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Jen's Journal (2007)

12/29 What to do
Now that his buddy Jessica and my friend Kelly have left, Nate and I are at a loss for what to do. I had decided that, as one of my goals over Christmas break, Nate and I should go on a Marshallese canoe. The day was perfect for it, so we dropped Katie at Melissa's and headed to the office to find out how to reserve a ride.

After calling the hotel where I had seen the rides advertised, and a few transfers, I got an answering machine explaining that the canoe place was closed until after the new year. Nate and I were sad, but I had plan B: Swimming at the hotel's pool. Worried about setting him up for yet another disappointment, I called to make sure that the pool was open. Alas, it was also closed.

Now I was at a complete loss of what to do. We could go see a movie, but the movie theater wouldn't open for a few hours. Instead we headed home to make some Christmas cookies. Not the incredible outside experience I was hoping for, but Nate was OK with it.

A year ago, this situation would have brought on a wave of homesickness and anger at the lack of things to do here. Now I'm used to the disappointments and just quickly tried to distract Nate. And I keep wondering what it'll be like to live in the land of opportunities again. Will we really take full advantage of the museums, parks, zoos, concerts, that will be available to us?

I guess only time will tell.

12/27 Saying Goodbye
One of the difficulties of life here is the transience of everyone. This unfortunately plays itself out most dramatically with the kids. I didn't realize, for instance, how difficult Mitchy's departure was on Nate until a few weeks ago.

Nate's pal Vien, whom he plays with each day after school, announced that she was going on vacation to the Philippines. Nate took the news quite hard. I couldn't understand it, as it would just be for a few weeks. But then Nate, amongst his crocodile tears, explained that he believed that she would not be coming back. Just like Mitchy. She was leaving, and she wouldn't return.

My heart just broke. Nate, I swore, if I know that someone is leaving and not coming back, I'll tell you. You'll have a chance to say goodbye.

I know how he's feeling, because when I was a child in Saudi, one of my best friends left while we were on vacation. I'll never forget running across her doorway, anxious to tell her about our trip, and literally walking into an empty house. She had left; I didn't know where she had gone. And I didn't get a chance to say goodbye. I was completely crushed.

As much as possible, I have tried to shield Nate from that experience. But it's pretty tricky in this place. Case and point, today. Jessica was coming over for a playdate today, and Nate was thrilled to have his new buddy around. With Anabelle and Vien off-island, he's been pretty bored.

When she came to drop off Jessica, Kelly said that the paperwork for Nick had finally come in, and they'd be leaving tomorrow for the U.S. I immediately said we'd be happy to watch Jessica tomorrow if Kelly had some running around to do. Every second with Jessica would be appreciated by Nate.

That night I broke the bad news to Nate. He didn't cry, but I could tell that this was starting to get a bit old. He had just made a friend and she was gone again. The good news, which I tried to emphasize, was that Jessica lived in Cincinnati, somewhere in the vicinity of Francine, Mitchy, etc. So maybe we could see her when we saw Mitchy this summer. He responded that he wanted her to stay HERE.

This being a parent stuff just really sucks sometimes.

12/25 Gifts
Now that Nate is 4, he's really gotten into Christmas. I would love to say that means that he has a complete understanding of Jesus, wise men, Mary and the host of angels. And he does get that, mind you. But he's 4, and somewhere along the way, he heard that Christmas = presents.

And to a kid away from just about everyone he knows and loves, presents = love. I guess if I put these two equations together, I come up with Christmas = love, and I'm OK with that message after all. So this morning, when he woke up and ran out to open up presents, R and I just enjoyed his glee. He opened presents for Katie as well, though she was usually more interested in the wrapping paper or cards than the gifts.

The two of them pulled in quite the loot, including tons of new DVDs, games, puzzles, workbooks, etc. It kept them busy for a good half hour. The rest of the day was spent mostly inside, watching new DVDs and cooking the lasagna. It was just us for Xmas dinner, which was peaceful and calm. Not so bad for a celebration of the birth of joy.

12/24 Fa-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra
You can tell I'm adjusting to life in the Marshalls, because I had complete faith that things for tonight would work out, even though I had done minimal planning. Seriously. I invited like 15 people, told them we'd get Korean food, and then just went on faith that a) White House (the Korean restaurant) would be open b) There wouldn't be an unplanned power outage, c) the house would get cleaned.

Somehow, everything went our way. No problem getting the food, picking it up, cleaning, etc. Melissa even made fresh lumpia (a Filipino twist on spring rolls) for the event, and everyone showed up pretty close to when we were ready to eat. Everything was fabulous, the kids were well-behaved, and people mixed and chatted like old friends.

People left in stages, and at the end it was just us and our friends Gary, Ruth and Stephen. R took the kids in for late baths, and I got a chance to sing some Christmas songs with adults. What a great night.

12/21 Plug us in!
The power came on this morning at about 4, and we're all just trashed today as we never sleep well with the power out. And the worst news is that there's an all-day planned power outage starting at 9 a.m. today. R kept on hoping (out loud) that whatever the problem was, they fixed it during the unplanned power outage yesterday.

He was wrong. Promptly at 9, the power went out. Staring down another full day without power did NOT put me in the Christmas spirit. At least we had prepared for the worst and had both taken showers, filled the bucket and the sinks for water and turned down the air in the bedroom.

The only good news is that the power came on earlier than expected, at 5 instead of 6. Whoo-hoo.

12/20 A crowd
The power went off unexpectedly this afternoon, and I really had a hard time keeping my temper in check. The power outages have been just constant lately -- averaging at least one a week, sometimes more. At least now, I don't have to sit in a dark office (my office at CMI doesn't have any windows, so when the power goes off, I move into the hallway to grade), but I also have to deal with some cranky kids.

Anyway, when the power was still off at dinnertime, Nate and I headed out to Tide Table for dinner. When we got there, we met up with Pam and Lisa, with whom we traveled to the beach on 12/7. Just like our new friend Kelly, they had originally planned on leaving the RMI on 12/21, but the adoption paperwork was taking longer than anticipated.

Nate and I invited them to eat with us and while chatting with them, they asked about our Xmas plans. I explained that we were having friends over Xmas eve for Korean and having lasagna for Xmas. I asked if they had plans, and when they said they didn't, I told them they would be welcome at our house. No one should be alone on Christmas, and three more really wouldn't make that much more difference.

It's the difference between 11 or 14. After about 8 it's just a big group. When we hit 40, I'll have to figure out another venue. At the rate I'm going, that should be pretty soon.

12/17 Broken English, broken hearts
It feels, sometimes, like being a teacher here is just too full of power. I don’t want to choose who gets into CMI and who doesn’t. Because this isn’t a place that has a lot of other options. It’s not like the students who don’t pass our entrance exams can just apply someplace else. For most of them, this is the only option.

So when I agreed to read some essays from the CMI entrance exam, I found myself often struggling with the gravity of my decisions. Now, granted, no essay is only graded once. In fact, in the round we did, each essay was graded three times to make sure we had a few opinions on the paper. And the essay is only one part of the student’s exam, (there’s also math and English comprehension portions) and we were following a rubric, so it wasn’t like I was sitting on high assigning these grades at random.

But within an hour of reading the essays, I came across an essay that quickly devolved away from the prompt and became a plea to come to CMI. It was painful to read, as it seemed quite heartfelt. And it was incredibly difficult to assign the points according to the rubric.

The CEO of Davey Tree used to talk all the time about the importance of education. And I always agreed with him, and nodded dutifully when he admonished us to become life-long learners.

I really had no idea what he was talking about.

Never before has the distinction between educated and the non-educated been more harsh than here in Majuro. Education here is a lifeline. It’s a chance to get out, to survive, maybe even thrive. Deciding who gets that lifeline is a job for someone with more experience, more insight, and yes, more education than me.

But that person hasn’t shown up yet. So I guess it’s me for now.

12/14 Dogged
I have been completely flabbergasted by the behavior of my formerly normal students these last two days. The final day to turn in essays for their classes was Wednesday, and since then I have been buried under a mountain of papers. I had 3 classes turn in final papers, and I've been pretty busy trying to grade them fairly and calculate final grades.

I had done this before, when teaching a Media Writing class at Kent State, so I knew that assigning final grades would be hard. But here, as I've pointed out, the grade I give my students could literally mean the difference between going on to future classes and going back to their home island to a life of fishing.

Now, I tell myself and my students that I really don't give any grades. They earn everything. No one gets an A without breaking some serious sweat. And, likewise, students also earn their failing grades. I had been exceedingly kind this semester and allowed students to turn in late papers up until the final day. And when a student showed up at my home to turn in a paper, I smiled and said I'd grade it.

Finally, I started working my way through the 60+ papers that had piled up. But I kept getting interrupted. By STUDENTS. Who wanted to know if I had graded their papers, and what their final grade was. Mind you, some of these students were the ones who had turned in papers late. I considered telling them that I would get back to them in 6 weeks, as it had taken them 6 weeks to get me their papers in the first place.

But I didn't. Instead, I did what any rational person would do.

I hid.

That's right. I set up camp in Randall's office, used one of the empty rooms and graded in peace. I learned that I needed to come in early and stay late to avoid my students on campus.

The hilarious thing is that it's really in my students' best interest for me to take my time when assigning grades. I have to remind myself that these are beginning students. Most of them are in college for the first time and have no idea of what constitutes professional courtesy. I guess I'm not done teaching quite yet.

12/10 A party
My beginning writing class asked if they could have a party on the last day of class, and since we weren't having a final, just a final paper, I agreed. Sure enough, it was a feast of snacks. Doritoes, cookies, soft drinks. Everything a growing 6-year-old would want. The problem is, of course, that this sort of fare is typically not called a snack here, but dinner.

Micronesia might just be the diabetes capital of the world, and it's easy to see that play itself out here in the RMI. A healthy lunch here is ramen noodles (served, incidentally, right in the bag. The store owners who sell it will just pour the hot water in the bag for their paying customers). Ramen with chicken or egg in it is a feast. Parents will often give their school-age children a dollar or so for lunch, and the children (some of them as young as kindergartners) will buy nothing but candy for their food. No wonder we have so many gap-toothed smiles here.

But I digress. The party was quite fun, though at one point, a few of the students seemed to be arguing over something in Marshallese. Finally, one of the better students asked me if everyone was going to pass the class.

I had wondered if this would come up. This was the second time for all of these students to take this class. That's important because the Pell grant money will not pay for the students to take this class again. They could not go on to other classes without this class.

In other words, it was do or die for these students. And at least one of them had a very, very low grade.

So I took a deep breath, and told them the truth. No. Not everyone would pass.

Kind of put a damper on the party atmosphere. I didn't want them to worry needlessly, though, so I quickly went back to my office and printed out grade sheets so they'd see where they stood in the class.

And unfortunately, the class ended on that note. I told them that I enjoyed having them all in class, told them that I'd be teaching an intermediate level of listening and speaking and that I'd be happy to teach any of them again. And I reinforced the deadline for the final paper.

And wished them all good luck.

12/7 Beach trip
Nate made a new friend, Jessica, through Aue and Anabelle. Jessica is adopted from Kiribati and her parents, Paul and Kelly, were on-island over the last few weeks to adopt a brother, Nickson. Since Aue is also from Kiribati, and also because she's Aue, Paul and Kelly have made fast friends with her.

We ran into all of them the other day and got invited to go to an island for the day. (It's really an amazing, amazing life we live here.) So this a.m. we packed up a huge amount of stuff and headed out. The island trip included a boat trip out there (it POURED rain on us on the way out) and a barbeque. We just had to bring snacks and whatever other amenities we needed for the day.

We had a blast on the island, which had sandy beaches (most of the beaches here are full of sharp rocks, and, well, pollution), seashells, fish, etc. Nate is now at the age where he can just play in the shallow area with supervision, and since he had two playmates, he was happy to do that. Katie discovered sand, so she had a great time doing that. She finally collapsed into a nap late in the afternoon, and Nate napped on the boat ride home.

I loved hanging out with the adults (Paul and Kelly, Aue, and Pam and Lisa, who were adopting a little boy) and having some outside time. I made fast friends with Kelly, and since Paul is heading back to the States and Kelly and the kids will likely still be waiting for the adoption paperwork at Christmastime, I invited them to our house for Christmas Eve. And finally, I got to just sit back and enjoy watching my kids having fun.

To boot, Aue actually made some recordings of us on the boat and at the beach, and included it on the DVD she gave us of Nate's concert. So you should all plan on watching that too.

12/6 Dancing fiend
Tonight was Nate's school's holiday concert, and we were all pumped. OK, maybe Katie didn't quite get our excitement, but the other three Lennox (Lennoxes? Lennoxi?) were thrilled. We've seen pieces of the dance routine around the house, but Nate always stopped when he noticed we were watching.

I asked Nate if he was supposed to wear anything special, and he said boys were in green and girls were in red. So we dressed him in a bright green shirt. Turns out he was right -- sort of. The costumes (little choir robes) were green for boys, red for girls. Underneath, everyone else had on white T-shirts. Oops. But when he got on stage, it didn't really show that much.

And let me tell you, when he got up there, he was fabulous. We took no chances and had Aue record a DVD of the concert, so we know we have at least one copy of the cutie pie doing his stuff. He danced to "Each of us is a flower", and the best part was when he did the breeze bit -- very dramatic sweeps of the arms during that bit. Then it was "Silent Night", which was just adorable. Finally it was the show-stopper (Mr. Robin has a flair for the dramatic) Day-O.

This song was special to me because my dad always used to sing that (and other Harry Belafonte songs) to me and my brother. So to sit in an audience and watch my little buddy do some serious hip-wiggling to it was just really fun. Then it was all over and time to head home.

Of course, now we have a recorded version, so all of you should count on watching it when we're back in the States this summer. And yes, there will be a quiz.

12/4 Leaps
I finally started grading the first drafts of my students and in the middle of it, I gave a whoop of surprise. I ran to one of my fellow teachers and eagerly had her read the essay. She agreed with me. I wasn't going crazy.

The essay had very few grammatical errors.

It was completely on-topic.

It made sense.

But perhaps most amazingly, it was not from one of my top 3 students.

What had happened? The cynic in me wondered if it had been plagiarized. Nope. This was a unique assignment, never given before here. This last assignment was a reflective essay where I asked my students to pick 3 different essays and write about how what they learned in the essay was related to the specific or general learning objectives.

I had never given this kind of essay before, so I frankly wasn't sure how well it would work. But here was evidence staring me right in the face: Someone out there had been listening.

As a teacher, you're never sure that what you're saying is making sense, sinking in and helping your students learn. As a first-semester teacher, I've done a lot of hoping and praying that what I said would make a difference in my students' lives.

As I said, someone out there must have been listening.

11/30 Black eye
In class today, I noticed that one of my female students was wearing a pair of oversized sunglasses. Now, it's bright here (unbelievably bright, frankly), but it's not that bright.

So I waited until class was done and asked if she was OK. She took off the glasses and I saw a pretty significant black eye. What happened, I asked, unsure of the privacy rules in these kinds of uncharted waters.

"My husband and I are having some difficulties," she began, faltering a little bit.

She saw my face, and added. "I've told him I've had enough, and he needs to change his ways. I'm living with my mother now."

I didn't know what to say, so I kept my silence. "We have four children," she said, by way of apology.

Crap. I am so utterly utterly unprepared for this, I thought. In the states, I'd be able to find a shelter for her, give her some phone numbers. I thought of my friend Kim, who spent a few years of her life working at a domestic violence shelter in Charlottesville, Va. And I thought of my student, easily one of the top writers in the class, hard-working, holding down a job on top of it all.

I said what I felt. Can I do anything. You deserve better. You are a fabulous woman. Let me know if I can help. And then I walked her out.

Domestic violence here in the RMI is a huge problem. So I should have been prepared. The likelihood of this happening in one of my classes was quite high.

Feeling hopeless and confused, I asked my Marshallese studies friend about the situation. She said that the best thing here is to get the family involved. I mentioned that she was living with her mom already, and she said that was probably the best we could do.

Somehow I doubt that.

11/28 Fall Festival
In case you haven't figured it out, I'm a really mean teacher. I make my students do things that I think will be good for them, and usually they don't want to do it. I tell them this is not a democracy.

So that's why tonight my seven beginning writing students took to the stage in front of probably a 100 people at the Liberal Arts Fall Festival of the Arts and did a short play that they had translated. The play was "The First Coconut", a Marshallese legend that was in our textbook as a short story. They made it into a play, correcting the grammatical mistakes that were in it.

And tonight, they stood up in front of everyone, their knees knocking and their voices shaking, and did a great job. I was so unbelievably proud of them. I also had some hilarious Marshallese moments in the midst of it:

Moment #1) Since this is the legend of the first coconut, we needed some coconuts. One of the students was supposed to bring them, but forgot. So I asked one of the Marshallese staff members if she knew where I could get some. She had some at her house, right around the corner.

When we got to her house, there was a mountain (seriously as tall as me) of coconuts lying in her yard. I picked a few out and gingerly stepped out of the pile.

Moment #2) We needed some palm branches to decorate the stage, so I asked the same woman how to get some. She said we could just cut some down. Then she looked at me, sized me up, and asked a nearby student to do it. I'm pretty sure the guy didn't want to do it, but she was pretty convincing.

Then she asked the woman at the small snack bar for something. The woman emerged with a SERIOUS knife (like in Crocodile Dundee or Indiana Jones or something) and she handed it to the guy. Then my friend grabbed a palm leaf, pulled it down and the guy started hacking away at the branch.

Within a few seconds, Ta-DAH. Palm leaves.

Moment(s) #3) Part of my fear with this event was that either my students wouldn't show up, or they would just flat-out refuse to go on. I was pretty sure that the women would be OK, but the three guys looked like they would bolt if given the chance. So I spent most of the night trying to keep track of them. Sure enough, at one point, one of my students just headed home.

Unfortunately for him, I knew vaguely where he lived. Right across the street. So I headed over, and began yelling out his name to the aluminum fence that was near his house. Pretty soon a neighbor's head poked out and I asked him to go get my student. Sure enough, my student came slinking out within a minute or so.

11/26 Email to Kim
I'm falling behind on my blogging, so here's an email I sent to Kim today about how we're doing.


HEY! Sorry I've been out of touch. We've had just a ton of power outages lately, and when the power's not out, it feels like we're doing catch up. This week has been hard b/c we had a power outage last Thursday, CMI had one on Sunday and then the whole island had one yesterday. Katie is having a really rough time sleeping and these outages are not helping. Then the ATM (there's only one on the island) and the credit card machine at the store wasn't working on Saturday, so I could only buy $20 worth of groceries. I went on Monday to get the groceries, but that meant that I was playing catch-up all day. And then we couldn't do laundry b/c of the power outages and also b/c the laundromat has only about 1/2 of the washers working and has also had problem getting water (amazing, considering that it's just been pouring here). So today I started 3 loads of laundry in between meetings, because we were literally running out of clothes and had some things that N had thrown up on a while ago that needed to be washed.

Go ahead, ask me how I'm doing. :)

The good news is that N is being a champ and just rolling with everything. Last night R and he were reading by flashlight when the flashlight stopped working. We had just gotten new books from the library (of course, during the power outage, so I couldn't really see what we were picking out) and N was so sad that he couldn't finish them. Luckily we read them this morning. And poor Katie was having a rough afternoon and I had to grade so I had just turned on Elmo's World for her and she was so happy. And then the power went out. Her little face just CRUMPLED. I felt so bad for her.

Anyway, it's kind of crazy this week b/c we have this festival for our students on Weds night and my students are participating so I'm nervous for them. Luckily it will all be over in 2 days. Ugh. My classes are going OK right now, mostly just wrapping up stuff, but the other stuff (college newsletter, HR committee that I joined, annual report) is all getting pushed aside. And I need to blog some more and post the stuff. But that means I need to have power long enough to edit the photos. BAH. It really has been just exhausting. As you know, raising a kid is hard work. Raising two is really tough. And raising them while having a full-time job is crazy. Doing it in another country is running me down. The other day I was just sobbing to R that it was all too much.

But it all also just takes on an air of normality here. People just kind of sigh and move on. In the states, people would just completely FREAK OUT. This is not for the faint of heart.


11/22 Second Tgiving
We celebrated our second Thanksgiving here much as we did the first. We went to our church, where they had lots and lots of American food. Now, I know that Thanksgiving doesn't technically have anything to do with miracles, but as today included an all-day power outage, I was pretty impressed that we still had the feast.

It was pretty cool to have Father Rich welcome people to the celebration and note that this was a first for some, but not all. Now that we're in our second year here, it feels more and more like things are not so weird or bizarre. And it's strange to think that things once were.

Don't get me wrong, there are still plenty of things that don't make sense to me and I often find myself making blunders. But the RMI seems less like an alien place to us these days. And that is indeed something to be grateful for.

11/21 Hospital trip
Today I went to the hospital and spent an incredibly aggravating 2.5 hours there. I needed to go for just a regular check-up, and went this morning to get my chart started so that when I got there at 1 (they only do these kinds of checkups once a week after 1 p.m.), I’d be ready to go.

I arrived at 12:45 and waited patiently by the reception desk for the office. No one was there. About a half hour later, I noticed people going in and out of the office door. So I followed one in, where there was a line forming. OK. I needed to be in here. Noted. I sat back down and continued grading papers. After about a half hour, I asked the lady if she was going to call my name. She said she didn’t have my chart; go to outpatient services.

I headed there and waited at one empty window for about 15 minutes before heading to another window, across the room, that actually had someone in it. There, the woman said she didn’t have my chart either, and did I check the reception at the other office. They don’t have my chart either I said. After some back and forth, she went into another room, picked up a chart and had me follow her back to the office. She handed the file to a nurse and I sat down to wait again. After about another 20 minutes, I asked the nurse why she still hadn’t called my name. She said she still didn’t have my chart. I pointed out that the other woman had given her my chart. No, that chart was for a man.

At this point, I just about lost it. I headed back to outpatient services and the woman looked confused and then said she’d find it. I had had enough, and needed to get back to teach anyway, so I just left.

When I came home, I found Randy and gave him a high-volume, swearing-enhanced version of the story I just told you. R listened calmly to the whole rant, then asked what he could do. I said nothing. I swear to you, this is what he said next to me:
“Oh, there’s also going to be a power outage tomorrow.”

You should have heard the noise that escaped my lips (actually, I’m a little surprised that you didn’t). “WHY would you tell me that NOW?” I screamed at him. “Are you NUTS?”

“I’m sorry,” he said contritely. “Would you like a cookie?”

“DO YOU HAVE ONE?” I asked.

“No,” he confessed.

“WHAT THE (^&*(^&% IS WRONG WITH YOU???” I roared.

Luckily, though he didn’t have a cookie, we did find some chocolate chips. About a half cup later, I began to feel better. And I think R may have learned a little something about the importance of timing.

11/20 Literacy night
Nate’s school had family literacy night today and it was a complete blast. I was a little hesitant about going as Katie had skipped her nap and was pretty cranky, but we headed out with Aue and Anabelle anyway. I brought cab money in case we had to bail.

Co-Op is smart, because they paired the event with the regular, required PTA meeting (when I say required, I’m serious. They charge you $20 if you don’t make it to the event.) so they had great attendance.

After the meeting, we all got a ticket that had 3 fairy tale pictures on them. We were instructed to go to the classroom with the picture next to it.

To Nate’s delight, the first classroom for us was his room, and it was the 3 little pigs. First a teacher read us the story, then the 6th graders did a play based on a re-telling of the story. It was hilarious and the kids were engaging. Nate, unfortunately, was fairly confused throughout, and mostly kept asking loudly where the big, bad wolf was.

Then we were off to a room that had a gingerbread house next to it. Here we were read Hansel and Gretl and then … you guessed it… made gingerbread houses! What a fun activity! Unfortunately, the house didn’t stay together, so we HAD to eat it.

Then the last station was the book “Stone Soup” read by his principal, Miss Kathy. After reading it, she had the students cut up some veggies (little ones got to put the veggies in the pot) for soup. Nate loved the event and practically skipped with me to the car. What a great way to encourage kids and families to read together. What a great school!

11/19 Election day
Today is election day and that has many impacts on many fronts. First thing I noticed is that there were no taxis anywhere to be seen. I don’t know if it was because the taxi drivers were standing in line to vote (apparently voter turnout tends to run around 75% here – people wait in line for 3-5 hours to vote) or if it was because the rain made more people want to ride in the taxis. Either way, we waited for a long time to get Nate to school, and then had to wait a long time to catch a cab from Co-Op to CMI.

When I got to CMI, I found a long line of people already queued up at the campus’ polling station. I couldn’t get over the commitment and patience of these people who were willing to just wait for hours so they could have a voice.

CMI had cancelled classes for the day to encourage people to vote (and also because we didn’t want them to have to step out of line to go to class after waiting 2 hours to vote), so I had to catch yet another cab to a faculty meeting off-campus. After waiting about 15 minutes, I just walked to the place. I was late, and wet, but I got there.
People are already speculating that the unplanned, all-day (power came on at 3 a.m. this morning, BTW) power outage yesterday was actually a move to encourage citizens to vote out the current administration. I gotta say if I could vote, I would have done that. 

11/18 Unplugged
UGH. Today has been an all-day power outage. The power went out at 7:30 and is still off, and it’s dark out. Of course, we never know how long the outages will last, so I was optimistic and decided to take the kids swimming in the ocean. Better than sitting around a hot house, right?

Unless, of course, you come home at naptime with two sandy, salty, cranky kids. To no power and no water. Luckily, the swimming wore them out so they just passed out – Katie literally fell asleep on the floor with her head just on a pillow.

At around 4, we left a message canceling the dinner plans with a friend as we had no power to cook the meal. We then waited around to make sure she got the message and then headed to a local restaurant that had a generator. Luckily, food comes so slowly here in Majuro that that pretty much finished the day. By the time we got home, it was bedtime. We read books by flashlight and lit some candles in the bathroom so that the bedroom wasn’t too dark.

Hopefully, things will get brighter soon.

11/17 Car horns
I was walking with Katie to Aue’s house today when all of the sudden I heard a lot of car horns. And then a bunch of cars drove by, waving Marshallese flags and making lots of noise.

I was completely befuddled. Luckily, one of my students was walking nearby. She explained that the drivers were from one party and were simply trying to encourage people to get out and vote. She said that we could expect more of that throughout the night.

She was right. Throughout the night we’d hear bouts of loud car horns and then silence for a few minutes and then some more car horns.

In the U.S., the run-up to election is obnoxious as candidates revert into car salesmen trying desperately to get people to remember their names. Ads are placed in the papers, on the radio and on TV. You can’t avoid it.

Here it’s similar, but on a much smaller scale. Signs are up all over the island urging people to vote for one party or the other and for one candidate or the other. But as this is a much smaller place, the real campaigning is done at the parties that the candidates throw. Here they serve chicken and rice, hand out T-shirts, buttons, bumper stickers and any other stuff they can think of. All over campus, students wear T-shirts urging people to “Kelet Philip nan Jaluit”. (Elect Philip for/from Jaluit)

Part of the reason why they have this kind of one-to-one marketing is that, well, they can. RMI is a very small place – only about 60,000 people total. But part of it is that the families here are expected to vote for their relatives. Now, in the US, this isn’t a big deal. But here everyone is related, so figuring out who to vote for isn’t a case of trying to determine the platform that you agree with as much as if it’s better to vote for a cousin once removed on your mom’s side or the uncle on your dad’s side. My landlord told me that she has 3 relatives running for seats – and two of them are running for the same senate seat.

This is one time when I’m glad to be an outsider.

11/15 How did I get here?
I had a moment at the faculty in-service where I thought to myself, “How did I get here?”

First some background: the in-service was mostly on teaching techniques based on what some faculty had learned at a conference this summer. Not surprisingly, they stressed collaboration, critical thinking and also active learning. The person who gave the lecture on active learning was a woman from Kiribati, and as the final activity, she taught us a modern dance from Kiribati.

So here I was, in front of my colleagues, doing a dance from Kiribati on Nov. 15, 2007, in the Marshall Islands. It was a strange moment. But also, really, really fun. You can imagine a group of about 50 faculty members trying to do this dance, which was a combination of a hula dance and yoga-type moves. We had lots of laughter and smack talk filling the air.

And though I doubt I’ll remember a step of the dance years from now, I know that I’ll remember how it felt. And perhaps that’s more important.

11/13 Mushrooms
I think I’ve mentioned that it’s been a little rainy here. Everyone is complaining. It’s like Ohio in February. Anyway, today I had proof – PROOF – that the moisture content had reached unprecedented levels.

We have mushrooms growing ON our door.

Swear to God.

What a long, strange trip this has been.

11/10 Tilde tizzy
I went in to school this morning to call my friend Kim on Skype. That’s usually how we make all of our calls as it costs way too much to make just regular phone calls from here. Since R’s computer is the one with Skype on it, I go to his office to use it. R had recently changed the password on his computer, so before I headed over, he reminded me of the new one. He also pointed out that he had left it written on a sticky note in his desk if I got messed up.

So I trotted on over, anxious to hear how Kim and her new baby were doing. When I got to R’s office, I tried to sign in and couldn’t. Tried it a bunch of different ways. Tried using different shift keys. Found the sticky note. Tried it again. Nothing worked.
Frustrated, I headed home. Oh, R said, I might have been signed in using a different password. Try this one, he says, and tells me another one.

So I head back, and try the different one. Nope. That doesn’t work either. I have now used about a half hour of my precious “away from kids” time just trying to get the bleeping computer to work. Now I’m just angry. So I head home and R and I actually recite the password, letter by letter. He gets to the end of it and I say “N” and he says “tilde”. I stared at him, enraged.

“There is no tilde,” I said.

He starts to smile, nervously, as if he’s trying to figure out if he should inch towards the door alone, or with the kids. “There is a tilde,” he says, calmly.

“There is NO TILDE,” I yell. “I looked at the sticky note. NO TILDE.”

“Are you sure it’s not a tilde?” he asks, maddeningly.

At this point, two things become clear to me: 1) there must be a tilde, and that is why the password I have been typing hasn’t worked, and 2) R spends ENTIRELY too much time coming up with passwords.

