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Sunday, October 28, 2018

Living in Tashkent: Grocery Shopping

Whenever I consider living in various countries, one of the first thing I think about is food.  One of my permanent jobs is feeding my family, and how I do it is largely based on what food I can get locally.  I've read through so many recipes that looked good but had ingredients that I just can't get.  This has happened so much that I hardly ever cook anything new anymore; I have my twenty recipes that work and that is fine with me.  

Here in Tashkent I've found just about what I was expecting to find, considering that we just moved one country over.  I have been surprised by a few things, however.  In Dushanbe we could only find brown lentils, never red.  Here in Tashkent we can only find red lentils, never red, which is too bad because I shipped fifty pounds of red lentils before I realized this.  I've also found - after shipping a hundred pounds of the stuff - that oatmeal is both available and cheap here.  And weirdly enough, they have cornmeal.  I've never found cornmeal in any of the countries we've lived in before.  But, of course and as always, no black beans.

I also haven't been able to find any kind of liquid cream, only thickened cream.  This works fine for soups and cooking, but it makes it really hard if you want to whip the stuff.  I still can't figure out why they don't have it here.  I can also tell we've moved back to more Turkic culture because there's lots of plain yogurt, which you couldn't find at all in Dushanbe.  Thankfully they have mozzarella cheese, even if it is kind of expensive.  But, no salted butter.  I miss salted butter.  Sigh.

Fruits and vegetables have the same availability that you can find most places - tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants, onions, melons, seasonally available fruit, potatoes, garlic.  But here they sell peeled fresh garlic, which is one of my favorite grocery finds so far.  I hate peeling garlic and I use a lot of garlic - sometimes two heads in a recipe - so it was a revelation to discover that they sell it peeled here.  

Unlike Dushanbe, which had no truly Western-style supermarkets (it had one that was sort of one) when we moved there, Tashkent has tons of supermarkets.  There are several chains, one of the most common ones being an Uzbek chain, Korzinka, that has stores everywhere around the city.  We live half a kilometer from a smaller one, which has been really nice.  The children can walk or ride their bikes to it and when I need something for dinner, they can go and pick it up for me.  The produce selection is good, it has fresh meat, and it even has a bakery, so there really is no need to go anywhere else unless you need something usual, like pork.

Tashkent also has lots and lots of bazaars.  The city is divided into eleven neighborhoods, and each neighborhood has their own good-sized bazaar.  The produce at the bazaar is cheaper than at the grocery store and there is a little more selection, but I don't ever shop at the bazaars because I'm too lazy to drive further than half a kilometer and I don't want the hassle of trying to park.  Usually I send my housekeeper, Shoira, to the bazaar if I need anything specific, but otherwise she does the local shopping at the grocery store.  

There are several bazaars which have places to buy pork, which isn't sold at the grocery stores because Uzbekistan is a Muslim country.  The bazaars also have household goods in addition to any kind of food that can be sold by the kilo.  

I've found grocery shopping in Tashkent to be a pretty straightforward, easy experience.  This is, of course, in the context of shopping with expectations set for being in Central Asia.  I've long since given up looking for some things (specific beef cuts, specialty cheeses, avocados) and so I'm not disappointed when I don't find them.  But, I'm happy to have grocery stores and I'm happy that those grocery stores have parking lots.  It's always good to have reasonable expectations!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

How to Potty Train a 20-Month Old Toddler

The timing of potty training is largely a matter of preference.  Which do you like less - changing diapers or cleaning up puddles and messy undies?

Early potty training takes longer than late potty training, but it can save you over a year of changing diapers.  It's easier to deal with the will of a 20-month old baby because they're used to being told what to do and so potty training is just another thing to learn.  The hardest part is getting a mostly non-verbal child to understand what it is you want of them.  How do you explain 'going potty?' So it takes a while for them to understand what they're supposed to do.

Late potty training (age three or after) is done with the full understanding of the child, but that means that you have to change diapers for awhile longer.  It usually goes a lot faster, which is nice.

What is the most difficult is potty training a two year-old.  They understand what you want but often don't want to do it, and the will of a two year-old is amazingly strong.  I've run into enough two year-olds to realized that in a battle of wills with them, you will lose every single time.  So I very carefully chose what to clash with two year-olds with.  If I can't physically force them to do something, I usually don't make an issue of it.  Which includes potty training - it's impossible to make a child pee in a toilet.

