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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Thank Heaven for Amazon

Remember the great wall of Charmin?

 I went upstairs yesterday evening to replenish my bathroom stock and found only this left.

So when you ask yourself, 'Self, how much toilet paper does one family need for two years in a foreign country?" (because that's a question most people ask themselves at least once a week), the answer might just be: more than a ten-foot pile. 

Thankfully, our root beer stash is still in good condition.

Joseph is very happy about this.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Would You Switch Seats With Me?

Every time we schedule plane tickets, something comes up.  We've had problems with E2, scheduling routes, medical clearances, passports, and on and on.  I've done this a few times and I've gotten clever, so this year after a few hiccups (like changing our R&R dates after spending two weeks wrangling over tickets because of office scheduling conflicts) we had our plane tickets scheduled early.  I even went online and reserved our seats.  I've heard horror stories of families being scattered around airplanes on long-haul international flights.  And as much as I like the thought of abandoning Joseph to a stranger for nine hours, I know in reality I could never get away with it and so it's easier to just seat us all together in the first place.

Since our flights are two airlines, Lufthansa and United, I have to reserve seats on their respective websites.  Twenty minutes on the United website (for some reason our tickets are in two groups which ought to prove fun if there's some sort of trouble.  I've only got Edwin with me, so Brandon has the short end of the stick if we get separated) and half of the flights were reserved.  

Next was Lufthansa for the other half.  All of the seat maps had open seats in our favorite configuration - everyone with a partner - so I clicked away getting those valuable window seats.  It's always wonderful to have your toddler wedged between you and a window so there's no contact with other toddler-hating passengers.  And with three rows of seats, he's surrounded on all sides and can only kick his sibling's seat.  There are some advantages to flying with a larger family.

After I'd reserved all of our seats and ordered various meals - vegetarian for Kathleen, fruit for Joseph, and kid's for Sophia and Edwin - I checked over my work.  I would hate to have messed up all of my careful planning by not double-checking our numbers.  When I checked I noticed one flight - the nine-hour Frankfurt to DC leg - hadn't saved the seats.  The United site had listed the flight as operated by Lufthansa (which I am biased towards.  Maybe it's the cheery yellow-and-grey color scheme.  Or maybe the polite German accents.), so I should be able to reserve seats on their website.  I tried again.  No seats.  So I did the reasonable thing: I gave up.

Fast forward to this week.  We're leaving in a few weeks, and I have been having dreams about screaming matches with other passengers over switching seats, so I decided to try and reserve out seats again.  And again, it didn't work.  I knew that twenty more attempts wouldn't change the computer's mind, as much as I would like it to, and knew I was the only one who could keep disaster at bay.  So I put on my big-girl pants and actually picked up the phone to call a real live human being.  

After a few phone menus, an extremely polite German voice came on the line.  "Good day, thank you for calling Lufthansa, and how may I help you?"  I think that if I were exiled from the United States, I would live in Germany, if only to hear those wonderfully polite accents every day.  Maybe it's good associations from my study abroad in Vienna or the sense of relief when we leave chaos land in the yellow-and-grey planes with helpful flight crews, but I have a special fondness for German people.  

In just a few moments, he was looking up our seats to see what he could do about seating our family together.  Just the day before I had been asking friends at the pool about having seats together.  Everyone I talked to never had them together, and one of my friends had spent four hours on the phone in the US trying to get their family of seven in seats together last summer.  The United customer service person tried to charge $25 a ticket before finally giving up and 'against regulations' assigning their seats together.

I was expecting a fight, so when my new German best friend set right to helping me with no complaints or protestations, I wanted to kiss him.  

But as in all good stories, there was nothing he could do.  The tickets, it turns out, had been issued incorrectly by the Carlson Wagonlit travel agent who booked them.  Although the flight is operated by Lufthansa (hooray!), the agent had coded it as being owned and operated by United with no codeshare.  So it turns out that the seat map for that leg in our itinerary is (for us) in a nether-world untouched by United or Lufthansa, with nobody being able to do a thing for us until the agent changes how our tickets are issued.

