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Sunday, September 27, 2015

All in a Monday

Monday started out pretty well.  School started on time and everyone worked steadily enough that I got done with teaching forty-five minutes before lunch time.  Instead of scrolling through Facebook, as I wanted to, I decided to be responsible and went to print out some school charts I had been working on.

Our printer has been having problems with its black ink ever since we made the foolish mistake of shipping it to Dushanbe.  In this lifestyle, printers really are a consumable item.  They were never meant to be shipped via airplane (or really at all), where there is plenty of variable air pressure and restful time to dry all of the little nozzles out and get them clogged.  I was smart enough to take out the ink cartridges - it only takes one printer box dripping in ink to learn that lesson.  After cleaning out the print head and going through a whole set of cartridges to clean the nozzles, I finally narrowed down the problem and ordered a new black cartridge (I use refillable cartridges).

The cartridge had come a few days earlier in the mail, and I set about removing the ink from the old cartridge - waste not, want not - and putting it into the new one.  Although the process is simple - syringe out ink from the bottle, squirt it into the hole in the cartridge - I always manage to stain my hands with ink no matter how hard I try.

I marched back to the computer with my new cartridge and printed a test.  The result was better than before, but still blurry.  Time to clean the print nozzles.  But first, time to refill the other black cartridge.  Okay, new test print.  Now the yellow is out.  Back to the bathroom, more ink on the fingers.  Put the yellow in, start another round of cleaning.  Oh, now the magenta is out.  Back to the bathroom to add pink to every other color staining my hands.  One more test print.  Nothing has changed.  Time to get serious.

A few YouTube videos later (why is always foreign nationals who make those helpful videos?), some failed screw-drivering, and I had the print head out and back in the bathroom.  Now all of the colors could stain my hands at once.  Sophia enjoyed the lovely spray pattern, and I hoped that this would fix my problem.  With the print head back in the printer and ready for another cleaning, I returned to the bathroom to fill the blue ink cartridge.  I started to think seriously about time versus money and just ordering Canon cartridges, who cares about cost and environmental waste.

I crossed my fingers as the test patterns spat out of the printer, praying that my problem would be fixed.  It wasn't.  I sighed and debated a whole new printer versus just the print head.  Both cost just about the same.

Dinner that night was black bean soup.  As Sophia pulled out the cornmeal for muffins, she announced that there definitely wasn't a cup left.  I sighed.  There never is a convenient time for grinding because you never know you're out until you're cooking - and cooking is never a leisure time activity.  It's time to cook because people are hungry and hungry people aren't patient people.

Thankfully I don't have to run up two flights of stairs for popcorn anymore, so it wasn't long before the kitchen sounded like a small airplane was taking off.  I've had my wheat grinder longer than I've had most of my children, and the whole time it has worked much better and with much less complaining than they have.  It's only gotten more useful in places where cornmeal costs three dollars for a half pound bag and whole wheat flour is something entirely unheard of.

I poured the bag of popcorn in, and turned to chopping carrots for the soup.  And then the grinding stopped, with a disconcerting thump and grinding of a frustrated motor.  I cut the power, waited for a second, and tried the first move of optimists.  It still grrrred in frustration, so I shut it off again.

My second move was the internet, which offered no hope in the first three pages.  I tried different search terms and still came up with nothing.  Quotes weren't any more helpful.  According to everything and everyone, NutriMills don't jam.  Until, of course, they do.

I sat and reviewed my options.  No NutriMill service centers on the continent.  Maybe I could take it to a local repairman.  That would require knowing one.  Order a new one, and borrow my friend's for the next month.  I looked for screws, found some, and went searching for my screwdriver.

By the time Brandon was home for dinner, the machine had been broken down to its motor and grinding plate.  I couldn't find any more screws to address and the twelve or so I had already removed lay scattered in mounds of popcorn and cornmeal.  I showed my problem to Brandon and he took over while I finished dinner half an hour late.

He succeeded where I had failed, and found the problem - a tooth in the grinding plate had sheared off and jammed the two plates.  We put the whole thing back together - I had had enough common sense to remember where the grounding wires hooked up - after finding all of the screws, and plugged it in.  Even with a missing tooth, it still made popcorn into cornmeal.  Three hundred dollars saved for another day.

