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, March 27, 2011

Skipping Through Life

In just two days, on March 29th, our baby girl will be six years old.  Six and in Kindergarten.  It seems like it was just yesterday I was feeling ill in a summer session anatomy class and I knew it was't because of the lesson of the day.  I remember thinking, "Maybe I'm pregnant?"

You have the bluest eyes.
Your name was initially Samantha when you were born. I wanted to call you Sam or Sammie as a nickname. I had to bribe your Dad with cash for that name. He wanted to call you Abigail... but I KNEW what you would look like before you arrived.  I had you pictured in my head: brown hair, pigtails, brown eyes, a tomboy.  And you would be a big plump baby!  Samantha was the perfect name for such a girl.

Imagine my surprise when you popped out, just barely 6 pounds, with blond hair, the bluest of eyes, and a sweet round face.  You were tiny like a little doll, and quietly meowed more than cried.  On the day after you were born, I accidentally called you 'Abby' when I was singing to you, and we had to track down the girl who had previously taken your name for the birth certificate to have it changed to Abigail. Your Dad has never let me live that down (nor did he return the cash to the bank account)! You have not become the tomboy that I envisioned you would; you have, however, become so much more than I ever could have dreamed.

You were the perfect little baby, sleeping through the night from practically day one. Easy-going, and happy, giggly and sweet.  That is how I described you as a baby. You loved your big brother, Owen, even though it was a daily trial for you to keep out of his reach.  Throughout your babyhood, he colored you with a sharpie marker, powdered your face (requiring a trip to the pediatrician), sprayed you with Febreeze (requiring a call to poison control), and gave you your first (unauthorized) haircut.

Dancing with Sleeping Beauty
at the Disney Studios in
Burbank, CA 2009
You've always worn pink, despite my proclamation that if I ever had a daughter she would never wear pink.  You love Disney Princesses, despite my lack of understanding of Princessy stuff.  When you were three years old I encouraged you to be Hermione Grainger from Harry Potter (Owen was a dashing Harry Potter that year).  But you stuck out your tongue and me and said "No!"  "NOT Hair-my-mo-me...Abby Princess!"  And so you were your favorite princess that year, "Seeping Blooty" as you would say at that age.  Since then, you've also been Cinderella and Rapunzel.

Dresses and skirts and dress-up outfits are your preference for daily wear.  You love make-up and perfume and painting your nails.  But you also love gymnastics and climbing and swimming.  So you wear shorts under all your frilly wear and continue on your way.

You are adventurous, but cautious at the same time.  When you were a baby, you opted to crawl everywhere for months, cautiously eyeballing us as we encouraged you to walk.  You didn't walk until you were one year old, in fact it was on your first birthday!, carefully watching your big brother for guidance.  But once you decided to do it, you just did it.  You pulled yourself up and took your first steps, and kept on going from there.

Momma and Abby in Long Beach, CA 2009.
You love to swim and you are a natural in the water.  Your "big sister" Jenny taught you to swim in California, and you've loved it ever since.  Some of my fondest times with you have been at the ocean, watching you run through the sand and into the water, as you fight off the waves and finally cave in to riding one back to the shore.  You braved the Pacific in the winter, never minding the chilly water.  Your lips would be bluish and your teeth would be ever-so-slightly chattery but you always wanted more time in the water.
Thanksgiving 2009 in Malibu (Zuma Beach) -
your favorite beach!

But the thing that always comes to mind whenever I think of my Abby is the skipping.  You love to skip, and you skip more often than you walk or run.  From the moment you get up until the moment you crawl into bed, you skip everywhere.  Down to the park, across the street to your friend's house, even as you enter into school, right after you get out of the car when I drop you off in the morning.  You skip happily through life, enjoying the moments.

Sassy and saucy and pig-headed.  And I had only envisioned pig-tailed six years ago!  You make up your mind and you stick with it.  You can defiantly tell me 'no' without the slightest quiver of lip or glimpse of emotion in your eye.  Frustrating now, but when you are an adult it will be an attribute that will get you what you want out of life - assertiveness is hard to come by, and you have a healthy dose of it already.

