Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I Did Something!!

I just made a 12-month appointment for Cubby with a Gudalajaran pediatrician!!! What an adrenaline rush. Using my best crap Spanish -- and Google Translate (thank you Google Translate) -- I pieced together enough sentences to make an appointment. And yes, this is my "primera vez" with this pediatrician, gracias (that was one of the off-the-cuff questions I hadn't prepared for. That and my telephone number.) Ha ha!

It's amazing how happy understanding the simplest things can uplift my spirits. I didn't even know my spirits needed uplifting until I made that call.

Oh, and N just called. The van is here!! Being delivered at 5pm!

Now Cubby and I have to prepare for a "Welcome Home Mommy" party I promised that baby doll Carol would have for Deevie when she returns from school. It was the only way I could get her to willingly get in the carpool this morning. Of course after I made the promise, Birdie chirped up saying she wanted Sally to have a party for her too.

I wonder if bouncing around in Grandma's hand while singing, "Yay! Mommy's home! Mommy's home!" will pass as a party?

Last Weekend

Last weekend our wonderful neighbors (and social sponsors from the Consulate) took us with their family to a place that sounded like Balnearia "Wheats-lah". Obviously I don't quite have the spelling right on that last word, but that's what it sounded like. The actual word had an X in it, and any Spanish word with an X confuses the heck out of me. Except "Dos Equis" -- but I don't think that counts.

"Balnearia" literally means "seaside resort." The place we went wasn't a resort by any English translation I know, but instead was a very hidden collection of hot springs that feed into each other. There were concrete stalls for changing, and concrete bathroom stalls, along with barbecue stands for guest use. We had to drive on a mostly-dirt mountain road for a ways before reaching the quaint village (we're talking 5 houses-ish plus a "tiendita" (small store)) that lead to the gate of the balnearia, passing Mexican burros (donkeys) on the way, and catching some breathtaking mountain scenery. "This looks like Hawaii!!" Birdie kept saying. The hot springs were natural springs, but in order to serve the local public, concrete pools had been built around them to allow for varying depths and temperatures. The girls loved it. (Have we mentioned that they are both swimmers now?! Crazy how quickly that has happened.) On a bathroom break to Wheats-lah, Nick ran to buy some fresh Mexican corn on the cob (I differentiate because the corn wasn't what you'd expect back in the States - it's tougher and heartier, almost yelling to be ground into a tortilla) from a roadside vendor. We grilled that along with the sausages and other food everyone had contributed for the barbecue.

It was so great to do something! N told me about the Saturday plan on Thursday, saying that we'd been invited to tag along on an outing. "Where?" I asked. "Does it matter?" said N. That is sort of where we are :). Our van has yet to arrive, so we basically only go to places we have to go to -- like work (N shares a taxi or gets a ride with neighbors), or school (we have a permanent driver for the girls now, so no more hauling car seat and cranky Cubby around every day!). Seeing parts of Guadalajara beyond those two destinations was thrilling to say the least.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The house

Here are some pics of the place from the day we arrived:

Back yard/patio:

The girls' room. (They want to share--it's what they're used to.)

Master bedroom:

Master bedroom closet (!) and Exploring Birdie:

Our bathroom. Really nice. The house is full of showers but this big tub is our only tub. To bathe Cubby, we do bucket brigade from the sink because it would take about 5 hours to fill otherwise. Once we get some water pressure to the big tub, we'll be sittin' pretty.

The view from our bedroom. There are lots of houses still under construction all around us. Note the playground on the right. Through that white building on the other side is a swimming pool. Having these things so close is amazing.

The living room/dining room: (it was getting dark)

...and the outside. We had pictures that came out better, but I think this one captures the chaos of the day.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Unaccompanied Air Baggage

It arrived on Thursday! Christmas in August! And as our neighbor warned me, even though we were very much looking forward to getting some of our stuff, in the end it didn't feel like a whole lot. But we were and are still very happy about it, and the kids were dancing around squealing with delight at each box opening.

Best things about UAB arriving:
- The girls' bikes!
- The grill! No propane yet, but hopefully we'll get some soon so we can cook out.
- Our own sheets and towels!
- More silverware!
- The art/craft center!
- Cubby's crib! We had a crib in the welcome kit, but the mattress seems smaller than standard, and therefore leaves gaps around the edges. And the side rail doesn't come down like ours. Don't get me wrong -- we very much appreciate there even being a crib in the welcome kit, but it's nice for Cubby to be back in a familiar bed.
- My shoes! So now I can bring the girls to school in something other than my running shoes. Not that I'll ever fit in with the fancy, beauty queen-esque mamas, but at least I look a little more put together. Or so I think! Ha ha.

