Friday, January 27, 2012

Bella Goes to School

Bella had her first day of school this week. She’s attending a parent/nanny run morning program at one of the mom’s homes three days a week. It was started a few years ago by a mother who had a child that was too shy to attend the school Addie goes to. Bella’s not the shy type so I wasn’t worried about her starting. In fact I couldn’t wait for her to have a more structured day with socialization with other children. The other moms were hesitant to have her start during a transitory period for the school and kept putting off her start day so it wouldn’t interupt anything. When we finally showed up for the first day, Bella walked right in like she owned the place. She started playing with the toys and introduced herself with her name during the morning song. She didn’t even turn to say goodbye. When I came to pick her up she was happy as a clam playing outside with the other little girls. The other moms were shocked at how easy it was to have Bella joing the school. I am very proud of my big girl attending school all by herself. The teachers say she participates during the lessons and plays well with others. There are a total of 5 little girls in the class which is really fun. She loves playing at school and is especially happy about her new backpack. Thanks to Aunt Rachel for such a thoughtful Christmas present. She loves wearing it!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

On living at high altitude

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia is at roughly 7,700 feet above sea level. Essentially the city is on a large plateau. This is my first time living at a high altitude and I’ve learned a few things in just the few weeks we’ve been here.
I’m fat and old. Well, at least the altitude makes me feel that way. I am sucking wind pretty hard when I reach the top of our four flights of stairs. Going up and down during the day is all the exercise I need right now. It takes about a month to get acclimated to the new altitude. I can feel the stairs getting easier and easier as the weeks go on.
I’m starving. Our bodies work extra hard while moving around in the high altitude and I’m burning a ton more calories just living in this thin air. That makes me hungry all the time. Addie and Bella are hungry all the time too. I’ve never seen these children ask for as much food as they have in the past few weeks. Nursing Ashlynn is burning a ton of calories every day too. In the few weeks we’ve been living here I’ve lost enough of the baby weight to get back into a pair of jean shorts I bought while we were in New Zealand in October of 2010! WooHoo for getting my pre-baby body back. High altitude is kind of awesome in this way actually. Keeping enough healthy snacks on hand for the girls is kind of tough though.
I’m thirsty like a camel. It’s extremely easy to get dehydrated here. Maybe it’s a combination of being at a high altitude and at the equator at the same time. Whatever the reason, we have to drink a lot of water to stay hydrated. We get headaches frequently in the evenings if we haven’t had enough. If the girls wake up with dry crinkly lips I know they haven’t had enough. I go through about three Nalgene bottles full of water in a 24 hour period and that’s probably still not enough.
I’m exhausted. Just for the same reasons I’m hungry all the time; I feel even more tired at the end of each day. Having three kids under the age of five has something to do with it too; but my body is working pretty hard to get oxygen where it needs to go let alone run after my little ones. I’ve noticed the entire family is crashing harder at night.
I can still bake. I was nervous about trying to bake at high altitudes but really, it’s not much trouble at all. I’ve made banana pineapple bread, brownies, and bread pudding so far (after much searching for the ingredients-and making some substitutions here and there) and everything has turned out great. I simply adjust the recipe a bit according to a high altitude baking chart I found online and BAM-yummy eats are still in our house. Justin isn’t completely thrilled about this because he wants that high altitude extra calorie burning factor to help him stay slim and trim. My baking doesn’t help but it sure tastes good.
The sun in intense. Spending even a short amount of time in the Addis Ababa sun gives the girls a pink tinge. The weather may not be hot and humid here but the sun is much more intense than we are used to. I am trying to load up on SPF for everyone.
We have a marathon runner in the making. Little Ashlynn will have the amazing lung capacity of an Ethiopian runner by the time we leave here. Summer Olympics 2030? Maybe!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Ashlynn Olivia Update

