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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Living with Children: Laundry

After our housekeeper quit right after we got back from R&R in August I took some domestic tasks back on myself.  As we all know very well by now, none of those tasks included scrubbing toilets because I don't scrub toilets.  But they did include doing my own laundry.  I always had little respect for women who let their housekeepers do their laundry (yes, sometimes I'm a judgmental jerk) until I let mine take the task off my hands.  Then I realized that's it's really nice not having to spend two hours folding and putting away laundry every week and I justified myself by taking the children on a walk instead.

But when Asli abandoned me I got that task dumped back into my lap along with ironing Brandon's shirts - six a week, something that I've never done.

So I did what any mother should do: I enlisted the help of my children.  Now lest you think that they were willingly enlisted and we live in a fairy-land where we all sing songs everyday and blow each other kisses and never speak above a pleasant murmur, we don't.  Maybe we occasionally visit the outskirts of a place that is neighboring that place, but we don't live there.  We live in a place that is a lot more loud, messy, and rude called reality.  Anybody who claims to live anywhere else is selling something.

But one of the wonderfully great things about living in our particular reality is that I can be the loudest and the rudest of the inhabitants, I am bigger than most of them, and they can't get away from me.  When I made castles in the air about homeschooling while Kathleen was getting to the age where I could put foundations under them, child labor was always a major portion of those castles.  Some of the earliest parts.  Since I direct everyone's time I can direct everyone to help me.

Before I start getting nasty comments (well, that would be if anyone other than friends who wouldn't be nasty anyway actually read this), I would like to point out that we all have different views on work and childhood.  I have a good friend with six children and a very busy husband who is one of the nicest people I've ever known.  I don't think I've ever heard her actually speak above a pleasant murmur, and she lives to serve other people.  I look at her and think how many good qualities of hers I don't possess and and am working on.  Since she never wants to put anyone out of their way she ends up taking a large portion of the household responsibilities on herself.  Childhood is precious and only happens once and so children should be allowed to enjoy it.  That is her view.

That's not my view.  I try to let my children enjoy their childhood, but I also give them responsibilities.  I need the help and they need to learn basic household responsibilities.  And I need the help.

So, every Monday I haul everyone's laundry upstairs at 5 am and start the first load.  During my exercise, breakfast, school, and lunch, I change the loads every hour.  By the time I wake up from my nap, everything is dried and sorted into baskets (I do this after each load).  One for me, one for Kathleen, and one for Sophia.  In my basket I have my clothes, Brandon's clothes, Joseph's clothes, sheets, and large towels.  Kathleen has her clothes and Edwin's clothes.  Sophia gets the small towels, washcloths, and her clothes.  Everyone folds the contents of their baskets and puts them away.  Then we repeat the next Monday.

Having the girls fold and put away their own clothes has required me to let go of my OCD tendencies.  I like the clothes to be folded in a very particular way, and the girls don't even come close to it.  I also like drawers to be neat and every time I see long-sleeved shirts co-mingling with short-sleeved shirts and pants in the skirt drawer and unmatched socks hiding in the underwear I have to close my eyes and turn away.  "It's their clothes," I chant to myself, "their drawers.  I have nothing to do with them.  I don't fold them, I don't put them away, I don't wear them, and I never have to look in them."  Then I resist the urge to rearrange everything.

Occasionally I'll give up and rearrange Edwin's because he didn't have anything to do with the haphazard stuffing of pants and shirts into the wrong places (usually Kathleen is running up against dinner and finishes sloppily) and really he needs to be able to find his clothes, right?  Last week when Sophia caught me at it, she rearranged her drawers too and I had a small thrill of moral victory.  Keep things neat and maybe they'll also learn to see that it's a good thing.

But for now, I'll take my victories where I can, and the biggest victory all is forty-five minutes.  Forty-five minutes to fold my basket and put everything away.  Then laundry is done until next week.  And that is a wonderful thing.

