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Sunday, January 29, 2012

January 29

Today is an anniversary day - we've been here for one month.  And one year ago we were in the middle of the Arab Spring.  When I think that our crazy year is now over, I can't quite believe that it's already been a year.  A friend of mine posted pictures of her baby's first birthday and I was shocked to realize that it was a year ago that we were hanging out in Oakwood with her baby that was Joseph's age at the time.  It's been a funny year; it feels like it has lasted forever, but then it feels like it began a month or two ago.

I also can't believe that we've been in Baku for a month.  It feels like we've been here much longer than a month.  Our house is already starting to feel like home in that way that's hard to explain.  When I was reading blogs a few days ago, I finished and looked around me.  "Oh," I thought with confusion, "I'm in Baku.  That's right.  I'm not in America, I'm living in Azerbaijan."

That's when I know I'm settling in overseas - I forget that I live overseas, and when I do remember, I can't quite recall what's so weird about my situation.  When I was searching through my consumables heap the other day, Sophia and I had a conversation about how the movers were still living in America and wouldn't be moving overseas.  Most people in America, I had to explain to her, live in America their whole lives and never live anywhere else.  That's part of what makes them American.  I'm not sure she quite understood the concept.

So, after a month in my Baku, here is my assessment.  We love the housing.  Our house is beautiful, spacious, and comfortable.  Of course it has its maintenance quirks - our downstairs heating being the most frequent - but that's to be expected.  The mission members are wonderful; we've had dinners and breakfasts and rides and offers of help and a very warm welcome.  The city itself looks to be fairly reasonable, but I haven't been out much since our car hasn't gotten here yet.  Brandon's job is... interesting to him, but so far much much busier than his job in Egypt ever was.  But I suppose there has to be a pill in all of that jam.  Otherwise we wouldn't want to leave at the end of two years.

So for now, so far so good.  I'm crossing my fingers that no revolutions come our way.  But if they do, I suppose that I'll have a better idea of what I'm doing.  How's that for optimism?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Snow Day

When we were posted to Azerbaijan, often friends would ask us about the weather.  Was it pleasant? Did it snow much there?  I had read the post reports and watched the weather for awhile, so I felt pretty confident in telling everyone that we would be fine, not much if any snow to worry about.  Maybe the wind, but not snow.

And if I had lived here last year, I would have been right.  According to friends, the weather stayed in the fifties or high forties all winter.  This winter, however, is evidently unusual, and in November, work was cancelled due to snow.  Evidently the bad driving is made completely disastrous when four of five inches of snow are added to the mix.

This past week or so, it has snowed every other day or so.  When I looked at the forecast a few days ago - low thirties and snowing or raining the whole time, I remembered exactly why I hate karma.  The snow, however, hasn't been much, just the frozen equivalent of drizzle.

Yesterday it finally worked itself up to half an inch of accumulation, and so the girls went outside and tried to ride their bikes on snow-covered tile while Edwin slipped and fell every five steps or so.  It wasn't much, but the girls were thrilled.  "Mom, we played in the snow!!" they told me the rest of the day, after which Sophia would add, "but it's not good for riding bikes in."

So this morning when I woke up and opened the curtains to this,

I was shocked.  When I went to get the children from their room, Edwin was excitedly shouting "no! no! no!' and gesturing to the window.  I suppose if they're happy it's okay.  But right now Brandon is outside playing with the children and I'm nice and warm inside, which is how it should be.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

You can take the Georgian out of the Soviet Union, but you can't take the Soviet Union out of the Georgian

For my birthday on Saturday, Brandon took me out to eat.  Since we're in a new city, we have new restaurants to explore, which is one of my favorite things about new places.  Brandon jokes (and he's only half kidding) that he joined the Foreign Service for the food.  And I'm okay with that.

He had always heard that Georgian food was quite tasty, so he decided to take me out for Georgian.  Our car hasn't arrived and the deep distrust of taxis that we gained in Egypt hasn't faded yet, so we decided to take the Metro and then walk to the restaurant.

