Thursday, November 21, 2013


Big brothers G and J are proud to introduce:

Baby Sister "A"

November 14, 2013
6 lbs 10 oz 19.5 in

We are home and adjusting to life as a family of 5.  (Plus Gran, which makes things exponentially easier for the moment.)

Big brother G is overwhelmed with a love for her that can only be described as manic.  We're pretty sure big brother J has noticed her across the room a few times.  So it evens out.

Joe and I are thrilled to have a little girl and loving every precious minute.

Pictures for now, more later...

*Pictures by my very talented friend Maren.  Thank you, friend.  

Sunday, November 3, 2013


Alternate Title for this Post:  The great memory card download.

The end of our tour in Morocco was filled with lots of traveling, pregnancy fun, and goodbyes.  Thankfully, while working for the Department of State, all roads lead to or through Washington, DC so we will get to see all of our American friends again.  Even so, it's a roller coaster of emotions for sure.  I can't even begin to write about that...especially in my current state of 37 weeks gestation; i.e. pregnancy brain, in a permanent bad mood (just being honest), and fatigue.

However, I can do pictures. (And lo and behold Joe writes a guest spot for the first time in about 3 years.  WHAT?!)

We'll start with our final Team D/Stephenson road trip.

We went to Essaouira, an ancient, laid back coastal town about 4-5 hours south of Rabat.  We rented a 3 story riad with a floor of bed/baths for each family and a bottom level with full kitchen/living area.  It was in the heart of the medina and while all that sounds charming, not everyone was thrilled with it.  OK, I wasn't thrilled with it.  And Matt wasn't either.  But Joe and Mary had no problem with the open sewer right outside the riad that ushered in those types of smells whenever the front door opened.  To go anywhere one had to be very careful where they stepped.  We made sure to put the boys in the stroller before we stepped outside the house.  The city has a beautiful beach, but it was still a little chilly to get in the water.  (For most people.  It didn't stop G.)

Exploring the fortress that is also the city.

This pic perfectly illustrates how each one of us feels about our accommodation.
Looking up from the ground floor in the riad.  It was really pretty, I'll give it that.

Mickey Mouse and jammies before bedtime.
The first weekend that was warm enough for the beach was also our last weekend as a family in Rabat.  Our Saturday morning trips to the beach will surely be one of the things we miss the most.  The added bonus was that inevitably a large group of random embassy folks/other diplomats/friends were there to hang out with throughout the day.  
Our boys love nothing more than the beach.
J still proudly wearing his European style bathing suit as all the boys his age wear on that side of the pond.  We let G graduate up to trunks this year.  
This may seem like an odd picture of nothing.  However, I for one am sad that I didn't take it closer up.  At the shoreline, in white, stands Joe and our friend David (also known as his boss) who was wearing a fabulous linen Middle Eastern/Arab/Tunic/Man-shirt.  But here's the thing- if anyone has earned the right/ can pull off/ deserves to wear this shirt, it's David.  He has spent a long career toiling as a diplomat in the Middle East/N. Africa and can just rattle off the Arabic.  And he's great at it. So wear that shirt with pride, David.
A few of our couple friends thoughtfully threw us a small going away garden party complete with catering, a signature cocktail, and of course speeches.  I mention these three things specifically because they are not something that is a part of our weekly/monthly/even YEARLY lives in the States, but are certainly par for the course in the Foreign Service life.  Or at least the African FS life.  The cocktail was a basil lemonade, if I remember correctly.  I can't speak for the full-on spiked version, but my special "pregnant Mommy" one was excellent!  The night was an absolutely perfect time with our friends.  We miss all of you greatly!

Being spoken of...
I can't remember why this award was presented at this party instead of at an Embassy ceremony.  Carleton is doing the honors, with boss David looking on. 

And then we were expected to speak.  I love how we are both speaking at the same time.
A snazzy maternity outfit if I do say so myself.  And just so you know, I tripped all over my words while speaking.  Don't be fooled by my calm demeanor in this photo.
This was taken on our last day with Khadija.  Saying goodbye to her was seriously one of the hardest things I've ever done.  So I won't linger on it here.  Thankfully we still Skype and talk on the phone with her.

Joe had a few adventures of his own after we left.

