Friday, December 31, 2004

And the Sky Lights up.

HAPPY 2005!!!!

May all your dreams come true in the coming year (as long as they're legal, rational and um... no one gets hurt).

So have I changed?

For myself, 2004 was an amazing and wonderful year. We all experienced and enjoyed so many new things from riding on elephants to traveling across New Zealand. Katherine had her First Communion, we saw my parents -twice-, the kids enjoyed a couple of modeling gigs, and we were able to lounge at the beach twice. I wish all years could be as good as this one was to us.

So here you have My Personal Year in Review:

1. What did you do in 2004 that you'd never done before? Traveled to New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand. Around the Philippines we took a weekend in Palawan and a weekend in Bohol. We love to travel and being able to finally do it freely was wonderful
2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year? Nope, I'm still just as lousy a cook as I was in January, but have discovered the 1001 Recipes with 4 Ingredients or Less Cookbook. This I can do.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth? Laura did in November. Not only that but she had a homebirth!
4. Did anyone close to you die? No.
5. What countries did you visit? Last year I said "Just the Philippines. 2004 should be quite different." And it was. See #1
6. What would you like to have in 2005 that you lacked in 2004? Plenty of time in the States. Woohoo!
7. What date from 2004 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? December 26, 2004. If the earthquake had been on the same fault line but on the other side of Indonesia, we would have been washed away.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year? Zorbing? Bridge Climb? Vertical Slide? Not exactly achievements, but facing a fear counts, right?
9. What was your biggest failure? I'll have to think on that one.
10. Did you suffer illness or injury? Nothing serious. Just the crap you get from living in this den of pollution.
11. What was the best thing you bought? A bar in Thailand. No, not a drinking bar that people go to... a rolling bar, you know, a piece of furniture.
12. Whose behavior merited celebration? Rebecca, she's really trying to pull herself together.
13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? There are a few, but no one in my personal life. Just people I know of and have to roll my eyes.
14. Where did most of your money go? Travel travel travel.
15. What did you get really, really, really excited about? My parents visits.
16. What song will always remind you of 2004? No clue.
17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder? Don't know. I could say happier, but I wasn't unhappy last year.
ii. thinner or fatter? Fatter. I've gained another! 5 pounds.
iii. richer or poorer? "Poorer" but only if you're going by $$.
18. What do you wish you'd done more of? Played with the kids
19. What do you wish you'd done less of? Yelled.
20. How will you be spending Christmas? It's done. We spent it at the beach in Bohol Province, on Panglao Island. Heaven.
22. Did you fall in love in 2004? Yup.
24. What was your favorite TV program? CSI and Amazing Race.
25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year? There are plenty of people I dislike, pity or just don't consider a friend anymore, but I don't actively hate anyone. Takes too much energy.
26. What was the best book you read? _Girl with a Pearl Earring_. My mom suggested it and I enjoyed it. I would have said _Rizal_ by Austin Coates, but I haven't finished it yet.
27. What was your greatest musical discovery? Sadly, nothing new this year.
28. What did you want and get? Quilts for all the kids!
29. What did you want and not get? Same as last year. Yup, it's still on my mind.
30. What was your favorite film of this year? Hrm, have to think on that one.
31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? I have no recollection of the actual day, but I turned 30, and I like being 30. I feel like I finally fit my skin.
32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? Ah, again, I'll skip this one.
33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2004? Things haven't changed... jeans and tops.
34. What kept you sane? My husband.
35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? None.
36. What political issue stirred you the most? The election.
37. Who did you miss? My parents and Jeff.
38. Who was the best new person you met? Lisa and Kristine.
39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2004: As a family we have a lot of fun. Outside the house. So the lesson... never stay home :)

It's the last day of 2004

Didn't I do a "Year in Review" last year? Maybe I'll dig it up and fill it out again. But in the meatime...

This week saw the completion of _The Village of Waiting_ and _All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes._
_The Village of Waiting_ was written by George Packer, a former Peace Corps worker, of his time in the village of Lavie in Togo. The book takes place in the early 80s so much has changed with respect to the dictator in charge, Eyadema, but the frustrations of regular village living continue and to some degrees have worsened. Rare passages were hopeful, but overall the book is a look into very desperate situations. Not exactly a warm fuzzy.
_All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes_ was my first novel by Maya Angelou. Definitely an interesting view of black Africa and her time in Ghana in the 70s, through the eyes of a Black American. She's not exactly kind to white folks, white Americans or even black Americans of that time.
I'm looking for something else to read at the moment. I'm debating reading through the Harry Potter books again, or maybe something political. Whatever it is, I need to take a break from Africa. _Emma's War_ started interesting but the Sudanese civil war is just too much at the moment. I stopped _Glitter and Greed_ because it too takes place partially in Africa, and not in a good way. Something lighter is definitely called for and perhaps American politics will fit the bill.
But this post is not about books. It's about what happened on the way to, where else, the mall. This time we actually had a reason to go to the Shangri-La Plaza, but that too isn't the story. It all happened on the way to the mall.
The Scene: Driving down EDSA towards MegaMall, the Shangri-La comes up first. The road splits with the left lanes going under a crossing road. The right lanes go along the side, stop at the light and then continue on. Traffic is very light today.
The Incident: I approached the split, took the right lane and was immediately pulled over by the MMDA "traffic officer". I rolled down the window and he approached.
Me: Yes?
Him: Abrap Swarbing
Me: I'm sorry?
Him: Abrap Swarbing.
Me: *look at Ian* Abrap Swarbing?
Ian: I have no idea.
Him: *pointing down the road behind the car* Abrap Swarbing.
Me: I don't understand, Abrap Swarbing?
Him: *points again*
Me: I really don't know.
Him: Diplomat?
Me: Yes
Him: *waves his hand to go ahead*
I drive on and look at Ian.
Me: Call Anne.
Ian: She's out of town, I'll call Chris (Chris and Anne learned Tagalog at FSI)
Ian on the cell: Hi, Chris? We just got pulled over and were told something about Abrap Swarbing. Any idea what that means? Swarbing? ... Swerving? Wait, Abrupt Swerving? Oh! Yeah, that's probably what he meant! *he finishes converstaion*
Me: Abrupt Serving? I didn't abruptly swerve! Kids, did you feel me swerve?
Kids: No!
Me: Ian, I didn't swerve did I? I changed lanes, that's all, I even used my blinker! Abrupt Swerving!? There isn't even anyone on the road! No one to swerve around, no one got thrown to either side of the car, it was a smooth transition! I didn't abruptly swerve anywhere!
Continue conversation of disbelief. He just kept repeating the same two words without any sort of follow-up and it didn't make any sense.
Abrap Swarbing, my foot.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Kinda sad...

The news from the Indian Ocean is horrific. What's kinda sad is how little other blogs I scan from the U.S. bother to talk about it. If they do at all. Do they really think that just because it's "way over there" it doesn't affect them too?

It's all the news there is on CNN Asia, and that's the way it should be. Not because we're actually -in- Asia. Not because we know people who live in the affected areas or visit there. Not because Americans were killed. Not because it could have been us - literally.
But because an estimated 60-80THOUSAND people have died and a large number of those deaths occurred in a matter of seconds the day after Christmas. If you live in a small town... imagine everyone you know washed away and the town dissolved. If you live in a medium sized town imagine the buildings gutted and every single person you know losing loved ones.
The devastation is incomprehensible, even to those who've survived massive flooding and California sized earthquakes. But being incomprehensible doesn't take away the responsibility we have for caring. I just really hope those bloggers are talking about the colossal loss of life in other forums . I hope it's made an impact on their consciousness in some way. I hope some of them have actually considered what they can do to help.
Because if the thought is that Sure, it could have been "here" but it wasn't... Because if hasn't made a blip in their lives... that says more about the average American personae than I care to admit.

Kid Funny

Last night...

Rebecca was asking Ian where a coloring pad she received for Christmas had been put. She asked where he had put her “pitcher”.
Rebecca: My pitcher?
Ian: A pitcher? A baseball pitcher? Beer pitcher?
Mom: A pitcher is for iced tea.
Rebecca: OK, my art, where’s my art?
Ian: Which art?
Mom: Art Garfunkel?
Nicholas: R2-D2?
Commence riotous laughter.
You have to admit, that was pretty good for a four year old.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Ian keeps telling me not to say anything...

But yesterday the housekeeper was here and -she- started it, so it's not my fault.

She started talking about the FPJ funeral procession that started Tuesday night, blocking roads and generally creating problems through Wednesday. If you haven't heard, Fernando Poe Jr. died last week after falling into a coma from a stroke. It seems pretty straight forward and honestly it also seems like it was a stroke (no pun intended) of good luck that he -wasn't- "elected."
Not so to the FPJ camp. Apparently, according to them, the stroke was brought on by the depression he had fallen into from having the election stolen from him. His death was all President Arroyo's fault. Perhaps she "killed" him to avoid a coup? (Does this country even know what a coup is? They've tried multiple times but never seem to succeed because everyone is so disorganized. People Power seems to be their sole method of political overthrow and the folks have to be -really- bad for them to do anything.. and then they'll forget and welcome the baddies back anyway.) Perhaps she "killed" him to send a message? Perhaps... who knows?
Draw what you wish from that revelation... he's dead and as far as anyone knows, no one tried to poison him like that guy in Kiev who miraculously isn't daed.
So last week, Arroyo sent a funeral wreath and the FPJ camp tore it to shreds and burnt it. It says a lot about what's wrong with this place.
Which brings me back to the housekeeper. She came into the kitchen and struck up a conversation about the bad traffic and the closed roads from the funeral procession. Anything different on the road means loong back-ups, just like anywhere in the world, so I gave expected sympathy for the delays. And then the conversation went a bit like this:
Her: Roadblocks are up and people from the provinces haven't been allowed to come for the procession. I think Pres. Gloria doesn't like so many people here. It's not fair to the provinces. They want to march too. No invitations had to be sent out, so many people liked FPJ, he was such a nice man and did so many good things. Gloria, she just likes to smile.
Me: Uh huh.
Her: Gloria put more security around.
Me: The Palace?
Her: Yes. I don't know but it's probably because she feels guilty. That's what people who feel guilty do. She knows she did wrong and she thinks she needs more protection.
Me: Well, it's a common thing to do when a President expects large crowds.
Her: I think she is guilty, feeling guilty. And to keep those provincial buses away, she is scared of so many people liking FPJ. Her flowers she sent? *she chuckles*
Me: Yes, I heard what they did. I thought that was very sad. Once people have died, differences don't matter anymore and it was sad that they reacted that way rather than show some respect.
Her: *silence* Yes, well... *silence* His friend who gave a speech said that FPJ turned down important invitations to go to homes of people like farmers and dentists. And he helped them. He said "FPJ didn't want this to be told" because he is a good man who wanted to help but not for everyone to know. He helped so many people like that. His best friend...
Me: Estrada?
Her: Oh, he's a very nice man too. He did many good things for people, people really liked him.
Me: He also stole billions of pesos from the country.
Her: *silence*
And it was time for lunch with the kids.
I brought up not being thrilled with our current President and there was some mention of Ninoy Aquino in there too, but it got lost in the jumble. Honestly, she is a regular member of the largest class in the city, the Upper Lower, and from Ian's perspective she is typical. One guy is a movie star and the other is a little woman who smiles a lot?
Let's pick the movie star!

Fred Franke's Passing

We've learned more about Fred's death while he was teaching in China. He contracted Bacterial Endocarditis which is often confused with the flu, but is extremely dangerous to those with a prior heart condition.

He has been brought home and his funeral service was held on December 18th.

