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Sunday, February 5, 2017

Turkish... Again and Then AGAIN

Right now my children are all gathered around the fire in my parents' family room, listening to a story on a quiet Sunday afternoon.  If all had gone according to plan, Brandon would be reading them Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.  But instead of my husband, my father is reading the story (thanks, Dad!).

Friday afternoon it started snowing in Dushanbe and by Sunday morning there were about six or seven inches of snow on the ground.  Somon Airlines managed to get their plane off the ground on Saturday morning, but Turkish (oh Turkish) didn't.  Not only did they not get their plane off the ground in Dushanbe, they just kept the dang thing in Turkey.  Somebody in Istanbul thought that, as long as they wouldn't be coming in Saturday morning, they might as well skip Sunday morning, and just come in Monday morning.  Because, of course, it's perfectly reasonable for a large international airplane to cancel a flight and delay it for two days.

So instead of Brandon coming in at 11:30 on Saturday night, he instead was going to get here at 11:30 on Monday night.  Thankfully I haven't displayed any major signs of labor (my due date is Wednesday) and and I could wait two days.  So I called United, spent an hour and a half on the phone, and got Brandon's ticket rebooked.

Then I called Brandon.  "So," I told him, "your tickets are fixed and you'll be here Monday night at 11:30.  I have an appointment scheduled to be induced Monday night.  Do you think I should cancel it?"  Brandon thought for a few minutes.

"Nope.  Just keep it.  We've got return tickets scheduled and we might as well start the passport/visa/medical clearance process as soon as possible."

So we planned out Monday night.  When the hospital called me to come in - between eight and ten or so Monday night - my mother would take me to the hospital and I would get checked in.  It takes some time to get checked in for an induction (filling out paperwork, printing out ID bracelets, getting into a room, taking vitals, taking them again, starting IVs) and I would probably be starting my lovely pitocin drip about the time Brandon's airplane was touching down at the airport.  My father would head to the airport, pick up Brandon, and take him straight to the hospital where I would be waiting with a change of clothes, razor, and toothbrush.  Then we could start the party in earnest.

It would work.  Hopefully.  I have never progressed quickly in my labors and so there was a very reasonable chance that Brandon wouldn't miss much.

Now we just needed to get him out of Dushanbe.

Brandon called me this morning with good news.  Turkish was sending the airplane on Monday morning.  The driver who was taking Brandon to the airport called Turkish himself and confirmed the news.  Everyone gave each other high-fives the children chattered excitedly about getting to see their father AND their new baby brother so soon.

Then during Sunday lunch this afternoon a text popped up from Brandon.  His flight was delayed.  I quickly started thinking of flights that left later than his scheduled flight.  The direct flights to Boston, Toronto, and DC leave at three or so.  That should work, right?  He could still make my appointment at the hospital that night if everything lined up just right.  Just maybe.

He kept writing.  The flight was delayed by five and a half hours.  I did the math.  Nevermind.  Brandon was not coming Monday night.  I sighed with disappointment and told the children.  Then my Dad called the OB who was doing my induction (I'm going to my Dad's former practice) and told him to cancel my induction.

Brandon wrote an excoriating review of Turkish online and fumed via text.  Then he went to bed.

Since I last spoke with Brandon Turkish has delayed the flight three more hours for a total delay of two days and eight and a half hours.  I'm not going to bother re-booking Brandon's flight until the airplane has actually taken off from Istanbul.  Thanks to knowing a guy, my induction has been re-scheduled for Wednesday night.

But we'll have to see.  Eventually Brandon will get here.  And so will baby William.  Hopefully Brandon will make it before William and not the other way around.

But one thing is absolute.  We are not flying on Turkish this summer.




Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Party All The Time

We've now been back in the States for just over a month.  And in that month the children have gone camping with their cousins, we've had a play date with nineteen children (and only four moms), my aunt has come down for the weekend, we've gone to the local children's museum three times, my sister and her children have come for the weekend, we've gone to Krispy Kreme twice, we've seen friends from Dushanbe, and we have spent the day playing with friends.

It's been a lot of fun.

I'm lucky to be staying in the same house that I grew up in close to friends that I grew up with and family that (shockingly) wants to see me and my children.  We've been so busy with friends and family that I've hardly had time to miss Brandon.

A few weekends ago, my sister came up to visit with her children.  She is my only sibling with children and all of her four children were born within eight months of my own which means that, of course, the cousins are all best friends.  Maybe in a different life where we bought a house, settled down, and didn't move for the next thirty years (my parents' life), my children would be less attached to their cousins (although I'm still pretty darn attached to some of my own cousins), but for my children who move constantly, their cousins are the only constant friends in their life.

So when my sister had a free weekend she brought her kids up to play.  It was a perfect time to come - my parents were safely thousands of miles away in Australia, my sister's husband had to stay and work, and Brandon was thousands of miles away in the other direction - and we made good use of it.  The children ranged in and out of the house, dressing up, playing games, tromping through the yard, and making the usual ruckus and melee that nine children make when they get together.  My sister and I sat and talked and looked at purses online and did the usual things that sisters do when they get together.  Nobody cooked anything - pizza delivery and frozen foods are amazing - and everyone had a grand time together.  At one point my sister and I even ditched the children with a babysitter (yes, there are nine of them, but I'll pay you a lot of money) and went to the mall for some child-free shopping time.

