Sunday, March 31, 2013

Spring Forward!

It has finally arrived; three weeks after our US friends and family, we are finally springing into daylight savings time here in Europe.  (Why Europe and North America aren't in sync on this simple change of the clock is beyond me).  For the past few weeks this difference has reduced the difference between us and our East Coast based families to five hours; as of today we are back to the six hour gap that separates us for most of the year.  As strange as it sounds it feels as though things are returning to normal and I no longer have to think about what time it is where...........

Sure, last night we lost an hour of sleep.  Since I can't even remember the last time I got a full night of sleep, this loss didn't really change anything for me.  I awoke this morning within my typical wake-up range of time to the sound of pouring rain beating on the roof.  Yes, we were experiencing yet another rainy spring day.  The dark skies gave me no clue as to the actual hour but I knew that even if I wouldn't actually see the sun today it would in fact remain lighter longer.  This one hour difference might not seem like a big deal but psychologically it makes all the difference to me.  I love being able to come home at the end of the day and still be able to enjoy the daylight.  More daylight means a greater chance that our too dark house won't feel so dreary.  This extra daylight makes me feel like I actually do something other than work all day.  Spring and summer sunsets over Mount Dajti viewed from our balcony are the best part of living in this house.

Today is also the last day of March.  There is an old adage that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.  (April showers also bring May flowers but I'll pass on the rain since we have already received more than our fair share).  With the rain and fierce midday thunderstorm this was one angry lamb.  However, as the sun should have been setting, the skies cleared and the sun made her first bright appearance of the day.  The sunset was pretty nice too.   Maybe spring is finally here for good.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Is This Camelot?

Camelot:  A time, place, or atmosphere of idyllic happiness.

Summers in Albania are long, hot, and sunny with rain being scarcer than ice in the Sahara.  It was June when we first arrived here and the days were indeed bright, hot, and ever so dry and dusty.  When the rain finally returned in the autumn, at first it seemed to only fall at night with the days remaining clear.  Repeatedly waking to damp grounds and clear skies Glenn quickly started to joke that Albania was like Camelot, a place where rain's only appearance is at night and the sun shines all day.  I just laughed the first time he said this and I continued to do so every time he has repeated this phrase over the past two years.

Fast forward to Spring 2013.  Glenn is no longer claiming Albania is Camelot. The past few months have been exceptionally rainy with heavy dark clouds dominating the skies.  Rain has been pouring down in sheets for days and weeks with only brief respites of sunshine.  Moods have matched the weather with even Albanians and seasoned foreigners complaining about their need for just a bit of sunshine.  This past week's forecast had predicted chances of rain varying between 75 and 90 percent for every day and for once the weather forecasters had been pretty right on.  They rarely seem to get it right so why couldn't they have been wrong in their predictions this week as well?

Tasked with planning the Embassy's Easter celebration, including a hoped for outside egg hunt, I was feeling particularly gloomy about the weather.  I've never really celebrated Easter, never really seen the attraction of an adult dressed as a bunny rabbit, and think there are generally better things to do than pump our children full of sugar in the name of a holiday that traditionally has nothing to do with bunny rabbits or candy.  Pile on the gloomy weather and the prospect of this event became even less attractive to me.  However, I know I'm in the minority in feeling this way, so I dutifully planned away creating a fun indoor event, and on the very off chance that there wouldn't be a deluge of rain, coming up with an outside "Plan B".  As crazy as it sounds, the plan was to bring 80 people under the direction of a handful of volunteers inside a too small space, provide them with arts, crafts, lots of food, and of course the a fore mentioned bunny rabbit.  There really wasn't any alternative.  Visions of sugar induced craziness had me considering an outside egg hunt in all but the heaviest of rains.  I was still planning on doing this as I trudged around on the water soaked Embassy grounds in the falling rain at noon yesterday.

And then something truly amazing happened.  In the span of a quick half hour the gray rainy skies gave way to a crystal clear blue color that I had not seen in months. Not only were there no clouds but the sun shone brightly (and almost too warmly).  Sure the grass was still wet but the puddles evaporated from the concrete pavers.  And with the sudden appearance of the sun came an equally drastic increase in the number of my volunteers.  All of a sudden I had more volunteers than I really needed.  (And in all my years of planning events that has never happened!).  After weeks of gray skies, wet weather and canceling outdoor events because of the rain, things were looking up.  Lawn games were played, eggs were hunted, and pictures were taken with the big bunny.  Food was eaten and creative juices flowed in the arts and crafts area with minimal messes.  All in all a fun, and relatively dry time, was had by all.  Maybe we are in Camelot after all.........

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Love Me, Care For Me, Adopt Me

Holding a newborn twin
Earlier this week I had an experience that was simultaneously one of the most heartbreaking yet uplifting ones I've had since we've been in Albania.  Although I had known about the Organization for the Support of Albania's Abandoned Babies, OSAAB, since we had arrived in the country, I had never visited their nursery.  On Tuesday I finally did and after my visit I know I will never think about babies, family, or privilege the same way again.

Since 1996 OSAAB has been working to provide food, clothing, diapers, and love to abandoned babies while they await a spot in one of Albania's overfilled and under funded orphanages.  OSAAB is housed in the Queen Geraldine University Hospital of Obstetrics and Gynecology here in Tirana.  As a beneficiary of international support, the hospital has been able to expand and modernize its facilities to more western standards.  ("Before" pictures just bring me to tears).  Through dedicated leadership and commitment, they have been able to expand their services beyond basic health care to include preventive care, parenting education, and outreach to Albanian women throughout the country.  These are services that Americans take for granted but in this little Balkan country are only beginning to be offered.  OSAAB is a natural expansion of the hospital's mission. This partnership proves to be mutually beneficial for both OSAAB and the hospital since they are able to share the limited facilities, staff, and resources that are necessary to keep both organizations operational.

As a mother I can't fathom the idea of abandoning my child.  Of course, my circumstances are so much different than the hundreds of Albanian women who have done just this before and since the inception of OSAAB. Abandoning one's baby is not unique to Albania; after all, national safe haven laws in the United States provide women who are unwilling or unable to care for their babies safe alternatives for the well being of their children.  Circumstances in Albania are just so different than they are in the U.S.  While the stigma of being a single or teenage mother has diminished greatly in  most of the United States, here in Albania it is still considered the equivalent of wearing a Scarlet A on one's forehead.  Single women who find themselves pregnant are often ashamed and take great measures to hide their pregnancies from their friends and families, and most likely the fathers of their children.  Attempts to hide pregnancies result in expectant mothers receiving no prenatal care, delivering babies in hospitals under assumed names, and yes, abandoning their babies with the hope of putting the whole incident behind them and moving on with their lives.  I don't know how possible truly moving on is but I find these entire circumstances and the reasoning and mindset behind them to be just horrific.  When these circumstances do arise, although only temporary, the OSAAB nursery provides the necessary love and care that newborn babies need.  It really is a beacon of light in an otherwise dismal situation.

