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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Movin' on Over

I've been very patiently waiting for our three-bedroom apartment.  Well, at least I feel like I've been very patient.  Brandon has been with State for over five years now and if there's one thing that having your life ruled and ordered by The Bureaucracy teaches you, it's patience.  Either that or it teaches you new and inventive ways of swearing.

It also helps your patience when you are married to an inveterate pessimist like Brandon.  Every time a sentence beginning with "when we move to a three-bedroom," escaped my lips, Brandon would look significantly at me with raised eyebrows.  "If," he would correct, "If we move to a three-bedroom.  And then if we get one, it will probably be just before we leave for post."  It's not hard to be patient when you're constantly being reminded of timelines like those.

Still, I couldn't help feeling sorry for myself - after all, four children in a two-bedroom apartment? - until I met my neighbors across the hall who beat me all to pieces with five children in a two-bedroom apartment.  And all of them boys.

So I told myself not to get my hopes up until I saw them start schlepping their stuff out because I'm pretty sure they're even more deserving than we are.

But still I couldn't help but talk about it around the playground and sandbox (occasionally known as the volleyball court) with other mothers because we all have time to kill while watching our children and they would reassure me with tales of friends in three-bedrooms who were moving out before my baby is due.

I even found out that someone in my building on my floor was moving out mid-April.  I brought this up with Brandon. "Wouldn't that be perfect,?" I made the mistake of enthusing one evening, "we wouldn't even have to take the elevator!  It would be the easiest move ever!  Of course the apartment is on the other side of the building so we wouldn't get the afternoon sunlight, but I'd still take it because the move would just be so...." I trailed off as Brandon lifted a finger and his eyebrows simultaneously.  "If," he reminded me.  "If."

Friday evening I ran into my neighbors moving.  Curious and chatty, I asked them where their new apartment was.  "It's on this floor!" they exclaimed, "talk about an easy move!"  I knew the likelihood of being able to snag that apartment was slim, but a girl has to hope, right?

I came in and told Brandon the sad news.  We knew that we were next on the waiting list and it was a little wrenching to realize that the golden apartment had been given away to the family in line just before us.  I imagined load after load after load of books and clothes and frozen food and toys having to be wheeled down the elevator, across parking lots, and up another elevator with all four children in tow for hours on end.  Maybe we could steal all of the luggage carts, load them up during the day, line them down the hall, and have Brandon move them at night after everyone went to bed?  I hate moving.  At least I wasn't going to have to take my clothes off hangers.

Then my phone rang.  I didn't recognize the number and prepared to hang up on a Spanish robo-call.  Evidently the last possessor of my number had spoken Spanish.  "Hello, is Mrs. or Mr. Sherwood there?"  I warily assured the caller that this was Mrs. Sherwood.  "This is the Oakwood leasing office.  I understand that you are on the waiting list for a three-bedroom apartment.  Are you still interested in moving to one?"  My voice rose a few pitches as I confirmed that yes, I was very much interested.  "Well, it looks like we have an apartment coming open next Wednesday.  And... it looks like it's in your building... actually, on your floor.  Well, isn't that convenient?"

By this point Brandon was staring at me in complete confusion as I danced around the apartment in utter happiness telling the caller on my phone that he had just made my whole weekend.  I hung up.  "Brandon!!" I shouted, "we're getting a new apartment on Wednesday!  And it's the exact apartment I wanted!!!  Hooray!!!!!"

That night I had a lot of things to thank my Heavenly Father for, as usual.  My health, my family's health, the baby coming soon, Brandon's job, our families, the happiness we enjoy, and for his tender mercy in caring what apartment we will live in for the next six months.  I know that we would have been just as happy in any apartment we live in.  I'm grateful that we have somewhere warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and clean every Friday afternoon.  We'll only be here six more months and I can deal with anything for six months.  But it's a testament that He cares about even the little things in our life when He answers prayers about things as silly as which side of the building we live on.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Living in America: Food

So we've been back in the land of our nativity for two and a half months now and living overseas has receded to that part of my life experience labeled recent past.  I know that I lived in Baku for two years but it feels like a foggy memory.  Now I live in the United States and of course strange people can come up to me in the grocery store and chat for five minutes (always brought on by my watermelon belly) and I completely understand everything they say.  Isn't that's the way it's always supposed to work?