The next weekend my aunt came down to visit.  I had planned to go up to the DC area where she lives but when I got sick with a cold she abandoned her long-suffering husband to their two dogs and three cats so she could come and take care of me so I wouldn't be alone and sick for my birthday.  We, of course, had a great weekend together.  There was more pizza (can you ever have too much pizza??) and a visit to the local children't museum and doughnuts (because when you're in America and there's a Krispy Kreme on your way home you go to Krispy Kreme) and dinner at a tasty restaurant and of course, more staying much too late talking.  And in the middle of the visit, a good friend from Dushanbe popped by to say hi and happy birthday with flowers and chocolates.

And the weekend after that the children and I went to visit another friend from high school who lives close to Raleigh.  She had children the ages of mine (her fifth and my fifth were born three days apart) and also home schools with the same curriculum we do.  So of course we get together whenever possible because it's always fun to have someone who indulges in pretty much the same kind of crazy that you do.  We went down in the morning around ten, thinking we would spend two or three hours together, and finally left six and a half hours later when grandma showed up to babysit the kids.  I love having friends that, after years of no contact, pick right up where you left off and just keep on going.

Next weekend my cousin, his wife, and their cute little boy are coming down to visit for even more partying before the nuclear bomb known as Baby William arrives.  I'm looking forward to more late nights and talking and laughing and spending time with people that I just don't get to see enough of.

I'm so blessed and lucky to have so many people to see while we're here in America.  Edwin, who doesn't see how people can ever be better than Legos and dinosaurs, asked me why we had to go an see more friends.  "I just want to go back to Dushanbe," he huffed, "and then we won't have to see any more people.  Everyone will just leave me alone!"  But I can't agree with him.  I know we'll have to go back to Dushanbe (and I'm sure I will be ready by then), but until then, the more people the better!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Dinner by Costco

As I mentioned earlier, I am now a lone woman (and adult, for that matter) in my parents' house.  They have a former sister missionary who is getting married in Australia this month and decided that was a wonderful excuse to go and visit a new continent.  I encouraged them to go when they were planning several months ago, knowing that living with six other people in your house can get a little trying and we would probably like each other better with some time off.

They left Thursday afternoon.  I had made a dinner menu for the week, but by the time five o'clock rolled around I didn't really feel like cooking dinner.  So the children and I ate cold cereal.  While spooning my way through a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch I realized a sad truth about myself: I have no self-discipline.  Sure, I can turn out a home-cooked dinner every day by six o-clock when I know that my husband (or parents) are expecting something tasty and nutritious.  But when it's just me and the children?  Even pancakes are a bit too much work.  For some reason I just can't face cooking dinner when I'm the one who cooks it, feeds it to the children, cleans it up, and then puts everyone to bed.  It's okay when I get to look forward to some help partway through, but I just can't stand the thought of doing it all myself for three solid weeks.

I used to think I liked to cook, and I guess I did when it was a hobby.  When Brandon and I were engaged we thought nothing of spending three hours cooking dinner together.  It was fun.  It was tasty.  It was cheap.  And it was just a background for what we really enjoyed: talking.  But now cooking dinner is a job.  It's a job I do almost every day, and it's one of my least favorite jobs.  I have about fifteen or twenty recipes that I cook because they passed the test for taking less than an hour, using ingredients my housekeeper can get at any bazaar or store, and being healthy.  Which doesn't really make for exciting food.  It makes for healthy, cheap, filling food, but not exciting food.

When I thought of cooking these same menus every day (without even Friday off!  Because there's no date night when your one and only date is six thousand miles and ten time zones away), I just couldn't stand the thought.  But when I thought of eating cold cereal every day, I couldn't stand that either.  Because even if I'm lazy that doesn't mean I don't have standards.  Then started looking up delivery in the area.  But that didn't appeal either.  Like I said I do have standards - for nutrition as well as taste - and restaurant take-out for three solid weeks gets a little old after about half of one week.  Next I looked into those we-chop-all-the-ingredients-and-send-you-recipes services.  But I the prices were a deal-breaker.  They were about the same as delivery, about thirty-five dollars a meal for the cheapest services, and most of the stuff didn't look like food that my children would be interested in.

And then I remembered the standby of every busy mom: frozen food.  When I was a child, frozen food meant tater tots, chicken nuggets, fish sticks, lasagnas, and chicken pot pie (okay, chicken pot pie is still awesome).  Thumbs up for ease, thumbs down for nutrition.  And taste.  Because fish sticks and microwaved peas do not a complete or delicious meal make.  But.  Prepared foods have come a long way, especially if you're willing to spend a few more dollars for the good stuff.  Because two words: Trader Joe's.

So the next day I armed myself and my credit card for super-duper-lazy-eight-months'-pregnant-mom-with-five-children-all-by-herself-for-three-weeks indulgence.  And if you don't think that's a real thing, you've never done a medevac.  After Target (Target! Oh how I love thee), I headed for Costco (you too!).

