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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Christmas Decorating

I love decorating for Christmas.  Normally I am not a decorator.  I like the idea of decorating - having a lovely house is a pleasant thing - but the mentally energy, time, and money required to do that are beyond what I want to invest.  


But Christmas is different.  I love the coziness of a house decorated with all of the Christmas things that my conscience can allow me to fill our allotted HHE with (luckily globe ornaments are mostly air).  

As an added bonus, Brandon loves Christmas decorating every bit as much as I do and so he is completely behind spending money and weight on things we only use for one month out of the year.  Sometimes we like to sit down and browse Pinterest for new Christmas decorating ideas.  Now that's perfect compatibility.

 

Every year we decorate it takes longer because we have new awesome things to do.  Last year we added a globe chandelier.


Brandon likes to joke to guests that we opened a box of ornaments and they just flew up into the air.  Which is kind of true, but only a lot more slowly - like three hours slowly.  But that's what we have children for, right?  Everyone was very happy to finish after six hours of decorating.  But it was completely worth it.


We hosted a caroling party this week and I finished the decorating with greenery.  Normally we visit our local park and help prune the trees and bushes, but recently it got bulldozed. 


Instead I actually had to buy the stuff.  But, at less than ten dollars for enough greenery to decorate the entire living room, it was a bargain.  I should have been buying it all along.  


During college I spent a semester in Vienna.  We took trips on the weekends and I started collecting Christmas ornaments as souvenirs.  Fifteen years later, I've collected a lot of ornaments and love remembering all of my travels when we decorate every year.


Last year I started a new Christmas tradition, making ornaments with the children.  I found a lovely beaded snowflake pattern online and tried to teach it to my family.  By the end, I finished all of them as everyone else complained about how hard it was to make ornaments.


This year I got smart and we made icicles.  It turns out that everyone can get behind stringing a variety of beads in a wire, and we made over thirty before the children got tired.  


I started collecting nativity sets here in Tajikistan, and so far I have one made locally and one from Kyrgyzstan.  The angel in our Tajik set is riding a two-humped camel (bactrian, which are the ones you can find in Central Asia) and Mary has a unibrow.  


Our Kyrgyz set is made of felted wool, also has a bactrian camel and instead of a stable, Mary and Joseph have a yurt.  As a bonus, both sets can be played with by the children.  Often I'll pass by and find some new strange combination of figures adoring the Christ child.


This year I am determined that have eight completed stockings before Christmas Eve.  A long time ago when I only had two children and a lot more free time, I hit on the brilliant idea of making handmade stockings.  And each stocking would be hand beaded in individual patterns.  


Thankfully I've gotten faster at beading over the years, and William's stocking is only missing two lines of beads to be finished, which is a record.  He will be the first child to have a completed stocking for their first Christmas.  


Years ago I also bought stocking holders from Target (our bookshelves stand in for the fireplace as we've never actually lived in a house with one of those).  They came in sets of three, so I bought three sets.  We now have eight in use, which means that we can only have one more child.  


Of course all of this decorating will have to be taken down in less than a month (last year Brandon did all of the un-decorating alone and it took him ten hours), but I am really enjoying it right now.  Hooray for excess!













Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Thirty-Five Happens to Everyone Who Gets There

When I was younger (by a decade or two), I remember my mother telling me about the dreaded thirty-five.  "You hit that age, your metabolism slows down, and that post baby weight that always melted off refuses to budge."  And, being younger, more naive, and possessing a firm belief that the rules of reality applied to everyone but me, I didn't believe her.  "Not me, that will never happen to me.  Maybe you, but I'm different.  You'll see."

A year or two ago, a friend who had hit thirty-five mentioned that no matter what she did (and she was a Crossfitter), she couldn't get that last five post-baby pounds to go away.  "Ha, that won't happen to me," I thought (older, but no less naively).  "That weight will come off for me."

