Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Adventures with grocery store security

As promised here, I bring to you, adventures with grocery store security.

This happened in early 2008. As you read, keep in mind that I didn't speak Russian, my husband was out of town, and I had just come from a particularly awful medical appointment in which a Belarusian ob/gyn and I were nearly in a shouting match over the protocol of a procedure I needed to have. She wanted to do something that was clearly against the guidelines used in the U.S. and Western Europe, so we were having a VERY heated discussion. I felt really bad for the woman translating the feud, though she told me later that she agreed with me. In the end, it was decided that the procedure would be done the way I wanted it to be, but good grief, what an afternoon, and that had been the last of three appointments that day.

and now, adventures with grocery store security...

The grocery store I did all of my shopping at was located in our neighborhood. It was rather large and there were security guards everywhere, roaming about at the front of the store, walking up and down the aisles, and standing at the end of every checkout line. This, in addition to the cameras that were everywhere.

That day, similar to any other, I was wearing my black, North Face backpack with a little netted pouch in the front. Just like any other day, the little pouch was holding a bottle of water. I did my shopping, paid for the groceries, bagged the groceries, was handed the change, and that's when the security guard said something to me in Russian. These security guards aren't the pitiful guys you are used to seeing at malls in the U.S. These guys looked and acted like they meant business. I told the man that I didn't speak Russian, and that's when he grabbed my water bottle. He handed it to the cashier to scan, I assume to see if it came from that store. Seeing that I only shopped at one place, of course the cash register recognized it. The man immediately started speaking loudly into his walkie talkie and probably said the equivalent of "swarm" in Russian because that's what happened. Within seconds there were even more security guards gathered around me, some on cell phones, some speaking into their walkie talkies. I had figured out when the first security guard pointed to the water and said something to me that he thought I had stolen it. Now, surrounded by 15 plus security guards I was getting nervous, really nervous. A young woman came over and spoke to me in German. Unfortunately when we left Berlin, I had left behind every ounce of German I had learned, so that wasn't helpful. The security guards continued to pass the water bottle around and I even pointed out that it had already been opened and half of the water was gone; they didn't care. I was about to pull out my dip card and tell them to back off, but I didn't want to make enemies or worse be banned from the only large store in the neighborhood, so I didn't. Fortunately a young guy who spoke a little English came over; he understood and explained to the security guards that I had purchased the water three weeks before. He translated back that I was not to bring my backpack into the store again. Fine with me. Just give me the groceries and I will be on my way. Had this been any other day, I would have been in tears from the beginning, but because I was already cross from the medical appointment, I was just angry. How dare they accuse me of stealing. I had just paid for a lot of groceries, I had no reason to steal a bottle of water. Oh well, another day, another adventure in Belarus.

PS- to the fashion police who believe I should be rotting in a Belarusian jail, not because of the water incident, but because I wore a backpack into a grocery store, there is an explanation. I only wore the backpack on days I had to walk to the embassy, had medical appointments, needed to stop at the grocery store, or some combination of all three. I had to carry all of the items one would normally have in a purse, plus several epi-pens, three 1 inch thick medical files, shopping bags, and the infamous bottle of water. It was easier and made more sense to wear a backpack.

Monday, March 30, 2009

He's definitely my cat

Guinness likes to sit in the bookshelves. If he's upstairs, he can usually be found in the office hiding behind the pregnancy books. If he's downstairs, he's usually on the bookshelf with the travel books. Apparently he has decided to broaden his horizons and is now into etiquette.

First road trip to Belfast= SUCCESS!!!

On Saturday we drove up to Belfast to do a little shopping. We had a great day and accomplished everything on the list, including stocking up on a few things at IKEA. Of course the most important errand was to purchase a "Northern Ireland" mug for my collection.

1. stop at Starbucks in our neighborhood to get my morning latte
2. drive to Belfast
3. shopping center (Starbucks)
5. grocery store
6. stop at Starbucks for another latte and to buy the mug
7. drive back to Dublin

Do you see the pattern here? Now, if only Nordstrom were international......

The other big news from Saturday...

It took 18months, several countries, and six months of storage, but my car FINALLY has 1000 miles on it!! (this picture was taken in a relatively safe way)

Friday, March 27, 2009

there really are no words, no way to explain it

numb, sadness, anxiety (the same feelings I have as I type this)

I won't be around tomorrow, so I thought I'd post tonight. A year ago tomorrow (March 28, 2008) I was told that I had lost triplets. Those precious babies had implanted and my body killed them. I had great betas, I had an u/s, I even had a positive home pregnancy test (I will forever live with the regret of not taking a picture of that test). In fact it was the expensive digital test, and right away "pregnant" appeared. The only participants in the digital home test were me, the admin. assistant at the embassy health unit, and God.

