Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I got mine! (flu shot that is)

It’s that time of the year again. Time for flu and/or flu shots. Once upon a time, I was pretty good about getting the annual flu vaccine. It sounded like a good thing, seemed to work, so why not? Then, I started getting sick from it. That “You might have a little bit of a reaction from it, a bit like a cold…” promise that I’d get from the health care officials … yea, right. I’d get sick, and year by year, I’d get hit worse. By ‘99, I was to the point of being more than just a little bit paranoid. I got the vaccine again despite my doubts, and immediately got ill. Flu-like symptoms that worsened into a pneumonia that almost put me in the hospital. I stopped taking the vaccine after that, and magically.. no more flus!

Well, with kids, I started getting worried. We were in Cairo and Avian flu as well as regular influenza was a fact of life. The kids probably had their first flu shot in ‘07. I had one too, to be a good mom and set a good example. I (we) survived. Ok, so we got one in ‘08 too, also good. We arrived here in Amman in September ‘09, before the vaccine supply, but, unfortunately, after the virus.

We were already a month late in joining the school, Brian got a chest cold that kept him out for a few days. About a week later, when I was hoping he’d be healthy enough for us to go in and get the flu vaccine, he comes to me with a fever, congestion, cough, etc. All the gooey symptoms of seasonal flu. He was out for a week with that. Then it was Honor’s turn… same sudden onset, fever, goo, and another kid home from school for a week.

A few days after Honor gets back to school, which btw was starting to get hit pretty bad by H1N1, I get a call from the nurse’s office. That bounding playful happy boy-child I’d sent to school that morning was in her office, high fever, and turning blue with chills. Sigh. He had all the symptoms suggesting swine flu… aches, headache, HIGH fever, chills, exhaustion, etc. I brought him home and spent the next three days rotating motrin and tylenol every three hours, trying to keep his fever from going up over 102-103F… because it sure as hell wasn’t going down! I kept him hydrated, and slept on the floor by his bed so I could check him hourly (that fever was BAD). I had called the clinic, explained what was going on, and we talked of danger signs to look for and when to go to the ER. They didn’t want me to bring him in because it would exhaust him and expose others. I definitely didn’t want to take him to the hospital, that where the sick people are. I knew I’d keep a better eye on him anyway. Besides, what were they going to tell me to do? Keep the fever down, hydrate, watch his breathing? Bring him in if he doesn’t improve? Check. Check. Check. Check. Anyway, he was down for about a week and guess what?!

Yep… then it was Honor’s turn. I sent the different kid off to school in the morning, and moved my pallet of couch cushions to Honor’s bedroom floor. She had the same chills, aches, and high fever that refused to go down below 102… for three days. Fortunately, after the first 24 hours of pure misery, both kids felt much better - in comparison to those first 24 hours! – but the next few days were still very sad. Honor was out for a whole week too. 

Was it my turn to get sick next? No. I waited. I waited until everyone else had already had it. I waited until all the “Oh no! You have the flu you poor, poor dear”-type sympathy was used up and people were sick and tired of being sympathetic to the sick and tired. I waited until Brad was hospitalized with DVT. I waited through his treatment and until he was ready to come home. The morning he was to be discharged, I woke feeling awful, but I managed to get the kids up and off to school. Then I lay down on the cold marble floor… which felt so very, very good… and I realized that I was terribly sick, needed caring for, and there was no way I was driving to the hospital to pick up my husband! He had to call someone else for a ride home. He tries (still) to give me a hard time, teasing me that I abandoned him in his hour of need … I counter that he was lucky I could get off the floor and unlock the door for him or he’d have been left out on the curb being needy. He even had to go out that afternoon and get the kids from the bus, as well as order dinner delivery. I continued to hug the floor for the remainder of that day/night … cool, cold marble does wonders to keep your temperature down… and I was sick for about a week as well. 

Anyway, this year, we are taking no chances. All four of us went in this morning and got our vaccines. Brad and Brian were jabbed first, then I held Honor in my lap for hers… she wasn’t happy about getting it, at all, but she and the nurse calmly counted together and Honor barely flinched. Not a single tear was wasted. When it was my turn, I asked her if she would hold my hand and make sure I would be ok. We all joked about how moms have to take care of everyone, but who takes care of mom? Well, Honor held my hand, and Brian assisted the nurse with my other arm… he held my sleeve out of the way and held the gauze after the injection, etc. While I was getting my shot, Honor whispered to me, “Pretend to cry”, so on cue, I made a sad face, pouted, and sniffed a little. It made her laugh – my goal accomplished – and when the nurse asked her who was more brave, her or me, without hesitation, Honor said she was! 