I never have trouble losing baby weight.  Well I suppose that waking up at five every morning and almost never eating snacks might qualify as some trouble, but it certainly isn't anything herculean.  After the baby is born, it takes awhile, but eventually everything fits again and I'm back to the same body I've always had.  A little more stretch in the midsection, but mostly the same.

William is nine and a half months and those last five pounds just won't come off.  I eat just like I've  always eaten, exercised like I've always exercised, and been every bit as active and those five extra pounds just won't budge.  I can button my jeans, but they aren't very comfortable when I sit down, and Eleanor has asked me multiple times if I have a baby in my tummy.

So, it turns out that thirty-five has happened to me.

I always thought that I didn't care that much about my appearance.  Obviously I care about how I look, but I try not to get too obsessive.  I've been happy with my body for a long time and thought that it was because I was virtuous.  But then it changed on me and I realized how much I really do care about how I look.  I care that I look pretty good for having six children, I care that I've worn the same pants size for fifteen years, I care that I look decent in a swimsuit.

Only now I'm not quite so happy with my body and I've realized that this is what the other side of my life looks like.  I've always had a young, functioning, decent body that pretty much did whatever I needed it to.  If I wanted to run six miles, I could do that.  If I wanted to spend ten hours cooking in the kitchen, I could do that.  If I wanted to have six children, I could do that.  I was happy in my own skin because my skin was reliable.  It was functional.  It was attractive.

But now it has started to betray me.  When my thyroid went south a year and a half ago, I accepted it with some grace.  After all, aging does hit at some point, and it turns out that a thyroid's function is pretty easily replaced.  Not as good as having a functioning one, but still pretty okay.  Much better than cancer.  But I do remember taking my first Synthroid pill and realizing that I would take one of those pills every single day until the day that I died.  It was a disorienting moment.

Then my joints started bothering me.  This issue still doesn't have a definitive answer, but one of the possible answers is that I will have to deal with this, like my thyroid, for the rest of my life.  I was hoping to get a few more decades along before the chronic conditions started showing up.  Like four or five more decades.

And now I need to buy all new pants.  I suppose I could kill myself trying to shed those last five pounds, but I'm not going to.  I like not worrying about what I eat and only spending 45 minutes exercising every morning, and if new pants can keep that happening, then I will just go out and buy new pants.  But it is demoralizing to realize that one is human just like all the other humans out there.

And so it appears that my mother has been right all along.  Thirty-five apparently does begin the imperceptible shift of tides from waxing to waning.  I'm certainly not ready to drop dead and definitely have almost all of the energy, good looks, and vigor that I had just a year ago.  The crows feet and spider veins haven't blossomed overnight.  But I'm not going to get any more energy, good looks, or vigor and in fact it's going to drain away drop by drop and I'll always be looking back to that high water mark and not towards it.

I've always known that this point would come, but of course there's a vast difference between imagining things and actually having them happen to you - and having them happen to you for the rest of your life.  The point of inflection is always a difficult one, when the realization has just hit but not yet had time to settle in.  In six months or a year, I'll see nothing in the mirror but my body as it is and I'll forget to mourn it as it was, and my pants size won't be a unpleasant surprise anymore.  Just like Synthroid isn't a new experience every morning, it's part of the routine.  But right now, I'm in mourning for the end of a part of my life.  It will end, and I will settle in to the new normal.

I imagine that this isn't the first unpleasant realization of mortality that will come as I make my way down the other side of that hill, and I will probably laugh at how distressed I was about the troubles I had at thirty-five.  I will probably curse myself for taking so many things for granted that I didn't even realize would be a problem in a decade or two.

But this is the first time I've felt the gentle decline and it is disorienting, as is the first unpleasant experience of anything.  But, I'll get over it, mostly.  After all, I'm not the first one two hit thirty-five.  And I certainly won't be the last.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Time for Christmas


This year we got a four-day weekend for Thanksgiving.  The new chargĂ© found a random local holiday (Flag Day) to justify the time off and everyone at the embassy was very grateful.

We usually decorate the Christmas tree the Saturday after Thanksgiving, but since we were all around on Friday, the Christmas season started one day early.  