(The following part has been cleaned up quite a bit as I have removed the numerous swear words that came from my mouth. Feel free to use your imagination to embellish upon these following words.) I point out to him that he has created this incredibly complicated password for a computer that sits in a locked office that often does not even have power. The vast majority of Marshallese who could break in would not be even interested in whatever state secrets rest on his computer. Although I’m sure they’d be just FASCINATED with the results of the latest college survey, I don’t think they’d be able to even navigate Microsoft Excel.

Having said my peace, I stormed off to take a shower. And then stormed in to call Kim, who listened sympathetically to the entire story. But since I’m just that crazy, I have had R scan in the password (tho he insisted on leaving a letter off for security – even though he recently changed his password AGAIN) and would like some email voting on the subject.

So I’ll leave it to you, dear readers. Do you think that’s a tilde? (picture to come when R eventually scans it in...)

11/9 Field trip
Well, today was the long-awaited day of the field trip, and I was just dizzy with nerves. I was particularly afraid of leaving a student behind, of the students not remembering, of forgetting the papers, etc. So when I saw one of my students on campus with short pants, I was even more worried. Where are your pants? I asked him (yet another phrase I never thought I’d say to a student). He pointed to his backpack, flashed me a big smile. “Don’t worry,” he advised.

Good advice. As it turned out, the students showed up at the appointed time at the appointed place. We had a bus driver, and a bus, and all was well. I had even borrowed a camera as our suddenly, inexplicitly was on the blink. On the bus, I explained what we’d be doing and told them again that I’d want a journal entry on the experience on Monday.

When we got the Nitijela, we were met by two nice gentlemen. One of them asked who we wanted to see, and I said the name of the woman who had set up the tour. The other man interrupted and pointed out that I was talking to the speaker of the house. Oops. Yet again, I was barely in the door when I had put my foot in my mouth.

We waited in the main entryway for the tour to begin, and the students roamed around, looking at the artwork on the walls. The paintings all depicted traditional Marshallese legends and were quite beautiful. 

Ten minutes went by. Fifteen. I started to get worried. One of my students said something in Marshallese, and the others laughed. “Marshallese time,” she explained.
Finally, the clerk came and opened up the room where the Nitijela met. It was a gorgeous room, and I took lots of pictures. He did the tour in Marshallese, so I only caught a few things. I did ask him about the design of the room, and he said the late president Amata Kabua created it. It was supposed to mirror the Marshallese legend of brave birds fighting for food.

The students were awed. Most of them had never been inside the Nitijela. The election is in two weeks, so my hope is that the trip instilled them with a sense of hope and responsibility that they will take to the polls. Either way, I know that they had an experience they won’t soon forget.

11/7 Recovering
Against all of my better judgment, I joined the faculty volleyball team this week. Last night, we had our first game against a group of students. I joined up mostly because the faculty recruiter said that we would probably lose early and lose often. That sounded right up my alley. A couple of moments stood out from last night’s game:

1) When a stray dog wandered on to the court and the play had to be stopped so we could get her off, I knew I was still in Majuro.

2) When the comptroller of the college beamed a fellow teammate in the head, I was glad that it wasn’t me. When she hit a different teammate a few minutes later, I learned to keep my distance and my eye on the ball.

3) When I totally blew a hit and the announcer said that I was “on fire”, I knew I was among friends.

4) When I had an amazing save and did a victory dance to the delight of the crowd, I knew what it felt like to be Michael Jordan. 

In the end, we lost both sets by a fairly respectable margin, and mostly just laughed a lot. When Nate said he was sorry that we lost, I pointed out that the most important thing was to have fun, and we certainly did that. Of course, today I’m sore in all sorts of weird spots, but I guess that’s what happens when you pretend to be an athlete.

11/6 Nitijela
In preparation for Friday’s trip to the Nitijela, I took a trip there today as part of my errands. As soon as I pulled in the driveway, it became clear that, even though I was on the capitol grounds, I was still in Majuro.

Cars were parked everywhere. Under the circular driveway awning. In the middle of two parking spaces. On the grass. I was befuddled, and finally decided that parking on the grass was indeed the best place.

I headed in, and asked for the woman who would be leading the tour, Bernice. I was pointed to a hallway. So I went down the hallway, noting the musty smell and the watermarks on the carpet. I didn’t see her name on any doors, so I went in the only open door. Then I noticed that it said “Senator”. Oops. Too late now. The senator was very gracious and walked be to Bernice, making chit-chat along the way. I kept wishing I had washed my hair this morning.

Once I met Bernice, she took me on a quick tour. I asked if McAnthony was in as I wanted to see if we’d be able to check in on Friday. He said he would be in for the tour and, in fact, gave me a quick tour of the place. The tour included a stop at the clerk’s office, where we chatted for about 15 minutes.

I had a meeting at 11, though and I needed to do a few more errands. I kept thinking that this was amazing and all, but I had to get going. And I had no idea how to extricate myself politely. I finally said something about not wanting to take up too much of his time and headed out. Then I flew around town and practically ran to make the meeting on time.

Still, I had met the clerk, taken a tour of the government building and gotten my errands done. Not bad, considering I was only gone about an hour.

11/3 Going with (or without) the flow
We had a power outage yesterday that came in the middle of my shower. As our water pump is electric, I had a little problem rinsing myself off. But I recovered, and so did the power in about a half hour. We considered that a bullet dodged and spent the rest of the day quite grateful for the air conditioning, TV and computer usage.

Then today at around 6 a.m. the power went off again. And didn’t come on until after lunch. And we, of course, were planning on having guests over for dinner. So we did the fire drill once the power came on and were mostly clean and the food mostly started by the time our guests arrived. I have to say that having Katie and Nate dump a huge box of Cheerios over as our guests pulled up did not help. However, we had a nice evening together, despite all bets to the contrary.

It seems as though we’ve had a lot of power outages lately. We’ve had a few in the past three weeks after months of continuous power. It’s kind of part of life in Micronesia, but it also makes every day feel a bit like playing Russian roulette. For instance, I was planning on calling my friend Kim this weekend, but when I went in to the office, the internet had been knocked out by the power and hadn’t been re-set. So no call. Furthermore, I couldn’t go in to the office to work on homework as my office doesn’t have any windows, so it’s rather cave-like with the power out. It means we sit around the house and play games together, which isn’t bad, though as the temperatures rise, so do the tempers.

Hopefully, they’ll get the power under control soon. 

11/2 Best and Worst
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” wrote Charles Dickens in the beginning of his book, A Tale of Two Cities. I had never read the book until about 2 years ago when I decided perhaps I should dig it out and find out what all the hubbub was about. I had always assumed that the beginning lines referred to a single place where things were both bad for some and good for others. Only upon reading it did I realize that Dickens was actually referring to two different cities – London and Paris –  (a more astute reader of the TITLE of the book might have figured that out) where things were good in one place and bad in another.

However, here in Majuro, it truly seems that every day is the best of times and the worst of times all at once.

This morning, for instance, I met with an interim dean to discuss starting up a video journalism segment here at CMI. He was excited and had lots of ideas about the possibilities for our students. I have to admit I was also a little thrilled at being invited on the journey. It’s the sort of project where students could really run with the idea and take it as far as they wanted. The fact that I could help start a program that could continue on its own momentum for years is invigorating. I walked to my office, thinking of all the possibilities here and how much good work could be done here.

Then I ran into a faculty member who told me about a 9th grade student at the local high school who was attacked yesterday in the school’s bathroom. Apparently the faculty member’s grandchild had seen the girl immediately after the attack, so the news was on fairly good authority. Now, I know that those attacks happen in the U.S. all the time. In fact, they’re probably more common in the States. But I immediately thought of Nate and Katie and their safety. And I wanted to get on the first plane out of here.

11/1 The Ride
It's raining cats, dogs and elephants here and so we had a hard time catching a taxi this morning. Nate was jumping up and down in the rain and waving his arms at all the taxis. But they were all full (they beep to tell you that) and kept on going. Each time that happened, he'd get all mad and say DANGIT and make an angry face. I was concerned b/c I thought maybe he was taking this a bit seriously. But then I asked him if he were having fun, and he said yes. What a thespian.

We finally got a cab in to school, though we were late, and I dropped him off with Mr. Robin. Katie and I were waiting for another cab to take us back when this nice Asian lady walked up with an umbrella and offered us a ride. In the States, I would refuse, worried about kidnapping, etc. Here I jumped at the chance. She took us to her car, which had leather seats and looked brand new. We started chatting and she mentioned that she was from Taiwan. Then she said her husband worked at the embassy. OK. That explains everything. She was very nice and dropped us off just a little bit from the babysitter’s.

As Katie and I walked the rest of the way to the babysitter’s, I marveled at how bizarre this place is. I got a ride in to school in a taxi that was just falling apart, driven by a man who may one day hope to make minimum wage. I got a ride back from school in a beautiful chariot driven by a woman who isn't from this country and whose husband makes more money than probably 98% of the natives.

10/31 Happy, happy Halloween
Tonight was Halloween, and I have to say it’s a different experience here. Many of the kids do not dress up, but just use the holiday as an opportunity to mooch candy off people. And they sing “Happy, happy Halloween, Halloween, Halloween, Happy, happy Halloween, Halloween” to the tune of “Mary had a little lamb.” We had been warned about this, so we stocked up with candy just in case.

Sure enough, at about 7:20, we heard the song. And then the neighbor’s dogs barking. And footsteps running away. And then, a little while later, the song again, though from farther away. I opened the door to find about 7 kids, not dressed up, but eager for some candy. I held out the bowl and they emptied it. Luckily, I had planned for this and had put some of the candy in a smaller bowl and just offered that. The kids said thank you and ran away.

This happened about two more times, with various stages of costumes. One of Nate’s classmates stopped by in full costume, along with his sister and cousin. It was a moment of life in America, dropped on our doorstep in Majuro. But then it was gone again. At 8:30, R and I headed to bed, and though we heard the Halloween song a few more times, we were done for the night. Our friends Jim and Aue had about 100 kids during the evening, so I think we got off pretty lightly.

Of course, now we have a big bowl of candy in the refrigerator. And only two kids to eat it. 

10/29 Field Trip
I told my English 101 class that we’d be taking a field trip to the Nitijela today. They reacted to the announcement as if I had said, “Hey guys, on Friday, Nov. 9, we’re going to eat broccoli!” Barely an eyebrow raised.

Now, I didn’t expect cheers or accolades or anything crazy. But maybe a tiny bit of excitement. Maybe even a “Wow” or similar interjection. So I stared at them for a minute trying to figure out what was going on. I asked if any of them had been to the Nitijela before. Nope. Did they think it was a good idea? Should I cancel the trip? No, they said, we should go.

But still. This is a lot of extra work if they’re just kind of OK with it. So I did some asking around. One teacher said that they may be afraid that I’m going to expect something in return (like a 10-page paper on the experience). Another said that they may not expect the trip to really happen. A third pointed out the most disturbing thing of all: That the members of the Nitijela are not necessarily the best role models. Students don’t respect them, so meeting them is not interesting to them.

I have to admit that I hadn’t considered that possibility. Mind you, I tend to hold many politicians in high disregard myself. However, in general, I think that those who dedicate themselves to serving the public are at least worthy of a handshake. 

10/28 Anniversary
I was just sitting at the table thinking that I really was behind on my blogging when I looked at the date. This weekend was our one-year anniversary. It's just incredible to think that we've been here a whole year.

Here's a short list of things I've learned this past year (in no particular order):

1) Always, always check the expiration dates on everything you buy at Payless. Everything.
2) Time and space will alter relationships. There is no doubt that this year has changed many of my friendships. "Catching up" is getting harder and harder.
3) 4-year-olds can be just as stubborn as 36-year-olds.
4) My children have the power to change my mood with a simple hug. (Or a loud NO!)
5) Humans and ants can cohabitate.
6) Our next house will have tile floors.
7) A simple cough can be very scary when you don't trust the health system.
8) Nate never gets tired of walking through puddles.
9) Second children bounce.

10/25 Location, location
I called McAnthony at the Nitijela today to find out if we could indeed do a tour as the end part of our unit on the Nitijela essays. He said it would probably be no problem and directed me to another person who was in charge of the tours. I gave her the dates and times of my proposed field trip and she said that would be no problem.

I asked her for some details, like where to park, where to go to meet her, etc. She asked if I had ever been in the Nitijela before. When I said no, she asked if I knew where the new conference center was. Of course I knew where that was. It was a 3-story structure, which makes it practically a high-rise here. And there was a lot of hoopla about getting it done in time for the Taiwan conference a few weeks ago. So yes, I knew where the conference center was.

Well, she said, we’re right next to that.

That’s even more hilarious as, before the conference center was built, the Nitijela was the most impressive building on island. It’s as tall as the conference center and is shiny. It’s pretty hard to miss. It’s like saying to someone trying to find the Washington monument, “It’s the tall structure next to the Smithsonian…”

After I recovered from that, she said she’d just meet us at the front desk. I’m thinking I need to do a dry run just to be sure…

P.S. a faculty member raised a stink about the cat being in the office. We had to throw her/him out (the cat that is, not the faculty member). No one has seen the kitten since. 

10/24 Good morning
I had heard that the Cleveland Indians had made it to some sort of sports final, and being the person I am, decided that warranted my first call to Davey Tree since I left there a year ago. My former co-worker, Janis, is a pretty huge Indians fan. She and her husband have traveled for many years to Florida to watch the Indians during spring training. She can hold her own in conversations about the game. She actually seems to understand the statistics that go along with any sports conversation.

I know all this because we used to sit near each other, and I would eavesdrop on her discussions with other Davey cohorts. She knew her stuff. And I, of course, didn’t. Occasionally, I’d try to talk to her about the game/team and she was always gracious in my attempts.

Anyway, when I heard the Indians had ALMOST made it to the World Series, I knew I had to call her. So I got up at 2:30 a.m., trudged into R’s office and called her. She was surprised to hear from me, and said that she actually wasn’t angry at the Tribe’s inability to close the deal. I pointed out that since we had left Ohio, the Cavs had made it to some sort of finals, the Democrats had gained back Congress, and now the Indians had almost made the World Series.

Clearly, we should have left long ago.

We had a great conversation, and I headed back home afterwards, glad that I had called.

Of course, I couldn’t fall back asleep once I got back home, but that was beside the point.

10/23 Idea
I had a crazy idea today as I was looking at my English 101 schedule. Now that I’ve cancelled one of our essays to instead do the Nitijela essay, I have a little of play time on my hands. And the unit will end right around the time the essays are due at the Nitijela. So why not do a field trip?

I ran the idea past the dean, and she was enthusiastic. I did the same with the dean of student life and he also thought it was a good idea. And he said he’d help arrange the transportation. So all that’s left is to call the Nitijela and see if they’re on board. What fun this could be! And what a relevant thing to do just two weeks before the general election. Perhaps, just perhaps, the students will be motivated to get out and vote. A girl can dream, can’t she?

10/20 Furry friend
A kitten has shown up in the faculty office, though no one is quite sure how. She (or he – there’s quite a debate going on about that) is very affectionate and not afraid of us at all. She (we’re just going with that for now) is orange and fuzzy and purrs. Life is good with a purring kitten in your lap.

I think its name should be butterscotch. R pointed out that it has a great nickname then: BS. The name makes me smile. Everyone could use a little B.S. in their lives.
I gave her some water today and someone else has brought in food. We kind of pass her back and forth between us between classes. The last one out at night puts her out. It’s a great arrangement for her and us.

10/17 Trying something new
I've noticed some fliers around campus announcing a national writing contest and today decided to force my students to enter. That's just the kind of teacher I am. :) I cancelled the lesson/unit on process analysis essay and have instead decided to do the essay.

The essay, run by someone named McAnthony at the country's government office, the Nitijela, offers students a prize (!) if they win. They just need to write about parliamentary democracy, particapatory democracy or parliament and the people. Unfortunately, I know nothing about the topic.

Time to call in the guest speakers. To start with, the guy who advertised the contest is coming, along with the former attorney general. I'll probably also call in the editor of the paper as he knows a lot about the government here. Who knows? Maybe my students will learn something about their government in the process. Here we go...

10/15 Crazy teacher
I think I've mentioned that I really love my English composition class. The students are just willing to try anything, and I have had a lot of fun trying out lessons that are group-centered and that get them up out of their seats. Today I had a particularly hair-brained lesson that I just have to share.

The lesson was on dependent clauses. For those of you out there who don't know what that means (i.e. you're normal) it's a clause that cannot stand on its own. Like "As I walked to the store today". It can introduce a sentence, but it needs to be followed by a comma and a complete sentence. ("As I walked to the store today, I passed by 6 wild dogs, a goat, 3 pigs and 2 stray cats.")

My friend Ruth had a lesson where she taught the formula for the dependent clauses, including a list of typical words that start off dependent clauses, so I started the lesson there. I had students come up in front of the class and hold up signs showing what the different parts of the sentence were.

Then we did a couple of examples from class, of course using students' names. I've always found this to be a useful technique as it tends to wake everyone up a bit. Then I broke them into groups while they worked on coming up with 3 sentences using dependent clauses. Finally, they wrote their sentences on the board, underlining the dependent clauses.

Fine. But then I got a little crazy. I brought out Nate's water floatie and explained that we were going to do a "speed round". I'd write out the first part of the sentence using someone's name in the class. That student would have to come up in front of the class and do the said activity until someone in the class "saved" him by grabbing the floatie, running up to him and writing the rest of the sentence on the board.

Why the floatie? Well, because dependent clauses can't stand on their own. In fact, I posited, it's a little bit like drowning out at sea. You need someone to rescue you. As I said in the beginning, these students are really up for about anything.

So I wrote the first sentence on the board: "While Sharon sings..." Sharon, with a bit of cajoling, trotted on up. But she refused to sing. Fine. So I sang with her. Nice and loudly. And off-key. Sure enough, someone put us out of our misery and wrote out the rest of a sentence.

For the next sentence I picked on one of my favorite guys. He also refused to do what I wrote. (I had him dancing.) So I pulled out my squirt gun. After all, we're at sea, right? He should be getting wet, right? Just one squirt later, someone rescued him also. Students were falling out of their seats with laughter. I kept thinking, "I can't believe I'm getting paid for this!"

The big test, of course, will come in their next papers and whether or not they remember the rule. My guess is that they'll remember it a lot better than if they had just had a boring lecture on it. But maybe they'll just remember that I squirted them. I'm OK with that, too.

10/12 Pain in the head
This story actually begins yesterday. At least I think it does.

Let me explain. I had my first migraine over the past two days, and I was hating life. The pain was just constant for about 36 hours, and increased when I moved too much or heard loud noises.

Now might be a good time to remind you that we have a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old. Quiet and still are not in their vocabulary. So, granted, my living situation probably contributed to the length of my migraine.

But when it comes to figuring out the source, the trigger, for the migraine, I am convinced that it boils down to two words: Faculty Senate.

Faculty Senate is our chance as a faculty to get together once a month and to try to resolve issues, brainstorm ideas, and act proactively. Notice that I used the word "chance" there. Do not interpret this as meaning that we actually do those things. I once ranted to my brother about this and he relayed the following apt anecdote:

There once was an old priest who was once asked what he had learned from hearing
confession for sixty years.  At first he said, "nothing."  Then he paused, reflected a bit and said, "no, that's not right; I learned one thing.  There are no grownups."

Anyway, after a particularly stressful faculty senate meeting, I started to feel a headache coming on. I made it through my afternoon class, but was in a bunch of pain by the time R came home that evening. And so I continued for the next day or so.

When I finally emerged on the other side, R said we should try to figure out what caused the migraine. Seemed simple enough to me. Faculty Senate. Great. Now I just need a doctor's note, and we're done here.

10/10 Class by the shore
I walked into my Beginning Writing class today and immediately sensed something was wrong. It was stuffy and hot. A-ha. The air conditioner wasn't working. And the room, which usually smells kind of yucky, smelled even worse.

No way we're staying in here. So I wrote a note on a board, sent a student to grab us a picnic table, and we had class outside. The table was in the sun, though, so we moved it to the shade, which happened to be in the direction of the ocean. We were, at this point, a good 15 feet from the ocean.

I had one of those "Life is good" moments as I opened up our book and had class within throwing distance of the great Pacific.

And then a wave crashed up on shore and sprayed some of my students.

I'm definitely NOT in Ohio anymore.

We moved the table away from the ocean and towards the big palm tree. We got a little bit further through the lesson, when ...


A coconut fell within 2 feet of my students. Now, before you all get dismissive, falling coconuts are actually quite heavy and dangerous. I've read numerous reports of people getting head injuries from them. The coconuts you see in the movies are actually incased in a large, heavy shell. When they fall, you don't want to be in their path.

So I paused, asked my students if they thought any other coconuts were ripe and ready to fall. They casually looked up, said we'd be OK, and we went on with the lesson.

But when a giant construction vehicle started up within 100 yards of our picnic table, I knew we were through. My students looked relieved when I said we could go back inside. We ended up in the library, where the air conditioner worked, and where there were no coconut trees in sight.

10/8 Homework stress
When I picked up Nate from Co-Op today, he was crying. He was so upset that I couldn't figure out what he was saying. I asked Mr. Robin, and he also didn't know what was going on.

Finally I got that it had something to do with his homework folder. And that Mr. Robin wouldn't give it to him. I explained that Mr. Robin didn't have any homework for him today.

More tears.

Could he really be crying because he has no homework? I checked my assumption. Yes, Nate cried. I want my homework.

I was flabbergasted. Another mom heard the conversation and started to laugh. She pointed out that I should enjoy this while it lasts. "In just a few years," she predicted, "he won't believe you when you tell him this story."

A-ha. This is a scootcher moment if I ever saw one.

10/4 Birthday party
We had Nate's birthday party at school today, and it was a sight to behold. It was one of those moments where I felt like a complete amateur as a mom. I've never really been to a kid's school birthday party, so I interrogated Mr. Robin on what supplies would be needed.

The list got to be exhausting. Plates, spoons, cakes, ice creams, candles, hats, goody bags, drinks. And of course, I made the mistake of asking what kind of cake Nate wanted. Because he's my son, he chose two kinds. Chocolate and strawberry. I did have the good sense (?) of putting him in charge of decorating the cupcakes.

The goody bags were another source of tension as I couldn't find them anywhere. So R and I were actually wrapping up the gifts in cellophane wrapping paper at 8:30 on the night before the big event. Then I discovered that we had run out of granola bars (I know, we're horrible parents. Everyone else gives out candy in their goody bags. We gave out granola bars and fruit snacks) so at 8:45 I was in a taxi on my way to Payless to get more goodies. I spied some Halloween bags. They'll do, I decided.

Melissa, our babysitter, sized up the situation early on and volunteered her services. Aue was also conscripted as Nate really wanted Anabelle to come to the party. So this morning at 8:45, Aue and Anabelle helped load up all the stuff in the car, then swung by to pick up Melissa and Katie before we all headed to Co-Op.

Once we got everything out and the kids started singing Happy Birthday and eating, it was all good. Mr. Robin put out a special chair and table for Nate and he seemed to be enjoying the attention. Katie, for her part, loved being with the big kids, and Anabelle also seemed to be having a great time.

Between handing out cupcakes and taking pictures, I did manage to get over to Nate to ask if he was having a good time. "Mama," he said, "This is my best birthday ever."

Sigh. Maybe I'm not such an amateur after all.

P.S. Aue taped the whole event, so those who say they're interested can probably get a copy (Boerners and Grandma and Grandpa will automatically get a copy as we're assuming you want to see it.).

10/2 Open mouth, insert foot
So as I might have mentioned, the bread from Gary, Ruth and Steven was really quite good. Gary's office is right across from mine, so I stopped by today to mention how much we enjoyed it. And I had an idea, I said. Maybe Ruth could come by sometime and show me how to make that bread, since she clearly knows what she's doing.

Short pause from Gary. "Umm. Yeah, she could do that."

Slowly the gears turned in my head. Wait a minute. Didn't Gary work at a bakery? Oh no!

"Gary, did you make the bread?"

Sheepish smile from him. As if HE had made the sexist comment here.

I started tripping over myself to apologize. He was gracious, of course, and said he'd be happy to show me how to make the bread sometime. I tried to end the conversation gracefully.

Now mind you, I really pride myself on my non-sexist views. Randy and I both do the chores. We both cook. We make a point of telling the kids that both men and women do the work in the house. I'm not the kind of woman who thinks that women are the only ones who bake.

Except, apparently I am.

A few days later, I approached Ruth to ask if she had heard about my faux pas. She looked at me blankly. After I relayed the story, she laughed and said, "Here was his version of the story: 'Jennifer said she'd like to learn to make bread.' "

Clearly I have much to learn from Gary and Ruth.

9/30 Guests
We had invited some friends over for dinner today, and they were even planning on bringing the food. This is the best of both worlds for me: I just had to clean (and we really needed to) and someone else did the cooking. Plus the kids would have all their toys to entertain them.

So we scrubbed and mopped and cleaned and took away the trash. The house looked great. The kids took nice naps. We were all looking forward to the impending visit.

And then Nate woke up from his nap and promptly threw up everywhere.

I checked the clock. Fifteen minutes before Gary, Ruth and Steven were to arrive. I took a quick taxi ride to their house to warn them of the bacterial soup they'd be walking into. They wisely agreed that it'd be best to stay at home.

But not before giving us some homemade bread (!) and soup. God bless them.

Nate spent the next 36 hours looking pale and pitiful. But we have some bread. Some really, really good bread.

9/28 Coincidence
Today is an important day. In fact, it's so important, that the whole island is celebrating.

Today, Nate turned 4 years old.

They had a festival downtown, complete with a dance done by his whole school, Fijian dancers and even some speeches by dignitaries.

I gotta say, it's good to see that my boy gets the respect he deserves.

Of course, the fact that Nate's birthday coincides with Manit (or custom/heritage) day could be a contributing factor. Maybe just a tiny bit.

So we headed out to Alele, where the national museum is and where the festival was going on. Jim and Anabelle were going that way too, so we all walked up together. The place was pretty crowded and when we got there, some important man was chattering away on a microphone.

The crowd, of course, was completely ignoring what he had to say. We got some chicken from a vendor and sat down to watch Nate's classmates do a traditional Marshallese dance. Since Nate only had one day of practicing the dance, he didn't want to join them.

It was hot, though, and the chicken we bought was decidedly undercooked. So we headed home shortly after the dance and spent the rest of the day indoors.

I spent some time wondering over Nate. How big he is, how much he's learned, how much he loves his sister.

And how lucky we are that he came to us.

9/27 Waldorf salad
One of our friends here has a DVD collection of the British sitcom Fawlty Towers, and R and I have been working our way through the shows. It’s really quite useful to have TV shows on DVD as the TV here is (as I’ve said before) fairly hit or miss. So each evening R and I pop in a show and laugh until we hurt or wake up Katie, whichever comes first.

A recent episode included John Cleese trying to please a rude American who wanted a Waldorf salad. I won’t go into all the details as these situations always lose a little something in the summary, but suffice it to say that Cleese has a hard time giving the American what he wants. At one point (actually, several, I think) the American screams that he JUST WANTS A WALDORF SALAD.

Now that we’re entering week #3 without eggs anywhere on island, I have to say that I side with the American on this one. The first week without the eggs, I just shrugged it off. Last week, I started having a harder time finding recipes that didn’t include the eggs. R also started experimenting with dried egg whites. This week, when my second trip to the store proved fruitless, I felt like just losing it. Throwing myself on the ground, kicking, screaming, tearing my hair out, the whole works. Perhaps this thought was a sign that I’ve been spending a little too much time around my 4-year-old.

But now things are getting a little hairy. Nate’s birthday is tomorrow and though we haven’t set an official celebration day/time, I’m pretty sure a cake of some sort will be involved at some point in the near future. So for all of you out there who keep asking me what you can send, here’s my answer: Eggs. Send them.

Maybe just use lots and LOTS of bubble wrap.

9/26 Sticking out
Nate’s Co-Op school newsletter came home with him this week and I noticed in it the following graph:

Nationality/Ethnic Background

Number of Students









Marshallese-New Zealand






























Solomon Islands












So. I’ve been saying for a while that one of the best things about Co-Op is its diversity. I think the fact that Nate is only one of FOUR “American” students at his school kinda tells the story.

9/24 Manit day
This Friday is Manit (or culture/heritage) day, so Nate’s school is devoting time each afternoon this week to Manit. Unfortunately, it’s every afternoon, so Nate isn’t going to participate in any of it. So when they asked for volunteers to help out, I volunteered, thinking I’d bring Nate and inject a little Manit into his little world. Since Anabelle is also going to Co-Op, this meant that N & A could hang out together at school and also that Aue and I would have some time to hang out while volunteering.

So we all met at school and, while N & A played on the playground, Aue and I sat in the shade. She tried to teach me how to make a ball out of palm leaves, and though she was an excellent teacher, I think my attempts were fairly sad.

When things began, Nate’s group (paired with older kids) got to learn a traditional Marshallese dance. Nate was less than enthusiastic, or perhaps just sleepy, so I ended up doing the dance with him. Apparently the dance was about fishing and we did motions of rowing, pulling in a fishing net, and looking to the horizon.

Then we were off to tattooing, where N & A got multiple traditional Marshallese tattoos. Nate got a shark and a wave, and Anabelle got a crab and a shark. Since I’m just a big kid, I also got one. I’m not sure what it meant, so I told my students that a rough interpretation of it was, “All grades are final.”

9/22 Moment in the Sun
R and I were watching a special on Amelia Earhart this week on the Nat’l Geo channel. I was really interested in the mystery of AE’s disappearance when I was a little girl, so I enjoyed the show quite a bit. I hadn’t realized how close we were to her spot of disappearance and during the show, we started joking that pretty soon they were going to mention the RMI.

And then they did. Apparently there’s a group of people who believe that AE’s plane actually landed here in the RMI and even some eyewitnesses who said they saw a white woman pilot during that time period. And then up pops Alfred Capelle, the RMI’s ambassador to the U.N., saying that he believes it also. And all these sweeping shots of our home. So bizarre.

So I trot into work the next day and ask the Marshallese history teacher here (her office is diagonal to mine) what she knows about this. Her father-in-law was apparently one of the witnesses who claimed to have spotted Amelia. Crazy.
I’ve always only heard of the RMI in relation to the Bikini tests; I had no idea there were other connections. My guess is that as time goes on, I’ll find more and more connections to these isolated islands.

