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Sunday, September 29, 2019

Enjoying the Delights of America

It's funny how quickly it takes to get settled.  I think that I probably have a quicker rate than average, a skill gained by hard experience.  We've been here for two weeks now, and life is right back to its usual routine.  Everyone had a full week of school, I got up at five to exercise every morning, and I've even cooked dinner three nights in a row.  And it wasn't even pancakes; it was real dinner from a new recipe.

The children and I have also been enjoying all the good things America has to offer.  This week we made our first trip to the library.  When we walked into an entire building filled with books, Eleanor looked up at me and asked in disbelief, "You mean we can just take whatever books we want?!?"  Everyone walked out half an hour later with their own pile of brand new reading material.  And when I told them they could come back next week for more books, Joseph thought he had died and gone to heaven.

When we arrived, North Carolina hadn't gotten the memo that September is supposed to be a cooler month, but the weather dipped down into the seventies for a few days this week and I took the kids to the park.  It's wonderful to be in a city with seemingly endless parks.  There's nothing better than enjoying a sunny afternoon while the children play.

One afternoon this week, the children tumbled into the house excitedly, "Mom, we met some kids from church!  They want us to come and play in the creek with them!!"  An hour later they came back sweaty, muddy, and full of stories from their new friends.  Playing in the woods with friends that speak your own language is pretty amazing.

My sister brought her children into town for the weekend.  I finally took everyone home for bed Friday night past 10:30, having completely lost track of time while catching up, laughing, and telling stories.  We hung out almost all day Saturday and the boys found my dad's stash of water guns while the girls tried on old wedding dresses.  It's so easy to get together when you're only two hours instead of two days away.

Wednesday evening was activity night at church.  Kathleen played soccer at her Young Women activity, Sophia made a bracelet at her Activity Days activity, and Edwin learned marble games at Cub Scouts.  And me? I read a book.  At church today I got to sing hymns that I didn't play, listen to a lesson I didn't prepare, and drop the children off at classes I didn't teach.  Attending a full-sized ward with fully-staffed classes and programs is a lot easier than running half the church yourself.

For dinner we have had meals that included mangoes, avocados, sweet potatoes, flour tortillas, pineapple, ravioli, corn dogs, bacon, chicken pot pies, colby jack cheese, and corn tortillas that I didn't have to make myself.  I tend to cook the same twenty meals, and have been cooking them for a decade, so it's been a nice break to have new cooking options.  So many recipes have ingredients that I just can't get in Uzbekistan, and I'm really enjoying having access to the those recipes, if only for a little while.

One morning this week I was stretching after my morning waddle walk, I noticed that there was warm air coming out of the floor vent.  I was confused for a moment, trying to figure out when I had switched the boiler on and worried that the weather would get too warm for heat later on in the day.  Then I remembered that we had a thermostat that automatically decided whether we needed warm or cool air to come out of the vents.

After starting school, I realized that several school books were missing.  I ordered them on Amazon and then was shocked when they showed up the next day.  Since then I've ordered knitting supplies, kitchen utensils, paddock boots, clothing, and more books.  Nothing has taken more than four or five days.  It almost seems wrong to have such instant gratification.

I signed up the children for horseback riding lessons at the stable I rode at twenty years ago.  Their first lesson was a week ago, and afterwards I asked them how it went.  "It was great," Sophia told me, "I understand every single thing my teacher told me!" Having instruction in your non-native language may be good for practicing that language, but adds another layer of difficulty to learning that new skill.

Usually when we come to the States, it's for vacation.  We get to enjoy the flashier parts of America - tasty restaurants, family reunions, Target - but the smaller pleasures are missed.  Living in a place without things like potable tap water and signs in English increases my appreciation for those things when I do have them.  I try not to think too hard about the years and years I have left of being a stranger in a strange land.  As nice as libraries and friends are, it's also nice to have a husband with a job that pays our bills and lets us save for the future.  But I do look forward to one day being in a place where I don't have to count time zones before calling my bank or take three plane rides to see my family.  That day is a long, long time away, but I know it will come eventually.  But for now, I'll enjoy what I can.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Crash Landing

The trip to the US started out well.  Not all travel starts out well.  I remember one move where the Super Shuttle showed up to our townhouse while I was still packing suitcases or another trip where Edwin almost passed out in the elevator that took us up to the gate for our first flight of the day.  So I was grateful to have our travel begin smoothly. 

