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Friday, July 20, 2012

Saturday Beach Trip

Brandon and I are not very adventurous ex-pats.  With four children under six, we're not very mobile and there is always someone who needs a nap so we don't have very exciting adventures.  We have some friends who also have small children, but they're much more adventurous and so we're going to try and follow their example and get out a little more.  So this Saturday we started by going to the beach.

What?  You didn't know that Baku was a good place for going to the beach?  Despite the fact that Baku is on the Caspian Sea, and the pool we go to is actually right on the shore, I hadn't really thought that we'd see any other beach than the Atlantic in a few weeks.  But our friends assured us that yes, the beaches here aren't half bad.  And they have the added bonus of being really, really close - 30 or 40 minutes from our house.

Several friends with children also showed up, so we had a beach party together.  One of the friends is the Med officer at post, who told us when we got there, "in my capacity as the Med officer, I do not condone swimming in the Caspian.  But my boys are planning on swimming in about five minutes."

We ended up having a fabulous day.  The weather was perfect - breezy enough to be pleasant in the shade, and warm enough that the water was nice.  The children loved wallowing in the waves and going 'floating' with Brandon in the deeper water.  After being in Cairo where all of the women swim fully clothed and in hijab, I was happy to be frolicking with other swimsuit-clad women.  And despite being the only non-locals on the the beach, not one person asked to take our picture.  Expect more beach entries after we return from our R&R.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I was hoping to delay this scene for a few more years

Last night at dinner Brandon was quizzing the girls on their spelling.  He enjoys trying to find tricky words to dupe Kathleen, and is very patient when Sophia insists that c-a-t ends with a g.  Which is good, because after a day of squeezing out cheerful interactions, patiently cleaning up messes, gently breaking up fights, and kindly shoving knowledge into the girls' heads, I'm done.  By dinner time, my greatest ambition is to shove food as quickly as possible into children's bellies, cram in them into their pajamas, and toss them into bed on my way to the couch to sit down and relax.  Finally.

So asking Kathleen to spell 'prophylaxis' (which evidently I can't spell without a dictionary myself) is not high on my list of things to do during dinner.  It's not even standing remotely near the thing.

But that's why we have a two-parent family.  So that when one of us can't take it anymore, the other one steps in to save the children's lives.  And also so that there is conversation at the dinner table other than 'eat your food!  No really, eat it!!'

"Sophia, spell 'oomph-loompa,'" Brandon teased Sophia, knowing she is still in three letter word-land.

"I can spell it!" Kathleen volunteered, then spelled it.

"How about ooga-looga?" Sophia asked.

Kathleen spelled it.  She really loves to spell.  It's a shame that she's home schooled so national spelling bees are not in her future.


It was dutifully spelled.

"How about..." Brandon paused, trying to think of something both silly and tricky.

"Dunkleosteus?" Kathleen asked.  "I can spell dunkleosteus!"

"And what's that?" I challenged, sure she was just making things up by this point.

She and Brandon looked at me.  "It's a thirty-foot long spiny fish," she replied, "It lived a long time ago.  I read about in my animal book."

Oh.  Never mind.  I sat in silent shame while Brandon asked Kathleen exactly how long ago the fish lived.  I was hoping to delay the day when my children gave me that look - the one that mixed confusion at how Mom couldn't know something and contempt with her lack of knowledge - for at least a few more years.  I knew it would come some day, but I didn't quite expect to be outclassed by a five year-old at the dinner table.  It's now time to ban all further book reading.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Living in Baku: Road Construction

The last time I shared my adventures in driving here in Baku, I told about my run-in with road construction.  Somebody here had decided that all of the roads need granite curbs and repaving.  I'm not sure if somebody high up owns a paving company, or somebody else just got into the granite-curb business, but for whatever reason all of the roads are slowly being updated.  Not that I mind the newly-paved roads.  The bad ones really are quite bad - a pothole here, a ditch there, and pretty soon everyone is weaving all over the road trying to avoid them.

The only problem, of course, with putting new curbs in and repaving is the time it takes to get it done.  And while it's getting done on one side, everyone plays chicken on the other side that is temporarily converted to a two-lane road.  Which works okay until you get to stoplights.  But that is another post for another time.