You're sweet and kind and the greatest sister - both little AND big.  You've never been upset that when Kellen came along you were no longer the littlest. You think it's pretty cool being the 'middlest'.  You're pretty good at sharing, even when you don't really want to, and you never like for anyone to feel left out.  I'm always proud of you and the way you treat others.

Happy Birthday, our sweet little Abby.  We love you so very much.

Keep skipping and wearing pink dresses and riding those waves.  Do what makes you happy and you will always love life and get exactly what you want out of it.

The best big sister, ever.  But loves being the 'middlest.'

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Finding Friends

I'm exhausted.  I don't mean just tired because I've been without sleep for months (Actually, years! If you have kids, you KNOW what I mean).  I'm tired of missing my husband.  It's been a year since the start of his assignment to Baghdad.  Washington, DC for training March 2010-August 2010, and then off to Bagdad he was.  The kids and I have been [im]patiently waiting in Ohio for this entire year.  And we still have five more months to go until we leave for Cairo.  

It's not that I can't do this.  Because what I have learned from this whole experience is that I am strong enough to get through this.  It's just...I'm tired of doing it.  I'm tired of the worry, the longing, the missing.  I'm tired of smiling all the time, telling the kids it's ok, that I miss him too, and that soon it will be over.  And the worry (and excitement!) associated with Cairo.  It's all so up in the air.

But through this whole experience, I have found something I've been missing for many years.  It's taken an 8,000 mile separation from my husband for me to find friendship.

It's not that I didn't have friends before, because I did.  I would even say I have lots of friends.  At least lots of people I know and get along with.  But it has been many many years since I have had the kind of friendships that felt, well, sisterly.  Someone I could tell secrets to, and giggle with, gossip with, and cry with.  Watch silly TV (like BRAVO's "Real Housewives of Orange County") and hang out in sweatpants and just waste the day with.  Someone I could confide my fears to; who I could call when I have that overwhelming painful achy feeling in my chest from worrying about my husband.  Someone I can let my guard down with.

All these years and I let my old friendships slide away.  Oh, we'd talk on the phone and promise to talk more often, but it rarely worked out that way.  Or all these years of having friends at work but not getting together with them once our shift was over.  All of these years I've missed out on strengthening and deepening my friendships.  And somehow, I stopped looking for new friendships.  Left it at the status quo and believed it was because I was too busy to be with my friends.  To get together for lunch.  To chat with before tucking the kids in at night.  To meet up for a run at the trail, even though that was where I was headed.  Why didn't I reach out?

I suppose most of these years I've worried about letting anyone see I'm not as strong on the inside as I appear on the outside. Or I was concerned about talking too much about my personal life and letting anyone see it wasn't perfect.  Like I had something to prove.  Like I had my stuff together and all my "ducks in a row".  But in doing so, I've never shared me.  And with that I've missed out.

My husband has always been my rock, my best friend.  He's seen all the sides of me.  All the ones I felt I could never share with anyone else.

Until now.  Because when your best friend leaves you for a bit, you have to reach out.  The ironic thing is, Jason has been telling me this for years.  Telling me I needed to get out and have fun; meet up with friends and share stuff with.  I just didn't get it.

So here I am.  Finally.  Years!  I've spent years neglecting a very important aspect of my personal life.  Friendship.  I first realized it when we moved to Los Angeles.  I honestly figured that those I knew in Ohio would easily forget about me.  I was sad, but I thought that's what happens when you move. 

And then the greatest thing happened...there were girlfriends in Ohio who reached out to me in California.  Wanted to know how I was and where we were going.  We chatted online and texted and made a few calls.  And then I returned to Ohio.

And they were here.  Listened to me talk bravely about the upcoming year and how it would be ok.  And yes, I was pregnant and Jason wouldn't be home for the birth, but that was ok.  They hounded me.  Told me it couldn't be that easy.  "It is, I swear!", I'd say.  They hounded me some more.  And my belly grew and the baby kicked, and I missed my husband, but I kept that chin up.  My belly grew some more; I couldn't see my feet, and they called and checked on me.  And I finally...gave in.  Admitted it was hard and I was lonely and I felt like I was falling apart at the seams.  And I was scared.  Scared to give birth alone without husband, my best friend at my side.

