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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Baby Update

This past week I finally crossed into the final home stretch of my sixth pregnancy.  It's always such a relief to make it to the viable-if-there's-a-problem stage and then supremely depressing to realize that there are still three more months before I can sleep on my stomach, wear normal clothes (well, more than three months for that one), or climb a flight of stairs without almost passing out.  Three months is such a very long time.

But, my feelings on the length of pregnancies aside, things continue to go very well for both me and baby William.  He is a very active baby, holding dance parties almost constantly and kicking his father in the back while his father is trying to sleep.  I am tired and grouchy, but that's pretty standard for most six month pregnant ladies.  I finally had to pull out the maternity clothes, but that was going to happen at some point.

The children and I will leave for North Carolina the day after Christmas to stay with my parents for three months.  They are all excited about the prospect of spending time at the house with the pond and legos.  Eleanor likes telling me just about every day how we are going to fly on an airplane and go visit grandma and grandpa's house.  Edwin is looking forward to visiting his favorite museum where the dinosaur bones are kept.  I am looking forward to driving my parents' Odyssey for three months (thanks, Mom and Dad!)

So things are going just fine.  In a good pregnancy, it's mostly just nine months of waiting around for the baby to show up, and that's what this pregnancy has been.  Which is a blessing that I'm not going to complain about.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Come Party at the Sherwood's

Way (way) back when I was in college I moved into a new apartment complex and ward mid-year.  I knew none of my roommates and only one girl in the ward, having spent the previous semester studying abroad in Vienna.  The ward had no activities on Sunday evenings, so I decided to start something of my own.  Every Sunday evening I baked a bunch of cakes and invited everyone over to eat them.  Because there's no better way to make friends than offering them food and a place to meet new people.

Unsurprisingly, it became very popular.  At times it was stressful - hosting is always stressful - but I enjoyed creating a place for friends and soon-to-be-friends to mingle and enjoy themselves.  Brandon even came one Sunday evening, but I didn't remember it at all when he mentioned it during our second (and more memorable) meeting.

After we got married my hosting days came to an end.  Having lots of children close together tends to take up most of your time and energy, leaving very little for throwing parties that take up even more time and energy.  And joining the Foreign Service didn't help, either.  It's hard to invite all your friends over when you just don't have that many.  And when you spend all your time chasing around those bunches of small children it's hard to make friends.

But when we moved to Dushanbe, I finally felt like I could begin hosting again.  The children were old enough to not need me every second of the day, the community was small enough that it was pretty easy to get to know everyone, and we had a house that worked well for hosting.

So I started out with the same formula that worked so well in college: doughnuts.  A good friend in Baku had hosted a monthly ladies' craft night and I made some of my closest friends from the group that would show up on the first Thursday of every month.  So I took craft night and added doughnuts.  Pretty soon we dropped the 'craft' part (I'm not one for crafts anyway) and just sat around and ate doughnuts.  Bribery is always a great way to make friends.

Ladies' night has now being happening for over a year now and I've found another strong group of friends to enjoy here in Dushanbe.  Brandon hates ladies' night (the kitchen is usually a mess and he has to hide upstairs with the children), but he puts up with it because he's a wonderfully nice husband who puts up with a lot of nonsense from me.  He even helps wash the dishes.

Occasionally we invite some friends over for pizza and a movie and last year we hosted a caroling party which featured doughnuts.  Once you've found a formula that works, there's no point in deviating from it.  But mostly it's been ladies' night.

That is, until recently.  First we had a visit from our mission president and a member of the area presidency.  As part of the visit we had a group pot luck for all the members of our group.  This added up to almost thirty people.  Thankfully, our house is well suited to feeding lots of people and we were able to seat everyone at a table, even if it used all of the six tables and thirty chairs in our house.

Then we started having church at our house again.  The family that was hosting church leaves this week so it's back to moving chairs, tables and lamps again every Sunday.

And this past week we not only hosted ladies' night, but also a goodbye party for the family was leaving.  Everyone was invited, so we ended up feeding dinner to sixty-five or so guests.  This time we brought in some outside tables and chairs and were, again, able to seat everyone for dinner.  It's a good thing we have such a large house.

This week we are hosting Thanksgiving, but only for ourselves and two other families - six adults and eleven children.  And I don't even have to make the turkey.  Making stuffing, rolls, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie for seventeen people is almost not even worth starting early for.

