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)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

September 11, 2014 - As Always

Today is a day of rememberance.  I was looking through some old papers the other day and found this piece I wrote after 9/11.  It was published in a Syracuse newspaper as a letter to the editor.  I was a wee bit over-the-top in hindsight, but writing was a way to help me deal with my experience of 9/11 and I was certainly sincere in the words I chose to write.  With lots of love to the people I still consider to be my Leadership family.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

September 10, 2014 - A Day to Remember

Once upon a time, a beautiful little boy was born.  There will soon be a day to remember our grief that his life didn't last very long, but today is a day to celebrate the gift that his life was.  Thinking of our nephew, sweet Kyle Michael, on what would have been his second birthday.  And praying for his parents and sister as they miss him today, and everyday.

Life is truly precious.  And Kyle's was a reminder to all of us not to take even one single day for granted.  


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

September 9, 2014 - Family Ties

For the past week, we've been actively engaged with Kristoffer's uncle and aunt, Gert and Kitte, who visited us from Denmark after they went on Safari and to Zanzibar.  One week was a perfect amount of time with them because they could see all aspects of our daily life (traffic!  school car pool! hanging out at the beach!) in a relaxed way with no time pressure.  They visited the highlights of Dar including shopping and "new" food (their first time eating Ethiopian!).  They even got to take a bike tour around the city with some great young Tanzanian guys.  In general, all of us loved having more family visit us and they were great guests.  They have many of their own grandchildren so were perfect at being with our kids, and all three of them soaked up the extra attention they received.  We are happy to hear they arrived home safely today - just in time for Kitte's birthday (Tillykke!).  Thanks for coming you two!  See you in December!


Sunday, August 31, 2014

August 31, 2014 - Sitting Up!

At 4 months and 9 days old, Aya can now sit up by herself.  No, she can't get into that position by herself of course.  And she doesn't last more than about 3 or 4 minutes before toppling over.  But she CAN do it and seems to almost prefer it to laying down.  One month earlier than Noah did it, two months earlier than Gracie did it.  She's just moving right along, knocking these milestones out one by one.  I am afraid it's all going a little too fast for my liking...with a tooth or two up next on her "to do" list (based on the amount of drooling and crying we've experienced this weekend alone!).

Thursday, August 28, 2014

August 2, 2014 - Growing Pains

It's been a tough week (few weeks?) for us.  Grace's start in Kindergarten has been a roller coaster:  she is really happy at school and loves it there, but is so exhausted that her behavior at home leaves a lot to be desired.  She also had one physical fight with another child already :(  We know other kids having different symptoms of adjusting to the structured school environment with lots of new activities (Kiswahili lessons, music, art, swimming, PE and library!). I know we're in good company, but that doesn't make it much easier in the middle of her extreme temper tantrums.  

In order to be to school on time without sitting in an hour of traffic she has to leave the house at 6:20.  Which means waking up at 5:30.  Which means going to bed by 6:30.  When school is over at 1:45 she either comes home (2 or 3 times a week) or goes to Nordic School for their after school program where she gets to have Danish lessons and be in a safe, comfortable place with her Nordic community for eating, playing, swimming.  It is a wonderful opportunity for her to keep that Nordic connection and start learning to read and write in Danish, but also makes her even more tired.  So we're still working on finding the right balance.  At least she loves her school, loves that she has a lot of friends there and is making new friends even.  Seems to like her teacher, who I will get to know a little bit better this afternoon at the school's first open house.

Then she got head lice (and so did Kristoffer...so far just him), which is MUCH WORSE THAN ANYONE EVER TELLS YOU.  Or maybe it's just because Grace is impossible when it comes to anything related to her hair.  Our past weekend was the worst one on record with new levels of screaming, separations, and very expensive medicines/hair products.  

Then she got sick with a chest infection.  As did Aya (who has both viral and bacterial infections).  Both of them are on antibiotics now.  I hate that Aya needed them already...although I guess Noah's first antibiotics in Kenya started at 16 days old, so at least she is not that young.

