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

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Eight Years

One day we'll look significantly different than in our
engagement picture, but not this year.

It's been another year of wedded bless for Brandon and me.  To celebrate we abandoned the children and went out for breakfast (I couldn't resist the call of pork sausage and croissants) and then wandered around town and went to a museum.  Afterwards we came home and made pizza to eat while watching a movie with the children.  Then we cleaned up the house and a mirror that managed to suicide itself very late at night. Ahh, romance.

I would have liked to escaped to somewhere warm, tropical, and secluded (without the children), but life isn't always quite what the movies tell us it should be.

[Insert sentimental musings that everyone feels obligatory to show that they love their spouse but nobody likes to read.  Obviously I love my husband.  That's why he's my husband.  One day I will be introspective and wise enough to write something moving that avoids the nausea factor.  But obviously not yet.]

Joseph is on Brandon's back.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Facts of Life

One day I made bagels.  We had family coming into town later that week and I cancelled school in order to get ready for their arrival.  The day started with bread.  While the bread was raising, I looked at the already-dirty Bosch mixer (Brandon's promotion present from me - I'm a very thoughtful wife) and figured that as long as I had it out English muffins would be a good idea too.  Then, of course, it was a short hop to bagels.  It's very satisfying to fill your freezer with baked goods.  But it's really depressing when they've been eaten and the only way to have that satisfied smug freezer-is-full feeling is to go and make everything again.  I'd prefer a magic freezer.

Sophia offered to help me roll the bagels.  Once I taught the sisters of the Relief Society how to make bagels, and judging by their difficulty with rolling snakes uniformly (the snake tends to develop a hollow core and then flatten out), I told Sophia that she should practice with her play dough first.

After one or two attempts, she abandoned bagels and announced that she was going to make a baby instead.  Sophia is the nurturer in our family and so loves all things baby.  I nodded and encouraged her while continuing to roll bagels.

So she busily got to work opposite me on the table, industriously rolling various items that I couldn't see, but imagined to be a head, torso, arms, and legs.  Once she made a model of herself in bed, complete with play dough hair.

After a few minutes she stopped, finished with her efforts.  "See mom!" she announced, "I'm ready to begin!"

I glanced over and saw her holding up a round ball in one hand and a flat, wormy thing in the other.  "So this is the egg," she began.  I nodded my head.  Lots of babies begin in eggs - chicks, snakes, robins, lizards, and turtles.  Then she held up the other, smaller, play dough creation.  She wiggled it through the air until it came close to the egg. "And then the insect BITES the egg!" she continued.

I looked more closely at the wormy thing.  Was there a bulbous part... with a little... tail??  Surely she couldn't be making what it looked like... right?

Brandon and I are in favor of telling our children things accurately and with correct terms.  If something has a name, we use it, even if I might inwardly squirm when Edwin announces to me, "Mom, I have a penis!  And you don't!"  But we are also in favor of gradual, age appropriate release of information.

I remember once volunteering in the nursery for another ward Relief Society's night when I was very pregnant with Kathleen.  A small girl came up to me and announced that I was pregnant.  Yes, I told, her I was.  She continued by telling me that it was going to come out of my vagina.  At that point her mom intervened with an apology that included something about 'being straight with the facts.'  I agree with being straight, but maybe not with a three year-old.

Kathleen's curriculum this year has included studying the human body, and one of the books for school was an encyclopedia.  When I read the book's reviews, several people mentioned a page that covered reproduction, with a very large, very prominent picture of an egg with sperm surrounding it.  Brandon and I debated over gluing the page shut, reading it with Kathleen followed by a discussion, or just handing it to her and not making a big deal.  Eventually we just handed the book over and asked her later if she had any questions.  "Nope," she responded, and went back to reading.

As I watched Sophia's 'insect' biting the egg repeatedly, I asked her if she had seen a picture of that in Kathleen's book.  She nodded enthusiastically and kept attacking that poor egg.

"That's what I get," I sighed to myself, "for letting the children have access to books."  Then I sighed even deeper as I thought about whether to let that 'insect' keep biting the egg until Sophia could read or just get the job done and stay true to my parenting philosophies.  Eventually I crumbled and stopped Sophia mid-bite.

"Sweetie," I started, "that's not an insect.  Do you remember when we talked about how you started out as a cell that was half me and half daddy?  That 'insect' is the part that comes from daddy, and it's called... [long, long pause as I consider whether I want my four year-old to know this]... sperm [inward cringe]."

"Oh, okay.  And daddy's sperm bites your egg."

"Sweetie, it doesn't bite the egg.  It burrows inside and its genetic material joins with the egg's nucleus." Sigh.  Sometimes being accurate doesn't have the wards that it should.

