The views expressed in this blog are personal and not representative of the U.S. Government, etc etc etc.
Read at your own risk.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Thanksgiving 2018

This year we hosted Thanksgiving.  We held it with a few other families who also had a lot of children and one of them offered to host also, but they have cats and Brandon preferred to host instead of sneezing his way through the afternoon.  

There were four families total, so the cooking got spread out nicely between everyone.  Brandon commented when he saw the spread, "There's nothing like profiting from the female desire to show off one's cooking skills!"  

We ended cooking the rolls, turkey, gravy, and pecan pie (which I made just because I really like pecan pie) and so I didn't even start cooking until Thanksgiving itself.  The rolls took most of the time, as making rolls for 24 people - with enough for leftovers - is no small job.  We ended up with almost eight dozen rolls, as I have a mortal fear of running out. 

I know that William's Thanksgiving dinner consisted entirely of rolls and juice, and I'm pretty sure a few other children had the same meal, supplemented by sugar cookies.  Brandon and I have gotten soft in our old age and our family rule for holidays is, "Eat whatever you want.  We don't care.  Nutrition doesn't count on holidays."  It makes for a more fun holiday for the children and gives us a break from forcing children to eat food they don't like.  Also: more tasty holiday leftovers for me.  

We have an enormous dining room which comes in handy when you're feeding so many people.  We had enough room (and seating) for an adults' table, a kids' table, and a food table all in the same room.  It's going to be sad when one day we have to live in normal-sized houses.  Easier to clean, much cozier, but not so good for large parties.  Which Brandon is probably okay with.

I'm grateful for the wonderful friends we've already made after only being here for four and a half months, friends who were not scared to come and join us for a noisy, child-filled meal and then stay at our house and enjoy each others' company for several more hours.  I miss family most at Thanksgiving, as that holiday was always spent with my most favorite cousins, and I treasure the easy companionship that comes from knowing people since you were born.  But as we move around the world, we make more family wherever we go.  And I'm thankful for my Tashkent family that made Thanksgiving wonderful this year. 

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Happy Birthday, Joseph!

Last week Joseph turned seven.  I remember when seven was a Very Big Age, but seven doesn't seem that big anymore when you have three other children that have already reached that milestone years before.

Joseph chose to go bowling and have Chinese food to celebrate his birthday.  We don't have birthday parties (I'm too lazy) and instead have a special day together as a family.  After a little internet searching, I found a bowling alley (somewhat) close by and we went and gave it a try.  

It turned out to be very nice and very empty on a Monday morning (Veteran's Day holiday), which was just fine with us.

The children all enjoyed themselves, probably making all the employees cringe with their horrible form, but having fun nevertheless.  The children had bumpers, which is the only explanation I can come up with for why Eleanor spanked all of us, including Brandon.

Afterwards we had lunch at our favorite Chinese hole-in-the-wall restaurant.  When the food is so amazingly good, you can forgive just about any decor.

We couldn't find the candles, so Joseph got to blow out a regular candle instead.  As long as there's fire, evidently it counts.

Joseph was very happy with all his presents.  But, who wouldn't be happy with free stuff, right?

Joseph is a very happy, cheerful boy and always willing to make a new friend.  He just made friends with a neighbor boy and is so happy to have his very own friend that lives just next door.  We're grateful to have Joseph as part of our family!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Magic Floor

I mostly like our kitchen here in Tashkent.  I can't say that I've loved any of our kitchents; each one has a mix of features that I like and ones that I can't stand.  Our Egyptian kitchen was pretty big, had full-size appliances, and lots of counter space, but it didn't have any air conditioning.  Our kitchen in Baku had air conditioning and ceramic floors, but it didn't have a full-sized oven or range.  The Dushanbe kitchen was huge, had room for a freezer and a refrigerator, and plenty of storage space, but we had another easy bake stove and oven.

Our current kitchen is mostly okay.  It is somewhat on the small side, but it does have a door to the backyard, which is really nice when it gets too hot.  There is definitely a lot less counter space than in our last kitchen and I've had a fun time trying to fit everything in the cabinets.  Our pots are currently living on the window sill until I put some wall shelves up.  We do, however, have a wonderfully large, deep sink that I love.  I've never had a sink large enough to fit a half-sheet pan in, and I'm really enjoying my sink.  But the best part about my kitchen here is the stove - a full-sized American gas range.  Every time I put two 9x13 pans side-by-side in the oven, my heart sings with happiness.