Ashlynn is over 3 months old now. She's reaching out for objects I hold in front of her. If she grips them she can move it to her mouth to chew on. She's soothing her self with her thumb here and there when the pacifier falls out of her mouth and she's too tired to cry out for me to come put it back in. She's still a good nurser which is new for me. At this point with my other two I was pumping full time. I'm definitely getting more sleep this way since nursing her takes about 10 minutes or less and she's back to sleep. I'm not missing the middle of the night pumping sessions and then lying awake for another 30-40 minutes trying to fall back asleep afterwards. Nursing Ash is sweet. I like the convenience of it and mostly the closeness of it. It's nice to be forced to sit down and pause during my busy days. Sometimes I huff and puff about having to stop what I am doing to breast feed, but the moment I sit down with Ashlynn to nurse I feel happy and content. Everything else in the world can just wait! I have been trying to pump at least once a day to have a freezer supply in case I get a parasite which causes me to pump and dump during the medication. Fingers crossed this never happens and if it does hopefully not until my freezer is full of milk.
Ashlynn is a good sleeper at night. Some nights she nurses every 2-4 hours and other nights she sleeps a huge chunk. Last night she slept for 7 hours straight! Amazing. Since she's a good sleeper she's a pretty good napper and therefore she's a happy active baby. Every single day I have a moment when I look at Ashlynn and thank my lucky stars that I get to be a Mommy for the third time. She's such a precious little girl and I'm so blessed. When the day is long or something isn't going quite right it's nice to snuggle my warm soft baby and the world is right again.

Meet our staff

Ethiopia, just like the Philippines, has its own way of life that we assume upon arrival. As diplomats in this country we have been assigned a compound to take care of and keep as our own for the next few years. With that, comes the need for some help around here.

Day guard/gardener: Teklu is a very kind and helpful man. He opens the gate for us during the day and screens visitors for us. He checks our water tanks and makes sure things are generally in working order. He is also an excellent gardener. He prunes, waters, plants, mows, and all the other sorts of gardening things. Because he is here every day, Addie and Bella have come to enjoy playing outside and watching/helping him with the gardening. Mostly that means he stops what he is doing and helps them pick flowers, track ants, or play tag. Lucy has also become fond of Teklu because he always plays fetch. (Justin would like to call him Virginia Teklu, after his alma mater). I really like Teklu, mostly because he is trustworthy and dependable. Plus Addie drew him a picture of herself, Bella and Ash in the garden with Teklu and he proudly displays it above the door to the guards room.

Housekeeper: Eneye (pronounced Neee-yay): Eneye is our housekeeper. I was a bit nervous during our interview because she speaks very little English. I figured I’d give it a go and so far it’s worked out smashingly. We have come up with lots of creative ways to communicate. I made a chart for the weekly housekeeping activities by drawing tiny little mop buckets and laundry baskets. She’s a sweet lady who has her own three year old daughter and I find that it helps to hire a mother. Her motherly instincts are right on. She does all the cleaning (which is no small feet since the house is so massive), laundry, dishes, washing of the produce, and she watches the girls here and there. Addie and Bella welcomed Eneye into our home day one. They asked if she was our new Yaya and I basically said “sure”. That was that and Addie and Bella pulled her up to the play room to show her their toys. Ashlynn is doing ok with Eneye. It’s only been two weeks and I’m pleased that Ash will let Eneye hold her at times when I am cooking or trying to help the other girls with something. I left Bella and Ash with Eneye while I picked Addie up from school. When I came home Ash was crying but not hysterically, so we are making progress. I love that Eneye has the baby hold and bounce down. That’s key for helping out around here. I am enjoying having a clean house again and Eneye is a very efficient housekeeper. She doesn’t do any of the cooking yet but I am hoping to teach her a few simple recipes that I can ask her to make from time to time. I also plan on helping her to start doing the grocery shopping. I’ve surprised her with a few of my cooking tricks. I imagine it’s strange to see my American style cooking compared to her Ethiopian style cooking. She giggled a bit when I asked her to shove the entire onion and handful of parsley inside the chicken’s backside for roasting. I think she found the idea of a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch rather odd. But she’s a good helper in the kitchen AND she’s caught on to the cloth diaper thing right away. She’s a keeper.

