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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Living in Baku [with State]: Security

A month or so, I finally went to the embassy and got my ID.  After I had my (unflattering) picture taken, I had to have my security briefing in order to get my badge.  They said something about nobody bothering to get the briefing if their IDs weren't held ransom.

While we talked about various things like driving in the left lane to leave space open if somebody tries to give you trouble, doing visual checks on your cars for bombs, and the crimes against foreigners section in the local police, the ARSO mentioned that Baku is considered a type something or other post which means that it is considered to have moderately high crime.  

In actuality, he continued, that rating was accurate up until four or five years ago but now the crime has gone down significantly, but the rating hasn't changed yet.  Which means that we have various home security devices to keep us safe.  And for you bad people who are trying to find out how to do bad things, no I'm not going to talk about them.  

One of the things the post has to keep us safe is Mobile Patrol.  I'm pretty sure all posts have mobile patrol; Brandon occasionally had to answer calls from mobile patrol while he was consular duty officer in Cairo.  But since Baku is high-crime and small, mobile patrol does more than just drives around our neighborhoods, being available for help like they did in Cairo.  

Part of their rounds involve checking every single house to make sure they're safe.  Most people here live in houses surrounded by big concrete walls with gates, so mobile patrol checks the gates to make sure they're locked and (I'm assuming) that there haven't been any home invasions.  

We live in a gated neighborhood, however, and our houses have no walls or gates around them, so obviously mobile patrol can't check our gates.  So instead they check our front doors to make sure they're locked.  Now I am not a habitual door-locker.  When I was a child we would visit my grandparents and they were door-lockers.  Any time we would go outside to play we would inevitably get locked outside the house and have to wander around peering through windows looking for someone to come rescue us when our incessant doorbell ringing brought no savior.  It always drove me nuts.

When we were in Cairo, our door didn't actually have a door handle - just a big round knob in the middle that didn't actually turn.  So when the door was shut, it was locked by virtue of the fact that there was no way to actually open it.  I don't remember actually locking my door from the outside the whole two years we lived there.  In Virginia our townhouse was so small and dark that I left the door open with just the glass screen door keeping the children in.  In Utah I think we locked out door at night.  Sometimes.

So here's the thing about mobile patrol: they come at random hours all day long.  That's the point - they're supposed to make sure we're safe all of the time.  But when you combine a habit of non door-locking with people who's job it is to make sure your door is locked, and to make sure it's locked all day long, it makes for some awkward situations.

Usually the doorbell rings when I'm in the middle of something complicated.  There have been several times when I've been upstairs bathing the children and nursing Joseph and the doorbell has rung.  I hurriedly put Joseph down (screaming), tell the children not to drown, make myself decent, try to wipe the shampoo off my pants, and sprint down the stairs.  "Your door is unlocked."  Yes, thank you for telling me.

One day I came home to about four people standing around looking very concerned when the doorbell rang and instead of me answering the door it was somebody else.  Luckily I showed up in time to explain that this was my housekeeper and not somebody trying to kidnap my children.

Sometimes while I'm napping my phone will ring.  Brandon calling.  He just got a call from security telling them that my door was unlocked.  Could I go downstairs and tell the mobile patrol that everything is okay?

While playing with the children on our third floor, I will hear the telephone ringing.  Since the only landline we have in our house is on the first floor, I run down the stairs as fast as I can, trailing children behind me who are wailing because I've suddenly left them, and sprint to the phone and pick it up panting.  "Your door is unlocked."  Yes, yes, I'll take care of that.

One day I came downstairs from taking a shower and found the door ajar and could hear somebody talking outside.  I crept to the opening and peeked outside.  "Your door is unlocked."  How long had they been standing there?

Right after falling asleep after a long tiring day and having gone to bed too late in the first place, Brandon's phone will ring and wake us up.  Who could be calling at this hour?  Doesn't everyone who's decent know that it's past bedtime?  Brandon fumbles for the phone in the dark and answers it on the sixth ring.  Hello?  "Your door is unlocked."

