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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Baku Top and Bottom Ten

Now that all of our things are gone and we're counting down the days until we get on that plane, it's time to reflect on the past two years in Baku.  As I watched the movers pack up my kitchen, I thought of the many happy memories we've had in our house over the last two years.  It's been a good two years without any major trauma and plenty of good times.  We've had a great time here and made some great friends.  But now it's time to leave, which is also okay because as nice as Baku has been, it's not home.  No place is home for us, home is wherever our family is together.  One day we'll stop moving around the world, go back to our home country, settle down, and have home mean the place where our family is from.  But until then, it's okay to leave after a few years and go somewhere new.

But for those of you who want to know what we liked best (and worst) about Baku, here's the list.

10.  The weather.  With the exception of our first winter here, which was very unusual for the whole continent, Baku's weather has been very moderate.  The winter temperatures hardly ever dip below freezing and usually stay in the forties and low fifties.  In the summer it gets above ninety for about six weeks, and then only sporadically before it dips down into a long, warm fall.  After two years in Cairo, it was nice to actually have winter and have summer that didn't start in April.

The weather.  So the winter didn't get very cold but it lasted forever.  The weather never really ever warmed up enough to make swimming for more than twenty minutes at a time pleasant.  Our main pool, the CMR, never got above seventy-five degrees.  And for a girl who grew up spending all summer hanging out in ninety-degree pool water that's just not right.

9.  The food.  But I suppose you could say this about a lot of posts.  Brandon claims (and he's not kidding) one of the reasons he joined the Foreign Service was because of the food.  The food here is quite delicious, especially when you count all of the Georgian restaurants as part of "the food" here.  We have more things to add to the list of Food We'll Never Have So Good Again - fresh tandiir bread, still hot from the oven with a crisp crust that shatters all over the car while you eat it driving home because you just can't wat, gutab, saj, and lula kebab.  And I haven't even mentioned the amazing fruit.  We'll spend the rest of forever trying to recreate the food and never get it quite right.

The prices.  I pride myself in trying to shop like a local as much as possible, but even when I shop like a local I'm still amazed by the prices of some things here.  The children think that bananas are a rare treat because I'm too cheap to buy them at $2.75 a kilo.  I usually order everything I can off the internet because shopping locally really adds up.  This Christmas, however, we got stuck and ended up buying some Duplos (two sets and a truck) for the children - for a low low price of $180.  Ouch.

8.  The nice parts of the city.  Baku has spent a lot of time and money prettying itself up.  And we've really enjoyed all of the efforts.  I remember the first time Brandon and I stumbled on the Bulvar and were shocked and amazed at how nice it was.  There was nothing even touching it in Cairo, and we were expecting Baku to be much more like Cairo than it actually is.  There are several nice parks and lots and lots of places to walk around and a pedestrianized shopping area downtown.  It's pleasant to be in places that don't have piles of garbage with stray cats picking through them.  And you just can't beat eating dinner overlooking the Caspian on a warm June evening as all of Baku promenades by.

Road construction.  And construction in general.  The price of all of Baku's new niceness is construction.  There is construction everywhere in the city, including the roads.  There is an interchange of tunnels and overpasses that has been under construction since we moved here and still isn't finished which is unfortunately the most direct route to a few key things in the city.  And this construction makes pretty miserable traffic downright awful when you get stuck in it.  When it's all done, I'm sure it will be lovely, however.

7.  Our neighborhood.  We were really lucky and got put into a gated neighborhood with more Western-style houses.  Not only does our house have closets, we even have a laundry room.  But even better than the houses are the neighbors.  We have nine or ten embassy families living in our neighborhood so there's always someone around for the children to play with.  I've loved not having to drive anyone to playdates.  I just have to wait until around 3:30 or 4 and then the doorbell starts ringing and the girls are off with friends until dinner.  Having someone you can call for a cup of sugar or bit of baking soda or even a ride is pretty nice, too.

