Sunday, August 19, 2018

Air Travel Tips Guest Blogging....

Not only have I been busy catching up on our blog...I've also written a guest post over on my sister-in-law's blog with my tips on Air Travel with Kiddos! Check it out over at Pancakes and Perseverance!

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The craziness that is vacation after home leave after training.....

You think the title of the post is crazy....our lives were crazy this summer. I just counted up. I think between our March pack out and arrival in Doha, suitcases were packed/unpacked for trips/moves/relocations twenty...yes as in 2-0...times!!! I was so ready to get to one place and stop packing/unpacking! Anywho, after training, we had a couple weeks left stateside before we were heading back overseas. It gave Clarissa a chance to see the baby deer that had been born/spotted in the backyard while were in Charleston the first time were getting big!


I had another cousin from St.Louis that was down in Hilton Head with her family and we were able to coordinate a meet up at the Angel Oak tree....aka the oldest tree east of the Mississippi River! This massive live oak tree has been standing for 400-500 years!! It was a tree before USA was well, USA!


Afterwards, we went blueberry picking (a yummy treat we don't get to do very often overseas) and then out to lunch. It was great catching up with them. Richard's brother and sister-in-law took us out on their boat. Clarissa had the chance to drive before being pushed overboard! We joked and said it would be like swimming in kava (since it looked like muddy water compared to the Fiji crystal clear waters we were used to).


Clarissa was able to catch up with her oldest friend (from 2 year old preschool) and we also met a friend of mine who just had a baby at local park....for some reason the baby didn't want to play in the fountain with Clarissa...lol.


Finally, we had a little situation to deal with....Clarissa is 8 and never been to a Cardinals game! It was completely unacceptable!! So we took a trip to St. Louis! Since there were no direct flights, we opted for the connection in Houston....where we picked Mason up on the way there! Perfect timing!! Some of the highlights included going to the arch again...why? Right before our trip, we kept seeing all the morning talk shows coming to us from the St. Louis Arch...huh?!? Well apparently, the Arch had been closed for renovations and a complete overhaul of the museum. So we had to go check it out.


I think the thing I liked most about the renovations was they replaced the glass windows you see at the top of the arch (sorry for the random people in the photo). The last time I had been (pre-renovations) the windows were all scratched up from 50 years worth of people pointing out and touching them. Now it is so clear and sharp!! Check out this photo of the Busch Stadium from the top of the Arch!!


Afterwards, we walked over to the Old St.Louis Courthouse (Richard likes history stuff). They were displaying a huge 33-star American Flag. We were guessing this was the flag when Missouri became a state, but a little research tells me Missouri was the 24th state....so I don't quite know the significance other than it was the flag when Abe Lincoln was president and this was the court house where the Dred Scott case started.


Richard has heard stories of my brothers eating bowls of Polish Kielbasa at Christmas (as in there was the community bowl, Bob's bowl, and my cousin Matt's bowl). So we had a special request for this trip....would my grandmother/aunt please make some kielbasa for Richard....


They did!! My grandmother is almost 100 (lol by the time I get this finished and published she probably will be 100!), so my aunt helped a good bit....but the kielbasa was enjoyed by all (non-vegetarians that is...)! Richard really enjoyed it and now understands the hype!!


It was great for Mason and Clarissa to hang out with their cousins (and my besties kids....uh, you know I was seeing her all the time!!). They shared social media contact info of course....


Have to post the family in front of the fireplace photos! Busia (Polish for grandmother...a name she adopted when she became a great-grandmother). Here she is with her great-grandkids! Fun fact, the one in black (you remember honey-bunny) is carrying Busia's first great-great grandkid! That's what 100 years gets you!!


That evening, Richard took Mason (along with my Bestie taking her girls) to his first concert! Fiji was not exactly a hot spot for concert tours. Imagine Dragons (Mason's favorite band) was in town and we were able to make it work. Apparently shadow photos are all the rage now! That way everyone knows you were there but can't prove it was you?!? (Clarissa and I opted to stay behind and get haircuts from my cousin and catch up on the family happenings).


