Thursday, December 27, 2007

Good intentions gone awry

My plan yesterday had been to get out the door by 9 to be at the Chinese visa office by the 10 a.m. opening. We got out the door after 10, arrived shortly after 11 and took #160 in a packed waiting room. They were "serving" #98. We scored some seats about an hour in. At 12:30 the two application windows, the cashier window and the pick-up window shut down. Lunchtime and the whole office stopped with a room full of people waiting. We watched Chinese soap operas subtitled in Chinese. At 1 p.m. the windows opened and they were "serving" #130.

We couldn't use our Diplomatic passports. Even though we're on official travel orders, it's not official enough just to be tourists, so at the window we scratched off all the diplomatic info from our applications and filled in our tourist passport info. My tourist passport, until this summer, was expired for the past 10 or so years. A couple months back when we submitted for new Diplomatic passports I finally did my tourist one as well and yesterday morning we tucked all 6 tourist passports in my bag, just in case.

So the guy behind the window read through each application, didn't say a word to us, took our passports, gave us a receipt to come back on Monday for pick-up and we left. Hello Chinese Embassy? If you're not going to ask a single question, please institute a drop-box option.

Going to the DMV at 2 in the afternoon to sit for another couple hours didn't seem like a fun idea, so we went to Ballston Commons. Rebecca finally has a tennis ornament for this year, as the flute ornament for Katherine was easy enough to find but a decent tennis ornament nigh impossible. The bookstore called to us but B. Dalton is no Borders or even Barnes&Noble. And finally we sat down to eat some lunch around 3. Mmmmm, Panera. French onion soup in a sourdought bread bowl. Mmmmmmm. Ian had cream of broccoli in a bread bowl with a chicken salad sandwich that looked equally Mmmmmm.

A quick stop across the street at Harris Teeter (ah, the old haunts) and we turned ourselves homeward.

I see that Boxing Day doesn't equal much in the way of sales around here aside from Bath&Body Works with their discounted holiday scents and CVS completely sold out on Christmas lights. My dad says January 2 is a better day to find the great holiday deals. Guess we'll find out.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Ho Ho Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday

Yeah, corny, I know. Ho ho hope... whatever.

Ah Christmas. Mass at midnight with my father at the organ and my mom in the choir, chicken soup (for the soul, one of my father's traditions), presents that last until 4 a.m. and aren't finished, turkey dinner on Christmas Day, the rest of the presents finally, a Buche Christmas log for dessert. It's all good. Though a white Christmas wasn't in the cards, we're OK with that. It's Christmas in Virginia, Christmas with family. That's why we're here. And after the year our family has has with my dad's open heart surgery in March and arm repair surgery in May, it is even more a blessing to have us all together with his gift of music for Christmas.

But the day after Christmas is another story. It's Boxing Day (link), a day celebrated in many nations for a variety of reasons, most of which include a box but not the sport of boxing, just so you know. For us though, I think we'll do what all Americans like to do the day(s) after Christmas. Shop.

We're using our extended forthcoming time in India as an excuse, because after the nauseating haul of gifts we just received for Christmas, additional shopping for any reason is just plain wrong. But (yeah, there's the but)... there are things we still want. Not need, obviously, no one needs anything beyond warmth, nutrition and safety, but the wants are piling up. It's almost an addiction in the land of plenty. I freely admit that when we step on the hallowed ground of America, we become 100% red-blooded consumers.
Today isn't solely about shopping. I woke up early this morning thanks to a desperate need to pee at 4:45 a.m. followed by my husband's incessant snoring so I hopped on the laptop to get some items checked off my list. I've altered our hotel reservation in Madison so we're back in that hotel the night before we fly out to China (10 minutes from the airport) rather than spend that night at the Great Wolf Lodge (2 hours away). It makes sense what with the lousy weather they've been having. Ice, wind, misery. I also checked our hotel reservation for Beijing and sent a correct copy to myself. The weird reservation I have lists a single room and Ian was certain he'd reserved three. They are small, small rooms. It's China. Better to bug us thoroughly.
I do hope we stop by a Borders or Barnes and Noble today. I'm thinking we need a Mandarin Phrase book. It couldn't hurt. And a Merck Drug Guide to figure out what we're actually taking with our Chennai prescriptions. I also wanted some of the John Schaum music theory books. My dad brought us to Foxes Music last week, and it felt like being in book store. Well, a candy shop if you're a kid, a book shop if you're Ian or me. Rows of violins, guitars handing from the rafters, music books covering every bit of horizontal and vertical space. Oh to be independently wealthy. And talented. Some talent wouldn't hurt. We picked up some Theory books for the kids, the rest of the Schaum piano course books (link), a fingering chart for Katherine, and Ian got a guitar teacher for the computer.
I've declared 2008 a Study Year. I'm intent on learning to play new pieces on the piano, and becoming good enough to play with Katherine on her flute. How hard can that be? I've been "playing" since I was 10, she's been on the flute for 4 months. Um, she'll be playing circles around me if she stays with the flute. I definitely feel the talent skipped a generation.
I'm intent on learning some actual Polish. Ian and I have signed up for an on-line course together through FSI for intro Polish, starting Jan 22nd. And French is on my list too. I've told myself I need to get my French flowing. Our time in Brussels was wonderful for making some rusty basics a little less rusty. I couldn't remember the term for pancake (crepe) so that was pretty pathetic seeing as it was on the menu... but I digress. The French spoken in Brussels is a wonderful French, not the harsher, whiplash-inducing clipped French of Paris or the mangled French-Ewe-mush of Togo, and it was such that we could watch a dubbed movie and actually keep up. I could become proficient with a tour in Brussles. Honey, are you listening?
I'm going to continue with tennis and even if I don't become a good player, at least I'll be getting exercise.
I'm going to read more about Catholicism. Seeing as I have 2 kids heading into their 1st Communion this summer, it's as good a time as any. My dad gave Nicholas his own Mass Missal for Christmas and it was one of the best received gifts; he's been asking for one for a while. My parents also gave the kids a great story Bible, one I could actually see reading to them each night, something I keep meaning to do but reading straight from the Bible to a bunch of kids just doesn't work in our house. I did start reading the Catechism last year, but that is literally a Paragraph-at-a-Time sort of reading for me. Not fun.
I could say I'm going to become a better parent but I don't think that's something I can plan. My parents did get me what seems to be a good parenting book which I will read, but honestly, I'm short-tempered and it'll take a miracle to change that. I suppose that rather than trying to kill the temper I really should look for a way to let the temper out at better times, say, when I'm locked in a bathroom with the shower running to drown out the screams and cursing. I think we'd all be happier if I did that. Hopefully the book will have some useful tips for dealing with near-teens.
Actually, about the kids and behavior, the talking back has reached epic proportions the past week especially from the girls. Ian tossed around the idea of a penalty jar until I reminded him the kids have no money to put in one. But a chore jar might work. Get snotty and there's a bathroom with your name on it. It has potential. At least they'd pull their weight for the rest of our time at grandma's house
Hmm, this turned into more of a New Year's Resolution post didn't it? That wasn't my intent. No, my intent was to figure out the rest of our shopping. Christmas lights and ornament storage are at the top of my list. Ian would like a new tree, a prelit one, but I don't think they sell 220v trees at Target. Target will have to wait anyway, the girls received gift cards from a Christmas party they went to. Today is mostly Ian and I running errands. The Chinese Embassy to drop off passports for tourist visas will take all morning. Since we have to drive all the way in to DC I'm thinking we'll stop at Ballston Mall in Arlington on our way back for lunch. And then the DMV since our licenses expire this summer and getting them renewed can be a bit of a bear. I think I might be a little too ambitious for one day, we'll see.
Oh, and as far as we know, our house is still standing in Chennai and our cats aren't dead. So all is well.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Two days before Christmas...

And yes, I'm tired of the cold. Only a few more weeks of frigidness before we're back to the toasty warm shores of south Asia.

But in the meantime...

We're having a great time in Virginia. Last night we had dinner at Silverado in Annandale and though I'm still on and off ill it was amusing to hear the waitress ask rather worriedly if Ian's steak was OK. He only managed to eat about 10 oz of a 14 oz medium-cooked ribeye steak, more beef in one sitting than he's eaten in the past several months. Aside from Nicholas devouring his cheeseburger, no one finished their meal. Portion sizes are a little unnerving.
We've shopped and shopped. The Christmas tree is nauseatingly full. Our tradition is to open gifts after Midnight Mass, so 8 people's worth of gifts starting at 2 a.m. can lead to a very long night. We've also shopped for items we need at home, like cold cream to remove indelible face paint.
We're still waking up early and going to bed early too. But today is Sunday and we're looking forward to a day of church and football.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Moules et Frites

Seems we've eaten our weight of mussels in Brussels. Thoroughly enjoying our time and apparently with the deep freeze of the U.S. we're getting a good introduction to the cold over here in Belgium, it's downright frigid when the wind gusts. Katherine has declared that she loves Europe, and Brussels is definitely an easy introduction to this amazing continent.