People ask me about how it is living overseas and then coming back and then going out again and coming back again and I have to confess that it's a lot less disorienting than it seems like it should be.  It would probably be a lot worse if I lived overseas for several years solid, interacting daily with the local culture, but I come back and forth enough that I can switch pretty easily.

And it turns out that I don't interact with American culture that much either.  My life is pretty similar to what I did in Baku: I school the children in the morning (but oh! the library books!!), take them out in the afternoon, cook dinner, eat it (but now Brandon is here for dinner every. single. night) and put the children to bed.  I do go to the library once a week (library books!!) but I actually shop even less than I did in Baku.

Since shopping is such an amazing workout deserving of its own post... sometime... I've figured out how to just shop every other week.  I didn't think I'd be able to fit two weeks' worth of food in our refrigerator, but we actually manage to fit in ten dozen eggs, eight gallons of milk, five pounds of cheese, and all of the various and sundry fruits, vegetables, and dairy products that our household runs through in two weeks.  When we finally move to a three-bedroom apartment we will actually have two kitchens and thus two refrigerators so I will have a little more space to work with.  If it weren't for milk expiring, I'd try and stretch my trips to every three weeks.

It's probably good that I go shopping only every two weeks because I've never realized how difficult shopping in America is.  The physical shopping is actually easier than overseas - no cursed four-wheel mini shopping carts that slide sideways into the other person trying to navigate narrow aisles filled with products covered in incomprehensible labels - but the psychological aspect is twenty times harder.

Maybe it's because everything is new again or maybe it's the fact that I actually know what all of these things are and taste like, but never have I been bombarded with tasty food calling my name like I am when I go grocery shopping in America.  Perhaps it's just that there's more food in general.  But as I walk in the door, the strawberries wink at me alluringly (I can resist, knowing what they actually taste like), followed quickly by the mangoes (ditto), pineapple (not so bad), blackberries, raspberries, peaches, and nectarines.  Those are just the fruits.  After the asparagus, leeks, and baby spinach (it's washed!) comes the bakery section.  Cupcakes!  Doughnuts!  Cookies!  Bread!  If you don't want a whole dozen doughnuts, it's okay because you can just buy one and not even have to talk to someone to get it.

After I've passed that temptation the meat comes next.  In order to buy pork in Baku, Brandon had to go to a shop in a specific bazaar that came to be known in the embassy community as the pork palace.  But in America, there's a whole section dedicated to pork products that not only have the prices marked, but have recognizable cuts!  And I'm not going to even think about steaks.  I haven't had a steak for almost two years.  Then there are bratwursts and hamburgers and breakfast sausages and of course bacon.  I'm really going to miss bacon come November.

By this time I'm starting to feel a little dazed by all of the food I've already said 'no' to and I haven't even made it past the snack food aisle.  Thankfully the children have learned that asking for things only makes me irritable so I don't have their pleading added to my own inner ones shouting out the names of cookies as I hurry by.  Oreos!  E.L. Fudge!  Star Crunch!  Twinkies!  Krispy Kreme (I know they're not fresh, but I still like doughnuts even a day or two old)!  Thankfully the ice cream aisle is the last freezer aisle at my local grocery store and so I can usually skip it entirely.  And I still have several stops to make before going home so I can remember that the drumsticks, York peppermint patty bars, Haagen Das, Ben and Jerry's and chocolate fudge bars would only end up a melted mess before I got home to enjoy them.  And there are too many witnesses who would want their share if I just tried to eat the ice cream in the grocery store parking lot.

And that's just the regular grocery store.  I'm not sure how they do it, but Costco has even more deliciously edible treats calling my name.  Because if some guacamole is good then a five-pound tub of it is better.  And don't forget the two-gallon bag of corn chips to go with it.  And who doesn't need more crab dip in their life?  And I have very fond memories of those yellow wheels of brie on assorted tasty crackers.  I never knew how many different types of frozen appetizers and seafood entrees I could purchase until I got a Costco membership.  And did you know that you can buy 32-oz jars of Nutella?  The opening is large enough to dip your strawberries (or cookies or maybe just both) straight in without needing a knife.