With his buddy Joel, an amateur (could be professional) photographer/attorney/awesome IT guy, he took a day trip to Volubilis, an area of Roman ruins.  

Joel and Joe
Their lunch stop.  Moroccan fast food- an open-air grill in the middle of a small town.  Taken right off the carcass hanging in the right of the picture.  Dang good eatin'.  
Joel's wife/our friend Vasantha.  I think this was Joe's last night in Morocco.  Don't you think they should move to DC when they finish their tour?
His last big hurrah was a trip down south to climb Mt. Toubkal.  I'm going to let him shortly summarize his trip-

For my last weekend in Morocco, I wanted to take a guys trip to the High Atlas mountains for some hiking and camping.  My friends Matt and Colin were all in, but as we began to plan the trip, I quickly realized that my relaxing guys trip was shaping up to be an endurance race.  Colin suggested that we hike up Mt. Toubkal, and Matt, and I both agreed that could be an amazing trip.  Toubkal is about 13,600 ft tall and the tallest mountain in North Africa.  Traditionally hikers summit the peak in two days.  Most people set out from the village of Imlil (about 5,600 ft) and hike about 5 hours to a base camp at 10,500 ft.  Then on the second morning hikers ascend to the peak in about two hours and descend all the way to Imlil.

Colin upped the ante, however, and suggested that we could do the entire ascent and return to Imlil in one day.  His logic was not without merit.  The base camp is crowded, and as one colleague put it, "a meningitis factory."  A night there was not an attractive option, so Matt and I agreed to give the one-day ascent the good 'ol college try.  At this point, I should mention that Colin is a 2:25 marathon runner and always looking for a race.  Matt and I were quickly made aware of this.

We set out from Imlil at about 6 am, and Colin was prepared for a mad dash to the summit. While Matt and I were wearing hiking boots and traditional outdoor gear, Colin was sporting running shoes and marathon attire.  Matt and I were able to hang with him for the first 2 or 3 hours, but we gave him the go ahead to take off and we met back up with him at the base camp after about a 4.5 hour hike.

By this point,  I was really feeling the altitude.  Rabat is at sea level, so going to 10,000 ft in one day was a big kick in the pants.  While other hikers coming off the trail were settling in for the evening, we took a quick break and started the steep ascent to the peak.  After about 30 minutes, and Matt and I knew that we were in trouble.  I was dizzy and Matt was cramping.  After a 10 or 15 minute pow-wow, he and I decided to head back down.  Colin, being the physical specimen that is he is, continued up to the peak.

While Matt and I only had blisters and body aches to show for the hike, we were able to have celebratory beer and tajine with Colin when he got back to Imlil a few hours after us.  All-in-all, it was a great trip with great guys, but the best part of the weekend actually happened on the drive to Imlil.

About an hour outside of Marrakech, Ash called from Texas with results of the sonogram.  I quickly pulled over the car to make sure I could keep my cell reception and also avoid any oncoming donkeys.  It was then that she told me were having a baby girl.  Pretty great stuff, and definitely the highlight of the trip.

Colin leading the way as we hiked out of Imlil towards Toubkal.
Matt and I just after the decision to head back to the Riad for tajine rather than risk breaking our necks going up to the peak.
A look at the base camp from 1,000 ft or so up the mountain.  The tiny orange dots are tents.  

And that's all!  Morocco: we love you, we miss you!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Becka Does it Again! Family Photos 2012

When we were on home leave this time last year, Becka from Pillmore Photography just happened to be in town and did a little photo shoot with us in downtown Grapevine.  (Yep, just getting around to doing something with these photos.  Nesting at its best.)

Taking pictures with J is like herding baby chicks at best.  Still, having 13 nieces/nephews of her own, Beks is on it.  Here are the results:


 Beks- you are the BEST.  Thanks again so, so much.  Hope to see you in the Spring +1!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Pregnancy Can Also Take a Village....

As our friend Jason put it so eloquently the other day, it's a D---------n pregnancy.  No, he wasn't swearing, just insert our last name in there.  This type of pregnancy gets progressively worse with each child and over time has developed into a full-on group effort because my body seems to disagree with gestation.  The second one was so rough towards the end that even my own mother, the one that LIVES for grandchildren said, "Maybe you should consider adoption for your third child." And yet, here we are.