I've been watching the construction on our road come closer and closer, knowing that one day it would be our turn.  That turn came at the beginning of June when my neighbor called me at 7:30 on a Monday morning.  "You might want to go and park your car in the other side of the neighborhood," she told me, "because they're about to start digging a trench outside the gate."

Our neighborhood has two sides with two gates that open on two different roads, and the other side was still safe.  Brandon moved the car and for a week or two the children enjoyed having empty roads to ride their bikes on.  I missed being able to park in my garage, but we managed.

After awhile we started noticing more cars back in front of houses.  I realized that they had simply driven through the construction zone, which consisted of a large, open ditch, and come into the neighborhood.

At the end of June I hosted the CLO coffee.  I had the CLO send out the following email with directions to the house:

For awhile the route home remained fairly straightforward, if rather unorthodox.  We bought an SUV so that we could get out of town, but I didn't anticipate taking advantage of the high clearance to drive up and down sidewalks to sidle around road construction.

One day when coming home from the grocery store, decided to take the green + blue route.  But when I turned onto the street by our neighborhood, I discovered the whole road blocked by an enormous crane, digging an even deeper trench down that road too.  So I backed up and took the purple route instead.

For awhile after that, every time Brandon or I left the neighborhood, there was a new and different obstacle waiting to cause more head-shaking and inconvenience.

One day, I rushed the children into the car to get to the pool for swim lessons, and then stopped dead outside the gate for ten minutes while a backhoe filled a dump truck with dirt.

The next day Brandon left in the morning only to find the whole road blocked by a large pile of dirt.  He went through the driveway and portico of a clinic to avoid it.

When coming home from a date one evening, we had to move quickly on to a nearby sidewalk in order to avoid a skid-steer loader practicing its drifting skills with loads of asphalt.

One afternoon, Brandon had to squeeze past a Mercedes that was squeezing past parked cars, all while driving with his tires hanging two inches over the edge of a six-foot ditch.  He swore that if he had moved six inches one way he would have scraped the paint off the car, and six inches the other way would have landed him in the ditch.

Another afternoon, Brandon found another ditch being dug on the tail-end of the first with dump trucks standing between him and home.  It took him fifteen more minutes of find an alternate way to our gate.

I decided to try and take a shortcut through a half-filled ditch another day and was very glad that Brandon wasn't in the car to watch me almost get stuck driving up the other side.  I really need to figure out how to turn the four wheel drive on.

As of last week, this is what the roads around our house looked like:

But thankfully, the ditch has finally been filled in and paved so I can drive on it.  Someone has even been kind enough to fill in the ditch that I almost got stuck in, too.  So now it's almost like there hasn't been any construction at all, if you ignore the gaping holes around newly-placed manholes and cars parked on what would normally be a road but is now evidently a parking lot.

Maybe they'll even get around to paving the road.  But the new granite curbs haven't shown up yet, so I'm not placing any bets.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Clever Boy

Edwin loves juice.  If we let him, he could probably drink at least a liter of juice a day.  But I'm a mean mother and more importantly, a cheap mother, so he drinks milk instead for all of his meals.  Although here in Baku, the juice is cheaper than the milk.  But if you consider that Edwin would drink at least four glasses of juice versus one glass of milk, I still come out ahead.

The one exception to this rule is Sunday.  In my house growing up, Sunday was always soda and Kool-Aid day and that tradition has passed on to my own family.

Due to Edwin's juice-love, however, we've had to add a new rule - after a cup of juice you have to drink a cup of water before you can have another cup of juice.  If we didn't have this rule, all Edwin would do all dinner long is drink juice.  And trying to make a liter of juice last for five people makes for not that much juice for each person.  That's the problem with selling juice in one-liter boxes - one liter is not quite enough, but I don't want to open a whole new box.  So instead we drink water in between each cup.

Kathleen and Sophia have grown resigned about this rule, and have been kicking against the pricks long enough to realize that when Mom and Dad say something, they mean it.  So they drink their juice, drink a cup of water, and then get more juice.  Simple.  Easy.  Logical.  Consistent.  Nobody complains, nobody throws a fit, and everyone gets as much juice as they are willing to drink water for.  I love having logical children.