Sunday, November 24, 2013


Brandon is gone tonight.  He was gone last night.  He's going to be gone again tomorrow night.  He's been gone a lot lately; the last time he made it home for dinner was the first Thursday of this month (I know this because he came home early so I could go to craft night).  Things here have been a little rough lately.

Surprisingly, they haven't been as rough as I thought they would be - after all taking care of four children all day long while being pregnant isn't exactly a picnic - but the days have been pretty long, a seemingly endless merry-go-round of the same sights repeating themselves.  Get up, eat breakfast, school, lunch and naps, walk, dinner, feed children, get them ready for bed, wash dishes, feed Brandon, go to bed.  Repeat.

Now I'm not trying to complain.  The big picture, after all, is nothing but roses.  Brandon has a very stable, secure job that takes care of all of our needs, our wants, lets us plan for the future, and allows me to stay home with the children.  Everyone is healthy and we're all together.  We've been able to have four wonderful children that bring us joy every day and we even get to have another one.  We live in a beautiful warm house and eat plenty of good, healthy food every single day.  We even get to travel to foreign countries and own black tie attire.  Life is not only good, it's great.

But occasionally come times that aren't bad - nobody's died, gotten sick, or lost their job - but maybe a little irritating.  And I think maybe it's okay to not like them as much as the good times.  After all, who likes to spend dinner with four children after a long day when you can spend dinner with four children and their father, who hasn't been telling them to quit quarreling and so is a little fresher than you?  I know that I'd rather put the children to bed at a decent hour and spend some time playing Scrabble and chatting with my husband instead of chasing everyone into bed right before heading there yourself (after finishing the dishes) just so you can get up and begin everything over again the next dayWe're all allowed to have preferences, even if they don't always get honored.

So right now we're in the middle of one of the irritating times.  I'm grateful this isn't a habit - presiding over dinner alone - and that I have a husband who does everything in his power to make it home for dinner.  I'm grateful he's not deployed, or a New York lawyer, or working at Stauffer's.  I'm grateful he's around and plans to stay that way.  But still, I wouldn't mind having him around for dinner too. 

It's okay though, because in two months Brandon will be done here.  He will turn in his Blackberry and get on an airplane with us, having finished up all of his work (or maybe just left it for the next guy).  Our house will be packed, all of the forms will have been turned in, the car will be sent off, and everything that didn't get done will just have to stay that way.  We'll enjoy a whole month of visiting family, not visiting anyone at all, and eating dinner together every single night.  And that's life - the cycle of good and bad, the pleasant and the irritating.  Thankfully it's a cycle, and so I just have to remember when I'm on the down side of that cycle, I only have to wait until the good times come back.  That's all.  Just wait.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Pumpkin... everything

We have less than two and a half months before we leave.  One of the most obnoxious things about moving, from a logistical standpoint, is trying to get all of your food eaten before you leave.  Couple that with a one-month lag between ordering food online, and it gets even trickier.  Do I bother trying to order more gluten or just deal with lower-quality bread for the next two and half months?  After all, by the time I get it (around Christmas) how much baking am I going to do anyway?  On the other hand, pizza crust is a lot better with gluten....

Then throw in a consumables shipment where I had to decide what I would use over our entire tour based on some imagined number I conjured up in my pregnancy-addled brain two years ago.

This is how we're run out of black beans and tahina but have plenty of popcorn, powdered sugar, and chicken stock.  Bad planning.

Back when I was stocking up around Halloween 2011 I decided that we needed a lot of canned pumpkin because when you really want pumpkin bread, pumpkin cookies, and pumpkin pie, you really can't use anything but pumpkin.

Last year I think I used one can, for Thanksgiving dinner, which left us with about fourteen cans of pumpkin sitting in our consumables closet and about three months to use it.  I have this problem with a lot of areas in our consumable closet - in fact, it hardly looks like we've used anything in the last two years at all (except maybe TP) - and I've just resigned myself to doing something about it later.  I'm not quite sure what I'll do, but it will be decided by the last week of January and that's enough of a decision for me.

