Monday, December 8, 2014

#Microblog Monday: Summer Care?

It has been a crazy couple of weeks, with piles of out of town holiday guests, and I am thoroughly and totally exhausted.  Now I am frantically trying to get my holiday shopping done, while still looking for a new job, while planning things for the kids to do (they are on summer vacation), while also planning for moving back to the US (if we do that next summer--in addition to the US job, we have some other possibilities, including in Africa--but more on that later).

But here is what I have been wondering, amidst the other madness:  what do American parents do these days with their elementary school aged children during summer breaks, and how much does that cost?  As the possibility of returning to the US looms large, I'm pondering the logistics of being a family with two working parents, and I'm totally stumped on this one.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Utter Chaos

I haven't been writing because I am feeling overwhelmed.  All sorts of things are happening at once, and it's just. . .a lot for me to deal with.  I don't even know what to pay attention to first, and I feel a little bit like a dog chasing flies. . .I bite at the air in one direction, then another, then another, because all of these things are buzzing around me and driving me crazy, but I'm not actually doing much to stop the madness.  I feel like I can't give anything the time it deserves--let alone the people in my life.

The job situation is still not finalized, but it looks like we are headed back to the U.S.  I'm having mixed feelings about it--the job isn't quite what I wanted to do, but the more I think about going back, the more relieved I feel, and so that has made the job seem more appealing.  The last 18 months have been great, but mentally exhausting, and it will be good to recharge my batteries in the U.S.  But since it's not a sure thing (and I may not know for sure until after the holidays!), I'm continuing to interview. . .which sucks.  I'm ready to be done with that part of things.

But even though I'm still interviewing, we have to prepare like we are going back, because it's just about school lottery time.  We are committed to bilingual education for the girls, so that basically means moving in-bounds for a good bilingual public school (which are mostly high-end real estate markets), winning the lottery (literally), or getting a healthy scholarship to a private school.  So I am researching schools like crazy and trying to figure out if I can find time in my schedule to travel back to actually visit the schools we are applying to.

The school search is complicated by a few factors, one of them being that we don't know where we will be living, exactly.  And, until the job thing is set for my husband and I, we don't know exactly how much cash we will have in our housing budget.  Ideally, we'd like to buy a place that needs a bit of work, so we can renovate it and make it our own, then probably sell it.  It gives me a headache to thing about schools and work and potential commute times, because there are so many unknowns still.  And reasonably priced housing is hard to come by, regardless if we were going to rent or buy.

I have to travel for work this week.  I hate leaving the girls and T.  Enough said.

Miss M's school year has come to a close, but she's been asked to attend for the next two weeks, but only for half days.  Can we say logistical issue?

T finally started his new job.  Yes, just as the school year ended.  School doesn't start again until the end of January.  This created a lot of daycare angst for us.  We were going to put SB in preschool, but then realized that would leave Miss M at home by herself, which doesn't make a lot of sense.  So, we added some hours to our nanny's schedule, and then hired a second person to come in for a few hours a day to help play with the kids and basically take the burden off her a little bit.  I know this sounds extravagant, but I'm pulling 11-12 hour days right now, and if I want to spend any time at all with the kids, that means someone else needs to do the laundry and clean the house.  At least if I want to have any shot at keeping my sanity.  And I have been SO spoiled, having a stay-at-home husband.  The household was way more relaxed before he started working.  But, it's also been really healthy for him to get out of the house a little and have a life of his own, and I can't deny that the second income is nice.

We have about 30 people coming for Thanksgiving.  I've bought new plates and glasses and silverware, but haven't planned the menu at all, beyond ordering a turkey and a ham.

We also have 11 people visiting for Thanksgiving week from out of town--5 of them under the age of 5.  We are super excited and can't wait to see everyone.  But, it's also going to be a bit of a madhouse.  The first guests arrive on Saturday.  The guest room is FULL of children's clothes that we are in the process of sorting through, and toy overflow, and odds and ends that we've been storing in there.  It will need to be cleaned out before guests arrive, or they will have nowhere to sleep.

And finally, I will need to have my next round of follow-up in a few weeks re: the tumor/surgery I had last December, and it's started to weigh on me.  I find myself crying at odd times, worrying about the future.  I hate the anxiety associated with the follow-up, and wish I could just relax.

Yeah, so that's what we've got going on.  And I am constantly exhausted.  I booked myself at a nice hotel for my business trip (it was oddly less expensive than the hotel I stayed in last time in the same city, but looks SO much nicer).  Hopefully I'll at least get a good night's sleep.

Monday, October 20, 2014

#MicroblogMonday: Winning the (School) Lottery

This whole job thing has taken an unexpected (i.e., U.S.) turn, which has really thrown me for a loop.   I was merrily going along, really focused on staying abroad for a few more years, bobbing happily upon my personal ocean of school selection ignorance, with no plans to move back to the U.S. and have to make any real efforts to find the "right" school.  But then this whole job thing went in a different direction, and now I'm like. . .oh, crap!  I'm a small town New England girl.  Where I'm from, there is only one game in town, and everyone goes there.

But now we're seriously contemplating moving back to the U.S. for a while, to a big city with lots of choice.  And in the U.S. these days, "lots of choice" means school lotteries.  I really, really, really want to keep the girls in bilingual education.  They both are speaking Spanish really well and have great accents, and it's something that is just important to me.  I really want to raise bilingual children.  And I've deluded myself into thinking that it's totally doable, so I've got that going for me.

The thing is, I've never lived in the U.S. with school age children, and I was never a city kid, so I know nothing about lotteries.  And, as I research the bilingual education options, I've come to realize that I'm really going to have to participate in one or more school lotteries in order to have a realistic shot at getting them into a bilingual school.

Anyone out there have any wisdom to share about managing a school lottery process?  Do those school fairs that they hold in one location, with dozens of schools represented, have any use at all?  Should I really attend an open house at every school we are looking at, or can I just prioritize based on my research and then just visit the ones we get into?  What do you wish you had known before you went through a lottery process?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

TGI Almost Friday

This week has been a roller coaster on the job front.  The job that looked so promising vanished into thin air; another hasn't decided on who they'll hire; and a third apparently, according to my inside source, had already decided on someone else when they interviewed me (I don't understand this, but whatever).  But, two more jobs have popped up, and hope springs eternal.

A while ago, Miss M's teacher told me that she had some concerns about her physical/ fine motor development, and suggested we have her evaluated.  We agreed, and the school subsequently did a psychological, physical, and occupational evaluation.  Today I had the meeting at school to get the results.  In Spanish...yay, me!!  (I am still amazed that I can do these things.). They think she's a healthy, bright, strong-willed, independent little thing.  Also, she's spoiled.  That cracked me up.  Can you imagine an educator saying that to am American parent?!  They did, quite bluntly.  But that was beside the point.  They also feel she's got fine motor issues, and that it's impacting her ability to write and also to sit still and function in class.  They think her coping mechanism is to talk, ask questions, and divert attention from the fact she's having trouble, and she's both missing out instruction herself, and is a distraction to other kids.

I'm not so convinced that muscle weakness or development is causing her to be unable to sit still.  That aside, I'm increasingly noticing her inability to sit still and pay attention without fidgeting or messing around with something.  She takes a swim class, and all of the kids take turns doing things, and when it's not her turn she is literally attempting to dive to the bottom of the pool, or fidgeting with the lane marker bolts, etc, etc.  Her instructors have to give her instructions repeatedly.  So, yeah,  there is something there.  She wants to zoom ahead, constantly, and has trouble staying in the moment and focusing.

Their recommendation is two hours of therapy a week.  I'm not convinced it will work, but it can't hurt.  It will be during school, and they will send projects home for us to work on with her.  They're going to start next week.  They don't think it will take long, but I forgot to ask how long, exactly.

And now, off to bed for my 4am wake up call.

Monday, October 13, 2014

#Microblog Monday: What I Cooked Today

It's impossible to get decent Lebanese food here.  The taste is off, or the texture is off, and no, there is no such thing as "authentic Lebanese empanadas," no matter what the menu may claim at one local place.  It's not even possible to buy hummus at the store, or tabbouleh, and forget about finding some solid baba ghanoush ANYWHERE.  It pains me greatly, because two cities ago, I used to make a regular pilgrimage to a place with homemade pita bread and baba ghanoush just for lunch.  I LURVE it.  Needless to say, tahini is also impossible to find.

Today I decided to make my own everything.  Chickpeas are only available dried, so I soaked them.  I roasted sesame seeds, and whirled them with sunflower oil.  I baked puffy pita bread from scratch, chopped up parsley and tomato and onion.  I prepared rice, marinated beef for kebabs.  Work, work, work, work.

In the end, it was all pretty good, except for the hummus.  The sesame seeds looked white, but I think it truth they were brown.  It made super dark brown, very nutty tahini, and it was a bit strong for my tastes.  All in all, not a bad first try.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

What A Week!

I had to travel on business again this week.  This time, it was to a much warmer climate.  I remembered to pack appropriate business clothes, but utterly forgot that it's rainy hurricane season in the Caribbean.  Hence, I brought no umbrella, and only cute shoes, and it rained buckets, and the roads flooded, and my flight was cancelled, and I had to stay an extra day. . .and while I was dealing with all of that, in other parts of the world people were not on business trips and it was not raining and their shoes were not soggy and uncomfortable, and they wanted me to have interviews via phone for job prospects for next year.  Which was lovely and wonderful and exciting, and terribly inconvenient.

