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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Cousin Party

Last week Brandon had to attend a training course in West Virginia, the Foreign Affairs Counter Threat course, also known as Crash and Bang.  He got to spend the week learning about exciting things like surveillance, first aid, security, and defensive driving (where the Crash and Bang title comes from - Brandon got to crash cars at the end of the course).  I was technically supposed to go with him, but we didn't have anyone to watch the children, so I stayed here.

And since Brandon was gone for the whole week, my sister came up to visit.  She are I are the only ones with children in my family, and thankfully her children's ages line up neatly with mine, so our children are best friends.  We always try to get together whenever I'm in town so they children can wreak total havoc spend time together, so we decided to take the party up to DC and enjoy a week together without any adult supervision husbands. 

Her children have never been to DC, so we spent the week exploring the sights.  Well, some of them.

We started by meeting them at IKEA because, well, IKEA.  I have never taken six children to IKEA before, and I'm probably never going to do it again.  Four children who have been in the car for five hours + six children who love to see their cousins = a lot of noise, activity, and stroller races.  It was a really good thing that we went on a Monday afternoon when the crowds were pretty low.  The high/low point of the afternoon was when William wouldn't stop screaming while everyone was trying to eat their dinner.  There's a reason I avoid feeding my children in public.

The next day we went to the National Mall.  I started out the morning by scraping the door on my parents' two-year old minivan.  It turns out that seven children in a car is kind of distracting.  My sister and I did the smart thing and reserved spaces at a parking garage before we left, which was a good thing because it turns out that a lot of downtown garages can't park minivans.  Who knew?

The day started out hot and promised thunderstorms in the afternoon, so we dropped by the national archives to see the Constitution and then headed down to the Lincoln Memorial, stopping by the Washington Monument and the WWII memorial.  If you've never been to DC, then you've never appreciated how long a walk it is (according to Google Maps, 1.8 miles) in ninety-plus degree weather with ten children in tow.  It wasn't until the next day that we noticed the Circulator Buses driving around the mall.  Oh well.

We started seeing clouds gathering while eating lunch next to the reflecting pool and so hustled everyone 1.2 miles to the nearest museum, the American History Museum, getting there right as the severe thunderstorm warnings hit.  Everyone was reasonably soaked, but the water dried as we took in a few select exhibits (a gunship, the first lady dresses, and the flag) and made it over to the natural history museum to see the shiny gems and taxidermied animals. 

My sister's children had never ridden a metro before, so we took the metro in to downtown the next day for some more museum time.  They had a great time trying to stand up while the train stopped and started and everyone loved having their own card to pay the fare with.  I managed to lose both Eleanor and Sophia at the natural history museum and we instituted more frequent head counts for the rest of our trip. 

We made a whirlwind trip through part of the art museum where just about everyone we encountered gave us dirty looks and we managed to get out without actually breaking anything (but there was some touching).  Our last stop was the air an space museum, a perennial favorite of all little boys.  Nobody got lost and nothing got broken, so it was a good time.

We spent the final day at the zoo, making it through most of the zoo (a personal record with my children; usually they quit after half) before everyone decided that lunch and swimming would be more fun.  Even though they had walked over three miles that morning, the children played in the pool for over two hours before we made them come in for dinner. 

Friday morning my sister left.  All the children protested that they wanted to spend another week together, but my sister and I had definitely had enough of ten noisy, energetic, occasionally quarrelsome children being stuffed into a three-bedroom apartment.  But it was fun while it lasted!

Friday, June 22, 2018

William Finally Decides to Get With the Program

I love babies who walk.  Babies that walk don't have to be carried everywhere.  When you're traveling through an airport, babies that walk can entertain themselves by walking around and looking at things without getting thoroughly filthy.  Babies that walk can follow you around the house more quickly instead of crawling desperately while you walk away, crying like their little tiny hearts are going to break.  They are much happier, almost as happy as babies that can talk.

