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Sunday, November 28, 2021

Thanksgiving 2021

Our Thanksgiving this year was very quiet.  Each year our Thanksgivings have grown smaller.  We started with twenty-four people in 2018, spent 2019 in North Carolina, fed sixteen people in 2020, and this year we spent the holiday entirely alone - although for us 'entirely alone' still means dinner for nine.

Our close friends left us this summer and we haven't taken the time and emotional energy to make many new friends for our last year in Tashkent.  Making friends with new families is hard - there are a lot of things to match up in family friendships.  Not only do the children need friends, but the parents have to also work well enough together that everyone can have a nice time together and nobody is counting down the minutes until the visit is over.  It's much more challenging with seven children.  There are families that have friends for our older children and families that have friends for our younger children, but there are very few families that have friends for all our children.  Additionally, there aren't that many people who are that interested in/capable of enduring the unavoidable amount of noise and chaos that naturally comes with seven children.  We are a lot to handle.  

So when the discussion of Thanksgiving guests was held, the kids decided that they'd rather have it as a family.  We knew families with small children who probably would have been happy to come over, but the older children said that they didn't want to spend all day cooking and then not have any friends of their own to share the holiday with.  And admittedly, having nobody over also had some appeal.  We wouldn't have to rush to get everything done by a specific time, the house didn't have to be that clean, and nobody minded if I served the mashed potatoes in their cooking pot.

One major downside of not having guests, however, was that I had to cook the entire dinner myself.  Usually when we have guests, everyone contributes and we split up the meal. This year everyone was busy with school and Brandon was busy with work right until the day itself, so I was on my own.  I've cooked all of Thanksgiving a few other times, but it was always with help from Brandon.  This time, it was all me.

So Thanksgiving day turned into Thanksgiving week.  On Monday I made pie crust, rolled it out, put it in pie pans, and froze it.  On Tuesday I made sweet potato casserole, cubed and toasted bread for stuffing, and saute├ęd onions and celery for stuffing.  On Wednesday I made giblet gravy, mixed up pumpkin and pecan pie fillings, mixed up stuffing, brined the turkey, and as an extra bonus for Brandon, made eggnog.  By the end of Wednesday afternoon, we had a refrigerator full of Thanksgiving food.

For the actual day, the cooking was light enough - only rolls, turkey, and mashed potatoes - that I spent part of the morning playing games with the children.  We had the meal around two, which took about forty-five minutes to eat, about fifteen times less than the time it took to cook the entire meal.  We only ate about a fifth of the food, and the seventeen-pound turkey was only missing its leg quarter by the time we were finished with it.  

But that was okay with me because, as I mentioned earlier, Thanksgiving happened this entire week, and Thursday was only day one.  We have now enjoyed Thanksgiving days two, three, and four, and tomorrow will probably be able to squeak out a Thanksgiving lunch before our leftovers are exhausted.  After those are done, we will get to have turkey salad, turkey pot pie, and turkey soup.  There are some definite leftover benefits to cooking all of Thanksgiving oneself.

I am hoping, however, that next year will have a little fewer leftovers and a little more friends.  As nice as it was to spend the day quietly alone, I also have also enjoyed all of the Thanksgivings with friends we've made all of the places we've lived.  Either with friends or only with family, Thanksgiving is always a wonderful holiday.  

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Elizabeth Joins the Fray

 Elizabeth is officially talking.  She's been saying words for some time now, but in the last month she has mastered the art of three- and four-word sentences.  Overall, I'm very happy when my children are capable of communicating things to me.  The crying decreases dramatically because everyone can understand each other enough to keep emotions generally stable.  When they need something, they can tell me instead of bursting into tears when their incomprehensible gabbles don't get what they want.

But the one time I'm not happy about talking toddlers is dinner.  Dinner is often the top of the crescendo of noise and craziness that has been increasing throughout the day.  By the evening, everyone is tired, the activities of the day have created hurt feelings or resentment, people have been pushed through their required school work, and I'm ready for everyone to get to bed so that I can finish my work day that began at 5 am that morning.

Dinner is also the time when everyone wants to talk about their day.  And it's when they want to ask me questions about the most strange things they can think of.  Additionally, it's the place for unresolved fights to continue.  And the children want to make all the requests they've been saving up during the day.  Also it's when everyone has all the conversations they couldn't have while during their school work.  

It's basically when everyone makes all the noise they can think of, combined with spilling milk, food, or both.  Sometimes I have to shout so that everyone can hear me.