Once I went downstairs because I heard Kathleen talking to someone.  She was at the open front door.  She turned to me.  "Mommy, the man told me to come get you and tell you that your door is unlocked."

But the most inconvenient and annoying situation ever came one night.  But I'm not going to tell you about it because this is a family blog and one day my children might read this.

So since then, bad guys who are thinking about taking advantage of my inability to remember to keep my door locked, I've been very vigilant about keeping my door locked.  And I'm sure that mobile patrol is happy that I can remember now.  They were probably pretty tired of finding different ways of telling me my door was unlocked.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Father's Day 2012

Last Sunday was Father's Day.  The cause of Mother's Day has been taken up by the floral industry, the jewelry people, and just about every other commercial enterprise that could remotely cater to women.  Father's Day, however, seems to have been left out.  I joked with Brandon that perhaps a certain store that has initials VS could take up the cause, but he thought that it might send the wrong message.

Every year everyone gets worked up about Mother's Day and makes sure to have all of the mothers recognized (okay, Mom, you're right.  This year I forgot.  Well, it was even wore than that.  I remembered and then ran out of time and then forgot the next day), but then by the time Father's Day rolls around, we're celebrated out or something.  I don't actually remember a single thing I ever did for my dad on Father's Day, other than sing "I'm So Glad When Daddy Comes Home" every single year with the primary.  But if we forgot Mother's Day, we'd definitely be in trouble.  It's probably good that I'm a whole ocean away from my mother this year, and I won't see her until 2013 anyway.  

Brandon's Father's Day is made even worse because his birthday comes the week before Father's Day.  So I get worked up about planning a wonderful birthday and then promptly forget about his holiday the next week.  And then of course we both forget about OUR fathers, and the sin is doubled.  

This year for Brandon's birthday I was sick.  I was able to medicate myself enough to go out with him and get some fantastic steak, and go carpet shopping in the Old City, but the next day I paid for it and spent the entire day in bed.  

So instead of making him a delicious birthday dinner - eggs benedict (a very popular birthday choice around here) - and a cake, I huddled in my bed and listened to a book.  Brandon then got to make his own birthday dinner and brought it to me in bed.  Then he got to take care of the children for the rest of the day.  He finally got a birthday cake the next day - burnt angel food cake - and open his presents two days late.  

Thankfully for me and our marriage, he's a very tolerant husband.

So this year Father's Day did not get forgotten and I made up for myself.  We had leftovers for dinner - at Brandon's request.  Whenever I ask him what he wants for a special dinner, he always responds, "something simple.  I'd rather have you not stressed than have something delicious and have you going crazy because of the trouble."  I'm not sure if that means he's very concerned about my welfare or I'm so obnoxious when I'm stressed that he'll do anything do avoid having to deal with me in that state.  Probably both.

But after our hodgepodge of leftovers, I sent Brandon upstairs for his turn at book listening (we only have one iPod, and all of the library books are loaded on it) and got to work.  Item number one: ice cream.  It didn't take too long to mix together the ingredients for the custard-based ice cream, and I've made and ruined enough custards to rapidly cook them to the point where they're almost curdled but not quite.  No double boilers for me.

Next step: pie crust.  I've just found a new recipe that is part butter, part shortening.  I confess that I stole some scraps myself from the pile of scraps I made for the children.  After that, two pounds of cherries to pit, filling to make, and then cherry pie.

It sounds simple, but by the time I was done and the pie was out of the oven and cooled, 
I had put the children to bed and they might have even been asleep.  So Brandon and I got to enjoy our pie and ice cream outside on our patio in the pleasant evening twilight while I shamelessly dug for compliments.  "Aren't you so glad you have a wife who can make such delicious pie all from scratch? And with home made ice cream too?  Haven't I given you such a wonderful Father's Day?  Boy, you are one lucky man."  Because, of course, when you do something nice for somebody, you have to get all of the mileage you can out of it.