As good as the hospital is, it is by no means on par with American hospitals.  I saw this first hand when we toured the NICU.  As many of you know, because of Sidney's twelve week stay in two separate NICUs, I am quite familiar with the ins and outs of both civilian and military NICUs. I was apprehensive of what I would see and on a very personal level wasn't sure I would be able to go into the ward.  As we suited up I was still unsure whether or not I could stand to see all of those tiny babies fighting for their lives.  With the tiny isolettes lined up in rows, the NICU was more like the naval hospital NICU than I wanted to admit.  Looking at the smallest of infants, already weeks old but still well below healthy birth weights, brought back images of my own premature baby fighting for his life.  While the incubators were the ones I am all too familiar with, the monitors and equipment were in no way as modern as the ones that had nursed Sidney to health.  I was simultaneously heartened to see that modern equipment was available yet saddened knowing that even more modern (and expensive) technology exists yet isn't readily available in Albania. 

Still there were several things that I found comforting.  The nurses staffing the NICU cared for the fragile babies with the same level of love and caring that Sidney's American nurses had for him during his time of need.  I was told that many of the nurses had received specialized training in Italy and other parts of Europe before returning to Albania to care for babies.  I was elated to see that "kangarooing" was not only encouraged, but readily practiced within the unit as a mother was cuddling with her own infant during our visit.  This skin-to-skin contact between a mother and her newborn infant provides a vital link and bonding experience that is so necessary for both mother and child. I learned about kangarooing in Sidney's first NICU and fought the second NICU to allow me to continue doing this with him.  During his hospitalization, I spent hour upon hour each day holding Sidney against my chest while we read, slept, and bonded.  For me it was both therapeutic and healing.  It was these moments that helped both of us get through those first long weeks and months. 

For me, this visit reiterated how lucky I am, and how lucky all Americans are.  We are fortunate to be citizens of a country where being a single mother does not carry a stigma so great that we feel pressured to abandon our babies.  If we decide we can't care for them, there are safe and legal alternatives.  Modern health care is readily accessible for both mother and child.  Pre-natal care is the norm rather than the exception.  There are days when I bemoan aspects of my life and think that things are unfair.  In reality, my even thinking this is unfair because I am privileged simply because I am an American. When Sidney was born I knew he had access to the best neo-natal health care available.  Sure I had to do battle with the hospital on occasion but I had a modern hospital to do the battle with and at the end of the day he really was well cared for.   My heart breaks for those little babies currently in both the NICU and the OSAAB nursery as well as the ones that will fill their small cribs once they leave.  If you want to talk about unfair, the fact that hundreds of little babies fight this fight is what is unfair. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

My Big Fat Greek National Day

Monday was Greek National Day and here in Tirana, the Greek Embassy went all out with their celebrations.  Recognizing the 1832 establishment of Greece as an independent and free state, the day's festivities included a performance by the Dora Stratou Dance Theater highlighting the traditional dances and music from Greece's diverse regions.  Greece is a relatively small country with just under 132,000 square kilometers but is much more diverse than the stereotypical western images that Mamma Mia! and My Big Fat Greek Wedding bring to mind.  From its kilometers of aquamarine shoreline and sun filled islands to the ruins of ancient Athens and its mountainous northern border shared with Albania, there is a diversity amongst Greece's geography, culture, and people and all of this was reflected in the evening's entertainment.

The vibrant costumes, the varied dances, and the music were impressive.  The program included traditional music and dances from all of Greece's regions. From the northern area of Macedonia (not to be confused with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) to the Ionian Islands and Epirus and everywhere in between, each region was represented.  The costumes and dance of the Macedonian region reminded me of the traditional songs and dance of southern Albania; this shouldn't be surprising since the two areas share a mountainous border.  These dancers wore bold black and red costumes while the dances representing the Ionian Islands were equally vibrant but more colorful and varied.  The music and dance steps from this region were lighter and far more elegant than their interior cousins.  The costumes accompanying the dances representing the Northern Thrace and Asia Minor regions were less ornate but reflective of the influences from neighboring Turkey and Bulgaria.

The performance was just the first part of the evening.  Following the concert guests were invited to partake in a reception in the lobby of the National Opera House.  Upon hearing this I had visions of spanikopita, baklava, olives, and other Greek delicacies.  This thought kept me going through the long, cold (there really wasn't adequate heat in the theater) interludes between performances that allowed for costume changes.  But because this is Albania, while there was Greek wine, there wasn't any Greek food to be had at the reception.  Instead, the food was your typical Albanian reception food providing an array of Albanian and Chinese (??) appetizers that were washed down with either Greek wine or Heineken beer.  The wine was decent, the food not so much.  This didn't stop other guests from heaping their plates with so appetizers that I wondered whether they had eaten that day.  All of this was accompanied by the unappetizing aroma of cigarette smoke.  Yes, people were actively smoking inside the lobby of the National Opera but in a strange way, I've come to expect this type of behavior.

So unless I make it myself, my hankering for authentic Greek food will have to wait until our two upcoming trips to Greece.  First up will be the Ionian island of Corfu in early July followed by a road trip through northern Greece at the end of the month.  It is still a few months away but I can already hear the music and taste the food.  I can't wait.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Dear Anonymous

Anonymous:  (as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary) Being of unknown authorship or origin; lacking individuality, distinction, or originality.

There are many reasons someone might choose to remain anonymous.  My favorite is when generous people make significant, or perhaps not so significant, contributions to causes they believe in.  There is something extra special about meaningful gifts that come out of sheer benevolence without the expectation, or desire, for recognition.  It could be a gift of time, money, or services.  Whether the recipient be a local charity, youth organization, or one's college alma mater, I love seeing this pure generosity.  It really doesn't get more selfless than this.

Other times anonymity may serve a totally different purpose.  Perhaps someone has witnessed a crime and wants to report it but fears retribution.  They know reporting the crime is the right thing to do but doing so publicly isn't worth the personal sacrifice.  Yet they still want to do the right thing.  Maybe an employee is aware of unethical behavior in the workplace and wants to have the matter investigated without being openly labeled as a whistle blower.  Or perhaps it is a child witnessing the bullying of a peer and wants it to stop without their becoming a target themselves.  In my opinion, these are the exact reasons for anonymity.  And then there are the not so positive uses of anonymity.