Now, the only thing to worry about is whether or not my luck holds out with the vaccine and I do not get sick! The next few days will tell…

Monday, September 27, 2010

When we arrived at post, I wish we’d toured the hospital

***NOTE*** before anyone panics… this is not a new incident. No-one is in the hospital or even considering it (knock on wood). I had to say this, I’m sure, because I’m assuming that a title like this one could be equated to a phone call that starts off “Everyone is ok, buuuut… “  No. That’s not the case here.

Instead, this is a post for A Daring Adventure. She is hosting the State Department Blog Round-up this week and in a bid to make hosting the round-up easier, has introduced the concept of using a theme. All posts for her round-up will be those submitted by the writers, or readers, so get out there folks… read, write, submit, and host! I’m on the list to host, and, come on folks, if I think I can do it, those of you with a better mastery of the English language (you know, all that grammar and punctuation and whatnot?) you can do it too! I dare you… follow my act (Oct. 8th) and show me up! (oh wait… first, participate with me during my week to host, and this week with A Daring Adventure, THEN get all competitive, ok??)

The theme this week is "When I/we _________, I Wish I'd/We'd Known..." 

I didn’t think I had much to say about this topic, but after I thought about it more, an idea came to me. It seems that I must think that it is a very good idea because I have not been able to blog about anything else with this thought bumping around in my brain. That’s ok… a minor sacrifice for a good cause. My idea?

When we moved to post (Cairo specifically, but Amman too), I wish we’d toured the hospital.

I KNEW where the hospital nearest our home in Cairo was. I knew how to drive there. I knew the name of it and how to direct a taxi there. I knew where the entrance from the main road was. But I didn’t tour it. I wish I had… BEFORE going in to kiss my 3 year old daughter goodnight one night, late, as I was heading to bed, and found her seizing weakly, covered in vomit, and turning very, very blue.

I knew how to clear her airway and get her breathing better. I knew to call the embassy doctor asap. My husband and I woke our son and grabbed shoes because we knew we were the ones who were transporting our daughter to the hospital after midnight. We even knew the roads were ideal at this hour… not easy to say about Cairo traffic!

But I couldn’t picture where to go after I pulled off the main road. I had a friend to call, and I did, and he was very good about telling me to trust myself, I knew what to do… and I did, but I couldn’t picture where the ER door was. I didn’t know what was behind the ER (or any) door. Instead of an image of a known place to focus on, I had nothing but blankness and fear. We got there. I pulled around to the right place, my husband leapt out of the car, with Honor limp in his arms, and ran right to the ER, I parked the truck and Brian and I followed them in and found where we needed to be. Most importantly, we got our daughter treated and all is well now. BUT a tour of the hospital would have saved us from some unnecessary terror.

(Honor, just home from the hospital, admiring flowers sent to her by friends)


Honor did this to us twice. Seizing in the late of night, turning blue, ER trip, not regaining consciousness until the next day when she’d be PERFECTLY FINE thank you. Eventually we had a medevac, and long story short, after a few years on meds, she’s now off meds, and 100% perfectly healthy. But yea… you can imagine that it took me a long time to be able to sleep through the night again.

Brian (7yo at the time) also had us running to the hospital. He had a stomach ache that started out like a regular bug or something, but when the pain moved from his belly button area, to the lower right, I knew what was happening and got him to the clinic, then the hospital, right away. Apparently, kids getting appendicitis is not all that uncommon! My dad had his appendix out in China, Brian chose to have his removed next to the Nile. I was relieved that I knew what to do this time… I knew the hospital, knew the routine with the Embassy. By the time Brad go to us from work, Brian was already admitted and being cared for. We didn’t want this to happen, obviously, but it was much easier to deal with because we knew what was what.