And they laughed.  Laughed at me and said they told me so!  And then told me they'd be there for me.  To hold my hand and tell me to push and make sure I wasn't alone.  I wouldn't be alone.  Why did I keep trying to do it alone!?  And I realized I was an idiot.

In the end, Jason WAS able to be here for Kellen's birth, and it was a great experience.  And my girlfriends were glad because truly, nobody wants to see THAT.  But it taught me to reach out, to let others see the real me.  In exchange, I've had the opportunity to get to know THEM and be a part of their lives.  And I've even been able to rekindle friendships with girlfriends past.  I've learned to keep in touch more often, even if it's just a quick chat or a text.  To find out what's going on in their lives.  And to be more open about how I feel and what's going on in my life.

So sure, I am tired, exhausted, painfully waiting for the return of my hubby.  But I have girlfriends here who are helping to hold me up.  They've always been here.  I just did realize it.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

There's Nothing Like the Sun...

It was absolutely gorgeous here in my part of Ohio today.  After a long, terrible and cold snowy winter, it appears that Spring may be arriving.  Sunny with a chance of warmth.  No snow in sight.

And there is absolutely nothing like the sun...

...to help you get out of bed after too little sleep.

...to help you put those running tights on when you're afraid they won't fit (they fit fine).  To motivate you to lace up those sneakers.  To remind you to put on the Nike tee with the snarky slogan.  To insist that you put your iPod and headphones in your bag.

...to remind you to be thankful for a flexible daycare.  One that takes your sweet darling baby on short-notice when you realize that you won't be able to accomplish everything you need to get done during the day if a baby is in tow.  One that cares for him so well that those little twinges of guilt that you feel when you drop him off completely fade away when he smiles and giggles as soon as he sees his favorite caregiver in the infant room.

...to encourage you to get your actual work done first (apply for job in Cairo!  update military record!  plan for Annual Training in Colorado - only six weeks away!) so that you can go to the trail and pound the pavement.  So you can enjoy the run without worrying about everything else that needs to be done.

...to push all thoughts of worry away when you hit the pavement.  To shed light on all the beauty you typically overlook.  To remind you that (sometimes) you even love Ohio.  To appreciate the trail for it's simplicity and the people you meet along the way.

...to help you find your stride after a difficult start to the run.

...to point out how lucky it is that your husband downloaded all his new music to iTunes on your computer when he was home and you were smart enough to add it to your own iPod.  Music is such a personal experience; listening to his music helps you feel closer to him, even though he's 8,000 miles away in Iraq at that very moment.

...to help you get through the mid-point of your run.  And your surprise when you realize you're pacing faster than you thought.  And it doesn't hurt.  It actually feels good.  So good.  To bring you an appreciation of your body and all that you can accomplish.

...to push you to finish the run, even when you have to climb a hill at the very end of it all.  Because you have to be done in time to get your favorite big kiddos home from school.
...to encourage those kiddos to play outside after school.  To teach them that all dreariness, even in Ohio, comes to an end when Spring arrives...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Breaking Up Isn't Actually That Hard to Do

The photo that started it all.
This was the photo that made me think...maybe we do need a family vehicle.  But nightmares of mini vans danced in my head.

So I (actually, WE - because there is no way Jason is NOT taking some of the blame) placed the idea to the back of my mind.  Plus, we wanted a smaller car for Cairo.  So we justified our current sedan situation.  And forgot about it for a while.  Until it came time to install a different car seat for Kellen into our beloved Beemer.  The car seat I spent literally five hours of internet research on.  The top-of-the-line Sunshine Kids Car Seat.  The "narrow profile" car seat that [supposedly] can sit three car seats across in a standard sedan.  The car seat to end all car seats.  I even found it, brand new, on eBay for about half of its retail value.  Score!!

And then I put it in to the car.  Kellen's still rear-facing, so I installed it as such.  Or I should say attempted to install it.  It wouldn't snug down in the middle of the row, and Abby's booster seat wouldn't fit beside it even if it could.  So, I put it behind the passenger seat.  But the back of the car seat reached so far forward that you had to push the passenger seat forward to accommodate the car seat behind it.  Making for very uncomfortable ride in the passenger seat.  And this is a car that should feel like nothing BUT comfort.  To make matters worse, I couldn't get the [insert expletive] car seat to snug into place.  It moved far more than one inch side-to-side.  It moved more like two feet side-to-side no matter what I did.