Things we wish we had put in UAB:
- A mini-stero system so we can plug in our ipods/laptops to play music. We thought we had, but it must've been put in HHE because all 7 of our packed-to-the-gills UAB boxes got here without it.
- Bed covers! We packed sheets, but not the duvet covers or our quilt. It would've been nice to have that instant familiarity and homey-ness in the rooms. Our neighbor lent us covers for the girls' beds (colorful ones from Ikea), and that has been wonderful.

I'm sure there's more stuff we miss, but I can't think of it now. We were smart to pack bathroom rugs in our luggage because we needed those immediately. We packed shower curtains too, but all our showers have glass doors so we ended up not needing them. The GSO rep came by last week to inspect the house, and mentioned that we are welcome to paint any walls if we want to (yay!) just so long as we paint them back to white before leaving. I think a little color here and there (I'm thinking accent walls) will make this place feel a lot more like home. Bright yellow? That would seriously clash with some of the furniture, but I do want something bright to fit with Mexico. N has yet to chime in about this issue.

One piece of advice we got before arriving was to have the shipping company reps open our boxes and unpack our stuff for us, and take all the trash away. Wonderful advice! There is such an urge to just do it yourself and be alone with your things, but with small kids around and no tools, it makes so much more sense to have the pros do it. I also asked the guys to put together the crib (cuña (Found out it IS actually "cuna" without the trill! Apparently "cuña" has several non-crib meanings, one of which is "bedpan.") - with a trill over the n - don't know how to do that on the Mac [-thanks Craig!]) and the bikes, which was also great advice we got -- have them put together everything so we can use them immediately.

I'm also so thankful for the Exersaucer that another neighbor gave us so Cubby could stay put and watch the commotion from a safe distance, eating his Cheerios.

Friday, August 19, 2011

First Week of School

I could never capture the roller coaster of emotions we've been through this week with school starting. This being an "Eligible Family Member" (EFM -- basically a "trailing spouse" as it is also called) with three other EFMs in tow (i.e., our dependent children) is definitely a Full Time Job. Caps intended.

Now that we're at Friday night, I can hardly believe what Birdie, Evie, Cubby and I have been through! Yes, we've been a complete team through this, taking the same unairconditioned hired taxi the whole week through the streets of Guadalajara. Cubby and I at least have been back and forth, back and forth, more times than I can count - mainly because Deevie and Birdie are dismissed at different times. Good gracious.

Long story short, Birdie had a rough beginning two days (the second day started with her crying so hard that she didn't want to go and just wanted to stay home with me and Cubby), but ended the week running around the playground and saying she loved school. Deevie never cried and already is one of a pretty tight threesome of little pigtailed girls (one is American, the other is French - but she is constantly stopping our gang to say "Hola!" to her Mexican classmates). Both girls' main teachers are from the States (and obviously speak and teach in English), but only one of Birdies's classmates is American (that I know of) and the other kids are always speaking Spanish. Birdie's PE teacher is Mexican and teaches in Spanish, and this is what she shared with me in the cab home:

"Even though everyone spoke Spanish, I understood what to do! The teacher called out different numbers in Spanish, and we had to run around and get into groups with that many people. Thank goodness I know my numbers in Spanish!" (Yes, thank you Dora!)

Ms. Ali always gives me a report on how Birdie did during the day. Today was the first day where there were no tears at all! She basically cries when people talk to her in Spanish and don't realize she doesn't understand them (like when they had picture day, and the photographer's assistant kept giving her instructions. Ms. Ali said I can reorder the pics if they don't turn out :).). That second day was very hard for all of us -- writing about how things are better now almost makes me forget how awful and stressed I was about it all. While she was clinging to me saying she wanted to go home, I knelt down and held her shoulders, looking her in the eye. "If someone speaks to you in Spanish," I said, "just nicely say 'No se, English por favor.'" (I wanted to make is as simple as possible - not focusing on correctness!) It was awful trying to pry her away from the stroller into her teacher's arms as she sobbed. I was trying so hard to keep my own tears in. Then the school psychologist touched my arm and said, "Short and sweet, mom!" That made me feel even worse! Like I didn't get it! But of course I know to make is short and sweet, but it's so much more difficult in practice.

At pick up that day, Ms. Ali said Birdie had some rough parts, but overall the day went very well. Birdie was smiling and happy by that point. As we walked out of the school, she said, "Mommy, I said that thing you taught me."
Me: "Oh yeah?"
Birdie: "Yeah, this girl started talking to me on the playground and I said, "No se, English por favor."
Me: "And what did she do?"
Birdie: "She just went away."
And then she added, "Mommy, you know you're actually supposed to say 'ingles' not 'English'." That totally cracked me up inside. What a strong and observant Birdie.

