Saturday, November 22, 2014

November 21, 2014 - 7 Month Surprise!

Greetings from America!  Aya and I made our way to Boston a few days ago.  It was a VERY long trip (to say the least) and she had just started to have a cold before we left so of course it got much worse during the course of the 24+ travel hours.  We flew through Turkey:  first flight to Istanbul (7 1/2 hours) she did great, layover (3 hours) she did great, second flight to Boston (10 1/2 hours + 2 1/2 hours sitting on the plane before take off because of a broken fuel pump at the airport) she did not do so well at all.  Who could blame her?!  

One of our first stops in America was to visit the pediatrician yesterday.  Aya weighs 17.6 lbs (75%tile!!) and is in the 85%tile for her length as well.  She got several vaccinations and a flu shot - which was a necessary evil but didn't necessarily help her feel better right then!  It was great to have a nice long talk with the doctor here, who we love!, because I had been communicating with her closely when Grace was very sick.  She was thrilled with how well and healthy Aya is.  She asked me, "So she can roll over back and forth?"  I was like, "Um...yeah...she's crawling everywhere!"  Our most "advanced" baby for sure.

Aya loves the sound of her voice and makes really funny noises to hear herself.  She loves to watch herself (laugh at herself, talk to herself...) in a mirror.  She is a quick crawler now and is increasingly trying to pull herself up to standing with a few successful attempts already.  The other day when Kristoffer came home from work, she crawled right over to him with a big smile and he was thrilled for the first time that she officially greeted him.  

Aya continues to adore adore adore Grace and Noah.  She also really loves Oliver, our nanny, who she hangs out with a long when I'm on carpool duty for the big kids. Musical toys and balls seem to be among her favorite things.  Also small pets - cats and dogs!  She likes cruising around in her walker or playing in her exersaucer. She still likes her bath a lot and enjoys swimming some of Dar's very warm pools. She is eating a little bit more - trying new things and wanting to feed herself rather than being fed. The doctor said all the feeding guidelines in America have changed and babies can now eat ANYTHING from 6 months old (except raw honey!).  So her meals get more interesting now that there are no restrictions :)  No teeth yet - please come soon!

It's hard to believe that another month has come and gone, and that we're already in America to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family.  It's my first time celebrating Thanksgiving at home in 7 years - before Kenya! Before Kids! That was another life for sure. After this quick trip Aya and I will head back to Dar for a little while before our whole family goes to Denmark for Christmas.  It's been so wonderful to have these holidays to look forward to.  

Great job to Aya for continuing to be an awesome little baby (despite still not sleeping through the night - ACK!) and for continuing to make us all so happy (just can't wait until we're happy AND rested!).  I'm hoping that in the next few days she'll warm up a little bit more to my parents - she is not yet interested in being removed from my hip but they sure would love to hold her a bit more (without the crying!).  Here's our sweet girl...7 months old, jet-lagged, and perfectly snotty! 


Monday, November 17, 2014

November 17, 2014 - It's Easy Being Green

Grace's school has a theme of "the environment" this year, so lots of talk about taking care of the planet, the environments of different countries, recycling, etc.  Each grade gets to participate in a musical concert on the theme of the environment.  Kindergarten, Grade 2 and Grade 4 performed last week.  Grace's grade did a "square dance" kind of number (admittedly, I have no idea what that song was about since I was distracted helping Noah to participate in the dance with Grace because siblings and parents were encouraged!) and a song called "It's Easy Being Green" about all the ways you can be kind to the planet.

It was very cute, despite my (really really really) bad footage and pictures.  Kristoffer was traveling and I had Noah and Aya with me.  And we had to leave the house at 6:25 am to get there.  Clearly, I'm excused from any expectations. I was there! And Grace was proud and happy, as usual.  

Poor Footage:

Poor Pictures (they were supposed to wear green and/or white...Grace had neither so chose her favorite and well-worn dress that has a little bit of both!):


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

November 12, 2014 - Where to Begin?