"Really?!?  Then what happens next?"

"Then the cells splits into lots and lots and lots of cells and those cells turn into your blood and your hair and your fingernails and your bones and they keep dividing and making more cells which makes the baby bigger."

I looked over out of the pit of embarrassment my principles had dug for me to see Sophia smashing her
two pieces together.  "And then they divide into lots and lots of cells," she muttered to herself while crumbling the play dough into tiny pieces that inevitably fall of the table and get stuck to the bottom of my socks.  She held one up, "Here's a blood cell!  And a brain cell!  And a bone cell!" then stuck them all together and proudly announced, "And now I have made a baby!"

And that's another day in the Sherwood household: bread, bagels, and babies.  And my apologies to you if Sophia decides to share her new knowledge.  Maybe next time the insect will just get to do all of the biting it wants, parenting principles be hanged.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Adventure Saturday

I feel like I should be getting some promotional credit from the Azerbaijani tourist board for some of the blog posts that have been on here recently.  

The recent rash of 'I love Azerbaijan' posts have been due to a wonderful confluence of spring weather and amenable children.  Joseph has reached the marvelous age where he can endure a Saturday of being out and about and irregular naps without melting down.  I always forget about this stage because the maternal amnesia from having the next one must backwash to pre-baby.  

But we've been trying to take advantage of it, and the wet weather that has turned the whole country green, by going out and making sure that we made the right decision when we bought a SUV. 

So on Saturday I morning when discussions concluded with 'let's get the heck out of town instead of trying to find another concrete park to play in,' I pulled out our very trusty useful guidebook (if any of you are thinking about visiting/moving here go ahead and get your copy) and found somewhere that looked promising and within day-trip driving distance.

So after waffles, teeth brushing, and snack-packing, we headed west into the hills.  Spring is wildflower season, and we've been enjoying the changing scenery as we've repeatedly driven the Baku-Shamaki road over the last month.  This time we got to enjoy fields of bright red poppies.

The guidebook devoted about a paragraph (maybe two) with a small map to the place we were going to hike to - supposedly the remains of a 'palace.'  It looked simple to get there on the map, but after driving past geese, muddy fields, stone watering troughs, and various locals of the small town who gave us the usual 'what in the world are you doing up here crazy white people?!?!' looks that we invariably get when out exploring,  Brandon drove out of town and parked.  We got out and started hiking.

The great thing about hiking in sheep country is that most of the hills are nibbled down without much underbrush to catch you up, and there are trails pretty much anywhere you want to go.  We had a vague idea of where the 'palace' was probably located - in a canyon south of the village - and so just set out cross country to get there.  On our way we found a small ravine with a waterfall.

Brandon volunteered to scramble along the sides (and through blackberry brambles, I found out later) and scout out the waterfall.  Unfortunately, due to the blackberries, it was impassable for children.  He did, however, manage to crawl into the cave behind the waterfall and get a few good pictures.

Having found that the ravine after the waterfall was pretty much impassible to people who had small children and wanted to keep their shoes dry, we pressed on and found the top of the waterfall.  Which was, of course, the perfect place for the children to engage in their favorite past time - throwing rocks into any body of water - while Brandon scouted over the hill.

He came back and announced that not only was the next canyon/ravine accessible, but he had also gotten a phone call telling him that his evening engagement to watch Priesthood session with the brothers of the branch was cancelled.  So more time for exploring!

After walking up the ravine, we found the 'palace.'

Just in case you missed it in the picture, it's those caves.  In the defense of the guidebook, it really did remark that the only thing left was a string of 'smoke-blackened bandit caves.'  And it was right.  Not only was there just the caves, but there was also a flock of sheep nearby being guarded by a very aggressive-looking sheepdog.  You don't mess with those dogs around here, so we took a few pictures and refrained from trying to explore the caves.  

Everyone hiked back to the car with a lot less enthusiasm that what they started out with.

And Joseph decided to take advantage of being the baby in the carrier and fell asleep.

As far as Saturdays goes, it was pretty fantastic.  We had a great drive, got to see new places, and kept the children entertained enough to avoid (most) complaining.  Hooray for Azerbaijan!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Why Azerbaijan is Cooler than Disney World

In the last month we've not only been able to host my parents, but also my aunt and her husband.  While hosting them, we've been able to see some interesting places and do some fun things.

I'm not a big fan of Disney World, and my children were very disappointed to hear that they will have to wait until they're grown up to fund their own trip to the Magical Kingdom.  But after some of the things we've done, they're starting to see why perhaps some of the most fun things might not just be in Disney World (or Land or Euro or any of those other places).

