The views expressed in this blog are personal and not representative of the U.S. Government, etc etc etc.
Read at your own risk.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sythroid + Sleep + Not Pregnant = Awesome

I am feeling really good.  On Wednesday I washed laundry, ran almost three miles, schooled four children, had a Russian class, baked six loaves of bread, folded and put away the laundry I washed, sliced and put away the six loaves of bread I had baked that day, cooked dinner, fed the children, cleaned dinner up, and took a nap.  All before seven in the evening.

It has been a long, long time since I've had a day like that and I had forgotten how great it felt to get a lot of stuff done and still have enough energy to be happy about it at the end.

William is sleeping through the night and so I can get a solid seven hours of sleep which hasn't happened in months.  No longer do I have to drag myself out of bed every time my deepest sleep is disturbed by the soul-sucking cry of a hungry baby in the middle of the night.  I can close my eyes at night without wondering how long it would be before I had to open them again.  The sleep-deprived haze of the first six weeks has cleared and it's amazing.

I'm not pregnant and so when I do sleep I can actually sleep without rolling over twenty times a night and waking up to go the bathroom a couple of times.  And when I'm awake I can do amazing things like bend over, hold children on my lap, and not bite people's heads off when they ask me to do things like tie their shoes or wipe their bottoms.  Waddling through my day is now a distant memory.

And to top it off, I have the miracle of Synthroid.  The symptoms of hypothyroidism crept up so slowly that I'm not sure when I wasn't suffering from it, but I know that they were noticeable a year and a half ago.  It's great to climb stairs without having to stop halfway through to catch my breath, run faster than Brandon's walk, and not need an hour nap each day just to function.

I suppose I can thank the last year and a half of feeling some level of exhausted constantly for helping me feel so happy about being normal again.  But really, it's great to be one hundred percent functional!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

On Having Six Children

I just tucked Eleanor into bed.  It has been a long Sunday today; we hosted church followed by a group dinner for twenty people.  Everyone had a great time but hosting is always work - work that is worth it, but work nonetheless.  This dinner wasn't too bad.  We finished dishes and had the floor swept by 7:30, early enough that Brandon could read a short chapter of Harry Potter to the children.  Usually at the end of these days my number one goal in life is to throw the children off to bed so that I can finally rest.  No stories, no twentieth kisses, no five-minute monologues on dinosaurs or horses.  Just bed.

But tonight wasn't that bad.  William is sleeping through the night, I'm not pregnant, and I don't have undiagnosed hypothyroidism.  Even after cooking, hosting, and cleaning up on less sleep than I'd like (William's definition of 'sleeping through the night' is waking up at five) and no nap, I wasn't that exhausted.

So when Eleanor asked for a story I agreed after only a few seconds' hesitation (even though I knew that her sister had already read her The Giant Cabbage).  I read Caps for Sale as Eleanor nestled into the crook of my arm, sucking her thumb and pointing out that the peddler really is small and the monkeys have different colored caps on.  After the story I prayed with her and tucked her in to bed.

As usual she asked for a kiss and then gave me a kiss, hugged me and then asked for a big hug.  Then, as usual, I tickled her.  Because when you're two and being tucked into bed, being tickled is the best thing ever.  As I tickled Eleanor and she giggled hilariously (two year-olds really are so easy to please sometimes) I thought about how one day she would be a teenager and I wouldn't be able to hold her close and tickle her and read her a story and make everything better with a kiss and so I kept tickling her, hoping to store up the memories so that they would be able to last for the rest of my life.  And then I gave her a few more kisses and hugs for good measure.  Because hugging a sweet little two-year old as they wrap their chubby arms around your neck and their wispy hair tickles your ear while their little hands pat your back is really one of the best things ever.

This story would not have happened when Kathleen was two.  Or Sophia or Edwin.  It might have happened with Joseph.  Maybe.  But probably not.  Because when they were two I didn't notice how quickly they were growing up and how sweet those little giggles were.  I was too exhausted from parenting my young children and too ready to snatch some time for myself after a trying day of saying no twenty times over and answering the same question over and over (and over) again.  Giggles weren't sweet, they were piercing.  Requests for one more kiss weren't endearing, they were maddening.  And my children couldn't grow up fast enough.

