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Sunday, January 9, 2022

The Circus, on Ice!

Yesterday we took the kids to the circus again.  I have to admit that I'm kind of a sucker for circuses.  As I child I would beg my parents to take me to the circus whenever it was in town.  It looked so interesting - elephants and acrobats and tigers and clowns!  But my mom always refused, recounting the one time that they took my older sister and she spent the whole time complaining that it stank of elephant.  Now that I'm older, I realize that the cost was also probably a deterrent, as the circus in the US isn't very cheap.

But now that I'm adult and get to choose how to spend my money, I like to take my kids to the circus.  It also helps that it's not very expensive to take the whole family - the expensive tickets usually run around $8 a seat.  And even when you're paying for eight seats (Elizabeth gets a lap), that's still not that much money.

A few weeks ago, I a saw an ad around town for a kind of circus that I've never hear of before - a circus on ice.  I must say that advertising is doing its job because the last time I acted on an ad I saw around town, we ended up going to the Maldives.  

This time, however, it was a lot cheaper and also closer to home.  The idea of a circus on ice sounded interesting.  I've heard of Disney on ice, but I'd never heard of something that combined ice skating and circus tricks.  I confess that I can't think of anything that sounds more entertaining than that.

I had learned from my friendly neighborhood billboard about an app that sells tickets to events around town, so I bought seats almost immediately.  Brandon encouraged me to go for the expensive tickets, so I spent ten dollars a person for front row, ice-side seats.  

The circus was held at an almost new ice arena that opened after we moved to Tashkent.  Evidently hockey is popular enough here that someone decided building an ice rink was a good idea.  After we settled in to our seats, Sophia looked around in awe.  "I didn't know," she said with a note of wonder, "that places this nice existed." 

"Like, in Tashkent?" I asked.  "There are a few decent hotels, but I guess you're not going to those very often."

"No," she replied, "like anywhere.  I thought everything was just always old and crumbly. Like that's normal."  I had to shake my head at her.  I guess that's what I get for raising my children in this part of the world.  I also had to wonder if she has been paying attention at all every summer we go to America, which has lots of places that aren't crumbly.  

After some patient waiting (it seems that when something is supposed to start at a time, it really starts fifteen minutes after that time), the lights went down and the show started.  As I watched the starting parade of performers, complete with New Years characters and the obligatory clowns, I realized that we were going to get a standard Russian circus - but on ice.

It was interesting to see how the acrobatic acts were adapted for ice skating.  All the unicycle riders rode special unicycles that could be pedaled by performers wearing ice skates.  Instead of just walking on stilts, the ladies personifying the seasons skated on stilts.  I got to watch one intrepid acrobat flip off a pole - while wearing ice skates.  I hadn't realized before watching it happen that one can also skip rope in ice skates.  In addition to acrobatic stunts, we also got to watch figure skating numbers.

And of course, since this was the circus after all, there were the clowns.  Not only did they entertain the crowd while performers were hastily changing costumes and preparing for their next acts, they did it while ice skating.  One of them even got to ride a bicycle on the ice while balancing one man on his shoulders and two ladies on either side of the bike.

Sadly, there were no animals included in the circus, which is understandable.  I can't imagine what kind of treats it would take to teach an elephant to ice skate and I don't know if one could make ice skates small enough for a monkey.  It was entertaining enough with just people that I'm pretty sure that none of the children missed the animals.

Despite William's initial disappointment that this wasn't the regular circus, everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves.  I'm not sure why watching people do amazing tricks never gets old, but it's entertaining every time we go no matter how many times we go.  I realized that the circus is another one of those weird cultural experiences that my children won't share with their peers when they leave the house and join normal American society.  I'm sure at some point, warm reminiscences will be shared about circuses, and everyone else will look at my children in complete confusion as Russian circuses were definitely not a regular part of their childhood.  "You know," someone will probably comment, "we just went to places like the movies."

But I guess that's what I get for stranding my children in the former Soviet Union for such a significant chunk of their short lives - more things to tell the therapist.  However, they won't be able to tell the therapist that we never took them to do anything fun.  Even if the fun had more of a Russian flair to it.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

2021, In Summary

I must say that I really don't have much to complain about 2021.  Lots of people have had crummy years, but ours has been pretty great.  When we started the year last January, I was starting to count down the months until we left Tashkent.  This January we're starting down the same countdown over again until our departure from Uzbekistan.  But instead of counting down to being crammed into a three-bedroom apartment for a year of language training in DC, we're counting down to our move to Kazakhstan this summer.  It's like deja-vu, but with a better ending.

