Monday, September 26, 2016

Bidding

It's bidding season.  And for the first time, S is bidding at the mid-level.  That means no more lists ranking his preferences and then crossing his fingers, hoping he gets assigned something great. Instead, S gets the privilege of applying to and interviewing for the jobs that he wants. And THEN he gets to cross his fingers and hope he gets something great.  

This year, apparently, they are doing things a little differently in the hopes of expediting the process. The final list of available jobs went live last Monday and handshakes (when officers are finally offered a job) are expected to go out by Halloween.  So for the next 6 weeks, S (and every other officer who is bidding) will be emailing, submitting their employee reviews and hopefully interviewing for the jobs they want.  There are several mores steps involved, but needless to say, it is nerve racking  and stressful.

After several long discussions, S and I have narrowed it down to more than a handful of overseas posts, with two of those posts (in two different bureaus) being our top choices.  We would be happy with any of our choices, but we are trying to be hopeful and optimistic that we get one of our top two choices.

I use the word "we" because even though S is the only one applying, the whole family is involved in making this decision.  As they say, this is a lifestyle, not a career.  A lot of factors go into this.  What is the right job for S and his career?  What places have strong and reliable Internet so I can continue to do my job?  Are there good international schools?  Can the kids continue to learn Spanish?  Can we bring our dog?  Are there houses or is it all apartment living? (Full disclosure: I would LOVE to have a house with a backyard.  After 15 years of apartment living, I am ready for a house and the access to an enclosed yard right outside my back door).  

So, even before the list went live, S and I sat down and looked at the projected jobs and tried to narrow down our choices.  We wanted a place we knew our family would not only enjoy living, but a place where we thought our kids would thrive, where I could work and where S would have a fantastic and rewarding job.  We Googled.  We watched YouTube videos.  We read personal expat accounts of what its like to live in each place.  We looked up the schools and watched the videos on their websites.  S researched the job's responsibilities.  We researched what languages were taught at the schools, hoping that if we go to a non-Spanish speaking county, at least Spanish will be taught and our oldest son (and hopefully our younger kids) could continue learning the language.  We looked to see if the Vet care was good and if there were kenneling/boarding services for when we go out of town.  And because we like to have fun, we looked up what regional travel would be like, and overall family life---were there movie theaters and parks?  Could we still find decent places to run outdoors? And the list goes on...

Once we had our top choices narrowed down, S took it and ran with it.  He reached out, he submitted his bids and emailed his resume.  But now?  Now we wait.  We wait to see if he gets contacted for interviews.  We wait while the behind-the-scenes bureaucracy takes place. We basically wait to see what the next 2 to 3 or 4 years of our life holds.  And hopefully, in the end, we get to go where we are all going to be happy.

But right now we continue to sit on pins and needles and...speculate...

So stay tuned...because like I said, we hope to know our next destination by Halloween.  

Friday, September 23, 2016

More Than Halfway

It is nearing the end of September and we are more than halfway done with our assignment here in Bogota.  We have roughly nine months left in this amazing city, and it has truly become a great place to live.  There were a few road bumps in the beginning--likely due to pregnancy and hormones, adding a third kid to the mix and the fact that I didn't speak ANY Spanish when we arrived--but we have come out of the other side and we absolutely love it here.  

E started Kindergarten at the American international school last month and he is really enjoying himself. When most parents are asking their kids "how was school" and getting a shrug or reluctant "fine" in response, my kid is hopping off the bus and happy to chat about all the fun things he did that day.  I love it.  I hope he stays chatty forever, no matter how exhausting it can be at times.  He is taking Karate at his new school and a Lego building class that he is not that thrilled about.  According to him, he likes building Legos by himself at home, but not in a class with a bunch of other people.  Fair enough.  And he is still taking swimming at a great gym/pool in our neighborhood, which he loves.  He has become a little fish these days and we literally have to drag him out of the water.  Bogota is a great city for smaller kids because there is so much to do.  There are so many activities and indoor play places and parks and mall and movies that we have no trouble finding things to do.  

