Thursday, October 31, 2013

When I Grow Up....

So I am, in theory at least, a grown up.  Thing is I don't especially feel grown up.  I still don't know what I want to do when I grow up.  The last few years in Malawi were busy ones.  I ended up homeschooling 2 of the 3 years.  If you have ever home-schooled then you know it is a labor of love that can simply eat your life.  I am soooo glad that I did it and if circumstances demanded it I would do it again in a heartbeat, but I think it's good that the boys are back in school.  The school here is wonderful and the boys are getting to do things academically, socially, and artistically that are far out of my teaching abilities. But now that I have all this free time I am finding I have a bit too much time to think.

I have had many dreams of what I want to be over the years.  Some of those dreams were discarded as I grew and changed, and some, a few, have come true.  For instance I've always wanted to be a mom, and I am, four times over.  And once I thought I wanted to be a teacher. I managed to get a degree and then a paying job doing exactly that for 7 years or so.  I took a break after having a couple of kids because day care costs were outstripping my income.  Teachers don't get rich, they should, but they don't. Dave and I agreed that I would go back to teaching after the youngest started Kinder, and if we had stayed in the states I'm sure finances would have forced me back into the classroom even before then.  Now after being overseas for 7 years, and and out of the classroom for more than a decade,  I can't imagine teaching again, I don't even want to be room mom.  That dream is the dream of a past me, a me that doesn't really exist anymore.

Some days I think I want to write, to be a writer.  To have an answer when asked what do you do?  I want to be able to say, "I'm a writer." but then I really don't seem to have the self discipline or possibly confidence it takes to write for hours a day, every day, and we won't even talk about the evil that is revision and proofreading. And I'm not really all that keen on somebody reading the stories I write.  Stories are different than a blog post. Stories are spun only out of my caffeine fueled imagination, so they feel more personal, more private.  I still write, not just the blog, but actual stories, so maybe someday this dream will become something more than a dream, maybe someday I will say "I am a writer" or maybe not. In the mean time it will continue to be something I do for me, because I enjoy it.

Somedays I think I should just go get a job at the embassy as a security escort or something, to contribute to the family income.  We don't need me to work, and that is such a blessing, but sometimes I feel a bit guilty about spending and not earning money.  (My husband is rolling his eyes as he reads this!) Yes, if I went to work full or part time outside of the house it would upset the balance of the house.  I am currently the chief maid, cook and bottle washer.  The boys (all of them including my husband) come home expecting a clean house and dinner ready.  I (usually) provide that service.  I actually like being a house wife, and I am good at it. Somehow these days that doesn't seem to be an acceptable occupation and I don't so much like people who ask me "What DO you do all day?"  I have noticed most of those people have a maid, possibly a nanny, and spend most of their time volunteering someplace or meeting with like minded people to "do lunch" and are shocked that anyone would ever consider cleaning their own toilets.  My husband has been known to refer to them as "Ladies who lunch" which is a little mean and condescending but then their question "What DO you do all day?" and it's implication I should be doing something more is a little mean and condescending too.

A long time ago, so long ago it seems like another life, I talked a lot about doing something with plants.  Maybe a small farm, possibly herbs, or maybe landscape design.  At the time I was drowning in dirty diapers, so it was just a fond dream for someday.  I did spend a lot lot of time playing in my own yard and even did some landscape work for friends. In fact one of those jobs ultimately led to us moving overseas.  I wouldn't take any money because she paid for all the supplies and I was having so much fun.  But the friend insisted on giving us something for our work, so she gave us a gift certificate to a local chinese place knowing we hardly ever got a chance to go out to eat.  When we went we were  the only people speaking English and the food was amazing.  Now my husband is an army brat who grew up mostly overseas in Korea and Japan.  Somehow after that dinner, listening to others chatter away in another language and eating great Asian food, it became imperative that Dave make it back overseas. That his children have a childhood filled with travel and international experiences.  It took a few years but we made it and the rest is history. That was Dave's dream and he found a way to make it come true.

Which brings me back to what I want to be when I grow up.  Plants are still my passion.  I love plants of all kinds, but most especially those which smell good, and taste good, and look pretty.  I thought I had left behind my dreams of farming or landscape design, after all those are not exactly portable careers.  I began to remember how much I love playing in the dirt in Malawi where I had a huge yard with a massive vegetable and herb garden.  I also had two gardeners who had been with the house through a few rounds of embassy families.  They were slightly baffled at my wanting to play in the dirt.  They often drove me absolute batty by trying to help, like the time they "weeded" my herb garden pulling up and throwing onto the compost all the "weeds" including my oregano, curry plant, tarragon and sage.  I was never able to replace the curry plant or sage.  All the same I enjoyed spending hours weeding and planning, composting and harvesting.  It went a long way towards making Malawi home.  It also re-awakened long forgotten dreams.

Lately it seems the universe is refusing to let those dreams return to long forgotten status. A few weeks ago one of my favorite author blogs Jill Shalvis linked to a friend's blog Chickens in the Road, a writer turned farmer, turned writer again. I read her blog and thought "That's what I want to do! I want a little farm"  Then I spent the better part of the day blog stalking her, reading every blog post about her farm.  I thought, "Isn't that lovely? Someone is living my dream." Actually her farm and life is far beyond what I previously thought to dream of, but now it has expanded my dreams, and isn't that why we read? Then I put away my computer and my blog inspired day dreams and went back to unpacking boxes, cleaning, cooking, and creating a home here in Oman.

