Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Togo has a new president

30 April update: Of course, we are making connections with folks either in Lome or heading there. I've been e-mailing with the principal of AISL for many months and the new RSO is currently taking French at FSI. The new DCM (who arrives in Lome a couple weeks before we do) will be starting French soon and we've of course been going back and forth with the CLO, Housing and other sections.

I'd written an e-mail to the principal earlier this week, knowing that until phone lines were restored she wouldn't receive it. Basically, it was an inquiry into the safety of the school, the students and of course, herself. Today I received a response outlining the past week:
"Yes, the cell and land phones and the Internet were down as all communications were cut off by the government. We are just getting back to normal as best we can. A short scenario- Saturday-school across the street from my house attacked, ramsacked and looted, Sunday-Elections, Monday School closed, Tuesday I opened the school thinking the election outcome would take days to be announced-wrong. The annoucements came at noon-parents picked up the students. Automatic gunfire everywhere, fires blocked every intersection and tear-gas in the air. At 4:00 p.m. remaining staff and students left the school for the teacher's boarding house. Didn't feel safe there as house across the street attacked and looted. Drove in teacher's car with 3 remaining students and 3 staff for the German Embassy where we stayed overnight. Wed-students were taken home at noon and I returned to my house ... Teachers left for home or for Ghana on Thursday. Thursday and Friday-school closed. Hope to open school on Monday."
The good news, of course, is that all are OK.
Recap: Elections were held this past Sunday and a new President has been elected. According to the polls, Faure Gnassingbe won with a respectable 60% of the vote, while the runner up, Bob Akitani, scored 38% of the vote. So Mr. Faure, the former President's son, has been elected. He's being very gracious about it, extending his hand and asking the loser to join in a "government of national unity." The only problem is that the opposition believes the election was rigged. Violence is erupting in the streets, 11 people are reported dead, And Mr. Akitani is now declaring himself President too.
To reiterate what Ian wrote: Post has been placed on Authorized Departure. What does that mean? Non-essential personnel and family members who want to leave, can. And new people can't arrive at post. It's early so we don't yet know how this will affect us in July. Until then, we live our lives as though we're off to Togo on August 31st, and hope that the country calms itself in the meantime.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Not ToGoing well...

It's post-election time in Lome.

If you haven't been keeping track: The longtime dictator died a few months ago, and his son was installed in his place, flouting the constitution. The African Union made a fuss, the Togolese military relented, and elections occurred Sunday.
Despite a unified opposition candidate, the dictator's son won by a 20 percent margin. The US Embassy and neighboring countries had some observers there, so I'll leave the "free and fair election" decision to them. But I bet if you guess, you'll guess right. Now the angry people of Lome, which are largely of a different ethnic group than the dictator's clan, are tearing up the place in frustration. Most of the Lebanese traders have left, and the Chinese Embassy was attacked.
We're supposed to leave for Lome on 31 August. Where does this leave us? Well, the Embassy is now on Authorized Depature for family members, which means that the USG will pay the tab for any family who wants to leave. There's also a curfew. It's all here, in the State Department's latest Travel Warning.
Here's the latest news.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Tv turn-off week

We're endeavoring, at least for the kids/daytime, to have no TV or computer games for the week. Today was day 1 and it went well with daddy playing Monopoly Jr. with the boys and Multiplication War with Katherine. All the kids had baths, Rebecca and I scrapped, and we read lots of bedtime stories. During the day, the boys listened to stories on CD (a birthday gift for Nicholas from the grandparents) while playing Legos for hours. Of course, it's also grocery day and housekeeping day, so there's no time to be bored.

One thing I wasn't thrilled with... _Eloise_. This book has won awards and "people" love it. I do not. I didn't enjoy reading it, and the kids didn't enjoy hearing it because of my dislike. I couldn't get over what a brat the kid was, and then you have to read the book in one long breath because there's absolutely no punctuation. Yes. I get it. Stream of conscious, jumping from one activity to the next, ignoring what a pain you're being... it's all normal for a 6 year old. But goodness, I found myself checking how many pages were left for me to suffer through. Twice. Nicholas got up and walked away. Jonathon asked how much more there was. We won't be reading it again and good riddance.
OK, it's late and I haven't written anything about the past two weekends. I promise I will, just not tonight. We went to the American History Museum, the Air and Space Museum and the Maryland Science Center, so we've been busy.

Something in the Air

I don't know what's up, but the boys have been getting along so well. Several times the past few days, Nicholas has quietly said just so Jonathon could hear (and mom overheard while puttering around), "You're fun to play with, Jonathon." He really means it. And they have been playing great. Oh sure, there are tussles now and then, but they've been great.

