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Sunday, January 13, 2019

So Much Effort for So Much Incompetence

I have now been taking Russian lessons for three years, and - if you count my childhood lessons - riding for six years.  Those figures sound pretty decent.  Three and six years, after all, are starting to be fairly sized chunks of time.  In three years a child can go from an eight-pound wiggling handful of baby that can pretty much only suck to a child that can walk, talk, use the toilet, dress themselves, and feed themselves.  And when you're the mother of that three year-old, those three years feel like an eternity. 

When people ask how long I've been taking Russian, and I confidently reply, "Three years!" we both feel like that's a pretty good accomplishment.  Three years, after all, is longer than a whole lot of people actually live Russian-speaking countries.  And when I figure that I began riding when I was ten, that was a whole twenty-six years ago.  It sounds fairly impressive.

And if you figure that three years ago I couldn't even read Cyrillic and now I can usually make my point across and read menus with some accuracy, I've made a lot of progress.  I am able to conjugate verbs in past, present, and future tenses (which, thankfully, are all the tenses that Russian has), I can decline words in several cases, and I even understand numbers when people tell them to me.  To someone who speaks no Russian, that sounds like a lot of Russian.

If one considers the horseback riding ability of most people, I ride a lot better than them because I can make a half-ton animal walk, trot, and canter - and don't even fall off when I'm doing it.  I can make that same horse go in circles of particular diameters, serpentines, diagonals, and even over jumps.  I can do arcane things like posting on the correct diagonal and picking up the correct canter lead.

Those things really sound like accomplishments.  If I sit down and list my abilities, I feel like I really am capable of doing some pretty cool stuff.

But then I go and try to do those things and I realize exactly how much I am not capable of speaking and reading Russian or riding horses.

Our stable is a perfect confluence of both my miserably inadequate skills - I ride there and everyone there only speaks Russian.  I will be riding around the ring and my teacher will shout something at me.  I'm sure they're probably saying something like, "Okay, now that we've been working on your trot, let's work on the canter.  Your cantering is pretty terrible.  Work on sitting deep before asking for the canter and give firm aids.  Remember to keep your shoulders back and don't lean forward!"   What I hear is "mmm hmmm mmm mmm trot hmmm mmm hmmm then hmmm mmm hmmm canter." So I nod my head and then proceed to do everything she helpfully told me not to do and don't do anything she told me to do.   Then she probably wonders if I might be brain damaged.

There's a very definite pattern to acquiring skills.  When you start out, every little thing you learn is momentous.  After all when you don't know any words, knowing twenty words is a 2,000% increase.  You make very rapid progress and everything is so fun and so easy.  "Wow!" you think to yourself, "I'm going to be a [sewing, Arabic speaking, tennis playing] superstar!!"

I remember my college Arabic class.  When you learn Arabic, you have to start out by learning an entirely new alphabet.  It took a week or two to really master the alphabet, and by the end I was feeling pretty skilled.  "Hey, look how awesome I am!  I can read Arabic!  That is seriously impressive!  This Arabic thing will be no trouble at all,"  I said, while high-fiving myself.  Then I quickly returned to reality when I realized that I didn't actually understand anything I read.

After about six months to a year, you have acquired most of the easy skills.  You have achieved a basic level of competency.  Then the real work begins, and the vast yawning gulf becomes painfully apparent, the gulf between what you're capable of and what being truly competent looks like.  It's very depressing.  And to add to the despondency, you realize that there is not one single shortcut that gets you over that gulf and to the distant, hazy, probably imaginary land where your learning has given you effortless, easy ability to work your skill with pleasure.  The only way to get there is teeny-tiny steps that require pounding those skills into your muscles and brain over and over and over again.  For years.  And years.

Brandon likes to call this the swampy middle.

