The views expressed in this blog are personal and not representative of the U.S. Government, etc etc etc.
Read at your own risk.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Thanksgiving 2020

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving this year.  The last remaining family in our church group returned to Tashkent two and a half weeks ago, just in time to clear quarantine so that we could enjoy the holiday together.  

Thanksgiving can be a tricky holiday when there isn't any family within ten time zones.  The Thanksgivings of my youth were always a weekend-long affair where we traveled up to my dad's brother's house and spent the entire time running crazy with his eight children.  The dinner itself was simply a pause for food to fuel even wilder hijinks.  For me, Thanksgiving weekend will always be a time to spend large amounts of time hanging out with people you really like.

This can be hard to achieve when you've only been in a place for a week (Dushanbe) and don't know anyone, and is even a challenge when you've been in a place for awhile, but haven't found a family that shares your need for a really long day together while the children run wild.  This has become harder as we've had more children and have reached a truly intimidating family size.  After all, our family itself is larger than my parents' entire Thanksgiving party this year - which included my brother's family and two separate sets of missionaries.  

But thankfully, we've known our newly returned friends for our entire tour in Tashkent and they have five boys - which is pretty the much same as our seven children.  Brandon and the husband get along well, the wife and I get along equally well, and the children, spanning ages 2-13, also get along well with ours.  We're really lucky to have them here with us in Tashkent.

They very kindly offered to host this year, as I'm still stuck with 1 1/3 hands and not up to my full hosting capabilities.  In addition to getting out of hosting duties, I was also able to shift most of the cooking chores to my ever-helpful children and husband.  Sophia took on the task of pies, making and rolling out all four pie crusts, with the help of a video call from my mom.  She and Edwin mixed up the fillings.  Kathleen washed and peeled potatoes, and Brandon chopped and mashed them.  I made the sweet potato casserole, but used canned sweet potatoes, and Kathleen made the streusel topping (the part I like least).  My only solo effort was the rolls.  

We actually had a great time cooking together, and with three Truly Helpful children, everything was done without too much trouble.  I'm enjoying having older children who are not only capable, but also happy to come and cook with me in the kitchen.  We had all the dishes done by ten in the morning, and spent most of the next three hours watching various things bake in the oven while listening to "Thanksgiving music," which Sophia calls repurposed Christmas carols.

When we finally made it to our friends' house, the children were beyond excited to see their friends after eight months' absence.  It was almost physically painful for them to stop their playing in order to eat a hasty roll and daub of mashed potatoes before going back to playing games, firing nerf guns, and general hijinks.  

The adults were happy to sit and talk, occasionally dodging a stray nerf bullet, and catch up with everyone's doings in the last eight months.  Most of the children were old enough to amuse themselves, and the two youngest hardly caused any trouble.  I'm happy to be past the days of spending my holidays forcing children to eat food they don't want.  It's much more fun to be able to hold almost uninterrupted conversation for hours on end. 

After seven hours of food, talking, playing, pie, and a game of Charades, we parted, full of promises for further adventures together.  As we drove home, full of delicious food and even better friendship, Brandon turned to me.  "That's one of the very best Thanksgivings we've ever had."  And I had to agree with him.  Everyone was happy to be together and nobody was too stressed out.  The children all had a wonderful time.  The food was delicious.  Nobody had to work too hard.  We even got most of the dishes done.  On a normal year, it would have made for a great Thanksgiving.  But this year, with so much separation, isolation, stress, and fear, it was practically magical.  I'm grateful for all the things that worked together to make it happen.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Thoughts on One-Handedness

 I have now been stuck in a cast for twelve days.  Well, it's not actually a cast - it's a metal-foam-sandwhich brace wrapped in a very long ace bandage.  I'm not quite sure why I got this setup instead of a cast (my comprehension at the time was less than complete), but I am happy that I can take it off once a day when I shower.  

