Monday, July 31, 2006

D-Day, 30 days and counting....

We have a departure date of August 30th! A year to the day of our arrival in Togo we will be moving internationally again. There's a lot to do over the next 4 weeks, but our flight reservations are made, we're in the process of getting visas for India and I have a lengthy checkout list for getting the house in shape. We'll have packout in a few weeks, so the past month of cleaning out has not been for naught, just today another foot and a half of papers are out the door. I am hopeful that we will bring only what we truly want to have.

Just watch the boat all our stuff is on sink or get hit by pirates. Wouldn't that be murphy in action! Keep good thoughts for us. We're all smiling over here :)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

...And what is it you do?

What do I do? Well that's pretty simple and obvious. Someday I'll have something else, but I'm fine with house and kids for now. I've been doing it for 10 years, why change? OK, OK, I will get going... someday.

But what does Ian do? Folks outside the State Department are generally clueless what an Officer in the SD does. That's changing in our changing times, we hear more about Embassies and the folks in them as the news involves evacuations, Embassy bombings, attempts at diplomacy and so much more.

There's a book out called Inside a U.S. Embassy: How the Foreign Service Works for America and another called Realities of Foreign Service Life. You can buy both through But currently on NPR you can read and hear a 2-part series on Life in the Foreign Service with excerpts from both books. Check it out.

BTW, a second edition of Realities of Foreign Service Life will be out soon. You all might want to pick up a copy.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A Downer of a Day.

So today is the day we were supposed to fly out to Helsinki and start our R&R. We canceled everything weeks ago, in anticipation of an international move. And yet, here we are, no R&R trip and now still no assignment papers. Frustrated? Yeah, a little, but more disappointed than anything. We were really looking forward to this trip. But now I don't send Ian off to work anymore with "Have a good day" but with "Maybe today we'll hear something".

So, today the kids and I will do some fun stuff. I feel like baking, we have some thank yous to write (it -is- fun!), we'll play Settlers of Catan, and once the living room is cleaned up I think I have a project in mind. It's not nice enough to swim, so the Dance Dance Revolution pads will come out and I'll be hopping about with them. Goodness knows I need to be able to fit into my clothes again! How I miss walking places or taking the kids to the playground.

I'm off to get the girls out of bed and our day started. It may be gloomy outside, but inside we'll put on some upbeat music and get ourselves moving.

FOLLOW-UP: We did have a good day today, spiked with plenty of ABBA Gold. Received an e-mail from an old friend we haven't heard from in a while. Made and ate some yummy brownies. Katherine won Settlers of Catan. It was even nice enough to enjoy sitting by the pool. I finished a scrapbook prject. Sure, our trip to Hong Kong was 2 years ago, but it's done done done! And better, Katherine and I got in 20 minutes of high impact Dance Dance Revolution.

But the real news? Ian got paneled. If you're like me, there's a *pause*.... "And that means...?" Well, that means that he's gotten the official OK from the State Department to curtail from Lome', Togo and take the position in ->

Chennai, India. Yup, it's a go! We should be there in the next 5-6 weeks.

Friday, July 21, 2006

In Preparation....

Preparation for what? Well, nothing at the moment, but I can pretend and live in a dream of cleaning and purging and finishing up untended projects for the Just In Case.

