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Sunday, August 25, 2019

First Week of School

This past week was our first week of school.  We have been doing this for some time now; I started with Kathleen in Kindergarten nine years ago.  I guess I can say that I've had a reasonable amount of experience homeschooling.  

The beginning of school is always crazy.  It's a bit of work to get all of the curriculum ready and organized and there's always something that I've forgotten.  The children have to get used to a new year and a new schedule, which is another element of chaos.  Every two years we add a new one to the mix, which means one more child that I have to keep track of one more more child who needs help and asks questions while I'm trying to help someone else.  This year Eleanor started Kindergarten, so I now have five children in school.  That is a lot of children in school.

I got to enjoy my very first real summer vacation this year, a summer with no school, no R&R, and no moving.  It was absolutely wonderful and exactly what everyone needed - especially me.  In addition to reading a lot of books, lazing around in the swimming pool, and taking very long naps, I was able to prepare for the beginning of the school year.

I printed out school work, organized it, and arranged it in everyone's notebooks.  I pulled out last year's school work, last year's school books, and last year's trash and cleaned out the bookshelves.  I put all the books for this year neatly on everyone's book racks, right next to their newly organized notebooks.  After thinking about how to keep the girls better organized, I came up with a new accountability system.  I did everything possible to get everything ready for the first day of school.  Since we only have three weeks of school before packing everything up and heading a third of the way across the world, I didn't have the time to spend getting everything slowly settled in.

And surprisingly, all my preparations paid off.  Monday morning everyone was downstairs around 8:30 and the girls and I started off the school year with going over their new accountability charts.  Then we had their first grammar lesson.  Things went a little sideways from there, as I realized that I hadn't downloaded files on to the school profiles of the laptops, but I was able to complete all of Edwin's and part of Joseph's school also.  I even got a reading lesson for Eleanor in before stopping for lunch (and a much-deserved nap) at noon.  I was very proud of myself.

The rest of the week only improved from there.  I don't remember completely losing my temper a single time, which is no mean feat for a seven-months pregnant woman who is running a five-child school circus with a toddler thrown in for good measure.  I think that I can say that the high point of school craziness has passed and our school days are entirely reasonable most of the time.  I'm glad about that.  I'm even happier that school will only continue to be manageable as more and more of the children get older and more responsible.  There's a lot to be said for children who know the program and can stick with it.

The girls both admitted to me that perhaps it was nice to get back to a schedule, and I had to agree with them.  Summer was wonderful and I'm sure we'll get thoroughly sick of school soon enough, but for now it's okay to get back to work.  

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Summer Preserving

I would never call myself a hard-core canner.  I don't like canned vegetables and would prefer to just have beans only they're available in the summer instead of eating canned or frozen ones in the winter.  I never eat salsa, and don't really like canned fruit either.  So there's not much reason for me to can.

But, there are a few things that I do like to can and freeze for the winter.  I grew up with homemade strawberry jam, so I always make my own jam.  I don't really like store-bought jam with it's sticky, syrupy consistency and jam is ridiculously easy to make.  Fruit in Uzbekistan is amazingly cheap and delicious, so in addition to strawberry jam, I also make raspberry and blackberry jam.  We only eat jam once or twice a week (I'm not a big fan of PB&J), so I don't have to make very much.  This year I made 32 pints of jam, which is probably more than we'll use.

I also freeze fruit, mostly to use for pancakes and other breakfast foods.  I didn't freeze strawberries this year because I find defrosted strawberries to be kind of gross and slimy - and also they're a pain to slice before freezing.  So this year I only froze raspberries, as a friend gifted me all her frozen blackberries when she moved.

In addition to freezing blackberries, I also can a few quarts of them too (this year it was only six) because I like to eat blackberry cobbler.  It's very easy to make when you have canned fruit on hand, and blackberry cobbler is my favorite kind of cobbler.  Also, canning blackberries is ridiculously easy, too.  You simply have to wash the berries, put in sugar syrup, and can.  It's doesn't get any easier than that.

I sometimes can applesauce, but I haven't done applesauce in several years.  The children love homemade applesauce (store-bough applesauce is gross) and they beg me to make it every year.  But making applesauce is a lot of work and usually results in a kitchen that is trashed with applesauce-covered sticky floors.  Maybe next year I'll make applesauce.