9/19 Pure water
As drinking water is in short supply here, R and I have gotten into the habit of bringing in a bottle of water every day. Buying new bottles of water is expensive and wasteful, though, so we just wash the bottles out, fill them with water from home and reuse them.

So today I was drinking from one of those bottles and I had gotten almost to the end of the bottle. Out of curiosity, I looked into it. At the bottom was a dead bug.


I’d been drinking from this water for at least a day so it’s fair to say that somewhere in my intestines is some decomposing bug. Now, I know that bugs get into everything and all of us at some point in our lives have digested some bugs. Insects outnumber us like 30 to 1, so the chances of something falling in sometime somewhere are quite high.

But still.

So I turned to a brand new bottle of water, with its cap still wrapped in plastic. Tried to pry the plastic off. The bottle squirted all over me. Mind you, the cap and the plastic wrapper were still ON. Unbelievable.

I feel like I’m being smited by all things water. And let me tell you, that’s not a good feeling when you live about 100 yards from the Pacific Ocean at all times.

9/17 Kid update
Since you’re reading this, you know that I have the cutest, smartest, kindest kids in the universe. And I’m going to assume you agree with me, unless you’re a parent or a grandparent with kids of your own. But otherwise, you’re on my side and are official members of the Nate/Katie fan club.

If you’re still on the fence, here’s some evidence to sway you:
Nate has become quite the little helper in the kitchen. He loves to help set the table, mix ingredients and help out in any way. Usually having him help out is a bit dangerous as he usually mixes with great… um…. gusto, so cleaning up is always part of the equation.

He adores his little sister and today spent some serious time tickling her tummy, much to her delight and mine. He’s doing great in school and usually comes home with a sticker or stamp from his teacher for being good. The other day he did get a time out. But Mr. Robin told me that after he explained to N what he did wrong, Nate said he was sorry and then shook Robin's hand. What a cutie.

Katie is learning things at an alarming rate. Some of her recent tricks include: hugging on demand (so cute to see her and Nate hugging) blowing kisses and giving wet, slobbery kisses on the face, saying Ba Ba (Papa), Nay (Nate), oof oof (dog), Coo COO! (Blue’s Clues – usually with the hand gesture they do on the show). She also is practically running these days and has learned how to climb the couch. This makes life a lot more hectic and scary for mama and papa.

She also likes to pick up and will often pitch in when we’re cleaning. I am especially grateful for this ability as I have less time these days to clean. She loves to brush her teeth (SCREAMS when we take the toothbrush away from her) and loves to take a bath. Whenever we announce it’s bathtime, she walks quickly down the hallway, clapping her hands. The trick is to get to the bathtub before she climbs in it.

I swear, just keeping up with these two is a serious workout.

9/15 Observed
One of the things we’re trying to do here at CMI is talk to each other. I know it sounds crazy, but if you’ve worked at a college, you know that teachers rarely eek out time to share what’s working/not working in the classroom. So we’re working on changing that here.

For instance, for my Eng 101 composition class, I meet biweekly with the other instructor and share what I’m doing in my class. I learn a lot from these meetings and frequently walk away with ideas to try out in my classroom. Usually my friend who teaches Eng 102 (Eng Comp II) attends also, so she gets an idea of what her future students are learning. It’s a great system and though it adds another meeting to my busy schedule, the time is well-spent.

My other classes, Intermediate listening and speaking and Beginning writing, are in the “developmental” track, which means that the students don’t have the listening, speaking or writing skills yet to take college-level English courses. So in these classes, we have very specific goals to try to get them up to speed, so to speak.

Anyway, one of my friends teaches another beginning writing class and asked if I’d be interested in observing him and having him observe me. Great idea, I said. I could use help with these classes as I feel like they’re boring and I need a better plan.
Earlier this week I attended one of his classes. He had them playing a modified version of Taboo, which was fun for them and also got them working on their vocabulary. The students really got into it and I couldn’t wait to steal his idea and try it in my class.

But then he needed to observe me, and I just didn’t have any brilliant ideas for the class he’d be observing – beginning writing.

So I cooked up this lesson on prepositions as that’s one of the parts of speech that they need help with. I started out with a short overview of prepositions, and I had them identify some prepositions in a few sentences. Then I got a little nuts. I read “Green Eggs and Ham” and asked them to stand up every time they heard a preposition. If you remember the book, you can imagine the workout inherent in this exercise.

A few of them stood up (one of them even did a little dance!), and in general I think they got the idea. Finally I handed out some of Nate’s little superhero action figures and told them to write sentences using the superheroes and prepositions. It was a fun class, and I think they have a better handle on prepositions. I guess only time will tell.

9/14 Telling stories
In my English Comp class, we're heading into the narrative paper, so to introduce the topic, I instituted a quick competition. Write down your favorite story, I instructed my students. When you're finished, we'll share the stories and then vote on our favorites.

The Marshallese have a strong oral tradition, so I thought this would be a good exercise. Sure enough, the students wrote happily for a good 20 minutes. Then we began sharing the stories. There were the predictable legends, some I had heard before, some I had not. A few moral tales, and a few jokes. Here was the story that the class in the afternoon voted as their favorite:

Four fishermen went out to sea: an American, a Chinese, a Marshallese and a Japanese. The American pulled out an apple and, after taking a bite or two, threw it overboard. The Chinese man was horrified. "Why did you throw that away?" he asked. "We could have eaten the rest of it."

"We grow lots of apples in my country," the American replied. "It's easily replaced."

So then the Japanese man pulled out a calculator, and began doing some formulas. When he was done, he threw his calculator overboard. Again, the Chinese man asked why. "We make lots of calculators in my country," the Japanese replied. "I could get another one easily."

The Chinese man took out his lunch and began eating it with chopsticks. When he was done, he threw his chopsticks overboard. The Marshallese man asked him why he did that, for they could have washed the chopsticks and reused them. "We have lots of chopsticks in our country," the Chinese man said. "I could get more."

So that left the Marshallese man, who had nothing. He looked around him, and finally grabbed the Chinese man and threw him overboard. "Why did you do that?" the Japanese and American asked.

"Well, we have lots of them in my country..." the Marshallese man replied.

9/12 Reunited
Jim, Aue and Anabelle finally returned from their vacation yesterday, and Nate was ecstatic. They had actually planned to be back much sooner, but the Air Marshall Islands planes had some technical difficulties and have been grounded. So, consequently, Jim, Aue and Anabelle, stayed in Kiribati about 2 weeks longer than expected.

Anabelle jumped right back into her life here and began school at Co-Op today. Nate couldn't wait to tell everyone that she was coming. I'm serious. He RAN to tell the principal that Anabelle was coming and even flagged down an Army guy to tell him that Anabelle would soon be attending the school.

Unfortunately, because of the age-cutoffs, she's in the afternoon class and he's in the morning class. So they don't actually see each other at school. But any school events (dances, parties, etc.) will include both of them. All the same, Nate's thrilled that she's at the same school now and has the same teachers. I guess it gives them one more thing to talk about.

9/11 Our big break
We've been sick so often lately that it's just felt like a constant barrage of germs. I finally started feeling better on Sunday, though I'm still coughing like a chain smoker. So I told R that my prayer for the next few days was that we would all be healthy for just 3 weeks.

It seemed like a good, even reachable, goal. Until, of course, R and Nate took a spill on their bicycle on the way to school today. Nate was fine, though a bit shaken. He just had a small scrape on his arm and was satisfied with a Bob the Builder band-aid.

R, however, was holding his arm gingerly and looked a little pale. He also had a pretty decent case of road rash on his leg. So after fixing Nate up, I declared that a trip to the hospital was in the cards. He agreed, and we all headed out.

Luckily the X-ray showed that R did not break any bones. They determined that it was a deep muscle bruise. So essentially it hurts like the dickens and he had nothing to show for it except a sling.

All the same, he and N took a pretty big spill and they both walked away from it with just some bruises. As I told my friend Kim, we've been praying for a big break. We just weren't expecting that prayer to be answered literally.

9/9 Happy day
Kim's baby, Evelyn Delano, was born today. Actually, she was born a day ago on 9/7 at 2 a.m. Baltimore time. I can't work out the math exactly, but I think that means sometime around Saturday morning here. Friday was Dri-Jerbal day here, or worker's day, so I like to think that Kim had her baby on the RMI's labor day.

I was in a darkened office (couldn't figure out how to turn on the lights) when I got the news. Evelyn Delano. What a beautiful name for a beautiful child. Just shortly after I read the email from Michael, a church bell began to ring.

I practically ran home with the news, and showed Nate and R the picture of the cutie pie. Then I burst into tears, of course, because I was here and she was there and there was so much space and time between us. And I can't even call Kim because I don't know what hospital she's at, or how to reach her. So all I can do is write an email response, send it and wait.

The metaphorical message in a bottle. So fine. If I'm going to write a message and send it out to sea in the hopes that it reaches little Evelyn's hands, here's what I'll write:

Dear Evelyn,
You are a lucky little baby because you have lots of people who already love you, some of whom you've met and some you haven't. Over the next few days and weeks, you're going to have lots of visitors and lots of bright flashes in your face. Everyone's going to want to hug you and kiss you and welcome you into this world. It's all going to be very overwhelming and you should feel free to nap whenever you want.

You're at a good point because everything you do will be declared cute for the next few weeks. Milk it for all it's worth. In particular, put on a good show for those grandparents. Try to look them in the eye or smile or gurgle or something. It'll pay huge dividends later. Trust me on this one.

Be patient with your parents. They're new at this also. Give them a good 3 minutes of trying something before you start screaming. And please. Sleep. Sleep early, and sleep long. That will let your parents sleep, and they'll be much more able to do complicated things like breathe and walk at the same time.

But most of all, grow. Grow healthy and strong. Do all the usual cute stuff, and do it when your parents have a camera around. Because, for now, that's the only way I'm going to know you. So smile for the camera, baby. And I'll pretend you're smiling just for me.


9/8 When I grow up...
Earlier this week, Nate's Co-Op school had its first PTA meeting, so being the dutiful mother, I went to the meeting. Of course, if I didn't go to the meeting, I knew I'd get hit with a $20 fine, so I was dutiful and thrifty, I guess.

Anyway, after the meeting, we all adjourned to our kids' classrooms where the teachers were waiting to give us a little tour. Nate's teacher, Mr. Robin, had recently polled the students on what they wanted to be when they grew up. I anxiously searched for Nate's name, and proudly read what he had said: Teacher.

I waited for the appropriate moment and asked him about his choice. Why did you choose teacher, buddy? I asked happily. "Because I want to be just like you," he replied.

Whoa. That's a little scary. But he went on. "But mama, I'm too little to be a teacher, so when I grow up, can you come with me when I go to teach?"

He can be so cute sometimes.

9/7 Adjusted
When I took her to the babysitter today, Katie leaned over to her and held her arms out to the babysitter. It was a great moment, because I knew Katie was OK with the situation and that all would be well.

Nate, for his part, is also now excited about the babysitting situation. You see, after school ends for him, and he has lunch and nap, he goes to the babysitter with Katie while I head to my afternoon class. Waiting for him at the babysitter's are two of his classmates. So it's not so much being babysat as a playdate every day.

I really really want to be 4 again.

9/5 Going downhill
I'm getting super sick here, complete with fever, cough, chills and flu-like symptoms. And my new schedule is such that this is the worst day to be sick. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I teach 3 classes, so I'm at school essentially from 8:30 - 5 p.m. It's a tiring day without sickness, so I'm staring down a miserable day.

By the time I reached my last class of the day, I was barely making sense. In fact, two of my students had to remind me about a homework assignment that I had given out. I debated canceling my classes, but that would mean I'd be behind. Easier to just push through as best as possible. Luckily my students were sympathetic, or just were willing to muddle through with me.

But then I went home to my other job, and was just hating life. The worst thing about Wednesdays is that R has a class, so he wasn't home until 6:30. He's a smart man, though, and immediately assessed the situation when he came home. Sent me straight to bed. Then he got up with Katie in the night so I could keep sleeping.

Of course, he was looking a bit worse for wear in the morning, but I felt a tiny bit better.

9/4 When the Saints Come Marching in
The U.S.S. Peleileu is currently in the harbor in Majuro, and I can honestly say that I am so proud of our men and women in uniform. The crew of Peleileu is essentially on a giant public relations trip, and they're doing work the whole time they're here.

A nearby school is getting a brand new basketball court. CMI is getting some work done on its IT system. Perhaps most importantly, playground equipment is being installed near CMI. All over the island, projects that have been stalled, needing expertise not usually available, are suddenly getting done.

Apparently this is essentially the mission of the ship: to travel around the world doing projects. The crew is filled with engineers, doctors, optometrists, veterinarians, etc., so they're also taking care of the medical needs of many of the islanders. It's just amazing to watch what a difference the crew has made.

They even gave a few short concerts. In my sickness haze, I forgot about one of them, and when I opened the front door to throw out some trash, I heard the music. I quickly collected Nate, popcorn and water (why not, right?) and ran over to the campus. The band was playing "When the saints go marching in" and they were having so much fun. At one point, they actually ran off the stage and ran around the crowd. Nate was fascinated. At the end of the concert, they handed out some pencils to the kids.

It occurred to me that this is Nate's first contact with the U.S. armed forces. And this is what he's seen: They've installed a new roof at his school. They gave a concert and played lots of fun music. They brought playground equipment for him to play on. Quite simply, they're heroes. And I'm so glad that they're wearing our flag on their arms.

8/31 New class
So I was offered another class today to make up for the journalism class that was cancelled. It's a class called beginning writing, and it's in the developmental level, which means that the students are working on their reading/listening comprehension and working on basic writing skills.

Sounds right up my alley. My students, for their part, seemed game to switch teachers more than a week into the semester. I told them I wasn't sure what text we'd be using, what kind of assignments we'd have, etc. I'd get them a new syllabus on Monday.

So now I have three preps; all classes I've never taught before. Am I scared? Nah. Really, what do I have to lose?

8/26 Bacon, Eggs and Grubs
As anyone who has ever met my father can attest, he was a Southern boy, and proud of it. He grew up in the lowlands of South Carolina, attended the Citadel and loved his grits. He passed on that last passion to me and my brother, and our first food was the mushy stuff.

When we got older, we enjoyed the beauty that is bacon, eggs and grits a few times a year. Even after my father passed away, it became a Christmas morning tradition to have the concoction before opening presents.

Now I wanted to introduce Katie and Nate to the delicacy. So I was thrilled when I found some grits on one of the supermarket shelves. AND, the store had bacon. It seemed that the stars were aligning for the blessed event.

So it was with much dismay that I dumped the grits down the drain after spotting numerous bugs in them. Especially since I had already mixed the precious water and salt together in preparation for the grits. I have to admit, for a minute I did contemplate actually picking out the bugs and cooking the grits anyway. But I wasn't that desperate.

That's when R suggested that we make rice with the leftover water. Here, rice is often served for breakfast, so why not try it as a grits substitute? I have to admit, aside from the serious texture issues, the rice was good as a stand-in. And the really great news is that rice is always available, so now we can have the yummy breakfast whenever we want.

And whenever we need the extra protein, we know where to find it.

8/25 Bye, bye Barry
Today Barry left to begin a new life in the United States. Saying goodbye to him was actually much harder than I expected, and I found myself crying as we drove away from the airport. I told R that it wasn't just that I'd be missing Barry as a person. It was that his presence here made me feel a bit more protected.

Flying, as we are, without so many nets, we need every little bit of help we can get. And Barry and Beth were great resources and a harbor in the storm here for us. It's hard to explain how disorienting life can be here sometimes, and it's really important to have a strong community to keep you sane. They were among our first friends here and worked hard to help us put down roots on this rocky island.

As I explained all this to R, he listened sympathetically and said he'd miss Barry also. But, he pointed out, there would be new people arriving on the island soon, and maybe we'd find some new friends among them. "And," he said, "Maybe WE could be THEIR Barry and Beth."

I gotta believe that Barry and Beth would think that's a great tribute.

8/24 Cancelled
My journalism class was cancelled today. I started off the semester with only 3 students, which is actually below the standard for enrollment. But I argued that it was an important class, so it should go ahead. The administration agreed with me, so they kept it open.

But yesterday, one of my students dropped the class, so we were down to two. Granted, they're GREAT students, highly motivated and engaged already. But there's just two of them. So now we're into conversations about how best to do the paper (as a club? an outgrowth of the student leadership group?) and how I can pick up credits now that I'm teaching just 3 classes (4 is full-time).

What a mess. And just so discouraging. My hope is that I'll have a clearer picture of the role of a student newspaper on the campus in the coming months. And also what my role is to be here.

R and I have had numerous conversations about what we're supposed to be doing here. I just can't believe that we're just here to teach and work. There's got to be a bigger reason, purpose to our time here. I thought maybe it was to start a student newspaper. And it still may be. But it's just all very muddled for now.

8/23 Happy Birthday, baby
I actually smelled Katie before I heard her tonight. It was around 1 and as I fought through layers of sleep, my nose told me something was wrong. Very, very wrong. Sure enough, when I finally awoke, Katie was standing up in her crib, crying and very yucky.

So I changed her diaper, her clothes, my clothes, wiped down the changing mat and waited for her to fall asleep again. While drifting with her, it occurred to me that today was her birthday. And I began reminiscing of the past year's events. And thinking about her birth a year ago. Notwithstanding the international date line, time zones and the like, at that point about a year ago, I was heading to the hospital. Just a few short hours later, she'd be born.

Babies are such miracles, I thought, and I kissed her head. Partly because I was just overwhelmed with love for her, and partly because it was the only part of her body that I was pretty sure was clean. So we headed back to bed.

She woke me up about 10 minutes later. Started doing this weird thing with her mouth. Oh no. About three steps into my flight out of the room, she threw up all over me and her. So I asked R to bring a new outfit for me and her and meet me on the couch.

I remember before I had Nate, one of my co-workers forwarded me an email that began "You know you're a parent when..." and one of the items was: "When your child throws up, you actually try to catch it." I was utterly repulsed by the thought. Tonight, when I actually pressed her to my chest as she hosed me, I thought of that list. And of all the bodily fluids I've cleaned up, washed and wiped over the year. Was I grossed out at times? Absolutely. Being a parent is not for the faint of heart.

But I would walk through fire for my kids. So really, what's a little stomach bile in the big scheme of things? I kissed her head gently and we headed back to bed again.

8/20 First day for me
The day started off great. Katie, miraculously, slept through the night, nursed quietly at five and fell back asleep. I laid in bed, enjoying the forgotten feeling of being well-rested. At around 6:30, Nate got up, and Katie followed soon afterwards.

And we were off to the races.

I dropped Katie off at the sitter's, bravely trying to ignore worries that she'd be OK. When I left, neither she nor the babysitter were crying, so I figured that was a good sign. I headed in to school.

Now, when I was handed the key to my office last week, it consisted of two bookshelves and a desk. Oh, and some trash and folders from the previous occupant. No computer. No chair. No pencils. So I did some light cleaning, got a chair and decided to ignore it.

When I went into the office today, I was surprised to see that office supplies hadn't magically appeared. After a bit of asking around, I found that I needed to ask for office supplies from a particular office. Fine. Marched down there.

Being familiar with the way things work in Majuro, I decided to start small. Any pencils?


Hmmm. This isn't going to go well. When I walked out with about 7 file folders and nothing else, I realized I would have to take matters into my own hands.

Luckily, right across the hallway from me in the faculty offices was a buddy who had extras. This time, my booty included pens (!), Post-It notes, binder clips and glue (not sure what I'll use it for, but he was on a roll at this point. I did, however, decline on the googly-eyes. I'm not crazy. Just desperate.). In return, I gave him a mashed-up bag (snack-size) of M&Ms. He seemed to think it was a fair trade.

Then I was off to class. I marched in and began taking roll (always interesting here; students have names like Handsome, Iaseia, and Gjergevich). Suddenly, I realized I had no pen. A bit later I realized I didn't have the textbook. Oh, and the room had no clock. So I asked a student to signal at the appointed time. Luckily, I was at the end of the syllabus when he waved.

Phew. One class down, 31 or so to go.

8/19 All-out Assault
There's a war going on at our house. It's not kid vs. kid. Or even kid vs. adult. It's kids vs. rugs. In fact, my husband, who sure can turn a phrase, described it as an all-out assault on our carpets.

It started out last week when N had a stomach flu and we were... um... a little slow in the diagnosis. Then Katie has a horrible diaper rash, so we've been trying to give her some "bare-bottom" time to help clear things up. So far, she's managed to hose down both couch sheets, a bath mat, the welcome mat, and numerous clothing items (hers and ours). Nate also has gotten into the spirit of things and has a bathmat and some clothing items to his name.

Makes me think we should just go ahead and get a puppy while we're at it.

At lunch today, after cleaning up the floor, Katie and a bath mat, R pointed out that he was heading back to work. "Don't get me wrong," he said with a hint of a giggle, "this has been lots of fun." Before he left, I made him promise, PROMISE to return.

8/17 A Project for the Future
CMI is working very hard on updating its facilities, and today they had the dedication of a new dorm here on campus. I went to the opening because I wanted to cover it for the college newsletter, Jitdam Kapeel (different from the student newspaper, the JK is mostly for staff and administration). I was amazed at the pomp and circumstance that went along with a simple ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Apparently more dignitaries showed up at the ceremony than they had expected, so CMI president had to ask each of them to speak. The result was an event that veered seriously from the agenda and also ran a bit longer than expected. But it also showed how many members in the community had a finger in the project.

I dutifully took pictures of everyone speaking (I think there were close to 7 by the end of it) and then practically ran after Father Rich to get a picture of him sprinkling holy water on the dorm rooms. The dorms are really nice, and it's great to see a project finished here. Granted, it was almost a year behind schedule, but apparently it's been made with materials that will last, for the most part, up to 30 years in this harsh environment.

The architect pointed out that in 30 years, the dorm will probably be torn down, not because it is wearing down, but because the design will be outdated. At that point, perhaps it will be a current student of CMI who will design the new dorm. It's a great thought -- perhaps even a student who sleeps in the dorm tonight will one day fulfill that dream.

8/16 Bacon baby
My brother-in-law Micah is famous for his love of bacon. It's actually become a running joke between us and I think he considered it a personal victory when R and I began eating bacon again. For Christmas one year, I gave him bandages that looked like little strips of bacon.

Anyway. I was having some bacon today and had the following conversation with Katie. I'm thinking she's been talking to her Uncle Micah a bit too much.

8/15 First day of school
Nate's first day of school was today. He traveled in style -- riding in the child seat on the bicycle while R pedaled away. Of course, we forgot to pick up a new helmet in the states, so he wore Anabelle's old one, which is completely pink with pretty flowers on it. But he didn't care.

When I picked him up at 11:30 (the 4-year-old class is all morning long), he seemed in high spirits and said he enjoyed his first day. I had made him a cake to celebrate, but he was so bad at lunch that the cake had to be delayed until dinner time. Oh well. It was good when we ate it (and, incidentally, so was Nate).

8/13 Dropping in
The other night I was nursing Katie on the couch when Nate pointed out a gecko on the ceiling. No big deal. They're all over our place these days, and they don't harm anything.

But then the gecko started moving towards my side of the room. Pretty soon it was directly over my head. I tried to be cool, but I also know that geckos often lose their grip and fall from the ceiling. I imagined that happening on me/Katie.

So I casually moved to the other couch, but R noticed and teased me a bit. How many times has a gecko fallen on you? he queried. There's always a first time, I thought.

Imagine my amusement when he returned from a trip to Jim and Aue's house and reported that he opened a cupboard and a gecko fell on his shoulder. Serves you right, I thought.

Then someone stopped by the other day and when I opened the door, I felt something drop on my foot. Yep. I'd been gecko'd too.

8/11 Katie update
Just a short entry to say that Katie is officially walking. She doesn't crawl at all anymore, and the other day, she actually pushed Nate out of her way as she walked down the hallway. Looks like we're off to the races here.

She also says a pretty decent "Hi" (complete with wave and sometimes blowing kisses) and "mama". She's working on "dada" and maybe "Na-na," which I think is Nate. Or maybe she's just a fan of Sha-na-na. Tough to say.

8/10 Aloha
Our community of friends here is shrinking by the second.

First Francine, Jerry and Mitchy left, which was tough, but made easier by the fact that we were soon going on vacation. Now that we're back, I'm missing them more. Every time I hear a car with a squeeky fan go by, I think it's Francine.

Then while we were on vacation, we got an email from our friends Beth and Barry that they had accepted jobs in the states and would be leaving the RMI. Beth, unfortunately, was already in the states, so our goodbye to her would have to be electronic. Barry would be in Majuro when we returned, so we could say goodbye to him in person.

B&B were integral to us coming here and have been a big part of our lives here. It was Barry who first spotted our house and helped us move in. Beth watched the kids while we visited the house and watched Katie for me while R was gone last December. Saying goodbye to them was not in our plans and is painful. The bright spot is that their home in the U.S. is not more than a day's drive from ours. So we'll cross paths again in the future.

We knew our friend Dave was leaving for Hawai'i to pursue a Ph.D., but it didn't really hit us that he was leaving until we came back and he was practically packing his bags. Dave has been a fixture at our house and his witty banter about all things Majuro has kept us in stitches and also helped us navigate a culture we don't entirely understand. He's going to be back for visits as he still has a relationship with the college, but it won't be the same.

When Francine said that she got sick of saying goodbye to friends, I didn't know what she meant. Now I'm beginning to get it. Tonight Dave stopped by to say goodbye, and I got all teary-eyed when he left. I just don't know how many more goodbyes I have in me.

8/9 Spirited discussion
One of the duties of today's discussion was to work on institutional student learning outcomes; essentially what we wanted our graduates to know, think and believe when they left CMI. As you can imagine, it was a spirited discussion as the faculty wrestled with the serious question of our goals here.

One of the women at my table pointed out the difficult time that graduates of CMI have if they want to go on to get a higher degree. She said that she had interviewed one woman who was going to University of Hawai'i. This woman (let's call her Jane) said that she wasn't giving her number out to Marshallese people in Hawai'i, because they all wanted to borrow money from her.

And then Jane had trouble renting a place in Hawai'i because the landlords had had bad experiences with Marshallese in the past, where they had rented to 2 and then found 30 living in the apartment.

All of these were troubles, mind you, before she even began taking classes. So when we started talking as a group about what it takes to be successful outside of CMI, the discussion ranged from critical thinking skills to navigating a strange culture.

It's a great discussion to have before diving into a new school year as it helps us to set our goals appropriately. Personally, it helps me to also keep in mind the difficulties our students face every day.

8/8 Faculty orientation
I had my first day of faculty orientation today, and it was a bit overwhelming. In many ways, it was like the many many corporate meetings I used to attend in Ohio. There was the requisite computer with projector, coffee, tea and refreshments. But it was also in a hut, with a view of the ocean, and the person next to me was wearing a muumuu.

I'm definitely not in Kansas anymore.

And the tone of the meeting was different: There's so much to be done here, and so many many opportunities. It's exhilarating and also terrifying.

For instance, today, I was approached about helping out with the college newsletter, annual report, student newspaper and possible yearbook. And that was before lunch. It's very difficult because I have a "no" problem. I don't say the word easily.

But I'm facing down my first year of teaching full-time, and I have two young kids. So I'm trying to hit a good balance between busy and crazy. My guess is that I won't have any trouble finding things to do with my time.

8/5 Back here
We got back to Majuro today, and I have to admit it was kinda good to be back. The house was clean and easy to come home to. Jim picked us up at the airport and left us a meal in our refrigerator. What a guy. Unfortunately, Aue and Anabelle are in Kiribati and Jim will soon be joining them for a vacation. So the great Nate/Anabelle reunion will have to be delayed a bit.

Some developments in our house while we've been gone: the light in the master bathroom no longer turns off. No idea why. Also, we have more geckos all of the sudden. It could be because when we were gone they got used to having the run of the place. Or that we have more ants and just haven't spotted them yet. Who knows.

The water pressure in the shower is still horrible, and it's still hot hot hot. But I ran into our landlady and she said she's sending someone out this week to try to fix it. Sigh. I guess the long showers are done for a while anyway.

8/3 Candy baby
We made it to Hawai'i last night and as we were getting dressed this morning to head out to breakfast, R suddenly asked me what Katie had. She had been quiet for a while and usually that's a sign that she's gotten into something bad.

So I looked over at her and noticed that her cheeks were full. And that she had the box of gobstoppers in her hand. Oh no.

Stuck my finger in her mouth and sure enough, she had managed to cram 5 gobstoppers in her ... well, gob. And let me tell you she was NOT happy about them coming out.

At least we know she's a Lennox.

8/2 Penultimate
We arrived in NY at 1 a.m. this morning, after a very long trip in the car with the kids. The scariest part (as always) was the final leg of the trip, when we were driving through the Bronx at like midnight after driving all day long. Luckily, R was at the wheel and managed to remain calm through all the craziness.

After crashing in the basement again, we faced down our last full day in the continental U.S. Of course, it started with donuts. :) After packing, re-packing and sorting all of our stuff in Pam's living room, R ended up making a few trips to the post office to mail stuff. Even with those trips, we left a pile of stuff for Pam to mail to us.

Then it was off to some good Mexican food (Pam was rightly concerned that this would be our last good Mexican for a while) and bed. Or at least for some of us. Katie had trouble falling asleep, so I stayed up with her in the super comfy recliners in the living room. After Pam went to bed, I decided to flip around the channels, just to see if something was on.

I forgot that I was in the U.S. Something is ALWAYS on here. Parenthood had started. Love that movie. Oh, and The Daily Show was on also. I could watch BOTH! And then another show was on after that. And another.... you see where this is going.

When I crawled into bed at around 1, I knew I'd pay for it in the morning. But it was so good to suck down some good TV for a while.

7/31 The motherload
One of the best discoveries of our time here has been Trader Joe's. I've heard of the place before, but had never been, nor had I tasted any of its goodies. But R's brother Mike has gotten into the habit of throwing in various dried fruits and nuts in his packages to us, and we've loved them. Seeing as we have a tough time getting lots of fruits here, having the dried variety has been a welcome addition to our diet.

When C&J mentioned that they wanted to make a TJ's run today, I wanted to go. So we squeezed it in as one of our last activities together. It was a great store, tho it was difficult to be in as I had to really limit myself to things that could make it back to the RMI. So we loaded up on fruits, nuts and trail mix. And then R & I agreed we could each buy one extravagant treat. He got two candy bars and I got a chocolate cookie container that Jenny highly recommended.

