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Sunday, October 20, 2019

Three Days to Go

Brandon arrived safely, with all his luggage, and only an hour late Thursday night (which is a sight better than the two and a half days he was late last time).  This means that the baby can now, theoretically, come whenever she likes.  In reality, however, she'll be arriving on Thursday when I have my induction scheduled.  So I have three more days of being pregnant ever.

It's strange to reach the end of this part of my life, as I've been pregnant on and off for almost fourteen years now.  As soon as I birthed one baby, it was time to start thinking about the next one.  The relief of finally being able to sleep on my stomach again, tie my shoes easily, and hold children on my lap was always shadowed by the knowledge that I would be seeing this state again in the not-too-distant future. 

But today I peeled off my dress after coming home from church and threw it in the dirty clothes, figuring that I'd probably better wash it before sending it on to someone else who would need it.  It was my last Sunday holding a wigging two year-old around a the watermelon that takes up most of my lap.  Each time I get up at night to use the bathroom or flip over again because one side has grown too uncomfortable to sleep on, I happily remember that I haven't got much time left. 

I can't complain about my pregnancies - after all, they've been easy enough that I've been able to have seven.  I'm grateful that I've been able to have as many as I've wanted, especially knowing all my friends and family that have felt the ache of not being able to have the family they'd always imagined having.  I'm happy that I will always have so many children to love, teach, and nurture.  I sometimes imagine what my life would be life without my children, and I'm glad to be where I am and not in that theoretical other place (even if it is quieter, neater, and a lot more self-indulgent).

It's so strange to be looking at the ending of such a significant part of my life.  The only other clear endings in my life - high school and college graduation - were followed by such exciting beginnings - college and marriage - that I hardly noticed the endings at all in the excitement of the beginnings. 

But this ending isn't followed by any new and exciting beginnings.  It's just an end.  I've been looking to being a mother ever since I understood what mothers were and that I would be one too.  So it's strange to have this phase - the part where I bring all the babies into this world - be done with.  Now I just have to raise those babies into reasonable adults (which is definitely the harder part of the deal).

I've discovered that it's one thing to know intellectually that all mothers have to stop having babies eventually, and another thing to actually have that stopping point happen in my own life.  Of course nobody has babies into perpetuity - biology takes care of that - but it seems that a little part of me didn't include myself in the general population that that generality covered.  But it turns out I'm just as much of everybody as everyone else.

I can't say that I'm exactly mourning this end.  I've had many more pregnancies than most of my peer group have had, and so my experience with pregnancy is pretty extensive.  I didn't care for being pregnant the first time and I didn't care for being pregnant the last time.  It's nine months of unpleasant discomfort where you don't feel like yourself and you just get fatter and fatter.  As Brandon has commented many times, if men were having the babies, they'd only ever do it once. 

So it isn't sorrow I feel when thinking about the end of this part of my life, it's something else.  Maybe thoughtfulness.  Maybe solemnity.  I'm not sure.  Maybe just being observant of the end of one part of my life.  Endings always bring significance.  Even if they're good endings.  Or natural endings.  They're still endings.  When we reach the end of something, we change.  We go on to a new place and never return to where we were before. 

So, three more days of carrying a new life around with me, feeling her wriggle and hiccup and move restlessly.  Three more days of waddling around the house with a watermelon in my abdomen.  Three more days of being a tool of creation, making a body for one of God's children.  Three more days of uncomfortably trying to get sleep in between bathroom trips.

And then, on to the next part of my life.  I will always talk of pregnancy in the past tense, never the future or present.  I will count my children and always come up with the same number, one that never changes again.  Our family pictures will only have taller children, but never any more children.  And I will have ended this part of my life.  It will be time to move to the next one.




Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Wait is Almost Over

This week Brandon will board a plane in Tashkent.  That plane will fly to Korea, where he will wait nine hours before boarding a plane to Toronto.  Thirteen hours later, after nearly flying over the North Pole, Brandon will be on the same continent as we are.  After that, it's only a short hop down to Raleigh, where I will be eagerly awaiting him at the airport (the children will be asleep.  Thank heaven for children old enough to watch themselves).

I can't say that our five and a half weeks apart has been terrible.  Surprisingly, I've been able to homeschool, grocery shop, keep the house clean, and mother the children entirely on my own without completely losing it.  I've always been secretly afraid that if I were ever dropped off in the States without the aid of household help, I wouldn't be able to actually adult successfully.  After all, it's been a full decade since I cleaned my own toilet. 

