... years ago today I walked into the Muscat Private Hospital looking like this.

And I walked out two days later with this ...

Oh yeah, and with this ...

Nothing's changed.

Happy happy birthday to my obnoxious, whiny, beautiful SEVEN year old. I love you more than words. Or pictures.




(not showing ... the Apple TV and the wicked old iPod Shuffle)


Be VERY Wary ...

... at family gatherings when your uncles' discover new iPhone apps. Because they *may* email you these kinds of photos they took of your son.

I haven't laughed this hard in a long, long time...

Taken with FatBooth

Taken with BaldBooth

Doesn't he look like the guy in the TV show The Office?


While He May Never Remember ... I Will Never Forget

Today is my grandfather's 93rd birthday. Ninety-three years old!!

So this past weekend my aunts & uncles threw a party for him at his Nursing Home in South Bend, Indiana. Everyone was planning on attending ... all my dad's siblings, most of their kids, and many of the great grand kids. Of course I only found out about it late Friday night in a passing conversation with my mom. Not one to be left out of a chance to eat cake, I began researching ways to fly to South Bend and surprise everyone - especially my dad (who didn't even tell me about the party).

I reached out to my aunt on Saturday morning and asked her to give me all the info about the party. She gave me the low down of when and where it was, while my uncle gave me a few tips about where I should fly in. It looked like there was a chance I could actually pull this off. The only problem was the cost.

Do you know how expensive it is to book a flight less than 24 hours in advance? To a location where you can't get a direct flight? When you need two tickets? Let's just have you trust me that it is.

Since we had plans all day Saturday the only thing I could do was leave my trip up to fate. I figured that if I there were seats available on a United Airlines flight later that night, where I could use my frequent flyer miles, and I could fly in early enough to Chicago on Sunday morning where I could then rent a car and make the 2+ hour drive out to South Bend and arrive just prior to the party starting, then it was meant to be.

As you can see ... it was.

I booked our airline tickets and rented our car at 7:30 pm on Saturday night. And at 6:25 am, Grady and I left our house, drove to the airport and parked in daily parking. We took a small overnight bag, his car seat and stroller, bundled ourselves up in the 22 degree cold and high tailed it to our gate to get through security and make our 7:58 am flight.

I kept in close contact with my aunt throughout the morning to let her know our whereabouts. And at 12:50 pm, with a whole ten minutes to spare, we pulled up to The Milton Home where the party was being held. I called my dad who could barely hear me on the other end, and he told me that he flew out to South Bend early and was at a party for his dad. He said he'd take a ton of photos and send them to me later that night. While he was talking to me, I sent him a text message with a picture that I told him he just had to see right then of Grady ...

Needless to say he was surprised.

The day was a roller coaster of emotions ... from wonderful to see all my cousins and relatives to bittersweet as with my grandfather's dementia, he said very few words and had no idea who I even was. But we took pictures. Lots and lots and lots of pictures ...

A four generation photo and photo of my dad's siblings

The daughter / granddaughters, the great grandsons, the grandchildren & great grandchildren

Of course, this isn't the first time I've surprised family for my grandfather's birthday. Remember his 90th birthday party back in 2008, when I was pregnant and came with the girls to California?

Or way back in 1998 when we ALL surprised him for his 80th birthday party looking far ... younger.

A wonderful whirlwind trip to celebrate my Zadie's ninety-three wonderful years of a life well lived. And though he may not remember any of it anymore ... we sure do.


It's Been Awhile ...

When you open up your life and blog for almost eight years, going a month in between updates seems like an eternity. It's not that I'm any busier here than I was in Newport Beach or even overseas (well maybe just a little). It's just that I've needed the break. Scratch that, I've wanted the break. And for the most part, I haven't yearned for the burden of running straight to my computer at the end of the day to document every wee little thing the kids did that made me laugh or every household snafu that had me seeing stars.

Sure, I've missed not writing about my never-ending parenting fail moments ... like a few weeks ago when I was driving to pick up Riley from Girl Scouts and had to make a quick stop in the dark when Grady recently blurted out from the back seat, "F**king D*mnit". Followed up a few days later when I turned off Elmo before I took him to school only to hear him scream, "Dat's F**king Bullsh*t". Oh the clarity of his vocabulary when dropping an "F" bomb or two...

Yep ... Mother Of The Year I tell you.

Of course, not writing for long periods of time also means that I'm eventually left with a large void. Which is where I am now. My catharsis comes from blogging. It's my greatest outlet ... as well as my biggest nemesis when I go this long in between updates.

So without further adieu, let me fill you in with pictures of what we've been up to here in Casa de Chaos over the past month ...

My in-laws came for a super fun visit the first weekend in November.

We took these pictures at the National Zoo

We've had several school activities to attend. Both girls had conferences and received great marks on their report cards. I chaperoned Sheridan's class on a field trip to Mt. Vernon (OYE the noise on the bus ...). I visited Sheridan's classroom as they took me on a tour of their American Indian Museum. I went to a poetry reading in Riley's class. And I've begun volunteering every Tuesday in her class with the reading centers.

I met up with a gaggle of spouses whose husband's are all in the same line of work as Matt. It was a LATE night with a LOT of head nodding, eye rolling, and laughter as we realized we were all married to virtually the "same" man ...

I underwent two separate VNUS Closure procedures. They were done on each leg where the veins were lasered closed to help reduce the pain, swelling, and throbbing of my varicose veins. The pain was minimal during the procedures, but left a gnarly bruise on my left leg. The next step is sclerotherapy before we move on to a micro phlebectomy. Fun?

The girls spent one Friday evening ice skating with friends from school.