I can't believe that I'm actually saying/thinking this, but did the anxiety of possibly being kicked out of a country take precedence over the grief of losing babies? When my RE called to schedule the normal "what went wrong" appointment, all I could think of was the two babies I had on ice, not the three I had just lost. I didn't and couldn't grieve the loss of my triplets. My concern was for the two I had left.

In some way (without sharing too much political information) I would have to tell my Belarusian RE that I HAD to have the two transfered right away. Protocol be dammed. I didn't have a month between cycles. I didn't know if I would be in the country for two months, two weeks, or even two days.

Infertility is awful under the best of circumstances, infertility under these circumstances, um, yeah, well, okay, off to get a glass of wine.

Babies, I miss you. Your mommy loves you so much.

Saying goodbye to friends

As mentioned here, we had been told to reduce American staff at the embassy. We waited while the powers that be compiled a list of who would be allowed to stay, and who would be leaving. It turned out that my husband and I were safe, for now, but we had to say goodbye to half of our American friends. It was awful. We had made some wonderful friends and we were 'supposed' to have an additional 2 1/2 years to make memories with them, to go on embassy outings, to have each other over for dinner. This all seemed so unfair, but it was out of my control, and so on March 27, 2008, we said goodbye.

U.S. trims embassy staff in Belarus
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States is cutting the size of its embassy staff in Belarus amid a diplomatic dispute with that country's government, the U.S. State Department said Monday.

"The United States will, with great regret, reduce the number of American staff at our embassy in Minsk by almost half, at the insistence of the Government of Belarus," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement.

The State Department did not announce the number of cuts, but Andrei Popov, press secretary of the Belarussian Foreign Ministry, said staffing at the U.S. Embassy would be equal with the Belarussian embassy in Washington, which has 18 diplomats, Russia's ITAR-TASS news agency reported.

"Visa processing in Belarus is temporarily suspended," McCormack said.

Relations between the United States and Belarus have been tempestuous for the last decade, but they deteriorated quickly over the last month.

On March 7, Belarus recalled its ambassador to the United States and suggested the U.S. ambassador to Belarus leave that country. Belarus acted to protest U.S. sanctions against Belarussian oil monopoly Belneftekhim.

On March 12, U.S. Ambassador to Belarus Karen Stewart returned to Washington.

Then, on March 17, the Belorussian Foreign Ministry gave an "urgent recommendation" to Jonathan Moore, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk, that the United States reduce the size of its embassy staff.

"The unfortunate actions by the Belarus authorities demonstrate that Belarus has taken a path of confrontation and isolation rather than a path of engagement and democratic reform," McCormack said.

"We would like a different relationship with Belarus, but that can only happen when the government of Belarus shows commitment to respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms."

Washington has been pushing for the release of Alexander Kozulin, the runner-up in the 2006 presidential election in Belarus. He received a five-year prison term for leading demonstrations against election results that international observers said were flawed.

The sanctions against Belneftekhim were meant to pressure Minsk to release Kozulin, as well as several other political prisoners.

The United States has long been critical of the iron-fisted rule of President Alexander Lukashenko, lending its support to the opposition and barring entry into the United States to members of the Belarussian government. He took office in 1995 and quickly consolidated power.

In 2005, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Belarus the last "outpost of tyranny" in Europe. A year earlier, the U.S. Congress approved American assistance for democratic political parties, non-governmental organizations and media and barred all non-humanitarian aid to the government.

It was also around this time that I was told to prepare the house to be packed "just as a precaution". I finally had the house decorated and put together the way I wanted it, and now I had to have it packed up again? Were they serious? Yes, yes they were. Unfortunately for our friends who had just left, there hadn't been enough time for them to organize and prepare for their move, so telling us to "get ready" was viewed as a favor. It certainly didn't feel like a favor at the time, though looking back, I know it was.

For international moves our stuff is generally put into one of three categories. There are weight limits for HHE and UAB so you learn very quickly what is and isn't a necessity.

HHE- household effects (the majority of your things which you don't usually see again until you've been in your new city for 1-3 months)
UAB- unaccompanied air baggage (some clothing, pillows, bedding, that with any luck, are waiting for you when you arrive in your new city)
luggage- the things you fly with (clothing, toiletries, laptop, important paperwork)

I'm in no way a novice when it comes to international moves, but how do you prepare when you don't know where you are going, when you are going, or even if you are going? I was about to find out.

water woes

I like to drink water. Specifically cold water with a lot of ice. The problem with this is that I detest tap water. Just the thought of filling up a glass directly from the sink makes me nauseous.

