Sunday, August 19, 2012

Where have I been for 3 months?

I can't believe it has been three months since my last blog post. I even had to reset my Google password since I couldn't remember it. Shocking. I've been reading everyone else's blogs, just not writing any. I've been a tad busy and by the time I sit down (when I get to sit down), I'm too exhausted to do anything other than read.

My boys and I left Wellington in July to start our 10 month sojourn in North Carolina while Daddy learns Hindi at FSI. Having lived in this little "pleasantville" for 9 months just before heading to FSI the first time, the kids loved it, made friends and wanted to return. Since we really didn't want our teenagers in DC schools we made NC our home. Plus, after the Christchurch earthquake, I got a touch of PTSD and bought a house off the Interweb that I had not even been inside. There was a lot of fixing up to do. I vowed to make the house livable while my husband was busting his hump at FSI.

I was able to sell my nursing cover business to a lady in New Zealand so this house is now my full time job. Thanks Claire, you basically paid to have my whole house decked out with new hard wood floors. Hope you like the business. Anyway, I've never worked so hard in my life. I'm no stranger to manual labor but my body protested most of the first and second week. I lost 5 lbs that first week too! My brother, my 15 year old son, Morgan, myself and 2 movers emptied the 26 ft moving van. It was a job I don't want to repeat any time soon. So now I don't look at it as work, it is my enforced exercise regime. My shoulders are becoming very defined from all of the painting and my legs are getting firm from running up and down the stairs a billion times a day. But, it is worth it.

Kitchen Before


I cannot take all the credit. My family helped. My amazing brother showed up even before the water or air conditioning was turned on to help make the house livable enough for me and the boys. He cleaned up and hauled away weeds & debris, built pathways and steps and painted a few of the worst rooms. He sanded all of the cabinetry so we could paint it too.

My Dad amazed me with his ability to fix ANYTHING!! He helped me disassemble all of the broken and nasty ceiling fans, cleaned them up, replaced a switch here, a motor & light there and, functional ceiling fans.

When the flooring guys cut the wrong sized hole for the air conditioning problem. Dad cut new ones and repositioned the sheet metal. But the big event was installing a new bathroom from scratch. We spent 7 hours at Lowe's the day before. Yes, that's not a typo-we were at Lowe's for 7 hours. The closest Lowe's is 30 miles away so we wanted to get everything we would need to work on the house for an entire week.

This is what we did in 3 days...amazing!


We didn't have time to get to Adrian's study. My Dad had to get back to Florida and my brother left with him to attend to his own affairs. That left me and the boys. Yikes. I didn't want my husband to have a heart attack when he finally saw the house for the first time. The moldings all had to be painted, the doors needed scraping and painting....we worked furiously.

He loved it. After a day or two of jet lag recovery, Adrian jumped right in and we set to work on his study. Now he knows how hard we've all been working.

Study before


Everyone pitched in. I even had surprise help from one of Adrian's college buddies and his girlfriend who stopped by to help install trim. I never want to do that again by the way.

Ewan Painting a new doorway to the balcony.

Adrian on his second day home, painting his study

 Morgan getting all the high spots.
Me and Thom putting in the trim

Jenna cutting the trim-she loved it.

We will NEVER be finished fixing up this house but it is in good shape and we love it. The new appliances, bathrooms and paint really make a difference.

The best part is that it is within walking distance to grandma and grandpa and Ewan's buddy lives across the street. There is a bed and breakfast within walking distance and it's just a short stroll to downtown. So, when your car unexpectedly breaks down like it did this weekend, you can still walk your kid to soccer practice.

We are Home (for 10 months)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Don't let them change you.

