Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Christmas of Contributions

This year's Christmas was a Christmas of asking for help.  Last Thursday, out of no where, my lower back gave out.  As in, I had to call Greg to pick me up from work.  Not believing it was that serious, we still went to a good bye dinner for good friends headed to Hong Kong.  Except then I basically had to ask Greg and a friend at dinner to nearly carry me to our car.  Friday I couldn't move.  Saturday I felt better, so I went grocery shopping and started some cookies, but that was a big mistake, as I spent the rest of the day - and Sunday - and Monday - totally out of commission.

Some presents were not purchased.  Cookies did not get made.  Teachers gifts were not assembled. I pretty much lay in bed, being brought tea and meals, and tried to heal my back.

Thankfully, I have plenty adults around to delegate work to.  My sister and my mom made cookies.  Greg and my mother-in-law made Christmas Eve lunch and Christmas dinner.  My other sister and aunt brought over a Christmas Eve smorgasbord post-service.  (For the record, I finally got drugged up so I could move again to make it to church).  My oldest son and my niece played piano-flute Christmas duet.

My nanny went to a distant cousin's house for the day, and, when her cousin found out how immobile I have been, the cousin sent our nanny home with an entire tray of pancit and other Filipino food so I don't have to cook tomorrow.

So, though Christmas was in my house, it wasn't a Pam-hosted Christmas but a team effort.  It wasn't easy to "let go" and just have things happen, but I did manage to without being too upset.  I think Greg is looking forward to his upcoming three week trip to China in order to recuperate from the extra effort he's put in the last week :)  

Friday, November 21, 2014

What's in a name?

I haven't thought about the meaning of my children's names, well, since we named them.  Wm was named after two great grandfathers.  We chose Patch's name because we had already picked the middle name (Wyand) because he (sort of) shares a birthday with his great-grandmother - and we liked the sound of the two names together.  By the time Ian rolled around, we had an English and Irish name, so we figured Scottish was the way to go.  (And, let me dissuade you from following that logic to think that a son named Llewellyn is on the way.  Three Ponkin boys are plenty.)

The last two weeks have been all about deciphering what Vietnam will mean for our next move.  Always good to talk about moving, is our philosophy, because then it's less jarring when it actually happens.  Wm has a friend at school of Vietnamese heritage, who has told Wm that he should pick a Vietnamese name - and the best way to do that is to figure out the name of your English name, and see how to say that in Vietnamese.  Thus, this week, we determined my children will become:
Mạnh (strong; the word for "protector" was too hard to say)
Cao quý (noble)
Qua tặng (gift; again "gift from God" was a little long)

As I thought about their personalities, it seemed to fit.  Wm is definitely strong-willed and protective of his brothers.  Not sure Patch is "noble" in his jokes (little boys love those potty jokes!), but he is definitely gracious and giving, which surely are "patrician" traits.  And, well, for Ian ... he was an unexpected gift from God for which we're (almost always :) ) happy.

Maybe there's something in a name after all.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Dinner recipe - Chicken & Rice and Roasted Squash

I couldn't resist posting on FB how pretty this dinner looked - and how delicious it was.  Sadly, I didn't save the blog that I copied the chicken casserole from, so I can't give proper attribution.  But, here's my copy:

Toast 1/4 cup pine nuts
Mix together: 1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese, 1/2 c. heavy cream, 1/2 c. sour cream
In baking pan, mix: 1 c. uncooked rice, 2 c. chicken stock, 2 cloves minced garlic, 2 c. chopped/shredded cooked chicken, 3 c. broccoli
Sprinkle pine nuts on top of chicken-rice mix
Drop cheese mixture on top in spoonfuls
Bake 30-45 minutes at 400

PS - we roast a chicken one week, then use the left overs for something the next week.  I'm always on the hunt for good casserole or yummy left-over-roast-chicken recipes.

Roast Squash, courtesy of Real Simple:

Toss 3lbs kabocha or acorn squash (cut into 1 inch wedges, skin on) with 2 Tbsp olive oil, 2 tsp ground coriander, salt and pepper on 2 large rimmed baking sheets.  Bake at 425, turning once, about 25-35 minutes until tender.
Serve over 1 c. plain yogurt.  Top with 1/2 c. pomegranate seeds, 2 Tbsp. olive oil, 1 Tbsp sherry vinegar, and 1 c. fresh cilantro.

Note - the first time I made this, our supermarket didn't have any pomegranate, so I used craisins. Yum.  Trying again this week with pomegranate!  And, I mixed the topping together in a bowl first, before putting on top of the squash.  Finally, I saved some squash plain roasted, for picky little boy eaters who aren't into "fancy" vegetables.  

Handshake Monday

I've spared you the drama of the "middle school dance" antics (as a few FS friends have called it... and as has been taken up by a blog that I can't find right now, but will post a link when I do) of our bid process.  It will all hopefully come to an end on Monday, when we can receive a "handshake" for our next assignment.

Our bid countries ended up being (in alphabetical order): Bangladesh, India, Mozambique, Nepal, the Philippines, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Vietnam.

Since Wm is reading now, at a friend's suggestion, I went to the library to see if I could get some kid books on those countries.  I couldn't find one on India (some school must be doing an India-related thing... every single India book was checked out) and figured I didn't need one on the Philippines for obvious reasons.  I came home with four of the remaining six.  Not too bad for a local library (and, sorry, Africa?  You weren't as well represented on the stacks as Asia.  Indications are that an Africa posting is unlikely anyway.)


