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Sunday, May 27, 2012

My mulinational quest for dirt

Everyone has something completely frivolous that they spend money on.  You all know what I'm talking about - that thing that for budgeting purposes is completely useless and should probably be gone without.  Something that every time you find yourself buying it, you give yourself the lecture that this is really the last time you're going to buy it and really it isn't necessary.  But then of course you go and buy it again a few weeks, or days, later.

Mine is plants.  One of the first sizable disagreements Brandon and I had was over several packs of flowers I had bought at the local hardware store one spring.  Earlier in the week he had bought me flowers for Mother's Day.  The next day I had seen some peonies for sale by the road and I just couldn't resist them.  When I walked in the door a few days later with more flowers he just couldn't understand why I had bought them.

Five years later I'm still not sure he can empathize with my strange desire to buy plants, but we've come to a reasonable peace about them.  I buy the flowers and throw in some useful plants like tomatoes and we're both happy.

In Egypt we had one-foot wide 'balconies' and so never had room for serious plants - just a few bouganvillea and jasmine plants and an abortive attempt at basil.

This time around we have a whole backyard.  As soon as we moved in I started making plans, and before we had been here two months I had spent entirely too much money on the Burpee website with only a plastic tray full of dirt and tiny sprouts to show for it.

Eventually the sprouts turned into seedlings.  The weather warmed and it was time to plant the seedlings and let them start some serious growing.

Which began the series of complicated maneuvers called Trying To Get Things Done in a Foreign Country where Walmart, Home Depot, and Other Such Wonderful Stores Don't Exist All While Not Speaking A Word Of The Local Language.

First on the list was pots.  We have a backyard with dirt in it, but I didn't trust my carefully babied tomato plants and herbs to the rock-hard soil that is indifferently watered with a hose by the gardeners.  And so pots it was.  I hadn't gotten the car yet and was using my friend's driver which made the whole process a lot simpler.  I told him we needed pots.  He drove around to various tiny little stores and bartered with everyone while I stood on and handed the storekeeper whatever money the driver told me I needed to hand over.  Because I'm very trusting.  We eventually cobbled together eight pots large enough to fit tomato plants.

Then I asked him about dirt.  He looked at me like I was crazy, and probably thought about how it really wasn't worth the twenty manat flat fee he charged each outing to run all over town looking for a loony American lady's pots and dirt when she could just go to the grocery store and buy the dang tomatoes like normal people - they would definitely be cheaper than the fifty manat I had just spent on pots.

He told me to have my housekeeper ask the gardener (see the way I circumvent the language barrier?) to fill up the pots with dirt and give him five manat to get it done.  So she asked him.  And he did it.  That same day.  It was amazing.  Just like that - pots and dirt in one day.  It was almost like America.

So that weekend Brandon and I planted tomatoes.  We stood around that afternoon admiring our handiwork while the children played and our Russian neighbor came over.  She told Brandon who told me (who says you need to speak the language?) that she had lots of plants and would be happy to give some to me later.  I told Brandon to tell her that I would love more plants.  I think he might have rolled his eyes.

A few days later, I ran into her, and she took me inside her house while her children translated (see? easy).  An hour later, I left with a box filled with tiny flower seedlings.

That week the driver and I looked for more pots.  I figured that if I already had some flowers, more flowers would be better and spent some more of Brandon's hard-earned money at the Burpee website. I asked my housekeeper to have the gardener get some more dirt.

And then the whole system fell apart.  Because that dirt he had gotten me last week?  It was from a pile that he wasn't supposed to be getting dirt from.  They certainly couldn't take the tomato plant dirt back, but I wasn't getting any more dirt for my new pots.

My seedlings were starting to die at this point, so I went an found a bag of dirt that had been shipped from Egypt (I think that my have violated some sort of custom law, but nobody asked) and planted the seedlings.  Then I went online and spent more money for expanding-soil bricks.  Because ordering it from America and waiting three or four weeks is much easier than trying to drive around (by myself by this point as the car had come) looking for dirt here in Azerbaijan.  Really.  I'm not kidding.

Fast forward a month or two.  My seeds from Burpee have arrived.  So have the expanding dirt bricks.  Last week I decide it's time to finally plant everything so I might have some flowers before it frosts in the fall.  I pull out the bricks, and put in them in the planter.  They don't look very big, but they did claim to be expanding, so I pour a lot of water on them and cross my fingers.  I pour some more water on them and realize the sad truth - twenty dollars and four weeks later the bricks don't come close to filling one of the three planters and three pots that I have waiting for beautiful flowers to grow in them.  I abandon the project for a time.

