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Sunday, June 30, 2019

A Family Vacation

Our family has reached the Golden Age, that magical time when enough children are old enough that family time isn't just a cat-wresting session that one does mainly because it's Good For You, but not too old that they don't want anything to do with you or - even worse - have left you altogether.  A few months ago we all went out on a Saturday and finished the afternoon with gelato.  As everyone sat around the table enjoying their ice cream without spilling, fighting, wandering around, or complaining - instead enjoying ice cream and an interesting conversation, I was struck by how enjoyable it was to spend time with my children.  It was very surprising.

I have always been loathe to spend money on family vacations because I can stay home and stick pins into my eyeballs for free.  And at home the children have toys to amuse them and I have a room to lock myself into.  Lots of friends in the FS take their children to amazing places, but their Facebook pictures only make me tired, not envious.  The thought of hauling children from historical site to historical site in Rome sounds like punishment, not fun.  Honestly, hauling just myself from site to site to site also sounds like punishment.  I don't think I'm a very good tourist.

However, I have come around to the idea of taking the children on a vacation, which is defined as something you do to relax.  Our first vacation to Dubai was a resounding success, so we've occasionally spent the money to go and relax somewhere other than home and it has been (mostly) fun.  One can't expect anything to be entirely fun when there are eight people involved - especially when one of those is a temperamental two-year-old

This past weekend we went back to Chatkal Mountains Resort.  Brandon wasn't able to come the last time we went in May, so we decided to go back in June.  I had given it such glowing reviews that Brandon felt he had to make sure that I was actually telling the truth.  This time we decided to go with friends (who have five boys, so they're completely okay with chaos).

We headed up earlier than our friend because Brandon could take more leave, so we had Thursday and Friday morning to ourselves, and our friends joined us Friday afternoon until Saturday morning.  I've never actually vacationed with friends before.  It's hard to find that perfect mix of 1. children who work well together, 2. adults who work well together, and 3. both parties want to spend prolonged time together.  In our case, there's also the extra complication of finding a family that is not afraid of spending time with such a large family as ours.  We're kind of intimidating; after all, we could make a basketball team with a coach and a cheerleader.

Our time alone was delightful; the children played around the pool and occasionally in the pool (it was cold) while Brandon and I sat on the lounge chairs and read books.  I love having enough children that they play well together.  The big children play with the little children or with each other while the little ones play around the fringes.  Having six children doesn't seem a lazy thing to do, but in some aspects, I'm able to be quite lazy because I have so many children.  

By the time the children got bored of playing with each other (although I wasn't yet bored of my book; it was a pretty good one), our friends showed up and everyone was thoroughly entertained again.  There were games in the pool, rock breaking near the pool, games on the yard, and a continual crowd of children ranging throughout the resort.  It's a good thing Uzbeks are highly child tolerant.  

After dinner the children ran off to play various night games together while the adults talked through passing thunderstorms.  When the thunderstorms got too bad, the children retreated to play games inside, and the adults wrapped up in blankets so we could keep talking comfortably outside.  After the clouds cleared out, we all went away from the lights to look at the stars.  We were far enough away from everything to see the Milky Way clearly, along with thousands of other stars.  

Finally everyone stumbled into bed, quite late.  Sophia kept asking me through the night why we weren't sending the children to bed.  I shrugged and told her that this was the fun of being on vacation with friends - everyone got to stay out late and play.  The babies were in bed - and various other small children dropped off along the way - so why not let everyone enjoy a lovely summer night together?  It's fun to break the routine every now and then.

I'm enjoying this part of life, when taking the children on vacation isn't an exercise of patience and forbearance.  It's wonderful to be able to pick up and take a short trip without days' preparation and stress and have enough helpful children to lighten the load.  I love that spending time together is more enjoyable than not, and it's great to think that this is the new normal.  I'm already looking forward to our next vacation together.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Pregnancy is Not for Old Women

I don't normally consider myself 'old.'  When I think of old people, there are a lot more wrinkles and grey hair, funny-looking clothes, and endless repetition of stories.  I'm not even halfway done with my average life expectancy, so I'm a long way off from being old.