In Berlin I purchased this

In Minsk we had a water distiller, similar to this

Oh how I miss that thing!

Now in Dublin we are back to using the Brita pitcher. There is only one problem, mold. Mold that is growing inside the pitcher. I've changed the filter, bleached it, scrubbed it down with isopropyl alcohol and water, and the mold continues to grow back. NASTY!

As I mentioned above, the thought of drinking water directly from the faucet is disgusting to me, imagine how I feel about drinking water out of a moldy, Brita pitcher. Let me know if you have any suggestions.

The second water woe...
When I pour of glass of water, I never get to enjoy it alone. As soon as I turn my back, a four legged critter has her, or his, face in the glass. Apparently "people" water tastes better than oh say, the perfectly good, refilled twice a day "cat" water at their feeding station.

Clearly I'm nuts because sharing water with my cats doesn't bother me nearly as much as drinking water from a moldy Brita pitcher.


I've decided to add a disclaimer to my blog due to the nature of some of the posts. Introducing the disclaimer. (please look to the right)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Three years ago today

Please pray for freedom. I love this country and the people.


Ah yes, remember "the house of punishment" post in which I mentioned that everything in this house is either broken or breaks upon me touching it? You probably thought I was exaggerating. Please see below....

This happened this morning, it's the microwave. (our second microwave in five months)

Speaking of the kitchen, every time I'm in there I have company. They aren't allowed on the counters and this is the next highest thing. They would be heartbroken if I took their "chair" away. So I guess I'll be living with a food processor box in the kitchen from now on. Good thing they're cute!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Flying with food allergies

Having a life-threatening food allergy is scary. Having a life-threatening food allergy at 35,000 feet can be downright terrifying. I’ve done quite a bit of flying throughout my life so I thought I’d pass along some of the things I’ve learned along the way. For simplicity and because it’s the food I’m most allergic to, I will use peanuts as the example throughout this post, but the general tips and tricks apply to a variety of food allergies.

Whether your flight is domestic or international, if possible, plan ahead. Begin by looking at the airline’s website. Most have policies in place for dealing with allergies and state whether or not they serve the most common allergenic foods on board. Print out the policy and bring it with you to the airport.

Make your reservation over the phone instead of online. Tell the agent that you have a life-threatening food allergy and ask what the company policy is. Take clear notes and ask for the person’s name. Also try to reserve flights early in the morning as the plane is usually cleaner at that time. Some airlines will not serve peanuts if you request it, some will provide a buffer zone (usually three rows ahead and three rows behind your seat), and some will say you are out of luck as they make no accommodations for their allergic customers. Ask if they can make a note on your reservation that you would like to pre-board and request a window seat (the importance of this later).

Check In:
When you arrive to check in, let the agent know that you have an allergy. Most of the time they will tell you that you need to inform the gate as there is nothing they can do at check in. The reason I still mention the allergy at this time is because more times than I care to remember, I have been asked at the gate or on the plane if I told the agent when I checked in. This is also the time to confirm that you have a window seat.

Keep your EpiPens in an easily accessible place in case the agent wants to examine them. Also have a letter from your doctor explaining that it’s necessary for you to travel with EpiPens and any other medication you might be carrying. Make sure the letter includes contact information for your doctor’s office. Of all the air travel I’ve done, only once have I been asked to furnish a letter stating that I could carry medication, but it’s best to have one, just in case.

At the Gate:
Upon arriving at the gate, speak with the gate agents. Let them know that you have a life-threatening allergy and would like to pre-board. If you have any trouble, produce the name of the reservation clerk you spoke with and explain any special accommodations that were promised to you.

Pre-board! Pre-board! Pre-board! When you board the plane, speak with the first flight attendant you see. Tell the person that you have a life-threatening allergy and confirm that peanuts won’t be served, or if nothing else, they will provide the three row buffer (in front and behind your seat). If you are traveling alone, tell the person where your EpiPens are located and give a brief explanation of how to use them. Boarding is a very busy time for the flight crew, so be as polite and brief as possible.

Your Seat:
Bring alcohol wipes with you. I keep them right next to my EpiPens and Benadryl in a little case. Use alcohol wipes to clean the seat, tray table, armrest, seat belt latch, headrest, and everything else you might touch. Most people with peanut allergies can experience a reaction from just the residue, so as well as you can, clean! Also, the reason I always ask for a window seat is that I’m not going to be bumped as other passengers are boarding and nobody is going to be climbing over my seat to get to their seat, thus contaminating the area I’ve already wiped down.

