Monday, August 15, 2016

Focusing on similarities

I know it's been a long time since I last posted. We are now back overseas, living in a country that seems to mix the wealth of the first world, with the poverty of developing nations. Roadways, malls and movie theaters galore, nicer than many back home in the US. Yet, the side shops that so remind me of our time in Pakistan and other less developed locals. 

Our neighborhood is lovely. Most kids in our compound seem to be quite a bit younger than ours. We have one child in the compound who is a year older than our youngest and they get along quite well. Our families have different perspectives on life, but I think we can respect our differences and focus on our similarities. I think it is basically a difference between our suburban, socially liberal, world view and their more conservative Christian religious world view. Where I don't let our kids play rated "M" games or watch anything above PG-13 (yet), they are quite liberal on rated "M" games for violence, yet other content is strictly forbidden. So, while their kids can play "Call of Duty" and mine cannot. My kids can watch "Phineas and Ferb" and be part of Scouts, but theirs cannot. 

My kids are usually such kind empathetic souls (maybe not to each other always, but hey. . .). Something happened just before we left Florida that surprised me and gave me pause. We were at a Subway with the boys when a family came in. This family pulled up in an old pick-up truck and sounded like they walked off the set of The Beverly Hillbillies. And, my boys started to snicker. I was mortified. What have I done that they would snicker at these people. This family was not educated, they were different from us in many other ways too. But, they are still people who deserve to be treated with respect and humanity. I began to wonder if such people are just angry and tired of being looked down upon, forgotten, dehumanized. And, Trump has tapped into that anger, fear and frustration. Perhaps, if we could find a way to show respect to and try to really listen to the frustrations of those that do not share our same opinions, experiences and backgrounds we might be able to find some common ground, or at least some common respect and humanity. And, perhaps, then people like Trump would not so easily be so damn popular. 

And, so I hope we can do this with our neighbors too. While their views are quite clear and different from our own, we don't really respond. Both the boy and his little sister come over quite a bit. I do love thathe kids can just roam the neighborhood and go to each other's houses without needing pre-arrangement from parents. Still, sometimes, I must admithat I am tempted to blast "Same Love" when playing my music while working at getting our house in order and the neighbor kids are over to playI have not done so. But, it is on my playlist. I start wondering, if it comes on, should I skip it when the neighbor kids are here? Should I not change my life in my own home to accommodate such differences? I am trying to find that line where we don't hide ourselves, nor our beliefs, but where we can focus on our similarities instead of our differences. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

A new year ahead, an update and a look forward

The year ahead promises many changes. Some much sooner than others.

My old (pre Foreign Service) firm recently offered me some work, as a contractor on an ongoing basis. I would work from home, so the job can move with me.  And, I can work as many or as few hours as I want per week. I will be sent a list of things needing to be done and will let them know what I can do each week. This will allow me to work around my and my family's schedule. The only thing is we have not yet discussed pay. I'm a bit worried of being low-balled. I need to figure out how much is too little. I think I will look at what my salary would be working as an EFM at the Embassy and then use that as the lowest rate I will accept. I don't know though, again working from home on my own schedule is worth a lot. And, the other issue is that this work has nothing to do with my MBA, it is going back to government relations research. I have to figure out a way to meld these two worlds together, otherwise I'm afraid I'm going to have wasted all this time and money on getting a degree I will not use. But, there are certainly worse problems to have. I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity. Hopefully, they will offer me more than I could make working at McDonald's in Seattle. ;)

An aside for Foreign Service spouses out there. The US Labor department is updating the threshold for required overtime pay (see I learned something in my MBA classes). Probably by the end of 2016, salaried workers making under about $50,000/year will have to be paid overtime. Currently the threshold is in the $25,000 range. What does this mean? It means companies may be looking for more independent contractors rather than pay overtime. Just a thought to keep in mind. . .

In February, I will start my capstone for my MBA. If I understand correctly, I will be creating a business plan as my capstone project. I don't know any more than that right now though. After that class, I am done and will have my MBA with a concentration in finance. Woohoo! Now to find a way to use it!

This summer, T will have his Bar Mitzvah a week before we move, so he is preparing for that as we speak.  He is involved in TKD and Math/Engineering club, both of which he loves. He is such a techie. With Code Academy, he already learned CSS, HTML, Java, and JQuery. I am so impressed. Another aside, Code Academy is online and free for anyone wanting to get some basic programming skills under their belt. My little, almost, teenager is about an inch shorter than me at this point, soon he will tower over me, thank goodness. Still, a little bittersweet too.

