Tuesday, October 31, 2017

And the third stop is......

Doha, Qatar

Image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Qatar

("Since the Arabic letter qof/qaf (ق) doesn’t exist in most European languages, an approximation is necessary. The closest in English is a cross between “gutter” and “cutter”. Definitely not “ka-TAR” as is frequently heard" Borrowed this from a post on how to pronounce Qatar).

This was the first bid cycle playing with the big kids.....a.k.a as a mid-level bidder. There were many, many more options (I think the original list we looked at had 160 posts). We then had to whittle it down to the posts that have the right schools, timing, housing options (we would prefer something where the kids can ride bikes/scooters again), etc. Of course, the height of bidding season fell right when we were on our campervan trip in remote cell signal sparse areas of the South Island of New Zealand (posts coming soon....this whole part time working as a CLO/Richard getting appendicitis is infringing on my blogging time). We ended up #1 on Doha's list and Doha was tied for #1 on our list. So it was a win-win situation to be in.

We still have about 6 months left in Suva. Trying to get the last things checked off on our bucket lists (one trip already planned). Mason is already researching falconry and asking about getting our own camel (yes to falconry, no to the camel). Clarissa is excited to be able to finally to have a place to ride her bike! I don't have to worry about being cold (something I do not enjoy). Career-wise, Richard feels this a good move for him as well.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Monday's Moment: In Loving Memory of Malika

19 May 1962 - 20 October 2017

You will be greatly missed. We loved and adored you. Your floral arrangement hobby always brighten up our home. Thank you for all the joy you brought us. Rest in Peace.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Our New Family Member

Before we joined the Foreign Service, Deb had a cat named Yukon. Sadly, he passed right before we went overseas - he was old and not in good health (his tribute is here).

The kids have been wanting another pet ever since, as in really, really, really wanting a pet. Georgia had a lot of stray dogs/puppies, but we weren't interested in a dog. I told Deb I had a feeling a cat would adopts us at some point in our overseas lives.

Last November, we started seeing a possibly stray cat in our yard. She would typically have she had a older orange kitten with her and they would typically dash under the fence to the Ministry office next door (and we usually saw them on evenings and weekends). We figured Momma (and Orangie as we named it) were pets of the Ministry office so we didn't really feel it was in our place to try and catch her and take her to the SPCA to have fix her.

So if we had some leftover meat from dinner, we would throw it out to her and I would try and get the kitten to come over and play. This was about as close as I ever got.

Momma disappeared for a a couple months, then we one afternoon Deb heard some high pitched meowing coming from the bamboo in front. She peeked around but it got quiet when she went over. A day or so later, we heard it again in the backyard. This time we found two tiny kittens along the back fence. Knowing that kittens typically go wild relatively young and the kids were wanting a pet so badly she attempted to pick one up. These tiny kittens were already growling and hissing....eyes barely open! Momma of course quickly showed up and really started growling at us....Deb opted to retreat. Luckily momma liked our dog-free yard and we would see her again with the two kittens.  We started giving her and her kittens treats occasionally. We worked out a deal - you keep the rodent population down and we give you treats (even bought some cat food). Momma left some lizard heads and rat entrails to thank us on occasion. Our partnership was good.

This is Momma, her adventurous kitten we called Stripie eating from the bowl, and Scaredy Cat, who was too afraid to eat. One evening, Deb and I were outside and we noticed a hawk hanging out in one of our trees. We both were like 'wow, we've never seen a hawk in our yard before!'. The next morning, we only saw Momma and Scaredy Cat. :( We've never seen the Hawk or Stripie again.....

A while later, it seemed Momma had weaned Scaredy Cat as we didn't see the kitten around very often and we noticed this male cat hanging around a bit....we named him Balls.....yes, we are super creative with names for stray cats! Can you guess what his distinguishing characteristic was?!?! Balls annoys us, he likes to spray our stuff....the car tires, the grill cover, the door mat....not sure what we did to deserve that. Balls acts like he was someones pet and that he got abandoned. One morning while waiting with the kids for the bus, he walked up to Deb and started rubbing her leg (Momma has never done that).