I am in this swampy middle and have started building my house here because I don't have any expectations of leaving for years and years to come.  I'll come back from a riding lesson and Kathleen will ask how it went and what I did.  "Oh fine.  The same as always - walk, trot canter!"  Our Russian lessons will inevitably involve words that I don't know and I'll think how great it is I have this new word - like earthquake - that I didn't know before.  That night when Brandon asks about Russian lessons, the word will have fallen right out of my brain.  I know that I knew the word for earthquake, but I don't remember anymore what it is.

Sometimes I get to look back and see that there has been some progress - my teacher's statements have less mmmm hmms and more actual words in them and I can pick up the correct diagonal without thinking about it - and I am surprised.  When you feel like you're running in place for so long, it's shocking to look back and see that you've actually gotten somewhere.

And so I persevere.  But I also don't expect to be able to see progress either.  I know that as long as I don't give up, I'll get better an infinitesimally small bit at a time and eventually that will add up to something that is measurable.  And then one day in the far, far distant future - maybe when our robot chauffeurs drive our flying cars to drop us off at the spaceport - I will look back and be surprised when I remember that once I was terribly incompetent at these things.  I will have reached that golden, sunlit upland where talking in Russian doesn't require a complex road map that cobbles together all my available words while avoiding all constructions or topics where the gaping holes (so, so many holes) lie.  My horse will do what I want when I want because my aids - like my Russian - will have finally become intelligible.  I will have - finally, inevitably, mercifully - become competent.

But until then, I'll continue beating verbs into my brain and movements into my muscles one day at a time.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Three-Hour Church

When President Nelson announced back in October that our church schedule would be changing to a two-hour block, I wasn't one of the millions jumping for joy.  After all, we've been enjoying two-hour (and often one-and-a-half-hour or even one-hour) church for years now.  Nothing would be changing for us.  Now everyone else would be the ones who were getting in line with the way we do things here in Central Asia.

But after Elder Cook's talk that outlined the new church schedule, I realized that I was in trouble.  That third hour that was getting lopped off the church schedule wasn't just disappearing - it was moving to home study!  This meant that instead of keeping church the same, we were adding a third hour of church.


Sometimes all of the bragging comes back to bite you in the most unexpected ways.

I briefly toyed with the idea of ignoring that third hour of church - after all we haven't had a third hour for years - but realized that Brandon wasn't going to let me get away with it.  Once something is announced over the pulpit at Conference, it can't be ignored.  And I'm pretty sure that the third hour now counts as 'attending all your Sunday meetings.'  Sigh.  Again.

This last week Brandon and I got down to discussing when exactly this third hour of church was going to be happening.  Our Sundays - despite only having two hours of church - are pretty full with meals, naps (which were also discussed in Conference talks about Sunday appropriate activities), individual time with the children, game time with the family, and personal time to write this lovely blog.  There wasn't exactly a spare hour floating around that was dying to be filled with a third hour of church.

The only solution I could come up with was making the naps shorter, one that wasn't too appealing.  Brandon suggested cutting out game time, but I was pretty sure the children weren't going to be very happy about swapping games for church.  

Then he suggested getting up an hour early and having church before church.  After thinking about it for a few minutes, I realized that I'd rather get up an hour early and still have a nap rather than skipping the nap altogether.  Brandon did too, so we set our alarm clock for six o'clock this morning - the first time we'd been up that early for over two weeks.

Everyone bathed, dressed, ate breakfast (for those who weren't fasting), got ready for church, and by 8:45 we were all seated on the couches, ready for church to begin.

The lesson started rather slowly, but one really can't expect six children to be excited about another hour of church when they too have been enjoying a shortened schedule for years.  But by the end, we had to cut the lesson off so that we could leave for church on time.  I'm not sure if the children were enjoying the lesson, but Brandon and I were certainly enjoying unloading our pearls of wisdom on them.  And even better, we had the backing of the Prophet to do it so nobody had a justifiable reason to complain (although they complained anyway).

Our departure for church was much more orderly than usual - no ties being frantically searched for at the last minute, no hair unbrushed, no shoes lost somewhere in the toy bins, no parents haranguing children for being the last one ready again.  And when we all settled down for the sacrament, I (at least) felt much more prepared for the ordinance, having already spent an hour discussing sacred things with my family.