I didn't do anything terribly exciting while I was gone, other than sleep through the night in a big bed all by myself, and miss big hugs from my wonderful children.  I think this was the longest (4 nights) that I have ever been away from them since either of them was born, and I missed them terribly.  I was really excited to get home and see them, and extremely disappointed when I realized that my flight was not getting out and I was not getting home on time.  The hotel had a large, inviting pool, and I had brought my swimsuit, but I consistently went to work so early and worked so late that I never made it there.  I have to go back next month, so maybe then.  So, it was work, work, work all week while I was in a lovely tropical place.  Well, at least it was warm.

So, the interviews.  Right now, we think we are actually going to head back to the U.S. for a while.  We were initially thinking that we wanted to stay abroad for a while longer, especially now that the girls have such a good Spanish base.  The U.S. jobs were a bit of a surprise, actually, but I'm interviewing for a few jobs that I am excited about, and it just sort of feels right.  I won't know for a while yet, but things are looking good.  I'm starting to think about neighborhoods and schools, and getting kind of excited.  It's hard to believe that in just about 7 months or so, we will be out of here.  And there are still so many things that we want to do!  I have at least 4 trips planned in my head, and then a few long weekends on top of that.

When I got home, I discovered we had loads of social events planned.  There were 16 people at my house last night for dinner, and all I wanted to do was crawl into bed.  It was fun to see everyone, but my word, so exhausting.  And even though the girls were up for hours after their regular bedtime, somehow they still made their way into my bed at 5am for snuggles, and with demands for yogurt and bagels.  :)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Peace in the Face of Disappointment

I still have this expectation that if you work hard, do more than is asked of you, try hard, produce good stuff, etc., etc., that good things happen to you in return professionally.  And so, I was totally expecting something to happen at work, something good.  But it didn't.  And I'm a bit. . .surprised?  Stunned?  It didn't just involve me--it involved a number of other people who also worked hard, who are good people, who were deserving of good things happening to them.  And yet. . .good things didn't happen.  I am more surprised and disappointed for them than I am for myself.

When setbacks like this happen, it makes me question the wisdom that hard work brings rewards.  I think that idea comes from my Puritanical New England roots, and in moments like this, I start to think it's a bit outdated.  I think I probably do not give enough credit (and attention) to connections and networking and good, old-fashioned sucking up, and the rewards those things bring.  Which is also a bit cynical.

In any case, I was initially very disappointed.  But then, it struck me that I did everything I could.  EVERYTHING.  Except maybe spending a lot of time sucking up, but I can live with myself not having done that.  I worked really hard, over an extended period of time, and I gave it my best.  And this time, perhaps my best wasn't good enough for someone else to recognize, but I am good enough for me.  I am satisfied with a job well done And for today, that's enough.

Monday, September 29, 2014

#MicroblogMonday: Dr. Seuss Trees

I don't think you can really see from this photo, but the flowers on the tree are actually fluffy red balls with spindly things sticking out of them.  They are vaguely sea urchin-y.  And every time I see them, I think of Dr. Seuss.  The trees look a bit silly, really, with their sea urchiny, spiky, ballish flowers.

They make me happy.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Moving Forward

I have another job interview on Monday.  The last few I've had recently went fine, but not out-of-the-park.  I've had a hard time putting my finger on the problem, though.  It wasn't until the other day, when I got the word that I wasn't on the short list (was that yesterday?  I am so sleep-deprived that I can't remember), that I finally realized WHY the last few interviews were not fabulous.  While they were in some interesting PLACES, I really wasn't excited about the JOB.

When you're living in one place, in your own house, with no plans to move, of course it's about the job, right?  But when you're an expat that moves around the world, it quickly becomes about the job AND about the place.  Where might we go next?  Rome?  Mumbai?  Bangkok?  It all seems so exciting at first.  And it's tempting to rate place higher than job.

For a while.

But then, it doesn't work, because you spend a lot of your time at work.  If you aren't satisfied in your work life, then the rest of your life suffers, too. And your personal life can't make up for a bad or stressful work life, or a work like that is just a bad fit.  It weighs you down.

I realized that the last few interviews that I had were for jobs I wasn't excited about.  They were fine.  They were in good places.  They ticked a lot of boxes.  They were good jobs that anyone should be happy with.  But I'm not anyone. . .I'm ME.  And while there is nothing wrong with perfectly satisfactory, I really want something AWESOME.  I want something really, really GREAT.  I want that job that makes me excited to get out of bed, in an office I want to work in, with a great boss.  Oh, and in a great city.  :)  I want the whole package.

This job interview that I have on Monday?  The job is pretty awesome.  I'm excited about it.  It's exactly what I want to do next.  There is such a difference in how I feel about this job as opposed to how I've felt about pretty much everything I've interviewed for so far.  Now I just have to channel that energy and convince them that they should hire me.  :)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Knowing What's Right For You

I have been spending a lot of effort of late on my job search.  It's been exciting, frustrating, nerve-wracking, dull. . .all of the things a job search usually is.  I want to do a specific thing next, and I'm pretty set on that. That said, I also recognize that I actually need a job.  I have been weighing a lot of things as I've moved forward--job possibilities for my husband, schools for the kids, overall quality of life for all of us, safety and security issues, etc., etc.  So, it has been this sort of push and pull between wants versus needs.  

Although I want to do a specific thing next, I've applied for some jobs that would give me only tangential experience doing that.  That's because a) there aren't that many jobs out there that do EXACTLY what I want to do next, and b) I'm also trying to meet other objectives, like live in a place that my husband would be excited about.  I've applied for about a dozen jobs overall.  Some looked promising at first, but now don't seem like they are going to pan out.  Others looked like I was a long shot initially, but I'm still in the running.  And then, at about 4am this morning, my oldest woke up for some reason or another, and I rolled over to check my email.  There, in my inbox, was an email saying that I hadn't made the short list for a job in a very nice place, a place that would have been lovely to live in.

And you know what?  I wasn't disappointed.

I mean, of course, there was the initial sting of rejection.  Who wants to hear that they aren't the chosen one?  But after that first momentary disappointment, I realized that what I really felt was relief.  Because now the decision has been made for me, and I don't have to struggle any more over whether to accept a job that isn't exactly what I want because it would be an easy(ish) place for my family to live.  It was a job that would have possibly kind of sucked, actually (they were very upfront about having some substantial long-standing internal personnel issues, and that's not my favorite stuff in the world to deal with).  And, even when not dealing with office politics, the job itself was largely one I have already done.  I wouldn't have been professionally challenged in the way that I know is healthy for me.  I wouldn't necessarily have been excited to get out of bed in the morning.   And I need to be excited to get out of bed in the morning.

I realize now that I pursued the job because it would have been an easy place for my family to live.  But I also have a clarity now that there are other jobs out there that will challenge me AND present a good quality of life for my family, and I really need to focus on those.  Because past experience has taught me that although it can be nice to live in a vibrant city, it can also be really hard.  The best outcomes arrive when a job ticks all of the boxes, both professionally and personally.  And this job, the one that I was rejected for?  It really only ticked half the boxes.  Onward!

Monday, September 22, 2014

#MicroblogMonday: Sneaky Toddler Meals Edition

My kids haven't been eating great lately.  The seem to be living on yogurt and fruit and bagels and Annie's macaroni and cheese.  It's driving me bananas.

I found a recipe for a spinach and cheese pie that sounded delicious, but I knew there was no way they would eat the green stuff.  Then I remembered that baby spinach has basically no flavor, and that blueberries easily mask the color of spinach.  Aha!  Inspiration.  I made the recipe, but used 2/3 the spinach it called for, and then added blackberries (which are much more plentiful and hence less expensive here than blueberries).

The pie was beautiful--deep purple in color, and creamy from the cheese/berry/spinach/egg mixture.  And the taste?  Divine.  Although there wasn't a drop of sugar in the recipe, it tasted like blackberry pie.  You couldn't tell there was an ounce of spinach (or egg, or cheese) in it.  I drizzled the pie with vanilla yogurt.  It was like eating dessert for dinner.

So how did it go over?

They wouldn't eat it.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Cultural Component to Wellness

I'm on yet another wellness kick.  This time, it's trying to eat more plant-based food, yoga twice a week (offered for free by my employer--yay!), and biweekly massages.  I'm still having pain in my side (it's been going on since last October, so almost a whole year)--ever since I had that weird bacterial infection.  I've had a million medical tests, which have shown nothing, and it doesn't appear to be related to the surgery I had to have in December.  Before I dive into more tests or head back to the U.S. for more follow up, I thought I'd give the basic stuff another go.  I've given up the local coffee (crazy acidic) and red wine (ouff...), and I'm drinking lots of green tea and eating my veggies.  So far, I'm feeling a bit better, and I'm cautiously optimistic that the pain is lifestyle based, rather than disease-based.  Fingers crossed.

So, about those massages. . .

I've tried a few different massage therapists here.  The only spa that I know of is CRAZY expensive, but it's quite reasonable to have someone come to your home.  I was a little weirded out by the idea at first, but they are very professional and generally in uniform.  Some have their own tables; others just use a bed.  I normally just throw a sheet over my bed (to keep the oil from destroying my regular linens), and cover myself with a towel.  I try to schedule the massage for after the kids go to bed, after having learned the hard way the first time that my two year old otherwise spends the entire time knocking on my bedroom door.  It's not as relaxing, in any event, as a spa--no dimmed lighting and relaxing music and pleasant aromas.  Still, it's about the muscles, right?  And that part is the same, no matter where you are.