Edwin, of course, is another story.  If illogical was embodied in one little, squirmy, ticklish body, it would be in a two year-old boy.  And despite my husband's hope, little boys are just as emotional as little girls with one exception.  When little girls get upset and emotional, they can be calmed down with cuddles and hugs.  When little boys get upset, they are only enraged further by cuddles and hugs.  Hurt finger?  Get angry.  Mom trying to kiss it?  Get angrier.  And throw or smash things.

So the juice deal hasn't worked out very well for Edwin.

A usual Sunday dinner goes something like this:

Brandon: "Sophia, please say the blessing."

Sophia [while burying her head in her arms]: "Mfffhhhrmmgsr.  Frdjdsjnnnn.  Ffffhhfhhmmmafmf.  Amen."

Chaos ensues while two parents are trying to get food onto three plates, cool the food off, calm children down who have eaten food that was too hot, pour juice, clean up the spilled juice, fetch forks that didn't get put on the table, lecture children that they are going to eat the food and we don't care if you don't like it, and vainly attempt to have a conversation.

About three minutes after Sophia's prayer, Edwin puts his cup down, smacks his lips, and announces cheerfully, "Juice.  More juice!"

Brandon: "You need to drink water before you have more juice."

Commence screaming.

This Sunday the screaming started before the prayer was even mumbled.  Edwin had had a bad day that involved a lot of wandering around the house screaming, sometimes with underwear on, sometimes without.  So when we reminded everyone about the juice rule (remember everyone, you have to drink water after you finish your juice), Edwin grabbed his little orange Ikea cup to his chest and immediately started protest.

"No water!!  Emman no drink water!!  NOOO WATER!  NO!  NO!!!!!!!" followed by hysterical crying and head shaking.

"No, no Edwin," I tried to assure him, "juice first.  Then water. Juice first." 

Eventually he believed me and reluctantly placed his cup back on the table to receive its coveted portion of quince juice.

Right on time three minutes after the prayer, Edwin announced that he needed more juice.  Brandon dutifully told him that if he had some water he was welcome to have more juice.  Edwin shook his head no.  We left him alone.

He started breaking a piece of bread into tiny pieces and placing them on his chair.  Next he at some watermelon.  Then he picked some grated cheese off the top of his black beans and rice.  After that he hopped off his chair with his cup and walked to the water distiller.

The water here reputedly has heavy metals in it, so the embassy has provided with a water distiller for our drinking and cooking use.  It sits next to the refrigerator on its own wheeled cart with a spigot coming out right at child-height.  I have taught the children how to get their own drinks (yum! room temperature water!) from the distiller so that they don't have to constantly ask me for them.  So far Edwin hasn't tried to figure out exactly how much water the distiller holds.  We'll have to see what happens when Joseph starts walking.

So when Edwin got to the distiller, I watched him lean over and fill his cup with enough water to barely cover the bottom.  He marched back to the table, placed the cup on its top, and climbed up his chair.  After settling himself in place, he looked me in the eye, and lifted his cup to his lips.  With one gulp he downed his water, slammed his cup back on the table, and smacked his lips triumphantly.

"Emman drank water all gone.  More juice!!"

Friday, July 13, 2012

Edwin Plays Dress-up

Recently Edwin and I had an interesting conversation.  Since then, every time he has called himself a princess, Brandon and I have corrected him.

"Prince, Edwin.  You're a prince, not a princess."

"Emman prince.  Prince."

"Good boy, that's right - prince."

With all of the troubles going around in the world these days, we didn't want to add anything extra.  So now he refers to himself as a prince.  Which is okay with me and his father, so he can be a prince if he wants.  Even if sometimes he refers to himself as Grommit or Thomas.  They can be princes too if they want to be.

A few days ago Edwin came upstairs with me while I evaded responsibility checked my email before starting the girls' school.  When I turned around from the computer, he was shyly draping one of the girls' fairy dresses around his shoulder and softly muttering 'prince' to himself.

I'm always one to take an opportunity when I see it, so I asked him if he'd like me to put it on him.  'Es,' he smiled at me, and then motioned for me to take off his doggy pajama top that hadn't yet been changed for normal clothes.

