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

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Just in Case I'm Missing Baku

This just came in my email, unbidden.  I guess I've been writing too many blog posts about my bathroom experiences.  I'm devastated that it's six months until Christmas.  Do you think it would fit in the pouch?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Desperate Measures

A few days after Eleanor was born, my kind neighbor (who has five children herself) brought over dinner.  Her baby had grown out of their swing and did we need a swing?  I thought for a moment - I've never actually owned a swing although I was loaned one for Kathleen and Sophia but hadn't used them that much - and then accepted her offer.  After all, it would be nice to have one if I needed it.  Then I could pass it on when we leave in November.

Eleanor is in that swing right now, and has been in it for the past hour.  This morning she took a four hour nap in it.  Yesterday morning she slept for six hours in the swing.  In fact, she hasn't slept anywhere but the swing for the last two weeks.  At night she is generous enough to sleep in her crib, but during the day, her swing is what keeps her happy and me sane.

I never thought that I would get so desperate to get my baby to sleep that I would use a swing for every single nap.  Babies ought to sleep in their crib, after all.  I don't want to get anyone into bad habits and D batteries are really expensive.  Maybe if I really needed some help I might use a swing every now and then, but every single nap seems a bit excessive.

But after five weeks of trying everything imaginable to get her to nap - rocking, holding, nursing, using  a pacifier, using my finger, nursing her on the bed, letting her cry it out, carrying her in the sling, carrying her in the Baby Bjorn, and begging her - I was so relieved to find something that worked.  I didn't care if it was a swing.  I didn't care about good sleep hygiene, I didn't even care about how much batteries cost.  I was just happy that I could get her to sleep every single time she was tired.  Did you know that babies won't naturally go to sleep when they're tired?  Instead they'll scream and cry.  It really makes no sense at all.

I've tried to wean her off the swing several times, but after I spent four hours Friday night trying to get her to go down after an unsuccessful attempt to let her cry herself to sleep (you'd think that they'd finally get so exhausted that they would give up, but they don't.  Or at least Eleanor doesn't), I made a decision.  "Don't ever let me attempt to have Eleanor to cry herself to sleep.  Ever again.  Well, at least until she's three months old."  Brandon looked at me, eyebrows raised.  "Ever," I repeated.

And so, the swing it is.

But there's only one problem.  In a week and a half, Brandon's family is gathering for the first family reunion since I was pregnant with Kathleen.  I've been worrying about taking a two month-old baby to a week of partying, swimming, and staying up late since I found out that I was pregnant with Eleanor.  I figured that two months would be enough time for the baby to settle down - after all, the other four had by that point (at least I think they did).  But Eleanor has had ample time to prove that she isn't her four older siblings.

I resigned myself to a week of sitting on a couch holding baby.  At least she would sleep in my arms.  Then we went to dinner at a friend's house Saturday afternoon.  And church the next day.  In that twenty-four hour period I spent eight hours trying to keep Eleanor asleep for more than twenty minutes.  Brandon and I like to joke that I'm getting baby elbow from having her crooked in my left arm constantly.  A week long family reunion was starting to look like not just inconvenient (there's not much you can do when you're stuck with a baby that is incapable of being awake for more than thirty minutes before she starts coming unglued) but downright miserable.  What was I going to do for a week without the essential baby swing?

Brandon and I were cooking dinner Sunday evening (after Eleanor was safely tucked away into her rocking paradise) when I had a revelation.  I turned to him, "what if we just bought a swing and had it shipped to your parents' house?"  He stopped chopping onions.  "Swing?  What?  Weren't we just talking about making children sit still in Primary"

"A baby swing.  You know, so we could actually get Eleanor to sleep.  Then we could just leave it at your parents' house or give it to your sister or throw it out the car window on the way the the airport.  After this weekend, I don't care how much a baby swing costs.  It's worth every penny just to get her to sleep."

He thought while carefully chopping, making sure to avoid his fingers.  I waited for his answer, peeling garlic.  I'm not a careless spender; I hate buying anything that I can't justify hauling across the world and back.  The last time I sold something Brandon and I owned was when we joined State and got rid of the craigslist furniture that we had picked up after graduating from college.  It almost broke my heart to sell our consumables when we left Baku.  I even waited two months to watch season four of Downton Abbey because I could check it out at the local library instead of just buying it on iTunes.

