Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Wouldn't you know...

Last I heard (a couple hours ago), my folks were waiting in Paris for their connecting flight to Lome'. And wouldn't you know, the day they are flying to visit us, much of Europe gets hit with a winter storm that's disrupting all forms of transportation.

Is it too late to wish we'd just planned on meeting them in France for a week, so we could play in the snow too? I bet it's really pretty.

News on the malaria front

Jonathon has had an on-again off-again fever since Monday so I took him to the clinic yesterday. Thankfully he's cleared of malaria or a bacterial infection, so it's a random virus once again. When I took him in, he just had the fever and an upset tummy. By the afternoon he developed a sore throat, runny nose, diarrhea and everything else associated with a bad cold. Figures.

Of course, the first thing considered when a fever presents itself here is malaria. Malaria shows itself differently with every person, every strain and every case, which makes it notoriously difficult to self-diagnose. A blood test after 24-hours of fever is the most surefire way to know (prior to 24-hours you may get a false-negative and require a second blood test, but frustratingly enough, you don't even really need a fever to have malaria).

Ever wonder why malaria is such a tough disease? Yesterday's BBC News article on "How Malaria Dupes the Immune System" shines some light on the subject: malaria parasites can cloak themselves with up to 60 different protein disguises.

Monday, December 26, 2005

On the First Day of Christmas...

Which was yesteday, of course :) The Twelve Days of Christmas song refers to the 12 days -after- Christmas. Just in case you were wondering.

The gingerbread house has been decimated. I suppose razed would be more accurate. However you figure, it's in a shambled pile of odd corners and lefover candy. While opening gifts, we munched on gingerbread trees and sipped hot cocoa. Thank goodness for air conditioning.
The kids were thrilled with all their gifts. Most were group items, like legos, magentix, and puppets. But there were plenty of small individual items too. The girls both received t-shirts that say "I solemnly swear I am up to no good" while the back has "Mischief Managed" which I admit was entirely my doing. The Lego Chess set has received the most attention from the boys, while the movies ("Sahara" and "National Treasure") were a hit with the girls. But like I said, everything was well-received. I look forward to seeing them use the books, games and toys over the coming months.
I did well for Ian this year. A new pen, a new gadget, a 007 movie poster calendar and a new bed pillow. For me, my grandma hand-crocheted a table runner for our home, and Ian got me a shirt with "4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42". Fifty points to the ones who know why.
The best part of this holiday is watching the kids prep their gifts for each other (and for us). The entire past week was filled with activity as they raided their toy chests or busily created gifts for one another. Art books were scrutinized, materials gathered and many a door was shut. And then the sweet anticipation as siblings watched their gifts opened. Not once did Rebecca wonder aloud what she would receive, but repeatedly she said how she had a gift for -everyone- and how she really hoped they would like them. The kids all collaborated on their gift for me, a bar of dark chocolate and a box of cherry liqueur chocolates. Oh yeah, they've got me pegged! But between them, they exchanged a spy notebook (Katherine to Nicholas), secret keeping box (Katherine to Rebecca), homemade airplane (Rebecca to Nicholas), plush airplane (Rebecca to Jonathon), stampers (Nicholas to Katherine) and more.
The kids and their joy of giving add the true sparkle to this holiday.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The weather is changing and like everyone else...

We're busy with the holidays.