I've been somewhat shocked to discover that I am a Real Girl after all and can do all those things that my brave America-living counterparts do as a routine part of your lives with nary a housekeeper in sight.  And not only have I done those things, I've done them while being very pregnant and a single mother.  It's cheering when you discover that you have more abilities than you credited yourself for.

I can't say that I've done things up to the highest standard, however.  Our weekly menu has a dedicated breakfast-for-dinner night in addition to frozen-food night.  And there might have been a few busy nights where cold cereal counted as a meal (of course, this won me highest acclaim in the under-thirty-seven population of our household). 

Story time has been hit or miss, depending on how tired I've felt.  One night Eleanor asked me to tell her a story - Brandon is the storyteller in our family and makes up wonderful stories about Eleanor, Space Donkey, and their extra-planetary adventurers.  When I came up with the shortest story I could think of, she folded her arms and pouted, "Mom, you tell terrible stories."  It had been a long day, so I shot back, "Well, I'm all out of talking.  If I had children that listened to me the first time I asked them to do something, instead of making me asking them ten times, maybe I would have some words left to use for stories.  But I don't and I spend all day telling everyone to do things over and over and over again, so my stories are indeed terrible."

I'm somewhat surprised that the neighbors have not called CPS on me yet, as most days William can be spotted wandering around the yard in just his underwear.  Joseph has taken to climbing trees and yelling at the neighbors across the street as they play with their children in the yard, calling out our life story to anyone who would care to listen.  I'm constantly leaving most of them home alone while I take one child or another to one more doctor's appointment.  And, of course, someone always starts screaming at some point every single day during afternoon outside play time. 

So yes, nobody has died.  But we also haven't devolved into total chaos while living in our own filth (an my toilet has been cleaned almost every week), so I count my single-parenting time here as an overall win.

But it will be very nice have two parents to mind the food and conversation (and maybe even start reading scriptures again) at the breakfast table Friday morning, and two voices to encourage the children to stop fighting, and two sets of hands to make and clean up dinner.  My hat is off to those of you who do this full-time or on a regular basis.  Life is much easier with two adults running the monkey circus.

But even more than having another set of hands around, I'm just looking forward to being together with Brandon again.  We try and talk several times a day, but a phone call is no replacement for having your husband there.  I've realized (again), that I just don't do well alone.  I may have six children surrounding me, but I'm still alone when I need real conversation that isn't punctuated by repeated commands to eat something or clean something or leave someone alone.  Thankfully, time with friends and family has kept me from completely losing it (and how grateful I am to have friends and family who will keep me sane), but I'm so glad that my best friend will be showing up this week.  I can hardly wait.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

When the Weather is Warm

This past Saturday, the children and I went to the beach.  North Carolina hasn't gotten the memo yet that it's past vernal equinox and so that means that it's time for fall.  I know intellectually that Halloween is a month away, but viscerally it doesn't feel like fall is actually something that will be happening ever.


The beach is a hallowed tradition in my family, so I couldn't come to North Carolina and not go to the beach.  It's like coming here and not getting barbecue.  Theses are just Not Done.  I had planned on spending our first Saturday at the beach, but jet lag and a sick toddler decreed otherwise.  I was afraid late September would be too chilly, but the weather graciously extended us another chance.


My sister and her four children live half an hour away from our favorite beach, Topsail Island, so they met us for a day of beach fun.  After all, if the beach is awesome, the beach with your favorite cousins is even better.


Everyone had a great time doing what you always do at the beach: swimming in the waves, digging big holes, catching mole crabs, and watching tiny clams try to dig their way into the sand.  The beach seems to never lose its attraction.


The weather and water were even so agreeable that I went swimming too.  William, who has never swum in the ocean before, thought that it was great fun bobbing up and down on the swells.  He wasn't that sure about the crashing waves part, but that's understandable when you're about three feet tall. 


By the end of the day, we all realized that we should have reapplied our sunscreen (and also applied the first coat a little more carefully) and admired each other's fierce sunburns.  But that too is also the tradition of the beach.  If I get skin cancer, I'll name it after Topsail Island. 


