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Sunday, October 17, 2021

Girls' Saturday

Recently Brandon and I decided to start having boy's day/girls' day.  Brandon wanted to start doing Boy Things with the boys, so we decided to spend one Saturday a month doing splitting up so that each of us could enjoy doing things that maybe wouldn't appeal to the entire family.

For our first Saturday, held in September, the girls stayed home and did some online shopping for horse show clothes, watched videos of how to do nail art, and then practiced on each other.  The boys went out into the mountains and scouted out camping and fishing locations.  It was a lot of fun, if only because I had four children to talk with instead of seven.  Three fewer makes a difference, especially when all three of them are boys.

This month, the girls got to go out while the boys stayed home and watched Elizabeth.  I had found a couple of stables outside Tashkent that had trail riding out in the surrounding fields, so we decided to go and try one, Конный Дворик, out.  Even though we ride twice a week in town, it's always in a ring, so we thought it would be fun to get out and see some pretty scenery while having a chance to do some fast riding.

We were able to find the place pretty easily, and the the setup was quite scenic, with a nice courtyard with a rose garden and pleasant seating to have lunch afterwards.  The horses looked well cared for and happy, and after a few minutes of meeting the horses, we headed out.  

Fall is settling in here, so the trees lining the field were turning lovely colors, and the weather was clear and sunny - a perfect fall day.  I always love getting out of Tashkent, so it was pleasant to be out in the fields.  The girls enjoyed clopping along and even got to get an invigorating canter in halfway through the ride.  Too quickly, the ride was over and we headed back to the stable.

While petting an amazingly fuzzy pony, we started chatting with an English speaking guide.  He introduced us to the owner and they invited us to come and watch them do some archery on horseback.  We all eagerly agreed, and were treated to a fun show of Central Asian mounted archery.  After they were done, our friend let everyone take a turn shooting, but not from horseback. 

We finished our afternoon with freshly-grilled shashlik, or shish-kebabs.  The stable dogs happily joined us for lunch as we watched a two year-old Fresian stallion being trained by another new friend we had made earlier that morning.  The girls all agreed that it had been a perfect afternoon, and I had to agree.  We're already looking forward to our next visit.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Elizabeth, Emotional Support Toddler

Brandon is, sadly, back to working full-time at the embassy.  He has been since the spring, but we're still in mourning that he has to go to work and leave us all day every day.  Occasionally, however, he will still work from home if can swing it.  

Last Thursday he participated on a conference on religious freedom in Uzbekistan.  Before covid times, these conferences were held in person, but now everyone has discovered the joy of virtual conferences and attendees can enjoy attending from the comfort of their home or office.  It saves travel time, and the organizers don't have to worry about providing snacks and drinks for breaks.

Before I went downstairs to do school with the children, Brandon let me know when his slot for speaking would be.  He had spent a reasonable amount of time working on a speech that he was giving on behalf of the U.S. government and he didn't really want it to be punctuated by screams, shrieks, cries, pounding, slamming, or any other other random noises that happen on a regular basis at our house.  It's pretty impressive how well microphones can pick up the exact noises that you'd rather not have shared with everyone.

As the time approached, I let all of the children know that Dad would be giving a speech, and everyone should be very careful to keep quiet.  William started shrieking just before the appointed time, but I was able to chase him down and force silence on him just in time.  We all tiptoed carefully around the house, speaking in whispers and most especially staying out of the upstairs where Brandon was working.  As I helped Eleanor work on her grammar lesson, I heard Brandon speaking loudly and clearly and felt like a Good Wife for keeping everyone quiet for this important moment.

Soon enough, Brandon grew quiet and we returned back to our normal school noisiness.  A little while later, I checked in with Brandon to see how the speech had gone.  

"It went well," he told me, "but right before I had to speak, I heard Elizabeth coming up the stairs, babbling to herself.  Right as she came up to me, the moderator announced that I would be speaking, and I had to turn on my camera.  I couldn't do anything about her being there.  Everyone was waiting for me and I couldn't suddenly rush off camera so that I could carry Elizabeth downstairs and give her to someone.  I just had to start my speech.  There wasn't anything I could do.  

If she had come up five minutes earlier, I could have taken her downstairs to you.  If she had come ten minutes later, I would have been done.  But instead she had come at the exact wrong moment in my entire workday.  I had visions of that BBC guy with the little kid in the background flashing through my head and I couldn't believe that the exact same thing was happening to me.

