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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Happy Birthday, Sophia!

This month, Sophia turned nine.  Since my parents were in town (and the weather forecast called for rain), we decided to play tourist for her birthday.

We started out at the national tea house, a large beautiful building that, incidentally, doesn't serve tea.  It does have multiple lavishly (the picture we're standing from is made entirely from stone) decorated meeting rooms, a gift shop, a pool hall, a bowling alley, a movie theater, and a supermarket.  But no tea.

After that we went to that national antiquities museum.  Where they did not have any tea, but they did have a very large reclining Buddha statue.  Along with a lot of other old stuff, like bones and spears and pottery.

That evening we had cake and presents for Sophia, following the now-traditional birthday dinner of Eggs Benedict.  

Brandon's grandparents gave her a Barbie doll, Kathleen gave her a coupon book, Joseph gave her some money, Edwin gave her a drawing of a dinosaur, my parents gave her a dress, and we gave her a book and a bike.  It was a pretty good birthday.

The next morning, my father put the bike together.  Which was is good thing he is an avid bike rider because it was much more complicated than anything I could have handled.

For Sophia's birthday Saturday, we went swimming and then had dinner at a local Arabic restaurant, Al Sham.  Nobody spilled anything, nobody cried (not even William), and everyone ate their food, so it was a fantastic meal.

After dinner we went to the amusement park and the children rode all the rides until they had had all of the fun they could stand.  This year Kathleen and Sophia were tall enough to ride a bigger ride, the swings, and I went with them.  Edwin and Joseph, who were too short, were much disappointed.

Sophia had a great birthday, most of all because her grandparents were in town to celebrate with her.  Kathleen always has family around for her birthday (it's always during R&R), and Sophia was happy to finally have family for her birthday, too.  It's strange to think that next year she will be hitting double digits - and that will make my second child in double digits.  She really has come to be a (mostly) pleasant child to be around and is a cheerful and happy addition to our family.  Happy Birthday, Sophia!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Another Visit

Tajikistan is not a country that is on very many people's bucket lists.  Maybe not on anybody's bucket list, or at least not the lists of anybody I know.  We knew this when we moved here and so haven't expected any visitors.  And we haven't had many in the two and a half years we've been here.  When anybody asks if they should come visit, I tell them that they should probably save the money and hassle and go somewhere nice, like Paris.  Or Venice.  Or even Moscow.  But probably not Dushanbe.

And most people have taken my advice.  We did have some friends come visit that we met almost twelve years ago during our first stint in Cairo.  They came from their current post, Moscow, with their three boys for a long weekend and were rewarded with horrible sickness almost as soon as they got here.  Every single one, all five of them, came down with GI issues during the four days they were here.  Like I said, you really don't actually want to visit Dushanbe.

My parents, however, did not heed my advice, and came to visit anyway.  They got back from a three-year mission in the mountains of Peru last summer, so that must have helped them out because nobody got sick the entire visit.  And they flew on Turkish without a single delay.  It was a miracle.

While they were here, we:

Went to the local Olympic training park,

took a walk in our neighborhood,

had a picnic at the botanical garden (and had to walk home in the rain),

visited Hisor and had Hisor chicken (and didn't get sick!),

watched the children play in the yard,

went hiking,

braved their lives on a rickety platform (held in place with a few boulders) overlooking a 115-ft waterfall,

had a picnic at Iskanderkul,

took a tour of the national tea house,

and the national antiquities museum,

celebrated Sophia's birthday,

helped out around the house and yard (including fixing two ottomans and Eleanor's tricycle),

went out to eat several times (and still didn't get sick!),

went to the amusement park,

went swimming multiple times,

and had dinner at my housekeeper's house (and still no sickness.  These people are amazing).

After two weeks they went home claiming to have had a fun time with all the delights that Tajikistan had to offer.  The children enjoyed spending more time with their grandparents, and I had a great time with my parents.  The children declared this year 'grandparent year' as they will get to see their grandparents three different times.  