But the pumpkin has caught my imagination, or my pregnancy brain, or maybe it's the season, or who knows what, and pumpkin is now the centerpiece of my culinary google searches.  We're working our way through all of the pumpkin-themed baked goods I can think of and still have about four cans left.  So far we've had pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin waffles (twice), pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin doughnuts with pumpkin glaze, pumpkin french toast, pumpkin German pancake, and pumpkin cookies.  This afternoon I looked into pumpkin eggnog recipes, and the next time I'm at the grocery store I'm getting cream cheese for pumpkin aeblskivers with maple-walnut-cream cheese filling and caramel syrup.  I think you can add pumpkin to just about any sweet baked good and come out okay.

Sophia, when we announced pumpkin German pancake for breakfast last Saturday morning, asked when we were going to stop having pumpkin in everything.  "When all of the pumpkin is gone," I told her, "and not before."

Even if I don't achieve moral victory over our 32 remaining cans of peas, I will triumph over the pumpkin.  Even if we have to eat pumpkin bread on our way to the plane out of here.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Marine Ball 2013

Brandon in his hours-old tux and me trying to hide the baby bump.
This year was my second Marine Ball.  We never went in Cairo; the mission was so big that we wouldn't have known anyone there and it was always held on Friday (the Sabbath) because of the Friday-Saturday weekend schedule.  Last year I spent days getting everything just exactly perfect, agonizing over the Most Beautiful Dress Ever, hairstyles, and makeup while dreaming of the perfectly romantic evening Brandon and I would enjoy dancing the night away in our fancy togs.

I left rather disappointed, especially after all of the work I had put in.  I kept waiting for the night to begin - after the cocktail hour and the speeches and the video and the cake cutting and dinner, then finally the party would really start and romance would carry me away.

Romance, unfortunately, is not compatible with Azeri DJs who try to burst everyone's eardrums and a husband who doesn't like to dance.  I knew this when we married, but somehow I thought that a fancy hotel ballroom would overcome Brandon's inhibitions about dancing to club-style music in front of all of his colleagues that he would have to look in the eye the next Monday morning.  Now, if I had had alcohol on my side, this would have probably worked.  But, being Mormon, this was not an option.  This is also why nobody dances at Mormon weddings. 

This year, I knew better.  When the children asked me what I was going to do at the Marine Ball all dressed up in my pretty dress with sparkly jewelry, fancy hair, and silver shoes, I told them the truth about all adult social entertainments.  "We're going to stand around and talk to each other."  

"That's all?  You're just going to talk?!?"  Yes kids, we're just going to talk.  They don't even have any pony rides.

Somehow Hollywood is able to make all of those black-tie galas and cocktail parties and high-end events look like they're more than a bunch of people standing around talking to each other.  The talking may involve fancy clothing, but in the end it's just talking, with some food thrown in to keep everyone from starving.

So this year, having realized one of the great Truths of Life, the ball was a complete success.  I got to dress up in a fancy dress after having my hair done by someone other than me, go to a classy hotel ballroom, and spend almost six hours talking to my friends.  Since we're almost done here I had some good friends to spend those hours talking with.  I love this lifestyle that gives me so many people to become close with, people that don't care if I'm cool or funny or even that interesting, just people who care about helping each other feel like this is our home.  I'm sad that we're leaving in a few months and the thread of that friendship will break.  Of course we'll keep in touch but it won't be the same, living together in a foreign country, lending each other peanut butter and 1/4 inch elastic, making our children play together so we can complain about the traffic or long hours our husbands' work.  My friends make my life bigger because theirs are part of it.

We finally left at 11:45, never having made it back into the ballroom after post-dinner lipstick application, having too much fun talking with friends.  I had told the babysitter we'd be back by 11:30, and if it hadn't been for that we probably would have stayed - and even danced - until the staff started turning the lights off to send everyone home.

But alas, all fun things have to end some time, and as I pulled all sixty-eight hairpins out, scrubbed off the makeup, and hung up my sparky ball gown in the very back corner of my closet, I sighed a little sigh as life returned back to normal.  Until next year.  And then I had to concede that perhaps, just a little, Hollywood might have gotten it right.