When we were stateside reading the local newspaper was one of my important daily rituals.  The easiest way to put my finger on the pulse of a community is to read the letters to the editor.  These snippets of opinion provide great insight into the political leanings, values, and issues of importance within a community.  Many of these letters are insightful yet some of the most inflammatory are often authored by someone named "anonymous".  As the media world has moved away from print and into cyberspace this seems to be increasingly the case.  More often than not letters, especially the ranting ones, are signed by an anonymous writer.  Really?  If you felt so inspired to opine a response to something you have read, shouldn't you be willing to identify yourself?  What are you hiding by not attaching your name to your letter?

This behavior has always bothered me but in recent weeks it has been hitting too close to home.  As a blogger I often comment on posts I read but I always identify myself, either by my blogging names (I have two separate ones) or my email address.  After all, I am expressing my opinion and by identifying myself I am allowing the blog's author to enter into a dialog with me.  I welcome the same with my own blogs.  Anonymous comments that are supportive or positive I can handle (although I still wish readers would identify themselves), but if you are making a negative, critical, or downright inflammatory comment, please identify yourself.  If you object or feel strongly about something I have written, please tell me who you are and why you feel this way and give me a chance to respond.  Ranting, insults, or downright vicious comments achieve nothing other than my deleting the poisonous words.

My blog is my own but over the past two weeks numerous anonymous comments spewing hateful comments about me and my thoughts have been popping up.  I am very clear that my writings are my own opinions and as such I do not speak for anyone else.  I identify who I am, where I am coming from, and why I feel the way I do.  I am entitled to my own opinions and will continue to speak freely and encourage my readers to do the same.  Prior to now I have allowed readers to freely publish their comments on my blog.  Now, because of recent comments that I can only label as hateful and malicious, I am forced to moderate what is being published.  I don't like doing this but also don't like turning on my laptop and seeing vicious words on my blog.  These comments have left me feeling violated and vulnerable and as anyone who has even been in that position knows, it is a horribly uncomfortable feeling.

So here is my request to everyone out there:  please continue to read my blog and post your comments.  I want to hear them and I will respond but I need to know who you are. Don't hide behind the potential anonymity of the internet.  I don't and take ownership for what I say.  I am proud of what I write and will continue to be found right here, publishing on this blog under my own name.  I have nothing to hide.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Going Over The Mountain

The Bear Went Over the Mountain is a classic children's song that documents a little bear's trek to get over a big mountain.  In many ways this story could be an analogy for life here in Albania; many times even the simplest of tasks is just that much more difficult than it needs to be but accomplishing the said task represents a great achievement.  This past weekend we physically went up and over a mountain and this short but arduous journey exemplifies both how easy and how difficult life can be here.

The turret that we had previously seen from afar
Wanting to explore and take advantage of the rare sunshine, we headed north of Tirana on a quest to find Preze Castle.  The turret is easily seen from the airport and Glenn had thought he had seen a road sign pointing the way to a castle but we weren't one hundred percent sure what we would find.  Approaching the village of Preze from the south, we were surprised to see a well marked, fully paved road winding its way to the top of the mountain. Not only were there guardrails along the road, but other infrastructure included appropriately placed street lights, lane markings, and a paver and brick sidewalk that, for the most part, met western standards.  This type of continuous infrastructure really isn't found in much of Albania yet money had obviously been invested in this village.

An outer wall of the castle
The castle grounds themselves were restored and well maintained.  A wide green space filled the center of what at one time had been the inner most part of the castle. Because this is Albania, one restaurant and two separate cafes were integrated into the castle walls. One even bragged of having free Wi-Fi and allowing wedding pictures to be taken there for a price.  Although it was before noon, many of the tables were filled with young Albanian men and one or two families sipping coffee and raki and enjoying the rare spring sunshine.  The views from the entire compound were amazing.  While  you could easily look south towards Tirana and west towards the airport, because it was so clear you could also see the Adriatic Sea to the east, the mountain village of Kruja to the west beyond the airport, and to the very north, the snow capped peaks of Montenegro.  In between were rolling hills filled with olive groves, small housing enclaves, and patches of green cultivated fields.  The views were truly beautiful and ones that we had only previously seen on our air approaches to the airport. It was hard to believe that we were so close the the sprawl of Tirana.

Now this is an old olive tree
But then came the stark contrast.  Rather than retrace our steps down the mountain, we continued north on a narrow dirt road that was more of a gravel and dirt path.  This route was well travelled-- we had a head on encounter with an old yellow furgon and pulled over at one point to let an even older Mercedes sedan pass us-- yet if felt a world away from the well maintained route we had taken up to the summit.  As we passed elderly pheasant farmers hoeing their fields it felt as though we were going back in time.  With sheer drop offs to both the left and right and the road disappearing over the hood of our SUV, the only assurance we had that the road was truly passable was the fact that the Mercedes had gone on ahead.  Continuing on our way we passed through ancient olive groves and cemeteries that dated back centuries.  It was both enchanting and amazing and reminded me that the best parts of Albania are outside of her cities.

Pheasants working their fields
Soon, we bounced our last bounce on the dirt road and found ourselves turning onto Albania's well paved, main north-south route through the country.  We were once again caught up in heavy weaving traffic, too many road side car wash / cafe combinations to count, and yes, farm animals grazing in the median.  That is the Albania I know so well.  As we battled the traffic home, I once again contemplated the contrasts between the urban and rural ways of life in Albania.  Although geographically close, culturally the experience couldn't be more different.  Cresting the top of the mountain had proved this to us.  And this is one of the things I love the most about this country; both ways of life seem to co-exist in a relatively harmonious way mere kilometers apart.  Where else can the same be said?

The long and winding road
An old grave

Friday, March 22, 2013

Happy Nervuz

Today is Friday; a work day for most of the western world but here in Albania it is an official holiday.  The Embassy is closed in honor of Nervuz, or Persian New Year.  Celebrated in Central and South Asia, Northwestern China, and parts of the Balkans, Nervuz is also the first day of spring on the Iranian calendar.  Dating back to the second century AD, Nervuz was the day when kings from all of the nations under the Persian Empire would bring gifts to the Emperor.  The holiday continued to be celebrated throughout the reaches of the Persian and later Ottoman Empires and is alive and well today.  In 2009 Nervuz joined the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and the following year the General Assembly of the United Nations recognized the International Day of Nervuz as a spring festival of Persian origins.

Here is Albania, Nervuz is primarily celebrated amongst the Bektashi Order, an Islamic Sufi sect.  The Bektashi order was widespread throughout the Ottoman Empire, and today it's world headquarters are located right here in Tirana.   (Yet another fact I never knew until recently!).  Widespread throughout the southern parts of Albania prior to World War Two, the practice of Bektashi was banned, along with all other forms of religion, during the isolationist regime of Enver Hoxha, but it made a reappearance after the fall of Communism in 1991.  With the return of the Bektashi in Albania came the return of this ancient spring celebration.  Following on the heels of last week's pagan Summer Day celebrations, one gets the sense that perhaps the long winter really is over. Or at least we can hope.