Only. . .

I've discovered there isn't the same sense of privacy/modesty here that exists in the United States.  Massages in the U.S. are very prim and proper.  It's been my experience that you are under the sheet when the massage therapist arrives in the room, and that sheet discreetly covers most of your body throughout your entire your visit.  But here, the therapist stays in the room with you while you get yourself situated on the bed.  They think nothing of whipping the towel off completely during your massage, or having you flip over, thereby exposing all of your bits to the massage therapist.  It's a tad weird for me.  Granted, I'm using only female massage therapists.  But still. . .eek!  I'm comfortable with my body, but a bit uncomfortable with being quite so exposed.  Yet, after discussing this with my local friends and verifying that this is just how it is, it's also fascinating to me that this seems to be the norm.  I can only assume that local women are much more comfortable with their own nudity that those with my Puritanical roots.

The other that I've been surprised by is that it's common here to massage ALL of you. . .including bum, tummy, boobs.  One of my girlfriends has been joking that she no longer needs her husband.  At first, I was a little freaked out--especially because I was laying face up with my eyes closed the first time, only to have the towel whipped off and my upper torso massaged.  It was a bit. . .unsettling.  But, my current/favorite massage therapist (a tiny older woman with hands like steel vices) also does a bit of Reiki and some spinal adjustment work, and I can't rule out that it's helping.

So, my adventures in wellness continue.  Maybe at the end of this I'll both feel better AND be comfortable with the nudity.

Monday, September 15, 2014

#microblog Monday: it's a crazy idea

I've decided that I really want to start my own business.  I don't know what it will look like, exactly, or even how I can make it work.  But I really like the idea of creating something, building something, sustaining something.

Monday, September 8, 2014

To Turn The Other Cheek

We continue to deal with the issue of the mean girls.  Miss M comes home from school and will tell me about how Anna teases her, or refuses to play with her, or tries to get other girls to be friends with her and not Miss M.  Anna is all of five years old.  And as much as I've wondered what causes such a small child to be so. . .well, mean, I've mostly moved on to trying to teach my child to be resilient.

But how, exactly, does one teach a four year old to rise above it?  How do you explain that some people just have their own stuff going on that has nothing to do with you?  How do you counsel that you must show compassion even in the face of unkindness, because you never really know what is going on with that other person?  To just let it go, and focus your attention elsewhere?

I don't know how to answer her abstract questions about why people in this world can be so unkind.   But, in this age of ISIS and Ukraine and Israel/Palestine, it seems more important than ever that she learn how to live alongside others without hatred, without anger, and without striking back.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Culture Clash

When Miss M first started at her school, she was one of only four American children attending the school.  It is not the best school in the city.  It is not the fanciest school in the city.  It is not where the elite send their children.  There are very expensive, English language instruction "international" schools that fill those needs.  Most Americans, with their obsession for the best, shiniest, newest, most accolade-ridden things around, head straight for those schools.  Hence, the reason there are so few Americans at Miss M's school.

We chose Miss M's school, instead, because we felt like it while it might lack in fancy playground equipment, it provided other things that more than made up for it:  Spanish language instruction, so she could become bilingual; a small, friendly community; and a school-wide, old-fashioned emphasis on values.  They really focus on teaching children individual responsibility, and to care for others.  It is quite touching, actually, to see how kind the older kids, in particular, are to our daughter.  Slowly, the word has been getting out that this is the case, and increasing numbers of Americans are popping up on campus.

Given the emphasis on values, it came as a bit of a shock to see a recent email exchange.

An American child apparently took a piece of her mother's jewelry and brought it to school, and gave it to a friend.  Hey, these are 4 and 5 year olds. . .and it's not exactly a gun.  When the mother discovered that the ring was missing, she notified the teacher, and the teacher sent out an email asking  all of the parents to keep an eye out for the ring, and to ask their children if they knew anything about it.  Okay, so far so good.  It's kind of a cute story, actually. . .kindergardener gets into mom's jewelry box looking for a present for a friend, and takes mom's diamond ring to school.  Whoops!

But after I started giggling, I saw that there was another email, from an irritated parent.  The mother of another child had replied to the teacher's email, but also to all of the other parents in the class.  She said, in short, that it was the mother's fault that the jewelry had been misplaced, and that the teacher shouldn't be asking the other parents about it.  She said the mother had an obligation to keep her valuable items in a more secure place, out of reach of the children.  She chastised the child's mother, and said that she should talk to her own child about what happened to the jewelry, since the child that brought the jewelry is the one who knows what happened to it.  And, sounding quite indignant, she said that she would have of course brought it to the teacher's attention if her child had brought the jewelry home.

Where does that come from, that need to tear down other mothers?  Why attempt to shame her like that, in front of the other parents?  Why become hostile and indignant about looking for a lost item?  I don't understand.  In a school that emphasizes values, it strikes me that being a good example for your kids means pitching in and helping out when a friend has misplaced something.  Children forget things as quickly as they put them down.  Whose to say that her child couldn't come home with a platinum and diamond band, and simply forget to mention it?  One never knows, with four year olds.  

Honestly, I thought the mother's response was a little crazy.  And I would have said, perhaps a tiny bit guilty, had we not subsequently gotten an email from the teacher saying the jewelry had been found elsewhere.

Edited to add:  To be clear, the ring was worth a few hundred, not thousands, of dollars.  And we are still talking about a private school in an upscale neighborhood.  So while I take the commenter's point, it's not quite that situation.  And I am still disappointed by the other mother's response.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Buy This Right Now!

It's an easy, fun read (think behind-the-scenes stuff ripped from The Daily Show and Fashion Week. . .divine!).

Apart at the Seams 

And, the Kindle edition of Apart at the Seams is available on Amazon only $1.99 for today only.  What's not to love?!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Which Vacation Would You Choose?

In the midst of all of the new-job-finding-stress, I find myself in need of a vacation.  Oh sure, vacations are not really vacations any more, not with a two year old and a four year old running around.  No more lazing by the pool or mornings sleeping in or day drinking for us!  But we've found that action-packed adventure actually suits our curious little ones.  As long as we keep things moving, build in time for naps, and plan for some swimming-in-the-pool time, it seems to work out pretty well.  They both are pretty amazing on airplanes now:  they buckle themselves in and settle right down with their respective Leap Pads and the bag full of activities I always bring.

So, I've been thinking about a trip.  I'd love to go to the Galapagos or to Machu Picchu, which are both relatively close to hear, maybe early in 2015.  I'm having trouble deciding.  We'd definitely do a land-based Galapagos trip, maybe visiting only one or two islands.  Given that I have a pile of frequent flier miles, neither trip is cost-prohibitive, so I don't look at it as some sort of once-in-a-lifetime trip that I wouldn't repeat, so it doesn't bother me that we might miss out on a bunch of stuff on a land-based tour.  I'd just like to experience SOME of it at this point, and I think the kids would get a kick out of the animals.  Plus, we have friends we could stop over with on the way there, and then other friends we could visit on the way back, if we route the flights correctly.  Machu Picchu, on the other hand, has parts that I think would be interesting for my kids (they'll be about 3 and 5 by the time I'm thinking of traveling in early 2015).  But, it also has parts they aren't going to care about.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Talent Show

While in the U.S., you might invite friends for a party a week or more before the event, and you might notify parents of significant school events a month or more before the event, I've noticed that the norm here is to do everything at the last minute.  We might get a kid's birthday party invitation a day or two before the party (super convenient when you discover you need to shop for a gift in the middle of the week--so, I've taken to stockpiling "just in case gifts"), and not much more for school events.

Late last week, we got a school notice saying that there is a talent show at the school this coming weekend, but there were few details.  The key piece of information that was missing was who would be participating, and how to sign up.  Two days ago, we received a note with three tickets attached, instructing us that we should be about $2.50 apiece for them, in order to attend the show.  It's not much money, and it's a fundraiser, so I didn't mind--but, there was still no information about participating in the show.  

When I asked Miss M about it, she told me quite emphatically that she was wearing a dress and singing and dancing in the show, and that they were going to give her a microphone.  I assumed her class was doing something, until I got an email from her teacher that said that only two students from her class were participating--and neither of the girls listed in the email was my daughter.  I went back to Miss M and asked her again, but she was quite adamant that she was performing.

I sent her teacher an email to inquire, and got a curt email back.  She said that only two girls who were involved in an after-school class (belly dancing--as an elective--I have a whole other rant about the appropriateness of that, but anywho. . .) were participating.  She also said that Miss M had to sign up in May to participate.  May.  MAY.  It's the end of August, and dear Lord, the child is 4 years old.  She had to sign up in May?!

My husband broke the news to Miss M after school yesterday, and she was quite upset.  I sat down with Miss M last night to prepare her, but when I talked to her, she refused to believe that she wasn't in the show.  It was rather adorable, actually.  She said that her teacher must have been joking.  So, I did what any cowardly forward-thinking mother would do:  I told her that she should talk to her teacher about it today.  And, I told her that if she wasn't able to participate in the talent show at school, that we would hold our own talent show at home.