Our kitchen has one very interesting feature: the floor.  It is a black-and-white ceramic tile floor, which in principle I am okay with.  The tiles are nice and large with very small grout lines between the tiles, which are wonderful after having a tile floor in Baku that dirt would get lost in every time it fell into the canyon-like cracks between the tiles.  It actually looks really nice when it's clean, but it's almost never clean.

It turns out that our floor is magical, but in the not-good, Sauron-makes-the-One-Ring kind of magical way.  It makes dirt spontaneously.

Our housekeeper comes three times a week, and every time she comes she mops the floor, often twice.  She leaves at three in the afternoon, and by seven in the evening the floor is usually coated in dirt and in need of another mopping - the third for the day.  Footprints, crumbs, dirt, splashes, smears, and streaks defy the law of conservation of mass as they appear without anybody seeming to do a thing.  Often one of my children will simply look in the kitchen and crumbs will appear on the floor.  Another one will wash their hands at the sink and dirty wet footprints will pop into existence all around them.  Every time William eats his high chair is surrounded by a virtual Jackson Pollock of drips, splashes, and splatters.

One would think that between black and white, one of the tiles would hide dirt, but instead they both just show different kinds.  The white tiles show every smudge that thinks of being in existence, and the black tiles showcase every single microscopic mote of dust that happens to wander by our house.  And to make it even better, the tiles are high gloss.  So even if a perfectly clean, crumb and dirt free set of feet walks across the floor, it leaves smudgy footprints across the mirror-like surface.

When I talked with the woman who lived here before me and she mentioned that the floor was a nightmare to keep clean, I rolled my eyes and figured that she was exaggerating.  I have a fairly high tolerance for dirty floors (the gift of laziness) so I didn't think that the 'nightmare' floor would cause too much of a problem.  But I was wrong.  It's one thing to deal with a dirty floor when you can't see it, but it's something else entirely when you can see every single drip that lands on your floor.  I thought I was strong enough to deal with it, but I didn't last more than a month before I broke down and bought a steam mop, something I've always mocked other people for owning.

Now every night after dinner, I have a new ritual.  After the dishes are washed and the counters and table wiped, I kick everyone out of the kitchen.  First the floor is swept and I vainly try to get every stray speck off the amazingly filthy floor.  I feel like I should start a photo diary of how much dirt it's possible to generate in less than four hours, in the cause of scientific inquiry.  After the heap is swept up, I pull out my steam mop.  In a carefully devised pattern that allows the floor to be mopped and dry before I step on it, the entire floor is cleaned.  I finish by admiring my perfectly clean floor and then admire it.  I soak in the beauty of a perfectly clean kitchen floor.  I treasure it in my heart, remembering that once a day the floor actually stays clean for more than ten minutes, if only because everyone in the house is asleep.  Then I go to bed and try to remember in the morning when someone splashes their milk all over then entire kitchen that the floor will be clean once again.  If only overnight.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Indulging Myself

Last Tuesday afternoon, I woke up from my nap and put on my riding tights.  After checking on the children (get your school work done! And please get William up from his nap when you hear him cry), I got in the car and drove to the stable all by myself.  This past Tuesday I worked on cantering from the walk (I'm terrible at it) and I rode an Akhal-Teke mare, Rursi, who had a lovely, smooth canter.  When I got home from my lesson, I folded laundry.

I've discovered that, even though I'm a full-grown, responsible adult who has six children and runs a household in a foreign country, I still am the same five year-old girl who loved horses.  It's funny to realize that even though you grow up, some of those childish passions don't ever go away.

And as I started riding when the children began lessons once a week, that same passion came right back.  After riding for a few months, I realized that I knew all of the basics of riding (walk, trot, canter, jump), but wasn't particularly good at any of them.  There's a point in one's progress in anything that improving is less a matter of gaining more knowledge and more a matter of spending more time practicing.

When I broached the topic of riding twice a week instead of the once I was already doing with the children, Brandon was confused.  "But aren't you already riding horses?  Once a week is more than none a week, which is what you've been doing for the last two decades.  Why do you need to ride twice a week??"

After I explained to him that I wanted to get better and getting better was a matter of spending more time practicing, he warily agreed that it was maybe okay to spend a hundred dollars a month of his sweat-and-blood money on something completely frivolous like riding a large quadruped in a circle for forty-five minutes at a time.