Over the course of 2021, everyone has gotten a little older, which is something that I am very enthusiastic about.  This year Sophia joined Kathleen in the taller-than-Mom club (although she's only currently got half an inch on me), and Edwin is coming up fast.  Kathleen learned how to drive this summer, and Edwin is now old enough to be second back-up babysitter.  Joseph started playing the violin (which he practices downstairs in the exercise room with the door closed), and Eleanor is very good at helping Elizabeth bathe, get dressed, and go to the bathroom.  William has learned how to dress himself, feed himself, get himself food for lunch, microwave the food, and is learning how to read.  This year Elizabeth went from a baby who couldn't walk to a toddler who never wears diapers, talks constantly, sings songs, and is capable to getting her own pancakes, complete with syrup. 

When I try to think of the worst thing that happened this past year, I can't think of any one thing that was particularly terrible.  Brandon bumped a car in traffic, but a hundred-dollar bill took care of the problem.  The State Department updated their payroll system and when that was combined with our home leave this summer, it left us with a $10,000 - and counting - pay deficit.  But we have money saved for times when State does things like this, so it's been obnoxious more than anything.  Brandon tried to go caribou hunting with his brother in Alaska, but the hunt got cancelled and all he had to show for it was a four-day stay in the Kotzebue Nullagvik hotel to show for it.  But he came home a week earlier, which the rest of us were happy about.  I think that I really can't complain that much about anything that 2021 threw at us.

When I remember some of the great things, I really can't complain.  We got to see almost all of our extended family members this year, in addition to quite a few friends.  We went hiking in Utah, got to set off fireworks for Pioneer Day, rode the Alpine Slide, had a rocking house party with over forty cousins and siblings, went to the beach in North Carolina, sent most of the kids off to go biking with my parents, and even got to take a direct flight from Tashkent to New York and back.  We got to travel to the Maldives and have a fabulous week together with the kids, having the first family vacation we've had in quite a long time.  Brandon got a major award at work, although it sadly didn't have a lamp leg as a prize.  Everyone has been healthy this year, with no trips to the hospital and no more broken bones for me.  

This year we're looking forward to our move to Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.  After spending four years in Tashkent (the longest either Brandon or I have lived in one house/apartment since leaving home for college), we'll be ready to move on to a new adventure.  I always love the excitement of a new place and new things to explore, new upsides to enjoy and new downsides to be irritated with, and new people to get to know.  Since we won't be traveling to the US this summer (complicated State Department rules), we're considering driving to our next post, making a two- or three-day trip out of it.  I can't imagine I'll have another chance to drive across Kazakhstan, and the kids are finally old enough to make it an adventure instead of a painful slog.  

I feel like this time in my life is a really good one, and that 2021 kicked off the Next Era in family life.  I love having children old enough to help out and really enjoy being with, and I love having little children who are funny and still small enough to cuddle.  I love having had enough Mom and wife and homeschool experience that my life isn't a continuously unfolding train wreck every day.  I love that I can enjoy the time that I have with my children and husband without getting stressed or irritated with what is or isn't happening.  I love being old enough that getting old isn't daunting and I don't have to pretend that I still might possibly be in my twenties.  

And perhaps 2022 will be a complete disaster year for us, with all sorts of unexpected challenges and surprises that I had no idea were coming.  Some years are like that (I'm talking to you, 2011).  And maybe it will be a normal year with the usual mix of ups and downs.  As with all things in the future, we'll just have to wait and see how it goes.  But as for 2021, I can safely say that it was a pretty good year.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Christmas 2021

The Christmas season seems to go faster every year.  I remember the endless days dragging on, stretching my childhood Christmases to months of painful waiting until The Big Day.  I don't think it's possible to ever recreate the anticipation of childhood Christmas.  I remember hardly being able to sleep the night before, waking up multiple times a night only to realize that morning had still not come.  Only children are capable of such pure, unadulterated excitement.

As an adult, Christmas is more complicated.  We have presents to buy and wrap, parties to host and attend, family to see, and regular life to run to in addition to the festivities.  I don't find the Christmas season stressful, as many people do, but I've definitely realized that the magic of childhood is largely created by the work of adults.  