Today I got cranky at Jonathon for not listening to me (again) and sent him off to his room (again). Nicholas pulled out a piece of paper and a marker. "Mom, I'm going to make you a happy card." A happy card? "A card to make you happy." It had hearts and pictures of me and him smiling in the corners. Jonathon sidled out of his room and got his own piece of paper. "Mama, I'm going to make a card too." Commence coloring. "Here's a happy card for you. Happy that I don't have to be in my room anymore." It had me under a rainbow. See, that's how he gets away with things. I hadn't released him from his room and yet, how could I stay firm and send him back?

Yes, it does bite me in the butt every time. But gosh the boys are cute.

Friday, April 22, 2005

22 April 2005 - Togo

Lome, 22 April, IRIN:

Thousands of opposition supporters swathed in yellow took to the streets of Lome on Friday insisting that people power would remove the government, even if opposition candidate Emmanuel Bob Akitani were declared the loser of Sunday's presidential election.

Many of them carried knives, hammers and iron bars, a sign of possible trouble to come as Togo heads towards a hastily organised poll which one influential minister tried to cancel at the last moment. He voiced fears that it would plunge this small West African country into bloody conflict.
Flashing 'V' signs, blowing whistles and sharpening their machetes on the pavement, the opposition supporters were defiant and confident.
"Me, I am going to support my candidate because I want change and we are ready to die for our freedom," said one muscular man of about 30 brandishing a machete. He wore a yellow tee-shirt, a yellow bandana round his head and a yellow cloth wound round the wrist of his machete hand.
Other opposition supporters drove by on cars and mopeds waving green, yellow and red national flags.
Government supporters, who have clashed repeatedly with the opposition in street fighting in recent weeks, were nowhere to be seen.
"Suicidal electoral process"
Interior Minister Francois Esso Boko summoned journalists and diplomats for a press conference at 2 a.m. on Friday morning to announce that the presidential election should be suspended.
He called for a transitional government to be formed, headed by a figure from the opposition, to rule Togo for a period of one to two years while the country drew up a new constitution.
"It is essential that the President of the Republic takes into account the very real risks which are visible on the horizon by ending this suicidal electoral process," Esso Boko said.
"We have reliable information that there is a very real risk of a slide into bloodshed as a result of this poll whose outcome is uncertain," said the interior minister, former officer in the paramilitary gendarmerie, who was charged with maintaining internal security.
But a few hours later, Interim President Abass Bonfoh sacked Esso Boko and announced that the election would go ahead as planned.
The transitional leader said Esso Boko he had spoken without consulting him. He appointed Justice Minister Karari Foli-Bazi to take over the interior ministry on a provisional basis.
"The forces of order and security have taken the necessary measures for the presidential election to take place in calm and serenity. Public order will be maintained," Bonfoh said in a statement read out for him by Information Minister Pitang Tchalla.
The election is expected to be a straight fight between Faure Gnassingbe, the son of Togo's late president Gnassingbe Eyadema who died in February after ruling the country with an iron hand for 38 years, and Bob Akitani, who is backed by an alliance of six opposition parties determined to drive the Eyadema family from power.
However, neither side appeared willing on Friday to concede defeat, whatever the official result of the ballot.
Neither side will accept defeat
Esso Boko, a veteran supporter of Eyadema's regime, warned that the army would try to stage a coup if Gnassingbe were defeated at the polls and that the opposition would take to the streets to seize power through a popular uprising if Bob Akitani were denied victory.
"If on the evening after the elections they announce the victory of the candidate of the regime, things are going to go very badly indeed," Jean Pierre Fabre, the deputy leader of the Union of Forces for Change (UFC), the largest party in the opposition alliance, told IRIN on Friday.
The UFC leader and eminence grise behind the opposition campaign is Gilchrist Olympio. He was banned from standing as a candidate in the presidential election because he has been living in exile in France for several years.
The opposition packed about 10,000 people into the national stadium in Lome for a final campaign rally on Friday afternoon.
The alliance has been calling for several weeks for the presidential election to be postponed, fearing that it will be rigged by the government and Eyadema's ruling Rally of the Togolese People (RPT) party in favour of the deceased president's son.
But Bob Akitani told his supporters at the rally that unless the poll was cancelled at the last moment, they should go out and vote.
"You must seek your freedom, you must seek your independence by turning out massively to vote on Sunday," he said.
The opposition has accused the government of preparing rig the poll in favour of Gnassingbe by packing the electoral roll with false names and preventing thousands of opposition supporters from being issued with voting cards.
ECOWAS says poll must go ahead
Bonfoh's decision to proceed with the controversial poll was backed by President Mamadou Tandja of Niger, the current chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Tandja described Esso Boko's attempt to try to abort the vote at the last minute as "irresponsible."
ECOWAS was instrumental in bringing about the presidential election in the first place. After Eyadema's death on 5 February, the army installed his son as head of state in defiance of the constitution.
However, ECOWAS, backed by the African Union, United Nations and all the main western powers, forced Gnassingbe to step down three weeks later and seek election through the ballot box.
Gnassingbe's slick and well-financed campaign has daubed Lome with massive campaign posters and his campaign slots appear constantly on television.
His heartland of support lies in northern Togo, where his father's Kabiye ethnic group lives.
Gnassingbe closed his campaign there with a rally in Kara, the main town in northern Togo, 400 km north of the capital.
He urged his supporters not to be put off by Esso Boko's sudden change of heart about the election "What has happened should not unnerve you," Gnassingbe said in a speech broadcast on national radio.
"Should we be afraid of elections which we are sure to win?" he asked, dismissing suggestions that Togo was headed for civil war.
In recent weeks, the Gnassingbe campaign has managed to assemble large crowds of supporters in the seaside capital Lome, but his supporters there decided to stay at home on Friday, leaving the opposition to rule the streets.
"This is the yellow revolution," said Chile Adobo, a spokesman for the alliance backing Bob Akitani.
"We will no longer allow ourselves to be trampled upon by the regime….Faure cannot win. It is just not possible. Victory belongs to us," he told IRIN.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The third kid has attained school age

