stays here/storage/HHE (UAB will be pulled out accordingly).  It's not perfect yet, but it was by far the biggest task and I'd say we are 75% of the way there.  Luckily, Grandpa Kirk flies in tomorrow, so he will take over kid-care and the dreadful (as if) task of hanging out at the pool while the kids swim for hours, so we can run around like crazy and purchase bikes, a trampoline, a basketball hoop, a Sodastream, and wine.  Priorities, right?

The rest of the house, barring Kelsey's room (about halfway there) is pretty well good to go.  Den needs a bit of work, but Cait managed to knock out her entire room in one night, and the mid-level has been set since the pre-packout survey.  Oh, and, yes, we have a box set aside for all of the Lego bricks we know we will find once the movers leave.  Travel toys, right?

Prior to all of this moving frenzy, we actually had a bit of excitement in our house.  Nearly everyone won an award (or two) in our household, and three of them were complete surprises, at least for the recipients.

Since Peter completed his UT, the kids were eligible to receive medals from the Family Liaison Office (FLO) at the State Department and certificates signed by John Kerry.  While we figured Cait might want to receive hers quietly, we knew that Kelsey might enjoy receiving hers at school.  Several months ago, Peter wrote to Kelsey's principal and they devised the perfect plan for giving Kelsey the medal and certificate during the ceremony.  Not only was it thrilling to receive in front of her classmates, but the fact that Peter could present it meant that much more.

Photo 2

Not only did Peter give her the award, but Kelsey's principal then went on to speak for a few moments about how difficult this kind of assignment can be.  A beaming Kelsey walked back to her seat to a round of applause, found us in the audience and blew us a kiss.  She had no idea we had this planned, and until her name was completely clueless as to why I'd tried to get her to dress up just a wee bit that morning.  However, she was not the only one surprised that week..

The previous Friday Cait came home and announced that she needed a dress.  Given that she is a hoodie and jeans kind of person, this came as a bit of a surprise.  As it turns out, she was slated to receive an award for exemplary academic achievement in world history and geography.  She has been fairly modest about receiving the award, but it seems like she was chosen from a rather large pool of students.  We could not be prouder, though we knew award or no, she is quite talented in those areas.

Photo 1
Nick also garnered his Unaccompanied Tour award on his last day of school.  His teacher presented it to him in front of his classmates and he was so excited, he let her take a picture!  I think his biggest award is simply having Peter home, but the kids do appreciate the recognition.

IMG_20130618_090452_464

Last, but not least, I won an award.  I know, that's crazy talk, right?  I almost wasn't even there to receive it, as I was still in so much pain last week.  However, it was my last Girl Scout Leader dinner and I knew I couldn't miss it.  I took a pain pill, bucked up, and ended up being absolutely stunned to win an Outstanding Leader Award.  I was just sitting there, calmly waiting to hear the winner's name called and all of the sudden, there I am receiving my pin and endorsements!  I will only say that I absolutely could not have won the award without such amazing girls and other parents to work with.  The girls totally and completely make the troop and if not for them, I would not have been standing there Thursday night.  

Um, no, no pics of me yet.  Thanks to the swelling from the surgery that still has not completely abated, I now look completely semi-pregnant.  It's better, I can get the binder tighter, but I'm definitely looking forward to a day that it's not part of my accoutrement.

And now it's time to organize the china hutch...the fun just never ends!

 

 

 

June 13, 2013

Birthdays don't

take a break.  You can't cancel a birthday.  Sure, you can opt to celebrate later, but when you missed the previous year's celebration (say, because said birthday person was overseas), it's even harder to postpone it two years in a row.

The past two weeks have been so very difficult.  I expected a harder recovery than I was told I would have, but this is way beyond that.  I still have a lot of pain from you know, sitting, walking can be done, but then even the shortest walk puts me back instead of forward, I'm tired of the recliner, but tried to nap on the couch last night and that was a big mistake to say the least.

I was so excited because I thought by now I would be really on the mend.   Instead, I've had to cancel most outings (graduation parties, volunteer days at schools, a whole weekend away) and pick and choose maybe one thing a day.  I opt for something that will get me up and moving (as in leaving my house), but where I know I won't actually be asked to do anything other than sit in a comfy chair.  Pathetic.

Tomorrow night I'm not even supposed to be home, as it's the end of the year Girl Scout Leader dinner and I don't even know if I'll get to that.  I'm really hoping my recovery is normal for my surgery and I was just given inflated expectations, as I'm really at my wit's end.  It doesn't help we are packing out in 12 days and if Peter wasn't here, I'd pretty much just be weeping in my recliner.  Since he is here, he is doing all of the organizing while I draw up fun UAB/HHE/Storage/Stays in House/Freecycle, Craigslist&/orDonate lists.  It's not what I hoped to be doing, but at least I feel semi-useful.  Well, until it's naptime.

And yet...

Tomorrow is Peter's birthday and I've got nothing.  I'll have to beg him to take me out so I can *buy* him a cake that he has to carry home.  Gifts?  Had I actually thought about that in advance, I'd have something more exciting.  No special dinner tomorrow night since I can't shop or really prepare anything, and we had to cancel our weekend away since I'm still in so much pain...so the whole combined special Father's Day/birthday weekend just went down the tubes.

So this is the best I can do for now:

Happy birthday, Pete!

Love you and thank you for spending your home leave getting me every kind of takeout possible so I can spend the entire time recovering in the recliner.  I know this isn't the way you probably wanted to spend your birthday week, so maybe this will help?

 

Scan233
Don't worry, the real one should show up in your email some time in the morning.   

Sigh....and back to the recliner.

 

 

June 03, 2013

Last week I was under the mistaken

impression that somehow because my surgery was laparoscopic (read:  less invasive), it would somehow be less painful (as have been previous laparoscopic surgeries). This idea is indicated in many places and recovery is touted as shorter and sweeter.  My thoughts?  If you have to have the same surgery (hernia repair) that I did and cannot have it laparoscopically, start the painkillers now (even if the surgery is months off).  No joke.  I will grant that apparently the hernia was bigger, hence more pain, however, in no way, shape or form was I prepared for the agony of post-operative pain.