After filling up on apples and mandarins and pears (oh non-rock hard crunchy Asian pears!) and bananas (so cheap!) and pineapple and strawberries (in January!) - my children would eat just fruit if I let them - I headed to the refrigerator section.  But not before stopping by the bakery (!!) for still warm rosemary parmesan bread (the likes of which you cannot find anywhere in Central Asia) and coffee cake (yup, I'm so lazy I don't even want to make breakfast).

The first thing in the cart was a vat of chicken noodle soup.  I practically swooned thinking of just putting that baby in the microwave, slicing up delicious bread not baked by me, and having dinner just like that.  Next went tortilla soup, stuffed grape leaves (we haven't eaten those in years because they take so. much. time.), two (two!) different kinds of quiche, asparagus (yup.  never seen that in Dushanbe, ever), pre-washed baby greens and green beans, hummus, pita chips, spanakopita, rotisserie chicken (okay, so we have those, but they weigh about half what American chickens do), spinach ravioli, stir fry vegetables, potstickers, chicken tikka masala (I can make that, buy why make it when you can buy it?), naan bread, and my old standby favorite that it still great after twenty years, chicken pot pie.

I practically danced (okay, if the cart wasn't weighing in at about two hundred pounds by then I would have) my way through the aisles thinking of the hours of time I had just bought (literally - thanks, Brandon!!) myself and how much cooking I wasn't going to be doing for the next three weeks.  And the dishes too, because did I mention that my parents' dishwasher broke and the replacement wasn't coming for a week and a half?

When the checker finished ringing up everything and the total was a hundred dollars more than my generous estimates, I barely even flinched because hey, I had at least two weeks' worth of dinners that I didn't have to cook.  And even more than that, food that actually tasted good.  I wanted to give America a big, huge, wet kiss for having people who pay good money for delicious, convenient food.
And so that I how I completely lost my principles - thrift, nutrition, homemaking - at Costco in one short morning.  Brandon, my wallet, and my pride are probably happy that I don't live in the land of easy convenience on a permanent basis.  But for now, I am very very happy to be here.  Now if you'll excuse me, I have a quiche to put in the oven.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Home Churching, Again

One of the things I've bean eagerly anticipating while in the US is regular church.  There are some definite benefits of home-churching - an hour and a half instead of three hours, for example - but sometimes it's really really nice to just show up and have someone else play the music, give the talks, teach my children, and teach me two lessons to boot.  You really don't realize how nice this it until you're the one doing all of this week in and week out.  Of course, I know that if I lived here permanently that would not be the case, but it is sure nice to take a break for three months.

My parents left for three weeks a few days ago, and so I've been looking forward to church even more this weekend.  I do love my children, but it's also nice to actually spend time with other adults when you've been surrounded by nothing but small children for two and a half days.

Then it snowed.  And since this is North Carolina, where snowstorms almost always start off as rain that forms a nice icy slick underneath the inch or two of snow that usually falls, church was cancelled.  I'm not sure how bad the roads were - they didn't look too bad to me - but I wasn't about to go and see with my parents' brand new Odyssey.  I imagine they're thanking me for this right now.

So that meant no church today.  And so the children and I had church at home.  Because if there's one thing we're good at, it's having church at home.  Obviously some things didn't happen - the sacrament for one - but I thought we did a pretty good job for a lazy pregnant lady and five small children who have been cooped up in the house for the last two days.

We started with a BYU television sacrament program and enjoyed some vintage hairstyles along with the (very short) talks on prayer.  Then, feeling virtuous and not frazzled yet, we moved on to primary where I taught a lesson on the Plan of Salvation and even managed to end with a pretty good testimony.  The children, much better at this than they used to be, mostly sat quietly (especially after Eleanor went down for a nap) and answered questions and participated.  And then church was over.  Because by then it was my nap time.

I felt pretty proud of myself for making Sunday feel like something more than just another day stuck in the house while the children pulled it apart, especially as I did it all on my own.  But I'm pretty glad that the forecast calls for the weather to warm up on Tuesday.  Because I'm willing to go through three hours of church if it means that someone other than me is running the show.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Trip

After enjoying a perfectly lovely Christmas, Brandon and I had to finish off packing the next day in preparation for our early Monday morning departure.  Everything went reasonably well, and by seven that evening our four car seats and seven suitcases were waiting by the front gate, everyone's shoes, socks, and jackets were waiting by the door, outfits for the morning were laid out, and the children were in bed.  I've finally done this enough times to know how long things actually take and not how long I think they should take.

By two thirty the next morning we were all up, ready, and loading into the van that would take us to the airport.  As we drove through the silent city, the children bid farewell to Dushanbe for the next few months.  "Goodbye, street sweepers.  See you later, run down buildings.  We'll see you in March, crazy drivers."

