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, 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.