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wm on Bidding

On Monday night, Wm asked if I knew what countries we might be going to next.  Never being one to shy away from the topic of moving (my thought is if we talk about it, it becomes "normal"), I hesitatingly told him the list.  I hesitated because he is so opinionated ... and I was pretty sure he would decide which place he wanted to move to - which might not end up being the place we actually get assigned - which could lead to disappointment.

After considering the 10 countries or so, he said, "Hmm... I think I'd like to go to Vietnam because it's close to Manila or to India because Patch was born there."  Then he continued brushing his teeth.  A little later, he piped up again: "If you get a choice between India and Vietnam, I think you should choose Vietnam."  His reasoning? "When we lived in India, there was more smog and you said I always had a cough, so maybe Vietnam wouldn't be like that."

Well, kid, we'll see what November 10 has to bring.  Could be India or Vietnam, or somewhere else entirely... 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

More on bidding and unpacking

The bid season (August - November, if you're lucky, the year before an assignment ends) is a horrible time in the life of a Foreign Service Officer.  As we've said before ... we *have* a permanent job - why do we have to hunt for one?  The peaks and valleys of hearing something promising (or discouraging!) from post or office can be nerve wracking.  The toll on the personal side is just as worse.

I hear parents chatting about the third grade soccer team - the last year before the boys split between recreational and travel.  I have no idea if Wm will be on his team next year.  And, fourth grade, forget about - way too far off!  I've put off finding anything for Patch (he's variously asked about swimming, soccer and gymnastics), questioning if it is worth it to get started on something he might not be able to follow through on.  I did decide this year, though, that we could probably do piano in the next city, so at least that was one decision I could take.

What about clothing?  Another winter is coming ... and my clothes are horribly out of date.  But, if we go some place warm, I won't wear them for years, and they'll fall out of style.  We could end up somewhere cold (doubtful), and they might not be warm enough.  Or, we could be another two years in DC and I'd be happy I spent the money.  My prediction?  Inertia will win and I won't invest.

I posted before about wanting new furniture for our living room and bedroom, and how knowing we might move, possibly as early as June 2015, has stopped me from taking any action on that front.  Today, I decided I needed to do something to make myself feel settled and focus on the present, since I've been dwelling too much on post-June 2015 scenarios.  Cathartic response?  Emptying two jumbled display cases (we quickly needed breakable things out of boxes and out of reach of little hands) and thoughtfully arranging them.  Results pretty good, but it's still a long way until November and that elusive next assignment.

Monday, September 15, 2014

What is that widget thing?

Wm's school PTA decided to try a new fundraising technique this year.  Rather than sell wrapping paper in the fall and cookie dough in the spring, the PTA is organizing a fun run on October 3 at our neighborhood park.

You can read more about it here and here.

I fully support this for the reasons I think a parent dreamed this up in the first place:
1. I hate asking friends and family to buy wrapping paper and other stuff.  Which is silly, of course, because I often purchased wrapping paper from fundraisers held by nieces, nephews and cousins because, let's face it, you can always use some more wrapping paper.  Especially when living overseas and the stuff is hard to come by.
2. Anything that gets the kids excited about being outside is fantastic (though, not like Wm needs any encouragement.  Honestly, we have a harder time getting him inside to eat and sleep).
3. The kids actually do the work (i.e., running).  Let's face it, it was really the parents doing the other fundraisers.

So, to help support the school raise money through this new mechanism, I've shamelessly added the widget to this blog.  It'll be there for about a month, until the October 3 run.  Wm thought $100 was a good goal after hearing his dad tell a story about how his grandparents pledged $1/lap swam.  Except Greg kept swimming and swimming until, 100 laps later, the organizers told him to stop.  I thought that amount was fair because that's basically what I spent between the other two fundraisers last year, so the school makes out the same (or maybe more, because I'm actually half-soliciting donations this time!).

His Bib #512 ... let's see how he does!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Getting Returns

Our oldest is a bit of a tyrant.  Before he was born, we intended to call him "Will."  But within hours of him coming out, I told Greg this baby - still so new - was just too serious and I couldn't call him anything except his full name.  At 2.5, we joked he was a "benevolent dictator" and thought he would change with the addition of a sibling, necessitating sharing the attention.  Wrong.  If I'm honest, most of our house revolves around keeping his mood steady.  We've learned more than a few tricks in the last seven years, and he's learned to cope with many of his (seemingly neurotic) habits/sensitivities (if you live in the outside world).  Things get better as time goes on, but it still takes an enormous about of effort.  

All along, though, his teachers have noted his empathy, and other parents have commented how much he takes care of his little brothers.  When things get crazy, I try to remember this.  So, when he told me nonchalantly this afternoon he got a "model behavior" award at school for helping "his friend" "A," I had to hold back some tears. 

(I don't know his parents, so don't know how they feel about names on blogs, so I'll just call the other boy "A")

"A" moved here just at the end of last school year from another country (not one we've lived in) and didn't speak any English.  Wm's first grade teacher noted at the end of the year how helpful Wm was with patiently explaining how things work to "A."  My guess is that the teachers intentionally placed "A" in the desk next to Wm at the start of this year.  My other guess is that "A," still suffering a bit of a language barrier, doesn't have many friends. 

I have no idea if Wm remembers being the only native English speaker in his schools in India or the Philippines.  Both were English-medium schools, but I have to assume Hindi/Telugu and Tagalog/Chinese pervaded on the playgrounds at the preschool level.  Maybe subconsciously he remembers what it's like not to intuitively understand and to need a friend to explain things.  Or I could be projecting my peripatetic lifestyle decisions into a positive outcome in my child's behavior, just to make me feel better (if 2-3 years can still be considered peripatetic? maybe not).  

Either way, I was touched he called "A" his friend, and that he went out of his way to help him.  The stubborn autocrat once again shows he has a softer side.