Happy Birthday, Nicholas!

Yesterday the big guy turned 5. He's been waiting for this day since Katherine had her birthday and last week we made up a countdown chart for the wall. He crossed off each passing day, picked out his birthday cake, chose paper plates and wondered every day what he would receive as gifts. OK, the last one I'm not so proud of, but what can you do? The boxes arrived a week ago and since then they've been on top of the TV cabinet. This place isn't big enough for us to really hide anything so he had to deal with being teased by their presence every day.
Finally, the dawn of the 20th arrived. Shortly after 6 I shooed him back to his room. For a kid that wakes up around 7 these days, 6 was way early for him to be wandering. Besides, we'd set up a preschool scavenger hunt (an idea I stole from elsewhere) to find his gifts and I didn't want him moving things around. Around 7 when everyone was awake, he was allowed to move the cereal box from blocking his bedroom door. In fact, he put it back on the kitchen counter where a DVD was waiting. Looking confused, he put that back on the movie shelf where one of my shoes was sitting. The shoe went in the pile, Katherine's reading light went back on her nightstand, the pot moved back to its cupboard and the bug vaccum returned to the bug house. And in the cupboard under the bug house were his gifts. The night before the girls disappeared off to Target with daddy to purchase gifts as well so he had quite a pile. An action figure of Anakin Skywalker, a big bouncy Spiderman ball, a toy Spiderman camera, a Spiderman game joystick and a tape player. Somehow I completely missed on the Amazon site that the camera wasn't real! How did that happen? It doesn't seem to bother him though, it flashes and makes noise and what else does a little kid really want?
A quick breakfast and we dropped the girls off school. The playground across the street has finally opened so I promised that we'd pick the girls up from early release and play there for a bit in the afternoon. Dropped Ian off at FSI then picked up the birthday cake at Heidelburg Pastry Shop on Lee Hwy. It looks and smells so good in there, but does anyone really pay $4 for a cookie? Granted it's a lovely cookie, but $4? I don't even ask how much the chocolates are. They don't have prices on them.
We dropped the cake off in the fridge then attended storytime at B&N. It was held outdoors because most of the county was out of power which made intersections interesting. Generators kept the construction going so it was difficult to hear over all the noise, but we listened and then hopped right into the car (for the first time, we drove to B&N and I did miss the nice walk) to go to Annandale. Nicholas had asked for McDs for his birthday lunch and who better to have it with than grandma? She even splurged on fudge sundaes. Nicholas did say several times "I don't feel 5". As mom, I can definitely say he looks 5. He also said several times "I wish I was 6". As mom, I can definitely say I'm glad he isn't.
We were back in Arlington with about 20 minutes to spare beofre school got out. The boys got dirty in the playground sand pit and sweaty on the spiderweb before the girls joined us and we made sandcastles and sand food. Ah, the joys of sand. Can't wait to go to the beach in August.
Katherine still isn't feeling well as her cold lingers and laryngitis sets in, so after brushing off pounds of sand, we came home for homework and some down time. Rebecca's class is working on Time and the "igh" combo, Katherine's class is focussing on recycling and multiplication tables.
A box arrived in the mail yesterday afternoon that will help Rebecca and the boys quite a bit. Watches for all four of them from, for about $5/each the boys' watches have labeled watch hands with an outer ring of numbers for the specific minute times. This morning Nicholas looked at his watch and said "It's almost 8" and right he was. We've been working on time for over a week and it's slow going but he's definitely getting it.
After dinner of fish sticks and farfalle (butterfly) noodles (another Nicholas request), the whole family watched the twins play baseball at the park next to the library. The weather was gorgeous and we enjoyed watching so live sport before getting back home to wait for Jeff. He came over to have some cake and he brought gifts for all the kids. I had been hanging on to music tapes for, well, at least a decade past the time I actually listened to music tapes. During the past couple moves, they have all been disposed of. And now, all the kids have tape players for use in the car. Well, Jeff was so kind as to go through his old stashes and let us have such classics as the theme to the Ghostbusters and FootLoose, along with Cyndi Lauper and Weird Al. All tapes that the kids will love to listen to, especially on our drive to the midwest later this year.
When the baseball game was done, the twins and their parents came by to share in cake as well. Izumi and Dan were in Manila will us and they're off to Beijing this summer. They brought Nicholas gifts as well and totally floored Nicholas with Spiderman legos. Over this past weekend Nicholas found a small set of legos that I had as a kid and literally spent hours playing with them. My parents have bought him a huge set that he'll receive this coming weekend and I just know that he will be beside himself. We've never had real legos and I'm almost as excited as the boys are. He also received a floor puzzle of the States which I am completely thrilled with. We put it together today and talked about our trip this summer. We'll be doing a week on the States this summer (so the girls can do it too) and this map will be great.
No one got to bed before 9 but until the last few minutes no one was cranky about it either.
I just can't believe he's 5. He's learning to read and write, tell time and draw great pictures. He can tie his shoes and gets himself completely washed and dressed. He makes his bed better than his sisters. Earlier this week I'd asked him to organize the art corner, basically just stacking up papers and putting the makers away. He pulled out all the construction paper and organized it by whole sheets and scraps, and then by color. He folds clothes from the laundry pile, carries his stuffed dog everywhere, still stuffs his pockets full of treasures, and loves spinach, mushrooms and pickles. He adores Katherine, tolerates Rebecca and is Jonathon's best friend. He is so sensitive and I love having him home with me where he's outgoing and doesn't have a malicious bone in his body (except, sometimes, when Jonathon is on his last nerve, but then that's not really malice is it?). He's such a wonderful kid, and I just can't believe he's 5.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Of Popes and Flexcars