Recently  I have discovered a TV series on Hulu Plus called Chefs a Field where chefs who are committed to cooking organically and sustainably visit the local organic farms that supply their produce.  Some of those farms are as small as half an acre.  Others are huge.  Most are in-between. None of them are getting rich farming.  It's kinda like teaching that way.  But all of them are finding a way to  make their farms work, often in unusual ways. I think that in the future it will be those farmers that think outside the box that are able to continue to exist, perhaps prosper, and supply our food needs.

A few weeks ago I tuned into Ted Radio Hour podcast while cooking and heard an amazing talk by Ron Finley about the food desert in his South Central LA neighborhood and how he planted a food forest to supply fresh produce.  Amazing!  I first learned about food forests while taking a permaculture course in Malawi.  At the time I thought how much could we alleviate hunger if we could just get more people to plant a sustainable food forest instead of sweeping the dirt away or planting a lawn.  And here is a self-styled guerrilla gardener using the same principals to fight hunger in LA.

Even my cooking shows seem to all be doing special segments on the farms that supply the produce. It seems like everywhere I look someone is taking a little plot of land and turning it into a place to grow something.  Bees, or chickens, or beets, or goat cheese, or Romanesco broccoli.

So now I think someday I might want to be a farmer, of sorts. Not when I grow up, I think I am safely past that stage, but maybe when Dave retires. Not next week, or next month, or even next year, because there are a lot of years between now and retirement, and a lot or research and work if this is a dream I really want to pursue.  Not growing rows and rows of corn and soybean in rotation, but maybe more a hobby farm with a couple of acres of organic gardens and produce sold at farmers markets or maybe the local CSA (community supported agriculture).  When Dave envisions this dream it has a B&B or possibly self-catering vacation cottages on part of the property, and I think there is room in this dream for that too, as long as HE cleans the rooms, not me. I'll be out back turning the compost to aerate it and keep it hot and picking my micro-greens and heirloom vegetables.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Unpacking: Making Progress and Dreaming of Floors

I am finally nearing the end of the cardboard boxes. YAY!!  By this time next week the artwork will be hung (I hope), and I can post some finished pictures of our home here in Oman.

The house has a few quirks, like who thought it was a good idea to put the kitchen light switches BEHIND the fridge, seriously.  But what FS housing doesn't have quirks? It's beginning to feel like home, quirks and all. And so far I haven't found a single spider  large or small, so it's all good!!  By the way karma, this is not the signal to send hordes of giant spiders heading my way. Nope I am really good with no spiders!

Unpacking an entire house can be mind numbingly boring and tedious.  While I am unwrapping the bazillion and one dust collectors we seem to have accumulated I am only half focused on finding a place for them here in our new home, mostly I am thinking about flooring options.  Hardwood, or tile, or natural stone?  Polished concrete, or acid stained, or painted? No the house here isn't getting a new floor, our floor here is all shiny, slick marble.  I am thinking about my little vacay house in the 'hood.  When we bought it the floors looked like this:

But then just before we left Malawi for home leave this happened:

I know right? What a mess.  All total we lost 24 tiles in 2 rooms. 24 oversized 15 inch tiles.  That is a lot of floor.  We had the foundation checked, it's fine.  Apparently what happened is that there was a heat wave that lasted for about a week and with the house unoccupied at the time and not air conditioned the tile expanded a lot faster than the foundation.  That combined with a bad DIY tile job and POP exploding floor.

Dave and his brother Paul chipped away all the loose, broken tiles and mortar, cut plywood to fit the holes, threw some carpets over it and called it done for the summer.

It looked good, really good actually, but at best it's a very temporary fix.

The plan is for me to head back to the states ahead of the rest of the family and take care of the floor so that the summer would be relaxing and fun. There is not much relaxing and fun about living in a construction zone.  Originally we were thinking I would just supervise the contractors, that plan was great until we started getting some quotes. OUCHIE!

I really want black slate tile but the quote to get that done rules out the possibility of going to Thailand, or Zanzibar, or China, or pretty much anywhere really.  And you know one of the major benefits of the FS is the chance to travel.  Why would I give that up for a floor, even a really pretty floor? There is time for that slate floor when we retire and by then I will probably want something different anyway.

So began the search for affordable flooring options.  First thing that came to mind was laminate. I don't like laminate floors.  They feel fake.  Probably because they are fake. And it's a lot more expensive than I thought it would be.

I really like the look of this plywood floor, and it wouldn't be that expensive.  That really is plywood. Gorgeous isn't it? I might like this better than slate, maybe.

Plywood Floor
But this is out my skill level, and since the new plan is for me to head home early and do the floor by myself, what ever we choose has to not only be cheap, it has to be something I can handle as a solo DIY.

Enter the painted floor. Do a quick internet search and you come up with some really cool looks.  I love the way this floor looks painted solid robin's egg blue.

Blue Floor
Simply stunning, and I would imagine it shows every blessed piece of dirt that comes by. With 3 boys who spend the summer roaming from house to house with their pack of friends, that can be a lot of dirt.  So maybe not for me, not right now anyway.

How about faux bois?  I may have to do this just so I can say I have a faux bois floor. Isn't it fab?

Faux Bois Floor 
I thought about simple diamonds in grey and white.

Diamond Painted Floor
It's classic, and probably not too hard to do.  Sounds like a winner, BUT if I am going to go to all the trouble of chiseling up all that tile, scraping, sanding and painting BY MYESLF, I think I want something different.  Something fun and maybe a little funky.

So I looked at stencils.  Wow are there some cool stencils out there.

Stenciled Floors
Check out this all over floral stencil from Royal Design Studios.