After giving instructions to the babysitter and wishing her good luck, we headed out the door.  Brandon checked his map and we plotted our route and closest Metro station.  It looked simple, which of course should have been our first warning sign.  Nothing that looks simple on a map in a foreign country ever is.

Forgetting that cardinal rule, we set off and boarded the metro for 28 May stop.  After getting off, we checked the map, and marched off into the darkening evening.  We marched for awhile past little hovels, store after store of dried fruits and nuts, and through a few traffic lights.  We checked the map.  We kept marching.  We found some street signs, and checked the map again.  Oops, a few streets further up than we had thought.  More marching, more checking.  March.  Check.  March.  Check.  I'm glad that my cell phone comes with a flashlight.

After marching through dark muddy streets, past newly-facaded government buildings, in crowds of people in busy thoroughfares, in front of buses, and in between cars, I saw a sign that looked like it might be the place.  We marched closer.  It was.  Hungry and ready for a tasty birthday meal, we went through a low door, down some steps, down some more steps and finally, into the restaurant.

The proprietor came up, gabbled something in Russian, and then walked off.  Brandon and I waited awkwardly in front of two empty booths wondering which one we were supposed to sit in.  The man walked past us and started moving things in a third booth while another man pulled his things from the booth.  Then the proprietor came back and started talking to Brandon in Russian again.  While talking he walked us back to the door and pointed down the road.

When we were outside and walking away, I asked Brandon what had just happened.  The man had told Brandon, 'Oh well, those two tables are occupied for someone, so we can't help you right now.  But there's a nice Georgian restaurant just down the road.'

I started laughing.  I suppose I should have believed Brandon earlier when he warned me about 'customer service' in the former Soviet Union.

So we went to the other restaurant.  And since I've never had Georgian food before, I thought it was quite tasty.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Bring it on, thirty

I am now officially thirty years old.  Three decades.  My twenties, the time of youth, the age that everyone always wants to look like are gone.  From here on out, there's nothing but declining beauty, multiplying wrinkles, and sagging body parts left.  I have a dismal march down the hill into decrepitude.

Oh, well.  I guess it had to happen sometime.

On Saturday when I woke up, I mentally pinched myself, as I sometimes do to my love handles when I'm trying to gauge if they've gone down since the last time I attempted to squeeze back into my jeans after having Joseph.  Any change?  Anything different?

I thought about this in the weeks preceding my birthday, in preparation for the actual day, the day when I had to kiss twenty-something goodbye forever.  It was a busy decade, those twenties.  I started out a sophomore at BYU, living with five girls, and I ended it in Baku, living with five immediate family members.  A lot of things have changed in the last ten years.  How would I feel about leaving the decade behind?

Saturday morning when I pinched myself for real, I didn't feel regret for the ending of Youth and the beginning of Responsibility.

Heck, I think that I bid farewell to Youth about two children ago and Responsibility definitely decided to permanently move in when Joseph came too.  When I look in the mirror, I see these things around my eyes that look suspiciously like the beginning of crow's feet.  When I look at my family, I see four children.  And when I look at my husband, I see someone with a responsible job and a decent-sized household to support.

When I look at these things, I wonder how thirty took so long to get here.  At least now I'll get some credibility.

So just in case you're wondering, I'm not bothered in the least by turning thirty.  I've known this was coming for awhile now.  But get back to me in ten years.  I'm not sure about forty yet.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Driving in Baku (from a passenger's standpoint)

While researching Baku, I kept stumbling on the same comment: "The traffic here is horrible."  Every time I read it, I laughed.  I lived in Cairo.  Twenty-two million people, and lots and lots of cars with drivers that follow the third-world driving principle - if it is physically possible, it is legally possible.

Then my sponsor took me to her house, the embassy, and the grocery store one day.  She picked me up at two, and we got home at five.  The embassy is only three and a half miles from our house, she lives about halfway in between, and we didn't spend much time at the grocery store, which was also close to her house.

