Welcome to the Wandering Drays!

Not all who wander are lost...

Welcome to my blog dedicated to my family and our crazy foreign service life. Never content with staying in one place, we are excited to share our journey. We've survived two unaccompanied tour (Baghdad 2010-2011 and Baghdad again in 2015-2016), multiple TDYs, and enjoyed a two-year family assignment in Cairo, Egypt. The fab hubby is currently learning Turkish for our next assignment...Istanbul, Turkey! We leave for Turkey sometime in summer 2017. I write about what I know. Which is mainly kids, tween drama, gross pets, dealing with lots of government info, our moving adventures, being a nurse, yoga, running, living on too-little sleep, and an addiction to coffee lattes. I hope you'll enjoy this glimpse into our lives.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Cairo - Still Our Pie in the Sky?

 Recently, I noted that a fellow foreign service family referred to their next hopeful overseas assignment as "Pie in the Sky".  And until this last week, that is exactly what Cairo was for us.

After months of discussion (actually, it has been more like years for us!), we poured over the bidding list, weighing the pros and cons of each country.  I want sun, a large expat community, family-friendly neighborhoods, and the occasional Starbucks sighting.  The hubby wants a historically interesting assignment and easy flights to Europe. Cairo easily fit the wishlist for both of us; and for Jason it is actually a dream assignment - he's always wanted to travel to Egypt.  I had never really thought specifically about Egypt, but was excited about the prospect.

Everyone we'd spoken to LOVED Cairo.  I've even made a new friend who was there when her hubby was assigned to Cairo and they have small children as well.  She had nothing but fantastic things to say about their time in Egypt.  Great housing, great neighborhoods, lots of things to do, excellent schools, strong foreign service community.

And now.  In the blink of an eye, it has changed.  Chaos, turmoil, violence.  I'm not sure what to think.  On one hand, I understand why the demonstrations have erupted.  Cairo alone is a mega city - 18 million people.  Egypt has a total of 80 million people.  So many live in poverty that most of us can't even begin to fathom.  A 'president' who has been in office for 30 years.

And Egypt is one of the strongest allies to the U.S. in the delicate (un)balance of the Middle East, making it an issue for the U.S. to tread lightly around.

Perhaps, the turmoil is in fact most likely expected.  But the people will just as likely continue to suffer.  And we don't know what the final outcome will be - I worry it could as easily become a stronghold of democracy as it could become an instrument of a different, unpredictable autocrat (or even a dictator).  And where does the radical Islamic movement fit in?  Will it unfortunately gain strength in the aftermath?  So much at stake and so much left up in the air.

Our 'Pie in the Sky' may no longer be Cairo.  I am selfishly upset about it.  I get it - Egypt needs change, and democracy rarely rides in on a quiet train.  But I am still upset.  It wasn't supposed to be like this.

And so we may very well be back to square one - until stability (of what form?) is returned.  Thankfully, we have seven months until the big move is scheduled.  Will Cairo be our family's home next year?

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Man Who Will Be Missed

Early yesterday morning, a great man passed away.

I studied Political Science at Susquehanna University from 1994-1998.  Dr. James Blessing was the head of the department the entire time while I was there; and for many years before and after.  I don't know how many years he was at Susquehanna - if I was going to guess I would say it was more than 40 years.

I don't know the small details such as when he was born or what the "A" stood for in his middle name.  But I do know these things...

He was passionate about the students, the campus, and the academics.  He was a very tough grader.  I used to get sick each time before taking any of his tests - all essay, all the time.

He challenged us to think critically.  He loved political theory and no matter what your opinion was on the subject, he would challenge you to look at it from another perspective.  

The Department office was always open to students, and he encouraged us to support each other.  My Junior and Senior years were spent as a Department Assistant and with his support, we started the Political Science Club and a tutoring program.  Both met right in the office area - a small, warm room with a large table, an ancient computer, and a pot of coffee.  He and two other amazing instructors - Dr. Gene Urey and Mr. Bruce Evans - shared the small space and worked together for many years.  Together, they made the Department truly great.  We held election parties (I'll never forget the Nixon mask that Mr. Evans was sporting that night) and end-of-the-year parties in that office. 

