Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Beginning

The end of a year is always a time for reflection, but the end of this year seems extra weighty to me, because of all the change that has occurred. My little family has been living in a hotel or staying at the homes of family since December 10, and it ends tomorrow. We will begin the new year in a new place that will be our home for the next two years.

We drove here. We've been driving for days, passing through thirteen states: Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico (and then Texas again, but we don't get to count it twice).

There was a lot of beauty. A lot of busy cities, full of hustle and bustle, brimming with life and energy from the people filling them. A lot of empty, spacious land, full possibilities and untamed nature, brimming with life and energy from the plants filling it. (And a lot of dry riverbeds. Coming from a part of the United States with humidity and always plenty of rain, the dry riverbeds were an unusual sight.)

I have now seen a lot of cows. I have seen cows my whole life, but never before that many at a time. I had no idea how large cattle ranches could be.

I was also very impressed by the size of tumbleweed, and that it is a real thing that still happens, not just what rolls through town in Western movies and cartoons. Totally still exists.

I had never witnessed in such magnitude how beautiful sun rays piercing through a cloudy sky could be. Patches of sunlight—like patches of hope penetrating the gray depression.

Trains are still alive and well. Definitely still running and going places. The kids had lots of trains to point out.

There is a comforting, reliable feeling in finding chain restaurants that serve menus on which you already know which dishes you like. But there is a kind of exciting feeling, almost like you're eavesdropping the whole time, about eating in a town with a population smaller than your high school, at a diner with a dining room smaller than my townhouse's living room, where none of the chairs at your table match, but full of good cheer and regulars and delicious food.

I am particularly grateful to all the people who still have their Christmas lights out and turned on. That added a bit of cheer for my children to see out their windows.

That many hours in a car made me a bit reflective. I wondered about lots of random, ridiculous things. (Are hamburgers only made from female cows? Do we eat steers and bulls when their usefulness is done??) I also created my first bucket list. It's in the car, but maybe I'll share it on here sometime.

At one point, I turned to Jeffrey and said, "Doesn't this feel like a real beginning? Like the start of the rest of our lives? Like everything else was just leading up to this, and we didn't even know it, because we didn't know we would end up here? I know we could have said that going to college or getting married or having children were new beginnings (and they were), but I always knew I would go to college and I always hoped I would get married and have children. This is really, really the unknown and it is going to last the next two decades. We could be completely different people if we want."

I have never had to apologize to anyone in Juarez. They don't know my flaws. How I sometimes speak before I think. How sometimes my words are intentionally too biting, too wounding. How I can lose my patience. I have a clean slate to try and be a better Mimi.

I am looking forward to that opportunity.

But I miss my old friends from the different places I've lived and loved: Brazil, Indiana, Utah, Ohio, and Virginia. Those friends already know my flaws and have forgiven me for them and have loved me in spite of them. They're used to my awkward, but sincere, apologies and spend time with me anyway. They know my many "conversation disclaimers" are coming. They already know how I am a very loyal, loving, and nonjudgemental friend. They already know me.

So, maybe I won't change too much.

Just a bit.

Just to get better.

This song is stuck in my head right now. Do you remember it? "Make new friends, but keep the old. Some are silver, and the others gold. The circle is round and never ends; that's how long I want to be your friend."

That is how I am feeling tonight.

I am also thinking of my sister's post from back in May before we knew where our first posting would take us. You can read it here, if you'd like.

Sigh. So many "feels." Wish me luck tomorrow!

And, let me just say in a lighter note, that not all hotels are created equally—even in the same chain.

And, somewhat selfishly, one other reason why I am really glad to be here is because I am incredibly drained from saying goodbye to beloved friends and family. And I know people who I befriend will leave me while I stay in Juarez, but I hope I have at least a little break from saying goodbye. It is very, very hard.


We spent the week of Christmas at my beautiful sister's house.
We just barely missed seeing Hazel's first steps!

Most amazing Christmas present!
My sister made a quilt out of my childhood. It contains shirts from my sports, Church events, and activities, and from the places I've lived: New York, Michigan, Brazil, and Indiana. It is so snuggly and perfect. I've loved  wrapping myself up in it during this road trip.

All the cousins, except for Heather and Hazel.
(I'll be posting more pictures on Facebook.)

Waffles like this are one of the reasons why I have begun to love Texas.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Gah.

This week, I have been experiencing what some call "all the feels." Emotions everywhere. Why? Well, because this finally happened.


I have been attempting to "leave well" and follow some of the tips I read in this great article back in June when leaving still seemed so far away. (Here is a link to the article, if you're curious; it's fantastic.)

Does moving ever get easier? I've tried to let people know how much they have meant to me. I have thrown three good-bye parties (and a baby shower!) in the past four weeks. I have written cards and notes expressing my appreciation. I made time in my super busy moving schedule to eat dinner and meet for lunch with friends. And I've given a lot of hugs.

I still feel sad for me and guilty for others. I remember when we were living in Cincinnati, and it was prior to that fateful day in October 2012 when Jeff received that email from LinkedIn announcing openings in the Foreign Service. It was back when I still thought I would live, raise my children, and die in Cincinnati. I remember when my best friend moved, and I was the one who remained. I actually dealt with a type of separation or loss depression. Nothing medication worthy, but it affected my emotions. Every time I drove past where I would have turned to go to her house, or every time I wanted to stop by to have our kids play together while we chatted about everything, or every time I turned around at play group and she wasn't there, or every time I looked over my shoulder at Zumba and she wasn't there, or every time I read an interesting article about some foreign country and she wasn't there to share it with. She wasn't there. And I still was. That is a specific kind of pain that is not really alleviated by keeping in touch and writing letters.

And now I'm creating that same kind of pain for friends here. I'm leaving a Mimi-sized hole in their lives, just like she left an Amy-sized hole in mine.

It is hard to be the person left behind; however, I don't regret any of the friendships I have made here. Those relationships have enriched my life, made me a better person, and helped me grow.

I have moved a lot in my life, but this move is different in a few ways. First, obviously, because I'm moving to a different country. But second, also, because Jill is old enough to actually realize what is happening. Daniel kind of does, and I think he will miss some of his buddies, but he's three (almost four!). He'll get over it pretty quickly when he makes new buddies.

And Jill will make new buddies too, but she really knows what leaving means now. And it is sad to think about how she barely remembers her good friends from Cincinnati, and soon the friends that are so important to her here will be barely remembered.

Jill hasn't complained or expressed verbally that she is upset, but she's had a pretty short fuse recently and is very tired and emotional at the end of school these days. Poor girl. She has needed extra grace.

Alice has been a champ—napping at the hotel for me, napping at friends' house, just going along with the flow and playing. I'm super grateful for that. Now if only she would stop making so many messes. Then she would be the easiest toddler ever. That's too much to ask for though, I'm sure.

I'll probably think of more reasons I love Virginia after I am gone, but I wanted to list some now on my last day here.

I have loved being so close to Washington DC and all of the national monuments. Likewise, I have loved learning some of the American history that occurred in this area.