Except, that is, when it comes to childbearing.  I remember when my mother had my youngest brother and ticked over to thirty-five during her pregnancy.  When my brother came out with crossed eyes, we would tease her about 'advanced maternal age' and old eggs.  To my nine year-old mind, thirty-five was ancient, and probably high time to stop reproducing.  After all, she was going to be dead in not that many years and who would take care of my brother then?

My plan was always to stop having children when I hit the advanced maternal age category regardless of the number of children I had borne.  After all, I had heard the statistics enough times while transcribing patient notes for my father.  You can't argue with statistics.  But then thirty-five came and passed and Brandon and I thought that one more might be nice, so we threw caution to the wind and I joined the ranks of elderly multigravida women.

I have always had exceptionally easy pregnancies.  Good genes combined with good luck have resulted in six completely complication-free pregnancies and deliveries.  I've always been able to exercise until I deliver (sometimes running three miles a few days before induction), I've never thrown up from morning sickness, and life mostly continues on normally for the whole pregnancy.  I'm not fond of the four or so weeks of nausea and tiredness that comes during the first trimester, but it's not anything I can complain about with my mom friends, who all have real horror stories.

But this pregnancy has not been the same.  I started feeling nauseous around the fifth week and didn't fully recover until the thirteenth week.  I remember falling asleep between sentences while Joseph read his school assignments out loud to me, and a few days I cut school short because I just couldn't keep my eyes open any more.  The food cravings and aversions were so intense that whenever some weird and new thing would come up on the dinner menu, the children started shouting 'Hail Omega! Thank you for the tasty food!'  I couldn't go for more than two hours without having to eat a substantial snack because I was starving so much.

Thankfully the first trimester has passed (and I theoretically won't ever have to do that ever again in my entire life), but I haven't had the rebound that usually comes with the second trimester.  I sometimes have to stop halfway up one flight of stairs because I'm so out of breath, and these days my fastest mile speed is twenty minutes - anything faster and I feel like I'm going to die.  Random pains will wake me up in the middle of the night, and different equally random pains show up in the middle of the day.  I've had Braxton-Hicks contractions since the twelfth week.  My hips ache when I sleep and only my daily dose of omeprazole keeps the heartburn at bay.  And I still have four more months to go.

I've known women who have had children into their forties and I'm not sure how they did it.  I'm still more astounded at women who start in their forties.  I suppose they don't have the benefit of comparison so pregnancy must just be terrible the whole way through.  I can only imagine what I'm going through and extrapolate it out to almost completely unbearable for months on end.  My hat is off to women who make that sacrifice to have children.  I'm not sure how much further my theoretical dedication to childbearing would go if I had to face more pregnancies past this one.

But I'm grateful that I had the opportunity to have children before I get any more geriatric than I already am.  I turns out that I'm quite terrible at dealing with pain, tiredness, and the other unpleasant side effects of pregnancy, and I keep thinking that I'm so glad this is the last time I have to go through it.  Fingers crossed.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

That Saturday When I Was Awesome

I am not a Pinterest mom.  Almost nothing I do is ever worthy of posting on the internet.  I consider my job as a mother to consist of: 1. keeping my children alive  2. Teaching them to be moral, independent people who can hack it in the real world.  Entertaining is not anywhere on the list.  I created five playmates for each of my children, and if those get boring, there's always the literal ton of books we haul around the world with us.

This philosophy has recently started operating on Saturdays too.  Back in Tajikistan we used to go adventuring most Saturdays.  The children and I spent all week cooped up in our house and by the weekend everyone except Brandon was ready to get out and do something exciting.  Now that I have the independence of my very own car, we do a lot more leaving the house during the week.  We have horseback riding, play dates, and appointments enough that most Saturdays - especially in the summer - everyone is happy to stay home.

