Tuesday, August 31, 2004


If you use ebay, you're probably aware of this scam, but if you aren't, don't get suckered.

Please read this message.

The other day, I received an e-mail stating the following:
Dear eBay customer,
During our regularly scheduled account maintenance and verification procedures, we have detected a slight error in your billing information.
This might be due to either of the following reasons:
1. A recent change in your personal information ( i.e.change of address).
2. Submitting invalid information during the initial sign up process.
3. An inability to accurately verify your selected option of payment due to an internal error within our processors.
Please update and verify your information by clicking the link below:
If your account information is not updated within 48 hours then your ability to sell or bid on eBay will become restricted.
Jonathan Goodman ,
eBay Safe Harbour Dpt
A couple warning bells should have already gone off in your head. If you've done any ebaying, you'll know right off if your account is working properly or not without some sort of "maintenance" telling you so.
If you click on the link like I did, some other red flags pop up.
The link it brings you to is NOT AN EBAY LINK. Instead you are brought to:
When the page popped up, I instinctively tried to scroll up. Why? Because the page does not open as every other ebay page does. For one thing, the funky multicolored logo is not at the top. BIG WARNING SIGN.
Next, at the bottom of the page is a statement that says:
"Your data is being sent encrypted using eBay's SSL security"
If you look at your own browser though, you will note that there is no lock at the bottom of the screen and any info you put in will NOT be securely transmitted, like a true ebay screen would.
Then, if you're still like me and scratching your head, you'll read the page.
The form asks for every conceivable bit of personal information you can imagine. Your Name, Address, SSN, CC#, CC PIN, Card limit (no kidding!), Bank name, Bank account number, Bank routing number, Your ebay account and password. And just to seem even moderately legit, it has a comment box at the bottom.
I have an overwhelming urge to type in the simple message "YOU SUCK!"
Please, if you receive an e-mail like this, check, double-check then check again to make sure it is valid. Amazon and ebay clearly state when you join that they will never send you an e-mail asking for this sort of information or validation. While the info was not asked for directly in the e-mail, that is this guy's way of finding a sucker.
Don't let it be you.

Monday, August 30, 2004


My parents celebrate their 31st wedding anniversary today. Have a great one!

Jeff's visit

Jeff was here for two weeks and I've barely written what we did during his visit, aside from the tour of Corregidor. That's most likely because he and Ian returned from Korea the second day of school so the weeks were busy with all that stuff.

So what -did- we do?

We watched a great deal of Olympics. None of the Philippine hopefuls achieved any high standings and we watched way too much boxing. Boxing is the thing here, that with cockfighting and chess. But boxing is not our thing so each evening we'd watch a bit and then search for something else on the tube. We couldn't stand watching too much of the crappy Olympics feed anyway. It would cut out mid-sentence from the commentators, there was no background for any of the competitors and medal ceremonies were few and far between. There were more commercials than sports, long lists of ads that would repeat every few minutes. Enough so that Jeff was reciting Tagalog catch phrases and we all wanted to go out and buy HOPE cigarettes so we could be as cool as the jet boating folks in the commercials. We even made a date to head to Petron to "get together, right now" in the convenience store. It was so very sad.
One night we played a decent game of Scrabble, most nights we talked loads and Jeff still had plenty of time to do work so he had billable hours and didn't have to take the entire vacation as leave. We went out to dinner at Le Souffle' at The Fort (good but nothing too impressive).
One afternoon was interesting. I'd bought a gift for a friend only to discover it had, of all things, termites. When all was quiet, we could hear a little scritching sound. And if we watched for 15 minutes, a little pile of sawdust would build up around invisible holes. I am not kidding. So I decided to put it outside in hopes that the little buggers wouldn't jump to our wooden floor and literally eat away the house. Jeff and I walked outside with the thing and as I looked for a place to hang it, he shut the door. I didn't have my keys. My wallet. My pass. The only thing I had was the extra key in the car and my cell phone. Thankfully the car was unlocked. It was time to pick up the kids from preschool so I called Ian and the next hour was spent remedying the situation. Could I get into Seafront without my pass or any form of ID? Would Ian get the keys to me at Seafront and how? Or would I be driving the extra distance to the Embassy with Katie on board as well?
In the end it all worked out, and even a little too smoothly. I didn’t get pulled over on the road, no surprise there. At the Seafront gate there was a car in front and a car behind so the guard recognized me and waved me on. Sometimes they scrutinize the ID through the window, as they should, but not that day. Katie fell asleep on the way home so she didn’t even notice we were going the wrong way or that it took longer than normal. And Ian did come to the Embassy gate and hand over his set of keys. Not a hitch and almost too easy.
Jeff is an adventurous soul, so I took my desire to try crappy food out on him. We ate at Jollibee. The food was as expected, but amazing guy that he is, he identified the special sauce on his cheese Yumburger. According to him it’s an exquisite mix of ketchup and mayo. Alright, I have to be honest and admit he didn’t use the term exquisite. We did concur that the Ube Macapuno Pocket Pie was downright tasty. I'm not kidding! For another lunch, we boldly stepped into Spam Jam at Glorietta. Ian wouldn’t dare go there so Jeff convinced me. The only items not Spam related are the drinks, hot dogs and fries. Had a hankering for Spam poppers? Spam and macaroni? A variety of Spamburgers? It’s all there and more. And you’ll get exactly what you’d expect from microwaved spam foodstuffs.
It’s a huge thing here, Spam and every other form of potted meat products. On TV there are ads for Kraft Chunky Chunks (a mayo spread with chunks of… spam?? Not sure, really) and Hormel Chunks. I can’t imagine that the Hormel version is better. Afterall they only have one Chunk in their name. Thankfully Jeff didn’t have me buy any of that. He bought enough odd snack foods from the Philippine snack aisle at the grocery. He said that people back home would eat them. I’m still waiting for the report to hear that it’s true.
We did put in one more day of Manila history by visiting Intramuros/Ft. Santiago/San Augustine on his last day here. Wouldn’t you know, it rained the entire time but we plugged on, chuckling at the sign on the Cathedral listing it’s five former lives and what destroyed the building each time. We toured the Rizal museum and commented on how dilapidated the Fort is. It seems that the caretakers do try to maintain the site, but it’s hard to appreciate when alongside buildings that housed Jose Rizal his final days, Japanese military men and Filipino prisoners of war, there are broken shutters and lamp posts piled high. Jeff seemed to carry the same sense of loss when viewing blackened paintings and centuries old tapestries wasting away in the heat and humidity of the San Augustine museum. The history is here, it’s just hard to see amongst the ruins of poor management and upkeep.
Ian took Jeff out to Burgos street near the end of his visit as well. I thought it would be interesting for him to see a different side of Manila and the most I’ll say about that is it’s a whole different ballgame when there is no accompanying woman.
Jeff left Wednesday, 25 August, though his flight departed at 12:30 a.m. Thursday. He made it home safely and by now is probably largely recovered. He did say that the first thing he did upon his arrival was take a shower to wash the Manila off. I don’t blame him. While here, he never did pass up a chance to us hand sanitizer either.
He’s a great houseguest and we loved having him. I think he bugged the housekeeper a bit, she didn’t seem at all thrilled that a single man was staying in our home. Oh well! We miss him already. In fact just today Nicholas told me that he was sad. Why? I asked. Because Mr. Jeff is gone. It’s OK, we’ll see him soon when we go back to Virginia.
But you know, we never did go on our Petron date.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Market! Market!

