Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Ashlynn is 5 and a half months now.  She's sitting up and I get the impression that all she wants to do is run around with her sisters!  Arabella is impossible to photograph.  She won't do anything she's told so if I want to take her picture it has to be her idea.  Most pictures of Bella right now are like this...

Monday, March 26, 2012


We had some friends over for brunch on Sunday.  This is the second time we've hosted brunch in the last few months and it's so much fun.  The timing works well for the girls.  Dinner parties are tough because in the middle of all the fun you have to drop everything to get the kids to bed while your guests wait.  Brunch is a better time and I love cooking and eating breakfast with friends!

I took some photos of the aftermath of the brunch.  Most of the food was devoured so lots of dirty dishes piled up the sinks and tables.  Third world sinks are about as big as a cereal bowls so it took us the rest of the afternoon to clean up.  It was worth it though because everyone had a great time.
Waffles with strawberries and whipped cream
Gouda, bacon and rosemary scones
Grilled tomatoes with mozzarella and basil

Everything was yummy but I think my new favorite thing is savory scones.  I usually always make them sweet so the cheese and bacon scones with rosemary were a change.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

bath time

Ashlynn is at the cutest stage right now.  Everything is starting to click.  She's fascinated by Lucy and her face lights up as she babbles with her sisters. She's laughing all the time. She's grabbing our water bottles and putting the top to her mouth. She's splashing in the bath and pool. I love 5 months!  

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I got smart

The commute to and from school was killing me.  Literally sucking the life from my body.  Every day the girls and I sit in the car in traffic getting to school and then I'd make the ride home.  The same thing happens for pick up.  On a bad day I was sitting in the car (the crappy rental car right now), sniffing the diesel exhaust for close to four hours.  On a good day it was two.  I was car sick, irritable, and feeling guilty for leaving Ashlynn at home for that long without her mama.

I got smart and am now sending our driver with Addie and Bella or just Addie (depending on the day) for school drop off.  Then I go pick them up with the driver.  This gives me the entire morning to play and read with Ashlynn and Bella if it's a day Bella doesn't go to school.  I can nurse Ashlynn and get her down for her nap.  She's been sleeping longer when I'm at home to nurse her before she lies down.  Bella isn't cranky sitting in the car any more.  It's a winning situation all around.  Addie made a stink after a few days about not giving me a hug when she's dropped off at school but I tried to explain to her that it just isn't practical for me to just go along for the ride when our driver is responsible and two girls need me at home.  Plus I made the case that is was like having her own private school bus taking her to school.  She seemed to understand.

I have to say this change has done wonders for my mental well-being.  After I kiss the girls goodbye for their day I can eat my breakfast with Ash, get a cup of tea, and settle down on the floor to play with my darling girl.  It's opened up at least 2 hours in my day.  Yesterday I made bagels with some of that time.  I also cleaned the playroom and checked my email.  Imagine that.  

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

what to make for dinner after a horrible day

Last Wednesday was the longest and most painful day I've had in Ethiopia yet.  The morning ride to school was an hour long with both girls complaining and whining about the temperature, the sun in their eyes, being hungry even after I fed them breakfast.  Traffic was terrible and we got Addie to school but had to sit in the car for another hour on the ride home.  Bella was not happy and the car started to over heat and the battery lights went on. We get home thankfully with only about an hour of down time before I had to get right back in the car to go back and get Addie from school.

The ride back to school we weren't as lucky and the car just died on the side of a highway on ramp about half way to school.  Our driver had to deal with the rental car company (we have a POS rental right now because it takes 3-5 weeks to get the plates changed to our name on the 4-runner-don't get me started) to get it towed and fixed and I had to sit on the side of the road getting gawked at by the locals while I waited for Justin's office driver to come pick me up.  I accumulated a big late fee picking Addie and her friend (who was coming to play at our home) 30 minutes late even after calling to notify the preschool I was having car troubles and would be late for pick up.  The worst part was having an Ethiopian man walk by making comments insinuating I was a hooker and he'd heard through the grapevine I was good at my job!  Awesome.