Cardinal Ratzinger has been elected the new Pope and has taken the name Benedict XVI.

He's German, conservative and was a very close friend to Pope John Paul II. Aside from that, I really know little else about him. I'm not thrilled with the choice, but then the Cardinals didn't exactly ask me either. In all honesty, I was hoping for a Pope from somewhere outside Europe. Ratzinger is 78 years old so chances are pretty good that I'll be around to see his successor.
In lesser world-altering news, today is Ben and Jerry's Free Cone Day. Go and get some free ice cream. The boys and I went this morning right as it opened and I was surprised that they dole out full-sized single cones. They were so yummy. Nicholas chose mango citrus sorbet of some sort and it was so good, Jonathon had chocolate and I picked mint chocolate chunk. No wimpy chocolate chips in that ice cream.
Onour way home from Ben and Jerry's and Whole Foods (gotta have my hummus and if I don't have to make it, all the better), we passed yet another FlexCar. This one happened to be at an expired parking meter and received a ticket, but it's still cool how you can rent a hybrid car to hop around town, renting it for as little as an hour at a time. Some cities have their bicycles, we have hybrids. Way cool.

Saturday, April 16, 2005


Odds and ends, this and that from our daily lives.

Ian is off flying this morning at Manassas regional airport. They didn't have any planes that were the same as the ones he learned on in Manila, because in Manila they're all outdated. He was practically drooling over the list of plane options on the web with all those buttons and switches. Or even better, the ones that have all glass cockpit hoods where the gauges are just, uh... beamed on them? Honestly, I don't get it, but I hope he tells you all about his flight when he gets back. This is all an effort to get an actual license with his hours since he couldn't get one in the Philippines. Did he ever tell you about that fiasco?
From the library we watched a video called Families of Ghana, from the Families of the World series. It showed an 8 yo girl and her typical day in the village and school, as well as a 10 yo boy and his day at home and at school in Accra. The video was very well done and the kids intently watched it. I recommend it if you're heading to West Africa with kids who have no idea what you're getting into.
Katherine had a day long hike with her class to the Outdoor Lab in Manassas on Thursday. She had a great time and collected some rocks and twigs and such from the path. Yeah, I didn't get it either... this was a focus on conservation and natural forest? Whatever happened to "leave it as you found it"? Along the way they also found items to eat and Katherine proudly announced she'd eaten violets. That evening she came down with a fever and headache, yesterday she was chilled all day with a headache and her lips are mildly swollen and bright red. So red she looks like she's wearing a huge amount of deep colored lipstick. And they're chapped and painful. Anyone else thinking that perhaps she shouldn't have eaten those violets?
Oh and a couple more notes. Patricia, a friend of mine for 7th grade when we lived in Niamey, Niger, had her baby on Tuesday. It's funny because we were visiting her and her husband on Saturday and Trish and I were chatting how her mom had gone early with all her kids, and how Trish was hoping to do the same. She was due in a couple weeks, but went into labor early Monday morning. William was born very early Tuesday morning. Congrats to them!
And lastly, Kristine from Manila is awesome. She sent an envelope of magazines which really doesn't sound that great, but... but but but... photos of the kids from their OshKosh photo shoots are in them! Goodhousekeeping (Phils edition of course) has Nicholas in it. There were four magazines and one had a full page single photo with Nicholas featured with two of his friends from AmeriKids. Way way cool. Now to decide what to do with them so they don't languish inside the covers, never to be seen.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Nats are here.

