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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Magic Floor

I mostly like our kitchen here in Tashkent.  I can't say that I've loved any of our kitchents; each one has a mix of features that I like and ones that I can't stand.  Our Egyptian kitchen was pretty big, had full-size appliances, and lots of counter space, but it didn't have any air conditioning.  Our kitchen in Baku had air conditioning and ceramic floors, but it didn't have a full-sized oven or range.  The Dushanbe kitchen was huge, had room for a freezer and a refrigerator, and plenty of storage space, but we had another easy bake stove and oven.

Our current kitchen is mostly okay.  It is somewhat on the small side, but it does have a door to the backyard, which is really nice when it gets too hot.  There is definitely a lot less counter space than in our last kitchen and I've had a fun time trying to fit everything in the cabinets.  Our pots are currently living on the window sill until I put some wall shelves up.  We do, however, have a wonderfully large, deep sink that I love.  I've never had a sink large enough to fit a half-sheet pan in, and I'm really enjoying my sink.  But the best part about my kitchen here is the stove - a full-sized American gas range.  Every time I put two 9x13 pans side-by-side in the oven, my heart sings with happiness.

Our kitchen has one very interesting feature: the floor.  It is a black-and-white ceramic tile floor, which in principle I am okay with.  The tiles are nice and large with very small grout lines between the tiles, which are wonderful after having a tile floor in Baku that dirt would get lost in every time it fell into the canyon-like cracks between the tiles.  It actually looks really nice when it's clean, but it's almost never clean.

It turns out that our floor is magical, but in the not-good, Sauron-makes-the-One-Ring kind of magical way.  It makes dirt spontaneously.

Our housekeeper comes three times a week, and every time she comes she mops the floor, often twice.  She leaves at three in the afternoon, and by seven in the evening the floor is usually coated in dirt and in need of another mopping - the third for the day.  Footprints, crumbs, dirt, splashes, smears, and streaks defy the law of conservation of mass as they appear without anybody seeming to do a thing.  Often one of my children will simply look in the kitchen and crumbs will appear on the floor.  Another one will wash their hands at the sink and dirty wet footprints will pop into existence all around them.  Every time William eats his high chair is surrounded by a virtual Jackson Pollock of drips, splashes, and splatters.

One would think that between black and white, one of the tiles would hide dirt, but instead they both just show different kinds.  The white tiles show every smudge that thinks of being in existence, and the black tiles showcase every single microscopic mote of dust that happens to wander by our house.  And to make it even better, the tiles are high gloss.  So even if a perfectly clean, crumb and dirt free set of feet walks across the floor, it leaves smudgy footprints across the mirror-like surface.

When I talked with the woman who lived here before me and she mentioned that the floor was a nightmare to keep clean, I rolled my eyes and figured that she was exaggerating.  I have a fairly high tolerance for dirty floors (the gift of laziness) so I didn't think that the 'nightmare' floor would cause too much of a problem.  But I was wrong.  It's one thing to deal with a dirty floor when you can't see it, but it's something else entirely when you can see every single drip that lands on your floor.  I thought I was strong enough to deal with it, but I didn't last more than a month before I broke down and bought a steam mop, something I've always mocked other people for owning.

Now every night after dinner, I have a new ritual.  After the dishes are washed and the counters and table wiped, I kick everyone out of the kitchen.  First the floor is swept and I vainly try to get every stray speck off the amazingly filthy floor.  I feel like I should start a photo diary of how much dirt it's possible to generate in less than four hours, in the cause of scientific inquiry.  After the heap is swept up, I pull out my steam mop.  In a carefully devised pattern that allows the floor to be mopped and dry before I step on it, the entire floor is cleaned.  I finish by admiring my perfectly clean floor and then admire it.  I soak in the beauty of a perfectly clean kitchen floor.  I treasure it in my heart, remembering that once a day the floor actually stays clean for more than ten minutes, if only because everyone in the house is asleep.  Then I go to bed and try to remember in the morning when someone splashes their milk all over then entire kitchen that the floor will be clean once again.  If only overnight.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Indulging Myself

Last Tuesday afternoon, I woke up from my nap and put on my riding tights.  After checking on the children (get your school work done! And please get William up from his nap when you hear him cry), I got in the car and drove to the stable all by myself.  This past Tuesday I worked on cantering from the walk (I'm terrible at it) and I rode an Akhal-Teke mare, Rursi, who had a lovely, smooth canter.  When I got home from my lesson, I folded laundry.

I've discovered that, even though I'm a full-grown, responsible adult who has six children and runs a household in a foreign country, I still am the same five year-old girl who loved horses.  It's funny to realize that even though you grow up, some of those childish passions don't ever go away.

And as I started riding when the children began lessons once a week, that same passion came right back.  After riding for a few months, I realized that I knew all of the basics of riding (walk, trot, canter, jump), but wasn't particularly good at any of them.  There's a point in one's progress in anything that improving is less a matter of gaining more knowledge and more a matter of spending more time practicing.

When I broached the topic of riding twice a week instead of the once I was already doing with the children, Brandon was confused.  "But aren't you already riding horses?  Once a week is more than none a week, which is what you've been doing for the last two decades.  Why do you need to ride twice a week??"