Deevie starts the days shy, but seems completely warmed up and so happy by the end of the day. The kindergarten set up is awesome, with all three classrooms connected by one awesome playground. Ms. Karen has given nothing but great reports on Deevie, and the only complaint I've heard so far from Deevie herself is that I made her sandwich with the wrong kind of cheese. She was mad about that though!

Many more details to write about - like trying to figure out how to buy the required art smock! There were about 6 steps in that process, one of which involved waiting 40 minutes in line at the "caja" to get a receipt - so I could bring that to a completely different part of campus as proof. But of course when I tried to pay for the required PE uniform at the same caja, thinking "Hey, I'm finally understanding this!" they were completely confused at my request. Finally a mom behind me said, "Oh, for the uniform you can just pay at the window where they're selling them."

The school list of supplies in general is pretty funny. Things like "large wooden beads." Or "sturdy house plant." But we've had so much help from the wonderful Consulate families in our neighborhood, and from American/French mom-friends I've made at the school. And also from Elias, our driver - whose wife lent me her cell phone this week since I didn't have one! I'm so thankful to everyone. It is such a blessing to have this community in place upon arrival - and so essential, especially given how short our stay will be here in the larger sense. I'm already feeling two years zipping by, as crazy as that seems.


I find that every time I want to say something in Spanish, out comes Japanese. It's like my brain can only handle one second language at a time and Japanese has overtaken a lot of what I learned in my high school and college Spanish classes.

The streets of Guadalajara belong to automobiles. Pedestrians don't have much place on them! Yesterday I asked Elias (our hired driver for the week) in my choppy Spanish if there are places for people who want to walk and not use cars - because even the sidewalks are often taken over by parked cars. He agreed and said that cars basically reign the streets. We've heard that you'll be ok driving (or walking) as long as you have eye contact agreement with other drivers, allowing you to go or cross or whatever, BEFORE you do what you want to do. No one follows the stop signs - and I've been told if you do, you'll be hit from behind. There are tons of "topes" (speed bumps) on even the major roadways, which apparently is the government's way of forcing people to slow down and retain some order on the city streets.

Anyway, back to the language thing. I was observing a mother trying to cross the street with her child and said to Elias, "Trafico es muy aburrido." In hind sight I said, "Traffic is very boring." But what I was trying to say was "PELIGROSO" which means dangerous. Why would I say "aburrido"?! And then it came to me. "Danger" in Japanese is "abunai." I made "abunai" into a Spanish word! Ha ha. But still, Elias agreed. "Si, trafico es aburrido." He is very nice.

It's hard to look Latina and not be pera-pera (another Japanese word) in the Language. I'm sure lots of people think I'm strange and didn't do well in school!

Monday, August 15, 2011


No tengo lo!

Taking care of three kids here -- especially when two of them have to start school this week, and we don't have a car, and I don't speak Spanish (aside from what I remember from high school and college 15 years ago (i.e. un poquito)), is even more challenging than in Virginia. Holy cow!

I wish I could record every detail of what we've been through since arriving, but it's just not possible with everything else going on. It really is amazing though. The weather alone! Wow. We have the windows open all the time with the breezes blowing through the house. At night it cools down and is the perfect temperature for sleeping. We're in the rainy season so it does tend to rain through the night, but strangely the days are blue-skied with big puffy white clouds.

One thing we could use a lot more of is rugs. The house is so big, and tiled throughout, so by the end of the day Cubby's knees, hands, and tops of his feet are FILTHY. He is like our own little floor cleaner!

I've been through the school twice, and so far really like what I see. Birdie is very excited to start actual classes tomorrow! So that is very good. Parents are required to drop off Pre-1st (the grade Birdie was evaluated at - long story) students, and pick up, each day this first week. And remember how I mentioned not having a car yet? We've hired a driver for the week, and I understand probably 20% of what he is telling me, and I'm probably getting across about the same amount of what I THINK I'm getting across. We muddle along with lots of smiles though.

And now Cubby is trying to crawl up our death stairs. They are treacherous! Gotta go.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A soft landing in Guadalajara

So, we're in Mexico! I've been to my first day at work, Narra and the kids have visited the school, and we're all working on getting settled in.

Our house is pretty ginormous. I'm not sure of the square footage but it feels twice as big as our place in Annandale. I'll post a few pics at some point, but it's a two story townhouse. I seem to remember department vets saying that their houses are often packed full of furniture and they tend to send some back to GSO. In this case, we'll be keeping it all, thank you, and looking for some more.