An eye-opener

Yesterday was the day for Katherine to execute her gift-giving endeavor.

For many weeks Katherine has been gathering toiletries, candy and small toys to parcel together in bags (some of which I made with my rediscovered basic ability with the sewing machine) and give to the street children we see on the way to the Embassy.
In theory a wonderful and generous idea. In reality, well.... still wonderful and generous but not quite what she'd envisioned.
Katherine imagined a young beggar at the window. She would roll down the window and happily pass a bag of goodies over, saying "Maligayang Pasko" and being thanked with a smile. Then another child beggar would come and she would repeat the scenario.
I'd gone through the process that would actually occur. I told her that once one child received something, the rest would swarm the car. I told her that I would control the window and that if it got to be too much we would shut it. She worried that someone would get their hand caught, I said they would move. I don't think she took me too seriously but when it was all done I realized that I hadn't thought everything through. The largest fault was mine, in letting her hand out bags before we were right at the light. We had a couple cycles to go through and it was too long to sit with children and teens and adults mauling the car.
A couple of kids knocked on the window and I allowed her to pass out some bags. And like I predicted, the car was swarmed. I opened the window too far to try to get gifts to the lower, smaller kids but bigger kids started grabbing them right from Katherine, and not just one at at time. Then the worst part, the adults ran over and shoved THEIR hands in the car. I shut the window 3/4 of the way, I yelled at them to go away, I yelled that the bags were for the children. They ignored me. I shut the window on one man's arm and had to lower it a bit so he could pull it out.
The light changed and I moved up, but like I said not through the intersection, so the children that hadn't received anything ran down the street following us. Katherine was able to hand out a few more before the throng grew too big and I had to shut the window again. We ignored the rest who kept panting on the window and knocking.
The light changed again and we were still not through the intersection. One child decided he didn't want to run after the car so he HUNG ONTO the rear view mirror while I drove! He had a rock in his hand and when we stopped again, he knocked with the rock on the window, a loud irritating noise. I told him to knock it off and one of his buddies would periodically stop him, but I discovered later that when he wasn't knocking on the window he was -scratching the paint of the car-. There were three or four more bags and we gave them only to the young ladies holding infants. We realized after that the girls were well-behaved while the boys were obviously not.
The light finally changed for the last time and with no one hanging on the car, but instead with a final smack and a few kicks, we made it through relatively unscathed. Physically at least, for Katherine was emotionally worn.
She'd wanted to be the benevolent gift-giver. She'd actually wanted to walk around the street handing out bags but I'd figured this was a reasonable compromise where we were secure and I was in control. It didn't work out as well as I'd hoped. Katherine was confused as to why the people were so mean. Why did one of them almost touch her (he didn't, I wouldn't have allowed that). Why did they scrape the car and why didn't they say Thank You? Why didn't she get to say Maligayang Pasko like she'd practiced.
Why wasn't it a good experience being nice to others?
I asked her what her goal had been. To give away to those less fortunate? Then her goal was accomplished. We also agreed that next time (for in Togo the children have even less) we would do it differently. Katherine has a vision of going from door to door at night and mysteriously dropping packages at their door. I had to remind her that the children she was giving to didn't have houses, much less doors. But we'll think of something else. There are always organized gift-giving programs, so we will participate with something like that until she and the other kids are much much older.
I'm extremely proud of Katherine for wanting to give the way that she did. I hope that all the kids develop the same sort of desire to share what they can. We both learned something from this experience and it wasn't all bad. We talked a lot about -why- the people we'd encountered behaved the way they did and while none of the kids really understand it (how can they?) it will prepare them a bit for our next stop in Togo.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Twas the Week Before Christmas

I'm enjoying the down time and the relaxed feeling from not driving all around town. Today it was just me and the kids at home. I couldn't figure out what was weird outside until I realized the driveway gate was closed and we hadn't left the house but to go the playground next door. Sure, it'll get boring eventually, but today was nice to spend the day cleaning, reading and even some playing with the kids.

Friday was the last day of school for all four of them. The boys had caroling at the Seafront offices, the girls had a 1/2 day and received their report cards. With all the parties already completed earlier in the week, I don't know what they could possibly have been doing on Friday. Anyhow, both girls did well, Katherine received a single D (they have four "grades" in 3rd grade... A(dvanced), M(eets Requirements), D(eveloping) and N(eeds Improvement)). Her D was in, what else, Listening. It's gotten to the point that we just chuckle. Bad parents, I know. But it's not that she's not learning or being disruptive, she's usually just too busy reading and we're working on that. She's gotten better with her in-class organization so there has been improvement. Small, but important.
That afternoon we spent at Glorietta where the kids had clothing and stage rehearsal for another modeling gig. Rebecca and Nicholas had been hired, while Katherine and Jonathon offered to do it on the spot and were accepted. At the moment, only the first two have been paid for it and I don't know if the other two will be as well. We'll see. They had fun anyhow. Jonathon loved being on the stage and struck some very silly poses. We've been practicing with Katherine to have her use a more natural walk than what she perceived was a "model walk" with flamboyant shoulder moved. With the shoulders toned down, she moved smoothly and looked lovely. The rehearsal was long, disjointed and chaotic, but it finally ended around 6 p.m. Ian met us there and we had dinner at the Outback. The afternoon had worn Jonathon out, he fell asleep on my lap and missed the Glorietta fireworks on the drive home. The other kids were thrilled though. Not just fireworks, but fireworks from the backseat of daddy's Jeep. They rarely ever get to ride in daddy's car, what a treat.
Saturday the vet was supposed to come by to deworm the cats (what a wonderful visual and I'm sure the cats won't have -any- memory of the last vet visit) but canceled at the last minute, so we lazed around the house all morning until showtime.
I wasn't going to sweat it even with the complete mess the place was in with kids all over the place, clowns and Santa, balloon animals and the worst MC ever. Though this show was being managed terribly I knew that in the end it would all work out. And it did. Katherine looked so much more comfortable, Rebecca met our goal of looking at the audience and smiling even as she raced from spot to spot, and the boys just looked cute. Jonathon got applause for hamming it up a bit. It was a fun afternoon.
Sunday was church, then (ugh) back to the mall... this time Rockwell. We took the family to see "National Treasure" on the recommendation of Catherine and Weston. It really was an enjoyable movie. A little too complicated in the storyline for the kids, but lots of action and mystery. Once home again, the gingerbread house took shape. Each member of the family got a piece to work on and without too much trouble it came together nicely. Perhaps I'll put up a page of photos.
We've seen another new movie, "Elf". I'd heard plenty of good recommendations and it is a cute movie. Not a fabulous movie, but cute and the kids enjoyed it.
OK, I'm off. It's evening now and I'm tired, but I told myself that tonight I'd finish up the kids' gifts and get them under the tree. Wish me luck!

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Almost legal

In case anyone's wondering, I am still taking flying lessons. Well, I should say, I was, because I finished the last one today. I flew my solo cross-country from Manila to Clark Field, formerly Clark Air Force Base when we still had bases here. It's a ridiculously large runway, and perfect for an easy landing. I did a touch-and-go , then headed back to Manila.

Now I have over 41 hours, and my instructor is submitting my log to the Air Transportation Office. I just have to pass a written test, take a checkride (probably the same route I did this morning), then I'm all licensed and legal.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Tomorrow will be a busy day

It won't be a busy day for me, but for the kids.

It's a lot of work to move from one party to the next. I'll be present for most of them, but I won't have to do anything than remember to provide some food and pack teacher gifts. Let's hope I can actually remember to do those two things though.
This afternoon I pulled out several pieces of art or just plain drawings by the kids' that I've always liked, and I framed them. Earlier this year I'd bought a bunch of matching 11x14 frames, so now the ones I like and have some meaning to me are in frames. They aren't on the wall though. Like everything else we've recently framed they are stacked against the wall waiting for packout.
My mouth still hurts but now that I have an antibiotic I can take Motrin without worry. See, I have this thing that unless I'm taking something to help the problem I don't take medicine to take away the pain. I figure if I can't feel the pain then I don't actually know if something is getting better or worse. So after several days of steady aches with periodic shooting pain, I am hopefully on the mend. I'm looking forward to the day I can eat with my whole mouth.
I'm also looking forward to the day I can get enough sleep. I'm so very tired. Sunday was a very bad day for me and I should have napped the day away, but I didn't. While Monday was better, my family is suffering from my inability to cope with normal activity.
It'll get better, it always does. I just need to sleep.

It's Tuesday.

Nothing much ever happens on Tuesdays, have you noticed that? So I'm at home this morning surrounded by papers I'm shuffling through and basically trying not to entirely zone out. I could be in the ARC library finishing up the kids books, but I'm not. I'm here for the next 2 1/2 hours listening to music and generally relaxing. Tough life.

With the end of afterschool activities comes free afternoons, unless you're on the swim team. And now we have two little Sailfish in the family for Rebecca has joined the team. She's far from a great swimmer, but her sister has welcomed her and she gave it a good effort. The other kids have several months of training on her, but I figure this much... she'll get some regular exercise, improve her strokes and decide if she'd like to continue it at our next post.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Ballet et Danse

Culture abounds! Dance! Dance Dance!

Perhaps I'm a little nutty now after Saturday, but really it was an enjoyable though long day of dance performances.
I got a new cell phone after mine went kaput on Friday. It was that or wait for over a week to get mine fixed and we couldn't have me phoneless for that long, could we? Of course not. So, newly phoned am I, and this one will work in the States and possibly Togo as well. A good purchase all around.
At 2 p.m. we were at the CCP for the modern ballet performance of "Peter Pan in Neverneverland". I have flipped by modern ballet on TV before, but watching it live for an hour and half is quite different. I was impressed at how well the boys payed attention, even as they asked question after question about who the characters were and what they were doing. They watched! It's more than I can say for Ian who commented during intermission that the show was great for his afternoon nap. Pshaw, it was fun.
Immediately following that, we went to ISM so Rebecca could get ready for her ballet recital. She took Ballet 1 this semester as an afterschool activity and last night's performance was the culmination of all the rehearsals for all the dance programs.
To put it mildly, we were impressed. I know that many of the kids take dance outside of school as well, but the talent shown on stage really amazed us. Ok, Ballet 1 is Ballet 1 no matter where you go. They had great costumes and enjoyed their minutes in the spotlight while they tried to remember what the next step was and didn't look too terrified. The older kids sparkled in more than their costumes with their tap and jazz programs. It lasted for nearly 2 hours and Rebecca was beat as were the rest of us. Because we're clueless newbie parents of kids involved in outside activities, we'd totally missed getting everyone dinner, so 8 p.m. rolled around with Jonathon conked out and the rest starving but too tired to actually eat. Next time we'll know.
Next time? When will that be? We'll be leaving before the end of the next semester so there won't be another recital for us in Manila. Thoughts like that one keep coming up and they're starting to make me sad. Our next post, well... you heard it hear first, it's no Manila. ISM has been a wonderful school and I will miss it as much as the kids will. They offer so many opportunities for learning and self-learning I just don't know how Togo can match it. I know that Lome will have its own pros and cons but right now I'm in the phase of seeing all the things we're leaving behind, more good than bad. Even as I curse the drivers, I get teary-eyed at the mountains in the distance and the stunning colors of the sunsets. Even as I grumble about the crappy food, I talk to my friends and hear the latest on Audrey and Liesl. Even as I fume over the red tape and inequality, I feel the gorgeous breeze and the warmth and I know, I know that when our time comes, I will miss it here terribly.

Friday, December 10, 2004


Last night was the Consular Christmas Party, held at the Century Park Hotel across the way from Harrison Plaza.

