Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Observations on America: Excess

Christmas season is a time for excess - but that's not what has me thinking about how much "stuff" is available in America.  After all, Christmas / New Year's / pick your major local holiday is generally a time for excess no mater what country one is in.  

This month, two things made me realize just how wealthy my own country is.  First, NPR aired ads from the PajamaGram company - matching p.j.s for the whole family, and pets, too!  Yes, Americans can apparently afford "lounge wear" for their dogs and cats at $20 (monogramming extra).  Now, I suppose I shouldn't mock this so much, considering I just purchased a monogramed rain coat for my sister's moisture-averse dog for Christmas.  But, all the same, the ads on such a mainstream radio station - emphasizing the pet aspect - caught my attention.  

Next, we're considering adding a patio in our back yard.  My idea is simply that: a patio with pervious flooring so we can enjoy the great weather this spring/summer/fall.  I've been searching and searching online for some good ideas so I can speak knowledgeably with whoever comes to lay the stone, to no avail.  All the sites I can find talk about "outdoor rooms" - full kitchens, water features, dining grottos, cantilevered benches, etc etc and so on.  Whatever has happened to the normal American back yard patio?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Song

From Wm, in anticipation for tomorrow:

Crimis day is hear
Now we com to sher
Ol or veree gifs
That meen somthing
Thay meen love
Saym with brithays
Alelooya olellooya
Now we open with love

Christmas day is here
Now we come to share
All our very gifts
That meen something
They mean love
Same with our birthdays
Alleluia alleluia
Now we open with love

Taking responsibility seriously

Yesterday, I was teeing up with the boys the fact that (a) I had a particular outfit I wanted them to wear for Xmas eve and (b) a photo to the boys in said outfit was non-negotiable. Wm generally does spectacularly if we set up rules and expectations accordingly - no surprises allowed for that kid.

Patch was a bit upset that his sweater was more black than Wm's and threatened not to wear it. But, then the big bro came to the rescue: patch, it doesn't matter, it's just a sweater. You should wear it because it will make Mama really happy.

Then to me: don't worry, Mama. I'm the big brother. I can make sure Ian stays still for your picture. I'll make sure and it will be ok. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

No more babies in this house

Ian has been wrestling his brothers since he could crawl over them at five months. Running after them and trying to steal their toys since 10 months. Gave up baby food to eat real food like them right about one year, and didn't look back when his bottle disappeared one day in favor of sippy and staw cups.

Now he has  the beginnings of pretty consistent words: mama and dada interchangeably for me or Greg; "uya" (kuya) and "bubba" for his brothers; "bawa" for Bagwelle; "EE-YA!" For Lea; "la-na" for "no more?" (corruption of Tagalog walang-na); "MMM!" combined with knocking on the fridge for either milk or yogurt.  Lea says he has some other Tagalog words, but not understanding Tagalog myself, it's hard for me to know :)

My last baby seems to be in a hurry to not be a baby and to catch up with his kuyas.  In fact, I really shouldn't be calling him baby-ko ("my baby") any more.

According to Christmas cards, 2013 is the year of the baby - about 3/4 of the cards we received either have a new baby pic or announcement of one (or two!) on the way.  Two years ago, while we were still debating a #3, this would have made me a bit sad (growing up, I'd always pictured having four children - well, honestly, four daughters - and I was having a hard time convincing Greg that more really is better when it comes to kids).  But, after Ian's surprise arrival, and finding myself not feeling nostalgic at all about his brazen rush to become a little boy, my thought looking at all the photos is: don't worry, friends, your life will be upside down for the next two years (or maybe longer, depending for how long you keep having kids), but it only gets more fun as they get bigger and can talk and think abstractly. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

America's parent code

Today was Patch's Christmas program.  His preschool is at a local church, so, yes, it really was a Christmas program and not a "holiday" event.  Greg represented the parental unit, and his glowing report was that: "patch did an excellent job not singing at the program, but he participated nicely in the clapping, jumping, and stomping."  

One parent shared photos from the event, which I eagerly looked through for pictures of smiling Patch.  Surely enough, as Greg described, he was tight lipped in the back row, hiding.  Oh well.  (sorry I can't post on the public blog - his school has very strict photo-sharing rules!)

In the photo, Patch is wearing his nice blue and orange stripe henley shirt with matching blue pants with an orange stripe down the side.  Actually one of my favorite outfits for him.  Except every other child is wearing black and red.  When I came home, I searched the flier and emails and found no mention of a dress code for the program.  

I have come to the conclusion that this is part of the American parent code that I haven't learned, having not really been a parent in America yet.  We might look like normal, dual working American parents on the outside, but underneath the normal patina we have very little idea what we're supposed to do in this country as a parent, and no one explains the expectations because no one realizes we're just masquerading.  Apparently,  I should have known that "Christmas program" means "dress your child in red and/or black" and if you have a son, this means "dress your child in plaid shirt or cute sweater with corduroys."  

Now, it so happens that this year for Christmas eve, I did purchase similar red and black Hanna Anderson sweaters for the boys and a matching sweater dress for me.  (Nothing for Greg; he refuses to take part in such shenanigans).  Obviously, I should have broken out his Christmas eve outfit early!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Logic cannot explain

While we're enjoying the first snow of the year, someone else apparently enjoyed a $3000 stay at a resort in California on our behalf.  Capital One called us to alert of the charge (thankfully, due to snow, we hadn't been planning any Christmas shopping today!).

I identified myself, gave Greg's name as the primary card holder, along with the last 4 of his SSN and date of birth.  Confirmed we were in MD and no where near CA.  Should be easy, right?  Not.  She needed to actually speak with Greg to confirm.  The identifying info he gave (aside from his deeper voice?) - his name, last 4 of his SSN, and date of birth.  And then also confirmed we were in MD and not CA.

These interactions always amaze me.  I could have called, lowered my voice a bit, and just said I was Greg.  I could have handed the phone to my brother-in-law (had he been around) who could easily have just repeated the info I first said.  Makes no sense at all, but whatever.  At least Capital One believed us that we weren't at the resort!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The wonders of America

As if to reinforce the blog I just posted about how America "works," I just received this notice from the county department of public works: 

Due to the unusual dryness of the leaves (which makes them extremely brittle) we have received many reports of excessive leaf dust on cars, sidewalks and porches following our vacuum collection. We have tried different methods to reduce the amount of dust generated but have had limited success. Our region has not received enough rainfall to keep the leaves moist, which reduces the amount of leaf dust. We understand that this condition can be inconvenient. To assist residents we will dispatch a worker with a leaf blower to blow the leaf dust off those areas. The number to call is240 777-7623.

Umm.... apparently my fellow neighbors have actually complained about this dust (caused by the *free* leaf collection)?  And because of that, the county will come blow leaf dust off of my car, porch and sidewalk, also at no cost (except the taxes I already pay, of course)?  Seriously?  Because of no reason other than we've had so little rain that the leaves are too brittle?   

America truly is a wondrous place.  

What do I like best?

A friend I hadn't seen in about six years since SAIS graduation asked me that at a party last night.  What do I like best about being back in the US?

Hard to answer - there are so many things to like: being near family, familiar foods, good and safe quality meat and produce, knowing what to expect (mostly) when I walk into a store or restaurant, Target, access to top quality health care (and not having to wonder at the start of a fever if its just a flu or something I've never heard of before), trash cleaned and dumped in dumps I've never seen ... the list goes on of things I didn't really appreciate about how America "works" behind the scenes that, in effect, make life here really very comfortable.

All of that stuff, though (except for proximity to family) we figured out how to deal with or make a work around.  E.g., in India we cooked or pealed all our food ... or used bleach if we really wanted something raw.  In the Philippines, we never went out on Friday night, knowing traffic was 100% guaranteed to be miserable.

What I really appreciate here, though, that we never found overseas - or figured out how to create a work-around - is our neighborhood church.  We did find some churches overseas, but generally they were either a little old and fuddy-duddy or more on the "contemporary" service side.  A run of the mill, middle road, Episcopal/Presbyterian/Methodist with young families and old grandparents a like remained a pipe dream.  Our church here, though, has age-appropriate themes at Sunday School -- and we know Sunday School will be on every week.  Sure, the church nursery attendant put Ian's diaper on backwards today, but he's always happy and safe when we pick him up.  Nice coffee service afterwards.  Usually at least one social event each month that we're interested in.