I was barely in recovery for an hour last Thursday (after being reassured time and time again prior to surgery that I would go home that afternoon), when it was deemed that I would likely need to stay the night.  I was in such awful pain that I could not breathe without feeling as though I had the world's most giant cramp in my side.  I'm quite amazed any oxygen reached my lungs, given how hard it was to inhale, exhale, you name it.

After a quick meeting with the surgeon, it was decided that I would be sent off to my own room to hopefully improve overnight.  Knowing that the Salty Dogs (well, one of them) had the kids squared away left me only to worry about myself...and the thought of poor Peter being too proud to ask the nurse for a pillow.  I mean, those benches in the rooms look comfy and all, but the poor boy definitely had a crick in his neck on Friday morning.

I spent the entire night and most of the next morning alternating sleep with worrying about being asked to schlep to the bathroom again (why do hospitals not have higher toilet seats?  I mean, really!).  Then there was the high pain vs. nausea.  You see, the high pain causes a bigger need for painkillers.  However, more meds on an empty stomach?  Yeah, not a great combo.  I mean, the ice chips helped and all, but it's really sad when you can't even barter up for half of a ginger ale.

Finally, in the morning, I was given the green light to go home, at about the same time I was told I could eat again.  Of course, no one actually told the food service this news and Peter got a big, ole "No can do," when he tried to go crazy and order me wheat toast.  No worries, as it took me two hours to eat three bites, since I kept falling asleep while trying to eat my breakfast.  And if you are wondering why there are no photos of this splendid experience?

Around noon, my wheelchair showed up (the nurse actually asked me if I wanted one.  It took me FIVE minutes to get out of bed and walk 3 feet to the bathroom...what's your guess?).  After the world's worst wheelchair ride (not the driver's fault), I had possibly the worst car ride home.  The only thing worse than being nauseous and in a large amount of pain, is being in too much pain to actually be sick.  Maybe in hindsight that's a good thing?

We made it home, I rolled into my recliner, and can't say I did much other than walk to and from the bathroom, take my regularly scheduled painkillers (bless those pills, just bless them) and sleep for two days.  I couldn't even consider Netflix until Saturday night (seriously, that's how much I didn't want to be awake and feel the pain).

Finally, it started subsiding a bit yesterday.  I was able to *walk* (I use this term loosely, like a zombie would use the term *breathe*) over to Kelsey's lemonade stand, freak out a few passers-by, hang onto a tree for dear life, and then return home to collapse for several more hours.

After another good night's sleep and an even further ebbing of the pain, I was ready to pull out the big guns today.  I walked a roundtrip of approximately .10 miles to the steps of the basketball court so I could watch Nick ride his new bike.  Somewhere in there, I not only perfected my zombie shuffle, but very likely pulled something.  So, again, back home, in the recliner, down goes a painkiller (only one, but still), and I have to hope for the best that tomorrow will be a less painful day.

I would like to say that I really hope to never have another surgery related to this whole disaster.  I am sure for some there is some great cosmic lesson, but I have just found out that I really don't like scary diseases and I like multiple surgeries even less (like zero surgeries would have been just fine with me). So, I am finished with all of the above for a good, long time.  

Now, all of the above being said, I do owe a few thanks to those who have helped out so much over the past few days.

Salty Dogs:  For everything!  Sangria and margaritas on the beach, I promise!

Peter:  For your kind understanding when I ask you to fluff the pillow beneath my right leg *just so* about 18,000 times a day.

Caitlin:  For helping out Saturday afternoon and not saying a word.

Kelsey:  You noticed the very first time I walked on my own and congratulated me with a taste test of cookie dough.  Oh, and for being such an incredibly super-independent little Nugget!

Nick: You are an awesome Little/Big Guy and thank you so much for taking on every task I've given you, from getting me more seltzer to finding the remotes.  Even better?  Offering to help me walk to the bathroom, calling me "Sweetie" every time you ask if I need help, and reminding me that you are sorry I needed another surgery.

And, now I bid you good night, as the pain has kicked it up a notch again.  Let's end on a precious note, shall we?

  Photo-42

 

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
Waiting....

 

Photo 4
Take 1?

 

Photo 5
Better...

 

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.

Why?

'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

Why? 

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.

And?

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.

Wait!

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.  

Img002

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...

Img004

Oh, and one week...one week!  Woot!

May 13, 2013

Published!

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:  

61V1308TnEL._SL1360_
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. 

Img001
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.

 

IMG_4743

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.  

 

IMG_4720
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.

 

IMG_4719

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?

IMG_4721
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).  

 

IMG_4728
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.  


IMG_4730

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 27, 2013

Who needs a

stuffed animal

Photo-38
when you have a power ranger (slightly hidden) and a Hess truck to hug?

April 23, 2013

Bit by bit

it seems, we are getting there. Inching closer to the move and even faster towards Peter's return.  Given we had a somewhat incomplete unaccompanied tour the last time around, I had no idea what to expect this time.  I had no idea if R&Rs would make things harder or easier, if the kids would have more or less trouble adapting as each passed or if things would click into place each time.

The first time Peter left after R&R, it felt like it took weeks to settle back into our routine.  By 3 weeks in, we were finally settled, though it was the end of the summer and we were rather crazy with the whole back to school/end of summer gig.  By the end of the second R&R, I was ensconced in language school.  I'm fairly sure by the beginning of the second week, we were on track as though he had been gone for months.  This past R&R?  I'm not sure why, but for whatever reason, maybe hours after he left we were back in our routine.

Despite the fact I had the biggest break this time, no real travel, no worries about school, and I'd slept in more days than I should likely admit, everyone just rolled back into the routine.  No muss, no fuss, and just a few tears at the airport.  By the time we were back home, Kelsey was off and running to Girl Scouts, I was planning the week out, and Nick was running around outside enjoying the longer days without a care in the world.

