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Monday, April 30, 2018

Party Party Party All the Time

The children and I have now been camping out at my parents' house for five weeks.  After an initial round of despair about what I was going to do with my children for five and a half weeks, we've settled down to a routine.  I am a person who can't function without a daily schedule that has all the slots filled with things, and so I had to make a schedule that was labeled in my brain as 'The Schedule for When We are Not in School But Still Need a Little Bit of Something to Keep Children Busy."

Because it turns out that I still have stuff to do and the children needed something to keep them busy while I was doing stuff that did not have me teaching them school.  Six unoccupied children at my parents' house is way too much chaos for all adults who had to live with it.  So I ordered some new math books (and accidentally had them shipped to Dushanbe.  Oops), found a typing program, hauled them to the library, and found art tutorials.  It is just enough school to keep them from getting into too much trouble but not enough that I have to chase them around to get it done.

We have also been spending a lot of money on medical care.  I did something to my back while I was packing suitcases, and so have been visiting the chiropractor three times a week.  Sophia has needed her adenoids removed, so she got those removed, in addition to her tonsils and inferior turbinates (I didn't know these were a thing until it cost $3600 to reduce them).  Everyone of school age got their eyes checked, and Joseph joined the ranks of four-eyes in the family.  Kathleen went back to just two when she got contacts.  I got a yearly exam because hey, why not?  We still have teeth to get done and I have to get my skin checked for anything suspicious.  We will all head back to Central Asia tuned up and ready for another year away from decent medical care.

In between the medical appointments we have been partying with friends.  My parents live in the same house that I grew up in, so a lot of friends from church and high school are still in the area.  I've gone out to dinner multiple times (thanks, Mom!), we've had park play dates, and I even ran into a friend that I hadn't seen since my wedding while at my local elementary school playground with the children.  I really love meeting back up with friends every year and catching up while staying out much, much too late. 

The children have enjoyed being back in a real ward where they have things like Activity Days and Cub scouts.  Kathleen keeps bemoaning the fact that she just missed being able to go to Young Women, and I am sympathetic to her.  But, Brandon's still not going to quit his job so we can move back to America.

My parents are being great grandparents and taking the children shopping, bike riding, and to their cousins' house to visit.  Their neighbor recently got rid of a swing set that had two slides attached to it, one being a large curly slide.  My parents have their own swing set with one slide on it already, but my dad spent one afternoon attaching the two new slides and rechristened the whole affair the Monkey Palace.  One warm afternoon the children tested out their functionality as water slides and declared it 'a very fast ride.'

But, just as we've settled into a routine, it's about to come to an end.  Brandon oversaw the packout of all of our stuff last week, and despite his fears, we came out underweight - by 275 pounds.  The house is now empty and he attended three farewell events in two days this weekend.  He has three more days and then he will be on a plane heading our way.

And then the real party will begin!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Shopping in America

A week ago, I went to Target.  For ex-pat American women, Target is almost a religion.  When we get together and hear about someone's recent trip to America, one of the first questions that gets asked is how many visits there were to Target.  We all fantasize about one day living within ten minutes of Target.  When we are in America we take photos of ourselves at Target and post them on Facebook.

My parents live 1.7 miles from the closest Target.  And 3.5 miles from Costco.  And 3.5 miles from Trader Joe's.  But the other day I was at Target.  I only needed a few things - some groceries, diapers for William, a pair of pants for Sophia - but I decided to browse just because.  My children were all at home without me and I was alone at Target without a fixed return time. 

I never browse stores in Dushanbe.  Mostly because the only store I ever go to is a grocery store, and those aren't very exciting after the first few visits.  I shop for everything online because it's easier and faster and most things I couldn't find in Dushanbe even if I wanted to.  So browsing is something that I've fallen out of practice doing.