Because in Azerbaijan you can:

Have dragons in your neighborhood

Run around the fountains and nobody stops you

See sheep as close as you like

Go to a real castle on top of a mountain

And go to another castle on top of another mountain

Throw rocks into rivers

Throw babies into mud volcanoes

And rocks into mud volcanoes

And throw rocks into rivers

Get as close as you like to a really big flame

And throw rocks into rivers

Ride a donkey all by yourself (no guide necessary)
Through a landscape like this.

See kids?  Azerbaijan really is better than Disney World!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

And the Winner is...

Bridget, again, with her guess of Tajikistan!  All of you who did not guess Tajikistan can now breathe a sigh of relief because you won't have to be shelling out for plane tickets to come and visit us in Tajikistan.  If you'd like to come, of course, you're welcome.

When we've told friends here at post about our assignment, everyone has been rather underwhelmed.  Usually their response went something like this: [scratch head]...[silence] "Tajikistan?  Really?  Isn't that kind of... well... remote?"

"Yes, yes!" we would respond, "it is remote!  And covered in mountains!  Isn't that awesome?!?"

Because the truth is, I kind of like remote places.  I don't know exactly why, probably part of it is just pure hubris [yes, we're with the Foreign Service.  Where are we posted?  Tajikistan.  Never heard of it?  I didn't think so].  Other than the torturous plane journey to get there (minimum of three legs on three different airlines with flights landing at 3:45 AM only two times a week), it's fun to be out in the strange  crazy places of the world.  Everyone's been to Europe, and after a few cities it honestly starts looking similar, but not everyone's been to Tajikistan.  But maybe there's a reason?

And there's no traffic.  After Cairo and Baku, no traffic will be absolutely wonderful.

Right now we're planning on leaving at the end of this year or the beginning of the next after which we will be in Virginia for nine months while Brandon learns Tajik (yet another never-to-be-used boutique language) and I take the children to the library, the park, the library, and the zoo.  And Target, which deserves its own sentence because it's so awesome.

We'll finally get to Dushanbe at the end of 2014 and settle down to the next crazy place we get to call home for at least two years.  If everything goes according to plan.

I will now leave you with some exciting facts about Tajikistan to make you jealous.

Ninety percent of the country is mountainous.

Over fifty percent of the country has an elevation over ten thousand feet.

It borders Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and China.

It is the smallest, and poorest, country in Central Asia.

We get mail deliveries once a month.

The population is 98% muslim.

It has the tallest mountain, Qullai Ismoili Somoni (formerly Communism Peak), in the former USSR.

Friday, April 12, 2013

20 Questions, Round Three

Well, this round's participation was a little... thin.  I'm guessing that we're so stunningly obvious about the places we go that the rest of you know already.  This round you're free to ask specific place names, but only one name per person per round.  Whoever gets the right answer first wins.

Is it a coastal country?

Does the name contain four or more consecutive consonants?
no, and I never want to live their either.  Ever.

This round ends April 12, midnight (or somewhere around there).  Good luck!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

20 Questions, Round Two

My apologies to all of you who were waiting for round two.  We have been busy with family so I'm a little late.

Was this place part of the Soviet Union?

Will you be in the same continent as Henderson family members?
none that I'm aware of (Laura, any plans?)

Will the dominant language be English?
definitely not

Does it end in -stan?

Does it qualify for the clothing allowance?
thankfully, no

Is it a Russian-speaking post?
it's not Russian designated

Are any of the Hindu Kush mountains in this country?

Is the current name of the country the same it has been for the last 100 years?

200 years?

The next round ends 12 AM EST April 11, so keep the questions coming!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

It's Twenty Questions Time!

It's that time of year again, the time where I know where we are going next and you (well, most of you) don't.  Instead of being nice and telling you where The Sherwood Family will be headed next, however, I am going to make you guess.  The rules are the same as last time.

1.  Only yes or no questions
2.  I will answer all questions from one round before proceeding to the next
3.  No specific city or country names for the first two rounds
4.  The game continues, with 24-hour rounds, until someone guesses where we're going
5.  The winner gets an all-expenses paid trip (excluding airfare and personal expenses) to our next post!   Valid from 11/2014 until the end of our tour.

The first round will end 12 AM EST on April 9 and the rounds will continue until we have a lucky winner.

For those of you who know what the list consisted of or have already heard what our posting is, don't spoil the fun.  As a bribe for your silence, I can offer you the same prize as the winner.

For those of you who prefer to remain private about your affection for my blog, I will enable anonymous comments.  If you win, however, you will have to tell me who you are in able to claim your prize (if you want it).

So, get out your atlases, and start the fun!