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.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

And So 2011 Ends

2011.  It'll be over here in Egypt in just 2 hours.  It's been a whirlwind.  This time last year, the fab hubby was in Baghdad, I had just returned to working in the ER (Kellen was 7-ish weeks old), and it was freezing cold in Ohio.

And now we're adjusting to life in Cairo, our sweet little baby is a walking/destructive force of nature, I have a new RN gig, and [thankfully] it's nowhere near freezing cold in our part of the world.  In fact, we're spending New Year's Day at the Red Sea.  In swim suits.  At the beach.  Alhamdulillah!

Big kids are snuggled on the couch having a marathon TV session.  They'll never make it to midnight, no matter how hard they try.  No big plans for us to go out tonight, just time together.

We're all enjoying the normalcy of being together as a family.  It's been not quite six months since Jason returned from Iraq and I'm still grateful for the time we have together again.

No matter where you are in the world tonight, I wish you a peaceful and prosperous New Year.

Goodbye, 2011.  You were pretty good year.  Can't wait to see what 2012 brings!

Even the baby enjoyed the Waadi!

Spent the day enjoying the Waadi Degla (dry river bed)
recreation area.  Don't worry - this is written in eco-friedly
charcoal that we found!

Sunset in Cairo on New Year's Eve. With BFF latte.  No better way to end the year!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Yes, Owen. There is a Santa Claus. Part Two.

Or this could have been titled: "The Year Owen Found Out About Santa Claus Two Days Before Christmas."

Wish list with "real sord"; made before
he discovered the Santa Secret.

He's eight years old.  Soon to be nine in February.  So I guess I shouldn't be surprised that he'd figured it out.  Considering so many of his friends already knew and they've been telling him. You know.  About Santa.

Owen: "Mom.  You and Dad are Santa, right?"

Mom:  "No."

Owen: "Mom.  Really.  How can one man fly all over the world and deliver presents to everyone? I mean really.  With reindeer?"

Mom: "That's right.  That's what Santa does."

Owen: "Promise?"

Mom: (*with fingers crossed behind back*) "Yup."

Or how about the time where he comes home and says that his Muslim friend at school told him Santa wasn't real?  This is a touchy one.  So we talked with Owen and explained that Santa only visits kids who believe in him.  And since the Muslim religion doesn't believe in Santa and they don't celebrate Christmas, he doesn't visit them.  It was a good opportunity to talk about cultural and religious differences, but I can't say I was really ready for the talk just yet.  I much prefer avoidance to any subject concerning the legitimacy of Santa.

And then there's the time two days before Christmas when he comes home and says some bigger kids at lunch actually TOLD him there is no such thing as Santa Claus.  And that parents really do all the work of Santa and put the presents out under the tree.

It was time to break out the big guns.  So, I of course turned the entire case over to the fab hubby.  And ran out of the room to console myself with a latte.

Abby's is a bit harder to read because she always uses
pencil and writes lightly.  But Hello Kitty is her fav, always.
And Jason, in his usual awesome dad-style, patiently talked with Owen about Saint Nicolas, and what it meant to give at Christmas.  About how we, as parents, continue on the legacy and spirit of giving that St. Nick gave so selflessly.  And now that Owen knew the Santa Claus Secret, it was his turn to help with Christmas giving.

But Owen wasn't quite ready to stop believing.  He wanted Santa to be real.  He really wanted there to be a Santa that wasn't his parents.  A North Pole with elves and reindeer and a sleigh.  He wanted NORAD's Santa sightings to be a real tracking device and not just a story that adults made up.

My heart ached.  It's hard watching him grow up sometimes.  And maybe, just maybe, I'm not ready for him to know the truth either.

He was so close to finding out the truth last year (remember this Christmas close-call?).  Owen has been on the cusp of discovery of the Santa Secret for so long.

So maybe unfairly we told him too soon.  Part of me was really worried he was going to blab to Abby about it and part of me felt like he was so close to figuring it out on his own that I thought he should know the truth.

But after we told him the truth, his downtrodden little face told me otherwise.  He wasn't ready.

Christmas morning came, and the kids discovered all of the gifties Santa had left them.  Owen got two foam swords (obviously parent-approved) for fighting and a real bow with arrows.  He was delighted.  Abby found a backpack she'd asked for from Santa in her school letter [special thanks goes out to the kids' school for setting us up on that one - we only knew she'd asked for it because she mentioned they were writing letters to Santa in class. Try finding a princess backpack in Cairo three days before Christmas], along with a Hello Kitty lego set.  And her happiest moment was finding a Santa Hat with a sewn-on Hello Kitty bow that had broken off a headband she loved.  She was convinced that Santa had sewed it on his hat for her and left it so she wouldn't be sad.  And Kellen found a little push bike he could scoot around on.  All were happy.

And then Owen found something under the tree he didn't at all expect to get, despite the fact that he had put it on his Christmas wish list.  Since he knew the Santa Secret and he KNEW his parents would NEVER get him a real sword, he had figured he simply wouldn't get a real sword for Christmas.  If Santa wasn't real then there was no way he'd get the sword he so very much wanted.