K is doing Hebrew school, TKD with his brother and decided to join swim team too. I worry it is all too much, but he loves both TKD and swim and couldn't decide between the two. He is a fantastic little swimmer. He's not the fastest or the strongest, but he has such focus! I am so proud of him.

I've been absolutely horrible with going to the gym and have gained way too much weight. S and I go for 30 minute walks almost every day, but clearly it is not enough! I need to dedicate myself to some gym time each day. I have the membership, just not using it. No resolutions, but just going to try a bit better to get there. I want to fit into one of my Marine Ball dresses come next November, so at least there is something to motivate me. That and I just need to get a handle on this weight gain, grrr!

And, yes, this summer we are moving to the Persian Gulf. S will continue on with similar work as he is doing this tour. He does enjoy the topics immensely and it has been a good tour for our family as well. We hope that job/work hour conditions will be similar at our new post, but it sounds like there will be more travel involved, so must admit I am not looking forward to that so much. Still, overall, we are very excited about the new posting, minus some worries about the dog.

Oh, in one other bit of news, I won $45 playing fantasy football. I know NOTHING about football. After draft pick, the Yahoo site said I threw the draft. And, yet, I ended up the winner of the regular season, with a regular season record of 12 wins and 2 loses, then lost in the finals. :( Still, I cannot believe I even made it to the finals. Weird. But, I certainly won't turn down the winnings. :)

We hope everyone had a lovely holiday season and many blessings ahead in the new year!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Selfishness or love or both

Our beautiful old girl is at least 15 years old. We believe she is part Belgian malinois (shepherd) and part Portuguese podengo. We found her on the streets of Portugal in 2001 during our second tour with the State Department. Since that day, she has followed me around like a little kid follows her mommy. And, when I had my oldest child (who is now in jr. high), she followed him around like a protective mamma. We went through a few years of separation anxiety with her, but she has calmed on this in her older years. I think after years and years of seeing we will not abandon her, she trusts in us, she believes in us and she believes in our family. She knows that she is a part of us, a part our family.

This girl traveled with us and/or moved with us from Portugal, to DC, to Senegal, to Oregon, to DC, to East Timor, to Oregon, to DC, to Bulgaria, to Oregon and to Florida. We were fully expecting to take her with us to the Middle East, for what will likely be our last State Department tour.

I took her to the vet to get her prepared, starting the long process with a rabies titer test, which by the way is astronomically expensive, not because of the actual test, but because of the guaranteed overnight shipping! The vet then tells me that flying a dog her age is likely a death sentence. I was shocked. I know I shouldn't be surprised, yet I was. I sought opinions of other foreign service spouses with old dogs.

A few said they took the dog with them and the flight was difficult, but their dog made it. Some FS spouses mentioned leaving their dog behind with family. None of our family can take her. Even if we found someone who could take her, I could never leave her behind with someone she doesn't already know and love. We cannot bear the thought of giving her away. I was wrong. A family member in Oregon who knows and loves Sophie from our time there just offered to take her. He and his girlfriend have a dog, much smaller and younger than Sophie. And, they work A LOT, no kids yet. At least, we have that option to consider nowI just cannot help but think that losing us would be more painful to her, in the long-term, than any plane ride. Though perhaps the truth is that leaving her behind would be more painful to us. Perhaps it is selfishness, perhaps it is love, perhaps it is a little of both. Putting her down is not an option I want to consider, not unless it is because of a health issue that is causing her quality of life to truly suffer.

We keep the preparations going to take her, leaving all options open. She is old and it shows more and more every day. But, it is old dog stuff. I really don't know that she will live until this summer, but then again she could live another year+. The vet told us that it is amazing she is as old as she is, because most shepherds don't live that long.  She stays with us and we stay with her. We made her that promise, I know she doesn't understand our words, but I do think she understands our hearts.