And - best of all - a great music program for the kids.  Every Tuesday Wm comes home from music class in the absolute best mood of the entire week.  Today, he played his chimes and followed the music pretty much by himself.  Patch is the youngest in his class, but he's catching on.

A small email storm erupted last week when the choir director opened a debate for which Christmas Eve service the kids should perform at.  Apparently, our church has always just had two services (family at 5 and candlelight at 11).  This year, the rector was thinking about changing it to 3, 5:30 and 11 ... so the suggestion was that the two little kid choirs (ages 4 - grade 2) could be at 3, the other kids at 5:30, and adult choir at 11.  Now, for anyone whose been part of a church with entrenched interests - and traditions - you can imagine what a furor this started!

After a bit, I just couldn't help myself and chimed in in the minority (a 3pm service with three kids 6 and under sounds great - plenty of time to come home, have dinner, change into pjs and put out cookies for Santa).  I couldn't resist ending my note, though, that after four Christmases with either no service or something that wasn't quite our "usual," we really were just happy to have *any* service geared towards kids with familiar hymns.

Bringing me to the conclusion that while daily life routines can be dropped, adjusted or modified (as long as you keep the right attitude), creating a replacement community is near impossible.  The best we can hope for is that we land next in a place with one - and that we can in some small way contribute to strengthening it while we're there.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

My Culture is Will

Greg took the plunge to work on the "culture" worksheet for Wm's homework this week.  The results follow:

"What do you like to eat with your family"
We lik to eat Filupeeno food and Umerikin food
(Translation: We like to eat Philippine food and American food)

"What languages do you and your family speak?"
We speak inlish and tgalug
(Translation: We speak English and Tagalog)

"What holidays do you celebrate with your family?"
We celebrate umeerukin.
(Translation: We celebrate American)

"What do you like to do with your family?"
Wm did not want to answer this, so he wrote:
I dot no wut we do on the weekens.
(Translation: I don't know what we do on the weekends)

My Culture Is: __________
His answer?  Will.

Pretty good, actually. His culture will always be what he wants to make it, so saying his culture is himself is fairly insightful.  For the record, Greg and I do not eat Philippine food here nor do we speak Tagalog... so obviously a lot of adobo and sweet spaghetti with hotdogs being served when we're not home.  No complaints, but always interesting to indirectly hear what happens when I'm not around and neither Lea nor Wm are feeding me the answer they think I am expecting!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Adventures (or lack thereof)

Wm asked me today that while "living in America is pretty nice, when are we going to live in a weird city again and have some more adventures?"

This was not unprompted - last night he had a disaster of a temper tantrum, which involved throwing all the books from his shelf all around his room.  (In true Wm fashion, after a sudden and severe outburst, after he calmed down it was over and he went to bed just fine.  The damage on me, however, was a bit longer lasting).  So, this morning, a bit removed from the incident, we calmly sorted through the books, putting them nicely on the shelves, Dr Suess together, Golden Books together, Super Hero books together, "mama's favorites" together (ie, classic picture books) -- and we had a small section with books from India and Manila.

He looked at a book we have about Krishna and the Yamarljuna Trees, and then asked about moving.  Which has had me thinking about two things all day.

First - I'm happy Wm has embraced and internalized moving, since he doesn't really have a choice in the matter.  And I'm supper happy he thinks going to a new city will bring adventures and is something to look forward to.  I know plenty of parents in my line of work whose kids dread moving.  Maybe that will be Wm some day (or Patch or Ian), but not for now.

Second - I'm kind of sorry we haven't been on any adventures in America.  Obviously it's a huge country with lots of interesting places to see and adventures to be had.  But, the truth is, Greg and I are a little tired of adventures.  We kind of like having Saturday and Sunday to just hang around our house, walk to church, walk to the park to play, and not venture very far.  We didn't even want to go out for dinner tonight!

We haven't made it to New York, to Boston, to New Hampshire.  Except for two trips up to visit my grandpa in PA, we haven't left the DC metro area since we landed her May 20.  The lack of travel is unprecedented for us!  And I don't think either of us have missed it, though apparently this calm, normal life is not quite exciting enough for Wm.

But, the kid will just have to wait.  We've already planed for family to come to us at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and weekends in November/December are usually busy even when we're overseas.  Not to mention, with at least one kid usually napping between 10 and 3, an adventure is a bit difficult to plan.

Two years, minimum (with 5 months gone), to re-charge ... and then to the next adventure!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Columbus Day

I wish I had three kids in grade school.  If I did, then I would have that elusive day - kids out of the house and occupied, and about six hours to efficiently run errands and do chores without distraction.  Wm will be off in about 45 minutes, so I guess that's a start.

Greg will go to the school's open house, while I take Patch to augment his cold-weather-clothing wardrobe received from my cousin (thank you!!).  This will be a bit tricky, because Patch is between a size 4 and 5, so we'll have to try on clothes.  With Ian in tow.  I may have to resort to bribing him with frozen yogurt.

Then this afternoon I really hope to finish the living room valence project.  Delay #1 was because I decided they were too long and needed to be re-hemed (this involved finding the sewing machine, busting it out, remembering how to thread a bobbin, hand sewing the edges, doing some research how to tack a box pleat, and then tacking the box pleat).  Finally that was finished.

I tried to hang them yesterday, but forgot to charge the electric screwdriver (I promise I will return it, Andrew -- just waiting for this one last project to be complete!).  So, I screwed in the L brackets on the mounting board by hand (not too hard).  And the screw driver still wasn't charged.  Greg tried to screw in by hand into our cement walls - and succeeded - only to find that (despite measuring twice) - the L brackets were off by about 1/16 of an inch. UGH.  Should have measured three times, obviously.

This realization occurred simultaneously with Wm having a major meltdown from being frustrated by his new math iPad game (he got to a level where he didn't know the answers).  Half a tube of tooth pasted squeezed out on to our bathroom later (long story), it was then time to go to catch up with our friends from India.

Thankfully, the tantrum subsided and the rest of the evening was fine, but the valances were not hung.  Hopefully today will see more success,

Friday, October 11, 2013

Win some, lose some

As Greg said, tonight I won.

Wm's school had its first movie night.  Pre-order pizza (proceeds benefit PTA) and watch a movie ("Wreck it Ralph") on the playground.  Sounds great, right?  Since it's actually getting cold now, we decided two weeks ago that I would stay home with Ian and Greg would take Wm.  Patch could decide day of how he was feeling.  Wm prefers me staying home anyway, because then he can order peperoni pizza (which I really don't like).  Should be a fun father-son night, right?

Except, it's been raining for three days. Which means movie night was moved into the gym.  Which, apparently, turned into a madhouse without even room for Greg to put down a blanket. Patch was a bit freaked out by the craziness and wouldn't leave Greg's lap.  So, a mere 20 minutes into the movie, Greg texts that he can no longer feel his legs.  Despite his strong persuasive powers, boys resist reason and want to stay and watch.  I may have to go pick them up in the car, because Greg might just be crippled after two hours of sitting on the floor.

Meanwhile, Ian, who usually shrieks at the top of his lungs between 6:30 and 7, has a totally happy evening, even sitting in his highchair for dinner (usually he refuses to get out of my arms from the minute I'm home, hence the loud shrieking because I keep trying to put him in his chair to eat).  He and I chow down on grilled chicken with fresh guacamole and squash soup (no, I did not cook).  Yum.  We play around for about 15 minutes, then he runs into his room, grabs Spot (his stuffed dog-lamb thing) and lies down on the floor.  A bit of a fight over the diaper/clothing change, and 10 seconds of protest after a story, but then silence.

Yup, I won.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Observations on America: Diversity

Spotted on today's morning metro commute:  An elderly man reciting phrases in Arabic under his breath from a pocket-sized Quran.  A few stops later, an African-American lady sat down next to him and pulled out a well worn Bible from her purse.  It took all my effort not to snap a photo to post as a wonderful example of diversity and tolerance. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Make that two things I won't have

When Ian was born, older friends with grown sons told me only having boys was great --- they never went through the mother-son angst to which mother-daughter relationships are prone.  The only "regret" I ever heard was that they were never the first grandma to see the grand baby ... (Though, with Ian, the way his arrival and travel schedules worked out, my mother-in-law can say she has been there, done that).  Anyway, like I said, that was really the only "drawback" I had ever heard.