In fact, it was nearly a relief, as the last few days of his visit had me in a tizzy.  I realized the next time he would be back it would be for good.  No more putting off any last minute pre-move to do lists and decluttering/reorganization would have to go into high gear.  I ended up waking up every morning with minor panic attacks just trying to figure out how we would get it all accomplished.  Finally, I just decided to slow down, rein in my fears, tackle one item/area per day and then have one *big* day each week (with help from the uber-organizer & yes, party planner), Dr. Salty Dog.  

Since then, I've managed to tackle half of the kitchen (primarily flow issues), my desk area and, um, the lack of filing I was managing, I've Freecycled quite a bit, set aside items for donation, and yesterday, worked on my bathroom.  Really, a bathroom should not be onerous, but somehow, I've ended up with a collection of stuff.  Organizers filled with sample products from hotels and a mish-mash of things that I have realized that I just don't need.  When all was said and done with my review, I realized that I actually have about 10 products that I need/use on a regular basis.  Just knowing how little I need in that respect is so freeing. 

In fact, I've realized all over the place how little we need.  Yes, clothes and shoes, a collection of books, and toys for the kids.  However, I've been paring down in the kitchen to the absolute essentials and realizing I do have my favorites...but there are many things I've been holding onto for no reason whatsoever, and those will be out the door before the movers show up.

Even Cait has come around to the idea of more being less.  Her only concern with the move was her books.  How on earth would she be able to part with any of her 500+ book collection?  No amount of pushing her on the Kindle idea helped (and I get this, I really do...I am a *real* book lover myself).  However, one day she realized that if she downloaded a book, she could have it the morning it came out instead of that night.  She began to borrow my Kindle sporadically until she realized the beauty of Amazon 1-click with a gift card....and now she is still not thrilled about having to put a good portion of her stash into storage, but has realized that perhaps the digital age does have some benefits.

We still have to work on Kelsey's room and Nick's Lego collection, but the more I get accomplished each day, the less stress I feel.  In fact, the panic attacks have subsided, and I still have over 4 weeks before Peter comes home in order to get that much more organized and out of the way. 

It's funny, if you asked me this time last year how I'd feel right now, I would suspect I would have said 100% anxious just to have Peter home.  While I am excited about his return, I've realized that we've handled this year far better than I thought we could (even with my minor bad parenting days).  The kids have blossomed and are even more independent, and while we do have occasional, "How do I get three kids three places at once?" days, I've found ways to work around that.  And the occasional mom/teenager struggles?  I think it's well-known that growing pains in that respect are universal.  Those will happen whether Peter is here or not, and I'd be lying if I said otherwise.

Whether it's letting Nick stay in daycare for an afternoon or two each week (um, he will actually beg to go), so we can have more free time the next afternoon or hiring someone to drive the girls to their activities, little things can make this kind of year so much easier.  Sometimes, we just take a breather.  I've learned it's okay to say no or pass on things.  We don't have to be busy 24 hours a day, even though I know that it this  area can make one feel like they need to be.

We gotten our routine and it's comforting.  Even on hectic days, Nick and I still have plenty of time to read and have quiet time before he nods off.  In fact, it seems I now have extra time with each of the kids at night and that's a relief.  Even though they know they can call Pete at any time, with only one of us truly present, it's nice to find an ebb and flow that works so that you don't feel insanely stretched thin.  I'm not saying it's easy or we don't have our moments, but compared to even other Stateside assignments, it has not been as onerous as it could have been.

Now, let's just hope this flow keeps up for a few more weeks.  Today I tackle all of the extra piles of clothes that I *think* the kids have outgrown, and then maybe the garage if there is time.  If that doesn't send me over the edge, we should be good to go.

April 12, 2013

{this moment}: Daddy showed me how to do this!

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. One photo - only a few words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

Photo 2
In that case, R&R #3 was very well-spent.

April 08, 2013

The light at the end of the tunnel

is not only there, I'm about to smack my head on it.  Despite all of our reticence regarding sending Peter back to a rather dangerous area, we had our farewell (I hesitate to use the word last) supper at 3:30 p.m. before dropping him off at Dulles at 4:30 p.m.  I was absolutely fine until I noticed him getting a bit anxious.  I hoped it was due to traffic, but alas...he was just not terribly excited about boarding that plane.

Photo 2-2
I can't really blame him.  It's so very close to the end of the tour and we accomplished so much this time around.  In fact, it seems like he was here forever, hard to believe it was just shy of three weeks. How much did we get accomplished?

 

  • A family trip to Great Wolf Lodge and Charlottesville, both of which were interesting learning experiences.  GWL, well, I owe a post on it.  Not necessarily what I expected, but the kids loved it.  Oh, and just because it's "spring" break, doesn't mean you should leave the snow boots at home.

 

  • Doctors appointments galore.  In fact, I ditched my oncologist!  No joke, as I am not taking any medication (if you want to think negatively of me for this, do it elsewhere.  I have extraordinarily good reasons for not taking it nor could the oncologist find a reason to push me.)  We discussed Tabata intervals, yoga, moving overseas and she happily sent me off to enjoy my life and had no doubts I would be fine (and I feel exactly the same).

 

  • A new front hall closet!  Really, we finally Elfa-ized something in this house and it feels so good!  It's sort of a mixed design, but I found this idea online and just had to run with it.  I was so tired of no one being able to hang up coats or put shoes on the (too small) rack properly. It's already incredibly transformed the space even though it's still a work in progress.

 

Photo 1
Two shelves up top, three on the bottom for shoes, and hooks all the way around. Not quite complete, but already so much better!  

 

  • Scheduled more surgery!  Really, this is good.  I have, well, a hernia. My abdominal wall weakened after the DIEP and I've had a good sized bulge on my right side for quite some time.  I kept forgetting about it (except when trying to fit into any pants) until I saw my plastic surgeon in January about the cellulitis.  He about hit the ceiling and asked if I wanted to get it repaired.  Seriously?  We met with the surgeon today, had a very easy and quick appointment, and my repair is now scheduled for May 30th.  More good news:  while my yoga and planking may not have been helping to the extent they could, they were helping a bit and certainly not hurting...and I should be able to get back to them only a few weeks after surgery.