Driver: Zahlalem is a young driver that we’ve hired on a recommendation from a trusted source. He’s 25 and ambitious and finding it hard that a lot of the job of a personal driver is simply waiting for us to need to go somewhere ( I told him to bring a book and a pillow). He speaks perfect English, is college educated and friendly. He’s eager to run my errands and help with anything he can. I found him the other day coloring on the lawn with Addie and Bella. Like Techlu and Eneye, the girls have Zahlalem wrapped around their little fingers. The best thing about our driver is that he knows his way around Addis Ababa and he’s extremely cautious while driving. So cautious that I sometimes roll my eyes at how slow he goes over the potholes with our huge all terrain Kevlar tires. Zahlalem is pretty lucky because he gets to drive our awesome new jacked up Toyota 4 Runner. It makes sitting in traffic to and from school less painful for sure.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Daddy and his three girls

I can't even begin to describe how lucky I am to have a wonderful husband who is also an amazing Dad.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My Ethiopian girls

The girls are adjusting to Addis Ababa nicely. Adelaide started her 5 day/week preschool this week and loves it. She’s made friends and comes home tired. The best part about it is she doesn’t mope around the house bored anymore. Arabella is starting at a little parent run preschool program next week. It’s 3 mornings a week and there are 5 little kids her age attending. A teacher/mom runs it from her home so it will be a nice transition into school for Bella. I think she’s ready for the structure.
The girls seem to have made Ethiopia their home rather quickly. They are accustomed to having a housekeeper and driver. The guards are new to them (and us) but they’ve welcomed them into our little Ethiopian family. One of their favorite things to do is play tag outside and pick the flowers in the garden with our day guard/gardener. He’s so friendly with the girls and they love him. One afternoon I peaked outside and found them sticking little pink daisies in his hair.
I’ve had a few complaints from Addie and Bella about the food choices but I’ve been explaining that there are certain things that they need to start eating while in Ethiopia simply because there aren’t as many choices here. Luckily we’ve found a good chicken hot dog they like and they are enjoying the powdered milk we can get.
When I asked Adelaide what her favorite thing about Ethiopia is she said “sunny days and summer dresses”. She’s a summer girl for sure. When I asked Arabella the same questions she said “Airplane!”, I’m assuming the airplane ride over was her favorite part.
Ashlynn is an angel. She proved to be flexible on the airplane and slept most of the trip. It took her a few days of rough nights before she switched to the time zone but now she’s sleeping at night from 7:30PM to about 7:30AM. Don’t be fooled, she wakes every three to four hours at night to nurse. I’m not complaining though because that’s much better than every two hours. She’s happy and content and stuck to me like glue. Just the way a 3 month old should be. I love my baby girl.

Our Ethiopian Christmas

I wanted to give my parents (Grammy and Grandpa), sister-in-law (Aunt Rachel), sister (Aunt Megan), and Aunt Mary K (Great Aunt Mary) a HUGE thank you from all of us for sending boxes to Ethiopia ahead of us so we had Christmas gifts and goodies waiting for us that first weekend we arrived. Ethiopian Christmas was celebrated on January 7th here and we had a nice pile of boxes for our celebration. We opened up all the presents in the morning for our second Christmas and the girls loved it. It was so nice to be welcomed to our new home with wonderful things from our loved ones. The girls really loved the sock monkey (Bella named her Mommy Monkeyy) and quilt (Addie’s sleeping with it every night). All the gifts were a hit and I appreciate the practicality of many of them. The girls are getting lots of use out of their slippers and robes for right after bath when they are “frozen”, as Adelaide would say. Thank you to everyone for yoru generosity. It was nice to get a piece of home the first weekend we were in our new home.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Our new home