William was the earliest crawler in our house, starting to crawl at six months.  I was so happy, eagerly looking forward to him pulling up on furniture and walking soon after that.  He started pulling up on furniture a few months later, but stubbornly refused to walk.  I had high hopes that he would learn to walk before we left Dushanbe, but was thoroughly disappointed and instead had to bodily haul him through security instead of letting him happily toddle through the metal detector by himself.

When we arrived in Raleigh, he started walking from person to person when we set him up between two people.  I thought that he would definitely start then.  The rest of my children were fully mobile within a few weeks of those first few footsteps, but William didn't seem to care to try anything on his own.  He is very much his father's son and quite safety-minded.  After he fell off the bridge over my parents' pond, he wouldn't go near it for weeks.  And evidently walking didn't look very safe to him, so he stuck to crawling.

But finally he started to take a few steps between the things he was holding on to, between the chair and the wall or the table and a person.  After a week or so, he would walk down the hallway while holding on to the wall.  And then one day, nine months after he started crawling, while my brother and his wife were visiting, he decided that walking was okay.  I watched him walk back and forth on my parents' back deck for almost an hour, moving from family room door to kitchen sliding door and back again.

Now he is a full-time walker.  He toddles around the house in the high-stepping never-standing-quite-still way that newly walking babies do, the way that is even funnier when they're stark naked or only in a diaper.  When we went to the aquarium last week, I forgot that strollers weren't allowed and didn't bring the baby carrier.  But William was perfectly happy to wander through, just walking around in a new space for the sheer joy of being able to choose all by himself where he went.  After we came home from the park yesterday he had completely clean knees.  Now when I walk away from him, he follows right after, happy to stay in my orbit.  It really is great.

And next time we fly, all six of my children will be able to go through that metal detector all by themselves.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

How to Grocery Shop When You're Only Temporary

This past week we stopped at the penultimate point on the itinerary before out final and long-awaited destination.  Brandon has training in DC for three and a half weeks and we're stuck here with him.  We have lodging money and could have stayed in a hotel, but three and a half weeks is a little too long to be stuck in two rooms while eating out every night.

Luckily DC has lots of people like us and corporate housing companies to take care of us during our temporary stays in DC.  We were able to find a nice furnished three-bedroom two-bathroom apartment within walking distance to the Foreign Service Institute so we could have a little more space, a full kitchen, and a washer and dryer.

The kitchen is furnished along with the rest of the apartment, but only furnished with basic cooking equipment (although we do have a wine bottle opener and a coffee maker).  We've had this same situation before while in DC for training, but we've always had an air shipment to supplement the kitchen tools.

In addition to having limited kitchen supplies, we are also starting the pantry from scratch.  I always hate starting from scratch because there is always something you forget. It usually goes like this: go to the store and buy salt, pepper, flour, eggs, butter, oil, baking powder, sugar, carrots, potatoes, onions, carrots, garlic, tomatoes, cucumbers, apples, bananas, peanut butter (in America), jelly, bread, beans, chicken stock, pasta, canned tomatoes, saran wrap, napkins, paper towels, laundry detergent, dryer sheets, and trash bags.

Then you go to bake cookies and realize you have no vanilla or baking soda.

So you go back to the store and get baking soda and vanilla.

Then you realize that you don't have toilet paper.

I once went to Target three times in one afternoon because I needed chocolate chips, then cumin, then trash bags.

And when you leave, you have to get rid of everything, finding a home for your half-used bottle of olive oil, one cup of lemon juice, three sticks of butter, mostly full jar of peanut butter (turns out the children don't like sandwiches too much), full box of cereal, two cans of tomato sauce, two frozen chicken breasts, and half bunch of cilantro. 

At the end of one move, we had at least a gallon of homemade pesto in the freezer that Brandon insisted we throw away.  I just couldn't stand leaving it, so I stuffed it into our suitcases and pulled it out, over twenty-four hours later, still slightly frozen.

