Sunday, December 31, 2006

This must be some kind of record.

I know what I'm getting Ian for Christmas next year. OK, perhaps for his birthday. Or Father's Day. Or Martin Luther King Day. No wait, that's coming up too soon. Maybe Valentine's Day. Oh oh oh, that would be perfect. Valentine's Day. Yes, Valentine's Day would be just right. Heh.

Friday, December 29, 2006

GRT is the WTG

Jewelry in India is a huge business. Americans are all about engagement diamonds, Indians are all about 22ct gold everything.

For last minute Christmas shopping, Ian and our neighbor Brian went to GRT Jewelers on T. Nagar. It's a four story shop bursting with baubles and customers alike. I don't know how either of the boys actually chose one item over another, the walls are covered with racks holding necklaces of every weight and design. Glass cases filled with gold bangles, rings and earrings fill the center of the rooms. One floor is dedicated to silver, another to precious stones and the fourth to embellished gold.
Under the tree I was the lucky recipient of a rope necklace and anklet. The chain is specifically for the sapphire pendant I've had for so long but never wear on its extrafine chain. When Ian bought the rope he neglected to bring the pendant (the "drop") with him, so come Christmas Day we discovered it's too wide for the pendant loop. Yesterday we returned to the store and after much hemming and hawing by seemingly everyone who worked there, we determined it would be best to have the stone reset. We took a seat between the Pooja cases and the Gold Belts for Little Girls cases, passed on the coffee and absorbed the surroundings on the gemstone floor. The gold belts were popular, intricately designed, inlaid with all sorts of jewels, and approximately $3000. One family seemed to try every belt on their 5 year old child, I don't know if they ever chose a particular model but we did think Rebecca would love to have one. Hah.
Behind us hanging on the wall was a 1.5 Kg monstrosity of a necklace with a purchase price of approximately $20,000, a wedding gift. The typical customer was female and already decked out so I assume the new purchases were for gifts but one can never be certain. I do know that if I was in there to make a choice, it would take longer than the hour we spent discussing a clasp and I couldn't be so apathetic as the typical GRT shopper who flung one beauty aside after another. Fingering $5000 bangles, $15000 necklaces or even $300 earrings; peering through case after case of glittering beauty...
I would escape overwhelmed and without buying a thing.
Though in a couple weeks when we return to pick up the pendant I may have gathered my wits about me. Just enough.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

GSO Giveth and GSO Taketh Away

We don't have to bring such things as microwaves, vacuums, dryers and full-sized freezers with us as we move around, and each post has someone to take care of the housing pool and standard household issue. It's a definite plus, but also has its disadvantages.

The drawback comes with the wear and tear of what are essentially rental homes with rental appliances that have been through a lot of use and a lot of users. The other drawback arises from being at a Consulate that is allotted no money for replacement items. Everything is fixed and fixed again.
Our washing machine flooded the kitchen once. It was repaired. It doesn't wash on any cycle but permanent press, but I can live with that. The dryer only works on one setting and doesn't cycle through, so if I forget after an hour to turn it off it will run all night. I haven't put in a work order yet since I can line dry items that don't need permanent press heat. Our top freezer didn't freeze, and the fridge part didn't cool, so yesterday we were given a replacement. It was bigger and nicer and cooled so well. Ice even froze in the freezer. We were tickled. Meanwhile six GSO guys were outside working on our fridge and another one (they brought it from the warehouse since... oh never mind).
It was, unfortunately, a temporary replacement from a currently empty housing unit and today they took the nice, big, Better-Than-Ours fridge away. We have our fridge back and I've put it to the ice test. Can it make ice? If so, then it will be forgiven and welcomed back to the fold. But having the other one... ah, it was nice while it lasted.

PSA Re: Bharati Cycle Co. 118 Broadway, Chennai -108

I'm sure this is an issue with all the bike sellers (indeed any business and any product) in Chennai... India... and the rest of the developing world. Products are shabby, customer service is minimal and good business practices non-existent. Bharati Cycle proved no different.

A week before Christmas, we purchased three new bikes from Bharati Bicycle (the fourth from a different vendor), and held them in the car port until Christmas Day. The kids knew about the bikes, they were there for the purchase because I didn't know sizes, but no amount of begging let them ride them a day before. Finally Monday, they zipped around. Tuesday, they zipped around. Wednesday, they tried to zip around when Jonathon's chain snapped. Literally snapped in half and fell like a snake to the ground.
Bikes here don't have coaster breaks, hand brakes or nothing. The hand brakes are made of plastic and after two days of use, the plastic cracked. I taped them as best I could, a few more days untended and they would snap clear off.
Nicholas's training wheels won't stay on. His bike is a little big for him and he doesn't know the two-wheel method yet, so the trainers stay on for now. But they kept flipping, the metal had bent out of shape. Ian replaced them with the trainers off Rebecca's bike since she doesn't need them, but they don't quite reach the ground. He's going to be pressed into learning how to ride sooner than he wants to, I fear.
This is all after three days of use. Three! Today I sent our driver back to the shop with the two boys' bikes. He wanted to take them to a nearby fix-it shop but I had him take them to the original shop. I want -them- to know that -I- know that they sell shoddy products. Not much later I received a call from the driver. The chain would be replaced but there was "no guarantee" on the plastic bits, it didn't matter to them that the items had broken after a few days. No guarantee. No guarantee!? I don't care that there's no guarantee, any shop should be embarrassed to sell any product that can't handle normal usage for a few days, a few weeks, even a few months. Bicycles are meant to be used for years afterall.
The driver returned. New chain - check. Repositioned training wheel bracket - check. New hand brakes? Double check. I don't know what the driver threatened them with (as he said on the phone "I told them my madame was very angry") but they changed them. I won't bring the bikes back for further repairs, I don't think. The shop is a ways from here and our driver is a mechanic, so I know he can replace chains, tighten screws, even replace the plastic hand brakes with metal ones. But I feel better that the bike shop had a bit of a rough day because of us.
Bharati Cycle Co.
118 Broadway, Chennai 600 108
Phone 25389705, 25392347
Do us a favor. Don't patronize them.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas...

The skies are blue and clear, the land flows with flowering trees, kids on bikes, swimming pools and all that does not evoke Christmas. But Christmas came to India anyway, just as it swept over much of the world and we greatly enjoyed our first holiday season in our new home.

The past few weeks of Advent saw moderate preparation in our household. We received our sea freight a mere 12 days before, so much of the time has been engulfed in unpacking and finding appropriate homes for all the odds and ends of life. It was a time of rediscovery and our place was the fun house for the nine kids on our street.
When we weren't out building graham cracker gingerbread houses at the local American greasy spoon, Sparky's, baking cookies, creating bead and paper snowflakes, bowling, or continuing with Hindi and tennis, we were at home with our worldly possessions. Only one item seems to have not made the trip at all, a costly and useful item as well: our toolbox. Thankfully there are no sentimental attachments to tools so they will be replaced in time, but it does make simple home repairs or even craft projects more difficult in the meantime. Rebecca asked to have the training wheels taken off her new bike, but we no longer own a wrench. I'd like to put up some nails in the limited available woodwork, but that's unpleasant without a hammer.
Small inconveniences, to be sure. We're happy, we're healthy and we hope that this magical season sees the same with everyone we know and love.
We attended 9:30 p.m. Mass at the Basilica. The service was a mixed bag, from an inspiring candlelit Silent Night, to Santa arriving at the Jingle Bells recessional. Christmas services are flavored with the local traditions in any country, but I can't help feeling that an outdoor service at a Basilica attended by 1500 of the faithful should have had more AND less. Less bass guitar, less animated powerpoint homily, fewer photographers knocking over the nativity and shifting the pastor amidst prayers to get Just the Right Shot, fewer balloons. More familiar hymns, more silence, more joyfullness... more reverence. The trees were dripping with strings of white lights, gulls flew overhead to reach their beachside perch, the sea breeze was refreshing, the opportunities for reflection and prayer should have been plentiful under the twinkling stars.
Alas, we merely survived the pop rendition of "Mary, Did You Know?" and the blinking animatronic Santas, and were grateful to return home to the awaiting gingerbread house, hot cocoa and gifts. Tradition in my family is to attend midnight Mass before organized gift-opening into the wee hours of Christmas Day. No one saw their beds before 2:30 a.m. thanks to early evening naps ("The Best Nap Ever" according to Nicholas) and even then there were small reminders that playing with all the toys really did have to wait until morning. Morning didn't actually arrive until after 10 a.m. as sleepy kids crawled out from their beds in new PJs and fuzzy robes before plunging into books, movies and toys, toys, toys. They rode their new bikes, plugged in iPod speakers, and trained Tekno the robo-dog. Each gift was appreciated, which made everyone feel wonderful. The kids bought for each other and were so excited to see their offerings opened and Nicholas had so many gifts we kept hearing "I love Grandma and Grandpa SO much!" Since he also received several books and his reading is taking off beautifully, it wasn't long before we heard, "I got so many books. I like to read. I'll read my books. I think I'll go read them now."
Yes, we are blessed. We are blessed to have such a giving and loving family. We are blessed to be together though we miss grandma and grandpa quite a bit. We are safe. We remember Hurricane Katrina a year ago that displaced so many. We remember back two years to the tsunami that hit this area of the world and devasted a million lives. Back five years to 9/11 and the pain our own family suffered among so many. And of course we think of all those who are separated from their homes right now, serving all over the world, seeing and doing things that others would never dream of. We remember these times and these people and we are thankful for so much in our blessed lives.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Ian's Discovery

Periodically we check the stats on this website. You know, how many folks are visiting, where from, most popular referrals, etc. Periodically we get an odd site linking to ours and Ian checks it out to see what's going on.

