Monday, February 28, 2011


…posted by Bones

Can happiness truly be found anywhere?

I am sure that there are some places that happiness can not be found, such as the death of a loved one. But in most situations I like to believe that happiness can be found. You just have to look for it.

When my older brother was taking a psychology class as part of his nursing degree, one of the topics was happiness.

“Do you know what happiness is?” he asked me.

I thought about it a moment and told him what I though happiness was.

“To you perhaps, but your happiness it not necessarily someone else’s happiness. Take for instance the homeless person that lives under the bridge. His happiness will be completely different than yours”, he told me.

Wow! I never really thought about it like that before. I am the kind of person that likes to see happiness. You know, I like to see people smiling and laughing. In my previous opinion before the conversation with my brother, if you were not smiling and laughing, I just assumed you were not happy. Kind of like my mom. Don’t get me wrong she smiled and laughed, but she complained all the time. It was interesting to hear her complaints and it wasn’t until my brother and I had that conversation that I realized that “complaining” was a key component to her happiness. If there was nothing for her to complain about she was not happy. It made me see things totally different for the first time.

I deal with people on a daily basis, from all walks of life and ranging from all ages. Some I have relationships with and others are just passing strangers that I might have a small interaction with. Never a moment goes by that I don’t think about what makes one happy. I often think there must be something wrong with me, because it is rare that I get sad or get let down by a situation. I would love to tell you what makes me happy, but I can’t, because I truly don’t know. It is so much easier to say what makes me sad.

As mentioned earlier… the death of a loved one or the loss of a family pet. I have had many of them and I am just as sad now as the first time I experienced it. It also saddens me when I see someone I love unhappy or sad and there is nothing I can do help. Shannon would say “you can help by just listening" I am a problem solver. I always assume that if someone comes to me with a problem, it’s my job to fix it. It is not always easy to just listen.

Guys… remember, sometimes when our wives complain to us…they just want us to listen.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Weekly FS Blog Roundup--In the News

This week I found myself wanting to write blog posts that linked to other blogs. This isn't my usual style but there is just so much going on out there right now. A lot of what I have been reading is worrying, to say the least. There are riots, pay cuts, evacuations, and earthquakes, oh my. Sorry! I don't mean to be flip but that is the way I handle bad news, with sarcasm and dark humor.

In the midst of all the bad news there was one blog, or should I say a pair of blogs that touched me deeply. The bloggers are a husband and wife assigned to Wellington New Zealand, but they were both in Christchurch when the quakes hit. They are both fine, at least physically. The story of their finding each other in the chaos that followed the quake is amazing. You can read his point of view of the quake and the story of the magnificent kiwis. You can also read about her experiences. Warning: grab some tissues before you start reading, and make sure to check out the comment Adrian left on Amy's blog, it's the sweetest thing ever.

Another bit of bad news/good news was the shooting at the Bangkok Embassy. Good news no one was hurt, bad news there was a shooting.

Of course you can't turn on the TV right now without hearing about some new development in the middle east. The good news is that Connie discovered the source of the booming in Jordan the other day, while Adventures in Good Countries is contemplating what to protest for, a coffee shop perhaps? Wonder if that would work here in Malawi, we could use a good coffee shop, actually we could use any coffee shop. Also good news the Four Globetrotters had a nice time while they were evacuated to Morocco and are now back at post settling back in to their life.

Not everyone is having such a positive experience. The folks in Libya are still stuck trying to get out of the country days after an ordered departure. Matt finally made it back to post after being stranded en route to the middle east. If only the call had come earlier he could have had a few extra days with Jill and the kids. And really who could blame the Sherwood Family for getting fed up with being on evacuation, but even in the middle of it all the kids thought about the less fortunate.

For a really different look at the whole situation check out the narrative at Muttering Behind the Hardline, it puts a personal face to the people in these countries.