Lace Stencil by Royal Design Studios

I love this!!!  It's a little funky.  It's fun.  Done in grey and white it will make a lovely background for my rugs and furniture and brighten up the room.  BUT I live in a house of men.  I showed this to my husband and the boys. Four men looked at all those flowers and simultaneously broke out in hives. I'm guessing door to door flowers are out.  Of course I will be in the states and they will be in Oman, so it's not like they would know what I was up to until it was a fait accompli.  Would that be too mean?  It would, wouldn't it? I thought so. Darn it!

I like the organic look (exactly what does that mean??) of acid staining, but doing it professionally is not cheap, albeit a whole lot cheaper than slate, and it's out of my DIY range.  Plus it seems like 99 out of 100 acid etched floors are brown.

Acid Stained Floor
Not a big fan of brown.  If I wanted brown I would just leave the plywood and broken tiles there for a few more years.

I have a freind who's the queen of DIY and faux painting who tells me I can totally get this look with paints, and it's cheap and I can choose my own colors!  Cheap is good. Colors are better. Mottled floors are good for hiding dirt. With 3 boys and their pack of friends in and out of the house all summer hiding dirt is a very good thing.  I am thinking something like this

stained concrete floor
Mostly grey with hints of blue and green and touches of brown.  Nice and bright and fairly neutral, but still fun and funky.

And then I found these really cool stencils.

Fossil Stencils
I am not sure exactly what I want to do with them but they do seem to suit our family to a tee.  The boys are forever dragging home skulls and bones and rocks, shells and fossils and feathers. In fact right now there's a goat skull on the front steps, a cat skull on the book shelf, what we think might be a fox skull in the display table, and sea shells everywhere.  Somehow stencils of long dead critters seem entirely appropriate, I just need to figure out what to do with them.

I have months yet to figure out, and research exactly what I want to do. In the meantime I am having a ridiculous amount of fun day dreaming about all the possibilities.

Does anyone else out there day dream about DIY projects?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

House Hold Effects

Our Household effects, otherwise known as HHE, are scheduled to arrive this morning.  I don't know if I am excited, or if I just want to crawl under a rock and hide.  Either way approximately 7200 pounds of boxes filled with I can't quite remember what will be here shortly and then chaos will ensue. I will be updating as I get a moment throughout the day.

10:30 Three crates unloaded.  You can no longer walk in the kitchen due to the number of boxes.  We will not discuss the number of boxes labeled books.  Dave says I may have a problem, or two.  I disagree.  It is not a problem to like to eat well, or read.  Nope a problem at all.

11:40 Last crate being cracked open.  We have too much stuff.  I have NO IDEA where we are putting all of this. The house reeks of cardboard and I am hungry.  The guys have started coming in the door and telling me where they are putting stuff.  I am not inclined to argue.

11:51 last box in in the house.  We have too much stuff.  Going to go eat lunch and then start unpacking.  Oh the fun.

12:35 Back from Subway (YUM) and ready to begin the unpacking.

4:57 Kitchen unpacked, mostly.  I should say all the boxes I can find so far that are labeled "kitchen" are unpacked.  There are thing missing though, so there is more stuff around here somewhere that will have to be shoved into a cabinet when it does turn up.  Not quite sure how I am going to fit anything else, but I will manage.

Meanwhile Dave has made all the beds, except ours.  Our sheets are missing. I guess they're in a box with the missing kitchen items.

I haven't touched a box of books yet.  I'm afraid to.  I might start reading instead of unpacking and then would be lost.

Kids are home from school and in spite of repeated requests to start on homework they are taking turns making a horrendous amount of noise on the trumpet/coronet/noise-maker-from-hades.  Why couldn't one of them take up trumpet so they could actually learn to play the darn thing?

Back to work.

6:05  Kids fed, decided to call it a night.  Everyone needs to do their homework and then I just want a long hot shower and a cold beer.

We made good progress today.  While I did kitchen Dave tackled the bedrooms.  Clothes are put away in the proper closets, beds are made, the welcome kit burlap sheets are washed and folded ready to be packed away. Bookshelves are put together and ready to be loaded with books for reading.

Tomorrow the kids have early release so we will work hard in the morning then take a bit of a break when they get home then try to put them to work as well.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Perfect FS Spouse? NOT!

Yesterday a new friend here at post said I seemed like the perfect FS spouse. I had to laugh. I am so far from the perfect spouse it isn't even funny. Don't believe me? Let's look at the evidence.

 I hate change, so we choose to live a life of eternal change. Yes I know, everything changes all the time. Time, after all, refuses to stay still. However I am talking serious change, change of house, change of friends, change of country and everything that goes with it: culture, food, language, people. Did I mention I hate change? I want, really want, to be a creature of habit. I want to go where everybody knows my name, Ok maybe I don't want to go to a bar in Boston but I do want to go someplace where I feel like I belong.  That's one of the reasons why we bought our little house in the 'hood. We had barely pulled up this summer and were just unloading suitcases when I started hearing "Hey Shannon! Welcome home!" "Hi Miss Shannon!  Can Colin and Zo come play?" Totally music to my ears. For me it's comforting to know there is some place that I belong. One of my happy thoughts is knowing that our little house, and the whole 'hood are waiting for me to come back next summer. There will be changes there too, of course, but there will also be a sameness that feeds my need for continuity.

 I hate airplanes, so we fly here there and everywhere with me white knuckling it all the way. Don't even suggest that I have a drink to help me chill out. When I was a kid I got violently motion sick all the time. It happened in cars, on airplanes, merry-go-rounds, boats, anything that moved could potentially make me barf. I can remember many airsick bags when we flew to visit my grandmother. Now I have this overwhelming fear that if I have a glass of wine on a plane I will barf. I know it is illogical, and I haven't been motion sick to the point of barfing in years, but I am still terrified by the thought of it. Lately my new minted teenager (he's 13) has figured out that I don't like flying and has taken to asking me things like "Mom what happens if the plane is stuck by lightening?" and "What if the wings fall off?" and my personal favorite "Mom! Look out the window, do you think that is a crack?"Do you know that is is impossible to not look out the window after that question? This last summer David finally had to make sure that he was sitting between us so that I wouldn't murder the kiddo in midair. Teen boy thinks he is funny, but he is  exactly one episode of Air Disasters away from being used as a barf bag.

