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Sunday, February 24, 2019

First and Last Snow - and Spring!

Tashkent's winter has been disappointing all around.  It has been disappointing for my cold-loving family members (Brandon, Sophia) because it rarely got below freezing.  It has been disappointing for my snow-loving family members (Edwin) because we have only gotten two light dustings before this week.  It has been disappointing for my sun-loving family members (me, Kathleen) because it has been uncharacteristically grey and rainy.  Also, it came much too early.

So bad job, Tashkent.  Nobody liked your winter this year.

This week it finally snowed.  As I said earlier, the winter has been stubbornly rainy and gloomy.  Joseph keeps a weather graph as part of his math lesson, so I can say definitely that we have had two times as many gray or rainy days as we have had sunny days and that is not okay.  If I wanted gray, rainy, drizzly winters, I could go to the Pacific Northwest and I don't want to live there.  Too much gray. 

So even I was happy when the forecast for snow didn't magically disappear as we grew closer to the day that the snow was forecasted to fall.  There have been many predicted snowfalls with very few actual flakes falling from the sky.  But Wednesday morning we woke to snow falling, and by Wednesday afternoon we had a respectable three-inch accumulation.  The children donned their snow gear and went outside to play in the only snow they were getting for the entire winter.  I watched from the window.

Today it was sunny and fifty-seven degrees.  Sophia and I took a walk around the neighborhood this afternoon and we saw the daffodils and tulips and irises pushing their green spikes up out of the ground.  The fruit trees' buds are swelled to bursting point, with some trees jumping the gun and popping open in anticipation of spring.

I can hardly believe spring is finally coming myself, after spending so much time in the cold and dark (those of you who live in places with real winters are now welcome to laugh uproariously).  Being female, I have a terrible memory for physical sensations - which explains why I have given birth six times now - and by the middle of winter or summer I can hardly remember what it feels like to be anything other than cold or hot.  I know intellectually that one day the seasons will change, but I just can't imagine what that will feel like.

I am very happy for the coming of spring.  I am looking forward to the flowers, when everything puts on its finery to welcome warmth and sunshine back to the world.  I am looking forward to walking outside and not immediately wishing to be back inside again.  I am looking forward to wearing sandals and dresses again.  I am looking forward to not having jackets dirty socks strewn across my front hall.  There are so many good things about spring.

I used to think that I would like to live in a land of eternal warmth, and then I lived in Egypt for two years.  It was nice to enjoy seventy-degree January days at the park, but after awhile the sameness got to my northern European brain and I longed for some change that wasn't just warm-warmer.  I don't like the bare naked trees of winter, but I do like the bright spring green foliage on those once-naked trees.  I don't like being cold, but I do like the sweet relief of a warm spring wind.  Winter isn't that great, but it's what gives us spring, so I guess I'm okay with it. 

Transportation, Old and New

Last weekend it was sunny and warm, so I met a friend at the train museum.  I've been meaning to go for some time, but first it was too hot and then it was too cold.  Since the entire museum is just old trains parked on tracks outside, it's essential to have nice weather for a visit.

My friend brought four of her five children and I brought all of mine, so everyone had a great time climbing on all the cars.  The children love Tashkent's hands-off approach to old machinery.  If you can figure out how to climb on or in something, feel free.  After all, the worst thing that's going to happen is to you, not the trains.

Brandon, the sensible one in our relationship, was at home so I let the children climb wherever they wished.  After all who doesn't want to climb on top of a very large train?  And when would you ever get the chance?

The children were all quite disappointed to discover that most of the trains were locked.  However, being resourceful, they found out how to worm their way into a surprising number of places.  My favorite was the boiler.  They reported that it was very dirty.

William, whose climbing skills aren't quite up to train roofs yet, mostly enjoyed pushing his stroller around.  

He also enjoyed sitting and posing for the occasional photo.

The children even agreed to posing for a picture on a large old steam engine.  Great fun was had by all.  Now they can say they've played on steam engines and tanks.  Not too bad!