Then we turned to our last task of the day, and started the children up to bed.  Joseph had been complaining of an upset stomach for the last few hours so he got put down first, with a bowl for good measure.  I've learned the hard way the fine line between imagined and real nausea.  Always err on the side of caution.  A three year-old has to have pretty strong imagination to turn down a fresh cornbread muffin.

A few minutes later and deep into the dinner dishes, Joseph showed up at the kitchen door.  "Mom!  I threw up!  But I got it in your toilet.  I got it in your toilet!"  I sighed and stripped his vomit-spattered shirt and pants.  "Let's get you a drink of water.  Then get some new pajamas."  Then I went upstairs to see where hope and reality met.

The smell spoke of hope and my feet confirmed that Joseph had only gotten some of the vomit in my toilet.  The rest was on my carpet.  I sighed again and went for paper towels.  Only recently have I learned that paper towels don't have to be washed out in a bucket.  They can be thrown away and the wet rags can be saved for the part that doesn't involve chunks.  Brandon sighed, louder than me, and went for the carpet cleaner.

Five passes later the smell still overpowered anyone standing five feet from the door.  We considered sleeping in the guest bedroom, but that would mean making another bed when ours was already made, and put a fan on the carpet instead and left the bedroom door open.  It still reeked by morning.

I went to bed that night, happy that Monday comes only once a week.  It hadn't been a bad Monday - nobody got hurt, nothing too expensive got ruined, and we were still in Dushanbe and together.  It was just an intensely irritating Monday.  And I was happy to be done with it.  And happy to have another seven days before Monday came round again.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Urban Camping

Things are thankfully calming down here in Dushanbe.  The 'bad guys,' as the boys call them, are being hunted down out of the mountains and things in the city are just as they've always been.  We're hoping that things will continue to wind down and we'll be able to get some fall hiking in soon.

We had planned to go camping during a local holiday, but the ban on leaving the city was still in place.  I knew that the children would be disappointed, so I suggested camping in our front courtyard.  They thought this was a great idea - all of the fun of camping without any of the trouble involved driving to some random place just to sleep outside.  So I had my housekeeper get a bag of firewood and - I thought - a plov cooker to put the fire in.  She brought the firewood and her own plov cooker (I can only imagine her confusion - plov is a winter dish), and we had hot dogs and s'mores for dinner.

Eleanor did not attend, and didn't even stay up late enough for the hot dogs.  So her siblings gave her a flashlight demonstration as consolation before she was bundled into her own crib, safe from all of the excitement and fire.  The children all slept soundly, and Brandon and I would have on our comfy camping mattresses if drivers of very loud heavy machinery didn't use our road for drag racing all night long.  When we woke around 5:30, Brandon commented that he would give up all of his secrets after another night of sleep like that.

The children were horrified to learn that urban camping meant urban hiking when we bundled them into the car the next morning.  We headed to Victory Park, a good-sized chunk of land situated on the hills surrounding Dushanbe.  In the children's defense, the day was pretty hot and the sun was pretty bright, and only the introduction of the alphabet game prevented complete mutiny. 

As we trudged along the dusty path in the hot sun, we named fruits, vegetables, animals, animals again, foods, foods again, countries, and names twice before we finally made it back to the car, soaked in sweat and caked in dirt.

So we ended the day with the only reasonable thing to do when you're urban adventuring - we went to the pool.  Because if you can't enjoy mother nature out in the wilds, you might as well enjoy the delights of the city.  About three quarters of the embassy families showed up too, and the children enjoyed an impromptu pool party with all of their best buddies.

 After going to bed late the night before, hiking for two hours, and swimming for two more, everyone was more than happy to be in bed before seven, and asleep before 7:15.  I enjoyed sleeping in my own comfy bed in my own quiet room.

The boys are already asking for the next campout.  I'm hoping the travel ban will be lifted soon.  Otherwise, I'm going to have to get some pretty good earplugs.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Time to learn Russian

A few weeks ago, my doorbell rang.  I put on my orange Croc knock-offs and shuffled through the bright afternoon sunshine to my gate.  I pulled open the door and Albina, my new Russian teacher was standing on the other side.  With an inward sigh, I brought her in the house, sat the children down, and we started our first Russian lesson.