And if I'm bad, Brandon is about a hundred times worse.  All he brought her our marriage was some well-used clothes, a few books, and the movie Babe - on VHS.  We've never owned a TV, much less a VCR, so that had to go.

But at this point I didn't care.  Eight hours of rocking, bouncing, holding, and jiggling ten pounds of baby will really start to put money into perspective.

Finally, he looked at me.  I held my breath, marshaling my arguments.  After all, I was the one who would be glued to the couch, giving myself permanent elbow damage.  He sighed, and put the knife down, shrugging his shoulders.  "Buy it.  Today.  I don't care how much it costs."

So, if you're living in southwestern Missouri, send me an email.  I have a barely-used swing you can have.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Random Pictures

Edwin is very fond of Eleanor.  He gives her 'letters' that he has written, sneaks into our room to cover her with his green blanket, and makes sure that she has plenty of toys to play with.  I picked Eleanor up several days ago and felt something hard tucked into her blanket, wedged under her arm.  I fished out a toy car, keeping her company.

During school the boys amuse themselves doing whatever they can come up while I teach the girls and take care of Eleanor.  Edwin has a set of watercolors that he received for Christmas this year and he enjoys painting with them, so much that he's almost used them up.  I've never actually seen that happen; usually they just get thrown away a decade after someone painted their last landscape.  

A few weeks ago Edwin discovered that watercolor makes fantastic mustaches.  He assures me, however, that when he is grown up like Daddy, he will never have a beard.

Eleanor likes to pretend that she is an adorable baby and is even getting cute.  Then she wakes up.

Joseph likes to hold Eleanor, begging to have his turn to "hol' El'nor" whenever she is awake.  He also sneaks into our room to plant unauthorized kisses on her sleeping head.  Then he pokes his fingers into her eyes.  Eleanor is still undecided about her feelings about Joseph.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Collard Greens and Cheese Grits

So I'm not much of a vegetable eater.  Just like Tommy, I'd much rather have a cookie than fruit for a snack.  My favorite snack after school when I was thirteen was a fried egg with bacon.  But when I do eat vegetables, I like them to be tasty vegetables - if smothered with enough butter or olive oil they maybe could be reasonably acceptable.

One of my favorite aspects of overseas life is the tasty, cheap produce.  In Cairo we could buy fresh tomatoes all year round for less than twenty cents a pound.  After living in Cairo for two years, I had a lot more sympathy for the children of Israel as they lamented the cucumbers and leeks and melons they traded in for manna.  In Baku the tomatoes weren't delicious all year round, but in the summer they were almost as good as the ones pulled from my mothers' garden.  During green bean season we would eat over a pound of beans a night, saute├ęd with garlic and onions on olive oil and butter.  The children cheered every time I pulled the beans out for dinner.

So when we came back to the US for training, I cajoled Brandon into joining a CSA.  Even if the vegetables weren't cheap, at least I knew that they wouldn't be shipped from California.  When I signed up, the form wanted to know why I had decided to pay a ridiculous amount of money for their vegetables, and I couldn't find the box that was next to 'because I like tasty food,' so I had to pretend it was because I cared about supporting local farmers.

When I signed up, I had a vague idea of what sort of vegetables I would pull from my full share box every week, but I didn't look to far into it.  I knew I would get vegetables, and I knew that at some point those vegetables would include tomatoes.  Because, after all, really I just wanted real tomatoes.

Our first week was May 12.  After finding the drop-off sight, I eagerly opened my box to see what the vegetable fairies had left for my first week of tasty vegetables.  Green, green, and more green.  After having grown various more and less successful gardens, I knew that (sadly) tomatoes don't come in May.  And what does come in May?  Lettuce, lettuce, more lettuce, and some asparagus.  Also kale, chard, green onions, collard greens, spinach, and oh, more lettuce.