D is still at the same jardin since we arrived, and he is getting to be such a big boy. He is also taking swimming lessons, which he loves, and he is blowing bubbles and kicking his legs like a pro.  And he's potty trained!  Doing number 2 on the potty is still a work in progress, but he is no longer wearing diapers which is a blessing to our wallets.  We're down to one baby in diapers--whoohoo!

And R will be one year old soon.  I don't even know where the time has gone. We are planning our family Halloween costumes for this year and I feel like it was just yesterday that I was putting her in a tiny little newborn strawberry onesie for her "costume."  She is almost walking and she is pretty much on the go non-stop. She doesn't EVER sit still, but that is just the way she needs to be if she wants to keep up with her brothers and parents.  This family doesn't stop, so she fits in perfectly.  

The summer here in Bogota has been great.  The weather has been a bit cool and rainy, but that hasn't stopped us from getting out and enjoying life.  Ciclovia is still a weekend favorite and we usually put E on his scooter, the babies in the double jogger and run through the streets or in the park.  

A few weekends ago we rented a house in La Mesa with a couple other families for the long Labor Day weekend.  La Mesa is "down the mountain" (about a three hour drive from Bogota) and the weather is warm and humid compared to Bogota's year-round cool and rainy weather. The house had a pool so all the kids spent their time jumping and swimming and riding scooters and bikes through the calm streets of the house's neighborhood.  We, the parents, spent our days relaxing by the pool with the kids (I use the term "relaxing" loosely because we all know kids and pools does not equal relaxing) and chatting and otherwise just enjoying the sunshine. Once the kids were all in bed it was time for more wine and one mean game of Scrabble, which S and I won with a triple word score using all seven tiles to spell UNMENDED.  It was awesome. 

Our family also went back to the states earlier this summer to spend some time with family and friends. Our first stop was New York, which E has grown obsessed with because he was born there.  We even walked by the hospital where he was born and he beamed with pride, pointing it out to his brother with delight.  The second stop was DC, followed by Las Vegas where S's dad and step-mom live.  We don't do Vegas like most people.  Our Vegas experience consists of a resort with a pool and lazy river where the kids can play, eating family dinners with S's parents and hike out in Red Rock Canyon. We love hiking and now that the boys are getting bigger and it's easy to strap R to me, we hope to do it a lot more.  

My family also came to visit back in August, which was a blast. My sister, her husband and their twin girls came with my mom.  My mom ended up staying an extra week after my sister left and it was actually perfect timing since S had to leave for a month-long TDY assignment to Istanbul.  Me and three kids for a month = a lot of stress.  The kids weren't actually that stressful, it was our dog!  Having to walk a dog three times a day with three kids in tow (holding one's hand, strapping one in the Ergo to my chest and the third on his scooter) was just a LOT to deal with.  Hindsight is 20/20, but I think we will hire a dog walker next time.  

So, that's what the McGuires have been up to lately!  Stay tuned for more adventures...S is in the process of bidding on our next post, so we hope to have some news on that pretty soon.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Monserrate

One of the sights I have wanted to see since arriving in Bogota is Monserrate, a mountain in the center of Bogota with a 17th century church built atop.  Well, I finally got the chance when some friends came into town for a visit and I added it to our list of things to see.  

There are three ways to get to the top of Monserrate: take the air tram, take the funicular (a train that never leaves the ground), or walk, which involves climbing LOTS and LOTS of stairs.  Many people walk because it is a fun adventure, but lately there has been a lot of crime on the trail (muggings, slashings, etc) so my friends and I opted to take the funicular.  However, upon arrival, we discovered that it was closed, so we either took our chances with the thieves and violent criminals on the trail, or we took the air tram. It was a no-brainer for me--air tram, hello.  But for my friend who is more than just a little bit afraid of heights, especially when you're dangling hundreds of feet on a wire in a foreign country, he had to take a moment to think it over.  Ultimately, the tram won out and we all enjoyed a hand-wringing trip up to the top.

