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

Thursday, March 31, 2016


After visiting Samarkand, we visited Bukhara.  Instead of being nestled up against the mountains, Bukhara is on a flat, flat plain west of Samarkand.  Our initial reaction to Bukhara, after visiting green and (relatively) well-kept Samarkand, was disappointing.  

And it degraded to downright worried when we, as the last in a seven-car caravan, stopped in the middle of a narrow alley surrounded by crumbling brick buildings.  I had flashbacks to driving in Baku as we wound our way through very narrow streets to find a parking space (what are these parking lot things that everyone talks of in America?) so that we could check in to our hotel.  

When we made it to our hotel, and the building sharing a wall with it was actually a pile of rubble, we were even more dubious.  But, much to the CLOs' relief, the hotel turned out to be a very picturesque hotel arranged in a series of courtyards and decorated in traditional style.  Sure, we couldn't flush our toilet paper, but that's the cost of charm.

Bukhara has a much more defined (and walkable) old city than Samarkand, so we had a nice time walking and seeing the old city.  The children, who had spent five hours in the car, had had enough of tours by the end of our walking tour and decided that really, the best thing to do inside a historic old mosque was play 'airplane.'  As I mentioned earlier, historical sites are wasted on the young.

The next day we saw a few sites, including the last emir of Bukhara's summer palace, a fortress, and a mausoleum, and after lunch called sightseeing a day and got down to the real purpose of the trip: shopping.

Eleanor was sick with a fever, so Brandon bravely volunteered to stay at the hotel with the boys while Kathleen, Sophia, and I did some souvenir shopping.  We picked up a few gifts and mementoes and finished with a nice Persian miniature and declared ourselves shopped out, bravely resisting the very tempting impulse to go rug shopping.  We only have three, and you can always use more rugs, right?  I'm still a little sad about my resistance.

And then the next morning our fun was over, with everyone in the cars by seven to make the twelve-hour trip back to Dushanbe.  I think that I'm just getting inured to travel because twelve hours in a car seems like a cakewalk compared to thirty hours in a plane and airports.  

When we asked the children how they liked the trip, the responses ranged from "I hated it!" from Edwin to, "Well... the bus was fun," from Kathleen.  Brandon was equally balanced between the stress of wrassling the children for five days and seeing important silk road cities he's wanted to see for over half his life.  I, who am always happy for a change of scene and pace and not cooking, enjoyed everything immensely.  Eleanor had no comment.  One out of seven isn't bad, right?

Friday, March 25, 2016

Take Your Kids to Samarkand!

When Brandon was in language training, he and his Tajik teacher would often have conversations about linguistic misunderstandings.  Karim told Brandon about one advertisement he heard when he was new to the U.S.  'Take your kids to Samarkand!' it told the parents listening and then listed all of the fun things the kids would get to do.  Karim couldn't figure out why anyone in America would haul their children halfway across the world to take their children to a silk road city in Uzbekistan.  Sure, Samarkand was pretty cool, but it's not that well known in America.  Only later, when his English had improved, did he realize that the advertiser had said "summer camp" and not "Samarkand."

The CLO here organizes a trip to Samarkand and Bukhara every year.  Last year the children were too young (and nobody else with children went), but this year, Brandon decided, would be the year to take our kids to Samarkand.

When he announced that we were going, I was skeptical.  "You do know," I pointed out, "that we have a ten-hour drive there, a four-hour drive to Bukhara, and a twelve-hour drive back?"

"I know," he replied.  "It'll be fine.  We've done longer drives."  I then wrote down his statement that the trip was his idea and that if anything went wrong he couldn't blame me.

The drive our first day turned from ten hours to eleven and a half (for a 290-mile drive.  That's an average speed of thirty miles an hour), but the children actually survived - and we did too.  After a money exchange deal in a hotel room and dinner everyone got to bed.

The next morning, bright and early, we set out to see Samarkand.  We spent the day driving around in our tour bus with Dennis, our Russian guide, seeing the amazing sights of Samarkand.

And they really were amazing.  When Brandon got excited about going to Samarkand I couldn't see what it was about.  Old city in Uzbekistan.  Sure, there was that silk road thing, but I've seen Istanbul.   And Cairo. I think I've got Islamic sight-seeing down. 

Turns out that I was wrong.  By the end of the day I could understand why Brandon had wanted to go to Samarkand for over half his life (not kidding.  He remembers seeing a picture of one of the sights in a book when he was eleven or twelve and wanting to go see it for himself).  

The children, on the other hand, weren't too impressed.  Sight-seeing is wasted on anyone under the age of ten.  And since that's all our children, it was wasted on all of them.  Their favorite part was partying in the back of the bus with their friends.  At least it kept them happy.