I was in a bit of post-Thanksgiving stupor, so we had a lazy morning and didn't even finish breakfast (cold cereal, because I don't cook anything the day after Thanksgiving) until eleven.  Life really is great when your children are old enough to watch cartoons while you sit in bed and read Facebook instead of feeding them breakfast.  

Brandon hauled out all the boxes and the children opened them all up and pulled everything out of them.  It is definitely more orderly to decorate without children, but you can't beat the excitement level of five (not six, because William has no idea what Christmas is) children at the beginning of the happiest season of the year.  Eleanor doesn't remember much of Christmas last year, so this is her first Christmas season.  She ran around the whole day asking if it was Christmas yet.  When she was told yes, she immediately asked if it was time to have candy.  Ahh, the uncomplicated joy of a three year-old.  

We've slowly accumulated decorations and have enough to make our front room very cozy.  I got to skip putting the lights on the tree (or anything on the tree, for that matter) and instead spent three hours hanging globe ornaments from our enormous chandelier.  Sophia, while cutting threads and attaching them to hangers for me commented that Christmas decorating can get a little tedious.  Especially when you contemplate taking it all down in a month (which Brandon got to do all alone last year), it doesn't seem like a good idea while you're in the middle of decorating.  

However, when all is done, tidied, put away, and one is sitting by the tree enjoying the warm glow of twinkling Christmas lights while listening to "The Christmas Song," it's definitely worth all the work.  Because, as we all know, Christmas really is the best.  Even without the presents.

After we finished decorating, we all had Thanksgiving again (leftovers are the second best part of Thanksgiving), made hot chocolate, and watched White Christmas.  And, as per tradition, I fell asleep sometime after Betty left Bob and woke up to the final strains of everyone belting out the iconic song.  

Sunday afternoon we made some more hot chocolate (after having Thanksgiving again) and spent an hour or two cutting out snowflakes.  I'm not sure what's so relaxing about turning little paper squares into intricate repeating designs, but it really is quite enjoyable.  The children have really gotten into making snowflakes and spent the whole time trying to make 'mom approved' ones.  

I love tradition and Christmas is a wonderful time to pull out all the stops on tradition, doing all the fun things together as a family.  As the children have grown older it's become even more enjoyable to share the traditions with them and see them get excited about making wrapping paper or ornaments or gingerbread houses.  I'm already not looking forward to the time when they've left me and I won't have anyone to do those things with.  Someone will have to live close so I can just do them with my grandchildren.

Most of all, it's wonderful to have a whole season to celebrate the birth of my Savior.  His birth meant that we will all be given the opportunity to return to our Father in Heaven and live in eternal joy.  And not only that, His birth has given us the ability to be happy here on Earth.  When I decorate the tree with my children, I know that they will be my children forever.  Life doesn't end at death and I have more happiness that I can imagine to look forward to.  The happiness of the best Christmas ever doesn't even come close to that happiness that is in store.  I love the comfort that comes when life is hard, knowing that it won't be hard forever and also knowing that my Savior knows exactly how to help me through it.  And when times are good, I love knowing that at some point, they'll stay good forever.

I love Christmas!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Thanksgiving 2017



This year Brandon and I hosted Thanksgiving.  While cooking Thursday morning, I added up the times we've hosted Thanksgiving.  This is our third hosting in Dushanbe, after hosting it in Baku twice and Utah once.  Six doesn't sound like that many times, but it sure is a lot of cooking.

I have sadly realized that, unless we live somewhere near family, I will spend the the next three or probably four decades hosting Thanksgiving dinner.  That was a little disheartening to realize, but I suppose I'm the one who decided to birth enough children that it practically requires a whole extra turkey just to feed us.  Hosting pretty much comes with the territory if we ever want to eat dinner with anyone other than just ourselves.


To add insult to injury, when I was checking Facebook Thanksgiving evening after finishing the clean-up around seven, my older sister posted a picture of the beautiful Thanksgiving morning sail they had gone on at my aunt and uncle's house.  The sail they took while someone else cooked the stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, turkey, rolls, pies, and sweet potatoes.