Back in 2010, after our assignment to Baku had been made final, Brandon mentioned one day that it would probably be good for me to learn some Russian.  I had been able to get around okay in Cairo on the one semester of Arabic I had audited in college, well enough that I could hail random taxis on the street, go to the market, and tell people to leave me alone.  I wouldn't have that in Baku, where Azeri and Russian were the languages I could choose from.  I agreed, knowing that Brandon was right.  Good idea.  Definitely.  I'll have to look in to that.

In 2011, Brandon brought up the Russian thing again.  Yes, I agreed with him, it was definitely a good idea.  But how about after I'm done having our fourth baby and we're settled in a little bit?  Maybe right now isn't the best time.

When we moved to Baku, a friend mentioned that she had a wonderful Russian teacher who she had a great time meeting with twice a week.  When did she have time to meet for an hour, I wanted to know.  I couldn't think of an hour in my day that was child- and nap-free (naps have higher priority than Russian lessons).  "Oh," my friend replied, "she comes in the evening after the boys are in bed."  I nodded my head.  Good idea, that.

When Brandon asked about my friend's tutor, I waved him off with a vague answer about having to check and see.  But really, I knew Russian wasn't going to be taking up two of my precious evening hours every single week.  Mime was getting me just what I needed, thank you very much.  Sure there was that garden hose incident that one time, but miming eventually got the message through.  Even if it took ten employees looking on in amusement to get the dang hose.  I'm willing to go through that if the other option is two evening hours sucked out of my life every single week.

When we moved to Falls Church for Tajik training, Brandon made me flash cards one evening with all of the Russian letters.  We kept at it diligently for at least three separate sessions before the cards got shoved in a random drawer, waiting to be thrown away with all of the other junk accrued over nine months' time in our Oakwood apartment.

After our move (and move again) was finished at the very end of 2014, Brandon brought up lessons again.  Yes, yes, I agreed.  It was definitely time for Russian lessons.  My housekeeper didn't speak English, my gardener didn't speak English, and I couldn't even talk to people who rang my own doorbell.  If my gardener wanted to tell me that the bags of dirt she had gotten weren't enough, I had to call a friend's housekeeper to tell me that there wasn't enough dirt.  Then I had to have the housekeeper tell the gardener that yes, we should buy some more dirt.  So, yes.  Russian.  Soon.  Very soon.  Just as soon as we get settled.  Then.

Then we got busy reestablishing school patterns and then it was summer and then we went on R&R and finally after five years of prodding, I had my first Russian lesson.  The girls and I managed to make it through the first one without crying, and the next day we had another one.  We got a one-day break before the next Russian lesson.  Then I got excited about this learning thing and made flashcards for all of us to reviews every day.  And for a little bit of extra fun, I bought Rosetta stone to do daily, too.  Because, after all, I have five years of catch-up to do.

So, after two weeks of lessons Kathleen and I can pretty much read in Cyrillic, and Sophia's working on it.  We can talk about our family (That's my brother.  His name is Edwin.  That's my sister.  Her name is Sophia), say hello and good morning, and know very useful vocabulary, like the words for sound, beer, and hole.  I can now greet my housekeeper and ask her how she's doing.  Brandon has a fun time quizzing us on what we've learned at dinner each night.  It's all very fun.

I'm not setting my sights on any ridiculous goals like fluency or even anything approaching fluency.  I'm not in school and so I don't have to kill myself to learn everything to get that A for my GPA.  I'm taking Russian because it will be useful, and I figure if we all keep at it three times a week for the next three years, we should have something to show for it by the end.  I can at least tell people who ring my doorbell that I'm not the person they're looking for and they should move on.  I don't really care if the children keep their Russian skills once we move on from the Russian-speaking world.  Maybe one of them will keep at it, but I'm not holding my breath.

But for now, we're learning Russian.  And Brandon can finally stop nagging me.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The difference between girls and boys

Eleanor loves shoes.  Any time she stumbles (or crawls) across a pair of shoes, or just a shoe, she stops to put it on.  I heard her screaming bloody murder the other day, and ran to find out what glass she had stepped on or who had pulled her arms out of their sockets.  I found her next to the door with a pair of my flip flops, trying desperately to keep them on while crawling across the floor.  Whenever she gets bored downstairs, she crawls to the shoe room and plays with the shoes.