I know what to do with lettuce, asparagus, and spinach, but kale?  Chard?  Collard greens?  And so this month has begun my education in What to Do With Greens.  It also has begun the children's education in Salad is Good.  Really.  Eat It.  Salad isn't a big thing overseas (and honestly I've never liked it much either) so they haven't gotten used to eating leaves.  And since the vegetable fairies charge a lot of money for salad, everyone's getting a crash course in acting like cows every single night.  Good thing someone invented salad dressing.

I'm actually enjoying my exploration into cooking greens because it makes me cook something other than the fifteen meals that are on endless rotation because they 1. are acceptable to most everyone, 2. have ingredients that are available around the world, 3. are reasonably nutritionally balanced, and 4. are cheap.  Some things have been more successful and some have been less.  Joseph has started protesting any time a cooked green shows up on his plate, 'No spinach!!  NO SPINACH!!!"

Our last box included collard greens, something I've never eaten, despite my Southern upbringing.  I think my mother felt the same way about cooked greens I do.  But when you have a big bunch of collards delivered by the veg fairies that you paid to give you weekly surprises, you better find something to do with them.

And when you have collard greens, cheese grits naturally come to mind.  Oh, and salad.  Don't forget the salad.  I confess when I started cooking them this morning (yes, this morning.  Did you know that it takes four hours to cook collard greens?) I was highly dubious.  But I couldn't just let them go moldy in the back of the refrigerator because Brandon would shame me when he found them in August.  So I had to cook them, but I could probably make Brandon eat almost all of them.  Because, really, leaves?  Cooked in ham water?  I think I'll take the cornmeal cooked with a lot of butter and cheese.  Because, butter, and cheese.  Neither of those are green.

After everything was cooked and the children had started in on whining, I let Brandon try the first bite.  Even though I like to pretend that I'm an Adventurous Adult, really deep down I'm still the same nine year-old that avoided shrimp for years because it was pink.  Brandon, on the other hand, joined the Foreign Service so that he could be paid to travel around the world and try new types of food.  So I stuck with salad and let him try the slimy-looking green things.

But even Brandon looked dubious as he stared at the dark green leaves clumped on his plate.  Sure, he was happy to try head cheese and ancient cheese and chocolate covered pig fat, but boiled leaves?  Maybe not.   Finally, however, he shrugged and took a forkful.  He popped it into his mouth.  I waited.  I knew secretly that finally he had found something not to like.  After all, collard greens?  Nobody eats those if they don't absolutely have to.

  "Good?" I asked him through a mouthful of cheese and butter.  Now, cheese grits, those are a good Southern cooking idea.

He chewed for a minute and then broke into a smile as he scooped up another bite.  "Yes!  Really good!"

"Really?" I asked him.  I wasn't about to try some of those nasty looking green things if they were only a little good.  The grits were treating me just fine.  "Now tell me the truth.  Just because we paid for them and cooked them for hours doesn't mean we have to eat them if they're nasty."

He stuffed another forkful in his mouth as he nodded enthusiastically.  "Yesh!  Try shome!"

I looked at my plate.  I took another bite of cheese grits.  Yumm, cheese.  I swallowed and looked back at Brandon reaching for a second helping of the collards.  Finally, I timidly took a bite.  Then I took another.  I looked up at Brandon.  "These really are good!"

"Of course, what did you think, that I was lying to you?"

"Well," I admitted, "maybe you were just being... optimistic.  But you're right.  They're amazing!"  And then I got back to eating the rest of my greens.  I suppose I should have known, after all.  Because something that is boiled with a ham hock and garlic and then fried with onions in bacon grease couldn't be delicious.  I think maybe my old running shoes wouldn't be too bad with that treatment.

So next time you have the opportunity to get your hands on some collard greens, do try them.  Something from the people who brought you Krispy Kreme couldn't be that bad, after all.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Blog Hopping, the Adult Digital Version of Chain Letters

So I like to pretend that I am writing to an audience of one: me.  When I started this blog, I made it as private as possible without actually needing a password because I just wanted it to be for family.  I would tell funny stories about my baby (yes! I just had one child back then and she was a baby) and then of course in time I would become world famous for my funny stories interspersed with wisdom.  You know, because secretly all bloggers want to be world famous because we wouldn't write if we didn't think our writing was awesome.