In the summer, this means we swim on Saturdays (and just about every other day of the week too).  But this past Saturday, our pool was empty.  So swimming wasn't an option.  There are several water parks around Tashkent, but I was taking the children to one on Monday, and two water park visits in three days seemed a little decadent.  There are also several malls, and one of them just opened a Wendy's, so I thought about taking everyone there.  But it always seems such a shame to waste a summer day indoors at a mall.  I considered inviting ourselves over to a friend's house, but I wasn't sure if they were okay with that idea.

So I decided to stay home.  Because home means you don't have to go anywhere in a hot car or see anyone else.  And it's free.

While cooking breakfast that morning (after edging the lawns that Brandon was mowing because we are awesome [and it's cooler in the morning]), I had a rare bolt of fun-inspiration.  I'm not sure where it came from, because usually complicated fun-having schemes aren't my thing.  This is why I've never actually thrown a birthday party for anyone in my family.  Games.  They're terrible.  But maybe maybe I can blame my bolt of inspiration on pregnancy hormones.  They often make people do weird things.

I decided that we would play water games with the children.  Everyone gets crabby if they stay inside all day, and it's too hot for the next three months to stay outside if you're not wet, so why not play games with water??  I brought up the idea with Brandon, and he thought it was a great idea and started researching immediately.

When we announced our plans to the children, some were skeptical and reluctant.  But within thirty seconds of starting a sponge-relay game (with hurdles!), everyone was completely on board with water games.  After all, the spirit of competition gets to about everyone in the end.  After we ran out of planned games, we made up games on the spot.  After those, everyone started playing with the hose (it never seems to get old).  And then I told Kathleen to dunk her head in a bucket, which everyone found very entertaining.  Edwin upped the ante by dumping the whole bucket of water on his head.  Then someone got the brilliant idea of filming the dumping and ducking in slow motion.  Somehow filming water is slow motion is endlessly fascinating.

We finally had to give it up only because our dinner delivery was on its way and everyone needed to bathe before gathering to eat sushi while watching The Black Stallion.  Before going up for her bath, Sophia turned to me; "Mom, this day has been so much fun!  Thanks for being such a great mom!"

I hope that when they're older and have gone off into their own lives separate from each other, they'll remember days like Saturday with fondness.  And those days will last in their memory better than all the other days where I was only a so-so mom.  One can always hope.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

London Again

A few weeks ago I paid another visit to London.  I had reached the blessed halfway mark of my pregnancy, so it was time for the twenty-week ultrasound.  The appointment itself was on Tuesday morning, but because of flight times, I stayed in London until Friday evening.

I've become somewhat of a pro at planning my time on these excursions.  I'm saving all the real touristy sites for when we will all be together as a family (I've learned that those things are really the best the first time you go), so I looked for things that were interesting, but not necessarily of general interest.

I did, of course, go shopping.  Because, London.  I didn't, however, get anything for myself.  Instead I bought the now-traditional English candy and some thanks-for-holding-the-fort-down-for-me gifts (clothes) for Kathleen and Sophia.  They have really been a great help for all of my trips this spring, and I thought they'd enjoy a real token of my appreciation.  Since they both now pay for their own clothing, they were delighted with the new dresses I bought them.  I tried to find shoes and a jacket for myself, but nothing called to me.  It turns out also that it's a lot easier to look for those things online.  Of course you can't try them on, but it is certainly a lot faster than walking from store to store.

That evening I treated myself to a delicious dinner at a restaurant in Kensington.  Brandon and I were talking on my walk to dinner (the shortest way there was a lovely stroll through Hyde park), and he requested I take pictures of each of the seven courses.  It was almost like having a dinner companion as we texted about the food.  Almost.

The weather was much cooler than in Tashkent - it was a good day if it got into the upper sixties - and it also rained a few days.  Thankfully I managed to get a sunny day for my personal tour around historical London city with my Italian tour guide.  I guess it wasn't a popular day for tours, as I was the only one in the group, which turned out well when I got the time wrong and he came back for me despite being half an hour late.  One day I will be a fully responsible adult, but evidently it isn't yet.