Our yard.  When we filled out our housing survey, we mentioned that our shipment included a half-dome climber and swing set and a yard to put them in would be quite nice.  When our sponsor was driving us home from the airport he mentioned that unfortunately they couldn't put us into a house with a yard big enough for the equipment.  I thought at least we had a yard that the children could play in, but I was wrong.  Instead of a yard, we have a mud pit surrounding our patio.  It started out with a little grass, but two years of gardeners' inattention and flooding and drought methods of yard care have killed what grass it did have.  I gamely tried to grow vegetables in pots for two summers in a row, but there wasn't even enough sun for that.  Sometimes I daydream about one day being able to have a garden and a lawn.

6.  The holidays.  Have I mentioned how great it is to live in a country that celebrates Muslim holidays, Persian holidays, and Soviet holidays?  I think I have.  But I'll say it again.  It's fantastic.

No parking.  I don't have a driver, but when I have to run errands (only every few months) I really wish I did.  I don't care if he drives my car, I just want him to park the dang thing.  I'm pretty sure the only parking lot with lines I've seen in the city is in the embassy compound.  It's a good thing I perfected my parallel parking skills in college because I have really used them here.  And my backing skills when I realized that I can't turn around because the driving lanes are too tight.  I dream of big, wide American parking lots with vast driving lanes and spacious stalls that let you open both of your doors at once.  I know that big box stores and their big parking lots are not cool anymore, but I don't care.  Call me a destroyer of the earth as much as you want as long as I can keep my parking lots.

5.  Getting out into the countryside.  Azerbaijan really has some lovely countryside, and we've had a great time exploring it.  See previous posts here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.  Most people don't think of Azerbaijan as beautiful mountain scenes, but they should.

How far Baku is from the pretty parts.  Unfortunately for our gasoline bills, Baku is at the very tip of the ugly part of Azerbaijan and you have to drive at least an hour an a half before you get to the pretty parts.  Which makes for a pretty long day trip when you're hauling four children around with you.  I'm looking forward to being a little closer to the mountains for the next posting.

4.  Everyone here loves children.  I love living in areas of the world where children are still cool.  A few weeks ago I was pushing everyone through the grocery store tossing the usual cheese, milk, eggs, and butter into the cart when a gaggle of admiring store workers pointed to the children and held up four fingers questioningly.  I nodded my head.  Yes, they're all mine.  Then they pointed to my pregnant figure and held up a fifth.  I nodded again.  They all smiled enthusiastically like it was the best news they'd heard all day and congratulated me roundly.  It's nice to be seen as a hero and not a blight on society.  I also enjoy my children being petted and admired instead of looked at like little vermin that shouldn't be let out of the house.

Everyone here loves children.  So having a fan club can be a bit of a distraction when you're trying to remember what you're planning on cooking dinner for the week while answering four different children's incessant questions while trying to keep those horrid Euro-style four-turning-wheels shopping cart from bashing into the shopper trying to squeeze past you in the aisle.  I'm looking forward to shopping with a little anonymity.  Just sayin'.

3.  The embassy community.  Can I tell you how much I love small embassy communities?  I think I already have, but I'll say it again.  For some people it's a fishbowl, but for a Mormon who's used to being in a tight-knit congregation with lots of open-invitation activities, it's wonderful.  So wonderful that I hope to stick to small embassy communities for the rest of this gig.

The traffic.  There's something that makes any rational mind scream in frustration when it takes over an hour to travel three miles.  I don't know a single person here who doesn't list the traffic as one of their top aggravations.

2.  The people.  We've found the Azeris to be a perfect mix of friendly, helpful, tolerant of crazy foreigners, and standoffish.  After living in Egypt where all twenty million Cairenes would have (when we were there) taken you home for three weeks to be your best friends, it's nice to have some personal space while still being all of the nice things that Egyptians are.