I thanked him profusely and promised that I'd still get all my mom jobs done.

I've been riding twice a week for half a month now and it has been wonderful.  Most of my time is spent doing Very Useful things.  I wake up at five in the morning to exercise, after which I shower, eat breakfast, tidy up the house while overseeing the children's morning chores, teach and supervise school, feed children lunch, take a short nap, read scriptures, study Russian vocabulary, take Russian class (three times a week), take care of household business, cook dinner, eat dinner, clean up dinner, and put the children to bed.  The only part of my day that I really enjoy, that isn't a job which takes moral fortitude to do, is my nap.  The rest of my day, every single minute of it from five am until seven thirty or eight, is spent doing my job.  I'm not complaining about it; this is the life I've chosen and the one I always saw myself doing.  But it is a very busy life and it's a life busy with mostly taking care of other people.

So to have the opportunity to do something that doesn't benefit anyone but me, that doesn't make me a better person or make the world a better place, something that is simply for my very own enjoyment, is so amazingly indulgent.  I had a struggle with my conscience when I first realized that I could ride twice a week without shorting my children of any time I needed to spend with them.  I couldn't find any justification for why this would be something that was good for anyone but me, and it was a lot of money to spend just making me happy.  It was even harder to justify it when I thought about Brandon who was stuck at work for at least fifty hours a week with no opportunity for self indulgence himself.  Nevertheless, I decided to ride anyway because it was something I wanted to do even if I couldn't justify it even to myself.

But I've found that being able to do something that I really, really enjoy doing has made all of the things that I enjoy less (or sometimes not at all) much easier to do.  I don't feel like my whole life is spent doing the things I have to do now that I get to spend a little bit of time doing the thing that I really love to do.  I look forward to riding every day and count down the days until my next lesson, and it's wonderful to have something to look forward to so frequently.  I'm also grateful that Brandon doesn't resent me for doing something that he doesn't have the option to do.

I know I'll never become anything close to a professional horsewoman, but that's because I have something else that I've dedicated my life to - and my family is more important than any hobby that I have.  But I also know that I'll have something to enjoy and improve at, and that is pretty great.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Halloween 2018

I’m not a big Halloween celebrator.  I think that I got this from my mother, who felt that it was a useless holiday, one that involved a lot of work from parents with no benefit to anyone but the children.  She did, however, get to raid our candy stashes, so I suppose she did get a little benefit.  This is probably why she allowed us to participate in Halloween at all. 

My children have grown up with a much different Halloween experience than my own.  I have fond memories of walking my neighborhood streets, visiting all of the neighbors that I had been visiting for almost my entire life.  My parents had a route planned out that allowed for enough trick-or-treating to satisfy our lust for candy without having to stay out all night.  My father usually got stuck walking around the neighborhood in the cold while my mother graciously volunteered to stay home in the warm house to hand out candy.  My childhood often was something straight out of a Disney channel movie.

We have been back in the US for Halloween several times, so some of my children have memories of trick-or-treating from house to house in the cool October air, walking up an unfamiliar sidewalk to ring the doorbell and wait for a complete stranger to give you brightly packaged goodness just because you asked. 

But usually we’re overseas for Halloween.  Here in Uzbekistan Halloween is illegal so we attended the embassy’s Halloween party.  The children started throwing ideas around for costumes several months ago, something they really enjoy.  I’ve never bought or made any costumes (too lazy and too cheap), so they get to rummage through the dress-up box and cobble together whatever they can find.  Sophia is usually the mastermind for this process, and she relishes figuring out what can be made from the available parts.

This year the girls reprised some Christmas present dresses, squeezing one more year out of them before they are too small.  Eleanor went as Little Red (Orange) Riding Hood, Joseph was Caesar, Edwin was Brutus, and William was Boss Baby.  William’s costume was the easiest, as we just had to put church clothes on him and a name tag for identification.  In a fit of festiveness, I also dressed up this year.  I went as a Tajik, wearing a traditional suzani outfit that I bought in Dushanbe.

The weather had unfortunately turned cold the day before Halloween, so everyone froze to death while playing the games outside to pass the time before going trunk-or-treating.  Joseph had firmly assured me that shorts and flip flops would be just fine, so I didn’t feel too bad for him as he slowly turned into a toga-covered popsicle.  As soon as the trunk-or-treating opened up, everyone raced around to get their candy, declared themselves partied out, and were happy to go home. 