Except today, after a month of friends posting first ballet class pictures, I admit, I am a little sad.  Dancing was such a part of my life growing up - and even now, if I watch a particularly moving ballet, I still imagine me being able to move like that in my minds eye (though, I know in reality I'm not in that great shape anymore!).  In theory, I probably could sign Wm up in the young boys class at the Maryland Youth Ballet and see him dance in white t-shirt and black tights ... and, honestly, he loves dancing, so he might even enjoy it.

But, in reality, I won't. That kid has enough to work through with moving around every 2-4 years and making new friends that I don't need to add "boy ballerina" to his list of oddities.  Fingers crossed he keeps his rhythm and in 20+ years at his wedding, he takes some ballroom dance lessons and sweeps me off my feet.  Now, that's something I will enjoy!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Leaving babyhood, for real

Along with the enjoyment of hi first cupcake, Ian will soon learn the darker side of turning one: bottles disappearing and transitioning to whole milk. And, after six years, Greg and I will also start to exit the trappings of babyhood.  As Greg (gleefuly) explained to Patch this morning, in about six months we'll put Ian in the toddler bed and give the borrowed crib back to my older sister to save (or not) (or maybe for a younger sister to use at some point).  Possibly sooner, if Ian is like either of his brothers and figures out how to climb out on his own earlier.

Ian's been pushing the "baby" label for some time, since he demanded table-food-only at eight months, started walking at nine, self-weaned at ten - clearly this boy wishes to be a "kid" and there's no looking back.

I still laugh about the three best quotes from Ian's birth, one year ago today.
(1) I remember the (very new) paniced resident asking the attending physician if she should convert the bed for delivery and his response being something like, "nope, too late, the baby is already here!"
(2) Greg says right after Ian was born, the first thing I said was, "well, that was fun!"
(3) The next morning a medical student telling me that at their morning huddle, one medical student asked who got to be present at the delivery ... and the response was, "no one really - she kind of delivered him herself."

After Wm and Patch, I packed away baby clothes regrettingly, but now I've happily passed along items to friends with newborns - and am eagerly awaiting when Ian starts to talk (and evesdroping on conversations between the brothers).

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

I love my brother!

Conversation, at 9:45pm, when I came upstairs and found Patch lying in our bed, watching PBS Kids on the iPad... And closer inspection revealed Wm under the covers.

Me: patch! What are you doing?! It's late!
P: I'm watching...
Me: I can see that.  Why are you here?
P: well, I was too noisy in our room, and wm said I was bothering him, so he went to your room to sleep.
P: I waited a few minutes and I checked he was asleep.  I was lonely and missed my brother, soo I snuck downstairs and took the iPad. And came up next to him and am watching it
Me: go to bed, please.
P: only if you carry wm to our room.  I love my brother.

In fairness, patch has never slept alone a night in his life. Whenever we've tried, he finds ways to sneak in with Wm after wm has fallen asleep.  Silly kid!

Guest blog: culture clash

A friend wrote this, and it was so very real to anyone who has a six or seven year old, I just have to share:

Clash of the Cultures happened this morning: While getting in the car, my son lost his very wiggly front baby tooth. Our driver (local national) congratulated the boy and threw the tooth on the roof...my son had an absolute meltdown...how was he going to get money from the tooth fairy if the tooth was on the roof??? Apparently, here they throw the tooth on the roof and the tooth fairy brings presents to the front door...something I think the post report should have mentioned!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

I *do* like cooking

Since leaving America in January 2009, I've hardly cooked.  As any working parent knows, coming home from work and balancing kids so excited to see you they cry with trying to prepare a fresh, healthy dinner - in a span of about 30 minutes before everyone has a meltdown from hunger - is nye impossible.  Hence my only two hard-and-fast requirements for our nannies over the years: competent child care and cooking dinner.  For the umpteenth time, I admit, I'm spoiled.

As a result, in the last five years, I've gotten out of the habit of cooking.  When you don't manage your own pantry, cooking becomes quite difficult because you don't have that mental list of what is in your pantry.  You have an idea of what to cook and start at it, only to find that something that's a pantry staple for you is not necessarily for the person who is actually doing the majority of the cooking.  And then cooking gets frustrating.  To the point that Saturdays and Sundays are full of left overs to avoid the dissatisfaction of not knowing what is in the fridge and cupboard.

Tomorrow we're having a small cookout in Rock Creek Park for Ian's first birthday.*  I really like eating fresh food, so Saturday afternoon was spent grocery shopping (to alleviate the pantry problem noted above) followed by cooking cupcakes, German potato salad, and black bean and corn salad.  Wm was a big help with all the cooking while the other two were napping.

At the end, Wm said, "well this was a fun lazy Saturday."  Hardly lazy, considering we visited two parks (by Beth's new house and by ours) and cooked up a storm ... but I have to admit, reminding myself that I do enjoy cooking did make for an enjoyable Saturday!

Now just to decide what kind of dressing to put on the black beans and corn.  I'm thinking cumin will be involved, and some olive oil, and then what?

I'll also fess up: after two hours of being on my feet in the kitchen, we're headed to Austin Grill for our actual dinner tonight :)

*For those curious, no, I cannot believe Ian is almost one.  This time last year, we had just enjoyed Beth & Andrew's wedding and were hanging out, waiting for the baby who everyone said was going to be a month early to appear (due date was 9/14-ish, so he obviously wasn't early, which made him seem very late!).  Even Wm said today: "I can't believe our house is pretty much done with baby stuff now!"

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

My own adjustment from Montessori

Back to school night was tonight, where we learned all about how first graders are assessed in Montgomery County.  Honestly, I was baffled by talk about starting the year reading at level 10 and expecting that by the end of the year a child can read at level J.  The levels some how go from 5 to 17 and then from J to M.  How does that make sense to anyone?  Where are levels 1, 2 and 3?  And A through I?  And why stop at the number 17 and then jump to letters?  And who assigns levels (either numeric or alphabetic)?  How do I know what level of book Wm has?

I found myself wondering these things and ended up totally distracted from whatever was actually being presented.  Maybe it made sense to parents who have kids who started in KG, but I was totally lost.  Luckily, a little googling at home cast some light:
Summer reading list by level
Washington Post article describing reading levels

I left yearning for his Montessori school where the kids worked through works at their own pace and had an expected outcome at the end of a three year cycle.  Your child is only six, I wanted to tell the parents questioning a new grading system implemented by the county (sample grade 1 report card: here).  Back off on pushing a kid to reach the next level, and think instead about how he or she thinks and treats his or her peers.  For the record, Wm does not like to read, which irks me to no end.  I understand the anxiety about having a six year old who cannot or chooses not to read.  Surprisingly, I found myself having extremely negative reactions to all the "assessment" speak.

I missed the balanced conversations we would have in the Montessori classroom.  Where are the discussions about flower arranging and table wiping?  At least, as Greg pointed out, problem solving is part of the "graded" curriculum.  

Reality is what reality is, and a $25k/yr tuition per child times three kids is not in the works, so I'm going to have to learn to adjust.  Thankfully Wm's teacher says he's not having any problem.  He sits well at his desk, he raises his hand, he does his worksheets.  I'll hold my tongue at home and save my personal maladjustment for the blog, since I don't want to color his perception of his school.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Tasty lunch from nothing

Weekend lunch can be tricky.  After a morning of playing, I want something substantial, more than a sandwich.  I am generally tired of left overs, but also not in the mood to cook - quite a conundrum, right?

This weekend I happened upon a successful experiment.  It all started with baking up a box of Trader Joe's Spinach and Kale Bites for Ian (yes, the baby eats the healthiest of anyone in the family - lots of fruits, veggies and whole grains.  Somehow after the age of two, kids get picky; witness: Patch and his peanut butter diet).  Ian ate up three, leaving quite a few.  I didn't just want to eat those ... so in a stroke of enlightenment, I threw them in the saucepan with a can of black beans, a can of diced tomatoes, some garlic and cumin.  Out came a poor (wo)man's chili 10 minutes later, but a tasty one at that.  Plus, it made enough for three meals.

If I were good, I would make this every weekend and have three lunches worth on hand for the week.  In reality, though, I don't think I will be that good.