First I visited the clothing.  After looking through a few racks, I found a couple of shirts that looked promising.  Then I looked at the prices.  And considered the sizes.  And thought about trying them on.  When I reached the third step, I panicked and put all the clothing back.  Next I tried the children's clothing.  Was this dress really worth $16.99?  Would Sophia actually like these pants?  How many shorts does Joseph have that look decent? I took a quick exit from the children's section.

I always enjoy browsing home goods, so I fled there.  Picture frames were on sale, and I picked up some I liked.  Then I thought about putting them in my suitcase and hauling them to Uzbekistan and put them down.  I looked at lamps and wondered how much they cost online and if they were too big to ship to the pouch.  I looked at furniture and knew that it was definitely too big to fit in the pouch.

Then I noticed the time and headed over to the groceries.  When I saw the avocados, mangoes, ice cream, bacon, fresh orange juice, Oreos, and candy and didn't put any of them in my cart, it was an amazing moral victory.  It was also difficult to put only three gallons of milk in my cart instead of eight.  Target is only 1.7 miles away, I reminded myself.  You can come back in a few days for more milk.

When I finally went to check out, the total came to over a hundred dollars.  While I was busy resisting the clothes, groceries, home furnishings, and delicious food, a couple pairs of earrings, shirts for William, shoes for Eleanor, mini chocolate chips, flavored cream cheese, tasty yogurt, and other very necessary items had snuck in.  I shook my head and promised myself that I would stay away from Target for a whole week at the minimum.  At this rate my suitcases wouldn't have any more room and my Target card would be in serious trouble. 

Good thing I have a whole other card for Costco.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go

Last Friday afternoon, while gathering children together for an Easter egg hunt, my phone rang.

"Hi Ashley, this is Dr. F-.  We just got your CT results this morning and it looks like everything is clear.  I hope your have a good Easter!"

And with that phone call, the next five weeks changed from a medical emergency to five weeks of... waiting.  When I told the children, their first question was if they had to fly back to Dushanbe.  I laughed and told them that no, they didn't have to go back because we would have enough time to get over jet lag, pack up the house, and then fly right back.  And also, I didn't have a spare $16,000 to spend on plane tickets.

So now we are squatters in my parents' house, eating their food, driving their car, and messing up their house.  They have been very gracious and keep insisting that really my kids aren't bothering them - too much.  Better parents have never existed in this world.

We didn't bring any school books with us - I didn't think that I would have time to run school while dealing with whatever - so there's a lot of spare time on our hands.  My mother has borrowed four bikes from various friends and Kathleen has had a taste of the delicious freedom of being a child with a bike in suburbia.  We have gone to several parks.  We've gone to the library.  We've gone to visit friends - twice.  We've helped my mom with yard work.  And we still have four more weeks to go.

I've told my parents that we are happy to take an educational trip when seven other people in their house gets to be a little much, and they have left us this week to spend time in the Outer Banks, so hopefully we can make it through our togetherness without any permanent loss of good feelings.  But still it is a long time to live with someone else. 

I can't help but wish that we were back in Dushanbe - a thing that a friend still there couldn't believe - and in my house and with my husband and finishing up the last week of school before getting ready to pack out.  Brandon tells me that my flower beds are really starting to bloom and the apricot tree has leafed out.  I wish that I could be there to see them.  I'm sad that we missed spending a week in London with friends.  May is a nice time to be in London. 

It's funny how great it is to be in America, but I'd rather be in Dushanbe looking forward to America instead of idly filling my time here.  I think we can never be quite satisfied.

But the important thing to remember is that I'm filling my time and not looking forward to surgery or something even worse.  And that I'm grateful for.

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Missing Keys

Last Sunday we had church at someone else's house.  Usually we have church at our house, but sometimes we mix things up and this past Sunday was one of those days.  Having church at home is nice because you're never late, but you also have to set up chairs and put everything away when everyone has left.  But if you have church at someone else's house, you have to put on shoes and leave on time.  So it's a toss-up.

