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

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Those UAB boxes come in handy

A few weeks ago it was very windy here.  Baku almost always has a breeze.  In the summer this is nice.  In this winter it isn't.  But sometimes, usually when the weather is changing, the breeze gets a lot stronger and whips the trees around and makes our roof creak.  A few days it's blown strong enough that I've almost been knocked over while carrying Joseph in his baby seat.

On Thursday night Brandon was upstairs with the children, watching Looney Tunes while I sewed downstairs.  While Elmer Fudd unsuccessfully hunted Bugs Bunny for the twentieth time, the wind gusted hard enough to knock the window open.  It fell open and the handle hit the window below, creating this:

So after shooing the children out of the room and putting them to bed, Brandon fixed the broken belt on our vacuum.  Then he vacuumed up the broken glass.  Then, being an incredibly safety-minded person (it's good that one of us is), he got out some UAB boxes and created a barricade.

Then he threatened every punishment imaginable if the children even thought about touching the boxes.

That was two weeks ago. So far we've had our monthly maintenance men look at the broken window and tell us that they had to consult and decide who's responsibility it was to fix the window - the embassy or landlord - followed several days later by someone who came to measure the window.

So for now our third-floor toy room has two lovely UAB boxes adding to the decor.  And judging by the progress so far, they'll probably there for some time yet.  But at least Brandon's threats are holding so far and everyone has left the boxes alone.  For now.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

He Walks!

I love mobile children.  Brandon disagrees with me - he'd rather they never move and instead stay in once place until they're twenty and somewhat responsible enough to not break things and scatter the contents of every available drawer across the entire house.

He, however, is usually not the one hauling the children up and down three stories' worth of stairs when the doorbell rings.

Crawling is always a godsend because it comes at a time when children can't stand being stuck in the same place for more than five minutes and cry and cry and cry until you bring them a new toy or move them somewhere more interesting.  The same is true with walking - by the time they are ready to walk they are fed up with being left in the dust by every other bipedal being in the house and scream and protest when they're left alone by everyone.

Kathleen walked the earliest of all my children, just past her first birthday.  Sophia decided that the longer she waited the bigger her comfortable seat on baby Edwin would grow and didn't decide that bipedalism was the way to go until she was sixteen months old - and I was six months pregnant with Edwin.  Edwin took his first few steps around thirteen months - but then we were evacuated and waited two more months to finish the job.  So Joseph is pushing the trend back the way I like it at fourteen months.

When Edwin learned to crawl he did so by pushing up and then dropping one knee to get some traction.  And then forever after he crawled with only one knee on the ground, his own strange take on the idea.  Joseph has decided that the best way to walk is with both hands held up in the air, and never walks any other way.  While at the park a few days ago, he briefly experimented with putting them down, but decided that up was the better way to go.

So now I have four bipedal children.  Not so bad.  But what I'm really looking forward is to having four bipedal children in underwear.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Happy Birthday to Me!

Last week I turned thirty-one.  This morning Sophia, in an impressed tone, told me that my church outfit made me look older. Curious as to how old I looked to a four and a half year-old, I asked her.  She furrowed her brow in thought for half a minute and then replied, "Thirty-seven."  I'm glad to hear that I'm starting to look like a responsible adult, not just someone that might be mistaken for the nanny au pair.

To celebrate my birthday, Brandon and I abandoned the children to our housekeeper and stayed overnight at a nice hotel in the old city.  I picked him up from work Friday afternoon and we had dinner before attending a performance of Verdi's Requiem at the Symphony.

Our plan the next day was to go and see all of the old city sights that we still haven't seen because we've been busy going to parks, more parks, and the beach.  However, Brandon vetoed the idea since we have family coming and we'll see all of those things when they come anyway.  So instead we went rug shopping.

Once again our plans went awry, and instead of bringing home something small we hauled this beauty home with us.

Owen the bear is providing scale for you.