Enjoying the Flight:
Bring your own food or eat before you fly. There is no guarantee that the food on the plane wasn’t contaminated or cross contaminated when it was being made. Some airlines will make an announcement in the gate area and some will do it once all the passengers are on board, asking that passengers not eat foods containing peanuts on the flight. Don’t be embarrassed, they are doing this to protect you. Sit back and try to enjoy your flight!

After the Flight:
If your flight attendant did a particularly good job and took your allergy seriously, thank them, get their name, and let them know that you will be contacting the airline to share your positive experience. If you don’t have a good experience, you should also contact the airline. They need to know how they can improve customer service. This rule also applies to the gate and reservation agents.

Last but not Least:
There is no consistent rule for which airlines are better than others. No airline can promise a "peanut free flight" as they have no control over what passengers bring on board. In addition, people in many parts of the world don’t have experience with food allergies, so try to be patient. That said, I've had over the top, wonderful flights particularly on SAS, British Airways, Delta (international), and Sun Country (domestic). I had one particularly bad experience on U.S. Airways (international) and fairly mediocre service with U.S. Airways (domestic). Above all, just remember to be polite, but stern if you need to be, and write a letter if you have a particularly good, or bad, experience.

Enjoy your flight!

Saturday, March 21, 2009


For the first time in 61 years, Ireland won the "Grand Slam" just minutes ago.  Hooray for Ireland, hooray for rugby.  

Off to celebrate in style :)  

Spoil your mum

Yes, these are the words I saw upon entering the grocery store this morning, "Spoil Your Mum". As I glanced over at the huge display of flowers and gift baskets, there was the other sign, "Happy Mother's Day March 22". Apparently tomorrow is Mother's Day in Ireland. I spent the next 30 minutes shopping and fighting the tears. 

I remember walking into church on Mother's Day around 10 years ago. One of the greeters handed me a white carnation. I knew him well, so I laughed as I handed the flower back and said, "you know I'm not a mother". He handed it back to me and responded with, "you will be someday". Now, I wonder. 

I also look back at that time, when I was blissfully unaware of the devastation of infertility, and I hope that God was protecting the hearts of the infertile women in my church.  How absolutely horrific for them to see so many white flowers, or to remain seated while the mothers were asked to stand so that they could be recognized and prayed for. 

The world is so cruel to infertile women. What seem like such small, insignificant signs and actions are tremendously painful to those of us struggling with infertility. Whether you are celebrating Mother's Day tomorrow or in May, please be kind, be sensitive to the childless women you know. Some might be childless by choice, but still others might be suffering in silence.  

For all of you mothers in Ireland, I do sincerely wish you a Happy Mother's Day!

the house of punishment

It's no secret that I really don't like this house.  Okay, I HATE this house. I blame my feelings on a number of things.

When we arrived here, I was ready to unpack, move in, and settle down, particularly after the situation in Belarus, followed by living out of suitcases for the better part of a year. Unfortunately the house was not ready AT ALL. The house was so dirty that I refused to unpack our UAB for fear that something would be ruined. I always expect to do some cleaning when we move to a new place, but this house was absolutely filthy and broken.   

Everything in this house was either already broken, or broke as soon as I touched it. 

The house just looks dirty. No amount of scrubbing or cleaning products seem to help. Although we have had people in the house, I find it embarrassing and feel the need to explain to everyone that the house really isn't dirty, it just looks that way.

We have had plumbing issues from day one. Everything from toilets that don't flush to no hot water to a kitchen faucet that won't stay in place.

It's not a good floor plan. There is a lot of wasted space and there's nothing I can do to change that.

This is not a house that a family (couple with children) would have been assigned to. Every minute that I'm in this house I feel like I'm being punished for my infertility.  

Because I hate our house so much and I'm so miserable in it, I find ways to punish myself. I realize this isn't a healthy thing to do, but I do it anyway. The punishment takes many forms, everything from not using the good towels or new sheets to not setting out the good hand soap. (Yes, I know I sound crazy) Instead of using my new All-Clad measuring spoons, I use the Kitchen Aid plastic measuring spoons because this kitchen doesn't deserve my pretty new spoons. I also do more personal things like wearing old scrubs around the house instead of my cute, pink outfits. It's getting to be ridiculous. I've tried and tried to find things about the house that I like, but there just aren't any. I'm here for another two and a half years, it would be nice to have just one room that feels finished, clean, a place in which I could relax. Sigh, maybe we'll eventually have a live baby, then maybe we'll be allowed to move.

Before you hit send on the hate mail you've just typed:
yes I know it's free
yes I'm glad to have a roof over my head and do realize that other people are in worse situations 
yes I know this is the foreign service and I don't get to choose my housing
no this isn't my first post (it's the fourth overseas housing I've had)
yes if I hadn't been PNG'd I would still be in a hardship post and loving it
yes this is my blog and my place to vent

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Never Shake Your Baby, but what about your cat?