Most of my friends and I would hang out in the office even when class wasn't in session and we had no place in particular to be.  We were passionate about politics and loved a good debate.  Dr. Blessing would pop his head out of the office on occasion to make a statement just to stir things up a bit.  

He strongly supported the Mock UN program and was instrumental in getting Susquehanna involved in the program.  The first year we participated, he drove the 6 or 8 of us (I can't remember who was all involved at the time) to Washington, DC and showed us around the city.  He had studied at the American University when he was younger and loved the city.  He was eager to share his experiences with us.  We spent a few days in Georgetown participating in the Mock UN as Greece - debating the implementation of the proposed euro.  He continued to keep Susquehanna involved in that program for years to follow.

He was a true mentor and influenced much of my critical thinking.  I do not think anyone who took one of his classes could say otherwise.  He is part of what made my college experience so great.  I am saddened that a true legacy has passed on.

Peace be with you, Dr. Blessing.  You will always be remembered.

Dr. James Blessing

Monday, January 17, 2011


Nurse.  Mom.  Nurse-Mom?  Oh, I wish.  I am the WORST when it comes to my own kids' health.  A complete emotional train wreck.

First of all, I deal primarily with the acutely ill ADULT in an ER setting.  Second of all, I patch people up and move them out and onto a different place in the hospital.  Gunshot wound to the head?  Easy.  I'll slam the biggest IVs into both your arms, hydrate you to the max, give you some blood, help the doc get you intubated, and off to surgery you go, and then ICU.  Heart attack?  Fine.  Again, I'm going to give you a jumbo IV, draw your blood, pop you an aspirin, nitro and heparin drips, and Cath Lab will be here in a jiffy to whisk you away.  Thank me later for helping to save your life.  It's honestly that sterile. There's a pattern we follow for every disease and most traumas. It's not that I'm not emotional about it - I love taking care of people and even their families.  I feel accomplished in what I do; strong and capable.  Every day I work I feel that I make a difference.  Confident in my skills.

In the ER, right after IV insertion.
But kids?  Kids in the ER frighten me, just a little.  There are patterns for dealing with kids just like adults.  But kids are touchy. Smaller airways, smaller veins, smaller everything.  And there is something about kids that bring out the very emotional side in me.  The way they cling to mom's shirt or hang onto dad's necks.  The way they look up at you with the 'please don't hurt me' scared look.  Thankfully, we don't get all that many kids through the ERs I work.

Enter my own sick baby.  Oh, heartbreak and fear!  I took him to one of the ERs I work, knowing our pediatrician admits there. And my RN friends that I trust are there, too.  The comforts I find in my (adult ER) work, the confidence I typically walk in the halls disappear. I look at it from a different view.  The wait, the worry.  The doctor telling me Kellen has pneumonia.  I don't understand.  He was just in to the the pediatrician the day before for diarrhea.  The respiratory symptoms came on so quickly.  That's the thing about kids - like I said, smaller airways, smaller everything.  Equates to sicker everything.  Kellen should be admitted.  Yes, I agreed.  IV started, antibiotics initiated, tears mist my eyes, continued fear.  I tried to call Jason and couldn't get a hold of him.  I had to email him the information about Kellen.  Email. How awful.  But my husband is stronger than I am and he called me as soon as he could; and reassured me.  He always is my rock.  

Confidence returned to my step.  I went back into Kellen's room and fed him.  He threw up all over me.  Tears from me again.  Now I've been up for nearly 24 hours.  I've worked two shifts in the past two days and I had been taking care of an increasingly sicker baby.  I know I am not coherent or logical.  But I am truly scared and very frustrated.  No matter what I do, he's sick.  I've followed the guidelines, read everything in the 'book' (What to Expect the 1st Year - my third kid, my third time reading it!).  He's sick.  I am relieved that he's admitted to the hospital.  The nurses tell me he's positive for RSV.  Exhaustion.  I hear the clicking of the IV infusion pump and its sound means something so different to me at this moment than when I am working.  How many viral infections can a 3-month old have?  I know I shouldn't ask those questions.
He finally kept something down!

