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Sunday, April 25, 2021

Girls' Weekend

In the Foreign Service, there are various posts that have lots of interesting local handicrafts to buy, and these place are often referred to as 'shopping posts.'  Uzbekistan is ones of those posts.  They have lovely carpets, beautiful Persian miniatures, interesting metalworking, detailed woodcarving, handwoven silk fabric, hand-embroidered tapestries, and stunning pottery.  When my parents came to visit, my mother assured me that they didn't need anything else for their house.  I smiled to myself when she said this, knowing that she hadn't seen all of the beautiful things that Uzbekistan has to offer.  

There are various regions that are known for various handicrafts, so if you really want to get serious about shopping in Uzbekistan, then the best place to buy things is in the region that they're made.  All of the handicrafts can be found in Tashkent, but often you can find higher quality, more selection, and better prices when you go outside Tashkent for shopping.

Two years ago, the three Relief Society sisters in the church group here took a trip to Samarkand, the center of suzani,hand-embroidered tapestry, production.  We had a lovely weekend together and bought a serious amount of suzanis.  When you combine stunningly beautiful handicrafts with three women egging each other on, it makes for some pretty intense shopping.  While shopping, we saw a beautiful ceramic bowl and found that it had come from another region.  We decided that our next trip would be for pottery shopping.

Between having Elizabeth and COVID, we didn't get an opportunity to take another trip until this spring.  One of the sisters left last summer, so it was only two of us this time.  We were able to get our first round of vaccinations a few weeks ago, so as soon as we knew that the vaccinations were coming, we got the trip set up.  We are both leaving this summer, so it was now or never.

Thankfully our amazing Russian teacher, Elmira, was able to coordinate everything for us, booking the hotel, finding masters to visit, and setting up the schedule.  She was even able to come with us and act as our translator and bargainer.  

We left early Friday morning and drove four hours to the first town, Kokand, and were able to pass this trip off as cultural enlightenment by visiting a two hundred year-old mosque and the palace of the Kokand Khanate, built in the late nineteenth century.  

But to make sure we accomplished our true purpose, we were also able to get some shopping in, visiting the workshop of a master woodcarver, fabric weaver, and knife maker.  I found a lovely table and fabric, and my friend was able to purchase some equally lovely knives.

On Saturday we rose bright and early to get to Rishtan, the home to numerous ceramic workshops in Uzbekistan.  One of the main ceramicists had gotten a group masters together several years before and organized the construction of a ceramics center, which was finished last year.  The lovely complex has the workshops, showrooms, and homes of twenty ceramicists.  

We had originally planned to spend two hours, but finally pulled away with a loaded trunk four hours after showing up.  Each time we stepped into a new shop, there were new and different delights to greet us, and it was almost physically painful to have to only choose a few.  By the end of our visit, everyone was happy.  We were happy with our treasures and they were happy that we had liberally spread our generosity across the entire complex.

Our visit finished with a trip to the home and workshop of our host, Alisher.  He had a special treat for us - the opening and unloading of a kiln-full of new pottery that he and his apprentices had been working on for the last several months.  I had thought that I was done with my shopping, but as they pulled out piece after stunning piece from the kiln, I realized that I was sadly mistaken.  When I showed my Russian teacher which pieces had caught my fancy, I told her that I didn't even care about the price anymore.  I just wanted the pieces.

By the end of the day, I had found thirteen new treasures to take home with me to fill my house with the beauty of Uzbekistan.  I figured that it was a good trade - all of the local craftsman got paid for all of their hard labor and I would have lovely things to spark joy whenever I looked at them.  It's probably a good thing that we're leaving in a few months, however - otherwise I'd be tempted to go back and get some more pottery.  But instead I'll just be content with what I have.  And whenever I look at it, I'll be reminded of a lovely weekend with two lovely friends.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

The End of an Era

Elizabeth turns eighteen months this week, which means that she is definitely no longer a baby.  She hasn't been a baby for quite some time, but I don't think I realized it fully until the last few weeks.  Being a girl, she started talking a few months ago and keeps adding a word or two to her vocabulary each week.  After a slow start, she is confidently walking around the house, happily making as many messes as she can before someone finds her and confiscates whatever writing instrument she has managed to find despite our best efforts to keep them from her.  She has even figured out how to go both up and down stairs.  If we weren't leaving in three months, I'd be gearing up to potty train her in a few months.

When Kathleen was eighteen months old, she was a giant, almost old enough to head off to college.  I was three months away from delivering Sophia, so Kathleen didn't have the luxury of staying a baby much longer.  I needed someone who was big enough to do things on their own and maybe even help out.  

But Elizabeth is the last child and has so many other siblings that fill all of the other slots - teenager, tween, older child, younger child, toddler - that nobody has really considered her as anything other than The Baby.  But while none of us were noticing, she kept on growing up and turned into a toddler without our permission.

It is both strange and liberating to contemplate the end of having a baby in the house.  I've had babies in the house (or on their way) for fifteen years now and been anticipating babies for much longer than that.  Ever since I was a child, I've always wanted to be a mother and looked forward to that eventual day.