The bad news is that we probably won't have room in our suitcase for this stuff. The good news is that we know we'll be getting a package with some REALLY good treats in it soon.

7/29 Big brother
Chuck, Jenny and Isabelle got into town last night and it was just great to see them. Nate and Isabelle are great playmates and so seeing C&J has the added benefit of Nate having lots of fun. This visit was no exception, and we found the best way to get Nate to go to bed, get up the next morning and go to nap was to drop Isabelle's name.

As for me, I often feel safer when I'm around Chuck. I think it stems from when I was young and would call on him to defend me on the playground. I'm definitely on a different playground these days, but it still feels great to have him in my corner.

7/27 My kinda Joe
I've never been a coffee drinker. I love the smell of the stuff. It's just that drinking it means, well, I'm an adult. And I'm just not there yet.

But I really like coffee ice cream. So when R decided to try iced coffee during a slow morning, I had a taste. Yuck. It could use a lot more sugar and cream. And ice cream. Maybe some whipped cream, while you're at it.

Lo and behold, someone heard my complaint. The next time R & I were going through Dunkin Donuts, I saw my drink. There it was -- a perfect blend of ice cream, whipped cream and coffee. (This might be a good time to mention that our DD is also a Baskin Robbins.)

I told R to order it for me. He rolled his eyes, but got it. As I sipped on it, I declared, "This is my kind of coffee!" R pointed out, "That's not coffee. That's a milkshake."


7/25 KPC
One of the things I value most about our community in Ohio is our church. The good people of Kent Presbyterian Church have cried with me, celebrated my triumphs, prayed for me and loved me through some of the most trying times of my life. Although I attended the church in college, it wasn't really until I married R (in fact, our second wedding was performed by the pastor at the time, Dale Chapin) that I really began to put down roots.

Don't get me wrong. The church is not perfect. We haven't always seen eye to eye. Or even eye to foot at times. But what I love about the group is its many demonstrations of God's love to me.

So when we talked about coming back on a trip, I wrote our pastor and asked if he thought the group would be interested in hearing our story (thus far) of our adventure here. He said yes and our presentation was tonight.

It was so much FUN talking about what we've learned, seen, smelled, eaten, etc. in the RMI. The group was so enthusiastic and had such interesting questions that the activity helped R& I discover new realizations about our time here.

One of my dear friends, Mrs. B, is fond of telling me that she is trying to live this experience through me. The reality is that all of you are on this journey with us because your mere presence in my life changes the way I view our lives.

And I gotta say, if I'm going to be stranded on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific, there's no one else I'd rather have with me.

7/23 Katie's OK
Saw the Ear, Nose and Throat doctor today and he immediately proclaimed Katie OK. Literally. Ran his finger behind her ear a few times and said it would probably go away in a year or two. Though he'd be happy to look at it again in a year or so if we wanted him to.

That'll be $100. :) Ah, we are back in the U.S. again.

7/22 Home again, home again
Arrived in Ohio last night and it's just weird weird weird to be in our home. Luckily some good friends had gone into our house ahead of us and cleaned the place, otherwise we probably would have just walked right back out again. All the same, the clutter of the house is just maddening.

Everywhere I look, I see stuff that we didn't need then and don't need now. And to make things worse, we don't have time to sort and repack stuff for sale. We have booked a lot of our time in Ohio as we only have 10 days, so down time is spent trying to get the kids to nap.

People have been asking us if it feels weird to be back in the States, and the answer up until now has been no. It feels great, in fact. But now that we're in our "home" it feels strange, out of place. I find myself longing for the quiet dinners in Majuro, and for the peace of our lives there.

Here there's just a lot of noise.

7/21 Water, water everywhere
We took the plunge and booked a stay at the Great Wolf Lodge to make the trip back to Ohio a little less painful. The lodge, for those of you who have missed their marketing campaigns, is an indoor water park, complete with a hotel. I had heard about it a while back and we had actually considered heading to one in the weeks following mom's death, but had just never managed to make it happen.

So we went. And it was fabulous. The kids (R's sister Julie and her family and his sister Debbie joined us for the event) had a blast playing in the wave pool, the water cannons and most of all, the water slides. It was a great way to get the wiggles out after a long day of driving and an easy way to slide the kids into the car for the final leg of the journey.

It also served as a fabulous analogy for me of life in the United States. It sounds silly, but I couldn't get over the WATER that was seeping from every corner of the place. In Majuro, I often turn off the water in between dishes. We take short showers. But here, the water was pouring out of big buckets, spurting out of little squirt guns, gushing up from the GROUND.

Amazing. And so, so much fun.

7/19 The Long Goodbye
We're planning on leaving Maine tomorrow so today is kind of melancholy. The weather is damp and cold, so we haven't had any beach time today. Despite a John Deere video and popcorn and launching some Alka-Selzer rockets, I think we're all a little sad.

As I type this, Nate is asleep on the futon across from me, and I feel a little sick when I think about taking him away from here. To say that he's had fun so far on the trip is a gross understatement. As I've told others, the campground is really a kid's paradise. You have a beach, a playground, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, a friendly dog, a boat, a camp store with free slushies (!) ... It's pretty close to heaven.

The next step in our trip is a long drive (about 8-10 hours) to eastern Pennsylvania, and possibly a water park along the way. Then we'll leave the next day for Ohio. But all that means that we're heading into the last part of our journey, and coming closer to getting on some big planes to take us home again.

A few days ago, Mike asked me if I was looking forward to going back to Majuro or not. I said that I thought I'd be OK getting on the plane again, because this time I knew what I was going home to, and we had some friends, a routine, etc. Nate also will be anxious to see Anabelle and start school, so I think he'll happily jump on the plane with us.

All the same, this is one set of goodbyes I'd rather skip.

7/16 Stuck on you
Today's Maine moment: We had made S'mores at the campfire tonight and Nate and I were wandering back to the main cabin fully satiated with sugary goodness. The sun had set, but the sky was still light and we both smelled like campfire smoke. We grabbed hands, and I noticed that the marshmallow remnants were making our hands stick together.

So we made up a little game that we were superheroes with the power to goo any bears that came our way. Luckily there were a few on the short walk home. We were both giggling and being goofy together, enjoying the moment.

Once in the cabin, we washed our hands (that was after all, the goal of our quest) and then headed back out again. This time, Nate broke free from my grasp and ran on ahead of me, eager to get back to his beloved cousins.

As I watched him run away with me, it occurred to me how fast he's growing up. How fleeting those magical moments are.

Suddenly, I was sorry that we had gotten clean at all.

7/15 Fun in the sun
Today's Maine moment: One of the best things about Maine is Grandpa's boat. Now mind you, I am not a sailor. Don't know anything about the stuff. But there is something magical about flying over the water in a boat. Ordinary worries just can't keep up.

Of course, the Lennoxes have amped up the fun by adding a giant trampoline thingy that is towed behind the boat. We all take turns on the fun floaty, trying to get it to tip over, trying to stand up, and just basically going really fast, close to the water.

Today we took it out for a spin and it was just as much fun as I remember. I even managed to stand up for a brief second before being knocked down to my knees. Tomorrow, I'll be sore in all sorts of weird places. But today, I was ON.

7/13 Dead-eye Lennox
Today's Maine moment: We were eating dinner in the pavilion when I felt something drop on my shoulder. I looked down to confirm my guess. Yep. I had been pooped on. Not exactly appetizing fare.

So we all got up and moved the table away from the offending bird. Apparently this bird had been saving up for quite a while and it was just easier to move us than move him.

And then Jeff found a ball and lobbed it at the rafters. Milliseconds later, there was a plop and the bird was, amazingly, flopping around on the ground.

We were all stunned. And for a split second, no one knew what to say. Luckily, little Annika found her voice first. "Good hit, grandpa!" she said admiringly.

7/10 What time is it?
In terms of adjusting to the time zone, the kids have actually done quite well. Katie has gotten off-schedule and tends to take a short nap in the evening and then have trouble falling asleep. But the beauty of the timing of our plane landing in NY is that we had dinner, stayed up talking to people, and then went to bed. So we were
very close to the time zone pretty quickly.

We've been trying to be stricter about getting up from naps to help with the adjustment. The hilarious thing is that Nate is incredibly easy to rouse these days. We simply say, Nate, do you want to get up and play with your cousins? and he's up and walking out of the room practically before his eyes are open.

R and I are doing OK. We're a little bleary-eyed, but are mostly in the right time zone. Luckily we're sleeping in the basement, so we neither hear other people when they wake up, nor keep others up when we get up. It's a great arrangement.

We're also FULL of stories. If I had a penny for every time we started a sentence, "In the Marshall Islands...", I'd have enough for an ice cream cone. Good thing that Julie and Micah are eager to hear what we say. I think we just have a lot to get off our chests. It's kind of like when you go on a vacation, and the person who meets you at the airport gets the best stories and the most details. By the time the fourth person asks you how your vacation was, you just say "Fine." Right now, we're in detail mode. But I don't think we'll get tired of talking about our new life together. We may just need a little more prompting.

7/8 Cousin time
Not 5 minutes after we were reunited with most of R's family, Nate was happily playing with his cousins. He and Annika (the cousin closest in age to him) were playmates immediately and were laughing and running around after each other. It's so amazing to see how quickly kids bridge the time/distance gap. It was like we had just seen them yesterday.

Today we took it to a new level and filled small plastic pool in the backyard and turned them loose on it and the playground equipment. I felt like I was living a charmed life, talking with Julie and Micah. Pushing Katie on the swing in the shade. Listening to the birds. Feeling the grass beneath my feet. I can't put my finger on exactly what feeling this is, but the closest that I can come to is joy. And deep satisfaction.

Nate, of course, is much better at naming this. He kept coming up to me and saying, "Mama, I love my cousins," and, "Mama, I'm having so much fun." I have to agree with his assessment.

7/7 LA and Grandma Pam
The night flight from Hawai'i was OK, tho Katie definitely had some screamy moments and at one point actually turned herself around in the car seat so her back was facing out. I think she's a little tired of traveling in that thing. Nate's been a trooper, cheerful and sleeping for most of the flights. I'm really proud of both of our little ones.

When we got to L.A., I decided to call my boss Sandee, as I could finally call on the toll-free line to Davey. So I checked the time. 10 a.m. Ohio time. She'd be in, I figured. Dialed the number. Tried to figure out if I should say Yokwe! or just maybe Hiya, it's Jen... Hmmm... no answer. Oh well. She must be busy. I left her a message saying I was sorry I missed her. Then I walked back to R. Nope, I didn't reach her, I told him. A good 15 seconds went by.

"You know, it IS Saturday," he pointed out. Oh yeah. I kind of lost track of the days during this trek. One more message to Sandee so she didn't think I was a complete idiot. Oh well.

Got on one more plane (!) and headed to Grandma Pam. Again, the kids slept and were fabulous for the trip. And this time, we had a very friendly face waiting for us.
With a luggage cart already. And a toy for Nate and one for Katie. And some cheese popcorn for us in the car, along with sippy cups with fresh juice for the kids and
some juice for us also. This lady is a professional. After a stop at California Pizza Kitchen for some amazing salad, hummus and pizza, we headed home to the Watson clan and Aunt Debbie.

What a fabulous fabulous reunion. Dorothy was right: There IS no place like home.

7/6 Hawai'i
We've made it to Hawai'i, and it is incredibly beautiful here. I think I thought Hawai'i was pretty when we travelling thru here to get to Majuro, but this time, I was just
stunned by the place. It's a great transition point because the weather is similar to Majuro, but in terms of sheer beauty, it's a bit like going from Ravenna to Beverly Hills or something. I couldn't get over all the flowers, grass and trees. Oh, and the mountains. Mountains! And there are sidewalks here -- and people use them.


So the first thing we did (after checking into the hotel and getting, oh, about 4 hours of sleep) was to head to Waikiki, where there was a shopping center that R had found on one of his trips thru. The first order of business was food, so we went to the food court. The words "food court" doesn't really describe it. There must have been 30 different places to eat. I had Thai food and R and N slurped up some pizza.

Next was Wal-Mart. My buddy Mrs. B had requested that someone videotape my reaction to Wal-Mart, but we weren't that organized. I can tell you what I did, tho. I just laughed. There was an insane amount of stuff in that store. Everything we could ever want. We restrained ourselves to the bare minimum, figuring that we should do our big Wal-Mart trip when we don't have to stuff everything into our luggage and take it with us. The funny thing was that the things in the store didn't freak me out as much as all the people. They were... well... buying it all. Crazy.

Then we were off to find the thrift store. A few wrong turns and many many blocks later, we arrived. Unfortunately for me, I wasn't wearing a hat or sunscreen and because we were walking between 11 and 1, I got a weird forehead sunburn. After buying some clothes and books at the store, we headed back to the shopping center
and waited for a bus ride back to our hotel. Then we headed to the airport to get on another flight.

One flight down, two to go.

** Note: the next few entries have been re-created from my memory as I had no time to blog. ***
7/6 Heading out
So the long-awaited day has arrived and we were crazy excited. Nate talked so much about going to the airport that we threatened time-outs if he mentioned the word again. We realized that we had packed so much (and yet, we had packed frugally) that we didn't have room in the car for us and all of our luggage! So two trips were needed.

Our friend Dave showed up at the airport to say goodbye, and everything happened faster than I had planned. Pretty soon we were heading thru airport security and then shuffling into the gate to wait for our plane. It's weird in Majuro, because you have to be through security and at your gate an hour ahead of time. But there's only one gate. It's not like a bigger airport where you might not make it in time. Anyway.

We waited an hour for the plane, bought some last-minute handicrafts from an enterprising woman who had set up her wares inside the gate area, and then finally we headed to the plane. Nate was beside himself with excitement. I held onto his hand firmly to make sure he didn't bolt out in front of everyone else.

Once we were settled and jetting down the runway I finally relaxed a bit. We were really doing this. Of course, we were in the air not 15 minutes before Nate announced
that he missed Anabelle. Good grief.

7/5 36 hours to go
We have reached a fevered pitch in our house these days as our upcoming trip consumes our every conversation. Earlier last week Nate and I made little handprints with a number on them, as a way for him to mark the countdown for the trip. Today there's a big number 2 on the fridge and it's mega exciting.

Of course, with all this excitement, there's also a lot of preparation. We've been doing laundry every day, making lists of things to pack, things to buy, things to do. I'm really just about listed out.

Today I had my last class, and my students had asked if we could have a party. Of course, I agreed. I had no idea what I was getting myself in for. Once all the food had been collected, and some of it eaten, they got up and began singing to me. Beautiful songs, one of which had a few verses in English.

Then they each came up to me and shook my hand or hugged me. One of them put a handmade flower in my hair and another presented me with a beautiful wall hanging. They all gave me one dollar bills, which horrified me. They insisted it was part of their custom, and that I had to accept the gifts. So I guess the first round of ice cream is on my students. I really enjoyed them all and insisted that they print their names on the wall hanging so I wouldn't ever forget their names. They seemed to think that was a weird request, but did it anyway. It was a great ending to a great class.

I'm not sure if I'll have time/energy to blog while we're gone, so this might be goodbye for about a month. If so, then know that I'm having fun cherishing the land that most of you live in every day.

U-island States, here we come!

7/2 Star light, star bright
Today in class we were starting a new unit and the lecture had to do with astronomy. Before I dove into it, I took a couple seconds to ask the students about the stars and if they had any stories about the stars. They did, and one of my students related the following story. Mind you, there may be some translation issues here.

There were once 12 brothers, and they had a race to see who would become the iroj (king) of the east. They all headed out in their canoes (I of course, had assumed this was a race on land... took me a while to figure we were talking about one on the water). The brothers' mother came down from heaven and tried to talk to each of the boys. Only the youngest stopped to listen to her. She gave him a sail and showed him how to put it on the canoe. He, of course, won the race because all the others were just paddling. The oldest brother became jealous and tried to steal the sail, but a big puff of wind came and knocked him into the water. His form is still outstretched in the sky. I think his form is actually the Milky Way galaxy that we see stretched across the sky. The lesson: Always listen to your mother. :)

That's some good advice in any language.

7/1 Our little Sisyphus
Katie has taken to pushing Nate and Anabelle around in a little toy box with wheels. It's a great arrangement for everyone, as she really loves practicing her walking, and they really love the ride. Have I mentioned that she's strong?

6/30 I can see clearly now, the grain is gone
For the past few weeks, our cable TV has been going down the drain. First we lost the movie channel, then Discovery, then pretty much everything that is in English. Of course, Fox News comes in crystal clear. What a relief. I knew we were in trouble when it took me a good few minutes to realize that I wasn't watching "Frasier" but actually "How I Met your Mother". I had no idea that Doogie and Niles looked so much alike.

I have to admit that my standards have really slipped since I've come here. In fact, I've been known to sing out the "CaliforniA!" from the "O.C." (cringe) theme song. The good news is that I have all sorts of real-life O.C. ethical dilemmas for R nowadays. "Honey, if I embezzled $3 million, would you choose to stick with me, and declare bankruptcy, even if it meant we'd lose everything, including the pony, the house, the cars, the golf course membership, etc., OR would you choose to let me go to jail?"

Anyway. With all the fuzz, I had to give up on the tribulations of those with too much money and time on their hands. So we were down to the Nat Geo Adventure channel. In the beginning, I was fascinated by these people's journeys across the Gobi Desert or Antarctica. By the end, I was just yelling at the TV that they were all certifiably insane.

But tonight I ran into our landlord and was just thrilled to see her again (she had been off-island having her baby in Hawai'i). She mentioned the cable and I said that we were having problems. I really just wanted her to fix the hot showers as those are really getting old. But having cable choices again would be neat too.

Not 20 minutes later, our reception was perfect again. I couldn't believe it. Of course, we quickly determined that it was much ado about nothing, as here was what was on:

Channel 29 (movie channel where they play DVDs, BTW, this channel turns out to be the Marshalls Broadcasting Co.): Poltergeist 2

Channel 15 (other movie channel): Weird Brad Pitt/Harrison Ford movie that we'd already seen the end to.

Channel 17: My Name is Earl

Channel 33 (Nat Geo Adventure): Idiots trying to kill themselves (OK, not the official title, I'll admit.)

Channel 3 (Discovery Channel): Some docudrama on large trucks. Or equally annoying boy-type show. Anyway, R knew from the sigh not to try to stop on that channel.

And that's about it. So we watched My Name Is Earl. Turns out that it's a moderately funny show when you can actually SEE what's going on. And who knows? Maybe tomorrow we'll actually have water that isn't blazingly hot in the shower.

6/28 So long, farewell
We had decided that we wanted to see Francine and Jerry off at the airport, so yesterday we made arrangements to get a ride there with Jim. When we got there, we headed into the airport restaurant and chatted for a while.

But then some friends of hers showed up. And then more friends. And more. Pretty soon, it was pretty much a party at the airport. I may have mentioned before that Francine is friendly and outgoing. This was clearly a huge understatement.

This week's paper carried a story about them leaving the island. I'm serious. The story, of course, was under auspices of a change in Bako diving, Jerry's company. But I think it was also just acknowledging that Elvis has left the building.

This place isn't going to be the same without them.

6/26 Taxi Turmoil
The other day, one of my students was about a half hour late to class. This is hardly front-page news around here as students often take a rather relaxed view of class starting times. But this was one of my best students, and he hadn't ever been late before.

But I was cool; I just let it go. Then this week, we were working on idioms on parts of the body in class and he had this to say: "The other day, my taxi broke down on the way to class, and I really had to shake a leg." Ah. Now it all makes sense.

Taxis are such a bizarre form of transportation here that I could do a blog just about every time I get in one. For instance, the other day I took a taxi to the Marshall Islands Resort to meet R and Francine's gang for Father's Day brunch.

I got in the taxi, which already had 3 other people in it, and it stopped almost immediately at a roadside store. A woman with her baby got out, and she apparently tried to get something at the store that they didn't have. Fine. So she got back in, and we headed back out. She then had the driver pull over at the next store, like 100 yards farther down the road. Same thing, while we wait. Again, no luck.

So we started driving again. Then she saw someone on the other side of the road that she thought she knew. So the driver did a U-turn, and pulled up to the house. Oops. Apparently he's the wrong guy. So we got back on the road going the right way again.

The taxi stopped to let someone out. Stopped to let someone else in. Stopped at another roadside store. She got out, bought a diaper, another guy got out and walked away. The taxi driver got out and started to smoke a cigarette. I was the only person left in the car at this point (well, me and Katie). Mind you, the hotel is maybe a mile from our house. Finally, the guy who had walked off came back and everyone piled in again. We weren't more than a few feet down the road when the woman made another request to stop, but the driver first asked me where I was going. Thankfully, he decided to drop me off before continuing on this woman's tour of Majuro.

6/22 Spin on a gray tile floor
Katie is making...er... great strides towards walking these days. Today when she got up from nap she grabbed my hands and took me on a quick tour of the kitchen and living room. I could barely keep up.

She's taken one or two steps on her own but in general is still crawling. I think she's waiting until she has Grandma Pam watching before she takes a bunch of steps at a time. She's just that smart.

Until then, she practices walking by pushing her little upright toy keyboard around the room. She's very diligent. And strong. She discovered today that she could also push a chair around the room (mind you, a full-size, wooden chair) and is delighted with her new-found mobility.

With Nate, I wanted him to walk so much. I was thrilled when he took his first steps. Now I know better. I know that with Katie walking, I'll be doing a lot more running. I've considered attaching small weights to Katie's dresses to hold her back.

It'd probably just make her faster in the end.

6/20 Countdown
My friend Francine is leaving the island, permanently, in a week. I've only known her for a few months, but her absence is going to be marked in my life. We have a lot in common: our kids are the same ages, we're both from Ohio, both love and mourn the loss of the 80s. In Majuro, that's an amazing string of coincidences.

Francine has a CD of 80s rock hits, and we'd taken to driving around the island singing to Whitesnake or Quiet Riot and talking of our high school years. She has an amazing sense of humor, so I'm almost always laughing when I'm with her. I feel different, more carefree, when I'm with her.

After living here for 8 years (!), she knows a lot about the island and knows many of the people here. Going anywhere with her inevitably means meeting at least 4 people along the way. I always feel like I'm with a minor celebrity.

And so over the past weeks and months, I watched as she started packing and shipping stuff back to Ohio. I stood on the sidelines while she's told people that she's leaving and not coming back. And I've watched her shift from excited anticipation to exhaustion to eventual sadness.

Now we're into the last week of her stay here and I feel a little bit like I'm glimpsing my future. She's now saying her final farewells, applying for jobs in the U.S. and exchanging email addresses with friends here. But she's making no promises for a return visit.

Her son and daughter, who were born here, will likely only visit this island when they're much older. It's not that they don't want to visit; it's that the cost to visit makes it just impractical. So when Francine and her family leaves, it will be to probably never return.

So next Wednesday they'll all board a Continental flight out of here, bound for a new life stateside. As one of the ones who'll be on the ground waving as they fly away, I'll be saying a little prayer for them. And probably singing the cheesy 80s song "Goodbye" by Night Ranger in my head.

6/18 Hats are really groovy
While I'm at class each day, Aue and Anabelle come over to watch Nate and Katie. The arrangement has worked great. Nate loves both of them, so he hardly notices when I leave. Katie also really likes them, so there's not much fussing from her either. I leave, fully confident that all is well at home.

But the really great part is that often I come home to little surprises. Aue, it seems, is a bit crafty. Today I came home to find Nate wearing some new headgear. Earlier in the week, he showed me a lantern fashioned and colored out of regular paper.

This is fabulous as I am all thumbs when it comes to crafts. One must only look at my lion outfit for proof of this statement. I'm OK with my craft inadequacy. I've accepted it and moved on. But I am grateful that there's someone in my kids' lives who looks at an empty egg carton and sees a caterpillar in the making.

When I look at the empty carton, I just think that it's time to buy more eggs.

6/16 An interesting interpretation
I had loaned Francine my Nursing Mother's Companion book a while ago as she was planning on breastfeeding her newborn. She didn't need the book anymore, so she returned it to me this week. Nate's interest in books and all things with words is increasing, so when he spied the book, he began exploring it.

You can see where this is going.

I immediately pulled out my notebook and started taking notes on what he said. I just knew my journalism degree would come in handy someday.

"Mama, here's a mama and a Katie!" he exclaimed. Flipped a few pages.

"Look mama! Four breastes!" Looked a little closer. "No, I think they're socks." Looked some more. "No. They're breastes." (Note: I didn't misspell breasts. He pronounced it breast-ES.)

Then he began "reading" from the book: "To feed a baby, pull up your shirt and start the treasure hunt." He stopped when he heard my laughter. Said quite sternly, "That's what the book says, Mama."

I guess the experts are right. To get a kid to read, you just need to find the right book.

6/15 Pronunciation
Theoretically about half of my class time should be spent working on pronunciation. After all, this is a listening and SPEAKING class. So we devote some of our day to saying things aloud, whether it's a poem, a tongue twister or just a passage in the book. This is great practice for both them and me as it helps us all be a bit more precise with our words.

Today we were working on making the "P" noise and were running through a list of words. I would say the words first, and they would repeat while I walked around the room trying to hear the different students saying the word. At one point I stopped. The word was "peach," and they were having a hard time.

"OK, make sure you really make the 'puh' noise in the beginning there," I instructed. "It's sounding like a 'B', but it starts with a 'P'." They tried again. The problem was that they also were having trouble with the middle vowels. The vowels were sounding like "ih" instead of "EE".

Yep. Now it sounds like one of those unmentionable words. Loudly coming out of their mouths for all the world to hear. Great. I can only imagine what the teacher next door must think.

This is hardly the only instance of pronunciation difficulties. The other day I was asking them where to buy something.

"Go to the gobe store across from the resort," someone said. The what store? They repeated. No clue what they meant. Can you spell it? Oh... C - O - P - Y. OK, this is a teaching moment. This word is COPY. Everybody say it with me.

Of course, they also have their fun with me. The other day they were trying to teach me the Marshallese word for shy. Whatever I was saying wasn't correct, but was sending them into fits. At least we keep each other entertained.

6/14 Humbled
When I walked into class today, I was greeted by a warm blast of air. The air conditioner wasn't working, I surmised. Having had this same occurrence at least a dozen times this spring, I knew what to do.

I tromped over to R's office and called the executive secretary to ask someone to please come fix it. About a half hour through class, a maintenance man stuck his head in the door and pointed towards the A/C. I nodded, said yes, it's not working; please come fix it.

He walked over to the chalkboard, grabbed the A/C remote and turned it on. I felt like an idiot. But then he did have to wiggle the vents a bit to get it going, so I felt a little better. Thankfully, none of my students laughed.

6/12 Rolling out the red carpet
One of the concepts that I'm working on with the students is idioms, and today's lesson was on color idioms, like "in the black" or "out of the blue". We were going through the exercises when I decided that they might understand the idioms better if we acted one of them out.

So I told them that we'd act out rolling out the red carpet. Asked them for the name of an important person. Someone suggested the president. Great. I assigned a volunteer and had him wait outside while we prepared the room for his arrival. Had another student help me roll out an imaginary red carpet for him.

Then we invited him in. "Welcome, President Note," I said grandly. "Please walk on the red carpet we've rolled out for you. Have a seat here." Then I started to get fancy. "We knew you were coming," I said. "So, class, did his visit come out of the blue?"

"No," they dutifully answered.

"President Note," I continued. "Do you have a lot of money? Are you in the black?" Sudden laughter from the students. The student acting as Note played along.

"NO," he said. "I'm in the RED!" Ah, well, considering how money is spent here in the RMI, that's probably true.

6/11 First class
I had my first class today, and I have to admit, I was a bit freaked out yesterday. I've never taught this class before (it's called speaking and listening, and it's for people whose language comprehension needs to be better before they can take credit courses at CMI), and I'm teaching it on an accelerated schedule, as the class is only 4 weeks long.

Aue is watching the kids while I'm at class, so Nate's thrilled as it's like he has a playdate with Anabelle every day. Before I left for class, he gave me this advice: "Remember, mama, if one of the students talk in class, give them a time out. And don't forget to email me. I like getting email."

My first impressions of the classroom was that it was dirty, but at least the air conditioning was working. The students were very difficult to understand and the roll was also difficult. But we got right to business and I charged through the first day of class.

One down, 19 to go.

6/10 First and third
Today we took Katie to her first movie. When we first sat down, Katie cried a tiny bit, probably because it was dark in the theater and the picture was so big. But she quickly settled down and seemed to enjoy the film, Shrek the Third. Let me restate that: She didn't cry anymore. I realized this was her first movie experience. 7 time zones away from normal. Pretty cool.

I love the fact that so many of her firsts will be here. She will likely learn to walk in this house. She'll celebrate her first birthday here. She'll speak her first words here.

I keep hoping that somewhere inside her, this experience is sinking in and taking root. So that when we finally do return to the U.S. a bit of her remembers this. Not in the sense that she remembers what our house looks like, but that part of her always will have an affinity for brown-skinned people. That she'll think of global warming not as a theoretical idea, but as a real threat to the island where she once lived. That somewhere inside this experience changes her.

That it changes all of us.

6/9 Where's Katie?
I think I caught Katie playing a game with me today. What do you think?

6/8 Even stevens
I went to the store today, and found that there were no onions. NO ONIONS. How do you run out of a root vegetable like onions? And how do you cook without onions?

I challenge you all. Go to your cookbooks right now. Find a recipe that doesn't begin with "Saute some onions in oil or butter..." BAH. To make the situation worse, we were planning on having a friend over for dinner, and I wanted to serve lasagna. Luckily, we've found an awesome recipe for chicken lasagna (luckily, the store had chicken breasts) that doesn't call for onions. So we made that.

Ironically, this week, my friend Francine met me for lunch and was all excited about this surprise she had found for my birthday. She was sooo pumped. She kept saying how I'd love it. So we get in her car to go to this mystery food place, and she turns down an alley and pronounces... dah dah dah DAH! Shave ice!


It's like snow in your mouth, she said. So much better than a slushie. Unfortunately, much to our disappointment, the store was closed. However, Francine is not one to give up. Later in the week, she showed up with Mitchy and took me and the kids out.

