Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What's Been Going On

Not much. A lot of little odds and ends.

Katherine will play the flute in the Middle School Band next year. She is so excited. I've never played the flute, so I'll be interested to learn some right along with her.
I bought new shoes from Metro. Two pairs of black shoes, when I went in for sandals. I tossed my old pair of black shoes, so I'm only up one.
I'm cleaning out house again. Too much crap is piling up. Ian and I cleaned up the toy room on Monday and the housekeeper swept and mopped and pounded the carpets. It looks good in there now. Rebecca went through her clothes and pulled out a bunch to give away. I went through our school books and passed on some we don't need anymore. Our den is hopeless, I'm going to have to accept that I think. It's where we spend the most time and a cleaning only lasts a few hours. But with the party on Saturday the main floor needs to be cleaned up thoroughly, Katherine's room in particular. It'll be the main bathroom used too.
We dropped off our cat-mutilated carpet where we bought it. Next week it should be back, repaired.
For our anniversary we bought a curio cabinet and a lazboy chair. Both are lovely and both were delivered right when we were told they would. Amazing.
Rebecca has packed her suitcase. The girls leave in 7 days.
We're on a hunt for a new driver. After asking for a Rs10,000 loan (after he JUST finished paying back, and complaining about paying, a Rs2000 loan from January), he nearly had a huge accident on a major road, crossing 4 lanes of traffic on a red light with oncoming buses and trucks. The following day he asked for the loan again. Since then, he's just irritated me. Well, he's always irritated me, I've never really even liked him. In the past two weeks we had to point out that he's driving way too fast, seems like he's in a rush to get home. I've had to tell him not to tell my kids to open the back door of the house. He does this to let the gardener into our house to get water, which is so not acceptible on several levels.
Tomorrow I take the cats to the vet to get fixed. We've changed vets. Cross your fingers.
Tomorrow is supposed to be the 6th grade orientation. No idea the time but I hope it's before 1 p.m. so I can tag along. I'm helping out with the end of year parties. From 1:15 to 2:15 are water games with the K-2nd. From 2:15-3:15 is the 3rd-5th disco. I'm bringing a pan of brownies, 2 packages of cookies and a bag of chips. And my swimsuit and a towel.
Saturday we are hosting a party with our neighbors. With our three houses we have one for the kids with bouncy castles, face painting, kid movies, kid food, etc. Another for women... girlie stuff like manicures and jewelry for sale. Our house is the food place, with a biryani fire pit. Someone wants to have a roasted pig. I can just imagine. To say I'm not exactly excited about this is an understatement.
And lastly, my dad was readmitted to the hospital on Tuesday for repair surgery on his arm. All good thoughts and prayers for finally a full recovery.

Coming in 2009

Oh I'm so excited... a world for Harry Potter fans will start construction in a few weeks and open in 2009, complete with Hogwarts, Hogsmeade, the Hogwarts Express and a Forbidden Forest. So says BBC (just watched the entertainment report on it), and The Sun.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Before it Disappears

Check out the video on CNN about a hotel designed in a 15th century fort. That's Neemrana, where we stayed one night last fall. Beautiful, no?

I wish I could link to it, it's a little javascript pop-up and I can't figure it out, sorry.

Conservation-hoteliers Conservation-hoteliers
A 15th century Indian fort turns into a hotel, thanks to entrepreneurs

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

My Project

Have I told you how much I hate Halloween? The begging for candy, the making of costumes... I really dislike it all. We successfully avoided Halloween last year (much to my children's disappointment) with our trip up North. So what does the school do for Book Week? A character parade.