Convinced that the car seat was incompatible with the car, I went to Target and bought a different (albeit not top-of-the-line) car seat.  It fit.  Score!!  But the passenger seat still had to be pushed up five inches or so.  Damn.  Insert children into car, fill trunk with stroller, add diaper bag, back packs, DS bags, and Starbucks mug. It's, at it's very BEST...cozy.  On most days you feel like you're smashed in like sardines.

It was Jason who caved first.  Ok, caved is the wrong term.  I am pretty sure I pushed him over the edge.  I was complaining, whining, really even meowing about driving the tiny car with the three kids and he said:  "It's time we [insert expletive] grow up.  Get rid of the BMW and get something to fit our family."  Yes, it was time to break up with our BMW.

I HATE buying vehicles.  But he was right.  And as he further pointed out, we needed to get rid of our second car, the Kia Rio, since we only needed one car overseas.  Again, he was right.  Grrrr.  We were (amazingly) able to reach an agreement on what type of vehicle:  an SUV/Crossover with a 3rd row seat.

The night of the break up.
Enter auto trader online.  I searched within a 50 mile radius and found a Kia Borrego in Canton.  Called and spoke with a salesman and set up an appointment for 9:45AM on Monday (I called him last Friday).  Explained our situation.  Called the in-laws and they said they'd pick up the big kids from school.  Called my Dad and he volunteered to take the day off to go with me.  I'd need someone to drive me back to Youngstown to get our second car in case the plan fell together.  Monday came and I dropped the kids at school, took Kellen to daycare, got a Venti Soy Latte at Starbucks and was on my way.  At 9:00, I got a call from the salesman.  He was very sorry, but the Borrego sold on Saturday.  But since I was on my way, wouldn't I like to come in and see what else they had?  Shark.

So I called another dealership and spoke with them about a Borrego I had seen on auto trader.  The salesman couldn't have been less enthusiastic.  In fact, he seemed bothered by my call.  Dude.  I demand someone who WANTS to sell me a car!  I have a specific vehicle in mind!  I might as well serve myself on a silver platter. I'm not dealing with someone who's not going to work to get me exactly what I want.

My new dream date.
I had one other option.  I had found a Suzuki XL7 at a dealership in Cuyahoga Falls.  I did a phone call, and BEHOLD!  A salesman who wants to sell a car!  He gave me the quick overview about the vehicle, asked me about my needs, asked my name, and offered directions.  I called my Dad, gave him the new plan, and we met up in Cuyahoga Falls.  I emailed the info to Jason with all the photos while he did a search for me and found some reviews on the vehicle.  The vehicle was perfect.  Drove better than I imagined it could. And only had 20K miles on it.  I called Jason.  Multiple times.  He was so patient with me.  But I had to talk to him.  I was trading in our favorite car.  Ever.  And it had to be perfect.  I didn't want to disappoint him, especially since he's in Iraq.

They took this sight unseen.
Like any other other car-shopping experience, it took all [insert expletive] day.  But I got to spend that day with my dad.  We had lunch, which we haven't done in forever.

Thankfully, my husband had the foresight years ago to sign a POA for me (and I did the same for him), because the Kia was in his name alone.  When all the paperwork was done, and they agreed to take our second vehicle - UNSEEN (although, I had brought detailed photos) - and all was agreed upon, my dad drove me back to my house.  I got the Kia, drove to pick up the baby, and grabbed a quick bite to eat at McD's (Oh, I do love a Happy Meal).  Drove back to Cuyahoga Falls (it's about an hour drive), and I signed the papers at 8:30PM.  Installed the car seat base (with absolute ease!), and popped Kellen in the new car.  And I loved the smooth quiet ride home.  Sure it doesn't have the purr of the BMW acceleration.  Or leather seats.  And my cupholder doesn't warm my Starbucks. And sadly, it doesn't have a sunroof. But boy, does it have legroom.  And a great stereo, and cupholders. Lots of them.  In fact, it's has everything we need.  Kellen blissfully slept the whole way home.