On my actual birthday, we took the children to a park in the morning and then Brandon watched everyone and cooked dinner and dessert while I took a nap and read a book with nobody bothering me.  

It's really too bad I have to wait an entire year for the next one.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

You know you've been grouchy when

This shows upon your pillow, along with a supply of chocolate.  I still can't tell if the butterfly-holding princess has angry eyes or is just subject the the drawing ability of a six year-old.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Snow Day

Last year it snowed here a lot.  As someone raised in North Carolina by a mother who has an unholy fear of cold, I was taught to abhor snow.  Fortunately for me, Brandon speaks Arabic.  Unfortunately for me, Brandon speaks Russian.

This year hasn't been very bad at all; we've had a few snow dustings that haven't even covered the road.  Brandon got his wish on Christmas as we watched flakes fall for about forty-five minutes until the sun came out and I got my Christmas wish.

So when rain started turning to snow on Thursday, I didn't feel too irritated.  After all, if we had been living in Moscow, the snow would probably be up to our ears by now.

The snow continued fairly steadily all day and by the afternoon an inch or so covered the grass.  So when my housekeeper called during an appointment and asked if the girls could play outside I told her that if they wanted to freeze their little tushes off, they were welcome.  I remember the giddy 'snow days' of my childhood, trying to scrape together a snowball from all of the white surfaces in my yard.

Friday morning the snow was still around, and had even gotten a little thicker, so Kathleen, Sophia, and Edwin got suited up to play outside again.  After putting tights, two pairs of socks, jeans, sweaters, hats coats, mittens, and boots on the children (I kept thinking of poor Ralphie's mom doing this every day), I waved goodbye to them from my warm house and enjoyed an entire hour of complete silence all to myself.  It was almost worth the thirty minutes it took to get everyone dressed.

Saturday we went to the park, where the shining sun had melted all but the most stubborn chunks of snow away.  And that's the way I like my snow days.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Do you know these dogs?

January is Christmas card time here in Baku.  Since nobody reads (or has access to) the regulations about mail sent around Christmas time, they all missed the note about getting all mail to the pouch address by Thanksgiving in order to have it here for Christmas.  Even LDS magazines missed the memo; just last week we got December and January Friends.  The girls were very excited.

So thanks to the holiday bottleneck, we're just getting everyone's (well all five of your) cards which we are enjoying very much.

This evening Brandon pulled out a stack of mail.  I'm not sure where he's been hiding it since Friday, but suddenly it appeared on the kitchen table after the children had been sent upstairs to get ready for bed.

I thumbed through one half while he thumbed through the other.  Usually I don't use all of those coupons Banana Republic send me, but someone should tell them that even if I wanted to, I couldn't.  Because last time I checked January 3-7 was last week.  I'm glad that they made it all of the way to Baku so that I could wonder if maybe there was something that I wanted to buy with that thirty percent off coupon.

Brandon held up an envelope with our address and Brandon's first and last name on it and handed it to me.  I looked at the address on the back as Brandon asked if I knew these people, the Starlings.  Maybe?

I opened it.

The pictures were kind of small, and dogs do have a tendency to look fairly similar to each other, so I flipped the card over.  Maybe I do know them.

Last time I checked Brandon was not married to anyone named Anna (although at least they got in the right alphabet family), and we definitely do not have any plans to retire in Romania.  Ever.

Brandon and I laughed as we imagined what the odds would be that there was another George Sherwood who had been assigned to Baku at one point.  Sometimes the FS world becomes very small and oddly convoluted.

So, Mr. Sherwood, I just wanted to pass the news along about your friends.  Looks like they're doing well.  The dogs look nice and healthy.  And if you'd like the Starling's new address, just drop me a line and I'll send it along.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

In which I reluctantly give in to the advance of technology

Deep down inside, I am a Luddite.  Not so deep down, or really at all inside, Brandon is a Luddite too. Which is probably good for our marriage that we both have those leanings.

