Tuesday, March 30, 2004

And the DARPA results are in.

I didn't mention this already, did I? ENSCO's DAVID didn't complete the race, in fact only a couple of vehicles made it beyond 7 miles of the 100 they were attempting. If you're interested, the NBC4 local news had a story on it. Read on.

ENSCO's autonomous vehicle
I.J. Hudson, Tech Reporter
Almost everyone has seen a futuristic movie in which folks jump in a car, punch a few buttons, the car follows a "smart" highway and takes them to their destination – no driver required.
DAVID, named after Steven Spielberg's A-I character, is an All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) with a lot of brains, designed by a team at ENSCO, a Springfield, VA technology company. The goal is to make DAVID able to go from point A to point B and navigate around obstacles in between without the aid of a "smart" highway or driver. That's the definition of an autonomous vehicle.
DAVID tries to accomplish that with a lot of high tech gadgetry, including stereo cameras, GPS, and a system called Lidar (light detection and ranging). It looks a little like a coffee maker and uses a laser to scan a couple of hundred meters ahead for things in the way.
DAVID took part in a government challenge race in California in early March. The Pentagon wants vehicles that can transport supplies by themselves through dangerous areas - no drivers or remote controls. It's a tall order. The course was over 100 miles. Only a couple of vehicles made it past 7 miles.
The rest of the story is at the NBC4.com site.

Coming Soon to a Website Near You...

Our other camera never showed up, so now we are the proud owners of a Canon PowerShot S400. It's slim, it's silver and has way too many buttons for my comfort level. While Ian is away to Bohol I will take on the task to comprehend the plethora of possibilities now at my fingertips.

In other words, manual reading time. Because I think he's taking the camera with him.

Next week we're all off to Hong Kong so I'll have plenty of practice. Actually I should do my practice before then so I know what the heck I'm doing while we're there and don't miss some great photo opportunities. Wish me luck.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

The SeeSaw of Daily Life

Thursday was BORING. Friday was good. Saturday was frustrating. Is it even possible to have several good days in a row? Or am I just not energetic enough to make it happen?

Thursday really was a dull dull day. The girls were off school Thursday and Friday this past week and I really had good intentions of doing fun things with all the kids, but that day it just didn't materialize. It started on Wednesday afternoon with a 1/2 day of school. I had planned to pick up the girls and take Katherine to the doctor right at dismissal, only when I called the clinic on our way no one picked up. A quick call to Ian and I learned that the clinic would be closed all afternoon. It was going to be a lazy afternoon at home, I could live with that. But first, a stop at McDo where it seemed the entirety of ISM had emptied. That evening, Ian kidnapped Ryan and Laura and we had California Pizza Kitchen for dinner. I don't do well with last minute invites OK? The kids had a great homemade dinner, but I -never- have more than enough to feed extra folks should they come by. It's a real issue with me, it makes me uncomfortable that I'm always so unprepared. One day, this will be remedied. Promise.
Thursday came and we were off to the clinic for Katherine's tummy ache and headache. Also redid a urinalysis. The big reason I wanted her checked was because she's been complaining of the same issues for many days now. Nicholas, if you remember, had Mono. I wondered if maybe he had shared his germs and what Katherine was experiencing wasn't a tummy ache but pressure from local swelling. All her tests came back negative which is definitely a plus, but still leaves the question of what's causing her to be tired and have the stomach pains and daily headaches. Could she still be detoxing from the INH?
Thursday afternoon was a do nothing day. By 2 p.m. I was checking the clock and annoyed that we weren't doing anything and time was at a crawl. Did I do anything about it? No. I just grumbled and curled up, sleepy and bored and lazy. The kids were bored too. We all just slumped around the house. Too hot to go outside, "nothing" to do inside and no where to go. Blah.
Friday I was determined to change that. Ian had a courier drop off an envelope of pesos (doesn't that sound sinful?? He'd just forgotten that morning) so I could pay the housekeeper and have a little fun with the kidlets. First stop, the bookstore! My kids love the bookstore. New books for everyone.
Next stop, lunch. Italiannis even. And being a Friday, we stuck with meatless meals. Mostly. OK, just Katherine and I did, but it was still so good. Grape shakes, vanilla shakes, mango shakes, yum. The only downside which I had thought would be a good thing was that we arrived right before the rush. Plenty of tables, quick service, no problem. Plenty of tables, quick service, TOO MANY idle hands who kept talking to the kids and getting in their space because there weren't enough customers to occupy them. One waitress even started poking Jonathon when he had turned full body away from her, as she kept asking him his name and wondering allowed if he was shy. I talked quietly to him about how good he was being and how he didn't have to talk to her, and prayed she'd leave him alone. In this society, you don't want to point out people's indiscretions directly. They can "lose face" and that just causes more tension than I was willing to deal with for the 40 minutes we were there. She did desist after a full 5 minutes of uncomfortable cheerfulness which I was so grateful for.
Next stop, fun! Fun for all. Thirty minutes of running, bouncing, wiggling, yelling, climbing, crawling and sliding in Kids at Work. And when I say all, I mean all. As we were dropping shoes in the bucket, the guy at the counter asked which adult was going in since Jonathon was ready to play too. I flicked my eyes around and confirmed what I'd thought. We were practically the only ones in the place, and I was the only adult with my children. I raised my hand. Perhaps he thought a yaya was arriving soon? Who knows. What I do know is that I went in with the personal decision to follow their lead. And up we went. I buried children in the ball pit, slid down the twisty tube slide, got knocked by punching bags and helped Jonathon climb up the landings over and over again. I'll admit it, I had a great time. Even if the sign in the tunnel said 100lb max. Shh.
Wouldn't you know that as soon as we left, they asked for ice cream? Is nothing ever enough for these monsters? Yes, I did get some very nice Thank Yous on the side.
A quiet afternoon followed. Thursday I had asked the kids for 30 minutes of quiet which I never attained and it really messed up my day. Friday, I asked the same and received it. Ah, bliss. Rebecca gave me her usual face when I told her that 30 minutes meant 2:30 to 3 and that she was expected to lay on her bed and read. Katherine did it willingly and took a real break for those 30 minutes. Jonathon was napping. Nicholas didn't want to go through books or lay on his bed, so he layed fairly quietly on the couch. It was good enough for me. The big surprise of the afternoon was when Rebecca emerged and stated, for the record "That was fun. I liked reading for a while."
Mom, you can pick up your jaw off the floor now. She's changing again.
And then today, My "big plan" was to get everyone together and go to the Embassy furniture auction. The phone line died while I was speaking with my parents and I should have realized it was an omen. We piled into the car with the flyer for the auction and only then noticed that our map didn't go that far. Did that stop me? Oh no. Two hours, no street, no auction and some cursing later, I figured I'd head home and try not to drive into oncoming highway traffic. That would have really messed up our day. Instead of the auction, we found....
A mall! What'd you think we'd find? Something of interest? Something cultural? An undiscovered nook? Oh no, the entire 2 hours we'd driven, we never broke out of the same streets lined with dilapidated buildings, storefronts and barangay gates. Honestly, the scenery didn't change a bit. Our destination ended up being Festival Supermall in Alabang. Four floors that housed not only the typical mall stores, but an indoor train, double-decker carousel, a Pixie Forest amusement park for little kids (token games, fun house, Fairies Wheel, log ride, plane ride, playland, etc.) and an amusement area for older folks including a full-sized rollercoaster. We spent a good amount of time at the Pixie Place allowing the kids to do a ride and waste 60 tokens. Jonathon was enthralled with a bowling game, Nicholas liked the basketball type games, the girls just raced around plunking tokens in everything. They earned tickets to each get a small prize or two and that was enough. We even ran into Tina and family, though neither of us thought to ask how to get home. All part of the adventure, right?
Actually the best part of the day for me was lunch. Ian suggested a Mongolian spot and I concurred, but right next door... Wendy's. Real sized. I was convinced. I wanted one of everything off the menu. Perhaps I should have had breakfast. The kids were happy, though Jonathon insisted that they had forgotten to give us toys. Wendy's didn't have kid meals, there were no toys to be had. But he didn't believe me. Off his chair and to the counter he went. His voice rang out as much as he could as he strained to see over the counter " 'cuse me! People! Toy?" Ian scooped him up and explained again that there were none. He sat in his chair, turned and said again " 'cuse me? People! People!!" And then it turned into a game. The silly boy.
We did a quick train trip and ignored the kids' requests to "just go on the roller coaster" (before we left for home, which we found in 30 minutes).
Is nothing ever enough for these monsters?