*bang head on wall*

But guess what. We did it. Character day is this Friday and we have plans for all the kids.
Katherine: Will be the American Girl Kit. From 1934, Kit wears nifty hats (check), pleated knee length skirts (check), a sweater top (check), and cute little shoes (we're going with sandals... work with me here).
Rebecca: Will be American Girl Felicity. In Colonial Williamsburg, Felicity wears an assortment of materials from cotton to silk. Rebecca will sport a long skirted, smocked dress, with a velvet elbow length half jacket. Stockings will help her swelter in our summer heat. Her head must be covered, and there was no bonnet in sight, so yours truly made one based on this Family Fun pattern. With extra time and a lack of white shoelaces, it turned out like this: (OK... eventually an image will be inserted here to show off my "masterpiece") Trust me, it's pretty nifty. Shoes are a problem, no black leather boots to be had.
Nicholas: Will be Jack from The Magic Treehouse. A borrowed pair of glasses from Katherine, a small backpack with his notebook, reference book and pencil, and he's set.
Jonathon: The knight from Tomie dePaola's The Knight and the Dragon. A helmet from Busch Gardens, a sword holder thing from the lego store, an "armor" shirt from London and he's good to go sans sword: no weapons allowed.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Middle School Band

Next year I have a middle schooler. And with that comes the painful Middle School Band.

Katherine brought a choice sheet home last Thursday. Ranking three preferred instruments she had these options: flute, clarinet, tuba, trombone, trumpet, tenor sax, french horn, alto sax, bass drum, and snare drum.

I'll put up her choices, but you all can guess first.


This child will be the death of me. After finally clearing up the issue with Jonathon stomping on another kid's backpack and thereby paying for a new one, I was pulled aside yesterday by his teacher and told we need to have a chat. When I interrogated Jonathon, seems he pushed a little girl off a pile of pillow cushions. His reasoning: no one is allowed to sit on all the cushions. How do I get it through his thick little skull that pushing her off wasn't the right response?? He honestly feels he had a duty to right her wrong, but didn't see his reaction as the wrong thing to do. Thank goodness there are only 3 weeks left of school. I told him if he can't respect his classmates then I'm putting him in preschool next year. Wow, that was a bad response on my part, wasn't it? Sadly, I was only 1/2 "kidding."

Sunday, May 20, 2007

How Not to Celebrate Your Anniversary

On Friday we celebrated 11 years of marriage, nearly 13 years together.

That's not the down part. Really.
Actually, Friday was great. Ian took the day off work so once we put the kids on the bus the day was ours. We left the house and spent money. Down the ECR is a store called Collections Unique, a source of antiques like so many places in Chennai. I had spotted a pretty little curio cabinet and wanted to show Ian, but new inventory arrived and while the curio was there, a different one caught our fancy. It should be delivered to the house on Wednesday.
On the way to lunch Ian spotted the billboard with the Laz-E-Boy (or however that's spelled) chair. We "discovered" the Stanley Boutique off Khaddar Nawaz Khan Rd. It's one of an assortment of shops selling high end products. Naturally Auroville is there for handcrafts and organic foods, Mermaids for swimwear and underthings, and Sports Locker among many others.
A comfy recliner will be delivered in a couple weeks.
The Peshawri restaurant in the Chola Sheraton was our lunch destination. Excellent north Indian food in a beautiful setting. I still don't care for mutton though.
The kids came home, packed their bags and went to the neighbors for a sleep-over. Wonderful people, our neighbors, who will house 4 kids in addition to their own two. Ian and I took advantage of our free night and checked in to the GRT Grand here in Chennai. Note to self: you know your anniversary is coming up, it's the same day every year, plan more than a week in advance.
Why we won't be returning to the GRT Grand:
1) One viewable English movie channel, and not a good one. Plenty of Tamil and Hindi, HBO was totally fuzzy, I suppose we could have watched rugby. Wait, we did. If you're going to put a pricey flat screen on the wall, bother having something to watch on it.
2) If the TV works that is. In a suite with 2 TVs, one worked. The den TV didn't turn on, then again, neither did the ceiling lights.
3) For a business hotel, the in-room computer should work. At the very least it should turn on.
4) For a 5-star hotel, the bathrooms should be updated. Including the tub. It shouldn't be a nasty gray thing, smaller than the one we have at home, with funky black stuff building around the jacuzzi jets. Not when you're in the themed "Rajasthan Room" which highlights its jacuzzi tub.
5) When the jacuzzi jets are turned on, the bathroom should not fill with the stench of sewage.
6) The covers on the bed should be washed. Not just the sheets. For $300+/night, the bed cover shold not have massive yellow stains and black streaks on the underside.
7) When something is ordered at a restaurant, that item should be delivered:
a) At the HighTime bar, cocktail samosas should show up in less than 30 minutes. Wait, we were there for an hour and they never showed. As we left, we asked that they get sent to the room.
b) At breakfast we each asked for a savory crepe. No crepes showed up, but one overly spicy omelet did. Someone didn't get their omelet.
8) For a 5 star hotel, they should figure out how to make -good- coffee.
I'm sure there are a few other niggly things, but that was the jist of our stay. I'm sure they do conferences just fine.
Even with the hotel disappointment, we had a great time together. Honestly, I love him more today than the day I married him. Looking back, I realize that I had a selfish love a decade ago, holding on to him because he loved me. Thankfully I've grown up quite a bit and I know that I love him for everything he is, not for what I am to him. It's a happy feeling. Our marriage could have failed many spots along the way, but it didn't. I hung on because failure isn't an option. He hung on out of love.
There's no way to repay that sort of devotion except to return it. Here's hoping I can become half the person he is already.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Photo Sharing

