Sunday, December 30, 2012

Definitely Will Miss Seafront

Though when we were first assigned to Seafront for housing, I moaned and groaned.  I didn't want to be on a compound, cut off from the city.  When we arrived and lacked a car for the first three weeks, I struggled to be positive about our living situation, with none of the advanced amenities (ie, Western style grocery store and Starbucks) within walking distance.  Then our HHE came and I was reminded of all the things I sent to storage, knowing we'd be in a small apartment.

When Patch started AmeriKids, I came to mind it less.  Who can complain about walking 20 feet to pre-school ... especially since little kids are not patient sitting in Manila traffic.  When both boys had pretty serious scrapes on the playground, I appreciated it even more, since our nanny could take them to the clinic for evaluation (nurse called me on the phone saying stiches not necessary).  When coworkers told stories of two hour drives home, I was thankful for my 15 minute commute - especially with a nursing infant waiting at the end of the day.

Today, I down right love it.  School holidays are hard to keep two active boys happy.  BUT, with two six year old boys living at Seafront, the three of them pop around like a little gang, riding bikes, going to the playground, dropping in each other's houses.  They're old enough to generally be trusted to be safe, and enough guards are walking about to alert us to anything really bad (like when another six year old was trying to shimmy up the compound fence!).  It's going to be tough for Wm when we move back to the U.S. and he needs an escort to walk to a friend's house.

I'm definitely a Seafront convert.  It's not just making the best of where I was planted - I honestly happily enjoy the ease with which my kids can play independently, even at the expense of a Starbucks or Apartment 1B right around the corner.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Waiting for What?

I have this feeling that I'm waiting for something, but I'm not sure exactly what it is.  Probably it's the start of the moving process ... which right now is a huge looming cloud just far enough off that I can't quite start on the project, except for the occasional sorting of a drawer of papers or stack of clothing.

Thankfully I'm pretty close to my pre-prego size already, so the clothing sorting can commence.  Even better, a friend just emailed me that she's moving to Africa (from Copenhagen) - and since we're about the same size, would I be interested in her winter wardrobe, seeing as how mine is woefully out of date (the last time I wore winter work clothing was 2005, before grad school!).  It's like a personal consignment store coming my way next fall.

But, back to waiting.  Moving leaves one very unsettled.  Where will we live?  Will there be other kids near by for our boys to play with - and even if they are close, will our kids like those kids?  How much should we expect to spend on furniture?  After all, we left a two bedroom condo with an 18 month old ... and will need a four bedroom house for five of us plus a nanny.  Will we like our new jobs and the people we'll work with?  We'll need to find a church.  We'll need to figure out how to keep the boys entertained over the summer so they don't resent being in the "new city."  And figure out a bunch of other things, too.

Our last four months will go quickly.  My work schedule was just sorted out this week, thankfully.  Greg's PRK surgery went well.  The last three weekend trips are booked.  Wm's school finishes up March 15; Patch won't make the end of his semester, sadly.  Ian will get his six month vaccines.  Dentist appointments for the two big boys scheduled for two weeks before we go.

I'm thinking about leaving a lot, I know, because one good friend just left yesterday.  We'll overlap in DC (us for our assignment, her for training), but she arrived in Manila just after we did.  And another friend who arrived just before we did has only four weeks left.  So, our "cohort" is heading on ... and starting to say good bye to others makes me think about us saying our own good byes soon.

Most nights I tell the boys stories about Mailliw, Kcirtap, and their baby brother Super Nai.  (Super Nai has super powers)  Before I knew it, tonight's story involved Mailliw and Kcirtap having to sort their toys for what goes in the airplane and what goes on the slow boat.  (rest of the story: boat gets lost and Super Nai has to fly all over the Pacific to catch it (in Fiji) and put it back on track)

I made myself a milkshake tonight, thinking perhaps that would calm me down.  It worked, kind of.  Tomorrow I'll try hot chocolate, even though its 90 degrees out during the day.  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Kay Saya't, Kay Sigla Ng Pasko sa Pinas!

For whatever reason (I don't know why, I've thought about it before but haven't come up with an acceptable answer), we don't do much cultural stuff in Manila.  Especially when compared to our two years in India.  Thankfully, William's school (Maria Montessori Children's Foundation) helps us step out of our Embassy/Expat bubble every now and then.

Today was what Greg refers to as the "Christmas Spectacular."  As in, for the last month, the kids have been practicing their song and dance routine.  In fact, this week, normal classes were suspended and it was practice practice practice all the time - Wm reported that they didn't even have playground time yesterday because of the dress rehearsal.

In the 1.5 years, I've come to enjoy the song-and-dance routines, not just by kids at school, but also at work.  I admit.  At last year's embassy holiday party, I thought it was ridiculous.  How could managers be expected to give employees time during the work day to practice so much?  I mean, we had VISAS to process!  But, this year I thoroughly enjoyed the dance show down at the holiday party - from the cross-dresser on the Facilities Maintenance Team losing his top to the gold-sequined deputy NIV chief jammin' to gangam style.

As I came to realize today, this love of Christmas dance shows starts young, at age 2.5.  Filipino parents could not imagine a school Christmas pageant without a real dance show by their kids.  And I mean Christmas - in a country that's 90-95% Christian, it's full on Christmas, even with the concept of separation of church and state existing here.

So, for those of you wanting to watch Wm's performance, check it out on YouTube.

Bonus points if you can spot where he stuck in his gangam style moves during the "free dance" portion.

And a picture of the stage:
(** translation: Happy and Vivacious Christmas in the Philippines!)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Before we leave

I have a feeling I'll be saying this phrase "before we leave" a lot over the next 4.5 months.  It's inevitable to leave a place with things undone -- I lived in DC for eight years and never made it to the top of the Washington Monument or to observe a session of the Supreme Court, two things I said I really wanted to do when I first moved there. 

Today, I decided that before we leave Manila, I'd really like if Wm can learn to ride a bike without training wheels and Patch to swim without floaties.  Seafront boasts one long, relatively traffic-free road perfect for learning to ride a bike.  The swimming pool is feet from our door.  No way we'll have either of those back in DC!  

I also wish that before we leave, we only have one child in diapers.  I fear, though, there are quite a few loads of midnight laundry between now and then... 

Call Me Maybe

I saw some emails suggesting the embassy do this just before I went on prego-vac.  Apparently, while I was out, some fun-loving coworkers actually followed through.  Though released after the craze was over, it's still fun!

U.S. Embassy Manila: Call Me Maybe

Wm loves this song.  His top three are Call Me Maybe, Fireworks, and Gangam Style.  So, this morning we've watched the YouTube videos for these three over and over - and Gangam Style gets changed to "Ian Style" while I make the baby dance, resulting in huge laughs for the big two and big smiles from the little one.  I bet Wm would have loved a cameo appearance in the embassy video had he been in country!

Wm had two critiques of the video:
1. I didn't know construction workers could dance so well!
2. Wow! That's the REAL ambassador. He's COOL!

And then we had to go through slowly so Greg could tell him all our coworker's names and which "team" they are on (ACS, NIV, IV, etc)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

GGPA and the boys

I don't use too many photos on the blog, mostly because I like to keep the blog password-free, and I have a strange aversion to too many strangers looking at pictures of me and my children.  But, as I was organizing photos this evening, I wanted to bring together this collection of my grandpa, known as "GGPA" (for great-grandpa) to the boys.  As you can see, he loves the boys so much that I can never manage to get him to look at the camera!  Maybe when we're on home leave, I can get him to sit down with all three and smile at the picture taker :)

(1) With William - their first meeting and then six months later at Christmas

(2) With Patch - their first meeting, then later that week at his baptism

 (3) Meeting Ian - sadly, we only had two days in Bethlehem.  Here's to hoping for some more pictures come May.  And then again in August when we celebrate GGPA's 90th birthday!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

How did I ever live without it?

An electric swing for a baby.  Really.  How did I manage having two babies already and not find out about this magic contraption until the third?

Oh wait - I know.  For baby #1, we were living in 1000 sq ft with three adults, two dogs, and a baby.  It being our first, we were under the delusion that it was possible to have an "adult" house, relegating anything that screamed "baby" to a tiny corner of our living/dining room.  The design of these swings definitely have "baby" written all over them with cutesy ocean or jungle themes.

Then, for #2 we were in India with 220V power.  I could have purchased an expensive imported one from the UK at the fabulous MotherCare store which opened a few months before #2 was born.  But, my guess is that after our totally failed attempt to purchase a baby monitor made in China (I'll have to look to see if I wrote a blog about that), I wasn't so up on the electronics thing.  Plus, I never had one for #1, so it never occurred to me to get one for #2, even though our flat in HYD was HUGE and could have easily fit two baby swings discretely.