He advised me to talk to the travel agent who booked the tickets to have them reissue the tickets with the correct flight number.  If the travel agent were a Lufthansa employee, this would have been no problem, but ours is not, and worse yet, she's not even in Azerbaijan, she's in Georgia which means two times the Soviet customer service to deal with.

My first clearly explained (twice over) email got this response:

Dear Ashley.
Please try to follow below procedure (travel agent tried to do it online, they were unable to get seats even though they can see seats online together, but unable to reserve them ).
But please try yourself or try to call Lufthansa as per below.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to rebook flights as seats are not available.

After I explained (again) that I had already done all of this, and please don't rebook, reissue (as carefully explained to me by my new best friend at Lufthansa) with the correct flight number, I got this:

Dear Ashley!
Actually, we always book Lufthansa as code-shared United flight from Frankfurt to United States. (this is the regulation we have to follow).
And in most of the cases, passengers are able to reserve seats as per the procedure I mentioned below.
I really don’t know what is the problem  at this time.
I will check once again with the Travel Agent on this.

Sorry about inconvenience.

No, I'm sorry about the 'inconvenience,' and will be cursing your name when my five year-old is halfway across the plane and needs me.  

I emailed her back today, hoping vainly that something had been done.

Dear Ashley!
I have double checked.
Unfortunately nothing.
In the future, we will try to reserve LH flight to avoid this problem.
Here is the answer from Carlson Wagonlit:

Sent: Tuesday, July 23, 2013 2:21 PM
To: V
Subject: Sherwood

Dear     ,

Please be informed that on web cite [sic] I can not confirm seat on plane. United airlines also did not see seat map.

Thankfully I have done enough traveling to not worry too much about one nine-hour flight.  Even if it takes some standing in the aisles blocking everyone trying to get on the plane (which is fun on two hours of sleep while trying to manage four wiggly children), I have never met anybody who won't offer to switch seats when faced with the prospect of minding somebody else's toddler for nine hours.  And who knows?  Maybe we'll get lucky and be upgraded to business class.  

Yeah, I didn't think so either.

Friday, July 19, 2013

I Like Small

I don't like large cities.  Actually, I don't even like cities.  Once I used to like large cities, back before I actually had to live in them.  In college I studied abroad in Vienna for a semester and actually switched housing assignments to be downtown and not in the suburbs - a place I had lived my entire life and was destined to be stuck in for the rest of it.  Little did I know.

And now, after living two years in one of the biggest cities in the world, I can say that I really don't like living in large cities.  Too many people breathing the same air, living on top of each other, vying for the same parking space, and watching me.  All of those big city amenities are probably nice for other people - shopping, cultural offerings, restaurants, social gathering spots - otherwise why would there be cities?  But they're not nice for me.

So when we moved to Baku, I was so happy to be in a 'small city' of about three million people.  For a US city, three million is pretty big, but everywhere else three million isn't too bad.  It helps when everyone lives on top of each other.  And it really has been nice being in a smaller city - when the traffic isn't bad you can get across the whole city in thirty minutes.  Good luck doing that in Cairo.  You'd probably get to the next neighborhood in thirty minutes there.  I hardly ever use the GPS to get around because there are only so many roads in the areas of town I go to and I know most of them by now.  And it doesn't take very long - about twenty minutes - before you're out of town.  It's nice.  I'm looking forward to scaling down even more next time.

I've also discovered that I like smaller embassy communities also.  The Cairo mission is one of the largest in the world, with about ten times the number of mission members as here in Baku.  It definitely had benefits - a grocery-store sized commissary so extensive you could even buy bagged ice from Germany, a good-sized med unit, Maadi House, and church that met in a building instead of someone's house.

But when we were leaving after a two-year tour I was still meeting people for the first time that had been there as long as we had.  The embassy had two towers and an entire complex in another part of the city, so you pretty much knew people from your section and that was it.  That definitely afforded anonymity if you wanted it, but there wasn't a strong sense of community (at least for me.  And this may have had something to do with me being a hermit for two years).