Even though it was in a ballroom, the party went from 3p.m.-whenever and was very casual. With a theme of "Naughty or Nice" there was quite a range of outfits which played into the Ms/Mr Naughty/Nice competition. The food was OK, the skits were fun and the people enjoyable. My biggest issue was the hotel apparently trying to create a winter wonderland atmosphere with ice sculptures and a room temperature that could create snow if only there was a little more moisture in the air. What was I thinking wearing a sleeveless shirt and neglecting a sweater or wrap? Jackie from NIV was kind enough to share her pre-costume dress which doubled nicely as a wrap.
I'll write about the skits later, or better, have Ian write about them. Right now it's breakfast time before going to Rockwell and see what's up with my cellphone. Of all days, yesterday it died on me. Then this afternoon we're seeing a story of Peter Pan at the CCP followed by Rebecca's ballet recital.
Oh, and while our donated single fare to Xiamen was the grand prize, we didn't stay to the end of the party to see if we could win it back.

Thursday, December 9, 2004


I have to say "owie" for how my mouth currently feels after have some gum removed from covering a wisdom tooth.

During the procedure I felt like I was inhaling totally burnt chicken. How's that for a thought? It was nasty and my gum looks plain awful. The dentist assured me that it wouldn't hurt when the local wore off and that it would most likely itch. ITCH? No sir, the anaesthetic is wearing off and I can definitely say it does not itch. It plain hurts. Owie.
So now I'm at home for a few minutes before getting the boys and I have a list of things to accomplish a mile long and I just want to take a nap. I should at least get all the rest of the clean clothes put away. I've gotten -so- bad at that. Taking the clothes down, sorting, putting in washer, putting in dryer, taking out of dryer... all in a day's work. Actually folding and putting them away? It can take weeks. I'm not kidding. It's bad. But the other day Ian and I went through both baskets and put them all in separate piles. Now the piles have been on the floor for two days and I'm telling myself right now to get them gone. Here I go... watch me go...
OK, all done. No, that's a lie, there's still a pile of towels. Give me a sec...
Done! Woohoo! Now it's noon and I have to think about getting the boys.
I know why I feel a bit discombobulated and it doesn't have (much) to do with my mouth aching. Owie. Actually, it's because there are piles all over the house. Not of clean clothes anymore, but other things. There's the suitcase in our bedroom that's open and gathering clothes I want to pack for our trip home (yes, I'm an early packer). There are the paintings and other framed works piled against the walls because we don't want to bother with driving nails into concrete at the moment. There's the pile that's getting donated to the school for typhoon relief. There's the pile for Katherine's donation project. There's the multitide of paper/book/magazine piles that need to be shelved or thrown out. Piles piles everywhere, all in various states of doneness.

Tuesday, December 7, 2004

Go me!

Christmas cards were dropped off at the FPO. Watch your mail boxes. There might even be a photo inside, so don't drop it in the snow. And just remember that if you are sending us a card, please DO NOT put Manila, Philippines anywhere on the envelope. Someone did recently and it took weeks and weeks getting through the local mail system.

Monday, December 6, 2004

Passing of a friend

We learned today that one of Ian's college friends died on Tuesday. Fred Franke was teaching in northeast China, became ill and died suddenly while in hospital. His case is being managed by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, and one of Ian's A100 classmates in Beijing is keeping him informed on the proceedings.

Sunday, December 5, 2004

What a weekend.

Friday was another day off for Typhoon Nanmadol. Saturday was a step up. And today I felt like we lived at the mall.

School on Friday was canceled again, even though the storm pushed through overnight. The concern here is the typhoon, obviously, but even moreso the flooding, mudslides and general chaos that occur afterwards. So while the rains had slowed and the wind had ceased, those who lived a little further out could have a treacherous drive. Therefore, no school.
I'm not sure what we did that morning, it was so long ago, but once whatever was finished, I was reminded that Rebecca had a birthday party at 3:30 that afternoon, Katherine was invited to a friend's house and we were invited to the Taylor's for a bit. Were we housebound? Oh well, it was practically sunny out already.
So Katherine was off to string popcorn and play, and the rest of us went to Glorietta where Rebecca spent her P2000 Cinderella gift certificate for her modeling. That was a lot of fun and she picked out some great clothes including a knee length jean skirt and some summer shirts for next year. We splurged on some Auntie Anne's pretzels and I had my eyes checked at Perez Optical. Two new sets of glasses are mine (I figure lenses are cheap to replace or upgrade, but frames cost a fortune at home so might as well get them here).
Missions accomplished, we dropped Rebecca off at her birthday party, picked up Katherine, then went to AJ, Abby and Aiden's house for some chat and playtime. By the time we got home it was dark, but seeing as it was Friday night there was no rush to toss everyone in bed. We hung out and made plans for Saturday.
So the tree decorations came out Saturday morning. This year it's a kid tree so I didn't bother putting out any of the adult decorations. With four kids and new ornaments each year, we have plenty to cover every branch and eventually we'll have to buy a bigger tree, preferably a prelit one with the terrible stringing job I did. My mom called which is a good thing since I'd completely forgotten it was Saturday. The kids had been home for two days already so all my days were mixed up, but they enjoyed talking to folks back home and the tree eventually was done. The cats can't get enough of all the dangling things, which makes me wish we had a couple fewer furry creatures in the house.
Rebecca had invited two of her classmates to go swimming and have lunch with us. One had a piano recital, the other came down sick. I think she'll remember this birthday as the one where nothing went right. We still went swimming and a bunch of their friends were there as well, and we still ate at the Seafront Club where she very maturely chose potato and leek soup with a side of mozarella sticks. But you know, no matter how much other fun stuff happens, it's just not the same as the plans you'd hoped for. I felt so bad that everything went wrong for her from typhoons to illness.
Post lunch, we took on the nasty task of going to Harrison Plaza, down the street from the CCP. Harrison is the oldest mall in Manila, which means it's probably the oldest in the Philippines. It shows it too. It's dark, grungy and there are some unpleasant folks who hang around. I don't know if smoking is banned, but it doesn't seem to matter if it is. There's a Balut Eggspress trolley and "free parking" that is monitored by dozens of yellow vested guys who insist you pay P20 to park in the gravel lot. It's a joy to visit, and we did so to drop off some pictures to be framed and to check out a rug shop. The real reason we went here of all our choices is the proximity to Seafront. I can stop by while the boys are in preschool to pick up the frames when they're ready. I can't wait to actually put up all these things in our new place. Currently we're just getting them framed and stacking them up against the wall at home. No sense putting things up now, right?
Finally home, it was time to get dolled up, for last night was the Consular Ball held at the Shangri-La Hotel in Makati. It was fun. I admit, yes, it was fun to get dressed up a bit and sit with a table of friends while eating and listening to a live band. Photographers were everywhere, and like the Oscars there was talk of this dress and that, from the subdued to the extravagant. I bet you're wondering what I wore? A leftover from the mid-90s, sad to say, but it fit the black tie bill as a floor length velvet gown with black velvet shoes, updated only with gorgeous shawl that made it all acceptable. Of course we sat at a table with Tahwanda who had bought loads of embroidered silk in Bangkok and had a stunning gown made for her. I was so envious thank goodness my dress was already green. I've told Ian that if he gets the tuxedo made that he -should- have, I would get a dress made. Now to face the reality that I know absolutely nothing about fabrics, style or anything else that makes a good dress. But then what does Ian know about tuxedoes, right? Right?
And guess what, I won a raffle prize. Oh no, not the cruise of the Greek islands, not the tickets for 2 to anywhere in Europe, not the four days in Hong Kong with air and hotel, not the trip to El Nido... no no no. We won a single economy plane ticket to Xiamen, China. Who wants to come with me!? Oh wait, you can't! Because it's only one ticket!
That one is getting tossed into the raffle at the Embassy Consular Christmas party. Not that I'm not grateful for winning something, but I have no intention of going to Xiamen and neither does Ian, so we'll let some other lucky soul go.
We were home by 11:10 which isn't bad for something that started at 7:00.
So that brings us to today. We desperately need to go grocery shopping, but hey there are more important things to do. With church done, I put our Christmas photo on a CD and we went back to Glorietta. Some additional Christmas shopping accomplished, we made our way to the entertainment center where "Aladdin and Jasmine Star Struck" was going to be performed. There's always a section blocked off with chairs but I've never been a lucky one to sit there, so this time I figured I'd at least ask what the guidelines were for getting a seat. The sign said holders of the Ayala value card and "shoppers", whatever that meant, but as I was asking, one of the organizers came up and ushered us past the ropes and into seats. Off to the side and a few rows back we could see just fine. Then another organizer came up and asked if one of the girls would like to be a princess. Of course both arms shot up but the luck of the Katherine continued. We were moved to the very front and center row, Katherine was given a crown, a wand and a line and we watched the production. After a round of religious Christmas carols and a rap of "You down with G-O-D?" it began and in 45 minutes we had the abbreviated and lip synched quasi-Disney version of Aladdin, with local girls literally screaming over the male lead whenever he came into the audience.
Katherine did great. At the point where Aladdin is told that only a princess from another kingdom can grant his wish to become a prince, they looked into the audience and the very blue genie came down and brought her up on the stage. Aladdin knelt and implored her to grant his wish. She replied "So glad you asked... Done!" with a wave of her wand. It was perfect and once again she declared that she wants to be on TV when she grows up. Sometimes I think she just might do it.
There was the issue of Rebecca who had also volunteered but lost out, yet again. Katherine would not give up her crown, no chance, but showing her new colors and her attempts at controlling herself, she told Ian that while she was disappointed it was OK that Katherine would be the princess. Ian says that secretly she was relieved, for Rebecca is still a bit shy in public.
So it all worked out and my kids are growing up even while Jonathon insists he's still a baby. It was a great weekend with a yummy lunch at TGI Fridays and all in all, I'm happy with my clan.

Thursday, December 2, 2004

Not All Washed Out

It's been a day of ups and downs.