Right across from the school complex (ISM, British, Japanese) a new mall is rising in the heart of Fort Bonifacio. It's going to be gigantic and they are currently trying to finish the entrances and garages for the 16 September opening. Jeff didn't believe that it'll be ready in 2 weeks. We shall see. The kids are excited for the opening. Outside, a huge playgroung is going up.

I do wonder though how the opening of this mall will affect traffic in the area. Fort Bonafacio is still empty and getting to ISM takes 15 minutes or less on a typical day. I hope it doesn't change much.

AmeriKids update

Somehow I was roped into being part of the board for AmeriKids Preschool. It’s not a role I hate. Far from it I think it’s great. Last year I was asked to maintain the website. It was originally on a free Tripod site, but this year I took all the content and moved it to a stable site of its own.

You can see it at AmeriKids. I’d wanted AmeriKids.us but it was bought and the gentleman who owns it wouldn’t sell. Oh well.

The boys are having a wonderful time. We bring a little girl, Katie, with us in the morning and then bring her home after. Though we’ve seen her at school and been at her home a couple times, riding in our car was still new and the first few days were rough. She has calmed down and seems to be enjoying herself now. There’s a lot of giggling going on back there.

Michele meets Holden Caufield

I remember hearing how The Catcher in the Rye (Salinger) was banned from this school and that, but it was never on my reading list and I hadn’t gotten around it. Yesterday while returning another book I skimmed the classics shelves. To avoid a roundtrip home I figured I’d pick one and spend my morning reading in the library (tough life, I know). Rye seemed about the right length for a morning’s leisure so I started and finished about three hours later.

I know for the time it was written, it was quite a masterpiece. I don’t get the brouhaha though. Granted, I understand why some parents wouldn’t approve of their children reading it with the language and some of the subject matter, but in all honesty I believe that it’s nothing a Senior AP English student wouldn’t be able to handle and understand. I’m just not sure why it’s still on high school reading lists.

I’m obviously not an English teacher. I’ve never been good at finding the deeper meanings in classic novels and this was no exception. Is this book popular for the high school crowd because it’s about an unmotivated 16 year old breaking the rules? Someday I may have to be enlightened. At the moment though, having read it is enough for me.

A Little Personal Growth?

I can't really say "growth" but I'm still trying to read regularly and we're tossing in an interesting movie here and there. Over Jeff's visit, we saw "Raise the Red Lantern" and I read The Ugly American (Lederer).