While driving my housekeeper to a local bazaar to shop for fruits and vegetables (who's talking about a language barrier?) I ask her if she knows where to buy dirt.  She offers to bring me a bag from her own garden every time she comes in to work.  And then I remember my Russian neighbor.  We pull into my driveway and she's outside working.  I send my housekeeper to ask her where the dirt in her pot plants come from.  After putting the children in the house, I enter the conversation when she mentions the name of a bazaar, a bazaar I've never heard of.  When I look confused, she offers to take me there, and we agree to go the next morning.

And that's how I found myself in the company of my neighbor Thursday morning, driving down the Ipak Highway in her MiniCooper listening the Beatles as we sped to the Sederek Bazaar in pursuit of dirt.  I don't speak any Russian, and she speaks very little English.  So the conversation was fairly simple.  But we were two expatriate women, driving together on a lovely morning, out on an errand together.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Maybe there's a future for them in engineering

Every day after lunch, I take a nap.  Edwin and Joseph take naps too, but the girls are too old for naps (or rather, would wake up Edwin) so I let them play quietly in our third-floor toy room.  When I come get them a few hours later (or longer, depending on how difficult the morning has been), I'm never quite sure what I'll find.  Sometimes the couch is turned into a fort.  The treadmill might be festooned with various scarves.  Sometimes they will have turned a few remaining UAB boxes into forts.  Once I found them both asleep on the couch.

A few days ago, they built a train track.

Not bad for a three and five year-old.  I guess there's nothing like boredom to inspire creative problem solving.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Lunchtime conversation

The girls are eating fruit, and I'm trying to get Joseph and Edwin fed

Kathleen: Let's pretend this is magic fruit that does magical things.  What would it do, Mommy, if it were magical fruit?

Me: (pause) It would make everyone happy and obedient and they would do everything the first time with me having to ask them again.


Kathleen: Sophia, what would the fruit do, if it were magical fruit?

There's nobody like a mom to ruin Let's Pretend.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Birthday Girl

Last week, Sophia turned four.  So far I've managed to avoid ever having a birthday party for any of my children.  In about twenty or thirty years, they can blame all of their problems on never having birthday parties.  I'm getting softer in my old age, however, because this year I considered having one.  Brandon shot me down.  So kids, blame your father.

Instead we met up with some friends at the pool.  There is no pool maintained by the employee association here, and the ambassador's pool isn't open yet (and when it is, is subject to very strict pool rules that don't work well for anyone who has small children).  But recently a friend found a hotel pool that is nice and sells memberships by the month.

So for Sophia's birthday, we met at the hotel and went swimming in the newly-filled outdoor pool.  I came with four children, one of my friends came with three, and the third came with two.  There were a few people (I think associated with Eurovision) sitting at the restaurant surrounding the pool, but by the time we were through everyone had left.  There's nobody like Mormons to spoil the atmosphere.

I made her cake that afternoon, and we all had Eggs Benedict for dinner - Sophia's choice.  We followed with Strawberry Cream cake, and then everyone's arteries sealed closed.

Sophia, however, was more interested in her presents than the cake, but this year managed to actually eat some of the cake, which is a first this year.

We finished up the evening with a movie, and sent Sophia to bed with almost all of her presents tucked in with her.  Happy Birthday, Sophia!  We wouldn't be the same without you!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Wasting Time

Brandon left this afternoon for Istanbul.  He has a work training for a few days, so it's just me and the children until later this week.  It's a funny life we live, when my husband has some sort of training, and instead of going to Nashville or maybe Dallas he goes to... Istanbul.  The city that has a 1500 year-old church built by Justinian, someone who lived so long ago that most Americans don't even know who he is.

I think that Brandon might have been more excited if we hadn't just gone to Istanbul last year.  I'm not sure if he even plans on seeing the sights.  The irony is, of course, that I would love to spend four days doing amazing things like riding on a plane and maybe watching a movie all by myself, or eating meals without having to jump up and get drinks of milk or more soup or a napkin, or just reading a whole book without having to get up thirty times to send Edwin back to bed.  And of course he'd rather be here.  But maybe not by himself, with all four children, for four whole days.