Baby girl and me before we left Morocco.
Basically, I have been a totally useless human being since the end of June.  And whereas in previous pregnancies Joe and our Moms have shouldered most of the burden here and there, this one has turned into a full court press requiring the support of extended family and friends.

Baby girl,  I love you but I will not let you soon forget this difficult time.  (J, you're still not off the hook either).

The good and bad of it is that since the end of June we have been with family and/or Joe has been off work.  I mention "bad" because while we had a fun summer, it could have been all the better if I could have, you know, played with the boys, gone on adventures, nay, even WALKED.

At the end of June the boys and I left Morocco, endured a transatlantic flight from h*ll (you may insert a swear word there), and began our home leave in Texas.  Joe joined us soon after for a month.  We went to the beach for several days where Ami D (Joe's Mom), his aunts, and my sister-in-law/saint Wendy helped Joe feed/wrangle the boys.  Then, Joe took the boys to Ami D's ranch for a few days while I rested at home.  Shortly thereafter we made the journey to Big Spring to visit Grandpa Bert and Nanna where they stepped in to help.

Mid-August we returned to Northern Virginia for Joe to begin work again.  Thus far, while I had been in a lot of pain (for reasons I won't get into here) I was at least able to get around some and hadn't had any preterm labor.

Well, that all changed the day Joe went back to work.  Staying in an extended stay hotel, we had carefully planned my day with the boys so that I could sit down as much as possible while keeping them busy.  We got through the day fine, but laying in bed that night I had some contractions, and by mid-morning they were STRONG contractions and quite painful.  Between tears (because I knew that bed rest was coming) I called Emily to watch the boys and probably scared the secretary at Joe's work before going to the doctor and hospital.  At the doctor's office the contractions were so painful that I was having trouble breathing.  Good grief.  Joe wheeled me over to the hospital and long story short, the contractions were stopped pretty quickly and I was put on complete bed rest for a few days.  I was really discouraged, knowing that not only could I not take care of my boys, but we were about to ask A LOT of all our family and friends.

We figured out a 2.5 month line-up and after 5 more days I was let up from complete bed rest to modified.  Since the beginning of September ALL of our parents have taken shifts separately to care for us, which has been amazing. But the real prize goes to our Moms:

Ami D spent TWO WEEKS taking care of us while we finished our stay in the hotel and moved into the house.  It was rough being in a small space and she was so gracious to us all.

But then the real fun got started.  It was time to MOVE BACK INTO OUR HOUSE.  Because who doesn't want to move and set up housekeeping when the wife/mommy is on bed rest?

Oh dear me.

To prepare for the move, we hired painters for the first time in our lives and I made list upon list to try and organize.  We had planned for our Moms to both be here when all of our stuff came to try and unpack as it came/manage the little boys.  Emily came that day and Joe was off work.  I sat and barked orders.  Then we sent Ami D home to recover and Gran (my Mom) stayed for her shift and to pick up the pieces of unpacking/organizing.  That woman worked HARD.

Meanwhile, our local friends (Gazulis, Greens, Wiles, Byrds, Dunnebackes, and Beaches) have helped carry the burden by having us for dinner, play dates and babysitting.

The government shutdown has so far worked out in our favor (I'll probably change my mind if we don't get back pay) as Joe has finished putting the house together and been a great support to the boys, me and our parents.  "Non-essential" is where it's at.

As for baby girl and me, we have been on our best behavior.  I am 34 weeks and as long as I don't stand too long/lift stuff/etc I don't have contractions and can take the occasional outing to a restaurant (dropped off at the door) or church.  I have been keeping myself busy by doing CRAFTING projects for baby in bed or a chair.  Like making a quilt of all things.  An easy one at that, but still, I'm a little concerned that the world is coming to an end.

We are so, so thankful that baby (and I) are healthy and keep reminding ourselves that this is only a season.  The Lord has shown us His love through our selfless friends and family.

Hoping to hang on for another 3-4 weeks.  Joe is in a wedding November 9th in Florida, so I would put my money on that being her birthday.

Will update soon!

Friday, June 21, 2013

You know you're a third world mom when...