A comfortable home is going to be key for our family in Ethiopia. I have a feeling we will be spending most of our time together in our home and if we venture out it will be to the rare playground or school function. Possibly playdates and dinner parties at other family’s homes. Our home is our sanctuary here.
We arrived at an off time in January. Not many homes were available because not many families were coming and going. It could have gone one of two ways. We receive the last crummy house that is a last resort to assign a family of five; or they locate something more appropriate for us and we end up with a palace. Luckily the later was the case.
It’s a three story, 4 bedroom, 4 bathroom, palatial home. The bottom floor is an open floor plan with double front doors into a huge entry way, formal living room, dinning room with built in china cabinets and a large functional kitchen. There is a den and powder room on the first floor as well. The second floor is a perfect set-up for the kids. Addie and Bella share one of the three bedrooms, the largest bedroom on this floor is the playroom and the third bedroom willbe a spare until Ashlynn is ready to move to her own space. On the second floor is a cozy family room where the TV is. The third floor is entirely the master suite with a large bathroom and immense walk in closet. Off the master suite is a sitting area that we’ve turned into the nursery. It’s a nice compromise. Ashlynn is in her own space but I don’t have to walk up and down two flights of stairs all night to nurse her.
There are balconies on the second and third floor. Large enough to put lounge chairs and have meals. We’ve been issued patio furniture with an umbrella for the second floor balcony because it’s huge enough to entertain outside. The windows in the home are worth mentioning. They are floor to ceiling and open for a nice breeze during the day. My favorite part of the home is the lovely garden we have out front on either side of the home within the walled compound. There is grass and flowering bushes and roses that climb the walls! I’ve been eyeing this gorgeous yellow roses as it’s bloomed each day. IT givesme a bit of The Secret Garden vibe. I’m in love! I’m also in love with the decorative moldings in the home. There i
s recessed track lighting in living room and master bedroom circling the rooms’ perimeters. Chandeliers hang in the formal living room, dinning room and the master bedroom. If I was a jerk like most the picky Americans on HGTV’s House Hunters, I’d say the chandelier in the master bedroom is “not really my style”. But I’m not because seriously, there is a chandelier in my master bedroom. I had a blanket hanging over the window in our bedroom in Virginia ghetto style to keep the light out when Ashlynn napped. I’m moving up people!
The view outside the windows is also worth mentioning. We look out onto the road and grassy fields. There is a fair amount of car traffic during the day. Possibly more foot traffic including shepherds herding their flocks of sheep, goats, and ox to and from pastures. I really love watching the Ethiopian school children walk home from school in flocks too. The younger kids get out early, while the teenagers come down the road in packs later in the day. At night we hear hyenas in the fields which makes all the dogs bark. The moon shines big and bright every night but not before a spectacular pink and orange sunset every evening.
There are some things about this house/compound that could fall into the not-so-awesome or interesting category depending on how optimistic I am at that moment. We have an “out-building”, I guess you could call it, where the laundry room is as well as a huge pantry to house our consumables. Right now the pantry has an ant/bug problem which is bad news for food storage. We are going to get that fixed before the shipment arrives. There is an empty room where our housekeeper could live and another storage closet where I see our Christmas decorations going. The day and night guards have a room and restroom. In the back of the house there is a creepy alley looking corridor where our water tanks are as well as a clothesline.
The entire compound is walled complete with barbed wire. The gate is always locked and guarded. Every window/sliding door has an outer layer of iron grates. The bathrooms have those gross stinky third world drains with leaking sewer gas. Screw water drainage, we tape those stinky holes up! There is one decent shower in the entire house and it’s not in the master bathroom. The master bathroom has a crummy Chinese shower that spurts hot water for a few seconds then switches back to freezing cold for a few seconds over and over until I’m fed up and hardly clean.
We have a water distiller in the kitchen that dispenses our clean drinking and cooking water. The water we bathe with or wash dishes with is not suitable for consumption. Giving a girls their bath in brown tinged water is a big wake up call. Justin and I are Nazis about not letting the girls put their hands or toys in their mouths while in the bath.
Ugh! Florescent lights...need I say more.
Besides the annoyance of having water deliveries for the tanks outside and the screech and grind of the pumps shooting the water up pipes to the second and third floors things are going well in the house. With a few more voltage converters we should be in business.
Across the street is a squatters village/shanty town. It’s not entirely awesome that we smell the smoke from their fires on the cooler mornings and evenings. It seems like a petty complaint when I’m sitting on the second floor balcony of our African palace. Now I really am a jerk American.I have a few before pictures of the house I took week one. It’s fun to see how the home evolves as the air freight and HHE shipments arrive.

