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Sunday, July 14, 2019

What Money Can Buy You

Yesterday was Saturday, so we did what we do every Saturday in the summer: we stayed home and swam.  It's hit high summer here in Tashkent, so by mid-afternoon the temperature was 107 degrees.  I checked the weather forecast and the temperatures will be above 100 for the foreseeable future.  When it's that hot outside, the only reasonable thing to do is swim.  Everything else is just too hot. 

Yesterday, however, was a Saturday with the first: it was the first Saturday with a heated pool.

Back in May, when we skipped spring and went straight from late winter to early summer, I started talking to Brandon about getting a pool heater installed.  It sounds ridiculous to heat a pool when all July and August is in the hundreds, but I'm used to swimming in the southeast where pool temperatures usually hover around ninety by mid-summer.  I like water that is so warm you can swim long enough to get entirely pruney and then spend an hour or two more in the pool.  I don't like being anything close to cold. 

And although Tashkent is hot in the day, it cools down enough at night that the pool water never gets above the low eighties.  That certainly isn't swimming in the Pacific ocean, but it's cool enough that I can only take it for twenty minutes or so before having to heat up in the sun.  The children can last longer, but eventually they all end up flat on the tiles around the pool soaking up the heat like lizards.  And after August has passed, the water starts dipping into the mid-seventies which is too cold for anyone to actually want to swim even if the daytime temperatures stay in the nineties until October. 

So I decided just to ask our new pool guy how much a heater might possibly cost.  He got back to me with a pretty reasonable number: $500.  I'd rather spend nothing for a pool heater, but $500 was right at the edge of my acceptable range for having a swimmable pool for eight months of the year, so Brandon gave him the go-ahead to get to work.  Suren, our pool guy, said it wouldn't take long, maybe three or four days. 

And if Suren was the only party involved, that would have been a reasonable estimate.  But unfortunately we live in a house that we don't own and we don't pay rent for, so there were several layers of permissions to ask.  My first email - to the housing office at the embassy - went unanswered for a week.  Brandon tried another person and got a swift reply - 'that's great! Let's get this done!'

The next step was the landlord, who readily agreed to have someone else pay to have his pool heated.  People are always happy to agree to have someone else fund home improvements.  After the landlord gave his okay, Suren met with the local housing coordinator to discuss his plans for how this whole thing was going to go off. 

Our house is heated by two on-demand gas water heaters, which is pretty standard for this region.  Suren figured that we wouldn't be heating the house during the summer, so it would be pretty easy to install a valve that would allow one heater to heat the pool in the summer and heat the house in the winter.  I thought it was a pretty elegant solution.

The housing coordinator, however, did not.  What would happen, he wanted to know, when it was winter and we were trying to heat the house with one water heater?  I figured that we wouldn't be swimming in the winter, but that wasn't a good enough answer.  Instead, the answer was to throw more money at the problem and buy another water heater.  The estimated cost doubled.

I decided that a warm pool wasn't worth that much money.  Brandon, however, thought it was.  My mom and aunt agreed (not that it was their money), and so I was persuaded.  The next week I died inside as I handed Suren ten hundred-dollar bills and told him to get to work.

Then we waited.  Every few days Suren would show up and do something.  He started by dropping off the parts he had bought.  Those were all collected after a week or two and then the work began.  As the weeks passed and the heater got hung, pipes were installed, and a hole was drilled through foot-thick basement wall, but the pool still stayed cold, the dream of a heated pool faded into the far distance.  I tried to convince myself that the pool was really more of something to just dip in than swim anyway.  The children got used to swimming in the cool water and decided it was warm enough.  I knew that Suren would eventually get tired of spending every weekend in our pump room and just get the heater done, but I wasn't sure when that would happen.

Last weekend was the final flurry of work when Suren cut the gas and water for several hours in order to do the final hookups.  Then we had to wait for the embassy to come and give everything final approval.  And at long last, on Friday, more than two months after we started the whole process, the heater was turned on.

Saturday we swam.  And the water was warm.  Everyone stayed in until their hands and feet were pruney and then swam for an hour or two longer.  I wasn't cold.  William wasn't cold.  Nobody ended up sunning themselves on pool tiles.  Even Joseph - the least cold-tolerant child - declared the water warm enough.  William and I spent the time lounging in a pool float, watching Brandon toss children into the pool, play games, and try to get the five parasites off his back.  It was great.

That evening Brandon and I went for a full-moon swim after the children went to bed and the water was nicely warm and no goosebumps were in sight.

I still don't like to think about how much money we spent on something we'll be leaving in two years, but at this point the money is long gone (or converted into pipes and heaters and filters that have been bolted to the pump room wall) so there's not point in stressing about it - much. 

But it sure is nice to jump in the pool and not gasp in shock as the water hits my sternum.  And I'm looking forward to swimming right up to the day I leave for the US in September.  Brandon is already making plans to open the pool next spring up as soon as the temperatures rise above seventy in March.  It's good to have a heated pool.  Even if it cost a lot of money (sob).