By the end of the day everyone was exhausted and there might have been a few cranky babies (three under two), but we all saw some pretty amazing stuff.  And now for the rest of their lives the children can say that their parents took them to Samarkand.  

Friday, March 18, 2016

Mother of Seven

For the past week I have been a (temporary) mother of seven.  In addition to my own five children, I've been watching the two boys (ages six and three) of a friend here at post.  Something came up and she had to be in London, so I offered to watch her boys so her husband could come along.  London is always better with a friend.

I'm not a martyr, however.  We had already talked about a child swap before and I'm pretty sure that she's getting the worse end of the bargain.  Because two children and five children, no matter the ages of the five children, is not the same number of children.

I've watched more children before - when we were in Virginia I watched my sister's four children and so had nine children ages eight and under for four days all by myself - so I wasn't that worried about two extra boys.

And for most of the time, I was right.  The six year old went to school (another reason to pity my friend - one extra child during the day is not five extra children during the day) and the three year old played very well with Joseph and Edwin.  He may have wandered around the house naked from the waist down from time to time, but that's a pretty regular occurrence here anyway.

I still got my nap and school still got done.  We had the situation so well under control that on Monday we held Family Home Evening.  As I cuddled in between the two boys for our lesson (also known as Stories From the Friend), the younger gave me a big hug and exclaimed, "I LOVE you, Sister Sherwood!!!"  I felt the warm glow of a mother hen taking in a few extras.  See, easy.  No problem.  Let's all sing Kumbaya together.

We took the children on a picnic for International Women's Day and everyone enjoyed themselves.  Yes, there may have been some rumpled feathers when people had to stay in the stroller, but everyone recovered enough to enjoy their picnic.  We were just fine.

Then Eleanor got feverish and Brandon had to make and emergency trip to the embassy.  Followed by daily visits to the med unit.  So our mornings went like this: get everyone fed, get everyone dressed, put child number one on the bus, put everyone else in the car, go in to the med unit, get Eleanor's finger inspected, get everyone back home, start school.

Thursday night I hosted Ladies' night, which meant that I made three dozen doughnuts, cleaned up the house, made dinner, fed dinner, and packed everyone off to bed, all before seven o'clock.  Then on Friday, in addition to getting Eleanor's finger inspected we also took everyone's pictures for Uzbekistan visas.  Before heading into the embassy, I gave everyone a buddy then gave them an order in line.  So as we marched into the embassy I trailed three pairs of children, all holding hands, marching in formation.  It wasn't quite twelve little girls in two straight lines, but we were halfway there.

Saturday was rain, so we didn't go anywhere and Brandon and I took turns napping while the children played happily upstairs, destroying the toy room.  But toy rooms are the sacrificial room so that the rest of the house stays intact.  By that night the boys were back home with their parents and I was once again the mother of only five.

I've realized that, no matter how well behaved children are (and these boys were well behaved, often better behaved than our own boys), two extra children is two extra children.  It is two more sets of pajamas to be put on, two more sets of teeth to be brushed, two more plates to dish, to more pairs of shoes to be put on, two more mouths to ask questions with, and two more pairs of hands to make messes with.  It's just a little more chaos in an already chaotic house.

It's almost enough to let my friend off her side of the bargain.  Because I know that five more is so much very worse than two more.  I can't actually imagine the chaos that will create.  It will be a perpetually unfolding nightmare complete with sound effects, smell effects, and mess effects.  I don't think that's nice to do to someone I like, much less a close and dear friend.

But it's just not quite enough.  Because the Greek Islands - all alone with no bums to wipe, meals to cook, or messes to clean up - are looking really, really nice right now.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Living in Cities

I used to think that cities were awesome.  I grew up in the suburbs of Raleigh, North Carolina, and I would dream of one day living somewhere awesomely urban like Manhattan.  I'd have piles of money, a rooftop terrace, and live where everything was happening all the time.  I even switched housing assignments in my college study abroad so I could live in Vienna's urban third district instead of the suburban thirteenth.

Then I lived in Cairo with children.  Now my dreams are of eighty acres with a house plopped exactly in the middle.  I don't see anyone, nobody can see me, and I can spot visitors coming a quarter mile off.  The nearest stoplight would be at least twenty miles away.

That eighty acres, however, is only a dream and a retirement account for now, and cities are my reality for the next twenty years.

I can smell my northern neighbor's Chinese food cooking every lunch time, and my southern neighbor can watch the children play noisily in the courtyard.  I can watch my back neighbors' wedding parties and they can watch me run every morning.  And every single person who feels like it can ring my doorbell every time they walk by.  The sound of cars (and trucks and motorbikes and scooters) comes through the front windows and I can hear children playing through the back ones.  I hear when the milk man comes by and I can tell when the neighbor has his Harley-driving friend over.  It's all very cozy.