In order to train a toddler to be potty trained with my method, there are a few prerequisites.  The child has to be obedient.  My method involves a lot of sitting around on their toilet, and if they won't sit for long periods of time, you're going to have to find another method.  You also have to have a little potty - no toilet seats allowed, unless you want to spend your entire life in the bathroom. 

Also, you have to understand what I mean when I say 'potty trained.'  I mean a child that goes on the toilet when you put them there and doesn't pee anywhere else.  They wear underwear during day, during naps, and at night.  What they don't do is use the toilet on their own.  Toddlers that young aren't capable of doing that - yet.  At first you will have to take them to the toilet at set times - usually when they wake up, at mid-morning, before nap, after nap, and before bed.  After several months, they will start telling you that they need to use the bathroom.  And within a year, they'll go on their own.  It sounds like a long time to being fully potty trained, but that year was an entire year of you not changing diapers.  If you can change diapers, you can take your child to the bathroom.

I realized after potty training a few children that toddlers have no problem not peeing.  They can, under the right circumstances, hold their bladders for quite a long time.  The difficulty with potty training, then, is not teaching them to hold it, but to release it in the proper place.  That is the skill they have to learn - to let out urine in a controlled manner.  

So with this in mind, I start the first day with sitting the toddler down on the toilet and leaving them there until they pee.  It usually takes an hour or two and they will be very unhappy about it.  They're not used to being without a diaper, and when they've been without a diaper before (bath, changing their diaper), they're used to not peeing.  So their bladder will get uncomfortably full and they'll fuss and cry before they finally can't hold it anymore and they pee.  

So do whatever you can to keep them on the toilet.  William sucks his thumb, so he has his blanket.  I strew toys around him.  Give them electronics, let them watch a movie, just don't let them off the toilet until they've gone.  After they go, show them the toilet with pee in it, make a big show of how happy you are, cheer, high-five, tell them multiple times that they've peed in the potty, and then give them a treat.  William loves jellybeans, so I've been using them.  The whole point of this is to have them associate peeing in the toilet with good things and help them to understand what peeing in the potty is.

Give them a two-hour break and then put them back on the potty until they've peed again.  This will take another ridiculously long amount of time.  I call this stage the Iron Bladder stage.  They don't yet understand that it's okay to pee outside their diapers, and so using the bathroom only happens when they just can't hold it any longer.  During this stage it is essential to leave them on the potty until they've peed.  Don't let them off until they've peed because, inevitably, they will pee as soon as you let them off.  The longer they're sitting, they closer they are to peeing, so if you give up after 1 1/2 hours, it's not going to end well.  

The next stage is Mouse Bladder stage.  You'll know when you're in mouse bladder stage because your child will sit down, use the bathroom within half an hour, get up, and then have an accident twenty minutes later.  Sometimes they'll let out just a little pee, get off the toilet, and then let out some more pee.  They are starting to realize that it's okay to pee outside the diaper, but they don't know how to let it all out at once.  So they let out a little and then stop.  You are tricked into thinking that their bladder is empty, you let them go play, and then they let the rest out.  

This stage is maddening.  You feel like your child will never potty train, the puddles of urine will never end, and that there is regression, not progress.  This stage is when you'll want to give up because it is clearly not working.  But press on, because mouse bladder stage shows that your child is starting to understand.

When they do have accidents, explain to them firmly (try not to yell because then they get confused about whether or not they should pee.  It's hard, though, so don't beat yourself up if you do.  I've done a lot of yelling in my time) that it's bad to pee on the floor, give them a little spank, put them on the potty, and give them a kiss.  Chances are good that they've still got some urine left in their bladder and they can finish on the potty.  Once again, don't let them off until they've peed.  Leaving them on the toilet for long periods of time gives them the best opportunity to be successful - and being successful is what potty trains a child.  

The last stage is Controlled Bladder stage.  You'll know you've reached this stage when your toddler goes on the toilet within five to ten minutes of you putting them down.  I still put them in diapers when I go out (but I try not to go out much at all during the first two weeks), and if they've reached controlled bladder stage, they will have dry diapers when you come home - they can usually last about three hours.  At this point, if you put them on the toilet and they don't go within twenty or thirty minutes, you can let them up again for another hour or so because they can hold it.