Luckily, she came from the side and she's short so everything happened where the nobody could see what was going on.  So I clapped my hand on her head to keep her from trying to climb on my lap and just started my speech.  I was afraid that she was going to cry or complain about being kept still, but I think she was just surprised at my my reaction and also how loudly I was talking.  She might have been able to tell that something important was going on and kept quiet, but I'm just grateful nobody but me could tell that she was there the entire time.  Maybe she just knew I needed a live audience."

As I listened to him, I couldn't decide whether to die of mortification or die laughing.  I had been so careful about making sure everyone kept very quiet, but didn't even think to wonder where Elizabeth was during that all-important ten minutes.  I literally had one job to do, and only had to do it for ten minutes, and I wasn't able to get it done properly.  

But when I thought of Elizabeth standing next to Brandon, held immobile by his hand firmly held on her little blonde head, I couldn't help but laugh.  What a perfect encapsulation of life as a father of seven children - giving a speech to numerous government officials and members of various organizations while desperately trying to keep your almost two year old daughter from making an unannounced appearance in the meeting.  

In the end, everything turned out okay, and nobody was the wiser except the three of us.  And now the entire internet.  But I know that the next time Brandon has to give a speech while we're all at home, I'll be very sure to make sure that Elizabeth is kept as far as physically possible from Brandon.

Sunday, September 26, 2021



This weekend, we went camping.  I actually really enjoy camping, but I can't quite figure out why I find it so much fun.  There's something about fires, sleeping outside, and beautiful mornings that I like a lot.  We actually haven't gone camping the entire time we've been in Tashkent, and the last time we went camping, I was pregnant with William.  

One of the biggest obstacles to camping here (and also in Tajikistan) has been finding a place to camp.  There aren't any established campsites or camping areas, as 'camping' isn't something that anyone does here.  There are camps, but those don't have areas for tents, just concrete huts with shashlik grills outside them.  

So last weekend I sent the boys out to go and find us a place to camp.  The list of requirements is pretty short - it has to be somewhere that can fit the tent, is isolated enough that nobody will bother us, and has to have somewhere nearby to park the car.  When you're camping with nine people, car camping is the only option.  They returned with a place to go, but Brandon didn't make any promises about how great it was.  "It's flat and isolated, but that's about it."

So on Friday afternoon, the kids and I packed up the car to go on our first camping trip in five years.  It was significantly easier that it was five years ago, as I had very willing helpers to haul the stuff, load the car top carrier, and prep everything that I needed.  We finished up with several hours to spare before Brandon came home and we headed up to the mountains.

The site that Brandon found ended up being about a ten-minute walk from where we could park the car, and included fording a small river.  Brandon ended up personally hauling two-thirds of our stuff and two-thirds of our children across the river himself and everyone else helped where they could.

The site itself was big enough to fit our tent and very isolated, so it fit the bill nicely.  We were able to find plenty of wood to make a good fire and enjoy our usual camping dinner of roast hot dogs, chips, and s'mores.  My rule for camping food is that it has to be able to cooked on a stick because I don't wash dishes when I camp.  

When we bought our tent eight years ago, I bought the biggest tent that I could find.  I told Brandon that I wanted one that I could stand up in because there's nothing more obnoxious when camping than having to crawl around in your tent because it's too short to stand up in.  At the time it was ridiculously large, easily fitting us plus four small children.  This time, however, I realized that it was a good thing we had bought such a large tent because we could barely squeeze everyone in.  When they call a tent an eight-man tent, it really means eight sleeping bags and no more.  Elizabeth ended up sleeping in the middle of everyone's feet.  When she graduates to her own sleeping bag, I guess everyone will just have to squish a little.  

All the children had a grand time camping and doing all the camping things.  Nobody had to wash their hands, everyone got to eat as many marshmallows as they liked, they got to climb rocky hills and get extremely dirty, and the river got a lot of rocks chucked in it. 

And best of all, everyone got to burn stuff.  Because who doesn't like setting things on fire?  Our campsite had lots and lots of dead branches laying around, so everyone got to burn as many branches as their little hearts desired.  Elizabeth learned that one of end of the stick is hotter than the other, and William had a grand time setting everything he could find on fire.  What else could a four year-old boy want?  

By the end of the trip, everyone was thoroughly dirty, very stinky, pretty tired, and quite happy.  It was a completely successful trip and I already have plans for out next one.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Uzbek Fall, Take Four

 The children have been back in school now for three weeks.  Our routines have settled back into their usual groove, and order and sanity have resumed their usual supremacy in the house.  Our summers are a welcome break from the rigid schedules of the school year.  Everyone is happy for a chance to do some relaxing, spend more time playing, and not be so ruled by routine.  Summer always ends in the climax of our yearly trip to the US where the routine and predictability get entirely tossed out in window in a wild month of staying up late, seeing friends, and partying non-stop.  So by the time we get to fall and school, I (and perhaps the children) am happy to be embraced by the routine again.