"Raise the Red Lantern" we'll toss in with "Osama" as far as a story of hope and encouragement. I don't want to give the plot away because I enjoy movies without having much of a clue about them, but there are no happy moments from the first scene to the last. I do recommend it though. Like "Osama" it gives a glimpse into a world few Americans can understand, though instead of Afghanistan under the Taliban, it is about a Chinese "family."
Perusing the Seafront library, I came across Lederer's The Ugly American. While I was reading Summer Sisters (Bloom), Ian read it on the shuttle and found it extremely interesting. I finished it this week and also found it compelling. It takes a look at foreign service and the State Department but is written as a novel.
I'd like to purchase my own 1958 First Printing (it was that good) and am still looking for one. Yes, I know they are available on half.com and used books at amazon.com but for some reason I'm shying away from buying an older copy I can't see first. While searching for the novel, we came across a movie of the same title, though it looks like it pulls one character from the book. For now it will go on our netflix list.
While the book layed around the house, Katherine saw the cover and asked what the title meant. It opened up a discussion on the various definitions of "ugly" and what the phrase "ugly American" means specifically. It's a huge concept and one I don't think she fully grasps yet. How do we effectively get across to her that outside of the United States, Americans are viewed as loud, pushy, selfish and egocentric? That our open-mouthed and brash laughter, our swinging arms and loud speech don't paint us self-assured and competent but as over-bearing and ignorant of foreign customs? That our desire for everyone to speak English puts us at a disadvantage and learning the local language would show our hosts a true interest in their culture?
The door has been opened for further discussions. We also have the opportunity to actively watch how we behave and see if we are continuing the "ugly American" stereotype or if we give our host countries a better impression of Americans. Those who are willing to understand other cultures. It all boils down self-awareness and a respect for others.
Wish us luck. I get the feeling this will be a lifelong endeavor and not just for Katherine either. It's a family affair and one we should all aspire to when we step off our home soil.

Let's Talk

So how is Nicholas doing these days with his speech? He's 4 1/2 and with the exception of mixing up his pronouns (she/her/hers and he/him/his) he is doing very well. I would describe his clarity with strangers at about 3 1/2 though.

Jonathon is moving along well. He picks up poor grammar from his brother and the two of them use several of the same mispronunciations. For example:

Bubblefly: A flying insect with often colorful wings.
Catterputer: Those little crawly bugs that turn into bubbleflies.
Munty: aka Something.

If I here any more, I'll add them in. They are getting bigger so the cute words are being edged out by proper words, which is a sad thing to see.

There's always a silver lining

On Friday I picked up the girls from school and we schlepped over to Seafront to get our annual TB check.

The boys had received their shots the week before and both had come back normal. This time the girls and I were ready. Katherine spoke incessantly on the car ride over about how she really didn't like the TB test. That and finger pricks were "the absolute worst" and she would rather have her blood drawn. She got so worked up she was on the verge of tears. The boys had done wonderful and tried to reassure her that it did hurt but it wasn't bad. And she'd get candy. Rebecca was nervous and wanted me to go first, but in the end did just fine as well.
When the nurse called, we were ready. The thing was, Katherine didn't have to get the test at all. Because of last year's positive reaction followed by the course of INH, she is now branded CONVERTED on her medical folder. Once a positive, always a positive. She will perpetually carry the potential for the disease in her blood.
Katherine was thrilled. She couldn't resist rubbing it in to all her siblings that she would never have to get that shot again and we would, nyah nyah. No amount of discussion could convince her that it was actually worse to -have- those nasty TB germs in her body (and the six months of daily drugs she'd had to take), than to get a little bump on her arm once a year. Nope, she got out of there without a shot and was bouncing with joy.
There's a silver lining to everything.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

The Avocado

Avocados are cheap. Very cheap. You can buy three here for P40. When I was a kid, I remember my parents eating avocados often. They would buy them, split them in half, pop out the seed and then pour salad dressing in the little bowl the seed left. Then they’d proceed to eat the whole thing just to the skin. My mom and I would try to grow avocado plants periodically and sometimes succeeded in getting at least some growth.