I'm hoping that some of the siren song will be muted after I'm finished with this pregnancy because I'm not sure how much more I can handle tasty American food shouting my name every time I go to the store.  It even calls to me as I'm driving down the road.  "French friiiiiiiiiiies," the golden arches remind me as I sail past.  "Iccccccccccccce creeeeeeeeam," Baskin Robbins sings to me as I rush to the library.  "Coooooooookies!!" shout the bakery as I come home.  All I have to do is pull the car over and all of these promised delights can be mine with just a wave of my credit card.  I'm not sure how anyone permanently living here can handle it.

But of course when I go back to the lands of incomprehensible labels and dubious foodstuffs I'll miss it all.  Because even if I don't indulge, sometimes it's just nice to know that I could.  If I'm having a bad day I can always hop in my car, drive a few minutes and get something deliciously tasty to cheer myself up.  Isn't America wonderful?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Mom's Spa Week

I've never been to a spa before.  All of the magazine spreads and advertisements I've ever seen make them look really nice and alluring, but so far I haven't had the time or the money (or at least I haven't chosen to spend my time and money) to go and spend on a day (or two) treating myself to facials and mud baths and all of those things that are supposed to make me feel like a pampered woman.  The closest I've gotten so far is spending a few nights in a hospital.  I realized that I was going to the wrong hospitals when a friend recently told of her recent stay where she got a massage and surf and turf after delivery.  But, I'll still take room service meals and lots of time to read trashy novels.

Because really, when you have four children that you spend twenty-four hours a day with (at least in the same dwelling), any time to yourself counts as luxury time.  And this past week I got to have five (yes! five!) outings that didn't involve putting on four pairs of shoes, four coats, herding children into an elevator, buckling carseats, or anything like that.  It was like my own mini spa week.

The week started off with a dentist appointment.  I have a history of good oral health (thanks, Mom!) and so the dentist is not a scary place for me.  Formerly it wasn't my favorite place, but these days I'm pretty fond of going to the dentist.  First I get to sit and read a book quietly without anyone interrupting, talking too loud, or dancing on my lap.  Then I get to lay down in a chair and do absolutely nothing while someone else cleans my teeth for me.  I almost never get to have someone else do something for me without constantly badgering them to do it.  I'm always a little sad when they're done.

The next day I had an ultrasound.  Repeat the same procedure.  Buckle only myself into the car, listen to NPR, walk into the hospital with no 4-person train needing constant reminding to stay out of the road, and wait quietly while reading a book.  Lay on a bed in a dark quiet room.  Get up and go home.  What is there not to like?

I had no appointments during the day on Thursday, but I did have a dinner with friends that evening.  Once again I walked myself out to the car without fighting about who got to push the elevator button and this time I had a friend to ride with me for company.  We talked the entire time without being interrupted and then had delicious Thai food with more ladies who didn't interrupt either or complain about the food they had been served.  Nobody asked the same questions ten times in a row.  Nobody hit their neighbor and got sent to time out.  I got to eat my own food when it was hot, I didn't have to feed anyone else, and when my dinner was done I didn't even have to clear my own plate.  Then I went home and the children were all in bed asleep.

Friday was the last day of Spa Week and ended with a double treat.  In the afternoon I had an OB appointment where I made more headway on my book (a rather dismal exposé on the commercial tomato industry) and I didn't throw up.  Then I went home and kissed the children, prettied myself up, and went on a date with Brandon.  We met up with some classmates of Brandon who are also going to Dushanbe and had a great time engaging in more adult conversation that didn't involve bodily functions or screaming.  We ate all of our food and so everyone even got dessert.  I didn't even have to share mine with Brandon as I'm old enough to have my very own.

Sadly, life is back to normal this week and I have to be a responsible mother and actually take care of my own children.  In a few weeks I'll have the culmination of spa week and spend a few nights all alone in the hospital.  I have firm plans to order at least two desserts for every meal.  But then, sadly, it will be back to normal life, full time, with a new addition to my personal entourage who will spend the next year having her own spa experience.  Maybe being pregnant isn't so bad after all?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Thirty-six weeks down, four to go

For those of you hoping for a pregnancy self-portrait here, sorry to disappoint, but there will be no intentional posting of pregnancy pictures.  Ever.  This is not a state I'd like to immortalize on the internet.  It's not even a state that I'd like to immortalize for family records.  We all know what pregnant women look like ("someone who swallowed a watermelon," according to Brandon) so there's no need to get personal with what I look like pregnant.  You can all just use your imagination.