So being that we were doing everything St. Louis, we went the Missouri museum (I may have been as a child, but I don't recall). They have a new kids section....what did Clarissa choose to play with....the 1904 World's Fair International Cafe...of course.....


We had some Imo's Pizza for lunch and then headed to Anhesuer-Busch for a brewery tour! Clarissa was super excited for the eagle....her house at school in Fiji was Eagles.


Not seeing American TV commercials very much, we really didn't understand the whole Dilly Dilly thing (lots of attire in the gift shop)! The kids did enjoy playing in the little prison set up. Afterwards, since we just happened to be in the area, I had to introduce Richard to Ted Drews! He enjoyed it a lot!


That evening, my bestie and her girls came over to swim in the hotel pool. We then headed out for a some dinner for those that were hungry (and more bestie time).


The next day was sadly our last in St. Louis. We headed out to Illinois to catch up with my older brother and his family. We had a great lunch!! Clarissa was a bit aloof to him (maybe worried he was Santa undercover?!?).


Mason has passed one uncle in height!!


After lunch, we headed over to Cahokia Mounds...sneaking in some more history this summer break!! They were having a special art show, Mason ended up chatting with this Native American gentleman from a tribe in Texas near Houston.


Another bonus to Cahokia Mounds, it put us directly across the river from the ball stadium. So we didn't have to worry about traffic. When the museum closed, we headed downtown. My Dad and group of his buddies bought a paver brick when the stadium was being re-done back in 2004. So we got downtown a little before the game to find his brick....which we did!!


Yes - it says 'Old Fart's Club' and then lists the members (including my dad)!


It was cowboy hat night at the game....so once through the gates and geared up in our cowboy hats, we found fun things like giant pigs and huge bobble heads!


We eventually made the long, long, long trek up to the nose bleed section (but we had an awesome angle of home plate). Man it was HOT! The air was stagent and I think we all sweat buckets!


Clarissa asked lots of questions about what was going on. She really enjoyed doing the cheers (Let's Go Cardinals, Let's Go...clap clap, clap clap clap) and the wave came by two times! So exposing Clarissa (and Mason again) to proper major league baseball - check!


The next day, we flew back to Charleston. We got to the airport a bit early (not knowing how long rental car return/shuttle might take), so the kids had the chance to play in this awesome play area designed like a mini airport! There was baggage screening, loading it on the plane....


Then I caught Clarissa doing the safety briefing (she could likely do it by heart) and pointing out all the emergency exits on the plane!


We had a couple more days in Charleston, a few more doctors appointments, some cousin time, lots of laundry time, and of course the final packing of our suitcases before flying out.


So that's it for our time in the States....next blog post, we will be en route to our new home....coming soon!


Friday, August 17, 2018

Choose your own adventure post....

Do you remember the choose your own adventure books from when you were a kid? Where at the bottom of page you were given two or three choices of what to do. Then based on your choice, you were told to turn to a certain page of the book. I may (or may not) have fallen off a cliff and died....and then went -no, no, no, I meant turn down the other path and kept reading....everybody did that right?!?

Well during home leave, I acquired a new scar in a pretty obvious place. Oddly enough, (especially when really fresh with medical glue still holding me together) nobody has asked, 'hey, what happened there?'. Given the hustle and bustle, that can sometimes be home leave and appointments, or happy conversation, there was never an opportune time for me to really go into detail....so it remained unspoken about. So here's a fun little post....I will give three possible scenarios and you can choose which option to go with!! I'll start with the scar so you know your dealing with.....nothing huge but hard to hide!



Scenario 1: I was an extra in a Hollywood movie. There was scene with a guillotine. I happened to be one of the poor, unfortunate souls set to lose their head.....and there was a near deadly accident on set!!!!!

Supporting Evidence: a photo of the make put on me. This is after 11 hours on set, so it's starting to wear off where my sandels went over my foot.


