Friday, October 31, 2003

Cat update

New pictures of the cats, complete with a handy reference point.

Click here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

How I spent my presidential visit...

Here's how I spent the presidential visit...

My job was press liaison officer for the airport. That's Ninoy Aquino International Airport, known as NAIA, not Clark Airfield, as the Philippine press was reporting right up until the day of the visit!
After more than a week of overtime filled with meetings and site visits, I got to the airport at about 7 a.m. in advance of the 12:30 landing of Air Force One. I was supposed to take care of the 150-some Filipino press that planned to report from the arrival, and make sure the traveling American and International press (about 12 people) made it from Air Force One to the motorcade.
After I explained to the local media officers early that morning what route their press buses should take to not tromp through areas cleared by the Secret Service and arrive at a timely manner to be screened. Of course, they did the exact opposite.
We finally got them all sorted out about an hour away from the arrival. I suggested that after screening, we put them in a small gated area, complete with barbed wire, to hold them until they're all together, then I can send them to the press platform. (Cameramen first, so they get good positions.)
The Secret Service agents loved that idea. "Cool, a cage!" "We're not calling it a cage," I said, "let's call it the 'waiting area.'" "Right. Waiting area. Nice barbed wire."
The departure went much smoother. No protocol. No band. No light, either, as it was about 9:30 p.m.
The press, while a little frisky, was remarkably well-behaved after I explained to them what the ground rules were. Really, it was hard for them to get up the confidence to jump a rope with the Filipino's Presidential Security Group and Secret Service agents surrounding them. But what I did discover was that the poor state of the local media isn't just due to maliciousness, but they honestly don't have a _clue_. I got asked the most bizarre questions. They could have found the answers to these months ago....
"What time are they coming?"
"What kind of plane is that?"
When the backup plane carrying White House staffers landed: "Is that Air Force Two?" "No, it's the backup plane." "Then you call it Air Force Two?" "No, AF2 is whatever plane the Vice President uses." "So what is that?" "The backup plane." "But what is your technical name for it?" "The backup plane."
Later: "We called it Air Force One's Little Brother." "Whatever."
"That tail number is 28000. Is Air Force One's 28001?" "I don't know." "But doesn't it have a tail number?" "Yes." "Then what is it?" "I don't know. Could be anything." (Why do they care about the tail number?!?)
"Where is President Bush going after the Philippines?" "Thailand." "Not to Singapore?" "No, Thailand." "What is he doing in Thailand?" "To the APEC Summit, the whole point of this trip that has been reported for the past several months."
"What is President Bush doing tomorrow?" "He'll be doing a state visit in Thailand." "Who will he see?" "The Prime Minister." "What is his name?" "Thaksin." "How do you spell that?" "T-H-A-K-S-I-N." "Then what?" "He'll visit the King of Thailand." "What is his name?" "I think it begins with a G. How the hell should I know?"

Monday, October 27, 2003

Houston, we have intelligable speech

It's getting closer to the time where I can put away my secret decoder ring.

I'm coming to realize that much of what I thought was gibberish coming from Nicholas is actually an expanded vocabulary. I could never figure out a word, but now racking my brain I'd say something that might be it, and lo and behold... that's what he was saying. The other day it was something along the lines of "mayhe". Mayhe? Ok mom, think, think... put it into context, think... "Amazing?" I'd ask him. Yes! A point for mom!
He's such a chatterbox. A year ago, I never thought there would come a day that I would look at him and say "Nicholas, be quiet! You're talking too much and I can't hear anyone else!", but that time has come.
We're still missing a lot of sounds. Several from the beginning of words (i.e. F, S, SH, L, R, K... ok, lots) and several all together (i.e. G, TH). While we're working on those, he has in the meantime successfully replaced "me yes" with "I", and we hear "May I have...." which is simply music. Get him on a topic he likes (Star Wars, Spiderman) and he won't stop talking. His grammar is coming along slowly as well and he's become so much more open to correction, using past tense and putting in all the words required for a proper sentence. We used to hear "Help me my 'oes" and we're getting to "Please help me put on my shoes" It's coming!

Well, that went better than expected

10/28/03 It did go better than expected. Kind of. We told the kids about selling the house.

I wanted to wait until it was a done deal, but Ian thought it would be better to tell them now, so we did. After the initial tear burst from Katherine (and the accompanying one from me) it actually went OK. I try not to think about all the good things about our house that we're going to miss and never go back to, and we talked up a lot about the good stuff from selling. One big point was that when we do buy another house it'll most likely be closer to grandma and grandpa, and that went over pretty well. Unless of course we buy in some place like Colorado or Florida.
Rebecca wasn't all that concerned about the house though she did say she was going to miss it. The boys didn't have an opinion one way or the other. I doubt Jonathon even remembers the house and Nicholas probably only has vague recollections. It's not something we discussed with them much since we didn't know which way we were going to go.
Katherine was very much attached to the house, especially since when we left Virginia we assured the kids that we would be coming back to that same place. Dumb parents, huh? She wants to know if she'll still go to King when we're back and of course there are our neighbors and her friends.
I hate to think about the butterflies in their room, the basement playroom, the backyard with the view of all those trees and our oh-so-green bedroom. That wonderful porch, nice big kitchen and gorgeous floor make me think twice too. Instead, I try to think of the too tiny bathrooms, the terrible paneling in the kitchen, and.... uh... well, the other things that I can't think of at the moment. There must be some. Right?
No no no, there are loads of reasons why selling the house now is a good thing. Financially and even emotionally it's the right thing to do. Now to just make it through the wait. Anyone out there buying? We've got a place for you.