That is why I'm grateful that I've been able to have six children.  I've been granted the opportunity to do toddlers over and over (and over) again until I have been able to see how they are endearing even when they are driving you crazy.  I don't have to worry about whether or not they will grow up to be rational creatures because I know they will.  I don't fret about whether they will learn to dress themselves and feed themselves because all normal children eventually do.  I know that the threes will eventually end and I will enjoy my child again.

And even when they're driving me crazy I can laugh at them.  I don't flinch when their grubby hands pat my face.  I tickle them at night and actually enjoy it instead of counting down the seconds until I can bolt.  I finally understand why people don't want their children to grow up.  I understand why Jesus told us to be like little children.

And so when people ask how I can handle having six children, I want to tell them how really great it is.  More children to love, more chances to get things right, more hugs and more kisses.  I will never regret having all the children I have.  I don't care about trips I didn't take or stuff I didn't buy or even sleep I didn't get.  Those things are fun, but when I'm ninety-two I'll have something more.  I'll have my children.  All six of them.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Long Slog Home

At five am last Saturday morning we finally stumbled in to our house, shooed the children out of the toy room, put them to bed, and fell into bed ourselves right as the sun was rising.  We had made it home with everyone intact, no meltdowns, and even seats next to each other on every single flight.  Of course none - not a single piece - of our luggage made it, but we were just happy to be in Dushanbe with or without luggage.

William's visa came on Tuesday after it was issued bright and early Monday morning.  While on the phone with Air Canada unsuccessfully trying to get all eight of seats assigned together ("Well, it looks like there are only middle seats left. Sorry about that"), I checked our itinerary again.  We had had all our flights changed to be one week later, exact same flights.  But as I was looking through the flights I realized that 06:10 is not the same thing as 18:10, something I had failed to notice at 4 am when I told the travel agent to book our tickets.  

I had changed Brandon's tickets before noticing the am/pm problem - for the low, low price of $522 - and was looking at a fifteen-hour layover in Toronto by myself with six children.  After a thirty-second debate with my inner Scrooge who was dying a slow painful death over all the money we've been using to all of our problems, I laid down another two hundred so that Brandon could share the pain.  I'm very generous, I know.  

So at 3:30 (Hey, at least it's not 2:30 or 11:30, Sophia cheerfully pointed out) Thursday morning we crawled out of bed and began the Great Return.  The six am flight had us arriving in Canada at 8 am and out at the shuttle bus stop for our hotel by 9.  After some research had I narrowed options for surviving a 15-hour layover to 1. Take ninety minutes (one way) of public transportation to go to a local science center, 2. Shell out $770 (but hey, it's Canadian dollars!) for business lounge passes, or 3. Shell out $350 (American) to rent a hotel room for two nights.  Turns out when the check-in time is 4 pm they won't let you check in at 9:30 am.  

It also turns out when the free breakfast ends at 9:30 and you show up at 9:35, there is no more free breakfast.  But good news! Domino's pizza is open at ten in the morning.  When you haven't eaten in seventeen hours and you're nursing a baby, pizza sounds like an excellent breakfast.  

Two pizzas, an order of cheesy bread, an order of cinnamon sticks, two liters of Sprite, three hours of napping, an hour of swimming, an order of singapore noodles, sweet and sour pork, chow mein, five fortune cookies, a couple of showers and a lot (and I mean a lot) of stupid TV later, we were ready to return to the airport.  In the snow.  Because, Canada.  Remind me never to live in a country where its southern areas get snow at the end of March.

After our newly-purchased-for-a-fifteen-hour-layover stroller tested positive for chemicals (which ones? we don't know), all six backpacks, my purse, the baby car seat, and our rolling carry-on got to be inspected by hand and run through the x-ray machine where, once again, it was found that Kathleen had put scissors in her backpack (When you asked me if I packed them, I forgot they were in there!).  Along with nine Breyer horses (well, I didn't want to wait until they came in the later shipment, okay?).