I think there are some people here that I've never met.  But most people I've met and even had a conversation or two with, which I like.  I go to lots more community events because I know I'll see friends there and not be stuck in awkward getting-to-know-you conversation for the next few hours.  At our last Fourth of July party, I looked over to see my children plying the ambassador (and then his wife) with custom decorated cupcakes covered in M&Ms, paper umbrellas, cookies, and I think I saw one with potato chips.  In a larger mission, I would have been horrified with embarrassment, quickly shepherding my children somewhere far away from the Important People and hopefully out of their sight.  But here, I just laughed and told them to hold the cupcake with potato chips.  The ambassador knows my children by name, and has hung out with them on a few Saturday mornings when we've invaded his pool for swimming.

There are constant all-call invitations for zoo trips, restaurant nights, craft nights, beach trips, and weekend trips not organized by the CLO.  Since the mission is so small, if you're breathing and available, people are happy to have you come.  I like not having to be cool or wear the right clothes or even be that interesting to be invited to lots of things.  There might be cool kids here, but they're so cool that I'm not aware of their club that I'm not invited to.

Some people may call it a fishbowl - everybody knows what's going on with everybody else - but I call it a community of people who care about each other and are always happy to have new people to care about.

So, that's my plug for small posts.  Sure, we don't have world-class shopping (maybe we do?) or tourist destinations or even that many weekly flights in and out.  Most people I talk to haven't even heard of Baku.  Azerbaijan will never be France.  But that's okay.  Because the Eiffel tower doesn't take care of my children when I have to take one of them to get their chin glued.  And the pyramid don't have me over for craft night to chat and gossip every month.  And not even mangoes make me feel that despite living so far from family, I still have something close to it here.

Hooray for small places.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Home Primary... Take One

It summer season here in Baku.  For those of you not in embassy communities, summer season means that a lot of people get out of town.  Either people are moving (this year about two-thirds are leaving) or taking vacations or haven't moved in yet to replace the people who have left.  When the ambassador made a tour of the embassy this past week, Brandon and one other colleague were there to welcome him to the economic section.  Everything gets a little thin this time of year.

Since at least half of our branch members work that the embassy, the summer slump also affects church.    Our church meetings are already short (I won't deny I see it as a perk of living overseas) and in the summer they get shorter.  Since our branch present, primary president, and counselor were gone all last summer, we only met for sacrament meeting until everyone came back in the fall (don't be jealous).  Another sister and I decided to hold our own primary after sacrament meeting so that we could justify getting everyone ready for more than thirty minutes of church.  Everyone got a little wiggly by the end (Kathleen and Sophia were the only girls), but it worked out well.

This year primary has held out a little longer, but last week the primary president left on vacation, and the other counselor moves from Baku on Tuesday, so primary is taking a break again.

With only six months left in our tour, I've started thinking about the next place we'll be, skipping over the language training part because I already done that before.  But after that - a ward with nursery and separate primary classes for the children and maybe even time for me and Brandon to sit and hold hands during Sunday School - we'll be completely on our own.  There is an LDS family currently in Dushanbe, but they're leaving before we get there, so Brandon will get to be branch president-elder's quorum president-sunday school president and I'll be relief society president-primary president-nursery leader.  Or, as Brandon likes to put it - dad and mom.

So Sunday after we walked home from sacrament meeting, I suggested we have primary at our house.  You know, so we could have some fun with them and let them not miss out on primary for the next few weeks.  And it would be good practice for when we have to do it every single Sunday for three years.

We decided to start with singing time.  Brandon had to run back to church for something, so I got out the Primary Songbook to set the tone.  A few measures into "Reverently Quietly" I looked over to see Edwin trying to shuck his pants.  He had already gotten off the shoes and socks and was trying for the pants next.  Luckily he wears a belt so the pants weren't budging.  But when I suggested that he pull his pants back up and sit on the couch, he began wailing in pain while running around the room.