After I explained to him that I wanted to get better and getting better was a matter of spending more time practicing, he warily agreed that it was maybe okay to spend a hundred dollars a month of his sweat-and-blood money on something completely frivolous like riding a large quadruped in a circle for forty-five minutes at a time.

I thanked him profusely and promised that I'd still get all my mom jobs done.

I've been riding twice a week for half a month now and it has been wonderful.  Most of my time is spent doing Very Useful things.  I wake up at five in the morning to exercise, after which I shower, eat breakfast, tidy up the house while overseeing the children's morning chores, teach and supervise school, feed children lunch, take a short nap, read scriptures, study Russian vocabulary, take Russian class (three times a week), take care of household business, cook dinner, eat dinner, clean up dinner, and put the children to bed.  The only part of my day that I really enjoy, that isn't a job which takes moral fortitude to do, is my nap.  The rest of my day, every single minute of it from five am until seven thirty or eight, is spent doing my job.  I'm not complaining about it; this is the life I've chosen and the one I always saw myself doing.  But it is a very busy life and it's a life busy with mostly taking care of other people.

So to have the opportunity to do something that doesn't benefit anyone but me, that doesn't make me a better person or make the world a better place, something that is simply for my very own enjoyment, is so amazingly indulgent.  I had a struggle with my conscience when I first realized that I could ride twice a week without shorting my children of any time I needed to spend with them.  I couldn't find any justification for why this would be something that was good for anyone but me, and it was a lot of money to spend just making me happy.  It was even harder to justify it when I thought about Brandon who was stuck at work for at least fifty hours a week with no opportunity for self indulgence himself.  Nevertheless, I decided to ride anyway because it was something I wanted to do even if I couldn't justify it even to myself.

But I've found that being able to do something that I really, really enjoy doing has made all of the things that I enjoy less (or sometimes not at all) much easier to do.  I don't feel like my whole life is spent doing the things I have to do now that I get to spend a little bit of time doing the thing that I really love to do.  I look forward to riding every day and count down the days until my next lesson, and it's wonderful to have something to look forward to so frequently.  I'm also grateful that Brandon doesn't resent me for doing something that he doesn't have the option to do.

I know I'll never become anything close to a professional horsewoman, but that's because I have something else that I've dedicated my life to - and my family is more important than any hobby that I have.  But I also know that I'll have something to enjoy and improve at, and that is pretty great.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Halloween 2018

I’m not a big Halloween celebrator.  I think that I got this from my mother, who felt that it was a useless holiday, one that involved a lot of work from parents with no benefit to anyone but the children.  She did, however, get to raid our candy stashes, so I suppose she did get a little benefit.  This is probably why she allowed us to participate in Halloween at all. 

My children have grown up with a much different Halloween experience than my own.  I have fond memories of walking my neighborhood streets, visiting all of the neighbors that I had been visiting for almost my entire life.  My parents had a route planned out that allowed for enough trick-or-treating to satisfy our lust for candy without having to stay out all night.  My father usually got stuck walking around the neighborhood in the cold while my mother graciously volunteered to stay home in the warm house to hand out candy.  My childhood often was something straight out of a Disney channel movie.

We have been back in the US for Halloween several times, so some of my children have memories of trick-or-treating from house to house in the cool October air, walking up an unfamiliar sidewalk to ring the doorbell and wait for a complete stranger to give you brightly packaged goodness just because you asked. 

But usually we’re overseas for Halloween.  Here in Uzbekistan Halloween is illegal so we attended the embassy’s Halloween party.  The children started throwing ideas around for costumes several months ago, something they really enjoy.  I’ve never bought or made any costumes (too lazy and too cheap), so they get to rummage through the dress-up box and cobble together whatever they can find.  Sophia is usually the mastermind for this process, and she relishes figuring out what can be made from the available parts.

This year the girls reprised some Christmas present dresses, squeezing one more year out of them before they are too small.  Eleanor went as Little Red (Orange) Riding Hood, Joseph was Caesar, Edwin was Brutus, and William was Boss Baby.  William’s costume was the easiest, as we just had to put church clothes on him and a name tag for identification.  In a fit of festiveness, I also dressed up this year.  I went as a Tajik, wearing a traditional suzani outfit that I bought in Dushanbe.

The weather had unfortunately turned cold the day before Halloween, so everyone froze to death while playing the games outside to pass the time before going trunk-or-treating.  Joseph had firmly assured me that shorts and flip flops would be just fine, so I didn’t feel too bad for him as he slowly turned into a toga-covered popsicle.  As soon as the trunk-or-treating opened up, everyone raced around to get their candy, declared themselves partied out, and were happy to go home. 

They didn’t get the five-pound haul that Dushanbe usually yielded, but they still got enough candy to be happy.  Because – free candy!  And I was happy have fewer wrappers to clean up and less candy to pry out of William’s sticky, chocolate covered fingers after he found a sibling’s stash.  So, I’ll call it another successful Halloween.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Adventure Saturday - Lake Uruganch


Back in September, friends of ours in the church group here mentioned that they wanted to go hiking to a glacial lake, Lake Urungach, in the mountains east of Tashkent.  The pictures looked lovely and I’m always up for an adventure, so we set a date and made a plan to go.