Even though we had spent about forty-five minutes going through security, we still made it in time to wait around for our 11:10 (pm) flight.  Thankfully when I had checked in Wednesday morning I made the happy discovery of a whole block of unassigned seats and assigned ourselves seats all together so nobody had to ask seven people to move so that they didn't have to spend a twelve hour flight seated next to one of our children.  The flight was long, uneventful, and many movies were watched.  William and I slept, some of us with the aid of sleeping pills.  

We had taken off an hour and a half late because of late incoming passengers and de-icing.  Our layover in Dubai had only been two and a half hours to begin with and so we didn't have much time to 1. get off the plane 2. get our stroller 3. get new tickets for our next flight 4. get our baggage transferred to the next flight (non-code share flight means our bags and tickets were only to Dubai, not Dushanbe) 5. take a shuttle bus to another terminal 6. go through security and 7. find our gate.  Thankfully nobody made us take William, who was sleeping so peacefully, out of his car seat and he slept through the whole thing.  

We made it to our gate just in time to get into line, board the shuttle bus, and squeeze into the cumin-scented cattle car that is a FlyDubai flight.  After boarding the flight attendants politely informed me that FlyDubai doesn't allow car seats for any child under six months old.  At that point I didn't really care what FlyDubai's policy was about car seats because William was going to be spending the flight peacefully sleeping in his car seat and not on my lap.  Which he did.

The flight, in contrast to our previous Fly Dubai flight, was once again uneventful even if it did take off an hour late.  What did I care?  We didn't have any more airplanes to catch.  

When we landed the expeditor walked us passed the crowds thronging passport control (who knew the Dushanbe airport was such a happening place at 3:30 am?) so that we could wait for our luggage.  After forty-five minutes of waiting the expeditor asked if maybe we would like to wait in the embassy van (oh yes, what a nice suggestion.  Was it my toddler sprawled out on the floor while I did absolutely nothing that gave you the idea?) while Brandon waited for our eight suitcases and three car seats that were never going to come - and weren't going to come until four days later.

As we staggered into the house, Kathleen announced that she didn't want to go on any more airplanes for at least six months.  And I am much inclined to agree.  While sitting in one of the four airports on three different continents while clutching eight passports, I asked Brandon if he had considered this particular combination of long-distance travel and multiple children when he thought about becoming a diplomat.  He confessed he had not.  It's probably a good thing neither of us did.  Because I'm not so sure he would have signed up.  It turns out traveling the world isn't nearly as posh when you're hauling six children along with you.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Still In America

I am writing this post from my parents' house in North Carolina.  If all had gone according to plan (ha), I would have been writing this post from Dushanbe - or more likely not writing this post, only having arrived home less than 48 hours before and therefore in the depths of jet lag.

But, as we learned from Edwin's birth and Joseph's birth, things rarely go according to plan.  Especially this time.  After all, if I couldn't even have William according to plan because of Turkish Airlines, why did I ever have the temerity to think that we could go home according to plan?

Last Tuesday we had already packed three suitcases.  My medical clearance had come through.  William's medical clearance had come through.  Even Eleanor's clearance had come through.  For a family of eight people, that's a lot of medical clearances.  William had been put on Brandon's orders which had gone to budget which had allowed William's ticket to be purchased.  I had even called Air Canada and gotten our seats together for the thirteen-hour flight.  Brandon and I had gone to the temple.  We had reservations for a dinner out with my parents.  The children had said goodbye to their friends at church.  We were ready to go.

We had everything - except William's visa.

Getting a newborn back to post is a very involved process with many steps that start the day after the baby is born.  We have done this three times already and so we started early.  When he was a week old his birth certificate was ready to pick up and Brandon had submitted form OF-126 and received DS-1640 so William could get an official passport.  Everything was in order to walk in to our nearest post office and apply for that baby's passport.  But it seems that in the seven years since we'd had to apply for a passport at the post office things had changed, and you couldn't just walk in anymore.  We dutifully called the appointment phone number, followed the instructions and left a message, and waited.  The next day we got a call back.  The earliest appointment in Raleigh?  That will be on March 3.  I started planning an emergency trip up to the Special Issuance Agency in DC while the helpful lady on the phone started looking around for appointments in cities other than Raleigh.  After some searching she came up with an appointment the next day in Oxford, about an hour drive from Raleigh.  Someone had cancelled and we could take their spot.