I also got to see family.  Brandon's brother, his wife, and their daughter (two weeks younger than William) live down by the temple, so we met for a temple session one afternoon.  It was lovely to attend, as I haven't been for a year.  Afterwards we had dinner together and caught up.  Every time I see family I always regret that I don't get to see them more often.  I'm pretty lucky to have such great family on my side as well as Brandon's. 

One morning I took a croissant making class at a local bakery.  I've never been able to get my croissants quite right (usually they leak butter everywhere and I get fried croissants), and the class provided some useful pointers.  I ended up with a baker's dozen croissants at the end of the class. 

Thankfully, I was meeting friends for dinner that evening, so I was able to pass them on to them and their four boys because there was no way I could finish that many croissants on my own before they went stale.  After dinner, the mom and I went to The Man of La Mancha with her two older boys where we got to see Kelsey Grammer play the part of Miguel Cervantes.  I can see why it's a popular musical; it was pretty entertaining.

My flight out was scheduled for Friday evening and I had to check out of my hotel that morning and it rained most of Friday.  So I took a tour of Royal Albert Hall and then attended the matinee performance of the Royal Ballet's Cinderella.  The tour was interesting (and dry) and I got to learn that Eric Clapton has performed there over two hundred times.  Who knew he was so popular in London?

The ballet was a novel performance, as it was staged in the oval floor of the hall.  My seat was on the front row, so I got to see the dancers very close.  I enjoyed it immensely; it was the perfect thing to do on a rainy afternoon.

After that it was dinner with friends, back to the hotel for luggage, and on to the airport for my overnight flight home.  I was greeted with an immense sigh of relief from both Brandon and the children.  They do very well while I am gone, but life is always easier when The One Who Creates Order is around to, well, create order.  Running an eight-person family is definitely a two-person job and I'm always so impressed that Brandon can do it on his own after putting in a full day's work at the embassy.  Life is definitely harder on him when I'm gone than it is on me when he is gone. 

I have now spent over five weeks in London over six different visits, and so the thought of spending three months there isn't very daunting.  It's nice to have gotten to know the city so well, as it will make the adjustment period a lot easier.  We are in the process of securing an apartment, and when my contact in London mentioned the street, I knew exactly which street and neighborhood he was talking about.  I had been to the closest grocery store, Tube stop, and park.  Outside of cities I have actually lived in, I have visited London the most of any other place in the world.  So I think that we'll probably be okay.

We have just under three months until everyone gets to pack up get ourselves over to London.  It's enough time to enjoy the rest of our summer and get some good relaxing in before we have to start stressing about all of the logistical hurdles.  The children are all excited to live in a place where they speak English and there are lots of lovely parks to play in.  I'm excited to have lots of good food to cook and interesting places to take the children to.  Brandon is looking forward to having the whole thing done and being back home again. 

Until next time, London!

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Less Clothing Makes Less Laundry

I used to have high standards when it came to my children's clothing.  When Kathleen was born, she had lots of little teeny-tiny nightgowns ready to don after her nightly baths.  And in the morning, I would dutifully take off the little nightgowns and put on a fresh outfit every day. 

Sophia and Edwin got the same treatment, but by the time Joseph showed up, I was getting three other children in and out of clothes and pajamas every day so he kept the same outfit on until it was either crusty or he pooped through it.  He was a fall baby and warm pajamas and clothes for a newborn are pretty much the same thing anyway so it was mostly okay.  He's seven and a half now, so I figure it didn't do any damage.  Also, it made for less laundry.

Eleanor and William got the same treatment as babies because life certainly didn't get any less hectic with the addition of fifth and sixth children.  I didn't even bathe Eleanor myself because she had willing older sisters to do the job for me.  It worked so well that Edwin has bathed William pretty much from the beginning.  It turns out that baths are more of a nice thing rather than a strict luxury anyway and what gets missed during one bath will probably get washed the next time.

But my children have always had clean clothing (laundry gets done once a week because nobody owns more than a week's worth of clothing) and they have always been dressed.  We all have to maintain some sort of standard. 