We started off our time together well, with a nap for me and the boys while the girls played quietly in the toy room.  I fed them all cake for dinner/snack, and everyone got ready for bed quickly.  We cuddled up in my bed and read scripture followed by The Odyssey.

[Pause for plug about homeschooling.  I love that when I ask my four year-old if she wants to read The Odyssey for a bedtime story, she is thrilled, and my two year-old shouts 'Odsey! Odsey!'  There's nothing like those lotus eaters for good dreams.]

I got them into bed early, with all sorts of well-meaning plans to write in my journal, catch up on blog posts, and clean up the kitchen.  And then after that I'd practice the piano and get into bed nice and early to catch up on sleep.

I forgot to factor in, however, the internet.  Usually when Brandon is here, his presence is enough to prevent my soul being sucked into the vast, endless wasteland of the internet.  But when he's gone, my self-restraint seems to evaporate and I find myself looking for every single fourteen-inch child's bike available for sale on US websites.  And maybe some on the British ones, too.  You'd think that somebody would make something nice and gender-neutral for people who actually plan on using the bike for more than one child.

And so here I am, at 9:24, sitting alone in a dark room illuminated only by the glow of my twenty four-inch iMac.  Hopefully I can get to bed soon.  Wish me luck.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

TP trouble

This week I had my first visit to a local health clinic.  When I took Sophia in for her ER visit, it was to a clinic run by South Africans, so I didn't count.  Since I don't speak Russian or Azerbaijani, and most people here don't speak English, one of the FSNs from the med unit came with me.  And since it's hard to give directions around here (or maybe the post doctor just took pity on me), the FSN showed up in a car with a driver to take me to the clinic.  And as my children really didn't need to come with me, I left them with my housekeeper

That's a lot of people involved for one clinic visit.

The visit was fairly straightforward - ultrasound, blood work, and urine sample (and no, I'm not pregnant, so stop being shocked at how close the babies would be).  Since I had the FSN with me to go through the various steps - check in, showing passport, paying fees, taking the receipt back to the check in, getting sheet with something on it, finding the ultrasound room, etc - it was blessedly not confusing.

At one point, I told him how grateful I was that he was there to shepherd me around.  "Oh," he replied nonplussed, "the signs are in English."  Ah, yes, but the system is not.

All went smoothly until the last step - the urine sample.  Because of course there has to be something humiliating in this story; why else would I need to tell everyone about a visit to a clinic?

I was given the cup in the phlebotomy lab.  Obviously I couldn't give the sample right there, so the FSN led me to a bathroom.  So far things had been pretty reasonable, but I admit to feeling rather helpless when I couldn't even find the bathroom by myself.  Maybe if it had been next to the lab, with a little pass-through window to avoid carrying the tell-tale yellow cup around, it would have been easy.  Maybe even intuitive.

Instead it was down the hall, past a guard, through some doors, and out in a hall next to the elevator.  Maybe that's where all bathrooms are located in buildings here.  I don't know.  I try to avoid using the bathroom in public.  Maybe if I had made a better effort to do so, however, I would have been better prepared.

After being ushered in, I went into a stall.  As stalls go, it was pretty nice.  A toilet (western-style, no squats here), a mirror, a hook for my purse, my own sink, and even a bidet hose.  Over the toilet there was a picture indicating things that shouldn't be flushed.  No feminine hygiene products, no depends, no diapers, and no... I couldn't be sure, but it looked like pants?  And over that, was the classic don't-squat-on-a-western-style-toilet picture.  I never thought I would get to see one in person.

This picture is taken from the internet because my phone has no camera.  But whenever I go outside my compound, I wish I had one with a camera.

One thing it was missing, however, was toilet paper.  I've given a lot of urine samples in my time (four pregnancies have given me lots of opportunities), but I still can't say that I'm expert at it.  And any of you women who have had the same pleasure can probably agree that sometimes it can get a little... messy.

I looked around the stall in desperation.  Paper towels?  Nope.  Kleenexes?  Definitely not.  I looked in my purse.  The only thing I had resembling TP was money - in 50 manat bills - and my payment receipt.  And seeing as I needed that receipt to be reimbursed, it wasn't worth 100 manat to have something to wipe with.  So I did what any person does when they're in a public restroom have have no TP - I went to the next stall over.  Locked.  I had seen a cleaning cart outside the bathroom; maybe there was some TP in there.  Then I thought of trying to explain to my FSN-handler that, you know, there wasn't any TP in the bathroom and of course I hadn't thought to, you know, bring my own.  I looked back in the stall in desperation, hoping I had overlooked some scrap of absorbent paper product.  I confess I even briefly eyed the trashcan, looking for less-dirty scraps, but eventually I realized that I had no choice.

