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Sunday, March 31, 2019

The First Smartphone Death

Almost two and a half years ago, I finally took the plunge and joined the world of smart phones.  I had been reluctant to give in for years, happy with my dumb phone and not seeing a need to join the techno-savvy ranks.  Of course, after I gave in, I realized why they're so darn popular.  I also realized - after I had already taken the plunge - that I had just signed up for a lifetime of paying a lot of money for a new phone when the time came to get one.

Since I don't like spending hundreds of dollars on replacing technology that works perfectly well (our car is now eleven years old and we have no plans on replacing it until absolutely necessary), I've tried to take good care of my phone.  Even though cases don't look as cool as having a thin, sleek iPhone, I always keep mine in the case.  I don't take it near the pool, and I try not to drop it (but let's be honest, my phone gets dropped quite a bit).

But sadly, it only takes one moment of carelessness to turn a perfectly useful piece of technology into a kids' dress-up accessory.  And that moment happened Monday morning when I went to use the bathroom and forgot that my phone was in my back pocket.  Two seconds later and my phone was in the toilet.

After wiping it down, I stuck it in the always internet-recommended bowl of rice, but the internet failed me.  I knew that there was no hope for my poor phone when I went to plug it in and the plug wouldn't even fit all the way in the port because the battery was so swollen.  I was very sad.

If this had happened in America, I would have just been out an unconscionably large amount of money and perhaps without a phone for a few hours or maybe even a day.  Being in Central Asia - as always - complicates things.  I'm pretty sure iPhones can be found in Tashkent, but I'm pretty sure that I'd have a hard time determining the provenance and/or authenticity of those iPhones.  And I bet the real iPhones are more expensive here.

Thankfully the pouch (our mail-order lifeline to the delights of America [cough. Charmin]) stopped banning lithium-ion batteries a few year ago, so I wasn't stuck with finding someone in the US who could act as a courier of banned electronics.

Unthankfully, the pouch has a wide delivery window and I have travel plans in two weeks that will go much more smoothly if I have a phone to take with me.

So that evening I jumped on the internet and started comparing used versus new iPhones.  Ultimately, with Brandon's recommendation, I decided to get another used phone.  At this point, phone technology isn't that different between newer and older models and I can't help but think that I'll probably find another way to break this phone long before its theoretical useful lifespan ends.  But this time, I made sure my phone wouldn't die the death by toilet and ordered a 7, which are waterproof.

The low point of my phone internet shopping experience was when PayPal wanted to text me a confirmation code to the phone that was dead when I forgot my log-in password one too many times.  I started out on the iPad, moved to the iMac, and finished on the MacBook before I could get PayPal to log me in without that pesky confirmation code.  Sometimes I feel like the internet is out to get me.

Brandon argued me into paying the outrageous $35 for expedited shipping, and it got delivered to Dulles this past Wednesday.  So fingers crossed that the Pouch Gods smile on me and: 1. get it out in the next shipment and 2. don't randomly reject my much-needed phone for having a li-ion battery (like they did to my new camera last fall).

I have discovered, however, that life is mostly livable without a phone.  Thankfully our iPad is cellular enabled so I can still have navigation while out driving.  Facetime and Facebook Messenger do an okay job of filling in for an actual phone, although when Brandon is in his office I'm out of luck.  Sadly, I can't order food because I don't have a phone to send confirmation codes to, but maybe that's okay anyway.  It's annoying to actually have to check email, since the iPad fetches it only when it's in the mood.

But, I will be happy to have a phone again whenever it shows up in Uzbekistan.  Dependency sure is annoying sometimes.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Living in Tashkent: Car Washes

In all the posts we've lived in, car washing is a serious thing.  I'm not sure if it's because cars are a mark of status, or it it's because we've always lived in dry, dusty places, or the labor is so cheap that everyone can afford to get their car washed, but going around with a dirty car is very low-class.  As an American, it's a little surprising because we don't care that much about the cleanliness of our cars.  Sometimes a really muddy, dirty car is even cool because it means that you've been out doing crazy stuff.  Not so here.  Driving a dirty car is like wearing shoes inside the house.  Both are unbearably filthy and unthinkable. 

