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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Living in Dushanbe: Fall

Today is October 15th, which must mean that it is fall.  I used to hate fall when I was younger and time moved more slowly.  I didn't actually mind fall itself, I just hated that it meant the end of summer and the transition into cold, dark days that lasted a month or two longer than they should.  Fall was the end of the good times and the beginning of the bad.

Now that I'm older and time moves more quickly, I can appreciate fall for it's beautiful, crisp self.  The sunshine turns thinner, not smothering you with summer heat.  Light slants through the leaves on our afternoon walks, and evenings begin to promise hot chocolate and warm blankets.

Fall is a time that begs for a walk in the forest.  The yellow leaves turn the sunlight golden, and you can crunch through the fallen leaves, kicking up the spicy smell of leaf mulch from the forest floor.  I love to collect brilliantly-colored leaves, finding endless ways of combining yellow, orange, red, and brown into an infinite of intricate patterns.  After the walk, when your cheeks are tingling and your fingers chilled, a cup of hot cider warms you up perfectly.

That is how I remember fall being in America.  That is not how fall is here in Dushanbe.

I'm sure there are some forests in Tajikistan, but they're mostly in remote mountain tops where nobody can get to them with a saw to cut them down.  There are some parks with trees in Dushanbe, but they are planted mostly with sycamores, and sycamores never turn yellow, only slowly fading into a rusty brown before falling off.  The air might be crisp, but it's filled with the scent of burning cow dung and coal as everyone burns whatever they can to keep their houses warm.

But, we can warm up apple juice and pretend that it's cider.

To tell the truth, we've never lived in any country (other than America) that has those picture-perfect forests that beg for a fall walk.  Egypt has never seen forests, and Azerbaijan had a few, but they were a bit of a drive away.  But when all my friends in nice countries that see rainfall on a regular basis post pictures of their lovely fall walks, I can't help but eat my heart out.

And of course our next post in Uzbekistan won't have anything much better.  But I suppose that is the way of life.  One day I'll have my fall walks again and I'll remember the long years where I didn't have them and I will enjoy those walks even more for the contrast.  But until then, I'll just have to be patient.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

William, the Cutest Baby in the World

William is a very cute baby.  He has reached the enjoyable age where he smiles and gurgles and kicks and squeals and makes loud squealing noises that are hard to talk over.

I've always found my babies to be cute, but since William is my current baby, he is official the cutest baby in the world.  Every time I see him I want to pick him up and give him a squeeze and about twenty kisses.  It makes it hard to put him down to bed. 

And now that William can crawl, he can return that affection by following me around the house and crying to be picked up.  That's mostly cute.

He has found his favorite toy, a pair of red silicone kitchen tongs that he will chew on endlessly while watching me cook dinner.  As he is the cutest baby in the world, it's very cute to watch.  Especially when he is in his diaper.

He also likes to sleep crammed up against the side of his crib and occasionally sticks one or several limbs through the sides of the crib.  Again, very cute.

Sleeping babies are very cute, and William is the cutest sleeping baby of them all.

William is pretty okay with just about anything that anyone does to him.  His siblings love to buckle him into the stroller and run him around the yard at top speed and at various angles of incline.  He is also perfectly happy with being carried in a basket of fresh laundry.  Which is, of course, cute.

And of course he smiles a lot.  Because that's what cute babies do.

Often when he's crawling around he will stick a toy in his mouth, just for something to crawl with.  Or something.  But because this is William doing it, it's very cute.  If anyone else did it, I would take the toy out.  Because that's gross.

William's the first baby that I've been happy to keep as a baby as long as possible, probably because he's the cutest baby in the world.  And because he's so cute, none of the other children mind his status at all.  In fact, they agree that yes, William is the cutest baby in the world.  Because he is.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

When the Cat's Away

Brandon is in America right now.  His grandfather passed away recently after battling Parkinson's disease for twenty six years.  Brandon, who bears his grandfather's name, flew out for the funeral.  When you live on the same continent 'flying out for the funeral' means taking a flight (or two) on Friday night, attending the funeral on Saturday, and flying home to return to work on Monday.

But as all of you are very well aware of, we don't live on the same continent.  Technically we are the next continent over, going west over the Pacific.  So 'flying out for the funeral' here means that, first of all, you have to figure out if the plane flights work out to get you there in time.  And then if they do, you have to cobble together a hodge podge of different airlines so that you miss as little work as possible.  For this trip, I used frequent flier miles (60,000 + $200 in fees) on United and bought Brandon a one-way ticket there on Turkish airlines ($911) and a one-way ticket back on Somon ($326).  Our credit card companies have gotten very twitchy about flights on sketchy airlines to sketchy places, so we ended up purchasing the Turkish ticket through a third-party website and the Somon ticket we had to buy in person at their office.  I guess it's less suspicious when you run the actual card.

Once the tickets are bought, then you actually have to get there.  Brandon left Thursday morning on the 5 am flight.  We got up at 3:15 and I dropped him off the airport at 4.  Then he flew to Istanbul, waited seven hours, flew to Houston, and got a hotel for a sixteen hour layover.  The next morning he flew out of Houston and arrived in Missouri at one in the afternoon.  He got to sleep in the same bed on Friday and Saturday nights.  Today he goes back to the airport at six in the evening, flies through Chicago, spend the night in Istanbul, and then I pick him up Tuesday around dinner.  If I've done the math, that is eighty hours of traveling for fifty-three hours of time in Missouri.  That's pretty bad math if you ask me.

So, while Brandon's been winging halfway around the world the children and I have been hanging out in Dushanbe.

It turns out that Brandon is a pretty good influence on our household, because things haven't exactly run the way they do when I have someone other than the children to be accountable to.  I don't like cooking dinner even when Brandon is here, and it turns out that when he's gone I just don't cook dinner.

Thursday night we had cold cereal.  Since we didn't have any milk, the children ran to the store and got some.  Friday night we had friends over for a movie.  I thought briefly about making it and then ordered instead.  Saturday night I went out to dinner with friends, so the children had leftover pizza and leftover soda.  Today my housekeeper brought over sambusas so we had those with carrot sticks.  Because you should have vegetables at least every four or five days.  I'm thinking that tomorrow could probably be left overs.  Or more cereal.

I finally swept the kitchen floor today when I could see drifts of crumbs and cereal pieces starting to form mounds underneath the kitchen table, and I'm not sure who threw finally away the pizza boxes, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't me.   The children have watched multiple movies and we've all gone to bed a lot later than we're supposed to.

But other than the disarray, we've been able to make the rest of life happen pretty well even without Brandon coming home to make sure that all the children survive until the next day.  The children are helpful and I have been doing this mom thing long enough that I can do it reasonably well on my own.  The children even got bedtime stories tonight.

This is not to say that we have any plans to be separated for any longer than is absolutely necessary.  The kids love their father (who is the fun one in this arrangement), I love my husband, and shockingly, he loves us all back.  So we'll be glad when he comes back to us this week.  Even if it does mean that I'll have to start making dinner again.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A Whole Decade

I am a creature of habit.  Every week day I wake up and exercise.  I started running in college and still run.  After Joseph was born I added a strength-training routine to my workout and still do the exact same routine every Tuesday and Thursday.  We eat the same thing for breakfast every week day - oatmeal and eggs - and have been eating it since Brandon and I got married.  Every afternoon I take a nap and every evening I cook dinner at five, cooking the same twenty dinners over and over and over again.  I have kept a journal since I was eight, and with the exception of a four-year break at the beginning of my marriage, I write in it almost every Sunday evening.  I like routine.  It's easier than trying to mix things up.

Over a decade ago blogging became cool and I, several years late (as always), jumped on the bandwagon ten years ago, in 2007.  And although blogging is so early 2000s, I'm still plugging away because hey, habit.

