The views expressed in this blog are personal and not representative of the U.S. Government, etc etc etc.
Read at your own risk.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Oh the Fun We've Had!

Last weekend Brandon's brother Seth got married.  Despite being from two large families, Brandon (one of nine) and I (one of five) haven't attended any family weddings (or any, for that matter.  I guess we have even fewer friends than I thought) since we were married over nine years ago.  Brandon had one sister get married two years ago, but she chose to get married on 11-11-11.  Which is a pretty awesome wedding date, but it was just after Joseph was born.  I did point out, however, that I was pregnant before she got engaged and chose a date.  I'm very diplomatic like that.

So when Seth started circulating the possibility that he might be getting married, I started looking up plane tickets to Seattle.  Once, long ago, this would have been a Big Trip.  Seattle, after all, is all of the way on the other side of the continent of North America, three whole time zones away.  My definition of reasonable travel, however, has been warped all out of any reasonability and will continue to go downhill after we spend four days traveling to Dushanbe in a few months.  

But since travel is no thing to me, we very happily planned an extended weekend jaunt to Seattle.  My brother lives in Seattle, so we decided to have a two-for-one and visit him too.  Even before I started pricing out tickets I planned on leaving the four oldest children, and after I started calculating totals into mid-four figures, I definitely wasn't going to bring anyone who required their own seat.  Thankfully my wonderful aunt and her husband (the same aunt who came to my rescue at three am) actually consented to take all four of my crazy little monsters beautiful, well-behaved children for four days and nights.  I won't lie that maybe that was the best part of the whole trip.  I'm even more excited for my little brother to get married in March because I'll get have to be gone even longer.


And as if abandoning my four oldest wasn't enough freedom, I actually joined SitterCity (yup.  Paid the money.  Brandon made me) just so that I could hire a complete stranger (who had a background check) to come and watch Eleanor at our hotel room while we partied at the wedding.  Isn't money a beautiful, wonderful thing?


This was my first six-hour, sit-down dinner, speeches and dances and cake-cutting wedding and I have to say that it was awesome.  Mormons tend to have toned down affairs, more of an in-and-out style reception (Brandon's sister joked that she wanted a drive-through wedding where the guest would hand in the present and someone would hand them back a hotdog) for a variety of reasons, one of them being that we're cheap.  When you have to finance three or four of the things you tend to err on the side of simplicity.  


For this wedding, however, we showed up at 3:00 and didn't leave until after 9:30.  There were speeches (which were all amazingly wonderful.  I really wish that someone had said those things to me at my wedding).  There were toasts.  There were pictures.  There were more speeches.  There was a very tall cake.  And there was dancing.  I had warned Brandon that he wasn't going to get away this time and he didn't believe me.  But he should have.  And now he has no excuse for the next Marine Ball.  We had a great time.


Seth and Emily, of course, were handsome and stunningly beautiful (respectively) and Seth smiled more than all of his brothers combined.  The first time I met Emily was at the Sherwood family reunion in July and I was incredibly impressed when she jumped right into the craziness without batting an eye.  One afternoon I wandered to the upstairs great room to find her deep into a game of Risk with assorted nieces and nephews and nary an adult in sight.  Teagan and I have held the sister-in-law club with just the two of us for the last nine years.  You'd think with six boys we'd have members right and left, but we've stayed small for far too long.  But the wait was worth it.  I can't think of a better fit for Seth and a more wonderful sister-in-law to join the insanity.  Congratulations, Seth and Emily!!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Happy Birthday, Kathleen!

Last week Kathleen turned eight.


In a fit of kindness, I declared school to be off in celebration of the day.  We had just been gone the previous week, so what's another day of hooky, right?  As further proof that my brain had been baked too long in the sun I packed everyone up for a morning at the park with a picnic for lunch.



We swung by work and picked up Brandon to play with Kathleen while Sophia and I went birthday present shopping.  Kathleen and her father made a big fort together to pass the time before heading off to a friend's swimming birthday party.


I cooked up Kathleen's favorite meal (bulgur lentil pilaf) to watch in front of her movie of choice (The Princess Bride), but she couldn't wait until later to open her presents.  So we sung "Happy Birthday" with no cake, which was okay because I forgot to buy candles.



I still can't believe that eight years ago she was sleeping in my arms, fresh from the hospital.  I've been grateful to have every single day since then.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Pictures by children

A few months ago I bought a small point and shoot camera.  I'm still holding fast against smart phones, so the point and shoot is theoretically supposed to give me a more carry-able option than my big DSLR camera.  That, of course, supposes that I remember to take it around with me and then I have to actually use the thing.

