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Sunday, February 14, 2021

The Groundhog Was Wrong

 When we moved to Dushanbe back in 2014, I geared myself up for a long, cold winter.  After all, Dushanbe is right next to the mountains and in Central Asia, so that meant that I was going to actually have to learn how to cope with winter.  

I learned a few months later that my calf-length down coat was going to spent most of the next eight years hanging up in my closet.  I think that I can count the times I've worn my bright red cold-weather coat on one hand.  I don't think I've ever worn it here.  It turns out that there are two parts of Central Asia - the cold parts (Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan) and the not-so-cold parts (Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan).  

So in January, when winter got really 'cold' - where the temperature didn't get above freezing for at least ten days straight - I didn't worry too much because winter here is pretty much a six-week long season.  It takes a long time to really settle in and starts its exit by the end of February.  The ski season might stretch a little longer than two months, but I'm pretty sure it's never had good snow for three solid months.  

We can depend on apricot trees blooming by the first of March, and though there may be a rogue snow storm or a week or two of cold, rainy weather in during the Month, winter has lost its power and we can expect a lot of fine, warm days in late March.  I like winter that way.  I prefer it as a something that makes spring possible, but not much more than that.

This year, however, winter has given up the ghost pretty early.  I looked over our wall a few days ago and noticed that our neighbor's apricot trees were just about to burst into bloom.  Today Joseph and I took a walk in flip-flops and t-shirts, pushing Elizabeth in the stroller while she happily kicked her bare baby feet.  The weather forecasts claims that we will reach the upper seventies by Thursday before dipping into - gasp! - the fifties next week when some rain comes through.  

I'm really enjoying wearing a t-shirt in February.  It feels so indulgent to be able to open the back door while cooking in the kitchen so I can enjoy some of the bright sunshine.  Sending the children outside to play is much easier when everyone just throws on flip-flops (or not even that) and runs outside.  They definitely play much longer when toes and fingers aren't going numb.

I know that we won't have unbroken warm weather until spring begins in earnest next month, but I'll take this warm spell, not looking a gift horse in the mouth.  After all, every day that it isn't cold is one more day closer to real spring where it will be warm reliably and I can enjoy all of the delights of green grass, flowers, and flip-flops.

This spring is also my last spring in not-cold part of Central Asia, so I'm working extra hard to enjoy all of the sunshine, blue skies, and above-freezing weather.  Nur-Sultan hasn't seen temperatures above freezing since last year, and can't even begin to think about a thaw for another six weeks.  I know that I'll remember these warm February days with fondness when I'm getting acquainted with a block heater in two winters.  

But for now, I'm going to enjoy my early spring.  It turns out that Phil might have been right about the US, but he was dead wrong about Uzbekistan.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Happy Birthday, William!

Today William turned four.  His birthday is actually this coming week, but I'm not a stickler about doing things on their exact dates if other dates are more convenient.  We've had several Christmases on a day other than December 25, and everyone was just as festive.  Brandon has a busy schedule this coming week, so celebrating on a weekend made more sense this year.  Plus, William isn't that aware of what dates are.  And also, who would argue with having their birthday early?

For his birthday activity, we went to a local trampoline park.  We hadn't been in maybe a year (definitely not since March), so Elizabeth had a whole new world to discover and was beyond excited to have an entire room full of trampolines to crawl on.  I had to laugh as I watched her crawl from trampoline to trampoline, stopping to sit and bounce on every single one.  

I don't usually bounce with the children, but had to watch Elizabeth this time, so Kathleen and Sophia cajoled me into showing them my trampoline flipping ability.  It's been a long time since I was young and (much more) reckless, and although I pulled off the flip, it was a lot scarier than flips used to be.  William took advantage of my presence and made sure that I spent a lot of time jumping with him.  Which was fair, as it was his birthday Saturday.

The fun continued with lunch at a restaurant (also not done in over a year) and William's choice of movie for the evening.

Today we had his birthday meal of choice, spaghetti.  I have never made spaghetti in my entire life, so when he started asking for it, I couldn't figure out where he had even heard of it, much less eaten it.  Then I remembered that his current favorite book is Spaghetti With a Chance of Meatballs (because who doesn't love a book about food??), but I still couldn't figure out where he had eaten it, until I recalled his play dates at a friend's house.  I asked my friend if they had ever eaten spaghetti for lunch, and she said that yes, but only once.  But for William, I guess once was all it took.