Sunday, August 24, 2014


Yesterday, Wm and Patch went to a double sleepover with a neighborhood family with two boys pretty much exactly the same age (within months).  They had a great time.  We had a great time just hanging out with Ian.  Probably the first time ever (?!) Ian has had two parents all to himself.  As Greg remarked at the end, Ian seems the most generally happiest of the three.  Wm is very serious.  Patch is even-kealed.  But, Ian sings to himself (twinkle twinkle, baa baa black sheep, wheels on the bus), babbles, jumps around, and is all smiles in a way we don't remember the other two being.

With the lighter load, we went to a friend's house and actually both enjoyed talking, each with one eye casually on Ian in the play area.  Seriously.  Crazy.  I think we haven't done that since before Patch was born!  And we watched a full episode of Sherlock.  And I cleaned out one of the remaining four boxes in our room (yesterday's blog post about furniture inspired me).

Now, Ian is asleep.  Greg has taken Wm to the baseball game (thanks, Aunt Beth!).  So, down to 1/3 of the usual crew again.  Given that the mellow child is the one left awake ... I'm tempted to just let him watch PBS Kids on the iPad so I can take a nap.  Or tackle another rats' nest in our bedroom.  But, I guess I better ask him if he has anything else in mind, taking advantage of my un-distracted state of mind.

[result two hours later]
I let this kind of nap happen
So this kind of armoire could emerge

Saturday, August 23, 2014

School supplies purchase

one week until school starts - I finally convinced Wm to walk two blocks to staples to purchase his supplies.  Being a girl, I thought he should pick things out to make sure he got the design he liked for the binder, the pencil box, the composition notebooks ...


What was I thinking?  He's a boy!  There is, in fact, nothing to choose if you're a boy other than blue/red/green/black.  Now, if I had a girl, the selection process could very well take hours.  Solid? Print? Design? What kind of design? Coordinate the binder/pencil box/notebooks or just choose independently?  Pastels or brights?  How ever to pick from the 20+ options?

We were in and out of the store in 15 minutes.  It took longer to convince him that we actually really did need to go today than purchase the supplies.  

Setting up shop

When we moved into the new house, I had a flurry of unpacking and purchasing of necessities (i.e., shelves strong enough to hold the entire National Geographic collection, bunk beds for two big boys, a bed for Lea).  I think we were unpacked within a month of receiving all our shipments (as long as you don't count those four boxes still in my bedroom with which I don't know what to do).  Miracle.  Then it was onto the necessary home improvements: replacing the guillotine-like garage door with normal doors that didn't threaten to decapitate our children; patio and steps down to the newly functional garage area; tile by basement doors; bringing chimney up to code; and (last one to be completed soon) a new water heater.  *phew*

Of course, this means I am now starting to focus on how I don't really like how our old living room furniture fits in the living room (not really place for four adults to sit, actually) or that how the size of my grandparents' very nice dining set just isn't quite right for our dining room.

I'd like a new sofa, two chairs, new side tables for the living room; a new dining set (or maybe my mom wants to trade my grandparents' for her buffet, table, and chairs ... some of which of my mom's may have belonged also to my grandparents before they upgraded to the set I have. slightly amusing); and completely new everything in our bedroom.  I'd love to search through yard sales, consignment stores, and flea markets, maybe make it into Union Market or Eastern Market in DC.  Go through all the different showrooms on Rockville Pike.  Have a valid excuse to check out the high end stores in Bethesda (just to get ideas of course!).  Or what used to be my favorite middle ground shop 10+ years ago: Random Harvest.

Putting aside the fact that I have no money for new furniture after all the home improvement activities above, it is bid season.  Which means I have no idea if I'm going to be in this house for a mere 10 months or longer.  And, if we're moving next summer, why buy something to just stick it in storage?  Nope, no point.  Can't bring myself to invest the time and emotion to find the perfect pieces (could take months) to just pack it away.

At least the constant moving keeps me from spending money I probably shouldn't?  Find a silver lining in every cloud.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Time is short...

Two years goes by quickly.  I'm realizing that now that we're one year into our Washington job.  When we moved here, I figured I'd drive up to Bethlehem to visit my 90 year old grandpa every two months or so.  Except, here it was, 14 months after we moved here, and I've been up only two or three times.  The truth is, three active boys just don't mix well with a retirement community full of fragile retirees.  Especially when the community doesn't even have a playground - or even a bench near a field.  So, we didn't go.

Now with bid season upon us, though, I realized we could very well be shipping out across an ocean as early as next June.  School end in MD, sister-in-law's wedding in TX, onward to new country.  Not my ideal scenario, but all the same it could happen.  Which means just 10 more months in the same country with my grandpa.

I've been fretting about this for a week - weighing what to do with the boys while at the retirement community vs. not actually going and our possible impending departure - and the balance left me a bit paralyzed.  (not like me ... I'm usually decisive)  But, luckily, Greg isn't as emotionally tied to my grandpa, nor as phased by boys "not behaving."  And, Greg has a capacity to drive for a long time.  So, per his suggestion, on Saturday we:

Left DC at 11, getting McD's in the car (treat for boys!)
Arrived in Bethlehem just before 3
Greg took two big boys out to a field, while Ian and I sat in the apartment with Grandpa and Rhea (his girlfriend of a few years)
Greg and boys all came up at 5, and everyone played some Rumikub
We ordered pizza and ate ice cream
Said good bye and hit the road home at 7
(well, one pit stop at a near by neighborhood park to let the boys run around before the ride home)

It really only took 3.5 hours to cheer up my grandpa.  And I learned that when Rhea isn't there, he apparently doesn't mind so much if the boys get a little rough on the sofa, especially if he himself is under the pile.  The drive is long to do for just a day, but better to be tired on Sunday than arrive at my next post and regret the missed opportunity.  Hopefully we'll be here beyond June 2015 ... but one never knows.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Bid List out

August 1.  Bid list out.  Though, I have to keep reminding myself it will change many times until the final bids are due Oct 15.