One of the commercials that AFN watchers are/ were subjected to overseas is "Never Shake Your Baby".  commercial

I really thought about the title and linking the commercial to this post, however, I knew that any of you who are subjected to the AFN commercials over and over and over would find the humor. For the rest of you, please do not email that you are worried about me, or in particular my cats. We are all fine. Thank you very much.

Moving right along, I love, adore, and overall cherish my cats, except at 4am.  Bella and Guinness have decided that at around 4 EVERY MORNING, it's appropriate to step on, meow, jump, and YELL at us. That's the time they want to get up, so we should too, in their minds. I have tried everything to get them to sleep in, nothing works. Before you say, hey 'ye of small mind', lock them in another room, I guarantee that Guinness would scratch the door down, besides, the yowling would continue.  Anyway, this morning I really did feel like shaking a cat, or two. Obviously I NEVER would.  If you have any suggestions, aside from giving them away, keeping them awake throughout the day, or locking them in another room, I would LOVE to hear them.

a very tired cat mom

PS- they are both spayed and neutered, altered whatever your term of choice

PSS- I also realize it's very inappropriate to joke about shaking a child and very dangerous to do so.  The joke is about the commercial, not actually abusing children or pets.  I thought I would add this disclaimer before the hate mail begins. Again, if you are in the foreign service or military overseas and subjected to the same three commercials over and over, you do tend to develop a sick sense of humor. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Oops, the forgotten cat

Several people asked why Bella wasn't included in the St. Patrick's Day picture. In the excitement of taking a picture of Guinness with a Guinness, I forgot that Bella is an Irish cat too.

Behold, Bella and her favorite toys!

Hadn't they heard?

"They" being the Belarusian government.

I was on bed rest, hoping and praying that my three babies were settling in for a long nine months. My RE had said to reduce stress, relax, treat myself like I was at the spa and given me three days of bed rest. Well, apparently "they" hadn't heard, or rather, didn't care.

"They" told the U.S. government to reduce embassy staff from 34 to 17. Yes, HALF of the Americans would be leaving the country. So now we waited for "the list". Who would be staying, who would be going? I went back to hoping and praying that we would be allowed to stay. I liked living there. We had great friends, both American and local. We were finally feeling "settled in". I really liked my RE. Plus, I had two embryos on ice and couldn't stand the idea of leaving without them.

So much for reducing stress...

Belarus seeks staff cuts in U.S. embassy
Mon Mar 17, 2008
MINSK (Reuters) - Belarus has asked the United States to cut staff at its embassy in Minsk, a week after Washington's envoy temporarily left the former-Soviet state which the U.S. and European Union says violates human rights.

A statement from the Foreign Ministry said a U.S. diplomat from the embassy had been called in and told of the "urgent recommendation from the Belarussian side that the U.S. embassy in Minsk reduce its number of personnel".

The ministry did not give a reason for this demand.

Ambassador Karen Stewart's departure last Tuesday followed two requests that she leave Belarus over what Minsk called new U.S. sanctions against national oil products firm Belneftekhim.

Last year the U.S. ordered its citizens not to deal with the company and said no new action had been taken since.

U.S. officials said Stewart's departure was for consultations only, and that she remained ambassador to Belarus. Minsk last week also recalled its envoy from Washington.

The United States and the European Union accuse President Alexander Lukashenko of shutting down independent media, jailing opponents and rigging polls, such as his re-election to a third term in 2006. Neither allow him and some officials entry.

Since a dispute with Russia last year, however, Lukashenko has tried to improve ties with the West and courts have released several opposition activists -- moves cautiously welcomed by the EU.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Magic Jack really is magic

A few months ago someone my husband works with mentioned his recent purchase of the "Magic Jack". Intrigued by an inexpensive way for me to call home and by anything electronic/ computer related, my husband ordered it. The Magic Jack is easy to install, easy to use, and best of all, really cheap. The device and a year of unlimited calls to the U.S. and Canada was around $40.


Guinness has something to say

and no, the cat didn't get to drink the beer ;)

Enjoy this little gem

I found this on one of the blogs I read; the author found it on yet another person's blog. These are questions that were submitted to a South African Tourism website and answered by the website owner. True or not, it's still good for a laugh.

Q: Does it ever get rainy in South Africa ? I have never seen it rain on TV, so how do the plants grow? ( UK )
A: We import all plants fully grown and then just sit around watching them die.

Q: Will I be able to see elephants in the street? ( USA )
A: Depends how much you've been drinking.