I have loved my townhouse. My dear tall, skinny house. You were perfect for us these past two years.

I have loved my neighborhood: the pools, the sidewalks, the parks. It has been great to be able to walk to the shopping plaza that had so many convenient stores: a grocery store, a Goodwill, a pharmacy, countless restaurants, a McDonald's, a Tuesday Morning, a Gold's Gym, a UPS store, a tailor, a dry cleaner, a car wash, a gas station, and so much more. And my bank right across the street! It was just a fabulous location.

I have loved Jill's school. I was incredibly nervous to have Jill leave me and spend all day with strange adults who I didn't know, but it has been a fantastic experience. Jill's teacher was amazing, and the school was just fantastic. I loved that they did a kindergarten summer program, so Jill had two weeks of half days to acclimate to school life, so when she started in the fall, she wasn't as lost in the sea of over 1,000 students they have there. I love that instead of just learning about Christmas, this unit she has been studying Christmas, Kwanzaa, Eid al-Fitr, Diwali, and Hanukkah. I loved that her closest friends at school are of Philippine, Indian, and Afghan backgrounds.

I have loved the spring time with the numerous, and varied, flowering trees.

I have loved our ward (Mormon congregation) here who welcomed us with open arms and treated us like family. They have been so helpful with this move and so kind during all of our time here.

I have loved and been very grateful for friends who accepted me and loved me.

Fairfax County, Virginia—you've been wonderful.

Thank you.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Violent tendencies

Here's what my kids have been saying recently.

Jill: "Which way did it tell you to drive?"
Me: "It told me turn right. . . . Do you know which way is right?"
Jill points to the right.
Me: "Wow! I'm impressed. I didn't know you had learned that."
Jill: "Well, I am right handed, so right is the hand that I write with."
Danny: "I am . . . I am TWO handed."

I finished making lunch, and Daniel came down the stairs to eat with me. As he descended, he apparently pondered life and his relationships.
Daniel: "Mom . . . if I died . . . Michael would be sad."
Me, flabbergasted: "Yes, he would." (I should have said something else like "and so would I," or "so would a lot of people," or "are you making any plans?," but I was really too surprised to continue. And it was kind of funny, too, that he picked out his friend Michael like that.)

Jill, yelling down the stairs "Mom! Danny hit me!"
Me: "Well, did you tell him you didn't like it?"
And at the same time as I said that, Jeff: "Did you hit him back?"
Jill: "Daddy! I can't hit Danny! I want Santa to give me presents for Christmas."
Me: "Jeff! Don't tell her to hit him back!"
Jeff: "Maybe it will teach him that it isn't very much fun to be hit."
Me: "We turn the other cheek in this household!"
Some time passes.
Jill: "Wait, is Danny going to get presents from Santa? Because he's been naughty."


What I have taught Jill about what to do if another kid physically hurts her:
After being hit once: Tell the child she doesn't like it and ask the child to stop.
After being hit again: Walk away and tell an adult.
If the child follows you: Run away and tell an adult.
If the child follows you and hits you again: Hit the child hard, run away, and tell an adult.

Daniel hasn't really been physically hurt by another child ever since Jill outgrew her biting stage. (I'm so glad she outgrew that!!) With him, I'm working on him not being the one hurting other kids, and all we've covered so far is to use our words. Talk—instead of push. Talk—instead of kick. Talk—instead of hit. And always—Be Patient! We are having limited success, but I'm hopeful for the future. He's a good kid at the core.

It reminds me of what a violent child I was. I used to hit, punch, and kick other children. I used to also bang my head on the wall or floor. I have no idea why I had so much violence pent up in me. (I'm so sweet now!) I don't remember ever wanting to actually hurt anyone, and I was not personally ever hurt by others, so I don't know where it came from. I just seemed to be disconnected from the reality that others didn't like it or that it hurt them.

That's why I ask my children to always talk about it first, because I wonder if there are other kids out there like me who don't realize it isn't socially acceptable. Although I'm sure my mom told me not to do it, but we all know kids are good at ignoring their moms. (Sigh.)

What finally got through to me was one of my best friends coming up to me in fourth grade and saying, "You know, Mimi, we don't really like it when you kick us."

I was dumbfounded.

Life-changing moment right there.

Sometimes I wonder where I would have ended up if my friends hadn't put up with me and if that lone kind friend hadn't said anything.


Anyway. Random trip down to childhood is over!


Life is moving on for us here! With less than two weeks to go, I really feel like the clock is ticking and yet there is so little we can do for ourselves. We've shredded a lot of papers. We have sold our chairs, our couches, our kitchen table and chairs, our television, and our bedroom set. So the house is getting a little bare. I am looking forward to moving into the hotel this week, and I am grateful that we were able to sell those items instead of giving them away. Alice was pretty confused and upset by watching someone walk away with our television. The kids seem to find it funny to have such an empty house, and they have been enjoying riding their bikes through the kitchen, dining room, and living room.

Oh, and since the last time I posted, I learned that we will welcome a boy into our home this spring—Gordon Philip Collett! Yay!

We celebrated Thanksgiving in Cincinnati with Jeff's family. All of his brothers were able to be there, so it was pretty special to spend time with them that weekend. My children were delighted to have so many adults around to give them attention. Although Jill did ask where her cousins were a few times. (I don't think she realizes that once she does have Collett cousins, they will be considerably younger than her. She'll become the babysitter instead of gaining playmates.)



And, because it's December, here's a little taste of Christmas. :)
If you compare, you can see that both Jill and Alice freaked out their second year, 
but Daniel has been a champ through them all.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Wrapping up

Today after church, Jeff and I were in the kitchen, and he mentioned, "wow—only two Sundays left in this ward." (A ward is a Mormon term for a large congregation.)

I thought to myself that that couldn't be right. Surely not? But, as usual, he was right. We will be in our ward, the Chantilly Ward, next Sunday. Then the following Sunday, we will be in Cincinnati for Thanksgiving and attend our old ward, the Eastgate Ward. The Sunday after that is stake conference, so we'll be at the Oakton Stake Center. (A stake is the name for a group of congregations.) And the next Sunday will be our last in Virginia. So, we have November 23 and December 14.

That makes the move feel so soon!

I feel like my life right now is Thanksgiving—hotel—pack out—drive away—gone.

As I process my sadness about leaving my Virginia friends, I'll share the recent good news. We received our Mexican visas. Interestingly, Jeff's, mine, and Jill's are good for two years. Daniel's and Alice's are good for only one year. There must be an age restraint coming into play. Unfortunately, even the two year ones aren't quite long enough. They expire about two months before our time in Mexico will be up, so everyone will get to go through the visa renewal process.

My kids are also very happy to not be getting any more vaccines just yet. The ones they had for Brazil are what they needed for Mexico, with one exception. The rabies vaccine is recommended, because children are more likely to play with random animals. (Especially mine, it seems to me.) But we won't get that vaccine until we arrive at post, so they still have a bit of a break. Jill seems to still be scarred from the tuberculosis test, where a nurse sticks you with a needle and creates an air bubble under your skin before removing the needle. She always asks if she has to get the bubble again. I think that one is good for three or five years, so hopefully not for a while.