Before he could change his mind, I whipped off his pajama top, slipped on the fairy dress, and dashed for the camera.

After about fifteen shots, he began to look very disturbed and started pulling at the costume.  Although I enjoy a good joke and never give up an opportunity for future blackmail, I'm still I nice mom so I took the costume off for him.

He looked relieved and somewhat embarrassed and when back to playing in his preferred costume.

But it was too late.  The pictures were taken, the damage was done, and thanks to the power of the internet his sisters will never let him live it down.  Ever.  Right, Sam?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

When You Give a Kid a Camera

A few months ago, I made the mistake of teaching Kathleen how to use our camera.  Usually she asks if she can take pictures, but sometimes I upload our pictures and find some ones that mysteriously appeared on their own.  I'm just glad that we don't have to pay to develop them any more.  Because now they're just funny, and not a waste of good film.

And here are some pictures of Joseph, for those of you who survived the nudity.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Homeschooling Update

Back in September, I confessed that Brandon and I had decided to homeschool Kathleen.  I had been teaching her for some time already, but as of September of this year, she was officially Not Going to Traditional School, and I was officially In Charge of Her Being Accepted to College.  Not that I felt like I was under pressure or anything.

I imagine if I were reading a friend's blog who decided to homeschool (and I wasn't), I would have thought "Hmph! Let's see how that goes," because I'm judgmental and find schadenfreude in places where I really shouldn't.

I would like to announce that at the end of kindergarten, Kathleen is fully literate (which I confess she was before she started kindergarten), is able to write (okay I taught her that earlier too), knows her shapes and colors (I think she knew those already), and knows what a noun is.  That last one she didn't know already.  And she can count, too.  In Azeri.

So maybe kindergarten hasn't been that useful.

Way back a very long time ago when I thought about homeschooling my children, I had very pleasant visions of mother and child working together in harmony, having the child discover the delight of learning as the mysteries of the ages are unfolded to her eyes.  We would all work together peacefully as a family, and I would convince them somehow that doing the laundry and cleaning up the house was definitely a key part of their education.

And after a year, I can say that maybe I was a little optimistic.  We have had some days where school has gone well, the other children have played nicely and quietly, and even some laundry got folded by someone other than me.

And then there were days like Wednesday.

It started off well, with the usual 5 AM workout and shower (I never ever thought I would engage in such a painful commitment to exercise) and breakfast with Brandon and the children.  But after Brandon left things started to go downhill.  They always wait until Daddy's gone to start their shenanigans.

7:30 Send Brandon off to work.  Clean up the breakfast dishes, make beds, tidy up the house

8:00 Put Joseph down for a nap.  Check Facebook.  For just five minutes.

9:15 Decide not to order that dress from J.Crew, but decide that the Target one, in blue, would be a very nice summer dress.  And for 24.95, the price isn't too bad either.  But maybe I should send it to my in-laws so I can wear it on our R&R in a few weeks.

9:30 Decide that we have time to give Kathleen a piano lesson.

9:45 Edwin starts running around the room announcing he has to use the bathroom.  Ignore Edwin, continue teaching Kathleen.

9:50 Edwin removes his shorts and underwear in the living room, and goes into the bathroom.  Discovers a belly-dancing scarf bangle has fallen in the toilet.  Starts loudly demanding that I remove it.  I ignore Edwin and concentrate on trying to stop Kathleen's sobs as she incorrectly repeats a difficult rhythm for the fifth time.

9:52 Edwin starts crying, running, and yelling about having to go to the bathroom all while only wearing a shirt.  Kathleen is crying, too.  I am trying not to cause visible physical harm.

9:53 I attempt to put Edwin on the toilet.  He looks in and still finds the bangle. He refuses.  I tell him to go upstairs to one of the other four toilets we have in the house.  He refuses.  I tell him that if he makes a puddle he's going to be in big trouble, and return to Kathleen and the piano, fetching a kleenex on the way so she can wipe her nose.

9:55  The doorbell rings.  I tell Edwin to sit on the couch and don't move because he is still nude from the waist down.  A GSO worker is at the door; he's come to look at our broken washing machine.  I go upstairs and show him where it is and on the way back down pick up Joseph, who is screaming, from his morning nap.