It was VERY good. I had the mango flavoring. She talked me into getting a large shave ice, and it was seriously the size of Katie's head. It's not really the kind of thing that survives a trip home, so a lot of it went to waste. But it was still yummy.

That's the crazy thing about life here. Just when you're about to go NUTS missing something very commonplace, something else shows up to take its place. So we were out of onions, but we had gained shave ice.

I'd say we broke even.

6/7 Hop on Pop*
Dad is sad.
He had a day that was bad.
What a day dad had!

We like to hop,
to hop on pop.

(*Apologies to Dr. Seuss. I think your original poem/story was much better and longer than this. Our copy of it is in the U.S., tho, and we're here without easy access to the internet. So get over it.)

6/5 Big shoes to fill
I think it's fair to say that Nate is officially going stir-crazy. He's been out of school for a little over a week and I am NOT cutting it. Luckily he has an awesome imagination that fills in where I leave off.

For instance, the Easter baskets that Grandma Pam sent us have become hot air balloons that his animals use to escape a dinosaur (usually played by Katie). A blanket will transform him into SuperNate, with all sorts of exciting (and bizarre) super powers. And today, his father's shoes and socks became robot pants, like in the Wallace and Gromit short film, "The Wrong Trousers".

I think he definitely got his fashion sense from Randy.

6/3 Quiet celebration
Today was my birthday, and it was a day of quiet celebration. R said it was my day, so I could make the rules. Great. That's easy: no one is allowed to yell. OK, so Katie was exempt as she can't really be stopped. Furthermore, R said, he'd do the dishes. Right after he got finished making my coffeecake.

The day just tripped on from there. I gotta say, when I was younger, I wanted the big party with lots of presents and lots of noise. (You might think when I say "younger" there, I mean like when I was 6. Really, that was pretty much up until about 2 years ago.) But these days, a quiet day at home with my family sounds just great. It was a day filled with countings of blessings.

At sunset we walked over to campus to check out the ocean and I snapped a picture. I think that at 36, I'm officially over the hill. But I gotta say, the view looks great.

6/2 Game on
One of the games Nate and I like to play is a word game with the magnetic letters we have on our refrigerator. I'll tell Nate to pull down 3-4 letters from the fridge and then he'll work on sounding out a word. He's gotten quite good at the game and really seems to love it when he figures out the word. I like it as it allows me to do dishes, or cook a meal, fairly uninterrupted.

He'll often try a variation of the game where he'll grab a few letters and try to spell out a word. He doesn't quite get that you can't just throw letters together to make a word. Anyway, today I was in the other room, and while he waited for me to return, he started playing with the letters.

"MAMA!" he exclaimed, "I've made a word! Come see!"

I casually strolled into the room, expecting to see QVWE or something like that. Instead, I saw "ON". OK, stay calm. Maybe he doesn't know what he's done.

"Wow, that's great Nate," I said. "What's that word?"

"On!" he said. "I spelled ON!"

Hmmm.. OK. Maybe he just sounded it out. Doesn't know it's a real word. "What does it mean, though?" I said.

"It means on, like to turn on the lights!"

OK. So he does get it. Wowee. He's learning more than I think. That's kind of spooky. And awesome.

5/31 Final countdown
By this point, you may have read that we're planning on coming home to the states for a trip this summer. But, here on the RMI, planning on coming home and actually coming home is not the same thing.

For instance, R blithely walked down to the Continental travel office a few weeks ago to check on tickets out of here for all of us. He and I had discussed about a million different options the night before so he could just get the tickets if a good option was presented to him. He explained what he was looking for in terms of tickets to the agent, who in turn said she understood what he wanted. She'd get back to him, probably tomorrow with some options.

Tomorrow came and went. So did the next day. So R visited the office again. So sorry, said the agent. I haven't had a chance to look for your flights yet. Come back again soon. So R came back a few days later. The agent informed him that the tickets we wanted (just 3 as we wanted to save money; we'd hold Katie in our lap) would be approximately $2,000 more than we had anticipated.

So R started looking online. Now, part of the reason we wanted to go thru a Continental agent instead of booking online was because we had some discounts due to one of our screwed up flights on the way out here. But if we could find significantly cheaper flights online, then it was worth it to book online. Of course, the internet here is incredibly slow during the day, so this meant all his looking was in the evening.

The first night he came home with some options that were more in our price range. We agreed on one flight. The next morning, he went in early to buy the tickets, and the price had jumped a couple hundred dollars. So he started searching again. Finally, he found another flight that would work and was in our price range. He showed me the itinerary. I said book it. He headed back to the office, and the Continental site kept timing out. He was determined tho, so he went back again after dinner. He said he was staying until he got the tickets.

At 11 p.m., he finally trudged home. Victoriously clutching the confirmation receipt from Continental. So we have our tickets. We fly out of here on Friday, July 6 (summer school ends on July 5, BTW), arrive in Honolulu at 2:30 a.m. on July 6 (we cross the dateline, so we gain a day). Then we fly out of Honolulu at 8:45 that night and, with a short stopover in LA, fly to New York, and Grandma Pam's waiting arms, arriving in Newark at 3:30 p.m. on July 7.

Total travel time: 35 hours, 29 minutes.
Total OnePass miles: 14,532.
Setting foot in the continental U.S.: Priceless.

5/30 Our delicate little flower
When I heard that we were going to have a little girl, I was just thrilled. I love Nate and have loved having a little boy around, and I was so excited that I'd also have the privilege of finding out how different a little girl would be. I imagined frilly dresses, days spent painting fingernails, fancy hairdos.

I think what we got is a tomboy. Now, before you all start clucking your tongues and saying it's too early to tell, let me lay out the facts.

A) The girl drinks like a fraternity guy. I mean it. She drinks from a sippy cup, often upside down or backwards, and positively gulps down her water. I can practically hear a chorus of "Chug, Chug, CHUG!" in the background.

B) She also burps and toots like one. She can really clear a room, as they say.

C) She really, really gets into her food. She's finally eating big people food at mealtimes, and it's a full-body experience for her.

I haven't given up on my dream, though, and I wrestle her into one of her 50 gingham dresses at least a few times a week. Katie, also has made compromises. Since she's a girl on the move, she adjusts to crawling in a dress by simply arching up on the balls of her feet and crawling with her bottom up high in the air. Then the dress can hang down, and doesn't get tangled up in her feet. She's quite resourceful, really.

Thankfully, she has started to snuggle, especially when she's tired. I mean, really, all that chugging, tooting, burping and smearing can really wear a girl out.

5/28 "Our school day is over, and we are going home..."
Today was Nate's last day of school at Co-Op and the school had planned a big awards ceremony, followed by a field day and barbeque. Unfortunately, we have officially entered the rainy season, and the weather was pretty gloomy. I had my doubts about whether or not the event was a go, but we went anyway. I mean, really, what else were we going to do?

At the awards ceremony, Nate got a certificate of completion from his teacher, Mr. Robin. Then they sang a short song, and the preschoolers were done. Unfortunately, we had 9 more classes to go. Thankfully, everything moved along quickly, and Mr. Robin and Ms. Anne took the kids back to the classroom when they got restless.

Since everything was full of puddles, I made the executive decision to take Nate home without waiting to see if the games were still on. We said a final goodbye to his teachers (he'll see them again in the fall) and headed home.

So Nate's last day of school was spent mostly at home. A bit of a bummer, but I made up for it by giving him some popcorn and letting him watch Wallace and Gromit's Curse of the Were-Rabbit, one of his favorite movies. The summer has officially begun.

5/27 Yokwe, President Note
Last week, Nate and I had a very short shopping trip. When we got to the store, I told him to stay put, went to get a grocery cart (they're outside, where we were), and Nate disappeared. I remained calm, briefly looked around outside for him and then headed inside the store.

When inside, I saw a flash run by the frozen food. I headed that way. Nate ran towards me, holding up a juice box jubilantly. I explained to him that I hadn't known where he had gone. Big mistake. Very dangerous. We were going home.

Screaming screaming screaming (note to all our friends/family in the U.S.: you've probably noticed how often Nate is doing that these days. Consider yourself warned. He skipped the terrible twos and doubled up on the trying threes.) all the way out of the store. In the taxi. "Mama, I want to go back! I'll be good!"

That's right you'll be good. Because you'll have learned your lesson.

He even cried on the walk down our driveway. And in his bedroom while Papa explained why his behavior warranted a trip home. The worst part of it was that we basically blew our best chance to do grocery shopping. So we've been subsisting on whatever we can dredge up from our cabinet. Creative cooking was the theme at our house this week. Needless to say, we didn't have any guests over.

But today was shopping day, so I asked Nate if he wanted to go with me. He needed no prompting. 'Yes, and I'll be good. I won't run away.' Great. So we're off.

He was an absolute dream child, holding the list, being funny and charming. I was busy congratulating myself on disciplining him when I noticed RMI President Kessai Note sipping his coffee by the cafeteria.

Did I dare? Sure. The kid's being good.

So we rolled our cart over to him, and Nate said "Yokwe, President Note." Kessai said hello to us also. I said that we had seen him at the CMI graduation a few days before and wanted to thank him for coming. He said we were welcome and we walked off.

I told Nate he had just said Hiya to the president of the country. Nate seemed nonplussed. Of course, Note's the president of a country with a population of roughly the size of Kent, but that's beside the point. It was still pretty cool.

5/26 Forever and ever, Amen
Nate has memorized the Lord's Prayer. Well, with some prompting. So I decided to record him saying it as I think it's pretty dang cool.

Earlier this week we had a dull moment, so I broke out the camera and asked him to start doing it. But he was doing it really fast and goofy. And I was kinda offended by that. I mean, it's the LORD'S prayer. Maybe some respect is warranted. So I told him to do it slower. Asked him what it was about. He actually understood more of it than I realized.

"It's our God, everyone's God," he said. "And his name is special. And sometimes we do things that are bad."

That's great. So let's do it again, but respectfully, OK?

Fine. We start over. Then right around the "forgive us our sins" part, he kicked his sister, who was starting to nudge in on the camera.

The camera went away.

Of course, if I'd been a real journalist, I would have kept rolling. But I'm a mom, so that moment got permanently erased.

Screams ensued as Nate insisted that I record him doing his prayer. He swore he'd do it right this time, yada yada yada. I'm thinking this is all wrong. The whole point of this exercise is not that he memorize some meaningless words, but that he learn something about God and also be able to participate in our church's worship service.

Fast-forward to tonight's church worship service, and the point in the service where we say the prayer. Nate's been good in church, singing the songs he knows and generally playing with his toys pretty quietly.

"OK buddy, here comes the prayer," I prompt him.

He starts saying it. He's doing great; in general keeping up with the pace. And then I remember at the last second that Nate had been doing a slight variation on the prayer. Too late to stop him now, I think.

"And lead us not into temptation," he chirps. "But deliver us from evil... Emperor ZURG!" Big mischievous grin on his face as his voice drops an octave.

Great. Time to cut down on the Toy Story 2 and Buzz Lightyear DVDs, I guess. Of course, when I recorded him saying it later, he left that part out. Just my luck.

5/24 Graduation
Tonight was graduation, and my friend Francine was graduating, so I was there. A couple of things that I noted:

1) There were a lot of people there. I mean, a LOT. The ceremony was supposed to start at 6:30, so that's when I go there, assuming it'd be a while before things actually began. Wrong. And furthermore, all the seats were taken, so I ended up standing for most of the ceremony.

2) It was incredibly long. I didn't arrive home until 9:30. Three hours. The keynote speaker had 10, 10 I say, points of advice for the grads. I think they probably remembered none of them. He also strayed from those 10 points and kept telling all sorts of side stories. My friend Aue clocked him at speaking for over an hour. The college also gave out two honorary degrees, and one of the recipients couldn't be there. So the guy standing in for him talked for about 5 minutes. And then he read from the recipients' speech. Luckily, I was helping Jerry, Francine's husband, watch after Mitchy, so I wasn't too bored.

3) It was quite casual. The ceremony itself was held on a basketball court, and big gangs of kids were playing all around the outskirts. At one point, Mitchy ran across the stage to go see his mom. People just laughed. In the states, someone would have had a mild heart attack.

4) It was surreal. As with most things here, there were some moments of complete oddity. For instance, when I was distracted from the gorgeous sunset by the two wild dogs fighting just a few feet away. And then someone came up and gave me a wut (a flowered lei worn on the head). It was beautiful, so I wore it. I have no idea why they gave me one. I guess they had some extras.

5) At least when I looked up at the grads on the stage (there were less than a hundred of them), I saw the same look on their faces that I've seen on grads in the states: 'Just stop talking and give me my degree; I want to go party with my buddies'. Some things are the same all over the world.

5/23 Celebrity
This week is 'Spirit Week' at Co-Op and the schedule is grueling. Not for the kids, of course. For the parents.

It started off simply enough. Monday was 'Backwards Day'; the students simply had to wear their clothing backwards. No problem. Tuesday was 'Crazy Hat Day', when students just were supposed to wear a silly hat. Of course, we have only two hats here: Nate's sun hat and his cowboy hat. So I did a slight variation on his cowboy hat and we were done.

Today was the killer day. "Dress like a celebrity" day probably sounded like a good idea to someone, somewhere. Someone who doesn't have a 3-year-old who has no clue what "celebrity" means. When he asked, I explained, foolishly, to Nate that celebrity means someone famous. Like an actor. Someone in a movie.


Like Alex the Lion in Madagascar?

Crud. I can see how this one's going to play out.

So I spent the morning culling the house for various objects that could transform my cutie pie into a vicious lion. I spent a good 20 minutes trying to find some make-up that I could use to make whiskers on him. When I finally gave up, we used sliced paper colored with a yellow marker. A jump rope became a tail. I fashioned a mask out of that same paper.

Then came the question of the lion's mane. Nate decided that we should just stick a bunch of scraps of paper to his hat. I have to admit that I was out of alternatives, so that's what we did.

Luckily he had a yellow T-shirt that really pulled the ensemble together. When I had him try it on, I knew I had to get a picture of the moment.

I'm pretty sure he's going to get me for this in about 10 years.

5/22 More ants
Today I opened our medicine cabinet in our bathroom and reached for my deodorant. Two ants fell down.

That's when I noticed the steady stream of them going in and out of the cabinet. And that our cherry-flavored sore throat spray was crawling with them.

I'm so sick of this. I can't think of anything clever to say. I feel like I've said it all before. I think we're officially giving up and just co-habitating with the ants.

Though I did throw out the sore throat spray and then take out the trash. Yackity-Yak. Don't come back.

5/19 Appreciation day
CMI had another staff appreciation day today, held at the same island, by way of the same boat, etc. R has been working on a big project lately, so I left him with Katie at home and took Nate by myself.

The boat was supposed to leave at 9:30. Remembering the last trip, and more importantly, the long wait at the dock, we didn't leave the house until 9:30. I arrived at the dock just in time to wave at the people on the boat as they left.

Bah. So we still had an almost 2-hour wait at the dock. Apparently I'm not quite as smart as I think.

But the island was just as beautiful as I remember, though it did have a few new animal inhabitants this time. Ahh... life in Majuro.

5/16 Our little athlete
I think I've mentioned before that one of my biggest fears is that one (or God help us, both) of our kids turn out to be athletes. Ask me to quote Yeats, and I'm there. Ask R about standard deviation, and he'll get you straightened out in no time. I can even give you an explanation on when to use which vs. that.

But ask us who played in the Superbowl last year, and we're lost. Or who is even in the Big 10 -- is it league? Group? Pack? I don't know. Don't even know if it's a football, baseball or basketball term. I don't watch sports. Luckily, neither does R.

We're the people at the baseball game who are too busy flagging down the hot dog vendor or ooohing at the cute kids three rows in front of us to notice that our team is losing. Or even winning. Except that when the people around us cheer, we cheer. We usually have no idea why.

I have actually had conversations with friends and family about our sports ignorance, as I'm a planner and feel I should have contingencies in place should the nightmare situation come true. Our brother-in-law Micah has agreed to take on basketball, should Katie or Nate show an interest. My friend from Davey, Greg, agreed to golf. I haven't asked yet, but I bet Aunt Debbie would agree to swimming. And, more importantly, all of them could probably tutor R and me on the finer points of the sports.

I come by this honestly. My parents, God love them, were in the same unfortunate situation with me. My dad and mom were not as sports ignorant as me and actually watched sports on TV for something other than inducing sleep. But instead of basketball or tennis, subjects with which they were acquainted, I chose horseback riding.

My mom was terrified of horses. Hated them. (I made the mistake of giving her the reins of a horse once at a show. The horse started walking away. My mom, as only my mom could, walked with the horse, all the while squealing: "JENNY! HELP! THE HORSE IS MOVING!" It didn't occur to her to simply pull back on the reins to stop the horse.)

Nevertheless, she was at every single one of my horse shows, as was my dad, cheering me on and decorating our front door with my ribbons when I won. She told me later that she closed her eyes every time I jumped over a fence. Now that I have kids of my own, I understand why.

Anyway. I have to admit, up until this time, most of my worrying on the sports front has been aimed at Nate, who early on showed an interest in all things round. But at a recent playdate, it became clear that perhaps Katie should be the subject of my concern.

Ah, it all starts off so innocently...

5/11 Trip around town
We took a trip around town today as we went to check on our friend Dave's house. Luckily both the kids were patient on the drive as R and I stopped frequently to take pictures of various stuff around the island. I've posted the pictures in the Pic page, so check them out. Among things worthy of our photographic journal are the island goat, the President's house, and an unusual use for cargo containers. Enjoy!

5/10 Islands
Nate is at the most amazing period in his life, as he finally has the ability to have conversations with us. He's thrilled with this and talks all the time. He wants to know about everything, he wants to hear stories, and he wants us to read to him. He's definitely in sponge-mode.

He also plays imaginatively with his toys. Often they play out like mini operas or something. It's high drama with lots of squeals and voice changes as the different characters act out their part. The other day I realized that he may have a future career as a producer. This was when he told me where to sit during my part in one of his stories. He even fed me my line. What a guy.

And he's really quite good at expressing himself and drawing on his vocabulary to explain things to us. I'm often amazed at what comes out of him. Today, however, I had to laugh as I finally really heard what he'd been saying, probably for weeks.

"Mama, when we go to the U-island States, can we see Ms. Conni?" he chirped.

The where? Ohhhhh. Makes sense that he'd think his "pink home" (our Ohio house) is also on an island. And in some sense, he's right. But I corrected him all the same. Accuracy counts. Even for three year olds.

5/8 Third time's the charm
I took Katie for a doctor's appointment today as we had thus far received conflicting opinions about the lump behind her right ear. So off we went, this time to the "Majuro Clinic", a tiny office built mostly out of trailer.

As I believe I mentioned before, it's been kind of rainy here lately. Our friend Dave is off-island, so he let us use his car. Just recently, we realized that using his car when it rains can be a little tricky. You see, his air conditioner doesn't work, so the car gets really foggy. And the defroster doesn't work either. And the windshield... leaks.

So as I headed out, I took with me two seemingly illogical items. A towel and a pair of sunglasses. The towel, I knew, would be needed immediately. But because we live in an equatorial island, I also knew that I'd likely need the sunglasses for the ride home.

Dr. Pinano, whom I have a hard time not calling Dr. Pinata, was wonderful. He very calmly listened to my story of the different doctors and different diagnoses. Then he felt the lump and said what I wanted, had prayed, to hear. No big deal. Get it checked out in July. Call me if you see any changes.

I seriously wanted to kiss the man. I flew gleefully from the office (once again, no charge for the examination) and told R the good news.

Now we are once again talking about going to the U.S. without fear. We'll still see a doc in July (we've been planning on that anyways), but now we're going without a huge monkey on our backs.

5/7 Soon and very soon
Here on Majuro, we have a lot of use for quotation marks. Not because we're quoting people, but rather because words have different meanings here. For instance:

"Randy, did the PPW say when more 5-gallon water jugs would be arriving?"

"They said 'next month'."

Right. That was in December. When R said today that the coveted jugs were finally in stock, I just flat-out didn't believe him. Upon hauling them inside, R was greeted by a dance and a song about the water jugs. "Next month" had finally arrived.

To say that time takes on a different meaning here is a gross misstatement. This is the place where "fast food" means that you actually managed to order, eat and pay your check within an hour. Where "5-7 day shipping" means that your package probably arrives in Majuro within that timeframe. But it may not get delivered to your post office box for months. And things "start" at say, 6:30, but arriving at that time guarantees that you're about an hour early.

Not that I wasn't warned. Before we even got on a plane to come here, a former professor of mine who had lived in Micronesia warned me. "You'll have to get used to the 'manana' lifestyle," she said. "Manana", you'll note, doesn't mean technically mean tomorrow. It just means "not today."

That definition fits this place quite well. But I've found that saying something will happen "soon" is always correct. Especially if you're using "geologic" time.

5/6 What's in the box?
My kids are freakin' brilliant. Just ask anyone. They're super smart. And cute. And funny. They're ready-made for stardom. And I am being completely objective here.

When we saw Dr. Landis, he commented, TWICE, that Katie was very "alert". OK. That's the journalist in me talking. That was actually what he said. This is what the mom in me heard: "Wow. Your child is freakin' brilliant!"

Further evidence of Katie's brilliance: She may be starting to say "Hi" as her first word. She already will wave (though not, of course, for any of our friends, who think we're making the whole thing up) and smile when R comes and goes all day long. But the other day it sounded like she said "Hi". It was very exciting.

She just adores Nate and will happily follow him around all morning long. (Except when he pushes her down and she has to cry to get intervention. Then she's not so thrilled with him.)

Anyway, Nate really likes to play hide and seek here in the house, and today Katie joined in on the fun (9MB). It took her a bit to get to him, but I think it's because she has a natural understanding of suspense.

But that's just me.

5/4 Talented One
Tonight was Nate's big talent show, and despite all the excitement with his little sister, I was determined for us to go. (I called the Filipino doctor, but wasn't able to reach him. I'm going to try him Monday and see if we can set up an appointment.)

Nate and his classmates have been practicing for weeks for the show and I've seen little snippets of the routine both at home and at school. But this was the real deal, and we were all pumped. I wasn't sure if he'd freeze up once he got on stage, so R and I told Nate we just wanted him to have fun.

At the appointed time, we woke up Nate from nap and dressed him in his outfit (yellow shirt, jeans and cowboy hat). We headed over to the church where there were about a zillion kids, all crazy excited and cooped up in one big staging area. After observing the chaos for a while, we headed back outside to wait for more of his classmates.

Although it was raining, my friend Francine and I grabbed front-row seats, ensuring that we'd both get wet and get to see our kiddies up-close. Then the big moment came, and after a traditional welcoming anthem, the 3-year-olds took to the stage.

My boy was AWESOME. He totally came alive in the spotlight. He was movin' and groovin' like he was born for this. I got a few snapshots, but because of the rain, I couldn't get close. I did get this tiny video of one of the songs. Do not fear, however, the school had an official videographer who was taping the event, and they'll be selling us multiple copies soon.

The class danced to two songs, one called Ocho Ocho, which involved some counting, and the chicken dance. I really think they stole the show. The kids who performed after them were really just pitiful. But we clapped as if they were just as good as our little stars.

Then we left as we were wet and needed to eat dinner and get to bed. We also knew we could watch the whole show from the comfort of our living room soon enough. Nate basked in the glow of our compliments and enjoyed the pudding cake I baked in honor of the event. He, of course, knew to stop after just one piece.

5/3 Conflicted
I took Katie to another doctor today on the recommendation of a friend here. This meant we were headed to the emergency room, which had me quite terrified. When we got to the emergency room, I spotted a man that I knew through Nate's school.

Then while we were waiting, one of the nurses spied us and came over. Turns out she also goes to our church. She was quite helpful as she checked on us a few times and seemed to help move things along. Then before we headed in, we ran into yet another church friend.

Needless to say, by the time we saw the doctor, I felt like I knew half the staff at the hospital and that they were all working for us. The doctor, a Fijian man, felt Katie's lump and asked me some questions. He then told me that he didn't think it was something we needed to get removed quickly.

He pointed out a few things: a) although it was by her lymph nodes, none of her other ones seemed to be affected, b) To get the cyst removed, they'd have to put her under general anesthesia, which is dangerous for one so young, and c) it probably would go away on its own. He said that if the cyst grew or started hurting her, to bring her back for re-evaluation.

So now we're at a loss. I have to admit, I want to believe the Fijian doc as that simply sounds less scary. But how horrific would it be if we bet on the wrong horse here?

R asked around and found out there's another doctor, a Filipino, here on island who is supposed to be good. We decided that a third opinion could really help us here. Tomorrow I'll call him and see if we can set up an appointment.

5/2 Our father
I'm tired of Nate going to church and not knowing any of the liturgy. Granted, we're going to a Catholic church, so there's lots of liturgy. But he knows one or two of the songs, and I'm betting he could learn more if we put some effort into it. Yesterday I decided to tackle the Lord's Prayer, which we say each week in church.

I taught him the first words: "Our father, who art in Heaven," yesterday. Today we took on "Hallowed". BIG word for a 3 year old. I told him that it means "holy." "Do you know what 'holy' means?" I asked Nate.

"Like 'Holy Smokes'?" he questioned.

I laughed. I guess that means I say that a lot. We worked through hallowed, and I decided that we'd better remember it if we had it posted up. So I wrote out on separate sheets, "Our Father" and "Who art in heaven" and "Hallowed" and hung them on the kitchen wall. My plan is to add a few words each day until we have the prayer memorized. We'll see how far we get.

I have to say that it's a great reminder for me also to look over and see "Our father who art in Heaven hallowed" as I walk through my day. Sometimes it's really hard to remember even that much. That it's OUR God. Not a distant figure. Personal. That he's in Heaven, removed, yet nearby. That he's hallowed and that holiness defines him.

These words are especially important today as we went for our follow-up appointment with the doctor. We had given Katie her antibiotics as prescribed but hadn't seen a decrease in the little lump behind her right ear. Plus, I wanted the doctor to do a quick check-up of Nate while he was still here.

So we trooped off to the doctor's hotel room where he had cleared a little space for us and examined Katie. He first felt the lump and said that it felt a little larger, in fact. I was slightly alarmed. He said it was still round and mobile, which were good signs. But he had hoped the antibiotics would take care of it. He asked me when we were planning on going back to the United States, as he thought the lump should be removed and biopsied.

Hang on there, fella. I know that word. I am WAYYY too familiar with that word. They do biopsies to make sure you don't have the C word. That same C word that was attached to the death certificates for my mom and both of her sisters. That's not a good word. Don't you go using that word around my little kids, mister.

I think he read my expression as he immediately began backpedaling. "I've seen a ton of these," he said, "and they're usually not cancerous. But you should have it removed and biopsied just for peace of mind."

Peace of mind? Is he kidding?

I smiled, thinking, "Just breathe. Keep breathing." I said we were planning on going back to the U.S. in July. He said we might want to bump up the trip. OK. Now I'm trying hard not to panic. Who turned off the oxygen in this room?

Now we have a few house rules (outside of the "butt" and "stupid" rule), and rule #1 is Don't Panic. (I admit it, it's completely stolen from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.) Rule #2 is Safety First (I like the irony of that one... safety FIRST is rule #2...). Anyway. Now it's time for me to follow the rules.

We leave the doctor's room and head immediately to campus to find R to talk this out. R adds another layer that I hadn't considered: insurance. Here in the RMI, most of the medical care is subsidized, so we don't actually pay insurance, just hospital bills. (In fact, my friend Francine had her child here and stayed in the hospital for 3 days. Total cost? $25.) We had already decided to get emergency insurance for our trip to the U.S., just in case. But that insurance probably wouldn't cover anything like this.

So now I'm worrying about my child's health and our financial situation. Great. R sizes up the situation and says that he doesn't want me to worry. He says he'll do the worrying for us. I point out that I'm much better at worrying than he is. He's not nearly creative enough.

"Then I need the practice," he said. He left, and began emailing people to ask for advice on the best course of action. So since then, I've just been breathing in and out all day long and hoping that covers it. And contemplating those words on the wall.

Our father.

Who art in Heaven.


5/1 A day off
Today was Constitution Day, which meant that we all had a day off. We had made plans to go to the beach with Anabelle, Aue and Jim, as long as the weather cooperated. But first, I had the chance to try to call some U.S. people during the week, a rare treat.

I tried my brother, who I haven't talked to in a few weeks. I wanted to find out how my cousin Laurie's wedding had gone and also just catch up with Chuck. So I called his home. No answer. Tried his cell. No answer. So I called his wife's phone and got her. But she was in the basement at work, so the connection, which was dicey to begin with, was horrible. I heard about every 5th word.

So I hung up with her and called my cousin Karyn to find out more about the wedding. After a short conversation with Karyn, I tried my friends Christine and Ian. No answer. My friend Kim. No answer. I gave up and went home. Suddenly everyone seemed so far away and unreachable.

Did I mention that we're at the six-month mark? A time usually marked by homesickness?

Time to head to the beach, which was, thankfully, beautiful. It was right across from a park and on the ocean side. So it was clean. It was also in a tide pool, so we didn't have to deal with crashing waves. The water was shallow enough that Nate and Anabelle were able to play on their own while Aue and I lazed in the warm water until it was time to go home.

A little while later, I noticed that I had burned my lower thighs, knees and my upper calves. It's the weirdest sunburn. But for a few hours, living in the U.S. seemed a distant memory. And for a little while at least, that was a good thing.

4/29 Extending
I've been toying around with the idea of teaching full-time for a while now. I even interviewed for a English teaching position a few weeks ago. I wasn't sure, to be honest, if I wanted to take the position. I figured it was a good idea to have the choice, though.

The interview was just bizarre as it was five people. Three of whom we've had meals with. But we kept it formal all the same.

This week, I ran into my friend Barry, who is also the HR director here, and he said that the college wanted to extend me an offer. So now I had a choice to make.

Working full-time would mean most importantly that we'd have to find someone to watch the kids. And that life would get more hectic. And that we would probably end up staying about six months longer. But I'd also have more teaching experience, especially teaching in another country, and the salary would help pay the bills.

R and I talked it over, and I decided to accept the position. I haven't signed a contract yet, and don't even know how much I'll be paid. But the wheels are in motion.