I also emailed the teacher, and let her know that Miss M was quite convinced that she was participating, and suggested that perhaps she could talk with her about it.  The teacher must have, because when I asked Miss M about it tonight, she told me that she wasn't in it.  But, she then said that it didn't matter, because we were having our own talent show.  :)  

I know that my daughter's teacher thinks she is hopelessly spoiled.  And, in this country where the average person earns a few thousand dollars a year, comparatively speaking, I'm sure she is.  But I also think that there is no reason to needlessly disappoint 4 year olds.  They've got their whole lives for that.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Next Step

So yes, I finally got my act together and concocted a resume for myself, and applied for a pile of jobs.    Well, maybe "pile" is a bit of an exaggeration.  But a fair amount. . .a few in Europe, a few in Latin America, and a few in Southeast Asia.  I've had some fairly positive feedback so far, although it's a slow moving process.

I have a line on a job here, raising the possibility that we could stay where we are for 2-3 more years.  I am intrigued by the possibility.  First, it's exactly what I want to do next professionally.  We love our apartment here, and would be quite comfortable staying a few more years.  We are happy with Miss M's school, and SB could enroll when the new school year starts in January.  It would give both girls a few more years to solidify their Spanish (maintaining it beyond that is obviously a different story).   It would mean extended employment for T, because he could stay in the job he recently got (whether he'll want to for a few years is also another story).  We have lots of friends here.  Plus, we love our housekeeper/nanny, and it would mean that we get to keep her for a bit longer.  As weirded out as I was initially about having household help, it's made my life immeasurably easier and calmer, and she is lovely, and our girls adore her.  For lots of reasons, it would be a good move to stay here.

I've also gotten some good feedback on a few of the European jobs, as well.  I'm excited about the possibility of those, because the jobs are also what I'd like to do next, and Europe is. . .well, Europe:  good food, lots of travel opportunities, and not terribly far from the U.S..  On the other hand, it's also expensive, we'd have to figure out how to maintain the girls' language ability, and who knows whether T would be able to find a job.  Oh, and we couldn't afford household help there, which means back to utter chaos.  We'd have to start over, socially.  Moves are also financially expensive.  There are always things you need to buy, which you never anticipate and which always cost far more than you've budgeted.  It's inevitable that problems arise with international moves, and due to stress, timing, lack of familiarity with the culture, and an overwhelming desire to settle in as soon as possible, you solve them by throwing money at them.

And I guess I'm still in the running for the Asian jobs, although I don't think I'm a serious candidate, in their view.  But who knows.  Anything is possible.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Mean Girls

Last weekend, I took the girls to the park while T was off at the gym.  It was a beautiful sunny day, and they were delighted to be there.  We saw one of Miss M's friends from school, and I thought "oh great--now she has someone to run around with."  But that's not what happened.

The girl was with her older sister, and they were with two other friends, who looked to be just a bit older.  The four of them were skulking around the playground like teenagers (the oldest was probably all of 8 or 9), not actually playing on anything, and acting too cool for school.  I was chasing after SB, but noticed within seconds that Miss M, after a brief initial interaction with the girls, was no longer with them.  I turned to see her sitting dejectedly on a stone wall.

"What's wrong, sweetie?" I asked.  Her shoulders slumped forward, and she didn't meet my eyes.  "Anna doesn't want to play with me."  It turned out that the other girls had rejected her.  They didn't want her around.  She was devastated.  I tried to distract her, to no avail.  She wanted to play with her classmate and friend, and couldn't be dissuaded.  She approached the girls several more times, only to be rejected again and again, quite meanly in fact.

This classmate is all of 5 years old.  Her older sister is 7.

Miss M wanted me to make them apologize to her for hurting her feelings, and to make them play with her.  I explained as kindly as I could that I couldn't make them do anything, and that sometimes people are just unkind.  We talked a bit about how bad this makes you feel, and how this is the reason we are always careful to be kind to others. . .because it feels bad to be treated this way, and we don't want to make anyone feel this way.

Ultimately, I could see that no matter what I said, it was eating her up, so we left the park.  Mercifully, just after leaving, we ran into another friend who has two girls of her own, the same ages as my girls.  They were headed for a playdate with new friends.  We went back to the park with them, and Miss M and SB ran around with these two other girls and a bunch of new friends.  I could see Anna and her sister looking enviously at the group.  Soon and much to my relief, they left the park.  The day ended well for us, with Miss M having a blast.

T had been telling me for days that he thought Anna and her sister are mean girls.  He'd seen them do unkind things during drop off and pick up, and at a birthday party they'd all recently attended together.  I honestly didn't believe he was right.  They are 5 and 7.  How could they possibly already exhibit that kind of behavior? And yet, they did and they do.  I think that they do not have the nicest home life.  I get the sense that there is discord between the parents.  The mother talks about her husband in a really angry way, which makes me suspect there is a lot of strife in the household.  I attended an event with them a few months ago, and was surprised by the rancor between them.

But still, I just didn't think it started this young, and it makes me so sad for them, and for Miss M.  She's only 4 years old, and I am a bit at a loss that I already need to start preparing her for cruelty.  Whatever happened to the innocence of childhood?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


I am supposed to be updating my resume, because I MUST get on with figuring out where we go from here.  But you know what?  It's boring and I don't feel like it.  I simply don't want to obsess on how to present what I've been doing in the best light to get the next job that I want.  I don't want to obsess over how far back my resume should go, and whether it looks weird that I've left out decades of stuff.    I just. . .don't.

And as for what I'm looking for, well, um. . .I'm interested in a lot of things, and highly skilled at a few, and there are a few more that I'm PRETTY sure I'd be good at. . .so we're looking at a bit of this in Latin America and a bit of that in Europe, with a smattering of Southeast Asia thrown in.  (And if any of you Laos folks are out there, please comment on the current state of healthcare there. . .as in the, my kid fell and needs stitches, broke an arm, hit their head, etc. emergency kind.)

Honestly, it's all a bit overwhelming.  I try to do a bit each day, but there are never enough hours in the day.

And oof, are we dealing with the throes of TWOness with SB.  She is incredibly charming, with her sparkly eyes and chubby cheeks and curly hair and dimpled grin.  When she knows she's done something naughty (which is basically about every three minutes, because she is an inquisitive, strong willed child who takes "don't do that" as a personal challenge to achieve), she immediately owns up to it, with an impish grin, hands behind her back, "I'm sorrrry, Mommy!"  And when I try to punish her, "But I want to apologize!"  And then she pours on the charm.  When I try to put her to bed, it's all "mommy, will you snuggle with me," and then, if I manage to get out of the room, "mommy, I have to tell you something important."  It is equal parts hilarious and maddening.  Oh, but the temper tantrums if she doesn't get her way.  These are the classic throw-yourself-on-the-ground and curse the earth tantrums, which we never had with our oldest.  I get so embarrassed when we are in public and it happens.  I look like such a jerk trying to put a flailing child back into the stroller.

The super hard part is that we have not found one.single.punishment that works.   She is not quite two years and five months at this point, so I'm quite at a loss for how to handle it.  She simply doesn't care, ignores us, and/or is a smiling little imp whenever we try to discipline.  It is SUPER frustrating.  And unfortunately, completely adorable much of the time.  I have to hold very strong to keep from laughing.  Which I swear isn't the problem, because I do manage to discipline her with a straight face.  But oh my, are we at a loss.  What do you do when nothing you're doing works?

But that wasn't the story I was going to tell you today.  I was going to tell you about how I found myself outside a Latin American women's prison today, and how it was every bit as depressing as you might imagine it to be.  Dingy, dusty prison walls.  Sad, frayed people waiting their turn to enter, each with a spartan handful goods to deliver to their loved ones.  The worn face of the woman selling coffee for 75 cents a cup outside the prison doors, yelling to the waiting crowd over and over again "there is black coffee, there is herbal tea, there is coffee with milk!"  The pot-bellied man who sold cell phone minutes to anyone who would buy them.  What really broke my heart, though, were the contents of the clear plastic bags that the visitors were bringing in to deliver to the women:  diapers, and wipes, and other baby goods.  I've been thinking about it all day.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Ladyparts Irony

So, it took us a couple of years, a couple of miscarriages, and a couple of rounds of Clomid to conceive our first child, Miss M.  For my entire life, I did not have normal cycles.  Wonky, weird, ovulatory, annovulatory, super long, super short, 35, 45, 60 day cycles, ovulation on day 20, 22, or worse...that was me.  That was why we needed the Clomid--it helped me have normal cycles, and helped us quickly become pregnant.  I would have preferred to get pregnancy naturally, but you do what you have to do.  When it came time to conceiving our second child, we went straight to Clomid, and once again had success, for which I am so grateful.

I also didn't have periods for about a year after each child was born.  They didn't return until I stopped nursing, more or less.

And now, at almost 42, when we are done family building?

I have perfect, 28 day cycles.  I have textbook cervical mucus halfway through my cycle.  I ovulate exactly on time.  Every.Single.Month.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

At the Playground

There is a beautiful new playground near our house.  The local government spent like a million dollars renovating this park.  It has gorgeous open space, good lighting even after dark, a sandbox, toddler-friendly playground equipment, a rubber surface, and an armed guard.  Yes, you read that right...private, armed security.