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Not Always Hospitable

I am American.  And being American, I have very strong feelings about being able to make my own choices and letting everyone else just have to deal with them.  That may be a little strong, but it's very much the American spirit.  We are a country full of people who told their home countries and cultures to stuff it and went off to do their own thing.  It can sometimes be obnoxious to others (and other countries) around us, but it's part of our national identity whether you like it or not.

This feeling definitely extends to my family.  I know that having a large family can offend people, but I really don't care.  It's my uterus and we don't ask anyone else to pay for it, so I can have as many children as I like.  Whenever people try to protest about 'social irresponsible' reasons for having so many dang kids, Brandon always likes to point out that our children will be paying for their Social Security.  I don't think that reasoning has ever convinced anyone that we're not irresponsible, but it always feels good to point it out.  I'm mostly presentable in public, but not quite all the time.

This is an interesting attitude to hold when one is employed by the U.S. Department of State, however.  I imagine it is also somewhat problematic if one works for the armed forces, as both organizations pay for your life a lot more than regular jobs do.  The jobs that most people hold just pay a salary and maybe insurance, but they don't much care how many people you're supporting because it makes no difference to them. 

When your job pays for your housing (which is dependent on family size), plane tickets, shipping of household effects, and schooling, however, it starts to make a difference.  Brandon and I have never experienced any outright discrimination because of our large family size - that would be an EEO (equal employment opportunity) violation and those are not taken lightly in the U.S. government.  But we have definitely run into the reality that State isn't exactly set up for larger families.

One of the biggest headaches about having a large family is our HHE (household effects) weight allowance.  State allows 7,200 pounds per employee.  It doesn't matter if it is a single guy straight out of grad school or a family with ten children - everyone gets 7,200 pounds.  I remember thinking that over three tons of stuff was a lot of stuff back when we had two children in an 800 square-foot duplex.  But when you have six children (and then you homeschool), 7,200 pounds goes very fast.  You can always pay out of pocket for overages, but I've heard of people paying $3-4 a pound.  There's not much that you want to keep at that price.  So all of the children's artwork gets digitally recorded and then tossed.  There's no room for sentimental keepsakes and hauling any extra furniture is a funny joke.  Many people here in Tashkent have beautiful coffee tables made out of antique wooden doors.  Instead we haul around six bikes.

We also run into weight problems with our consumables shipment.  Just as with HHE, every officer is allotted the same amount of weight - 2,500 pounds of consumable items - for a two-year tour.  That same single recent grad student gets the same amount of weight for all of the things you can't buy in Tashkent (think: root beer and brown sugar and laundry detergent) as we do with eight people.  This shipment I had prioritize items as there was no way I could get two years' worth of TP and cold cereal in our shipment.  Thank heaven we have the pouch.  When I occasionally hear complaints about people using the pouch to order consumables, I want to point out that if they gave us enough weight I wouldn't need to use the pouch - and it would be a lot cheaper for everyone.

One of the unusual problems we run into with a big family is housing.  When we joined, I mistakenly assumed that we would get a bedroom per child.  I had dreams of seven-bedroom houses and all of the different things I could do with that much space.  This is something that that single recent graduate likes to complain about - it's not fair that big families get nicer, larger housing.  But we came to Tashkent with one more child than we arrived in Dushanbe with and we now have a house with one fewer bedroom than we had in Dushanbe.  We will have seven children soon and we will fit those seven children into three of the four bedrooms in our house - only one more bedroom than the three bedrooms that some single people here have.  There's a good reason we choose to spend a hundred or so pounds of our precious weight allotment on bunk bed frames.

Cars are also a problem for larger families.  State will pay to ship one car to post for each employee.  Some people choose to simply buy a car at post so that they have one immediately after arrival.  We don't have that luxury as you can't really count on an outgoing diplomat selling an eight-seater car right when you need one.  So that means waiting months for your car to be shipped, cleared, registered, and plated while you rely on local transportation to get where you need.  I remember one evening when all six of the children and I got to squeeze in to the back of a Matiz (a car so small it's not made for US markets) for a very hot, packed ride home from the amusement park.

Once you top seven children, that story gets even more complicated.  State pays to ship your car, but it only pays to ship a car that fits into a regular shipping container.  It turns out that any car that fits nine or more people does not fit into a regular shipping container.  Which means that every time that car is shipped, you get to pay extra to ship your car with you.  We decided to skip that extra expense and just buy two cars.

I know that none of these things is intentionally set up to inconvenience large families.  It's just set up for average family sizes, which we are definitely not.  I know that having a family the size that we have is just as counter-culture as pink hair - these days it's probably more so than pink hair.  I certainly don't demand that anyone make special allowances for my special situation.  But it is something to think about if you're considering joining the Foreign Service.  It's not always easy to have a large family in this lifestyle.

The one time when we were purposely treated differently because we are large family was in the recent medevac debacle.  I'm used to systemic inconvenience, but I was surprised at the blatant discrimination based on our family size.  There was a definite undercurrent of feeling during our conversation about childcare that implied there was no way I could be a competent, responsible mother if I willingly had so many children.  After all, anyone with half a brain knows how to stop that from happening, so clearly I had less than half a brain.  When I mentioned Kathleen's ability to babysit her younger siblings (for only an hour or two!), one of the participants commented, 'Well, there are only so many children that one child can be expected to watch safely.'  The implication that I could even consider doing such a dangerous, irresponsible thing on a regular basis definitely set my teeth on edge.  I'm pretty sure you have to be more, not less competent to successfully manage a large family.