When I first started blogging, Brandon and I lived in an eight-hundred square-foot duplex in Springville, Utah.  He was working at the local Stouffer's frozen food plant and I stayed home with Kathleen, who was ten months old.  He was working on employment for State, but it was only a dream.

Over the years we've added five more children, lived in six different houses, bought two more cars, been to seven more countries, and are on our second set of diplomatic passports.  I am on my sixth year of homeschooling that baby who could only crawl when I started blogging.  Ten years doesn't sound like that long until you start looking at the differences.  In another decade, my oldest will be close to graduating from college.

My motivations for blogging have changed over the years, too.  When I first started, it was simply to keep family up to date on all of the excitement of our lives.  Back before blogging, there were group emails and I switched to blogging to stop clogging up relative's inboxes.

But when Brandon joined State, our life got a little more exciting, and with the Arab Spring our life got a lot more exciting and I had a brief brush with fame and imagined that I could be one of those well-known bloggers that write funny, begging-to-be-reposted entries.  But then I realized that those sorts of people are 1. talented and 2. have a lot more motivation to do something more than just rattle off a few posts once a week.

But I keep blogging, even without the lure of fame to motivate me, because it's become a habit.  I tell myself that one day some of these stories will be interesting to my children and maybe my grandchildren and so I keep writing.  And also I know I have a few friends and family members that keep up with our (right now very boring) life.  But mostly, habit.

So here's to ten years.  I'll check in again in ten more!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Kathleen the Babysitter

One warm August night eleven years ago when I was terminally pregnant, Brandon came home from work.  It was a Tuesday and he wasn't on shift the next day, so we went to see a movie.  I still remember driving down ninth street in Provo with the warm wind blowing through my hair and thinking to myself that this would probably be the last time I just walked out of my house with my husband and no children to go and watch a movie on a whim.

And I was right.

This past Tuesday night I walked out of the house without any children, picked up Brandon, and went to a garden party.  The evening was almost as warm, and I chatted with friends, ate appetizers, and enjoyed wearing makeup, a dress, and my favorite hot-pink heels.

At home the children were taking baths, dressing themselves, feeding William and putting him down, making sandwiches for dinner, cleaning it up, and getting ready for bed.  When Brandon and I walked in the door around eight, the kitchen was clean, the children were fed, and everyone was ready for a story.

After I came through the door, I shut it.  I didn't look for money, calculate hourly rates, ask someone how the children behaved themselves, or awkwardly say goodbye after handing over a fistful of bills.  Instead, I shut it, took off my heels, and read Eleanor a story.

And it was fabulous.  

After eleven years of waiting for my freedom to return, it has arrived.  If I need to run to the store, I don't have to take six children with me.  If one of them has to see the doctor, five of them don't have to come with me.  If Brandon and want to go out on a Friday night, we go out.  No babysitter required.  

And the best things about this new reality is that it will last into perpetuity.  Never again will I have to hope that a sitter is available or worry about taking my housekeeper away from her family on a Friday night or pay fifty dollars just to go to dinner with my husband (not that I a pay that much here).  If a friend wants to go out to lunch, I can go, even on days where Zarifa doesn't come.  If I want to get a pedicure all alone I can do it.  The prospects almost make me giddy.

Those eleven years were very, very long while I waited to home-grow my own babysitter.  But now that the day has arrived, it seems long it wasn't that bad after all.  However, I'm never going back.  Ever. Again.  Hallelujah.  

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

William Becomes Mobile

I love babies who crawl.  Most people I know hate babies who crawl.  Babies who crawl can get into things you'd rather have left alone.  One minute they're happily playing with their toys and the next they have managed to fish five dusty Cheerios and one rotting grape from under the cupboards and are happily munching on them, having discovered a new place to find secret snacks.  Babies who crawl can investigate fascinating things like power cords, kitchen cupboards, and trash cans.  So I understand my friends' dislike of mobile children.

But I am a lazy parent.  I never have been good at entertaining children, even back when I was paid good money to do it.  If the parents of my babysitting charges told me that bed time was at 8, I usually had them tucked in by 7:45 and was down on the couch by 8 with the treats I'd found in the cupboard, watching Nick at Nite.

So one of my least favorite babyhood ages is that gap between when my children are awake for more than forty-five minutes at a time (six months old) and when they start crawling (usually nine to ten months).  I will set up a ring of toys all around the child, everything within reaching distance, which usually buys me twenty minutes of peace before they push all the toys away and then have a fit because there aren't any more toys to play with.  Then I have to run back over and push all the toys back for twenty more minutes of peace.  I have experimented over the years with all sorts of toy-containment devices to buy me ten or fifteen extra minutes, but none of them have worked very well and in the end I just have to patiently wait until they can learn to crawl.

Because when they can learn to crawl, their entertainment needs are met into forever.  Bored of the toys you're playing with?  Well, just go find some more!  See something interesting off in the distance?  Go and find out what it is!  The world is your oyster when you have the power of mobility.  This continues on until adulthood when you have the cash and ability to go anywhere in the world you want.  And truly it is fantastic.

Usually my children start their adventures in mobility with the backwards push.  It works particularly well on hard-surface flooring and inevitably ends in the child being jammed underneath a piece of furniture, crying for someone to come and release them.  After awhile the backwards push morphs into the army crawl, the child not yet having realized that those things hanging off the bottom of their torso are for anything but kicking mom when she's trying to change their diaper.  And finally, full crawling emerges and if it's winter, the jeans can never be used again for the holes.  Or if they are Edwin's jeans, one leg has holes and the other is perfectly intact because he only ever realized that one leg worked.

William has been different from my other children.  It started in the womb, where he would hold hours-long dance parties in the middle of the night, often kicking his father in the back.  When he came out he never stopped, wiggling constantly for seven and a half months.  I'm hoping this will translate into some amazing athletic ability, but I'm not researching sports scholarships yet.

So it was no surprise when just at his sixth month birthday he skipped the backwards push and army crawl, pulling himself up on his hands and knees to rock back and forth endlessly.  Rocking is one of his favorite activities.  It took him awhile to figure out what advantage this new ability gave him, and for awhile he would get up on his hands and knees, lean forward, and then collapse.  He could inchworm his way across several feet of carpet to snag an appealing toy or electronic gadget, but he hadn't yet realized what it meant.

But this past week he has finally put everything together and will take off across the floor the second I put him on the carpet, usually in the direction of the transformer.  This afternoon I was sitting on the second floor while the children were rowdily playing upstairs.  Intrigued, William took off towards the third floor and stopped forlornly at the stairs, clearly wishing he could join the fun.

There are no endpoints in child development, so William will soon learn the magic of climbing stairs (and have to learn the hard lessons of going down the stairs), pulling up on furniture, and finally walking.  Then he'll join the herd and never be bored or lonely again.

Hooray for mobility!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Settling Back In

Our life has been kind of crazy for the last ten or so months.  Not too crazy, but more crazy than I would like.  It started with the Christmas season, ran through three months of medevac, had a small lull until R&R, and finished up with summer travel followed by the beginning of school.  I really haven't had more than a month or so to settle down before something started back up again.

I'm very much a schedule person, and so this has been low-level stress in the back of my mind - not enough to notice when it's going on, only enough to notice when, after almost a year, it has finally ended.  Kind of like that annoying sound of the computer fan an overheated room, or the split packs running all day every day.  Not enough to run out of the house screaming crazy-town, but enough that the comparative silence is blissful.

We have reached that comparative silence.  And I had almost forgotten what it was like.  This past week we had school.  Every morning around 8:30 I started by grading Sophia's math lesson, handed it to her for corrections, and then graded the rest of her school work.  Then we went over her corrections and we did our work together while Edwin did his math drills on the iPad (because technology is definitely something that should be used for drills).  I graded Kathleen's work, handed it to her for corrections, and then worked with Edwin on his school.  We finished that around 11 or 11:15 and I did Joseph's reading lesson to him, followed by lunch and naps for me, Eleanor, and William.