 I don't do well with waiting. Waiting at a red light? Torture. Waiting in line at the store? Awful. In the FS it feels like we wait for everything. Wait to find out if you will get in, wait for the bid lists, wait to find out where we are going next, wait to see if the kids were accepted at the new school, wait for HHE*, wait, wait, and wait some more should be the motto of the foreign service.

 I can't seem to learn a foreign language. I have tried, but languages are not my gift. Even English spoken with a heavy accent, any accent, might well be Klingon or high Elvish for all the sense it makes to me. I must drive accented people that come in contact with me absolutely nuts asking them to repeat things over and over until, if we are lucky, something suddenly makes sense. Often they just go through my husband rather than deal with me. I admire those who speak two, three, four or more languages, but I am coming to realize that will never be me, if I can learn enough language at each post to ask "Where's the bathroom?" and understand the answer, plus a few polite phrases like "Good morning", "Please," and "Thank you," I will be pretty happy.

I am not very adventurous. I know what you are thinking: "But you went on Safari!  Slept in a tent with hippos right outside!"  Yes, but you weren't in the car with me as I moaned about how I was sure the lions were going to eat us on that first safari trip. I'm sort of surprised my husband didn't leave me on the side of the road halfway across Zambia.  I resist doing almost anything outside of my comfort zone. Even basic things.  I'm terrified of driving in a foreign country.  I NEVER drove in Jakarta, not even once.  It took me almost a year to drive in Germany, and a little longer than that in Malawi. In case you are wondering no, I haven't driven in Oman yet, but now that we have a car I am not going to be able to avoid it much longer.

 I don't like having staff in the house, I like my privacy. I would rather clean my own toilet than lose my privacy to having someone in the house all day, every day. There are exceptions, I would hire the driver and pembantu that we had in Jakarta if we went back, in a heartbeat. Otherwise, no thanks! I'll clean my own house. I do have to add that in an ideal world someone invisible would show up once a week or so to clean the toilets, sweep, mop and vacuum, and them quietly leave. Sadly we don't live in an ideal world.

I can take forever to make close friends. Years in fact. Although I may make lots of casual friends and acquaintances at every post, I can count on one hand the number of friends that I have made that were the kind of friends that I would feel comfortable calling for a sympathetic ear and cup of coffee on a bad day. It takes time for me to make those kind of connections, and since we move ever few years time isn't exactly on my side.

 So why on earth would anyone think I am the perfect FS spouse? What do I have going for me? Well the main thing in my favor is that I actually like being a housewife. I don't much like the title, but I do like the job. I am not driven to go out and find a job at the embassy, or pursue a career. I am content to stay home and take care of the house and family. I think it's a special skill to take a house and turn it into a comfortable home. It takes talent and a certain amount of creativity to turn out healthy, yummy dinners night after night. Especially if you can't run to the store for a rotisserie chicken, pre-shredded cheese, and frozen veggies. I like the challenges that come with trying to make all my favorite dinners from back home without all the ingredients readily at hand. Want lasagna and can't find ricotta? No problem I can make that. Dying for some potstickers? Gotcha covered. Want tacos but don't have tortillas? I can tell you how to make your own, it's easier than you think.

I know it isn't the popular thing to enjoy being a housewife.  It's sort of the ideal of a bygone era.  In fact my husband has been known to refer to me as "his 1950's wife."  No, I haven't stabbed him in his sleep.  I know, I'm a saint.  The thing is he thinks it's a compliment, and I am willing to take it in that spirit, as long as he doesn't expect me to wear pearls, shirtwaist dresses, and heels everyday. Jeans, t-shirts and bare feel will have to do.

In many ways being content to be a housewife makes me ideally suited to be a FS spouse.  Those who've had to leave behind careers they enjoyed and excelled at to become a "trailing spouse" can have a rough time of it, trying to find meaningful satisfying work at post after post, each time having to reinvent themselves anew.  So maybe I'm not the perfect FS spouse, I actually don't know if there is such a creature, but I'm happy to hang out at the house, trying new recipes, blogging, and quietly chasing my own dreams of someday writing a book, and that makes me a pretty good fit for this life.

*While I was typing this post I received a test from Dave HHE will be here SUNDAY!  Next week is going to be super busy with boxes everywhere!! 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Made it to Muscat

We made it to Oman. My initial impressions are hot, hotter, and even hotter than that; Sky high humidity, like Galveston in the summer time. Lots of dust, very little green, very stark and basically alien to anything we have experienced before. I know with time I will learn to love (at least aspects of) this post, but right now I am overwhelmed and really just want to go home, or at the very least make like an ostrich and hide my head in the sand for a bit… good thing there seems to be lots of sand around.

We had a fun-filled, but very busy, and very short summer in the states. If you missed it we bought a house this summer, and our short time in the states was dedicated to turning it into a home. Mission accomplished! It is beautiful and I love it. I will blog more details and pictures later, but for right now blogger has decided to go Arabic on me, and I can’t find the button that allows me to change it back to English, and I can’t load the login page, so I am typing this in word then my absolutely fabulous husband will post it for me from work, on break of course.