I've tried not to purchase too many prepared foods - overseas, such things are generally not available, so we were quite good about eating "real" food.  Prep time takes longer, but we never had to worry about what additives our kids (or we!) were eating.  However, there's something to be said about having some simple canned and frozen things on hand to whip up a quick and tasty meal.  

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Observations on America: The Metro Dad

I've been meaning to post this one for awhile ... but finding time between unpacking (almost done) and start of school (pretty much done) has been tricky.  So, one month later, here's my next observation on my new-yet-my-own country.

I was walking south from Farragut North metro station on 17th St NW one morning about a month ago, and noticed three dads (one in a suit, one in business casual, one very casual) pushing toddlers in strollers.  As we four waited to cross the street, the three dads looked at each other with a knowing smile - seemed to me like all of them were "in the know" as a metro-commuting dad.  In many other countries, seeing a dad take charge of getting the kids to daycare and home again would be unthinkable, but on my metro commute I see at least one such pair every day.

Articles on the working mother have abounded the last six months or so, from Anne Marie Slaughter to Sheryl Sandberg and many women in between.  I've commented to friends that not many have addressed the dads who - in America, at least - increasingly put forth their fair share for child care.  And I wonder why more fathers aren't writing about grueling work hours that prohibit them from spending more time with their kids.   In our family right now, Greg has the much more reliable schedule, for which I'm quite thankful so that at least one parent can be home by 6 or 6:30 for dinner time.  Greg isn't a "Metro Dad," but giving credit where credit is due, three cheers for supportive husbands who help keep the home front working, so some of us ladies don't have these acute internal debate about working or not. 

Monday, August 26, 2013


Wm came home from his first day in a great mood.  His only complaint was that he didn't ride the bus home and was the only kid in his class to walk home.  So, he says he wants to change to be a bus rider home, too.  Which is fine - no big deal, if that's what it takes to make him happy!

He of course didn't want to say much about school, but what I did learn:

  1. At some point in the morning, the kids go to the class computer to select their lunch choice.  Options are: (1) Bring from home, (2) and (3) the two hot lunch choices, and (4) peanut butter & jelly sandwich from cafeteria if you don't like options (2) and (3)
  2. His teacher has two cats, and one cat always sneaks over to eat the other cat's food
  3. The cat that doesn't eat as much likes to unroll the toilet paper roll
  4. At recess a teacher blows a whistle three times when it is time to line up
  5. If he finishes his work early, then he can go to the reading corner. But today he didn't finish any of his work early. 
  6. He colors a worksheet with how his behavior was.  Today was a green day.  If he has a big tantrum, it will be red. There's also yellow and orange in between. But, he hopes he'll only have green days (me, too!)
His teacher came out with all the "walkers" today (ie, just him, since he's the only one in his class who walks) and took a few minutes to chat with me.  I had a much better impression than Friday! Yay!  She said he was actually talkative in class and participated, which is more than I expected.  

I'll still be home tomorrow and Wednesday, but if things continue like today, I can go to work not worrying about Wm and school.  *phew*

Friday, August 23, 2013

The last major transition of the move

School starts on Monday.  While in the long run this will be wonderful (finally in a routine, meet regular friends, etc etc), in the immediate future, this means change.  Again.

While we had been talking with Wm about this for a while, this afternoon's back to school night really made it hit home, obviously.  We walked into the school with our neighbor, whose son will also be in first grade.  The walk to school was fine - and he didn't flip out when we entered the building, which surprised me, because usually loud crowds of people moving in many different directions really unsettle him.  BUT, then he found out he was in a different classroom than either of the two boys he has met already.  And he declared he was not going to school.

So, the next 30 minutes we spent sitting in the hallway outside of the four first grade classrooms.  Honestly, I didn't know what to do - I knew Monday would be really bad if he didn't see the classroom today, but I didn't want to force him and make things worse, so there we sat.  Eventually, I managed to convince him to walk over to the door of the class and look in the room.

That's, honestly, when I was a bit annoyed with his new teacher.  I am kind of disappointed to start off the year that way, so I'm hoping it's just a one time thing.  I had already explained to the teacher that Wm was new to the school and having a hard time coming over.  I had already left him in the hallway for a few minutes so I could do the necessary admin things in the classroom (sign up on the email list, sign up for parent teacher conferences, etc).  So, I was hoping that when we finally made it over to the doorway, the teacher would welcome him in.

Instead, she kept talking about her summer beach vacation with a parent from last year for a full five minutes.  I could feel Wm starting to slip away and get nervous again, so I finally interrupted.  I really didn't like doing that - especially in front of Wm, since we are working really hard with him to teach him not to interrupt.  But, it was open house night.  And, as great as North Carolina might have been for the teacher and this parent from last year, I had to make sure we (and by "we" - I mean me, the teacher and Wm) didn't have a disaster on our hands come Monday.  I was polite (I think!), but I still felt a bit like a pushy parent.  *sigh*

In any case, Wm at least managed to say hello to his teacher and listen to her when she said she would be meeting the bus at the front of the school on Monday.  He walked with me to the cafeteria and listened when the cafeteria lady nicely explained how to buy lunch if he wanted to do that.  He even walked into a super hectic cafeteria to get a juice box and cookie -- though when I tried to talk to a few parents, that was the end for him.  We had to get home - and get home fast.

So, I didn't manage to sign up for the PTA, buy him a new school t-shirt, or figure out what kind of school supplies he needs.  Luckily, I took next Monday - Wednesday off from work, so fingers crossed I can scramble on the first day to finish things up.  I have no idea what to expect Monday afternoon, but fingers crossed it is not a disaster. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Meeting, 17 years later

The world is a small, small place.  I think this quite frequently, as was reminded of this two days ago, when, in Tokyo, I met a woman I first met in November 1996 and haven't seen since.

I'm not usually the kind of person that remembers such one time meetings.  I'm only OK with names and faces - not great, but not terrible.  I often find myself wishing I were better, honestly.  Two days ago, I met an embassy colleague's wife, who is also a foreign service officer, and we found out we both went to Wellesley, she in the class above me.  Since we lived in different dorms (me in Caz, her in Tower and Stone-D) and majored in different things (me Japanese, her French), we hadn't thought we had met.  Yet her uncommon name and face were very familiar to me, so I kept mulling over where we might have and when.

As I lay half-awake in a jet lag induced stupor, too tired to get out of bed, yet too awake to fall back asleep, I remembered: she hosted me when I was a prospective student.  Or maybe her roommate was technically my hostess, but I spent most of the evening with her.  I remember attending her LDS bible study and fellowship afterward -- her roommate was involved in some kind of art or music performing group at MIT and was spending that evening at a rehearsal off campus.  I had flown all the way to Boston from Austin to visit Wellesley (and not MIT), so despite not being LDS, I tagged along at her invitation just to meet students and see what the school was all about.

It was a very pleasent evening - the bible study itself not too long, and though usually only about half of the students stayed for dinner at Schneider (the old campus center), that evening everyone did to talk to me about what they liked and didn't like about the school.  Between taht evening's fellowship and then visiting two classes the next morning (chemistry and Japanese) -- and subsequently being accepted in April -- the rest is history.  Ra, Ra, Wellesley, Ra.

This woman has no recollection of that evening.  Of course, for her, it was just one regular weekly meeting of her bible study group.  For me, though, it impacted my college choice.  Even stranger, we both ended up in the foreign service and crossing paths again at the embassy in Tokyo, half way around the world from Lake Waban, Tower Court, and Schneider.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Tokyo, Hisashiburi!

On Friday, I found out I was headed to Tokyo on Sunday for work.  I had known the possibility existed for about three weeks, but lots of factors contributed to the iffiness of actually going - in any case, I did manage to get a plane reservation, hotel reservation, new shoes,* and 14 hours later, Voila! Tokyo!

After I arrived and settled into my hotel room (read: took a much appreciated shower and finally touched up my roots ... self-dying my hair is fine, but finding time - between setting up our house and playing with three boys, while also working a bit more than expected - had been impossible.  I threw the dye kit in my suitcase at the last minute) first order of business was finding dinner.

The airplane food (United) was HORRIBLE.  I don't remember the last time I hadn't been able to eat food put in front of me just to have some nourishment, but the lunch on the flight was not edible.  The "turkey sandwich" snack wasn't too great either, but after 10 hours of no food I did manage to chew and swallow that cardboard.  And the "omlette" served just before landing was similarly digested for fear of fainting from low blood sugar.  Note to self: buy snacks for plane ride home.