We managed to get all of our things to the check-in counter where, after a lot of weighing, the agent announced that we were thirty-five kilos overweight.  Brandon waded in to do battle and argued them down to eighteen kilos by convincing them that really, charging for car seats was kind of ridiculous if we could take them in the cabin free of charge.  Of course the $200 in fees could only be paid in cash and I silently thanked Brandon for insisting that we bring lots of cash with us.  I felt like I should have been more incensed as I had actually weighed all our bags while packing, but it was too early in the morning and we had much too long to go and I didn't have any spare energy to spend on moral outrage about something that I had no control over.  So instead we went to our gate.

Our first flight was a little exciting when the passenger sitting behind Edwin got sick right after take-off and spent the entire flight passed out, moaning, or vomiting everywhere but in a bag.  Thankfully he survived and we were able to move seats.

We landed in Dubai at seven in the morning.  Our first flight, being a cheap regional carrier, did not code share with our second flight, a Lufthansa flight, so we had to hand our bag tags over to the very helpful Marhaba lady who had them pulled and tagged for our onward flight on Lufthansa.  Next we took a shuttle to another terminal to find our hotel.  We found the hotel, but after talking with reception, realized that it was not the right section of the hotel.  Twenty minutes' marching later found us the right section of our hotel (turns out that there are three different concourses in terminal 3, and all three concourses have their own section of the hotel) and thankfully, beautifully, our rooms two hours and fifteen minutes after landing in Dubai.

At this point the children had not eaten a meal in eighteen hours.  I had booked rooms in the 'executive' level which included meals so we marched over to the executive lounge for some breakfast.  A plateful of pastries, four or five yogurt cups, five or six pieces of toast, four glasses of milk, some more of water and juice, several oranges, an apple or two, a box of cereal, one plate of pancakes, five of french toast, and an omelette later everyone felt much better.

But we still had fifteen hours until our next - the second of four - flight took off.  So Brandon got sent to one room to sleep while I stayed with the children in the other.  They rotted their brains out on Disney channel and Nickelodeon and Eleanor and I got some sleep.  Around three, with ten hours left in our layover we took the children swimming, bathed them, got dinner, and put everyone to bed.

Which is really kind of a joke when your check-out time is 11:30 pm.  "See you in the morning" was more like "see you in about five hours," but any sleep is better than no sleep when you're traveling halfway across the world.  Brandon and I actually got to shower, change our clothes, and get three or four hours of sleep ourselves before getting up and starting the whole monkey rodeo over again.  As Dubai isn't terribly further east - and quite a bit more southern - than Dushanbe, we had almost as far to go after not quite twenty-four hours of traveling as we did when we started.

After a frantic search for Eleanor's jacket, which was never found, we checked out mostly on time, found the appropriate transfer desk, got on the right shuttle, and located the connections desk that could print out our boarding passes for the next three flights.  The desk, which closed an hour before departure time, closed right as they finished finding our bags, checking us in, and rearranging our seats (oh yes, you'll definitely want to sit together!).  Then it was only a short hustle to our gate, another trip through security, a short wait, and we were on our way to Frankfurt.

Seven hours later we landed, for the twenty-first time since joining the FS, and made our way to the McDonald's for several hours' of play place with our traditional Frankfurt breakfast of french fries and milk shakes.  After eighteen hours in Dubai, five and a half in Frankfurt positively flew by.

We made it on time for our penultimate flight and were so worn out with making things happen that we didn't even bother trying to rearrange our seats.  I won out, only having Eleanor for the 8 1/2 hour flight (although it was regular economy), Brandon got stuck with three of the children (but in economy plus), and Kathleen was all by herself on the other side of the economy plus cabin.

The flight was again, thankfully, uneventful, and we made it to Newark with sufficient time to clear passport control (wow, that's a lot of passports!), customs, and security (for the twentieth time).  Two or our bags never showed up and the rest had to be retagged (turns out that RDI and RDU are not the same three-letter abbreviations) but still we had enough time left in our 2 1/2 hour layover for Edwin to fall asleep in his chair while waiting for our last (last!) flight of the trip.

Once more everything went fine on the flight and we even landed thirty minutes ahead of schedule.  My parents met us with their minivan and truck and claimed that they were happy to see us.  My mother and I went home with the children while Brandon and my father located the bags, which had made it to Newark, just not to our baggage carousel.  And then, after some dinner and catching up, we finally, finally, finally got to go to sleep for our first full night's sleep in three and a half days.

And so now we're here.  Well, most of us.  Brandon, after rebooking flights when Turkish cancelled his original flight into Dushanbe, showed up back home on Monday morning, a week after he left.  But the rest of us are here and not flying on any airplanes for three months.  And that is something I am very happy about.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Christmas Catch-Up

This year we celebrated Christmas a day early.  We were getting picked up for the airport at 2:30 Monday morning, so Brandon and I decided that we would have a much better Christmas if it didn't finish with furious packing.  Thankfully Christmas was on Sunday this year which made a Saturday Christmas very easy.

I decided this year (with Brandon's encouragement) to not cook anything on Christmas day.  I've tried through the years to recreate my childhood Christmas dinners with candlelight and lovely table arrangements and beautiful music.  Our dinners have usually ended much too late and the children are hastily shoved into bed so I can do the dishes.  I'm not sure how my mom did it, but I finally realized that I'm not my mother.

