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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Living in Dushanbe - Winter

Did I ever mention to you that I hate winter?  I was raised in North Carolina where, as one clever wit once put it, winter is like running through a freezer naked.  It’s uncomfortable while it lasts, but it just doesn’t last that long.  Coats acted as fashion accessories more than protection and half an inch of snow was enough to cancel school.  It was great.  Just enough winter to make spring pleasant, but not enough to make snow clothes a necessity.

Our first post in Cairo suited me perfectly, and I loved taking the children to Maadi House in February in seventy-degree weather.  It was disorienting when the plants stayed constantly green (under the layer of brown dust), but I wasn’t complaining when my Facebook feed was filled with snow pictures while I drank mango juice on the patio.

However, after two years of warm and hot as the seasons, I actually found myself liking the four seasons that our next post, Baku, had to offer.  It turns out that variety actually is the spice of life, and spring is very nice after a little bit of winter.  But Baku, situated on a peninsula in the Caspian, only ever has a little bit of winter.  Occasionally it would snow, but Baku just didn’t get that cold.  Which was just fine with me.

So when we got our assignment to Dushanbe, I was pretty sure that I was going to freeze to death.  “Most mountainous country in the world” with “one of the longest glaciers in the world” and “tallest peak in the former Soviet Union” sounds like a pretty cold country to me.  And wasn’t helped when Brandon’s Tajik teacher in FSI told Brandon how much people in Tajikistan hate winter because it is just so cold for so long.  So I did some preparing.  I bought an ankle-length down coat and warm snow boots, snow clothes for the children, down comforters for the children, and looked into space heaters on Amazon.  I considered buying a bouncy house to keep inside so that the children could have something to do during the long, cold winter.  I got prepared.

It turns out that I needn’t have worried.  Much to Brandon’s disappointment, winter in Dushanbe is much closer to winter in North Carolina than winter in Moscow.  It does snow here, occasionally.  We got four of five inches last week, the first snow since the seven or eight we got before Christmas.  But by the time we made it to the park to sled on Saturday, there was hardly enough to sled on and the green grass was poking through sled tracks by the time we left.  Most of the winter, it just rains.

The weather will flirt with full-on winter, dipping down to the low forties (you can now laugh, everyone in Moscow) for a few days, before deciding that really, fifties is a much nicer temperature.  Last Sunday it was sixty-five degrees and sunny.  We had the kitchen windows open while cooking dinner to let some of the eighty-five degree heat out.  Brandon is, of course, very much grumpy about only getting a faux-winter and makes grumbling threats that sound like ‘Astana’ and ‘Helsinki.’  I, however, take the children to the park and enjoy the beautifully green grass.

Most days my ankle-length down coat stays in the closet, and the children don’t bother with much more than a fleece for our trips to the park.  I’ve had to shut off the radiator in our room after we stifled through a couple of seventy-eight degree nights.  My housekeeper likes to clean with the window open in whatever room she’s in.  Edwin’s long-sleeved shirts still have their tags on.

I can’t help feeling like I’ve dodged the winter bullet again, which is pretty good when your husband speaks Russian.  I know that eventually I’ll have to actually face a real winter, but I also know that it won’t be for at least two more winters.  Brandon can grumble all we wants about ‘Reykjavik’ and ‘Ulaanbaatar.’  I’ll just keep on enjoying my Dushanbe winters.

Monday, February 1, 2016


I’ve been doing some decorating. 

I’m not really much of a home decorator; spending money on stuff whose only purpose is to sit around your house and collect dust has never really appealed to me.  I’ll buy artwork and carpets, but home d├ęcor accents aren’t my thing.

However, last summer a check showed up in the mail.  My grandfather, who passed last April, had left some money and my parents generously shared it with my siblings and me.  Brandon and I are in the boring but really nice financial situation that no longer needs generous checks to keep us afloat, and so the money that showed up was just an extra deposit in our advisory account.  