I'm late on this bandwagon but here's a go at making my photo uploading life easier.

The Mango-Poison Ivy connection

Did you know that the two are related?

I didn't. But I've learned now with the arrival of mango season in Chennai that Nicholas is sensitive to mangoes. I haven't determined yet if it's the skin or the flesh as I serve them up sliced off the seed with the skin still intact. They are quite messy for the kids this way but it saves my hands from getting all juiced up.
Nicholas has a rash on his face, under his mouth, along his chin and up his cheeks. We thought it might have something to do with Woof Woof, his mangy dog he carries around and rubs on his face (ew) but this morning after his breakfast (of mango...) a lightbulb went off. And no wonder cortizone isn't helping as he eats mangoes quite a bit now; each time he starts to heal he gets all juicy again.
From the Discovery Channel - Poison Ivy and Mango: "They're both in the cashew family, and both contain a substance called urushiol (yu-roosh'-ee-all). It's the poison in poison ivy, the cause of the blisters and itching. The mango contains much, much less of the irritant than poison ivy, but despite that, some very sensitive people can get a rash just from handling mango peel and being exposed to its sap. Luckily, more often than not, even sensitive people can enjoy the delectable fruit of the mango, provided someone else peels it for them."
He ate mangoes fine, as far as I can recall, in the Philippines and Togo but they had been peeled and cut up, so my bets are that the skin is at fault.
Looks like I need to get my hands dirty.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

My "smile muscles" hurt

Socializing is fun. But it's more exhausting.

