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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Marine Ball 2017

Last Saturday was the Marine Ball, our third and last Ball here in Dushanbe.  Brandon would usually be perfectly happy to stay home and watch a movie with the kids, but since I like dressing up in a fancy dress, getting my hair done, and partying with my friends, he indulges me.  Just like prom, but for adults. 

This was my fifth Ball, so I had long shed my expectations of a romantic night, and had a fun time sitting around and talking with friends.  Just in a fancy dress.  I remember being amazingly disappointed when I realized that all parties are just people sitting around talking to each other, sometimes with dancing.  Somehow all those movies seem to make parties look like there's some other, more exotic element.  But nope, it's just talking.  The children find it completely ridiculous that we like to do this in our spare time.  

In keeping with the prom theme, I went with some friends earlier in the day and we got our hair done together.  Yep, just like high school.  Except the pregnant one was married.  We had a fun time gossiping, passing around hair style ideas, and being loud enough that the salon receptionist asked us to quiet down.  I've had this happen at restaurants before, too.  I'm not quite sure if it's because Americans are loud, or I'm just loud.  Probably me.

I wore dress #1, figuring that we've been here so long that only one other person would recognize the dress I wore two years ago, and she didn't remember it anyway.  It was such an excruciating project that I intend to wear it until I don't fit it anymore.  It mostly fit this year, so that was a good thing.

By eleven, Cinderella had talked, eaten, toasted, danced, and was ready to turn into a pumpkin (those high school days are long, long gone), so Brandon took me home and to bed.  I'm sad that next year we'll be in a new post with new friends.  But it was a fun time.  Until next year!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


Months and months and months ago, I decided that Brandon and I needed to take the children to Dubai.  Normally, I am not the type of person who likes to travel with children.  I've always reasoned that I can stick needles into my eyeballs for free at home, so why pay good money to do it in another location?  I like my children just fine, and I even love them, but taking the circus traveling is really just too much for me and the general public.

But sometime in the somewhat distant past, I decided that no, it would be a fun thing to take my children into public for an extended period of time and do things like eat around other people for multiple meals in a row.  We've done this a few times, taking the children to water park hotels on each of our home leaves, and it usually was more stressful than relaxing.  At least 3.5 drinks on average get spilled per meal time, 2.5 children decide that they would rather hop on and off their chairs than actually eat the food we paid money for, and 2 parents would want to murder at least half of the children.  And that was just the meal times. 

Let's not talk about the fun that is sleeping in a hotel room with all your children.  People pay good money to buy houses large enough to not sleep with their children, so why would we want to pay extra money to sleep somewhere else with them?  But no matter the historical precent and cold hard facts of being a parent of multiple young children, I decided that this time it would be a lot more fun, especially with two more children in tow.  I'm not quite sure where the idea came from.  But I had it.

And like all good ideas that I have, Brandon thought it was a bad idea.  Probably because he is the rational one in our relationship.  But, like most good ideas I have, I didn't give up on it.  I whined wheedled, begged, pleaded, and bothered him enough that he finally gave in.  "But don't say I didn't warn you," he warned me, "when everything goes to pieces and you wonder what you were thinking.  I told you so.  In advance."

And so, I booked the vacation.  To make things worse, I booked one of the most expensive, high profile resorts in Dubai, Atlantis the Palm.  If you're going to take your children out in public, you might as well take them out in public to places where there are Rolls Royces, Lamborghinis, Porches, and Bentleys parked in the parking lot.  Because it will be really cool when your children are misbehaving in front of people who have nannies for their nannies.  I almost died when I booked the rooms with a half board package.  The only other time in my life I have ever dropped that much cash in one go was when we bought our car.  When I told Brandon the total, he shook his head.  "Well, you'd better enjoy it.  Cause we're definitely not doing it twice."

We decided to surprise the children and so Wednesday morning we woke them up at 2 a.m., told them to get dressed, pulled out the suitcases we had packed in secret, and went to the airport.  The children were giddy with excitement because flying is one of the most exciting things in the world.  When we landed in Dubai, they thoroughly enjoyed the drive, marveling at the Burj Dubai and how everyone stayed in their lanes while driving. 