This week's prize goes to Tawnya at http://www.myspace.com/TAMALE2781
We would write to her, but not having myspace accounts we can't contact her directly and we're not going to create accounts just for this. Anyway, the reason we'd like to say Hello and Howzitgoin is that Tawnya is using an old gingerbread house photo from our site as her holiday background. While that's cool and all, please do us the common courtesy of noting on YOUR site where the image came from, or heck, just link to our site. That seems fair, doesn't it?
What's also annoying is she has linked her background directly from our site, thereby using our bandwidth to decorate her corner of the web. That's not cool either.
So folks out there who think it's easier that way, it's also not proper web etiquette. We're a little stretched for bandwidth as it is, and having folks leeching off it is, well, annoying.
That's your public service announcement for the day.
Just because something is easy to do, doesn't make it right.
(Oh, and slightly offf topic but not totally, Ian wants to say that the same goes for pirated software. Not cool people, not cool. Get the real thing. Just because it's easy and plentiful doesn't make it right.)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A Couple Kidisms

Jonathon: Since we're unpacking, everything is new and novel again. One particular item of interest to Jonathon has been our mini solar system where the Sun us about an inch across. All the labels fell off so we're learning the planets by rote (Ian removed Pluto), with the favorites Saturn, Mars and Earth. Jonathon sits on my lap with the solar system and asks "Where's Texas?" Come to find out today that one of his classmates left and was moving to Texas, so he wanted to know where she was going. Finding Texas in our section of the universe can be a little tough though!

Katherine: The kids have been enjoying riding in our car as much as we have. Today Ian flipped on the radio to discover a station playing American music. We expressed awe at this, and Katherine's reply? "Well, it is an American car."

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Dusty, dirty, tired and achey = Happy

Our HHE has arrived. Our car has arrived. Our consumables have arrived.

We can't move in our house.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

How do you join the FS?

I read a cable today about how the Foreign Service is going to change how it vets applicants. You can find a story about it here. I'm fine with it, it's ridiculous how slow the process is. My concern is the same as Amb. Holbrooke's, though. If there's some sort of screening panel, then it'll be important to make sure there's no ideological screening that goes with it.

Mystery Magazines

We keep getting these magazines that we don't order. We now have a subscription the The New Yorker, and "Food and Wine." Did you send them to us? We can't thank you if we don't know!

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Merry Early Christmas

Some gifts are so good, they practically demand to be opened early. Gobs of complaining about the current state of affairs doesn't hurt either. This year, I was the lucky recipient of an early gift. Office:Mac.

Until now I've been using OpenOffice on our Mac. It professes to accomplish the same tasks as Word, but, well, doesn't. Since I write a lot of text documents I need to do such basic things as cutting and pasting from one document/application to another. Text is not always printed in the same font, so making the information uniform was also top of my list. Our version of OpenOffice would do neither. Blog entries posted directly to the website could not then be cut and pasted to a text document for back-up (trust me, I tried). Inserting a symbol into a document (say, an 'e' with an accent over it) would pop up in a different font, but the original document font was nowhere in the drop down box of font options. Such basic requirements were driving me more than a little batty.

So now I'm the proud and very satisfied owner of Microsoft's Office for Mac. It does what I ask it to do without complaining, and maybe I can get some long awaited projects out the door.

I Love the Holidays

Thursday night was the Elementary School Winter Program.

This is our last year having all four kids in the same school, or part of school. Next year, Katherine will be off to Middle School, and by the time Nicholas hits Middle School, we'll have Katherine in High and Jonathon still in Elementary. That should be an interesting year, split between 3 different schools. But I digress.
Thursday night we were treated to a Flat Stanley trip around the round. Flat Stanley is a book character about a boy named Stanley who is smashed flat by a board and is therefore… Flat Stanley. So, with Stanley flat, he's easy to send off around the world in an envelope. In the books, he's off on adventures, and teachers have used Flat Stanley to learn about different countries as they send their own paper cutout Stanleys to friends and sister schools around the globe. On stage, Stanley was looking for a doctor to help him become "round" again. So he traveled to Colombia (4th grade), Germany (Kindergarten), the amazing "country" of Africa (3rd grade), China (1st grade) and back in time to the non-country of Mesopotamia (5th grade). Each group did a song and some dancing. I found it quite enjoyable and it only lasted an hour. Jonathon had a speaking part about Germany, Nicholas headed the dragon in China, Katherine was queen in Mesopotamia, while Rebecca was one of four dancers for the song "It Takes a Whole Village to Raise a Child." Our house has been abuzz with rehearsed lines and song lyrics for weeks, it was nice to see the pay off. Katherine's lines came out clear and loud and aside from Nicholas still trying to count the stitches in his socks, everyone did great, even him as soon as he picked up the dragon.
No one wanted to get up for school the next day, but they did and I managed to wipe most of the eyeliner off Nicholas's face.
This morning, we made big progress in preparing for Christmas. Jonathon and Nicholas brought all their money. Jonathon's intention was to buy a big power ranger for himself, spending most of his cash in the process, like Nicholas did the last time we were in Landmark. To say I was disappointed is putting it mildly, and after talking to him over and over I wasn't making any progress, so I turned Ian on him. A very sad little boy we had for a while, and that wasn't our goal either. We want him to give to others out of the desire to give to others, and he wasn't –getting- it, but I didn't want to force him either. After all, his cash, his choice. But. He did turn the corner, he did decide to purchase for others, and he had a good time finding something fun for his brother with Rebecca giving him suggestions. For his sisters he still didn't pinpoint what he'd like to get them, or make for them if it comes to it, but at least he's taken a step. Nicholas dove in and bought some really nifty items for his siblings. He found items that reflect them and their interests and he's excited about it. This evening at bedtime he told me "Mom, I don't think I'm going to save my money for a GameBoy. I think I want to buy you and daddy Christmas gifts." Nicholas has been set on a GameBoy (and sharing the expense with Ian) for quite a while now, so to hear him say that made me feel good. I think he'll still go for the GameBoy sometime next year when he's saved enough, but it's nice to know he'd give it up to give to others. At least for now.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Happy Saint Nicholas Day!

Or as we've told Nicholas... Happy Saint ME Day!

Were your stockings hung by the chimney with care last night? Did you leave hay and apples for St. Nick's donkey? Did he trade for gold covered chocolate coins, fruit, and nuts?

Nope, we didn't either. We don't have a chimney, laid four of daddy's tube socks out, forgot about the donkey, and received candy, toys and the traditional new tree ornament. Each of the kids brought a bag of goodies to share with their classmates, the girls each had a bag of shiney gold Werther's Originals to represent the gold coins Nicholas of Myra gave to those in need. The boys had bag of smarties to remember St. Nicholas, Patron Saint of Children. St. Nicholas is also the Patron Saint of Bakers and Travelers. We thank him for watching over us as we wander the world. And tonight, perhaps we'll do some family baking to celebrate, even though Mercy is already baking some chocolate bar cookies.
Today is the day we usually kick off the start of the season. Traditionally we'd put the tree and decorations up today though the lighting of the tree waits until Christmas Eve, listen to carols and get serious about wrapping gifts. We don't "do" Santa (which is a trial this year as several little friends -do- believe in Santa and Ian is wondering how that will affect our presents-under-the-tree bit), so the tree slowly fills up over the next couple weeks and the anticipation mounts. Rebecca has already gotten her siblings gifts. Katherine has started. The boys, well, they're still a little clueless for some reason.
And it's funny. While Nicholas understands that Santa isn't real (but we have to not say that around other kids! Shhh!) he's not so sure about St. Nicholas. Last year we had the whole "ghost of St. Nicholas wandering through our house" giving our little Nicholas the shivers, but this year he's just trying to make sense of it all, and I think he -wants- to believe. We've never kept alive the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy, but St. Nicholas is special to him and I'm glad for it.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Phew, what a week(end), glad it's over.

The past few days have been good, but plain busy.

There was all the excitement over Rebecca's 9th birthday yesterday which left me quite wiped, and today we had church this morning, Advent projects (we don't have our advent stuff, so we're making them anew), lunch out at Cappucino, a swimming birthday party for a 1yo, finishing Advent crafty stuff, Katherine's homework, etc etc.
Church was at the Santhome Basilica, a beautiful building with a slightly gaudy interior. No neon crosses about (like at St Louis last week), but gaudy nonetheless with way too many statues vying for attention. While every first Sunday has the boys' choir from St. Bede's school, the music throughout was more reminiscent of a pop concert than a Mass. I'm still undecided about this place, especially as I was expecting so much more from the bbuilding built over a crypt believed to house the bones of St. Thomas, the St. Thomas of Jesus disciple fame. I'd expected something a little more... traditional. But it was in English, a definite step closer since last week's Mass in Tamil.
We will probably try Santhome again next week to see the next yellow candle with purple tinsel lit.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Another 9yo in the World

A quick review of the birthday girl's extended day: cupcakes with classmates at school, sleepover with best friend, early wake-up, Skype with grandparents and opened grandparent gifts, bagel and cream cheese breakfast (trust me, a treat), made cake with best friend, other best friend arrived, baseball in the yard, bowling with friends and family, lunch out with friends at Cedars, cake and present time.. downtime.. "Narnia" on the big screen. Sounds great for a 9yo!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

*Gobble*Gobble*

A very Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, family, friends, and those folks we know only in internetland. Our hearts and thoughts are with you.

We celebrated Turkey Day in true American style. We went to the movies. In our defense, the kids were in school and both sets of neighbors were going to see 007, so we went too. I'm not a 007 fan but I've seen every movie (thanks, dear) and the Daniel Craig "Casino Royale" really is amazing to watch and more realistic than any other Bond flick out there. It was worth the Rs150 (about $3.50) tickets (ordered on-line, along with drinks and popcorn delivered straight to our seats), though the theater is well-worn and the crowd was packed with teen boys whistleing at the Bond girls and older folks checking their glowing cell phones. We plan to visit the new cinema in City Centre soon after it opens; it looks amazing.
Our Thanksgiving meal will be on Sunday, so the entire family can participate in its creation. But the meal is just that, a meal. The true Thanksgiving happens every day we remember those pieces of life that make us who we are. Yeah, you are what you eat *gobble*, but thankfully that's not all we're made of. We're made up of the things we do, the people we surround ourselves with and the connections we make in our hearts. We are blessed to have each other, a family that loves and grows each year into people we are proud to be, rough patches and all. And we are blessed for each person who crosses our path and teaches us, brightens our day and loves us. Thank You.