This Christmas season has been enjoyable, as all Christmas seasons are.  Over the years, we've developed a routine of traditions.  After decorating the house for Christmas, we always watch White Christmas while drinking peppermint hot chocolate.  Every year we make our own wrapping paper with butcher paper and stamps, and we decorate the windows with snowflakes we've cut out together.  Last week we held our annual doughtnut-caroling party, and a few days before Christmas we made a gingerbread house.  And my favorite Christmas tradition is making all the food on Christmas Eve so that I can relax and enjoy my holiday along with everyone else.

I like all of these traditions; they bring more enjoyment to my Christmas seasons.  It's fun to have something to do with the children, and as the years have gone by, they've gotten a lot better at doing all of the things.  The wrapping paper has changed from a wild scattering of random stamps to a pattern that actually looks pretty when presents are wrapped in it.  The snowflakes have changed from circles with random holes chopped out of them to intricate designs.  And I no longer have to struggle through the songs as everyone sings at our party - Kathleen does a much better job than I ever did.  I'm enjoying the opportunity to enjoy my traditions instead of herding cats who are wielding printing ink.

I love that I get to celebrate Christmas with my children, even when we're far away from family and friends have moved on to other places.  This year we only had our own children for the nativity play, but even then we managed to have Joseph, Mary, two wise men, two shepherds, and and angel.  

Celebrating Christmas with children is the closest thing I'll ever get to returning to my own childhood excitement.  As I tucked the children into bed on Christmas Eve, I could almost taste the excitement filling the house.  William's little four year-old body was wriggling with anticipation, and his eyes lit up with joy as I laid him down and reminded him that tomorrow was Christmas.  

I love to watch them excitedly open their gifts on Christmas morning and see the delight on their faces as the long-awaited present is unwrapped.  I care very little for any gift I might receive - as an adult with money, gifts are much less exciting - my pleasure instead is my children's pleasure on Christmas.  

But the best gift of all on Christmas is the gift of Christmas itself.  Without the birth of Jesus Christ, I would not be able to look at my family and know that we can be together even after we die.  Without His birth, I could not change and become a better person so that the joy I have from my family is that much sweeter.  Without that one birth of a small baby in an obscure village, I would not know how and where to find joy in this often sad and confusing world.  All of the good gifts are made possible because of the birth of Jesus Christ.  

So although I am sad that the Christmas season is over, I am happy because what happened over two thousand years ago makes it possible for all of the seasons of the year and of our lives just as happy as Christmas.  And that is a gift that never ends.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Happy Birthday, Edwin!

This week we had our last birthday for the year, Edwin's twelfth birthday.  His birthday falls right in the middle of the birthday season, where we have five straight months of birthdays, so we're definitely in the mode of celebrating.

On his birthday he got to pick the breakfast (German apple pancake), dinner (Georgian), and cake (lemon meringue pie).  Everyone had a holiday from school, so everyone was happy to celebrate Edwin's birthday with him.  There have to be some benefits to being homeschooled, and this is definitely one of them.  Recently Eleanor was feeling very sad for all those poor children who have to go to school on their birthday.  

We didn't do anything too terribly exciting on his birthday, but he was happy to help me make his birthday pie.  Edwin enjoys cooking, and is very good at following both recipes and instructions, so I was happy to have his pleasant company with me.  He got to make the meringue himself, and did a very good job at it.  But he was also equally happy to be let off the less fun part of cooking - the dishes - even though he offered to help.  

He was very happy to have a delicious dinner of Georgian food (and I was happy to order it instead of cooking), declaring that Georgian with its delicious cheesy khachapuri is now the very best food one can have.  He was even happier to have pie, but he was most happy of all to open his presents.  

Twelve year-old boys are very easy to shop for, as they apparently can never have too many LEGO sets.  He was pleased with the sets that Joseph, Kathleen and Sophia, and Brandon and I gave him.  He was equally excited about the chocolate bar that Eleanor gave him.  I think that he was very happy with all of his birthday.

I've now watched two of my girls grow from children into young women, but Edwin is my first boy to start that transition from child to young man.  He is, as all of my friends with boys have promised, becoming quite enjoyable to be with.  I enjoy his funny sense of humor, quiet diligence, and concern for his younger siblings.  This doesn't mean that he doesn't also have his times of driving his siblings insane with brotherly tormenting, but he's usually amenable to a knowing look from me in order to leave them alone.  