Hi again.  Remember me?  I used to blog here a lot.  Then I had my third beautiful child and somehow she broke the proverbial straw of the camel-blogger's back.  I just can't get my blogging act together!  Sorry!  I think about writing blogs a lot. In my head I start to compose them even.  But if there is a choice between taking a 30 minute nap or writing a blog, the nap is winning every time these days.   Anyway, here is kind of an update of our recent goings-on, just to string you (and myself!) along until I can up my game.

The week of Halloween (right after my last post) and the week after Halloween were very challenging.  Grace became sick on Monday with a very bad headache, a very high fever, and an extremely high white blood cell (WBC) count causing the doctor to diagnose "bacterial infection" and put her on antibiotics.  Her fever - going as high as 104 (40c) and coming down lower than 103 (39.5c) for short stints ONLY with the help of some serious medication - didn't break until Saturday evening.  The initial antibiotics didn't work and the second antibiotics still didn't make a dent in her WBC. She couldn't eat or drink and so became quite dehydrated.  She ended up with an "IV" for three days to receive a third kind of (stronger) antibiotic and fluids for her dehydration.  We were in and out of the clinic - sometimes staying there the whole day! - for 5 days.  She did end up with other symptoms like swollen glands and tonsils, stuffed up or runny nose.  No cough.  No ear infection.  It was so strange.  But she was sad and miserable, and also very cooperative considering all the needles, injections, medications, etc.  It was all very exhausting for her and that is hard to watch in your child when you can't just make it all better very quickly.  Patience with African health scares is not a strength of mine. 

At some point Noah got it, with a concentration in his right ear.  At another point Aya got it, with a concentration on the fever (not as high as Grace's thankfully) and general unhappiness. From the start of Grace's fever to the end of Aya's fever, it was a 10-day "siege" that left me and Kristoffer completely and utterly exhausted.  That could possibly explain why I am now on antibiotics for a sinus infection myself.

Our friends here were extremely concerned and very, very helpful.  We would definitely have been even more stressed without them and without our trusty staff, Oliver and Christopher.  We survived the siege, but not without a few lasting scars.

I would say we are just about recovered from all of that, but now Kristoffer is traveling this week for work so I'm dealing with the night-shift on my own.  Aya is miserable at night - WILL SHE PLEASE JUST GET A TOOTH ALREADY!? - and last night Noah decided to be awake for 2 hours in the middle of the night as well ("Mama, do you want to read some books?" he innocently asked me at 2:30 am.  I'm sure I said something inappropriate but can't remember my actual response.).  

Grace had a sweet musical assembly at school today - I'd love to post a bit about it here, but that will have to wait time (whenever that may be).


Monday, October 27, 2014

October 27, 2014 - Half-Hearted Halloween

This year, we aren't doing so well in the Halloween department.  The past two years I have planned or helped plan a trick-or-treat event for the kids at their preschool, but this year I'm basically too tired to do it.  And you can't really trick-or-treat here because of security (lots of gates and compound walls and guard dogs!).  

Instead we went to a children's Halloween party this past Saturday and plan to go to another one this coming Saturday.  No official trick-or-treating, but at least the chance to dress up. 

Noah took it much more seriously than Grace did this year.  He was VERY into his pirate costume :)  She just wanted to wear her dragon cloak and, honestly, it's super hot here these days so very involved costumes are a bit tough.  There were no kids that she knew at the party we went to so we think that dampened her spirits...perhaps next weekend's festivities will be more fun with her.  

I tried with Aya - admittedly there was no advanced planning before the day of this party - but our baby costumes are super heavy and hot (remember Grace and Noah as giraffes for their first Halloweens?).  The coolest one - a little dragon which was Noah's in the past - was still too hot for her, so she did not really wear it in the end. Someday, I really hope we will be in America for Halloween just so we can make it a big deal and they can really experience the crazy spirit of the event.  That is something to look forward to.  In the meantime, here was our meager attempt...thank goodness for Noah's enthusiasm!