Now, here's #3.  We live on a compound with 110V power surrounded by other American parents who, like most American parents, own a baby swing.  #3 has tried out two baby swings and fallen directly asleep any time he's placed in either one.  When a neighbor offered to lend hers as her chunko baby was really getting a little too big for the swing, we (specifically my nanny) pounced.

Do I particularly like having such a big contraption in my living room?  No.  Is it annoying to keep on reminding #1 and #2 to not touch/swing/try to sit in the baby swing? Yes.  But ... am I liking the break my back and arms getting after a fussy night and cry-full morning.  Why yes, yes I am.  In fact, I'm able to write in the blog!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Budding Independence / Self-Sufficiency

One of my work friends, when I told her I was pregnant with our third, shook her head and said something along the lines of - well, the next five years will be rough, but then your role will change from being a "worker" to a "manager."  Meaning, I wouldn't actually have to brush each child's teeth.  Or pester them to keep eating.  Or change their clothes.  Or put together their school bags.  I could just ask (and ask again) if it had been done - and if it hadn't, ask that the children please do it.  Hopefully our three boys will be as cooperative as her three kids!  

I had a glimpse of this "manager" life just now.  William asked if he could ride his bike around the apartment hallway (it's covered, but outside - not like he's riding inside corridors).  Seeing as he had finished breakfast, gotten dressed (and even changed his shirt without fuss when I pointed out that the one he picked didn't match), and brushed his teeth, I agreed he could until Joel returned from dropping Greg at work to take Wm to school.  Less than a minute later, I heard the bike being parked outside the door.  Wm came in, took off his helmet, got his back pack, library bag, and lunch.  Turned around and said, "See ya, Mama. Joel's here to take me to school."  And that was that.  As Wm has taken to saying lately: easy-peasy lemon-squeezy.  

I'm looking forward to being the manager.  

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Feeling a bit more back to normal

As I sat on the couch, feeling restless at 9PM, I realized that I must be feeling more normal.  The last few weeks I had purposely been avoiding creating a "to do" list -- with settling back into Manila, then adjusting to being back at work, all the while balancing *three* kids five and under, I didn't want to get myself overwhelmed.  And nothing is more overwhelming than a long to do list!

Today, though, I felt like I didn't do much productive.  We attempted to go to church, but had to cut out during the sermon.*  We came home, I putzed around the house a bit, then met some friends for Sofitel lunch.**  I came home, pumped a bottle (the only thing I produced today), then played on the playground with all the Seafront kids who finally came back from vacation.***  At bedtime, I slowly read Cars & Trucks & Things that Go to Patch, while he sat on the potty, keeping fingers crossed that maybe - just maybe - after 45 minutes he might be convinced to go poo poo on the potty. No cigar.  I then tried to boost my knowledge of Settlers of Catan by playing on the iPad.  An hour after that, I was even more restless.

Which has lead me to the obvious conclusion: it's time again to make a to do list.  Ian must be sleeping well enough, and work is going smoothly enough, that I have extra energy needing an outlet.

*Last Sunday, Wm and Patch wanted to stay with Ian in the service and not go to Sunday school.  It was generally OK, so we agreed to do the same this Sunday.  But, Wm kept on going in and out of the sanctuary, and when he entered the Sunday school room he sat with his back to the class distracting the other kids.  So, having managed to disturb both the congregation and the Sunday school kids, we cut our losses and headed home.

**In India, we really enjoyed the hotel brunches, but haven't really done it here because of the cost - and the conflict with nap time.  Today, my meal pretty much consisted of sushi, shrimp, cheese (and more cheese and more cheese), beef (sirloin, tenderloin, prime rib...), and champagne.  Plus some chocolate mousse and caramel tapioca pudding to wash it all down.  Tasty for a one time treat, but still not convinced it was worth $70.

***Nov 30 was a Filipino holiday, and many of our neighbors cut out of town.  We weren't quite up for preparing for a trip with Ian, so we stayed put.  Though, given how restless Wm and Patch were after two days of just me and Greg as entertainment, I think we should have taken up our neighbors offer to join them at the beach when another family cancelled last minute.  The hour and a half packing around with various kids at the playground and chatting with our neighbors was quite relaxing - especially after the huge lunch!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Purging Begins

I found myself with a quiet house at 8:30: all three sons in bed, as well as Greg who had a minor flu today.  All the things on my to do list were either long projects or not enticing.  I had already rolled out the three extra pie crusts for the freezer and putzed around on the computer long enough for my liking.  I wasn't in the mood for reading.  What to do?!

Then I realized: I should start purging papers.  The biannual ritual when one moves so frequently.  I decided to tackle the "art drawer," picking and choosing what to preserve of the boys' masterpieces and what to toss in the trash.  Honestly, most of Patch's preschool work from last year was in the trash pile, until I thought that he might - twenty years later - wonder why I was such a cruel and heartless mother not to save things.  So, I kept two folders worth.  Except, now as I type this, I think I should probably just keep one or two pieces.  After all, I don't think I want to look at (or carry around) boxes of my childhood artwork.  Why would Patch or Wm?

Really, the only piece of artwork I remember creating is a yellow blob of clay that sits (or used to sit - not sure if it does right now) on my mom's dresser.  I remember making it because, in kindergarten or first grade, I got in a huge fight with my art teacher.  I forget what we were supposed to be making, but I wasn't in the mood to make that and instead made a bowl.  But then the teacher became upset with me (or at least I perceived she was inordinately angry with me) for not following instructions.  With a minute left in art class, I mushed the piece of clay into a ball and put it with the rest of the class' works to be fired.  The next week, everyone else had some creation to paint.  I painted my blob plain yellow, not even choosing the shiny paint.  Very rarely did I not follow a teacher's instructions, so the origins of this yellow mass stick with me.  The rest of the stuff I could probably do without, if it was even saved.

New reason to be sad on Sunday night

Because I have to pack up my pump parts.  I love the weekend of just feeding Ian whenever he's hungry, with no stress about if I'm pumping enough and at the right time.

I didn't have to pump that much for Wm, since he was seven months when I went back to work.  I did pump a lot for Patch, but since it provided a nice structured break during my visa interviews, I welcomed it -- even though my "lactation room" was the visa filing cabinet and I balanced my trusty pump amongst boxes of the old DS-156 forms.

I do love having an actual lactation room here.  Briefly chatting (commiserating?) with the other pumping moms (currently five of us) boosts my spirits and keeps me going.  All the same, though, getting together the gear on Sunday night is a sad reminder of what is to come on Monday.  If only my office were at Seafront and I could just take the breaks during the day to nurse instead of pump.  Now that would be awesome.

Right now neither Ian nor I are in enough of a "schedule" to try and have him make the trip up Roxas to the Chancery for his meal.  Maybe once he's six months or so and has started solids... 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Back to work tomorrow

I feel like I should feel sad or apprehensive or something like that.  But, I don't.  Guess when it's the third one, going back is old hat.  Either that or I am a cruel and heartless mother (ha ha ha).  Really, though, my thought about working and having kids is that I'm a bit to cerebral to be home with babies all the time.  I need more brain stimulation of an academic sort, which a baby just doesn't give me.  I'll spend my days researching human rights issues in the Phlippines, my evenings hugging up all three boys, my nights nursing, and I should be quite content.

In church today, (yes! we went with all three boys!  it wasn't a total disaster, but wasn't so easy either... we did not get any snarky comments or sideways looks, so I think it must have been a success) the priest gave a sermon about joy (I think he said the word in New Testament Greek was "chara").  He asked all the parents to remember when their child too his first steps and how that filled their heart with joy.  Greg and I looked at each other and realized that was not an event for either Wm or Patch that was imprinted in our memories at all.  Which proves my point: we love our kids and they do bring joy, but we're just not gaga over the baby phase.

So, back to work I go with Ian only at nine weeks.  Not really sure if I'll be as ambivalent about this when I'm at the office tomorrow, but there it is.

I told my work friend that if I ever were to consider staying home, it would be in the teenage years, when the kids can think more, face a lot more choices, and need a bit more guidance.  She has three kids in college, and she responded that I would be surprised how much trouble can happen between school dismissal at 2:30 and mom returning home at 6:30 ... so perhaps I should keep that in mind for the future.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Hello, Patch!

The last two weeks at home were supposed to be about bonding with Ian and supervising our nanny as she took care of him, to make sure everything was kosher.  Except really, I learned that the yayas (nannies) were so excited about the baby that they took every opportunity to feed, burp, change, and bathe Ian - to the point that I twice took Ian in my room and shut the door just to get some alone time with him.  I'm not complaining, since this means that Ian will get lots of hugs and attention when I go back to work on Monday, which is exactly what a baby needs.

The attention given to the new baby meant that I have been able to spend oodles of time with Patch the last two weeks, a situation certainly not anticipated, but very much appreciated.  Wm's mood swings + Patch's easy going nature = most parenting efforts of the last three years focused on Wm.  Add a new baby to the mix and, well, the stars seemed aligned for Patch to suffer from middle child syndrome even more than usual (since Wm is high maintenance).  Luckily for Patch, though, Wm is at school full day and the yayas claimed Ian - so he pretty much got two full weeks of mom attention.