The only vegetable I ever can is tomatoes (although I guess tomato can also count as a fruit).  The tomatoes here are both delicious and cheap in the summer, so it makes sense to can them as they're expensive and not so good in the winter.  I also can pizza sauce because it's easier to make a whole bunch at once than make a new batch every time I make pizza.

This year I decided to try a new method for canning tomatoes.  I never use whole canned tomatoes, so I figured that there was no point in carefully peeling tomatoes before canning them.  Instead, I had the children help me chop and blend up the tomatoes before bringing the sauce to a boil and canning.  The whole process worked marvelously, especially with three children doing the chopping.

I only ran into problems when I realized that I had seriously overestimated how many tomatoes I would need.  I had bought five boxes of tomatoes and by the time we had made it through four boxes I couldn't handle the thought of processing one more box and just gave the extra tomatoes to my housekeeper.  I didn't feel too bad, however, as we ended up with 19 quarts of pizza sauce and 47 quarts of tomato sauce, all for thirty-two dollars (including the box of tomatoes we didn't use).

I'm very happy to be done with my summer preserving.  I don't think that I would make a very good homesteader as canning food definitely doesn't spark any joy for me.  I only preserve when the food I make is significantly better than something that I can buy at the grocery store, and that's generally not most things.  If we lived in America where tomatoes don't cost eighteen cents a pound, I definitely wouldn't be canning my own tomatoes unless I had the space and inclination to grow tomatoes myself (which is a definite maybe).  But I guess I'll enjoy what I've got for now!

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Thirty Weeks (with no pictures)

This past week I hit one of the most frustrating milestones of pregnancy: thirty weeks.  Thirty, after counting up for so many months, sounds so very close to forty.  But then when math (oh so pesky math) kicks in, you realize that thirty weeks is still ten weeks away from forty weeks.  Ten weeks is two and a half months and two and a half months is still a very long time to go.

Ten weeks is even longer when it's ten weeks of not being able to bend over, not fitting into anything but pregnancy clothes, waking up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, sleeping in a myriad of uncomfortable positions, getting out of breath after a flight of stairs, random pains, and watching your weight creep up despite trying everything possible to stave off any more weight gain. 

The last ten weeks really are the worst part of being pregnant.

I suppose, when I consider all of the really awful pregnancy complications that are possible, I shouldn't complain.  I don't have gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, pre-term labor, swelling, heartburn (okay I have medication to thank for that one), serious pain, bleeding, or bed rest.  I just have a completely normal, zero-complication pregnancy.  I know that any of you who have had real difficult pregnancies are now rolling your eyes and sighing over what a whiner I am.  And you're right.  I am a whiner.  I just don't like being pregnant.

Being thirty weeks means that my and the children's departure to the States is becoming increasingly imminent.  We have plane tickets, we have signed a lease on a (very, very small) house, and Brandon has requested a whole bunch of money to pay for the (very, very high) rent on that house.  I'm browsing minivans for sale in the Raleigh area, and have already set up horseback riding lessons and medical appointments for the first week we arrive in town.  It's like we've done this whole rodeo before.

Of course, however, there is one complication.  There can never be any major move or even without one complication that makes you hold your breath until the last second.  This time our passports are making us sweat.  We have two sets of passports (which makes for sixteen passports we get to take with us every time we fly), and our diplomatic passports expire five days before we leave Uzbekistan. 

This isn't a problem for entering the US, as we can enter on our tourist passports.  It does, however, cause a problem for leaving Uzbekistan.  We entered on our diplomatic passports (as those are the ones with our visas) and so when we leave, the passport control people will want us to leave on the same passports we entered on. 

We've known about the expiration date for a long time, and applied for new passports back during the first week of July.  We even planned for contingencies, and requested that the passport processing being expedited.  But evidently there are varying definitions of expedited, and the passports still haven't arrived.  We had hoped to have them come back in time to get new Uzbek visas (which expire in October) put in our new passports, but there's not time for that now - which means that we have to get new visas while we're in the States. 

I haven't gotten my paper bag out yet, however.  We still have three weeks left, which leaves one more week before 'time to panic' is scheduled on the calendar.  And also I know that we will be leaving in three weeks whether or not we have the passports.  It's just a question of how much more trouble that leaving will involve.

For now we're in that weird space of time where you're too far out to start the real serious work of preparing to leave but still close in enough to feel like you should do something to lessen the impact of the impending departure but there's nothing to do.  So instead we're starting school tomorrow and pretending like life will continue on in its quiet way even though we all know it won't. 