The driving.  All of the above things don't count when everyone is behind the wheel of a car.  After some time driving and being amazed and incensed by the stunts drivers here pull routinely, I had to just stop asking why anyone would do that because I realized that I would go crazy.  All I can say is that DC driving (and parking) holds no fear for me anymore.  None.

1.  And of course, the best thing about Baku has been our friends.  We have made wonderful friends and will always remember everyone that has made us feel loved and welcomed.  Even though there are some things about this lifestyle that I could do without, the friendships we make at each post make those annoyances just annoyances and nothing more.  I'll always remember Baku by those who have made our life more rich over the past two years.  And I'll always miss it too for the same reason.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Happy Birthday to Me

This week I turned thirty-something.  When I woke up on my birthday - no actually, when I remembered it was my birthday while kissing Brandon goodbye for work - I pondered the difference between thirty something one year less than the thirty something I am now and came to the conclusion that after you hit thirty there's only a noticeable change every five years.  So instead of being 3-, I'm in the 30-35 age bracket.

Unfortunately for birthday celebrations, the week between pack-out and leaving isn't a very good one for making a big fuss about mom's birthday.  At lunch the children realized that not only was it my birthday, but we had no cake!  I gently asked them how they were planning on making a cake with the no mixer and no cake pan that were included in our horribly lacking welcome kit (I've realized these things are so terribly scanty because whoever is buying them isn't the one who is staying home all day trying to run a household with them).  That gave them pause.  Then Kathleen brightened, "we could use Craisins!"

So my day was mostly normal, as most birthdays in the 30-35 bracket, or for that case most birthdays when you're an adult, are.  We had the warehouse supervisor come with his beep-gun to check our furniture and make sure that we haven't been selling it off during our tour.  When I had to show him another chair that had been broken (he had already seen the two that Edwin had murdered with a pair of very sharp scissors), he shook his head so sorrowfully that I felt sorry for him.

In the afternoon I had an OB appointment, another lovely birthday activity, that was at least on my own and without my four-person fan club.  Then I got to cook dinner for my family.

But I didn't eat the dinner I cooked because I was going out for delicious Georgian food.  One of the advantages of age is the ability to see that most often it's better to do things yourself than wait for someone else to maybe do them for you.  So instead of waiting for nobody to throw a birthday dinner for me and then feeling sorry for myself, I invited my friends out for a birthday and farewell dinner.  It's much more fun to go out with good friends for delicious khachapuri than it is to sit at home and wallow in self-pity.

We had a great time and ate lots of tasty food and probably talked much too loudly for everyone else in the restaurant.  The evening was finished off with delicious chocolate cake brought in by one of the ladies.  She had sent it back to the kitchen with the server and so we got treated to dimmed lights, a hokey rendering of "Happy Birthday" (I don't think they paid the royalties on that one), and flaming firework candles.  Who could ask for anything better than a kind group of friends who would come out on a cold January night just because I asked them?

And my birthday isn't over yet.  Brandon and I are ditching the children with my in-laws for a few days and making a trip up to glamorous Kansas City for some much-anticipated time alone where Brandon will have his opportunity to treat me for my birthday.

So I can't complain.  Another year of happiness filled with wonderful friends, healthy and happy children, and a husband who loves me more than anything.  Yes, definitely can't complain.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


The landing outside my bedroom door is completely empty.  The rug, chair, pictures, bookshelf, and books have all been carted away.  My closet shelves are bare and the upstairs toy room hosts only a sprinkling of dolls loaned to us by a thoughtful neighbor.  When we made dinner last night, Brandon had to slice the cheese into tiny strips, making a ineffectual attempt at grated cheese.  It's all gone.  We have nothing left except what fits into four suitcases, one duffel, a rolling carry-on and seven backpacks.

