Wait, whose funeral is this again?!
Hello Livejournal. It would appear that reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

It would also appear that I've returned to a ghost town. Looking through my friends' profiles, I see that 2012 was a very good year for last posts in Livejournal! There were even a few overachievers among them, though, who stopped posting in 2009 or 2010. To the--what? Three people who are still around? Hello!

So I'm back. And why am I back, oh absent friends? I missed this space. I have Facebook now, yes, but Facebook is about keeping in touch with people I know all over the world, not for lengthy discussion. Or for serious introspection, for that matter. A few posts have gone that route since we arrived in Romania, and I don't want my parents seeing that shit.

I've tried to keep an actual pen-and-paper journal, too. But it became kind of therapeutic over the holidays, and now it's this thing. Like a physical representation of some awful stuff I've been working through. I tried writing in it during our vacation in Rome last week. I got down most of a page, but now it's become this tool I used to get my head straight and did doesn't feel right, to just turn a page and write out "oh, and this is my life now, let me describe this awesome vacation".

Which isn't to say that I'm not going to keep it up. I might buy another journal. Or hell with it, maybe I'll rip out those pages and burn them in effigy. In the mean time, I'll do some writing here.

Caribbean Curtain Magic!
Our curtain installation guy came around our new place here in Jamaica three times to install the curtains. During his final visit he put curtains up in all of the out-of-the-way windows, the ones in closets and corners that receive no direct sunlight. And wouldn't you know it, the temperature dropped several degrees!

I mentioned to Anne that this was obviously a case of Caribbean Curtain Magic. She responded that that sounded like the title to a journal entry.

And so it is.

We've been in Jamaica for close to a month now. Anne has been settling in to her new job at the Embassy, playing paperwork whack-a-mole and getting used to early Caribbean mornings. Meanwhile, I've been slowly but surely putting our house in order.

Let me first point out that we are extremely lucky to even have a house to live in. There is a hotel here in Kingston that has been converted into apartments for Anne's colleagues that have families smaller than ours. We could have been put there temporarily, but the parts that aren't undergoing mold remediation are full of temporary employees. We were expecting to spend our first few weeks in Jamaica living from a hotel room, and then we got the unexpected email just as we arrived in Key West. We had a house!

It normally takes two or three months to prepare a place for us. In the time since our arrival, I have seen first-hand just why that is. In addition to our curtain guy, I've had crews of people showing up with little to no warning, to do all sorts of work I had no idea was scheduled. Consider that nothing gets done without at least three visits, and you can see how my daily life has become a series of adventures, and all without leaving my living room!

To date, we've had curtains installed, a new oven installed, the apartment-sized water heater was replaced with a full-size version, the water filter was replaced (ewww), the defective fan of Chinese origin in the guest bedroom was fixed, and both our UAB and HHE were delivered with literally hours' advance notice. Whew.

We've mostly unpacked, and are eagerly awaiting our final HHE shipment containing everything we haven't seen since we moved to Washington D.C. a year ago. Otherwise we're down to just one more defective Chinese-made ceiling fan, a dishwasher that floods the kitchen if we turn it on, and no car.

Some day we'll be completely unpacked and settled in, probably the week before they send us to our next destination!

Random Observations
As a stay-at-home dad, two groups of people have traditionally been the bane of my existence: senior citizens and school groups. Living in D.C., however, I can now officially add a third to this list: the over-dressed arrogant political type. They storm in wearing their three piece suits and their blackberries surgically grafted to their ear and act like an entitled asshole to everyone.

(Still, it was incredibly funny to watch one completely fail to use the self check-out machines at the grocery store.)

The corporate apartment complex we're living in has a contract with the State Department, which means almost everyone we meet shares this lifestyle. We've got several amenities, including premium cable service. And while we're enjoying Game of Thrones every week on HBO, guess what channel we don't have? The Travel Channel. This is my new definition of irony.

We went ahead and bought an Xbox 360 with the Kinect. There is a lot of interest in using the Kinect as an in-class educational tool that I'm researching--but the games are plenty of fun, as well. Star Wars Kinect is entertaining, as long as you avoid the dance game, but the one that really blows me away is Child of Eden. Holy shit.

Second observation about the Kinect: what the Kinect really needs is an Avatar: The Last Airbender game. One where you physically perform the forms so your character does the elemental bending. Just saying.

And more about video games! I finally bought Portal 2 last week, loaded it up . . . and suddenly it was 3am. In this way good video games are like good books. (I also got a copy for Anne, not because we're going to rock the cooperative game, but because we're going to be hilariously bad at it.)