I finished the evening with his gift.  I made sure to point out that I had thought a month in advance to order him something for Father's Day because that's how much I love him and want to make him happy.  And then I used his gift to make him happy.  After all, it is Father's Day.

So Father's Day this year: a success.  And I've prepared the ground for Mother's Day next year.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Hooray for Housekeepers

I've not had much experience with housekeepers.  Of course, I've had a lot more experience than I ever thought I'd have with housekeepers, but overall it's still not much experience.  Not counting the the housekeeper that worked for me three or four times and then quit, I've only had two (all of you back in the States can now stop rolling your eyes).

I'm starting to realize, however, that one housekeeper is not the same as another.  Everyone has things they like to do (take the children to the pool), things they don't mind doing (folding laundry), and would really rather not do (clean out the refrigerator... ever).  Housekeepers are the same way.  Some do amazing jobs at cleaning bathrooms, some will scrub your stove until every single speck of burnt-on food is gone, and some are just plain fast at everything.

We've now had Naila for about four months, and I've discovered her Secret Houskeeper Superpower.  Yesterday I asked her to clean out the refrigerator since it was a mess again, and despite the fact that I hate cleaning out the refrigerator (I never cleaned out ours in Virginia the whole four months I was there), I also despise having a dirty refrigerator.  Just in case you were wondering, before I paid somebody else to do it, Brandon usually broke down and cleaned it for me in our pre-diplomatic days.

One of the reasons I dislike cleaning out the refrigerator is because there are usually strange bits of leftover food and vegetables that I meant to use but didn't and tupperwares of who-knows-what hiding in the back corners and vegetable bins.  Half of those things stink and the other half are maybe just salvageable enough that morally I ought to use them for something but I don't have the creativity or energy think of exactly what so instead I just throw them back into their corners to hide until next time when they really are rotty enough to just throw away.  My grandmother is credited with telling my grandfather, when he suggested they just throw away that food that everyone knows won't get eaten, that she'd rather let it go bad in the refrigerator and then throw it away.

When I got up from my nap, I could smell what seemed like mushrooms cooking.  Usually Naila only cooks one day a week, and she had cooked the day before.  However, I'm not one to question food being cooked in the house that I'm not involved in, so I just surfed the internet upstairs while the children cleaned up the toy room and figured I'd find out in time what Naila was up to.

The children eventually finished up the room, so we came downstairs to take a walk.  On our way past the kitchen, Naila waved me over.  She had found some cabbage (which I know I had ignored for longer than I'm going to tell you) and mushrooms in the refrigerator that were going bad, so she had made quiche filling.  Did I want her to make some quiche for dinner?

And that, my dear friends, is why I love Naila.  Not only does she clean out my refrigerator, but she takes the questionable food and makes delicious dinner with it.  And then cleans up after herself.  All while I get to take a nap, waste time on the internet, and take my children for a bike ride.  It's official.  I'm not moving back to the US for at least another two decades.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Now I Feel Old

Back in January, I turned thirty, and it didn't bother me.  After all, I have four children.  I ought to be at least thirty after having personally added four people to my family, and besides thirty is the new twenty-five, right?

A month or so ago, Kathleen came to me and complained about her tooth hurting.  Since I'm a mom and moms always know what to do about everything, I told her to open her mouth so I could inspect.  The tooth wasn't bleeding and didn't have any obvious cavities, so I stuck my finger in and probed the tooth.  It wiggled.

And I realized.  My child had a loose tooth.  In a few weeks, it would fall out of her mouth and she would have a snaggly, gap-toothed smile that she flashed at everyone to show them how big she was and that she had lost her tooth and can't you see how there was a new one already growing in and it made her wish come true to lose a tooth.