So, I can say after the first week, I like this new two-(three-)hour church schedule.  I'm sure there will be mornings where I will sorely miss the extra hour of sleep and things don't go as smoothly as they did today, but I'm looking forward to having that weekly hour set apart where we can sit together as a family and learn from each other.  And in the end, the extra hour of sleep sacrificed will be well worth it.

No Somsas for You!

I like street food.  A lot.  When you get it from the right places, it's very fresh because they're constantly making it.  It's also really easy to get - you can drive (or walk if you're really lucky) right up to the stand, buy your food, and walk away.  No need to mess with menus or waiting around for restaurant orders or waiters.  It's also really cheap - we can usually feed our entire family for less than ten dollars.  Take that, fast food.  The last time we ate at Wendy's it was $25.

I know that eating street food is risky, but I've gotten sick from more often from restaurants than from street food.  Also, I'm lazy and cheap and don't mind taking risks if they usually pay off.  Plus, street food can be really tasty.

Here in Tashkent, the most common street food is somsas.  Somsas are very unique to this area (in Tajikistan, they were called sambusas), and are quite yummy - especially when they're hot.  They have a flaky pastry wrapped around a filling which is then baked inside a tandir oven.  The most common filling is meat, either ground or in chunks, but I've also had potato and (my personal favorite), diced pumpkin.  Until you've had a somsa, you can't quite grasp the amazing deliciousness, and if you're live in any but a few cities in the U.S., you probably won't ever get the chance.  

Somsa stands are everywhere here - on semi-major streets, there are somsa stands about every hundred feet.  They're pretty easy to set up - get a tandir oven and a gas connection and you're in business - so they must be every other Uzbek's dream of a small business, to judge by how many there are.

About half to two-thirds of the somsa sands seem to be defunct whenever I drive by them, so I've stuck to a stand that is about seven or eight minutes away from our house.  Their somsas have always been tasty, they're always open when I go to buy somsas, and they always have them.  It's this amazing business model - have food when people want to buy it and they'll come back to you for repeat business.  Crazy.

This last week was the big holiday of the year - New Year.  The whole country has work and school off and it's time when everyone is visiting family or out and about.  We spent the holiday days (the embassy had already given everyone three days off even before the shutdown) cleaning the house in our annual Put Everything Back Where It Belongs celebration of the New Year.  To celebrate finishing, we took the children to a local trampoline park.  The winter so far has been very cloudy and rainy, so we've had to take our fun inside.  

The children finished their hour of jumping right around lunch time, so I hit on a wonderful idea - stop by our local somsa shack and get some hot, flaky somsas for lunch.  All of the children were happy with having a yummy meal and I was happy to feed everyone for about seven dollars.  It was a brilliant plan.

When we got to the somsa stand, the man at the window indicated by waving at the covered oven that they somsas weren't finished yet.  It was cold and I didn't want to wait for an indeterminate time (my Russian fled me when I tried to remember how to ask 'how long'), so I hopped in the car and we drove to the next stand, about 150 feet down the road.  This one had a lock on it, so we figured that meant closed and did a u-turn to circle back to our original stand.  

By the time we returned, there were two or three men waiting for the fresh somsas.  As we watched, three or four man joined the crowd.  Sophia, who really wanted somsas, decided to claim her own place in line and made Kathleen join her.  I didn't want to stand in the cold, so told myself I was letting my children learn to be independent.  By the end of ten more minutes, there was quite a crowd milling around and we were starting to get nervous.  I tried to calm everyone down.  "These are just individual people," I told the hungry crowd, "they're probably only buying a few apiece."

Finally, the somsas were done and the man at the window started handing them out.  When the first customer walked away with several bags stuffed full, I started getting nervous.  When the third customer walked away with an entire basin full, I started panicking.  How many somsas does one person need??