So although I know that people other than my family read this blog, I still like to pretend that I'm not a Blogger, just someone who writes a blog.  And of course it's all pretend because I belong to a community of bloggers (can't tell you who, though, because we're a secret private group) that get together for dinner every month.  At the last dinner one of the fellow Bloggers asked me to participate in a blog hop she was part of.  And being a gracious Blogger, I said yes.

So now, you get to have an insight into How I Write.  Sorry, no funny stories this time.

First off, I would like to acknowledge Theresa, who asked me to participate.  Theresa, I'm flattered you asked me.  Also, where would you like to go to dinner next month?

Question #1:  What am I working on?

I'm working on getting Eleanor to go to sleep without a pacifier restraint device (PRD) and the baby swing.  I'm afraid to stop, however, because I'm really enjoying two-hour naps.  I'm also working on being a nicer mother?  That's really a constant project, however.  Really, I'm not working on anything other than making sure my children are educated, making sure they get outside to play daily, making sure my husband is fed a reasonable dinner daily, and making sure my children get to bed to I can watch Downton Abbey before it's due at the library.

Usually, I actually have personal projects that I work on each Friday when school is off, but even though I did bring my sewing machine, this apartment is just too small to ignore all of the children and go off into project-land for a whole day.  I have to be a little more hands-on when we live in a small space.  So, nothing to report here.  Sorry.

Question #2:  How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Does my blog have genre?  Is there a genre for homeschooling-mother-of-five-foreign-service-Mormon-stay-at-home-moms who like to sew, cook, and paint?  I've got all sorts of aspects.  I'm crunchy!  I'm crazy!  I'm exotic!  I'm stereotypical! I'm creative!  My blog differs because it's my blog.  Everyone's is a little different because we all have different lives.  That's why we can read everyone else's blogs - because there about a life that's not ours.

Question #3: Why do I write what I do?

I write for several reasons.  I tell myself and everyone else that I write to preserve the memories.  I keep a personal journal, but the stories I tell in my blog don't usually make it into the journal - that's more linear, keeping track of the whole of my life.  My blog just contains snapshots and funny vignettes.  My blog gives me a place to develop the funny or strange aspects of my life into something more than just a paragraph in my journal.

But, really, the reason I write is because I secretly want to be famous.  Who doesn't want to be famous?  It hasn't happened yet, but that doesn't mean it won't some time, right?

Question #4:  How does my writing process work?

I used to write throughout the week.  That was back before my day got filled up with structure and school and I would waste lots more time in front of the computer.  But now that I have five people vying for my attention whenever I'm awake, I only write on Sunday evenings.  If it doesn't get written on Sunday, it never happens despite the twenty promises I make to myself that I will sit down and write or edit that really funny story.  So usually I realize Sunday that I have to come up with three things to write about for the week.  These days, I remember that while I'm doing the dishes as Brandon puts the children to bed.  So I tell myself very witty and interesting stories while I'm wiping down the table and rinsing out the sink.  Then I sit down at the computer and read Facebook.  Then I sigh and open up Blogger and write a catchy title.  No good first sentence comes to mind, so I read blogs for inspiration.  Sometimes I get inspired and something good comes out.  When the inspiration refuses to come, I write something anyway because by this point it's thirty minutes to my bedtime and this week I really will get to bed on time because I'm exhausted and want to get some sleep.  Then I pound out three entries, save them, read through and attempt a shoddy edit before scheduling them.  I imagine I could probably use a lot more time both writing and editing, but I don't have it.  Apologies to all.

Next victim:

Bridget, a good friend that I knew for a summer in Cairo.  Despite only being friends in the same place for a few months, I keep up with her life in Sharjah, UAE via her very well-written blog.  Thanks, Bridget!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Buy One Holiday, Get One Free

Today is Fathers' Day.  Monday was Brandon's birthday.  It's a really, really good thing that Brandon is an incredibly easy-going husband because this year has not been the year for celebrating birthdays.

I suppose if you added the two days together, you could maybe scrape up a decent celebration, but neither one was much of a Brandon Celebration, which is too bad because last year didn't work out so well either.  It would appear that in fact I'm just not doing very well with anyone's birthday.  I really need to work on that.