And now, I need to get some sleep as today I realized that 13 weeks from tomorrow, this house will be empty, our stuff will be who knows where, our car will be on a boat, and we will be on a plane to our new home.  Oh, and that light...after two extra unexpected years back in the States, and one of them being another UT,  I guess I really don't care if it bangs me on the head.  Just so glad it's finally there...

April 07, 2013

On a happy note...

as we are trying not to think about Peter leaving tomorrow.  The good news? He will return in 6 short weeks for good.  The bad news?  He's going back over there.  Considering the week friends and colleagues in the Foreign Service have had over there, we really don't want to send him back.  

If you haven't read, one of Peter's colleagues in Kabul was killed yesterday.  We were actually shopping separately at the farmers market when he found out.  As I located him (having obtained a sample of sausage I thought he'd love), I couldn't understand at the time why he blew me off and shouted, "No!" as he was hurriedly scrolling through an email.  Despite their jobs being quite different, Peter and Anne frequently interacted and to say he was in shock was an understatement.  This event occurred just days after another friend's husband had a rather scary day at work in Afghanistan, so now we are that much more shaken.

Despite everything and knowing he has to go back, today had been set aside way in advance for a happy time:  Kelsey's 11th birthday. I was stumped a few months ago trying to figure out what we might do for her birthday.  We try to make parties into fun adventures, but I was running low on ideas, until a friend mentioned her daughter's rock climbing birthday party...and, Sportrock, the company they used, has a location not 15 minutes from our house!  Sold!

 

 

6754_10151603222138552_1535847868_n
I'll give you one guess as to who found this ultra-cool invite that was the inspiration for the cake...

 One might say we went all out again, whether from the invites (totally cool) to the party favors (bandanas that doubled as napkins and water bottles with the guests' names emblazoned on them.). I was stymied at first for a good post climbing snack (pizza was the only offering we could order via Sportrock), when we thought of wraps.  Kelsey took it a step further and decided the girls should do "make your own" wraps.  We took all of the "fixins" and the girls were all over that idea.

 

IMG_4509
Almost there....

IMG_4511
And she hits the top!

The best part?  Peter was able to attend the first party for any of our kids since early 2012 and I have to say it was yet another basically stress-less party.  The girls showed up ready to go and the instructors were awesome. Encouraging to those who hadn't really done much climbing in the past (like Kelsey) and super calm.  While Kels was a bit nervous at first, by her third climb, she hit the ceiling and had a round of applause from her friends (a rather high ceiling, too!). 

IMG_4530
The spread...

IMG_4532
Check out the napkin rings...

 
IMG_4538
And Cait might have found another new hobby today...

After an exhausting, yet energizing 90 minutes of climbing, the girls return to a table laden with sandwich making ingredients.  They gobbled up their snacks and then it was cake time.  No, I had nothing to do with this outstanding design. My friend, Anat, made this amazing cake, as cake baking and designing is her business.  You can check out more of her works of art on her Facebook page, A Special Cake.  And if you are wondering how the cake tasted?  Nearly every girl requested a second helping and I can't say I'm not staring at the leftovers, thinking, "Maybe just one more piece."

  IMG_4523

 

After an unexpectedly sad week, it was a lift we all needed.  We aren't thrilled that Peter is returning tomorrow, but it will mark the beginning of the end of his tour of duty.  Once he returns home in May, he is ours for good...

 

April 03, 2013

Today I had a *cool job* day...

And by job, I mean one of my 4 (or more) volunteer gigs, this one being First Vice-President for AAFSW.  I've extolled the group's virtues many times before (Livelines, Playgroup, local events, SOSA, Happy Hours....) and the offerings are just some of the reasons that I have been working and/or volunteering for them since the year 2000.  I can't tell you in how many ways the group has helped and enriched our Foreign Service experience.

 

IMG_4453
Cait was too ill to attend, so we brought her home a small gift.

Now, not that every volunteer opportunity is not terribly interesting, but today's had a touch of star power.  AAFSW was able to organize a discussion with Tony Mendez regarding his role in the exfiltration now detailed (with a few changes) in the movie Argo.  This event is in addition to the events we have held in the past with Kathleen Stafford (one of the 6 who escaped the Embassy) who is quite an artist and very enchanting in her own right.

 

IMG_4449
Signing, signing, and more signing!

Tony arrived a bit early with his wife, Jonna, and spent over an hour signing books.  I played book cashier and photo op photog, so had the opportunity to hear many a person compliment his service to our country.  In addition to the signing, he and his wife then spent over an hour in the adjoining auditorium discussing the events leading up to Argo, the escape, and interesting tidbits that have taken place since then.  

IMG_4450
Not sure why we are leaning, but a photo op is a photo op.

Even better?  Kathleen Stafford was in attendance, and she joined Tony and his wife on stage about halfway through the event.  The discussion became even more interesting as Kathleen added her memories and they continued through the Q&A to highlight the differences between the movie and reality (such as the final scene, when they were not actually chased down the runway...).

 

IMG_4451
After Kathleen Stafford joined the crew onstage.

I had been looking forward to this event for months and I can say that without a doubt, it went beyond my expectations.  I am so very excited to work with such an amazing group of people who unite to make the Foreign Service a community and thrilled with our turnout.  As my term is winding down, I should put out the reminder that we always need new volunteers. Consider throwing your name in the hat if you will be in the area, and you, too, will have similar enriching experiences, I can guarantee.

And, yes, it was just really cool to meet someone who pulled off such an amazing feat.... 

 

IMG_4455
A little treat for ourselves, too...
 

 

 

March 28, 2013

I dreaded today

like I dread one or two days of each R&R for Peter.  Yep, it was doctor day.  It fact it was the day for the annual ladyparts test whose ending rhymes with *dram.*  My, I have quite a long list of words now that I never want to say/hear again...including that one.

Given that this whole business has turned me into a doctor-hating (well, if I know you personally, that's different...and if you are a vet or non-human doctor, you are good to go!), hospital loathing weenie when it comes to medical stuff. If I so much as see a hospital symbol within a week of an appointment, I quite literally break into hives.  Oh, and my blood pressure?  Through the roof!  120/90 at my last appointment (months ago, but I can't forget it) and I thought my heart was going to explode while the nurse was inflating the cuff.

