05 February 2016

African Tea Party

"I'm going to Africa."
"Oh, you are on a really long journey. Are you in Africa now?" 
"Yes, now I'm in Africa. It's really really far away." 
I overheard Isaac's hotwheels car talking to his jumbo jet after breakfast. 
We took advantage of the heavenly weather Monday and threw our Africa Tea Party, with Kenyan ginger black tea, Ugandan black tea, and matooke plantain crisps. 

"Is there anything you'd like to see?" My hosts asked me in Uganda. 
"Could we go to a supermarket?" I'd asked. "I would like to get tea for my neighbors. We...have tea together." 

Playlist included Paul Simon's "Homeless," and "Under African Skies," Toto's "Africa," and pandora's African jazz station. Oh yeah. 

It was a balmy, gorgeous day, and the perfect excuse to chat about outside! 
Here are my people notes from Uganda: 

A SP project manager from northern Uganda has three daughters who live in northern Uganda with dad and housekeeper while she works in Kampala during the week. After university she worked 2.5 years with displaced people: children who had been abducted as child soldiers. If she'd continued to work with them she thought she'd see the world only as a place of evil. Started working with SP. Ugandans fear in their hearts that this year's elections will not be peaceful and 10 years of peace will end. She and her husband will vacate the city with their family before the elections, expecting violence. If there's fighting and government instability, people lose the will to try to make things better because progress is crushed and destroyed by power strugglers. Also praised the country's beauty and resources: "Uganda should be called Pearl of the World, not just Pearl of Africa!" 

Charles is on staff with SP. He wants to visit America, find a wife and bring her to Uganda. "Once she sees Uganda she will never want to go back. We have no processed food here. Everything is fresh. Fruit everywhere. And we have more space." 

Fatimah pointed out the unpaved roads in the middle of the nation's capital city. The government money that should be spent on infrastructure goes into the government officials' pockets instead. But at least there is currently peace. 

Anna, the CHP manager, has to tell moms of older children their kids were not chosen for surgery and they're coming off the list. On the other end of the heart-wrench spectrum, Baby Hope was put on the list but died by the end of the week. Her mom has an older daughter, Daisy, also on the wait list for heart surgery, but the mom says "how can I trust God when Hope has died?" 

African woman behind me on the plane to her daughter: "ok if you don't want it, don't take the pen. God give me strength!" 

Ah, parenting is the same worldwide. 

04 February 2016


"MY EAR HURTS! IT HURTS SO MUCH!" Screamed Isaac in the middle of the night, waking up Eloise and me. 

Eloise had a checkup this morning, where we learned she has a nasty rash that needs meds, and Isaac's ear infection is caused by allergies probably and needs antibiotics. Eloise also is now on allergy stuff to combat the month of snotty nose. Eloise got four shots. We waited hours at the base pharmacy. Eloise fell asleep and peed through her diaper. Isaac freaked out about taking medicine. Eloise smashed her head during our long wait. We ran out of snacks as our visit stretched past lunchtime. A cold front blew through so we were underdressed for the rainy 30 degree temperature dip. 

Back at home we settled down for cozy naps. Eloise woke up and helped me do dishes, happily standing on her stool munching banana chips. She slipped, no big deal---until she gasped and inhaled her chip. She gagged, spluttered, gagged, turned purple in my arms. 

This is where I call 911! I thought. No time! Baby heimlich! After maybe 15 seconds of that (which felt like no time and also like hours) she started crying. I held her close. Eyes streaming, gagging, retching, red instead of purple, still retching. She vomited all over us. Thankfully. She's ok. She barfed a few times, then smiled. Relief. And...Bath time. 

I took a poopy diaper outside and found the storm had blown our gate inside out and it will no longer open. Of course it did. 

After a peaceful dinner I took the barfy clothes to the basement. Which had two inches of standing water in it. The sump pump, which we had someone come fix in October, did not turn on. 

I put Eloise to bed and invited Isaac to join me in the basement. He loved that. His presence helped me be brave and slosh through the muck (I SO deserve these gorgeous teal Hunter boots) and---get this---reach a hand into the opaque, cold, dark waters of the sump drain. If that doesn't strike fear in your heart...then you must not be terribly afraid of dark, deep water you can't see into, like I am. 

Here I'd like to point out a few ironies. First, we really have had good attitudes all day. Considering. Not perfect attitudes, but not attitudes of being overwhelmed or in despair. So it just kept coming I guess. Second, one of the toilets clogged right after both my kids pooped. Next time anyone asks "what do you do?" I should tell them "I'm in Shit Management," I giggled to myself, before telling Isaac and Eloise to step back and watch a master toilet unclogger at work. Third: friends, Unclogging toilets is an unfortunate talent of mine. I am the master unclogger in this house. I have the touch. Call me if you're in a jam. 