The kids are off this week and the next two weeks. This week they've been swimming just about every day, we've painted paper snowflakes, listened to Christmas music, worked on a 1000 piece puzzle, and the kids made and wrapped all their Christmas gifts.
Today being Friday, Ian worked a half day before his 3-day weekend. With the weather wonderfully cool for a change (rumor has it the Harmatan, or dust season, is heading our way), the kids and I spent our morning outside. We played with the dog, then had a soccer match, painted pictures by the pool, and went swimming. Ian came home by lunchtime and we took a break to watch a movie before heading to the Christmas bazaar by the SupeRamco. Parking in the SupeRamco lot (it's moderately guarded), we met Monica with her daughter (Monica is a warden for the Embassy, which basically means she's an American contact in the community with the responsibility of keeping track of a number other Americans, should trouble arise in country), and Linda, the DCMs wife.
The Christmas bazaar wasn't really worth the trip, unless you're in the market for shoes, cheap liquor or cheap toys. After about 15 minutes wandering through, we took to the Artisan road right next door. Filled with wood carvings, batik prints, boubous (those long flowing shirt "dresses") and other handmade crafts, it was a lot more interesting and a lot less hassle than the market had been. Granted, you can't stop long at any one shop because while the shopkeeper is a pleasant person willing to bargain or leave you alone if you walk away, the wandering salesmen with their plates of fake Rolex watches or African baubles swarm in and don't take first 10 "Non, Merci" as serious answers. I feel kinda bad when walking around any streets with hawkers because I intentionally look over their heads and pretend I don't hear them even as they're shouting "Madame! Madame!" Honestly, I feel like a snob. And I do want to check out their merchandise, but if you express interest in anything, it's practically a promise to buy. And if you express interest to one person's wares, 3 others with similar wares will appear at your side to get you haggling with all of them.
Some people thrive off that atmosphere. I am not one of them.
So, I miss out on a lot of the neat odds and ends. Except when it comes to chess. In the market, we saw a chess set, but it was unremarkable. Then on Artisan road we saw a vendor with 2 sets, one wooden, one painted bronze figures. Both had fabulous boards, with a border of pressed leather like I'm familiar with from Niamey, Niger. He wanted 70,000cfa for one set (about $140) but in the end Ian decided he didn't really care for the paint job on the bronze African figures, so we passed. Instead, we purchased a fabulous batik print of village life on the Continent. Now to get it framed. That's an adventure for a different day.
So what's in store for the remainder of our Christmas weekend? Christmas Eve we're off to the Management Officer's house for her winter wonderland Christmas village party. The kids have been promised snow and they're very excited. When we get back we'll ask the kids if they'd like to do some night swimming, and we'll have games and movies until everyone crashes. Christmas Day we'll head out to church first thing before opening gifts and having a light lunch. What do I think the kids will love the most? No clue. This year we went -almost- entirely with group gifts, so I hope the kids won't be too disappointed.
Christmas afternoon we're invited to a small potluck at Rona's house (she's our Pol/Econ officer) and on Christmas Monday we're invited to Dave's birthday party (he's our RSO, Regional Security Officer). Though he's said we can't bring him a gift, I'm sure we'll come up with something, probably edible.
So, that's where we'll be this Christmas weekend. Spending time with our friends here in Lome'. And isn't that they way it should be?
Merry Christmas everyone. We wish we were all together, but in lieu of physical presence, know that you are in our thoughts and our prayers for a wonderful and joyous season.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Eat Taste Heal

A quick note and plug for a book called _Eat, Taste, Heal_. I haven't read it yet, it's not in wide publication yet, but when it is, you should go buy it. Because I said so.

Click on the link and check under Authors. That second guy, Daniel Rhoda, he's my cousin.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Want to play? Come to Togo.

As you've probably read, the XBox 360 is the hot item this Christmas. It has three microprocessor cores, each one over 3 Ghz, a 20 gigabyte hard drive and more powerful graphics than you can find in any personal computer.

There aren't just the standard stories about people spending a day or two in line outside a Target or Best Buy store. First all the pre-orders were sold out unless you ordered a bundle (machine, accessories and games) costing anywhere from $700 to $2000. Then many people can't get their machines even after pre-ordering. Retailers like Electronics Boutique took hundreds of pre-orders as early as July, then only got 20 or 30 boxes on the November launch date. There are a lot of unhappy people.

I'm not one of the unhappy ones. I pre-ordered online at in late September, and received mine about two weeks ago. I'm probably the first XBox 360 owner in Togo. Thanks, Wal-Mart!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Strike Three

Friday, Nicholas was home all day with a fever. He napped several times over the course of the day. Yesterday he was still feverish with red, watery eyes, yet we had hopes of making it to church this morning. But, Rebecca is up to 39.4C at the moment (102.9F for the unconverted, like Ian), so we have another day at home. Though Katherine has already had a day home last month, it wasn't for this same illness, so I'm waiting for her to get sick. This isn't a good week for it, with the Christmas programs at school. Rebecca has already told me she -cannot- miss school tomorrow. Well, that means a long day of doing nothing but laying in on the couch, drinking lemonade and gatorade and nibbling dry toast.