I think my anti-technology leanings spring from various sources, one of them definitely being resistant to any trends, and especially popular trends.  I'm still halfway ashamed every time I pull out my skinny jeans, and I didn't wear them with boots until Brandon was in Turkey and so couldn't mock me for being so trendy.

Brandon's own leanings come from various sources, one of them being an inability to spend money without having blood come from his pores.  The other is a desire to live in the woods and eat squirrels in order to own as little 'stuff' as humanly possible.

Thankfully for my sanity, Brandon lets me be in charge of spending his money to buy more stuff, and only grumbles very rarely about having to haul all of it home from the embassy.  I miss the days when those packages from J.Crew arrived on my front porch and could be quietly squirreled away before Brandon came home to see them.

Neither of us own iPhones.  Brandon finally got a Blackberry from work when his boss forced it into his resisting, clawed hands.  I got my first iPod as a hand me-down from my father, which unfortunately got me hooked and necessitated a replacement when Edwin dropped it in the Sofitel Athens bathtub while I was glued to the TV watching riots in Cairo.

We don't own a TV.  I have the same cell phone Brandon bought me in 2009, the cheapest kind available at the local Mobinil shop in Maadi.  Since it has no camera, I don't even have to lock it up when I go to the embassy.  And although we own three computers, we have no tablets and have no intention of buying them either.  When we're on long airplane or car rides, my strategy for coping with the children's boredom is, well, to ignore them.

Like I said, Luddite.

So when I started bringing up the subject of a Kindle six months ago, Brandon wasn't too happy that the subject had been broached.  And I wasn't sure about the subject either.  I knew that eventually we would be a Kindle-owning family.  It's like they were made for the Foreign Service lifestyle where you count your possessions in pounds, and books weight a lot of pounds.  Throw in the long-term plans for homeschooling, and suddenly a Kindle is the only way to handle the text-heavy curriculum that we're using.

But surely we didn't need one yet.  After all, I like the physical sensation of holding a book.  I like having a shelf full of books to idly choose from without having to navigate an electronic screen.  I don't want my whole library to be destroyed if Joseph tries to copy his older brother's trick with the bathtub.  And really I just like owning the actual book.

But still.  When you're at least three weeks away from your next book in the mail, a Kindle starts looking really good.  And when you add in all of those books that you'd like to read once but not haul around for the next twenty years, it starts making sense.  And that need for school books is maybe closer than I thought...

But of course we can't get a Kindle through the pouch - no items with lithium ion batteries.  Brandon, in his deep and abiding love for me even looked into getting it delivered another way for a Christmas present.  But when the delivery costs half of the item itself, it's just better to wait until your next trip to the States.

Then I started corresponding with a family coming to post this month.  Is there anything they could carry over for us? they wanted to know.  At first I broached the subject tentatively with Brandon.  If  we wanted to get a Kindle, that nice family could... maybe... you know... bring it over for us.  After a few weeks of delicate hinting, I moved up to the next stage.  "You know," I told Brandon, "I think that it really would be a good idea..."

Then I told him that of all of the Kindles, the paperwhite would be my preferred choice.  Brandon pointed to the shattered screen of my iPod nano, "If this is how you treat your electronics, what will happen to your Kindle?  Remember that bathtub in Athens?"

"Ah," I responded quickly, "You can get such nice cases for Kindles!  And they're pretty leather!"

So a few days ago, hands shaking, I wrote the email.  Could they, if they didn't mind, carry a... Kindle... over for me?

I confessed later that day to Brandon.  Sighing theatrically, he rolled his eyes.  "Fine.  I guess you can get one.  But if I catch you neglecting your children in favor of reading trashy novels all day long, I'm confiscating that thing.  Do you understand?"

I meekly nodded my yes.  Two more weeks.  Then hello, trashy novels.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Burning Mountain

For all you dying to come to Azerbaijan (yes, all two of you, Mom and Dad), I have some very disappointing news: it's really just not that exciting.  I know I've made it sound really fascinating (all of that traffic, and the great holidays and... um, the traffic), but truthfully there really isn't that much to do, and of the things there are to do, most of them (okay probably all of them) are incredibly underwhelming.  But in a nice, friendly kind of underwhelming way.

