Monday, March 26, 2007


Job: Animal Shelter Owner (a vet has all those medical things to do)... Artist... a really good Tennis Player
Place to Live: Iceland (by the mountains)... Virginia (a year on the beach)... Wisconsin (cheese!)
No. of Kids: 1 or 2
Job: Fisherman... Artist... Animal Shelter Owner (hey, he can work with Rebecca!)
Place to Live: Togo (after some persuasion he swtiched to Iceland)
Job: Artist (drawer, to be exact)... Soldier... and a Dad
Place to Live: Virginia... Togo... Iceland
Job: Actress (I could totally see this)... Veterinarian (she can be Rebecca's vet!)... Diplomat (just like dad)
Place to Live: a few years in the United States
No. of Kids: A few
Updates TBA

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Diplomats in Iraq

Behind the scenes and not seen on TV.

Diplomats under stress in the hot spots of the world.

GE Light the Way

In my Easter edition of Family Fun magazine (thanks mom!) there's a coupon for $1 off a GE CFL light. If you get Country Home magazine, you'll get one too. Check your Sunday paper and coupon sections if you don't receive either of these magazines.

At the GE Light the Way website, you can register for a sweepstakes they're holding, with Grand Prize of $5000 and 1st Prize of $2500. The intent is for the winners to make their homes more energy efficient. Oh, and you'll get a coupon for a CFL bulb just for registering too. Go ahead, join in...

"Harry" goes Green

Monday, March 19, 2007

It wasn't the Ants

Jonathon was home last Thursday after puking his dinner. I thought, and he thought, it was "too much corn." Ian was in bed all day Sunday after spending the night puking. I thought it was the ants in the peanut butter. (Don't ask.) Today, Nicholas will be home after spending the night puking.

At least they're being courteous and going one by one.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Luck Ran Out?

As I sit here after an uncomfortable second night with an aching ear and half a sore throat (the side attached to the ear)...

...and the computer is acting wonky with its volume settings, I have Jonathon home all day after he threw up all over his bed last night... then couldn't get comfortable on his nap mat.... then woke up his brother.... *yawn* Is today over yet? Nope, it's lunch time.
We had a good streak of everyone healthy. Back to square one.
Jonathon's scratches and bites are healing well, all but one that is a little too red for my liking. On Tuesday, there was an altercation between Lucy mama cat and my kid. He was up before everyone and down in the cat room, petting them and most likely getting into their little kitty faces. Lucy had taken to nipping at our ankles or arms when we weren't paying her enough attention, or if we touched too close to her swollen belly, and she plays pretty fierce with her kittens. While I snoozed, Lucy got her point across by digging in to Jonathon. He sports a hefty number of scratches on one butt cheek, a few sprinkled on his tummy, some good sized gashes on one arm, and an extended bite on his right leg. He went off to school wrapped in gauze and bandages and sat out of swimming yesterday. I called the family who are taking in Lucy and they offered to take her that night.
Lucy is a sweet cat, practically still a kitten herself at about a year old. But she's also pregnant again, and in our house we have three kittens of hers who are constantly bugging her. She has jealousy issues mixed with the protective instinct. Hormonally, she's a mess. So our neighbors took her in, which was not well received by their current cat. Lucy owns wherever she lives and Misha didn't appreciate that in the least. But it seems that 36 hours later they have drawn a truce. Lucy is doing well in her new home, enjoying the calm and full attention of the people she lives with. It was a good decision. Rebecca had a bad night the day Lucy left, and I think she's still angry with me, but she'll recover. The poor kid has given up or lost a lot in the pet realm over the past 6 months.
The three that stayed with us are doing fine. Well, the two black ones are friendly and playful, but the striped/spotted one is still a little wild. Any surprise move on our part brings a hiss and a swipe of the claws. Not pleasant in the least, and after nearly three weeks I'm getting rather tired of it. I don't know how much longer to put up with that, honestly, but I do know that Rebecca would be devastated if somehow Tikka found a new home.
Now we keep watch to see if new kittens appear anytime in the next 4 weeks from Lucy. I feel like I've become cat lady.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A lesson in numerology

Numerology is very important to many people in India, particularly South India. People take letters and convert them to numbers, then the sum is either lucky or unlucky. So it's not at all uncommon for Indians to change their name -- sometimes even just adding a letter -- for a more "auspicious" sum. It makes security namechecks real fun. But that's not what I learned today...