That set Sophia off, "Why can't we change our clothes?!?  My dress is so hot!  I'm tired of being in it!  I don't want to do Primary!!  Why are you so mean?!?" [fade into wail].

Brandon walked back in about this time.  I was trying to struggle along with "In the Leafy Treetops," hoping that I could drown out the wailing and everyone would eventually give up and realize I wasn't kidding about primary.  Kathleen, conscious of being in the right, sat primly on the couch as Sophia wailed next to her and Edwin wailed around the couches, satellite-style.  I should look int utilizing self-righteousness to get things done more often.

"What is going on?!" Brandon shouted across the din to me.  I shrugged my shoulders and kept playing.  "Hopefully they'll calm down soon......?"

Not being an optimist, he snagged Edwin as he sailed by and dropped him on the couch.  Unfazed, Edwin hopped back up, still wailing, and ran for the stairs.  Luckily Brandon has longer legs than Edwin (it's a good thing children start small), so he intercepted Edwin and plopped him back on the couch.  Sophia, not seeing any attention directed at her, started crying louder.  Edwin hopped back up without missing a wail.  Brandon, patience growing thinner by the second, grabbed him and may or may not have applied his hand to some disciplinary action and set him down again, this time sitting next to him just in case Edwin decided to run for it.

"Everyone, shut up!!  We are going to have primary and Mom is going to play the piano and all of you are going to sing!"  Nothing changed.  Joseph started crying, startled by daddy yelling.

Kathleen raised her hand while Sophia continued to cry unabated, "What about Joseph?  He can't talk yet.  Is it okay if he doesn't sing?"

I kept playing the piano, switching to "Love at Home."

Brandon shot me dagger-eyes.  Sometimes knowing what your spouse is thinking isn't such a good idea.

Eventually we got everyone settled down, or at least located on or near a couch.  I led singing time, followed by Brandon's lesson about Eli's wicked sons being killed because their father hadn't disciplined them.  I'm not sure if that counts as wresting the scriptures.

Hopefully things will get better when we have to do this for real, or it's going to be a really long three years.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Field Trip!

The children and I have been working hard at school.  So when a friend invited us to spend the day at a local beach club I decided it was time for a field trip.  I love having the flexibility to cancel school so that we can hang out at the pool all day.  Like I've said before, I'm not complaining about my job, not one bit.

After living in Azerbaijan a year and a half, I've learned that one of the things Azeris love to do is hang out.  And when I say hang out, I mean sit around for a long time and eat food while talking and drinking tea.  I've never been somewhere with more tea houses than here.  If there's a park, there's at least a tea house and usually a restaurant somewhere in it.  On a summer evening you can stroll the bulvar with half the city and pass at least twenty tea houses and restaurants, all with people hanging out at them.  When we hiked up to Gala castle, we parked by a restaurant in the woods that was nowhere near the next village.

This is completely different from the American restaurant culture - drive to the restaurant, sit down and eat, and leave.  I waitressed (very badly) one summer during college and remember detesting anybody who had the gall to hang out and take up valuable table space that could be filled by the next customer.

So when my friend said beach club, I had some idea of what we were going to.  I knew there would be a pool, a beach, and most importantly, a restaurant.  The beach we've gone to several times has a beach, a restaurant, and tables to drink tea at, so I guessed this would have something similar.

But when we drove up and there was a paved parking lot with lines, I knew we were in for a real treat. I've only ever seen a parking lot at the embassy, and this one was in better repair than the embassy's.  Parked in the parking lot, at a slant so nobody would think about denting them, were a BMW, a Bentley, and a Maserati.  'Good,' I thought, 'they'll probably have normal toilets.'

And the club didn't disappoint.  The children and I got to spend the day hanging out in the three pools, going down water slides, warming up on the playground, and eating pizza delivered to a grassy area complete with hammocks, couches, and basket hanging chairs.  Like I've said, Azeris really know how to lounge.

The children had a great time, and we finally had to go home so that Brandon didn't have the indignity of having to work all day why we played compounded by coming home to an empty house with no dinner.

