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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Over and Out

We're sitting in the Dulles Airport right now, with Joseph in tow, waiting for our flight to Frankfurt.  Joseph's ticketing issues thankfully worked out easily, and we didn't continue melting our credit card with a last-minute flight purchase.  

The movers came yesterday, and we were underweight.  Today was a crazy day and Brandon was right and I was wrong about how long it would take to get everything done.  When our shuttle arrived, all of the bags were packed and exactly fifty pounds, but it was a close-run thing.  I'm getting tired of packing for international flights.

We got to the airport early enough to stuff everyone full of dinner so they can avoid any food except fruit snacks for the next eighteen hours, and now it's just a matter of waiting until we show up in Baku.

Since we'll be in temporary housing, I can't speak for our internet connection, but I will update when I can.  I have a few posts about Christmas, but ran out of time to put pictures in.  So you'll just have to go somewhere else for your daily dose of interesting.  Or maybe just keep going there.

Off to Baku we go!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Third Time's the Charm?

For those of you who aren't counting, we are leaving in six days.  We have our shipments arranged, I'm cooking dinners with what we have in the cupboard, I've made packing lists, and scheduled an airport shuttle.  Everything is ready.  Except for Joseph's ticket - it isn't bought yet.

To get to post, everyone has to have two things - an airplane ticket and a passport with the appropriate visa.  When Edwin was born, we had a lot of trouble with the passport and eventually travelled with a tourist passport instead of the diplomatic one we were aiming for.  When Joseph was born, we worked our hardest to make sure that wouldn't happen, and he had his passport by three weeks old and his visa a week and a half later.

So, of course this time it's the medical clearance that is causing the trouble.  Edwin's medical clearance took about twenty-four hours to approve, so I didn't worry about Joseph's.  He had his appointment at four weeks, and I sent in the forms a few days later.

A few more days went by, and I hadn't heard anything about his clearance being granted, so I emailed the office.  Oh, they said, I had to wait 48 hours before the paperwork was updated in the system.

Life got busy, and a week or so later (Tuesday), I emailed again asking about the clearance.  'Oh that clearance?' I was told, 'yeah that will take five to six weeks.'  My stomach dropped as I thought of waiting here and then flying by myself with all four children.  I sent a panicked email back, and was told that if I wanted it reviewed sooner, Brandon was going to have his HR tech (who is so notoriously unreliable that Brandon overheard someone at FSI comment that their CDO had given warning about them) send an expedite request.  Then if the request was granted, the clearance might be done by the end of the week.

So I called Brandon and sent him on the trail of his HR tech while I looked up flights on Kayak and appealed to livelines for help about getting paid back after purchasing our own ticket.  Brandon had no luck contacting anyone, but I was able to find out that we can get paid back, with approval prior to purchasing the ticket.  I was also advised to contact MED/foreign programs, the same people who held my hand through Edwin's birth.

So I contacted them, and was given the numbers of the director and deputy director of clearances.  When I threw myself at the feet of the deputy director, he kindly offered to review Joseph's case by the end of the day.  I said a silent prayer of thanks for everyone's help and did a little dance.  Whew.  Crisis averted.

Brandon called his HR tech Tuesday, with still no answer.  I emailed her and received the dreaded out of office reply.  Not wanting to wait until Thursday to have Joseph added to our orders, Brandon called a supervisor and was told 'well, I don't know anything about it [so don't bother me and can't you just wait until Thursday?]'

So this morning Brandon emailed, and then called his HR tech.  Joseph was added.  Done? Not done.  Now it gets to go to budget so that they can approve the four figures being spent on Joseph's ticket.  Which has to be bought tomorrow or the airline will cancel his reservation.  Back to square one.

Being resourceful, I called Carlson, and tried to have the purchase date changed so we have another day of time to wait for budget to get things done.  The latest day it can be changed to is December 26.  Which is a holiday, so everyone is closed.

When I asked the Carlson lady what I should do, she looked at the flights and advised just to wait and see; if the reservation did get cancelled, there should be enough seats to simply just make another reservation for Joseph.  After all, how many people are trying to go to Baku three days after Christmas?

So here we are in limbo again, awaiting the whim of bureaucratic processes.  I'm sending in that request for reimbursement, just in case we do have to put another $3000 on our credit card that State will eventually pay off.

So now I know about passports and medical clearances.  I'm going to have to have another baby just so I can use all of my hard-earned knowledge and finally do things right.  Hopefully.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Crafts

I am not a crafty person.  Sure, I'll spend three days making a delicious dinner, but crafts?  You can't eat them, and they are just one more thing to haul around the world.

The one exception to this rule, however, is Christmas.  Last Christmas we made snowflakes, gingerbread houses, and wrapping paper.  Everything worked so well that we decided to have a new tradition.

Last Saturday we made wrapping paper.  Edwin started off the festivities early when he discovered the red acrylic paint during my shower and displayed his new-found skill at opening things.  I came out to find paint all over Edwin, the bathroom door, and carpet.

Luckily it was acrylic and several buckets of water and piles of towels later, you can't tell the difference.  I swear.

In the evening (after putting Edwin to bed as he'd already had his fun with paint), we cut potato stamps and made the wrapping paper.

And when the girls were in bed too, Brandon and I made our own paper.

Of course it's all going to be ripped up and thrown away in about a week.  But we had fun.  And we don't have to haul it anywhere with us.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Edwin's Second Birthday

Thursday was Edwin's birthday.  I have always pitied people whose birthdays come on or around Christmas.  Everyone gets so wrapped up in Christmas preparations that those birthdays often get overlooked.  My birthday is almost a month after Christmas and I find that much proximity obnoxious.

Edwin has had the triple distractions of Christmas, Joseph's birth, and moving to contend with his birthday celebrations.  Luckily for him and us, he has no concept of birthday, presents, or celebrations.  When Sophia turned two, we had spent the previous two weeks singing Happy Birthday to anything we could think of.  Thursday morning the girls and I sang to Edwin.  He just looked at us and ran off to play with his cars.

Although he is oblivious of celebrations, Edwin can certainly appreciate food.  So when we made cupcakes (going with the theme this year of making things easy on ourselves),
he was happy to lick everything given to him.

And fish out of the sugar canister, for good measure.

That evening we sang to him again, lit the candles, and had cupcakes.  

Edwin broke tradition by actually eating some of his birthday (cup)cake.  But only because he didn't know that present was coming.

And he was thrilled with that only present - a big dump truck.  Happy Birthday, Edwin!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Would you like some cheese with that?

Warning: This post contains unnecessary, self-centered, and gratuitous whining.  For those of you who don't like that sort of thing, or those that actually have lives who deserve whining, please tune in next time for something more humorous.  And that includes the comments, too.  [you know who you are, anonymous]

So, this year has been a... crazy... year.  I reserve 'bad' for things that include trips to the hospital and or consultations with the insurance company.  So it hasn't been bad, just crazy.

And I think that I've done a relatively good job dealing with it.  Perhaps if you talked with my children or husband they might disagree, but as they don't write this blog, they can't tell you otherwise.

I like to pretend at least that I'm an optimist person who just deals with situations while at least attempting to stay cheerful and looking at the bright side of things.  Evacuation?  It might mean being away from home for awhile, but it's a good excuse to read a lot of books and order out a lot.  See?  Less cooking.  A good thing.  And I love libraries in the US.  Having a baby seven weeks before moving overseas?  Sure, it's a little fast, but see the above about cooking and books.  Plus, I don't have time to be worried about baby not sleeping well.  Good attitude.  Go me.