I don’t know if having my little home in the 'hood made the landing in Oman easier or not, but there have been fewer tears this time than any move before. I don’t care what anyone says about moving to a new country, I don’t do a honeymoon period. Never have, and I suspect I never will. By the time the plane lands, I am depressed, fighting tears, missing our family and friends in the states, and completely homesick for our last post. And that period of time when you are in an echoey house full of strange furniture, but nothing that is really yours, is the worst. That more than any other tie is when I feel like we are really in limbo. It is hard to start turning a house into a home when you don't have any or your things. We are living out of our suitcases until our stuff eventually makes it way here from Malawi, then I can start finding where my stuff will go in this new house, and start making it finally feel like home. Hopefully that will be soon.

Eventually we will have working internet at the house and I will get back to updating regularly and then I can share all the fun we had this summer, as well as our settling in process here in Oman.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Home is where your hat is?

The packers have come and packed and the movers have left with almost all of our worldly possessions... though we do still have the clothes that will be packed in the suitcases that will follow us for the next few months until reunited with our belongings.

I find myself sitting in the structure that use to be our home, which is now nothing more than a shell of a house. It makes me ponder what makes a house a home? Is it the artwork and artifacts that have been collected and the memories attached to them? Perhaps it is the artwork the kids have done that we have taped to the walls for all to see.  Or is it just the presence of having our family all in the same place?

I have lived somewhat of a nomadic life and always with the expression that "home is where your hat is". Whether it was a house in Okinawa, a dorm room in Moscow, Russia, the rack in a Navy submarine or any of the many other places I have hung my hat. Well I have my hat and family with me and this shell that once was a home just feels like a house... waiting for someone else to make it a home.

I gaze to the wall looking for the clock that I have so often looked at before to tell me the time, but no clock. I reach for the book that has always been there to show one of the kids a picture of a bird I saw, but no book. It's frustrating at times going from a home to a house, but it is times like this that allow me to reflect and put myself into my own perspective.

When I see the handprints on the walls where the kids have come around the corner hanging on so they don't slip and fall or I hear the echo of them talking in the living room, I feel there might be a little piece of home left after all.  ~Bones

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Packing: Glad it's his job!

Those of you who know David, know that he's pretty easy going.  At least until he has a job to do.  Then he is.... intense.  Very intense.  There is one big job left to do. The last job before we leave Malawi.

It's that time again, everything left in the house has to fit into a suitcase.  Understand that not once since we have been married has Dave ever been satisfied with how I've packed a suitcase.  He always rearranges and and repacks it for me.  Fun!  I will give him this, he is the champion of stuffing "just one more thing" into a suitcase.  A talent that has more than once found us rearranging the contents of suitcases at the airline check-in counter so that no one suitcase exceeds the weight limit.  You would think that since it all equals out to the same weight for our family going onto the plane, the airlines could just take the average of all our luggage and move on, but apparently that would be too easy.

This morning he asked me to get started on the packing so we are not scrambling to get it done over the next couple of days.  I just sat there sipping my coffee looking at him until he finally said "WHAT?"

I suggested that this time we skip the whole I pack, he unpacks and repacks everything routine.  So today I went through all the rooms and put everything that needs to be packed into one room.   Tonight he gets to deal with this:

He is going to need every bit of his "I can fit just one more thing"  super power to make it all fit.  Glad it's his job!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Moments of Our Life

There are moments in life that are etched indelibly on your memory.  Some of these you expect, your graduation day, your wedding day, the day your first child is born.  Others catch you by surprise, but remain vivid and clear even years later.  For me it often seems to include music and foreign countries.  a living room in Jakarta Indonesia, a good friend on guitar and the rest of us in a tight circle arms draped over shoulders singing "Leaving on a jet plane, don't know if I'll be back again" just days before most of the group would indeed be leaving on a jet plane. The Siedlug quick shop restaurant on a Saturday night in Frankfurt Germany, leaning on my husband watching my kids and my husband's colleague and his son enjoying the music of a German guitarist playing American music, laying down the tracks for each song as he goes through his playlist and drinking a dunkels. A Khondi in Lilongwe Malawi, people from several different countries, all together to celebrate our mutual friendship with a very special couple, dancing the Macarena and then singing "We will survive."

Looking back at each of theses moments fills my eyes with tears and my heart with joy.  I treasure those memories and hope that someday, somewhere my path crosses with each of those people again.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Really Murphy? Seriously?

"Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong."  So states Murphy's law.  There should be an addendum that states "When all is going smoothly, look out 'cause Murphy is on the way."

For the last several weeks I have been uneasy.  Everything was going along very smoothly with pack out, Alonzo's 13th birthday, sponsoring a new family to post in early summer, and lastly purchasing and furnishing a small house in the states to function as our permanent home base.  Dave smirked and called me WW2 every time I expressed any worry.  WW2 for Worry Wart 2, the original WW being his Grandmother Pearl.

Packout is finished and although we came in ever so slightly over the allotted 7200 pounds, we had planned ahead, and it was easily dealt with.  Hands dusted! All finished with that, at least until it all shows back up in Oman.

The new family touched down earlier this week.  In spite of my using the welcome kit's two-molecule thick cheap pots and pans, I manage to create something edible and leave it in their house for their first meal in Malawi. Their house was mostly ready, stocked with the usual welcome kit supplies, and we even made it to the airport on time to meet the plane.  As a bonus for having us as sponsors, they inherited some of our unused consumables.  I hope they are as thrilled with that as I am.

Earlier this month Alonzo turned 13.  In our house 13 is a big deal.  We try hard to do something extra special.  When Dakota turned 13 he had his first ever airplane ride (pre-FS) in a WW2 Ambulance plane. During an air show. It was hard to top that.  We think we managed.  Dave booked a walking safari to go rhino tracking down in Liwonde National Park. Dave and Alonzo didn't just see one rhino, they saw three.  Totally cool.  I will get a blog post all about it up soon, I promise.