Monday, March 22, 2004

What's wrong with Philippine commerce

Our DVD player has been really dicey lately. It'll play a disc fine, then will refuse to play the same disc later - it just spins. It's been doing this for over a week. So, with my wonderful wife Michele's blessing, I got a new one. And a 5.1 speaker home theatre system. (Uh, it came with it.) But buying things here is never easy...

We saw the system, a Panasonic HT-860 (this particular model is only available in Russia and Asia, although there is an American version as well, the 900) at a large electronics display area at Glorietta mall on Saturday. It looked and sounded good, and the price was right. But one big requirement is that it had to play DVDs from different regions. We now have discs from Region 1 (USA), Region 2 (Europe) and Region 3 (Asia). The salesman claimed that it was multiregion, even though the brochure said it was only Region 3.
Having lived here long enough to believe nothing that store employees say, we came back Sunday with a Region 1 DVD (The Usual Suspects) and a Region 3 DVD (Die Another Day). To my surprise, they both played. Wow. So after an admonishment from my dear wife that this is my 31st birthday present 4 months early, we told the salesman we'd take it.
Unbeknownst to us, this huge electronics display was only for people who had credit cards from Bank of the Philippine Islands. Of course, we don't. After he ran around trying to figure out what to do, he said we could get it with our own card if we accompanied him to the electronics store next to the mall. And off we went.
We got there, and found the same system for the same price. After handing over our credit card (with me following close behind to track its progress), then Philippine Commerce Machine went into effect. It was amazing. No less than 7 people handled my card. One person called a Visa number to verify it. Another one swiped it through a machine to verify it. Another wrote down its data. Another wrote out a credit card receipt. Another swiped the card _again_ to put it into the store's systems. Other people wrote out other forms, and still others just carried the card 3 feet to the next person. In the States, all of this would have taken one person and been done in a tenth of the time. But it's not like they don't have the technology to make it easier, they don't _want_ it to be easier. This is the Philippine Way -- a jobs program.
As we were going to go grocery shopping, I decided to pick up the system later that day.
(As an aside, we got fresh salmon sliced at the store, and had it for dinner last night. It tasted great. But while I waited for the salmon to be sliced, I had plenty of time to stare at this ridiculously big squid they had for sale. It was, no kidding, the size of our 2 1/2-year old Jonathon. It's as if Jonathon got exposed to Radiation X and mutated into SquidBoy. Able to... swim under water, wave its suckers around and eject ink. Perhaps that's why there are no squid super heroes.)
I returned to pick up the system that afternoon. It took about an hour, because as with every piece of electronics that you buy here, they have to prove to you that it works. So they unpacked _the whole thing_, and set it up. It worked. Yay. Then I had to go outside because a guard told me my car was triple-parked. (It sure didn't look that way when the other cars were there...) That gave the employees time to repack it all, and I got it out to the car.
So now we have surround sound. Here's what it looks like, by the way.