The deed done, I got to retrace my route (with the FSN in the lead), past the elevators, through the doors, down the hall, by the guard, and back in the phlebotomy lab with my bright yellow cup.  I wanted something to hide the cup behind.  I wanted to run down the hall as fast as I could, drop the cup and split.  I wanted to at least make a joke to the FSN about something funny... like walking down a hall with a cup of pee.  But since I'm, you know, a strange western lady walking through a clinic in Azerbaijan and I have an image to maintain - one that said of course I'm in control and don't get flustered by carrying my pee around in a cup for everyone to see - I didn't.  Instead I walked calmly through the hall, not meeting anyone's eyes, and acting like I wasn't carrying what I was carrying and if you had a problem you could deal with it.

Someone really ought to tell the Azerbaijanis about those pass-through doors.  And of course toilet paper.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Victory Day

Wednesday was Victory Day here in Azerbaijan.  According to the news snippet from yesterday, the whole world celebrated it yesterday to mark the victory of the "brown plague" of Nazism.  I hadn't heard of it until yesterday, but I guess I don't count as the whole world.  Just American.

To celebrate Victory Day (or maybe just to make good use of a day off), we went 'hiking.'  The trip was one organized by the CLO, so I had no idea about what the hike entailed.  At eight-thirty Wednesday morning, we met at the embassy with everyone else going on the trip.  Eight thirty may not sound that early, but for those of you who have or have had small children, you know how close the departure time came to being a deal-breaker.  However, since we came to Baku because of the opportunities to go and enjoy the mountains, we made the sacrifice and woke up at six on a day off.  Or rather, Brandon and I set our alarm for six.  We woke up at 5:15 when Joseph thought it was a good day to get up extra-early.

So after wrestling Circus Sherwood through breakfast and the usual morning oblations, into the car, and down the embassy, we set off out of town.  The girls were very excited to leave the city - Kathleen told me that she had been dreaming of seeing what it was like outside Baku.  I had been wondering too, and was interested to discover that after leaving the suburbs of Baku behind, Azerbaijan looks fairly similar to Utah.  Dry, rolling hills and mountains on the left, large body of water on the right.  Except, of course, for the passing Soviet truck graveyards, cows and sheep grazing everywhere, and cars using a two-lane highway as a three-lane highway.

After about an hour and half of driving and a toilet break that featured Sophia's first trip to a squatty-potty (which didn't produce anything but reluctance), we turned off the highway. 

Well, actually, we passed the closed exit (evidently it's a new overpass that is unpredictably open), flipped a U-turn in one of the breaks in the guard rails designated as U-turn areas, and then pulled another U-turn onto the small road paralleling the highway.  After driving about half a mile, we proceeded past a pen of three or four sheep through a small hole in a rickety fence.  And then we drove up the mountain.

It was as this point I was glad that our 4WD Pilot won the SUV vs. minivan debate.  I really miss having power sliding doors, but they're not very useful for driving up mountains.  I was feeling very smug about having such a nice powerful car with great high clearance.  Then we passed a Lada.

And then I didn't feel quite so smug.

As we drove up the mountain, up winding dirt roads, I wondered how we were going to know when we got the the hiking spot.  We topped another lonely rise that looked down into a valley below a conspicuous clump of rocks standing on top of a hill.  And in the valley below the rocks was everybody else who decided to make use of the holiday to go 'hiking.'  I say 'hiking,' because the hike was more like a springtime version White Fang where everyone climbs over that big pass, but much shorter and with the option of stairs if you wanted. 

While Sophia and I were laboring our way straight up the hillside we passed grandmas, ladies in panty hose and high heels, other little children, fathers carrying toddlers, and even a grandma carrying a baby in a moses basket.  The climb didn't take very long - about twenty minutes.  At the top we looked around, scared Brandon by taking pictures very close to the edge, and tried to keep Edwin from looking inside empty cigarette boxes for candy. 

According to Wikipedia, "The mountain is a solid rock and is one of most famous mountains in the Caucasus, known for its mythical stories. It is a sacred place for regular visitation by pilgrims."  There was another set of stairs that led to the sacred place, but there was a long line and the stairs were steep so we decided against taking four small children up and down them.  