On President's Day the weather was not warm and sunny, so we took the children indoor go-karting.  Well, we took almost all the children.  William was ditched with the housekeeper because outings without two year-olds are always more enjoyable than outings with two year-olds.  

It was noon on a Monday so we were the only people on the track.  I love American holidays!

It was pretty expensive, costing almost $40 for a ten-minute drive, so we only took one turn.  Driving go-karts is fun, but not $80 kind of fun - especially when I can drive a car whenever I want.

Sophia and I won the race, lapping cautious Kathleen five times before our ten minutes were up.  We were warned of a two hundred euro fine for damages, so she was very careful as she motored her way around the track.

Edwin declared go-karting to be 'okay,' as did Sophia.  Kathleen enjoyed herself, having her first experience driving a gas-powered vehicle.  Joseph, who was barely tall enough to go, was the most enthusiastic about our outing and has already asked when we will go again.

We finished the outing with gelato at a very tasty gelato place that had a price tag I was much happier with - $8 for seven double-scoops.  As we sat around the table chatting and enjoying our gelato (and nobody was fighting, making messes, complaining, or getting out of their seat), I marveled at how much I have grown to enjoy spending time with my children.  It's taken quite some time to get here, but I'm grateful that we can do it every now and then!

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Tashkent after Seven Months

We have now been in Tashkent for more than seven months, although it feels like it's been much longer than that.  Our house has been unpacked long enough for many things to have gone missing into strange hidey holes, furniture has been broken, and wallpaper peeled off the walls.  It's safe to say that we're quite settled.

I can't say that I feel like I've gone through the typical adjustment schedule here in Tashkent because there wasn't much (if any) culture shock, and we pretty much hit the ground running and haven't looked back.  I never had a honeymoon stage and a I never had an undying-hatred stage, it was just a gradual settling in until Tashkent and no longer Dushanbe was now 'home.'

Dushanbe is starting to recede in memory (I can't believe that we left almost eleven months ago), and Tashkent is our new reality.  And I must say that I like our new reality very much.  I can say that this post is definitely our favorite all four that we've lived at.  Cairo had nice weather in the winter, but it was much, much too crowded.  I liked our house in Baku, but the traffic was terrible.  Dushanbe was close to the mountains, but there wasn't much else going on.

Here we have a house that I really like (especially considering that it's not an American house) (and sorry for no pictures.  It's never clean all at once).  It has nice living spaces - we have a dining room, living room, TV room, school room, toy room, exercise room, and a upstairs landing that fits two-full sized couches and four bookshelves.  All of the four bedrooms have their own bathrooms and they bedrooms are all nicely sized.  And of course it has a great yard and a pool.  Just based on the house alone I would be happy to stay here until Brandon retires.

Tashkent is also (for me) the perfect mix of not too big but with still enough going on that we have stuff to do.  It has several water parks, amusements parks, ice skating rinks, and malls.  There's a trampoline park, and indoor go-karting parks, a horseback riding stable, and a decent Turkish restaurant with an indoor play-place that is perfect for a rainy, cold Saturday.  There are enough restaurants that we don't have to go to the same ones every other month, and they also have an online delivery service which is great when I don't feel like cooking on a Saturday evening.

And when I feel like cooking, there are real grocery stores everywhere, one which is half a kilometer from our house.  I've even heard rumors that they accept credit cards.

There are also multiple in-country travel opportunities and the mountains aren't too far away (although farther than I'd like).  We are taking the kids up to the mountains to stay for a few nights in a few weeks, and when I showed Brandon pictures of the house we're renting, he confessed to being shocked at how decent it looked.

If you want to go somewhere else, there are direct flights to fun places like Rome, London, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Frankfurt and Dubai.  Even better, the tickets are reasonably priced enough that I've been researching Malaysian beach vacations.

The traffic here really isn't terrible, although the city is big enough that virtually anything takes 20 minutes to get to - but it's better than an hour.  I usually only have to wait one light cycle during the day, although some lights can get backed up in the evening.  And even better, Google maps has just starting providing turn-by-turn directions.  I'm starting to finally find my way around town without a map, which has certainly taken longer than it did in Dushanbe.

