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Sunday, June 14, 2020

Happy Birthday, Brandon!


This week Brandon had a birthday.  Birthdays get a lot less personally exciting as an adult.  Getting older isn't as great as it used to be, your presents are often bought with your own money, and often you have to work on your birthday.  Also, the parades still aren't happening.

This year, despite the embassy being on telework status, Brandon again had to work on his birthday.  His section is on a rotational basis, and it was his turn to be in the office this past week.  And to add insult to injury, he also had to begin his rotation as duty officer on his birthday. 

So we decided to celebrate his birthday on the weekend.  Because when you're an adult, you can change your birthday if you want to.  After all, it's more of a guideline anyway. 

However, everyone couldn't wait until the weekend do acknowledge Brandon's day.  The children all headed down to the store together, pooled their allowance, and bought him some of his favorite treats.  On a whim, I picked up lunch and took it to the embassy where we ate it together.  It turns out that even if you declare your birthday to be on a new day, people still can't help but do something on the actual day anyway. 

This weekend we stretched the celebrations out over two days by letting Brandon choose all of the food and entertainment.  For his activity, we stayed home.  Because, 1. there still aren't any fun things open, and 2. Brandon always choses to stay home.  He's been having his birthday choice for the past three months and he's still not sick of it.  It's good to get what you want in the middle of a pandemic.

When Brandon came home from work on his actual birthday, the children eagerly lined up in front of him with their gifts, excited to show him what they had bought for his birthday.  As I watched them wiggle with the excitement of giving something special to their dad, I remembered again how special Brandon is to everyone in our family.

The children all eagerly await his homecoming every evening, jumping up with excitement when they hear the front door slam followed by his foot steps in the hallway.  They love to hear him tell stories from his childhood, or discuss history, or read them a story.  William and Eleanor can always be sure that they can wheedle a swinging session out of him when I've refused their entreaties to be pushed in the swing.  And at the end of a long day, when it is finally time to rest, he loves to tickle and bounce Elizabeth after her nightly feeding while I talk his ear off about all the thousand little things that have passed through my head that day.  Brandon is the light of our family.  Everyone is happier when he is around, most especially me.

And so we're happy to celebrate Brandon's birthday.  After all he does for us, every single day of the year, we're happy to have one day a year (or two or three) when we can help him feel loved and appreciated.  Happy Birthday, Brandon!

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Hello, Summer!


School ended the week before last.  The last week of school, the weather decided that spring was officially over and the temperatures went from low-sixties and rainy to mid-nineties and sunny. 

Everyone was happy for school to be over with.  The children were happy to be done with their assignments and I was happy to be done chasing them around to make sure they got them done.  We all enjoy having a good three-month break every summer.  I know that some homeschooling families take breaks and school year-round, but everyone here likes the traditional school timeline.  There's something so satisfying about three months free from school.  I still have eighteen years of schooling children left, so I have to enjoy the summers as much as possible. 

So for the past week, instead of spending the mornings down in the basement doing school, we've spent every morning outside in the bright summer sunshine.  By lunch time, everyone is tired out from swimming and is happy to retreat inside the house for the rest of the afternoon.

Although their regular school assignments are done, everyone still has summer school activities, but only a few.  They all have to do some reading, work on their typing skills, and work on some sort of project of their choice. 

Sophia has decided to work on her baking skills, so twice a week we get treated to something delicious she has cooked up.  Kathleen is taking a photography class online, so we'll all get pulled in as subjects eventually.  The boys are anxiously awaiting delivery of a circuitry set so they can begin to learn about electronics.  Eleanor and William are working on learning to clean up the messes they make in the toy room every day.

Brandon has started to go back in to work, but on a rotating schedule.  Everyone, including him, would rather have him working from home.  But I suppose everything can't always be the way we prefer.

The summer fruits have arrived, with strawberries finished already.  Right now we're enjoying nectarines, cherries, and apricots, and on Friday we found a stand selling watermelons and cantaloupes. 