Scenario 2: As you may recall, many Pacific Island nations once partook in cannibalism. Fiji being a Pacific Island nation once participated in this practice before the Christian missionaries arrived. The last recorded act of cannibalism was 1867. Though this is no longer practiced, the handicraft markets have a thriving business of selling some of the hand carved tools once used for this - such as skull smashers, neck breakers, brain forks and the like. They are beautifully carved and sometimes embedded with mother of pearl shells. They make for wonderful wall decorations and gifts for family/friends. Over our time in Fiji, we bought a large number of these from our friend, Max at the handicraft market. Though, with one such gift, in a demonstration of how one would use the neck breaker....let's just say someone may have been a tad overzealous!

Supporting Evidence: a neck beaker


Scenario 3:
Backstory - So years ago, during my pregnancy with Mason, my thyroid up and stopped functioning properly and I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Sometimes it is temporary, sometimes it is not. My hypothyroidism was not temporary and eventually I was also diagnosed with Hashimoto's disease. Hashimoto's disease is an autoimmune disease where my body slow attacks and destroys my thyroid. As it does this, what little thyroid function I had became less and less and my medication dosage went up. Due to the need to monitor my thyroid levels (aka - lots of blood draws), I see an endocrinologist annually (or more frequently if my symptoms were really bad). Given we are overseas, I'm not in super close contact with my endocrinologist. So last year when I went to set up my appointment prior to our R&R (we'd been in Fiji over a year by then....so a little late), I was quite surprised to find out my endo had left the practice! Given I had been with this practice for years and had a limited time in Charleston that year, they were able to get me in with a different doctor at a one of their other offices. When the new endo first takes on a patient, he likes to do a full work-up, including an ultrasound. Given, I met him a day or two before we flew back to Fiji there was no time for that. So he gave me orders to have an ultrasound done before I came in a year.

Fast forward to this year. We land in Charleston, I go for my blood draw, get my ultrasound done, and have my annual appointment with my endo. He says I have a nodule on one lobe of my thyroid. The protocol for nodules is: if less than 1 cm - wait and watch; if greater than 1 cm - biopsy. My nodule was 1.5 cm.....so off for a biopsy I go! The doctor that does the biopsy says the results should be ready by Tuesday. I hear nothing, Richard and I head off to our training, I figure no news is good news. Then I have a follow-up appointment with my endo when I am back in Charleston picking up Clarissa. Results are back....papillary carcinoma....WHAT?!? I have thyroid cancer! Hit me like a ton of bricks...as the word cancer always does! I would have to meet with the ENT for a consult before he did my surgery and I was set to drive back to DC the next day....aaahh horrible timing too! Luckily, my endo called the ENT and explained our DC training/overseas move time table and he was able to get me in that afternoon! I got my surgery schedule for a few days before Richard's training ended. My dad would watch Clarissa while Richard was in training, Mason would still be in Texas, I would fly down to Charleston and have my in-laws to take care of me....seriously...takes a village people...takes-a-village! So I had my surgery at the end of June. Given I only had a nodule on one lobe, I could have had only the one lobe removed. I opted to go ahead and remove my entire thyroid as it wasn't doing me hardly any good anyway (and the ironic part is my medication dosage only went up by about 25 mcg/day....lol....told you it wasn't doing any good!). The after surgery pathology report showed another nodule starting to form on the other lobe. It came back benign, but over time it could have changed. So I am really happy with my decision...only one surgery and done. My ENT was phenomenal and all my parathyroids remained intact (the biggest risk of removing the whole thyroid) and my voice remained the same (the other big risk is vocal chord damage).

That's it! I am now cancer free! If you have to get a cancer, thyroid cancer is the one to get. It has the best survival rate (for stage 1, caught early, in people under 45 - aka me - 5 year prognosis is 99.99% survival)! Weirdly, I almost feel guilty for how "easy" it was to get rid of. I'm lucky in that due to my endo switch/R&R timing, my ultrasound got delayed. It's possible it would have been in the wait stage/not anything to worry about phase a year ago and it may have been longer before I got around to getting another one done and the prognosis would have been worse.

Supporting Evidence: my post-op photo I sent the kids/Richard to show them I survived surgery, was back 'home', and everything was good (then I went back to sleep).


So now you have the possible scenarios and their evidence......which scenario do you thing caused my lovely scar?!?!?!?