This is our second last fall in Tashkent.  All last year I spent thinking that it would be the last fall, winter, and spring we spent in Tashkent.  When pumpkin somsas came into season in the fall, we ate as many as we could because this was the last time we'd get to enjoy the delicious mix of sweet and savory inside a flaky crust (if you've ever had them, you'd know exactly the heaven I'm describing).  After going sledding once last year, I bid the mountains farewell because we wouldn't be visiting them again.  And in the spring, everyone gorged themselves on the last season of amazing Uzbek strawberries.

But here we are again, and it's fall again, and we're still in Tashkent.  Sometimes I imagine a parallel life where I'm in DC right now, settling into a tiny little apartment while Brandon learns Kazakh and we enjoy a Virginian fall.  And then I look around and see the same fall I'm having for the fourth year in a row.  

That's not to say that I'm unhappy about another fall here in Tashkent.  And when compared with the alternative - hemorrhaging money while sleeping on top of each other and waiting to see what the next place will be like - I'm very happy to be here for a fourth year.  I haven't seen four falls in the same house since I was a teenager at my parents' house.  And I'm not likely to see another string of falls until Brandon and I retire and we finally settle down, whenever that will be.

This fall has been the usual September of Shattered Hopes.  After a long, hot, dry Uzbek summer, everyone is desperately waiting for a breath of cool air so we can all stop sweating the second we walk out of our houses.  And as is usual, the beginning of this month offered a false hope, a string of crystal-clear, blue-sky days that never got hotter than the low eighties.  I opened the windows, pulled out my cardigans for date nights, and looked forward to the next two months of beautiful weather.  Then, as usual, it got hot again.  Yesterday Brandon had an office farewell/welcome party, and it was outside next to his co-worker's pool.  Nobody said anything, but I know at least a few of us were looking longingly at it as we tried to hide in the shade from the 97-degree heat.  Eventually it will cool down for good, and then I will really have my last Uzbek fall.

We have grand plans for this fall, with camping, fishing, and horseback riding planned.  I've been scouting out some hikes to go on, and we might even try to make some friends for our final year here in Tashkent.  After all, if we don't have friends, there won't be anyone to have Thanksgiving with.  

I'm happy that this is our last, last fall in Tashkent.  One day I look forward to settling down and not having any last seasons at all as I actually don't like moving around very much.  But although we live in Tashkent, this isn't our home and we've always known that we would leave at some point.  So when it's time to leave, I'll be happy to go and explore the things that Kazakhstan has to offer.  Every place has something good about it, so I'm looking forward to finding those things out.

But for now, I'm happy to be here and have another year of stability.  And also, pumpkin somsas.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Last Time

 Two weeks ago, on the first day of school, on a whim I decided to put Elizabeth in undies.  The timing wasn't really the best, but it was going to be happening soon, so why not make an already crazy week even crazier?

My three least-favorite parenting tasks are sleep training, potty training, and teaching children how to read.  There are lots of unpleasant things about parenting (the noise is definitely one that gets old), but those three tasks are ones that call for a high amount of patience and faith that at the end of your effort, you'll get a child that is a little more like a real human being. 

 I think they are also frustrating because there often seems to be a lot of work put in for very little, if any, discernible progress.  It's nearly completely random reinforcement, with almost no tie between what you do and what results come from the child you're trying to teach.  It's an unfortunate reminder that even though you may want your child to pee on command in the place you want them to pee, if they don't want to, it's not going to happen.  That is one of the great frustrations of parenting - there are two wills involved, and usually the one that is less logical wins in a head-on confrontation.  

This year I also started teaching William to read.  And if I'd had another child, I'd probably be sleep training them right now too.  But thankfully I only have to do two of my least favorite things simultaneously instead of going for the unholy trifecta of complete insanity.  Everyone is happy that is the case.  It's funny how much an unhappy mother can make everyone's lives fairly miserable.

Potty training has had its usual and expected triumphs and disasters which are common to teaching any child a new skill.  I've cleaned up puddles, washed sheets and blankets, handed out chocolate chips, listened to (seemingly endless) wailing, and let everyone in the house know of all Elizabeth's successes. Thankfully her siblings are happy to clap for a potty full of urine. She, as is usual, hasn't liked it, but she's submitted to the program because I'm more stubborn than she is.