But with twelve days to go before departure, I'm starting to feel this year catch up to me.  I can deal with moving.  Again.  I'm okay with living in temporary housing when we get to post for an unspecified time.  Again.  While I'm not looking forward to paying a driver $180 a week to get things done, I can deal with not having a car for several months.  Again.  I can even deal with a five week-old baby and all of its vagaries.  For the fourth time.

But when that five week-old baby decides to fight me every single time I nurse and tries to scream and cry every single time I put him down to sleep when I know he's tired and just wants to sleep already, and repeat every 2 1/2 to 3 hours, I get a little tired of the show.  And then I have to decide what makes the cut for stuffing into our eight suitcases because we don't know when we'll be in our real (hopefully, fingers crossed) house and so we have to fit everything we might need for three four children crammed into a three-bedroom apartment in January in downtown Baku with just Drexel Heritage to keep us company for an undetermined amount of time, I might feel a little more stress.  And then of course there are still those three children to keep occupied in the three-bedroom teeny-tiny townhouse we're in already in December with no parks in walking distance and no desire to leave because it takes 45 minutes to get everyone out the door and in the car, I might admit to hiding out from them.  But only sometimes.  Oh, and add in the wonderful feeling of bleeding cash out of every pore as Sophia breaks the GPS and we buy a new one and the car requires $700 of repairs and we have to pay to have the house cleaned and carpets cleaned and oh! Brandon has only two suits with him which won't work for an undetermined amount of time before we're in our (hopefully) house and can get the rest of our things so let's go take all four of the children suit shopping.  And don't forget about the tailoring.  And don't forget Christmas. And that lovely red-eye international flight with said fighting, crying baby.

I think I could handle all of that except the baby, but when the baby is thrown in, I'm done in.  I can hardly handle the baby under normal circumstances.  Newborns are not my favorite.

So, I'm going to do the reasonable thing and leave the children and go to Ikea and Potomac Mills tomorrow.  All.  By. Myself.  Because what we need right now is to spend more money and acquire more things to ship overseas.

End of rant.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Time Distortions

A few days ago, I was thinking about the things to be done before we leave, and my mental calendar reminded me that we have two and a half weeks left before we leave.  'Two and a half weeks!' I thought, 'is it still that long?  How am I going to be able to live two and a half more weeks before we get out of here!?'

This year has been chopped up into lots of pieces, none of them longer than three months, and I've spent all of those pieces (except the first one, because I had no idea what was going to hit me) counting down until they were done.  Three months on evacuation.  Three months in Cairo.  Six weeks on home leave.  Two months until Joseph came.  And seven weeks until Baku.  

Moving around and waiting around have warped my sense of time.  A year ago, six months felt like something just around the corner.  Now six months is an absolute eternity, three enough to really settle down and call somewhere home, and two and a half weeks a really good long stretch, long enough to not even think about packing.  Or pack out.  

I'm not sure what I'll do with myself when we move to Baku and I have two whole years stretching out endlessly before me with nothing but a couple of R&Rs to break up the monotony.  I'll have to take up some sort of hobby.  Maybe base jumping?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

... and why was this conversation necessary?

While in the shower this morning
Sophia: hmmememm warrrrinnngnsnn
rrrrrrwwwweee serrrrsisss!
gnnnennnnnwbbwerbbbb lllfasfsf!!
blllllenensnesnn wmmemmemms!!!

Me: (finally giving up on pretending I can't hear her) Sophia, I'm in the shower and can't hear you; open the door and tell me what you're saying.

Sophia: (opening the door) Mom, are you in the shower?

Me: (stating the obvious) Yes.

Sophia: I need to use the bathroom.

Me: Can you use your bathroom?

Sophia: Oh, okay!  (happily runs off to use her bathroom)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree

When I was growing up, every year I begged my mother for a real Christmas tree.  And every year, her answer was the same.  No, they're too expensive, and we have a perfectly good one up in the attic so why buy something we would just throw away in a month?  Plus, those needles get everywhere.

So every year I swore to myself that I would buy a real tree when I got to make the decision.  Thus far, whenever possible I've bought a fresh tree.  This year I decided to have some fun - which is code for me thinking up a complicated scheme that inevitably ends up driving Brandon crazy when some part of it inevitably goes wrong (because with three four small children something always does) - and go to a tree farm and cut down our own tree.

So this past Saturday morning that's what we did. 

Everyone had a fun time choosing which one would be ours.

Edwin was very interested in the mechanics of how exactly one cut down a tree.

Sophia and Kathleen decided to be reindeer with the branches.

And after hauling the tree in from the fields and having it shaken and baled, Brandon tied the tree to the top of the car to take it to it's new (for the next three weeks) home.

On the way home, our GPS decided to lose it's logic chip and point us in all sorts of bizarre directions that resulted in the obligatory complication and extra time in the car.

That evening, after meeting friends for ice cream, we decorated the tree.  Or rather, Edwin and Joseph slept, Brandon kept us company, I strung the lights and the girls decorated the tree.  It didn't necessarily result in even ornament distribution, but they had fun.

And then the girls went to bed and Brandon and I finally got to rest.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

In the last three weeks

So, things have been busy.  With a new baby, life always gains the odd quality of being busy with no definable gain by the end of the day.  There seems to be a lot of sitting around, changing diapers, and feeding children with a lot of stress about the whole thing.  And when you throw in trying to get not only your child but your household ready to move to another country, life gets even busier.

My sister was kind enough to come and help out for the first week, for which I was tremendously grateful as Joseph thought he would try our patience by not sleeping at night for the first week he was home.  After Brandon spent two straight nights without any sleep, I took extreme measures and things quieted down during Brandon's mother's visit for the week before Thanksgiving.

Which was good as Brandon and I drove down to Richmond to fetch Joseph's birth certificate the day before my sister-in-law came with her six children for Joseph's baby blessing.  The children had a wonderful time with their cousins making havoc of our small townhouse, which I'm sure was never intended to house fourteen people.

The same day everyone left, Brandon and I went downtown where Joseph applied for his first passports and we booked plane tickets to Baku.  When I commented out that we could buy a Civic for the price of the tickets, Brandon pointed out that we would have a hard time driving a Civic to Baku.

Brandon's mother left the day before Thanksgiving, so we went to Maryland to join my Aunt and Uncle for Thanksgiving.  The next week I sent off another shipment, this one containing a swing set, dome jungle gym, digital piano, set of tires, and 150 pounds of sugar.  Our three final shipments, UAB, HHE by air, and the car have been set up for the week we leave.

Brandon picked up Joseph's diplomatic passport and finally turned in the visas applications after two failed attempts, and Joseph has a medical appointment scheduled this week so that he can be cleared and allowed to travel.

We've scheduled out the last three weeks we have in country and have plans for several dinners, a Christmas party, Christmas tree shopping, Christmas shopping, medical appointments, a visit from my brother, work consultations, Christmas itself, those aforementioned pack outs, and of course, flying halfway across the world with four small children.

One day I'll get some rest (and maybe even more than three hours of sleep in a row), but it won't be for awhile.  And until then, I'll have chocolate to help me out.  Thank heaven for chocolate.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

And now there are six

Last Sunday, Brandon declared that it was time to decide on a name for the baby.  I turned to the girls who were coloring at the table and asked them whether they would like to name the baby William or Joseph.  "Joseph," Kathleen declared.  I turned to Sophia.  "Jospeh," she confirmed.  Brandon turned to me.  "Joseph," I agreed.