In Egypt, everyone would pay their boabs (doormen) to wash their car on a daily basis.  The washes usually involved a semi-clean bucket of water, but it (mostly) got Egypt's all-pervading dust off of your car enough that you could see through the windshield.  We didn't have a car in Egypt, so we didn't have to worry about it.

In Baku, we could theoretically have washed our own car (and we did a few times), but we lived in a neighborhood where everyone got to watch us washing the car and it was kind of awkward.  Also, the only spigot we had was seventy-five feet away and our hose wasn't that long.  Thankfully was a car wash right outside the back gate of our neighborhood.  Every few weeks I would drop the car off, walk home, and come back a few hours later to a washed and vacuumed car.  Cost: $12.

In Dushanbe, we (regrettably) had a guy who came to the house once a week to wash the car.  He would stop by the house asking for money and/or work several times a week, so I finally convinced Brandon to hire him to wash the car - a decision that I still regret.  His outside wash was somewhat okay, but the only thing that he did to the inside of the car was wash off the floor mats so that the car smelled like stale water for the rest of the week.  And he brought 'gifts' to pre-thank us for the extra money that Brandon would give him every week.  Cost: way, way too much money.  I don't want to know, actually.

Here in Tashkent we have a yard and we have long hoses and we don't have anyone asking for 'work,' but our cars are parked in a garage.  We could wash them outside the gate, but I'm lazy and I don't want to bother with it.  And Tashkent has tons of car washes. 

The first time I got the car washed, I made Brandon come with me.  Moving to a new country always involves figuring out new systems that aren't that complicated, but are never quite like the ones in the last place you lived.  We found a likely candidate for a car wash (cars, vacuums, power washers) and drove up.  Pretty soon someone came up and asked us if we wanted the car washed.  Why yes, in fact we did.  Funny you asked.  He ushered us out of the car, took the keys, and pulled it into one of the several bays containing a power washer. 

It's always impressive to see an Uzbek wash a car because they really wash that car.  Everything - the wheels, undercarriage, top, bottom, anything that could possibly get dirty - gets sprayed clean of any speck of dirt before it gets soaped up and then rinsed off.  Then the whole thing gets dried off before any spots think about appearing.  After the outside is clean, then they take it to the vacuum.  The floor mats, seats, rugs, and seats all get vacuumed.  The windows all get washed on the inside.  The inside surfaces get cleaned.  The door frames get wiped off.  When the car it is done, it is clean.  Cost: $5

The only problem with an Uzbek car was is that it always takes at least an hour.  I usually don't have spare hours sitting around, waiting for me to take the car to be washed, so the car doesn't get washed as often as I'd like.  I'd prefer to have it washed every week (and who wouldn't when it costs so little?), but I'm doing pretty well if it gets washed once a month. 

Brandon, on the other hand, hasn't had his car washed in the entire seven months we've owned it.  The windshield wipers need badly replaced (turns out that American Fit wipers don't fit South American Fits.  Who knew?) and the windshield fluid has run out, so I can barely stand getting in Brandon's car without shuddering.  Last week I announced that I was going to go get his car washed, and Brandon positively refused.  "How would I know if someone has been tampering with my car," he reasoned, "if there isn't a protective coating of dirt to show fingerprints?"

A few weeks ago I noticed a new car wash in my neighborhood.  It wasn't just guys with power washers, it was an automatic car wash.  The kind where you pay money, drive your car through, and leave.  I decided to try it out the first chance I could.  Any car wash that took less than an hour was a good thing.

That Saturday I was out running errand and decided to try it out.  I almost lost my nerve as I drove up - did I really want to use my pathetic Russian to try and figure out a new car wash system?  What if it wasn't working? How did I pay? How much was it going to cost? - but then the attendant waved me up and I took the plunge.

I managed to figure out the price - 40,000 soum - and he managed to communicate that I needed to stay in the car and drive it through myself.  I mentally high-fived myself and pulled up.  Then he pulled out the power washer and proceeded to wash the car down before I actually drove into the car wash.  I giggled to myself - just because it's automatic doesn't mean you can't give it a little help - and then carefully drove the car in place underneath the classic roller and waited for the cycle to complete. 