For dessert he had chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.  When I brought up cakes, he first requested a red car cake, which got shot down.  I'm not a creative cake maker, so I gave him the option of white cake with brown frosting or brown cake with white frosting.  He opted for brown cake with brown frosting, choosing the best of both worlds.

One of the best parts of little kid birthdays is how easy they are to please.  For his present, I sent Sophia down to the local grocery store, where she picked out a set of three little cars for him.  She and Eleanor (the only currently solvent siblings) also bought him a set of little cars, and he was wildly happy when he opened his present.  My mom had asked for suggestions for a grandma present, and I told her not to worry because: 1. He's only four and doesn't need much more than a simple present, and 2. We're going to be getting rid of lots of toys in a few months anyway, so why buy more toys now?

So for William, it was a perfect birthday.  He got to make all the choices, blow out the candles, have cake, and add more cars to his collection.  I think that we could all learn a lesson from the happiness of four year-olds.  Happy Birthday, William!

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Elizabeth, the Reluctant Walker

 I love when my babies reach mobility milestones.  I always excitedly watch for when they learn to roll over, then sit up, then crawl, and finally walk.  Brandon doesn't understand why I want them to become more mobile - it just gives them further scope for creating messes.  Why would I want a nice, quiet, self-contained baby to get some mobility and start creating chaos everywhere they go?  I understand his view - mobile babies do manage to orchestrate some pretty spectacular disasters - but I enjoy the self-entertainment value of the messes.  Yes, I have to clean them up eventually (or even better - make one of the other children do it), but for that twenty or thirty minutes while the baby is creating their newest masterpiece, I am left alone.  A mobile baby is not a bored baby, and an entertained baby is a happy baby.  

I especially love when my babies learn how to walk.  When babies start walking, they aren't left behind all the time, busily crawling to try and keep up with the rest of the family.  They stop following everyone around the house, crying loudly to be picked up and taken along.  Instead, they just toddle behind, happy to be going something like the same pace as everyone else.  And they can be let out of their strollers when we go to parks, happily toddling around instead of eating mud and getting dirty.  It's just a better way to live.  There's a reason humans became bipedal.

Kathleen learned to walk at the early (for our family) age of twelve months.  Nobody else has matched her early mobility, with the latest walker being Sophia.  She didn't decide to be self-propelled until I was six months pregnant with Edwin.  Most of them have started walking between fourteen and fifteen months, much to my sadness.  I hear stories about nine- or ten-month walking babies, but none of mine have ever come close to being that clever.

Elizabeth has been... less adventurous... about all her mobility milestones.  She was coming close to her six-month birthday and was still unable to roll over.  She hadn't shone any inclination and wasn't particularly worried that practically her entire life was spent on her back.  Finally, worried about her development, I showed her how to roll herself over.  After a day or two of coaching, she picked it right up.  But I'm not sure when she would have decided to do it herself if nobody had intervened.  

She learned to sit up by pushing herself backwards through a split, which was endlessly entertaining.  I took several videos so that we can make sure she never forgets how strangely she sat up as a baby.  Her crawling also took coaching, but thankfully she learned to crawl before too much boredom set in and cries for entertainment disturbed us every twenty minutes.

When she learned to pull up on furniture at nine months, I figured that I had an early walker on my hands.  In my experience, babies are walking within a month or two of learning to get upright.  First a month passed, then two, then Elizabeth's first birthday, then another month, and she still didn't show any desire to walk.  

By the beginning of December (13 1/2 months, for those counting), she learned how to stand independently.  "Finally!" I thought to myself, "Now we're getting somewhere!"  Her favorite place to stand was in front of the Christmas tree, where she could delicately finger the ornaments, babbling pleased comments about the baubles she had better access to with this new and improved way of doing things.

Kathleen and Sophia, as eager as I was to see Elizabeth walk, started baby bootcamp for walking practice.  Their early efforts with gummy bears as bribes were fairly successful, but Elizabeth got tired of the game, and would fold her legs up in protest, going limp with every attempt to make her stand and walk.

