Gypsy Girls + Guy


IMG_9045Nut 3 told me she wants to go home to El Salvador a few nights ago. And this was after she told me she is a Qatari. I think we might have an identity crisis brewing in this wee child. And as much as I love our lifestyle, I often feel torn that we aren’t closer to dear family. And just occasionally on those wistful days, I want the bartender/husband to have a desk job in DC that he’s been doing for 15 years and he knows well so that we can stay PUT. And frankly, even myself, I occasionally have to think twice about where we live. Do we still live in Africa? Nope. Where am I? Seriously, I occasionally lose my train of thoughts and have that split-second ponder-where the HELL am I??

So, about eight weeks into our summer holidays and in the midst of our cross-country adventure, Nut 3 burst into tears from the backseat of our car. I think we were somewhere around the Trans-Continental Divide. It was at that moment that she finally understood that we had really left San Salvador. Oh, was that an awful moment for all of us. The poor little soul had always kind of-sort of-maybe figured that even though we had talked about moving for months before our actual departure, that maybe, just MAYBE we were all just making it up. Or she forgot. And right while our car was winding up, down and around the beautiful Colorado mountains, she realized that she wouldn’t ever be returning to El Sal. And through sniffles and snot and little wails, she was so, SO sad. The poor peanut was devastated. Completely panicked. And we were all heartbroken for her. I think we all cried at that moment, feeling her sorrow.

See this life that we lead? Folks on the outside think it’s glamorous and fancy. But it’s not all that fancy, we meet REAL people and we develop lifelong relationships and it royally stinks to leave them. And most of the time, I’m in my flip flops and I could use a pedicure and an eyebrow waxing just like any other frenzied mother out there.

We have lived on three different continents in five countries in the past ten years. And that doesn’t count all the hotels and temporary housing quarters/apartments where we have called “home”. That’s a LOT of boxes, a many plane flights, tons of airports. And about a million Goldfish snacks and weird/nasty bathroom runs.

But my girls LOVE the countries where we have lived. They are American/Belgian/British at heart but they always take a piece of that country with them. From Mia thinking that the camels at the pyramids in Cairo were HERS, to Z tending to our banana tree in the back garden of our home in Dakar, Senegal, to Remita loving to make homemade “chiri-mol” (salsa) in San Salvador. They have loved hard.

So, maybe home is where you find the people you love. They could be people you have known your whole life or pals whom you have just met but with whom you find that strong bond. So true for us overseas. And of course, family. Family whom I love more than anything. My parents are getting older and I want more time with them. I want more time with them ALL THE TIME. It is SO, so hard to live far from close friends and family. I liken it to not having grandparents and cousins near us-so that in this sense, our new friends abroad become like family, very quickly. Although nothing can replace immediate family. My Mum, my Dad, and my sis are my best pals. So are my sister’s kids. I need more time with them.

Z was only six weeks when we flew back to Egypt from Washington, so the first three years of her life, she only knew Cairo as her home. Although her little body sometimes rejected Egypt (she has lots of respiratory issues due to the pollution), she also thrived in the country-she loved the colors, the vibrancy, the chaos. Nuts 1 and 2 and I would stand on the balcony of our apartment and gaze onto the madness that was this amazing city of twenty million people. Even in the suburbs, Cairo was teaming with life and crazy energy. Leaving Cairo was harder for me as M and Z were so little-they didn’t understand our departure. I did for them, though, and I was so very sad. I was also grateful, though. Grateful for the incredible experience we had had in this amazing country. Also, grateful to get out of Egypt right before the start of the Arab Spring. We have had many trials and tribulations but we are so fortunate never to have had to go through a frantic evacuation. Not yet. Knock on wood.

Our arrival in Senegal was mad chaos as usual. I was quite pregnant (=fat and pissed off) with Nut 3 and we touched down in the middle of July, the hottest and rainiest month in the country. No car, two cranky and whiny little peanuts, a very-stressed out bartender and one hot (and not in the sexy sense), pregnant Mama with frizzy hair and swollen ankles.  And I was always either ravenously hungry or queasy as hell.  Every time I took a taxi, I remember feeling like I had to vomit from the exhaust fumes and nastiness of those vehicles. I could just look at a taxi and feel that intense wave of nausea. And I also had two fidgety, still-adjusting-and-often-whiny-nuts with me whenever I had to go out. I also remember vividly having a mini-breakdown in the airport in Dakar when we flew in around 2 am and some of our bags were missing. I sat my fat rump down on the middle of the airport floor and I cried. As one nut ran circles around me and the other one wailed hysterically right along with me. And if anyone knows African airports, you know that you would NOT want to be sitting on an African airport floor. Just NOPE. But there were no seats and I was desperate, exhausted and angry. Furious and frustrated. And my bartender/husband and his brand-new colleague stared at me in amazement and then they carefully treated me like a dangerous crime suspect. Very gingerly.

We ended up loving Dakar. We reveled in its colorful chaos. The horse-drawn carts and goats competing with traffic. The pungent-smelling, slightly (very) muddy open markets, the passionate, animated people, the chaos and the constant buzz of noise and music.

And my wee Nut 3 in Senegal. Learning to walk (and stumble) on the pot-holed filled streets in front of our house, furiously grasping the hand of our beloved house-guard, Boris. Boris was about 6’4 and they were a sight to see-a little peanut strawberry-blond baby being lovingly guided down the street by this huge presence of a young African man. She adored him. He was her best pal and she would squeal with joy when she saw him. And he protected her little she was his little sister.

Leaving Senegal was as frantic and heart-breaking as usual. We don’t ever easily leave our adopted home countries. Lots of tears and awful pits in our tummies. And we needed to leave quickly due to a change in the bartender’s job so it was even more stressful than normal. So hard to tell a child to say goodbye when they don’t understand the finality of it all. Or they don’t understand why we are leaving. It’s so difficult when they don’t understand but I am starting to see now that it’s even more gut-wrenching as they grow up and DO understand.

Our touch-down in El Salvador was, as usual, not text-book smooth. In fact, I wasn’t even there. Now, normally I would say that I am a pretty confident traveler. But not so much this time. I had never been to El Sal and had heard the buzz about the violence and gangs. Of course I was terrified for the nuts and my bartender. But I was still in DC finishing up post-breast cancer surgeries. And that was tough. We have done hard situations but this was REALLY hard. Never having been to El Sal myself and knowing that the nuts didn’t speak Spanish? I was a bit of a wreck, to be honest. But, yes. They adapted. And they flourished. And they loved. They loved the people and the country and their pals. And we met one of the BEST people in the world there-our nanny, Ana. Ana became like a stand-in grandparent to my girls. In the end, El Sal was home once again and my girls flourished and grew happily. We loved the country, we adored the people, we reveled in the regional travel. And we were saddened by the violence that unfortunately does mar this gorgeous country and region.

And here we are in Qatar. True to us, we didn’t arrive all together. Six weeks without the bartender OR our car wasn’t easy, but it certainly wasn’t the toughest separation we have ever done. So in this sense, it was kind of easy-peasy, right?

So what do I do here in Qatar, you might ask? (Particularly those who are not on Facebook to see my regular musings.) Well, let’s see….. I battle mad traffic and crazy barbarian drivers just to get to the store (that I just found) to buy bananas. I get lost regularly in my car and occasionally feel that I am driving off into the desert, I can’t ever get off these flipping highways. I meet new friends from all over the globe who become part of our expat “family”. I listen to the mesmerizing call to prayer from my kitchen window and know that it’s 2:30 pm and time to go get the nuts. I wonder what it’s like to wear a full abaya all the time. I wonder about camel racing. I miss my family. I call my parents and every day, I wish I were closer to them. I want to be sitting outside in the sunny Belgian weather (!!!) at my sister’s house having a BBQ. I help the nuts with their homework in English, French, Spanish, and now Arabic. I giggle and feel proud when I hear Z calling her Daddy “Baba” (that’s “Daddy” in Arabic). I hope for the very best for my girls. I wonder and hope that they will be the ones to change this world. I miss my girlfriends. I am grateful for new ones here, though. I do chores around the house like any other mother/wife/human being. I play tennis and wish I played more tennis. I revel in the lovely weather that is Qatar in February and then wonder how it’s going to be in the summer when it’s 50 degrees C/122 degrees F. I cheer on the nuts at the pool for their swim practice and have to pinch myself that it’s snowing in DC and my girls are swimming outside in a pool. I wear sandals or flip flops every day. I occasionally eat chocolate. Okay, more than occasionally. I wish I ate less chocolate. I sometimes (a lot) think about bacon. And I wonder about ice cream sundaes with homemade hot fudge (thanks, Mum). I ponder about the DC Chophouse, my fav restaurant in the DC area. I gaze at the blue sky here and see Mexican tortillas in the white clouds. I reflect on the awesome taco trucks in Modesto.  And I daydream about the biggest salad on the planet with bleu cheese.  And bacon again, I mull over how much I love a crisp Hoegaarden with a fresh slice of orange. And my Mum’s food. I contemplate her delicious cooking waaaaay more than I should: Strawberry rhubarb pies, buttermilk biscuits, Italian sausage and pasta with red peppers and fennel, ice cream cake, cheese cake, her UNBELIEVABLE pie crust, sausage stuffing, pumpkin chiffon pie (thanks, Diane Ludlow) buttermilk pancakes, sourdough pancakes made from a 150+ year sourdough starter courtesy of the pioneers of Alaska from when I was 13 and we took a family trip to this incredible state. And I write what are the beginnings of my book about the crazy life that I am lucky enough to call mine. That might be finished in the year 2020. Hopefully before then because I REALLY need a job and an income. And I wonder where we are going to be in three years. Because I really have no idea. Mongolia? Oh, and I might just look at Facebook every once in a while. All right, maybe more. Keeps me connected and feeling sane. As you might guess, I have a lot to say. And it keeps me laughing.

Speaking of feeling connected, I think that when I no longer feel giddy about the particular country in which we live, it’s time for me to hang up my traveling kit and go home. To where, though….? I have had the most TERRIFYING thought recently-the nuts are growing up and where will THEY end up? I need them next to me! The little row of houses, right? What if they end up on the other side of the planet? Or what if they end up never wanting to leave the US? Okay, that’s IT. I am buying a beach house in remote El Salvador and I am going to live there with the nuts and the bartender. Forever. I say house but realistically, on our budget, it would be a hut. Our own cozy hut to call home. Now I just need all the other people I love in my life to come and join us. Perhaps a hut commune?



With only 8 weeks to go left in-country, I am in the midst of a pre-packout panic period.  Say that 10 times as fast as you can.  With a cocktail in hand.  Don’t forget the chocolate.

 As a good foreign service friend of mine (Lea Baker!) recently said, “I realize now that my life has been a series of piles.”  Aaaaaand, that about sums it up.   You arrive at a new post, you have piles suitcases to unload.   Plus mounds and mounds of hand luggage.  And about 20 different carry-on’s for your kids. They give you a temporary housing kit with essentials, and that’s more heaps of stuff.  Sigh.  Then your shipments start to arrive and although you have waited for them anxiously for 6 weeks to 3 months and possibly more, you are filled with a sense of dread when those dirty, dusty, possibly water-logged boxes finally do arrive.  Just a few boxes.  Like 98 of them or so.  With an occasional extra critter thrown in from Africa. And often something you DIDN’T want packed-like fossilized fruit or a gargantuan bag filled with cd cases that you had intended to recycle before you left your last post….but then you forgot in all of the chaos.

 Packing out and moving across the globe is a delicate process.  It’s delicate and brutal all at the same time.  Kind of living in a live puzzle-Where do I put the stuff to be shipped by boat?  Where do I put the stuff to be flown by air? Wait, where is our car?   And where do I put the passports and important documents so that I don’t accidentally throw them out or pack them? I have done that, by the way. Yeah, that was a good day in our house, let me tell you when I realized that I had packed the passports.   My house is a pandemonium-filled war-zone of post-it notes and reminders.  And by post-it notes, I mean the teeny-tiny little, terribly annoying ones.  But at least they are in rainbow colors and my girls like them.  I keep finding my ones replaced by ones with stick figures and wobbly hearts.  And smudges of jam. Signed in big bubble letters.  Must be the work of nut #3.  Now I need to keep those, too.

 I also have a hard time controlling my daughters and their endless need to pack crap, crap, and more crap in our suitcases.  I don’t mean their favorite toys and stuffed animals. I understand that we need those.  I mean things like a bag of stale popcorn or the wobbly wall of a Lego farm complete with all of its teeny-weeny animals.  Or fake flowers.  Hideously plastic ones.  Possibly some squished grapes.  And about 8 little coin purses filled with every possible currency you can imagine.  Even Central African Francs.  Which much to Mia’s chagrin are worth about as much as some clean toilet paper.  As well a few stacks of toy money for good measure.

 It’s almost like a secret code between my bartender and myself when we start to think about packing for a trip or a pack-out.  Wait, who am I kidding?  It’s just me.  And my packing, sorting, and organizing. The lone valiant packer. Going off to packing war.  And my tiptoeing around with suitcases and bags, trying desperately not to let my kids see that we are embarking on the packing period.  Because if they know…..then it opens up the flood gate.  And my sweet, docile children madly turn in a wolf-pack-esque group of busy ants (the ferocious kind), running around, grabbing things to “pack”, wanting to “help”, tearing apart their drawers and closets, pulling out everything and anything.  Like they have gone completely berserk.  They are desperate packers.  That should be a reality show, right?  Desperate to pack anything.  Like as in they are hysterically asking me about packing 6 months before a trip.  So I try to act nonchalant-“Oh THAT trip.  Well, ummmmm, oh yeah, well, not QUITE yet.”  The night before.  Until they finally drag it out of me and I give in and let them pack.  And hold on!  For those of you who are thinking, “T needs to INVOLVE her kids more.”  I do!  Somewhat reluctantly, though, I do admit.  I finally tell them that they can help by going to get 3 pairs of undies each, 3 socks, etc.  And we end up with 12 pairs of undies and 2 mismatched socks.  And a big poofy princess dress, along with a broken wand just for good measure.  We have actually gone on a trip (thankfully, just an overnight when we were in the DC area) and I let the girls do their packing and we ended up with nut #3 wearing nut #2’s shoes which were waaaaaay too big for her.  And her Dad ended up having to carry her around because she kept tripping over her own poor little feet.  