If you've never had someone come and sweep up all of your belongings into cardboard boxes leaving only a house filled with furniture that isn't yours, you've never had the experience of feeling both bereft and completely free at the same time.  Bereft when I reach for my micro-plane grater and realize that it's in one of the 156 boxes packed into 5 wooden lift vans lurking in an unknown warehouse somewhere around Baku waiting to travel via murky transportation channels to a warehouse in Belgium that had a fire last year before it goes back through those same routes and meets us again in Dushanbe.  And I meant to send it in the other batch of boxes going on a series of airplanes and trucks that will eventually meet us in Virginia in six weeks.

But also completely free when there aren't any toys to pick up because they're keeping the grater company in the boxes.  There aren't any books to organize in bookshelves that aren't there, and no carpets to get dirty and vacuumed by a vacuum that is gone too.  No clutter gathers on our standard-issue Drexel Heritage shelves because it's been given away or packed up or thrown out.  It's blissful, simple, stark emptiness.

Now that pack-out is finished I can revel in the calm emptiness of my house.  Before pack-out, however I wasn't calm and the house certainly wasn't empty.  I spent the entire day before pack-out carrying laundry baskets and boxes of things that had wandered from their appropriate place (play dishes don't belong with the real ones; tape goes in the utility drawers in the laundry room; internet cords into the electronics storage bin), packing those suitcases (I've heard too many horror stories about movers packing up things that were supposed to go in suitcases), and putting all UAB items into Joseph's room.  I don't know how many times I climbed up the forty-four stairs from our first floor to our third that day.
By the time Brandon had come home from work and the children were in bed I had cleared the second floor (removed all UAB items to Joseph's room, and packed all suitcase items into suitcases that were then weighed before being sequestered in the bathroom after it had been cleared of anything that needed to be packed by movers), most of the third floor, and only had the first floor to clear.  We started around 7:30 and finally crawled into bed five hours later.  Then we woke up at 5 the next morning to get the last few things (computers packed up, cleaning supplies sequestered in the bathroom, dishes washed) done before the movers showed up at nine.

I've moved with movers and without movers and both ways have advantages and disadvantages.  Moving without having to pack a single cardboard box yourself is really nice.  I can't tell you how wonderful it was to see all of our things carefully boxed up and carted away over the course of two days without having to lift a finger.  In fact, I finished reading a book while all of the packing was going on.

But the preparation was not so easy.  When you're packing all of those boxes yourself, you know what has to go and what can stay.  You usually aren't kissing them goodbye for the next year and anticipating what nine hundred pounds you can get by with in the intervening time and what you need for the next six weeks of suitcase living.  If you slip up and accidentally pack away the micro-plane grater that essential to anything that involves parmesan cheese or lemon zest, it's not an error you'll regret for the next twelve months.  You can probably even rummage through your boxes and find it if you really need it.  But by the time I realized that the grater was gone, it was gone.

 I woke up in a cold sweat Saturday morning because I dreamt that Brandon had forgotten to get the double Baby Jogger out of the utility closet in the garage and the movers hadn't packed it.  I thought of all of the ways we could take it with us - check it as part of our baggage (but then would it fit into the car that already was going to fit four suitcases and a duffle for a month of wandering through the midwest?), put it in the Pilot and hope it doesn't get lifted between here and Dushanbe, leave it and buy a new one - and almost wept with relief when Brandon woke up and he assured me that yes the jog stroller had been packed up.

Even now I have of flashes post-pack-out traumatic stress disorder and worry that everything won't be within the weight limit (it was) or I forgot to put both strollers in the UAB (I did).  But then I look around at the emptiness and remember that yes, it's all gone.  And now, all we have to do is wait.  Then we'll be gone too.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Come Shopping at the Sherwood's

We have a lot of food in our consumables closet.  After two years of eating through our stash we still have shelves full of coconut milk, karo syrup, canned blackberries, mango jam, popcorn, chocolate chips, brown sugar, peas, corn, lard, olive oil, Pam spray, cocoa, cornstarch, almonds – whole and sliced, chicken stock, coconut, contact solution, shampoo, sugar, and an untouched gallon pail of gesso.  Two years is a long time, but evidently not as long as I thought it would be.