Unfortunately, I ended up with a slight crack in my elbow along with the break in my wrist, so the ace bandage-splint setup extends from my mid-upper arm down to my fingers.  My arm is fixed in a right angle and my hand is in extension, which means that my left arm is mostly useless.  I am able to wiggle the fingers on my left hand and grasp, push or squeeze things lightly, but not much else beyond that.  So most of my daily tasks are left up to my right hand (thank heaven I'm not left handed).

I was frankly surprised at the number of things that I can do one handed with no problems.  I discovered that putting in and taking out contacts with one hand is almost no different than doing it with one hand, and maybe a little easier.  If I have to rise them, I can hold a contact in my left fingers while rinsing with my right.  I'm happy that this isn't a problem, as I really don't like wearing glasses.

I can also eat, write, brush my hair, crack eggs, make my bed, hold Elizabeth (but not for long), teach school, use my phone, drive, put on shoes, brush my teeth, feed myself, and unload the dishwasher.

There are a lot of other things that I can do, but with modifications.  Getting dressed is more complicated, especially because of skinny jeans.  I can pull them up, but it takes some time.  I'm also stuck wearing short-sleeved shirts because I can't fit long-sleeved ones over my cast.  Ironically, this week has been the coldest week we've had the entire time we've lived in Tashkent.  Thankfully, our house is warm.

I can cook dinner, mostly, one handed, although it takes longer than it usually does.  Thankfully, I've been having children help me cook for several years now, so I can have them do the things that I simply can't, like grating cheese, washing dishes (I'm not sorry about that one), and chopping hard vegetables (I can slowly chop soft ones, like onions).  I also have to have them open anything with a lid, as twisting things is completely impossible.  But it is surprisingly tiring to cook dinner one-handed, and by the end of cooking dinner, feeding children dinner, and cleaning it up, I'm very worn out - especially if I have to sweep the floor.  It's been very bad luck that Brandon had a 'virtual visit' which meant phone calls every night this week.

There are some things, however, that I just can't do without two fully functional hands.  Every morning I have to get Sophia to pull my hair back in a ponytail, as that combines bending my arm, holding things tightly with my hand, and twisting - which are all very off-limits.  I'm very glad that Sophia likes to do hair, as everyone else in my family is completely and totally useless at doing ponytails.  Brandon made an attempt once and that was enough for him.  

I also can't change dirty diapers.  In a pinch, I can change non-poopy diapers and dress Elizabeth, but when it comes to messy jobs, I just can't manage keeping her fat, kicking legs out of the mess while wiping her stinking bum.  I've allowed everyone to use disposable diapers until my hand is functional again as I don't hate my family that much.  I have to confess, however, that, I'm not that sad about skipping diaper duty for the next month and half. 

But despite the small benefit of being off diaper duty, I'm looking forward to having two fully functional hands again.  I am getting used to planning out a lot of my more complicated maneuvers in advance, remembering the three comfortable positions I can sleep in, and not picking up Elizabeth with my left arm.  By the end of six weeks, I'll have mostly forgotten what it's like to do everything with two hands and will probably take some time to remember that I'm not one-handed anymore.  But I'm fairly confident that I'll get used to it pretty quickly - even if I am back to changing poopy diapers again.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Two Down, Five to Go

There is a saying that a horseback rider isn't a true rider until they've fallen off seven times.  Up until this week, I had only fallen off one time and so I guess I can't come close to considering myself a true horsewoman.  I don't like falling off, so as a general rule, I really try to avoid it.

The last time I fell off, I was bucked off while pregnant with Elizabeth.  Both Kathleen and Sophia had also fallen off Labello, a bad-tempered 16.5 hand white Hanoverian, so I didn't feel very bad about taking my turn falling off him.  I remember watching the ground rush towards me and thinking, "Ah, this is why we wear helmets!"

I don't remember the fall that happened this week. For some time after the fall, I didn't remember a lot of things.  One of the first vague and cloudy things that I remember was Kathleen, almost in tears, telling me that she'd already explained my accident five times.  I told her that I'd remember this time, but evidently she told me two more times before I stopped asking.  