Brad had his turn here in Amman. He was hospitalized for 10 days or so here, due to DVT. Amman health care took very good care of him. We had joked, on the way to this hospital, that at least this time it wasn’t one of the kids. We also joked (sort of) that the next time we PCS, as soon as our plane lands, we’ll hop into whatever transport is there to take us to our new home… and have the driver stop by the hospital on the way so we can give it a good look-see first thing, so no-one will be tempted to get sick and make us learn about it the hard way!

You never know when the unexpected is going to happen… that’s why it’s called unexpected. Same with emergencies. If we could know that an emergency was going to happen, we could plan in advance and be at the hospital when it did. But real life is not so nice. Touring your local hospital, especially if you live in a place where 911 does not work and the best ambulance is your own vehicle, is a must do.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

In case of headache – post cats.

I was having a wonderful day… and am still in a good mood… but I’ve been jumped by a headache that is trying to eat my brain. I don’t feel like writing what I had planned on writing. I think that today is a good day for cute cat photos.

Our cats, especially the girls, have always loved riding in the laundry baskets, but Ninja has recently discovered the wagon!


Ninja also discovered canned peaches… Mmm!


Yes, she is being naughty for eating people food on the table, it’s something we normally do not allow, and it’s a rule they’re actually very good about, but she was soooo eager to taste Honor’s snack this day that we let her get away with bad manners. As for being on the table, we figure that’s an unenforceable rule, especially when the kids just get home after being away ALL day, but they have to do their homework, yet the cats MUST be with them because they missed them so much! We wash the table a lot, and do not let them up when we’re eating meals… which they are very good about... it’s a case of picking our (winnable) battles.

Everything is a cat toy.


Beanbags were invented for cats.


Honor helping me, being helped by her helper.


I generally do not let the kids do the dishes here as the water gets stupid hot, and with dual knobs for the water (instead of a single handle), it is hard to safely adjust the water. But, she begged to help. I let her wash and I did the rinsing. Ninja supervised.

Pa-Purr Air Play-ne!! Must. Have. Paper. Airplane!!


… as I said before, everything is a cat toy, and putting things up high is no deterrent! (esp. not to Pixie. Gravity does not apply to her.)


Waiting for her sister to bring down the prey.


Ok laser cat… come zap the headache away… please?


(The photo above, plus the one with Pixie in the bean bag, and the one with Ninja and Pumpkin hanging out with the pink basket, were some I just happened to find on my camera. I’ll assume they are the work of Honor.)

See, this is the best way to do homework… with a purring cat hanging out, sitting on your stuff, and swatting your markers off the table.


At almost one year old, the cats have grown too big to lay side by side on their tower … now we have to stack them vertically.


Honor just *thinks* this puppy is still hers. Ninja knows she is wrong. This is one of Ninja’s favorite ‘babies’.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Peace One Day

I got an email from Brian’s teacher on Sunday saying that he was going to be participating in the Peace One Day assembly. If you’ve not heard of Peace One Day, here’s a link to the Wiki article. The kids have been talking about peace in class, and have done activities to discuss and learn about it. Honor’s class made paper doves to hang on a bulletin board, each dove carried a note on which the child wrote what peace means to them. Honor said it means caring for others. When I mentioned to Brian that both me and his dad planned on being at the assembly to hear him do his part… he was confused. What part? What was he going to say? Seems he got volunteered, and I got the email before he even heard about it! No matter, he can be very easy going about such things. He and the other kids practiced their parts on Monday, and this morning, did their thing.

Theirs was actually the last bit of the assembly. Some Korean families shared about Chuseok, the Korean thanksgiving. They had a slideshow, talked about some of the traditions, shared traditional food, and even had some of their children dress in the lovely and colorful garments that are worn at the time. Sharing cultures was a nice way to start the Peace assembly.

Some of the children shared poems, a book fair was announced, and kindness awards were given to four children (the kids get tickets when caught in the act of being nice – the tickets go in a jar, and the principal draws names every so often). Then it was Brian’s turn. He and about 10 other fifth graders helped the counselor explain her new ‘Peace wheel’ …. ideas for dealing with trouble or conflict. Brian and another boy demonstrated how you could ignore someone when they bug you… Brian was the bug! Another skit was about how to deal with rumors, and another was about what to do if kids are cheating in a game and annoying you. I think the kids did a great job! The assembly was concluded with a slide show and a song, then I had to leave and take Brad to work. I thought it was a pleasant way to start the day!