I also enjoy the embassy community here, and have found a good circle of friends, as have the children.  We have been much more social here than we ever were in our other posts (probably combined), and I've really enjoyed it.  Most of the children have, too.

To sum it up, we love it here in Tashkent, having found our Goldilocks post of 'just right.'  I'm already sad when I think of having to leave and am trying to scheme some way that we can stay another tour, even though that is highly unlikely.  A girl can dream though, right?

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Happy Birthday to William

This weekend William turned two.  I remember older mothers telling me - when I was a new, young mother - that the time just goes so fast when your children are little.  At the time it felt like my days were endless and my years eternal and I wished that time would hurry up a little because I could only take so many more days of crying, diapers, incessant questions, and constant messes.

I am officially an older mother now because the time has gone so fast.  A few months ago, Facebook showed me a memory of William's baby shower, and I caught my breath when I realized that it was two years old.  I really thought for just a few seconds that he had been born only a few months ago.

But William is definitely not a newborn anymore.  He is (fortunately, unfortunately) fully ambulatory and can climb just about anything to reach interesting items like my medicine cabinet, food left out on the counter, the knives on the knife strip, and the children's candy stashes.  He can also, sadly, open doors by himself.

Although not as conversational as his older sister Sophia was at two, he's pretty verbal for a Sherwood.  I find him to be quite clever with his limited vocabulary; although he might not know the word for a particular thing or action he wants, he works very hard to make sure he gets his point across.  When he wants someone to turn on the faucet to enjoy the perennial two year-old classic of playing with the water, he requests, "Please, open it," in his chirpy little voice.  Cinnamon rolls are requested with, "Please, have it, cakes," and if he can't get you to understand what he want,  he simply grabs your hand with a grunted, "Come on!" and takes you to whatever he needs help with.

He is adored by his siblings, and often I'll look outside to see him in a stroller being pulled by his siblings who are hitched up as his carriage horses while he calmly sits and sucks his fingers.  One day his world will undergo a serious shift when he realizes that everyone else's world doesn't revolve around him and everyone wasn't created to adore and worship him.

We kept William's birthday celebrations pretty low-key because he's two years old.  I took the five other children ice skating for a church activity yesterday and William got to spend his birthday home with his father.  We did eat pizza, however, while watching Mary Poppins and he does enjoy his pizza.  He got to drink as much as soda as he wanted because, birthdays.

Today I made him a chocolate cake (always a good idea until they start eating it) and we sang "Happy Birthday" to him.  He was quite delighted with the candle and very happily blew it out, followed shortly by demands for cake.  And since it was his birthday, we gave him a second piece as his birthday present.

We're very happy to have William in our family and I'm happy to have a two-year old again as that age is my most favorite of the younger ages.  Happy birthday, William!

Happy Birthday to Me

A few weeks ago I had a birthday.  It's a little (but not too) unsettling to realize that I'm definitely closer to 40 than I am to 30.  Back when I was 35, I could legitimately say that I was only halfway in between those two milestones, and 36 was close enough to 35 that it hardly counted if I was a year older.  But 37 is the age when all pretense at youth is gone.  I'm two years past the 'advanced maternal age' category of pregnant mothers.  I'm more than twice the age of high-school graduates.  Even stranger to realize, I'm more than three times removed (19 years) from that age than Kathleen is (6 years).  As I'm fond of telling Brandon when he moans about his advancing years, old age happens to everyone who doesn't die first.

That's not to say that I consider myself old anymore, I just don't consider myself young either.  Which I'm perfectly fine with; I would never ever go back to the mistakes and inexperience of my youth, with all of the uncertainty and wondering what my place was in the world.  I'd much rather have the beginning of wrinkles, freckles making serious takeover attempts on my arms, and minor health problems, thank you very much.  It's nice to see how the story has turned out so far.