So, by 8PM Tokyo time, I was starving and wanting to stretch my legs.  I figured I'd wander out and around a bit, even though my hotel is not in an area I'm very familiar with.  After passing numerous curry houses, coffee houses, "family restaurants," a few Italian options, and one tonkatsu place, I ended up settling on soba.  I was woried anything much heavier on an empty stomach a bit confused by travel might end up making me sick ... so hiyashi kitsune soba it was. YUM. I choose well.

As I was finishing up, three American college students wandered into the little mom-and-pop place. They couldn't read the menu on the wall, and spoke no Japanese - and the "mom" (of the mom-and-pop duo) spoke no English - so I hung around a bit.  After a minute of confusion, they finally just pointed to the one picture on the wall which had three different kinds of cold soba, and just said "three." The "mom" laughed, but relayed their order to the "pop."  Amused, I wanted a bit longer until their order came -- they whipped out smart phones, documented their adventure for Facebook, and dug in.  My evening entertainment over, I headed back up to th ehotel, with a pit stop at a convenience store for dessert (tonight: chocolate-mint-drink).

Too bad this trip is so short.  I missed Tokyo :)

*New shoes required because my super comfy navy pumps finally died after 12 years and multiple re-soles. Then the drycleaner didn't have my black suit ready in time.  But I couldn't bring my navy suit and black heals, so Saturday I made an emergency stop in at DSW to get shoes to go with my clean suit...

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Rough weekend for Wm

Culture shock and capacity for change constantly ebb and flow.  After a few weeks of feeling like we were pretty settled, Wm hit a tough spot this weekend, with a few tantrums and many almost-tantrums.  He missed his friends in Manila, he hated all his toys here, he was bored, I was the world's meanest mother, Patch could do nothing right and everything wrong, Greg didn't have time to play buses with him.  Pretty much only Ian was exempt from his vitriol because "baby hugs make everything better" (at least he has that right! And, at least Ian always has a smile and a hug to give.)

Saturday, not much could be done. Movers showed up (a day late) so boxes needed to be unloaded. And since we hate hate hate living with boxes, that means the first floor had to be unpacked. Lea ventured out to the Building Museum with the two small ones, but Wm stomped around the house trying to find something to do that would either let him vent or make him happy. He had a little success making his own "bingo" chart to catalog box numbers in each room and then inviting a neighborhood kid over to unwrap some toys. But, generally the day was miserable.

Sunday I tried to cater a bit more to him. We baked cookies and tried to sell them, but it turned out to be pretty hot, so after only four customers in one hour, Wm called it quits.  Hey, at least we now have cookies to eat.  Then, friends invited us to their pool for a swim and cookout.  Wm warned me before we left that he was "feeling shy" and wouldn't talk directly to the other kids, so I would have to help him. Not my favorite spot to be in (especially with Patch and/or Ian intermittently hanging off one or both arms), but, hey, at least the kid could finally recognize his issues and ask for my help, rather than just storming off, right?  In all, I think the afternoon was a success, in that we had no tantrums or fights (and Ian and patch certainly had fun).

So, now it is 9pm and I'm exhausted. I wanted to have my house in better shape, but instead had to put that aside and cater to Wm. and then had to attempt to explain to our nanny who is very capable to please not touch boxes tomorrow (except in boys room), because since this is our house, I really want to be the one to set it up, even if I'm not home for most of the day and she wants to be helpful.  I want to decide which carpets go where. I want to decide how my china cabinet is set up.  I'll be ok with Greg organizing the bookcase, but I need to set up our linen closet.  The weekend was Wm's turn to be fussy, but I can feel my turn is coming soon.... 

Friday, June 28, 2013

No words

Friends of ours experienced a unique loss today: after a week of being parents, they had to return a baby to a social worker because the birth mother asked for him back.  I'm crying for them as I write this, and if you have the strength, you can read their experience here:


Our friends have had to jump through hoops to become parents and, in the process, buried two babies.  Concurrently since the very end of 2012, her seventh pregnancy and adoption proceedings both tenuously progressed - each day alternate ways of becoming parents appearing more likely, but no guarantees.

Imagine their surprise a week ago when they brought home the adopted baby and it seemed like they really would have "twins."  I no doubt they had the strength (and stamina!) to take on that responsibility.  As if fate or divine intervention or whatever you wish to call it had meant for those two boys to be with this couple, one natural born and one adopted, both loved endlessly.

We were supposed to go meet Aleki tomorrow and celebrate his arrival - and Hiva's continued pregnancy - with them.  Instead, I know they must feel a very unique grief right now which I can't imagine.  I gave my own children an extra hug at bedtime, being thankful for my simple and blessed life of three pregnancies with three baby boys, and pray that her pregnancy continues and that Tau'aho is born strong and healthy.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The "R" Word

Friends in Manila will laugh ... but I'm talking about "routine," not the other "r" word against which the Embassy had a campaign.

A few months ago I wrote about dreading the change in "routine" and if a "routine" could ever really exist in our family since we basically have six months of mayhem from the pre-pack craziness, the pack out, the home leave, then initial settling in, the readjusting to a new pace of work, the (still anticipated) arrival of our stuff ("house hold effects or HHE in the FS lingo), all the way to the start of school in two months.  We didn't need to go to the parent education gathering at Patch's new school this evening to know that kids crave routine.  We can speak from experience that a lack of routine is driving them nuts.

Case in point. Wm has decided to take control routine where he can get it.  By decree from my child-dictator, bed time routine must be: brush teeth, go to bathroom, get in pjs, (read story if not too tired), 39 pats on his back (yes, 39 precisely), hug only (no kiss), sleep.  No variance permitted.  With so much craziness and change, I can't blame him, even though, honestly, the degree to which he wants to follow this routine borders on compulsive, with dire consequences if it can't be followed.

I found myself telling a coworker today that I wished he could be a bit more flexible, so we could all go to a friend's house for dinner, for example, and I wouldn't have to stress out that we needed to leave by 7 or 7:30 at the latest so that I could avoid an evening meltdown from varying from the decreed bedtime routine.

My coworker's response? "Well, Pam, I don't have kids or a husband - so I'm no expert on these things - but if that's the only thing your son is telling you, considering you have moved him around the world every two years of his life, I'd say he's pretty flexible."  TOUCHE!  Thanks to coworkers for helping me keep things in perspective.  And reminding me that when we can't have a big picture routine, the little routines become all that much more important.  Even if I do find that "r word" bordering on burdensome.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Observations on America: DC Metro Area and Accessibility

I was in a meeting last week with a woman heading out into the field -- she had asked a group of think tank types to brief her on changes in the country to which she was headed.  Though she had just left the country three years ago, she said: "the danger in returning to a place you have been is that you think you know it and don't recognize that in your absence the country had changed."

That comment struck a chord with me as we've been adjusting to being back in the good old US of A.  Which got me thinking that I'm in a pretty good place right now to observe what has changed (for the good and the bad) while we've been gone for 4.5 years, with only minor vacations home.  And perhaps that, dear readers, can provide the interesting cultural commentary side of the blog (interspersed with the usual parenting and child rambles) during this domestic tour.

My first observation from two weeks of commuting on metro is the accessibility of the DC metro area.  I know from friends with kids with special needs that the area (like anywhere) is not universally accessible to people with disabilities and advocates strongly push for further increased access.  But, especially after my time abroad, I am struck by how many people with visible disabilities (mobility, visual and hearing impaired are outwardly observable in many instances) independently move around the city.  I'm sure the constant change in elevator outages on metro annoy them to no end, but I really admire their independence. And, honestly, feel a bit of pride for my fellow citizens who occasionally - and tactfully - lend a helping hand in a friendly way when someone is looking for it.

I had partly wondered why disability access was part of the congressionally mandated annual Human Rights Report; I personally (previously and privately) felt like this issue could be addressed elsewhere.  But, now, observing how an accessible transit system (for all its flaws) has facilitated independence for many persons with disabilities, I get it.  And for anyone out there wondering if the money spent and regulations passed in this country to ensure accessibility are worth it, I vote that they are - beyond just being a "nice" thing to do, but because living life to the fullest is a human right. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

On Leaving Montessori

Sadly, since we couldn't find a house near the DCPS charter Montessori school within our size needs and price budget - and since we don't have $25,000 in the budget for private school - Wm will be rotating out of the Montessori curriculum and joining Montgomery County public schools.  To be specific, joining MCPS isn't sad - just leaving Montessori is. And, he'd have to make the switch eventually, but if we could have, we would have delayed it at least three years (one Montessori "cycle" is three years).