We were all sad to bid the beach goodbye after only one day of fun.  Thankfully next year we will be able to attend our family beach week after two years straight of missing it.  There really isn't a better family vacation than going to the beach (those of you who disagree with me are welcome to your completely wrong opinion).  I'm already counting down the months.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Enjoying the Delights of America

It's funny how quickly it takes to get settled.  I think that I probably have a quicker rate than average, a skill gained by hard experience.  We've been here for two weeks now, and life is right back to its usual routine.  Everyone had a full week of school, I got up at five to exercise every morning, and I've even cooked dinner three nights in a row.  And it wasn't even pancakes; it was real dinner from a new recipe.

The children and I have also been enjoying all the good things America has to offer.  This week we made our first trip to the library.  When we walked into an entire building filled with books, Eleanor looked up at me and asked in disbelief, "You mean we can just take whatever books we want?!?"  Everyone walked out half an hour later with their own pile of brand new reading material.  And when I told them they could come back next week for more books, Joseph thought he had died and gone to heaven.

When we arrived, North Carolina hadn't gotten the memo that September is supposed to be a cooler month, but the weather dipped down into the seventies for a few days this week and I took the kids to the park.  It's wonderful to be in a city with seemingly endless parks.  There's nothing better than enjoying a sunny afternoon while the children play.

One afternoon this week, the children tumbled into the house excitedly, "Mom, we met some kids from church!  They want us to come and play in the creek with them!!"  An hour later they came back sweaty, muddy, and full of stories from their new friends.  Playing in the woods with friends that speak your own language is pretty amazing.

My sister brought her children into town for the weekend.  I finally took everyone home for bed Friday night past 10:30, having completely lost track of time while catching up, laughing, and telling stories.  We hung out almost all day Saturday and the boys found my dad's stash of water guns while the girls tried on old wedding dresses.  It's so easy to get together when you're only two hours instead of two days away.

Wednesday evening was activity night at church.  Kathleen played soccer at her Young Women activity, Sophia made a bracelet at her Activity Days activity, and Edwin learned marble games at Cub Scouts.  And me? I read a book.  At church today I got to sing hymns that I didn't play, listen to a lesson I didn't prepare, and drop the children off at classes I didn't teach.  Attending a full-sized ward with fully-staffed classes and programs is a lot easier than running half the church yourself.

For dinner we have had meals that included mangoes, avocados, sweet potatoes, flour tortillas, pineapple, ravioli, corn dogs, bacon, chicken pot pies, colby jack cheese, and corn tortillas that I didn't have to make myself.  I tend to cook the same twenty meals, and have been cooking them for a decade, so it's been a nice break to have new cooking options.  So many recipes have ingredients that I just can't get in Uzbekistan, and I'm really enjoying having access to the those recipes, if only for a little while.

One morning this week I was stretching after my morning waddle walk, I noticed that there was warm air coming out of the floor vent.  I was confused for a moment, trying to figure out when I had switched the boiler on and worried that the weather would get too warm for heat later on in the day.  Then I remembered that we had a thermostat that automatically decided whether we needed warm or cool air to come out of the vents.

After starting school, I realized that several school books were missing.  I ordered them on Amazon and then was shocked when they showed up the next day.  Since then I've ordered knitting supplies, kitchen utensils, paddock boots, clothing, and more books.  Nothing has taken more than four or five days.  It almost seems wrong to have such instant gratification.

I signed up the children for horseback riding lessons at the stable I rode at twenty years ago.  Their first lesson was a week ago, and afterwards I asked them how it went.  "It was great," Sophia told me, "I understand every single thing my teacher told me!" Having instruction in your non-native language may be good for practicing that language, but adds another layer of difficulty to learning that new skill.

Usually when we come to the States, it's for vacation.  We get to enjoy the flashier parts of America - tasty restaurants, family reunions, Target - but the smaller pleasures are missed.  Living in a place without things like potable tap water and signs in English increases my appreciation for those things when I do have them.  I try not to think too hard about the years and years I have left of being a stranger in a strange land.  As nice as libraries and friends are, it's also nice to have a husband with a job that pays our bills and lets us save for the future.  But I do look forward to one day being in a place where I don't have to count time zones before calling my bank or take three plane rides to see my family.  That day is a long, long time away, but I know it will come eventually.  But for now, I'll enjoy what I can.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Crash Landing

The trip to the US started out well.  Not all travel starts out well.  I remember one move where the Super Shuttle showed up to our townhouse while I was still packing suitcases or another trip where Edwin almost passed out in the elevator that took us up to the gate for our first flight of the day.  So I was grateful to have our travel begin smoothly. 

