Tuesday, November 29, 2011

I'm Not a Shill...

...I'm just a supporter.

The front page of The Washington Post is depressing me. The economy is crumbling, the presidential campaign season is farcical thus far at best, Iranian students are destroying the British Embassy.

So! To counter that, I am sharing with you some organizations that I believe do actual good in this world, and I hope that you will check them out as you make your holiday giving decisions. Even better, share them with your friends and family. In times of economic trouble, charities--especially the smaller ones--struggle even as their services grow so much more valuable.

As a federal employee, I've watched my retirement investments and my kids' college funds plummet and my pay freeze. I am pretty damn lucky. Each holiday season, I decide that as a solvent consumer with a decent paycheck, I should support retailers. I've been broadening my definition of doing economic good: I should support retailers, I should support craftsmen, and I should support charities.

So here they are, the places I turn when I want my money to do something more valuable than add yet another pair of unused shoes to my closet:


Kiva manages microlending. They partner with regional organizations to provide a framework in which you choose the project/entrepreneur and lend whatever amount of money in $25 increments. The entrepreneur then pays it back in regular installments, and you can lend it again as soon as you have a minimum of $25. I have been doing this for a few years now. It's fun, it makes a significant impact, and you can even give your friends and family funds to loan. Make sure you donate a bit as you check out for Kiva's overhead costs.

Donors Choose

Donors Choose is particularly close to my heart because I was the recipient of several funded projects when I was a teacher in the Bronx. I was broke, my school system was underfunded and overburdened, and those generous gifts helped me bring some innovative tools and ideas into my first grade classroom. You choose the project proposal and how much you want to donate toward it. In return, you might get some pretty sweet thank you notes.

The Liz Logelin Foundation

When Matt Logelin's young wife died the day after she delivered their preterm daughter, he was showered with love and material support from strangers across this vast thing we call the internet. In an effort to pay it forward, he created an organization that provides funds to struggling widows and widowers with children. LLF will cover their expenses for a month to soften the blow of losing not only their spouse, but often their only income. LLF has more applications than they can fund.

Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep

Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep matches volunteer photographers with grieving families after a stillbirth or loss of a newborn. Professional photographers capture those last few moments of life as parents and siblings love their little fading bundle. Sometimes they capture those moments after their son or daughter is already gone, before the nurses and doctors take the baby away forever. It's hard to go through their website emotionally unscathed.

I'm always happy to find an organization that has a short path from donor to recipient, so point me in the direction of foundations that make you warm and fuzzy. Share the love. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Hipster in the Mirror?

The Washington Post featured an opinion on the trend of "new domesticity," and I read it with interest and more than a little self-recognition. I've been gone from the U.S. for so long, and when I've been back I've been overwhelmed by children and language learning, that I didn't realize this was a new thing. I thought I was just uniquely useless until recently, the first to get eaten by a lion, the first one to be voted off the island. Turns out, this may have been brewing for a generation or two.

There are many Categoried Peoples claiming this trend of old-fashioned self-reliance: feminists, hipsters, libertarians, conspiracy theorists, People Currently Occupying Wall Street. A friend on the Facepage suggested this might even be our reaction to what we perceive as the imminent collapse of economies and governments. That thought is depressing, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that that crosses my mind more than occasionally these days. Not enough to buy automatic weapons and circle my wagons, but enough that I think I'd better have some flexibility.

So why am I sitting in a room with a sewing machine, a serger, stacks of fabric, a box of knitting needles, a box of yarn, and a whole lot of glue, when five years ago I considered making a salad to be cooking? A few reasons, I think.

1) I am a serial hobbyist (see description on left). I like having something I'm interested in. In Tel Aviv, I had a personal trainer and ran a lot. In New York, I earned my black belt and spent about 6 nights a week at my Tae Kwon Do school. In college, I had theater. In middle school and high school I had horses.

I'd still love to do TKD, and I'd more than love to go back to riding, but as a working mom I don't get a lot of time at home. So home-based hobbies are particularly appealing.