A Day in Disarray
Friday was scheduled as a full day of swim-watching at school. All morning the K/1/2 classes were scheduled for noodle races and showing off their freestyle while the afternoon was a 3/4/5 mini-meet in all four strokes. The kids had practiced hard; my kids came home from swimming in P.E. and swimming in afterschool program, to continue swimming in the Consulate pool. Rebecca has a gorgeous freestyle, though she needs to work on her breathing. Katherine has taken on the butterfly. Nicholas likes the backstroke. Jonathon is managing a decent 5 year old freestyle himself. They were ready to take on the pool.
Only... the pool filter had failed overnight and the meet was canceled. Text messages flew between parents, multiple calls came in. There were more than a few disappointed kids and several disappointed parents.
So school went on as normal. Only the roads backed up, banners flew and someone noticed that the Prime Minister of Tamil Nadu was celebrating his 50th anniversary of service to his party. It's not like the anniversary came out of nowhere, the plans to have roads cleared at the same time an additional million people pour in from the rural areas was in the works well beforehand. At 11 a.m. I received the first call announcing the closing of the school. Closing at 12:30.
Granted the school has less than 500 kids, but some parents received the call at 12:10, and by then traffic on the roads was really slowing down and anyone who has used a carpool lane knows how long it can get. Reguarly, the elementary kids are released 25 minutes before the upper grades, that way they can get to afterschool programs or to their cars without being run over by kids twice their size. When there is an early release all the kids are released at once.
I made it with a few minutes to spare. It would have been easier to let the kids ride the bus, but Rebecca invited a friend for the afternoon and the friend wasn't allowed on the bus, so I picked them all up amidst the chaos.
The afternoon saw 10 kids in the house for lunch, along with my neighbors, followed by free play time and swimming. Come evening, Rebecca went off for a sleepover and Katherine had a friend stay over at our house.
I was just glad the day held no more surprises.
Yup, my Smile Muscles hurt.
So Saturday arrived. Piano lessons canceled, Katherine and her friend went swimming, I sent her home at 11 (she lives all of next door), and we waited for Rebecca to return. By 1:30 she was home and all the kids prepared for a photo shoot for a brochure for a new software product called Cyber School. I would link to it, but I can't find anything on-line about the product. Anyhow, it's software my neighbor has been working on (editing the content), and the brochure needed photos. So all the kids in our compound plust some others gathered and pretended they were in school. We hung around for 2 1/2 hours then returned home to change for an evening Going Away Party.
Two families are leaving, four adults who worked at the Consulate and their 7 kids between them. There must have been over 50 adults from all business walks around Chennai, plus their kids. I missed out on an easy opportunity to chat with the Head of the school, but I chatted enough anyway to have that achey face feeling after.
Then Sunday, Mother's Day, arrived. And all in all it was a good day. Church was hot but bearable, lunch at Zyng at CitiCentre was good, I got a new outfit at Lifestyle, and there was a spot of snooze time in the early afternoon. Jonathon had a birthday party to attend at 4 so we couldn't even attempt to see the sold out Spiderman movie. Instead, Ian took the wee one to the party and I brought the rest of the crew to the pool where three other families were also hanging out. It's plain too hot most days to just sit so I've spent more time in the water. Talking with the other two moms was good, but my hands rebelled from the long wet exposure and there's a painful eczema flare-up on my hands as payback.
Jonathon came home in a woefully cruddy mood from the party, insisting he had no fun and didn't get to play at all. What he meant was that even though they went to the playground and did crafty things, there was no free time to just play. He only rode on the ferris-go-round once, everything else was scheduled. By Sunday evening he was done being told what to do and where to be. He went to bed.
The rest of us followed shortly. Eventually we'll watch the latest Survivor, probably tonight since Amazing Race is done. But my goal for today is to get through photographing the 3rd graders at play and in art class, see the vet tonight and make a schedule for having the cats spayed and neutered, clean out the fridge of leftovers, and finish scrapping two more pages while Survivor is on. I think I can manage.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Do they think I'm completely stupid?

So yesterday Ian asked the driver to take the car to have its oil changed.

That confused the driver. "Sir, here we just fill it when it's low."
Yes, and here you use lawnmower engines to power your "road worthy" rickshaws. Let's not compare, OK?
So he took the car to motorpool. And came back with an "estimate." For an oil change, top off on coolant and an engine wash - Rs 4590. That's right, over $100.
Did I mention that we provided the oil filter from our stash? And that the driver said they were going to put in 15L of oil at Rs285 per liter (the exchange has dropped to Rs40=$1, so that's $7/L)? Oh, and I didn't ask for an engine wash, though I guess the coolant would be a good (and cheap) idea.
Back up a second... 15 LITERS of oil. Quick math... more than 4 GALLONS of oil. I know we have a big car, but what kind of idiot do these folks think I am? Quick check through the manual (cause, OK, I'll be honest, I don't really know how much oil a car typically takes but I'm pretty sure it's not enough to bathe in) and we find for our Sequoia: 6L for a complete oil change.
So today, the driver went off with 1/2 the amount of cash "estimated," a note with how much oil the car really takes, and directions to bring back change from the $60+.
How we miss Jiffy Lube.
FOLLOW-UP: So at 2 p.m. I returned from being "out." There was no car in the driveway, the car that had been gone since 9:30 this morning. But the driver had just returned from... somewhere. So I asked...
Where's the car?
It's at the service station, madame. And here are the bills for the oil change, coolant top-off and labor. Total equalled Rs2200, 7L of oil. Woohoo! Change! (that was me, not him)
But where's the car?
[The following is an abbreviated version of a much much longer discussion involving much confusion and repetition]
A cleaning, madame.
I didn't ask for a cleaning, what kind of cleaning?
Undercarriage wash and oil spray, another Rs500, madame. Salty air, madame.
I didn't ask for that, and I don't have Rs500 to give you for that.
But it's standard for all work vehicles, madame.
No, I don't think so, it's not what I asked for.
{add in additional back and forth as I learn the service work is not done at the Consulate but at a nearby service station, the car is still there, up on a platform and having its underbelly sprayed}
*call Ian*
*explain to Ian as I understood everything*
*hear Ian rant*
Would you like to talk to him?
No, I really don't want to, says Ian.
Ok, so can I pass the phone to him now?
OK, fine, says Ian.
*hear driver explain all again to Ian*
*phone gets passed back to me*
I'll go get the car, madame.
Thank you.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