And we did it every single day.  Nobody came over.  I didn't go anywhere.  We just did the same things four days in a row and then on Friday I worked on other Mom tasks.  All of the children knew what they had to do and (mostly) did it.  By the time I woke up from my nap, everyone had done their school work and was ready to go outside and play.  Every morning the kitchen was clean.  Every evening the toy room was clean.  On laundry day all the clothes got washed and put away.  On bath day the children were washed.  Dinner was on the table around six.  It was cleaned up by seven, followed by stories and bed time.  All I needed was two little lines and we could have been something out of Madeline.

I know that eventually I'll get a little tired of the routine because that's the nature of being human.  Too much of a good thing becomes a little boring after awhile.  But the great thing is that I have a nice long stretch - almost seven months - to get nice and fully tired of such a wonderfully regular life and schedule.  I can revel in my life and children moving (mostly) seamlessly in the paths I've spent so much time, tears, and stress banging them into.  We can all enjoy the utter predictability of our lives and have the luxury of thinking that a little excitement would be nice without actually getting any of it.

And then it will all go up in smoke when we embark on our next move.  But until then, I'll enjoy it.

Sunday, September 17, 2017


During our time in Dushanbe, most of us have taken our turns having medical issues.  Sometimes it feels like these issues are happening constantly, but I suppose if you add up the number of people in our house (eight) times how many medical incidents one single person averages during the year (one or two), it averages out to more than one incident a month.  And if you ignore Joseph's stitches, two MRIs, and trip to London, everyone has limited themselves to only one incident for the entire time we've been here.  So it really hasn't been that bad, it just feels that way.

William has only been in Dushanbe for less than six months, but he decided that this week would be his time to monopolize the med unit here at post.

Diarrhea is a constant here in Dushanbe, so when William started having issues, I wasn't very worried.  After all, it's so much easier to deal with an infant's diarrhea than a toddler's diarrhea.  Potty training does have its occasional downsides.  But when he started vomiting, I began to pay attention.

On day seven of the diarrhea and day four of the vomiting, I decided that I probably wouldn't be overreacting if I brought him in to see the doctor.  Seven month old babies don't have a very wide margin of error and when you live in a place where serious medical attention is several time zones and a couple of plane rides away, waiting isn't the best idea.

Pretty quick we agreed that IV fluids were going to be helpful, but it turns out that dehydrated infants have very difficult veins to put IVs in, especially when the nurse is used to working on adults and not babies.  So instead we tried oral rehydration, but it didn't go very well and three or four hours later William got to have another attempt at the IV.  It's amazing how tiny baby veins are and how much they don't stick out when they're incased in layers of baby fat.

For awhile after the second attempt, William seemed to be doing better, but he took a turn for the worse in the late afternoon.  The wonderful doctor, who was only filling in because ours has left with no replacement, spent most of the afternoon on the phone consulting on the best way to get fluids into a rapidly declining baby.

There was some discussion of an intraosseous infusion, but the nurse, doctor, and four medics available had never done one on an infant.  In the end, we packed up an IV kit from the embassy and headed to a local hospital.  The doctor managed to get an IV in his head, after attempting one on his foot, wrist, and vein.  Once the needle was finally in, the rest was easy and William slept peacefully in my very (very) tired arms while he got juiced up with 225 mL of IV solution.  We made it home by 8, twelve hours after William and I had left the house that morning.

Saturday was better than Friday, but by 2 this morning, William was in a bad state again.  Brandon, who had been awake and trying to feed William the entire time, got to take him in to the embassy where he got another IV infusion through the same vein that had worked so well Friday night.

After a lot of discussion and test ruling out other possibilities, the doctor decided that William had probably come down with a rotavirus.  He has been vaccinated, but only once (he was supposed to get his second dose this week, but that didn't happen), and it turns out that vaccination doesn't necessarily prevent infections, just makes them less severe.  Rotavirus vaccination are pretty recent, only being just over a decade old, and have cut down on hospitalizations for infants tremendously.  I remember getting the fact sheet about rotavirus when Sophia was getting vaccinated (Kathleen didn't get vaccinated for rotavirus) and wondering why she needed that particular vaccination.

Now I know why babies get vaccinated.  If we had been in the US, William would have been in the hospital.  If we had been living in a remote village in Tajikistan, William would have been in the ground.

Instead, it was somewhere in the middle with some very sleepless nights and a lot of good work done by the medical staff here at the embassy.  Once again, I am grateful for the blessing of modern medicine.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

September, the Month of Disappointed Hopes

Right now it is eighty-nine degrees outside.  I forgot to water my plants this morning and my four o'clocks are draped over the sides of their pots, leaves hanging limply.  The children are playing on the third floor with both air conditioners going full blast so that the toy room is inhabitable.  Everyone will turn on the air conditioners at bed time tonight so they can sleep.  Yesterday we spent three hours at the pool and nobody got cold.

Yes, it is September in Dushanbe.

After my first long, hot summer in Dushanbe, I figured that we would find some relief in September.  After all, the first day of fall is in September, so one could reasonably expect something resembling cooler or at least cool-ish weather in September.  And there is cooler weather in September because ninety-degree weather is cooler than one hundred-degree weather.  But it isn't exactly the type of fall weather that one usually drinks hot chocolate to or starts making things like pumpkin bread (which will be happening here a lot this year as we use up our stores of canned pumpkin).

Every year I'm thrown by September.  I attended school long enough to associate September with Not Summer, the month where carefree summer days at the pool turned into long slogs of school, homework, and increasingly shorter afternoons.  All of my cute summer clothes would, after the first few weeks of school in August, be retired in favor of jeans and jackets and crisp fall mornings.

But here in Dushanbe we're still rocking summer, finally dipping into the upper eighties - temperatures that send countries like England into panic - halfway through September.  I haven't even thought of breaking out jeans in months (I think I wore some in April, maybe) and I'm pretty sure I'll be caught flat-footed when the children finally need shoes and somebody has grown out of theirs.

September is the month of stale summer, unwelcome summer, summer that has stayed just a little too long.  We were all happy to see summer back in May, when winter had bleached our skins paper-white and our diet had been reduced to mealy apples, stringy oranges, grainy greenhouse tomatoes, and soft potatoes for too many months to count.  Summer was welcome, the season of abundant fresh produce, endless sunshine, and flip flops - every mom's favorite shoes.  All of the flowers were in bloom, the swimsuits new, and trees full of bright, green leaves.

But summer has been here for months and everyone is ready to move on.  The children's swimsuits are bleached and faded from months' use.  The flowers are faded and dusty, plants tired of life.  I groan inwardly at yet another afternoon hauling the children to the pool because it's still too hot to take a simple walk down to the park.  A cup of hot chocolate is nice, in theory, but still oh so out of place.

But still September drags on, taunting us with shorter days, cooler nights, and slanting sunshine.  It looks like it should be fall, it feels like it should be fall, but still you broil every time you step out your front door at noon.

I feel that I am looking a gift horse in the mouth and know that I will kick myself for wanting a day more of cold when I am in the depths of February, months from anything resembling flip-flop weather.  I know that friends in places where September means the first frost are wanting to kick me right now.

But I suppose it is the nature of humans to never want too much of a good thing, and too much of a good thing is summer in September.

But it is not October yet, and so I will wait, holding my breath, with everyone else in Dushanbe for summer to finally die and fall to make its welcome appearance.  Until then, however, you can find me at the pool.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Golden Age

Last week we had Monday off to celebrate Labor Day.  Since the weather is still warm and we had spent the previous Friday holiday at the pool, we took the children down to Puli Sangin.  Takijistan has very few nice places to go and relax with the children (so far the total is one), so we decided not to ruin our holiday by trying something new and instead went back to something that worked, and worked well.