I feel kind of fancy pants to have a bag right now that contains our tourist civilian passports, our diplomatic passports, our Department of State health cards, and our Global Entry cards. We're ready to be world travelers! . . . or in our case, drive across the border. I have finally stopped referring to this post as "overseas." :)

I took my last training course at the Foreign Service Institute last Saturday. It was so interesting to sit in a room with people from all over the world who are going all over the world: Israel, South Korea, Russia, Cameroon, Tanzania, Italy, and many more.

The class was called Protocol and U.S. Representation Abroad. Not all of it is super relevant to me as the wife of a junior officer—I don't think I'll be dining with ambassadors anytime soon or ever—but it was all very interesting. I know now where to place my silver wear to signify that I am only pausing my eating and where to place them to signify that I am done eating, and where to place them depending on whether I ate American style or Continental style. Very useful. ;)

Also last week, we received our housing assignment. It was fun to get a sneak peek of where we will be living. We were lucky enough to get pictures and a floor plan emailed to us. We're pretty excited! I am super thrilled about having a garage. As an adult, I have never lived in a house with a garage. No more sitting in my car for two hours while a baby naps! The kids are thrilled that the garage is bright red. Very bright red. And they are happy about there being a little playground/shared green space right in front of our home.

On Tuesday, we'll have the anatomy ultrasound. Hopefully all will be as it should be! And if we're lucky, perhaps we'll get a clue as to whether we'll be welcoming a Gordon Philip or a Rose Lynnlee into our home this spring. (Those names are not set in stone. For some reason, with our fourth, we're having a bit more trouble than in the past.)


We had some family photos taken by my friend, Danielle Valli.
She is a very talented artist!
I like the different emotions captured in these shots.

You can tell how Jeff felt about the photo shoot. :)

the whole family

Halloween happened! We celebrated in Michigan at my parents' house.

Spider-man just had to be in the princess picture!

This is pretty much how Alice spent Halloween. 
Snuggled up on GranB and trick-or-treating with Pappy.

 This is my nephew Arthur. I captured this shot of him in his adorable costume.
What villain could fight a Thor this cute??

Friday, October 24, 2014

Vicarious Pain

I like to read the news. I'm always a little bit behind, because I get it from a weekly magazine, but I really like my magazine (The Week). At first it confused me, because it seemed to completely contradict itself in some articles, but then I realized the magazine itself is a sampling of all the other news outlets, so the contradiction comes from the fact that there are often multiple viewpoints on the same issues. So now I actually appreciate the opposing views, because it is more balanced.

It also has excerpts from news articles published all over the world, and it is enlightening to get outside of America once a week as I read what issues other countries are dealing with.

But sometimes instead of enlightening, it is more like suffocating. Or paralyzing. Overwhelming.

There is just so much pain out there. So many people who have forgotten that a person is a person regardless of religion or nationality or race or language accent or disability or gender.

And sometimes the stories really incapacitate me for a while. My American problems seem so trivial. And they are. That isn't to say my stress and pain isn't real, but it is so nothing comparatively.

And sometimes it makes me feel like my everything is nothing. Makes me wonder what the point is to me being happy when there are so many people who are sad. And I just feel awful and imagine over and over again the atrocious events of the world over happening to my country, my family, myself.

Eventually I get to a point where I can't even try to imagine their pain anymore, and I try to shake myself out of it, because it doesn't help them for me to feel awful. It doesn't help them if I ignore my kids or stop smiling or lie in bed.

Sitting around feeling guilty and miserable only makes my family's life worse, but it certainly doesn't make their lives better. So, I snap out of it, and get moving. I start small, making my home a happy place for my kids. Then I get bigger, saying "good day" to everyone I see and smiling at them. Then I go even bigger, picking up trash in my neighborhood, driving courteously, talking to the person next to me on the bus or in line, researching the charities that send me letters asking for donations, signing up for service opportunities when I hear about them.

And the cycle continues.

Go through day to day. Learn of atrocities. Feel unable to function in a world where things like that are possible. Keep pushing forward. Try to find ways to help others. Go through day to day. Read about horrors. Feel devastated at the inhumanity. Search for service. Go through day to day.

Always repeating.

And sometimes I wonder if I am weird. If I feel too much. If it is not normal to cry over strangers' pain.

A few weekends ago was the General Women's Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I had the opportunity to watch it at my stake center (a church building larger than the regular meetinghouses, but not a temple) with my fellow sisters (women ages eight and up).

There were many inspiring messages, but for me it was overshadowed by unspeakable pain. And I wonder if I'm alone in that, or how many others felt that way.

At one point, a beautiful video montage was shared of sisters around the world sharing their testimonies about what the temple means to them. And one sister shared her personal story of losing all six of her children at the same time. She was in her house doing laundry, and her children were right outside the door playing in the front yard when an earthquake hit. Her next door neighbor's house was on higher ground than hers, and it completely collapsed onto her yard, killing all of her children. She went on to say how much she appreciates the peace she feels in the temple and how much it means to her to know that she will be with her family forever in heaven. Obviously, her sorrow is not fresh. I am sure she went through her own cycle of grief before coming to the place where she is now, but for me, the story was fresh. It was brand new. I had not heard it before nor had time to process it and come to terms with it, and it completely overwhelmed me.

The video went on, the talks went on, with women saying inspiring words, but my brain was gone. I was in that earthquake. I wondered if her children had time to cry out. If the mother ever had any hope that any of them lived. If she screamed. If she prayed to find children instead of corpses. I wondered how long it took her to dig them out. If she had anyone to help her, or if she was all alone uncovering them one by one. If she screamed while she clawed through the debris. If her hands bled as she tried to uncover just one living child. If she had strength to continue without stopping until they were all freed or if she collapsed from the grief and labor while some of her children were still buried in rubble.

I sat in my pew sobbing. Ugly crying. Face distorted. Pain searing through my body, unable to be contained, as I imagined different scenarios of what it could have been like, and still knowing that what I felt was like a candle next to the sun if compared to what that mother must have felt in that moment and in the weeks following.

It is moments like this that make it very obvious to me that I could never be a counselor. I could never hear stories of sorrow and abuse and actually be able to come up with anything constructive or helpful to guide people along journeys of healing. I would really only be able to cry with them, and sure that is what people need sometimes, but they also need more than that to move on.


Today, there was a school shooting in a small town in Washington state, north of Seattle. Another school shooting. Another one. I live in a country where I can't even walk into my child's school without buzzing, explaining myself, having the door unlocked, showing identification, and then signing into the office. And even then, my child is escorted to me (unless I'm there to volunteer, and then there are other steps involved but I am allowed into the school past the office). (I am grateful for these procedures but sad that they are necessary.) Schools should be safe. Neighborhoods should be safe. Homes should be safe. I'm so naïve, aren't I? I dare to think that the world should be safe.