And now for the news that has everyone stirred up, the House voted to cut locality pay, and no I don't care what the media is reporting this is not about pay raises, this is about pay cuts. If this passes the Senate, we, along with a whole lot of other people, will face an immediate 15% pay cut. That is 15% of his pay check. His check that we are already receiving not some raise we may get some day, money we count on NOW. If this passes it will be gone. POOF! So what can be done? Well Kolbi called her two Senators from her home state. Wife-Mommy-Woman wrote her Senators and urges others to do the same. Digger and Herding Cats not only wrote to their Senators, they shared sample letters to make it easier for you to write to your Senators as well. You have no excuses, now get writing.

So how did we, the people who make up the FS, come to be in the budgetary crosshairs? We are not that large a group. Tiny in fact. A while back it was reported that there are more people in military bands than there are FSOs. So why are we front and center for pay cuts? Why should we get paid less to work overseas than to work in DC? Donna has an idea, she says it is all our fault. You really must read this wonderous work of logic. I am now thinking (somewhat guiltily) about all the blog posts I wrote glorifying going to Marine Corps Balls, spa treatments, household help. Am I part of the problem? Maybe, but mainly I blame the way we are all portrayed in the movies. I have yet to see a house in the movies that looks like any house I have lived in overseas, never mind all the invites to balls (we PAY for our tickets, thank you very much) and hanging out with famous people. I wish my life was that glamorous, no actually I don't, I like my life just fine.

Becky is cutting back on spending, just in case. For my family we live pretty modestly so it won't make a lot of difference in our day to day life but it will make a huge impact in our future plans. Dave and I recently started shopping for a house so we can have a place to retire in a few years. At the moment it is little more than a hobby. We spend many evenings looking at real estate on line. The money we don't need for our day to day existence goes into retirement and college savings, the small (very small) amount left is being funneled into a special account for a down payment, someday. If we loose 15% of our pay I can kiss that account goodbye.

Well that's my roundup for this week. I hope next week will have better news for all of us. No one has signed up yet for the roundup next week. If you are interested in hosting please stop by A Daring Adventure and sign up.

Weekly FS Round Up: Call for Submissions.

It has been a while since I have hosted the Weekly Foreign Service Roundup. Since the last time I hosted there have been a few changes, one of which was the introduction of themes. There have been some great themes over the past few months. Everyone who has hosted has done such a great job. I wish I could say I had a cute, fun, theme for this week, but sadly I don't.

I have noticed that this week (and last) that there are a lot of news type postings on blogs, rather then the usual family updates and travel log kind of posts. So I am asking for news items related to foreign service personnel. Has something happened at your post that has made the news this week? Riots, evacuations, earthquakes? Want to weigh in on the proposed budget cuts and how the loss of income will affect us all if it makes it through the Senate? I know it is short notice but there have been so many things going on the last few weeks that I think we can do it. Please send me you news worthy blog posts and will put together the roundup sometime tomorrow afternoon. Thanks!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Hat Trick

In case you are wondering what they learn at Navy bootcamp these days here is a video showing Dakota's proudest accomplishment.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Graduation Pictures

If you checked in yesterday you know that Dakota graduated from Great Lakes Naval Bootcamp. WOOT WOOT! You also know that I wasn't there to play paparazzi and give him a huge hug when the ceremonies were all finished. *SOB, Tears, sniffle* Ok, all better now. What you don't know is that I spent the evening perched in the chair next to the phone that is hooked to our vonage line, with the big desktop computer set up for skype and my laptop in my lap open to facebook so I could monitor the updates posted by family that was there to cheer him on.

I was all hooked up via modern technology so that I could be as involved as possible from another continent. After days of on and off (mostly off) internet, the technology decided to cooperate, and dropped connections were fairly minimal, and quickly reconnected. The kids were watching "Charlotte's Web" munching popcorn, and trying hard not to attract Mom's attention. David was at a function, the kind that means he has to get all cleaned up and wear a suit. So not only was he missing the graduation, but he was working. Poor guy! Just think instead of doing... what ever it is they do at these functions, he could have been mopping up my tears and dealing with my hysteria. Wait a minute...hmmm...I wonder if there really was a function?