In Early March we closed on a house in close proximity to family and friends.  We now have a place that is our very own.  A place with not one single piece of Drexel Horrible furniture, no blah beige rugs either. I can even pick my own curtains.  Those of you rolling your eyes haven't spent the better part of the last decade living in government furnished housing in various countries. We've been online shopping like mad and have managed to order almost an entire house's worth of furniture all scheduled to be delivered within days of our arrival.

The kids are signed up for summer camp in the states. Alonzo and Colin will be going to sleep away camp in Galveston where they will be learning about marine biology and coastal ecology, while  Gray will attend a local day camp. This gives us one week mostly kid free to get the house set up.

In short everything has been going smoothly.  Too smoothly.  I kept waiting to see what was going to go wrong. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. Something had to  go wrong eventually.  I thought a delivery was going to be delayed and we would end up sitting on the floor all summer instead of on a nice new sofa.  Or perhaps our UAB heading to the states full of ethno-plunder so our new house reflects our travels would be sent to Ouagadougou or deepest darkest Peru.   I should knock on wood because that could still totally happen, but at this point I am not sure I even care anymore.

Monday morning just as we were getting ready to leave for the rhino encounter Dave decided to check his email one more time, and found this waiting in his inbox.

Yep, that is the floor in our new house.  The floor that was fine just a week ago. The floor in the house we haven't even moved into yet. The house where we are supposed to hosting a big family house warming get together just a week after we arrive.  Granted I didn't like that floor and was already planning to replace it in a few years.  But still.  WHY???  I have cried, and ranted, and raved, then I calmed down and looked at flooring options. I discovered if I like a floor it is guaranteed to to cost 75 gazillion dollars a square foot.  I also discovered we are looking at around $3000 just to get the old floor out before we can even talk about a new floor.  I am trying not to freak out, yeah right, like that's working. In the end there is really there is nothing we can do until we arrive in early July and get a good look at the floor ourselves. We may be having that big family house warming get together in the backyard because our new house may not actually be livable right about then.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

What else can we blow up?

This is what I heard my husband say to the kids shortly after the trucks left carrying all our wordily possessions.  Sometime during the last few days of packing we found a stash of fireworks leftover from New Year's Eve.  Can't exactly ship those, so what else is there to do except to run right out into the backyard and set them off immediately.  Apparently just making big bangs is far too boring, it is much more fun to blow things up.  Sadly everything is packed and on the back of a truck going down the road somewhere so there rally isn't much to blow up.  They are down to blowing up empty plastic water bottles.  Yes, we are such good examples for our budding pyromaniacs.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Happy Father's Day

This is Dave's Father's Day Present.

Forgive the mess, we are packing and all our art is all stacked and ready to go.  

We saw this piece during Environment Week. Dave was strangely drawn to it, I was unconvinced. I thought it was a little creepy.  The second day we went back to look at it and there was a performance being presented by a local drama group.  It was presented all in Chichewa, so we enjoyed the action but had a little trouble following the plot.  After it was over a gentleman translated it for those of us who "haven't had enough time to practice our Chichewa."

The gist of the play was that a man fell sick and went to his local traditional healer*, we might  call him a witch doctor, to get medicine.  The healer did his best, but the trees that the medicine come from had all been cut down to be made into charcoal.  There was no medicine.  In the end the man died.

There goes the medicine. 
Right about then I knew that picture was coming home with us.

The title of the painting?  "Plant 10 Trees For Medicine."

*There are only about 2 doctors for about every 100,000 people here in Malawi.  For most people traditional healers are the only medical practitioners they will ever see. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

I am still alive, I promise

Last you heard I was trying to purge the house of unwanted stuff, while the kids were at camp, and Murphy's law was in over drive. This week I am purging, packing, and organizing like a mad woman because the movers are arriving next week.  I am on a deadline here. Failure is not an option. Actually there is no failure, everything in the house right now is heading to Oman in one big shipment so actually I could quit right now and it would all be OK, at least until I start unpacking boxes.  I am setting things up so that future me doesn't have quite so many problems when the shipment arrives in Muscat, and so that things will go just a little bit smoother when the packers arrive.  I keep telling myself that I will thank me later.

So what else have I been doing other than preparing the house for pack out, swearing I will be more organized in Oman (even I have to say "Yeah right!"), and pre-packing things that are really important to me?  Is that all I do for the last few months at post?  Not hardly.

Earlier this month we celebrated Alonzo's 13th birthday, his actual birthday is tomorrow, but since I knew this week would be crazy, and some of his friends ditched the last week of school and left post slightly early for summer in the states, we celebrated early.  I can't believe he is going to be a teenager.  What the heck happened, and are really going to do this teen thing again?  I barely survived Dakota's teen years.  Dave and I have arranged a special treat for him, but I can't tell you dear readers since he also reads the blog.  You will have to wait, but trust me it is a very cool treat.

Lat month we made one last trip to Zambia for one last fabulous safari.  There is nothing like camping in Africa.  Was that a lion I just heard?  Yep, that was a lion.  Wow, the hippos are loud tonight. Ohh that elephant sounded really close, wonder what upset him?   And yes the animal do move through camp, but usually not until later in the evening after camp has quieted down, sometimes the sounds are right outside the tent.

There was one really scary moment this time, but the boys handled it well.  Shortly after dark, but long before the camp had settled in for the night, Dave and I walked from the tent to the bar to grab a soda (him) and a Mosi beer (me) before it got too late, and the animals started wandering through the camp.  Yes, Wildlife Camp has a bar, and a swimming pool, and hot showers. We really know how to rough it. As we walked by the pool on the way back to the tent we stopped short because there was a hippo standing on the path munching away.  Hippos are seriously dangerous animals and this thing was between us and our kids who we had left sitting outside the tent at our campfire.