Q: I want to walk from Durban to Cape Town - can I follow the railroad tracks? (Sweden)
A: Sure, it's only two thousand kilometres. Take lots of water...

Q: Is it safe to run around in the bushes in South Africa ? ( Sweden )
A: So it's true what they say about Swedes.

Q: Are there any ATMs (cash machines) in South Africa ? Can you send me a List of them in JHB, Cape Town , Knysna and Jeffrey's Bay? ( UK )
A: What did your last slave die of?

Q: Can you give me some information about Koala Bear racing in South Africa ? ( USA )
A: Aus-tra-lia is that big island in the middle of the pacific. A-Fri-ca is the big triangle shaped continent south of Europe which does not.... Oh forget it. Sure, the Koala Bear racing is every Tuesday night in Hillbrow. Come naked.

Q: Which direction is north in South Africa ? ( USA )
A: Face south and then turn 90 degrees. Contact us when you get here and we'll send the rest of the directions.

Q: Can I bring cutlery into South Africa ? ( UK )
A: Why? Just use your fingers like we do.

Q: Do you have perfume in South Africa ? ( France )
A: No, WE don't stink.

Q: Can you tell me the regions in South Africa where the female population is smaller than the male population? ( Italy )
A: Yes, gay nightclubs.

Q: Do you celebrate Christmas in South Africa ? ( France )
A: Only at Christmas.

Q: Are there killer bees in South Africa ? ( Germany )
A: Not yet, but for you, we'll import them.

Q: Are there supermarkets in Cape Town and is milk available all year round? ( Germany )
A: No, we are a peaceful civilisation of vegetarian hunter- gatherers.. Milk Is illegal.

Q: Please send a list of all doctors in South Africa who can dispense rattlesnake serum. ( USA )
A: Rattlesnakes live in A-meri-ca, which is where YOU come from. All South African snakes are perfectly harmless, can be safely handled and make good pets.

Q: I was in South Africa in 1969, and I want to contact the girl I dated while I was staying in Hillbrow. Can you help? ( USA )
A: Yes, and you will still have to pay her by the hour.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The new feeding station

I love shopping for the cats.  Here are Guinness and Bella's new dishes for dry food.  They also get a little bit of wet food in the morning.  I'll try to get pictures of those tomorrow.

And a bonus picture


No no, not prostate screening antigen PSA, rather a public service announcement PSA.  

If you are planning to visit someone in a foreign country, it *might* be a good idea to let them know before you purchase your tickets.  A few simple questions such as will you be in the country and is now a good time to visit, are always appreciated.  TIA- thanks in advance

PS- "is there anything we can bring you from the U.S.?" is also a welcomed, though not required question ;)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

St. Patrick's Day dinner

And you expected to see something like corned beef and cabbage or Irish beef stew and soda bread.  Nope!

Being a Washington state native, I still make time to read the Seattle Times online every morning .  Last week they featured a recipe for black bean tacos with feta and cabbage slaw. I was intrigued by both the picture and the flavor combination, so we'll be trying it on St. Patrick's Day.  Hey, at least there's cabbage in it ;)  

There will be a couple of modifications because I can't find the ingredients here.
coleslaw mix= me chopping cabbage and carrots
lime juice= me juicing a whole lime
fresh cilantro = dried cilantro

It sounds really easy to make and hopefully it will taste great too.  

15- ounce can black beans, drained
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 white or yellow corn tortillas
1 tablespoon lime juice
5 teaspoons olive oil, divided
2 cups coleslaw mix
2 scallions, chopped
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Ground black pepper, to taste
Hot sauce, to taste
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

In a small bowl, combine the beans, cumin, and salt.  Use a fork to partially mash.  Divide the mixture between the tortillas, spreading it evenly over 1 side of each.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the lime juice and 2 teaspoons of the olive oil.  Add the coleslaw mix, scallions and cilantro, then toss well.  Season with pepper and hot sauce. Set aside.

In a large skillet over medium-high, heat the remaining 3 teaspoons of olive oil.  Add the tortillas in a single layer, bean side up, in batches if necessary, and cook for 1 minute.

Fold the tacos in half, then cook for about another minute per side, or until golden brown.

Fill each taco with a quarter of coleslaw mixture and  the feta cheese.  If desired, drizzle with additional hot sauce.