He hasn't yet reached the amazing feats of eating that I know is coming soon, but he's definitely starting to challenge his older sisters at eating contests, having outpaced me at meals several months ago.  He's almost five feet tall, which means that pretty soon I'll have three children taller than me, with four more to go.  

On most days, everyone is happy to have Edwin as part of our family (and I'm happy myself every day).  Happy birthday, Edwin!

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Socializing our Teenagers

Ever since we've started homeschooling, we've gotten questions about various aspects of homeschooling.  Friends wonder how I'm able to get it all done (a combination of delegating and paying a housekeeper to do some of my work for me), family members wonder if we'd consider sending the kids to high school (so far, nope - and that was Kathleen's decision), and strangers wonder how crazy the house is (very crazy some days). 

One of the most frequent questions I've gotten is about how we'd 'socialize' our children.  It hasn't been much of question that we've worried about.  There are enough children that they get lots of lessons in sharing, conflict resolution, taking turns, working together, making compromises, and being kind.  I can't speak to how well they've learned these things at home versus how well they would have learned them at traditional school as they've never gone.  But it's worked well enough.  

The children have always managed to have just enough friends that they aren't too lonely.  Usually their friends have come through church.  Being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is really a huge advantage for homeschooling, as the children see each other at church every week and so friendships are easier to form.  I'm friends with the mom, they're friends with the children, and everybody gets a break from seeing each other all week long.

We've had a couple of families - one from church and one from not - that have had enough children that matched up with our so we were able to get together for a weekly playdate.  Between those get-togethers and church, everyone was pretty happy.

But now we're entirely on our own.  Every week we've got nobody to look at but the same eight faces we've been seeing all week.  The younger children haven't really minded that much; in my experience younger children are pretty content with siblings.  They're a known quantity - no surprises from people you've spent your entire life with.

But I've come to realize that my teenagers need more than what we can give them.  I've never raised teenagers before, so I'm learning as I go.  Both Kathleen and Sophia are pretty low-drama most of the time, so I haven't had accusations of ruining their life, being the worst mom ever, or wondering why we had to move to this terrible country where they don't have any friends.  I consider myself very lucky.  But they have told me that they'd like to see some friends on a regular basis.

If we were in the US, this would not be a problem.  Between weekly church, weekday seminary classes, and weeknight youth activities, they would be quite busy with friends.  It would probably be an almost perfect balance of having some space and being able to be with peers.  

But we're not in the US, and we won't be there for many more years, so we have to work with what we have.  Thankfully, the one family that lives within walking distance of our house has a daughter who is Sophia's age.  This summer, I started encouraging them to go and see if she was free to hang out.  They confessed that the first few interactions were kind of awkward - "It was so weird to go and do things on our own!  Like, you didn't set up a playdate or anything.  We just walked over, rang her doorbell, and asked if she wanted to come swim."  But now they have a semi-regular afternoon to meet up, go on a walk, talk about whatever teenaged girls talk about, and go to the store for ice cream.  I'm often grateful that they have one friend close by.

After we got back from our trip to the US this summer, Sophia (with some encouragement from me) decided to start setting up social outings with a group of people.  Tashkent has a lot of activities that are fun - amusement parks, bowling, laser tag, ice skating - and they're not very expensive.  It's been interesting to coach her through all the steps of making a plan, contacting people, arranging dates, and all the other things that are so easy for an adult and so daunting for an inexperienced teenager who's never done this before.  I've come to realize that this is also part of my job as a mother of homeschooled children.  They don't have the opportunity to learn this on their own, so I get to teach them.  I sometime wonder if their friends find the tone of Sophia's emails and texts a little strange, as I only know how to write like a middle-aged mom and am not up with the way teenagers talk.  

Their first outing was to a local amusement park.  They got themselves there by taxi, rode a bunch of rides, made some new friends, ate food, and got themselves home.  Edwin tagged along (or was forced to, as both girls they invited had brothers who are Edwin's age) and was pretty dubious about the value of this so-called "socializing."  I was a little nervous too, as I'm not used to sending my children out on their own, something that most moms are very used to.