  I've been having a few "poor me" moments lately brought on by an inordinate amount of stress. Ilnesses, divorce (not mine), law suit, house renovation 9000 miles away, pack out, school transfers, etc. I am beginning to think that this high octane stress level is the new norm and will just have to get used to it. Most of it is beyond my control anyway.
  This lifestyle comes with a whole new set of little annoyances that you don't consider until you are overseas, and I'm in a first world country. Imagine what it's going to be like when I head to my first third world country! Something as simple as registering a car becomes a week long event involving countless emails, notaries and family members in country. Add to that, the fact that our Embassy here  in Wellington doesn't have a notary and it gets even more complicated. How can we NOT have a notary at the United States Embassy?
  I admit, I've let it get to me. I threw my hands up in despair and started thinking that I wasn't cut out for this. And then, the doubt crept in. Maybe I wasn't as awesome as I thought I was. Maybe people were talking behind my back, and saying that I wasn't good enough. Maybe I'm not smart enough or witty enough or pretty enough to be a diplomat's wife. I can set a table and cook the right food but what if I cannot hold up my end of a conversation? I even started to question the color of my hair. What if people think that I am trying to be too young by dying my hair? I was freaking out. WHAT WILL PEOPLE THINK??
  Then it hit me, or rather, my husband reminded me; it doesn't matter what anyone thinks except him and my boys. They think I am awesome. I don't know when this low self esteem thing started but I am pretty sure it began when we left North Carolina to head up to DC. How it happened doesn't matter. That it happened and. happened to ME, matters. I am uber-confident. I am the person who volunteers to speak in public and I will confront anyone if I feel I am being wronged. It is who I am, er, was. So this new weepy Amy was really getting on my nerves. I tried to blame it on the earthquake but this started way before February 22. Luckily, I have a very supportive husband who reminded me that I have very good instincts and every decision I make is usually the right one. The confidence I oozed was the main thing that attracted him to me. I just forgot.
So, I am getting back to normal. No more seeking advice or confirmation. I am in charge of my own life and how I want to live it. Except for where I live it, or the house I will be living in to live it or the color of the walls of the house I will live in, or the furniture  or the schools my children will go to, etc. Except for all of that, I am in charge.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The thing about street cred...

My husband wrote a funny blog yesterday about being from Glasgow. Apparently, being "from" Glasgow gives you serious street cred. I've only been to Glasgow once and it seemed ok, but apparently, back in the day, it used to be a scary place filled with dangerous street gangs and hooligans.

Now, my husband is a pretty refined guy on the surface. He is charming, has a wicked accent, devilish good looks and impeccable manners. But, I know another version. I've known him a long time and have seen him in every situation you can imagine and have never doubted his ability to take care of himself. To be honest, I can totally see his 14 year old self running amok through the streets of Glasgow with his mates, smoking cigarettes and throwing beer bottles at the drunks, earning his street cred.

This got me to thinking, though. What qualifies as street cred? I've lived in some shady places, but none that would be labeled as "gritty" or "dangerous" or even the wrong side of the tracks. Still, I think I am pretty street smart. I spent a large portion of my childhood in a small town 20 miles north of Philadelphia fending for myself. It wasn't totally derelict, but it wasn't as nice as Philly. I had some cousins from New Jersey. Now they had street cred. They actually scared me a little. They were older and would sit with my Dad and tell stories about their teen-age years in Philly and Moorestown (NJ) in the 60's (my Dad was really young when he had me). 

Some of these stories seemed unbelievable. One cousin talked about how annoying it was to live near the Burlington Bristol Bridge. They get "jumpers" you see, and they don't always make it into the water. Ugh. Gross. My Dad once told a story about how on his way to work one morning, he saw a severed arm in the street. He called the police to report it and they asked him if it was a left arm or right arm. Apparently, it does matter. The gangs send messages to their rivals, and a left arm means something totally different from a right arm.

I've been mugged once. That should give me some street cred. A naked man once asked me for directions when I was walking to my friend's house. I was only 7 or 8. I guess that qualifies my neighborhood as a bit dangerous, thus qualifying for street cred-ness. What do you have to do to get into this club? I was actually suspended from school in the 7th grade for fighting. Snap, that should get me lifetime membership right?