We've spent a lot of time with family in friends over the past few months and Monday was the first time in quite a while we had spent time with just our own family.  I have tried these sorts of trips before, day trips that involve complicated situations like lunch in a public setting and children around other people for extended periods of time, and they've never worked very well.  Usually by the end one of us wants to kill the children and the other wants to kill both their spouse and the children and we wonder why we bothered spending money to be irritated in public when we can just be irritated for free at home.  After awhile I forget that things like this are stressful and then I try them again only to remember exactly why we don't do things that other people with a reasonable number of children do on a frequent basis.  Having six children can sometimes be limiting.

But Monday was different.  Monday was the fulfillment of a years' long dream where we would have a day that could fit right into a Hallmark channel movie without editing out all the bad parts.  It was the kind of day that I thought only other people with reasonable children could have.

All of the children played nicely together.  Brandon and I swam with them, taking ten minute dips in the freezing pool.  I sat on a deck chair with William on my lap, enjoying the warm sunshine while watching Sophia and Kathleen slide down the waterslide.  Eleanor and Brandon picked fresh figs for everyone to eat (no joke).  We had a lunch where everyone had food and only one glass (with water) was spilled.  Nobody cried. Or argued.  Or whined.  William took two naps.  

Like I said, it was magical.

Our family is entering the golden age of family life.  The logistics of running everything are getting easier because I have reliable helpers.  We have children old enough that spending time together isn't just babysitting, it's doing stuff that's actually fun for Brandon and me too.  And not only do we have older children, but we have little ones too, ones that everyone can enjoy adoring and doting on.  I feel sometimes, when all is going well and we're playing a game together or hiking or singing, that we could be on one of those family ads the Church runs.  

We are in this perfect slice of time where the oldest are still young enough to want to spend time with their family (and are still at home) and the youngest don't swamp the boat of family life.  I never thought I would finally make it to this part of parenting, the part where we finally get the payoff for all of the hard work.  In fact, I didn't think it really existed.  Or if it did, it existed for people that weren't me.

I'm already planning on making good use of this time, finally taking advantage of our international lifestyle to do something other than enjoy not cleaning all of our toilets.  I've been scheming to start visiting Europe during our summer treks, laying down a good PR campaign to get Brandon on board. And I was shocked when recently words, "That sounds like it would be fun," came out of Brandon's mouth.

I think the best part of this golden age is that we're never going to revert back to the dark age of small children all day every day.  The children will just continue to be more helpful and more enjoyable and more able to behave themselves in public.  We can trust them to pack suitcases.  They can eat their own food.  Most of them don't have temper tantrums.  They can use the bathroom on an airplane and even take their younger siblings.  Magical.

And now if you'll excuse me, I have some research on sightseeing in London to do.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

2017-2018 School Year

A few weeks ago the children started school again.  We didn't get a really long summer break this year because of that whole William-being-born-living-in-America-for-three-months thing, but between packing, traveling, and getting over jet lag, we got about six weeks which was enough.

Or it will have to be enough because this year we have to (again) school hard and school fast.  We'll most likely be leaving at the beginning of May, which means that I have just a little over seven months to squeeze an entire school year of learning in.  This isn't a problem for some subjects (grammar, reading, math, spelling, Latin) because they have ongoing lessons that aren't tied to a specific grade level or can easily be doubled up.  But it is a big problem for other subjects (science, history, writing), because there a set number of lessons that have to be finished, especially in the case of history.  Because if you don't make it to the end of one book, the beginning of the next isn't going to make much sense.

So this means that there's going to be a reasonable amount of doubling up lessons.  It turns out that I have an annoying conscience about completing schoolwork.  Leaving subject matter unfinished gives me secret anxiety attacks about that little gap in their knowledge that will make them miss just enough questions on some test that will then lead to not getting in to college, etc, etc, etc.  I know that's not really going to happen, but it doesn't keep me from feeling that it just maybe one day might be a problem so we'd better make extra sure.  I think that maybe homeschooling is more stressful than traditional schooling because every gap in your child's ability and knowledge is 100% your fault.  Excuse me for a second while I go get a paper bag.

So, this school year.

Kathleen is in sixth grade.  If she were going to school in North Carolina, where I grew up, that would be middle school.  I am so glad she's not in middle school.  Not for her, but for me.

This year she is continuing science, writing, vocabulary, math, logic, Latin, Russian, handwriting, piano, singing, history, and grammar.  And new (because sixth grade means electives! That I choose!) is music theory and video editing.  I'm finally getting to the fun part of homeschooling, where you get to make your own curriculum.  Kathleen is really excited about video editing, and has a teacher that will be working with her remotely.  Yeah for the internet!

This year I'm trying something new - that first child is always the guinea pig - and I've signed her up for three courses online through the Well-Trained Mind Academy.  We'll see how they go.  If anything, they will move some of the burden off my shoulders and get her used to the idea of having someone else grade her work.  I'm just afraid that they will be less strict than I am.  There was already some breathless reports of getting graded on only completion.  Heresy.

Sophia is in fourth grade.  I remember when that was so old.  She is doing pretty much everything that Kathleen is doing, minus music theory.  Almost everything she does (excepting grammar, some writing, and some spelling) is done independently.  I check her work every morning and go over corrections with her, but she's in charge of getting the rest done.  And I have to add, Ritalin is the best thing ever.  It has made all of the difference in the world for Sophia.

Edwin is in second grade.  He still does most of his work with me, completing math, history, spelling, and writing worksheets independently.  It's great to see the difference between his ability at the beginning of this school year versus last school year.  Last year he could hardly write a sentence independently and now he writes pages-long stories in his free time.

Joseph is in kindergarten.  He's working on learning how to read, about halfway done.  I don't start anything other than reading until first grade, something that Joseph is quite happy with.  More time for him to play.

And Eleanor and William are in independent play preschool.  They are working on keeping themselves entertained and out of my hair while I'm schooling.  William does a better job than Eleanor as he is asleep more than she is.  Right about the time they have mastered this skill, they'll have to start school.  But not yet.

And that is our school year.  Sometimes I daydream about the eventual time when I won't have babies underfoot and most of my children are running their own school independently and I'll be able to get back to some of the things I enjoyed doing before I started the full-time job as mom/teacher/cook/household manager.  That time, however, is a long long way away.  And plus, I don't have any free time for daydreaming.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Final Lap

It is now September.  We have finally gotten over jet lag, unpacked all the suitcases, reassembled our life, and are now staring down the home stretch of our time in Dushanbe.

A week or two ago, Brandon got an email informing him that he was paneled to our next assignment in Tashkent.  This means that we are definitely going to be living in Tashkent in at most a year (if Brandon doesn't pass his language test and has to spend a few months in DC brushing up on his Russian).

It's strange to be looking ahead and see a definite end date to our time here in Dushanbe, a point where all of our stuff will be packed up, we'll be getting on an airplane, and saying a complete and final goodbye to Tajikistan.

If we had spent a normal two-year tour here, this would be the point where'd I'd start panicking and buy all the things, hike all the hikes, and go on all of the trips I thought that I'd have plenty of time for.  But, it turns out that Tajikistan really doesn't have much of that stuff anyway and we've already done it all.  Twice.

I'm happy that we're not moving until May.  This gives me a whole school year to slowly get things ready, let the baby grow up a little more, and finish everyone's school work before packing everything up and leaving.  I'm not anxiously awaiting our departure, counting down the months and weeks before I can get out of here.  Dushanbe has treated me pretty well (other than the sicknesses and traveling) and I haven't gone crazy from the cultural differences yet.  It helps that I spend 95% of my time not interacting with Tajikistan.

But also I'm not going to be sobbing big, sad tears when we leave either.  It turns out that when you move around from foreign country to foreign country, there is an element of perpetual long-term tourist to your life.  Every Saturday can be spent going out discovering new things and having new adventures.  Once I thought about the lives of people who spend twenty years in the same house and neighborhood and state and realized that they probably ran out of new things to do about eighteen years ago.