More later, we're on to Virginia tomorrow, just wanted to say we're alive and doing well and just having fun.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Final Words?

If you have recommendations of Things Not To Miss in any of our destinations, shout out now with a quick e-mail. We're just about packed and our schedule is as well. I think we're ready.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Did you miss us?

We were offline for nearly a week, and no one noticed? Pshaw. Well, it's probably best that way as last week devolved into a soupy mess of misery and a serious questioning as to whether or not this parenting thing was working out. If I'd been on-line you would have heard how I got a call from the Middle School principal about Katherine talking back to her science teacher. You would have heard about Katherine losing her shoes at the Elementary School winter program because she took them off to play with her friends and then... well... lost them. You would have heard about getting a phone call from Jonathon's teacher about how his behavior has plummeted and how he regularly waltzes into class well after the recess bell rings. You would have heard how Saturday morning I was cleaning up the living room and found a week's worth of incomplete homework that apparently slipped Nicholas's mind every day I asked "Do you have homework to do?" You would have heard about Nicholas losing his shoes at an outdoor Christmas party because he kicked them off and couldn't fathom where they'd gone.

You would have heard about all this and you would have sensed the weariness and disappointment and frustration in my words. You would have wondered if I was going to do something drastic, something akin to running away.

You would have heard all this, but you didn't. Be thankful.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Finally Coming Together

We have our final (please please please) itinerary.

15 DEC: Brussels, Belgium
18 DEC: NoVA
11 JAN: Wisconsin (split between Madison, Milwaukee and Wisconsin Dells)
18 JAN: Beijing
22 JAN: Kuala Lumpur
But in the meantime... it's the preChristmas madness going on. Of course, packing. Packing never ends. And with packing comes the "do every scrap of laundry" mantra that will kick into overdrive after the weekend. I hate hate hate leaving dirty clothes in hampers for weeks. Ew.
And then the house cleaning, which will be broken down into sections and days for next week as well, leaving the den for absolute last. The kitchen and dining area are easy, I don't do then. The kids' rooms, well, I'll close my eyes and shut the doors. Our bedroom will look 95% better once the suitcases are closed up for the last time. The play room... living room... cat room... all those places that don't get used (by adults) as regularly are the ones I can do early in the week.
But there's fun stuff too. Of course, Saint Nicholas Day is Thursday. The stockings have been hung since Saturday, I keep thinking I should draw a fireplace to put under them. The Christmas tree attained lights and decorations last night. I know when we return to the States for a tour we'll be in the market for a nice, new, prelit tree (if we don't break down and buy a live one the first year), because at this point with 4 kids and nearly 12 years of decorations just from the oldest... well, none of my ornaments even made it on the tree this year. We're down to 3 strings of white lights and one string of blue which suits me just fine especially since they're all 200v. I love the look of blue and white, but for some unknown reason 1/2 of one string of white lights blinks. Even the kids think that's a little obnoxious, either they all should blink or none. That's what you get from lights bought in Manila though.
So, Thursday in Saint Nicholas Day, which means Wednesday and Thursday will be baking days for us. Wednesday for the gingerbread loaves for all the teachers, the younger kids will also hand out candy canes to their classmates (thanks for sending them, mom!). Thursday will be cookie baking, gingersnaps and those awesome cookies with almond slivers in them that I've forgotten their name. I was thinking of speculaas too, but you can only bake so much at one time with 2 cookie sheets. I'm thinking I need more if we decide to do this baking thing more often. Anyway, if they turn out well we'll pass them around to our neighbors as well. Sharing is good, right?
Thursday night is the Elementary school winter concert. Last year's was quite "interesting" though of course I thought my kids did fantabulous. I'll be dragging Ian again this year. He's been working on this ploy of being sick, even to the point of taking a day off work last week and another yesterday. Yesterday's was an ear infection... yeah, in a 34 year old man! He's gone so far as to see the doc and get an antibiotic for it. Some people will do anything not to listen to 300 elementary kids sing and play the recorder. Of course, he was saying earlier that the band concert last week and even more the boys' "choir" from church on Sunday could make one's ears bleed... maybe there was something to that.
Friday Katherine attends the Middle School Snow Ball in the evening. 'Nough said.
Saturday looks like we'll be cramming in last minute shopping (the kids are shopping... really) between tennis and piano before 11:30 and the Madras Kids show at 1:30. Then again, looking at those times means probably not. Maybe we'll try to do it after, but going to Spencers Plaza on a Saturday afternoon sounds like a bad idea. Then there's the birthday party most likely in the late afternoon/early evening. The more I look at it, the more I'm thinking the kids are out of luck on this.
Sunday is church, hopefully they'll finally have gotten up the Advent candles at least. Followed by the Consulate Holiday party at the CGs residence. That was a lot of fun last year, it's open to families so the kids tear around decorating cookies, making crafts and stuffing themselves silly with sweets. Good times, good times.
Next week we'll face the class parties and final prep for the house (enough food for the cats? check. Enough litter? Um... and who is going to clean the 4 fish bowls we have? need to turn off, unplug and put away everything), but for now, just let me get through this week.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Happy Double Digits!

Rebecca turned 10, in case you missed the post on her way cool tennis ball cake. Her teacher thought it was store bought. I think not.

She had quite a day. We all did. From the time we got up, Nicholas got 3 wasp stings. Those were my fault. The boys have 4 (well, 3 now) wasp nests active hanging outside their bathroom window. I figured I could burn them off and I armed myself with an oven glove and a fire starter lighter. I even had the boys hold a towel on the open section of the window to keep any irate wasps out of the bathroom. The first basically unmanned nest went quickly and burned perfectly. The second nest had quite a few more wasps on it and they were not impressed by the flame. One shot right into the bathroom, landed straight on Nicholas's arm and stung him 3 times in a matter of 2 seconds. He screamed. We did ice and 1/2 a benedryl for the swelling. Then we went to play tennis. His playing is a little lackluster, I realize how miserably unfit I am. That's hard to swallow.
Unfortunately this was followed by the painful St Bede's boys' choir at 9:30 Santhome Mass. There was no mention of the First Sunday of Advent. No candle, no homily on preparations for Christmas. We did feel our ears would bleed. Hate it.
Right from church we went to the Marriott for gingerbread decorating and brunch. Now, when I envision gingerbread houses, I see kids lined up at tables with little houses, piles of candles and bowfuls of icing. I was mostly wrong. True there were bowls of candy and cookies and plenty of icing oozing all over, but the gingerbread house (notice the singularity) was lifesized. Like the wicked witch's house from Hansel and Gretel. The kids slathered icing on sweets and smashed them on the walls of the full sized cottage. The front door area with it's porch railings and support poles was spray painted with chocolate, kids were discovered gnawing on the structure. It was pretty amazing, in a not always good way.
The brunch was good of course, the kids ate free and the adults had 20% Consulate discount for unlimited food and beverage, dessert, and a cake for Rebecca with the staff singing Happy Birthday. The bouncy castle kept them busy, even better was the facepainting. And there were so very many kids just everywhere, kids from the Consulate, kids from school, younger siblings, High Commission kids. I'd venture we saw close to 100 kids in the couple hours we were there. Santa came too, handed out candy and was available for photos.
Post stuffing, no actually this time we were pretty good though it's hard with such a yummy buffet, we came home to catch up on Survivor. Then Rebecca and I went out. We walked over to Anokhi, a lovely shop with the attached Eco Cafe' where she found a great shirt and I caved and splurged on her. We meandered a bit before heading next door to Oryza, a spa/salon. She thought I'd scheduled a haircut for her no matter how many times I told her I wouldn't make a hair apnt without consulting her first. She and I sat next together, her getting a manicure, me a pedicure, and we chatted with the Lufthansa flight attendant next to us. A little girl time, a little something special for our double digit girl. We didn't get to do much for Katherine when she turned 10, we were in Togo at the time, so it looks like 12 will have to suffice in February. Before we'd left, Jonathon asked why I was going out with Rebecca. "It's her birthday," I said. Well, I hadn't taken him anywhere special for his birthday, so we have a date for next August. He seems OK with that.
We all talked with my parents on Skype, the kids were actually animated today, a nice change but then they had a lot to report. Then finally it was cake and present time. No one was excited about the cake. After eating cake on Friday in class, Saturday with our neighbors and this morning at the brunch, we all kind of forced ourselves to eat more cake. In fact, we skipped dinner to even have room for it, the brunch is that filling. The presents were definitely the best part. Rebecca received beautiful gifts from her grandparents, a carved "Tennis" block for her dresser, "R" earrings, tennis ribbon and personalized note cards. Perfect. A new ribboned headband from our neighbors, tennis clothes and an elephant necklance from mom&dad, Littlest Pet Shop toys from both her brothers along with a Nancy Drew book from Nicholas, and neon drawing pencils from her sister. Honestly, everything was just perfect for her. She's such a sweet kid, always trying to do the right thing (well, until a sibling pushes her over the edge of course) and considers the consequences of every action, she's really a unique person in our family. We're glad to have her and proud to be her parents.

Saturday, December 1, 2007


Katherine was issued a new school flute. She's happy, I'm happy. The last one was aged and needed repair, her teacher took pity.