I do all the appointment scheduling for visas here in Chennai, one of the busiest non-immigrant sections in the world. We interview anywhere from 1400 to 1800 applicants per day, depending on the day. So I plug in how many we plan to do of each category per 15-minute period, then applicants make their appointments online. This has a big effect on workload, so I keep an eye on it several times a day.
A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that one day just wasn't being taken nearly as much as others. This Tuesday. So I began to joke that it was an "inauspicious day" for visas. It turns out that although we opened up 1400 appointments, only about 900 were taken. Now although we have high availability, we don't normally have that disparity.
Today I mention the inauspiciousness to someone, and one of our Indian local staff hears me. "Well," he said, "it's Tuesday." And? "It's Tuesday, and it's the 13th. It's unlucky."
Of course it is.
This fall our Blog will have been around for more than 5 years. I've actually kept an on-line journal since Katherine was a baby, so our internet presence is going on 10 years now. That's a little freaky in a cool sort of way.

What I've thoroughly enjoyed since moving overseas is the number of folks I've "met" through our journal. More and more of them have become bona fide friends, people I know and hang out with and they end up where ever we happen to be. It used to consist only of Foreign Service folk who would write asking about postings. Now, the Foreign Service percentage has dropped as I correspond with people moving to Chennai with Caterpillar, teachers heading to AISC and other expats from around the world.

There's a danger to putting your life on-line for anyone to read. But so far, I've found the positives to be worth the risk. After all, even a year ago there were more than 50 million blogs worldwide, whereas when we started there were just a few thousand to cause trouble. They weren't called blogs way back then either. Just musings put out for whoever was around to read them, not so different from today, but way less commercial and definitely less "glitzy." Not that our site is glitzy, but you get my meaning.

Just saying, it's good to be here.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Guardian put out a 100 Must Read books list. I can use it as a guideline at least, though I've read a good chunk of them.

1 Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen (I have it, I keep meaning to read it)
2 The Lord of the Rings JRR Tolkien (I've read through 1/2 the trilogy)
3 Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte

4 Harry Potter series JK Rowling

5 To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations Charles Dickens
11 Little Women Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the d'Urbervilles Thomas Hardy
13 Catch-22 Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare William Shakespeare
15 Rebecca Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit JRR Tolkien

17 Birdsong Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveler's Wife Audrey Niffenegger

20 Middlemarch George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby F Scott Fitzgerald

23 Bleak House Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows Kenneth Grahame

31 Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia CS Lewis

34 Emma Jane Austen
35 Persuasion Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini

38 Captain Corelli's Mandolin Louis de Bernières
39 Memoirs of a Geisha Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh AA Milne
41 Animal Farm George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code Dan Brown

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez (My first dip into this author is Love in the Time of Cholera, haven't finished it yet)
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney John Irving
45 The Woman in White Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid's Tale Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies William Golding
50 Atonement Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi Yann Martel (I started this one and just couldn't finish it)
52 Dune Frank Herbert (Bought it recently, read the first page... I'll go back to it sometime)
53 Cold Comfort Farm Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera Gabriel Garcia Marquez (oh yeah.. reading this one now)
61 Of Mice and Men John Steinbeck

62 Lolita Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones's Diary Helen Fielding
69 Midnight's Children Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist Charles Dickens
72 Dracula Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple Alice Walker (I tried to read this one)
84 The Remains of the Day Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert (Read it in French in High School)
86 A Fine Balance Rohinton Mistry (reading it now)
87 Charlotte's Web EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven Mitch Alborn

89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince Antoine de Saint-Exupery

93 The Wasp Factory Iain Banks
94 Watership Down Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Roald Dahl
100 Les Misérables Victor Hugo (Have had it for years, never sat down to read it)

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Thanks to Shawn who pointed out this bit from the Economist (in an issue we haven't received yet, drat) about the changing nature of diplomatic service from all nations with regards to families.

Old-school diplomats had loyal, long-suffering wives. Not any more.