I'm definitely getting a taste of on this tour.  We haven't gone a new hike in over a year because we've just about hiked all the ones within an hour drive.  Brandon and I choose our date night restaurants based on which restaurant (the Chinese, Korean, Georgian, Latin American, Asian, Ukranian, Afghani, or Middle Eastern one) we've gone to least recently.  The children are beyond familiar with the embassy playground, and I can tell you exactly what the Hyatt has for their breakfast buffet.  If we lived in America, this might be 'cozy' or 'familiar,' but here in Dushanbe and in this life where I get to see the world, it's more like boring.  I'm ready for some new scenery.

The children are equally excited for some new scenery, Kathleen most excited of all because of the possibility of a pool at our next house.  Well, some of them.  Eleanor isn't very clear on the concept of moving because the last time she moved she was seven months old.  Edwin is just irritated at the thought of his Legos being unavailable for several months.

For right now, however, moving is still a distant dream, like the thought of summer break when you've just finished the first month of school.  It's definitely going to happen, but not for a good long time.  In between now and then are lots of good things to look forward to also, and so I won't get too antsy yet.  But not too comfortable either.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Jet Lag, Central Asia

Brandon and I have been flying back and forth across the Atlantic for quite some time.  My first trans-Atlantic flight was my junior year in college, when I spent a semester studying abroad in Vienna (this is when I first decided that the expat life might be a pretty cool thing; little did I realize that my expat life would only touch in Europe while on layovers).  Brandon's was while flying to his mission in Ukraine.  Since that first flight, we have transited the Atlantic twenty-six times.  So we are no stranger to jet lag.

But there is jet lag and then there is jet lag.  I've experienced jet lag in Austria (two flights! ha!), Egypt, Azerbaijan, and Tajikistan.  Each time I've moved further east, and it turns out that the more east you get, the worse the jet lag.  We would usually arrive in Cairo in the early-to mid afternoon, get home, shower, and get a full night sleep.  In Baku our plane would land around nine at night, so the going home, showering, and sleeping got pushed back a little further.  It made for a late night and some serious sleeping in (once we slept in until three in the afternoon and Kathleen thought we had died), but it was, in retrospect, doable.

But Tajikistan, oh Tajikistan.  Our flights land between four and five in the morning, which means that by the time you get home, shower, and get in bed, the sun is rising.  Sometimes it rises before you even get home.  Which kind of makes your soul die a little each time it happens.

This early morning arrival also comes after having spent the last two days flying.  "The last two days flying" means that you leave America Saturday afternoon, you spend Saturday night on a plane, you arrive in Europe on Sunday morning, you spend Sunday flying to Turkey, you get on a plane Sunday night, and you arrive in Tajikistan on Monday morning.  And yes, it's just as bad as it sounds.  Actually, it's even worse.  Much worse.

And then you can't even get a good night's sleep.  Because it's not night, it's day.  So it's more like a long nap.  Or if you're Brandon, it's a short nap before going to work on Monday.  He wins the moral fiber points forever in our family.  If you take longer than a nap it causes problem because you stay up too late, not sleeping, and your problem just starts again the next day.  So your jet lag recovery looks a little like this:

Noon: the alarm clock goes off.  You groggily swim towards consciousness, wondering where that horribly annoying sound is coming from.  When you realize that it's the alarm clock, you want to die. Half an hour to an hour later, you pull yourself out of bed.  After getting dressed, you go and wake the children up and then wander downstairs.  You look at the exploded suitcases that radiate from the front door in a blast pattern, and walk by.  You go to the refrigerator and meditate on what kind of food can be made from eggs, leftover lobio, butter, and jam.  The thought of making anything or going to the store for more supplies is too much work, so you raid the children's airplane snacks. Swedish fish.  The breakfast of champions.

You climb back up the stairs and wake up the children again.  After physically pulling everyone from bed, you insist they eat.  All slowly drift down the stairs to spend the next hours eating scrambled eggs and freezer-burned toast.  Some fall asleep on the kitchen table.  At least one vomits.  Everyone wanders off to root through the suitcases for dress themselves in.  Or they just stay in pajamas.  Either is fine.  The rest of the day, all three hours of it, passes in a blur.  There are people in the house doing things, but you're not sure what.  Dinner is eggs and toast and some more Swedish fish.  Turns out they work for breakfast and dinner.

Then it's dark enough outside to put everyone to bed.  Everyone collapses into bed, falling asleep almost before their heads hit the pillow.  You stumble in after them, patting your spouse on the head affectionately before passing out yourself, dreaming of twelve hour sleeps.

1 AM: You wake up.  As you come to complete and utter consciousness, you hear sounds of the children awake too.  Maybe if you're quiet enough, they won't realize that you're awake and won't try and tell you how awake they are.  You get up and feed the baby, have a snack, and take a sleeping pill, which puts you back to sleep.  If you're me.  If you're Brandon, you don't take sleeping pills and instead spend the next four hours awake, falling asleep just in time to wake up for work the next day.

7 AM: If you're the responsible one in the family, you wake up and go to work.  If you're not, you groggily say good morning to the responsible one and go back to sleep for another couple of hours.

10 AM: You get up.  After browsing Facebook, you get the children up and go fix another breakfast of eggs and toast.  Then you get the children up again and feed them breakfast.  You think about doing the dishes and you think about unpacking your suitcases and you think about going to the store. Then you dig through the pile, which has expanded across the entire room, for clean underwear and take a shower while the children fall asleep at the table again.  Everyone spends the day trudging around the house still wishing they could die.  When the children ask about lunch, you offer Swedish fish, with a granola bar thrown in for variety.  Around four in the afternoon, when you realize the toast supply is running low, you make the trek to the grocery store for milk.  Then dinner can be pancakes.  After that, bed.

2 AM: You're awake.  Again.  So are the children.  Again.

7 AM: You think about getting up with your spouse to make breakfast, but realize that cold cereal is something that doesn't have to be cooked.

9 AM: You count it a moral victory that you are up before ten, and everyone gets a welcome break from Swedish fish and has cold cereal for breakfast.

11 AM: You start thinking that those suitcases might really need unpacking.  You rouse the children from the breakfast table and make everyone help.  After all, those are their clothes too.  A few hours later and exhausted from the effort, you realize that you still don't have any lunch food, and send a child to the store for yogurt and fruit.  Ta-da.  Lunch.  Then you take a nap.  It was a long hard morning.  Then you keep unpacking.  That evening, for the first time in days, you make dinner.  It's a real moral victory.

3 AM: You're awake.  It's really getting old.  The children are awake, too.

7 AM: You get out of bed with your spouse, shower, and cook breakfast.  The children eat breakfast with you and afterwards you do the dishes.  Everyone gets their morning chores done and then spends the rest of the day playing.  You finish up the unpacking and then make a shopping list.  You think about things that need to be done and do one or two of them before taking a nap to reward yourself for the effort.  You cook dinner again and have a conversation with your spouse that involves multiple complete sentences.  The thought of being responsible doesn't fill you with complete and total horror.  You go to bed with the semi-realistic hope that you will get a full night's sleep.

5:30 AM: You wake up and don't bother going back to sleep.  After reading through Facebook, you shower and cook breakfast.  And, after kissing your spouse goodbye, you realize that it is Friday.  You have just spent an entire workweek recovering from jet lag, and only on Friday do you feel like a human being again.  Why, you wonder to yourself, did you think that this would be a good idea?  With the three days' packing before you left, day and a half of flying, three days' jet lag upon arrival, three days flying, and week of jet lag recovery, you have had two weeks of pain in exchange for three weeks of childcare in another location.