Once we stepped back onto solid ground and caught our breath (the top of Monserrate is 10,500 feet, while the city of Bogota is a mere 8,000 feet high), we dropped our jaws and enjoyed the amazing view. It was spectacular.   The sky was crystal blue and the sun was so bright that we were nearly blinded without our sunglasses.  The view of the city below was even more amazing.  I knew Bogota was big, but looking down onto it really put things into perspective.  It was incredible.  

We took time for photos and toured the church for a bit, stopping in to listen to prayers in Spanish. Then we made our way back outside toward the rear of the church where little stalls were set up selling everything from purses and hats to coco leaves (totally illegal to bring back to the states, in case you're wondering).  We walked around while my friends purchased souvenirs and then we all ducked into a food stall where we tasted a bit of ajiaco, a traditional Colombian soup made with chicken, corn and potatoes.  It was good, but man, if you like spicy, bring your own hot sauce.  The Colombians do not believe in spicy.  

Once we had discovered all there was to see, we loaded onto the air tram and made our way back down to street level, my friend covering his eyes and humming to himself the whole time.  

Monserrate is a must see if you ever visit Bogota!

The air tram we passed going up

My friend and I posing in front of the 17th century church

The view from the top

Look at that blue sky!

Ceiling in the church

From inside the church looking out



Panoramic view from the church steps

Panoramic view of the city below




Monday, March 7, 2016

La Granja and Andres

We don't drive our car very often, mostly because Uber is just so dang easy, but also because our neighborhood is pretty walker-friendly.  There are parks and malls and movie theaters and TONS of restaurants all within a 10-15 minute walk in any direction, so there is just no point in getting in the car. Plus, exercise.  Duh.

That said, we still like to get out of the city from time to time to check out some of the nearby towns. Twice now we have gone to two very fun and very kid-friendly restaurants that our children absolutely loved.  And they were so kitschy that I fell in love with them too.  Both restaurants are about an hour drive outside the city and each one offered it's own unique atmosphere while still managing to serve up some really delicious food.  

The first restaurant we tried was a place called La Granja.  We drove out there to celebrate a friend's birthday, and just like its name implies, it is in fact a farm.  And also a restaurant.  And also a host of other things.  

This is what we saw when we drove into the parking lot.  



We sat down, ordered our meal and then let the kids run around and play while we waited for the food to arrive.  First stop was the ostriches.  Apparently these were cannibalistic ostriches because as a beautiful egg lay resting peacefully in the grass in their enclosure, one of the male ostriches ran over and cracked it with his beak.  Then the other two came running over, presumably to stop the male ostrich, but no.  They all started cracking at it until it was broken.  And then they all proceeded to eat the contents of the egg.  All of this was done before a dozen wide-eyed children who were of course, asking a million questions as to "why" such a thing was happening.  Even still, my kids enjoyed watching the ostriches run around (I don't think they had a full grasp on what had just happened) and got a kick out of the goats and cows and chickens that meandered around the walking paths at their feet.  








After lunch we grabbed some ice cream and went back to see the animals but also to play on the playgrounds set up throughout the farm.  There was a sand pit and slides and monkey bars, complete with swings and open fields for running off tons of energy.  We didn't try any of the other little workshops they had set up, like the carpenter area, for example, but maybe next time. 

This little guy was perched on one of the many metal works
of art scattered through the grounds

These two have never met a sandbox they didn't like

Blue skies and open air

this chuck wagon served as the ice cream truck

The carpentry area where kids can build just about anything.

Colorful zebra "pulling" the ice cream wagon

The second restaurant we visited was a place called Andres Carne de Res in a town called Chia.  There is also an Andres D.C. here in the city, about a 10 minute walk from our apartment, but the one in Chia is bigger and better.  It's kitschy and crazy.  The menu is 72 pages long. They serve just about every delicious Colombian dish you can imagine, and then some.  It is so big that it has a capacity to seat approximately 2,000 people.  And because it is so kid-friendly--because they don't want parents to worry at all--there is a very nice security system in place.  Kids are given ID's with their table's name on it as well as the kid's name.  So if your child is off playing in the sand pit, or watching a movie in the theater, or playing ping pong or rock climbing, or getting their face painted, or doing any of the other dozen or so activities without you, the parent, they will be escorted back to your table by one of the staff members when they are done. So, we let E wander and do his own thing, but we still kept an eye on D, and of course R who was confined to her car seat or strapped to mommy's chest the whole time. But we had a blast.  We had gone there on a whim with friends and their kids, so we didn't quite know what to expect, but it was amazing.  I think we were there for over 4 hours.  We drank, we ate, we talked and the kids played until they were close to passing out from sheer exhaustion.  It was a quiet drive home, that's for sure. How do you get three kids to sleep at the same time?  Take them to Andres in Chia and wear. them. out. We absolutely cannot wait to go back.  