So six weeks into summer break and we're all suffering some cabin fever and isolation (yup, everyone is -still- on vacation). This week I was fresh out of ideas. The indoor tent has lost its allure, the kids rooms are cleaned up though they still look quite lived in, swimming is a daily activity but after an hour the kids are done. Old favorites are finally being used again... the legos, ello dolls, matchbox cars. while Barbie remains popular. We've baked, we've read. I need to pull out the Dance Dance Revolution pads again to get us all hopping. But this week I turned to Ian and he came through. He gave the kids report projects.
Today was presentation day. Nicholas gave a well-written (for a 6 year old) report on the Bindi. Oh you all know what a Bindi is... the traditional red dot on Indian women's foreheads? Yeah, that. We learned that the use of the Bindi depends on the area of India (in the south, primarily married women) and that Bindi don't necessarily have to be red or a dot (a fashion bindi is called a tika). Nor are they held on the forehead with needles.
Jonathon gave his report on the Hindu god Vishnu, with his four arms each holding a different item. He chose Vishnu over Ganesh (I thought the obvious choice) because one of Vishnu's items is a mace, a gift he was given as victor in a particular war.
Katherine's topic was a comparison of the Indian and American flags, what the colors and symbols represented in each. The question arose from an earlier inquiry as to why the American flag is red, white and blue. After searching via the WWW, she told us that when originally designed, the colors had no particular symbolism behind them. She then went on to speculate that perhaps we chose those colors to honor a country that helped us acheive independence: France. Katherine also researched what the histories of India and American have in common, and came to the conclusion that the British were just plain Everywhere.
Rebecca wanted to do an animal report, as she'd done one in school this past year. After I wrote a series of questions, she turned to our mammal books and wrote a thoughtful essay on the Asian Elephant. After getting past the horror of poaching, she taught us about how elephants eat up to 300 pounds of food a day, where in Asia they live amd how many are left in the world. I told her after she was done how some zoos have chosen to stop keeping elephants because of their level of intelligence and their immense need for immense space. She was happy to hear that some people are taking notice of the needs of animals.
I did not do a research report.
What I did do was clean out the old Christmas wrapping stuff, and the box that holds my fabric odds and ends. I've wanted to make a tshirt quilt with my old school/Embassy shirts for a long time. Well, I didn't do that, but I did take some other leftover material and made a faux quilt all the same. Start to finish in about 4 hours. It's basically a play mat, but hey, I'd never made anything like it before so I'm pleased. Ian asked me why... I don't have an answer other than I took a break from scrapbooking for a night and this seemed as good an idea as any to keep busy. Speaking of scrapping, I do believe I'll move on to some Togo photos next. Hong Kong will have to wait for a bit. I can't finish up last summer just yet, waiting for a new order of photo paper for that. But I have all the photos already from HK and my parents' visit to Lome' this past January, so I'm good to go for a while anyway. Now to find the motivation.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

My week

No news this week, but I did have something finally happen to fill my days. Yesterday we had Lome's first death case in two years. We don't have many Americans here, so it doesn't happen very often. It's a fairly straightforward case, but may also be enough to write a separate cable about advance-fee (419) scams so common throughout West Africa. I can't go into it here, obviously, but it was quite interesting and sad.

Oh, and for the record, I like cauliflower. and corn, and peas, and broccoli. And green beans, but Michele doesn't. So now who's picky?

Adventures in Cooking.

I can't cook. I can follow a recipe but invariably what comes out isn't nearly as good as I think it should be. Maybe it's just that if I'm going to chop and boil and saute' and bake, I figure some sort of culinary miracle should emerge. It never does. So, I'm (still) learning to accept my limitations. Having a cook certainly helps. But yesterday even the cook couldn't save dinner.

There are plenty of vegetables available at the market. No broccoli unless you want imported-from-France-$10/head broccoli. We pass. But there are fresh carrots, potatoes, spinach, cucumbers, tomatoes (I know, technically a fruit), cauliflower, okra, lettuce, leafy greens I can't distinguish, zuchini, eggplant, corn on the cob and others. Fruits span avocadoes, mandarins, watermelon, melon, papaya, apples, pineapple, and mango. Grapes can be found, imported, along with plums and sometimes even kiwis. Those come with a high price tag, and questionable quality.
So why do we feel like we're eating the same old things over and over again? We miss berries and drupes, that I know. Strawberries and cherries, how we love thee. But I think it's more the different taste buds of our individual family members. I'd always thought we were adventurous sorts with our eating, but at home it's proving not to be the case. Katherine and I are the most varied eaters. It takes a near miracle to get Ian beyond carrots and potatoes. The other three kids are happy with sandwiches or plain noodles.
But that doesn't mean I don't ask the cook to make different things. His cauliflower and carrot bake is downright yummy. Yesterday I figured we'd go for corn on the cob, something we haven't eaten for a year and a food we all enjoy. After a long while of boiling to ensure it would be soft, we served it up for dinner.
Nope. It was hard and oh so starchy. Butter made it moderately palatable and the kids made a really good effort to try to eat it, but to no avail.
So rather than throw out 10 ears of cooked corn, I cut off all the kernels and mutilated them in the food processor. While chili was simmering, the too hard kernels from yesterday were made into quite tasty corn fritters for today. I've never eaten, much less made, a corn fritter but I'm happy to say that they turned more than just edible, they were tasty. I have enough corn left over in the freezer to make another batch in the near future.
Another adventure in the kitchen was making our own microwave popcorn. We ran out of ACT II recently but Alton Brown and his book (the heat+food=cooking one) came to the rescue. Did you know you can take 1/3 cup regular popcorn, stick it in a paper bag, staple it twice (yes, I said staple... Brown addresses that in the book... the micro-waves are larger than the width of the staple, so in essence the staples are invisible to the microwave. Just don't let the staples touch the sides of the machine), and microwave for 2-3 minutes. Open the bag and shake in butter, salt, parmesan cheese or whatever, and there you have it. Trust me, it works. Less waste, cheaper, and healthier, it's an all around better idea.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Courtesy of AFN