As we drove up to the hotel, they lost track counting how many floors there were.  And when they discovered that not only were there two pools, but also a beach, an aquarium, a water park, and the biggest buffet breakfast I've ever seen, they almost died of sheer happiness.  Then they fought over who got to push the elevator buttons and whose turn it was to put the key in the room door.  Because, children.

Four days later, everyone came back to Dushanbe full to the brim with good times, good memories, and good food.  Because, as it turned out, we had a fantastic time.  The hotel was beautiful, the food was delicious, the water park was exciting, the aquarium, was enormous, and the pools were stunning.  Also, the beach had water, too.  And sand.

The children behaved themselves (mostly), ate their food (buffets are awesome), only spilled twice, played hard all day long, and fell asleep before eight every night.  I didn't have to make a single meal, clean up, decide what was for dinner, or even make my bed.  Brandon took the children on rides, played with them in the pool, and read to them every night.  It really was every bit as great as I had imagined it would be.

The only problem is that now I want to do it again. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017


This trip to London was my fifth trip (if a long layover where Brandon and I did some sightseeing counts) to the city, and my third trip this post.  I've spent over three weeks there, and I think that I can say that London is one of my favorite cities in the world.  I don't actually like large cities that much, so it really is saying something when London brings nothing but warm joy into my heart - even in November.

This visit stretched out over eleven days because it took a week to get the results for some of the blood tests I needed.  When I did my check-in visit with the medical unit at the embassy, the wonderful nurse looked at me after I summed up my visit (had an exam, got a bunch of tests, told me to come back in a week), smiled and told me to enjoy myself.  "You've got nothing terribly wrong with you, and there's nothing you need to do, so live it up!  You're in London alone.  Enjoy all of the wonderful things there are to do here!"

And so I did.  It turns out that I'm actually a rotten tourist, so I only actually played sightseeing tourist one day the whole time I was there.  I took myself to Westminster Abbey, the National Gallery, and St. Martin-in-the-Fields.  But really, I find touristing much more enjoyable with someone, and we have plans to spend time in London on our way out of Tajikistan, so it didn't make much sense to go see the things that I would just be re-seeing in six months anyway.  

So instead I did the things I don't usually get to do when I'm taking care of my family.  I slept in, went running in Hyde park, went shopping for Christmas presents, went to the temple several times, went to a ballet, an opera, and a musical, and took myself to a Michelin-starred restaurant for a very tasty dinner.  

I also caught up with a very dear friend and her family, and spent a good amount of time hanging out with them.  Because being alone in a city can get, well, lonely after awhile.  So my friend was wonderful enough to let me hang out with her and her kids and crash their house all Sunday.  We even got to ditch the children with her husband one night and see Aladdin, the musical.  One thing I love about the Foreign Service is the great friends I make and the opportunity to hang out with them in random parts of the world.  

Brandon's brother, his lovely British wife, and their cute baby also live in the greater London area, and we were able to attend the temple together and then spend time at her parents' house and have a wonderful time together.  One day I want to have a perfect little town and fill it with all of the wonderful people that I never get to spend enough time with.  Until then I will just have to see them when I can.

Every time I talked with Brandon, he assured me that all of the children were alive and getting at least two meals a day, so I didn't feel like the worst mother every for abandoning everyone to go and have a wonderful time by myself.  I missed my family in a theoretical way, but I knew that I would see them again, and so I didn't spend a lot of time (or actually any time) crying into my pillow.  That probably makes me a bad mother and wife.  I'll have to work on that.

At the end of my visit, the doctor pronounced me Not Sick Enough to Do Anything Drastic, told me to keep taking high doses of anti-inflammatories, get retested if things still aren't better in three months, and sent me home to my family.  Good because I don't have to take chemo meds, annoying because the doctor didn't make it all better. 

I'm not sure that I would ever want to actually live in London and try to make a real life there with expensive cost of living, no household help, long commutes, and small housing, but it sure was great to visit.  Until next time, London! 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Abandoning My Husband and Children

A few weeks ago I started having joint pain in my hands and feet, elbows and hips and knees.  It hasn't cleared up and all of the tests available here in Dushanbe have been inconclusive, so I'm flying to London this week to see what the tests and and doctors there can tell me about it. 