Oh, Nicholas is still sleeping now too, it's 8:30. It's taking him quite a bit longer to get over this; Jonathon was hit harder but for a shorter time.

Friday, December 9, 2005

Now this is news...

The Tamaki Maori Village is where we attended a Hangi during our New Zealand trip.

Lesson: Do not laugh at the Maori.

Thursday, December 8, 2005

There's excitement in the air, 6 months out.

First round draws for the World Cup being held next year in Germany will take place today. The exciting part: "Among the most intensely interested nations will be those competing for the first time, including four from Africa -- Ghana, Ivory Coast, Angola and Togo. Ukraine and Trinidad & Tobago are also debutants."

#10 on the Togo team has a daughter in Rebecca's class, so it's big news around school too.

Go Hawks! Allez éperviers! Hmm, I think that's right. I need to get a t-shirt.

Another unscheduled day at home

I've been home with a sick Katherine and a sick Jonathon, now it's Nicholas's turn. This morning he came in moaning around 4:30 a.m. By 6:30 he was feeling warm, had a headache, a tummy ache and a cough. I asked if he wanted to stay home, but today is karate day and he really wanted to go to school. As his eyes watered and he lay like a lump on the couch, Rebecca convinced him it was OK to miss karate so he could get better at home. So, I'm hear finishing up Christmas cards, while he slept until 9 and is now snacking on some graham crackers and watching cartoons. Later on I'll have him take another nap.

Ok, who does that leave? Rebecca? Earlier this week she had a headache and felt bad but she didn't tell me until after she came home from school. Maybe that was her day? Let's hope we're done with this cycle.

Did you hear me?

Probably not, because I was on 95.5, Radio Nostalgie in Lomé, Togo. I just got back from a radio interview in French and Mina. (Thankfully, I brought one of my coworkers to translate into Mina.) When I asked for an honest assessment of my French, I got "Not bad, but you sounded American." I guess I can't avoid that.

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Christmas is Coming, the Goose is Getting Fat

I put the tree up today, which is always an adventure.

Not all our lights are 220, though I -did- think to check before plugging them in. Otherwise I'd be cleaning up lots of little pieces of glass from blown bulbs, or dealing with wires that want to catch on fire. Of our 220 lights, one string tore in two and another works, but when plugged into another string all the lights quit working. Something wrong with the plug there. Only one string of blue lights work, so I nixed the blues this year, which leaves us with enough strings for 1/2 the tree. And each string blinks. I don't like blinking lights, I didn't know they blinked when I bought them, but it's what I have. Thank goodness the tree is in a corner and only needs to be half lit. This afternoon when the kids get home, they'll decorate with ornaments and it'll look very pretty no matter what.
Just about all the Christmas cards are done, just waiting for my last stamp order so they can get mailed out. A bunch need two stamps, which is why they are late, I miscalculated how many I'd need.
In non-Christmas news:
I used my laminator today. Very exciting, my laminator. I've wanted one for ages and ages, finally took the plunge on a no-heat model and it works beautifully. My trial runs were on signs for the library, one about book checkout and one about the encyclopedias. They look so good! I can't wait to use it on the kids' art work, those few cherished pieces I'd like to keep, helping me release all the other ones that are good but not meant for posterity.
We've received all the travel books we ordered to plan our trip to the Baltics, and we've received e-mail from the CLOs at several of the posts, loaded with tips and suggestions that will be invaluable for our trip. In the next week or so, we should have enough information to choose a departure date, and then we can really dig in and plan. We're so excited!
OK, it's going on noon here while those of you on the East Coast are just getting your day going. I'm going to wade through the master bedroom and try to bring it to some semblence of normalcy. It's the staging ground for holidays so currently the table is covered in cards, the decoration boxes are open, the wrapping paper is pulled out, there are gifts laying about. I still haven't finished the laundry or completed the ironing and now that I've largely finished the New Zealand scrabook (keep your comments to yourself) and want to take a break before doing this past summer's trips, I'm debating making quilt squares from all my old t-shirts. No, I've never quilted anything before, but hey, I have nothing but time, right?