Back before Eleanor was born, I had some grand ideas about picking Brandon up for work and surprising him with lunch, but then Darth Baby hit and the chances of someone taking five children for several hours in the middle of the day when from slim to nil.  So instead we all came and picked Brandon up from work after he was done for the day.  He was nursing a nasty, nasty cold (which we all got to share later) so he tried to take a nap while reading but instead hid in the bathroom constantly blowing his nose.  Eleanor and I were sleeping and he didn't want to wake us up.

After I woke up from my nap, I took all of the children out so he could have some time to himself to read.  But unfortunately, I left Eleanor with him.  She had been sleeping peacefully so I figured she would keep at it.  Wrong.

While we were out picking up cupcakes, buying candy at Target (I think the cashier was less than amused by the time she rang up the third candy bar and was handed a fistful of sweaty change to pay for it), and waiting at Red Hot and Blue for some pulled pork, Brandon was rocking fussy Eleanor.

Normally I make a delicious cake and dinner all from scratch, but I had to lower my standards this year.  Brandon kept on swearing that he'd rather have cold cereal and calm than chaos and a gourmet meal, so I took it him at his word.  I will forever be ashamed, however.

So after getting home and getting Eleanor to sleep, we attempted to watch a movie with the children while eating dinner.  Then we sang to Brandon and he opened his presents, while the children attempted to surreptitiously stick their fingers in the cupcake icing and smear them over Brandon's new book.  Then we put all of the children to bed and by then it was time for us to go to bed.

Today started out a little better - I managed to make breakfast for Brandon (crepes with caramelized apples, buttermilk syrup and whipped cream) and even took care of baths and dishes so Brandon could read.  But when we made it home from church, the wheels came off again.  Brandon ended up helping me cook and strip the disobedient ones down for cold showers because they wouldn't just sit down and eat their dinners.  When you have small children, it always eventually devolves into chaos.  It's just the way life is.  I don't think that I've ever had a single day with them that didn't have at least a half hour of chaos in it somewhere.

But they're all in bed now and Brandon is reading his book that he bought with birthday money from last year (thanks, Mom and Dad!) on the Kindle that I bought him this year (yes!  A two-Kindle family!).  And even though life is crazy, he's still a year older and a father.  Another year I got to spend with him and father of my children.  So in the end, I guess that's all that counts.  Maybe.

Next year, I swear it will be better.  Really.  I mean it.  For real.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Kindles and Babies

I've been reading a lot lately.  I've read more books in the last six weeks than I've read in the last six months.  When you have to spend an hour or more rocking your baby to get her to go to sleep (she only sleeps for thirty minutes before she needs to be rocked again), there's not much to do other than read.  Which I'm perfectly happy with because I love reading and don't mind hiding from the children under the guise of putting the baby to bed.  One evening Brandon had to come over after blessing the food and ask me if next time I could please put the book away during the prayer?

I checked five or six books out from the library in preparation for Eleanor's birth, both paper books and on the kindle.  After having spent some serious time reading in both formats, I have to confess that I have a definite preference for the kindle.  I know that since I love books and have snotty preferences about wooden toys with no batteries and synthetic fabrics, I should really prefer a paper book to its shoddy electronic version.  After all, reading a book is a tactile experience with the feel of the paper under your fingers and the weight in your hand and the specific type font that has a little blurb about it in the back of the book.  And who doesn't like bookshelves as interior decorating accent?  Books are real and e-books are just electronic imitations of the real thing.

But when you've been rocking a baby for an hour and she is in that state of perfect stillness with her eyes glazing over and eyelids imperceptibly drifting ever so slowly down and you've reached the end of the page, you can't just reach over and turn the page on that tangible, heavy, paper book with the carefully chosen type font.  Because then the eyelids would snap back up and your baby will stare around wildly in that way that spells at least thirty more minutes of rocking while the children are busily dumping out every single container of drawing supplies on the floor and tipping glasses of water over them.  So you don't.  And you are stuck reading "Adelaide opened the door to find..." for the next ten minutes while you pray to all of the pagan gods that those eyelids will just stay shut so you can administer some serious hurts to the mess-makers before starting in on the clean-up.  After seeing who was waiting for Adelaide.