And the winner is...

Jonathon. Of the four Hoppers in the AISC Turkey Trot, Jonathon beat out his siblings to reach the finish line first. Cheers to all the kids who completed the 3km race without a day of training and were still smiling at the last lap.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Is this week over yet?

On Monday, I thought it was Wednesday, that's how the week is dragging. If I roll back 72 hours or so, it all started on Saturday...

Rebecca attended a birthday party and carpooled to get there, so the rest of us had some free time to hit the shops for birthday gifts. Ian and I already bought ours, but the kids want to give things as well. Our first stop, as always, was Spencers Plaza. Some people hate that mall, but we enjoy all the little hidden shops. In fact, even in the dark we meandered about and found a florist selling fake Christmas trees and junky imported ornaments. We couldn't stay though long for fear of passing out, the darkness was a result of power outage and the throngs of people were no less than a typical Saturday afternoon, but combine the numbers with no a/c and high humidity and it was a recipe for sweating bodies and aching heads. We retreated and visited City Centre mall instead. A brand new building with a gorgeous movie theater opening on December 1st and a food court with kid zone, what's not to like. Working electricity was icing on the cake. The kids managed to buy their gifts, get in some play time, have lunch and we found padded envelopes and packing materials to mail boxes, so it was all good. We made it home within 15 minutes of Rebecca returning from her party.
A short while later and only after ogling the neighbors' carpets and furniture they've unpacked, we changed clothes and headed north to the Perambur area of Chennai. Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine is up there, and has a 6:30 p.m. English service. We'd left the house at 5:45 and at 7 when our driver still couldn't find it (it's a huge Shrine on a main road) we turned around and came home, with a stop at the newly opened KFC for some dinner. It was a bust of an evening. Next weekend we'll try St. Louis, a much closer and smaller church also with a Saturday evening English service.
Sunday, we were bored. There's no other way to say it. Eventually, Ian and I took a walk with Rebecca to Cafe' Coffee Day with a couple stops in shops for her to find Christmas gifts. Back home again, Nicholas, Jonathon and I put together Nicholas's decorated turkey for his class. We didn't have the right glue, so Ian and Katherine went back out for glue. And we did a lot of sitting around, reading, and more sitting. Rebecca wanted to swim. Rebecca wanted to play tennis. Not good weather for either of those activities. The kids had already played enough on the computer. The Xbox is broken. Our Christmas cards haven't arrived yet. And on and on. We had an excuse for everything, I think we just wanted to be bored. By the evening when we Skyped with my parents, it's a wonder we put together anything to talk about.
So Monday finally arrived with Ian off to work, the kids and I off to school. AISC hosted some of the Harlem Globetrotters Monday morning and by the end I wished we'd gone to see them over the weekend. Katherine was there too, but she didn't stay for school. Once the show ended, we packed up and she saw Dr. John at the clinic who again pronounced her with a throat infection (it's -tonsillitis-) and said no ice cream or chocolate, take 8 days of antibiotic, come back in a week, and they don't take out tonsils until 12-15 years old. I have no clue as to the rationale behind that. None. But if she's still sick in a week, we'll get our second opinion and go from there.
Oh, and Ian and I received our third and final JapB vaccination.
We came home and I napped. I've been dragging for a while now, and sleeping poorly at night thanks to the boys who have begun climbing into our bed again. Where is my king bed? *yawn*
Amazing Race and Lost have gotten boring. Survivor has become really fun. I'm reading a book called Once Upon a Timezone, a funny story about an Indian guy who desperately wants to get to America but is denied a visa (!), gets a job at a call center and falls in love with a customer who calls to complain about her computer. The book was released either May 10th or October 5th of this year, and it was an impulse buy from Landmark this weekend.
Speaking of book releases, our friend back home, Jeff Sypeck, has his first book released today 21 November 2006. Titled Becoming Charlemagne, you can get it from Amazon or your local Borders or Barnes & Noble (check out the New Releases table this holiday season at B&N). The book makes a great stocking stuffer and addition to any home library!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

My $400 brick

Starting about two weeks ago, our XBox 360 became pretty unstable. It would freeze up sometimes during games or movies, no errors or anything, just wouldn't respond. Then I get three flashing red lights -- you don't need to know anything about computers to know that isn't good.

They call it the "Ring of Death," and it means "general hardware failure" -- typical Microsoft helpfulness, like the Blue Screen of Death. I looked it up, and I went through the possibilities. They were heat problems with the launch systems, and I have one. But I never had this problem in Togo, and I made sure the system and power supply got enough air. The second option was bad power (fluctuating voltage) -- and I figure if the power was fine in Togo, with our backup generator, it's fine anywhere. The last option was the worst: Microsoft did it.
On Nov. 1, Microsoft released a fall update, and pushed it through the Internet to all systems. In a "very small number of systems" -- tech speak for nobody-knows-how-many -- this can brick a system. This means that it gives this hyperpowered PC and DVD player all the functionality of a brick. Check for more stories like this here, and here.
I called Microsoft tech support, and finally got to a human. After getting through the moron fixes (rebooting, unplugging, replugging -- it's not like I can boot to DOS), they said it's still days within warranty, so they'll take it back and fix it for free. But I still need to send it back from India, and wait for it to come back.

'Tis The Season

'Tis the season for all sorts of fun stuff to fill our days. Next week (oh my goodness, next week already??) is Thanksgiving. Granted we won't be able to throw a full-blown Turkey Day celebration at our place, I don't even have a pie pan, but we do have 3 butterball turkeys in the freezer to cover the holiday season. That's got to count for something.

The school is holding a Turkey Trot, which three of my children wanted to participate in. I won't mention the chicken.. uh, turkey.... but he's short and about 6 1/2 years old. I don't think any of my children have ever run a mile (I know their parents haven't, certainly not willingly), but the idea of a Turkey Trot t-shirt and a shot at a dressed turkey have them all excited. They do know that dressed does not mean in a coat and tie.
On that same Wednesday, the Kindergarten class holds it's farewell party for Ms. Jeanette who returns to the UK in December. Jonathon is OK with her departure. Though he likes her, the new teacher has already joined the class, there are two aides, and his primary teacher is Ms. Melanie anyway. His world won't be rocked too much. No, that will actually happen in January when the kids return from winter break and the single K class is split in two. If Ian and Sean aren't in his class, then we might have a short term issue.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, on Monday of next week, the Harlem Globetrotters will be at AISC. They are doing several "shows" in Chennai over the course of the week, but Monday morning they'll be with the kids, and parents are invited. You can bet I'll be there and I'm still trying to convince Ian to come along. I've seen the Globetrotters before, I believe it was some time in the early 80s in Africa?
Ian has Thanksgiving Day off work while the kids have "Black Friday" off school. We've already completed our Christmas shopping, and as long as we're here over the holiday weekend we might go see a musical production at the Egmore Museum stage, primarily because Rebecca's teacher is in the show. I should purchase tickets sooner rather than later for that.
The following weekend has Katherine down in Pondicherry on an overnight field trip with her French class. They have been corresponding with the lycee down there (Pondicherry was a created French colonial town), so will meet with their on-line friends, eat at a French restaurant, stay in a hostel and shop. I do have a couple reservations, one being her motion sickness. She'll have a trial by fire with her sea bands with strict orders not to remove them for any reason. They're pretty and comfortable, so there should be no reason for her to take them off (and therefore lose them). The other concern we have is the high occurrence of illness in folks who vacation down there. One recent case landed in the hospital, and I'd like to avoid that all costs. We ran down the list of potential troublemakers and gave Katherine guidelines on what to avoid and how to do so. Ice seems so innocent, doesn't it?
She'll be back on Friday, in time for Rebecca's birthday on Saturday. Nine years old already, that one. There are discussions in the air of a sleepover, perhaps some crafts, and general nuttiness. I need to search out some families to farm out my other kids to. It will have to be from the 1st to the 2nd, for on the evening of the 2nd is the AISC Winter Ball right down the street at the Park Sheraton hotel. I may not have a formal gown, and I'm not getting a sari made, but we're going anyway.
So that's our next couple weeks in a nutshell. Toss in Hindi lessons a couple times a week, Katherine's class play and all other matter of daily living and we're chugging along quite happily.

Monday, November 13, 2006

A light shines

EDA: December 6th for our HHE -and- our consumables. We might actually have our stuff for Christmas! Though the kids have already decided they'll use daddy's socks for their St. Nicholas Day stockings.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Iraq videos


Last night we watched CNN Presents: Combat Hospital, a wrenching documentary about a military emergency room in Iraq. I highly recommend it.

For a little lighter fare, try this video from YouTube called "Lazy Ramadi." It's their version of the popular "Lazy Sunday" video from SNL.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Trucking Along with Reading

It's been going on for a while, the steps towards fluid, clear reading. Nicholas has been asking for a year to stay up at night to "read" like his sisters do and since moving to India we have obliged a couple nights per week as his ability has skyrocketed. Some days I tiptoe in to find him asleep with a book tossed on his nightstand and the light shining bright, but last night he took a huge step forward. He read through 2/3 of a "Nate the Great," came out to tell us about it, borrow a book mark from his sister and then go to sleep. This morning there are Saturday morning cartoons and Nicholas fetched his book. I am SO excited!

Christmas Shopping - Nearly Complete

Today is Veteran's Day. We express our sincere appreciation to all the veteran's out there, including both our fathers. We love you, and thank you.

The kids did not have a day off (strange American School, yet again), but Ian did. We took advantage of a kid-free day to shop for them at Spencers Plaza. It makes me happy to shop for my kids, whether it's on the internet or in the shop around the corner. They are getting several useful items that will give them a kick, like Harry Potter raincoats. The poem "Something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read" came in undeniably helpful this year. Each gift time, I plan and list and scratch out and list again. This year, I have my kids pegged (Ian is another story as I have no idea what to get for him he won't just get himself, but my kids I feel will be pleased with their gifts). Ornaments that reflect India have not been too plentiful, but I have high hopes that as the season progresses something will come to light. Perhaps hanging dancing ganeshas?

