Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Unaccompanied Tour // 01

How an unaccompanied tour feels.

It has been nearly a year since Gman and I started our unaccompanied tour. We have a long distance marriage while Gman works overseas and Noah and I camp out in the US. In Gman's job with the US Department of State many families will have to endure this hardship at some point in the employee's career. It's a matter of when it will work into the family dynamic, financial benefits or concerns, etc. For us it seemed to work best to do it while Noah is so young and resilient.

We still have another half a year to go. We learned a lot during our separation about our marriage, each other, ourselves, and what we want and don't want out of life. I'd like to share some of the things I learned with you in a series about our unaccompanied tour. I have searched for support online through blogs, websites, Facebook groups, etc. and while there is some stuff out there I really feel on my own about the decisions I have to make and the lifestyle that we lead. 

So I hope this series will answer some questions, give some insight, and share some stories to help myself and others like me feel empowered during this difficult journey. 

So let's dive into the first one...

The separation is an emotional roller coaster. When Gman is here, we have our whole marriage in two weeks. When he's gone, we barely talk about anything. There are days when I feel on top of the world - I cleaned the house, cooked for the week, and Noah is dressed and ready for the day all before 10am. Other times I feel defeated before the first demand for juice is uttered. It comes down to taking the time to invest in myself and my health. Here's what I do to feel calm, grounded, and joyful. 

1. Sleep. I make sleep a number one priority over everything else in my life; chores, meeting friends, anything besides taking care of Noah or myself when we need it. Noah has a bedtime routine and so do I. When he goes down, I do a little dance on the way to the shower because I know now it's me time. When I regularly get at least eight hours it is the difference between "I got this" and "OMG why is this happening."

2. Eat right. For me, it truly it makes a difference. When I eat healthy I feel good and energetic.

3. You guessed it - exercise! I try to build it into my day with an active lifestyle. Noah and I ride my bike everywhere we can and go for 20 minute walks at least twice a day. If I'm really good I practice yoga during Noah's mid-day nap. Once in a while I'll be able to go to a class somewhere, too. Between that and a good night's sleep, I feel unstoppable!

4. Have downtime. I give myself more downtime now then I did when Gman and I were in the same house. When I put Noah to bed, I don't do anything else besides have my downtime. No dishes, no laundry, no responsibilities. They all have to wait for tomorrow. Every night I curl up in bed and read for at least an hour, usually two. 

5. Have a support network. Single parenting is not for the faint of heart. Many times there is no one to tap in for you at the end of a long day. No one to pinch hit when you just want to sleep but your little one is crying from their crib, standing in a pool of throw-up at 3am... 

I live across the street from my parents, which makes it convenient for them to help me out. Sometimes my mom will unexpectedly be able to watch Noah for an hour, or my dad will come over, do the dishes and take out the trash. It's those little things that make me feel like the burden of my family is not all on my shoulders (even if it usually is). I'll still be cleaning puke up all by my lonesome at 3am but at least I know that someone nearby will have a large cup of hot coffee waiting for me in the morning when I call.

I go to a weekly bible study class with other adults. It's really nice to talk about something other than being a mom. It's a safe, emotionally rewarding, and sometimes intellectually stimulating environment that I find helps me release some of my anger or exasperation from the week as well as gain a new perspective on my life. 

I see a therapist regularly. With my husband and confident unavailable, therapy gives me a place to have constructive conversations about myself, my heart, my fears, and my dreams. 

6. Lastly, go easy on yourself. It's ok if you don't get to everything in one day. It's ok if the dishes sit in the sink while you place horsey with your toddler, or if you make dinner plans with a friend and leave the bedtime routine to another caretaker now and then. Having a rough day so you drank an extra glass of wine or snuck some ice cream while hiding from your kids in the garage? It's totally fine. Tomorrow will be better.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Daddy Lives on an Airplane and Other Truisms from the Mouth of a Toddler



Raising a young child can be exhausting, rewarding, and hilarious all in the same moment. One of my favorite things about parenting is witnessing Noah's mind adsorb the world around him. Sometimes I'm astonished at how much he understands and other times I wish I could explain things better. Luckily he has a pretty good vocabulary and he tells me what he thinks. Some of the things he says are downright hilarious, others incredibly insightful. Here are a few things Noah knows to be true:

1. Daddy takes an airplane to work and either lives on the plane or somehow takes the plane to work and resides inside the computer. He used to leave things for Gman on my keyboard, like bits of food or toys.

2. Somehow Santa Claus is friends with the firemen and rides around with them the weeks preceding Christmas, when he isn't posing for pictures at the mall of course. It's rumored that Santa even stays at the firehouse when he's in town.

3. Almost every job requires a special hat.

4. Saying "I'll be right back" is much less emotionally stressful than saying "goodbye."

5. If one is eating chocolate one needs at least enough to fill two hands.

6. "Milkies" live in mommys' breasts and it's made especially for each of their babies. He is concerned about any breast dangling alone in the world, it should be occupied by a suckling infant. If boobs are prominently displayed (like in art) he'll ask me where the lady's baby is. 