Just a small portion of the outdoor seating

Rock wall in the distance, sand pit and puppet theater

Another portion of the outdoor seating.  Each heart above the
table has the table's name so you know how to find your way back.

Inside the restaurant.  No, I don't think this would ever fly in the states.
This is OSHA and the fire department's worst nightmare come to life.  

She greeted us on our way in.

More of the inside.  About 50 OSHA violations in this one photo

These cows said goodbye on the way out

Juice was served in large bowls

I forget what this pizza thingy was called, but it came with six
different condiments/toppings and was DELICIOUS

My limonada de coco.  So good.


Friday, January 8, 2016

Happy New Year! And A Brief Explanation About Where We've Been


Happy New Year!

Geez, where does the time go? It feels like just yesterday I was blogging about our beach trips and our Sunday strolls to Usaquen, but three months has passed since my last post.  Three very quick, blink-and-you-miss- them, months.

And a lot has happened in those three months.

First there was this.


We are officially a family of five! Our little Lady R, arrived in early October clocking in at 7lbs 5oz and 19.5 inches long, making her my smallest baby yet.  My other two were well over 8 pounds.  She was greeted by her two very enthusiastic brothers and extremely happy parents. I was worried about how D would react since he was only 17 months old when she was born, but he took to her quite nicely, and even though there are a few jealousy issues when I am feeding her, he loves her and gives her kisses all day long.  His favorite is to bring her a blanket and say "Go night-night!" E is a pro at being a big brother, so his adjustment has been a breeze.  He is always eager to help and even though sometimes his "helping" is more of a hindrance (especially when trying to quickly clean up spit up or change a poopy diaper), I try to make him feel like he is always doing a super important job.  Now our family is complete, and we couldn't be happier. She is just the sweetest.  And since R was born here in Bogota, D was born in Adana and E was born in New York, I can officially say I have three kids born in three different countries.  Pretty cool!  


She goes back and forth between sucking her thumb and sucking her two middle fingers.



R at 7 weeks


A few weeks after R was born, we celebrated Halloween.  We are a family that truly loves Halloween. The boys each dressed as ninjas (since E is currently obsessed with Ninjago, although it's slowly being taken over by an obsession with Star Wars) and R was a little strawberry.  S and I didn't plan groovy costumes as we have in previous years because I was still living in the haze of newborn baby and didn't get my act together in time.  I ended up being a cat (super simple) and S had to dress as a scarecrow to go along with the "Pumpkin Patch" theme his team designed for the embassy Halloween party.  The party, by the way, was incredible.  I heard it wasn't nearly as elaborate as previous years, but I was still impressed.  Each section came up with a theme and then decorated their offices to match.  Everyone participated.  There was a Star Wars theme, my husband's group did Pumpkin Patch, plus Shark Attack, Wizard of Oz and Book of Life themes, to name a few.  There wasn't a single embassy employee not wearing a costume.  The kids got to trick-or-treat through each section, then we had hot dogs and quesadillas for dinner before heading home to deal with the eventual sugar crash.  It was a fun experience and we're already looking forward to next year.  Needless to say, we already have our family costumes picked out, but I'm not telling.

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Shortly after Halloween, we headed back to the states for R&R and my cousin's wedding, in which E was the ring bearer.  R was only one month old at the time, but we got approval from two doctors saying she was okay to travel and we were assured that even though she didn't have a visa or diplomatic passport yet, we would have no issues taking her in and out of the country.  All worked out accordingly.  We spent several days in Key West where my cousin was married, then drove to Miami for a few more days while visiting with friends who lived in the area.  