After the children started complaining of boredom, we hiked back down - using the stairs this time.  At the bottom of the stairs in the valley there was a picnic set-up, Azerbaijan-style.  Several open-air picnic areas had been built with several other buildings (of dubious purpose; one looked like it might be a bathroom, but nobody was brave enough to look in) scattered around, along with a well.  But my favorite installation was the butchering area, complete with local sheep flock to feed everyone.  

At least three or four men were working continuously butchering sheep, with several carcasses hanging up in various states of  butchered-ness.  Scattered around the picnic areas were men with axes and hard surfaces, chopping up the meat for everyone's charcoal braziers.  It was kind of like hot dogs and hamburgers.  Just a lot more fresh.

Several locals had also brought their horses up for rides.  The girls, before we had even gotten out of the car, had commented on the presence of horses and said very nicely how much fun it would be to ride one.  You know, just in case somebody was asking.  And being indulgent mother that I am, I used my pointing and head-bobbing skills to explain to one of the men that the girls would like to have a ride.  He hoisted them up and walked them around to their utter delight.  "Mom, I've been dreaming of riding a horse in the mountains!" Kathleen exclaimed.

When the ride was done, I pulled out some money and gave it to the man, hoping it was enough that he wouldn't get incensed and ask for more.  Because that's what they always did in Cairo.  You had to walk a fine line - enough that people wouldn't ask for more, but not so much that you'd be paying it off for the next five years.  So I gave the man five manat, after seeing another father pay one for his little girl's ride.  The man took the five, pulled some money out of his pocket, and handed me three manat change.  I couldn't believe he actually gave me change.  That he charged me the same as anyone else taking a horse ride.  The longer I live here, the more I like Azerbaijan.

So after the high point of the day - horse rides and change - everyone got into their cars and drove on top of another hill to have a picnic American-style - tailgating on the highest hill around.  We didn't have any freshly-killed lamb or charcoal braziers, but we did have juice-boxes and Pringles.  The children had a wonderful time running up and down the hill with friends, and the adults enjoyed the beautiful sunshine, the spectacular view, and a wonderful day.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

We have plane tickets (again)

This summer we're going back to the US to visit family.  If it seems like we just got to Baku - you're right, we did.  But that's life in the State Department - living from plane ride to plane ride.  As soon as you're done with one, it's time to plan for the next.  And since I grew up with a mother who likes to book tickets at least six months in advance, I was sweating bullets as soon as we recovered from jet lag.  Because I still remember what happened last time I tried to schedule an R&R flight

So I started bothering Brandon about dates in January.  Then he submitted them in February.  They got approved in March.  And in April I started talking to our travel lady, I.S.  In Cairo, they had a whole Carlson Wagonlit branch office in the chancery, but here things are a little more simple.  That's why I like it here.  

Theoretically, scheduling plane tickets is pretty straightforward.  You give I.S. the dates and places you're going to, or perhaps the flight numbers you'd like to take, and she gives you the options, you pick one, and she books the tickets after you give here some approval form (Brandon does that part).  She even completes the evil E2 for you.  The chain of approvals is much shorter - two people.  I.S. and somebody else.

However, my life exists to cause people trouble that costs them lots of money.

Brandon's family lives in Missouri.  My family goes to the beach in North Carolina.  Last time we flew The Triangle, post paid for tickets in to Missouri and out of NC.  We used miles to cover the flight between the two.  Pretty simple.  This time, however, I decided to be greedy and see if they could pay for the middle leg so that Brandon and I could save the miles to go somewhere fabulous instead - like horse trekking in Europe.

Begin complicated manoevers. 

I contact I.S., ask about four different itineraries.  She provides the itineraries and the prices.  I ask her if the one I like fits within the allowance.  She provides me with the allowance price.  My flight doesn't fit.  I ask her to tell me about nine other itineraries.  Five fit within the allowance.  I pick one, swap out a flight or two that works better, and ask her if this one fits within the allowance.  Repeat four or five times.  I finally work out a schedule that does not involve ten-hour layovers or five legs, and tell her to reserve the tickets.