Sunday, October 26, 2003


Halloween brought out the, uh, best in Nicholas

'ick -oh- 'eat
'mell my gock!
If you not
I not 'are
I down you un-way!

Smell my sock!
If you don't
I do not care
I'll pull down your underwear!

Saturday, October 25, 2003

The weight of the world.

A discussion with Katherine (to the best of my recollection, this was a few days ago, words are not exact, but the flow of the discussion is).

K: Mom, I miss home.
Me: I know, dear.
K: People take care of their homes there. People here don't care what their houses look like.
*warning bells, deeper subjects ahead*
Me: What do you mean?
K: Well, here they make their home of just about anything. In the States, we have nice big houses.
Me: That's true. Do you think that people here would like to live in a house like ours?
K: Yes.
Me: Why don't they?
K: Because they're poor?
Me: Right.
K: Then they should make more money.
Me: That's true. How could they do that?
K: Get better jobs.
Me: You're right. That would mean more businesses would have to be built and then more people could work.
K: Then they should have more companies.
Me: You're right. But do you know how many people live in Manila?
K: A couple thousand?
Me: If there were a couple thousand they might be able to make enough jobs. Unfortunately there are 10 million people in this city.
K: That's a lot of people.
Me: Yes, it is. Do you think there's room to make new jobs for all those people?
K: Hmmmm....
Me: So, Katherine, if there's not enough jobs for all the people, how are they to get money to build nice big houses like ours?
K: They could all work together to build a big house. They could all bring stuff and then build it together and then all live in it.
Me: That's a great idea. WHere would they build it?
K: Hmmmm.
K: So why are so many people poor?
Ian: Well, there are so many people in the city, and not enough jobs. But not only that, there is a lot of money in the Philippines, unfortunately all the money goes to just a few people and those people are in the government. They make the laws and they decide who gets money and when.
K: That's not fair. They should give it to the poor people.
Me: You're right, it should be shared, but the rich people won't share it.
K: Then the poor people should be in the government.
Me: You are absolutely right! How would they do that?
K: They should kick out the people there.
Ian: (we pretty much skipped over the whole voting thing, next time) Well, the people in the government are rich and if you have lots of money you can decide who's going to make the laws here. And if you take out one rich person, another rich person will take his place, so the poor people can't get in.
K: Then the poor people should fight.
Me: (OK, getting touchy) Fighting is an option, you're right. If you don't like something or if something isn't fair and you've tried to fix it the right way. What would poor people fight with?
K: Sticks and brooms and things.
Me: So the poor people could all fight together with their sticks and brooms and push out the rich people from the government.
K: Yes.
Ian: You know, they've done that before! They fought and put in a new leader. Unfortunately, he turned out to be just as bad as the people they'd taken out. In that case, it didn't work.
K: Oh. Well, then they should fight again.
Me: Yes. If the poor people have sticks and brooms to fight with, what will the rich people fight back with?
Rebecca: Guns!
Me: Yup. Guns, and who will use them?
Katherine: (resigned) Soldiers.
Rebecca: Police!
Me: Yup. So, you have one side all with poor people carrying their broooms and sticks, and the other side with the soldiers and police, all paid by the rich people, who are shooting guns.
Katherine: That's not fair.
Me: No, it isn't. What would happen?
K: Poor people would die.
Me: That's true. Is it worth it for people to fight when they know they could die?
K: No.
Me: There are people who think that dying is OK. IF after they died they knew that things would change, that things would be better, that it had been worth it. Here, there's no certainty of that. People could die and the government would stay the same. Would that be worth fighting for?
K: No... I miss home.
Our conversation slowed after that. It's a lot for a 7 year old to digest. It's a lot for a 29 year old to digest.

All partied out.

I'm tired of parties. They are exhausting. Of course, the kids will never tire of them. But since August I have been to...

1) Manon's 4 year party (at home, but with a full puppet show, face painting)
2) Annika's 1 year party (well, you know about that one)
3) Sam's 4 year party (at The Little Gym, gymnastics room for little kids)
4) Eric's 7 year party (at the Polo Club bowling alley, full buffet, face painting, ice cream cart)
5) Rebecca's in-class Halloween party (2 classes of Kindergarteners, need I say more?)
6) Seafront Halloween party (MC, games, moon bounce, haunted house, etc etc, and of course, T-o-T)
7) Shawn's 9 year party (at a McDonald's party room, complete with games, cake, enough food for an army and a visit by a giant bird)

And Katherine has been to another classmate's party at Kids at Work and yet another in an apartment buidling penthouse.