Now I have these two amazing boys who have never lived anywhere "tough" - unless you count the weather in South Dakota. They've never been harassed by the local druggie, beaten up by the local bully or brought home by the local cops. They've got no street cred. I still think that they would dominate in the Hunger Games, though. If you can get street cred just from "being" from somewhere then it doesn't really count. You have to "live it," baby.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Random acts of kindness

To say I've had a tumultuous month would be an understatement. My house renovation bills are escalating. I received a not so nice letter from the IRS. I am trying to organize pack outs, school enrollments with 3 different school curricula for 2 kids and generally feeling a bit overwhelmed. To top it off, the final payment for the house we sold a year ago, didn't come and doesn't seem likely to come for quite some time. Since it's not really my nature to sit around and feel sorry for myself, I just keep trudging along doing what I need to do to get things done. However, there wasn't a lot of joy running through my veins this morning when I hung up the phone with the people who aren't paying us.

Just then Ewan walked through the front door carrying a package. He spent the night at one of his friends' house. Daniel is a nice kid and his parents seemed pretty cool when we spent a few minutes chatting with them yesterday afternoon. They are actually from Malaysia, but have been in New Zealand for over 20 years. We spoke about our kids, the advantages of living in New Zealand as opposed to Malaysia and we tried to explain our crazy lifestyle to them. We laughed about the idiotic price of seafood in this country since everybody seems to be able to just walk over to the waterfront and pluck it out for free except us!

I was particularly animated about my outrage at the price of lobster. I mean really, it is shameful what they charge for lobster here. They explained that they charge so much locally because they get so much more for it when it is exported. Well that doesn't remedy the fact that I really like lobster on special occasions. But I refuse to pay $85 dollars for one. We giggled, exchanged pleasantries and said goodbye wishing that we had met them sooner because they seemed like really nice people.

So, back to Ewan and that mysterious package. You guessed it, it contained a fresh New Zealand lobster. I was gobsmacked. In that one instant two virtual strangers turned my ridiculously dismal morning into a bright shining moment that will be one of my best memories of New Zealand.

  Thank you Jeffrey and Evelyn. You'll do.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

No, of course I'm not mad at you. Whatever.

 So I had to take Ewan to the doctor this morning. Yes, that doctor who wouldn't give me anti freak out medication after the earthquake. He's really a great doctor when it comes to determining what is wrong with you and he is very thorough. He explains everything and makes sure you leave with a clear understanding of what is wrong with you. I actually believe that he is one of the best doctors that I've been to.

This morning, after he diagnosed my son and prescribed physical therapy and a few blood tests he asked me if I was mad at him over the way he dealt with me after the earthquake. I thought about it and really wanted to say yes, I was a bit mad, but it has been a year. I am fine now and probably won't ever see him again so, I said no. I told him I wasn't mad, my ideas just differed from his. I am not a doctor but I am a grown up and I know my own body. I knew I needed more help than he was giving me but I was in a country where toughing it out is a badge of honor. How could I admit that I wasn't as strong? I wanted to be strong and prove that Americans are just as tough as Kiwis. We are brave and resourceful, we don't need drugs or therapy, we won our independence didn't we? I am a warrior.

He seemed relieved and asked me if I didn't feel better knowing I was able to heal myself without the aid of drugs? Actually, no. I didn't feel better doing it myself. It reminded me of when I lived in South Dakota and was in the process of giving birth to Ewan. My doctor and I discussed the pain relief options and I wanted an epidural. But, on delivery day she was trying to convince me that I didn't need it. I could do it naturally. Women have been having babies since the dawn of time without medication. I thought she was insane. I stood my ground and asked for the epidural. After 16 hours of labor, I was glad I insisted. What is this ridiculous need for people to show how tough they are?