But under the tree was a REAL SWORD!  And a real knife, too!

Nope, Mom and Dad would NEVER get him those kind of gifts.  I saw it in his eyes.  The questioning look.  The 'how did this get here?'

When Abby left the room, I said "I totally don't think you should have given Owen a sword" to the fab hubby.  And the fab hubby said, "well, I didn't get it for him!  Why did you?"

And Owen looked at both of us and said, "You didn't get this for me?! This means..."

And then both the fab hubby and I said (with a convincing sigh): "Santa."

One more year.  He needs it, he deserves it, I even think he wants it.  And maybe, so do I.

Because I'm not ready for my little guy to grow up just yet, either.

First time Mom ever let him near the tree!

Awesome siblings.  Kellen got a ton of Fisher Price
Little People from his grandparents.
And the big kids were happy to play with him!

Best sister. Ever.

I had Owen pose with his sword tonight.
He looks so serious.
I love it.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Surviving the Cairo Marketplace

Kids are on holiday beak for three full weeks.  I loooove my kids, but I can't say that I'm fully looking forward to all that time with them.  Sure, we're planning on baking cookies, and decorating a bit more for Christmas, and we'll be hitting the pool pretty heavy.  But, it's really a lot of time.  Especially considering the excitement surrounding Santa and all his impending goodies...
Nice view of some shops.

So the fab hubby and I got a sitter for the afternoon and snuck out for a date.  He took me to Khan al Khalili and we did some shopping.  We've been there once before and we were bombarded, and I do mean BOMBARDED with sales pitches.  It was horribly overwhelming, being asked by every single shop owner to come in! It's free to look! Hallo! Are you American?! Canadian!? French?! German?! Welcome! Only 5 pounds! Lots to see! Statutes, boxes, silver, gold, scarves, purses! Come see! Come in! Come in! COME IN!!!

The Khan is HUGE, crowded, busy. But it's also a treasure trove of, well, stuff.  All stuff.  Any of the cool Egyptian trinkets you could ever want.  Pashminas galore.  Galabyas beyond your wildest dreams.  Silver and gold jewelry and it's beautiful.  Of course, there's the bargaining (someone once told me to go 1/2 of what they initially ask for, but I'm never comfortable doing that).  And then there's the polite attempt on our part to say "dang, I just don't need another mini gold camel."  It's way harder than you'd think.  Way.

Today I wanted a new silver necklace and a new pashmina.  The fab hubby and I both wanted a nice little lunch.  And we thought the kids might dig some galabyas (traditional Egyptian garb).  

We knew where to get lunch and it was awesome.  Falafel, beef shawarma, hummus.  Hibiscus juice, which I can't get enough of.  And some tasty baladi bread and pita chips.  Then we shopped.

And this trip - success!  Maybe it's because we were more comfortable than the first time we shopped.  Maybe it's because the market was busy and we were able to "blend in" a bit more (haha, sure...), or maybe it's because all the requests to look!shop!buy! don't faze us nearly as much as they used to.

I'm not gonna say we got super cheap bottom-price deals on everything - but we paid what we thought was fair and that's important to us in bargaining here.  I don't like bargaining down the merchants too far - they have families to feed and this is their livelihood.  We especially love the handmade items and are always willing to pay more for quality.


Found that pashmina to add to my growing collection.

Found a gorgeous silver necklace and handmade pendant with delicate color inlay.  I've wanted a sort of statement silver piece from Egypt and I'm so happy to have found it.

Found throw pillows for our very plain-yet-serviceable State Department couch.  

Found galabyas for all the kids.  Which they're now wearing as PJs.  Well, except for the baby.  His turned out to be a wee bit big.  Of course, he'll grow into it soon enough!  I was looking for something more traditional for Abby, but a two-piece set with embroidered camels really stood out, and that's what we ended up buying her.  She, of course, loves it!

Normal traffic.  It's nonstop here.

That's how we roll in Egypt.

Sometimes, you just see random stuff like this.  Dude on the roof.

In case you didn't believe your eyes when you saw the first pic.

New jammies.  I couldn't resist the camels.

Reading on her own!

Little dude loves his new galabya.

Cuz the kids need to realize I'm watching them.  All the time.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Grandma Got Run Over By a...Camel?

I guess my only real complaint here in Egypt this Christmastime is that, on the surface,  it just don't feeeeeeel like Christmastime.  At all.

It's not just that there's no snow or cold. (As far as I'm concerned, that's a blessing.  I loathe cold and dreary and snowy.)  I don't need that stuff to feel all Christmassy.  In fact, we had a nice Christmas in Los Angeles a few years ago, and it's felt fine and Christmassy there, despite the beach and sun and warm (beautiful, perfect) weather.

Nope.  It's something more, like...

No jingly music in the stores or restaurants. No crazy 1950's lights hanging on the lampposts.  No ringing bells on the street corners.  No eggnog milkshakes at McDonald's.  It's just not...home.  It's just not...what I'm used to.