At home things weren't looking up.  The kitchen sink backed up and our guard decided it was the day to wash and hose down all 57 of our balconies.  Only the city water wasn't running that day and he used our tank water.  Completely used the entire tank to scrub balconies we never use.  That means there was no water to cook dinner, wash our hands, give the kids a bath that night or even flush the toilets.  The water delivery came about 8 PM that night.  That's when we noticed that even with a full tank of water we weren't getting water to the bathrooms on the second and third floor.  The night guard had to bring in the emergency water maintenance team to fix our water pump.  As Justin and I were falling asleep that night we were serenaded by the sound of all the toilets and hot water tanks bubbling and filling with water as when the pump was finally fixed.

It was a day I wanted to forget.  The very next day I went straight to the store and bought a bottle of wine and popped it open at 1:30 PM.  I will never again make the mistake of not having a bottle of wine to open on a terrible day.

Through it all I had to feed my family.  If you are having a terrible day and the last thing you want to do it cook a meal, this dinner is perfect.  It's a snap to prepare and tastes so yummy and comforting.

Mediterranean Stromboli  
Prepare your favorite pizza dough.  Mine is the following.  It's so easy I can't believe I ever bought the pre prepared pizza dough at Trader Joe's.
2 1/4 teaspoons instant dry yeast
1 cup warm water
2 cups flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons white sugar or honey

Mix the dry (flour, instant yeast, sugar, and salt) add the wet (water-thank God for our distiller, olive oil, and honey if you are using it instead of the white sugar).  Stir with a spoon until it's combined and sticky.  Form in a ball in the bowl, cover with a towel and let it rise until doubled in size.  Here at 7,000 feet above sea level this takes a very short amount of time.  At lower elevations it will take longer.

Pull out the risen dough on a floured surface.  I like to use my Silpat so I can just transfer it to the baking sheet.  Knead 8-10 turns with a bit of flour on your hands.  Roll out with a rolling pin to a large rectangle.  I use my Silpat as the dimensions.  Silpats are awesome.

I covered the entire rectangle with stuff I had in the fridge.  Dry salami, sliced fresh mozzarella, fresh parsley, spinach, sliced tomatoes, Kalamata olives, and sliced red pepper.  Next I started at one side of the rectangle and carefully rolled it up as you would a log of cinnamon rolls.  I pinched the edges and laid the Stromboli seam side down on the Silpat and baking sheet.  Rub the entire roll with olive oil and bake at 425 degrees until golden brown 25-30 minutes.

I need to give Real Simple recipes most of the credit for this idea and the baking time.  I got th inspiration from an article about 10 new ways to use pizza dough.  It was from my May 2010 issue.

The girls gobbled this up.  Addie picked out the spinach and parsley but Bella ate it all.  My biggest accomplishment of late is getting the girls to love bell peppers!  WooHoo.  They even eat them raw with hummus.  You can put anything in your Stromboli.  Italian sausage and feta, mushrooms and Gouda, chicken and Fontina, or just veggies.

This Stromboli was warm and gooey.  All the insides were hot and melty while the outside was a nice crisp dough.  An added bonus was that the house smelled like baked pizza dough which has to be one of my favorite scents!  It's what my psyche needed after that terrible day.

Monday, March 19, 2012

I heart second-hand kids clothes

My Mom likes to have a shopping mission.  I tell her I need granulated garlic, the next week I have a box with an entire jar of it.  I mention a meat mallet might be a nice addition to my kitchen she finds one for a dollar at the local Salvation Army.  The examples like this are endless.  My Mom is a bargain hunter and I definitely got my love for shopping from her.  On top of it all my Mom and Dad are wonderfully generous when it comes to their kids and grandkids.  When Addie outgrows her clothing I just mention it to Grammy and she runs down to her local children's consignment shop and picks out a pile of larger things for Addie.  The dresses are usually anywhere from $2-$6 and in wonderful condition.  Some of them you'd never know were ever worn.  It saves us a ton of money and Addie loves getting the box of new things to wear.  Grammy almost always throws in a few new (used) things for Bella and Ashlynn now too.  Here they are in their new digs.  Bella has her new airplane that Grammy and Grandpa put in the care package for her too! Thank you Grammy and Grandpa!