So, nine days after his birth, William applied for his first diplomatic passport.  We sent it up by two-day mail (it was Saturday and Monday was a holiday) and it was in Sterling, Virginia by Tuesday.  I have nothing against Sterling, but it turns out that Special Issuance Agency is not in Sterling Virginia - it is in Washington, DC.  Three days later (I know this because I called the SIA every day) it was in DC.  A week later, on Thursday, the passport was done.  Unfortunately I had stopped calling every day by then and didn't find out that the passport was done until Brandon called to check in on Monday.  "Oh yes," the helpful lady on the phone told him, "it's just waiting for you to come and pick it up."  Unfortunately we weren't in DC and couldn't pick up the passport and had called four or five times to make sure that the SIA was aware of this and had the right address to mail the passport to.

So the passport showed up Tuesday afternoon.  Which was too bad as my aunt - who lives outside DC and had volunteered to avoid the Sterling-is-not-DC problem by hand-delivering the passport and visa application - had left Tuesday morning.

I got to work on the Tajik visa application, filling out the online form for the third or fourth time, and called Brandon (who was driving to Missouri with the children to see his parents) with a few questions.  Did he have his diplomatic ID?  And if he did, could I have a picture of it?  I said a silent prayer of thanks for smart phone technology as the picture showed up a few minutes later, taken on the seat of the car by Kathleen as they rocketed through eastern Missouri at ninety miles an hour (speed reported via text by Kathleen).

Next question.  What the heck is a hand-carry letter and did he have one of those?  Unfortunately for our timeline, this was something that had to be gotten from the SIA.  The letter showed up the next day and William's completed visa application was submitted online and his passport dropped off at the post office with a guaranteed delivery date of Thursday morning by noon.

Thursday morning came and went with no passport showing up at my aunt's house.  I cursed my cheap self for not using UPS.  Friday afternoon, right at noon, the passport showed up in Maryland and was in the SIA's hands by that afternoon.

Monday morning I got an email asking for pictures (which I had submitted online), a printout of the visa application (also submitted online) and an email confirmation that the visa application was submitted online (which never showed up.  I'm thinking the Tajik online application system still needs some work).  But, I was assured, once those things showed up, the Tajik embassy was ready and waiting to issue William's visa.  I submitted everything I had ten minutes after I got the email.

Tuesday.  Crickets.

Wednesday Brandon (who had pulled in to Raleigh around eleven the night before) checked in and was told that the digital file with William's visa application wasn't opening.  Could we send it again?  Why yes, we could.  In fact, we could have sent it again on Monday if you had asked.  Which you didn't.

Thursday (one week before departure) the passport got sent to the Tajik embassy.

Friday, after the daily check-in email was sent, we found out that nobody could find the Tajik consul on Thursday.  But never fear, they would look for him again on Friday.  And by the way, here is your UPS tracking number in advance so would you please for the love of everything good in this world please stop emailing us?!?

Later on Friday.  They did find the consul, but the consul didn't like the photos.  New ones being sent after lunch. Later. The Tajik consul says that the visa will be issued Monday.  Great partying ensues.  Plans for packing are begun.  Budget (who has yet to approve William being added to Brandon's orders) is emailed and called multiple times.  Prayers are put up for Eleanor's last doctor appointment on Monday to go well.

Monday.  Eleanor's appointment goes well.  William is added to Brandon's orders.  Post is given instructions to buy William's ticket.  Packing begins.

William's visa is not issued.  Vague assurances are given that 'hopefully' things will work out on Tuesday.  Brandon lets everyone in his office know that plans might change.  He emails everyone he can think of to start leaning on anyone who could get the visa issued in time.  We start looking at alternate flight dates and, after a lot of internet searching, realize that our options are Thursday or Thursday or Thursday.  Turns out it's really hard to get to Dushanbe.  Shocking.