Initially, I made the best of it.  Decorated up our sweet little pre-lit Christmas tree and stuck those reusable plastic window clings in the window.  Kids wore their Santa hats to pajama day at school last week.  I still threatened that Santa totally won't show up this year and give them any presents if they don't shut up and go to bed.  Like all good little children do.  But outside of the home and work it's just not Christmassy.  And I haven't been in a jolly good mood about it.


But.  Finally, finally!  We had an event this past weekend that really succeeded in getting me in the Christmas spirit.  Santa arrived here.  ON A CAMEL.

I can't make this stuff up!  It.Was.Awesome.

Arriving in style.  Cairo style.
At the local American Club, Jason and I took the kids to see Santa at breakfast.  (Dude. They serve bacon. REAL BACON.)  And lo and behold! Santa arrived to breakfast on a camel.  It was so crazy watching him swaying back and forth on that gigantic animal, while Rudolf the RedNosed Reindeer was playing in the background. Surreal even.  And I found myself laughing with the kids as they decorated cookies and make snowflakes and ate bacon.  They sat on the camel and then on Santa's lap, where Owen proclaimed he wanted cash for Christmas this year, in $USD and not Egyptian Pounds.  And then I gave Owen *THE LOOK* and he quickly changed his wish list to legos and a DS game. Abby shyly asked for a stuffed Santa toy and something Hello Kitty.  And baby elf Kellen?  He was screaming and clawing in terror to get away from Santa.  It was hysterical.

Ten seconds later, Kellen had a meltdown,
clawing his way off Santa's lap.
Because I realized that Christmassy isn't just a mood or a song or that particular feeling I get when I drive down any Mainstreet USA decked out in fake snowflakes and shimmery lights on poles.  Or walking through Target and buying tons of stocking stuffers.  Or when I finally get that season's eggnog milkshake.  (Although I admit that stuff is good, good stuff.  And I do indeed miss it all.)

Christmassy this year is marked by being with the kids and the fab hubby and watching Santa arrive in style on a camel.  It's a good feeling, even though it's a different feeling.  The Christmas decorations with the palm trees in the background, the warm air, the sand, and changing lyrics to mesh with the local decor (I think "Grandma Got Run Over By A Camel" totally rocks.  Or how about "Up on the Pyramid" instead of "Up on the Rooftop"?  Don't groan.  You'd do it, too.).  All of it is Christmassy.

So no matter what holiday you celebrate, or how you celebrate or where you celebrate, enjoy.   Grab on to your Christmassy, whatever it is, and don't let go.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

29 for the 7th Time and Loving Me a Z-Pac

I think the black and white hides my laugh lines.
And just in case I missed a gray hair.
This week, I survived another birthday.  Looked in the mirror and didn't find any gray hairs.  Did see some new "laugh lines", but got over it.  I still fit in my regular-sized clothes and that makes me mostly happy.  If only I could fit into my 'skinny' jeans - then I'd be uber happy.

But...I spent the entire week SICK.  SICK.  SICK.  Began on Thanksgiving Day and just continued on into this past week.  Fever, pounding headaches, total head congestion, husky voice, and extreme exhaustion.  And then, just as I was feeling a wee bit better...it became a Massive Sinus Infection.  Thought I'd just get over it.

Slept 15 hours straight from Sunday night into Monday.  Had to take Monday off to help the kids with their "online virtual school day".  Wanted to jump off the balcony.  I give serious kudos to teachers and all homeschooling parents.  This day totally sucked.  Owen (3rd grade) had so much work to do, it took the whole day (despite the school's promise that it would "only" take 2-4 hours).  Plus he can't fully navigate the school's online program on his own.  Abby's class (1st grade) also had a ton of work and it took most of the day as well.  She totally can't navigate the online program on her own.  Kellen was an angry baby that day and spent most of it screaming like a raptor while I was screaming at the kids to finish their work.  Not my finest moment.  I was suddenly reminded why I chose a new major the first day of college so many years ago.  I was going to be an elementary education major, but after spending the summer babysitting full-time, I changed it to political science.

Wanted to spend Tuesday in bed.  Because I was sick as sick could be. Called off work since I was so icky sick.  Obviously, no one wants to see a sick nurse when they're sick themselves! Then saw that Kellen had an all-over body rash and was equally icky as I.  Took him to my friend, who's also an awesome pediatrician.  Who told me he had a viral rash. And then she looked over at me and said that I needed to take a Z-Pac for my obvious sinus infection. (insert my grumpy face *here*) Of course, I poo-pooed the idea of a Z-Pac.  I had already survived six days of sick.  The end had to be near, right?

Wednesday.  My Birthday.  Abby was sick, stuck home with a fever and cough. I had arranged to take the day off to celebrate, and awesomely, the fab hubby was also able to take the day off.  Our nanny was over, and Abby was snug on the couch watching TV and getting ready for a nap.  Kellen, gratefully, was feeling better, too.  And his rash was mostly gone.  So the fab hubby took me out to lunch!  And then on a felucca ride.  And even though I felt cruddy, I had a great day.  The Nile is beautiful and it's fun seeing Cairo from a different view point.  The ride itself is laid-back and enjoyable.  Plus, I had been wanting to go on a felucca ride for a long time.  No kids, just me and the hubby.  After our felucca ride, he took me out for a mocha and dessert at a little cafe we'd never tried before.  Then we walked to our kids' school and surprised Owen at the end of his day.  The school had their annual Egyptian Festival going on, and he wanted to show us what the local artists had made.