Our criteria are simple: a pol/econ job for me, a consular job for Greg, and decent schools for the kids.  Oh, and at the moment, we're not that thrilled about learning Chinese ... though we may have to change our minds on that factor given the preponderance of jobs available in China.  Beggars can't be choosers when it comes to overeas assigments.

First blush as possible bids: Ho Chi Minh City, Rangoon, Delhi, Tashkent, Kampala, Maputo, and Bucharest.  And the maybes: Managua, Ouagadougou, Kathmandu, Kyiv, Chisinau.  And I'm sure that list will change many times.

Sorry for those of you who wanted to visit us in Tokyo, Osaka, Vienna, Paris or London.  Looks like our gardent post job this bid cycle would be staying put in good-old-Washington DC.  Not that that would be a bad thing - we do enjoy serving here - but figure we better try something overseas.  

Sunday, July 27, 2014


I spent the weekend purging small things sprinkled about the house.  As a result, no one can tell I've purged anything, except the outside garbage can, which is now full.

Bid season is approaching, with the list potentially released as early as this Friday.  So my stress level is slowly (rapidly?) mounting inside.  We'd like to head overseas, ideally after a year of language training.  This would enable us to enjoy another year in the U.S. while also knowing we have an overseas assignment on the horizon.  And language training extends the time period for not bidding for another year.  Yay.  But, realistically, we'll take anywhere with two jobs available and good schools.  Which also could mean staying in DC another two years.  Or, whatever.  Could mean anything.  We'll find out what it means in November.

I digress.  Thinking about bidding means thinking about moving.  Thinking about moving means thinking about packing up our house.  Thinking about packing up means thinking about unpacking again - and my goal is always to unpack within two weeks.  Which means we have to be lean and light on the packing, so it's easier on the other end.  I feel like I'm talking about bidding and moving as if I were in a "Give a Mouse a Cookie" book.

Thus, the tension in anticipation of the bid list has found an outlet in purging.  I tackled some toys and baby things this weekend.  I consolidated two books of cut out recipes into one, in the process getting rid of many recipes cut out pre-2007 ... i.e., ones I know I'll never try until Ian is about 15 and I have time to think about cooking and people who will sit down for longer than 20 minutes to eat.

We've lugged around a bread machine around the world which never seemed to work properly.  A friend of Beth's who is moving unloaded some bread flour.  I bought some fresh yeast to give it a try.  Must to Greg's chagrin, the bread machine appears to work, when plugged into reliable electricity with fresh bread flour and yeast.  As much as I know he wanted to purge that, I think I'll keep it.  At least he can enjoy some fresh bread, right?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

On Curtains and Constantly Moving

This weekend I finally finished sewing dark-out liners in our bedroom curtains.  We've been in the house for over a year, and I have been slightly frustrated I haven't managed to get around to this task, rated as "medium" difficulty on my chore list.  Even though the actual act of sewing is not too difficult (after I finally sat down, only took just over two hours for three panels), I had to jump through a number of mental hurdles before sewing.

1 - I had to decide if I wanted to use our super nice think lining material I had stitched into 84" panels in India.  In HYD, we had two curtain rods per window, so it was easy to hang.  In Manila, I recut (but never hemmed the edges) and safety pinned the lining to the existing curtains hung on one track. So, should I just keep the material to rig up in our next city (whenever or wherever that may be?), buying new liner here?  Or should I use it?

2 - I don't really like our curtain color with our wall color.  Should I even keep these curtains (which I actually do like) or just get new ones that coordinate better with the wall color?  Will I have time to paint the room before we move (Greg doubts it)?  Should I "upgrade" the curtains even if I decide to get new ones?  If I "upgrade" them, will I get new ones?  Will it force me to prioritize painting our room to a more neutral off-white rather than the brown?

After I finally decided to just use the lining I had (finally hemming the edges I quickly cut in Manila), with existing curtains, I then had more decisions.

3a - Do I properly measure and cut and tack the lining, so it fits and hangs well?  I have four panels of lining, but only three curtains.  The lining panels are about six inches too narrow.  But I have only three curtains.  So, I could easily cut some strips from the fourth panel, sew into each of the other panels, and then properly fit the lining to the curtains.  The curtains are only 72", but the lining is 84", so I'd also have to cut and hem length


3b - Do I just fit one lining per curtain as best I can, and then not worry about the fact that there's about 2-3" on either side of the curtain that is unlined?  And, if I'm cutting that corner, do I just leave 6" at the top of the lining, or do I still properly measure and sew the seam?

In the end, I decided to just bootleg it, sewing a straight line across the top of the curtain, with six inches inside at the top.  And I used safety pins at the bottom rather than tacking it down the side.  My reasoning?

I really like the liners - we haven't found as thick or dar a lining (for as reasonable a price) since HYD.  So, I didn't want to cut up the fourth panel.  And I did want to keep the full 84" length in case we need that much in the next city (whenever or wherever that may be).  And, not being sold on the curtains (since I might not get around to painting, let's be honest), I didn't want to invest in new lining.  This way, all I need to do when we move is take out one straight seam, and I will once again have liners to tack or safety pin to whatever window treatments I might have in the future (whenever or wherever that may be).  And with safety pins, I could finish the project quickly, before I got too tired or any boys distracted me.