I dreaded today,  NOT because I fear anything would be wrong, just because I hate that I am told they are *necessary* (reality being who really knows).  I knew that they would not find anything and I'm not just being some overly positive person.  As far as I am concerned, this was a one time deal and I simply won't put up with anything else.  So, no expectations of anything wrong.  However....

When I arrived, I had to sign in on the pink ribbon emblazoned sign in sheet.  You know, like we all don't know why we are there.  Gotta love it being shoved in your face again.  Then there is the paperwork review:  Despite the fact that there is a wealth (I'm sure) of information on me (and my stellar attitude, too), they ask about your history.  I'm fine with a "Check the box if you've had weird changes since your last visit, e.g., growing a second head," however, WHY do I have a to re-write a history that, A.  they KNOW and B.  cannot be anything but painful to remember.

Don't worry, the minute I left the reception area, my biggest advocate and anti-pink person laid into them on both of the above topics.  Really, updates are one thing, but a rehash of everything in the records?  Not necessary.

Then there was the good ole exam.  No big deal, not terribly painful or uncomfortable, though I do hate the wait.  I mean, you don't know why you have to wait so long, whether it's an overly thorough comparison, or the doctor just had to finish lunch first.  

Finally, the technician walks in, says "no suspicious findings" (duh) and then adds, "Oh, the radiologist left a suggestion about MRIs.  You might consider having one given your *personal history.*

I just about lost it as my head spun around in several directions.  Did the breast surgeon not specifically tell me that if I wanted one, I would likely have to front the money myself?  Did she not say I was *not high risk enough?* And, if the doctor checked my records to notice that I *hadn't* had one recently, yet HAD seen the doctor, she would know this little tid-bit.

So, like the nice, kind, soft-spoken person I pretend to be, I explained patiently exactly what transpired at my last visit.  The technician then repeated herself, and I reminded her that the very doctor she told me to speak with had repeatedly told me that she could not justify writing the scrip on the basis of my exam.  She seemed to get it, but there was no chance to speak with the doctor and at that point, I was livid, so I hightailed it out of there.  I relayed the entire incident to Peter, who was equally enraged, and tried to let it go.

If you are wondering, I am not a person who is comfortable with more doctor visits. They do not make me feel better or safer.  I know I am healthy and doing just fine.  I spent way too much time in doctors' offices as a kid (which now makes me wonder...) and am not going to torture myself like that as an adult.  Nor do I want even more invasive, unnecessary tests that carry risks of their own. I accept that I may well be in a minority.  However, that does not mean that just going to an annual appointment has to be such a pain in the rear, especially when there is likely absolutely nothing wrong.  

*Personal history* my rear.  Did I mention I can't wait to move to Managua and leave this stress behind?!  Or that we might have a move date?  Maybe...but that's a story for another day....

 

 

 

 

March 22, 2013

My wee Nugget

is 11 years old today.

 

Img012-1
Just over two and a half and utterly adorable.
It seems like just yesterday, she was born with a shock of black hair and piercing brown eyes, and we could immediately sense her independent spirit.  Today she still has that commanding presence combined with a sense of style that must be from Grandma Kirk (we all know it's not from Mrs. Yoga Pants 2013). 

 

IMG_4324
She may seem quiet, but it is more that she is deeply introspective.  She doesn't mince words and doesn't miss a beat.  She's my little outside-the-box thinker, writer, artist, and baker.  She has been dreaming about her birthday for months, yet Wednesday, when Peter arrived home and surprised her before school, she said his arrival was so exciting she almost forgot her birthday was imminent.

 

IMG_4297
Good thing I found this photo, since that's a birthday gift *hint.*

Today will be lunch with dad, cupcakes, and special treats all around.  Tomorrow? Tomorrow will be one day closer to 12...and I can't wait to see what that brings.

 

March 19, 2013

You give another year of your life

...a year of being away from your husband.  A year of your kids being away from their father.  Your husband works a minimum of 12 hours a day (more likely 16-18) EVERY DAY in a war zone.  (His last official "day off" was January 4.) He comes home three times during that year (and you are constantly told how lucky you are) and in the end, when you are slated to move overseas, you are told, "Oops, sorry, you have no place to stay while you move."

Why?  Well, according to the State Department my husband is already overseas and thus does not need to worry about packing out a house or moving his family.  Never mind that he never really packed out (really, 132 lbs of UAB, unaccompanied air freight, including packing materials, is a packout?).  

You see, normally, with the State Department, when one moves overseas from a domestic assignment, there is what is known as a predeparture subsisitence allowance.  You are given a set amount of per diem (per person), so that your family can establish a command center of sorts at a local hotel. This is not pampering or extravagant, this is so you can have a room that allows for all of your luggage (which may have to get you through 6 months at your new post), your pets (which will cost you more on your bill), your kids, passports & other documents that can't be lost (or packed) and anything else you need for travel that absolutely cannot be touched by a mover.

You are also given an allotment for food, because even if you do get a room with a small kitchen, you can't do that much cooking since you will be departing soon.  More importantly, you are in the middle of a move and are likely spending 12 plus hour days at your house ensuring they don't pack out the full Diaper Genie (it's been attempted) or any items staying with the house. If it sounds easy, then I'm betting you've never tried it.  

This allowance is one of the few things that carries a person through a move.  It is one of the few benefits we get when we move.  A few moments of sanity during a crazed time.  And if you've read this blog in the past, you know we are moving soon.  To Nicaragua. After ONE YEAR without Peter.  Guess what our reward for that is?  Yep:  our predeparture allowance has been axed..or rather, never even existed. Mind you Peter did NOT receive this allowance when he went to Kabul.

We are expected to cough up about $4000 to find a place to stay, to eat out (since our time to cook will be limited at best), and for taxes on the hotel room.  We get no help from the State Department because Peter PCSed to Afghanistan (Permanent Change of Station).  Basically, in their eyes, he moved from here, to there and once his tour is over, he will go directly to his next post.  

Let's never mind that he could NOT pack out his house and take it to Kabul.  Impossible!  He lives in a tiny remodeled shipping container that barely holds a desk, a bed, and a dorm-like armoire.  He would have no room (or desire) to take anything other than clothes and the most basic necessities. 