One of the wonderful things about living overseas is experiencing and learning about cultures that I would otherwise be unaware of. Yes, it doesn't hurt that this is a day off from work but that is just an added bonus.  As one would hope on the first day of spring, the rain has stopped and the sun is out.  So on this sunny, first day of a long three day weekend I'm going to get out and enjoy all the day has to offer.  After all, this is the start of spring in the Balkans so I know the rain is likely to return.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Anatomy Of A Dinner Party

I was so proud of my non-blue flowers
Tuesday night we hosted yet another dinner in our home.  As is usually the case, the idea starts out small and manageable but ends up ballooning into something else all together.  And true to form, this is what happened. While I can easily execute a formal sit down dinner for six or even eight without blinking an eye, numbers beyond that start to get unwieldy. When Glenn informed me that we would have a total of twelve (yes 12!) guests at the table I had a moment of panic. Sure, I have done it before but it wasn't easy and I certainly didn't enjoy it yet we were heading down that path again.

So what does it take, beyond a dose of insanity, to execute such a dinner in Albania? 

  • Plan, Prepare, and Execute:  Not only did I have to think about the dietary restrictions of our guests but I had to consider which items could be made ahead of time and most importantly what ingredients I could readily find in the local stores.  Sounds simple enough, right?  Logistically, determining one's dietary restrictions via protocol offices isn't always easy.  (Apparently while I think this is a necessary inquiry, Albanians find it strange).  On the flip side, since it only took trips to three separate grocery stores to buy all of my food, the actual shopping wasn't as cumbersome as it had been in the past. Either the supermarkets are stocking a better selection of food items or I'm becoming more adept at composing menus that are actually executable.  However, I did have to use my poor Albanian to explain that I wanted my twenty-four veal fillets to be as is and not coated with the heavy coating the butcher insisted was better.  I was proud of myself when this feat was achieved.

  • Start early:  On an ordinary night it takes me forever to julienne carrots for our family of three. Try doing this for twelve people.  The same goes with shredding all of the cheese of baked macaroni and cheese, and dicing onions for the a fore mentioned veal. Everything and I mean everything takes that much longer when you are quadrupling a recipe.  I actually started three days ahead of time and still barely finished under the wire.  And larger recipes mean the need for larger pans. I am horrible at eye balling how much will fit in a pan and only learn the hard, and messy, way.  There is nothing like having to change a pot (or two) mid-course in order to make things work.

  • Variety is key:  When we first started hosting these dinners I'd go all out with intricate details that would have been impossible for all but the professionals to implement.  The results were rarely pretty.  Now I know my limits (or as Glenn would say, I'm getting better about recognizing them).  Numerous, bite sized dishes multiplied by four just aren't practical as an appetizer.  Soup on the other hand is.  Pureed soups are elegant and can be made ahead of time.  Because the dinner includes several courses, portions don't and shouldn't be enormous.  As guests we feel compelled to eat everything on our plates and all too often we leave the table feeling over stuffed and uncomfortable.  Small portions of different items allow guests to enjoy the variety of flavors without regretting each bite.  Regardless of what I serve prior to the final course, dessert is always decadent.  (Yet another reason to go easy on the earlier portions).  For Tuesday's dinner I served tiramisu; a flavorful dessert that since it gets better with age, can be made ahead of time). To make the presentation a bit more elegant, I served the cake with hand dipped chocolate covered strawberries.  Berries are coming into season here in Albania so not only were they perfectly ripe but the guests were impressed with my efforts.  (Which actually was pretty effortless).

  • Count, count, and recount:  From plates specifically for a cheese or dessert course (these are separate plates) or to miniature pumpkin shaped soup tureens and pasta bowls, I have a lot of dishes.  But I have very few items that match in multiples of 12.  We did have 12 place settings of our wedding china but thanks to over exuberant guests at an earlier dinner, we are now down to 11 of certain pieces and as luck would have it, our basic pattern has been discontinued.  This wouldn't be a problem for a normal sized guest list but when you need every single dish and one is missing you have to get creative as to how things will be served.  I found myself re-working the menu in order to be able to use the dishes I did have.  While I wasn't completely satisfied with the plating, I suspect I was the only one who thought twice about the fact the salad course was served from our fruit bowls and the dessert was served from our salad plates.

  • Plan A, B, & C:  Last week I decided that mimosa flowers would be the perfect spring centerpiece. They would have been if the dinner had been last week.  By this week the rain had washed away all of the delicate yellow blooms.  At the same time the flowers from our own garden (Plan B) were not quite in bloom, so I had to find yet another alternative.  While Tirana does have numerous flower shops they all seem to specialize in over-dyed blue roses or charge outrageous prices for the simplest of arrangements.  Although real, there is nothing natural about them.  I think of them as the type of plastic flowers my grandmother kept on permanent display behind her plastic shrouded couch.  After several strike- outs I finally found a flower shop that had enough natural colored flowers in stock.  

  • Be Flexible:  (This one is really hard for me).  Whether I like it or not, many things are just out of my control.  As has been the case with previous dinners, we didn't have any electrical or water issues during the lead up to the dinner.  When cooking with a single oven I must plan my timing down to the minute.  Dishes go in as others come out; some items can sit while others must be eaten immediately.  All of this works if things go according to plan.  However, when the dinner is perfectly timed yet the guests arrive considerably later than expected, one needs to roll with it.  Beautifully garnished bowls of soup go back into the pot to be reheated and fresh garnishes are substituted.  I had a brief moment of panic but I think the guests were none the wiser.

  • Schedule accordingly:  All of the above planning and execution takes time.   I was relieved that we cancelled our plans to go away last weekend since this afforded me the time to grocery shop, set the table, and begin cooking but the timing of Tuesday's dinner was still less than ideal.  I had meetings to attend on Tuesday morning so I had to go into work.  Glenn was out at a business dinner on Monday night meaning I was trying to prepare for Tuesday and feed ourselves on Monday night all while trying to keep Sidney entertained.  This resulted in Sidney's dinner consisting of two slices of  bread and a cup of red orange juice (his request that I was too tired and harried to fight) and my eating tirimisu filling left overs and a lemon-Parmesan madelaine that had fallen on the floor (observing the five second rule of course) for dinner.