There will always by those who complain about large families in the Foreign Service (and in the world in general) and think that everyone should have a state-mandated number of children.  So far those people have not gained the upper hand so we will continue on with this job that works pretty well most of the time.  And when those people make veiled (or un-veiled) comments about how irresponsible I am, I will sweetly ignore them because rude people don't deserve my attention.  But I will mentally make rude gestures back at them.  Because I'm not that much of a good person.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Change of Plans

Preparations have been going well for delivering in London.  I was able to find a five-bedroom flat within walking distance of the hospital, a park, a library, and four different Tube stops.  The OB I've seen on two previous pregnancies has been setting things up for a delivery and is expecting me in September.  I've spent a lot of time thinking about what to do with the children (in a small flat you have to get out every single day rain or shine), and even found a stable for them to ride at.

I realized a few weeks ago that the doctor here at post was leaving for R&R in early July and would be back until almost August.  So when I saw her for my 23-week OB appointment, I asked if she could write the medevac cable before she left.  

In order to get any medevac funded with the State department, a cable has to be sent to DC which asks for approval and money to pay for the whole thing.  It's always good to start early because there are inevitable questions that come up and bureaucratic processes that take longer than they should.  Plane tickets can't be bought without a cable, and travel advances (which are very important when you're spending over $10,000 a month on housing) can't be issued without them either.  So having the cable written in early July versus early August gives us a two-month instead of one-month time frame to get things arranged.  It's always good to have more time than less time.

When we were discussing the cable, the doctor mentioned that I needed to get a formal acceptance for the medevac to London.  She didn't figure that it would be an issue as she had already asked them several months ago and they responded with, 'sure as long as it's an uncomplicated pregnancy.'  

A few days after my appointment, the doctor let me know that the med unit in London wanted to have a conference call to discuss my childcare arrangements while in London.  Brandon, always the pessimist, immediately pronounced that they were looking for a reason to refuse the medevac.  Being an optimist, I told him all the reasons why that was ridiculous.

We had the phone call early last week.  They were very concerned about what would happen to the children if I had to go to the hospital for an emergency.  I let them know that Kathleen will be thirteen and is quite capable of babysitting her siblings for several hours.  We also have friends in London who are willing to come and help out as well as Brandon's brother and sister-in-law who live just south of London.  Her parents also offered to help out if we needed it, and I also knew that sisters from the Relief Society in the ward we would be attending would be willing to help in an emergency.  Brandon has buckets of unused leave and he would be able to to hop on one of the daily flights to London and be there within a day of any emergency.  It was, in my opinion, a very thorough plan.

The RMO wanted to know about having a power of attorney in place so that if I was in the hospital unexpectedly and in a coma and therefore unreachable and one of the children also went to the hospital unexpectedly, there would be legal authorization for medical care.  I assured him that I would be able to set it up with our friends with the embassy.  

The phone call ended very amicably and the doctor and I were happy to get that particular box checked off.

The next day she called right as I was about to go down for my nap.  As soon as I heard her tone I knew that something was up.  "I'm so sorry," she began, "but London has decided to decline your medevac.  They don't feel that you have adequate childcare in case of an emergency.  The did say, however, that if you can have another adult with you for the entire length of your medevac, they would accept you.  If you want to hire a nanny, the CLO has a list of au pairs that you could hire."

I hung up in disbelief.  I have talked with several women who have taken a child or children with them for an OB medevac to London, and I know that they were not required to have another adult with them for three months.  All of these children were also small and so definitely not able to care for themselves in an emergency, unlike my children who are quite capable.  I also doubt that any of them had a multi-layered, multi-person back-up plan like mine.  Some of them weren't even able to have their husband stay for the entire postpartum period, which Brandon was going to do.

So I was left with the real reason for the refusal, the reason that Brandon saw from the very beginning: the med unit in London simply didn't want me to come because I had a big family.  They were able to dress that reason up with plausible enough back-up - they even got the regional security officer to put his stamp of approval on the denial so that 'safety' could be cited - that there was nothing I could do about it.  But nobody was really under any illusion that they actually cared about the safety of my children.  We all knew it was because I was a potential headache that they didn't want to deal with and so they made it go away with flimsy excuses.

While discussing this reversal of plans, Brandon pointed out that, with their reasoning about childcare, I wasn't fit to watch my own children every time Brandon left the country.  They also didn't care a bit about the 'safety' of my children at whatever US destination I chose to deliver at, as that question was never even brought up.  

We were both fairly frustrated and disappointed.  The children were more so.

But when someone else pays for your life, you are constrained by their limits.  So we started making alternative plans.

Our first impulse was to go to Hawaii.  Because, Hawaii.  After all, if you have to go somewhere to deliver, why not Hawaii?  I've never been before and the allure of spending three months of fall in the tropics sounded pretty good to me.  I also thought about Florida and Puerto Rico.  I like the beach and three months of the beach would be awesome.