The Native American study day on Saturday went well. We all congregated next door and lightly covered the six tribes chosen by the Virginia Standards of Learning tests. Since the kids did the state and people presentations last time, a mere two weeks ago, this time the parents pulled together information and crafts. I did the Powhatans from where else, Virginia. I'm thinking I really want to get down to Jamestown the next time we're home.

I forgot the camera again. That was a bummer since the kids did great jobs on all their projects. For the Powhatans, we made dugout cucumber canoes. If I had to do it over again, I would have put every piece together and had them build it while I talked. As it was, 20 minutes wasn't long enough for each of the three groups (PreK-1st, 2nd&3rd, 4th&5th) to finish up. But that was OK, they turned out pretty good anyway. They seeded the cucumbers then stuck in popsicle stick seats, a straw mast and paper sail, some felt fish on a line, a felt skin and a bag of grains. Next time (next time!?), I'll have the mast and sail put together and the sail will have the tribe name on it. Having the kids weave the sail onto the straw with twine was too hard even for the oldest group.
The other parents did Inuit sugar cube igloos, Pueblo pots, Kwakiutl totem poles, Sioux shields and something by the Iroquois I forget. I'm always amazed by the creativity of the parents here. Our CLO, who organizes these shindigs, tosses out the groups and the parents run with them. It's really cool how it all comes together. We even had a "Native American" lunch, with fish sticks, fried potatoes, veg stew, fry bread, a sweet and peppermint tea. After all was said and done, the Inuit leader passed out "whale blubber" known to the rest of us as vanilla ice cream. Didn't I mention we were creative?
Next on the agenda is Explorers. I've already put in for Lewis and Clark. They were cool. But I have a feeling the Explorers meant were the ones who arrived on the North American shores, like Ponce De Leon. He would be neat too, him and his search for the Fountain of Youth, and the founding of the first settlement, Saint Augustine in Florida. Hmm, I think that's right.
I have to admit I'm having a great time with these projects and presentations. And I'm learning quite a bit too. Rebecca was so proud of her Virginia poster it's up in her room, just like Nicholas's Thomas Jefferson poster.
After we disbanded the Native American gathering, Jonathon and I took off with the neighbors to check out a gymnastics program. They have already registered their 5 year old, but I wanted to see what it was all about. No floor routines, no pommel horse, no rings, but akin to gym clubs back home with things to walk across and climb on and bounce over. Jonathon had a great time and wants to go back. For a year, it breaks down to about $4/class which isn't at all bad. I just haven't decided if it's something I want to do seeing as the instructors were a little clueless and not paying attention to basic safety measures, like one kid on an apparatus at a time.
Sunday, I slept in too late, and we missed church. That was a bummer. We attend the last Sunday morning Mass in English at 9:30, anywhere in Chennai. There are evening options, but not at the church we're accustomed to, and driving in the dark around Chennai to someplace we don't know, without drivers' licenses even = bad idea. I think this coming Sunday we'll check out a different church. The Sunday morning service is earlier, at 8:45. It means getting up earlier, but it also means less traffic.
We went to Cappuccino for lunch, then all three boys had haircuts. They look dashing. In the afternoon Rebecca and Nicholas had a make-up tennis lesson, and after the kids went to bed we caught up another episode of Battlestar Galactica. Don't snicker, if you gave it half a chance, you'd like it too. We received Season 2 of House last week, so once all the current TV shows go on break, we have something fun to watch. I catch an hour of TV a day just to keep up with the shows we like... Battlestar, Lost, Amazing Race, Survivor, American Idol (I cannot wait until it's back to a normal schedule, who thought 3 nights a week was palatable for anyone?), and Heroes. I'll admit that often it feels like way too much anyway.
What have I read lately and what am I reading now? I finished up The Stand, even better the second time around. I'm practically done with Little Women and Becoming Charlemagne. I've started Love in the Time of Cholera and A Fine Balance. So far, I'm unimpressed with the Cholera book and A Fine Balance has really caught my interest. It's set in India, so that probably helps.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Busy Busy

Not an exciting day, but we were quite busy anyhow.

9-10 a.m. the girls had piano lessons
10:30-11:30a.m. make fry bread
12-3p.m. USA Fun Day - native Americans
4-5:30 gymnasics for Jonathon
6-8 pizza and Amazing Race/Survivor/No Reservations

Nothing was hard, but I'm still tired. Bath time! Bed time!

