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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Me in London

One of my favorite parts about being pregnant overseas in sketchy places is going to London for an OB appointment or two.  Being pregnant isn't that great - slowly watching your waistline expand as you get increasingly exhausted and crabby isn't anyone's idea of fun - so at least I got a trip to London out of the deal.  Obviously, in the end, I'll get a baby too.  Which is probably better than all the trips to London combined.

This trip to London was my third, after a short trip while in Baku and a much longer trip with Joseph this past May.  I've stayed in the same neighborhood (and in the same hotel twice) all three times so this time it almost felt like coming home.

When I got off the plane and looked around at all the signs in English and heard it being spoken all around me, it was so nice to be back in a culture where I belonged.  No more sticking out like a sore thumb - just blessed anonymity and the ability to communicate with anyone I saw.  You don't realize what a relief that is until you spend years in a place not like that.

So I rolled my little carry-on bag through the airport, chatted with the border agent at passport control, and confidently made my way down to the Heathrow Express without any hesitation.  It's like magic, the ability to just go and do something without consulting maps, checking routes, and then crossing your fingers for good luck.

When I got off at Paddington Station, I decided to take the Underground instead of hailing a taxi to get to the hotel.  It was early afternoon, I had nobody but me, and it was cheaper.  So out came my Oyster card and a few flights of stairs later, I was riding public transportation like I'd never left.  I cannot tell you the marvel that public transportation is.  If you want to go somewhere, you can get there without depending on anything but the system and your card being topped up.  The whole city is available.  So amazing.

With a little bit of walking (I hadn't thought to check a map when I had internet access) I found my hotel, checked in, kicked off my boots, and read a book.  Pathetic, I know - there are hundreds of things to do in London and instead I read a book - but oh the beauty of reading a book uninterrupted without any responsibilities nagging me can't be denied.

Eventually, after talking to Brandon (which only made me feel guilty) I got some dinner.  The restaurant possibilities in London are endless and it took a while to decide.  Hmmm, do I feel like Indian? or Peruvian? How about sushi?  French? Fish and Chips? Italian? British?  I'm not sure if I could handle choices like these on a daily basis.  Eventually I decided that Greek sounded good.  And it was good.  I used to feel bad for people eating alone, thinking that they had a rather sad life if they couldn't find anyone to eat with.  But sometimes, it's just nice to be all alone.  Not for too long, but just for a little while.

The next morning I had the reason for the entire trip, my appointment.  Everything with the baby is going perfectly well, which is always a tremendous relief.  Even more so when problems mean leaving for the US on short notice and an even longer separation from your husband.

And then the rest of the day was mine.  I started with a little shopping.  I had a few things to buy while in London and so I got business out of the way first.  Usually I don't like shopping.  Give me Amazon any day - make a decision, put it in your cart, and you're done - but while in London I rediscovered the pleasure of shopping.  It turns out that shopping is fun when you 1. don't have children with you, 2. aren't on a schedule, 3. can walk everywhere, and 4. are in a country where there's something worth buying.

Walking around in stores with all sorts of pretty things with prices listed and nobody following you is probably something I could get entirely too used to.  Our bank account is very happy we live in Dushanbe, not London.  My favorite stores were the grocery stores.  So many good things - proscuttio! macaroons! avacados! cheeses! olives! pears! cookies!  My scale is very happy we live in Dushanbe, too.

After a nap (because, naps), I took in a little culture at the National Gallery before treating myself to dinner at the highest-rated French restaurant in London.  After all, that per diem isn't going to spend itself.  After a little bit of debate (can I really eat eight courses?) I went for the tasting menu.  Scallops, lobster, foie gras, lamb, and sea bass all found a warm home in my stomach while I enjoyed reading a book.  And after three dessert courses, I practically had to roll out of the restaurant before making my way back to the hotel and collapsing after a long, taxing day.