This Sunday we had everyone loaded into the car twenty-five minutes before church started.  I was finishing up dressing William when Brandon started yelling about the car keys.  I finished with William and went down to find out the problem.  I'm not a good person, and so when Brandon said that he couldn't find the car keys, I silently said a prayer of thanks that he had them last and not me.  The moral high ground is always the better place to be in these instances.

I started looking, too because I'm an okay person and I know how frustrating it is to be the only one looking for a lost item.  Even the motions of looking are soothing to the person who has lost the item.

After fifteen minutes we still hadn't found the keys.

Thirty minutes passed and Brandon let the other members know to start without us.

Forty-five minutes passed and we realized that our last week of church would be spent looking for car keys.

After an hour Brandon started looking up how to get car keys replaced when you lived in Tajikistan and didn't have any extra keys to copy.

By that time everyone had systematically gone through the house, room by room, including sifting through every single trash can in the house.  We had looked under and in every single couch, in all the toy bins, in all the dressers, through every drawer, in every cupboard, and in every single conceivable place a set of keys could hide in a 5,500 square-foot house.

Eventually we all gave up and made dinner.

Brandon was in despair, trying to figure out how to turn a two-ton yard ornament into something that he could use to do things like take him to work in the morning.  I was a little less despairing, figuring that they would eventually turn up.  This happens with 95% of lost household items, with the exception of a rolling pin that Kathleen lost when we lived in an eight hundred square-foot duplex.

The day went on, and eventually the children settled in for story time with Dad.  In the middle of the mazzalato scene in The Count of Monte Cristo, Kathleen went to turn on Brandon's bedside lamp and found the keys up in the lampshade, stuck firmly to the metal supports by a magnet.

Eleanor went into the room to see what all the fuss was when everyone started shouting in joy and amazement.  "Oh, the keys!  I put them up there!  Sorry I forgot!"

That night I went and ordered Tiles for all the keys.  Technology really makes one's life better sometimes.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Practiced Art of Purging

Brandon and I are quickly coming up on our fourth major move.  I've found moving to be somewhat similar to childbirth - it doesn't last that long and when you're not actually in the middle of it, it doesn't seem like such a horrible thing.  But when you're going through it, it seems like you're stuck in the eternal now of a horrible slog that had no beginning and will have no end.  Traveling is also like this.

When it comes to the moving of our actual stuff, we don't have much to do.  The embassy has contracted movers that come, and over the course of two or three days, turn all of your possessions into an amazingly large mound of boxes.  That part is actually pretty boring.  We don't have much to do except watch the packers to make sure everything is handled appropriately and answer questions like "Do you want us to pack this half-eaten jar of peanut butter?"

But the downside of having a whole team of movers descend on your house en masse is that when they come you'd better be ready.  There is no careful filling of boxes and deciding what to keep and what to toss.  No consult with each other on how things should be organized.  No careful packing of things to make sure they won't be broken.  I have heard stories of trash bags being packed, all of the hardware for all of the furniture being thrown into a random box, and even a sleeping baby packed up - with a 'fragile' sticker on the side of the carton.

So it takes weeks to get ready for a move, and one of the most important parts of those preparations is The Purge.  I actually like having to purge our house every few years.  It's funny how virtuous it feels to discard things that you spent time and money acquiring.  You'd think it would be the other way, but it isn't.  Haven't worn that skirt the whole time you've been here?  Give it away!  Got a load of junky toys that you always secretly loathed?  Toss them!  Hate reading that stupid story that your three year-old brings to you every night?  Donate it!

Purging is something that takes a very specific emotional state to tackle.  It's a very exhausting job, so you have to be just itching to dive in and make at least 10,000 decisions about everything you own, including and not limited to: toy soldiers, CD cases, dress-ups, half-used bottles of medicine, your college graduation dress, hand-made books that you've never used in fifteen years, children's books, shoes, school books, shower curtains, expired but still potentially useful medications, ratty but also potentially useful sheets, stuffed animals (so many stuffed animals), random pictures from the days when they were printed on paper, laundry baskets with broken handles, unopened boxes of Ziploc bags, children's drawings, and glasses that nobody wears but could still be useful.