I'm grateful for my parent's visit and now we can put away the nice new guest linens that I bought for their visit because I'm pretty sure they are the last guests that will come visit us in Dushanbe.  But, it was fun while it lasted!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Perks of Living in a Small Community

Last week I got an email from Brandon.  "Looks like we're going to get the time off this summer.  Make sure to say your thanks in your prayers tonight."  I did a little happy dance and then told the children who shouted for joy.  "Daddy's coming! Daddy's coming to the beach!!"

Later that night when Brandon came home I asked him what had happened.  He told me that he had an opportunity to explain to his management why we really needed to have that one specific week in July - if it was any other year we would be happy to take a few weeks in the fall instead.  In the afternoon, he got an email telling him that leadership had found someone else to fill in for the vacancy that Brandon's section chief would have had to do.  This left the chief in the section, which would let Brandon leave.  He was welcome to take as much time as he needed, they told him, as long as the section chief was okay with it.

And that is why it's great to live in a small embassy community.

Our first post was in Cairo which had, at the time, about seven hundred direct-hire Americans.  Add in the family members and that makes for a very large community.  Housing was scattered throughout the city and the embassy itself was made up of several multi-story towers.  I never knew anyone outside of Brandon's section that wasn't Mormon, and I never remember going to any Christmas parties, Easter parties, or Halloween parties.  The community was just too big.

When we moved to Baku, a family moved in shortly after we did.  While discussing previous posts, Brandon discovered that that we had been in Cairo together almost the whole two years and never once had we seen them the entire tour.  I've had lots of people ask if we knew someone that was in Cairo at the same time as us and I have almost never heard of the person they are asking about.

Here we have less than seventy direct-hire Americans and I know just about everyone in the entire community.  When just about any child in the embassy community has a birthday party, we're invited.  If somebody new moves in, we all know about it months before they move in.  Doughnut nights are an open invitation to any lady that wants to come.  We celebrate holidays together.  We go on trips together.  We camp together.  We party together.  The embassy community is our family.

In Cairo I saw the ambassador once, at the newcomer's orientation where we had finger food in her garden and then all herded into an auditorium to watch a presentation about life in Cairo.  I don't know how many times I've seen the ambassador here, talked with her, been to her house and had her come to my house.  Just last week while I was hanging out at the pool, she came down from the front office (which looks over the pool) just to hold William, who she hadn't met before.

And so I shouldn't have been surprised at all when Brandon was given his leave.  Leadership was willing to listen to his plight and do some shuffling and then suddenly I wasn't flying alone and Brandon was spending a wonderful week with his family on the North Carolina coast.

Management here didn't have to care if I flew alone or Brandon missed siblings he hadn't seen for years.  It wasn't their problem, especially for the ones leaving this summer.  Leave is always conditional and dependent on staffing availability.  That is the reality of this job.

But here in Dushanbe they do care if I fly alone.  They want Brandon to be able to see his family.  Our happiness matters to them.  Because the embassy community is our family.

So you can have Paris and it's wonderful sights and magnificent food.  I'll pass on London and all the amazing history.  I can even give up Thailand and its fresh mangoes and amazing beaches.  Those places may have great things, but here in Dushanbe we have great people.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mother's Day

Sometimes I get a little grumpy on Mother's Day.  This morning was one of those days.  My parents are in town and we've been partying a lot, going hiking and swimming and out to dinner, and I knew that Brandon hadn't had time to go out and get me flowers.  We were gone almost twelve hours yesterday and I knew the children hadn't had time to make me cards or plan a special breakfast.  And I hadn't intercepted any packages with contents more exciting than twenty pounds of brown sugar.  I knew that Mother's Day this year was going to be a bit of an on-the-fly affair.

Last year I was in London and didn't get a Mother's Day either.  Sure, I didn't have to make dinner or anything, but I also didn't get the adulation that I had certainly earned by squeezing five children out and then keeping them alive for nine years.  So I was a little grumpy this morning, irritated that - for the second year in a row - I wouldn't have the picture-perfect Mother's Day I deserved.