Still they persevered, and after a month break, she grudgingly allowed her sisters to set her up so she could stumble a few steps into their arms.  After the false start of the month before, everyone thought that surely this was the time.  Every other time my children have learned to walk, they have moved quickly from those first few steps to walking drunkenly across the room, hands waving in the air, grinning with excitement with their new skill, taking a few weeks at most to make that jump.  

But not Elizabeth.  Having been shown that walking was possible, she just didn't care.  She would willingly enough consent to being set up to take three or four steps, but didn't see the use of doing any more than that.  When she needed to take something with her, she would just get up her knees and knee-walk across the floor while clutching the crucial toy, safely kept from having to walk.

This past week she has decided that walking is okay if you need to get from one place to another, but only if it is three feet away from where you already are.  Everyone is, again, waiting for that first unprompted trip across the floor, but I've stopped holding my breath.

We have a family vacation planned for the first week of March, one that would be a lot easier to take with seven fully mobile children.  Almost every day, the children ask if I think that Elizabeth will be walking by then.  If she were any other child, I would easily answer yes.  But I have no idea with Elizabeth.  She clearly likes to do things in her own way and in her own time.  

Sophia asked me recently how we could make Elizabeth walk.  I laughed and replied that nobody can make a baby do anything.  You can make things more attractive, set up situations where they're more likely to do things, and exert some small amount of physical coercion.  But - just like any other human being - you can't make babies do anything.  They do things when they decide that they want to do them, and not a second sooner.  Which is a good lesson to learn early on in life because children will continue to learn things when they want to and not any sooner.  And so will teenagers.  And so will adults.  So I suppose it's good to learn the limits of your power as a parent early and save a lot of hair being pulled out in the future.  Or at least that's the idea.  

So for now, I'm making sure to add 'baby carrier' to our packing list.  Is it possible that Elizabeth will start walking in the next four and a half weeks?  Perhaps.  Is it likely?  Maybe.  Should I stake the happiness of may vacation on it?  Definitely not.  She's making sure that we know now that she prefers to do things in her own time and in her own way.  Which, I suppose is good to know early so we can get ready for some fun times as she gets older.  And for now, I'll just keep carrying her around the house with me.  It's the final time anyone will need me to do that for them, so I'll enjoy it while it lasts.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Happy Birthday to Me

 This week I turned 39 years old.  As birthdays go, it was a pretty good one.  Since I'm the teacher, principal, guidance counselor, and school nurse, I used my authority to cancel school.  I briefly flirted with the idea of holding school anyway, but thankfully my sanity returned and everyone was happy for the break.  

Brandon worked from home this week, so we enjoyed a delicious breakfast of crepes (I also briefly considered waking up at 5 am to exercise as normal, but again made the right choice and slept in).  I happily left everyone to clean up, and then enjoyed spending the rest of the day doing exactly what I wanted.  

I didn't teach anyone school, feed anyone lunch, change any diapers, entertain any children, put any of them to bed or get them up from naps, clean up, or cook food.  It was wonderful.  

In years past, a good birthday would have involved elaborate celebrations requiring extensive planning, with the entire world throwing me a parade, but I've gotten older, and with age comes much more reasonable desires and expectations.  Now all I need to be happy is to get to take a day off from taking care of everyone else.

Brandon, Kathleen, and Sophia had spent several hours the evening before making an eight-layer Russian Honey Cake for my birthday.  The frosting didn't turn out as thick as it should have, thanks to using sometimes-unreliable local whipping cream, but the cake was delicious.  And more than the taste, I appreciated the hours of work the three had put into making my cake. 

This birthday was much more quiet than my birthday last year, where I celebrated with friends and other January birthday ladies here in Tashkent.  We all went out to dinner together and enjoyed partying long into the night.  It's strange to look back to a year ago and remember how normal life was.  We were less than two months away from the beginning of covid in Uzbekistan, and at the time the sickness was just something that was troubling China.  Nobody could have imagined that more than half of the women we were partying with would be gone in two months and those of us left wouldn't see each other for months, or perhaps ever again.  It's strange what a year can bring.

Next year I will turn forty, and my once-firm plans to celebrate with friends in Vienna have become more aspirational.  Hopefully another year will see a mostly-normal world, but who knows?  I guess I'll have to do what everyone else who wants to know the future has to do: wait and find out.