But of course reason and logistical considerations eventually kicked in and going back to Raleigh (again) made the best sense.  I have family, friends, a ward, and an OB practice there.  I've delivered two babies there before, and the children will get to see their friends and family (who we weren't going to see at all this year).  It, sadly for my sense of tropical adventure, made too much sense.

We were able to find a place to stay with enough room who was willing to take nine (nine!) people in a neighborhood less than four miles from my parents' house.  We were able to shift around some car buying plans so that we will have a car for three months.  I looked up plane flights.  I found that my old stable is still around.  My dad assured my that his old practice would be happy to accept me for the delivery.  Everything neatly fell into place.

Whenever I think about London, I'm still sad for our adventure that was going to be.  It was going to be so much fun, and probably the only chance we'll have to live in Europe.  I had been making plans for almost two years, so that's a lot of anticipation that has been disappointed. 

But such is life.  I have found myself to be surprisingly resigned to the whole situation, which has been helped by working hard to not think about what might have been.  The children were fairly easily bought off with the promise of a trampoline in the backyard and a family of children from church down the street.  Living three months of a suburban American lifestyle is its own adventure when you've lived over half your life in post-Soviet countries.  

But still, London would have been fun.



Wednesday, July 3, 2019

The Terrible Twos

I have never believed that two is a particularly terrible age.  My two year-olds have always been fairly reasonable - they are toilet-trained, talking, walking, feeding themselves, fairly self-entertained, and reasonably tractable.  When they hit three, however, life is another matter.  Three year-olds are opinionated and give the appearance of being logical while not actually being so.  I'll take two over three any day.

Then William turned two.  He started out okay, but quickly went downhill.  He is pretty verbal, which means that he thinks that he can tell you what he wants.  But sometimes he doesn't know how to tell you want he wants and instead uses whatever words comes to mind.  Today he wanted something - I still have no idea what - and keep insisting that he wanted green.  And when I couldn't give him green and tried to patiently explain that I didn't understand him, he started screaming and crying.  Nothing would comfort him because he hadn't gotten green and our dinner conversations were drowned out by the wails of an angry toddler.  If unchecked, the screaming would have gone on indefinitely as William adamantly refuses to be soothed when he is angry.

This happens very often - if he gets the wrong spoon or the cookies are all gone or he has been given the wrong shirt or if he has to wear any clothes at all or if it is nap time or if it is time to get up from nap - and the house has been much louder lately.  It's very wearing. 

I have finally figured out how to short-circuit the screaming - it turns out that two year-olds can understand threats if they've been enacted enough times before - but that still doesn't stop the fits from happening in the first place. 

There usually isn't any warning, as William - when he's not been crossed - is actually a very happy, cheerful little boy.  He strides around the house in nothing but his underwear, happily chatting volubly to everyone about everything.  Usually he's compliant, folding his arms when asked or coming when he's been bidden.  He's a funny little parrot, repeating things he shouldn't have heard, which only makes us laugh and then he repeats them again.  My favorite thing is when I tell him 'you're welcome,' to his high, chirpy 'thank you!'  He invariably responds with 'thank you you're welcome!' and this will go on indefinitely until one of us (always me) gives up.

But then, without warning, he explodes in tears and screaming when something completely random goes wrong and his Mr. Hyde decides to show up.  I never know when this will happen as the same situation - being told that he must wait for his cookie - may produce a chirpy 'okay' or a full-blown tantrum.  It's Russian roulette, but with a loaded toddler instead of a gun.  I'm not sure which one is worse.

I think that if William was my first child, I would be tempted to go in for sterilization right now, but thankfully he is my sixth and I have been worn down by the toddlerhood of five other children and I know that this too shall pass.  One day (maybe when he is twenty) logic will completely kick in (okay, maybe forty?) and we can discuss things calmly and understand exactly what green is and why he wants it so badly.  The other children have all become increasingly reasonable to deal with and so I have no doubt that William will also follow normal human development and become more reasonable with time also.  I will continue to believe this because not holding out hope isn't a good idea.

Until then, however, I have some long, scream-filled days to deal with.  Wish me luck (and self-control for when it gets really, really bad).

Sunday, June 30, 2019

A Family Vacation

Our family has reached the Golden Age, that magical time when enough children are old enough that family time isn't just a cat-wresting session that one does mainly because it's Good For You, but not too old that they don't want anything to do with you or - even worse - have left you altogether.  A few months ago we all went out on a Saturday and finished the afternoon with gelato.  As everyone sat around the table enjoying their ice cream without spilling, fighting, wandering around, or complaining - instead enjoying ice cream and an interesting conversation, I was struck by how enjoyable it was to spend time with my children.  It was very surprising.

I have always been loathe to spend money on family vacations because I can stay home and stick pins into my eyeballs for free.  And at home the children have toys to amuse them and I have a room to lock myself into.  Lots of friends in the FS take their children to amazing places, but their Facebook pictures only make me tired, not envious.  The thought of hauling children from historical site to historical site in Rome sounds like punishment, not fun.  Honestly, hauling just myself from site to site to site also sounds like punishment.  I don't think I'm a very good tourist.