I had packed up bags early, everyone was in good health, and we were all happy to get on that plane to the land of good medical care.  Past medevacs have left me and Brandon distressed about a month and half of separation.  I still hate being separated from Brandon and he can't stand being alone in a big, empty house, but this time we were both willing to take separation if it meant that I was near good medical care.  This pregnancy has been more difficult than the previous six (probably just because I'm getting older), and the last thing I wanted was to have something go wrong while still in Uzbekistan.

We were able to check in all of our bags (carefully weighed to be exactly 20 kilos) plus two carseats and a stroller without any problems and made it through passport control using both sets of our diplomatic passports.  The flight to Frankfurt was on a new Dreamliner with seat-back entertainment, which is not always guaranteed on Uzbek airways.  Sure, the only kid's movie was Moana, but William was mostly happy to watch it on repeat four or five times.  He got a little wiggly, and only slept when I had to be awake and woke up as soon as I fell asleep, but anyone who actually expects to get sleep on a flight with a two-year old next to them is delusional.

Our transfer in Frankfurt went smoothly after the police realized that I was not a passport smuggler.  I can understand how finding fourteen passports in my carry-on luggage at a security check would probably be a reasonable cause for concern.  As the police officers carefully matched up our diplomatic and tourist passports to make sure there weren't any extras, I decided that it probably wouldn't be helpful to offer them the seven other passports in my purse.  When I told Brandon about our run-in with the police, he suggested I add passport smuggler to my resume.

The flight to Newark was also uneventful (although not restful either) right until we started descending.  Then, of course, things started to go wrong.  All travel, if sufficiently long enough, will always go wrong eventually.  It's just a matter of time.  Our descent was surprisingly bumpy for a clear day with scattered clouds, but it wasn't that long.  It was long enough, however, to upset William's stomach that had spent the last eighteen hours being stuffed with incredible amounts of granola bars, fruit snacks, and cookies.  Everything came back up all over his shirt, pants, and seat.  Thankfully his blanket and me were spared. 

As we were in the middle of landing, there wasn't much to do except to try and mop up the mess with some blankets, mentally apologize to the flight attendants who were going to discover it later, and strip William down.  Thankfully we had packed extra clothes in case our bags got lost, and I was able to change him.   Thus far I've avoided ever having to clean up a vomit-soaked child on an airplane, so I guess I should count myself lucky that it hasn't happened up to now.

As part of my careful preparations for this trip, I had loaded everyone's passports into the Mobile Passport app so that when we hit passport control I could skip the line and get through quickly.  But I couldn't get my phone to connect to the Wifi, so all my cleverness was to no avail.  So I cheated and went through the diplomatic line.  Those black passports have to be good for something sometimes.

Miraculously, all our suitcases showed up, but none of the strollers.  I have noticed that Americans are terrible about helping out other people, or at least people with children, and this time was no exception.  The only person who made an attempt to help me lift our 45-pound suitcases off the luggage belt was a woman with crutches.  Everyone else just tried to pretend they didn't see the obviously pregnant woman lifting suitcase after suitcase onto the luggage cart. 

The United employee who re-tagged our bags (they were only checked to Newark, so we had to get tags to Raleigh), also sat and watched as I hauled each of the six bags on to the scale, off the scale, and back onto the luggage cart.  I'm not sure what you have to do to qualify for help, but evidently being enormously pregnant and traveling solo withs six children isn't enough. 

By the time we had done the passport-luggage-recheck shuffle, we had used up a significant portion of our three-hour layover and had to hustle to make it through the terminal transfer-security dance.  Getting seven people with six backpacks, four kindles, two laptops, an iPad, a carry-on bag, and a purse through security is a major effort.  We had already done it twice in our travels, but I couldn't quite believe when we were asked to take out snacks from every single one of those six backpacks.  I have a personal grudge against terrorists because of all the security nightmare we have to go through.

Our very last step was to make it to our gate, which was the very last gate at the very end of the terminal.  By this point William had made it to the inevitable meltdown stage of travel.  One could hardly blame him as he had woken up twenty-five hours earlier and not gotten more than two and a half hours of sleep in that twenty-five hours.  I had also been awake for the same amount of time with even less sleep, so my ability to empathize with him as he walked down the terminal past people giving me hostile stares as he screamed and cried about his tummy hurting was about zero.  I was exhausted from traveling, making it through all the hoops, and being pregnant, so carrying a thirty-pound toddler through the airport (since our stroller had, of course, not made it) just wasn't going to happen.