We did eventually get to talk to Dakota on on the Vonage, and we even skyped with him and Jorden from the backseat while on theIr way out to eat with everyone. He looked really good. The boys got a chance to tell him all about starting a fire with a magnifying glass (Ummm... Sorry about that Jenn you probably want to hide the magnifying glasses from Jorden for awhile!) they showed him Squirtle the tortoise, and got him all caught on the goings on here in Malawi. Dave got a chance to talk to him when he got home, his conversation seemed to be mostly about what comes next now that bootcamp is over. Fatherly advice from someone who has been there, done that. I am so happy that bootcamp is finally over and we can talk more often. Hopefully he uses some of his new income to buy a phone, or a computer or something to make it easier to keep in touch. On a regular basis! (Yes, Dakota I know you are reading this and I expect regular phone calls or skypes, so does Grandma!)

My thanks to Brenda, Donnie, Teri, and Jenn for being there and being so quick to get pictures up on FB! Thanks to Jenn for posting to FB live during the ceremony, hopefully you were discrete and didn't bother those around you too much, but I loved seeing the pics in real time. Thanks to Donnie for wearing your dress blues even though you're retired, that was so cool. Thanks to Jorden for giving Cody a big kid hug so he didn't miss his little brothers too much. And a big thanks to Teri for getting me a copy of the official CD so that I can eventually watch the whole ceremony from beginning to end. I can't wait until it arrives, well we are a pouch post so I will have to wait, but I don't have to be happy about it. Here are some pictures of the whole event that I have shamelessly stolen from the afore mentioned relatives FB pages.

Wow! That's a whole lotta new sailors!

You can't see his face, but Dakota is the one carrying the MIA/POW flag.

Dakota and Uncle Donnie both in dress blues. Out with the old in with the new! Donnie is a retired nuke, and Dakota is a nuke in training.

Aunt Teri and Jorden give Dakota a big hug.

Gedunk! I have no idea what that means but David said I had to write it. Apparently that makes sense to those who have been in the Navy.

A big hug from cousin Jennifer.

Aunt Brenda, Dakota, and a frog relaxing after a long day. Love the frog, for those of you who don't know I collect frogs.

I will post more pictures when I get some. I am sure all of you will be tired of the pics before I am done, but I am one proud mama!

Friday, February 18, 2011


Today Dakota graduates from Navy Bootcamp. In so many ways this is more of a mark of his becoming an adult than was his high school graduation. I want so badly to be there to see him in his uniform carrying the MIA/POW flag in the ceremonies. I have seen him in uniform before when he was in JROTC last year, and he looked very handsome. This is different, this is more, this is what he has chosen to do with his life. I want to see him in his new navy uniform and give him a big hug and cry proud mommy tears all over him.

Instead I am sitting in Malawi watching Dakota's brothers roast marshmallows at 9 in the morning on a fire they lit all by themselves with magnifying glasses. I am glad I was here to see how excited they were that it actually worked, and to make sure they were playing with fire in a safe location. It almost made up for not being there for Dakota to watch all three of them sit and concentrate and then see their victory dance when the first small flame appeared. All the same when the sugar high wears off there will be a serious fire safety talk.

I know that some of you who live this nomadic life that is the foreign service understand the choices: when do you go home, when do you sit tight and wish you could be there, is it really worth days of travel to be there for a ceremony that will last such a short time? Others who's lives are different probably think I am a horrible parent for missing this event. We could have probably have (just) afforded the round trip ticket to Chicago for me to be there, but it would have been a stretch, and it would put our budget in a bad place.

Instead we have made sure that there will be someone there to cheer him on and take lots of pictures. Later if the internet cooperates we will get to talk to him on vonage or skype and wish him all the best. Then his aunts and uncle and cousins will take him out for a good meal and make sure that he knows just how proud we are of him.