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Election Results are in....

I watched the results as they came in all day on the 8th, and now we have a Democrat win in both the House and Senate. I'm not saying my watching brought about the victory, but hey, I figure it's not unlike giving support while watching football on TV.

I look forward to seeing what, if anything, occurs over the next two years. Rumsfeld has already been dismissed but what really will happen with our presence in Iraq? The Dems have a lot on their plate, and a very short time to make some sweeping changes if they want to keep their momentum and current status.

Our housekeeper asked if I was a Bush supporter. After giving a non-answer, she said her previous Madame (*shudder*Madame*shudder*) did not like Bush at all. I do wonder how he's going to fare now he doesn't have a rubber stamp Congress to work with.

We shall see.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

We're home, we're happy and...

Boy do we have a story to share. Hopefully I'll have it up this evening (our time). I've been watching the election coverage as I put the page together, so if there's a typo, blame CNN.

UPDATE: Under the photo of the Taj is a link to our journal with photos of our trip. Enjoy!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Delhi Weather

Should I worry when weather.com describes the current weather in Delhi as "Smoke"? I kid you not. Later today is sunshiny, tonight is clear and in the 60s. But right now, all it says is "Smoke." Is the city burning?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

What Better Time

The washing machine broke this week, and we leave for our trip north on Sunday. The timing is pretty lousy, especially if it doesn't get fixed this week or while we're gone. Bags of stinky clothes will return home with us so I'm thinking I should put aside a set of clean clothes for everyone for the day after, just in case. Perhaps we should just plan to shop a lot while we're gone.

I've mentioned it in passing, but finally we're doing our trip. It's not a real R&R, but after the past year+ with no meaningful change of pace (our move doesn't ccount unless we're just going by stress factors), we're looking forward to a week of sightseeing.
The trip was originally one person's plan for a last big hurrah before she and her family leave post next year. As she told folks around the Consulate, more and more were interested in doing the same or a similar adventure, so she organized more seats and suddenly the group exploded to 30 some people, nearly half are kids. The organizer happened to be our sponsor when we arrived in Chennai, so while still in Togo we asked if we could join. Luckily for us, a family of 5 canceled and we took their spots plus one.
Now the day is upon us. On Sunday we fly up to Delhi (or new Delhi? I can never remember which), pile into a bus with the rest of the group and drive four hours to Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal. The following morning we plan a sunrise viewing of the building that sprung from a love story.
From there we have days spread out among a safari through a tiger preserve in Jaipur, sleeping in tents at the camel festival in Pushkar and the fortress cum hotel in Neemrana. We'll go ride elephants and hopefully ride a camel? The kids really want to ride a camel after watching the latest Amazing Race episodes. Watch out, they spit!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Fumes... Affecting... Brain....

But at last it's really happening. The painting is half completed and what is done looks fabulous. There is a room (*cough*Katherine's*cough*) that I really don't love, but if we keep the door closed and I don't have to live in it (and she loves it), then I can deal. One day we will learn to pick the lightest shade of purple offered. Pale to the point of pastel is preferable over the bubblegum color we have going, but I will repeat... not my room, not my room...

It's worth it to us to paint for a 3-year tour. The house is furnished in gov't off-white drab from the wall color to the rugs and furniture, which we've discovered is not always the norm. A couple houses down, each room has different color curtains, royal blue Persian style rugs and dark living room furniture. They've painted their walls as well, so everywhere you look there are bright splashes of color. Now I can say the same for ours. Once we purchase some rugs and put our pictures and paintings up, it might actually look like -we- live here.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Family Bonding Weekend

With our weekend only half done, I have to say how much I (still) like everyone in our family.



Saturday morning is our clean-up morning. For a few hours, everything is nice and neat, then we start living in the rooms again and it's all a mess. But for those few hours, it's really quite nice, and the kids are easy to prod into doing their jobs, what with the reinstituted chore charts and accompanying allowances. Some families don't attach money to family duties, but the fact is that the kids do the work whether we pay them or not, and with birthdays and Christmas coming up we all want to feel we're earning the spending cash to purchase little surprises. With the chore charts, they are much happier picking up dirty clothes and encouraging each other to finish their job list quickly and efficiently. It works for us.
The rest of the day and weekend has been spent playing "Settlers of Catan," tennis on both Saturday and Sunday, family effort omelettes Sunday morning, late lunch/early dinner at Cappucino on Sunday, creating a catnip mouse toy on Sunday, talking with grandma and grandpa via Skype, writing letters to family and friends, and an assortment of movies, books and videogames sprinkled about.
The catnip mouse was easy enough. We have the weed growing everywhere so the kids gathered up handfuls and we proceeded to wash the roots, snip them into bits then pack a little sock full. Draw a cute face, attach a twine tail and you have a toy fit for a cat. All that's missing is a jingle bell inside. Rebecca has a wonderful craft project book we'd like to dive into, just waiting for all the supplies to show up.
As for tennis, both Nicholas and Rebecca are taking lessons twice a week and both are progressing nicely. There is still a lot of ball chasing going on, but each time there's more back and forth action too. Jonathon would like to take lessons, but at 5 years old he doesn't have the focus to stay on task for an hour at a time in a group lesson. So we play on the weekends and I realized he's as tall as the net and the racket is 2/3 of his body length. It's impressive he gets the ball over at all.
OK, I have a headache now and the tylenol isn't touching it. So I'm off to take some Motrin and go to bed. Next weekend we take off on our week long trip to the north and I hope to return with loads of photos and a nice long journal. Until then, it's more of the same from here. Painters arrive tomorrow to brighten up our rooms and the kids have 2 more days at home. Here's to long weekends.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Ode to Jonathon

Diwali weekend in India is kind of like Easter weekend in Manila. Things are closed, our househelp isn't here, and things are pretty slow. Actually, I'm not sure if everything's closed. Although we have our rented car, Michele isn't supportive of my wish to drive it. Sure, they drive on the wrong side. And the steering wheel's on the right. And it's a stick shift, which I haven't driven in more than 10 years. But there's not much traffic either, right?

Anyway, we're around the house for the weekend, for the most part. (Reminding us of almost every weekend in Lome...) We did go out on Friday, both for the parent-teacher conferences and to the children's park. It was another Sad Third-World Zoo, with random animals escaped from their cages and trying desperately to get back in. We had plans to go to the snake park next door, but Jonathon walked up to us with wet pants to say, "I had to go to the bathroom." A bit late. We made him sit next to us while the rest played, and I made a little poem for him.
"There you be,
All covered in pee,
I still see,
That you are wee!"
He didn't think it was that funny. The kids and Michele did. And I'm sure Jeff will too.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Diwali Weekend

On Friday I was up at my usual time, about 6:15, with Nicholas and Rebecca right behind me.

I took them and Jonathon (once Nicholas woke him) to the playground/garden park next door. It's a lovely green space, but the sun gets strong really early and I hadn't paid attention to how little shade is there. The kids enjoyed themselves and attracted attention from passers-by, but we only managed to stay for about 30-45 minutes before everyone was ready to go home and cool off. While walking back, Ian called wondering where we were. He and Katherine had checked the tennis courts and the pool with no luck. Thank goodness for cell phones. Once home Rebecca asked for pancakes, so we made a midmorning breakfast when the cook arrived with a painter in tow. I had been waiting to get the information on other painters but it's time to get it done before our boxes arrive. The painter took a look at the rooms and haggled over a job price. They'll start Monday morning at 9 a.m. and after three or four days and two coats of paint in six rooms, it should look fabulous in here. I'm excited about having it all finished so we can put the fun touches up. I'll take pictures, promise. If the boys room turns out how I hope, it'll be a really fun room.
After breakfast, Ian and I went to the school for teacher conferences while the kids stayed home and watched Harry Potter. We returned just as the movie ended. Overall, the conferences went well and there were no surprises. My kids are consistent. Jonathon's teacher is happy to have him in her class, he has what's termed "infectious enthusiasm." He received his lowest grade (if a CheckMinus is a grade) in P.E. and Music. Takes after his mom on the first one at least. The kid trips on his own feet, but I still feel it's a little much to even grade Kindergarten P.E. and Music. He says he has fun in those classes and isn't that where the "grade" should lie? He's in a reading group and doing well with numbers and happilly his little buddy (and our neighbor) is a leftie too, so the two of them are all confused writing backwards together.
We moved to Ms. Becky's room. Ms. Becky just loves having Rebecca in her class. Since she's a rule follower and adamant about everything being fair, she's a gift to teachers. Her teacher's goal for this next quarter is to have her try a little more out of the box thinking, trying things even if they might not work, for Rebecca is hesitant to do anything that hasn't already been proven to be correct. Becca loves share time, enjoys speaking publicly, helps the ESL kids, and is a leader within her age group. It doesn't translate to home where her sister doesn't like being told what to do by an 8 year old, or her borthers who get really tired of always being bossed around. But in her class, she shines.
Katherine's teacher is not a very friendly, out-going person, what Katherine has been really needing and lacking the past few years. In fact she's rather prickly. Strict is good, but being compassionate and understanding and warm is also important. Katherine needs someone who's expects a lot, but also is someone she feels she can trust. Maybe next year, though Katherine has already mentioned missing doing school at home. She has lots of friends which, IMO, is worth its weight in gold after last year. Of course, we're still facing down the disorganization bear. Year 5 of hearing how she can't find things she needs and worse, doesn't turn in assignments she's already completed because she can't find them. Her belongings are discovered all around the school and her desk is always a disaster. I am open to any and all creative suggestions. We've tried all the obvious ones. After all that though, she did get a report card packed with As and Bs. Her academics really are good, she just can't find anything.
Last, we met with Nicholas's teacher. I feel better after having spoken with her, as the report card was very limited on the information it gave. It stated he's at grade level, which is good, but I felt was a little heavy-handed with expectations for things like handwriting. Nicholas's handwriting is pretty bad, but I think also pretty typical for a 1st grader. After talking with her though, he's in the top reading group and the top math group, so really he is doing fine. Teachers do start low in order to have areas to improve and I'm all for that.
Many of the Consulate families are not happy with this school and Ian and I know it all relates to where you're coming from. If you're coming in from Cairo, AISC is lacking. If you're arriving from Togo, it's a blessing. But I also think we need to look at where we are in the World. Chennai is not Cairo or Bangkok or Beijing. Chennai doesn't have the same draw for teachers, it doesn't have the same enrollment numbers, it doesn't have the same demands placed on it. But for being in Chennai, this school meets the need admirably. What I also realize is that no school is going to be perfect and no school is going to meet every one of our personal requirements. Where it's lacking, it's up to us to fill in the gaps whether it's music or American History. And honestly, I'm OK with that.
Once we returned home and had some lunch, the vet came by to give the cats their shots. One more visit for rabies next month and they'll be done for the year. The cats are doing well and the vet is really nice, you can tell she adores animals. A home visit with shots for Rs950. About $20. She even showed me where a patch of catnip is growing right outside our gate. I should get some potted for indoors.
Then Ian received a phone call and went to the Consulate for a little bit. He's duty officer until Wednesday. When he came back, we took take the kids to the nearby Snake Farm. Actually that was our plan, but right next door is the Children's Park with a mini zoo. We heard a hyena laugh. Not only do they look evil, they sound evil. Those are some ugly ugly creatures. There also were monkeys, some running about the park. Deer, some running around the park. Snakes, none running about the park that we saw. Lots of big birds, parrots, cockatiels, etc. Some of them had escaped their cages and seemed to be desperately trying to get back in. In the middle of the park is a playground, so the kids spent time there.
Since this is a very conservative Indian state (we all know the story of kissing not allowed in movies), dating and mixed couples are not seen out and about, but they are plentiful in the park. Nearly every bench was occupied by cuddling couples. Even more intriguing were the even-numbered groups of boys and girls playing was seemed like Blind Man's Bluff. I guess any excuse to be able to touch a member of the opposite sex. No chaperones in sight.
So we came home and gave out little gifts to our househelp. If Ian needs to do anything for work he can call the Duty Driver to come get him, so he's not stuck with our driver on holiday. Everyone is on vacation, I'm hoping it'll be quiet all weekend.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Diwali Cometh