That's short for Nationals and baseball for those not in the know :) Washington has baseball for the first time in 34 years.

But.. it's baseball *yawn* I do -not- see what the ruckus is. But my husband likes baseball and had looked into taking Nicholas for his birthday, which I kinda nixed unless they wanted to go themselves. Games start at 7:30, a little late.

ANYWAY... we were talking in the car this morning about what to have for dinner and he suggested hot dogs and hamburgers in honor of baseball. Well, OK. Then said that we needed cracker jacks. You know the song. And we'll have nachos. So I went to the store to get buns and those mini soda cans and cracker jacks. But I forgot paper plates! Can you have a "baseball experience at home" without paper plates?

The kids will get to watch about 1/2 hour of TV baseball before I take over and switch it to Survivor :)

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

I *heart* Target

I think I *heart* Target a little too much though. Is it a $100 pit for everyone else as it is for me? I went in for shorts for the boys and came out with $128 of stuff. Since the shorts were only $4 a piece and I didn't buy 30 of them....

I have some 'splainin' to do.

Scrapbook kits, what a wonderful idea. I picked up a few 8x8 books designed for travel. They are for the girls for later since they already have 6x6 books for this summer. See, I'm planning ahead.
A loofah. I have a tub, I must have a loofah. It was only $1 though.
Folders and notebooks for Katherine. She needed them for school.
The 50% sale racks in the girls' section is wrong, plain wrong. I resisted but for a couple nice shirts. But those swimsuits, the Easter dresses... it was so hard to just say no.
I did get 9 pairs of shorts for the boys. They had 4 pairs between them since I disposed of all the junky, too small, stained ones while still in Manila. Now they each have 3 new ones and I picked up 3 for Jonathon to grow into as well. That makes up for it all, right?

Now I get it...

I'm starting to understand the belief system behind unschooling.

I think it pertains very well to the young, before typical school age. Nicholas is four going on five and my well intentioned plans for loose homeschooling have taken their own direction as he figures out what he really wants to listen to me blather about each day.
The week on books went well. We read lots, discussed authors and illustrators, and the boys worked on their own books, making dot caterpillars for _The Very Hungry Caterpillar_, their own versions of Babar and an acrostic for the letters in the word BOOK. We're still working on them as we make new projects that can be put on the pages. The next week on games also worked well. We learned new games throughout the week and ended with a trip to the Sackler for the Asian Games exibit. Since then we've also acquired a Go board, have played more dominoes and learned Cadoo. Of course games are an ongoing topic as we play chess, mancala, Clue Jr, Life.... The next week was spring break for the girls and was spent Easter planning. They all decorated eggs, made paper bunnies and wove easter placemats. Of course there were lots of egg hunts and Easter Sunday Mass to wrap it up. The following week wasn't as guided. I'd wanted to do lots of silly April Fool's stuff with the boys, but it ended up being a week with music since we were taking the girls to the Kennedy Center on Sunday. But aside from reading some books that were noisy (about bands and such) and listening to plenty of opera and keeping the radio on, it didn't go far. Honestly, it's my own fault since I didn't want to have them make their own instruments. There's an instruments exhibit at the American History Museum but we didn't go that Friday because of the rain. Then this past week, Nicholas picked the topic when he brought up the American flag. I have several books about the flag along with a kid's Atlas, so those along with a borrowed video tape from the library (American History for Children series, ages 4 and up) started us into the flag. I also had flag outlines from a previous exercise at ISM, so Nicholas colored in a pretty good flag while Jonathon made a unique "Flag of JonathonLand". Those both went into their books, after we held a flag ceremony just like at AmeriKids complete with anthem and pledge. We tried again to go to the American History Museum to see the original Star Spangled Banner, but this time my mom wasn't feeling well and the boys decided they really didn't want to go anywhere anyway. The flags at half-staff the past week has led into its own discussions.
So far this week we've delved into time on an analog clock as well as time for minutes/weeks/years. Nicholas simply doesn't have the concept down that when I say "next week" I don't mean tomorrow. We came up with examples of what each length of time means... 1 second = a kiss, 1 week = a vacation, 1 year = new clothes and another birthday. It'll be a recurring topic, I'm sure.
Next week is Nicholas's birthday. We'll be plenty busy.
This Friday is a day off for the girls, so we -are- going to the American History Museum. The information desks have scavenger hunt forms which lead all through the museum. This way we can see the giant flag, the instruments and whatever else catches our eye. I think we'll also see the Science in American Life exhibit for the girls. We'll call it all a review.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Random Thoughts