So, no. I take it back. I was a bit mad and I am disappointed in myself for letting someone else dictate how I am supposed to feel instead of standing up for myself and demanding to be heard. Yes, I am proud of myself for being strong and making it through a tough situation but I regret that I was made to feel that asking for help was somehow wrong. I usually do a better job of standing up for myself.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

American kids with a bit of Kiwi

  I have American kids. I am very proud of my family's history and though our geneaology before hitting America in the 1740's is sketchy, my side of the family have deep roots in the USA.  So, when I married and immigrant (gasp) straight off the boat, it was a bit of a shock. Of course, since he was Scottish, he was immediately welcomed into the family. The Scots are their favorite foreigners. Now that he is an Americn citizen, our little family is 100% American. Or so I thought.

I took Morgan to an athletic tournament this week and laughed when I realized he's becoming just a wee bit Kiwi. He can master the Maori accent and has adopted the rough and tumble no worries attitude. He is giant compared to the rest of my side of the family standing 6'2" and weighing in at 175lbs at 15. His Rugby coach says he'll be a legend this season before we head back to the USA. He liked that. He chose Rugby again over soccer this season and can now even play Cricket, which will benefit him when we move to Inida next year.

I am not sure if my kids see it as a benefit just yet but having the opportunity to immerse yourself into a culture for 2 years is an amazing gift. You get a full understanding of the culture and have enough time to explore the different areas knowing that you are still an American with all of the advantages that come with being American. You always know in the back of your mind that if it doesn't work out or if you don't like it, you can always go home.

One year later running the Wellington Marathon at 14.

In Morgan's case, he has thrived here. He went from a skinny 13 year old kid to a mature and solid 15 year old young man. Not only has he grown 5 inches but he has gained almost 60 lbs. And, it's not just the physical changes. He has mellowed. He has become interesting in a grown up kind of way.  He is not cocky or boastful but sure of himself and confident. He never disrespects us or challenges our authority and even seems to enjoy our company most of the time which delights me. I am waiting for the day that I all of the sudden become a tiresome idiot who cannot be seen with him in public.

Ewan too has changed but in more subtle ways. He hasn't had the massive growth spurt yet that Morgan has but it's coming. Hopefully he will hit it when we are back in the USA where the groceries are a bit cheaper :)  Ewan is still very much an American child but has dived head first into the Kiwi Sports scene. There isn't a sport that he's not willing to try. He has made the travelling soccer team again this year but decided not to join the school team since most of the games will be played just after we leave. That's a bit disappointing especially since the team will be going to Australia this year to compete. This year however, his classmates are going on a week long camp into the Waitomo Caves, he asked to skip it. Not quite as adventurous as Morgan but I'm not sure I'd be keen on it either. Can you imagine 80 American 12 year old boys on a week long camp into caves? I'd hate to see the liability waiver on that one. They do this every year for every grade. It's amazing. 

Yes, my all American boys have a sprinkling of Scots and touch of Costa Rican and Kiwi but their roots run deep and the knowledge and experiences they gain on this incredible journey will only make them better Americans.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

One year later - the 5th stage.

  I thought about doing a very in depth blog for the one year anniversary of the Christchurch earthquake but I am pretty sure my husband will have that covered in his blog Being a former journalist, he is into the details and facts. My blog is essentially written for my family and the 3 other people that read it and believe me, they know every detail of that day.

  I was sitting at home last night feeling a bit sorry for myself. My husband is back in Christchurch for the anniversary with our Ambassador. I was watching the interviews and reports of the quake and reliving the hours I was there. When I was running through those streets, I remember bricks and debris falling and I remember stepping over them or running away from them as they rolled toward me, but to be honest, I didn't realize how devastating it was in other areas of the city as well, I was just moving and dodging. It wasn't until I got back to Wellington  and saw the news footage that I realized just how devastating it was and how lucky my husband and I were. A lot has happened since then and though it still makes me sad to watch the footage, I am no longer anxious and depressed about the earthquake and I am beginning to feel differently about it.

So, today I will focus on the many positives in my life. I am clearly approaching the 5th stage of grief

  I am lucky. Not just because of that day but because I have a great life. I have a great marriage and I have unbelievable children. I have all of this because I am a very strong and capable woman. My husband and I enjoy one of the best marriages on the planet not because of luck but because we are both decent people and have the skills to respectfully communicate with each other and share this life together. Plus, he's really hot.