And now there's this questionable water in the basement to deal with. Shit Management, indeed. Anyway, so with a good attitude and much bravery, I squeezed behind the washing machine, balanced atop cinder blocks, and extended my arm deep into the dark, murky water of the sump hole. The sump pump has a float switch, which clearly doesn't work, but it responded to my blind prodding by jumping into action. The drain tube whipped around, unleashed from its moorings, spraying nasty basement water all over me and geysering a fountain like a firehouse across the basement. Isaac stared at me stunned. I jumped back, cursing and dripping. 

Now, two hours later, the plumber just left. I think I still have a good attitude, but it was iffy there while I was soggy with a pile of barfy laundry and a basement geyser mocking me. 

Really, I know we have a lot to be thankful for: Isaac's quick treatment, Eloise's triumph over choking hazards, Megan had asked offered to make enough dinner to run a plate over to me even before I was having a crappy day. 

But my good attitude is about ready to move out of this house. At least no one got stung by a dang yellow jacket today! But really, it's only a matter of time. 


Did I mention my attitude: good. 

31 January 2016

In the Kitchen

"Isaac, what's my favorite food?" I asked just to see what he'd say. He paused for a minute, then answered, "soup!" like it was the most obvious thing in the world. I am always making soup. My kids don't eat it, but I don't get tired of soup leftovers the way I do with other leftovers that get left in the fridge to grow fuzzy. 

And immersion blenders (thanks Mom!) make the art of soup almost into a meditation. Just when it seems like the soup will never surrender its lumps, there's a buzz and a grind, and it all runs smooth. So satisfying. Both kids like to help with the immersion blender. No surprise. 

Also, if I have trouble getting through my farm box, I can throw all the extra produce into the slow cooker with chicken broth and butter and blend it up into a tasty soup. 

Tasty soups of recent history include: Sriracha Sweet Potato Soup (three apples, two sweet potatoes, an onion cooked and blended, with corn kernels and shredded chicken thighs, topped with Mexican cheese and several swirls of Sriracha), and Cream of Mushroom Soup (onion and mushroom stalk broth, a purée of one onion sautéed with sliced mushroom caps for 15 minutes, add a quarter cup wheat flour, deglaze with a cup of white wine, add broth and thyme and simmer indefinitely, then stir in two cups of half n half at the end, plus salt and pepper and a half cup of parsley). YUM YUM YUM. 

Tomorrow I am making Farm Box Stew! From a recipe! We got our last Farm Table box of the season Thursday. The kids love unloading the box each week, washing potatoes and gnawing apples that reflect gold in their eyes. 

Recently we traded toys for this toy kitchen. Eloise pushes her shopping cart of plush produce into the real kitchen to help me stir the real soup on the stove. I'm pretty sure a toy kitchen was one of those "I will never own one of those junky things" toys. Haaaaaaaa. Eloise also cuts Velcro fruit like a boss. Should I be worried she's so good with a knife...? 

New Now Next: Chrysler Museum of Art

Last time I went to the Chrysler Museum of Art there were two new exhibits. Both are a room or two---very manageable in one trip, even if you, like my husband, must read every single didactic. 

The first would appeal most to glass aficionados, engineers, people who like social studies, and men. It's Norwood Viviano's glass representations of American cities based on age, population, and industrial shifts. Norfolk, Houston and New York are pictured above. 

The second exhibit is called New Light on Land and is photos of land from the museum's collection. This one would interest photography lovers and historians. Both were way more interesting than I expected! The next big exhibit, Water, opens in less than two weeks. 

29 January 2016

Life is Beautiful

My first trip overseas was to England and France with my sister and parents to see my brother Luke, who was studying in Paris. 

We toured the Tower of London and it started to rain, prompting some enormous Americans in t-shirts and sneakers to shriek, "Should we duck into one of these attractions?" --- a line that can still be drawled to produce amusement between Hannah and me now 15 years later.  

I bought a cuff bracelet in the tower gift shop that said "Life is Beautiful" in some dead language. I had just finished my first year at Texas A&M and was abroad for the first time, seeing how life is different, and---like a garden---more beautiful for its variety. 

Sometimes I forget life is beautiful. Sometimes life feels like a slog of sickness, isolation, screaming kids, poop, loneliness in the smack middle of deployment and failure. Last year at this time I would say now I was pretty depressed. When I slept, I dreamt of diving into dark water and staying submerged. That was such a time of despair. Obviously I had post partum depression. 