And this week another party is scheduled for the 31st at Kids at Work.

I'm trying to lead Katherine either towards a swim party or a small slumber party. Wish me luck. As for Rebecca, perhaps something at the playground next door. I told Katherine the other day that this isn't how parties are done in the U.S. I guess she's been listening to some of the things I say. "But we're in the Philippines, mom, we should do things they way they do them here."

My goodness, I'm tired of parties.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Something about the visit coming soon, really...

I know I should write about the presidential visit. I was at the airport almost the entire day, by the way, handling the press for the airport. It was actually pretty fun, though exhausting.

But I wanted to write about something else. I don't usually write about my work, but this one moved me to write. Now to edit this in such a way as to protect myself...

I'm in the immigrant visa unit, you know. Recently, we had an American petitioning for his Filipina fiancee. The INS report shows no criminal hits on the Filipina, but a hit on the American. In 1996, he was convicted of child molestation on a teenage Korean girl, with two probation violations. These little notes are nice window dressing, but there's little we can do about them, unless they're extremely egregious. Seriously, I could show a Filipina video clips of her fiancee murdering his last three Filipina fiancees, and she will reply, "But I love him!"
He also can't hold a job.. he gives us a line of crap about missionary work, so we refuse him for the possibility that she will need public assistance. This can be overcome if he shows that he is starting to make more, or a host of other possibilities, but it's also somewhat arbitrary. I can say that future legal bills and alimony makes it unlikely he will be able to support his wife.
But then he writes us a letter, stating that he thinks we're really refusing because of his criminal record. At that point, he was only partially right.
The letter begins by lamenting that anyone convicted of a molestation is treated with malice, no matter how small the offense. (The tiniest violins play only for him.) He then explains what he says his situation is: A few years ago, he is married with a 12-year-old girl. He is asleep on his bed, and the girl is next to him. He says he decides to "check to see if she is reaching puberty," without elaboration.
She awakes, and runs to her mother. He said this happened 5 years before it was reported, as he and the wife are breaking up. He then relates how his ex-wife and a counselor are out to get him, engineering the two probation violations.
Now there are already questions. The wife isn't Korean, so where did the "16-year-old Korean" come from? We're already skeptical, because it was in the midwest, so the person isn't necessarily Korean. The cops could have taken a wild stab at "Asian" and got Korean. But his wife _ and therefore we presume his daughter _ are not Korean. Nevertheless, his story goes from difficult-to-believe to absolutely reprehensible.
And what can we do with this? Not much, although I'm getting creative. To remove the discussion from this case, because if I went further I _would_ get in trouble, there is very little that American diplomats can do to stop criminals from petitioning for foreign spouses. It doesn't matter whether the criminal was convicted of child abuse of a five-year-old, and they're petitioning for a new wife and her five-year-old daughter. The law does not provide us recourse, so we get creative.
There is a bill, introduced by Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Rick Larsen, both Democrats from Washington state, that would require international marriage brokers to ask clients about any criminal record, including protective orders issued because of domestic violence allegations. That information would be provided to the potential spouses.
This already happens, but much later in the process. The INS (now Bureau of Immigration and Citizenship Services, part of the Department of Homeland Security) does criminal checks on all petitioners and beneficiaries of all visas, no matter the category. They're really searching for any crimes the foreigners may have committed in the States, but they're nice enough to provide all results to the Embassy (after approving the petition, of course.) By the time we get it, we tell the beneficiary. (A crime is public information, and there are no privacy laws attached.)
This bill wouldn't do much more. It would inform the foreigner earlier in the process, and would also tell them about restraining orders, which are protected by the petitioner's privacy rights. I don't know if it would help, but it's something.
The federal bill is inspired by Anastasia King, a 20-year-old from Kyrgyzstan, who was killed by her convict husband in 2000.
I have a clipping above my desk of a story about Lorelei Loseo, a Cebuano Filipina, who was killed in New Jersey by her American fiance. She was in the States all of two months _ they hadn't even gotten married before he stabbed her to death. He also beat her, and made her work in a strip club.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Missing Home

As people post photos of changing leaves, bundled kids, trips to the pumpkin patch and tales of walking around historic towns and hayrides, I'm really missing the cool, crisp, fresh air of home. I can't believe I'm missing that nip on your face when the air gets chilly.

I want to feel a cool breeze. I want to go to an apple orchard. I want to smell hay and I want to take the kids to the Shenandoah Valley. I want to see a giant pile of colorful brown crunchy leaves with little people giggling, jumping and throwing them around like badly made snowballs.

Yup, I miss home.

Can't wait until 2005!

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Hail and Farewell in 8 hours or less

18 October 2003: Honestly, this was one of the worst days I've had in a long time. And the President was only on the ground for 8 hours.