We were reluctant Montessori parents; it was not a curriculum we sought out - but we were strong converts after seeing Wm blossom and really love his school and learning. I brought some parents for observation in his classroom, but those used to "normal" play-based curriculums thought it was a little crazy, with very little group work, minimal direction from the teacher, no assessments other than teacher observation, etc. I found myself on the defensive quite often, much to my surprise. But, the classroom moves at the child's pace, helps a child set order to his life himself, and shows kids through a mixed-age environment how children of differing abilities can harmoniously co-exist. His class was so peaceful.

As I started to explain how a normal US public school classroom worked, Wm had all sorts of questions: What do you mean all the kids need to do the same thing at the same time? What if one kid is in a math mood but it's language arts time? What if one kid needs more time to finish a work or another kid finishes up more quickly? What if at the end of the year one kid is good at math but isn't good at reading yet - how do you know if that kid can go to the next level? His list went on, and I had some answers.

Wm's initial verdict? "That sounds like a silly school. I think we should go back to Seafront so you can send me to my own school where kids can learn what they're in the mood for and it's OK to take extra time if you need it - or go faster if you want to." At least when it comes to that, I have to agree with him, but come August 26, we all will be adjusting whether we like it or not. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Back to the real world

I was thinking how special home leave is, and then a Foreign Service friend emailed me the same thought, so I thought I'd share: during home leave, we are utterly unplugged from work. 100%. No ifs, ands or buts.  I suppose in an emergency, my "losing" post and my "gaining" post both have my personal email - but since my successor has already arrived in Manila, and my predecessor is still in DC, there is no need.

Not to mention, I have absolutely zero access to work email and using personal email for work stuff is highly frowned upon (no surprises there, right?). My account has been in limbo since April 30. No Blackberry. No valid log on. NOTHING.

How many working professionals these days can take an enforced communication-free vacation?  My guess is very few. Which makes me thankful that Congress mandates home leave.*

Of course it comes with its own quandaries: where to stay? how to fill all that time, especially when your kids move so much they don't know anyone in the USA? How much to spend on what? How to divvy time between different family visits that have been deferred the last two or three years we've been gone? The list goes on, with no right answer to any question - and even what worked this time will be different in a few years when our family situation is different.

Sometime this week, though, bliss will end. I am taking an assignment in DC and becoming a bureaucrat again. I will be expected to regularly check my Blackberry at all times, I suspect. Boundaries between personal and work will fuzz over. And I will have to wait for the break before my next overseas assignment before I can unplug again. *sigh*

(*Home leave is technically mandated only for back-to-back overseas assignments, to reacquaint FS officers with the USA. Since I'm going to a US-based assignment, it is optional. Due to staffing situations at my losing and gaining post, I was able to take such a long vacation by adding on some annual leave to home leave.)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


Our new house is near a fire station, which is VERY COOL if you are three and six. VERY VERY COOL. Two weeks in, they still rush to the window every time time a truck goes by to check if it is the ladder truck, the pumper engine, the EMS, or what combination there of. On big days, the area chief's suburban also joins the parade. This morning, a minor head on collision occurred right on the street in front of us -- so of course we were all out on the street watching the truck help sort it out until the police arrived. Did I mention how COOL watching fire trucks is?

We have to pass the fire station to walk to the grocery store, so usually Wm agrees to walk to the grocery store if we make a side stop to check out the trucks. Yesterday, one of the firemen came out to chat a bit, and we talked about moving here from Manila. After we left the fire station, Wm started talking about his best friends from his school in Manila, wondering if they understood that he was never coming back and if they "got it" now why they couldn't come to his birthday party - after all, it wasn't that he didn't want to invite them, but he now lives in a different city.

And then he declared he wasn't going to the grocery store and turned back home. When we got to the front step, I gently asked if he went home because he was sad missing his friends - which he readily admitted. Then he stood on the front step a minute or two and said, "well, even if I'm sad, I guess I can still go to the store."  So we walked back to the store, skipping the fire station this time, did our shopping (all I needed was a green pepper -- but this took about 45 minutes, though I couldn't complain), and I wasn't sure exactly what would be next. However, the rest of the evening was non-eventful.

This morning, Wm came down dressed in the "I *heart* Manila" t-shirt his teacher gave him as a parting gift. I commented, "nice shirt, kiddo," and he replied, "I was sad yesterday missing Manila, so this shirt makes me happy." Thankful for a teacher's gift - and thankful for a kid who is starting to develop his own coping mechanisms for our constantly changing life. Really lucky on both fronts, honestly. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Two weeks to find Ordinary

The time it took us to unpack five of six shipments and fix the immediate needs of our new house. 

Our new house, BTW, is great. Maybe I'll always look for a house this way -- think about my objective criteria and then have someone else do the shopping!  Except, I don't actually plan to shop for another house for 20 years.  While most people I speak to are aghast we even considered this, through some Foreign Service blogging friends, I've discovered what we did is not uncommon at all.  I knew the FS has forced some quick decisions on getting hitched, but had no idea how many people had done what we did for the house. Once again, I contemplate the weird life we live that seems completely normal to us, but, in reality, is not -- emphasizing again that "normal" and "weird" are relative words.

I digress.  Today is the first day we could spend doing "ordinary" things.  Perhaps appropriate since the sermon at the local parish church we visited today (Grace Episcopal - I think we'll stick with it) was about how today is the start of the "ordinary" church season (no more special days until Advent, just endless Sundays after Pentecost) and we should take the time to reflect on our "ordinary" faith. Perfect timing for that reminder, since we need to start thinking about what will be our "ordinary" life. 

Our first ordinary day started with simple chores around the house, church at 10:30, lunch with family friends from Manila who have returned from DC, Wm and Greg going to a USA v. Germany soccer game while I stayed home with napping boys and catching up with our Manila friend, then - since boys from both families were having fun - ordering in Chinese and steak subs after the soccer game.  Except for collapsing a pile of boxes, not much unpacking-related work at all. 

More on home leave and the house later, but tonight, I'm relishing in the ordinariness of the day, signing off, and going to bed by 9:30. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Quick update: Driveway

UPDATE: Driveway, before and after:

This is delivery method for 13 tons of gravel, which my brother-in-law smoothed out for his weekend exercise instead of going to the gym.  Just too bad my boys couldn't enjoy a *real* *live* dump truck in their own front yard!  But, I have a feeling Mr. Mulch (gravel delivery company) may be back with mulch once we've settled the unpacking enough to try our hand at basic yard landscaping.

In the long term, hope to lay down interlocking paving stones which are supposed to be best for drainage.  The driveway declines from street level to basement level, and the home inspection said we will have to closely monitor the drain at the bottom because it will be prone to clogging.  Asphalt or concrete don't appear to be good options because of the run off.

Paving stones, though, have many options and are a bit tricky to choose when I still haven't seen this house in person.  The current mud-ridden (with bits of broken glass) state required immediate attention, so we stuck with the easier gravel option for now.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Why you should always be nice to your sister

Save three years or so between eighth and tenth grade, and one particularly contentious month in college (January 2001), my middle sister and I have thankfully pretty much always gotten along.  (side note: My littlest sister is eight years younger (versus two for the middle), so we never encountered the same rivalry type of issues.)  I'd like to say she felt compelled to repay all the love and guidance I've provided her the last 27 years (would be more, but can't count the above mentioned non-speaking periods) in tackling our home purchase process on our behalf.  But, in reality, she (and her new husband) are just generous people.

As I've noted in previous posts, our whole family frequently helps us out with difficulties of living overseas and during our brief stints back home - but the efforts on our house (especially on the yard) go beyond normal.

In order for the general world to appreciate the work done, enjoy the photos below. As I was putting this together, she was raking up leaves before a rain storm so that our drain doesn't clog.  And this weekend my brother in law will be spreading out new gravel on our driveway (having already spread out dirt to even it up).

