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Sunday, December 27, 2020

Christmas 2020

 Christmas this year was great.  I can't actually remember a Christmas that wasn't great, but there have been years that have been less great, all because of moving or medevacs.  I'm happy that this year had no moving (I'm talking to you,  2005, 2011 and 2014) and no babies, either newly born (Elizabeth, Edwin and Joseph) or soon-to-be born (William).  Sure, this year's Christmas did happen with a broken wrist and pandemic, but those are so much easier to deal with than packing or unpacking suitcases and boxes.  Seriously.

The children and I were all very happy to close our books on December 17th for the last school of 2020 and kick off our two-week Christmas break.  Brandon was happy to shut down his computer on Tuesday and kick off his five-day Christmas break.  There have been many years that saw Brandon get home from work late on Christmas Eve, so this year he just took the preceding two days off so that everyone could really get into the spirit.

Of course having more time for Christmas preparations means more time to think of wonderful food to cook, not more time to sit and read books.  I always plan to read more books, but inevitably end up cooking more food (sadly).

So on Wednesday we did our Christmas cooking, making tapenade, cheese ball, salmon mousse, spinach artichoke heart dip, and a whole gallon of eggnog.  On Thursday we did our Christmas Eve cooking, making chocolate mousse-meringue cake, bread, roasted vegetables, ham, mustard cream sauce, and croissant cinnamon rolls.  By the time our friends showed up for a late-afternoon Christmas Eve dinner, I was ready to be done with cooking, and thankfully, I was.

My own family's Christmas traditions always included both a Christmas Eve dinner and a big Christmas dinner, but I have come to peace with being morally inferior to my mother and only have Christmas Eve dinner.  When we have brave enough friends, we like to have company for dinner, singing, and a nativity play with whatever participants we can round up.  

After spending a lovely morning and early afternoon with the children and finally getting to enjoy lots of reading and a nap, we spent more time with the same friends as we went to their house for their own Christmas tradition - spending time with friends on Christmas day.  These are the same friends that we spent Thanksgiving with and see every Sunday, so they're either really good friends or just desperate for someone for their five boys to play with.

This year we've been able to really celebrate almost all of the Christmas traditions - decorating the house, making ornaments, cutting out snowflakes, stamping wrapping paper, having an advent calendar and devotional every night, and creating a gingerbread house (sadly, no caroling party).  I've been listening to Christmas music since the day after Thanksgiving, and the tree has been lit up for a month straight.  I feel like we have really celebrated Christmas this year.  So when the tree goes down on New Years Day and all the decorations get packed away, I'll be okay with moving on.  Because it was a great Christmas this year.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Winning in Central Asia

By most measurements, life is usually harder here in Central Asia than in the US.  We have some things that are easier, but there's a reason that we get paid extra money to go and live in strange places like Uzbekistan.  One of the harder things about being away from the US is not being near family and not having a regular ward to attend.  The children (and I) love going back to the US and going to a meeting where there are more than six people singing, there's a functional nursery, full classes for every age, and regular youth activities.  Being homeschooled makes socialization in church even more precious, especially for my two oldest girls.

But covid has proved to be the great leveler, and for most of this year, we've been in the exact same situation that everyone else around the world has been in.  Everyone has become just as home-based as we always are and my children aren't weird any more.  Church has been home-based for months, with a recent return to socially-distanced shortened sacrament-only meetings.  

We have also been stuck in home church since March, as one family in our group left for the US in March, and the second moved to Abu Dhabi this summer.  But with the return of the first family last month, we were able to resume our own church meetings again.  

Between a two-week quarantine and sickness, we weren't able to meet together until last week.  But as we all sat down together for our first meeting, I looked around and realized that we were probably one of the only units in the world that got to enjoy a mask-free full church schedule.  

At the beginning of the pandemic, our mission president gave all the small units leave to meet in whatever way they felt comfortable, so we've had compete autonomy to do what works for us.  Both families are comfortable with meeting together mask-free, and there's no reason to have a shortened schedule if everyone has already committed to being together anyway.  After all, two hours of church is nothing compared to the eight hours we spent together on Thanksgiving.

This week we had the Primary program, with all six of our primary children.  After we had finished and were celebrating with cookies and videos, we congratulated the children for having one of the only in-person Primary programs in the entire world that happened this year.  The children suddenly felt a lot more special, and I'm pretty sure that they will always remember that they were some of the privileged few in 2020 that got to participate in a Primary program.  

It's been really wonderful to have church together for these past two weeks.  Even though our church attendance has only increased by one other family, it has changed the nature of the meetings for the better.  

There is a reason that we meet together every week, and it isn't just so that we can receive the sacrament.  We all strengthen each other, support each other, and learn from each other.  Everyone brings their own experiences to the lessons, along with their way of seeing the gospel.  The children are encouraged by each other, and the youth get to be with their peer group.  We get to have lessons that we didn't think of ourselves, and our children get a break from being taught by us all week long.  And we all grow a little closer together in love and unity.

So, at least at church, we are happy to be here in Uzbekistan where we can worship together and have a little bit of normalcy back.  I'll take it where I can get it.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

When Both Your Cars Aren't Working

 We've been really happy to have two cars, after only having one (and for two years, none) for the entire fifteen years we've been married.  Brandon always has his car, I always have mine, and if one is in the shop, we still have the other.  

