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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Dinner by Costco

As I mentioned earlier, I am now a lone woman (and adult, for that matter) in my parents' house.  They have a former sister missionary who is getting married in Australia this month and decided that was a wonderful excuse to go and visit a new continent.  I encouraged them to go when they were planning several months ago, knowing that living with six other people in your house can get a little trying and we would probably like each other better with some time off.

They left Thursday afternoon.  I had made a dinner menu for the week, but by the time five o'clock rolled around I didn't really feel like cooking dinner.  So the children and I ate cold cereal.  While spooning my way through a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch I realized a sad truth about myself: I have no self-discipline.  Sure, I can turn out a home-cooked dinner every day by six o-clock when I know that my husband (or parents) are expecting something tasty and nutritious.  But when it's just me and the children?  Even pancakes are a bit too much work.  For some reason I just can't face cooking dinner when I'm the one who cooks it, feeds it to the children, cleans it up, and then puts everyone to bed.  It's okay when I get to look forward to some help partway through, but I just can't stand the thought of doing it all myself for three solid weeks.

I used to think I liked to cook, and I guess I did when it was a hobby.  When Brandon and I were engaged we thought nothing of spending three hours cooking dinner together.  It was fun.  It was tasty.  It was cheap.  And it was just a background for what we really enjoyed: talking.  But now cooking dinner is a job.  It's a job I do almost every day, and it's one of my least favorite jobs.  I have about fifteen or twenty recipes that I cook because they passed the test for taking less than an hour, using ingredients my housekeeper can get at any bazaar or store, and being healthy.  Which doesn't really make for exciting food.  It makes for healthy, cheap, filling food, but not exciting food.

When I thought of cooking these same menus every day (without even Friday off!  Because there's no date night when your one and only date is six thousand miles and ten time zones away), I just couldn't stand the thought.  But when I thought of eating cold cereal every day, I couldn't stand that either.  Because even if I'm lazy that doesn't mean I don't have standards.  Then started looking up delivery in the area.  But that didn't appeal either.  Like I said I do have standards - for nutrition as well as taste - and restaurant take-out for three solid weeks gets a little old after about half of one week.  Next I looked into those we-chop-all-the-ingredients-and-send-you-recipes services.  But I the prices were a deal-breaker.  They were about the same as delivery, about thirty-five dollars a meal for the cheapest services, and most of the stuff didn't look like food that my children would be interested in.

And then I remembered the standby of every busy mom: frozen food.  When I was a child, frozen food meant tater tots, chicken nuggets, fish sticks, lasagnas, and chicken pot pie (okay, chicken pot pie is still awesome).  Thumbs up for ease, thumbs down for nutrition.  And taste.  Because fish sticks and microwaved peas do not a complete or delicious meal make.  But.  Prepared foods have come a long way, especially if you're willing to spend a few more dollars for the good stuff.  Because two words: Trader Joe's.

So the next day I armed myself and my credit card for super-duper-lazy-eight-months'-pregnant-mom-with-five-children-all-by-herself-for-three-weeks indulgence.  And if you don't think that's a real thing, you've never done a medevac.  After Target (Target! Oh how I love thee), I headed for Costco (you too!).

After filling up on apples and mandarins and pears (oh non-rock hard crunchy Asian pears!) and bananas (so cheap!) and pineapple and strawberries (in January!) - my children would eat just fruit if I let them - I headed to the refrigerator section.  But not before stopping by the bakery (!!) for still warm rosemary parmesan bread (the likes of which you cannot find anywhere in Central Asia) and coffee cake (yup, I'm so lazy I don't even want to make breakfast).

The first thing in the cart was a vat of chicken noodle soup.  I practically swooned thinking of just putting that baby in the microwave, slicing up delicious bread not baked by me, and having dinner just like that.  Next went tortilla soup, stuffed grape leaves (we haven't eaten those in years because they take so. much. time.), two (two!) different kinds of quiche, asparagus (yup.  never seen that in Dushanbe, ever), pre-washed baby greens and green beans, hummus, pita chips, spanakopita, rotisserie chicken (okay, so we have those, but they weigh about half what American chickens do), spinach ravioli, stir fry vegetables, potstickers, chicken tikka masala (I can make that, buy why make it when you can buy it?), naan bread, and my old standby favorite that it still great after twenty years, chicken pot pie.

I practically danced (okay, if the cart wasn't weighing in at about two hundred pounds by then I would have) my way through the aisles thinking of the hours of time I had just bought (literally - thanks, Brandon!!) myself and how much cooking I wasn't going to be doing for the next three weeks.  And the dishes too, because did I mention that my parents' dishwasher broke and the replacement wasn't coming for a week and a half?