So I've got less than a month to go before baby number five arrives and I remember again how amazingly uncomfortable it is to have five plus pounds of baby crammed into one's abdomen when I need to bend over and tie my two year-old's shoe.  Or my own shoe.  Or roll over in bed.  Or pick up toys.  Or read a book.  Or really, actually, anything.  I clipped my toenails last week and I'm really hoping that they'll grow slowly enough that I can hold off clipping them again until I have a little more bendability in my mid-section.  We'll have to see.  Kathleen told me a few weeks ago that fingernails grow twice as quickly as toenails, so maybe I'll be okay.

But other than the usual complaints about pregnancy, I haven't had it too bad especially when I stop and consider that 1. I'm 32 and 2. this is my fifth pregnancy.  By the time she got to her fifth pregnancy, my mother had amazing varicose veins and her feet swelled so badly she couldn't wear anything but flip-flops, so I'm doing pretty well.  I even wore three-inch high heels when I went out to dinner this week.

However, I am starting to realize that 1. I'm not getting any younger and 2. I'm pregnant with my fifth child.  My first four pregnancies were absolutely textbook boring.  Every single visit was the exact same procedure: give a 'sample,' get weighed, have my blood pressure taken, and tell the doctor that I didn't have any questions.  I remember wondering why exactly I needed to go in so frequently by the end when I was just doing the same thing I'd been doing the entire time.  The most exciting anything ever got was when Kathleen went (very predictably) a week overdue and I got induced.  The subsequent pregnancies didn't even have the excitement of waiting for contractions as I just got induced on my due date for all three of them.

But this one has finally provided a little bit of excitement.  I am, after all, getting old and this is, after all, my fifth baby.  One can't just keep having babies into eternity without something starting to break down.  The first time I ever had any doctor ever tell me that anything abnormal was going on (okay, I did have a few cavities once.  Those were a real shocker) was after my 20-week ultrasound in Baku.  I didn't understand anything the tech was saying because I don't speak Azeri, but after I was walked back to my very nice British doctor, he looked at the pictures and frowned politely.  "It looks like you have a low placenta and..." he turned to confer with his go-between nurse, "placental lakes."  He looked up at me with a reassuring smile, "but, nothing to worry about.  Very common.  Just make sure to get another ultrasound when you get to the States."

Thanks to Google, I discovered that placental lakes weren't much to worry about, just as he said, so I didn't worry just like he told me.

After four weeks of home leave and settling in to our new apartment, I went for that follow-up ultrasound.  And since all of the paperwork from both my London medevac and the following appointments were missing, my next doctor ordered a full anatomical scan along with a check on the placental position.

I got treated to another Azeri ultrasound, minus the chatting in Azeri.  After I asked the tech in the placenta had moved up and he confirmed that it was somewhere in the region above my bellybutton, nothing more was said for the rest of the ultrasound.  I didn't even get a view of the screen.  After twenty or so minutes of blue-goo sliding around my abdomen he looked over and announced that I was all finished.  Impatient of waiting the week and a half before my next appointment, I asked him how everything looked.  "Oh, just fine," he shrugged his shoulders, "yeah, and the baby's breech."

Visions of recovering from a c-section while four children laid waste to our apartment danced through my head as I drove home from the hospital.  I comforted myself with the thought that at least I'd get an extra day in the hospital to read trashy novels and order room service food.  All considering, though, I decided that the extra day probably wouldn't be worth all of the trauma of recovering from having my abdominal muscles severed and so put in quite a few prayer requests that the baby turn on her own, or at least be turned with some help.

So when I went in for a follow-up ultrasound this past week that first thing I checked with the tech was the baby's position.  And much to my relief, she had turned.  Part of me was a little sad about one less day in the hospital, but that's the impractical part that also deludes itself into thinking that bed rest would be nice (I know, it wouldn't).  I happily called Brandon on my way out and I'm pretty sure he was even more relieved than I was (the same visions of four children laying waste to our apartment were probably dancing double time through his head because he would be the one to pick up the pieces every evening after coming home from work).