2) Related to the working mom thing: I like my job, I really do, and I can't complain about my income. I know I am providing for my children, and they will thank me when they don't have to take out the equivalent of a large mortgage to go to college. But with two of us working all day, I feel like no one is making our home a home. That's mighty subjective, I know, but in my mind the amount of love and thought I put into a cable about Social Security, I wish I could put into dinner. It makes me happy that I made the blanket covering Girl as she sleeps. It's a little sloppy and a completely amateur effort, but it's full of love.

3) Nesting: I didn't get to nest when I was expecting Boy. We were in a one bedroom corporate apartment in Falls Church. When I returned stateside from India, I was 20 weeks pregnant with Girl. A few days later, I learned we were not having a boy (despite all Husband's claims that in no way does his family make girls...except for that one that obviously carried him) and I immediately set about imagining her nursery. A proper nursery! There was the issue of curtains, sheets, crib skirts, etc., ignoring the fact that I knew she would sleep with us for at least the first few months. The obvious solution was to buy a sewing machine. Check.

4) Self-reliance. I hate the idea that I went through all the trouble of college, grad school, and a career just to be totally useless when it comes to basic survival skills. I am slowly reversing that.

5) The environment. Do I really need salsa package in Idaho with ingredients from Mexico through a New York distribution center sent to Frankfurt and then Estonia? Probably no.

So there we are. There are other reasons I've developed an obsession with being Suzy Homemaker, but those are the biggies. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to return to purling my purls and knitting my knits.

(Seriously...it's Christmas present making time.)

Friday, November 25, 2011


Happy Thanksgiving! Here is where I engage in the annual tradition of declaring my gratitude publicly.

I am, of course, thankful for my family and friends, a job that not only pays me but challenges me, and my health. When I start to feel cranky and whiny, I check out the various lists of First World Problems, and I regain a little perspective.

I am thankful for the following non-obvious big things in the past year:

1) My VBAC. This was huge for me, changing the way I parent and they way I process my relationship with Boy. That's another story for another day, but it ranks near the top in the highlights of the past year.
2) Nanny. She helped us turn an awful situation into a blessing. She's been great with both our kids, and as a result I find myself completely surprised by actually being thankful Boy had to leave daycare.

3) Boy's new school. The director stopped me a little over a month ago and told me how much she enjoyed Boy, despite how much energy he has and how unpredictable his outbursts can be. My Lord, I never imagined an educator would say that about my son. It was a blessing in countless ways, not least of which was a reminder for me that Boy is loving, smart, and full of potential. No one should ever tell any three year old otherwise.

And the little things:

1) Girl took her first steps about ten days ago, and today, at the advanced age of 11 months and one day, toddled between adults.

2) Boy has started doing the potty dance before he realized he has to pee. These few seconds of advance notice prevent many an accident. Sadly, they did not prevent one on the plane from Poland, but that's only because he didn't know there was a bathroom on board and couldn't potty dance while strapped into his seat. I heart the potty dance.

3) Do you know that in the past four years, except for selling my Malibu when I left Israel for Korea, I have not had to worry about a single damn thing that is car-related? When the Mini betrayed us for the final time and we traded it in, Husband picked the new car out, asked my blessing, and told me where to sign. I haven't had to deal with an oil change, the tires, or any of the many iPod adapters. In this marriage, we embrace the idea of comparative advantage. He has cars; I have poopy diapers. It works.

Life is good.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Dear Santa:

"Boy, what do you want for Christmas?"

"A blue rocket!"

"What should Girl get for Christmas?"

"New pajamas to wear at night."

"What about Daddy?"

"A candle!"

"And Mommy?

"A green rocket!"

"And Nanny?"

"An iPad!"

"And Dza Dza and Grandma?"

"Two iPads!"

"And Grammy and Springs?"

"A brown rocket!"

"Uncle C, Aunt H, and Cousin A?"

"A cup holder!"

"And Uncle N and Aunt A?"

"A cup holder!"