You always start the day out in the height of cheerful productivity, ruthlessly filling trash bags and donate boxes while tossing cheerful quips back and forth.  Brandon adores purging, so he drives the frenzy and I get caught up in it.  We are on such a roll that stopping for lunch seems like a waste of time and the children are just sound and motion on the periphery of our purging frenzy.  Every time a bag fills up, the new one gets opened with a satisfying snap and you toss with new power.

But the crash always comes, usually around five to six hours in, and then you just want to die.  The thought of making one more decision brings physical pain and you drag yourself to the trash bag and dribble in the items one by one, dropping in each stubby pencil carefully as if it was the most important thing you'd ever done.  You wonder why you ever thought it was a good idea and start to mentally calculate how many hundreds or thousands of dollars you would be willing to pay just to not have to make these decisions and ship the whole house complete with half-eaten jars of peanut butter.  The children's presence on the same floor are a justifiable reason for incandescent rage and screen time is the best invention in the whole history of mankind.  Dinner is ice cream.  Or cold cereal.  Or even better, both.

But eventually the pain ends and every dark, stinking, infested nook, cranny, junk drawer, and toy bin in your house has been exposed to the trash bag and cleansed of all superfluity.  You walk through your house and wonder how you had let so much junk infest your life and drag you down with its oppressive materiality.  Every closet, shelf, and drawer is beautifully organized and barely filled.  The mound of bags at the trash can is offering on the altar to the art of living simply.  All is right with the world.

The movers come, the boxes are packed up with bare minimum of things required to sustain life and keep the family running.  You marvel at how you thought you needed all those things that have now found new homes that aren't yours.  You vow to never buy anything else again that isn't strictly, absolutely necessary.

Then, a few months later, you open the boxes.  And while pulling out the mounds and mounds of stuff and finding somewhere anywhere to cram it all, you look at it and think, "Why did I pack all of this garbage?  What was I thinking?!?  Time to purge!"

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Change in Plans

A few weeks ago I found a firm mass in my abdomen.  I'm not very conversant with the usual makeup of my abdomen - it's not something I worry about most of the time - so after consulting with Google and then Brandon, I went to see the doctor here at post.  He confirmed both Brandon's and Google's opinion that there aren't supposed to be firm things (with the exception of babies) hanging out in your abdomen.  I got a bunch of blood tests, an ultrasound, and a CT scan.  None were able to provide satisfactory answers, so Brandon and I decided to send the children and me back to the US five weeks early.

I've come to know the disjoint that comes from a sudden and unexpected change in plans.  It's only happened once before, when we were evacuated from Cairo during the Arab Spring.  That change came so suddenly that I remember sitting in my hotel in Athens thinking that we might still be able to stay in Cairo and wait it out.  As soon as this thought would enter my head, I would look around and realize that we were already gone.  It took a few days, but before long the new course of events was the new normal and everything that had happened seemed foreordained and sensible.

So when the mind-bending change came this time, I knew what was happening.  It only lasts a few days, but the mental stutter that happens as you adjust to the new plan is very disorienting.  It takes time to get the new story to stick your brain, and meanwhile you catch yourself thinking "What should we do for Novruz? I'm glad we have Novruz holiday so I can pack."

It's even more disorienting this time because we made the decision to leave weeks before the children and I will actually leave.  My situation isn't dire enough to need a medevac, so we've had to get Brandon's orders changed to reflect my earlier departure.  Bureaucratic wheels turn slowly and so while we've been waiting to see when we can leave, I've played like life is normal.  The children and I finished our last week of school, I hosted Ladies' Night, Brandon and I have gone out, we took the children to the park.  But the whole time, the little voice in the back of my head keeps shouting, "You're leaving! You're never coming back! You have no idea what is wrong with you! Now is a perfect time time to freak out!"  I try and quiet it with ordinary concerns like what we're having for dinner or which clothes I want to pack for a 4-? month stint of living out of suitcases.