My appointment two days' later was back to routine and we were doing well (well, other than having to wait for a doctor to come and see me while being covered from the waist down with a large paper towel.  Good thing the belly hides most things anyway and really, my shame died several pregnancies ago) until the doctor looked at the ultrasound report.

"Looks like the baby has turned... that's good...."  Silence punctuated by laptop clicking.  "But your placenta... looks like it's calcified...hmmm.... stage three..."

I looked at her.  Aren't placentas supposed to be made of blood and other squishy stuff and bones made of calcium?  I waited for an explanation.

"Well, basically it means that the placenta is aging faster than it's supposed to and the baby may not be getting enough nutrition and growing properly.  So we're going to have you go and visit an at-risk OB every week so you can get a non-stress test to check how the baby's doing."

At this point my first thought should have been something along the lines of 'my baby!  My precious baby!' but it was more like 'oh crap.  That's another appointment I have to schedule and arrange to have the children watched for.  How incredibly obnoxious.'  And then the little impractical voice whispered 'but at least you have some more time to read books all alone.'  And then I felt guilty because that meant that Brandon would be paying for that alone time with his alone time.  Obviously I'm a very concerned and caring mother.  Whenever a child injures themselves I always think about how far away the ER is and wait times and what I would have to do for dinner and who I could shuck the other three children off on.   When you have four children, life is all about logistics.

So now I get to spend even more of my time for the next four weeks at Virginia Hospital Center seeing more doctors.  I really have no room to complain, however, as it took four pregnancies and eight years before things started getting just a little bit complicated.  I know lots and lots of ladies who had complicated pregnancies from the beginning and they've never gotten any better.  One of my neighbors had her pelvic bones separate and couldn't walk for several months after her first baby.  And then she went on to have another!  That is true devotion to your children.

But I'm faced with the reality that I really am getting old.  And five children really is a lot of children.  Sadly, I'm not going to get any younger and the size of my family is not going to get any smaller and this is really just the beginning of the (hopefully gradual) downhill slide into increasingly difficult pregnancies that will eventually result in me getting out of this business and leaving it to younger, fitter women with smaller families.  It's kind of like a sneak peak into what my life will eventually turn into - more doctor's visits and more complicated procedures to get things done that were once routine.

In the end, I'm grateful that I've had four and most of a fifth normal pregnancies.  I'm not complaining at all.  Hopefully this one will just turn out to be more of a logistical annoyance than any major trouble.  And if it isn't, that's life, right?

Friday, April 4, 2014

Homeschooling and parks

I go to the park a lot.  When you live in a two-bedroom apartment and homeschool your children, you have to go to the park a lot.  Thankfully we live in an area with lots and lots of parks.  Every time we come back to the States I am amazed at how many parks there are.  It seems like every little extra square corner of space has a park tucked into it, and there's a shockingly large amount of extra green space around to put parks into.  I suppose that living in water-poor cities that are only green in the places that people can afford to water makes you appreciate places where the grass and trees grow without anyone having do to a thing.

Our park time every day is after nap and quiet time.  The morning is devoted to school and so in the afternoon we go to the park.  Our apartment complex has a playground, but it's shaded in the afternoon so we only go on warm days, or when I'm feeling lazy.  Half a mile away is another park that we go to when I'm looking for sunshine or feel like giving the children some more exercise.  It's a lovely little thing, nestled along Four Mile Run and liberally littered with abandoned wheeled toys that the children love to fight over.  A mile down the road is another park with an amazing 20-foot tall rope-spiderweb structure that everyone loves to climb.

So each afternoon we head to whatever park suits our fancy.  I've been doing this for a few weeks now and I've noticed that before four o'clock we usually have to park all to ourselves.  The local elementary schools get out around 3:30 and so everything is deserted.  Sometimes I'll see moms with small children and sometimes I'll see nannies with their charges, but mostly it's just us.