My parents came to town after Thanksgiving and we totally enjoyed time with them and my
brother Scott here at the Museum of Natural History. Sheridan finally agreed to hold this caterpillar, while Grady LOVED holding this cockroach. Twice!

Our first family photo in front of any DC landmark!

The girls also finally joined respective Girl Scout Troops where they are both Brownies. They've each had meetings and an event and are already talking about selling those darn cookies!

This past Saturday we hung out with our dear friends who laughed at me when I took these photos saying, "Smile everyone. She's probably going to put this in her blog".

Damn straight.

The girls also ...

... started a weekly gymnastics class. They've been to the orthodontist where Riley is scheduled to have her braces put in on February 1. They've both been on numerous play dates. I've put myself out there and gone on oodles of coffee and lunch dates as well, and even went out to a wine tasting and dinner with a group of the neighborhood ladies . We've had our gutters cleaned. We've seen a few movies, including The Muppet's, which is just darling. My cousin, my neighbor, and my sweet friend Christy all had babies.

And of course, who can forget Thanksgiving. A wonderful day spent with new friends ... and the first of many turkeys cooked in our new house.

So that's what's been happening in our neck of the woods. Enough to keep me busy. Enough to keep me away from the computer. Enough to add a few more than a few gray hairs.

Which I'm thankfully getting colored tomorrow. That is, right after I volunteer in Riley's class. And deal with her holiday party preparations. And run by the grocery store. And ...

It never ends does it?


If It Takes A Village To Raise A Child ...

... where did my Village go?

My girlfriend put things into perspective for me a few weeks ago when I was having a meltdown of epic proportions. I was complaining that while life was finally on an upswing and most things were moving into place ... there was still something I couldn't put my finger on that had me REALLY depressed.

She called it Reverse Culture Shock.

Reverse Culture Shock is defined as "returning to one's home culture after growing accustomed to a new one can produce the same effects as Culture Shock. This results from the psychosomatic and psychological consequences of the readjustment process to the primary culture, and is surprisingly more difficult to deal with than the original culture shock."

I spent an inordinate amount of time questioning how I could be dealing with this considering ... a.) I've been back in the States now for over a year now, and b.) I've spent more time living in the States than abroad. But as I slowly move out of my funk, I'm beginning to understand just how much this has affected me... and our family.

Last year with Matt in Iraq, I was purely in survival mode in our tiny California rental house. We had very few of our own belongings with us. I knew our situation was temporary. And in retrospect, that's exactly how I acted. That's how the girls acted. We talked more about our future in Virginia rather than enjoy the time we spent in California

Now that we're here in Virginia, living in our new house with all of our own things, our focus is on establishing roots. Making life-long friends. Building a community. Though, we're finding that settling in and starting anew isn't as easy as it used to be. Yes we are together again as a family. And yes, we are completely unpacked, with most of the construction issues behind us. Yet I still am in search that one elusive piece of the puzzle I'm certain will hold the key to my happiness.

The reality of my reverse culture shock, is that I am seeking something that just doesn't exist. That a large piece of what I've come to expect and appreciate with each overseas move, is missing here. Moving back to the States now means ... that we don't live on a compound or have an Embassy / Consulate looking out for us. We don't have the immediate built-in friendships of those who are in the same situation as us... friendships based on same experiences that start strong and last a lifetime. We don't have the built-in work / family social structure that has been our saving grace, even when we may not always have appreciated it at the time. And the parent's don't all go to the same work place and do the same kind of job ...

Now that I recognize I'm comparing what our past was like to what our future holds, I need to let it go. It. Is. Just. Hard. Moreover, it's lonely. It took me seven years in three different countries to be comfortable enough to accept the chaos ... the fishbowl ... the diplomatic lifestyle. My neighbors here don't understand Matt's crazy work hours. The new friends I have don't care. The stories we all shared at dinner parties and at official events now seem far fetched when I tell them. I mean ... how many of Riley's friends really care that for her 7th birthday we took her to Singapore? How many of Sheridan's friends actually believe that she's American, despite her being born in Oman? How do I delicately address Grady's affinity for darker skinned people?

These past few months have not been the easiest of transitions. From an interim boss for Matt ... to the girls being introduced to cliques for the first time ... to repeatedly putting myself out there and going outside of my comfort zone to meet new ladies and build new relationships... (because unlike kids, thirty to forty year old women don't just knock on each other's doors and ask to become friends ... though that would make it SO much easier).

But every day is a new day and we are finally moving in the right direction. We're making plans. We're making friends. We're addressing this as a family. And just as the seasons begin to change, so too do our attitudes, as we slowly begin building our own little village.

Or at the very least for now, a small tribe.


The Obligatory Halloween Photos

Fall Party at the girls school on Friday night. Sleepover at our house Saturday night after our first snow day of the year. Block party on Sunday afternoon. And a potluck dinner finale pre trick-or-treating tonight.

This holiday is officially over... but not before I show off my little Elmo, Fallen Angel, and Disco Diva.

Hope everyone made out with as much 'loot' as we did! Happy Halloween.

The neighborhood kids from JUST our section of the street.


Occasionally Things DO Go Right Around Here ...

What should have been just a week-long project turned into a month-long affair when torrential rains and Trex issues ever so unkindly mixed.

But five pallets of gray Trex later ... our deck is finally complete!

Who's coming over for a barbecue? Just be prepared to sit on the floor... there's no telling when we'll get furniture!

L: The before picture. M: The deck is framed. R: Do you see the different colors?

L: Waiting for the new Trex. M: Entire deck ripped out again. R: Almost complete.

It's filthy and needs to be power washed ... but totally worth the wait!!

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