The last time I spent a prolonged daily time with Patch was over home leave, ie January 2011, when he wasn't talking due to language confusion.  He talks a storm now, though with some funny pronunciations, and articulates complex abstract thoughts.  I could have real conversations with him, not just talk about the concrete things around us.  It's much easier to get to know a kid when he talks to you.

Some of our topics:

  • How he, Lea and Elizabeth would take good care of Ian when I went back to work (this topic, by the way, was brought up by Patch.  I hadn't even mentioned going back yet)
  • That he is different from his two brothers because he was born in India and not America like them
  • How he knows that fruits and vegetables are healthy, but he doesn't care to eat them or even try them, because yogurt and peanut butter are enough for him
  • That his older brother is naughty sometimes, but Patch still loves him (again, a topic broached at Patch's instigation.  I try very very hard not to get exasperated with Wm in front of Patch.)
So, what I'll miss the most when I go back to work next week is not Ian's fledgling smiles (though those are cute and I will miss them!), but the 3PM snack time with Patch when I had 30 minutes of one-on-one time.  Carving out solo time with each kid is pretty hard with only two hours each day between me arriving home from work and their bed time.

(For those of you who are worried, the yayas know they have to spend time and attention with all kids - we've had this discussion.  I consider the attention of the last two weeks their "bonding time" with Ian so they get to know his cues before I go back.)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Salon visit, the Manila way

After five months, my hair was in pretty poor repair.  The ends were scraggly.  The color was fading.  Roots were showing.  I'm going back to work next week, and obviously don't want to look like a slug, so a trip to the salon was past due.

I decided to just "run" over to Rockwell after Patch's birthday party and get it done.  After all, who knows what else might come up this last week of relatively free schedule?  I say "run" because it can be anywhere from 20 - 60 minute drive to my salon, depending on traffic.  Thankfully today was average: 30 minutes each way.

Then comes the next dilemma: how to get my hair done and also make sure my nursing infant is adequately fed?  Ian already drank his pumped bottle today when I was dropping Wm at school.  The obvious solution?  Bring the nanny to the salon, Filipino style.  So, off we went: Joel (driver), Lea (nanny), Ian and me.  What an extravagent lifestyle ... but might as well live it up for the next six months before I return to reality (aka, America).  Turns out the capes for getting your hair colored also make good nursing covers.

Other multi-tasking accomplished during the salon visit: neck/shoulder massage (my shoulders are so tight from constantly cradle holding a nursing baby), pedicure, and a cup of tea.  Lest you think I'm totally crazy, the lady next to me was also having a manicure, full foot/leg massage (in addition to pedicure), AND had a tailor visit her at the salon.  I can't understand Tagalog, but they were having debates about his sketches and the fabric samples he brought - while the manicure, pedicure, neck massage, and deep conditioning treatment were all going on.  Talk about using her "girl time" efficiently!

PS - my favorite Lebanese hairstylist has sadly left Manila for good.  We'll see in two days (after I wash the straight blow out) how this new guy compares.  Getting curly hair cut in Asian countries is always an adventure.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Cross Culture Baby Issues, point 2

Yesterday, I had my second cross-culture baby experience.  I'm finding this surprising, because I really didn't have any cross-culture pregnancy encounters in the Philippines (though India was rife with such experiences).

I met a new friend for lunch yesterday - we had corresponded over email and Facebook, but had yet to meet in person.  She arrived in Manila just as I was leaving on prego-vac.  With three boys, each just over a year older than mine, and having spent significant time in Texas in her pre-FS life, we obviously have a good amount to talk about.

Ian came along for the lunch date, of course, since I'm still feeding him.  He gets one pumped bottle a day now, so that he knows how to drink a bottle when I go back to work. (Note: we were lax giving Wm bottles, and pretty much gave up after month three since breastfeeding was so much easier - but then when I went back to work when he was seven months, the first two days he refused to drink, causing much stress for both of us.  So, with Patch and Ian, I've kept up the bottle a day regimen, even though pumping while home is super annoying.)  Ian had already had his bottle that morning, so of course he had to come.

Except the nanny expected to come, too!

In the Philippines, the nannies (often dressed in cheery print scrubs, like pediatric nurses in the US) accompany the families everywhere.  Kids playing happily with nannies just outside restaurants, while parents enjoy a meal with uninterrupted conversation, is common place.  Except, while I certainly enjoy having a nanny to watch my kids during the day and be available almost every time we need a last minute evening babysitter, I just can't quite bring myself to tote her along to carry my baby while I eat.

Somehow, had Ian been napping and I went out for an hour, that would be OK.  But having him awake and being carried by someone else while I pretended to be a "lady who lunched" seemed too dismissive of my child.

I thus had to carefully explain to our nanny that my not wanting her to come was in no way a reflection that I thought she was doing a bad job caring for Ian. Or that I was embarrassed by her (well, I guess I am a bit embarrassed - but not by her appearance or how she would hold Ian - but for my own sense of propriety).

We made up later, when I asked her to come along to the grocery store.  Let's face it, it's much easier to push around a grocery cart and pick out fresh veggies when you don't have to juggle a squirmy baby in an Ergo carrier.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day

I read a WaPo article this morning about election day vs. election month, talking about how early voting is now very wide spread.  What struck me most, though, was the description of the old voting machines: going into a booth, drawing the curtain, making selections, then pulling down a big crank when finished.

Personally, I have only voted with computerized or scantron ballots.  I do remember, though, going to my elementary school with my mom and being inside the curtain, wondering who all the people were, and helping pull down the big crank. My next thought, of course, is that I'm not sure I'll ever vote with Wm, Patch or Ian.  Having them watch me tick boxes on an absentee ballot is not quite the same.  Hopefully this will not negatively impact their sense of responsibility when it comes to voting!

Moving on to election day thought #2.  The embassy is sponsoring "election watches" at three locations throughout the Philippines: in large malls in Manila and Cebu, and a more private event in Cagayan d'Oro.  Greg is spending his work day manning the event.  He's not exactly sure what he'll be assigned to do, but with a big screen showing CNN results, a photo booth, election trivia games and the like, sounds like a fun day.

I'm wondering if this concept would fly in other countries, or if it's just because of the Philippines status as a former colony.  

About 6 Months Left

We know we're headed back to DC sometime this summer, but don't exactly know when.  Our tour in Manila is supposed to end in April, so that means we have about six months left.  Hard to believe.

This also means I need to start thinking about two very important things:
1. Where do we absolutely want to travel in the Philippines before we leave and
2. What do I have in my pantry that I need to start eating so we don't end up donating/tossing lots of food when we leave.

When we left HYD, I didn't start item 2 until about two months pre-departure - and I felt like I gave away half the grocery store!  I didn't feel bad about our nanny taking pantry staples (rice, lentils, etc) - she certainly could use the food.  But, much of what we had left on the shelves was import stuff of no use to needy people ... just the product of my impulse purchases at Q-Mart or Ruci, when I was simply excited to see a product on a shelf.

On travel, we still are upset we never made it to Kerala while we were in India.  Coming to Manila, Greg's must see trip was to Angkor Wat - and, thankfully, his sister obliged to travel with him.  I think our only "must do" left is to swim with the whale sharks in Donsol, which will be in March right before we leave.

Some "nice to do" trips would be:
(1) one or two more scuba diving trips - my last scuba trip was in December 2011 just after Christmas before I knew I was pregnant.  Figure I should go scuba diving while it's still affordable!
(2) Vigan - an old Spanish town in northern Luzon, registered UNESCO World Heritage site
(3) A weekend in Baguio, especially since Greg has yet to see the residence up there
(4) The rice terraces, perhaps as a day trip from Baguio

I know we won't get to all of these because I've just burned up all my leave for the time I'm spending home with the new baby.  Hopefully, though, we'll at least squeeze in a dive trip.  I even ordered Ian an infant life vest in anticipation of an upcoming banca boat ride!

PS -- I started thinking about this because the boys had their dentist appointment today.  No cavities, so next appointment not for six months.  Then the receptionist was looking at dates in May and I realized we wouldn't actually be here for a dentist appointment in May.  WEIRD.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Vitamin D!

I had my first infant cultural foray this morning -- I'm sure many more are to come.

In the U.S., pediatricians of breast-fed infants stress the importance of vitamin D supplements.  I've had conversations with multiple friends about this, and the general "mom" consensus is that it's a must for fall/winter babies, but less required for spring/summer babies. Thought process is obvious: when the weather is nice, you take the baby outside, so he gets vitamin D naturally.  (unless, of course, he's slathered in sunscreen -- or in Texas where it's too hot!)

