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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Making Sunday a Day of Rest

This Sunday we had leftover Chinese food for dinner.  We had gotten takeout earlier in the week and Brandon, planning ahead, ordered enough to have leftovers for Sunday dinner.  Church had finished quite early because we were the only ones attending that day, so Brandon and I got a two-hour nap before eating lunch at 1:30. 

After everyone finished up dinner, we threw away the takeout containers and put our dishes in the dishwasher.

Cleanup finished, I pulled out the five dozen cookies and frosting I had made the day before.  We all spent an hour or so decorating cookies, loaded them up on plates, and dropped them off at a few friends' houses (mostly men whose wives weren't around to bake them their own Christmas cookies). 

Service for the day finished, we read our Advent scriptures, let the lucky child open the chocolate door while everyone else watched and anticipated their own turn to come, and ate our fill of Christmas cookies.  Then the children went to bed, and Brandon and I spent some time reading and relaxing. 

It was a wonderful Sunday and truly a day of rest.  I didn't do any cooking (well, Sophia did cook scrambled eggs this morning), I got a nap, the family spent some pleasant time together, we served people in our community, and the children were in bed by seven.

My Sundays haven't always been like this, and until recently they have been much more stressful.  I have always viewed Sunday as the day of the tastiest dinner of the week.  All of the good food that I don't have time to cook on the weekdays I cook on Sundays.  Homemade spring rolls (made with homemade wrappers because Central Asia)?  Let's do them on Sunday!  Chicken tikka masala with parathas and deep-fried pakoras?  Lots of time to cook after church!  Fresh whole wheat pasta with tomato cream sauce?  Sunday!

I sometimes have a weird sense of standards and felt like Sunday was the day when my family deserved to have all of the good food.  But that usually meant three or four hours in the kitchen every Sunday, no nap, and not much time to do much other than cook and clean.  I would usually be exhausted by the end of the day and not ready at all for Monday.

Brandon, being the voice of logic, often asked me to do something else for dinner - like tuna fish sandwiches - but I just couldn't give up the idea of making tasty dinners on Sunday. 

But this year one of my resolutions was to try and at least do some of the dinner preparations for Sunday the day before.  Some weeks I have been better than others, but I have gradually gotten used to thinking about Sunday dinner before Saturday night rolled around and Brandon was running to the store at nine in the evening. 

I've been used to treating Saturday as play day - something you can do when a housekeeper cleans your house, shops for you, and the children fold the laundry.  But there is less time for playing when you make chicken pot pie on Saturday in addition to whatever meal there is for Saturday evening.  We have definitely hiked a lot less, something that nobody that me has missed, but we can go hiking if I take the time to plan things in advance.

It's also helped to lower my standards.  If we lived in America, Sunday would be frozen food day.  Instead we have random leftovers, sandwiches, crockpot meals, takeout bought the day before, and boxed pasta.  Part of me still dies a little every time we have something quick and easy for Sunday dinner, but in the end, calories are the same whether they come from some meal that took two hours to cook or something that was made two days ago and reheated. 

And it turns my Sunday into an actual day of rest instead of a day spent slaving away in the kitchen to make something that will only be a memory half an hour after it's done. 

Having an actual day of rest has been wonderful for me, and even more, to Brandon.  He works hard all week and truly appreciates a day without the relentless schedule driving it.  I also enjoy having time with the children where I'm not making them do some sort of work.  It's wonderful to have time set aside where I can just spend time with my family without the structured schedule of the rest of the week.  I love feeling like I have had a day that is a break from the rest of my week.  I never realized how amazing it would be until I actually got a day of real rest.

And if it takes old Chinese takeout to make it happen instead of gourmet meals, I guess I'll take it.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Happy Birthday, Edwin

This past week Edwin turned eight.  

We started out his birthday with his breakfast of choice, overnight baked pumpkin (it's time to use it all up again) french toast.  And because homeschooling means you never have to have school on your birthday, we spent the morning at the botanical garden.

It was pretty cold, below forty, so we had the place to ourselves and enjoyed a picnic lunch.  Also riding oddly-spotted deer statues.

After a dinner of Chinese food (takeout because I don't cook dinner and a birthday cake), we moved to cake and presents.