However, I have come around to the idea of taking the children on a vacation, which is defined as something you do to relax.  Our first vacation to Dubai was a resounding success, so we've occasionally spent the money to go and relax somewhere other than home and it has been (mostly) fun.  One can't expect anything to be entirely fun when there are eight people involved - especially when one of those is a temperamental two-year-old

This past weekend we went back to Chatkal Mountains Resort.  Brandon wasn't able to come the last time we went in May, so we decided to go back in June.  I had given it such glowing reviews that Brandon felt he had to make sure that I was actually telling the truth.  This time we decided to go with friends (who have five boys, so they're completely okay with chaos).

We headed up earlier than our friend because Brandon could take more leave, so we had Thursday and Friday morning to ourselves, and our friends joined us Friday afternoon until Saturday morning.  I've never actually vacationed with friends before.  It's hard to find that perfect mix of 1. children who work well together, 2. adults who work well together, and 3. both parties want to spend prolonged time together.  In our case, there's also the extra complication of finding a family that is not afraid of spending time with such a large family as ours.  We're kind of intimidating; after all, we could make a basketball team with a coach and a cheerleader.

Our time alone was delightful; the children played around the pool and occasionally in the pool (it was cold) while Brandon and I sat on the lounge chairs and read books.  I love having enough children that they play well together.  The big children play with the little children or with each other while the little ones play around the fringes.  Having six children doesn't seem a lazy thing to do, but in some aspects, I'm able to be quite lazy because I have so many children.  

By the time the children got bored of playing with each other (although I wasn't yet bored of my book; it was a pretty good one), our friends showed up and everyone was thoroughly entertained again.  There were games in the pool, rock breaking near the pool, games on the yard, and a continual crowd of children ranging throughout the resort.  It's a good thing Uzbeks are highly child tolerant.  

After dinner the children ran off to play various night games together while the adults talked through passing thunderstorms.  When the thunderstorms got too bad, the children retreated to play games inside, and the adults wrapped up in blankets so we could keep talking comfortably outside.  After the clouds cleared out, we all went away from the lights to look at the stars.  We were far enough away from everything to see the Milky Way clearly, along with thousands of other stars.  

Finally everyone stumbled into bed, quite late.  Sophia kept asking me through the night why we weren't sending the children to bed.  I shrugged and told her that this was the fun of being on vacation with friends - everyone got to stay out late and play.  The babies were in bed - and various other small children dropped off along the way - so why not let everyone enjoy a lovely summer night together?  It's fun to break the routine every now and then.

I'm enjoying this part of life, when taking the children on vacation isn't an exercise of patience and forbearance.  It's wonderful to be able to pick up and take a short trip without days' preparation and stress and have enough helpful children to lighten the load.  I love that spending time together is more enjoyable than not, and it's great to think that this is the new normal.  I'm already looking forward to our next vacation together.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Pregnancy is Not for Old Women

I don't normally consider myself 'old.'  When I think of old people, there are a lot more wrinkles and grey hair, funny-looking clothes, and endless repetition of stories.  I'm not even halfway done with my average life expectancy, so I'm a long way off from being old.

Except, that is, when it comes to childbearing.  I remember when my mother had my youngest brother and ticked over to thirty-five during her pregnancy.  When my brother came out with crossed eyes, we would tease her about 'advanced maternal age' and old eggs.  To my nine year-old mind, thirty-five was ancient, and probably high time to stop reproducing.  After all, she was going to be dead in not that many years and who would take care of my brother then?

My plan was always to stop having children when I hit the advanced maternal age category regardless of the number of children I had borne.  After all, I had heard the statistics enough times while transcribing patient notes for my father.  You can't argue with statistics.  But then thirty-five came and passed and Brandon and I thought that one more might be nice, so we threw caution to the wind and I joined the ranks of elderly multigravida women.

I have always had exceptionally easy pregnancies.  Good genes combined with good luck have resulted in six completely complication-free pregnancies and deliveries.  I've always been able to exercise until I deliver (sometimes running three miles a few days before induction), I've never thrown up from morning sickness, and life mostly continues on normally for the whole pregnancy.  I'm not fond of the four or so weeks of nausea and tiredness that comes during the first trimester, but it's not anything I can complain about with my mom friends, who all have real horror stories.

But this pregnancy has not been the same.  I started feeling nauseous around the fifth week and didn't fully recover until the thirteenth week.  I remember falling asleep between sentences while Joseph read his school assignments out loud to me, and a few days I cut school short because I just couldn't keep my eyes open any more.  The food cravings and aversions were so intense that whenever some weird and new thing would come up on the dinner menu, the children started shouting 'Hail Omega! Thank you for the tasty food!'  I couldn't go for more than two hours without having to eat a substantial snack because I was starving so much.

Thankfully the first trimester has passed (and I theoretically won't ever have to do that ever again in my entire life), but I haven't had the rebound that usually comes with the second trimester.  I sometimes have to stop halfway up one flight of stairs because I'm so out of breath, and these days my fastest mile speed is twenty minutes - anything faster and I feel like I'm going to die.  Random pains will wake me up in the middle of the night, and different equally random pains show up in the middle of the day.  I've had Braxton-Hicks contractions since the twelfth week.  My hips ache when I sleep and only my daily dose of omeprazole keeps the heartburn at bay.  And I still have four more months to go.