Sunday, November 20, 2011


We turned this weekend into a long one and headed to Warsaw to visit friends from one of our previous posts. It was my third trip to the city, but everyone else's first. It was also cold. Tallinn has had an unseasonably warm fall thus far (it's still above freezing and nary a snowflake in sight), but we did see flurries in Poland, if only for a few minutes. Poland is a gorgeous country, and although I like Krakow and Gdansk even more than Warsaw, I'm always happy to spend some time in the capital.

Boy slowly dissolved into a cold-induced meltdown. This does not bode well for our Estonian winters. Note to self: When traveling through Central Europe in November, do not leave Boy's mittens in his school cubby.

Gray and cold, but still lovely.

We loaned out the non-melting down child for Kid Practice. Girl looked like a child from A Christmas Story

For whatever reason, the Man Behind the Camera was having a tough time getting non-fuzzy child action shots. Here's a be-snotted Girl strolling through the Old Town.

The Warsaw Uprising monument is one of my favorites in the world, and retelling the story chokes me up every. single. time. If you are unfamiliar, I recommend you read the summary. It's heartbreaking.

Don't worry, it's not real fur. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011


1) If we are about to travel, one or both of the children will get sick.

2) The week I plan to take annual leave will suddenly become the busiest week in months.

3) Any government computer program that you absolutely must use on a tight deadline will simply refuse to work.

4) If the Washington Post writes about federal employee job satisfaction, the comments section will be filled with vitriol and a decent amount of just sheer crazy. We are to be happy, always, and feel fortunate we are even paid for our work at all.

5) Every week after watching Glee, I must immediately read Tom and Lorenzo so I know how I felt about it.

6) When you have a "friend" on Facebook who repeatedly writes offensive, bigoted, borderline insane screeds, you are torn between a) unfriending him, and b) checking his status first every day in hopes of a new trainwreck.

7) It is impossible to get quality Mexican food (or Tex-Mex, of Californian Mex) outside of the Americas.

8) Similarly, no one does breakfast like Americans. Well, maybe with the exceptions of the Israelis.

9) Europe's street signs are designed to confuse.

10) If I have a few hours to pack for a trip, I will blog instead. Doh.

Friday, November 11, 2011


Girl is rapidly approaching her first birthday. She has taken a step here or there, but at this point mostly enjoys standing. Although she's been sitting since five months, clapping since six, and crawling since eight, she just learned to roll over this week. She has one tooth in plain view, and the teeniest sliver of the second right next to it. Her hair is long enough for clips, but she doesn't enjoy our touching it very much. It's telling that my pictures of her at this age are from my phone, and they are few. Below are a couple of the many many pictures I have of Boy at the same age. She eclipses him in size and verbal skills; he was sprouting a new tooth on what seemed like a weekly basis. They are completely different children and at times it's hard to see how they both came from the same batch of genetic material. 

A number of friends are expecting their first child and inevitably I feel a bit wistful when I hear about the anticipation of the monumental earthquake that is parenthood. With each pregnancy, I would daydream about who this little person would be. With Girl, I had fewer opportunities to do so. Husband was in Iraq, and I was working/toddler-raising in India. Life was a bit of a distraction from the distraction of that daydream. When I grabbed the rare moment to focus on her, I pictured Boy in a dress. I figured we'd have a skinny brunette with a lot of attitude. She's recently started showing glimpses of sass, but her soft little blond self is nothing like I would have imagined. It's a reminder that for all of our imagining, our planning, our plotting, children are exactly who they are. They are brunette; they are blond. They are boys; they are girls. They are gay; they are straight. They are tall; they are short. They like pink; they like blue. Save for some genetic realities, there is little predicting who that teeny person is.

Girl didn't come out like I expected, she came out like she is. As she learns to talk and stand, and as she learns to grab crackers from her brother and hit him when he comes to retrieve them (what a bruiser!), I'm starting to see what that means. For all the anticipation of pregnancy, this is the real adventure.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


I know I must tiptoe this line of embracing my free speech and blogging away, and respecting that my job requires more discretion than the first amendment does. In general, it is a bad idea to:

a) publicly criticize the President or Secretary of State. You won't find me doing it here.*
b) make statements or express opinions that run contrary to U.S. foreign policy. You won't find me doing it here.*
c) lash out at politicians who rudely and dismissively insult the character of American diplomats. You're about to see me do that here.