And suddenly type font isn't nearly as important as finding out who was waiting on the other side of the door for Adelaide.  Was it her lover?  Her wicked father?  Her long-lost mother?  Ten minutes is an incredibly long time when you're waiting for resolution.  But if you had a kindle, all it would take to answer the burning question would but just one little tap of the finger and the story would continue without any eyelids opening or babies stirring (although it still wouldn't stop the crayon deluge) and you could enjoy blissful escape from everyday life until the baby was well and truly asleep.

So yes, I have abandoned my snobberies and will only read books on my kindle, at least until the baby learns to put herself to sleep.  Then I might reconsider paper books.  Maybe.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

On Having Five Children

Recently a friend asked how it was having five children.  I paused and thought to myself for a minute.  I turned to her, "I really can't say yet.  Get back to me in six months."

I don't really feel like I have five children yet.  I feel like I have one child who I spent at least seventy-five percent of my waking time soothing to sleep (no joke) and then four other little people that spend their days in my apartment fighting with each other until their father comes home and takes care of their needs.  I almost never take all five out in public together and Brandon is around to cook dinner and put the others to bed, so I can't really write a review yet on the reality of having five children.

I have thought a lot, however, about the idea of having five children.  The main axis of my thoughts is "Wow, five children really is a lot!"  They then branch out into various realizations.  "Hey, I've personally filled the child seats of a minivan entirely by myself."  Or, "my mother has five children.  Why don't I feel responsible like she was?"  After all, when my mother was pregnant with her fifth child, my parents had paid off their house and were adding on to the house that they owned.  All I can boast is a lot of Ikea furniture and some pretty nice rugs.

Then I go out in public with my five children and realize that most people don't have five children.  Which really makes me stick out, especially when I have all of them out in public during school hours.  So not only do I have five children, but they're homeschooled.  I never have thought too hard about trying to fit in with my culture (after all I am Mormon), but I was used to being reasonably in line with my fellow Americans.  And now that I have five children, I have realized that hey, five children is a lot of children!  When did that happen?  I mean I can remember being pregnant with each one, but how did they add up to five?  And last time I checked, I was about twenty-four years old so where did these five children come from?

But the reality has yet to sink in yet, which is probably good.  Yes, babies are a lot of work in the beginning, but then there's some time before they start making themselves known in a serious way.  We still only have four children competing for our attention at dinner, or needing supervision for bed time, or fighting with each other, or needing their hair brushed or shoes put on before we go outside.  Once Eleanor settles down with her sleep patterns (yes, I'm still believing that it will happen), she'll be someone who only needs feeding and changing and rocking back to sleep every two or three hours.  And I won't have to count to three to get her to eat.

Brandon and I were talking about children this morning after showering.  When younger parents look at us and see five children they often shake their heads in amazement and ask how we handle it and say that one or two are enough for them - too crazy!  What I want to say (and don't because occasionally I'm polite) is that children are a long-term investment in happiness, one that doesn't start paying off for at least a decade.  But if you wait until the first one starts paying off to get another one started, you'll have lost out.  Having children is an act of faith.  You know that in the end you'll not regret a single life that joined your family, not regret seeing them grow up into something wonderful (if not to everyone, always to you).  You'll always have your life intertwined with theirs even when they have lives physically separate from yours.  And when you're eighty-five you'll have people who care that it's your birthday and might even send a card.

But none of that happens now.  Of course there are moments even now when your heart melts as your four year-old wraps his arms around you and plants a kiss on your cheek.  But more often there is just a lot of work that requires even more patience and selflessness that you never wanted to develop in the first place.

But it's okay because one day you'll realize that after all it was a good idea, those five children.  And maybe the years of breaking up fights and feeding babies in the dark and tying shoelaces for the twentieth time and reading the same story for the fortieth weren't actually as long as they felt.  Maybe they were even a little too short.  But maybe your memory is just going with old age.  But no matter what has happened and what will, you'll always have those five children.  That will never change, no matter what else does.