But before sending it off to our financial advisor, I carved off a little chunk (with Brandon’s permission) to decorate our first floor.  It just seemed wrong (or rather not very much fun) to not do anything self-indulgent with the unexpected money, and so I splurged.  I hired an interior decorator, spent several months filling out questionnaires, making diagrams, consulting, and finally ended up with a floor plan, wall elevations, and most importantly, a shopping list.

If I lived in America, I could have headed to Target, Pottery Barn, Pier 1, and all of those places that sell things whose only function is to make your home look cluttered (as the girls call it) before passing into obsolescence in a year or two.  The forays would have taken place while Brandon was at work and the things would have quietly found their places until, a month or two later, Brandon would notice that something looked different about our house and ask me what had changed.

But I don’t live in America, and the only way anything ever gets here is through personal pouch.  This means that anything I buy is delivered to a facility in Virginia, bagged up in large mail bags, and sent on commercial air flights to eventually make their way here in an undetermined amount of time.  And then Brandon has to go and sign for them at the mail room, haul them out to our car, and haul them into the house for me.  So anything I buy – whether it be dishwasher detergent or formal dresses – is brought home in a box carried by Brandon.  Which means that I can’t hide anything.  When Brandon’s Christmas present came, a set of Mucha prints, they came in boxes with two-foot high letters spelling out  So much for surprises.  When I ordered a hundred pounds of oats, Brandon got to wrangle two fifty-pound boxes of oats out to the car and then into the house.

It’s very inconvenient.

I have to be in the right frame of mind to spend large sums of money on non-essentials, so when I finally got down the ordering the Chinese vases, ottomans, lamps, console table, centerpiece, candlesticks, bookends, sculptural objects, removable wallpaper, pillows, trays, table runner, fabric, and fifty other things that are evidently essential to making your home look like a magazine picture, I did it in a few credit-card filled days of commercial glee.

Which meant, of course, that everything came in one week-and-a-half span.  This is really fun when you’ve been waiting for second Christmas to show up at your door.  This is not fun when you’re playing Santa Claus day after day (the pouches piled up and then all came at once, as they often do) and personally hauling each and every box out to the car yourself. 

The final straw came last Wednesday.  Mid afternoon, Brandon sent me an email, titled “Congratulations!”
“You have won the prize for actually filling the Pilot to capacity with packages.  We received 18.  There is literally no more room in the car.  The good news is that if I am in a wreck I will be cushioned from impact by packages.  Either that or crushed by them. “

Then he dropped the hammer.
“Having offered congratulations for your singular achievement, I now hereby invoke a moratorium on purchases via the pouch.  This moratorium will officially begin after everything that is currently (meaning as of 14:50 of January 26, 2016) en route arrives.  After the arrival of these items, I will no longer authorize purchases to arrive via pouch except under extraordinary circumstances that I vet personally.”

Looks like I’m going to have to be a good girl for the next little while.  Blast.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Potty Training, for the Fifth Time

I hate potty training.  Most things in parenting haven't lived up to their bad reputation.  Babies staying up all night?  It doesn't last that long.  Terrible twos?  They're not that bad - it's the threes you need to look out for.  Food battles?  There are lots of coercive tactics to deal with that one.

But potty training.  It really is that bad.  There's nothing to jack up your stress level like following a non-verbal toddler around the house with a red plastic toilet hoping to catch them before they make yet another mess on the rug or the bed or the couch or even (sigh) your lap.  Add that into all of the other household tasks that have to get done, and it makes for a very grouchy time.

But, I also don't care for changing diapers, washing diapers, and most especially, spraying poop off diapers.  So, for me, potty training is the lesser of two evils.

Eleanor turned twenty months at the beginning of January, so I ordered some teeny-tiny underwear, baby leg warmers, and prepared myself and Brandon for a long time of grouch.  Did I mention that I hate potty training?