So we had a nice Christmas Eve dinner instead.  I spent all Christmas Eve (eve) cooking sweet potatoes and pecan pie and rolls and mashed potatoes and ham (yes, ham!  Just don't ask me how much it cost to get it) and croissant breakfast ring for the next day.  The children had a great time playing and happily anticipating the next day.  I listened to Christmas music and looked forward to not cooking the next day.  By the time Brandon walked in the door around five, the house was clean, table set, and kitchen floor swept.


The children all enjoyed their ham (Mom, this tastes just like bacon!), we had a nice devotional, and everyone was in bed by seven.


The next morning everyone enjoyed breakfast and stockings and presents and I enjoyed sitting around and reading my book while eating candy.  The children read their books and played with their toys (legos) and ate their candy and we all had a perfectly lazy Christmas day.  It was wonderful.


We finished off the day with Harry Potter (the children received all eight movies this year) and snacks for dinner.  I fell asleep around eight and Brandon sent me to bed and finished off the movie with the children.  Everyone agreed it was a great Christmas.  Even if it was a day early.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

How the Mighty are Fallen

I have always sworn that I would never own a smartphone.  I also said that about a Kindle.  And now, of course, we have four Kindles, which I absolutely love.  I can't remember the last time I actually read a paper book.  I also said I'd never get an iPad.  Now, unsurprisingly, I use my iPad every single day - and am looking forward to having it in about a week when we trek halfway across the world again.  The only moral high ground I had left - because we just had fruity pebbles for breakfast - was a smartphone.

And I just lost that one.  Sigh.

It all started when I began planning for my three-month medevac for William's birthday.  I have always used two different phones, one for the States and one for overseas.  My overseas phone - a cheap Nokia the embassy issued when we moved here - actually works in the U.S., but our charger is a European plug 220 charger.  My American phone is a Net10 phone that I just refill when we got back every year.  It's a solution that works, but isn't very elegant.

And if there's anything I enjoy, it's an elegant solution.  Which is, of course, a phone that works in the States and overseas.  Obviously.  I've thought about buying a GSM regular phone before, but we all know the most elegant solutions of all.  An iPhone.  After all we do have an iMac, a MacBook, an iPad, and iPods.  We're just missing one member of the family.

I brought up the idea with Brandon.  "You know..." I started out one evening when the children had been particularly good and we had just finished watching an episode of Poldark, "I've been thinking...."  He immediately got the wary look that inevitably follows that opening and sat up.  "What have you been thinking?"  He's been married to me long enough to know when I'm up to something.

I explained to him how I'd be going to the States and would need a phone and wouldn't it just make so much sense to get an iPhone because then he could always communicate with me and I would never miss his emails and I would take more pictures and could text with my family and friends in the US and I would have a GPS and really it would just make so much sense.  He listened, skeptical, as I attempted to justify adding one more piece of Apple technology to our stable.  I finished with the kicker, "And the B---s have several older ones just sitting around because T-- just go a 7 and gave his 6s to T---- and I'm just sure they'd be willing to sell T---s old 6 to us....." I trailed off.

Brandon sighed, recognizing the rationalization hamster spinning madly at its wheel trying to justify something that really, in the end, I just wanted for no better reason than it was shiny and cool.  He sighed again.  "I don't think it's a good idea. But you can do what you want.  However, if you put Candy Crush on that phone, I'm throwing it into the trash."  I tried to hide my delight and acted very obedient.  "Okay, thanks.  I'll talk to T--- about it."

The next day I contacted my friend, who, as all good friends do, only encouraged me in my pursuit of shiny technology.  "Of course we could sell you the 6!  I'll ask T-- about it and get back to you.  But you should definitely do it!  It's a great idea!"  She talked with her husband and got back to me with the price.  I obviously hadn't done my homework because I didn't realized how much unlocked, good condition iPhones run for.  I told her that I would have to talk with Brandon about it, which meant that it wasn't going to happen and let my shiny smartphone dreams die, murdered by penny-pinching.

A few days later she dropped by to borrow a stroller.  After chatting for a few minutes, she whipped out a few phones.  "While I'm here, I thought I'd show you the 5s we also have sitting around.  It's less than the 6.  But if you're interested in the 6, it's only $75 more than the 5s."  I thought about it for about thirty seconds, and bought the 5s.  I handed over the cash before I could change my mind.  "Great!" she enthused.  "I'll have T-- come over in an hour or two and set it up for you."  

After she left I thought about good technology and better technology and how much $75 really isn't and how really, it's easier to text on a bigger screen and how a newer phone would last longer.  By the time my friend called to to tell me her husband was coming over, I told her to have him bring the 6.  Because it turns out I'm just as acquisitive as the next girl.

And that is how I ended up doing the thing I swore I'd never do.  Principle, evidently, don't stand up very well to shiny, pretty, cool, technology.  Oh well.  Time to go get Candy Crush.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Happy Birthday, Edwin

Last week Edwin turned seven.  I always feel for people with birthdays around Christmas.  Everyone is already celebrating Christmas and oh, that's right - it's your birthday too, isn't it?  Edwin hasn't been bothered by it so far, but we always try to celebrate his birthday just as much as everyone else's.

