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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Me and the Med Unit

I have always (foolishly) prided myself in having a pretty healthy family.  We all get occasional colds and fevers and sore throats and even stomach bugs.  Moving to Dushanbe has certainly increased the incidence of these minor sicknesses, but pretty much we stick with things that can be treated with the same formula: rest, liquids, and some more rest.

We've never had strep throat, pneumonia, bronchitis, scarlet fever (common here in Tajikistan), hand-foot-mouth disease, ear infections, or even a single cavity (in the children).  Our medical interactions are usually limited to yearly check-ups.  Our insurance company is definitely making money off of us.

Or was.  Until we moved to Dushanbe.

Maybe it's just because the children are getting older.  Or statistical odds are finally catching up with me.  Perhaps it's just payback for being smug.  But really, it's starting to get old.

In the two years since moving to Dushanbe we've had stitches, an x-ray (luckily not broken), two MRIs, one CAT scan, a meningitis scare, multiple ultrasounds (on the same day), two medevacs, three rounds of antibiotics in one month for the same person, and I don't know how many late-night after hours house calls.  This last week I visited the med unit on every single day except Friday.  Currently we're waiting to see if there will be one more visit to London this year.

It's a good thing that we have a really (really) nice and patient med unit here.  Because if I were them, I'd be getting pretty annoyed with the whole Sherwood family starting about a year ago.

Thankfully none of these (many, many) visits to the med unit have been any kind of emergency, just the usual vagaries of life with seven people in a family.  But it is starting to feel a little ridiculous.  Oh, hi med unit!  It's just us.  Again.

In a few months all of us (well, except Brandon) will pack up and head to the States and the med unit will get a much-needed three month break from our constant low-level emergencies.  But until then we have a round of shots and a couple of well-child visits and four more OB appointments.  And those are just the scheduled appointments.  Like I said, its a good thing we have such a great med unit.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Homeschooling: (Finally) Finding our Stride

We just finished the second week of October.  Last week we had a holiday on Monday (hello, Columbus Day!) and then schooled for the rest of the week.  On every single day I started on time(ish), checked all the girls' work, and got all of Edwin's school done.  This is the first week I've done all of these things on all four school days.  Just in case you were wondering, we started schooling the third week of August.  So it's been a long time coming.

This school year has been somewhat of an exercise to get going.  Edwin started first grade, which meant that instead of doing an hour or so of reading each day (did I ever mention how teaching a child how to read is my number one least favorite part of homeschooling?), we have reading lessons plus math lessons plus history plus various language arts things plus science (okay, science has yet to start yet.  It's animals and plants this year.  I'm not that concerned).  With a child who is still working on their reading skills.

Kathleen started fifth grade this year.  Which means that pretty much everything she does, with the exception of math, is done in a completely new way.  And so not only does Kathleen have to figure it all out, but I have to figure it out before (and then with) her so that I can know how to answer her questions about how things are done.

Over the summer I worked on figuring it out, but we all know about how long battle plans last once the battle has begun.  So then when school started I began round two of figuring things out.  One of the very first things I did was ditch our science curriculum, which I didn't find thorough enough for my liking.  And plus, it was much too disorganized.  So that, of course, necessitated finding a new curriculum, figuring out that one, and then ordering everything for it.  And then explaining it all (at least ten times) to Kathleen.

Then we had to work out grading.  Our umbrella school requires grades to be submitted each semester, and we did a pretty miserable job of keeping things recorded and organized last school year.

 I have some sympathy for first children as they are always the test case for everything that happens.  There's a lot more angst when you go through something the first time that when you go through it the second (or third or fourth or fifth or sixth).  Which is why it's nice to have so many children - lots of opportunities to first perfect and then implement the things you learned on the poor hapless first one.