 And getting rid of stuff before we move across the globe?  It’s like a freaking top-secret mission.  Not only from my kids.  Oh no, I am fighting a valiant, but pitifully losing battle here.  From my husband, aka the bartender.  He wants to keep EVer-y-thing, including that pinny (shirt, for those of you who don’t get kid’s sports practice language, myself included) he used for lacrosse practice.  In 1989. The really cool one, ya know?  And some other much-less desirable practice gear that goes along with the pinny.  You get my drift?  As in, below the waist.  For boys.  Men?  Why do I need to find those in my heavy-duty, color-coordinated plastic Target bins?  UGH.  Then there are the girls.  And as soon as they hear that we are having a yard sale or that we are donating stuff to an NGO, they huddle down with their stuff as if they were holding onto the last freaking Polly Pocket on this earth.  And all of a sudden, the toy that they haven’t touched for 3 flipping years becomes their new best friend, their only friend.  Or that coloring book with one scribble on each and every page.  Or that piece of string.  That really, REALLY special piece of string. As in, I don’t have a best friend, I just have my favorite piece of string. We had a garage sale yesterday and my bartender was shopping at OUR sale. I am seriously not kidding. He bought 2 scarves and 3 pieces of African wax fabric. I almost chucked him out the window.

 I walk into a room in the months before a pack-out and it’s like my Spidy-Sense takes over. I can FEEL the junk staring out at me from the closets. I can sense the pyramids of paperwork mocking me from inside the cupboard. And when I actually DO get through one pitiful little drawer, it’s like I have slain a giant, slobbering beast. I feel intense victory and I am wondering why I am not getting a lifetime achievement award for ridding that itty bitty drawer of battered and tattered Fulbe language flashcards, (the local language of the far north of Cameroon), that my bartender has lovingly kept for over 15 years. Then I realize it’s a losing battle. Gah!!!! And I dejectedly go back to my magazine and chocolate. Which by the way, are also what is taking over my house-MAGAZINES. Oh my. I KNOW that I am supposed to have all my recipes filed on-line by now and that I am NOT supposed to have stacks and stacks of Bon Appétit magazines and recipe clippings collecting dust, right? How is it that one measly piece of paper can be light as a feather but together they can weigh as much as a small herd of elephants? And ever since we have had kids that can read (darn them!), we now have about 300 National Geographic Kids magazines lying around, as well as Peppa Pig, Charlie and Lola, Noddy, in addition to a small stack of Men’s Health mags that could fill up a shed. D’oh!!!!! The magazine universe is ganging up on me. We also have about 3,000 manuals and/or guidebooks in various cupboards and drawers around the house. Just in case we want to see how that Cuisinart mixer works that we bought 15 years ago.   But on that thought (in terms of getting rid of stuff), one can never have too many teabags. That’s my opinion. Just in case there’s a global teabag shortage. Because you never know. No cheeky jokes, please. Same goes for chocolate. Because chocolate is my savior when things start to get chaotic around packing time. As long as I am eating a piece by myself. (Who am I kidding, a piece? I meant a whole chocolate bar.) Otherwise the nuts start to clamor around me. They can smell the chocolate on my breath and then they start to get rowdy.

 But back to getting rid of stuff. Like as I am having 2+ sales and selling it all. Either that or toss it all out the window. But having a garage sale is a taboo subject around my house. I decided the other day that I was going to sell the doll’s house that I had when I was a little girl because-

  1. It’s broken and we have tried unsuccessfully to fix it several times (doors falling off, etc.)
  2. It’s super heavy-extra pounds, everyone!
  3. And finally, no one ever plays with it. Until of course, this morning, when I got it out, dusty and all. Then Remi started playing with it and hasn’t stopped for the past three hours. It’s now apparently here favorite toy. Sigh. *

 I never knew that post-it notes would play such an intricate part of my life as an adult. Our topsy-turvy house and all of its post-its take on a new identity during the midst of a pack-out.  One room is designated to bags that we are taking with us on the plane.  This includes carry-on’s so essentially the room is packed to its gills.  Snacks are everywhere.  Gum, lolly-pops, m & m’s and pretzels are strewn onto every possible open space.  Mini-sized games and cards and anything to keep my kids occupied on the plane are all over the bed.  You have to have a secret badge to gain access to this room essentially. Or a very deep, adult-like voice when you knock (three times) on the door for allowed entry.  No kids allowed.  Then there are the other rooms-one room for air freight, one room for boat freight, and one for unruly children.  Just kidding.  Each room is color-coded by post-it note.  Kidding again. I wish I were that organized.  However, there ARE a ton of post-it notes involved, and just for good measure, we use every kind, every size, and every color.  Because post-it notes are kinda sexy, right?

 So. Have I told you that I think we might need some more slightly crooked princess wands in our house? And some more broken dress-up shoes? How about some sparkly tiaras with big ‘ol glitzy rhinestones? We definitely need more of those because we have just, oh, maybe 36 of each. And that’s not even counting under the beds-aka, the black holes of children’s toys. I also thought I was pretty good about getting rid of out-of-date meds. Boy, was I on crack when I thought that? Because I did NOT just find a tube of Destine (bum cream for babies) in the girls bathroom. Or did I? I think I did. How about some children’s cough and cold syrup, a big old heavy glass bottle, from 2004. I thought it said 2014. Now my eyes must be failing me. We still have a ton of baby wipes but at least I can use the excuse-“Baby wipes are great for cleaning up marks on walls and furniture.” Whew. That was a close one. We also have just a few cd’s and dvd’s lying around. Just a few thousand. Anyone want them? No? How about broken shells? They come with sand?  Soccer jerseys?  No again?  Deep breaths.

 I have been sorting in nut #’s 2 and 3’s rooms this morning and I just caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My hair is a big frizzball (gray!?!) and I didn’t look when I put it in a bun so part of it (the top right side) is sticking up on top, hence I end up looking slightly bonkers. Just slightly. I have yet to change out of my p.j.’s and my face still has a lovely pillow mark streaked across my cheek. I have no makeup on. Wait a second, I don’t wear makeup. Somehow I manage to look pale and sweaty at the same time. How is that possible? Yikes. I think even the girls might have been a bit afraid of me. At least I brushed my teeth, right? Or at least I think I did. Did I? I emerged after a good 2-3 hours of sorting, organizing, folding and cleaning feel wiped out. Like more tired than a full day of finger-printing folks (my job) at the US embassy. Like I need a good drink, some sort of chocolate mousse, and some good therapy. It’s exhausting to sort Polly Pockets and Pet Shops, Squinkies and Zoobles, let me tell you. Putting clothes back on naked Barbie dolls and baby dolls in the nuddy. Figuring out who wears what freaking pink frilly hat. Gluing decapitated Barbie heads back on naked dolls. Looks a bit sinister, but I assure you, it’s the work of a very determined 4-year-old doll destroyer.

 Nut #3 has just started to learn how to write and we are all, of course, very proud of her. However, she now takes endless pieces of paper and carefully cuts them up (leaving tiny bits of paper everywhere) into minuscule pieces and writes her name all over them. And then she repeats with the other words she knows-Dad, Mum, Mia, Zoë, Moo-Moo, Popsi, and so on and so forth. And then she VERY meticulously hides them all over the house. In the sink. Under her bed. In her backpack. In the bartender’s desk. Next to the toilet. On our chairs. In the oven. Wait what? And then she gets very, very angry when I throw just a few of them out. A few hundred. And I fail miserably at not letting her see me do it. She’s kind of like a mini Houdini. All is quiet and I think that I am safe and I am juuuuuuust about to pop them in the trash (having kept a few, maybe 30 or so) and all of a sudden, she appears. And she demands, “What are you doing, Mama? Are you THROWING OUT my homework???” So indignant. And so pissed off. And I suddenly become meek. And I slink back to the drawer and put them all back, with her standing over me like a high security prison guard.

 Holy crumbs, I haven’t been in some of these toy bins since we left Cairo about 5 years ago. We left Senegal too quickly to get through much of the toys. So some of these boxes and bins are a bit like a time machine. We also have a wooden chest that every time the girls make something pretty or come home with something new, we tend to stuff it in the chest. And the chest now weighs about 2,000 pounds. And now I have to go through every scrap of paper in that never-ending abyss.

 So. All kidding aside! Even with all of our crap, I am, deep down, extraordinarily grateful for all that we have. We have many friends, around the globe, who have had to leave their homes on extremely short notice due to an evacuation. Threats of violence, coup d’états, natural disasters, and on. Dear friends who have had to leave their belongings with 30 pounds of luggage per person. And in the end, I have learned that it’s just stuff, right? The nuts and bartender are what really matter to me. I love my house but my home is with them.  

Aaaaaaaand now, back to my packing.  And my chocolate therapy.  

*Update on my toy dollhouse from when I was a little nut. We kept it. Sigh?





Christmas Crack


ImageImageI adore the holidays but as most other mothers out there, I loathe the dreaded, inevitable post-holiday clean-up.  Which is probably why here we are in late January and I am just publishing this blog post.  And my nuts are still marching around singing Christmas carols.  Actually that’s kind of awesome.  But back to my original point…..

Everyone is frantically hands-on putting UP the trees, but as my Mum and I both know, it is the job of the lonely Mama bear who takes everything down:  every little, teensy-tiny, itty-bitty, breakable snowman and adorable little angel.  And then you (d’oh!) inevitably keep finding just ONE more decoration left for the few weeks after New Year’s when everything is put away.  This irritates me greatly-and why, yes, the holidays bring out the very best of my obsessive compulsive disorder.  I either need a cocktail or an episode of Days Of Our Lives (yes, it’s still on) to complete this incredibly dull task.  Or maybe I need both.   And enough bubble wrap to sink the ark.  And no little feet running around to crush the delicate ornaments.  As I get older, I get more and more kitch-y so we tend to have more and more stuff.  Much to my better half’s joy.  Just oooooooone more decoration hanging in the hallway.  Right about about 10 other ones.  And just one more set of lights to put up.  We now even have two Christmas trees-one mini and one normal sized.  I am thinking, though, of ditching them both and finally getting “the big one” that rivals the White House Christmas tree.  Every year, I get my “Christmas itch” where I kind of, sort of, really need to buy just a few more decorations.  And the more sparkle, the better.  Perfect for a gaggle of little girls.

 I also love, love, love Thanksgiving and every year, my better half or as I like to call him, my bartender, shakes his head as I spend an entire week prepping, chopping, mixing, shaking (along with my cocktails, but that’s his official job), a full Thanksgiving meal for our family and abooooooout 20 other close friends.  And I like to make everything from scratch-from the cranberry sauce to the piecrusts.  So it takes about a mere 3,000 hours to complete.  And then there’s the massive industrial clean-up afterwards.  I am usually covered in flour and grease afterwards but it makes me happy.  I love that cosy-house Thanksgiving feeling.  And even though we are usually sweating bullets drinking the hot-mulled wine in the climates where we tend to live, we do it as a love of this tradition.

Thanksgiving is also the only time of year where I open a can of crack, ie Crisco.  Crisco is the one of the secrets of my pie crusts.  And I cringe a little at the thought of all the lard+transfats that we are about to ingest, but just once a year, it’s worth it.  Lard-in-a-tin, it makes the world go around.  And it takes better than a butter crust.  My crusts turn out flakier than a crust that Betty Crocker herself could whip up.  Yes, I am bragging but they are awesome. 

However!  I love doing it.  When I was a kid, my Dad was a foreign student advisor and every Thanksgiving, we would invite a hand-full of foreign students to our house for their first Thanksgiving dinner.  Made of course by my born and bred English Mum.  We would have students from Iran to Iraq to Japan to Dubai to Germany at our dinner table-very informal and always hot-mulled wine made by my Mum to accompany the Thanksgiving traditions.  Our house smelt divine.  And for an English lass, I still have yet to meet the chef who can hold a candle to her homemade sausage stuffing, buttermilk biscuits, sweet potato biscuits and her homemade gravy.  I swear, there is a tiny slice of Southern belle in my Mum.  And also, perhaps, in little ‘ol me.  And on that note-I could live on fried chicken, homemade mac-n-cheese, mashed potatoes, and so on and so forth but that’s another blog entry…..

Back to Turkey Day, I can spend an entire day searching for that perfect turkey centerpiece (is there such a thing!?!) so that my Thanksgiving dinner table is up to my standards.  And I might just have done that this year in Antigua, Guatemala, about a month or so before the start of the holidays.  Much to Sacha’s delight, I wandered all over Antigua looking for my perfect ceramic turkey centerpiece.  And let me tell you, ceramic turkeys are hard to come by in Central America!!  I found one, by the way, as well as about 20 tiny bobble-head turkeys to add just a little extra pizzazz to each table setting.

Okay, so returning to Christmas.  And the over-glued, too-glittered, forlorn-looking, angel-without-the-arm homemade ornaments that my girls have made over the years.  However, these ornaments get a special category all to themselves.  Because I love them.  I love every crooked triangle-shape on the wobbly star that Zoë made (along with her photo from age two when her curly hair looked like it belonged on a 1972 Euro soccer star, the patch-work Christmas tree made out of Senegalese fabric that Mia carefully OVER-glued when she was four, Remi’s slightly-zombie looking snowman (her first decoration), the silver angels that we had made for each girl in Egypt, engraved with “Mia” and “Zoë” (and Remi’s is blank because we didn’t know what she would be as I was pregnant at the time).  And the beautifully hand-made stockings too, with everyone’s names in English and Arabic, and Remi’s too which was blank until Dani sewed on her name last Christmas for us.  My tree is a representation of the very vibrant world in which we live and in which my children are being raised-decorations that my parents had when I was a child, ornaments that Sacha and I have acquired over the years, non-traditional, funky fabric garlands from Central America, brilliantly colored fabric ornaments and handmade decorations made from gourds from Senegal, beautiful blown glass shapes and glittery camels from Cairo, and of course, a few pink princesses and glittery decorations for my girls.