Ian is Duty Officer this weekend so it's a good thing we didn't plan to leave the city, much less the country. With the long weekend coming up we do need to plan some activities to do anyway, so perhaps we'll head down to Guindy Park to see the Snake Farm. Or onto the East Coast Road (ECR) to the Crocodile Bank. Folks keep saying we need to go to Fisherman's Cove or Temple Bay, both high class beach resorts with the price tag to match. There's the popular Ideal Beach resort with reasonable rates and lower grade service. But where I really want to go is someplace to really relax. Which is why we're planning a long weekend to the Andaman Islands. I'd like to go over Thanksgiving when Ian has Thursday off, the kids have Friday off and I have every day off. Check out http://www.barefootindia.com

Another trip I'd like is the Toy Train up nearly 7000ft from Siliguri to Darjeeling. That would truly be a test on my acrophobia. Can we really be in India and never see the Himalayans? For a while I tossed around the idea of skiing up there, I believe there's a single ski resort somewhere in the Indian Himalayans. But every time I mention that to someone they look at me funny. Perhaps skiing at high altitudes wouldn't be the best thing and a train ride would be a better option?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

What next? Leprosy?

Ian and I were joking last week that it must be what Nicholas has. Leprosy. In reality of course, it looks like his hands are suffering some major eczema. While the palms of his hands feel like those of a 100 year old man, his fingers are flaking causing him to pick and expose raw, red and painful skin underneath. It's not pretty and I'm currently treating with cortisone cream. But while talking with Jeff a little lightbulb went on in my head and I'm wondering if Nicholas is allergic to the material wrapping his tennis racket grip. I'm searching to see if it's, perhaps, latex. My dad is allergic to latex, and once I figure out what wraps our tennis rackets we'll be a step closer to figuring this out.

In other news, Jonathon is home this morning. He woke up hobbled, apparently by a midnight spider bite on his foot. The two telltale dots and a red, swollen foot means I'll bring him to the clinic just to see what I should do for it (if anything), then it's off to school for him, but no P.E.

Ian and I start our rabies and JapB immunization series this morning. I've already taken a couple motrin to take the edge off. JapB apparently hurts quite a bit.

UPDATE: JapB does not hurt nearly as much as the kids would have me believe. Then again, I think Motrin is a gift from the gods.

Jonathon's foot is still all red and puffy so he's home for the afternoon even though he's running around like nothing's wrong. Actually, he's sitting watching TV between snacking and playing games with me, but he's not upset like he was this morning. I brought him to the clinic and the nurse suggested an antihistemine. I should know by now to go that route since Jonathon reacts pretty violently to even non-yucky things like spider bites. Mosquito bites swell into welts, that sort of thing.

I also brought him back to Lister Lab to have his platelet count rechecked after his Dengue diagnosis. We received the results right then and as far as I can tell, they're perfectly normal. That's a relief.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

It's Not Diwali Until the Ash Hits Your Eyes

Last night we attended the AISC Diwali celebration. Diwali, the festival of light, is not until next Saturday, but if the school party was held then it would be like holding it on Christmas Day. So we took part in Indian dancing, Indian food and Indian fireworks last night.

The Indian dancing was fine, a large ciricle of school kids, parents and teachers doing the same 4 moves for 45+ minutes. Two steps forward, two steps back, two steps forward, spin. Katherine kept it going for over half an hour, I did a lap, and Jonathon and I paired up for a round. The rest of my crew must have been in a trance after 10 minutes of watching the circle go round and round (spin, two steps forward, two steps back...) and round and round again. They didn't move, they didn't join, but they didn't leave either.
The Indian food was palatable. Actually quite nondescript, which is strange for this area of the world. Nicholas was steadfast in his search for noodles and we eventually found which pot they were in, a cheesy gooey noodle and vegetable combination. Ian's only question was where the meat was. Typical for India, we were offered and ate pure Veg.
The fireworks were last on the schedule. The school soccer field is a good size, but there aren't the same, uh, safety guidelines here as we're accustomed to. The brisk breeze and heavy smoke from the fireworks resulted in a sometimes thick layer of ash landing on the spectators. Several of the canisters misfired, sending a wave of fiery sparks all over the field. It was exciting!
When we weren't being entertained, the kids ran free and we people-watched. I know the girls felt let down, I hadn't bought then holiday sarees and all their friends were dressed up in silks and linens, sarees and tunics, scarves (dupatta), glitter and gold. Next year I won't have any excuse. If I'd only found a tailor and had their outfits made, though we've agreed that first they'll get a tunic and pants (aka salwar kameez). A full saree will come much later.
Katherine hung around with her friends, wandering the playground and field, giggling about this and that. Jonathon preferred to stay at the playground while Nicholas ran around with his friends, Sean and Jack, playing tag. Rebecca, for whatever reason, spent a good part of her time with us. Though Ian and I don't often mix with the other consulate families at these functions, I know that I felt quite content just being in the mix with waves of kids and flurries of activites all around. It helped that the weather was gorgeous and sitting on bleachers watching the world go by was nothing short of relaxing. Yes, it's good to be in India.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

It's Spreading!

News stories like these make me all giddy. I'm trying not to be cynical about Libya's motives behind this (or anything else it's done the past 3 years). So here's hoping it's all good.

Libya is Buying Laptops for Every School Child.

Monday, October 9, 2006

Moving Along

The Ispahani Center is a nice little mall with high-end shops and a Marry Brown (aka practically McDonald's). We stopped by there on Saturday before going to our standard, Spencer's Plaza. What we've discovered is the malls here have shops but little service. By that I mean you can buy plenty of stuff, but if you need a haircut? Tailoring? Hardware help?

We did purchase a few things, always doing our part for the economy. After finding a new computer mouse, we picked up some Diwali gifts for our househelp. The kids were great, so we treated ourselves to ice cream at Amun. Brave Katherine chose the "butterscotch" topping. It looked more like instant Jell-o lemon pudding, but she said it was OK.
Sunday we had lunch at Cappucino at the Park Sheraton before the girls went off to a birthday party with the neighbors. A dance party even.
Columbus Day was a holiday for Ian, but not for the kids. We sent them off to school then successfully bought wall paint for the house. Now we argue about hiring someone to do the work for us. Lunch was at the Mediterranean restaurant not 5 minutes away, Cedars. $20 got us as much hummus, garlic cream, pita, shwarma, soup, fish, chicken, dessert and coffee we could handle. It was so good but late in the afternoon. The kids were snacking from the moment they came home. Dinner was ice cream for everyone before a quick game of Settlers of Catan and Amazing Race. If we're not careful, we'll have our parenting licenses revoked.

Saturday, October 7, 2006

Successful Shove Out the Door

We did it. All the kids went to school yesterday, and I was able to go to school with them to do what needed to be done. I even picked up our school IDs.