I bought Eleanor a pair of flip flops in July and pulled them out to check the fit.  As soon as she spied the bright pink-orange shoes, she started gabbling excitedly and excitedly extended her foot to me.  I put one on and she stuck out the other foot, waving it around impatiently.  She strutted proudly around the room on my finger before I sat her down to take them off for packing.   She cried as soon as they were off and couldn't be comforted when they disappeared into the suitcase.

She also loves baby dolls.  When she was eight or nine months old, the girls handed her a doll.  She immediately grabbed it, cooing in delight, and clasped it to her chest in joy.  After she learned to crawl up stairs, she would often sneak off to the girls' room to find their secret doll box.  She would pull out the box and scatter dolls across the floor, cooing over each one, patting their hair and trying to take their clothes off.

I held a friend's young baby last week, and Eleanor took off across the floor, heading straight towards me.  She crawled over and pulled herself up on the couch.  She stood in front of him, gabbing excitedly and stomping her short fat legs in absolute joy.  "Look, Mom!" she seemed to say, "It's a real baby doll!  How exciting!!!"

Clothes are Eleanor's third favorite thing.  If I forget to close her drawers, I will inevitably find her sitting amidst piles of clothes scattered across her floor.  She is usually trying to put a skirt on her head, a shirt on her legs, and a diaper cover on her arms.  If she finds anyone's clothes on the floor - including her brothers' dirty underwear - she immediately tries to put it on.  Getting dressed is her favorite part of the day.  Her sister's hair brush is something to be found and snatched.

A few days ago I found a thin white dress-up glove on the floor.  Eleanor crawled over to inspect it, and stuck her hand out.  I put it on.  After cooing over her fashion accessory, she crawled off across the room.  I looked up a few minutes later as Eleanor crawled back to deposit the other glove at my feet.  I put that one on, too.

After having two boys, it's fun to see how different girls are from boys.  When Kathleen and Sophia were babies, I had nothing to compare them to (although Sophia's first word was 'shoe') and so the differences weren't so striking.  Joseph liked shoes, but only to chew on them.  Edwin liked dolls, but only the way that their plastic heads could be smooshed in.  Neither cared for (or care for) clothes at all.  Nudity is the way to go.

Anyone who says that gender differences are learned has obviously never had children.  Boys and girls have a lot in common.  Both like to be kissed and held, neither gender cares much for punishment, and everyone enjoys a good story.  But there are some pretty clear differences, too.  Which I'm perfectly happy about.  It's good to have one that commits a drive-by in his little red car and constructed gun and another that sews doll clothes for hours on end.  If all I heard about were airplanes or horses, I'd probably go crazy.  I like to have some children that are comforted with a good tickle and others that are comforted with a good cuddle.

It's good to have some of both in the world.  And at home, too.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Kitchen helpers

After waking up from my Sunday afternoon nap, I went downstairs to cook dinner.  Brandon had been up at 2 that morning for an airport run pick up the third colleague this summer, so I left him sleeping.  I walked quietly so that the children wouldn't hear me, looking forward to some time all alone on a quiet Sunday afternoon.  No children to hurry off to bed, no specific dinner time to air for, just me and the kitchen, cooking.

After ten or fifteen minutes, Edwin, who had seen me creeping downstairs, strolled into the kitchen.  Always eager to spend some alone time with Mom, he asked me what he could do to help.  He's getting to the age that loves helping, if it's their own idea.  His favorite job is cracking eggs - every Saturday morning he abandons cartoons to come see if I need help cracking eggs - and his second favorite is washing knives.  He loves feeling the possibility of harm sliding through his fingers, covered in soap and water, without harming him.

I set him to washing green beans.  Our vines have been reasonably prolific this summer (next year I'm going to adjust watering and fertilizer), and we had a bag in the refrigerator waiting to be cut up, blanched, and sauteed with onions, butter, and olive oil.  A few minutes later, Sophia drifted in.  I put her on green bean duty, too.  Kathleen walked in last.  "I don't want to be stuck doing dishes all alone like last week.  So I'm here to help."  A few minutes later all were seated at the table with a knife, a cutting board, and a pile of green beans in front of them.

