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 8, 2012

A Painful Diagnosis

Maybe two years ago, I started to notice my hands were achy and stiff whenever I'd wake in the middle of the night and in the early morning.  It would come and go, and I attributed it to sleeping in the same position all night.  Illogical, but it was my answer.  Looking back, I also remember my toes hurting, especially in the morning, but I figured that was just from running, or working long 12-hours shifts in the ER.  It was crazy at that time --- the fab hubby was in Baghdad and I was busy playing solo parent with a newborn and two older kiddos.  Really, I could go on and on about why I dismissed it; I've got tons of reasons why I could so easily ignore it.  But mostly, it was because I chose to ignore it, telling myself it was nothing.  It would go away.

And it did, at least sorta.  I didn't notice the middle of the night pain nearly as much, and once we arrived in Cairo, I focused on adjusting to a new country, a new job, a new life.  Really, it wasn't that painful and it was fairly easy to ignore.

Maybe around last May, my left pinkie finger specifically started to hurt.  The distal (furthest) knuckle became inflamed and reddened. It hurt so much just to bend at the joint.  At first, I figured I had injured it.  How? Not a clue, but I wasn't worried.  I was starting a training program for my marathon, and the pain went to the back burner of importance.

I wish I could say that it just went away, that the finger magically healed from whatever phantom accident I assumed I'd had.  But now, here I am six months later.  And that finger is permanently deformed.  The joint is bone on bone.

As for the rest of my hands and my feet?  The last three months or so have been terrible.  Every morning I wake up with stiff and achy hands.  Whereas the feet used to be the most painful, it is now my hands.  And my hands have had some really bad days.  Days where all the knuckles swelled and were so painful I could hardly open medication bottles at work.  I've struggled some days to open jars or to write or to type.

I wish I'd had the sense to stop and ask myself two years ago what the *bleep* was going on.   Maybe have gone to the doctor or at least mentioned my symptoms. I mean really.  I'm a nurse.  I know better.  If one of my friends had said "Hey, isn't this weird?" to me --- I so would have told them to go to the doctor to get it checked out.  But I dismissed myself.  

Heck, I wish I'd brought it up even six months ago when the pinkie finger started to look funky.  Because maybe we would have been able to stop the erosiveness of the joint.

So here I am.  Having had x-rays, tons of blood work, and a few follow-ups with the Health Unit.  Diagnosis?  Arthritis.  Probably rheumatoid arthritis.  While the blood work hasn't been conclusive, the symptoms and x-rays are all consistent with the diagnosis.  Now the challenge is to find the right treatment.  Everything I've read indicates that early and aggressive treatment is the key.  Why didn't I say something about how much it hurt long ago when the pain first started?  How much time have I wasted just by ignoring it?

I'm so angry with myself.  I don't know how I could ignore the symptoms for so long.  And truthfully, I've been in a funk for the past month or so.  I haven't been running.  Or eating well.  This diagnosis has me down.  My hands hurt all the time.  I feel vulnerable, exposed.  Suddenly, I feel years older.  I think about how much they hurt now, and wonder what life will be like 10, 20, 30 years from now.  

There isn't a happy ending to this blog entry.  How do you say "hey, I turned 37 last week and I got diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis" without making an angry face?  I can joke about it.  Pretend it doesn't matter.  Throw a "hey, that's life" out there.  But none of those reactions have worked.  Trust me; I've tried.

I even thought maybe I wouldn't blog about it.  Pretend it doesn't exist.  Or at least not announce it to the world through the blog or Facebook.  But I think I've probably spent too long acting like it wasn't an issue.

Because it is an issue, and right now it's always on my mind.  My hands hurt, all the time.  The mornings are worse.  Some days I have flair ups.  And I'll try to stay strong as I muddle through the diagnosis stage.  But the truth is, no matter how I look at it, I'm sad, I'm angry, and I'm depressed about it.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

In the Now

 I've always wanted to be a rock star.  This was our moment!
These Egyptian girls were on a school field trip from outside of Cairo.
They were super excited to see American tourists and practice their English!
Oh, bidding season.  It's come and gone for us already (unlike some of my other FS/DS spouse friends who are still waiting to hear where they'll be packing up for next summer).  And while ours was pretty easy - hey, we're headed back to the U.S. for our next round! - the next 7-ish months until we move aren't easy.