They didn’t get the five-pound haul that Dushanbe usually yielded, but they still got enough candy to be happy.  Because – free candy!  And I was happy have fewer wrappers to clean up and less candy to pry out of William’s sticky, chocolate covered fingers after he found a sibling’s stash.  So, I’ll call it another successful Halloween.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Adventure Saturday - Lake Uruganch


Back in September, friends of ours in the church group here mentioned that they wanted to go hiking to a glacial lake, Lake Urungach, in the mountains east of Tashkent.  The pictures looked lovely and I’m always up for an adventure, so we set a date and made a plan to go.

Unfortunately, we discovered that the lake was in a restricted area that needed police permission to visit (why?  I really have no idea).  So we got a diplomatic note submitted asking for permission, planned the trip, and set the date for the last weekend of September.  When he heard this plan, Brandon laughed at our confidence in getting permission that quickly.  “You do know that you’re working with the Uzbek government?” he commented when I told him the plan, “There’s no telling when this note will get processed, so don’t start packing your snacks yet.”

This past week we finally got permission.  Brandon was kind enough not to mention that he told me so. 


There was some debate about the travel time, as none of us had been there.  When you start looking at distances and mountains, it’s hard to make accurate estimates.  Twenty miles seems like it’s not so bad when you’re on a highway, but when you don’t know the condition of the road, twenty miles can take a lot longer.  Our friends did a lot of research on the trip, and found accounts that mentioned the travel time as five hours.  We were all skeptical, as the total trip was only 82 miles, so we lowered the estimate to three hours.

The four families that ended up going met up nice and early at 7:30 on Saturday morning, and we started the adventure.  Uzbekistan actually has pretty decent roads in parts, so the majority of the distance was covered pretty quickly.  There is a large reservoir in the mountains, Charvak, that we had to drive around, and then we followed one of its source rivers further up into the mountains. 

A few months before we had driven the same route in the quest for a camping spot (which we never could find; sadly camping seems to be equally difficult here), but were stopped when we got to a police checkpoint and had to turn around.  It took a little less than two hours to get to the checkpoint.  When we got to the checkpoint this time, we had the paperwork to get through.  It took about half an hour as we had to all get out of the car and match up passports to faces (after they filled out a separate form for each one of the eighteen passports), walk through the checkpoint, and then get back in the car.

By this point we only had nineteen miles to the trailhead.  There were reports of bad road conditions, and we spent most of the nineteen miles scoffing at other people’s ideas of bad road conditions.  The roads were potholed, but they could easily fit two cars and we weren’t a few feet from the edge of a mountain.  We passed through lovely valleys filled with picturesque farms with locals all staring as us, wondering what the trail of black SUVs were doing in their village.  The road grew steadily worse until the very end.  Ninety-five percent of the drive could have been made in our Honda Fit, but the last two or three miles definitely needed the four-wheel drive.  Right as we got to the end, the transmission fluid light came on and we had to stop and park.

Then the hiking started.  There are two lakes on the hike, both formed by natural rockfall dams.  The first lake was pretty close to where we had parked, but it wasn’t particularly full; evidently it’s quite full in the spring but drains out over the course of the summer. 

The second lake was more of a hike.  We had to hike up the face of the natural dam that had been formed when a mountain fell down after an earthquake.  We ended up climbing almost a thousand feet over the course of a little more than half a mile.  Our group included ten children ages 12, 11, 10, 8, 7, 6, 4, 4, 3, and 1 and a 30-week pregnant lady, so it was a slow climb.  Kathleen, Edwin, and Joseph went ahead (the joys of hiking with other children!) and Brandon, Sophia, Eleanor, and I toiled up together.  William got hauled on Brandon’s back.

When we finally made it to the lake, it was beautiful.  And very cold.  The weather had turned wintery a few days before and it was only a few degrees above freezing.  When we were hiking in the sun, it was very pleasant, but sitting in the shade wasn’t.  I imagine that it’s perfect to linger by in the spring or fall, but not on a cold November day.  We all enjoyed our picnic, took the requisite pictures, and scrambled back down the mountains and into our warm cars.

The hike itself was an enjoyable hike with stunningly beautiful views.  It wasn’t terribly long, although fairly steep.  Unfortunately, it’s a fairly long drive from Tashkent, taking almost four hours to get there.  I’d really love to go back in April when the whole countryside is bursting with life, but I’m not sure if I can justify driving so long in one day.  Maybe we’ll have to go camping.