When the checker finished ringing up everything and the total was a hundred dollars more than my generous estimates, I barely even flinched because hey, I had at least two weeks' worth of dinners that I didn't have to cook.  And even more than that, food that actually tasted good.  I wanted to give America a big, huge, wet kiss for having people who pay good money for delicious, convenient food.
And so that I how I completely lost my principles - thrift, nutrition, homemaking - at Costco in one short morning.  Brandon, my wallet, and my pride are probably happy that I don't live in the land of easy convenience on a permanent basis.  But for now, I am very very happy to be here.  Now if you'll excuse me, I have a quiche to put in the oven.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Home Churching, Again

One of the things I've bean eagerly anticipating while in the US is regular church.  There are some definite benefits of home-churching - an hour and a half instead of three hours, for example - but sometimes it's really really nice to just show up and have someone else play the music, give the talks, teach my children, and teach me two lessons to boot.  You really don't realize how nice this it until you're the one doing all of this week in and week out.  Of course, I know that if I lived here permanently that would not be the case, but it is sure nice to take a break for three months.

My parents left for three weeks a few days ago, and so I've been looking forward to church even more this weekend.  I do love my children, but it's also nice to actually spend time with other adults when you've been surrounded by nothing but small children for two and a half days.

Then it snowed.  And since this is North Carolina, where snowstorms almost always start off as rain that forms a nice icy slick underneath the inch or two of snow that usually falls, church was cancelled.  I'm not sure how bad the roads were - they didn't look too bad to me - but I wasn't about to go and see with my parents' brand new Odyssey.  I imagine they're thanking me for this right now.

So that meant no church today.  And so the children and I had church at home.  Because if there's one thing we're good at, it's having church at home.  Obviously some things didn't happen - the sacrament for one - but I thought we did a pretty good job for a lazy pregnant lady and five small children who have been cooped up in the house for the last two days.

We started with a BYU television sacrament program and enjoyed some vintage hairstyles along with the (very short) talks on prayer.  Then, feeling virtuous and not frazzled yet, we moved on to primary where I taught a lesson on the Plan of Salvation and even managed to end with a pretty good testimony.  The children, much better at this than they used to be, mostly sat quietly (especially after Eleanor went down for a nap) and answered questions and participated.  And then church was over.  Because by then it was my nap time.

I felt pretty proud of myself for making Sunday feel like something more than just another day stuck in the house while the children pulled it apart, especially as I did it all on my own.  But I'm pretty glad that the forecast calls for the weather to warm up on Tuesday.  Because I'm willing to go through three hours of church if it means that someone other than me is running the show.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Trip

After enjoying a perfectly lovely Christmas, Brandon and I had to finish off packing the next day in preparation for our early Monday morning departure.  Everything went reasonably well, and by seven that evening our four car seats and seven suitcases were waiting by the front gate, everyone's shoes, socks, and jackets were waiting by the door, outfits for the morning were laid out, and the children were in bed.  I've finally done this enough times to know how long things actually take and not how long I think they should take.

By two thirty the next morning we were all up, ready, and loading into the van that would take us to the airport.  As we drove through the silent city, the children bid farewell to Dushanbe for the next few months.  "Goodbye, street sweepers.  See you later, run down buildings.  We'll see you in March, crazy drivers."

We managed to get all of our things to the check-in counter where, after a lot of weighing, the agent announced that we were thirty-five kilos overweight.  Brandon waded in to do battle and argued them down to eighteen kilos by convincing them that really, charging for car seats was kind of ridiculous if we could take them in the cabin free of charge.  Of course the $200 in fees could only be paid in cash and I silently thanked Brandon for insisting that we bring lots of cash with us.  I felt like I should have been more incensed as I had actually weighed all our bags while packing, but it was too early in the morning and we had much too long to go and I didn't have any spare energy to spend on moral outrage about something that I had no control over.  So instead we went to our gate.

Our first flight was a little exciting when the passenger sitting behind Edwin got sick right after take-off and spent the entire flight passed out, moaning, or vomiting everywhere but in a bag.  Thankfully he survived and we were able to move seats.

We landed in Dubai at seven in the morning.  Our first flight, being a cheap regional carrier, did not code share with our second flight, a Lufthansa flight, so we had to hand our bag tags over to the very helpful Marhaba lady who had them pulled and tagged for our onward flight on Lufthansa.  Next we took a shuttle to another terminal to find our hotel.  We found the hotel, but after talking with reception, realized that it was not the right section of the hotel.  Twenty minutes' marching later found us the right section of our hotel (turns out that there are three different concourses in terminal 3, and all three concourses have their own section of the hotel) and thankfully, beautifully, our rooms two hours and fifteen minutes after landing in Dubai.