My kids watch the Brady Bunch, and like it. They're so funny and I like for them to watch it too. The other day, an Jan caught Greg smoking. He says he won't do it again but later is caught with a pack of cigarettes. He insists they aren't his and.... his parents believe him! Katherine looked at me and said "If I told you they weren't mine, you wouldn't believe me at all!" To which I told her "You're right".

Turns out that Greg had picked up someone else's letter jacket, so indeed neither the jacket nor the cigarettes belonged to him. Guess I would have had some apologizing to do.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Hope everyone had a good weekend.

I was off at a bridal shower this afternoon, which was quite fun and I can now say I've had a jell-o shot. I ate it in bits with a spoon. It still counts. The cream puffs I brought were a hit, and thankfully turned out beautifully. Melida received many wonderful gifts and I'm looking forward to her wedding.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Summer Brain Drain

No new photos, for two reasons. One, the new camera lens is going to take me a while to learn. Two, we haven't been anywhere new to take photos and I can only fill so many pages of the yard and the kids swimming. I should take some photos of how lovely the kids' rooms look now that we've spent time each day this week deep cleaning. Even the closets are organized. It feels good. Each day I had the kids toss 10 items. Each. It didn't matter of the items were small or large, went into the trash or the donation bin. All that mattered was the items are gone.

But if you want to hear what else we have been doing, read on.

OK, let's go kid by kid.
Nicholas: He's on the third level books of the Now I'm Reading series. It's a great set with 10 mini books in each level. Each book comes with four stickers to encourage kids to practice through repetition and earn the stickers (we add our own stickers too for additional readings). He also periodically reads a story at bedtime. Tonight's choice was _Pickle Things_ by Marc Brown. He's reviewing his addition and subtraction with double digits, practicing telling time to the 5-minute, place value and money. He also loves to play board games and enjoys our newest family fun, Settlers of Catan.
I weighed Nicholas the other day and he's all of 48 pounds. I haven't figured that out. I'm certain he was over 50 pounds when we arrived and he's certainly grown since then. He must be growing, he has a loose tooth! He's quite excited. My kids all know about the Tooth Fairy. So much so that over lunch Rebecca announced she would be the tooth fairy for Nicholas when it finally falls out. He's also determined to learn how to ride a two-wheeler. We'll be leaving all the bikes here as the dog has literally eaten the seat off Rebeccca's, but they are good enough to tear around the yard.
Jonathon: He's completed the first level series of Now I'm Reading. We attempted to move into the second level, but he has some reading basics missing so we've switched to the 100 Easy Lessons book. He's enjoying it so far. He's adding and subtracting single digits, telling time on the hour and half hour, and also loves playing Settlers of Catan.
How is it possible that Jonathon is still hovering around 40 pounds? The booster seat we brought because he was on the cusp of growing out of his current seat is still sitting in the closet. I know he's growing though, some of his pants are too short, and he still has a belly. How is he so itty bitty at nearly 5 years old? He's not too itty bitty for his trike though. When we purchase new bikes, he'll get a 16-inch with training wheels, just like the big kids.
Rebecca: She's finally a reader. Not an avid reader, but one who picks up a book for the fun of it sometimes. Her current choice is _The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe_. I think we'll purchase the movie as a reward when she finishes. We read the book aloud last summer, so this is excellent practice for her. She is also rereading the first American Girl Felicity book, and has it in her head she wants to read _Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire_. I think she's fully immersed in Narnia at the moment though. She's reviewing her adding and subtracting with carrying and borrowing. Next week we'll get into practicing multiplication which she was just starting at the end of the school year. She loves to play Settlers.
Becca is great at riding her two-wheeler. It took a long time for her to be comfortable on it, but now the issue is the lack of a cushioned seat (thanks Sable) and her knees bumping the handle bars. She's asked that a new bike come with a basket.
Katherine: She's finishing _Inkspell_. I haven't been as insistent with her on her other studies, that'll change next week. She loves to play Settlers as well. OK, obviously we all do. Today she won the game. She didn't know she won until after it was all over and Ian claimed the title, but next time she'll hopefully realize sooner.
Katherine doesn't have a bike. She lost hers at a park in Manila and we haven't replaced it. She'll get a new one with the rest of the kids and she's requested one that holds a water bottle. That's an easy enough request to fill.
While Ian is at work, we busy ourselves with the usual here in Togo. Swimming, playing, some cleaning and a touch of learning. On the weekends, we do much of the same though we toss in yard picnics, evening soccer matches, a trip to the grocery store, letter writing and baking. I carve out time to scrapook as well (usually while the kids watch a movie) and have nearly completed last summer's travels and adventures.
Next week, we should have some actual news, so check in later.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