This time, however, we are here for an uncomfortable amount of time.  It's too long to go out or order out for every meal (we got fast food for lunch the other day and it was $45.  I'm trying to block out how much the matinee showing of Incredibles 2 cost), but not long enough to justify stocking a full pantry.  I'm not going to buy a full range of basic ingredients just to turn around and ditch them less than a month later. 

So when I went to the grocery store on Monday I had to think very carefully about my meals.  Any kind of blended soup is out because there's no blender.  No cookie making is going to happen because we don't have a mixer or a cookie pan, and I don't want to stock flour, sugar, vanilla, and baking powder.  Indian food is right out because I don't want to buy the twenty spices that it would take to properly make my curries. 

So instead I'm having an experience in how the other half (or everyone else in America) lives.  I've stocked up on chicken pot pies, frozen burritos, pre-made quiches, frozen skillet meals, Indian simmer sauces, just-add-chicken Thai sauces, bagged salad kits, sandwich bread, and yogurt.  Lots and lots and lots of yogurt.  In less than a week, we've gone through more than two dozen cups of yogurt. 

If the meal takes anything more than some chicken or rice, I'm not buying it.  No salad dressing, no flour, no chocolate chips, no olive oil.  I thought I would be clever and buy a muffin mix for breakfast one morning and then realized that I don't have a muffin tin and I didn't want to buy Pam.  I considered a pancake mix but then remembered that I'd have to buy syrup. 

I've informed the children that we have a no-leftovers policy.  We don't buy any more food until we're entirely out of the food that we have left.  If you don't like potato salad, too bad, because we'll be eating it until it's gone.  If you prefer peaches to apples, then I'm sorry when the peaches run out because now we only have apples to eat.  We are having oatmeal every morning because I bought ten pounds of oats at Costco; I don't care if you hate it. 

This kind of cooking is the polar opposite of what I do overseas.  Everything I cook there is from scratch.  You want enchiladas?  Better start making those corn tortillas from the masa flour that you put in your consumables shipment.  I make all my bread from scratch, from wheat that I ground myself.  I can my own pizza sauce every summer when the tomatoes are cheap and ripe.  My definition of convenience food is canned tomatoes that are already diced for you.

The other day one of the children asked when I was going to start making bread again.  They held out the piece of sandwich bread (which was even the good kind that I paid over four dollars for) disdainfully, "This bread is so gross.  Why can't anyone make good bread like you make??  Would you please just make a little bit of bread while we're here???"  I reminded them that I don't have yeast, flour, gluten, honey, or bread pans so they'd just have to wait.

I do have to admit, however, that I can see the appeal of this convenience food cooking.  The other day I opened a bag, dumped it in a frying pan, poured in some water, and had a half-decent pasta dish less than twenty minutes later.  Meanwhile Brandon had opened a bag of chopped greens, slit open a packet of salad dressing, and sprinkled in another bag of pumpkin seeds and craisins to make a salad.  And when we were done, all I had to clean up was the frying pan.  No washing, no chopping, no measuring, no seasoning.  Just dinner, in less than twenty minutes.

So, I guess I'll enjoy it while I can.  And maybe next week I'll try out refrigerated cookie dough.  I might even cook it, too.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Catching Up

Last time I checked in, we were waiting at my parents' house for Brandon, who was still in Tajikistan, to finally join us in America.  It's been awhile.

Brandon finally made it at 11:45 pm on May 3rd.  He successfully packed out the week before, where we barely squeaked by with our weight, much to my relief.  After the movers had boxed up all of our things and counted the boxes (258), Brandon did some multiplication (258 times 35 pounds per box = 9030 lbs) and freaked out.  But thankfully some of the boxes were pretty light and we came out okay


Our original plan, before mysterious medical circumstances intervened, was to visit Brandon's parents in Missouri before making our way to North Carolina.  We decided to stick with that plan, and so at 5 am on May 5th - after celebrating Eleanor's birthday the day before - we started driving to Missouri.  Seventeen hours later, we made it.  Even though driving that far in one day may be unpleasant, driving that far in two days with a stop halfway through is even worse. 