Elizabeth has discovered the joy of tasty fruit.  Every time someone starts eating a piece around here, she starts panting happily, hoping that someone will share with her.  She also enjoys her time in the pool, happily floating in her baby float while watching the antics of her crazy siblings. 


Brandon, who grew up dreading his childhood summers that were filled with seemingly endless hot, sweaty yard work, has made fun of my suburban summers filled with days of playing with friends at the local pool club.  He still hates summer and I still love it.  Which is no surprise, considering his summers are still filled with (much less sweaty) work and mine are still filled with days around the pool.  There are definitely times when being a stay-at-home mom is a clear win.

I'm happy it's summer.  The living is easy, and I'm not complaining.



Sunday, May 24, 2020

Happy Birthday, Sophia!

This week we celebrated Sophia's birthday.  Twelve doesn't have the same significance now that children transition from primary to the youth program at the beginning of the year they turn twelve.  But still it feels like a milestone to me, as I've spent my whole life seeing twelve as a big year. 

Now I have two daughters who have become young women, and two to take to the temple next time we're in the US.  I remember being at a family dinner with Kathleen when she was a new baby and talking with my uncle.  His oldest daughter had just graduated high school, and he commented that one day your baby is just a few months old and then you're sending them off to college.  I still remember thinking that it wasn't possible for time to move so quickly, but I understand him much more now. 

It doesn't feel like it was that long ago that I only had two little girls who couldn't talk and needed me to do everything for them.  Now I have two young women that can take care of their five younger siblings, cooking for them, feeding them, getting them ready for bed, putting them to bed, and cleaning everything up while Brandon and I are on a date.  I confess that life is a lot easier than it was back then!


As with Eleanor's birthday, we had to celebrate Sophia's at home.  Uzbekistan is more open than it was a few weeks ago, but all of the fun places are still closed.  However, she did get to have school off on her birthday, as our school policy is that birthdays are holidays for everyone.  The children are always happy to have so many siblings when birthdays roll around. 

Since Brandon is still working from home, we got to have a proper birthday holiday, complete with sleeping in an a leisurely breakfast of crepes with fresh strawberries, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce.  We spend most of the day cooking or getting food for Sophia's birthday dinner (which was not nearly as easy as Eleanor's), but Sophia was perfectly happy to keep me company and chat.  I love that my girls still enjoy talking with me.

We finished the day with dinner (eggs Benedict) cake (strawberry chocolate meringue torte) and presents, which weren't that many as the mail has been sporadic and no presents were ordered.  But there were enough to make Sophia happy, and so it was a good end to the day. 

We are all grateful to have Sophia as part of our family.  She is patient and calm with her younger siblings, something that I probably take advantage of too much when things get crazy.  I know that William and Eleanor often do, begging her to read them books, push them on the swing, or make toys for them.  She is capable and confident, and I look forward to watch her increase in both of those things as she continues to grow up.  Happy Birthday, Sophia!

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Family Home Evening in the Pool

Spring here in Tashkent has been rather uneven.  Of course, spring is a season of uneven weather - never does the weather slowly warm up in a perfectly rational climb of increasing daily temperatures.  But this spring has been annoyingly uneven for people who want to swim in their pool, especially when one of those people is me.

But, as I remind Kathleen every time she complains about yet another cloudy, rainy Saturday followed by a clear, sunny Sunday (and there have been a lot), soon enough it will be clear, sunny, and hot every single day.  For four months straight.  So we don't need to rush the advent of summer that much.

But this past Monday it was one of those clear, sunny, hot days.  Our pool heater has proven to be a little wimpier than I'd like and the water hasn't spent much time above the 85 degree mark - my bare minimum temperature for swimming.  But on Monday the weather was perfect for swimming - 93 degree air temperature and 85 degree water temperature.

I had some yard work to do that afternoon, and spend a couple of hours sweating while watching the children splash in the pool, asking me to come swim with them.  Finally, I was finished and rushed to put my own swimsuit on.  It was close enough to 5:00 that I didn't feel bad asking Brandon to come join us.