As I pulled out, I saw the vacuums and realized that I hadn't signed up for just a wash  - after all, it's not a car wash without a vacuum, right? - and started figuring out how to tell them that I didn't want a vacuum.  Thankfully (and strangely) I actually know the word for vacuum and was able to let them know I didn't have time for a vacuum.  But of course I had time for the car to be dried because you can't drive away with a wet car, so I patiently waited for the car to be dried off.  As I pulled away, I checked the time: twenty minutes. 

I know that when I eventually return to the land of automation and people-less interactions, I will love being able to get my car washed in less than ten minutes by just pushing a few buttons and talking to nobody in any language, much less one that isn't my native language.  Some people consider this to be cold and isolating, but I'm okay with it after living in countries where everyone wants to help you out with everything. 

But, I will probably miss my Uzbek-clean car.  It certainly won't cost five dollars to pay someone else to do it for me, and it definitely will take more than an hour to do it on my own.  I best enjoy it while I can.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Snow Vacation

I have never been a snow person.  I don't like being cold and snow is, by definition, cold.  So why anyone would want to go up and spend several days in the cold is beyond me.  I can understand skiing, as I used to ski in college, but really I'd rather go somewhere warm.  Everyone has their preferences.

But I have come to enjoy playing in the snow over the years, much to my own shock.  It's kind of fun if you have the right clothes and the weather isn't too bad, and the children do enjoy it.  So this winter I decided that we needed a little family snow vacation.

Uzbekistan has several ski areas (resorts is much too strong of a word) within 90 minutes of Tashkent and there are lots of little hotels and dachas in the area.  My Russian teacher, who knows everything, recommended a 'resort' with both a hotel and cottages. 

It looked okay on the website and I liked the idea of a separate cottage, so we took the plunge and booked a cottage.  I was kind of shocked at the price - $180 a night is a lot for Uzbekistan, but I figured that's the cost of going on vacation.

The weather here has been very spring-like recently so we were a little unsure how much snow there would be up in the mountains.  The drive up was very sunny and cheerfully spring-green and we didn't see any snow until the last half hour of the drive.  But as we climbed up into the mountains, the snow got deeper and thicker until we got to our destination.  Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.  It's not any fun to go on a snow vacation without any snow.

And it was a good thing there was snow because there wasn't much else to do.  The 'cottage' was disappointing (to be generous), especially for the price.  I was imagining a fireplace and couches perfect for lounging but instead we got a kitchen smaller than the bathroom and a table.  With three bedrooms upstairs.  

Thankfully the children were happy to be somewhere else, so they thought everything was great.  Hm.  Brandon reminded me that I was expecting too much from Uzbekistan, and he was probably right.  

Thankfully there was a pristine, untouched meadow within walking distance of the cottage, so we had lots of snow all to ourselves.  

Brandon hates crowds which is why we stayed away from the ski areas, and skiing with small children is always a terrible idea anyway.  There aren't any ski schools to abandon them at, and there's no way I'm going to try to teach them.  Not even I am that crazy.

The children had a great time digging holes, 

Climbing in holes, 

And building snow persons.

The weather was warm enough to be hot if you moved around too much, so we made sure to spend a lot of time just hanging out.  A chaise lounge would have been nice.

One definite downside to snow vacations versus beach vacations is that the tolerance for snow playing is about two hours and then everyone has to come back inside and warm up and dry out.  This is the part where the 'fireplace and couches' would have been really nice.

But sadly all we had were uncomfortable chairs and a TV with about five working channels, all in Russian.  So we watched Russian TV.  Because any TV is better than no TV, right?  Thankfully we found a sports channel and got to hone our appreciation of diving, ice skating, downhill skiing, hockey, and cross-country skiing.  Also, we got to watch a Women's Day concert which was too bizarre to be borne for more than fifteen minutes.  Watching TV from other cultures is always entertaining in an anthropological kind of way.

Thankfully I didn't have to cook dinner in the practically non-existent kitchen because there was a restaurant of sorts.  The options were limited, but they didn't require any work on my part which is about all I wanted anyway.

What the 'resort' did have, however, was plov-cooking facilities.  I wondered who in the world would come up to the mountains to have a vacation and cook plov, but they were very popular during our time there.  In America, we grill; in Central Asia, they cook plov.  