How could I forget?

We went to Citi Centre mall on Saturday after the dentist and before the Rickshaw Challenge. Spiderman 3 just came out on Friday and a tyre company, CEAT, had a promotion in the main hall with a challenge - wrap some velcro on your arms and knees and try to climb a slope with velcro strips on it. We watched some 20something guys attempt it and fail pretty spectacularly. How hard could it be??

Katherine wanted to try. After watching a bit I encouraged her to approach the guy with a clipboard and ask for a turn. I stepped back to watch until she truned back crestfallen.
The answer was No, and the reason? Oh, you'll love this: she's a girl. We went out to the car all the while muttering how unfair it was. But as we started up the car and began to pull out I got more and more agitated about this stupid reason. Here's where Ian turns into SuperDad. I poked Ian and asked him to take Katherine back in there and make them let her try. OK, not my finest moment, but you get what I was after. We battle to have our kids understand that anything is possible, any door is open to them, and some company like CEAT is going to tell our kid they can't do something because she's a girl? What kind of message is that? Ugh.
So, Ian... sorry, SuperDad... brought Katherine back in. He went up to Clipboard Guy and said to give her a chance. He heard again, she was a girl, not allowed. Clipboard Guy's manager came over and said Nope, no girls. SuperDad asked to see the rules (rules?) that say so. Manager Guy backtracked and said SuperDad would have to sign a release. OK then, release in hand, Katherine started getting outfitted. Manager Guy called his Big Boss Manager. Big Boss Manager said No, that girls were not CEAT's target clients. SuperDad states that women buy tires too. This time, the rules were amended... boys only. And only boys 18-40 years old. So said Big Boss Manager.
Girl with the microphone who was helping Katherine get ready was very confused, and was told to make an announcement that no one under 18 could participate, and of course... men only. I'm sure there was a collective groan among the teens standing around waiting for their turn.
SuperDad brought his flexible, agile and very capable girl back to the car. She was upset and rightly so for how they treated her. What great PR it would have been if they had let her even attempt the challenge. Fact is, she would have made it to the top, a whopping 7' high. And she would have made all those macho guys look bad.
Hmm, yes, perhaps that was the real reason after all?

Last week was an interesting week

Bits and Bobs.