Yes, the plane ride will be difficult. We will have an overnight at one of the best airport pet facilities in the world, and that will give her a nice break. But, there are no guarantees. I know. We are keeping all options open. Admittedly, the one I want most is to take her with us. And, I do believe that would be her preference too. Maybe, though, that is just me projecting?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


We live one block from a large beautiful bay. In our neighborhood, there is a tiny beach on the bay. We often walk to the beach to watch the sunset and sailboats; it is just so beautiful. Sometimes, we even see dolphins!

About a month ago, we bought some highly rated inflatable kayaks. We are here only one more year and decided spending the money on two pvc two-person kayaks was too expensive, but renting each weekend was also getting expensive. I calculated that if our inflatable kayaks last six times they will more than pay for themselves. More than that is simply cake.

We take our kayaks to our little beach one day each weekend. Last weekend was no different. We got all set-up and as we were putting our boats in the water, we saw two dolphins, or at least we assumed they were dolphins. They swam far ahead pretty quicky, never jumping out of the water. They appeared to work together to corral the fish, each coming in at a 45 degree angle from each other. This was followed by a big commotion in the water, then by a huge flock of birds settling on that area of water. We turned off before reaching that area. 

As we talked more and more, we thought the fins were not actually bent like dolphin fins, though maybe they were? We never saw the animals jump out of the water. And, they actually swam rather straight and fast. Apparently, sometimes smaller bull sharks make their way into our bay. Now, we are wondering???

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

We are not a Christian nation.

I recently joined a friend's conversation about whether or not America is a Christian nation. He had one responder with whom I began a bit of a debate. I don't know what possessed me really. I guess when it comes to this issue, I must admit it is one very personal to me having grown-up as a religious minority in our country, having my kids grow-up as religious minorities, and my husband as well has experienced similar issues coming from his mixed background and being raised in Southern Idaho. So, yes, I do feel the desire to speak out on this issue, for better or worse. . .
Responder: It is no longer a Christian Nation religiously. But it was founded on Judeo Christian principals. That is what makes it a Christian nation. Once we adopt Sharia, it will be a gunsmoke nation.

My response: "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion. . ."‬

‪Article 11, Treaty of Tripoli, Ratified by the United States June 10, 1797.‬


Responder: Correct, it was not founded on the Christian Religion, it was founded on the Principals of the morals that come from the Christian Religion. Just as ISIS is founded on the morals of the Radical Islamic Religion, and the old USSR was founded on the Morals of the Atheist (Religion, for want of a better term). A civilization is going to be directed by its moral foundation. Ours was Judeo Christian.

My response: You said "Judeo-Christian" principles. So then, why are we not a Jewish nation by your reasoning? Our founders were also guided by principals based on white male supremacy. So, because of that, would you also say we are a white male supremacist nation?

Responder: Methinks you put too much into the society at the times as deliberate. If you asked Abigail Adams if the society was White Male supremacist you might get a different answer. To judge that society with today's cultural expectations does not do justice to the radical freedoms gleaned at the time. The very fact the our founding fathers moved away from Monarchy to a representative form of government was very radical indeed. Granted, only men could vote. But what was astonishing was that any free man could vote, not just landowners. (We can discuss the Slave issue at another time as that will take pages to devote to the cultural deprivations and antagonistic conflicts aroused by that disaster.)

As for the Judeo in Judeo-Christian, both are based on the same fundamental religious tenets. In fact there is no Christianity without the Jewish ancestry of the religion. There were many Jewish communities in the colonies, especially around New York City. Just as there were Catholic and Protestant sects. The radical ideas that the Freedom of Religion propagated, such as tolerance of other religions, was something not seen before in the colonization of English domains. The Anglican Church was required as the King was the head of that organization... 

My response: You completely missed the point. As a Jewish person, the idea of a Christian nation scares the bejeezus (pun intended) out of me. The fact that you can tout Judeo-Christian principles and then morph that into meaning "Christian nation" only serves to solidify this worry. My point about white male supremacists principles is that our country evolved (I know, evolution is probably not your thing), and continues to evolve (we certainly have further we can go). In the end, "Christian nation" only serves as a tool to disenfranchise non-Christians of our country and that is completely counter to American principles. By the way, thanks for "tolerating" me. Silly me, expecting that religious freedom actually meant more than tolerance. I've said my piece. Peace out!