But Ian and I ended up looking at flutes to buy anyway. And as far as beginner flutes, these are what we've come up with. Knowing that she's played flute for all of 4 months, a beginner flute would do for another couple of years. It would be for home and concert use only with the school issue instrument for school practice.

So we have the (1) Yamaha YFL221, the same as the school flutes which can run anywhere between $300-$800. (2) The Jupiter 507S or the 515S for $300-$700. (3) Or the Gemeinhardt 2SP, again from $300-$800.

Obviously some places will sell them much higher, not many sell lower but there some places. I'd be curious to hear from the musically inclined which instrument they'd lean towards. Personally, I'd go for the Yamaha, espcially if we can get a good deal, because Katherine is familiar with it, it gets great reviews, and it's definitely a name we can trust.

All of those are basic, closed hole, C flutes. There's the option of an open hole flute too, but perhaps that would be best saved for an intermediate step.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Something to make you chuckle.


Cake creations.

Have I ever mentioned how much I like my Better Crocker Bake and Fill dome pan?

Becca's birthday cake, brought in to share with her classmates today. And the brain cake for the 1st Grade Halloween party.
07beccake.jpg IMG_0942.JPG

Thursday, November 29, 2007


Yesterday Ian called in a sick day (he really was sick), and we went to the school in the afternoon for the MS/HS band concert.


It was nearly 2 hours of various band and string and vocal ensembles, but all in all quite fun. One HS kid did a Beethoven piece on the piano that was very impressive. I'll be quite happy at home now if the 6th grade moves on to other songs besides This Old Man, Sawmill Creek, and Jingle Bells. During the performance, this Old Man was cute, "with a knick knack paddy whack" was done by each different instrument, so all the flutes, then all the clarinets, etc., down to the single baritone and of course, the drums.
But of course anything that involves Katherine has to involve drama as well. Before the concert she went to the bathroom. With her flute in hand. And put it down on the bench. RIGHT NEXT TO ANOTHER FLUTE. Guess what, she now has someone else's old beat up flute and her brand new shiny one is no where to be found. Not even the ID number on the flute helped as apparently no one at the school has this one registered to them. Kinda makes you wonder why they have serial numbers in the first place.
So now she has someone else's old dilapidated flute, she says she can't make it sound proper, and I honestly don't think that anyone who picked up hers accidentally on-purpose is going to hand it back. This school is awful for theft. I mean, even when one of the kids leaves a lunchbox, a clealy labeled in black permanent marker HOPPER lunchbox, it ends up in the Lost&Found if we're lucky. Returning labeled items is not done (I mean, we have -4- Hopper classrooms it could go to, right?), unlabeled items you'll never see again, and costly items will get stolen.
So do I get her her own flute? It's tempting, so she has a decent instrument to own and use for keeps, one that wouldn't go to school, so she'd use the school one at school. It is tempting.
But why is it that negative stuff like this taints so much of what she does?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Turkey Day!



The kids did the Turkey Trot again this year and everyone thought it was easier than last year. Well, not everyone, I think Jonathon got a stitch somewhere in the first 1K and was moaning the rest of the run. He's informed us he will not be doing the Trot next year.

We did a bona fide Turkey Day this year, with company (ok, our neighbors, practically family) and everything. Two turkeys were cooked along with a sweet potato dish, mashed potatoes, cheesy potatoes, stuffing, broccoli almondine, corn, homemade yeast biscuits, gravy, 2 kinds of cranberry sauce, green salad, pickles, olives, cherry crumble, apple pie, and 2 pumpkin pies with Cool Whip. Needless to say, even with 10 people we hardly made a dent.



The house looked and smelled and sounded good. There was no frantic pace to the day, in fact I disappeared for a couple hours with a friend to the framing shop and then for some iced coffee while pies were baking.

The framing shop was for several items, not even all that I'd brought along but we'll see how they turn out. Last Saturday we went to a photograph show by someone at the Consulate and there was a rush on his photos, taken from all over India. We bought three and they'll be gorgeous once they're framed.

Off to watch the rest of this week's Broncos/Titans game. Someone at the Consulate was kind enough to record a game off his AFN box. I don't care about either of the teams, but it's Thanksgiving and it's football and it makes us happy.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Shoulda Woulda Coulda

Yup, I should have taken both teeth out last Thursday. Was I nuts to do this before Thanksgiving? Absolutely. And it's even more annoying that I can no longer find my antibiotics. They were on the table this morning, now they are gone. But as the dentist said when I asked for a new prescription on Monday: "A new prescription? Go into the pharmacy and ask for it! This is India!" We just used the old prescription... and got it back to use again and again. The pain killer is something called Amol Plus which appears to be codeine laced paracetamol (tylenol for the rest of you). Good stuff. I do have to watch it at work though, I've been caught staring over the heads of people at nothing on far wall.

In other news, feeding the family just got more difficult. On the ride home, between the belting out of Avril Lavigne and the discussion on something inane:

Jonathon: Mom?
M: Yes?
Jonathon: I'm sorry, I won't eat meat anymore.
M: You're going to be a vegetarian?
Jonathon: Yes. Animals are my favorite.

Short, sweet and to the point. Unfortunately, the rest of the family has not been too forgiving. We've had rounds of "I like animals too... they are SOOOO tasty!" while taking a big bite of our hamburger dinner. He's serious though. He stated he could not eat a burger and had macaroni and cheese instead, what was supposed to be my dinner. He clarified that animals products like eggs and milk are still OK as they come -from- an animal but aren't actually of the animal. Rebecca made her snarky retort how baby animals come -from- bigger animals.

Life was getting a little dull.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Tennis Racquets

We're in the market for a new racquet for Rebecca. She's due for a 26" graphite racquet, keeping in mind that she's 10 years old, which one (for those who know these things) would suit her best?

The Prince Air Scream (yeah, dumb name)
Head Size:
107 sq. in. / 690 sq. cm.
Length: 26 inches / 66 cm
Strung Weight: 9.5oz / 269g
Balance: 3pts Head Light
Swingweight: 238
Stiffness: 48
Beam Width: 21 mm Straight Beam
Composition: Graphite Fusionlite Alloy
Power Level: Low-Medium
Swing Speed: Moderate-Fast
Grip Type: Cushion Grip
String Pattern: 16 Mains / 19 Crosses
Mains skip: 8T,8H
Two Piece
No shared holes
String Tension: 45-55 pounds
Prince Shark
Head Size:
100 sq. in. / 645 sq. cm.
Length: 26 inches / 66 cm
Strung Weight: 8.3oz / 235g
Balance: 6 pts Head Heavy
Swingweight: 247
Stiffness: 66
Beam Width: 24 mm Straight Beam
Composition: GraphitExtreme / Titanium / Tungsten / Carbon
Power Level: Medium
Swing Speed: Moderate-Fast
Grip Type: Dura Tac
String Pattern: 16 Mains / 20 Crosses
Mains skip: 7T,9T
One Piece
Shared Holes: 7H,8H
String Tension: 45-55 pounds
Or if you really know your stuff... recommendations?? She's a beginner/intermediate player, getting comfortable with moving around the court, has a great forehand, decent backhand and no clue about "spin."

Doing fine, thanks.

After a night of swallowing blood, I admit yesterday was an achey missing tooth day. In the evening I broke down and took another pain pill just to push the acheys away so I could enjoy Amazing Race. Today though has been just fine. Very minor acheys. Which is good because it's been quite the busy day with tennis lessons, piano lessons, a Commissary "meeting" (it was almost as much fun as making our own consumables list and if you've never done it, you have no idea what I'm talking about), USA Day on the Pilgrims, a bit of free time now before we Skype with my parents then head out to a Photography exhibit of sorts by a Consulate associate. At least we're not going to a wedding tonight too as some others are. I do wish I'd had both teeth done at the same time though. As much of a pain as it was, it would be almost all over with now instead of facing another stretch with more of the same. At least once this one is done, I'm done forever.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

I don't hurt. Yet.

Had a wisdom tooth pulled today. Even got to bring it home to show the kids. Of course, I'm still on the novocaine kick, so no pain. Yet. The other one gets pulled Monday, then stitches come out a few days later. Let's hope I can eat Turkey Day dinner.

Ah who cares, the leftovers are better anyway.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Trying to make ourselves heard over the din.

AFSANET: Defending our Foreign Service in the Current Crisis: November
10, 2007

This message is from AFSA State Vice President Steve Kashkett.

I don't have a newspaper to write to, so this blog will have to do. Please read on.