Usually I start cooking dinner at 5, but I kept revising my dinner plans as we kept playing.  We started with swimming, followed by fruit tag, then a rousing game of keep away (parents vs. children), after that a very uneven game of chicken (anyone sitting on Brandon's shoulders was guaranteed a victory), and finished the evening with cannon ball contests (I won). 

By the time we finished, dinner time had come and gone and it was 7:30.  Brandon and I unanimously declared that we had just had our activity portion of Family Home Evening.  I then made up a new meal - dinnssert - where we combined dinner and dessert together in the meal of waffles with fresh strawberries and chocolate sauce.  Everyone approved. 

We rounded out our Family Home Evening program with a discussion of goals while eating waffles, cleaned up the meal, and then sent everyone off to bed.  They all fell asleep quickly and slept soundly, one of the wonderful effects of a long afternoon in the pool.

Usually I'm a very scheduled person; the schedule works for me and I can loosely contain the chaos that is seven children.  Everything is neatly packed in, all of the pieces having found their place over the years of trial and error.  From the time I wake up in the morning until the children go to bed in the evening, life proceeds at its measured pace.  It has to, or the chaos will slip its bounds and explode the household into a noisy, crazy, stressful mess.

But it was nice to spend an evening in the pool instead of marching to the usual schedule.  I was happy to break my own rules to play with the children, taunting them for their inability to catch the ball as it sailed over their heads (but not for much longer).  I enjoyed having children that could wait a little while longer for dinner without dissolving into tears or fights as we enjoyed a perfect evening together.  I hope they'll remember that evening as one of the times where - despite the world outside our gate - everything inside the gate was perfect and everyone was happy together.  When they think of their childhood, that happy time will hold a special glow.  A time when we were all together, enjoying being a family of people who love each other and love being together.  I know I will. 

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Easing Up

Friday morning, I bundled the kids - complete with masks - into the car, and we left the house.  As we drove through the neighborhood, everyone started commenting on how different everything looked with leaves and flowers.  I realized that the last time we had been in the car together - and the last time several of them had been in a car - was a Friday morning six weeks ago.

Ten minutes later, we pulled into the stable parking lot, and everyone jumped out of the car and practically sprinted to the stable to greet their favorite horses.  It was good to be back.

Uzbekistan continues to do well with their COVID situation, with only ten deaths for the entire thirty-three million population, and so the government has begun easing restrictions.  They have allowed more businesses to open up, including plant sellers, construction materials, dry cleaners, bakeries, and (just in time for Mother's Day this weekend), florists.  On April 30, they allowed private cars and taxis to operate in the mornings and evenings.  Uzbek Air announced that it will resume international flights on June 30.  

As I've been around town, I keep seeing more cars and more people about, as everyone has grown tired of being home and the weather has grown more pleasant.  Tashkent is not the ghost town it was a month ago.

This hasn't made a big difference in our daily life, other than our return to the stables.  Brandon and I have stopped playing taxi driver for our household help, which has been nice.  He is still working from home, and will be working from home until certain benchmarks have been met.  

A lot of our friends are still in the States, and nobody is sure when they'll return.  We're hoping that we can see them this summer and be able to meet again together for play dates and parties.  Some of my children are eagerly looking forward to the explosion of sociality and some are dreading it.

We're glad that things are getting better here.  We'll take what we can get.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Happy Birthday, Eleanor!

This week Eleanor turned six.  Uzbekistan has loosened up their lockdown this week, but all the fun places are still closed.  It made for a pretty quiet birthday celebration, but we were still able to help Eleanor feel special for the day.


She got to have her favorite breakfast (apple cinnamon rolls), play birthday princess dress-up with her older sisters, have a family pool party, and order schawerma for her birthday dinner.  She also received a visit from our newly-emancipated Russian teacher who brought candy and a new tortoise.  When I asked her what kind of cake she would like, she opted to buy one from a local cake store instead of having me make one.