The day itself wasn't great. I was able to attend the assembly in honor of Mahatma Gandhi, but in the process missed the Kindergarten parents meeting. I think that's OK, when I did finally make it the parents were all up in arms over not knowing what stage of hiring the school was at. One of the Kindergarten teachers is leaving over the winter break and a replacement still isn't set. I just stayed quiet in the background, listening. Hiring a new teacher is a lengthy process, but a thorough one and I've no doubt that someone qualified will be found.
The assembly was fun to watch. The 4th graders put on a play/narrative on Gandhi's life, a quartet of high schoolers sang "Seasons of Love" (which put me a little on guard... as I walked into the gym a group of 3rd graders were singings "five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes" and I checked with the teacher to make sure "Rent" wasn't part of the curriculum), and after a lengthy discourse on cancer from a survivor who shared the microbiology of the disease along with pleadings for checks after the age of 40 (remember.. the audience was elementary and high school kids), two high schoolers performed a trumpet and sax duet of one of Gandhi's favorite songs.
I had the rest of the day to meander until the 5th grade project presentations on _A Single Shard_. I read through a "Popular Photography" magazine in the library and understood again how clueless I really am about this photography thing. Feeling pitiful, I spotted the 5th graders through the window on the soccer field, so I plopped in the grass to watch them dribble the soccer ball around. Until the water break all was well, but it was destined to tick off the teacher when the class dallied getting back. Rather than have every kid bring their water bottle to the field for quick drinks, he allows them to leave the field, pass the gym and circuit the pool to reach a water fountain. All together now: *SMACK forehead* As punishment, they sat on the field doing nothing for the rest of the period. No hats, full sun at 11:45 a.m.
I poked through the Diwali sale held in the Black Box theater room. Lovely jewelry priced into the nearly $1000 range. Tops, skirts and Sari sets. While the jewelry was tempting, I stuck with a $10 top with buttons and sequins. It's lovely, really.
After spending lunch with Jonathon (and getting to finish his Thai food), I was sucked into helping in the Kindergarten class. Each Friday, a group works to whip up a little treat for the class. This being "L" week, the treat was lemon bars. I don't know who picked it, but even on my best days with all the ingredients and perhaps an accomplished chef at my side, I can't make lemon bars. Put me in a class with four 5 year olds, a lack of proper ingredients, no 9x9 baking dish, and an inability to use the oven and the mixer at the same time, the result was a disaster. Without baking powder or the use of the mixer while the crust baked, the lemon topping was a runny mess. With only a 13x9 dish the ingredients didn't fit the pan and the oven baked one side of the crust more than the other, leaving half burnt. Quite the disaster. Somehow I knew and had asked our cook to make lemon squares at home. I'll send those in to the class with Jonathon on Monday as compensation.
Oh, and I need to send a note to his teachers anyway. They spell his name wrong.
After escaping Kindergarten (and an oath to stick with Thursdays when they're in the library), I chatted with Marjorie (our neighbor) as we made our way to the 5th grade classroom. The presentations were good, if repetitive. Katherine's group did a portion of the setting of the story. She didn't like the book, which is something for Katherine since she'll read just about anything, so her heart wasn't in the project.
The day was finally over, and none too soon. It's always good to chat with the teachers and make my face known on campus, though the Kindergarten teachers may put a bar on my entering their classroom any time soon.

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

*yawn* *sigh* repeat

Rebecca and Nicholas are home today. I think we're battling strep at this point with the very sore throats and the up and down fevers. Rebecca threw up again last night, though as she said "Just a bit." Nicholas says he feels like throwing up, he had a headache yesterday and he skipped dinner because it hurt too much to eat. Katherine is suffering from tummy cramps, most likely from the medicines she's taking, so she's not sleeping well but seems to perk up when she's busy, so I sent her to school today. Jonathon's temperature is normal this morning though he has the sore throat and muscle aches. I sent him to school too. I know that if I'd kept them all home, no one would have rested.

I need everyone moderately healthy for tomorrow. After the Kindergarten meeting, there's a Diwali sale and then the 5th graders have presentations on the novel they've been reading. I'd like to be able to go.

*yawn* *sigh*

Apologies in advance for such boring updates. It's just I haven't seen much outside the house since Saturday when the girls and I went to Spencer's to pick up some birthday gifts and a kitty scratching post. Ian was sick that day. If Ian wrote, you'd probably hear all about the folks at work still dropping like flies or coming in sick. The newspaper today was filled with articles about health issues, Dengue and Chikungunya (look it up). So my standard update:

Rebecca stayed home from school today. A good thing, her fever came and went and came and went. She looked pretty yucky all day though thankfully did not throw up again. She managed to eat some orange slices and about 1/2 of dinner.

When the bus came home with the kids, Jonathon had fallen asleep. He was burning up, skipped dinner and fell asleep at 6:30.

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Ever get the feeling...

That you're being punished for something, though you can't quite figure out what or why? While Ian is relatively healthy and Katherine is on the mend with what I'm pegging as giardia or amoebas, Jonathon just woke up (it's 11:30 p.m. here) crying and complaining his mouth hurts with a cough severely irritating his throat. As I administered Tylenol cough & cold, I had to push him gently off in the direction of his room to tend to Rebecca who was crying in her bed. She sat up and with a quick shove towards the bathroom, vomited up her dinner.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Can't Catch a Break

Friday evening Ian came down with a fever and chills which lasted all night, all Saturday and into Saturday night. This Sunday morning he is better. Last night Katherine came down with the fever and is miserable today with fever and chills. Nicholas currently has a headache... My first thought was malaria, but with Ian feeling better today I figured that's not the case. A search for all the symptoms (headache, sore throat, fever, body aches, dry mouth, nausea, severe diarrhea) leads me to believe they've been afflicted by giardia or some other form of food/water contamination. Since there's really nothing to be done for it other than fluids and rest we're especially thankful for the long weekend.

Let's spin the wheel and see who is next!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

New Country Ills

While Chennai has been good mentally (we have our kittens and this weekend's girls' shopping trip was informative and moderately fruitful), physically it's truly taking a toll.

Over our latest weekend Jonathon showed symptoms of Dengue. Dengue is a mosquito borne disease (what isn't mosquito born around here, beside rabies?) that results in a high fevers, tummy discomfort, vomiting, and eventually swollen joints with a red rash. After lab tests and a check by Dr. John at the Consulate we received confirmation that he has Dengue accompanied by a throat infection. He spent Friday-Monday miserable, Tuesday and Wednesday recuperating and is finally back in school. Which ever mosquito got him did it several weeks ago but the signs take a while to show. His platelet count is a little low, so taking it easy is a priority even at school. No wonder the poor kid has been out of sorts. He's been carrying Dengue while getting immunizations and dealing with stress of the move. I don't blame him at all for falling asleep in school.
The kittens are cute and frisky as most kittens are and it only took a day to get them past the hissing and swiping stage. Some of that was to us, most of it was towards each other. While Rebecca and I were out buying wooden elephants and silk bed linens, the rest of the family went to another consulate house where a loose kitten was spotted. Into a box it went, but I was clear that we needed two cats, not one, not three. Trouble was there weren't any other kittens to be found. That didn't dissuade the various gardeners on the lot from running around and bagging another random kitten, this one smaller and totally unrelated. Which explains why they spent the first days miserable. We've kept them locked in our enclosed patio and since then they have not only made peace but become friends (cats can become friends?).
Samosa is a long-legged, long-tailed, short-haired tabby calico mix of cat genes. We figure it's about 8 weeks old. Dhosa is a long-haired, pure white kitten with blue eyes, around 6 weeks old. She talks a lot, mewing to hear herself mew I think. Since they are older than Bopis and Pomelo were when we got them, we skipped the kitty milkshake via feeding syringe stage. And they are perfectly box trained. Yup, cats rule.
Our unaccompanied air baggage (UAB) arrived this week, three big boxes filled with items to make the house a bit more like home. Pictures, some kitchen items, Legos, bedding, all the rest of our summer clothes, and of course the necessities like the Xbox 360 and iMac. If it's not obvious to everyone yet, we also have internet access at home. A feat unique to this post it would seem. Even in Togo (ah, here it starts...) getting internet set up wasn't this much hassle. Now that we have it though, we've put in an Amazon order for odds and ends and next on the list will be the Consumables order. If we want a chance of getting it by Christmas it needs to be done now. We even have satellite TV (where's our AFN with our "Military Heritage" commercials?? wah!). Remember when I said once we had our stuff we wouldn't want to leave? I can feel the roots growing already.
The TV channel Discover: Travel and Living does seem to mock us though. This must be New Zealand month as every show we've caught has had to do with discovering Auckland, the wine growers of the South Island, the Maori Hanggi or something else from Kiwi country. We're still trying to figure out if we get one R&R or two, because if we do get two New Zealand is high on our list.
This coming weekend we have no plans. The vet is coming by on Friday to do an initial check-up and deworming on the cats, Saturday we'll probably head back to Spencers Plaza to pick up a scratching post and collars for the cats and a new backpack for Jonathon. His never reappeared though the lunch box and notebook from inside the bag did. It's going to be a quiet long weekend at home (Monday is a holiday for Mahatma Gandhi's birthday), playing tennis and swimming, battling on the Xbox and letting the kitties roam the main floor.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Welcome Back to Our Lives, Part 1 (last week)

For the past nearly four weeks we've happily adjusted to our new home in Chennai, India. All is well with the world, at least our little chunk of it, and I don't feel it's just the 6 month honeymoon phase. The kids have friends (several of which live next door or two houses down, all within "Mom, can I go next door?" "Sure, be back by 5" distance), the school is a happy medium between ISM and AISL and the Consulate community alone is jam-packed with families. Our compound houses the Consul General and two other third tour families (9 kids in all), tennis court, pool and plenty of feral cats to keep the vermin and snake population down.