"Fine," he returned, "you win, but I don't have to like it."

And so without further ado, introducing Joseph, the newest member of our family.

He arrived without any trouble and is happy and healthy.  The girls are delighted with their new brother, constantly begging me to be able to feed him with a bottle, bathe him, change his diapers, and feed him.  Edwin loves to hold him, for about thirty seconds, before he dumps Joseph off his lap to go do something else.

I am doing well, and enjoying the wonderful help of my dear sister who has taken a week to come and help out.  The children have enjoyed more walks and parks this past week than in the past month.

We're all happy to have another addition to our family!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

It's time

This last week has been busy.  On Wednesday I sent off two tons of food to be shipped to Baku.  Then in the next few days I baked six loaves of bread, made a gallon of granola, switched all of the maternity clothes out of my closet and drawers, pulled out the baby clothes and things, took sent the children off for a sleepover, went out for one last evening with Brandon, took him to the doctor (bronchitis), cleaned out all of the random boxes from my stairwells, and set a new record for loads of laundry washed, folded and put away in one day (ten loads).  Today we went to the grocery store, and I picked up my sister from the airport this evening after taking the children to the park.

I think that I'm ready to crawl into my hospital bed and let them poke me with an IV of pitocin just so I can get some rest.  Wish me luck!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Bringing Baby 'Home'

This morning as I was scrolling through Facebook, I looked through some pictures that my cousin has posted of her new baby.  As I looked through the pictures, I noticed the background - nice couches, a fire burning in a fireplace, attractive built-in bookcases, and a general sense of somewhere happy and lovely, filled with a happy family.

And then I thought of pictures when I bring my baby home.  Someone else's couch, someone else's artwork on the wall, paint I didn't choose, and a borrowed bassinet.  I thought about bringing home my other babies - same story with every one except Sophia.  And of course, six weeks after that baby comes 'home,' we'll leave for another 'home,' one filled with Embassy-issued furniture and Embassy standard white walls.

There are many many things I love about being in the Foreign Service.  So many, in fact, that we plan on staying with this gig for the next twenty years.  But, just as with any situation, there are downsides.  That's life; nothing is perfect.

And one thing that I realized when I looked through those lovely pictures of a lovely baby in a lovely home is that I'm not going to have that home for decades.  I'm turning thirty in a few months.  Since I left home at eighteen and went to college, I have lived in exactly one location where I owned everything inside.  And that was a little hole that turned from a place for a few months into a place for almost two years.  Every other place I've ever lived in I have had someone else furnish just about everything.

And that's not about to change because I'm too cheap to 1. buy nice furniture 2. pay to have it shipped around and 3. pay to have it fixed after it's shipped.  And I'm okay with that - it comes with the territory that includes household help, employer-provided housing, and weekend trips to Turkey.  So don't feel too sorry for me.

But I do look forward to that long, long-off day when I can ruin my own couches, choose (and pay for) the exact appliances I want, and choose my own dang light fixtures.  One day.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Consumables Saturday

Last Saturday, it snowed in northern Virginia.  Well, first it rained, then it turned to freezing rain, and finally snow mixed in with the rain.  It was a nasty, cold, day - the coldest day we've had since coming here.  It was the sort of day where you put on a movie for the children, get out a book for yourself, and everyone drinks hot chocolate.

However, it was also the last Saturday before our consumables shipment is scheduled for pick-up.  And so that is how I found myself driving to Woodbridge in the rain with my entire car empty and ready to receive the bounty of my credit-card melting day.

My first stop was Sams Club, the only locally available source for McCormick chicken base (fifty cans), bulk Ghirardelli double chocolate chips (twenty-four pounds), and popcorn (one hundred fifty pounds).  Some very kind men took pity and helped load the car with my chocolate chips and various and sundry other items, including the obligatory and very necessary Charmin.

After a short stop at Aldi for milk chocolate chips (I had made sure to stock up on butterscotch earlier in the week) and sliced almonds, I continued in the drizzling rain to the Bishops Storehouse for 250 pounds of wheat and fifty pounds of black beans.  Once again a kind soul took pity on me and loaded my now quite-full car with the twenty-five pound bags.  I should shop more while thirty-eight weeks pregnant.

My last stop was Costco, this time in the rain mixed with freezing rain.  I rounded up my flat-bed cart amid the thronging Saturday crowds and started piling.  Paper towels, laundry detergent, dish detergent, whole grain penne and rotini, macaroni and cheese, napkins, contact solution, toilet wet wipes, goumet chocolates (I can't go two years without my tasty chocolate), and the all-important two hundred pounds of brown sugar piled my car higher and higher.

By the time I reached the register, I could barely push my trolley piled to the height of my shoulders, and I was nervous.  My car was already full when I came to Costco, and I had just as much, if not more things than were already in the car.  After fifteen or twenty minutes of checking out, I handed my cart over to a very nice man and fetched my car for loading.

Thankfully, he couldn't speak much English, so we just made wry faces at each other through the snow and started rearranging and packing the endless pile of stuff into my already-overloaded car.  By the time we were through twenty minutes later, I literally had boxes of penne crammed to the roof and my front seat was full of freshly-scented boxes of Bounce dryer sheets.  As I backed out of my space, I prayed that nobody would foolishly decide to walk behind me as there was no possible way for me to see them.

As I drove home, I called Brandon to warn him of his long, hard slog up the stairs to our townhouse carrying the fruits of my labor.  In the snow.  After an hour and a half of unloading, everything had made it into the living room, piled neatly and waiting for the movers and Brandon was soaked with snow and rain.

And now I can go into labor with one less thing to worry about.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Celebrating Halloween in the US

I've never been much of a Halloween celebrant.  I blame my mother.  We were banned from trick-or-treating after fifth grade, and the older I've gotten the less festive I've become.  I was quite happy to live overseas and miss out on all of the excitement.

Brandon recalls trick-or-treating once when he was five, and for every Halloween after, his father would cover the windows with blankets and pretend they weren't home while the family watched movies and ate candy.

So I blame Brandon for this Halloween.  We started the season early with a visit to a pumpkin patch.  And then for Family Home Evening we actually carved the things.  The last time we carved pumpkins was when Kathleen was two and I ended up scraping it off the porch in February right before we moved to DC for the Foreign Service.

Then on Saturday we went to the ward Halloween party where the girls dressed up as princesses.  Of course it was pure coincidence that I gave them princess dresses for Christmas last year and they dressed up as princesses for Halloween.

And tonight we lit up our pumpkins and dressed the girls up again.  Edwin and I stayed home (he went to bed) while Brandon led the girls around our little complex.  They came home after ten or so houses thrilled with the candy they had picked up and made a grand evening of stuffing themselves with more candy they had ever eaten in their short lives and making candy trails across the floor.

So that will be their only memory of Halloween, at least for the next few years.  And when they ask why we don't celebrate Halloween, I'll point out that yes, we did once, and I'll show them pictures for proof.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Midnight thoughts

Last night, in between multiple bathroom trips, I was woken up by a strange pain in my abdomen.  After a few seconds, I realized that I was having a contraction.  As I've never had a contraction without pitocin before, I panicked.

My first thought was 'Ow!  This hurts!  A lot!'  My second thought was, 'I can't go into labor, I have that consumables shipment to get together!'  Then I started thinking through how much time I'd have to send Brandon to various stores after we'd gone to the hospital, gotten the baby out, and come home again.  I supposed that he could do it, but it would be a lot of trouble.