Thursday.  Last day of the week!  Managed to get through the day, but my head was still pounding and I was so congested.  I called and spoke with my pediatrician friend and told her I surrendered.  So I started the beginning of the 5-day dose Z-Pac.  And shockingly, felt so much better then next morning.  By the time I got to today, I felt 90% better.  Who knew a sinus infection could cause so much suffering???!!!

And so here I am.  Having survived another birthday.  I'm 29 (for the 7th consecutive year) and it's my first birthday outside of the U.S.  Which is pretty cool.  I will say I feel a little beat up, but that's mostly because of the sick.  Not because I'm older.  Ummm....I think.  

We'll see next year.

Just when he thinks I've put the camera away...

Felucca Captain.

I love the filter I used for this photo.

Fab hubby made sure I had a great birthday!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Finding Thanks(giving)

At this very moment, as I blog about our Thanksgiving in Egypt, I was supposed to be getting my tan on at the Red Sea.  We had spent the past two months planning a sweet vacay to Hurghada, a super nice (at least I've been told) beachy resort on the Red Sea.  
A thanksgiving meal I didn't have to cook!

However, things in Cairo have been heating up politically, and there are thousands, actually tens of thousands, of people marching in Tahir Square right now.  You probably wondered why I didn't acknowledge it last week in my blog? Or maybe not.  But in any case, I had really hoped that most of it would be resolved by now.  Until this past Wednesday, we were still planning on traveling. But the violence escalated and we didn't feel comfortable leaving the area with so much going on.  Plus the first elections are scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, and we would have been traveling back from Hurghada on Tuesday.  Too much was unpredictable.

It's not the first time we've seen demonstrations in Tahir Square since our arrival, but it certainly is the biggest.   In the past, most demonstrations started on a Friday afternoon and simmered down by the following evening.  But this time it's big, and it correlates with the upcoming elections.  And this time, it's also considerably more violent.  But I'm not writing about my political thoughts or the position I take about the role of the police or the military in Egypt.  It's not my place and you can make your own decision about all of this by watching the news and pouring through all the media sites, if you like.

But I will tell you...I was disappointed about not going on vacation.  In the middle of all of this I was selfishly upset about having to cancel it.  I know. I know. I KNOW. I shouldn't be.  So much is going on that is seriously much bigger than myself.  But it's honestly how I felt.  We had planned this for so long and hyped up the kids about it.  The beach.  Getting out of the smoggy city and enjoying the fresh sea area.  Playing on the sand and getting away from the noise.  Spending time together as a family.  Selfish. Selfish. Selfish.  I never claimed to be perfect.  And my gut told me to get over myself.  But I was disappointed.

Thanksgiving had been put on the back burner since we had planned to travel the morning after.  So we didn't plan a dinner at home.  We're not super traditional about Thanksgiving, anyway.  But kids were looking forward to the turkey I had no plans on cooking.  Plus - and I hate putting this out there on my blog - my birthday is next week and the vacation was actually sorta my birthday wish.  I miss the ocean (and California, I admit it!) and this was going to be my little slice of heaven.  *insert grumpy tantrum face here*

But in the midst of all my whiny angry stomping about the loss of our vacation came the realization - the actual realization - of all that I am thankful for, over the weekend that was supposed to be something else...

1.  The fab hubby is not in Iraq this year.  Last year we were separated by thousands of miles and we spent both Thanksgiving and my birthday apart.  And while I had wonderful friends and family with me last year, I still remember the heartache of missing my husband and the kids missing their dad.  No turkey planned for cooking this year, but we did get time as a family together this year.  I can't think of anything better than that.

2.  Kellen was sick with the chicken pox.  But my thankfulness is that it was mild and that he got over it quickly.  And I don't know how well sand would do scratching against his sore little poxes and (begrudgingly) I'm thankful that I didn't have to make the decision to keep him off the sand.  It was made for me when our vacation was cancelled.

3.  We spent Thanksgiving with friends and ate out for our turkey dinner.  No cooking, no clean-up, no decorating needed!  The local American club had a lovely dinner and we enjoyed our time there that night.  And all the Thanksgiving dinner photos are courtesy of a friend as well!  All of which was especially nice because...

4.  I got sick with an upper respiratory infection on Thanksgiving day.  I went to bed that night with a stuffy nose and a pounding sinus headache.  And woke up with worse congestion and a super disgusting runny nose.  And the fab hubby made it so I got to sleep away the entire morning AND he made me breakfast in bed.  If we had gone on vacation, I would have spent the entire 5-hour drive whining and complaining about how miserable I felt.  Instead, I got to spend that time in a warm, cushy bed, eating pumpkin pancakes and drinking a pumpkin spice latte.