It was too long, nerve-racking, so hot and there was so little reward for all the trials of keeping 3 kids in line all day at something they didn't comprehend or have much interest in. I can't blame them, I thought there were be an emotional reward for me "Wow, I got to meet the President" but I think even if I'd sat down and had afternoon tea with him, I wouldn't have felt it and it wasn't even close to that. It really was gobs of hours waiting for a 5 minute speech and not even a handshake.
We arrived at the school shortly after 9 because the bus was leaving at 10:30 for the palace and Katherine was going her separate way with 9 other schoolmates. Originally it was for a story with Laura Bush, it ended up being the 10 American kids standing outside the palace waving flags, then going home while gobs of Filipino kids heard the story and told one of their own, then did songs and gave gifts, etc. The whole idea of American kids being there came up last week. If I'd have known that they were basically going to be cast aside, I wouldn't have jumped on the idea for her to "meet the First Lady" when in fact, they weren't going to the story read and were just going to be hot and sweaty and standing outside for hours for a 5 minute thing like the rest of us.
We arrived at the school early and we're waiting and waiting and waiting. The shuttle to the Embassy (from Seafront) for the rest of us was leaving at 10:30 as well so I -really- needed to get Katherine on the bus with one of the accompanying adults before I could race out of there with the other 3 kids and make it to Seafront. 9:15, 9:30, 9:50, 10, 10:10... NO ONE ELSE IS THERE. We walked around the entire campus (except the 15 feet where the bus was actually waiting, behind a soccer bus the same size) and we walked around it again. It takes me 15 minutes to get to Seafront and I'm envisioning bad traffic, missing the shuttle and spending the day at home. 10:15, people show up, I wish Katherine luck, and race.
We make it on one of the last shuttles leaving Seafront. Get to the Embassy. Two hours to wait after successfully navigating 3 security checks. Well, aside from the point where the boys' metal shoelace holes set off the Secret Service gate. We were corraled on the back lawn of the Chancery.
They said we couldn't bring a bag to the meet&greet. But we could bring cameras, so I brought my camera in its case and my cell. Well, let me tell you that in 90 degrees for 3 hours, that doesn't cut it for kids 2, 3, and 5 years old. Thankfully they were doling out water and iced tea, but I didn't bring an umbrella for shade (lots of people did), or fans to cool off (lots of people did) or books to read or color in (people did, crossword puzzles too), or snacks (and this was from 10:30-1:30! some people did, of course, no not me).. because you know, to bring all the stuff that would have made the time bearable and still have 3 kids with me... I WOULD NEED A BAG. But no, no bags allowed.
Not fun.
So we saw the President. We saw the First Lady. As is the norm here, people rushed when it was time to shake hands. With the kids, there was NO WAY I was going to risk getting trampled and I had to think, was I really that desperate? Nope. But... I'd dragged the kids all the way there, we'd hung around for hours, and here was our chance. Well, not really. They shook hands for about 5 minutes. That's not enough for hundreds of people all clambering over each other.
I felt like it had been such a waste and I was sad for the kids, that I'd put them through this for no picture with him and not even a handshake. Bummer.
So we went to the school to wait for Katherine. While we were listening to Mrs. Bush read stories and sing songs at the palace, Katherine and her schoolmates arrived back on campus. Bummer.
The one bright spot. Yesterday I'd gone through all the mini-pages (children's page from the Washington Post, each on a specific topic) and came across one entitled "Meet Laura Bush". I pulled it out and gave it to Katherine to read on her bus ride, along with a printout on the President. So she had that with her when the school kids did get to shake hands with the President and Mrs. Bush. Katherine asked Mr. Bush where his wife was (That's my girl!) and there she was. Mrs. Bush saw the mini-page and said that if she had a pen, she'd sign it. Someone handed her a pen and voila... Katherine has an autographed newspaper that features the First Lady. Guess what is going up in a frame. (Of course, Katherine was told that she would be on TV on Channel 7 at 7 p.m. We don't get Channel 7 and CNN, BBC and all the local news channels we do get did not show the part of them greeting the folks outside Malacanang Palace. I cried.)
Of course, in addition to all this, the kids had been invited to a birthday party for a turning-one-year-old, being held at the Manila Polo Club. I debated going after the day we'd had, as it was supposed to start at 3:30, here it was going on 4 and Jonathon was still passed out after finally falling asleep at 2 p.m. in the car. But this is the Philippines and that means the Filipino clock. And the kids had put up with so much, a birthday party seemed like a very fair treat.
WHAT was I thinking?
If any of the photos turn out, that will tell you all you need to really know. A picture is worth a 1000 words, but I'll tell you what I can in much less.
The theme was "Finding Nemo". Envision a room decorated to the gills (pardon the pun) so that you feel like you're under the water. There are easily a couple hundred people. From the ceiling are hanging dozens of giant balloons (bigger than Jonathon) in the shapes of various fish and seahorses, with hundreds of white balloons mimicking bubbles. There is a stage with a guy shouting into a microphone and trying to keep everyone’s attention to play games. There is a section to the side with booths for fishing, ring toss, a sari-sari store where you buy things with play money designed with the child's picture and the game prizes are -goldfish- and we came home with a freaking DOZEN! They had a poodle show, a monkey show, Winnie-the-Pooh visited.
The other half of the room was food... an entire roast pig, a section of kid friendly foods (spaghetti, shish kebobs, French fries), an adult pasta station, batter-fried shrimp, Filipino favorites, sushi, a halo-halo station, an ice cream cart.... my stomach still aches thinking of it all.
And then there were the "loot bags". Full-sized plush Nemo backpacks and full-sized plastic/vinyl Nemo backpacks.
Oh yeah, the cake. Well, that just defies explanation.
We left at 6:30. That’s when I tried to get the VCR to record and even more, just find the right station. Couldn’t do it. Yes, I really did cry.
All this, and it became a terrible parenting day. Nothing felt like it was going right. Yes, Katherine made it to the palace and got the First Lady’s autograph. Yes, we made it to the Embassy to see the President, yes we made it home and the kids went to a birthday extravaganza. But it all felt wholly empty. And I spent the whole day worried that we wouldn’t make it to the checkpoint, then waiting for hours once we’d reached it for it to happen and be done. I developed a lovely headache, Nicholas’s over exhausted nitpicking of Jonathon and Jonathon’s subsequent screaming pushed me over the edge and all 5 of us ended up going to bed in a big screaming and crying jag.
Thank God this day is done.
(P.S. Ian made it home safe, skipped the Wheels Up party at the Chancery, and hopefully he’ll write a much more uplifting story of his day split between the airport and the Westin).