But for this year, I'm grateful to have celebrated my birthday with my family, and enjoyed birthday wishes from friends and family all over the world.  I'll never complain about that.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Pretty Much Back to Normal

This past Tuesday morning, I went downstairs and didn't get on the treadmill.  For my early morning exercise, I usually run on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  I hate running.  I started running when I was 19 and have hated it for the two decades I've been doing it.  But, I hate not being healthy more than I hate running, so I run.  

When we moved to Tashkent, I started lifting weights on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I probably hate lifting weights less, but I don't find it enjoyable either.  Previous to weight lifting, I had been doing a power-90 workout for years, but when Brandon started lifting, I followed suit.  I have no desire to ever be anything approaching amazing (too much work), but it is nice to be strong.

When I broke my wrist back in November, I had to stop lifting.  I even stopped running for a week or two, but got back to it after the swelling went down and I could think clearly again.  But lifting was definitely out of the question.  So it was running five days a week.

I also stopped riding, as that was the activity that got me into trouble in the first place.  Also, riding with a broken wrist is a bad idea.  Also, nobody at the stable would have let me ride with a broken wrist anyway.  

After seven weeks in my splint, I got to finally get rid of it the week after Christmas.  It was a very happy day.  You never realize how much you use a hand until you can't use it anymore.

But I could only kind of use it.  It turns out that having your wrist immobile for seven weeks has consequences.  Thankfully the internet has lots of physical therapy exercises for broken wrists, and I spent the next two weeks strengthening, stretching, and massaging the muscles and tendons around my wrist.  

So this past Tuesday, I got to skip the hated running and return to the slightly-less-hated weight lifting.  I certainly wasn't anywhere close to the weights I was lifting pre-accident, as my wrist still isn't strong enough or flexible enough to jump right back in to weight lifting.  But it was good to start again.

And that afternoon, I made my triumphant return to the stable.  I was told multiple times that there wouldn't be any more jumping, but the lesson went very well after a two-month break.  

The next morning, I could hardly walk.  If you ever have to return to weight lifting and horseback riding after a two-month break, don't start them both on the same day.  

And so, with the return to horseback riding and lifting - the last two holdouts - life is pretty much back to normal.  I say pretty much because some things are still hard for me and my wrist still hurts if I twist it too far or bend it too much.  I can't hold a heavy pot very well with my left hand, holding Elizabeth is more comfortable with my right, and leaning on my left hand while laying and reading a book is not an option.  

But most of the time, I don't remember that one hand is no longer like the other.  This will probably be the case for quite awhile, and perhaps for the rest of my life.  But it works well enough, and it's thankfully my non-dominant hand, so I'll take it.  But for those of you who are considering breaking a bone, I wouldn't recommend it.  And if you do end up doing it anyway, make sure to avoid breaking a joint.  It takes much too long to get back to normal, and is definitely not worth any sympathy you may get.

Six Months to Go

Every post that we live at has certain milestones: six weeks, six months, one year, halfway, six months, and six weeks again.  Recently we reached the six month milestone.

With six months left at post, nothing much changes in our every day lives.  Everyone still goes about their usual schedule of school and work, the same as we have been doing for years.  The children have barely started into spring (winter?) semester and it's much too early to every start dreaming of the end of school.  Brandon still has several reports to check off his list before he can be happy to have them done.  I still have to cook dinner, make sure the house doesn't fall apart, and make sure everyone has what they need.

It's too early to start getting rid of things, but I have started thinking more carefully about ordering things, especially things that don't get used up too quickly.  How many bags of masa flour do we go through in six months?  Do we need another two boxes of mint tea, or is the one box we have enough?  Can I get along with only one muffin tin until we leave?  

Our consumable shelf causes anxiety every time I pass by it.  I evaluate how much food we have there and make notes of what we need to eat more or eat at all of so that I can feel better about another empty place on the shelf.  Right now my list includes molasses cookies, anything with coconut milk, and lots and lots of bean dishes.  

After thinking of the things I need to eat more of, I think of the things we have to eat less of.  Our root beer supply, sadly, is completely gone, and the bacon stash in the freezer is down to one solitary, sad box.  Then I remind myself that America has lots of both.