4/27 Tired out
Katie was up late last night, or more precisely, this morning, so I was particularly tired today. She's not nearly in the Nate realm of insomnia (who didn't sleep through the night until he was 17, thank you, 17 months old), but she's still up at least 2 times a night. I had really hoped that she would be sleeping consistently through the night by now.

Anyway, when I'm exhausted, my energy level drops quite a bit. So I come up with games to play with Nate that allow me to: A) Remain horizontal and B) Close my eyes. Games like "Guess the animal" where Nate puts one of his plastic animals in my hand and I have to keep my eyes closed and guess what animal it is. He's usually game for a few rounds of this. I don't actually get any sleep in, of course, but it feels like I'm resting for a few minutes.

R at one point had a game where he would lie on the couch and throw soft nerf balls at Nate while Nate ran maniacally around the table. That's actually a great game as it allows the parent to rest while simultaneously wearing out said child. That's my husband. Smart guy.

Today I tried to get Nate to play every parent's favorite game, the quiet game. I pulled him onto me and explained that the rules. "Whoever stays quiet the longest, wins. Do you understand, buddy?" He nodded. "OK, let's begin. One... two... three."

Silence. Ahhh... This could work! I could feel my muscles relaxing. Maybe he'd even take a nap or something...

"Mama, what happens next?" he chirped suddenly.

So much for that. Maybe tonight I'll get some sleep.

4/26 Getting clean
Today I took a really hot shower. Now, this may sound good in say, Ohio, where it may be in the 40s right now. But, as I believe I've mentioned before, it's HOT here. All the time. In the 80s, sometimes 90s. So hot showers are not usually all that enjoyable, air conditioning or not.

But for some bizarre reason, our shower no longer shoots out cold water. Just hot. So we'll jump in the shower when it starts to get warm, quickly get wet, then turn the water off, soap up, and then do a quick rinse-off. I am getting pretty fast. I tell myself I'm also conserving lots of water as I can usually only stand the water for a few seconds.

Of course, it's been really rainy here lately, so water conservation isn't as important as it once was. Figures. We have a GREAT landlord, so I'm sure she'll be able to fix it soon. And I'll go back to my long, luxurious 5-minute showers.

4/25 A big swim
Earlier this week I was in the middle of cooking dinner when I reached into a drawer to get a wooden spoon. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something move. I glanced over in time to see a very large cockroach crawl out of the drawer.

I was frightened, but tried to play it cool. I just left the drawer open and calmly washed the spoon before moving on with dinner. When I saw that the cockroach was on the cabinet, I took a swat at it. This was a big mistake as it did no good, and alerted Nate to the fact that something was up.

Things really got exciting when the cockroach (now being intensely followed by Nate) started heading towards Katie. Wisely, it instead went under the refrigerator and stayed there for a while. By the time R made it home, it had crawled along the wall to the bathroom door. He quickly caught it (he has really become quite adept at this) and flushed it down the toilet after a quick inspection by Nate.

This morning, Nate came out of the bathroom and said he found a spider. He has started talking about bugs more and more, and sometimes they're real, sometimes they're not.

So I headed in with a great deal of suspicion, only to find this very large spider on the shower wall. I left it in there, and closed the door to the bathroom. No way I had the psychic energy to deal with this while my waffles were cooling in the kitchen. I had my priorities. When I had gathered my strength, I headed in with a newspaper and a camera to document the beast.

One big swat later, and the spider was off to play on the big spider web in the sky.

When I emerged, Nate wanted to know if I had killed the spider. Yep, I said, proud of myself. Did you flush him? he questioned further. Yes, I said again.

"I think he's going for a BIG swim, with his friend the cockroach!" Nate concluded.

4/24 Our own Britney Spears and Michael Jackson
Katie's recently started "dancing" (5 MG) when she hears music or when we sing to her. The result is a little bit eyebrow-raising. Luckily we have a house rule about no dancing with boys for about 20 years.

Nate, on the other hand, has been working on his "moves" for the Co-Op school talent show for a while. He and his classmates will be performing a Fijian dance, complete with hip wiggling, and the chicken dance. I stuck around one afternoon and caught the kids practicing the chicken dance.

Imagine, if you will, 13 3-year-olds, and then imagine loud polka music playing. Then imagine two grown, courageous adults trying to get those 13 children to do anything, much less all do the same thing at the same time. Hilarious.

The talent show is just two weeks away, and I understand that they sell videos of the performance. If we don't like our version (Oh yeah, we're taping Nate), we'll get a copy (or 60) from the school. So all of you should plan on watching it.

4/23 Weird things
Today I found myself saying the following two things:

"There's a bear in my oatmeal," and "It's probably easier to sweep without the ostrich in your hand, Nate."

At which point I decided that this was a blogging moment. The bear got in my oatmeal when Katie was playing with a panda (so I guess for you sticklers out there, there's a panda, not a bear, in my oatmeal) and managed to flip it into my morning mush. It was an impressive move.

The ostrich (full name being Minnesota Cuke ostrich, named after a Veggie Tales episode) had blue pants on its tail and a blue plastic shirt on its neck (of course it needed to be dressed to be proper). Nate had decided he needed to sweep. He was having problems negotiating both the broom and the ostrich. Thus the statement.

Sometimes being a parent makes you just a tiny bit crazy.

4/19 Did I say that?
Sometimes asking a question can be the most dangerous thing in the world. Especially in two locations: churches and schools. Example: "Why don't we have a Bible study during the summer months?" Reply: "What a great idea! You should start one!"

So today I asked the principal (after briefly considering where the question might lead) whether or not they had a yearbook for the Co-Op school. She said that they had one last year, but didn't have the time or the skilled personnel to do it this year.

Pointed look at me. "Why do you ask?" She said, smiling. Oh boy. Here we go.

So now I'm doing -- not a yearbook, thankfully -- a collage of pictures for each grade level. This is a bigger project than I realized. Nate's school goes up to eighth grade. That's 11 classes including two pre-schools and a kindergarten class. School ends in about a month. That's about 3 classes a week. Did I mention that I'm also taking care of two kids who don't usually enjoy extended computer sessions?

Luckily, the school already has the photos, and they're high-quality (!) and also high-resolution (!!). Now all I have to do is put them in some sort of document that can be printed. Of course, I don't even have Microsoft Publisher on my computer, so that will be part of the challenge. I'm also not sure what the office supply store on-island can print. R said today I should seriously consider contacting a place in Guam about printing options.

This is sounding like a worse and worse idea. I really need someone to stand over me with a remote or something to save me from myself. Someone who will hit pause, smack me over the head with the remote, give me a good lecture and then hit play again before I volunteer for anything else.

It's just that there's so many needs here on this island that I can't help myself. And I hate hate hate the thought of the eighth graders graduating from the school without a visual record of their year there. So I opened my mouth. And inserted work.

You may notice a drop in my blogs over the next few weeks. The good thing about deadlines is that there's an end point. And I'd say graduation day is a pretty hard deadline.

4/18 A trip to the doctor
One of the scariest things about being a parent is trying to figure out when something is serious and when it is not. Katie, for instance, has had a tiny bump behind her right ear for quite some time. It did not seem to bother her and didn't seem to be getting any larger, so I had decided to let it go.

When I took her to the hospital for her shots, I meant to ask the doctor about it, but in all the excitement, forgot. So when we ran into an American pediatrician, Dr. Landis, the other day, I mentioned it to him. The pediatrician, incidentally, lives on another island most of the time, but comes to Majuro every few weeks and can see patients then.

He ran his finger over the bump and said it was her lymph node and probably the result of some sort of infection. He said to watch it, and let him know if it got bigger.

Then I heard through the rumor mill that he was leaving the island for good in a few weeks, so I decided to check up on Katie's bump. I called him at the hotel, and we agreed that I could see him in May and that Katie would be fine until then.

Now Wednesdays are the day that I have a standing lunch date with my friend Francine, and we always go to the hotel for lunch as they have not only a deli spread (!) but also a salad bar (!!) and even a dessert tray (!!!). We were lunching there today when Dr. Landis' wife spied us and said that Dr. Landis would like to start Katie on antibiotics since the lump had been there for a few weeks.

He said he'd wait for us out by the pool, and when we were done eating, he'd give us the antibiotics. So we stopped by after lunch, and headed off to the exercise room to weigh Katie so he could give us the correct dosage. The room was locked so I told him that Katie was around 20 pounds. He calculated the dosage for Katie and gave us the medicine. We chatted for a while, and then headed out.

Afterwards, it occurred to me that Katie had actually been examined, diagnosed, and treated all in the hallway of the hotel.

4/16 A private game
Every day, Nate, Katie and I pile into a taxi and take it to Co-Op, where Nate is going to school. Sometimes, when we're in the taxi, we play "I Spy" to keep Nate distracted and to keep him from kicking the driver's seat in front of us.

Today, Nate suggested the game, and then played the game like in "Brother Bear", one of his all-time favorite movies. In one of the scenes, the moose play a game of "I Spy", but only "spy" trees. Nate thinks it's hilarious. So we were doing that.

"Mama, I spy something tall and green with bark."

"A tree."

"Great, now your turn."

"OK," I say, playing along. "I spy something with brown bark, that's tall and has green leaves..."

"A tree!" he says, delightedly. "My turn. I spy something with green leaves... tall.."

"A tree!" I say. You can see how this can go on for hours. Luckily, it's only a short drive to the school.

Then, just as we were pulling into the school, the taxi driver chimed in with "A TREE!" It surprised both Nate and me. I am never sure how much English the drivers speak, so I was impressed with the driver's grasp of the language. Nate was amazed that the driver actually figured out our game, complicated though it was.

The driver laughed as hard as we did, and I thought of how those two tiny words breached the huge cultural and economic divides between us. Before we got out of the car, I had Nate say thank you in Marshallese: Kommol Tata (KOH-mowl TA-ta). I hoped those two words in his language would tell him how much we appreciated him.

4/15 Strangers among us
Today the most bizarre thing happened. I went to lunch with Aue at a restaurant called the Tide Table, and when we walked in, I was amazed at the clientele.

They were almost exclusively white men.

I was actually flabbergasted for a little bit, looking around at all the faces. Then I remembered that a U.S. Naval ship was due to arrive in port this weekend. That explained all the short haircuts also.

While we ate, I kept commenting to Aue how strange it felt to be among so many white people. She pointed out it was a little bit like being in America. That's when it occurred to me that I'm used to being in the minority.

Next week, we'll have been here for 6 months. It's unbelievable to me. Not that we've been here six months. That part is easy to believe. It actually feels like we've been here a lot longer. It seems weird that we were ever in the United States. And the fact that we lived there up until six months ago is a little hard to swallow.

Soon after we arrived here on Majuro, I emailed a friend of mine who had spent a lot of time overseas. I asked him when we would feel at home here. He said "It will begin to feel like home after 3-6 months (studies show).  Then it will really begin making sense at about 2 years.  Then...  Well, then you'll come back here and realize that this doesn't totally feel like home anymore...  :)  People like us sometimes have a better understanding that this planet really isn't our home."

4/13 Finally
Baby Katie's teeth
have broken through her gums; we
sing Hallelujah

Said another way,
our little angel became
a little biter

I have the marks to prove it.

4/11 Once more into the breach

Our house has become a battleground. Or maybe the better analogy is a boxing ring.

In one corner, we have the little annoying red ants in the kitchen. These are the ants that R has been fighting daily. Sometimes spraying 3 times a day. The problem is that we've had a lot of rain lately, so the insect spray keeps getting washed away.

In the other corner, we have the big black ants in the living room. I noticed these ants today while nursing Katie and reading Nate a book. When one crawled right next to my elbow (and Katie's head).

I seriously contemplated running outside with N and K, and leaving the ants to battle it out. Eventually, they'd run out of our food and would have to face each other. I imagined a fight of epic proportions, like the battle of Helm's Deep in Lord of the Rings. We could let them fight each other. Then when it was all over, and they were all dead, we could calmly move back in and have some peace.

I mean, at this point, it's a bit hard to say who owns the house. This morning there was an ant in my water, and one crawling on the outside of it. I know they outnumber us like a zillion to one. And that's just the ones we're seeing.

I calmly finished the book, put Katie in her crib and then went outside to spray.

After looking around the window, I found the telltale line of ants crawling up and down. I sprayed them mercilessly. Then I examined the rest of the window. My heart sank. A bigger line of ants were crawling up and down between the top of the window and the roof. Much too high for me to spray.

There was only one thing to do.

About 7 spoonfuls into the chocolate chip cookie dough, I checked the clock. 10:08. This was going to be a great day.

4/7 A late celebration
I've been hounding R for weeks now about when we're going to celebrate his birthday. Finally he relented and said we could do something on the Saturday of spring break. I told him we could make anything he wanted (though I did refuse to just give him store-bought pizza), so he found a recipe for chicken lasagna, and we made that. We asked a few friends over and began the preparations.

One of our friends couldn't eat anything with yeast in it because of Passover, so we made a variety of dessert options. We started with Jell-o, then made Rice Krispie treats so there'd be more than one unleavened option. So for everyone else, we made two different bundt cakes, one lemon and one chocolate. I felt it was appropriate that for R's birthday we had four desserts for five adults.

The lasagna (you know, the stuff we ate before the dessert) was good. Nate got to wear a party hat. R got to play some games with his buddies. A good time was had by all.

4/6 Cultural conflicts
One of the difficult things about living here is the incredible bias against Asians, and especially Chinese. People are not all that subtle about their disdain, and today I came across the following obscene graffiti at the little store (owned by a Chinese family) across from our laundromat. It didn't surprise me, as I think it probably expresses a popular opinion here. I thought it was fairly bold of the person to sign his name to it. Again, more evidence that people think such sentiments are commonplace.

A friend of mine, a teacher here at the college, told me that she once got a journal where a student wrote about beating up a Chinese person with his friends. The student was proud of his efforts and quite brazen about what he did. The teacher simply wrote him a question in return, "Are you treating him how you would like to be treated?"

It's an interesting question, because many of the Marshallese are professing Christians. It is quite common for me to get in a taxi and be greeted by Christian music blaring out of the radio. Many of the people here go to church on Sunday, and at a church near the college, it is common for the people to have day-long services. We'll go by early in the morning and the people will be singing a song, then later in the day, we'll hear part of a sermon, later that night, we'll catch some praying, etc.

And yet.

You should know that Marshallese culture takes teamwork to an extreme. Here, it's considered bad form to be more successful than anyone else.

That's the most amazing thing about the graffiti that started this blog -- it was probably written by someone who frequents the store. Because, in the end, the Marshallese would rather support a foreigner than shop at a store owned by a Marshallese.

4/4 Rethinking nutrition
During most of 2006, R was a stay-at-home dad. And though I enjoyed having a simple, full-time work schedule, I had lots of guilt about leaving Nate every day. Of course, R did a fine job, and he and Nate did lots of stuff I never would have considered.

For example, one day they went to the store and bought harmonicas. Later that morning, they came to pick me up for lunch and when I got in the car, R said "OK, now!" He and Nate burst into harmonica song. It was really funny and I was quite surprised.

But sometimes I worried about what happened when I wasn't around. Case and point, one morning I was getting dressed for work when I heard Nate ask R for some cheese popcorn. I was horrified to hear the crinkle of an opening bag a few seconds later. I checked the clock: 7:25 in the morning.

I ran out of the room to find R reaching down to hand Nate the open bag of popcorn. "WHAT are you DOING?" I screeched. "It's 7:25 in the morning! He can't have cheese popcorn now! Are you NUTS?"

Nate looked from me to R, hopping from one leg to the other, and wisely decided to be as quiet as possible in the hopes that he might still get his way. R looked at me, pulled the bag away, his expression showing that he knew he had done something wrong, though he wasn't sure what. Nate crumpled to the floor. "NOOOOOO!" he screamed, showing, once again, that he has a real future in theater.

I shook my head, and all day long fretted that Nate was going to end up with scurvy or a hunched back from lack of good nutrition. I imagined that the cheese popcorn came out as soon as I was out of the driveway and that Nate's days were filled with nothing but junk food. If I were in charge, I decided, he would eat better.

Which brings me to today. Specifically, when I popped a huge pot of popcorn for Nate and me to eat at 10 a.m. while we watched Ice Age for the zillionth time. It wasn't until we were into our second bowl that the cheese popcorn memory surfaced.

I told myself, it's spring break. It's time to relax the rules. And realistically, Nate's doing just fine. If anything, he's pretty skinny. All the same, later in the day, when he wanted a snack, I insisted on fruit. I felt great about that decision until I realized that the fruit here could make him sick.

I just can't win.

4/2 Kid entry
One of the things I tell my journalism students when we're talking about possible stories is to look for both the ordinary and the extraordinary. The extraordinary (the "Man bites dog" stories, for instance) are pretty obvious and usually have great news values. But the ordinary stories can be captivating also. In that vein, here are some of the ordinary things that our little darlings are doing.

Katie is crawling with great gusto and is really quite fast. One of her favorite destinations is the hallway, which she has found makes a fabulous echo for her little screams. It also amplifies the noise, much to her delight. And speaking of noises, her most common noise is a watery Jetson's car noise, kind of like a cat purring underwater. It's very otherworldly and impossible for adults to replicate.

When she's crawling and hears something behind her, she'll stop mid stride, and turn her upper torso towards the noise. It's quite the balancing act and the result is that she looks like a little bathing suit model for Sports Illustrated or something. Especially because she usually has a huge smile on her face. Pickin' adorable.

She's also incredibly determined and persistent. The other day she was intent on getting to some hanging folders that were on top of the filing box in the living room. I finally moved a fairly large box on top of the folders to dissuade her. So she pulled the box down and was happily playing with the folders again within 2 minutes. She also loves going for computer cords, the DVD player and our outlets. It's clear she's going to be an electrical engineer.

Nate has discovered a cool new game: copying. His favorite person to copy is Papa, much to R's dismay. Often our dinner conversations are filled with a "Nate echo", where he repeats whatever words he understands and makes up words for the ones he doesn't. This is usually happening over Katie's Jetson noise, so as you can guess, I usually have no idea what Randy's saying to me.

We have also outlawed two words in our house: "stupid" and "butt". Don't ask me exactly how these two were randomly outlawed, but I'm guessing that it had to do with me having a bad day and Nate whining. Anyway, the result is that Nate has become the word police who CONSTANTLY catches one of the parents in our mistakes. Randy, especially, is often the subject of one of Nate's lectures. The other day, he caught Randy three times in about 3 hours. It was hilarious.

One problem with these words, of course, is that "but" can also be a conjunction. So R sat down with N to try to explain this difference. He explained to N that the meaning of the word is determined by whether or not the word has one T or two. He wrote out the words and showed them to N. And so he told Nate to ask, when he heard the word 'but', whether or not it had one T or two. If the person said two Ts, then you could chastise them.

And then R did a practice run.

"Mama, I like your butt," R said to me.

Nate giggled. I said, "Ask him the question, Nate." So Nate said, "Papa, one T or two?"

R said, "Two T's, buddy."

Short silence.

"So what do you say, Nate?" I prompted.

He turned to me, grinned and said, "Mama, I like your butt too!"

3/31 Palm Saturday
Those of you who have been reading this blog since the beginning may have noticed that my mentions of power outages have decreased. That's not because they've stopped happening. We've just adjusted. It's kind of like how people in Ohio stop complaining about the weather by the end of February. There's just no point.

But this week, we were warned that there'd be a 13-hour planned power outage on Saturday. Outages on Saturday are painful as it's a day off, and I really look forward to calling family and friends, catching up on email or surfing the internet. So R and I gritted our teeth and started making a list of all that needed to be done (put water in jugs so we can flush the toilets, freeze extra jugs so we can keep the food in the fridge from spoiling, fill up the sinks with water so we can do dishes, etc.).

The power went off promptly at 9. (This was especially ironic, because NOTHING here ever follows a time schedule.) I headed out to the church shortly afterwards with Katie because the Fillipino community was decorating the church with palms and I heard it was a sight to behold. I was not disappointed. They even took some time to show me how to fold some of the leaves. I was into my second design when Katie took a swan dive onto the concrete floor.

So we went back home where I held a bag of frozen berries to Katie's head to reduce swelling while I cried to R about my general incompetence as a mom. Mind you, it was only about 11 a.m. at this point; we had approximately 11 more hours without power. The temperature outside was rising. Nate was getting bored. Katie, by the way, seemed to have recovered from her fall almost immediately and was doing fine.

We stayed inside, took naps and tried to keep from hurting each other. In preparation for church at 6:30, Nate and I stood in the bath while R poured water over us to cool us down. Brrr... And yet we were sweaty again before we even got to church. The church was beautifully decorated, if a bit dark, due to the power outage. Luckily this was a Catholic church, so they had plenty of candles around and just lit the place up. The service began outside and everyone processed in with the palms, singing the whole way.

Unfortunately, our two kids were decidedly NOT celebratory. Katie ran out of milk early on and then refused the pacifier. Nate used his palm branches to poke the people in front of us. I took the lesser of the KaNateians (as R has taken to calling them) and left R to struggle with Nate.

Once outside, we contemplated the moon as Katie began singing her own Hallelujah chorus. Peeking through the stained glass windows, I could see Father using incense to bless the communion meal. It all seemed holier and more peaceful from outside.

After church, we came home to a dark house, and a flashlight that was (no pun intended) on the blink. It kept flickering off, causing us to shake it to get it going again. While I put Katie to sleep (luckily her crib has a little baby night light on it), Nate and R watched a movie on the laptop. I sat on the couch and tried to keep from sweating.

When the power finally came on at around 9:15, I was once again, amazed at how good it feels to be in an air-conditioned environment. Lying on my bed under the air conditioner, I felt like everything was immediately manageable once again. Now, if I could just get that feeling in church, I might be able to worship the one who created light. And maybe a little darkness wouldn't bug me so much.

3/30 Vertical
Our littlest is firmly on two legs now. I know. It feels like she just started crawling. I barely had time to blog about it (or as my friend Dave has termed it: "Scootcher it"). I think she, like her brother before her, has figured out that crawling is not a very efficient means of transportation. And really, when you're seven months old, it's all about efficiency.

This week, I noticed that she was pulling herself up to a standing position, usually when she's sitting by the couch. I shouldn't really be surprised. For weeks now, I've been marking her progress -- literally -- as her little toes have left a line of bruises on my thighs as she stands and sings into my face.

But now she's up on her own, and today I witnessed a little side step as she worked on moving down the couch. She's going to be cruising any day now and walking on her own soon afterwards. Having been through this once, I know that walking, while initially exciting, means that said child is more easily able to get into trouble very quickly. So I'm seriously considering tying little weights to her legs -- like a little baby Phar Lap -- to slow this process down.

As my cousin Hallie once pointed out to me: "You spend one year trying to get them to talk and stand up. Then you spend 17 years trying to get them to sit down and shut up." Wise words from one not yet 18 herself. Anyway, we haven't made any progress on the first word yet. Still mostly babble. I maintain that her first word will be Nate. After observing Nate "play" with Katie one evening, our friend Barry put his money on "HELP!"

3/29 It's up!
I can't help putting in a plug for the illustrious company I used to work for, The Davey Tree Expert Company. As most of you know, I worked there for 10 years before leaving to come here. I swear, if the commute wouldn't have killed me, I would still be working there. I had a great gang of coworkers and the world's best boss. I cried when I told her I was leaving.

Anyway. One of the last projects I was working on with a coworker was a redesign of our web site, Davey.com. As anyone who works with web sites will tell you, redoing a web site is akin to birthing a baby. In fact, it actually took LESS time to birth Katie than to get this site up, but that's because there are no committees involved with baby-making. Also, the approval process is decidedly faster.

But, I digress. When I left Davey in October, the project was moving quickly, but still had a ways to go. In fact, it had the hardest part to go, with the painstaking approvals still mostly ahead of us. I have to say, I wasn't sad to leave this part of my job.

I've been holding my breath the last few months, wondering where the project stood, yet trying to keep my sticky fingers out of it. Finally, my partner on this project emailed me today to say that the site's up. I was thrilled and arranged for R to watch the kids while I went into his office for some precious internet time to check it out.

I gotta say, it looks swanky. It was so exciting to look at it and think that I had some part in it. The pictures were even neat -- my cousin Karyn's house is featured in a few of them -- and brought back memories of my former coworkers.

So here's a call-out to all my Davey buddies from the other side of the world. If the next log shows a spike in hits from Micronesia, you know who to thank.

3/28 Pudding cake
I admit that I'm a little early on this particular post. I say a "little early" because it's technically still the 27th. At least for the next half hour.

That's right, sports fans. It's 11:31 p.m., and I'm up. I expect to hear a whistle of surprise from all my Ohio friends.

The reason for this late-night entry has its roots in two words: pudding cake.

You see, I teach on Tuesday and Thursday nights, so Randy cooks. It's a bit like playing gastrointestinal roulette as I'm never sure what I'm coming home to. Tonight, he went nuts and made pasta with homemade spaghetti sauce (a good thing, too, because the store was completely, utterly out of marinara sauce the last time I was there. To quote a great movie: Inconceivable!), Bisquick chicken fingers, garlic bread and his mom's famous pudding cake. He had a little bit of pudding left over, so that was part of the spread as well.

Unfortunately for me, everything was good. And worse yet, our friend Dave didn't show up for dinner. So there was lots of food left over. I ate too much. And then it was time for dessert.

Now, his mom's pudding cake, like most of her recipes, is of the "dump and stir" variety, so it's easy to make, and yet super yummy. It's just cook and serve pudding added to a box of chocolate cake, with (because it's a Lennox recipe and needs MORE sugar) chocolate chips sprinkled on top.

Mind you, I was already full. But as R cut into the cake, I couldn't help myself. I asked for a big slice of cake.

And then the devil himself intervened. I had the BEST idea. "Randy, hand me that pudding!" I said with glee. While he watched (this should have been my first clue -- he did not follow my lead here; a sure sign that I was about to make a huge mistake) I put on a layer of chocolate pudding on top of the cake. And then (I'm more than a little embarrassed to write this, but there's no stopping this now) I put another piece of cake on top of it. "Look! It's a pudding cake sandwich!" I exclaimed.

Then I ate it.

Then (there are no secrets between us now, I might as well tell all) I ate another piece.

So now, here I am, approximately 4 hours post-pudding cake. Awake. More than a little uncomfortable. And -- I swear this to you -- the cake in the fridge is calling my name.

3/27 Over the rainbow
As April approaches, we have begun the impossible. For weeks now, we've been talking about a trip back to the States. It's been fun dreaming about all that we'll do on our visit home. Trips to the zoo. Wal-Mart. A Yours Truly hot fudge sundae. Or maybe two.

But now comes the hard part, the reality-inserting part, where I sit down with a calendar and figure out what's really possible. This is where it gets depressing. We've already had the stomach-churning discussion of the costs for the tickets. For those of you who are wondering, let's just say that it will probably cost us a little more than a quarter of R's annual salary here for the plane tickets alone. I think the barometer in the room dropped a few notches once R and I did the math on that one.

There's no stopping this trip, though. Even if it seems like it's getting shorter and shorter. For starters, I had it in my head that maybe I'd leave early with the kids and spend the summer in the States. Then we realized that I had a chance to teach summer school here, which would be much more lucrative. Summer school ends July 5, and the first plane to Hawaii after that would be on July 6.

We're not sure yet, but there's a distinct possibility that I may be teaching full-time in the fall here. That means we'd need to be back for orientation on Aug. 8. Doing the math, that means we have roughly a month, including travel time. R's family's annual pilgrimage to the campground in Maine would be shortly after we arrive, so it makes sense to fly into NY, spend a few days adjusting to the 17-hour time difference in R's parents' basement, and then drive up to Maine.

From Maine, we'll make our way to Ohio, where we'll spend about 10 days frantically trying to see people before we head out to New York again to catch a flight back here. It's those 10 days that are going to drive me nuts. So I started making and ranking a list of what I wanted to do, who I wanted to see. I asked Nate for input. Tonight I'll ask R for input and then maybe we'll start asking people to reserve times now. That's right, I may actually be emailing my friends to reserve a dinner date 3 months in advance.

Yesterday, in the midst of what must have been our 20th discussion of the trip, I pointed out to R that we left Ohio to try something different. Now that we're here, we're spending all the money we can find to get BACK to Ohio, just to VISIT the life we had there.


3/26 Reading fun
Ever since Nate was a little baby, we've read him three books before bed. This sounded like a good idea at the time, and in the beginning, he had short little baby books, so it was fine. Now that we're into, say, Curious George, this neat little custom has become quite the stalling technique.

Furthermore, R and I are usually pretty beat by the time book reading rolls around, so we're bound to get a bit punchy. One night this week, R decided to read a Curious George book in a German accent. This was quite amusing for all of us, and brought on great peals of laughter when he reached the climactic line: "This is no place for a monkey!" (Or, "Zis iz nooh pahlasss fur unt mohnkay!")

Then we realized that we could sing one book (Mama, Mama/Papa, Papa) to the tune of "Twinkle, twinkle, little star". You can see where this is going... (No, not a German children's tune... we're creative. Not crazy.)

Tonight we got silly. We were singing Hippos Go Berserk to old Queen tunes, Wild Animal Baby to "Jessie's Girl" and even "76 Trombones". Needless to say, Nate pretty much tuned us out early on as R and I tried to best each other with our songs. During one song, I pointed out that the purpose of this exercise was to help Nate wind down from the evening's activities. But by then, we were having too much fun to stop.

So it was no wonder that when R took the two kiddies in to go to sleep, I heard nothing but peals of laughter for a good 10 minutes. Katie, in particular, was just screaming with laughter at her big brother. They're quite the duo, really, as she loves to laugh, and he loves an audience. I call it the "Nate and Katie" show, and I usually love to hear it. But it was late, so I did my best mom imitation and got them to calm down.

As R pointed out, it's a great thing that they're growing up listening to music. The bad news, I pointed out, is that it's weird 80s music sung decidedly off-key.

3/25 A chalk outline
We've been invaded. YET again. By yet another species of ants. These are tiny, tiny slightly reddish ants. They're so small that when they're crawling on me, I barely feel them. Then I look down and there goes one, right across my arm. Or worse -- Katie's arm. It makes me want to take about 10 showers a day, but since we're in a drought (see below), all I do is squash them and keep going.