Hello, sweetheart. We missed you.
5.  Our car arrived on Thanksgiving morning.  That's right - it arrived right to the front of our building and I signed the papers accepting the vehicle at 9:00am that day!  I am now driving in Cairo with the best (or the worst?) of them.  It is awesome being able to drive again.  Makes it feel even more like home here.  Over the weekend we took the kids out for burgers and then for a drive through the Waadi recreation area.  It still turned out to be a great weekend for them, even though there was no beach involved.

So, really!  The weekend wasn't at all what I had planned, but it still somehow turned out to be wonderful.  We finished it off by spending an evening with some friends and eating some yummy food.  And then, just as my evening was unwinding, the new sweet little puppy fell asleep on my lap and reminded me how wonderful things are here for us.  We really do have so much to be thankful for.  Our family is together, we have great friends, and we have a lot of exploring of Egypt to do yet.  We'll get out to the beach soon enough. 

We'll watch history in the making this week, when Egypt has the first round of its elections.  There are things much, MUCH, bigger than myself going on right now, and we're somehow in the middle of it, watching all of it unfold.  And while it can be scary at times, I am truly thankful to be a part of it, experiencing it, right here in Cairo.

The chef loves our munchkin.

All together (except for the big kids who were running
around on the playground!).  My puffy face is
because this was the beginning of the sick. Which
got me breakfast in bed the next morning!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Our First Ball

What to say?  It was absolutely perfect.  A night out with friends, swanky dresses and tuxedos, and a beautiful hotel hosted the party.

It is the Marine Corp's 236th Birthday this year, and the Ball is in celebration of them.  We all need to take a moment to stop and think about all they have done for our country. I see them every day at the Embassy and I am proud to know them.  I didn't realize that this year was both the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor and the 10th anniversary of 9/11.  Sobering.

For me, prep for the Ball actually began way back in July when my dress arrived in the mail and I had it altered to perfection just before we left from Ohio.  Of course, I totally goofed and had the dress packed in with our HHE (boat shipment) and not our UAB (air shipment).  I was sweating bullets two weeks ago when our HHE had not yet arrived.  Thankfully, it arrived and I didn't have to do the last minute oh-my-gawd-I-don't-have-a-dress shopping escapade.

Shoes arrived two weeks ago as well.  And not only did they NOT fit, they were 4 1/2 inch heels.  Which sounds so innocuous.  Until I put them on.  And while they looked smokin' hot on me, I did NOT look smokin' hot walking in them.  Or should I say clomping in them.  I ordered a different pair from amazon.com (who I will very shortly profess my love for) and they arrived two days before the Ball.  I really *heart* you, amazon.

Got my nails done the night before the Ball.  Left work an hour early and couldn't flag a taxi down no matter what I did.  They were all full.  So I walked it.  It's only a couple of miles from work, but you can imagine the look of desperation on my face as I walked along a busy road to get to the nail salon in time for my appointment.  All in the name of beauty.

4 1/2" Heels.  Never gonna happen.
I'd also like to take a moment and point out that threading is NOT for the faint-of-heart.  Thought I'd have a nice time getting my eyebrows shaped and wasn't feeling the love for wax that day.  I had heard about threading and asked them to do that instead.  Oh, Momma.  My eyes teared during the entire traumatizing and painful process.  To be fair, I hadn't shaped those brows (or should I say "brow"?) in a few months, so there was some serious work to be done.  Again, it was all in the name of beauty.

The day of the Ball prep was easy.  Had the kids taken to the local American club a few hours before we had to leave so there would be no meltdowns while we were trying to get ready.  Smart, really smart!  Cuz we were still lacing up Jason's new shoes minutes before we had to walk out the door to catch our shuttle to the Ball.  Thankfully, we had no boogers to be wiping off icky kids' faces in between the laces.

At the Ball itself, we got to meet up with our friends.  The reception area was gorgeous, and since I'm (woefully) allergic to alcohol, I downed lots of fresh strawberry and mango juice.  Delish.

The Marines were smart in their uniforms and sharp in their ceremony.  It was lovely meeting the Ambassador and the guest speaker was fantastic as well.  Of course, the food was amazing.  And, the coffee perfect.  Sadly, the waiters took my desert AND my coffee before I was done with it.  ::sigh:: But, I'm sure I'll recover somehow.

On a positive note, I totally made it through the night without taking off my shoes once.  And although they weren't the 4 1/2 inch heels, they were a towering 3 1/2 inches.  I'm not a heels kinda gal, so it was a struggle.  All in the name of beauty.  Again.

Danced with the girlies (in those shoes, no less!), drank some more strawberry juice, and enjoyed the time with my hubby.

Since I turn into a pumpkin at precisely 11:25pm every night, we took the first shuttle home at 11:00pm.  I nearly fell asleep in the van.  Our friends, however, are much better partiers than we.  They stayed until 1:00AM.  Dang, I feel old.  But can't fight it.  The shuttle dropped us off at our doorstep (amazingly) at 11:23pm.

Like I said.  Perfect.

Cheesy American touristy photo.
I can't help myself.

Me and my posse.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Welcome, Baladi

Seriously, who could resist this face?
 And puppy makes seven.