Our bid list...

I don't think we ever posted our whole bid list, so here it is. This is a second-tour list, so we had to pick 10 jobs from a total list of roughly 350.

Download file

Sunday, March 21, 2004


3/21/04: Wow, it's been a while since we went to Caylabne with the Malone/Kilama family, but it's still well worth keeping a note on.

Remember a while back when I said that a Sunday warranted a post all its own? Here it is.
Tina Malone is a fascinating person. Besides being just warm, friendly and open, she's done so much before, like a stint in the Peace Corps. A stint in the Peace Corps in Niger, no less! It's actually funny how many folks we've bumped into in our short time in the Foreign Service who have been to Niger. David Ball (who recently evac'd from Port-Au-Prince and was 108th mentor for the 110th class) was in Niamey teaching at the University while I was in middle school at the American School there. Bob Lane, here in Manila too, knows my dad from when we were in Algeria. OK, it's not Niger, but still. He's admitted that crossing paths with the child of a former "co-worker" has made him feel old. Sorry, Bob!! But wait, I digress.
Right, Caylabne with Tina, Kiko and the twin boys, Meka and Sefo. Tina has a map book that is more than a map book. It's a guide that suggests different resorts, tells which roads to avoid and gives tidbits of information about what to expect in different areas. We've have bought a book on the 100 best resorts in the Philippines because we can't seem to find the same book they have, but will keep looking. When Tina picks up the book, it's almost like she's saying "Where will you take us to next?" This time it was to a beach resort called Cayubne, a couple hours south of Manila, beyond Cavite. We drove up some small mountains, through a magnetic zone (cell phones really don't work there, just like the sign says), through Marine training fields and an environment protected range (where we actually saw monkeys, like the sign said). The areas are right next to each other, which must be interesting for the monkeys. What do powerful magnets and gun fire do to a monkey's psyche anyway?
We reached our destination and found the resort basically deserted. Other than one other umbrella that was in use with rotating beach comers, the area and all it's sand, seaweed, crabs and changing rooms was ours. The kids of course had a ball, with Jonathon being the only pain in the butt. Everytime we go to a beach I feel like I have to shout out "You think you can do these things, Nemo. But you can't!" Replacing names of course. He walks straight into the water with not a care in the world, which means an adult has to be gluid to his side to protect him from the inevitable dunking when a wave of any size (think, a couple inches) knocks him over. He is surprisingly sure-footed and does better in regular swimtrunks than in a floaty swimsuit but that just doesn't matter in the wide open ocean. Or in a quiet bay.
Tina and I left the kids with the menfolk and ordered lunch before the restaurant closed for the afternoon. Fresh from the sea marlin steaks for Ian and I, wood oven baked pizza for the kids and some other fishy and squid delights for Tina and Kiko. The only hitch being told I couldn't have a Dalandan soda when there were others present who had some. Apparently I didn't fit the Dalandan soda profile.
The restaurant seating overlooked the water and beach where the family was, and when lunch headed to the table I went to call the troups. The straggled up, reluctant to leave the sandy fort built at the waters edge, but I saw that Ian was sitting with Katherine. Seems that while swimming hard, she got hit by a hard cramp and was having troubles breathing. Since it hit while she was in the water she panicked, knocked Nicholas, and struggled to get to shore, which didn't ease the stress any. After about 10 minutes she could breathe easier and was settled at the table eating some lunch, and it didn't stop her from getting back into the water both at the beach and the beachside pool. We took a break at the beach volleyball court and the adjacent playground about an hour before our departure.
The highlight of the day was when Katherine caught a piece of seaweed only to discover it was a live creature. A pipfish to be exact. I thought it was a seahorse with the similar head shape, but the straight rigid body made it definitely a pipefish. We thought it was dead until holding it out of the water its body slowly arched and a closer inspection showed it's fins and gills trying to move. A dumptruck was emptied out of the sand load it was carrying and we deposited the fish into it for a brief spell. I think it was happy to go back to open water though. As happy as a fish can be.
The ride home after a quick cleanup in the changing room was easy, as it was a straight shot down from Island Cove in Cavite. At least it felt it was, since we just followed them the whole way. Meka wanted to ride with us, so until our ice cream break in the first little town we crossed, we traded Meka for Katherine. Of course all our kids wanted in their car and no one wanted to switch back, but after a sticky sweet ice cream stop, we all returned to our appointed vehicles and finished the ride home. The weather had been gorgeous and moderately overcast the entire day and it made for a lovely evening sky.
We're going to miss Tina and clan once they depart post. June is a big turn-over time and it's no different for her. They're off to Addis Ababa after some DC training time. Maybe we'll cross paths again in the great Dark Continent.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Guess what.

The change in Katherine is dramatic. She came home from school today... happy. Whether it's the end of her TB meds (a week done now), the extra sleep (we're into the 2nd week of an extra hour and 15 minutes each night), the daily Gatorade my parents suggested (she is a high metabolism kid who is always on the move, and we're eating generally low fat/salt/etc), getting over a growth spurt hump or a mix of everything and other things we haven't figured out, I don't know. It doesn't matter though. My little girl and her ability to think through things, focus and complete tasks is returning. More than that, the bounce is back in her step, the joy is back in her voice and the sparkle is back in her eyes.