Now, here's the other great thing about kids.  They are sicker faster; but they also recover quicker. I managed to get an hour of sleep and it helped.  My sweet little man woke crying and hungry.  I fed him and he kept it down.  And then he fell asleep on me.  Oh, I've written about this before - this is one of the most heavenly things in the world.  The trust, the love, the please-take-care-of-me-Mommy.  We both slept for a couple of hours.  The nurses came in and checked on him. He was hydrating well, lungs sounded clearer, and he was improving.  I saw it, too.  But I don't trust my judgements on kids, especially my own.  Their assessment meant the world to me.  The pediatrician confirmed and told me that Kellen could go home that night.  Jason called (his timing is always perfect!) and I gave him the great update.

Kellen slumbering well...at home!
Kellen has been home for a day now.  And while he's still sick, he's getting better.  As for me holding the coveted title of Nurse-Mom? No.  I don't really ever see myself dealing well with my kiddos being sick, no matter how many books I read.  I just can't step back and look at them through my sterile nurse glasses.  I remain humbly...Nurse.  Mom.  But certainly not Nurse-Mom.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Snuggles and Drool

We have what so many parents dream of - a beautiful baby boy who lulls himself to sleep.  In a crib.  At a reasonable hour of night.  Even on his 'bad nights' he wakes up every 3 hours, eats, and goes quietly back to sleep.  I rarely have to rock him or walk him; I've never had to 'wear' him (I have Mommy friends who swear by the Ergo carrier to get through the day); if he's fussy he'll fall asleep in the swing and then I can move him WITHOUT HIM WAKING to his crib.  He doesn't really like to sleep on me.  When he does fall asleep while feeding, I just lay him into the crib and he continues to snooze.  He loves to lay in his crib, all stretched-out and comfy.  Like he owns it.

Ahhh...sounds heavenly, right?

But there is really nothing more wonderful than a sleeping baby on your shoulder.  A snuggly little bundle with that sweet baby smell and those sweet baby sleepy coos nestled by your ear.  Those little fingers curling around your hand or gently tugging on your shirt.  

Wish Granted!

I know I should be grateful for such an independent little guy.  But sometimes, I really wish he was just a bit more needy when sleepy.  I don't mind the drool.  I want him to nestle up to me and snuggle.

Wish granted tonight.  And I don't want to ever forget this wonderful moment.  Kellen slept on me for a blissful ten minutes before getting restless and wanting to be moved into his crib for his stretched-out sleep.  

Kellen's Preferred Slumber Position.
Wonderful, perfect night.  Sweet little baby.  Sleep tight.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Angry (Momma) Bird

My iPhone is passcode protected.  To gain access, you have to know my (supposed) difficult 4-digit code in order to progress to the apps and phone feature.  No, I have no deep, dark secrets lying in wait on my iPhone.  No safeguarded info on espionage in the U.S. and abroad.  I have it passcoded to protect it from my children.  To keep them from gaining access to my beloved Angry Birds game and ruining my high scores.  Ever see the Angry Birds game?  You slingshot birds at pigs.  Seriously.  And I don't want the kids ruining my scores.  Childish, I know.

The photo that started it all...
Last night, Owen (my 7-year old) nearly destroyed my iPhone.  It started out innocently enough.  He wanted to see the picture of Daddy with Kellen that appears when you try to access the iPhone.  Cute, right?  So I left it where it was, with him staring at it, and continued to the mountain of laundry I'd been trying to get to for the past two days.  Then, I helped Abby get a bath and moved on to changing Kellen into his jammies.  When I went back downstairs to tell Owen to get ready for bed, he had *THAT* look on his face.  Before I could say anything, he panically confessed:  "Mom, I wanted to call Daddy and I couldn't figure out your phone!" I looked at the screen.  It angrily flashed at me:  iPhone DISABLED for 60 minutes.

(ME) "What did you do?"(OWEN) "I was trying to call and I couldn't figure out your code!  Are you mad?!?" (ME) "No, but you know you're not allowed to touch my phone!"