But when they came home, everyone was full of smiles, stories, and excitement for the next time they got to go and hang out with their new friends.  So yesterday they met them again, this time for bowling, and had a great time again.  Kathleen reported that she had the high score, a 60, and that was with bumpers.  It was fun to listen to all the stories they had to tell and see how excited they were for what they had done.

I know that both girls would like to see friends even more often then they do, but I'm happy that they have at least a few opportunities so go and practice socializing away from their parents and family.  Kathleen's departure for college is starting to appear on the horizon, and sometimes I wonder what kind of intense shock to her system everything will be.  So if I can prepare her as much as possible, hopefully it will help some, although there's never been anyone who is prepared for all of the changes that college brings.  

It's also fun as a parent to see them get older and see them get to start to do some things on their own.  Homeschooling gives me the ability to keep them closer for much longer than I would be able to in traditional school, but there is still a time when everyone needs some more distance so they can start to practice running their own lives and making their own choices.  Before long, I'll be almost entirely on the sidelines, cheering them on as they become fully independent.  Thankfully I have a long time before all of them go off and leave me, but it's strange to see the first one begin to think about their departure.  But that isn't for a few more years, and so for now I'll just enjoy watching them take their first steps.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Thanksgiving 2021

Our Thanksgiving this year was very quiet.  Each year our Thanksgivings have grown smaller.  We started with twenty-four people in 2018, spent 2019 in North Carolina, fed sixteen people in 2020, and this year we spent the holiday entirely alone - although for us 'entirely alone' still means dinner for nine.

Our close friends left us this summer and we haven't taken the time and emotional energy to make many new friends for our last year in Tashkent.  Making friends with new families is hard - there are a lot of things to match up in family friendships.  Not only do the children need friends, but the parents have to also work well enough together that everyone can have a nice time together and nobody is counting down the minutes until the visit is over.  It's much more challenging with seven children.  There are families that have friends for our older children and families that have friends for our younger children, but there are very few families that have friends for all our children.  Additionally, there aren't that many people who are that interested in/capable of enduring the unavoidable amount of noise and chaos that naturally comes with seven children.  We are a lot to handle.  

So when the discussion of Thanksgiving guests was held, the kids decided that they'd rather have it as a family.  We knew families with small children who probably would have been happy to come over, but the older children said that they didn't want to spend all day cooking and then not have any friends of their own to share the holiday with.  And admittedly, having nobody over also had some appeal.  We wouldn't have to rush to get everything done by a specific time, the house didn't have to be that clean, and nobody minded if I served the mashed potatoes in their cooking pot.

One major downside of not having guests, however, was that I had to cook the entire dinner myself.  Usually when we have guests, everyone contributes and we split up the meal. This year everyone was busy with school and Brandon was busy with work right until the day itself, so I was on my own.  I've cooked all of Thanksgiving a few other times, but it was always with help from Brandon.  This time, it was all me.

So Thanksgiving day turned into Thanksgiving week.  On Monday I made pie crust, rolled it out, put it in pie pans, and froze it.  On Tuesday I made sweet potato casserole, cubed and toasted bread for stuffing, and saute├ęd onions and celery for stuffing.  On Wednesday I made giblet gravy, mixed up pumpkin and pecan pie fillings, mixed up stuffing, brined the turkey, and as an extra bonus for Brandon, made eggnog.  By the end of Wednesday afternoon, we had a refrigerator full of Thanksgiving food.

For the actual day, the cooking was light enough - only rolls, turkey, and mashed potatoes - that I spent part of the morning playing games with the children.  We had the meal around two, which took about forty-five minutes to eat, about fifteen times less than the time it took to cook the entire meal.  We only ate about a fifth of the food, and the seventeen-pound turkey was only missing its leg quarter by the time we were finished with it.  

But that was okay with me because, as I mentioned earlier, Thanksgiving happened this entire week, and Thursday was only day one.  We have now enjoyed Thanksgiving days two, three, and four, and tomorrow will probably be able to squeak out a Thanksgiving lunch before our leftovers are exhausted.  After those are done, we will get to have turkey salad, turkey pot pie, and turkey soup.  There are some definite leftover benefits to cooking all of Thanksgiving oneself.

I am hoping, however, that next year will have a little fewer leftovers and a little more friends.  As nice as it was to spend the day quietly alone, I also have also enjoyed all of the Thanksgivings with friends we've made all of the places we've lived.  Either with friends or only with family, Thanksgiving is always a wonderful holiday.  