(at least she perked up a bit once we took her out of the dragon clothes!)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

October 21, 2014 - Aya's Big Week

Six months old today and started to crawl YESTERDAY.  Aya can get on all fours but doesn't quite crawl that way yet - it is more of an army style crawl, although even since yesterday she has gotten faster and more precise.  I think it will be the "on all fours" variety soon enough.

She has started to have the occasional "good" night with only one or two wake ups, but we are still struggling in that area.  She is good at going to sleep on her own in her crib now without nursing or being rocked/cradled to sleep.  And our best night was just shy of 7 hours in one stretch - if we hit that mark I will be REALLY happy (especially if I get all 7 hours!).  

Aya is still mostly nursing but once a day has banana, apple, pear or avocado and maybe a little cereal. She tried but did not love squash.  I will have to increase and expand her feeding now that she is six months old.  Early indicators suggest that she'll be our best little eater.

The big kids love that Aya is more noisy and expressive and mobile now.  They are competing for who can make her smile or laugh the most, and now they are teasing her with her toys: "Crawl over here! Come get your ball!" When I say she has a great laugh, here is a little sample:

We phased out her swing to promote more crib sleeping and she really likes her exersaucer and walker. The bumbo seat would be great but her thighs are too big for getting in and out! HA!  She still really loves her bath.

I think the best news seems to be that her cow's milk sensitivity has subsided so that I have reintroduced a moderate amount of dairy back into my diet with no complaints from her.  Yay for cheese!  And she is no longer getting medicine for her reflux and is almost not spitting up at all.  Just in the last two weeks that has really improved.  Score huge!  (Now what to do with the rest of the year's supply of baby Zantac I brought over from America?)

What a half year it has been!  So happy for Aya's growth and development, but also feeling a wee bit nostalgic for those early baby days.  She is a little wonder and we love her so much.

(this was Aya's last time in her baby tub.  She is sitting up in a bigger, non-reclining tub now.  Still loves it!)
Selfie with Noah and Mama when Far was away in Indonesia!
Our little beauty...even starting to get some hair!

Happy Half Birthday, Aya Karen!

Friday, October 10, 2014

October 10, 2014 - Family Firsts

There's always something going on in our house.  Often that "something" requires a trip (or many) to the clinic.  And so it was these past two weeks as well!

Some good "firsts":

  • I survived my first time solo-parenting 3 kids while Kristoffer traveled to Indonesia for work.  (Note that he thinks if I write "Indonesia" instead of writing "Bali" that sounds more like work and less like vacation.)  I had Oliver work an hour and a half extra each day to help with the witching hour trifecta of bath-dinner-bedtime and we all survived, despite me not getting a lot of sleep.  I decided to sleep train Aya as a belated birthday present to Kristoffer (among the crazier gifts I've given him), so he got to miss out on the hardest parts of that.  She is now pretty good at putting herself to sleep in her own crib without fussing, but alas, has not stopped waking up at night yet!  And Noah was also waking up at night a few times as well, so that was the hardest part of Kristoffer being away.  We all missed him and were happy when he came home - I think Noah the most, because they are best friends to be 3 and your best friend goes away for a week.
  • We saw Grace swim to the very bottom of the pool at school for the first time.
  • Aya went swimming in the pool for the first time.  Similar to bath time:  she loved it!  She also moved on from bananas to apples and avocado and butternut squash.  Banana is totally her favorite, but last night when she was finished with her squash and applesauce she cried when I took the bowls away. Did we finally get a really good eater?!
The biggest, and most painful, first of our week was undoubtedly Noah's first big injury.  Thank goodness it was not worse (and thank goodness K was home from his trip!), but his monkey act on the playground which was preceded by him telling Grace, "Look what I can do," landed us in the clinic getting stitches for his split chin on Sunday afternoon.  It was bloody and painful and traumatic (physically for him, emotionally and parentally for us, empathetically for Grace!), but he did as well as could be expected of a 3 year old with a seriously split chin.  It seems like the sheet they had to put over his face when the doctor was doing the stitches was among his least favorite parts.   For us, it was him having to get two shots of anesthesia before the stitches. Horrible!  He was rewarded well with popcorn and candy for dinner and bottomless episodes of "Jake and the Neverland Pirates" for the rest of the day.  Thank goodness for iTunes.