I cheered the girls on as they detirminedly pushed their way to the front of the crowd - they've definitely learned the art of the shove while living in this part of the world.  But as bag after bag and basin after basin walked away with hot, fresh, meaty, flaky somsas and the girls never got any, my confidence flagged.  After all, a tandir oven can only hold so many somsas.  By the end there were no people and the girls came back empty-handed.

"We kept telling them we wanted двадцатъ, but nobody paid any attention to us!  They kept talking over our heads and taking all the food," Sophia told us dejectedly, "When we got to the front and asked for twenty, the guy at the window laughed and said he had only two.  Then someone else bought those two."

I told them that they had done a good job and it wasn't their fault that they were two short girls in a crowd of somsa-hungry men.  The boys made up all sorts of insults for the people who took our somsas.  

We decided to press on.  The next stand was fresh out, but we decided we weren't going to give up until we found somsas.  We headed to another area and drove around looking for stands.  We found plenty of stands, but not a one was open and finally, after an hour of seeking somsas, we went home empty-handed and dispirited.  We thought briefly about returning to the first stand for the next batch which was probably ready by then, but were too disheartened to try again.

It would have bad enough if all of the stands had been closed or even if they had all be sold out.  But to wait twenty or thirty minutes, all the time tasting that crisp of fresh pastry and imagining the savory meat juices fill your mouth, only to watch those somsas fill someone else's bowl, is worse.  And to know that they could have been yours of only one person had stopped to let a few little girls who had gotten there before them get some somsas, is even worse.  And worst of all is to know that you could have gotten those somsas yourself if you had been a little less lazy.

So, lesson number one for the day is this: don't try to buy somsas the week of the New Year.  Everyone wants them and it's just easier to cede the field to the locals.

Lesson number two: In a shoving match, grown men will always win over little girls.  Especially when it involves meat.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

2018 Roundup

This year has been a busy year.  If you ask Brandon, it probably rates as one of the bottom three, with 2011 continuing to hold first place.  It's hard to beat being in the middle of the Arab Spring for making a bad year.

The year started off in Dushanbe.  We were starting to thinking about our next move to Tashkent when the Mysterious Medical Mystery appeared and moved up our timeline by five weeks.  So instead of spending the last part of March and all of April getting everything neatly in order for our departure, I spent it in North Carolina twiddling my thumbs and wishing I could be back in Central Asia.  Brandon spent those weeks desperately trying to finish up the loads of work he had while getting the house ready for pack-out.  It was not how I had imagined our move to be.

After Brandon got things finished up in Dushanbe, he joined us in the US for home leave, affectionately referred to in the FS as homeless leave, when we spend thousands of dollars to spend more time with relatives than either they or us are happy with.  We drove to Missouri and back, went to the beach, Brandon went to Utah to see his siblings, my siblings came to North Carolina, and Brandon and I ditched the children with my parents for five days.  It was very busy.

Then we spent three and a half weeks in a corporate apartment rental in Arlington where the children watched entirely too much HGTV.  The last week we spent fighting with DC over Sophia's medical clearance, finishing with an okay to fly thirteen hours before our plane took off.

Thankfully the second half of the year was spent coming down from the first half, and we were able to settle in to Tashkent fairly painlessly and are now very happily here for at least the next two and a half years. 

I'm happily looking forward to 2019.  We don't have any moving even near the horizon, I love my house, and we have lots of things to explore here in Uzbekistan.  My children are getting older and I'm enjoying the freedom of being able to leave the house knowing that it won't be in shambles when I get home.  My baby is potty-trained, starting to feed himself, and making real strides in communication.  I have made some wonderful friends here, as have the children, and we get to see them quite often (thanks to having two cars!).  I've gotten to resume a much-beloved hobby and share it with the children.  Brandon's job is perfectly reasonable, as jobs go, and he has a boss who thinks that not using all your available vacation time is a crime.  Our church group here is very cohesive and functional, something I'm increasingly grateful for. 