I've known women who have had children into their forties and I'm not sure how they did it.  I'm still more astounded at women who start in their forties.  I suppose they don't have the benefit of comparison so pregnancy must just be terrible the whole way through.  I can only imagine what I'm going through and extrapolate it out to almost completely unbearable for months on end.  My hat is off to women who make that sacrifice to have children.  I'm not sure how much further my theoretical dedication to childbearing would go if I had to face more pregnancies past this one.

But I'm grateful that I had the opportunity to have children before I get any more geriatric than I already am.  I turns out that I'm quite terrible at dealing with pain, tiredness, and the other unpleasant side effects of pregnancy, and I keep thinking that I'm so glad this is the last time I have to go through it.  Fingers crossed.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

That Saturday When I Was Awesome

I am not a Pinterest mom.  Almost nothing I do is ever worthy of posting on the internet.  I consider my job as a mother to consist of: 1. keeping my children alive  2. Teaching them to be moral, independent people who can hack it in the real world.  Entertaining is not anywhere on the list.  I created five playmates for each of my children, and if those get boring, there's always the literal ton of books we haul around the world with us.

This philosophy has recently started operating on Saturdays too.  Back in Tajikistan we used to go adventuring most Saturdays.  The children and I spent all week cooped up in our house and by the weekend everyone except Brandon was ready to get out and do something exciting.  Now that I have the independence of my very own car, we do a lot more leaving the house during the week.  We have horseback riding, play dates, and appointments enough that most Saturdays - especially in the summer - everyone is happy to stay home.

In the summer, this means we swim on Saturdays (and just about every other day of the week too).  But this past Saturday, our pool was empty.  So swimming wasn't an option.  There are several water parks around Tashkent, but I was taking the children to one on Monday, and two water park visits in three days seemed a little decadent.  There are also several malls, and one of them just opened a Wendy's, so I thought about taking everyone there.  But it always seems such a shame to waste a summer day indoors at a mall.  I considered inviting ourselves over to a friend's house, but I wasn't sure if they were okay with that idea.

So I decided to stay home.  Because home means you don't have to go anywhere in a hot car or see anyone else.  And it's free.

While cooking breakfast that morning (after edging the lawns that Brandon was mowing because we are awesome [and it's cooler in the morning]), I had a rare bolt of fun-inspiration.  I'm not sure where it came from, because usually complicated fun-having schemes aren't my thing.  This is why I've never actually thrown a birthday party for anyone in my family.  Games.  They're terrible.  But maybe maybe I can blame my bolt of inspiration on pregnancy hormones.  They often make people do weird things.

I decided that we would play water games with the children.  Everyone gets crabby if they stay inside all day, and it's too hot for the next three months to stay outside if you're not wet, so why not play games with water??  I brought up the idea with Brandon, and he thought it was a great idea and started researching immediately.

When we announced our plans to the children, some were skeptical and reluctant.  But within thirty seconds of starting a sponge-relay game (with hurdles!), everyone was completely on board with water games.  After all, the spirit of competition gets to about everyone in the end.  After we ran out of planned games, we made up games on the spot.  After those, everyone started playing with the hose (it never seems to get old).  And then I told Kathleen to dunk her head in a bucket, which everyone found very entertaining.  Edwin upped the ante by dumping the whole bucket of water on his head.  Then someone got the brilliant idea of filming the dumping and ducking in slow motion.  Somehow filming water is slow motion is endlessly fascinating.

We finally had to give it up only because our dinner delivery was on its way and everyone needed to bathe before gathering to eat sushi while watching The Black Stallion.  Before going up for her bath, Sophia turned to me; "Mom, this day has been so much fun!  Thanks for being such a great mom!"

I hope that when they're older and have gone off into their own lives separate from each other, they'll remember days like Saturday with fondness.  And those days will last in their memory better than all the other days where I was only a so-so mom.  One can always hope.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

London Again

A few weeks ago I paid another visit to London.  I had reached the blessed halfway mark of my pregnancy, so it was time for the twenty-week ultrasound.  The appointment itself was on Tuesday morning, but because of flight times, I stayed in London until Friday evening.

I've become somewhat of a pro at planning my time on these excursions.  I'm saving all the real touristy sites for when we will all be together as a family (I've learned that those things are really the best the first time you go), so I looked for things that were interesting, but not necessarily of general interest.

I did, of course, go shopping.  Because, London.  I didn't, however, get anything for myself.  Instead I bought the now-traditional English candy and some thanks-for-holding-the-fort-down-for-me gifts (clothes) for Kathleen and Sophia.  They have really been a great help for all of my trips this spring, and I thought they'd enjoy a real token of my appreciation.  Since they both now pay for their own clothing, they were delighted with the new dresses I bought them.  I tried to find shoes and a jacket for myself, but nothing called to me.  It turns out also that it's a lot easier to look for those things online.  Of course you can't try them on, but it is certainly a lot faster than walking from store to store.