So what were the final results?  In the end we all survived.  Our guests arrived (finally), we all ate, and were merry.  Wine was consumed, conversation flowed, and people left with full stomachs.  Glenn told me that because he was an active participant in the dinner's preparations (due in part to my running out of time and scarily wielding a large knife in the kitchen), he now realizes how much work goes into preparing a dinner for twelve.  I was so exhausted after this ordeal that I had to take Wednesday off to recover.  And it was confirmed that I am partially insane for agreeing to do this in the first place.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

Life is all about choices.  Some of us are privileged to have a larger menu of options to select from but we all have decisions to make and what we decide helps to shape our past, present, and future.  Hindsight is always twenty-twenty and some of us may have a lot more "coulda, woulda, shoulda" moments than others.  I do my best not to dwell on the poor decisions I may have made in the past but rather I focus on where I am now and what decisions I can make now that will shape my future in positive ways.  Some decisions I have control over while others are really dependent upon other people, institutions, and situations.  I find the hardest decisions are the ones we may fully regret in hindsight or simply wish we had either made different decisions or our circumstances had simply been different at the time.  I call these the "coulda, woulda, shoulda" choices.  One of the "coulda, woulda, shoulda" debates I see many of my (female) peers talking about time and time again is the ongoing family-career-life balance issue.  And in particular, with my peers the conversation is most heated amongst my fellow military spouses and the choices we have made regarding our individual work-family-life balances.

One woman on a military spouse board I participate in posted a comment recently regarding her frustration with not being able to have a fulfilling career while supporting her husband's ever changing and mobile military career and keeping the the home fires burning.  While her post received a handful of supportive "I'm right there with you" comments, the vast majority of people condemned her for complaining about her situation, not making her own happiness, knowing what she had gotten into when she married her husband and therefore not being entitled to complain, and generally not being supportive of her husband and children.  Really?  When did we women become so critical of our peers and the dilemmas we all face at one time or another?  I have a hard time believing that so many of us are perfectly content with every aspect of their life but it is comments like these that stifle us into silence.

Some of us might have thought we knew what we were getting into when we married into the military or a family decision was made to join the expansive military family, but did we really understand the full scope of our future situations?  Sure we'd heard the propaganda (I love the Navy's "you'll see the world" motto) and perhaps through friends or family we even witnessed what it might be like first hand, but until we are walking in those shoes we really have no idea what it will be like. As try as we might, at the end of the day, our military member's job and commitment to service drives each and every decision we make as a family. As a military family sometimes you may be able to live in one location for an extended time while at other times you may be moving every two years.  If you are able to put down roots are you able to find a job if you want one?  Is that job in your career field or at a minimum satisfying? And what happens when your spouse gets orders to pick up and move across the country or halfway around the world? If you want to keep your family under one roof, you really don't have that option of keeping your job.  So you pack up and move to a new location and perhaps start that job search all over again.  Most likely you'll lose seniority and at a minimum start all over again with vesting into a retirement fund.  When your spouse is deployed for months at a time and you find yourself in the role of a single parent, are you still able to give your job your all?  Without anyone to share car pool duties, homework, and parent teacher conferences with, it is possible to commit to your paid job to the degree that is necessary?  This begs the question of whether it is even worth trying to work outside of home in the first place.  When does the juggling game just get to be too much?

When I met Glenn I had a fulfilling career. I worked, travelled, had plenty of friends, and essentially answered only to myself.  I recognized that moving thousands of miles away from my home and marrying him would mean giving up my upwardly mobile career.  I was OK with that, or so I told myself.  It wasn't easy essentially starting over in a new city where my education and previous professional experience was dismissed for a variety of local political reasons. Still I pushed on and slowly found my professional niche. And then in the same year I got pregnant and found out that we were moving to Albania.  Neither circumstance would allow me to continue my job but these life choices were the best ones for our growing family.  This decision was neither the first difficult one I had to make nor will it be the last one.

Personally, I love being a mom but I know that if I did not have a job to go to each day I would want to gouge my eyeballs out.  If there is one thing I've learned about myself during various transition periods when I've found myself not working is that I need significantly more intellectual stimulation than being at home all day affords me.  This isn't an insult against women (and men) who feel fulfilled with this life choice, but personally, it just isn't for me.  I know I am happier when I have that balance and a happier me makes for a happier family. Is the juggle aways easy?  Absolutely not.  There are days when I feel as though we would all be better off if I wasn't trying to do the daily juggle but in the long run I know it is this balance that actually keeps me sane. I also recognize that I am very fortunate to have the option of making the decision about what to do with my time.  If I wanted to stay home I could without it costing my family a financial sacrifice.

I know that working outside of the home is important to me and something I will always try my hardest to do. I also realize that it may not always be possible but like everything else in this transient military lifestyle, it is only temporary.  Eventually we will land back in the States and Glenn will someday retire from the Navy and we will be a civilian family.  We'll likely put down real roots and perhaps that is when I'll be able to settle into a lasting job.  I love what we are doing now but a part of me I truly look forward to that day. Glenn has alluded to my being able to resume my career and perhaps being the primary bread winner after he retires. As wonderful as this sounds to me, (it truly does), I need to be realistic.  With each passing month and year where I can't document meaningful employment on my resume, the possibility of my having a career oriented job fades. When I hear about the amazing careers and job promotions my college friends are experiencing, I feel a twinge of sadness knowing I will never have that.  Because it is so important to me, I know I will find meaningful work someday.  I won't be CEO but I will do something that matters to me and provides me with the intellectual stimulation I so crave.  Perhaps one day I will be the one telling Glenn that I have to work late, he needs to figure out the menu for the week, do the grocery shopping, and put dinner on the table.  (A girl can hope, right?).  Thinking about personal fulfillment and what gives me satisfaction doesn't make me less supportive of my husband and his career and it doesn't make me less of a mother.  I can dream about having it all (whatever that means), but in reality I do have it all because I'm making what I have work for me.

Coulda, woulda, shoulda? Nope, I wouldn't trade my decisions for anything.  Good, bad, or somewhere in between, all of them have help shaped me and my family into what and where we are today.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Sun Will Come Out???????

Winter and early spring make up the rainy season here in Albania and in a country where hydro-electricity is the main source of power I know this rain is needed, but I am getting really tired of it.  The sun did come out this past weekend but the unseasonably cold temperatures resulted in snow falling on the mountains outside of Tirana and gave me no indication that spring will make an appearance any time soon.  Other than those brief hours of sunshine I think it has rained a part of each and every day for the past two weeks and forecasts predict more of the same for all of the week ahead of us.  This weather is getting really old very quickly. On the "good" days its been gray and overcast with showers but most of the days and nights have been filled with heavy soaking downpours.  The rain has been coming down so heavily that the already saturated ground can't absorb any more.

On the "good" days its been gray and overcast with showers but most of the days and nights have been filled with heavy soaking downpours.  The rain has been coming down so heavily that the already saturated ground just can't absorb any more and this results in muddy runoff and pools of stagnant water.  Trust me, it really isn't a pretty sight.