Edwin was the only one who hadn't done green beans before, so the piles got taken care of pretty quickly.  Each child had their own way.  Edwin carefully chopped each bean into pieces before placing them in a pile on the left of his cutting board.  Kathleen grabbed four or five at a time, hacked away, and dumped them into the glass bowl sitting on the table.  Sophia cut the tops off all of her green beans, lined all of them up, and then chopped through all of them before dumping them in the bowl.

I worked on the chicken pot pie, rolling out the pie crusts.  I hate rolling out pie crusts.

After the green beans were done, they came to me for their next tasks.  Kathleen and Sophia made lemonade while Edwin set the table.  Then everyone unloaded the dishwasher, with a few pauses to watch me make chocolate whipped cream (looks like mud, they exclaimed delightedly) and mix up an angel food cake (what if we called this clouds?  We could say we were having clouds and mud for dessert).  Then we all started in on the dishes.

When the pot pie was bubbling, the beans browning, and the lemonade waiting on the table, I sent them upstairs to fetch their brother, their sister, and their father.  I kept cleaning up the kitchen.

I used to beg for the children to leave me alone while cooking, shooing them away to play with their toys, take a bath, or in really desperate situations, watch something on the computer.  All I ever wanted was to cook dinner all alone without fights, messes, or 'helpers' wanting to taste everything I made.

After the girls were old enough to enjoy each others' company, they finally did run off and took Edwin with them, leaving me with only Joseph to keep me company.  This lasted for six months or a year before I realized that I needed to teach the girls how to cook, and so I made them come back to me.

But this time, they're actually helpful.  I can give Sophia a recipe and she'll turn out cornbread muffins while I'm working on black bean soup.  Kathleen can make most of bulgur lentil pilaf entirely on her own.  Edwin can cut up cucumbers and tomatoes without much help.  And after dinner we can all get the dishes done in about twenty minutes - most nights without any fights or whining.

Sometimes I'm loathe to give up my private thinking, or sometimes listening, time, but I know that I won't regret it when all is said and done.  I'll have plenty of private time later, I remind myself, and now is the time I have to teach my children and listen to what they have to say.  Hopefully when they start having interesting things to say, they'll be used to talking to me and I can listen in to their inner thoughts.  Sometimes moms are the worst voyeurs out there.

But even now I enjoy the occasional flashes of insight and I really appreciate the help.  Brandon often isn't home for dinner, so it's nice to have some help cleaning up dinner and getting everyone ready for bed.

We have started singing time lessons with my cousin's wife, a former chorus teacher.  The children and I sang 'Fried Ham,' one of our new songs in Southern, British, Baby, Underwater, Three Year-Old and Swedish Chef versions while clearing the counters, putting away dishes, and sweeping floors together.  We all laughed at the end, enjoying the pleasure of working and singing together.  I've spent years imagining that moment where we could all work together, enjoying each other's company.  I've so badly wanted a family that, when they had a choice, wanted to spend time together just because they liked it.  We don't like each other all day every day, but we do like each other some days, even when we're doing dishes.

That's a good start, so I'll take it.  Especially if I get a clean kitchen at the end.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Little Bit of Excitement

Friday morning, Brandon and I exercised.  We make a habit of exercising, and because we have five children and a job, we exercise before the children wake up.  Near the end of our exercise, Brandon's phone rang.  Most people aren't up for talking at 6:15 in the morning, so this was unusual and therefore interesting.  It was probably a wrong number.  Who else would be calling so early; it's generally considered pretty rude to wake someone up just to chat at that time in the morning.  Maybe someone needed a ride.

Brandon finished talking and hung up the phone.  "Well, it looks like I'm not going in to work today.  There's been some people shot down by the airport.  We're supposed to shelter in place.  Children are supposed to stay home from school."  Edwin, who was up to exercise with Brandon, cheered.  Brandon continued, "Nobody's sure what's going on yet, but there are men dressed up as policemen who were part of the shooting.  It sounds like there was also some shooting in Vahdat and a couple of people were killed."

He picked up his phone to pass on the message, filling his role in the phone tree, a phone tree that had been set up and tested just the week before.

I went downstairs to take a quick look at non-Oakwood options for housing in DC.  With fall language training just starting, there wouldn't be a three, or probably two-bedroom apartment available for love, money, or a combination of the two.