I had packed up bags early, everyone was in good health, and we were all happy to get on that plane to the land of good medical care.  Past medevacs have left me and Brandon distressed about a month and half of separation.  I still hate being separated from Brandon and he can't stand being alone in a big, empty house, but this time we were both willing to take separation if it meant that I was near good medical care.  This pregnancy has been more difficult than the previous six (probably just because I'm getting older), and the last thing I wanted was to have something go wrong while still in Uzbekistan.

We were able to check in all of our bags (carefully weighed to be exactly 20 kilos) plus two carseats and a stroller without any problems and made it through passport control using both sets of our diplomatic passports.  The flight to Frankfurt was on a new Dreamliner with seat-back entertainment, which is not always guaranteed on Uzbek airways.  Sure, the only kid's movie was Moana, but William was mostly happy to watch it on repeat four or five times.  He got a little wiggly, and only slept when I had to be awake and woke up as soon as I fell asleep, but anyone who actually expects to get sleep on a flight with a two-year old next to them is delusional.

Our transfer in Frankfurt went smoothly after the police realized that I was not a passport smuggler.  I can understand how finding fourteen passports in my carry-on luggage at a security check would probably be a reasonable cause for concern.  As the police officers carefully matched up our diplomatic and tourist passports to make sure there weren't any extras, I decided that it probably wouldn't be helpful to offer them the seven other passports in my purse.  When I told Brandon about our run-in with the police, he suggested I add passport smuggler to my resume.

The flight to Newark was also uneventful (although not restful either) right until we started descending.  Then, of course, things started to go wrong.  All travel, if sufficiently long enough, will always go wrong eventually.  It's just a matter of time.  Our descent was surprisingly bumpy for a clear day with scattered clouds, but it wasn't that long.  It was long enough, however, to upset William's stomach that had spent the last eighteen hours being stuffed with incredible amounts of granola bars, fruit snacks, and cookies.  Everything came back up all over his shirt, pants, and seat.  Thankfully his blanket and me were spared. 

As we were in the middle of landing, there wasn't much to do except to try and mop up the mess with some blankets, mentally apologize to the flight attendants who were going to discover it later, and strip William down.  Thankfully we had packed extra clothes in case our bags got lost, and I was able to change him.   Thus far I've avoided ever having to clean up a vomit-soaked child on an airplane, so I guess I should count myself lucky that it hasn't happened up to now.

As part of my careful preparations for this trip, I had loaded everyone's passports into the Mobile Passport app so that when we hit passport control I could skip the line and get through quickly.  But I couldn't get my phone to connect to the Wifi, so all my cleverness was to no avail.  So I cheated and went through the diplomatic line.  Those black passports have to be good for something sometimes.

Miraculously, all our suitcases showed up, but none of the strollers.  I have noticed that Americans are terrible about helping out other people, or at least people with children, and this time was no exception.  The only person who made an attempt to help me lift our 45-pound suitcases off the luggage belt was a woman with crutches.  Everyone else just tried to pretend they didn't see the obviously pregnant woman lifting suitcase after suitcase onto the luggage cart. 

The United employee who re-tagged our bags (they were only checked to Newark, so we had to get tags to Raleigh), also sat and watched as I hauled each of the six bags on to the scale, off the scale, and back onto the luggage cart.  I'm not sure what you have to do to qualify for help, but evidently being enormously pregnant and traveling solo withs six children isn't enough. 

By the time we had done the passport-luggage-recheck shuffle, we had used up a significant portion of our three-hour layover and had to hustle to make it through the terminal transfer-security dance.  Getting seven people with six backpacks, four kindles, two laptops, an iPad, a carry-on bag, and a purse through security is a major effort.  We had already done it twice in our travels, but I couldn't quite believe when we were asked to take out snacks from every single one of those six backpacks.  I have a personal grudge against terrorists because of all the security nightmare we have to go through.

Our very last step was to make it to our gate, which was the very last gate at the very end of the terminal.  By this point William had made it to the inevitable meltdown stage of travel.  One could hardly blame him as he had woken up twenty-five hours earlier and not gotten more than two and a half hours of sleep in that twenty-five hours.  I had also been awake for the same amount of time with even less sleep, so my ability to empathize with him as he walked down the terminal past people giving me hostile stares as he screamed and cried about his tummy hurting was about zero.  I was exhausted from traveling, making it through all the hoops, and being pregnant, so carrying a thirty-pound toddler through the airport (since our stroller had, of course, not made it) just wasn't going to happen.