My gift to you – a moment of peace (and some purrs)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Bread in a Glass, in bread

Guinness Molasses Bread is a recipe I found when looking for a beer bread recipe suited for the strong flavor of Guinness beer. Guinness works well in most basic beer bread recipes too, but it is a very strong beer… and while I like it, I was curious if other bakers had come up with a recipe specifically designed for this beer. When I saw molasses in the title of this recipe, I almost skipped it. The beer has a strong flavor, and molasses has a strong flavor… that would have to be too overpowering, right? It is… in all the best of ways! This incredibly simple recipe, consisting of only 6 basic ingredients, is one of the most decadent sweet breads I’ve ever tasted. It is sweet… not bitter, not sharp… the strong flavors of the beer and molasses cancel each other out and it’s smooth and yummy! It’s a very dense and moist bread, as beer bread tends to be, so it is very filling (not that it stopped us from having seconds!). Brian said it is the perfect “dessert” and has asked to have it for snacking at school tomorrow.  Counting the slice I set aside for his lunchbox, we polished off half of the loaf.
The recipe is linked above, but here it is again:
This is definitely a family favorite. Brian has told me that I must save this recipe for when he grows up so he can take it with him when he moves into his own home.
It will make you feel like dancing...

R&R Wrap up

What can I say? R&R was quite full this year! We really had an amazing road trip. I suppose that I’d best quit with this saga though, before I run into next year’s allotted space. Besides, I haven’t touched on the most important bit yet. This vacation wasn’t merely for fun on the road, the primary goal was visiting family, and we were able to do plenty of that too.

We visited most (not all, sorry :(  !) of Brad’s extended family as we made our way through Oregon and down the California coast, but after Monterey, we headed inland to visit the kids’ grandparents, and more family, for several days, after which we flew to Oklahoma to visit my sister and her family too. For the most part, hang around and visit is all that we did, and it was simply wonderful to see everyone again.

I have a ton of photos and I’m not going to share them all because unless you know me, you’re not going to recognize anyone anyway! I will share some of my favorites though.

Brad and two of my nieces demonstrating the ‘sit around and visit’ niceness of this vacation. Hi Rachel and Annalyn, we miss you!


Anna, Honor, and someone’s foot. Honor and Anna have always hit it off well, and we often see them like this, heads together and chatting.


All of the kids spent a ton of time swimming. I love this photo of Brian. I didn’t take it, so it must have been the work of my assistant photographer Sveta!


I also like this photo of Brian and his Uncle John. Brian loves to spend time with his uncles, and it’s no doubt because they are so willing to devote time to him. My kids are lucky to have such good family!


We had a wonderful time with Grandpa and Grandma too. Honor and Anna share a game of Rummikube with Grandma.


Honor missed our kittens, very much(!), and was thrilled to have Grandma’s cat, and her cousins’ kitten to love on.


Here’s my assistant photographer! Miss Sveta asked if she could take some photos for me, so I handed her my camera and asked her to please make sure I had a lot of good pictures of everyone. She did a wonderful job. Thank you Sveta!!


My sweetie and his brother. I am so happy that we got to spend so much time with Jeremy this trip, and even had time to get to know his girlfriend better.


As a matter of fact, we were able to get all four brothers together at the same time this trip… it’s always a blessing when that happens!


Speaking of getting everyone together, here’s a shot of Brian and Honor with all of their California cousins!


(To all my wonderful nieces and nephews – I’m sorry if I did not have an individual photo for you. I had to pick a handful… but if you ever want to share a story or photo as a guest writer on my blog, I will publish you because I love you and am very proud of you! Love you all, Aunt Connie)

After hanging out with the California cousins, the kids got to go torture their ‘big’ cousins in Oklahoma.

“Hurry Brian! I got him!”


Whoops! This is not going to plan!


Nick was very patient and they all had fun. It was actually tough to take clear photos as they were goofing off so much and moving too fast! I had a ‘matching scowl’ photo of Nick and Honor that would have been wonderful.. except for all the blur… sigh..