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The craziness that is training in DC after home leave

So to the kids and I, our time in DC was much more relaxing as we had no doctor appointments to rush off to and lots of museums to explore...so it was more like home leave to us. For Richard though, he had six weeks of training at the State Department education facility. Given we were migrating from a winter bidding cycle (aka moving in December/January like we previously had) to a summer bidding cycle (aka arriving in July) we ended up with this block of time that needed to be filled. Typically it is extremely hard to get enough time for training...so Richard was actually lucky and was signed up for a number of courses he had been wanting to take for a long time.

As I mentioned in the previous post, Mason flew into DC the day after Clarissa, Isa Lei and I drove up from Charleston. We had some visa paperwork and vaccination stuff that needed to be done that required Mason to be in DC with us. It also gave Mason some time to visit with my parents/brother & his family. One afternoon, after his arrival we went to our favorite Smithsonian museum...the Natural History Museum. This one gets hit every time we are in DC! They had a special narwhal exhibit....who doesn't love sea unicorns?!?! So since it was new, that was the only thing I took pictures of. Mason who had been thinking he was getting tall, quickly realized he was small potatoes in relation to a narwhal tusk!


Clarissa reading up (and then telling me....ha ha, see how I snuck some summer reading in!) how the narwhal tusk never stops growing!! That is a fun fact!


The following weekend was the Memorial Day holiday. My mom, sister-in-law, niece and nephew came over for some lunch. We had planned to do the parade but the weather forecast wasn't looking too nice so we opted to walk from our apartment to the Iwo Jima memorial and Netherlands Carillon. None of them had been to the Memorial and due to the holiday we got to hear the bells playing live in the Carillon. On our way, we passed a little hidden statue of King David, his wife Haggit, and their child Adoniyya. It is called 'The Family' and given my sister-in-law is a church youth minister I thought she might like it....Clarissa is blocking 'the child'.



This shot was my mom with her grandkids (less one grown one in Illinois), but the youngest wanted her mommy in the photo....it happens!


On our way back, we stopped at the a cool little pocket park playground I knew about to break up the walk for the kids. Clarissa loved finally having cousins her own age to play with!


As luck would have it, some of my/my brother's cousins from St. Louis were in the area for a vacation. We met up for some lunch one day and then hung out on the boardwalk. It was great seeing them and catching up. We let my sister-in-law (aka the 'out-law') take the cousins photo.....


Mason has gotten into collecting the special quarters series (really tricky and slow when you live overseas), as well as, collecting pennies. So given there are no mints you can tour in DC, the next best thing is you can go tour the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and see how money is made! You can head downtown super early in the morning, stand in line, and hope to get tickets for some point later in the day OR you can book group tickets in advance. I went with the group ticket option, unfortunately due to all the snow days in the DC area my nephew was still in school that day and my sister-in-law had to work. The rest of us went and had fun though!


Don't know why, but now I am humming "If I had a million dollars" by Barenaked Ladies again....


Our motley crew....


Since my brother and niece were cheating, Clarissa and I decided to cheat too!


Possibly the most interesting thing we learned was that $2 bills are still in production! Who knew! So the DC location prints $20, $2 and another denomination. The Texas location prints the other denominations. The main thought going through my head besides $$$$$$$, was if I worked here I would have so many paper cuts!


Great picture of Mason and my parents (now taller than my mom). There's my brother photobombing in the back.....sigh, little brothers!!  Afterwards, we headed to lunch!


So after doing a number to transits through DC, we have seen a lot of what there is in the nearby area. So for this trip, we expanded our horizons! We discovered that Hershey, Pennsylvania was a little less than 2.5 hours away. After doing many 3-4 hour trips slowly around Fiji due to villages and cows (National Speed Limit is also 80 km/hr....aka 50 mph)....2.5 hrs via freeway....easy! So one rainy Sunday we went to the Hershey Chocolate World! We did the free tour....it was a bit lame (all automated....like an old theme park ride) but we splurged on the 'Create-Your-Own-Candy Bar'.....and that was amazing! We got decked up like good ole factory workers (best part was the kid size aprons!).