We had a surprise four-day weekend last week, so Brandon and I spent two of those days purging the house so that twenty-three pounds of crayon drawings and seventeen pounds of ratty books don't get sent all the way to Tashkent only to fill up their landfill space.  But a lot of things just won't get done.  It's interesting how many things in the necessary category can be shifted to the optional one when you're faced with a contraction of available time.  After all, it isn't necessary for blankets to be clean and toys to be organized just so they can be thrown in boxes and loaded onto a truck.

I feel a little like a book returned to the library with the last chapter left unread.  You know all of the important details, who married who and how the villain got their just desserts, but you don't get the satisfying closure that ties up all the loose ends and leaves you emotionally satisfied.  There are friends I've said 'see you later' but not 'goodbye' to.  We won't make it up to the mountains for one last hike.  That farewell party that I've been planning for the last year will have to be thrown by someone else.  My carefully hoarded food will now just be casually given away instead of savored for that last amazing meal.  I'll never teach that much-promised class on how to make doughnuts.

But in the end, we were always going to leave.  There was always going to be a last hike, last meal, last party, last night out with friends.  I just didn't realize that they'd already happened.  Eventually we'll almost forget how we left hastily, furtively, in the middle of the night like a song cut off halfway through the last verse.  We'll only remember the forty-one months we lived here and not the forty-second that didn't happen.  And then when something reminds us, we'll laugh and think how we had everything planned so perfectly and then so foolishly assumed those plans would work out - because who ever gets to live their plans exactly the way they plan them?

But for now, I still feel the absence of that forty-second month and the last chapter I didn't get here in Dushanbe.  But I also know that the loss, like everything in life, will pass eventually.  All in good time.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

International Women's Day

This past Thursday was International Women's Day.  I didn't know about this holiday before moving overseas, and when Brandon found out that I got two holidays, he was a little irritated.  "You're going to have to choose," he humphed at me on year, "either Women's Day, or Mother's Day.  Not both.

IWD (which we will now call it to save my fingers) is a really great holiday because it's almost never on a Sunday.  I've always done a little grumping of my own about Mother's Day being on a Sunday.  I can't quite call it a holiday when I have to get children ready for church, attend church, feed the children again, and then keep everyone from killing each other the rest of the day.  Theoretically I could insist my kind, loving husband do all those things on his own (and he would!), but it's not a holiday when you leave your spouse hanging so you can pry a little 'holiday' time for yourself.  It just doesn't work very well.

Brandon always gets work off for IWD because it's a big deal in this part of the world.  Wednesday afternoon the flower stands were doing a very brisk business and our local grocery store even had a selection of carefully wrapped roses for all the men to take to all the women in their lives - mothers, sisters, grandmothers, cousins, teachers, and whoever else has two X chromosomes.  Brandon was expected to bring in flowers for all of his female FSNs (which he didn't because, time).

In years past we've done about nothing for IWD, treating it as a family holiday, but this year I decided to treat myself.  I got together a few friends and we decided to go and enjoy our holiday at the Hyatt spa.  Because IWD is the very best excuse ever to ditch your husband for the day and go pamper yourself.  What husband can complain?  The only thing that comes close is a birthday.

I've not had much experience with spas because in the US, spas = lots of money.  But here in Dushanbe, you can get an hour-long massage for twenty-three dollars.  I felt a little like I was back in high school (but with a lot more money) as I gathered with my friends and we all giggled in the dressing room while changing and talking about plastic surgery and gossiping.  After changing, the spa ladies came and brought us back to the rooms and we all pretended that we are high class people who do this all the time

I got a facial, which I'd never done, and decided that massages are better.  I suppose that I can chalk all sorts of odd preferences up to my time in the foreign service - facials vs. massages, Turkish vs. Emirates, Azeri naan vs. Tajik naan. 