The next morning, it was time for Cinderella to get home to her home, family, responsibilities, and sick children eagerly waiting for her to return.  Which is okay, because it's not nearly as nice to leave if you don't have anybody to go back to.

Until next time (whenever that will be), London!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


This past weekend was the twenty-fifth anniversary of Tajikistan's independence.  The locals around here celebrated with a couple of parades (one rumored to have 60,000 marchers) and a national holiday.  We, not being Tajik, celebrated by getting out of town.

We had planned to go camping and then friends invited us to go with them to Iskanderkul, a glacial lake about three hours drive outside Dushanbe.  Eleanor got sick during the week and seriously endangered our outing, but when her fever broke and other things were deemed controllable with drugs, we were able to go.

The drive was, especially for Tajikistan, really quite reasonable.  Even the Tunnel of Death was more like the Long Tunnel Without Lights but Not Much Else of Concern.  One bridge was dicey - but about seventy-five percent of non-highway bridges are dicey - and we didn't even have to put the car in four wheel drive or cross any streams, creeks, or rivers on the way up.  It was almost like driving in America.

There are a few campgrounds at Iskanderkul that have the dubious privilege of 'facilities,' but we passed them up to find our own spot.  At first things looked a little less than promising, but with a little perseverance we found one of the prettiest spots in the whole country.

Iskanderkul is, as I mentioned earlier, a glacial lake.  But as the weather was warm-ish (in the low seventies), the children decided that wading was a great idea.

The adults sat on the beach and watched them get wet, dirty, and cold.  There's a reason we're the ones in charge of the world.

Joseph and I went for a walk and found part of the river that feeds Iskanderkul.

Then we went on another walk and found some rocks to climb.

After dinner we played games, made s'mores, and then sent the children to bed.  The adults then broke out the hot chocolate and stayed up much too late talking.  But, it's not camping if you don't stay up too late.

And it's also not camping if you don't get woken up much too early in the morning by children who don't care that you stayed up too late and didn't sleep too well on the ground.

After some breakfast up and more wading and mud digging we packed up and headed back for Dushanbe.

But before leaving, we went on a short hike to a waterfall near the lake.  The entire lake outflow squeezes down to a narrow gorge and then drops over a pretty big cliff.  The only way to view it is on a platform that hangs out over the waterfall.  This sounds maybe okay, but when you're on it, feeling the give of the little metal poles that stand between you and rocky, watery death, it's not.  Heights don't bother me, but this did.

Image result for iskanderkul waterfall

Nonetheless, I made Sophia pose for pictures.  She's lighter, right?

After our dangerous activity for the day (excepting driving home), we finally made the trek back to Dushanbe and showers and toilets and our own soft, comfy beds.

The children are already asking when we can go back and I'm wondering how long the weather will hold before the fall rains come.  Even Brandon conceded that it "wasn't that bad - about seventy-five percent reasonable."  So hopefully we'll get an opportunity to go again.  

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Adventure Saturday

We haven't been adventuring in awhile, not since our crazy fourteen-mile hike back in the beginning of June.  Just in case I haven't mentioned it, summer in Tajikistan is hot.  The whole month of July has temperatures in the upper nineties and low hundreds and August and June aren't much better.  So this means that adventuring doesn't happen much in the summer, unless you count going to the pool every summer as adventuring.  Maybe if we were trying out some local spots it might count, but definitely not at the embassy pool.

But the weather is starting to cool down (yes, the lower nineties is cooler than upper nineties) and so, at the request of a couple of our church group members, we went up into the mountains for some hiking.  

To get away from some of the heat we went back up to Siama, about an hour drive away and several thousand feet higher than Dushanbe.  The weather when we got there was in the low seventies and breezy - perfect weather for hiking.

Our friends had hiked without out us last week, hauling themselves over ten miles and up 3,000 feet.  We promised nothing like, with a four year-old and a four-month pregnant lady seriously cutting down on the hiking speed.  