I’ve thought about various things to do with all of this bounty and finally decided, in the name of shipping weight to try and sell some of it off.  So for the last week various friends have showed up at our door with boxes and bags and hiked up to the third floor to shop from our overflowing shelves. 

The first thing to go, oddly enough, was the peas and corn.  Despite being available in Baku, everyone wanted good old American peas and corn.  Next was the lard.  That you can’t get in Baku.  The Pam was very popular – so popular in fact that I sold it to a selected few friends and didn’t even advertise it to the wider embassy community.  The chocolate chips also were much in demand, and all of the macaroni and cheese is very long gone.  I’ve even managed to sell a fifty-pound bag of popcorn. 

Every time a satisfied customer leaves with another bag filled with sugar, coconut milk, and karo syrup, I feel a sense of triumph.  That’s got to be at least twenty pounds!  Good for a shelf of books or a bin of toys.  And then I remember that it’s another twenty pounds of sugar, coconut milk, and karo syrup that I have to buy again and ship to Dushanbe.  But, such is the life in the Foreign Service.

In the end we won’t be able to sell everything (I’ve had at least three people ask me what you actually use dark Karo syrup for) and so I’ll just cross my fingers and have the movers pack it up.  In the end, we’ll probably have plenty of weight left over and I’ll regret the three-liter bottle of olive oil that I sold at a bargain price.  But I’ve become slowly adjusted to the financial hemorrhaging that comes with each departure and arrival.  In the end, we won’t go broke over food sold to friends and neighbors.  Hopefully.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Down the Tunnel

I was sitting in church today when I realized that we only have one more Sunday left in Baku.  How strange.  After over two years of living here and going to church every Sunday there's just one left.  Our tour that stretched out so very long at the beginning - I remember marveling to Brandon that Joseph, our tiny little baby, would be walking, talking and diaper free when we left - is now just memories, pictures, taller children, and a couple of rugs.  

The movers are supposed to come on Thursday.  We had some trouble getting Brandon's orders finished because of the holidays and so didn't get everything scheduled until last week, or maybe it was this week.  Brandon asked me yesterday if anyone had contacted me about a walk-through.  They haven't.  So the idea is that three or four men with a lot of boxes, tape, and paper will show up at our house on Thursday and put everything we own (with the exception of three suitcases and two duffles) into boxes.  I'll let you know if that idea plays out into reality.

Since Saturday was the last day before the theoretical movers show up that I'll have Brandon to move heavy objects for me, after breakfast we armed ourselves with allen wrenches and attacked our bedroom furniture.  

The children thought that this was great fun.  Hey look!  Mom and dad are turning their bed frame into a pile of wood and screws.  Joseph, being the age of sticking things into holes, got into the act and stuck every object he could find into every hole that appeared into our cheap, pine-board Ikea bed that has yet to get the coat of paint I meant to put on it almost seven years ago.  Brandon would snatch one crook-handled allen wrench away from his pudgy hands and he would toddle over to the toolbox and grab another of the twenty or so saved from years of Ikea purchases.  I didn’t bother him, figuring that the tools would keep him distracted from the Ziploc bag filled with even more fun, and less redundant, bed hardware. 

Every time we take apart our furniture I debate the best location for that essential bag of metal that turns pine boards into something that holds my mattress off the floor for years at a time.  Should I duct-tape it to one of the boards?  Place it carefully next to the pile sitting neatly next to our window?  But perhaps the movers will accidentally scrape that bag off in between our house and the lift van at their mysterious warehouse and that will leave us with a pile of useless boards and a very low mattress for two years.  Perhaps the toolbox is a safer place.  But what if the toolbox gets lost?  Then all the bags of essential hardware will no longer be able to turn a lot of boards into our bed, two toddler beds, a bunk bed, and a crib.  That’s a lot of wood and a lot of short mattresses. 