Every time we talk about packing or passports or flights or being separated for six weeks, Brandon and I look at each other and repeat, "This is the last time," and then breathe a sigh of relief together.  I'm glad to almost be done with the merry-go-round.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Teenager in the House

This week Kathleen turned thirteen.  To be be honest, I've considered Kathleen a teenager for quite a bit now, as we've all be subjected to the symptoms of teenager-hood for some time before she reached the exact date when she is officially considered a teenager.  But now she isn't almost a teenager, she's really a teenager. 

I panicked a few months ago when I realized that I will have a teenaged child for the next two decades.  Two decades ago I was a teenager myself, trying to make my parents' life as difficult as possible.  And when I'm finally done with teenagers myself, I will be almost sixty - only a handful of years younger than my own mother is right now.  It looks like I'm going to be dealing with teenagers for a really long time.  Sigh.

Not all things about teenagers are terrible.  To be honest, most of the time Kathleen is cheerful, helpful, and easy to be around.  I definitely take advantage of her babysitting skills all the time and could never go back to the days of having to take all the children with me if I needed to go out.  Now I just waltz out the door, letting everyone know that I'm going to get a pedicure and I'll be back in a few hours.  I suppose having a sometimes-moody child is probably worth the freedom it gives me.

She is also helpful with her siblings (although not always willingly so, but that's fair enough because I don't always want to be helpful either), and it's wonderful to have another responsible party to herd the cats when I need some help.  It's also wonderful to have a child who will get the job done properly.  If I tell her to clean the kitchen, it will be clean.  If I need someone to clean out a messy room or closet, I can count on her to get it done.  She has reached that wonderful age of competent responsibility, and it's a great place to be.

But of course, she's still only thirteen and has to deal with the emotional storms that come with the job of growing up.  And since we're all here together, we get to deal with them too.  I can't wait until Sophia joins the fun.  Having two girls close together sounded like a good idea right until puberty hits.

I feel, however, like I've had it pretty easy so far and that is partly because we homeschool.  This summer Kathleen got to experience some teenage-girl social drama and one afternoon while we were discussing it, she turned to me and exclaimed, "I'm so glad I don't have to go to regular school and deal with drama like that every day!"  It's nice that she doesn't have to experience the meat-grinder that can be middle school female interactions and I don't have to deal with the trauma that comes from them.  Middle school is a great time to keep children mostly separated from their peers. 

Having a teenaged daughter has put the final nail in the coffin of my youth.  I am definitely, absolutely, irrevocably, not young any more.  I was recently reminiscing about my freshman year of college, and I realized that I entered college nineteen years ago.  Then I realized that Kathleen will be entering college in five years.  And then I did the math and realized that she is almost four times closer to eighteen than I am.  Now I get to enjoy youth through my children's lives, not my own.

It's strange to have a teenager while expecting a baby, to be straddling those two worlds of young mother and middle-aged mother.  There aren't many moms out there who manage to have a teenager and a newborn at the same time, and it makes for all sorts of friends.  Some of my friends were in elementary school when I graduated from high school and some of them didn't get cell phones or internet until they were married and graduated from college. 

But regardless of how I feel about it, I now have a teenager in the house.  And on the whole, it's a pretty great thing.  But I'll get back to you in a couple of years when I have two teenagers in the house.  I'll let you know how that goes.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The winding down of summer

When I wake up each morning, the sky is a little darker.  The mornings have gotten just a little bit cooler, and in the evening Brandon and I can take a walk without sweating to death in the heat of a city recovering from 100+ temperatures.  All of the children sport stark tan lines, and Joseph's hair is now quite a few shades lighter than his skin.  If it were a normal summer, we'd be at the beach this week.

In two weeks we will start school again, and that's probably okay.  Everyone has been enjoying a break from their full school day since early May, and three and a half months is a nice long stretch of long summer days.  

Normally I hate the beginning of the end of summer, but this year I'm surprisingly okay with it.  We have had a nice, empty summer filled with mornings in the pool, long naps (for me), and lots of books.  It's been a wonderful break.  This year has been the first summer we haven't moved or schooled through the summer, and it's been really nice.  Everyone who homeschools has their own preferences, but I confess that I like the traditional school calendar.  The whole family has enjoyed having a long, relaxed summer.  The school year is very structured, with a tight schedule that I keep everyone following, so having something different has been a good switch.