Thursday, March 11, 2004


The engineering company my mom works for is putting a vehicle in the DARPA Grand Challenge on Saturday, March 13th. The prize is success and million bucks.

The story about the ENSCO development of "David" is in the Post and on the web. There's also a video on the right sidebar. You need to be a registered user to see it though, sorry. Of course, registering -is- free.
The goal is to build a machine that can traverse 200 miles of Mojave Desert, with no human intervention. Cheer them on!!

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Been missing new photos?

Well, there won't be new photos for a while. I had the camera at the Fine Arts Theater today, and when I left the theater I no longer had it. It was not turned in to the lost&found either, so my only other option at the moment is to believe that it was stolen.

Updates as they are warranted.

Katherine took a big step today.

3/10/04: She has been preparing for several weeks, and more so for the past several days, and she has completed the first step towards her First Communion. That's right, her First Confession is done.

Are Catholics the only ones who do this? I have the feeling we are. It must seem ridiculous to most people how we choose to lay out our faults and problems and ask forgiveness from God through a human in front of us. Afterall, wouldn't going directly to God be more efficient?
But have you ever had something weighing on you that just needed to talk about? Sure, God is listening but there is something about having a person in front of you, listening, responding, and guiding you. Guiding you towards the realization that God is listening as well and telling you with no doubt that God has forgiven you and you can forgive yourself. There is something very powerful in hearing those words echo and then stay in your mind.
I know there are plenty of people who feel that intimate understanding with God without a mediator. Even some children. But I think it's invaluable for a developing spiritual life to have repeated support and guidance in the strength God has for us to lean on. Having one-on-one time with a priest while actively examining your conscience in order to better yourself is a way to achieve that.
And that's how I presented the process to her. She was nervous of course. No one wants to own up to their wrongdoings and mistakes. I asked her if she thought the priest would get mad or yell at her. No, she didn't think so. So, this was her time to get out those things that were wearing her down.
She was the last one in her class to go and she came out not only with a smile on her face but saying that he was funny, he told her to be a good girl, and to top it off she said that she did actually feel better.
That's the goal. Not to feel bad, not to feel berated, not to feel put down, not to feel like a bad person. But to focus on God and his forgiveness and in turn forgive ourselves and start fresh.

On a personal note.

On a personal note, I hope I grow out of this phase of crying every time my children are involved in anything. Today I was contemplating whether I was a depressed person because I cry or feel like crying about so many things daily, from discussing religion to watching the kids play at the playground to seeing a TV show. But then I realized that I cry at gobs of happy events, so that's not depression. Right? I am getting tired of always being on the brink though, or the too common occurrence of actually spilling tears. It's exhausting and frustrating.

Hola, Bonjour, Mabuhay, Hello

3/10/04: It's International Week at the ISM Elementary School.

Monday kicked off International Week with a flag ceremony around the Elementary school courtyard. Unravelled on all 3 levels by costumed students were 50+ flags representing the different nationalities within the school. Today was the international show in the Fine Arts Theater. One of these days I will actually have the video camera prepared to tape these shows because they are so much fun. I did have it for Katherine's musical which I'm pleased about, but they really get a lot of exposure to speaking and performing in front of various sized groups. And, well... my kids are just so cute on stage!
Today's program started with the 2nd and 4th graders doing a couple of songs, one of which was in English, French, Spanish and Sign, and about being with friends. Rebecca's grade and the 1st graders followed and did a song that had Hello sung in 10 different languages. Then it was the teachers' turn and the crowd cheered. The song was written by an ISM teacher and each verse included a nationality represented. We clapped along and cheered for every country, the Philippines getting the largest roar with Australia and U.S. right behind. New Zealand, Colombia, Britain and Canada were also noted (get it? Hah!). After the 3rd and 5th graders did the Kookaburra song it was time for the sing-a-long of "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" and "It's a Small World". If you can get past your aversion to Manilow (hey, I grew up with "Mandy") then it was fun.
Even more wonderful to see was all the children in their native costumes. The stage was filled with color. But how do you dress up kids for the U.S.? Some went as cowboys, some as Indians, some as ballplayers, pioneers or Union soldiers. The most common dress was American casual. You know what I mean: t-shirt, red white and blue, a flag, blue jeans or shorts. If you'd gotten them all together it would have looked like a 4th of July picnic.
Speaking of picnic, following the show was a mini-buffet in the 2nd grade hallway. Katherine and I had discussed what sorts of things were American and after considering options like spaghetti, pizza, hamburgers, corn on the cob, and chocolate chip cookies, we settled on a whole watermelon, jell-o beans and oreos. If those aren't American I don't know what is! I'm glad to say that every piece was scarfed up. Way better than when we had the rice meal and no one touched the rice pudding! Someone even brought a bag of McDonalds cheeseburgers. Again, not much more American than that.
In class, Katherine is learning about different nations around the world, how to read maps and everything else that is necessary for our lifestyle. I know, I know, I should have taught her last summer. I still have Rebecca and the boys I can work with. Geography is one of my favorite things, I actually enjoy perusing our Atlas.
The ECLC kids will be doing International studies for several weeks. Last year they tried to do everything in a week like the rest of the Elementary School and the kids were brain dead by the end of it. This year they have 3 days sprinkled over 2 weeks where parents of different nationalities will do short presentations and crafts with groups of kids rotating through the classrooms. Guess who's doing 2 of the presentations on the United States? My partner is taking 2 groups and I'll take the other 2. My groups will get background and a project on the U.S. flag while hers will be doing quilt squares. I think it'll be loads of fun and it'll be short enough that the boys can come along and play. Wish me luck, OK?