Responder: So much for a nice conversation. Have a nice day.‬

Perhaps, I crossed a line with my comment about “evolution is probably not your thing,” but the jab (yes, I admit it was a jab) was based on the worry, idea, thought that often those insisting that we call our nation a Christian nation have an agenda and purpose for doing so, including dictating what our public schools can and cannot teach based on the bible. And, my comment regarding tolerance not being the same as religious freedom is getting at my feeling that those calling for the US to be considered a Christian nation are not getting the fundamental difference between tolerating other religions and actually protecting and ensuring that religions in our country are on equal footing under the law. 
As Mr. StoneRabbit said to me after telling him about my conversation above, "not eradicating another is too low a bar for a free society."

I would be curious to hear my reader’s thoughts.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Not Mutually Exclusive

My outrage over Cecil the Lion's death is not because an animal was hunted in and of itself. I am not a hunter and never will be. But, I can certainly understand the hunting for food as part of an organized season to cull the overpopulation of a species that would otherwise die of starvation and/or disease due to this overpopulation. I may even be able to understand hunting to protect hearth and home, though I do think there are other measures that could be explored. I am willing to have the conversation.

What bothers me about Cecil's death is not that he was some famous or beloved lion. No! It was the way in which he was hunted, dying 40 hours after being hit with an arrow. It was the purpose of the hunt, simply for a trophy. And, it was the way of the hunt, luring an animal out of a protected park.

Some are saying that we are spending too much time focusing on the death of a lion. My outrage at the lion's death does not diminish or replace my outrage at girls being stolen and sold into slavery or for innocents being killed for not following ISIS dogma or for too many children of the world living in poverty with little chance for education or upward mobility. Disgust and outrage over one inhumane act does not negate nor diminish my disgust and outrage over other inhumane acts in this world. These things are not mutually exclusive!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A family wedding

Last weekend I went to the wedding of one of my cousins. His Mom, D, has been like a big sister to me for so many years. She was there for me when my Dad died, when my Mom died she came thousands of miles to help me sort through it all, and when I was going through some pretty difficult times just a few years ago, she was the only person in the world with whom I felt safe to confide in so completely. She has also celebrated my successes as if I were a daughter or a sister. She has always been a kind soul with a heart of gold. And, I love, as we've gotten older together that she can turn to me. I want to be there for her in her times of sorrow and joy as she has always been for me. I am so thankful that I was in America and able to join in the festivities with my cousin.

After divorcing her husband many years ago, she raised those boys largely on her own. During visits, I could see how much they loved each other and how important they were to each other. This came through at the wedding consistently, not always in overpowering ways, but enough to make this mom cry a few times. I am so proud of her and so proud of her boys.

At the rehearsal dinner, D gave a lovely speech about her son, including a little tidbit about his love for CareBears as a young child. We all laughed. Now you must understand, this boy is in the Coast Guard, very muscular, very athletic and yet, when it comes to his mom, so caring and sensitive. He was tearing up during her speech. It just warmed my heart!

Then at the wedding we heard more speeches. The father of the bride was talking about how he had his concerns about B, who already had moved his daughter here, there and everywhere for the last seven years. We heard about the three things that changed his mind about the groom: a) B made his daughter so happy, b) the dogs all loved him, and c) when B was stationed in NY he was part of the crew that rescued passengers from the airplane that went down on the Hudson. A woman, without a life jacket, fell off the wing into the Hudson. Without hesitation, B jumped in and rescued here, suffering a huge cut on his leg and ending up in the hospital himself. The Bride's dad said he knew then that this was a man who would protect his daughter. He was convinced.

Then we heard from D's youngest son, D2. He gave a very funny speech about B, that showed the love they have for each other and some funny stories from their childhood. They are now both living in Boston. B is stationed there and D2 is getting is PhD at Harvard. I know, I still love saying that. I'm just so proud of those boys! D2 has met a lovely woman there who is also getting her PhD and I can only hope that another wedding will be in their future.

I had such a wonderful time at the most grand wedding I have ever seen in my life. It was beautiful, with so much thought to every detail. From gift bags at the hotel, to personalized mini bottles of Proseco for each guest at the rehearsal dinner, to shuttle buses and limo buses to and from the rehearsal dinner and the wedding, to an open bar with B's homemade habanero tequila used in the spicy margaritas, to a brunch the day after the wedding with a Bloody Mary bar, not to mention the wonderful time I had meeting their friends, seeing other family and dancing the night away at the reception. Though, I'm sure it was a bit of a sight watching this 45-year old dance to The Black-Eyed Peas, The TimeDirty Bit. . ..But, after a few drinks, ah who cares, it was a heck of a lot of fun! :)

Monday, February 9, 2015

A beautiful day

Yesterday, we had the most beautiful day together as a family. I wasn't expecting our day to turn out to be one of those days made for memories, but it somehow turned into just that kind of day.