The stitches were removed this morning - that was a little bit tricky as one of the stitches seemed to have grown into the skin - but he was really great and so brave to go back into the same room with the same doctor and nurse as Sunday.  Now covered in steri-strips only, it will be a pretty big scar but since he is so young it will fade quite a lot with time.  I will be interested to hear how "big" the story gets as he ages.  I know for a fact that Grace has told anyone and everyone who would listen on our peninsula about Noah's big fall and just how much blood there was ("He was bleeding forever!").

This past week also marked Aya's second virus - fever for 3 full days, but no bacteria so no antibiotics this time around (she's already had those twice too).  I thought/hoped it was her getting a tooth but 102.5 is pretty high fever for teething and it broke last night with no tooth to show for it.  She was complaining a lot and not sleeping restfully.  And we went to the doctor twice for it (throw in an extra visit with Grace last weekend to check out her cough, and we've been there 5 times in the last 7 days!) Maybe this weekend will be the time when she decides to just sleep on through the night.  A Mama can dream!

So now the kids have a break from school - one whole week off!  Of course it comes just as they are doing pretty well in their school routine and super early morning schedule (read: fewer temper tantrums at home!).  The week will be just enough time to screw their bodies up and make getting back into the routine the following week a very big pain. Unlike many friends, we are not traveling this week so will have to get creative with how to pass the time in increasingly hot-as-hell Dar.  Summer is officially here again!


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

October 7, 2014 - This Little Light of Mine

The date doesn't usually matter.  Because, of course, I think of Kyle every day.  For some reason, the solitude of my car is often the place where I end up weeping for Kyle.  Sometimes I talk to him there.  Or I sing to him, that song I sang to him just an hour before he passed away... "...this little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine..."   

However, this particular date does matter.  October 7th. 7:04 pm. I can't help but go back to that day.  To that very moment.  The painfully slow hours that came afterwards juxtaposed with the haste of the next few days, and all that had to be taken care of.  I remember it acutely. Minutely.  I often play the whole movie of that week in my mind.  But today, of course, it is harder still.

In our house we talk a lot about Kyle (and Oldemor and Jesus...the other people Grace and Noah "know" who have died).  Grace and Noah know him as their cousin, and out of nowhere they will say the most amazing and lovely things about him.  Very honest and blunt things too. When our good friends' dog died recently Grace asked me a few days later, "Do you think Chewy will see Kyle in heaven?"  

When it was his birthday, I tried really hard to focus on just being happy that Kyle was born.  But today's emotions are much more complicated:  anger, confusion, heartbreak, sorrow.  There are absolutely no words to fully capture the  complexity of my feelings on this day.  And I know my own emotions are shallow compared to the depth of those his parents feel.  

I've basically just been wallowing today.  Living my life all the while - 5:30 wake up for school, Aya has had a fever all day and had to go to the doctor, Noah had to have his stitches checked, emails, carpool runs, bath time, dinner, bed time - but wallowing still.  Thinking of Kyle and Christine and Kevin all the time.  All the time. All the time.  

Two years later and on this day for me, unlike the other days, it's like losing him all over again.

In our house, a candle was lit for Kyle again this year - and will be every year.  
That little light of mine.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

September 30, 2014 - Taxes for Expats

Note: This is my first sponsored post.  All details and opinions are mine alone.

You might not know this, but since we’ve moved to Dar I’ve been running a Facebook group for Expat Parents.  In theory it is a place where people can buy/sell their belongs upon coming or going, search for domestic staff, ask questions about where to go and what to do with their families while they are living in Dar.  I started the group with about 8 people (because I only knew 8 people) and it has grown to over 1,800 people now.  I am pretty strict about what I let people post – no stolen iPhones please! No hotel chains! – and Kristoffer has taken to calling me “the Dictator.”   I was actually “spotted” twice recently, approached by strangers who asked, “Are you Lisa from the Facebook group?!  Thank you so much!”  It is a helpful resource for those of us living here temporarily, even if it is an unpaid time-suck for me.