In the end I just have to make a choice and take my chance, which is a very common dilemma in life.  I suppose in the end, it’s just beds.

Until Saturday, the idea of leaving has been more academic than real.  We have cleaned out the closets and booked plane tickets and made lists and counted down the weeks, but this past week life was pretty normal with school, laundry, grocery shopping, and ladies’ nights out.  But taking apart the furniture means something.  It is the beginning of the end.  We have started down a tunnel that only ends when we get off the plane in Missouri or maybe when we unpack our UAB in a generic three-bedroom apartment in Virginia.

This Sunday was the last little spot of normality before our lives are sucked into a whirlwind of leaving.  All is quiet now, but tomorrow the suitcases come out.  Quiet evenings of peach pie and board games won’t come back until March.  It’s a sprint to the finish.  I’m interested to see how it all turns out.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Freezer Meals

Today we had pesto pasta and peach pie.  The peaches have been sitting in the freezer since a friend gave them to me this summer when we were leaving.  The pie dough was left over from an apple pie made last month that used up frozen pie filling.  There was some extra peach filling so we will be having peach cobbler for dessert tomorrow.  The pesto was made from basil sprouted last winter and carefully tended all summer.

Yesterday morning we had overnight baked French toast (bread made two weeks ago) with walnut (still have a kilo left to use) streusel topping.

Last week we had grape leaves (frozen last spring) stuffed with tomato sauce (gifted from the peach friend) and rice.  All of the frozen bits of tandir bread hiding in dark freezer corners served as a side.  For dessert we had cherry ice cream (cherry slurry frozen in 2012) with chocolate chip cookies (made last month). 

This week we’ll be having pizza (frozen dough, the last bit of mozzarella, and the remaining pesto sauce), chickpea tomato soup (the last of the frozen tomato sauce), and more chocolate chip cookies.  And coconut-peach smoothies.  Every night.  I’m still working on what to do with the lamb shoulder.  

You know you’re getting ready to leave when you plan your menus around what is sitting in your freezer.  I wonder if I have time for chocolate macaroons.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Happy New What?

I think the last time I stayed up until midnight for New Year's was 2008, and that was unintentional.  New Year's Eve is a holiday for single people, childless couples, and parents with children old enough to let them sleep in on January first.  So we don't celebrate New Year's Eve - and won't for a long time to come - in the Sherwood Family House.

This year Brandon had three days off, thanks to the Soviets reinventing Christmas as New Year.  Normally we would have done something fun with the children to celebrate - after all, who doesn't like a holiday - but we're leaving in less than three weeks and fun was not on the agenda for Brandon's three-day holiday.  Instead we had day one of The Great Baku Purge.

The day started off with haircuts, since all of the boys had been growing theirs out since early November and Brandon had been complaining for at least three weeks that he was starting to look like the fifth member of the Beatles.  After some screaming, a lollipop or two, and a lot of blonde and brown hair swept off the floor we moved to the next task.  Brandon showed his undying love for me by emptying out all of the plastic pots filled with a mixture of Azeri clay masquerading as dirt and cat poo and then scrubbing all of the pots so we could move them to our next post.  I had been looking at those pots for months and debating how much I really wanted to save money by hauling them along.  It's times like that - when Brandon is outside in the cold mud scrubbing cat poo only because I asked him to - that I'm grateful for a wonderful husband who puts up with my preferences.

While he was turning our mud-pit yard into a greater mud pit I took down the Christmas tree and decorations.  I had had thought at some point about leaving it up for the New Year so we could get double holiday out of it, but the urge to clean took over and the tree was the first thing to fall.  After the tree and the pots came the coat closet and associated shelves and shoe racks.  Coats and shoes too small for anyone to wear got carted upstairs and I sorted through the accumulated detritus of two years' worth of shoving things into convenient dark shelves.