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Elizabeth Joins the Fray

 Elizabeth is officially talking.  She's been saying words for some time now, but in the last month she has mastered the art of three- and four-word sentences.  Overall, I'm very happy when my children are capable of communicating things to me.  The crying decreases dramatically because everyone can understand each other enough to keep emotions generally stable.  When they need something, they can tell me instead of bursting into tears when their incomprehensible gabbles don't get what they want.

But the one time I'm not happy about talking toddlers is dinner.  Dinner is often the top of the crescendo of noise and craziness that has been increasing throughout the day.  By the evening, everyone is tired, the activities of the day have created hurt feelings or resentment, people have been pushed through their required school work, and I'm ready for everyone to get to bed so that I can finish my work day that began at 5 am that morning.

Dinner is also the time when everyone wants to talk about their day.  And it's when they want to ask me questions about the most strange things they can think of.  Additionally, it's the place for unresolved fights to continue.  And the children want to make all the requests they've been saving up during the day.  Also it's when everyone has all the conversations they couldn't have while during their school work.  

It's basically when everyone makes all the noise they can think of, combined with spilling milk, food, or both.  Sometimes I have to shout so that everyone can hear me.

And now that Elizabeth can talk, there are nine people trying to talk over each other at once.  Most of the time, having seven children isn't too much trouble.  Our house is big enough that everyone can spread out.  I usually only have to help one child at a time, and often I can get a bigger sibling to help out a smaller sibling if I'm already busy.  It's a lot less work than one would think.

But when everyone is together at dinner, I can really tell that I have seven children.  Our kitchen isn't that big, and all of the noise seems to bounce off the cupboards, tile floors, and high ceilings and multiply into a dull roar.  And now we've added a two year-old to the mix.  Since everyone else is already noisy, Elizabeth figures that she's got to be even noisier so that she can be heard.  In the usually declamatory fashion of toddlers, she will sit in her high chair and talk about whatever comes to mind.  

"PICK UP FORK.  EAT FOOD.  YUCKY FOOD."  She has has no idea what conversation is, so she figures that if everyone else is talking, it must mean that she should also be talking.  But even worse than her 'conversation' is her requests for things.

"MORE MILK.  MORE MILK!  MORE MILK!! MORE MILK!!! MOOOOORE MIIIIIIIILK!!!" If she asks for something and nobody gets it for her in five seconds or less, then she figures that she needs to ask again and keep asking repeatedly until she gets what she wants.  And in her defense, that's probably true most of the time because we don't hear her until she's said things at least ten times because everyone else is trying to talk over each other.

Every now and then we try to bring up the idea of everyone taking turns talking during dinner and it lasts for maybe ten or even fifteen minutes before someone can't stand holding their thoughts until all of the eight other people have had their turn and everything degrades into a free-for-all again.  

Or if one conversation gets boring, various side conversations pop up because there's always somebody else available to talk to.  And it's a guarantee that at some point during dinner one of those side conversations will turn into a fight.  With so many people in the family, there's always someone you can find to disagree with.  Often I spend half of dinner not saying anything at all, if only to do my part in lessening the general dinner noise.  

The only bright spot of hope is that our usual dinner conversations will now be capped at nine participants.  Unless we have an intrepid dinner guest or two, nobody else will be joining the fray.  And as everyone gets older, they might begin to learn how to listen to what everyone else has to say before just talking over them.  But for now, our dinners can get very, very noisy.  But I suppose that's what happens when you have seven children.  In the end, I've got nobody to blame but myself.  

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Happy Birthday, Joseph!

This week Joseph turned ten years old.  When Kathleen turned ten years old, it was such an unimaginably ancient age that I hardly knew what to do with myself.  With two adult-sized children in the house, ten is less of an advanced age, but for Joseph ten is still a big milestone.

We celebrated his birthday with a day off from school.  Everyone loves this family tradition, and almost every child has their birthday during the school year, so we get to have a lot of birthday holidays.  According to Eleanor, the best part of being homeschooled is that you get to have school off on your birthday.  The children ended up watching two movies during the day because we decided to home.  Even as an adult, watching a movie in the middle of the day still feels like the height of luxury.  