But now I am not depressed. Yet I was letting circumstances propel me into hopelessness. I realized I didn't want my kids' memories of Virginia to be all "mom was super grouchy," (even if all my memories of Virginia include wailing kids). I repented of my bad attitude. I asked for forgiveness, from God, my kids and my mom (ha ha, sorry Mom). Shockingly (to me), changing my attitude, or even just verbally stating a desire to have a good attitude, has made a huge difference in my kids' attitudes already. 

I wrote a post for SpouseBuzz about losing self pity for the new year. So I'm doing that. Sometimes circumstances are overwhelming of course, but I don't have to feel hopeless. I am taking responsibility for my feelings and not letting them be dictated by circumstances. 

2 Corinthians 10:5 "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." 

This isn't a "pull myself up by my bootstraps and have a good attitude" adjustment. It's more a confession of how sinning with my attitude was bringing down my family and clouding my eyes to the beauty and blessings of life, even during flu season. 

We went to the zoo twice last week when the weather was above freezing. Winter is a great time to go to the zoo. The landscaping is all cut back for clear views of the animals frolicking in the cold, it is not crowded, and it's mostly protected from the wind. Did you know you can buy emu and ostrich eggs laid by Virginia Zoo birds? We got ourselves an emerald emu egg. Life is beautiful. And so are emu eggs. 

20 January 2016


"It's an uphill battle," vs. "it all went downhill from there." ...? I hate it when things that sound the opposite mean the same thing. 

What I mean to say is: the halfway point of Chris' deployment is achieved! If it was uphill before, maybe now it is downhill! Then we had the momentum of fall and the holidays; now we have the monotony of winter. Still, I find myself unexpectedly cheerful today. 

Maybe it's because Chris sent me FLOWERS: a purple-y blue hydrangea, just like we had at our wedding and planted beside our Florida house. Maybe it's because a package he sent forever ago finally arrived with souvenirs from his first port call in Spain: a stuffed bull for Eloise, a soccer ball for Isaac. And a video of him reading "The Night Before Christmas." 

"I miss Dad! I want Dad to come home! I want Dad!" followed the viewing of this video. Well kid, good timing! Sooner than later! 

18 January 2016

Man of Sorrows

Mid-1600s painter Giovanni Battista Beinaschi captures chaos at sea in "Neptune and the Nereids." "Home" depicts a wounded soldier home from battle, welcomed by his mother, wife and baby, with the Bible open nearby. "Waiting for William" shows a woman gazing off to sea. 

These caught my eye at the museum this week as I prayed and hoped along with the rest of the aviation community, military at large, humankind etc for good news to come out of the tragedy of the helicopter accident in Hawaii. Now the search for the 12 missing men has been called off. It's awful enough when the missing are unknown strangers. Chris worked alongside one of the pilots at our last duty station. We often sat behind them at church. Their youngest arrived while I was pregnant with Eloise. We weren't super close or anything, but as Chris said once, "They're like the Marine version of how I see us in a few years." 

Filled with sorrow. I have not stopped praying for them. 
Kathe Kollwitz sculpted "Soldiers' Wives Waving Goodbye" in 1937, years after her son was killed in WWI. It's on a pedestal right next to "Head of Christ," a portrayal of Christ bearing our sorrows. 

I was comforted by this artistically arranged juxtaposition of despair and holy empathy. "We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you" (2 Chronicles 20:12). 

The Wingman Foundation uses 100% of the donations to this fund to support the families of those 12 men. http://www.wingmanfoundation.org/463

17 January 2016

Oh Snow!

Roughly three weeks ago we celebrated Christmas in short sleeves. Now we're back on the East Coast admiring the golden orange leaves still on our backyard tree and sloshing around in the sleet and snow. 

"I miss Grandma and Pa, but I am SO HAPPY to be home!" Isaac tells me constantly. "This is such a nice, cozy home!" That's gratifying! Thanks, kiddo. 

I lost some weight while we were in Texas. I felt good about this, until Isaac weighed in. 
"Mommy, are you having another baby?" 
"You are not having another baby right now?" 
"No. Why?" 
"Because..." (Here he not just patted but actually squished my tummy). 
I like to fit the paintings at the art museum together into a narrative or progression. Here I grouped one for each season, since it seems like we've experienced each season in just this week. 

09 January 2016

News of the Week

My week in newspapers. Not that I can read most of them. 

Newsflash: I'm so happy to be back with my kids! Thank you for blessing and keeping them, Mama and Daddy!

08 January 2016

A Coffee, Please

Everything I read said not to leave the Amsterdam airport---trains delay, customs lines are long, security can back up. The plane arrived at 6am from Entebbe, Uganda, and I hadn't slept at all...because I watched Jurrasic World, Out of Africa, and Mr. Holmes. Anyway, I was wandering around and accidentally found myself in immigration with no line. 