Because he had lemon meringue pie for his birthday last year, he had lemon meringue pie for his birthday this year.  "Mmmmm, I love that sour taste!" 

All of his presents arrived in time, his favorite being the dinosaur hand puppet sent by his grandmother.  "Great!  I was hoping to get something that would scare William!"

For his birthday Saturday, Edwin decided to go to the park.  We had heard rumors of a park that had been remodeled - there's a new mayor in Dushanbe and he's initiated a lot of refurbishment around town - and had a playground.

Our whole time here in Dushanbe there have only been two American-style playgrounds in the entire city (probably country, really).  One is at the embassy and the other has a thirty-minute time limit and a locked gate.  There are lots of little Soviet-style 'playgrounds' stuck in empty trash-strewn lots that are made of rusting pipes that are just begging to give tetanus to every child that climbs on them.  But nothing with trees or grass or slides that don't dump you right on the gravel or asphalt.

After the park we came home, made pizza, and watched Elf.  

It's crazy to have three children who are eight or older.  I remember when Kathleen turned eight and how old she was.  Now, almost without noticing, I have two more children who have reached that shocking milestone.  I have to remember when I am handing out assignments and responsibilities that Edwin is actually very capable.  I've gotten used to having two older children to carry so much of the load that I forget how much Edwin can do.  He's very helpful and responsible and I'm looking forward to see him grow even more into himself.  It's enjoyable to have a son who isn't little anymore; it's something different than the girls.  He talks about things other than dolls, his jokes are pretty funny, and he always makes sure to open doors for me and carry all of the heavy stuff.  I quite enjoy his company and am very glad he's part of our family.

Happy Birthday, Edwin!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Christmas Decorating

I love decorating for Christmas.  Normally I am not a decorator.  I like the idea of decorating - having a lovely house is a pleasant thing - but the mentally energy, time, and money required to do that are beyond what I want to invest.  

But Christmas is different.  I love the coziness of a house decorated with all of the Christmas things that my conscience can allow me to fill our allotted HHE with (luckily globe ornaments are mostly air).  

As an added bonus, Brandon loves Christmas decorating every bit as much as I do and so he is completely behind spending money and weight on things we only use for one month out of the year.  Sometimes we like to sit down and browse Pinterest for new Christmas decorating ideas.  Now that's perfect compatibility.


Every year we decorate it takes longer because we have new awesome things to do.  Last year we added a globe chandelier.

Brandon likes to joke to guests that we opened a box of ornaments and they just flew up into the air.  Which is kind of true, but only a lot more slowly - like three hours slowly.  But that's what we have children for, right?  Everyone was very happy to finish after six hours of decorating.  But it was completely worth it.

We hosted a caroling party this week and I finished the decorating with greenery.  Normally we visit our local park and help prune the trees and bushes, but recently it got bulldozed. 

Instead I actually had to buy the stuff.  But, at less than ten dollars for enough greenery to decorate the entire living room, it was a bargain.  I should have been buying it all along.  

During college I spent a semester in Vienna.  We took trips on the weekends and I started collecting Christmas ornaments as souvenirs.  Fifteen years later, I've collected a lot of ornaments and love remembering all of my travels when we decorate every year.

Last year I started a new Christmas tradition, making ornaments with the children.  I found a lovely beaded snowflake pattern online and tried to teach it to my family.  By the end, I finished all of them as everyone else complained about how hard it was to make ornaments.

This year I got smart and we made icicles.  It turns out that everyone can get behind stringing a variety of beads in a wire, and we made over thirty before the children got tired.  

I started collecting nativity sets here in Tajikistan, and so far I have one made locally and one from Kyrgyzstan.  The angel in our Tajik set is riding a two-humped camel (bactrian, which are the ones you can find in Central Asia) and Mary has a unibrow.  

Our Kyrgyz set is made of felted wool, also has a bactrian camel and instead of a stable, Mary and Joseph have a yurt.  As a bonus, both sets can be played with by the children.  Often I'll pass by and find some new strange combination of figures adoring the Christ child.

This year I am determined that have eight completed stockings before Christmas Eve.  A long time ago when I only had two children and a lot more free time, I hit on the brilliant idea of making handmade stockings.  And each stocking would be hand beaded in individual patterns.  