To celebrate, Brandon took me to a local hotel for the night, where we enjoyed a pretty good Italian dinner (especially for Central Asia), sleeping in, and hot chocolate and cronuts for breakfast.  It's wonderful to be financially comfortable so that the occasional splurge isn't something that has to be carefully planned and painfully paid for.  See the above observations on getting older.

For my present, Brandon took me jewelry shopping at Chorsu bazaar, which has a surprising number of jewelry stores with surprisingly expensive jewelry.  I choose to splurge on things other than jewelry (carpets, hotel stays) so the thought of spending $130 on a pair of gold earrings that I would wear a few times a month didn't appeal.  Much to my (and Brandon's relief), we were able to find some pretty silver earrings with a matching necklace for less than $50.  I'm not sure how the locals afford that kind of jewelry when the average salary in Uzbekistan is around $150 a month.

It was a good thing that Brandon and I celebrated before my birthday, because I was sick on my actual birthday.  I spent the day in bed (Brandon brought me breakfast) and only came down for my birthday dinner of french onion soup (also made by Brandon).  But the children had pooled their money and bought me a pretty glass swan candy dish and were very happy to give it to me after my birthday dinner.

I remember deciding in high school that children were probably a good idea because nobody cares about your birthday when you're 85, and I've definitely seen the wisdom of that insight over the years.  It's much more fun to have a birthday when there are people who love to celebrate it with you.

Here's to another year older!

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Adventure Saturday

Last week I looked at the forecast and was shocked.  The weather here in Tashkent has been unusually grey and rainy for most of the winter; according to Joseph's weather graphs for math, we've had more rainy and cloudy days than sunny days.  It's put a real damper on any adventures.

So when I saw a perfectly sunny fifty-degree day forecasted for Saturday, I unilaterally declared a hiking day.  Brandon and I have come to a compromise - one hiking adventure a month - and we hadn't gone hiking yet in January so I knew that I could probably get Brandon's agreement.  When I asked the children about hiking (occasionally I consult my children's preferences), they were lukewarm about hiking, but said that they would be much happier if friends could come.

I got Brandon's buy-in to invite two other families who have claimed to like hiking, and we had a date set.  I was hoping that hiking trails would be more well-known here in Uzbekistan, but some internet searching and querying of friends yielded nothing.  So, armed with years of experience, I got on Google maps and started looking for likely prospects.  I eventually found one that looked like it 1. had parking, 2. had a trail, and 3. was pretty.  At least, it did on the satellite pictures.

I let everyone know that they were following me off on an adventure that I wasn't going to make any promises about, and we headed east out of town to a village, Sukok, that was about 35 miles from Tashkent.  I had found a restaurant that looked to be near to the canyon we wanted to hike in, and after a short detour into the village, we were able to find the restaurant and a place to park (which is not something to be discounted in small mountain villages). 

One of our group who spoke Uzbek asked the gathering crowd of onlookers if there was anywhere we could go 'walking the mountains,' and we were directed to a somewhat unpromising, muddy path.  But, as it was a beautifully sunny day and we had driven more than an hour to get there, everyone enthusiastically started squelching up the hill. 

After snow, mud, a stream or two, and some livestock, we made it to a large gate barring the way.  To our surprise, a gatekeeper poked his head around the door and asked us if we wanted to come in.  Brandon acted as interpreter and was informed that we had stumbled upon a national forest (or preserve, or something similar) and it was 6,800 soum for adults and 3,000 soum for children to get in.  After a few minutes' discussion, we decided to chance the five or six dollars and see what was behind the gate.

It only took a few feet to decide that we hadn't wasted our money on a lovely walk through an equally lovely forest.  The children went haring off together exploring paths while the adults companionably trudged through the muck, enjoying the unexpected pleasure of a forest on a perfectly sunny January day.  Eventually we stopped for a picnic before slipping our way back to the car, everyone having gotten some much-needed winter sunshine.

Evidently Sukok is known for its shashik (shish-kebab) so we'll probably be back in the spring when there's less snow and more lovely green trees.  I'm already looking forward to it.