We made it to the gate with fifteen minutes to spare, so I had time to sit and comfort him on my lap where he promptly fell asleep.  I thought that maybe he might just stay asleep for the entire flight, but of course he woke up on the jetway just in time to throw up right as we boarded the plane.  This time I had a bathroom to clean him up in, but no more clean clothes for him to wear.  So I stripped his shirt off, left on the shorts as they weren't too bad, and sponged off his shoes.  My parents told me later that our flight, which got delayed as we waited for the vomit to be cleaned up by the hazmat team, was listed as being delayed for medical reasons.  It's always awesome to be that person.

My parents were blessedly, wonderfully, thankfully, waiting to receive us with open arms and enough vehicles to fit both us and our stuff.  They dropped us off at our rental house, which my mother had wonderfully stocked with food, and we all got down to the business of settling in and getting over jet lag.

I have done two solo-with-all-six children trips before, so this trip was just upping the degree of difficulty somewhat.  But what I haven't done on my own before is getting settled in to a new house entirely on my own.  All of our past medevacs have been at my parents' house where two other adults have been around to help out, distract children, cook food, and all the other things that help settling in go a little more smoothly.  This time I was on my own.

With a sick toddler.  William decided he'd had enough vomiting and it was time for diarrhea.  So I got to spend the next five or six nights getting up multiple times a night to go to the bathroom.  Sometimes it was to take William to the bathroom, and other times it was to take me to the bathroom.  They never happened at the same time. 

Eventually I moved him out of my room in to the boys' room, and that set off a fresh wave of night-time wakings, some for bathroom trips and some because he didn't know where he was. 

In the daytime I got to do all the things that come with settling in to a new house - buying groceries, unpacking, organizing, beating the children into unpacking their own clothes - and the things that come with traveling to the US for medical care - appointments, appointments and appointments. 

It was during this week that I decided that I never want to be a single parent.  Being the one who has to solve all the problems, break up all the fights, wipe away all the tears, listen to all the stories, enforce all the commands, clean up all the messes, cook all the food, organize all the cleaning, and do it while still being the stable emotional center for the family is hard

By Friday night I was done with being all things to all people and so I took myself out to dinner.  I left a pot of macaroni and cheese on the stove for the children, told them to eat dinner, clean the kitchen, and be in bed by 8:30, and then ran away for the night.  I enjoyed having a dinner that I didn't cook, didn't clean up, and didn't have to feed to anyone else.  I didn't talk to anyone but my server, and nobody interrupted me while I read a book.  I finished dinner early, so I sat in the parking lot and read until it was safe to go home.  When I got home all the lights were off, the kitchen was clean, and the children were asleep.  It was a beautiful sight. 

We have settled in and school starts tomorrow, so Normal Life, US Medevac edition will begin this week.  I'm very glad that this past week has now been lived and does not ever have to be repeated.  I'm grateful that the current sick child (Eleanor) can take her own self to the bathroom and wipe her own bum in the middle of the night.  I'm looking forward to Brandon's arrival in thirty-two days (but who's counting).  But most of all, I'm hoping that I can get a good night's sleep tonight.  Fingers crossed. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The Dynamics of Change

We are leaving in four days.  Thankfully we're not moving and won't be moving for almost two more years.  I like the thought of moving and the excitement of something new, but the actual moving is terrible. 

Traveling is also terrible, but it's terrible on a much smaller scale. 

I'm always excited when contemplating change.  I like to ride roller coasters, I wanted to own a bullet bike when I was younger (I wouldn't mind one now, but I'm sadly much too responsible), and skydiving seems like a great idea.  Change is something that mixes up normal life and gives me something to do other than work very hard to maintain the optimal flow of household life.  Change gives me a break.  I look forward to change.

As soon a change gets put on the schedule, I start counting down to it.  One of my favorite things about getting pregnant is figuring out the schedule of when the baby's due, when get to go to London for appointments, and when I leave and return from medevac.  Brandon thinks I'm sick.  Everyone has their quirks, I reply to him.

I can hardly wait for the change to happen, but I still have to live my life while anxiously awaiting for the next change.  I love when we find our our next post as it means planning and anticipating the next change.  I hate when we find out our next post because then the timer starts ticking in the back of my head.  I can turn down the volume, but the countdown doesn't go away until it has finished. 