Thankfully I've gotten faster at beading over the years, and William's stocking is only missing two lines of beads to be finished, which is a record.  He will be the first child to have a completed stocking for their first Christmas.  

Years ago I also bought stocking holders from Target (our bookshelves stand in for the fireplace as we've never actually lived in a house with one of those).  They came in sets of three, so I bought three sets.  We now have eight in use, which means that we can only have one more child.  

Of course all of this decorating will have to be taken down in less than a month (last year Brandon did all of the un-decorating alone and it took him ten hours), but I am really enjoying it right now.  Hooray for excess!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Thirty-Five Happens to Everyone Who Gets There

When I was younger (by a decade or two), I remember my mother telling me about the dreaded thirty-five.  "You hit that age, your metabolism slows down, and that post baby weight that always melted off refuses to budge."  And, being younger, more naive, and possessing a firm belief that the rules of reality applied to everyone but me, I didn't believe her.  "Not me, that will never happen to me.  Maybe you, but I'm different.  You'll see."

A year or two ago, a friend who had hit thirty-five mentioned that no matter what she did (and she was a Crossfitter), she couldn't get that last five post-baby pounds to go away.  "Ha, that won't happen to me," I thought (older, but no less naively).  "That weight will come off for me."

I never have trouble losing baby weight.  Well I suppose that waking up at five every morning and almost never eating snacks might qualify as some trouble, but it certainly isn't anything herculean.  After the baby is born, it takes awhile, but eventually everything fits again and I'm back to the same body I've always had.  A little more stretch in the midsection, but mostly the same.

William is nine and a half months and those last five pounds just won't come off.  I eat just like I've  always eaten, exercised like I've always exercised, and been every bit as active and those five extra pounds just won't budge.  I can button my jeans, but they aren't very comfortable when I sit down, and Eleanor has asked me multiple times if I have a baby in my tummy.

So, it turns out that thirty-five has happened to me.

I always thought that I didn't care that much about my appearance.  Obviously I care about how I look, but I try not to get too obsessive.  I've been happy with my body for a long time and thought that it was because I was virtuous.  But then it changed on me and I realized how much I really do care about how I look.  I care that I look pretty good for having six children, I care that I've worn the same pants size for fifteen years, I care that I look decent in a swimsuit.

Only now I'm not quite so happy with my body and I've realized that this is what the other side of my life looks like.  I've always had a young, functioning, decent body that pretty much did whatever I needed it to.  If I wanted to run six miles, I could do that.  If I wanted to spend ten hours cooking in the kitchen, I could do that.  If I wanted to have six children, I could do that.  I was happy in my own skin because my skin was reliable.  It was functional.  It was attractive.

But now it has started to betray me.  When my thyroid went south a year and a half ago, I accepted it with some grace.  After all, aging does hit at some point, and it turns out that a thyroid's function is pretty easily replaced.  Not as good as having a functioning one, but still pretty okay.  Much better than cancer.  But I do remember taking my first Synthroid pill and realizing that I would take one of those pills every single day until the day that I died.  It was a disorienting moment.

Then my joints started bothering me.  This issue still doesn't have a definitive answer, but one of the possible answers is that I will have to deal with this, like my thyroid, for the rest of my life.  I was hoping to get a few more decades along before the chronic conditions started showing up.  Like four or five more decades.

And now I need to buy all new pants.  I suppose I could kill myself trying to shed those last five pounds, but I'm not going to.  I like not worrying about what I eat and only spending 45 minutes exercising every morning, and if new pants can keep that happening, then I will just go out and buy new pants.  But it is demoralizing to realize that one is human just like all the other humans out there.

And so it appears that my mother has been right all along.  Thirty-five apparently does begin the imperceptible shift of tides from waxing to waning.  I'm certainly not ready to drop dead and definitely have almost all of the energy, good looks, and vigor that I had just a year ago.  The crows feet and spider veins haven't blossomed overnight.  But I'm not going to get any more energy, good looks, or vigor and in fact it's going to drain away drop by drop and I'll always be looking back to that high water mark and not towards it.