This past week we had a Relief Society activity, which started at 7:30.  When the president told me about the time, she said that with traffic, everyone usually got there in time to start around eight.  I rode with my neighbor, and we left at 6:45 to pick up another sister who lived three miles away.  By the time we picked her up, got scraped by another car in a turning circle, and made it to the same neighborhood my sponsor lives in, it was actually past eight.

I have been at a light and watched as two lanes turn into four, or five and leave the opposite flow of traffic barely enough room to squeeze by.  Random holes are dug without much warning.  Roads are closed, causing snarls that take half an hour to get through.  We drove down the wrong side of a divided road because the other side was closed, and witnessed a real live game of chicken.  When the snarls in intersections get bad enough, the drivers get out of their cars and start directing traffic and telling people where to go in order to unsnarl everything.

Our car gets here in a little over a month.  I'm already excited to join the fun.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Version 3.0

On Christmas Eve, I was trying to rock Joseph to sleep.  While rocking him, I decided to use my time efficiently and load a CD to update the OS on our five year-old Mac.  The CD went in, made some spinning noises, and then came out.  I tried it again, and the same thing happened.  Then I remembered the same thing happening with a few other CDs, and realized that the CD drive is broken.

My first thought was that we would be fine without the drive working, and I announced to Brandon that it was broken.  And then logic caught up to me, and I remembered what we use our computer for when we're not renting a townhouse with an enormously large TV: watching movies. 

When Brandon and I married, I brought a laptop to the deal.  We had decided beforehand to not buy a TV, so we used the laptop for watching movies.  On movie nights, we'd put the laptop and speakers on a chair and settle down for a fine night of fun courtesy of the The Sherwood Family Home Entertainment System.

One night the laptop manifested Dying Stripes Across the Screen, and so the next night we marched down to the Apple Store and bought a beautiful white 21-inch iMac.  Now we could watch movies in even greater splendor on the Sherwood Family Entertainment System 2.0.  

It moved with us from my grandparents' basement to our little duplex to Arlington for A-100 to Cairo and back to Arlington.  We bought it when Kathleen was only two months old and now she's old enough to go to Kindergarten.  It has been a great computer, with the added bonus of being really easy to move.  Open box, insert computer, put styrofoam on top, close box.  Done.

And so keeping with family tradition, Brandon was at the Apple Store at 9 am Monday morning (after driving to Sterling to drop off a bassinet) to purchase Sherwood Family Home Entertainment System 3.0.  Seeing as our family has increased since the last one was purchased, we splurged on the big one.  

I can't wait to watch more movies on it.  When we finally clean up the third floor.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I love [name hidden for security reasons]

When I was preparing to move here, I did a lot of research on housing.  Probably much more than was actually necessary, as we had no choice in where we would live.  Most embassy housing here (as in most non-first world countries) consists of large houses surrounded by tall, concrete walls.  In order to leave, you have to open a gate or go through a locked door.  Great for keeping the children in, but not much in the way of a neighborhood.

However, we don't live in one of those houses.  We actually live in [...], one of two actual neighborhoods in Azerbaijan.  It has the necessary tall concrete wall around the neighborhood, but the actual houses look out on quaint little brick-paved and neatly manicured streets.  It's not very big, but it is very quiet, and we've already taken the children on bike rides through it.

My favorite part about this neighborhood, however, is the neighbors.  We're one of five embassy families that live in the compound, and two families with girls around Kathleen's age live right next to us.  So when the doorbell rang one evening, and one friend asked if the girls would like to go on a walk, I was more than happy to shove them out the door while I finished dinner.

The family that lives across the street from is us LDS, and on Tuesday there was no school (power out in the neighborhood of the school), so all of the children from the branch gathered at our neighbors' house for a no-school party.  We were having our HHE and consumables delivered that morning, so I couldn't take the children.  My neighbor, however, offered to take the girls over to play with everyone else.

They left at eleven in the morning and Edwin and I had a great time unpacking (and napping, on Edwin and Joseph's part) all by ourselves.  By the time the girls finally dragged home after five, exhausted from so much fun, I had the entire kitchen unpacked.