This means, of course, that Brandon and all six of the children will be left here in Dushanbe to fend for themselves.  I have done this to them before, when my brother got married, when Joseph and I went to London, and when I went myself, so they're pretty used to the drill.  Our housekeeper is coming daily to come help out and we just got in a new supply of cold cereal so I'm pretty sure that nobody will die while I'm gone.  The children are happy because they have reduced school work and Brandon might even look forward to a little easing of the routine, even if it comes at the cost of his personal magic fairy being gone.  William, who is weaned and so not coming with me, will probably forget that I existed until I return.  When I do he will be so happy to remember that he does in fact have a mother and she didn't mysteriously abandon him. 

I little not-so-secret part of me that I wish would be a little more secret is looking forward to a little time by myself.  I'm conflicted because this time off is purchased by with Brandon's increased work load (he's already the acting section chief of two sections at the embassy, so the last thing he needs is more work when he gets home) and the children being left without a mother.  In order to sleep in, eat out at delicious restaurants, and shop, I have to shuck my very real responsibilities to seven other human beings whose lives depend a lot on me.  So even the thought of enjoying, much less openly planning all of the fun things I'm going to do myself feels very, very selfish. 

Because, well, I am going to do a lot of fun things.  We have foreign service friends from our very first time in Cairo living London, who I've planned a trip to Warwick Castle and an opera with.  My brother- and sister-in-law moved to London this summer and I'll catch up with them.  And as long as I'm childless, I'm going to go and take a family name to the temple and do every single ordinance, something I've never had the time to do.  I've done my research and found a stable to go riding at.  And of course, all of the food and shopping.  My hotel is, after all, right off Oxford Street, one of the biggest shopping districts in London.

Hopefully my visit will only last a week.  Even with all of the playing and fun, anything more than a week away from my family really does get to be unpleasant.  I do, after all, love them and enjoy their company.  And I'm pretty sure that Brandon will be counting down the days even before I get on the airplane.  I am, after all, his very favorite person in the whole wide world.  It's good to know that I'll be missed.  And it's also nice to have the chance to be missed.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Living in Dushanbe: Fall

Today is October 15th, which must mean that it is fall.  I used to hate fall when I was younger and time moved more slowly.  I didn't actually mind fall itself, I just hated that it meant the end of summer and the transition into cold, dark days that lasted a month or two longer than they should.  Fall was the end of the good times and the beginning of the bad.

Now that I'm older and time moves more quickly, I can appreciate fall for it's beautiful, crisp self.  The sunshine turns thinner, not smothering you with summer heat.  Light slants through the leaves on our afternoon walks, and evenings begin to promise hot chocolate and warm blankets.

Fall is a time that begs for a walk in the forest.  The yellow leaves turn the sunlight golden, and you can crunch through the fallen leaves, kicking up the spicy smell of leaf mulch from the forest floor.  I love to collect brilliantly-colored leaves, finding endless ways of combining yellow, orange, red, and brown into an infinite of intricate patterns.  After the walk, when your cheeks are tingling and your fingers chilled, a cup of hot cider warms you up perfectly.

That is how I remember fall being in America.  That is not how fall is here in Dushanbe.

I'm sure there are some forests in Tajikistan, but they're mostly in remote mountain tops where nobody can get to them with a saw to cut them down.  There are some parks with trees in Dushanbe, but they are planted mostly with sycamores, and sycamores never turn yellow, only slowly fading into a rusty brown before falling off.  The air might be crisp, but it's filled with the scent of burning cow dung and coal as everyone burns whatever they can to keep their houses warm.

But, we can warm up apple juice and pretend that it's cider.

To tell the truth, we've never lived in any country (other than America) that has those picture-perfect forests that beg for a fall walk.  Egypt has never seen forests, and Azerbaijan had a few, but they were a bit of a drive away.  But when all my friends in nice countries that see rainfall on a regular basis post pictures of their lovely fall walks, I can't help but eat my heart out.

And of course our next post in Uzbekistan won't have anything much better.  But I suppose that is the way of life.  One day I'll have my fall walks again and I'll remember the long years where I didn't have them and I will enjoy those walks even more for the contrast.  But until then, I'll just have to be patient.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

William, the Cutest Baby in the World

William is a very cute baby.  He has reached the enjoyable age where he smiles and gurgles and kicks and squeals and makes loud squealing noises that are hard to talk over.