Monday, March 8, 2004

When there's nothing else in the cupboard.

3/8/04: Ian won't post this, so I will. We walk by this place and just shake our heads.

All-Spam restaurant is serious business for the Philippines (11:01 a.m.)
MANILA -- It may sound like a bad comedy sketch but a restaurant specializing in Spam -- the much maligned tinned pork product -- has opened in the Philippines and is doing a roaring trade in variations on pressed meat.
Located at the upscale Ayala Center shopping mall in the financial district of Makati, "Spamjam" has been a rousing success since its soft opening in December and looks to do even better since its formal opening in late February, says managing director Philip Abadilla.
He already been approached with numerous requests to franchise Spamjam. Hormel Foods, the US firm that originally produced Spam, hopes to eventually set up branches in other Spam-eating regions like South Korea and Southeast Asia.
"It only shows that people really like Spam, whether they are at home or outside," Abadilla says.
Located not far from a restaurant offering California nouvelle cuisine, Spamjam is decorated to resemble a moviehouse snack counter to appeal to the mall's cinema crowds.
The menu is definitely one of a kind: there is a Spam hero sandwich, Spam club sandwich, Spam spaghetti, Spam macaroni, Spam potato chowder, bean soup with Spam, Spam Ceasar salad, Spam poppers and Spam meals with rice for the Filipino palate.
The only items not containing Spam are the French fries and the hotdogs, which use Hormel's "Wrangler" brand instead.
Abadilla says the restaurant's menu and decor were all approved by Hormel first. He hopes to introduce even more Spam-oriented dishes but he notes that their biggest seller so far is the "Spamburger," a simple hamburger sandwich using a patty of Spam instead of ground meat.
Spam has spread around the world since it was developed in 1937. It was a source of protein for Allied soldiers in World War II and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was quoted as saying "without Spam, we wouldn't have been able to feed our army."
But Spam has also garnered an unfavorable reputation as a poor substitute for fresh meat, and jokes circulate about Spam being used to repair the soles of shoes.
The biggest insult came when the ubiquitous unsolicated e-mail advertisements that clog the Internet were labelled "spam" -- without the consent of Hormel.
Yet Spam is highly valued in some countries. The Philippines is one of three nations outside the United States that produce Spam, and cans of the product are a staple in any Filipino cupboard.
Ernie Tan, a Filipino migrant to Canada, says that even there, the ethnic Filipino community keeps itself well stocked with Spam.
"Most Filipinos love Spam. It tastes good, even when cold," he says, giving Spamjam high marks for its imaginative use of the product.
A life-long Spam eater, manager Abadilla says he came up with the idea of a Spam restaurant on his own, only to find that Hormel had been considering the same project.
"When I approached them, they decided to let me be the one to launch it," he recalls. He believes his restaurant is a testbed for possible Spam restaurants abroad.
He licensed the name from Hormel, which approves the recipes and presentation, provided some input on quality and supplies the meat -- a lighter uncanned version with less preservatives -- to the restaurant.
Spamjam, named after an annual festival that Hormel holds in its corporate headquarters, will eventually expand the variety of Spam products on its menu, Abadilla says.
The restaurant will hopefully counter the negative connotations that have been attached to the word 'spam' he says.
"We will show the world the opposite: that Spam can be a good thing."
He has heard of the infamous skit by the British comdey troupe Monty Python about a cafe where all the food on the menu contains Spam but he has never seen it.
So don't expect to see men in Viking costumes, singing "Spam, Spam, lovely Spam..." AFP

Another cheerful morning.

3/8/04: Katherine got off to bed well last night, and we drove in to school this morning. It was all going well and then Rebecca pipes up "I don't want to die until it's time to. I don't want to die before that."

Followed by all the kids asking:
Who will care for us if you die? (Rebecca)
- Daddy. And you might move back to VA near grandma and grandpa.
Daddy would have to quit work.
-Then how would our bills get paid?
(subject dropped)
Who will care for us if you and daddy die?
-Grandma and grandpa
Will they come and get us?
Who will take care of us until they get here?
-People at the Embassy.
How will they know you're dead?
-They'll know.
But if you both die at home, how will they know?
-You can call the Embassy.
I know, we can go to Mahnur's house (a neighbor)! (Rebecca)
-You can tell them if you can't reach anyone at the Embassy.
We don't know the phone number to the Embassy.
-I'll leave it by the phone.
We can use the radio in your room! (Katherine)
-Excellent, that's what it's for., emergencies Just push the button and talk into it.
Help Help, our parents are dead! (Katherine)
-Just tell them who you are and what happened. They'll know who you are and where you live.
Then who will take care of us?
-People you know. Mr. Ryan and Miss. Laura. Or Mrs. Graham. Or Mrs. Malone. Someone you know.
Mrs. Graham! She adopted Meg, maybe she'd adopt us too. (Rebecca)
-Mrs. Graham has 5 kids. You are 4 kids. How many kids is that.
(Rebecca counts) Nine! That's a lot of kids.
-Grandma and grandpa would come and get you.
What if you die while we're in New Zealand? (Rebecca)
-Grandma will be there.
What if Grandma dies too?
-You will fly home.
By ourselves?!
-No, wherever you are when we die, people will take you to the Embassy in New Zealand and from there there Embassy people will get you home. But if we die beforehand then there wouldn't be a trip to New Zealand.
Maybe Mrs. Graham would take us anyway. (Katherine)
(Nicholas chimes in with how if we died a bunch of fun things would still happen)
The discussion rapidly deteriorated from there.