Decisions made, five straight seams sewn, curtains hung, dark room this morning.  Great.

Except, I know my grandmother is probably rolling in her grave, since cutting corners was not how she taught me to sew.  Were she alive, I'd appeal to her Depression-Child side, pointing out how I'm saving and reusing material, again and again.  Surely that must count for something in her book, right?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Pink Legos

Wm just finished up two weeks of at STEM camp at his school.  He had a great time learning about basic electricity, Lego robotics, computer programming through Scratch, "non-Newtonian" substances, etc.  Really his only suggestion was that they needed more time to play sports (can't get that kid to sit still for too long!).  My complaint was that the first week, his camp at 16 boys and 2 girls.  The second week was 17 boys and 1 girl.  As an almost-math-major and from a family with women who "do math," I found this really disappointing.

The same week, I received Pottery Barn Kids back-to-school catalog.  Wm needed a new backpack, and his $15 Target Planes backpack from last year (which he loved despite never having seen the movie?) was totally dead, so I thought I'd splurge on a more expensive one to see if it would last longer.  I opened the catalog to find 21 different backpacks with pink and purple and only 9 for boys, all blue.

Between these two things, I've been fired up all week about gender differentiation.  Some friends posted on my FB rant that the camp should offer a girls-only camp -- which, by the way, it does.  BUT, as a mother of three boys, this doesn't satisfy me.  All it does is show my boys that girls can only "do science" if they're in a special program.  Same at Target where, apparently, girls can only "do Legos" if they are pink and purple and involve ponies.

And what would happen if a girl wanted a red backpack?  Or of my son wanted an orange one?  Not a single gender neutral option available!  (in fairness, I did just check the PBKids website and, under the "Boys Fairfax" collection, they do offer navy/red/green solids and stripes ... but apparently a solid red backpack is only ok for boys?  Girls colors are powder pink, lavender and baby blue)

I brought these concerns up with a neighbor (who has one boy and one girl) to see if I was over reacting.  She shares a dislike of pink Legos.  She also said that after Google's diversity report, she's relaxed restrictions on her daughter's "productive" screen time and asked her husband (who is a programmer) to spend extra time on the computer with their daughter, to make sure their daughter has a basic working knowledge.

Kudos out there to parents of girls who are trying to bring up women with confidence that they can "do science" without having a "special" set aside from them.  And I'm on the hunt for more gender balanced science camps, so my sons can passively understand that gender doesn't play into STEM ability.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Throwing a party

Attending my friend's baby shower this weekend (in theory, I was invited to co-host, but in actuality, my co-host is such an amazing party planner, my "hosting" was limited to baking three quiches and making sure the party 'progressed' nicely), I was reminded how easy it is to have parties in America.  At least, how easy it is to have American-style parties in America.  No hunting wide and low for paper plates.  Cakes readily available from a number of bakeries.  Decorations a click away from Amazon and choices endless.  Brown paper bags with windows and custom stickers for the cookie bag favors?  No problem!  Linen rentals, monogramed napkins, the list goes on.

Really, the shower was beautiful and my hat is off to a dear college friend for organizing.  On the bus ride home, I thought about planning parties in other countries.  The colorful tent rented for Patch's first birthday.  Catering near-debacles for other parties in HYD.  Five mani-pedi ladies coming to the house for a baby shower in Manila.  The gatherings, of course, were still fun because of the people - we ended up making things fun with what we had.  Overall, though, I think my heart is in the traditional U.S.-style party.  Happy to be back home and celebrate with friends.

Friday, June 6, 2014


Most mornings when I have "morning report" duty, I drive.  The silver lining is a chance to listen to NPR.  In the past, I've found Garrison Keillor a bit annoying, but this week I've really enjoyed the Writer's Almanac installment.  That for June 5 was especially good, so copying the poem, "Possibilities" by Linda Pastan below.  I find especially poignant the lines about growing larger and then smaller -- with three little ones, I know they'll get bigger and then we'll have a time when we're back down to two, but how things will change during that process cannot be foretold.  Does waking up so early in the morning always make one so reflective?  


Today I drove past a house
we almost bought and heard
through the open window music

made by some other family.
We don't make music ourselves, in fact
we define our differences

by what we listen to.
And what we mean by family
has changed since then

as we grew larger then smaller again
in ways we knew would happen
and yet didn't expect.

Each choice is a winnowing,
and sometimes at night I hear
all the possibilities creak open

and shut like screendoors
in the wind,
making an almost musical

to what I know
of love and history.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Over Memorial Day Weekend

Wm's teacher has been trying to get him to write as expressively as he speaks (and use proper punctuation).  He was so happy when she gave him a "P" ("progressing" as opposed to "I" for "improving" or "N" for "needs work") for this essay.  I won't save the paper, so writing it here for my blog files (but maybe family out there will enjoy reading it).  Kind of hard to type with the special spelling, but I'll try.

All he missed was Saturday dinner at his aunt's house with one grandpa and the cousins -- and going to Adventure Park (see this post)!  I'm really surprised he forgot to write about being up in the trees, though I can understand how the excitement of the mini scooters, s'mores on fire, and pool time were exciting enough to crowd out memory of a big family dinner.

Also made me think - had we been overseas, this weekend most certainly would have been spent traveling somewhere, likely at a nice resort with a pool (if we were still in South or SouthEast Asia), and excursions to some super old temples or strange land formations, or something like that.  The description below is much more "normal American"- which doesn't always seem interesting to blog about, but, in reality, is as much a learning experience for our family as an excursion to an exotic locale.