That evening I treated myself to a delicious dinner at a restaurant in Kensington.  Brandon and I were talking on my walk to dinner (the shortest way there was a lovely stroll through Hyde park), and he requested I take pictures of each of the seven courses.  It was almost like having a dinner companion as we texted about the food.  Almost.

The weather was much cooler than in Tashkent - it was a good day if it got into the upper sixties - and it also rained a few days.  Thankfully I managed to get a sunny day for my personal tour around historical London city with my Italian tour guide.  I guess it wasn't a popular day for tours, as I was the only one in the group, which turned out well when I got the time wrong and he came back for me despite being half an hour late.  One day I will be a fully responsible adult, but evidently it isn't yet.

I also got to see family.  Brandon's brother, his wife, and their daughter (two weeks younger than William) live down by the temple, so we met for a temple session one afternoon.  It was lovely to attend, as I haven't been for a year.  Afterwards we had dinner together and caught up.  Every time I see family I always regret that I don't get to see them more often.  I'm pretty lucky to have such great family on my side as well as Brandon's. 

One morning I took a croissant making class at a local bakery.  I've never been able to get my croissants quite right (usually they leak butter everywhere and I get fried croissants), and the class provided some useful pointers.  I ended up with a baker's dozen croissants at the end of the class. 

Thankfully, I was meeting friends for dinner that evening, so I was able to pass them on to them and their four boys because there was no way I could finish that many croissants on my own before they went stale.  After dinner, the mom and I went to The Man of La Mancha with her two older boys where we got to see Kelsey Grammer play the part of Miguel Cervantes.  I can see why it's a popular musical; it was pretty entertaining.

My flight out was scheduled for Friday evening and I had to check out of my hotel that morning and it rained most of Friday.  So I took a tour of Royal Albert Hall and then attended the matinee performance of the Royal Ballet's Cinderella.  The tour was interesting (and dry) and I got to learn that Eric Clapton has performed there over two hundred times.  Who knew he was so popular in London?

The ballet was a novel performance, as it was staged in the oval floor of the hall.  My seat was on the front row, so I got to see the dancers very close.  I enjoyed it immensely; it was the perfect thing to do on a rainy afternoon.

After that it was dinner with friends, back to the hotel for luggage, and on to the airport for my overnight flight home.  I was greeted with an immense sigh of relief from both Brandon and the children.  They do very well while I am gone, but life is always easier when The One Who Creates Order is around to, well, create order.  Running an eight-person family is definitely a two-person job and I'm always so impressed that Brandon can do it on his own after putting in a full day's work at the embassy.  Life is definitely harder on him when I'm gone than it is on me when he is gone. 

I have now spent over five weeks in London over six different visits, and so the thought of spending three months there isn't very daunting.  It's nice to have gotten to know the city so well, as it will make the adjustment period a lot easier.  We are in the process of securing an apartment, and when my contact in London mentioned the street, I knew exactly which street and neighborhood he was talking about.  I had been to the closest grocery store, Tube stop, and park.  Outside of cities I have actually lived in, I have visited London the most of any other place in the world.  So I think that we'll probably be okay.

We have just under three months until everyone gets to pack up get ourselves over to London.  It's enough time to enjoy the rest of our summer and get some good relaxing in before we have to start stressing about all of the logistical hurdles.  The children are all excited to live in a place where they speak English and there are lots of lovely parks to play in.  I'm excited to have lots of good food to cook and interesting places to take the children to.  Brandon is looking forward to having the whole thing done and being back home again. 

Until next time, London!

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Less Clothing Makes Less Laundry

I used to have high standards when it came to my children's clothing.  When Kathleen was born, she had lots of little teeny-tiny nightgowns ready to don after her nightly baths.  And in the morning, I would dutifully take off the little nightgowns and put on a fresh outfit every day. 

Sophia and Edwin got the same treatment, but by the time Joseph showed up, I was getting three other children in and out of clothes and pajamas every day so he kept the same outfit on until it was either crusty or he pooped through it.  He was a fall baby and warm pajamas and clothes for a newborn are pretty much the same thing anyway so it was mostly okay.  He's seven and a half now, so I figure it didn't do any damage.  Also, it made for less laundry.


Eleanor and William got the same treatment as babies because life certainly didn't get any less hectic with the addition of fifth and sixth children.  I didn't even bathe Eleanor myself because she had willing older sisters to do the job for me.  It worked so well that Edwin has bathed William pretty much from the beginning.  It turns out that baths are more of a nice thing rather than a strict luxury anyway and what gets missed during one bath will probably get washed the next time.

But my children have always had clean clothing (laundry gets done once a week because nobody owns more than a week's worth of clothing) and they have always been dressed.  We all have to maintain some sort of standard. 


Until, that is, until this summer.  It started when William was being potty trained back in October.  Taking little jeans on and off really gets old by the time you've done it for the sixth time in a day, especially when they're skinny jeans (curse whoever thought up that idea for small children.  It was so much easier to take pants off when they were looser).  So when he was home, William spent most of his days without pants.  Every now and then I would get religion and actually put pants on, but by the time I got to the third pair that day that got peed through, I gave up. 