Unfortunately, we discovered that the lake was in a restricted area that needed police permission to visit (why?  I really have no idea).  So we got a diplomatic note submitted asking for permission, planned the trip, and set the date for the last weekend of September.  When he heard this plan, Brandon laughed at our confidence in getting permission that quickly.  “You do know that you’re working with the Uzbek government?” he commented when I told him the plan, “There’s no telling when this note will get processed, so don’t start packing your snacks yet.”

This past week we finally got permission.  Brandon was kind enough not to mention that he told me so. 


There was some debate about the travel time, as none of us had been there.  When you start looking at distances and mountains, it’s hard to make accurate estimates.  Twenty miles seems like it’s not so bad when you’re on a highway, but when you don’t know the condition of the road, twenty miles can take a lot longer.  Our friends did a lot of research on the trip, and found accounts that mentioned the travel time as five hours.  We were all skeptical, as the total trip was only 82 miles, so we lowered the estimate to three hours.

The four families that ended up going met up nice and early at 7:30 on Saturday morning, and we started the adventure.  Uzbekistan actually has pretty decent roads in parts, so the majority of the distance was covered pretty quickly.  There is a large reservoir in the mountains, Charvak, that we had to drive around, and then we followed one of its source rivers further up into the mountains. 

A few months before we had driven the same route in the quest for a camping spot (which we never could find; sadly camping seems to be equally difficult here), but were stopped when we got to a police checkpoint and had to turn around.  It took a little less than two hours to get to the checkpoint.  When we got to the checkpoint this time, we had the paperwork to get through.  It took about half an hour as we had to all get out of the car and match up passports to faces (after they filled out a separate form for each one of the eighteen passports), walk through the checkpoint, and then get back in the car.

By this point we only had nineteen miles to the trailhead.  There were reports of bad road conditions, and we spent most of the nineteen miles scoffing at other people’s ideas of bad road conditions.  The roads were potholed, but they could easily fit two cars and we weren’t a few feet from the edge of a mountain.  We passed through lovely valleys filled with picturesque farms with locals all staring as us, wondering what the trail of black SUVs were doing in their village.  The road grew steadily worse until the very end.  Ninety-five percent of the drive could have been made in our Honda Fit, but the last two or three miles definitely needed the four-wheel drive.  Right as we got to the end, the transmission fluid light came on and we had to stop and park.

Then the hiking started.  There are two lakes on the hike, both formed by natural rockfall dams.  The first lake was pretty close to where we had parked, but it wasn’t particularly full; evidently it’s quite full in the spring but drains out over the course of the summer. 

The second lake was more of a hike.  We had to hike up the face of the natural dam that had been formed when a mountain fell down after an earthquake.  We ended up climbing almost a thousand feet over the course of a little more than half a mile.  Our group included ten children ages 12, 11, 10, 8, 7, 6, 4, 4, 3, and 1 and a 30-week pregnant lady, so it was a slow climb.  Kathleen, Edwin, and Joseph went ahead (the joys of hiking with other children!) and Brandon, Sophia, Eleanor, and I toiled up together.  William got hauled on Brandon’s back.

When we finally made it to the lake, it was beautiful.  And very cold.  The weather had turned wintery a few days before and it was only a few degrees above freezing.  When we were hiking in the sun, it was very pleasant, but sitting in the shade wasn’t.  I imagine that it’s perfect to linger by in the spring or fall, but not on a cold November day.  We all enjoyed our picnic, took the requisite pictures, and scrambled back down the mountains and into our warm cars.

The hike itself was an enjoyable hike with stunningly beautiful views.  It wasn’t terribly long, although fairly steep.  Unfortunately, it’s a fairly long drive from Tashkent, taking almost four hours to get there.  I’d really love to go back in April when the whole countryside is bursting with life, but I’m not sure if I can justify driving so long in one day.  Maybe we’ll have to go camping.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Living in Tashkent: Grocery Shopping

Whenever I consider living in various countries, one of the first thing I think about is food.  One of my permanent jobs is feeding my family, and how I do it is largely based on what food I can get locally.  I've read through so many recipes that looked good but had ingredients that I just can't get.  This has happened so much that I hardly ever cook anything new anymore; I have my twenty recipes that work and that is fine with me.  

Here in Tashkent I've found just about what I was expecting to find, considering that we just moved one country over.  I have been surprised by a few things, however.  In Dushanbe we could only find brown lentils, never red.  Here in Tashkent we can only find red lentils, never red, which is too bad because I shipped fifty pounds of red lentils before I realized this.  I've also found - after shipping a hundred pounds of the stuff - that oatmeal is both available and cheap here.  And weirdly enough, they have cornmeal.  I've never found cornmeal in any of the countries we've lived in before.  But, of course and as always, no black beans.