Over  Mamoryial weekend I saw my cozends and went to the pool.  First we road mini scooters.  I mad smors and my cozond Lexi got her marshmelo on fire my brother tride to get his mrshmelo on fire to. then we went home I was criing because I wonted a sleepover.  Next, the next day I went to pool with Ry and Ari.  After that, I went on the diving bord.  It was very fun  I even took off my gogels for the first time in my life.  I had a very fun time with my family and frendis.

Subset of Cousins.  It's near impossible to get a picture with all since our three are so wiggly!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Adventure Park

With the impetus of cousins visiting from Blackburg, VA, we finally took the time to have an adventure.  I'm not sure why we've been such home bodies since arriving in the US - maybe it's just because we can.  Weekends revolve around Saturday morning shopping, quiet afternoon at home while Ian naps, late afternoon at park, dinner and bed.  Repeat on Sunday, substituting church for shopping and Wm's soccer game during Ian's nap.  Dull and repetitive, but without the stress of having to plan or be somewhere at a specific time.

This weekend, though, we visited Sandy Springs Adventure Park -- and had a great time.  Well, Wm and I had a great time (Patch was too small, and after three hours of waiting to watch us since it was so crowded, went home with a cranky Ian who only napped an hour in his stroller).  Since it was *almost* Wm's birthday, they let him go on the medium courses as long as I went with him (of course!), so it was a great activity for him to be a big kid -- rather than always having to find activities that suit all children (very hard when Ian isn't yet 2).

He faced one zip line where he was in tears because he was scared, but a staff member on the ground coached him through (where my soothing words in the tree next to him didn't work), and he did it.  Listening to him and his cousins chat about their experiences at dinner after was priceless - and resulted in Patch making us promise that we could go again next year when he is five and able to try out the two easy courses.  Monkey see, monkey do!
Wm crossing a tightrope

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Getting back into old habits

As probably apparent from many posts on this blog, baby #3 upset many routines.  Or, maybe it's just that baby #3 came, then we only had six months left in Manila, then we returned to DC, and our routines would have been turned upside down anyway ... but I "blame" it on baby #3.  Not that we resent baby #3 at all. Au contraire, he's usually a joy to have around, assuming he's not banging things on the coffee table or hitting anyone out of frustration for not being able to actually fully speak yet.

This week, though, I was reminded of what a doctor told me in high school: my minor scoliosis would be fine as long as I continued to dance or do other things that kept me limber and gave me a strong abdomen.  After I stopped dancing in high school, I took up various activities - pilates, swimming, yoga, among others - to accomplish this goal.  I was doing pretty well, until June 2012, when my neighbor-yoga-teacher moved away and I just couldn't bear sitting in two hours of Manila traffic for a one hour yoga class - especially in my last trimester OR with a nursing baby at home.  Self-practice attempts with three boys at home failed miserably.

Flash forward almost two years, with no activities other than my daily walk commute.  While that cannot be undersold (I've regained a good amount of strength, actually, and returned to my pre-William pregnancy weight), I haven't paid attention to my high school doctor's warning.  And after a weekend of Patch using me as a jungle gym and Ian being insisted to be carried, I found myself just barely able to walk.  GACK.

After a week of hot packs, ibuprofen, and a screaming toddler (sad I wasn't carrying him), I can finally just barely reach my fingertips to my toes.  My normal is a full palm on the ground, but I can't complain too much given the pain of the last week.  A friend at work suggested that I take advantage of my cave-like office, shut my door, and do 20 minutes of self-practice yoga each day before lunch.  Brilliant.  And no ability to complain about baby #3 interrupting things.

Wm has "DEAR" time at school ("drop everything and read").  Come tomorrow, I need to put a yoga-equivalent reminder on my Outlook.  Anyone out there good at coming up with catchy acronyms?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

To Do

Battling illness of a variety of kinds, at the last minute (when Wm had a 102 fever on Friday) we opted not to drive up to NH and PA to visit family.  Taking a car load of kids, who haven't been all been healthy for a week straight, to visit friends and family - especially when family is 90 years old - just didn't seem like a smart idea.  So, it's a stay-cation for two days (and I'll go into work for the other three ... saving those days for whenever we *are* healthy and can drive north!).

I put together a list of things I'd like to do with these four days home: grocery shop; file papers; order photos; call grandpa; figure out how to pay school fees in Hyderabad; mow; seed grass; plant seeds; check Lea's papers before she goes home; plan dinner while Lea is in the Philippines; mail cards.

Wm then wrote his "to do" list next to mine: change up; fix bed; eat lunch early; soccer game; park.

Kind of wish he had remembered to put his homework on it ... :) I like his list better than mine!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Managing my pantry

If there's anything that I still find frustrating about moving every two to three years, it's the pantry.  Most of the time, we can't bring non-perishables with us.  Even spices are banned when heading to some places (up side? you know your spices are never more than two to three years old).

Today, I was looking through our corner cupboard, where we keep things like granola bars, pasta, and munchies.  It's overflowing, because I keep finding things we can only buy in America, and I purchase them, not because I will eat them in the near term, but just because I can.  Or maybe the ever-picky Patrick will decide one of the new fangled American foods will suit is discerning palate.

As I was putting away the groceries yesterday and trying to find space in this cabinet, it hit me.  I'm bidding this summer.  And bidding means a move is possibly on the horizon.  And if a move is on the horizon, I need to start paring down the pantry, to avoid waste.  And I need to start now, because it can take a really long time.  We failed miserably when leaving India, giving so much food to a friend that she ended up writing us a check because she felt so guilty.  We did better leaving Manila, probably because I was in the US for 9 - 6 months before departure (and Greg is much better at avoiding temptations at the store).