I also remember asking, in Russian, how long it had been, how my horse was, and if I could have a bowl nearby just in case the nausea finally overtook me.  Those memories are dark and cloudy, like a half-remembered dream, and have chunks of space between them where the film skips ahead to the next part.

One of the parts featured Brandon, who inextricably was able to come get me in the middle of the day, not dressed in a suit.  "Why are you here?" I asked him, "Why aren't you at work?" When he explained that we was working home because of COVID, I didn't know what this COVID was that he was talking about.  When he asked me what I had done the day before, I couldn't remember welcoming friends back from their evacuation or Joseph's birthday.

The trip to a local clinic passed in disjointed seconds, and the CT scan and x-ray took much less time than they normally do.  Passing through the ring of the CT scanner reminded me of another scan several years ago, but I couldn't grasp the memory firmly enough to recall what the scan was for.

When we made it to the embassy and I got to see the x-ray of my broken radius, it was only a confirmation of what I'd known as soon as I tried to use my left arm.  I wasn't together enough to be grateful for the clear CT scan, but I am grateful for it now.  And I was more grateful as I discovered each new bruise and sore muscle, along with a black eye and chipped tooth.  I wasn't very far from spending the next few nights or weeks in the hospital instead of my own bed.

As the evening wore on, most of the afternoon fit itself back into my memories.  I had been jumping during my lesson that day.  I was riding my usual horse, a sweet horse that gets very nervous while jumping.  I've been working with her for quite awhile, but she just isn't good for a rider of my level, as even the smallest jumps become large and often end in an impromptu gallop.  After a previous lesson, I had commented to Brandon that she was frankly dangerous to jump.  My teacher had promised another, calmer horse, but that had not happened.

The jumping that day had started out well, and I was able to keep from any wild gallops by halting after each jump and calming her down.  My teacher raised the rail to around 2' 6", a height that I had jumped during previous lessons on my horse.  But according to Kathleen, this time my horse rushed the takeoff, snagged the rail with her front hoof, and we both went down.  

I'm mostly grateful that I don't remember the fall.  I'm not sure how confident I would be the next time I ride with that playing over and over again in my mind.  But part of me wants to know exactly how it happened, just to understand everything better.  Not that it matters, as that hole will remain in my memory until all is restored at resurrection day.

But despite all that went wrong, I am grateful that I am only dealing with the irritation of doing everything one-handed for the next six weeks.  I am grateful that I was, as always, wearing my helmet.  I am grateful that Kathleen was riding with me and was able to call Brandon and the PA at the embassy to come and pick up the pieces.  I don't know what I would have done on my own.  I'm grateful that Kathleen and I speak enough Russian to keep me from getting hauled to the closest local hospital.  I'm grateful that I was flung clear of my horse and didn't get rolled or trampled.  I'm grateful that I broke my left hand instead of my right.  I'm grateful that my chipped tooth is hardly noticeable.  

There are so many things to be grateful for.  So I haven't spent any time lamenting my accident or trying to figure out how it could have been prevented.  I don't regret going to my lesson that day, or wonder why God didn't stop me from going or keep the horse from clipping the rail.  Sometimes things just happen because we are here and living life.  For all the bad things that happen, there are probably a hundred worse things that could have happened.  So I am content with my broken wrist, chipped tooth, and holey memory.  It could have been much worse.

Happy Birthday, Joseph!

 This week Joseph turned nine years old.  It we were a normal-sized family, that would mean that my baby is almost double digits, but Joseph is our middle child so we have a long way to go before everyone is in double digits.

We celebrated the day by taking school off.  One of the benefits to homeschooling is being able to make your own holidays, and in our family, birthdays are holidays.  The children love being part of a big family, as there are birthdays most months of the year.  

Sadly, Brandon had to work, so I took the children to a new park in town without him.  But happily, he volunteered to watch Elizabeth and so we got to be free of baby nap schedules.  Everyone enjoyed getting out of the house and seeing something new and best of all - not doing school.  I enjoyed both myself.