I also haven't been able to find any kind of liquid cream, only thickened cream.  This works fine for soups and cooking, but it makes it really hard if you want to whip the stuff.  I still can't figure out why they don't have it here.  I can also tell we've moved back to more Turkic culture because there's lots of plain yogurt, which you couldn't find at all in Dushanbe.  Thankfully they have mozzarella cheese, even if it is kind of expensive.  But, no salted butter.  I miss salted butter.  Sigh.

Fruits and vegetables have the same availability that you can find most places - tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants, onions, melons, seasonally available fruit, potatoes, garlic.  But here they sell peeled fresh garlic, which is one of my favorite grocery finds so far.  I hate peeling garlic and I use a lot of garlic - sometimes two heads in a recipe - so it was a revelation to discover that they sell it peeled here.  

Unlike Dushanbe, which had no truly Western-style supermarkets (it had one that was sort of one) when we moved there, Tashkent has tons of supermarkets.  There are several chains, one of the most common ones being an Uzbek chain, Korzinka, that has stores everywhere around the city.  We live half a kilometer from a smaller one, which has been really nice.  The children can walk or ride their bikes to it and when I need something for dinner, they can go and pick it up for me.  The produce selection is good, it has fresh meat, and it even has a bakery, so there really is no need to go anywhere else unless you need something usual, like pork.

Tashkent also has lots and lots of bazaars.  The city is divided into eleven neighborhoods, and each neighborhood has their own good-sized bazaar.  The produce at the bazaar is cheaper than at the grocery store and there is a little more selection, but I don't ever shop at the bazaars because I'm too lazy to drive further than half a kilometer and I don't want the hassle of trying to park.  Usually I send my housekeeper, Shoira, to the bazaar if I need anything specific, but otherwise she does the local shopping at the grocery store.  

There are several bazaars which have places to buy pork, which isn't sold at the grocery stores because Uzbekistan is a Muslim country.  The bazaars also have household goods in addition to any kind of food that can be sold by the kilo.  

I've found grocery shopping in Tashkent to be a pretty straightforward, easy experience.  This is, of course, in the context of shopping with expectations set for being in Central Asia.  I've long since given up looking for some things (specific beef cuts, specialty cheeses, avocados) and so I'm not disappointed when I don't find them.  But, I'm happy to have grocery stores and I'm happy that those grocery stores have parking lots.  It's always good to have reasonable expectations!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

How to Potty Train a 20-Month Old Toddler

The timing of potty training is largely a matter of preference.  Which do you like less - changing diapers or cleaning up puddles and messy undies?

Early potty training takes longer than late potty training, but it can save you over a year of changing diapers.  It's easier to deal with the will of a 20-month old baby because they're used to being told what to do and so potty training is just another thing to learn.  The hardest part is getting a mostly non-verbal child to understand what it is you want of them.  How do you explain 'going potty?' So it takes a while for them to understand what they're supposed to do.

Late potty training (age three or after) is done with the full understanding of the child, but that means that you have to change diapers for awhile longer.  It usually goes a lot faster, which is nice.

What is the most difficult is potty training a two year-old.  They understand what you want but often don't want to do it, and the will of a two year-old is amazingly strong.  I've run into enough two year-olds to realized that in a battle of wills with them, you will lose every single time.  So I very carefully chose what to clash with two year-olds with.  If I can't physically force them to do something, I usually don't make an issue of it.  Which includes potty training - it's impossible to make a child pee in a toilet.

In order to train a toddler to be potty trained with my method, there are a few prerequisites.  The child has to be obedient.  My method involves a lot of sitting around on their toilet, and if they won't sit for long periods of time, you're going to have to find another method.  You also have to have a little potty - no toilet seats allowed, unless you want to spend your entire life in the bathroom. 

Also, you have to understand what I mean when I say 'potty trained.'  I mean a child that goes on the toilet when you put them there and doesn't pee anywhere else.  They wear underwear during day, during naps, and at night.  What they don't do is use the toilet on their own.  Toddlers that young aren't capable of doing that - yet.  At first you will have to take them to the toilet at set times - usually when they wake up, at mid-morning, before nap, after nap, and before bed.  After several months, they will start telling you that they need to use the bathroom.  And within a year, they'll go on their own.  It sounds like a long time to being fully potty trained, but that year was an entire year of you not changing diapers.  If you can change diapers, you can take your child to the bathroom.

I realized after potty training a few children that toddlers have no problem not peeing.  They can, under the right circumstances, hold their bladders for quite a long time.  The difficulty with potty training, then, is not teaching them to hold it, but to release it in the proper place.  That is the skill they have to learn - to let out urine in a controlled manner.  

So with this in mind, I start the first day with sitting the toddler down on the toilet and leaving them there until they pee.  It usually takes an hour or two and they will be very unhappy about it.  They're not used to being without a diaper, and when they've been without a diaper before (bath, changing their diaper), they're used to not peeing.  So their bladder will get uncomfortably full and they'll fuss and cry before they finally can't hold it anymore and they pee.  

So do whatever you can to keep them on the toilet.  William sucks his thumb, so he has his blanket.  I strew toys around him.  Give them electronics, let them watch a movie, just don't let them off the toilet until they've gone.  After they go, show them the toilet with pee in it, make a big show of how happy you are, cheer, high-five, tell them multiple times that they've peed in the potty, and then give them a treat.  William loves jellybeans, so I've been using them.  The whole point of this is to have them associate peeing in the toilet with good things and help them to understand what peeing in the potty is.