We spent this past weekend camping in West Virginia, which was awesome. We needed a break and it was nice to go somewhere outside of Washington D.C. to just be a family for a little while, as opposed to the Foreign Service Family.

Finally, we have the beginnings of a plan for our house in Minneapolis. The next step, once the plan is set in stone, is for me to fly back and complete pack out. I figure it will take a week to clean up, clean out, and inventory all of our household effects. Hopefully we can coordinate it with Elliot attending day camp in Minnesota at the same time. *crosses fingers*

Status Effect
Here is what I've been up to the last few months.

Anne and I had our third child, Patrick Declan, born the day after Valentine's Day. A few weeks later, we packed everyone up and drove to Washington, D.C., leaving our new house and most of our belongings behind. In the two months between then and now, I've had to learn how to be a stay-at-home Dad to two kids and a new baby, while living in a brand new city, and preparing for the move abroad.

. . .yeah. Pretty fucking stressful. I've spent most of the last few months telling myself that this is the price of admission, and that living this life is a bona fide adventure. Not a weekend in Cancun, soaking up sun sort of bullshit adventure, but a leaping off the cliff, actual risks and rewards, face-to-face with real life sort of adventure. And for the most part, it helped.

Oh, but I haven't mentioned all the other stressful bits, have I?

For the first five weeks, we didn't even know where we were going to move to, or even when. Kind of hard to settle into a new place with that hanging over your head.

Patrick, due to a collection of issues, was having failure to thrive. In English, "failure to thrive" actually means "your baby is slowly starving to death". It's also not what you want to hear if, for example, you're attending mandatory orientation for your dream job.

Moving to D.C. meant I had to withdraw from my graduate program at Augsburg College, which was akin to opening Pandora's Box of Bureaucratic Stupidity.

Pandora's Box of Bureaucratic Stupidity complicated things with my last course. Once they were sorted, I had a week to finish a term's worth of work.

While Elliot (mostly) dealt with the move, poor Rhys didn't. He still isn't potty trained at four-and-a-half, and getting him there is like pulling out your teeth with a pair of pliers.

And speaking of Elliot, all our work at putting together a good home-school practice went to hell in the move. That was expected; however, I have yet to get it together again in the face of everything else going on.

Now on to the good news. Through various interventions, Patrick has been gaining half a pound a week for nearly four weeks. His weight is stabilized and he's a much happier little baby.

I managed to sort out the issues with Augsburg, and got all my work done more-or-less in time. I completed the class with an A, making my overall GPA for the year 4.0 And due to their weird budgeting and trimester program, I may be due a tuition refund!

Elliot's homeschooling is slowly getting back on track. He's a quick study at math, and his reading is improving daily. We're leveraging the incredible resources available in our area to teach him about American history and government, which he's eating up with a spoon.

Rhys and potty training remains very difficult. By pulling out all the stops on his bribes (yay Skylanders!) I've mostly overcome his fear of using the bathroom, and even had some successes. More importantly, today he was able to talk about how his body feels when he tries to go. This is huge--I was starting to fear that he was physically incapable of feeling when he had to go.

As I mentioned before, telling myself that we're all on this new adventure has been my balm these last few months. What I have to admit, though, is that I'm still under a lot of stress. And I'm tired. Really damned tired. I have a hard time stepping back and looking at everything that's happened, everything that still has to happen, and I'm surprised at it all. I mean, no wonder I'm stressed out and starting to crack, right? It's past time I learned how to take care of myself, too.

Hyderabad and Excelsior
Last Friday was Flag Day, the ceremony in which every new Foreign Service Officer receives their first post abroad. If anyone here still isn't aware, Anne has been assigned to Hyderabad, India, and what's more, she's being sent with her two best friends in the class! She has language training and consular training in the coming months, and we'll be India-bound next January.

The reactions to finding this out have been interesting. Other FSOs and friends of other FSOs all agree that Hyderabad is "the best post in India." Opinions from other sources have a different opinion, however. We've been told that Hyderabad is boring, that it isn't as dynamic as other cities in India, that it's "not touristy".

That last bit is important, because I've been here before. Let me explain:

Once upon a time, Anne and I (and toddler Elliot and new baby Rhys) were moving from Madison, Wisconsin to Minneapolis, Minnesota, because Anne had received a more lucrative job offer. (Yes, I get that this is a recurring theme in our life!) For reasons that became less important later on, we were looking to avoid living in Minneapolis proper. What we wanted, ultimately, was the Minneapolis equivalent of Middleton: nice community of its own, lots of stuff within walking distance, but still a short drive to the city proper.

