Saturday, July 31, 2010

Family Date

Today is my 11th wedding anniversary. It was a full day.

I had an 8:00 a.m. haircut to start the day off. On a Saturday... so early. I ate some Cheerios and I left the house at 7:30, to the sound of my dear husband having a phone conversation in German with a study-mate. Blah blah blah, I haben zee hairen cutten, guten morgen. Haste la vista baby.

I grocery shopped on the way home.

I got home and all five of us (husband and three kids) went canoeing on a lake near our house. That was fun, but quite a workout. Kids are lazy canoe paddlers. They are like, paddle... sit...sit...sit...drag paddle, splash water, sit... look around, maybe think about leaning over and touching the water with their hands, paddle again with paddle turned so that it does nothing...
We had two canoes. My husband was in the stern of one and I was in the stern of the other. It was basically like the two of us canoeing solo in our own canoes. With sand bags. That lean unpredictably. And want snacks. But it was nice and sunny. And we saw birds.

We went home and had lunch outside on the deck.

Then we went to an art festival. And walked around with the kids.

After that we went to a nice (authentic) Italian restaurant. (Again, with the kids.) The big thrill for the kids was a bullet hole mark in the glass window. I said authentic Italian, right? It was great food. The kids were well-behaved. They put their napkins on their laps, and remarked about how many forks and glasses and plates they each had.

For our evening entertainment, we all went to see the movie Cats and Dogs in 3D. Complete with 3D glasses. That 3D stuff is pretty cool. I think the last 3D movie I saw was in the 80's. Technology has come a long way since then.

Last weekend, the kids spent two days at my mom's, so my husband and I celebrated our anniversary and had our date night then. Today, our actual anniversary, was one long "family date." It was probably more expensive than if we had just paid a babysitter. But it was also nice for the kids to be included. They were cute. They kept wishing us a happy anniversary.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Stupid German.

So I hate the German language.

Sorry, Germany.

You might be nice. I've been near you. In fact, I've been all around you, ALL around you. It's funny, actually, when I look at the map and think about my travels, it's as if I was AVOIDING you, specifically. I visited your border countries. Beautiful, I tell you. Lovely.
I was even in Czechoslovakia "back in the olden days" when it was still Czechoslovakia.


Anyway.
German language is kicking the collective asses of my family. The big language phone test is next week.  And my husband has been spending months getting up early and staying up late and driving to a tutor and paying good bucks to the fraus I haven't met. He has come a long way. He didn't really speak German before, now he does. But this process is time-sucking, soul-sucking. I really, REALLY hope he passes the test next week. If not for the point bump on the PD register (which is currently 168 people long!), for the personal achievement and satisfaction of having done it! Of having put in all this work and having made the grade. But if he doesn't pass, he still will have come a huge distance, on his own, and with hard work and determination. Worst case: he could take the test again in six months. (Reading of PhDs in German literature and high school German teachers and folks who lived in Germany for 7 years and their test-taking stories on the A-100 board doesn't help!)

The kids and I are ready for German to be done. We'd like to have that guy back. These next few days until the test will be tense.

Our 11th wedding anniversary is tomorrow.

It's been a tough year. At the risk of being a blame-shifter, I'd have to place a large percentage of the tension in our lives squarely at the feet of the Foreign Service admission process.

Germany, it's not your fault, I apologize for my hostility.

Stupid German Foreign Service.

So I hate German the Foreign Service admission process...

Edit: (Dear Board of Examiners, please do not hold my hatred for this process against my husband... mind erase, mind erase, bzzt...)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fencing.

My 8 and (nearly) 10 year old boys are taking fencing. Fencing?! How cool!?
He will mess. You. Up. He's 8.

They are doing a week-long fencing camp in the mornings. It is run by a very nice man from Bulgaria. My boys really like and respect him - and they dig his accent. This is the first time the boys have done this, and they LOVE IT!
8 yr old S. is ready for action.

And here it is.
They started out with the epee and have also used the sabre. I'm not sure if they will also use the foil or not. They are being taught all kinds of things about fencing.

Almost 10 yr old B (on the right) using the sabre.
It's awesome to see them lunge and jab. I don't know all the terms for what they are doing, but they do. And they shake hands at the end of each... match? bout? fight? round?

B fencing (right).
My chess player B likes the strategy involved. My gymnast and soccer player S likes the footwork and athleticism. And what boy doesn't like to swing a sword? I mean really? The clang of metal hitting metal is just cool. I'd enjoy it myself. Although I don't think I could resist saying, "Touche, Pussy Cat!" from the Tom and Jerry cartoon.