At this point, we're over the worst part of the process and nobody in the house wears diapers during the day.  Elizabeth toddles around the house wearing tiny little undies, which is possibly one of the cutest things that toddlers can wear.  I love their round little bellies poking out as they wander around the house with no shame, not yet realizing that everyone else is wearing clothes and their lack of them is an unusual thing.  I have perhaps two more years of this before she vigorously defends her modesty and insists on things like locked doors when she dresses.  

I have found, as seems to be true about many things with my later children, that this process hasn't been nearly as hateful as it used to be.  I don't know if it's because I'm older and less prone to hysterics, or I'm older and just don't have the energy to get wound up about things, or I'm older and have more experience and perspective about what things are really worth getting upset about, or I'm just older.  Whichever it is, I'm happy to be older.  It seems to make some things in life easier.  

But even if potty training is less unpleasant than it used to be, I'm still happy that this is the last time I have to try and figure out where the puddle is, use my mom-senses to figure out if that crying fit is caused by a full bladder or just pique, haul the little red potty around the house, and have endless conversations about the state of one's bladder.  Bathroom use is something I'm very happy to not to have to think about for anyone other than myself.  

There are lots of things I'm going to miss about having small children - having them cuddle up in my lap and fall asleep into limp relaxation, watching their pure delight with simple, little things - but I'm very happy to be done with diapers.  I can't stop my children from growing up and leaving innocence behind, but at least I can enjoy them leaving dependence behind also.  I've been changing diapers for fifteen years now, and I'm happy to quit for good.  I feel like I've done my time and I'm ready to move on with my life.  I'm happy to change diapers occasionally for someone else, but I'm happy that that stage of my life is almost over. 

Happy Birthday, Kathleen

While we were in the US, Kathleen turned fifteen years old.  We were at my parents' house, so she got to celebrate the day with her grandparents.  Her cousin was also visiting, so she got to celebrate with her also.  She has celebrated nearly every birthday in the US, which is the complete opposite of the rest of her siblings.

She started the day with Krispy Kreme doughnuts, which everyone was quite happy about.  Even though I make homemade doughnuts, there's nothing that matches a fresh Krispy Kreme.  She also got to spend the afternoon swimming and then have her birthday dinner and cake of her choice.

For her present from her grandmother, she went shopping with Sophia and her cousin (to celebrate their birthdays also) and out to lunch afterwards.  A few days later, she got to go riding with them and Eleanor tagged along for her birthday present from my mother.

Kathleen also got to spend her birthday at Driver's Ed, learning how to drive from my parents' neighbor who teaches part time at a local driving school.  She managed to get through the three days of driving without causing any accidents, so I'll call that a win.

It's strange to have a fifteen year-old in the house.  She is now three inches taller than me, has bigger feet than me, and wears my old clothes.  In less than three years, she'll be gone, the first one to leave the house.  That time that never felt like it would come is now quickly coming at me and I'm constantly surprised had how fast it has arrived.  

With Sophia's thirteenth birthday earlier in the summer, I'm now the mother of two teenaged daughters.  Having been the mother of at least one teenager for two years now, I can say that I mostly enjoy my teenagers.  They're often interesting to talk to, are usually quite dependable, and we get along together pretty well most of the time.  We've yet to have any of the terrible conflicts I've heard tales of, which I'm very grateful for.  Both Sophia and Kathleen have commented that they've come to the sad realization that I hold all the power and fighting is useless as I can make their lives pretty miserable.  I'm glad that they can understand that without having to try it out first.  

It was fun to watch both the girls spend a lot of time with their great aunts while we were at the beach this summer.  I would often see them out in the waves, chatting with their adult relatives, or talking with them long after dinner was done.  I am happy to see that my children enjoy the company of the people I love and respect and aren't so annoying that the adults run when they see the girls coming.  

I'm enjoying watching Kathleen grow up and come into the first stages of budding adulthood.  She's not ready to leave and run her own life yet, but we can both see that on the horizon.  Our conversations have shifted to talking about that coming time and how to prepare for it.  She still likes some things that she's liked since she was a child, but her interests are also maturing and turning into things that she will be able to enjoy throughout her life.  It's fascinating to watch.

Everyone is happy to have her in our family and I'm happy to have her as my firstborn, the one that I get to experiment and learn on.  She's very patient with me, and I'm grateful.  Happy birthday, Kathleen!

Sunday, September 5, 2021

R&R 2021: Lots of People, Lots of Fun, and a Fail

Editor's note. Our R&R this year was technically home leave, but I'm still going to call it R&R.  Nobody cares about State Department's arcane labeling except the State Department anyway.