My third thought was, 'I can't go into labor, I don't have any good books to take with me to the hospital!'  I considered that the hospital probably has WiFi and I could take my laptop, but really, there's no substitute for a good book.

Thankfully, the pain went away and I went back to sleep, at least until the next bathroom break.  But now I've been put on notice and I have some things to do.  Like go to the library.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Why I can't hack it in the US

We've now been actually living (not traveling or visiting) in the US for seven weeks.  There are a number of things that I love about being in the motherland.  Public libraries are amazing.  Same with public parks.  Although sometimes illogically bizarre, having a GPS makes getting around much easier.  And of course, Target, as always.

I looked forward to being back to the land of Wonderful Things, but one thing I didn't think about when looking forward to all of the amazing things I could do was that in order to do those things, I'd have to leave my house.

In Cairo, we had a lovely, large apartment.  So on days when I didn't feel like leaving, the children had lots of space to ride bikes, push strollers, build houses, make cushion mountains, and scatter their toys.

I think that the townhouse we're renting (at a price that I'm not going to name, but let's just say that it's a good thing State pays housing) could probably fit into the front room of our apartment.  And that includes the staircases and three bedrooms and bathrooms.  We have a deck, but it opens onto a communal hill, and even Edwin can easily unlatch the gate, so I have to be downstairs in my room to supervise if they want to go outside.  So the children have the kitchen, the living room, and their room to play in.  And any time they bring out a toy or two (of the three we brought with us) the entire house immediately looks like a hurricane went through.

So yes, the parks are amazing.  I love the library, and maybe we'll make it to the zoo.  But when doing any of those things involves loading three children (soon to be four) into the car, unloading them, keeping them from running away or being run over, putting them back in, driving home, and unloading them again, I think I'll actually take my apartment in Cairo some days.  I guess I've been spoiled.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Why I love language training

When we first realized that Brandon was going to need language training, I was apprehensive about it.  I had heard unpleasant things; that he would be in class all day and doing homework all night, I would never see him again, or he would go crazy with all of the language he had to learn in such a short time.

Now that he's been in training for over six weeks, I can officially say that I Love Language Training.  It's fantastic.  It's wonderful.  I haven't bathed my children in weeks.  If we didn't have to live crammed into a tiny townhouse without much of our things and living on base pay, I'd be happy to have Brandon in language training perpetually.  And so would he.

Some days he has to stay really late, like until four o'clock.  Then he doesn't get home until almost four thirty, after leaving at seven in the morning.  Those are the rough days.  At least once a week, he'll get off early enough to meet me and the children at the park and we'll walk home together, often after spending some quality rock-throwing time at the creek next to the park.

The other day I had an OB appointment at one in the afternoon.  Brandon told his teacher that he had to leave a few minutes early, and he was home in time for me to go to the doctor all by myself and read a book while waiting.

And to make life even better, Brandon really enjoys learning Azerbaijani.  He is in a class with three other men, all Russian speakers, so they spend half of the time speaking in Russian so he gets to work on that also.  According to Brandon, Azerbaijani is a very logical language, and even has the added bonus of the odd Arabic word thrown in, and so  he is happily doing quite well.  I asked him a few weeks ago how long it took him to get to this point in Arabic (after majoring in Arabic in college), and he looked at me and replied, "never."

In a few months, we'll move on to post where Brandon will have to work a real job again with real hours and I'll have to bathe the children again.  But until then, I'm really enjoying the break.  And so is he.

Monday, October 17, 2011

What's in a name?

In three and a half weeks, if nobody decides to make a surprise entrance, we will have a new member in our family, a little boy.  In three and a half weeks, I'll have to fill out the information for a birth certificate, which I will then use to procure all of the documents necessary to transport our little boy to Baku.  I have all of the necessary information - after all I've done this three times already - except for one thing.  A name.

Back, back a long time ago before I was even pregnant with Kathleen, Brandon and I talked about baby names.  He asked how I liked the name Edwin, and I said that I liked it just fine.  Edwin is the middle name of his maternal grandfather, who Brandon got his first name from.  And so we decided to name our first son Edwin.

Then we talked about my Aunt Kathleen, who I've always been close with.  As a child, I used to drive my parents crazy be claiming that I'd really been meant to go to her and not the crummy family that I'd been stuck with.  Then we decided to name our first daughter Kathleen.

We both liked Sophia, and its meaning, wisdom.

So when Kathleen was announced to be a girl, it didn't take any time to decide on her name.  Sophia was named just as easily, and Edwin didn't have a chance to be anything but Edwin.

This baby, however... I suppose that's what happens when you have a larger family.  All of the good names get used up early, and then you have to stretch for the next ones [sorry baby, when you're old enough to read this.  We love you just as much].  Brandon knew a family whose fifth son was named Quentin.  Sometimes creativity fails after awhile.

I've had a name that I've like for quite some time now, but Brandon just isn't sold on it.  And every time we try to discuss names, nobody can quite get serious and choices like 'Thor' and 'Ignatius' are thrown around.  So baby boy is still referred to as baby boy.

I know we'll have to make some sort of decision soon - as in three and a half weeks soon - but I have no idea what that will turn out to be.  I do know, however, that it won't be Ignatius.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Consumed by Consumables

In the LDS church, members are encouraged to have a one-year food supply.  My parents have always had cans of wheat lurking underneath the stairs, buckets of sugar in random closets, and tins of salt in cupboards.  I have never been that organized.

When we lived in Cairo, I tried to have three months' worth of non-perishable food stocked in my cupboards in case of emergencies, which is about as adherent I'd ever been to the one-year food storage guidance.  Previous to moving to Cairo, we had lived in various places, all small and all thought to be temporary, so I never invested in a supply figuring that I would be moving soon, so what would be the point?

I now have the opportunity to make up for that laxity.

Over the past few weeks, I have been filling in a several-page spreadsheet.  I've driven my children crazy at the store, slowly perusing all of the aisles while jotting down prices in a notebook.  I've just about driven myself crazy trying to find the absolute cheapest price for coconut.  Despite owning a Costco membership, I'm buying one at Sam's for just one visit, because they stock Ghirardelli chocolate chips, McCormack chicken stock, and fifty-pound bags of popcorn.

In the next few weeks I get to put together not a one-year supply, but at two-year supply of everything I can think of that can't be found in Baku.  When we were in Cairo, we had a lovely commissary, but in Baku no such luck.  So instead, Brandon is entitled to a consumables shipment, 2,500 pounds of whatever we can use up and think that we can't live without.

Think of whatever you go to Target to buy.  Ziploc bags, diapers, shampoo, laundry detergent, plastic wrap, toilet cleaner, deodorant.  And then think of buying it for the next two years.  Then think of all of those American foods that you enjoy so much.  Chocolate chips, black beans, whole-wheat pasta, cold cereal, goldfish crackers, peanut butter.  Two years of those also.  I've made sure to put two years of root beer on our list.  And brown sugar.

Which is why I've been driving myself insane filling out my spreadsheet, figuring out the price per ounce of vanilla, or oxy-clean, or coconut, or butter-flavored Crisco.  Because when you're buying two years' worth of brown sugar (approximately two hundred pounds), an extra twenty cents a pound starts to add up.