I've always found my babies to be cute, but since William is my current baby, he is official the cutest baby in the world.  Every time I see him I want to pick him up and give him a squeeze and about twenty kisses.  It makes it hard to put him down to bed. 

And now that William can crawl, he can return that affection by following me around the house and crying to be picked up.  That's mostly cute.

He has found his favorite toy, a pair of red silicone kitchen tongs that he will chew on endlessly while watching me cook dinner.  As he is the cutest baby in the world, it's very cute to watch.  Especially when he is in his diaper.

He also likes to sleep crammed up against the side of his crib and occasionally sticks one or several limbs through the sides of the crib.  Again, very cute.

Sleeping babies are very cute, and William is the cutest sleeping baby of them all.

William is pretty okay with just about anything that anyone does to him.  His siblings love to buckle him into the stroller and run him around the yard at top speed and at various angles of incline.  He is also perfectly happy with being carried in a basket of fresh laundry.  Which is, of course, cute.

And of course he smiles a lot.  Because that's what cute babies do.

Often when he's crawling around he will stick a toy in his mouth, just for something to crawl with.  Or something.  But because this is William doing it, it's very cute.  If anyone else did it, I would take the toy out.  Because that's gross.

William's the first baby that I've been happy to keep as a baby as long as possible, probably because he's the cutest baby in the world.  And because he's so cute, none of the other children mind his status at all.  In fact, they agree that yes, William is the cutest baby in the world.  Because he is.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

When the Cat's Away

Brandon is in America right now.  His grandfather passed away recently after battling Parkinson's disease for twenty six years.  Brandon, who bears his grandfather's name, flew out for the funeral.  When you live on the same continent 'flying out for the funeral' means taking a flight (or two) on Friday night, attending the funeral on Saturday, and flying home to return to work on Monday.

But as all of you are very well aware of, we don't live on the same continent.  Technically we are the next continent over, going west over the Pacific.  So 'flying out for the funeral' here means that, first of all, you have to figure out if the plane flights work out to get you there in time.  And then if they do, you have to cobble together a hodge podge of different airlines so that you miss as little work as possible.  For this trip, I used frequent flier miles (60,000 + $200 in fees) on United and bought Brandon a one-way ticket there on Turkish airlines ($911) and a one-way ticket back on Somon ($326).  Our credit card companies have gotten very twitchy about flights on sketchy airlines to sketchy places, so we ended up purchasing the Turkish ticket through a third-party website and the Somon ticket we had to buy in person at their office.  I guess it's less suspicious when you run the actual card.

Once the tickets are bought, then you actually have to get there.  Brandon left Thursday morning on the 5 am flight.  We got up at 3:15 and I dropped him off the airport at 4.  Then he flew to Istanbul, waited seven hours, flew to Houston, and got a hotel for a sixteen hour layover.  The next morning he flew out of Houston and arrived in Missouri at one in the afternoon.  He got to sleep in the same bed on Friday and Saturday nights.  Today he goes back to the airport at six in the evening, flies through Chicago, spend the night in Istanbul, and then I pick him up Tuesday around dinner.  If I've done the math, that is eighty hours of traveling for fifty-three hours of time in Missouri.  That's pretty bad math if you ask me.

So, while Brandon's been winging halfway around the world the children and I have been hanging out in Dushanbe.

It turns out that Brandon is a pretty good influence on our household, because things haven't exactly run the way they do when I have someone other than the children to be accountable to.  I don't like cooking dinner even when Brandon is here, and it turns out that when he's gone I just don't cook dinner.

Thursday night we had cold cereal.  Since we didn't have any milk, the children ran to the store and got some.  Friday night we had friends over for a movie.  I thought briefly about making it and then ordered instead.  Saturday night I went out to dinner with friends, so the children had leftover pizza and leftover soda.  Today my housekeeper brought over sambusas so we had those with carrot sticks.  Because you should have vegetables at least every four or five days.  I'm thinking that tomorrow could probably be left overs.  Or more cereal.