~The vet had us deworm our cats. They are 4 months old, and one is significantly smaller than the other two. The pills we were given were huge for people so I crushed and mixed with wet cat food. Being cats, they decided to go hungry instead. I locked them in separate rooms with tiny bowls of food as their only diversion. No go. I figure each ate about 1/2 what they were given, so next week we get to go through this again, but I think we'll be shoving it whole and hoping they don't choke. The cats are clawed, so that should be fun. They need to be fixed ASAP as well. With two males in the house, we're having things "marked" and I'm way past being tolerant of that.
~My search for CFLs for Consulate housing continues. I made it to a shop on Eldams Road that did have Philips warm white 23W lights with bayonet fittings, great for the standard housing fixtures. The lamps in the houses are all American standard screw base, so while I did find some generic brand of warm white screw base lights, they were not the tornado version, so they are too tall to fit under a standard lamp shade. The search continues.
There is a concern over proper disposal of spent fluorescent lights. CFLs contain mercury that is poisonous, so dumping the lights in the trash and having them crushed is not exactly a healthy option. If you're in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida, California, Georgia, Massachesetts or the rest of New England, check out the AERC website to find your local recycling solutions. Hey, you're not supposed to dump car oil down the drain (bring it to your local car shop, Pep Boys, dealership...) or throw batteries in the trash either (check out for recycling spots), so this is just another step in your monthly recycling circuit.
~I went to the orthodontist on Saturday morning. With hopes of greater options than 15 years ago when I went with my mom to the ortho, I was disappointed to learn that because of the shape of my mouth and where the bones are, surgery is still my only realistic option for fixing the overbite. With a 7mm space, just braces will only pull them 1-2mm back, my upper teeth are too near the surface of the gum to pull back any further as they'd loosen from the bone. It's not that my teeth are all wacky, it's that my jaws are out of line. I can have bones broken up, put back together, teeth yanked, braces put on and face the next 2 1/2 years in pain. Or I can suck it up and accept that my mouth is simply like this. Even the ortho agreed that while surgery was the best option, it was not a good option. I'm guessing that even when I have a mouth full of dentures, it'll all look the same. Oh well.
~IOWA tests. What is the purpose of IOWA testing? I've heard that there are kickbacks/bonuses/penalties to a school or teacher depending on the students' scores, but for a school like AISC, what does the IOWA test mean, if anything, to the school? And if it doesn't mean anything to the school, what does it mean for the kids?
Here's what it says from the ITBS website, and I'll pick the Grade Equivalent scoring just as an example:
Grade Equivalent (GE)
The grade equivalent is a number that describes a student's location on an achievement continuum. The continuum is a number line that describes the lowest level of knowledge or skill on one end (lowest numbers) and the highest level of development on the other end (highest numbers). The GE is a decimal number that describes performance in terms of grade level and months. For example, if a sixth-grade student obtains a GE of 8.4 on the Vocabulary test, his score is like the one a typical student finishing the fourth month of eighth grade would likely get on the Vocabulary test. The GE of a given raw score on any test indicates the grade level at which the typical student makes this raw score. The digits to the left of the decimal point represent the grade and those to the right represent the month within that grade.
Grade equivalents are particularly useful and convenient for measuring individual growth from one year to the next and for estimating a student's developmental status in terms of grade level. But GEs have been criticized because they are sometimes misused or are thought to be easily misinterpreted. One point of confusion involves the issue of whether the GE indicates the grade level in which a student should be placed. For example, if a fourth-grade student earns a GE of 6.2 on a fourth-grade reading test, should she be moved to the sixth grade? Obviously the student's developmental level in reading is high relative to her fourth-grade peers, but the test results supply no information about how she would handle the material normally read by students in the early months of sixth grade. Thus, the GE only estimates a student's developmental level; it does not provide a prescription for grade placement. A GE that is much higher or lower than the student's grade level is mainly a sign of exceptional performance.
In sum, all test scores, no matter which type they are or which test they are from, are subject to misinterpretation and misuse. All have limitations or weaknesses that are exaggerated through improper score use. The key is to choose the type of score that will most appropriately allow you to accomplish your purposes for testing. Grade equivalents are particularly suited to estimating a student's developmental status or year-to-year growth. They are particularly ill-suited to identifying a student's standing within a group or to diagnosing areas of relative strength and weakness.
(Emphasis added by me.)
I have an e-mail in to the school counselor, just waiting for a reply, to hear her input on the "purposes for testing." If I have a kid who seriously excels, or not, what is the next step? Or is there a next step?

Saturday, May 5, 2007


Day 7, church day, day of rest - Sunday is all of these.