The cub scouts had tickets for a hockey game and ice skating for which we bought tickets weeks ago. The boys have Hebrew lessons Sunday mornings and the game was about an hour away from where they have lessons. The game is also in the same town as the only decent Indian food in the whole area. We knew two things going in, we would leave straight from Hebrew class and we would eat some Indian food for lunch. Thank G-d my kids like Indian food!

At the end of lunch, we still had 1.5 hours before needing to arrive at the arena. We were very near the historic district and decided to go over there. All the museums were closed on Sundays and Mondays, so we were out-of-luck, until we happened upon an open art gallery. The gallery contained paintings, photographs and sculptures from local artists. We had a talk with the boys about not touching ANYTHING, they understood and we went in. It was wonderful to see them exploring the art work, thinking about it, expressing what they liked and why. It was a small gallery, so we were there only 30 minutes. But, it was a surprisingly fun experience with the kids.

We then walked to the waterfront. It was  a beautiful sunny day and we just laughed, walked and talked and then headed to the game. Our team won and we skated for about an hour. By the time the day was done, it was close to 8:00 PM. We had a bit of a drive home, so a late night for a school night. But, so worth it. Who knew yesterday would turn out to be such a wonderful day together. In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, such moments are sometimes hard to come by or, at least, sometimes hard to recognize. I love that yesterday each one of us had a joyful day, each one of us recognized and appreciated those moments as a family. It wasn't planned to be that way, it just was. I just had to share!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Proud of my boys

If you don't like moms bragging, then do not read any further.

With all my fretting and fussing, can I be a bragging mom for a moment. Oldest Child (OC) has given me a run for my money in terms of keeping on top of organization and homework. I may have, and probably will again, complain about this issue. He is a bit of a procrastinator. But this week, the boy had such a wonderful week and I just want to yell (in a good way) from the rooftops.

Before we moved to the area, I found out about the STEM school that was by invite only. We called and called and then applied. Still, OC had to take a test to get in. We move a lot,  he has some gaps, so I worried. And, in fact,  his math scores were not what they needed to be to qualify for the school. His teachers wrote fabulous recommendations talking about how he would be a great fit for STEM and is very much a science and tech kid. So, somehow, they let our boy in. We were told, we may have to get him tutoring to stay up in the math though. We never did get a tutor. The school just gave the State test for math and my 6th grader scored in the 98th percentile for 7th graders. What? Trying to not act like I was surprised, but I was surprised and happy. He also got his Orange belt in Tae Kwon Do. In addition, this week he is at the Science Fair regionals, after tying for 2nd place in the 6th grade Science Fair at his school last month.

To top it all off, Youngest Child (YC) made honor roll for the 2nd straight term here for 2nd grade and, so far, is such a self-motivated, organized, smart little worker bee.

OK, bragging over. I am just so proud of both of my boys!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Worrying about the old girl

Sophie is now at least 14 years old. She is our dog; the dog we found on the streets of Portugal back in December 2001. Based on the cleanliness of her teeth, the vet thought she was around a year old. She was pregnant when we found her, though we did not know it at the time because she was mostly just skin and bones. Something about her sad desperate eyes just drew me in and I just couldn't turn away.

She is the most loving and sweet animal we could have ever imagined. As much as taking her in was a gift to her to keep her warm and safe, it was by far a greater gift to us. We could not have asked for a sweeter, more loving dog. She has had her issues, from severe separation anxiety for her first few years with us to swiping food from the table if we ever walked away from it, but she is a former street dog after all.

Her walking has slowed, sometimes her breathing is heavier, there are more accidents in the house, her  black muzzle has turned grey, typical old dog stuff really. But, each day she just seems a little older. And, the vet seems amazed that she has lived as long as she has, apparently most shepherds don't live as long. I do worry she will not be with us next time we move. :(

I know it will be a devastating loss for all of us. We watched the movie "My Dog Skip" and there was not a dry eye in the house; perhaps just too close to home.