For the past month or so, we've seen this darling litter of local "baladi" puppies grow.  Sweet and playful but weary of people, just the way the Cairo dog should be. Our boabs have given them daily water, their momma has fed them, and then they've learned to live on the street, mostly.  It's been painful to watch them, knowing one day we might wake up and find one of them dead on the road. I've lived in fear the kids might see this, but so far, they've all done well, and they're adjusting to street life like so many of the local dogs.

And then one day I heard more yipping in a nearby empty building.  My heart sank.  Another litter of puppies near our home.  So many dogs everywhere.  

A few days later, the litter we've seen for weeks had a new addition.  A little black one who looked younger, smaller.  I figured the litter in the empty building must not have made it, and she was the only one left. At first, the older puppies seemed to accept her, or at least tolerate her.

Yesterday she scampered out to us as we walked by.  She cocked her head to the side and looked up to us with those sweet little puppy eyes.  And then she practically jumped into our arms.  She was so different from the other puppies - not weary of humans.  Oh, what to do?  We gently set her back near the other puppies. Who actually bullied her in front of us - they cornered her up against a fence and barked and nipped.  And then they all went on their way to play.  Poor little one.

At a party last night, we asked everyone if they were looking for a puppy to call their own.  Everyone turned us down.  No one wanted a dog, much less one who might be infected with something really yucky.  I honestly can't say I blamed them.  It was the same thought going through my mind.

When we walked by the area later in the evening she was huddled up, all alone, under some scrap cardboard.  We knew she wasn't going to make it with the litter she didn't belong to.  And so we scooped her up and brought her home.  Sometimes, you just have to take a chance.

I put her in the tub.  The water ran dirty brown and she had fleas.  The inside of her ears were coated with dirt.  Two baths later and lots of baby wipes to those ears, she had a fluffy coat and white paws with a white little patch on the end of her tail.  I trimmed her nails and gave her a bowl of food.  She laid down on the floor with her face in the bowl and ate until her tummy was (visibly!) full.  Sweet little pooch.

We introduced her to our 6-month old toy fox terrier, Starbuck.  We thought for sure this would be the deal breaker - that Starbuck would be horribly aggressive toward her and we'd have to find her a home elsewhere.  But it was fate - Starbuck loved her from the moment she met her.  She groomed her, and played with her, and let the puppy eat first from her bowl that night.  Such a little mommy.

A vet appointment today with a clean bill of health - so far.  He gave me some dewormer pills (and some for Starbuck, who also got a clean bill of health today!) and talked to me about the local breed.  She'll get to be about 20 kg (45 lbs) max in size, and will make a great family pet.  We have to watch her over the next week and if she's sickness-free (for lack of a better word), she gets her first puppy shots next Friday.  I hope this next week goes well, because we all adore her, especially the kiddos.

We didn't anticipate adding another pet to our home, and we know we can't save them all. It's hard seeing all the homeless dogs here, but most seem to do well on the streets, and we have to accept that it's just the way it is here. 

But we've saved one and that makes a difference, no matter how small.  She's the perfect addition to our family.  
"Baladi" - means 'local' in Egyptian Arabic.  The perfect name.

Her name?  Baladi, of course.  She' our little local puppy.  And we've already fallen in love with her.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Balancing Act

Two weeks ago, a friend texted me:  "I just saw Kellen take 11 steps!"  I was at work.  And I cried.  Just a little, but I still cried.  Of course, I was proud of my little guy, working so hard to move that chubby little body, trying to find his balance, taking those tentative first running steps.  He'd been taking a few steps here and there, but until that moment, had not managed to get very far.  And I missed it.  My heart ached.

And then my mind started to go through all the other family things I've been missing out over the past few months that we've been in Cairo.  I've only been to the big kids' school a handful of times; I had volunteered to work the Halloween party for the big kids' classes and then wasn't able to make it to the meetings; I had planned on taking the baby in the jogging stroller for a run at a local track (some of my favorite times in the States with my little guy have been out running; he's the best running buddy), and hadn't yet found the time to do so.  All of the mundane tasks like grocery shopping and haircuts and errands have to be done on weekends, and it really eats into our family time.  And so on and so on and so on...

Please, don't get me wrong.  I love my job; I love being a nurse, and I've worked hard for my career.  But finding that just right work/life balance is hard, really hard.  I want it all - work and kids and free time and lots of time with my hubby.  But it seems I can't have it all, at least not all at once.  Maybe it's time to admit that, and find a middle ground?  I was lucky enough the last few years working in Ohio - I worked ER and had a very flexible schedule, working 2-3 days per week.  Good time with the kids, good time at work.  Only one thing lacking during that time - the fab hubby was in Iraq.  But on his home leaves?  I still worked the ER gig; it was a good balance between work and life.

My new job here in Cairo is fantastic.  I had always hoped I'd be lucky enough to find an RN position with the State Department, as we follow Jason's job throughout the world.  This is our first assignment, and I couldn't believe it when I heard there was an RN posting! I was even happier when I got hired. Things have really come together well here for us.  It's a great nursing position for me; different from ER, but it incorporates all of the things I love about nursing.  I get more time to sit down and really listen to patients and to teach.  I've learned so much about immunizations and all the gross buggies we work to keep the community from acquiring.  I deal with more pediatric patients then I did in the ER, and I love pediatrics.  Of course I do!  I wouldn't have my own kids if I didn't love kids, right?