The underwear took some time coming, and then we all got sick, so this week we started the dreaded potty training.  I sighed heavily Tuesday morning as I dragged out the dusty red plastic potty from its hiding spot in a dark closet, removed Eleanor's diaper, and steeled myself for puddles all over the house.  "I'm sorry," I apologized to the family over breakfast, "if I'm grouchy for the next few weeks.  It's potty training time.  I'll try to be nice.  But I'm not making any promises.  If you see a puddle, let me know.  If you really want to be nice, wipe it up for me."

Eleanor has followed the usual trajectory of potty training.  Phase one: iron bladder.  The child decides that the best way to deal with no diapers is to hold it forever.  Juice, treats, threats, and promises don't do anything.  Phase two: mouse bladder.  The child realizes that peeing is the way to get treats.  So they pee every twenty minutes, everywhere.  The whole house is covered with puddles, often with wet footsteps leading out of them.  You wonder what you did wrong, and how large you can buy diapers because this child will never be potty trained.  Phase three: Predictable pottying.  The child realizes that pee goes in the potty, it's possible to hold it for several hours, and they can use the toilet without sitting for at least half an hour.

We've made our way all of the way to phase three, and I'm pretty relieved.  Eleanor now spends her days wandering around the house in underwear, a shirt, and leg warmers.  Whenever she can, she finds Joseph's snow boots to complete the outfit, and clomps along, looking like some strange little Flashdance extra.

I don't trust her with pants quite yet, but I'm not following her with the potty either.  We've settled into an easy truce: she'll sit on the toilet for me, and I'll not yell at her when she wets her pants.  I know that, after a reasonable amount of time (a month? two months?), she'll start taking care of business on her own, and then I'll be pretty much done.

And now I wonder, with the beauty of hindsight, what all of the fuss was about, the grouchiness, the stress, the wondering if my child would ever be able to use the bathroom on their own.  It seems like such a simple, straightforward thing to do.  Why was I ever so stressed, so grouchy, so anxious about potty training?  It's not that complicated.  Right?

It's funny how, after enough experience with something, everything becomes so easy to understand.  Of course that experience is hard-won and nearly kills you to gain it, but it's pretty nice to reach the other end of that spectrum and not be at the beginning.  I definitely would never go back to just having one child again.  I may be older, have more wrinkles, less free time, and more messes to clean up, but I have experience.  And that's better than all of that stuff combined.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Happy Birthday to Me

This past week was my birthday.  I love birthdays.  It's one of the few days (Mother's Day is theoretically one of those days) I can sit and read a book, not cook dinner, throw off as many responsibilities as possible, and not feel guilty.  Brandon thinks I'm self-indulgent, and I agree with him.  It's great to be self-indulgent every now and then.

The day started out well, with homemade crepes with raspberries and whipped cream for breakfast, lovingly made by Brandon.  After the house was straightened up for the day, the children and I went to the botanical gardens to enjoy the lovely sunny day.  The gardens were, of course, deserted so they had a great time riding their bikes through all the paths and trying to find somewhere new.  We visited the peacocks, went to the children's favorite swing, and enjoyed a lovely morning out.

After dropping the children at home, I went to lunch with friends.  We had a marvelous time together and got so loud that we had to be shushed with the wait staff.  I love the friends I make in the Foreign Service; after a few months it feels like we've known each other for years and after a year it feels like half a lifetime.  Everyone is always up for something fun, and there's no time for snubbing or being mean.

I finished out my afternoon with a nap and a good book.  While I was gone, the girls had been busy making me a card, a coupon book, and cookies.  It's so sweet to see how much fun they have and how hard they try to make my birthday a special day.  I'm pretty lucky to have my wonderful children and fantastic husband.