I'm sure that 2019 will bring surprises - both good and bad - but I'm looking forward to seeing what they are.  Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Extended Christmas Holiday or Brandon is Not Essential Personnel

This year we got an extra Christmas present from the federal government - extended Christmas holiday!  We had already planned to have Brandon take Christmas Eve and Boxing Day off, but then the president gave everyone (well, all the federal workers) Christmas Eve off and then the shutdown gave a lot of people Boxing Day (plus two more days) off also. 

Here in Tashkent, which is part of the former Soviet Union, the big holiday is New Year's, so the embassy also has Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday off.

So for those of you who are counting, that is twelve days off.  It's the longest Brandon has ever been off work without traveling or being on maternity medevac with me and the children. 

So what have we being doing with all our time off?  We spent Christmas Eve cooking and enjoying amazing Brazilian food with members of the church group here, we hung out all Christmas, and the day after Christmas we did more of the same (but without opening presents). 

I had planned on having Brandon off for three days, but not on Thursday or Friday, so he got to tag along for our regularly-scheduled activities.  We got our teeth cleaned, folded laundry, went to horseback riding lessons, and had a couple of play dates.  But everyone did enjoy not having to wake up early or have oatmeal for breakfast. 

Brandon's mostly enjoying his unexpected holiday, save for a report that is supposed to be sent in to DC in mid-January.  But, since he has been deemed non-essential, he's not allowed to go and work on it and I suppose a shutdown is a valid excuse for not getting things done.  He's had a grand time spending hours on the phone with his best friend in Utah and is making his way through last year's Christmas books.

We've always kept a very large cash reserve for expenses like evacuations, medical bills in foreign countries, home leave, and attractive carpets that we can't leave behind, so we're not in financial difficulty because of the shutdown.  It doesn't hurt either that we don't pay for our housing.  My only regret is that I didn't have a crystal ball so that I could have planned a fun vacation to take advantage of the time off.

I'm sure by the end of our time together, everyone will probably be happy to get back to the regular routine and have a little less quality time together, but for now we're enjoying it.  Merry Christmas to us!


We had a good Christmas this year.  We're not moving, haven't recently moved, having any babies, or recently had any babies in conjunction with moving, so that counts as a good Christmas.  I was plagued by a variety of random illnesses during the Christmas season, so we didn't get as festive as we usually do, but everyone was healthy by Christmas and that was great.

We started the morning with stockings, which were placed on the couches with care.  I think each year the candy total goes up as Brandon and I get older, more indulgent, and less concerned with sugar consumption.  

William got stocking candy this year (in much smaller quantities than his siblings) and thought that it was the best thing in the world.  And then when he found his siblings' stashes and was banned from eating it, he thought that was the worst thing in the world.  It may be easy to take candy from a baby, but it certainly isn't quiet.

I'm pretty sure that most of the children's candy is gone by now, with the exception of Edwin's candy.  When we moved from Dushanbe, we found years-old mummified candy in his dresser drawers, being saved for some eventual rainy day.

We supplemented the candy with pork products - bacon and sausage - shipped all the way from America via the commissary in Ramstein, Germany.  I used to scoff at paying exorbitant prices for comfort foods, but I guess I've gotten old.  Because, pork!

We also had our traditional croissant breakfast ring that leaks butter every single year.  This year I finally gave up and embraced the pools of butter; we now call it fried croissant breakfast ring.  Sigh.


After breakfast was eaten and cleaned up, children were dressed and had brushed their teeth, we got down to opening presents.

William also got his first taste of presents because he didn't know what they were until this Christmas and so I've never bought him one before.  He was very happy with his presents, a car carrier and a book.  Life is pretty good when you have candy, a toy, and a book.

Sophia used the power of the internet to find a pattern for a baby carrier that she could make for Eleanor.  She hid in her room or mine, secretly making the present, and even sewed a pocket on the front for Eleanor's baby's bottle.  Kathleen and Sophia bought bought each other the same kind of Barbies.  We don't have any policy for the children giving each other presents, so it's fun to see what they come up with.  Eleanor very kindly wrapped up some old crayons for Brandon.  He was quite touched.