Speaking of Noah...he is adjusting to life without Grace at Nordic School pretty well, for the most part.  But he misses her a lot so when they are together he is not always nice to her (teasing her a lot...for which she has no tolerance).  We can see that their play is changing as she now feels a distinct difference in their age since she is in formal school.  We will have to continue to help him - both of them! all of us! - navigate this change.  One coping mechanism he is using is imaginary friends.  He seems to be talking a lot about his "big brother Shredder" (the bad guy from TMNT) and "all of his little brother robots". Luckily he really loves to play with Oliver and when he gets home before Grace he will often decide whether he wants to play with me or her, and then he is getting a lot of focused attention.  And you know...he's only 3, so he still has his fair share of "where did that come from?" meltdowns...although at school they don't believe me about that because they think he is just the sweetest boy ever. He is very sweet!  But all kids are complex!

Aya is not sleeping through the night even a little bit...being sick has sort of ruined whatever progress we were making in that department.  She is surprisingly mobile now that she can roll both ways, and she is very ticklish which I adore about her.  I really hope she feels better soon - the antibiotics are helping her infections, but are not helping her stomach.

Kristoffer and I are really, really, really tired.  Loving our little kiddos, but having three of them in three totally different stages is a little bit more challenging than we expected.  Hoping we can start fresh next week with no illness, more sleep, and perhaps more patience with each other :)


Thursday, August 21, 2014

August 21, 2014 - Four (Months) and Fabulous

Just like everybody says...it is going TOO FAST!  Aya is four months old today.  Wasn't I just pregnant?! 

For weeks she was brilliant at putting herself to sleep - now Aya has regressed and is giving us a really hard time going down, even when  especially when she is exhausted.  Sometimes she'll sleep for a longer stretch at night like 3 or 4 hours, but she almost always sleeps for either 45 minutes or 2 hours.  At night time, this is truly EXHAUSTING!  It must be her body's normal sleep rhythm though and we will now start working harder to teach her to put herself back to sleep at night without feeding. Because really.  It's just not at all sustainable when her big sister has to be awake by 5:45 am to get to kindergarten on time.  

Aya still nurses like a champ and is equally happy to take a bottle of pumped milk.  For some reason she is fighting (or giving up?) her binky (NOOOO!) but does seem to be taking to the forced attachment of her "lovey bunny" (our chosen comfort item for her - thanks to my Aunt Judy for that one!).  She is smiling and laughing a lot - although almost never on camera, argh - and is especially happy/chatting/giggly around Grace...who will do anything to get a smile or laugh out of little Miss Little Sister.  At 14.5 weeks old she weighed a little over 13 lbs (6 kg) and goes back to the doctor for her next shots and another check up in about 2 or 3 weeks. 

Aya still loves her bath.  She does not love the bouncy seat very much because she just tries to sit up in it and gets frustrated.  She rolls back and forth both ways so we now find her all over the place and not at all in the same position in which we left her.  She sits in the bumbo or her high chair (not feeding yet, mostly for entertainment) more and more.  We have a hard time getting her out of the bumbo because of her chunky little thighs :)  She also really likes her musical mobile in her crib - it calms her down and distracts her if she is upset, but she will never fall asleep to it. She is starting to get into little toys/rattles and seems especially to like music.  She sometimes likes being read to but often fusses...I think I am reading to her at the wrong times and should start doing it when she wakes up instead of before she sleeps.

Aya is a typical 4-month-old in that just when you think you have her figured out, she changes!  Her pictures from today are not stellar because she spent most of the day:  1) in the car, 2) in a Board meeting at Noah's school, 3) in a parent meeting at Grace's school, or 3) in the car.  That was because Oliver has been sick and unable to work for the last 3 days so I've been dragging Aya along with me to all of my commitments.  She's a busy little lady.  And as much as the time is just flying by, we're enjoying many happy moments with our little peanut and are eager to see what the next month has in store for us (read:  please stop waking up at night!).