Afterwards, all glowingly beautiful or serenely relaxed, we went to lunch.  Because two hours at the spa aren't enough for IWD - lunch is an essential part.  We all had a great time and probably annoyed the waiters to no end with our so very American loudness.  But what's the fun with girlfriends if you can't laugh at each others' stories?

I'm very sad that we all will be somewhere else for the next International Women's Day, literally scattered across the globe.  But I am grateful for wonderful friends who will make the sacrifice and join me in a day of pampering!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Truly Helpful Children

Today we had dinner guests.  Church was very small and we had some recurrent visitors, so everyone stayed after church and ate together.  I have now made a habit of prepping Sunday dinner on Saturday afternoon, so cooking time was about thirty minutes and I didn't make too much of a mess.  After we had finished eating our pad thai and cashew chicken, we had chocolate cake and ice cream for dessert. 

The children finished their dessert while the adults were still talking, so Brandon told the children to start cleaning up the kitchen.  When they asked how much they had to clean, I told them just to clean it all.  We adults continued talking for some time and the children trickled out of the kitchen and went off to play. 

I remember when they were all little and we couldn't get them to go off by themselves because the only thing they wanted in the whole wide world was to be close to us.  We once had dinner with friends whose five children ran off to play as soon as they finished eating and I marveled that the adults were left in perfect peace while the children entertained themselves without any help from us.  Now I'm at that same place in my own life and it really is a wonderful place to be.

Our guests eventually left and Brandon and I went to finish cleaning the kitchen.  But it was almost completely clean.  The dishwasher had to be started and a few (washed!) dishes had to be put away, but that was it.  I stood in the middle of the kitchen for a few minutes and marveled that the kitchen had been entirely cleaned without any input from me.  Then I stood for a few minutes and marveled for a few minutes more.

A month ago it snowed.  I enjoy looking at snow and I even enjoy sledding in snow, but I really, really hate putting children in snow clothes.  It seems to take at least an hour and by the end I'm hot, irritable, and exhausted.  Then someone has to go to the bathroom and I have to do it all over again.  Whenever people tell me that cold places aren't that bad as long as you have enough appropriate clothing, I look at them and ask how many children they have to put those all of those weather-appropriate layers on. 

That afternoon I was busy paying the bills and didn't notice when the children went outside to play in the snow.  After awhile I realized that the house was very quiet and looked out in the yard.  I counted heads and found six children playing nicely in the snow, all wearing snow pants, coats, mittens, boots, and hats (except for William who was just wearing his snowsuit).  I stuck my head out the window, took a picture to commemorate the event, and went back to paying bills.  But also I did a happy dance and felt true joy that comes from not having to put on a single mitten and having no children in the house.

I have now reached the amazing stage of parenting where I have Truly Useful Children.  I don't have a Truly Useful Child, I have Truly Useful Children.  Kathleen is eleven and a half, Sophia is almost ten, and Edwin is eight, which means I have three children that can follow instructions, read lists, go to the store for me, cook breakfast, clean the kitchen, clean up the house, change beds, get and clean up their own lunch, entertain themselves, entertain their siblings, pay household help, let in workmen, fold and put away laundry, change laundry, change diapers, wash out dirty diapers, bathe themselves, bathe siblings, and do their school work.  And the best part about this is that I will always have at least three children who are able do these things.  I will never go back to having all small children ever again.

Having all small children is a very exhausting job.  You are the only one who is capable of doing anything useful and everyone else in the house is actively working to break down any order you attempt to create.  Nobody is capable of rational thought and everyone wants you to interact with them all the time and make all the fun.  I remember counting down the hours until Brandon would come home and I could talk to another adult and have four sets of hands to stem the tide of chaos.  Our children went to bed very early in those days.