9:58 I return to Kathleen's piano lesson with Joseph in tow.  While pinning Joseph's arms to his side to keep him from banging the keys, I tell Kathleen just to skip the tricky exercise.  After all she's only five and I don't want her to become a concert pianist anyway.  The lifestyle is too dysfunctional.  I keep ignoring Edwin's cries about the bangle and his increasingly full bladder.

10:15 Edwin finally gives in and uses the bathroom.  I put his underwear and shorts back on.

10:30 Kathleen's lesson finally done, we move on to the rest of school.  Having had enough of Joseph's wiggling, I put him on the floor.  He starts crying.  I pick him up.  He tries to wiggle off my lap.  I put him down.  He cries.  I get him a bottle.

10:35 I feed Joseph while Kathleen and I discuss nouns.  Did you know that nouns are also ideas?  I don't remember that part of the definition from when I was a child.  Then again, I was also educated in North Carolina, so maybe that was part of the problem.

11:15 Kathleen done, I move on to Sophia.  She decides that all of the t's need to have their horizontal lines 'holding hands' and connected to each other.  I decide that she can learn how to do them correctly when she's a little older.  I tell Edwin to stop taking all of the tops off of the markers and throwing them on the floor.  He tells me no.  I tell him one-two-three.  He scrambles down from the table and starts half-hearted attempts to corral the rolling tops.  I ask Kathleen to help and she announces that there are several tops missing.

11:25 Sophia and I start her reading lesson.  Joseph starts crying.  I wildly bounce him on my knee while Sophia sounds out b-e-d incorrectly (girl still can't get her b's, d's, and p's straight).  Edwin hits Kathleen.  Kathleen asks me to help her look under the couch to find a top.  I announce it's lunch time.

11:55 Everyone is almost finished with their lunch, and I can almost taste my own lunch, the end of my morning, the end of my aggravations, the completion of my responsibility to literacy, the beginning of the next chapter in my book, my own quiet time alone, and my blessed, sacred nap.

11:56  Joseph splatters a bowl of chickpea soup all over the floor, spraying the wall and kitchen door in the process.

Some days traditional school, preschool, and a nanny sound really, really good.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

E for Effort

The weather this last week has been very pleasant.  In mid June we had a day or two of one hundred degree weather, and I resigned myself to spending the rest of the summer inside or at the pool.  After having Cairo reach the hundreds early on and stay hot for a long, long time, I was used to spending the whole summer indoors.

But then it got cooler - mid and upper eighties.  And for the last four or five days it has been in the upper seventies.  So I've been taking the children for bike rides around the neighborhood because you can't really waste such lovely weather, especially when it comes in July.

At some point in our walks, we end up in a landscaped garden area that we like to call a 'park.'  It may not have playground equipment or even benches to sit on, but the children use the retaining walls for climbing and jumping and I use the grass for sitting so it works well enough for us.  The park even has a few pets - two tortoises and an occasional rabbit - so it's exciting enough for everyone involved.

Today after parking, or rather ditching, their bikes the children ran off to find the turtle, climb the walls, jump off the walls, hide their teddy bears in the bushes, ride bikes, and engage in various activities that they find amusing.  After years of being followed around by my little ducklings, I am enjoying children that will run off to play to leave Joseph and me some time to hang out together under a shady tree.

Joseph will be eight months old next week, and he acting like a very typical eight month-old baby.  While we were driving a few days ago, the girls were highly amused by playing 'what will Joseph chew on?'  They would think of something completely ridiculous "How about an airplane?  Will he chew on an airplane, Mommy?" and I would give them the same reply every time "If he can reach it," to which the girls would dissolve into fits of giggles that only stopped when they thought of something even more ridiculous to ask about.

I've started up the 'book monster' conversation with them again, "Joseph will be crawling soon, so you need to pick your books up off the floor.  Because if he gets his hands on them, he will chew on your books and ruin them.  So pick up your books.  Now."

Because Joseph has been pulling himself up on his hands and knees for over a month now, and with my other children that has been the step right before crawling.