At this point the children had not eaten a meal in eighteen hours.  I had booked rooms in the 'executive' level which included meals so we marched over to the executive lounge for some breakfast.  A plateful of pastries, four or five yogurt cups, five or six pieces of toast, four glasses of milk, some more of water and juice, several oranges, an apple or two, a box of cereal, one plate of pancakes, five of french toast, and an omelette later everyone felt much better.

But we still had fifteen hours until our next - the second of four - flight took off.  So Brandon got sent to one room to sleep while I stayed with the children in the other.  They rotted their brains out on Disney channel and Nickelodeon and Eleanor and I got some sleep.  Around three, with ten hours left in our layover we took the children swimming, bathed them, got dinner, and put everyone to bed.

Which is really kind of a joke when your check-out time is 11:30 pm.  "See you in the morning" was more like "see you in about five hours," but any sleep is better than no sleep when you're traveling halfway across the world.  Brandon and I actually got to shower, change our clothes, and get three or four hours of sleep ourselves before getting up and starting the whole monkey rodeo over again.  As Dubai isn't terribly further east - and quite a bit more southern - than Dushanbe, we had almost as far to go after not quite twenty-four hours of traveling as we did when we started.

After a frantic search for Eleanor's jacket, which was never found, we checked out mostly on time, found the appropriate transfer desk, got on the right shuttle, and located the connections desk that could print out our boarding passes for the next three flights.  The desk, which closed an hour before departure time, closed right as they finished finding our bags, checking us in, and rearranging our seats (oh yes, you'll definitely want to sit together!).  Then it was only a short hustle to our gate, another trip through security, a short wait, and we were on our way to Frankfurt.

Seven hours later we landed, for the twenty-first time since joining the FS, and made our way to the McDonald's for several hours' of play place with our traditional Frankfurt breakfast of french fries and milk shakes.  After eighteen hours in Dubai, five and a half in Frankfurt positively flew by.

We made it on time for our penultimate flight and were so worn out with making things happen that we didn't even bother trying to rearrange our seats.  I won out, only having Eleanor for the 8 1/2 hour flight (although it was regular economy), Brandon got stuck with three of the children (but in economy plus), and Kathleen was all by herself on the other side of the economy plus cabin.

The flight was again, thankfully, uneventful, and we made it to Newark with sufficient time to clear passport control (wow, that's a lot of passports!), customs, and security (for the twentieth time).  Two or our bags never showed up and the rest had to be retagged (turns out that RDI and RDU are not the same three-letter abbreviations) but still we had enough time left in our 2 1/2 hour layover for Edwin to fall asleep in his chair while waiting for our last (last!) flight of the trip.

Once more everything went fine on the flight and we even landed thirty minutes ahead of schedule.  My parents met us with their minivan and truck and claimed that they were happy to see us.  My mother and I went home with the children while Brandon and my father located the bags, which had made it to Newark, just not to our baggage carousel.  And then, after some dinner and catching up, we finally, finally, finally got to go to sleep for our first full night's sleep in three and a half days.

And so now we're here.  Well, most of us.  Brandon, after rebooking flights when Turkish cancelled his original flight into Dushanbe, showed up back home on Monday morning, a week after he left.  But the rest of us are here and not flying on any airplanes for three months.  And that is something I am very happy about.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Christmas Catch-Up

This year we celebrated Christmas a day early.  We were getting picked up for the airport at 2:30 Monday morning, so Brandon and I decided that we would have a much better Christmas if it didn't finish with furious packing.  Thankfully Christmas was on Sunday this year which made a Saturday Christmas very easy.

I decided this year (with Brandon's encouragement) to not cook anything on Christmas day.  I've tried through the years to recreate my childhood Christmas dinners with candlelight and lovely table arrangements and beautiful music.  Our dinners have usually ended much too late and the children are hastily shoved into bed so I can do the dishes.  I'm not sure how my mom did it, but I finally realized that I'm not my mother.

So we had a nice Christmas Eve dinner instead.  I spent all Christmas Eve (eve) cooking sweet potatoes and pecan pie and rolls and mashed potatoes and ham (yes, ham!  Just don't ask me how much it cost to get it) and croissant breakfast ring for the next day.  The children had a great time playing and happily anticipating the next day.  I listened to Christmas music and looked forward to not cooking the next day.  By the time Brandon walked in the door around five, the house was clean, table set, and kitchen floor swept.

The children all enjoyed their ham (Mom, this tastes just like bacon!), we had a nice devotional, and everyone was in bed by seven.

The next morning everyone enjoyed breakfast and stockings and presents and I enjoyed sitting around and reading my book while eating candy.  The children read their books and played with their toys (legos) and ate their candy and we all had a perfectly lazy Christmas day.  It was wonderful.

We finished off the day with Harry Potter (the children received all eight movies this year) and snacks for dinner.  I fell asleep around eight and Brandon sent me to bed and finished off the movie with the children.  Everyone agreed it was a great Christmas.  Even if it was a day early.