Saturday, March 6, 2004

Book store guide.

If your child is in school and you need kid books, head to the school library. If not, or *gasp* you want books for yourself, then you'll be heading to the bookstore.

I miss our great lending libraries back home.

So what are your options here?
National Bookstore (Glorietta). A chain that has a little bit of everything from art supplies to books to gift wrapping to kid games to pens to party balloons. If you're looking for a specific book though, good luck. The shelves seem to be randomly stocked and the store is generally haphazard and your best bet is to scan through the bargain bins for something that looks interesting. Unless you want a travel guide to Disney. There are many different versions to choose from.
Goodwill (Glorietta). If you're looking for cheap books this is -the- place to go from my experience. Again, you can't find anything you're specifically looking for, but one floor is all children's books (for young kids they are generally <$2), another floor is textbooks and another is paperbacks/hardbacks for the rest of us. A wonderful store to wander the aisles and see what catches your eye because as opposed to National, the shelves are orderly and you don't feel like the pages are going to collapse on top of you.
Power Books (Glorietta). An offshoot of Tower Records, the book section is small, but they have an interesting section of Filipino children's stories.
Power Books (Greenbelt). Two floors of books. Again, you can't find anything you're specifically looking for (most of the shelves are ordered by book title, kind of by subject) but if you like perusing shelves, it's a pleasant store to wander through.
Fully Booked (Powerplant). True to it's name, everything is on their shelves, they have an extensive children's section and cooking section and their employees are knowledgable about what they have or how they can find out. It's our favorite place to buy books.
Then there's always Amazon.com.

Some new stuff on Nicholas

3/6/04: Nicholas has a wicked sense of humor and the facial expressions to go with it. A sweetheart who is free with hugs, sunshine in the morning and easy to put to bed, he's also bright, inquisitive and retains more than I imagined.

I think the whole speech thing has disctracted both him and me from how smart he is. It's hard to know if he's understanding when he couldn't repeat or acknowledge the question. But as his speech improves it's all coming out and there's a lot in his little brain. The sounds are there as well and we've reached a point where it's slowing him down to think about saying a word rather than seeing if he can even form the sound. We're very proud of how far he has come in the past year.

Nicholas has taken an interest in his workbooks so we bought a bunch of new ones to keep him interested. The toughest part is drawing the letters themselves and he gets extremely frustrated when what he draws doesn't look like what he intended. He can trace very well so we're going to stick with that for a few more weeks. In fact, one of the best things is something my mom introduced me to, dry-erase books.
They are great, allowing him to trace, erase, and trace again. We have a half dozen or so now, for words, letters, numbers and shapes and 3 different color markers. The other books he enjoys are sticker workbooks. My mom got him a maze book that he loves and he uses his finger to trace so the book can be done over and over again. I also picked up a Health and Science workbook for preschoolers. It's fun just to have a guide for things to talk about with the boys. The first few pages are about living vs. non-living things and it's been interesting putting it into terms they can apply. One of the guides for living is something that moves. Well, try telling a 2yo that a bicycle is not alive! There are other things of course... moving, growing and reproducing... but that's a lot to think of all at once. The boys aren't quite at the point of being able to consider multiple questions at once.
He knows just about the whole alphabet in Caps and is learning the lower case. Jonathon isn't too far behind and I thank the Leap Frog Fridge Phonics grandma and grandpa gave Nicholas for Christmas. What a great invention. Nicholas is the lucky kid in the family with 8 unique letters in his name, and he can find them all in the fridge magnets. Often he lines them up backwards, but it's a start.
I recently picked up a pack of Short Vowel books for him that he's really pleased with. Each book is a handful of pages and focusses on a single short vowel. At the moment I'm going with repetition and following the words with my finger.
He wants to take piano lessons (he can start Music Appreciation at the Yamaha School in the fall if he wants). He wants to go to school (I plan to enroll the boys at Amerikids this week, to start in April). He wants a kite and an Obi Wan costume and a real light saber (his birthday is in April, but I make no promises).
He wants to trade the cats in for a dog.

A good day.

3/6/04: Some oatmeal pear pancakes to start the day, a chat on the phone with my parents, then off we went our separate directions.

This morning I went to Laura Koch's place for a lesson in breakmaking. I learned a lot about why a breadmaker is good for mixing dough and not much else! The breads she made (and we got to play with) were so yummy, I hope I can one day replicate what she has been doing for years.
At the same time, Ian took the kids to the Yamaha School (Jupiter Street, Makati for anyone interested, they have classes starting at 4 yrs old, and give individual instruction in voice, drums, piano, violin, sax and just about any other instrument) for Katherine's piano lesson. Rebecca finished her 12 week course and decided she did not want to continue formally though she will continue to learn at home. Mom is a tough and impatient teacher, I hope she's up to it! Then they went to McDs for lunch, came home and cleaned up the house (wow!!) and fiddled around until I returned. We decided against going to the playground as a huge tent had been set up and it appeared there was the standard Filipino _Finding Nemo_ birthday party being held. Instead we went to dinner at Pasto at the Fort. The center courtyard was being outfitted for an evening band of some sort so we spent most of the meal at our outdoor table shouting over mic checks.
The food was decent though, even if my shrimp/asparagus/tomato fettucini didn't have any asparagus.
A "Gonuts Donuts" opened a few weeks ago and the line is consistently out the door with a 30 minute wait. Periodically they put up limit signs, today it was that orders could be 6 dozen or less. We bought two. Well, I should say that Ian bought 2 as he's the one who stood in line. The rest of us crossed the street to the field where a dozen kite flyers had their kites fluttering through the air. It was dusk, the full moon rising big and bright over the horizon, the mountain range could be seen in the distance under a pink sky. Among the kites, a flock (is that right?) of bats was swooping here and there, raising shrieks from my kids of being eaten by the vampires. A short lesson later about how the bats were eating bugs out of the air and all was well. After multiple games of tag, a man brought a remote control plane out which completely fascinated the kids. Nicholas left the field asking repeatedly if I would get him one someday.
Upon returning to Gonuts, Ian was at the counter and we stayed by the windows as Nicholas pestered a shiny beetle and Katherine took care of the baby beetles all along the sill.
We came home to indulge in fresh donuts that closely resemble Krispy Kremes (as everything here is an obvious copy of something back home) and the kids went to bed.
This was one of those days where more things felt good and went well, than not. It made me extremely happy and content and just thrilled to be so lucky. I love Ian, I love my kids. OK, Rebecca is iffy these days. Oh, I take that back. I do love her, but man it's hard to like her. I think I need to work on my Lenten focus a bit more!
But no, I do love them all so much. Thank You for thinking I was worthy to have them. I'm the lucky one.