And then we'll wrap up our year with another caroling party.  Because caroling!  After feeding sixty-five people dinner, making six or seven dozen doughnuts is a walk in the park.

By the time we leave the day after Christmas, I'm pretty sure that everyone in the embassy community will be happy to see us go, if only to have a reprieve from the constant invitations to come over to our house.

But I will have lots and lots of time with friends to keep me through the long three months of medevac in North Carolina where it will be lots of family time and not so much friend time.  Enough that I'll be more than ready to have another party when we get back.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Happy Birthday, Joseph!

Joseph turned five this week.  Brandon and I were gone on his actual birthday, so he was very happy to celebrate a few days early.

We don't throw birthday parties (two reasons: I'm lazy and I don't want any more toys), so we have a birthday Saturday where the birthday child gets to choose an activity that we all do together as a family.  It's fun for everyone, a lot less stress than a birthday party, and it's a good excuse to do things we don't usually do.

Joseph started off his birthday day with cinnamon rolls, his most favorite breakfast.  And since it was his birthday, he didn't have to eat any eggs.  After breakfast, Brandon and the children built an enormous fort and he read them Harry Potter and I made Joseph's birthday cake, a triple chocolate mousse cake that looked good to me.  Turns out that five year-olds are pretty open to suggestions when it comes to cake.  Mostly because they almost never eat it.

In the afternoon we took the children bowling, at Joseph's request.  I never bowled with my family as a child, but I find bowling with the children a pretty fun activity, especially when the bowling alley has bumpers.  Dushanbe's bowling alley is, rather oddly, in the national tea house and quite nice.  And you really can't beat the price - a little over ten dollars for the whole family to bowl.  There are some things I really like about Dushanbe.

After the game (final scores: Brandon 94, me 74, Kathleen 71, Sophia 65, Edwin 61, and Joseph 59), we went out to dinner.  The last time we went out to dinner was in January, so going out to dinner together is a treat.  We had Indian and nobody knocked over any glasses of juice or broke down in tears, so it was a successful dinner.

Then it was cake and presents (and no dishes!).  Joseph was thrilled to get a Planes toy set and was so happy that, as usual, didn't actually eat any of his birthday cake.  Then we finished off the day with a movie.  If you ask me, that's a pretty good birthday day for any kid.  Everyone had a great time, which is one of the benefits of a large family - lots of birthdays to celebrate.

And now I have four children five or older, which is kind of hard to believe.  I remember Kathleen being so incredibly old at five and now Joseph is just barely out of babyhood and already five.  He would be going to kindergarten next year.  It's time for him to start learning how to read.  I'm not sure where the time went.

But, even if I'm paying attention, it has passed and now Joseph is five.  Happy birthday, Joseph!

Sunday, November 13, 2016


This morning, around five am (gotta love those random flights!) Brandon and I got home from Dubai.  Back in the spring we watched some friends' children and this past week Brandon and I took our turn to have a child-free vacation.

My parents did this every year when I was a child - usually their destination was the Carribbean - and my mother always said that mom and day getaways are one of the necessities of a happy marriage.  I'm inclined to agree with her.

Brandon and I have left the children for several days four or five times before, but the last time was when I was pregnant with Eleanor (actually, every time it was when I was pregnant) and two and a half years is really long enough.  I've never had any burning desire to visit Dubai - shopping and indoor skiing aren't my thing - but Dubai is one of the few places you can get a direct flight to from Dushanbe.  We could have gone to Frankfurt or Moscow or St. Petersburg also, but a beach vacation in Dubai was much more appealing than snow in Moscow.  I'm okay with being uncultured if there's a beach involved.

We left early Wednesday morning and were in Dubai by breakfast time.  As we got into our taxi and drove through the city, Brandon and I marveled at the stark contrast between bustling, towering, glittering Dubai and our own sleepy Dushanbe.  The roads had stripes and drivers kept to them.  The taxis had meters and they actually worked.  The weather was perfectly clear and sunny and palm trees were everywhere.  I'm perfectly happy to live in Dushanbe, but it was nice to go somewhere not still in a post-Soviet slump.

After much internal debate (it's just money!  But it's so much money!) I booked us at a five-star beach front resort.  We didn't go to Dubai to see the city or do exciting things, we just came to enjoy the beach and I decided that I wanted to enjoy a nice beach.  And a nice beach it was.  The grounds were perfectly manicured, filled with fellow holiday-makers strolling the grounds, sunning themselves, and eating very expensive food brought straight to their poolside lounge chairs.  Unfortunately I've gotten to appreciate the luxury of really nice hotels and love the feeling of crisp sheets, down pillows, and nice-smelling toiletries.