The children, however, are happy to have another camera to steal and use.  Often they start out their photo shoots by asking if they can use the camera and I try to limit the number of pictures taken.  Then they completely ignore me and take as many as they like.  That's how, when I unloaded the camera last night, I had four hundred pictures waiting for me - most of them complete surprises.  It's almost like the days when we had to wait for film to be developed.



Self-portraits are always popular.










Maybe there's a reason our downstairs neighbors complained about 'bumping' and 'thumping.'




Who knew that flash reflected in a TV would be so interesting?






Hey guess what?  When you turn the camera upside down, it takes upside down pictures!!!



Windows, also popular.


And who doesn't like baby feet?


Hey girls! Put that camera away!!  Now!!!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Beach

Yesterday was our last day at the beach.  We had a pretty good week so far; the weather did not start out promising when we pulled into the house in the middle of a rainstorm.  The drive down, all though uneventful regarding the children, was incredibly unpleasant traffic-wise.


Between an unexpectedly long lunch (note to self: don't go to the Five Guys in Emporia at noon on a Saturday.  And note to Five Guys: put more than one women's bathroom in your restaurant) and random patches of slow and stopped traffic all along I-95, we managed to spend nine hours on what should have taken six hours to drive.


Sunday continued rainy all day and only let up when my little brother Mike put up a prayer so that he could propose to his girlfriend, Adrienne.  Almost my entire extended family was there this year (minus one branch.  We miss you, Pullans!) and we had a dessert function Sunday night.  So Mike thought it might be a good idea to put a ring on Adrienne's finger before the questions got too impertinent and she could could still back out.


But, the weather steadily improved throughout the week and we had a lovely time playing on the beach.  Adrienne really proved herself as a worthy in-law by playing with the children and letting them bury her in the sand one day, complete with seaweed hair and beard ("let's pretend she's a boy, okay?")


I managed to survive reasonably well without Brandon, mostly thanks to Eleanor's willingness to take very long naps while we play outside.  Brandon was so lonely that he actually told me that the house was too quiet.


It's strange to think that we have been coming to the beach since the year I was born (I have more sympathy for my mother now).  I am now re-living my own childhood, but now I'm playing the role of my own mother, right down to the gender mix and number of children.  With our ever-changing life, it's nice to have something to always come back to every summer.  I'm already looking forward to next year.


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Oh consumables closet, how I miss thee

A few days ago, Brandon asked me where we kept the extra toilet paper.  I directed him to one of our closets, the catch-all closet that serves as laundry room, toy storage, rubbermaid bin depot, stroller home, paper products repository, and Eleanor's bedroom (but only at night).  He came back a few minutes later, empty handed.  I sent him next to search our bathroom.  Nothing.  The children's bathroom - none there.  Finally he came back from the toy room bathroom with two rolls of toilet paper - all the toilet paper we had in the house.

We're now down to about three quarters of a roll, split between two rolls for two bathrooms.  Sophia just came out of her room to request the other roll that floats between their bathroom and the toy bathroom.  I go to the store in three days, but I don't think we're going to make it that long.  We do have kleenex, however.  And plenty of paper towels.

My mother raised me to always keep backups, and I took her seriously when we moved to Baku and had to take two years of backups with us (although, ironically, we did run out of toilet paper there too).  Whenever we ran out of something - chicken stock, chocolate chips, wheat, Pam, q-tips, toothbrushes - I just had to take a little trip to the third floor and get another one.  I never worried about running out because I had spent a lot of time, money, and Brandon's health making sure that I wouldn't run out.

But now I've gotten lazy and don't remember to check my TP stash before going shopping.  I don't know how many times I've realized that I'm out of some essential household items just after unloading my bi-weekly shopping haul and squirreling it all away.  One memorable evening I went to Target not once, but twice to get something I had forgotten.

Soon enough, however, it will be time to gear back up again.  We leave in four months, and we can ship our 2,500 pounds of essential American products two months before we leave, so that gives me only two months to get everything in order for two years of toilet paper, brown sugar, toothpaste (we got through that a lot quicker than I thought we would), wheat, black beans, and printer paper.  Friday morning I was researching the cost per square foot at various retailers for Charming Strong and cost per ounce of Colgate whitening toothpaste.  When you're buying a two year-supply of those things, costs add up so it pays to do your research.

It still feels like we have forever to go before we head out - we just passed our halfway mark after all - but it sneaks up on you when packing your suitcases is just the last step in a months-long process.  All of our passports expired in June, Eleanor doesn't even have a passport (but she now has a birth certificate as of this week), we have to get visas and shots, schedule flights, schedule hotel rooms in Germany, purchase and schedule a shipment for all of that toilet paper, our UAB, the HHE we've picked up in Virginia, and oh don't forget four days of traveling.