Brandon and I celebrated my birthday Friday night by checking into a local hotel and leaving the children with our long-suffering housekeeper.  There is nothing more luxurious than, after sleeping in,  having someone else bring you hot chocolate, crepes, eggs benedict, and orange juice for your breakfast (and picking up pastries and sausages yourself) and then eating them all without having to get up a single time or feed another person.  I'm not sure why we took so long to figure out the in-town getaway, but they are awesome.

For my present, Brandon and I went art shopping.  I have a fondness for local traditional artwork, so we met with a local artist who is a master in kundal painting, a painting unique to Tajikistan.  It didn't take very long to pick out my present.

I know everything we have is just stuff, and could be dropped in the ocean or burned up without any notice, but I like having pretty things.  

I'm quite happy to be another year older and have all of wonderful experiences that I've had over the last year.  One day I may not be so happy about those years adding up, but for now I'm not complaining.  

Monday, January 25, 2016

Adventure Monday

Last Monday was a holiday (thanks, MLK!).  We've spent a lot of our time sledding recently, so Brandon and I decided to mix things up a little and go hiking.  We haven't gone hiking since last spring and a nice sunny day decided in favor of the commencement of hiking season.  I love winter in Dushanbe.  Sometimes it gets cold so you feel like it's actually winter, but a lot of times it's sunny and fifties.  It's been much more livable than I thought it would be.

We got a late start to the morning, so our hike was close to home, about thirty minutes from our gate to the trailhead.  The drive earned half a 'you're not my friend right now' (ynmfrn), mostly when we drove on a road that had about six inches between our tire and a pretty steep drop into a small creek some seventy-five feet below.  Brandon didn't even blink an eye as further on we forded the same creek twice.  I love feeling that my SUV is actually being used like it's supposed to.  

The trail itself was very pleasant and we had a family first - not a single child complained about hiking.  Joseph only asked me to carry him on my shoulders once.

Despite Edwin's face, he likes hiking.  He just doesn't like having his picture taken.


We had to ford the same creek two more times during the hike, but (mostly) everyone made it through dry.  Brandon's shoe wasn't so lucky.  Time to get some waterproof hiking boots.

There are some things about Dushanbe I won't miss, but I'm definitely going to miss those views.  

I'm looking forward to coming back in the summer for picnics.  This hike had everything necessary for the perfect picnic spot - trees, a stream, close to home, and not so bad to get to (if your standards are a little low).  It will make the perfect spot on a warm spring day.  I can hardly wait.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Sledding, Again

This past Saturday we went sledding.  Sledding is an activity that, unlike hiking, the children never get tired of.  Never mind that sledding involves walking up a hill just like hiking does, hiking up the sledding hill has a purpose, and it's not to get to some arbitrary place that Mom picked out on Google Earth, it's to slide down again!  So that you can go and hike up that same hill again.

Our sledding excursion this time, however, was to somewhere new.

We tried and failed last year to get to Tajikistan's one and only ski resort.  When friends came to visit last fall we took a drive (when there was no snow to make the roads dangerous) up to the ski resort.  When we got there, there was a lot of construction and the last seven kilometers of the road had been graded.

So it was no surprise when an email went around about the newly opened Safed Dara ski resort.  When the idea was passed around about going up for sledding, I asked Brandon, he shrugged his shoulders, and we committed.

After driving an hour and a half on unpaved roads that were always bumpy and occasionally rutted ice, Brandon was rethinking his decision to go and 'have some fun' at the ski resort.  He was muttering darkly about not being friends by the time we made it through the line for tickets, found the sledding hill, figured out that we couldn't use our own sleds, rented their tubes, and then hauled our sleds back to the car.

But, by the end of the day, he admitted that we could probably go back again.  There's nothing like sledding down a fast hill in the sunshine in a beautiful mountain valley while your children whoop in delight to improve your mood.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Living in Dushanbe - Doorbells

We have a doorbell on the outside of our gate.  It hangs on the wall next to our courtyard door and anyone who feels like ringing it can walk right up, press the shiny silver button several times in a row, and let me know that someone is waiting at my door.