Fellow State Foreign Service Members:
Our beloved Foreign Service is taking a severe beating in media, and we
need your help in setting the record straight in the public mind!
Over the past two weeks, most news organizations have misreported the
Iraq "prime candidates" exercise and the candid exchanges that took
place at the unfortunate Town Hall meeting here in the Department. We
have gotten precious little coverage of the FACTS:
-- more than 2,000 FS members have volunteered for service in
Iraq/Afghanistan over the past five years;
-- no one has had to be directed to serve in either war zone thus far;
-- this exercise is about a potential shortfall in volunteers for a
relatively small number of positions in Iraq for summer 2008;
-- well over 80 percent of the FS-designated positions in Iraq for
summer 2008 have already been filled, eight months in advance;
-- Embassy Baghdad has a lower vacancy rate than almost any other U.S.
embassy in the world;
-- most people in the Foreign Service spend the majority of their
careers in increasingly difficult and dangerous hardship posts;
-- unlike the military, our members are courageously volunteering to
serve as unarmed civilians in a combat zone;
-- our assignment system has always worked on a voluntary basis because
FS members take seriously their commitment to worldwide service;
-- when the Foreign Service is compared unfavorably with the military,
we have attempted to note that the Foreign Service is less than one-half
of one percent of the size of the U.S. military in personnel and budget,
and that we are stretched thin all over the world at the other 260
embassies and consulates that we staff , most of which are hardship
Many of you have seen some of the scathing, inaccurate editorials and
op-eds. Here are just a few examples:
AFSA has had only limited success at setting the record straight. AFSA
President John Naland and I have appeared on several national television
and radio programs and have been quoted in major print media; however,
more often than not, most of our key points have been edited out.
Moreover, the sheer volume of hostile articles makes it impossible for
AFSA's small staff to respond to every one. We have been pushing hard
to get one of the major national newspapers to run an AFSA op-ed that
makes the points above, but have struck out so far. Sadly, they seem
quite willing to print criticisms of the Foreign Service by those (often
longtime State-bashers) who question our patriotism and our courage, but
we can't get them to publish our side of the story.
We propose that all Foreign Service members consider writing letters to
the editor of your local hometown newspapers to try to get our point of
view reflected in the media. Almost every newspaper has a system for
accepting letters to the editor via e-mail. Please feel free to draw on
the bulleted points above, but use your own words and cite your own
examples of dedicated service from your own personal experiences,
especially at hardship and unaccompanied posts. Make sure to identify
yourself as a Foreign Service member giving your own personal opinions,
NOT speaking officially on behalf of the Department. Remember that a
typical letter to the editor is only 150-200 words, so your submission
has a better chance of getting published if you keep within those
limits. Please let us know if one of your letters gets published.
Let's make sure the public understands what today's Foreign Service is
really about!

Buy One. Give One.

SunNight Solar and Bogo lights: portable lights, charged by the sun. When you buy one, another is automatically sent to someone in need, or you can choose your own recipient group.

Lighting the world in a clean manner. It's that easy.

IHT: Mark Bent's crusade to bring light to the poor of Africa.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Well. That was dangerous.

Firecrackers are part of Diwali/Deepavali. That probably partly explains the three day headache I'm working on.

The thing is, it wasn't enough for the entire city to snap, crackle and pop since Wednesday. The Consulate had someone selling fireworks too, so our illustrious diplomats bought boxes of Made in China goodness and tonight was our night to blow things up. We walked a block to the neighborhood cricket pitch, a relatively flat, empty lot without a lot of trees or wires hanging right over it. That and the fact we're not allowed to explode things on government property made it ideal.

These were bona fide fireworks, shooting 50feet into the air, flinging ash and burning embers everywhere. They were loud, echoes reverberating off the surrounding buildings. And they were so very dangerous. Most could be laughed off, until a repeater tipped over and started firing horizontally all over the pitch. We must have been quite a sight for the gathered on-lookers as we ran screaming to hide behind the outer wall. We stayed there for the rest of the show and let Ian and our neighbor stay inside the wall. They had to since they were setting the things off and risking digits to do so.

Next year, we travel over Diwali.

Update Time

Forced Iraq Postings "May Be Necessary"

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Sacraments

You've heard my trials about finding a church to attend here in Chennai. I have several prerequisites:

Not at the crack of dawn (seriously, several places have English Mass at 6 or 6:30 a.m.)
Driveable without a driver

I also searched high and low for a place that provided catechism for the kids. In English. At a reasonable time. There was a small church leftover from the Portugese era that had promise, but we checked it out a week after it had been demolished to allow a new church to rise in the coming year.
So, we stick with Santhome Basilica. We choose the noon Mass since the music is marginally better than the 9:30 a.m. especially on first Sundays when 9:30 hosts the St. Bede "boys choir." The Revival Singers can at least sing, even if their songs are evangelical hits or taken from the Beatles, Sinatra or the movie "Sister Act." Seriously, they did the funky "Hail Holy Queen" a few weeks back.
I wouldn't worry too much about all this except I have two kids getting ready for First Communion and having a steady and basic understanding of the Mass is extremely important for this Sacrament. The churches here don't hold normal Vatican II services. The readings are a little off so the kids can't follow in my Missal (which reminds me, Nicholas wants a Missal all his own, one with all the readings not a kid version), the homilies are typically way off (at least we no longer have the e-mail forward homilies anymore) and few of the congregation responses are what we're accustomed to and none of the sung responses are. Getting anything from the Mass is easier here than it was in Togo, but it's still not great. You know what I really miss? I miss the Tagalog Our Father sung in our church in Manila. By the end of the tour we could all sing it by heart because even though it wasn't our norm, it was beautiful and consistent.
Attending a Catechism class is really important for First Communion prep and I don't have all the materials to teach them myself, nor sadly all the knowledge. Santhome just announced a Catechism class for English speakers which seemed like an answer to prayers other than the 7:15 a.m. meeting time. They announced it at the noon Mass, I do wonder how many takers they'll get.
All this to say, I am absolutely thrilled with one of our new arrivals at post. Not only is she Catholic, she's a Catechism teacher primarily for First Communion. And here's the best part, she has a 2nd grader herself. She's offered to teach my kids too and we'll coordinate with the church about a First Communion Mass next summer when all the grandparents can come for the celebration. Doesn't this just seem like it was meant to be? I am very excited.

Rs48 to Rs39 to the Dollar

Rising Rupee Casts a Shadow

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Snap Crackle Pop

I wish it was cereal, but instead today is Deepavali (or Diwali, or Divali, or...) so the crackers have been going off all - day - long. Diwali is a festival of light, a joyous occasion of good beating out evil, a time of gift-giving, new clothes, and shiny jewelry. It's basically the Hindu Christmas based on the story the Ramayana with loads of little tea-lighted or oil-filled diyas fending off evil. Houses are lit up with strings of lights. Snacks and sweets are shared among family and friends. And there are crackers. Lots and lots of crackers that started sporadically yesterday, built up all day today and are now in full swing with the coming of dark. It's sounds like a war zone and there's no where to get away from it since the crackers are set off in every direction around the house. There's a movement for quieter, less polluted ways of celebration but I don't think we'll see any progress during our limited time here.

There is one day of the 5-day festival we might incorporate to our list of holidays, Bhaubeej or BhaiDooj. It's a day where siblings honor each other with blessings and pledges of support. Goodness knows we could use some of that around here.

Happy Deepavali!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Delhi and back

Let me preface this post with the following: I like Chennai. I like Chennai more now after spending a little time in Delhi.

On to the weekend, finally.

