The views expressed in this blog are personal and not representative of the U.S. Government, etc etc etc.
Read at your own risk.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Seven Years

Seven years ago today, Brandon and I got married in the Raleigh North Carolina Temple.

Seven years ago

It's been a busy seven years.  In the last seven years, we have:
 owned two cars
 bought one car
 had one graduation
 had three jobs (between the two of us)
 lived in overseas three times, in two countries
 flown ten trans-atlantic flights
 lived in ten different homes
 had one sibling get married
 sent seven family members on missions
 had one traffic ticket (mine)
 been to seven different countries
 had four children

And been in love every minute (of course I had to say that last part)

Eight months ago

Thursday, April 26, 2012

He Smiles!

The last week, Joseph has decided that six o'clock is really the best time in the world to wake up on the weekend.  And maybe five o-clock when Brandon and I are trying to sleep in until six on a regular day.  And on the days when the alarm goes off at five, four is a perfectly reasonable hour to start crying.  Or perhaps just start at two and don't give up until mom comes in at four and breaks her rule of no-feedings-before-sunrise.

But, he's still cute so he hasn't gone out the window.  Yet.

Monday, April 23, 2012

I'm glad they're using all of that oil money for something useful

Everyone who lives overseas has a slightly different agenda.  Some go for cultural events.  Others love museums.  Brandon had a professor who scheduled his study abroad trips around where he could get the best food.  Another set seek out wild, remote places.

Me?  I go for parks.

Maybe in another life, one where my children are grown up, I'll start enjoying the other things too.  But for now, parks are a large factor in my enjoyment of a place.

So after being in Cairo where we spent every. single. Saturday. at Maadi House, I was thrilled to hear that they have parks here.  That aren't crowded with every single local who can possibly fit.  And don't have trash all over them.  And have playground equipment.

We have had our car for a few weeks, but haven't had the opportunity to go seek out these mythical parks until last weekend.  Brandon was gone with the Boy Scouts enjoying those wild remote places (notice that nobody under the age of twelve can join the Boy Scouts), so I decided to take the children somewhere new so that they could bleed off their energy playing instead of squabbling.

Going off half-cocked with a GPS like I usually do, we initially ended up in the wrong place.  It was lovely, but the children were not going to be bought off with a beautiful view and a walk when there was playground equipment to be had.

So back in the car everything went (where we were maybe parked in a not okay spot, but that's what those dip plates are for, right?), and we kept searching for the park.  Past the construction site and dockyard cranes, we found it.  And everyone had a great time.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Driving in Baku (when you're the one driving)

Two weeks ago, our car arrived finally got registered and plated.  Brandon drove it home after an interminable event, and came in at eleven at night.  He parked it in our garage, and it fit, but just barely.

Good thing we don't own a minivan.  And it's probably fine that we have no door from the house to the garage because we wouldn't be able to fit through it anyway when the car is parked in the garage.  Which it is for most of the week.

But on those times it isn't....

I'm driving it around.  And I love it.  I've always been somewhat partial to driving; if nobody else wants to drive, I'm happy to do it.  But it's not like I've got driving gloves or anything.  When we went back to the US and got our car, however, I discovered why everyone owns those big, gas-guzzling SUVs.  It's because they have big, gas-guzzling engines!  And they're really fun to use!  And it doesn't hurt to be up high able to survey everyone around you.

So when we came to Baku, I mourned the temporary absence of our car, daydreaming of the day when I could take it out and conquer the mean streets of Baku.

Over the last two weeks, I've gradually been widening the area of my vehicular wanderings.  First I took it to the grocery store a mile away.  The I took it to the grocery store and a store a little further afield.  Last week I volunteered to drive on our monthly visiting teaching visit.

And so today, with Brandon far away on a Boy Scout campout, I decided to go on An Adventure with the children.

I've heard about various parks, parks with things like playground equipment and slides and swings, from friends.  We have a 'park' here, but it is more like a landscaped green space that my children use for whatever ends they choose.  It doesn't have any playground equipment, so today we went in search of one (post to follow).

I've heard about parks closer to our house, but I decided to go to one down by the Caspian, pretty much right in the middle of downtown Baku.  Like down the street from the Four Seasons, across the street from the J.W. Marriott and on a four (or maybe five or six, depending on what you feel like) lane road.  Which is of course why I waited until Brandon was gone because I don't think he would have approved of the outing.

We arrived without much trouble, having left around nine - an hour when any decent Azeri who can is still in bed - and so not encountering too much traffic.

But when we left around eleven thirty, there were plenty of people on the road.  Coupled with missing a few turns and having a road or two closed, we really got to experience driving in downtown Baku.  We even passed by the Eurovision stadium.