I finally swept the kitchen floor today when I could see drifts of crumbs and cereal pieces starting to form mounds underneath the kitchen table, and I'm not sure who threw finally away the pizza boxes, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't me.   The children have watched multiple movies and we've all gone to bed a lot later than we're supposed to.

But other than the disarray, we've been able to make the rest of life happen pretty well even without Brandon coming home to make sure that all the children survive until the next day.  The children are helpful and I have been doing this mom thing long enough that I can do it reasonably well on my own.  The children even got bedtime stories tonight.

This is not to say that we have any plans to be separated for any longer than is absolutely necessary.  The kids love their father (who is the fun one in this arrangement), I love my husband, and shockingly, he loves us all back.  So we'll be glad when he comes back to us this week.  Even if it does mean that I'll have to start making dinner again.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A Whole Decade

I am a creature of habit.  Every week day I wake up and exercise.  I started running in college and still run.  After Joseph was born I added a strength-training routine to my workout and still do the exact same routine every Tuesday and Thursday.  We eat the same thing for breakfast every week day - oatmeal and eggs - and have been eating it since Brandon and I got married.  Every afternoon I take a nap and every evening I cook dinner at five, cooking the same twenty dinners over and over and over again.  I have kept a journal since I was eight, and with the exception of a four-year break at the beginning of my marriage, I write in it almost every Sunday evening.  I like routine.  It's easier than trying to mix things up.

Over a decade ago blogging became cool and I, several years late (as always), jumped on the bandwagon ten years ago, in 2007.  And although blogging is so early 2000s, I'm still plugging away because hey, habit.

When I first started blogging, Brandon and I lived in an eight-hundred square-foot duplex in Springville, Utah.  He was working at the local Stouffer's frozen food plant and I stayed home with Kathleen, who was ten months old.  He was working on employment for State, but it was only a dream.

Over the years we've added five more children, lived in six different houses, bought two more cars, been to seven more countries, and are on our second set of diplomatic passports.  I am on my sixth year of homeschooling that baby who could only crawl when I started blogging.  Ten years doesn't sound like that long until you start looking at the differences.  In another decade, my oldest will be close to graduating from college.

My motivations for blogging have changed over the years, too.  When I first started, it was simply to keep family up to date on all of the excitement of our lives.  Back before blogging, there were group emails and I switched to blogging to stop clogging up relative's inboxes.

But when Brandon joined State, our life got a little more exciting, and with the Arab Spring our life got a lot more exciting and I had a brief brush with fame and imagined that I could be one of those well-known bloggers that write funny, begging-to-be-reposted entries.  But then I realized that those sorts of people are 1. talented and 2. have a lot more motivation to do something more than just rattle off a few posts once a week.

But I keep blogging, even without the lure of fame to motivate me, because it's become a habit.  I tell myself that one day some of these stories will be interesting to my children and maybe my grandchildren and so I keep writing.  And also I know I have a few friends and family members that keep up with our (right now very boring) life.  But mostly, habit.

So here's to ten years.  I'll check in again in ten more!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Kathleen the Babysitter

One warm August night eleven years ago when I was terminally pregnant, Brandon came home from work.  It was a Tuesday and he wasn't on shift the next day, so we went to see a movie.  I still remember driving down ninth street in Provo with the warm wind blowing through my hair and thinking to myself that this would probably be the last time I just walked out of my house with my husband and no children to go and watch a movie on a whim.

And I was right.

This past Tuesday night I walked out of the house without any children, picked up Brandon, and went to a garden party.  The evening was almost as warm, and I chatted with friends, ate appetizers, and enjoyed wearing makeup, a dress, and my favorite hot-pink heels.

At home the children were taking baths, dressing themselves, feeding William and putting him down, making sandwiches for dinner, cleaning it up, and getting ready for bed.  When Brandon and I walked in the door around eight, the kitchen was clean, the children were fed, and everyone was ready for a story.

After I came through the door, I shut it.  I didn't look for money, calculate hourly rates, ask someone how the children behaved themselves, or awkwardly say goodbye after handing over a fistful of bills.  Instead, I shut it, took off my heels, and read Eleanor a story.

And it was fabulous.  