And in August we have a week of beach, Brandon's friend visiting, his brother's wedding to attend in Seattle, and somewhere in there Eleanor has to get blessed and Kathleen baptized (for which I ordered the fabric to make the dress yesterday).

But in the end it will all get worked out as it always does.  Even though I like to complain about all of the to-do we go through in our migratory lifestyle, secretly I wonder how stationary people live their lives without regularly scheduled excitement to break up the monotony of every day life.  If I ever sigh to myself about some aspect of my life that irritates, I always perk up and remember that if I just wait long enough it will change.  And of course it does.

One day, however, I'll actually settle down and then I'll have to remember to buy my Charmin on a regular schedule instead of in two-year increments.  That might take some time to get used to.


Thursday, July 31, 2014

Eleanor Update (With Pictures!)

So life has calmed down.  I knew that it would get to this point - after all there should be some advantage to having done this four times before - but it sure felt like it took forever to get here.  Now that waking up in the middle of the night is a distant memory it seems like a really bad dream that I'd rather not re-live any time soon.


When we got to Missouri, the first thing I did was pull out that swing and put Eleanor in it.  She cried.  I put the PRD on.  She kept crying.  And then maybe I cried a little.  After spending a day or two doing everything in my power to get her to sleep, I gave up and let her figure it out.  By the end of our vacation, she had - and she's been sleeping through the night ever since.


So a typical day for her starts around seven, when she is woken up by her adoring siblings who demand Eleanor Play Time as soon as she's done with her breakfast.  


At some point during EPT, she is declared the queen and dressed appropriately and given a throne and sometimes a crown.  Then she takes a nap.  Around eleven or so, she wakes up again and is manhandled played with again before going down for another nap.  Then we repeat that a time or two more before bedtime, around five or five thirty.  She gets another meal before I go to bed (but no play time as the girls are in bed by now) and then we start the whole thing over again at seven the next morning.


I always love my children, even when they're giving me the fits, but I sure do like them a lot more when I know what I'm in for on any given day - especially when the schedule involves a lot of napping with some smiling, cooing, and eating in between.


I'm grateful Eleanor and I have come to that understanding because next week I head down to North Carolina to spend some quality time with my family at the beach.  Usually Brandon comes with us, but this time he's got Tajik that can't be missed and so I'll be a single parent at the beach.  My parents won't be there either and so I'll really, really be a single parent at the beach.  It's a good thing Eleanor likes sleeping so much or the rest of my children would be stuck inside watching cartoon network all day.

And so life is good.  I'm not pregnant, my baby is not a newborn, I'm getting good sleep after a year of bad, and we don't have to get on another plane for three and a half months.  What else could a girl ask for?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

One o'clock church, bane of my Sunday

It's Sunday night, seven-thirty, and Brandon is putting the children to bed.  Shrieks, giggles, and shouts drift through the wall as he supervises teeth-brushing, clothes-changing, hand-washing, and bathroom trips.  I can hear the irritation drive his voice higher and louder as hijinks increase in proportion to the time spent getting ready for bed.  Slowly, slowly the voices settle down and just one drifts out to me as Brandon reads to the children - tonight is The Horse and His Boy.

Toys, couch pillows, books, shoes, clothes, duplos, papers, and blankets litter every surface in our living room.  The kitchen table hosts a scattering of left-behind dishes and dirty frying pans keep each other company on the stove.  Half-washed pots crowd the sink, still waiting their turn to be finished and put away.  As I walk through the toy room to get to my own, I have to step carefully to avoid the train tracks, horses, more duplos, and markers strategically placed to stop any stealthy invader.  My covers are flung across the half-made bed, making a nest for the church clothes, baby blankets, and dirty diaper that haven't been put away yet.  Makeup and hair products clutter my bathroom counter, left where they were hastily dropped eight hours ago.

This is my house on Sunday night.

In Baku, we were spoiled.  Church started at ten and was done by noon.  We had enough time to sleep in and have a reasonable breakfast and still make it home for an afternoon nap.  Dinner was usually around four or so, leaving plenty of time to get everyone ready for bed, the house tidied up, and still have a nice quiet Sunday evening.  I would write and Brandon would read or talk to family and we had enough peace to feel at least part of our day really did have some rest.

Not so here.  When I was a teenager, nine o'clock church was the dreaded hour - always up late on Saturday night, Sunday morning was much, much too early when nine o'clock saw me dressed, waiting to start the opening hymn.  But now, I dream of nine o'clock church - finished early enough that I could call family, or take a walk, or read a book before even thinking about eating dinner.  Yes, I would have to get up early, but I would be done early too.