There's no way that Nanny911 happens in a week. Nope. No way. No kid turns from whatever those creatures were into a happy harmonious family units in 3 or 4 days.

I had a weird nightmare the other night. It involved a warehouse toy store, a clown (yeah, bad enough for a clown), lots of red paint words on walls, and a red ball. It ended being a big ole mix-up and actually wasn't a nightmare but a.... pizza delivery ad. I still woke up scared. I don't like clowns and don't think I'll be buying any small, red, nerf type balls.

I have letters to write. I should be writing them now. But I have some other writing to do instead.

Oh yeah, I got paid today. What's that? you say. Yup, an article of mine is printed in this month's Foreign Service Journal, pg. 9 in AFSA News (if you read the afsw website article before, it's the same story).

If there are any MU folks reading this, a reminder that Fred Franke's memorial service will be at noon on May 1st at the MU chapel.

So tired.

It's not that we're getting any less sleep here. In fact, we're getting more sleep and better sleep. We even have the windows open in the apartment. Maybe it's old age, but we're certainly still tired each morning. Yesterday I lazed around until 9 while the kids watched cartoons in the other room. *yawn*

Since no one has to get up until 7 a.m. during the week our bedtimes have shifted. Going to sleep at midnight isn't uncommon for the adults, while the kids have shifted theirs to closer to 8 (the time it's actually dark outside this month) and Katherine is staying up until 9 to read.
All that aside, we're doing well. Not overly busy and just taking it easy. Nicholas's birthday is next Wednesday so I really need to get on the ball with a cake and a plan for the following Saturday. We've looked into a Nationals game but I really think that baseball will bore us all (well, except Ian) to tears. The arena football and arena soccer games don't start until 7:30 p.m. Even if we did go, that leaves the entire day free and if we do something during the day none of the kids will make it happily through a late game. I want something outdoorsy rather than a movie or an event the kids would have to sit quietly through. We have so many places to choose from but nothing has popped up as just right. Playgrounds or parks? A possibility. Maybe with a picnic. Or we could go downtown to the Children's Museum, but I'm still trying to figure out if it's open. On the website it says it's closed until 2008 but other event calendars show it having special exhibits now. Hmm. Maybe we'll just go to Baltimore. I suppose I should order a cake really soon also. He wants Spiderman or Harry Potter, go figure.
So with the gorgeous weather, we went to the National Arboretum on Saturday. Not much is growing yet and large sections were blocked off as they renovate the Bonsai house and tend to some of the open fields. One section has pillars from the former Capitol Building that looked like a wonderful place to play and take photos, but it was one of the unfortunate fenced sections. The kids played with daddy elsewhere and we did go through the herb garden which has some plants marked "Please Touch". Always a good thing. The daffodil gardens were all in bloom. Maybe I'll put up a page of photos from that outing.
Nearby to the Arboretum is where my long time friend, Patricia, lives with her husband. Tricia and I knew each other in middle school in Niamey and our paths keep crossing. Truly, one of the things I love about the DC area. Her husband, Todd, made a wonderful taco feast that even our numbers did not make a dent in. They are expecting their first child in a few weeks and then planning to move to Rhode Island next year, so it was nice to see her this weekend. Hopefully we'll get together one more time before our departure to Togo.
Sunday we had church at St Charles Borromeo here in Arlington. Now that my father isn't playing at St Michael's church (and the fact that my parents are in Mexico this week), we can wander from church to church: St Matthew's in DC, the Franciscan Monastery, Immaculate Conception. St Charles is a small church, but packed with a good mix of people. Post church we went to Landmark Mall which has a CompUSA across the street. I'm still hunting for a camera for Katherine. It's hard for me to decide because if she was resonsible for her belongings I wouldn't worry about getting a nice inexpensive digital. But inexpensive for digital still means over $100 and I can't bring myself to get her something that pricey yet. She has lost so many of her belongings in the past couple years it makes me seriously question the desire to get her anything really nice. I wanted her to have it by August, so there's still some time.
After those stores we swung by the grocery before Jeff came over. The kids mobbed him as soon as he arrived. We're going to play Cadoo, Mr. Jeff! Heard of Cadoo? It's in the Cranium family, but for the younger set. The basic idea is to get four Xs in a row and to get an X your team must successfully answer a question or get another team to guess correctly. The challenges range from simple questions to having another team guess what you make from playdough or what charade you act out. If it's a question that another team guesses, then both teams share an X space. It's a lot of fun as long as you don't have a cheater around during planning (*ahem* Rebecca).
Once the kids were in bed, Ian popped in an MST3K flick and we set up the Go board. Ian and Jeff played their first game and realized that perhaps we need to go over the tutorial again. Nicholas and I played today and against a (nearly) 5 year old, it's a lot of fun. I think my tune will change when I'm up against Ian.
Anyway, that was our weekend.

