Friday, October 27, 2006

Delhi Weather

Should I worry when 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

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.