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Additional Notes on Dizzy World

Cause there's never too much to know when visiting someplace in India.

Dizzy World opens at either 10 or 10:30 a.m. We never did figure out which. But the park remains sleepy until about 11.
School is in session in Chennai from Monday through Saturday. Therefore, going on a Saturday does not avoid the busloads of school children.
There is an entrance fee of Rs230 per child and I think it was Rs300 per adult. That is the basic fee. If you are entertaining the idea of adding the waterpark, it ran a little more, something like Rs360 per adult.
We saw the waterpark in Marry World. Well, we saw -a- waterpark. It was filled with school boys. Not a girl to be seen. No one monitoring it either from what we could tell. And no dress code. Boys ran the gamut from just a t-shirt (no bottoms), to full school uniform. In the water. I'd heard rumors that the water was green. Seems someone informed them that green water was bad and it's now so chemicaled that you can smell that instead.
Now that I think about it, that must have been the little kids water park. I recall seeing somewhere that Dizzy World had a wave pool and water slides. We didn't see them. Probably for the best.
Outside food is officially forbidden in the park. This rule is ignored. It's a good thing too, with most of the concession stands empty, the open ones offering drinks and ice cream, and two restaurants on the premises: Chinese with a/c and Indian outside. We saw a single table filled at the Indian place, and didn't peek into the Chinese one. At lunchtime, the walkways were filled with school groups hunkering down to eat their packed lunches. Rice littered the sidewalks like those little piles you see in your Roller Coaster Tycoon parks.
There are two roller coasters at the park. One is reminiscent of the mouse: individual cars that go on a high but relatively short ride. Ian noted that as the mouse car was climbing to the top it made a rather sickly clunking sound, not the usual *chink*chink*chink*chink* you would normally hear from a coaster chain. The other coaster, called The Roller Coaster was actually originally from an amusement park in Ohio, and was formerly called The Corkscrew. It was "under maintenance" when we visited. That was probably for the best too.
Wear a hat. Wear sunscreen. Bring water. Bring a smile and patience and realize that this too is part of Incredible India.

Monday, March 5, 2007

No Really, What do YOU Think?

Yes, a new format. I know what I think. What do you think?