 I have two outgoing, respectful, smart and talented children who will still cuddle up to me and tell me about their day and how much they love me.

 I just bought a beautiful old house that I really love and hope to make into my forever dream home.

 I live a varied and interesting life with the opportunity to go anywhere in the world where there is an embassy.

 I have been able to collect a handful of really great friends, I know Jennifer would drop everything without hesitation or explanation if I needed her.

 I still have my two grandmothers! Peg brings me so much joy, all I have to do is hear her voice on the other end of the phone and I know I am going to smile today.

 My Dad and his wife are always there to listen. He knows better than to give me advice about emotional stuff but if I start talking about mechanics or fixing something, we can talk for hours. It calms me, I think he knows this.

 I have been lucky enough to have married into a unbelievable family. They couldn't be more different than me but they accept me. I think they even love me sometimes:) They are kind and smart and beautiful and best of all, fiercely loyal.

 So, yeah. I am not going to mourn today. I am happy to be alive and happy that I still get to wake up every morning to these beautiful people in my life and make them laugh, make them cry, make them shake their heads and sometimes just wonder ;)

 Naturally I have been questioning how the earthquake affected me personally and if it has made me stronger or has somehow made me weak. I don't know yet but what I do know is that many of the folks that were in Christchurch but don't live there are still a part of this. They seem to be the forgotten ones. Somehow they don't count and are not entitled to mourn or be depressed. They are told to get over it whenever there is a shake here and hide under their desks. One friend of mine was told she should seek counseling because surely she should be over it by now, it has been a year after all. Perhaps some of us cannot get over it becuase nobody aknowledges that we were there, and afraid and in danger.

 If you run into a survivor today that looks sad or scared or just a bit shell shocked, how about giving them a pat on the back or a hug and tell them how glad you are that they are still here and if they need to talk, you'd be happy to listen. Belittling them and minimizing their experience down there is incredibly damaging. Watch the footage on TV, it brings it into perspective. Remember, you weren't there and you have no idea the raw fear that many of us felt. It did matter, it still does and always will.

 Now, me and my girls are off to put flowers in traffic cones as and act of solidarity with the Cantabrians. I don't know who came up with the idea but if I had to bet money on it, I'd say Adrian had something to do with it. He is obsessed with cones.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Good house porn

I found this site by accident and now I am totally addicted. If you are decorating, planning to decorate or just dreaming about one day having a house to decorate...this is the site to go to.

Kitchen traditional kitchen

It appears that my new old house has some issues in the kitchen. Since we were planning on redoing it sometime in the future anyway we were not too upset to learn that "later" is now. This is perfect. I hope I can afford a scaled down version of it. The armoire on the right houses the refrigerator.

Monday, February 13, 2012

It takes a lot to piss me off.

  My husband and I joke that I am the Golden Retriever of the human race. I am usually happy, wake up with my tail wagging ready to face each new day optimistically. If I get cut off in traffic I give the offending driver the benefit of the doubt "he probably has a sick kid in his car and it on his way to the emergency room", I often tell my kids as way of explanation. If someone talks about me behind my back I tend to forgive thinking they must be having a bad day or just need to vent and don't mean anything by it. So, when I am actually mad about something, I feel totally justified in expressing my outrage.

  This week I had a meeting with my 3rd RMO since last year's devastating earthquake in Christchurch. It was bad, I got freaked out and sought help (I'd like to clarify that I was at the epicenter of the quake standing in the center of downtown staring at the Christchurch Cathedral as it fell on the cars parked in front of it). I was brushed off. When I had to go to my Dr. here in NZ to treat the all over body rash I developed shortly after due to my extreme anxiety caused by subsequent mini quakes here in Wellington he told me to take antihistamine and gave me prednisone. I asked for valium, he said no. Too addictive. Ok.  I get stuck in downtown Christchurch with buildings falling down around me and I get antihistamine. Do you know how prednisone interacts with an already freaked out woman? Ask my kids.