Now, I don't live in the safest place on the planet.  Latin American countries have well known crime issues, and armed guards are pretty much the norm here.  There is literally an army of private security guards working throughout this city, in the lobbies of upscale apartment buildings, in shops, in restaurants, in schools, in offices...everywhere.  You can't walk a block without seeing private, armed security.  I don't even think much about it any more when I see a guy with a machine gun outside a shop.

But, the playground gave me pause.  I mean, we play on plenty of playgrounds that have no security.  Are we in danger when we do?  Before they upgraded this playground, there was no security.  Did it become more dangerous?  Do they know something I don't?  Or, is the security there to protect their investment, rather than the people?  And what happens if there is a security threat?  Will the officer pull his weapon?  Will he shoot?  And if he does, is he even likely to hit his target, or will it be a child?

In the end, I'm not sure how I should feel.  Should I feel MORE safe, because there is armed security on the playground in this very security conscious place?  Or should I feel LESS secure, because there is now a greater chance that my child will accidentally get shot?  Because the reality is that there are often many dozens of children playing on the playground.  If an armed intruder decides to attack, it's just not likely that the guard will take out just the attacker.

As an American, this seems all a bit absurd.  But then, it also seems a bit like where we are headed.

How would you feel about armed guards at your playground?  Would you still visit (imagine that it's the best playground around)?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Colonoscopy: In Review

I get myself so worked up over things that will probably never happen.  It is my nature to worry.  So, medical procedures with anesthesia definitely put me on edge.   Um, over the edge?  Quite possibly!

But, it turned out fine.  I always hear people say that the prep is the worst part, but I don't even think the prep is bad.  You drink a bunch of stuff that doesn't really taste that great, and then you have to poop.  No big deal.  If you've had a baby, you've been through way worse.  :)

Today, I got to hang out with the girls a bit before we headed for the hospital, which was super nice.  It's hard to be stressed about a test when you are cuddling over cartoons with a two year old in her fleece Hello Kitty pajamas.  She initially professed to dislike, and is now obsessed, with a partially animated, partially live action French bug show, so we watched a few episodes this morning.

When we got to the hospital, I realized I'd forgotten the documents they'd given me on Friday from my anesthesiology consult.  They couldn't do the procedure without it, so T. Flew back home to grab it while I got prepped.  It was pretty straightforward.  They went over some things, put an IV in, then took me into the room.  The anesthesiologist came in and asked if I was worried.  When I said yes, she laughed and said not to, and said she was going to send me to a really nice beach.  She came in a bit later and asked if I felt drunk, but I felt fine, normal.  Apparently, she gave me the medicine, but it didn't work,  that part freaked me out a little.  There was some sort of problem with the line, which she clearly sorted out, because before I could worry much, I was out.  I woke up an hour later in recovery.

I saw the doctor a bit later, and she said preliminarily, everything looked good.  No evidence of anything at all.  She took some biopsies just to be sure, but nothing that looked of concern.  The results will be back in 3-4 days.  Which is GREAT news.  Although, I still have that puzzling pain in my side, but I'll be talking to the doctor about the biopsy results, and maybe she'll have some thoughts.  She initially said infections can cause IBD.  Maybe that can't be seen?  I don't know.

I put the girls to bed right before writing this.  Miss M went right to sleep.  School started this week, and she's exhausted.  SB was out of bed a bunch of times, cute as a button and utterly defiant all at the same time.  "Mommy, I have to tell you something!"  And, upon seeing that I was eating a banana, "hey, you steal my banana."  She's obsessed with bananas, and eats loads of them.  She always demands one first thing in the morning.  And apparently, she thinks they are all hers.  :).   I only put her back in bed three times.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

And Next Up. . .

I'm back from my business trip.  As much as I was dreading it, it was actually pretty awesome.  The flight was fine (except for the off-duty PILOT sitting next to me crossing himself before the flight on the way there, and the other passenger crossing himself next to me on the way back, and the taxi driver crossing himself before driving me on a particularly curvy mountainous route we had to take. . .I know I'm in a Catholic country, but really!).  In between meetings, I hired an awesome taxi driver to take me around the city for a little touring and sight-seeing.  And, I got to sleep by myself, with no one elbowing me or stealing my pillow.  And, I got to sleep through the night.  :)

The colonoscopy is tomorrow.  This won't be a long post, because I'm midway through prepping.  When I've had them in the past in the US, my doctors used something I had to drink only a bit of.  Here, they use a different preparation, something called Nulytely.  It's not horrible, but I don't love it. It tastes like like salty cherry cough medicine, if you can imagine such a thing.  And I have to drink FOUR liters of it!  People always say the prep is the worst part, but I still loathe the anesthesia.  It still terrifies me.  And given all of the digestive disturbances I've had, especially since living here, the prep is no big deal!

So, can you guess where I went?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Stressful Things

I am feeling anxious.

I have to go on an overnight business trip to another city, and I have to fly.  In light of recent events, I'm nervous about flying.  I don't love to fly on a good day, and what happened in Ukraine has me feeling particularly vulnerable.  After all, I don't live in the safest country on the planet.  And there are rebels here.  And they do bad things.  Hopefully, it will all be fine.  But still, I'm wishing that I didn't have to go.

And then there is the fact that I have to leave T. and the girls overnight by themselves.  I hate the idea that I'll be a flight away.  I'm anxious about them being able to take care of themselves.  T's language skills are not the best.  He has all the emergency contact numbers, and we have tons of friends, but a lot of people are on vacation right now, and I'm just. . .worrying.  Probably needlessly, but I can't help it.  I always worry about my babies, and last week's trip to the ER after SB's fall has me on edge still, hyper-vigilant.

But those aren't the only things that have me feeling anxious.

I have to have a colonoscopy this week, which I'm totally dreading.  I've had two in the past, and I can't say they are likable under the best of circumstances.  The prep, the abstention from eating, the actual procedure.  But, I have to have it done here, and I'm super nervous about that.  My doctor speaks great English and has a good reputation, but that doesn't mean the rest of the hospital does.  I'm anxious about having to undergo the anesthesia, and the procedure, here.  I had to do my pre-anesthesia appointment in Spanish, which was fine, and which I could do.  And really, my Spanish is fine.  I did SB's entire ER visit in Spanish last week, too.  But healthcare in Spanish by itself stresses me out, without the added stress of the anesthesia (which I always hate having, and which I'm always afraid of), and the procedure.  Oh, and the results.  I'm terrified they are going to find something.

I'm having the test done because ever since I had a weird intestinal infection back in October (which T and SB also got), I've had this odd gurgling on my right hand side, just below my ribcage.  At times, there is also pain.  The doctor suspects that the infection has something to do with it, but it has to be checked out.  Plus, I have other ongoing issues, such as the emergency surgery I had in December and the tumor they removed.

So, super stressful week.  Hopefully, it will all go really well, and will fly by, and everything will turn out great.  Fingers crossed.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Scrambled Saturday

Yesterday morning, T headed off to the gym by himself, and a glorious morning stretched out in front of me and the girls.  They dressed themselves and we all ate breakfast, and then they piled into the double stroller so that we could spend the morning walking around doing errands, and hitting various parks along the way.  The idea was that we'd spend a brief time at each park we passed, in between doing our necessary errands, with the plan of ultimately hitting a park that has a massive treehouse and slide that the girls love.  It's a bit far from our house, so we had a something of a journey ahead of us.

We headed toward our usual park on the way, stopping for a brief bit.  Miss M had a bit of a scary moment at the top of a climbing tower, when he sneaker somehow fell off, and she needed to climb down with one slippery sock on.  It's a giant ball constructed of ropes all woven together, sort of like a 3D soccer ball.  She was hanging for a moment from the top of the ball, with nothing but air beneath her, unable to regain her footing due to the slippery sock. It's about 15 feet down from the top.  I was terrified.  But, she quickly regained her footing, and swung down the rest of the way like a monkey, oblivious to my pleading that she take is slowly and carefully and NOT let go with her feet while she swung only by her hands.

I really struggle with moments like this.  I would prefer that Miss M simply not go on that piece of playground equipment.  But, I want the girls to grow up trusting themselves, believing that they can do it, and going for it, so I let them climb.  By the same token, I am terrified to let them fall.  I want them to grow and thrive.  I don't want to stunt their intellectual or physical growth by my fears.  It is so hard to find that balance.

The first few times she climbed on that piece of equipment, she was fearful and hesitant.  Now, she climbs to the top without looking back.  I am proud of how strong she is, how bold.  It is a pleasure to see her thrive.  I've had to let go of my fears, let her push the boundaries of my comfort zone, in order to grow herself.  That is really, really hard, because it always involves risk, and I'm never sure where that line should be.

A bit later, we headed off to do more errands.  We bought art supplies and some groceries, did a bit of people watching, walked through another park.  There was a little playground in the park, as we headed on our way from that last errant to another, toward the park with the treehouse.  It's a little playground we never go to, not even a very good one, really.  And it had something that so many of the parks here have, which I loathe:  a cement surface under the playground equipment.

Miss M paused to change her shoes (she was wearing flats, and I always require sneakers at the playground, lest they slip and fall).  So careful, so prudent. . .I want to let them play, but as safely as I can.

And normally, I don't let them play where there are cement surfaces below the playground equipment.  I am too afraid they might get hurt.

But I was trying, am trying, to find that balance between safety and smothering. . .