Brandon and I are, fortuitously, both very happy to do nothing on vacation but read books, swim a little, sleep in late, and eat good food, so that's what we did.  I had booked a hotel in an area with lots of shops and restaurants, thinking it would be nice to get out at night and stroll, but really we could have been in the middle of nowhere and it wouldn't have mattered as we barely left the property our entire stay.  I finished two and a half books, and and Brandon finished two.  There's nothing like the luxury of reading without any interruptions except for having to move your lounge chair when the shade has moved.  And then when you finish the day off with a delicious meal (the kind that can't be found anywhere in Dushanbe), it's almost sinful.

Every day, after a long strenuous day of moving those lounge chairs and walking all the way to the perfectly warm ocean, Brandon and I would look at each other and start to giggle, realizing that we would get to do it again the next day.  I realized that what I really want on a vacation is to have somebody else do my work for me - someone else cooks the food and cleans my room and changes my towels and makes the menu - and it just takes a little (or a lot of) money to get that done.

Now, of course, it's back to reality with school and hosting parties and work and upcoming Thanksgiving, but our Dubai vacation was great while it lasted.  I've already looked up flights from Tashkent.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Uzbekistan, Here We Come

Image result for uzbekistan flag

And the winner is... Nick!  Followed closely by Kelley and Mindy  We're either very obvious about what part of the world we like to hang out in or you guys are really good at asking questions or probably both.  Good work on the guessing!

Now I imagine that a few of you are scratching your head about why in the world we're sticking with Central Asia... again (especially after the discussion about Brussels on Facebook).  Because really, once you've done one Central Asian country you've kind of done them all, right?  In Tajikistan they've got plov.  And Uzbekistan, too.  There are mountains here and also in Uzbekistan.  The climate in Tashkent and Dushanbe are nearly identical - short coldish winters with long hot and dry summers.  We're in the same time zone, with a five-minute difference in sunrise and sunsets.  We fly through the exact same airports (I was really hoping for a break from Istanbul, but no such luck.  Sigh).  And two of the most-visited cities in Uzbekistan are actually Tajik cities.  So yeah, it's pretty much three more years of the same. 

But there is some method to our madness.  Hear me out.

We are not actually leaving Dushanbe until May of 2018.  This means that, according to the usual way of things, Brandon shouldn't be bidding until next year.  But pretty much all jobs in his field that don't use Spanish, French, or English have a year of language training built in.  So if we followed the normal way of things, we'd leave Dushanbe in May 2018, spend nine months or so in language training, and show up at our next post in summer of 2019.

We've done that twice before, and I'm getting pretty tired of it.  Our family, in case you haven't noticed, is getting pretty big.  And it turns out that finding furnished housing for a family of eight in the Arlington area isn't that easy.  State does provide guaranteed housing through various corporate lodging programs, but the largest thing they've got is a three-bedroom apartment.  If the kids were in traditional school, that would be okay.  They like sharing bedrooms and we can squeeze.  I would only have two home during the day (what would that be like?) and there are lots of nice parks in the Arlington area.  But the combination of six children + homeschooling + a three bedroom apartment with a table only large enough for six people = a lot less tenable.  And I'm not going to even start talking about buying a car, only having 1,100 pounds of stuff, not getting the forty percent or so pay bump from being overseas, and adding yet another move to our crazy life.

So if you don't want to go through language training, what do you do?  Out-year bidding.  Out-year bidding is pretty much the exact (well, exactly the exact) same thing as regular bidding.  A list comes out, you look at the jobs, determine what looks good to you (and how you would look to those making the decisions), and start the email conversations that hopefully culminate in a job offer.  But you can only bid on jobs where you already meet the language requirement.  Brandon speaks (spoke, at one point) Arabic, but he can't take any Arabic jobs without training because his score only lasted five years and is now expired.  So that takes out every place in the world but... Russian speaking countries.  Good thing the good old USSR was such a big place, because it turns out that there are a lot of Russian-speaking jobs out there.