I'm sad to have only discovered this place with a month left before R&R.  I've already made plans to go back.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Six Months

I hesitate to write this post; the last time I wrote about having six months left in our post, ten days later the Arab Spring happened.  And then we were in Virginia for the next three months.  I guess life doesn't always turn out the way you think it will.

I remember writing that post and thinking that six months was such a short time, not nearly enough time to make lists and plans and cram all of that fun in that we hadn't done yet.  Now I've realized that six months is a pretty long time when you're only living somewhere for two years - it's a quarter of our total time here.  It's long enough that I haven't even thought of packing.  Well not much anyway.

What I have started doing, however, is looking at my consumables closet and wondering how in the world I ever thought I would need 150 pounds of popcorn for a two-year tour.  We grind the popcorn for cornmeal and pop it for movies, but I'm not sure how often I was planning on eating cornmeal muffins and polenta.

We also have 150 pounds of wheat left, twelve cans of Pam spray, thirty cans of chicken stock, four boxes of cornstarch, fifty boxes of whole wheat pasta, seventy pounds of brown sugar, twenty bottles of contact solution, twenty pounds of chocolate, ten pounds of coconut, eight cans of Crisco, twenty-four bottles of Karo syrup, and fifty pounds of sugar. I feel like I'm back in elementary school playing Oregon Trail.  All we need is a few boxes of ammunition, an extra wheel or two, and a wagon tongue before we're ready to trek across the plains.

All I can plead is pregnancy brain.  I will never go consumables shopping a week before delivering again.  I guess those nesting instincts were stronger than I thought.

We can, theoretically, ship any food we want to Tajikistan as long as we have extra weight in our HHE.  That is, of course, the catch - if we have extra weight.  We packed out of Cairo with 5000 pounds which included some food and water (which magically disappeared between then and here) that we brought along.  We brought a swing set, jungle gym, piano, and set of tires (sadly not the kind that work on wagons) from Virginia - another 1000 pounds.  And of course we've added to that pile while here - books, a food processor, clothes, books, dishes, and some more books.  So all of that adds up to... around 7200 pounds.  Before we add in all of that extra food.

We can also sell what we have left, but I'd rather eat it or take it along because I'm cheap.  And I'm also not sure anyone is interested in buying fifty-pound bags of popcorn, even if it is only fifty cents a pound.

So we're trying to eat our way through our stores.  And thus begins the new method of departure countdown - what can we cook this week that uses up consumables.  Because every pound of food eaten is a pound that doesn't have to be shipped, sold, or given away.

Yesterday we made tamales.  Three pounds of masa, a pound of lard, and cornhusks.  Last week I made granola bars.  Brown sugar, coconut, honey, and oatmeal.  All from the consumables closet and a warm glow of virtue to go along.  On this week's menu: pasta.  At least twice.  Maybe with coconut milk and corn?  This is the time when internet recipe searches become my new best friend.

So six months left.  A lot of fun things to do, plans to make, friends to say good bye to, and food to eat. Lots of food.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Homeschooling: What Do You Do in the Summertime?

At least two mornings a week our doorbell rings and it's one of the girls' friends.  Can Kathleen and Sophia come out to play?  The girls look at me and groan as I shake my head.  "No," they sigh, "We can't.  We have school."

Yes, that's right.  We have school in the summer.  I'm a horrible mother.

When I was in school year-round school started becoming popular.  For some time it looked like our whole school district was in danger of giving in to peer pressure, but in the end we were saved from a fate worse than death.  Some schools became year round, and I remember wondering why any child would ever want to give up the most sacred part of the year, the long endless days of nothing to do but swim read and hang out, to go school.  Surely there must be something wrong with them.

Now I'm on the other side of the equation and I know exactly why those children went to year-round school, and it had nothing to do with their preferences.  Because what a child sees as a paradise - months with nothing to do - is a mother's nightmare.  After having over nine months of scheduled, structured, planned life, everything is thrown to the winds and not only does mom have to get everything done she normally does - cook, shop, clean, and other household business - she has to add referee, in-house entertainment, chauffeur, and playmate to her workload.  Theoretically the children could help out with the household chores so mom has more time to spend on summer activities, but two and a half months is not nearly enough time to set up any kind of new helpfulness habit.