This would have been a problem a few years ago when Kathleen and Sophia were too young to play without my help, but now they're old enough to have plenty of fun without any help from me.  And Joseph and Edwin are happy to tag along, fearlessly tackling just about every thing their sisters tackle.  Most of the time they play nicely and make up all sorts of games and 'clubs' and pretty much provide all the fun anyone is looking for.  I don't think I've ever heard any of them ask for someone to play with who was their own age.

It's interesting to me to discover these times unused by the general population that has to march according to someone else's schedule.  I've always enjoyed the time aspect of homeschooling; when I happen to run into the morning or afternoon school bus stop rush I always feel smug about not having to throw everyone into shoes and coats to make sure someone doesn't get left.  If I feel like sleeping a little longer in the afternoon, I don't have to worry about my girls waiting for a mom that couldn't make it to the bus stop on time.  I like having the whole afternoon to soak in the sunshine while the children form a train of wheeled vehicles, knowing that the only thing waiting for me at home is dinner.  No soccer practice, no homework, no unfinished projects.

Maybe one day this will change when the children are older and life finally intrudes upon my little self-made universe.  But for now, I'll find all of the empty parks and the warm spring sunshine and enjoy every bit of it.  With nobody around to bother me.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Oakwood, five weeks later

So, our family of six has now been living in a two-bedroom apartment for over five weeks.  When I realized that we might be stuck in such a small living space, small enough to fit in the first floor of our Baku house with space to spare, I broke out in the cold sweats just thinking of it.  It was bad enough contemplating living in a three-bedroom apartment for over eight months, but a two-bedroom?  If we were going to be stuck in one, it had better not be any longer than a week.  Maybe a week and a half.

Well, here we are working on a month and a half with no indication when we'll move on up to the deluxe Oakwood apartment.  Whenever I discuss various room plans (okay, so how about the kids in the studio and us in the end bedroom and the baby in the closet?) with Brandon he laughs at me and asks if I'm still holding onto that vain hope.

Yes, I am.  I'm not a quitter, after all.

But for now we're actually working things out pretty well.  I guess we're all more adaptable than we think.  And I might even admit there are some charms to living in a small space (I'm not admitting it too loudly however as I know by the time November rolls around I'll be ready get back to big house land).

When we lived in Baku and had three floors, that was three floors that Joseph could lose his blanket on.  One night we spent forty-five minutes looking for it before we finally found it neatly folded and put up in a toy cupboard.  That night I would have gladly traded three floors for a small, one-floor apartment.  Sure, the blanket still gets lost, but there are no stairs involved in the search for it.

After dinner each night (on the nights when Brandon made it home for dinner), he would head upstairs to put the children to bed and I would enjoy some solitude while washing the dishes.  If the children wanted a kiss before going to sleep they would only sometimes get it, depending on my willingness to climb the stairs to give it to them.  Now Brandon and I can wash the dishes together while supervising the children's bedtime routine from the kitchen.  After all, the sink is literally ten feet away from their bathroom.  And now they get kisses every night.

I really, really enjoyed having a third-floor toy room in Baku.  During quiet time the girls could make an enormous mess and then I could banish them to the toy room for the rest of the afternoon until they had cleaned up the mess.  We were able to bring three bins' worth of toys with us and the children still make an enormous mess each quiet time, but the space they can make it in is so much smaller and it only takes fifteen minutes to clean up.  I can clean up the rest of the apartment in fifteen minutes too.

The major downside to being in this little shoebox is that it's an apartment.  We manage pretty well in the morning; during school the boys play together (or fight or usually both) and the girls have school and the time goes quickly.  Following school we have lunch and nap/quiet time, but by the afternoon we absolutely have to get out.  If it was cold and rainy in Baku everyone was disappointed they couldn't go outside, but there was enough room that we were okay.  That is not an option in a two-bedroom apartment.  You simply can't cram four children into such a small space for a whole day without everyone eating each other alive by the end of it.

So every day we go and do something, usually play at the park or go to the library.  I keep thanking my lucky stars we didn't have to spend all winter stuck here; it's been bad enough just being here for March.  On Saturdays we take everyone out for some sort of outing.  Sundays we have three hours of church.  Of course taking everyone outside every day means that every day I have to go through the rigmarole of getting everyone ready to go outside.  If you have children, you know what I mean.  By the end of putting on socks, shoes, coats, going to the bathroom, brushing hair, and hounding the older ones to the do the same, I'm ready to take another nap.  Then I have to get the boys ready.  I daydream about one day in having a yard where children and just go outside whenever they feel like it.  What a strange idea.  It hasn't happened yet.