Christmas is also a time for the dreaded elf to make his evil appearance.  And for me NOT to forget to move him around our house, doing mischievous and cheeky tricks with him, moving him to a different, awesome place every evening and remembering to put him away every morning.  Holy crap.  This elf was GIVEN to us or else I would NOT have been caught in this commercial trap!!!  And now I am in waaaaaay too deep.  My girls insist on  wondering when and how the elf will show up, what his name will be, what his cheekiest antics will be.  Toilet paper on the tree?  Check.  Daddy’s underoos wrapped around the elf’s head?  Done it.  Hung-over elf after a night of antics in our liquor cabinet?  Naaaaaaaah.  So I am stuck with him.   The elf, that is, not my husband.  And as much as I try to pawn him off onto my better half, the one and only time Sach successfully remembered to put the elf out for me the night before, he promptly forgot to put the damn thing away the next morning and our sewing teacher (poor thing) touched him and the girls shrieked louder than the witch melting in the famous scene out of the Wizard of Oz.  We all needed to go to therapy for that one.  Even the elf.  Sebastien Lopez is his name, by the way.  Remi named him after a little boy in her class who is apparently in love with her.  Come to think of it, for the three years we have had this dreaded elf, he has taken on the name of a boy in one of my girl’s classes.  First time, it was Ben.  Mia’s “best friend” in her class in Falls Church, VA.  Her Dad was veeeeery suspicious of that kid.  And then there was Thomas, last year’s elf.  Another boy-the son of friends of ours.  I am seeing a pattern here.  And one that their Dad does not like.


Then there’s also the advent calendar that we have to stuff with chocolates every evening.  It’s enough to make anyone start drinking, all the remembering I have to do around the holidays.  I would wake up in a cold sweat at 1 am and think to myself, “I FORGOT THE FREAKING ELF!!!!”  Meanwhile, my better half would be snoozing solidly next to me and doesn’t wake up even when the earth beneath us shakes (we live in earthquake country here in El Salvador).


Our tree always looks a little lop-sided (too many gin-tonics?) because of the weight of the million decorations we have as well as the help of three pairs of teeny-weeny hands who insist on putting them up “just so”.  And who end up covering the side of the tree and the entire bottom section and nothing on the top or the back, because, well, they can’t reach or see back there.  And who wants to put decorations anyway, on the back of a tree?  The tree represents us-loud, colorful, sassy,  whimsical, international, funky, creative, and lovingly imperfect.  Our tree isn’t round and bushy-it’s slowly tilting to the side and a wee bit scraggly.  However, with enough Christmas decorations on it, our bedraggled little tree transforms into a vision of holiday hope.  And as Zoë says, it looks like “a rainbow shooting out of the sides”.  Now who wouldn’t want to see a rainbow pouring out of a Christmas tree?  I just love the way my girls amazing brains work.  And as much as I complain about cleaning up after the holidays, deep down, I know it’s where I belong.  Right in the thick of our wee scrappy Charlie Brown Christmas tree.  With my three little nuts and my bartender.


48 Hours


Recently and very suddenly, I had to say goodbye to two dear friends.  You think I would get used to it living the life that I live, constantly on the move, continually saying goodbye.  But it doesn’t get any easier.  The first friend had to leave within 48 hours for security reasons.  I came out it feeling sad and angry, frustrated that such a rotten situation put my friend and her family in danger and turned her world upside down.  As I sat in her apartment in total chaos with her, she was trying to pull it together enough to know what to pack and what to just let go of.  So many people she never got to say goodbye to, so much connection to this country in which we live and call home.   And then my second dear pal left also rather suddenly for personal reasons.  It never starts to hurt any less, saying goodbye to dear friends.  Saying goodbye to my family hurts even more.  Even at 40 years old, I still cry when I have to leave my parents and my sister.

When I think about my children and their eminent goodbyes in each country we leave, it’s even worse.   As much as I love this global vagabonding lifestyle that we lead, I still question it all the time-Are we doing the right thing for my kids, are they going to resent us for moving them around so much, are they going to meet close friends at our next post, are they going to adapt okay, are they going to BE all right?

And where would I be without humor to get me through all of this?  Well, I am not sure.  Perhaps under the table.  With a cocktail in my hand.  And chocolate smeared all over my face.  In my granny p.j.’s.  Legs not shaved.  Hair frizzy.  No bra.  You get the idea.

 So I decided to write a list of all things positive and negative in regards to living this country-bouncing that we tend to do.  My list (because if you know me, you know that I am a tad bit obsessed with lists) of pro’s and con’s for being a “third world family”, the term used today to describe what we do.  A wee bit tongue-in-cheek, a tad bit nostalgic, occasionally serious, and pure therapy for me.


 1.  Pass The Refried Beans-My kids know what a koshari is, as well as poulet yassa, kofta, kushari, and everything in between.  They don’t get squeamish when their lunch box contains hummus and pita bread or pupusas.

2.  Nanga Def?  My girls can say hello in a handful of languages as well as hold a pretty decent conversation in several idioms.  They are bilingual in French and English and they understand and can hold a conversation in Spanish, too.  And they can always find a “secret” language if they don’t want anyone else to understand.

3.  Who’s That Weird Lady?  If I am talking to myself in English in a parking lot or in a grocery store, most folks won’t understand me.  They will just think I am a crazy foreigner making conversation with myself.  I can happily ponder and lament the lack of cheese selection aloud.

4.  Move Over, M’am-I pretty much have defensive driving skills even though I have never officially taken the official crash course in W. Va.  It’s called driving in Cairo.

5.  Kitchen Goddess-I have found a way to pretty much create a substitute for every cooking need I may have but cannot get.  From tortilla chips to sour cream, you name it, I can make it. 

6.  Pampered Mama-Manis and pedis are usually cheap, cheap, cheap in the countries in which we live.  Massages and facials too.  And they are usually right around the corner from my house.

7.  Fish Folks-Most of our posts, we can swim every day, year-round.  Just wait till the day they send us to Moscow and my girls have to wear closed-toe shoes.

8.  Don’t Step On The Lizard-We don’t need pets.  We have enough lizards in our house and other exotic creatures.  Or at least that’s what I keep telling my kids.

9.  Mumu Mama-Funky, cool fabrics are bountiful and you can always find a tailor to copy a fabulous dress.

10.  It’s Raining Water!  My kids get excited when it rains.  Because we often find ourselves living in the desert.  I often wonder what they will do when they see snow.

11.  Guaca-Mummy-Avocados are usually plentiful wherever we live.  Mangos too.  My kids don’t bat an eye when I serve mango mousse.

12.  Toothy Grins-Smiles are universal, right?  We always find friends in this crazy life called the Foreign Service.  And I love that my girls don’t see skin color in their friends.  They just see them as friends.

13.  Say What?!?  Kids can play in any language.

14.  Queen Of The Court-I can always seem to find a tennis court wherever we go.  And with that comes tennis girlfriends!

15.  American Excess-My girls don’t know that there is an American Girl Doll Store.  Shhhhh!!!!!

16.  Pass The Coco Puffs-They also don’t watch American tv, so they are unaware, for the most part, of American commercials.  Apart from one day a couple months ago when I showed them Saturday morning cartoons in a moment of insanity.  It opened a bit of a floodgate.  I might have scarred myself seeing the ad for the “Princess Goes To College Gear”.

17.  Ex-squeeze Me, But Can You Pass The Perrier?  My daughters think that soda water/sparkling water is a treat.

18.  Fast Food Frenzy.  My kids have been mostly sheltered from fast food restaurants and drive-thru’s.  The one time we went to a McDonalds, I got kind of stuck in the drive-thru.  Peals of laughter ensued from our car as the cars behind me started honking.

19.  If All Else Fails, Make A Pizza-Most countries we live in have access to ingredients to making homemade pizzas.  Sometimes we have to improvise and sometimes we have to hoard mozzarella cheese, but we make do.

20.  OMG, It’s A Dunkin’ Donuts!  Coming home to the US is like arriving in Disneyland for my kiddos.  Even the airports are thrilling.

21.  Please Shade The Nuts-Pool rash guards or swim tee-shirts.  For my super sensitive, pale, freckled skin nuts.

22.  American Girl Adventurer-My girls are learning and discovering the world.  I am so grateful for having the pyramids in our backyard (almost), Mayan ruins and volcanoes at our fingertips, African jungles and beaches within our reach.

23.  Mind The Sand-The beach is often just a hop, skip and a jump away from us.

24.  Hold Onto Your Britches!  Pot holes in the street are our version of a roller coaster ride.

25.  Happy Pupusa Day!  There is always some sort of local holiday we can celebrate.  Throw in American, British, and Belgian holidays and we could pretty much be celebrating every day of the year.

26.  House Calls-Depending on where we live, we often have doctors who make house visits and nurses who go out of their way to help us.

27.  What Should She Name Our Camel?  Although good playgrounds are hard to find, we  can go camping in the African desert or swimming in the Dead Sea.  Ancient history and science lessons on the spot!  Amazing.

28.  Cooking For Kids!  My girls are curious and confident in the kitchen.  Mia can make everything from cookies to salsa.  I love that they living in such an open and interesting world culturally.  That means awesome local food, wherever we are.

29.  Pass The Pen-Good old-fashioned pen pals.  Mia has several and Zoë is working on a few, too.  I love that my kids have friends and family all over the globe.  There is nothing better than getting a letter in the mail.  My kids just love it.  And my Mum is the best pen-pal ever!  She always sends post cards to all of her six grandchildren without fail.  We keep them all.

30.  I Heart Junk-Garage Sales.  I love a good old-fashioned garage sale.  And Americans do it best.  I love having garage sales and I love going to garage sales.  And I find that it’s very theraputic to purge once a year and get rid of the junk.  We often sell to give the profits to a charity and then we donate what’s left over.  And then everyone is happy-I feel more sane because I no longer have 6 garlic presses, we feel like we have done something to contribute to helping folks, and my kids learn a valuable lesson about finance and volunteerism.

31.  Tootsie Mama-Flip-flops.  My toes are not meant for covered shoes.  And thank goodness, we continue to live in warm weather climates.  I am not meant for Uggs!

32.  Call Me Boss-I can work from home.  And continue to eat my bonbons and drink my apperatif from my hammock. 

33.  Sweet Me-Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate.  I can always find chocolate wherever I am.

34.  Can We All Fit In The Shopping Cart?  Grocery stores in the US and in Europe are a serious fascination for my family.  Everyone wants to take a trip to the store when we are on vacation.  Starbucks, food samples, endless isles of yummies.  My kids walk out with the same high as if they had just eaten a pound of sugar.  Don’t even get me started on Target.

35.  Isn’t Chocolate Considered A Food Group?  Have I Mentioned Chocolate?  Seriously, have I?  Most every country we travel to has their own specialty chocolate.  Well, maybe not Egypt.  However, we can still pretty much get good chocolate wherever we end up.  I might have to sell my car to afford it (good chocolate in Senegal is expensive!) but it’s all worth it in the end.

36.  Skype.  We are so lucky!  We can Skype friends in Senegal and then Skype my parents in the UK 5 minutes later.  Seeing everyone’s smiling faces around the world, again, I am grateful.  And we can always find someone to Skype because someone is always awake somewhere in the world.


  1. Home, James-My kids think it’s normal to have their own school bus and driver.  I don’t like them to feel entitled but there are not a lot of options here for transportation.  
  2. Oops, I Ran Into A Cow-It’s not unheard of to hear this conversation in our house-“Ummmm, Honey, I hit a donkey cart today.  Just a little tap on the rear of the cart.  Do you think our insurance will cover that?”
  3. I Love Pork Products-Bacon is often unavailable in our host countries.  And we LOVE bacon.  My Mum brings frozen organic farm sausages when we see her and we go home with a full suitcase of treats.
  4. Pass The Off-Bugs, bugs, and more bugs-African cockroaches can fly, ants are huge and spiders are often gargantuan and hairy.  And there is always a risk of scorpions or frogs in the house.  Check your shoes!
  5. Gimme The Glass Slipper-I never know what size my kids feet truly are.  I just kind of guess and roll with it.
  6. Uhhhh, Where Do I Live?  I never know my billing address.  Let alone my phone number.  Talking to insurance on the phone goes something like this-My address is uhhhhhhh, hmmmmm…….Can you try this one?  How about this one?  Nope?  Okay, let’s see, one more?
  7. Berries In A Crumble-No berries.  Apart from strawberries.  No blueberries or raspberries.  Boo hoo.
  8. Hot House Homies-We are heading to Qatar next.  As in, the desert.  And I have 2 out of 3 VERY pale children.
  9. African Beasts-Mosquitoes.  They get their own number.  They are huge, quick, and vicious.  And if there is one mosquito in the house, it will find Sacha and my girls. 
  10. Where On Earth Am I??  No street signs (and often street lights) make driving a challenge.  Throw in some cows and goats and stray pigs as well as well as lingering pedestrians and voilà, you have driving in many of our posts.  Sacha has always said that he wants to create a third world driving video game complete with crazy livestock and insane traffic circles with no stop signs or stop lights.
  11. Humble Christmas Pie-We always end up with a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.   And usually Sacha ends up getting an electric shock plugging something into the wall.  When we lived in Senegal, he literally was thrown across the room when he announced “Ta DAH!!!”, trying to plug in our lights and tree.
  12. Lightning Strikes-Speaking of electric shocks, our kitchens overseas are often not grounded and we usually find out the bad way.
  13. Always A Family Girl-I miss my family.  It never gets any easier to say goodbye, especially now that my parents are older.  I hate not being close to them.  Some days, I would trade all of my travels and adventures to be close to my Mum and Dad.  My girls and I didn’t see my sister and her kids for almost two and a half years and it just about killed me. 
  14. Wash Your Hands!!  Germs, odd and funky infectious diseases, dengue fever, malaria, the list goes on-we are always on alert when the kids have a fever and we are always washing our hands.  Stomach bugs are more lethal, it seems, overseas, and “I think it’s something I ate” is a daily occurrence for us.
  15. Nasty Funky Junk-Mold.  Rainy seasons here are fast and furious and fuzzy things grow when it rains on and off every day for three months.
  16. Don’t Touch Anything And That’s An Order-African airports, delayed flights, lost bags, 24+hour travel with several layovers, all with little nuts=no fun!!!!
  17. Where’s The Grass?  Being a normal kid can be hard-grass is hard to come by, playgrounds are often old and rusty and hazardous, it’s difficult to learn how to ride a bike, and you typically can’t let your kids run loose around the neighborhood.  I remember Zoë being terrified of grass around the age of two because she had no idea what it was.
  18. What Time Is It?  Time zones stink.  When the girl’s grandparents live in the UK and DC and their adoptive big sister lives in China and their cousins live in Europe and the US and friends live in Africa, it makes talking difficult.  We have to deal with anything from an hour to 14 hours difference in time zones.  Birthdays are interesting, in this respect.
  19. Hand’s Off My Piggy Bank-My kids’ piggy banks have about 10 different random currencies and it’s hard to explain to my six year-old that she can’t buy a teddy bear with Central African Francs.
  20. Word Blips-Raising bilingual kids can be thoroughly amusing, especially when they get their words mixed up.  Z was trying to use the computer the other day and she said that she could not squirrel down the page.  I realized after a few minutes of scratching my head that she was talking about scrolling down the page.
  21. Third World Cans-We have seen our share of gross toilets around the world.  And the worst of it is having to take a toddler (or even an eight-year old, for that matter) to the bathroom in crappy (heh) conditions.  Let’s just say that little bums can get almost lost in those gnarly toilets.  And let’s just say that I have the willies just thinking about those times.
  22. Hold On Tight-Earthquakes.  When everything starts to shake at 10 pm and all three of your kids are in bed, your tummy turns upside down.  There is no time for “Well, let’s all just meander here under the dining room table” like they tell you to do in an earthquake.
  23. “Kith Me”, You Fool-Kisses.  French, Salvadoran, Belgian-one kiss, two kisses, three kisses?  There is always a question of how many kisses to give when greeting or meeting people.  My girls have to keep track of any given country’s greetings and it often gets confusing.  And a little sloppy.
  24. Funky Tummy-We are always thinking about weird and odd diseases in our family.  I mean, who usually has to worry about dingue fever?  And malaria?  Ugh.