After eleven years of waiting for my freedom to return, it has arrived.  If I need to run to the store, I don't have to take six children with me.  If one of them has to see the doctor, five of them don't have to come with me.  If Brandon and want to go out on a Friday night, we go out.  No babysitter required.  

And the best things about this new reality is that it will last into perpetuity.  Never again will I have to hope that a sitter is available or worry about taking my housekeeper away from her family on a Friday night or pay fifty dollars just to go to dinner with my husband (not that I a pay that much here).  If a friend wants to go out to lunch, I can go, even on days where Zarifa doesn't come.  If I want to get a pedicure all alone I can do it.  The prospects almost make me giddy.

Those eleven years were very, very long while I waited to home-grow my own babysitter.  But now that the day has arrived, it seems long it wasn't that bad after all.  However, I'm never going back.  Ever. Again.  Hallelujah.  

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

William Becomes Mobile

I love babies who crawl.  Most people I know hate babies who crawl.  Babies who crawl can get into things you'd rather have left alone.  One minute they're happily playing with their toys and the next they have managed to fish five dusty Cheerios and one rotting grape from under the cupboards and are happily munching on them, having discovered a new place to find secret snacks.  Babies who crawl can investigate fascinating things like power cords, kitchen cupboards, and trash cans.  So I understand my friends' dislike of mobile children.

But I am a lazy parent.  I never have been good at entertaining children, even back when I was paid good money to do it.  If the parents of my babysitting charges told me that bed time was at 8, I usually had them tucked in by 7:45 and was down on the couch by 8 with the treats I'd found in the cupboard, watching Nick at Nite.

So one of my least favorite babyhood ages is that gap between when my children are awake for more than forty-five minutes at a time (six months old) and when they start crawling (usually nine to ten months).  I will set up a ring of toys all around the child, everything within reaching distance, which usually buys me twenty minutes of peace before they push all the toys away and then have a fit because there aren't any more toys to play with.  Then I have to run back over and push all the toys back for twenty more minutes of peace.  I have experimented over the years with all sorts of toy-containment devices to buy me ten or fifteen extra minutes, but none of them have worked very well and in the end I just have to patiently wait until they can learn to crawl.

Because when they can learn to crawl, their entertainment needs are met into forever.  Bored of the toys you're playing with?  Well, just go find some more!  See something interesting off in the distance?  Go and find out what it is!  The world is your oyster when you have the power of mobility.  This continues on until adulthood when you have the cash and ability to go anywhere in the world you want.  And truly it is fantastic.

Usually my children start their adventures in mobility with the backwards push.  It works particularly well on hard-surface flooring and inevitably ends in the child being jammed underneath a piece of furniture, crying for someone to come and release them.  After awhile the backwards push morphs into the army crawl, the child not yet having realized that those things hanging off the bottom of their torso are for anything but kicking mom when she's trying to change their diaper.  And finally, full crawling emerges and if it's winter, the jeans can never be used again for the holes.  Or if they are Edwin's jeans, one leg has holes and the other is perfectly intact because he only ever realized that one leg worked.

William has been different from my other children.  It started in the womb, where he would hold hours-long dance parties in the middle of the night, often kicking his father in the back.  When he came out he never stopped, wiggling constantly for seven and a half months.  I'm hoping this will translate into some amazing athletic ability, but I'm not researching sports scholarships yet.

So it was no surprise when just at his sixth month birthday he skipped the backwards push and army crawl, pulling himself up on his hands and knees to rock back and forth endlessly.  Rocking is one of his favorite activities.  It took him awhile to figure out what advantage this new ability gave him, and for awhile he would get up on his hands and knees, lean forward, and then collapse.  He could inchworm his way across several feet of carpet to snag an appealing toy or electronic gadget, but he hadn't yet realized what it meant.

But this past week he has finally put everything together and will take off across the floor the second I put him on the carpet, usually in the direction of the transformer.  This afternoon I was sitting on the second floor while the children were rowdily playing upstairs.  Intrigued, William took off towards the third floor and stopped forlornly at the stairs, clearly wishing he could join the fun.

There are no endpoints in child development, so William will soon learn the magic of climbing stairs (and have to learn the hard lessons of going down the stairs), pulling up on furniture, and finally walking.  Then he'll join the herd and never be bored or lonely again.

Hooray for mobility!