So when you come to visit in a few weeks, don't be surprised to see toilet paper and dishwasher detergent as our new accent pieces in the living room, with wheat decorating the upstairs hallway.  I'm hoping that our new home in Baku will have a little more space than our townhouse.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Magic Fairies Return

When we left Cairo, we left a lot of things behind.  Mango season, good friends, a large apartment, Maadi House, and of course, Rere.  Brandon asked me how I was going to cope without Rere when we were gone.  I replied that I would muddle through somehow, and kept making lists and preparing for packing.  I knew that the day would come when I was without my own personal fairy, but I didn't want to think about it.

When we moved into our temporary home, I looked around and had virtuous thoughts about cleaning it myself.  I could get the girls involved and teach them how to clean.  We could put on music and make a fun day of it.  They would be able to gain valuable skills, and continue to learn how to be helpful. 

A week went by.  The house got unpacked.  I spent almost a thousand dollars in a week.  I thought about how much more I would spend on housecleaning.  I looked at the cleaning products under the sink and tried to remember how to use them.  I told myself that lots and lots of women clean their own houses, and I could do it too.

Then I listened to the voice of reality in my head.  I am almost eight months pregnant.  I am homeschooling Kathleen.  I have three children under the age of six at home all day every. single. day.  Our townhouse is small and we have almost no toys and a back deck that doesn't come close to passing as a 'yard.'  

But really, I knew that all of those reasons were trying to make me feel better about the one reason that would win in the end: I have grown lazy over the last two years.  And really, I don't actually care.

So today, I took the children bike riding.  Before we left, I placed a check on the table and my key under the doormat (and no, I'm not telling you my address).  When we came back after riding bikes and playing in the park, the check was gone and the house was clean.  And it was worth every single penny.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Rain, rain, go the heck away, would you?

We have now been in Arlington for almost an entire month.  Our boxes are all unpacked, almost everything has found a home, and we've even gone a road trip so that it really felt like home when we got back.  Cairo is quickly retreating into a distant, dream-like memory.  We've been here for awhile.  At least for a family who moves around so much.

There have been quite a few things that I've already grown quite fond of.  Every time I take the children out riding bikes, I miss the wonderful trails already.  Each time we go to the library and the children start grabbing books off the shelves and stuffing them into my arms as fast as they can, I think about how many books we'll have the weight for over the years.  And of course, Target.  No explanation needed.

One thing I have not grown fond of: the rain.  The first few days when the weather was oh-so deliciously cool and rainy was refreshing after hot, hot sunny Cairo.  After five straight days of rain, I almost shouted for joy when a ray of sunshine peeped through my window one afternoon.  But then the clouds came back, and the rain returned.  I constantly checked the forecast, looking forward to the days that called for sunshine, only a few days in the future.  But those round yellow things kept retreating away from me, tantalizingly close but never actually on the day I was actually living.

This morning we told the girls (and Edwin, but I'm not so sure about the comprehension) that we would take them bike riding.  Everyone happily finished their breakfast, quickly put on their pants and shirts and socks and shoes and jackets, and I went online to find a local bike trail to explore.  I checked the forecast, and the daily dose of rain wasn't scheduled until noon.  We were ready.  And then we opened the door.

Rain, happily pattering down on the trees outside our door.  Rain flooding the steps outside our townhouse.  Rain, again.

I looked at Brandon, he looked at me, and we looked at the children dressed to go.  And he got out the umbrella.  We've finally been parents long enough to recognize when rebellion is imminent, and went out anyway.  He suggested we go to the bike path and see how things stood there, and so we piled into the car.

Thankfully when we arrived, the rain was nonexistent to sprinkling, and so we unloaded everyone and went on our merry way.  We may have gotten a little wet, but I don't think anyone cared.

I just checked the weather forecast for this week, and watched as the round, happy sun on Monday's forecast turned into more drippy blue things.  And my hope for sun has retreated another day.  I know that I didn't have more than three hours of rain while in Cairo, but does the weather really feel like it needs to make up for that lack all at once?

Friday, September 23, 2011

No Longer a Little Girl

Sophia has always been my cuddling girl.  Whenever she's sad, tired, lonely, or just bored, she will go get her blanket, climb into my lap, and cuddle up while sucking her thumb.  She started sucking her thumb at six weeks old, and has been an addict ever since.

Until this week.  We've successfully flown across a third of the world and driven through eleven states with the aid of Sophia's thumb and blanket to keep her quiet.  But now there is a break before the next adventure, and so it has become time to stop the thumb-sucking.

And so this week, with Sophia's full and eager participation, we made out a star chart, found the band-aids and a red marker, and filled her with promises of a mysterious and amazing surprise after a full chart of thirty stars.

The first morning she marched triumphantly down the stairs with a dry band-aid and un-smudged red circle.  "I didn't suck my thumb!" she proudly announced as she carefully placed her first star.  The next morning brought another star, and every morning since.

A few days ago, she came to me with her blanket for a cuddle.  She curled into my lap while wrapped in her yellow cocoon, and looked up at me, "I can still cuddle, right Mom?  I just can't suck my thumb.  Because I'm a big girl now, not a little girl."

I know all little girls grow up into big girls, but I didn't realize how much I'd miss those little girls sometimes.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


The day after Labor Day, Brandon started school.  I packed his lunch for him, got up early to fix him a good breakfast, and kissed him goodbye as he walked to his first day.

The day after Labor Day, children in Arlington started school.  Kathleen ate lunch at home, took a nap, and helped me begin to unpack our UAB.  The next day she had lunch at home again.  And the next day.  She's had lunch at home every day since school started, and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future.

Because she's not going to school.  Instead she's staying home for school.

I like to consider myself a fairly mainstream person - conservative mainstream, but still mainstream.  All of my children have been born at hospitals, and with epidurals.  I stay at home with my children, and they take naps and go to bed early.  My children have all been vaccinated, and I don't buy organic produce because it's too expensive.  My husband is a bureaucrat.  I've never even dyed my hair, and don't own a single pair of skinny jeans.

So I am somewhat unnerved by knowing that while almost all of the other children Kathleen's age are learning the classroom rules and where the bathroom is, she's at home with me.  I think that Kathleen is much less uneasy than I am with the arrangement.

Brandon and I made this decision some time ago, and have reasons we consider sound, as do most people for most decisions they make.  But now that my child is officially not attending public school, I almost feel like I am getting away with something against the rules.  

I know that when I home school Kathleen, she will miss out on experiences she would have in traditional school.  But I also know that if she were in traditional school, she would have experiences she wouldn't have at home.  No choice is without consequences.

But at least when she visits with her therapist in about twenty years, she'll have something solid to start with when she's blaming her parents for her problems.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Did I tell you about how much I love parks?

Now that I'm going to have a car at my next post, I think that parks are the number one thing I love about being in the States.  And the parks around here are wonderful.  I love that not only is there a trail within walking distance of my house, but there's a park within walking distance on that trail.  The townhouse we are renting is nice, but it's a little... cramped... compared with our apartment in Cairo.  So I really enjoy having parks to frequent when there's no room to ride bikes in the house.

After having nothing to do every Saturday except go to Maadi House for two years, I'm really enjoying have the ability and weather to do any of number of things on a Saturday.  So this past Saturday, we had an outing to the park.

For Kathleen's birthday this year, we got her a bike.  And as Kathleen got a bike, we made sure to include Cannonball the red tricycle in our UAB shipment for Sophia to use.

So after spending Saturday morning shopping for supplies and making treats, we loaded up Cannonball the Elder (our Honda Pilot, which was my number one favorite thing about being in the US during evacuation) with Cannonball (the Younger), Lucy, and Edwin's stroller.