This is 40 And A Cocktail


Well, I was supposed to publish this blog entry on my 40th birthday.  Just a few weeks late, right?  In between dressing Polly Pockets in incredibly tiny little tops and skirts and dresses (slightly maddening), I have finally found the time to write another blog entry.  My 30th birthday was much different than the big 4-0.  I was newly married, not-yet-with-rugrats, and I didn’t own any sort of property apart from a beat-up Dodge Shadow that didn’t even have A/C.  Ahhh, those were the days.  On the day of my 30th b-day, I went to a winery with Sach and my best girls and then we headed out that night for a wild-n-crazy evening with pals in the DC area.  The next day, I headed to the spa (hung over) for a full day of pampering.  For my 40th, (4:45 am wake-up to get the kids in the school bus by 6:30 am, already a doozy) I started out the day by going to read to Mia’s class.  I was so excited because it’s not every day that the parents are invited to your kid’s class at the French school.  It was awesome.  Then by mid-day, I finally succumbed to a stomach bug (can you freaking believe it!) but I rallied through a family dinner complete with an Oreo cookie cake that the girls had excitedly chosen for me.  And the next few days were fab.  I had two dinners out with various groups of girl-pals and then the following weekend (because I wanted to drag out my b-day as loooooong as possible), Sacha and I went to the island of Roatan, Honduras, for three days, six hours, 12 minutes and five seconds of alone-time.  Lots of food, lots of beach time, and lots of drinks.  Ummmm, yeah, LOTS of drinks.  But we missed our girls!  We were so excited to get home. 

So, here, I give you my thoughts at the age of 40.  As usual, they are jumbled and disorganized and not in any order in particular.  I might be repeating myself (it’s the age) and I am sure there are typos.  Slightly flawed, just like this Mama.  I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have enjoyed writing them-     

*  Big Mama, Little Papa-Z says I am a big lady and Daddy is a little boy.  That’s the difference between 40 (moi) and a youthful 39-year-old (her Dad) to a six-year-old.  It’s kind of like dog years when one is that little.  Remi told me this morning when I was in the shower (she was standing at her usual perch just outside the shower) that Daddy is seven years old and I am 64.  That makes me 448 years old.  And she had a twinkle in her eyes when she said it. 

*  Salon Torture-I went to get an eyebrow wax and the lady started to wax my upper lip.  I almost died.  I jumped off of the massage bed and nearly hit the ceiling, I was so surprised.  So how to go about dealing with a quarter-waxed upper lip, you say?  Luckily, a little bit of oil wiped the wax right off without taking my (bountiful?) upper lip hair with it.

*  Excuse Me While I Scream Bloody Murder-Bikini waxes mother-f-ing HURT.  And is it my imagination or have things grown down there in places they haven’t before?  Ummmm, I don’t remember, to be honest, and never checked down there when I was 27.  However, I am pretty sure that there is hair sprouting in places it should NOT be now.  I practically gripped the massage bed like I was being exorcised last week when I was having my bikini wax.

*  Old Man Nose-On that note, there is now the question of white nose hairs.  On my husband.  NOT on me.  Yet.  When we were flying to Roatan for my 40th birthday celebration, Sacha and I discovered that he had a white nose hair.  Sticking right on out there in plain view.  So we decided to get rid of it.  I braced myself and with his blessing, I yanked it out.  Along with about 4 other nose hairs.  And if you’ve ever pulled out a nose hair, you know that it KILLS.  So as I was dying laughing (doubled over, ugly snort-laughing, because, you know, I was being my usual supportive self), my dear better half was crying in pain.  Literally sobbing.  But laughing all the same.  Good times.  And then Sachie told me something that made me bellow with laughter even more-he told me that when men get older, they start to grow hair out of their noses and ears.  And then here’s the kicker-he told me that they start to grow vaginas on their lower backs.  Again, peals of snorting laughter to the point where we were now starting to draw (bad) attention to ourselves on the plane, just the two of old old-timers.  At least we can still laugh with each other, right???

*  What’s That Ugly Lump On Your Leg?  Sacha’s lower leg injury.  My dear hubs (who likes to remind me that he’s about eight months younger than I) got walloped on the soccer field about three months ago and he’s still pretty much limping to this day.  Yet he refuses to admit that he is hurt.  And he’s back on the field.  Because that’s what makes him happy, even if it makes him cry at the same time.  And I am now the proud owner of a custom-made team outfit (it even has my name on the back) so that I can get out there and cheer on my better half.  Happens to be bright yellow and makes me look a bit like Big Bird but I’ll get out there and support my guy.  Now I just need to have one made for each of the girls.

*  My Fingernails Hurt.  Achy-breaky body.  Holy crap, my body seems to ache these days after taking out the trash. 

*  Happy Me-Happy hour takes on a new meaning because I cannot stay awake after 8 pm.  I am not physically capable.  Therefore, cocktails at 5 pm are essential. 

*  It’s Only 7:20 pm?  On that same note, it’s kind of depressing when your 8-year-old regularly stays up later than you do.  Mia is a night owl just like her Daddy.  I am, however, a pigeon.  I am in my jammies at 8 pm and eying my bed like it’s a big old ice cream sandwich.  And anyone who tries to talk or interact with me after 9 pm, they have to do this knowing that I might just fall asleep on them.  And I most certainly won’t remember our conversation the following day.

*  Pampers, Please-No longer carrying a diaper bag makes me want to weep AND high five someone at the same time.  Weep because it does make me sad!  My babies aren’t babies anymore.  (And my eight-year-old really doesn’t for it when I try to rock her in my lap.)  But on the flip side, I don’t have to lug a heavy, overloaded bag anymore.  Or make my husband do it, more likely.  (And my diaper bag was always black patent leather, which Sacha just looooooved, I think I might have mentioned before.)  And I want to high-five someone because it’s just so awesome not to have to change diapers anymore in the most ridiculous places because they don’t have a baby-changing table.  Hello, developing countries.  However, I still carry just as much junk in my regular bag now-I still have the wipes (what mother of a 3/6/8 year old doesn’t?), the snacks, the water, the crayons, the paper, the books, and on and on and on.  I could practically pull a seven-course meal out of my bag.  Made entirely out of snacks.

*  Can I Have Crayons With My Order, Please?  I no longer seek out a restaurant in terms of its coolness or trendiness or its amazing cocktails and bar.  Nope, we now seek out restaurants in terms of their proximity to home, the size of the playground, the appetizers and desserts for my kids.  Actually, the desserts are for me.  Who am I kidding?  Sacha still scopes out the bar and I still check for chocolate.  And even better if they have a great bar AND a yummy dessert list.

*   Homework Harrows-I spend some of my time during my day reviewing long division and fractions and the history of the ancient Nile flooding so that I can be ready to go over homework with my third-grader.  How many millions of years ago did the first pre-historic man appear?

*  Floss Me, Baby-I would never forget to floss my children’s teeth but I often forget to floss my own.  I am militant about flossing their teeth, even my three-year old.  Pink, green, and blue flossers in funky shapes.  If only my floss looked this fun.

*  Tongue Twisters-Dinner conversation consists of a plethora of knock-knock jokes, multiple loud conversations going on at the same time, occasionally an outburst from Dad to calm the troops, at least one little nut whining, peals of laughter from all of us and occasional tears, and ALWAYS a question like this-“Mum, why are penguins naked?”  By the way, try saying “toy boat” three times in a row fast.  We all get a kick out of that one at our table.  Also “flash message”.  Try it.  Three times in a row.  Try it with kids and everyone will be cracking up.

*  You Are Sitting On The Remote-Sacha and I argue over wanting to watch Downton Abby (moi) or Man VS. Food (sigh, Sacha).  Rockin’ Saturday nights, I tell you.

*  Peachblosson and Rosedust-Dad can sing all the words (juuuuuust a little off-key) to “My Little Pony”.  Also in French (yup, it’s “Mon Petit Pony”)

*  Foreign language foibles-our house is a mix of French, English, Spanish, and a spattering of Arabic.  Put them all together and things can get pretty hinky.  It used to be easy for me to keep track of it all.  Nowadays, my brain doesn’t work so well (thanks 40).  My Spanish is back, but I don’t get excited over verb conjugations like I used to.  I know, nerdy, huh.

*  Downton Nighties And Caps.  In my 40’s pajamas are about comfort.  I know I might look like a Granny in my all-in-one, but I am as cozy as a clam.  In my house, we girls are fans of the all-in-one.  Except for Sacha.

*  40 And Feelin’ Funky-You know that butterflies/excitement feeling you get waking up on your birthday when you are a kid?  Naaaaah, I didn’t get that on my 40th.  However, my kids were so giddy that they all pranced into our room at 5 am to wake me up.  I was, however, already downstairs having my 30 minutes of peace.  So all they ended up doing was waking up poor Sach.  Who was not as exited to wake up.  See the night owl/pigeon comment.

*  Massage envy-I play tennis with a great young gal who is single and has no kids.  And she has a massage table that she bought at a Costco-type place and takes around the globe with her.  Like I have space for a massage table.  Nope, I just have room for a massive play-bakery for my three daughters.  But noooooo, no room for a massage table for Mama.  Boo hoo.

*  Barbie Christmas Music Makes Me Want To Beat My Head Against The Wall-Music for the kiddies.  Our IPod these days is filled with Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus.  Yeah, I want to listen to Liz Phair (can’t because of the language) and Sacha wants to listen to Metallic (can’t because the girls start to complain with all of the guitar and drums and “boy music”) but there is no room for anything in our home that isn’t bubble-gum sweet and pop-y.  We drove to the beach the other day and listened just two times to the Backyardigans and Sacha begged me (going on the third time) to change the music.  And when we drove to Copan, Honduras, around Christmas-time and we got lost (a  five-hour trip turned into over 10 hours, kill me now), we must have listened to Barbie Christmas over 100 times.  And both Sacha and I were wondering why we felt utterly homicidal at the end of that trip.

*  My brain hurts-When I help Mia with her homework, we sometimes have to memorize things and the other day, we happened to be going over a poem that she needed to know by heart.  So I memorized it, too.  And yesterday was the first time I really noticed the difference between her eight-year-old brain and my 40-year-old noggin.  We were quizzing each other and I thought I did a pretty good job-slow and methodical but I got it right.  Apart from one or two little blips.  Then came my eight-year-old.  And she rattled off the poem (in French), not one teeny mistake and voilà.  And she gave me a B.  Huh.

*  Wipe Me-I have an obsession with baby wipes even though I no long have a baby to change.  I mean, I just cannot live without them.  They work better than anything at taking out crayon from a rug.  Or a wall.  And they are ideal post-grocery shopping.  Especially post-grocery shopping in developing countries.  

*  Lady Big Bum-Frizzy hair, big tush, funny boobs-what I would GIVE to have the body and face I had 20 years ago and felt so self-conscious about at the time.  And the boobs.    

*  As I get older, I most certainly am becoming more particular.  Picky, Sacha would say.  Just determined, I would beg to differ.  The other day, I went on the hunt for tonic for vodka-tonics.  I went to four different stores and couldn’t find any.  My perfect plan was almost foiled.  Finally, I found some what appears to be black market, or contraband tonic called Royal Club.  My Granny would always say that tonic is good for a bout of malaria because of the quinine in it.  And that tonic is good for the joints.  She used to say that, too.  That’s not a bad thing, right?  Maybe I should start drinking a glass of sherry like she used to and then I would be happily pickled by 5 pm.

*  Big bums and all, I am one incredibly lucky girl.  This past year was such a whirlwind of bad news and fast changes.  And as much as I had an amazing time in Roatan, I love my crazy, quirky, faulted, beautiful, hilarious, bossy, sassy little family of three little nuts and Sachie.  And that’s all I need at the ripe old age of 40 to be happy and content in life.  That along with a few knock-knock jokes.ImageImage


Sweet Potato Biscuits and Christmas Thanks


I have been itching to write a blog entry for over four months now.  My brain can’t handle all these thoughts if I don’t write them down!  However, life stepped in-a second reconstructive post-breast cancer op in mid-September and an overseas move thereafter made it a little difficult.  I am back on track, though!  I spent 7+ weeks without Sacha and my girlies while I waited for my final op in the DC area and then I pretty much sped out of town on a plane to El Salvador.  And during those 7 + weeks, I slept for all of you Mamas out there who are sleep deprived.  In honor of you all, I took several naps and tried my darndest to sleep in past 6 am.  But years of being dragged out of bed by my early-rising kids took a toll on me and for the most part, I couldn’t freaking do it!  I was so used to dragging my weary, cranky ass out of bed to take care of a scared, vomiting, or yelling child that I just plain old couldn’t sleep in.  On the other hand, though, I laid around a WHOLE lot.  In honor again of the Mums/Moms/Mamans out there who are NOT doing just that.  I was a pretty good couch potato for those weeks.  I watched a whole lot of crap tv and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I didn’t have anyone bugging me to turn on the Backyardigans or a soccer match (kids and Sacha) and I zoned out to Andy Cohen on Bravo, a whole lotta Real Housewives (I know, it’s sick) and quite a bit of Top Chef or Chopped.  Pretty much, I watched Bravo or the Food Channel the whole time.  I was supposed to get this blog entry out after Thanksgiving, but it has now turned into after Christmas.  Oh well, more talk about yummy food, right?