Narra is on the couch behind me with Cubby, and Birdie is reading him Pat the Bunny. (He loves to put his finger through the ring.) Cubby woke up crying this morning; he still seemed tired, but wouldn't go back to sleep. I blame teething. At 11+ months, he still only has the one bottom tooth, so he must have quite a few driving him crazy. This morning he keeps losing it completely and we keep walking him back from the edge.

And now, a word from about our sponsors. The welcome we have received here has been just amazing. Our first night here, our sponsor family had us over for dinner. They have three kids, including a daughter who's in between our girls' ages. We had a great time chatting and then took a walk around the neighborhood. They have been invaluable to us and I look forward to the chance to pay it forward. There are several consulate families in this "coto," and they all just couldn't be nicer. We have flowers on our dining room table from one, cookies from another, and baby stuff on loan from another.

We've been here for about 40 hours but it seems like much more, and this place already feels like home.

On the docket this weekend: trip to Costco/Home Depot (yeah, that's right--it's FS-lite), trip for school supplies, and trip to get tiny photos taken for our Mexican IDs. As our car will not arrive for another week or two, we will continue to depend on the kindness of neighbors for rides and info.

Alright, time to get this day rolling.

Friday, August 12, 2011

We are in Guadalajara

The flight was smooth. The house is awesome. The neighbors are friendly. And by some miracle, we already have internet. Off to a good start!

Thursday, August 11, 2011


The bright Texas sun is coming through the hotel room curtain. Birdie is up wanting to draw. Deevie and Cubby are still sleeping in the adjoining room. N is showering.

The kids and I had a wonderful day yesterday with the Mezas while N had a full, good day of meetings. It was so nice having a home to hang out in -- filled with toys and friends, instead of a hotel room. It was another sad departure for the kids at the end of the day, with us yelling, "We love the Mezas!" and Albert yelling "Vaya con Dios!" Cubby was doing his little clenched fist open-close waving-good-bye move.

Our two hour flight to Guadalajara is around noon. The day is here!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Last Night In Virginia

So much to pack before morning (10 checked suitcases! Plus hand carried!) but I wanted to get something down for the record. What a Whirl. Wind. It has been.

- Yes, we sold the red car. Funny memory of how N handed Dad and I the cashiers check from Bank Of America and asked us to "make sure it's real" before heading out to finish up the sale. We were holding it up to the light and looking really closely at it, laughing at our inability to ensure its legitimacy.

- I still can't believe we emptied that house! Holy cow. And when I say "we", I really mean EVERY ONE involved in the pack out. Thank you just doesn't cover it for how much Dad and Mom helped us out. Everyone sort of took on an area of the house, and as I scurried after the kids, I kept seeing things being dealt with that I hadn't even thought of. The fridge! The shed out back! The attic! Ack! It's really hard for me to believe that we just can't go back there and see all our stuff around - laundry on the way up the stairs, kid art galleries on the wall, wet towels from swimming on the doors. Sigh. We threw out so much stuff I can't even begin to explain. Mom gave me kudos at the end saying that she was a little concerned about my ability to give stuff up (because I am so sentimental, like her) but that she was pleasantly surprised. Believe me, there is still going to be a lot of stuff showing up in our HHE that I'll certainly question our thinking in shipping it! In the end I think I found 17 nail clippers. That is but one small example of how an unorganized life can lead to sickening amounts of overpurchasing.

- The professional packers who came (Fernando, Elizabeth, Bobby and Michael) were awesome. Seriously awesome. I really enjoyed talking to them while they worked, and couldn't help but give them big hugs when they departed after 3 days. We way underestimated our UAB (air shipment) and ended up throwing a bunch more stuff in at the end - including the grill! The girls got to add their bikes to UAB too, so that'll be fun.

- Our HHE allowance was 7,200 lbs and we came in around 5,200 which was very good to hear. And that includes the piano! We were tempted to add things from storage to that group but in the end decided against it and just went with the weight we had.

- Thanks to Mom's great idea, we designated the upstairs bathroom as the "NO" room, and put anything in there that was NOT to be packed. Like the passports. N had all the important documents and papers in a yellow bag nicknamed "the football", and if he didn't have it on him, he had it in the No Room. I should've put my shoes in the No Room. Yup, the one casualty of the pack out seems to be the two pairs of shoes I meant to put in my suitcase. Until the mall trip on Sunday, I only had flip flops to my name.

- We are now in the Residence Inn, where we've been through the weekend. We fly to Houston tomorrow, where the kids and I will hang out with our wonderful friends we met in Strathmeade. N will have meetings during the day but will be joining us for dinner. On Thursday we fly to the Guad.

- Jenny came by to pick up her newly strung guitar and some bins she'll be holding in storage for us. I cried when she drove away. :( I love our friends and this place so much.