Today is Day One of starting transition to nanny care.  I'm not sure when I'll go back to work, but it will be sometime between Nov 19 and 30.  So, though it's weird to be in my house and let someone else hold Ian, I'm trying to let go so that Ian isn't too shocked when I do go back.

Just now (7AM), Lea (nanny) told Wm and Patch it was time to go outside so Ian could get his vitamin D before the sun was too strong for his skin.  I was surprised, to say the least - but obviously public health awareness in the Philippines is higher than I thought.  My wonderfully internationally-aware pediatrician in DC did say I could probably discontinue the vitamin drops once in Manila, given how sunny it is here.  Guess I should send him an email confirming his supposition.

Now all three boys are at the playground. Guess this means I better get in the shower!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

As of 1:30 pm, I'm not sure excatly why the federal government is closed and all the flights were cancelled. The rain is coming down, but the wind is not very strong, at least by me.  Maybe things will pick up this afternoon and evening, but as of now, I'm not impressed. 

My main thought today, as I lounge in bed watching too much HGTV, and Ian alternately nursing, napping and trying to climb over my shoulder, is how different a storm is with a newborn than with kiddos.  Typhoon days in Manila are disasters for our house. Thrown off from their usual routine of either going to school or playing outside / swimming, Wm and Patch become little monsters.  We try to entertain them with toys, activities, fort building, etc and usually by lunch time, every suggestion is met with a resolute "I don't want to. I'm bored. What should I do?" (can you hear the thick whining also involved?)  We end the day exhausted from trying to stay cheery and bright.  Even worse, sometimes the typhoons last for multiple days! Inevitably accompanied by flooding, we feel stranded, too. 

By contrast, a hurricane day with a seven week old is so peaceful. I only have to get out of bed to eat, use the facilities, or change a diaper ... and even the eating could probably be done in bed if I sweet talked my mom to bringing a tray upstairs (though, actually, I don't like eating in bed because crumbs in my sheets gross me out).  In dark, cold, storms one just wants to snuggle under covers, and how better to do so than with a cute potato resting on one's chest?

Though I'm bummed to miss Patch's third birthday today, at least he had fun in Manila going to the Active Fun indoor playground.  Were he here with me, he and Wm would be getting on each other's nerves right about now, and my day cooped up would not be nearly so restful.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Three "fun" days

Finally today, at 4:30, I received the A-OK that everything - yes absolutely everything - is OK for me and Ian to return to Manila.  "Bureaucratic nightmare" fairly acurately describes the paperwork process to bring the baby home.  It culminated today when I received a call from the medical office that they couldn't find Ian in the "e-med-2" system and my HR Tech needed to enter him.  So I called my HR Tech (who was out for the day).  Her back up informed me that if I had my travel orders, he was in the system, and the Med office had to figure it out.  I was about to pull my hair out, honestly, since I cannot see either of these systems, so I have no idea who is right and who is wrong, and for some reason ("confidentiality") I have to be the go between.

All I did know is that this is a silly reason to not be able to return to post. I am healthy. Ian is healthy.  We both have passports, visas, and airplane tickets.  I wasn't about to let antiquated software systems (yes, apparently one has to enter a new dependent in multiple systems; do not ask why it is not coordinated) stand in our way.

Finally, at 4:30 on Friday afternoon, Med called me to say they found Ian.  Apparently, he had been entered in the system on his own, not as a dependent.  Why the HR Tech thought a one month old baby was an employee is beyond anyone's comprehension, but at least he was there, floating about in the "system" on his own.  And now, the independent Ian has a Class 1 ("worldwide") med clearance. *phew*  I am not going to worry (just now) about making sure he is "attached" to me.

Instead, I'm going to enjoy the next three days without having to think one minute about what is my next step to make sure we can return to Manila in a timely manner.  That's all behind me now!  And with a sympathetic Delta agent having arranged for the bassinet seats for the long haul flight, I really am not worried about the flight, either.  Just enjoy and relax.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

DC & e-government

I read an article in The Economist - I think it was before we moved to India - that DC was a leader in the e-government initiative.  I remember forwarding it to skeptical family and friends who still pictured a corrput DC under the era of Marion Barry.  Once again, today, I was pleasently surprised by the level of service provided online.

I needed to get a street parking permit for the moving truck which will pack up Ian's "layette shipment" back to Manila (back up disposable diapers, back up formula, baby cereal, and a few other random things acquired in three months in the US).  I went to the d. ("D-Dot" ie, DC Department of Transportation) website which said it could be done almost exclusively online.  Could this really be, I asked myself?  Sure enough, it was.

After a simple registration process and questionnaire, and fee payment online, I was given a permit number and instructed to go to the permit office in SW.  When I arrived at the office, I figured I must be in the wrong location - and even called my mom to get her to look it up and confirm - because the building looked so clean and modern. I was in the right place.  Turns out, the DC government has also embraced mixed use buildings, with a Safeway, Starbucks, and a few tasty looking restaurants on the ground level.

I headed up to the second level, which was so clean and bright, with floor to ceiling windows.  A bow-tie-wearing young man (chanelling the former mayor Tony, perhaps?) sitting at the information desk said my only step left was to print the signs, which I could do myself at one of two kiosks.  When I arrived at the kiosks, though, both were in use.  A lady behind a nearby desk (not for permitting), who was free, noticed me waiting with Ian in the Ergo carrier and asked if she could help me.  I gave her the permit number which was emailed to me, and, voila, emergency no parking signs in hand in under five minutes.

I had expected this to take hours. The efficiency was so surprising, I complemented the staff.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The X1

Pre-Ian, I took the X1 to work every day. I'd try to catch the 7:15 to the office and the 5:17 back home.  Given the predictable commute hours, I'd generally see the same people on the bus each day.  I came to really enjoy the ladies who would get off at the stop before mine (Virginia & 18th), always telling the bus driver to "have a blessed day" on their way out.  I felt like they blessed my day, too.

Today, I was walking back to Beth's car, parked at Virginia & 18th, feeling bouyant after my bureaucratic superwoman feat - which, by the way, was even more amazing because I had to move the car by 4:00 and it was 4:02.  I didn't quite make the parking deadline, but two minutes is negotiable, right?

Anyway, I was about two car lengths from the car when a familiar looking woman walked over and exclaimed, "Oh! You did have the baby! He's so cute!  We were wondering about that on the X1, you know!"

Yes, it was one of the three "blessed day" ladies. Even in the 5.5 short weeks I rode the bus, apparently I was part of a community already.  Maybe I should have walked down to the bus stop at 7:15 just to show my former commuter fellows the baby.  Oh, right - I'm not really out of bed before 7:15 these days.  Guess I'll just have to rely on this woman to spread the word. 

Bureaucratic Superwoman

That's how I feel today.  Still 11 days before my prego-vac ends, and only two easy-to-accomplish tasks remain before this baby is full brought into the bureaucracy.  (1) His visa.  (2) Reinstate my medical clearance.  Visa application will be dropped off tomorrow morning.  My medical review can't take place until after my six week post-partum exam (ie, next Wednesday).

Today I overcame a major hurdle: with ammended travel orders, I booked Ian's ticket on the same return flight as me.  Later tonight (when wait times are less), I'll call Delta to hopefully book a bulkhead seat with a bassinet. We'll see if I can be that lucky!!

Ironically, the part that took the longest today was finding a computer at the Employee Service Center with the printer installed.  I cannot tell you how many times I have said that IT is a hindrance to productivity at the State Department, and today proved no different.  Finally, on my fourth computer,* the printer was connected. Being the knolwedgeable bureaucrat I am, I printed off three copies of my orders since these things can't be sent be email or some work process flow -- and I was pretty sure both the travel office and the visa office would need a paper copy.  I was right. *phew*

(*State employees will understand why this ended up taking 25 minutes -- since my domain is EAP, and it was my first time logging on to the computer, each log on took 5 - 7 minutes!  Non-State employees cannot fathom this, because I don't think it takes 5 -7 minutes to log on to a normal work computer in any other organization that I know of.)

Thankfully, the travel office - once the agent had my paper copy of my travel orders and my reservation - efficiently booked Ian's ticket in under 15 minutes. Amazing!  Then I walked down to get the visa application notarized (required by the Philippine embassy), only to discover I missed the bank by 7 minutes. UGH. If I hadn't had to log on to four computers, I would have made it.

I asked through the grill if the bank employees knew of any other place to get something notarized. They didn't. :( Luckily, at that point, Ian started fussing because he was hungry.  A very sympathetic bank employee emerged from the back, asked if I was trying to get back to post with a newborn, and said she'd notarize the form even though it was after hours. Hallelujah!

Now all I have to do is drop off his visa application tomorrow morning and we're practically set. This nightmare of bureaucratic steps will soon come to an end, and baby and I can rejoin the rest of the family soon :)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Going back is easier!