This year I decided to pay Kathleen for her grades.  She is also responsible, starting this year, for her own clothes and miscellaneous expenses, so there's a pretty good incentive to do well on her school work.  Her sneakers and church shoes are too small and it's starting to get cold.  Need some new shoes?  Well, you'd better make sure to do well on your school work! [Insert evil mom laughter]

That, of course, meant more work getting that system worked out.  Everything takes some time to learn and implement.

And then Sophia started third grade and independent work.  Which just added another layer of complexity.  It turns out that managing people may not take as much time as doing it yourself, but it still takes time.  And a whole lot more chasing people around to get things done.

But finally, after over a month and a half of working out the problems, I think we've got it down pretty well.  Which is good because in less than four months there is another wrinkle named William showing up on the scene (while staying three months at my parents' house in North Carolina).  I'm a little relieved that our original plan that called for William's arrival this summer didn't work out.  Because combining all of the above with the post-partum insanity of a newborn?  Not the best idea I've heard of recently.

So, that's school for now.  Always a little crazy (what household with five children isn't?), but much less crazy then it was a few months ago.  And I'm always happy to take a little less crazy in my life.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Well Hello, Fall

It's been summer here in Tajikistan since May.  I like summer.  It's the season where you can throw on a pair of flip-flops and leave the house without any other preparation.  No coats, shoes, hats, mittens, scarves, or socks.  In summer you can spend hours at the pool and stay out at night eating ice cream in the warm, dark night.  All of the trees are green and bazaars full of ripe, fresh produce that costs nearly nothing.  The days are long and winter is a distant memory, cold dark place that once happened to someone you knew in another life.  Summer could last forever.

But then the days start growing shorter and the light slants through the trees in that friendly way and maybe summer could actually let some other season take a break.

But here in Dushanbe, summer hasn't been taking that hint.  The weather forecast has been perfectly consistent: 92 and sunny; 91 and sunny; 93 and sunny; 90 and sunny.  And after awhile, it feels a little silly to be running your air conditioning every night when it's late September.  And maybe shoes aren't such a bad thing.  And jeans - what would it be like to wear jeans again?  It would be nice to go to the park and enjoy a perfectly crisp fall day without sweating to death.  But still nothing but nineties and sunny.

Then last Saturday it rained.  It rained a lot, enough to wash the dust out of the air and off the trees and into the cracks in the sidewalk.  It rained like it hadn't rained in months, and I enjoyed hearing the drops on the roof again and smelling the freshness that only rain brings.

When we woke up Sunday morning, it was fall.  I opened the windows and let the cool breeze blow summer out of the house, months of air conditioning and hot rooms and sweaty bodies.  I made hot chocolate and doughnuts.  I pulled a cardigan out of my drawers.

When summer starts, after months of cold and grey and socks and shoes, I mourn for the day when it will be over.  I can't imagine ever wanting to be cold again.  But then summer lasts and lasts (and here in Dushanbe lasts) and maybe sweater weather isn't such a bad thing and I'm even ready for socks again.  Time for some change.  And then by the end of winter I'm ready for hot again.

And so the seasons go.  I used to think that I wanted nothing more than to live on a tropical island in perpetual summer, swimming every day and never ever having to wear socks.  Then I lived in Egypt where you could only tell that it was winter because the winter flowers were blooming.  And suddenly winter wasn't such a bad thing, if only as the thing that brought you spring.  It turns out that having some variety in your life is a good thing.  Good to have the cold so that you can know the warm.

And so I'm glad for fall here in Dushanbe.  It's okay that the days are growing shorter because they will grow longer again.  The leaves can fall off the trees so that new green ones can come in the spring.  The snow will bring flowers in time.

Welcome, fall.  It's nice to see you again.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Top (and Bottom) Five of Dushanbe

It's bidding season right now the Foreign Service, which means that everyone wants to know what is great and not so great about all of the posts that they're considering spending their next two years at.  We've been in Dushanbe for almost two years now (our two-year anniversary is next month) and so I feel like I can tell my own story of what is great (and not so great) about this very little-known sleepy post-Soviet posting.