The most frustrating thing, as it is at every new post for us, is figuring out where the heck everything is, and then of course how the heck do we get there. During the week the Consulate shuttle picks up Ian at the gate, and a Consulate bus picks up the kids. Ian won't want to take the shuttle forever, so once our car arrives we will shuffle our schedule again. If he doesn't buy a 2nd car like we did in Manila, it looks like a family "driver" will be in our future. For now I'll quietly ignore that prospect and try to keep an eye out on the common roads we take. Folks in Manila told us we'd have to get a driver as well, and we did fine without. Granted, the roads there are fairly wide and everyone drives on the American side of the highway. Those specs do not apply to Chennai. Thank you, Britain. (Which raises the question: America was colonized by the Brits too, why don't we drive on the left?)
At every turn we are reminded we're back in Asia, and it feels comfortable. The busyness is non-stop even in this most conservative Indian state. Roads are packed with 3-wheel autorickshaws, ox-driven carts, motos and refurbished Ambassadors. Think London taxi and that is the personal car of choice, only in white. There are even some double-decker buses floating around. Stray dogs abound. Every street corner houses a fruit drink stand with bananas and oranges hanging by the bushel. I doubt the cleanliness of such establishments, but the crowds around each stall prove how popular they are. With the majority Hindu population, most food options are strictly vegetarian; and with the reverence for cows, even where meat is served we don't expect to find beef on the menu. I do believe one of our first stops when we return stateside will be to a steakhouse of some sort.
Where to begin with the third international move in two years? We miss our house in Togo. Don't misread and think we don't like our home here. We'll be in India for three years, we'd better like it or pretend to and cope. The Togo house was just right for us, and nothing beat the yard, the pool, even the cool summertime weather. It was a very comfortable home. Here, we're living in a cave. Until I get a chance to paint some rooms and our personal effects come, just about any other place would be an improvement. The nice thing: in a month or two we’ll have our all-important schtuff and we’ll probably never want to leave India. Our residence is a two-story, 4 bedroom, 4 bathroom, one enclosed a/c patio, one screened patio, computer room, den, with indoor laundry, lovely kitchen, carport, huge yard, big trees sort of place. The other two houses are the same layout with minor differences in room square footage, size of patio and shape of kitchen. Items like cabinetry and tiling also vary.
The yard is slowly coming around now we've hired a gardener. It was looking sad. Loads of potted plants will return to the Consulate as they are strategically placed around the doors harboring bugs and mosquitoes but we don't have anywhere in the yard for them. There is a tamarind tree and some lemon-lime trees, so with some tending we could have some healthy producing plants around. Aside from vegetation, there are the aforementioned cats patrolling, along with about a thousand crows, obnoxiously loud squeaking tree squirrels that look like thirteen-stripe ground squirrels back home with long fluffy tails, and approximately a billion bugs, most notably the millipedes that extend up to six inches long and about two pencils thick. When outside, they are quite enjoyable to watch and play with.
On three sides, the compound is surrounded by high walls and chained gates; on the fourth side a lower wall and the Adyar River. I haven't actually seen the river from our house. It drops a distance from the back wall and explains why part of said wall collapsed into the sludge earlier this year. But while we cannot see the river, its presence is never-forgotten for the stench that flows over the compound after a rain or on even moderately warm days is a constant reminder.
Let's not think about why the river smells so nasty, shall we?
All in all, the compound is pleasant, on a relatively quiet street that sort-of dead-ends at the Madras Club, an upper crust assortment of British buildings that serves only the riche. Sort-of dead-ends because the Club can be crossed to reach the other side where the Madras Boat Club is harbored and into additional riche neighborhoods. To the left out our gate is a guard who monitors all four consulate gates and beyond him is the main road where to the left is the river and a community park complete with children's playground and manicured paths, and to the right a short distance is the Park Sheraton 5-star hotel across from our little groceries, Amma Naana and Fairlands. Our cook goes to Amma Naana every day for supplies. It's a downside to starting over even with a (insufficient) Welcome Kit. From sugar and apples and oregano to napkins, rolling pin, spice jars, and drinking glasses we're starting at square two (square one being no welcome kit at all, of course). Not mailing anything from Togo turned out to be more irritating than I thought as we continue to buy items that are coming in our HHE eventually. How we miss the days of the FPO.
Passing the days is easy enough. The kids go to school, Ian goes to work, I stay home with the cook and gardener, reading books and eating bonbons. I can't figure out the TV and we have no internet as yet; we have few belongings so there's nothing to clean beyond laundry and the bathroom sinks; our car isn't here so I don't go out much unless I catch a Consulate vehicle heading my way; and all the women in the other three houses have part-time jobs or volunteer positions. I’m working my way through the Pirate Booty we ordered off Amazon while still in Lomé and reading through Entertainment Weekly. No complaints here.
I have had lunch at the Madras Club with Lisa F. and another 3rd grade parent. The kids came with me to the Consulate after school that day to get shot #1 of the Japanese B Encephalitis series. The next day I attended an Overseas Women's Club meeting at the Park Sheraton and the following day I spent at school split between a 3rd grade parent coffee, shadowing the kids and checking out the elementary library (internet access! e-mail!). With the current renovations and additions going on at the school, it doesn't look quite what we'd imagined but all the changes should be done by December with a completed 3rd floor for the high school, a new stairwell in the library and a split Kindergarten class. Currently, Kindergarten has 27 kids crammed into a single space with two teachers and an aide. Jonathon has been overwhelmed, forgetful and exhausted. Last week he progressed from losing his hat, water bottle, borrowed swimsuit and welcome kit towel, to finding the towel and water bottle but losing his lunchbox and fully stocked brand new backpack, to finding his lunchbox but losing his lunch. There is still no sign of the hat, swimsuit or backpack. Each day I hope he comes home with shoes on his feet. Preferably his own.
Katherine is doing some catch up, especially in math since last year's math lessons were abysmal. We'll start at the beginning of her workbook to get the background for her current homework. I'm not sure if she likes her teacher here, she never mentions her at home. Rebecca gelled right into her class, making friends and diving right into her small group Africa project. The 3rd grade is covering Charlotte's Web again so she caught a break as far as in-class work load. I may have to speak with Nicholas's teacher. His first week's homework assignments involved tracing numbers and another week asked to find words with the short "a" sound in a book. I should have brought all our workbooks in the suitcases. Thankfully there are good bookstores here and workbooks abound so I've picked up some filler material to get us through. I may just send the additional work pages in on Fridays so his teachers get a better idea of what level 1st grader he is.
I would like to get to the school each week to catch up with the teachers and keep an eye on things. The elementary librarian is good-natured and didn't seem to mind my hanging around too much. I even read some stories to the Kindergarteners after they'd checked out their books and were waiting to return to class.
The following week a neighbor, Gwen, played hooky from work and asked if I wanted to go fabric shopping. We perused Co-optex, an aptly named co-op textile shop piled high with bed covers, sari (or saree as it's spelled) and lunghi material. Of course our own covers will be here in a matter of weeks, but the kids have new bedspreads to brighten their space in the meantime. Along the side street, vendors set up their own stalls of prefabricated clothes and vibrant materials for tailoring. I bought, with Gwen's haggling, two sets for custom made lunghis for the girls. Now to find a tailor. We had lunch at the Chola Sheraton after, a none-too-shabby mid-day meal, before collecting the kids and getting shot #2 at the Consulate followed immediately by a North India Trip meeting in the CLOs office. All the plans are set, aside from packing the bags. I'm glad I spoke with Gwen earlier that day though, as she pointed out the planned trip did not actually include travel to Delhi. After rereading the various e-mails about the excursion it became clear we were sans tickets. Ian purchased them on-line that afternoon. The trip spans 29 October to 5 November, moving from Delhi to Agra to Jaipur to Pushkar to Neemrana, so we'll update about Jet Airways and all days between when we get back in November.
We spend our weekends around town. Spencers Plaza is a cross between the hives of Glorietta Mall and Greehills in Manila. With its three different "phases" and mix of stores, it's a place to spend the afternoon eating ice cream, buying odds and ends for us or the house, and people watching. We are the spectacle as usual: the boys come home with grimy hair from head pats and splotched cheeks from pinches. A brand new mall is opening up near the beach. Citi Centre will be lovely once it's done but for now is a pleasant place to get a smoothie and visit the Landmark bookstore, much nicer than the same store back at Spencers. We've had lunch at Sparky's, the American diner in town run by Thom Petty who has lived in India for nearly a dozen years. Our sponsors brought us to Sparky's on our first Saturday and the restaurant caters to the school. Since we let the kids choose to buy lunch twice a week, they get their fill of pizza, mac&cheese, sloppy joe's and burritos. A slightly more upscale affair, we've had lunch at the Park Sheraton Cappuccino restaurant and look forward to going again. Within walking distance, it's a pleasant Sunday lunch.
I believe that along with transportation, food is the biggest issue at a new post. Getting the consumables order placed, finding and getting to the best (aka most convenient) local grocery options, stocking the fridge and cabinets with in-school and after-school snack... all these and more are daily considerations. We are blessed that Chennai offers a variety of sources for good and convenient foods not the least of which is delivery. In fact, Pizza Hut and Dominoes are here along with dozens of other options. I've already mentioned the nearby groceries Amma Naana and Fairlands, but in addition the Consulate stocks a small commissary. Tales of our misrouted Togo consumables are still floating around as the items provided a healthy influx of goods. Haphazardly, the commissary stocks such hard-to-find items as beef (beef!), boneless chicken, frozen pizzas and salsa. There is also a small shop at the PTA store at AISC, where cheddar cheese, frozen hamburger patties and Snapple can be found. And our latest discovery has been Royal Meats, a delivery service for an assortment of beef, mutton, chicken, fish and shellfish. Though it takes multiple places to provide a variety of foodstuffs, we're lucky that all the options are convenient to where we spend our time already.
Chennai has been good to us. Once we're over the current spate of "new country sickness," we'll feel settled. Once we get some kittens, we'll feel permanent. Speaking of cats, our first weekend here we attended a local performance of "Cats" by the Hot Shoe Dance Company at the Music Academy venue. It was everything a non-singing, unpaid production could be. I didn't care for "Cats" the first time I saw it (either in New York or London, I forget), but the kids stayed awake and seemed to enjoy the music, so for that it was worth the Rs. 300 per ticket. Current exchange Rs. 46 = $1.
Everything is falling into place and we are ready to be pinned back on the map.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Namaste!

A quick note from ME! I wish it was from at home, but it's not, I'm at the school and borrowing a library computer. Suffice to say that all is well and I have a nice long entry all typed up for whenever we do have access from home. The kids are happy, we're busy and all is good. Having our stuff... a car... internet... it'll all be icing by the time we get it :)

Take Care all, and know that we miss you as much (ok, probably a lot more) than you miss us.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Still no Internet access...

We still don't have Internet access at home, and we're all getting kinda twitchy. We can't e-mail people, check our sites, or order stuff from home. And worse still for Michele, she can't e-mail me from home to remind me about things. She stopped thinking "So just e-mail me" was funny long ago.

Apparently the Consulate phone guy told Airtel, the broadband provider, not to do any installations to our houses until he got back from leave. I hear it's because the phone system at the Consul General's compound is wired differently from the rest of the city, but I'm not sure. But he's back now, and he's doing the paperwork for our connection. Maybe we'll have it by the weekend. Maybe.