On the whole, we had a great trip back to the US this summer.  Nobody got terribly sick, although most of us got the usual welcome-to-America cold that we get each year.  We've been gone for an entire year, so whatever cold we got last year has now morphed into a new variety that is ready to give everyone a week of snotty noses again.  It happens every year.

Our travel went amazingly smoothly, especially considering all of the crazy flight delays and cancellations I've been hearing about from everyone's summer travels.  One of our flights - the flight from JFK to Salt Lake - even got us to Salt Lake an entire hour early.  Our Uzbek Air flights had more than the usual four movies and even they were on time, which is practically unheard of. There was a hurricane projected to hit JFK at the exact same time our flight back to Tashkent was scheduled to take off, but Henri was kind enough to move just enough east that the kids and I made it home without any trouble.

We started the party out in Utah this year, where we got to see a lot of family - seven of Brandon's nine siblings with their twenty-two children made it to a family reunion.  All forty-three of us got to party for three days together and catch up with everyone, playing lots of games, telling lots of stories, and making lots (and lots) of happy noise.  Our girls were in heaven with their girl cousins, staying up much too late singing songs, braiding each other's hair, and talking about boys.  Sophia later told me that she had always thought that those things were silly, "but now I've realized that girls do those things because they're really fun!"

In addition to seeing Brandon's family, we also got to spend time with various friends that both live in Utah and were passing through during the summer.  We played in the park, had lunch together, had picnics, went swimming, hiked, got ice cream much too late at night, and got to set off fireworks to celebrate the 24th of July, a Utah state holiday.  Joseph got to live his best life as we stayed up late into the night eating homemade cherry ice cream and setting off round after round of smoke bombs, ground stars, cans of worms, and various other low-key fireworks.  

We left straight from one party to the next, flying in to North Carolina to a full house of guests who were at my parents' house in preparation for our annual beach trip.  The kids had a great time playing all week with their other cousins and all of my father's siblings but one.  Despite not having any hurricanes this year, the weather wasn't that great.  But it was a great year for rainy days, because we got to watch the Olympics.  It's the only time I don't feel bad about watching hours of TV on end, and with the power of smart TVs, we got to choose which events to watch.  One evening, Brandon and I stayed up much too late with my brother, watching endless random events and making snarky comments.  Because, family + Olympics = awesome.  

After the beach, we stayed at my parents' house for two weeks for the yearly summer ritual of doctor's visits.  In between the visits, the kids played in my parents' backyard, went to the movies, celebrated Kathleen's fifteenth birthday, swam at the pool, went to the park, had birthday time with their grandmother, and spent time with their cousin who came back with us.  My parents also took our five oldest and all of my sister's children on a bike riding adventure in the mountains of Virginia, which everyone enjoyed.  Brandon and I enjoyed having three blissfully quiet days all to ourselves.  Two small children are pretty easy to take care of when you're used to having seven.

After five fun-filled weeks in the US, Brandon and I went separate directions.  The kids and I all flew east back to Tashkent and he flew west to go caribou hunting in Alaska with his brother .  We had an uneventful trip home, and Brandon got to enjoy some quality time with his older brother.  What he didn't get to enjoy, however, was any hunting.  After waiting around for five days, waiting for the weather to clear up enough to catch a ride on a bush plane out to the tundra and caribou herds, their hunt got canceled.  So Brandon got to come home a week early and I got to single-parent for a week less.  

We always have a marvelous time in America, and we're always happy to come home at the end.  I hope that the children have many happy memories of our summers in the US.  As we were going through JFK airport, I was hit with the sense of having made it back to the motherland.  Then I thought about the children and realized that they probably didn't have that same feeling.  None of them have spent more than ten months in the US at any one time since we joined the State Department when Kathleen was 2 1/2 years old, and some of them haven't spent any more than three months at a time in the US.  The last time we actually 'lived' in the US was in 2014.

When I asked Kathleen how she felt about coming back to the States, she agreed that it didn't feel like the motherland to her.  "It feels more like I imagine what Disneyland would feel like.  It's the place where all the good things happen and all the best people are."  

One day we'll move back for good and summers won't be quite the same jam-packed level of magical happiness.  But for now, we'll enjoy them while we have them.  

Sunday, July 11, 2021

The Best-Laid Plans

 I am a planner.  I love planning and logistics and booking plane tickets and finding rental houses and putting items on the calendar and making schedules, something that Brandon is constantly grateful for because he loathes all of those things.  As soon as we even start talking about taking a trip, I eagerly rush to the internet to work out all of the possible details of this theoretical trip.  Brandon claims that there is probably something profoundly wrong with me for enjoying those things, but he can't complain because I happily save him from doing them himself.