I learned of some of this by accident when a friend mentioned something similar happening to her.  A bit of a different scenario (she was voluntarily separated from her husband), but I kept worrying that they seemed too similar.  I called Peter, researched on my own and kept finding this nasty bit of news.

 

IMG_4303
Note that nowhere does it explain how one is supposed to satisfy home leave requirements nor how one is expected to find lodging on $77/day in the DC metro area.
 

Not only are we not entitled to the predeparture allowance, IF we wanted any help with staying in "commercial quarters," we would have to move PRIOR to Peter finishing up his tour.  Never mind that he would not actually be here to help (after a YEAR over there), we are supposed to pack out the house before he comes back.  The better part?  He needs to complete roughly six weeks of home leave to reacclimate to the U.S. before we depart for Nicaragua.  How is he supposed to do that with no place to stay? Even more frustrating, one document we received states we receive TSMA "upon departure from Iraq."  That statement, however, directly conflicts when one clarifies with the online regulations above.

So, the ONLY way to get a TINY amount of assistance (the lodging portion is $77/day PER FAMILY, not per person), which would not even get half a room at the nearest motel, is for me to pack out in mid-May, without Peter's help and without having a place to stay until we leave for post in July.  Yes, that is exactly what the regs state.  

Apparently, this is due to the fact that Peter PCS-ed.  Why did he PCS?  Well, he never wanted to stress that anyone would come back and say, "Well, you *only* TDY-ed (Temporary Duty) to Kabul."  Yes, many people choose that option, but he had that niggling fear and decided PCS was the safest option.  

Now, I know if you have any knowledge of State and UTs (Unaccompanied Tours) you are sitting there smugly thinking, "Oh, but you have been raking it in with ISMA (Involuntary Separate Maintenance Allowance)! You can use that to stay in a hotel!"  As if.

ISMA is the per pay period allowance we are given to maintain two separate households.  It is NOT for the purpose of moving. In fact, if Peter had to take certain training courses for his next post, it would be a non-issue.  He would come back here, take his courses (which would be considered a new tour) and would be given the moving allowance, no questions asked.  He would not be required to be separated from us during packout or home leave and we would have no worries (about this matter) right now.

Even more importantly, we would need several months of ISMA in order to cover hotel expenses during packout.  ISMA is meant to augment, not completely cover the expenses of two different households and I assure you, it barely does that. For a year that was meant to help us get back on our feet after the blip in 2010, it has done nothing of the sort.  Remaining here instead of going overseas as a family has been far more expensive and now, despite yet another year of sacrifice, we are facing even more expenses just to get our next post.

Clearly, we are working on this issue to figure out what we can do.  However, am I expected to believe that after an entire YEAR of Peter being gone, we are supposed to also be separated for home leave (his mandatory U.S. based leave) AND foot the hotel bill for the move?  Never mind that he did not take the allowance last year when he moved to Kabul.  He couldn't, as he already had a house here.

Our house.  Our house that will need three days (at best) to be properly packed out.  We then need to clean and prep for our renters.  Peter needs time to deal with paperwork issues and it would be nice to be rested for our travels.  

Oh, you are wondering why we didn't know this ahead of time?  Easy.  There are no required classes that explain this scenario.  You are simply given a chart basically detailing PCS vs. TDY and told to choose, and rather quickly.  The chart itself is good in detailing benefits regarding money, but is the same chart that gives conflicting information regarding TSMA.  In fact, I am learning now that we are far from the only ones who did not get predeparture or TSMA  when they left the States.  I have heard from three other families who have been affected and more that will be.  If nothing else, this is a forewarning to others who have not chosen yet, that TDY may be the only reasonable option (even though it carries negatives, such as no differential payment for the first 42 days of the tour!).

I suppose we could have done even more research than we did.  We could have crunched more numbers and spent even more time debating this issue, because we really did not think that we would not get *any* assistance with predeparture (even TSMA, as the chart states we should the way I read it, but the regs then negate).  In the end, I can only say that if we had really, REALLY prepared for this, we would not have considered doing a UT in the States as  a PCS.  We simply would have waited until we could go overseas and then tacked the UT onto the end of another tour.  Between the additional expenses of running a household, the lack of predeparture, having young children (and needing to pay for extra care), it simply has not been what we thought it would be.

So, in the end, take from this what you will...and learn from our mistakes.  And, maybe, just maybe the regs at some point will be changed so that the choice between PCS and TDY does not have to hinge on whether or not you will be stressed out over an unnecessary hotel bill at the end of your tour.  Instead it will be determined by what is right for your (or your spouse's) career at the time...the way it should be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 07, 2013

In all the excitement

of our recent sicknesses, finishing up classes, shipping out bazillions of boxes of Girl Scout cookies, and Nick's birthday, I almost forgot something very important:  I get to have surgery again soon!

I know, I know, it just wouldn't be my life if we couldn't throw the monkey wrench of a surgery into the mess of Pete's return, home leave, packing out, and moving, would it?  It's a good thing I remembered about it, as we meet with the surgeon April 3, and I have to remember to remind him to tell Pete that I will need no fewer than 6 weeks of utter relaxation post-surgery...which might just get me back to my normal self after this nutty year.

If you are wondering, yes, it's related to that of which we don't speak.  And we don't speak those words, because there's no reason to do so, right? I'm just fine, minus a little abdominal wall collapse which sounds, I assure you much worse than it is.  Unless it's mid-winter swimsuit try-on day and then it's just awful.  If you've ever wanted to see what half-pregnant (and by half, I mean 'on one side') looks like, I'm your person.

I noticed the issue late last summer, long after my last visit with the amazing plastic surgeon.  It seemed like I had a pooch on my right side that just wouldn't go down.  No amount of planking or running was helping (nor did 4 months of a personal trainer) and I realized I needed to do get on Dr. Google again.  I did, and found out that this is a fairly normal occurrence with a DIEP.  Not always likely to happen, but when it does, it needs to be fixed unless you really didn't want that tummy tuck you said you did.