The highlight of my Baku-driving skills test was when we hit an area of construction where five or six lanes of traffic turned into one or two without any warning.  At one point Kathleen probably could have stuck her arm out and touched a bus next to us (and I'm really not exaggerating.  She might have had to unbuckle and lean out, but I think she could have done it).  Some poor guy in a Lada got his tire stuck in a pothole and couldn't get the car out.  I'm not joking.  It was sunk down to the front bumper.  If I wasn't trying to avoid being run over by a bus, I would have taken a picture.  I even tried, but I would have had to look through the viewfinder, and that is unsafe driving practices.  So instead I tossed the camera to Kathleen, but she wasn't very good at getting pictures of anything useful.

So now I can say that I've driven in Baku.  And really, it's not that bad.  No, really.  I think that maybe if everyone was going forty miles an hour and trying to navigate some of the things they pull off, that would be dangerous.  But when you're going five miles an hour, pulling in front of someone unexpectedly is only going to annoy them, not cause an accident.  People drive their cars here they way you drive a shopping cart - going where you need to go and keeping an eye on the carts around you while you're doing it.  If everyone in Safeway were running at top speed while picking up diapers and pickles, it would be a problem.  But they're not, and that's why you don't hear of deadly supermarket pile-ups.

And now I have a confession to make.  The reason I like driving here most of all is because you don't have to obey the rules and being aggressive is okay.  I guess that makes me a jerk.  Because I like ignoring the rules and getting away with it.  And I like pulling out in front of people.  I always thought I was law-abiding until I started driving here.  Oh well.

And those diplomatic plates?  They're awesome.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Lessons learned from classic literature

This afternoon I went, for the first time, to the airport bazaar.  Since Wal-Mart and Carrefour don't exist here, everyone who wants anything goes to the airport bazaar.  Need a massaging hoola hoop?  Check.  Fifty-inch flat screen TV?  Of course.  Completely tacky/bizarre baskets covered in tulle and flowers?  What color and size would you like?  If it is made in China, they have it at the airport bazaar.

I wasn't looking for anything specific; I had mainly accepted my friend's invitation to get out of the house and leave my children with the housekeeper.  Sometimes I need to do that.

While strolling the aisles, I saw a scrub brush on a long stick.

"Hmm," I thought to myself, "our back patio is pretty dirty.  And even though it gets hosed down every fed days, it doesn't do much to actually get the dirt off the deck.  The children's feet are filthy every time they come in.  That place really needs a good scrubbing."

A few hours later, I walked in the door and called out to the girls.  "I've got a present for you!  It's so exciting!  And I bought two - one for you Sophia and one for you Kathleen.  Come and see!"

Within a matter of minutes they had filled a bucket full of water and were contentedly scrubbing away.  "I can be Cinderella," Kathleen informed Sophia.  "And me too!" Sophia replied.  "Yes," I told them diplomatically, "you can both be Cinderella.  You're twins."

I went inside and started dinner.  A few minuted later, Sophia came in howling and sobbing, "Edwin!  He stole my brush!!  And he won't give it back!!!"  I quieted the tears by giving Edwin a mop and all three went back to work, happily scrubbing, while I enjoyed cooking dinner without any 'helpers.'

Moral of the story: anything is fun if you can present it as a "surprise."

Friday, April 6, 2012

Now How's That for Procrastination?

Today the girls went to their first birthday party.  Kathleen is five and a half and has never been to a birthday party.  I suppose that says something about how easily we make friends in the Sherwood family.

After the girls received their invitation earlier this week, I realized that with the fun of a birthday party comes the responsibility of bringing a gift.  Not knowing what to do, I asked the girl's mom who I happen to be visiting teaching partners and next-door neighbors with.  "Oh," she replied, "I always keep a closet full of gifts for whenever I need them."

I have a closet full of chocolate chips and lard, but I'm not sure how happy a seven year-old girl would be with lard.  Or even chocolate chips - even if it is a three-pound bag.  And Ghiradelli.

So I asked where one might buy gifts if their closet didn't have any ones that a seven-year old girl might like.  "There are some toy stores around town.  But they can be really expensive - like thirty-five manat for something you'd pay fifteen dollars for in the States."

Hm.  I'm all for birthday parties, I suppose.  But I've never been that excited about the gift part of it.  And especially not paying over forty dollars for something of dubious value to the recipient.  If my children ever have parties (and I know what you're thinking.  Yes, my day is coming and soon), I swear I'll at least make threatening noises about not allowing presents before Brandon overrides me.  He seems to do that when it comes to birthdays.