We had a fun time with Tashkent's semi-functional delivery system.  The pouch has been irregular and restricted to necessary items, so we weren't able to order a present from America.  Instead I turned to delivery here in Tashkent.  The first store I ordered from declined our order because they wouldn't take cash.  Thankfully, the second store was able to come through with a doll. 


After ordering the cake, I got a phone call informing me that - despite being available on the delivery bot - the cake we ordered (pink) wasn't available.  It was at that point I decided that delivery really wasn't making my life earlier.  So instead I packed Eleanor and William into the car and we just drove a couple of miles to the store and picked out the cake in person.  There was no pink cake, so we got a purple one instead.  I think it was black currant.


I'm still coming to grips with Eleanor turning six.  Being my fifth child, she's the oldest of the little kids.  I've always been used to her being in the baby category, but six is definitely not a baby.  She's almost done with kindergarten this year and is quite capable, having learned to write and spell in both English and Russian.  She loves to make bottles for her baby sister, and is a fish in the water, happily swimming for at least an hour every day. 

I remember Kathleen turning six and feeling like she was just about ready to head off to college, so it is strange to see my fifth child reaching that same age and being just as capable.  Eleanor, of course, is happy and proud to be such a big, grown-up girl.  Thankfully, she's still happy to cuddle up on my lap each evening for her story (despite being able to read all the books herself) and loves to have her daddy tell her stories every evening before tucking her in to bed.  I'm happy to keep her that way as long as she wants to be.


Sunday, April 26, 2020

A Breath of Normalcy

One of the small tragedies of quarantine in Uzbekistan has been my yard.  Last year I spent a lot of time and money getting pots, dirt, and flowers for the yard.  When more than three quarters of the plants died, I made plans for improvement this year.  One of the things I vowed to do was wait until later to plant, as March always has a week of warm weather that is followed by weeks of cold rain that is terrible for newly planted flowers. 

I patiently waited until the weather warmed up permanently which was, unfortunately, right before Tashkent went into quarantine.  For the past three and a half weeks, my empty flower pots have sadly waited to be filled, sitting forlornly half-filled with last year's dirt. 



This week I got a text from my wonderful Russian teacher who, knowing my obsession, had been looking for flower sellers who would deliver (these days everyone delivers everything).  One of the sellers let her know that the flower market at Chorsu was still open, and so we made a date to go together and get some shopping done.

Friday morning I pulled out a brand new summer dress and cute sandals, but decided to skip the makeup as it would be covered by a mask and sunglasses anyway.  The children all wanted to know where I was going as they haven't seen me in anything but shorts and t-shirts for over a month.  I can't actually remember the last time I wore makeup.


When I dropped by my teacher's house to pick her up, she came out of her house with a huge smile on her face.  "Oh, I'm so excited! I haven't been out of the house for anything but food or to walk my dog since this has started. My daughter was so jealous that I get to leave today!"

Chorsu, the biggest bazaar in Tashkent, was pretty busy when we showed up.  It certainly wasn't as busy as normal, and most of the usual vendors - souvenirs, jewelry, household goods, clothing, furniture, and animals were closed up.  But there were plenty of food vendors selling the usual vegetables along with new spring garlic and fresh strawberries.  And more importantly, there were flowers.

I browsed my way through the offerings, less than last year, but still plenty enough to fill my pots with lovely, bright, cheerful flowers.  I ended up buying most of my flowers from one vendor who remembered me from last year, and each new group of colorful flowers added to my trolley brought a little surge of joy. 


After the trolley was fully loaded and delivered to my car, we returned for some food shopping.  Following a visit to the strawberry sellers, the honey vendors, and a vegetable stall, we headed back to the car.  When I dropped her off, my teacher thanked me again for the outing.  "It was so wonderful to be at the market!  It almost felt like normal again.  How nice to have that little break!"