So, in this holiday season, I am just plain old grateful.  Grateful for my three beautiful little nuts, thankful for a husband who puts up with me and thinks I am beautiful, appreciative for my parents and sis and her gorgeous family, and glad for my amazing dear friends and rockin’ extended family.  And here’s a tad bit more about all that makes me stop and think just how lucky I am-

  1. I love my kooky family.  Kids-I am grateful for my three year old, Remi-Roo or the Rooster.  I love her little puckered heart-shape lips and her cheeky grin.  Her cherubic face and that baby-soft strawberry blond hair.  I love the fact that she is bilingual-French and English, and that she knows to switch language effortlessly depending on whatever language the person speaks with whom she is talking.  And that she is now chattering away in Spanish, too.  I love that she adores to dance and she is expressive in everything that she does.   I try to take a deep breath when she throws her (regular/hourly?) tantrum because she does not have her hair perfectly braided or her third wardrobe change for the hour isn’t up to her standards, she can throw ‘em down like no other.  But I have a new tactic.  I just tickle her incessantly until she starts to laugh.  Hysterically.  She has no choice.  Kind of like my sister, Holly, when we were little.  I would use all out down and dirty war tactics with her in the form of tickling.  She was putty in my hands and still to this day, she resents just a wee bit that I am not ticklish.
  2. Mia.  My bunny girl and my biggest sis.   Even when she wants my attention at almost eight years old.  “Mum.  Mummy!  Maman?”  She tries all three names when she can’t get my attention.  She is attentive, artistic, whip-smart, meticulous, hilarious, caring, sassy, and slightly bossy (like her Mum?).  Her lovely brown eyes and her beautiful golden-streaked brown hair with those sun-soaked highlights that most women dream of.  I love the fact that when she gets excited, she still bounces around.  And she cracks me up.  She is one funny little nut.  I am also waiting for the day (soon!) that she will be smarter than her old Mum.  Seriously, this kid doesn’t miss a thing.
  3. Zo-ster/Zote/Zozie/Z-My sunshine girl.  Butterfly fairy gal.  Almost always a smile and a twinkle in her baby blue eyes.  And those freckles.  Those gorgeous curly locks.  Her infectious giggle.  And her endless ability to injure herself.  I don’t love that, of course, but I just adore her.  She pretty much was thrown from a horse and just a tad tramped by that same horse on our recent trip to Honduras, but that girl, oh that girl, she cried a little and then got up and got right back on the darn horse again.  And within 15 minutes, she was laughing and giggling again.  She could teach me a few things about life and letting go, that’s for sure.

I love my girls and their distinctly different strong personalities.  I am the luckiest Mama in the whole world.

  1. My better half-Sacha.  We just had our eleven-year wedding anniversary on December 22nd.  We were in Honduras and our day was filled with chasing little girls, everyone interrupting each other and chaos as usual.  We were all dirty and muddy and occasionally cranky and there was little talk of our anniversary.  However, we were all together and we visited the ancient Mayan ruins of Copán as a family.  I mean, c’mon, how much better can you get than that?  Sacha puts up with my temper and my impatience and my other (little!) foibles.  He is the best Dad around and he will sit for hours with the girls and play princess with them and walk out covered in sequins and frills and pink.   And he doesn’t mind at all.  Plus he makes me laugh.  Always has and always will.  He is the smartest guy around as well.  His love for history and global affairs is impressive and what makes him even more awesome is his humbleness. Even if he irritates me (and we do a pretty good job annoying each other!), I adore my guy.
  2. My parents-I love them and miss them and it never gets any easier to be on the other side of the world as them.
  3. My big sis, Holly.  She has three incredible kids and I am missing seeing her kids grow up.  That stinks.
  4. Bosom buddies-I have met some truly awesome women in this whole process.  We have an immediate boob bond.  I was lucky enough to meet my dear pal, Chantale, in the waiting room of my plastic surgeon post surgery.  I told the story before in an earlier blog entry but in essence, Chantale came into my life when I needed her the most.  I was just a few days out of surgery and she had been in my position a few months prior.  We immediately connected.  She is now a dear friend for life.  We have even compared boobies post-op.  I mean, you just have to, right?  I have met or heard of so many women in my position.  And being in this position plain old sucks.  But having so much support out there has made it so much more manageable.  Boob blogging friends, too.  Love the blogging world.  Hate that cancer has brought us together but I am grateful for the result of new friendships and bonds.  And for the support in the most difficult of times.
  5. Tennis lass.  Or ass?  I am so thankful to be playing tennis again!  I have already met some fabulous women on the courts.  I just started playing again about six weeks ago and it feels good.  I definitely have to work on my chest muscles (they don’t exist) but it’s kind of crazy, I think my backhand is actually better post-op.  Maybe I am just so excited to play again?  I even got some new tennis gear and yes, I am a lady of leisure who wears the cute little tennis skirt and matching top and I am wearing them unabashedly because I CAN.  I am just about to get myself a tennis visor as well.  Oh yeah!!!!  And on the days where I feel like my body has aged 10 years in the last six months, I can feel a little bit better about myself.  And I can pretty much still hustle all over the court and run my ass off like I did before.  With two sports bras on to keep everything in place.  Even in my tennis skirt.  In several different colors.
  6. Girlfriends.  I will never stop saying this.  My girlfriends spread out across the US and on all ends of the globe ROCK.  From my oldest pals to the friends I just made playing tennis, I am so thankful for these connections.  When you are a global nomad like myself and move every couple years to another spot on the world map, you tend to hold your closest friends VERY close to your heart.  My oldest school friends , UK school friends, high school friends, my UMass pals, friends from Grenoble, Peace Corps (rocks!) friends, DC friends and my dear pals from St. Andrew’s, Cairo girls, Senegal pals, and now El Salvador friends.  And moving around so much, once you DO make a great friend overseas, that person is connected forever.  From the time I was a kid traveling back and forth from CA to the UK, to studying in France and going to the east coast for college, to my Peace Corps days in Cameroon, to living in the DC area, to moving to Egypt, then to Senegal, then back to DC and now on to El Salvador, my best friends have been there for me.  Showering me with love and support from all of the places that I have lived and loved.

10. Chocolate and peanut butter.  Whoever put the two together, I love you a little bit too much.  Peanut butter M & M’s have gotten me through a lot of cranky afternoons.  And the joke in our family is that I pretty much share everything with my kids and Sacha.  Apart from desserts.  Then I don’t share.  I will make you your own dessert but don’t try to touch mine.  And I might need some time alone while I am indulging.

11. No cancer, new boobs-I’m still wrapping my brain around the whole cancer thing.  It’s only been six months since my diagnosis and things happened so quickly, my head is spinning.  It still amazes me to think that I am already a cancer survivor at the ripe old age of 39.  I mean, WTF.  12.  On the other hand, I am incredibly grateful to be in this position.  The cancer was found early and I am now moving on with my life, only six months later.  It’s still such a huge idea for me to wrap my brain around.  Just six months ago, I had no clue this all was about to go down.  Now here I am in El Salvador and I am a survivor.  Our move here was only delayed, in the end, by about six weeks for Sacha and the girls and by two months for me.  So crazy.  So freaking lucky.

I didn’t want to have more children.  However, I wanted to have the choice.  Cancer took away that choice.  I realize now that 100%, I won’t be having any more children.  I was actually the one between Sacha and myself who didn’t want any more kids.  I was just too darn exhausted!  But this all seem so final.  And the thought that my breasts, which once nursed my three little babies, are not mine anymore, it’s an emotional thought.  I obviously shouldn’t have any more children.  39 years old, three healthy little girls, I am terribly lucky to have them in the first place.  But now it’s kind of like the cancer made the final decision for me not to have any more babies.  And I hate that.  I shouldn’t mess with fire at this point-if I got pregnant again now, I could be risking the cancer coming back.  So it’s a no brainer. I look at close friends who wanted babies and couldn’t have them.  And I feel guilty for even thinking about wanting more.  But then I can’t because of that darn disease.

I also look at my girls who are so little and I wonder if the cancer was there when I was pregnant with my wee little Remi who is only just three years old now.  And how we wouldn’t have had her if I had found out about my cancer right before we decided to have another baby.  Then I wouldn’t have my sweet pea Roo.  I sat with her this afternoon and she lay down on my chest and she breathed in while I breathed out and we were breathing in sync.  At least I can feel that.  And I have three lovely little girls.  I am so lucky!!!

Something that is not moving?  At all?  My boobs.  These girls are locked and loaded.  They feel pretty normal (uh hum, to the touch), although I am totally numb, which is the weirdest feeling because I spent several years breast feeding my girls in total which anyone who has ever nursed a baby before knows that there is a LOT of feeling going on there, especially when you are getting the shit beaten out of your boobs by an eight pound little cherub.  However, they look totally different.  And awesome.  They are waaaaaaay perkier than they have been in eight years since I starting having babies and my babes sucked the life out of them.  On the down side, it’s still an odd feeling to have something in me that isn’t fully mine.  It feels like I am carrying around some extra dead weight in my chest.  Kind of like that feeling when you are nursing a baby and your boobs are engorged and they feel heavy but at the same time, I can’t really feel them.  It’s the strangest non-feeling sensation.  I also continually have dreams that my boobs have deflated.  Whoa.

 13.  Boob brain-I am grateful for my half-brain.  That I can walk into a room and MOST of the time I remember why I went in there in the first place.

14.  Tea time-I am grateful for cups of tea (sent from my Mum in England) and five minutes of peace.  Even if it’s at 5 am.

15.  Crap reading-I am grateful for US and People magazine overseas.   Yes, I read them.  Should I say that I like the Economist here?  I totally admit that I love to read magazines that have no substance when I need some down time.  I always use the excuse when we live abroad that I need the connection to home and to American/pop culture to Sacha.  But last year when we were in the DC area for a year, I kept up my subscription.  Oopsie.

16.  I am grateful to find most everything here that I need to make a yummy Thanksgiving and then Christmas dinner.  Okay, well, I can’t find Italian sausages for my homemade stuffing and I AM going through Trader Joe’s withdrawls, but I can pretty much find a substitute for everything that I need.  I am grateful for ideas on Facebook for substitutes from my friends and family around the globe as well.  And yes, I need to join Pinterest for recipe ideas.

So, here I am, on Christmas night.  I sit here appreciating the quiet as the girls are snuggled in bed and Sachie is in bed as well, (poor thing), feeling under the weather.  I think back on Christmas days as a child with my parents and sister and I can only hope to give my children the same sort of loving memories.  And looking back on our quiet, cosy, family-oriented Christmas today, it looks like we are on our way.Image

I Can Hear Myself Think



Okay, well, we might as well just jump right into it, shouldn’t we?  These are my jumbled, rambling, kooky, theraputic (for me) thoughts from the past few weeks.  They have given me comfort and I am hoping that by sharing them with you, I can perhaps bring a smile to your face-