I am moving to Mexico soon. To a town with a bloody past that is working very hard to get past it and revitalize itself. I have friends from Mexico. I have heard their stories of why they left Mexico. I have listened as they described violence and fear, walking for days, carrying children, and arriving in a new country with nothing but hope to sustain them. I wonder what new stories I will learn while I am in Mexico. Even my friends who have left Mexico still love it, and I hope to experience that too: the energetic music, the family gatherings, the spicy food, the joy of life. Perhaps the joy is even richer now after enduring through so many trials. Not that the trials are over. There are still cases unsolved and homicides occurring, but life amazingly marches on.


Soon it will be the three year anniversary of the death of my niece Tabitha. I really am not sure how that happened. I remember her so vividly. She was only four months younger than Daniel. And it still feels like she should be here, breathing, learning to write her name, handing books to my brother to read to her, helping her mommy stir the batter, twirling with Emily, playing with Thomas, and kissing Arthur. But life amazingly marches on.


And so do I.


We visited Tabitha's "house" while in Michigan earlier this month. 
The children put these cheerful flowers on her grave.

 Alice gifted my parents with some serious snuggle time this visit.

My brother Daniel with his youngest, Arthur

Pappy and GranB grew some seriously large carrots and potatoes this year.

Arthur with his favorite aunt.
Just kidding. I have a lot of competition in that department.


A sneak peek at Collett Baby #4.
See you in the spring, sweet baby!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What the Kids Are Saying and Unknown Territory

I walked into the room to find every single bin dumped out in a big pile.
Me: Daniel, what were you thinking?
Daniel: Mom, I just wanted to make a big mess.
Me: silence
Daniel: Sometimes . . . I don't make good choices.
Me: laughter


I'm in the family room, and I can hear Jill and Daniel doing something in the guest room.
Me: Hey kids! What are you up to?
Daniel: Oh, we're just building—
Jill, interrupting: Nothing!
Daniel: "But we're—
Jill, interrupting: Danny, you're supposed to say "nothing."
Me: So what are you doing?
Daniel, really fast: We're building a fort!
Jill: Nothing! We're doing nothing, Mom.
Fort building is somewhat banned because of all the fights it causes. They can never agree on how the fort should be built, even when I help, and inevitably one of them will knock it down to the great distress of the other. I've decided they aren't mature enough yet for fort building, thus Jill's determination to keep it secret from me. Ha.


I had been upstairs, putting Alice down for a nap, and the kids were playing together, and I came down, entered the room they were in, and their backs were to me.
Me: Hey, kids, please remember to not yell or be too loud while Alice is sleeping.
Jill, while jumping in surprise: Mom! You scared me!
Daniel: Yeah, you scared me!
Me: Oh, sorry. I didn't mean to sneak up on you.
Jill: Well, you really gave me the freaks!


Jill was coloring a picture of Mike Wazowski.
Jill: Mommy, do you like my picture?
Me: Yes, I think you did a great job. Although you did color his eyeball green.
Jill: Yeah, well, I wanted his eye to be green. That's just how I groove.
Me, laughing: Well then I think his green eyeball is great.


Daniel walked up to Alice and shoved her out of his way.
Me: Daniel! We don't push! Do you like it when you get pushed?
Daniel: Well, I like to push people.
Me: You do? pause But do you like it when someone pushes you?
Daniel: Sometimes I push myself.
Me: Okay, I'm not sure how, but would you like it if someone else pushed you?
Daniel: silence
Me: Danny, please just go kiss Alice and tell her sorry. It isn't nice to push. Please don't push people.
Daniel told her sorry and kissed her and hugged her tighter than she appreciated.


Jeff is getting the kids breakfast.
Jeff: Danny, would you like some cereal?
Daniel, very fiercely: BRING IT!!


We were eating dinner, and there was a moment of silence. Then Jill broke the silence with this.
Jill: Mom, my hopes and dreams for kindergarten is to learn tae kwon do.
Me: Oh. Okay. That sounds great, Jill. Maybe we could find a class in Mexico.
She attended a birthday party last week that was held at a tae kwon do studio. The masters were there running drills and playing games with the kids. Then the birthday girl and the masters did a demonstration at the end. Jill was very impressed, but I still felt like that comment came out of the blue. We do hope to enroll her once we move if she is still interested.


Her statement during dinner made more sense after I saw this on display at Back-to-School night.


And finally, here is a video for your viewing pleasure. (If you can't see the video below, the click this link to watch it on youtube.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Scared

I have been blessed with a safe life. I can think of only a handful of experiences where I have truly been afraid.

A few days ago, I had another experience to add to my fear list. I shut and locked my front door, put Alice and Daniel in the stroller, walked to the school, and picked up Jill. We walked back to the house, and I asked Jill if she needed to go to the bathroom. She said she didn't, so she got in the car. I buckled Alice in her seat, and then Jill said, "Actually, Mom, I do need to go potty." I unlocked the front door, and she ran inside. I woke up Daniel and buckled him into the car. As I was folding up the stroller and putting it in the back of the car, my neighbor came by, and we talked about Jill's first week of school. Jill ran out of the house and got in the car. I said good bye to my neighbor, and off we drove to the library. (Do you see what detail is missing?)

I returned the library books, and we drove back home. Jill and Daniel got out of the car quickly, and as I turned after getting Alice out, I expected to see my older two waiting on the doorstep to be let in. However the door was wide open, and they were inside.

TERRIFYING.

My kids do not have a key, so the only logical conclusion is that Jill left the door wide open after coming out, and I never locked it.

I got my kids out of the house and tried to figure out what to do. I didn't want to be paranoid, but I also didn't want to be dumb. My house was unlocked with the door wide open for at least twenty minutes—anyone could be inside.

So I left my kids at my neighbor's house, put my sister on speaker phone (so she could call the police if she heard screaming), and then went into my house. I looked through all the rooms and closets quickly and quietly, and nothing had been stolen and there was no one lying at wait to hurt me.

So total false alarm, but during those two and a half minutes of uncertainty, it was completely terrifying. It was quite a feeling. When my husband came home from work a few hours later, and I didn't hear him opening the door, I jumped out of my skin when he said hello. I was still on an edge.

I live in a fairly safe area. It was during the middle of the day, in broad daylight. I live in a townhouse amidst many other townhouses. My neighbors totally would have noticed someone robbing me. And it is unlikely that a predator would have just happened to walk down my street and noticed my open door. So while it was smart to be cautious, I really didn't need to feel as fearful as I did.

However, I am moving to a relatively unsafe place. Granted, my neighborhood will be well guarded and safe, but in general the city is not one of the safest in the world. It is actually considered a "high threat post." Obviously, it's not Kabul or Baghdad, but it's also not Copenhagen or Seoul, or hometown, America.

Since it is a high threat post, I was required to attend a week-long training at a Diplomatic Security facility. My mother-in-law flew in and took care of the kids during the day. (It was really hard to be away from them, but that is a topic for a different post.) It was the same course that Jeff took back in the spring when he was preparing for his Chad assignment that didn't happen.