*I am not claiming that I personally agree with everything everywhere. I am simply acknowledging that "U.S. official says [quote from your blog contradicting U.S. goals and positions]" is a really good way to damage your country and your career.

As for c), as soon as one of those politicians is elected president or named Secretary, then you suck it up and use the dissent channel if necessary. It's not fun, but self-censorship is part of your responsibility. You weren't hired to defend the Constitution of You and implement Your Foreign Policy. If you can't do that in good conscience, then you look for employment elsewhere. I firmly believe that.

Until then, use discretion. You want nothing more than to write about some of the more, um, interesting CODELs? Tempting? Certainly. Good career move? Oh no. Not to mention: what would happen if someone in your host country's government read your less-than-flattering assessment of someone with whom you just asked them to take a meeting?

But I draw the line here. Note that Perry offers nothing to substantiate his accusations, and he immediately reverts to the uniform worship that has consumed American politics. Lest someone think I am anti-military, I am certainly not. I just see this playing out in an overly simplistic fashion: military infallible! federal workers/diplomats baaaaad! It's tiresome. We are, in fact, on the same team.

What would I like to see in response? I'd like to see other politicians challenge that accusation in public and in the media. I'd like to see citizens challenge that accusation. I'd like a voice other than AFSA's to suggest to Congress that it is an unwise policy to make an FSO serving in Angola earn less than a percentage point more of his income than an FSO serving in Washington.

We are a small service, and we serve far away from home. I know sometimes an American citizen only has a personal interaction with us when we are delivering the unpopular message that, no, the Constitution doesn't have legal authority in Country Z. But sometimes, we are there on Thanksgiving day, texting your daughter as she hides under a bed in an Indian hotel that's under a terrorist attack, all to be able to tell her that, for the love of God, please don't answer the door if someone knocks. Sometimes you appreciate our assistance so much that we become a character in your Lifetime movie (yes, true story, and no, I won't link to it). Sometimes you are thankful we are there when your son suddenly passes away, and all his possessions, bank accounts, everything--even his body--are in a country far away that you've never visited. We help.

I don't want American citizens to stop speaking to their elected officials about foreign policy. I don't want an end to thoughtful criticism. I don't even want a medal. I would, however, like a little bit of respect.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Nanny's birthday was Friday, and all she wanted was to drink beer, eat enchiladas, and watch Twilight. We abided, because none of that was more than borderline immoral and barring ethical reservations, you should generally indulge someone on her birthday. Plus, I've read all ten of the unequivocally horrible Sookie Stackhouse novels, so who am I to judge?

In fact, I was so entertained by Friday's night's viewing, that I purchased the second one on iTunes and watched it Saturday night. Nanny shared a drinking game with me, which included the rule that a participant must take a drink anytime there is bad acting. My tolerance isn't what it used to be, and the kids get up very early no matter what I did the night before, so I didn't dare play the game. There was a lot of bad acting. It rated about 128 on the Unintentional Comedy scale (0 to 100) and about a million on the Lessons I Don't Want My Daughter To Learn scale, such as:

1) You can love someone without having a conversation with them.

2) When the only way to stay with that person is to die and become a vampire, then that's what you do.

3) Little Volvos = Allegedly Badass (but not really badass)

4) When someone tells you the only thing he wants to do is murder and eat you, the proper response is "I trust you."

5) When your boyfriend breaks up with you suddenly, it is not unreasonable to sit in your room for months and ignore your friends.

6) Long hair and carrying a dream catcher? Must be American Indian. Short hair can mean an American Indian, but only if he's also a werewolf.

Will I watch the third? Probably. It's pretty awful, but amusingly so. If you are going to play the drinking game, I recommend wine coolers or something similarly light.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Do the Facebook Stalk!

(...to the tune of "Do the Hustle," obviously.)