  1. Ten HUT!  My boobs can predict the weather.  I feel aches in my chest when it’s about to rain, seriously.  I am rather proud of this new talent!
  2. Pumping tea bags and slicing bagels.  I notice, that even seven weeks post-surgery, that we use our breast muscles (pecks?!?) to do SO much-even squeezing out a tea bag on the side of a mug requires muscles in that area.  And it’s still sensitive.  Same with slicing bagels.  You might be astonished to know how much boob force is used to do this.  This will be my earliest form of exercise, to make myself feel better-I will make a cup of tea and slice a bagel and say I worked out.  Then call it a day.  Boy, that was a tough workout and much harder than zumba.
  3. We are family-We are incredibly lucky that Sachie left only 4 weeks delayed to post.  It could have been 6 months, a year, or even longer.  Only four weeks?  This all has happened so flipping quickly but in the end, Sacha’s professional timeline hasn’t been affected much by it.  And yes, focusing on our family and my healing is most important.  But the reality is that we also have to make sure that Sacha has a job.  And I am so thankful that his work wasn’t affected much by all of this.  
  4. Can you turn up the volume, please?  Every parent, and particularly every mother yearns for peace and quiet, right?  And a clean house?  Haven’t we all had those moments where you just want to stuff the dirty socks that were left on the floor down the garbage disposal?  Or better yet, stuffed into a roast tenderloin?!?!  And haven’t we all begged for five minutes peace while sitting on the toilet as some child (yours, whoopsie) is banging on the bathroom door??  And has anyone had the following thought-Did my children multiply or are they REALLY as loud and raucous as a band of drunk tuba players???  Well, yes, I have, in fact, had all of those pondering reflections.  And now that I am sitting here by myself in a glistening, shiny new “tiny house” as Zoë calls it, I don’t want it.  Yup, I don’t want any little bit of this all-to-quiet, not-at-all-cluttered, no-kids-stuff lying around including Petshops and Polly Pockets to fall over, no tighty-whitey’s of my dear husband’s on the bathroom counter, no empty beer bottles, no sticky juice boxes, no crumbled Goldfish snacks all over the kitchen floor, NOTHING.  And I don’t flipping want it!  I want all of the chaos and craziness back.  I am sure my girls are running circles around Sacha at this very moment and I want to be there, too.
  5. Processing for Peace-I still need to process the past two months and find some peace in all of it.  I had no idea I had cancer even in late May.  June 3rd, I was diagnosed and less than two weeks later, I had my operation.  Then there was the recuperation and in the midst of it all, we were re-arranging our early July move to El Salvador to early August with just the girls.  And I am doing just that right now.  In between watching Olympic synchronized swimming and Million Dollar Listings on Bravo.  Btw, who knew that Judge Judy is STILL on?     
  6. Fast forward, damn it!!!  I cannot WAIT for late September!  I am scheduled for surgery to finish reconstruction on September 18th and my doctor has said that I could leave, if all goes according to plan, even 10 days-two weeks later.  Fingers crossed!  This second operation is much less invasive than the first and recovery is supposed to be pretty quick.  My Mum (Nurse Mo!) arrives on September 13th and will stay till the 24th.  And then I hope to fly soon after to be reunited with Sachie and the girls who left here on August 6th.   Come on, September!
  7. Skype Saves Lives-What the heck would I do without Skype?  I really don’t know.  I Skype the girls at least once a day and if I have my choice, twice a day.  Or even three.  They look amazing.  They are happy and healthy and they love the new (big!) house and thank goodness our lifesaver babysitter, Danielle, also flew with Sacha and the girls!  My girls adore her and she knows them so well and all of their routines, it is such a relief for me.  I am beyond grateful.
  8. Mama Can’t Stop Crying-Thank goodness kids gets easily distracted.  Their sadness is temporary, and I am so thankful for this!  Even if they are feeling blue that I am not there, they quickly focus on something else-their new beds, a flower in the garden, a new room to discover in the house.  I will happily take ALL of their sadness so that it means they are happy and healthy and not thinking about missing me.  Me, on the other hand, well, I’ve been a bit of a hot mess.  I am doing much better every day, but man oh man, this has been the hardest week of my life.  Sending them off to a country of which I am totally unfamiliar, having my whole LIFE fly off on that plane, whoa.  I have never been one to feel too anxious about flying but this time was different.  The girls have never, ever flown without me.  I was terrified that something would happen to that plane!  My Mum actually told me to take a shot of whiskey.  I was that freaked out.  I am still somewhat weepy but luckily, I have recovered a bit in the past couple days. 
  9. It’s not what you think-The cleaning ladies here probably think I am a raging alcoholic.  The girls and Sacha left on Monday and that afternoon, I realized that I had forgotten a bottle of vodka and a bottle of gin in the cabinet of our old apartment.  I couldn’t just leave them, right????  And the door to our old place was still ajar from when we left.  My new place was just down the halls, so I walked down to the old place and when I realized no one was there, I gingerly opened the door and tiptoed into the kitchen to retrieve the bottles.  Now, granted, I was still looking pretty rough-still sniffling and teary-eyed and those bottles were about half-full each.  And as I wandered back to my new place, I happened to come across a cleaning lady in the hall who took one look at me and very boldly, shaking her head as she said to my ever-so slightly-guilty-looking face, “Oh NO, you don’t go and get DRUNK.”   Me-“Ummm, No!  It’s just, well, I lived there and I forgot …oh never mind.”  I realize I looked bad here.  And can you believe I did the same thing the following day, swear to goodness.  I had asked Sacha to put the four remaining bottles of Hoegaarden beer into my new fridge from our old place and in all of the madness of them leaving, I think he forgot.  And on Wednesday evening, two full days after they left, I was going to a happy hour at our grill by the pool and I realized this.  That the Hoegaarden beers were still in our old fridge!  And I knew that the door to our old place was STILL ajar.  So I crept back down the hall and into the old apartment and low and behold, they were still there in the old fridge.  Of course, I had NOT brought a bag with me, I was super sleek and smart and just scooped them all into my arms and then I stopped.  I had heard someone pushing something down the hall (the front door was still ajar) and it stopped right outside the front door.  And of course, I was pretty much standing there in the darkened kitchen because I hadn’t turned the light on.  Feeling awfully culpable and delinquent.  And then the freaking door slowly started to open.  I almost screamed!  And the poor young maintenance guy who had pushed the door open almost jumped out of his skin and so did I.  And here I was, looking like a cat with its’ paw in the fishbowl once again.  Terribly guilty looking!  And being the incredibly put-together and calm person I am, I stuttered and blurted out, “Oh no, it’s NOT what you think-I LIVED here and this is MY beer, and, oh, never mind.”  I looked like a crazy lunatic.   And then I shuffled away with my beer clutched to my chest.  Which I couldn’t feel because my boobs are numb.  I don’t even LIKE beer normally.  Well, unless it’s Hoegaarden.  Then I pretty much love it.  Here we go again….. 
  10. I love you, man-I love, love you all, dear friends and family, and I am so grateful for your love and support.   I couldn’t get through this ordeal without you.  I have heard from folks all over the globe as well as right down the street and I would be a sniveling, sorry mess if it weren’t for you all.  I thank you from the bottom of my weepy little ‘ol heart! Image

TT’s Ta-Ta’s



On my beloved Foreign Service blogger’s Facebook group, folks have recently started giving their top ten best and worst things about their current global post.  This helps families looking into that particular area of the world to decide if in fact, that country would be of interest to them as a possible future place to live.  Very helpful and insightful and often very humorous and poignant.  Obviously, writing a top 10 best and worst list about having cancer would be a pretty callous.  However, I still love lists!!  I have an IPhone but I still prefer to write things down with a pen and paper. So, I am going to keep going with my beloved lists.  Here are just a few more of my thoughts on cancer:


  1. Don’t touch my earphones.  Anyone remember that from the movie, “There’s Something About Mary”? If anyone comes close to my chest or my side, I almost have a reflex where I want to punch them.  I need to wear one of those plastic doggy barriers around my chest.  A boob cone.  Can I patent one of those?
  2. A definite advantage of having a double mastectomy-dropping ice cream down your shirt doesn’t bother me because I can’t feel anything.
  3. My brain is spaghetti.  I can’t remember a darn thing, I mix everything up, and I say things that don’t make sense! 
  4. These hips are NOT made for dancing.  I can’t move around like I am used to-I realize now how much I am a wiggly person-whether it be dancing with the girls, bee-bopping with Rootie during the day, or having a spontaneous dance party with Sach and the girls after dinner to Ke$ha or Katy Perry (Sach just loooooooves that).  We are definitely an African booty dance family!  Well, not so much recently.  Every little move or jiggle makes me wince.  My ass and hips are so darn sore because I am not used to being so sedentary.  I am also a hands-on-my-hips kind of girl and because I can’t lift my arms to my hips, I have become this awkward person who doesn’t know what to do with my arms when I am standing still.  So I end up looking a bit like Gumby.
  5. I have a reason NOT to shave.  It’s liberating.  No one is going to tell the lady with cancer to shave her legs and armpits, right?  Reminds me of my Peace Corps days.  Now if we could just rid the world of underwear and bras, I would be one happy girl.  I have always joked with my (poor) modest husband that I should have been a nudist.  Or is there a word for someone who rejects bras and underwear?  That would be me.  And now that I have had this operation (at least for the time-being), I have an excuse to not wear a bra.  I just strategically place a scarf around my neck and that hides all the bits that need to be hidden.  Voilà!
  6. For the first time in my life, I can poke around and not feel bad about it.  I can be lazy and sit on the couch and not feel like I should be doing something! 
  7. I heave heard from friends from all over the globe.  Thanks, cancer.  I have made new friends.  Thanks, cancer.  I have re-connected with old pals, made new ones, and feel so blessed.  I have the loyal support of my family and I love us as a family!  I am reminded that all families have quirks and mine is no exception.  However, my family LOVES.  Unconditionally.
  8. Oncology massage-the one hour in three weeks that I was relaxed right before my surgery.  I went again on Wednesday and although I was a little sore, it was very relaxing.  Yay.
  9. The Real Housewives on Bravo t.v. and re-runs of America’s Next Top Model.  Oh wow, I AM losing my mind!
  10. Letting go of my controlling, type A personality.  How liberating and invigorating and terrifying that feeling is!
  11. The weirdest feeling is when I lean over and it feels like I spilled some water on my chest and it’s trickling down-I guess that’s the liquid saline moving around.  Ack!!!
  12. Lead boobs and jiggly tits (‘scuze my French).  I feel like I am carrying around two bowling balls on my chest.  Now, normally I would never say the “t” word.  It’s so crass, right?  But in this case, I think it’s merited.  Remi also keeps getting the words boo-boo and boobie (breast) mixed up and I just love her sweet, innocentImageImage take on my medical condition.
  13. I hate needles.  My lower right arm is STILL numb from the IV four weeks ago and all of the ER visits.  Must’ve hit a nerve.  Then, the reconstruction procedure consists of a needle being poked into each breast to essentially, “pump” me up every week for 3 weeks to stretch out the muscle.  And although I can’t feel much besides something moving around when the needle hits, it’s the thought that gives me the heebie jeebies. 
  14. My boobs are now bigger than they were pre-surgery.  That is kind of hilarious.  However, I am finally getting back to what I looked like before I nursed three little nuts!
  15. Funky dreams and foggy brain.  Thanks, anesthesia.  I was still having weird dreams, 3 weeks after my operation.
  16. Chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches.  I can eat two a day, right?  It’s part of my healing. 
  17. Cleavage.  And side-boobage.  Again, the hilarity of it all.
  18. Disadvantage-not knowing that my top was falling down because I am numb all over my chest and flashing the poor young waitress at the beach.
  19. Sacha and the girls will be leaving on August 6th for El Salvador and I won’t be able to join them until late September-ish.  OMG.  7+ weeks without my little nuts and Sachie???  And they will be overseas, in Latin America???  I would almost be happier if they were going back to Africa-at least I know the continent pretty well!  El Salvador is a different ballgame.  And it makes me very nervous!  So, our French-speaking babysitter/tutor, Danielle, will go with them and that’s a HUGE relief.  But I am still totally freaked out.  I actually think that I am going to have a harder time with this than they are.  Happy thoughts, happy thoughts, happy thoughts….
  20. I am OKAY!!!  I survived a year with Sacha working in Iraq in a war zone!  I have an awesome husband, wee nuts, friends, and family!!!  Fudge YEAH, I can get through this!!!  Cancer FREAKING schmancer!!!!!  I still gotta get that tee-shirt made that says, “I beat cancer.  And now I need an ice cream sandwich”.

I Am Still T


I haven’t typed anything for almost a week now.  It’s the longest I have been off of FB and email.  And I have been through childbirth three times.  But OH, the freaking pain.  Great googley moogley, as Mia would say!  Let the healing begin, mentally and physically.  And part of me healing mentally is writing all of this crap down and getting the hell on with it.  I apologize (from my controlling side) for the muddled thoughts and repeated information.  And I have not been drinking.  Although it may appear that I have been.  And lastly, sorry for a wee bit language.  And perhaps some typos.  Ack!  Typos bother me more than language, frankly. 


Since I went into hospital on Friday, June 15th at 11 am and had surgery at 1:30 pm, I have learned MANY things.  Here are just a mere 34 of them:


  1. Hospitals are freezing cold.  The next time I have surgery (which is hopefully when cows fly), I am going to Imagebring my own down comforter.  Holy crap, they are frigid.  To kill all those bad germs, I was told.  Well, I am sure any germ left at Fair Oaks hospital was left crying for it’s Mama, it’s so darn freezing in that hospital.
  2. I hate bad breath.  And I have always tried religiously not to be the person that everyone quietly thinks has the stinky breath.  I am always very aware of the close talkers, ya know?  And I try to be kind driving down the highway of breathing etiquette.  Don’t breathe ON folks, hold your breath and exhale after you say your sentence if you feel you might have just eaten that onion quiche and you are talking to someone.  All those rules, I have carefully followed. Even during and right after childbirth.  But holy shishkebabs, I had severe dragon breath during this whole operation.  I have never really experienced dry mouth until now.  And I couldn’t do a darn thing about it after my surgery.  So, I just continued to apologize profusely to the poor doctors and nurses, technicians and physical therapists who were caring for me, lifting my arms, checking my wounds.  Even if the nurse brushed my teeth for me, I still felt like it took a good five days for me feel normal again and not cower when I was talking to anyone because of my darn breath.
  3. All vanity and modesty fly out the door when you have surgery.  Catheter, drains and surgical bra.  The nurses called the catheter my golden bag.  Remi called it my backpack.  Bathroom issues.  I am sure this applies to most surgeries.  But I remember even feeling more together during childbirth.  This time around, I went into my surgery washed, cleaned, and blow-dried.  I had shaved my legs and armpits and my toes were painted purple.  I was awesome.  I used that antibacterial soap pre-operation with pride.  (Boy, does that stuff smell crappy, btw.  Oil of Olay needs to get on with making a pre-surgery soap, in my opinion.)  I wore a cute long white skirt and a button down multi-colored top, plus sparkly silver flipflops.  My girls thought I looked lovely and they told me complete with oooohs and ahhhs.  I could have been getting ready for a morning of shopping but instead, I was off to the hospital.  I was getting ready for my “button-down” phase, knowing that post-op, I wouldn’t be able to lift my arms alone for a couple weeks.  I was all over the button-down pj’s.  My girlfriends from the area bought me some comfy mint-green pj’s.  My new friend (thanks, cancer, for introducing us) sent me over several more pj outfits, all button-down.  I was rocking the button-down look.  We left for the hospital at 10 am (no flipping tea for me that morning, boy was that weird) and we were off and running.  I got to put my clothes into that generic plastic hospital bag and change into their lovely hospital gown.  My dear better half took all of my rings (so many of them, ha ha) and my watch and then stood guard to be sure that nobody walked in on me changing (we were just in a cubby with a cotton pull-back curtain at that point).  He was my knight in shining armor and fended off a few unsuspecting nurses apparently.  All of this unfortunately did not prepare me for the impending doom of surgery that would soon follow. 
  4. Kids really do pick up on everything.  We had told the girls before surgery that Mummy was having an operation to make her feel better and that I would have a big bandaid but that I was going to be fine.  Bunny said that I had a scary voice on the phone when we talked while I was at the hospital.  All three of my little nuts have been particularly cautious around me and I can just feel that they want me to say I am okay.  We didn’t tell them that I spent the night in the ER on Tuesday night (my parents were here so there was no need to worry them and we were back by 4:30 am for morning wake-up.)  When I went back to the ER Friday evening, we just said I was going to a doctor’s appointment.  A four+ hour one.  My parents, again, were here to feed them dinner, bathe them, and get them into bed for the night before we came home.
  5. Jelly legs and wobbly writing.  I can’t walk or write or type, even nine days post-surgery, like I did before.  I understand the walking part, but the writing and typing surprised me.  I suppose it’s the still-numb/sore entire lower area of my right arm where the IV was is partly the reason nine days post-op.
  6. I am not Super Woman.  Boy, am I not perfect.  My flaws seem to be enhanced during this whole process and I am acutely aware of my mistakes.  I am tired, cranky, and I have little patience.   I look like doo-doo.  I feel like I have been side-swiped by a bus.
  7. I am Super Woman.  I freaking rock.  I have three little children, we have no real home base, most of our worldly possessions are in storage overseas and in rural Virginia, we live in an apartment, we were supposed to move to El Salvador on July 8th, we are now supposed to be moving to El Salvador (never having spent any significant time in Latin America) in 2-3 months, and we have just gone through the biggest health scare of my life.  Again, I ROCK.    
  8. Food tastes magnified.  Smells, too.  Nothing tastes good.  Not even freaking ice cream.  And I HATE prune juice.
  9. I was scared to take a shower and see myself. But my oh my, my boobies looked almost normal.  The incisions are under the breasts.  Apart from the drains poking out of me, I look okay.  But holy crap, those drains are so bizarre.
  10. The clock stops in the hospital.  I lost almost  seven hours during surgery and I lost four days between Friday am and Monday pm when I was released.  I remember waking up crying and vomiting and the first thing I saw was this huge sterile hospital clock that reads 8:12 pm and I remember thinking-what the hell?  I thought they said I would be in surgery for about four hours.
  11. “I want to go to that place”, as Liz Lemon from 30 Rock would say.  I want one of those $20.000 hospital beds.  My ass is so sore from being propped up in bed all I day, every muscle and joint in my body aches, and I want to just be suspended in mid-air to sleep.
  12. Robot walking/zombie jiggle/arms flailing in the hospital as I tried to walk normally.  A woman who just had some sort of major surgery lapped me as we walked in circles around the ward and I was surprisingly annoyed.
  13. Nurses are awesome.  I cried when I left the hospital.  The nurses who took care of me LOVED me.  I think I am a pretty good, caring person, but I cannot imagine cleaning up bodily fluid from a stranger.  And the nurses I met through this love their jobs.  The ones throughout my surgery, the ones in the ER, every single one of them has cared for me like I was their family.
  14. Am I really in the Bariatrics ward?  Apparently, when you have a Friday pm surgery in a hospital, they try to bulk everyone recovering into one ward in preparation for the weekend so the nurses and technicians don’t have to run up and down the different floors of the hopsital.  In my case, we all ended up in the gastric bypass surgery unit.  I thought at one point, I might be hallucinating as I looked around and saw all the signs for bariatrics, the large beds, the physical therapy tools and contraptions. 
  15. There is nothing like saying these words-Honey, can you hand me the stool softener, please?  Poor Sachie.  Emptying surgical drains and measuring all sorts of bodily fluids.  BLECH.  I was so grossed out.  He was a trooper even though he’s a modest guy at heart.
  16. Are you shitting me???  I have never had bathroom issues, never known what it’s like and don’t even like to say the word constipation.  I feel like a 90-year-old man.  Oh, my freaking word.  I am so beyond all this.  And my poor modest husband is totally freaked out.  But he still loves me and tells me I am beautiful.
  17.   Holy shit, am I really sharing all of this with you???!!  It feels a little embarrassing, but to be truly honest, it also feels invigorating to get this all off my chest.  Ha ha.
  18. I am controlling by nature but I cannot control this.  Part of me hates this new feeling, part of me is overjoyed to feel it.
  19. I don’t have enough cancer guilt.  This one is a little harder to explain.  I have been feeling some guilt from the start for not have “enough” cancer to merit all of this love and care.  My diagnosis was in the very early stages, so for some reason, I feel like those who have a Stage 1-4 should somehow deserve more attention.  I KNOW this is crazy.  And everyone tells me it’s silly, that I shouldn’t ever feel this way.  My brain is telling me this.  But emotionally, I can’t stop telling myself that I don’t deserve all of this.  I think that this part of things will take longer to heal than the physical wounds.
  20. Physical therapy tells me to do special cutesy little exercises and the reality is that I don’t have time for them-I just cleaned up the bomb that had exploded in my house and did, I think, much better exercises than any therapist gave me.  Of course, Nurse Mum told me not to and I didn’t listen to her.  Then I spent the next day regretting my over-exertion. 
  21. The pain, pain, pain.  Childbirth you walk out of the hospital with a little baby, this I left like I was missing something when I left the hospital.  Aching, throbbing, dull, constant pain.  Can’t get comfortable.  Just sat on the edge of my bed and listened to everyone else sleep around me.  Shooting pain in my arm where the butter knife-sized IV was.  Feels like I was electrocuted.  Remi’s lip started to quiver yesterday when I was trying to take off my sweater and my arm got stuck and then I moved my arm the wrong way and I had a shoot of pain through my arm.  She got scared because I yelled.  I cried when I had to have another IV in my arm at the ER on Tuesday night and I am not one to usually be afraid of needles.  My arm was just so freaking swollen, tight, sore, and numb all at the same time.  Can’t sleep.  I might sleep fitfully for 2-3 hours every night and then I am done.  Wide awake, stiff, and sore.
  22. My boobies.  They are gone.  Or at least, what was really underneath them is gone.   Enough said.
  23. I need to take a shower!  When I finally did take my first shower, it took about an hour and I kept thinking to myself, Why the hell do I have long hair?  I even shaved my legs, which was physical therapy in itself.  My Mum had to hold the drains and water got all over her as well, but we managed to succeed in cleaning me.  And holy moly, those four drains are fascinating.  I am the freaking bionic woman.  They literally are built into me.  I was horrified of the thought of them at first, but once I did see them, they are actually pretty awesome.  And again, the boobs.  Well, to be honest, every time the doctor or nurses lifted my surgical bra to look at the wounds, I would close my eyes.  I was terrified to see what I looked like.  Feeling it was enough-the odd numbness and aching pain.
  24. I am reminded of Melissa McCarthy’s quote from the movie bridesmaids when she burps/farts in the bridal gown store-“I apologize.  I am not confident which end that came out of.”  But this is the hilarious part-my adoring husband told me to eat some prunes and even better, I should have a prune bong contest (replacing beer with prune juice).  He also promised to make me a teeshirt that reads-“I had cancer and my husband made me do a prune juice bong.”  Don’t I have the sweetest husband ever!?!?!
  25. The kindness of strangers.  Six days post-op, I went to see my plastic surgeon for the first time and when we arrived at the office, I was already feeling weak and emotional.  When the receptionist proceeded to tell me that my doctor was behind schedule and there were three people in front of me.  Hearing this, I burst into tears.  This lady sitting waiting took one look at my sorry state and said to the receptionist, “She can go in front of me.”  Then she turned to me and said, “Honey, I am three months out of surgery and this is my second round of breast cancer.  I know exactly how you are feeling.”  We got to talking and she told me that she had a lumpectomy and radiation 12 years ago at age 39 (my exact age) and then the cancer came back this past spring.  So this time, she did the bilateral mastectomy and took care of it once and for all.  Then, she asked me if I was still trying to shower with those stupid drains.  When I said yes, (sniffling), she opened up her bag and pulled out a flapper-style long beaded necklace with a safety pin attached.  She handed it to me and said, “Here, take this, I’m giving it to you.  You just safety pin the drains to the necklace and then you don’t have to struggle with the drains.  The necklace can get wet and your shower becomes SO much easier.”  I couldn’t believe how kind this total stranger was being to me.  So I cried again, this time, in relief and gratitude. 


  1. The plastic surgeon’s office-Everyone who works in this office looks like they work in cosmetic surgery.  All the girls have perfect little noses and big boobies.  Poor Sachie was a little frightened when we went this afternoon.  The girl’s heels who helped us into our waiting room had to be at least 5 inches and she teetered and tottered into the room and I almost felt like I should have held HER up.
  2. Surgical gloves and stands of pearls.  When we were in the waiting room at the plastic surgeon’s office, Sachie decided he was going to make guacamole that evening and would be cutting up a hot pepper.  So, naturally, he came to the conclusion that he needed some surgical gloves to protect his hands.  So, I told him to take a pair from the box that was sitting on the counter.  And he did, but of course, he felt guilty in doing so.  (I, of course, did not feel any guilt at all.  It was one flipping pair of surgical gloves.)  However, when we were checking out with the receptionist, I made the mistake of opening my purse and we both (the receptionist and I) looked down.  She and I were both caught looking straight at the surgical gloves and the stand of pearls (that the nice lady had given me before my appointment.)  I do believe that this poor young receptionist now thinks I engage in some very kinky S & M.
  3. Nordstrom’s surgical bras!  A new friend who has had breast cancer told me about them, so I called the night before my surgery and they over-nighted one to me, no shipping cost.  If you ever have breast cancer surgery, you need one of these-they are specially made for the drains and they are much more comfortable than the hospital one you will be sent home with.
  4. My breast surgeon is Puss In Boots.  Or at least, he sounds like him.  Strong Spanish accent (from Peru), rather charming, mid-50’s, snappy dresser, slightly balding.  Soothing voice.  When he called me on the phone last week and said, “Tarrrrrrra?”  I was like, WTF, is Antonio Banderas calling me?  Because I wasn’t expecting his phone call.  But I can certainly talk to Antonio.
  5. My plastic surgeon told me I looked good when he came into my waiting room.  I told him, “Don’t you have to say that?”  I mean, though, doesn’t he? What the heck would a patient do if he walked in to the room and say, “Hey, you look like shit.”  So I told him that.  Well, not the shit part.   And he still insisted that he would just say hello if the person didn’t look good.  I don’t believe him.”
  6. Hold all calls, please.  I felt like a bit of a celebrity with my parents taking all of my calls for the past week.  Although I wanted to take the calls, I just couldn’t.  From Friday pm until pretty much yesterday (Thursday), I could barely speak.  And I might have even taken a couple of calls that I have no recollection of at all.  I do remember when Sachie came into my hospital room for the first time and I talked to him.  I remember talking to him but I don’t remember what we talked about.  I also remember that I was actually sleeping while we were talking.  I never knew that was possible.  I can recall almost looking down on myself in an out of body way and my mouth moving.  Truly weird.
  7. Drugs.  Well, I knew it deep down.  My body couldn’t not even handle one darn percocet.  I held off, trying not to take the stuff knowing that it’s a narcotic drug and that I would most likely feel nauseous taking it.  Coming home Monday evening, I didn’t sleep at all.  By Tuesday afternoon, I was in agony.  I had expected the pain but I had not anticipated the nausea and the headaches.  So I followed all the appropriate instructions, swallowed a few pieces of pretzels, took the anti-nausea meds, waited an hour and then gingerly took one pain pill.  I knew, as I said, that this was most likely a bad idea.  And within a few hours, I was throwing up.  By 11 pm on Tuesday night, we decided to go to the ER.  Boy, was that drive fun!  Back to Fair Oaks hospital and straight into a wheelchair.  Even though there was no one else in the waiting room, it’s still and ER and I was dehydrated as well as in need of pain and anti-vomiting meds.  So we stayed until 3:30 am.  It was 4:15 by the time we got to bed and up again at 6:15 to get Mia and Zoë ready for their first day of Camp Funshine.  I don’t even know if I can call it sleep-it was more fitful dozing.  I was floating out of body, pretty much, by the time we were up again and out the door to go back to the hospital where my doctor’s office is by 7:45 am.  Oh, and the valium.  They prescribed me valium for anxiety (routine) as well as for the whole reconstruction expander process (ugh) and I finally took one of those on Wednesday night.  For some reason, I thought the earth would shake with me taking one of them.  Well, it pretty much did nothing.  I still had the same level of pain and discomfort, my head was still turning, I still woke up in a sweat from a night terror dream about 2 hours taking the valium (try that after having major surgery-it freaking KILLS!), and I didn’t feel relaxed at all.  Either that’s a very good sign (I shouldn’t take drugs at all) or a very bad sign (I should be a crackhead).


  1. I have the best friends in the world.  My entire global group of pals have rallied around my family and I during this tough time and frankly, I know, the ones who are far away would be here in a heartbeat if I said I needed it.  I can’t tell you how many friends have offered to come and help, to take our girls, to prop me up in bed, to hold my hand.  I am, as I keep saying, grateful beyond words.  Friends that I have had my entire life and new friends who have just appeared magically to lend a hand.  Electronically and in person, everyone has been so kind to me.  Sending flowers, food, fruit baskets, cards, well-wishes, FB messages, emails, phone calls.  I am a million times over grateful for all of you and I love, love, love you all.


  1. I love my family.  My girls are the reason I want to get better.  They love me even if I have Medusa hair and wench breath and I stink like the dickens.  They still want to give me hugs and sit on my lap even though I have bionic drains coming out of my sides and Frankenstein stitches under my boobs.  Sachie is my rock.  He still calls me his Rapunzel, his tigress, his tall glass of water.  He has held my hand and has held back my hair while I throw up and caressed my arm and let me squeeze his hands throughout all of the awful IV’s.  He was  with me during the 7-hour surgery and horrible ER visits and doctor’s appointments.  We have laughed and cried together.  He is everything to me. 


My parents have also been life-savers.  My Mum has been my personal nurse and has propped up my pillows, helped me shower, brushed my hair, dabbed my sweaty face with a washcloth, and helped me brush my teeth.  She has cared for my troop of little girls-bathing, feeding, clothing, loving them.  My Dad has done his best, too-little jobs here and there, reading to my wee nuts and telling them funny stories, helping feed Remi, chatting with me to keep up my spirits.  They leave Wednesday and I honestly don’t know what I am going to do without them.


So, where does this leave me now?  We still hope to go to El Salvador, but obviously 2-3 months later than anticipated.  We will have to see in the next few weeks what the State Department medical office says in terms of Sacha and the girls.  I might have to stay here a bit longer than them, but we don’t know yet.  Most importantly, I have a clean bill of health, post-surgery, according to my doctor.  I won’t need radiation, chemotherapy, or hormonal drugs.  My doctor (for those of you not on Facebook) said that he found more cancer than he had anticipated but that it was still localized and they got it all.  Halleluja!!  I feel so blessed, so lucky, so grateful.  I hope to speak to many of you in the next few weeks once I start to feel better, and perhaps see some of you in the next few months.  And once again, I love you all.

Say What???


Many of you, I have spoken to, many I have not.  On Monday of this past week, I was diagnosed with the earliest stages of breast cancer.  And this blog entry today is going to cover it all.  So, be warned, if you don’t like to hear the word “boob”, then this isn’t the right read for you.  It’s as much therapy as for me in writing as it is an explanation of everything that has happened to me in order to tell my friends and family across the globe.  It’s kind of rambling, it might contain typos (woe is me!), it doesn’t flow as well as I would like it to, I might repeat myself (I have had a few conversations this week of which I did not remember until the next day), and I cannot be held accountable for the amount of chocolate that I eat during this whole ordeal.  That last sentence I just put in to make myself feel better.  I wish I could call you all personally, but I just can’t.  I realize that I am not the Queen of England, but I do have a whole heck of a lot of folks who care about me out there who want to know what’s going on.  So, this is for you!