I love living in [...].  I like my house, I like the neighborhood, I like the convenient location.  But most of all, I love my neighbors.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

How to bake cornmeal muffins, Baku style

1.  Realize that baking supplies are running low, and your car is somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic, so you'll have to work with what is in the house.
2.  Look for brown sugar in the pile of boxes on the third floor that have your consumables shipment.
3.  Give up on finding the brown sugar boxes, and realize that a few are in the plastic buckets.
4.  Look through the boxes for the bucket opener.
5.  Give up and go find a screwdriver on the second floor.
6.  Nearly break your fingertips to pry off the bucket lid.  Explain to second child why the embassy can't be called to open the bucket for you, and it would take too long to wait for Daddy to come home and do it.
7.  Find the wheat grinder.  In another pile of boxes.
8.  Move the transformer from the living room to the kitchen counter.
9.  Grind popcorn.
10.  Realize that milk is running low, and find can of powdered milk.
11.  Open can while heating distiller water in the microwave.  Mix milk.
12.  Let cornmeal soak in milk for five minutes.
13.  Weigh out four tablespoons of butter from 500-gram block of butter, melt and add egg.
14.  Mix together dry ingredients.
15.  Realize that baking spray is in the same pile of boxes on the third floor, and grease tins with sunflower oil.
16.  Combine wet and dry ingredients, bake at about 400 degrees, as estimated from celsius  dial on the oven.
17.  Wonder why you didn't just pack Jiffy mixes in the consumables instead.

Christmas, again

When we were preparing to move to Baku, I asked around about shipment times.  Our UAB would take about 30 days I was told, our HHE could take several months, and I didn't ask about the consumables.  When I added these timelines to our unknown length of stay in temporary housing, I made sure to pack a bag of black beans in my suitcase.

So when we arrived and found out that we would be skipping temporary, I considered myself lucky.  And then when Brandon called last Monday to tell me that our HHE and consumables were ready to be dropped off, I told him to have it delivered as soon as possible.  On Thursday morning he called to ask if I wanted our UAB and HHE by air that night, I figured that as I had just finished off the unpacking on first and second stories, I had room to put more boxes in.

So Brandon and I spent our Saturday wielding hex wrenches and wrestling with Ikea furniture and our MLK holiday Monday unpacking boxes after I had spent almost all week unpacking boxes.  There's nothing like unpacking three or four tons of stuff to make you wonder why exactly you have so much stuff in the first place.

But it's almost done, and I'm mostly waiting on shelves to put my boxes and boxes of consumables in.  I'm happy to have most of the unpacking behind me, and I'm even more happy that we've been here less than three weeks and I have almost all of my things.  All I have left is to hang pictures and I will really feel home.  Which is something that I'm happy to have again.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

... So Where to Begin?

I suppose that when I said that we would have internet by the end of the week, I really meant by the end of the next week.  I'm starting to see that around here customer service is given good lip service, but with no follow-up.  Thankfully then embassy here is fantastically supportive and Brandon was loaned a router until things are sorted out with the internet company.  We only have internet on the first floor, but that's what happens when you live in a three-story concrete house.

We are starting to settle in after waves one two and three of stuff washed over us in a three-day period.  My goal this week is to finish up all of the unpacking and then maybe start to organize my life.

In a short review, the trip here was amazingly easy (thank-you Benadryl and Lunesta), and all of the people who have helped out have been wonderful.  I have a new standard to live up to when I get to be a social sponsor.  Our house is wonderful, and even the weather hasn't been as unpleasant as I feared.

So, life is good.

Stay tuned for updates (and maybe even pictures one day).

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Hello From Baku

So we've arrived, and everyone even made here in one piece with a full flight's worth of sleep (except for Brandon).  The best part of the trip, however, was when Brandon's sponsor announced that instead of going to our temporary apartment we would be going straight to our permanent house.  

Everyone here has been wonderfully kind and helpful, and we've settled in nicely which has been helped by the five days Brandon has been off work.  We're at friends this evening for dinner, so I'm using their internet for now to check news and bank account balances.

Brandon has his first day of work tomorrow, so we're hoping to have internet by the end of the week.  Stay tuned for updates!