Katherine had an off day.

3/6/04: Friday was an off day for Katherine. Thursday she stayed up late (8:30) to work on homework and then was up before 6 to finish what she hadn't completed.

Mid-morning at art class she went to the bathroom and when she came out, saw another class headed her way. She thought class time was done and even though her art teacher called for her she went to the cafeteria for lunch, only her class wasn't there. She went to her homeroom, no one was there. She went to Ms. Clarice's class and stayed there for a while until her art teacher found her. Katherine was confused. When she saw the other kids she thought they were going to art, when they were actually going to P.E. next door.
She told me she was so tired, she couldn't think of what to do.
There's a lot going on with her right now and we're going to do our best to ease things. She's obviously not getting enough rest. Getting that into her is our biggest goal but it's not simply getting her to bed on time. She's 8 years old and in bed usually between 7:30 and 8. We're going to try hard to get that earlier but if we want to eat dinner as a family and still have a normal bedtime routine there simply isn't enough time. So there's the other end, wake-up. Currently we have the girls taking the bus to school, but that means getting up at 5:45 to make it for a 6:30 pick-up. If I drive them to school, they can sleep until 6:30. Wednesdays are our late start days and the girls get up at 6:30 then and it makes a world of difference in how our day goes. Let's see about doing it for a full week. Hopefully I'll have a positive update next weekend.
There's also her meds. She's almost done with her course of INH for her + TB test. We also tried a sample of Claritin to hopefully help her sleep better (she has dark circles under eyes, doesn't sleep well and snores, all symptoms of allergies), but some of the side effects of Claritin could have caused worse problems. While I don't think she had insomnia, she has had troubles breathing this past week with pain in her lungs, something she's never had before. Last weekend at the beach she had a terrible cramp, something that's perfectly normal to get after hard swimming, but I can only imagine that she was predisposed to it (and that it was worse than it should have been) because of the Claritin.
Katherine is also the sort to let worries eat at her. This coming Wednesday is her First Penance and I have not a single doubt that it is causing her a great amount of concern. Tomorrow we'll go over the process together and I'll try to ease her worries, but until it's done I think it's just going to bother her. She's always been like this, taking huge worries and carrying them on her shoulders. One month when she was due for regular blood draw I mistakenly told her ahead of time thinking I'd prepare her for it. She was pale, nervous and distracted all day in school, worrying about it. I haven't done that since. She gets so worked up.
Oh, back to the wandering the halls thing. I told her that next time (should there be one), the best thing to do when she's unsure of where to go is to ask the teacher of the class she was in. If she had poked her head into the art room she would have seen her classmates and all would have been well. If she'd stopped when her teacher had called her, all would have been well. If she'd gone directly to her instructor to ask, all would have been well.
But first, we have to get some rest and downtime into her.

Friday, March 5, 2004

Bidding on our next post... yes, already.

We have been here for a year, which means it's already time to bid on our next post. We were given a list of about 350 jobs, and we had to pick 10. The rules for us were: they all need to require language, we can't pick more than five in any regional bureau, and the arrival date has to work with our schedule. After lots of research, here are the bids I submitted today, in order of preference:

1. Lome, Togo (1 year Consular, 1 year Political/Economic)
2. Rabat, Morocco (2 years Political)
3. Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (2 years Consular)
4. Nouakchott, Mauritania (2 years Political)
5. Kiev, Ukraine (1 year Consular, 1 year Political
6. Nouakchott, Mauritania (2 years Consular and Economic)
7. Port Louis, Mauritius (1 year Consular, 1 year Political/Economic)
8. Moscow, Russia (2 years Political)
9. Brussels, Belgium (2 years Science and Technology Reporting)
10. Tbilisi, Georgia (2 years Public Diplomacy)

Go to this site to learn about each city and post.

(You'll notice, comments are allowed in this post. Even encouraged!)

Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Quick note...

3/3/04: Katherine is having troubles breathing when she exerts herself, only she didn't have problems at P.E. today but did at the playground and at home this evening. Monday night she had a fever, Tuesday morning she had a fever but still made it through school with some motrin. The fever returned Tuesday evening. Today she managed OK.

Jonathon currently has a fever and a snot factory nose.

Nicholas can't stop coughing, still gets pains in his abdomen but not as badly, nor in the same place as before. Now it's off to the side, but not in appendix zone.

Rebecca is healthy but a huge pain in the ass. Goodness, I don't know what is up with her but she has been rude, mean and everything else unacceptable.