Here's S getting a little sabre schoolin'.

video

Monday, July 26, 2010

Energy star? Pshaw...Gold Star!!

Somehow, my husband signed up to get an energy audit on our lightbulbs from NYSERDA, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. NYSERDA’s aim is to help New York meet its energy goals:  reducing energy consumption, promoting the use of renewable energy sources, and protecting the environment.
So, anyway, he signed up for someone to come into our home and count how many compact fluorescent light bulbs we have. You know, these things:
And NYSERDA was going to give us $100 for the trouble of opening our door and letting them in to count the bulbs. They really need that info, I guess. I was dubious. But said okay. Then I realized that I was the one who would have to be the lightbulb-counter-letter-inner-attender-to. Because my husband would be at work. No biggie. So, I'd earn my $100. 

Boy, would I.

The scheduling lady on the phone said it would take "at most an hour" and it was fine that I had three kids around, I wouldn't need to do anything. 

Even though she said that, the day Mr. Lightbulb-counter was coming I forced the kids to go to a 2 hour summer recreation program in a neighborhood park anyway, just in case.

When I got home, a really old, white, rusty Saab was in my driveway with the owner just putting "the club" on the steering wheel. 
You know, this thing:
Not for nuttin' (as they used to say in Providence, RI), but, my neighborhood is pretty safe. Nobody gets their cars stolen. Or broken into. Especially at 9:00 am. And if someone wanted to steal a car, I bet they'd go for the neighbor's BMW SUV rather than the rusted out SAAB with Vermont plates. But, better safe, I suppose, than sorry. 

So the guy was about 55-60 yrs old, grey hair in a white man's overgrown afro. Similar to this: 


He was wearing baggy cammo pants with black combat boots, a pair of glasses on his face and another on a leash around his neck, also with a man-purse (a murse?) around his shoulder. He could well have slept in his car, he smelled and looked, that fresh. He came in and pointed up at the light fixture in the foyer. (He didn't introduce himself, no ID, nothing. I should have kept the kids at home to call 911, if need be!)

Unknown Man: "What's in there?"

Me: "What do you mean?"

Unknown Man: "What's inside that fixture?"

Me: "Lightbulbs..." (not knowing what he meant exactly.)

Unknown Man: "What kind?"

Me: "Better grab your step-ladder."

Unknown Man: big sigh... (unscrews glass cover, finds CFL, sighs, writes down the serial number on the side of the CFL) "When did you buy this bulb and where?"

Me: "I don't know, about 2 years ago at Home Depot or Lowes."

Unknown Man: "Well, which is it? Home Depot or Lowes? And was it exactly 2 years or more than 2 years?"

Me: ???? (Are you freaking kidding me.)

And this was repeated with every single light in every single light fixture we had. He wanted to know where EXACTLY I purchased each and every bulb. Who remembers these things?! Then he got snippy with me when I didn't know.

Each bulb had to be unscrewed and have the little numbers written down. After a while he'd say, "Lemme guess, Home Depot or Lowes. You don't actually know. About two years ago."

We have a lot of CFLs and he was starting to get pissed. Every single CFL made him seem to get madder. It was as if he wanted us to have ZERO energy-saving light bulbs.

They come in all kinds of shapes now. We have these:

  
And these. And these. All these squiggles and wiggles... gott'em.

He also started asking me what I did with my life. What did my husband do? Didn't I think I should go back to college and study something useful? Don't I know that the kids aren't going to need me forever? Oh, I like ceramics? He told me I really should start a business of painting dungeons and dragons figurines. 


Or pressing weeds into clay tiles. And then he told me he really is trained as a city planner. But has never worked as one. And he used to be a drug addict. And he really likes my oak furniture, and it looks really expensive and where did I get it and how much did it cost? And he doesn't have a house and can't seem to get the job and house thing to coincide. And he used to live in San Francisco. And cilantro is good for getting mercury out of your blood.

He also asked me how many TVs we have. One. How many hours we watched TV a week. I said 2, at most. He looked at me doubtfully. I nodded. He then said the kids must all have computers in their rooms then and play computer games all the time. I said no. (WTF?)  

Then he asked me where I keep the spare lightbulbs because he needed to write down the numbers on all those too. I told him I wasn't sure where they were since we were kind of reorganizing (more like disorganizing). I told him I'd call my husband since he'd know. The guy told me not to call my husband "since he is actually working (unlike me) and not to interrupt him at his job." That I "could stand to learn a thing or two about lightbulbs." 