I had to agree with her.  It's funny what a treasure it is to go and be at a busy market after weeks of isolation at home.  I'm not much a lover of crowds, but being out among other people brought a smile to my face as we all just went about our normal business for a few hours on a Friday morning.  After seeing empty streets and shuttered stores for weeks, it was lovely to see stall after stall of vegetables, meat, fruit, and eggs.  It was a good reminder that life still goes on, even in the middle of a pandemic.  And also a promise that one day, going to the market will no longer be a treat.  It will just be normal life again.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Easter

We had a very lovely Easter, despite the cold and rainy weather.  After teasing everyone with warm spring weather, Tashkent treated us to a late snowstorm Wednesday evening, followed by two nights of near-freezing temperatures.  Now we have a week of rain, but hopefully that will be the last of cool, rainy days for the foreseeable future. 


We started off our Easter celebrations with an egg hunt on Saturday.  Our Community Liaison Office had already ordered supplies for the embassy Easter egg hunt, so they decided to personally distribute the treats with the help of a good-natured Easter bunny.  Evidently the pair were a hit at all the police checkpoints around town. 


The children were thrilled with their bags full of treats, and we managed to get the eggs hidden and found before more rain rolled in for the rest of the weekend.  I have a reputation in my family for hiding Easter eggs and then forgetting their location when nobody can find all of my devious hiding places, so I declared the hunt a success this year when everyone found all their eggs. 


Elizabeth had also received a goody bag, which Brandon and I took possession of.  She will eventually get her share of the candy in the form of milk, which is better for her anyway, and the empty eggs proved to be exciting enough on their own.


Today we celebrated Easter itself with roast lamb, which everyone declared to be far inferior to ham.  I guess we can drop that meal from the Easter traditions.


However, the egg coloring and following Easter egg roll/crack competition were successful, so I guess I'm still an okay mom.  Our friends in Dushanbe introduced us to this tradition and we've adopted it for our own.  It's really great to have such a big family for things like quarantine Easter egg roll competitions, because we can field enough competitors to make it fun.  In the end, Kathleen took the victor's crown and we all celebrated by eating the eggs.


I think that this Easter was more profound than many past Easters have been.  Being surrounded by the darkness of a pandemic has made the beacon of hope that is the gospel of Christ shine that much brighter.  I am not afraid of the uncertainty of what will come proximately because I know what will come ultimately.  It brings me unspeakable peace to know why I am here and that God is in charge of all things, including viruses. 


Brandon's grandmother, the last of his living grandparents, died yesterday.  She had lived a full life and was ready to go home to her Father and her husband.  As we received updates over the past week of her rapid decline, we felt nothing but peace.  The children were sad, as they enjoyed their visits with their great-grandmother, but they know the separation is only temporary.  Because of this Easter Sunday, we will see Grandma Sherwood again, and she will be resurrected in her perfect form, with both joint and limb being restored their proper frame, and not a hair of her head being lost. 

And so I am grateful for Easter.  I'm grateful for the time I have to spend with my family and grateful that our time together is not limited to our lives on Earth.  For, as the Pascal greeting says, "He is risen! Indeed, He is risen!"

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Treading Water

It feels like a wave has swept across the world.  When the wave was far off, crashing across China, followed by Iran, and then Italy, we knew that it would make it to us eventually.  But until the wave actually crashed over our heads, life continued on as normal with the crashing coming closer every day.

As the wave washed over us here in Tashkent, the excitement and turmoil of the tumble kept us all occupied.  Would we stay or go?  Who was staying?  Who was going?  What will happen?  How will the local government react?  What new restriction is there now?  How long will this last?

But now the wave has passed us by and we are still in the water, endlessly treading.  

I, thankfully, haven't had many medical emergencies, with most of my time in hospitals involving childbirth.  A few children have had procedures and hospital stays, and each one has had one thing in common: waiting.  Medicine is a whole lot of waiting surrounding short, intense moments of action.  Even having a baby is mostly waiting around for the grand finale at the end.  There's a reason I stock up on good books before an anticipated visit to the hospital.