Right before we went on R&R in March, Deb and I noticed momma was looking a little "plump" (momma kitty is small). We guessed Balls had knocked her up again. A couple days after we returned from R&R, Clarissa came running into the house so excited. She told Deb that the hawk hadn't taken the kitten! Momma had two babies! Sure enough, Momma had a two new kittens. They stayed hunkered down hiding under the fence for a few weeks (but I'd go peek at them everyday....so maybe that helped seeing me all the time when they were so young). Here's a photo I got about two months later.

Scaredy 2.0 is closer to Momma and Other kitty is exploring a little further away. We kept giving them treats occasionally. Finally, Other Kitty got to the point where while it was eating you could rub it's head and it wouldn't freak out. It would still run away and hide when we came near it (so we had to be kitten paparazzi and take photos from inside the house). For this litter, Scaredy 2.0 was the bigger kitten. One day we noticed that Scaredy 2.0 disappeared. We aren't sure if Momma weaned Scaredy 2.0 or if it has hiding somewhere and a mongoose or some other predator grabbed it. I prefer to think it was weaned, but we typically see them again occasionally after weaning.

One Tuesday, when I got home from work, Deb told me the kitten had been coming to the back door and was looking in. This is the same kitten that one day decided to climb up the security bars on our windows few week back. When I came home, we put a bit of cat food in a bowl and opened the back door. The kitten came in, ate a little and left. We think Momma may have weaned the kitten and it was hungry.

The next night, the same thing. This time, when the kitten came in, I shut the door behind it. I was prepared to open the back door back up if the kitten went crazy. The kitten looked around and pretty much said "I'm cool with this. Can I have a green card?" Deb had already picked up some kitty litter just in case (after what happened on Tuesday we figured this would probably be the "one" so Deb went to the store and picked up a few items). We kept her in the laundry room to confine her in case she went crazy that night or if she had fleas.

The next morning after the kids went to school, Deb and I gave her a bath. She didn't like it but she didn't go crazy. Compared to Yukon she did great, she just sat there and squeaked (whereas he needed about six hands on him to keep him from escaping when he got his annual de-pollen bath).

We moved her litter box into the kids bathroom since the laundry room tends to get steamy on laundry day and we shut it off from the rest of the house (which could be a problem if some needs to use the litter box). Deb contacted a local vet to get her an appointment. Deb said during the day she was very good, would hide under the couch but come out and eat and "talk" - though she sounds more like a deflating balloon.

The good sign about her was she quickly warmed up to the kids. A mere 24 hours into living with us, she would come over, snuggle and purr.

Being a cat, she had to walk under your feet while you are walking around and quickly found boxes to hide in.

I'll admit I was a bit nervous taking her to the vet. Living most of her life outside, I was really concerned she could have some diseases or parasites.

She weighed in at exactly 1.0 kg....only 2.2 lbs. A tiny little thing for about four month old kitten.

She checked out fine. We knew she was born sometime in April, but for simplicity the Dr. gave her DOB as 1 May 2017. She is in great health. The Dr. did find one hook worm egg in her poop so she's on medication for that. The Dr. also said we were extremely lucky to get a wild cat that wasn't "wild". We knew the potential challenges, Deb's roommate from college is a vet specializing in cats and she had told us kittens had a small window of being "tamed" before it's too late.

The next challenge was a name, better than Other Kitty. Deb and I wanted a Fijian name, since she is a Fijian cat. We had a dry erase board with potential names written on it. Deb enlisted Malika for help with addition help too. After much debate, we introduce you to Isa Lei (or Isa for short). Malika told us the words Isa Lei actually translate to "deeply missing".

Isa Lei is typically sung as the Fijian farewell song. You hear it quite often here when you leave a resort. At the kid's school, every time another student is about to leave, they pick two friends. The friends place a shell necklace on the departee and everyone sings Isa Lei (the closer we get to leaving the more our eyes begin to tear up when we go to an assembly). Also at the Embassy, when an American is leaving the local staff gets together and sings it.  From a young age, Fijians are "taught" their vocal part - alto, tenor, bass. It really is a sad and moving song (I always get a bit choked up when I hear it).

Isa is 100% kitten and quite playful! You have to be careful if you are climbing for a snack or you may be attacked!

The kids absolutely love Isa and she is smitten with them. If you sit down next to her she will hop up in your lap (or your shoulder), curl up, and turn the purr motor on. We know having a pet in this lifestyle will be challenging (and a tad expensive) but we couldn't be happier to welcome Isa to our family.