So after about an hour of hiking (with some pretty scary scree-covered scrambles that dropped seventy-five feet down into the river), we called it good and got down to the real reason most of the party came: snacks.

The children enjoyed the fruits of our consumables shipment - Sun Chips! - and everyone else relaxed and talked and watched Joseph play bulldozer with his head in the sand.  I think boys have a biological imperative to get dirty.

Then it was back down to the car again.  

With several stream crossings on the way.

And photo opps.

Edwin wanted to assure me that he also makes weird faces for the camera when when I'm not paying good money to a professional.

Good to know he's no respecter of photographers.

By the end of the (admittedly short) hike, the wimpier ones among us (me) were happy to enjoy the comfort of an air-conditioned car and flip-flops.  Most of the children fell asleep on the way home, happy after a Saturday of adventuring.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Crazy Train Gets a Little Bigger

About a month ago I came back from a doctor's appointment.  Brandon and I gathered the children together and I pulled out a strip of pictures.  "I was at the doctor's office and I got this when I was there.  I think you might like what the picture shows."  Kathleen, Edwin, and Sophia crowded around.  Kathleen, being nine, was the first to rationalize the fuzzy black and white pictures.  "You're having a baby!" she exclaimed triumphantly.  Then everyone started cheering.  Eleanor, not knowing what 'having a baby' means, joined in the cheers.

After everyone calmed down I looked at Kathleen.  "You must have known," I told her, "it was probably pretty obvious, wasn't it?"  She smiled back a little sheepishly.  "I hoped that we would get another sibling, and I did think you were looking a little... plumper."  Sophia chimed in, "Yeah, definitely a little thickish."

You can't put anything past my observant kids.

So it turns out that, as I had hoped, my faulty thyroid was the only thing keeping our family plans from moving forward.  As fun as infertility treatment is in the US, I'm not even sure it exists in Tajikistan and am very grateful to have such a simple solution to my (temporary) infertility.

Every time we add another child to our family I think to myself, "You know one (or two or three or four or five) children is really a reasonable number of children.  But two (or three or four or five or six) is really a little crazy.  But this time I think that I'm really right about six.  I grew up in a family of five children.  We were normal, non-crazy, manageable, socially acceptable, and (most importantly to my mother) we fit in a minivan.  According to my childhood thinking five was just fine but six, six was the province of crazy people who were just a little outside the pale of normality.  After all, six children required a van.  And everyone knows that vans are industrial scale vehicles for crazy large families.  But now minivans (and our Pilot) seat six children, so I guess it's okay.

I've enjoyed the variety of reactions to our coming sixth child.  The children are, of course, delighted.  Some friends, knowing our plans, are happy to hear that things have gone the way we've wanted.  Others have wondered if this baby is a surprise.  And then there are those who are just puzzled.  Five is already a lot of children, and six just starts to seem like... baby hoarding.  Or crazy.  But most hoarders are crazy, so probably both.

To everyone I smile and tell them how excited I am.  Which, although it may be hard to believe, I really am.  The first four children were the ones that really did me in (having four children in a little over five years will do that to you) and now I feel like I can finally enjoy the babies.  After her rough start, Eleanor has been about seventy-five percent fun and twenty-five percent work.  The other four were the reverse of that - mostly work and not much fun.  But now I have children that fold and put away laundry, cook breakfast, clean up the kitchen for all three meals, clean up the toys, change the beds, and even (wonderfully) wipe bottoms.  I never felt that I could go upstairs and rock a baby before putting them to sleep because Lord of the Flies would break out thirty seconds after I left the kitchen.  But Eleanor actually got that privilege - chaos took at least twenty minutes to erupt - and I actually enjoyed it instead of tossing her into bed as fast as possible so I could insert the cadmium rods and start in on the dishes.  Now things are so good that the children mostly do the dishes.  It's like magic.