I've hosted Thanksgivings overseas long enough to realize that the Thanksgivings of my youth - a day spent cooking with family, lazing around and watching movies afterward - are not the Thanksgivings of my adulthood.  It turns out that most holidays are a lot better when someone else (the adults) is doing all the hard work.  I like being an adult almost all of the time, but sometimes being a child really is a better gig.


But the children have gotten older and more useful, so I'm not the only one running the show these days, which is nice.  They didn't do much cooking, but they did clean up the house, set the table, and scrub five kilos of potatoes.  And after everyone left, the girls helped clear the table, put the food away, and wash the dishes.  The value of children who are old enough to be truly helpful can never be underestimated.  We were able to finish early enough for Brandon and I to relax and enjoy that most wonderful of Thanksgiving traditions - watching TV.

We did have a nice Thanksgiving, even if there weren't any sailboats in our day.  We had two families over and had an enjoyable dinner together.  The children mostly ate their food and then played nicely together so the adults could enjoy talking together.  We had plenty of tasty food to enjoy with our good company and much to be grateful for.  I didn't get around to taking pictures of our guests because we got too busy eating and having a good time together.


It's always good to have time to reflect on the blessings in our life, including having enough food that it takes two days to cook it and an hour and a half to clean it up.  Also, dishwashers.  But more importantly, friends and family to enjoy the day with.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Marine Ball 2017

Last Saturday was the Marine Ball, our third and last Ball here in Dushanbe.  Brandon would usually be perfectly happy to stay home and watch a movie with the kids, but since I like dressing up in a fancy dress, getting my hair done, and partying with my friends, he indulges me.  Just like prom, but for adults. 


This was my fifth Ball, so I had long shed my expectations of a romantic night, and had a fun time sitting around and talking with friends.  Just in a fancy dress.  I remember being amazingly disappointed when I realized that all parties are just people sitting around talking to each other, sometimes with dancing.  Somehow all those movies seem to make parties look like there's some other, more exotic element.  But nope, it's just talking.  The children find it completely ridiculous that we like to do this in our spare time.  


In keeping with the prom theme, I went with some friends earlier in the day and we got our hair done together.  Yep, just like high school.  Except the pregnant one was married.  We had a fun time gossiping, passing around hair style ideas, and being loud enough that the salon receptionist asked us to quiet down.  I've had this happen at restaurants before, too.  I'm not quite sure if it's because Americans are loud, or I'm just loud.  Probably me.


I wore dress #1, figuring that we've been here so long that only one other person would recognize the dress I wore two years ago, and she didn't remember it anyway.  It was such an excruciating project that I intend to wear it until I don't fit it anymore.  It mostly fit this year, so that was a good thing.


By eleven, Cinderella had talked, eaten, toasted, danced, and was ready to turn into a pumpkin (those high school days are long, long gone), so Brandon took me home and to bed.  I'm sad that next year we'll be in a new post with new friends.  But it was a fun time.  Until next year!



Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Dubai


Months and months and months ago, I decided that Brandon and I needed to take the children to Dubai.  Normally, I am not the type of person who likes to travel with children.  I've always reasoned that I can stick needles into my eyeballs for free at home, so why pay good money to do it in another location?  I like my children just fine, and I even love them, but taking the circus traveling is really just too much for me and the general public.


But sometime in the somewhat distant past, I decided that no, it would be a fun thing to take my children into public for an extended period of time and do things like eat around other people for multiple meals in a row.  We've done this a few times, taking the children to water park hotels on each of our home leaves, and it usually was more stressful than relaxing.  At least 3.5 drinks on average get spilled per meal time, 2.5 children decide that they would rather hop on and off their chairs than actually eat the food we paid money for, and 2 parents would want to murder at least half of the children.  And that was just the meal times. 