My parents (with the help of suggestions from me) bought the children a big Lego set that goes with the set they bought them last year.  I enjoy building the sets with the children, they enjoy watching and helping me, and we have a fun time together for a few days.  It's a fun tradition.

The sets click together, so now they have the beginning of a city street.  The children will spend hours playing with the sets.  They've named all the people that come with the set, given them backstories, married them off, and made vacation homes for them.  Last year the children filmed a stop-motion movie with their first set.  

We spent the rest of the day after presents reading books, watching movies, putting together Legos, eating candy, and having snacks.  It had planned to order sushi (it's not a holiday here, so restaurants are open!) for dinner, but nobody was really hungry so we just had leftovers.  A younger version of myself would have been horrified, but I was just fine with it.  I don't care about the food as much as I used to, and I'd rather spend the time with the children, hanging out together as a family.  Everyone had a wonderful Christmas together.  

Sunday, December 23, 2018

School's Out for Christmas

Last Thursday I finished reading Greek myths with Joseph, put away the book, and then went upstairs for lunch.  I looked down at the (very messy) school room and bade it farewell for the next two weeks. 

When I started homeschooling, I was very conscientious about schooling year-round.  School kept the children occupied and really there wasn't any need for long breaks.  After all, the more we schooled, the more we could get ahead and getting ahead was a good thing, right?

But over the years I've gotten worn out more relaxed and have started taking more breaks.  The children are perfectly happy to entertain themselves for days on end without causing too much trouble for me and more than anything I need the break from herding cats running the circus keeping everyone on track for months on end.

Because of local holidays and when Christmas falls this year, Brandon has three days off the week of Christmas and three days off the week of New Years.  We only school four days a week anyway, so it's really pointless to school one day a week for two weeks.  So instead I just declared a two-week Christmas break.

And boy am I happy that it has started.  I remember reading a description of homeschooling with older children and the mom described it as being more like a ringmaster running the show and less of doing the actual work herself.  At the time I remember thinking, 'Wow, that will be great when I don't have to do as much work! I can't wait until then!'  [Insert hysterical laughter]

And it is true, these days I spend much less time actually teaching children, especially now that Kathleen as taken over Joseph's history and science lessons.  But I also have a lot more children to manage than I did in the days when I taught all of the school myself, and it turns out 'teaching themselves' is not the same thing as 'managing themselves.' 

When you're sitting right next to the child, helping them do all their work, they always get it done and they always stay on task because you're right beside them watching them like a hawk.  But when there are four (and a quarter) children doing school work, it's not possible to do that anymore.  Or advisable, really.  Seventh graders really shouldn't have their mother sitting next to them, helping them with all their school work.

So my day is very much multi-tasked.  I have a timer app that gets used constantly, and sometimes I have four different timers running at once, keeping track of four different children's tasks.  While I'm helping Edwin with his math corrections, I'm also testing Sophia on her spelling words and yelling at Joseph to keep practicing the piano because it doesn't count if you spent half of your time staring off into space.  Occasionally I remember that I used to sketch with my extra time while schooling the children and I wonder how that was even possible.

The insanity usually hits its maximum during lunch time when seven people are talking, complaining, crying, fighting, and getting lunch all at the same time.  I also used to eat lunch all alone while reading a book after the children had finished their own.  That was a long time ago. 

So I think that I'm more excited for this Christmas break than the children are.  I'm looking forward to sleeping in, reading books, avoiding cooking dinner for as long as possible, going horseback riding, spending time with friends, having Brandon home for dinner for multiple days in a row, and - most of all - not chasing the children around.  It's great to have a break.


Last Saturday we took the children sledding at one of the local ski areas, Chimgan.  Edwin loves snow as much as he loves LEGOs, so we took him to play in it for his birthday Saturday.  We haven't had much snow, only a dusting and a couple of inches, here in Tashkent, so Edwin was happy to go up in the mountains where the snow has been plentiful.