The kids stayed with friends, we went to Delhi. It's the first time we've hopped a plane without them, ever, and I'll admint it was relaxing and pleasant. The kids stayed with a family with 3 kids: a 2nd grader, 6th grader and 9th grader. On Saturday they all went out for Pizza Hut and spent the evening at school for the AISC Diwali party. The amount of stuff I sent with them was appalling including sleeping bags, Diwali clothes, books, games... but all bases were covered. Unfortunately we left Rebecca on Friday night feeling feverish. It's never comfortable leaving a sick child behind, thankfully she was pretty much OK by Saturday aside from a continued mild case of laryngitis.
Enough on them, what did we do? We flew off into the sunrise Saturday morning on Kingfisher airlines. Great airline, highly recommended. It left on time, provided a hot breakfast, arrived on time, and gifted bags of goodies. They even have web check-in. The seats are comfortable and actually provide a little leg room. Not the same on Deccan Air for our return trip. Kingfisher just acquired Deccan, but there's much to do yet to bring Deccan up to par. The seats were old faux leather and there was absolutely no leg room. Both of our knees were pressed into the seat in front. Ian was even more miserable once the seat in front of him reclined. Our seats did not recline... we were in front of the emergency exit row. There is a pay a la carte menu, even the coffee is Rs20 worth of instant Cafe' Coffee Day packaged brew. And they were out of the instant noodles. The plane was old and loud, and totally not worth the slightly cheaper fare. We'll avoid taking Deccan again, though we chose it for the timing. The return Kingfisher flight wasn't until the evening and we wanted to come back in the afternoon at a good time to retrieve the kids.
The flight is only 2 1/2 hours. We can handle anything for 2 1/2 hours.
Delhi airport was familiar. We met up with our neighbors who had taken the Deccan flight up and they offered to share their car with us to get us to our hotel.
Actually, it wasn't our hotel yet. We never got a confirmation prior to our arrival that the last blocked room had been reassigned to us. Ian was in regular contact with a Marine at post who assured us time and again that everything would be in place. We arrived at the hotel, said thanks to our friends, and got ready to hike next door to the ITC Hotel in case we were homeless. We weren't homeless. The room was ours and we were upgraded to the Club floor with the standard free bottle of wine and view of a far off Humayun's Tomb. Like last year at this time, the weather in Delhi is categorized as "Smoke" and folks readily complain about the polluted haze hanging over the city as more and more people burn dung fires for heat and cooking. We found the air fresh and cool, which goes to show the relative heat and stink of Chennai. I think some had to do with the area we were in too. The Diplomatic Enclave is an area of town filled with broad tree lined streets, little traffic and spacious compounds. One edge of the enclave is protected forest even. To say it was a pleasure to walk around outside is an understatement.
Our room wasn't ready immediately, a common issue arriving at 9:30 in the morning. We had a leisurely brunch until the tables were cleared for the lunch crowd, checked our room, then took a walk towards the Gandhi salt statue. We never actually made it to the statue, instead we were sidetracked by the American School, American Embassy and American Compound. All in a 3 block radius - one block each. Thirty percent of the Embassy personnel live on the compound, the rest live up to 20 minutes away in apartments. For those who live on the compound (mostly families), I see this: Get up, walk to school. Get up, cross the street to work. Pick up groceries from the commissary. You can buy anything in the real size store that you don't already buy in your consumables. Buy fresh fruits and vegetables from the greengrocer. Meet up with friends in the ice cream shop. Get in some laps at the pool. Watch a Tball game. Go bowling. Have a date at the one of the on-compound full-service restaurants. Play with the other kids in the neighborhood. Ride bikes. Have a picnic on one of the tended lawns. And if you want to step outside the American bubble, attend a function at one of the Embassies down the street. Have dinner at the Chinese or Japanese restaurant a couple blocks away. Get cash from the ATM. Or don't, because the commissary takes any either Rs or $, cash or check. Some trips out of town include the pink city of Jaipur and the Taj Mahal in Agra.
They get 20% differential. Some even want 25%. They don't like the pollution (I'm sure it gets bad on days), they don't like the traffic (it's INDIA), and they have no local grocery stores (never mind the commissary, apparently).
It makes me happy we're in Chennai where we earn our 20%.
Enough on that.
We returned to the hotel to shower and nap. Getting up at 4 a.m. and knowing we'd be up late that night, we snoozed while we could. The room was quiet. Unfortunately we snoozed right through snack time and our neighbors arrived to get dolled up for the Ball.
We should have snacked. While the appetizers were tasty, after I dropped a mushroom puff I was a little wary of eating while standing and holding a glass. Holding a glass, the talent of all Officers and kin. It doesn't have to have anything in it even, but having that glass at all times is the final touch to every formal gathering. I'll stick with that and pass on the tasty tidbits. The ceremony started a mere 5 minutes late, but the birthday message, the colors, and the National Anthem, the cake cutting, and the two honored guest speeches pushed the time back to nearly 10 p.m. The cake cutting is always a wonderful ceremony, honoring the youngest and oldest Marines present. The oldest was a retired visitor, but the youngest was one of the current Embassy guards, a young man turning 21 next month. The cake was pretty good too, not at all like the fruit cake thing in Togo.
Dinner was a wonderful buffet and we stuffed ourselves silly. We were seated at a table with our Chennai neighbors and three Delhians (Delhiites?) but there wasn't that much time to chat before the music started blaring at 11 p.m. The DJ needed a bit of help with music choice and the process of letting a song finish before cutting to the next, but we had plenty of fun with the songs we did know. Showing our age, we bailed at 12:30 with our blisters and crashed upstairs.
Sunday morning was beautiful. The temperature outside just gorgeous and again we had a long leisurely brunch. The night had the emergency rule instituted in Pakistan, so the newspapers were all atwitter and little else was on the tube. Delhi is hardly close to Pakistan, but it's a whole lot closer than Chennai. We went home. Once the bag was gently packed with our bottle of wine and 6 souvenir glasses from the Ball, the hotel provided a car to the airport and I already mentioned our flight home, so the return trip was uneventful. OK, I knew the bottle of wine couldn't come in carry-on luggage but we didn't have any checked bags. And it served a purpose as it distracted security from the bottles of shampoo I bought at the commissary and all the little gel things from the hotel room. No loss leaving the free bottle of wine at security.
The kids were exhausted from their busy weekend and happy to see us again. I think they were happier to see the hotel chocolates and very little gifts we brought back. What 11yo doesn't like door signs that say "Please collect laundry" and "Please make room." Hee.
Don't tell the Taj.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Directed Assignments - Update

Ian did NOT receive an e-mail "asking" him to "volunteer" for one of the 48 empty positions in Embassy Baghdad. We're relieved. But we're also realistic and with this occurrence we're trying to figure out how a tour in Iraq can fit into our lives on our terms rather than the State Department's terms. Ian has several e-mails out gathering more information. We'll let you know when we know.

A few words about Halloween and holidays in general.

I don't enjoy Halloween. I think it's a waste of time, energy and money to "celebrate" Halloween. Do I think it's celebrating the devil? No. I just don't think that for me, as a parent, that I should have to spend my time thinking and planning and doing for it. It's a kid thing and I try to stay out of it as much as possible. Call me a Grinch, but as someone pointed out, a Grinch would actually enjoy Halloween. I'll be the Easter Bunny of Halloween... and hide in my burrow.

Anyway, how is it I spent last night making 2 brain cakes for school? Why was I called on to find this or that for costumes? Why did we have dinner at the Halloween spectacular at Sparky's?

Why is it that so much energy is spent on Halloween at school including a costume parade and class parties, but no mention is made of Thanksgiving. The kids don't even get Turkey Day off. This year they'll get Friday off at least, next year they won't even get that much, yet the school will close for an entire week for Diwali. Yes, I understand we're in India and Diwali is the Hindu Christmas. But last I checked the school still had "American" in its name, and as such I consider Thankgiving quite a central holiday to America.

You know the two American holidays acknowledged next year? Labor Day and Presidents' Day. Labor Day probably because every country has a Labor Day, so why not. Presidents' Day? I think it's actually a teacher workday. I'd easily give up both to have Thanksgiving back.

So, I'm thinking I'll look around for costume sales now, for next year. Though I have to admit having Katherine dress up as Miss Tween Chennai today was pretty cool. Wish I'd gotten a photo.

MST3K fans....

Rejoice! And it's Joel too!

More Mock Movies Coming.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Rain rain rain

Welcome to Monsoon 2007. It rained all weekend, except the couple hours I was at lunch on Saturday and when the kids went swimming on Sunday. With the flooding the kids were off school today. We only lost one tree and had at most 4-5 inches of rain in spots, and only one wall is leaking with bubbling paint. I wouldn't worry about it too much other than it's near the fuse/power box and one drip has reached a light switch. That could be a problem.

Check out some snapshots:

Saturday, October 27, 2007


Conferences went well, the kids are right on target but we received suggestions for all the kids, which is more helpful than anything else.

Jonathon: Being a lefty is his biggest issue in this family. He copies what others do, which equals a page full of mirror image writing. So, out comes the old d'Nealian books and he'll have a page or two of handwriting practice to go with his reading each night. Reading is coming along fine. He can get through a page of Nate the Great, or Young Cam Jansen and he's read all the Ricky Ricotta books we have.
Nicholas: Good report all around. Sitting him next to kids who aren't his closest friends has helped. He's reading fine, the other day he plugged on the first Harry Potter, reading 3 pages out loud to me to help along his tone. He's getting better at reading for content and remembering details. He needs to practice his math facts outside of class more.
Rebecca: She's reading at 4th grade level and has finally found a series she enjoys on her own, the Animal Ark books. With the string of Bs on her report card she's determined to try harder and pull up her grades. That's going to take some effort in the reading response areas.
Katherine: We spoke with her Language Arts/Social Studies teacher, Math, Music and French. Her French teacher just loves her. She says Katherine is a great student, great accent, likes to practice (in class only, apparently, since she does say a word in French at home) and is wonderful to have in class. She said she notices that if Katherine is given some space, she does even better. The music teacher said she's come a long way with the Flute and needs to practice slurring and tonguing. It sounds a little wrong for a 6th grader, doesn't it? The math teacher mentioned how Katherine prefers to spend her break in the math room, by herself. Does that sound strange? Personally, I think it sounds like a good decompression time and understanding more about Katherine, that she takes everything quite personally and she said she doesn't want to hang around with the other girls talking about things that aren't of interest. As far as math goes, she needs to review more, even just go back a couple sections and do a problem or two to remember. Sounds easy enough. For LA/SS, organization comes into play. After conferences were done Ian and I went to Landmark and bought some organizational tools for her. Her desk is now a functional work space, not a game zone. We'll see how it goes. I should have taken a before picture, but I'll put up an after photo once I have it.
There you have it.


Check out

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

With the fires raging...

Some common fire related questions answered.

Mental Floss Fire Facts

Sometimes I really have a Duh moment

Getting the Kids involved.

Why didn't I think before to give the kids the jobs of crunching boxes and cans, and having one be the Light-Turner-Offer? Sometimes I'm so dense I wonder...