1.  The money.  For some people, money is not a consideration.  Why worry about money when you'll be dead some day and won't be able to take it with you?  Experience is what you're after, not money!  Most of these people, however, aren't expecting their sixth child.  So for us, money is an important consideration.  And Dushanbe delivers.  Dushanbe just got designated as a hard to fill post, which means that, if you extend to three years (which we did), you get an extra 15% on top of the 30% differential we already have.  Add that language incentive pay (about $10,000 a year) and 5% COLA, and you're talking about some serious cash.  For us that means we make 60% over Brandon's base salary.  Our financial planner is very happy with us right now.  Oh, and there are also two R&Rs for a two-year tour.

1. The travel.  Not only is it an unholy pain to get to Dushanbe, it's also a lot of trouble to leave here.  Sometimes it's nice to take a little weekend trip with the family.  I'm stuck at home all day with the children and I like to leave, if only for a long weekend.  This was easy in Egypt - the Red Sea had a selection of European resorts that offered great local rates.  In Baku we took the train to Georgia and went up to the mountains.  In Dushanbe, we've gone camping.  Twice.  There are a couple of 'resorts' on a reservoir that are supposed to be okay, but you never quite know with Tajikistan.  It's pretty likely that you'll be in local standard housing eating local food surrounded by locals staring at you.  An interesting cultural experience yes, relaxing no.  And that's it.  Uzbekistan needs a visa, Afghanistan is understandably not an option, and Kyrgystan is too far to drive to.  Want to get out of the country and go somewhere nice?  Save your pennies for a plane ticket.  And for us, seven plane tickets are a lot of pennies.

2.  The housing.  Everyone here lives in housing that is above the regulation square footage for their rank and family size.  We have a three-floor, almost 6,000 square-foot house.  Our top floor is entirely open and the children drive a little-tykes car around the space that would make for a really, really great-sized New York apartment.  Because of safety regulations, there are no apartments in the housing pool.  So you want a house?  Come to Dushanbe!

2.  The housing.  Although large, the houses are all amazingly shoddily built.  Our house is covered in elaborate molding - and all of it is styrofoam.  Five children and styrofoam molding does not mix well.  Before we moved in, the whole house had to be re-wired (aluminum electrical wiring generally isn't a good idea) and so every single room had conduits running to every outlet, switch, and light.  And they pop off the wall pretty easily.  Don't ask me how I know this.  Our main power line has a bad connection to the city power, so on laundry days we can either dry the clothes or air-condition the house.  Same for when I have to cook dinner.  I've yet to be in a house with actual hardwood floors, and some houses have plank flooring that has been painted an amazing mustard brown-orange.  Stairs are never regulation height, and not all master bedrooms have bathrooms in them.  So, you get a large house, but it will have it's terribly annoying quirks.

3. The community.  Like all small, remote posts, Dushanbe has a great community.  When there is literally nobody else, you find friends very easily.  There are regularly hosted CLO get-togethers, lots of birthday parties, soccer taught by dads, pool parties, and house parties.  If you want to have friends in Dushanbe, you can have them.  Everyone has a sense of adventure, and most people are pretty happy to be here.

3.  The schooling.  Although we homeschool, I've heard lots about the school.  As in all remote places, the schooling options are extremely limited.  Although there is an Indian-run, British curriculum school, all the children here attend QSI.  Currently they have about 100 children in K-12, and the majority are elementary-school aged.  The classes have one teacher per grade, so you're stuck with what they have, and the classrooms are small because the school is housed in several houses.  There are also not very many extra-curricular activities - Tae Kwon Do and tennis are the only two I've heard of.  If you want an amazing school with a variety of activities and an amazing campus, go somewhere else.

4.  The weather.  Yes, it gets hot in July in August.  Not enough to rival those really hot places (I'm talking to you, Dubai), but in the upper nineties and low hundreds.  But Dushanbe truly has four seasons and nice, long fall and spring sandwiching a very bearable two-month winter.  It's sunny a majority of the days and you can get out and do something most of the time here.  And for those hot days, the embassy has a pool.