Sunday, March 18, 2012


We celebrated Justin's birthday on Friday!  I love birthday parties in our family.  I made Justin's favorite enchiladas and guacamole and carrot cake for dessert.  The girls helped me decorate.  It took most the the week to make a birthday banner for Dad!  The girls made cards and we gave him extra special hugs and kisses.  Addie needs only the very mildest excuse to put on a party dress.  

Sunday, March 11, 2012

sick Saturday

The girls gave Justin and I a cold this week.  Ashlynn seems to be past the worst of it now and Addie and Bella are running at full throttle.  Justin and I were the ones laid out yesterday.  It was one of those days I looked at my watch around lunch time and counted how many hours until the girls' bedtime.  We stayed in a played all day.

her first taste

Ashlynn's been giving me signals that she is ready for solid food.  At the table she's always trying to grab what I'm eating.  She fusses and seems frustrated when we are all eating or I'm cooking and she's left out.  She's just barely sitting up on her own now.  Yesterday she wasn't interested in nursing after her nap so she played for awhile but became increasingly fussy and irritable.  I tried to nurse her again which just irritated her.  Instead, I pumped out some milk and mixed it with some baby cereal for her first taste of solid food.  She loved it!  Right away she was opening her mouth for the spoon and swallowing the food.  Within a few bites she was grinning ear to ear.  I ended up mixing three portions of the cereal since she was clearly interested in more after the first two were gone.  She was so happy afterwards.  I'm thrilled she liked it so much.  

stuffed shells

These stuffed shells were so yummy and easy I have to share the recipe.

I boiled 24 jumbo pasta shells until mostly done, drizzled a bit of olive oil on them and set them aside for stuffing.  In my food processor I chopped a handful of fresh parsley, spinach, fresh chives and five cloves of garlic.  I added one can of mushrooms without the liquid and pulsed the processor until it was all combined and chopped finely.  Next I added about a cup and a half of ricotta cheese, one egg, salt and pepper and pulsed it until it was well combined.

In a large glass pan I spooned my homemade tomato sauce on the bottom.  Jarred spaghetti sauce would be perfect.  A good layer of sauce is needed.  Addie helped me spoon the ricotta mixture into the shells and place them on top of the sauce.  Cover the pan with foil and bake covered at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.  Uncover, sprinkle with Parmesan and cook for another 5 minutes.  It was that simple and really delicious.  The fresh parsley was a nice bright flavor and the mushrooms added a nice texture to the cheese mixture without giving it a mushroom flavor.

Arabella at the cheese mixture out of the shells and left the noodles.  Adelaide ate the noodles and sauce but left the cheese mixture claiming it was too garlicky.  You definitely could roast the garlic first so there is no sharp garlic flavor before adding it to the food processor.  

Thursday, March 8, 2012

new friends

It’s fun to watch my children make new friends.  Both Adelaide and Arabella have quickly made new friends at school.  Addie never seems to have trouble finding a best friend where ever she goes.  Bella on the other hand seems content to play with her friends at school and then come home to her best friend, Addie. 

Luckily there are lots of families with children in Addis.  Interacting with them is challenging.  Being at home in a walled compound is much more secluded than my lifestyle at our apartment complex in Manila.    There I could just take an elevator ride to visit friends.  We would have impromptu play dates every day.  Here, we have to schedule a play date and drive.  I know of only one other stay at home Mom in my neighborhood.  Luckily we have become friends and her two daughters are roughly the same age as Ashlynn and Arabella.   

Having a baby makes it challenging for me to participate in any of the embassy community activities during the week.  After spending most of the morning shuttling the two older children to school and back the last thing I want to do is get in the car for a ladies tea 30 minutes away.  Right now I’m too busy keeping nap schedules, fielding little girl requests and making dinner.  Somewhere in the middle of it all I try to sit and read or play with Ashlynn so she isn’t just carted around all day long getting lost in the shuffle.  I know one day this won’t be the case and I’ll have ample opportunity to spend with other grown-ups.  I’m kind of a home body anyway.  Being with my girls at home is a good place to be. 
Last Sunday Justin and I hosted some friends and their two girls for a brunch.  It gave me an excuse to  plan a meal and play hostess.  The best part is watching the children get along and play.  All four girls dressed as princesses.  When we have friends come play the princess dresses are the most used toys.