Because it's soooo hard to stay in the "now."  And at the risk of sounding whiny --- it's especially difficult right now in Cairo.  As the Egyptian President pretty much declares supreme overlord power and Egyptians take to the streets in protest, we watch and we wait.  What will happen to Egypt in the next few months?  What have been the real results of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011?  Was the Arab Spring all for naught?  What do Egyptians really want when they say "freedom"? Ug.  So many questions, so few answers.  And an uncertainty for all of us here.  And it's not my country.

I don't know really what's right or wrong here or how to fix it.  I just know that I'm here, stuck in the middle of it, but unable to do anything about it.

As I think about our next move, next summer!, I love all the possibilities it holds.  I love looking forward to where we're going to live, researching the DC/NoVa area.  I love contacting friends who live there and making plans for a Starbucks get-together.  All these plans swirling in my mind.  And I realize how much I miss home.  How much I appreciate being an American in America.  And how much I am looking forward to our return.

So yeah, it's difficult right now.  And it's so difficult to live in the now and not the future.

But it's Thanksgiving weekend and I am thankful.  Thankful for this opportunity to witness history in the making here in Cairo.  Thankful for friends who came together with us to celebrate Thanksgiving with our family.  Thankful for all we have, our home, our families, our jobs.

Last weekend, we headed to Al Azhar Park in Cairo.  It was a beautiful, clear day with perfect weather.  The kids needed some frolic time in some green space (hard to find here) and the adults needed to get out as well.  We hooked up with some friends and caravanned to the park - about a half-hour or so away.

I hope that when we finally leave Cairo next summer I won't only remember the harshness of the political situation here, or the riots in the streets.  I hope the first things that come to mind will be days like this that we enjoyed here.  A day where we weren't on edge or anxious, where we relaxed and enjoyed the culture and the hidden beauty of the city.

Relaxed and enjoying the view.
We could even see the Giza Pyramids in the distance that day!

The girlies enjoyed the restaurant we dined at.

The boys refuse to smile.
The view of The Citadel was divine.

The girlies looking out at The Citadel.

Oh, food! 

Hailey is 4 years old.  Kellen the Giant Toddler is 2 years old.  Love this.

Boys practice their balancing.
This is the only public park I've seen in Cairo.  And it had an entrance fee.
I'm sure there are more, but this is the only one we've come across.

The kids were so happy to have green space!
They spent part of the afternoon tumbling down this hill.

The end to a perfect day.

Owen photo bombs a  family photo of our friends!

And David (behind my right shoulder posing as an extra husband)
photo bombs our family photo!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

It was Better Than Prom and Dude!! We Know Our Next Assignment!

Just like prom.  But better!

If you're posted at a U.S. Embassy somewhere in the world, then you probably have some Marines.  Here in Cairo, we have a fairly large Embassy and hence a good-sized Marine Security Guard.

So of course, that means celebrating the Marine Corps 237th Birthday!  Yes, we went to the Ball.  And yes, it was awesome.  In fact, it was way better than prom ever was.

I mean, I already had a date lined up!  I didn't have to wait to be asked or ask someone to go to the dance with me.  No awkward end-of-the-night do we kiss?! or just hold hands?! moments.  And my parents totally approved of this guy a long, long time ago.

Plus, I hardly ever break out any more, so I didn't have to fret over any zits.

I took an entire day off of work to get my pretty on.  Nails, brows, lunch with a friend.  I had bought my dress last summer when we were in the U.S. on R&R.

View from the hotel!
We asked our fabulous nanny to spend the night with the kids (!!!  YES!  NO KIDS FOR LIKE 24 hours!!!) and we got a hotel near the embassy with some friends.

Here's what we celebrated:

The Marines!  Looking mighty, mighty fine.  Happy Birthday!
 And who we celebrated with:

Out with our friends.  Wait! Wrong spouses!!

Nope.  That's not quite right, either!

Yes!  Me with the fab hubby and our friends Dave and Krista.

Sparkly!  Sassy.

Girls just wanna have fun.
Dessert.  Always my favorite.

Fab hubby is some mighty fine arm candy. 

That's us.  Being adults.  We made it all the way to 11:00PM before
we left the party.  What can I say?  We're old.