The one thing I will miss, however, about living in cities is the convenience.

A few days ago I made black beans and rice for dinner.  Every Monday I plan out the week's meals, make a shopping list, and give the shopping list to my housekeeper.  And every week I forget at least one ingredient.  This week it was sour cream.  Last week it was carrots.  And the week before it was onions.  One day I'll just make up a basic shopping list, print off twenty or so and just check off what I need.  Until then I'll just keep forgetting ingredients.

In America, this would mean that I would have to get in my car, drive to the store, park the car, walk in the store, walk through the store, wait in line to buy my one carton of sour cream, walk back out to the car, drive home, park the car, and go back to cooking dinner.  I know this drill very well.  Once, while living in Virginia, I went to Target three times in one day.  It was very irritating.

In Dushanbe I just had to walk out the door, walk seven minutes to the store, get the sour cream from the refrigerator case twenty feet from the door, hand over my money, and walk back home.  No cars (which is good because Brandon takes the car to work), no parking lots, no lines of angry 5:30 Target shoppers.  Just a brisk walk on a nice spring afternoon.  Maybe even soothing.

One day I won't smell anyone else's cooking or hear their friend with the Harley or listen to conversations through my bathroom wall.  I'll only smell my own cooking, hear my own family, and listen to the birds.  It will be very peaceful.

But I'd better make really really sure to have my shopping list in order when I finally drive those twenty miles to the closest stop light.  Because my days of walking to the store will be over.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Eleanor and Her Fingernails

Thursday morning started out very well.  Chores were finished quickly, school went smoothly, and we were almost finished half an hour early.  As I read through the last few grammar exercises with Kathleen (please label the subject pronouns and object pronouns in the sentences), I considered what to do with my extra time.  Maybe I could start lunch early and get an extra-long nap.  Or I could work on some organizational things for school.  And of course there's always Facebook.

Then the screaming started.  

I've acquired a fine tuned sense of screams throughout my nine and a half years of parenting.  There are the irritated screams when one child has taken another's toy.  And then the frustrated screams; this toy just won't come apart they way it's supposed to.  Screams of fear when the daredevil car ride is just a little too fast.  Pain screams when a finger gets pinched or a face accidentally kicked.  

But this screaming was none of the above.  It was the scream of pain that meant blood, and lots of it.  

I bolted across the floor to Eleanor, who was sitting next to the running treadmill screaming and screaming and screaming while blood dripped from her fingers to the floor.

I scooped her up, rushed her to the bathroom, washed the fingers, and inspected them.  The tips and fingernails of her pinky finger, ringer finger, and thumb were bleeding and torn.  They appeared to be unbroken, or at least without any visible bones sticking out, so I bandaged them up, gave her a double dose of ibuprofen, and called Brandon.  He told me to call the doctor, so I did.  If she's still unconsolable in the afternoon, give them a call.  Otherwise, buddy tape the two fingers and keep everything clean.

After Eleanor's nap I consulted with Brandon, sending pictures, and he agreed that she would probably be okay.  Eleanor had calmed down by then so we decided to wait until the morning and see if any swelling had set in.

She wasn't any worse in the morning, so we said thanks for keeping us out of London and the surgeon's office and I went on with my day.

By Sunday the fingers had scabbed over enough that we stopped taping them (have you ever tried to tape a baby's fingers?  They're very, very little) and declared the crisis over.  The fingernails had fallen off Eleanor's ring finger and thumb, but we had hope that they would grow back.  

Tuesday was International Women's day.  We took the children to the botanical gardens and everyone had a nice picnic.  I noticed that Eleanor's finger looked pretty swollen and could tell that her temperature was rising.  We put her down for a nap and when she woke up a few hours later, her temperature had spiked to 103.  So Brandon called the long-suffering local doctor (yes, these things always happen on a holiday, on the weekend, or at night) who met him at the embassy.  She attempted to lance the finger, but nothing other than blood came out, so after some poking and spraying with antibiotic, she sent Eleanor home with oral antibiotics and an appointment for the next morning.

I took Eleanor in for the next three days, and by Friday she was declared to be on the road to health and free of her dressing.  As the doctor looked over Eleanor's poor thumb, she shook her head and sighed.  "I'm pretty sure that thumbnail isn't going to grow back.  The nail bed looks too damaged."

And so, at the tender age of twenty-two months, Eleanor has lost her thumbnail forever.  When she gets her nails done for her wedding one day, she'll have to tell the tale, one that she will have told countless times, of how she stuck her hand in a treadmill as a baby and the nail was ripped off.  And then her irresponsible parents let the thumb get infected and she was disfigured for life before she even turned two years old.  Both she and the manicurist will shake their heads at such derelict parents - who would do that to a baby? 