7. If we are out of anything, it's not a problem, we can buy some more.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Hello again, hello.






Hi. It's me, Jamie. Do you remember me? It's been so long since I last blogged. I've missed it like a second child. I think about blogging all the time and compose cute little posts in the shower or while I'm cleaning up a poopy diaper. Unfortunately, these clever treatise never actually get written down or even remembered moments later. I miss taking pictures and sharing my life with family, friends, and random strangers on the internet. Hello to you all and welcome back!

This post will serve as a life update and planning space for new posts to come. My goal is to blog regularly again even if it's just little snippets here and there. I'd like to just blog about life, those little moments that make our days hilarious, heartbreaking, and worthwhile. Noah and I are living separately from Gman as he is on an unaccompanied tour (more on that later). I'll be blogging about the separation in hopes to help others get through similar situations. I will also blog about traveling with a tiny toddler as we are still pretty mobile.

Noah, my son, turns two in just a few weeks and it has got me thinking about the last couple of years. What sucked my creative juices? Surely there are many bloggers out there who start families and continue blogging straight through. Why not me? Here's my theory in a nutshell: BURN OUT.

My brain has been completely fried. We moved to Kuwait from DC when I was just a few weeks pregnant and I went into a depression. Then I moved back and forth to Florida and over the course of two years we split our time on three continents. While I will never trade what I saw and experiences for anything, in hindsight I realize there are some times when it's OK to stay put and enjoy a cup of coffee on the porch. In two years we were in Kuwait, Israel, Scotland, London (twice), DC, Tampa, Fort Myers, Palm Beach, and Orlando. We took some trips back to back and others lasted several weeks. We moved back to Florida last May. I thought I would start feeling stable again, but had a complete undoing when I underestimated the repatriation experience and how lonely it was coming back to the US after living overseas.

I'd like to say everything has been ok but really the last eight months have been a healing process. Slowly but surely I've been getting healthier (mentally and physically) and getting my life balance back. I feel very good now and like a better version my old self. I've got a handle on parenting, with a spouse and without. We bought a house, a car, and settled into a good old-fashioned routine. I'd like to thank my family for their patience and support, my therapist for her time, and a renewed faith in God that has brought me out of some dark places.

Now, Noah and I live in Dunedin, Florida in a tiny 1950s bungalow 15 minutes from three of the most beautiful beaches in the world. We ride our bike to adorable shops, great local dining, several craft breweries, ice cream, coffee shops, and playgrounds. It's pretty romantic to say the least.

As I mentioned, Gman doesn't live here. This has been the hardest part. He is a diplomat with the US Department of State and is living for one year overseas on an unaccompanied assignment eating his weight in curry. We see him for a few weeks every few months. The hardship has been no joke.

Despite it all, life is better than ever and so full of moments living outside my comfort zone, embracing the surprises around the corner. So, what do you say. Are you ready for a new adventure with the High Heeled Traveler?

Monday, May 4, 2015

Yasmin Farm Tour
















A couple of months ago (already!) Gman, Noah, and I signed up to go on a farm tour out in the middle of the desert near the Saudi Arabia boarder in Wafra. The flyer sounded promising with lines like "everything from fresh cheese to fresh fruit and vegetables are produced here" and "dairy cows, chickens, goats, large vegetable fields and even climate controlled greenhouses." It also said there was a fully stocked shop with dried fruit, olive oil, spices, etc. and "unique wooden trays and chairs for sale" as well as a small cafe. All of this plus a free tour with samples at the end. It sounded like a good day trip, a rare thing here.

The day started off rough. In general, Noah and I rarely leave our neighborhood, Salmyia. There is just no reason to. We have pretty much everything we could want within walking distance including four malls and at least one or two of every chain restaurant in Kuwait. And if we really want we can have whatever it was that we wanted delivered, including such delicacies as ice cream, french fries, and popcorn. Whenever we do leave Salmyia we are usually disappointed. We spend half the time sitting in traffic (with a baby who HATES the car) and when we get there, the experience turns out to be kind of crappy. I think my expectations are too high. Anyways, so as we leave Salmyia at 7:30am on a Saturday, it starts pouring rain. It might have been the only time it rained in Kuwait this year and it was the only time we planned on an outdoor activity. The rain confused and delayed the already haphazardly organized event. Somehow we made it to the farm in one piece and with dry weather. On the way there we drove through the flattest sandiest desert that was just barely separated from the road by piles of trash. That's when we got to see camels and a burned out car too! The day was getting interesting…

Upon arrival the the farm we are told to cover our feet in plastic for the duration of the tour. This was to prevent unwanted germs (bacteria? disease? pathogens?) from getting near the plants and animals. I realized halfway through the tour (it was hard to hear the guide because it was such a large group) that the farm, Yasmin Farm, was actually the supplier for the organic and local section of our beloved grocery store, Sultan Center, and in fact owned by Sultan Center. The produce and dairy products are indeed fresh (and delicious) but you pay for the luxury of having hours old cow's milk in hand in geographic location where that type of farming is not indigenous. Look for the brand Alban Dairy.