I am married to a person who does not participate in The Facebook or social media in general (save for the many many nerd blogs he reads and many hours of World of Warcraft--from here forward, "Nerdcraft"--he wishes he had time to play). Two of the five people in my section don't have Facebook accounts either.

B..b..but...how can you find your crush from third grade?! I wonder out loud, quite confused how they accomplish nostalgic stalking without The Social Network. I don't want to find my crush from third grade, they lie. They lie! Who doesn't want to find their crush from third grade?! I found him. We are Facebook friends.

Also various crushes from many times in my life. And many previous BFFs, as, like most girls, I had a different one for each phase of my childhood and adolescence. Five different BFFs before college, to be exact...I had no falling out with any of them, life just changed. I love keeping up with them, a voyeur on their universally happy lives (or at least they seem that way, through the Facebook filter). One is even the daughter of a current governor. We are on opposite ends of the political spectrum and haven't talked since high school, but she's my cyber friend, and I'm hers. I find comfort knowing she is well.

I'm friends with my oldest friend. We were friends before we had the social synapses firing well enough to make friends. We were friends while we were in diapers, and I imagine we'll be friends when we end up back in them. We see each other every few years when I roll back through the U.S., and even without Facebook he'd be nothing short of my oldest friend, and always a dear one. But now I see his status updates, his daughter's pictures, his latest favorite band.

I can understand why none of this would interest someone who sees all the people in their lives. Perhaps for someone who has never moved or who lives down the street from their third grade crush, Facebook is unnecessary. My father laments the loss of human interaction and decries our modern refusal to acknowledge that, sometimes, we just lose touch, and that's okay. That certainly has merit too.

As I see it, Facebook is two things: first, an indisputable time suck. Second, it's a manifestation of this touchingly vulnerable human need to connect, to widen the social circle, to be a bit nosy. It's hard to feel alone when you have a Facebook friend.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Telecommute

The other day I stupidly stupidly stupidly marveled that Boy has not really been sick since starting preschool, and at daycare he had something new literally every week.

Silly woman.

So. Pink eye. OF COURSE. I have the double joy of restraining a very resistant three year old and trying to actually get eye drops in his eyes three times a day, and of being a social pariah with my own brand new case of pink eye. I looked at Girl's beautifully clear eyes this morning, and I already mourned her inevitable discomfort. The child cannot keep her hands off our faces or her little fists out of her tired eyes. It will happen.

Today is an awful day to be a walking contagion. Tomorrow would have been much more convenient. Today I had: our weekly (important) staff meeting, followed immediately by a monthly (important) smaller meeting, a couple special guests coming to my section, our newest staff member's third day on the job, and most importantly, an event with the public, run by my section. I can't miss the event, so I am overmedicating my eyes and hoping no one will notice. I'd wear sunglasses, but it gets dark at 4:45 or so now and we're inside anyway.

Luckily, we have a nifty little device that lets us access our desktops from a regular computer. I decided to work from home, so as to avoid the angry accusations from my currently pink-eye-free staff. (I'm typing now on my "lunch," so don't worry, Taxpayers.)

Holy Day of Productivity, Batman! I used to think it would be tough to focus while telecommuting, especially with Girl home. Turns out, Nanny has her under control, and I was checking things off my list quite quickly. I sent about 10 emails to people to cover what I would have said or done in various meetings I was missing, took care of a couple issues that needed addressing but always ended up on the back burner, bought all the refreshments for our event this evening, and worked out some details of an event I'm planning for early December. That's a pretty useful morning.

After my little break, I'll get my ducks in a row for this evening, take care of some admin stuff, and head into the office to rally the troops for our event. And by "rally," I mean "cause them to duck behind furniture lest I infect them."

I can completely see why efficiency experts are all about the telecommute, and why so many Department employees lament that our organization seems unwilling to exploit its possibilities. The reality is I couldn't telecommute regularly, as the very nature of my job requires me to be present for all sorts of urgent, not urgent, and appear-urgent-but-aren't-really-urgent matters. But next time my to-do list extends to the third or fourth page, I might consider ducking out of the office and all its distractions.

Telecommute for the win.