A three-month medevac is not such a big change as moving, but it's still a good-sized disruption in our schedule.  I began planning this summer and tried to get everything done possible to make this week less painful.  One has to laugh, however, when there's any attempt to make packing 'less painful.'  It's like trying to make trans-Atlantic flights or childbirth less painful.  There's some reduction of pain (hello, epidural) possible, but as a general percentage of the overall pain, the reduction is not very significant. 

After about a week of sorting baby clothes, finding pacifiers and bottles, making lists, and packing up fall clothes, I couldn't find anything else to do.  The two half-filled suitcases have been sitting forlornly in the corner of my room ever since. 

So I returned to normal life, all the time hearing that clock ticking in the back of my mind.  We have started school, played with friends, spent hours swimming in the pool, and gone to parties.  As the departure date loomed closer and closer, I keep frantically wondering what I needed to to do get ready to go.  But there wasn't anything.  So we just pretended that life was completely normal all while counting down the months, then weeks, then days.  Three months.  Two months.  Six weeks.  Two weeks.  Ten days.  And now four. 

On Friday the chaos descends as I wash laundry, fold laundry, pack laundry, gather school books, pack school books, weight suitcases, count suitcases, and wonder what it is I'm forgetting.  On Friday the change will gather momentum, building in intensity, stress, and anxiety until Monday morning arrives and we finally reach the moment of change.  Tashkent will be gone, to be replaced with Raleigh and we will have changed.  The countdown will ring its completion, and life will wind down again to return to its normal rhythms.  Change will have lost its appeal, and normal will be what I want most in the world.  Being in the same place and doing nothing exciting at all will the best thing that has ever happened it me.  The thought of change will be utterly repugnant.

Until I forget, as I always do, the pain that accompanies change.  Then I'll start looking forward to the next one. 

Sunday, September 1, 2019

A love letter to my full-sized oven

Dear oven,

I love you.  You are by no means the most flashy of ovens.  I didn't even realize that you could have an oven that required sparking the pilot light before turning on the actual oven.  There's a reason that most ovens don't do that as it only works on the first try about half the time.  You can't clean yourself (and it turns out that the housekeeper never cleans you either, so you're kind of dirty), you don't have any timers or clocks or time bake, and your temperature dial is more of a guideline.  Honestly, you don't actually do anything except get hot so that I can bake things inside you.

But the one shining attribute you do have, the thing that sets you apart from any oven I could buy here in Uzbekistan, the feature that makes my heart sing whenever I use you, is your size.

Back before I moved overseas and lived in the land of Full-Sized Appliances, I didn't know that there were places in the world where people had to be subjected to the indignity of Easy-Bake Appliances.  I didn't know that there were washing machines that fit three shirts and a pair of socks, stoves that were designed for doll pots, microwaves that only allowed for midget baby bottles, and refrigerators that held thirty-six hours' worth of food.  Maybe I had heard of them, but I didn't think that normal people actually used such atrocities.

Then I moved to Baku and my eyes were opened.  I had to buy a smaller pizza pan because my well-used and loved one was too big for the oven to properly close on.  Canning was a near-impossibility on my stove because the pots hung half-off the closely-packed burners.  Baby bottles had to be microwaved with their tops off because the microwave was so short.  The Thanksgiving turkey fit, but barely.

I almost cried when our acres of countertop in Dushanbe embraced another tiny Easy-Bake stove that took forty-five minutes to come to temperature to cook one 9 x 13 pan at a time.

So imagine my joy when I moved to Tashkent and found you, glorious full-sized American oven, sitting in my kitchen and waiting for me to cook vast quantities of food in you.  Every time I place two pans next to each other, cutting my german-pancake cooking time in half, I want to shout for joy.  Whenever I bake bread and fit all six pans on the same rack, my heart sings with happiness.  When I use all four burners at once and each one has a normal-sized pot on it, I bless whatever GSO decided that we should have American appliances here in Tashkent.

When I go to America and see my mother's new double ovens with convection heating and time bake and self-cleaning and all the amazing features, I promise not to be disloyal to you.  For I know that I will not always have an oven like you, and the next place I live may have me cooking for seven children in yet another mini-sized oven.  I will appreciate you for as long as a I have you, despite your technological backwardness.  For you are my one and only, my full-sized oven.

Love and cookies,
Ashley

Sunday, August 25, 2019

First Week of School

This past week was our first week of school.  We have been doing this for some time now; I started with Kathleen in Kindergarten nine years ago.  I guess I can say that I've had a reasonable amount of experience homeschooling.  