You know, I look forward to the week I can say everyone is doing fabulous!

Monday, March 1, 2004

The girls' holiday.

3/1/04: The girls have been off school since Wednesday. So here's a recap of the past 6 days. Everything but Sunday actually. Sunday gets its own post.

Wednesday 2/26 was declared a government holiday as the 18th Anniversary of the EDSA revolution when Marcos was kicked out of his role as political leader. Since riots and rallies were expected, we stuck close to home but didn't want to stay home (btw, we saw none of the above). Why? There had been a scheduled power outage for most of the day so we planned around it by going to the monthly bazaar, heading to Glorietta and then to church. Only thing was, no one told us that with the holiday they wouldn't be working either so the power never went out.
Ash Wednesday Mass was good for all of us. I have really tried to focus on Lent this year and I believe it's having a positive effect on me and the kids. I hope I can keep it up throughout the season. My goal is to read ahead the Gospels and prepare a simple thought-provoking project that relates. On Ash Wednesday we brainstormed positive family activities for the season, like adding Grace before meals and reinstituting bedtime prayers. There's a sheet up where we can tally how often we adhere to our goal. Since this past Sunday's Gospel was the 40 days and temptation in the desert, I decided that we'd focus on the good things we do, so we made the "40 things we do that God loves" list. I'd considered having the kids draw their own vision of the devil, or have them think of great temptations we face, but that's not the direction I want to go this year. We've discussed the purpose of fasting and abstaining and Rebecca has voiced her disapproval of abstaining. Why is it that a child who's never once asked if there was meat in dinner, now insists that she's miserable on Fridays? Next week is the Transfiguration (a Luminous Mystery) and I have to admit that I'm stumped on how to bring it to their level. Ideas?
Thursday Ian went back to work, so the kids and I picked up our passports from SGSO, mailed some items from the FPO, then descended on Laura's place so I could see her scrapbooks. I've decided this will be my next project. On Tuesday Laura, the boys and I went to Robinson's Gallery as there is a single scrabook store located there. There used to be a kiosk of the same store in Glorietta, but it's gone now. I was able to flip through her books (while the kids munched on homemade cookies and watched Anastasia) and make some decisions on book style and method. Simple is best, IMO, all I need are books that can grow with me and I can keep stocked. I think I've found it at http://www.storephotos.com . Told you I was going for simple.
Friday was a quiet day, I don't even remember what we did. Saturday the car was dropped at our local shop. The a/c hasn't been up to speed which is no surprise for something that's been used every day for the past year. An oil change and clean air filter were due as well. I give great kudos to the Shell management and mechanics at the corner of McKinley and EDSA. They've always been quick and gone to great lengths to meet our needs. I know lots of people use the transportation folks at Seafront but that's not convenient for us. If you're in the Makati/Fort Bonafacio global city area and need a good mechanic, just ask.
We went to Powerplant for a while then back home before picking up the car and taking the boys to a playground pal's birthday party. You know, it's really something when the first thing the hostess says is "I'm sorry, I can't remember your name." The party was just the right speed for 2 and 3 year olds though, with a slide into a ball pit, rocking horse, playhouse and a mini moonbounce as entertainment. From there Ian and I texted each other (don't roll your eyes at me!) as he had taken the girls to Greenbelt for a treat and a game of chess, then over to Hobbes (a "toy"/game store). He showed the girls the lightsabers too, you know the movie versions with the autographs. We decided to meet up at the Greenbelt fountain and go for dinner, but plans didn't work out so well. I was too tired to behave well, Jonathon wouldn't stay out of the fountain and Katherine decided to be mopey. Home we went and the kids zonked out without dinner, stories or anything. It would be that way Sunday and Monday too. Please tell me they aren't all getting sick again!
I'm going to skip Sunday because we went to a beach resort and it needs it's own post.
Today was an errand day. Back to the garage to pick up Ian's van key (oops... I drove the van home and had my own set). Over to Glorietta to look for that scrapbooking kiosk that no long exists and stop in at the bookstore. Bad bad bad! I did have a purpose, I was looking for a medical encyclopedia of some sort, but none were to be had. I guess I'll be looking around half.com for something that fits the bill. I can't believe I left my Parasitology book in storage or *gasp* I didn't donate it to the library back home did I? No, I couldn't have done that even in my worst "must dump everything" sweep. Could I? We left the store without any reference books, but with a stack of new books for Katherine and a great score of new dry erase books for Nicholas. Those are the best things for kids learning to write their letters. We swung by the indoor playground after indulging in fruit smoothies, then played in a toy store with the Thomas train table. Doesn't it sound like a a perfect day for kids? We also stopped at the grocery store and the housekeeper later cut up a pineapple and mangoes for our snacks this week. Sometimes, everything just seems right.
This afternoon Katherine came down with a headache and a couple tylenol didn't help. She was lethargic with little appetite, feeling cold all day and the first one fast asleep this evening before I even ascended the stairs. Sometimes, something just isn't right. Hopefully she just needs some extra sleep and it's a growth spurt.

Nicholas has no painful incidences this weekend.

3/1/04: Nicholas had a good weekend with no pain, so it seems that gas was the culprit for his episodes. Will keep you posted.

Newsflash: The Tooth Fairy is $1 poorer.

2/29/04: A memorable Leap Day 2004 when Rebecca became the gaptoothed wonder by losing her first tooth. Center bottom, she can now sip from a straw while keeping her jaw shut.

Rebecca made $2 when Katherine decided to be the tooth fairy as well, and sneak a dollar coin under Rebecca's pillow.