I was impressed with the cleanliness and thoroughness of the parts of the farm we saw - mainly the cows and goats. We couldn't see the chickens because they are so susceptible to airborne illness that they are kept under lock and key in an immaculate building where they experience the free-range lifestyle in air conditioning. Our guide Katherine also happened to be the farm manager and was definitely in charge of making sure everything met American standards as far as quality of care for animals and maintenance of facilities. One interesting thing was that every functioning part of the far was covered by a roof. Normally you think of rolling hills of corn or beautiful rows of strawberries when you think of a farm, but here mostly everything was covered in greenhouses or under a roof with open sides. It made sense because of the heat, and you could see that also adding to the cost of doing business. Speaking of the heat, an interesting thing Katherine mentioned on the tour was that they have to add molasses to the cow's feed in the summer because they lose their appetite when it hits 100! 

Since most of the tour was about dairy farming, cows and goats, Katherine kept saying the work "milk." We saw lots of utters and even a baby goat nursing from his mother. Somehow the message of milk got across to Noah, because he was diving at my chest the entire time signing for "eat." We couldn't help but laugh, especially when we then noticed our friend's baby rooting around too. 

It was fun to sample the products at the end of the tour, then see them in the shop. It was a visual reminder of which products were the local ones for when we got back home and went to the store. They also had fresh milk for sale in metal tins. We obviously had to get one even though we normally don't drink milk! 

The only disappointing thing about our visit was that there wasn't a cafe (or unique trays and chairs for sale). So when the tour was over we basically just left. We had planned all the driving during Noah's naps (= peaceful drive) so the car ride home, hungry and tired, was a doozy. It would have been nice to be able to plan ahead and pack a picnic to have there or in the car on the way home. 

If you are interested in visiting Yasmin Farms in Wafra, the tour is free and you do not need reservations to my knowledge. I recommend going on a Saturday morning around 9am like we did. At one point they had a website, but now I can't find it. So...

I also have the GPS coordinates (which say you're going to Saudi but you aren't, so don't worry). But the Garmin is already packed and en route to the US. When I get it on the other end I'll update this post with the coordinates! 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Downtown Kuwait City














When we found out we were moving to Kuwait, I typed "Kuwait City" into Google to see what images came up. I was curious to see what our new home was going to look like. Much to my disappointment there weren't really any images of Kuwait at all. Everything that I thought was Kuwait ended up being Dubai or Oman or even Jordan in a few cases. I had to wait until I got here and drove around to really get a sense of the place. As romantic as that sounds, for me it was terrifying. I needed to know so I could start imagining myself living here.

So with that in mind, I wanted to show you so images of Kuwait. I took these pictures hanging out the window of our car as we drove around. While they aren't the most beautiful images, I hope you can see some of the goings-on of everyday life. 

These pictures are of the downtown area. It is the oldest part of town and what is officially called Kuwait City. It's where the heritage souk is (where my rug dealer is!) and the fabric souk. What I find interesting about it is that it is jam-packed with activity and people with an incredible range of architectural styles represented. Mostly poor immigrants live downtown in complete squaller. In general they don't do much maintenance on buildings, cars, etc. here and I'm under the impression that it's a cultural thing throughout Arab countries. There's also orange dust covering everything.

Notice the air conditioning units stuffed in the walls and people crossing wherever in the road. There's also a mosque in the middle of a round about. I guess they really want you to feel thankful when you get there! My favorite building is the Gulf Bank building. It's the yellow looking one (detail pictured last) that looks like a relic from the 1950s. I love that it looks like it's from the Jetsons. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Dhows



Dhows (pronounced d-how with a soft 'h') are the traditional boats of Kuwait. Kuwait City is an important port in the Gulf and has always heavily relied on the seas for all of it's needs, including trade and food. Before big shipping tankers and pleasure yachts, Dhows were used for all those seafaring needs, with different designs used for each purpose and made by hand. There were dhows for pearl diving, fishing, trade, and even to bring fresh water back from other places! Now there are only fishing dhows still in use but a few were made for display at the Scientific Center (good sampling of the range of design) and at the National Museum. The ones pictured are anchored at the dhow harbor in downtown Kuwait City as you drive towards the Grand Mosque from the Kuwait Towers on Arab Gulf Road. We've driven past so many times and I'm glad I took the time to get out of the car and check it out one afternoon before it was too hot. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Guest Posting on New Diplomat's Wife



I recently wrote a guest post for my friend Ania's series on her blog, The New Diplomat's Wife, called Notes from the Field. The series was created to give you a glimpse into what it's like to live in different cities around the world. They are usually written from the perspective of a diplomat or diplomat's spouse (diplo-spouse as she calls it!) and are really fun to read. 

I was incredible flattered when she asked me to write one for Kuwait City. Considering our time here is coming to a rapid end, it was a great excuse to look back on our life and let it all soak in. Go over to her blog and read about Kuwait and then get sucked in reading all the rest!
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