And I felt old.  Not the kind of old that makes me afraid of breaking my hip or even having one of my children go off to college.  But just the kind of old that meant that I'm not in the beginning parts of learning to be an adult and a parent any more.  I'm, you know, a real live mom, not just someone who's faking their way through pretending to know what they're doing.  A mother of a child who has lost their first tooth.  Which means that braces are just a few years down the road.  Hooray.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Living in Baku: Cherries

When we left Cairo, I was very sad.  Well, sad about some things.  I would miss my friends, the pool, the members of my church.  And most importantly, I would miss the mangoes.  Mangoes in Cairo were cheap, delicious, plentiful and came in about twenty varieties.  Brandon and I used to joke that Cairo was in the Mango Belt, and I certainly have plans in the future to return to that particular belt.

There were some things I was excited about Baku for, but there wasn't anything particularly food-related that sounded exciting.  And I was wrong.  Because I think that with probably a few exceptions, just about anywhere you go is going to have something really tasty you can find to eat.

A few weeks ago when cherries started appearing at the fruit stands, I was happy to see them.  I really like cherries, and at $1.80 a pound, they were a great buy.  So every time I went to the store, I bought cherries.  Last week I went to the Green Bazaar, a large fruit and vegetable bazaar, looking for strawberries.  The strawberries were kind of hard to find, but cherries were in abundance.  And not just regular sweet cherries, but yellow and red sour cherries, small sour cherries and yellow cherries, and they were even cheaper than the strawberries.

I was tempted to buy kilos and kilos, but I remembered what my housekeeper had said about the cherries - the season was just started and they would be cheaper later.  So I just bought a kilo for regular eating.  This week when I went to the store, the cherries were cheaper - $1.15 a pound - so I bought eighteen pounds.  Because who wouldn't buy eighteen pounds of cherries if they have a freezer to store them in?

When I got home, Naila asked me how much I had paid, and I told her, excited at how cheap they were.  If I were in the US, eighteen pounds of cherries would have cost a lot more than $21.  She smiled and told me that I should have waited; in a week or two they would be even cheaper - about 65 cents a pound.  Who knew Azerbaijan would be in the previously-undiscovered Cherry Belt?

I'm pretty excited about the cherries, but I think that Naila maybe isn't so happy about working for a crazy American lady who buys cherries nine kilos at a time.  I offered to wash and pit them, but I confess that my protests were kind of weak when she said that she would take care of them, and when the children and I came back from the pool (I know, my life is really hard), eighteen pounds of washed, stemmed and pitted cherries waiting for me do do what I would with them.

And I did.  Now our freezer is full of cherry jam, frozen cherries, and cherry popsicle mix.  But I think next time I buy cherries, it might be on a day where my housekeeper doesn't feel honor-bound to take care of them for me.  I am lazy, but hopefully I'm not downright cruel.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Dinner Conversation

This evening, Edwin and I were sitting at the table over the end of dinner.  Kathleen and Sophia, already finished with their black beans and rice, had gone upstairs to find their horse herd and get ready for bed.  Apricots have come into season, and I found plums at the grocery store last week, so Edwin and I were enjoying some fruit after our dinner.

In one of those rare moments of parenting, when a quiet spot appears in the middle of chaos, I sat and enjoyed Edwin's company.  He's actually a very pleasant companion when his sisters aren't around to quarrel with him, or take his toys, or have their toys taken from him.  Until he starts trying to poke your eyes out, or force his fingers into your month and scratch your gums bloody.  You know, just for fun.

I smiled at him, and he smiled at me, face liberally smeared in red plum juice from his recent attack on the fruit.

"You're a cute boy," I told him.

He shook his head no.

"A handsome boy?"

Another shake.

"A funny boy?" I continued, trying to guess what he wanted to be called this evening.

Not that either.

"Pron cets," he mumbled through the chipmunk cheeks of half-apricot he had stuffed into his mouth a minute before, not bothering to bite pieces off.  If it hadn't contained a pit, he would have probably stuffed the entire apricot in.