R has heroically taken charge of the situation and bravely goes out every morning to spray and give me the ant report. (Other couples talk about hearts and flowers. We're much more practical.) These ants are especially tenacious. He's sprayed around our kitchen window for three days straight and they're still finding a way in. He even put out ant bait, but we think the bait might be too big for the ants to carry.

Today someone told R that chalk would stop them, so he tested this theory on a line of ants on the wall. Sure enough, they just kind of formed a logjam, right there on the wall. This of course makes me want to just outline the whole house, and form a sort of chalk moat that keeps them all out. We don't have enough chalk to do that, of course, so we'll start with the window and see if that holds them off.

3/24 Drying out
A friend of mine emailed me the other day saying that she had read online that the Marshall Islands had declared a state of emergency about the drought. Que pasa? she said. Is it as bad as reported? You can still buy water to drink and cook with, right?

The reality is that yes, we are in a drought. The newspaper carries a story about the drought just about every week. This is the dry season and some scientists are claiming that El Nino is to blame, making it drier than normal. Who knows.

Most of the time, we use water out of our catchment system, and when there's rain, it's no problem. If our supply runs low, we can ask our landlord to buy "city water", which is delivered by a huge water truck and simply goes into our catchment drum.

As a sign of the drought, Majuro city water is now only being delivered twice a week. It was down to one day a few weeks ago, but we got a little bit of rain since then. If we run out of water now, my understanding is that we might have to wait a while to get a refill, so to speak.

For the record, we buy our drinking and cooking water from a place called Pacific Pure Water, and they don't seem to be running out of water any time soon. We won't be thirsty, in any case.

But our house honestly hasn't been that affected yet. We're taking shorter showers and Nate's bathtub is usually only 1/4 full, but that's mostly just to conserve water. So far we haven't had any moments where we turn on the tap and nothing comes out.

Randy did have a funny moment a week or so ago when he went to do laundry and no water came out of the washer. He had unfortunately already put in money, clothes and also the soap. So he just left everything in the washer in the hopes that the water would come on soon. Later in the day he noticed the water truck leaving the laundromat, poked his head in, and sure enough, the washers were churning away. A few hours delay, but we still had clean clothes at the end of the day.

The outer islands are the ones that are really suffering. As I understand it, some of them are fairly remote and rely solely on water catchment systems. When it doesn't rain, they are dependent on shipments of water from other islands. The story in this week's paper listed Utrik, Ailuk, Likiep, Wotho, Lae and Namu as under the State of Emergency, and noted that water catchment systems and water were being shipped out this week.

The dry season ends in May, so we have a ways to go. My standard response to people who email me to complain about the cold weather in Ohio is that I'm happy to send sun your way, if you send some rain our way.

3/23 Promises, promises
On Wednesday, Nate was adamant that he didn't want to go to bed. He wasn't tired. He wanted to stay up all night. So R promised, in sheer frustration, that he would stay up with Nate on Friday night. "Can we stay up all night, Papa?" Nate queried. "Sure, buddy," said R.

Of course, Nate remembered the promise. So now it's Friday night, 9 p.m. and R and Nate are hunkered down for a long night. Katie's still awake, so I'm staying up with them for a little while. R is betting that N will be asleep within 2 hours. I think this evening will end with R insisting on Nate going to bed at around 1. Nate will throw a fit and cry and probably wake up me and Katie. I'm going to bed with the hopes of getting in some sleep before the fireworks.

Epilogue: Turns out they made it until around 11:30, at which point R convinced N (who was still going strong) that they should lie down for just a little bit. Nate was quite frustrated this morning when he woke up. His first words were: "I just laid down for a little bit!"

3/22 Recipe for disaster
Going to the store here is always an adventure. Fresh fruits and vegetables come in somewhat frequently, but at random. Sometimes there's a ton of fresh fruits and vegetables (albeit the selection here is significantly smaller than stateside) and sometimes it looks like winter in Ohio. All the apples, oranges, potatoes, onions and cabbage you can eat. Yum.

When we were packing to come here, we were uncertain what food would be available and so we only took one cookbook, The New Laurel's Kitchen. When I was still a vegetarian, I asked for the cookbook for Christmas and got two copies. I gave one to my mom as she seemed interested in it. In the meantime, my copy quickly got wet and moldy after only making one meal out of it, and we had to throw it out.

Mom never gave me her copy back, so when I was cleaning out her house, I took the cookbook back. All this is to say that the cookbook we have here has my mom's name in it, with the inscription, "From Jenny, 6/99". I think she put her name in the cookbook because she thought I would steal it back. Turns out she was right.

The cookbook is fairly comprehensive, which is good in some ways. After all, it has a recipe for making your own tortilla chips (we can't get them here), which was very good. But it also has a recipe for making your own ketchup. Really. On the other hand, it includes recipes for making sour cream, which is good because that's an item that is often missing from the shelves here. Unfortunately, the recipe calls for buttermilk, which is never going to make it here. (Ironically, it also has a buttermilk recipe, but it calls for ... BUTTERMILK! Maddening...)

Because I'm an optimist, every week I make out a list of the ingredients I'll need for the meals I'm planning on making. Each week I try to make 1-2 recipes out of the cookbook. That's pretty difficult seeing as the fruit/vegetable list alone often calls for chard (yeah, right) or other exotic and inaccessible items. But occasionally I'll find a recipe for which I have both the time and ingredients.

I had a recipe for chile that sounded good and called for green peppers. For 3 weeks I searched the island for green peppers. Finally, this week the peppers came in. I gleefully started to make the recipe only to discover to my horror that I didn't have cumin. BAH. I got to the store a few days later, found the cumin and made the chile last night.

And then promptly got violently ill.

I think we'll cool it on the recipes made with fresh veggies for a while.

3/21 Going bananas
I got it in my head that I wanted Katie's first food to be something significantly local. My friend Aue gave her child papaya for her first food. I thought that sounded exotic and exciting. But it's also kind of tough to find as the store here has pretty gross papaya. I was tired of waiting for a chance to hit the farmer's market, so at lunch today, we fed Katie some local bananas.

The bananas here are about half the size of the ones in the U.S. and are a tiny bit sweeter. I figured it was a safe bet and that Katie would like it. You be the judge.

3/20 It worked!
Katie slept well last night. Hallelujah. Count on me complaining about more things from now on.

3/19 A little night music
Katie, it appears, has given up sleep for Lent. Well, that's not exactly true. She'll sleep for maybe 2 hours at a time. And then is up and wailing.

I'll try to nurse her and she'll just lie there, flapping and flipping between R and me. Smacking us in the face, pulling our hair, etc. Then eventually she settles down, I move her back into her crib and the whole cycle starts again. This isn't because she's hungry.

Now, I've been through this once, so I know there's a point at which she'll start sleeping again. But I'm starting to have some short-term memory loss, I think. Well, anyway, my thinking is definitely slowing.

Last night she was up until around 9:30, and then up about 6 times between 10 and midnight. And then Nate woke up and had to go potty. And then she woke up again sometime around 2.

This all just confirms my belief that God really knows what he is doing. I think he made babies cute as a defense mechanism. I mean there's some crazy instinctual biology at work that makes me put up with this. Anyone else who kept me up like this would be my mortal enemy. She gets kisses and hugs all day long.

We're getting ready to head to bed now. My hope is that now that I've complained to the world about her, she'll actually have a good night's sleep. I'll let you know if that happens.

3/18 Madness in March
Last year, I decided to try to be one of the cool gang at work and joined the pool on the NCAA tournament. I spent hours (OK, minutes, but they felt like hours) reading up on the teams on Sports Illustrated. I carefully filled out my bracket.

And then missed the deadline to turn in my cash. So I had to watch from the sidelines as my teams all lost early on. Oh well. This year, I was determined to try again. For real, this time. For a whole $5. Whoa.

I earnestly filled out my bracket, picking out teams that I KNEW would win. Teams like Villanova, where my brother-in-law works. He's awesome AND a good basketball player, so his school will probably make it to the finals, I figure. I also picked Ohio State, mostly because we already have the outfits for the victory party, and because my friends the Boerners are big fans. I'm not entirely impractical, though. I chose Ohio State to win the final game.

Then it got tricky. There's a bunch more other games to choose. So I picked teams like Georgetown (my brother went there), UCLA (R's parents went there), etc. Once I ran out of familial or friend connections, I figured on what would make the best headlines. So I picked teams like Old Dominion ("Old Dominion DOMINATES the game!").

The games began and (no surprise) I think I'm in last place in the pool here at CMI. The really great news is that the person who is in second place is my friend, a woman from Kiribati, Aue. She apparently actually picked based on how many games the teams had won. I have much to learn from her.

3/16 Days of the week
Today Nate and I were talking about the days of the week. Sunday, I said, was the first day, and I held up one finger. I held up two fingers. "What's the second day?" I asked him.

He looked at my fingers and brightened. "TWOsday!"

I guess it's just a question of where you begin, right?

3/14 Hospital trip
I have a confession to make. I've gotten behind on Katie's immunizations. And not just by a few weeks. By approximately 3 months.

I know, I know. When I think about it and the terrible risk I'm taking, my stomach hurts. But the only thing that makes it hurt more is the thought of actually going to the hospital with her to get the shots.

She's coming up on 7 months now, and she hasn't had any shots since we left Ohio. When one of my friends offered to take me to the hospital, I knew the time had come to face my fears.

So I walked into the hospital today with Katie, walked up to the front desk and had my first miscommunication. That's right, we hadn't even gotten the records before I had confused someone. The clerk asked me why I was there; I said for shots for my child. She asked, "How many?" I said maybe 4 or 5, thinking she meant how many shots did I need. She meant how many kids. Ahhh. Just one.

She handed me a form and I began filling it out as best I could. Address? Hmmm... I guess CMI. Zone? Ummm... Uliga? That's the area of town we're in. Phone number? Blank. Work number? Blank. Number of person who can always reach you? Blank. Social security number of Katie? Ooops. I brought her passport, so I wrote down that number. It was pretty dang empty when I was done. The clerk didn't even bat an eye when I gave it back to her, though.

We headed back to the waiting room, where I tried very hard to be friendly and polite and yet not let Katie touch anything or anyone. I was sure everyone around us was really sick and would infect Katie with something. Luckily we only waited about a half hour before they called us in.

After the nurses weighed and measured her, I asked if someone could listen to her chest and heart after last night's scare. So I was sent to a separate room where a man listened to her and pronounced her fine. He made some small talk with me, and asked how old she was. I said 7 months. He was very impressed. "BIIIG baby," he said. I laughed and agreed.

Then it was time for the shots, so I was sent to a third room where two nurses were working. One motioned to the chair in front of her and she explained that Katie would get three shots and an oral dose of polio. First the oral dose. Katie made a horrible face, but no tears yet. Then I held her leg still as she got one shot in the leg. Still no tears. One more in the arm. A piercing wail; she's getting much squirmier now and harder to hold. Then one last one in her arm. Screaming screaming screaming.

I hate being a mom.

I looked down and noticed that the spent needles were going in a clear empty 1-gallon water jug. Hmmm... I guess that takes care of the biohazard problem.

Luckily, Katie nursed quickly in the waiting room and then promptly fell asleep. Even better, she slept all the way through lunch so my friend and I could really talk. But best of all, the knot in my stomach has gone away.

3/13 Fragile
One of my greatest fears here is that one of the kids will get really sick. Now mind you, the hospital here is decent. It's not the Cleveland Clinic or anything, but people in general seem to come out better than they went in.

But. As many of you know, Katie got a fever of unknown origin when she was about a month old, and she and I stayed at Children's Hospital in Akron for about 4 days. She ended up fine, and they never did figure out what caused the fever, but it was enough to give anyone pause when contemplating a move halfway around the world. In fact, while we were in the hospital, the R's contract for CMI arrived. It seemed kind of auspicious timing.

Anyway. Last night Katie got herself really worked up and when she finally settled down, she had this little irregular hiccupy breathing thing that just wouldn't stop. We sat with her a while, but then decided to lay her down in her crib. After lying in bed listening to her continue with the breathing hiccup for a good 20 minutes, we pulled her out again.

So we tried to wake her up. Patted her cheeks, shook her gently. Nothing. I began crying as I contemplated our options. Finally, R took ice cubes to her naked chest, at which point she opened her eyes long enough to give us a dirty look, and then went right back to sleep. A few minutes later, her breathing was normal again, and we convinced ourselves that the whole episode was mostly due to her being overtired.

Now, most days I am thrilled to be here. Seriously. I feel like this place has injected new life into our family and we have made some really healthy decisions. Our life in Ohio was mostly reacting to things, whereas here I feel like we're choosing the type of life we want to live. And I'm happy the choices we've made.

But it's moments like those when I question everything. Did we make the right decision to come here? Am I putting my children in danger? Will I regret this later? Today, everything seems normal again, but last night, it all felt ... fragile.

3/11 Our little thespian
When Nate and I get bored, we get creative. Here's a little video of a dramatic retelling of the poem "The Centaurs" by James Stephens, as found in the book, Dragons, Dragons by Eric Carle.

I think he's gonna make it to Hollywood someday. Actually, I hope he doesn't. :)

He and Randy also have a great time making contraptions together. Here's a jump they rigged up using train tracks, the blocks and their imaginations. For the record, little Percy was the only one to make it successfully across the jump.

3/9 Read-A-Thon?
Nate's school had a read-a-thon today, so of course, Katie and I were there. We read to three different groups. We started with the fourth graders and read Mr Popper's Penguins, which was lots of fun and the kids were very attentive. The next group was the eighth graders, who got to hear the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (unfortunately, most of them had either read it or seen the movie). Then we went to hear a fiddle concert in the cafeteria before reading Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day to the second graders.

I have to say that the most memorable part of the day was how Katie appealed to each group. She was definitely the star of the show; in fact, she was downright distracting for the eighth graders. Every time she waved an arm, cried or made any noise, the kids laughed. Katie, in return, learned early on to make lots of noise to see what kind of reaction she'd elicit. I think every kid in school knows her name now. I think they remember, faintly, that I was there too. And that maybe there was a book involved somehow.

P.S. Tonight is apparently the big viewing for the funeral next door. There are people EVERYWHERE. Our little porch had at least 5 people on it, and the porch closer to the neighbor's house had 10 people when Randy went out later in the evening. It's bizarre to be walking around in my nightgown and see people right outside our window.

3/8 A sign of the times
One of the things I'll always remember about moving into this house was the giant Mobil oil tank that was right outside our kitchen window. And when I say "right outside" I mean within 3 feet of our window. The sight of it made me more than a little nervous in the beginning as I wondered if I should worry about groundwater contamination. Randy, of course, pointed out that we had no groundwater. All our water comes from rain collected in cisterns above ground. So no worries.

Then Orlando, one of our landlords, said that he used to work for Mobil and the containers were supposed to be removed soon. Anyway, they were empty these days. And most recently, he said, they were filled with water. I felt even more at ease. Though I doubted whether they'd really be removed.

But one day (during naptime, of course) we heard quite a lot of construction going on next door. When I got up to investigate, one container had been removed. A few days later, another one was gone. And then today, as I was heading out the door to go get Nate from school, the last one, the one right outside our window, was being lifted out.

I grabbed the camera to capture the moment, but everything happened so fast I didn't really get a good picture. It seemed like an important moment, as I had often used the container as an anecdote of our life here. "It's a fabulous house," I'd say. "But the only problem is that it's RIGHT next to these huge oil containers..."

Now it feels like the "but" has been removed. All that's left is a chain link fence with some pretty tropical orange flowers growing on it. And as crazy as it seems, I kinda miss the container. I wonder if it means that I'm getting used to life on Majuro. Surely normal people do not miss seeing huge oil containers in their kitchen windows.

3/6 A death in the family
When I was getting ready to leave for school today, one of my neighbors came over. I had noticed in the past few days that some unusual things had been happening to her house. First, I came back from class one day, and the house had been painted. As in a completely different color. And then they had a bunch of awnings set up. Then we noticed some people carrying big boxes of sodas.

Clearly, a huge party was in the works, we thought. What had actually happened, my neighbor explained, was that her husband had died. I said I was sorry and she said that it was fine, but that we should expect to see a lot of people around our house in the coming days.

So I asked one of my students if there was anything I should do -- any custom I should adhere to. After some prodding, he said I could buy some Luau (a syrupy drink mix we've been using on snowcones) and bring it by, or maybe some Arnott's biscuits. I was sure I had misunderstood him as he is the student with the heaviest accent. I double-checked with a friend who knows about the Marshallese. He confirmed what my student said. Apparently they use the Luau mix for serving drinks to the people who come by. Same with the biscuits.

It seems like a strange gift to bring. I'm much more comfortable bringing over a casserole or a jello dish or something (remember, I'm from Ohio -- we think cream of mushroom soup is in fact one of the basic food groups). But I guess this isn't really about what makes ME comfortable, after all.

3/5 Family
Each year, Randy's immediate family gathers at his father's campground in Maine for about a week of fun. The activity is always one of the highlights of our year. I mean, the place has its own slushie machine, a dog, a beach, a playground and 6 cousins all around Nate's age. It's a kid's paradise.

Anyway, one of the traditions of the week is the family picture. We take one huge group shot and then individual family shots. It's fun to look at old family pictures and see how the Lennox clan has grown over the years. In the beginning, we all fit on one picnic table comfortably. Now we're spilling out over two.

Here in Majuro, Nate really loves to look at the group picture, which is hanging on our fridge. He uses it to talk about the various members of the family. And lately he's been telling us what he remembers of people. "Here's Grandma Pam. She says, 'Hi sweetheart!'"

Some of it is just plain funny. "Here's Uncle Mike, he says, "Duuuude." (Mike: I have NO idea where he got that from, but he insists you say that.)

And he's started asking questions of us about our family. Today he asked Randy about his grandpa and grandma. And then he asked me if I had a family.

It's the type of question that makes me kind of stop. Especially at 7:18 a.m. when I'm really tired already. So I said that my family is really mostly Uncle Chuck and Aunt Jenny and Cousin Isabelle. And lots of cousins, like cousin Karyn. ("Oh, cousin Karyn, I like her," he said. "She's really nice.")

The reality is that most of the time it doesn't occur to me that my family has shrunk over the years as R's has expanded exponentially. Mostly because I consider R's family mine and have found great joy in our relationships. But it's a fact that our families are distinctly lopsided.

I attended a grief group (exactly once, though I think it actually did help) in the weeks following my mom's death. At the meeting, one of the attendees said that he describes grief as a hole. In the beginning, the hole is huge and cavernous and you fall in it all the time. After a while, you begin to kind of live around the hole. You know where it is and you can avoid it. And it begins to shrink. For a while, you can even forget about it. But then sometimes, you accidentally trip and you end back in the hole.

I think that's what happened this morning. I tripped and fell into the hole. The good news is that I've been there enough times to know how to get out.

3/3 A trip to the outback
One of the best things about Nate's school is its astounding diversity. I think Nate may be the only American, and among his classmates are Marshallese, Asians and an Australian.

In Majuro, if you're an Australian, that probably means that your dad or mom works for the Australian Navy and that you live in a compound called Wallaby Downs. I had heard that WD had fun kids' playground equipment, so when we were invited to a party there, I jumped at the chance.

The place was fabulous. The equipment had no rust on it (!), and was situated in a really pretty grassy area ringed by hibiscus plants. Right next to it was a really nice pool with a blue awning over it. I had brought swimsuits for me, Nate and Katie, and within 20 minutes of arriving, we were swimming in the pool. The timing of this adventure was significant as the EPA had just announced that the lagoon is unsafe for swimming.

I realized once we got in that it was actually Katie's first time in a pool. Good thing she liked the experience, as I really wanted to stay near Nate. She even withstood one of the longest rainstorms I've seen yet, during which we took cover (ironically) under the blue awning. Almost an hour later, we ate some delicious food and then headed home.

And then the real adventure began. I might have failed to mention that Wallaby Downs is kind of far from our house. In fact, it's "over the bridge", which is Majuro speak for meaning it's at least 20 minutes away, and costs $2 per person for the taxi ride. On the way to the party, the taxi driver didn't know where it was. Luckily, everything here is just off the main road, so we were able to find it.

On the way home, we got a taxi within 5 minutes, which was great, considering that taxis out on long island (as that area of town is called) are much more rare. We stopped to let off one passenger, and then the taxi driver HIT another guy who was walking in front of the car to get in. It wasn't a hard hit, and the guy just kind of laughed it off and got in the car. Still, it was a little unnerving.

Then the guy and the woman he was with had us stop at a store while he ran in and got some cigarettes and she bought a dress. Yeah, you read that correctly. A dress. It was really getting late now. And the car really smelled like gasoline. Thankfully, the guy did NOT light up on the way home, or we all might have done the same.

3/2 Birthday wishes
Yesterday I had Nate run out and wish Randy a happy birthday. Randy was quite surprised. Especially since it wasn't his birthday. Oops. So I was a day off.

Today, I was exhausted and busy getting Nate breakfast and changing Katie's diaper when I noticed that Randy seemed to be lingering around. Finally he got up to go and said that he hoped we all had a good day, because it was such a special day. Emphasis on "special". Goofy grin on his face. Whatever, I think.

Then slowly, something moved around in my head and I realized what he meant. I had Nate run in the other room with me. We ran back in, yelling "Surprise!" and "Happy Birthday!" Randy was sufficiently surprised and we laughed about it. Good thing he's forgiving. And easygoing. We decided to postpone the celebration a full week.

2/28 A friendly hello
When R got home today, he was greeted with a special hello from our youngest. Upon setting eyes on her daddy, Katie raised her arm straight up like a wave. It was an exciting moment, and one that she repeated when we raised our arms in greeting to her.

Now it's our favorite parlor trick. Add in the patting the table game that she's an expert at, and you've got dinner and a show. What can I say? We're simple people. The bad news is that Nate LOVES to play these games with her, so our meal times have all been extended by at least 10 minutes while they play. Of course, that also means that there's lots of squeals of delight from both of them, so that makes up for it.

2/26 Just some water, please
Today we were down to our last jug of water, so R and I discussed our plan of attack before heading out. We can get small, 1-gallon jugs of water delivered to us. The only problem is that the jugs are not recyclable, so we end up sending a lot of trash to the landfill. We recently bought 2 5-gallon jugs of water that can be refilled, but those are a bit tricky to refill.

Since we don't have a car, I can either take a taxi with the two kids and two empty 2-foot tall jugs (not really a good option), walk down with the kids and the stroller, using the stroller to transport the empty jugs (I could only take one at a time, so that would be a pain), or ask to use someone's car.

So we decided I'd ask to borrow Dave's or Jim and Aue's car. Seemed simple enough. Except that Dave was in a meeting. And so was Jim. As Nate said, "What's the problem? Everyone's working!" So we camped outside on a bench with some library books and were working our way through Dragons, Dragons (did I mention that CMI has a decent kids' library? It does, much to Nate's and my delight.) when another friend said we could borrow his car.

Great. So now we just had to head back home, get Katie's car seat, lug her back in it while Nate trotted alongside us, put it in the car, drive home, get the jugs and head out to get water. Except that when we got to the car, I couldn't find the seat belts in the backseat. After 15 minutes of yanking, swearing, sweating and steaming (and considerable crying on Katie's part) I deduced that this plan wouldn't work.

Back to Dave's office to see if he was out of the meeting. He wasn't. So we waited in his office to ambush him. When he came in, he got a hero's welcome. Then Nate fell off the sofa and hit his chin on the tile floor. Good grief. Kisses and hugs to Nate, then a march to Dave's car, to the house and then to PPW (Pacific Pure Water) to get the jugs filled.

On the way home, Nate says: "B-A-S-C. Bah, AHH SSS KKK. Mommy, what's BASC?" I'm figuring that he's missed a few letters, so I tell him that I'll look at the word when we get home. When we get home, there it is, on the back of the passenger seat, right in front of Nate. BASC. It's some sort of name for the seat cover, I think. But Nate read it, unaided and unprompted. It was awesome.

How did we celebrate? A cool glass of water, of course.

2/24 A small place
I was at the store today, blandly picking out some ramen noodles when a heavyset slightly short man walked by me. His face looked vaguely familiar. Like I was supposed to know him, but didn't. Then it hit me, right around the time he turned a corner.

That was the president of the Marshall Islands. Kessai Note. He just nodded at me. Right by the kimchi.

But maybe, I thought, I was wrong. So I checked with one of the cashiers. Is that the president? I asked, a bit breathlessly. She casually glanced over at him, now sipping some coffee at a booth, and confirmed my guess.

I debated going over and introducing myself. But I couldn't figure out what I'd say. "Hi, President Note. I really like it here." Ummm... sounds stupid. "President Note, I'd like to get some playground equipment for the park in Uliga." Too political. "President Note, did you notice that they actually got in ricotta cheese? Time to stock up!" Too weird. The poor guy's just out for some coffee, I thought, leave him alone. So I did.

When I got home, I noticed that I had a huge snot mark on my black t-shirt from either Katie or Nate. So I'm glad I didn't introduce myself. I figure the next time I see him, I'll be better dressed. Or at least clean.

2/23 Half birthday
Katie is 6 months old today, and I just can't believe it. We gave her some cereal for the first time (I had chosen 6 months as the point for her first food) and she wasn't so sure about it. I figured that since she grabs my plate when I'm eating, sucks her bottom lip and drools while I munch around her, she'd gobble it down.

Not so much, as you can see. I think she's ready to skip the mushy stuff and head right for her first t-bone steak.

2/19 Just shoot me
We're all sick here, and I'm CRANKY about it. R was the typhoid Mary in this case and he started going downhill on Saturday. He mostly laid around and moaned for a few days before starting to feel better earlier this week. Then I started to feel sick.

And then Nate got a drippy nose. And Katie just kind of climbed on me, pulling my hair and squealing into my ears. So we're all hunkered down drinking obscene amounts of juice and soup. I think we've gone through two whole rolls of toilet paper with no end in sight.

Randy made what looked like a delicious meal last night. I have NO idea what it tasted like. I think there may have been garlic involved. We really should have had brussels sprouts. I mean, we should take advantage of this temporary loss of my taste buds. I did clean out the fridge, as that seemed the logical thing to do when I can't smell at all.

I went so far as to email a friend of mine without kids to warn her (OK, to rant) about being sick with kids. Then I felt really guilty about it. But I still sent it. And I had R take this picture of us for posterity.

In the midst of all this, Katie is clearly trying to crawl. She gets herself up into push-up position and just kind of rocks until either her arms or her legs give out. Then she falls flat on her face. She hasn't quite gotten the idea of moving her arms or legs. But she is incredibly persistent and I, for one, am amazed at her upper body strength. Especially since even blowing my nose these days seems like a chore.

2/17 First dance
Nate went to his first dance tonight. The bad news was it was a Valentine's Day dance, which feels like a lot of pressure for a 3.5-year-old. The good news was that he had 3 pieces of garlic bread before heading out the door. So I felt safe.

The party was at the resort and it had the usual balloons, streamers, tables with sugary items, and loud music. Luckily all the preschool parents were sitting at one table so we could all trade notes on our various charges. Nate was very shy in the beginning, mostly sitting next to me and watching the other kids dance. Somewhere between the "Conga" and "YMCA", he got out and started some serious boogeying.

"YMCA" was actually pretty funny to watch as I think it's the first time I've been to a function where that song was played and no one was doing the arm motions. I'm serious. All the parents (OK, well, I think there were some behind me doing it anyway) were doing the motions, but the kids were not interested. I also realized how very few songs I know these days. And it seemed to me that the songs I knew the least were the songs that drew the most kids to the floor.

Again, more proof that I'm old.

Luckily, the elementary kids had to leave by 8:30 so that the older kids could have their party. Now that's my kind of party. Us old fogies need our rest.

2/16 Surprise, surprise
We had a surprise birthday party for Anabelle today, and I can't decide if we had more fun planning the party or actually enjoying the party itself. I had to be careful to keep Nate in the dark on the party as I was afraid that he'd spill the beans. When I told him the day of the party, he was thrilled. One of his favorite games to play with all his animals is a surprise party. So when I told him we'd be really having one, he was pumped.

We had decorations, party hats, plates, party horns (mercifully quiet ones), a birthday cake, everything but balloons (Mr. Party pointed that one out). We had N keep a lookout and when they arrived, we turned off the lights and yelled "Surprise!" Anabelle just kind of looked at us while we sang to her. Her birthday was, after all, a few weeks ago, and she was in Hawaii to celebrate it.

We had a great time, and Nate and Anabelle had a blast (translation: only one time out for both of them). Katie was happy to watch a prime-time version of the Nate and Anabelle show as well. I think my favorite part was when Nate would say "Happy birthday, Anabelle," Anabelle would respond, "Happy birthday, Nate!" It was really cute. I think they've finally gotten the idea of sharing.

2/13 Falling Down
As beautiful as our house is, it has its drawbacks. One of which is that we seem to be in a constant state of (dis)repair. For instance, we were in the house for only a few weeks when the toilet seat broke. We repaired that, and within a few weeks, the curtain rod in our bedroom broke. The funny thing is that it broke within a week of finally getting hangers to hang up all our stuff. So now our clothes are in Nate's bedroom.

Then the bed frame really started to sag and we discovered that it was being held together by two clamps. Then the dining room chairs started to lose their screws. And they began to get very wiggly. When the doorknob to our front door came off in R's hand this week, I just about lost it. Every week, I wonder what's going to break next. We're also getting to know the Ace Hardware store pretty dang well.

So far, nothing really huge has broken, and for that I'm grateful. But by my calculations, we have 20 more months left on our contract. That's a lot of time.

2/10 Carnival
Our church had a carnival today, and Nate and I decided to check it out. We left, armed with sunscreen, some money and high spirits. They had some rather ingenious (and low-cost, I might add) games set up. One station had some wooden fish with little hooks in them standing up in the sand. For two tickets ($.50) you had one minute to try to hook a fish with a wooden pole. Nate has a wind-up game similar to this, so he wanted to try it. The guy manning the station used his watch to count down a minute for us. Unfortunately, Nate didn't hook anything, but he did manage to draw a crowd as he was one of the smallest kids playing a game.

So then we headed over to another station that had an aquarium filled with water and little jars on the bottom. For a ticket, you got 5 pennies, and if you dropped 3 of them in a jar, you won a prize. Nate did better at this one, but still no prize. He then spied the dart game where you throw darts at balloons. Yeah, right. No amount of pleading is going to get you that game, bucko.