Few words are necessary, given the photos.  First, the before in Feb and then in April:

Looking back towards the house and also along the side of the house:

Interim work revealed a mess hidden under brush, including a chain potentially used for taming lions:
So we called in a professional crew to do some excavation and grading:

The new state of our back yard and side of the house with the fence: 

They've also seeded the yard, but given the amount of poison ivy and other weeds pulled up (FYI: poison ivy root can still cause rashes :( ), we're not sure if it will take.  We will start with a book, but may need to call in a professional service for this summer season.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The next move

Our life is so crazy, I can't even believe I was having these thoughts today -- after all, we haven't even completed *this* move.  Still one week left to enjoy in Texas, and we're savoring every moment.

All the same, for 30 minutes during the ride from Houston to Austin when two boys were sleeping and the third was quietly playing on the iPad, I started thinking that since we'll be in DC for two to four years, on our next move:

-- No more long haul flights with infants.  In fact, Ian might even be 4.5 by the time we go overseas again which means potentially no more long haul flights with diapers.  This is totally game changing.
-- If we can manage a person to pick her up, shipping Bagwelle a few days ahead saves on airport stress (us and her).  Or, maybe we should just stagger our moves.  One person flies one day with one kid and dog, the other follows two or three days later with other two kids.  After all, kids will be older and easier to travel with.
-- We "need" another iPad before our next move.  Maybe just a mini will do, but maintaining the 1:1 iPad:kid ratio is key.
-- Wm could possibly be 10 when we move again. 10! In fact, he could fly on his own (ha ha)
-- Oh yeah, and, once again, did I mention no moving with infants?  It didn't seem hard the last three times, until I realized this was the last time, since we don't have to get on a plane and go half way around the world again in a few weeks.  Which means this time, I can fully allow myself to think about how difficult it was and is.  Bigger kids have their own issues, but babies have gear. And schlepping that gear is tiresome.  

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

24 hours later, life upside down

I often wonder what being in the foreign service was like before telephones, internet - and airplanes.  I was an expat kid before the advent of the internet, so I remember aerogram letters and phone calls costing $5/minute. But I was in Tokyo -- with highly reliable mail delivery and telephone systems, obviously.  What would it have been like being in a more remote location?  Perhaps over homeleave I'll try and search out a good memoir to read.

While somewhere over the Pacific Ocean today, I thought a lot about how airplanes must have changed foreign diplomacy.  Certainly lots has been written about Kissinger's "shuttle diplomacy" - and some has been written on how any government official can get on the plane and go (or read CNN), so we're in the process of sorting out what is the "value add" for even posting diplomats overseas. I could write on that, but that's not what was crossing my mind today.

Today, I was thinking about my family and how - in 24 hours - we left behind, perhaps (likely) forever, a place we lived for two  years. I can't say the flight passed in the blink of an eye, but it did go rather quickly considering all the emotions I needed to sort through when leaving.  In years past - ie, before traveling with three kids five and under - I might have used that time to write in a journal, documenting parting feelings. At my current stage, I felt lucky to have a quiet hour on the plane with all three boys sleeping to acknowledge that leaving is complicated and I still needed to sort through it all. (Thought ended there - flight attendant then shook me and Greg to tell us that Wm's foot was in the aisle. REALLY?!? Food, beverage, and duty free were over - 85% of the plane is sleeping - and she thinks I'm going to wake up a kid who has finally fallen asleep because his foot has slipped under the armrest and is partially in the aisle?)

If I ever get posted to Europe (doesn't seem to be where my career track is headed, but never say never!), I'm going to look into returning from post on a cruise ship. I could stomach 7 nights in transit.  Jet lag transition should be non-existent (right? it's called "jet lag" for a reason) and it would give time to slowly let go of the old place before having to face the new.  An airplane PCS is like ripping off a bandaid.

Or, maybe we'll get posted to Tokyo soon - and maybe I'll be able to save up vacation - and try the 13 night cruise (Tokyo-Vancouver) I just found online.  Then I could actually experience the foreign service in the not-so-distant past before jet planes.

For now, life is just a little upside down, starting with sleeping. Baby went to sleep at 7, and I followed. He was up at 10 and it's now 1:30 and he's still going strong. I'll leave Greg to take care of the other two.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Good bye thoughts from Bishop Jones

(disclaimer - blogging from iPad is super annoying)

Last Sunday at church. Thankfully, Bishop Jones was preaching and - even better - he was near the top of his game come sermon time. Rambling, for sure - that's de facto for a brilliant priest pushing 75 - but a careful listen yeilded some chuckles and gems to take with me "on my journey," as he says nearly every Sunday.

Meditation number one: Be an icon of love in the world, making an impact to mitigate its harshness, evil and injustice. This really resonated with me because of the portfolio I am wrapping up at work (human rights issues, including extrajudicial killings, trafficking in persons, and child labor). The portfolio is quite weighty, and the victims need love.  They need justice, too, but love can perhaps heal more.

He said this in the context of marriage and children. He officiated a wedding yesterday. His foster daughter (whom he and his late wife adopted later in the child's life) recently passed away. The rambling about a new commitment and the love needed to reach hurting children produced the meditative thought above. Eloquent and worth thinking on - just had to listen closely.

Timely comment: We dread the termination of anything beautiful in our lives.  Such a simple and obvious statement, yet so true. And so timely since our family is nearing an extreme terminus. We haven't fallen in love with the Philippines, but we've certainly found beauty, both in scenery when travelling domestically and in our coworkers. Ian was baptized in that church, so it will hold a special spiritual beauty for us - acknowledging the termination of that relationship brought tears at the end of the service.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Three boys, three personalities

Obviously each kid has his own personality.  I wouldn't expect anything less.  I'm wondering if, when they're older, I'll be able to look back and find out that certain aspects of their personalities were apparent in their different ways of falling asleep. 

Wm screamed himself to sleep from 6 months through nearly 4 yrs old.  You might think I'm exagerating, but I'm not.  Please ask my mother in law who after two nights visiting us in Manila said, "I finally figured out what is different about this house. Wm goes to sleep without screaming.  What a difference it makes!"  I concur having lived through over three years of a minimum of 15 minutes (and norm of 30 to 45) of top-of-the-lungs screaming. We tried many methods, finally concluding nothing worked.  My guess is that it was his way of relieving a day's stress.  I'm glad he's found other ways now that he's older.

#2, on the other hand, loves sleep.  Still does.  Until he was about 3, going to sleep was a breeze -- as a baby, once we changed his diaper, put on pjs, and showed him his bed, he would dive for it.  We'd have to be paying attention or he would lean out of our arms toward the crib so strongly, he might fall out of our arms missing the crib.  While he still easily goes to nap, bedtime right now is a bit of a struggle - but if he has a book and a little light, usually he'll "read" until he's ready.

I'm still trying to figure out the baby.  He hasn't fallen naturally into a nap pattern, unlike the big two.  Which means no pattern at bedtime, either.  Some nights he'll nurse to sleep.  Some nights he needs a swaddle, paci, and Greg swaying for 20 minutes, not wanting me anywhere near. 

Tonight was different yet again.  Greg is at the airport dropping off Bagwelle, so I have all three at bedtime on my own.  Wm and Patch were getting a little out of hand, so I turned off the lights and put Ian in his crib to tend to the other two.  I could hear him making noise - not really crying, but not really happy either.  Thirty minutes later, with big brothers settled, I went to check on him and found him peacefully asleep. 

My prediction? #1 will be strong willed with committed emotions.  #2 will be easy going and chill.  #3 will be constantly looking for the new and different.  Perhaps I should print out this post and put it in their baby boxes - and when they have kids of their own, see how my predictions turned out.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

This time next week

I will be on an airplane, about half way through what will likely be the second worst day in my life.  The first worst will always be our PCS (permanent change in station) from HYD.  The extreme trauma and sadness of leaving dear friends, the incomprehension of the airline making us repack five carry ons into seven, the frustration when an immigration official tried to tell us we (and the entire US consulate staff) were in the country illegally and we couldn't leave, the frantic run to get on our plane, the lack of sleep of two toddlers over 24 hours, a miserable connection in Frankfurt, a child wetting an airplane seat, the glare from the lady in front of me an hour before landing in Houston when my child started screaming (for the first time in 27 hours of transit).