After that came the pantry, then my painting and sewing corner (goodbye for the next year) followed by the two buffets harboring every little piece of junk that nobody could find a place for.  Then the kitchen and two years' worth of crumbs were swept out of various drawers.  The bookshelf got a vicious culling (books are quite heavy and who really wants to haul around college textbooks they haven't cracked for over five years?) and we finished the night around nine o'clock with a half-hearted swipe at the freezer.

Somewhere in the middle the children got fed (twice) and sent to bed after putting a movie on for themselves.

Brandon and I couldn't bring ourselves to go down to bed after the children so instead we stayed up late watching Sherlock (only three years late) and drinking mint tea.  When we dragged ourselves into bed a little after eleven I heard a strange booming noise.  What was that?  Gunfire?  Explosions?  Oh, yes, fireworks.  I turned to Brandon and gave him a kiss.  "Happy New Year.  See you next year," before rolling over to sleep.

And then we got up the next morning and did it all again.  Twice.  I tell you what, we really know how to party.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

What I Hate Most About Pregnancy

I am now working on my fifth pregnancy, which I personally find unbelievable.  People who are pregnant for the fifth time are responsible, mature, and obviously capable of doing a great many things. I am not.  I still feel like I'm about a decade younger than I actually am and still worry that one day someone's going to show up and ask who's really supposed to be running the show.

Having done this four times before, I am pretty familiar with the way things go during pregnancy.  When each of the six medical practitioners I've visited with have asked if I have any questions I've waved them all off with a smile.  "Nope, no questions here.  It's pretty much the same each time."

So by now I'm fairly familiar with all of the stuff that comes with (normal) pregnancy.  Getting up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.  Feeling the baby kick.  When the pants stop fitting.  How to deal with heartburn (I will forever love the person that invented omeprazole).  How much weight I gain (not telling).  Being tired a lot.  Having sudden and random cravings for guacamole.  Waiting for nine months for everything to creep downhill until I'm big, unwieldy, exhausted, and ready to get the baby out.

I am, unfortunately, not one of those women who just love being pregnant.  I really wish I was.  I would feel like a less nasty person if I was - after all I am growing a new life inside me and I should feel at least some awe about it.  But fortunately, I am also not one of those people who are sick for nine months straight either.  I would have a hard time going for repeats if that were the case.

So I'm somewhere in the middle.  And although I don't have anything particularly horrible about any of my pregnancies - no vomiting, no bed rest, no painful contractions for months on end - I still have a lot of things that I just don't like.  Bending over.  By the end when I'm carrying around a watermelon I will do just about anything to avoid bending over which might explain the state of my house.  Sleeping.  Actually, I like sleeping.  What I don't like is not being able to sleep through the night because no position in the world is comfortable for more than an hour and it takes a major effort to roll over.  Exercising.  I have grown weird enough that I actually enjoy having exercised in the morning (I still don't enjoy the exercising) and so I like to exercise until the bitter end (okay, and maybe I am a little prideful too).  But boy howdy does it get really uncomfortable by the end.  I'm not a fast runner normally, but these days I can't run any faster than four miles an hour and running that for half an hour makes me feel like I want to die the entire time.

But most of all, more than the physical discomforts and repetitive wardrobe and and everything else, I hate how grouchy I am when I'm pregnant.  I hate how I lose my temper at the drop of the hat and take it out on my children.  I hate that I start off my morning looking forward to a good day and by lunch everything is in smoking ashes and the children tiptoe around me so as to not set off another forest fire.  I hate watching myself yell at them and knowing that I'm being a bad mom and not stopping myself.  I hate sending Joseph and Edwin to naps without their story time because I just can't handle being with my children another minute.  And I hate that it lasts for nine long months.

Not all days are bad of course.  Some days go swimmingly well and everyone is practically singing songs at each other during lunch and Joseph and Edwin get tickles and kisses after their stories.  Most days are somewhere in between with maybe a brief flare-up or a persistent gloomy cloud that never quite breaks into a storm.  But some days are just plain awful and on those days I can barely make it to lunch.