We have taken her for a follow up vet appointment. In a month, she is now up to 1.3 kg (2.86 lbs). That is how we got adopted by a kitty and got a new family member!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

I take thee, honey bunny...

So a little over a year ago, my cousin and her newly engaged daughter came to visit us. We took them to Leleuvia, up the Navua River, among other things during their whirlwind trip. Well during their trip Clarissa couldn't remember Lindsey's name (?!? the mind of a 6yo)....so she started saying Maralee and her honey bunny.....and well it stuck. In September, Honey Bunny finally got married! When Richard and I started talking logistics of my going to see my god daughter's wedding, we determined it would be easier if Clarissa came with me/Mason and Richard would hold down the fort. So we blew the boys some kisses and headed out on the plane.

It only took us 3 flights and about 22 hours to get St. Louis....so it was easy-peasy.....funny how perspective changes over time....we had a layover in LA....it allowed us some time for a wardrobe change and to get lunch (but of course I didn't think ahead and grab us some dinner for the plane as we were then full, nothing on the for purchase plane menu appealed to us, and of course nothing was open when we arrived at 10:30pm local time....oops...no dinner for us....). We took silly pictures to send to the boys so they wouldn't miss us....(as you saw on Monday, they went to Natadola Beach for the weekend....so I think they fared okay). I know Mason was a little bummed I didn't bring him, but the day I flew out photos of trip I took with just him to Svaneti region of Georgia started popping up on my Facebook memory feed....so sometimes I do stuff with just one of them....and that's okay.

So as I just mentioned, we arrived in St. Louis, America as Clarissa calls it....lol at 10:30 pm...so late, dark and tired. We opted to crash at the Holiday Inn Express across the street as oppose to having my freeway averse bestie pick us up then.....the next morning Clarissa devoured her weight in American bacon.....and had me send Daddy a photo....I said smile and she did this....lol......

That little stinker! So our main objectives for the trip were obviously the wedding, then being from the Louis catch up with family and friends (the wedding helped knock out a large group of the family portion...lol), and then do some shopping (Mason had some items he needed for his Halloween costume-so we were hitting the Goodwills....quite successfully I might add!).

My bestie was the most awesome bestie I might add....not only did we get to stay at her house, she let us use her car while she was at work!! That was us waiting for her to come out after a fun day of shopping and Clarissa attempting to eat her way through an American cookie!

I was able to catch up with my cousins on my mom's side (wedding on my dad's side) and their daughters (jet lag had hit Clarissa like a freight train when taking this photo...as it was our second night in town....so shall we just say she was unavailable for the photo....lol).

We shopped some more, I had lunch with a good friend from high school (we forgot to take a picture...Clarissa did take a couple when playing with my phone...but they were pano's....and they turned out a bit creepy!). We got mani/pedi's....have to look good for the festivities!

Then we went to dinner with Bestie and her girls! They were so giggley, I think someone was blurry in every picture....so this is the best one I got...lol.

The next day was wedding day. The wedding was at a winery....so no kids under 21....so Bestie's oldest was our sitter for the night....and Bestie was my "Richard" or "Plus One"or Hubby as I called her all night (her hubby was away at work too)...lol. Here we are pre-wedding.....

I noticed the sign did not say honey bunny on it.....lol. I guess she isn't going to change her name....

Mother and father of the bride.....when they were walking down, I had an OMG moment.....my cousin is only a year older than me.....wow! While I'm here in the throes of life with kids in elementary and middle school, and the other day a friend from high school posted a photo of her in the hospital having just had a baby, I'm also old enough to have a kid who could be getting married.....woah!

I can only imagine what joke David made.....that made the big grins come out here....probably something about getting honey bunny out of the house.....muwhahaha!

Little sister, Emily was a bridesmaid....obviously purple was their wedding color. Being millennials they did fun things like have all the bridesmaids and groomsmen where Converse (actually I know the bride did too)...which given the terrain was probably a good idea!

Here comes the bride! Looking so happy and excited! (lol, it also looks like David has a halo...that angel).

Aaah, the range of emotions at a wedding....somebody started to get teary eyed and it was contagious....