In addition to picking both movies, Joseph got to pick the breakfast (aebelskivers), his cake (lemon tart), and dinner (sushi).  With so many people in the family who have so many different opinions, a birthday is a special day when the birthday child gets to make all the choices without having to take turns with anyone else.  

The best part of Joseph's day was, of course, his presents.  This year some of his siblings gave him presents, so he was a very happy boy with five presents to open.  All but one were LEGO sets, adding to the number of possible caltrops that can be scattered across every imaginable place in the house.  As soon as the tart was shoveled into their mouths, Joseph and Edwin sprinted upstairs to start building their new treasures.  I'm not sure what I'm going to do for presents when they finally grow out of LEGOs.  

For Joseph's birthday Saturday, we went to the circus.  The "Russian" ('more like Kazakh' was Edwin's verdict after noting the ethnicity of the performers) circus was in town, so we decided to join in with crowds of Uzbek children and their parents for an afternoon of entertaining acts.  This was our third trip to a Soviet-era circus building, having gone to the Baku and Dushanbe circuses also.  We were happy to see that Nur-Sultan also has a circus, although it was built after the Soviet era.  

Watching acrobats perform breathtaking feats of strength, balance, and agility never gets old, and everyone enjoyed seeing what amazing stunt would be next.  We got to watch tightrope walkers, jugglers, a bear, acrobatic archers, funny acts, and someone jumping rope on the back of a cantering horse.  Nobody was bored.

We are all happy to have Joseph as part of our family.  He is irrepressibly cheerful and can usually be found with a wide grin on his face as he finds a new joke to tell or a funny story to relate.  I can always count on Joseph to help out with whatever I ask him to do, and he always wants to make sure that his siblings are taken care of.  I'm quite interested to see what Joseph will find to pour his interest into as he grows older.  But for now, we'll enjoy him as the newest decade-old child in our house.  Happy birthday, Joseph!

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Switching Stables

 The children and I have now been riding together in Tashkent for three years.  When we first moved here and were looking for a stable, Brandon brought home a flyer for a local stable.  I didn't know anything about stables here - not even knowing if there were any other than this one - and it looked like a nice place on their website, so we signed up for lessons.

We found out that it was new, only having been open for a year, and was very nice.  The horses were well taken care of, the facilities were in good condition, and the teachers were good teachers.  I got to start jumping again and the children were progressing pretty well and getting pushed to learn new skills most lessons.

But after the first year and a half, the teachers started leaving.  New ones would appear but mysteriously leave after working for a few months.  Eventually there were only two teachers left.  After I broke my arm last year, I wasn't allowed to jump any more and the lessons every week just consisted of a lot of trotting and nothing else.  I knew that things had gotten to a bad point when Kathleen - the most horse crazy of any of us - admitted that even she was bored at her lessons.

So I decided that it was time for a change.  I don't really like changing things up.  I'm a creature of habit and will keep doing the same thing for years on end if there's no really, really pressing need to do something different.  We've been eating the same twenty dinners for the last ten years, and I don't plan on varying those dinners any time soon.  

When I finally decided to look for somewhere new, it was with a lot of trepidation.  After all, our system was working okay, and we will be leaving in less than a year anyway. Why go through the trouble of finding a new place? But after talking with Brandon about how bored the kids were, he was all for finding something more for the kids.

I went to my favorite place - the internet - to start doing some research.  Half of the trouble of getting things done in a foreign country is trying to figure out the systems.  Everyone who lives in the country is so used to the systems that they don't even realize that there is a system and they probably can't explain it to someone who doesn't understand it.  The first stable we went to had a system close enough to the American one that it made sense to me.  The stable owned all the horses and paid the teachers, so we just had to contact the manager to get things done.

Eventually I was able to find a teacher who was willing to take us on and scheduled a trial lesson.  When I set things up with the first stable, I took my Russian teacher to act as a translator.  But this time I decided to try and do things on my own.  My Russian is about the level of a two year old's, which means that I can understand a lot of what is being said to me - especially when it's kept simple - but I'm limited to pretty basic replies.  I can't just sit and chat about whatever comes in to my mind; I have to keep the conversations pretty straightforward and concentrated on business.  I dream of one day making it to the conversational skill level of a three year old, but we'll see if that ever happens.