Which brings me back to the work/life balance.  I miss the kids.  I miss getting them off to school in the morning and seeing them step off the bus at the end of the day; I miss getting involved in their activities and helping out with all the parenty-things at the school.  And the baby.  He's already one.  And I missed those eleven steps!  How could eleven steps mean so much?  They just do.

It's a hard balance - being a mommy, a wife, and fitting in a career.  Lots of debate by many, lots of choices to be made.  I know there's no right or wrong - I never ever judge one mommy's choice to stay at home with her kiddos, and I never judge another for her choice to work full-time. You have to do what's best for you and what's best for your family.  Except for my choice.  I always judge my own choice.  Why am I so much harder on myself and so understanding of others?  Why do I feel like I have to do it ALL and do it all right now?  Why don't I just sit back, relax and admit what I really want right now?  Do I even know what I want right now?  Yes.  I do know.  I want some more time with my kiddos and hubby but still have my career.  Can I find that balance here in Cairo?

Turns out there's a silver lining here, a sort of fairy-tale ending to my current work/life balance story.  And it turns out that it's not an all or nothing deal!  This week, my work offered me the chance to reduce my schedule to part-time, three days per week, and I actually jumped on it. Jumped for joy all over that offer! Giving me the time I really want at home, and still allowing me to do the job that I love.

Now that I think about it, it was not quite a year ago that I mulled over my nursing career, wondering if my next move might be school for my Master's or becoming a Nurse Practitioner, or if I'd even be able to find a job overseas.  Well, I found a job, one that I really love here in Cairo.  At the time I wrote that blog entry, I hadn't even thought about the work/life balance issue, because at the time, it was really a non-existent issue. I had a great work/life balance.  So, while I don't know what the NEXT chapter in my nursing career might be (Master's? Nurse Practioner? Another RN gig overseas?) I do know what my current career offers me, and I like it.  I'm really excited to get more time with my family AND continue my new job with the State Department.

Somehow, things have a way of working themselves out just right and at the moment I needed it most.  I can't wait to be there for Kellen's next eleven steps.

More time for tire swinging at the kiddos' school.

More time to hang out with this little guy!
Getting to watch him take those important steps.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Ok, not really.  But at the moment, it felt death-defying.

This week I needed to leave work early on Wednesday.  I HATE taking a taxi from downtown Cairo all the way to our home 8 miles away.  Because it takes like 45 minutes (if you're lucky) in traffic.  Plus my Arabic really blows, so it's pretty much an adventure trying to get home.  If the corniche is uber-busy (and it always is), then the driver would probably take the bridge to over the river (that's the Nile) and then another bridge to back over to our side.  And if he didn't really understand where I asked him to take me (and he wouldn't...because my Arabic blows!) then I could be lost.Somewhere.In.Egypt.  Oh, I get lost all the time.  But it's usually in our neighborhood and it's usually close to home.  Not over the river in Giza kinda lost.

So, I thought I'd be all urban and take the metro (subway).  ALONE.  That's right.  Me with my non-existent Arabic.  But a friend had shown me the way weeks ago, and the fab hubby had accompanied me a week ago, so I know it well enough to get home.  It's cheap (1 Egyptian pound to ride!  =17cents American) and clean and fast (20 minutes to home).

I left the clinic and slung my purse over my shoulder.  I put my fast-walking-I-live-here face on and went to the Metro station.  Down into the tunnel (it's stifling - can't imagine what it's like when it's 100 degrees in the summer), had my ticket in-hand.  Found the right direction train and walked the platform.  I was feeling so cool!  I live here now!  I can find my own way home!

And a train had just pulled in.  I hopped into a line of 20+ women (cars are segregated by gender, although women can ride the men's car, just not vice versa) pushing to get into a car.  I was gonna do it.  I didn't want to wait for the next train.  Pushing and clamoring for a ride!  So not fun.  But I was determined.  The whistle blew.  What does it mean?!  Almost to the door.  It blew again!  The doors were closing!!  NOOOOOO!!  The whistle blew again!

I threw my body into the train.  An EPIC fail.  I got caught in between the closing door.  Cut right down the middle - my head, right arm and leg INSIDE the train.  My left arm (with purse) and left leg OUTSIDE the train.  The train was moving! I was terrified that my outside-the-car body parts were going to get ripped off.  I looked desperately at the women in the car.  HOW DO YOU SAY HELP ME IN ARABIC??!!!