But now I have helpers to deploy against the chaos and the siblings that create it.  I don't have to do everything myself because I can have Kathleen set the table while Edwin bathes William while Sophia dresses Eleanor and I cook dinner.  It's amazing.  It's a whole new, sane way of living.  It was almost worth going through the years of craziness to get to the beginning of the era of sanity. 

So, to those of who are stuck in the crazy years and don't feel like they will ever end, I'm here to tell you that one day they will.  And life will be better.  Just hold on.  It will be worth it, I promise.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Almost There

This past week Joseph started reading My Father's Dragon.  He is on lesson 190 ("The Soft Sound of the SC Blend") of 234 reading lessons, which means that he will finish the book in four and a half weeks.  And when he finishes the book, it means that I will have one more child who can read.

Eight and a half years ago, Kathleen also learned how to read.  After Edwin was born and we returned to Cairo in February, I decided that it was high time for Kathleen to learn how to read.  She was almost three and a half and time was wasting.  Every morning we would sit down and do our reading lesson together.  There were usually a lot of tears (I've yet to have a child who actually enjoyed learning how to read) but I was very diligent.  That summer at the beach, my mother gave Kathleen a bunch of "I Can Read" books including Amelia Bedelia, Uncle Elephant, and Mouse Tales, for Kathleen's fourth birthday.  As soon as she got those books in her little hands, she ran off to a quiet place and read them all in one go.

I remember being surprised with how easy it was to teach children to read.  "You can teach any three year-old to read," I confidently told everyone, "It's really easy!"

Then came Sophia.  After a year and a half of spotty instruction and a year and a half of very diligent instruction, she too go to start reading My Father's Dragon - at the ripe old age of six.  With time and experience I've realized that she was dealing with other problems that made learning to read much harder, but at the time I thought that I was going to die of frustration.  When I thought back to my jaunty assurances that someone could teach any three year-old child to read, I just laughed.  It was a good thing I got an easy one to start with because I think I might have given up altogether with Sophia if she had been my first.

Edwin didn't start his instruction until he was four and also finished at six.  He could have probably started and then finished earlier, but I was busy fighting his older sister's fight and he just had to wait his turn.  Such is the life of a large family: an amalgamation of compromises that try to cover the important bases and sometimes leaves the other things out in the cold.

After having started first grade twice with children who weren't fluent readers, I decided that Joseph would not be the third mistake.  A few months ago I added up the number of lessons we had left in the reading book and then looked at my calendar.  This school year has a very definite end date.  We leave Dushanbe the second week of May, pack out the first week of May, and so school has to be finished the second week of April.  There is no way I am going to try and finish the last straggling bits of the school year when we finally unpack in Tashkent.

When I did the mental calculations, I realized that Joseph's reading was now going to be that part of the daily schedule that was non-negotiable.  On most days all of the school work gets done, but occasionally some crisis occurs and I have to start shedding the non-essentials.  And in addition to swapping out a grammar lesson for a reading lesson, I would also have to start doubling up on lessons.  On top of that we would start reading a chapter of Frog and Toad together before nap time and before bed.  It was very intense.

But of course that much reading (some days it was two hours of agony) really steps up progress and here we are with a little more than a month left of lessons together.

It's kind of crazy to look at my children and realize that all of them know how to read because I taught them the letters, taught them the sounds, and sat down and took years off my life helping them to put it all together.  Reading is one of the hardest things children ever learn how to do, and it's one of the hardest things to teach them; it's one of my Three Most Hated Thing to Teach.  But for the first time in seven years, I'll get a short break before starting Eleanor in the fall.

Joseph's ability to read marks the change of reading from minority to majority skill in our family.  This is always a happy point for me.  Most of our children are out of diapers (and even better, most of our theoretical children are too), most of our children dress and feed themselves, most can fold laundry, and now most can read.  I'm looking forward to packing suitcases, cooking, and cleaning up becoming majority skills.  It's a happy thing to train your own replacements.