And now that Elizabeth can talk, there are nine people trying to talk over each other at once.  Most of the time, having seven children isn't too much trouble.  Our house is big enough that everyone can spread out.  I usually only have to help one child at a time, and often I can get a bigger sibling to help out a smaller sibling if I'm already busy.  It's a lot less work than one would think.

But when everyone is together at dinner, I can really tell that I have seven children.  Our kitchen isn't that big, and all of the noise seems to bounce off the cupboards, tile floors, and high ceilings and multiply into a dull roar.  And now we've added a two year-old to the mix.  Since everyone else is already noisy, Elizabeth figures that she's got to be even noisier so that she can be heard.  In the usually declamatory fashion of toddlers, she will sit in her high chair and talk about whatever comes to mind.  

"PICK UP FORK.  EAT FOOD.  YUCKY FOOD."  She has has no idea what conversation is, so she figures that if everyone else is talking, it must mean that she should also be talking.  But even worse than her 'conversation' is her requests for things.

"MORE MILK.  MORE MILK!  MORE MILK!! MORE MILK!!! MOOOOORE MIIIIIIIILK!!!" If she asks for something and nobody gets it for her in five seconds or less, then she figures that she needs to ask again and keep asking repeatedly until she gets what she wants.  And in her defense, that's probably true most of the time because we don't hear her until she's said things at least ten times because everyone else is trying to talk over each other.

Every now and then we try to bring up the idea of everyone taking turns talking during dinner and it lasts for maybe ten or even fifteen minutes before someone can't stand holding their thoughts until all of the eight other people have had their turn and everything degrades into a free-for-all again.  

Or if one conversation gets boring, various side conversations pop up because there's always somebody else available to talk to.  And it's a guarantee that at some point during dinner one of those side conversations will turn into a fight.  With so many people in the family, there's always someone you can find to disagree with.  Often I spend half of dinner not saying anything at all, if only to do my part in lessening the general dinner noise.  

The only bright spot of hope is that our usual dinner conversations will now be capped at nine participants.  Unless we have an intrepid dinner guest or two, nobody else will be joining the fray.  And as everyone gets older, they might begin to learn how to listen to what everyone else has to say before just talking over them.  But for now, our dinners can get very, very noisy.  But I suppose that's what happens when you have seven children.  In the end, I've got nobody to blame but myself.  

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Happy Birthday, Joseph!

This week Joseph turned ten years old.  When Kathleen turned ten years old, it was such an unimaginably ancient age that I hardly knew what to do with myself.  With two adult-sized children in the house, ten is less of an advanced age, but for Joseph ten is still a big milestone.

We celebrated his birthday with a day off from school.  Everyone loves this family tradition, and almost every child has their birthday during the school year, so we get to have a lot of birthday holidays.  According to Eleanor, the best part of being homeschooled is that you get to have school off on your birthday.  The children ended up watching two movies during the day because we decided to home.  Even as an adult, watching a movie in the middle of the day still feels like the height of luxury.  

In addition to picking both movies, Joseph got to pick the breakfast (aebelskivers), his cake (lemon tart), and dinner (sushi).  With so many people in the family who have so many different opinions, a birthday is a special day when the birthday child gets to make all the choices without having to take turns with anyone else.  

The best part of Joseph's day was, of course, his presents.  This year some of his siblings gave him presents, so he was a very happy boy with five presents to open.  All but one were LEGO sets, adding to the number of possible caltrops that can be scattered across every imaginable place in the house.  As soon as the tart was shoveled into their mouths, Joseph and Edwin sprinted upstairs to start building their new treasures.  I'm not sure what I'm going to do for presents when they finally grow out of LEGOs.  

For Joseph's birthday Saturday, we went to the circus.  The "Russian" ('more like Kazakh' was Edwin's verdict after noting the ethnicity of the performers) circus was in town, so we decided to join in with crowds of Uzbek children and their parents for an afternoon of entertaining acts.  This was our third trip to a Soviet-era circus building, having gone to the Baku and Dushanbe circuses also.  We were happy to see that Nur-Sultan also has a circus, although it was built after the Soviet era.  

Watching acrobats perform breathtaking feats of strength, balance, and agility never gets old, and everyone enjoyed seeing what amazing stunt would be next.  We got to watch tightrope walkers, jugglers, a bear, acrobatic archers, funny acts, and someone jumping rope on the back of a cantering horse.  Nobody was bored.