By the end of our three days, Brandon and I were happy to go home and get sleep after two nights of amazingly hard beds, William waking up in the middle of the night, and the children waking up early in the morning.  But accommodations aside, the rest of the weekend was quite pleasant.  It's fun to get some snow time and away time every now and then, and the children all declared the entire thing a success.  But next year, I'm looking for somewhere else to stay.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Getting into a Rhythm (Finally)

This school year has been the school year of the new schedule.  Because my children are all two grade levels apart (sadly, William broke the pattern and will be three grades behind Eleanor), our school years go in two-year cycles.  The first year is the more difficult year because everyone has increased responsibilities.  The second year is easier because we have the same routine, just different grade-level curriculum.

This year Joseph started first grade, which is always a shock to the system for a child when they've previously spent most of their days doing whatever they liked.  Edwin started third grade and most of his school work is now done independently without my direct oversight.  Sophia started fifth grade and started taking online classes which meant deadlines and assignments graded by someone other than me.  Kathleen started seventh grade and in addition to her own school work, got to help Joseph (and therefore me) with his history and science assignments.  It's been a busy year.

Third grade is one of the hardest transitions for my children.  They move from fairly strict oversight to being mostly independent, and with that independence comes lots more ability to waste their time.  We've termed this the 'third grade slump,' and I get the joy of experiencing it every other year.  It starts when they realize that nobody is making them do their school work and maybe they can just play instead.  Their school work piles up and they get increasingly onerous punishments which they believe can be put off indefinitely.  Then they actively fight against having to do their work and won't work even when I try and help them.  At this point I start fantasizing about traditional school.

Eventually after multiple try fail cycles, the child realizes in the core of their being that schoolwork is something that is as unavoidable as death and taxes, and maybe you have a better chance of escaping those things than you do escaping your school work.  My sanity returns to normal levels, everyone breathes a sigh of relief because mom isn't yelling all the time, and my chocolate consumption goes way down. 

Edwin and I reached that happy place a few weeks ago and our lives have become so much better.  Every morning he does his chores, comes down to the school room, and pulls out his work for the day.  Usually his finishes everything before lunch and then has the rest of the afternoon to himself.  I had to leave mid-morning last week for an appointment and his moral will fell off as soon as I left.  But the next day he applied himself and was able to finish nearly two days' school by one o'clock in the afternoon.  He is so much happier knowing that he can get the job done and I am so much happier having a relationship that isn't dominated by discussions of why he hasn't gotten his work done.

I've definitely learned a few things on this third cycle of the third grade slump.  As much as it feels like yelling at your child will work, it doesn't.  Sadly.  I really, really felt that if they were just scared enough they would get their mind right and get to work.  I still don't quite understand all the psychology behind it, but it doesn't work. 

Same for getting angry.  I realized that I was mostly getting angry because I was afraid that Edwin would never ever learn to get his school work done.  If I took a step back and thought about it, I wouldn't actually believe that, but in the moment it was a real fear.  The best reaction to yet another failure is shrugged shoulders and an insistence on getting the work done.  Emotional hysterics actually aren't as effective as they feel they should be.

You have to have some sort of consequences, but they don't have to be terrible.  I thought up the most amazing things to do to Kathleen, including cutting her hair and taking away her toys.  Brandon took her for walks to the local bazaar to show what she would be doing as an adult if she didn't do her school work.  Sophia got to write sentences (which just made the work longer).  Edwin got fined a lot.  But really the most effective consequence is losing free time.  Edwin spent months inside while everyone else was playing because he hadn't finished his school work.  I knew that I was finally getting to him when he sighed to his brother, "I wish I could go play outside.  Instead I'm stuck here doing school work."  After all, as an adult, the you get the same exact consequence when you don't do your own work - you just have to do it when you could be resting instead.

I also learned that success is the biggest motivator.  It has to be real success, not something manufactured by forcing the child to do something.  They have to have put in the effort and see that it has paid off.  However, you can help make circumstances be more conducive to success.  After letting Edwin do things his own way (and fail) for awhile, he was willing to work with me to have  more structured oversight.  And once he realized that the structure worked well for him, I didn't have to be nearly as involved because he knew that the system benefitted him.