Here is Adelaide with her new best friend.  Aren’t they precious?  Addie’s out of her skin excited because today she went home with her new best friend after school. 

I need a tune up

It’s been about a month now that I haven’t had more than a 3 hour long block of sleep at night.  Hell, it’s been long before Ashlynn was born since I had more than a 6 hour block of sleep.  The fragmented sleep has me running on fumes every day.  I’m not sure how I haven’t collapsed yet.  The only explanation I can come up with is that I’m just used to being fatigued.  It’s plausible and probable.

I’m trying to maximize the time I have in bed in the morning before I turn into a short order cook/personal wardrobe assistant/hair stylist/lunch preparer/child herder before we have to get in the car to drive to school.  I have one hour to get it all done (and change/dress/nurse the baby).  I’ve got it down to an semi-efficient science.  The downside is that the hour doesn’t include much time for my own personal grooming or maintenance.  In fact, I’m only getting a shower in the mornings every other day.  The lack of personal time extends through the rest of the day and evening. I simply have zero time to maintain myself. 

Thankfully, by the third child most of my vanity has been long thrown out the window.  I’m learning how to make the most of the 5 minutes I do get on myself in the morning.  Deodorant, perfume, baby powder in the hair, under eye concealer-most definitely, and a swipe of blush a bit of lipstick so I don’t look too tired and pale.  My over sized sunglasses have become my best friend.  Even a good pair of earrings can detract attention from my dry uneven skin and drab hair. 

The truth is, I haven’t had a hair cut in 6 months, my legs see a razor once a week if I’m lucky.  I’m in desperate need of highlights, a facial and a mani/pedi.  Today I found time to rub a handful of Aquaphor on my feet and then put socks on in hopes that my Grand Canyon feet cracks will soak up the moisture all day. 
Help is on the way. For the three and a half minutes our internet was working last week I ordered night cream and a super anti-aging spf 50 moisturizer.  It claimed to do everything but the dishes.  I also purchased some fancy dry shampoo.  When I say fancy I mean not just the plain baby powder that I’m using right now.  A baby powder-on-the-oily-scalp-gal must have started the dry shampoo craze.  I wish I would have thought about putting powder in a fancy bottle and calling it “dry shampoo”.  Genius.  I’ve never done a “hair treatment” but I ordered a weekly moisturizing hair mask to try to add some softness and manageability back into my mane.  I’m blaming my dry damaged limp locks on the life sucking dry air here in Addis Ababa.  In all fairness breast feeding and aging are contributing to my hair’s demise as well. 

Justin and I have been glued to season one and two of Mad Men (Belle Jolie episode is my favorite so far.  I love Peggy and Betty equally-what does that say about me?).  The show inspired my ordering three new lipstick colors.  All three old school Revlon.  Ordering lipstick online is a crap shoot.  Hopefully one of the three is a good color on me.  I know it’s just a TV show with make-up artists and wardrobe people but those house wives look like a million bucks all the time. Some of that must be based on the reality of 1960. I will never look like Betty Draper at the end of a long hard day with my three kids.  I even have hired help right now just like Birdie!  Anyway, lipstick has always intimidated me and I’ve only used it for special occasions.  Not any more.  I’m wearing my free gift lipstick every day.  The focus on my painted lips hopefully tears people’s eyes away from my downfalls (like my dark circled eyes and moody morning facial expression).  Mad Men makes lipstick seem more practical which I know is completely backwards.I'm certain it's because the ladies of Sterling-Cooper wouldn't go a moment without their lips done up in color. 

So I have some emergency help on the way.  It’s in the mail.  Let’s hope it comes quick.