4.  Shopping.  There is pretty much nothing to buy in Dushanbe.  The locals make embroidered Suzanis and you won't be able to get out of here without buying two or three, but that's about it.  The grocery stores are equally unimpressive, and the restaurant options are limited.  If you're looking for somewhere to drop all of that extra cash you're making, the most exciting place is in your bank account.  Which is probably not a bad thing.

5.  Traffic.  Yes, everyone hates the way the locals drive, but I'm pretty sure that's universal for everywhere outside of Western Europe/the Anglosphere.  Which is most of the world.  Yes, you get cut off in traffic, honked at, passed on the left over a double yellow line, and almost hit reckless pedestrians on a daily bases.  But there just aren't that many cars.  On a really, really, really bad day you may have to wait through three of four traffic light cycles - at the one busy traffic light on your entire commute home from work.  I'm pretty sure we'll never live in a place with lighter traffic than Dushanbe.  At least until we retire to rural middle America.

5.  Lack of employment.  Not that this is something I deal with, but I've heard about it from other spouses.  Your options are: 1. the embassy.  They've worked quite hard to provide as much employment as there are EFMs looking for employment (although the process can sometimes be longer than it's worth), which has definitely been appreciated.  But outside the embassy, your options are pretty much at 2. a local school.  QSI had hired a few EFMs and several local kindergartens have also hired spouses to help with English classes.  But that's it.  So if you're looking for amazing EFM employment, don't come to Dushanbe.

And, as a special bonus!
6.  The people.  Tajiks are the perfect blend of hospitable and leave-you-alone.  Maybe it's because I'm almost always out with my five children (and they love children here), but I always have someone willing to make a kind comment or help me out.  Tajiks are very happy with their relative anonymity and enjoy a pretty robust internal culture that they are proud of.  I got to attend a wedding recently, and those around me warmly welcomed me to the party, and then had a great time celebrating the bride and groom.  Nobody got a picture with me, and nobody looked at me like I didn't belong.  It's really a great place to be an expat.

And one more:
7.  The mountains.  If you like to hike, Dushanbe is the post for you.  The mountains start about 20 minutes outside the city and pretty much don't stop for the rest of the country.  If I didn't have children (and was in better shape), I would spend my weekends on one of the innumerable trekking routes (also known as sheep trails) that crisscross the mountains.  The few tourists that do come come for the trekking because it really is amazing.  The mountains are stunningly beautiful and completely uncrowded.  I never regret an opportunity to get out and explore the countryside of Tajikistan.

So, if you're looking for a high money-making post with lovely scenery, large housing, and a great community, Dushanbe is the place for you.

But, if you're looking for a city with lots of things to do and high-quality anything with lots of travel opportunities and world-class schooling, you're better off in Vienna.

It's all what you're looking for!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Me in London

One of my favorite parts about being pregnant overseas in sketchy places is going to London for an OB appointment or two.  Being pregnant isn't that great - slowly watching your waistline expand as you get increasingly exhausted and crabby isn't anyone's idea of fun - so at least I got a trip to London out of the deal.  Obviously, in the end, I'll get a baby too.  Which is probably better than all the trips to London combined.

This trip to London was my third, after a short trip while in Baku and a much longer trip with Joseph this past May.  I've stayed in the same neighborhood (and in the same hotel twice) all three times so this time it almost felt like coming home.

When I got off the plane and looked around at all the signs in English and heard it being spoken all around me, it was so nice to be back in a culture where I belonged.  No more sticking out like a sore thumb - just blessed anonymity and the ability to communicate with anyone I saw.  You don't realize what a relief that is until you spend years in a place not like that.

So I rolled my little carry-on bag through the airport, chatted with the border agent at passport control, and confidently made my way down to the Heathrow Express without any hesitation.  It's like magic, the ability to just go and do something without consulting maps, checking routes, and then crossing your fingers for good luck.