Tajikistan, since civil war twenty years ago ended, has been a  pretty low-key and safe country.  We're a ninety minute drive from the Afghan border, but it could be a world away for all of the effect it has on my daily life.  Most people here do the same thing people do all over the world - feed themselves, spend time with friends and family, and entertain themselves (mostly with friends and family) without causing each other too much trouble.  There is corruption, but not much petty crime or personal danger.  I'm pretty sure if one of my children magically appeared, alone, in the middle of downtown Dushanbe, they'd end up at the U.S. Embassy within the hour.  I like it here.  It's safe.  It's quiet.  It's a reasonable place to live.

We spent most of Friday sitting around.  I had work to do and the children played after finishing their Friday chores.  Brandon took some time to write, something he rarely gets to do because of his perpetually busy schedule at work.  We got a few text messages from the embassy reminding us to stay home and stay safe.  Brandon got some emails with some more information, but not much.  It's hard to get information about situations when nobody really knows what's going on.  Crises are kind of like that.  They're developing, so the information comes only in pieces here and there.  One person has seen this, another has seen that, a third has heard that.  Often the pieces don't fit together very well and sometimes they contradict each other.  Nothing flies faster in a crisis than the wild rumors.  I remember hearing increasingly crazy stories in Cairo of whole malls being burnt down, malls that were pretty intact when I saw them three months later.  It turned down that 'burnt down' meant a small fire was started in one of the stores.  But everyone loves a juicy story, and even better than passing it along to your neighbor is passing it along to someone important, like a contact at the U.S. Embassy.

Brandon and I, of course, talked about the possibility of an evacuation.  It's the first thing that comes to mind when gunmen are running around the city and stealing trucks full of weapons to hide out in the mountains with.  You're pretty foolish to not think about those things.  I laughed as I remembered talking with a friend on Wednesday, two days previous, about the possibility of an evacuation from Dushanbe.  Don't worry, I assured her, you'll be okay.  State takes good care of people.  They won't leave us here in the middle of serious trouble.  Don't worry.

But mostly, we just stayed home.  I had planned a date for that evening, which I had to cancel.  We had planned to camp, which also got canceled.  Our hiking trip for Saturday - the first since April - also cancelled.  There's nothing like a surprise long weekend (Monday's off for Labor Day) where you can't do anything but just sit at home and debate the probability of an evacuation.  If this happens, it will be likely.  But if that happens, things will probably be okay.  What do you think?  Yes, what we think doesn't matter, but let's just think of what if.

Saturday morning brought no new news.  So I cooked.  Brandon had a colleague coming in to town Sunday morning and we had become the default work and social sponsors, so it was time for chicken pot pie again.  And while I was making one chicken pot pie, I might as well make two so that Sunday dinner was taken care of.  Some friends decided on an impromptu 'we're-really-sick-of-just-our-family-for-two-days' pizza party, so I just kept on cooking and made a couple of pizzas to take over.  Brandon delivered the pot pie and various groceries to a clean and empty house.  By eight or nine that evening when the pizza was eaten and soda drunk and children worked up to a fever pitch by a rowdy game of good guys and bad guys it was almost as if Friday was just a blip in the smooth path of normal life.  Almost.

The bad guys, identified as Deputy Defence Minister Abdukhalim Nazarzoda and accomplices, are still at large, somewhere in the mountains.  Brandon goes back to work on Tuesday, but we're not allowed out of the city without permission from the RSO.  Everything is not over.

But, for now life has returned to normal.  Almost.  We all will pretend that there was a little bit of excitement, somebody got mad or wanted to prove something or had plans or didn't like some people or something else we don't understand, and everything is under control.  But maybe it isn't.  Some things have happened recently that some people aren't happy about.  So maybe this is the beginning or something bigger.  Maybe it isn't.  There's no way to know, and those who know more than I do are wisely not talking.

So for now, we act like everything is normal.  There isn't much else to do.  We go to school.  We work.  We spend time with friends.  We don't hike.  And maybe, after a week or two of playing real life, the acting will turn out to be true and we can just live and stop acting.  But then, maybe it won't.  Nobody knows.  We'll just have to watch and see.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Life Resumed

We've now been back for a little over a week.  All of the suitcases have been unpacked (including the one that showed up four days late) and put away.  Everyone has slept through the night four our five times in a row.  We've had dinner that didn't come from the freezer or the food stand down the road.  I even exercised the last three days of the week.  Life is pretty much back to normal.