This is the first time in my adult life I've had a doorbell accessible to anyone who would like to ring it.  In the States, doorbells are often an afterthought.  My parent's doorbell is right next to the door-sized window, so if you're going to ring it, there's a pretty good chance we saw you pull up in your car, walk up the front walk, and press that little lighted button before we waved at you through the window.  Maybe someone didn't see you - it was Saturday movie night after all - but that's never a guarantee.  Doorbells are for politeness.  Or when someone is in the bathroom.  But there not really there for surprise.

Our first apartment in Cairo theoretically had a doorbell, but it was always guarded by the ever-vigilant, ever-jealous boab.  His job was to keep unauthorized doorbell pushers from pushing the doorbells they were unauthorized to push.  We paid him fifty pounds a month to keep the riffraff from smudging our shiny brass doorbell.  And so when that doorbell did ring, it was a surprise.  Who could it be?  Someone dropping by unannounced?  The McDonald's delivery man?  The garbage man asking for his salary (no, he always rings the back doorbell).

In Baku we lived in a gated compound guarded by security guards who vetted the doorbell ringers.  If you didn't look like the right sort of person, your finger would not be bothering our doorbell.  Our branch met at a member's house in the compound, and a filipino brother had to call the branch president one morning to get him past the guards.  So our doorbell was usually unmolested, save for the occasional neighborhood kid who got bored and decided to play ring-n-run.  Our doorbell phone was off the hook for three weeks one time before I realized it.

Our doorbell here, however, is open to anyone and everyone who feels like ringing it.  We live on a major road, with a public alley running down one side of our wall, a bus stop twenty feet from our door, and a Chinese business next door that shares the exact same house number with only a little 'a' to tell the two addresses apart.  This translates to a lot of people ringing our doorbell.

Sometimes the doorbell will ring, the children will rush to look at the picture (we have a camera because I'm not opening my gate for random people I don't know), and nobody will be there.  Some child going to school will think it funny to walk by all of the houses ringing all of the doorbells (this is what I tell myself to avoid feeling like it was personal).

Other times the doorbell will ring and the picture will show a very Tajik man who I was very not expecting.  I used to talk to them and tell them that I didn't know what they were saying, but this only made them vainly hope that if they ring more, someone who does speak Tajik will come and let them in to the house that they were expecting ours to be.  So now I just ignore them.

Some times there are police men.  Those I never, ever talk to and never, ever, ever open the door for.  Ever.

Occasionally there are men with bills or letters.  Those also get ignored.

In the summer, my berry lady will come with fresh strawberries, raspberries or both.  We have no schedule arranged, she just comes when she has something to sell.  Usually I open the door for her - I'm very glad I know the word for strawberry - but if we haven't finished our last pail, we're not home.  Even though we're almost always at home.

There's also the milk lady.  Or her sister.  Or her nephew.  She also has no apparent schedule, and comes early in the morning in summer and later in the morning in winter.  I always let her in.  You never offend the people that bring you fresh milk.  Because then they might stop bringing it and where would we get our cream from?  I'd have to start buying it again.

Then there are the young men looking for young women who gave them the wrong address.  I tried to convince them that those ladies really didn't want to talk to them anyway, but they didn't understand me and insisted, as those type always do, that it was true love.

My favorite doorbell ringers are the embassy maintenance men.  They have keys, and so ring the doorbell and then let themselves in.  When I'm on the third floor teaching school and the door rings, Kathleen knows to check out her window to see if anyone is coming through the gate.  If nobody's coming and there's only one ring I don't even bother to open the door.  People who really want me will ring more than once.

Our gardener, Aurora, always rings the doorbell on Wednesday mornings and I always forget that she will ring.  She comes right as school is gearing up and I'm too busy directing bodies and teaching reading lessons to remember that, oh yeah, it's Wednesday and the gardener is here again.  I always wish for another key so I don't have to let her in, but never do anything about it.