When I got off at Paddington Station, I decided to take the Underground instead of hailing a taxi to get to the hotel.  It was early afternoon, I had nobody but me, and it was cheaper.  So out came my Oyster card and a few flights of stairs later, I was riding public transportation like I'd never left.  I cannot tell you the marvel that public transportation is.  If you want to go somewhere, you can get there without depending on anything but the system and your card being topped up.  The whole city is available.  So amazing.

With a little bit of walking (I hadn't thought to check a map when I had internet access) I found my hotel, checked in, kicked off my boots, and read a book.  Pathetic, I know - there are hundreds of things to do in London and instead I read a book - but oh the beauty of reading a book uninterrupted without any responsibilities nagging me can't be denied.

Eventually, after talking to Brandon (which only made me feel guilty) I got some dinner.  The restaurant possibilities in London are endless and it took a while to decide.  Hmmm, do I feel like Indian? or Peruvian? How about sushi?  French? Fish and Chips? Italian? British?  I'm not sure if I could handle choices like these on a daily basis.  Eventually I decided that Greek sounded good.  And it was good.  I used to feel bad for people eating alone, thinking that they had a rather sad life if they couldn't find anyone to eat with.  But sometimes, it's just nice to be all alone.  Not for too long, but just for a little while.

The next morning I had the reason for the entire trip, my appointment.  Everything with the baby is going perfectly well, which is always a tremendous relief.  Even more so when problems mean leaving for the US on short notice and an even longer separation from your husband.

And then the rest of the day was mine.  I started with a little shopping.  I had a few things to buy while in London and so I got business out of the way first.  Usually I don't like shopping.  Give me Amazon any day - make a decision, put it in your cart, and you're done - but while in London I rediscovered the pleasure of shopping.  It turns out that shopping is fun when you 1. don't have children with you, 2. aren't on a schedule, 3. can walk everywhere, and 4. are in a country where there's something worth buying.

Walking around in stores with all sorts of pretty things with prices listed and nobody following you is probably something I could get entirely too used to.  Our bank account is very happy we live in Dushanbe, not London.  My favorite stores were the grocery stores.  So many good things - proscuttio! macaroons! avacados! cheeses! olives! pears! cookies!  My scale is very happy we live in Dushanbe, too.

After a nap (because, naps), I took in a little culture at the National Gallery before treating myself to dinner at the highest-rated French restaurant in London.  After all, that per diem isn't going to spend itself.  After a little bit of debate (can I really eat eight courses?) I went for the tasting menu.  Scallops, lobster, foie gras, lamb, and sea bass all found a warm home in my stomach while I enjoyed reading a book.  And after three dessert courses, I practically had to roll out of the restaurant before making my way back to the hotel and collapsing after a long, taxing day.

The next morning, it was time for Cinderella to get home to her home, family, responsibilities, and sick children eagerly waiting for her to return.  Which is okay, because it's not nearly as nice to leave if you don't have anybody to go back to.

Until next time (whenever that will be), London!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


This past weekend was the twenty-fifth anniversary of Tajikistan's independence.  The locals around here celebrated with a couple of parades (one rumored to have 60,000 marchers) and a national holiday.  We, not being Tajik, celebrated by getting out of town.

We had planned to go camping and then friends invited us to go with them to Iskanderkul, a glacial lake about three hours drive outside Dushanbe.  Eleanor got sick during the week and seriously endangered our outing, but when her fever broke and other things were deemed controllable with drugs, we were able to go.

The drive was, especially for Tajikistan, really quite reasonable.  Even the Tunnel of Death was more like the Long Tunnel Without Lights but Not Much Else of Concern.  One bridge was dicey - but about seventy-five percent of non-highway bridges are dicey - and we didn't even have to put the car in four wheel drive or cross any streams, creeks, or rivers on the way up.  It was almost like driving in America.