Report cards are in.

The kids did fine for first quarter. I can't gauge whether they did average because they did average or that everyone did average because it was 1st Quarter. It doesn't really matter, honestly. The comments were what we expected and we have parent-teacher conferences on Friday to hear the real story. I'm actually a little happy that they're having to work for their grades, and not just work but figure out their weaknesses and address them.

With Katherine starting middle school, organization is kicking her butt. We knew it would. Her grades all dropped, not for lack of knowledge but for lack of organization. Can't get a full grade when you turn in an assignment days late.

Rebecca received exemplary Effort marks, but still had a string of Bs on her card. She was disappointed and has begun asking for extra credit work. She even spoke with the P.E. teacher to figure out what he was looking for. He said he doesn't give out As except to those who truly excel in all the physical challenges and since I don't see that happening for her we told her not to sweat it (heh, a pun). I'd much rather she made a stronger effort in Science than P.E.

Nicholas and Jonathon aren't getting grades yet, just those odd developmental marks (D=Developing, etc). He's right on target for his grade. Jonathon got a D in Computers. Uh, we told him not to worry about that. I think I'd be more surprised by a 1st grader who received an E (for exceptional, of course) in Computers.

I might put up the kids actual grades, but for now, you get the idea. Everyone can improve.

Too neat to pass up...

Check out the Hobbit Doll House.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

AFSAnet: Telling Our Story

AFSA: American Foreign Service Association

The State Department gets a lot of, dare I say it, crap about not pulling its weight in Iraq. An e-mail went out recently to shed some light on the difficulties our agency faces. Usually, I don't like number stories, but since this one is so personal and pretty straightforward, I feel it's worth repeating here.

AFSAnet: Telling our Story
A small but growing number of voices are criticizing the State Department and Foreign Service for not "stepping up to the plate" in Iraq. Some, including people who urged the 2003 invasion, clearly seek to shift blame for failures by other actors. However, other critics appear to have no such malicious agenda, but rather base their criticisms on wildly inflated estimations of the capacities of civilian agencies to operate in combat zones such as Iraq.
AFSA is making an effort to set the record straight. Toward that end, AFSA President John Naland sent an e-mail on Oct. 16, 2007 to a journalist who had written an error-laden diatribe about Foreign Service staffing in Iraq. Below are excerpts from that e-mail:
Here are some baseline facts about the Foreign Service. The State Department Foreign Service is made up of approximately 11,500 people.
Of them, 6,500 are Foreign Service officers (for example, political officers) while 5,000 are Foreign Service specialists (for example, Diplomatic Security agents). There are another 1,500 or so Foreign Service members at USAID, the Foreign Commercial Service, the Foreign Agricultural Service, and the International Broadcasting Bureau, but I will focus on the State Department Foreign Service component.
Let's put the size of the State Department Foreign Service in perspective. The U.S. active- duty military is 119 times larger than the Foreign Service. The total uniformed military (active and reserve) is 217 times larger. A typical U.S. Army division is larger than the entire Foreign Service. The military has more uniformed personnel in Mississippi than the State Department has diplomats worldwide. The military has more full colonels/Navy captains than the State Department has diplomats. The military has more band members than the State Department has diplomats. The Defense Department has almost as many lawyers as the State Department has diplomats.
I will not even get into the huge disparities in operating budgets, which are widely known.
The key point -- especially for observers who think in terms of the myriad capabilities of our nation's large military -- is that the Foreign Service has a relatively small corps of officers.
Moreover, in contrast to the military, the vast majority of Foreign Service members are forward deployed (thus the word "foreign" in Foreign Service). Today, in a time of armed conflict, 21.1 percent of the active-duty military (290,000 out of 1,373,000) is stationed abroad (ashore or afloat). That compares to 68 percent of the Foreign Service currently stationed abroad at 167 U.S. embassies and 100 consulates and other missions.
There is nothing new about this high percentage of Foreign Service forward deployment. The percentages have not changed from two decades ago when I joined. Thus, the typical Foreign Service member serves two-thirds of his or her career abroad. Over a 30-year career, that adds up to 20 years spent stationed overseas.
Where are these overseas Foreign Service members? Nearly 60 percent are at posts categorized by the U.S. government as "hardship" due to difficult living conditions (for example, violent crime, harsh climate, social isolation, unhealthy air, and/or terrorist threats). Of those hardship posts, half are rated at or above the 15-percent differential level which constitutes great hardship. Thus, unlike the old stereotype seeing most Foreign Service members serving in comfortable Western European capitals, only one third of overseas posts are non-hardship -- and the majority of people at such posts are decompressing after serving at a hardship post.
Again, the contrast with the military is instructive. As previously mentioned, 78.9 percent of the active-duty military is stationed stateside (including 36,000 personnel in Hawaii). Of those serving abroad, there are more U.S. military personnel serving in the United Kingdom, Germany, or Japan than the State Department has diplomats worldwide.
The military does have a greater percentage of its personnel serving in unaccompanied tours (ashore or afloat) than the Foreign Service. I have not found solid statistics on this point, but subtracting those stationed at accompanied postings in Western Europe, Japan, and South Korea, it appears that around 11 percent of the military serving in unaccompanied tours. But the Foreign Service is catching up. Since 2001, the number of unaccompanied and limited-accompanied Foreign Service positions has quadrupled to 700 (representing 6.1 percent of the Foreign Service) at two dozen danger pay posts including Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. This represents a dramatic change for Foreign Service members, who previously had fewer than 200 unaccompanied slots to fill at a few posts such as Bogotá and Beirut.
Moreover, consider these facts. Around 40 percent of the 7,800 overseas Foreign Service positions come up for reassignment each year (including all 700 one-year unaccompanied positions and a mixture of two-year great hardship posts and three-year lesser-hardship and non-hardship posts). That means that, in any given annual assignment cycle, almost one quarter of all overseas Foreign Service jobs to be
filled are at unaccompanied or limited-accompanied danger pay posts.
But what about the toughest duty assignment: Iraq. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in an Oct. 1, 2007, interview with the New York Post editorial board, stated that more than 20 percent of the Foreign Service has served, or is serving, in Iraq. I would have guessed that the percentage was a little lower, but let's stick with Secretary Rice's official estimate that 20 percent of our nation's diplomats have served in war-zone Iraq since 2003.
I have not found comparable military statistics. Presumably, at least for the Army and Marine Corps, it is over two-thirds with many troops serving two or more tours. But again, unlike the military which maintains 78.9 percent of its active members stateside, the Foreign Service has worldwide staffing responsibilities that necessitate posting the majority of its members in the 188 countries besides Iraq. Thus, of the 80 percent of Foreign Service members who have not (yet) served in Iraq, most are now at, or have recently returned from, a hardship assignment.
There are approximately 200 Foreign Service positions currently at Embassy Baghdad and another 70 or so at the 25 Provincial Reconstruction Teams. Compared to the U.S. military presence in Iraq, those numbers look small. Of course, the U.S. civilian presence in Iraq includes a range of other types of employees. But if press reports are accurate that around 1,000 U.S. citizens work at Embassy Baghdad, then the Foreign Service positions constitute about 20 percent of that total.
Turning to the PRTs, which comprise up to 600 members, the Foreign Service component is 10 to 15 percent.
There are good reasons for those ratios. As Secretary Rice has repeatedly explained in public statements, no country's diplomatic corps has people with many of the skills now needed in Iraq: oil and gas engineers, electrical grid managers, urban planners, city managers and transportation planners. If any U.S. defense planner in 2003 thought that the State Department and other civilian federal agencies had such people on staff in large numbers (Arabic speaking or not) ready to rebuild Iraq, they were wrong. Obviously, if they wanted to do so, the president and Congress could staff up civilian agencies to take responsibility for stabilization and reconstruction. But they have not done so.
Here are some other points to consider. While some Foreign Service members in Iraq are engaged in support activities that do not require them to leave the International Zone, many do travel in the "Red
Zone"-- working out of Embassy Baghdad, serving at one of the pre-surge PRTs, or serving at one of the 10 new PRTs embedded in Brigade Combat Teams. Also, although this was not the case right after the 2003 invasion, most Foreign Service members serve one-year tours in Iraq with only a relative few going for shorter temporary duty assignments. A small but growing number of Foreign Service members have served more than one tour in Iraq. None, except perhaps for Diplomatic Security special agents, are permitted to carry a weapon for self-defense.
The State Department so far has been able to fill its Iraq positions with volunteers. Every one of the more than 2,000 career Foreign Service members who have stepped up to the plate to serve in Iraq has done so as a volunteer. They receive less than two-weeks of special training to serve in a combat zone (unlike their predecessors 40 years ago who received three to four months of training before deploying to South Vietnam in the CORDS program). While Foreign Service volunteers in Iraq do receive added pay and other incentives (but not tax-free income like the military enjoys), surveys show that most are motivated by patriotism and a professional desire to contribute to our nation's top foreign policy objective. If the State Department ever does run out of volunteers, the Secretary of State retains the legal authority to direct assignments.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

And lo...