Let's not talk about the fun that is sleeping in a hotel room with all your children.  People pay good money to buy houses large enough to not sleep with their children, so why would we want to pay extra money to sleep somewhere else with them?  But no matter the historical precent and cold hard facts of being a parent of multiple young children, I decided that this time it would be a lot more fun, especially with two more children in tow.  I'm not quite sure where the idea came from.  But I had it.


And like all good ideas that I have, Brandon thought it was a bad idea.  Probably because he is the rational one in our relationship.  But, like most good ideas I have, I didn't give up on it.  I whined wheedled, begged, pleaded, and bothered him enough that he finally gave in.  "But don't say I didn't warn you," he warned me, "when everything goes to pieces and you wonder what you were thinking.  I told you so.  In advance."


And so, I booked the vacation.  To make things worse, I booked one of the most expensive, high profile resorts in Dubai, Atlantis the Palm.  If you're going to take your children out in public, you might as well take them out in public to places where there are Rolls Royces, Lamborghinis, Porches, and Bentleys parked in the parking lot.  Because it will be really cool when your children are misbehaving in front of people who have nannies for their nannies.  I almost died when I booked the rooms with a half board package.  The only other time in my life I have ever dropped that much cash in one go was when we bought our car.  When I told Brandon the total, he shook his head.  "Well, you'd better enjoy it.  Cause we're definitely not doing it twice."


We decided to surprise the children and so Wednesday morning we woke them up at 2 a.m., told them to get dressed, pulled out the suitcases we had packed in secret, and went to the airport.  The children were giddy with excitement because flying is one of the most exciting things in the world.  When we landed in Dubai, they thoroughly enjoyed the drive, marveling at the Burj Dubai and how everyone stayed in their lanes while driving. 


As we drove up to the hotel, they lost track counting how many floors there were.  And when they discovered that not only were there two pools, but also a beach, an aquarium, a water park, and the biggest buffet breakfast I've ever seen, they almost died of sheer happiness.  Then they fought over who got to push the elevator buttons and whose turn it was to put the key in the room door.  Because, children.


Four days later, everyone came back to Dushanbe full to the brim with good times, good memories, and good food.  Because, as it turned out, we had a fantastic time.  The hotel was beautiful, the food was delicious, the water park was exciting, the aquarium, was enormous, and the pools were stunning.  Also, the beach had water, too.  And sand.


The children behaved themselves (mostly), ate their food (buffets are awesome), only spilled twice, played hard all day long, and fell asleep before eight every night.  I didn't have to make a single meal, clean up, decide what was for dinner, or even make my bed.  Brandon took the children on rides, played with them in the pool, and read to them every night.  It really was every bit as great as I had imagined it would be.


The only problem is that now I want to do it again. 




Sunday, November 12, 2017

London

This trip to London was my fifth trip (if a long layover where Brandon and I did some sightseeing counts) to the city, and my third trip this post.  I've spent over three weeks there, and I think that I can say that London is one of my favorite cities in the world.  I don't actually like large cities that much, so it really is saying something when London brings nothing but warm joy into my heart - even in November.

This visit stretched out over eleven days because it took a week to get the results for some of the blood tests I needed.  When I did my check-in visit with the medical unit at the embassy, the wonderful nurse looked at me after I summed up my visit (had an exam, got a bunch of tests, told me to come back in a week), smiled and told me to enjoy myself.  "You've got nothing terribly wrong with you, and there's nothing you need to do, so live it up!  You're in London alone.  Enjoy all of the wonderful things there are to do here!"

And so I did.  It turns out that I'm actually a rotten tourist, so I only actually played sightseeing tourist one day the whole time I was there.  I took myself to Westminster Abbey, the National Gallery, and St. Martin-in-the-Fields.  But really, I find touristing much more enjoyable with someone, and we have plans to spend time in London on our way out of Tajikistan, so it didn't make much sense to go see the things that I would just be re-seeing in six months anyway.  

So instead I did the things I don't usually get to do when I'm taking care of my family.  I slept in, went running in Hyde park, went shopping for Christmas presents, went to the temple several times, went to a ballet, an opera, and a musical, and took myself to a Michelin-starred restaurant for a very tasty dinner.  