Wednesday, the first day of four days of Navruz holiday and the day before we are supposed to leave, the Tajik embassy is closed and empty.  After a flurry of emails, it is confirmed that yes, we will have to change all eight tickets and leave a week later than planned because nobody in Dushanbe is around to enter William into their system and confirm that yes, he is not an international criminal or any other thing that would prevent him from entering Tajikistan with the other seven members of his family that have been granted diplomatic status.  Brandon calls Dushanbe and tells them to reschedule tickets.  He lets his office know that we'll be getting there a week late.  The children are happy or crushed, depending on the child.  We stop packing suitcases and make plans to go to the zoo instead of unpacking school books.  I sigh and don't let the delay ruin my life.  Brandon despairs of every getting any leave ever again.  My parents swear that they really really don't mind having us for a thirteenth week.  I almost believe them.  Almost.

And so tomorrow is the day.  The new day.  It is the day that the Tajik system will be turned back on, William's visa will be issued and overnighted to Raleigh, and unicorns will eat rainbows and poop butterflies.  I'm not holding my breath.

I imagine that all will turn out and we really will be leaving to go home this Thursday.  And if not, Brandon and the children will be leaving to go home this Thursday and William and I will leave the Thursday after that.  Either way, we're going home.  Maybe.  Hopefully.  Fingers crossed.  And toes, too.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Brandon Shows Up, Shortly Followed by William

Brandon did, in fact, make it out of Dushanbe on Monday, although nine hours later than the flight was supposed to leave, at three in the afternoon instead of six in the morning.  So in total his flight was delayed by two days and nine hours.  He arrived in Istanbul around six or seven in the evening.  As his flight for Frankfurt didn't leave until 11:15 the next day, he found a quiet spot and got a full nights' sleep.  The next day, Tuesday, he flew through Frankfurt and made it to DC by eight in the evening where his last flight was, of course, delayed.  But this time it was only an hour.

He finally landed at 12:15 in the morning Wednesday, having spent forty-three hours traveling.

After getting to bed around 1:30 Wednesday morning, we spent Wednesday running errands, taking the children to swim lessons and the girls to an activity at church that evening.  As my induction was elective, it was scheduled for the evening.  We were told to expect a call from labor and delivery after shift change, which was around seven.  My phone rang around ten (after a false alarm which was Brandon's bag arriving because, of course, it had been lost) and Brandon and I left for the hospital to finally get the show started.

We checked in around eleven and spent the usual two hours getting settled, IV started, information filled out, and baby monitoring.  My pitocin drip got started at one and we settled down to wait.  I always enjoy the waiting part, the expectant calm, waiting for the baby to show up.  Brandon napped (not having had a full night's sleep since Sunday) and I read and napped.

At three I asked for my epidural (according to my Mom, natural childbirth is delivering without makeup) and it was started about forty-five minutes later.  I had had some problem with low blood pressure while I was in labor with Eleanor, and ran into trouble again this time.  My blood pressure never got above 90/60 for the rest of the labor and the nurses gave me dose after dose of medicine followed by bolus after bolus of IV fluid.

The doctor was finally able to break my water around five (William had been too high before then) and, just as with previous labors, his heartbeat dropped.  Oxygen and a pause in pitocin helped him get back to normal and shortly after he was stabilized, around eight fifteen, I was ready to push.

Ten minutes of pushing and William obliged me by coming out in the fashion that sixth children are supposed to come out - without any trouble.  He was a nice, average weight of seven pounds nine ounces, falling in the same six-ounce range that everyone but Eleanor has fallen in to.  After starting off with some healthy screaming, he calmed down pretty quickly and consented to being adored by everyone around him, especially his siblings when they visited later in the day.

We are grateful to have William join our family and grateful that he arrived without any trouble or problems (and even after Brandon arrived in the US).  I still can't quite believe that I have six beautiful children.  I never, as a child and young adult, imagined that I would be one of those people who have a crazy big family.  Too loud, too busy, too much work, I thought.  Not something I am interested in.  But now that I am one of those people (and yes it often is loud, busy, and a lot of work) I wouldn't have it any other way.  Because even though all of those children have taken over my life and made it something other than I had planned, they have made it better than I could have ever planned.

Welcome, William!  We're happy to have you here!

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.