SB was up on the highest part of the playground equipment, where there was a slide that went down.  It was about 3.5 feet or so off the ground.  Miss M was on the ground, climbing on the equipment.  I was RIGHT THERE near SB, when Miss M said something to me, and I turned, just for a second.

And when I turned around, it was to see the terrifying sight of my two year old tumbling from the top of the slide, down, down, down, headfirst, onto the cement surface below.  She landed with a horrible thud, and thankfully, mercifully, began screaming and sobbing and carrying on.  It was truly awful.

And we were so far from our house, and not one single person, of the dozens milling around in the park right when it happened, stopped or came over or asked if she was okay, asked if they could help.    She was crying that her head hurt and wouldn't let me put her down and we were

I called T repeatedly on the phone, knowing that he would be home from the gym.  Home phone, cell phone, over and over and over again.  Text messages and emails and calls and. . .nothing.  No answer.  Calling an ambulance isn't an option here.  They never arrive.  There are taxis, but they are tiny.  I was about to abandon our giant double stroller at a nearby church, when finally, he answered.  He'd been in the shower.  He came right away to pick us up, and drove us straight to the emergency room.

It all turned fine, in the end.  She was sleepy in the car, which made me think "serious head injury," but it turned out it was just close to nap time.  She was lively in the hospital and passed the neurological exam with flying colors.  Because she'd fallen from such a height, they did a CT scan, and it showed that everything looked fine.  She even got a bit of a nap in the pediatric ER.  It's really such a miracle, and I am so thankful that she is okay.   I'm amazing to me that a little person could fall so far and really be okay, but she's been her usual exuberant self all day.

My thoughts and prayers have been with Pam, whose 14 year old stepson just suffered a head injury while skateboarding.  It sounds like he will ultimately be okay, but he wasn't nearly as fortunate as SB (14 year old boys not being as pliant as 2 year olds), and he has a period of recovery ahead of him.  As I sat there in the hospital awaiting test results, while SB napped and Miss M slept in the car with T abiding with her, I could think of nothing else but the ridiculousness of two families doing everything they could. . .and yet so unable to prevent accidents, unable to prevent kids from being kids.  You want to wrap them in bubble wrap and a helmet and keep them close forever.

But you can't.  And sometimes bad things happen.  And I don't know what to do with that.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

4th of July Weekend Recap, With Recipes

I can't say that it really felt like the Fourth of July here this weekend.  With the cool, 50-60 degree temperatures and World Cup fervor abounding, it felt decidedly foreign.  It's one of those holidays that you really need to be in the U.S. for.  We spent our day doing the usual stuff--cooking and playing, with a bit of soccer thrown in.  It's a bit dangerous to be out and about during the World Cup games here (tons of people have been seriously injured or killed), and there was a big game the day of the 4th, so we stuck close to home.

We had a nice weekend overall--a goodbye party, a "just the grownups" dinner with friends, bike-riding, more cooking, and hanging out with the kids.  They are such a joy to spend time with right now.  They are constantly saying the funniest things, and it makes me laugh so much.  SB is particularly funny.  When she gets angry and frustrated and terribly twoish, she will start to throw a tantrum, and then say "I am so mad!", crossing her arms across her chest and pouting.  And then when I ask why she is so mad, she says "because I'm not getting my way!"  Her tone is perfectly disgruntled.  It makes me laugh every time.  I have to get it on video.  It's truly priceless.

I cooked and cooked and cooked this weekend:  strawberry muffins and a vanilla-passionfruit cake, blackberry waffles and barbecued chicken, chocolate chip waffles (we all love waffles!) and chicken veggie soup, banana coconut ice cream with candied almonds. . .and on and on.  I find it so relaxing, and it's so nice to be able to feed my family and friends well.

The super easy Slow Cooker Barbecued Chicken was a particularly big hit:

1 cup of ketchup
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 cup sugar
2 T molasses
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup water

I threw the chicken in the crock pot on low, mixed the sauce, poured it over the chicken, and cooked it on low for 6 hours.  It was fall-off-the-bone tender, and took all of five minutes as we were on our way out of the house to go bike riding.  It definitely is a keeper.

My mom also sent us an ice cream maker recently as a surprise.  It's the Cuisinart 2 quart model, and I LOVE it.  We just keep the bowl in the freezer all the time, and we can make ice cream whenever.  It takes less than a half an hour to make soft-serve, and it makes perfect hard ice cream, too (you just have to throw it in the freezer for a while).  I had a pile of bananas I needed to use up, and T had asked for banana ice cream, so I threw some together tonight after dinner, and it was AMAZING.

Coconut Banana Ice Cream with Carmelized Almonds

About 4-5 overripe bananas (I used finger bananas, but you can use regular)
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix together in food processor until liquified.  Add in:

1 cup shredded coconut (I used unsweetened dried, because I can't easily get sweetened here).

In a separate bowl, mix together:

1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup milk
1 1/4 cups heavy cream  (I actually used a cup of heavy cream and a cup of milk, because the heavy cream here is the consistency of sour cream and has about 32% fat content--too greasy for me in ice cream!  I've found you can play with the milk-cream ratio, according to taste.  Just make sure there is 2 cups total.)

Put the cream mixture in the ice cream maker; when thickened into ice cream and almost done, add in banana mixture.  It will get a bit thin again, but will thicken up after a bit more time.

To make almonds, boil together a cup of sugar and 1/4 cup water until it thickens; drop in almonds until coated; remove them and cool on a plate until ready to use.  Sprinkle over ice cream before serving.

Hope you and yours had a happy 4th!

Sunday, June 22, 2014


I got my test results back a week or so ago.  There was some good news (no random weird stuff appeared in my abdomen) and then some questionable stuff that I am still following up on (something funny about the shape of my pancreas, which might mean that it has always been that way and that's just how it's shaped, or could mean something bad).   My doctor here is on vacation.   The clinic that I was referred to by the "stand in" doctor for a second opinion probably isn't willing to do a second opinion on my condition, because they lack the specialists.  The doctor that I found on my own that consults on my condition is being less than warm and friendly, which doesn't bode well for the second opinion from him.  Or I should say, his office manager isn't.  I don't understand people who treat patients poorly.  Like, don't they get that we are already having a rough enough time as it is?  And, my own surgeon from December is taking his sweet time in getting back to me on the weirdness that just showed up on my CT scan.  It is super maddening to try to manage my medical care from outside the U.S..  Sigh.  Good times.

I'm mostly calm about it.  I'm sick of dealing with being sick, but it's becoming the new normal.   It stung a little when I told the "stand in" doctor that I was tired of dealing with this and ready to be done with it, and she told me that I might never be done with it.   I mean, I know that, but it stung to hear someone say it.

It's especially hard because I'm doing all of this while also trying to figure out where we go from here, professionally.  We are scheduled to be here for another year, but have to sort out where to go next.  The easiest thing for me to do would be to go back to the U.S., but the honest reality is that it means a huge pay cut.  It's one thing if I really need to go back and be there, but I don't want to be forced back out of fear.   I would so much prefer to just go on with my life.

I guess that is what makes this so hard:  not knowing.  I don't have enough information to make good decisions, about either my health or our future.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Big Changes Ahead

Four years ago, I accepted this crazy new job that takes us around the world, and T closed his business to come along for the ride and be a stay at home dad.  For four years, he has been the primary caregiver for our four year old, and then our two year old when she came along.  For four years, he's changed diapers and done laundry and cooked dinner and arranged playdates and so much more.   He's dried tears and given time outs and attached band-aids and offered snacks and done drop-off and pickup at preschool.  He's given hugs and picked up toys and washed crayon off the furniture.  He's been there for first steps and first words and first adventures of all stripes.  And, he has loved (almost) every moment of it.

Yesterday he got offered a job.

I'm thrilled for him.  It's part time, as least to start.  He's ready to have some adventures of his own outside of the house, and with Miss M in school every day for almost full days, and SB just about ready for preschool, as well, the timing is pretty good.  He's going to have time on his hands.  We also have full time household help, so we have support at home.  We'll have to adjust her hours to accommodate his new schedule, and we may have to hire some additional help, especially if T gets more hours than we expect.   So we are pretty set.

But wow.  Talk about sea change.  I'm really excited for him.

Of course, it's opened a bit of debate about exactly what we should do with SB, and when.  She's 27 months now, highly verbal, with increasingly fluent Spanish.  "I don't want this," she said to me last night in Spanish.  Argh. . .the terrible twos are alas upon us, and she doesn't want much, especially if she thinks we want her to want it.  But at least she can be disagreeable in two languages.  We put Miss M in preschool when she was two and a half, because she really needed it, and frankly, T needed the break from her at that point (amidst HER terrible twos!).  Preschools are heading for summer break now, so if we started SB in September when they reopen, she would be two and a half.

But, I would really like her and Miss M to go to the same school.  Miss M's school, however, only accepts children from age 3, and the school year ends in December.  The new school year starts up at the end of January, when SB would be close to 3, and I'm pretty sure I could convince them to take her. . .if she's potty trained.  Sigh.  She will tell us when she has to poop, but steadfastly refuses to use the potty.  In fact, she's quite adamant that she NOT use it, so we're just letting it go.  And even if we could make that work, January is still 6 months away.

We have a little bit of time to sort it all out, as T won't start work for a little bit, as there is some administrative stuff that has to be sorted before he can start.  And truthfully, it's a wonderful problem to have.