But that's where's he's been stuck now for over a month, and it's driving him crazy.  Today while the children were endangering their limbs by jumping from four-foot high walls (at least Edwin had enough sense to jump from a lower one), Joseph and I hung out on the grass.  It was really quite pleasant, warm enough that the breeze was cooling, sunny enough that the shade was welcome.  While I lay on my back and enjoyed a job that required lounging on the grass, Joseph pulled himself up on his hands and knees.

Interested to see what he would do, I put a sandal in front of him, just out of reach.

Rock, rock, rock.  Reach out a hand, stretch as far as possible.  It doesn't quite touch.  Rock some more.   Reach out that hand again.  Rock more violently.  See if whimpering sounds help with the arm extension.  Nope.  Pivot to the side.  Reach again.  Rock some more, this time going backwards.  Reach as far as the hand will go.  Finally collapse onto stomach.  Grab the sandal.  Mmmmmm, leather.  Yummy.

Have it taken by Mom, just to start the whole exercise again.  Rock, rock, rock.  Extend one back leg.  Extend both back legs.  Whimper some more.  Go back to rocking.  Try and crawl up Mom's leg to see if she's got something more interesting than sandals.  Nope.  Rock again.  Face plant in the grass.  Hear a strange snorting sound from Mom.  Go back to concentrating on that sandal.  Have. To. Get. The. Sandal.

After ten minutes of watching him, I took pity and just gave him the sandal.  Probably not hygienic, but it made him happy after all of that effort with absolutely no effect.

All of my other children have been lazy when it came to crawling.  They hated tummy time.  No interest in trying to move anywhere, or to change their situation.  And then around eight or nine months, they would suddenly notice that there were other things that they wanted to see, and then they'd start crawling.

Joseph has been interested in moving since he was five months old, and he just hasn't been able to get it.  He watches his siblings as they run around, ride bikes, and jump off walls, and I can feel his eagerness to get up and go run with the pack.  Unfortunately for him, he just can't seem to get that crawling thing.

I think if he were my first, I would worry.  But he's my fourth, so instead I just laugh at him and enjoy the time we have to sit together, in the shade, on a perfect July afternoon.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Six Months

As of Friday, we have lived in Baku for six months.  Now for those of you who live Normal Lives where you do mythical things like buy houses that you plan on staying in long enough to paint rooms and change light fixtures, six months doesn't sound like a lot of time.  But for me, six months is a lot of time.  The last time I lived anywhere for six months straight, it was 2010.

All of our boxes have been unpacked for at least four months now, and we've been here long enough that several drawers have gotten cluttered enough to hide various important things - like my car keys.  The tomato seeds that I ordered from Burpee during the endless days of snow now have red fruits at are almost ready to pick.  At least three or four walls have been colored on decorated by Edwin, and the vertical blinds have been partly destroyed.  Who thought it was a good idea to combine vertical blinds and children?

Joseph, who came here as a scrawny little seven week-old is now sitting up, rocking back and forth on his hands and knees, and trying to chew on everything and anything that is unwise enough to get near his death grip.  Edwin is potty-trained.  And talking.  Somewhat.  Sophia can read.  Somewhat.  Kathleen is almost in first grade.

So, after, six months, I can say that I like Baku.  It's not the kind of like where'd you'd like to build a summer home here, although some of the trees are lovely.  But, considering that it's not Europe, it's a fairly pleasant town to live in.  The traffic can get bad at times, but Baku is small enough that even if you're sitting in a parking lot, it can only last so long.  Good luck finding some things to cook with, but that's probably true no matter where you move.  And this mission is full of really nice people, that I personally know a lot of.

Some times the six-month mark can be hard to deal with; you've been in a place long enough to feel like you've been settled without actually being settled, but I think that this for this go around my six month mark is pretty good.  I think that having four children and homeschooling probably helps; it fills up my days and keeps me structured enough that I don't have much time to worry about whether or not I'm happy.  No tantrums today?  I'm happy!  Underwear is dry all day?  I'm happy!  My husband is home for dinner?  What more do I need?

So life here in the Sherwood Family is good.  We've been doing a lot of swimming, some bike riding, and getting to know the parks really well.  In three weeks we leave for our R&R and Brandon gets to come the entire time.  And then when we get back, time for Kathleen and first grade, and then fall, and then Christmas...  and time just keeps rolling on.  Even in a place as strange as Azerbaijan.