I’m sure at some point in time I tried one. I probably didn’t like it and that’s why my only memory is of my parents eating them. I know I don’t like guacamole, but then I’m not a huge fan of foods that have loads of little random bits in them. But a few weeks ago I bought some avocados, just because. I prepared it just as my parents did, poured some Italian dressing in the middle and took a scoop.
You can tell a ripe avocado by its texture. When you pick one, it doesn’t matter how green it is. If it’s all brown though it’s past its prime, so look for fruits that are solid, just starting to brown and the best indicator, a little squishable. When you press on it, the skin should give a bit. If it’s hard as a rock, you can still buy them and they’ll ripen on your kitchen counter after a couple days. But once they start to soften you have a day or two to eat them.
Anyway, I took a scoop and found much to my surprise that I liked it. Avocados are almost tasteless, but not quite. And the texture might turn people off as it’s just this side of creamy. But I ate the whole thing and since then I’ve bought more. The kids aren’t keen on them. They’ll have a taste but none has taken to them. That’s OK, I figure I did the same thing as a kid and if they try it again when they’re older, they just might like it.
About food and kids, one thing I do with mine is have them take a taste of everything. If they don’t care for it that’s fine, but I don’t accept “That’s yucky” and I don’t let them spit it out. Even Jonathon has reached the point of choking a bite down and saying “I don’t like it, but it’s yummy for you”. Not everyone has the same tastes and that’s OK. But there’s no need to be rude about it. I think it’s done wonders for Rebecca. She’s so wary of trying new stuff, but she’s had enough good experiences that she’s much more willing now than a year ago to take the plunge rather than going on looks alone. Afterall, we’re in Asia and it’s not often that new foods here look wonderfully appetizing to our American eyes.
One thing I haven’t attempted yet with the avocado is a mixture our housekeeper suggested. Mash up the avocado meat, crush some SkyFlakes crackers and mix it in. Then pour in milk. Mix it all together and freeze. She swears it’s “just like ice cream”. Color me doubtful.
Some of the concoctions here are just plain wrong.

14 August 2004: Corregidor Island

With Jeff here, we finally took the trip across the Bay to Corregidor Island. Part of a set of 7 islands in the Bay, Corregidor is the one that looks like a bumpy tadpole.