What I failed to mention before writing all about the fabulousness of our night is that earlier in the day we found out where we're headed in Summer 2013, when we finish our Cairo tour.  The fab hubby accepted a handshake to:

Yes!  We're headed back to the good ol' U.S. of A.  Someone, please call Starbucks.  Let them know I'm coming back.  Plan for now is two years in Washington, D.C.  But, of course, y'all know how that can change.  And for all my friends out there who are still bidding, I'm thinking about you.  Bidding season is no fun.

Know what is fun?  Coming home the day after the Marine Ball. All relaxed and rejuvenated.  Especially when you find out the toddler didn't sleep but a few hours the night before.  And when we walked into the house, we found this:

Dang.  He's so sweet when he's sleeping.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Why Now? And Geeze the Toddler Turns TWO!

It took me three years.
In summer 2009, we were living in Los Angeles where the fab hubby was first assigned.  I love L.A., pretty much more than any place I've ever been.  The weather is nearly always perfect and we were fortunate enough to live close to the ocean in San Pedro (near the Port of L.A.).  Every day before my ER shift (I worked afternoons 11a-11p), I would stop by Starbucks, grab a latte, and head to the shoreline.  I'd run a fabulous 4 miles or so, sit and watch the ships weave in and out of port while drinking my latte and enjoying the smell of the salty air.  Then I'd head home for a quick shower before starting my workday.

It was that year that I truly began to love running.  I'd been dabbling in running off and on for years; first when I joined the Army in college, later as I tried to get in shape after popping out the first kid.  But I never really enjoyed it as much as I began to the year we lived in L.A.  Owen was five year old and Abby was three years old (and having baby #3 wasn't even a thought in our mind that summer). I could no longer claim 'new baby' as the reason I was out of shape.  It was the perfect time to dedicate some time to run and take care of myself.

It was that summer that I wrote out a personal goal and posted it on Facebook (remember when you could write "notes" on Facebook?).  I was going to run a marathon!  I had all the time in the world to train.  No newborn to keep me up all night.  A good work schedule and childcare.  Perfect weather with a perfect ocean view.  Yes.  A marathon.

And then my doubting brain took over.  I looked at training schedules.  16, 18, 20, 22 mile training runs? Heck.  I couldn't even fathom 10 mile runs.  FIVE MONTHS of commitment to train?  And even then, what if I didn't finish??!!

I backed out of the dream almost as soon as I posted my goal out loud.  Thankfully, I didn't give up on running though - because by then I absolutely I loved it.  I ran two half marathons while we lived there.  One in Malibu in October 2009 (and it was a beautiful coastal view) and one in Huntington Beach in February 2010 (also coastal and oh-so-beautiful).  A week after my half marathon in Huntington Beach, I found out I was pregnant.  A month later we returned to Ohio, the fab hubby went to D.C. for training and then on to Baghdad for a year.
My running buddy.
He's about 7 months old here.
BTW, this kid ran his first race in utero.  

Our son Kellen was born on October 20, 2010 (Two years ago! Oh My Gosh!  He's two today!!).  Just five weeks later, with newborn in stroller, and latte in hand, I hit the trails and began running again.  Soon I was up to three miles as he slept in the stroller.  I again began to dream about running longer distances - but honestly, even a half marathon seemed unlikely.  Three kids in tow, hubby in Baghdad, part-time job in the ER, and the weather in Ohio wasn't exactly accommodating.  I hardly even dared to think the word marathon - I *knew* it was impossible.

The fab hubby returned home from Baghdad in July 2011, and I was able to get a bit more mileage in.  Just before we left for Cairo the following month, I ran a 10K.  It was a great run but exhausting.  I couldn't believe the toll just a 10K could do.  I ached everywhere - knees, hips, calves.  I guess it was also time to admit that I was a bit older and, after three kids, my body wasn't exactly what it used to be.

So true.
Cairo has definitely been a challenge for running.  Minimal green space, terrible traffic, aggressive street dogs, and of course the hot desert climate.  I ran off and on after arriving here, but with a full-time job and trying to adjust to a new country while also staying sane with three kids, I felt something had to give.  I started to give up on running.  At one point, I even considered quitting running forever.  Thankfully, the fab hubby was super fabulous and convinced me otherwise.  So I kept running.

Then, just a month later, I got an email from Nike about the 2012 Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco.  Slated for October 14th, I toyed around with the idea.  Five months to train.  But all those obstacles...Cairo.  A toddler who wasn't sleeping well (and hence, neither was I).  Going to the U.S. for R&R in July.  Full-time job.  Fitting in my annual Army Reserves training. Not to mention San Francisco was a 17-hour trip.  With a 9-hour time zone difference.