Give them a two-hour break and then put them back on the potty until they've peed again.  This will take another ridiculously long amount of time.  I call this stage the Iron Bladder stage.  They don't yet understand that it's okay to pee outside their diapers, and so using the bathroom only happens when they just can't hold it any longer.  During this stage it is essential to leave them on the potty until they've peed.  Don't let them off until they've peed because, inevitably, they will pee as soon as you let them off.  The longer they're sitting, they closer they are to peeing, so if you give up after 1 1/2 hours, it's not going to end well.  

The next stage is Mouse Bladder stage.  You'll know when you're in mouse bladder stage because your child will sit down, use the bathroom within half an hour, get up, and then have an accident twenty minutes later.  Sometimes they'll let out just a little pee, get off the toilet, and then let out some more pee.  They are starting to realize that it's okay to pee outside the diaper, but they don't know how to let it all out at once.  So they let out a little and then stop.  You are tricked into thinking that their bladder is empty, you let them go play, and then they let the rest out.  

This stage is maddening.  You feel like your child will never potty train, the puddles of urine will never end, and that there is regression, not progress.  This stage is when you'll want to give up because it is clearly not working.  But press on, because mouse bladder stage shows that your child is starting to understand.

When they do have accidents, explain to them firmly (try not to yell because then they get confused about whether or not they should pee.  It's hard, though, so don't beat yourself up if you do.  I've done a lot of yelling in my time) that it's bad to pee on the floor, give them a little spank, put them on the potty, and give them a kiss.  Chances are good that they've still got some urine left in their bladder and they can finish on the potty.  Once again, don't let them off until they've peed.  Leaving them on the toilet for long periods of time gives them the best opportunity to be successful - and being successful is what potty trains a child.  

The last stage is Controlled Bladder stage.  You'll know you've reached this stage when your toddler goes on the toilet within five to ten minutes of you putting them down.  I still put them in diapers when I go out (but I try not to go out much at all during the first two weeks), and if they've reached controlled bladder stage, they will have dry diapers when you come home - they can usually last about three hours.  At this point, if you put them on the toilet and they don't go within twenty or thirty minutes, you can let them up again for another hour or so because they can hold it.

After a week of controlled bladder stage, you can go to all undies all the time (when you're at home.  I put them in diapers when I go out until they're capable of telling me they need to use the bathroom).  There will probably be some nights where they wet the bed, so make sure you have a waterproof mattress on the bed, but they will eventually figure it out.  

One thing I don't like about night- and nap-time undies is that I can't let them languish for hours in their bed while I sleep in or ignore them in the afternoon after their naps.  It's somewhat obnoxious, but I learned the hard way with Joseph that waiting is a bad idea.  There is a window for night time training where they're naturally ready for it and if you wait too long (more than a month), it will close and then night time training will be very painful.  So don't delay.

I usually transition to a regular toilet when they are around two and a half.  When we go on R&R in the summer, I have no desire to pack a toilet in my luggage, so usually I tell my toddler that the red potty (ours is a red Baby Bjorn one) has disappeared and they have to use the big one.  They still ask for assistance and I hold them on the toilet so they're not scared, but eventually they just decide that it's easier to go on their own rather than come and get me.  It's always a happy time when that happens.  

So, there are all my secrets for early potty training.  I still hate potty training, but I'm happy to know that I've definitely reached the majority skills level for potty trained children.  There is no way I'm going to have six more children, so I can be happy in knowing that there are a very, very few number of children left to potty train.  Hallelujah!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Milestone Week

This week Joseph learned how to ride a bike.  Before this week, I'd taught three children to ride a bike.  I don't really enjoy teaching this skill (but let's be honest, I don't actually enjoy teaching any skill.  It's a good thing I homeschool my children) because it's so uncomfortable to do.  There's a lot of leaning over holding on to the bike while trying to avoid being sideswiped by pedals.  I still have a bloodstain on one sandal from when I taught Edwin to ride his bike.

Usually I teach children to ride a bike when they're four or five.  Once the training wheels are ditched, it's a lot easier to keep up with the siblings and also it's much quieter - who knew training wheels could be so dang noisy?  When Joseph was four, Eleanor was little or it was summer or it was winter and when he was five I was pregnant with William and then William was little.  When he was six and it wasn't deathly hot outside and I wasn't pregnant, the local park where we went for bike riding got closed and turned into a fancy soccer field, so there wasn't anywhere to learn.

And that's how we got to Joseph being less than a month away from seven and still not knowing how to ride a bike.  I put it off earlier because it was just too hot outside.  If I'm going to be running around while keeping a bike from falling over for the five hundredth time while a child is dripping in snot because of their scraped knee or elbow, I'm not going to be dripping in sweat while doing it.

So this past Wednesday it was: 1. not hot, 2. not cold, 3. not raining, 4. William wasn't sleeping, and 5. I wasn't pregnant.  It was finally the day.