So that's why we have school in the summer.  Because what else would we be doing?  A day off every now and then is fine, but after a couple of days of no schedule, children start eating each other alive.  And if I have to impose some sort of schedule to keep cannibalism at bay, it might as well be school - a schedule that already works for us.

We'll take a month off for our R&R in August - by then I'll need a break - but that's the only big break we'll take this summer.  When we had visitors in the spring we took a month off to spend with them - nobody flies all of the way to Azerbaijan just to watch children be taught about ancient Rome.  Holidays we take off because that's the family rule - no work on holidays.  And we'll be taking another forced break when we leave in six months and have at least a month of home leave.  But otherwise, it's all school all the time.

Of course we occasionally will take days off for fun summertime things.  This past week a friend invited us to go to a beach club with here, so we had a field trip.  Everyone needs a field trip every now and then, right?  The girls have swim lessons on Thursday mornings, so Thursday afternoon we have abbreviated school.  Fridays I always take off - why have school on Friday when you can not have it instead?  

We only have one area - history - with a set number of lessons that have to be completed (it's kind of hard to skip ahead) and that will be finished before we leave, so I consider my duty to first grade just about completed.  Science has a somewhat nebulous number of lessons, and math and language arts are on a rolling schedule - when you finish one book, start the next one, so we don't have to worry about finishing them by a set time.

Sometimes I daydream of long empty summers that are filled with long days at the pool and lots of trips to the beach.  Then I wake up and look around at my four children and remember reality - four children equal work no matter where you are.  So I might as well get some good out of that work and take smaller breaks.  Maybe we'll change it up later but for now, the girls will have to keep telling their friends to come back in the afternoon.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Happy Birthday, America!

Recently I was part of a homeschooling discussion about teaching American history when you're not so happy about what is going on currently.  Various people had suggestions and I chipped in with mine, "live overseas for awhile and then you'll begin to understand what we still have to be proud about."

I was chatting with a friend yesterday afternoon during our mission Fourth of July party.  The official party had already happened the night before - all of the fancy food, important guests, speeches, and color guard ceremony - and this one was for the rest of us to hang out at the ambassador's pool eating hamburgers, hotdogs, and leftover American flag cake from the big party.  Nobody gave any speeches or had guests of honor, it was just friends getting together to celebrate our country's birthday.  It was a normal day for just about everyone else but us.

While chatting someone else brought up a visit to an orphanage where the children had begged their visitors to stay while they ate so the food wouldn't get taken away from them.  Then another lady talked about a visit to a school where all of the children had to bring money in to pay for a fancy lunch to feed the visitors.

My friend and I shook our heads and said the same thing, "I am SO grateful to be American."  That something I say almost every day.  As I've watched the news about Egypt unfold in stunning deja-vu, I have been so grateful for a long-established democratic process that doesn't make protests the only seemingly viable way to get rid someone who won't give up their 'elected' position.  Even when people don't like the outcome of an election, everyone pretty much abides by the decision because that's what you do in a democracy (or republic, if you're being technical).

When I see a police officer in the States, I check my speedometer but not my wallet.  If I want to get something done at the DMV, I wait in line just like everybody else, and pay the same fees everyone else does.  I can disagree - publicly! - with any policy I don't like and I don't have to worry about Brandon losing his job.  If I want to move into a cabin the middle of the woods and not talk to anyone ever again, I can.  When somebody, anybody, is interested in my religion, I can tell them about it.

I'm not saying that America is perfect.  No country in the world is.  There are lots and lots of things going on that worry me (and keep Brandon up at night).  I don't think there is anyone in any country in the world that can't complain about something in their country - no matter which part of the political spectrum you come from.  But, as my brother-in-law (who also spent some time overseas - and in the UK) once said, the only thing worse than people who see no bad in America is the ones who see no good in it.