The downs were out of our control. Typhoon Nanmadol is blowing through (it's 10 p.m. now and the winds are blustering), following two other typhoons that have come through parts of the Philippines in the past seven days and left hundreds dead from flooding and mudslides. It didn't actually hit our neighborhood until early evening, but the kids had off from school because of the Storm Signal 2 that was announced late last night.
Because of the storm, Katherine's class didn't get to go on their field trip to a local school. She was totally bummed.
And because of the storm, I didn't get to see a friend before she leaves the country tomorrow.
And because of the storm, Rebecca didn't get to celebrate her birthday with her classmates. Wednesday night we'd made cupcakes and were all set to bring then in to share this morning.
So there's the big Up, amazingly Rebecca has turned Seven. On Thanksgiving I was remarking to one of our friends that while Rebecca was turning seven she had just begun to fit comfortably into six. She's young for her age and always has been.
Ten days ago she made a count down chart and has been announcing the days remaining. Ian has asked her each day if she knew the difference between right and wrong, recalling that seven is the age of reason. He was kidding with her that she wouldn't be allowed to turn seven if she didn't know, and once she did turn seven she wouldn't be allowed to do wrong anymore. While we were mostly joking, she got the point that it's time to do some growing up.
Then this morning Ian and I looked at each other and said "She... looks older."
She honestly does. I think it had a lot to do with her demeanor, knowing it was her day, knowing that she was growing up a bit more, knowing that she is indeed special.
We managed to eat some of her party cupcakes, the tree went up (what else do you do while housebound in December? though we usually wait until Saint Nicholas Day on the 6th) and the blue and white lights went on. The girls hung bead ropes on the tree in a unique design. Though the tree blinks hideously, the kids love it, and so it stays. Becca and I played Stratego and she almost beat me. A good mom would have let her have the win, I know. We drew pictures together, hers was Santa's sleigh being pulled by flying elephants, Nicholas's was of our Christmas tree. Jonathon's is very blue but I can't quite make out what it is though he said it was a box. We watched Rebecca's choice of "The Secret Garden" and after dinner, of course, present time. Her sister had bought her a shiny red bead bracelet at the ISM Filipiniana Tiangge. Katherine always picks great gifts for Rebecca and it's obvious she loves her, for even in the e-card Katherine wrote:
Dear Rebecca,
A very happy birthday to you!!!
I still love you, even if you are very annoing.
All together now... Awwww. Ok, maybe that's a stretch. But the degree to which the two of them are getting along, holding hands in the mall, chatting together, etc. It's almost enough to make one think they are in cahouts about something. That or they actually do like each other. Could it be?
From mom and dad she received a scrapbook starter kit with a new camera. And from grandma and grandpa she has a new ballet bag for her outfit and shoes, and a new Checkers board game. We said that if the power is out tomorrow, it'll be the first game played in the morning.
You might be wondering why I said "amazingly" earlier in this entry. Rebecca isn't the easiest kid to get along with sometimes. She is a defiant manipulator with more than little white lies. There were days I didn't know if she'd make it to her next birthday. OK, that's exaggerating but you get the drift. Some days she can be really hard to like. Today was not one of those days. Today she was everything I could imagine her to be... a good sister, a wonderful daughter, an artist, a fair player, gracious and all this with a glowing smile and the ability to make us laugh. She made me proud to be her mom.
Now the hard part. How to get it out of her mind that because tomorrow is the 2nd in the States that she gets to have a second birthday and turn Eight right away?

Sunday, November 28, 2004

All Aboard

Yesterday we saw “The Polar Express”.

If you’re debating between taking your kids to see “The Polar Express” or “The Incredibles”, choose the former. Absolutely. People have said that they’ve found the train ride too intense, but my kids are all for adventure. I will take a roller coaster train ride over characters shooting at each other or menacing adults threatening children. Polar made me laugh and cry, but wasn’t overly sentimental. There’s singing and dancing, without being a musical. All in all a really good movie and at just over 1 ½ hours it wasn’t too long.
We’ve also made a decision about going to Vietnam. With the new guidelines for entering the Senior Foreign Service, Ian needs to have a major region (three tours) and a minor region (two tours), along with two languages and a plethora of other requirements (hard to fill position. There’s a good chance we’ll return to Asia at some point to fulfill some of these requirements and we would rather have my dad with us when we do go to Vietnam. After Christmas my dad already has travel plans, so he wouldn’t be able to meet us there. I think we’ll get more from the visit if we’re able to see some of it through his eyes. So with that, Vietnam will wait for us. I look forward to it.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Thanksgiving Leftovers

Not the turkey type, the passing comments that make you go "huh?".

On Thursday I was in Katherine's class with a couple other moms for two hours, playing games, showing slides, eating (of course) and doing crafts. The craft I brought in was a Thankful Tree. Baseically a bare tree on cardstock and the kids traced their hands, wrote all the things they were thankful for on them and then I attached them on to the tree as the leaves. No, I forgot to take a picture of it so you can't see it!
When I was explaining the craft to the group, I asked them to think of things they were thankful for, so that everyone would have the basic idea. One girl right away said she was thankful for her birth mom letting her be adopted. OK, if that doesn't bring a tear to your eye, I don't know what would. Then a boy said he was thankful for his two families. I gave him a quizzical look and he said he was adopted too. This really took me aback, because he was in Katherine's class last year and the summer before was the whole birthday invitation weirdness. This was Wendell Macapagal.
I told him that I never knew he was adopted and that it was a wonderful thing to be thankful for both your families.
He followed with "Did you know Monday is a holiday? It's supposed to be Tuesday but my aunt changed it. My aunt is the President, you know."
Yes, I did know, and I still had to fight to not laugh out loud. What he said wasn't that funny and I wasn't ridiculing it at all, but just the way the thoughts rolled off his tongue... I thought it was kinda charming! I have to say that Wendell is a really nice kid, always has been and I didn't find his comments irritating like I might have from a different child.
OK, then today the AmeriKids had their celebration which they shared with twenty kids from an orphanage. They went to the playground, blew bubbles, shared in a turkey feast and gave out gifts along with stacks of donated items for the orphanage. On the way to join the kids, I was in the car listening to the radio. There's always something interesting that makes me laugh or go "huh?" and today was no exception.
First item: Apparently someone in Vancouver, CA decided today should be a day of simplicty and they encouraged folks to stay out of the stores and avoid consumerism. Any red-blooded American knows what today is... Black Friday. Of course, in the Philippines (and Canada too), the "day after Thanksgiving mob at the mall" means nothing. I just had to chuckle.
Second item: Today in Charlottesville, VA is "Cut Your Christmas Tree Day". The DJ said "They must have a lot of pine trees. Reminds me of Baguio". Anyone who makes that sort of comparison needs a vacation to our pine tree forests. I wonder if they'd think it reminded them of Baguio then. Again, I had to chuckle.
As for us, the turkey is just about gone, I went through the gifts we've bought for the kids, I wrote our Christmas letter and we're making our plans for Bohol. Our last holiday season in the Philippines? Where has the time gone?

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Giving Thanks

A wonderful thankgiving to all our family and friends. I hope your day is filled with love and friendship. We are all truly blessed.

Last year we spent the Thanksgiving holiday with just our little family. The kids didn't get the day off (it's an International School after all, can't give off everyone's holidays, though a bunch of second grade parents did put together a Thanksgiving Day celebration, so that was fun) so I'd made a small chicken and some sides, and we had a basic dinner at home. I guess it was better than going out, but not much. Ask Ian and he'll say it was pretty sad.
Fast forward to this year. Nine kids and fifteen adults gathered poolside at Seafront to celebrate the companionship of each other, along with plenty of turkey and sides and desserts. My worries over a turkey that simply wouldn't register 180 on the meat thermometer were unfounded. Both Laura's turkey and mine were yummy and so far no one has come down with salmonella poisoning. I should probably look up what the time table for that to develop is, shouldn't I?
The kids played, ate and swam. The adults ate, chatted and doled out food. We all smacked at mosquitoes and tried not to step on the stray cat circling our food tables. Lisa and Matt took turns watching the kids, which I am grateful for because I didn't get my lazy butt up and over to the pool to do it. Catherine and Laura brought Liesl and Audrey, so I got some nice baby time. Stephenie lent us tables even though she's at Club Noah right now. Chris brought drinks, everyone pitched in with too much food (as is expected for Thanksgiving) and even better, some new arrivals joined us at our impromptu table. One couple is on their second tour, after a stint in Benin. They arrived on Tuesday and are still on the time difference roller-coaster, so I was double impressed that at 6p.m. they were relatively functional.
For today, those of us away from family with no traveling plans, spent time together. In logistics it wasn't much different than many other potluck get-togethers, but with such a family oriented holiday it was important that we share it even as casual as shorts and San Mig. We even neglected (not on purpose) a prayer of thanks before eating.
But I don't think it was any secret that we were indeed thankful. For each other and for our families back home.
Just for today, we were each other's Manila family.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

T minus Turkey and Counting

Our Thanksgiving plans seem to be materializing on their own.

Aside from ARC refusing to let us use the empty indoor air conditioned rooms on Thursday (unless we purchase $250 worth of turkey from the Grill), everything is falling into place. We have been allowed to fight the mosquitoes on the patio between the building and the pool and bring all the food we want. The bonus is that now we have nothing to stop the kids from spending their time in the pool until the food is prepared. That wouldn’t be possible if we had to mess with those silly air conditioning and carpeting things, right?
I’ve already bought a turkey (Laura is doing the other one) and it’s thawing happily in the fridge, though I’m having huge worries about cooking it right. I’m a terrible cook (have I mentioned that before?) and aside from a handful of foods I make regularly it’s rare that a dish I haven’t practiced on extensively actually turns out. I’ve also made squash soup and craisin oatmeal cookies, but those are tough to mess up. Now all I need to do is get through the bazaar tomorrow where I’ll be picking up the last few things for Christmas and then the Thanksgiving program in Katherine’s class on Thursday morning.
Thanksgiving will be held from 3-7p.m. to accommodate the kids who still have school that day, including our girls. Originally we started with potentially fifteen people, but that number has swelled to nearly thirty. Thirty of us away from family for the holiday will gather together and be family to each other for the evening.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

The Proper Channels

I thought I was doing a good thing, but this just goes to show how out of the loop I really am. Why didn’t I remember that to do anything within any organization requires paper and signatures and a whole lot more clout than I have?

So I’ve been working in the ARC library for a few months now. Laura has done some, Carol W. has done some. The library moved across the hall to a smaller room, leaving several boxes of books in storage and too many outdated and useless books on the shelves. There’s a good number of Filipiniana and historically useful books on planes and seashells and all that good stuff.
But this is a community library, at least that’s how I perceive it. It’s not a research library, so books that haven’t been taken out in years I’ve been pulling off and putting them into the store room, while filtering out duplicates of current authors and thinning out the ranks of the romances and true murder tales.
My work is done. There are two small piles that need to be shelved, but I’ve done the majority to get the library functional again. Theoretically I should be able to go in a couple times a week to reshelve returned books and if I feel like it, organize the kids’ books better. But the point is, all the boxes have been sifted through and what I subjectively deemed of interest to the American public is readily available.
So what about the rest? The stacks in storage? Well, my thought was to sell them at a book sale. This weekend was the ARC Christmas Bazaar and it sounded like a good idea to do it at the same time since folks would be at Seafront anyway. I brought up the idea to the ARC office, they said OK and wouldn’t you know 30 minutes later Virginia Forster (later discovered to be the Embassy curator) showed up to ask what I was doing.
Arise the subject of “value”.
Yes, many of the Filipiniana books as single run publications have a monetary value to them. But more importantly in my opinion is their use value. Currently in the ARC library, they are not cared for but more than that, they aren’t used. And any value that they might have has seriously been depreciated by the stained and mildewed state of these rare books. She said that she didn’t want the books appraised so really my question is, what does it matter what their actual value is then? If they are of use to the Embassy then they need to be moved out of the general circulation and put where those who want them can get to them. Otherwise I feel that they would be better housed in a university somewhere.
It wasn’t just the Filipiniana that was discussed. There are so many ancient children’s books on the shelves that at one point would have been worth a lot of money. But the state they are in is plain terrible. Age, heat, moisture, insects, mold have all taken away much of the monetary value and have reduced these 1950s editions to “just plain old”. While it would be nice to know about the series of Nancy Drews and others, I kept coming back to the thought… who cares? If they are discovered to be of high value, then what? Take them off the shelves so they aren’t used? Sold? What would the money go to? And why bother selling them if kids in the community are borrowing and reading them. And even more, returning them. Ms. Foster was concerned about books disappearing off the shelves. As far as I can see, that’s a given. Especially with how transient our population is, there are bound to be books that end up on home shelves in Pakistan and Ecuador because someone forgot to return it before packout. I don’t think folks are going to be malicious about it, stealing books to sell on ebay. These books have been on the shelves for the past 20 years, that’s not going to change now. What do I know, though. I’m just a volunteer.
So, in trying to get all the books on the shelves in the room half the size of the former library room, there are now these boxes of paperback romances and true serial killer mysteries. There are duplicates of popular current authors. There are textbooks that could keep 20 high school kids very happy. There are two complete sets of outdated encyclopedia sets and too many bound copies of National Geographic magazines to count. I said let’s sell them, let’s donate them, let’s sell them and donate the money, but whatever we do, let’s get them out of storage and let them be used. I wasn’t going to touch the rare books or the kids’ books, just the ones I thought anyone in my shoes would agree with.
I brought it up to ARC, but I didn’t bring it up to the ARC board and I certainly didn’t pass it through the Embassy curator and various Embassy library type officials. My bad. I also didn’t suggest that if a donation was to be made to someone that a big ole ceremony accompany it. I’d love to see Museo Pambata’s roving library get a whole new set of books to share, but if it were me I’d just give it to them quietly and let it be.
That isn’t the way an Embassy is run, even if we’re just talking about the community library. There has to be some sort of program sheet to go with it to make sure that somebody gets the credit and their name in lights. In reality, it's a donated library, where people drop books they don't want adding weight to their HHE. I don't feel it really belongs to anyone but the community (and I have real issues with only ARC members getting to use it, but that's a separate rant) and I don't know why someone in particular has to take credit for it.
I dropped the idea of the book sale once I was informed that Ms. Foster had canceled it anyway. It’s not a battle I needed to fight and certainly not something I needed to rush around to board members to try to work through. The books aren’t going anywhere and if the past is any indication, they won’t be going anywhere for a long time yet. I won’t be here forever either, so I don’t have a strong attachment to the library. I just thought cleaning it up was a good idea and I did have fun doing it.
The only negative thing I’ve come away with? Realizing there’s even more books out there I want to read. Where does anyone find the time?