Until, that is, until this summer.  It started when William was being potty trained back in October.  Taking little jeans on and off really gets old by the time you've done it for the sixth time in a day, especially when they're skinny jeans (curse whoever thought up that idea for small children.  It was so much easier to take pants off when they were looser).  So when he was home, William spent most of his days without pants.  Every now and then I would get religion and actually put pants on, but by the time I got to the third pair that day that got peed through, I gave up. 

Then it got warm.  And somehow it seemed like too much work to actually put a shirt on, too.  In reality, getting a two year-old dressed takes less than a minute.  Put on a shirt, put on shorts and you're done.  But somehow when it's breakfast time and you just took off the pajamas and took the child to the toilet, it's just one step too many to actually put anything other than the underwear back on.  At first it was strategic - don't get him dressed until after he's eaten breakfast - but then it was laziness.  And now it's just habit.

Every now and then when other people show up and I see William through their eyes - a semi-naked toddler running through the house - I realize exactly how low my standards have sunk.  But then I forget about them when it's the next morning and thirty seconds seems like too much time to sacrifice for a silly standard.  After all, it's not like he actually needs clothing.  The weather is perfectly warm, and he's not outside for hours at a time and getting sunburned (well, there was that one time).  Ironically, he wears the most clothing when he's swimming because I'm also too lazy to slather his entire body with sunscreen.

Edwin, who folds William's clothes, is entirely on board with William's new wardrobe.  Edwin wears clothes for several days in a row to keep the laundry down, and now he only has to put William's underwear away.  These days he gets his folding done in fifteen minutes. 

It's going to be sad when we go to London in September and 1. it will be cold and 2. we will go out in public most days.  Not only will William have to wear pants and a shirt, but he will have to wear socks, shoes, and a jacket, too.  And Edwin will have to start folding a lot more laundry.

But until then, we'll enjoy our resident undie-wearing toddler.  I have to admit that there's something adorably cute about a two year-old running around in teeny-tiny undies and nothing else.  I'll enjoy it now because I definitely won't be saying that when he's fifteen.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

How We Do Ministering in Uzbekistan

There are a lot of things that are different about church here in Uzbekistan.  Our scouting program has boys ages four to twelve, and the young women meet together with the one activity days girl.  Sunday school has two classes - youth and adult, and Young Women and Relief Society sisters meet together for their Sunday classes, as well all the males over twelve for their classes.  We make it work pretty well, considering that we are only four families.

Our Relief Society meets together one weeknight a month, and most months the meeting is held at a local restaurant to celebrate a birthday, going away, or just because we enjoy going out to dinner together.  There are advantages to being in a small group where all the sisters are in similar economic circumstances.  When we were in Cairo, we had a spa night for one activity and went horseback (or camel) riding around the pyramids for another.  It may not by a typical way to hold activities, but it sure is a lot of fun.

So when one of the sister proposed a Relief Society overnight trip to Samarkand, it was welcomed with much enthusiasm.  When I told Brandon about our trip, he was somewhat confused.

"Haven't you already been to Samarkand twice in the last year?  And hasn't everyone else been there already, too?  What are you going to do in Samarkand??"

I smiled back at him.  "Oh, we're not going sightseeing.  We're going shopping!"

Being the wonderful, patient, kind husband he is, he sighed and asked how long we were going to be gone and then made sure I had plenty of money to take with me.  I'm pretty lucky.

There is a fast train to Samarkand, but it only runs at certain times and also sells out pretty quickly.  Because of the schedule, we ended up leaving at 8 am on Friday morning and came back at eight Saturday evening.  Thirty-six hours of shopping, eating, talking, and enjoying female company.

Uzbekistan is what those in the Foreign Service like to call a 'shopping post.'  It's a post that has a lot of high quality, beautiful, fairly inexpensive handicrafts.  There are silk embroideries, hand carved boxes and tables, hand-woven silk ikat fabric, scarves, Perisan miniatures, pottery, custom made furniture, custom dressmakers, and - of course - rugs.