After a week of controlled bladder stage, you can go to all undies all the time (when you're at home.  I put them in diapers when I go out until they're capable of telling me they need to use the bathroom).  There will probably be some nights where they wet the bed, so make sure you have a waterproof mattress on the bed, but they will eventually figure it out.  

One thing I don't like about night- and nap-time undies is that I can't let them languish for hours in their bed while I sleep in or ignore them in the afternoon after their naps.  It's somewhat obnoxious, but I learned the hard way with Joseph that waiting is a bad idea.  There is a window for night time training where they're naturally ready for it and if you wait too long (more than a month), it will close and then night time training will be very painful.  So don't delay.

I usually transition to a regular toilet when they are around two and a half.  When we go on R&R in the summer, I have no desire to pack a toilet in my luggage, so usually I tell my toddler that the red potty (ours is a red Baby Bjorn one) has disappeared and they have to use the big one.  They still ask for assistance and I hold them on the toilet so they're not scared, but eventually they just decide that it's easier to go on their own rather than come and get me.  It's always a happy time when that happens.  

So, there are all my secrets for early potty training.  I still hate potty training, but I'm happy to know that I've definitely reached the majority skills level for potty trained children.  There is no way I'm going to have six more children, so I can be happy in knowing that there are a very, very few number of children left to potty train.  Hallelujah!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Milestone Week

This week Joseph learned how to ride a bike.  Before this week, I'd taught three children to ride a bike.  I don't really enjoy teaching this skill (but let's be honest, I don't actually enjoy teaching any skill.  It's a good thing I homeschool my children) because it's so uncomfortable to do.  There's a lot of leaning over holding on to the bike while trying to avoid being sideswiped by pedals.  I still have a bloodstain on one sandal from when I taught Edwin to ride his bike.

Usually I teach children to ride a bike when they're four or five.  Once the training wheels are ditched, it's a lot easier to keep up with the siblings and also it's much quieter - who knew training wheels could be so dang noisy?  When Joseph was four, Eleanor was little or it was summer or it was winter and when he was five I was pregnant with William and then William was little.  When he was six and it wasn't deathly hot outside and I wasn't pregnant, the local park where we went for bike riding got closed and turned into a fancy soccer field, so there wasn't anywhere to learn.

And that's how we got to Joseph being less than a month away from seven and still not knowing how to ride a bike.  I put it off earlier because it was just too hot outside.  If I'm going to be running around while keeping a bike from falling over for the five hundredth time while a child is dripping in snot because of their scraped knee or elbow, I'm not going to be dripping in sweat while doing it.

So this past Wednesday it was: 1. not hot, 2. not cold, 3. not raining, 4. William wasn't sleeping, and 5. I wasn't pregnant.  It was finally the day.

I hauled out Joseph's bike and, of course, the tires were all flat.  I think that sometimes the bikes all get together in the garage at night and let the air out of each other's tires just so I have to pump up the tires over and over and over again.  I don't like pumping up bike tires.

After the tires were pumped up, Joseph hopped on and started pedaling while I had a firm grip on his neck.  Necks are higher than bike seats and so require less bending over.  "Now don't let go," Joseph commanded me in a nervous voice, "I don't want to fall over!"

So I held on to him while he started pedaling down the street.  After thirty or forty feet, I noticed that he was balancing pretty well without any help from me, so I let go.  Often children don't notice that they're on their own until a few feet later and so I waited for the realization to hit Joseph and the loud protesting to begin.  Instead he rode to the end of the street.  "Hey Mom!" he told me, "I can do this own my own! Watch me!"  Then he rode back towards me, past me, and down to the other end of the street, waving as he went by.

So I shrugged my shoulders, pulled out Eleanor's bike, and started teaching her to ride.

This week I also potty-trained William.  I like to potty train my children early because 1. I'm a sucker for punishment and 2. my one nod to crunchiness (everyone has to have one I suppose) is that I cloth diaper my children.

I have potty-trained five children previous to William and so I knew how things were going to go - at least a week of pure insanity followed by slowly improving bladder control.  I've done this enough times that I've mostly run out of emotional hysteria and cleaning up puddles of urine doesn't drive me to insane rage like it used to.  I know that eventually all developmentally normal children potty-train and that cleaning up puddles will not last forever, even if it feels like it will.