-recipe featured in the Seattle Times, adapted from the February issue of Bon Appetit 

What a difference a year makes, or not

March 15, 2008 was my embryo transfer. We had five embryos that made it to transfer day, and decided to transfer three, freeze two. After the transfer, I was told not to move and covered with so many blankets it would have been impossible to do so. As I was laying there in the OR, my RE came over and put his hand on my shoulder. He told me that he and science had done all they could, now it was in God's hands. I was left alone in the OR for an hour, then moved to the recovery room. Approximately two hours later, my Belarusian roommate from egg retrieval day appeared. We exchanged smiles as she was helped into the other bed. We were both there, silent, but hoping and praying for the same thing. Finally it was time for me to quickly meet with the doctor to get instructions, more medication, and go home. I got dressed, looked over at my new friend, and much to my surprise, she said "good luck", in English. I was so shocked that I couldn't find the Russian words for, "you too". So instead I said it in English, to which she smiled. I never saw her again, but I have often thought of her, and hope that she is at home in Belarus right now, enjoying a cup of tea, and rocking her miracle to sleep.

So on this sunny afternoon, exactly a year after my embryo transfer, I'm finishing up the last of the paperwork for IVF #2. It's time to get this party started.

Friday, March 13, 2009

and you thought visiting the ducks was a good thing...

Going to see the ducks used to be thought of as a fun activity. Last year it became code for 'I need to tell you something privately'. For those of you not familiar with foreign service life, some times and in some places you are never really alone, and therefor have to come up with creative ways to communicate.

A year ago today my husband called to tell me that he was on his way home and we needed to go see the ducks. Going for a walk anywhere was not my idea of a good time since I'd just had surgery the day before and was rather sore, but apparently this was important, so off we went. That cold, dark night we walked to the river, and that's when he told me. Relations between the two countries were getting worse and I needed to pack a bag in case I needed to leave with very short notice. Now, under the best of circumstances, that's a hard thing to stomach, but since we had growing embryos in a lab, I was sickened by this news. So I told him what any (ir)rational, hormonally crazed woman would, that I would apply for Belarusian citizenship before I would leave the country without those babies. Realizing that wasn't a viable option, I worried and wondered if I would be around long enough to have my embryo transfer. All I needed was 36 more hours.

Fortunately I was there long enough to have the transfer, but I thought it was laughable when my RE kept telling me to reduce stress in my life, relax, treat myself like I was at the spa. Ha!

The plastic miracle worker

Bella is, shall we say, an enthusiastic litter box user.  This behavior often ended with litter all over the floor, which was eventually tracked through the house, gross. While searching the internet for alternative styles of litter boxes, I remembered that my cousin has "The Clever Cat" box.  The box is designed so that the cat enters through a hole in the top, takes care of business, and hops back out.  Since the box has high sides, no chance for litter to be tossed onto the floor.  I was able to locate it online, but was a bit worried about how the cats would react to it.

The box arrived and after using it for two days without the lid, they transitioned beautifully to having the top on the box.  There's still a little bit of litter that gets dragged onto the floor on their paws, but this litter box really did cut down on the mess.  I highly recommend it to other cat owners.

PS- if you are overseas and don't have APO, it's small enough to be mailed in the pouch :)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

March 12, 2008 was a busy day

Exactly one year ago today our wonderful ambassador left the country. The government of Belarus had asked her several times to leave, and finally threatened to throw her out if she didn't go willingly. news article Although the article states that this was temporary, she would never return. I'm sad that my husband had only six months to work with this incredibly kind, talented woman.

One year ago today, I also had my egg retrieval surgery. I had been advised to not have any invasive testing or surgery in Minsk, but I felt extremely confident in my local RE (reproductive endocrinologist) and his abilities as a physician. In the U.S. egg retrieval is often preformed under sedation. When I asked my RE about the process in his clinic, he said that doing it under sedation is "barbaric" and I would be having a general. Now, I'm in no way a stranger to being in the OR, whether as a provider or a patient, but the thought of having a general in a foreign country was a little unnerving. It sounded simple enough though, IV, Propofol, nighty night, procedure, wake up. And that's basically how it happened. I do remember being in the OR as they started my IV, looking up at the plaster falling out of the ceiling and wondering what in the world I had gotten myself into. It was also a bit unsettling that of the eight people in the room, only my RE spoke any English. The anesthesiologist was very nice and would occasionally touch my shoulder and repeat "okay". Then lights out. The next thing I knew, I was in the recovery room which was nothing at all like a recovery room in the U.S. As strange as it sounds, I felt great. Usually after a general I'm out for hours, vomiting, and just feel blah for 24 hours. Not this time, I was sitting up in bed and asking to go home. Maybe it was the short procedure and therefor small amount of anesthesia, maybe it was Belarusian medical care at its best, or maybe it was just good luck. Whatever the combination, it worked! They wouldn't release me until I ate something, and they offered chocolate. Definitely not something that would happen in the U.S. After explaining that I couldn't have chocolate (peanut allergy and risk of cross contamination) they brought me a cottage cheese/ sour cream type thing. My Belarusian roommate who had just had the same procedure and was not doing nearly as well as I was, offered me her sandwich. I declined, but to this day, I'm touched by her generosity. Two women, different nationalities, different languages, with just our bond of infertility. Anyway, I ate a few bites of the cheese delight, drank some hot tea, gave my roommate the smile of "my Russian isn't very good, but I wish you the best", and went home.