You make yourself a solemn promise that you will never do it again.  Next time, it will be Thailand.  After all, it's only ten hours of flying time which is six hours less than flying to America.  Or maybe just nothing.  Or how about Europe?  You've heard that Portugal is very nice, and it's only the next continent over.  But you know, as soon as you make that silly promise, that you'll have forgotten all of the pain in a year and just do it all over again.  Because it turns out that you really don't have a very good memory for pain.  It's probably the same reason you have six children.  That, and Target.  Because Target is just about a good enough reason for anything.  Even jet lag.

Sunday, August 20, 2017


This year we spent most of our R&R at the beach.  It was fantastic.  Seriously, if I had the money and no doctor's appointments, family obligations, or friends I wanted to see, I'd just spend my whole R&R at the beach.  It would probably work if I just had the money.  Because everything and everyone else could just come see me at the beach. 

But before the beach, we had to get to America.  The day started off in Dushanbe  And it stretched across 30 hours, 9 time zones, 5 airports, 4 flights, 4 countries, 3 continents, and two hemispheres.  Oh, and it was just me and the six children.  

It ended in North Carolina.  With everyone and their sanity intact (but without one suitcase).  Because I am awesome.  Bragging rights forever.

We arrived a week before the whole Sherwood clan descended and got to see all of those friends I'd been missing since we left in March.  Which was a lot more fun that flying across the world.  And also a lot tastier.

We also made one more use of our Marbles membership.  Because America has wonderful things like children's 'museums.'  

Then I got down to work.  Three hours, a WalMart, a Sam's Club, a Smithfields' barbecue, and about a thousand dollars later, my parent's minivan looked like this.  It turns out it takes a lot of food to feed forty-four people.  Also, it turns out that a gross of ice cream treats only lasts five days.

Then it was just time to play.  

And hang out with cousins.

And play in the hot tub with cousins.

And on the beach.

And talk (and talk and talk and talk).  And then talk some more.

And celebrate Kathleen's birthday.

And take long walks on the beach at sunset.  But not romantic ones.

But, like all good things, it had to come to an end and now we're back in Dushanbe (excuse me while I go wipe away a tear).  It sure was fun while it lasted!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Summer Vacation

It's that time of year again, the highlight of everyone's summer combined with the worst part of everyone's year - time for the annual trek back to the motherland known as R&R.  The children and I finished the last day of school this past week, we finally got tickets, and I've started going over my packing lists.

This year we've added an extra level of difficulty.  Due to Brandon's leave issues, I decided to take the bold/suicidal/brave/foolish choice and travel with all six of the children alone so we could have an extra week at my parents' house.  I had various reasons, the good one being doctor appointments for everyone, the okay one being a grandparent rafting trip for the older kids, and the selfish one being my desire to have extra time to spend with friends.

This year is the Sherwood reunion and we (meaning me) were put in charge of planning the whole thing.  And for those of you counting, that means planning a week long family reunion for nineteen adults and twenty-five children.  From halfway across the world.  We got to choose the location, so I chose the beach.  My family goes to the beach every summer, so to make things easier for us I just rented the same house for two weeks in a row.  I was in transports of joy when I realized that I could go in and out of the exact same airport.  No twenty-hour drives or 5:30 AM plane rides, just three and a half weeks in one state.  It's almost mythical.

Also, I decided to come back earlier than Brandon because I'm pretty sure I don't want six children de-toxing from twenty-eight hours of traveling while at a family reunion.  It's bad enough doing it in the privacy of my parents' large house where everyone only shares a bedroom with one or two siblings, but crammed into an overstuffed room with four or five other cousins?  I'm just going to pass on that.  Also I don't want to be shopping for breakfast and lunch food for forty-four people, feeding forty-four people (because we're cooking the first night), telling forty-four people forty-four times (let's be honest, it will probably be more than that) where their rooms are again, and trying to get my own children to sleep in the middle of all that while getting over crazy jet-lag myself.  Pass on that, too.  Just sayin'.

This means that on Thursday morning at five AM, I will board the first of four flights that will eventually land us in North Carolina by way of Istanbul, London, and DC.  We have assigned seats on the first flight and last flight but not the two middle flights.  Also the flight from Istanbul to London is late by an average of thirty minutes (that's average) and we have a two-hour layover.  It ought to make for some interesting stories when we've all recovered from the trauma in a few years.

The children are, of course, ecstatic.  Kathleen is looking forward to seeing her cousins and going whitewater rafting.  Sophia is the same.  Edwin is looking forward to flying on airplanes and visiting Grandpa's frogs.  Joseph is looking forward to eating as many snacks and watching as many movies as he wants for twenty-eight hours straight.  Eleanor is looking forward to seeing her grandparents.  William will probably be scarred for life.

Beach week was always the highlight of my childhood summer and so it's no surprise that the same is true for my own children, especially when you add in the excitement (why they find it so exciting is completely beyond me) of international travel and the magic of returning to a country that has things like sidewalks, grass, parks, and Krispy Kreme.

And, if you subtract the pain (oh, the pain.  Let's not dwell on it.  It turns out that the pain of traveling is kind of like childbirth.  Each time it happens you remember ever more clearly exactly what you're getting yourself into) of the opening and ending, it's the highlight of my summer too.  I can't wait to see my cousins and siblings and friends and Krispy Kreme.  I can't wait to stay up way, way (way) too late catching up with some of my favorite people in the world and playing all day on the beach.  I can't wait to go to absolute dissipation sleeping in, not exercising (once or twice a long time ago I exercised on R&R.  Ha), eating garbage cereal for breakfast every morning, reading books, eating dessert every night, and partying until I'm so exhausted that coming home to my regimented life actually sounds like a good idea.

Packing starts tomorrow.  T-minus three days until vacation party time.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Living in Dushanbe - Summer

It is summer here in Dushanbe and we are deep into it.  It has been hot so long that the sensation of being cold or wearing pants or shoes or socks or jackets is a vague memory that resides in the same part of reality as the tooth fairy.  The high here a few days ago was 107 degrees.  One hundred and seven degrees is so hot that it is ten degrees hotter than ninety-seven degrees and twenty degrees hotter than eighty-seven degrees.  It's so hot that a few of my plants outside have to be watered twice a day or they will be dead by morning.  It's hot enough that the waterslide deck burned Sophia's feet pink the last time we went to the water park.  It's just hot.

There are some good things about summer in Dushanbe.  Summer is the time when there is all the produce in the world for cheap cheap cheap.  Right now you can go to the bazaar and get watermelons, yellow melons, peaches, nectarines, blackberries, apricots, cherries, apples, plums, raspberries, strawberries, and deliciously perfect tomatoes, in addition to all of the rest of the vegetables.  We spend all summer here in a fruit coma, packing in all of the fruit to last us through the winter.  Occasionally the children will ask if they can bring fruit outside while they are playing and I'll find two or three apricots rattling around in the bottom of a bowl that held two kilos that morning.  One of Eleanor's favorite things to do is sit and eat raspberries with a spoon, putting away at least a pound of them in one sitting.  I've told the children that one day when they grow up and live in America they will go to the grocery store and about die to see how much raspberries cost there and realize what they had while living in Dushanbe.

Normally the summer is also a great time for swimming.  The embassy has a pool and we have spent a lot of time there.  But it hasn't been working since the first day of summer (ironic, I know) and we've had to find alternatives.

Most days I send the children to play in the yard.  It's a scientific fact that children who spend all day in the house fight more than children who have been kicked out for a couple of hours.  At least it's a fact in our house.  We have a sprinkler (thanks, Dad!) and so the children will put on their swimsuits so that they can try and spray each other with it.  Sometimes they just use the hose.  And until I banned the practice for the sake of the umbrellas, they used umbrellas to keep the very cold hose water off themselves.  This option isn't the children's favorite way to deal with the heat, but I don't care.