Today the kids got into the car.  Owen climbed into the 3rd row, Abby in the middle with Kellen.  All were happy, with their own space, and I had my sanity.  Maybe it's not so bad to grow up.
No longer sardines!  See Owen's head poking out in the back?  The FAR back!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What Would Dad Think?

It's sort of tough when you realize that so much of what you've done in life you did because you wanted your father to be proud of you.  Should you be happy because he was always so supportive of you or angry because he expected so much from you?

I'm 35 years old and still looking for pride in my Dad's eyes.  I received a gift in the mail from my Dad today --- a book of collected essays from author Sharon Randall - called "Birdbaths and Paper Cranes".  My Dad told me last week that my blog entries remind him of her writing and that he was sending me a copy of one of her books.  I haven't read the book yet, just the forward (which is beautifully written by her son).  But I never expected that such a gift would instantly bring back so many memories of how much I have always wanted to make my Dad proud of me.

As far back as I could remember, Dad told me I could do anything I wanted and be anything I wanted.  I received my first doctor set when I was four.  It's not that I didn't have the traditional girl toys - I loved Barbie and Strawberry Shortcake with all my being at that age.  But the doctor set was a gift that said be ambitous.

My Dad pushed me toward science and math and in Jr. High, I won first place at the local science fair, after working diligently on a project about electromagnetism.  My Dad and I did all sorts of experiments with magnets - my favorite being ruining the color display on the TV for a week and not telling Mom who did it.  Around the same time we had fun building a short-wave radio together.  Super cool.  I love that he taught me that it was okay to break things down to figure out how they worked - and how it's equally okay when they don't go back together exactly the way they should.

It sounds like a cliche, but he always taught me to do my best and try my hardest.  I spent two years in high school without a lunch period because I was too busy doing as many classes and extracurricular projects as I could cram into my day.  I skipped out on home economics (and I now realize what a poor choice this way - you do not want to try my "cooking") in Senior Year because I wanted to take physics (offered during the same period) instead.  My Dad not only taught me to marvel in technology (graphing calculators!  CD players!  cell phones!) but to understand how they worked and to understand the science behind them.

When college time came around, it was never an issue of 'if' I was going to college, it was where.  My Dad was the first in his family to get a bachelor's degree and he was fairly adamant about college equalling success.  I "knew" I wanted to be a engineer - mostly because I (thought) I knew that was what my Dad wanted me to be.  We researched colleges and visited many schools.  And then I changed my mind - I wanted to be a doctor (oh, how I wish I would have followed this path sometimes!).  We did our research again and visited more schools.  Then I thought I wanted to be a teacher, and we researched this again.  I was secretly worried that my Dad wouldn't be supportive of this option since it wasn't math or science or engineering. But he never said otherwise; I just assumed he didn't support this career path.

We found the perfect college by accident (driving from one school to another and it happened to be on drive between) and I enrolled.  I babysat the summer before my Freshman year and realized I could NEVER be a teacher.  I changed my major the first day of school to Political Science and never looked back.  But I still worried it wasn't sciency enough.  What would Dad think?

I graduated four years later and met my soon-to-be husband along the way.  I enrolled in law school and made it all of five weeks before I realized I would be a terrible lawyers.  Dropped law school (What would Dad think?) and got married and found a job working political telemarketing fundraising.  Yup.  Telemarketing.  (BIG FAT What would Dad think?)

Several years later I enrolled in nursing school.  I remember telling my parents I wanted to go back to college to be a nurse. (Oh, what would Dad think?)  They were incredibly supportive, demanded they pay for my text books (I was 28 years old and had a job! I argued.) and they even bought me a Palm Pilot for it.  I still worried my Dad wouldn't be proud.

And then Jason and I told them we would be moving.  Not to, say, Pittsburgh.  Or Indianapolis.  Nope.  We were going to move overseas.  And live a crazy life moving every few years for the foreign service.  I know it's not my career, but Jason's career determines most of my career path now.  What would Dad think?

All these years, instead of worrying What would Dad think?, I should have been listening to What Dad says.  Because the answer to each of these questions, every single time, was "I'm proud of you. You make good decisions.  I want you to be happy."

It's probably silly that such a gesture --- the book he sent to me --- told me so succinctly that my Dad is proud of me.  But it did. It tells me he is proud of my writing.  And since my writing is so much about me, my family, and my life...it really does tell me he is proud of me.