Then it got warm.  And somehow it seemed like too much work to actually put a shirt on, too.  In reality, getting a two year-old dressed takes less than a minute.  Put on a shirt, put on shorts and you're done.  But somehow when it's breakfast time and you just took off the pajamas and took the child to the toilet, it's just one step too many to actually put anything other than the underwear back on.  At first it was strategic - don't get him dressed until after he's eaten breakfast - but then it was laziness.  And now it's just habit.


Every now and then when other people show up and I see William through their eyes - a semi-naked toddler running through the house - I realize exactly how low my standards have sunk.  But then I forget about them when it's the next morning and thirty seconds seems like too much time to sacrifice for a silly standard.  After all, it's not like he actually needs clothing.  The weather is perfectly warm, and he's not outside for hours at a time and getting sunburned (well, there was that one time).  Ironically, he wears the most clothing when he's swimming because I'm also too lazy to slather his entire body with sunscreen.

Edwin, who folds William's clothes, is entirely on board with William's new wardrobe.  Edwin wears clothes for several days in a row to keep the laundry down, and now he only has to put William's underwear away.  These days he gets his folding done in fifteen minutes. 


It's going to be sad when we go to London in September and 1. it will be cold and 2. we will go out in public most days.  Not only will William have to wear pants and a shirt, but he will have to wear socks, shoes, and a jacket, too.  And Edwin will have to start folding a lot more laundry.

But until then, we'll enjoy our resident undie-wearing toddler.  I have to admit that there's something adorably cute about a two year-old running around in teeny-tiny undies and nothing else.  I'll enjoy it now because I definitely won't be saying that when he's fifteen.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

How We Do Ministering in Uzbekistan

There are a lot of things that are different about church here in Uzbekistan.  Our scouting program has boys ages four to twelve, and the young women meet together with the one activity days girl.  Sunday school has two classes - youth and adult, and Young Women and Relief Society sisters meet together for their Sunday classes, as well all the males over twelve for their classes.  We make it work pretty well, considering that we are only four families.

Our Relief Society meets together one weeknight a month, and most months the meeting is held at a local restaurant to celebrate a birthday, going away, or just because we enjoy going out to dinner together.  There are advantages to being in a small group where all the sisters are in similar economic circumstances.  When we were in Cairo, we had a spa night for one activity and went horseback (or camel) riding around the pyramids for another.  It may not by a typical way to hold activities, but it sure is a lot of fun.

So when one of the sister proposed a Relief Society overnight trip to Samarkand, it was welcomed with much enthusiasm.  When I told Brandon about our trip, he was somewhat confused.

"Haven't you already been to Samarkand twice in the last year?  And hasn't everyone else been there already, too?  What are you going to do in Samarkand??"

I smiled back at him.  "Oh, we're not going sightseeing.  We're going shopping!"

Being the wonderful, patient, kind husband he is, he sighed and asked how long we were going to be gone and then made sure I had plenty of money to take with me.  I'm pretty lucky.


There is a fast train to Samarkand, but it only runs at certain times and also sells out pretty quickly.  Because of the schedule, we ended up leaving at 8 am on Friday morning and came back at eight Saturday evening.  Thirty-six hours of shopping, eating, talking, and enjoying female company.

Uzbekistan is what those in the Foreign Service like to call a 'shopping post.'  It's a post that has a lot of high quality, beautiful, fairly inexpensive handicrafts.  There are silk embroideries, hand carved boxes and tables, hand-woven silk ikat fabric, scarves, Perisan miniatures, pottery, custom made furniture, custom dressmakers, and - of course - rugs.


The sister organizing the trip did a lot of research so we could find the best places to buy things.  Our first day we visited a carpet factory, a suzani shop, and a ceramicist.  The second day we went to a bazaar an hour outside Samarkand that is known for suzanis, another ceramicist, and to the home of the suzani maker we visited the first day.


While visiting the carpet factory, we struck up a conversation with the owner whose daughter is friends with one of the sisters' daughters.  By the end of our visit to the factory, we had dinner reservations with him that evening.  After a hard day of shopping, we met him at Samarkand restaurant for dinner and, eventually, dancing.  While we were all breaking it down with grandmas, little children, teenagers, and middle-aged Uzbeks, everyone agreed that that this maybe wasn't your typical Relief Society meeting. 


After two days of shopping, talking, and eating, we all got back on the train back to Tashkent loaded with the weekend's haul.  I got off light with a queen bed-sized silk suzani, an century-old antique suzani, a pottery vase and goose, two meters of silk ikat, and an assortment of Uzbek clothes for the children's dress up bin.  I was able to almost fit everything in the carry-on suitcase I had brought.  One of the sisters had wisely brought extra bags and we had to hire a porter to haul everything from our van to the train.  When I suggested adding up the total damage for everyone combined, everyone laughed and decided that was probably a number best left unknown.


We all returned to Tashkent refreshed from our break and united together with stronger bonds of love and friendship.  A second trip has already been planned to Fergana valley, the pottery region of Uzbekistan.  It may be your typical way to do Relief Society, but it's a pretty awesome way to do it if you ask me.