Picture used from this lovely blog

Remind me how hard this is

Ashlynn was such a great sleeper.  Key word-WAS. Right up until she hit 4 months.  Her big sisters gave her a virus and at the same time she started teething pretty intensely.  While she was sick she barely let me lay her down to sleep.  As the cold passed the night waking didn’t.  Teething the first tooth is a long drawn out ordeal with the gums swelling, the tooth coming up and receding over and over.  Just as expected her gums on the bottom have been bothering her off and on.  Sometimes so much that she refuses to nurse from the pain or lay down from a throbbing head.  Other times her gums are fine.  We’ve recently passed a bad few days of teething and the night waking was just getting worse.  Teething can no longer be my excuse for why she isn’t sleeping well.  Something had to change. 

Last week I reached my breaking point.   Ashlynn was waking up at night every two hours, often every hour.  I was so tired I was bursting into tears in the middle of the day. It was time to teach Ashlynn how to soothe herself to sleep for her naps and let her cry it out at night. I’m certain I’m mostly to blame for this night waking habit.  When she’s sick and teething she cries out and I go to her, pick her up, nurse and cuddle her. Every time.  At 4 months my baby girl turned into a conscious child with much more going on upstairs.  Surely she’s smart enough to put two and two together.  I cry-Mom comes.  This is my third kid.  How am I at this breaking point once again?  It’s almost the same time as with Bella too.  You’d think I would have seen this coming.  I guess I thought we’d bypass this phase since Ashlynn was such a good sleeper up until this point. 
Project cry-it-out started last Friday.   I’d really  hoped to avoid this stage with my third baby.  It’s excruciating to listen to her cry and not go to soothe her.  Success happened quickly though.  By day two she was putting herself to sleep for her naps by sucking her thumb or pacifier.  I put her in her crib after a few minutes of pre-nap rocking, she cries for a few minutes and then goes to sleep.  Today I put her down awake and she didn't’ even cry; just rolled over and went to sleep.  She’s taking three, one hour naps each day and I’m not loosing my mind trying to rock her to sleep before each nap.  A tiny bit of my sanity is back.
The night time game plan gave me more anxiety.   Ashlynn has no trouble putting herself to sleep for the night.  Each night she nurses and is asleep by 6:30-7PM.  Typically she wakes up about 3 hours later to nurse again.  This feeding I don’t mind.  It’s the waking every one to two hours after that I can’t handle.  On Friday night, as predicted she woke for her first feeding around 10PM.  Also predictably, she woke one hour after that crying for no apparent reason.  I let her cry.  Scream really.  Justin said the sound could be used to torture soldiers.  Thirty eight minutes later she had put herself to sleep.  It was terrible and I was in tears at the end.  But she slept for three hours until she woke for her second feeding.  Success!    The second night she cried for 40 minutes, the third night just 3 minutes, and every night after it’s a bit of fussing and then she sucks her thumb and goes back to sleep.  That means I’m getting four hour blocks of sleep instead of less than two hours.  I cannot tell you how much this has improved my outlook on life.  The next step is to eliminate the 5:30AM wake up. She generally doesn’t nurse much so I know she isn’t hungry.  I’ll take the small successes and work on this next. 
My sleep training bible is Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Baby.  It helped quite a bit with Arabella and I pulled it out last week to review my game plan for training Ashlynn.  I don’t think any book can really give parents the answers for how to let your child learn to soothe themselves but this book gave me the right ideas.  It’s all about tailoring it to your comfort and style as a parent.  I have a hard time stomaching the crying but with every baby I reached a point of no return.  Either the kid had to sleep more or mama is going to loose her mind from exhaustion.  I definitely recommend this book for new parents.  It’s usually my baby shower gift for friends. 

The good news is that Ashlynn seems more rested when she wakes up in the morning.  We’re moving towards a good three nap per day schedule.  She’s getting three naps each day it’s just extremely variable as to when and how long the naps are.  On the days that she naps well she also sleeps better at night with less crying. 

I’m really excited with how quickly she caught on and started soothing herself back to sleep without my help.  I’m always hesitant to start sleep training with my kids this young.  I feel really guilty about making them cry it out.  In the end my need for sleep helps me dive right in and get’er done.  I just need someone to remind me about all this 3 years from now when I miss having a baby in the house. Please!  Someone remind me how hard this is!