It always seems backward to me that doctors always want to treat the symptoms of an illness and not the actual cause. My rash was caused by the insane amount of adrenaline being pumped through my body and my body was trying to fix it by jacking my immune system into high gear. So, I understand the necessity of the prednisone and antihistamine but the underlying issue of the adrenaline being pumped through my body on an hourly basis went unchecked. I was still nervous and scared ALL THE TIME in the weeks after the quake.

This represents the latest 30 quakes in NZ from February 2, 2012 until today. They range from 2.3 to 5.7 on the Richter scale. Just so you don't think I'm exaggerating.

  So, I asked the regional RMO to help me out. She said I should be taking anti anxiety pills until the rash is under control and I stop freaking out whenever the neighbor takes his wheelie bin to the curb (sounds kind of like an earthquake). Great, I will just take my email from her to the local doc and surely he will write me a prescription. Nope. Too addictive, he told me to try drinking some wine before bedtime it will help you relax. I did take his advice and started drinking a wine. Lots and lots of wine. It helped in the moment but my liver was not happy.

  A few months went by and my rash finally started going away and things were getting back to normal when we had another quake in June. Back to square one. RMO number 2 came to the Embassy and told me I really should be on anti anxiety medicine and she would mail me a prescription. What? It's that easy? Why didn't the other RMO simply do that 6 months ago? Whatever, I was happy with that except the prescription never came. Apparently I was supposed to remind her that she was going to send me a prescription. Ok, 'cause that sounds logical when you are dealing with a stressed out patient. Now I've got to do her job too? The earthquakes continue in NZ and we have a nice new crack in our ceiling to prove it but I am over freaking out and just pack an emergency kit, leave the house and hope for the best.

  Then, the Embassy sent my husband back to Christchurch. This I did not like. Let's not even mention that they have had thousands of aftershocks since last February and a big one over Christmas that brought down more rubble. Nobody died so I guess they figured it was ok to send embassy staff back for another Codel. Adrian was totally ok with that, I wasn't. He's much braver than me. So, off I went to shoot an email to the original RMO again to let her know my rash is back and what does she recommend I do about it?  A month later I received a small vial filled with 10 pills for "emergencies". Whatever. My time of crisis is over and the pills remain sealed in the bottle. Let me emphasize that I am not interested in being medicated 24 hours a day. I like being silly and impulsive and having a clear head. I was simply looking for something to calm me down (instantly) in case another big one hit and I needed to calm down. In the days after February 22, 2011 I remember wishing that someone would just put me in an induced coma for a few days, just so I could get some peace. I was so upset and nervous that I would have rather been unconscious.
  Last week we had yet a new RMO come and I was ready this time. I prepared a power point presentation for her to let her know how I really felt so she could see exactly where I was coming from and how that day affected me. I was beginning to think that everyone thought I was just standing outside during the quake, felt the ground rumble and then was airlifted out. That was not how it went down. This is how the day went for me. I was beginning to think that all these doctors were looking at me like I was some out of control junkie that was using the earthquake to get some kind of fix. As if I didn't really deserve valium or xanax or some other calming medicine because that was reserved for people who were in really bad situations and deserved to be streesed out. It made me doubt myself. I always thought of myself as a strong person - everyone does. Now I was no longer sure. These are professional doctors denying me, it must be me right? So I showed her my presentation. The system is broken sister and here's why....I thought it was a very good presentation and I left with a new prescription for antihistamines! No wonder there are so many alcoholics in this business (or so I'm told, I haven't met any yet). Luckily I am not so fearful and even enjoy NZ most days though I'd never live here permanently and am looking forward to our new post in India. But I am thinking that to be a part of this business you have to look after yourself. Nobody is going to hold your hand and make sure you get the help you need. I didn't even know I was eligible for medivac back to the States just after the quake until 8 months after. A nice quake break would have been helpful. Someone really should have told me that was an option.

 So yeah, I took a power point presentation to my shrink after receiving help 352 days after my crisis. I'm such a drama queen.