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.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Leaning In, and Double Standards

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton spoke at Tina Brown's Women in the World summit, alongside IMF chief Christine Lagarde.  The moderator asked each to reflect on whether there was still "a double standard in the media about how we talk about women in public life."   Clinton responded that There is a double standard, obviously.  We have all either experienced it or at the very least seen it. And there  is a deep set of cultural psychological views that are manifest through this double standard.”  She went on to talk about the differences she's seen in male and female responses in the workplace--how young women always say "do you think I'm ready?" when given new responsibilities, while young men simply say "when do I start?"  She talked about the self-doubt women inevitably carry with them, something men don't do.  She talked about the criticism that women also inevitably face.  During the discussion, as she often has of late, she invoked the words of Eleanor Roosevelt:  "Every woman in public life needs to develop skin as tough as rhinoceros hide."  

I've been thinking a lot lately about that double standard, so her words particularly resonated with me.  I've long worked in male-dominated fields.  I've often been the only woman at the table.  I've "leaned in" for so long that I don't know any other way.  I know just what Sheryl Sandberg means when she talks about women pulling themselves out of the game before it's even started.  But even when you lean in, you work hard, you excel at your job, you are qualitatively and quantitatively better than the men by any measurable standard--by EVERY measurable standard, you still have to deal with that double standard. . .the one that says that, despite all of the evidence, you really aren't equal, because you are just a woman. 

My current boss is a woman, and she's also good at her job.  And she reinforces that double standard regularly.   I've watched as men are offered business trips traveling to interesting places. . .while I and other women have been offered only assignments in town.  I suspect that she thinks she is being kind, because she knows I have young kids.  But shouldn't women get offered the assignments?  Shouldn't we be allowed a say in whether we want to travel?  She has told multiple women in my office that we need to work on our "tone" in our emails--that we are too direct.  I have to wonder if she's ever given that advice to a man.   I recently heard her refer to me as a "no nonsense" person.  What does that mean, exactly. . .and would anyone ever say that about a man?  

Of course, I play the game.  I take the assignments I get, without complaint, and try to do them well.  I take the criticism graciously, and promise to try to do better.  I let the description roll of my shoulders.  Because really, what else is there to do?  I once had a very successful female politician tell me, "Look, does sexism exist out there?  You bet.  But does talking about it help?  Not really.  You just have to go out there and do your job."   And I think that's right.  Jumping up and down about it doesn't help.  

It sure would be nice, though, if I didn't have to be gracious and navigate around these issues.  It sure would be nice if I didn't need rhinoceros hide.  It sure would be nice to just be able to go to work, do my job well, and be recognized for it. . .like a man.  And I hope and pray that we can create a more enlightened and equal workplace for these wonderful daughters I am raising, because they deserve so much better than this.   We may have come a long way, baby, but it's not nearly far enough.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Two Stories

One of the things I love about Facebook is that I'm "friends" with a pile of women I went to high school with.  They aren't people I talk to in "real life," but it's been nice to reconnect virtually, to see where they are and what they are up to.  I went to high school in a rural area, where some girls were married and already had kids by the time graduation rolled around, so it was to my great surprise that I discovered a large number of women had very young children, the same ages of my children.  I often feel like such a late bloomer, but it turns out that many of us were.

I was heartbroken to see a few weeks ago that one woman had lost her 5 year old daughter to a virus.    One day she was there, and the next she was not--it happened ridiculously fast.  I can't even imagine what she is going through.  She's been posting gorgeous pictures of herself and her daughter, in happier times.  I haven't seen this woman since we were 17, 18 years old, haven't kept in touch with her.  We're in our 40's now.  Seeing these pictures of her, as an adult, makes me feel in some way like I'm looking at her mother.  She's the girl I knew, but so much older.  In my head, she's still the giggly cheerleader who drinks too much and fools around with boys she shouldn't.  She is carefree.  On my screen, she is middle-aged, heavy with responsibility, and she is so very sad.  I think often about the girl she was back then, with not a care in the world.   That girl couldn't have imagined this was where life would take her.  And that little girl in the photos--a mighty sprite, full of laughter and energy. . .it's so hard to imagine that she's been ripped from her mother, her family.  My heart just breaks.  I wrap my arms tightly around Miss M when I think of this poor woman, and don't even want to think of such a possibility.

Then this week, another awful story.  An acquaintance here had a c-section to deliver her first child.  The baby is healthy and home.  The mother, however, developed a coagulation problem during the surgery.  She's in critical condition, and they are having trouble getting things problem under control.  This is supposed to be a happy time for this new family, and instead she's in the hospital fighting for her life.  I so very much hope for them that this story has a happy ending, that a scary beginning is quickly left behind in a pile of dirty diapers and teething and cheerful morning feedings.

Life feels so fragile to me right now.  Everything you wish for and hope for and wait for can come, only to disappear again in an instant.  It's such a reminder to hold tight and love while you can.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

601. . .And SB's Tests

I just opened Blogger, and it informed me that I have drafted 600 posts.  It's hard to believe I started blogging so many years ago.  Time really has been flying by since we started trying to have kids.

But that's not what I wanted to blog about.  I want to note the milestone, but I really came here to talk about potential neural tube defects.

When we went for SB's 2nd year checkup, I pointed out a few things that have been bothering her/me.  One is a bump on her upper back, just between her shoulders on her spine.  There is one vertebrae that sticks out more than the others.  It's always been this way, but it's become more noticeable lately.  Since she was born, the doctors have said it was normal.  But this time, the doctor referred us out for consultation.

The second thing was that she plays with her belly button a lot, and complains that it hurts.  It's a bit of an outie, and I was worried about a hernia.

T. took her to the referral appointment with a pediatric surgeon about two weeks ago, just before the plague struck us.  That doctor recommended that we do ultrasounds of her back and abdomen, to determine if there were a neural tube defect.  At which point, I nearly lost my shit.

I took my vitamins regularly.  We had level 4 zillion ultrasounds at a fancy private European hospital.  And a handful of doctors have seen her across two continents over the last two years, and assured us that everything looked normal.  So, neural tube defect?  Really?  Also, after the crazy shitstorm of the last six months, we really didn't need that.

It took us forever to get the tests scheduled.  They finally said they could do them, the day she was diagnosed with Coxsackie.  We instead scheduled them for yesterday, instead, figuring no one wanted a contagious kid in their space.   They booked them for 2:30 and 2:50pm, and instructed me to keep her from eating for 6 hours beforehand (great!).

We arrived promptly yesterday, only to discover that the hospital had moved our appointment back by an hour.  Let me tell you, that extra hour we spent waiting, with a hungry 2 year old, was something special that the entire waiting room enjoyed immensely.  But for the tests, she was a doll.  She let them put the ultrasound goo on her, and she played with it herself.  She even got so into it that she asked the doctor if she could use the ultrasound wand on herself.  He let her do it with him, and I think he was really tickled that she was so into it.  He kept telling me how nice she was, and told her that she was going to be a doctor when she grew up.  She fussed a bit here and there, but let him do everything he needed.

Anyway, the end result, after all of the drama, was that she is completely normal, and they didn't see anything wrong at all.  The back is just the way she's formed, and the stomach is normal.  Now I just have to keep her from playing with it and irritating it.

I am WIPED, physically from all of the night waking with two sick kids, and mentally from. . .well, everything.  Hopefully, the rotten stuff is behind us, and we can have a nice, long, happy, safe, positive stretch of living.