We backtracked, alerted the staff who began shooing the hippo towards the river, and then circled waaaay around the hippo.  When we arrived at the camp we found two kids sitting in the car faces pressed against the glass, and the third hiding under a picnic table. Apparently this thing walked right by the kids on it's way from the lagoon to the river. Two of the kids went "Eeek Hippo!" and ran for the car before it got too close, the third went "It's too early, its not a hippo." and stayed his ground until it was really close when he went skittering off to the nearest shelter, the picnic table.  As long as he stayed quiet the picnic table wasn't a bad choice for dealing with a hippo then tend to treat large things like picnic tables and tents as if they were rocks and just walk around them.  Good thing it wasn't a lion or leopard though.

We've made our last trip to the swimming pool at the Tamerind club, it's just too cold now for swimming. We've made our last trip to Mua Mission with some friends where we bought the coolest Guli Wan Kuli carving.  We continue to go out Wednesday nights with friends to eat out.  Tonight is Chinese food.  Yummy!  I'm ordering the spicy tofu and the green beans. We have already said good by to many friends, I hope that someday, somewhere, our paths cross again. There are still more goodbyes to come.  SOB!  We have finished homeschooling this year, although we will continue with a much lighter summer school schedule after pack out is finished.  The boys are not real happy with me. Oh well, suck it up cupcake.

And now...I saved the best for last. In March David and I closed on our own little house in San Antonio.  YAY!  YAY!  YAY!  We are homeowners!!!

We are so excited.  It is little and cute and in the same neighborhood as most of our friends, and some of our family.  We've spent countless hours pouring over websites trying to decide what furniture we want.  We finally, just in the last few weeks, have ordered the beds for the kids, the dining room set, the sofa and coffee table.  We maxed out our airfreight sending mementos and stuff back to make the house feel like home.

San Antonio is our home base where we go every home leave and most R&Rs.  Which means either renting a house $$$$$ or camping at a relative's house. Our family has been very gracious to put us up, but if you have ever hosted someone for an entire month, or been the guest for that long, you know after the first few days it can be tiresome and difficult for everyone. Especially if you are hosting a whole flock of people and not just one person.

Backstory for the those unfamiliar with the foreign service, R&R is a privilege allotted to those of us serving at hardship posts to allow us rest and recuperate, generally once or twice during a 3 year tour. It may be taken overseas, or in the states.  There is no set time limit for R&R.  Home leave is a different beast.  Home leave is mandated by congress for 20 working days, in the states, for the purpose of repatriation.  For both of these we receive airfare, then we are on our own. This seems reasonable until you realize we are mandated by law to take a month long vacation, every 2-3 years.  Could you afford to stay in a hotel for a month?  Would you want to?  How about renting a car so you can get around? Rental cars and hotels are expensive.  If you don't plan carefully it is easy to come out of home leave or R&R with a huge mountain of credit card debt.  Often you end up camping on someone's sofa, and borrowing the family beater,  like a kid home from college, to cut a few costs. No more couch camping for us!  YAY!

We will have one week to turn an empty house into a functioning vacation home.  Why one week?  Because we signed all the kids up for camp that first week back in the states.  While they are at camp we will be unpacking, assembling, and shopping. I am giddy at the prospect.  When we had our house before the FS it was sort of put together haphazardly with hand-me-downs and bargain clearance items.  It was what we could afford back then.  This time we have been able to piece together a look that reflects who we are now, not what we can afford.  Don't get me wrong we have a budget, a really tight budget, but we have managed to cut corners here so we can splurge there, and it all seems to be coming together nicely.  Now all that remains is to see if what I am picturing in my head really works when it is all in the room together.  I will post pictures later.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Purge Update

So far I have no idea how weight much I have gotten rid because the scale is broken.  The generator ran out of fuel and the washing machine broke. The generator has been refueled and the broken washing machine replaced although he broken one is still sitting in my kitchen waiting to be picked up and removed for repairs.  So how is your week going?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Green Camp and the Great Purge of 2013

This week the kids are off at Green Camp.  In many, many ways Green Camp has been the highlight of our time in Malawi.  It is, I am almost certain, one of the things the kids will remember long into the future.  This week they will be celebrating all things nature, as well as preparing for the upcoming Earth Day celebration at Four Seasons. They will have a busy, fun-filled week, and I am happy for them.

In the meantime I am alone in the house, completely alone for the first time in months.  The house is eerily quiet.  For the moment I am enjoying a blessedly quiet cup of tea, but in just a few minutes I will be even busier than the kids.  This summer is pack out.  That means packing everything we own and preparing it to go to our next post in Muscat, Oman.

The movers will show up sometime in June and everything we own will swathed in miles of paper and bubble wrap, sealed in mountains of boxes, and loaded onto trucks.  If everything works the way it is supposed to we will see our stuff again in about 4, maybe 5 months at our new house in Oman.

That does't sound too bad does it?  It sort of sounds like the packers will do all at the hard stuff. Of course there is a catch.  There is always a catch.  The trick is that everything we own must weigh less than 7200 pounds.  Everything including clothes, toys, books, towels, any furniture we own, dust collectors, pots, pans, cutting boards, and everything else  that turns an echoing house into a functioning home must weigh less than 7200 pounds.

This week I will be going through every closet, box, cabinet, and drawer purging our house of all that is needless weight.  FUN!  More fun than you can imagine.  It is both totally necessary and totally incompatible with homeschooling, so it must be accomplished this week.  While the kids are at camp.  So much for my dreams of hours of reading, lazing about enjoying the quiet.