We settled on moving to Excelsior. It was a small town/suburb on the south side of Lake Minnetonka, right on the western edge of the greater metro area. It certainly looked good on paper! There was a green space right on the lake, including beaches, playgrounds, and wonderful views of the bay. Water Street, the main road through town, has shops and restaurants in plenty, including an ice-cream shop, French patisserie, and Minnetonka Music, where a buddy of my late father-in-law fixes guitars. Cafe 318, known for its live music, makes the best roast beef sandwich I've ever had. And so on.

The reality, however, stunk. All those restaurants and shops were priced for the tourists (expensive) and compounded with a high sales tax. City services were ludicrous as well. Our water bill cost over $100 a month. In Minnesota. There was a tiny farmers market, but it only ran during regular business hours on Thursday. We had a library within walking distance, but it was a small one housed in a dilapidated building with the surliest librarians I'd ever met. Not to mention that every weekend and every big event, Water Street became so inundated with people that not only could we not go out and enjoy it, but we couldn't get out to enjoy anyplace else, either!

So yes, I've lived in a tourist draw. It was only a local tourist draw, and not a national or international one, but it was possibly the least enjoyable place I've ever lived. I'll take Hyderabad in a heartbeat, and happily so! I can't wait to experience the every day adventures of living in a perfectly normal and boring city. In India.

My Three Favorite Doctor Who Bits
I originally started to put this together for call_me_ps , who received some really awful news in the last day. But you know what? Watching these again gave me a much-needed smile as well! So if you're a fan of Doctor Who, are dealing with the good stress or the bad stress, and regardless whether you've seen these before, enjoy!

First up: 11 minutes of Rory punching Hitler! In the words of my lovely wife: "It does just what it says on the tin!"

I stumbled across this little gem while searching for the video above. Not sure what the original movie is, but the new subtitles are genius!

Finally, Comic Relief is a British charity organization that holds Red Nose Day. For last year's event, the Who team put together a pair of shorts titled "Space/Time". Here's "Space":

And "Time":

Red Nose Day is, sadly, a biennial event, so no new short until 2013!

Constructing the New Normal
Today was a sad day. The sort of day where I push on doing things because completing tasks cheers me up, and I know if I stop then I'll feel the first few tendrils of depression coiling about me. I should point out that this isn't unexpected, just a little earlier than I thought. I'm getting used to taking care of three children now, and doing it in a brand new city. I started to really feel the million little frustrations begin to mount, but what really threatened to drag me down today, the real kicker, was that I missed my house.

These feelings are all part of the process as we create the new normal. We'll explore the new city, discover the new culture, find our favorite spots, meet new people, and otherwise find our new groove. And you know what? It's going to happen again, and again, every new post and probably every time we return stateside.

My hope is that by recognizing the emotional reactions for what they are, I can better manage them and grow through them.

Speaking of building the new normal, I'm having a think about what to do with this journal. Considering the direction of Livejournal's development, and who currently owns it, leaves certain questions about my using it. At best this remains "my personal journal" and not "my life as the husband of a Foreign Service Officer". At worst, I shut this down and either blog elsewhere, or not at all. At least the issue is slightly less touchy for me than for my lovely rockstar wife.

I'm making more use of Facebook, but you know. It's Facebook. When they're not creepily amassing volumes of data on you, they're accidently making said data uncomfortably public. Not to mention, after you edit whatever you were going to say for friends, family, extended family, friends of exes, employers, potential employers, future students, and your own kids, you tend to say nothing at all. Which is okay, because entries have to be short anyway.

While I'm not sure there's an answer here, I'll continue to research my options. Just one more thing to do while I take care of two boys and a baby in an unfamiliar city!

Tomorrow should be a good day, though. Cooking corned beef and cabbage in the afternoon, as well as some baking projects with Elliot and Rhys. We'll spend the morning out of the house because it's been eighty degrees and beautiful out. We'll spend some of it meeting people in the complex, and some of it exploring Eden Center. As soon as I figure out a portable bottle-warming solution for Patrick, we'll be spending a lot of time on the Metro, exploring Washington.

Some notes from Washington, D.C.
* Today was Anne's first day of A-100. I didn't get to see her off, sadly, because I was on Calming Baby Down Duty from 1:30 to 6:00 in the morning. Patrick continued to require a lot of attention as the day went on--not unexpectedly. When Anne returned home, she was eager to take Patrick and snuggle him all up, and I was eager to finally detach the baby barnacle! So it all worked out well in the end.

* Elliot and Rhys are settling in fairly well. They have their moments of adjustment, which to the unaccustomed eye looks a lot like screaming emotional breakdowns. We've brought a lot of familiar items from home, but meeting the other children in our apartment complex will help even more. There are a series of kid activities beginning tomorrow that will help in that regard.