There is also a local waterpark which actually isn't that bad.  It is also very popular and getting there close to opening time, especially on women and children day (no men allowed, including lifeguards), is a good idea.  A few weeks ago I went with a friend to swim in the afternoon and we showed up only to discover that the place was so full that they were only letting people in as patrons left.  As it was going to be a long time before ten left, we gave up and went back to the sprinkler.  The children were only pacified after we promised cookies and root beer.

Thankfully we're leaving for three and a half weeks to go back to America where it isn't quite so hot (and this is North Carolina!) and there are things like central AC.  In my mind, summer is over after we come back from R&R because that's when school starts.  But evidently Tajikistan didn't read my mind because summer is definitely not over in August - or September.  I always think of September as the month of disappointed expectations.  I spend the whole month waiting for the first breath of cool air, the promise of reasonable temperatures that mean we can start going outside again in something other than swimsuits.  But it never ever comes until October.  And then finally, summer is over.

I still like summer, even after spending three of them in Dushanbe.  I like wearing flip-flops and shorts and swimming and eating good produce.  I'd still rather be here than in Moscow.  But I will say that one day (and I'm not sure when that will be - I'm looking at you, Tashkent) when I live in a place where 100+ temperatures are an anomaly instead of a regularity, it will be a little nicer.  I'm not planning any moves to Canada, but I think I'm also going to stay away from Arizona too.  Maybe somewhere nicely in the middle.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Fourth of July

This past week we celebrated the Fourth of July.  Celebrating the Fourth overseas is fairly analogous to celebrating Christmas in a Muslim country.  Instead of being part of a nation-wide party, it's more of a private affair that happens on a random day of the week.  I actually mind this less for Christmas than I do for the Fourth.  For us, Christmas is a family holiday anyway while Fourth is something you celebrate with your community.

And we did have the opportunity to celebrate with the community the Saturday before, but we didn't.  Brandon had spent seven hours at a conference that Saturday and he just wasn't up to spending a few more hours away from home out in the heat while shepherding all six (really five) children around to get their food, play the games, etc.  Add to that a five-month old baby and it equals thanks-but-no-thanks.  Instead we watched Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire while eating amazingly delicious Chinese food.  Seriously.  If there's one thing you can get here, it's really tasty, really cheap ($18.32 to feed the whole family) Chinese food.

The actual Fourth itself was on a Tuesday and Brandon had work off.  Since it was a holiday, we had to follow the Sherwood Family Holiday Rule (no work and all play).  Some friends invited us to go to Delphin, a local waterpark, so we spent the morning riding waterslides and swimming in the pool.  Delphin is actually one of the best-run institutions I've seen in Dushanbe and the kids love going and riding all of the big waterslides.  The three oldest have perfected the art of arguing (I'm not sure how I feel about that) and badger the lifeguards into allowing them to ride all the slides even if some of them technically aren't old enough to ride.  All can swim, so that's good enough for me.

While Brandon and I were lounging in the sun by the pool (yes, it's a hard life sometimes), we both developed an intense desire for french fries and then hamburgers and finally chocolate malts.  One of the best things about being adults is that when those cravings strike, there's nothing but responsibility to stop you from indulging in all of them at once.  Luckily, we didn't let responsibility stop us this time.  After all, it's a holiday, right?  And 'merica! And deep-fried potatoes! And charcoal-cooked meat! And ice cream!  After all, we would be neglectful parents if we didn't teach our children about their heritage.

This being Tajikistan, we had to make almost everything from scratch.  Luckily, the local grocery store had hamburger buns so that part was taken care of.  Also we live around the corner from an ice cream factory so we didn't have to make the ice cream either.  Okay, so we had to make the hamburgers and french fries from scratch.

But a few hours later we had our feast assembled and settled down to watch Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert in Drums Along the Mohawk.  As we watched the couple battle natives while various farms burned down, we all enjoyed our feast and the warm glow of appreciation for those who gave birth to the nation that we're proud to be a part of.

Patriotism is becoming somewhat unfashionable these days, so I guess I'll just have to be unfashionable and say that I love America, and I love it more than any other country in the world.  Which I should, seeing as I am an American.  God Bless America!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Year Five Wrap-Up

We are almost done with the school year, although 'done' is somewhat of a relative term.  Some children have finished some subjects (Sophia has finished language arts and history but not science), some have finished none (Kathleen) and some have finished all (Edwin).  But everyone has two weeks left and then we're off for a month before starting the whole rodeo again in the fall.

This year has been somewhat of a difficult one.  I added another child, Edwin, to the mix and started Kathleen on the next stage, the logic stage, of her schooling.  It took quite a while to figure out how to do all of the new curriculum with Kathleen, how to organize it, and how to grade it.  Edwin had a difficult time starting out because he wasn't fully literate.  He could read, but only slowly, and it took awhile for comprehension to kick in (sometimes it's still not all there for math problems).  Then, right as things started getting into a good rhythm, we picked up and left for three months, having a baby for fun in the middle of things.

Homeschooling is always a balance between what the children need and what you are capable of giving them.  When I started homeschooling I wanted to do all of the everything, and be the best homeschooling mother ever who only had brilliant children who knew all the things in the whole wide world.  I think that's pretty standard for homeschooling parents.

Now I've become someone who wants to make sure her children are perfectly adequately schooled.  Extra projects?  Maybe if they want to do them in their free time, but I'd rather take a nap.  Extracurriculars?  Russian counts for that, right?  And swimming occasionally at the embassy pool (when it's not broken) totally counts for PE.

I always make sure that they get the basics - math, language arts, science, and history are all covered - but it turns out that I just don't have enough time to get too crazy about the other stuff.  The girls do study Latin and Russian, but not in any kind of serious way, and that's just fine for me.  I had wonderful plans for starting Kathleen in some serious drawing study, but somehow those never quite panned out.  It may have something to do with the five other children I have.  Yes, I do feel mom guilt about not doing all of those things, but no, I don't let it interrupt my nap time.  We all have the right to a little sanity.

I'm happy to be through with this year and am looking to next year, which is an off year.  I have managed to have all my children (except William, who spoiled the pattern) two grade levels apart, so right when one is starting first grade (kindergarten has never been real school), the one just older than them is starting third grade.  Third grade is when they do almost all schooling independently and mostly I am involved in checking and correcting work.  So that means that the off year is when the youngest is in second grade, which is pretty much exactly like first grade except they can already read and work some things independently.  It's the payoff for surviving first grade again.  Seriously, I have all of those poems memorized down cold along with history up to the end of the middle ages, all the prepositions, and counting in whatever pattern you like.  I'll probably be able to recite all of the lessons from memory by the time William gets to first grade.  He'll be so impressed.  But probably not.

But for now, I (and all of the children) am counting down the weeks until break time.  Because it turns out that when you're the teacher you're even happier than children are about summer break.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Best Laid Plans

Friday morning I got a phone call from Brandon.  "Bad news," he started the conversation out cheerfully, "I just got an email tell me that my language waiver got denied."

Way back in November of last year, Brandon got his assignment to Tashkent.  Since we were out-year bidding, this meant that Brandon had to know Russian already to get the job.  The State Department scores language ability on a five point scale, assessing both speaking and reading skills.  For most languages, the department requires a 3/3 proficiency.  Brandon retested here at post and got a 2+/2+, which is not quite a 3, but pretty darn close.  When we were bidding, Brandon let Tashkent know that he didn't have the 3/3 and they, after hearing that he's been using Russian at the last two posts, decided that a 2+/2+ was good enough for them and they extended a job offer to Brandon.

As part of completing all the formalities required to get paneled, or formally assigned, Brandon had to fill out an application for language waiver.  This stated that he understood that there would be financial penalties and other bad things if he didn't have the required score, but he signed it anyway.  The plan was always to get his score up before going to Tashkent because he gets paid extra money to have his Russian at a 3/3.  And I like money.