The old cell phone dried out. And works.

Seems Katherine will get to use it someday.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

We have reservations.

Check inside to see if we'll be in your area, and let us know if you'd like to get together.

15 December we arrive in: Belgium
18 December - 11 January we'll be in: Virginia
11 - 13 January has us in: Madison, WI
13 - 17 January in: San Francisco
18 - 22 January we're off to: Beijing
22 - 25 January we'll be in: Singapore
25 January we'll return to: Chennai

Um, oops.

Update: Meet my new phone, the Nokia 6085. No, it's not the most recent, but it works and it flips. And now that Ian got it off the All Hindi All The Time language selection (do you know how hard it is to get a phone off Hindi when you don't read Hindi and all the instructions are in English... with no Hindi translations?), I can actually start using it.

I guess I have to apologize to my neighbor for laughing when he ruined his cell phone by jumping in the pool with it tucked safely in his pocket. Granted, his was about a week old when he did it and a Motorola Razr.

I got my latest phone when we lived in Manila. The original gave a blue screen of death or something, and just quit working. Perfectly justifiable even if it was only a couple years old. This time, well, totally my fault. The pants had a stain I needed to hand scrub so I tossed it in the sink full of water and Woolite. Without emptying the pockets. My LCD screen is bubbly. Inside.

You know, I was really hoping to responsibly graduate to a better phone and pass this one on to Katherine for emergency use.

And guess what, I learned that the phone saved all my numbers, not the SIM card. If I should have your number, I don't any longer. Please e-mail it to me. That means you too, parents.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Sorry about that...

I keep forgetting to click off the "Comments" links that don't go anywhere. I know they clutter up the page. Sorry.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Whether you believe in it or not...

Read through the 50 things you can do to help the Earth.

The easiest that even FSOs can do: Use those CFLs, don't leave your appliances on standby, cover your pots when cooking, fill up the washer before using it, use the clothesline (unless you're in a country with burrowing fly maggots of course), recycle (yes, even overseas, especially in developing nations... we put aside all our soda and soup cans/cereal boxes/milk cartons in bags, apart from the regular garbage), recycle organic waste (if you have a yard, you can do it, we put a separate can in the kitchen to collect all the peels and egg shells, which then go into the compost), buy stuff with less packaging (a 1L water bottle takes less energy and creates less waste than 2 0.5L bottles), use reusable bags for shopping (like mine from, buy locally grown/fresh/organic (now that is easy to do overseas! Practically all our fruits and vegs are within the 100mile diet from small farmers), carpool.

See what you can do.

Six things that make my life easier.

We buy so much crap we don't need. Things that take up space and get shuffled around to make room for even more stuff we don't need.

But sometimes, just sometimes, I buy, make or get something that proves its usefulness over and over and it makes me happy.

Here's my list.

A pill splitter/crusher. I bought it from CVS before we went to Togo, for splitting our malaria meds. It's also great for splitting an adult tylenol when we run out of junior strength, for splitting and crushing the cats' deworming meds, and for crushing things just for fun.
A timer. Or three. We keep one in the kitchen for cooking of course, one in the boys' room for timeouts, and one on the piano for practice time.
A practically industrial strength pencil sharpener. Four kids means a lot of pencils for homework, and lots of colored pencils for drawing. Those little plastic sharpeners are not only badly made, they hurt for more than a pencil or two. Ours, with it's metal turning handle, just keeps on going.
A business card slip of laminated paper with all our airline and hotel numbers. We both have one in our wallets. Speaks for itself.
The laminator. I ordered a laminator from a library supply store because every year I'd go through the kids' school/art work and wish I could protect the few special papers. I bought a non-electric hand crank unit and I use it all the time. Seriously. Recently I went through the collection of recipes I've printed out or copied down, now they're laminated and in a 3-ring binder. No more oil spots. Our dinner table setting schedule, laminated. Pictures for the kids projects, laminated.
It's all good.
Oh wait... I said six right? Ian wanted to be included on the list. So yeah, life is easier with him too.


Kudos to Ian who was promoted from an FS-04 to an FS-03! About time and just in time, really, since the dollar is tanking in India right now. The lowest since 1998.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

A couple "new" blogs

These probably aren't new to anyone but me, but they are well worth a perusal by anyone who loves to eat and keep a pretty home.

The Pioneer Woman Cooks
- What happens when you take a city girl, put her on a cattle ranch where she has to feed her cowboy husband and growing kids. Her step by step cooking directions are designed for people like me who don't even know how to cut an onion properly.

Like Merchant Ships - Living beautifully in a frugal life. She incorporates flowers, color, simplicity and a dash of love into each part of her family's day.

Woof Woof

This is Nicholas's dog. I wish I could say it was Woof Woof (or as Nicholas spells it, Woff Woff, perhaps it's a German dog), but this lovely fuzzy thing is not. It was meant to be the replacement.


No. This is Woof Woof.


He looks sad, doesn't he? Physically and emotionally, he's a tired dog.

He's had a hard life, requiring several surgeries. One time, his innards nearly poured out the back of his heck.


But Nicholas has a particular favorite section of Woof Woof, to rub and rub and rub. It's what we call his black paw.


Black paw has had numerous reconstructive surgeries. Unfortunately over the years, all his filling has fallen out. And now, Nicholas has rubbed a significant hole through the outer layer.


There was only one thing to be done.


A pawectomy. And doesn't he look so much happier?


Next stop, a bath. Perhaps in a vat of lysol.

Out of the mouths of babes

I wish I could remember all the funky things Jonathon has said lately. Instead you get just one.

Jonathon has joined the "Mom, can I have a DS? Dad, can I have a DS? Mom, can I have a DS? Dad, can I have..." bandwagon. Rebecca pointed out that J already has a Tamagotchi, a Littlest Pet Shop thing and a NeoGeo. What does he say? "But mom, I just love 'lectronics!"


Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Name of the Rose

I watched "The Name of the Rose" years ago. I didn't get it and I recall telling someone it was a decent mystery but the substory with the girl was distracting. He told me that the girl was the story. Talk about feeling kinda stupid after that.

I haven't read the book as I've heard it's quite something to plow through, but I figured I'd give the movie another shot. The same thing happened. The mystery was OK, though not so much a mystery anymore since my first viewing. But I didn't understand the role of the girl.

So I read up a bit and Wikipedia cleared up quite a bit. It is a mystery, and the girl is a sidestory. She isn't "the rose," or maybe she is but the author didn't say she had to be. In fact, the title of the book just kind of came to him and doesn't refer to anything in particular.

Simplistic as it may be, I feel better. Sure, there's loads of references and hidden meanings throughout, but as far as the title goes and the role of the girl... the simple explanation seems the most correct. The story isn't as deep, nor am I as dumb, as I feared.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Where'd my post go?

I started an entry yesterday but so many people have been on my computer since then it's really no wonder it has vanished.

Anyhow, we're on day 4 of our long weekend, back to the grind tomorrow. Today we're off for Gandhi's birthday. Yesterday we were off for an apparently canceled bandh, aka strike. Now the plans are for someone or other to hold a hunger strike. As long as it doesn't mean we all have to go hungry I'm cool with that.

So everything was shut down yesterday, and for what? Because of the Ramayana.

The Ramayana is a Sanskrit epic about lord Rama and his wife Sita. Sita is captured by the demon king Ravana and taken to island of Lanka. Hanuman discovered where Sita was being held, but Rama decided that without a bridge to cross across the ocean to Lanka, only Hanuman would be able to reach her. So, Rama managed to build a bridge and rescue Sita.
The story has a lot more meat to it of course and a predictably sad ending, but that's the gist.
What does that have to do with anything? To believers, Lanka is the island of Sri Lanka and the bridge is the area of islands and shallows created when eons ago Sri Lanka tore off from the mainland. One particular political party sees the shallows as a hidrance to Tamil Nadu's shipping lane potential and wants to dredge the shallows to accommodate cargo ships. Other political parties believe that to do so would be to destroy Rama's bridge to rescue his beloved Sita.
And we got a day off for the two sides to stare menacingly at each other.

Friday, September 28, 2007


Here's a news story I've been following the past couple weeks. I was born in Belgium, spent my first 5 years there, and have been back to visit a couple times. We're planning to stop by on our way home this winter too. So to read that Belgium may, in the not too distant future, not exist is a little unpleasant. And the Walloons and Flemish don't seem all that upset about it.

A Divided Belgium

Belgian Crisis Viewpoints

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Uh oh, it's here.

Madras Eye.

We see several flaming red cases a day, and way more of the pink variety and even more that are on their way in or out. I wish we had a nurse at pre-screening, or that I was capable of distinguishing between "tired, nervous, bloodshot eye" and frightening "Madras eye." I've heard numbers as varied as 1 in 10 to 1 in 4, just in Chennai. Ack.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A Productive Sunday

It's not supposed to be like this, but the way our weekends have been going Saturday is packed and Sunday is when I can finally put some order into the house. I get nothing done during the week. Nothing.

