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Sunday, January 30, 2022

COVID Strikes

 A few weeks ago, we all got sick with COVID.  Omicron has showed up in Uzbekistan as it has pretty much everywhere else in the world.  It seems like everyone who hasn't yet gotten sick has fallen ill to the omicron variant of COVID.  Brandon and I both have family members who have gotten sick, in addition to friends here in Tashkent and back in the US.  

When Kathleen was the first to get sick with a cold, neither Brandon nor I thought much about it.  When Sophia, Eleanor, and Joseph got sick in quick succession, I still didn't think that it was anything other than a cold.  Only Sophia had a fever, and it only lasted for half a day.  But by the time William, Elizabeth, I, and finally Brandon also got sick, we thought that maybe Brandon should get tested.  It's not very often that every single person in the family gets sick within a week.  Usually at least a few people get lucky and miss out on the fun.

I confess that I was a little disappointed when Brandon's test came back negative.  If we were all going to be sick, it would be nice to have COVID done with.  But then the medical unit asked him to come back in for a PCR test, as they are more sensitive than the rapid test he had taken.  So back in to the embassy he went for another nose swab, and this time it came back positive.

By this point, everyone in the family had gotten sick, and some of them were already feeling mostly better.  I was relieved to not have to decide whether or not to isolate and by the time we figured out that Brandon was sick, half of us were already past the isolation stage anyway.  

The kids were all a little excited about finally haven fallen ill to the dreaded COVID and survived unscathed.  I was relieved to have gotten it over with with no problems at all.  Brandon and I both felt a little crummy for half a day and had congestion and some coughing for awhile, but we've definitely had worse colds.  I'm also grateful that we had the omicron variant and not the delta variant from last year, which seems to have been much worse to go through.

So now we can join the hundreds of millions of people across the world that have fallen ill to COVID, although I can't say that we have a particularly interesting story about it.  We got sick, everyone got better, and then we moved on with our lives.  My favorite part of the story is that we don't have to worry about testing positive before we take any trips.  The children were very disappointed to hear that it didn't mean that we don't have to take any more tests, but at least the outcome of the tests won't be so stressful anymore.  There's always a silver lining!

Sunday, January 23, 2022


This past week, I turned forty years old.  My birthday was a completely delightful day.  It actually turned into a completely delightful two days by the time the partying was over.  Brandon started the morning off right with homemade churros (something that he's turned into an art form), and I got to go riding with the children in the morning.  Any day when I get to ride is a good day, so riding on my birthday is exactly how I wanted to start my day off.  

When Brandon asked what else I was going to do in order to celebrate my new stage of life, I told him that I was going to do all of the other things I normally don't have time for.  So I got a massage, read a book, and took a nap.  I actually have time to take a nap every day, but a birthday nap is even better than a regular nap because you know that there aren't any unpleasant things to greet you after you take the nap.

The children are old enough that we can leave them overnight, so we did, checking into the local Hilton for the night.  As I've gotten older, my dreams in life have gotten more modest, so having two meals - in a row - that I didn't have to cook, clean up from, or feed to anyone but myself made for a great weekend.  And when you throw in a late check-out so that I can have a little more reading and napping, it makes everything that much better.

Saturday also included at two-hour meetup with a friend, followed by dinner (made by Brandon and the kids) and birthday cake (made also by Brandon and the kids).  I got two take two days off from making food, chasing children around, or really doing any work at all.  I think that it was probably one of the best birthdays I've ever had, thanks to the hard work of Brandon and the children.  Having eight people who want to make your birthday great is pretty amazing.

Now that I've finally reached forty, I confess that I do find it a little disconcerting.  I've never been bothered by aging because aging is something I have no control over.  It happens to everyone, so why get distressed by it?  There's no point in trying to stop something that started the minute you were born.

But it turns out that those were the thoughts and words of someone who was young.  I'm not sure why forty is such a daunting number, but there is something quite visceral about leaving the last gasp of youth behind and stepping into the second, less attractive and glamorous, part of your life.  I don't look any different than I did the day before I turned forty, but now when I say that I'm forty, I don't see myself the same way as I did only a few days ago.  

I haven't exactly been trying to pretend that I'm any younger than I am - after all, having seven children does imply that one has been living for a reasonable amount of time.  And as I watch my older daughters beginning to come into their own as young adults, I have no desire to compete with them in the beauty department.  But there still is that little sting when I realize that my youth has definitely and completely come and gone.  I guess it's probably because I've spent my who life young and now I get to spend the rest of it old, getting older each year.