I find the rain in Albania particularly hard to deal with since it just makes an already difficult way of life all the more so.  Our house is concrete and despite rugs, wall hangings, and heat that we probably turn up too high, it always feels damp and cold inside.  No matter how many pairs of wool socks and layers of sweaters I put on, I just can't seem to make myself comfortable.  My primary complaint about the Albanian rainy season, however, is that it severely limits what we can do.  While the country is filled with hundreds of amazing places to see and visit during dry weather, wet weather options are limited.  Tromping around a castle, old ruins, or sidewalk-less city streets just isn't any fun--and due to all of the stone, can be downright dangerous-- in wet weather.  Indoor venues, from restaurants to shopping malls, and movie theaters are cold, dark, and more often than not despite the ban on smoking inside, filled with smoke.  This is hardly the type of environment I want to spend time in.

So when will the rainy season end?  According to meteorological forecasts, not any time soon.  Like I said the rain is supposed to continue for the foreseeable future.  Rain, rain go away.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Arrogance or Ignorance?

Earlier this week as I walked home through the pouring rain a car swerved towards me causing a cascade of muddy road runoff to cover me from head to foot.  Had the situation been unavoidable, I would have been more understanding.  But since the car was the only one moving in either direction, the actions of the driver were obviously deliberate making me wonder why such juvenile behavior was really necessary.  What did splattering an already rain soaked pedestrian with more water really achieve?  Did the driver think this was funny?  (Actually yes since the entire car full of young men were laughing as this happened).  Did this silly behavior give the driver a false sense of superiority?  Was the driver so arrogant that they couldn't think beyond their initial sense of misplaced amusement?  Or was the driver just ignorant of what civil behavior really is?

Yesterday, as we found ourselves in yet another Tirana traffic jam, I found myself wondering the same thing.  From the distance we could hear the approaching sirens of an ambulance.  In typical Albanian fashion very few cars made the effort to move to cede the way to the approaching emergency vehicle. A few did but the open space they created was immediately filled by non-emergency vehicles trying to get out of the bottleneck.  I've seen this situation happen over and over again and it really makes me wonder.  Are Albanian drivers ignorant of the fact that they are supposed to make way for emergency vehicles? Is there a complete lack of situational awareness?  Or are drivers so arrogant that they assume they are above the law and their ability to get from point A to point B takes precedence over that of an ambulance? Or is it a combination of all of these factors?

This is something I've wondered about time and time again.  When a driver ignores the red light and continues on their merry way are they unaware of the law saying that you must stop for red lights or do they simply not care?  When the same drivers are creating a second or third travel lanes into oncoming traffic (and then turning right from a left lane) because they are unwilling to sit in traffic with the rest of us, are they arrogant or ignorant?  The same goes with driving the wrong way in a traffic circle or double and triple parking; is it arrogance or ignorance?  And the problem extends beyond driving.  And Albanians aren't the only offenders.  I regularly see diplomatic plated vehicles double and triple parking on busy streets because there aren't any available parking spaces nearby.  Just because we have the CD plate, and most likely won't be ticketed, doesn't mean we should be doing this illegal action. If nothing else, we should be setting an example of what is right since we undeniably know better.

In places where I would expect to see lines---grocery store check outs, passport control at the airport, or admission booths at entertainment venues---people in this country refuse to wait their turn.  They push, shove, and jostle their way to the front with little concern for others around them who may have been waiting longer.  People will walk three or four abreast on the sidewalk (when one exists) and make the lone person approaching them move out of the way.  (This is especially bad when umbrellas are involved).  Why does this continue to happen?

Air travel seems to be another area where I wonder whether it is ignorance or arrogance that drives human behavior.  When the flight attendants tell you, in multiple languages just so there isn't any misunderstanding, that cell phones must be turned off, seat belts have to remain fastened, you are not allowed to smoke, and carry on baggage is limited to a certain size, how is it that so many passengers feel they are exempt from following the rules?  I inevitably see this on every flight in and out of Tirana but really wonder why this is.  If one is new to travel, an excuse I've heard many people cite, then shouldn't they be all the more attentive to the instructions?  If everyone else must comply with the rules, then why do some people seem themselves as exempt?

These behaviors seem to transcend age and gender.  I really wonder what drives this behavior.  Is it ignorance?  After all, Albania was a closed society for so long that generations of people were raised without any contact with the outside, western world.  Not having exposure to western norms could result in an ignorance of the ways and behaviors of civil societies.  However, it has been over twenty years since Albania opened her doors to the outside world and thousands of her citizens travel outside of the country each year.  This travel exposes them to western norms so I'm not sure one can plead ignorance.  And even if they do, I don't think ignorance of a law or norm makes one exempt from complying with it.  So it is arrogance that drives this behavior?  This is perhaps an even scarier behavioral trait than ignorance.  If a person or segment of society feels that the rules and laws do not apply to them, where does that leave a country's civil society?  More importantly, how does one tackle this arrogance?  

I don't know the answer to all of this but I do know that after two years of experiencing these behaviors on a daily basis I am tired and frustrated.  Much to my chagrin I find myself becoming more assertive in ways that I never would have dreamed of prior to arriving here.  I no longer meekly hold my place in a check out line.  Doing so means I'm never served since I am unable to get to the head of the line.  When someone pushes their way ahead of me I hold my ground and refuse to give way.  This usually does the trick but it doesn't feel good.  Perhaps everyone does this because this has become the cultural norm in Albania.  There are a few things I refuse to do however; when driving red always means stop, I'll circle the block or park farther away in a legal parking space, I obey the directives of flight attendants, and I never create a third travel lane into oncoming traffic.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Summer Day (Dite e Veres)

Last year's Summer Day was sunny in Tirana
Although the date is the 14th of March, today is Summer Day (Dite e Veres) here in Albania.  Ratified by the Albanian Parliament in 2004 as an official and national holiday, this day of pagan celebration symbolizes the rebirth of nature, the awakening from a long dark winter and a general rejuvenation of one's spirit.  Judging by today's wet and gray weather, you would never know that spring and yes, summer, are right around the corner. When I first learned about Summer Day during my pre-arrival in Albania language lessons, my teacher was insistent that the sun always shines on this day.  My wet slog to and from work, complete with rain boots and an umbrella today made me wonder about the logic of this assertion.  Summer Day celebrations usually bring unbearable crowds out onto the City's streets but in today's rain the roads were empty of all but a few speeding cars taking advantage of the rare lack of traffic.  Perhaps the sun will make an appearance later and the streets will once again be filled with revelers.  Given the forecast, this is unlikely, but given how quickly weather changes here, anything is possible.