As I walk through the rest of the house, I evaluate everything that I see, mentally looking for things that I can get rid of.  We were just at our allowed weight of 7,200 pounds when we left Dushanbe and - as Brandon likes to point out frequently - the Amazon boxes haven't stopped showing up for the last 2 1/2 years.  We have hauled furniture with us from post to post that will find its final resting place here in Tashkent.  Every time I get rid of something, I am filled with virtuous elation, as that is a pound or two less that we will take with us.  I've sometimes mused on how strange it is that I feel virtuous for getting rid of things that I spent Brandon's hard-earned money on and was so happy acquire at the time.  Then I look forward to the day when I can buy anything I want without having to worry about its weight.

While getting rid of things, we're also acquiring all of the Uzbek treasures that we haven't gotten yet.  I have a rug or two, pottery, and a few other things that have caught my eye, and there's a limited amount of time to buy them.  I've spent the whole tour planning on getting them, and if I don't get them now, I know that I will regret it later.

The last six months is also filled with all the trips that we've been meaning to take, but haven't.  The lack of traveling this tour has also been helped by spending almost the entire last year in pandemic mode, and the year before that in being-pregnant-and-having-a-baby mode.  But we can hardly leave Uzbekistan without taking the children to see the Silk Road cities, so we'll slip those in before we leave.  

The most interesting things about the last six months is how six months feels like a lot of time to get things done right until you hit the last six weeks.  And then utter panic hits and everything you've been meaning to get done has to get done right then and it's a complete mess until everyone gets on the plane.  This is our fourth tour and so theoretically I will have learned from the previous three times.  I should start looking at rugs now, go through the kids' old clothes in a methodical fashion, and start eating strange meal combinations this week.  If I do those things, my life will be much less stressful when June comes and things get very real and any semblance of normality goes out the window as I have to pay the price for my procrastination.  

But, let's be honest.  I probably won't.  Brandon and I have a constant debate about which is better, to shove all the pain into a short, intense burst of insanity so that the rest of the time is reasonable, or to have a longer, less intense, dose of pain.  He favors the latter and I favor the former.  Over time he's managed to convince me to give myself more time so that complete and utter insanity becomes just insanity, but he still hasn't won me over to his preferred way of doing things.  And sadly for him, I'm in charge of the logistics of our household, so he has to suffer through my method.  

So when June rolls around, don't be surprised if I disappear, keep walking if you hear loud screams coming from my basement, and say a prayer for everyone in the house.  They'll all need it.  

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Snow Play Day

Yesterday we went sledding.  We haven't been outside of Tashkent - with the exception of going to America this summer - since February, when we went sledding on leap day.  There has been lots of rain down in the city, and even a little snow, so we knew that there would be lots of snow up in the mountains.

The children have had school off for the last two weeks, and Brandon has taken some extra days off each week, so we planned to go sledding over the break.  We were planning on sledding with friends (because, friends, finally) and it fell out the best day to go sledding was this past Saturday.

In case you weren't paying attention, this week was the New Year's holiday, which is a big holiday in Uzbekistan where they celebrate most everything that we celebrate for Christmas.  We thought that if we went on Saturday, we could miss some of the crowds that like to go up to the mountains for the weekend, because maybe everyone would be sleeping off their hangovers from partying on New Year's Day (spoiler alert: we were wrong).

The day started off well, and we got to enjoy a very quick trip up to the mountains, thanks to a new road that skipped all of the terrible in-town traffic.  The drive was mostly foggy and grey due to a temperature inversion that has kept everything trapped down in the lowlands and the temperatures sub-freezing for the last two weeks.  But when we started climbing into the mountains, the fog cleared, the temperature warmed, and we broke into a sparklingly clear, sunny day.

The mountains were covered in a thick blanket of snow, and as soon as we had parked and gathered our sleds and picnic things, everyone rushed up the mountainside to go play in the snow.  We were able to find a nice open meadow to set up camp and the children were soon breaking in a few sled runs in the pristine snow on a nearby hill.  

Elizabeth was entranced by this fluffy white stuff, and kept sticking her hands in it so she could play with it.  But as soon as the cold set in, she would begin howling at the pain and demand comfort.  And then after her hands warmed up, she'd go back to the snow, hoping that this time, it wouldn't hurt her hands.  The rest of the children, thankfully, didn't yell so much when they got snow on their own hands.