Then we turned around and saw the mother of all carnival games: the dunking booth. Nate has a Curious George book that includes George going in a dunking booth, so he knew how the game worked and was all into the booth. We got a bag of popcorn, popped open the water and plopped down for some entertainment.

I noticed a few things about the dunking booth. Number one, the booth's water was filled from the ocean. The courtyard, of course, backs right up to it, so they just took a hose from the ocean and pumped that water into the well. Number two, they seemed to have no problem getting volunteers willing to be dunked. I know this is painful to read where you are, but today (as always) was about 85 degrees and pretty sunny, so finding people willing to fall in the water was not hard. In fact, at one point, the girls who had been dunked had kind of all piled in the well and the guy manning the booth had to tell them to get out. After about 5 of them got out as slowly as possible, he let the last two marinate a little longer.

After about 10 minutes of watching, I was ready to go. We had really seen everything, and I was really starting to get hot. We were trotting past the waiting line for the booth when Nate declared he wanted to try the game. No problem, I said, and we paid our tickets and got in line. When it was Nate's turn, the guy took one look at Nate and had him come within a foot of the target. Nate threw each of the three balls with great gusto, but alas, came up, literally, short.

"Mama, I want to try again!" he said. So fine, we repeat the process, with the same results. And the same plea at the end. Again, again. We have one ticket remaining, so we go buy one more ticket and try one more time. This time, after he throws one ball, I ask the guy if I can hold Nate up. Sure he said. No sooner do I hold Nate up then he aims and...


(OK, so to tell the truth, he DID hit the target. It was a great throw. However, the target didn't move. The little girl in the dunking chair just jumped in. But I REALLY appreciated it, and everyone cheered, and Nate felt like a huge hero.)

We practically ran home. Nate couldn't wait to tell Papa what had happened. This was his version: "Papa, I threw the ball and it hit the circle! The girl SPLASHED in!" Luckily, I was there to interpret. What a great day.

P.S. Also in other really HUGE news, Katie slept through the night last night. At 5 1/2 months, she's approximately one full year ahead of her brother. I'm thinking we're going to go read to the kids more often. :)

2/9 Listening
Since Nate's school is a Co-Op, I recently asked the principal if they needed volunteers. She mentioned that they really need people to listen to the children read. Apparently not all parents are interested in reading with their children, so some of the kids are a little behind in their reading skills.

Today was my first time listening to the kids read. I dropped Nate off with Mr. Robin and then headed to the first-grade classroom, just a few doors down from Nate's room. The teacher quickly pulled out some books and volunteered a child. We headed out to a picnic bench out under a tree in the courtyard. The teacher had asked that we first do a picture walk where I have the students explain all the pictures, and then read the book together. After I was done with two books, I was to bring the kid back and take another one.

So I did that, complete with Katie giving a little cheer at the end of each book and lots of encouraging words as each kid sounded out the words. Katie was really into this exercise, occasionally giving real shouts of excitement, which initially scared the kids and then made them laugh. She also loved our location: right by the playground equipment. It seemed like a good spot at the time, but after she got hit in the head with a soccer ball, I wasn't so sure. In typical Katie fashion, she didn't cry or even fuss.

Anyway, we were having a grand time and making lots of progress. Then the principal, Kathy, stopped by and asked how things were going. "Great," I said. "This child can really read well!" So she asked the child what the book was about.

Blank stare. "Well, what does the sentence mean?" she asked. "The one you just read," I added, helpfully. Again, another blank stare. I looked on, horrified.

Kathy explained that many of the kids didn't have problems saying the words. They did that great. But they didn't know what the words meant. Oh. I really don't know what the heck I am doing here, I thought. So the next kid got lots of questions.

"Good reading! Now, what is a green bean?" I asked.

"I don't know," she said. "I'm Marshallese."

I thought to myself, she added that last bit awfully quickly. I wonder if that's become an explanation or an excuse. I also wondered if that meant she hadn't ever had green beans (they're at the store, tho they're certainly not as fresh as in the U.S.) or if she just knew them by another name. Both were distinct possibilities.

Finally, after three kids and six books, I was exhausted and Katie was asleep in my arms. We headed to the principal's office to wait out the last half hour in air conditioning before collecting Nate and taking a taxi home. The bad news is that Katie has a weird sunburn on her arm from where the sun filtered in through the palm fronds. The good news is that all that excitement really wore her out.

2/7 Busted
Nate has a new school pal, Mitchy, who came over for a playdate earlier this week. Mitchy's mom is from Cincinnati and is 8 months pregnant with a little girl, so we have a lot in common as well. Nate and Mitchy had a blast playing together the way boys do -- running around screaming, knocking down blocks and basically making lots of noise.

It was great to see. And tolerable to hear. Katie loved the show as well.

Anyway, when I picked him up from school today, I heard that he and Mitchy had gotten into some trouble. Apparently at some point they were standing on the tables instead of sitting in their seats. So they both got a time out. I had a hard time suppressing my laughter. Don't get me wrong -- I'm grateful that the teachers were paying attention and wanted them to be safe.

But I think what this means is that Nate and Mitchy are officially pals, now that they've gotten into trouble together. And I have to say that I'm grateful that Nate has a friend in school.

2/5 Lost in translation
Before we left Ohio, R ordered an English-Marshallese dictionary, which, ironically, took about 2 months to get here. We started looking up some words in it this weekend. Interestingly, they had no word for philosopher or journalist. The word for newspaper was nuujpeba. (pronounced NEWJ-paybah. Say it aloud once.)

The college has a beginning Marshallese class that both R and I would love to take. But when forced to choose between teaching a class or taking one, we chose the option that would improve our financial situation. So we're often a bit lost on the language here, though we're trying to learn where we can. I harass my students as they have the habit of breaking into Marshallese at least once a class to discuss things amongst themselves. They always laugh and apologize, but I think it'd be really amazing to be able to talk in multiple languages. I'm in awe of their grasp of English; it's really quite good.

But all around us are examples of things written incorrectly in English. Every night, for instance, Nate goes to sleep on a mattress with this inscription: May the memories your joy of this beautiful season. It drives me nuts. Makes no sense.

Nate is even sometimes difficult to understand. Tonight he asked to see the movie with the "little bears and the pokey sticks". R and I had no clue. He added that there are robots. And aliens. OOOHHHH. You mean Return of the Jedi? I guess we were watching parts of it the night before. I wonder what George Lucas would think of Nate's interpretation of his movie.

2/2 A tea party
Today Nate's class had a tea party, and he was excited because it meant two things: 1) We made chocolate chip cookies and brought them to class. He managed to swindle two out of me before we left for class.

2) I stayed with him in class. I have to confess that I loved this part also.

Class began with circle time, where they sang a bunch of songs, including this (4MB) one on the days of the week and a Fijian song complete with hip-wiggling. It was hysterical. Then they moved quickly into a dramatic reading by Mr. Robin about Jake the Snake who lost his mommy. (Don't worry, he finds her in the end.) And when I say dramatic, I mean it. Robin must have had some acting experience at some point. Or maybe he learned that he needed to be dramatic just to keep the kids' attention.

Speaking of keeping the kids' attention, I have confirmed that I could never, not in a million years, be a preschool teacher. You have to have the energy of 15 people, the patience of 20 and the endurance of, well, 3-year-olds. And that was BEFORE they were all hopped up on sugar.

One of the highlights of the class was that each student got up in front of the class to sing a song in a toy microphone. It was, as one of the parents pointed out, like their own version of American Idol. When Nate got up for his turn, he was too nervous to sing, (I KNOW! I was also completely flabbergasted by this) so I went up there with him. He wanted to sing the song from Ice Age ("Send me on my way" by Rusted Root) but there was no way I was going there. So we went with Old McDonald. He mostly held the microphone while I sang.

Then we headed over to the cafeteria where Mr. Robin gave every student a "Good Job" award. At this point, we were drawing a crowd. Or maybe it was the snacks that were attracting people. Anyway, the 6th graders decided they wanted to serenade the kids so they played "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" on their recorders for us.

Shortly after that, things began to disintegrate as the kids were high on sugar and bored. So we left, but not before getting his completed worksheets from the past week, including a full-size outline of Nate and some counting exercises. When we got home, I hung up the outline. It seemed a visual reminder of how big Nate is these days. Luckily, the picture fell down shortly after I hung it up.

2/1 Class conflicts
My class, as I've said, has only about 4 students. And as luck would have it, one of them (we'll call him student A) appears to be of a very, very high rank on the island. I had been wondering about this for the past week or so, as his name is on the airport on the island, and he seems very, well, regal in class. He always has his homework done and speaks fluently, and has this presence about him.

Today I had my suspicions confirmed as one of the other students informed me that A was related to some powerful people on the island. So I eagerly asked the other student (one of the quiet ones, we'll call him B) if that was why B was quiet in class.

"No," B said. "I just don't like to talk." I told him that in orientation they told us that sometimes when there's differences in class, the students will defer to the student of highest rank. "No," he shrugged. "I'm just quiet." So much for all of my preparation and worrying about differences in class.

I've also decided to take advantage of the students. I'm usually there a little bit early, so any students who come early I think can be expected to be quizzed by me about Marshallese culture. Today I asked them to interpret the newspaper's editorial cartoon and to explain a few references in the articles. I'm going to make this a habit. I've already learned so much from the students, such as:

  • There are actually two taxi companies on island. If you get in one kind, it only costs $.50 as opposed to $.75. But the taxi drivers probably won't tell you, so you'll overpay if you don't know the difference. This may seem trivial, but I'm now taking 4 trips by taxi a day to deliver Nate to school and pick him up, so that adds up.
  • If a person makes an "O" with his fingers (touching thumb and pointer finger together), he is begging for quarters. If you smile at him or her, he will expect you to give him a quarter. I thought this was really important as I'm very smiley. Gotta watch that. :) Oops. Did it again.

1/31 More school
Apparently Nate has been crying every day for me in class. I had hoped it was just the first day jitters, but I guess not. All the same, I ask him if he likes school, and he says yes, resoundingly. Today I stepped outside to talk to the teachers about the tea party they're having (!) on Friday, and Nate came running to the door with huge crocodile tears. I think he thought that I had left without saying goodbye.

Funny thing about the tea party. They had a little sign out in front of the room saying that there'd be a party on 03/02/2007. I thought, 'Wow, they're giving us a lot of notice! I hope I don't forget about it!' But when Ms. Ann brought it up to me, I realized that their system of dating is with the day, then month and then year. That would make the tea party on Friday. Good thing we got that all cleared up.

Also, I'm starting to make some friends of my own at the school. Yesterday I got there a little early and was spying, err, looking in discreetly, at Nate when one of the kids piped up with a "Hi Jennifer!" I was really confused as everyone at the kid's table echoed my name after him, and I had trouble figuring out the source. So I said hi back, kind of in general, and one of them said, "Aren't you the woman who sits behind us at church?"

Ahh.. there he is. "Hi Jeremy," I responded. I shouldn't be surprised. This is a pretty small place.

1/29 First day of school
I just dropped Nate off at the Co-Op school for his first day of school. All morning long I felt like I was stalling the moment. I've been ranting about him needing to go to school for so long that I think I forgot to realize what a watershed moment it is. Last night it began to hit me, and the excuses began.

First I thought that maybe he shouldn't go to school because he had an accident. Clearly he wasn't ready. Then I couldn't find a pair of clean shorts that were easy to take off. Again, a sign that he shouldn't go. Then he took a long time at dinner (I'm not joking) and I thought maybe that meant he wasn't ready either.

Nate, on the other hand, has been very consistent. If you asked him if he wanted to go to school, you barely got the question out before he answered yes. This morning he was a bit like Nemo (of Finding Nemo fame) on his first day. He was literally jumping up and down with excitement while his backpack (or, as he calls it, his packback) jumped with him.

So we packed up, got in the taxi and went to school. His teachers, Mr. Robin and Miss Ann were getting out the play-doh when we got there and got him involved immediately. I hung out for a bit and then went to settle the bill before coming back to say goodbye. At that point they had their chairs in a circle and were talking about where everyone was from. Nate looked a little bewildered but waved bravely goodbye to me.

I think I was more emotional than he was, and on the taxi ride home with a sleeping Katie in the Snugli, I really wanted to run back and take him home with me. It occurred to me that this is one of the few times where he is experiencing something that I'm not. I no longer will know everything that happened to him. I'll have to trust that he'll have the language to tell me. And for the first time in his life, he could choose not to share something with me.

I feel like I just sent him off to college.

Epilogue: I got to the co-op before Nate's class ended and did some world-class spying on him. The teacher, of course, caught me. I saw Nate in music class, though, and he seemed to be having fun. I wasted some time before heading over to class, where Nate was eagerly waiting for me. Apparently he had spotted me also.

Anyway, he said he had a good day, wants to go again, met some friends (though he couldn't remember their names), and sang some songs (again, couldn't remember which ones). At dinner, he said his favorite part of the day was music class. I guess we'll be OK after all.


1/27 Realization
Television here on Majuro is a bit of an adventure. We have about 20 channels on cable at our house, but probably half of them are Chinese or Japanese. One night R and I tried to watch this Asian game show and it was just hilarious. I have no idea what the point of it was, but the show involved some sort of makeover and karaoke and lots of screaming.

Anyway. We also get the National Geographic channel, Animal Planet, Nick Australia, BBC, Al-Jazeera, Fox News and CNN. Then we have these other miscellaneous channels called Star World. One of the channels shows TV shows from the US (and some soap operas) and the other shows movies. The bad news is that we have no TV guide at all here, so we're often flipping into movies that are halfway done. The good news is that our TiVO is able to rewind 30 minutes, so sometimes we're able to watch a whole movie. (Sidenote: Our friend Dave was fascinated with the TiVO. He hadn't heard of it before and was thrilled that we could pause live TV. "Where are you guys FROM?" he said increduously. "Ohio, of course!" I said.)

There's also one channel at the end of the spectrum that just plays DVDs. I guess the copyright rules don't apply here. We know they're playing DVDs because they show the FBI warning at the beginning (saying that you'll get prosecuted for doing just what they're doing) and everything. And when they're done, if someone's slow at the switch, the DVD screen saver comes up.

One of the crazy things about TV here is that there are no ads for anything other than the TV shows. For instance, when Animal Planet takes a break, they simply run ads for their other shows. But there's no ads for Wal-Mart, or Toyota, or McDonald's. It had been floating around in my head as a bit weird and then suddenly today the reason for the missing ads occurred to me.

There's nothing to advertise here. I mean it. There are no chain restaurants on the island. Everything is independently owned. There's no point advertising for cars as the car dealerships just sell whatever cars they have. No one can afford to make TV ads here, so they don't.

On the one hand, it's really freeing. I used to hate the ads in the U.S., so it's kind of nice to be avoiding them. On the other hand, it's a real sign of exactly how isolated we are.

1/25 Class, part II
Second class tonight (don't worry, after this week, I'll just do the highlights) and only one of the four had done his homework. I had asked them all to bring in an example of good writing. One had brought in a copy of an ad, so we talked about that ad nauseam (sorry, couldn't resist the pun).

BUT, two of them brought me rough drafts of the assignment due on Tuesday. So maybe all is not lost. One of the quieter students read his rough draft aloud, but I had an exceptionally difficult time understanding his accent. I read the paper after class and gave him some pointers. At one point I thought he asked me about my hobbies when in actuality he was asking where my office was. Sigh.

At about 5:30 my fourth student strolled in. We talked after class a bit, so hopefully he'll come to class on-time next week. The good news is that I had them all laughing in class today. Of course, it's easy to be the good guy at this point in the semester. The hard part is not losing them the first time I hand back a graded assignment.

1/24 Growth
Today I was changing Katie's diaper while Nate gave commentary. He was remarking on how stinky it was when he stopped to ask a question. "Mama, when is Katie going to grow a penis?"

I paused. Ummm... never. "OOOOhhhh," he said wisely. "Why not?" She's a girl, just like I'm a girl. We don't have penises. Again with the wise Oh. Thankfully, he moved on.

But I gotta admit, with all the changes that Katie's been going thru, it's a good question to ask. Our little superstar is now rolling over regularly, and sits up with just a tiny bit of support. She looks like she's considering crawling and often isn't in the same place I left her. It's a little disconcerting as that means Nate (and I) have to keep better track of his toys these days. She's also singing -- with a little help (8.5 MB).

Unfortunately, she's also caught her first cold. Along with me and Nate. So we're all cranky and snotty and frustrated. Today, I announced, was a TV day. I told Nate he could watch as many movies as he wanted. So this is what he does. Yep, that's every single DVD we own. No, we did NOT watch them all. And I learned to watch what I say.

1/23 First class
Today was my first day of class. R and I had arranged to do the kid shuffle at around 4 so I would have some time in his office before class started at 5. It felt like the whole day was just a giant countdown to the first class.

3 p.m. I had warned Nate in advance that when Papa came home from work, I'd be going. I wanted him to know that there'd be a quick changing of the guards and didn't want to deal with a fuss as I left. At one point Nate says, "So Mama, when Papa comes home, you're going to go?" Yes, I say. "To the bathroom?" he queries. I realize that I'd just been saying I'd "go" when Papa comes home. If you keep in mind that just about everything in our house revolves around the potty these days, his comment makes a lot of sense.

4 p.m. R comes home and I head over to his office to try to track down the department chair and run off some copies. I'm able to do everything (including use the copier, a small miracle considering that there's one copier in the faculty office for everyone to use) and even send some emails off before class begins.

5 p.m. I go into the conference room adjacent to R's office, where my class is being held. I'm familiar with the room b/c it's where Nate and I go to draw on the whiteboard while R's talking on the phone. Three of the four students are there; I know from my roster that they're all men. I was a bit nervous about that as I thought that there would be some gender issues with a woman teaching the men, but they seem fine. Additionally two of them are pretty talkative. Considering that I really expected to have silence for the first two weeks, I was thrilled to have whole conversations with them.

I, of course, revert back to my normal nervous mode and talk VERY QUICKLY. I also start class on-time, even though one of the students isn't there yet. He arrives at about 5:15. Time, as I've said in the past, isn't measured the same here. So I ignore it, deciding to see instead if this would be a pattern with him.

I based my lesson plan on my media writing class at Kent, and I realize too late that it was a mistake. Usually on the first night of class I have the students tell me about a story they've read recently, and I go around the room to all 17 students. It's a nice ice-breaker and gets us easily into a discussion of what defines the news.

The problem here is that I only have 4 students, only two of whom are willing to discuss what they've read recently. So instead of a 40-minute activity, it's about a 5-minute discussion. I segue into a discussion of the first assignment, hand out a couple examples and look at my clock. 5:15. Hmmm... class is supposed to go until 6:15. Should I take roll again? Probably not.

By 5:45, I've exhausted all I can possibly say and decide to give up. I send them on their way and figure this is as good as it gets. Hopefully, we'll all do better on Thursday. At least the first class is over.

1/18 Resolute
One of the huge drawbacks to life here is the complete lack of parks and places for N to play outside. So this year, (deep breath) I'm considering trying to do something about it.

To give you an idea of what I'm up against, here's a picture of the park. It barely has any equipment on it, it's scary and there's trash everywhere (note the sign). Furthermore, apparently the land is in dispute, so it's not like I can just head in there with new equipment and be done with it. According to one of my friends, one of the first steps should be to meet with my landlord and ask him what to do next. My landlord may either own the land or know who does.

I may also end up talking to some women's organizations here to see if they'd be willing to help me. There's lots of kids on this island and I just don't get why there aren't more places for them to play. From what I understand, equipment tends to get broken and then never replaced.

I'd like to try to petition some places in the U.S. to see if I can get some donations for the park, so I'm hoping that this won't require a lot of cash from the government here. But I don't want to offend anyone here, so I'm going to go through proper channels whenever possible. I'm sure I'll learn something about navigating the culture here in the process. These are all good things to learn.

I've always liked the expression: "Be the change you want in the world." So why not here, why not now? I could fail, and if so, then I fail. But maybe I'll teach N something about overreaching and the importance of trying. As a friend used to say, "A man's reach should exceed his grasp, else what's a heaven for?"

1/16 Signed up
Today I signed Nate up for preschool. I cannot believe that we're actually on our way. The kid has been doing a fabulous job going on the potty, so I figured I should strike while the iron is hot. So off we went to school to put down a deposit.

Nate was PUMPED. He's been calling the Co-Op school "My school" for weeks now and regularly refers to Mr. Robin (his assigned teacher -- he's from Fiji!) as "My teacher." We've been playing "school" and practicing the "Wheels on the bus" song, which I knew they'd be singing.

I had all the requirements: the immunization record, a copy of his birth certificate, a picture of him, and a check for the deposit. The woman in charge took all of our stuff, assured us that there was a place for him in the 3-yr-old class and went off to make photocopies.

Of course, the photocopier didn't work. And then the power went out. I sighed. That's life in Majuro.

But she wrote out a receipt for us and I bought three XS red shirts emblazoned with the Co-Op logo. We're going to start in February to give Nate a few more weeks to perfect the potty process. For the first time in my life, I'm looking forward to February.

1/14 Overheard
I find myself saying the most bizarre things now that I'm a full-time mom. Things like: "Nate, put down that orange and eat some more of your mac and cheese!" I mean, really. What's more nutritious? But I just can't stop myself.

Or more recently: "Nate! Stop stop stop kissing your sister!" Again, is that really a bad thing? Especially when Katie's laughing hysterically while he's doing it? But Nate tends to do things full-steam (don't know where he got that from) and his kisses are often more like tackles. I can handle them, but his sister is a little more fragile.

And some of it just borders on the bizarre: "No, I don't think we should remove the crab from the compost pile." Seriously, there was a crab in our compost pile. We couldn't figure out if it crawled in there on its own or if one of the neighbor kids put it in there. It found its way out eventually.

We are definitely not in Ohio anymore.

1/12 A fish out of water
One of my goals for 2007 has been to learn how to a) prepare fish and b) cook fish. Living about 50 feet from the ocean, we've found that fish is incredibly cheap here. It's also incredibly fresh; so much so that at the store, at the gas station even, they sell fresh fish on tables of ice.

I'm not quite brave enough to just pick out a raw fish, bag it and take it home. So I started smaller with a whole tilapia frozen fish at the store. Aue said she would show me how to prepare it, so last week I took the plunge (pardon the pun), picked out a fish and took it home. After carefully moving it around in my freezer for a week, I actually felt brave enough to bring it to Aue for preparation.

We started by scaling the fish. She showed me how to run my fork over the fish to remove the scales. After a few seconds, I began to get discouraged because I wasn't making any progress. The color of the fish was still intact -- clearly I was doing something wrong. She laughed and pointed out that the scales were clear and that the skin of the fish shouldn't change.

So much to learn here.

Then she showed me how to cut along the head of the fish and along its backbone to remove all the bones. At this point, Katie had started to melt down, so Aue explained the process as she finished the fish for me while Katie and I watched. At the end, I had about 1 pound of fish to cook, much less than I had imagined.

I had downloaded a recipe off the internet, and cooking the fish was decidedly less traumatic than preparing it. Nate and R loved the meal, with N asking for more fish. I felt buoyed by the experiment. This week I bought another, bigger fish (still frozen) and I'm going to try it again. Though I'll probably ask Aue to hold my hand through it one more time.

1/11 Two men enter...
I was calmly emailing tonight when I heard some banging noises from the bathroom. I decided not to investigate. R came out and looked quite proud of himself. So I asked him what happened. Here is what he said:

"TWO MEN ENTER... ONE man leaves.
I was in the bathroom, when I heard some buzzing. I turned around (he turns around) and saw THE FLY. I GRABBED a magazine and BAM BAM BAM." (He makes swift banging motions with his hands and arms at this point -- he's really getting into this, I think.)

(dramatic pause while he wipes imaginary sweat from his face)

"Two men enter... ONE man leaves.
Then I heard some buzzing still (turns swiftly towards the imaginary beast). So I HIT IT AGAIN! BAM BAM BAM! (more swinging of arms.)

"It was DEAD. TWO men enter... ONE man leaves."* He stands there proudly. I sit there, stunned. I think: It's official. This guy is just weird enough to be married to me. This thought is quickly followed with: He also needs a hobby.

(*Apparently this is a reference to the movie "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome." He explained that to me once I stopped laughing.)

1/9 Oriented
We had new faculty orientation this week and one of the best parts about it was the presentation on Marshallese culture. (Have I mentioned that I'm going to be teaching a beginning journalism class in about 2 weeks? If not, I am.) We had two presenters, one Marshallese and one American who had lived in the RMI for almost 40 years. During their presentation they emphasized how important it is to respect someone in this culture.

Due to this need to respect, they explained that some of the students may have difficulty speaking up in class, at least in the beginning. In this society, you never speak before someone of higher class than you. So if I happen to have a mix of classes in my classroom (virtually guaranteed), the first two weeks of class will probably be relatively silent until they get more comfortable with each other, and me. Furthermore, because of this idea of respect, they said teachers should never sit on desks, partially because then I'd be physically higher than them.

I'm thinking that it'll probably be a good 30 seconds before I offend someone. It's bad enough that I have to worry about what I wear and what I say, but now I also need to even be aware of how I'm sitting. I'm toast. I have already started praying for forgiving students.

The heartbreaking news was that one of the women said that she has had students come to her in the past and say in passing "We know the rebeli (foreign) teachers think we're stupid." I was just so angry when I heard that. As if a people who traveled thousands of miles by sea to get to these islands aren't intelligent. These people thrived in a hostile environment with virtually no groundwater, few crops and little arable land. They survived, the speaker said, because they worked together. There's a lesson here for us arrogant Americans.

At the end of the presentation, one of the speakers also told us the real name of the islands. They're called Aelonkein, which is a mixture of a bunch of words: ae: ocean, lon: sky, and kein: land. She pointed out that the "Marshall" islands is named for the European explorers who "found" the islands. I like the native name better. It seems right that this place is defined by a description. It's not just one thing that makes this island special; it's the combination of elements that makes it breathtaking.

1/6 Epiphany
Sometime last week I decided that I was tired of waiting for Nate to "be ready" to be out of diapers. I've been waiting around for months, paying extraordinary amounts of money for diapers and watching as they went to an already full landfill. I needed to take action, for my sanity if nothing else.

So off went the diaps. That's right. It's bare bodkins around our place these days. Nate responded really well and has been doing pee-pees in the potty pretty regularly for a few days. But no... well... significant items have shown up in the potty. (Notice the delicacy of that statement -- that sentence took me a while to form. Hopefully I haven't just lost all of you out there without kids.)

Anyway, I was at R's office checking email this morning when Nate and his posse (R and Katie) showed up. He said the words that I thought I'd never hear: "Mama, I did a poopy on the potty!" I was so excited I practically cried. This means that Nate may actually go to school here after all.

We immediately let the stakeholders know. Grandma Pam and Grandpa Jeff were thrilled. They've been sending us big-boy underwear now for months in the hopes that it would encourage Nate along. I don't know if it was Bob the Builder or Thomas the Tank Engine that finally did it, but I'm sure the swanky new duds worked their magic. Or maybe it was the M&Ms that we used to bribe him. I frankly don't care. It worked.

1/3 Gifts from home
One of the crazy things about life in Majuro is how your priorities shift in a weird way. Take my recent obsession with Wal-Mart, for instance. Or how R bought four different types of M&Ms when he was off-island. Or our friend Dave's request that R bring back little packets of hollandaise sauce for him. Normal people do not care about such things.

So you can imagine the excitement when we get a box from home. We're all on it like crazed animals, each hoping for our particular item of obsession. Nate is asking if there are toys in the box. I'm hoping for snacks. Katie mimics our excitement by squealing and kicking. No wait, that's what she does all the time.

Anyway, we received 7 boxes last night, which just about sent us over the moon. I knew that we had a box logjam somewhere as lots of people had said they were sending or had sent boxes to us. So when R said he was bringing home some packages, Nate and I sat on the couch and spent a few minutes guessing who was sending stuff to us. When the boxes arrived, I actually squirreled a few of them away while Nate wasn't looking so we could prolong the excitement.

One of the packages was the much-bemoaned, fabled kitchen box that left our home in Ohio in October. I had told R this weekend that I was officially giving up on the box and was going to just start buying spices and knives and be done with it. So I did, and that's probably why the box came. I had frankly forgotten what we had packed in the box. Let this be a lesson to everyone sending us stuff: We sent that box "priority"; it was supposed to arrive in 7-10 days.

Another package was from a friend who had packed a big box full of food items. I knew that when I saw the box, not because I have X-ray vision. But because I could see the food wrappers through the 2-inch hole that had been gnawed in it by some hungry animal. This animal totally hit the jackpot and had a little party in the box, eating thru the cheese popcorn and nibbling on the chocolate bar before tearing into the soup mixes. This was one industrious creature, even sampling the book (I'm sure it tasted a little bit like soup at this point) and the tea (perhaps that means it was Asian or European -- you know how they love their tea).

As you can imagine, the creature (and maybe a few of its friends) made quite a mess, so much so that we opened the box out on our tiny porch so as not to draw bugs. Unfortunately, the soup/chocolate/lentil mess got smeared around into all sorts of stuff that can't be washed, so I actually had to throw out the book.

I think my friend also included a note. I'm guessing it said something like "I hope you enjoy the box." I don't know for sure, of course, because the creature ate most of that too.

1/1 A New Year's Plan
I had this grand plan today that we would celebrate the new year with a breakfast on the beach. We even asked for Randall's sister Debbie's sticky buns recipe so that the deal could be done in style. As usual, things didn't go quite like I planned.

When we got to the hotel, I realized that we left most of the food at home, so R headed back with Katie while Nate and I headed to the ocean. Soon he returned with the rest of the digs and we ate in the shade for a while before the rain clouds rolled in.

Now rain in Majuro is a fairly common occurence. It rains just about every day and usually for less than 5 minutes. But this was pretty serious rain and it didn't look to be stopping any time soon.

So after waiting a good bit of time, we decided to pack it in. R insisted that we'd try breakfast on the beach another day. I tried hard not to feel like this was some sort of omen about the year to come.

But then I remembered that last year began with my mother's death, and at the end of the year, we had a beautiful baby girl and an adventure in a new country. I figure a little rain probably can't really hurt us.

Click here for entries from 2006. Click here for entries from 2008.