I find the celebration of summer when we are three months away from the actual summer solstice--the official start of summer--- and still a week away from the vernal equinox a bit strange but the history behind this day runs deep in Albania.  The celebration of Summer Day dates back to ancient times in the City of Elbasan, which due in part to its location in the geographic center of the country, was considered the umbilical city for all of Albania. According to Albanian legend the Mountain Muse, who was the goddess of hunting, forests, and all things related to nature, would usher in summer by coming out of her temple on the 14th of March.  Today while Albanians flock to Elbasan to celebrate the day, others celebrate in the own cities and villages.  Families begin gathering the night before (in an effort to extend the celebration) to feast on traditional meals of turkey, roast meats, walnuts, and figs.  And of course there is plenty of raki to go around. Traditional cakes are served and visits to relatives' houses bring good luck and prosperity to the home's occupants.  It is said that a piece of sod brought home from a traditional early morning walk, complete with roots and grass, signifies the rebirth of nature and would bring about a prosperous growing season.  Pagan in roots or not, Summer Day is all about celebrating the impending warm weather.

So although today is dark and rainy, the first day of spring is still a week away, and summer feels even longer in coming, get out and celebrate Albania's Summer Day.  Dodge the raindrops and spend time with family and friends.  Eat, drink, and be merry since the long hot Albanian summer really is right around the corner. Or, do as I plan on doing; veres also translates into wine in Albanian, and celebrate the approaching end of the work week with a nice dinner and a quality glass of red wine.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Stages and Phases

Long before I even considered having children I had heard about the "terrible twos".  Sitcoms portrayed out of control toddlers, parenting magazines offered tips on how to deal with this phase, and friends who already had children bemoaned how difficult their children were during this age and sighed with relief when their children aged out of that difficult stage.  I skeptically wondered if it could really be that bad but when it was our turn, I approached that time with trepidation.  The combination of health issues, two moves ---first to a new city then half way around the world to a new country---, and life in general meant that Sidney's first two years were difficult.  As his second birthday approached I was exhausted and filled with dread fearing what the coming year would hold in store for us. Much to my delight, Sidney's twos were pain free. Yes he was a toddler, and a boy at that, but we experienced neither the craziness nor the horror stories we had heard about from friends.  I finally felt like I was getting into my parenting groove and maybe I knew more about being a mother than I gave myself credit for. I won't say it was easy but it certainly was better than I had expected.

My newly minted three year old during a happy day last fall

And then Sidney turned three and everything changed.  Gone was my sweet little boy and in his place appeared a moody, temperamental, and thoroughly frustrating pre-schooler.  One minute the sweet little boy I knew was there and in the next an angry and defiant child took his place.  I rationalized that Sidney was testing his boundaries but was it really necessary for him to test them every single waking moment?  Suddenly I was no longer allowed to pick out his clothes, rather he began to select his colorful, and completely mismatched outfits each morning.  (Note to self, only buy separates that coordinate). My once ferocious eater turned picky overnight and I was unable to keep up with his preferences.  Ketchup was a food unto itself for several weeks only for it to be banished from the table with a blink of an eye.  Plain pasta was acceptable but add a bit of sauce or flavoring, or even worse, have one food touching another, and an angry outburst with flying food would erupt.  Playing took on a whole new spin; matchboxes learned to fly and railroad tracks no longer stayed connected.  Sidney suddenly insisted that he control who does what, when and proclaimed that "he was in charge".  Sitting in the wrong chair in the living room created an outburst whereas not sitting at all could result in a complete meltdown.  On a regular basis he angrily points his finger and tells me to go into the kitchen.  (I have no idea where this idea came from).  The latest development? My boy who once loved his bedtime routine of brushing his teeth, taking his fluoride tablet and having an evening bath is now refusing all manner of personal hygiene.  And don't even get me started about the toilet training battle.  But then in the next moment my sweet little boy returns, he snuggles in my lap, and tells me he loves me.  His mood swings are reminiscent of a teenage girl.

Maybe Sidney is suffering from only child syndrome but more likely we are engaged in a battle of the wills with one very stubborn little boy and two equally stubborn parents.  I know (hope) this is only a phase that, like all the ones that came before, he will eventually grow out of.  At the moment, however, that time can't come soon enough for this exhausted mom.  As soon as I seem to get a handle on Sidney's current developmental stage it changes.  Yes, that is a part of the challenge of raising children, but no one ever warned me about the terrors of being three years old.  Sidney can't return to being two but perhaps we could fast forward to age four.  That is eight months from now and can't come soon enough.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Slow Food, Take Two

I first became aware of the Slow Food movement a few years ago.  Slow Foods International and Slow Europe have helped to take the movement global and their influence has spread across to globe (and even as far away as Albania!).  Slow foods is a grassroots effort that aims to grow and produce food locally while taking into consideration the larger environment.  It considers the entire "cost" of the end product.  Are the farmers and food producers treated fairly?  How much of an environmental impact does the production of the food have?  Does the food enjoyable to eat and taste good?  Slow food's  mission statement resonates with me: the organization seeks to  "envision a world in which all people can access and enjoy food that is good for them, good for those who grow it and good for the planet".  How can one argue with that?

As I've mentioned on numerous occasions, I love good food.  You might call me a foodie or a food snob but that doesn't bother me.  Salty, sweet, or savory; from the most complex flavor profile to the simplest, if the food is made with good quality products I enjoy it. I can be as equally satisfied with a creative salad as I am with a platter of meat.  I prefer local and organic products but do eat carefully selected imported items.  I would rather taste a single bite of a quality food item than have heaping plates of food of an inferior quality.  In my opinion, when it comes to food, more isn't always better.

The cheese course that included fresh ricotta and a sage-cheddar
posted about my first visit to Mrizi Zanave, Albania's tribute to the International Slow Food movement last year.  I've been back several times since my initial visit with each meal being just as good, if not better, than the last.  We returned again this past weekend and once again the menu didn't disappoint. From the endless mezzes that started the meal to the fruit filled desserts ---yes plural desserts--- and the meats and pastas in between, it was all amazing as usual.  Some of the dishes like a carrot byrek and tempura broccoli I'd had before, but the pasta with blueberry cream sauce that accompanied the mushroom risotto was new to me.  This is one of the things I love about Mrizi Zanave; they pair food combinations that I would never even dream of serving together with amazing results.  Traditional Albanian meats of baby goat and lamb cooked in milk took on new flavors when they were slow cooked rather than overcooked.

Three fruit desserts on a single plate
The latest addition to Mrizi Zanave was their new cold storage area that was actually built into the hill abutting the restaurant.  The owner proudly showed off this area where fruits, vegetables, and meats are preserved and stored.  I love behind the scenes views of restaurants.  Not only do they show off how well organized and clean a place is (two very important details) but looking at the massive quantities of a specific ingredient sets my mind racing with all of the possibilities.  What would you do with all of this cured meat or pomegranates?  The possibilities are endless!

Aging meats

Wild pomegranates used for a refreshing juice spritzer; potatoes are in the forefront
Have I mentioned that I love this place?  I can't wait to go back!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Beer, Chocolate, and Moules?