Every summer we spend three weeks visiting family, experiencing the delights of America, and visiting family some more.  The first week I can't believe that I ever wanted to leave Eden for places that don't make lines, obey traffic signals, or cure concrete properly.  I know that I'll have to go back eventually, but it's in such a long time I can't even think of it.  Who cares?  Pass me some more birthday cake Oreos!  And ice cream!

The second week I can start to see the beginning of the end.  How will I be able to bear leaving all of this fun and family and order?  I don't ever want to leave!  Maybe Brandon could get a job as... something... that would let us stay.  No really, do I have to leave?  Maybe I can get sick and stay for a little longer.

By the end of the third week, however, the fun has worn thin, the children are no longer amazed by riding water slides, and every iteration of fast food and pizza delivery has been tried.  Twice.  Even Target loses its glow.  And by the end of thirty-six hours of traveling, America is a distant and hazy dream and I will do anything - even live in a country that doesn't have Krispy Kreme - to just be finished with airports and airplanes and airplane food and disconsolate babies.

And then we're home again, having had all of the fun, food, and family for our entire year packed into three short, busy, crazy weeks.  Our clothes smell funny from being washed with someone else's detergent, the suitcases lay scattered across the house, half-eviscerated and trailing crumpled remnants across the floor, and nobody can find that crucial toy or blanket or piece of clothing that is hiding somewhere.  I go to bed wondering when I'll wake up staring at the ceiling, or even worse, when that child will wake me up right after I've finally fallen asleep after hundreds of sheep marched past me.  Mornings are good because the never-ending darkness is over and we can playact going about the normal parts of life - eat breakfast, have school, eat lunch, play, cook dinner, bed.  Mornings are bad because we all feel like we've been run over by a long line of trucks and everyone is looking for someone else to take it out on.

But eventually the suitcases lose their viscera and are packed away, flat and empty, for next time.  The clothes get washed in my own detergent and smell like they're supposed to.  The playacting turns into real life, and only a twinge of tiredness reminds me that maybe I'm still a little jet-lagged.  The children become friends again, and things lost are restored.

And then, normal life has resumed.

But there is a freshness, like the air after a particularly intense late-summer thunderstorm.  The mugginess of high summer, weeks of stale air, are washed away to let in the first fresh promises of fall.  Changes which seemed like so much work in the hot sluggishness of summer now seem within one's grasp.  Those things that had stewed all summer now practically jump into existence, ready to take root and change the world.  Possibility is everywhere.

I know that eventually the staleness will settle in again, the never-ending tasks that come with running a household and raising children.  But success in life mostly comes in grinding away at small, every day tasks that add up to a lifetime, not brilliant flashes of frenzied activities.  And so I know that the days will turn into weeks that turn into months that turn into years and decades and a lifetime made up of small daily moments.

But for now, all is fresh and rested, ready for the beginning of a new season, a new school year, and new things.  It is good to be back.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

She Walks!

Eleanor has been late to just about every physical milestone possible so far.  She didn't bother learning to sit up until six months.  She finally got around to army crawling at ten and a half months, and, six weeks later, realized that knees work better for crawling.  Three days before we left for R&R she decided that maybe this walking thing wasn't such a bad idea after all.  I spent a lot of time in a lot of airports awkwardly walking behind her as she toddled, grasping my fingers tightly, around chairs, suitcases, and fellow travelers.  By the very end we graduated to only one hand, but not until Istanbul, our very last airport.

Sunday, as we were saying our goodbyes after church, Eleanor took five or six steps by herself, looked around and realized that nobody was holding on to her, and sat down.  Her siblings, delighted with Eleanor's new skill, immediately hustled her off to the carpet, and passed her around, cheering wildly each time she walked from one sibling to the next.  By bedtime, she had figured out taking off from chairs, walls, and knees, standing up from a crouching position, and turning corners.

I'm looking forward to not having to scrub her down after the children play outside, keeping the knees of her pants intact, and not having to haul twenty-two pounds of baby with me wherever I go.  I love walking babies.