The sister organizing the trip did a lot of research so we could find the best places to buy things.  Our first day we visited a carpet factory, a suzani shop, and a ceramicist.  The second day we went to a bazaar an hour outside Samarkand that is known for suzanis, another ceramicist, and to the home of the suzani maker we visited the first day.

While visiting the carpet factory, we struck up a conversation with the owner whose daughter is friends with one of the sisters' daughters.  By the end of our visit to the factory, we had dinner reservations with him that evening.  After a hard day of shopping, we met him at Samarkand restaurant for dinner and, eventually, dancing.  While we were all breaking it down with grandmas, little children, teenagers, and middle-aged Uzbeks, everyone agreed that that this maybe wasn't your typical Relief Society meeting. 

After two days of shopping, talking, and eating, we all got back on the train back to Tashkent loaded with the weekend's haul.  I got off light with a queen bed-sized silk suzani, an century-old antique suzani, a pottery vase and goose, two meters of silk ikat, and an assortment of Uzbek clothes for the children's dress up bin.  I was able to almost fit everything in the carry-on suitcase I had brought.  One of the sisters had wisely brought extra bags and we had to hire a porter to haul everything from our van to the train.  When I suggested adding up the total damage for everyone combined, everyone laughed and decided that was probably a number best left unknown.

We all returned to Tashkent refreshed from our break and united together with stronger bonds of love and friendship.  A second trip has already been planned to Fergana valley, the pottery region of Uzbekistan.  It may be your typical way to do Relief Society, but it's a pretty awesome way to do it if you ask me.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019


My parents and I spent two days in Samarkand.  You can definitely do Samarkand in one day, but the train schedules didn't work out for us to only spend one day.  And also, I don't like touring non-stop and thankfully my parents don't either so we were both happy to take things slow over two days.

The evening we arrived, everyone was tired and so we just went out in search of food.  Our hotel was near the centerpiece of Samarkand, Registan, so on the way back from the (regrettable) restaurant, we happened by Registan at sunset.  It was quite lovely.

The next day we visited a silk carpet factory and my parents got the tour (I'd been there before), complete with a visit to the carpet, making room.  It's always impressive to see how quickly those ladies can tie and cut knots.  I'm amazed that they can keep the intricate patterns straight.  

We also visited the tomb of Amur Timur, which was pretty amazing.  It's always interesting to see where one history's villain is another history's hero.  The ceiling tiles were all made with mulberry bark paper, and so we visited the place where the paper is made.  It is a historical site where they have reconstructed the method that mulberry paper was made back in the day.  We finished the day with a visit to the tomb of the prophet Daniel's arm.  

The next day we started with the necropolis, an area of blue-tiled mausoleums.  I love the tile work in this part of the world, and am constantly impressed with the creativity of patterns of intricacy of designs.  Someday I want a backsplash made from something like them.

We stopped by Bibi Khanum mosque, eating ice cream on the way.  The weather was in the nineties, so ice cream stops were very important.  By this time, everyone was thoroughly tired of Uzbek food, so we found a restaurant online that looked like it would have something other than plov.  The taxi driver was able to find it, and we enjoyed a quiet, air conditioned lunch that didn't have any shashlik on the menu.  

We finished the day with our visit to Registan.  The gold dome is always fairly impressive.  The historical monuments have been heavily restored, as they were crumbling ruins by the beginning of the twentieth century.

The restoration is, as are all restorations, the subject of debate.  Personally, I enjoy the high-quality restoration because it lets me see what the sites were like back in their prime.  Crumbling ruins have a certain Gothic-romance charm, but dazzling painting and intricate tile work inspire the kind of awe that these monuments deserve.

We ended our day with a two-hour trip on the fast train back to Tashkent, having thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  I was grateful to Brandon for taking the children for the week, as the trip would have not been nearly as enjoyable with six easily bored and easily tired hangers-on.  Some things are just better with just adults.  My parents lugged much heavier suitcases and backpacks, stuffed with the treasures from their visit.  It was a good time.