Thus, my new found mission in grocery shopping: only buy perishable food, unless I know we'll eat something this week.  Once again, I realize buying a house one block from a grocery store was a great idea -- not only will it help keep future teenage boys fed without having to purchase a second fridge, but I can use it as my back-up pantry if I miscalculate.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Remembering the Seasons

In Japan this week, I'm back to my happy spot - would be perfect if Greg and three crazy boys were here, too, but I'll take (and thoroughly enjoy!) the solo trip.

Coming back to Tokyo is always full of reminders of Japan's unique-ness.  In the first hour I was in the airport, I saw: (1) the lady pushing the extra carts diligently hang a flashing red light on every third cart (as if passengers in the terminal couldn't already see the 15 foot train of carts!), (2) a group of 20-something young men open their suitcases that just came out of baggage claim, change their shirts - and then change their pants, in the middle of the arrival hall (!!), and (3) the ticket taker at the airport bus bow not only when the bus door closed, but stay bowed as the bus pulled away and we could no longer see him.  Then, of course, there's the contrast of the urban bustle of Shibuya with the quiet of small gardens tucked inside tiny spaces.

What I enjoy most, though, is the small reminders of seasons.  Food changes, decor changes, clothing changes - in India and the Philippines, seasons vary between dry and wet.  In the U.S., I have to make a conscious effort to buy fruits and veggies in season, since we have everything available all the time.

A simple reminder of the changing season is right outside my hotel room door.  With apologies for the cell phone quality of the photo, hopefully you can see the tiny tree bud about to flower in the base of the pine springs.  A simple way of saying spring is about to come! (and if anyone knows how to rotate a photo in Blogspot, please send me a note!)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Tunlaw by Photos

Disclaimer: I haven't figured out how to arrange photos well in Blogspot, so this is a really poorly laid out post.  But, you'll get the point of some of our memories in pictures. 

First, we had to get the house ready.  This involved Painters Without Pay (aka Pam's mom and sister Beth) working hard to rid the place of seriously poor color choices by the previous owners.  Then, Pam's grandma made curtains, her grandpa made radiator covers, and, eventually, Pam herself sewed some pretty spectacular roman shades.  When Pam's grandpa passed away and she and Greg chose to take his National Geographic collection, book cases were installed to house them.  

We got Bagwelle! 

We had lots of fun parties - here are just a few!
China Welcoming Party

Easter Dinner
Jenn & CK's engagement
Jenn & CK's engagement

New Year's

We had lots of visitors - too many to post photos of - but highlighting those who came from overseas to stay with us

Greg's colleague from Jordan

And the last year was dominated by William's arrival. (Beth moved in with us, too, but Wm was just so cute, all the photos are of him!!)

Dinner with Wm on our roof deck

First time meeting great grandpa

The bathtub lived under the kitchen sink

Rocket Baby met Aunt Beth frequently after a night shift

Aunt Tracy makes a pony

Wm learns a favorite spot from Bagwelle

And really, we started to say good bye in 2008, when we found out we were joining the Foreign Service.  Wm started the trend, but now we have three FSO Babies, and, well, sadly fitting in Tunlaw would just be a little tight. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Learning to communicate

I already posted about Ian starting to figure out words.  More and more, now, he's actually communicating.  Lea has told me that she speaks Tagalog to him during the day, "so he doesn't forget the Philippines."  I'm not sure if she just likes speaking Tagalog (makes her less homesick) or if she really wants Ian to speak it (her lasting contribution to his development).

Patch grew up in a dual language environment, too - well, actually tri-language, since while our nannies spoke Hindi/Urdu at home, many of the surrounding people spoke Telugu, and we of course spoke English.  In Patch's case, this meant he hardly spoke a word at age two.  I remember telling his first pre-school teacher in Manila that my "goal" for him was to have him be able to say more than just "mama" and "milk."  In a few months, he figured it out and was speaking in sentences.

Ian seems to be taking a more incremental approach, showing an interest in saying words in both languages.  Yesterday, I noticed him differentiating between how he spoke with Lea and how he responded to me.  To Lea, for an affirmative answer, he consistently said, "O-o," Tagalog for "yes." He can't quite make the "yes" sound in English, so to me, he would nod his head.  Kind of cool.

[side note: for no, to anyone, he firmly shakes his head and, if at all possible, pushes the offending item away.  It doesn't matter what language you speak!]

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Why we need more snow days

Something about being stuck at home, with active kids, motivates me.  Maybe some friends lounged about in pjs, but that's not really an option here … items accomplished today:

- Making pancakes
- Catching up on a myriad of work reading material long delayed.  This includes such gems as the International Strategy for Cyberspace, the Asian Energy Outlook, and numerous news articles on TPP and TPA.
- A game of Settlers of Catan with Wm
- Baking cookies with Patch
- Trying to up my Japanese reading skills with NHK Easy News
- Finishing valentines for both classes (just in case there's school tomorrow!)
- Loading and unloading dishwasher (get credit for the small things, too, right?)

And, most importantly:
(and it's only 3:30!)

 4:30 update:


Saturday, February 8, 2014

So We Can Play Together

Patch today will be attending his first "girl" birthday party.  It took some convincing to go, since he says he doesn't like girls.  After (1) Wm pointed out all the girls Patch plays with at the park and (2) I confirmed that Patch's friend Lui would be there, Patch finally agreed.  Score for me - Saturday afternoon activity out of the house confirmed!