She reserves the tickets, and then gives me the allowance price.  It is $500 less than the initial sum she had told me.  I go back to the list of nine itineraries.  I swap out a few more flights.  I agonize about paying money for schedules that are more liveable.  I finally work something out that is just barely out of our allowance.  I tell I.S. to book the !$@#$ flight.  She books the flight.  The price has jumped.  Instead of costing $150 extra, it costs $2500 extra.

I start looking for United award tickets between MO and NC.  The only ones available will cut our time with Brandon's family for several days, cost us several hundred dollars in extra rental car days, and make us crash for several days at my sister's house.  I tear my hair out.  Rant to Brandon.  Watch as the reward seats disappear.  Finally we decide to fly out of St. Louis, after visiting Brandon's sister.  While showering the next morning, I realize that we might be able to fit a flight from St. Louis into our allowance.

I email I.S. with four more itineraries.  Half fit in the allowance.  I tell her to book the one that leaves at 8:30 from Baku, instead of the one leaving at 3:55.  She books the tickets.  The price has jumped (over the one and a half hours it took to exchange emails).  I tell her to book the 3:55 flight.  She does.  It has jumped, too, but it's will only cost us $150 extra.  I tell her to book anyway.  She does, and then asks for our signed travel thingy.  Which needs to be signed by Brandon's boss.  Who is out of town.

Thankfully, Brandon's boss came back into town a few days later, and the travel form was delivered in time to buy the tickets at the same price.  

But I'm not complaining.  After all, we don't have to pay for the tickets.  So I'm not complaining, anyone who thinks that I whine too much about all of the wonderful perks the State department gives us.  It's very wonderful.  I'm marvelously grateful.  And I'm not whining.  I'm just telling a funny story, that's all.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Payoff, eighteen years later

Twenty-two years ago, I learned to play the piano.  I was eight, and excited to begin playing beautiful music that would fill the house with melodious wonder.  Four years later, I quit.  Diligence wasn't my strong suit (I would like to make it now, if only I had the time to be diligent about anything), and my older sister played much better than I did.  So when I started playing the flute, my mother let me quit piano lessons.  She always told me, however, that one day I'd be glad I had learned to play.

Today was the day.  

We have a very small church branch here in Baku.  There are only twenty adults, and so everyone generally gets an opportunity to help out.  I've taught Relief Society, helped out in Primary, given a talk, borne my testimony several times, and taught the sisters how to make bagels and English muffins - and we've only been here four months.  

Normally we have a very accomplished pianist for our meetings, but she is in the US enjoying her R&R.  Another member of the branch also plays quite well, but he conducted the meeting this morning, as the branch president is in London for training.  His wife plays well also, but she had to tend their five children while he conducted the meeting.  A very sweet sister who plays for the Primary usually fills in when needed, but she wasn't feeling well and had to stay home.  

A few weeks earlier, when I was filling in for the same sister in Primary, I foolishly told them that I could play the piano if they needed.  My calling in Cairo was primary chorister, and I can understand the value of having a piano when children are learning songs.  

I should have considered before I said I could 'play the piano.'  Our piano arrived about two and a half months ago, a new piano we had bought in Virginia and promptly packed off to Baku without ever opening the box.  So to say that I could 'play the piano' after two and a half months' practicing following an eighteen-year lapse was perhaps a little... ambitious.  

One day I'll learn to stop talking so much.

When I got to church this morning I told the branch president's wife (who is the Primary president) that the Primary pianist was going to be out (because I fill in for her when she is gone) and asked if she needed help in Primary.  No, she didn't need help, but could I play the piano?  Sure, I told her, I could play the piano.  Primary children don't notice a few missed accidentals or incorrect chords anyway.

"Great," she told me, "the hymn numbers are up on the piano."

Hymns?  Like for sacrament meeting?  To accompany everyone?

Thankfully, if you play quietly enough, those missed accidentals and incorrect chords can't be heard that well.  Hopefully.  But I will be more diligent in practicing.  Because now I'm the backup-backup-backup-backup branch pianist.  I hope my mother's happy.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Further Adventures in Driving, and Why I Live Overseas

Most days, I stay home all day with the children.  I wake up a five, go to bed around nine-thirty, and often spend every single minute between those hours inside my house.  If we're feeling especially indulgent, I will take the children for a walk around the neighborhood and we might stop and feed the turtles some lettuce.  But that doesn't happen every day.