The most frequent doorbell ringer is our generator.  It always disconnects the house power when switching between city and generator power, and whenever the power comes back on, the doorbell rings.  We took at least a month to figure that sequence out - power goes out, five seconds later power comes on, then doorbell rings - and Brandon did a lot of stumbling down to the door at three in morning until we got wise to the generator's tricks.  Even now it will sometimes trick us - it's harder to notice the power flicking if you don't have lights on - but Brandon more than me because he's not home as much.

And every now and then, on rare occasions, people I don't pay but I do know will ring my doorbell.  Usually they call before they show up and so I'm expecting them.  But every now and then someone just shows up.

A few weeks ago, I got a call from a friend.  Her husband would be stopping by after work to pick up that thing they'd left at our house earlier.  Okay, I'll get it ready and hand it over to him.  Then, like all things not on fire or actively whining for my attention, I forgot about it.

Several hours later, the doorbell rang.  I decided to be curious and looked at the picture.  A man stood there, looking very Russian.  I watched him standing in the dark and admired his patience as he waited for someone to answer his ring.  Silly man, I thought, you can wait there all night because I'm not answering the door.  I don't speak Russian and I don't care to tell you that.

He kept standing there and the children crowded around the view screen, watching the very patient man.  He rang the doorbell again.  In a fit of pity, I called Brandon over.  "There's this man standing at the door.  Could you ask him what he needs?"  Brandon picked up the phone.  "Yes?  Oh, hello, how are you?  I'll be right out with that thing."  Then he hung up.  And I told him about the thing I was supposed to remember.  Then I was relieved that I'd called Brandon over.

Moral of the story: don't assume that everyone who rings your doorbell is up to no good.  Some of them might be picking up the car seat their wives sent them to get.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

How Brandon Doesn't Like to Celebrate New Year's

New Year's is not a big holiday in the Sherwood Family Household.  Back a long, long time ago when I was young, childless, and irresponsible enough to enjoy sleep deprivation, I celebrated New Year's.  Not being a drinker, my celebrations were always rather calm, but usually involved some attempt to be with boys.  Now that I'm 1. married, 2. don't drink, and 3. have small children, New Year's holds absolutely no charm for me.  I'm sure that one day the children will clamor to stay up until midnight, and they'll go hog wild staying up all the way until midnight.  I'll go to bed.

What New Year's does offer me, however, is Brandon.  He doesn't have to work, there's nothing going on while everyone else is sleeping off their hangover, and so it's time for me to get some New Year's cleaning done.  I started this tradition in Baku, our last post.  Brandon had three days of work off and so we spent three days cleaning out the house from top to bottom in preparation for pack-out.  It was so amazing to have all of those dark scary closets cleaned out, sock drawers reorganized, and disorganized cupboards straightened up, that I made it a new tradition right then.  "We're doing this every year!" I exclaimed to anyone who was listening.  Brandon made a dubious noise and the children groaned.  I ignored them.

Last year I spent New Year's unpacking our house so everyone got a reprieve.  But only a reprieve.

We kicked off this New Year's holiday with some fun.  The girls and I attended The Nutcracker in the afternoon and then picked up everyone else for an evening of bowling with friends.  There is a very nice, very new bowling alley tucked away in a corner of the national teahouse (along with a movie theater and grocery store; I guess they decided to make some rent off the very large and ornately decorated space), and so we rang in the New Year's family style, early and with bumpers.  We left around 7:30 after the employees got tired of us and shut down all of our lanes (you've been here an hour, and you pay by the hour.  I don't care if you only made it to the seventh frame).

After the children were put to bed, Brandon asked what our plans were for the next day.  "Well, we've got our yearly New Year's clean out to do..."

"Our what?!?" Brandon replied, "what is this yearly clean out that you're talking about?  It's a holiday tomorrow.  There is no way I'm spending my whole holiday cleaning out the house.  This is not a tradition that I agreed to!"