When we are young and full of desire to change the world, we often criticize our parents' decisions.  They should have done it differently and everything would have been perfect.  If only they had consulted me they wouldn't have made so many mistakes.  Anybody could do it better than them.

But eventually we grow up, move out, start our own lives, and begin to see all of the wisdom and solid principles our parents brought us up with.  Yes, maybe they could have read us some more books, but they also didn't beat us to sleep every night.  Dinners were sometimes a little less than gourmet, but they were spending time every night eating dinner with us and fed us every single day.  They didn't let us do everything we wanted, but they cared enough to want to keep us safe.

As I've grown up, moved out, and looked at my home country, I can see the solid principles that underpin it and still guide many of the decisions made there.  And these principles can continue to guide it many years into the future.

After all (or at least some) of the cake was eaten and streamers cleaned up and children dried off, we headed home through Thursday evening Baku traffic, the windows open to let in the summer dusk.  While stuck waiting between a bus two feet away and a truck three feet away, Brandon fiddled with the car stereo.  After a few seconds, Boston's rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" floated out and mingled through lanes waiting for the light to turn red.  We listened while Brandon wove our way home, spreading Forth of July through the city.  When it was finished, Kathleen exclaimed, "I like that song!  Play it again!"  So we did.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

It's Good Work if You Can Get It

Monday afternoon I took the children swimming.  Since the rules require at least two adults at the pool, we invited friends.  The weather was perfect for the pool - ninety degrees and high-summer sunny.  Kathleen and Sophia can swim and Edwin has a swim vest.  I only had Joseph to manhandle while chatting with friends.

So all Monday afternoon I sunned myself by the pool while hanging out with good friends.

Brandon spent Monday afternoon in the embassy taking care of problems he didn't create, answering emails, and going to meetings so boring he might have possibly fallen asleep in them.  He spent Monday morning doing the same thing, with a short break for lunch.  Then he fought crazy Baku traffic to get home, where he answered several more emails that had popped up on his Blackberry while driving home.

Before I went swimming in the afternoon, I taught the children school for three hours, ate lunch and took a nap.

I am here to publicly admit that stay-at-home moms (at least the ones like me that have household help.  I can't speak for everyone else) have a pretty good deal.  In fact we have a great deal.

We hear lots of moms talking about how Being A Mother is the Best Job in the World.  You get to take care of your precious children and wipe away their tears and little kisses at the end of a long day and chubby arms around your neck while you bask in their love and feel all of those wonderful feelings that come from sacrificing your life for Something Good.  All of that precious moments stuff.

I happen to agree with that (yes, Mom, really).

But that's not what I'm here to talk about today.

I'm here to admit that everything else, even in balance with wiping bums, cleaning up messes, breaking up fights, the endless round of feeding, fingers reaching under the door while you're using the bathroom, reading the same book twenty times in a row, and having little down time is pretty dang good too.

What other job pays you to go the pool for three hours to hang out with your friends?  When's the last time you took a nap at your job?  If your boss is giving you trouble, can you send them to their room?  On those days where you just can't take life, it's not like you can put your clients in front of the TV and read a book and eat chocolate for a few hours.  And it's not like you can turn in pancakes if you don't feel like doing a project.  Or order out for it if times are really desperate.

Yes, it gets harried some times and I wouldn't mind changing places with Brandon for some parts of my day, but not most of them.  I have to do lunch, but after that it's nap time.  Followed by a walk.  If my day is particularly hard, I have to go grocery shopping - with money somebody else made.

I'm not saying that being a stay-at-home mom isn't hard (especially if you have to clean your own toilets).  If I did, I would feel guilty about all of the praise heaped on me for Mother's Day.  But last time I checked, going to a regular job isn't that much fun either - otherwise nobody would be looking forward to retirement.

One day my children will grow up and leave me and I will be out of a job.  I'm not sure what I'll find to justify my continued parasitism, but I'm pretty sure it won't involve long afternoons at the pool.  Or walks.  Or play dates.  Or maybe even (gulp) naps.

So I'd better enjoy the benefits when I can.  See you at the pool!