So we started off his birthday with no school.  Because when you are homeschooled, you never have to have school on your birthday.  And your siblings get the day off, too.  Everyone wins.  For breakfast, Edwin requested that we have German apple pancakes (dutch baby).  Everyone was, of course, happy to have that instead of the usual oatmeal and eggs.

After morning chores and some lunch packing, we all headed off to the botanical gardens.


First we visited the peacocks.  Why there is a cage full of peacocks there, I have no idea, but the children love to visit the beautiful overgrown chickens.  There is something mesmerizing about watching peacocks.


Everyone was delighted to discover that peacocks, being overgrown chickens, like eating grass.  The kids spent at least half an hour pulling up grass and offering it.  Eleanor didn't have much success with rocks and pine needles, but the leftover chunks of snow were pretty well received.


Then we had a picnic lunch.  We had been snowed on the weekend before, about five or six inches, but the weather cooperated with our picnic plans and gave us a beautifully sunny day in the upper fifties.  There are some things about Dushanbe that are pretty awesome.


After lunch, everyone enjoyed playing on the random exercise equipment scattered around while I sat and read War and Peace.  


That evening when Brandon got home we had Edwin's choice for dinner, schawerma, and then dessert, lemon meringue pie.  


And then, of course, presents.  One grandmother sent him a dinosaur book.


The other a lego set.


His sister gave him a bag full of candy.


And his parents two dinosaurs, which, according to Edwin, were his "best birthday present in his whole entire life!!"  It's always great to see that you've guessed right for presents.


On Saturday, for Edwin's birthday Saturday (instead of a party we do something that the birthday child gets to choose), we went sledding up in the mountains.  I wasn't sure if we would get to go sledding this year, but the weather has cooperated enough for us to get at least one trip in, even if the snow got a little muddy by the end.  


Everyone had a good time.


We finished off the day with our traditional Christmas gingerbread house, homemade pizza, and Elf.  

After going through a rough few years (the same rough few years that every child goes through), Edwin as turned into a great child to have around.  He's great at getting the job done even when he doesn't like to do it.  Most mornings I can count on him to finish his chores while I'm stuck nagging everyone else to get them done now, and he always gets his school work done before he runs off to play.  Now that he's learned how to read, you can usually find him reading something about dinosaurs, and if he isn't reading he's building legos.  He and Joseph can usually get along together, and he's very much looking forward to his very own buddy's arrival in less than two months.  

We're pretty happy to have him as part of our family.  Happy Birthday, Edwin!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Turkish Strikes Again!

This past summer our R&R plans got changed around a bit.  We were set to fly through Istanbul on Turkish Airlines and then that coup-thing happened.  Ten days before our departure, State declared that nobody was allowed to fly through Istanbul.  Last summer was the first summer I had ever managed to get everything lined up months in advance so we could buy our tickets in the spring.  And then, ten days before our departure, we had to get everything changed.

Our departure date moved from a Thursday to the previous Saturday - and this was changed on the Monday of the week we flew out on the Saturday flight.  After a heart-stopping email listing the change fees on our non-refundable tickets as $4,000, we were assured that the embassy would cover one ticket change, especially when coups were involved.  So, after a flurry of emails and calls to my mother (yes, so you thought you had more time to unpack your house after being gone for five years, sorry about that!), all was worked out and we made it to the US a little earlier than planned.  Not before, of course, Istanbul was declared perfectly safe to fly through.

Fast forward to two months ago.  It was time to book another set of tickets to the US because flying halfway across the world with five children in tow is my idea of a good time.  As the embassy absolutely does not ever in any conceivable situation ever allow us Americans to have their babies in Tajikistan, I have to leave for three months and go somewhere with good medical care (and am I thankful to have access to that medical care!).  Because I am the primary caretaker for the children, they have to come with me.  So this means that your tax dollars (thanks, everyone!) are paying for my flights and the children's flights.  But what they are not paying for is Brandon's flights.  

The last time I did this medevac thing, Brandon put me into a cab with the girls at 2 am on a Cairo morning, and we made our way to my parents' open arms in North Carolina, very tired but intact.  This time Brandon decided that I couldn't handle flying with all five children while seven and a half months pregnant.  I disagree, but he's in charge, so we bought him a plane ticket on the same flights (and even in an adjoining seat) to the rest of our monkey circus.  And then, being the stoic male he is, he will turn around and fly back to Dushanbe so that he can work to pay off the cost of his plane ticket.

So.  To sum up, we are booked to fly out of Dushanbe the day after Christmas.  Six of our tickets are covered by the government.  The seventh is not, and more important to remember, is non-refundable and non-changeable.