Unfortunately, no amount of looking at the darn thing reminded me to call the surgeon. It wasn't until the whole thing with the cellulitis happened.  He was examing the scar, looked at my other side and jumped back several feet.

"When did THAT happen?!"

Er...somewhere between someone going to Kabul and me showing up in your office today?  Yeah, I had no response to that.  However, at least I had definitive confirmation that it was not supposed to be like that.  Even better, he then offered that it could be (sort of) easily fixed, possibly even with laparscopic surgery, to make healing faster.

I had already seen before and after photos online, so I knew exactly what he was talking about.  And, no way I am not getting full benefit of the ole 'tuck.  So, Peter called up, made an appointment and off we will go to learn more about how they will manage to reduce the circumference of my waist by 5 inches or so (well, that's my hope).  I'm also hoping this will end the painful sneezes, coughs and the like and make it look like all of the planking and yoga is doing something!  

Given that we are *hoping* for a mid-July move, I really want this out of the way in late May/early June.  Sadly, that might mean Pete has to do most of the pre-move work.  Oh, but I can direct him from the recliner...so that works, right?

So, that's it.  That's my big ole news.  Get another punch on the surgery card, which best be the last for a very, very long time....

 

March 03, 2013

Today is Nick's

birthday party and we are a bit like headless chickens in the household right now.  I just finished up the second last-minute trip to Harris-Teeter (forgot ice cream and lemonade on my first trip...seriously, who forgets that?!).  I've also apparently not been to a grocery store on a Sunday morning in a long time.  Nearly had more trouble finding parking there than I would at church.  

 

Photo-23
From Nick's birthday celebration at his Montessori.

We (and, yes, of course the Salty Dogs are involved) have not done a party with so many kids in ages (for Nick).  In fact, it's his first party with classmates and he has been so excited for days.   We sent off the evites, ordered the cake, scoped out the party room at the nature center, have our contingent coming in from Maryland today with their awesomely green party supplies (the nature center sent us instructions on how to have a green party.  I don't think they've met the Salty Dog Party Planner before....they might be updating after today!).

 

We have a kid friendly menu of veggies with sauce, hummus, and pitas, fruit kabobs, pulled chicken w/slider buns (and sauce from Red, Hot & Blue, of course), cake, ice cream, and the crème de la crème of treats:  *from scratch* sugar cookies á la Kelsey D.

Photo-27
The only item missing?  Daddy.

In fact, last week Nick forgot that Peter would not be here and asked if he would be back in time.  I replied no, that he would not be back until it was closer to Kelsey's birthday.  Nick then asked, 

"Well, if we invite him, can he come?"

Oh, if only that's all it took!

Even without Dad-Guy, I think it's safe to say the LG will have an awesome 5th birthday party.  A nature center, 16 of his nearest and dearest (plus The Sissas), and food treats galore.  What more could an LG need?

Note:  If you are wondering, we did think about Skyping Peter into the party.  Even with the time difference, he would do it in a heartbeat...if he had a computer.  Sadly, his laptop died a painful death last month, so we have not been able to Skype for the past five weeks.  We will look into them once he gets back for R&R, but may just suck it up for the rest of the tour, as we really don't want to sink that money into a laptop for such a short time.  Especially considering the expenses we know we will incur in the move...gulp.

February 21, 2013

Where's my t-shirt?

The one that says, "I survived language at FSI?" Yes, I can use the word survivor here, as this is something that I actually thought might be the end of me. However, I triumped in the end!  Well, I lived, therefore I triumphed.

As you might remember, I was originally slated to take 8 weeks of the FAST course at FSI.  This was all well and good until I realized just how basic the course would be.  Having any knowledge of Spanish puts you slightly ahead of the curve and my one year of high school and two years of living in Caracas meant that the FAST course was not the optimal choice for me.  After a very short class on the first day, I realized I had to speak with someone about changing classes.  I had survival skills, I needed to work on writing skills, increased vocabulary, conversation skills and the like.

I managed to test out of the FAST course, however, with that came the loss of the first week of classes.  A fair trade-off, but still a loss of  a few days.  Fast forward and 6 weeks later (as opposed to the original 7), I found myself sweating buckets in the waiting area of the testing department.

No, sweating buckets is not enough...sweating buckets, ready to pass out/dry heave, and in general, freaked out would be more accurate.  The test was slated to be approximately two hours and afterwards I would theoretically be given a score that accurately measured my current level of Spanish in both speaking and reading.

(Insert two massively painful hours, with a brief respite during the reading part.  One is not supposed to discuss the test, so the above is pretty much the only description you will read in this blog.)

In the end, I received a score.  It wasn't necessarily what I wanted, but going into the exam, it was the exact score I felt I would receive.  After all, I only had 5 weeks and 2 days of actual instruction (well, probably less, since several of those days were half days).  Between losing a week on the front end and the last week of class, sick days, and holidays, I ended up being in class just slightly over half of the time I expected to be.

Now, I know...here is where Gentle Reader says, but...why, dear Spanish Learner, why were so you stressed when you are but a spouse? After all *your* job doesn't depend on your score!

If I heard one more time that I did not need to worry or stress about this class, I was going to lose it.  If the score mattered so little, I would not have done any of the following:

  • Took the class when I knew I would be completely on my own, because it was the only time I could take the class.
  • Put my son in daycare, day after day after day, so that I could attend class and hopefully find time to study, when I wasn't also trying to find time to run my household and be two parents for my kids.  Nor would I have spent a fortune on said daycare.
  • I would not have stayed up until 2 a.m. every night studying so that I did not look like I was not taking the class as seriously as my fellow classmates (all FSOs).  At BEST, I started my homework at 10:30 p.m., generally not until 11 p.m.
  • I would not have been a stressed out basket case for the entire course, feeling that I was surely way behind everyone else, as I was busy being mom, dad, housekeeper, cook, chauffeur and student all wrapped up in one, while dealing with unexpected sick days and holidays.
  • I would not have hauled myself to class even though I shouldn't have because I so feared getting behind due to illness (on my part or my kids).