*Teri, Jenn, Donnie, and Brenda: if any of you are reading this take LOTS AND LOTS of pictures today! Give Cody a big big hug from his mom. Make sure you get someone to take a picture of all of you with together Cody. Thank you!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Gift For Who?

I opened my dresser drawer this week to find a package with a Victoria Secret's label on it nestled in with my bras. Picking up the package I wondered what it could be. It was too big for underwear and the wrong shape for a bra which are the usual things I would expect to receive from that particular store. Opening it I found a nice halter top. What a nice surprise! David often surprises me with little presents. He is a pretty wonderful husband.

Today I got around to wearing the new halter top and I am really wondering just who this top is intended to be a present for. I am feeling somewhat...ah,, shall we say, and David has had trouble meeting my eyes all day. His gaze seems to be somewhat south of my eyes. I don't know if I am embarrassed or just flattered that after 4 kids and more than a decade of marriage David still seems to be enjoying the view.

Update: After reading this David said I should have posted a picture. Ain't gonna happen, sorry.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Household Help

This week's Friday Weekly State Department Roundup is being hosted by Ogles and Observations. The theme this week is household help. Be sure to click over on Friday to check out everyone's stories of having help around the house.

I was totally blessed to have possibly the best staff EVER in Jakarta. I had a maid I adored and the kids loved and a driver who was funny, patient with the kids, and got my husbands humor. I still keep in touch with both via FB!

One day I was cooking dinner. Dwi (the maid) was outside with the kids and Haryono (the driver) had gone to the embassy to retrieve David. I was alone in the house with my glass of wine, the dinner prep, and my computer which was streaming a country music station from back home. I was happily chopping away, sauteing, and simmering. At the same time I was also singing along with George on the radio and two stepping my way around the kitchen. That's George Strait y'all, just in case you are wondering Geroge who?

I forgot one thing, the kitchen window was wide open. It faced the driveway so that when Dave and Haryono returned from work the first thing they saw was me dancing and singing around the kitchen. To this day I have no idea how long they were standing there, I just know that when a station break came on, I quit singing and there was a sudden burst of applause from the window. I looked up to see my husband camera in hand, Haryono, Dwi, the kids, several of the neighbor's staff, and a gardener or two, all standing in the window grinning like mad. Totally busted! I blushed furiously and took a bow, what else could I do? Then as soon as everyone had scattered I slammed that glass of wine.

One of things I looked forward to the most about coming to Malawi was having help again. A few years of doing it all in Frankfurt had me looking forward to living the easy life again. It is strange thing to have help, at least if you were brought up in America. Most Americans don't have household help of any kind. A few of my friends had a maid that came in twice a month and did the dusting and such but no one I knew had a full time maid, never mind a living in. That was something you only saw on TV, like Alice on the Brady Bunch.

So far there isn't an Alice for me here in Malawi. In fact I am currently without household help although I do have two gardeners that I am totally convinced are somehow related to Naoma's driver. If it weren't for the kids I would probably be content to keep it that way, but in Malawi if you want to someone to watch your kids once in a while so that you can go out to dinner you need to hire a full time helper. Seems a bit like overkill, but that's the way it is.

I had hired staff, not only a maid but a cook as well, before our arrival here at post. They were the staff from the people that had this house before us. That didn't work out as well as we had hoped. They have both since moved on to new positions and I hope are much happier. I have decided that I will never again hire staff before I arrive at post, not even if it means I may need to do without for a while. It is just too important that I be happy with the people sharing my personal space on a daily basis. It's a tricky business this having staff thing.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Diet, a Birthday, and Some Humor

* Note: I started this post last week and it then sat in "drafts" until I remembered about it today, so it isn't exactly current. I have been just a little busy dealing with two huge boxes of mangos before they all went bad. I now have a quart of mango syrup, twenty five quarts of sliced mangos in the freezer, and 8 half pint jars of mango jam in the pantry. I sent a bunch home with the gardener, and a bunch ended up on the compost heap because they got squished at the bottom of the boxes. I am done done done with mangos until next mango season!