The course was intense. An instructor mentioned during the week that emergencies tend to make people "more themselves." As in, leaders emerging, nice people are even more nice, jerks are even bigger jerks, etc. Essentially that you find out who you are in an emergency. Well, at one point during the week, we were in a scenario of a refugee camp. It was set up really well, with actors and props. And if intense situations show you who you are, then who I am is a crybaby. I just wanted to sit down and cry. That was my gut instinct. The pretend sorrow was almost unbearable to see, and I am actually tearing up writing this right now, because sure those were actors in the United States, but refugee camps are real. People separated from their families are real. Hunger is real. Corruption is real. Violence is real. Everything portrayed in that camp happens. Parents watch their babies die from preventable causes. Every. Day.

I also learned that I can be strong, because I didn't just sit down and cry like I wanted. I went inside the camp and tried to accomplish my fake objectives in the scenario, and I stuffed bandages into gross fake wounds like a pro.

During another scenario, I found myself alone in a fake guard tower in a fake embassy that was being stormed by pretend angry protestors. Bullets were being fired (obviously not real ones, but they sounded the same) and bombs were going off (these were real, but obviously not super powerful, and they were being deployed in safe locations, but I could still hear the noise and feel the pressure waves). So, again, while it was all fake, it was super intense for me.

At one point, a soldier came in to check and see if I was okay. I was crouched against the wall, peeking through a crack in the door, and crying. This obviously concerned him, but I assured him I wasn't physically hurt, I was just emotionally overwhelmed with the knowledge that this fake acting was the reality for some people. Bombs. Guns. Angry mobs. Hatred. Those are the last living memories of some people. Those are the every day experiences of some people. Here I am pretending, so I can be prepared for the worst case scenario, but in places all over the world, people aren't pretending. And people are dying. And people are hating. It was too much to bear without the physical release of tears.

The soldier didn't know what to make of that, so he said "oh okay" and left the tower. Poor guy.

I can't imagine what fortitude it takes to be a person who rushes in when everyone else is trying to get out. But I am in awe of them and grateful for them. I try to say thank you whenever I see a service person or a veteran, because I really am thankful.

One last experience from the training. We covered a lot of emergency medical training. I won't go into detail on the actual training, because my friend Jamie Zvirzdin took a similar medical class and covered it quite well on her blog, so you can click this link and read her description if you're curious. (The only thing I would add to her description is that since it is a high threat post, I have been issued a sort of fanny pack full of medical equipment, so for the airway part, I would use the nose tube. Everyone at my post should have their own, so in an emergency at the consulate, there will be a lot of supplies to use if people are carrying theirs like they're supposed to. I can't remember the name of the fanny pack, but it is the same one that is used in the military.) The emergency medical training took a day and a half, and then we had opportunities to practice it during the rest of the time there. The instructor would yell something like "bomb—your right arm blew off," and then we would all rush to apply the tourniquets as quickly and expertly as possible.

The medical training was possibly my favorite part, because I was actually good at it. Obviously nothing is equivalent to a real situation, but the mannequins were very high quality (with pumping lungs and fake blood and gruesome injuries and everything), and I definitely feel more prepared than I would without the training. As long as I don't go into shock or something, I should be very capable in an emergency.

During the training, there were videos and photos. And, at the risk of overusing the word, the visuals were intense. They were real. They were not fake like the scenarios. That impalement. That amputation. That wound. That evisceration. Those all really happened.

Seeing visuals like that really separates a room. Some of my classmates couldn't look at them. I could look at them, but they made me tear up (again the crybaby), because it is just so sad to think of the pain. Some of my classmates laughed and made jokes. These aren't evil people; I think that was just how they reacted to the stress. And honestly, if you have seen a lot of movies where injuries and death are fake, perhaps you are desensitized to seeing it for real. I just thought the different reactions were interesting. The visuals were horrifying.

Oh, I lied; I am going to share another experience from the training. A few times, we were in fake shooting situations, where we were surprised with fake guns and very real bullet noises, and we were supposed to practice running away and hiding behind objects and diving to the ground and getting back up, etc. Well, in those situations, I was always, always the very first person across to the "safe" place. I don't know if that means I am really good at finding shelter and running fast and diving on the ground, or if that means I would get shot, because I didn't pause long enough in the different stages, but it definitely means that I do not like the sound of gunfire.

Along with that, I have now used weapons. I was surprised by two things: 1. their weight/kick back and 2. my accuracy. Perhaps it was beginner's luck, but I hit the target every time. I don't think I have ever touched a gun before that week.

All in all, the classes taught me that my best offense will be a good defense. To be situationally aware. To not go where the Regional Security Officer has told me not to go. To not put myself in dangerous situations. To pay attention to the behavior of those around me. They taught that to everyone, but after seeing the scenarios and taking the self defense portion and all of the other trainings, it unintentionally drove home to me what a great victim I am. I am short, weak, and female. I always have small children with me. I cannot carry all three of my kids, and they are very bad at being quiet, and they are not fast. Perhaps this is unwise to admit on the internet, but it surely is no news to anyone that has seen a picture of me and my family.

So I will need to stop being oblivious to the world. Because, to be honest, I usually am. I am usually completely focused on my kids and not noticing very much else. I always joke that I would be a terrible eye witness. That needs to change.

My task is to figure out how to be cautious without being paranoid. Wish me luck.

(And if this post has freaked you out, please calm down. It really isn't as dangerous where we are going as what this class described. I was in a class with people going to the Congo and Afghanistan and Iraq and other volatile places. It was a one-size fits all class, not specifically geared to my post.)

The topic of fear leads me to bravery, which leads me to the fact that my oldest child began kindergarten this week. She is so brave. And she loves it. And I love hearing her gush about it after school. It has also been fun to see Daniel and Alice grow closer in Jill's absence. (Now, I just need to convince Daniel that Alice is not as strong as Jill and he needs to be more gentle with her . . .)


Oh, one last thing! The driving portion of the training was really fun, when I could forget why we were driving those ways. I think that a course like that would be useful for all possessors of a driver's license. Sure, someone may not detonate a bomb near you or pull a gun out on you, but a kid might jump in front of you, or someone might threaten you, and the different practices of braking and serving and driving backwards could be useful. The skid practice was really fun. I got a hang of it eventually, but I feel like I set a record for 360s (which is what we were trying to avoid). I ended up in the grass a few times. Ha.

P.S. My life is so weird. As I am about to post this, I am dithering over publishing it or just leaving it a draft. I've gotten the emotions out just from writing it. And I keep wondering, did I give too much information? Will this help crazy people hurt my country? But I really tried to keep it pretty generic, so I don't think I'll damage my training program with what I shared.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Emotions

Oh, I'm all over the place these days.

Sad: I remember talking to a friend (who was at that time a new friend) shortly after moving to Virginia. She asked me how I was liking it here, and I told her I liked it a lot. She was relieved, because after having read what I wrote on here about everything I loved about Cincinnati, she was worried that I wouldn't like it in Virginia. Well, she had nothing to worry about. Virginia, especially this little part of it that we currently call home, has been an amazing place to live. I love all the flowering trees throughout the spring, summer, and fall. I love the public transportation that can get me all over the greater DC area without me having to drive or parallel park. I love our townhouse, our neighbors, and our neighborhood. I love walking to the pool, the school, the playgrounds, the shops, the grocery store, and the gym. I love the ward family who has been so welcoming and kind to me. I love all of the community events. I love catching up with old friends from all over the country who have also ended up in and around DC. This has been a lovely place to live, and I will miss a lot of people when we leave.