Everyone enjoyed a nice snack and cup of hot tea before going back to their sledding and snow play.  Thankfully everyone had enough warm clothes that they were able to play and play without getting too terribly cold.  Slogging up hillsides through knee-high snow also helped keep everyone warm.  I got warm enough to unzip all three of my coats.

As everyone played and snacked and played, the hillside filled up with Uzbeks who had had the exact same idea we had, minus the playing in the snow part.  By the time we had left, parties dotted the hillside, and shashlik (kebab) fire smoke filled the air.  I saw families haul up large plastic sheets, dig out an area to sit on, lay cushions and blankets on top, and then lay down to hang out - after taking their shoes off and hanging them up in available trees.  Some brought music to play, and I saw one party that had hauled up an iron and wood table and chairs.  It looked like everyone was hanging out at the beach - except it was January and there was almost 2 feet of snow on the ground.

By 2:30, some children had gotten cold and others needed a nap, so we decided to head home.  That's when the real fun started, as we got to squeeze past double-parked cars, other cars trying to get in to the parking lot, and join the long line of cars on the road.  As we passed the main ski area of the hill, I realized that we had been in the sparsely populated area of the mountain - the main area had horse rides, snowmobile rides, sleds, skiers, restaurants, plastic covered tapchan booths, and about ten thousand Uzbeks milling around, enjoying the sights.  

Our drive home got an extra 45 minutes to an hour tacked on to it and Brandon and I had flashbacks to Azerbaijani driving as a two-lane two-way highway got turned into a four-lane one-way highway by impatient drivers who couldn't stand waiting in the stop-and-go traffic returning to Tashkent.  

But in the end, however,we made it home and our car didn't have any new scrapes added to it, so the day was a success.  Next time, however, we're not going sledding on a holiday weekend.  

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Christmas 2020

 Christmas this year was great.  I can't actually remember a Christmas that wasn't great, but there have been years that have been less great, all because of moving or medevacs.  I'm happy that this year had no moving (I'm talking to you,  2005, 2011 and 2014) and no babies, either newly born (Elizabeth, Edwin and Joseph) or soon-to-be born (William).  Sure, this year's Christmas did happen with a broken wrist and pandemic, but those are so much easier to deal with than packing or unpacking suitcases and boxes.  Seriously.

The children and I were all very happy to close our books on December 17th for the last school of 2020 and kick off our two-week Christmas break.  Brandon was happy to shut down his computer on Tuesday and kick off his five-day Christmas break.  There have been many years that saw Brandon get home from work late on Christmas Eve, so this year he just took the preceding two days off so that everyone could really get into the spirit.

Of course having more time for Christmas preparations means more time to think of wonderful food to cook, not more time to sit and read books.  I always plan to read more books, but inevitably end up cooking more food (sadly).

So on Wednesday we did our Christmas cooking, making tapenade, cheese ball, salmon mousse, spinach artichoke heart dip, and a whole gallon of eggnog.  On Thursday we did our Christmas Eve cooking, making chocolate mousse-meringue cake, bread, roasted vegetables, ham, mustard cream sauce, and croissant cinnamon rolls.  By the time our friends showed up for a late-afternoon Christmas Eve dinner, I was ready to be done with cooking, and thankfully, I was.

My own family's Christmas traditions always included both a Christmas Eve dinner and a big Christmas dinner, but I have come to peace with being morally inferior to my mother and only have Christmas Eve dinner.  When we have brave enough friends, we like to have company for dinner, singing, and a nativity play with whatever participants we can round up.  

After spending a lovely morning and early afternoon with the children and finally getting to enjoy lots of reading and a nap, we spent more time with the same friends as we went to their house for their own Christmas tradition - spending time with friends on Christmas day.  These are the same friends that we spent Thanksgiving with and see every Sunday, so they're either really good friends or just desperate for someone for their five boys to play with.