Most of all, however, I learned that you just have to be patient.  Learning is a process and it takes time to really understand things.  You can tell your child that getting their school work will benefit them, but they don't really feel it until they actually get it done.  We all learn by running into the negative effects of our actions, but it takes quite a few times before those consequences are a pattern and not just random effects that maybe won't happen the next time.  But eventually, like water wearing away at a stone, those actions and consequences will start to form a pattern and they will see how to get things done.  It just make take a lot of secret chocolate breaks to get there.

I am very glad to have a fully functional third grader who knows how to get his school work done.  This is an essential skill that gets learned in elementary school, but it sure is painful to go through the lessons.  I'm going to enjoy my break until Joseph enters third grade.

Why I Love Two-Year-Olds

Last month William turned two years old.  I think that every mother has a particular age that is their favorite, and mine is two.  Although two is often given a bad rap - 'terrible twos' - I think that really three is the hardest young child ages to deal with.

Two is in the perfect middle between helpless baby and attitude-filled older children.  Two-year-olds can feed themselves, and it is a beautiful thing to put a plate of food in front of them then turn to eat my own food while they cheerfully fork eggs or chicken or macaroni and cheese into their mouth.  After two years of being the meal provider, it's a wonderful thing to just sit and eat my own food again.  William can walk up and down stairs alone, get his own toys, and will go play outside when he gets bored of happenings in the house.  I like having a child that isn't wholly dependent on me anymore.

I also like that two-year-olds are verbal enough to let you know what they want, but not verbal enough to give you sass.  Their conversations are very straightforward, "Please, give it rawr [dinosaur]" without any extra whining or pleading.  I love that they understand when you say no and (mostly) put things down when you tell them to.  They've had enough experience with getting in trouble that they know what it means and don't want to get on your bad side.  

Two-year-olds are young enough that a cuddle from mom is enough to make them feel better when they've been hurt, insulted, or denied something that they want.  This past week William got shots and after he'd he howled indignantly for a few seconds, he was calmed down by saying, "Ow! That hurts!" and getting a cuddle from me.  Half a minute later, he was happily sucking on a lollipop, all pokes forgotten.  Sometimes I'm secretly happy when William gets a little hurt because I get to hold him as he curls up in my lap while sucking his fingers.

I also like that two-year-olds can be sent to bed when they're being obnoxious.  Six-thirty or seven is still a completely reasonable bed time and two-hour naps are totally expected.  We haven't moved William out of his crib yet, so he can got in baby jail when he's gotten out of hand.  He understands that crib means bed, and although he might protest for a few minutes, he gives up pretty quickly.

Two is also the age when children start saying hilarious things.  Yesterday at breakfast William was protesting having to eat crepes and Joseph accused him of being a communist (a very common insult in our house).  Enraged in the completely hilarious way only a two-year-old can be, William screamed back, "Joseph, YOU commdudist!!!"  We all dissolved into laugher while William sat huffing indignantly about not being taken seriously.  It's hard to get mad at such little things with such outsize emotions.

Children this age are also very happy to go along with whatever their older siblings think up.  And the older siblings are happy to have their own cheerfully compliant baby doll who loves their wild schemes.  A few days ago I went outside just as Joseph zoomed past, pushing the little red car while William rode in it.  Joseph pushed as fast as his wiry frame could go and William, bumping and lurching wildly, sat calmly enjoying his crazy ride.  Kathleen likes to put William on her shoulders while he tells her various horseback riding commands that she has taught him in Russian.  I love watching all of the children playing with William.  

I know that my days of two-year-olds are numbered, and so I'm trying to enjoy them as much as possible.  I understand how parents spoil their youngest children, as they know that those sweet innocent ones will be grown up all too soon.  One day all my babies will be grown up and I'll never have the magical power of making everything right in the world again simply by pulling them up in my lap for a good cuddle.  I won't be able to delight them with a good tickle and they won't prefer me above anyone else.  I know that growing up is the only way we progress and become capable of more joy and able to do good things in the world.  I look forward to seeing as my babies grow into someone amazing who have lives of their own.  But I certainly don't want to rush it.  I'll enjoy two for now.