But it's also a bit bittersweet, and the end of a little mini-era for us.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Monday Grab Bag (Including Crock Pot Yogurt Recipe!)

Whoa, it's been while since I've posted!  We rented a condo in Florida for a couple of weeks, which was lovely, and then we returned to usual post-vacation chaos, so I've hardly had a minute to write.  I have a few Disney posts in the works. . .maybe.  :)  I feel like I'm constantly short on time these days, with two active girls, work, and just life.  We spend every free minute playing, doing projects, riding bikes, in the park, or cooking healthy meals.  Things have been really good.

Speaking of which, I made yogurt this weekend in my Crock Pot, which came out amazing, and it was SO easy. The yogurt in this country is loaded with sugar and weird chemicals, and I just decided I couldn't let the kids eat it any more.  There literally is not one brand I felt comfortable with them eating, but they love yogurt so much that  I couldn't bear to deprive them of it. Someone mentioned making their own recently, which made me scour the internet for recipes, and I came across the Crock Pot method. I can't believe I didn't discover it earlier!  Here's the recipe:

8 cups milk (about a half gallon)
2 T yogurt which active cultures

Put milk in Crock Pot; heat on high for about 2-3 hours, until temperature reaches 180 degrees F.   Turn off Crock Pot and unplug it.  Cool for about 30 minutes, stirring a few times, until temperature cools down to 110-120 degrees F.  Add two tablespoons of the yogurt with the active cultures (I found one unsweetened, chemical free brand here--it's super sour and tastes a bit like cottage cheese, but worked perfectly for making a large batch of my own yogurt).  Place cover back on Crock Pot, unplug it, wrap it in a big towel, and let it sit or 6-8 hours.  At this point, my yogurt was set and I would say was average consistency.  Refrigerate after 6-8 hours, and voila, giant pot of yogurt.

Even though the yogurt I used to add the cultures was really tangy and sour, it made smooth and creamy, tasty yogurt--it wasn't sour at all.  I was a little worried about that, because my kids won't eat it tangy.  We add fruit, vanilla, granola, honey, etc.--everyone gets their favorite flavor now!  I couldn't be more pleased with how it turned out.

We are still working out where work will take us next.  I am seriously torn.  It would be so good to leave the kids in a Spanish-speaking school for a few more years.  Miss M's Spanish is seriously awesome at this point, just 4 months into starting school in Spanish.  Her accent is perfect.  She sounds like a native speaker.  She is just a little sponge.  But, my husband really would like to return to Europe.  He loves the history and the easy regional travel.  It's so expensive to live there, though. . .and as much as I was conflicted about having household help, I've really come to appreciate having the extra set of hands that we have here.  And then there's the possibility of southeast Asia, which is tempting to me, because if not now, when???  So I don't know.

And then there's still the health stuff.  I have more tests tomorrow.  Fingers crossed they all come out okay.  The possibility of more surgery is still on the horizon.  It was good to get away on vacation and get some perspective, which I really think I needed.  It gave me time to recharge, to ready myself for whatever is next.  I think I'm ready to face it now, whatever the outcome of these tests.  But I won't lie:  I'm really hoping the tests show everything looks okay, and I'm hoping the recommendation is that no further surgery is needed.  I'm really ready to put the negative health stuff behind me.

We are probably three quarters of the way through nap time, so I'd better go work on some of the things on my to-do list now.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Disney Tips

We are going to Florida in a few weeks on vacation.  We rented a condo, and are going to hit up Disney and Universal.  T and I are excited to see Harry Potter; the rest is for the kids.  I am SO looking forward to this vacation.  The only thing that has been a bit confusing is that big changes have been going on at Disney.

Disney has revamped its ticketing and Fastpass system.  Notably, if you have a fancy "Magic Band" (a waterproof rubber bracelet with RFID technology embedded) you can make Fastpass reservations 30-60 days in advance of your trip.  Remember when you used to grab a "Fastpass" ticket AT Disneyworld so you didn't have to stand in line for your favorite rides?  Yeah, that program is no longer.  Now, you can plan in advance and book your tickets on line, or stand in line in the park on the day of your visit to book your Faspasses (now called "Fastpass+).   Resort guests can book 60 days out; others can book 30 days out under certain circumstances.  You can't just grab them in the parks at the little machines any longer, because those machines have been shut down.

Now, I love the idea of Fastpass.  I don't want to stand in lines on the most popular rides with two little kids.   But, there is exactly NO chance that I will be standing in line at a freaking kiosk to book fast passes during my Disney vacation.  NO CHANCE.  Not with my two special little snowflakes.  That's just not happening.  Ride lines are one thing, but KIOSK lines?!  Forget it!  But up until recently, the only way to book Fastpasses in advance was to stay at a Disney resort.  They are sending the Magic Bands (which also work as your park ticket, door key, and even as form of payment) to resort guests and annual pass holders for free.  Annual passes don't make sense for our party, as this will likely be our only trip this year.  A Disney resort is also on my "no way!" list.  I have stayed at Disney resorts in the past, and I like them, but I think the cost has gotten way out of control.  A "moderate" resort in now almost $200 a night in price, and the "cheap" rooms start around $85 a night even if you hit a sale.  For those kinds of prices, I can rent a condo, a house with a private pool, rent timeshare points at a resort with tons of amenities, etc.  Heck, I can do all of the above and spend LESS than at a Disney resort.

Just a few weeks ago, however, Disney started selling its Magic Bands to anyone interested in visiting a park.  They cost around $15 each.  This sounded like a perfect option to me--we get the cool bands, we plan in advance, we don't stand in kiosk lines. . .I mean, crappy to have to plan Fastpasses waaaaay in advance of our visit, but that's the least of all evils presented by Disney's new structure, in my opinion.  Now, parking at the Disney parks is a whopping $18 a day these days, and I also needed 5 Magic Bands.  Very quickly, I realized that a "cheap" Disney room for one night would give me the bands for free, and two days of Disney parking for free, AND access to onsite amenities, like the pools, Early and Late Magic Hours, etc.  There's just one problem:  most Disney rooms won't let you book more than 4 people without incurring an additional charge, and I needed 5 Magic Bands.

Solution?  I booked a tent only site at Ft. Wilderness Campground.  They allow up to TEN guests to stay in a single tent site.  They sent us the 5 Magic Bands for free.  We get free parking for 2 days.  We're going to hang out and do the Chip and Dale sing-a-long campfire for the night we are supposed to be staying there.  (We have paid for the campsite, but we are not actually staying there.  We are staying in a plush two bedroom condo with full kitchen, a washer and dryer, and a ceiling.)  We get Early Morning access privileges for our day at the Magic Kingdom.  The total cost?  About $75.00.  Yes, it's a lot of money, but given the alternative of standing in line to make Fastpass reservations, or simply standing in line at rides. . .time is money, and it's money well spent, in my book.

Because of this strategy, we've also been able to get Fastpasses to the previously impossible-to-get-into Anna and Elsa meet and greet at the Magic Kingdom.  They just moved this event over to Fantasyland from the Norway pavilion in Epcot.  Before, Fastpass was not an option, and the line averaged 4-5 hours of waiting time a day (again, no thanks!).  As of two days ago, Fastpass is now an option.  There was just one problem:  for the last two months, it has been impossible to score a Fastpass for this event.  I know, because my daughters are obsessed with Frozen, and I've been stalking the Disney website multiple times a day for weeks on end.  I was able to get two single passes, for two separate days, which wasn't going to get our party in the door of the meet and greet!  I called Disney, but the phone rep's weren't able to help.  But today, miraculously, Disney appears to have released a boatload of new Fastpasses to this event, because I found plenty for all different dates.  I was able to book them for our entire party for the date and time I wanted.

So if you have a Disney vacation planned, and want to see Anna and Elsa, there's hope!  Disney sure does make things complicated.  On the other hand, I have to sort of admire the evil genius behind this new structure, and what Disney will be able to do with all of the information they now have regarding park guests.  Scary, but brilliant.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter!

To all those who celebrate, I wish you a very happy Easter.

And for all those who don't, I hope you had a very nice Sunday, just the same.

As for us, I jumped out of bed this morning in alarm, after I heard SB mumbling quietly to herself.  It is only a matter of time (usually, seconds to minutes) before she starts yelling "Daddy!  Daddy!  I'm awake!  Mommy!   Mommy!"  The alarm was due to the fact I realized that I'd forgotten to put the Easter baskets together last night.  Whoops.  I planned and purchased everything so long ago that I almost forgot to put them together.  In my head, I think I had checked the box as "accomplished."

So I ran and assembled, which took no time at all.  The Easter bunny leaves books in this house, and a tiny bit of candy.  The candy this year = a chocolate covered Peep each, a marshmallow Hello Kitty lollipop each, and a little bag of Reese's Pieces that looked like a carrot.  The books were a variety of the learning-to-read variety and Spanish children's books.  Miss M's Spanish is coming along nicely (as is SB's, actually), but I'm trying to supplement both languages at home.

I told SB that she could go wake her sister and tell her that the Easter bunny had come.  It was adorable, and I'm sorry I didn't have the video camera ready to record her running into their bedroom yelling for Miss M to wake up.  "Wake up," she yelled.  "EASTER BUNNY!"  Miss M was awake and out of bed in a flash, and I do have the two of them on video finding their baskets and going through them.  Miss M was enchanted with her books; SB wanted to eat candy immediately, and was quite put out when I said she had to wait until after breakfast.   The video is pretty funny, and ends with SB ordering me to put the camera back on the shelf.  That kid--she has a BIG personality.