"Pron cepts?" I asked.

He shook his head and chewed for a few seconds. "Pron ces," he clarified.

"Process?" I guessed again.

Another head shake.  Some more chewing, and finally the apricot half was gone.  "Princess," he clarified, "Emman princess.  Emman princess boy," and gave me a huge, red-smeared, grin.

Maybe I should be worried, but I'm not.  I have great memories of my younger brother, Sam, insisting that he wouldn't dress up without his particular red, patent-leather dress up purse and ballet tights.  And he turned out okay.

... right, Sam?  Right??

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Emails from Kathleen

These are all written by Kathleen with no editing (or help) from me.

Dear Grandpa, how are you?Thanks very much for the letter it was very funny and\ or kind. Anyway,there was this ensign that had  the picture of Christ on the cross,and I really liked it.It had him nailed and blood coming out where he was nailed.
It was really interesting .And I loved it.
With Love,
P.S. How are you guys and I hope you are treating Grandma well.

Dear Grammy, Happy Mother's Day! I love you. Guess what?Sophia's  Birthday is just next week! it's on Friday!So I'm going to buy her what ever I can get.So don't tell Sophia I talked to you and by the way, I actually meant don't send her a letter telling her I talked to you.

P.S.I messed up.

Dear Aunt Kathleen, how are you and the kitties? I am very sad that Andy got a tooth pulled, but at least all's well that ends well. Anyway guess what?  today's Friday which means that Sophia's birthday is a little bit closer! But tomorrow we're going to have some fun on Satrday so at least that is good.
P.S. today we scrubbed the deck.

dear Aunt Kathleen, I love you. How are you and the kitties? I think the bed moles joke was pretty funny. I am doing fine in Baku. Anyway thank you again for the beautiful scarf that you made for George. Hear's something bad that happened to me, I twisted my ankle, it hurt to high heavens! and Daddy checked it out,for me and he said it was all right though. Love, Kathleen p.s it hurt when I went to bed.

dear Aunt   Kathleen, thank you so much for the very nice letter, by the way, my ankle"s feeling better, much better!  Anyway, today Joseph spit up a lot. It was so gross! Mommy said thank you so much Kathleen! When I got her a spit up rag. I love you, I  think I may be writing to you  all quiet time , so I think I have to go  now. Love, Kathleen

Dear Aunt Kathleen,how are you? Anyway, I think that it is pretty funny that the squirrel thought that himself was a cat.(Ha, ha, ha.) So anyway, I got a scrape on one of our toy chairs. it really hurt! guess what? today it is purple-and-red Mommy said that means it's healing.

Dear Daddy,hi.How are you?Are you doing well? I love you. I hope you don't have much work.I hope you are happy.I think you are very sweet. And I'm glad that you're my dad.You are very kind to me and my siblings which I thank you for.By the way, I have a cold and a cough which irritates me. With Love, your dearest daughter.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Sounds Delightful, Doesn't It?

All Eligible Family Members are cordially invited to the Chancery Garden on Wednesday, June 6, at 14:55 to meet and greet the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.  Please be aware that the Secretary is scheduled to arrive at 15:55.   Please do not bring in large bags or backpacks.  Make sure that you have your Embassy badge, or you will not be allowed to enter. We request that everyone stay in the garden, and when the Secretary is on the compound, we all need to stay off the sidewalks.  It may be quite warm, so we suggest you bring some drinking water with you.  As the Secretary usually poses with groups of children, we will have an area for your children to stand.  Unless your child is under 2, you should not expect to stand with that group.  The Secretary does not pose with any others, however, so please don’t ask.  You can bring your own cameras, but, again, please don’t ask the Secretary to pose.  We also ask you not to approach the Secretary or the motorcade. 