I just wish it had not taken me so many years to realize it.

March 2008.  My Dad and me on the greatest road trip.  Ever.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Kids Really Do Ruin Everything. In the Nicest Way.

You'd never guess they could be so destructive!
Tonight was the first night in nearly two years that I saw a movie on opening night..."Rango."  Yes, a children's movie.  With my two oldest children, having dropped the baby into daycare for the evening.  All of which took precision planning.

That, in a nutshell, is exactly how having children changes EVERYTHING.  I haven't seen a movie on opening night in nearly two years.  And certainly not on a whim!

When you and your beloved consider having children, everyone will tell you that having children changes everything.  And you'll tell yourselves that you "get it."  And then you'll tell yourselves that you won't let a kid change you.  You'll think about how having a kid will change things.  What pops to mind first is that you'll have less time, less sleep, and less money. (All are true, by the way.) Then you tell yourselves you'll simply plan things better, train the baby to sleep well, and work a little bit more for some extra money.  Issue solved and next thing you know you're painting the baby room and having a baby shower and pushing a baby out in the hospital.

And then you realize you had it all wrong.  Kids don't just change things.  They pretty much ruin everything.

Less time?  Total understatement.  And completely misleading.  Less time actually translates to spending time doing things you probably wouldn't ever want to do (i.e. cleaning poop off of walls) or doing it at times you wouldn't otherwise even dare to try something (cleaning up kid puke off your own feather pillow at 3:00am).  It also means you will NEVER get to do things on your own chosen schedule.  Forget about hopping in a car with your spouse at 1:00am for a run to IHOP for pancakes.  Or heading out on a romantic weekend at a small boutique hotel like you used to do sans kids.  Or going to a swanky restaurant.  Or just having time as a couple - sitting on the couch watching TV and snuggling.  IHOP becomes "Tuesdays Kids Eat Free" nights; vacations become LEGOland, the zoo, or even some indoor water park in Virginia because they offer (ridiculously expensive) childcare services; swanky restaurants all but have a 'do not bring your drooling/screaming/pooping infant in here' sign.  If you actually find you have time to sit and watch TV and snuggle with your spouse you will inevitably fall asleep within 5 minutes, only to be awoken 10 minutes later by a screaming kid (and then you play the game of 'which one of us is going to admit hearing the kid and get him').

The backseat.  At least they're all sleeping!
Oh, and the car.  My husband and I all but flipped the middle finger up to anyone who mentioned the word 'minivan' to us when we were car shopping last spring.  We were having our third kid - and getting the car WE wanted.  One mid-sized BMW sedan (moonroof! coffee cup warmer! supple leather seats!  sports package!) later, and our kids will be paying for that car for the next three years, and not in money.  We didn't account for the fact that TWO of them would be in safety car seats.  We just peeked in the back and said "yup, they'll fit."  And they do.  Mostly.  To make matters worse, the stroller completely eats up the trunk space (I considered strapping it to the top of the car - so chic!).  And that new car smell? Totally gone within a week - since it was immediately decorated in crushed cheerios, spilled milk, greasy fingerprints, and mashed up crayons, what do you think it smells like?

Even our choice to go to Cairo was heavily influenced by our children.  We carefully weighed the entire bid list of countries, researching schools and living space.  You can NOT just run off to any part of the globe without fully researching the family-friendliness and safety of the area.  [Insert irony of Egypt's recent political instability here.] There are parts of the world in which Jason and I might have considered had we not had children.  But with kids you've got to be a bit more picky.  Now that I think of it, our living in Los Angeles was fully determined by the kids - we literally chose our condo based on:
1. Size (try finding a 3-bedroom place in Manhattan Beach or West LA for under $5K/month)
2. Schools (sorry LA Unified, downtown doesn't cut it, and we couldn't afford private schooling)
3. Laundry facility in-unit (I was NOT going to go to a laundromat to do the laundry for a family of four.  No no no no no).

Jason and I would have adored renting a sweet little loft in downtown LA, but with kids that was never even an option.

In addition to the above, I have compiled a list of things ruined by children.  Please note:  this is not all-inclusive.