The Cholesterol Caper

Our med checks have been completed, now we wait for our clearances.

There was one surprise on my check, my cholesterol has shot up to 209 during the past 20 months. We all know the “healthy” cutoff is 200. The doctor said not to change anything I’m doing though, as my “good” cholesterol aka HDL was 99. The goal is to be greater than or equal to 40, so I blew that out of the water. Maybe it’s all the canola oil we cook with, who knows, but I know that it’s probably genetically related as my mother has the same ratio of HDL to total cholesterol. My triglycerides were ok too.
OK, the point of this entry. The day I found out my level I got cocky and decided to make a bet with Ian. When he received his results we would compare and if my level was lower then I asked him to quit drinking soda for a month. If his level was lower he came up with me doing Dance Dance Revolution every night for a month. Oh, you know what Dance Dance Revolution is if you’ve ever been by an arcade. Those pads that you hop around on while a screen scrolls arrows or dots to show how your feet or hands should move? We have the foot pad connected to the Xbox in our bedroom. A dance program of bouncy repetition.
The day came for Ian’s results this past Friday. The kids and I sat watching Survivor in the waiting room, and guess who came out gloating.
This obnoxious man had a total cholesterol of 129. No, you didn’t read that wrong. He has always had a lower level than me, but this is getting ridiculous. I eat less and better than he does. I exercise more (ok, perhaps that’s a stretch but I am on the move more than he is). And I still come out short. His HDL was low at a pathetic 38, but who cares! His triglycerides came in at 87, almost half of the recommend under-150. And… arg. I just don’t think it’s fair!
Of course he had no sympathy. I made a bargain and that is that. We had company last night so I had a reprieve from my first night, but I don’t think he’ll be as forgiving tonight.
I’m ready to Dance Dance Revolution. Bring it on.

A Taste of Togo

No internet access for the past 3 days. We are so spoiled, but really it's like not getting postal mail for 3 weeks when you're used to immediate responses and you have to wait three whole days to get those messages. But we're back! At least for now.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

What Philippine high school girls think...

I spoke to a group of high school students today, as part of an Embassy educational program called International Education Week.

Several of us were asked to go to local high schools to talk about our experiences overseas as well as any other questions they had. I went to St. Scholastica's College for girls in Manila. In the Philippines, high school ends at age 16, so these were all 15-16-year-olds. It took a little while to get them to open up and ask questions, but it turned out to be a good two hours. Thankfully, only about a third of the questions were visa-related.
Here are some of the questions they asked:
-- How do you get a tourist visa? (Of course, the first question..)
-- Why can't the Philippines finish an election in a day like the U.S.? (I turned this around and used it to explain the electoral college and the effect of media projections on election night, saying that it actually does take many days to complete an official U.S. election.)
-- How can I go to college in the U.S.? How can I get a scholarship?
-- Why did I become a Government Official? (Because I have no personality and like dark suits... But really, this turned out to be a good discussion, where I talked about the differences we have with most people who live in the U.S., and why "Living here is more important to us than basketball." (They oohed and aahed at that line. It was really quite profound, but the set-up is important.)
-- Where do my children go to school?
-- Where am I going next? (Inevitable follow-ups: Where is Togo? What is in Togo?)
-- What have you noticed about Filipinos, and Filipino teenagers?
-- Who did you vote for?
And some stranger questions...
-- What is in Area 57? (They meant Area 51... sorry ma'am, that's classified.)
-- Are Americans selling rights to the moon? (Huh?)

Monday, November 15, 2004

C'est incroyable!

We saw "The Incredibles" today.

Ian and I have different impressions of it. While we both agreed it was too long and too talky, he didn't see a problem with the loads of violence that I did. I thought the story was too complicated (even Katherine didn't quite get it) and it had too much adult humor and adult situations. In fact aside from a couple spots that were obviously funny to any age, most of the dialogue and action was geared to adults. Unlike Shrek 2 that had adult humor amidst fairy tale creatures, the Incredibles were more like James Bond meets the the Fantastic Four... neither of which my kids have any exposure to. Every time the action slowed, the boys gots antsy and asked if the movie was done yet. They weren't involved in the storyline as it was all over their heads from marital trouble to crushes in school. And the action was entirely people shooting and things smashing and blowing up. People were killed in the movie. Granted they weren't explicitly shown, but what else can happen to characters sucked into plane engines and blown up by bombs? And if your kids are sensitive to children in danger, dads held hostage, kidnappings and that sort of thing... well, it's all in there.
OK, like I said, if you ask Ian he'll say the kids liked it and so did he. I thought it was OK, but I would encourage the 5 and under set -NOT- to see it. I don't think Rebecca got much out of it either, but it wasn't her kind of movie to begin with. It was fine for Katherine and yet... I don't know.
Someone said they thought the violence was no different than a Looney Tunes cartoon. I guess I can take an eight minute shot of TV screen sized cartoon violence a lot easier than two hours of movie screen sized cartoon violence.
My final thoughts: too long, too complicated, too talky and too much violence. There are better kids movies out there. I'm looking forward to seeing "Polar Express" and "Madagascar".
Side note: We've been spoiled by the movie theaters we generally go to. Usually we go to Greenbelt 3 or Rockwell Poweplant, but the showings we wanted were sold out. So we went to Greenbelt 1 where the rows aren't tiered, the seats are first come-first served, and they let us in the theater before the earlier showing was even done! Well, at least they had boosters for the smaller kids. Jonathon didn't keep getting flipped up by his chair.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

On the catwalk, part 2

OK, I had a long post written and then the program connection crashed and I stupidly hadn't saved it in Word so...

Here's the abbreviated version since I'm too tired to rewrite the whole thing.

We arrived at Robinson's Galleria on Ortigas at noon and the show wasn't until 4 p.m. Yeah, that's a long time to hang out, especially if you're not going to rehearse the girls on their walk or poses. At 2 p.m. the program started with a teen dance troupe, a few rounds of the "give me" game (which I absolutely can't stand because it encourages kids to attack their parents and demand various objects in order to barrel over each other to the stage and win a prize), a coloring contest and a Totally Spies quiz show. Ian and the boys didn't hang out for the first couple hours, they went to DreamScape and the movies instead. DreamScape is an indoor playland with bumper cars, roller coaster, carousel, log flume and other rides and games. At the theater, they would have preferred to see "The Incredibles" but the timing was bad, so "Shark Tale" took its place. I don't think it made that much of an impact though. According to the boys the only thing that happened was a shark eats a fish at some point. OK then. But they were happy. For a while Ian disappeared to Starbucks with Randy (Kristine's husband) to get some coffee. I can't blame him. Even while he enjoys malls and shopping, this was a bit much for everyone.
So at 4 p.m. the girls took the stage. They'd had their make-up done, Kristine had brought glitter for their hair (two of her daughters were in the show as well) and they felt quite glamorous with the lights and photographers. Some of the clothes were even nice! Which is good because each of them receives a gift certificate to the Cinderella stores which markets Osh Kosh garments, on top of the gift bags from "Bobbie", a cosmetics line. I can't wait to go shopping with the girls and pick up some cute things for next year.
Lights and music on, they did the show. Some of the kids had done this before. A couple have been modeling for a while for Barbie and Goldilocks so they were old pros. A few others were new but seemed to feel comfortable. My girls... were not. Katherine is so lanky and flexible that every move she made was exaggerated and she had a serious aire about her. Rebecca was so shy she practically ran across the stage, entirely forgetting to look up or stop to show off the clothes.
But they had a great time and if they never do this again, it's fine by me. I'm impressed they both completed the job and had a lot of fun doing it too. Every time my family does something new it makes me proud, so this is another notch in my Mom Belt of Family Achievements. Yup, I'm keeping track.
And kudos to Ian for putting up with it all.
I gotta say, my family is pretty cool.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Time passes

I still haven't met Audrey Noel. She's 5 days old and we haven't even met. The girls are finishing up a project for her, so I guess it's just as well that we haven't gone over to see them. But she sure is cute, if her pictures are at all true to life.

On the catwalk

This morning I didn't wake up until almost 7 and didn't crawl out of bed until almost 8. We've had a late couple of nights.

One night I blame "Fahrenheit 9/11" for keeping us up. Last night, Ian and I both were finishing our books so I blame those. He finished _Dark Star Rising_ by Paul Theroux. I finished _Memoirs of a Geisha_ by Arthur Golden. Did I mention that Katherine has finished all the Harry Potter books? She did that a while ago. I'm not sure what series to suggest to her next. We have the Narnia series but she doesn't seem interested in those yet. She has been reading a lot of shorter chapter books so I'm trying to keep the shelves stocked, but while I thought there were still plenty to choose from, I recently learned she's read almost all of them. Any ideas for a good, thicker series that she can sink her teeth into?
On deck I have _Schindler's Ark_, _The Village of Waiting_, _The Killing Fields_, and I still haven't finished _Glitter and Greed_. _Memoirs of a Geisha_ was OK but didn't touch me the way I expected it to. Yet another example of hearing too much about something before finding out myself. I've been disappointed by too many movies and books that others have said were not to be missed. I trust Ian's impressions but it's not like I can have everything go through him first.
I'm ready to pick up a new book. Usually I like to let a book sink in for a while so I can ponder it. I did that with _The DaVinci Code_ and with _The Poisonwood Bible_. I don't feel the need after _Geisha_. Hmm, what next?
We went to the DVD and music store today and bought a stack of new VCDs and some new music CDs. I think we're getting into Togo mode and are stocking up on home activities for the family. Like I mentioned before, group gifts are the way this Christmas. The Scholastic book order came in so there's a big box of books for under the tree too.
What else did we do today. I'm tired, this entry is obviously disjointed. OK, we went up to Quezon City (just another suburb of Manila) to do a clothing rehearsal for a fashion show the girls are doing tomorrow. That should be fun if the girls get over their nervousness. I've told them to let the music guide them in how they move and to feel like they're dancing as they walk. I can't help but think that if they do those, they'll feel happy and look happy. We'll see if it works. We tried to see "The Incredibles" today but it just opened at all the shows were sold out. Maybe Ian and the boys can go see it tomorrow while the girls do their rehearsal at Robinson's Galleria. We just won't tell the girls... shhhh.
I'll let you know how it all goes.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Things that Make you Go Hmm

Last night we watched Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11"

The majority of the American population elected and then re-elected this man.