Also, Not-A-Joiner Michele joined the Overseas Women's Club, so I'm proud of her for that. Today she's spending the day at school, partially because there's a coffee among the 3rd grade parents. We also paid for our trip north (to Delhi, the Taj Mahal, and a camel festival) at the end of October, so we have something to look forward to.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

The Hoppers versus the Millipedes

I thought I'd make quick mention of something that's "bugged" us over the past few days. Chennai has an awful lot of millipedes. We see them all over our yard, and they're huge -- like six inches long. We see them inside the house too, but the smaller kind. About 2 inches, and thin, kind of like the worms you'd use for fishing. We have living things all throughout the house.. especially mosquitos, which we kill, and spiders and lizards, which we let alone. But twice now we've found millipedes. If they were on the floor or walls, that'd be one thing. No, they're much more friendly -- in our beds. On our first night, Michele noticed a millipede-sized indentation in my back. I'd been sleeping on one. A couple of nights ago, Michele kept feeling like something was crawling on her.. probably because there was one in her hair. After using Raid on the bedframe before bed last night, we were left alone (we think). So far we've been here six nights, and had millipedes in the bed on two of them. That's only 33%.. so in a three year tour, we'll have to spent just one year of it with millipedes crawling on us!

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Here in Chennai

We made it to Chennai last night, all bags arrived and met at the airport. The house is very nice -- big, and the kids slept a bit. I'm here at work, logging in for the first time to check in. The Consulate is a very nice building -- the consular section is large, reminds me of Manila's NIV section. We went to see the school this morning, and met with the counselor there. All the kids know more about their classes, and are excited to start on Tuesday. I'll hopefully get the laptop fixed this weekend and get Internet access, so we hope to check in sometime over the weekend.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Back in the First World

We're now in the business class lounge of Frankfurt Airport, with another 3 hours to go or so before our flight takes off for Chennai. No more mishaps, although I did have to wait quite a while for this computer to be free. With our laptop problem, I'm carrying around a 10-pound paperweight. Nevertheless, all of us slept at least some on the last flight, so we should be OK for India. We don't know when we'll have access after this, although we'll probably be able to get on by the weekend.

In Accra...

Here we are at the Golden Tulip Hotel in Accra, which isn't nearly as cheesy as it sounds. It's actually quite a nice hotel. The rooms are very clean, and the place kind of looks like an airport. It's very close to the airport itself, and it even has wireless Internet access. But we're in the business center. Because....

my laptop died last night. It seems the backlight on the monitor went out, so while the computer works, you can't see anything. That's a problem for a laptop. So we thought that it would be our one glitch. Then came this morning, when we drove to Accra. The Embassy van had terrible suspension, the roads were horrible, and the driving wasn't much better. While trying to miss the potholes, the driver managed to hit part of every one. The bumping around made everyone somewhat nauseous, but Katherine more than most. We pulled off on the side of the road so she could yak. Some people offered some water, and we got back on the road, with only her dignity hurt.
This is just a day room, so we plan to have lunch, then hang out for a while until 5 p.m., when we expect the pickup from the Embassy Accra driver and expeditor to the airport. We lift off at 7 p.m. After a (hopefully brief) touchdown in Lagos, we'll be in Frankfurt. We've got several hours there, so we'll check in again.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Quickly Checking In

Everything is winding down. We had dinner out at Greenfields last night with a couple Embassy friends. Today we had lunch at Coco Beach with a couple other friends then spent some time with them in our empty echo-ey house. Ian has checkout at work Monday and Tuesday while Moise, the kids and I get the house ready to be vacated. Tuesday the kids and I will go to AISL for lunch, to say goodbye to folks there. I need to repack all our suitcases too.

Wednesday morning, 8 a.m., farewell to Togo.

Friday, August 25, 2006

(mis)Adventures in Packing

How is it possible to be so tired after two days of -not- packing a single box?

Can it be the move off our own bed to the queen in the tv room? Can it be the absence of mosquito netting, allowing more bites last night than in the months previous? The not so comfy sheets from the welcome kit? The echo in the halls? The midnight and later nights of last minute suitcase packing and junk purging? The stress of hating moves all together?
All of the above?
Yeah, I think so too.
Maybe it was also from having packers in the house two days straight. And finding boxes' worth of items overlooked after the packing was done. Oh no, we dragged it all out and said pack it anyway! The giant roasting pot, the set of glass mixing bowls (ok, they're see through, I can see how they were overlooked), the pizza stone, the picnic cooler. The bigger chuckle came from the items that weren't supposed to be packed, like the big mosquito net frame over our bed. It looks just like the four over the kids' beds, and those didn't get packed up. Or how about when they went into the bathroom in the dark, unused corner of the house where the door was shut and everything in the room was in -suitcases-. Yeah, they started wrapping our suitcases, the ones I thought I'd hidden. I told Ian we should have put them in the walk-in closet and locked the door! Thank goodness he caught it in time and neither our passports nor our undies disappeared into the back of the truck.
One of the supervisors asked where our dog was. He wanted to adopt her. Um.... The vet came on Wednesday and packed her and her things into the back of a taxi to bring to her new home. She was less than thrilled at that idea, I'm sure she had flashbacks to the last time she was tossed into the back of a taxi. I just hope she didn't jump out the windows that that were permanently rolled open. I didn't take pictures though I wish I had for the sheer silliness and sadness of it all. The kids have taken it well, much better than the loss of the cats. Thursday we played with sidewalk chalk and realized how much more peaceful it is outside while swimming, riding bikes, getting laundry, even just going in and out of the house. Even so, I hope Sable is happy and safe.
Now, without a TV to while away our hours we're playing cards, suffering through magnet chess matches (Rebecca swiftly kicked my butt today, it was awful), swimming, demolishing hordes of evil minions (aka gaming), watching DVDs on the laptop, listening to iPods and killing swarms of mosquitos from the doors being left open all day. A week from today we'll say hello from India. Until then we have a few more last minute visits with friends and I think the kids and I will go to AISL for lunch on Tuesday so we can say goodbye there.
Oh, and we'll eat out. A lot. Tonight, it was dessert across the street at Les Nuits d'Orient as a surprise for the kids. Yum.
Yeah, there are some things we're going to definitely miss.
Funny note... when our gardener left today, he was wearing a t-shirt, with a long sleeved shirt over and an additional sweatshirt at the ready. The temperature is delicious but to the Togolese, August is downright frigid.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A (not quite) Farewell

Travel orders arrived today. There are some issues that need to be remedied with them, but on the whole, they arrived in the nick of time for tomorrow. No orders, no packing. The packers should be here at 8 a.m. The iMac is getting boxed tonight but we'll still have the laptop, so most likely we'll see you all again on Friday night after the last box is gone.

In sad news, Sable is with her new family now. I hope she's doing well. The kids are OK, though they will have moments of sadness. I know this was the right decision for us. I said that after the cats too, and now I regret giving them a new home. But we can't go back. We've decided cats are more our thing, and that if/when we get some in Chennai they will come with us afterwards. We've already picked names...

Monday, August 21, 2006

Why yes, it is 12:30 in the morning, why do you ask?

I've finally finished off the kids' school enrollment forms. Going through medical files to pull out immunization dates, scanning every page, then e-mailing the bulk to the school in Chennai. The office there is going to LOVE me for this, I know it.

But you know what I've discovered? Of the kids, only Rebecca's blood type is listed correct. How is that possible? I know Katherine is listed as B+ on her birth records, but her State records have O+. Nicholas is either O+ or B+ and Jonathon is either B+ or B-. The confusion is certainly making me think about ordering a home blood type test kit.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Artisans

This afternoon, Rebecca and I went to a nearby artisans market with Andrea. It's a smallish place with a good assortment of handicrafts, most of them made right on the premises by artisans busily whittling, weaving and batik...ing. No crowds, no hassling, just shops and a little haggling. I came away with a good assortment of small gifts and even something for us. I intentionally went with just a bit of money (we're packing out soon... in case I hadn't mentioned that already) but I saw a few things I would have liked to purchase and a couple other items I think Ian would be interested in, so he may go with Katherine and Rona tomorrow. Rona should buy nothing, she's already packed out!

Happy Birthday!!

And so it happens. My youngest has reached 5 years old. He is the sparkle in our family, the unbridled joy and enthusiasm. He's smart as a whip, has an awesome memory for passing information, and can win anyone over with his charm. Don't believe me? Stop on by and see for yourself! He's outgoing, talkative (ok, ok, he never stops talking), energetic and plain fun. He can swim, kick a soccer ball, read simple stories, complete simple math, play loads of board and card games (poker too). I'm so glad we have him.

There are no babies, no toddlers, no preschoolers left in our home. He starts full-day Kindergarten in Chennai. He's also promised he won't "cry as much" now he's 5. I admire the thought (let's see if it goes beyond Day 1). I could write a book on how I feel now that Jonathon is 5, but rather than depress everyone or incite folks to e-mail on how I should get over it since we've already gone through babies 4 times, I'll leave it with this: I'm sad. Very sad. Yet ever so proud of our little family.

...

The day was a success. He put the finishing touches on his cake, got to talk to grandma and grandpa and of course, open his presents. Batman was the theme this year, but the gift with the most giggles came from my parents: a t-shirt that states "It's my brother's fault." Nicholas was slightly put out over that one! Jonathon has put it aside in the living room, ready to be worn the second he gets into trouble. A gift with much thought came from his sister, Katherine. She bought him an African top with shorts which he promptly donned and decided to wear to bed. A superman towel cape, Batman mobile, Batman undies and Batman t-shirt rounded out the gifts.

I still can't believe he's 5! It doesn't help that I know no fewer than 4 people pregnant at the moment... ack, baby fever!!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

It's finally been done

I was just reading through the last WIRED magazine we received and it mentioned the search was still on for the $100 laptop. Well, it seems that the goal has been achieved, more or less, and the first units will be sent to Thailand for trial runs, quality testing and that all important step, debugging. These things run on hand crank or foot pedal power!