Enter Turkish Airlines.  Turkish has never been known for its dependability and is prone to cancelling flights with little to no warning.  But within the last week or so, they have been cancelling four out of the five flights.  And then they just decided to stop flying to Dushanbe.  Why is this?  Nobody is quite sure.  There has been talk of a transponder needing replacing at the airport, but flights have been cancelled on perfectly clear days that provide more than the four kilometers of visibility their guidelines call for.  There is have been some cash problems for a major bank here, so aviation fuel has been in short supply.  But this is going to be cleared up, and according to rumor, Turkish is still not flying.  Also, Turkish is experiencing system-wide problems (I noticed this on my last flight when there was no Turkish delight), and maybe they're not flying those less-profitable legs - like the ones to Dushanbe.  Lots and lots of supposition with no real facts to back it up.  But what we do know is that if you want to get out of Dushanbe on a particular timeline (like one that doesn't allow pregnant women to fly after 34 weeks), Turkish isn't looking like a very good bet right now.

Brandon called and told me this on Thursday.  I, being a betting sort of girl who believes that I can bend time and space to my will, wasn't concerned.  Brandon, who factors possibility much more than probability into all his risk assessments, was.  And since he is in charge and has good sense instead of reckless belief on his side, I started thinking of options.

My first thought was of the money.  I hate wasting money.  Thankfully these days most things are irritations and not hunger-inducing, but it's still irritating to pay for plane tickets twice - especially when those plane tickets are to remote places like Tajikistan.  We are booked to go Dushanbe-Istanbul-London-DC-Raleigh (yes, that is a lot of airports), so I looked to at least salvage the last two legs of the itinerary.  

There are only a few ways you can get out of Tajikistan.  First is through Istanbul on Turkish.  Obviously if that wasn't a problem, this whole post would be pointless.  Second is through Istanbul or Frankfurt or Dubai on Somon Airlines, a podunk local airline.  This would be a good idea but for their pregnancy restrictions - no flying after 32 weeks.  Thirty-two weeks is this week, and if we want to go through Frankfurt, on Saturday.  I love my parents and they love me but I'm pretty sure that both of us don't want two more weeks of family togetherness.  And plus, we already decorated for Christmas.  Pass.  

Third is Fly Dubai through (obviously) Dubai.  So I looked up their schedule.  Oh good - they have a flight to Dubai the day after Christmas (there are very few daily flights out of Dushanbe).  And look - they have several flights a day to London.  And even better - there is a flight that gets us into London with two hours before our flight to DC.  Great.  I sent the itinerary to Brandon and got back to teaching school.

Then I started thinking about airlines and codeshares and ticketing and realized that we might have a problem.  The itinerary had us flying on Fly Dubai to Dubai and changing to British for our flight to London.  This is not a problem, as Dubai has a magical service (made operable by money, of course) that will pick up your bags from baggage claim, haul them to the ticketing desk and recheck and ticket everything for you on your next flight.  It doesn't sound that magical until you start doing math.  Two adults + five (mostly useless) children + seven bags + three car seats + one stroller + no way to get from terminal 2 to terminal 1 except a taxi = not enough hands to carry the bags or space to put them in.  Then you realize the magic.  So, Dubai layover, not a problem.

But then the same math equation had to happen again in London because once again, we were switching between airlines with no codeshare agreement, British and United.  Only this time the terminal transfer was on the Heathrow Express and we had to go through passport control before picking up our ten pieces of baggage and moving them to the next terminal to recheck, re-ticket, re-passport control and re-security before getting to our gate.  I had my suspicions, but after querying my FS Facebook group, I realized that there was no way in the world all of that would happen in two hours.  I let Brandon know.

Then I looked for anything (anything!) out of Dubai that left after 9:30 in the morning and would get us to the US eventually.  By this time I had kissed Brandon's ticket goodbye and was only looking for the cheapest way to buy a whole new one-way ticket from Dushanbe to North Carolina.  Nothing.  Turns out that Dubai is a long way from the US - just about as long as Dushanbe - and all of the flights were long gone by 9:30 in the morning.  If you want to fly to the US, you're leaving at two, not nine.

I let Brandon know.

So I started looking for flights two days after Christmas.  We always try to fly on United because seven mileage plus accounts flying halfway across the worlds adds up to a lot of miles.  I found an itinerary that went Dubai-Frankfurt-DC-Raleigh.  I sent it on to Brandon.  Then I started looking for hotels.  Because spending eighteen hours in the Dubai airport after leaving our house at 1:30 in the morning for a 4 am flight sounds like a particularly unpleasant form of torment even before you add in the children.  

Luckily, Dubai is known for having hotels and that was easily found.  And then I remembered something about Dubai: you are welcome to go to Dubai without a visa, but only if you are traveling on a tourist passport.  Brandon and I have tourist passports, but the children's expired earlier this year.  I let Brandon know.

He went to talk to our friendly consular officer while I asked around about getting diplomatic visas for the children and looked for other places to overnight.  There were other places we could overnight (Frankfurt, London), the diplomatic visa cost $150 and took two weeks, and we could get the children's passports (at $105 apiece) in 1 1/2 weeks.  We opted to overnight in Dubai where the magic service would take care of our baggage and tickets.  I spent the afternoon filling out passport applications and booking hotel rooms.  Brandon went to the med unit to get my travel orders changed so a hotel stay would be included.  I tried not to think about how much Brandon's ticket would cost.