Not entirely surprised

We have a gorgeous fireplace in our formal living room that would be perfect for warming the bottom floor on the cold evenings. Only problem is that they built the second and third floors above the fireplace leaving it unusable. So sad but I'm not surprised.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Live from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

We have been in Ethiopia a little over a week now. It’s just starting to set in that Addis Ababa is home now. It’s frightening and comforting at the same time. It’s very hard to explain. I’ll try.
In the past six months we’ve moved fromour home in Manila, Philippines to America for our R&R for two months (basically vacation). In Auguest wemoved into a rental home in Virginia, had a baby, and now we’ve packed up and moved to Africa. That’s enough life changing events to get most people through a decade. We packed it in half a year. I’m exhausted.A big part of me feels comfort and relief in finallyarriving at our home here in Addis Ababa. We can settle in and be a family with normal family life stuff without the clutter of packing and moving and transition. At least for the next two and a half years that is. I can’t wait to get our personal belongings we packed up in Manila. Ashlynn needs a proper nursery with a changing table and a crib. I want to rock her in my rocking chair. I’m looking forward to having my kitchen back and my bath towels, our TV, my bed. Everything! Walking into our new concrete home with marble and wood floors, stinky bathroom drains, florescent lights, tiny kitchen sink and Embassy furniture was a strangely comforting homecoming. Like a much larger African version of our condo in Manila.
On the other hand, arriving in a foreign third world country, mostly unprepared for the first few hectic weeks is frightening. The new landscape, culture, language, food, safety issues etc, is all rather unnerving after a mostly hectic month in Virginia just trying to get to Ethiopia. It all happened so fast I feel like I didn’t get to give America a proper goodbye. I think I would have had one more block of the Cotswold cheddar with chives from TJs (they serve this cheese in heaven) and one more walk around the block breathing deeply the fresh air. I’d hug and kiss all my friends and family just one more time. Seeing everyone through Skype is terribly saddening. It’s just not the same as laughing together in person.
Being a stay-at-home mom in all this transition ispretty tough. This past week I stayed home with the girls in our new empty house, with no food, no communication, and no car. The hours passed terribly slow while we waited for Justin to come home from work with word about our internet service or this or that maintenance crew that would be out to the house for repairs. There were a few evenings when I burst into tears when he walked through the door. Trying to keep it together with all the stress just became unbearable
to deal with alone.
I don’t like to dwell on the bad so I am going to focus on the good. Things that I love about Addis Ababa, Ethiopia already:
1. The blue sunny skies. 2. The 70-75 degree mid day temp that gradually cools down in the evening and night. 3. The lack of city noise and light pollu
tion. When I exited the airport the night we arrived the first impression I had was of how quiet it was. 4. Our house. It’s spectacular. Three floors, 4 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, marble and hardwood, tall ceilings, gorgeous decorative moldings, balconies on every floor. 5. Our garden. It’s small but well kept with flowers and grass. There are r
oses climbing the stone walls. 6. The girls smiling faces. Bella declared day two “I like my home!” and Addie says her favorite thing about Ethiopia is being able to wear her summer dresses. As long as that girl can wear her summer dresses she’s happy. And therefore, I’m happy.On a whole, my first week assessment is that Ethiopia is going to be a good home for us. I can see us being happy here. Not a bad state of mind to have 8 days in.