Post wedding (I wasn't in a good seat for ceremony photos)....I asked for a kiss for Clarissa. Congrats to the new Mr. & Mrs. Honey Bunny!

The groom is of Samoan descent (in talking to some of his family, they are from American Samoa). So it was after the ceremony I noticed one of the groom's uncles was wearing the Samoan equivalent of a sulu....which the googles tell me is called a lavalava.

I found my older brother Bob and family and chatted during cocktail hour while the wedding party did photos. Also, snuck this photo of the cake....the lighting was pretty cool.

Neither the bride or groom are big cake fans, so instead the opted to do an assortment of mini desserts (as well as a S'mores station). My bestie and I got one of each and then split each in half....perfect way to do it....but I looked like a piggie walking away with one of each.....

Wedding toasts time.....

So if you recall, when Maralee and Lindsey came to visit. Lindsey made one of her first wedding decisions! We went to the fabric store, which carried the beautiful white on white wedding bula fabric, they probably had about 10-15 different patterns. She picked out some fabric, bought something crazy like 15 meters, and her grandmother hemmed them into small accent pieces that were placed around reception hall. Such as this piece that was where the bride and groom sat. I was so excited about that purchase and think it turned out great!!

People picture time! Bushia (so my grandmother, but she graduated to Bushia...Polish for grandmother when the next generation of grands...aka Honey Bunny...were born) and me.

Maralee, Carrie (bestie) and me.

Emily and me. I was telling her some of the places we are looking to bid on....since she is next up on the 'mom and me trip' to visit us at post....I think she liked the post with elephants most.....

My brother, Bob and his wife, Dana.

My nephew, Josh....his mom said he hates smiling (which he is adorbs when he does!)...but for some miracle smiled for me (I was texting this to Clarissa....so maybe that's why he smiled)....

The whole gang.

And a tough one to get.....with the Bride and Groom....Mr. & Mrs. Honey Bunny!

Beautiful sunset that evening!

The groom's sister, did a 'make it rain' dance as a gift for her brother and his new bride. The Samoan equivalent of our dollar dance. It was really neat watching how similar it was to the Fijian meke, just the hand gestures and body movements.

They also had a photo booth for silly photos....so Carrie and I had to be silly. I totally lost it the second round when our photo got invade by some butts....so I had to grab an arrow and point it at the butts..... muwhahahaha.

The next morning, we had a much anticipated shopping trip at the American Girl store (so many things to buy....but Clarissa reigned it in and made a good decisions after about three laps around the store). Followed by lunch in the bistro (I knew to make reservations this time!).

Which was then followed by the 'I Do Bar-B-Que'. Since kids had not been able to attend the wedding/reception they held a bar-b-que for everyone to attend. So obviously, Clarissa went as well as both of the Carrie's girls. Carrie's oldest got to have jello shots.....but have no fear....notice the different size cups....yeah...small cups have no alcohol.....

Clarissa was super excited for the cake cutting! She may have been encouraging some smashing.....

which was accomplished! I think Lindsey did a better job.

So I was trying to figure out the perfect gift to bring back from Fiji for Lindsey and Pete. Nothing says best of luck for a long and successful marriage like a neck breaker?!?! While cool on the wall...might be in poor taste...lol. But finally I found something! There is a local woman who cuts serving platters from local wood, then wood burns beautiful patterns onto them. She can only do orders for people in Fiji.....but her work is beautiful. So I contacted her about getting a serving platter made for them....I mentioned the groom was of Samoan descent and asked if she could make a Samoan pattern....which she could.....this gift was getting more and more perfect!!! A couple days before we flew out, she delivered it. For wrapping paper, I bought some local fabric in the colors they were decorating their apartment in (I figured her grandmother could also make something for them with that...pillow covers, curtains, or a table cloth). I was so excited that I forgot to get a photo when they were opening gifts at the bar-b-que (so Lindsey sent me these).....but they loved it and it was passed around to all the family. They did say it was a Samoan pattern.....success!