Scared: I'll admit it. I'm a little scared. Some of it is generic fear; I attend these classes and read the informational emails about culture shock, depression, and the necessity of resilience, and I think it would be naive to not recognize the challenges that lie ahead in this transient lifestyle we have chosen of culture hopping all over the world, so I am scared that my children will blame me for never providing them with a hometown. (But I will always give them a home! It will just be our family instead of a place.) And then there is a little bit of fear about our actual post and its violent past. But, it would be dangerous, I think, to ignore the fact that Juarez is still in the process of emerging from its blood-stained history. But the fear will be useful rather than immobilizing. It will help me remember to set the alarm and learn where I should and shouldn't go in the city.

Excited: Guys, I love new places. I love the challenge of learning new words, and I'm prepared for sounding like a child as I try to grasp all the verb tenses. I love eating Mexican food, and I am excited to learn how to make more Mexican dishes. I can't wait to hear my children start speaking to me in Spanish and English. I won't miss cold weather (I don't think I will at least). I am excited to meet my new church family, my consulate family, and my neighbors. After having many friends who are Mexican, I am really looking forward to actually living in Mexico and learning more about their home.

So, that's me these days. Trying to balance all of those emotions and keep the house clean.

While I'm discussing me, I had lots of extra emotions two weekends ago. I left my children! For the first time since Jill was born, I left my kids! It was just for the weekend, so we didn't have to get a babysitter, and other than missing me a little bit, they had a super fun weekend with Jeff, but it was really weird. I was quite nervous beforehand, and Jeff said, "Just go! Have fun! Go be Mimi Boling again!" And I kind of felt panicked like, "I don't even know who Mimi Boling is anymore!" So much of me is being a mom and a wife that it was (at a risk of overusing the word) really weird to just be me. At the airport, I turned every time I heard a child making noise, but it was never my kid, never my responsibility. I got to read books on the airplane! Very different from my last trip when I was dealing with a child who needed to go to the bathroom when the plane was already descending. (I deserve some sort of supermom award for how that went down!)

I remember sitting on the airplane this trip, talking to a young businesswoman, telling her a story about my kids, while I was yelling at myself inside, "She probably doesn't care about your kids! She doesn't know them! She doesn't know you! When did you become such a stereotype??? Stop talking about poop!"

When did I become such a stereotype?

One of my high school best friends picked me up from the airport, and I got to stay at her lovely home that Friday night. We spent Saturday visiting other good friends from high school, and then we went to my graduating class's tenth reunion. There was a pretty good turnout, and it was really fun to see so many of my classmates again. At one point during the evening, I realized that multiple people had said basically the same thing to me. They said how great it was that I am a mom, because they remembered that it was what I always wanted to be.

Now, I remembered that—that my answer to "what do you want to be when you grow up" was almost always "a mom"—but I was really surprised that so many of my classmates, whom I hadn't spoken to in ten years, remembered that, too. Apparently I was more vocal about it than I recalled.

And that is when I realized that I didn't actually mind being the stereotype. I didn't mind answering "So what are you up to these days?" with "Oh, I'm just a mom. I get to stay at home with my three kids." Because anyone who is a mom, knows that it never is just a mom. Being a mom—when you're someone like me who really wanted to be one—is simply the most rewarding and awesome thing to be up to these days!

After the reunion, I spent the night at a different best friend's beautiful home, and then I attended church on Sunday in the ward (congregation) I had grown up in. I didn't cry, but my eyes were definitely wet, as I looked around and saw so many faces of men and women who had nurtured me and loved me during my difficult teenage years, so many parents of children who had grown up with me and helped mold me into who I am today. That church building really felt like home.

Then after church, my friends and I drove to Indianapolis where we went to the wedding luncheon of someone who had an enormous impact on my high school years. And it was really great to see him so happy in the face of the adversity he has overcome.

The best part of the weekend (other than coming home to my husband and kids!) was seeing so many people whom I had loved so deeply and realizing that with some people, it doesn't matter if it has been one year or eight years since you last spoke. The past that you shared together has entwined your lives in a way that ensures you will always be friends.

And that was a really good message to be reminded of as I am preparing to embark on this Foreign Service life, because I know that the next few decades will be full of people who I will love and then leave (or who will leave me), and I am really grateful to know that friendships don't always depend on how frequently you are able to see each other or talk, but on how deeply you communicate when you are together.

After getting home from Indiana, only a few days passed before I went on another trip; this one with my hubby and kids. We drove to Cincinnati to visit Jeff's parents and brothers for a few days. To lighten this blog post up a bit, I will share some pictures of us at the blueberry patch. Look closely.

Berry Picking

Berry Eating

Berry Stealing
Poor Danny. Look at his sad face and then his you-better-not-come-back-over-here-again face. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Conversations at my house

I've been collecting conversations with my kids from the past few months. Here are some of them for your enjoyment and my remembrance.


Jill prayed for there to be a baby in my belly. (There is not.)

Then the next day, she asked Danny whether he wanted a brother or a sister. Jeff and I joined in the questioning. Jill was pushing heavily for him to choose a sister, and Jeff was reminding him how much fun it might be to have a brother.

Danny thought about it for a long time in silence and then finally said, "I want a baby . . . dog."

-----------------------

During lunch, Daniel was talking about his Phineas and Ferb vitamins, and Jill was correcting his pronunciation. Then this conversation happened.

Jill, giggling: "Phineas has red hair. Ferb's is green."
Me: "You know, I used to really like a boy with red hair."
Jill: "With red hair?!" *pause* "Was his name Eric?"
Me, laughing: "No. But I did like an Eric with blond hair."
Jill: "Oooh. Is that why you borned children with blond hair?"
Me, laughing again: "No. You have blonde hair, because I do."
Jill: "You have brown hair."
Me: "Well, some people consider it dark blonde. And when I was little like you it was really light."

-----------------------

Daniel: "Mom, I want some Legos for Christmas."
Me: "Hmm. I hear real Lego sets are really expensive." (So far we only have Megablocks and Lego Duplos in our house.)
Jill: "Nooo, Mom. We want them from Santa." (Said with a really "duh" kind of voice.)
Me: "Oooooh. Right. Haha. Silly me."

-----------------------

Jill: "You can either wear these shoes, and I will help you put them on, or you can choose those ones and make a bad choice."
Daniel: "I want to wear those ones."
Jill: "Well, I won't help you."
Me: "Jill, what are you doing?"
Jill: "I'm just trying to help him make good choices."