We took our tickets and scanned them at the first computer station where we picked what we wanted in our bars. Richard and I opted for dark chocolate (yum), Mason went with white chocolate, and Clarissa went straight milk chocolate. You could also pick add-ins like rice bits, cookie bits, sprinkles on top (both kids added sprinkles). Once done there, you entered production, scanned your ticket, and pulled the magic lever!


You then saw your name/bar up on on the production schedule with everything you had selected to put in it.


A shell that is the chocolate type you picked comes down, then what ever add-ins are dropped into your shell, then all go through the milk chocolate waterfall and get covered in chocolate. Then if you selected sprinkles they are added before the chocolate solidifies. Watch as our bars move through the chocolate waterfall!


You then could watch as your chocolate bar "cooled". That was probably the longest part, during which you headed to another computer to design your cover. You could add icon's, fancy font, resize your name....all kinds of fun stuff!


Once dried, your bar went to the boxing section. It was super neat in that the machine boxed your bar and then laser printed your name onto the box! After it was boxed it moved to a real person who put it in a tin, slipped your cover around it, and handed it to you.


It was pretty neat and fun....as we all had one of a kind Hershey's chocolate bars!!


Based on everyone's faces, I think we all had a blast!!


With the ticket package we had gotten we also had a viewing of their 4D movie, while the kids enjoyed it - Richard and I thought it was really cheesy. They did have it so you could text what you were at Hershey celebrating...since it was only a day after, Richard texted we were celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary....aah how sweet! So during the show, they acknowledge birthdays, anniversaries, and other things being celebrated. They also had Hershey, Kiss, and Reese walking around for photos. We didn't run into Hershey but we did the other too!


Later that week, the kids and I did find our way to coin mint in DC. It doesn't do tours (anymore?) but they do have a little shoppette you can buy some things you didn't know you needed! The guy working the shop happened to be a foreign service brat....so Mason had fun talking to a grown up who lived survived this lifestyle! Mason ended getting himself a set of uncirculated 2018 coins! On our way back, we had a little impromptu Chinatown photo shoot (because why not?!?).


Mason then headed back to Texas for another month with his dad. Clarissa and I took Richard to the Chesapeake Brewing Company for Father's Day. We picked it because we like the cool mermaid logo and we know Richard enjoys a craft brew from time to time. As luck would have it, on their sign when we walked in, it said they were giving Dad's free pint glasses for Father's Day! Richard collects pint glasses! Score! I do have to say, Annapolis is a very sleepy town on weekends.


So for months now, Clarissa has been wanting to have a lemonade stand. Living overseas on orders with visas and such....earning money is a no-no. We had thought about trying to have a stand at my in-laws, but they live on a quiet street without much traffic....so another bust. Given her cousin is not much younger than her....I approached my brother/sister-in-law....they have a house on the corner! We decided a weekday when everyone was heading home from work would be perfect. So that afternoon we passed the 'is it time yet' time by having the kids make posters and the lemonade. We had regular and a special lavender mint brew!!


I had sewn Clarissa a money apron for this (and the yard sale) that she proudly wore. She was the money keeper (because she was the oldest of course)!


Once up from her nap, my niece even got in on the action!


They did awesome! Not from volume of sales, but more from tips they got. Working the cute factor while they have it!! We did a few more fun things in DC. I had (another) Groupon for a pottery painting. So Clarissa painted an ice cream bowl for her and Richard to share evening ice cream in (even has a line down the middle so nobody eats too much) and her cousins painted a plate and car. It was fun. I also signed up from some sewing classes for myself (I can now do patio cushions with piping) and Clarissa wanted to take a class too! So she learned how to make a pillow! She really enjoyed it and hopefully I can find some classes in Doha for her to take.


We also spent some time at my parents (though I didn't take pictures of us sitting around...lol). The kids and I enjoyed our relaxing time in DC (less the construction on our patio from 9am to 4pm everyday....the noise was horrific and ran us out everyday). After this training, we headed back to Charleston for a little bit of vacation time before we head to Doha! Coming soon in another post!