This was our first foray up into the mountains for sledding, so it was a bit of a discovery trip.  There are two ski areas (resort is much too strong of a word), with a third one (which might actually be a resort) under construction.  Both of the current ones were built during the Soviet era, and Chimgan, the one we went to, was a lot less organized (as in, it wasn't organized at all) than the ski resorts I skied while attending college in Utah.

Brandon and I were very happy to discover that the road to was both paved and plowed - not to mention it was wide enough for two full lanes - all the way to Chimgan.  After driving the rutted, icy unpaved road to Safed Dara in Tajikistan, it was a nice break.  We had had a few inches of snow down in Tashkent on Wednesday, so when we went up to Chimgan on Thursday, there were about nine inches of fresh, beautiful powder for the children to play in.  

The sledding was just a random hill with a collection of sleds for rent at the base of it.  Since the snow was fresh, the sledding wasn't very fast - especially compared to our own hill back in Tajikistan.  There also wasn't any rope or mechanical help for getting to the top.  Which is probably why it was free.  I did watch some people hiring snowmobiles to haul them to the top, so there was that.

But the children had a great time playing in the snow next to the hill.  They were disappointed to discover that fresh powder doesn't pack into snowballs very well (or at all), but made do with powder fights.  Brandon consented to being buried by Kathleen and Sophia, and didn't even curse when they got snow down the back of his collar.

Joseph and I took a little hike as I was getting cold and he was getting whiny, and I enjoyed the view.  The area would be great for snowshoeing, with a fairly gentle incline and lots of open land.  We don't have snowshoes and that sport isn't great for children under the age of ten, so I'll just have to imagine snowshoeing for now.

After a few hours, William decided that he'd had enough of this snow thing (I guess eating it had gotten boring) and refused to be calmed down, so we had to leave.  No children under the age of three actually enjoy playing in the snow, so I was surprised that he lasted that long.  

We all had some hot tea before bundling back into the car and heading back home.  For a first excursion, things went pretty well, and now we have a better idea of how things operate (or don't) for next time.  There are cottages nearby that we can rent, so we're planning a more extended time to come and play in the snow again after the new year.  I'm already looking forward to it!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Happy Birthday, Edwin!

This week Edwin turned nine.  I can hardly believe that my third child is nine.  Also, nine seems a lot younger than it used to be.  When Kathleen was nine, she was about ready to go to college, but now that Edwin is nine, he's still in third grade.  There's nothing like multiple children to give one perspective.

Edwin is a very low-key child, so it was like pulling teeth to find out his preferences. 

"What do you want for breakfast?" I asked him the night before. 

"Oh, I don't know." 

"How about the cake?"

"I'm not sure about that."

"What would you like to do for dinner?"

"Let me think about it."

"And how about after dinner?  What would you like to do?"

"Hmmm, I'm not sure."

After a few rounds of twenty questions, I managed to work out breakfast (German apple pancake), dinner (delivery from a local Uzbek restaurant), cake (apple upside down cake - pretty much breakfast again), and the after-dinner activity (assemble his birthday Legos while Brandon read a story).  I wasn't quite sure if I was doing him a favor by asking his preferences in everything.

The girls had heard about a toy store that sold knock-off Legos and were very excited to buy Edwin a set for his birthday, so we went to get it in the morning.  We had a fun time giggling over the names - 'Star Battles' (Star Wars), 'My World' (Mine Craft), 'Cities' (City), 'Bat Leader' (Batman), 'Ninja Movie' (Ninjago), and my personal favorite 'Justice Magicians' (Harry Potter).  The last one had pictures of the characters, in the typical pose, but none of them were the actual movie characters. 

We ordered the food for dinner around 3:30 and had enough time to make our annual Christmas ornament and clean it up before the food showed up around 5:15.  I suppose it's still better than making it myself. 

After dinner and cake, Edwin was eager to open his presents.  When I pulled out the camera, he hid his face, embarrassed that he was smiling for pictures.  He was very happy with his presents - a book from us, a book from his grandparents, a Lego set from his other grandparents, and an 'Ego' set from his sisters.  He was very pleased with the gifts.