I will be posting the weeded out weight each day.  I know you are thrilled to know how much trash, junk and broken toys I manage throw away each day.  There you have it, the oh so glamorous life of the foreign service spouse.  Jealous?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Things Diplo-Kids say

I was watching an episode of House Hunters International on AFN this afternoon. It featured young newlyweds moving to Spain so the husband could teach English.  The boys were a riot.

First they seemed puzzled as to why the show kept repeating how hard it was to move overseas to a country where they didn't know anyone.

"What's so hard about that? We do it all the time" 

Finally they allowed that it would probably be harder if there wasn't an embassy community waiting at post with CLO events so they could meet other kids. They still thought they were making too much of it.

There several comments about how maybe we should think about bidding on Spain because it looked cool. Don't even talk to me about bidding until we get to Oman and have unpacked our HHE, please.

The kicker was at the very end of the show when they reviewed the 3 apartments featured, in the end the young couple didn't choose the expensive but cute apartment in an area of town where there were lots of expats, not did they choose the cheaper beachfront apartment with no oven and a long commute.  They smartly choose the cheapest apartment, in walking distance from his work.

The apartment came complete with very funky old tile floor that clashed badly with the aging sofa, a giant dining table in the middle of the living room, and seemingly endless halls between rooms.  In short not exactly their dream home but practical, leaving them money to explore the country of Spain.

Alonzo almost jumped up and down as he yelled,
"It's perfect, it looks just like a diplomat's home!!"  

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Cape Town - Day Six

We spent today at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. What a magnificent setting for a garden.  Lush green gardens surrounded by towering mountain peaks.  Just gorgeous.  I enjoyed the plants, Dave enjoyed the walk in clean air, the boys enjoyed the animals: birds, butterflies, frogs and a leopard tortoise completing our Little Five (Rhino  Beetle, Elephant Shrew, Ant lion, Buffalo Weaver, and Leopard Tortoise).  It was a good way to round out a wonderful week of vacation.

Today is our last day here in Cape Town.  If I have my way we will be back again someday.  It is currently my number one dream post, who wouldn't want to live here?!!?  Since it's our last day the kids are watching a movie while Dave and I try to stuff everything we brought,  plus all the stuff we bought in our suitcases, so I am not going to take the time to try uploading pictures tonight.  I will try to post some pictures tomorrow when we are back at home in Malawi, assuming the internet is actually working.

What a wonderful place for a vacation.  If you are FS who will have to transit Jo'burg on you way to post or back the the states you should really consider cost constructing a week in Cape Town as part of the deal.  It is SO completely worth it.  The cottage where we stayed (The Tarragon) is fantastic! I will have more up about it sometime next week, or you can contact us for more information.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Cape Town - Day Five

Today started with really cool cars, the kind most of us only dream about.  Franschoek Motor Museum exhibits 80 cars at a time, although that have many more in their collection, everything from the earliest model T's to Formula 1 race cars. As an added bonus the museum is in the stunning grounds of a vineyard. Gorgeous.

Then we stumbled across Butterfly World which had butterflies, lots of gorgeous butterflies, but also monkeys, birds, and reptiles.  One of the birds stole the button off the top of Colin's hat but gave it back when David held out his hand and sternly ordered the bird to "Give it back!"  I wish the kids listened as well as that bird.

Next came Cool Runnings dry land luge where all the boys felt the need for speed. Ok so maybe the parents did too.

We ended the day with dinner at a beach side restaurant. The wind was really blowing so we were glad to be able to eat indoors out of the wind.  The boys were hoping to play on the beach afterward but trying to walk on the beach was like getting sandblasted so the walk didn't last long.

Cape Town - Day Four

Today we were supposed to go diving with the  sharks.  I say "supposed to" because mother nature didn't cooperate.  We woke up to a rainy sky and quickly received a call canceling the trip due to high sea states.  The boys were upset and some tears were shed, but frankly I was a bit relieved. I have a history with sea sickness, and somethings time just doesn't ease the memory.  As cool as it would be to swim with the sharks, I'm sure me barfing or dry heaving the entire trip would put a damper on things.

Instead we headed out to Imhoff Farm.  It didn't exactly match the pictures we has seen online.  Dave and I were a bit let down.  The boys were happy with the reptile exhibit; Colin was thrilled with the kudu and ostrich biltong (jerky) he bought in one of the shops; and lunch was really good too, so I guess it was worth the trip.

Everywhere we have driven outside of town we have seen sign after sign warning about baboons.  The funny thing is we haven't seen a single baboon.  We've seen lots of "caution baboon" signs, a few baboon rangers (says so on their jackets!) and some baboon poop (as identified by Colin), but no baboons.  I'm afraid of baboons, but at the same time I always enjoy seeing them, from a safe distance, or from inside my car.  Maybe we will spot some tomorrow instead of just more baboon signs.

We stopped at Long Beach to watch the surfers.  It was the first time the boys or I have seen surfers in real life before.  I would love to learn to do that, it looked like so much fun.  Although maybe I would want to surf someplace with warmer water.  Grayson bored of the surfing quickly and found a friend to play with while the rest of us were checking out the action on the waves.

In the afternoon we headed out to the beach.  Boulders Beach.  The thing that sets Boulders Beach apart is penguins.  We stopped there earlier this week on the way out to The Cape of Good Hope to get a quick look at the penguins, but the boys wanted a chance to swim there.  Good decision, it is a sheltered beach with calm waters. There are boulders to climb on, sand to dig in and every once in a while a penguin swims up to see what you are doing. It made for a great afternoon.