This past week we decided to break up the five-day holiday with a little day trip to somewhere other than our neighborhood.  It's been kind of cold - not Moscow cold, but cold enough for southern-raised  me - so we decided to go with some friends to Yanar Dag, The Burning Mountain.

That sounds very exciting - The Burning Mountain!  It conjures up images of flames leaping to the sky, searing all that dare go near it, bringing exclamations of awe to the lips of all that see it.  Kind of like the pyramids, but on fire.

So in preparation we brought hot dogs and some coat hangers.  We tried to get marshmallows, but the grocery stores were closed for the holiday.

Our plans to meet up went sadly awry when our friends accidentally rear-ended a Lada (in Baku it's not  if you get into a traffic accident, it's when), so we went on alone with the children.  Joseph was kept safely strapped to Brandon's front.

After paying four manat to the guard hut by the entrance, we walked past what the guidebook cheerfully described as a 'decrepit old teahouse' and down the stairs to the... burning mountain.

Like I said, rather underwhelming.  It was warm, however, which was nice for the January weather.  Then we climbed up over the mountain to see what was on the other side.

Grass, we discovered.  And to Edwin's delight, sheep bones.

And since an outing isn't complete without all of those dangerously unhealthy refined starches and sugars, we had snacks.  Yummy!  

Then we went home, running into our friends who now had a slightly more dented car than previously. And everyone had a great time - I enjoyed the sunshine, the children enjoyed the snacks, and Brandon enjoyed the fire, from a safe distance.  Maybe we'll go again and and this time, bring some marshmallows for roasting.  

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Ladies' Night Out

Last Thursday night I dressed up in my nice dry-clean only clothes, put on makeup and jewelry, kissed Brandon and the kids goodbye, and headed out on the town.  One of my friends had proposed taking advantage of the school holidays to abandon our children to our husbands and go out to dinner.

So we all converged on a creatively named Georgian restaurant - Georgian Restaurant - to enjoy khachapuri, eggplant rolls, spicy sausages, and good company.  

As I kissed Brandon goodbye, he asked what time I thought I'd be back.  I hesitated, trying to calculate, and he sighed, "It's a Georgian restaurant, and you're with a bunch of ladies and no children.  Ten o'clock?  Eleven?"  I nodded, not trying to deny either fact.  

As everyone assembled, we started passing around dishes and chatting about Christmas and children and packout and traveling with pets and traveling with children and sleep training and squat toilets and lag time of HHE.  We kept passing around dishes and talking about the horrible customer service in American airports and traveling with eighteen month-old babies, and traveling while pregnant and losing strollers.  As we finished the food and the last dumpling sat forlornly looking at a solitary piece of khachipuri, we laughed over friends who worry themselves sick about 45-minute plane rides, and things performed at school assemblies and wondered how it was possible to go grocery shopping in America with all of your children

I looked at all of my friends - none of them that I have known more than one year - and thought about how much I love this Foreign Service life.  It may be a life that moves us around to strange places for stranger reasons, and leaves friends scattered behind us, and makes us travel unholy amounts of time in in economy class, but it's also a life that gives me friends.  Friends that I can stay out until 9:45 at night (take that Brandon!) and still chatter with on the way to our parked cars.  Friends that I can feel like sisters with after only a few months' friendship.  Friends that don't care how cool I am or if I wear the right shoes or even if I'm funny.  Friends that are friends because that's what we do in this crazy lifestyle.  We make friends that laugh with us and take care of us and keep us sane.  

So this lifestyle is fun when I get to travel to fun new places, or see the pyramids, or understand new cultures.  I like having a nice place to live and people to help me out, but that's not the best part.  It's not seeing the world, because the world doesn't listen to and laugh about your story about going through customs when terminally pregnant.  

It's about friends.  That's the best part.