We are all happy to have Joseph as part of our family.  He is irrepressibly cheerful and can usually be found with a wide grin on his face as he finds a new joke to tell or a funny story to relate.  I can always count on Joseph to help out with whatever I ask him to do, and he always wants to make sure that his siblings are taken care of.  I'm quite interested to see what Joseph will find to pour his interest into as he grows older.  But for now, we'll enjoy him as the newest decade-old child in our house.  Happy birthday, Joseph!

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Switching Stables

 The children and I have now been riding together in Tashkent for three years.  When we first moved here and were looking for a stable, Brandon brought home a flyer for a local stable.  I didn't know anything about stables here - not even knowing if there were any other than this one - and it looked like a nice place on their website, so we signed up for lessons.

We found out that it was new, only having been open for a year, and was very nice.  The horses were well taken care of, the facilities were in good condition, and the teachers were good teachers.  I got to start jumping again and the children were progressing pretty well and getting pushed to learn new skills most lessons.

But after the first year and a half, the teachers started leaving.  New ones would appear but mysteriously leave after working for a few months.  Eventually there were only two teachers left.  After I broke my arm last year, I wasn't allowed to jump any more and the lessons every week just consisted of a lot of trotting and nothing else.  I knew that things had gotten to a bad point when Kathleen - the most horse crazy of any of us - admitted that even she was bored at her lessons.

So I decided that it was time for a change.  I don't really like changing things up.  I'm a creature of habit and will keep doing the same thing for years on end if there's no really, really pressing need to do something different.  We've been eating the same twenty dinners for the last ten years, and I don't plan on varying those dinners any time soon.  

When I finally decided to look for somewhere new, it was with a lot of trepidation.  After all, our system was working okay, and we will be leaving in less than a year anyway. Why go through the trouble of finding a new place? But after talking with Brandon about how bored the kids were, he was all for finding something more for the kids.

I went to my favorite place - the internet - to start doing some research.  Half of the trouble of getting things done in a foreign country is trying to figure out the systems.  Everyone who lives in the country is so used to the systems that they don't even realize that there is a system and they probably can't explain it to someone who doesn't understand it.  The first stable we went to had a system close enough to the American one that it made sense to me.  The stable owned all the horses and paid the teachers, so we just had to contact the manager to get things done.

Eventually I was able to find a teacher who was willing to take us on and scheduled a trial lesson.  When I set things up with the first stable, I took my Russian teacher to act as a translator.  But this time I decided to try and do things on my own.  My Russian is about the level of a two year old's, which means that I can understand a lot of what is being said to me - especially when it's kept simple - but I'm limited to pretty basic replies.  I can't just sit and chat about whatever comes in to my mind; I have to keep the conversations pretty straightforward and concentrated on business.  I dream of one day making it to the conversational skill level of a three year old, but we'll see if that ever happens.

One of the issues we had to work out was how to get all six people taught without taking three hours.  Our teacher only had two horses and so could only do two lessons at a time.  So at my Russian lesson on the day of my trial lesson, I practiced telling my Russian teacher that I didn't want to have three hours of lessons and could we maybe do it in two?  This sounds like a simple conversation, but it involves asking questions, listening to the replies, and then asking questions based on what the reply was.  It's not a simple 'please give me two kilos of cheese' request, but something that evolves as it goes along.  

By the end of our time together, I had managed to chat about my family (seven children!!!), my riding experience, tacking up a horse, follow the instructions during my lesson, and then work out the scheduling of how to get six people schooled in two hours.  There was another teacher who was willing to take on the overflow and so we got to talk with him, too.  It sounds like a simple conversation in print, but in the nature of all conversations with Russian speakers, it was very long and everything had to be said five different times in five different ways.  But by the end, I had done everything entirely by myself in a language that is not even close to my native language.  I felt like the six preceding years of Russian torture lessons had finally been worth it.  

When I brought the girls the next week for their lessons, they loved the new place and the new teacher.  It was certainly not nearly as fancy (at all) as the previous stable, but I got to jump, Sophia got to canter to her heart's delight, and Kathleen worked on having a more stable seat.  And everyone got to practice their Russian a lot.  There were quite a few instances of having to make people explain what they meant, but we all understood it in the end.  Everyone was happy about the switch.

As we were leaving, I commented to the girls that it's probably a good thing we've been studying Russian so long.  "Yeah," Kathleen replied, "there's no way we could have done that without speaking Russian.  I guess it's useful after all.  We would have been stuck at the first stable if we weren't able to speak Russian."  

We'll have to see how the boys like their lesson this week, but so far everyone who has gone has been happy about the change.  So I guess change can be good sometimes.  And so can Russian lessons.