* I keep getting this vibe in Washington D.C., like I magically woke up in Europe. I mean, functional and useful subway system? Huge old museums and art galleries, all free to visit? This is not the United States I grew up in! Our second day here we took the boys to the National Museum of Natural History. They loved seeing the dinosaur fossils, but I really want to just hang out on the Mall all day, walking from gallery to museum to monument to gallery.

* Our furnished apartment is next door to Eden Center. Hell, our particular building and apartment is as close as you can get to it. For those who haven't clicked the link, Eden Center is like China town, only Vietnamese. You can't step out of our building without being assaulted by the amalgamated olfactory bliss of dozens of Vietnamese restaurants preparing my favorite foods.

* My parents are discussing a visit, which is sort of okay. There is so much to see and do here, their entire visit would consist of organized outings. It's not like we have the space in our apartment to put anyone up anyway! I'd have to enforce mama/baby snuggle time in the evenings, but otherwise it would mean a week when I wasn't solo parenting two rambunctious little boys and a new baby.

* Speaking of solo parenting, I had a bizarre dream last night that my life was part of a reality show competition called "Super Dads!" The host bore a strange resemblance to the Chairman in Iron Chef and gave me my assignment: "You must take care of two young boys and a baby in Washington D.C.!" And when I handily won that round, he sent me on a bonus assignment: "Now we send you all to Cairo!" At which point Anne woke me up to settle Patrick back down at 1:30 in the morning.

Road to Washington Day 3: (Sort of but not really) Panic in Maryland
We're spending the night in Hagerstown, MD. We've mentioned Hagerstown in conversation quite a bit, Anne and I. This is where the State Department keeps long-term storage of its officer's belongings. As in: "we have to decide which of our things are going to Washington, which are going to post, and which are going to Hagerstown."

Hagerstown is only an hour and a half from Washington, D.C., so why bother stopping? There were a few reasons. Well, the kids were done. Like extra crispy, screaming overtired bloody murder, done. We also can't check into our new place until 3:30 tomorrow, so there's little sense in hurrying. The plan is to have a lazy morning, eat breakfast, drive to Falls Church, eat delicious Vietnamese food for lunch, and finally check in.

Anne and I are excited to finally be this close, but could also freak out at any second. I decided to turn to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for inspiration to better cope with extreme change, but I don't think that this was a good idea. DON'T PANIC is all well and good, but so far Ford Prefect's coping mechanisms seem to be A) drink a lot and B) entrust his fate to the Vogons. Not the best advice, that.

Road to Washington Day 2: As Far As Ohio
Before we left Madison this morning, we took Elliot and Rhys past the two houses we lived in when each of them was born. Elliot was really excited, but Rhys was sort of confused, it was obvious that he didn't know why these places were important whatsoever. Then we stopped at Barrique's for coffee--damn did I miss their coffee--before driving out of town.

Not much to report on the drive itself. We survived Chicago. We decided that driving the toll road all the way to D.C. was dumb, and drove through central Indiana instead of northern Indiana which was a great improvement. Tonight we're crashed out in Dayton, Ohio, with eight-ish hours of driving ahead of us tomorrow.

Some random observations:

*I forgot two things about Madison. First, I forgot how much I like it. Second, I forgot how incredibly small this city is! I remembered this at Monty's, when Anne suggested we stay at a hotel on the west side. Total drive time from the east side to west side of town? Like twenty minutes. In my defense, I was properly medicated only after I moved away, and my imperfect memory likely distorted my sense of scale.

*Speaking of my sense of scale, growing up in Colorado as left me completely unprepared for these tiny tiny eastern states. I mean, you can drive across them in an hour or two! I just want to pat them on their cute little head, provided I don't doze off and miss them entirely!

*Patrick has decided that one day spent in his car seat is enough, thank you very much. After yesterday's nice calm ride to Madison, today was spent with hours and hours of fussing unhappy baby in the back seat. And he didn't want to nurse, at least not all the time. Half the time you just pulled over and took him out of his seat, he would snuggle into you and go very quiet. Today has been heartbreaking in fits and starts.

*I'm happy to report that I'm very nearly recovered from the creeping sinus ick, which is pretty impressive considering I spent all day driving. Rhys is fully recovered, and Anne will hopefully shake it off with a good night's rest and plenty of Vitamin C. She feels like she's on the cusp, and can go either way. The last thing she wants is to show up for A-100 wretchedly ill, and I'm crossing my fingers for her.


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