Every summer I plan out our travel as soon as possible.  The day Brandon lets me know that the request for summer leave has come in, I give him the dates that I've already worked out months before.  I blame my mother for this habit, as she has been known to set an alarm on the day that beach rental companies start accepting summer reservations so that she can be the first in line.  

As soon as Brandon lets me know that he has gotten his time off, I start talking with the travel office about booking tickets.  Our tickets are paid for by the government, part of the sweetener deal to make places like Central Asia attractive, so the process of buying them is ten times more difficult and often two times more expensive than if we had just paid for the tickets ourselves.  Countless years of breath have been wasted complaining about the ridiculously antiquated system, but it's still in place because, government.  

I always start this process early because it takes so very long to get it all done and I never know what new complication will come up each year.  One summer his boss took four months to approve Brandon's leave because his boss was leaving and didn't want to speak for the next boss.  That year we got our tickets ten days before we left, despite asking for leave in January.  Another summer we had our tickets bought and paid for months in advance.  Then there was a coup in Turkey five days before we left, so we had to fly through another airport.  When I left to have William, there were fuel issues with Turkish Airlines and the flights were irregular, so we re-booked through Dubai four days before our departure.  I remember looking out the window of our plane and seeing the Turkish airplane that we were supposed to be on.  Another year, nobody wanted to give Brandon any leave at all because there wasn't anyone to run his section while we were gone, and those tickets were bought a week in advance.  Every year I think that I've covered all of the possible scenarios, but it turns out that I'm never quite creative enough to plan for whatever new strange circumstance has popped up.  I've come to be much more calm about the entire process as we always manage to get on the plane, even if the tickets show up the night before we leave (true story).

This year, we actually had tickets in our possession on May 26.  I had lined up everything perfectly for our fourth move, making sure things were ready months in advance.  Then plans changed and we weren't moving anymore.  Our dates for leaving were the same, but we just had to buy tickets to return.  It sounded pretty simple.  Just buy return tickets and we're done.  But, as this is the government, it wasn't simple at all.

First Brandon had to get everyone to agree that he could really stay.  The management here at post was thrilled to have him stay, but the management at our next post wasn't so sure.  It took several weeks of talking, but in the end they were okay with him not learning Kazakh.  Then Brandon had to apply for his job.  Since he was taking over someone else's job (even though it was in the same section), he had to bid on a one-year job that was created exclusively for him.  Next he had to have a handshake offered and then accepted, which took several more weeks.  Then he had to get paneled, and finally he had to get travel orders.  

As soon as Brandon sent me the travel orders, I sent them to the travel office.  They had to return the tickets that had already been bought and then reserve new tickets.  I changed the dates multiple times because Brandon is going hunting with his brother and we had to get that straightened out, which required more texts, emails, and waiting.  We also had to figure out how to get a PCR test in Anchorage and how long Brandon would have to wait in a hotel in Anchorage for results before being able to fly back to Tashkent.  

By early this past week, everything was worked out and I told the travel office to purchase the tickets.  Sure, they told me, just as soon as I turned in "the DS form."  Then we found out that Brandon had to resubmit his itinerary in another government system.  It actually accepted all of the information without any problems (which we had had when we submitted it the first time back in April because we weren't using Internet Explorer) until we got to the end and couldn't actually press the submit button.

He was able to submit the form the next day, but then realized that the people who had to approve it weren't in Tashkent, as both were on R&R.  He worked around one approver, but the second one got a phone call while in the Maldives and he approved it right before going snorkeling.  As of today, it is waiting on two people (who are hopefully not on vacation) in DC to approve it, so perhaps we'll get the tickets on Tuesday.  Or Wednesday.  As long as we get them before Saturday, I really don't care. 

Brandon himself has been pulling twelve- and fourteen-hour days this past week, and only had to work eight hours on Saturday to get ready for a big conference that will be happening the three days before we leave.  He is in charge of arranging schedules, meetings, hotel rooms, diplomatic notes, airport pickups and drop-offs (which always happen at 1 or 2 in the morning), and the myriad other details and emergencies that happen when multiple travelers are coming in from DC.

I had intentionally planned to leave on a Sunday this time, as our departure is always a furious rush of Brandon trying to get everything done and dragging in late the night before we leave.  I always spend the two previous days packing all the suitcases and getting all the details done alone and am crabby because I've been the one running the show without any backup.  