We assumed everything was just fine - after all Tashkent was fine with his score and the regional bureau were fine with his score - until Friday.  Then I guess somebody else (I honestly have no idea who decided to deny the waiver.  There are levels of bureaucracy I have no desire to understand) decided that it wasn't fine and he'd have to get his score up - or else (I'm not sure what 'or else' means either).

After some time on the phone and an appeal for advice on Facebook (sometimes it's very useful), Brandon and I came up with plans A,B,C, and D.  Plan A involves taking an online course offered by State's language institute and retesting while in Dushanbe, but the rest of the plans involve spending more time in DC getting the required training.  The plans have a variety of inconvenience - one has us leaving early and throwing our school situation into havoc, leaving our current post in the lurch, and losing $13,500; one has us showing up to post six months late and once again throwing the school schedule to the dogs, while squeezing into tiny housing - and none are that great, mostly because we had expressly tried to avoid going back to DC.

Three or four years ago would have seen me breathing into my favorite paper bag (just retired after pouch service was reestablished).  I am a Planner and any time the plan goes wrong is a cause for great anguish.  I invest a lot of time and emotional energy into making sure everything works out just right and I am subjected to a minimum of disruption while saving and/or making the most possible money.

And on Friday I gave that paper bag a long, hard look.  After all, my carefully planned plans with the perfectly executed timing were just making some serious noise that presaged everything falling apart.  I've been looking forward to having a seamless post-to-post transition for literally years.  And let's not even talk about the possibility that Brandon would actually lose his handshake and have to start the bidding process all over again.  Everything was all bad.

But, after considering the freak out for a bit, I decided to skip it.  It was just too much trouble.  After all, what I felt about the situation wouldn't actually change anything, and I had other things to think about.  I even found myself, while discussing that large sum of money that we may be kissing goodbye, telling Brandon that it was just money after all.  And I really meant it.

I think that I have been completely broken down by this lifestyle.  It has taken me, the type-A perfectionist planner who works out airline seating charts months before the plane takes off, and made me into someone who just doesn't care any more.  Sure, I'm happy to get my plane tickets bought six months in advance.  That's nice.  But if I still don't have those tickets 2 1/2 weeks before we leave (which I don't), it's really not that big of a deal.  If we aren't seated together, we will be.  And if we don't get seated together, we'll still arrive at the same destination.  After all, it's just a day(ish) of traveling, right?  Not worth getting worked up about.

Sometimes I'm proud of my flexibility.  I can take a situation that would have sent me into panic spirals and just laugh at it now.  That's good.  It saves me (and Brandon) a lot of emotional turbulence.

But sometimes I wonder if I'm pretending that my uncomplaining (mostly) acceptance is resiliency when really it's just... giving up.  That's not good, right?  I don't think Uncle Winston would be very proud of me giving up.

But either way, it still doesn't change our present situation.  Hopefully Brandon will get things worked out and we can stick to our original schedule.  Or we won't.  And then we'll just make a new schedule.  Because what else can you do?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Starting Early

We have a lot of stuff.  I'm not quite sure how we got all of the stuff, but I imagine my Target and Amazon order histories would give a reasonably accurate picture of how all of this stuff ended up in my house.  Regardless of how it got here, however, it is a lot of stuff.  I suppose that's what happens when you couple eight people with homeschooling, a reasonable amount of disposable income, and being in a place where online shopping is a viable form of self-therapy.  There's no bad day that can't be made a little better by some retail therapy that brings a happy box of America to you.  Don't judge until you've been here.

Almost all of the time I like this stuff.  I love it when I sit down in my living room and it looks so pretty, I enjoy it when I'm cooking dinner and I have all the right tools, I appreciate it when I feed thirty-five people and everyone has real plates, silverware, and cloth napkins, I am grateful for it when the children spend hours playing with their toys instead of bothering me, and I like it when I can have a pretty dress to wear to a party.  All of these things I have accumulated help me out in some way or another.

But there are two times when I do not like everything I have accumulated: 1. When I have to have it packed up and weighed, and 2. When Brandon reminds me that this will happen.

When we first joined State, we packed out with 2,500 pounds of household goods.  We had two children and not much disposable income.  After Baku, we had more income and more children (working on five) and more than double the weight.  If the trend line continues, either multiplicatively or additively, we are going to be in trouble.  This is something I get reminded of at least once a week.

And so, I have started getting down to work.  Usually I like to do things in the bare minimum amount of allowable time.  If the plane leaves at 9 am, I like to stroll up to the gate at 8:40.  Then I have time to get other stuff done.  Also true with packing.  When Brandon starts talking about suitcases two weeks before leaving, I look at him like he's insane.  Why pack everything when you're just going to take it out and use it all again before you leave?  I don't like duplicating efforts.  It's not very efficient.

Usually Brandon and I spend a week or so of agony-inducing sorting the month before we pack out.  If you've never considered sorting agony-inducing, you've never sorted enough things.  According to the LA Times, the average American has about 300,000 household items in their homes.  Now imagine looking at every single one of those items (yes, every single one.  Even the crayons.  Because it makes no sense to move little bitty crayon stumps.  I have sorted our crayons multiple times) and deciding whether to toss or keep that item.  Times 300,000.

The first several hundred aren't too bad.  It's kind of fun, when you've got someone to do it with.  Brandon and I will closet ourselves in some room and the children will quickly grow bored with us and wander off to their toys (approximately 10,000 of the total number of items).  Then Brandon and I can spend hours talking and sorting.  It's very companionable.  But by about the third hour, you start getting tired.  The talk becomes less cerebral and more commentary on what is being sorted.  By the sixth hour you're just grunting, having used up all the words, and the children have started eating each other.  By the ninth, you never want to make another decision again in your entire life.  Then you eventually give up, chase the children into bed (or pick up the ones that have fallen asleep where they played), and crawl into bed yourselves.  Then you wake up and do it again.

And so this time, I've decided to wise up and start early.  Brandon and I have a long-standing disagreement about how much stuff we have.  He thinks that we are at least a thousand pounds overweight (which adds up when you pay overweight fees by the pound) and I think we still have about five hundred pounds left in our allowance.  Last time we thought we were overweight, sold off a lot of our consumables, and then ended up with a thousand extra pounds in our shipment.  Then we just had to buy everything all over again before we came to Dushanbe.

One of us (I'm not sure who) came up with the brilliant idea of making a spreadsheet of everything we own and then weighing it.  Both of us like the idea of definitively proving the other person wrong and then keeping/purging (depending on the results) what is necessary to be kept/purged.

A few Saturdays ago, the house was struck down with sickness (it is summer and that means norovirus season).  Brandon had to take Sophia in to the embassy for IV fluids and so I decided, after being irritated about spending my Saturday at home, that I might as well do something useful with my time.  Because I'm responsible occasionally.  Four or five hours later my nightstand was cleaned out, the top of my dresser was cleaned off, my wardrobe was organized, and I had cleaned out and weighed one half of our upstairs storage room.  My spreadsheet had the weights of most of our household linens recorded (queen sheets sets, 3, 3.5 kilos) and there was a pile of things for my housekeeper to distribute.

The girls have Friday chores that I assign each week based on what I need done, so last week I started them weighing the items in my living room.  They each weighed forty or fifty items, and a hundred items and a hundred kilos were added to my list, named The List to Rule Them All.  I figure if everyone does that for nine or ten months more, we should have everything cleared out and weighed. Then Brandon and I don't lose all will to live in another long, horrible week of sorting.

But we'll have to see.  Sometimes I think I'm clever and it works out really well and I make sure that everyone knows how clever I am.  Sometime I think I'm clever and it works out horribly.  Like that time we took a rest stop in Frankfurt.  But you never know which idea is a good clever idea or a bad clever idea until you try them both out.  I'll let you know which kind this is next year when we pack out.