The final count 8 eggs. Yeah!!!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Adventures in grocery shopping

Whenever I move to a new place, I'm always curious about grocery shopping.  Grocery shopping here is fairly similar to the US, though we do have to bring our own bags and bag our own food.  That's fine with me, it cuts down on waste and I'm used to doing it that way after living in Germany and Belarus. Today it was gorgeous out, so I decided to walk to the store (about 30 minutes each way), and even remembered to bring the camera, see below.  While I was walking I started to ponder how different grocery shopping is in different places.  As mentioned above, in Germany it was necessary to bring your own bags and bag your own food.  The bagging your own food thing takes a while to get used to.  It's easy if you only have a few items, but for the larger trips I'm sure I looked like a second-rate, circus act as I flung the groceries into the bags, while trying to get the correct change for the cashier, and looking sheepishly at the customers in line behind me.  Speaking of change, that's another quirk of shopping in Berlin.  They like exact change and if you happen to start counting change in your hand, it's not unusual for the cashier to reach over and just take what she needs.  It takes a bit of getting used to, but eh, it works. 

Shopping in Belarus had a few peculiarities as well.  For instance in the produce department, one doesn't simply put some apples in a bag and continue shopping.  You bag the produce you plan to buy, take it to a woman to be weighed, bag is tied, and a sticker attached with the price.  The actual food selection and prices were a bit strange too.  I've never seen so much vodka in one place in my life.  It was quite impressive.  We learned very early to always look at the price tag if there was one.  This after I picked up a small container of berries only to do the conversion and realize I was about to pay $78 for about 10 berries, no thanks.  A friend of mine blogged about a similar lettuce experience we had at the same store.  The little head of iceberg lettuce was almost $20.  Good times!  I will say the most bizarre aspect of shopping in Belarus was the amount of security at the store.  They were EVERYWHERE, wandering around the store, standing at the end of the check out lines, this in addition to the cameras that were again, EVERYWHERE.  Speaking of security, I'm reminded of a little incident I had at said grocery store, but for now I'll leave you with pictures from today's walk.  Stay tuned for "Adventures with Grocery Store Security".

These were taken on the main road from my house to the grocery store.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Warning about upcoming posts

I just wanted to caution you that the next six weeks will probably include a lot of posts about infertility, and the appalling situation at the embassy in Belarus at this time last year. If any of this is upsetting, I apologize and please come back the first part of May. I promise to have more uplifting and current matters to post about, but for now, this is an outlet I didn't have last year, so here it is, one year late.

I started the daily injections for IVF #1 on Valentine's Day 2008. After almost a month of daily injections in my stomach, it was time for the trigger (HCG) shot. On March 10, 2008 at 9:30pm I received 10,000 IU of Pregnyl, and prayed this would work. It's hard to believe that one year later, we still don't have the child we so desperately want.

Here kitty, kitty

Several of you know that my husband was less than thrilled with the idea of having pets overseas (hassle, paper work, expense). For over three years I asked for a cat daily, okay, twice a day. After a very difficult year (2008), he finally agreed to go to the Dublin SPCA, just to have a look. Once there we agreed that two would be better than one, HOORAY! After an afternoon of perusing the cat area, we decided on our two. The moving in transition has been relatively easy for all involved. Guinness and Bella seem to like their new home and we are thrilled to have them in the family. Their DSPCA names were Sylvester and Sylvie, but we wanted to give them new names for their new start on life.
Guinness- dark and Irish
Bella- short for Belarus (more on that in another post)

Here are their DSPCA pictures, a coming home picture, and a relaxing at home picture...


Monday, March 9, 2009

Ask, and you shall receive

To all of you who gave subtle hints, those who asked politely, and even to those who begged, TA DA!   I finally did it!

When I moved overseas almost four years ago, several people asked me to start a blog.  At that time I declined for a number of reasons.  I mean really, how interesting could it be?  Sure different countries, different cultures, different languages, but really, would people enjoy reading about it?  I honestly thought my life would be boring.  I gave up med school to get married and move around the world with my husband.  What would I do with my time I thought, certainly nothing blog worthy.  However, foreign service life has been anything but boring (particularly the past year) and I really do need a way to record the daily ups and downs, so here it is, my blog.