I've had enough time this summer to get things organized for the coming school year and also to do some prep work for our upcoming medevac in September.  The beginning of school is always chaotic as I print out thousands of pages of workbook, redesign grade systems, order books that I forgot to order earlier, and find new curriculum when I discover that what worked for one child doesn't work for another.  There's always something that I've forgotten.

I'm hoping that the beginning of this school year - the ninth year I've been homeschooling - will be a little less chaotic as a result of my prep work.  Fingers crossed.  

We're only going to be schooling for three weeks before the children and I hop on a plane, fly almost halfway across the world, move into a house less than a third the size of our house in Tashkent, and then pick up schooling again as soon as we're halfway over jet lag.  But as crazy as it sounds, I'm looking forward to it because that means that we're that much closer to coming back home and settling back in.  Also, I'm a closet adrenaline junkie and crazy situations are oddly appealing to me.  Maybe it's because I can slip the structure of regular life for just a little bit.

But I'm still going to enjoy the next two weeks of lazy summertime.  The pool is nice and warm, the sunshine is roastingly hot, our schedule is wonderfully open, and I'm in the middle of a good book.  I intend to work on my tan, take two-hour naps, and finish my book and maybe start another one.  I know that when school starts and fall comes in I'll miss these long, lazy summer days and long for hours in the pool instead of hours spent teaching children.  But it will be okay.  Because that will make next summer that much more precious.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

One more voice

William has really started talking.  He will be officially two and a half next week and has decided that words are a marvelous, wonderful thing that he should use as much as humanly possible.  This love of talking is hardly surprising considering he is surrounded by people who spend all day talking.  Even if half of his family is quiet at any given time, that still leaves four people all talking at once.

I both hate and love fully verbal toddlers.  I love them because they don't crumple into a ball of tears when they can't let you know what thing is that they really, really want.  Instead of pointing and screaming, they can (theoretically) point and say, "Please give me the water."  It makes for a lot fewer tears.

I also love that they can follow a series of directions.  These days my job as a mother is often traffic controller and less often the person who actually gets the job done.  Having a non-verbal child really makes that job harder as they require one to pick up the blankie, get the toy, or go upstairs themselves instead of telling a child to do it for them.  It's much easier to tell William to get a pair of undies and watch him rush upstairs to get them himself.

But verbal toddlers love talking.  Talking is a new tool, a shiny new toy, and they use it all the time.  I remember one hour-long car ride when Edwin spent the entire trip sitting in the back talking non-stop to all his sleeping siblings.  It was really funny to listening to his chirpy little voice endlessly stringing together near-meaningless phrases.  And since everyone else was asleep, it was fine.

But when you have a family of five verbal children and then the sixth child hits the verbal stage, that makes the entire house that much noisier.  Two year-olds have no idea about conversational turn-taking (and it turns out that five year-olds, seven year-olds, nine year-olds, eleven year-olds, and twelve year-olds don't have much of an idea either) and so when everyone is talking, William just talks louder and louder.  And his cute, sweet, chirpy little voice can cut through anything in a way that can destroy one's nerves after awhile.

The high (or low) point of this conversational madness is dinner each night.  Everyone has had a full day and everyone wants to tell Brandon about it as soon as he walks through the door.  Sometimes people remember to take turns and sometimes they don't and often I feel like I'm in the middle of the dinner scene from While You Were Sleeping.  When it's a particularly scattered night, I'll give Brandon a look and he'll respond with, "I didn't say Cesar Romero was tall.  I said he was Spanish!"

Now that William can talk also, his little voice is a descant floating over the top of everything.  "Mom, give me some milk.  Mom, give me some milk!  Mom, give me some milk!!"  By then end of an hour of dinner and dishes I'm ready to go somewhere absolutely quiet so that I can gather together my shredded nerves.  There's a reason we rarely have dinner guests.

I know that eventually the newness of talking will wear off and William will use his words more sparingly and for a purpose other than the pure pleasure of making sounds (although some of my older children have still not reached that point yet).  So I've been taking videos so that I can remember the days when he was an adorably cute two year-old with a high, chirpy voice that could make anyone smile.  I know I'll miss it when he becomes a sullen teenager and talking is an absolute chore.  But at least dinner will be quieter then.