I've always known that this point would come, but of course there's a vast difference between imagining things and actually having them happen to you - and having them happen to you for the rest of your life.  The point of inflection is always a difficult one, when the realization has just hit but not yet had time to settle in.  In six months or a year, I'll see nothing in the mirror but my body as it is and I'll forget to mourn it as it was, and my pants size won't be a unpleasant surprise anymore.  Just like Synthroid isn't a new experience every morning, it's part of the routine.  But right now, I'm in mourning for the end of a part of my life.  It will end, and I will settle in to the new normal.

I imagine that this isn't the first unpleasant realization of mortality that will come as I make my way down the other side of that hill, and I will probably laugh at how distressed I was about the troubles I had at thirty-five.  I will probably curse myself for taking so many things for granted that I didn't even realize would be a problem in a decade or two.

But this is the first time I've felt the gentle decline and it is disorienting, as is the first unpleasant experience of anything.  But, I'll get over it, mostly.  After all, I'm not the first one two hit thirty-five.  And I certainly won't be the last.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Time for Christmas

This year we got a four-day weekend for Thanksgiving.  The new chargĂ© found a random local holiday (Flag Day) to justify the time off and everyone at the embassy was very grateful.

We usually decorate the Christmas tree the Saturday after Thanksgiving, but since we were all around on Friday, the Christmas season started one day early.  

I was in a bit of post-Thanksgiving stupor, so we had a lazy morning and didn't even finish breakfast (cold cereal, because I don't cook anything the day after Thanksgiving) until eleven.  Life really is great when your children are old enough to watch cartoons while you sit in bed and read Facebook instead of feeding them breakfast.  

Brandon hauled out all the boxes and the children opened them all up and pulled everything out of them.  It is definitely more orderly to decorate without children, but you can't beat the excitement level of five (not six, because William has no idea what Christmas is) children at the beginning of the happiest season of the year.  Eleanor doesn't remember much of Christmas last year, so this is her first Christmas season.  She ran around the whole day asking if it was Christmas yet.  When she was told yes, she immediately asked if it was time to have candy.  Ahh, the uncomplicated joy of a three year-old.  

We've slowly accumulated decorations and have enough to make our front room very cozy.  I got to skip putting the lights on the tree (or anything on the tree, for that matter) and instead spent three hours hanging globe ornaments from our enormous chandelier.  Sophia, while cutting threads and attaching them to hangers for me commented that Christmas decorating can get a little tedious.  Especially when you contemplate taking it all down in a month (which Brandon got to do all alone last year), it doesn't seem like a good idea while you're in the middle of decorating.  

However, when all is done, tidied, put away, and one is sitting by the tree enjoying the warm glow of twinkling Christmas lights while listening to "The Christmas Song," it's definitely worth all the work.  Because, as we all know, Christmas really is the best.  Even without the presents.

After we finished decorating, we all had Thanksgiving again (leftovers are the second best part of Thanksgiving), made hot chocolate, and watched White Christmas.  And, as per tradition, I fell asleep sometime after Betty left Bob and woke up to the final strains of everyone belting out the iconic song.  

Sunday afternoon we made some more hot chocolate (after having Thanksgiving again) and spent an hour or two cutting out snowflakes.  I'm not sure what's so relaxing about turning little paper squares into intricate repeating designs, but it really is quite enjoyable.  The children have really gotten into making snowflakes and spent the whole time trying to make 'mom approved' ones.  

I love tradition and Christmas is a wonderful time to pull out all the stops on tradition, doing all the fun things together as a family.  As the children have grown older it's become even more enjoyable to share the traditions with them and see them get excited about making wrapping paper or ornaments or gingerbread houses.  I'm already not looking forward to the time when they've left me and I won't have anyone to do those things with.  Someone will have to live close so I can just do them with my grandchildren.

Most of all, it's wonderful to have a whole season to celebrate the birth of my Savior.  His birth meant that we will all be given the opportunity to return to our Father in Heaven and live in eternal joy.  And not only that, His birth has given us the ability to be happy here on Earth.  When I decorate the tree with my children, I know that they will be my children forever.  Life doesn't end at death and I have more happiness that I can imagine to look forward to.  The happiness of the best Christmas ever doesn't even come close to that happiness that is in store.  I love the comfort that comes when life is hard, knowing that it won't be hard forever and also knowing that my Savior knows exactly how to help me through it.  And when times are good, I love knowing that at some point, they'll stay good forever.

I love Christmas!