Ready to fly!

R meeting her godparents, my cousin and her new hubby

R meeting my mom, Nana.

Key West!

I was so proud of this little guy.  He owned his ring bearer job!

Beautiful wedding venue

Me, E and the bride 

Strike a pose!

beach in Key West

Can you see the bags under our eyes?

Enjoying a swim in November

Add caption

Warm and cozy after their swim

Blowing bubbles at a museum in Fort Lauderdale


Checking out the baby crocodiles with our friend

He thinks he can fly this plane

And so does he

Magnets

The princess and the pea :)

Next, we made our way to Austin where we visited with S's family, then headed to Baton Rouge to see my family.  The kids were spoiled by aunts and uncles, cousins and friends, and most of all Nana.   We went to book stores, parks, indoor bouncy house play spaces, museums, planetariums, swam nature walks, and ate at every delicious restaurant we could squeeze in.  After nearly 3 weeks in the states, we made our way back home.  Bogota hadn't really felt like home since we moved here, but since coming back from R &R we have started to feel more settled.  There had always been this sense of "something else is coming" and I think now that R is here, that "something" is here, and we are finally feeling like we aren't just passing through.  This is home...for the next 1.5 years, at least.

Enjoying the park with cousins

At the book store


"camp out" with cousins

Cousins!


D enjoying the kiddie play area while his big brother and big cousins
are bouncing in bounce castles nearby


On a nature walk through the swamps of Louisiana

Trying blackened alligator :)

Enjoying the arts and science museum in BR

Riverboat on the Mississippi in BR
 
Nana, cousin AA and R

Nana, cousin BB and R

E and the twins having too much fun on the trampoline

Tia and R


We returned to celebrate Thanksgiving, then Christmas and New Year's.  Thanksgiving was very low-key.  I cooked a small meal and we just spent the day relaxing and watching football and cartoons, and playing in the park.  On Christmas Eve I cooked the traditional Louisiana meal: gumbo and potato salad.  We invited our friends over (one of whom happens to also be from Louisiana) and we ate and drank wine while the kids played around us.  The night ended early though, since we all had to get the kids to bed for Santa's visit.  Christmas morning was filled with presents and pancakes, and the day was spent cooking and building Legos. E got so many sets and of course he wanted to put them all together all by himself.  So we let him.  D spent all day playing with his new cars and Paw Patrol toys, while R, completely oblivious to what was going on around her, napped and giggled her way through the holiday.  Christmas is always fun with little kids, and this year was the best.  Our entire family is here, and we can't wait to celebrate Christmases in the future.

Our attempt at a Christmas card pic.  Can you spot the unhappy child in this photo?





A crappy photo, but E was so excited for the Little Passports gift Nana got him.
He's hoping to get something on Egypt!



New Year's Eve was uneventful.  Unlike last year when we spent the night partying with friends in Turkey, this year S and I put the kids to bed and we cracked open a bottle of champagne in an attempt to stay up until midnight.  That, of course, didn't happen.  S and I crashed by 10:30 and did not regret it for a second.  We did manage to finish off the champagne though.  And we made a resolution too.  We both vowed to read 12 books this year--one book per month.  S and I are avid readers and love reading, but since having kids, moving and traveling, we realized we don't dedicate as much time as we used to. So, 2016 is "The Year of the Book" for us.  We're already well into our first books and it feels so good to be reading more regularly again.  

So that's what we have been up to.  The boys' winter break ends soon and they will eventually go back to their routine of school and play dates.  R is a delightful little baby who rolled over for the first time the other day, and she laughs and smiles constantly.  S is back in the groove at work, but looking forward to several 3-day weekends/holidays he has coming up this month, and I am still plugging along with my work while trying to spend time with the kids.  We are looking forward to having visitors this year too!  A lot of friends and family have said they want to come visit, so we're going to hold them to it!  We didn't have many visitors in Turkey, so we're hoping the close proximity of Bogota changes that!