There are a few campgrounds at Iskanderkul that have the dubious privilege of 'facilities,' but we passed them up to find our own spot.  At first things looked a little less than promising, but with a little perseverance we found one of the prettiest spots in the whole country.

Iskanderkul is, as I mentioned earlier, a glacial lake.  But as the weather was warm-ish (in the low seventies), the children decided that wading was a great idea.

The adults sat on the beach and watched them get wet, dirty, and cold.  There's a reason we're the ones in charge of the world.

Joseph and I went for a walk and found part of the river that feeds Iskanderkul.

Then we went on another walk and found some rocks to climb.

After dinner we played games, made s'mores, and then sent the children to bed.  The adults then broke out the hot chocolate and stayed up much too late talking.  But, it's not camping if you don't stay up too late.

And it's also not camping if you don't get woken up much too early in the morning by children who don't care that you stayed up too late and didn't sleep too well on the ground.

After some breakfast up and more wading and mud digging we packed up and headed back for Dushanbe.

But before leaving, we went on a short hike to a waterfall near the lake.  The entire lake outflow squeezes down to a narrow gorge and then drops over a pretty big cliff.  The only way to view it is on a platform that hangs out over the waterfall.  This sounds maybe okay, but when you're on it, feeling the give of the little metal poles that stand between you and rocky, watery death, it's not.  Heights don't bother me, but this did.

Image result for iskanderkul waterfall

Nonetheless, I made Sophia pose for pictures.  She's lighter, right?

After our dangerous activity for the day (excepting driving home), we finally made the trek back to Dushanbe and showers and toilets and our own soft, comfy beds.

The children are already asking when we can go back and I'm wondering how long the weather will hold before the fall rains come.  Even Brandon conceded that it "wasn't that bad - about seventy-five percent reasonable."  So hopefully we'll get an opportunity to go again.  

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Adventure Saturday

We haven't been adventuring in awhile, not since our crazy fourteen-mile hike back in the beginning of June.  Just in case I haven't mentioned it, summer in Tajikistan is hot.  The whole month of July has temperatures in the upper nineties and low hundreds and August and June aren't much better.  So this means that adventuring doesn't happen much in the summer, unless you count going to the pool every summer as adventuring.  Maybe if we were trying out some local spots it might count, but definitely not at the embassy pool.

But the weather is starting to cool down (yes, the lower nineties is cooler than upper nineties) and so, at the request of a couple of our church group members, we went up into the mountains for some hiking.  

To get away from some of the heat we went back up to Siama, about an hour drive away and several thousand feet higher than Dushanbe.  The weather when we got there was in the low seventies and breezy - perfect weather for hiking.

Our friends had hiked without out us last week, hauling themselves over ten miles and up 3,000 feet.  We promised nothing like, with a four year-old and a four-month pregnant lady seriously cutting down on the hiking speed.  

So after about an hour of hiking (with some pretty scary scree-covered scrambles that dropped seventy-five feet down into the river), we called it good and got down to the real reason most of the party came: snacks.

The children enjoyed the fruits of our consumables shipment - Sun Chips! - and everyone else relaxed and talked and watched Joseph play bulldozer with his head in the sand.  I think boys have a biological imperative to get dirty.

Then it was back down to the car again.  

With several stream crossings on the way.

And photo opps.

Edwin wanted to assure me that he also makes weird faces for the camera when when I'm not paying good money to a professional.

Good to know he's no respecter of photographers.

By the end of the (admittedly short) hike, the wimpier ones among us (me) were happy to enjoy the comfort of an air-conditioned car and flip-flops.  Most of the children fell asleep on the way home, happy after a Saturday of adventuring.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Crazy Train Gets a Little Bigger

About a month ago I came back from a doctor's appointment.  Brandon and I gathered the children together and I pulled out a strip of pictures.  "I was at the doctor's office and I got this when I was there.  I think you might like what the picture shows."  Kathleen, Edwin, and Sophia crowded around.  Kathleen, being nine, was the first to rationalize the fuzzy black and white pictures.  "You're having a baby!" she exclaimed triumphantly.  Then everyone started cheering.  Eleanor, not knowing what 'having a baby' means, joined in the cheers.