After coming home, I let the children watch a movie in the middle of the day, something that only happens on Christmas.  I cooked Joseph's birthday cake, lemon meringue pie, and ordered his birthday dinner, Chinese food.  

After dinner, singing, and cake, Joseph finally got to the part of the day he'd been anticipating for weeks - the presents.  His siblings pooled their money and bought him an electric train set, and Brandon and I went together with my parents for a LEGO set.  With so many toys already here, I don't really want many more filling up the already crowded toy room.

The boys managed to finish the LEGO set before bed, and Joseph got to go to bed a happy boy after a very good birthday.  We all got to appreciate Joseph and celebrate having him as part of our family.  It was a good day for everyone.  

Sunday, November 8, 2020


         Flag of Kazakhstan - Wikipedia

This Monday was handshake day.  It's been a long week, so handshake day seems like it happened a month ago.  Bidding this year was much more involved than it's been in the past years, but in the end, the options got narrowed down to the same one as always: Central Asia.  

Monday didn't bring any surprises, as there had been a series of communications with both Nur-Sultan and the bureau, and both were very enthusiastic about Brandon coming to Kazakstan.  

I, however, am less enthusiastic.  Being raised in North Carolina, I have a healthy dislike of winter.  I prefer winters that last about six weeks, bring a snowfall or two, and don't stay much past late February and early March.  So far - despite Brandon's Russian skills - I've been able to have very reasonable winters for the eleven years we've been in the Foreign Service.  Brandon, who loves winter, has been on the losing end of the weather for all four posts we've had so far.

Now it's his turn to get all the winter back - with interest.  Nur-Sultan is the second coldest capitol in the word, with only Ulaanbaatar, the capitol of Mongolia, being colder.  Snow starts falling in October, the average high drops below freezing in November, and doesn't see anything above 32 degrees until April.  So, for half of the entire year, the average high temperature in Nur-Sultan is below freezing.  It gets so cold in the winter that the Ishim river freezes, everyone gets out their sleds and and ice skates, and the whole city plays on the frozen river for three months straight.  It's always been a life goal to never live in a place that has rivers freeze solid.  I feel like that is against the laws of decency.

Nur-Sultan is a new city, built in the site of a small administrative capital from the Soviet era.  The capitol of Kazakstan was moved in 1998 from Almaty, located in the mountains in the south of Kazakhstan, to Nur-Sultan.  It is a planned city, similar to Brasilia, and has skyscrapers, parks, a 60-meter glass pyramid, and an entire mall shaped like a glass yurt.  After spending our time in crumbling, post-Soviet cities, it will be somewhat nice to be somewhere new and shiny.  

The former capitol, Almaty, is nestled in a beautiful valley in the northern Tien-Shan mountains, with lots of skiing, hiking, and outdoor mountains.  Nur-Sultan is not.  Located in the northern part of Kazakhstan, Nur-Sultan is an island in the middle of vast steppe.  Other than hiking across endless steppe or cross-country skiing, there's not much to do outside the city.  I'm trying to convince Brandon that we all need to get horses and practice our steppe-raider skills, but so far he hasn't gone for it.  

We will be stopping in DC for a year of language training, so we won't be getting to Kazakhstan until summer of 2022, and I am okay with that.  Usually I'm excited to get to our next post, with new adventures and advantages.  But this time, I'm perfectly happy to spend another year delaying the freezing cold winters.  Everyone has a little more time to get older and more proficient at putting their own snow gear on and taking it off.  I have more time to research heated socks, leggings, jackets, hats, and mittens (I'm not kidding about hating cold) and enjoy seventy-degree Novembers.  I can put off winter for a little while longer.

I'm sure that in time we all come to enjoy all the of the good things that Nur-Sultan has to offer.  I've been living in strange places long enough to know that everything has its good features and its bad ones.  And just like there's no perfectly wonderful post, there's no perfectly terrible one either.  The children will probably tell tales for the rest of their live about the most amazing winters they've ever had, and I'm pretty sure someone will break an arm on the crazy sled runs they'll build in our backyard.  Everyone will definitely get better at ice skating.  We'll get really, really good at making hot tea by the gallon, and we'll really appreciate that technology has given up remote car starters.  And in the end, when I've survived -40 degree weather and lived to tell the tale, I might even learn to love winter.  A little bit.  Maybe.  Perhaps.  I'm not making any promises about that one.  