This week marks the start of Malawi Meltdown 2011. I have been weighed, and my BMI calculated. No, I am not going to post my weight, but I would like to loose about 15 pounds this year. My BMI is in the healthy range, but just barely. I am officially on a diet. Okay, not so much a diet, more working on changing bad habits and making better choices. To start with I am keeping a food log and writing down every little thing I eat or drink. Nothing takes the fun out of eating quite like having to stop and write it down. I also need to start exercising again. My original plan was to start with the 30 day Shred but my knee isn't cooperating. Last time I tried the Shred I had to abandon it around day 19 because my knee started hurting too much. Instead I am doing about 30 minutes of yoga each morning. I get up way too early and tune into to AFN for Nameste Yoga while David takes care of the morning routine getting the kids fed, dressed, and loaded on the bus . I'm not exactly working up a sweat but it is a starting point I suppose.

This week also marks the end of my annual torment by David. There are only two months difference in our ages. I am the older one. Every year from the last week of November until last week of January David takes great pleasure in telling everyone that he married an older woman and that I am a year older than him since I was born in '67 and he was born in '68. His usual line goes something like "Shannon is already 43 but I'm still 42. I won't be 43 until next year." We have an agreement, he can be a jerk for two months then I better not hear a word about it for the other 10 months of the year. To celebrate the end of the torment for another year I made a yellow cake with chocolate frosting. For presents Dave received a brand new tripod for his camera and some special gifts the boys made just for him.

Sorry David holding the cake upside down does NOT make you 34.

And now for a little humor. I may have mentioned that we have guards at our house. The guards take their job very seriously and we are thankful to have them. The one thing that cracks me up is the saluting. Every time we go through or even near the gate, or sometimes if I am sitting out by the pond drinking my morning coffee (note to self: no more drinking coffee outside in pj's) the guards will salute. Basically the thought of anyone saluting me on a regular basis cracks me up, I'm a civilian through and through. However that isn't what is funny. When we arrived most of the guards just snapped a basic salute as you drove past, but there was this one who would do this foot stomp thing as he snapped to attention. Now it seems that all of the guards are doing some sort of fancy foot stomping salute, some stomp once, some stomp twice, some seem to specialize with the straight leg stomp or the high knee lift stomp. So far I have managed to refrain from bursting into laughter in front of the guards, but it is a close thing sometimes.

Update: Since I wrote this last week I have dragged myself out of bed at a quarter of six everyday to do yoga. How I managed to get dressed and functioning well enough to exercise prior to coffee I am not sure. One morning I had a hard time figuring out how to put on my exercise shirt. David came in looked at me struggling and after he finished laughing, he told me I had it on backwards. If you are a girl and you can't figure out that you have racer back exercise shirt on backwards you probably need one or more of the following: 1. Serious psychiatric help 2. More sleep or 3. COFFEE!

I was feeling stronger and more flexible until I managed to loose my balance yesterday doing triangle pose. Somehow in the process of falling on my butt I managed to pull a muscle in my thigh. Today's workout was all based around the warrior poses. If you are not familiar with yoga the warrior poses use the thigh muscles, A LOT! OUCHIE! Hopefully tomorrow's workout will be based around down dog, or cobra, or really anything but warrior. My personal choice would be child''s pose, but I suppose that wouldn't be much of a workout, more of a nap.

It has been a week so I got on the scale today and found I had lost 3 pounds in a week. YAY! Twelve more pounds to go. WooHoo!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Overheard Conversations

As I was cooking dinner the boys were huddled in the corner heads together. They weren't fighting for a change so I thought I should leave things well enough alone. A few minutes later I wondered if I should have investigated the situation just a little sooner as a bit of conversation drifted my way.

"Just eat it, it tastes like sweet milk."

"You should kill it first."

"Yeah! Kill it so it doesn't wiggle around when you eat it."

"I always kill them, I like my termites dead."

After I finished gagging I managed to put dinner on the table. Termites must not be very filling because all three boys ate like pigs. However just thinking about eating termites will keep Mom on her diet.