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

School projects

Wanted to put in a quick note on the projects Katherine has been doing at school, just so we remember in the years to come.

Katherine's teacher gives them 2 weeks to do a project, then a week between as a break. So far this year she has done the following.
1) A "Me" box, decorated with pictures of things she likes and filled with 5 items that she felt were important to her. One was a CD of music she likes ("Frente" of all things), a shell (because she loves the beach), a photo of the famly (duh), a package of cookies (apparently her favorite from here, I didn't know!) and a neon pink lizard magnet from Hawaii. I guess Hawaii made a rather large impact on her.
2) A name card with her name, meaning (searched out on the internet, it means "Pure" by general consensus) and a picture or drawing of herself. She chose the drawing.
3) A science project for their Weather unit. A choice of making a wind sock, pinwheel or weather vane. The sheet gave directions on how to make each one. She chose the weather vane. Turned out nice.
4) The one getting handed in tomorrow is a Language Arts project still following the weather unit. She was to interview a parent on the weather in the parent's home country, what festivals are held, etc. and then put it on paper. If I do say so, it turned out really well. Take a look at

Monday, October 13, 2003

Someone stop time!

All we have to do is make it to Sunday night.

Let's see.
1) Tomorrow is a typical nutty Wednesday when I do the frantic drop-off and pick-up boogy with Katherine and Rebecca between the Daisy meeting and Religious Ed.
2) Katherine has a project due on Friday on the seasons in Virginia. It's coming along really well, but it should have been done over the weekend.
3) President and Mrs. Bush are arriving (and departing) Manila on Saturday. Everyone in the Embassy is working overtime. Saturday will see Ian doing airport duty all day, while I'm either with Katherine at Malacanan Palace or with the other kids at the Chancery.
4) That same afternoon, the kids have been invited to a birthday party at the Manila Polo Club. Of course, the party is for a soon-to-be ONE year old *sigh* but we'd get to see the Members Only Polo Club. Heck, maybe we could get someone to sponsor us so the girls could take riding lessons.
5) Sunday is the Girl Scouts Investiture ceremony. A great thing for Rebecca, a sore spot for Katherine. Her troop leader still hasn't arrived back from being Stateside, so not only hasn't Katherine done anything Brownie related, she's going to miss the ceremony on Sunday as well. The troop leader didn't want anyone to start in her stead, and I really think it's been a disservice to the girls who were to be part of the troop. How frustrating.
But then by Sunday evening it will be done.
Of course, next week I have to figure out the whole Halloween thing. I don't like Halloween and had hoped that once we left the shores of America it wouldn't be much of an issue anymore. Oh no. Every store is stocked with masks and pumpkins. The girls are having costume parades and parties in the classroom. We haven't even discussed costumes yet and I'm really not looking forward to it. Only a week to go.
Next month will be quieter. A beach trip, and Thanksgiving we're going to Enchanted Kingdom.

Good literature expands your mind. We need all thehelp we can get.

When we first arrived, we heard about the National and Goodwill bookstore chains. Both have stores in Glorietta and we'd search through them to find reading material. We discovered both stores are badly organized and we cannot find specific titles. So while they are good for inexpensive children's books or for perusing the aisles in hopes something will grab our interest, we have been investigating a couple other book stores in the mall that seemed more promising. We found one named Power Books, connected to Tower Records, and another across the hall which also had a bookey name but is the size of a large shoe closet. Yet unless Harry Potter 5 was at the top of your list, it was still very difficult to find what you're looking for.