I've gotten better over my pregnancies, better at keeping the schedule under control and myself in good order that the opportunities for flare-ups are less often.  I try harder to look into Edwin or Sophia's eyes as they smile to cheer me up and let that smile melt my anger.  I send myself into five-minute time outs.  I let irritating things slide right by me without touching.

But I know all along that the anger is lurking underneath, waiting for a crack in my control to flare out and crisp everything around into cinders.  And sometimes it isn't there lurking, it just comes out of nowhere which scares me even more.

I also remember, however, a time before I was pregnant when the anger just didn't exist.  It had to be called for and sought instead of lurking in wait.  And I know, after four long pregnancies, that that time will come again.  In spring the flowers will come out and the birds will sing and the warm air will caress my toes and the grass will tickle the backs of my knees and a baby girl will come to nestle in my arm.  And the anger will be a distant memory, gone with the endless dark cloudy days of winter, only a memory in the warm strong spring sunshine.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Home Church

This year everyone left for Christmas vacation.  Not everyone left, because if they all did the whole city would be empty and I'd have a hard time getting food or someone to clean my house.  But a lot of people who work at the embassy left.  Baku is a two-year post with two R&Rs so a lot of people use that second R&R to leave over Christmas.

We didn't.  The children were sad about not having a Christmas break from school (and a neighbor child questioned my judgment about keeping them in school during the holiday - he was relieved to hear that we didn't actually have school on Christmas), but they were mollified when I drew attention to our six-week break from school in February.

Everyone else in the branch, however, left town.  And so for the last four Sundays we've been the Baku Azerbaijan branch of the the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  The program has been fairly similar for the last three Sundays: I've played the piano, Kathleen, Brandon and I have sung the hymn (I always feel like someone out of a Jane Austen movie ((only with less singing ability)) every time I sing to my own accompaniment, but cutting a third of the voices doesn't work too well for church.  I'm looking forward to Sophia reading well enough to sing along), Brandon has blessed and passed the sacrament, and the girls have taken turns with opening and closing prayers.

I've been very thankful for our good internet connection as we've watched the Christmas devotional, the Saturday afternoon session of conference, nativity videos, and a talk from brother Hales for the speaker part of our church.  I've had grand plans about our church schedule when we reach Dushanbe, but none of them have panned out in our little practice session.  Primary we've still got to work on.

Brandon was very excited about flexible start times - he figured if we started by eight we could be done with church by nine - but the only time we actually started by ten, our regular church time, was today when we had one more member join us.  Somehow the urgency to get out of bed is diminished when you don't have anybody else to meet up with.  But at least everyone has been bathed, combed, and dressed in church clothes for the service, even if it does happen on our own couches.

And so I would say over all, our first go at home-churching has been fairly successful, something that surprised me after our attempt at home primary this summer.  Everyone sat without too much coercion, we actually held church, we got dressed, and it did feel like church, not everyone dressed up on the couches on a regular day.

I suppose we Mormons are a little odd about church congregations.  We had friends at a previous post who weren't able to find a congregation of their denomination, so they just attended an international church instead.  We have friends here who would like to attend church but can't find a congregation that fits their need.  If a Mormon can't find a congregation, however, they just form one wherever they are.  We have a friend who spent two years on an unaccompanied tour in a city without any LDS presence, so he spent two years of Sundays singing songs to himself, opening the meeting by praying to himself, blessing the sacrament for himself, and then passing it to himself.  Then he would read a conference talk to himself.

So even though it's nice - really, really nice - to be able to attend a full-size functioning ward (can I tell you how excited I am about nursery in three weeks?) and have lessons prepared by someone else and whole congregations joining together in hymns sung to a well-played organ and friends to meet each week, it's nice to know that none of that is necessary to worship on Sunday.  Because wherever we go in the world, we bring our church with us.  And that's pretty nice.