But I still would never go back to being twenty, or thirty, or even thirty-five.  I may now have more wrinkles and a saggier face and even several gray hairs (that was a shock to see those), but I also have all the experience that I've gained from being alive for forty years.  There are so many dumb choices and difficult lessons and work that I've put in to be the semi-reasonable person that I am.  And I'd never want to go back and have to learn all of those over again.  

I remember asking my mother once if she'd like to go back to being twenty-one.  I was in college and was afraid that I would always miss those years and think of them as the best years of my life.  "Oh no!" my mom laughed, "I would much rather be forty-seven!  Life is much, much better now than it was when I was your age."  I felt a lot better after that conversation.

Although I'm not yet forty-seven, I'm a lot closer to being forty-seven than I am to being twenty-one.  And I definitely have to agree with my mom.  Getting older isn't always a picnic, but it sure as heck beats being young.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

The Circus, on Ice!

Yesterday we took the kids to the circus again.  I have to admit that I'm kind of a sucker for circuses.  As I child I would beg my parents to take me to the circus whenever it was in town.  It looked so interesting - elephants and acrobats and tigers and clowns!  But my mom always refused, recounting the one time that they took my older sister and she spent the whole time complaining that it stank of elephant.  Now that I'm older, I realize that the cost was also probably a deterrent, as the circus in the US isn't very cheap.

But now that I'm adult and get to choose how to spend my money, I like to take my kids to the circus.  It also helps that it's not very expensive to take the whole family - the expensive tickets usually run around $8 a seat.  And even when you're paying for eight seats (Elizabeth gets a lap), that's still not that much money.

A few weeks ago, I a saw an ad around town for a kind of circus that I've never hear of before - a circus on ice.  I must say that advertising is doing its job because the last time I acted on an ad I saw around town, we ended up going to the Maldives.  

This time, however, it was a lot cheaper and also closer to home.  The idea of a circus on ice sounded interesting.  I've heard of Disney on ice, but I'd never heard of something that combined ice skating and circus tricks.  I confess that I can't think of anything that sounds more entertaining than that.

I had learned from my friendly neighborhood billboard about an app that sells tickets to events around town, so I bought seats almost immediately.  Brandon encouraged me to go for the expensive tickets, so I spent ten dollars a person for front row, ice-side seats.  

The circus was held at an almost new ice arena that opened after we moved to Tashkent.  Evidently hockey is popular enough here that someone decided building an ice rink was a good idea.  After we settled in to our seats, Sophia looked around in awe.  "I didn't know," she said with a note of wonder, "that places this nice existed." 

"Like, in Tashkent?" I asked.  "There are a few decent hotels, but I guess you're not going to those very often."

"No," she replied, "like anywhere.  I thought everything was just always old and crumbly. Like that's normal."  I had to shake my head at her.  I guess that's what I get for raising my children in this part of the world.  I also had to wonder if she has been paying attention at all every summer we go to America, which has lots of places that aren't crumbly.  

After some patient waiting (it seems that when something is supposed to start at a time, it really starts fifteen minutes after that time), the lights went down and the show started.  As I watched the starting parade of performers, complete with New Years characters and the obligatory clowns, I realized that we were going to get a standard Russian circus - but on ice.

It was interesting to see how the acrobatic acts were adapted for ice skating.  All the unicycle riders rode special unicycles that could be pedaled by performers wearing ice skates.  Instead of just walking on stilts, the ladies personifying the seasons skated on stilts.  I got to watch one intrepid acrobat flip off a pole - while wearing ice skates.  I hadn't realized before watching it happen that one can also skip rope in ice skates.  In addition to acrobatic stunts, we also got to watch figure skating numbers.

And of course, since this was the circus after all, there were the clowns.  Not only did they entertain the crowd while performers were hastily changing costumes and preparing for their next acts, they did it while ice skating.  One of them even got to ride a bicycle on the ice while balancing one man on his shoulders and two ladies on either side of the bike.

Sadly, there were no animals included in the circus, which is understandable.  I can't imagine what kind of treats it would take to teach an elephant to ice skate and I don't know if one could make ice skates small enough for a monkey.  It was entertaining enough with just people that I'm pretty sure that none of the children missed the animals.