This year we've been able to really celebrate almost all of the Christmas traditions - decorating the house, making ornaments, cutting out snowflakes, stamping wrapping paper, having an advent calendar and devotional every night, and creating a gingerbread house (sadly, no caroling party).  I've been listening to Christmas music since the day after Thanksgiving, and the tree has been lit up for a month straight.  I feel like we have really celebrated Christmas this year.  So when the tree goes down on New Years Day and all the decorations get packed away, I'll be okay with moving on.  Because it was a great Christmas this year.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Winning in Central Asia

By most measurements, life is usually harder here in Central Asia than in the US.  We have some things that are easier, but there's a reason that we get paid extra money to go and live in strange places like Uzbekistan.  One of the harder things about being away from the US is not being near family and not having a regular ward to attend.  The children (and I) love going back to the US and going to a meeting where there are more than six people singing, there's a functional nursery, full classes for every age, and regular youth activities.  Being homeschooled makes socialization in church even more precious, especially for my two oldest girls.

But covid has proved to be the great leveler, and for most of this year, we've been in the exact same situation that everyone else around the world has been in.  Everyone has become just as home-based as we always are and my children aren't weird any more.  Church has been home-based for months, with a recent return to socially-distanced shortened sacrament-only meetings.  

We have also been stuck in home church since March, as one family in our group left for the US in March, and the second moved to Abu Dhabi this summer.  But with the return of the first family last month, we were able to resume our own church meetings again.  

Between a two-week quarantine and sickness, we weren't able to meet together until last week.  But as we all sat down together for our first meeting, I looked around and realized that we were probably one of the only units in the world that got to enjoy a mask-free full church schedule.  

At the beginning of the pandemic, our mission president gave all the small units leave to meet in whatever way they felt comfortable, so we've had compete autonomy to do what works for us.  Both families are comfortable with meeting together mask-free, and there's no reason to have a shortened schedule if everyone has already committed to being together anyway.  After all, two hours of church is nothing compared to the eight hours we spent together on Thanksgiving.

This week we had the Primary program, with all six of our primary children.  After we had finished and were celebrating with cookies and videos, we congratulated the children for having one of the only in-person Primary programs in the entire world that happened this year.  The children suddenly felt a lot more special, and I'm pretty sure that they will always remember that they were some of the privileged few in 2020 that got to participate in a Primary program.  

It's been really wonderful to have church together for these past two weeks.  Even though our church attendance has only increased by one other family, it has changed the nature of the meetings for the better.  

There is a reason that we meet together every week, and it isn't just so that we can receive the sacrament.  We all strengthen each other, support each other, and learn from each other.  Everyone brings their own experiences to the lessons, along with their way of seeing the gospel.  The children are encouraged by each other, and the youth get to be with their peer group.  We get to have lessons that we didn't think of ourselves, and our children get a break from being taught by us all week long.  And we all grow a little closer together in love and unity.

So, at least at church, we are happy to be here in Uzbekistan where we can worship together and have a little bit of normalcy back.  I'll take it where I can get it.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

When Both Your Cars Aren't Working

 We've been really happy to have two cars, after only having one (and for two years, none) for the entire fifteen years we've been married.  Brandon always has his car, I always have mine, and if one is in the shop, we still have the other.  

Our big car, a 2007 Honda Pilot, is getting old, so it's recently been spending much more time with the embassy mechanics.  Since moving to Tashkent, we've gotten the catalytic converter replaced, redone all the shocks and struts (hardly surprising, after driving on bad roads for the last nine years), put in a new radiator, gotten new oxygen sensors, and replaced the power steering pump.  Thankfully, the labor here is cheap, so most of the cost has been for parts.

Our other car, a 2012 Fit, has been much more reliable.  But back in July, I managed to puncture a tire while moving it back in to our garage.  Between uneven work schedules, quarantines, and our trip to the US, the tire never got fixed and we've been driving on the full-sized spare for the last six months.  Which is never a good idea, because the whole point of having a spare is so that there's one to use if your tire goes flat. 

Which, inevitably, it did.  Thankfully, it went flat while Brandon was it work, so he didn't have to figure out how to get it in to the mechanics.  Unfortunately, it happened the day before Brandon began another two-week quarantine, which ended just as the mechanic started his own two-week quarantine.  

While the Fit was waiting for a new tire in the embassy parking lot, the Pilot was leaking power steering fluid all over the garage floor.  When Brandon drove it last weekend, the power steering fluid was completely gone, making it very difficult to get in and out of the garage, and completely impossible for me to drive with only one hand.  