We went out to dinner several times with my sister and her family. Nick and Kira and to work, but we saw them when we could. We also spent some time conducting some classic expat business – school supply shopping, clothes shopping, replacing phones, etc. We also had our annual eye exam… we’re all doing pretty good, thank goodness, but we had to get two new sets of glasses for Brian. That kid is tough on frames! He takes care of them, but sometimes forgets to, say, not catch the soccer ball with his head.. that sort of treatment is hard on glasses!

Photos of the Oklahoma cousins:


They have so much fun together!


Nick and Kira – love you two also, and miss you very much!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Cannery Row, Monterey, California

"Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream." — John Steinbeck, opening sentence, Cannery Row (1945).
When I first read this, shortly after arriving to Monterey the first time in the late 80’s, I wasn’t very sure how to connect it to the place. I came to understand though, that Steinbeck had pretty much nailed it with this simple sentence. It's a beautiful area, I don't think I'd ever like to live there, but I always dream about visiting, and will never forget a single detail.
Monterey is one place that the kids had asked to visit specifically. Uncle Matt and Aunt Janet had taken us to the aquarium a couple of years ago, and when the kids wrote their “What I want to do on R&R” lists, Monterey was on both. We figured it would be the perfect end-point to our road trip.
The man, Mr Steinbeck, himself. (sort of…)
And I am not sure what was going on here… blue skies? Sunshine? All day long? Where’s the mist and fog?? I was so confused.DSC08020
Walking along, enjoying the sights and window shopping.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the most spectacular aquariums I’ve ever experienced, and we always find that they’ve added new exhibits each time we visit. (They have webcams too!) Last time we visited, I would have sworn that the jellyfish was my favorite exhibit, and that it would remain so… but this time around, I fell in love with the seahorses. They are graceful and gentle animals, the perfect example of peaceful living! They also had babies to ‘ooh’ over… and sea dragons!
Into the blue.
I still enjoyed the jellyfish.
One lovely feature of the aquarium, is that you are invited to walk outside and enjoy the ‘wild’ coastal life as well. When we visited previously, we saw a mother otter and her baby playing in the water next to the building. This time, we saw sea lions.
Look daddy!
These guys were new. The birds were part of an exhibit on wetlands and the need to protect our environment.
The kids read the signs, and watched documentary movies… on their own, no parental urging needed.
Then there were the seahorses… sigh… I could have spent the whole day in this section! I didn’t get many good photos, unfortunately.
Sea dragon! I don’t think I’ve ever seen these outside of books before! They certainly live up to their mystical title.
My two favorite fish.
This is definitely a learning museum, and in addition to informative signs, movies, and interactive displays, there are many hands-on stations throughout the aquarium, with informed staff members to explain and educate. The kids learned more about tidal pool creatures, as well as otter fur and whale bones! We were also informed that this was a boom year for whale watching as there was an unusual krill uprising off the coast… we didn’t go out to see though. Maybe in the future.
After we enjoyed watching the sea life, we were hungry and decided to go eat some.
Sounds terrible doesn’t it?! But we couldn’t help ourselves. The area is overflowing with great restaurants and we had to partake. I’m not much of a fan of seafood… ‘can barely stand it’ is more accurate… but I ordered a blackened fish that was absolutely heavenly!
Someone else discovered they really like clam chowder.
The kids met some interesting individuals at the restaurant.
Leaving the restaurant, we had to go down to the beach. It was sunny, warm, lots of kids were playing… irresistible!
And my advice to “stay out of the water, keep your shoes and pants dry”? You can imagine how long that lasted.
“Bye mom” or more realistically, “See ya soon mom because I’m going to clamber over rocks, out to the sea side, leading my little sister off on rock-jumping adventures that she’s not quite ready for so you’ll have to climb out too.”
Yep... there she goes…
Totally worth it though as there were sea lions and otters playing in the water, not even 50 feet from where the kids were.
The one on the rock here, center of the photo, hopped into the water and swam closer to the near rocks (our side). There was a rock, mostly submerged, that he perched on for a bit. I think he was showing off for the kids.
I couldn’t get a good shot of him, but he’s the lump in the water, between Brian and the girl in the peace shirt.
We had a wonderful day visiting with the sea critters!
Note: Monterey Bay Aquarium is not a cheap adventure - $30 for adults, $18 for kids, but like the Mystery House, they have some bills to pay and conservation to attend to. I believe that what we got for the price of admission was worth the price… and I do not mind supporting their (conservation) causes either.