I hauled out Joseph's bike and, of course, the tires were all flat.  I think that sometimes the bikes all get together in the garage at night and let the air out of each other's tires just so I have to pump up the tires over and over and over again.  I don't like pumping up bike tires.

After the tires were pumped up, Joseph hopped on and started pedaling while I had a firm grip on his neck.  Necks are higher than bike seats and so require less bending over.  "Now don't let go," Joseph commanded me in a nervous voice, "I don't want to fall over!"

So I held on to him while he started pedaling down the street.  After thirty or forty feet, I noticed that he was balancing pretty well without any help from me, so I let go.  Often children don't notice that they're on their own until a few feet later and so I waited for the realization to hit Joseph and the loud protesting to begin.  Instead he rode to the end of the street.  "Hey Mom!" he told me, "I can do this own my own! Watch me!"  Then he rode back towards me, past me, and down to the other end of the street, waving as he went by.

So I shrugged my shoulders, pulled out Eleanor's bike, and started teaching her to ride.

This week I also potty-trained William.  I like to potty train my children early because 1. I'm a sucker for punishment and 2. my one nod to crunchiness (everyone has to have one I suppose) is that I cloth diaper my children.

I have potty-trained five children previous to William and so I knew how things were going to go - at least a week of pure insanity followed by slowly improving bladder control.  I've done this enough times that I've mostly run out of emotional hysteria and cleaning up puddles of urine doesn't drive me to insane rage like it used to.  I know that eventually all developmentally normal children potty-train and that cleaning up puddles will not last forever, even if it feels like it will.

So far William has had five total accidents in seven days and has had dry diapers after going to the park on Saturday and going to church today.  When I put him on the toilet, he uses it within five minutes, and when he isn't on the toilet, he stays dry.  I'm still scratching my head over how easy it has been, but I'm not complaining.

Some weeks are particularly horrible and it feels like nothing will ever go right and that progress is something that happens to everyone but you.  But this week was not one of those weeks.  I'm going to savor the feeling for as long as possible.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Hello, Fall!

Last night I woke up cold and had to get another blanket to warm back up with.  When I pulled the curtains this morning, I was greeted with a grey sky and light sprinkles.  During church this morning, it started raining and is still raining this evening.  I pulled out pants and a long-sleeved shirt when I dressed after coming home from church this afternoon.  The weather forecast calls for cloudy weather and rain for the next two days, and after that the high temperature will barely break seventy on one day in the next ten.

It looks like fall just arrived.

Last week the weather was sunny and in the low eighties.  Yesterday we went to the park and it was seventy-five and sunny, the perfect day for the park.  I've been having a hard time believing that it's actually October as I've worn a dress or shorts every day, the same thing I've worn every day since we moved to Tashkent.  I knew logically that one day the weather would cool down and I would have to find out where I put my jeans, but it didn't feel like that would be any time soon.

Our house is heated by radiators, and in the bathrooms, kitchen, and basement, by radiant flooring.  Since the weather has been nice, although chilly at night, we haven't had the radiators turned on yet.  Timing the radiators is tricky business sometimes - turn them on too early and you end up sweltering, but wait too long and you can have some miserable days waiting for someone from the embassy to come and turn them on for you.  This year I'm going to watch so that I have the power to turn them on and off myself.  

My general rule is that when the high temperatures drop below seventy-five, I have the radiators switched on.  Our house is an enormous concrete block, which makes it easier to cool in the summer as the concrete tends to stay cool, but that doesn't work as well in the fall and spring.  So this week, the radiators are getting turned on.  And if we're hot, then we can open the windows.

The trees have also started changing this week.  They've stayed stubbornly green and then one day they must have all agreed that it was time for fall because they all turned at once.  As we drove to church this morning, the wind was whipping leaves through the grey skies.  It was very fall-y and I wanted to go home and make pumpkin bread.

I've always had a complicated relationship with fall because it's the season that ushers in winter.  I don't like being cold, I don't like the sun setting at five in the evening, I don't like bare skeleton trees, and I don't like taking twenty minutes to get my children out of the house while angrily looking for that one lost mitten that someone didn't put back in their bin.  

So although fall has some lovely, crisp days, that make for perfect walks along picturesque rivers, I have a hard time enjoying them as I brace for grey, cold winter.  But there are people in my family who like fall very much and so I'll try not to ruin it for them.  They are very excited about the fire pit that we got this week and everyone is looking forward to roasting marshmallows and making s'mores.

But I guess it doesn't really matter how I feel about fall because it comes every year (well, not in the tropics) whether I want it to or not.  I'll try my best to enjoy it.  And then eagerly look forward to spring.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Tashkent Botanical Gardens

Last Saturday we took the children to the botanical gardens.  We really enjoyed going to the botanical gardens in Dushanbe, so we had high hopes for the Tashkent's.

We had heard that there were WWII tanks that the children could play in, so we went there first.  

The kids were so excited because not only could they climb on the tanks, they could climb in the tanks, and they could even move the turret of the tanks.  "They'd never let us do this in America!!"

William thought that climbing on tanks was mostly okay.

There were also guns.  I'm not exactly clear what kind of guns - you'd have to talk to Brandon about that.