It didn't matter.  Turns out my OH-MY-GAWD-I'M-GONNA-DIE face said enough. Three women started prying the doors apart.  I was panicky.  The doors wouldn't move.  But then, they inched apart, just a little.  We forced them open a bit!  I managed to get all of my left leg and a bit of my left arm inside the train.  But I was still caught - my purse!  My left arm from elbow to hand and my purse were still dangling outside the train.  It occurred to me I might have to drop my purse to save my arm and hand.  But I refused!  We pried some more, and pulled the doors open just enough that I was able to just squeeze my arm AND my purse into the car.  ::sigh of relief::

I turned and said "shokrun" (I got 'Thank You" down in Arabic!!  Yes!!).  And then....everybody laughed.  Giggled.  Howled.  That's right.  Because something like this is hysterical, no matter what culture you come from.  And I had the added bonus of maintaining ALL of my body parts and not losing my purse.

At my metro stop, I hopped off the train and went to a grocery store.  I grabbed a few items and then hailed a taxi.  Dude.  This guy's taxi was super-shagadelic.  I mean pimped OUT!  Shag purple carpet on the dash, shag covers on the seats!  Fuzzy dice.  I was so enamored by the pimpiness that I hopped in without doing my patented 'make sure he speaks enough English to get me home' conversation.  And wouldn't you know it.  The man spoke less English than I speak Arabic.

Good news though.  We have now lived here long enough that I knew how to navigate him home.  I used the universal point and talk loudly communication.  (I really hate myself sometimes.  I don't know why I fall into the talk louder trap).  But I also found I knew enough Arabic to tell him "no" when he tried to turn the wrong way ("LA!" followed by crazy pointing) and when to stop 'here" ("Henna!").

In fact, I am finally starting to really know our neighborhood.  I went for a run today.  AND DIDN'T GET LOST.  It's a first.

In other, unrelated news, we took the kids to a Halloween party at the local American club this afternoon.  Lots of candy, lots of good times with friends, lots of Halloween music, and lots of swimming.  Because it's still 80 degrees and sunny here.  That's for all of my friends back on the East Coast! Welcome to perpetual summer.

Happy Halloween, all!  No matter where you are in the world.  I'm just happy to have lived through my subway escapade to enjoy this Halloween!

The fab hubby with our adorable Ewok.

Abby the Fairy with her super cool vampire teeth.
Owen flat-out refused to let me take his picture.
His friends were there and I think he wanted to be cool.
Apparently, Moms taking photos aren't cool.

Who doesn't love perpetual summer??

One more Ewok photo for all his adoring fans!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Not an Oopsy Baby

What do you get for the baby who seemingly has everything his little heart could ever desire?  I mean, he already has two passports, a globetrotting lifestyle, and all the fresh mango he could ever want to eat.

Maybe something from the PX because the rocking horse that Mommy ordered three weeks ago didn't arrive on time?  I hate you, target.com.  And you, too, USPS.com.  Both of you are cramping my online-shopping style.  Of course, when packages DO finally arrive to us in Egypt, we do a *happy dance*.

Anyway, Kellen turned one year old on October 20th.  It's hard to believe that just a year ago, the fab hubby was home on his first leave from Baghdad, I was popping out a baby, and we were trying to adjust as quickly as possible to a third kid with the not-quite-in-the-back-of-my-mind-Jason-has-to-return-to-Iraq thoughts hovering a black cloud over my head.

Day One.
Looking back, the new little man in our life sorta made the time away from Jason a little easier.  Well, at least for me.  All the midnight feedings, the diapers, and adjustments forced me to focus on the baby (and the big kids, too!), while taking my mind off of the separate living arrangements.  Can't say that it was easy, but then nothing worth doing is ever easy.

My favorite men.
Kellen is 2 weeks here.
Many people look at our older munchkins (Owen is 8 and Abby is 6) and then see Kellen and think "obviously an oops baby" because of the big age difference. Some even outright ask if he was an oopsy baby.  That's always a fun one.  Nope, he's wasn't an oopsy.  Previously, we had thought two kids completed our family.  But later, we decided three was the number of kiddos for us.  Wondering if we might like to add a fourth one?  Wonder away.

Six years difference.
Makes people wonder...
And so here we are.  How quickly the time passes.  The midnight feedings, the thousands of diapers, baby puke, the diaper blow-outs, the first smile, learning to crawl, the first word (MaMa), the favorite word (DaDa), learning to walk.  The wonder, the fascination with simple things, and discovering all the stuff he shouldn't get into.  It all happens too fast and in such a blur.  I love every moment of it, even when I don't think I do.  How very lucky we are to be a part of something so beautiful.

Happy 1st Birthday, Kellen. We love you so much and love watching you learn and grow.  You might be little and new to the world but you've completely stolen our hearts.

Did we celebrate?  Of course!  Here are the photos from his birthday party.  Sure we're in Cairo, but smashing the cake still rules no matter where you are.  Thanks to all of our new friends who came to celebrate with us.  It was a truly special day!

One of the mom perks.
I get to taste the cake first.

Many of Kellen's adoring fans arrived to celebrate.
See the bouncer in the background? It was FREE. Sorta.
The party after ours paid for it, but it was set-up during
our party.  So all the kids in our party got to "test it out".
*Happy Dance*
The smashing of the cake.
A rite of passage for one-year-olds everywhere.


One of the only occasions that it's ok to lick the plate.

This were from earlier in the morning.
Our wonderful nanny made him a special birthday surprise!