Plenty of people visit the island though it’s not inhabited by islandfolk anymore, and there’s a scheduled CLO trip coming in October (which will not only include the boat and bus tour, but you can sign up to stay overnight, take in a round of paintball and add in the nighttime Malinta Tunnel tour).
There’s a regular day trip that goes to the island on Sun Cruises, so that’s what we did. Arriving at the terminal, we retrieved our boarding passes and lunch ticket and took our seats on the ferry. I hadn’t thought about what the ferry might be like, but was pleasantly surprised to see that it was a well-kept machine (from the outside at least), the crew was sharply dressed in white uniforms, the seats were worn but relatively clean… and in fact there were bona fide cushioned seats. Rows of wooden benches wouldn’t have shocked me, but the air conditioned lower deck with multiple TVs and a snack cart was indeed pleasant. The upper deck was split between an indoor air conditioned section with a little snack bar and an outdoor section for the smokers and those who felt less than fine on the trip.
Mostly on time, we left the little harbour around 8 a.m. and took off at 23 knots across the Bay. We’d chosen a row of seats in the lower deck, chatted, watched some history programs about Corregidor and munched on some snacks for the first 30 minutes. The snack cart came by a couple times, the first time the crew giving Nicholas a full package of Pringles then taking it back… as a joke! OK, that’s just mean to a 4 year old. On the second swing by they gave him a pack of Piknik potato strings… and let it be a gift. Either they thought he was really cute or they realized that taking back a snack from a 4 year old is wrong and were trying to make amends. Either way, he was thrilled and did share it with the rest of us.
The girls couldn’t eat much, including me. The rocking of the boat took its toll. Rebecca lost her breakfast into the bathroom sink. Katherine paled and curled into a ball. I watched TV hoping that looking up would even out the rocking, then resorted to closing my eyes and trying not to think about anything. Later Ian said he hadn’t felt too great either and neither did Jeff, but since the rest of us were a mess they didn’t fall apart like we had. Did I learn nothing from crossing Cook’s Strait?
The hour and twenty minutes could not go by quickly enough. It should have taken 10 fewer minutes but we sailed through a small rain storm on the way. The skies were fairly clear when we arrived though and we discussed options for alternate return methods. How sad. The only thing we could think of was to request air relief. Ian texted the flight school.
So we boarded our bus and packed 40 people into 35 seats. We were off. Corregidor’s tadpole shape had us start at the tale end and work our way over to the head, passing Japanese dug foxholes along the way. Our first stop was a memorial to various victorious battles fought by famous Filipinos. Jeff later noted that it was a memorial to valiant fights that didn’t bring about future success. In every conflict in history the Filipinos have failed to claim overall victory. It was a testament to a good try. Our hero, Lapu Lapu had a segment of wall for defeating Magellan, but we all know where that ended.
Our tour continued and we wound our way around the island seeing batteries, bombed out buildings, craters, and more memorials. One garden was for the Japanese who had died in battle. It was a lovely area even with the guns still mounted and had the distinction of also being the Drop Zone for American paratroopers during the final recovery siege. A small gift shop sold “Drop Zone” gear, but with only 7 minutes to tour around it was the gift shop or actually seeing the place, so I missed out on purchasing some nifty gear. Unfortunate, because that little shop was the only place on the entire island to get those items and I don’t see us going back to Corregidor any time soon. Perhaps some kind soul can be bullied into buying me a souvenir on their future visit. Being a drop zone may not seem like a big deal, but the zone was the worst designated zone of the war being a narrow strip of land with cliffs all around, and jagged concrete waste littering the ground. Because of this, they expected a huge casualty rate. Instead, 280 were killed or severely injured, a 13.5 % casualty loss. That’s impressive for what they faced.
Another stop was the “disappearing battery”, a couple of hydraulic powered guns that could rise up from the ground when they fired, then sink down again to be a more difficult target. Under the guns were a number of doors with stairwells leading down to the depths to keep munitions and bunker soldiers. Katherine had the idea to go down a set and check things out. Though I could see that it became pitch black rather quick, we started down. About 10 to the bottom and couldn’t see any firther, though we could tell the tunnel turned sharply to the right. Trying to let our eyes adapt, we stopped and listened. Ssssss. Ian, what was that? Sounded like water to me. Sssss. From behind us, Rebecca said I made that noise. It was coming up, not down, it wasn’t you Rebecca. Yes it was. Ssss. OK, that’s not water. Watch everyone turn and head back up the steps to daylight.
We chatted amongst ourselves about our failed adventure as we returned to the bus, when our tour guide casually mentioned that the island is crawling with cobras. Perhaps she was pulling our leg, but it seemed plausible so we decided not to venture off the main path again. Granted we’d been given no warning not to go into the depths, nor were there any signs or barriers telling us to stay away, but now there was no question. Katherine’s curiousity would have to be satiated at another time.
Further on we visited an “aviary” because it seems that every Philippine attraction has to have a bunch of birds and small creatures in cages. Yet again, we saw sorry creatures with nothing of interest to look at or do. There is no limit to the space available on Corregidor to make a huge sanctuary, yet one small bearcat was housed in a birdcage of all things. It was just big enough for it to turn in a circle. A pond of turtles had a wire screen over top, presumably to keep them from escaping, but the water was foul and there were too many turtles crammed in to draw anything but pity. Yet another cage held tiny monkeys and a keeper brought one out for the kids to pet. I visibly shuddered at the sight of my children touching its fur and paws. How wonderful it would have been to glimpse these same creatures out in the wild taking their chances with a free life as we bounced along in our open air bus than in those wire cages, “safe” and miserable.
The aviary was adjacent to the tennis courts. Not terribly exciting until you learn that Corregidor has no source of freshwater, so all drinking water is brought over from Cavite and Bataan. During the war, some freshwater was safeguarded under the tennis courts and it was a bombing target for the Japanese though I don’t believe it was ever directly hit.
General Macarthur was a big man on Corregidor. Lorcha Dock is where he said his famous “I shall return” before setting sail for Australia to run the Pacific theater. For a long time I’ve wanted to get to Leyte, another island, where he actually did return. There’s a pool with statues of Macarthur and his entourage walking ashore. Thing is, there’s nothing else there but a couple midgrade resorts. Now that we’ve seen where Macarthur spent a good deal of time, seeing Leyte is less pressing. Corregidor is also so much easier to get too with the regularly scheduled hour long ferries. Reaching Leyte takes a plane, a boat and a bus. No wonder there’s not much else there.
The highlight of the trip is the Malinta Tunnel. Ma means many and Linta means leech. When in use, the tunnels were dark and damp with poor air circulation. Morale was low for the soldiers there and illnesses rampaged. The tunnel was constructed in the 1920s and then during WWII it was used as a hospital, MacArthur’s headquarters and President Quezon’s wartime residence. I recommend spending the P150 to take the “light and sound” show. It’s quirky but informative. I didn’t know what to expect when it started, so I don’t want to give it away for those who take the tour themselves. Jonathon was unimpressed though. Once you’re near the exit of the main tunnel there are several laterals in various degrees of disrepair, and Jonathon would have nothing to do with any of them. Not that they’re open for inspection, really, but when Ian would veer any bit from the middle of the tunnel, Jonathon would react “No daddy! No tunnel!” Poor kid was traumatized.
Ft. Drum, aka El Fraile, would be an amazing place to actually walk through if it were safe and stable. We glimpsed it off in the water, from high atop Malinta Hill and it looks for all intents and purposes, like a ship. In 1909 construction on the island began to change it from the plain rock it was to a multideck concrete battleship with two 14” guns. There’s a book all about it called The Concrete Battleship: Fort Drum, El Fraile Island, Manila Bay by Francis J. Allen.
Lunch was at the Corregidor Hotel and for typical Filipino fare it wasn’t that bad. The kids ate enough spaghetti and watermelon to make it worthwhile, but Jeff was confused by the pork dish, basically finger long strips of pork where ¾ of each piece was skin and fat with barely a nibble of pork at the bottom. We don’t wonder anymore, we just shrug and skip over it. With our view of Malinta tunnel, the serenade trio sang “Que Sera Sera” to our table and put in the requisite Beatles tune to another table. All that was lacking was an ABBA song. We stopped into the gift shop then climbed back onto the bus for the remainder of our tour. I won’t tell you the rest, consider it your duty to find out should you take the trip yourself.
The return boat trip was so much better. Our attempts at finding an alternate way off the island had all fallen through, but it didn’t matter. Loads of folks must have been staying overnight because the formerly packed and smoky outdoor deck was empty. We stayed outside to enjoy the breeze and view while sucking on some ancient Mentos from the snack bar. No seasickness this time around and we considered our trip a complete success.
Addendum: Since our trip last week I have been spending a lot of time on-line reading about Corregidor, Ft. Drum and Bataan. I purchased a book on the island about the history of Corregidor and while the printing job is simply awful, the writing is very readable and completely enthralling. I have found a new interest. And isn’t that the point?