But, all in all, we're not doing too badly.  I'm enjoying having a smaller space so much, in fact, that I'm even more firmly convinced that my eventual retirement home will not be big.  I like having less space to put junk in, and I'm not interested in having something large enough that I can't clean it myself.  What I'm not interested in, however, is having a small yard.  I don't even want a big yard.  I want acreage.

But for now, two bedrooms will have to do.  Until November, anyway.

Yes, that really is four beds in that room.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Doughnut Night

Did I ever tell you about how I love doughnuts?  Maybe, I don't remember.  But just case I didn't tell you before, I love doughnuts.  I love anything sweet, but doughnuts hold a special place in my heart right next to ice cream.

Krispy Kreme was a historic landmark in my town (I'm really not kidding) and the Saturday before Christmas was always marked by our annual holiday Krispy Kreme run.  My parents would wake all five children up early, bundle us into the car, and make our way downtown where dozens and dozens of boxes filled with fresh Krispy Kremes were waiting to be put into the back of our wood-paneled 1985 Dodge Caravan and then delivered to all of our friends and neighbors.  "There's a reason Krispy Kremes come in red and green boxes!" my mom used to explain when she was discussing how to make it through the holiday season without going crazy.

The best part of our Saturday run was the rule that you could eat as many Krispy Kremes as you wanted with no limits.  By the end of the day the tan upholstery of our minivan would be drifted with shattered flakes of doughnut glaze and none of us wanted to see another doughnut for at least three or four hours.

So yes, doughnuts.

So far Brandon and I haven't lived anywhere that hosts an international Krispy Kreme store (although I've heard they exist) and so we've had to live without those heavenly rings of fried perfection in our lives for years on end.

I've found a delicious recipe for cake doughnuts and honed my doughnut skills on those until I can say that I turn out a pretty good cake doughnut.  But we all know that cake doughnuts aren't the same as raised.  They're tasty, but they're no Krispy Kreme.

And so when Brandon and I moved to the US for language training, I decided to institute Cousin Doughnut Night as a way for all of the cousins in the area to see each other and hang out once a month.  Because who doesn't like family and doughnuts?  But really, it's just an excuse to find the perfect Krispy Kreme doughnut recipe so I never have to live without them again as long as I have oil, a pot, a deep frying thermometer, and a doughnut cutter with me.

Last Saturday was our first CDN and attempt #1 at finding the ultimate raised doughnut recipe.  I've never made raised doughnuts before and was happy to find that they're not very hard at all to make; they just require time.  I was not happy, however, to realize that I had forgotten to put the salt in the dough.  Combined with the gummy chocolate glaze, I have things to work on for next doughnut night.  But I didn't find anyone complaining.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Last Snow Day... Really

So it snowed Tuesday.  Nothing started until around 8 in the morning, so everyone was saved from yet another day off from work and school.  The temperature never dropped below freezing so I didn't expect much (after all, it's the end of March for heaven's sake).  But by the afternoon enough snow had accumulated for the children to have some fun sledding.

The children had fun and drove the school kids coming of the bus crazy with jealousy (Mom can we go sledding too?).  And I enjoyed watching them, assuring myself that yes, this is the last time I see snow this winter (spring?).  Really.  I promise.  For real.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Snow Day... Again

Last week my aunt invited us over for dinner at her country home house in southern Maryland.  I actually have a lot of family in the DC area and so she invited everyone for a family dinner last Sunday after we all finished church.  As the week progressed the weather forecast started calling for snow on Monday.  Then it called for snow starting Sunday evening and as the forecast became increasingly dire, people started dropping out.  But Brandon and I weren't afraid of a little snow (and we really like seeing my aunt and uncle) so we packed up the kids and figured that we would be just fine.

The snow started falling around seven and so we bid our farewells and started the hour and a half drive back to Falls Church, figuring that there couldn't be that much snow on the roads yet; after all Saturday had been 65 and sunny.  It takes awhile for everything to cool down enough for snow to stick, right?