The beginning of school is always crazy.  It's a bit of work to get all of the curriculum ready and organized and there's always something that I've forgotten.  The children have to get used to a new year and a new schedule, which is another element of chaos.  Every two years we add a new one to the mix, which means one more child that I have to keep track of one more more child who needs help and asks questions while I'm trying to help someone else.  This year Eleanor started Kindergarten, so I now have five children in school.  That is a lot of children in school.

I got to enjoy my very first real summer vacation this year, a summer with no school, no R&R, and no moving.  It was absolutely wonderful and exactly what everyone needed - especially me.  In addition to reading a lot of books, lazing around in the swimming pool, and taking very long naps, I was able to prepare for the beginning of the school year.

I printed out school work, organized it, and arranged it in everyone's notebooks.  I pulled out last year's school work, last year's school books, and last year's trash and cleaned out the bookshelves.  I put all the books for this year neatly on everyone's book racks, right next to their newly organized notebooks.  After thinking about how to keep the girls better organized, I came up with a new accountability system.  I did everything possible to get everything ready for the first day of school.  Since we only have three weeks of school before packing everything up and heading a third of the way across the world, I didn't have the time to spend getting everything slowly settled in.

And surprisingly, all my preparations paid off.  Monday morning everyone was downstairs around 8:30 and the girls and I started off the school year with going over their new accountability charts.  Then we had their first grammar lesson.  Things went a little sideways from there, as I realized that I hadn't downloaded files on to the school profiles of the laptops, but I was able to complete all of Edwin's and part of Joseph's school also.  I even got a reading lesson for Eleanor in before stopping for lunch (and a much-deserved nap) at noon.  I was very proud of myself.

The rest of the week only improved from there.  I don't remember completely losing my temper a single time, which is no mean feat for a seven-months pregnant woman who is running a five-child school circus with a toddler thrown in for good measure.  I think that I can say that the high point of school craziness has passed and our school days are entirely reasonable most of the time.  I'm glad about that.  I'm even happier that school will only continue to be manageable as more and more of the children get older and more responsible.  There's a lot to be said for children who know the program and can stick with it.

The girls both admitted to me that perhaps it was nice to get back to a schedule, and I had to agree with them.  Summer was wonderful and I'm sure we'll get thoroughly sick of school soon enough, but for now it's okay to get back to work.  


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Summer Preserving

I would never call myself a hard-core canner.  I don't like canned vegetables and would prefer to just have beans only they're available in the summer instead of eating canned or frozen ones in the winter.  I never eat salsa, and don't really like canned fruit either.  So there's not much reason for me to can.

But, there are a few things that I do like to can and freeze for the winter.  I grew up with homemade strawberry jam, so I always make my own jam.  I don't really like store-bought jam with it's sticky, syrupy consistency and jam is ridiculously easy to make.  Fruit in Uzbekistan is amazingly cheap and delicious, so in addition to strawberry jam, I also make raspberry and blackberry jam.  We only eat jam once or twice a week (I'm not a big fan of PB&J), so I don't have to make very much.  This year I made 32 pints of jam, which is probably more than we'll use.

I also freeze fruit, mostly to use for pancakes and other breakfast foods.  I didn't freeze strawberries this year because I find defrosted strawberries to be kind of gross and slimy - and also they're a pain to slice before freezing.  So this year I only froze raspberries, as a friend gifted me all her frozen blackberries when she moved.

In addition to freezing blackberries, I also can a few quarts of them too (this year it was only six) because I like to eat blackberry cobbler.  It's very easy to make when you have canned fruit on hand, and blackberry cobbler is my favorite kind of cobbler.  Also, canning blackberries is ridiculously easy, too.  You simply have to wash the berries, put in sugar syrup, and can.  It's doesn't get any easier than that.

I sometimes can applesauce, but I haven't done applesauce in several years.  The children love homemade applesauce (store-bough applesauce is gross) and they beg me to make it every year.  But making applesauce is a lot of work and usually results in a kitchen that is trashed with applesauce-covered sticky floors.  Maybe next year I'll make applesauce.

The only vegetable I ever can is tomatoes (although I guess tomato can also count as a fruit).  The tomatoes here are both delicious and cheap in the summer, so it makes sense to can them as they're expensive and not so good in the winter.  I also can pizza sauce because it's easier to make a whole bunch at once than make a new batch every time I make pizza.