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Are you wondering...

Are you wondering what has happened to us? Our internet has been more than flaky of late, and it has been extremely difficult to be on-line. I'm hoping the issues will be cleared up soon. Until then, I'm keeping up the journal in Word and once things are more stable here, you'll get caught up. Promise!

Watching Time Pass

My baby boy is three. I don’t know how it happened, but there you have it. He’s three now.

He’s headstrong, fearless, charming and irritating. He whines more than any creature ought to, he melts my heart whenever he says “Mom, I like you”. How does the work Like affect me so much more than Love? Perhaps because telling someone you like them takes forethought, when a quick I Love You rolls off the tongue without much thought anymore. When he says I Like You (and even I Love You), I truly believe he means it.
All day he was so proud to be three. When someone asked how old he was, he remembered without hesitation, and it seems that he physically grew this week to fit his new three year old image. He was quick to say “I’m the birfday boy!” to anyone who would listen, reminding us that it was his turn to be in charge because it was his birthday and never tiring of hearing his song. While Nicholas became shy during a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday in April, Jonathon would beam every time.
For preschool, he wore a borrowed crown from Rebecca’s Filipino celebration last year, a piece reminiscent of mardi gras. Bedecked, he strutted around reveling in all the attention. The day before I’d asked him what sort of snack treat he’d like for his friends and offered suggestions of brownies, cookies or cupcakes. He chose ice cream, so ice cream it was. At the end of his class, we passed out cups of chocolate and double dutch ice cream to twelve 2-4 year olds. (I made the mistake of not checking with parents beforehand though, and one little girl told me she was allergic to chocolate. Oops! Luckily Teacher Nympha had a package of vanilla ice cream on reserve in the freezer).
One mother asked me when Jonathon’s party was. I told her that today was his birthday. She asked if the party was on Saturday and I said that, no, we were having a family party tonight. I was dense. It dawned on both of us then what the other was saying. She was asking me if we were having a big party for him and I was saying we weren’t. It hadn’t occurred to me to have anything else for him. Another party would simply have had the same kids and after thinking about it I realized that four hours of playing at preschool followed by ice cream with his friends was just about perfect for a three year old.
We swung by the school to get the girls and get Katherine to the swimming pool to try out for the Sailfish swim team. She did amazing in her new Harry Potter swimsuit, I didn’t know the kid could even backstroke. The tryouts were not for elimination, but for placement, so everyone who has an interest can practice and learn how to be a better swimmer. They can also participate in meets, which Katherine is looking forward to. Her new friends Erin and Gillian also tried out so the three of them will be in the pool together. Rebecca watched from the sidelines with a look that said she wished she could swim better but that she knew she couldn’t be with them. It was sad for me to see. I know that it’s more a confidence issue with her, but swimming is hard for her and I don’t think she’s quite ready to face that beast in a competitive arena yet. Give her a couple more years.
After a quick ice cream in the Middle School canteen we went by the house to pick up the receipt for Jonathon’s cake, then I waited illegally while Jeff ran in to the Red Ribbon shop and picked up Jonathon’s Batman cake. All day he’d been telling people that he was having a Thomas the Tank Engine cake and I just couldn’t find one anywhere. When I told him, he said that was OK, at least I got the flavor right. Chocolate, just like last year. The evening was winding down with only one thing left. Presents. He opened his cards from great-grandma and grandma&grandpa (both had cash which is now safely put away) then reached for the gifts. Grandpa had sent a Nemo art pack that he will get loads of use from, along with a stuffed Nemo that he hugged fiercely. He also received a set of Nemo sheets that, once washed, will go directly on his bed. And of course, some new underwear. Bob the Builder! Mom and dad got him a wooden toy locally called the RollerCoaster. A tall structure with a little train that zigzags its way down the path. Hard to explain really, I haven’t found a similar item on-line so you’ll have to wait for photos. His sisters also gave him some gifts. Katherine had beautifully wrapped a lollipop and small puzzle for him and Rebecca had hand-made a paper gold medal. He was charming about all his gifts, pronouncing them his favorites and fawning over each one in turn. The only bad thing was we’d run out of video tape during the cake cutting so I missed his reactions to his gifts. That’s a missed memory but one I will try to hold on to.
He’s such a wonderful kid, even for all the times he stops my heart with his wild ways, interrupts incessantly and won’t stop picking his nose and spitting in the car. His smile makes me happy and in every way he is very special, even “ ‘pecial to push buttons”. He knows he’s not a big kid yet, but that he’s bigger than he was at two and that he’ll keep on growing. It’s something I can’t wait to see. Jonathon is the spice in our lives. Without him life would be simpler, mellower and a lot less fun.
Guess what baby boy, I like you too.

Saturday, August 7, 2004

A fun day today.