If you can make it through the first four, I highly recommend not stopping, because that's when the fun really starts happening.  Baby number six will have five adoring older siblings to hold him (oh yes, it's a boy - the marvel of modern genetic testing) and fetch him bottles and read him stories and squabble about whose turn it is to play with him.  And the older children get their own real live baby doll.  I'm not sure who is more excited - me or them.

I know that the dark postpartum days will come when that *&#@! baby won't. ever. sleep, and I'll feel stretched out like an empty ballon and everything will ache and leak at the same time.  I've had five and can remember the crazy that comes.  But I also know that the crazy will end, even if it feels endless.  And even in the middle of the crazy I'll have everyone else to remind me how sweet and tiny and cute this little baby is and how lucky we are to be able to have a family with so many people to love.  And so the crazy will be a little less crazy.

So yes, we are having a sixth child.  It was completely on purpose.  And we're all excited!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Happy Birthday, Kathleen!

This year Kathleen turned ten years old.  In some ways this is pretty crazy - a whole decade!  Double digits!  The beginning of the end (or rather, the Troublesome Decade).  But also, I've been thinking of her as ten for several months now, so it isn't that shocking.  Only two more years until babysitting age (or maybe less, if you live in a country without CPS).  But I think we're all pretty happy with Kathleen turning ten - most of all Kathleen.

To celebrate we went out on the town.  Brandon's parents live in southwest Missouri, fifteen miles from the nearest stoplight (it's awesome, I know.  I'm jealous every time we visit), so the nearest town is Joplin, Missouri.  We started off the morning at Best Buy, looking for a UPS that works with 60 Hz power, but didn't find one.  But it was okay, because, America!  The kids had a great time looking at the big TVs and nifty electronic toys and all of those consumer electronic things.

Then we went to the mall.  On our way there, Edwin asked where were were going.  "The mall," I told him.  Puzzled, he looked at me, "What's a mall?"  Ah, the life of a child living in Tajikistan.

The children had a great time wandering around, looking at all the things money can buy.  They played at the play area and watched the guy at the drone store fly his amazing drone.  We got Kathleen's battery replaced on her watch and Joseph stared longingly at the candy machines.  It was very much fun for everyone.

We made a quick stop at Wal-Mart so that Kathleen could pick out her birthday cake.  Since I was too lazy busy to bake one, she got to pick any cake she wanted.  I'm a great mom like that.  And then, to top it off, everyone got to choose a box of candy from the candy aisle to sneak in to the movie.  There's nothing like a superabundance of sugar to make birthdays great.

After that was The Secret Life of Pets.  The last movie we saw in a theatre was Frozen (and the one before that Tangled), so we figured we could splash out.  Ninety-five dollars later everyone was in popcorn-soda-movie theatre heaven.  I managed to choke down the shock enough to enjoy the movie, which the children, of course, thought was hilarious.

Since every birthday should include a visit to a medical practitioner, we went and got our yearly eye examination.  This year Edwin was added to the roster and I was impressed as the office marched five of us through exams in an hour and a half.  Kathleen braved the Dreaded Eye Puff and got to pick out new glasses as a reward.  Edwin and Sophia escaped without glasses this year, but were warned that it was only a temporary escape.

Then we finished with a pizza party at Grammy and Grandpa's house, followed by the best part of the day - presents.  Kathleen, being a grateful girl, was thrilled with her presents.  There's always something magical about getting toys just because you're another year older.  Sophia had very carefully chosen a horse with blanket and halter while we were in Frankfurt, which went very well in the horse trailer Brandon and I purchased for her.  Brandon's parents gave her a doll and her two oldest cousins (who were helping out their grandparents for the summer) very kindly gave her some clothes for the doll.  And to finish it up, my parents gave her the Harry Potter books.  I keep wondering when Kathleen will longer like toys, but I guess this year isn't the year.

The day was, according to Kathleen, "the best birthday ever!" - which is the same thing she says every year.  I'm grateful to have such a sweet, loving girl who really wants to do the right thing and take care of those around her.  Happy Birthday, Kathleen!