NOTE:  I am VERY protective of my iPhone.  I had waited 2 long years to get one, and I love it.  It's my connection to the world.  It keeps me sane on those days I don't see or talk to any adults!  Yeah, I told him I wasn't mad.  But I was lying.  And he knew it.  I had *THAT* look.  The one where the horns grow out of my head, the lasers shoot out of my eyeballs, the flames pour out of my mouth, and the smoke flows freely from my ears.  *THAT* look.  True Mom confession here, but it happens.

Then I made THE fatal mistake.  "Owen, we can't call Daddy now because you broke the phone."  Damn.  I suck at being a parent sometimes.  I knew when I said it that it was wrong; I was angry and didn't think before I spoke.  Big tears welled up in Owen's eyes.  I still can't believe I said it.  "I'm sorry, Mom.  I didn't mean to."

I have to admit, I was not, at that moment emotionally ready to make it better for him.  It wasn't just the disabled phone issue, it was the hour.  8PM is the witching hour at this home - kids are getting ready for bed, Kellen is usually fussing terribly, I have been up for way too long, and I am frazzled beyond all comprehension.  I NEED to get the kids to bed so I can unwind and breath and most likely grab a bite to eat.  The dog needs to go out, the living room needs to be picked up (forget cleaning - if I can just get the toys, clothes, book bags, shoes, you get the picture...), lunches need to be packed, the cat needs fed...I could just keep going and going and going.  And I need sleep, which isn't going to happen.

Amazingly, Jason called right at that moment.  And even disabled, the iPhone works with an INCOMING call.  Daddy can make it all better, and he did.  He spoke with Owen and Abby, tucked them in to bed for me, and the night went on as it should.  I tried my hardest not to say too much to Jason about it.  All I can think when I am complaining to him about stuff here in Ohio is WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME??  Ohio is about a billion times better than Iraq and I don't want to weigh him down with my silly worries.  And I was seriously unwilling at that moment to admit my Bad Mommy Moment.

If only it had happened at 2PM and not 8PM!  At 2PM, I am an awesome mom.  The day is still fresh; I'm only partially frazzled; Kellen is likely napping.  I am thinking clearly.  I can stop myself from speaking before thinking.  The kids are doing art projects, planting seeds in the garden, and singing joyful songs at 2PM. Ok, I exaggerate.  But really, I am seriously good at 2PM.

On the flip side, thank goodness it didn't happen at 2AM.  I am the WORST mom at 2AM.  The only one I can (barely) manage to take care at such an ungodly hour is the baby.  And even then, I often fall asleep while feeding him.  (One trick I do at 2AM to stay awake while feeding Kellen:  check facebook and read blogs of my friends - but what if my iPhone is disabled!?!?)  I am a total trainwreck at 2AM.  My mind races.  I think and panic about all the things I can't fix at 2AM....what is the HHE we're entitled to ship to Cairo, again? What if the kids hate their new school?  How are we going to get through a 12-hour flight with the baby?  Will I lose those last 10 lbs?  Can I run in tights in Cairo?  Seriously???  What can I fix at 2AM??!!  Not a damn thing.  Thankfully, the big kids are very rarely up during this time, so they don't have to see me at my very worst of worst moments.

And so, there we were at 8PM.  A bad night, a Bad Mommy Moment.  The Angry Birds game app on my phone was inaccessible, but this Angry (Momma) Bird was feeling discouraged.  The iPhone eventually re-abled (what the opposite of disabled?), and I had access to my adult world again.  And thankfully, 2PM will come around again each day, and I will get the chance to make up for my 8PM Bad Mommy Moment.  I just hope I won't make such a bad one again.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Twelve Years in Review

On a whim over Christmas break in 1996, I joined the Ohio Army National Guard.  I was studying Political Science and had an interest in Criminal Justice.  So, I enlisted as a Military Police Officer.  Who knew that such a decision would drastically alter the path of my life? I met my future husband in February of 1997 at my first weekend Guard drill, but it would not be until 7 months later that we would 'date'.  Oh, it seems so very long ago.  I was *ahem* quite young - only 22.  He, a tad bit older.  I even remember our first date - we went to Akron on a Saturday afternoon and checked out the University of Akron School of Law and talked about our future hopes and dreams.  