Get 4 kids up, dressed, fed, brushed, sprayed and out the door by 7:45. I go to work with Ian. Lunch with Ian, lunch with a friend or home for lunch. I have 2 hours before the kids get home, enough to do a single chore most days. With the kids home it's homework time and lunch making for the next day and finishing up dinner. Listen to Jonathon read, get Nicholas focused. Katherine gets home and there's more homework. And flute practicing. And piano practicing for two others. Dinner. Exercise. Bedtime for kids. Bedtime for me.
I need to iron. That's one chore I prefer doing when the house is empty in the middle of the afternoon since a hot iron + 4 kids + 3 cats is a disaster waiting to happen. So... the ironing hasn't been done in a while because it's hot and I don't enjoy it all that much.
Anyway, Saturdays are busy, so it falls to Sunday for most of the house cleaning, and it's started well before church. Today I did the front entrance and under the stairs and the piles of shoes. I also reorganized the pantry for our expected consumables in 3 weeks, consolidating and tossing out empty boxes that were taking up shelf space. Yes I did it now, because I don't know when my next opportunity will be. I also did (more) laundry today and cleaned up our bedroom a bit. This was all while Katherine was doing her art project which is due on Thursday. Five pages of mixing paint to do do a color wheel, a warm color thing, a cool color thing, a white to black grade and a color wheel of tints and shades. And it only took 3 hours. It's not perfect, I think she switched a tint/shade on one color, but she can paint over it later with the right colors, acrylics are nice that way. Ian took the other 3 kids to USA Day (Consulate kids American History) so Katherine had a quiet house to work. Our family didn't do a project for USA Day today, but we will next time.
And her science project is just about done, that's taken up a ton of time this past week. It's due Friday. I did the typing for her or she'd still be typing right now, but she had it all written out in pencil so I copied, funky grammar and all. We did edits on the printout which she then went through and fixed. I think she did a pretty good job for a 6th grader.
It's 10, I'm tired but I don't have to be up at 5:10 anymore, so it's a good thing.
Oh, and can I complain about this exercise stuff? I've been doing it just about every day for about a month now and I haven't lost a single pound. Not cool.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Recap and Finale

Swim team is done. For Katherine at least.

The SAISA Travel Team (more on that later) still has 2 weeks before Colombo so they continue with their training. Katherine can finally relax after the Big Bad Blue meet at AISC today.
But wait, there's more.
We sent her off to the meet at 7:15 with our neighbor, also a swimmer, for warm-up. We got there at 9:45 after Rebecca's and Ian's tennis lessons. The meet started at 9 but we figured she wouldn't be in the first races and we were right. In fact, we were so right... she hadn't been put in any races. She wasn't even on the list. Her coach was going to "squeeze her in" where she could. Don't even get me started on how wrong that was even if it was an oversight. So, Katherine was in 4 races. The 50m free, the 200m relay medley, the 200m free relay and the 100m breaststroke. Only 2 teams raced in her age/sex category for the medleys, she got "medals" for being part of those teams. They came in last, but medals were given out to 6th place, so... whatever. The 50m was a wash, and we all knew it would be. She doesn't have a good free stroke yet. But for the 100m breast, there were 6 swimmers in her heat split between 3 fast and 3 slow. It was a great race to watch because the last 3 were neck and neck. Katherine came in 4th in the heat! It was so nice because she finally didn't come in dead last by half a pool. So award time came and we were so excited. They give out 6th to the kid who came in last in her heat... then they give 5th... then 4th... then 3rd.... 2nd... 1st... Katherine got nothing. So after the awards ceremony I asked the coach if she'd been disqualified for something. She said no, just that she'd come in 7th. I said there was no way, the kid who got the 6th place ribbon came in 2 spots -after- Katherine! She said Oh Yeah... that's right... there must have been something messed up with the timing.. we'll look into it.
I swear... this swim season was supposed to be something great for Katherine. She'd get better, faster, stronger... and she has. But I didn't expect that to come along with an ego and spirit crushing. And I can't help being paranoid. That because I pulled Katherine from the team when she didn't make the "Travel Team" (which isn't really, because even the kids who didn't "make" the travel team are expected to, uh, travel, and swim.. but not against kids their own age group... kids in HIGHER age groups... you know because that's a great idea when they didn't cut it to swim against their OWN age group), that somehow Katherine doesn't warrant consideration any more. Like I said, I'm being paranoid.
This season left a sour taste in my mouth. Say she made the Travel Team, she goes. Say she doesn't, she stays. It's quite simple. If everyone goes, there is no Travel Team. The whole team travels. There's a difference. It's my understanding that there are SAISA standards to be on a true SAISA team and if you don't make it, you don't make it. I get that, I accept that, and guess what... so does Katherine. She'd have something to work for next fall again. But this wishy washy thing is for the birds.
Kinda feel I need to add something else. I totally get how kids don't have to win everything, they can't and in fact they shouldn't. Katherine was quite pleased to get her medals in the relays, absolutely, and any placement in any other race would also have made her happy! Cutting seconds off her own time also brought a smile to her face, placement or not. A lot of work went into her swimming before Big Bad Blue, and like anyone else, kids expect to have their efforts rewarded. Personal accomplishment is great and it's what we all aim for but you know sometimes it's great to have general recognition too. Heck, when she was one of the 7 people who lasted the longest with their butt on a huge block of ice she was tickled. Frozen, but tickled.
But to put kids into places where they CAN'T win? And sell it solely as swimming against yourself, getting your personal best times, etc... well, that's great. Except this isn't hanging out in your backyard pool, it's racing internationally against 7 or 8 other schools! Who -ever- wants to be that last kid over and over and over again at home and then do it in front of 100+ other swimmers plus their parents?
Some kids can separate the two. I know Katherine could but it would mean me sitting there by the pool (which we would anyway and were yesterday) to explain to her after every heat and race how it doesn't matter that she lost by a mile but that she beat her personal best by 2 seconds. She loves to swim but no matter how you sell a swim meet, it's still a meet and kids still want to win. Or beat out someone... anyone... just once. And get recognized for it.

Friday, September 14, 2007

This fall's TV guide

What looks good??

An Article

This article was sent around the Consulate. It's about raising the H1B visa cap.

The article is poorly written, even the title "Ensure skilled workers remained in US, Governors tell Senators" has a misspelling. But what I found more interesting than the article itself were the comments under it. Take a look.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Work and School

Just so you know what I have to deal with...

... in my grunt work life at the Consulate, this e-mail went around a few weeks ago:
Forsooth! O' ye with an excess of revocation memos...
Friday hath been declared an Admin Day, a blessed day of respite from the rampaging hordes of applicants. Therefore, I verily implore thee to render your vast mounds of memos, having been already divided by type, unto your fellow warriors whose virgin desks are like the windblown deserts. These untested but eager companions, present on the 'morrow, be Michele, D***, K***, P*** and K***. They shall be ready to slay your binded paper adversaries, as they are up to the task. As the Bard wrote...
"And gentlemen in Mumbai now-a-bed; Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here; And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks; That fought with us upon this Admin Day!"
It was from my husband. Yup, these are the days of my life.
But really, work isn't so bad. It goes by quickly, I'm only doing 4 hours each day, and it's pretty mindless. I've done enough (hundreds) of fingerprints that I can judge pretty quickly if a bad scan has any chance of getting better. Sometimes folks don't have a barcode on their passports, I know how to deal with that. Sometimes the scanned photo is terrible, I know who to pass that off to. Sometimes fingerprints are already in the database, and I know what to do with them. Is it confusing or difficult? Not at all. It's all quite mindless and I find myself on autopilot a good part of the morning. There are the folks who don't speak English and that can be a challenge, especially the older folks who will stand there repeating "Telugu" while I hold up a finger and try to get them to imitate me. Telugu is the local language of Andhra Pradesh, but I'm not asking for a conversation, just a finger on a red light. I even have an instruction sheet facing out that shows exactly what needs to be done. Yet I still hear "Telugu" and several times have had to ask the next person in line to assist.
Along with the relative drudgery, I get to see some fabulous saris and mehendi art. It's wedding season in Chennai, there are loads of newlyweds coming through.
School wise, we've already had our ups and downs in the first month. An e-mail came home about Nicholas. He was throwing rocks into the school pool. While there was a class in the pool. He said he was bored, so we gave him a book to read if there's no one to play with on the playground. He's doing well with the first Harry Potter book. It's slow but he's into the second chapter. Katherine has had some issues with the other girls in 6th grade. That ebbs and flows with the day though. I've had a miniconference with Jonathon's teacher. She likes him but some of his reactions need fine-tuning. Even if he doesn't want to sing "Down by the Bay" he can't make a huge deal of it and act nutty. Easier said than done for that boy.
And SAISA. We made the decision for Katherine that she won't go to Colombo. I watched her time trials on Saturday and she had a difficult time, just with her own teammates in her own pool. She's not ready to take on the pressure of an international meet. She became teary when we told her, but there was no anger and I definitely felt her disappointment and relief. If she wants to do this, she'll continue training the rest of the year and give it another go next fall. But then she says she wants to do volleyball which is in the fall too. We'll see what really happens.