And then we discovered Fully Booked at Powerplant Mall. Ah, paradise between the pages. The stacks were full and organized. The children's section was vast and had everything their little hearts could desire, and titles I'd been searching for futily elsewhere. When Ian asked at the counter about a specific hardback, the clerk made a few clicks on her computer and gave him a clear and concise answer to his query. Trust me, this is no small feat. We live in a country where there are 4 overly polite handlers for every shopping aisle, yet few of them can answer a direct question about underwear, forget about an author.
We bought books of course because Ian is quickly running through the Harry Potter series to date (Can you believe he's never read them? Yes, so can I) and we've both heard rumblings of _The Da Vinci Code_ by Dan Brown. I'd heard good things about the Lemony Snicket series (_Series of Unfortunate Events_) so I bought the first book for Katherine. She has rapidly progressed through all the abbreviated Ladybird versions of the classics on her shelf so she needs some meatier books without hitting the lengths of Harry Potter himself. Bedtime has evolved to include 15-45 minutes of quiet reading for Katherine, while Rebecca peters out after 10 minutes and crashes. Any reading time is good though. It seems that Katherine always has her nose in a book. In amazing news, Rebecca read _Sir Small and the Dragonfly_ almost entirely on her own over the weekend. Perhaps I should pick that up for our own library as a memento of a big step in reading.
I've been trying to read more too. It seems that I either keep up with current events, or I can manage a novel. Sadly, never the two shall meet, I just can't keep up with both for some reason. This weekend I finished _The Poisonwood Bible_. What an amazing book and I encourage you to read it. I'd been told it took place in Africa, which of course intrigued me, but I'd heard nothing else and that's the way I like my novels. Just like movies, I don't like to hear about the plot, nor do I spend my time trying to figure out what's going to happen next. I like the ride for what it is and in a book I read it with a completely open mind to the words on the next page. That's why surprise endings are always just that for me. I'd rather be shocked than spend time figuring it all out only to reach the end and say "Well, I knew that's how it was going to go." What fun is that?
Other books I've read since arriving in Manila are few, but worthwhile mentioning.
_Siblings Without Rivalry_ is definitely worth a read, for any parent with more than one child. Many of the lessons involve older children, but there are enough ideas and techniques that apply to any age and age spread, that even if you aren't having troubles it can help you avoid common pitfalls in the future.
_In the Presence of My Enemies_ by Gracia Burham. OK, this is one you do need to know a bit of the topic. It's a true story about a missionary couple taken hostage here in the Philippines and held for over a year in the Mindanao jungle. It's a disturbing tale and the writing is a compilation of her thoughts, fleshed out on paper. She is not a trained author, but after the first couple chapters, it doesn't matter. The story alone provides the words and emotions without needing an author's descriptive flare.
_Third Culture Kids_ had been recommended to me several times, having been raised overseas myself. Oddly, not much of the book seems to really fit me. I have all the symptoms of being a TCK, without the actual disease of "fitting in everywhere but belonging nowhere". My home is with my family, whether that was my parents as a child or now my husband and kids, so it really doesn't matter about anything else. I've never felt lost, even though the questions "Where are you from?" still throws me for a loop. I've adopted Virginina, so I leave it at that. But I'm preparing myself for the future question of my own children. With four, they are destined to each take something different away from our mobile life overseas. Some will do well, others will struggle, they'll all want to know where "home" is. Perhaps the book will help me help them create their own realities for what "home" means to them.

Wednesday, October 8, 2003

Rebecca's Reading continues to be difficult

When your daughter comes home with a paper and she's written her entire name backwards, and didn't notice, it's time to think outside the box.

Either she's brilliant, lazy or something is wrong. Or maybe not.
I've looked up the warning signs of dyslexia. She fits the profile for all things having to do with reading, but with none of the other lifestyle signs I don't think that dyslexia is a true concern. So, what else.
Laziness has long been a factor of her inability to parse the written language. She gets frustrated extremely quickly and will readily give up and whine she can't do it. And yet, she tries on her own every day, so is she truly lazy?
Well, I think she's an artist. Letters are images to her brain. They work both ways for her and she sees what's supposed to be there, no matter how she's written it on paper. She has trouble with the fact that in reading it all has to be one particular way for it to work, as letters go in a row and words move from left to right.
She would rather memorize than figure out and she has the brain to do it. She can recite books, songs, and conversations, and she'll correct anyone who slips up on a lyric.
But I have to give her credit, because even with her memorization she is learning, and learning quite a bit. School is slowly focussing her eyes and her hands to the trials of the written language. Her handwriting is progressing beautifully, even if she does have to check each letter against a master. She can create it and put it in the proper place on writing lines. She is beginning to look -at- the creation of the letters instead of imagining what it she thinks it should look like. It's quite a step for her.
I do know this much. Once all this clicks, her world will bloom. She'll be reading for herself and more than that, her vivid imagination can be transferred to paper in more than a pictoral storyline.
I have no doubts that she will become the author in our family and fill our lives with stories that have no bounds. I can't wait.

Tuesday, October 7, 2003

Katherine is on an even keel

With her hand healing well (when she bothers to give it a rest), it was time to look at other aspects of school life.