Which leads me to this story…

Earlier in the year I was approached by a company called Taxes for Expats (TFE) to find out if they could advertise in my Facebook group.  While I did say no (I told you I was strict!), it did lead me to have a longer conversation with the company about their services. Taxes for Expats is a company that provides expert, professional tax preparation services for expats.  In some ways I feel TFE was a Godsend because through messaging with one of their associates I learned that I have been really negligent in my taxes since becoming an expat.  Tax law for expats is extremely complicated and I was incredibly na├»ve.  I also learned that if Kristoffer ever wants to get his Greencard in the US, my tax negligence could definitely prevent that from happening.  Granted I didn’t owe very much money because I haven’t made very much money since leaving the US, but I did have some self-employment income that I hadn’t reported and should I get caught in the future my penalties might be higher than what I actually owed.  I also have some foreign bank accounts that I never reported, which is required by law.  Oops! Time to get on top of that as well.

With all of that in mind, I decided to hire TFE.  They have a few options for expats who have been negligent to get back in the good graces of the US Government.  For me, this was a “streamlined” package where they filed the last 3 years of taxes for me along with my foreign account reporting, and I was able to pay the small amount that I owed without penalty.  Now I am no longer delinquent, and TFE has all of my information to help me in the future.  Especially because I was never trying to deceive the government, I feel so much better now that I’m not delinquent anymore.

Once I signed up online, I was matched with a tax professional who asked for some information about me.  This required uploading some documents to my account on their website (past tax returns, for example) and some emailing back and forth before my guy identified just what I needed.  In the end he recommended a plan that was actually LESS than what I was expecting I would have to do.  I felt good that he wasn’t just trying to get me to buy their most expensive services.  He was knowledgeable, friendly over email, and extremely efficient in responding to all of my questions.  I knew what he was doing or what I was supposed to be doing at all times. 

All documents that I uploaded or that they prepared are available to me in my online account anytime.  Once he had everything from me, it took him about 10 days to prepare 3 years of tax returns and 6 years of foreign bank account disclosure.  I had time to review all documents, ask questions, and make changes before it was all finally finished.  In the end I could electronically sign for some things, but had to print and mail other documents directly to the federal government.  I didn’t have to pay TFE until I had agreed that all documents were final, and I was able to do so online.  The little I owed to the government was sent directly to the IRS.

One of the things I liked most about the company was that I was emailed by the President/Founder a number of items to check in with me and see how things were going, if I was happy with my accountant, etc.  She has been running the company for over 20 years with many happy customers; I think she is a real pro (at prepping taxes but also at customer service).

I have not looked into how the costs of TFE’s services compare to the costs of other tax preparation companies, but because I was so stressed about this and had no idea as to how I would even begin to fix the problem on my own, I was happy to hire them.   They have extensive reviews online, which you can find here, but know that I did no comparative research.

They also have a program where you can earn credit on referrals (so if you do business with them you could use me as your reference – go to this website - and I get $75 towards future tax preparation once you file your taxes.  Thanks in advance!) and I am earning credit for this blog as well.

TFE made the process of getting my taxes reorganized and updated extremely easy and the experience was MUCH less stressful than if I had attempted to do it on my own.  I’m always impressed by niche services that target a very specific need in the market and, in this case, I am relieved that I could benefit from such a service.  I highly recommend using this company if you’re in the same situation.


Monday, September 29, 2014

September 29, 2014 - Me Box

Grace's first big school assignment this year was to create a "Me Box".  She could put anything in her box that could describe her (what she loves, who she loves, etc.) and decorate it as she liked as well.  She had to present it to her class a few weeks ago, and then last week all the parents came in for smaller presentations as well.  The box will not stay intact too much longer so I want to make sure to document it before we all forget what was in there, and it is interesting to see the things/symbols she treasures so much.  She was extremely proud of her Me Box, as she is about everything she does in Kindergarten.  We're so happy for Grace that she loves school and is thriving there.