Usually Brandon is pretty agreeable to a large variety of plans that I propose.  He may not like them, but he'll usually go along with a little (or a lot of) cajoling.  Sometimes (often) the plans don't turn out exactly like I envisioned them and Brandon will get a little cranky ("you are not my friend right now"), but most of the time he's willing to try out whatever I suggest.

Not so with cleaning out the house.  "This is your place of work, and if you think I'm going to spend my entire weekend cleaning it out, you're nuts."  I pointed out that it wasn't his whole weekend - there's always Sunday to rest - but it didn't help.  "I'm not sure the last time you rested on Sunday, but I haven't rested since we've had children, so no, Sunday does not count."

I tried another tactic.  "But don't you want to have the house cleaned out??  After all, we have two and a half more years in this place.  Can you imagine what a disaster it will be if we don't clean it out every year?"  I threw in a bonus argument, "And won't it be nice to find all of those things that have been hiding in dark corners?"

Brandon refused to be swayed.  "This is the sort of thing my father made us do when we were children.  And now that I'm adult, I'm not doing it!  You can feel free to clean up whatever you like, whenever you like, but don't rope me into your little project.  I intend to enjoy my holiday."

Finally, I pulled out my last card, "Okay, you're right.  I'll just do it myself.... Have a nice holiday with the children...."  It's a dirty trick, but when the stakes are high you've got to play dirty sometimes.  "Don't let me get in your way as I clean out the whole house.  All three floors.  All by myself.  After all, it is my place of work.  And you deserve a rest.  I won't trouble you.  Not even a tiny bit."

And that is how Brandon and I spent our New Year's holiday this year.  All of the closets are cleaned out, the children's toys are organized, and my shoes are cleaned out.  The canning jars are organized, the cereal is stacked in order, the gloves have made their way out of the hat bin and into the glove bin, and all of Brandon's socks match again.  Everything is ready for 2016.

And Brandon is already planning on a horrific illness that will strike early on next New Year's Eve.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Adventure Saturday: Sledding

Sledding season has officially begun.  It actually began a few weeks before Christmas when Dushanbe got nine inches of snow.  But the sleds we had ordered for the children were supposed to be Christmas presents, so 'sledding' was more like 'sliding on your bum down a hill.'  But then everyone got sleds for Christmas, so sledding season began the day after Christmas.

We went sledding once last year, and were informed that we weren't at the right spot for sledding.  So I did some Google Earth-ing and a fall drive-by of the better place so that we'd be ready this winter for great sledding.

And it's been some great sledding.  We went again on Saturday and confirmed that yes, we had found the perfect spot for sledding.  It's in an east-west canyon on a north slope that is shaded from the sun, and so keeps its snow for a long time.  There is a good place to park (!!!) and the run-out is into an empty pond basin so nobody will ever fall off the edge of the canyon into anywhere.  Nobody's house is next to it, and the hill is steep, long, and smooth.

We brought sand toys on Saturday, and those who didn't want to sled (or wanted to rest) played in the snow while everyone else had a great time catching air as they slid down the hill.  We haven't built a jump yet, but I bet we'll get one by the end of winter.

Eleanor, after two runs of snow in the face, is not a fan of sledding.  But she's fine with just looking cute.

The girls, of course, love sledding and don't complain when they get snow in the face.

Brandon even gets to sled, and we've taking a couple of runs together that have involved some air.  I supposed we have quite a bit of body mass to hurtle down fifty feet of hill.

Twenty minutes into our last visit, a couple of local boys showed up and we lent them the use of the sleds.  They had a great time sliding down the hill, and then had a fantastic time playing with the toys (complete with truck sounds.  It must be universal) and thoroughly enjoyed pulling each other and the children along in the toboggan sleds.  "Weren't you here a few weeks ago?" they asked Brandon at one point.  I'm pretty sure they're going to keep an eye out for us next time it snows.

