Monday, August 27, 2018

Monday's Moment: First Day of School Déjà vu

First Day of School Year - January 2018 at International School of Suva  
Year 8 and Year 2

First Day of School Year - August 2018 at American School of Doha 
Year 8 and Year 2

*Note: new school rules dictate when coming from the southern hemisphere, if the school year was not completed, then students must restart the school year...and after a 5 month (yes FIVE) summer break....that might not be a bad idea! No worries...we have been doing worksheets and reading!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Laws, planes, and PCsing.....

So there are laws every where...helps keep us civilized, which is always a good thing! There are some odd laws on the books! Thrilllist did an article recently listing the weirdest state law from all 50 states...they even link to the no eating your contest frogs in California if they happen to perish or in Kentucky you can't sell dyed baby chicks in a quantity other than six or you could be fine $750+ if you fail to close a fence gate in Wyoming! Our own lovely, Charleston has an intersection referred to as the 'Four Corners of the Law' downtown. At this intersection there is a City Courthouse on one corner, County Courthouse on another, US Post Office/Federal Courthouse building on a third corner, and St. Michael’s Episcopal Church on the fourth corner....any law broken could of been taken care of in one of those four buildings back in the day! (I used to work a couple blocks from this intersection and have sat through hundreds of red lights here....yet I could not find a single photo....if I ever do I will edit and add!).

So while on the topic of laws....for our final transfer flights, we were victims of the 'Fly America Act'. You can click the link for all the legalese. Cliffnotes version, when on official travel we need to fly American carriers or a foreign carrier with a code share with an US carrier (as American carriers do not fly everywhere on earth). In March, American Airlines broke their code share with Qatar Airways....which meant we could not take the direct flight from DC to 14.5 hours and done. Due to no code share, we could not take off from US soil on Qatar we had to take either an United flight to Frankfurt, Germany or an American Airlines flight to London, England. Then, from either of those cities we would fly Qatar Airways the final leg into Doha (aka....we still ended up flying Qatar Airways as they are the predominant carrier in Doha). When booking, we were planning to have the cat with us and pets are not allowed to transit through the Heathrow Airport in Frankfurt it would be. Now our flight time would be DCA-FRA 8 hours plus FRA-DOH 6 hours. There was about a 2.5 hour layover, but with the cat we discovered she could not be interlined transferred. What does that mean? We would need to exit security, pick up Isa in her carrier from the cargo area, recheck her with the new airline, and get back through security....not something doable in 2 hours (international pet pick up in cargo is never quick). So we would have to take the evening flight at the earliest....making for about a 12 hour layover.  So our transit time had gone from 14.5 hours to 22.5 hours.....which entitled us for a rest stop. So overnight in Frankfurt it is (you can only power on for so long and when traveling with kids, they have a lower threshold)! In addition, unless you get a huge suite, most European hotels limit the number of people per hotel room to three and we were a party of four....we would be required to get to two rooms. Less you think we were trying to waste tax payer money, we did put in for a waiver since the flight with connection was more expensive (plus the two reimbursable hotel rooms). The waiver was denied since cost/time is not considered a valid justification. So that is my two cents about a crazy law where I understand the point (supporting America carriers)....but there should also be a common sense override option....two days of travel vs one and less $$.

Anywho, back to our adventure! We had our last meal stateside....EVO Pizza! The one place everyone craves, usually our first meal out (and many in between), and typically our last meal before departure! Our flights to DC and Frankfurt were pretty uneventful. Richard and I even commented on how short the 8 hour flight was....we barely got any sleep as we were so used to the extra 4 hours on the flight to Fiji. Once in Frankfurt, we made it through the long passport kontrol line, retrieved our luggage, then headed to our hotel (it was connected to the airport). Our room would be ready in about an hour, so we had some breakfast and then made it up to our room to shower and get out of our airplane clothes. Our eyes were all so very, very heavy! So we decided a two hour nap would be best. We all conked out quickly and then I had to drag everybody up after the alarm went off....but to get over jet lag you have to power thru. We decided to walk back over to the airport and head to their food court/shopping area (outside of security). We had a meal, looked around some shops, and then after seeing some signs decided to take an airport tour!

What is an airport tour??? We had no idea either....but why not check it out. It will give us something to do and help keep us awake. So the tour was held in all we didn't understand that, but if we asked specific questions they would be answered for us in English. So once we were screened through security, we hopped on a bus that toured us around the tarmac, we saw the planes, the fire station, fueling station, the cargo hangers, and lots of other stuff (but unfortunately we don't speak German so I can't tell you what it was).

We saw an Air Canada Dreamliner. The Dreamliner is currently manufactured in North Charleston (near our old house) and we saw many take their first test flight....was this one of them?

Pegasus Airline is a Turkish airline. Though at first glance, it appears their plane says 'fly pigs'...always good for a laugh as it reminds you of all the things you get to do 'when pigs fly' as the expression goes!

One of Emirates Airline's A380 - largest jet liner in the world! Seriously not sure how this two story beauty defies gravity and gets off the ground.

There is the type plane we would be flying the next day, a Qatar Airways 777.

Maybe it was sleep deprivation, but this stop for crossing jets sign just cracked me up every time we saw it. Naturally, I had to take a picture to share it!

After our tour, we had some Starbucks (still in deprivation from 2.5 years without it mode) and then opted to just relax in our room. We watched the Big Bang Theory in German. It was an episode we had seen on rerun a couple days prior, so it was oddly amusing....we ordered some room service and I think we all managed to stay awake until about 7:30 pm! The next morning, we took the long walk across the road and checked in for our flight to Doha. Another pleasant flight, though since we were flying during the day we didn't try to sleep, we just watched movies and played on our iDevices (I personally read a good bit of a book). We arrived in Doha around 5:00 pm....the airport is so bright, clean and sparkly compared to the Fijian open air airport we were used to sweating Trying hard not to compare everything to Fiji, but it happens.

Less you think we forgot about Isa Lei. When we started thinking about poor little 8 hour drive back to Charleston, boarding while we were in St. Louis, then a flight to DC, we would need a bit of a layover to change carriers, then take 2 more flights, with a possibility of missing a piece of EU paperwork to allow her out the airport in Frankfort for the overnight stay/or back on the plane for the last flight.....eekk! So we opted to board Isa in DC and use a pet shipper to send her on the direct flight. Isa arrived in Doha about 2 hours prior to our arrival. We weren't able to pick her up from the main terminal. So an embassy rep/our sponsors that met us at the airport took us and our 8 suitcases to our house, then the rep and Richard returned to the airport to get Isa. The kids and I got Isa's food/water ready, her litter box all set up, and I found the pet shampoo in the luggage. About 3 hours later, Richard arrived home. We gave Isa a quick bath and then she ate. By this time, it was close to midnight, so we all headed to bed. The next morning, Clarissa and Isa got all caught up on! 

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

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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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/ 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?!?!?!?