The last time we barely avoided a total meltdown at eleven o-clock the night before we left (and we always leave much too early the next day), Brandon had the brilliant idea of taking an extra day off before we left so that I wasn't left alone and he wasn't destroyed from work.  So this time Brandon asked for Friday off so that we had two days to get ready to leave.  He wouldn't be stressed, I wouldn't be frazzled, the suitcases would be packed by early Saturday afternoon, and we could spend the rest of the day swimming, having dinner, and getting to bed early.  Everyone would be happy with each other, our house wouldn't be destroyed from furious packing, and we wouldn't be wondering - as we do every single year - if it is really worth it to kill ourselves to go to America.  After all, the Maldives are always there.

Sometimes I wonder why I keep trying to fight against the inevitable unravelling of all of the my plans.  It really would be easier if I just saved everything until the very end and let everything work out how it inevitably would anyway.  But I just can't bring myself to let go of the illusion that I am in control and so instead go crazy trying to make everything work smoothly and well.  One day I will let go, and that will be right about the time we quit working for the state department.

But for now, I'll go and find myself a paper bag to breathe into.  Then I'll remind myself that life is not all spent traveling and we'll have a great time and forget about all the trouble as soon as we get over the jet lag and start partying.  And then I'll go and waste time on social media for hours as a coping mechanism for dealing with the stress of packing.  And finally I'll get everything all packed, Brandon will send his visitors back to where they came from, and we will get on the airplane just as we do every summer.  And it will be another year before we have to do it all again.  Thank heaven.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

All Alone, Again

 Today, Brandon and I woke up at 8:00.  After making sure the smaller children got breakfast, we showered, dressed, made sure everyone else was dressed, and then started church.  I'm not sure what time it was, but it really didn't matter because there wasn't going to be anyone else showing up anyway.  In fact, there won't be anyone else showing up at our house for church until January.  So it's home-churching for the next seven months.

Our good friends left a few weeks ago, in a blaze of furious socialization, spending days together enjoying the summer delights of Tashkent and the long evenings together by the pool squeezing out the last drops of time spent together here in Uzbekistan.  We will see each other again, but never again living together in the same city, as close as two families can be without actually being related to each other.  I love that the foreign service forges such strong bonds out of often difficult circumstances, but I hate that there is always an end date.  I am sometimes jealous of my parents who have lived in the same house that they bought when I was three.  

So church has been much quieter for the past two weeks.  Luckily, we've done this several times before, the longest being eight months during covid when we saw nobody but ourselves every Sunday morning.  

But having done it before doesn't make it any better.  I can't deny that there are some upsides, however.  There's no Sunday rush to get everyone out the door or have the house ready for guests.  I don't wear makeup or style my hair, although everyone still dresses in church clothes.  Brandon always teaches the lessons, so I'm not responsible for any hurried lesson preparation on Saturday night.  And we eat lunch much earlier which means longer Sunday afternoon naps for Brandon and me.

As nice as those things are, it doesn't make up for all the things that we miss.  The children miss having friends at church, if only as a break from seeing each other all week long.  Worshipping together with friends makes the worship that more sweet.  Brandon and I also miss having friends at church and the sharing of experience and wisdom that comes from being together.  Also, our children behave better when there is an audience.  We all miss feeling like we're part of a unit, a very small part of the larger church of Jesus Christ, working together for the kingdom of God.  It's harder to feel that when you're all alone in a country of 33 million people.

But we'll be fine until reinforcements show up next year.  Thankfully we have enough people that Brandon and I aren't the only ones singing the songs or giving the testimonies.  We even have enough older children that can play the piano, direct the music, pass the sacrament, and run singing time for the primary children.  So it's not that bad.  But it will be nice when new friends show up.  Until then, we'll enjoy our long Sunday naps.  

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Hiking Fail

 A few weeks ago, we had a holiday.  The children had finished school the week before, so we decided to celebrate by doing something fun.  While discussion what to do, Eleanor suggested we go hiking.  We have done almost no hiking the entire time we've been here in Tashkent.  The mountains are at least a ninety-minute drive away from our house, and being pregnant, having a small baby, and COVID have also dampened my adventuring spirit.

So I thought that we'd take it easy and go on a fun hike.  A few winters ago, a new ski resort opened up in the mountains.  There are several Soviet-era skiing areas (I say 'areas' because calling them resorts would be laughable), but the chair lifts are things that Brandon would never let the children get within fifty feet of.  We had friends who were riding chair lifts at a skiing area one summer, the lift got struck by lightning, and they ended up getting down from the lift via ropes.  