But instead, we spend all morning preparing for church.  We wake up late (because nobody ever has the heart to set an alarm for Sunday morning), shower, eat breakfast, bathe the children, get them ready for church, prepare as much dinner as possible, get ready ourselves, and then head to church.  After three hours of church (which turns into four hours gone from the house), we come home, fix dinner, wash the dishes, put the children in bed, smile at each other for fifteen minutes, and go to bed.  Then we wake up at five in the morning and it's Monday again.

Theoretically, three (or four) hours out of my day shouldn't make a difference - after all three hours is three hours is three hours.  But somehow church preparation always stretches to fill the time given to it.  If we have four hours, we take four hours.  If we have one, everyone may look a little less polished, but they still get there on time.

So by the time we get home, everyone has spent all morning getting ready for church and most of the afternoon at church.  Brandon has spent the last two hours of church futilely attempting to make three- and four-year olds sit through those same two hours while teaching them a lesson.  I've spent all three hours trying to keep Eleanor quiet and so we're both worn out from trying to keep everything together and dinner is an exercise in trying to see how quickly everyone can get the food eaten so we can send them to bed and just have five minutes of quiet.

A few weeks ago a teacher mentioned a book she had read.  You should all read it, she encouraged us, maybe pick it up for some quiet Sunday afternoon reading.  I snorted to myself as I tried to remember the last time I had some quiet Sunday afternoon reading.

But, soon enough I'll be in Dushanbe when church will be whenever we want it to be (eight o'clock says Brandon), will be as long as we want it to be, and any children who can't behave can be sent to their rooms for naps.  And we won't even have to spend an hour coming and going.  I might even have some time for quiet Sunday afternoon reading.  Maybe.

Only four more months.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Friday night hijinks

Friday night is date night at our house.  Friday used to be pizza night and Saturday was date night.  That was back when our children were less aware of the fact that pizza is good and movies are fun to watch.  When the children started asking when they were going to get to watch a movie and eat pizza too, Friday was declared date night - sometimes it was a leave the house date and sometimes it was a stay at home and eat pizza date - and Saturday family night.  So when the children ask when they can watch a movie, we remind them that Saturday is family movie night so go to bed a leave us alone while we eat pizza, okay?

Recently date night has been much more of the stay at home and eat pizza variety.  I'm not going to leave Eleanor with a babysitter until she's reliably asleep when we leave, and that has only started happening in the past week or two.  So we've watched a lot of Redbox movies in the last two and a half months and even I'm getting a little tired of pizza.  I'm hoping to go out next week.  Fingers crossed.

Last Friday was another pizza date night, so I brought the boys in from swimming around five so I could feed and put them to bed them before Brandon and I enjoyed our own dinner in front of our movie.  Kathleen and Sophia had been sick with fevers that day, so they had been left home.  Which, I suppose, was fair as the boys had missed swimming the day before for their own sick day.

We didn't have a movie, however, so I left Brandon feeding everyone leftover borsch while I enjoyed a little evening drive to our local 7-eleven.  Every time I leave the house to get a movie or one item at the grocery store or take out, I savor the joy of being in America where I can run to Target not once, but twice a day for something I suddenly realized I needed.  And then I think ahead to Dushanbe where mail comes once a month - if you're lucky - and wonder how I'm going to survive.

Movie in hand, I walked through the door twenty minutes after I left, and told Brandon about a CIA analyst who writes spy novels - maybe some of our friends know him?  Eleanor was hungry and ready to go to bed, so I fed her and put her down before getting to work on the pizza.  I reached for the cheese grater to get to work on the mozzarella cheese.  I hate grating cheese.  Really, I hate grating anything, but especially cheese.  I always end up grating at least one knuckle, and at the end there's always that lump of smeary cheese that refuses to be grated and is too big to put on the pizza.

Brandon was busy with the children, however, so cheese grating was mine.  I looked in the refrigerator, rummaging around in the cheese drawer.  Goat cheese, parmesan, cheddar, feta (how I love America and its selection of cheeses), but no mozzarella.  Then I remembered telling myself last pizza night to not forget about buying more mozzarella.

This time I got to listen about corn prices on NPR.  Did you know that corn is down a dollar a bushel from last year?

It's a good thing Safeway is about a mile from our house.

By the time I got back home - this time with a block of mozzarella in hand - the children were almost done with dinner.  I got down - again - to dinner, sautéing mushrooms and slicing kalimata olives from their obnoxious pits.  And grating cheese.  Brandon chased the children around, issuing increasingly dire threats about getting their teeth brushed - now - while trying to slice up onions.