After everyone calmed down I looked at Kathleen.  "You must have known," I told her, "it was probably pretty obvious, wasn't it?"  She smiled back a little sheepishly.  "I hoped that we would get another sibling, and I did think you were looking a little... plumper."  Sophia chimed in, "Yeah, definitely a little thickish."

You can't put anything past my observant kids.

So it turns out that, as I had hoped, my faulty thyroid was the only thing keeping our family plans from moving forward.  As fun as infertility treatment is in the US, I'm not even sure it exists in Tajikistan and am very grateful to have such a simple solution to my (temporary) infertility.

Every time we add another child to our family I think to myself, "You know one (or two or three or four or five) children is really a reasonable number of children.  But two (or three or four or five or six) is really a little crazy.  But this time I think that I'm really right about six.  I grew up in a family of five children.  We were normal, non-crazy, manageable, socially acceptable, and (most importantly to my mother) we fit in a minivan.  According to my childhood thinking five was just fine but six, six was the province of crazy people who were just a little outside the pale of normality.  After all, six children required a van.  And everyone knows that vans are industrial scale vehicles for crazy large families.  But now minivans (and our Pilot) seat six children, so I guess it's okay.

I've enjoyed the variety of reactions to our coming sixth child.  The children are, of course, delighted.  Some friends, knowing our plans, are happy to hear that things have gone the way we've wanted.  Others have wondered if this baby is a surprise.  And then there are those who are just puzzled.  Five is already a lot of children, and six just starts to seem like... baby hoarding.  Or crazy.  But most hoarders are crazy, so probably both.

To everyone I smile and tell them how excited I am.  Which, although it may be hard to believe, I really am.  The first four children were the ones that really did me in (having four children in a little over five years will do that to you) and now I feel like I can finally enjoy the babies.  After her rough start, Eleanor has been about seventy-five percent fun and twenty-five percent work.  The other four were the reverse of that - mostly work and not much fun.  But now I have children that fold and put away laundry, cook breakfast, clean up the kitchen for all three meals, clean up the toys, change the beds, and even (wonderfully) wipe bottoms.  I never felt that I could go upstairs and rock a baby before putting them to sleep because Lord of the Flies would break out thirty seconds after I left the kitchen.  But Eleanor actually got that privilege - chaos took at least twenty minutes to erupt - and I actually enjoyed it instead of tossing her into bed as fast as possible so I could insert the cadmium rods and start in on the dishes.  Now things are so good that the children mostly do the dishes.  It's like magic.

If you can make it through the first four, I highly recommend not stopping, because that's when the fun really starts happening.  Baby number six will have five adoring older siblings to hold him (oh yes, it's a boy - the marvel of modern genetic testing) and fetch him bottles and read him stories and squabble about whose turn it is to play with him.  And the older children get their own real live baby doll.  I'm not sure who is more excited - me or them.

I know that the dark postpartum days will come when that *&#@! baby won't. ever. sleep, and I'll feel stretched out like an empty ballon and everything will ache and leak at the same time.  I've had five and can remember the crazy that comes.  But I also know that the crazy will end, even if it feels endless.  And even in the middle of the crazy I'll have everyone else to remind me how sweet and tiny and cute this little baby is and how lucky we are to be able to have a family with so many people to love.  And so the crazy will be a little less crazy.

So yes, we are having a sixth child.  It was completely on purpose.  And we're all excited!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Happy Birthday, Kathleen!

This year Kathleen turned ten years old.  In some ways this is pretty crazy - a whole decade!  Double digits!  The beginning of the end (or rather, the Troublesome Decade).  But also, I've been thinking of her as ten for several months now, so it isn't that shocking.  Only two more years until babysitting age (or maybe less, if you live in a country without CPS).  But I think we're all pretty happy with Kathleen turning ten - most of all Kathleen.