This pandemic has the same feel as any other medical situation: a whole lot of waiting, filled with a lot of uncertainty.  There's nothing most of us can do, and nobody knows how everything will turn out, despite the days of online reading we've all done.  

In the wake of the wave, the waiting has resolved into a daily pattern that looks a lot like what we did before a world pandemic tumbled us out of normal into something else entirely.  Some days, after finishing up thirteen hours of the exact same schedule I followed a month ago, I entirely forget that the world outside our walls is entirely engulfed in pandemic.  The remembrance hits me like a blow, with all the stress, fear, and uncertainty rushing in to overwhelm the domestic tranquility that exercise, meals, school, and childcare have given me.  

Having moved enough, I know that after three to four weeks of anything new wears the newness off and life has a new definition of normal.  And so, after three or four weeks of rarely leaving the house, seeing nobody but my family, and spending every date night at home, life will have taken on its new, quieter rhythm.  We will always have been treading water and we will always be treading water.  Nothing but water in sight.  

And then one day - and nobody knows when that day will be - the water will being to recede and the bottom will appear again.  Eventually dry land will appear and we will remember what it is to walk instead of swim.  It will be strange and awkward at first, but we'll remember how to do it quickly enough.  We'll all look around and exclaim about all the things we had forgotten.  How strange it is to walk freely about!  It feels so incredibly wrong to be around people!  Parks have never looked so wonderful!  It's great to ride again!

Some things will be exactly the same and some will have changed, swept away by the currents surging around us as we were treading water.  We will exclaim over the differences, be grateful for the constants, and then get used to the new shape of the landscape and get back to life.  

But for now, it's treading water.  For however long that lasts.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Uzbekistan Update

Life here in Tashkent is strange.  Inside the walls of our gate, life marches on in its usual progression of days.  We all wake up every morning at our usual time.  Brandon and I exercise while Sophia and Kathleen practice their piano.  Edwin and Joseph cook breakfast, and then we all eat together while Brandon reads scriptures.  After morning chores, everyone heads down to the basement for school.  But instead of Brandon heading to the embassy, he heads upstairs to the computer to telework.  

The eight of us continue our day as it has always been - school, lunch, naps, Russian, laundry, outside play time - and at five Brandon finishes work.  He comes down from upstairs to help with dinner, and we all have are usual quiet evenings together.  

Up until this week, Tashkent hasn't looked terribly different than normal.  But at the beginning of the week, the Uzbek government shut down all places of public gathering - restaurants, malls, salons - and by mid-week everyone was required to wear masks in public.  By Friday all non-essential stores were shut down, and today all private cars were banned from the road.

Our piano teacher was the first to leave us.  When the embassy evacuated those who wanted to leave, she was on the plane with her family.  Our Thursday afternoons got quieter.  

Next was the milk lady, who didn't show up on Wednesday.  We had heard that the roads in and out of Tashkent had been closed on Tuesday, so I imagine she got caught out of town with jugs full of fresh milk.  We don't have her phone number, so we don't know.

The ban on private cars has now deprived us of our housekeeper, pool guy, and horseback riding lessons all in one go.  Our Russian lessons will continue, but via Zoom.  

When I think of all nine of us, locked up behind our wall, I think of the scene in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when Grandpa Joe is telling Charlie about Willy Wonka's chocolate factory being shut up.  "But nobody's gone in!  The gates are locked!  It's crazy!  Nobody ever comes out, either!"

A friend and I were talking earlier about trying to figure out how things will go in this crazy new paradigm.  Who knew back in January that March would find us all huddled in our houses, with whole countries shutting down?  Where will April find us?  How about May?  There's no way for anyone to know, and everyone is left making wild guesses based on a very short timeline of facts.

I do know that one day the gates will open again, the cars will resume their flow, and our house will be filled again with comings and goings.  Lessons will resume, friends will return, life will start to look similar to what it was before.  This time will become, as all times become, a memory.  But for now, we are all holding our breath, wondering when the exhale will come.