After that, Miss M dressed herself in striped grey tights, a blue and white dress, and a striped pink shirt.  She told me authoritatively that it all went together because it was all striped.  :)  Adorable.  She also insisted that SB wear her matching dress, but I ate least got SB in white pants and socks, so that she actually looked coordinated.

We went to a late morning get together were we grilled and played outside and had an Easter egg hunt.  It was perfect--low key and fun, with plenty of running around for the girls.  They fell asleep immediately upon getting back in the car, which is always the sign of a good day.  That gave me time to do some grocery shopping on the way home, while T sat with them in the car.

And the day ended on a high note:  I found real, YELLOW lemons in the store.  I haven't had lemon in months.  It doesn't exist here--just limes.  I don't know why.  They grow a million kinds of fruit, but apparently there is no demand for lemons.  These were even imported!  And then one of the two chicken products left in the store was a whole chicken, so I made a roasted lemon thyme chicken for dinner, and it was awesome.  Happy dance.  And I still have three lemons left.  :)

Friday, April 18, 2014


I haven't felt like blogging about it, but I've been having some abdominal pain.  After the surgery at Christmastime, this was especially worrisome to me.  I'm now almost 4 months out from my surgery, and the concern is obviously that they didn't get it all, that something has recurred.

I saw a specialist here last week, and he expressed some concern about the quality of the pathology work that was done at the time of my initial surgery.  He encouraged me to push for a better, more clear report.  He also scheduled a pile of tests--vaginal ultrasound to take a look at my ovaries (there was a cyst that measured 1/2 inch, which could explain at least some of the pain), cancer market blood test (all within "normal" limits, but not zero, which would be my preference), an MRI (scheduled for this weekend, but I'm going to cancel it, for reasons I'll get to in a minute), and a colonoscopy (not yet scheduled).  The doctor knew how worried I am, and he assured me that he thinks I will be fine.  "You're lucky, you know," he said.  "You had a doctor who scheduled the test [the original CT scan which found the tumor].  You got the surgery.  You are the best case scenario."

And I am, and I know that, and I am trying so very hard to hold on to the idea that I am LUCKY.  Lucky to live in a place with good medical care.  Lucky to have doctors who are cautious.  Lucky to be able to afford to access good medical care.  Lucky to have options available to me.  But given what has happened today, I'm having a hard time.

I went back to my original surgeon about the pathology report.  He said he would follow up with pathology.  I expected it would be some time before I heard anything, but I got an email from him today.  I won't get into too much detail, but basically, things are even MORE ambiguous now.  They went back and recut the tissue samples, and reanalyzed everything.  I was assured at the time of my original surgery that my surgical margin was negative (important with tumors, because if they are not, more surgery is indicated), but now the pathologist is saying the margin is a "true positive margin."  Why they didn't discover this at the time of my original surgery, I do not understand.  My surgeon stands by his original assertion that I don't need additional surgery, but I also don't understand that.  He said he would talk to me about it if I was "concerned" about it (duh.  Who wouldn't be??!), but then I got no response when I emailed back to inquire as to a good time for a call.

I already know I want a second (third? fourth?  I'm talking to a lot of doctors about this) opinion, so today I got in touch with someone who is an expert in this type of problem.  His office says he's willing to review my case to provide recommendations.  However, they recommend a followup CT scan at 4-6 months after initial surgery (my surgeon recommended 1 year).  They'd like to see a CT now, and prefer that to an MRI.

Given not only my current pain, but also everything that cropped up today in my inbox, I plan to cancel the MRI and get a CT scan instead (my doctor here preferred the CT scan, too, in terms of quality of information, and only recommended the MRI to reduce my exposure to radiation).  I would have preferred the MRI, but given the new curveball from today, I think the CT scan makes more sense.  Then I have it to send to the "expert" for review, as well as for the purpose of informing my doctor here.

I AM lucky, and I have so much to be thankful for.   Nonetheless, this is hard.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Easter Egg Coloring Public Service Announcement

This week, the kids went to a friend's house with T to dye Easter Eggs.  The parents all thought that they were using washable egg dye, and let the kids happily dunk their hands in the egg dye.  Miss M, for example, had two completely bright red hands from dying her eggs reddish pink.  When they tried to clean the kids up at the end, however, they discovered that the parent who had created the egg dye had used regular old food coloring.  Whoops!

By the time I got home from work, despite numerous scrubbings, Miss M still had two bright red hands.  I mean, like PRIMARY red hands.  Yuck.

There are lots of options online regarding how to remove food dye from skin (white vinegar, baking soda. . .bleach, gasoline!!!), but I just did a quick scrub of her hands with white vinegar.  That started to take the color off, and then I doused her hands in Dawn liquid (green apple. . .yum!).  The dye all came off in absolutely no time, and she had fun playing in the suds, to boot.  I'm not sure if the Dawn would have worked as well if I hadn't used the vinegar quickly first, but in any case, it was an easy and painless process for both of us.  Hurray for that!!!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

4 Week Fitness Plan

I've never been able to stick to an exercise plan.  I know how important it is for good long-term health, and I walk everywhere, so I get a fair amount of exercise, but I don't actually work out in a way that tones.  We're going on a two week vacation in just under a month, and I'd really like to firm up a bit.  I'm hoping that if I can just commit myself to the one month of exercise, I'll be hooked enough by the end of the month that I will keep on doing it.  A month seems manageable.  I can do a month, right?  It's just four little weeks.  Hrmph.  We'll see.

I've been looking online for a good one month plan.  Some seem ridiculously hard.  I don't want to hurt myself.  Some also focus on "fat blasting," which I don't really need.  I want to tone, but don't really want to lose any more weight.  Others, I want to like, but they just look kind of boring, and I know I won't stick with it.  It has to be something that is appealing, will give me results, and which I won't get bored by.

So, I came up with my own plan.  It involves 25 minutes of cardio 5 days a week, which is going to be walking.  It's going to be walking because I can either do it at lunchtime at work without breaking a sweat (if I have to re-shower during the day, it's just not going to happen), or I can do it with the kids in the stroller.  Plus, I already walk a lot, so it's not like it is a big change.

Then, twice a week I'm going to do this arm workout.  It looks manageable, and it looks like it will deliver results in a relatively short amount of time.  That's just eight workouts in a month.  I can do 8 workouts.  Can't I?

I'm going to throw this one in just once a week.  It looks hard, but appeals to me for some reason.  Why not try it?  It's just 4 workouts.  I can definitely do something four times.  And four times in a month--no problem!

And then, I'm going to do this twice a week.   I normally don't go in for "celebrity" stuff, but it looks doable.  I hate crunches.

It may not get me totally firm, but it should get me firmer, and maybe it will take enough to stick beyond my vacation.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Up Next

My contract here was initially for two years.  The first year has flown by and is almost up, which means we have to start thinking about what we will do at the end of those two years.  International moves are so exhausting. . .there is so much preplanning and preparing that must be done.  And, there is that small matter of the work thing, and where I will have the ability to transfer to.  So, we've started talking about it, and thinking about what we will do when our time here is up.

One option would be to try to stay here for another 2-3 years.  We like it here.  We have Miss M in a great school, and SB can start there next winter.  The kids would build a stronger base in Spanish.  OUR Spanish would be rock solid if we stayed a few more years.  The local people are lovely.  We have an awesome housekeeper whom the girls adore, and who makes our lives immeasurably easier.  The money is good.  Our apartment is gorgeous.  We live in a great neighborhood.

The downside is that I have itchy feet.  I want to experience someplace new.  I took this job because it offered the opportunity to move frequently.  I hate saying goodbye, but I loooove saying hello.  A new place would be exciting.  

So, I've been looking around at our options.  We could go back to the U.S., but that's definitely not our first choice.  We love traveling and living abroad.  There will come a time, I'm sure, when we are ready for the stability and predictability of the U.S., but right now, we love this life.  So, I've been trying to sort out what the options might be for us abroad.

There is a pretty amazing position in Laos that I would LOVE to go after, but T isn't so sure he wants to live in Asia.  For him, the issue is aging parents and distance from the U.S.  I can't disagree that it's far from the U.S., and after our crazy emergency trip back this past Christmas for my surgery, I have to admit that a part of me is reluctant to be so far from  home.  But, I'm totally intrigued by Southeast Asia.  And when are we going to have the chance again?  

There are a couple of jobs in Europe.  T thinks we should head back there.  There are so many amazing places to travel to that we still haven't managed to hit.  There's really no downside to Europe--it's safe, the schools are good, there are no weird diseases (well, far fewer, anyway).  Well, aside from expense.  It's pretty easy to spend your entire salary on travel in Europe.   

Then, there are a couple of other jobs in Latin America.  I would really love to stay in a Spanish speaking country until the girls have a firm base.  But, the crime rate is kind of tough in some places, or there is substantial civil unrest, or. . .there are poisonous things.  T has a weird hangup about living someplace where there are poisonous snakes and/or scorpions in your yard and/or house.   Go figure. :)  

The problem, at the end of the day, is that there is no "perfect" place.  Every option will inevitably involve some sort of trade-off.   Or maybe I am wrong, and the "perfect" job will just fall into my lap in the next few months.  I can only hope.