The initial job list was a little disappointing (do you want to go to frozen Moscow or even frozen-er Astana), but when Brandon widened his job search - political officers have a lot of flexibility and can do straight pol jobs, econ jobs, or pol/econ jobs - a lot of nice places (well, in the Russian speaking world) showed up.  I felt like a kid in a candy shop.  A Russian-speaking candy shop.  We could go to Moscow or Astana or Bishkek or Almaty or Chisinau or Tashkent or back to Baku or Kiev or Yerevan or Ashgabat or Minsk.  After last round's ...or Africa choices we had a lot of options.

Brandon and I have always wanted to go to Tashkent.  In fact, it was our first choice for our second tour.  This is not for a deep and abiding love of Uzbekistan or Silk Road history (well, that did appeal for Brandon), but rather for the housing.  Tashkent is quietly known in the foreign service as having fantastic housing.  I've heard the housing described as palaces and mansions, and a lot of the houses have pools.  Combine that with a good exchange rate, easily available household help, decent weather (for a Russian-speaking post), a good-sized COLA, decent hardship pay, language incentive pay, and somewhat of a tourist industry, and Uzbekistan is a pretty good place for us.

I wouldn't have minded most of the other places on the list either (well, not you, Astana or Ashgabat), but the job in Tashkent had an odd starting date, April of 2018.  Most summer jobs start in July or August because most people leave their jobs in July in August.  So an April start date doesn't work very well, especially if you have children in school.  But it turns out that we are leaving in May and we don't have to follow regular school schedules.  So when Brandon was stacked up against the one or maybe two other candidates for the job, he looked pretty good.  He already spoke Russian (saving them tens of thousands of dollars in language training), he was already working in the region (bureaus like to keep people who already know the lay of the land), and we could actually make the wacky start date.  Everyone was happy.  Me especially because that means that we don't have to do language training and we have put off living like paupers for our inevitable two-year DC tour.  Another three years of good living and cash-sacking and children getting old enough to babysit when we eventually head back to DC.

As with all prospective posts, I'm looking forward to exchanging the things I don't like at the old post for things I don't like at the new post.  After living in a country with no tourist industry, it will be nice to live somewhere that is better set up for doing something other than driving on extremely sketchy roads looking for mythical trailheads.  I will miss our proximity, however, as the mountains in Uzbekistan are a minimum of an hour away.  Brandon and I will be able to go back to Samarkand and Bukhara and see everything a little more thoroughly.  There's even a high speed train.  The city itself is a lot larger (bad for getting around) so there are things like play places and malls and water parks and more than five restaurant options.  And there are even flights in and out every single day of the week.  Crazy, I know.  Two of the flights even get in on almost the same day you leave Istanbul.  

All of this, however, is in the hazy distant future, as we still have eighteen months left in Dushanbe - if we had done things normally we would have just arrived six months ago.  But it is nice to know where we're going and even nicer to be happy about it!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Twenty Questions, Round Two

Here are the next round of questions.  After these ones, feel free to ask specific country or city names.  And this time (unlike the last two times), you might actually want to win and come visit us.  Moving up in the world!

Does it end with -stan?

Does the country have a lake named Aydarkul?

Was the first president of this country Islam Karimov?

Does this country share a border with five other countries?
Yes (I had to look on map for that one).

Does this country have the Bande Pitaw Wildlife Refuge?

Can you drive your HHE to your next post?

Does it start with a U?

Looking forward to your guesses!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Twenty Questions, Round One

So the questions are in and it's time for some answers!

Does the name of the nation rhyme (or at least make an assonance) with the patronymic of a man who was later called Alexander VI, a name adopted as part of the new position to which he was appointed in 1492?

Nope.  I had to look that one up (thank you, internet).

Will Brandon need to speak Russian in this new assignment? 

Will the kids need to wear coats at least once during the winter? 

Is there a direct flight from this new posting to the U.S.? 
That would be really nice, but no.

Is this capital above the equator? 

Is it above the Tropic of Cancer? 

Is it below the Tropic of Capricorn? 

Is it found on the Asian continent? 

Is it found on the European continent? 

Is it found on the African continent?

Does it border a Sea?

Is the main language one Brandon already knows?

Will you qualify for the mythic clothing allowance?
Thankfully, no.

Will I be able to collect my rug from 'Southern Azerbaijan'?

Is there a DPO at post?

Does the country name start with a vowel?

Is there a post differential?
Of course!

Is the main language English?

Is the total flight time to the USA less than ten hours?
No, but it's a dream of mine to one day live in a place like that.

Is it Arabic speaking?

Thanks for all of the questions!  Submit your next round of questions on the blog or Facebook, and I'll keep answering them!