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Happy Saint Nicholas Day!

Did St Nick fill up your kids' stockings or shoes last night?

Last night we read the story of Saint Nicholas (always a hit with our own Nicholas), and our stockings were hung, waiting to be filled.
After the story, Nicholas had some questions. Like, How does St Nicholas get in the house? It's a valid question. Our girls know who plays the role of St Nick and the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy, and in fact the boys know who plays everyone too, but for some reason Saint Nicholas is real to them.
So, how does St Nick get in the house? Through the door of course. "But wait" thinks Nicholas "isn't he dead?" I remind him that the bishop Nicholas lived about 1700 years ago, so yes, he's dead now. The girls chime in with "He's a ghost," which leads to "Then I guess he doesn't need to come through the door because he can just come through the wall."
Nicholas ponders. Nicholas walks over to dad and climbs up next to him. Nicholas whispers to dad "I think I'm a little bit scared of Saint Nicholas, because I'm a little bit scared of ghosts."
This morning, all thoughts of ghosts were banished. The kids got new t-shirts, new goggles (hey, it's like 90 degrees outside), the boys had coloring books from an aunt, the girls had hairbands from great-grandma. But more special than all that is what Ian and I discovered as we played St Nick at midnight last night.
The girls had already come out and placed their own little gifts and candy treats in everyone's stockings. Rebecca had written a card to me:
Dear mom,
Happy sante Nicholas Day! I'm so glad that you are my mom. Thank you for washing my cloes, feeding us, helping us when we are sick. I thingk about Sante Nicholas day I thingk of you in a good way, of how you represent my mom.
Love, Rebecca.
Her spelling is bad, her phrasing is a little off, and none of that matters. Her heart is much bigger than I give her credit for. When I think of Saint Nicholas, I see his giving traits in my Rebecca.

Becca had a great birthday.

Rebecca turned 8 last Friday. I didn't write about it right away because around here we tend to celebrate birthdays for a few days rather than just the big day. Pouch mail arrived today and she received her birthday card from Jeff. She knew it would silly, but did not find "Tu as une queue! C'est vrai!" to be nearly as humorous. (translation: You have a tail! It's true!) It's a long standing joke between Rebecca and Mr. Jeff.

Thursday we spent the evening making mini lemon cupcakes with chocolate chips, covered in vanilla icing. At school, the middle school teacher stopped me and said Rebecca is a remarkable girl. Earlier when he'd asked her what kind of cake she was bringing, she replied she didn't know yet, she had to ask her friends what they'd like, because she knew not all of them liked chocolate. He said "I don't know many other kids with that sort of answer."
Rebecca has grown up so much, even in just the past 3 months, I don't know where to start. OK, I'll start with her relationship with her sister. One evening Ian came home and whispered in my ear "Did the girls fight today?" I replied "Not at home, I don't know how they were at school, but nothing I've seen." He said "This is weird."
And that's how it's been for the past few weeks. It's like she's consciously realizing that Eight is a big deal. Her birthday was so packed with anticipation, fun (I brought water balloons for in the schoolyard, and afterwards her girlsfriends, sister and I played hot potato, Tarzan the jungle man and red light/green light), attention (the entire school knew of her birthday) and gifts, she became totally overwhelmed with making the slightest decision, weeping on daddy's shoulder about all the responsibilities she's not ready for.
But on the flipside, she no longer begs me to help every step of the way with her homework. She has confidence in her reading and generally more confident in herself. She takes pride in her belongings and her appearance. She's a leader in her classroom and, while she has her difficult moments, she's becoming a peacemaker at home. What? you say. Can this be? Well, she's a stickler for rules and the more they are held up at home, the more pleasant she is in general. She's maturing largely in part to her teacher at school, who allows her to take the lead when it's fitting. I do worry a bit about next year when she becomes "low man on the totem pole" in a classroom, but for this year, she's really proving herself and she shines.
She's smart, she's funny, she's beautiful, and she's ours.
I can honestly say, I'm so proud to have her as my daughter.