I realized today that, assuming all keeps moving according to plan, baby and I will be back in Manila in just over two weeks.  Looking back at my posts from pre-prego-vac, I am feeling way less stress.  Hopefully it will stay this way - meaning, hopefully the visa will be approved in time and hopefully plane tickets will still be available by the time "budget" approves baby's travel (should be any day now).

The biggest thing I was worried about was getting the birth certificate and passport done in a timely fashion. With that crossed off the list, the rest seems like a piece of cake.

Not to say the "to do" list isn't huge. Aside from visa and plane ticket for baby, I still need to:
- get my medical clearance reinstated
- visit my sister in Baltimore to shop at Costco for layette stuff
- pack out the UAB layette shipment (unaccompanied air baggage)
- get Ian his first round of vaccines
- squeeze in last visits with family and friends I won't see for months
- organize all the things I borrowed so my mom and sister can return them after I leave

All in all, though, returning to my own "stuff" in Manila - with a healthy baby - and my friendly coworkers - is much more of a known quantity than coming to DC, 34 weeks pregnant, two boys in tow, to a sight-unseen townhouse and unknown temporary office assignment.  Everything on moving here turned out OK (townhouse was great, temporary office super friendly, labor and delivery went smoothly), and knowing that has erased any worries about returning to Manila.

PS - for those of you wondering why I'm not stressed out about the flight home, flying with a newborn who nurses well is so easy, as long as you pack enough diapers and change of clothes (for baby and mom).  It's flying with toddlers that is miserable!

Friday, October 12, 2012


I'm not really a picture taking kind of person, but I've realized today I probably should take more.  After almost two years, I've finally put enough space between me and Hyderabad that I can sort through our pictures without getting too sad about the friends we left behind.  My goal is to finish the photo book of the top sites (Charminar, the Buddha, Golconda, the zoo, bidri working, weaving, etc etc) and our daily life (house, office, friends, our street) before I go back to work.  Wish me luck.

While we took some good photos of the tourist spots, what I'm wishing we had more of were daily life pictures.  E.g., of going out for coffee at Ruci or Beyond Coffee.  Of "Bagwelle's friend" - a stray dog that lived on our block and would walk around the block with us each morning and evening, barking at the other mean stray dogs.  Of just haning out with friends - I hardly have any pictures of Somya and Guru or Shae and Timothy, somehow (sorry guys!).  I have no pictures of being at Sunday hotel brunch, despite the fact we did that so often.  And not nearly enough street scenes.

So, lesson learned for my last six months in Manila -- I need to take the time to be more of a photo journalist, documenting the mundane. In two years, where ever I end up next, I'll be happy I did.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Passing time

The last four weeks of prego-vac are like stepping out of my normal life.  I'm not in Manila.  I don't have Wm  or Patch begging me to play trains or cars with them.  I have been seeing my sister pretty much every day she's not working a strange shift.  I'm living in a new neighborhood.  Oh - not to mention the obvious: I'm not working and have a newborn hanging around :)

The days pass pretty quickly, though, thanks to out of town family and friends visiting on the weekends and local friends amenable to meeting up for lunch.  Luckily, I'm feeling well enough to venture out on the bus or metro - and Ian seems to be a trooper, happy to be dragged along.  True, my bed doesn't get made every morning.  And it can take two days to wash, dry, and fold a load of laundry - and I've cooked exactly one time since the fam returned to post, finding eating out and left overs easier to manage - but I'll sacrifice those to keep my spirits up, especially when just hanging out with a super cute, but totally non-verbal, baby.

I've had fun watching the Nats in the playoffs - even if the last two games were sorely disappointing and no indication yet how tonight's game will end. I've managed a little shopping, hitting up my two favorite consignment stores (Secondi in Dupont for me, and Wiggle Room in Bethesda for kids and nursing-wear). I've visited most of my favorite DC restaurants.  I've tried to stay on top of bidding for my next assignment, though I currently have a pretty decent level of stress that November is going to come and go and I will still be looking for a job.

And I've spent countless hours "bringing baby into bureaucracy" trying to get Ian documented and with travel approval to return to post within six weeks of birth.  No small feat!

I haven't yet finished (or even started) resolving our outstanding insurance claim with State Farm.  Somehow, I just haven't had the energy to fight with the claims representative.  I picked photos to put in a Hyderabad photo book, but haven't yet actually *made* the book. (baby steps are important, right?)  I also haven't taken nearly as many naps as I would have liked to, mostly because the autumn weather has been so beautiful I've wanted instead to be outside.

All the same, though, I miss my normal life.  I miss Wm and Patch - and Greg and Bagwelle :).  I miss my office.  (I don't miss the food, though.)  I'll be sad to say good bye to America in two and a half weeks, but I'll be happy to be back.

Monday, October 1, 2012

September 12

Some friends have asked for the "birth story."  Now that I have a quiet house, I'm actually able to write about it.

I woke up about 2AM on September 12 with contractions, but I wasn't really sure if they were for real or not as I had been having false labor on and off for about three weeks.  Sometimes the false labor contractions would last over an hour, ending just as I was starting to think I should start considering going to the hospital. Given that history, I wasn't sure if the contractions would continue or stop, but at 4AM, I poked Greg and advised him that if he wanted to take a shower before heading over to Georgetown, he should wake up now.  He asked how long the contractions had been going, and when I said two hours, he asked, "why are we still at home?"  But, I was pretty sure there was at least time for a shower!

By about 4:45 we were out the door and ready to catch a cab.  Greg and his mom wanted me to wait at home, but the fresh morning fall air smelled so good, and I wasn't feeling weak, so I decided to walk with him.  A D6 bus (which goes straight to the hospital) came while we were looking for a cab, which Greg flat out refused to take. Probably for the better, but wouldn't it be a good story to tell the baby that I took a metrobus to the hospital the morning he was born?  In any case, we took a cab.

After checking in to the hospital, the resident did an exam. She didn't think I was very far into labor and said that one of three things would happen - I would be sent home; I would be told to walk for two hours and then get checked again; or I would be admitted if the doctor really thought I should be.  I could tell from her voice that she was leaning towards option #1.  I must have looked a bit distressed, because after she left, the nurse said to us, "don't worry - since this is your third, the doctor won't send you home."

I admit, I was worried about being sent home, because the first two labors were only about five hours long, and we were already entering hour #3.  Our rented house is a bit far from the hospital, especially in morning rush hour traffic. So, if they decided to send us home, Greg and I decided we'd just camp out on a bench in front of the hospital.

But the doctor and the resident compromised, and told me to walk around a bit. Except after 45 minutes, I really couldn't walk much more.  The nurse asked around 7AM if I wanted to have another exam, but I said it didn't matter as I knew the doctor would just tell me what I already knew - that I was in labor.  I opted to wait for the exam until the shift change was over - might as well let the doctors get settled.

At 7:45 the same resident examined me (last exam of her shift), and she was surprised that i was already 6cm dialated since I didn't appear to be in too much pain. [note: according to my doctor sister, my tolerance for labor pain is apparently abnormally high, and my lack of visible pain was probably confusing this new resident.] Coincidentally, my own OB was now the on call delivery doctor - and, as he knows my history of quick labors, he admitted me right away.

At 8AM I was in the L&D room, and he said the baby would be here probably by lunch time.  Since I also have a history of natural births with no complications, he agreed to intermitant fetal monitoring, but he wanted to start off with a 30 minute baseline.  So, in came the L&D nurse to set all that up and to give me a fluid IV because I was feeling really dehydrated.

at 8:30, the nurse came back to unhook me from the contraction and fetal heart rate monitor, but just as she walked in, I had a super strong contraction.  She asked me if I thought the baby was coming, and I said that one was so strong it wouldn't surprise me if it was.  So, she said she'd leave the monitors on and then came over to check my progress ... at which point she shouted to the nurse in the hallway to bring the delivery kit quickly, to call the doctor back immediately, and told me and Greg not to worry because she'd delivered one baby herself already.

In rushed the second nurse with the delivery kit, and a few minutes later came the doctor. The second nurse asked the doctor if she should convert the bed for delivery, but the doctor said something along the lines of, "not really necessary since here is the baby!"  8:38AM, just barely three strong contractions, and here he was, right on the bed!  The last part was so fast, I really don't remember even pushing.

Babies come with hats!
He latched on and nursed right away, then after he calmed down, the cord was cut and placenta delivered, they took him to the side for the measurements and bath.  After the medical personnel all left and it was just me and Greg and baby, Greg says I looked at him and said, "well, that was fun!" which were not quite the words he was expecting I use to describe child birth :)

So, I guess the total labor for #3 was a bit longer at 6.5 hours - but from when I was starting to feel uncomfortable until actual birth was only 1.5 hours (ie, from 7AM to 8:30AM). So, I'm glad we decided to go early when contractions were regular -- and not when they were actually painful. Had I waited until that point, given traffic patterns, we might have not even made it up to the delivery room.  

Two months later...