Our first activity was bike riding.  Kathleen has had a rocky start to riding a two-wheel bike, but on Saturday she thoroughly enjoyed wheeling along beside Four Mile Run while passing Sophia on Cannonball.  Edwin pointed out every squirrel he saw from the comfort of his stroller.

After bike riding, everyone parked their conveyances and played at the park.  Edwin especially enjoyed hanging out of high openings and giving Brandon heart attacks.

And then to finish out the afternoon, we had a picnic on the grass for dinner.  Everyone had an immensely enjoyable time, and not one single person asked to take our picture.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Why I Prefer to Live Overseas

One of my very favorite parts of living in Egypt was Rere.  Not only did she clean my house, iron Brandon's shirts, shop for food, and wash the food, but she also watched the children when I needed to get things done.  My visiting teaching appointments were always on Sundays or Wednesdays.  I shopped alone, occasionally taking the girls for a treat.  When Edwin was a little baby, the girls' swim lessons were always on the days when Rere came.

That has all ended.  At least for the next four months.  So when I had my first OB appointment Tuesday, everyone got to tag along.  The girls at least were excited.

My OB has her office in the local hospital complex, and so I made sure to look up online to see what part of the complex the office was located in.  It didn't tell.  And instead of calling them as I should have, I piled everyone in the car and set off for our grand adventure.

The website for the office helpfully provided a parking map of the hospital, but neglected to mention which parking deck (green, gold or blue) I should pay four dollars for the privledge of parking in.  After circling around aimlessly and getting caught in traffic-light lines, I randomly chose the green deck.  With 5 minutes to go for my appointment, I hustled the children into the green building and scanned the list of offices.  Nothing that looked like OBs (I had forgotten the name and still don't have a cell phone because the charger got lost somewhere in the Virginia-Cairo-US travels-Virginia loop), and no suite 474 was on the list.

Down the stairs we went, out the parking deck, and across the street, past the oncology clinic, up some stairs, down a few sidewalks with Sophia trailing behind crying because we were walking too fast, and we were in the next building.  Still no luck.

At this point, I had no idea where to look next, no phone, no phone number, and no name.  Just suite 474.  And so I asked the nice man at information.  Oh, he told me, that office is actually inside the hospital, so I had to keep going, turn a few corners, go in the elevator and up to the fourth floor, trailing my three ducklings behind me.  Who knew that doctors had their offices inside hospitals?

When I checked in, we were only 10 minutes late for my 2:30 appointment.  The receptionist asked my name and looked up my appointment.  Oh, that was for 9:30 this morning, not 2:30 this afternoon, she told me.  By this point looking desperate, I asked her when I could reschedule.  She took pity on me, and had me sit down while asking my doctor what would work best.

Thankfully and mercifully, she came back and told me to sit down; they would work me into the schedule then.  All four of us sat and I pulled out a car for Edwin and books for the girls.  Kathleen read her book, Sophia looked through hers, and Edwin drove his car on the table.  Sophia looked through her second book, Kathleen read Sophia's first book, and Edwin drove his car on the floor.  Kathleen read her second book, Sophia looked at Kathleen's first book, and Edwin drove his car on the seat.

My name was called and I packed up all four books, the car, and Edwin's blanket.  The nurse weighed me (and I'm not telling), took my blood pressure, and sent us back to the waiting room.  Kathleen read Sophia's second book, Sophia looked through a magazine, and Edwin attempted to drive his car on the wall.  Kathleen put the books away, Sophia was done with the magazine, and Edwin started throwing his car.  Kathleen loudly asked when they would call my name, Sophia showed everyone in the waiting room her underwear while lolling on the chair, and Edwin lolled on the floor.

Finally, they called my name and we were left in an exam room.  Thankful that at least the noise and incessant motion was contained in a room away from other people who might have been thinking of having another child before they got to watch my children, I let them do whatever they wanted.  Kathleen and Sophia pushed each other around on the stool, asked what the stirrups were for, rattled the stirrups in and out, and tried to understand the diagrams on the wall.  Edwin drove his car on the loudest surface he could find.

While Kathleen was asking why I had my head hid in my arms, the doctor walked in.  We talked for five minutes, measured my stomach, and listened to the baby's heartbeat.  We scheduled a date for the induction, and said goodbye.  Edwin drove his car.

And then everyone hiked back to the car and piled in to go home.  Where we had pancakes for dinner.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

So... Where are We?

Life has finally settled down again.  For a few months... until that baby is born.  And then we leave.  Again.  But for now, it's settled.  Or as settled as I can ask for this year.  I am now without excuse, and will resume the semi-regular updates of your favorite traveling Sherwoods.

But first, a summary of the last six weeks.

At the end of July, we all got on our last ridiculously early Lufthansa flight from Cairo.  One-thirty in the morning is entirely too early for me to be loading suitcases into a car.  And as we were loading suitcases into the waiting car, Brandon got bothered one last time for money.  Goodbye, Cairo.

Our trip went uneventfully, and I reveled in the luxury of having another parent to help wrestle children a very, very long day of travel.  We arrived at my parents' house in Raleigh in the late afternoon, ate pancakes, put the children to bed, and went to my father's office where he used his soon-to-be defunct OB skills to pronounce baby number four a boy.

Saturday we packed up for a week at the beach with my family, where the children had a wonderful time with cousins and aunts and uncles and crabs and sand.  We stayed another week at my parents' house before heading to Brandon's parents' house in Missouri.

We arrived after midnight following an eighteen-hour day of driving, setting a personal record for everyone but Brandon.  The girls enjoyed playing with more cousins and aunts and uncles (but no crabs, just cows) in Missouri before we headed down to Texas to see Brandon's sister and their four children.  After Texas, we spent a few days in Tennessee at a water park resort on our own, and then finished our summer progress with two days in West Virginia to see Brandon's older brother and their six children.

By then end of our travels we had visited six places, packed eight times, seen nine siblings, fifteen cousins, and traveled for over ninety hours.  I'm glad that home leave only happens every few years.

We've settled in Arlington in a townhouse a little over a mile away from FSI while Brandon spends the next four months studying Azerbaijani before we leave for Baku at the very, very end of December following the birth of our baby boy.

And maybe then I can catch my breath.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Farewell to Cairo, Part II