Once the Secretary has gone into the Chancery, we must vacate the Embassy grounds immediately and in an orderly and quiet manner, as she will be conducting a meeting in the Chancery.  Only those who are authorized back into the Chancery will be allowed back in.  Please make sure to have your belongings with you before the Meet and Greet.  You will be able to place them in the Consular Section if you need.  You may also use the restrooms there only.

Please be aware that there may be restrictions on parking and traffic, so we suggest carpooling and/or taxis.  Do not plan to park in the Embassy compound.  There will be limited parking for red-plated vehicles in an area next to the blue barrels in front of the Embassy on Azadliq.  There will be no more parking there after 14:45. 

Please make every effort to attend as this is a wonderful opportunity for our post. 

Um... Pass.  Please.

Maybe next time... when the children are grown up... in about fifteen years.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

We're Famous!

... or maybe just living in a country so obscure that they use questions about it to stump children attempting to prove their geography prowess.

Continued Adventures in Driving

I think that I might have to start an entire category of posts: Driving in Baku.  I missed out on driving in Egypt and so I didn't realize how much entertainment driving in a foreign country can provide.  There's always something that blows your mind - like the bus that turns left from the middle lane (in front of you sitting in the left lane while waiting to turn left yourself) during a red light, or the people that try to jump the gun and go straight while you have your left arrow.

And then throw in road construction, and it's an endless source of amusement and by extension, blog posts.  Thank you Azerbiajani drivers for giving me something to write about other than potty training.

This last week I had a Relief Society activity to attend.  Brandon was getting ready for Important Visitors and had to work late.  Naila was kind enough to stay late, and so I decided to take advantage of paying someone else to deal with my children and left early to pick up Brandon's dry cleaning.

The dry cleaners are around about two miles away, so I budgeted in forty minutes to get there, pick up Brandon's suits, and get to a friend's house in time to pick her up for the activity that evening.  The road out of our neighborhood is a two (maybe three?  sometimes one if lots of cars are parked and there are especially large potholes) lane road with a median dividing the road from the other two lanes.  One side has been closed for several weeks for repaving, and so when the cars get to the closed part, they just go through a gap in the median and drive on the other side of the road.  Simple.

So I drove past the construction, watched the rolling-machines have rolling-machine races, and then hit a parking lot.  So I pulled out my i-Pod and put on my book while the clock rolled by, figuring it was better than having to put the children to bed.  I crept down the block, engrossed in my story and made it to the next traffic light (and through road) to find this:

Every time my light turned green, the opposite lane of traffic was trying to get into their correct lane while 
my lane was trying to turn left or right since going forward was obviously not an option.  By this point, I abandoned all hope of getting Brandon's suits and just went to my friend's house - which is only a mile and a half from mine.  And it took forty minutes to get there.

After I picked her up, we continued our merry (and traffic-free) way to another friend's house for our activity.  We came a different way than I was used to and I decided to take a short cut that I had seen someone else take before, which involved turning off a main road into an alleyway that passes for a road in residential neighborhood.

As soon as I turned onto the unpaved alley, I realized I had turned one alley too soon.  I drove to the end and realized that it was not going to connect to the road I needed five feet down the hill and using my four-wheel drive wasn't going to get me over the gas pipe on the side of the hill.  It was time to turn around.  Only turning around wasn't an option - narrow alleyways that have a wall on one side and a gas-pipe laden hill on the other side were never intended to have Honda Pilots turning around in them.  Maybe a Lada but never an SUV.

And so I backed.  All of the way down the alleyway, past the children watching me, over the rocky ruts, and down the hill into oncoming traffic.  As I watched a road patrol BMW drive past me, I was thankful for my red plates so that if I was doing something illegal - and I doubt it was - nobody was going to stop me.  Nobody did.  And we made it to the activity with no more adventures.

Stay tuned for the next episode of Driving in Baku.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Living in Baku: Grocery Shopping

My life overseas, ninety-five percent of the time, is very similar to my life in the US.  I make dinner, wash laundry, take care of children, clean up messes, and break up fights.  A lot of fights.