Obviously, the first two thirds of the prego-vac was no cake walk, considering I haven't posted *anything* on the blog since the day I arrived.  I had no time!  To summarize:

Week 1: start work, getting adjusted to the new place
Week 2: still dealing with jet lag and adjusting. Lots of work for me and my mom
Week 3: Wedding fun!  Greg arrives!  (and a new routine)
Week 4: Boys and Greg enjoying spending time with Greg's parents. I'm still working
Week 5: I'm super tired at 39 weeks pregnant and still working.  Greg is super tired from having to still think up new activities for the boys.
Week 6: Finally baby is born!  (Sept 12)  And now we get to addjust again.
Week 7: Baby's first week. I'm not doing much, though still probably doing more than I should have.
Week 8: The first week that finally felt like a vacation.  I felt a lot better. Big brothers were happy to have me and Greg both home, and they both love having their little brother around. Everyone's stress level is way way lower and we had a great week as a family of five. Except, I'm still tired from nursing every 2 - 3 hours ... and no naps since the minute the baby is out of my lap, in crawls one or both of the big brothers.

Which brings us to this week. Week 9. A sad week, since Greg and the big brothers left for Manila.  I have an activity planned for most days this week, which is great and should keep me up beat. And I'll have time for a nap, which is more than great -- naps are sorely needed.  Not to mention, this next month will probably be the only time I'll spend with only Ian until he's 15 or 16 - after his big brothers leave for college. Not sure he'll appreciate the one-on-one, but I will certainly remember it!

I expect I'll have more time to post some blog notes looking retrospectively at the last two months.  The house is super quiet without the big brothers around. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The plane ride

I still don't believe it, but it was like I was traveling with the two best behaved boys in the world. Apparently, my super active, always running kids can actually calm down and follow instructions when push comes to shove. Hopefully Greg can experience this miracle when he takes them back.

I managed to keep patch awake for the Manila -Tokyo flight, which landed right at nap time. Carrying a sleeping kid, plus two carry ons, would be beyond me. By the time we made it through security, two potty trips (of course, Patch said he didn't need to go when Wm and I stopped), bought a snack, and found our gate, it was time to board. Kudos to Narita gate staff. They took one look at me and the boys, and said they would be happy to carry our two bags to my seat after I folded up the stroller. Never pass up help!

Patch promptly napped for the first three hours of the flight, and Wm ate the funny Japanese-style children's meal (think fish cake). Around his usual bedtime, Wm volunteered to change into pjs and go to sleep. Weird! But. Of course I said sure! Patch took a little more convincing, but wasn't fussy, thankfully.  At 9:15 pm Manila time, I experienced a moment of peace... I was sitting in the middle seat, and wm and patch were each asleep on a leg, slightly diagonal, both heads resting next to my very pregnant belly. Were an artsy photographer on the plane with a birds eye view, it would have been a poignant moment. 

Both stayed asleep for the next few hours until breakfast was served and time to land. I was able to doze, but not really sleep, since I had to watch out for Patch stretching his legs out into the aisle and Wm rolling off the seat. But, hey, dozining off and on for three or four hours is more than I hoped for - I kept my expectations low.

My low point came when I lost my temper at a Delta agent in Detroit. Wm was a trooper - we had to move two carts of heavy suitcases plus a double stroller with a sleepy Patch through customs and to the baggage re-check place. Wm amazingly helped out, pushing a cart very carefully, not running into any people. I even got a few comments from other passengers about what a great big brother he was.

But, then when we got to the baggage recheck, the agent asked me very curtly what I was doing there (since I already had a boarding pass) and (after she determined the other location was stuck and all passengers were being routed to her spot) yelled at me for loading the suitcases too close together on the belt. At this, I curtly responded that at 8 months pregnant, having a 5 year old helping me push carts, I was placing the bags where I liked. She was more than welcome to get out of her chair and help (though, snarkily, she said union rules prohibitted her from touching bags. Yeah. I left the bags where they were and walked away.).

Thankfully, the TSA agents at the security stop next were actually kind! Wm and Patch didn't have to get out of their stroller; they just escorted us to the "special" screening section where we could take our time. And by the time we got to the last gate, it was time to board. Before we knew it, we were in DC.

I wish I knew what I did to make the plane ride so smooth so I can replicate. Sadly, aside from packing six peanut butter sandwiches for Patch, I really have no idea.

Now, if only getting the boys over jetlag could be as easy as that plane ride...

Monday, August 6, 2012

Home alone

Whoa, didn't know I was still here, did you?  Thing is, with Pam and the boys gone, I have nothing else to do.  I was reading Game of Thrones book 3 (book 4?  I don't know), but it was on the iPads, which Pam has.  I can play FIFA12 on the iPad almost indefinitely, but same problem there.  No boys to deal with or Pam to talk to.  It's pouring rain, so no swimming, tennis, or exploring the city.  The Olympics offer some refuge, but... oh, no, there's more badminton coming, then, even worse: artistic gymnastics.  Maybe I'll just go to bed.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

See you later, Manila :)

I'm about to check in for the dreaded plane flight and am just waiting for G to get back from the store so I can finish packing (how did I not notice until last night that Patch had exactly two diapers left???). Three days of work in Manila - done. One busy day of packing - done. One day of last minute odds & ends packing - half way through. G needs to get back to get down a suitcase so I can decide if I want to use the duffle or a third big one. Hmm...

Luckily, I'm feeling calm and not going to attempt to climb our step stool to reach the suitcase. It's one of those things I know I very likely could do, but why risk losing my balance and falling today, of all days? Not worth it. Better to just write this post and be patient.

For the record, 5.5 days left for my zen count down :)

Yesterday, our two helpers decided it would be easier for me to pack if they took the boys "gala." (i.e., out and about) And they were adament this was just for fun since they wouldn't see the boys for so long - not overtime. Of course I said yes! I think a train ride, hamburgers at Jolibee, and some ice cream will be involved. Off they went at 9:30 with our camera (of course! this is the Philippiness - anything and everything must be documented) and some fun spending money.

But for now, I don't think I have much to do. Sadly, the olympic channel here is only showing badminton. While it's interesting to a point, after two hours, I'm ready for something else.

Packing up for three months is a little bizarre, especially in this life, where I had to think about which friends will be transferring from post during that time. And surprises pop up: I had dinner with a 2000 Wellesley alum I've met here and her husband just accepted a transfer to Germany (private sector) ... so that was a goodbye I wasn't expecting. Luckily, if I forget anything, G is coming in a few weeks. And America has stores. Lots and lots of stores. Like Target. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Count from 10 to 1

Responding to an email to a friend today, who has recently gone through a similar experience (trans-oceanic move while very pregnant and husband following later), I realized that by August 10 - a mere ten days away - my outlook will likely be peachy keen. By the evening of August 10, I will have:

  • The dreaded plane flight behind me
  • Three days work experience in DC (and hopefully know the easiest way to navigate the faceless corridors of Main State efficiently to find my office and the nearest restroom without getting lost)
  • Confirmed meeting times to explore jobs I'm interested in for the next post
  • Seen that Wm and Patch are still happy to see me at the end of the day*
  • Checked in with my OB, confirmed all OK and start up the normal weekly prego last month check ins
Simple, right? All I have to do is make it through 10 days. Three days of work in Manila, two frantic weekend packing days, one miserable day on the airplane, one day to rest in DC, and then three days of work in DC. Piece of cake!

*Wm and Patch are pretty adaptable and this really is my rational expectation, even if my emotional stress level is piqued to a point right now that I don't fully believe it.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Feeling unsettled ... prego-vac looms closer

The feeling was bound to descend sooner or later - I'm actually surprised it took this long. I've been pacing all evening trying to figure out what, if anything, I should be doing. After all, in six days I'm leaving for three months. During those three months I will (a) start a new temporary job on the Indonesia desk at the mother ship, (b) give birth and start to navigate the "zone defense" world of having three children, and (c) bid on my next assignment. The uncertainty of any one of those activities would cause a certain level of anxiety. I seem to like to load on the changes in heaps. After all, I found out I was pregnant and being reassigned from the consular to political section on the same day. Maybe it's only fitting I'll have the baby at the same time we're bidding on jobs. Perhaps this is an omen that this third one will thrive in the constant changing our lifestyle embraces. 

Oh - I forgot to mention other background things to think about: 
1. 29 hours on the airplane at 8 months pregnant with a 5 yr old and 2 yr old.
2. Two weeks of working while hoping that Wm and Patch behave well for my mom who is generously providing free care.
3. Being a nice big sister for my little sister's wedding on August 25 (ie, trying not to think just of me and my changes!  Umm... she's getting married. That pretty much ranks right up there with big life changes.)
4. How Wm and Patch will react - if at all - to being in the U.S. which does not qualify as "home" for them, regardless of how comforting it may be fore me. In fact, the 2-3 months Patch will spend there will precisely double the amount of time he will have spent in America. 
5. Hoping our nanny, housekeeper, and driver don't find another family to work for during their extended paid leave. Doubtful, but with so many embassy families moving here in August - and with our impending departure in April 2013 - it is a risk. 
6. That Wm won't miss out too much from being absent for two months.
7. A million other brief thoughts that flit into my mind which I banish before I start to go too crazy.