We made it to the gate with fifteen minutes to spare, so I had time to sit and comfort him on my lap where he promptly fell asleep.  I thought that maybe he might just stay asleep for the entire flight, but of course he woke up on the jetway just in time to throw up right as we boarded the plane.  This time I had a bathroom to clean him up in, but no more clean clothes for him to wear.  So I stripped his shirt off, left on the shorts as they weren't too bad, and sponged off his shoes.  My parents told me later that our flight, which got delayed as we waited for the vomit to be cleaned up by the hazmat team, was listed as being delayed for medical reasons.  It's always awesome to be that person.

My parents were blessedly, wonderfully, thankfully, waiting to receive us with open arms and enough vehicles to fit both us and our stuff.  They dropped us off at our rental house, which my mother had wonderfully stocked with food, and we all got down to the business of settling in and getting over jet lag.

I have done two solo-with-all-six children trips before, so this trip was just upping the degree of difficulty somewhat.  But what I haven't done on my own before is getting settled in to a new house entirely on my own.  All of our past medevacs have been at my parents' house where two other adults have been around to help out, distract children, cook food, and all the other things that help settling in go a little more smoothly.  This time I was on my own.

With a sick toddler.  William decided he'd had enough vomiting and it was time for diarrhea.  So I got to spend the next five or six nights getting up multiple times a night to go to the bathroom.  Sometimes it was to take William to the bathroom, and other times it was to take me to the bathroom.  They never happened at the same time. 

Eventually I moved him out of my room in to the boys' room, and that set off a fresh wave of night-time wakings, some for bathroom trips and some because he didn't know where he was. 

In the daytime I got to do all the things that come with settling in to a new house - buying groceries, unpacking, organizing, beating the children into unpacking their own clothes - and the things that come with traveling to the US for medical care - appointments, appointments and appointments. 

It was during this week that I decided that I never want to be a single parent.  Being the one who has to solve all the problems, break up all the fights, wipe away all the tears, listen to all the stories, enforce all the commands, clean up all the messes, cook all the food, organize all the cleaning, and do it while still being the stable emotional center for the family is hard

By Friday night I was done with being all things to all people and so I took myself out to dinner.  I left a pot of macaroni and cheese on the stove for the children, told them to eat dinner, clean the kitchen, and be in bed by 8:30, and then ran away for the night.  I enjoyed having a dinner that I didn't cook, didn't clean up, and didn't have to feed to anyone else.  I didn't talk to anyone but my server, and nobody interrupted me while I read a book.  I finished dinner early, so I sat in the parking lot and read until it was safe to go home.  When I got home all the lights were off, the kitchen was clean, and the children were asleep.  It was a beautiful sight. 

We have settled in and school starts tomorrow, so Normal Life, US Medevac edition will begin this week.  I'm very glad that this past week has now been lived and does not ever have to be repeated.  I'm grateful that the current sick child (Eleanor) can take her own self to the bathroom and wipe her own bum in the middle of the night.  I'm looking forward to Brandon's arrival in thirty-two days (but who's counting).  But most of all, I'm hoping that I can get a good night's sleep tonight.  Fingers crossed. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The Dynamics of Change

We are leaving in four days.  Thankfully we're not moving and won't be moving for almost two more years.  I like the thought of moving and the excitement of something new, but the actual moving is terrible. 

Traveling is also terrible, but it's terrible on a much smaller scale. 

I'm always excited when contemplating change.  I like to ride roller coasters, I wanted to own a bullet bike when I was younger (I wouldn't mind one now, but I'm sadly much too responsible), and skydiving seems like a great idea.  Change is something that mixes up normal life and gives me something to do other than work very hard to maintain the optimal flow of household life.  Change gives me a break.  I look forward to change.

As soon a change gets put on the schedule, I start counting down to it.  One of my favorite things about getting pregnant is figuring out the schedule of when the baby's due, when get to go to London for appointments, and when I leave and return from medevac.  Brandon thinks I'm sick.  Everyone has their quirks, I reply to him.

I can hardly wait for the change to happen, but I still have to live my life while anxiously awaiting for the next change.  I love when we find our our next post as it means planning and anticipating the next change.  I hate when we find out our next post because then the timer starts ticking in the back of my head.  I can turn down the volume, but the countdown doesn't go away until it has finished. 