Early last week, I decided to go to see my doctor regarding some tenderness under my right arm.  She decided because we were supposed to be leaving for El Salvador in just over four weeks, that I should have an MRI.  She recommended an MRI on both breasts to be sure that we were in the clear due to my family history of breast cancer.  I scheduled the MRI and two days later, I was lying in a freezing cold MRI machine having the procedure done.  I didn’t realize how loud, uncomfortable, long, and freaking cold it would be.  Bring your blanket if you ever have to have an MRI!


However, I didn’t think anything of it.  Sure, I would have an MRI, but of course, I didn’t have cancer, right?  Well, only a few hours later the doctor who did the MRI called me and said that in fact, they did have some areas of concern in both breasts and I should most certainly have an immediate double biopsy.  Huh?  So, the next morning, there I was again, having yet another MRI, then a double biopsy, then another shorter MRI, and finally a “gentle” mammogram.  Gentle my ass!  First of all, just the thought of the biopsy needle was enough to make me nervous and I am not even afraid of shots.  Heck, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Sub-Saharan-I can’t be!  And then I had to have it done on both sides.  Oiyvey.  A piercing, stinging sensation in my breasts was no fun at all.  I thought I was doing all right until after I was done, I realized that I was trembling all over and I could not stop.  Even my legs were shaking.  In fact, my doctor was worried that I was going to pass out, I was so white in the face and my body was shaking so badly.  I think, in the end, it was just my emotions and adrenalin getting the best of me.  I really thought I was fine, but clearly, my body thought otherwise.  As for the mammogram, it was just as squishy and squashy as I had remembered my first mammogram to be, (only a few months prior, of which I got an all-clear at the time) and that one was most certainly not right after a double biopsy.  I tried to take my mind off the pain while the technician was pushing and prodding on my still-numb-but-very-sore-boobs.  The first thought that came to mind was Kim Kardashian.  Not sure why.  Maybe big boobs and no brain?  This is what my mind thought for the next 3 minutes-Kim Kardashian, George Clooney, chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches, Reece’s Pieces, and Belgian Hoegaarten beer.  In that order.  Anything to get my mind off my boobs.


And then, suddenly, I was all done and on my way.  Literally about 30 minutes after.  Biopsy results 24-72 hours later, they informed me.  I shot out to my car, ran home, picked up Rem and Z, and then drove over to the Foreign Service Institute where Sacha is working to get a tetanus and typhoid shot and to get Remi’s second Rabies shot.  Yeah, I had two crappy shots right after my lovely morning at Fairfax Radiology.   And poor Rootie Bootie had a mean old rabies shot.


Again, I didn’t think anything would come out of the biopsies.  I thought for sure that they would come up with nothing.  The first two days, Thursday and Friday, my head was spinning.  I didn’t have time to think about things really.  I decided not to tell anyone because I didn’t want to worry anyone.  Perhaps I also didn’t want to worry myself.  But by Saturday and Sunday, time started to drag.  I had decided by Sunday night to call the doctor’s office Monday at about 11:30 am.  By 9:45 am on Monday, I had had enough and I called.  When they put me through to the doctor, she sideswiped me and said, “Oh, I actually got your test results about 20 minutes ago and have them right in front of me.”  Say what???  I don’t think I was quite prepared for that comment even though I was waiting for it, you know?  Felt like I almost had to pee my pants.


So.  The doctor told me I have the earliest stage of breast cancer in my left breast.  Stage Zero.  Which sounds a bit odd to me, but this whole process has been very surreal.  And the right breast is of concern for the future because of the three + masses, as well as my family history and my “young” age for being diagnosed with breast cancer.   Without the MRI, they would have never known anything was wrong and as my doctor put it, the cancer in my left breast would have become invasive in the next couple years.  And then I would have been in a much more dangerous position.  If I had been overseas, I probably wouldn’t have gone to see the doctor.  Too much trouble, especially in a non-Western post.  So, I am in fact, very lucky.  I guess it’s the best news of the worst case.  I am not sure why I decided to be so proactive, but in the end, it might have saved my life.   At the least, it saved me from a much more aggressive cancer.  Of course, I am not doing the happy dance here, but whew, I sure did dodge a bullet, so to speak.


How did I react to all this initially?  I had two kids running around me (Z and Rem) pretending they were My Little Ponies being chased by a monster, I couldn’t get ahold of Sacha for a couple hours, and I had only told a couple good friends about the whole ordeal because again, I hadn’t wanted to scare anyone prematurely.  Because I thought I didn’t have cancer!  It was a crazy few hours, to say the least.  I actually decided to take out the recycling a few minutes later because I guess I was perhaps trying to forget what had just been told to me on the phone.  I hadn’t told my parents yet because my Mum was having a colonoscopy 36 hours later and I didn’t want to worry her.  I hadn’t told my sister because it was just all a little too much to take.  So I blubbered away on the phone with my doctor and she very kindly talked to me for a good 30 minutes before we hung up.  Then, I spent the better part of the next 72 hours on the phone with doctors, insurance, State Department Medical, friends and family.  Keep in mind that we were supposed to leave for El Salvador just four weeks from now.  I am supposed to be thinking about packing out our belongings to air freight, plane ride with us (suitcases and carry-ons, stroller, car seats), and stuff we are leaving here in the DC area (cold weather clothes, stuff we have acquired here but we don’t need in Latin America).  Not to mention our car was already slated to be shipped and we were supposed to move out of our apartment and be on a plane to Miami and then El Salvador on July 8th.  It’s a fine dance of organization and preparation and if one thing goes wrong, then everything is set off.  And one thing most certainly did go wrong.  Obviously, our departure date has been pushed back for at least 1-3 months.  I am anxious that the folks who are reviewing our medical status may decide to keep us here in the DC area, which is NOT part of my plan.  I just want to get to El Salvador and get my children and family settled.  However, now, I have to wait.


By Tuesday of this week, I had seen both of my doctors again, talked to several other doctors and had been told the options for my sort of case-either a lumpectomy and radiation or a single or double mastectomy.  I decided, in the end, to opt for the double mastectomy at the advice of my doctors and several other women who have similar cases to mine.  I am “young” for having breast cancer, and the chances of it coming back with a lumpectomy and radiation are greater because of my age.  My family history-my Mum had breast cancer (she’s a 15+ year survivor) and my great-aunt also had breast cancer, so there is the family history.  And frankly, I don’t want this to be something that I have to worry about every 6 months to a year.  I don’t want to always have to wonder if this disease will come back.  I am still relatively young and I don’t want to live my life wondering.  And lastly, our lifestyle is a factor-we live and travel all over the globe.  I rarely ever see the same doctor regularly and I do not want this worry to be a part of my life.  I don’t want to put my trust in physicians that I do not know to be sure that this cancer isn’t going to come back.  I want to stomp it out once and for all.  Once I have the surgery, the doctor will be able to see if there is any invasive cancer that they missed and also they will do a biopsy of my lymph nodes to be sure that nothing has spread.  They will do this because the lymph nodes were in fact, where I felt the tenderness in the first place.  And an ultrasound that he did today didn’t come up with anything besides seeing that they are enlarged.  The enlargement could be for any reason-I might have had a slight infection or virus or maybe I just have big ol’ lymph nodes.  He saw no cause for worry there, but of course wants to be as proactive as possible during and after my surgery.  He and the oncologist will coordinate to see if there is any need for radiation post-op, but at this point, the breast surgeon does not think this will be necessary.  Finger’s crossed.   Nor does he think that I will need Tamoxafin, which is the hormone drug that many women (including my mother) have to take post-operation for several years.  I was grateful for this news.  Tamoxafin can cause the early on-set of menopause.  For a woman, it’s hard to hear that menopause might come sooner than expected.  I already feel like I am going to be a bit of an alien with fake boobs, I don’t also want to feel any less of a woman because I am forced into menopause in my late 30’s (I can still say that because I am 39, ha ha) due to a drug.  It’s actually quite an emotional thought.  Not that I wanted to have more children.  Sachie is convinced he wants to have #4, and well, I am not so convinced!  In fact, I was quite sure I did not want to have more children.  Well, throw a diagnosis of breast cancer into the mix and maybe it’s my emotions getting the best of me, but I keep crying at the thought of NOT having more children now.  So you KNOW I must be going batty, right?!?!  If I think of myself with four little nuts trailing behind me, I start to get dizzy.  And queasy.  But the thought of not being able to have more children due to this whole scenario is also enough to make me feel weak.  I know that I am SO blessed to have my three girls.  I am grateful every day for Mia, Zoë, and Remi.  And my adoring (heheh) husband.  All kidding aside, I think of couples or folks who are struggling to have one and here I have three gorgeous children?  Again, I am so truly grateful for what I have.


So, where do I stand now?  I saw a plastic surgeon on Wednesday, a genetic screening specialist yesterday, and a breast surgeon this morning.  The plastic surgeon was one of those scenes where you go, “Wait a minute, am I really here?”  He was lovely, really.  But I just couldn’t help looking at all the perfect-looking staff women and their perfect little bodies and thinking, “I am not supposed to be here”.  Even the doctor himself looked like Dr. 90210.  And although he was reassuring and kind and everything you would hope for in a doctor, when I was looking at all the photos of post-op boobies, it made me cry.  I complain about my boobs, yes.  They annoy the shit out of me, to be honest.  Breast-feeding three babies kind of sucked the life out of them.   (‘Scuze my language but I think I have a right.) But they were MINE.  And these new things, well, they aren’t going to be mine.  It’s tough to think about.  The whole process is also a lot more time-consuming and clearly painful than I thought it would be.  Not that I didn’t know it would be painful.  I just kind of thought that voilà, the reconstructive surgery leaves you with your new boobs, DONE.  I just had no idea that they use something called an  “expander” that essentially stretches you out over a period of 2-4 weeks with temporary implants.  Aiyaiyai.  Sounds like a medieval torture device.  Then, you go into a “hold period” for two months until you go back into the hospital for an out-patient procedure where they put in the permanent implants.  The recovery for this takes about a week and apparently, I can be cleared to fly to El Salvador by my doctors during the “holding period” while I am waiting the two months for the permanent implants.  Apparently, I can also go scuba diving if I want to.  Not that I want to.  But the doctor said it would be okay.  Now to convince the State Department Medical Department that I can also be cleared to fly.  That might be a whole different story.   I laughed when the doctor told me that in certain cases, they can actually take tissue from your stomach and “make” a breast for you.  However, I don’t have a lot of stomach fat.  Darn it all!  The results are apparently a lot more realistic and natural.  At that point, I wondered aloud if he could take it from my ass.  (I didn’t use the word “ass”, I think I said “behind”, to be polite.  But I was thinking ass.)  But!  Ha ha.  Big sigh here-he said they actually can do it but they usually don’t because it leaves a big scar on your tush.  Um, yeah, NO thank you.


The genetic screening test was yesterday, as I said.  They want to be sure that I am not a carrier of the breast cancer gene, which if it came back positive, would put my girls, my sister, and her daughter at 50% chance of getting breast cancer.  It is unlikely that I am a carrier, but of course, I want to know just in case.  Man, technology now is incredible, I must say.   It’s a DNA test, so I had a mouth swab complete with minty fresh mouth wash.  Not too invasive and much better than another needle.  The results will be back in a couple weeks and whatever the results are, they won’t affect the decision to have the surgery.


This morning, I drove yet another 20 or so miles in another direction to see the breast surgeon.  I am getting to know Northern Virginia!  For over an hour, the doctor talked me through the whole process, answering questions and going over every bit of information that had been given to me over the past four days.  Surgery will be about four hours and I will stay overnight in hospital.  They get me up and moving right after surgery and into physical therapy, but I will be unable to drive for about two weeks.  I go home with drains in my chest and have to be careful of infection.  I won’t be able to lift anything or anyone for several weeks.  Dr. Vargas was wonderful-so warm and very patient.  I wrote everything down because I am afraid I might miss something.  I still cried because again, it’s all a bit too much to handle in just a few days.  Then, at the end of the appointment, the nurse gave me a pink bag filled with “helpful” information.  As soon as I saw that bag, I felt a little sick.  Who wants a bag that’s a clear reminder of cancer?  Not to seem ungrateful, but I just didn’t want the bag.


I was thinking they would also get me in for surgery earlier than later.  At least, that’s the impression that I was given from the start.  So, I was a bit shocked to hear that my surgery isn’t scheduled now until June 28th.  The problem is that both the plastic surgeon and the breast surgeon have to be free for the operation and both of their schedules are extremely tight.  They are the best of both in the area, of course they are busy.  But June 28th?  That’s three weeks from now.  They are trying to see if there is any other way they can squeeze it in, but for now, that’s the date.  My parents fly in from the UK on June 12th and they leave on the 27th.  The day before my scheduled surgery.   Talk about bad timing.  I had another moment, shall we say, on the phone with the scheduling nurse after hearing this.  I just cried.  Yet again.  And I believe I alarmed her because Dr. Vargas called me personally a few minutes later to say that they are doing everything they can to push my appointment forward.  Again, I am grateful.  Terrified, but grateful.  


Let’s see, so all in all, I have cried a LOT, laughed a lot (the thought of big boobs on me?!?), had many hugs from my husband, little nuts, family (virtually), and friends.  Sachie is actually having a bit of a hard time with the news, but I keep telling him that I will be back to nagging him in no time after my operation, ha ha.  Not to worry there!   I am so grateful for the many phone calls and messages I have already had from those of you who know.  The offers of help with the girls, or just the well-wishes and prayers of my dear friends and family.  I am trying to wrap my head around the idea that early last week, I had no idea of anything being wrong and now, I am scheduled for a bi-lateral (double) mastectomy on June 28th and I am going to leave the hospital without the breasts with which I was born.  That’s a hard pill to swallow.  As much as I joked about my boobs and the fact that I went from a size C cup to a size A cup after I nursed my three girls, I never thought it would end like this.  I joked about a boob job but I never wanted this scenario!  And the surgery itself.  Again, I am not one to shy away from needles or hospitals, but this is totally different.  Major surgery for about four hours.  Yikes.  Makes me need to pee again.

So, I gave the pink bag to Zoë.  I don’t want it.  I actually shoved it into my other bag leaving the doctor’s office because I didn’t want anyone to see it as I was walking out of there.  Kind of wanted to forget about it for a while and just head back to my car and sing along to the radio as I drove home and battled traffic along I66.  So that’s what I did.  And I ate two chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwiches when I got home.  Because I kind of felt like I deserved it today.