  • You go to pick up your child from his nap he and his crib are covered, and I mean COVERED, with ants.  He isn't bothered by them, and if truth be told, probably considers them to be playmates.
  • Your toddler throws an entire roll of toilet paper in the toilet.  You are more upset that it is the last roll of nice, plush, double roll American toilet paper than at your child's misbehavior.
  • UHT processed, unrefrigerated shelf milk is all they have ever known.  (Blech)
  • You put a capful of bleach into the bathtub with the kids every night.  You know, just in case.
  • Peanut butter and jelly is a privilege, not a right.  
  • Your kids don't even know what a real christmas tree looks like because the closest thing you could find is a Charlie Brown twig.  
  • At a stoplight a beggar walks up to your window and knocks repeatedly and maybe even kisses your side mirror.  Your kids don't bat an eyelash.
  • You start (painstakingly) making your own almond milk. 
    • You let your kids ride in the front seat if you're driving within the neighborhood (i.e. no big or busy streets).  Upon arriving in country you were horrified to see the other American parents do this and swore you would NEVER stoop to such levels.  But it's awesome.
    • You realize almost nothing in American parenting books applies.   
    • McDonald's is a place you would actually take your kids to eat. 

    Thanks Mary for helping me compile this list!

    Saturday, June 1, 2013

    Paris: Third Time's the Charm?

    Other possible title: In the Market for a Minivan.

    No, we haven't been to Paris 3 times.  However, every time we have taken a couples-only trip to continental Europe, I have been pregnant.  That's right, there is another little friend in my tummy.

    2008- Italy

    2010- Italy

    2013- Paris

    The first time was a complete disaster.  It was our 5 year anniversary trip with our friends Sara and Allen.  I was 8 and 9 weeks pregnant and sick as a dog.  I laid in bed in the room while the others saw the sights.

    The second time was fine.  It was a work trip for Joe and we found out we were pregnant with J on the trip.  No fatigue or nausea at 5 weeks.  But also, no more smooth Italian wine.

    And the third.  Oh the third.  We should have known better.  I was 12 weeks at the time and thought I would be done with nausea, fatigue and wouldn't already be experiencing discomfort.  WRONG-O.

    We had GREAT company, Sara and Allen again for our 10th anniversaries, that's 20 years all together.  But we subjected them to my less than stellar mood and poor physical sightseeing performance.  Bless their hearts for doing it a second time.

    Thankfully, I was able to hit most of the sites and still take a rest each day.  The sad thing is that it was COLD and RAINY all week. I mean, COLD.  No cute Paris outfits from the suitcase.  I wore the one sweatshirt I brought over normal shirts and under my trench coat every day.

    Is it wrong that the highlights of the trip for me were eating at Chipotle and arriving at the airport to travel home?

    Side note 1: If I were coming from America I would have been ashamed to seek out the only Chipotle (new!) in France.  But by golly, when you're coming from Africa and have the opportunity to eat your favorite food....awesome.

    Side note 2:  Joe was SO gracious to me on this trip.  He had been super excited about it for months, being a fluent French speaker and having spent time in another part of the country a couple of years ago.  And it was not so fun for him.  He spent his time searching out public restrooms, food I would eat and shuffling me up and down a metro that is not a fan of escalators.

    So here's a few pics.  I know you have seen pics of the Eiffel Tower so I will probably stick to people pics.

    Me and my beloved.

    It got warm one day for about 10 minutes.  In Les Jardins des Tuileries.

    Sara and I in front of Sacre Coeur.

    Notre Dame

    I found every possible spot to sit in Paris.

    Arc de Triomphe

    Taking a picture of all the people taking a picture of the Mona Lisa.  Which I don't understand.  Why do you want a picture of Mona Lisa on your iPad or snapshot camera when you could buy a print or look it up on the internet any time?  There were people in the Louvre that went around and took a photo of every painting.  Also, the Louvre: unbelievably beautiful and huge.  
    One of Joe's artsy shots.

    Side note 3:  The flight from Rabat to Paris and back might as well have been the cross town commuter bus.  ALL of the Moroccans knew each other and spent the flights in the aisles having social hour.  (Totally acceptable to flight crew.)  Joe was not immune from the situation.  He knew at least 3 people on our flights from his contacts around town.  I have never seen anything like it.

    And Baby Dickerson #3?  Due Thanksgiving to an excited Mommy, Daddy and especially Big Brother G.  (Big Brother J oblivious).