"You can get a coffee. It's very close," insisted the border agent, stamping my passport faster than it's ever been stamped. It was freezing outside so I had a coffee indoors at Dutch and Delicious. True to advertising, it was in fact Dutch and delicious. 

I made it back into the airport with plenty of time to stop and smell the tulips. The famous museum in the airport is unfortunately closed for the next 18 months or so for construction. 

Next stop: HOUSTON! 

07 January 2016

Kampala Slums

Fatimah gave me a tour of Kampala today. We saw the city's hospital, bank, a supermarket, some craft stalls. She also took me by the Nsambya slums. 

Kids crowded around, grabbing my hands and hollering to each other about the muzungu---white person. I felt like their pet as five or six latched on to me and drug me around while moms and grandmas looked up from shelling beans or peeling matooke plantains. Some of them smiled, but most looked exhausted, discouraged. Burnt out. Kids ran around in various states of undress. 

Later Farimah explained the difference between poor---like Dan's family, who don't have plumbing or electricity, survive on food they grow themselves and walk 15 minutes to get water---and poverty like we saw today. 

Poverty means the kids don't eat enough. Poverty means they may not have anywhere to sleep. Poverty means maybe they have a parent or grandparent to look out for them---or maybe not. Poverty poverty means a boy's face crusted in dark snot that no one wipes away. 

Poverty means a school was built nearby to educate these kids, but they don't have the nominal fee for supplies, and have no family history of going to school, so they don't go. Poverty means a grandma with watery eyes raising eight children because as soon as they're able, girls become prostitutes and produce more babies. 
Poor people have something to eat, even if it's less than they would like or a not a wide variety of diet. Poor people have somewhere to sleep. Poor people have more of a chance to go to school. 

"Too long in the slums and it crushes you," Fatimah said, referring to the brevity of our visit but speaking the truth for anyone there. She works with kids in situations like that but her division is getting reorganized. 

"Is it possible for someone born here to end up like you?" I asked. Fatimah's Muslim family gave her the boot when she became a Christian. She rents one room in a nicer part of town. She hasn't seen her father in three years, and her mother asks for money whenever they meet. 

She thought about my question, then answered, "No. I went to school. I have a certificate. But even if they start school, they quit after a few years. It's hard for them to get a job." 

06 January 2016


Dan and his mom are safely delivered into his dad's arms here in Uganda! They have five or six more hours to travel today to reach their rural village, but they are together again. 

I was dreaming just now that Dan was smiling and holding my hand, laughing and refusing to let go. I woke up to roosters screeching, the call to prayer humming over the hillside, and the first light of dawn on the horizon. 

One day in Uganda, then I fly to Amsterdam tonight, home tomorrow. 

05 January 2016

The City Sleeps

I had heard the Qatar airport has free sleeping areas and showers, so I got in line at a Qatar Airways information desk to find out. I get to the front of the line and hand the woman our tickets and she says, "Oh yes, we can provide a shuttle to a complimentary airport stay with meal vouchers." "Oh...yes, thank you." 

I reviewed our paperwork at immigration and alerted the officer that he stamped our passports and papers with "2015." He looked surprised and scritched out our incorrect stamps and gave us new ones. 

A woman in a black hijab (in the photo) giggled at Dan and gave him a chocolate bar. He is three years old and hasn't whined or complained once, even when we were starving and waiting for the shuttle. Maybe that kind chocolate bar had something to do with it. 

At our hotel three men bowed on prayer rugs for evening prayers in the hallway between all our rooms. He sang the call to prayer and I was surprised we couldn't hear it blasting and echoing over the city like in Cairo. 

From the dinner buffet I tried lamb fatta, chana masala curry, cucumber soup and yogurt, then had halawa tahini (sesame sweet?) and mohalabia (sweet coconut pudding with pistachios and golden raisins) for dessert. YUM! We thanked God together for bringing us safely thus far and prayed for his continued grace and guidance. 

I slept soundly for two hours, and now at 3am find myself wide awake, thinking about our day, watching the city streets seven floors below me while a golden crescent moon rises. 

One Night in Qatar

The flight wasn't 17 hours after all, but the line at customs sure feels that long. So far, so good. Or would that be Qatar, so good.... Sorry. I haven't slept. 

04 January 2016

Change of Plans: Uganda!

Last minute change of plans! I got an email from the Children's Heart Project: could I transport a boy and his mom home to Uganda? 

"The timing really couldn't be better," said my mom. The kids have had lots of time acclimating to life at my parents' house. 

I said I would go if they couldn't find anyone else. They couldn't find anyone else. So instead of flying home to Norfolk I flew to another Texas city and here we are: a lively three-year-old boy with a fixed heart, his mom, their interpreter and me. Here to Qatar: 17 hours. OUCH. See you on the other side!