But the guns were also highly entertaining.  After all, what child hasn't wanted to push all the buttons and pull all the levers on big guns?

The anti-aircraft gun was very popular, as not only could you raise the gun, you could turn the entire carriage in a complete circle.  While raising and lowering the gun.

Pink dresses go very well with green guns.

In addition to the guns and tanks, there were also trucks to play in and pretend to drive across the front to go and battle with the Germans.  We've watched quite a lot of WWII movies with the children, so they were pretty excited about seeing real pieces of history.

They didn't run William over.

The kids all declared, after climbing over and under and in everything they could find, that this was even better than the Chinese exercise equipment in the Dushanbe botanical gardens, and when can we come back?  The gardens were wonderfully green and shady with pleasant walking paths, so I think it's safe to say that we will be going back very soon.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

How to Take Three and A Months to Get a Medical Clearance

This week Brandon got an email from State Department's main medical office (MED).  It was pretty short, but it let us know that Sophia is officially cleared to be in Tashkent.  This means that she has access to the medical unit at the embassy and if there's an emergency, she can get medevaced. 

We put in the paperwork to renew her medical clearance at the beginning of June, three and a half months ago.  Seven of us got cleared with a worldwide, class 1, clearance within a week.  Sophia, obviously, did not.

Having a worldwide medical clearance is a very good thing to have in the State Department.  It means that you don't have any medical issues that can't be dealt with by the local medical unit.  I have hypothyroidism, but that's taken care of easily with blood tests and a Synthroid prescription. 

In the last few years, the definition also got changed to include chronic conditions that you can take care of yourself, even if the local medical unit can't help you with them.  I have a friend who had cancer, but was allowed to go to her next post after she arranged to meet with a doctor in Europe for the follow-up appointments. 

Having a class 2 medical clearance is not such a great thing.  It doesn't mean that you are absolutely banned from going anywhere other than first world countries, but it does mean that you have to be approved for specific posts.  It can be a real pain when bidding on jobs because you have to research the medical capabilities of every post you're thinking of bidding on and convincing State's med bureaucrats that those posts can take care of your issue.  It adds another complicated step to an already complicated thing.

So, back in June, I crossed my fingers when we turned in Sophia's medical clearance, hoping that she'd get a class 1 clearance.  After all, it's not like ADD is a particularly difficult issue to deal with.  She doesn't need any special school accommodations and she's on a stable dose of Ritalin, which can be prescribed by the doctor at post - just like my Synthroid is prescribed by the doctor at post.

Unfortunately, my finger crossing didn't work and Sophia's clearance paperwork got passed on to another office within MED.  After spending a week making multiple phone calls and emails, we finally got in touch with the case worker who was reviewing her case.  We talked on the phone and she laid out the issue, "I need to know that you have a way to get Sophia's Ritalin.  She doesn't have a current prescriber, and I need to know that you have one before I'll clear her to go to Tashkent."

We had been working with the doctor at post to get Sophia's Ritalin prescription while we were in Dushanbe and it had worked quite well.  But then the regional psychiatrist (RMO/P) went to her next post and a new RMO/P showed up.  When I needed a new prescription for Sophia, the doctor at post, also new, told me that I had to have the RMO/P refill the prescription.  I emailed her about refilling Sophia's prescription in March, and she told me to set up a digital video conference for her to meet with Sophia before refilling the prescription.

We left before we could do that.  So when I told the case worker about the RMO/P being willing to prescribe, she told me that we just had to get a new DVC set up and Sophia would be cleared to go to Tashkent.  Which was a good thing to hear, because we were less than a week from our departure date.

This is when things started going sideways.  I duly emailed the RMO/P and asked for the DVC.  She replied saying that she had no interest in meeting with us about Sophia - we were supposed to have Sophia meet with our pediatrician.  We replied that we had met with Sophia's pediatrician and what else did she need us to do?  Then she stopped responding to our emails.

At this point, the case worker had decided that, since the RMO/P didn't show any indication that she would prescribe, and we couldn't get Ritalin locally in Tashkent, we were going to have to find a country where Sophia could get Ritalin.  This decision was reached on July 5 - the day before we were supposed to leave for Tashkent.

We got in touch with people at the embassy in Tashkent and let them know of the the problem.  This wasn't good news to them because they were expecting Brandon to show up to work the following Monday and fill a hole that had been empty for several months already.  A few hours later - around two in the morning - we got an email from the HR officer at the time telling us to go ahead and come to post.  Sophia could come without a medical clearance, but that meant that she couldn't use any medical resources.  The email implied that they had worked things out with the RMO/P and that a resolution would come quickly.

That was not the case.

We made it to Tashkent and settled in to our new home.  A couple of weeks after we arrived, Brandon got called into the DCM's (second in command) office.  "Did you know," he asked, "that your daughter doesn't have a medical clearance?  I got a personal email from the RMO/P telling me that I needed to know that you were here at post with a child who wasn't cleared."  Brandon let him know the situation, and assured him that it was only an issue with a Ritalin prescription and nothing serious.  The DCM was relieved and commiserated about tangling with MED.  After you have been in the foreign service long enough, everyone has horror stories about tangling with the medical office.