We had a fun time visiting, managing to get in a hot dog roast with cousins, a carriage drive with friends, a visit to Arkansas to see the Crystal Bridges art museum, an overnight trip to Kansas City to visit the temple and Liberty Jail, a ride in the tractor running the baling machine on the farm, and many, many trips down to Shoal Creek (where one of Joseph's flip flops decided to abandon him for somewhere better).  Much fun was had by all.

The next week we loaded everyone back up in the car and drove eighteen hours back, bypassing Raleigh and going straight to the North Carolina coast, to Topsail Island.  Since we are going to miss the annual family beach week, my sister and I hatched a plan to rent a house for a long weekend so that the kids could get together and have some beach time.  We finally made it to the house at 2 am (time zone switches are not your friend when you're driving east) and were very happy to wake up at the beach the next morning.

We stayed through the weekend and on Monday morning my dad and Brandon loaded up the four oldest to take them camping at Bear Island, a state park about an hour north of Topsail Island.  The entire party canoed out to the island and spent the night camping on the beach before paddling back the next morning. 

We also celebrated Sophia's tenth birthday.  Usually Kathleen is the one who gets her birthday at the beach, so Sophia was very happy to be the one to celebrate her birthday with family.

The next day Brandon flew out to Utah to celebrate his fortieth birthday with most of his brothers.  They had a great time fly fishing, watching movies, and hanging out without any spouses or children to ruin the fun.

The weekend after Memorial Day, almost all of my siblings came to Raleigh for a short family reunion.  My youngest brother and his wife are having their first baby (hooray!) in September, and my other brother is sailing his sailboat back from Hawaii (rough life), so they won't be at the beach week this summer either.  We had a fun time catching up, swimming at our childhood pool club, going out to eat, and learning a new game (Codenames) that I am really, really bad at. 

Monday morning Brandon and I abandoned the children to the tender mercies of my parents and left for a five day vacation to Charleston, South Carolina.  We had a fabulous time sleeping in, eating lots of seafood, admiring the beautiful houses and their gardens in the historic district, visiting Fort Sumter, attending an organ concert at the cathedral, taking a carriage tour, looking at art galleries, browsing antique shops, touring house museums, and visiting a plantation.  The Raleigh temple is closed for renovations (fist shake), so we ended our trip with a session at the Columbia temple. 

Saturday we packed up all the detritus of over two months' on-and-off residence at my parents' house, trying to find every little sock, toy, earring, and book that had worked its way into the every single corner of their dwelling.  The text messages from my mother with pictures of forgotten items started showing up about two hours after we left to drive up to DC on Monday morning.

We moved in to our temporary apartment that afternoon and I reacquainted myself with how excruciating grocery shopping is.  And then when I looked at the trunk full of food I had (it turns out that eight people eat a lot of food) and thought about hauling it all across the parking lot, up the elevator, down the hall, and into my apartment, I remembered why I really hate living in apartments.  There are some really great things about living in a place where you can pay someone to magically make food show up in your refrigerator and your car is parked right outside your front door.

This week Brandon has been doing some consultations and chasing around all of the tasks that seem simple until you start doing them.  We neglected to renew our medical clearances in the rush of leaving post early, and are now paying for it with daily calls to the MED offices to beg them to get ours done quickly.  Brandon also missed the email back in April where Tashkent sent him paperwork to get visas and accreditation done early, and so we're sweating that (30 day turnaround) too. 

In between paperwork battles, phone calls, meetings, and consultations, we have been getting together with friends who are also in the DC area.  The children and I met a friend from college at the National Aquarium, we met friends from Cairo for a pleasant evening at the park, we met up with other LDS families who are also going to Tashkent this summer, and we went out to dinner with my cousin and his wife.  Brandon is about ready to declare himself a hermit.

In three weeks we will be settling in to our new life in Tashkent, ready to finally stop after three and a half months of nomadic life.  We can unpack our suitcases and leave them unpacked, set up a routine and stick to it, hang some pictures, and go back to normal life. 

But not quite yet.