Thankfully, I'm making such good progress on my work to do list, I don't really feel worried about that anymore. Or, maybe I've just come to accept that my coworkers will, actually, manage without me - and probably do a fine job :)  

The short of it is, I feel like tonight I should be doing more to prepare. But with the suitcase of baby stuff already packed, my important must-bring papers in a neat stack by the computer, and a packing list for the rest triple checked, I just can't think of what that might be. So, instead, I wrote this post, hoping that documenting the worries might deminish them. We'll see tomorrow night if it worked. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Grocery Shopping List time!

Tonight's pre-prego-vac activity: making the grocery shopping list so my mom can have it all ready in the townhouse when we arrive. Kind of fantastic having my own personal "social sponsor." For those unfamiliar with the concept, people already at a post volunteer to be a social sponsor for an incoming family. The amount of involvement varies from family to family, depending on the relationship, but the mission critical responsibilities are (a) going grocery shopping the day before the new family arrives and (b) picking up the new family at the airport. Other added bonuses are answering questions pre-arrival, helping decipher the school situation, introducing the family to others at post, perhaps a casserole in the fridge or muffins for breakfast, taking the family out to lunch, etc.

Moving to Manila, I had the bright idea (or maybe Greg did) of saving our grocery list to Google Docs, so it was easily accessible the next move. After all, why re-invent the wheel? The staples for starting up a kitchen generally stay the same.

Giving guidance to a family that doesn't know you, who will be shopping in a city where you only have a vague idea of what is available, is pretty tricky. Especially because I, at least, don't want to sound too demanding when the family is helping out a lot. Rereading my list for Manila, I have points like:

  • Milk - whole and skim (if possible), preferably UHT and not fresh in packets, 2L each
  • cereal - unsweetened or not-to-sweet, along the lines of cheerios, mini-wheats, corn flakes, as available (if available at all)
  • chicken - prefer boneless skinless breast, but whole chicken is OK if that’s how they come

I'm revising this list for my mom to take to Safeway in Washington, DC.  I think I can safely take out all the side pointers - safely assuming that boneless skinless chicken breasts, Cherrios, and pasteurized milk are available.  And that everything on my "nice to have" list is also available! 

In fact, I think it's best that she's shopping and not me. I remember that first trip to the grocery store when we were back in DC for training. I had sort of avoided it earlier, because we had stayed with family. But after about three hours, Greg called me very nervous as to what was taking so long. I honestly answered I was just overwhelmed by the store and was coming home with only about half the list procured. The thought of having to face that huge grocery store, the day after getting off a 24 hour flight, with two jet lagged kiddos, at 8 months pregnant, could cause a nightmare if I dwelled on it too long. Better to spend the time tonight and finish the list.     

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Impending prego-vac and work...

Every day, August 6 creeps closer. I've mostly worked out the logistics of the prego-vac. Checked in with the hospital, doctor appointment confirmed for August 10. House found within commuting distance of Main State, near a park for the boys, with space for mom and mom-in-law to stay, and a manageable distance from selected hospital. Baby clothes out and washed, necessary baby gear arranged to be borrowed on arrival. Pre-departure medical check up for me scheduled. Pre-departure consultation with Wm's school scheduled. Greg's flights booked. Initial grocery list started. Not to mention a million and other one little things I've already done and forgotten about. 

But I really started stressing today when I took 30 minutes to write down my "to do" list for the next 2.5 weeks. The highlights? Send a cable on child labor after final clearance received. Draft cable on recent VIP's visit. Confirm details for a public speech by DCM on Friday. Confirm details for event for Ambassador on Saturday. Put together a starting draft schedule for a visiting speaker coming while I'm gone. Check if I can start soliciting proposals for a small grant. Review proposals for a different grant (with USAID), if the responses come in in time. Make sure to meet with five different people, of course all located in different parts of the city. Submit my reporting plan for the next 12 months. Etc. Etc. And So On. 

The fun thing is, reading the list, I realized I really do like my job - even if the list stresses me out, since I have very little time to finish it. None of the tasks seem tiresome, and I was genuinely upset when I had to decline two invitations simply because I just can't afford to be away from my desk and travel time in Manila traffic is a major consideration when accepting any invitation. 

My work to do list seems even more overwhelming right now than my home to do list. Sometimes, being a simple visa line officer has its advantages. After all, when waiting for Patch's impending birth, the only question was when to start dialing down the number of visa interviews scheduled for me and Greg, so our coworkers weren't caught off guard with 240 extra in a day. This time around, I actually need to practice saying "no" - something I've never been very good at!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Obits & FS Wives

I have a strange fascination with obituaries. In DC, I always enjoyed reading the obit featured each weekend of a regular DC area resident, usually a civil servant of some sort who, in his or her own small way, found a means to have a meaningful impact on a huge bureaucracy. Abroad, I make sure to read the obit in The Economist before the magazine can leave the house, to be reread by our driver or by someone in the embassy's American Citizen Services waiting room. Tonight, for the first time (surprisingly), I read through the obits in the Foreign Service Journal.

These I found so interesting since I'm at the relative start of my career -- the majority of the obits are for people aged 80+, so they lend insight not only to what a career with the Foreign Service might look like, but also what people do for another 20 years after retirement, having travelled the world and never really "settled" in one place. In this issue, I most enjoyed two obits for wives of officers - their ability to reinvent themselves every few years, likely for little pay (if any), astounded me. Excerpts for your reading pleasure:

Marguerite (Owens) Anderson, 92. Mrs. Anderson accompanied her husband to postings abroad for 20 years, including South Africa (where their twin sons were born), Thailand, Singapore, and Germany. Active in the community wherever she found herself, Mrs. Anderson helped start the American School in Singapore and taught fifth and sixth grade classes. She also helped start a school for Chinese women to learn home economics, and another that taught Chinese children to read. In West Berlin, Mrs. Anderson was president of the American Women's Club, chaired the American Red Cross Grey Ladies, and organized and taught English and American customs to German war brides. In addition, she chaired the "Conference of American Women's Activities in Germany." She wrote and lectured on business- and club-related activities.

The couple returned to Kensington, MD in 1960. There, Mrs. Anderson taught business courses ... and wrote a number of business-related pieces, including "How to Run a Club."  She was an active member of Business and Professional Women.

Susan Elizabeth Gilmour Callaway, 72. [...] During her husband's long career in the Foreign Service, Mrs. Callaway held several positions overseas. She taught at a private university in Caracas, tutored journalists at a major newspaper in Zagreb, continued her studies at Johns Hopkins University in Bologna, and established an SAT prep company in Rome. All the while, she also managed the responsibilities that came with being the spouse of a U.S. diplomat and raised three children.

Upon returning to the U.S., she edited the corporate newsletter for Vie de France, and then found her next passion advocating for homeless rights in Washington, D.C. at the Community Council for the Homeless. Over eight years, Mrs. Callaway championed a holistic approach to the problem of homelessness.

[back to my commentary]

Mind you, these women accomplished all this in a time without internet and pouch deliveries. In an era of the Foreign Service where married women could not be Foreign Service Officers and their husbands' professional evaluations included an evaluation of themselves, as well (i.e., the husband's supervisor evaluated the wife). Hats off to Mrs. Anderson and Mrs. Callaway!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Total Diplomat Day

Most days the life of a diplomat are not that different from that of any other government civil servant, except that we live in strange countries. Whether on the visa line or in the political section, it's a pretty normal office job - and in today's era of budget cuts and a high level of awareness at all levels of the embassy to be good stewards of the tax money we do receive, very little of the high society cocktail reception type of stuff takes place.

Today, though, I experienced high level diplomacy first hand with the visit of Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, head of the State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. The Philippines is serious on fighting human trafficking, and Ambassador Thomas has spoken publicly on the subject on numerous occasions, so though many back in the U.S. may have never heard of Ambassador CdeBaca -- he's a bit of a rock star in Manila.

The day's schedule: breakfast with the Secretary of Justice; round table discussion with three cabinet level secretaries and 10 other government big wigs; courtesy call with the Vice President; lunch with the various U.S. government agencies in Manila who work on trafficking; round table discussion with 7 NGOs; coffee with ambassadors from five other countries to discuss collaboration possibilities; and, finally, an art exhibition by young trafficking victims who are participating in a two year rehabilitation program (which includes art therapy).