Brandon went straight from his office to the medical unit.  The PA who runs the unit said that she had gotten in contact with the RMO/P about prescribing Sophia's Ritalin, and the RMO/P had told her in no uncertain terms that she was not allowed to prescribe Ritalin herself.  When the PA asked what we should do, the RMO/P didn't have any reasonable solutions.  Or any solutions at all.

This went on for weeks and weeks.  The PA would contact the RMO/P, who wouldn't reply or offer vague answers or put her off.  Then there would be silence for a few weeks.  The PA would try to re-open the issue and the RMO/P would go through the whole cycle again.  Brandon didn't feel that we should contact the RMO/P personally because he thought that she was angry at us for coming to post without her blessing.  Weeks turned into months and we still didn't have a medical clearance for Sophia.  When we went off to our first horseback riding lesson, Brandon told Sophia not to break anything because she couldn't get any help from the embassy. 

In early September, we got a notice that the RMO/P would be visiting Tashkent personally.  I emailed about making an appointment and the PA asked if it was allowable for the RMO/P to meet with Sophia, even though Sophia didn't have a clearance and didn't have access to medical resources.  The RMO/P said no.  So I made an appointment for myself.  I figured that she couldn't refuse to answer me if I was sitting in the office looking at her and we could finally get everything straightened out.

At the same time, Brandon was putting in a request to extend in Tashkent.  Since Tashkent is a hardship post, you only have to stay for two years.  If you want to stay for three, you have to request to stay for the third year.  We try and stay wherever we are as long as possible, so extension wasn't even a question.  It was an assumption.

Everything seemed to be just fine for him to extend.  His boss was fine with it, the HR officer was fine with it, and the DCM was fine with it.  It was a happy party of agreement. 

Bidding season was getting ready to start and Brandon was already getting several emails a day about his position, as it was listed as becoming vacant in summer 2020.  Brandon let them know that he was planning on extending, so it wouldn't be a good idea to get their hopes up.  But he had to get his extension in before bidding ended otherwise his job would be given away.

Then the DCM called Brandon in to his office (again).  "I can't approve your extension," he told Brandon, "until your daughter has a medical clearance.  So see if you can get that cleared up and I'll be happy to send the memo to the ambassador."

The next day, the PA let us know that the RMO/P had finally given her a straight answer about prescribing - and the answer was no.  That afternoon we got an email from DC letting us know that Sophia was not cleared for Tashkent.

I reached out on Facebook for advice and heard from several other people who had had similar (or exactly the same) experiences with the RMO/P.  She flatly refused to prescribe any maintenance medication - stating that her job was only a "stop gap measure" and that "primary care comes from US-based physicians."  Which, as every single person on the thread agreed, was complete nonsense.  The job, according to the State department website, of an RMO/P "is a local resource available to help manage a child or adolescent’s mental health needs." Our previous RMO/P had had no problem providing Sophia's prescription initially and then had no problem letting the local med unit write the refills. 

It was very frustrating to finally understand that the RMO/P had never had any intention to refill Sophia's prescription and that she took three months to tell us that.  We had spent months waiting for some sort of resolution and praying that Sophia wouldn't get sick or injured.  We had waited and waited and waited for any kind of communication, even if it had been a no.  But instead we just waited on someone else's whims, someone who knew what her answer was from the very beginning and never intended to tell us.  I hope that we never are posted in the same country as this woman because I would have a very hard time not punching her in the face interacting with her reasonably.

So we were left scrambling for another solution and under a very pressing deadline.  I reached out to our former RMO/P, who also refused to manage the prescription.  Then I reached out to our pediatrician in the US, who wonderfully, mercifully, thankfully agreed to help.  I never thought that getting a prescription for a mind-altering substance could bring me so much joy.

The next day I turned in a new provider form, one that said that our pediatrician was willing to manage Sophia's medication, and copied every single person I had ever interacted with at MED.  The next day I followed up with promises to make personal phone calls.  That got a 'don't bother me - bother her!!!' email with the finger pointed at our original case worker.  So I emailed her, called her multiple times, called her the next day, tattled to the office manager about not getting a response, and emailed her again.  That finally got us a response, and the response that we wanted - the only reasonable response that it could be.  'Yes, she's fine.  I'm approving her for Tashkent [now leave me alone].'  I have learned through long experience that sometimes the only way to get the job done is to be the most annoying person ever so people will do anything to get you to leave them alone.

Our quest almost done, I got a message from a wonderful friend who had just gotten a job in the medical office the week before.  She offered to help move the rest of the process along, and did an admirable job of it.  A week after we had the first denial, Sophia was cleared for post.  Brandon and I celebrated for thirty seconds and then he started bugging everyone about getting his extension finalized.

This whole experience has shifted my view of people, ever so slightly, towards Brandon's.  I've always felt that people are reasonable and, if approached the right way, would work with you in a decent fashion.  He sees other people as entities dedicated to doing everything in their power to make your life miserable.  After the last three and a half months dealing with the RMO/P, I'm willing to concede the point.  At least when it comes to Dr. D.