I already had my opinions of him before seeing the film. There's nothing more to say.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Katherine and boys

During Filipinia Week, they held a barrio fiesta and one stop Katherine made was at the fortune teller.

Our exchange:
Katherine: That fortune teller wasn’t very good.
Me: Why? What did she say?
Katherine: Well, when I asked if I was going to be in a Harry Potter movie, she said No! And that’s not true.
Imagine me stifling loads of giggles.
See, we’ve been talking to her about Daniel Radcliffe and she has it in her head that all she has to do is ask him and she’ll be awarded a part in the last Harry Potter movie (for by then she will be 11, and finally old enough to be a First Year at Hogwarts). Of course, she has yet to actually write and ask such a thing, but for her it’s a done deal. We’ve told her she’d fit perfectly at Draco’s little sister Draconia. Never mind that so far Draco doesn’t have any siblings, nor is there a good likelihood she would be called Draconia. She’s sold.
In real life though, AJ (remember him? They arrived a couple months ago and we tried to break into their house) is 10 and when the two of them are together they are inseparable. We’ve seen the family at the pool on Sundays recently, and AJ and Katherine cross paths at school. One time when I was picking up the girls Rebecca and I were standing at the bottom of the stairwell waiting for Katherine to come down. AJ came by and I waved. He went around the corner then returned so I inquired if everything was OK. He said he was fine, just that he wanted to say hello and when I saw Katherine if I could tell her hello for him as well.
Have I mentioned what a nice kid he is and how he has a slight resemblance to Harry Potter?

Christmas is right around the corner!

There's only 45 days left! Rush to your nearest store!

We took stock of what we have for the kids this year. Several years ago, I'd envisioned birthdays with personal gifts and Christmas with sharing gifts. This year it seems to have worked. Each kids is getting an individual gift aside from stocking stuffers on December 6th, but the rest are group gifts. A box of books. A box of movies. A box of board games. A box of dress-up. I hope they enjoy it all.
We have Harry Potter items for Katherine. Ian bought an autographed photo of the cast off ebay, so that is framed. I also framed her photo from her fan letter and she's getting a Gringotts money bank. Nicholas is getting a remote controlled car. A big honkin' thing that daddy picked out. Rebecca is getting a box full of art supplies from paper to paints to pastels. Jonathon is getting... I don't know. I have totally drawn a blank for the kid.
Thank goodness there's 45 days left.

And the award goes to...

Congratulations to Laura and Ryan, as they and the rest of the Embassy community welcome...

Audrey Noel, born 8 November 2004, right on Seafront in a successful homebirth.
Kudos to the new parents for making and bringing into the world a beautiful little girl. I can't wait to meet her. If you've been reading the previous entry, you know why I haven't. While I am not sick (yet) I'm sure that my houseful of germs is clinging to me like glue. Goodness knows I don't want to be the cause of Audrey's first illness. Hopefully I'll get to meet her and see how Laura is doing on Friday. Ryan is an amazing husband who can do anything (he cooks, he quilts, and he cleans too) and I've seen him with Katherine and Weston's little girl, Liesl, so I know he's being the perfect dad.
Congrats to the new family! Love you guys.

The 12 Hour Bug

It’s come to my attention that I haven’t journaled recently. That’s hardly my fault! We were in Thailand for a week and the computer/internet has been having issues making it difficult for even me to reach our site to post. Bear with me, OK? We’re all doing fine. Well, maybe that’s not the whole truth.

Monday morning about 1 a.m. Katherine got extremely ill. She was sick the rest of the morning until about 11 a.m. All night she was up and about, moving from room to room trying to sleep but all that accomplished was her leaving a trail behind her as she ran to this bathroom or that one. Honestly, at one point I asked her just to stay in her room so come sunlight we'd only have her bedroom and bathroom to clean. No such luck. I ended up steam cleaning her rug and my rug, dropping her quilt at the dry cleaner to be laundered (it won't fit in our machine), wiping up too many spots of bodily fluids from the floor, doing load after load of towels and sheets and having the housekeeper deep clean the bathroom. It wasn't pretty and I think the rug in her room will need to be cleaned again because there is a lingering smell that's not all that pleasant.
But even though it’s Wednesday now, she has still barely eaten, has lost weight and is worn out. I’ve cut her from this weekend’s swim meet, something she wasn’t at all pleased with but considering she hasn’t swum in 2 weeks and hasn’t eaten in 2 days, I can’t see how she or her team would benefit from her participation. About 9:30, AmeriKids called and Jonathon had thrown up. So that morning I had two sick in bed. Katherine was worse off, but Jonathon took two naps that day and still went to bed at his normal time. As far as I can tell, the illness is not from food poisoning or anything we did or ate in Thailand. Within 12 hours, they are recovering.
Tuesday was an OK day. Everyone went to school though I did write a note asking for Katherine to be excused from P.E.
This morning Nicholas mentioned he wasn’t feeling well and that his tummy hurt. Ian woke up and said the same thing. Well, I packed up everyone and sent them off their respective directions only to be called again at 9:30 from AmeriKids to pick up Nicholas. He’d thrown up at school. I called to warn Ian. He’s already having some issues. So now Nicholas is in his bed and I’m trying to get him to nap.
Let’s hope I don’t get a call from ISM today.
3 p.m.: Ian is home and in bed. He was sick at work and then recently threw up at home. Nicholas is sore from his toilet visits and finally layed in his bed and is fast asleep.
Four down, two to go.
7 p.m.: Nicholas couldn't eat dinner so he munched on ice chips after throwing up the water and crackers he'd eaten a short while before. Jonathon barely touched his dinner. Katherine barely touched her dinner and didn't eat her lunch at school today. Rebecca barely touched her dinner and was complaining of a choking sensation in her neck. She threw up in the bathroom sink. Currently, the kids toilet doesn't flush as the chain broke. The kids sink doesn't drain because of Rebecca's visit. Our toilet doesn't flush because it's clogged. Thank goodness we have a third bathroom downstairs, though no one would make it to that one anyway.
The boys went to bed, Nicholas looks like death warmed over with heavy bags under his eyes. Jonathon was over tired. Rebecca has a trash can next to her bed while Katherine reads her stories. Ian hasn't left his bed all day but to use the toilet and to throw up. He looks pretty miserable too.
I'm experiencing that same choking feeling Rebecca mentioned. But you all know about moms, right? We aren't allowed to get sick and certainly not when others are ill. Wish me luck.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Check-ups for Check-out

The family is having medical checks for our clearances. Lab tests have been run, general numbers taken and now we're having the final steps of being looked over by the doctor.

The only thing anyone seems to care about though is height/weight. All I can remember are weights. Katherine is 67 pounds. Rebecca is 56 pounds. Nicholas is 43 pounds. Jonathon is 35 pounds. There you go!

Friday, October 22, 2004

A perk with the FPO

I learned today that shipping between FPO/APO and FPO/APO is free to those of us with access.

Why do I know this? A friend of a friend is stationed in Basra. He's recovering from broken ribs and a fire took out his camp. Oh, and there's shooting and stuff going on too.
So I asked for his address, went shopping this morning at Rustans, recycled some amazon boxes and off they went to Iraq care of the Military Postal Service.
He doesn't know me, I don't know him, but shipping out some Pringles and Skittles with some Chocolate Milk to wash it down(amongst other things), just made me feel better. The lady in the FPO kinda sighed and asked if I hadn't had a bigger box, the paper process was bugging her I guess. Actually, I didn't have a bigger one since I don't like storing loads of huge empty boxes in the house. But really, who wants to get one big package when you can get three smaller ones? It's more like Christmas when you hear your name called several times and have to balance a stack back to your quarters.
Have a great day, Ron!

Thursday, October 21, 2004

bond classified

Last night we found the PICC, also known as the Philippine International Convention Center.

Not to be confused with the CCP, the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Everything says the PICC is right behind the CCP, but as we discovered, it's actually a block down, a block over and another block down. Well, it wasn't that hot a night, and parking was a breeze. Plenary Hall is rather nice. Laura and Ryan came too and they liked it way better than the CCP Main Hall. I have to agree that we had better and more comfy seats this time.
About the time we discovered Maksim for ourselves, we discovered bond. They are a similar genre, crossing the line between classic and rock, with artists as wild as their music.
bond is a quartet with two violinists (from Perth, Aus. and Wales), a viola player (from Sydney) and a cellist (from Cyprus). I admit it was hard to get into at first because of their garish costumes and hyper movements. With Maxim, he sat at his piano. With these ladies, they were skipping and dancing in tight tops and tutu type skirts with wickedly high heels, all while playing their instruments. Quite a sight.
Once the concert started it was 45 minutes late and the audience was typical Filipino. We've noticed this when attending other functions or watching local concerts on TV, the audience does not react. I can't figure out if it's a sign of respect, a sign of enjoyment or a sign that the population is hard to please, but concert goers don't move. At all. The musicians came out and there was little more than polite applause after their first few pieces. The first violin spoke into the mic and tried to get a response with her "Hello Manila!" and you could practically hear crickets.
We were amazed then that near the end of the concert, one side of the orchestra seats were waving their arms! And then... they stood up! The first violin waved her arms for everyone to get up and some people did... then sat down again. By the very last piece, I was baffled because more of the audience was actually staying up and there was noise while folks clapped and cheered and some people were even moving in their seats. They were dancing!
But you know why people were really getting out of their chairs? Everyone had their phones. And they were taking pictures. From where we were, we could see dozens of little blue screens being held up as bond danced their way to the front of the stage and posed for photos as they played. We joked later that we'd love to get a picture of all the folks taking pictures. It's classic.
My favorite part of the concert was the acoustic set. Watching bond play electric instruments is impressive, but I really feel the acoustic pieces highlighted their true talent. Probably because the sound is much purer, and you can tell how intensely and beautifully they work together. They hopped around the stage with their radically unique electric instruments and we were swept away with the power of their music, but the acoustic really shone their talent.
It was a great evening. Ryan and Laura hosted us for dinner which is always a treat and bond plays amazing music that and you can't help but start dancing. One of our favorites is "Explosive". If you watch a video channel, you might catch it there. It's a little odd involving military men storming an empty building, but the group is a little odd all over.
The one thing I would have changed from the evening (ok, two things, but only one from the actual concert) was the spotlight guys. They were AWFUL. Terrible. Miserable. Dreadful. Spots would forget to come up. They would cut off heads. They wouldn't follow the women. When the musicians were lined up, three spots would come up but the fourth would be napping. We weren't the only ones who noticed, so don't think I'm nitpicking. It's distracting when the lead instrumentalist is in the dark.
The other thing I would have changed... I would have taken tylenol as soon as I got home. Go ahead and say I'm just old, but the loud music and the excitement came back to bite me during the night. One thing I really hate is waking up with a pounding head and fumpbling around in the dark for tylenol.
Ok pain aside.... Buy the CD. Or all three.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Braunohler hits Iraq

A classmate of Ian's from his A100 class has landed in Iraq.

Ian forwarded Walter's website where he's always kept a pictoral log and this time is Iraq is no different. Walter curtailed from his tour in Bangkok to do a tour in the "greenzone", after spending some time back home and then going through security training.
The images are there. Some will see a silly guy. Some will see a scary place. Some think "cool!" when he shoulder's a weapon almost as big as he is.
For me, the danger Walter has put himself in is palpable. I want to laugh at his funny captions but instead find myself holding back a tear. To think that thousands have put themselves in the same (and worse) position he has, to be on the front line. People who have pulled themselves voluntarily away from fun and often cushy jobs to take to a trailer in a steamy desert. People who have seen what is happening and feel they can make a difference.
With folks like Walter on the job, how can we not succeed?
Walter's Photos:

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Another busy Saturday

Katherine had her second swim meet today.