So I scheduled a meeting with her teacher this past Monday. Parent/teacher conferences are not done until November, but that's a long time to wait to hear how school is going and I figured if there is a problem, this gives us a month to iron it out and see how things have progressed by November.
Thankfully Katherine had chess after school so she wouldn't be in the classroom, but our housekeeper is off for the week (her mom is sick) so I had the other 3 with me. How I hoped they'd behave and remain quiet. Mrs. Bayly set them up in the corner with some building blocks and dinosaurs and they were gold from then on. I was able to sit and listen and discuss and they didn't make a peep of trouble or disturb us once. Yay! for pure luck.
We started with talking about how she's doing academically. She's in the top of all the sections as everything is tailored to the individual kids. For sentence writing, she's in the group writing the greatest number. For spelling, she can choose from the hardest spelling list (meteorologist, anyone?) She can extrapolate, understand, comprehend beyond the obvious in readings and discussions. She's always thinking, she takes it upon herself to step up and answer questions, she observes everything in the classroom and is a sponge for learning. She often move too quickly in her studies, making obvious errors and can fix them when reviewing.
None of this is new.
We moved on to organization. She has none. She loses items, misplaces them, walks around with pens and erasers that belong at her desk, she forgets to put her folders in the right places or turn in her assignments at the right time. When starting a new activity, she takes forever to get going because she can't find a pencil and yet once she does start, she moved quickly through it going beyond the oulined expectations.
None of this is new either.
Socially, she has girl friends she sits with in class and boy friends she plays with at the playground. When I asked her later what the girls are doing during recess she didn't have a clue as she's too busy following the ball during a soccer game. Early in the year there were issues with other kids saying she was bossy. Mrs. Bayly recognized it not as the intense desire to lead (a la Rebecca), but as an organizational manager style. There was a discussion in class and tensions seemed to have eased. Why can't this desire to put things into order extend to her own personal space? We'll never know. She'll probably be an absent-minded genius, as Jeff commented.
I do worry sometimes that she's not making friends well. I can't pin that thought on anything in particular, but the idea lingers. She is so good-hearted and always believes the best of people and sees the good in everyone. The more cynical of her classmates might target her as naive and that worries me.
So, what can we do about all of this. I'm attempting to get her more on track at home, going over a checklist of items to be readied the night before. School clothes are not an issue, but having her homework done and ready to go is. At school, Mrs. Bayly will be adjusting the homework ritual so that assignments are put into their bags inside the classroom, rather than in the hallway where the cubbies are. Also, I learned that her homework notebook only need to come home on Mondays and returned on Fridays. This will avoid the mid-week "oops, I forgot it" and she'll have her spelling words available at all times at home during the week.
It's all good.
In other news, she's still really disappointed in missing swimming in P.E. I'm so torn. She doesn't have to wear bandages anymore on her fingers, but they are far from healed and months away from normal. I don't know whether swimming would be fine or be a whole new set of problems for her troubled fingernails.
And we've bought her 2 new sets of glasses. You can see them on her page. I have the feeling she'll be wearing glasses more and more as she commented that at the playground she often trips because she doesn't see items in her path. Now, that could just be because she's totally unaware of her own size and her physical movement, but I am wondering if she just needs to wear the glasses and everything else will fall into place.

That's Entertainment

When the days are quiet, the evenings are filled with the mutter of the television.

We've finally seen "Chicago" and I think the hype rather ruined it for us. While it was enjoyable to watch, I was to the point of expecting gold nuggets to fall out of the screen. Oh well. I'll toss it in the category with "My Big Fat Greek Wedding". Fun to watch, but I wonder why everyone was tripping over themselves to see it.
On the other hand, we've discovered the treasure trove called Michael Palin's "Around the World in 80 Days" was among the first of our purchases, along with Palin's "Sahara" series and "The Best of Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends." All shows we've thoroughly enjoyed in the snippets we've caught on TV. We're still waiting on Palin's "Pole to Pole" and "Full Circle". Oddly enough, the channel I choose to watch the most on TV here is Discovery Travel and Adventure. I guess you can never know too much about the places you just might go to next. Of course I could do without the number of Las Vegas and "Most Expensive Hotel Rooms" shows they like to repeat ad nauseum.
The two shows I can't do without still are Survivor and CSI. CSI shows on Wednesdays and unfortunately they're still all old repeats. We're slowly purchasing the seasons on DVD. They are on sale here (real, valid, legal copies!) for double the price on-line so we stick with amazon. Survivor shows on Sundays and I'm loving the current series. Arg, me mateys, there be pirates afoot!

Thursday, October 2, 2003

And now, a moment to mention socio-economics.

Did you know (well, of course you didn't) that 34% of the population of the Philippines lives under the poverty level? That's 26.5 million people (about 4.3 million families).

Of course, that in itself is awful. But then you must realize that the poverty level here is not the ~$15K/year it is in America. Oh no.

Here, the poverty level is ~$300/year. And over a third of the population is trying to subsist on less than that.