*Computer Screens (finger prints)
*Televisions (peanut butter and jellied)
*Actually, all electronic items
*Kitchen cabinets (Owen actually ripped one off the wall when trying to climb it.)
*Personal bathroom time
*Personal sleeping space
*Personal shower time
*Your body (pregnancy x3 = different body than the original model you were sporting)
*Personal grooming items (Toothbrush dropped in toilet.)
*All living space (See photos.  Space no longer has a distinct function.)
*Your cell phone (25 apps on my iPhone don't even belong to me.)
*Any breakable item to which you have a deep and emotional attachment
*Your expensive purse (My Juicy bag has been decorated with markers by Abby.  And boogers.)
*All of your clothing (Think baby spit-up on your shoulder.  And boogers.)
*Your music (Eminem is no longer an acceptable listen in the car with kids in ear-reach.)
*Your car conversations
*Your phone conversations
*Any appliance
*Shopping (There is no such thing as a quick run into the store anymore.)
*Your trip to the hairstylist (I had to drop a place because I took Owen there as a toddler for a haircut.  And the ensuing meltdown --- I literally had to fireman-carry him out while he kicked and screamed --- ensured I was never welcome there again.)

Is it a living room?
Or a video game room?
Or a personal gym?

Or a daycare center?

There is a song by Jonathan Coulton that my husband had me listen to one day.  It's called "You Ruined Everything."  My favorite verse:

"You should know,
How great things were before you
Even so,
They're better still today
Now I can't think who I was before
You ruined everything in the nicest way"

And that, in a nutshell, completely says it all, too.

How could I ever want to give up all those sweet moments with my children?  Of the warm little munchkins crawling into my personal sleeping space for a hug and a snuggle? Of the nighttime tuck-in stories and songs and kisses and hugs.  Of my [still] checking on my 6- and 8-year olds, at night before I go to bed to make sure they're still breathing and to kiss their little cheeks and stroke their hair.

And the crazy kid logic!  Yesterday, Owen (he's 8) was putting gel in hair.  And his statement as to why was:  "Mom.  It's pizza day at school.  I need to look good."

Or of my sweet little Abby who can't simply walk anywhere.  She literally skips through the house, down the street to her friends house, getting out of the car to go to school, through the mall when we're shopping.  She skips and sings.  Loves Taylor Swift and Justin Beiber and Hannah Montanna.  Total cliche of a little girl and I love it.

The special way he lays on my chest
with his head tucked under my chin.
How could I ever even think that things were better before baby Kellen came along and stole my heart and reminded me to slow down and just enjoy sitting on the couch to watch him learn to smile or giggle or blow raspberries.  And that baby smell.  And the little meowing sounds he makes when he eats. And that special way he lays on my chest and presses his head up under my chin.

I now have a complete appreciation for cheese pizza, chicken nuggets, pink sparkly nail polish, Nickelodeon, scooters, the beach (and specifically frolicking in the ocean), swimming pools, iPods, the cat, the dog, tea parties, video games, frogs, lizards, rocks, coloring with markers.  I could go on and on about the day-to-day that I used to take for granted, but the kids marvel in --- and remind me to marvel in.

Living overseas?  There will be lots of time to find places sans kids when they are all grown up and long out of the house.  18 years will pass by in the blink of an eye.  And until then, we'll love traveling as a family - looking at things from the perspective of us (me and Jason) and the kids.  First thing Owen told us when we told him we were moving to Egypt:  "I'm going to ride the Sphinx and climb the Pyramids!  Can we live on the Nile?"  Complete and utter excitement.  None of the "Wow.  Egypt. Are you sure you want to go there?  Why would you leave the U.S.?" that we get from most of the adults we meet.  Not our Owen.  He likens himself to a young Indiana Jones and he wants to explore.

So yes.  Kids really do change everything (ruin it!).  But in the nicest way.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Getting My Mojo Back

What's a workout program without
a new snarky workout shirt?

Kellen is 4 1/2 months old this week.  I know I shouldn't use his age my personal guideline for when-Heather-should-be-back-in-shape, but I do.  My goal for the weight loss (I gained 38 pounds with this pregnancy) was to lose it all by the time he turned 4 months.  I have lost 35 pounds and all my clothes fit.  So I'm happy with the weight issue.  But despite the weight loss, the bod is well...different. Softer.  Rounder.  Maybe even *gasp* saggier.