One thing that does change from country to country, however, is how I get food.  When talk with friends about living in various countries - which ones have good weather and which ones have nice housing and which ones have good travel opportunities - one of the first things I think about when I think of living in another country is what kind of food I can get there.

When my friend moved to Zimbabwe, I immediately wondered what kind of dairy products were available.  Egypt was a produce paradise, but without the commissary, pork was difficult and expensive to get.  When my parents moved to Bogota, one of my first thoughts was that they were going to get fresh mangoes and I was very very jealous.  When you have to produce three meals a day, you end up fixating on food a lot.

Here in Baku, you have a lot of options for how to get your food.  If you want fresh meat, there are butcher 'shops' everywhere.  While I was driving home recently, I saw a truck drop off supplies for the local shop - cows in the bottom of the truck, sheep on top.  Kathleen keeps hoping that something will be slaughtered when we drive by so she can see how all of the insides look.

All of the labels say "ready to be slaughtered"
I found this picture today.  Looks like she knows where meat comes from.  But I'm not so sure about lion.  I think it might be a little tough.

If you are looking for fruits and vegetables, there are myriad small fruit stands everywhere.  They range from little country ladies that don't even use recognizable numbers (that's what fingers are for) who have driven into town to sell their strawberries by the metro to people with stands to shops that sell fruits and vegetables and of course bazaars that have twenty people selling the same thing.

There are also lots of smaller markets that sell non-perishables and various other sundries, but I've never gone in because then somebody would ask me what I needed and then I would have to look at them with the blank look that says 'look how stupid I am.  I don't understand a single word of what you're saying.  Even if you try it in Russian.  Or louder.'

Thankfully there is an option that combines all of my needs - the supermarket.  Thank heaven.  It even has (sort of) a parking lot.  So once a week I take Kathleen or Sophia or both with me to the local Bizim to load up on the week's supplies.  I haven't even thought of taking all four in at once since Joseph's car seat would take up the entire regular-sized shopping cart and then where would I put the food?  The few times I've had to go in for a few quick things, I may or may not have taken advantage of living in a foreign country and just locked the children in the car.  It's one of those licenses that I may or may not occasionally take - along with not putting my children in car seats while getting rides with friends.  Just don't have CPS meet me at the border, okay?

Kathleen and Sophia love coming with me because they get to push mini-sized shopping carts.  Brandon told me about babushkas pushing two-foot shopping carts around the stores in Ukraine, but I didn't believe it until I got here and saw women in three-inch stilettos hunched over teeny-tiny child-sized carts.  However, they're perfect for little girls, and I'm glad to have them along so that I can actually fit all of the food I need for a week into our carts as I would be hard-pressed to fit it into the 'regular' sized carts.

Unlike everyone else in this country I only shop once a week, and I shop for six people who eat a lot of food and drink a lot of milk, which takes up a lot of room in very small shopping carts especially when all of the milk comes in one-liter bottles.  Add ten liters of milk, two pounds of cheese, forty-five eggs, juice, soda, other dairy products, pasta, beans, and produce together and there may not be enough room for the ten-kilo bag of flour I need too.  I never realized how much I missed those enormous Costco carts until I moved here.  Of course even if I had one, I'm pretty sure it wouldn't actually fit through the aisles.

So after sideways-sliding through the store, down ramps, up ramps, over ramps, I finish my trip at the checkout aisle.  Everything in the grocery stores is smaller here - the produce section is about ten square feet.  The refrigerator and freezer case takes up one wall.  The candy and cookie section is larger than the baking and dried goods section combined.  The ceilings are even shorter.  And so of course the checkout aisle has a belt that is about two and a half feet long with a bagging area that might be pushing two if you were generous.  Normally this is not a problem if you shop like a local - several times a week if not every day, or maybe going to various shops for various things.  But I'm not and I don't.  And so when I unload my cart, there is not even remotely enough room for everything.  Combined with the small bagging area that is manned by me - no baggers here, and if you're lucky the cashier might open one of the plastic bags that are devilishly hard to open - it makes for a very hectic checkout experience.