            Following Brandon’s graduation, a job prospect came up that had the strong possibility of going overseas.  We talked about returning with excitement, and impatiently waited through the months that stretched into a year and half of process before we were abruptly told that Brandon was no longer being considered for the job.  And so we made other plans, and stopped thinking of Cairo.  But then, the week after Sophia was born, Brandon found out that he might have a chance at joining the Foreign Service.  And the dreams of Cairo began again.
            After his third day of work, Brandon showed me the bid list, the list of possibilities, each one a different two years.  Cairo was on the list not once, but twice, and with a perfect timeframe for us.  On Flag Day, Brandon walked back to me, Kathleen, and Sophia with the Egyptian flag triumphantly clutched in his hand. 
            A few months later, we got off the plane in hot, crowded, busy, but no longer so bewildering Cairo.  Almost three year-old Kathleen clutched Brandon’s hand while we waited for the vans that would take us to our new home.  I held fourteen month-old Sophia on top of the bulge that was 20 week-old Edwin. 
            And when we walked back into the villa on road 17, we knew we were home again.  The carpet was green, and the walls were yellow, but it was the same spirit of the Cairo branch, waiting for us.  And indeed, it was some of the same branch, with the entire branch presidency known to us from our time four years earlier. 
            This time in Cairo has been different that last time.  We have come with a job, and an organization to take care of us, provide our housing, arrange our travel, and even give us access to Breyer’s ice cream.  We’re no longer stepping over puddles of water cascading over the bathroom floor each time a load of laundry is washed.  I have an apartment that is my home with all of my things, and as much feeling of permanence as one can have in two years. 
            But our time in Cairo has also been a real beginning of our time as a family.  When we came, we had one child who could talk and one who was still a baby.  I felt like we were a married couple with some appendages that made life difficult most of the time and perhaps occasionally funny, but not usually pleasurable.  They both went to bed early, and parenting consisted of maintaining basic needs.
            Now we are a family of five, with an almost five year-old, a three year-old, an 18 month-old, and a baby on the way.  We have all grown up.  I now have children who are old enough to do chores and play elaborate games of make-believe.  My baby is old enough to go into nursery in a few weeks, and enjoys swimming at Maadi House as much as his sisters do.  I actually mostly enjoy my time as a mother and now truly find pleasure in my children.
            I feel that this time in Cairo, just as the last time, has been a time of transformation from one state to another, from harried mother of small children to not-so harried mother with a real family going.  I’ve grown very much over these two years and feel like I finally have things under control.  We’ve gone through two evacuations – one for Edwin’s birth, and the recent one for unrest – and I’ve reluctantly grown as a result of those also.  I’ve realized that I can indeed handle whatever has been thrown at me, four solo transatlantic flights included, and even handle it with a small bit of grace.  Brandon and I have grown closer and more appreciative of each other because of the separation, and I know we’ve grown even better suited for each other than when we came.  It’s been a good two years.
            And now we leave, and in a way, leave a phase of our life, one that last lasted since our marriage.  Always we have come back to Cairo, but now we’re done.  When I was talking with the girls about Baku, they asked if then after that we’d come back to Cairo.  I shook my head, and told them that no, Cairo wasn’t going to be our home anymore; we would have a new one then.  It is strange to know that we are leaving Cairo and leaving the beginnings in our life; the beginning of marriage, the beginning of family.  It’s now time to move on to the next part – the middle – with all of its excitement, difficulty, new challenges, and new pleasures.  But never again will we have Cairo, and it will stay with us always.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Farewell to Cairo

Adapted from a recent church talk.

            Cairo has been the touchstone of Brandon’s and my life together since before we were married.  When we were discussing marriage, Brandon brought up his need to go to Cairo the next summer for a study program.  After not hearing any conclusion to his dilemma, I summed up the situation for him by announcing, “well you have two options.  You can take me with you, or you can leave me, and then I’ll kill you.”
            And that’s how, six days after our marriage, two weeks after my graduation from college, I found myself dropped in the middle of hot, crowded, busy, bewildering Cairo with a halfhearted semester’s worth of Arabic under my belt.  I had lived overseas before during a study abroad to Vienna, but I quickly learned that Cairo is not Vienna.
            When we walked into the villa on road 17 our first Friday Sabbath, I don’t know if I had ever been happier to see the inside of an LDS church.  We were greeted warmly by the members, invited to dinner, and quickly given plenty of advice on where to buy everything from sheets to poppyseeds. 
            Our summer study extended into the fall semester, and we were given callings as the nursery leaders, which confirmed semi-permanent status as Cairo branch members.  The Cairo branch was our extended family, taking care of us, watching over us, and giving me somewhere to go for sanity and friendship in our crazy new home.
            When we left Cairo after seven months, we left with not only ourselves, but with the beginning of our family, baby Kathleen hitching a ride.  I will always see Cairo as the start of our time together as husband as wife.  We came, newly married and completely inexperienced with only six months’ of dating and courtship before we came.  We left seven months later with a lot more experience together. 
When we were married only a few weeks and the inevitable bowel troubles came, Brandon told me he was hoping to have waited another thirty or forty years before we were regularly checking up on each other’s bowel health.  I remember nursing Brandon through a particularly nasty fever equipped with only semi-cool washcloths and The Joy of Cooking to distract him.  We gallivanted through Cairo with metro as our main form of transportation to see the opera, hike to the Khan, and somehow get to Manial Palace instead of the Citadel. 
While washing dishes, cooking food, shopping, and riding the Metro to visit Brandon’s friend in Helwan, we grew to know each other and start to understand what it was to be married.  That time was one of the harder periods of my life up to that point, but it was what began to form us together, as husband and wife.
            At the time, I was more than happy to leave the insanity and stress of Cairo and return to the US.  But before long, the reminiscing began.  Remember the mangoes?  The bread?  The branch?  As the time passed, the glow enshrining Cairo grew brighter.

Monday, July 25, 2011

What I will miss most (and least) about Cairo

In two days, we'll be leaving (and yes, on a jet plane), and our time in Cairo will be done.  Everything we've been doing lately has been imbued with the emotional significance of 'the last time we....'

Some of those things I've thought of with regret, and others with a sense of relief.  Just like any place we have lived and will live, there are things I love and things I can live without.  One of the things I love about the Foreign Service is being able to have so many opportunities to find new things to love that I didn't even know existed.  One of the things that drive me crazy is finding new and inventive ways to be tortured by living conditions in foreign countries.

So without further ado:

Ashley's Cairo top (and bottom) 10 
10. The greenery (I'm really not kidding).  Despite Cairo being surrounded by desert, or perhaps because of this, Egyptians love plants.  And plants love Egypt.  Flowers bloom all year round, with some sort of tree blooming at all times.  Trees line some of my favorite streets in Maadi with glimpses into beautiful tropical gardens.

Tipping.  The last time I flew and a flight attendant took my trash, I had the irresistible urge to hand them some change.  Almost everyone here wants a tip, but there is the problem - almost everybody.  If only somebody could compile a comprehensive list of everyone in Cairo, whether or not they should be tipped, and how much the tip should be.

9.  Getting around.  Cairo is a city, and a very dense city at that.  Although we live in a 'suburb' of Cairo, 95% of the people live in apartments.  And so everything in our neighborhood is walkable.  But if we don't feel like walking, there is always a taxi waiting to take us where we want to go.

However, part of the reason there's always that taxi waiting, and honking, and asking if I want a ride is because, with my blonde hair and scandalously naked calves, I stick out like a sore thumb wherever I go.  I love being in the US where nobody gives me a second look.  Who knew anonymity was so precious?

8.  Egyptian food.  I've never heard much praise of Egyptian food, but I think that it's a seriously under-appreciated cuisine.  Especially the aeesh - local pita bread.  I'll probably spend the rest of my life trying to replicate its chewy, soft texture and never get it right.

The maintenance.  Or rather, lack of it.  Everything here has chipped corners, water leaks, eighty-six degree right angles, sagging facades, and corroded bases.  I've watched, over my two years here, brand-new buildings decay into patched-over, dirty replicas of their neighbors.  The whole country gives one the impression of constantly sliding into one enormous midden heap.

7.  The produce.  Oh, the produce.  When I read in Exodus about the children of Israel complaining about the leeks and the cucumbers and melons, I truly feel for them now.  Rere and I were talking about jam the other day, and I realized that nobody here makes jam because there is always fresh fruit available any day of the year.  And it's cheap.  And it's local.  And it's absolutely delicious.

Summer weather.  Of course, some of that deliciousness is because of the weather, and I have to pay for my incredibly sweet cherries with incredibly hot weather.  Between the months of April and October, the children and I spend most of our time inside or at the pool.  And that's it.