I almost shouted at that lady that she had no idea what my family had just been through, and who was she to judge a crying three year old?  But, I resisted, disembarked, and collapsed into my mother in law's Accord for the three hour drive to Austin.  Knowing how bad it can be - and knowing that our kiddos were fantastic travelers on more recent Manila-U.S. flights - has obliterated my fear of the upcoming PCS.  But leaving a place is always hard -- even if we are going "home" to the house we have yet to see -- so I still anticipate it being the second worst day.

The house is packed out.  My last cable is out for clearances.  We've started the highly lengthy check out process (39 signatures required).  Bagwelle flies out Friday.  Our car has already arrived in MD.  Still trying to stay in the present, but it's becoming increasingly harder.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Pack out!

The moving cycle continues. Third pack out of our FS life (well, one could say fourth, I guess, since Greg and I had separate pack outs the first time around).  The last two pack outs were highly organized activities with color-coded post-its marking everything, a pre-test of our suitcases traveling with us, and a room completely closed to movers.  (Really, would you expect anything less?)

This time?  I went on an all-expense paid beach vacation the weekend before packers came.  And the weekend before that?  We spent four days in Baguio.  So, organizing?  Pretty slim.  In fact, practically non-existent. 

I told myself: we're going to America! Where I can buy anything I need. Where I have already scheduled my storage lot delivery. Where my family and friends live near by to loan me things until the shipments arrive.  

More to the point, I was tired of organizing. Perhaps because of those aspects, I couldn't summon up my usual organizing inner drive.  And I decided to wing it. 

We returned from Palawan three hours late and spent a frantic two hours sorting out our closets and throwing things for our air shipment onto the sofas.  The next morning we woke up and continued the frenzy for another hour until the movers came.   You know what?  It was fine!  Though, we’ll see if I say the same on the other end J  I do have to remind myself that if I’m not going to America, perhaps I do need to revert to my normal self.

Our house keys were almost packed, and a library book was actually packed (costing one mover guy an hour to search for it – he found it in the second big air freight box he checked).  Otherwise, no horror stories to my knowledge.  Again, truth comes on the other end.

I have a small jewelry pouch made by my sister in law when I was in high school containing sentimental jewelry – a necklace with three hearts from my best friend at each school I attended (elementary, middle and high) which I wore practically every day from ages 10 to 18 (adding hearts at each move), a chain with my grandpa’s baby ring, and a pair of my great grandmother’s earrings, to name a few.  Low in monetary value but high in emotional content.  The last time I saw it was just before pack out of our temporary apartment in Rosslyn.  I realized it was missing after about two months in Manila. 

For two years, I’ve been hunting around my house, hoping I’d find it.  About 18 months in, I gave up.  I harbored a hope that it had accidentally been sent to storage or might turn up as we packed out … but realistically prepped myself that a mover somewhere along the way had slipped it into his pocket and I’d never see it again.

Imagine my happy surprise when, checking in a box at the very back of my closet with Greg’s near and dear possessions (some baseball cards, his tassel from his college cap), I found the pouch at the bottom!  And quickly put it in the drawer with my (monetarily) valuable jewelry to carry on the plane.  I may have teared up a bit. Just maybe J

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Teaching Manners and Responsibility

Teaching proper manners and self responsibility is something parents around the world struggle with, I'm sure -- but I think rearing children in the developing world with loving nannies whose culture and training is to do everything for the child complicates a difficult task.  Don't get me wrong - going to work each day is made easier by having the loving nannies at home.  But, we not only have to work at teaching our children - but also teaching the nanny (in cultures where direct criticism is not well taken).

I admit - I've often taken the path of least resistance, letting nanny be a nanny how she thinks is right and throwing my hands up when my child doesn't act the way I actually think he should.  And then suffer from extreme embarrassment on home leave and R&R when back in the USA where actions such as a three year old expecting an adult to feed him or a five year old refusing to clean up his toys are completely unacceptable.

After three months of (nanny-free) prego-vac, followed by immediately finding out (ie, on landing in Manila) that our next assignment would be DC, I plucked up the energy to commit to being a better parent.  After a few months, we've finally established a dinner routine with Wm actually sitting at the table with us (sometimes for as long as 30 minutes) and clearing his own plate.  They're getting better at cleaning up their toys.  And the nanny now understands the concept of time out.

Tonight, Patch surprised me.  We had finished his nightly episode of Octonauts, and he was running from the living room towards the kitchen (ie, the opposite direction of the bathroom to brush his teeth).

Exasperated, I barked out, "Patch, what are you doing? Brush teeth!"

Equally exasperated, he huffed back, "Mama, I need to put my sippy cup in the sink and the sink is THAT WAY!"

I apologized and thanked him :)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Travelogue: Baguio

Getting there: Drive from Manila.  Friends who have left at 4AM say it has taken as little as four hours, but leaving between 6:30 and 7:30 AM (both directions), it took us about six.  The first two to three hours from Manila is on a relatively well built highway (NLEX and SCTEX), but then you have to go through towns on McArthur Hi-Way.

Of course, the towns afford some interesting views, so it's not terrible -- unless you get stuck going 10 km/h behind a tricycle (or even worse, a pedicab) whose driver refuses to pull over to the side so you can pass.  The construction to add a second lane both directions on McArthur Hi-Way is almost complete.  The last 30 minutes is on Kennon Road - a twisty turvy drive up into the mountains.

Where to stay: If you are a foreign service officer - or directly employed by Embassy Manila - there's no where else to stay except the Ambassador's Residence!  The residence itself has seven rooms (some with shared and some with private baths) - but if you have kids, the cottage (sleeps 6 to 11) or the cabin (sleeps 4 to 6) are a better bet.

What to do: With kids, a must do is Burnham Park.  You can boat and rent bikes, and there's a good playground, too
Other sights include Baguio Cathedral, Mines View Park (take coins for a wishing well and take your photo dressed in Ifugao costumes - which my children refused to do), exploring the pine forests at Camp John Hay, BenCab Museum and nearby Tamawan Park (we didn't make it to either)
Where ever you go, be prepared for the hills - and even better if you have a brother to help you along

What to buy: Even Greg said that he found the shopping in Baguio worthwhile - so that's saying something.  Check out the Baguio City Market to experience a clean - and functional - city market.  We bought super sweet strawberries for $3/kilo, santols for 50 cents/kilo, broccoli for $1 for three heads.  Our nanny stocked up on some short sized brooms and hit the ukay-ukay (second hand) clothing stores to get some winter things  to bring to the U.S.

Sausages at the market (not purchased)

Mines View Park also has some great stalls - we bought textiles (e.g., three king sized lightweight blankets which we will use for top sheets at three for $22).  Narda's is a must for woven items - and we found some great sweaters for Greg and Wm. Good Shepherd Convent has famous peanut brittle and strawberry jam.  Lots of people buy hot chocolate, too -- but with our imminent departure, we didn't want to buy food.  I had wanted to check out a third textile place run by the Episcopal Church, but didn't make it, sadly.  A friend sponsored a guest pass for the Baguio Country Club so we could get the famous raisin bread.  Oh - and the obligatory Starbuck's city mug, with a sunflower!

Where to eat: We self-catered for a few meals, which is so much easier with kids.  We ate at Oh Mai Khan (mongolian bbq) and 50's Diner with kids. (plus one stop at McD's when we were starving and it was there).  Greg and I had nice dinners out at Hill Station and Cafe By the Ruins - both delicious!  

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cleaning out the food

I was so excited to move to Manila and have food available that I purchased on impulse some things I hadn't seen in two years in India.  Like frozen spinach and wheat germ.

Two years later, these are still unused.  Mostly because, I admit, my nanny is a great cook - and I pretty much have completely outsourced meal planning and preparation after giving some basic guidelines (ie, protein and veggie at every meal).  I think she's never used frozen spinach or wheat germ, so there they've sat.

Holy Week is a dead time in Manila - the city clears out as everyone one goes "to the provinces" to be with family.  (I think I have some old posts about this?  I'll have to check later and edit this post.)  in 2011, we had just moved here during Holy Week and it caught us by surprise.  2012 we spent in Burma.  This year, in theory, I'm spending the staycation sorting our house in preparation for moving.  Mostly, this involves me saying I'm going to sort, but instead I've just been hanging out, ignoring the daunting task.

Or creating other activities - like inviting two families over for lunch today.  I am justifying this by baking chicken using wheat germ and making spinach soup.  I'll also have couscous salad.  What better way to clean out the pantry than through a party?