We all had a great time until I remembered the pot of beans on high on the kitchen stove.  Then we had to leave.  But we'll definitely be back.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Celebrating Christmas

Last year was not a good year for Christmas in the Sherwood family.  Living out of suitcases in a temporary house for five weeks ended on Christmas day when we moved into our permanent house.  We borrowed a tree from one of Brandon's (very, very kind) colleagues and made the best we could of the season.  But it wasn't very festive.

This year, Brandon vowed to celebrate Christmas so much he'd be happy to take down the tree and turn off the music on December 26th.

We started the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  We pulled out all of our Christmas decorations, loaded up the iPod with all fifteen of our Christmas CDs, and finished the day with White Christmas and peppermint hot chocolate.

In church the next day, we started singing Christmas hymns.  There are never enough Sundays between Thanksgiving and Christmas to sing all of the songs you want to.

The next Monday evening we made snowflakes and drank more hot chocolate.  Because you can never have enough hot chocolate.

On Saturday we went to our first holiday party.  I took my very favorite Christmas cookies, peppermint chocolate cookies.  Because, peppermint.  You can never get enough of that at Christmas.  And of course chocolate.  Because that's for all seasons.

The next Monday we made wrapping paper.  Brandon and I cut out potato stamps while the children eagerly and impatiently watched - I keep thinking that next year will be the year I'll hand over the Xacto blade and not care about the poor design quality - and then let them loose.  And after they went to bed, I made my own tastefully designed sheet.

The next Saturday we invited everyone over for a caroling party.  And we had hot chocolate.  Again.                                       

In church we watched the First Presidency Christmas Devotional and some of the children thought that they were going to die of Mormon Tabernacle Choir overdose.  I enjoyed it.

The next Monday we all enjoyed Mr. Krueger's Christmas, just in case people still felt a need for more MoTab, and drank the hot chocolate left over from Saturday's party.  Christmas, brought to you by hot chocolate.

And on Saturday we enjoyed our final Christmas party, a section party hosted by Brandon's boss.  The children enjoyed a visit from Ded Moroz and his helper, Snegurochka.  They got to howl for his arrival, circle the Christmas tree, chant for it to light up, and sing a song to receive their treat bag.  I'll now be unimpressed with Santa Claus forever.  All he does is sit in a comfy chair and ask about presents.  

Sunday, after having our church Christmas program, we made our yearly gingerbread house, a highlight of the children's Christmas celebrations.  The girls and Edwin are finally old enough to enjoy sticking candy on every single surface that I'll consent to squirt icing on, but Joseph (and now Eleanor) don't care for anything but stuffing every piece of candy they can find into their sticky faces.  

For our final Christmas Family Home Evening, we watched Muppets Christmas Carol and ate schawermas.  But no hot chocolate.

And tonight we'll have some friends over for Christmas Eve dinner and singing.  Then it will finally be Christmas.  

I used to worry that all of the fun things we do for Christmas were somehow wrong, distracting us from our worship of Christ.  But I've made my own peace, creating a place where gingerbread houses and the creator of the universe can coexist.  I can have fun with my children and enjoy the company of friends because of Christ's birth over 2,000 years ago.  The gift of his birth and life is not something to be admired and revered from afar, like that crystal vase your grandmother passed to you, the one that never can actually be used for anything because it is so precious.  The gift that he has given us - the ability to come here and have family and friends and fun and gifts and gingerbread houses - is one to be used every day to its fullest.  We can make snowflakes and think of the beauty that Christ gave us in everything, even snowflakes that we can barely see.  Our gifts to each other remind us of Christ's gift to us.  Our time with friends fills us with the love that Christ has for all of His brothers and sisters.  

And so we can pack up the tree this year, knowing that we have enjoyed the Christmas season this year to the fullest.  We will go on into the New Year, freshly reminded of the gifts we have been given.  And when Christmas comes around again next year, we can do it all again.

Merry Christmas!