And since I really don't want to talk about it, here are other things I'll blather on about. Just so I can ignore the elephant in the room.
Skyline Chili. The Valentine's gift I ordered for Ian came way late. But we opened up a can of Skyline chili, poured it over some spaghetti, topped it with shredded cheddar and oyster crackers and chowed down. The boys were baffled by it. Rebecca didn't know if she liked it or not. Katherine ate it because she eats everything. Next time, some beans and chopped onions. For $40, the 4 cans, 8 peppermint patties and 1 box of oyster crackers was a total rip-off. But for the little blast from Cincinnati, it was well worth it.
Dizzy World. It was what it was. What it wasn't was DiSNEy World. Or even Enchanted Kingdon in Alabang, Philippines. No, Dizzy World is where condemned rides go to die. Pathways bordered by horror flick worthy buildings, complete with broken windows and exposed wiring. Shells of concession stands. Rides, working or not, surrounded by cast-off pieces and broken parts. Rides that spun in a circle or a circle within a circle (aka, a spider, or the teacups). Rides that spun in circles near the ground, rides that spun high off the ground. A swing ride, raised 15 feet off the ground, spun an additional 10 feet higher, spun so fast and spun so long, we pulled our physics knowledge together to see how far indeed we would fly should one of the chains snap.
The park is broken into 3 areas we could define. There was no handy map of the grounds so it's more a wandering experiment. The front section with carousels, the swing, a spider, a train that made a tight oval, a small arcade. Marry World for kids, with the hit of the entire day: bumper cars for the small set. The kind of cars where a side hit recalled memories of the Suzuki Sidekick safety warnings. More than once we spotted the underside of the rubber base. Marry World also was home to all the kid rides that go in circles. Fly a plane... ride a dragon... drive a car... one after the other. One functioning, or at least one with someone to press the green button. And then the big kid section, with the boat that swings back and forth, the twin boat things that swing opposite directions until they are held straight up so everyone is upside down, big bumper cars, additional spinning rides. If it's not completely obvious yet, I'm not a big amusement park ride person. I know these all have names, something like Ship of Death, but I don't know them. I know everyone understands what I'm talking about though.
There is a definite method to the park's functioning. When rides worked, they run when someone a) expresseds an interest in riding them and/or b) when someone happens to man the booth to push the green button. The latter depends on which ride is currently already operating and whether that button pusher is also responsible for a different attraction. We were lucky with the bumper cars, all 2 1/2 times the kids used them, they were the only kids there. Where did the 1/2 come from? Twice, a lady was there. The last time, the ride was empty (again), but the lady wasn't there. Ian hopped the gate to see how difficult it was control and learned... green button:On, red button:Off. Simple enough, the kids took the cars, Ian pressed green and they were off. But then a pack of school kids poured in, hopped the fence and ran all over the bumper car field. And the lady came back. We grabbed our kids and backed away quickly.
So what does Ian's foray into amusement park management expose about Dizzy World? Complete chaos. The norm was gate hopping, people pouring off rides before they hardly slowed down much less stopped, rare safety checks to see if doors were closed or bars down, folks standing on rides... you get the picture.
But there was a strict adherence to park wrist bands. Child bands could only go on child rides, adult bands could only go on adult rides. Anyone over 4'4" was an adult which pleased Katherine at first. And there was strict adherence to the unwritten rule that everyone had to leave a ride upon its completion. So when the kids went on the Carousel, and were the only kids on it, and there was no one in line, they had to get off. And they couldn't go again, not right away at least. I guess it was to give the operator a break after hitting the green button -and- the red button.
Katherine was bummed. She had an adult wrist band, and she couldn't go on the kid rides. No little bumper cars for her. We wouldn't let her on most of the death trap adult rides and the adult bumper cars only allowed one turn. That's a surefire way to cut down on demand. Never mind there were only 4 functioning cars anyway, and for as obnoxious as Indians are while driving real cars on actual highways, at the park they nearly killed themselves with courtesy. Practically apologizing for bumping someone. And most definitely avoiding any contact if at all possible. While our crew (us and the Feldmanns) were waiting our single turn, we watched in disbelief as folks took on bumper cars like a Sunday drive. Our guys showed them how to do it right, I felt a little bad for the one car that wasn't from our group, but the sparks were flying and plenty of bumping went on.
I guess I can't finish up without mention the decor. Decor isn't the right word though. The ambiance? The "Je ne sais quoi"? It's moderately forgiveable for Chennai to have a lousy amusement park. It's even kind of understandable how it's run like any other Indian business. What I don't get was the use of blowtorched, reminiscent of Terminator, manequins sprinkled around the park as decoration. I kid you not. And while I could try to describe them, a picture is truly worth 1000 words.
So you'll just have to wait until I get the pictures up.
Cats: Tikka the tiger has finally decided not to hiss every time someone comes near him. Tandoori is a nutcase, the most playful and curious about everything. Masala is a little more reserved but not by much. Lucy is getting fat. We've opened up the living room to them for a few hours a day, but four cats is a lot to have running around. Everywhere we look there's a cat. I think three will be our limit. But if Lucy has another litter, I'll be curious to see which three we end up with.

Friday, March 2, 2007

So, I took the "What Country Are You?" quiz...

And guess what...

You're Vatican City!

You're pretty sure that you're infallible in all that you do or say, and
it's hard to say whether you're right.  You have a lot of followers, most of whom will
do whatever you say without question, or line up to see you ride around in your spiffy car.
 Religious and reserved, you have some wisdom, but also a bit much contempt for
everyone around you.  You're also fabulously wealthy, no matter what you say to
the contrary.

Take the Country Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid

At first I didn't quite know how to react, so I did the usual... I took the quiz again, this time changing the spicy food answer. A couple more changes and I ended up with Brazil once and Fiji once. Both of those are a big old NO. So, I guess Vatican City it is.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

MGM Dizzy World

Well, MGM Dizzee World is in our plans for tomorrow. But then I read this review of how the park is run and am thinking... well, what is it I'm thinking? I'm thinking this won't be too unlike Enchanted Kingdom in Manila, and we'll just keep an eye on things.

It's only 24km away, if it's miserable we'll just come home. But who wants to miss meeting Jack and Jill? I'll do all my eye-rolling now so tomorrow the kids can just enjoy themselves.