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Oh Right, The Kennedy Center

Hmm, where did I leave off? Sunday afternoon we had tickets to see "A Family for Baby Grand" at the Kennedy Center concert hall. It was advertised for ages 6 and up so we brought the girls, leaving the boys for the afternoon with grandma and grandpa.

But not everyone left the little kids at home and I rather wish they had, they -were- noisy. I know my boys would have enjoyed the performance, but it would have involved more explaining resulting in more distraction for us and our neighbors.
So with the orchestra and three actors switching as voices for the instruments, we heard through words and music the story of Baby Grand. She's bought from an antique store to make her debut at the concert hall. Understandably she's nervous and scared as she leaves her Concert Grand mama behind, but mama tells her that about the family of instruments who will care for Baby. As the concert time approaches, the audience meets the various instruments right along with Baby Grand, and as each instrument was brought into the story, the musician would stand with his or her instrument. Then we would listen to a piece of music featuring that instrument. The story finishes with the orquestra working and playing together in the concert.
Following the hour long performance was an open Q&A session. A tuba player was the most popular questionee, along with the conductor Mr. Emil Le Cou. Of course both the girls had questions but neither was chosen, a first for Katherine. They did get to ask directly once the official session was over; Rebecca asked the conductor why he wanted to conduct (she got the pat answer: I love music) and Katherine asked the tuba player if it was a strain to play his instrument (it's more a strain to lift and carry the tuba than it is to play it).
So we departed the red carpeted halls, boarded the shuttle to the metro station and hopped on the train. We were back in record time. The boys had fun at the pet store and getting haircuts, and the girls had souvenir pencils from a very fun show. They both behaved like young ladies and made us proud.

Books I've Read This Year

Nothing too terribly exciting but here goes:

_Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister_: It took me about a 1/4 of the book before I actually was interested in this alternate Cinderella story. The writing is difficult at first but in the end, it was enjoyable. If you have nothing else to read, it'll keep you entertained.
_The Lovely Bones_: Interesting perspective, a little quirky. What does your heaven look like? Again, if you have nothing else to read, it'll keep you entertained.
_The Secret Life of Bees_: I see a trend... If you have nothing else to read, it'll keep you entertained. There are no surprises in this novel, but it's a quick and easy read about a girl who wuns away from home. Yes, you do learn some things about bees.
_A Wrinkle in Time_ (L'Engle): Never read it as a kid, and Katherine received it as a gift. Now I've read it and have decided it's not really a kid's book. Concepts many adults haven't considered. It is worth reading.
_A Wind in the Door_ (L'Engle): I'm glad I didn't encourage Katherine to read this book, part 2 of the "series" which isn't really a series since each book stands on its own. I'm glad she didn't read it because the ideas were almost beyond me for a quick bedtime story book. The story is built on beings inside mitochondria. Really.
_The Devil's Arithmetic_ (Yolen): In the junior fiction section, but it's along the lines of _The Diary of Anne Frank_ and not light reading. It's also not something I want Katherine reading soon. A girl steps into the past knowing the outcome of the Nazi roundup of the Jews.
Hmm. I believe there was another that I'm forgetting.
I'm currently reading _Waters_, also by L'Engle, and I've picked up _1421_ about the Chinese discovery of the Americas.

Monday, April 4, 2005

Did he or didn't he?

It's odd, because CNN is reporting: "Navarro-Valls said the pontiff had left no instructions regarding his funeral and burial -- known as a papal will -- so the cardinals decided to follow tradition."

While BBC is reporting: "The Vatican is now working to a plan which was drawn up in meticulous detail by John Paul II, a full nine years before his death.

It sets out the arrangements for his funeral and the subsequent conclave - the secret meeting of cardinals that will be convened later this month to elect his successor.