So, I talked to Brandon, and thought about what to do.  A few days went by.  I brought up making some dress-up thing out of the fabric I have in another closet.  Brandon pointed out that my sewing projects always end up being stressful and time-consuming.  I admitted he might be right.  He suggested going to a toy store near the embassy on his lunch break and looking around.  I thought that might be a good idea.

Fast forward to last night, at ten o'clock.  I was at home, having finished The Candy Shop War and a handful of chocolates waiting up for him.  Wondering if he had disappeared into the night of Baku, I called him to see if the latest event he was pressed into attending was thinking about wrapping up.  It wasn't.  I asked him if he had stopped by the toy store that day.

"No, I thought that you didn't want me to do that," he told me.  "I can go tomorrow if you want, what time is the birthday party?"


I hung up the phone.  I thought about skipping the present entirely, or maybe picking one up tomorrow on our way to the embassy Easter party, or delivering it late.  Then I went upstairs and looked up former college roommates on Facebook.

Fast forward to 1:30 this afternoon.  I looked up my new dream vacation, horse trekking, on the internet.  I told Brandon that he could really make me happy by taking me to Spain to ride horses on the beach.  He asked about the present.  I told him I'd get back to him.

Finally at 2:00, I climbed up to the third floor, looked through my bin of fabrics, thanked my sister for sending me quilting fabric she wasn't going to use, pulled out the sewing machine, the iron, the ironing board, the transformer, and headed down to the dining room table to get to work.  But first I picked up Joseph and fed him, broke up a fight between the girls, and stuck Edwin on his potty.  And then dumped the contents on another pass.

Then I got down to work.

And at 3:45, the girls headed out the door by themselves with a completed pink, seven year-old-sized apron haphazardly wrapped in brown butcher paper, tied with yarn and topped with their home-made cards.  Sophia said that hers was a picture of the birthday party.  With everyone in purple.

Then I got to on work lemon bars for tomorrow's party.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Living in Baku: General Conference

After waking up Sunday morning, I checked Facebook.  One of my cousins had posted a picture, in which she mentioned her husband's priesthood session tie.  "Oh!" I thought to myself, "that's right, it's Conference weekend, isn't it?  And priesthood session just ended.  Time to go start breakfast."

As a child, I was obviously not too excited about spending several hours on Saturday and Sunday listening to church leaders give me counsel that I felt didn't apply much to me.  When I finally grew up, I started to enjoy Conference weekend and actually look forward to it.  I enjoyed having an entire weekend set aside to forget my worldly concerns and listen to the wise and prophetic counsel on offer.  And it was a perfect excuse to invite family over for fabulous brunches.  Who doesn't love french toast, eggs benedict, asparagus, sausages, and bacon?

Then we moved to Cairo.  With the time difference, we were able to listen to the morning session at six in the evening.  With the weekend shift, we got to do it after Brandon got home from work.  But I was thankful that we got to watch Conference in real time, even if sometimes the internet connection made it a little jerky.

Now we have the regular weekend back (which I've decided that I prefer), but with an eleven-hour time difference, the morning session starts when Brandon and are getting ready for bed.

I'm sad to be missing out on the weekend-long spiritual feast.  And maybe the french toast, too.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

How many more times do I have to do this?

There are a lot of aspects of parenting that get a lot of negative attention.  Getting your child to sleep through the night.  Teething.  The terrible twos.  Weaning.  Keeping those #@$@%! kids in bed.  Being borderline OCD, I was very apprehensive about having a child and was a pretty big stress case for the first few years of Kathleen's life.

Now that I'm on number four, however, I've seen a lot of early-childhood years and have come to the conclusion that most of the scary parts of early-childhood parenting aren't that bad and can be gotten through without that much trouble.

Except for toilet training.

Toilet training deserves all of its bad rap and then some.  I hate toilet training.

I have a friend who waits until their children beg her to train them before she even considers putting pull-ups on them.  I guess I don't hate it as much as her because in the end I dislike washing two boys' worth of cloth diapers less than I like toilet training.

After an unsuccessful attempt several months ago, this week I finally girded up my loins, filled up my mop bucket, readied my chocolate supply, and put Edwin in underwear.  After the first two days of puddles everywhere (thank heaven I just ordered a carpet cleaner), the excitement calmed down and Edwin spent at least twenty-five percent of his waking time on his little red potty reading books, playing with cars, eating sandwiches, and scooting around the floor.

And I have to confess, it wasn't so bad this time around.  But I still hate toilet training.

(You can thank me if you like for no gratuitous underwear- and potty-pictures)