By the time we got to I-66, we could barely see the lane makers and I swear we were sliding sideways around the corners.  I haven't had such an exciting ride since we drove though torrential thunderstorms on our way out of St. Louis.  Perhaps we should have stayed home like everyone else who believed the forecaster's dire predictions.  But, we made it home in one piece and the next day Brandon was out of work for the second time in two weeks.

Unfortunately for the children homeschool never has to have snow days and so they had a full day of school and I did my usual ten loads of laundry.  Sometimes making your own schedule has its downsides.

But in the afternoon they were finally able to test out their new snow gear in the seven inches of snow that had fallen and I got to see if my stop sign-red, calf-length down coat would be as warm as Lands' End claimed it would be.

The children had a wonderful time sledding down the only hill at Oakwood and slamming into the apartment wall at the bottom and were quite happy with their warm new clothes.  "This is much better than two pairs of jeans and tights!!" Kathleen reported.  My toes turned numb, but the rest of me was quite warm.

As the children flopped down for one more snow angel before going to raid the hot chocolate machine, I told them to enjoy it because it would be the last snowfall of the season.  Definitely.

But guess what's on the forecast for Tuesday?  That's right.  Snow.

Monday, March 17, 2014


So back a long, long (you know, at least eight or nine months) ago we made a reservation with Oakwood.  After staying three months at the mothership (or Oakhood, or whatever derogatory term is current) back in 2011 when we were evacuated I swore I would never, never ever live in Oakwood again.  It was old and dark and small and every one of the several hundred apartments had the exact same framed picture with the orange sand, blue sky, and white salt pan.  And really, anywhere that involves multiple trips on an elevator to haul your groceries home is not okay.  It just isn't.

But life has a way of wearing you down and this time around money started talking really loudly.  Since we are TDY (temporary duty) we receive per diem to pay for housing.  The allowance starts off reasonably generously, but then drops every sixty days until it is a quarter of what you started out with.  This isn't a problem if you're staying a short time - four or five months - but it starts to be a problem when you're in town longer.  You know, like nine months.

There are quite a few landlords willing to work with strange wayfarers like us who have most of our possessions lurking in a warehouse... somewhere... and need fully furnished lodgings.  But their accommodation comes at a price that can get pretty high after awhile.  Oakwood, however, has something worked out with State where they deal with the money end and we stay here as long as we need without having to work out how much the per diem has dropped lately.  So one can see the appeal.

And then after considering Oakwood's gym, pool, weekly maid and linen service, and shuttle to Brandon's work, I had to admit that maybe I was a little hasty last time in saying never.

When we made our reservation we were told that we were confirmed for a two-bedroom apartment and would be placed on the waiting list for a three-bedroom.  I didn't worry too much because we had a long time between being placed on a waiting list and actually moving in and there would be plenty of time for something to open up.  Right?

Well, we've been here for three weeks and we're still waiting for one of those three-bedroom apartments to open up.  Like everything in the government, there's a pecking order to the waiting list and we haven't had enough children yet to be at the top.  Who knew Oakwood was such a hot spot for families with five (and six) children?  Who knew there were so many families who were crazy enough to have five children?

So, for now we're all pretty chummy.  I managed to squeeze two rollaway beds into the second bedroom and everyone is getting pretty good about taking turns in the two bathrooms (I know, we were spoiled with five in Baku).  The children's closet is working multiple duties as suitcase storage/baby supplies storage/winter gear storage/bookshelf/school book storage.  During quiet time each day Joseph goes to sleep in the children's room, the children play in the kitchen/living/dining room while I put in ear plugs and take a nap in the only other room in our apartment.  I've learned that at least once a day everyone has to get out of the apartment to stretch their legs and make noise where nobody can complain to management about it.

And really, I can't complain that much since I intended to have all four share a bedroom anyway so that we could use our third bedroom for a toy room.  So we're doing just fine.  I think maybe if this were our permanent situation I might have something more to say about it, but it's not.  It's just a small pause between ginormous overseas houses.  And plus, I have libraries, Target, parks, national museums, and family to console me.  Not a bad swap.