After gift opening, I played with Richard's new toy. As you have seen, we use the GoPro a lot...but our GoPro is older and does not have a screen to see what you are recording...the newer GoPro model does. Richard has also been eye balling a drone and thinking some of the small islands we visit - it would be neat to fly around with a drone......viola....super smart Karma made a drone that fits the GoPro....not the most robust drone but it's a good starter drone and the camera is a GoPro that comes out and does all the wonderful things a GoPro does. BUT given both the drone and camera contain lithium batteries we can't order one online to ship over here....so since I was going to be stateside, I could order it and bring it back with me. While I was still stateside with unlimited wifi, I did software updates and then wanted to make sure it was working before bringing it all the way back to Fiji and then discovering it didn't work. I asked honey bunny if it would be okay if I took a group photo at the 'I Do Bar-B-Que'....she said yes! Here we are (it appears Clarissa was at the playground...lol). Afterwards, Lindsey told me that Bushia was over the moon watching the drone fly and take photos. As you can see standing behind me, a couple of her Uncles came to look over my shoulder and watch what I was doing with the remote. I also love my other cousin's daughter, is all 'whatevs, I'm reading'....lol.

The next day was a perfect example of you never know! We met up with some Australian friends that we met in Fiji that are now posted at a military base just outside of St. Louis....got that? Seriously, what are the chances?!? It's always hard when a friend is leaving a post to say "see you later" and meeting up was proving that it is truly "see you later" and not "good-bye". Clarissa and one of their daughters were in the same class last year and they had a fun time feeding goats at Grant's Farm where we met up.

Clarissa was also mesmerized by her house mascot....being a former British colony....the school is divided into houses....(think Harry Potter). The houses are Iguanas, Kangaroos, Kiwis, and Eagles...somewhat representing an animal from the four major countries most students hail from (Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, USA). Mason is an Iguana and Clarissa is an Eagle.

Wendy and I were in book club together....she was so good at keeping us on topic....we may (or may not) have gotten bad at staying focused on the book most weeks....lol. After Grant's Farm, we went to Ted Drew's Frozen Custard....even though I grew up in StL I had never been and it ranked #1 on SoolNua World ICECREAM Index in 2016 and listed on National Geographic's Top 10 Places to Eat Ice Cream in the World....I felt it was my duty to take Wendy and her family there.....(and Clarissa and myself....and the Bestie and her girls....see them in the background...lol).....

Afterwards, Bestie and I headed to Ikea....since they are all in about the same area downtown....and we could. Clarissa enjoyed the play area and I just enjoyed Ikea. A bit later, Clarissa and I met up with some more friends from high school for dinner. It was great to catch up (I have managed to miss every single one of my HS reunions...so I try to catch up with the friends I was closest to when I'm in town....I see a few every trip).

Sadly, the next morning we had successfully gotten over jet lag, which meant it was time to head back! We went to the Lego Store (managed to fit in two free Mini builds during our trip!!), had one last lunch at the Pasta house, then got showered before the long, long journey home.

We made it to the airport with plenty of time, but for some reason our global entry number wasn't showing up (even though it did on our flight to St.Louis), so we didn't get TSA pre-check....grrrrr. We then ended up picking the wrong lane for carry-on luggage screening....we had to have picked the training line because they were pulling items from every single person's bags to manually test. Everyones! There were 8 of us standing there waiting for each item to be swabbed and hand inspected....one lady was diabetic and had to ask for a snack out of her bag to eat the line took so long....and then airport guy was all 'you are suppose to give yourself two hours for security'....for domestic flights?!?! So finally, we make it through....and we are at the very last gate in the terminal....gate 38......so off we ran.....yes....you wonder who runs in the airport....now you know. We made it to the line when they were announcing 'now boarding all rows for the flight to Los Angeles'.....so at least we made it before the final boarding call! Clarissa and I had time to snap and send the boys one last kissy face before it was time to turn my phone off.

Our layover in LAX was relatively uneventful. We finished off the fresh fruit and cheese we had packed (and can't find or bring into Fiji) for dinner and Clarissa crashed. I carried her onto the shuttle to our plane, she walked a bit to get on the plane, and once buckled was out again before take off (those 23:30 departures do that to you).  As we were approaching Nadi, Fiji there was a beautiful sunrise....this photo doesn't do it justice.....

As we disembarked, we saw the moon setting behind the plane....it was pretty too. We had one last little puddle jump over the island to Suva....but we were home! It was a beautiful wedding, lots of tasty American food, several trips to Target, and great trip catching up with everyone.