So far William has had five total accidents in seven days and has had dry diapers after going to the park on Saturday and going to church today.  When I put him on the toilet, he uses it within five minutes, and when he isn't on the toilet, he stays dry.  I'm still scratching my head over how easy it has been, but I'm not complaining.

Some weeks are particularly horrible and it feels like nothing will ever go right and that progress is something that happens to everyone but you.  But this week was not one of those weeks.  I'm going to savor the feeling for as long as possible.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Hello, Fall!

Last night I woke up cold and had to get another blanket to warm back up with.  When I pulled the curtains this morning, I was greeted with a grey sky and light sprinkles.  During church this morning, it started raining and is still raining this evening.  I pulled out pants and a long-sleeved shirt when I dressed after coming home from church this afternoon.  The weather forecast calls for cloudy weather and rain for the next two days, and after that the high temperature will barely break seventy on one day in the next ten.

It looks like fall just arrived.

Last week the weather was sunny and in the low eighties.  Yesterday we went to the park and it was seventy-five and sunny, the perfect day for the park.  I've been having a hard time believing that it's actually October as I've worn a dress or shorts every day, the same thing I've worn every day since we moved to Tashkent.  I knew logically that one day the weather would cool down and I would have to find out where I put my jeans, but it didn't feel like that would be any time soon.

Our house is heated by radiators, and in the bathrooms, kitchen, and basement, by radiant flooring.  Since the weather has been nice, although chilly at night, we haven't had the radiators turned on yet.  Timing the radiators is tricky business sometimes - turn them on too early and you end up sweltering, but wait too long and you can have some miserable days waiting for someone from the embassy to come and turn them on for you.  This year I'm going to watch so that I have the power to turn them on and off myself.  

My general rule is that when the high temperatures drop below seventy-five, I have the radiators switched on.  Our house is an enormous concrete block, which makes it easier to cool in the summer as the concrete tends to stay cool, but that doesn't work as well in the fall and spring.  So this week, the radiators are getting turned on.  And if we're hot, then we can open the windows.

The trees have also started changing this week.  They've stayed stubbornly green and then one day they must have all agreed that it was time for fall because they all turned at once.  As we drove to church this morning, the wind was whipping leaves through the grey skies.  It was very fall-y and I wanted to go home and make pumpkin bread.

I've always had a complicated relationship with fall because it's the season that ushers in winter.  I don't like being cold, I don't like the sun setting at five in the evening, I don't like bare skeleton trees, and I don't like taking twenty minutes to get my children out of the house while angrily looking for that one lost mitten that someone didn't put back in their bin.  

So although fall has some lovely, crisp days, that make for perfect walks along picturesque rivers, I have a hard time enjoying them as I brace for grey, cold winter.  But there are people in my family who like fall very much and so I'll try not to ruin it for them.  They are very excited about the fire pit that we got this week and everyone is looking forward to roasting marshmallows and making s'mores.

But I guess it doesn't really matter how I feel about fall because it comes every year (well, not in the tropics) whether I want it to or not.  I'll try my best to enjoy it.  And then eagerly look forward to spring.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Tashkent Botanical Gardens

Last Saturday we took the children to the botanical gardens.  We really enjoyed going to the botanical gardens in Dushanbe, so we had high hopes for the Tashkent's.

We had heard that there were WWII tanks that the children could play in, so we went there first.  

The kids were so excited because not only could they climb on the tanks, they could climb in the tanks, and they could even move the turret of the tanks.  "They'd never let us do this in America!!"

William thought that climbing on tanks was mostly okay.

There were also guns.  I'm not exactly clear what kind of guns - you'd have to talk to Brandon about that.

But the guns were also highly entertaining.  After all, what child hasn't wanted to push all the buttons and pull all the levers on big guns?

The anti-aircraft gun was very popular, as not only could you raise the gun, you could turn the entire carriage in a complete circle.  While raising and lowering the gun.

Pink dresses go very well with green guns.

In addition to the guns and tanks, there were also trucks to play in and pretend to drive across the front to go and battle with the Germans.  We've watched quite a lot of WWII movies with the children, so they were pretty excited about seeing real pieces of history.

They didn't run William over.

The kids all declared, after climbing over and under and in everything they could find, that this was even better than the Chinese exercise equipment in the Dushanbe botanical gardens, and when can we come back?  The gardens were wonderfully green and shady with pleasant walking paths, so I think it's safe to say that we will be going back very soon.