I am now at the point postpartum that it's time to work on the toning and the tightening.  I don't have $20K to nip and tuck the easy way, so it must be done the old fashioned way.  Diet and Exercise.  Truthfully, beyond the physical results I desire, I really do need to do it to improve my overall health.

San Pedro (LA Harbor area) 2009
Where I used to do my daily running.
The year we spent in Los Angeles  (AKA The Mecca of Sunshine and Incredibly Fit People), was the healthiest I've ever been.  I ran regularly - 5 days per week, 4-10 miles each time.  I'd grab an iced soy latte on the way to the shore, drink about 1/4 of it and save the rest for the end of the run.  Kids were in school (and we had an au pair to help - miss you, Jenny!), no baby at the time, and I didn't have to be at work until 11AM.  Fresh produce was in abundance, and we had a nice sushi place around the corner from our condo to grab some great on-the-go food (not that I'd grab sushi - I don't like it, Jason does - but I do love a good Bento Box lunch with teriyaki chicken or steak).  Even dessert was healthier (I miss you, Pinkberry frozen yogurt!).

Fast-forward to this year.  Cold Ohio, baby in tow, kids on my own.  I fear I can barely squeeze in 30 minutes of workout, let alone an hour!  Restaurants in the area focus on the fried - French fries (yum), fried chicken (yum), chicken wings (yum).  Pizza (yum), burgers (yum) heavy Italian foods/pasta meals (yum), fast food (yes, yum), giant portions (not so yum).  It's easy to see that with the weather (9 months of winter, slush and rain with perpetual overcast skies year-round) and the above combo of food choices how easy it is to live the unhealthy lifestyle.  I used to live it, and I don't want to slip back into those shoes.  Or clothes for that matter.

2009. Santa Monica.  #479.
Yes, My shirt says "I heart LA".
So here I am.  Preparing to once again 'get in shape.'  I hate that phrase.  It insinuates that I am not in shape at the moment.  That is going a bit far.  I do have a shape, just it's a bit more jiggly than I am comfortable with.  And I've lost a lot of my core strength I had once worked up with a year of hot yoga.  My back hurts, my shoulders ache, and my neck is constantly on fire.  I don't just want to 'get in shape' - I also want to improve my overall health.

If there is ANYTHING that nursing has taught me, it's that quality of life is usually directly related to overall health.  And taking it a step further, I intend to enjoy working out - no matter what form of exercise it is.  I may not be able to do my daily 5-miles run (yet), but I have options and I intend to enjoy them.  Even when Ohio is over (August) and Cairo begins - I don't know if I'll be able to find the time I'd like to dedicate to running. (But I am looking forward to joining the Cairo-area Hash House Harriers!)  Time to branch out.

My new workout buddy.
In my living room.
While it might be a little late in the year to post out New Year's Resolutions, it's never to late to start a healthier lifestyle.  Come join me.  I've added the Daily Mile widget to my blog (thanks, Jen!) and you can join and post your workouts as well.  Walk, run, elliptical, swim, dance, bike. Whatever works for you simply works.  Check out my new workout intention to the right...

Update 3/5/11:
I've had a lot of questions about what elliptical I am using, and whether or not I recommend it.  I purchased it at amazon.com (free shipping, directly to my porch!) --- the Schwinn A40 Elliptical.  It was roughly $400 (I figured this to be the equivalent to 8 months of a gym membership - at the time I ordered it, the number of months we had left in Ohio!), no tax!  My dad put it together; said it was a bit of a pain in the A**, but not impossible.  It took him less than 2 hours.  The only blip is that the box had two right legs to it.  I called customer service and they shipped me a replacement part and it arrived less than 3 days later.  The machine has a small footpath (our living room is 20' x 15' and it doesn't take up much space), easy to use, and quiet.  I'd say it was a great purchase.    Another option of course is Craig's List (my friend Karen is a junkie - she's ALWAYS finding a great steal on Craig's List!), but wasn't an option for me - I had no vehicle to pick up a used machine!

Anyway, here is a list to the machine I bought.  Happy workout!