If I was not concerned about a score, I would have taken the FAST course.  It is primarily a survival course, though I'm sure it still would have helped.  However, I would not have bothered being tested nor would I have put as much extra time into it.  

It is expected, naturally, that many jobs for which I might be eligibile (within the embassy) will require a good, if not great level of Spanish.  Of course, if I wish to work outside the embassy community, then my Spanish would also need to be that much higher.  Since I would like to pursue, at some point, one of those paths, working myself to the point of exhaustion,  taking the more demanding class and being tested for a score was the only option.

At no time did I ever consider this class anything but a mandatory experience. I did not view it as a lark or a luxury.  To me, having a much better grasp of the language of our host country is simply part and parcel of life in the Foreign Service.  So, at no time was it an option for me to view this as something I didn't need to stress about or not give it 100% of my time and attention.  So to have heard time and time again that I didn't need to worry...was simply wrong.

I have given the whole experience much thought over the past few days.  If I had to do it over again, would I?  Abso-freakin-lutely.  It was insanely tough, but one of the best learning experiences I have ever had.  My teachers in no way treated me any differently than other students in my class.  I had the exact same (very rigorous) test that everyone else had.  I used the exact same learning materials and will continue to use to study on my own until we arrive in Managua.

Did I get the score I wanted?  Well, no, but I don't think I had the time or ability to get that score with my circumstances.

So, while a 1+/2 may not sound like an amazing score to some, it means a great deal to me.  It represents 5 weeks and 2 days of absolute insanity that resulted in me greatly increasing my Spanish language ability.  It's not the 3/3 that I hope to have someday, but it's more than halfway there and certainly way more than I had on January 2.  For the moment, that's good enough for me.

 

 

February 20, 2013

How did the LG

go from this:

 

20080220-08
A wee newborn in his stylish outfit courtesy of Hreiðrið (The Nest) at Landspitali in Reykjavik.

 

to this:

 

Photo 2-1
An almost 5 year old at the nearby nature center.

in 5 short years?

 

Happy, happy day to our dear, sweet LG.  

 

February 17, 2013

Oh, big box bookstore, how you failed my child today...

Despite my best intentions, I still end up at the big box bookstore, buying last minute gifts or hurriedly acquiring a Spanish-English dictionary on a semi-regular basis.  As I was doing the latter last week, I also took the time to buy two gift cards.

One was a long overdue gift for Kelsey, part of a Christmas gift.  Lunch and a trip to the bookstore, just the two of us.  The other gift card was for the LG.  Just a treat for his Valentine's Day treat bag. Not that he needed it, but I felt like with everything going on, a little something wouldn't hurt. 

Last night, he asked if we could please go to said bookstore today.  Given that we have so little time together right now, and Kelsey is sick (so some Sunday plans were canceled) why not?  We headed over in the early afternoon and spent a good 30 minutes trying to find something that was under $10.  Unless you want 2 (12 page) Biscuit books, this is a fairly difficult challenge.  While I had assumed he would want a book about dinosaurs, he ended up, of course, in the Lego section.

After much back and forth between Lego bricks and books and discussion of how much something costs, "Yes, those flimsy pieces of black plastic making up a Batman toy set really DO cost $30," he settled on a small Lego Star Wars set.

Happy with his purchase, he set off with it in his hand, as was his gift card.  He insisted the entire time that he would hold the gift card as it was *his* and he was buying his toy.  Great!  We finally got up to the cash register and for whatever reason, the clerk spent all of his time looking at me and ignoring the fact that Nick handed him both the toy and the gift card.

He asks me if I have a membership, I say no, but offer that I have a Kids Club card.  He then spends upwards of 15 minutes trying to locate and update my membership...approximately 14 minutes and 30 seconds more than I wanted to worry about it.  I would have been happy just updating it later, but he kept insisting.

Finally he had swiped the gift cards (I had an another one which covered the slight overage) and then held the box in the air.  He looked at Nick, the purchaser of the item and said in a slightly whiny, sing-songy voice, "What do you* say?" 

I just stared at him. Nick was the customer.  He picked out his item, handed over the payment (that had been clutched tightly in his fist for 30 minutes, so he wouldn't lose it) and now this guy was playing games with him?  Nick just looked back at him like he wanted to say something, but was too scared.  Meanwhile I was still just staring, trying to think of anything to say to this (in my opinion) clearly childless person who did not understand that one thanks the customer for their purchase.

He finally handed over the toy and said, "I guess we are still working on our manners."

Really?  Yes, I guess at age 30+, Mr. Bookseller is still very much working on his manners.  Nick bought the toy from the store, therefore, in my mind, HE should receive a thank you for his purchase.  He should not have the toy dangled above his head like a carrot to a rabbit in the hopes that he will pop out with thank you just because the clerk (incorrectly) wants to hear it.

I was so angry that we just left when the clerk had finished the whole Kids Club account check "one more time."  I'm thinking that it's now actually a moot point.  I could give two figs about discounts on future books for my child if the clerks at the store have so little interest in thanking a child for his purchase and treating him like a person (because he is).

The thing is, Nick had already thanked the person who deserved it and he did it again when we arrived home.  He got out of the car, started walking up the stairs, looked at me and said, "Thanks, Mama, for the card."

"Which card, Bud?" I asked, just in case he was referring to something else.

"You know, the *big box bookstore* gift card you gave me so I could buy my toy."

Amazing how the 4 year old gets what the 30 plus year old completely ignored....or is it?

You are so very welcome, Nick.

 

 

*(I loathe this question.  We don't tell our kids to say thank you, we show them reasons why and model that behavior and the same goes for "I'm sorry."  In our opinion, a child needs to understand the why, not just parrot a response.)

BlogHer '12 VOTY eBook

Get moving!

AAFSW

Fun!

Twitter

  • Follow diplomom08 on Twitter
My Photo

April 2014

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30      

5 Minutes For Mom

  • WAHM/SAHM Blogs

Can you spare


  • WindButton

Find this blog at

Hop on over to

  • Expat Women—Helping Women Living Overseas

mom blogs

Subscribe in Bloglines

Blog powered by TypePad
Member since 11/2005

Sitemeter

Stats


My Other Accounts

Facebook Twitter