-----------------------

Daniel: "Daddy, will you play soccer with me?"
Jeff: "How about we just relax?"
Daniel: "Daddy, is that the only game you know?"
Me: chuckling in the background

-----------------------

Riding in the car, Daniel: "Mom, are we almost there?"
Me: "We're sure getting there."
Daniel: "Are we almost there?"
Me: "Well, I wouldn't say almost."
Daniel: "I would say almost. Are we almost there?"
Me: "No, we are not almost there."
Daniel: "Are our friends going to be there?"
Me: "Yes, they will."
Daniel: "Are they already there?"
Me: "I don't know, but they will be when we get there."
Daniel: "If we were already there, will they be coming?"
Me: "I really don't know how to answer that question."

-----------------------

In other news, the random video my sister and I made for our friend's birthday has now been viewed over 2,000 times on youtube. Considering that usually the only viewers to my channel are my family members, 2,000 views is viral. Hopefully, it brought a smile to all those people's faces. (Except for the two who gave it a thumbs down. Ha.) (Warning: If you haven't already watched it, you may not want to, because it has the tendency to really get stuck in your head. It's catchy.)

I love the photo evolution of my son going from "Danny Boy" to "Superhero." These poses and facial expressions occur frequently when he is wearing his Superman, Spider-man, Batman, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shirts.

This is how I look when I feel like a superhero!
Who says you can't Moby and Ergo??

I did some wandering last month. If you want to see lots of pictures of it, go to my Facebook. They're there. A highlight was getting to attend my cousin Clay's wedding to beautiful Amber.

Other highlights were going camping at the very top of Michigan's lower peninsula and spending a day in Mackinaw Island. I also got to see four of my best friends from my middle and high school years. Also included in this trip was seeing lots of family! I was able to spend time with my parents, my maternal grandpa, my paternal grandma, two siblings and their families, my in-laws, five sets of aunts and uncles, and seven cousins and their families. My kids got to play with six first cousins and ten second cousins. Lots of Homers and Bolings!! I loved it. Icing on the cake would have been seeing even more of my cousins, aunts, and uncles. Of course, I've only been home less than two weeks and a new nephew has been born! I guess I'll have to go again sometime . . . !

I especially missed Pete, Mindee, their children, and Jeanie. It's just not the same without you!

This is a shot from when we were at Boyne. There was a dance party and s'more roast on the lawn of a neighboring resort. My family has never been able to resist dance parties (or karaoke parties for that matter. I can't wait until the kids learn how to read!).

I totes turned 29. So, I have one more year of being allowed to say "totes." (Or am I already too old?) It is hard to feel 29 when about once a week someone (strangers and friends) tell me that I look really young. This past month, I have been told I look 15, 16, and 19. I don't think I look that young; probably because I know what I looked like then.

If only we could play with cousins all the time! It is truly special that my family has fourteen grandchildren under the age of seven. There is always a buddy available.

Of course, all vacations must come to an end, but that's totally worth it when there is a daddy at home waiting for us!! (Is anyone else impressed that he is holding all three of our children?)

Jill starts public school tomorrow. Other than a little bit of joy school in Cincinnati, her preschool has been entirely at home, so she was offered entry into a three-week Bridge to Kindergarten class at the local elementary school. I don't know if it is intended to gauge her learning level or just get her used to sitting in a desk and learning from someone other than mom, but it seemed like a good idea. The emotional part of me yelled, "No! You are already stealing her in September, and you don't get her a minute sooner!" But the rational part of me realized that she would love it, and it will help her transition to full-day kindergarten this fall. Reason wins. (Darn it.)

So, tomorrow she is off. How did that happen?

I miss her already.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

And finally something is for certain!

Well, well, well. June 17 finally came: Flag Day! (No, silly, not the holiday—the day when Foreign Service Officers receive their assignments!)

I am pleased to announce that Jeff Collett has been assigned to serve as a Foreign Service Specialist—Facility Manager at the consulate in Ciudad Juárez, México.

We don't have our pack out date yet, but based on the training schedule, we are expecting to leave sometime in the beginning or middle of January. We will live there for two years.

I think it is appropriate to post this 2005 photo of me in a Mexico shirt with my roommate Diana.


Here is another good picture. Jeff and I stopped in Mexico during our honeymoon in 2006. It was Jeff's first time out of the country, and I remember him saying how much he loved being in Mexico, the food, the people, and speaking Spanish. He casually said that he wouldn't mind living there someday. Well, someday has arrived!


Some of you may be worried about us going to Juárez, because you remember the stories that have been in the media, but the city is gradually getting safer and safer. It is no longer the murder capital of the world; it has fallen to number 37 on the list of most violent cities in the world. And the Foreign Service takes a lot of precautions to keep us safe, and Mexicans (for the most part) like Americans (in general).

We do not feel unsafe. We are excited! I am relieved to finally have something set in stone. I can try to push my Portuguese back in my brain and start focusing on Spanish. We can figure out what school Jill will go to. (There is no American or international school there, but there are some good private bilingual schools.) We can get ready to move forward instead of waiting, waiting, waiting.

I am looking forward to learning how to cook tamales. And I know it is a Mexico City speciality, but maybe someone there can teach me how to cook pambazos, too. Delicious. If Jeff is really lucky, I may learn how to make that soup he likes. I can't even remember its name right now! And maybe I will learn the secret to homemade tortillas!

And maybe my Spanish will finally get better, so I no longer have to almost always speak in first person present tense. ;)

We are looking forward to immersing ourselves in the culture of our post country!

Friday, June 13, 2014

So close!

I feel like my life has been full of waiting with little ability to plan ever since we joined this ride of working for the government instead of in the private sector. And I really love to plan things, so this has been hard for me. I really like having everything all laid out, every detail described, and every minute scheduled on my calendar. I even go back and put past events on my calendar that weren't planned, just so they are there and my life is still laid out neatly in daily columns.

But ever since Jeff started contracting with OBO, it has all been unknowns, ifs, and maybes. Maybe he'll be in Germany. Maybe he'll be in Costa Rica. Maybe he'll be in Zambia. Maybe it will be two weeks. Maybe it will be five days. Maybe it will be three weeks. Maybe we'll be in Brazil three months. Maybe eight months. Maybe five months. Maybe the contract will be signed. Maybe this office will send the paperwork on. Maybe this. Maybe that.

Nothing planned in advance!

It has been a little stressful (only a little) on me to feel like I am living at the whim of another who doesn't even know me or seem to care about how far in advance I can plan.

But no more! Jeffrey has one week left of orientation for the Foreign Service. (Let me interject—orientation has been surprisingly full. They have been cramming Jeffrey so full of information that he is going to bed early every night. They even schedule seminars during lunch break. I am glad for all of the information, because going overseas and living this lifestyle is definitely complicated, but wow. I didn't realize there would be so much. It seems like there is a department for everything. (And sometimes it seems like there is more than one department for the same thing.))

Anyway, he has one week left, and then he begins training, which will last about twenty-six weeks.

And soon—soon!—I will be able to start planning everything out as much as I want.

On Tuesday, June 17, we will be told where we have been assigned. It will be one of these eight places.