A three-month medevac is not such a big change as moving, but it's still a good-sized disruption in our schedule.  I began planning this summer and tried to get everything done possible to make this week less painful.  One has to laugh, however, when there's any attempt to make packing 'less painful.'  It's like trying to make trans-Atlantic flights or childbirth less painful.  There's some reduction of pain (hello, epidural) possible, but as a general percentage of the overall pain, the reduction is not very significant. 

After about a week of sorting baby clothes, finding pacifiers and bottles, making lists, and packing up fall clothes, I couldn't find anything else to do.  The two half-filled suitcases have been sitting forlornly in the corner of my room ever since. 

So I returned to normal life, all the time hearing that clock ticking in the back of my mind.  We have started school, played with friends, spent hours swimming in the pool, and gone to parties.  As the departure date loomed closer and closer, I keep frantically wondering what I needed to to do get ready to go.  But there wasn't anything.  So we just pretended that life was completely normal all while counting down the months, then weeks, then days.  Three months.  Two months.  Six weeks.  Two weeks.  Ten days.  And now four. 

On Friday the chaos descends as I wash laundry, fold laundry, pack laundry, gather school books, pack school books, weight suitcases, count suitcases, and wonder what it is I'm forgetting.  On Friday the change will gather momentum, building in intensity, stress, and anxiety until Monday morning arrives and we finally reach the moment of change.  Tashkent will be gone, to be replaced with Raleigh and we will have changed.  The countdown will ring its completion, and life will wind down again to return to its normal rhythms.  Change will have lost its appeal, and normal will be what I want most in the world.  Being in the same place and doing nothing exciting at all will the best thing that has ever happened it me.  The thought of change will be utterly repugnant.

Until I forget, as I always do, the pain that accompanies change.  Then I'll start looking forward to the next one. 

Sunday, September 1, 2019

A love letter to my full-sized oven

Dear oven,

I love you.  You are by no means the most flashy of ovens.  I didn't even realize that you could have an oven that required sparking the pilot light before turning on the actual oven.  There's a reason that most ovens don't do that as it only works on the first try about half the time.  You can't clean yourself (and it turns out that the housekeeper never cleans you either, so you're kind of dirty), you don't have any timers or clocks or time bake, and your temperature dial is more of a guideline.  Honestly, you don't actually do anything except get hot so that I can bake things inside you.

But the one shining attribute you do have, the thing that sets you apart from any oven I could buy here in Uzbekistan, the feature that makes my heart sing whenever I use you, is your size.

Back before I moved overseas and lived in the land of Full-Sized Appliances, I didn't know that there were places in the world where people had to be subjected to the indignity of Easy-Bake Appliances.  I didn't know that there were washing machines that fit three shirts and a pair of socks, stoves that were designed for doll pots, microwaves that only allowed for midget baby bottles, and refrigerators that held thirty-six hours' worth of food.  Maybe I had heard of them, but I didn't think that normal people actually used such atrocities.

Then I moved to Baku and my eyes were opened.  I had to buy a smaller pizza pan because my well-used and loved one was too big for the oven to properly close on.  Canning was a near-impossibility on my stove because the pots hung half-off the closely-packed burners.  Baby bottles had to be microwaved with their tops off because the microwave was so short.  The Thanksgiving turkey fit, but barely.

I almost cried when our acres of countertop in Dushanbe embraced another tiny Easy-Bake stove that took forty-five minutes to come to temperature to cook one 9 x 13 pan at a time.

So imagine my joy when I moved to Tashkent and found you, glorious full-sized American oven, sitting in my kitchen and waiting for me to cook vast quantities of food in you.  Every time I place two pans next to each other, cutting my german-pancake cooking time in half, I want to shout for joy.  Whenever I bake bread and fit all six pans on the same rack, my heart sings with happiness.  When I use all four burners at once and each one has a normal-sized pot on it, I bless whatever GSO decided that we should have American appliances here in Tashkent.

When I go to America and see my mother's new double ovens with convection heating and time bake and self-cleaning and all the amazing features, I promise not to be disloyal to you.  For I know that I will not always have an oven like you, and the next place I live may have me cooking for seven children in yet another mini-sized oven.  I will appreciate you for as long as a I have you, despite your technological backwardness.  For you are my one and only, my full-sized oven.

Love and cookies,