Ian may be off touring the Korean DMZ today, but the kids and I had fun at the Back to School swim party at Seafront (thankfully the rain held off until the party ended) and at Glorietta to see the Imperial Circus.

There were plenty of kids at the party, enough to actually be a surprise. The pool is never that busy. But for 3 hours, with a short break for lunch, the kids swam and swam and I took Jonathon to the potty 4 times. I didn't think it was possible for a little guy to go that much.
Afterwards, we were home for about 1/2 hour, enough to change and rest before getting to Glorietta with the dream of seats. I should have known better and just taken the kids during the week. Saturday afternoon at the mall? Yeah right. But we were close enough and sat on the ground and it was fine.
The Imperial Circus is a small traveling show with former members of the Moscow Circus and Cirque de Soleil. I don't know if they are former members because the cast changed or because they weren't quite up to par, but either way it was a great show. Our favorites were the acrobats balancing atop a stack of chairs, hanging from a hoop, and swinging round through the air from a long flowing span of material. The clowns were fun but (is this possible?) I think some of the humor went over the kids' heads.
I'm really pleased with the cultural activities brought free to the community. An hour or less is perfect for all of my kids to enjoy a show and be exposed to artistry and music. Not to say that they wouldn't enjoy longer, but these bits here and there really give them a wide range of exposure that doesn't have to be planned and scheduled. It fits into our daily life without trouble and makes it something they are familiar with rather than something unusual and foreign. I like that. Now that we've seen The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and the Imperial Circus, I wonder what's next?

Scrapbookers Unite

Months ago Laura K. showed me her scrapbooks, and I took the plunge. Then my mom saw mine and actually went QVC on scrapbook stuff. She wants to get together with a coworker to get started. Today at the pool Laura, Stephanie and I talked about getting together weekly to scrap (I might get caught up?? Ha. But I'll get a whole lot further than I am!) and then I talked to a new arrival, Sonja, and she scraps. I'm hoping she'll join the "group".

I knew it was taking over, but this is ridiculous. In a good way.

Thursday, August 5, 2004

So I'm single mother for 6 days.

Ian left for Korea this morning and after 6 days will return with Jeff in tow.

He's flying Korean Air and when I spoke to him this evening he said it was a decent flight. Not long either, it runs about 4 hours. He certainly had it easier than Jeff who flew in from D.C.
On the way to drop him off at the airport we passed a Cebu Pacific billboard. The image was of the aisle in an airplane with a giant bee smiling gleefully and holding a take-out box of food. Yup, CP now serves Jollibee on their flights. YumBurger or ChickenJoy, how will anyone choose?? Like I don't feel ill enough with the flight alone.
The kids were getting sad knowing daddy wouldn't be there to say Goodnight in the evening. Ian tried to lighten the mood and was chatting with Jonathon about his upcoming birthday. The littlest man will be 3 on the 18th, can anyone believe that?
Ian: Only a couple more weeks until your birfday.
Jonathon: Then I be three. Then I be bigger.
Why do kids want to grow up so fast?
We said our farewell and reached SM in good time. It wasn't completely chaotic yet (and I've discovered that if you park on the 8th level of the Park Square garage, there's a bridgeway directly into the children's section of the department store) so we had way too many people hovering when buying shoes for Katherine, and hovering when looking for swimsuits for Rebecca and hovering when choosing flashlights and nails in the home repair section. Which is worse... 1000 people squashing you every way you turn or 4 people watching your every move? I think they are equally unpleasant.
The nails and flashlights were easy enough. The swimsuits were a bust as all the store carried was Speedo and I there are better deals ordering overstocks on-line or asking my mom to watch the post-season sales. And the shoes, well, I sure hope Katherine's feet don't grow too quick, and that she doesn't lose them in the meantime. I battled between junky $10 tennies and decent more, um, expensive shoes. She's wearing a size 4 now, the last size in children's shoes, so I took the plunge. She now owns a great pair of Skechers that has some toe wiggling space and thankfully no cartoon characters. I told her she was too big for charater shoes anymore and I think that took her aback. Was it the wrong thing to say? She's only 8 afterall, but if she wants character stuff I have no problem with a t-shirt. I feel that shoes should be able to go with anything, even tennis shoes and she's old enough to look nice and think it matters. I'm probably scarring her for life.
With no reasonable swimsuits in sight we decided to try the stores in Glorietta. Can you believe not a single child's swimsuit in the entire children's section? Tina T. and I will be going out together to shop in a couple weeks so we'll look together then, perhaps in Landmark.
We had lunch at Coeur de France and the kids played for a bit at the playground. There was a swimming lesson in the afternoon so we went home for about an hour to relax and rest beforehand. The lesson was good, part of it down in moderately heavy rain (but no lightning) and with a quick stop in the Club to pick up a soda and brownie we were off to home. Jonathon and Rebecca were seriously fading so we had an early dinner of hotdogs and watermelon before stories and finally bed.
What am I up to tonight? I have a couple things to get ready to mail then I feel like cleaning up the bedroom a bit. The next few nights will be quiet but I hope I don't use them as an excuse to stay up until 11 or 12. I've done that before when Ian was out for the evening or gone on a trip. But I need to be rested since it's just me for 5 more days. Tomorrow should be a good day, I've let the kids decide what to do before swimming. Thanks AmyN for the suggestion.