Monday I emailed our friendly (or at least responsible) travel section and let them know of our change in plans.  They got back to me and said that would be no problem re-booking my and the children's tickets - it would just be a little matter of getting our cable changed so that MED would cough up the extra money (we're talking thousands of dollars in change fees and fare increases and hotel rooms).  But Brandon's ticket?  Completely out of luck.  The entire thing would have to be bought again, at our own expense, of course.

So Brandon trotted himself down to the travel section and signed a legally binding document promising to pay for all the tickets himself (for over twenty thousand dollars) just in case MED decides that really, there was no reason to change our tickets.  I pulled out my melting credit card and bought a whole new set of plane tickets.  Then I got out my paper bag and tried hard not to think about what I could have done with that money while thinking zen thoughts about barns and having my soul called to God that night.  The children got excited about spending five and a half hours at their favorite place in Germany - the McDonald's playplace.  French fries, milkshakes and slides!

And, of course, as always, this means that within a day of two of everything being changed, booked, and paid for, Turkish will decide to start keeping a regular flight schedule again.  Because that's the way it always works out.  

But, once again, in the end we will eventually get to the US in one piece.  It may have taken a little more trouble and money than originally anticipated, but it will happen, which is the magic of money and modern technology.  I just wish it could be a little more straightforward.

Moral of the story: Don't bother planning anything in advance.  It's just a waste of your time.

Moral of the story, 2: Pay that extra money for changeable tickets.  Especially when you're flying to Central Asia.

Moral of the story, 3: don't fly Turkish Airlines.  They may give you Turkish delight on your flight, but don't let them sucker you with delicious treats.  It won't be worth it.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Thanksgiving and Christmas!

Last last Thursday was Thanksgiving.  As a child, my family spent as many Thanksgivings as possible with my dad's brother, his wife and their eight children in rural southern Maryland.  More of my father's family live in the DC area, so Thanksgiving was always a time with lots and lots of family and my very favorite cousins.  We would usually start the four and a half hour drive as soon as my father finished work Wednesday evening and pull in to our cousins' house late at night where everyone would stay up much too late playing, talking, partying, and making lots and lots of noise.

My father loved to play with his only brother so the whole weekend would be filled with windsurfing and bike riding and canoeing and kayaking while the children rode their bikes everywhere, running in and out of the house and over the neighborhood and down to the bay while my mom and aunt (bless them) cooked away at dinner.  It was the most wonderful chaos that we looked forward to every single year.

So Thanksgiving in the Foreign Service is always something of a sad holiday for me.  We always live in a place where nobody else celebrates the pilgrims landing (and not dying) in a new world.  Children have school.  Everyone else has work.  And there are no cousins within a hemisphere.

So we do what we can.  We've always been able to get big, fat, American turkeys, even when they literally arrive at 8 pm the day before Thanksgiving.  After spending one Thanksgiving completely alone one year in Cairo, we've always had friends over or gone to friends' houses.  Thanksgiving is a holiday to be shared - otherwise it's just lots of extra cooking for another family dinner.

This year we had two families over for a nice small, quiet Thanksgiving.  Even though their children had school, everyone came over for dinner around one (because Thanksgiving) and stayed for a nice day of talking, eating, more talking, more eating, and pie.  We have known both families for some time, so it was nice to not have to ask all of the getting-to-know you questions and just have time to hang out together.  Brandon even enjoyed talking politics with like-minded men, something that isn't so easy to find these days.

We had turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash puree, home made stuffing, stovetop stuffing, rolls (over 8 dozen), fresh cranberry sauce (thanks to a wonderful friend who mailed fresh cranberries all the way from Utah), pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and chocolate chip cookie pie.  Anyone who went hungry was just picky.

On Saturday Christmas started.  When I was arranging the medevac for William's birth, I could have left early and been at my parents' house for Christmas.  But instead we stayed to the last possible day because Christmas is a season I like best in my own home.  I love to decorate for Christmas, I love to listen to Christmas music, and we have quite a few family traditions that stretch over the month of Christmas.  It just seemed kind of wrong to cut it off halfway through.

We started out the season with decorating the house and putting up the tree.  I started my Christmas planning early this year and so was able to order decorations in time for the beginning of the season. We hung garlands, put up the tree (which I didn't even touch, thanks to children and Brandon), hung lights, hung ornaments from the chandelier, pulled out nativity sets and filled lots and lots of vases and bowls with glass ornaments.   Then when it was mostly done, we finished the evening with White Christmas and mint hot chocolate.  Brandon and I stuck to tradition and fell asleep during the movie. I can't remember the last time I actually stayed awake the entire time.

The children are now busy secretly making each other presents to wrap in the wrapping paper we made last night, and counting down the days until they get to open those presents up.  We're waiting to see when the mail that is currently sitting in Moscow will make it down to Dushanbe with the presents in it.  I'm cooking dinner to Christmas music every night, and Joseph asks every day if tomorrow is Christmas.  Eleanor, who doesn't remember last Christmas, will get her mind blown when she gets a stocking full of candy and multiple presents to open.  And I am happily looking forward to not cooking Christmas dinner this year.

It's a pretty good time here in the Sherwood house.