We finished off the day with a story and Lego assembling party, where I got to find out again that I like putting Legos together better than Brandon does.  Edwin went to sleep that night with his assembled police truck next to him and his book open and ready to be read in the morning. 

I've enjoyed seeing Edwin grow up and become part of the big kids in the family.  He is usually fairly quiet, but is often quite funny when he makes his wry observations.  I love seeing him with his buddy, William.  He can sometimes be fairly savage with his other siblings, as children often are, but never with his little brother.  Even when William is screaming loudly because he doesn't want a bath or to go to bed, Edwin patiently carries him upstairs and takes good care of him.  We are happy to have Edwin in our family.  Happy Birthday, Edwin!

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Getting to Know the Neighbors

A few days ago, the doorbell rang.  When I asked who was there (the camera view wasn't showing anyone), a high voice asked, "Is Joseph come out play?"

"Joseph," I shouted down to the basement, "your friend is here! He wants to play!"

A few seconds later, Joseph came barreling up the stairs, sprinted to the door where he put on boots and coat, and streaked out the door. 

Before moving to Tashkent, we have never lived in a neighborhood where we've made friends with locals.  Our last house was on a busy street with a Chinese business on one side and an oligarch on the other.  In Baku, we lived in a neighborhood populated mostly with expats.  In Cairo we had mission members across the hall from us, but never met anyone else in our building during our two-year tenure there. 

I can't completely blame our lack of local friends on our housing situation; I'm lazy when it comes to making friends with someone who doesn't speak the same language as me, and I'm busy with my own life.  Some people view this as a moral deficiency, but it doesn't bother me.  I don't live around the world so that I can soak in all of the cultural experiences, I live around the world because Brandon's job requires that we live in foreign countries.  I enjoy the occasional cultural experience, but they're not something I seek out.  After all, I have six children that I homeschool while running a household.  I have plenty of things to keep busy.

When we first moved in, the children played outside in the yard.  It was summer and a hundred degrees every day, so the pool was much more appealing than the road.  But when the weather (finally) cooled down, the children started playing in the road.  We live on a very quiet road with a constant guard presence half a block from our house.  Someone very important lives nearby and some sort of government facility is also at the end of the road, so there's not going to be anything troublesome happening in our neighborhood any time soon.

So the children in the neighborhood often play out in the road.  Our across-the-street neighbors like to play tennis, so when it was warmer, we would have doorbell rings with broken-English requests for the ball fairly often.  My children have been hesitant to join them, worried about ridicule for their poor Russian, and I haven't bothered them.  Their outside playtime is up to them, and I manage their lives enough already.

But eventually they got bored of the yard and ventured out in the street.  One day Joseph burst inside at the end of his playtime, excited with his new achievement.  "Mom!!!" he exclaimed in his high little voice, "I made a friend!!!"

I realized then that none of my children have ever made a friend on their own without some sort of engineered situation where they could meet peers.  Joseph was wriggling in excitement at the thought of someone to play with who lived right next door.  There's nothing Joseph loves more than talking with people, and the thought of having constant access to someone who wanted to play with him was just about his wildest dream come true.

"That's great!" I replied, "what's his name?"

Joseph wrinkled his brow for a minute, then shrugged his shoulders.  "I don't know.  He told me, but it was really long and hard to remember.  Tomorrow I'm going to show him my shotgun."

I often think about all of the normal American experiences my children will miss by living overseas, the experiences that I had in spades while growing up in suburban North Carolina.  I fret over how this will affect them, and feel guilty that they won't ever have a chance to live them, even after they choose their own path in life.  Obviously, those concerns aren't enough for Brandon to quit and move us all back to the States, but it doesn't mean that I don't have them.

So even if Joseph and his friend can't talk much to each other and they are playing together in an Uzbek street and his friend's Grandma scares him because she's so old and Uzbek, I'm still happy that he has a friend who lives next door.  It's as close as he's going to get.