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Halloween 2020

We had a low-key Halloween this year.  Our Halloweens are usually low-key, but this year was a really low-key year.  A few weeks before Halloween, there was talk about having a socially-distant trunk-or-treat at the embassy compound.   When I asked the children if they'd rather do that or stay home for a bonfire and candy hunt, they all decided - given that the candy haul would be comparable - to stay home for the bonfire.

So my normally half-hearted Halloween efforts got even less so, and I managed to buy the kids off with fifteen minutes of candy hunting and no costumes whatsoever.  2020 for the win.

As Brandon and I were hiding candy around the yard ("Hey Mom, will it be in Easter eggs?  We still have some of them!" Nope kids, that would mean stuffing them first.  Why should I go to the trouble?), I remarked that it felt like we had just been hiding candy for Easter.  Of course Easter was six months ago, but that's how time goes these days.

They children all loved the hunt, and then happily divvied up the loot afterwards while Brandon and I got the bonfire going.  Earlier, when I was trying to explain to William about the evening's activities, he got very confused about whether we were going to have roasted candy or roasted marshmallows.  When I explained to him that we would roast the marshmallows - not the candy - he got very indignant.  "No Mom! I don't want to! Because marshmallows are disgusting and candy ISN'T!!!" 

But in the end, the joke was on him, because he fell asleep before we made it to the marshmallow roasting part of the evening.  It was probably just fine for his pancreas, however.

We finished the evening with the Lovecraft story "The Rats in the Walls," which understandably freaked out all the surviving children (William, Eleanor, and Elizabeth were in bed).  I'm not sure what Brandon is going to read for bonfires after he runs through all the Lovecraft stories.  

Everyone was bathed and in bed a little after eight, so I call the evening a win.  I guess all of 2020 hasn't been that bad.

Happy Birthday, Elizabeth!

Elizabeth turned one this week.  I know it's cliche to say, but I can't believe how fast the time has passed.  It's a been a strange first year, as Elizabeth was only four months old when covid hit, so the past eight months have been compressed down to a few weeks. 

I was a little sad the night before her birthday, as I rocked my last baby before putting her down to bed.  Now all our children are __ years old and will be from here on.  But, I suppose all children grow up and there's nothing we can do to stop them.

To celebrate Elizabeth's birthday, we made applesauce.  When Eleanor asked if we could do something fun to celebrate, she was very disappointed to find out that babies don't get fun things on their birthdays because they don't know what a birthday is anyway.

We made Elizabeth a cake today, lit a candle, and sung to her.  She was fairly puzzled about the entire experience and graciously allowed her siblings to blow out the candle for her.  Her kind grandmother sent her a gift, which she enjoyed very much. 

Elizabeth is a (usually) very happy baby, mostly content to crawl around the house looking for interesting things to explore.  She has recently discovered the pleasure of trash cans and can often be found in the bathroom with her treasures spread around her on the floor.  I unwisely taught her how to climb up stairs, so she has access to all floors of the house and can make bigger messes.

Recently she has begun preferring Sophia to me, which makes my heart die a little bit each time she pushes me away when I go to pick her up.  On a few occasions, she's started crying when I took her away from her favorite sister.  I have no one to blame myself, however, as I have the children help out a lot with the baby.  Such is the life as a seventh child.  

Everyone adores Elizabeth, and there is usually no shortage of children vying for her attention.  Joseph loves to push her in the swing, Eleanor enjoys dressing her up, William will show her books, Edwin spins her around while she giggles wildly, Kathleen takes her on walks almost every afternoon, and Sophia will pick her up every time she cries (which probably explains the preference).  

We are all happy to have Elizabeth as part of our family.  Happy Birthday!