Fast forward to January 2, 1999.  Jason and I were married in the Blizzard of '99 - for those of you who don't remember, much of the Northeast and Midwest was literally shut down.  But we managed to get most of our friends and family in from out of state and we had such a lovely little wedding.  The reception was fun as well - alcohol for 300 people, but only 100 were able to make it through the storm, and they weren't driving home that night...

We bought our first home just one month after we were married.  We had exactly enough cash in our bank account for the downpayment and a celebratory dinner afterward.  I remember jumping up and down on the 'for sale' sign in the front yard, feeling on top of the world.  We had 1 cat and 7 ferrets we called family.  To this day, we still have that cat and the house - of course, the cat rules the house.

Fast forward again to February 2003.  We welcomed Owen into our arms.  We were both working in careers we had never anticipated.  Snug in our home and starting a family, it was a wonderful, comforting time.  We spent our 5 Year Anniversary (2004) in San Diego - another marked point in our lives (at least as far as I am concerned).  My mother watched the baby while Jason and I jetted out west for a much-needed vacation.  I had never been to California; Jason had lived there at one time.  He showed me his favorite stomping grounds and we ate Mexican food every day for a week.  We walked and biked along the shore on Coronado Island and watched the sunset over the ocean.  We drove up and down coast and I was hooked, completely in love with SoCal.  Why had we never considered living elsewhere?

Spring 2004.  I was working in Pennsylvania; I read an article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette about people going back to school for a new career - nursing was highlighted as a strong career.  I had wanted to be a doctor when I was a kid but somehow that dream had been lost.  Could I do it?  Go back to school to be a nurse?  I remember showing the article to Jason, telling him I wanted to go back to be an RN.  "Do it," he said.  "You'll regret it if you don't."  He didn't worry about the logistics, the difficulty, the sacrifices we would have to make.  "Do it."  I enrolled in school that summer.  And got pregnant with Abby during the same time.

March 2005, our precious little girl was born. I quit my job and went to nursing school full time.  I remember Jason and I talked about the places we would like to move to.  The Carolinas.  California.  DC.  Georgia.  What would we do?  What about our life here?  Then Jason brought up a new idea - how about moving overseas?  What about a new career for him?

I graduated nursing school in December 2006.  By this time, Jason had taken on full responsibility as the stay-at-home dad so that I could fully throw myself into my career.  I wanted to work ER and ER only - one of the most difficult new graduate positions.  I started in a Trauma ER in February 2007.  He never questioned my crazy desire, just fully supported me.  He also enjoyed having the time at home with the kids.  To this day, Abby is still 'Daddy's little girl' and I completely attribute this to all the time she got to spend with Daddy the year he was home full-time.

February 2008.  Jason was preparing to start training for his new position in the foreign service. We were going to do it!  Move, see, do!   Previously, I had expressed a strong desire to travel nurse.  We decided I would complete a 13-week RN contract in Bakersfield, California before he started his training in July.  Jason stayed in Ohio with the kids while I completed the contract.  His full support for my career.  While in Bakersfield, I spent a weekend sightseeing in Los Angeles. I  remember thinking 'maybe we can be assigned here someday' and I checked out some neighborhoods, dreaming of where we might live.  In July 2008, the roles reversed - I stayed in Ohio with the kids while Jason was in DC and VA for training.  Those months were hard but so exciting - so much to plan, to organize, to dream.  Where would we get the 'handshake' for his first (U.S.) assignment?

Los Angeles, March 2009- March 2010.  I couldn't (and still can't) believe how lucky we were to get his first choice assignment. It was a wonderful year, marked with discovery and excitement.  The kids and I lived at the beach practically; I found a job at a nice, small ER and Jason immersed himself into his career.  We added a new 'family' member - our au pair Jenny, from Australia and who will forever be the kids' big sister.  I ran a half-marathon in February and found out just 2 weeks later I was pregnant.

Jason left for Iraq in August 2010 but to our delight he was able to be home for Kellen's birth.  I will forever be grateful to those who worked so hard to make sure his leave coincided with the birth.  It was something we never thought would happen.  The three weeks that Jason was home in Oct/Nov are some of the happiest we've ever had.

And so here we are.  January 2, 2011.  What will the next 12 years bring?