I'm certainly not done being a mother by any stretch of the imagination (after I'll mother is a job that never ends), but I'm now officially done with being a mother to babies.  I knew, theoretically, that this day would come eventually, but the theoretical consideration of a future state and the actual arrival of that state are two different prospects entirely.  I have now finished a stage of my career as a mother, and from here on I will be closing down more stages on the back end while I continue to open up new stages on the front one.  

Awhile ago I realized that I will no longer have a constant baby in the house, the older babies getting replaced with new models quite regularly.  Now I will have a constant teenager (soon to be two teenagers) in the house, always someone who is looking forward to and planning for their own life as an adult to begin soon.  Instead of welcoming in new family members, I have to shift to sending them out on their own.  

But I'm also very happy to be giving away clothes as soon as Elizabeth grows out of them.  I was happy to put the infant car seat in the give-away pile, along with a pile of baby blankets and crib sheets.  I'm looking forward to getting rid of the diapers and diaper pail this fall.  I thrilled that I never have to fly with an infant again.  I'm relieved that our travel from here on out will always be with children who can walk, talk, and eat regular table food.  The children are all happy that we won't have any more agents of destruction that get into their favorite toys and books and ruin them.  

But I'm also sad that I have only have one more baby to cuddle that will let me rock them as they sweetly suck their thumb, nestling themselves under my chin.  I know that I will rock other babies, but they will never be my babies.  I'll never again be able to elicit those deep, delighted baby laughs as I blow raspberries on soft baby tummies as they kick their legs in pleasure.  Nobody will fit perfectly into the crook of my arm or fall asleep in my lap with the perfect bonelessness of baby sleep.  Pretty soon nobody will even want bedtime stories any more.  

But such is life - there is always a strange, disconcerting mix of both sorrow and gladness.  And despite trying to decide whether I can't wait for them to grow up, or that I never want them to ever stop being babies, time continues on quite regularly without any consultation from me about how I would prefer it to flow.  Once we are born, we march inevitably on to death.  Or to put it less bleakly, once a baby is born, it marches on inevitably to adulthood and all the joys and sorrows that come along the way.  

So whether I like it or not (and that depends on the day and the time of any particular day), my era of Mother to Babies has ended.  Time for toddlerhood to begin!

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Welcome, Spring (for real this time)

Back in February, we thought that spring had arrived.  It was early for Tashkent, but I remember experiencing an equally early spring back in Dushanbe, so I figured we were just having another one.  The apricot trees all bloomed, the bushes started leafing out, and the daffodils looked like they were going to bloom.  Then it snowed.  And then it froze.  And then it warmed up again before plunging down to a hard freeze for several days in a row - one night getting down to nine degrees Fahrenheit.

Quite a few bushes that had come out of dormancy, including our neighbor's lovely honeysuckle hedge and my own oleander plant, got killed by the late, hard frost.  I've seen holes appearing in landscaping where dead bushes have been pulled out, and noticed that about half the branches on our neighbor's willow trees haven't ever leafed out.  I'm always sad when plants get killed.

After the freeze ended, we had rain.  I use our pool to judge the amount of rain we get each winter, and this year's water level was several inches below last year's.  Then it rained for almost two weeks straight and we were suddenly above last year's rainfall level.  It felt like spring would never come.  I knew that it would, but my poor, sunlight-starved, animal brain had a hard time believing it.

But this last week has finally brought spring, and this time it is for good.  We've thrown open the windows, put on our shorts and short-sleeved shirts, filled up the pool, and started mowing the lawn again.  The weather has been sunny and seventy degrees all week long.  Tulips are blooming all around town.  All the trees are turning green as the leaves practically burst out of the branches.  Our Virginia creeper vine has gone from bare sticks to tiny red leaves to almost-full green ones over the last week.  We've even spotted both tortoises as they make their way around the yard finding green delicacies to break their winter fast on.  

Yesterday we went up to the mountains with friends to enjoy the glorious spring weather.  We were greeted by a world clothed in the eye-dazzling bright green that only comes with new growth in the spring.  Countless cars had their trunks open selling herb-filled green somsas that are only available at this time of the year, and other enterprising Uzbeks has set up impromptu stands stocked with kites to fly while enjoying the perfect weather.  Families set up picnics along the hills or beside the river as everyone soaked up sunshine after a long winter spent inside.

We enjoyed our own picnic on top of a small ridge where I felt like spinning while singing about the hills being alive.  Then we pull out own own kite and all the children took turns flying it while those in waiting played tag, stomped flowers (there were eight boys total), or threw rocks down hills.  Everyone couldn't help but have huge grins on their faces as we all enjoyed our day up in the mountains.  

Soon enough spring will wane and summer will set in.  The green will go from bright to tired and we will all hide from the sun in our houses or from the heat in our pools.  Our own Saturdays will be spent cleaning out the house in preparation for our move, and our friends will be gone, having left us a month before our own departure.  The friendly sunshine and high excitement of spring will be a quiet memory.

But for now, spring is new, the weather is perfect, and friendships have not been yet broken up.  Strawberry season is in a few weeks, followed by cherries and apricots, so welcome after a winter of apples.  All of the delights are coming, and I intend to enjoy them all for this last spring here in Tashkent.