Our big car, a 2007 Honda Pilot, is getting old, so it's recently been spending much more time with the embassy mechanics.  Since moving to Tashkent, we've gotten the catalytic converter replaced, redone all the shocks and struts (hardly surprising, after driving on bad roads for the last nine years), put in a new radiator, gotten new oxygen sensors, and replaced the power steering pump.  Thankfully, the labor here is cheap, so most of the cost has been for parts.

Our other car, a 2012 Fit, has been much more reliable.  But back in July, I managed to puncture a tire while moving it back in to our garage.  Between uneven work schedules, quarantines, and our trip to the US, the tire never got fixed and we've been driving on the full-sized spare for the last six months.  Which is never a good idea, because the whole point of having a spare is so that there's one to use if your tire goes flat. 

Which, inevitably, it did.  Thankfully, it went flat while Brandon was it work, so he didn't have to figure out how to get it in to the mechanics.  Unfortunately, it happened the day before Brandon began another two-week quarantine, which ended just as the mechanic started his own two-week quarantine.  

While the Fit was waiting for a new tire in the embassy parking lot, the Pilot was leaking power steering fluid all over the garage floor.  When Brandon drove it last weekend, the power steering fluid was completely gone, making it very difficult to get in and out of the garage, and completely impossible for me to drive with only one hand.  

So back into the shop it went, and this time it we got to order a new rack and pinion, in addition to more power steering fluid.

On Monday, our car situation looked like this: cars we own - 2, cars that work - 0.  I had a salon appointment, but was able to take a taxi there and back.  Thankfully, there are several taxi apps that don't require any communication with the driver, so it's pretty easy to use even with my limited Russian.

On Tuesday, things got a little hairier.  Kathleen had horseback riding lessons, and the stable is outside city limits.  We took a taxi to the stable, but were unable to get one back.  Thankfully, it's only about two miles from the stable to our house and the day was not rainy, snowy, or even that cold so the walk wasn't too bad.  By the last half mile, however, Kathleen was walking in only one boot, as she had developed a blister on the other heel.  Apparently, her boots weren't made for walking, only for riding.

On Thursday, things came to their inevitable, hairy climax.  When the embassy mechanic got out of quarantine and looked at fixing the two flat tires, all four normal tires were declared completely unsafe.  So on Wednesday I got to buy a new rack and pinion set, in addition to four new tires, all for cars that we won't be owning in seven months.  Sometimes being adult is awesome, and sometimes it's just expensive.

The new tires were bought Wednesday afternoon, but couldn't be installed until Thursday during lunch.  That afternoon, at 2:30, I had to take the children to a horseback riding lesson.  I realized that morning that there wouldn't be anybody at home to watch Elizabeth and William.  I could have taken them, but I didn't have a car to take them in.  I sent a panicked text to the friend that a share my housekeeper with, and she generously allowed me to borrow her for the afternoon.

Brandon pointed out, however, that if the car was done by 2:00, he could bring the car to me, watch the small children while he finished the teleworking, and all my problems could be solved.  So when I texted my housekeeper (translated into Russian by Google Translate), I told her that I would probably need her, but maybe not.  Which, in my mind, meant 'come unless I tell you not to.'  

By 2:00, the tires were all on the car.  But unfortunately, the car battery was dead.  The recharging was set to take four hours.  So I didn't tell my housekeeper not to come, and when she texted me at 2:15, "Извините мне придти," I read it as, "excuse me, I am coming," and replied to her, "Thank you!" Now Russian questions are not exactly like English ones.  To ask a question in Russian, you just change the intonation but nothing else.  When you are texting, you add a question mark.

When she still wasn't here at 2:35 and all the children were piled into the taxi waiting (with a driver who told me that we couldn't put so many people in the car because of the police and I told him we didn't have any other options [which happened entirely in Russian]), I started panicking and sending texts.  I considered leaving Elizabeth and William alone in the house until she showed up, but that seemed like one of those Very Bad Ideas that end in disaster.  As the time got later and later, my texts got more and more impatient.  I had a car full of children with a taxi driver waiting.  I had two children waiting in the house.  I had a horseback riding lesson that was getting shorter and shorter the longer my housekeeper took to get to my house.  And I had two cars that I owned that were currently useless to me.  I knew it would be funny later, but it sure wasn't funny then.  

It was the perfect storm of missed opportunities.  If only the tires had been fixed the day before.  If only the battery hadn't been dead from sitting out in the parking lot for a month.  If only Brandon hadn't actually had to go in to work that week.  If only the Pilot had held out until the Fit was repaired.  If only I had actually thought through my childcare situation before scheduling a makeup lesson.  If only had had replied with, 'yes,' instead of 'thank you,' when my housekeeper asked me if she should come.  If only I had run her text through Google translate and gotten 'excuse me to come,' instead of relying on my own limited Russian skills.  Usually everything doesn't line up so perfectly so as to make such a situation, but there we were.

Finally, at 2:50, five minutes after our lesson had started, a taxi pulled up with my housekeeper inside.  I jumped in the taxi, she took William back inside the house, and the children and I made in time for a 25-minute lesson.  Brandon picked us up at the stable with the newly recharged, re-tired Fit, and life went back to its normal, quiet routine.  The Pilot is still out of commission until the pouch brings the new part, but one car is better than no cars.

So the moral of the story is: when you get a flat tire, fix it.  Because you never know if you'll get another right at the time your other car loses its power steering and your wife has to take all the babysitting-aged children to a horseback riding lesson on the day the housekeeper isn't there and you're actually at work so there's nobody to watch the babies.