We're watching the news coming from Mumbai very closely. Though I do have to keep reminding myself that India is a huge country, it's still unnerving and sad so many are being hurt and killed.

Monday, July 10, 2006

A great month for birthdays.

On top of the birthdays already floating around in July (Ian's, mine, Jeff's, my grandmother's, an aunt, several friends here, and countless others), our friends from Manila who are currently in Virginia just had their second baby on July 7th. Welcome Chester Thomas!

Saturday, July 8, 2006

And Happy Birthday to me!

Another year gone, and it's my birthday again. Delectable treats, breakfast and a cake from the kids really brightened my day. Ian ordered a new lens for my camera that will take some serious practice, and honestly requires a tripod so I don't wrench my arm and shoulder using it! I'm almost scared of it. Truly.

Now if I could just find my "Understanding Exposure" book. Hmm. Where did I put it?

Friday, July 7, 2006


Another FS family (posted in Reykyavik) wrote a wonderful blog entry on their (temporary) reentry to the U.S. and subsequent Fourth celebration. Check it out at

The sweetest words to every member of our family come not from those who know us well, but from a stranger working the Customs desk at our entry point in the United States.

"Welcome Home."

How sweet it is. We can't wait to hear them again.

Uh oh

Over dinner tonight we were talking about drinking ages, laws, effects of alcohol and topics of that sort. Here, there are no drinking age restrictions. Obviously in the States there are. Rebecca in particular thought the absence of certain laws here, well, criminal. After some additional discussion on how laws are designed to protect us (sometimes even from ourselves), and how the U.S. has many laws some good, some bad, but most in the spirit of guidance and safety , she stated flatly:

"America is the best post."

I stared at her (and I hope my mouth wasn't hanging open too visibly). Ian and I looked at each other. Rebecca looked from one to the other of us.

"Uh, America is the best HOME." With just a touch of a question mark at the end.

Thursday, July 6, 2006

Environmental Learning

Awareness is half the battle. Action is the other half, of course, but first we have to acknowledge a problem and become aware of or options.

As an example, it's obvious that we produce a lot of trash and create huge trash dumps, therefore recycling is good for the Earth. But it's gotten to be more than just a good idea to reduce, reuse, recycle.
Yes, I've read through Al Gore's printed powerpoint, _An Inconvenient Truth_. I've also read through E Magazine's handbook _Green Living_. It's a useful book that lists trouble areas for pollution and consumption, and gives links to companies who provide green, humane and ecologically sound alternatives.
I figured we would start small. Recycling is happening, almost to an extreme in our household. We own a single car, a gas guzzler true, but generally used for two 15-minute trips a day. I go around the house in the morning (to the bedrooms) and then again at bedtime to turn off all unnecessary lights and a/c units (living spaces). Shopping for better options is difficult since we lack the ability to touch and test new items. But back to the links... we can start small anyway with something like organic hemp towels from We need new towels, why not get the good ones? Because they can start at $42 a bath towel. Organic cotton bath towels from run $24 per towel, a little more palatable. So I figured I'd try smaller and even more basic, like little boys boxers from But $15 per shorts. OK, smaller... how about toothpaste without all the chemicals from the well-known A tube of 6oz runs anywhere from $4-$5.
Maybe I should be willing to just fork over the cash for something that's more sustainable and easier on the Earth, and maybe I would feel better and more responsible having Earth-saving quality in my cupboards. But I admit to not getting a warm fuzzy feeling when a company asks for over $400 for 10 towels. And it's not like a single pair of underwear will get my boys through their youth. Heck, a single pair of underwear rarely gets one boy through a day.
For the future, we've decided to trade in our SUV for an SUV hybrid the first chance we get. When we have the opportunity to build a house, we have a checklist of green alternatives to implement (as long as the Earth's temperature is rising, might as well utilize solar power for electricity, natural lighting, heating and cooling). I look forward to shopping farmer's markets again, though the fruits and veggies we get here are all locally grown, and joining a fruit and vegetable collective aka Consumer Supported Agriculture. Composting doesn't thrill me, but I'm actually looking forward to doing it right.
But what to do for an awakening environmental conscience that can't choke down the cost of starting at square one? Does anyone have sites/companies they patronize that are reasonably priced for... anything?
I'm also interested in hearing what real people do in their daily lives to ease their "footprint" on our planet.