So back into the shop it went, and this time it we got to order a new rack and pinion, in addition to more power steering fluid.

On Monday, our car situation looked like this: cars we own - 2, cars that work - 0.  I had a salon appointment, but was able to take a taxi there and back.  Thankfully, there are several taxi apps that don't require any communication with the driver, so it's pretty easy to use even with my limited Russian.

On Tuesday, things got a little hairier.  Kathleen had horseback riding lessons, and the stable is outside city limits.  We took a taxi to the stable, but were unable to get one back.  Thankfully, it's only about two miles from the stable to our house and the day was not rainy, snowy, or even that cold so the walk wasn't too bad.  By the last half mile, however, Kathleen was walking in only one boot, as she had developed a blister on the other heel.  Apparently, her boots weren't made for walking, only for riding.

On Thursday, things came to their inevitable, hairy climax.  When the embassy mechanic got out of quarantine and looked at fixing the two flat tires, all four normal tires were declared completely unsafe.  So on Wednesday I got to buy a new rack and pinion set, in addition to four new tires, all for cars that we won't be owning in seven months.  Sometimes being adult is awesome, and sometimes it's just expensive.

The new tires were bought Wednesday afternoon, but couldn't be installed until Thursday during lunch.  That afternoon, at 2:30, I had to take the children to a horseback riding lesson.  I realized that morning that there wouldn't be anybody at home to watch Elizabeth and William.  I could have taken them, but I didn't have a car to take them in.  I sent a panicked text to the friend that a share my housekeeper with, and she generously allowed me to borrow her for the afternoon.

Brandon pointed out, however, that if the car was done by 2:00, he could bring the car to me, watch the small children while he finished the teleworking, and all my problems could be solved.  So when I texted my housekeeper (translated into Russian by Google Translate), I told her that I would probably need her, but maybe not.  Which, in my mind, meant 'come unless I tell you not to.'  

By 2:00, the tires were all on the car.  But unfortunately, the car battery was dead.  The recharging was set to take four hours.  So I didn't tell my housekeeper not to come, and when she texted me at 2:15, "Извините мне придти," I read it as, "excuse me, I am coming," and replied to her, "Thank you!" Now Russian questions are not exactly like English ones.  To ask a question in Russian, you just change the intonation but nothing else.  When you are texting, you add a question mark.

When she still wasn't here at 2:35 and all the children were piled into the taxi waiting (with a driver who told me that we couldn't put so many people in the car because of the police and I told him we didn't have any other options [which happened entirely in Russian]), I started panicking and sending texts.  I considered leaving Elizabeth and William alone in the house until she showed up, but that seemed like one of those Very Bad Ideas that end in disaster.  As the time got later and later, my texts got more and more impatient.  I had a car full of children with a taxi driver waiting.  I had two children waiting in the house.  I had a horseback riding lesson that was getting shorter and shorter the longer my housekeeper took to get to my house.  And I had two cars that I owned that were currently useless to me.  I knew it would be funny later, but it sure wasn't funny then.  

It was the perfect storm of missed opportunities.  If only the tires had been fixed the day before.  If only the battery hadn't been dead from sitting out in the parking lot for a month.  If only Brandon hadn't actually had to go in to work that week.  If only the Pilot had held out until the Fit was repaired.  If only I had actually thought through my childcare situation before scheduling a makeup lesson.  If only had had replied with, 'yes,' instead of 'thank you,' when my housekeeper asked me if she should come.  If only I had run her text through Google translate and gotten 'excuse me to come,' instead of relying on my own limited Russian skills.  Usually everything doesn't line up so perfectly so as to make such a situation, but there we were.

Finally, at 2:50, five minutes after our lesson had started, a taxi pulled up with my housekeeper inside.  I jumped in the taxi, she took William back inside the house, and the children and I made in time for a 25-minute lesson.  Brandon picked us up at the stable with the newly recharged, re-tired Fit, and life went back to its normal, quiet routine.  The Pilot is still out of commission until the pouch brings the new part, but one car is better than no cars.

So the moral of the story is: when you get a flat tire, fix it.  Because you never know if you'll get another right at the time your other car loses its power steering and your wife has to take all the babysitting-aged children to a horseback riding lesson on the day the housekeeper isn't there and you're actually at work so there's nobody to watch the babies.