Put milk on the conveyer - pack carrots into the bag - put three flats of plastic-bagged eggs on the conveyer - squeeze Sophia by the cart - put milk in the bag - put bag in the cart - put canned corn on the belt - make sure the produce is on the top so the strawberries don't get squashed like they did last time - unload the last of the cart - put another bag in the cart - pay the cashier - finish bagging while the next person in line pushes my cart out of the way so they can pay for their three purchases - put all of the bags into the cart - scoop up the change - make a hasty exit before I drop dead from dirty looks - push the cart up the steep hill, over the rutted parking lot, and finally load everything into the car.

Then eat up all of the food so that you can repeat the next week.  Oh how I miss the Commissary.  It might not have had fresh local produce, but it had baggers.  Not only did they bag your food, but then they put it in your car.  I suppose we never appreciate the small luxuries until they're gone.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Memorial Day 2012

Our Memorial Day holiday fell in between two very busy weeks for Brandon.  The week before he had been in Istanbul for training, and this past week he has been getting ready for various important and work-inducing visitors.  So we decided to get out of town for our holiday.

One of the things about Baku that we have been looking forward to is its proximity to mountains.  I used to enjoy hiking, but haven't hiked since I have had children, and don't anticipate being able to hike for many more years.  I do, however, still enjoy going up into the mountains if even for a drive or a picnic.  They're much more scenic than just sitting in the woods somewhere.  

So Monday morning after sleeping in, eating a big breakfast, and deliberating for awhile about what to do for our holiday, we decided to go up near the Alti Agach National Forest and have a picnic.  Half an hour later everyone was fed, bathroomed, and in the car ready to go.  We swung by the grocery store for picnic supplies, and off we went on our adventure.

Brandon had gone camping in the spot we were going, and so knew somewhat how to get there.  We drove up the Baku-Guba-Russia highway (just in case you want to get to Russia, that's how you get there) along the Caspian, and then headed west.  We drove for awhile through low, brown hills and then found out why the mountains were called the Candy Cane Mountains.

We thought about stopping, and then decided to keep driving since Brandon recognized the blue bus shelter in the picture and realized that we were on the right road.  After some more driving, the hills turned from brown to green and we climbed up into a lovely green mountain valley.

Brandon turned off and we drove through a small village, almost getting stuck in a wet green field (some friends warned us about the fields - they had to have a local dump trump pull them out once), and provided a source of amusement for the locals.

Eventually we found Brandon's former camping spot, and pulled out our lunch.

And of course Edwin's toilet.  Because no picnic is complete without a bright red plastic potty in attendance.

Joseph was faintly amused, and enjoyed the crackers.

Sophia and Edwin fought over the sweet corn puffs.  They're like Cheetos, except sweet.  It gets me every time.  I can't figure out if they're supposed to be dessert or just a snack.  But since the Azerbaijanis eat jam with a spoon (not on bread), I'm guessing they just like their snacks sweet.

There were lovely wildflowers everywhere.  And grasshoppers.  Everywhere.  It's a good thing nobody's bothered by bugs.

At this point in the picture sequence, it started raining.  We rushed everything into the car, buckled the children into their seats, and then the rain stopped.  So we went 'hiking.'  At first we wandered around in the woods, but when Edwin started freaking out about weeds hitting his legs, we went to the 'road,' a dirt track with more cow hoof prints than tire tracks.  Then he really started freaking out about the mud caking on his shoes.  There's always one malcontent in every family outing, so we ignored him and kept walking.

The walk was absolutely lovely, quite pleasant (excepting the toddler screaming 'Dirty shoe!!!' non-stop) and best of all completely deserted.  We already have plans to go back.