Itemized Me Box (in no particular order):
1. Four flags on the top cover: Tanzania, Kenya, Denmark, USA 
(along with her name "Grace W" and age "5").
2. Swimming certificate.
3. Stuffed elephant from when she was a baby.
4. Small photo book of our extended family that she got for her first Christmas.
5. Family photo after Aya was born.
6. Small photo album of her first year of life.
7. Small photo book of her 5th birthday and birthday party including pictures of all her friends here.
8. A small dragon.
9. A small dinosaur.
10. A small Lego.
11. Her favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.
12. Her favorite book about dinosaurs.
13. A small toy airplane.
14. Her Nordic School "medal" from when she graduate from pre-school.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

September 28, 2014 - Going Bananas

The watermelon Aya tasted a couple weeks ago was "unofficial."  But today she officially had food for the first time: mashed bananas.  You can decide for yourself after looking at the video and seeing the pictures below, but I'd say it was a huge success :)  Good job me for putting the date as August instead of September (I guess when she's older we'll just "remember" that she was even more advanced!).  Sorry for Kristoffer who is in Bali for a week for a workshop and missed it (That's right. You heard me. Bali. But at least that explains why my brain got the date wrong - first time solo-parenting 3 kids in Tanzania!), but for some reason today just really seemed like the day she was ready.  Cheers to many more happy meals.  

(P.S. The video at the bottom is probably really boring unless you are Aya's grandparents, but I cut it down to only 2 minutes at least!)

(Note that while Aya was very eager for the food and sat there eating for quite some time, the big smiles were for her big sister sitting across the table!)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

September 21, 2014 - Made in Tanzania

Our peanut is 5 months old today!  She has the greatest smile and laugh, which she shares generously and often.  Aya enjoys sitting up a lot of the time now; if she is on the ground she is rolling everywhere.  She can’t crawl but can stick her butt in the air and maneuver to get places.  She can grab things, put weight on her legs, and everything goes in her mouth (or near vicinity).  She is definitely teething.    Aya is still not sleeping well at night – waking 3-5 times – although she did have ONE night this past week when she only woke up once.  Most days she’ll do two short and one longish nap – although I will admit that I find it difficult to keep her on a strict schedule when the rest of us are all over the place.

While she did taste watermelon this week, she is not officially starting food yet – although I’d say in about two weeks she’ll be ready.  She is just now starting to notice us putting food into our mouths, which is a good sign of readiness.  She is starting to be a little bit more interested in books and if you put her in front of the TV she will totally watch it.  It’s kind of funny because Grace was that way as a baby too, but Noah wasn’t.  These days because of our crazy schedule we are not watching a lot of TV, but she has tried it with great focus (as you can see below).  She likes toys with music and still loves her bath.

She is still wearing 3-6 months clothes, but everything that is supposed to be elastic around her legs (like diaper covers with dresses, for example) is very tight around her chunky little thighs.  She had shots two weeks ago and doesn’t need more for a couple more months.  I think she weighs about 14 lbs.

Noah has been especially sweet with Aya in recent weeks and she remains loyal to Grace as her “go to” person for smiles and laughs.  When Aya wakes up in the morning – regardless of her night – she is so smiley and fresh.  You can’t help but adore her.

I’m risking a “jinx” by writing this down, but I do think her sensitivity to cow’s milk is improving (yay for me!  I even had a little bit of cheese this week!) and also that her reflux is getting a little less (although she’s still taking medicine for it).

We all love Aya – she is everybody’s baby in this house – but it hard to believe that she’s almost been here for half of a year.  It’s been like the blink of an eye, sweet girl.  The blink of an eye.

Some shots from the past month...

Watching TV with the big kids!
(Note that we can't really use the baby bouncer as it should be used anymore.  She just wants to sit up, not lay back!)


 (Note:  Made in Tanzania)