Why now?  Why not wait a few more years?  The toddler would be older.  Maybe we'd be living in a running-friendly country.  Maybe I'd have more time.  Heck.  Even when I'd had more time three years ago, I hadn't done it.  Why now?

I couldn't shake it.  I had said it in 2009, and it still followed me.  If I don't do it NOW, maybe I'll never do it?  I want to run a marathon just once in my life.  I want to know I can do it.  Signing up for it was scary.  Once my fee was paid (it was hefty - $200), air flights scheduled, and a hotel booked, ALL OF WHICH WERE NON-REFUNDABLE, I was locked in.

But here's the thing.  All those obstacles - - the toddler, the kids, the job, the lack of green space, impending jet lag --- they aren't what really mattered.  What really were the issues were the doubts in my head.  What if I don't finish?  What if I CAN'T finish? Those were the ones that were truly holding me back.

One other real obstacle?  Committing myself to the time to run.  Committing myself to running instead of say, going out to lunch with friends, or dinner or the movies or even just hanging out with the kids and the hubby on a Saturday evening.  Most training schedules recommend running 4 - 5 times per week with at least one long run of 20-22 miles.  I knew I would only be able to run 3 - 4 times per week.  And I would only be able to get one long run of 18 miles completed just two weeks before my marathon.  But that was ok.  Because it had to be.

I should have done it in 2009 when we were living in Los Angeles and I honestly had the time to do it!  But back then, my fear of not finishing got the better of me.  So here I am three years later.  Technically at a busier, crazier time than it was then.

And I just ran a marathon.

It wasn't easy.  And honestly, I can't say I'll ever do it again.

The first 20 miles?  They were easy.  The last 6.2?  The most painful, most challenging 6.2 miles I've ever done.  I called the fab hubby at mile 20 when things were looking rough.  He and the kids cheered me on.  And he told me that he never doubted once that I would finish.

The cool thing?  I actually didn't doubt myself either.  It was hard; it felt impossible!  But it wasn't impossible, I kept telling myself.  I wasn't going to stop.  One foot in front of the other.  Keep moving forward.  Don't look back.

5 hours.  38 minutes.  41 seconds.

Nike makes it easy for me to be cheesy.

Post race.  Wearing the new bling.

San Francisco firemen in tuxedos passed out
the necklaces at the finish line off of
silver platters.  It was a nice touch.

And now for a sweet trip down memory lane.  Happy Birthday to our youngest, Kellen! He's two!  I know.  Every one says this - time sure does fly.  It seems like just yesterday I was this...

38 weeks pregnant with Kellen.  He was 8 pounds 8 oz at birth!

And he was really tiny (in comparison to now), like this...

One week old.
And I always love to put him in ridiculous shirts.  Like this...

You know this little dude is gonna love Starbucks, right?

Simply because this is amusing...

 He's always been bigger than the dog.

I hate first birthdays.  So messy.  Like this...
First birthday!  Finally.  He grew some hair!

And next thing you know, we've got a toddler. Dang.  He's cute!

This past spring.  He suddenly morphed into a toddler!

With Daddy.  Matching blue eyes.

Happy 2nd Birthday, Kellen!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Waiting to Run

This is my 100th blog post.  And it's only fitting that I do it here, the day before my marathon, in San Francisco.

 Jet lag is so lame.  I defiantly defy sleep.  It's 5am here and I've been up since 2am.

Maybe it's the 9-hour difference from Cairo.

Maybe I'm feeling nervous (24 hours from now I'll be at the start line).

Maybe I just can't sleep.

I've been training since May.  Derailed multiple times by injuries, a super cheeky taxi driver, aggressive dogs, stifling heat, a toddler who quit sleeping through the night.  Self-doubt. I've been beat up, beat down.

But I've also loved many of the moments.  The short runs, the long runs, the failed runs, the ones where I walked more than ran.  And those rare gems -- the runs where I felt like I could fly.  In the past five months, I've run in Colorado, Florida, Ohio, California, and of course, Egypt.  I've burned through three pair of sneakers, five ACE wraps, gallons of water and Gatorade, and logged in more miles than I could keep track of.