One of the issues we had to work out was how to get all six people taught without taking three hours.  Our teacher only had two horses and so could only do two lessons at a time.  So at my Russian lesson on the day of my trial lesson, I practiced telling my Russian teacher that I didn't want to have three hours of lessons and could we maybe do it in two?  This sounds like a simple conversation, but it involves asking questions, listening to the replies, and then asking questions based on what the reply was.  It's not a simple 'please give me two kilos of cheese' request, but something that evolves as it goes along.  

By the end of our time together, I had managed to chat about my family (seven children!!!), my riding experience, tacking up a horse, follow the instructions during my lesson, and then work out the scheduling of how to get six people schooled in two hours.  There was another teacher who was willing to take on the overflow and so we got to talk with him, too.  It sounds like a simple conversation in print, but in the nature of all conversations with Russian speakers, it was very long and everything had to be said five different times in five different ways.  But by the end, I had done everything entirely by myself in a language that is not even close to my native language.  I felt like the six preceding years of Russian torture lessons had finally been worth it.  

When I brought the girls the next week for their lessons, they loved the new place and the new teacher.  It was certainly not nearly as fancy (at all) as the previous stable, but I got to jump, Sophia got to canter to her heart's delight, and Kathleen worked on having a more stable seat.  And everyone got to practice their Russian a lot.  There were quite a few instances of having to make people explain what they meant, but we all understood it in the end.  Everyone was happy about the switch.

As we were leaving, I commented to the girls that it's probably a good thing we've been studying Russian so long.  "Yeah," Kathleen replied, "there's no way we could have done that without speaking Russian.  I guess it's useful after all.  We would have been stuck at the first stable if we weren't able to speak Russian."  

We'll have to see how the boys like their lesson this week, but so far everyone who has gone has been happy about the change.  So I guess change can be good sometimes.  And so can Russian lessons.  

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Happy Birthday, Elizabeth!

Elizabeth turned two last Sunday.  Brandon spent all Sunday observing the Uzbek presidential election in Bukhara, so we didn't celebrate on Sunday, but instead on Monday.  One of the advantages of being two years old is that you're not quite clear on what exactly birthdays are and when they're supposed to be celebrated.

Sophia has been teaching Elizabeth the happy birthday song, so she was delighted when we lit the two candles on her cake and all sang to her.  She was even more delighted when she received a bag of candy that her siblings has bought for her and a book that her grandmother had sent.  When the evening ended with a piece of cake, her birthday bliss was complete.

Elizabeth is a very typical two year-old, busily getting into all the trouble she can find.  After Elizabeth repeatedly ransacked Kathleen and Sophia's room while they were doing their schoolwork, the girls have started locking their door whenever they leave their room as Elizabeth can now open doors by herself.  

One morning this week, Edwin found Elizabeth in the kitchen.  She had pulled a chair over to the counter, climbed up the chair, and then found a bin full of chocolate chips.  Knowing that someone would find her eventually, she busily stuffed as many chocolate chips into her mouth as quickly as she could.  When she was discovered, her face was smeared with chocolate and Elizabeth looked very pleased with her ability to find tasty treats entirely on her own.  

Kathleen and Sophia begged me to buy a bike trailer so that they could take Elizabeth on their afternoon bike rides, and I finally gave in a month ago.  Now one of Elizabeth's happiest things is being tucked into the seat of the trailer, cuddled up with her blanket watching the streets of our neighborhood whizz by as her sisters pull in her style.  Whenever she wakes up from her afternoon nap, she immediately starts demanding, "Bike trailer!  Bike trailer!! BIKE TRAILER!!!" 

I've always enjoyed two year olds, and Elizabeth is no exception to that.  She definitely has her moments when she's loudly demanding something that she can't have, or desperately wants a thing that I don't understand, or hops on and off and on and off my lap constantly while I'm trying to teach school lessons.  But she is usually adorable cute, cheerfully happy, and oh so sweet to cuddle in my lap.  

I'll freely admit that part of my enjoyment in her is because she's the last one.  Whenever I have to clean up another mess she's made, I know that those messes won't last that much longer.  Her irritating screams and cries aren't that bad because they won't be followed by someone else doing that.  And every new milestone she reaches is the last time I get to watch one of my own children reach do that new thing.  I now understand why the babies in families get special treatment from everyone.  

We are all happy to have Elizabeth in our family.  Happy Birthday, Elizabeth!