For some reason they had her listed twice, once under ISM and once under the European International School, and they gaver her times under the Euro and called the other one a no show. Oops. By the time we left they'd fixed the freestyle score, so hopefully they'll catch on for the rest.
The meet was quite a bit smaller, with three teams participating: Brent, ISM and Euro. Brent was still the overall winner by shear numbers. So many heats were all Brent swimmers and since points are awarded to the 16th place it didn't take a genius to figure out that if ISM won the top 3 and Brent won 4th to 16th, we still lost overall. Since I never received a copy of Katherine's times from the first meet, I can only go by what was on the sheets today for back stroke. She cut 2 1/2 seconds off her race time! The funny thing was that we'd been telling her to stop looking at the other swimmers and that the person she was racing against was herself, to beat her own time. We told her to imagine that the pool was empty. With the backstroke, it turned out that the other swimmers for her heat weren't there so she swam alone and did have the whole pool to herself. Of course was first in her heat. Once I get her times, I'll put them all up and you can see how she's improved.
She opted out of the butterfly this time. I think she would have done great, but we had another engagement to get to by 2 p.m.
We departed Brent and went to Greenbelt 1. I never knew it before, but upstairs by the movie theater is a stage theater. We saw the musical "Pinnochio". The lead was played by an ISM student and a CCD kid, and the proceeds were going to support the San Antonio CCD program. By 3:30 it was done and the boys were fascinated by the whole thing, following the story and definitely knowing who the bad guys were. Nicholas didn't want to go meet Pinnochio afterwards. Seems he didn't like the fact that He was played by a She. "I think he's a girl, mommy," said with a quizzical look. The cat (you know, the fox's sidekick) kept pawing Jonathon and he was none too pleased with that either.
We ran into Meg and Tierney at the show with their parents, so on a whim I suggested Katherine invite them for a sleep-over tonight. Meg decided she really didn't want to, but would come over to play for a bit so we invited her little sister, Katie, as well to play with the boys. We ordered in KFC and made a big pot of mac&cheese, and all were happy. Once Meg was here though, she changed her mind and asked to stay. Ian drove Katie home after dinner and picked up Meg's things, and now the girls are messing around downstairs in their sleeping bags. I told them they could have until 10:30 but then it was time for sleep. We'll see if it works.
This is Katherine's first sleep-over having friends over. It's obviously a first for Rebecca as well. There's been a slight clash with who is who's friend, Katherine didn't want Rebecca around, the other girls said that wasn't being a nice big sister, some tears were shed, one of the girls announced Rebecca was annoying, etc.
I sure hope they go to sleep soon.

Friday was a day for home time.

Friday I didn't leave the house. I can't recall the last time that happened.

That doesn't mean that we didn't do anything. The boys didn't go to preschool, because the preschool came here. It was Visitation day for the class and they came to spend the morning playing, doing crafts and eating at our abode.
There are 11 kids in AmeriKids and since 2 of them are mine, we expected 9 to show up. Two ended up being ill, so only 7 came. Only 7? Yeah, I think it was the adults who took up more space than the kids! They played with a plethora of toys I'd brought out from the toy closet and from the boys' room. Even the car mat came down to the living room floor. Snack time, then they painted papier mache' pumpkins. I think Teacher Nympha had imagined wonderfully orange pumpkins with black stripes, except that I'd bought a rainbow of colors and not one of them turned out orange. We have purple, red and green pumpkins instead. Thankfully I'd had a brainstorm in the morning and taped down several large black plastic bags to the second kitchen floor so there was little effort for clean-up. Perfect for me. We all went to the playground for a bit and then it was lunch time. Once they'd finished eating trays of homemade pumpkin shaped sugar cookies were pulled out and the kids decorated with M&Ms, raisins and sugar.
It was time for everyone to head home. One of the drivers either forgot the time or got lost, so we had time to pull out some puzzles and letters, and read some stories. Five kids seems like nothing after nine kids, and they were all the older ones so the dynamics had definitely changed. It was fun.
All in all, I think it was successful day but I was still worn out by the end. I know the boys had a good time. They had been asking for weeks when their friends would come over, and upon waking they'd asked ever 10 minutes when their friends would arrive. They were happy and even while I was nervous and had spent the week before cleaning up and organizing and planning, it was worth it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Of Trias and Apricots

Jasmine Trias (of American Idol fame) is coming to Manila. The streets are lined with Smart ads (the cell phone company) with her face plastered on them. I realize she's a Fil-Am, but really, should they be so proud of someone who really can't sing? Oh who am I kidding, I've heard enough local radio to know she's fits right in.

On another topic, I gave the kids dried apricots in their lunch today. How did I not know they had the same effect as prunes? Pardon... dried plums. Poor Jonathon.

Oh, and want to know what my day is like tomorrow?

0745 Pick up Katie
(15 min drive)
0800 Exit med exam for boys
0830 Drop off kids at preschool
0900 Exit med exam for me
(15 min drive)
1030 Dental visit for me
(10 min drive)
1130 National bookstore for finger paints
(15 min drive)
1300 Pick up boys
(30 min drive)
1415 Pick up girls
(30 min drive)
1500 Exit med exam for girls
(15 min drive)
1600 Dental visit for Katherine
In the evening I need to clean up the main floor and prepare for Friday when the kids from AmeriKids are coming over for the morning to do an art project and play at the playground. That's what I need the paints for. I also wanted to get sugar cookies prepped for them to decorate, but who knows if I'll get my act together.
Saturday is Katherine's swim meet, followed by a production of Pinnochio, followed by a potluck at Seafront. We're still debating about the last one, depending how the rest of the day goes.
Sunday will be blessedly quiet.
Oh, one last thing, promise! I bought a cookbook yesterday called 1001 Recipes with 4 Ingredients (or less). It's perfect for me.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