(From Friday, 3 October 2003, Philippine Daily Inquirer)

Land of the Lost (and Forgotten)

While Katherine's hand repairs itself (and the nails are looking more icky by the day as they prepare to be released from their bonds), I wonder how someone can survive without the ability to remember anything. We learned yesterday that she cannot find her glasses. She strains in the evening to read her bedtime story so I asked to make sure that at school she could read fine with her glasses (while thinking we need a second pair for at home now). We hear that she doesn't know where they are as they aren't in the one place they should never move from.. her desk. Not her desk, not her chair bag, not her backpack, not her bookshelf at home. No clue where they went. Not good. She will be looking everywhere and asking everywhere. It's my own fault I never labelled the case.

Then this morning she left her science project at home so the boys and I made a trip to the school to drop it off. Only to come home and find her homework folder still on her desk with her list of read books for the week. I guess I should be thankful that I already had plans to go back to the school this afternoon for Rebecca's ECLC read-a-thon.

Wednesday, October 1, 2003

The lost Mew

The kittens are growing and getting better each day. Bopis is a bruiser and 100% kitten, popping around, lunging at things, hiding climbing and chewing. Thank goodness their room is like a padded cell and she can only attack the toys they have and her brother. Poor Pomelo though, he's taking a bit of a beating from her, but he's starting to get the energy to fight back and even initiate some offensive periodically. The deworming, amoxocillan and vitamins seem to be kicking in well. He's gaining weight, his eyes are clear and his favorite activity is climbing onto Ian's shoulder and purring while the world goes by. The only issues we see currently are that he's losing some fur around his nose and chin and he's lost his Mew. He tries, he makes the attempts, but no sound is eminating. It's mildly surreal.


A little of everything.

Katherine's hand is healing remarkably well. Her fractured finger is slowly reducing its size back to normal and is quite a bit less purple. The other two fingers are great, with one nail seeming to start its peeling routine. I don't know how long it will hang on but about half has loosened up from the skin below. She's down to just the fingers wrapped and a bit of ACE bandage around her 2nd and 3rd fingers to keep them moderately stable. She's upset about missing P.E. (swimming) and being delegated clean-up duty during that time. I agree, it's not fair. She has dropped Tae Kwon Do in favor of piano lessons, but because of her hand, everything is off for the moment.
Rebecca is a Jekyll and Hyde. At home, well, she's oftentimes none too pleasant. At school, she's a charm. Yesterday after Daisies, two separate adults told me how mature she is, how helpful, how much she participates and how she always has something to add to the group. OK, maybe they're really just saying she's pushy and a blabbermouth, but I'll take what I can and I told her how proud I was of her being so good. Friday is supposed to be the Alphabet Read-a-thon with the ECLC classes. I'm planning on going for the second half which includes the picnic and read-a-thon, I hope Rebecca won't be too disappointed with that. It's a full day affair with activities solid from 7:30 to 2:15.
Nicholas has learned to say Yoda, Padme and Nice. We're getting there. Still no news about the speech therapist. He's starting to learn some sight words, including Nicholas, Jonathon, Mommy, Daddy, Katherine, Rebecca. And some letters including O, H, N and S. I didn't realize he knew the difference but in an exercise with 3X5 cards a couple weeks ago he got them right. I've started teaching him the letter sounds instead of the letter names in hopes that when we get to real sounding out, it'll be much simpler. I tried the "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 easy Lessons" but he's not up to that level of focussing yet, so we're doing it informally and the letter sounds is something the book suggested.
Nicholas is still very much into Star Wars and lightsabers (or lightsavers as the girls call them). At the end of the Phantom Menace he always gets a little down, wondering why HE can't become a Jedi too. It's tough being three. Of course in his world he'd be a Harry Potter Jedi with Spiderman webs.
Jonathon is potty trained. All day and all night. The only drawback is that he cannot pull his clothes on and off (one of the signs of p/t readiness) so it's a mad dash for both of us to the bathroom if he's clothes. We still do a lot of naked time. He can also pedal his tricycle which is pretty cool and he's taken an interest in letters and numbers. When we were at the hospital he kept going over the letters in the big CASHIER sign, repeating them as I said them. Nifty.
Ian earned his wings on Saturday. He did his solo take-off, flight and landing and was summarily doused with creek water. He wrote all about his adventure so go read it there.
Monday night was an informal reception at the Ambassador's residence for new arrivals, departing personnel and community/office sponsors. Ian's shuttle wasn't due to leave the Embassy until after 5 and the reception started at 5:30, so I went to pick him up and we arrived at the residence in a torrential downpour. At least everyone there was soggy so we didn't feel out of place. There were enough people there I knew to make it pleasant and even while the lights flickered we all made the best of it. I finally met Dr. Ricciardone, the Ambassador's wife. She reminds me a lot of Ian's mom.
We're selling our house in Virginia. Yup, 6 months and the tenants got orders to move on, so rather than continue with the property manager, we're going to put the house on the market and hopefully make a big enough profit to become debt-free and take some hoped for trips. Everyone cross your fingers for us.
My parents have sent us great packages. This last one had new workbooks for the kids and I hope to break into them this coming week. Thanks!
I'm part of several gift exchanges this year, I figure there are some interesting things here to share, so why not. It's fun mailing items out to people, especially when they aren't expecting them. Are you wondering now?