The 13,000-word document also specifies how the Church is to be governed during the next three to four weeks."

So uh... did he or didn't he?

Sunday, April 3, 2005

Another weekend update

Honestly, the weekdays are plain boring these days. The boys and I go to the bookstore and the library. When it's nice out we go to the playground. It's the weekends where we get out and about. I guess that's normal?

Friday morning my mom came over and the boys borrowed about a thousand books from the library after listening to storytime. The afternoon the boys had undisturbed grandma time, packed with game and game. Grandma even had them create their own matching game with stickers on construction paper. How clever is that?
Where was I, you might ask. I spirited myself over to FSI to have lunch with Ian (and Brad Bell) before sitting in on his afternoon French class. His teacher is wonderful, very patient, very clear, very repetitive. I held my own well enough, just don't ask me to conjugate verbs under a microscope. I know that I would have done really well if I'd taken the class from day 1, but as it is I struggle along as Ian does his homework and when I squeeze in time with the Rosetta Stone program. I will say that it felt good to sit there and understand practically everything she said. Ian is doing very well. His brain has always been a sponge for this sort of thing and he readily recalls information necessary for whatever task is at hand. Listening to, speaking, reading and even writing French for 5+ hours a day does force it to sink in. He'll be ready.
Saturday was a drenched blustery day. I'd wanted to go to the kite festival downtown but it was rescheduled to Sunday and today we already had plans. Oh well. Maybe next ye.... oh never mind. Instead we went to IKEA. Katherine is finally too big to go to Smaland, so the younger three went to play while we ooohed and aaahed over bunkbeds, kitchens and stuff we have absolutely no need for. It was still loads of fun. We poked around Potomac Mills and looked through the Build-A-Bear store before heading back to Arlington. The kids played with the twins in the game room, then the 10 of us shared pizza at Joe's on Lee Hwy. I do believe this makes the third "failed" Saturday in a row.
Today we had church at Saint Michael's. The first Mass without my dad at the organ. Jonathon scrunched up his face and said "THAT is not grandpa" while Nicholas asked "Who is that playing the organ? Where's grandpa?" Honestly, we did tell them that grandpa was taking a break but they just didn't get it. Not until today. It's simply not church for them unless grandpa is playing. But the pastor has already found someone new, someone from his old parish, and the choir was there making a great effort. How difficult it is to pick up in the middle of a season, but they can make it work with patience. We wish them well.
But today, the first day after the passing of our Church's Pope, the Mass deserved so much more. More than just making do. It deserved music with emotion to both raise our spirits and convey our collective mourning. I know it may sound selfish to say, but it is simply true. It deserved my dad.
When we'd had some lunch, the boys spent the afternoon with grandma and grandpa, while the rest of us made our way downtown for a family performance at the concert hall at the Kennedy Center. I would have loved to bring the boys as well, but the program guide said the performace was for 6 yeard and up. Of course once we arrived the place was filled with children of all ages including babies. Part of me thought we should have brought the boys too, but the bigger part really wished that others had just left the youngsters back. Does that make me snobby? I don't mean it to. I think you know what I'm getting at. If there are guidelines for performances, it would be nice if everyone followed them. I thought it again and again as one baby or another cried.
Anyhow, we attended "A Family for Baby Grand", an introduction to the instruments in the orchestra. Rebecca is learning about all the instruments in her music class so it fit right in. I'll write more about it tomorrow, promise.

May the Choirs of Angels Embrace Him

Carol Wojtyla 1920-2005

The obituaries have been written, the cardinals are gathering, and Pope John Paul II lies in state in the Vatican.
A faith, a people, and a world mourns.
This man was elected when I was 4 years old. I don't remember his ascension to the pontiff seat. For myself, he has always been.
His role as leader of the Roman Catholic Church brought him to our Mass and into our prayers.
His roots in Poland made him familiar to my mother and her side of the family. My grandmother fled her homeland, Poland, and the devastation of WWII.
His traveling brought him directly into our lives. In May 1980, only 1 1/2 years after his election, he came to (then) Zaire. I remember sitting on the side of the road waiting for his motocade to pass by. Our family was blessed with meeting His Holiness and receiving a blessed rosary. A photo on our wall shows a young and vibrant pontiff framed on either side by elephant tusk ivory, with a small 6 year old watching him from the front of the crowd. That was me.
Some of his teachings weren't popular, his conservative stance not always well-loved. But his outstretched hand and heart to the religions of the world, his desire for peace during political turmoil, his understanding of pain and suffering, his prayers for every child... these are what mark his papacy.
Nations around the world hold days of mourning. It is expected in some places, like the Catholic Philippines, while Cuba and Iran's show of respect prove how fully his death is a global loss.
Pope John Paul II. May he rest and find peace in heaven.