Anybody who lives the nomadic lifestyle of a military family knows the feeling; it seems as though you are in a constant state of flux with either planning your next move, settling into a new home, or enjoying a few carefree months before you start the process all over again.  Daily life is filled with unknowns that in many cases, you have very little control over and a change of some sort is continually on the horizon.  Sometimes that change is welcome; if you happen to find yourself in a city, country, or assignment you don't like, you know there is an end in sight.  On the flip side, if you are in a place you love, there is also an impending expiration date. With the Navy's "home porting" approach, it is possible for Navy families to stay put in one location for several consecutive assignments.  This was our situation in Norfolk where we owned a home and I held a steady job in my career field but then we got restless and wanted a change of scenery.  And when we implement a change, we go all out.  Within the span of fourteen months we moved from Norfolk to Washington D.C. and then to our current location in Tirana, Albania.  And now, once again, it is our turn to play the "where to next" game.

Albania has been a hard assignment for us.  As with any location, there are pros and cons, some people love it while others despise every moment of it, and yet others fall somewhere in between.  We are in that later category but believing life is what you make of it, we are taking full advantage of every opportunity that comes our way.  We've met some wonderful people and had amazing travel opportunities over the past two years but it hasn't always been easy.  We've suffered personal heartbreak while here (unrelated to being in Albania but we were here none the less so I will always associate these pains with Albania) and our exposure to Albanian government has shown us a side of the country that isn't always pretty.  Rather than tear us apart, these experiences have made us a stronger family and for that I am grateful.   Like I said, it hasn't been easy so yes, we are ready to move on.  While that move won't come for another ten months, we are beginning to look forward to whatever lies in our future.

So what do we want in our next posting?  Being overseas has given us the travel bug so we really want to remain abroad for another few years.  Unlike the Foreign Service and even the Army, overseas Navy billets aren't as plentiful as we would like and when you knock Japan off of the list (a place I want to visit but have no desire to live), the options are even more limited.  This is likely to be our last tour so a job that will make for an easier transition into civilian employment is important for Glenn.  Because Sidney will be entering school during our next tour, quality educational opportunities are a top priority for us.  We'd love for Sidney to become proficient in a third language and we really want to live in a community where we feel comfortable, fit in, and have friends.  The reality is that I am unlikely to find meaningful employment while overseas but I do want to be in a place where I have opportunities to volunteer and get involved in a positive way.  Other priorities for us include a good quality of life, real green space and infrastructure and after our time in Albania, I really really want to live in a place with safe public transportation and reliable electricity.  I don't think I'm asking too much..........

We've been on a yo-yo in the past few months trying to find a location that meets our criteria, Glenn is of the appropriate rank for, and whose timing works out for us.  Last month we thought we had found it and were happy with what the future held for us.  Call me a cynic, however, but I refused to get too excited about the prospect because in the Navy, orders really aren't a sure thing until you are in place at your next command.  I was doing my research but keeping an open mind for our "Plan B" which while less desirable, would have been a sure thing.  Semper Gumby, right?  Well it's a good thing because it looks like we're changing directions again and for once it really is for the better.  If all goes well, all of our criteria are going to be met, including that improbable job opportunity for me plus we'll be in a large international community with like minded people (something we want but didn't think was a real possibility). There is a light at the end of our tunnel and the old adage of good things happening to those who wait is coming true.  We are excited and feel confident that this is going to be a sure thing.  Well, as sure as life in the military can be.  Its too soon to start packing but planning, purging and language refreshers are underway.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Monkey See, Monkey Do

I had always been told that parents are the greatest influence on their children and now that I'm seeing it in action on a daily basis, I'm realizing how true this statement really is.  What started with looks and mannerisms between Sidney and Glenn has progressed into talking, sighing, and body language at a whole new level.  And with more frequency, he is copying me as well.  It is uncanny, flattering, and scary all at the same time.

Throwing stones in tandem

From the first moments I laid eyes on Sidney I immediately saw that resembled Glenn in so many ways.  His dark blue eyes come from me, but everything else was all Glenn.  Sidney's newborn strawberry blond hair was the exact same shade and texture as Glenn's as were the exceptionally long eyelashes and even the crinkly curve on one ear.  While his hair has now lightened to a blond that resembles what my own hair was like at age three, his untamable cowlick is undeniably the same as his dad's. At a few days old when Sidney, still a tiny baby hooked up to numerous NICU monitors, rubbed his eyes with the knuckles of his curled fists, I almost fell over.  Glenn does the exact same thing---and I later noticed that Glenn's father has the same mannerism as well.  Sidney still does this, sometimes immediately after Glenn has but other times when Glenn is not even in the same room.  What is nurture, what is nature, what is genetics, and what is just unexplainable?

Decorating for Christmas; notice the identical hair

Toasting in Germany

Riding the rails; you can't see it but Glenn's right knee is also propped up

Waiting for a sausage lunch in Munich

Chilling together in Pristine

For some time now Sidney has been mimicking Glenn's physical actions and postures.  If Glenn is sitting in his chair with legs crossed Sidney does the same.  A deep sigh from dad is followed by a smaller sized deep sigh from Sidney.  Glenn's "hmmmmm, hmmmmmm," in response to something he likes, has now been transformed into a tiny version.  Sometimes I can see that these actions are deliberate, but other times it seems as though they occur unconsciously.  When faced with a new dinner item on his plate, Sidney looks to Glenn to see if he is eating it before taking the first tentative bite. If Glenn won't eat it, it doesn't go in Sidney's mouth either.  (I'm the least fussy eater in our house so why can't Sidney be taking his cues from me on this one?).

Pizza and the same lean in Prague

And yes, more pizza

Lately, Sidney has been copying me and it isn't in the best of ways.  Much to my delight, he loves to help me in the kitchen and even when he is using his own play kitchen,  from the tilt of the pan to the stir of the spoon, his actions are identical to mine.  That part is flattering, but others are less so.  In a country filled with dirt, dust, and too many inedible objects to count, my biggest struggle is to keep Sidney from putting things in his mouth.  Usually he is good, but early on I labeled off limit items as "nasty" or "icky" as a way of separating the good from the bad.  So what are my little boy's favorite phrases as of late?  Yes, you guessed it. Everything has become icky or nasty and much to my chagrin, these labels are not being used correctly.  In fact, they are never used correctly.  I never realized how much I used these phrases until I started to hear them come from Sidney's mouth on a daily basis.  I've always tried to watch what I say but now more than ever, I find myself choosing my words very carefully.  You never know when little ears are listening or eyes are watching.  Our children are sponges and absorb everything they see and hear.  As parents, it is our responsibility to be positive role models.  It isn't easy and it is certainly the hardest task I have ever faced.