Despite William's initial disappointment that this wasn't the regular circus, everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves.  I'm not sure why watching people do amazing tricks never gets old, but it's entertaining every time we go no matter how many times we go.  I realized that the circus is another one of those weird cultural experiences that my children won't share with their peers when they leave the house and join normal American society.  I'm sure at some point, warm reminiscences will be shared about circuses, and everyone else will look at my children in complete confusion as Russian circuses were definitely not a regular part of their childhood.  "You know," someone will probably comment, "we just went to places like the movies."

But I guess that's what I get for stranding my children in the former Soviet Union for such a significant chunk of their short lives - more things to tell the therapist.  However, they won't be able to tell the therapist that we never took them to do anything fun.  Even if the fun had more of a Russian flair to it.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

2021, In Summary

I must say that I really don't have much to complain about 2021.  Lots of people have had crummy years, but ours has been pretty great.  When we started the year last January, I was starting to count down the months until we left Tashkent.  This January we're starting down the same countdown over again until our departure from Uzbekistan.  But instead of counting down to being crammed into a three-bedroom apartment for a year of language training in DC, we're counting down to our move to Kazakhstan this summer.  It's like deja-vu, but with a better ending.

Over the course of 2021, everyone has gotten a little older, which is something that I am very enthusiastic about.  This year Sophia joined Kathleen in the taller-than-Mom club (although she's only currently got half an inch on me), and Edwin is coming up fast.  Kathleen learned how to drive this summer, and Edwin is now old enough to be second back-up babysitter.  Joseph started playing the violin (which he practices downstairs in the exercise room with the door closed), and Eleanor is very good at helping Elizabeth bathe, get dressed, and go to the bathroom.  William has learned how to dress himself, feed himself, get himself food for lunch, microwave the food, and is learning how to read.  This year Elizabeth went from a baby who couldn't walk to a toddler who never wears diapers, talks constantly, sings songs, and is capable to getting her own pancakes, complete with syrup. 

When I try to think of the worst thing that happened this past year, I can't think of any one thing that was particularly terrible.  Brandon bumped a car in traffic, but a hundred-dollar bill took care of the problem.  The State Department updated their payroll system and when that was combined with our home leave this summer, it left us with a $10,000 - and counting - pay deficit.  But we have money saved for times when State does things like this, so it's been obnoxious more than anything.  Brandon tried to go caribou hunting with his brother in Alaska, but the hunt got cancelled and all he had to show for it was a four-day stay in the Kotzebue Nullagvik hotel to show for it.  But he came home a week earlier, which the rest of us were happy about.  I think that I really can't complain that much about anything that 2021 threw at us.

When I remember some of the great things, I really can't complain.  We got to see almost all of our extended family members this year, in addition to quite a few friends.  We went hiking in Utah, got to set off fireworks for Pioneer Day, rode the Alpine Slide, had a rocking house party with over forty cousins and siblings, went to the beach in North Carolina, sent most of the kids off to go biking with my parents, and even got to take a direct flight from Tashkent to New York and back.  We got to travel to the Maldives and have a fabulous week together with the kids, having the first family vacation we've had in quite a long time.  Brandon got a major award at work, although it sadly didn't have a lamp leg as a prize.  Everyone has been healthy this year, with no trips to the hospital and no more broken bones for me.  

This year we're looking forward to our move to Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.  After spending four years in Tashkent (the longest either Brandon or I have lived in one house/apartment since leaving home for college), we'll be ready to move on to a new adventure.  I always love the excitement of a new place and new things to explore, new upsides to enjoy and new downsides to be irritated with, and new people to get to know.  Since we won't be traveling to the US this summer (complicated State Department rules), we're considering driving to our next post, making a two- or three-day trip out of it.  I can't imagine I'll have another chance to drive across Kazakhstan, and the kids are finally old enough to make it an adventure instead of a painful slog.  

I feel like this time in my life is a really good one, and that 2021 kicked off the Next Era in family life.  I love having children old enough to help out and really enjoy being with, and I love having little children who are funny and still small enough to cuddle.  I love having had enough Mom and wife and homeschool experience that my life isn't a continuously unfolding train wreck every day.  I love that I can enjoy the time that I have with my children and husband without getting stressed or irritated with what is or isn't happening.  I love being old enough that getting old isn't daunting and I don't have to pretend that I still might possibly be in my twenties.  

And perhaps 2022 will be a complete disaster year for us, with all sorts of unexpected challenges and surprises that I had no idea were coming.  Some years are like that (I'm talking to you, 2011).  And maybe it will be a normal year with the usual mix of ups and downs.  As with all things in the future, we'll just have to wait and see how it goes.  But as for 2021, I can safely say that it was a pretty good year.