Monday, August 2, 2004

The final week of summer.

I know summer doesn't actually end for a while yet, but summer vacation is just about over. The kids start up next week.

We had a fun weekend. They're all doing well in swimming still. I need to take video of them this week to mark how far they've come because it really is astonishing. Or maybe it's just that I didn't have any real expectations?
After swimming on Friday, we stayed at Seafront and had dinner at the Club. Ian met us there and we joined a bunch of other people, including the Videgars, for a CLO sponsored Scavenger Hunt. The race was to begin at 7 p.m. with four teams, each with about 8-10 people. At a few minutes to 7, the skies opened, lightning flashed and we paced about wondering what to do. The kids were going to be a real pain if all we'd hyped was literally going to be washed down the drain.
So we all sucked it up, got our first clue and started running. Within minutes we were drenched but that just made the evening more fun. For an hour the eight of us (including Katie and Jeff Groves) slopped about through the puddles from front gate to back, from FPO to USEC and the baseball field. We even picked up a straggling blue team member for a while. Nathan is 5 years old and is Nicholas's "best friend" so he stuck with us until the blue team collected him again. The joke later was that while the blue team won the hunt, they should have forfeited by losing one of their members! The final clue led to a pot of gold. Or in our case, a pot of chocolate coins. While we didn't win, we did have a blast and were glad we didn't bail out when the rains started.
Afterwards we hung out in the bar for a bit and introduced the kids to a couple of new arrivals. I know how that sounds, but while it is a bar and folks were having a Happy Hour, we also have lunch in there periodically and when the AmeriKids have a Club Lunch they sit in the bar as well. It's a very family friendly place. Really. Katherine entertained the table with talk about Harry Potter and the boys tried to kill themselves by climbing the bar stools. All in all, a fun night. I met the new folks as well, Tim & Amy and Eric & Rachel. Tim and Rachel are both in NIV with Ian.
Saturday I did some quick groceries then the family went to Shangri-La Plaza in Mandaluyong. Just like last week. This time we had lunch at the Steak House and stopped in at the American Eye Center. The Steak House was surprisingly good with some great cuts of meat. There was even a salad bar with clean and fresh foods. I gave a plate of apple and pineapple slices to Jonathon to eat with his soup and garlic bread and he was content until taking a bite of apple.
"Mommy, this yucky"
"It is?"
*mom tastes*
"Oh my goodness, that's awful! Hey Ian, know how everything in this country has sugar added to it? Well the things you might expect to have sugar, like these apples, have been salted. Taste this"
*expect him to lick it or take a nibble, he pops a chunk into his mouth*
"Ack, that's awful!"
"Yeah, I think they soaked these apples in salt water. Why would they do that?"
Remember: Never assume anything.
Saturday evening, Laura & Ryan and Stephanie & Matt (with their son, Cavin) came over for a nacho buffet dinner. Laura brought ice cream and toppings. Stephanie brought fresh fruit. All together, we had a really great meal. We even brought the kitchen table out to the dining area so we'd all have plenty of room and the kids wouldn't feel separated, even with sitting at another table.
Sunday was church, then Ian went flying at his new school while the kids and I hung out at home, then Misty and Chad came over for a bit and we talked about New Zealand and Vietnam. They borrowed some travel books and will lend us theirs on Vietnam. We'd planned on them staying for dinner and had potatoes baking in the grill with chicken waiting, but they had some errands to run so we had a quiet evening of just the family. It was nice though after being around so many people the last couple days.
Today was the day I'd set aside for going to ISM and finishing up last minute paperwork. The car now sports an 04-05 parking sticker, the girls have their new IDs, and I filled out the form for bus pick-up. I'd actually done that already back in June, but they raised prices so the new price form had to be filled in. Then we went by both girls' classrooms and I'll be going in with them on Monday too to meet their teachers. We'd wanted to play at the playground for a bit, but the covers had been taken down and there were gardeners everywhere so we didn't stay. The kids were bummed of course, but what could I do? We had lunch at home (all those yummy leftovers from the weekend) then it was school time. Nicholas did lessons 5 and 6 in _100 Lessons_, Jonathon finished up all the spacial orientation worksheets, and Rebecca has finally progressed to reading instructions in her workbook on her own. Until now, she would complete a page then sit and wait until I turned the page and read the next set. Of course, being a workbook there are several pages of similar activities or pages that focus on the same concept so she can do them on her own. She can read so much better now, but still needs to be cajoled into doing it on her own. Katherine is flipping around in her workbook and I have to keep reminding her that concepts build on each other. Even if she wants to do a different section, she needs to start with the first page of a set. She's not buying it.
Tomorrow I plan to take them swimming first thing in the morning. We'll see if the weather cooperates.