I don't clean my own toilets, but I feel like I spend most days keeping quite busy schooling the children, exercising, cooking dinner, sewing, painting, managing our finances, and keeping the fights to a minimum.  I know that sometimes stay-at-home-mom conjures up images of women sitting around and watching soap operas, but that's not me.  We don't have a server-thingy that lets us watch Netflix or Hulu, so even if I wanted to watch soap operas, it wouldn't be an option.

Some days, however, I get a break.  And although I don't deserve a break - after all, I don't clean my own toilets - I certainly enjoy a break.

So today when my housekeeper showed up, I told her my plans for the day: leave to go out to lunch at twelve, followed by a haircut, and then a trip to the grocery store.  I would probably be back around four-thirty.  And hopefully the children wouldn't be too terrible.

After a morning of school, I fed them all lunch, put the boys down for a nap, put the girls upstairs for quiet time, and got in my car.  All.  By.  Myself.

I found the restaurant fairly easily after only running one red light (the traffic lights are on small upright poles by the side of the road, so if you're not looking they're very easy to miss.  That's when I'm grateful for dip plates).  I went to park, found an open space near the restaurant that looked like it could be used for parking, and pulled into a side road/alley to turn around.  While slowly backing up and looking out for passing cars, I suddenly came to a crunching halt.  I had looked out for cars, but not for random light poles.  After parking in a different space (everyone here follows you so closely that backing up to parallel park is almost impossible), I inspected the damage.  One slightly cracked light on the bumper.  A little ding.  Nothing to worry about.

Lunch was fairly unremarkable/somewhat inedible, but I was perfectly happy to sit and enjoy the rare, rare company of fellow adults.  Company that did not include any children trying to interrupt, or have part of my chocolate-frosted brownie, or whine about how long it was taking, or bothering other people.  I enjoyed not having to tell anyone to finish their food or just sit down instead of standing on your chair.

I know I will miss the days of sweet kisses and cuddly story time and hugs that make just about anything better, but I will not miss telling people to sit down.

Lunch was followed by a haircut.  When I got into (my now damaged) car and pulled up the address on my GPS, I was told that my destination was 2.8 miles away.  I looked at the clock.  Nine minutes past two.  My appointment was at two-thirty.  Plenty of time.

I'm still not sure of the legality (although I probably shouldn't care.  Gotta love those red plates) of mid-street U-turns, and my car was parked the wrong direction for my route.  So I thought I would be clever and loop back around on a convenient side street that looked like it should take me where I wanted to go. But after ten minutes of squeezing past cars, getting stuck in a tight spot that involved me, a Mercedes driving towards me, a Nissan driving diagonally away from me, and a car that was perpendicular to the Nissan and trying to back out into the Mercedes (all surrounded by parked cars), I found myself in a dead end.

After turning around (with no light poles in sight this time), I was back on my merry way, with plenty of time.  Or so I thought.  

I have a GPS.  It is a good thing.  Without it, I would rarely go outside my neighborhood, and when I was forced, I would be in a cold sweat the entire time.  I'm grateful that somebody here decided that making a GPS was a good business venture.  It blesses me with the gift of mobility.

But it doesn't really give it in any kind of intelligent way.  After all, it's just a software program and can't reasonably be expected to realize that although going through town is a shorter distance, it is in no conceivable way going to take less time than going the longer, faster route.  However, I'm no one to talk because obviously I don't know anything either.  That's why I'm relying on a GPS.

So through town we went, together.

This picture doesn't do it justice, but look at the road on the left.  It fits several cars beside each other.  Look at the roads in the middle of the pictures.  It fits one.  Maybe.  Now imagine driving through those roads for 2.8 miles.  Well, to be fair I had driven some, so by this point it was less.  Perhaps 2.3 miles.  And that is how it takes from 2:09 to 2:48 to drive 2.8 miles.  And of course you have to park, too.

By the time my hair was trimmed, blow-dried, and newly fabulous, the afternoon was coming to a close.  I knew that Brandon was trying to come home early to have a conference call, so I rung him up.

"I'm in the area.  Will be you be leaving soon?"
"Yes, in about twenty minutes."
"Great, I'll be there in about that amount of time."

Yes, it really does take twenty minutes to drive that far.  But when you're trying to avoid people backing up in the middle of the road, narrowing down from four lanes to two because of double- and triple- parked cars, swerving around others turning right from the left side of the road, and of course pedestrians, it gets a little hairy. And don't forget one-way streets.  It takes awhile.

But it was all okay.  Because I was doing it all in my solitary lonesome self.  I love living overseas.