To celebrate we went out on the town.  Brandon's parents live in southwest Missouri, fifteen miles from the nearest stoplight (it's awesome, I know.  I'm jealous every time we visit), so the nearest town is Joplin, Missouri.  We started off the morning at Best Buy, looking for a UPS that works with 60 Hz power, but didn't find one.  But it was okay, because, America!  The kids had a great time looking at the big TVs and nifty electronic toys and all of those consumer electronic things.

Then we went to the mall.  On our way there, Edwin asked where were were going.  "The mall," I told him.  Puzzled, he looked at me, "What's a mall?"  Ah, the life of a child living in Tajikistan.

The children had a great time wandering around, looking at all the things money can buy.  They played at the play area and watched the guy at the drone store fly his amazing drone.  We got Kathleen's battery replaced on her watch and Joseph stared longingly at the candy machines.  It was very much fun for everyone.

We made a quick stop at Wal-Mart so that Kathleen could pick out her birthday cake.  Since I was too lazy busy to bake one, she got to pick any cake she wanted.  I'm a great mom like that.  And then, to top it off, everyone got to choose a box of candy from the candy aisle to sneak in to the movie.  There's nothing like a superabundance of sugar to make birthdays great.

After that was The Secret Life of Pets.  The last movie we saw in a theatre was Frozen (and the one before that Tangled), so we figured we could splash out.  Ninety-five dollars later everyone was in popcorn-soda-movie theatre heaven.  I managed to choke down the shock enough to enjoy the movie, which the children, of course, thought was hilarious.

Since every birthday should include a visit to a medical practitioner, we went and got our yearly eye examination.  This year Edwin was added to the roster and I was impressed as the office marched five of us through exams in an hour and a half.  Kathleen braved the Dreaded Eye Puff and got to pick out new glasses as a reward.  Edwin and Sophia escaped without glasses this year, but were warned that it was only a temporary escape.

Then we finished with a pizza party at Grammy and Grandpa's house, followed by the best part of the day - presents.  Kathleen, being a grateful girl, was thrilled with her presents.  There's always something magical about getting toys just because you're another year older.  Sophia had very carefully chosen a horse with blanket and halter while we were in Frankfurt, which went very well in the horse trailer Brandon and I purchased for her.  Brandon's parents gave her a doll and her two oldest cousins (who were helping out their grandparents for the summer) very kindly gave her some clothes for the doll.  And to finish it up, my parents gave her the Harry Potter books.  I keep wondering when Kathleen will longer like toys, but I guess this year isn't the year.

The day was, according to Kathleen, "the best birthday ever!" - which is the same thing she says every year.  I'm grateful to have such a sweet, loving girl who really wants to do the right thing and take care of those around her.  Happy Birthday, Kathleen!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Family Pictures

While we were in Missouri this summer, we subjected ourselves to the ordeal known as Family Pictures.  Back in 2012, we had the very talented Mark Neuenschwander from 9art photography take our family pictures and were pleased to find that he still lived in the neighborhood and would take some more pictures.  He was willing to meet us at 7:30 in the morning (on the day we left to go home) and we got some great pictures.  And also, nobody ended up in the ER this time.

This is where Edwin tries to eat Sophia's arm.

This is where (most) everyone - okay half the family - smiles.

Mark tried and tried and tried to get Edwin to smile, but instead we got a a series of pictures that strongly remind me of Calvin's holiday pictures.
Image result for calvin and hobbes taking pictures

That counts.  Even if it's in some weird froggy-dinosaur-dog pose.

Joseph, always willing to smile (and with a newly-scraped knee).

And Eleanor.  I hope none of the children mind that we love her best.

And again.  Because, Eleanor.

Kathleen, still little, but not for long.

The girls.

The boys.

The one time Brandon smiled for a picture.

The End.