Tuesday, July 4, 2006


Amazing. 119th minute and 121st minute goals drop Germany from the running from the World Cup. Italy made two -amazing- shots in the last minutes of the last overtime. I guess they'd heard how well Germany does in shoot-outs, and Germany was almost playing just to keep the Italians at bay at the end of the OT, just to reach the shoot-out stage. But a record had to be broken... Germany had never lost in that field and Germany had never beaten Italy. I wasn't exactly rooting for Italy, seeing as they ousted U.S. from the running, but they played a really great match.

They go on to face the winner of the France-Portugal, playing tomorrow.

So today is the 4th of July, we wish everyone a wonderful celebration of our nation's independence! Last year this time, we were in our nation's capital watching the parade, checking out the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and picnicking on the Capitol grounds for the Capitol Fourth concert, all while spending the day with my parents and grandmother.
This year was a little different, but as we sent Katherine off to bed she parted with "This was the best 4th of July." Now, I'm sure that it's because it -was- a good day with swimming, playing, a living room full of company and loads of yummy food, but I am also glad that she is so Present.
Unfortunately, it's what makes moving so hard for her, or change in any form.
A couple weeks ago we tossed out the inquiry (that if the opportunity should arise) would she want her own room? Nope. Well, maybe. She didn't know. Could she try it out and change her mind? Could she visit Rebecca and play in Rebecca's room?
She was miserable when we moved from Virginia to the Philippines. Read back through the logs, you can read it in my posts. She didn't want to leave the Philippines, though she was excited to go to Virginia and see snow and her grandparents. She -really- didn't want to leave the cats behind, and with 20/20 hindsight I can say I regret leaving them (ok, just one of them). She didn't want to leave Virginia to go to Togo. Now with a potential move again, she doesn't want to leave Togo. Well, she does, but it's so hard for her to let go of what she has now.
This evening, it was the dog issue. Someone here at post has expressed an interest in adopting her if we depart this summer and we discussed it in greater detail during dinner. Katherine came out from her bedroom worked up over leaving Sable behind, more over Sable's attachment to us and how much she'll miss us. For all you pet advocates, I realize the pack mentality and the required owner commitment to animals. But also please realize that we (ok, I) am a foster pet owner. We have adopted animals that were in desperate need of a good home, a good start in life. We give them that when their futures would otherwise be in doubt. Then we adopt them back out to people we know will continue to treat them well for the duration. It's win-win for everyone, even with a hard adjustment.
Yes, it's hard for her to let go. I completely understand. It's how I've always been too, that no matter what great things are coming up or how wonderful things might be There, I'm burrowed into the Here. Katherine is my mini-me. Change is a 4-letter word for both of us.

Monday, July 3, 2006


My dream last night: Lost in high school once again, looking for classes, wandering the halls. I came upon the drama ticket sales booth and asked where to get my class list. Wonder of wonders, it existed. Clear, concise, and included downhill skiing (that should tell you something right there... not swimming or soccer or hiking... downhill skiing, a sport that invigorates yet frightens me). I followed the list without getting lost. Part of my dream involved discovering small treasures which would, in the future, lead to a small financial bonus. No more stress, I woke feeling competent and sure that there is a plan for us, even if it is long in coming. We realized, or maybe we knew but just didn't want to think about it, that we've lost the entire month of June for planning purposes. Here we are, in July, with our curtailment process stuck somewhere back in May. And we wait.

CONGRATS and a very Happy Birthday wish to...

My favorite husband. He's actually out now with friends from the Embassy, having some drinks and such. Don't worry, he walked there and will either walk or get a ride home.

So what's the score? 33 years, that's what it is.

Unfortunately he had to work today, but we'd cleaned up the house nice, decorated, had a yummy dinner and, well, I "let" him go out... what more could a guy want? Oh, we also made him a scratch carrot cake which is now cooling nicely on the counter. Our plans to go across to Les Nuits d'Orient for a tasty dessert were thwarted, but we can do it later. Say... on MY birthday??