I also caught up with a very dear friend and her family, and spent a good amount of time hanging out with them.  Because being alone in a city can get, well, lonely after awhile.  So my friend was wonderful enough to let me hang out with her and her kids and crash their house all Sunday.  We even got to ditch the children with her husband one night and see Aladdin, the musical.  One thing I love about the Foreign Service is the great friends I make and the opportunity to hang out with them in random parts of the world.  

Brandon's brother, his lovely British wife, and their cute baby also live in the greater London area, and we were able to attend the temple together and then spend time at her parents' house and have a wonderful time together.  One day I want to have a perfect little town and fill it with all of the wonderful people that I never get to spend enough time with.  Until then I will just have to see them when I can.

Every time I talked with Brandon, he assured me that all of the children were alive and getting at least two meals a day, so I didn't feel like the worst mother every for abandoning everyone to go and have a wonderful time by myself.  I missed my family in a theoretical way, but I knew that I would see them again, and so I didn't spend a lot of time (or actually any time) crying into my pillow.  That probably makes me a bad mother and wife.  I'll have to work on that.

At the end of my visit, the doctor pronounced me Not Sick Enough to Do Anything Drastic, told me to keep taking high doses of anti-inflammatories, get retested if things still aren't better in three months, and sent me home to my family.  Good because I don't have to take chemo meds, annoying because the doctor didn't make it all better. 

I'm not sure that I would ever want to actually live in London and try to make a real life there with expensive cost of living, no household help, long commutes, and small housing, but it sure was great to visit.  Until next time, London! 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Abandoning My Husband and Children

A few weeks ago I started having joint pain in my hands and feet, elbows and hips and knees.  It hasn't cleared up and all of the tests available here in Dushanbe have been inconclusive, so I'm flying to London this week to see what the tests and and doctors there can tell me about it. 

This means, of course, that Brandon and all six of the children will be left here in Dushanbe to fend for themselves.  I have done this to them before, when my brother got married, when Joseph and I went to London, and when I went myself, so they're pretty used to the drill.  Our housekeeper is coming daily to come help out and we just got in a new supply of cold cereal so I'm pretty sure that nobody will die while I'm gone.  The children are happy because they have reduced school work and Brandon might even look forward to a little easing of the routine, even if it comes at the cost of his personal magic fairy being gone.  William, who is weaned and so not coming with me, will probably forget that I existed until I return.  When I do he will be so happy to remember that he does in fact have a mother and she didn't mysteriously abandon him. 

I little not-so-secret part of me that I wish would be a little more secret is looking forward to a little time by myself.  I'm conflicted because this time off is purchased by with Brandon's increased work load (he's already the acting section chief of two sections at the embassy, so the last thing he needs is more work when he gets home) and the children being left without a mother.  In order to sleep in, eat out at delicious restaurants, and shop, I have to shuck my very real responsibilities to seven other human beings whose lives depend a lot on me.  So even the thought of enjoying, much less openly planning all of the fun things I'm going to do myself feels very, very selfish. 

Because, well, I am going to do a lot of fun things.  We have foreign service friends from our very first time in Cairo living London, who I've planned a trip to Warwick Castle and an opera with.  My brother- and sister-in-law moved to London this summer and I'll catch up with them.  And as long as I'm childless, I'm going to go and take a family name to the temple and do every single ordinance, something I've never had the time to do.  I've done my research and found a stable to go riding at.  And of course, all of the food and shopping.  My hotel is, after all, right off Oxford Street, one of the biggest shopping districts in London.

Hopefully my visit will only last a week.  Even with all of the playing and fun, anything more than a week away from my family really does get to be unpleasant.  I do, after all, love them and enjoy their company.  And I'm pretty sure that Brandon will be counting down the days even before I get on the airplane.  I am, after all, his very favorite person in the whole wide world.  It's good to know that I'll be missed.  And it's also nice to have the chance to be missed.

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

Rotavirus

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.