As I showered alone (brownie points to Brandon for taking care of breakfast this morning) I lectured myself.  "Mother's Day is not about flowers or cards or presents or breakfast in bed or any of those things that you post about on Facebook to let everyone know how great your husband is.  It's about letting your family be grateful for you.  Not stuff.  Gratitude."

By the time I came down for breakfast, I was almost entirely not grumpy.  So when Sophia presented me with the creme brulee toast she made me and I saw the vase filled with flowers Brandon had picked and he apologized for not having a card, I was able to graciously thank Sophia for the toast and tell Brandon that it had been busy and not to worry about things too much.

We had church this morning and for our speaker, we watched an old conference talk by President Monson about mothers.  The boys made cards in their class (well, Joseph did.  Edwin told me that it was too much trouble to write).  My Dad and Brandon made dinner and cleaned it up.  Sophia made my mother and me several cards.  Kathleen told me what a great mom I am.

And sometime during the day I stopped being resentful about what things hadn't been done for me and I started being grateful that I get to be a mother for Mother's Day.

I'm grateful for my children, the ones who make me a mother.  Often they drive me crazy - like when someone forgets to put a top on the milk and half a jug is spilled on the floor.  Sometimes they make me mad.  Every now and then they make me sad.  But I would never ever trade the crazy and mad and sad for the tranquility that comes from being childless.

When the house is loud, it is because it is filled with people.  When it is dirty, the dirt comes from little feet and hands.  When it is quiet and clean, it is a blissful break from loud and dirty.

I am grateful for my husband, because without him I wouldn't be a mother either.  Sometimes he drives me crazy.  Occasionally he makes me mad.  And every now and then he makes me sad.  But I would never trade those things for the autonomy and independence that comes from being single.

When my room has three suit jackets hanging over the chair, they are the suit jackets of the person who goes to work every day to keep me and my children fed.  When I fold pair after pair of socks, they are the socks of someone who reads stories to my children every night before they go to bed.  And when I make the bed every day, it is the bed where I sleep next to the man who still finds me beautiful after twelve years and six children.

And so, in the end, Mother's Day isn't really about spa days or jewelry or flowers or brunch (as nice as those things can be).  It's about being a mother.  This job has lots of crazy and sad and angry and messy and exhausted and frustrated days, but those are the price we pay for having a life that is, in the end, full of happiness and joy and love and beauty.  And children.  Lots and lots of children.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Happy Birthday, Eleanor!

This week Eleanor turned three.  I'm a little sad about that because three is the beginning of attitude in my children and I'd actually not mind keeping her two pretty much forever.  I've got enough older children now that I like having a sweet little sidekick around.  Unfortunately, however, life is all about growing up and learning things so I can't keep my children little just because I like them that way.

We stretched out the birthday celebrations over three days, starting with Eleanor's birthday Saturday.  After a lot of quizzing (would you like to go to the park or go hiking or go to Madagascar?  Madagascar!!!  What's Madagascar??), I ascertained that Eleanor wanted to go to the embassy playground.  So we spent the morning playing games and getting burnt and then watched a movie (Rogue One wasn't Eleanor's choice, but I figured she didn't care that much) and had pizza.

Sunday we celebrated with cake.  When I asked what kind Eleanor wanted, she responded 'brown,' so I figured that meant chocolate cake.

Brandon covered Joseph's mouth and Eleanor got to blow out all three of her candles by herself.

And then open her presents.  Turns out when you're number five, you have lots of siblings who are very happy and eager to help you open presents.

Her grandmother sent her pajamas, we gave her an outfit for her baby doll and a book, and her sisters wrote her a story.  That's birthday presents when you're the fifth child.

The next day we met friends at the Botanical Garden (it was a school holiday that happened to fall around Eleanor's birthday) where the twenty-three children ran completely wild while the mothers enjoyed much-needed mom time.  We enjoyed a nice picnic lunch and one of my friends even brought Eleanor a pizza set, which all of the children are enjoying.

So now my baby girl is three, the girl that was seven months old when we moved to Dushanbe.  Eleanor is mostly sweet (except when her siblings take her toys) and is good company, chatting your ear off whenever she gets a chance.  We are very happy to have her in the family.  Happy Birthday, Eleanor!