Sophia, still sick, was laying on the couch all ready for bed.  Suddenly she sat up.  "My stomach feels funny," she announced.  I looked up from the mushrooms; maybe she hadn't had enough to eat?  "I feel like I'm going to throw up," she continued.  Sophia and Kathleen are both paranoid about vomiting.  I think they get it from their mother.

I turned back to the mushrooms and shrugged, "Well, you'd better go to the bathroom." It's always better to be safe than sorry.

I glanced back to see Sophia rush to the bathroom, hand clutched over her mouth.  About ten seconds later her desperate wail floated back to me.  "Moooooom!  I threw up!!!"

I looked at Brandon.  He looked at me.  He sighed in disgust and headed to the bathroom.  I guiltily finished with the mushrooms.  Then I bravely checked out the damage.

Brandon likes to tell a story about one of his brothers who was sick.  After making a trip to the facilities, he came out and announced that he had thrown up in bathroom.  Brandon's mother told him to go to bed and she would get to the bathroom in a minute.  When she finally made it she realized that her son hadn't been kidding - he had thrown up in the entire bathroom, liberally coating everything within splashing distance.

I always wondered how that had happened.  Now I know.  Fluid dynamics are pretty amazing, especially in small bathrooms with lots of splashable surfaces.

Now, I'm not a publicly affectionate person.  It's my goal never to write any Facebook posts about how my husband is the best husband in the the entire world.  I know he is, so there's no need to try and prove it to anyone else.  But I have to set aside my own principles this one time.

Brandon really is the most amazing husband.  While I finished dinner and got the children ready for bed, Brandon cleaned up the entire bathroom, scooping up Sophia's lunch and dinner off the floor, scrubbing it off the wall, wiping it off the bottom of the toilet, rinsing it off the bathmat, washing it off the door and bathtub, and cleaning it off the diaper pail.  He spent over half an hour doing something a abhor simply because he knows I hate vomit.  When I offered to do it - he waved me off.  "I'm your husband," he told, "and it's my job to do the hard things so that you don't have to."  Flowers on Valentine's Day are nice, but I think cleaning up vomit may be even better.

After putting everyone down to bed - Sophia with a bowl - Brandon showered while I finally finished the pizza.  Then we watched our movie.  And ate our pizza.  And there was no more vomit.

Next week, we're going out to eat.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Boy, that is a LOT of people

While we were at the family reunion, we had the Zieglers, husband and wife photography team come to take pictures.  In the last family photo that included all of Brandon's family, I was pregnant with Kathleen.  It's been awhile.


To keep you from going cross-eyed while counting, that's thirty-eight people.  All because of two people and, as someone there put it, some irresponsible family planning.  I'm glad to be part of the fight against declining birth rates.


There are twenty-one of those munchkins.  All under fifteen.  We went through a lot of ice cream that week.


I look happy.  Brandon looks... something.  I promise that he really is happy to be married to me.


The girls had a great time with their cousins.  Six little girls shared one room.  Every night around eight, we would tell the girls to go get into bed and they'd vanish.  One night I actually checked see if everyone was okay and everyone was dead asleep, surrounded by the detritus of Barbie-doll playing.


It's starting to look like we're not a starter family anymore.  One day Edwin's going to regret that face.


This is my turtle-baby, Eleanor.  She doesn't understand the concept of 'smile for the camera' yet.


I can imagine putting this picture in a wedding-reception slideshow in about fifteen years.  I'm so happy for the miracle of digital photography that will let this picture live in perpetuity.

My very favorite part of the week was after the picture session.  We had spent the Fourth of July at a local amusement park (shockingly, it was mostly enjoyable even with the children) so we saved the fireworks for Saturday night.  Brandon's mother had made homemade ice cream, so everyone stayed outside talking waiting for the twilight to deepen into the moon-tinged darkness perfect for fireworks.  The children, happy to be freed from endless smiling for the camera, cavorted across the lawn in the mindless games they spontaneously generate.  The sun sank below the horizon, leaving its perfect light to fade softly into night.  As the fireflies winked into being, Kathleen brought one over to me, amazed at their phosphorescent glow.  I don't know if she's ever caught them before.

As darkness settled in, everyone lined up on the lawn with bowls of creamy-fresh blackberry ice cream.  One of my nephews settled into my lap as the first of the roman candles went off.  The cicadas buzzed in appreciation, filling the summer night with their droning background music.  Green fire shot into the night, followed by red and then blue and gold.  While we waited for the next, I snuggled my friend closer, listening to the endless prattle of a four year-old on an endless summer night.  Then the sky lit up again and I could have stayed there forever.