I was about to drop-kick the jerk but instead said, "You know, I kind of expected you to come in here and say 'yay, good job. You get a gold star, you are using lots of energy efficient bulbs.' But you just seem kind of annoyed with all the bulbs we do have. And by the way, who knows where and when they bought each bulb?"

He said, "Lots of people have photographic memories about their lightbulbs. And lots of people think they are doing the right thing by using those bulbs, but what about when the bulbs break or they burn out, then what do you do? People need to protect their families."

I said, "I  save the spent bulbs for when the recycler's toxic waste day comes along, I don't just throw them out. So I get a gold star for that. I do the same for used batteries. I recycle. Gold star for that. I even compost. We installed a high-efficiency furnace and hot water heater in the two houses we've owned. Gold star again. We don't watch tons of TV, we actually go outside, play games, talk and read. And I do take care of my family. I have to say this is a gold star day, all around. I have to give myself a big. Fat. Gold. Star. Now, you have two minutes to get out of my house because you have been here two long hours and I have to go get my kids."

 

And I'll take that $100 now, thank you. 


But why was I seeking approval from the lightbulb counter? I can give myself a gold star any time I please.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Stressless?


My question: if I buy this chair, will I really stress less? Because if so, it may be worth it. Maybe a discount voucher should come with each passing of the OA.


Ha ha! I just checked out the site and they are available in three sizes. 
Not just S, M, and L, oh, no! 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Swimmers Ear

My daughter has swimmer's ear. We've never experienced that before. I guess it's an infection from water getting stuck in the ear canal and the ear getting infected. All I know is she says, "Ow!," when you touch it on the outside.

The Doc. has us putting ear drops in 4 times a day for 10 days. That's fun. And we need to try to keep it dry. We swim a lot, so that could be tough. What's summer without swimming?

My father-in-law is getting his knee replacement surgery today. So we are praying for him. I told the kids the knee components will be metal. My boys think it's pretty cool that they will have a cyborg-grandpa. Part robot, part Grandpa. I hope the recovery isn't too difficult for Grandpa. Or Grandma. I hope he's not a cranky patient once he comes home from the hospital. He'll be back to playing Rummy before long, I hope.

Update: Grandpa is doing well. He is out of surgery, everything went as scheduled. He's in the hospital, recuperating. He says he went for "the top of the line chrome knee." Of course he did, he drives a Lincoln. 

Monday, July 19, 2010

On the register for SIX months.

My husband has been on the register since January. What once seemed like it would happen (getting called), might not. I mean, really, even if he passes the German test, it might not. There were 162 people on the PD register when calls started out a few days ago, he was around #70, I think.

He is going to take the German test in August. He has also started a second (freaking) candidacy. He submitted the PNQs yesterday. So the man is trying.

Bravo to all those who got called. Kudos to the brilliant, multi-lingual former stock broker/lawyer/banker/professor/whatever brilliant things they do that get them hired in 5 minutes. Yeah for the people who whine and moan and say, "Oh I'll never get in, when will I get in, when will I ever get the call with my measly Arabic/Turkish/Mandarin speaking 5.9?!" Because guess what? You WILL get in. And you know it.

Whatever.

It's not your fault. I blame spreadsheets. They are like meth for Type A people.

And guess what else? Some people don't have nannies, or babysitters. Or housekeepers.

Or friends now. haha. Sorry about the rant.

(In all seriousness, congrats to everybody. The process means you are all hard-workers, smart and patient. Just try to go easy on the spreadsheets, will ya?)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

How to write PNQ's that get you noticed.

My husband is working on his essays that are due on Monday. They are called PNQ's for any non-FSers out there. (Personal Narrative Questions, I believe.)

I have been tasked with hearing them. There are 5 that need to be submitted.

I have been judging if this one is better than that one. Is that one stronger than this one? Does this one address his strengths better than the other? Does this project sound too broad? And on... (I don't mind at all. Really.)

Last night, as I was reading them, I hit on the way to make PNQ answers really pop. To really draw attention. To make them SING, if you will. And I have to tell you, my husband agreed. It was late and we had a good laugh.

Simply add these words to the end of each sentence of your essay, 

"...in bed."
 
Suddenly, "Developing and implementing an innovative strategy..." doesn't sound so dry, does it?  

Yowza!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Excitement of the day. No, not the call.

What'd I do today, you ask? (I heard you askin'.)

Oh, not much, just SAVED A LIFE!!!

Holy frickin' moly.

Yeah, me.

Swimming at the pool. Some little kid is all, "AHHhhhhhhh!!! AAahhhhhh!!!! EEEEEeeeee!!!" In the deep end. No adults around. The kid was panicking and his face was barely staying up above the water, his arms were crazy all around.