Ending the day with the art exhibit was a brilliant suggestion by Ambassador Thomas. A long day of meetings - even with all those important people - is tiring. The girls, though, were so excited to be at the ambassador's residence and so obviously brimming with budding confidence. Their artwork was full of bright colors and hope. Talking with them provided a reminder that, even with the severity of the topic and the endless sad stories heard, all is not lost. I asked one girl why she painted a Philippine eagle, expecting an answer about it being the national bird. Her response? "Because an eagle is strong and reminds me that I can soar above to see further."

While I'm reflecting on the day's stereotypical "diplomat" meetings, the one young artist will be the one whose talk really sticks with me.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Mommy guilt?

I don't usually subscribe to "mommy guilt." After three months of being home with Wm after his birth, I was back at grad school asking a professor for some part time research work while I was waiting for the Foreign Service hiring process to be completed. I didn't really feel pangs of regret, either, when I went back to work after Patch was born (though the pumping part was miserable). Greg and I have taken pre-marital counseling advice to heart and do try to go out once/week with no kids and no mention of kids during the meal. Yes, this was pretty hard after Wm was first born, especially when I wasn't working and felt like my life was consumed by new baby stuff, but now that we're in the habit it's really become our "adult time."

(Side note on how I ended up keeping my mind from turning to complete baby-related mush: I used to read The Economist out loud to baby Wm. Maybe that has contributed to him being such a serious and intense kid?)

This year, though, I volunteered to be treasurer for the embassy's employee-association-run pre-school, AmeriKids. I'm not sure if it's my volunteer spirit wanting to find an outlet, a sense of encroaching "mommy guilt," my missing playing around with financials and spreadsheets, or perhaps a combination of the above, which led me into this state of insanity, but here I am.

As volunteer work goes, though, I do find the location useful. I tried hard to volunteer with a maternity birthing home for low income women, but the commute to the home (45 minutes to 2 hours as traffic was totally unpredictable) proved too much for even one Saturday a month -- I would be gone from my own home an entire day without seeing any of my boys, and then the guilt really kicked in, chilling any warm fuzzies emanating from helping people. AmeriKids, though, is co-located with my house -- and most treasurer stuff I can do one evening a week or so after I put the (two small) boys to bed -- so it fits better with our family schedule's ebb and flow.

All the same, it's hard work running a pre-school! And that's with a president who probably spends at least 10-15 hours/week (unpaid) on administration, a secretary-cum-parent-curriculum-advisor (who teaches online college biology when she's stationed overseas with her husband), and two more parent volunteers (who have full time embassy jobs) also actively involved in helping with lots of other admin odds and ends.

Whatever caused me to volunteer, I'm under no delusion that Patch will ever be aware of the effort put forth. He'll continue to have his nanny attend most of the events which happen during the day which request caregiver participation (about one per month). I might not be the mom seen often in the classroom, but I'm definitely the mom who can whip up an Excel budget like no other. (and my chocolate cupcakes aren't too bad either, even if I'm not there to see the kids devour them!) To each her own!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Day Tripper

We're still figuring out a good day trip from Manila. Wm and Patch love the ocean. You'd think living in a nation of 7,000 islands, it would be easy for us to find a good day - or even one night - trip to the beach. But, sadly, anywhere too near Manila is just too polluted to take the kiddos swimming. Even the last trip or two to Anilao was disappointing for the amount of trash floating in the water.

We tried yesterday to go to Subic for the day - at a 3 hour drive, though, it was just a bit too far. Not to mention on the way back we hit miserable traffic extending the trip to 4.5 hours! While the beach we hit (Camayan Beach Resort) was pleasant enough for the day, we just didn't get the sense that it would be worth it to stay the night. Most hotels here seem overpriced to us, on the value to money scale. So, a day trip it was.

We did have fun while there - after all, how can you not with unlimited sand to dig in and ocean to float in? We even took Bagwelle who, it turns out, loves to just sit right at the edge of the ocean so the gentle waves wash up on her belly to cool her down. And, I think I've now learned a few things critical for a fun day at the beach here, assuming we can find a place within a manageable driving distance!

1. Just pack your own towels, even if the place has an entrance fee and is labeled a resort. Pack extra for the post-swim shower, too.
2. Pack your own lunch. Again, even if a place has a restaurant, the service and food might not be that great, so better to just make the effort the night before to bring your own. Most places have a "grill area," so cookout is usually feasible. Most places also allow you to bring your own water, juice, and milk - oh, and soda and beer, too.
3. Bring your dog - she'll have fun :)
4. Better to go with a big group, so that way someone can stay in/near the cabana at all times. Not really safe to lock things up in the car or just leave them tucked in other bags.
5. Don't forget the dump truck, bug barn, and fishing net (even if just for pretend fishing) - in addition to the digging tools. Lamby and Doggie are also critical for the zonk out on the ride home, with Blue Blanket and Lightening McQueen quilt being added bonuses.

One funny story: Wm asked me to get him chicken and pork adobo for lunch. I ordered, along with a clubhouse sandwich (hold the mayo) for Greg, sauce-less chicken kabobs for Nancy, a tomato/cheese salad for sharing, and extra french fries (who doesn't like french fries after two hours of swimming?). Everything came, but the adobo. Thankfully, we were able to fix that before a total meltdown. When the guy delivered the adobo to our cabana, Wm said: "Why did you forget to bring my adobo? I was very hungry!" The waiter, surprised to see a little white kid so excited about adobo said, "Oh, do you like adobo?" To which Wm replied: "I've been in Manila a long time now. Adobo is my favorite!"

There you have it. Idlis have been replaced.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Insurance frustrations

In January, we had a leak in our then-unoccupied condo continue until our underneath neighbor noticed some discoloration in her plaster. An emergency visit by sister and condo board manager confirmed a total disaster. Five months, countless emails and middle-of-night phone calls, and a few more visits by my sister later, and finally our pipes, walls, and floors were repaired. The condo was put on the market and rented out within three weeks. 

The insurance saga, however, continues. I'm sure the saga of the insurance company would continue if I were in the US or overseas, seeing how the modus operandi of the majority of insurance companies (State Farm in this case) seems to be to just keep saying no until the insured gives up. Except I'm really not in a mood to give up on this one. 

I did give up the first time our claims agent refused to pay the repair damage for our underneath neighbor. After reviewing her small claim (about $300) with our condo manager, who advised that he did not agree with State Farm's legal interpretation of the condo regs and the underneath neighbor could take us to a small claims court, we decided from our sanity perspective - and the responsibility of being a good neighbor - to just pay the small amount to repair her plaster. After all, if it weren't for her call, the water could have leaked for much longer causing even more damage.

In the course of the repairs, the flooring company found additional damage to our concrete slab. So I appealed to State Farm to increase the amount of our settlement by $600 to cover the repair for this repair not covered by the original assessment when the damaged wood floor was in place. Just now -- June 4 -- I received an email saying that she reviewed my claim and did not think the damage was caused by the leak. 

I requested further explanation as to how she reached that determination, as I disagreed with her assessment. Having owned the condo since 2003 with no noticeable issue with the floors, I figured I was due more than one sentence explanation. Instead of an actual explanation, though, I just received the following one sentence response: 

"As noted in the correspondence emailed to you, the damage to your concrete slab was unrelated to your water loss, and I am unable to issue payment on this portion of your loss." 

Any additional correspondence must be by phone, but never once has she actually answered the phone when I've stayed up to call. Every single call went straight to voice mail. And even though I remind her in the voice mail to please call at the start or end of her work day to compensate for the time zone differences, she has managed to return my call (when she remembers to) between 2AM and 3AM Manila time, or about 2PM and 3PM east coast time. 

Not really feeling that "like a good neighbor" vibe. Nor do I put my odds of getting the $600 very high, but I will try this time.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Impossible without friends back home

When we left HYD for home leave, I vaguely remember commenting on how this job would be so much more difficult without a supportive family back home - relatives to stay with and to borrow cold-weather clothing from so Wm and Patch, who basically wear exclusively shorts and t-shirts, could experience snow. I know it can be tiring having us whisk in for a few days, say hi, then jet away never to be seen again - sometimes for two years. None the less, we really appreciated all the extra effort by family, many of whom traveled to see us at various gathering points at a significant expense.

Prepping for the upcoming "prego-vac," I am again thankful for the help, this time from longtime - and just introduced - friends to help provide the basic newborn gear, so we don't have to ship stuff across the Pacific and back. I'll admit, most stuff I'm sourcing from a friend in DC with a son about a year and a half old; a perfect set up. A loaner car seat, though, was a bit elusive ... until I posted on an online forum for foreign service parents. One Foreign Service mom, whom I've never met, jumped to my aid, happy to loan her infant bucket seat out for the approximately six weeks #3 will be an outsider in the US.

And #3 must realize I've been writing about him, because he's been jumping around like crazy as I type. Either that, or maybe he's just excited by the prospect of our soon approaching trip to the Land of the Free. As much as I enjoy this foreign life, I really am looking forward to three months back in the U S of A.