This year I decided to try a new method for canning tomatoes.  I never use whole canned tomatoes, so I figured that there was no point in carefully peeling tomatoes before canning them.  Instead, I had the children help me chop and blend up the tomatoes before bringing the sauce to a boil and canning.  The whole process worked marvelously, especially with three children doing the chopping.

I only ran into problems when I realized that I had seriously overestimated how many tomatoes I would need.  I had bought five boxes of tomatoes and by the time we had made it through four boxes I couldn't handle the thought of processing one more box and just gave the extra tomatoes to my housekeeper.  I didn't feel too bad, however, as we ended up with 19 quarts of pizza sauce and 47 quarts of tomato sauce, all for thirty-two dollars (including the box of tomatoes we didn't use).

I'm very happy to be done with my summer preserving.  I don't think that I would make a very good homesteader as canning food definitely doesn't spark any joy for me.  I only preserve when the food I make is significantly better than something that I can buy at the grocery store, and that's generally not most things.  If we lived in America where tomatoes don't cost eighteen cents a pound, I definitely wouldn't be canning my own tomatoes unless I had the space and inclination to grow tomatoes myself (which is a definite maybe).  But I guess I'll enjoy what I've got for now!

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Thirty Weeks (with no pictures)

This past week I hit one of the most frustrating milestones of pregnancy: thirty weeks.  Thirty, after counting up for so many months, sounds so very close to forty.  But then when math (oh so pesky math) kicks in, you realize that thirty weeks is still ten weeks away from forty weeks.  Ten weeks is two and a half months and two and a half months is still a very long time to go.

Ten weeks is even longer when it's ten weeks of not being able to bend over, not fitting into anything but pregnancy clothes, waking up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, sleeping in a myriad of uncomfortable positions, getting out of breath after a flight of stairs, random pains, and watching your weight creep up despite trying everything possible to stave off any more weight gain. 

The last ten weeks really are the worst part of being pregnant.

I suppose, when I consider all of the really awful pregnancy complications that are possible, I shouldn't complain.  I don't have gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, pre-term labor, swelling, heartburn (okay I have medication to thank for that one), serious pain, bleeding, or bed rest.  I just have a completely normal, zero-complication pregnancy.  I know that any of you who have had real difficult pregnancies are now rolling your eyes and sighing over what a whiner I am.  And you're right.  I am a whiner.  I just don't like being pregnant.

Being thirty weeks means that my and the children's departure to the States is becoming increasingly imminent.  We have plane tickets, we have signed a lease on a (very, very small) house, and Brandon has requested a whole bunch of money to pay for the (very, very high) rent on that house.  I'm browsing minivans for sale in the Raleigh area, and have already set up horseback riding lessons and medical appointments for the first week we arrive in town.  It's like we've done this whole rodeo before.

Of course, however, there is one complication.  There can never be any major move or even without one complication that makes you hold your breath until the last second.  This time our passports are making us sweat.  We have two sets of passports (which makes for sixteen passports we get to take with us every time we fly), and our diplomatic passports expire five days before we leave Uzbekistan. 

This isn't a problem for entering the US, as we can enter on our tourist passports.  It does, however, cause a problem for leaving Uzbekistan.  We entered on our diplomatic passports (as those are the ones with our visas) and so when we leave, the passport control people will want us to leave on the same passports we entered on. 

We've known about the expiration date for a long time, and applied for new passports back during the first week of July.  We even planned for contingencies, and requested that the passport processing being expedited.  But evidently there are varying definitions of expedited, and the passports still haven't arrived.  We had hoped to have them come back in time to get new Uzbek visas (which expire in October) put in our new passports, but there's not time for that now - which means that we have to get new visas while we're in the States. 

I haven't gotten my paper bag out yet, however.  We still have three weeks left, which leaves one more week before 'time to panic' is scheduled on the calendar.  And also I know that we will be leaving in three weeks whether or not we have the passports.  It's just a question of how much more trouble that leaving will involve.

For now we're in that weird space of time where you're too far out to start the real serious work of preparing to leave but still close in enough to feel like you should do something to lessen the impact of the impending departure but there's nothing to do.  So instead we're starting school tomorrow and pretending like life will continue on in its quiet way even though we all know it won't. 

Every time we talk about packing or passports or flights or being separated for six weeks, Brandon and I look at each other and repeat, "This is the last time," and then breathe a sigh of relief together.  I'm glad to almost be done with the merry-go-round.