9-11 October 2004 - Club Noah

Vacation Weekend

9 OCTOBER 2004 – Club Noah –
Five in the morning comes way too quickly on trip day, especially if you’re supposed to be up at 4:30 and the alarm doesn’t go off, creating a panic of trying to wake children along with packing those last minute items with a driver outside knocking on the gate. With our plans being local, even arriving at the airport less than an hour from departure time didn’t seem to matter. The domestic building is tiny with a single room hosting all departing passengers, and glass doors leading to the airfield and awaiting planes. The only casualty for the trip was Nicholas’s blanket… left at home for the duration. As it turns out though, he was so busy both days and so tired both nights, blanket didn’t even get mentioned.
At the airport with plenty of time to spare, we crossed paths with Chad & Misty and Eric & Rachel who were all on their way to Boracay for Columbus Day weekend. It made the time go quicker chatting with them.
Our flight was called and we received our seat assignments and in-flight snacks of mango rolls (think mini mango fruit roll-ups). I was assigned seat #1 while the rest of the family was in the teens. At first the part-time stewardess wouldn’t let me move back (I say part-time because she came on board to get us into our seats and do the safety lecture, then left the plane), but once everyone was on board she determined it was OK. See, we flew a 19 seat aircraft. Upon checking our bag, the bag was weighed as were we so our weight could be split evenly and the plane wouldn’t tilt to one side.
All aboard, we had a one hour and twenty minute flight to Rodriguez ‘airport’ in Palawan. Everyone got a little chilly flying in shorts and sandals with no heat at 10,000 feet but here I’ll put in a plug for beach wraps. They are light and thin cotton, but pack compactly and are warm. The boys shared one and it provided some entertainment as they built a tent over their heads, and the girls shared one to keep their feet warm. Flying above island after island, we spotted reefs and sandy beaches, mountains and rice paddies. The Philippines outside of Manila is just an amazingly beautiful country and one we don’t expose ourselves to nearly enough.
After too many inquiries into our arrival time, we reached our half way destination, landing on a grass and dirt strip and exiting the aircraft to the one room open air lounge where juice and rolls were waiting. Of course the first thing we notice after living in Manila is the air quality. Ian and I joked that we’d have to take deep breaths before leaving to try to hold on to that wonderfully clean air. The kids devoted their attention to the wandering dogs. Thank goodness for hand sanitizer.
The Club Noah representative gave us an overview of the next legs of our trip and once the jeepney had our bags and we were off on a 10 minute bouncy ride along washed out dirt roads and across a bridge of two cement boards. Accompanying us was an armed Philippine National Police guard, a presence we became accustomed to over the weekend whenever we took a boat to another island. It’s part of overall Club Noah security, along with radar stations, boat patrols and on-island stationed guards. Did we feel safer? I don’t know that I would have felt less safe without their presence, but when you consider that Dos Palmas on another Palawan island is where the Burnham kidnapping was, the security wasn’t really overkill.
To a rickety wooden path over part of the river, we collected life jackets and carefully stepped our way to a small motorboat that floated us over to a large bangka boat in the middle of the narrow river. Along this brackish river among the mangroves were reportedly crocodiles and monkeys but we weren’t lucky enough to see any. Since it was already 8:30 a.m. it was too late for most creatures to be out.
We were allowed to sit on the roof of the bangka where the breeze was cool, so all the passengers did. We were traveling with another family with two little girls and some other couples. It was then I realized I hadn’t put sunscreen on our fair skin and we weren’t wearing hats. Did the sunglasses at least count for protecting our eyes? I sure hope so. I did get better about the sunscreen as the vacation went on, but still didn’t account for the ridiculously strong sun on Sunday. More on that later.
Club Noah Isabelle came into view, a beautiful cove with small cabanas on one side of the beach and a mix of cabanas on the other side, including ours, a two-story family cabana. The resort is along the coast in front of large mountains with plenty of jungle growth precariously attached to shear black rock. In the middle of the resort was the beach (advertised in photos as an expanse of powdery white sand, instead a smallish rocky spread of coarse yellow sand) along with the buffet restaurant, shop, clinic and under-construction-swimming-pool.
We took another small motorboat from the bangka to the dock, freed ourselves from our life jackets, and followed the path to a thatch roofed area set up with tables and fruit drinks. Jonathon promptly knocked his drink over and received a replacement as our host explained a map of the resort. Then we were set to go to our cabana. Our bags had magically appeared at the door as we explored Cabana 43. Bright and airy, there were two twin beds on the first floor along with the shower room and toilet room and a small deck with outdoor hangers (invaluable with loads of wet clothes daily). A gate opened to a set of stairs leading down to the sea, literally when the tide was up and the bottom steps were under water. We could watch the sunset from our room, over the main Palawan island. The sea was flat with just the sound of lapping water along the edge. Peaceful is only the beginning. Upstairs was a queen bed and an additional twin on the floor for Jonathon. The windows all opened and the breeze filtered into the room. At night we could close up and turn on an a/c unit and fans. It sounds like a waste but the mosquitoes made it more of a necessity, though now I’m thinking we probably should have taken the plunge and plugged in the electric mosquito killers. It would have made the rooms quite a bit quieter, and there’s nothing like sleeping to gentle water sounds, live from nature. Our cabana was set over the water, on stilts.
What happens first? Swimsuits on, of course. The sky was overcast so we went to the beach to try some volleyball, chase some beach bunnies (literally, the island is crawling with rabbits and there are covered bunny huts everywhere that hold food and water and provide cover when it rains), dig in the sand and play in the water. There were ducks near the beach and a trio of geese that were a plain nuisance. Jonathon really wanted to chase them but they were bigger than he was and we all know how nasty geese can be. These were no exception. The bunnies didn’t want to be petted either, so the kids were reduced to playing with mom and dad. The water was so shallow that I didn’t worry at all about the boys because even if there was a dip where they suddenly couldn’t stand, they could swim enough to get over to a shallower spot. The number one way to get mom to relax is to not have a threat of someone dying every ten seconds and this gentle shore was perfect.
The girls and I tried to make a village but it was hard with so many shells, rocks and coral in the sand. Building became a hassle so we followed Ian’s lead and just picked a spot and started digging until we created little pools along the beach. Why? No reason, it was just fun to do. The sea was warm and so very salty, everyone agreed it tasted simply nasty. We wouldn’t have to add any salt to food for a good long time. Ian said it was way saltier than Virginia Beach back home.
Without breakfast that morning, we were more than ready for lunch. After removing sand as best we could, we settled in at our assigned table with plates full of buffet options. Surprisingly good options, in fact, and there were enough choices to make everyone happy from soups and bread to rice and meats and fruits. The desserts were great too, including banana bread and flan. Lunch timing was perfect as the heavens opened and rain poured down during our meal. It stopped as lunch ended and we prepared for snorkeling. The snorkeling guide ended up being our water activity person for the weekend and was great with the kids. They didn’t have snorkeling gear small enough for the boys but it didn’t really matter. If the boys wouldn’t go down to see the fish, Danding would bring the fish to them. At one point while snorkeling he caught a small clownfish and put it in his face mask. All the kids got a huge kick out of seeing a little fish swimming around his eyes. He released it back home without too much damage to its psyche. Hopefully.
Schools of striped and brightly colored fish were all over, thanks to a large amount of bread tossed in. Some along the bottom were huge. Jackfish created rippling splashes as they came up, but the kids weren’t allowed to feed them by hand because the jackfish would just as likely take a finger or two along with the bread, they were that big. We spent over an hour just finning our way around the dock watching everything under the surface. The coral was non-existent because of the heavy boat activity there. On Sunday we would go snorkeling again at a nice reef, but for Saturday the kids were introduced to the experience. The girls took right to it and Katherine was the last one out as she always is with water activities. The wind was picking up and the sun was heading down so we decided it was time to get cleaned up before finding a snack. Dinner wasn’t scheduled until 7:30 which for my kids is bedtime, so we needed to get some food into them before then. Considering also that they’d been up since five in the morning and had a busy day I was surprised they were hanging on.
Showered and in clean clothes, a slow walk took us back to the main area of the resort and the outdoor pool table. The kids love to play pool, though we rarely ever do. They always ask and since no one was playing, we took over the table and played several games in teams and finally one with just Ian and me. Whenever kids weren’t playing, they were on the beach with our own evening yaya, Miss Ann. She swung them in the hammocks, played badminton and followed them while they chased rabbits. We didn’t ask for all this attention, but kids being kids, they got it anyway. It was nice for us because even while they were always in view on the beach, we could play some pool and not worry too much they’d fall into the water. Even if they had though, the tide was out and it would have taken them a long walk to get to any deeper than their ankles.
At 7:30, dinner time. Too late. Rebecca was hungry but more tired than hungry. She pushed her food around and eventually put her head on the table. Jonathon was glazed over. Before the show began he fell asleep on my lap. Katherine and Nicholas did OK, even after Nicholas knocked over his mango shake, and they all woke up a bit when the show started and there was singing and dancing to watch. The favorite was the coconut dance with men wearing ½ coconut husks on various parts of their bodies and clapping them with coconuts held in their hands. Now that patch on our Philippine quilt makes sense.
We slowly worked our way “home” after a filling meal with more yummy desserts. Jonathon slept the entire way and didn’t budge while having his feet wiped down and being placed in his bed. The kids sleepwalked into their beds. We all crashed hard. I can’t say that I slept, because I didn’t, but I did feel really good being where we were. The kids had a wonderful day and so did we.
10 OCTOBER 2004 – Club Noah on Sunday
Why is it kids wake up at 5:50 a.m. whether they have school or not? *yawn* Good morning. It was OK though. Rebecca read the boys a book, they played a game of UNO and I got a few pages of reading in before we decided to get our day going and search out breakfast.
For an all-inclusive resort, there’s a lot that’s not included, like drinks aside from breakfast juice. Even the cooler drinks after our reef snorkeling weren’t gratis. Of course the gift shop items weren’t included, but the snorkeling gear? The weekend was not cheap and I felt like rental items should have been part of the package. I can understand alcohol, but Coke? That’s probably just me though.
Swimsuits back on, down to breakfast and this time I brought my backpack with cameras. Made to order omelettes alongside yogurts, Tender Juicy hotdogs and something that resembled grits. Thank goodness the kids like yogurt, bread and fruit because that’s what they stuck with.
We had a busy day of fun planned. First was a skip through the gift shop and we examined a project called Art Clay Silver. It’s moldable clay that when fired, all the other properties burn off leaving behind the 99.9% silver particles to create jewelry. I want to look it up on-line, it sounds really nifty. Katherine had asked for a massage, so we scheduled one for 9 a.m. then decided to explore a bit. The steps to the scenic view went up, but not to a view point. It basically petered out and left us in the jungle. So we returned back to the bottom and instead went up the steps to the grotto. The kids were both intrigued and nervous. It didn’t help that Ian kept saying this is where the monsters lived. There wasn’t much exciting at the top, just a small cave opening and a statue of Mary. Katherine asked to explore but it looked like prime snake territory to me. At the bottom of the steps was a baby bunny I picked up to let the kids pet. And so continued the chorus of “I wish we could adopt this bunny” and “Can we bring him home?” I’m sure our cats would just love having a bunny all their own to play with.
At 9 a.m. Katherine got comfortable on the table in the beach side massage hut. Ian and I, along with Danding, took the rest of the kids kayaking. The two of us with Rebecca were no match for Danding and the boys. It was obvious who had been kayaking all his life and who… had not. The boys thought it was way cool to pass us up even as Ian and I struggled not to whack our oars together and actually keep our arms moving. I should note that Ian hadn’t put on any sunscreen yet and it would prove to be a mistake he’d pay for later. We returned to shore when Katherine was done and she paddled away with Danding while the rest of us played on the shore and noticed schools of fish in the very shallow water. Rebecca ran to my bag where I had stashed bread from the breakfast buffet and we spent a good long time trying to catch a fin. My efforts to fling some onto the shore were fruitless. Rebecca didn’t have any better luck holding bread under water and trying to coax the fish into her hands. It was while we were feeding fish that I noticed Nicholas wasn’t there. He had climbed into a kayak and was paddling himself out to sea. He was easily 30 feet away before I noticed and I do believe he’s a better kayaker than both his parents. He, of course, thought it was hilarious and since the water was so shallow so far out, he could paddle around as much as he wanted. The kids played in the seaweed, splashed around, jumped off kayaks and swam under the brilliant blue sky. The tide was starting to go out when we decided it was time to gather for our beach picnic. It didn’t make sense to change, so we rinsed off the sand as best we could before heading to the dock and took the motorboat to beach around the bend where a barbeque lunch had been set out.
A table for six was all set in the shade and the buffet included grilled shrimp, meat and fish. It was delicious alongside the fresh fruit, vegetables and desserts and while we ate we watched schools moving along the shoreline with small black-tipped sharks circling about. After lunch I lathered sunscreen on the kids again and this time Ian put some on his face as he was starting to turn pink. Nope, nothing on the rest of him yet.
Relaxed after a leisurely lunch and swim, we returned to the dock and prepared for snorkeling. This time we were going to take the bangka to Noa Noa island. Jonathon was totally worn out and it only took a minute of laying his head down on my lap to have him snoring to the breeze and gentle rocking. We reached the very rocky shore and in minutes the kids and Ian were gearing up with fins and masks. Jonathon was still completely zonked out so I put down a wrap in the shade and let him sleep. With nothing else to do, I went snorkeling. Of course I could see him at all times! Well, except for the time my face was underwater. We purchased a disposable water camera and each took turns capturing images under the sea. The coral here was much prettier than by Club Noah, but I have to be honest and say it was not nearly as nice as what we saw in Puerto Galera. Danding brought up a sea anemone and yes, it does sting your finger if you touch it. Not terribly painful, but still an obvious sensation. Our guide also used the camera and took underwater photos of us snorkeling. Nicholas quit early because he cut his hand on a rock and the salt water stung too much. I don’t blame him. With the tide out the coral was very shallow and I think we all bumped into a piece here and there and the mini cuts did sting. Even without the life jackets, we could float easily because of the high salt content. I just hope the photos turn out, because it’ll make a great layout when I scrap them. Did I just say that?
Jonathon slept through it all. When I was done snorkeling, he was in the exact same position and only the sun had moved to cast new shadows along his sprawled body. He didn’t want to wake and took a while to get moving. I don’t think he was sad to have missed snorkeling and an Oreo on the boat brought some life back into him. We shared our package of Double Stuf Oreos with two other little girls on the trip.
We were salty, sandy and generally feeling tired, gross and yet still refreshed. A hot shower was definitely called for and we all scrubbed clean and changed into dry fresh clothes. It’s such a wonderful feeling after being soggy and sticky all day. We meandered down to the end of the resort where a club house on the water was set up for sunset viewing and we sat there soaking in the rays while a guitarist serenaded. There was plenty of live music all weekend, while we were playing pool, eating dinner or just lounging around. Favorites were, of course, Tagalog love songs and classics from the Beatles and John Denver. The kids loved listening to Take Me Home, Country Road. Twilight and we moved back to the main resort to the Rock Bar where we had a private table to view the night sky and be serenaded once more. The boys didn’t like it at all and kept asking to leave. Katherine said it was just like Survivor, even as she asked the guitarist to sing songs by Avril Lavigne. No, he didn’t know any, nor did he know who she was. I’m still trying to figure out the Survivor comment myself.
The boys couldn’t hold out anymore, they didn’t like being in the dark on the side of a hill surrounded by flickering candles and insisted that we leave. It was dinner time anyway so we complied. At the bottom of the stairs we checked out the dining area and saw… nothing. Finally we had to ask and discovered that dinner was being held on the beach. A group of Korean honeymooners had arrived that morning, so the buffet included kimchi and plenty of Korean foods that none of us have taken a liking to. We stayed with the pasta and the delicious desserts. This time, Jonathon made it through the show because of his earlier nap, but Nicholas fell asleep sitting in his chair without eating his cake. Dancing and singing and one number that invited guests to join the performers, so both girls joined in. They were all more than ready for bed again.
11 OCTOBER 2004 – Farewell Club Noah
All weekend our phones were turned off and our watches were in the suitcase. We were led by the position of the sun and the rumbling in our tummies. It was a time to enjoy each other and being a family. Why did we leave so soon? This was a three day weekend but there is a single Sea Air flight to and from Rodriquez “airport” each day. I would have loved to have arrived Friday evening and depart Monday evening, but it couldn’t be done, so we enjoyed the time we had and all felt a sense of sadness when it was time to leave. I know that seems extreme but you have to understand how gorgeous, how peaceful, how fun it was to be there. None of us was prepared to leave.
But it was time to leave and while the resort crew sang a farewell at the dock, we took to our bangka for the departure to the main island of Palawan. We watched our plane land and then took to our seats with our souvenir t-shirts and Katherine’s giant clam shell safely stowed away.
We don’t have much longer in the Philippines, and this weekend truly captivated us with how beautiful the country we have called home for a year and a half, truly is. We’re thankful for having had the opportunity to indulge our senses and we’ll miss it once we’ve gone.