6.  Winter weather.  The flip-side of summer weather is winter weather - the time of year when I look at all of that snow-fall in the US and feel smug while I drink my freshly squeezed orange juice while the children play in flip-flops at the park.  I just wish I hadn't missed six months of it.

The dust.  And the trash.  The dust is nobody's fault - Cairo is in the middle of the Sahara, and so winds constantly bring in fine, fine dust that coats everything in sight - the trees, the cars, the railings, my children whenever they go outside.  And since we're in a desert, no rain ever comes to wash it off.  The trash, however, is somebody's fault and nobody does anything about it.

5.  Maadi House.  It's our own little slice of heaven, with a pool, a restaurant, and a playground for the children.  I can almost always count on meeting someone I know there, and I don't stick out like any kind of thumb.  It's been our second home while we've been here.

Which is good, as we live in an apartment with no yard.  If it weren't for Maadi house, we'd have gone crazy, especially as there is no other green space to take the children to play in.  Luckily the apartment is large so the children can ride bikes inside instead of out, but in the end, an apartment is still an apartment.

4.  The branch.  It has been our family while we've been here, watching over us and helping us more than we've returned over the past two years.  We'll always remember the wonderful times at church.

Being dependent.  This is really something that comes with living in any foreign culture - you just can't go out and get something done yourself.  There is no phone book, no Home Depot, no library with do-it-yourself books.  Any time I want to get something done, I have to have somebody else do it for me.  Which, as nice as it may sound, gets wearing sometimes.

3.  Rere.  Need I say more?

My children's celebrity.  If I stick out like a sore thumb, my children are movie stars.  We tried a few times to take them out in public to the park or zoo, but quickly gave up when we were stopped every ten feet for pictures.  Everyone was nice, everyone was polite, but when everyone is fifty people, I get a little cranky by the end.

2.  Mangoes.  I think that mangoes are the supreme act of creation.  They could also be called ambrosia.

No car.  My favorite part of being back in the US was having my own car.  It was our choice not to bring a car, but I am never doing that again.  I am too American; I can't stand not being able to go somewhere without the aid of someone else.  I can't wait for home leave when I will have that beloved car back again.

1.  Friends.  Of course this had to be the number one thing I will miss about Cairo.  And it will be the number one thing I'll miss about every single place we live.

So that's our two years, in a nutshell.  We will miss Cairo, but we're also looking forward to the next adventure!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Seven Days to Go

In one week, we'll be in the Frankfurt airport, waiting for our nine-hour flight across the Atlantic.  The last of our odds-and-ends will have been packed up into four suitcases and our apartment left bare and waiting for the next family who will call it home.

And I can't wait for next week to come.

I'm not ready to leave for any dislike of Cairo; I wouldn't mind spending another few years here.  We've had a great time, and it's the height of mango season.  Rere is wonderful, and I'm incredibly sad to have to leave Maadi House.  Everyone in the branch I can count as good friends, especially as almost every sister present has helped us out this past week in some way or another.

But it's time to go, and I'm itching with impatience to get the leaving over with.  Our things are gone.  The apartment is empty (although, Edwin can still strew with vigor despite the decreased amount of material available to him), and we're going crazy with boredom.  Plane tickets are purchased, the suitcases have already been packed and weighed once, our ride to the airport is arranged.

And so now all I have to do is wait on my hands and try to shift with the six forks, knives, spoons, plates, glasses, and bowls to feed my family for the next few days.  Sophia asks every day when we're going to get on the airplane and every day we count the days together, she being almost as eager as I.

I know that when the actual day comes, I'll be sad for all of the people that I will miss, friendships that may be picked up somewhere else, but most likely not.  We will reminisce together and remember all of the great times we have.

First, however, we have to leave.  And it's time to go.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Packout, Day Two

This afternoon we watched the last of our things drive off in a rickety Egyptian pick-up truck, off to an unknown destination to be sent via obscure and unknown ways to Belgium and Virginia.  And then I started remembering the things that I hadn't pulled out, and were accidentally packed.  

The packing today went quite quickly, as the movers had packed almost everything and filled two of our three lift vans last night.  Our grand total for weight was 4,901 pounds, which included food, consumable items we bought for the next post, and six or seven boxes of water.  

We kept the children with us today, and Edwin was fascinated watching the men move things in and out.  I watched the children while Brandon watched the movers play Tetris with our things in the lift van.  By early afternoon, everything was finished in time for us to go to the pool do many more important things that Brandon definitely need admin time for.

Now it's just finishing up some paperwork, a few more swim lessons, one trip to church, and an unexpected holiday before our time here in Cairo is done.  But until then, I'll be playing a lot of hide-and-seek, race up and down the hallway, and pull-all-the-couch-cushions-off-to-jump with the children to keep everyone occupied.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Packout, Day One

In my dining room is a pile of boxes.  Packed in those boxes is everything I have in Egypt except for four suitcases and their contents.  When we first moved into our apartment and had nothing but suitcases, it was bare and sterile, waiting for our things to come and make it home.  Now, with nothing but suitcases again, it just seems wonderfully clean and empty.

Our morning started well; after going to bed at one in the morning, Brandon and I woke up five hours later in time to get the children dressed and fed, the last load of towels dried, and a last few things hidden in the bathroom.  When we returned from taking the children over to a wonderful friend's house for the day, the movers were in front of our building and unloading rolls of cardboard, plastic, bubble wrap, and newsprint.

The first order of the day was our UAB shipment - eight hundred pounds of our things to see us through for at least the next six months.  Growing up, I always enjoyed watching The Price is Right.  When it was time for the showcase showdown, I guessed right along with the contestants, trying to get my bid as close as possible without going over.

This morning I played my own Price is Right, but with weight instead of money.  And so when I was able to get everything I wanted except my easel squeezed in right at eight hundred pounds, I may not have won a showcase, but I felt pretty darn clever for estimating my UAB weight so nicely.

After the UAB was weighed and safely crated, the morning progressed into the afternoon with box after box after box filled, taped repeatedly, and labeled.  While the packing was in a flurry, Brandon and I floated from room to room, labeling as boxes were filled.

A lot of our things didn't fit in boxes, so we got to witness the amazing overseas phenomenon of 'make your own box,' as the movers fit bed frames, plastic bins, and my favorite brown chair into their own custom plastic wrapped-boxes.  The most impressive sight of the day was our treadmill, boxed in layer after layer of cardboard and plastic before it was bodily carried down five flights of stairs.

By the time Brandon and I picked up the children and brought them home around 'sundown,' as Kathleen termed it, all of the house had been boxed except our storage room.  Rere, who is now officially worth her weight in gold, had been cleaning rooms after the movers, unpacking our suitcases into the newly-wiped dressers she had prepared, and washing the dishes of our welcome kit.

After finishing a delicious dinner, brought us by another kind branch member, Edwin hopped down from Brandon's lap (as the high chair had been packed) and bolted for his favorite toy - the kitchen drawers.  Brandon and I laughed and laughed as we watched him, with increasing consternation, open all of the drawers to find none of his toys in their usual places.  Later, when we told Kathleen that all of her books had been packed up, she buried her face in her hands and sobbed for quite a while before we could cheer her up.

And so now, time for bed in our green-velour-covered bed (thank you, welcome kit).  The movers return at ten tomorrow morning for a last lift-van full of boxes.  And then we'll be done, at least until the next move.