So for the count, we now have four out of the five children scarred for life; two chins, one eyebrow, and now a fingernail.  But no broken bones.  So I guess we're not doing too badly.

Friday, March 11, 2016

And now for the rest of the (much less well decorated) house

It's a little late to be posting pictures of the house, but I kept waiting for a perfectly clean house and good light to take pictures in.  But now that we've been here for over a year, I've realized that those conditions will never happen.  So we'll just call the house in deshabille.  It's French, so it's cool.

This is our enormous, awkward, and unfortunate powder room.  Not only is it always messy, but the tiles could possibly cause seizures.  But the good news is that we do have a full-sized washer and dryer.  And lots of detergent.  But definitely no ambience.

Our cloak room and storage room.  I can't complain.  I have a cloak room.  And it's nice to have our consumables on the same floor as the kitchen.

The Mysterious Concrete Space.  This runs the length of the entire house and is below ground level.  There is a door at street level that leads into the space and opens up twelve feet above the floor.  We don't have the key.

The second floor landing.  It works very well for impromptu dance parties, family prayer time, and somewhere to drop all of the random junk that you've been told to clean out of your room.  And it comes with a chandelier!

The master bedroom.

Complete with sparkly floral wallpaper.

Master bath.  Every time I get in the shower I want to tell Scotty to beam me up.  One day I want a bathroom with double sinks.  That day is not today.

The guest bedroom, with a view into the stairwell and matching bathroom to ours.  It is the only other bathroom on the second floor.  Rather inconvenient.  So who wants to come visit?

Another bedroom with a view onto the landing.  We use it for more storage, and a back-up bedroom for Eleanor if we need to use Eleanor's room for guests.

The boys' bedroom.  

The girls' bedroom.

The study.  It has wonderful light and has beautiful sunset views (when I have time to watch the sunset).  It's the coziest (and therefore messiest) room in the house.  

Eleanor's bedroom.  It used to have a carpet until I stole it for decorating the first floor.  But she hasn't missed it.

The stairs to the third floor (and down to the first floor).

The toy room part of the third floor.

The school room part of the third floor.

The TV room part of the third floor.

The box house part of the third floor (that's what nine UAB boxes look like).

And the exercise room part of the third floor.  Can I say that the third floor is large?  It's perfect for homeschooling because everyone has room to do the things that they need to without being on top of each other and I can keep an eye on everyone and break up fights.  It's a great space for us.

And the kitchen, also very large.  When we moved in, the furniture guy commented that the standard four-person table wasn't going to work very well for us.  So they just gave us two and pushed them together.  With the dining room table, two kitchen tables, two school tables, our own folding table, and outside patio furniture, we can seat a. lot. of. people.  It's nice after having five (five!) chairs in our entire apartment in Oakwood.

So, that's our house.  I don't like the finishing details or general construction quality, but the space works really well for us (it's almost 6,000 sq feet, so there's not much to complain about) and we're happy to be here for over two more years.  I don't have plans for a European shoebox any time soon.

Monday, March 7, 2016

What Was in All Those Boxes

I've finally unpacked all of those boxes that landed me in trouble with Brandon (which, by the way is still in force), bought required plants, and hung pictures.  Which means that it's time for the big reveal!  I had to take pictures for the decorator, so I can offer before and after.

I wondered, after getting the finished plans from the decorator, if really all of this money and stuff would really be worth it.  And I can say that definitely, yes, I am really happy with the change that has been made.  Brandon is happy that I am happy, so that means that everyone is happy.

Every time I walk down the stairs or in the door, I feel happy about my space.  I like to sit on the couch, admire my home, and feel the warm cozy glow of being in a lovely, cheerful room.

I tell myself that happiness isn't based on stuff and of course it isn't, but I do like having a space in my house that is so pleasant to be in.  If everything burns up in a house fire or drops to the bottoms of the sea, I'll be a little sad.  But for now I enjoy it.

I've always been hesitant about having all of the knick-knacks that decorators use to make give a room the 'cluttered' look, as Sophia calls it, because of the children.  A bowl full of ceramic balls says "SMASH ME!!!" to any child under the age of twelve.

But I've been shocked at how well the children have left things alone.  Eleanor will occasionally take off with her favorite bronze horse knick-knack exclaiming "Doggie!! Ruff! Ruff!", but all five of the ceramic balls have actually remained intact.  I underestimated the children's self control.  And I also realize that I haven't been laying down enough laws around here.

And the best part about all of this?  We get to keep it for over two more years.  That's long enough that leaving feels like a far-off myth.  I don't know what I'll do with myself when we retire and actually stick around for a decade or two.

And here's a picture of Joseph.  Because Joseph loves having his picture taken.  And who can resist that smile?