Off we headed to Target to get a toy.  I'm sure many of you read some of the various articles over the holidays about the bifurcation of "girl" and "boy" toys.  Here is our family's version of that experience:

Me: OK, shopping for house done.  Let's go to the toy section and get something.
Wm: Patch, here's the pink area.  Come, let's get a princess or doll thing.
Patch: NO. I don't like girl toys.
Wm: But Emily is a girl!
Patch: But I don't like all that pink around me.
Me: OK, let's get Oliver's present first
(note: oliver's birthday party is in two weeks)
(debate about benefits of Hot Wheels vs. Cars figurines vs. Legos vs. Imaginext ensues.  Imaginext wins)
Me: Time to get Emily's now.
Patch: Hey, this game looks fun! (pointing at Let's Go Fish-- the game where the fish mouths open and close and you have to dangle a magnet fishing line in to get them out)  Can we get it for Emily?
Wm: But it's not a girl toy.
Patch: It's an everyone toy. We can play it together!

So, there you go.  My four year old wants more "everyone" toys so that he can play with his friends who are girls without a crushing amount of pink.  Do you think retailers and toy makers will listen?  Looks like someone has even started a blog to "Let Toys be Toys."

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Love the Logic

As long time friends - but maybe not casual readers - know, I have a soft spot in my heart for math and logic.  Had a certain professor at Wellesley not gone on maternity leave my senior year - forcing a different professor whom I didn't get along with so well to teach the senior seminar class - I probably would have ended up majoring in math.  As it is, I simply nurture that enjoyment in small ways, and more and more recently that's been through Wm!

Since he was a small kid, I could tell we'd be on the same wave length, when it came to math, at least.  At 2, he had great geospatial awareness parallel parking his tricycle.  I never had to explain addition or subtraction, he just inherently seemed to know it.  I'm sure we'll get into some epic battles in the future, when I yell at him for sloppy hand writing and not keeping his decimals lined up, but for now it's all fun.

Tonight we were talking about the difference between mayors and the president, and he wanted to know how many times someone can be elected president (2), how much time between each election (4 yrs), and when the next election would be (2016).  After I answered these questions, he was quiet for a split second, and then said, "well, that means President Obama wasn't president when I was born.  Who was?"

I have to admit, I was pretty proud of him - and enjoyed seeing how he pulled the fuzzy new concepts back to his immediate self.  (obviously, since this post is a little boastful.  But, hey, parents are allowed to do that sometimes, right?)  I doubt he could have explained quickly how he knew it was a different president when he was born … he just did.  

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Maybe Asia is the Place for Us

Aside from having spent four years while growing up in Japan, there really is no obvious reason why we should gravitate toward that region.  Why not the Western Hemisphere, which boasts the same time zone as the US? Or Europe with many many direct flights? Or Africa, with, well, I'm not sure what, but people who have served there love it so I'm sure I'd find something to love if we spent the majority of our time on that continent.

Greg returned home from the grocery store with frozen finger foods for dinner tomorrow (I think his intention is a picnic in the basement during Super Bowl).  As he listed off the foods he bought, I asked if it was a Lunar new Year theme: xio mai, spring rolls, orange chicken, samosas, satay... He hadn't even realized the exclusively Asian menu!

So, couple that with his love of Siracha, and I guess Asia is where we're meant to be. Follow our stomachs! (And I guess make due with the horrendous flights)

Saturday, January 25, 2014

A whole lot of nothing?

I feel like I've been doing nothing lately.  At least, nothing worth blogging about.  The snow has driving my mind into a freeze - I guess that's what four years in the tropics will do.  In fact, as I type this, my fingers are so freezing to the touch that I know in a few minutes, when I put Patch & Wm to bed, Patch will invariably complain again about how cold they are and how I shouldn't touch him.  *sigh*

But really, we've been extremely busy getting our condo ready for - and placed on - the market.  We debated keeping it as a rental investment (after all, we really like the place and I think harbored secret dreams that we could move back in in 15 years when we only had Ian living at home).  But, in reality, neither of us actually enjoy being landlords - and certainly not from 10,000 miles overseas and the extra headache that imposes.  So, after we got past the emotional reaction of not wanting to leave the District,  it made the most sense to sell it after the tenants moved out.  Which they decided to do in December.

As it is, I'm now quite pleased we decided to sell it while we're here and I could say a proper good bye.  I'm happy I could spiff it up myself (with help from Greg, Beth and Lea!) to make sure it was in the best shape possible.  Somehow, being able to do those things in person - rather than making decisions over the phone or email or via a power of attorney - puts me more at ease with selling it.

Our realtor is expecting an offer tomorrow morning - shocking, given we just put it on the market on Wednesday.  So, I guess you could be reading my post of happy memories in the condo as soon as the end of February (closings are usually the end of the month), if we're lucky.

While changing electrical plugs, touching up paint, switching out degenerate ceiling fans for lights, deep cleaning tile grout, getting quotes for a broken window pane, etc aren't really blog worthy, this month hasn't been filled with nothing.  Just the technical parts of saying goodbye to our first home.   

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

In case you had any doubt

Wm is definitely Greg's son.  Breakfast conversation this morning:

G: Wm, if you finish up breakfast by 7:45, you can watch Manchester City
[aside: Wm has decided Manchester City is his team]
W: Really? I can do it! it's only 7:05! Who are they playing?
G: I don't know - Crystal Palace?
W: NO. They already played Crystal Palace and won 1-0
[impressed look from Greg to Pam]
G: Maybe Cardiff. 
[Wm's proceeds to look up Cardiff's stats on the iPad Fifa Soccer game]
G: Actually, I don't think it's Cardiff.
W: Well, it can't be Arsenal. Manchester City beat them 6-3. 
[at this point, Greg is beaming with pride…]
[for those wondering - it's vs. Swansea.  We'll see who wins]