There were two lifeguards on duty. Sleeping, I guess.

I swam to him, fast, zoooooom, zooooom. I was there. Grabbed that little kid around the chest and side-stroked his little booty to the pool edge. I put his chubby hands on the deck and lifted his butt from below. Thankfully, two adults were there to help pull him out. Because by then I was getting shakey. What just happened?!

The mom was very thankful. Another lady was thankful. I was embarrassed. The lifeguards looked oblivious.

All in a days' work.

Back to the set of Baywatch for me.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Lordy McFlordy, that was a long drive!

Yee-ha, I'm home. Screw the FS. I'm never leaving home again. I hate suitcases. And traveling. And cars. And staying with relatives and staying in different hotels each night. And you know three kids don't really fit in regular hotel rooms, so one kid always got the sleeping bag on the floor. And repacking the wet swimsuits and ...

Ok, maybe I'm being overly dramatic. But maybe not.

This was the road trip to Missouri, "The show me (the exit) state".

Day 1: Drove 11 hours. Spent the night in Richmond, Indiana. Noticed billboards such as: "Jesus says Read your Bible!" and "Repent lest ye go to Hell!" Also saw many Tea Party billboards. Just saying.
Day 2: Drove 6 hours to St. Louis, Missouri. Hot. So hot. The sun scorching there. Maybe need to do more repenting? Hotel night with all 6 siblings and the in-laws. Big dinner for the 50th. Very nice. Lots of nieces and nephews.
Day 3: Drove 3 hours to Jefferson City stopping at family farms along the way to visit and reminisce. Spent the day at an uncle's house and lake for a reunion with hundreds (?) of my husband's cousins and aunts and uncles. Lots of eating, fishing, trying to figure out who people were. Spent the night at another aunt's house. (Former 1st grade teacher - loves kids - awesome!!)
Day 4: Drove 2 hours to Lake of the Ozarks house. Four siblings and hubby's parents rented a 5 bedroom house for three nights. It was very nice, plenty big and had mint green carpet throughout. But no chocolate chips. The house is high on a hill/cliff, with a million stairs to the water. Not great for my father-in-law who gets a knee replacement soon. :-( Also, only a dock to jump off into 20 foot deep water, so not great for the really little kids. :-(
Day 5: Rain. Went in Bridal Cave. Later my vegetarian husband caught a big catfish. Mother-in-law attempted to cut off its head in front of all the grand kids. Turns out the knives were very dull or she's not working out enough or the bones of catfish are very strong. She turns over the live catfish to her son-in-law as multiple grand children start to cry. Catfish for dinner on the grill. Kids all ate other food.
Day 7: Trip to the beach. I was disappointed to see that a dammed river has really unattractive beaches. As we were playing in the water, throwing around tennis balls, my very athletic nephew threw a ball to my husband who caught the ball. In the process, the ball hit his outstretched hand, knocking the wedding ring off his ring finger and into the muddy, mucky, silty water. Everyone froze. We all looked. The visibility was zero. We were all feeling around in the water, which was chest deep. My hubby felt terrible. He went to a dive shop and called a diver who came and searched with a metal detector for an hour, until his tank of air ran out. No luck. So a platinum ring that's been on his finger for 11 years is still there. Sadness.
Day 8: Clean the house, drive 4 hours to St. Louis to go up the arch. Do the arch. Cool. Nice. Back in the car kids. Drive to Terre Haute, IN. Can't remember how many hours... 5? Hotel with a pool.
Day 9: Back in the car. Drive 12 hours. Home at 11pm. Child torture complete.

Total mileage 2, 370. No dvd player. Audiobooks only.


Reflections from the trip:
-Fifty years is a long time to be married. Ways to get to 50: Be willing to compromise and say, "Yes, dear." and "I'm sorry."
-I never need to go to Lake of the Ozarks ever again.
-Vacationing with many family members is difficult. Different schedules, expectations, etc.
-With all the uncertainty that this FS thing is bringing to us and all the stress it adds to our lives, that symbol of our marriage flying off and landing in murky waters made us realize that we need to make sure to nurture this marriage and each other first. If it isn't worth doing together, it isn't worth doing.
-I should say the word "dang" way more than I do.
-My 8 yr old son now owns an actual civil war mini cannonball from his great grandfather's field in Missouri. So no more joking about my collections.
-I really do like home. Does that mean I fail the FS litmus test? And is Missouri a foreign post? Because I could really argue on that one...