This new resort, however, has brand-new lifts and a gondola to the top.  The weather has gotten hot down here in Tashkent, but the temperature looked delightfully cool up in the mountains.  So we loaded the kids in the car, headed up to the mountains, and looked forward to a nice, easy hike that only went down.  

I had checked the website before going, and the hiking page mentioned two routes at the top of the resorts, and specifically mentioned one as 'long but easy.'  After an exciting ride on the gondola, everyone tumbled out, eager to enjoy the lovely view and perhaps a little less eager to start hiking.  It's pretty safe to say that my enthusiasm for hiking is at least double anyone else's in the family.  

After looking around and taking a few pictures, we started looking for the trail.  I had thought (in retrospect quite foolishly forgetting that - despite riding a European skiing gondola - we were still in Central Asia) that the trail would be clearly marked.  After all, the resort had an entire page dedicated to hiking at the resort, complete with scenic pictures.  However, everything going down from the summit looked both steep and scree-covered.  There wasn't anything that looked like trails and no signs pointing toward trails either.

By this point the children were all ready to hop back in the gondola and ride back down to the bottom.  No clear hiking trails clearly meant that there didn't have to be any hiking.  But I stubbornly insisted that there had to be some way to get down from the top - all resorts have an easy cat-track down from the top for the poor fools that get in over their head.  Besides, we had to spend a little more time doing something in the mountains.  I have a personal rule that you have to spend more time at your destination than it took to get there.  

After a little scouting, I found a ski trail that looked promising, and herded everyone over to start the fun.  "It will be fun," I told them, "and besides, how hard can it be?  We're just walking down the hill!"  Insert ominous music.

At first the trail was flat and gentle.  After five minutes of walking, we came to a split.  One route was listed as blue, the other orange.  I did a lot of skiing in college, so I knew what blue meant - intermediate route.  But I'd never heard of orange, as US resorts label their resorts as black, blue, and green.  So I figured that orange should be easier than blue and we took the orange route.  Ominous music again.

Pretty soon we came to our first downhill.  In addition to being reasonably steep, it was also scree-covered.  But it wasn't too bad, and it was an orange - and not blue - slope, after all.  Everyone scrambled down the slope, working hard to not turn their descent into an uncontrolled tumble.  Brandon had Elizabeth on his back, and I led William down.  The only thing worse than scrambling down a scree-covered slope is scrambling down one with a toddler.  But everyone made it down the slope and we were rewarded with a stunning view of the surrounding slopes.  And another slope.

This one was at least plant-covered, so the scramble wasn't quite so bad.  But it was followed by another one, and another, and another.  After three or four slopes, Brandon asked if perhaps we should just climb back up and ride the gondola down.  He had injured one of his knees years ago while working at a Stouffer's frozen food factory in the early years of our marriage.  It only bothers him while hiking downhill, and it's made worse by carrying a 25-pound baby on his back.  His knee was starting to bother him and he wasn't sure if he could make it down the rest of the way.

I looked at the slope we had just scrambled down, and thought about scrambling back up it while hauling a four-year old.  Then I thought about scrambling up three more of them.  Then I looked down at how far we had to go to the bottom of the resort.  I made the third bad decision of the day and insisted that it wouldn't be that much longer until we got to the bottom.  

Several slopes later, Brandon was climbing down backwards on his hands and knees, William had skinned his knees, and everyone was shaking from exhaustion.  As I scrambled down the steepest slope, I imagined what it would be like to ski down it.  There was no way that this slope was easier than a blue, and it looked about as steep as some of the blacks I had recklessly zoomed down during my young and irresponsible college years.

By the time we reached a meadow with a lake in it, Brandon was done.  William had developed blisters on both toes.  So Kathleen strapped on the baby carrier and took Elizabeth while I piggy-backed William.  After scouting on ahead, Brandon and I determined that we had made it down the worst of the slopes and we had a pretty easy route back to our car.  

Half an hour later, we finally emerged from the mountain dusty, exhausted, injured, and triumphant.  Everyone hobbled back to the car and gratefully climbed back in, happy to be through with the 'fun' that their sadistic mother had subjected them to on a holiday.  

While driving home, everyone wanted to know if they would ever have to hike like that again.  "No, no," I assured them, "that wasn't hiking.  That was scrambling down black ski slopes.  Nobody hikes like that."  They sighed in relief.  And then Joseph piped up from the back, "See, Mom, I told you that we should have just ridden the gondola down!  You should have listened to me!!" Hopefully I'll remember this next time and listen to the advice of my nine year-olds.  But honestly, I probably won't.  Some people never learn.