So here I am. Waiting to run.  I spent yesterday exploring Union Square, going to the Nike Expo, the Niketown Store, got my hair blondier and bobbier, went to Starbucks, got my rings cleaned at Tiffany's, went to Starbuck again, did some more exploration.

Today I'm going to tour Alcatraz, Sausalito, and Muir Woods.  I'll probably crash early tonight, hoping to get just enough sleep for tomorrow.

Then I'll line up with 25,000 other runner and do my thing.  Run. I won't be the fastest, nor will I be the slowest.  But I will be proud to have run it.  I've been waiting and training for this for a long time.

I certainly won't look anywhere near this awesome when I cross the finish line tomorrow. But I hope this is exactly how I feel:

Monday, October 1, 2012


Somehow the day-to-day has moved forward from the horrible and painful events of September.

Benghazi.  Sanaa.  Tunis.  Khartoum.  Cairo.

Cairo.  Our home.  The aftermath still lingers along with the pain and the fear. I suppose each day is a little easier than the day before.  But at the same time, the daily commute to work provides a constant reminder of how close it was [is] to home.  The streets surrounding the embassy are blocked now with barbed wire; the local police and military are greater in numbers; I admit I still feel uncomfortable walking in the streets near the embassy.

But we're back to normal(ish).  At least as normal as normal can be.

Less than two weeks to my marathon.  LESS THAN TWO WEEKS.  I admit.  I'm excited.  I'll be in San Francisco in just 9 days.  My flights have been arranged.  I've packed my lone bag (carry-on only!) in my head. I have all my running gear.

I know we just got back from R&R less than 2 months ago.  Yet it seems so much longer ago than that.  And I need this.  I've been focused on this marathon for nearly four months.

I've trained for this.  Not as much as I needed to train to be fast, but as much as I needed to finish comfortably.  This past week I ran 18 miles on Saturday night.  It took me 3:45.  Acceptable.  And it is what it is.  While there were terrible moments of self-doubt, and terrible moments where I frankly wanted to quit, I managed to cowboy-up and power through those.  So, I'm ready.

This week I committed myself to raising funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society for the Nike Women's Marathon.  If you'd like to contribute to my fundraising efforts, please click HERE.  My initial fundraising goal was $100.  As of this moment, I'm at $340!  So now, I'm shooting for $400.

In other normal news, Abby got her ears pierced.  It honestly took months for her to get the courage up to do it, but she finally decided to have them pierced.  What convinced her?  She wanted Hello Kitty earrings.  Ah, the power of Hello Kitty.

Ears pierced!  She can't wait to replace these gold studs with Hello Kitty bling.

Awesome braid curtesy of our amazing nanny.  Abby loves it!

More normal news!  Big kids are on Swim Team at school this year.  Abby, having tried but sadly failing to make Team last year, worked all summer at her swim strokes.  I am so proud of her!  She tried out again this year and made Team!  Owen, now in 4th grade, is back on Team this year, and is doing so well.  They had a swim-a-thon last week (5:00pm - 11:00pm, although I pulled them at 10:00pm.  Momma just can't stay up that late.) and enjoyed the time with their friends while swimming lap after lap after lap.

Second year on Swim Team!

And this past weekend we finally got the chance to tour the Step Pyramid in Sakkara, as well as the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid in Dashur.  We rented a van with driver and took the kiddos, including the toddler (who slept pretty much during the entire tour of Sakkara) to see the sites.  We finished off the day with old-school glass-bottled Orange Mirinda Soda (kids have never seen bottled soda before moving to Egypt) and the baby puking in the back of the van.  Making me all the happier that we had rented a van instead of driving our own SUV.  Gotta love Egypt though -- our Boab washed out the toddler's pukified Britax carseat.  Total score.

I love this photo.  It reminds me of how much I really
love Egypt and how incredibly beautiful it is here.
Visiting Sakkara with Dashur Pyramids in the distance.
Fab Hubby with big kids and a local tour guide.

How the toddler gets to see the world.
That's me with Kellen.  He's actually awake!
Step Pyramid, Sakkara.

Don't be surprised when you see this on our family Christmas Card this year.

See those teeny-tiny human dots in the middle?  That's the Fab Hubby
and the big kiddos hiking up the Red Pyramid.

Old-School bottled soda.

Loves him some Orange Mirinda.

Post puke-fest.  Who knew he got motion sickness in the back of a van??!!