  • Ciudad Juárez, Mexico
  • Asunción, Paraguay
  • Manama, Bahrain
  • Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
  • Mbabane, Swaziland
  • Paramaribo, Suriname
  • Yaoundé, Cameroon
  • Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

Anywhere-in-the-whole-world has been narrowed down to those eight cities, and in a few short days, I will know where I will live for the next two years. I will know when I am moving. I will know what language I need to start learning. I will figure out what school Jill will go to, what shots we need, what belongings we are going to take. There are going to be lots of things to plan, and I am so excited!!

If you are curious, this is a link to an article that explains simply what the Foreign Service of the State Department and USAID do.

And just in case I've never mentioned it, my husband is now a Foreign Service Specialist in Facility Management, so he will manage the embassy/consulate and its grounds, as well as housing.



We have been going on lots of "adventures" now that the weather is nice. We recently went to Great Falls National Park. The Potomac River was very swollen due to recent rainfall. It made the rapids look pretty impressive. I definitely wouldn't want to raft them. Everything is so beautiful and green right now from all the rain—well, except for the river. The rain made the river brown.

And not to be left out, here is a picture of Alice in her swimming gear. So cute.


Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day

There are veterans in my family, but as far as I know, there are no fallen soldiers. Probably if I went back farther, I would be related to some, because the Civil War stopped short the lives of so many, but more recently, I don't know of any.

Two of Jeff's brothers came to our house last week, and we had a fun visit. We went to the Kidwell Farm at Frying Pan Farm Park for the kids, the men watched the Cincinnati Reds play the Washington Nationals, the adults went on a tour of the U.S. Capitol Building, and everyone meandered through the National Museum of Natural History and walked around Arlington National Cemetery.

I had never before realized the vastness of Arlington National Cemetery. We had three kids with us (and no stroller), so we didn't get to explore the whole place and pay respects to the different memorials, but we did walk through and up to the Kennedy graves. I hadn't realized the Kennedys were buried there, but now I know the cemetery is for presidents as well as members of the military. I was also surprised by the number of children and wives buried there with their husbands/fathers. I don't have a problem with it; I thought it was neat that they were allowed to be buried together.

And what really struck me was the size. So many tombstones. So many people have died for our American way of life, for the oppressed in other countries, for democracy and freedom. As I walked around that cemetery with three healthy adult males, thinking of times in our country's history when we have had a mandatory draft, I couldn't help but think of the sacrifice that mothers, sisters, and wives have had to make. It was a weighty visit. And inspiring.

 Jill with her uncles Kyle and Kevin at Arlington National Cemetery


The U.S. Capitol Building also stirred up a lot of emotions for me. One of Jeff's friends is a staff member in a Senator's office, so he was able to lead us on a tour with just us and to take us into areas that large public tours could not enter.

I love history. I didn't in school, because I'm horrible at memorizing dates, but now that I'm older and there are no tests on dates, and I can just read to learn, I love it. And walking around the Capitol building was amazing. Seeing the craftsmanship of the building and the skill the workers poured into it. Viewing the artwork that portrayed different significant events in our lives. Recognizing that the freedoms I enjoy were thought up, argued over, fought over, and hard won by people—real people like me. Realizing how desperately the forefathers of our country wanted the life that I am able to lead. Wondering whether they ever could have foreseen how our country has transformed. Wondering how different the world would be if the states had not united. If after gaining independence from Great Britain, they became simply a continent and not a country, the States all becoming Countries. I think we would have had a lot more wars. It is kind of amazing that such a huge landmass is a country, that such different people work so hard to find compromise and get along together. I love it. I wish we were better at it, but at least we're trying.

And as impressive as the accomplishments are, they are all dragged down by slavery. How could men have debated what fraction of a person someone was? And following that line of thought, what issues will make my descendants wonder the same thing about my lifetime?

The star marks the center of Washington, D.C., 
so one might argue it also marks the center of democracy and freedom for the whole country.
Being my husband and his brothers always makes me feel shorter than usual.

Also on my mind recently is the training my husband completed a few weeks ago before we knew whether he had been accepted into the Foreign Service and his TDY in Chad was still looming. Chad is a more dangerous location than any of the other places he has gone on a TDY (Zambia, Equatorial Guinea, Laos, and Brazil). In light of that, he was required to go through some extra training—training that is informally called "The Crash and Bang Course." I don't know how much can be said about the course, but a brief summary is driving skills (like ramming vehicles out of your way, backwards driving (I can't help but think of Mater!), slamming on your brakes when going 60 mph, etc.), emergency medical procedures, hostile negotiations, explosions, weapons, self-defense, etc.

I got to pick Jeff up from the facility, and he was so animated on the car ride home talking about everything he had just learned and experienced. Throughout the conversation, I just kept thinking over and over again that they wouldn't teach him these things if no one had ever needed it. It is just one more reminder that the Foreign Service is not all fun and games, not all per diems and nice homes and private schools and foreign travel. 

Jeff's boss in Brazil had been in Egypt when it became volatile a while back. His family was evacuated, but the husband remained. In the event of some sort of emergency like that, the kids and I would be sent home, but Jeff would stay. His position as facility manager is one of the vital positions who stays at the embassy/consulate to ride out an emergency. Jeff has a friend who was in the Ukraine when its turmoil began, and she was evacuated. I had another friend who was assigned to a post in Tunisia a few years ago and was all set to go, but then the attacks around the same time as Benghazi happened, and her husband was reassigned to Canada.

That said, I'm not afraid to be a Foreign Service spouse (or EFM (Eligible Family Member) as all of the paperwork calls me). I am really looking forward to it, and I don't really think my husband's job is dangerous. And it would be hypocritical to think that shootings and tragedies don't happen in the United States either, because they do. Sadly, strangers kill, kidnap, and hurt each other all over the world, including home.

His training was just a sobering reminder of the danger element of his job. There are some posts in the Foreign Service where children are not allowed to go, and some where even spouses can't go. We are never going to intentionally get an unaccompanied post, so ideally, Jeff will never end up in one of the most dangerous places, but you never know. And some places become dangerous overnight.

Also, I don't mean to equate his Foreign Service job with military service, because I know it is very different to be a facility manager at an embassy as it is to be a marine in Afghanistan. With Memorial Day, visiting Arlington National Cemetery, and Jeff's extra training, all these thoughts have just been swirling around in my head.

I am really excited about being in the Foreign Service though. About learning more about what life is like for other people. Learning what they eat and wear and how they live. What is valuable to them. What their traditions are. What words they have in their languages. Seeing what the world looks like. Discovering how I can help others. I know I just said it isn't all fun and games, but I do think it is going to be a lot of fun. An adventure! And I am looking forward to its beginning.

Jill, Daniel, and Alice on a large rock outside of the National Museum of Natural History.

For those who are curious, we do not know where we will be assigned. Orientation begins for Jeff on June 2. It lasts for three weeks, and then training begins, which lasts for twenty-six weeks. At the beginning of orientation, we will receive a list of post openings, which we will rank. Then at the end of orientation, we will be told where we are going! If we don't get a post where they teach you the language before you go, then we will most likely move in January. So right now the world seems wide open! London, England? Paramaribo, Suriname? Addis Ababa, Ethiopia? Where?? :)