But for now, I'll take reading.  I've certainly earned it.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Accurate Estimating

In ten weeks, we will be furiously packing the last few things in our suitcases, saying the last goodbyes, and cleaning the last bits of food out of our cupboards.  Right now our things are scattered through every single square foot of our 5,500 square foot house, we haven't even thought of any goodbye, and the cupboards are just as full as ever of food.

But the storage spaces are (finally) starting to look a little bare.  Last week I put the last marinated artichoke heart on my pizza and marked it off the mental list of available pizza toppings.  I used unsweetened baking chocolate (status: overabundance) instead of semisweet chocolate chips (status: threatened) in my chocolate cake this week.  And when we have pizza with the children, it's all Fanta all the time (root beer status: endangered).  But whenever we have ice cream, I encourage the children to have as many sprinkles as they want.  It turns out that seven pounds of sprinkles is a whole lot of sprinkles.

We have run into the end-of-tour time I like to call Feast and Famine This is the time when we start eating pumpkin everything while hoarding that one last can of Coco Lopez for the time when you really, really need a piƱa colada.

We weren't worried about extra weight when leaving Baku, so anything left over just got hauled with us to Dushanbe (including a 25-pound pail of split green peas that I bought ten years ago.  Those aren't leaving Tajikistan).  But this time we aren't taking any food with us and so all of the food in our house will either have to be 1. eaten, 2. sold, or 3, given away.  I have (mostly) resigned myself to giving away a lot of food.  Moving every two or three years is not for skinflints; I still try to avoid thinking about how much money we lose every time we have to get rid of everything in our cupboards just to buy it all over again in two months' time.  However, I really would like to eat as much as possible.

So that leads to Pumpkin Everything and 1.5 lbs/week consumption of pinto beans (which got old pretty fast and now I'm just giving the things away for free) and sprinkles on everything (how about sprinkle oatmeal?).  The children alternately love (sprinkles!!!) and hate (pinto beans again?!?) this part of our tour.  Brandon just feels a sense of moral uprightness as the shelves get emptier.  This is the man who likes turkey noodle soups because it uses up the last possible consumable part of a turkey.

Of course once we eat it all, then it's just gone until our next consumable shipment shows up in Tashkent (I'm talking to you, coconut milk).  Various meals get marked off the menu as their necessary ingredients get used up.  Special treat snacks get replaced by much less special Tajik substitutes (Sun Chips - you just can't get them here).  Chocolate chip is no longer one of the cookie options.

But then there are those few things that can't be replaced or given up, and those things give me heartburn.  How many pounds of oatmeal do we use in a week?  Will that be enough, or we will run out during the last month and I'll have to pay an arm and a leg for the whole time we're here?  What if I order too much brown sugar?  I know it's only a dollar a pound, but I don't want to just give the stuff away, do I?  Do I need one more tin of baking powder?  How much do I actually use in ten weeks???  Four pounds more of black beans should be enough.  And if not, oh well.  There's definitely nothing that can be done about it.

My favorite category of things is those that get used up right as we are leaving.  I have one more seven-pound bag of powdered sugar, which should be just enough to get through two more doughnut nights and that's it.  We will most likely have the exact number of cans of wheat needed to see us through forty-two months of living in Tajikistan.  I won't have to find anyone who wants a mostly used bucket of lard because it will just be an empty one.  Moments like that when I have the best estimating skills ever make me want to go an high-five someone, but nobody else in my family cares (or even notices) so I just give myself a high-five.

One day when I am much older than I am now, I will move to America and never leave again.  When I am out of kalimata olives, I will go to the store and buy another jar (or more likely ten just out of habit) and never worry about using it up before I move again.  I'll stop keeping track of usage on my phone and not want to throttle children who opened up a shampoo bottle without telling me.  By then I'll probably not have children at home to open up shampoo bottles anyway.

Until then, I'll be keeping lists and weighing how much brown sugar we use every morning.  Just another part of this glamorous life!