We'll make it to church at noon today. The heat will be excessive but there's no way to get Ian up right now, even though it's 9:10 in the morning. We'd have to be in the car, oh, right now. Just not happening. Jonathon put in his library pick for the week, Land Before Time 2, and we'll do the "day of rest" bit right now.
Poker and Rickshaws.
Poker night on Friday lasted until midnight. Ian was one of twelve players, split between two tables, and ended the evening at third place. I heard all about how the cards just didn't come through for him. Uh huh. Over Chez Nous, kids congregated for the four hours of play while a few moms hung out in the living room chatting away. Weird Al's DVD of classic videos arrived in the mail and kept the 11 monsters occupied for well over an hour while Nicholas and I roasted some marshmallows to share, and popcorn littered the carpet. The kids are always asking to play Harry Potter Scene It, so they played with their friends until after 10. At the end we had two left playing XBox360 Lego Star Wars. Everyone crashed hard at midnight.
Last night we participated in the 2007 Chennai Rickshaw Scavenger Hunt Challenge. Armed with a list of clues, we found an autorickshaw and the driver even spoke moderately good English. Driving all over town in 90+F heat, with 1/2 a backside hanging out the "window" is something everyone should do. Just once. We had items to find - from figuring out George H.W. Bush's talking point (the Thousand Lights mosque) to the statue of Gandhi at the beach, and challenges to complete like playing cricket with the boys on the beach and crashing a wedding. Everything was proven by digital photo of the team members (and for more points the auto driver). Some were physically easy but hard to track down - the "One Family, One Child"/"We Two, Us One" written on the backs of trucks as India's answer to the population issue. Some were easy to find but more difficult to complete - how do you get a traffic cop to let you direct traffic with him? Some we never figured out - a restaurant where you don't want to step on crabs? And some we just made up as we went along. A hug from the Prime Minister would have won us the race but like all the teams we chose to stage a hug with a billboard picture. Unfortunately we chose to to do in front of the Secretariat and incurred the wrath of a frightening woman with a walkie talkie.
The Burning Rubbers (use your imagination on what our "costume" was) returned sweaty, dirty, with the smell of exhaust in our hair. But we all looked and felt about the same. Nope, we didn't win as some of the task locations were closed by the time we arrived and others had planned better, but we had a good time and Brian got the number of the auto driver. He was quite patient driving us all over for three straight hours and pulling over at the drop of a hat. Our highlight was getting caught in a wedding procession. We may not have a photo of one of our grubby selves with the bride and groom but we did get a groom parading in on his horse surrounded by turbanned men and followed by women in all their finery. That and eating a snack on the beach. MMmmmm.
The worst part was the pre-race tequila shot. It was Cinco de Mayo so tequila is part and parcel of a party. I've never taken a shot of anything before and will avoid doing so in the future. Lick salt? Nasty. Tequila, gross and painful. The lime was the best part, I could have eaten a bowl of limes. Sparky's food for dinner wasn't bad either, and we all watched slide shows of our photo captures while munching tacos and enchiladas.
Our weekend. What did you do this weekend?

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Kids Took Me to Work Instead

Tuesday was the Consulate "Take Your Kid to Work Day."

It was more "The Kids will Go to the Office Building and Spend About 40 Minutes with You While Someone Else Keeps Them Busy for the Other 4 Hours." I was one of those Someone Elses. And my group of "The Kids" were eleven 5-6year olds. The Red Group.
It wasn't exhausting, closer to herding cats. I lost a boy at one point when groups were crossing in the halls. He was returned, but only after another decided to pee on the Consulate lawn. That was in the first 10 minutes. I think Ian had a longer day than I did with Katherine's age group (Blue) hanging with parents in one time slot, Rebecca's (White) in another, and the boys in the third. Nicholas and Jonathon saw their passport photos on the computer, had a photocopy taken of their hands and walked by the interview windows. Fifteen minutes was more than enough for them. The girls were able to sit and watch some interviews from the sidelines (and out of sight for the most part, not up in the window!).
When my group wasn't with parents we visited the library to make bookmarks, held a DVC (digital video conference) with the Blue group, made collages of their interests and future careers, and were weighed and measured by Nurse Tammy in the Clinic.
By noon I was so ready for pizza, a drink and a ride home. The kids had a good time so it was worth it, but I'm not sure I'll volunteer next year!

A Week since the last entry??

I'm sitting at home, no housekeeper (she's out all week), no driver (he's out all week), no kids (still school time, even if the local kids are on summer break), no where to be (finally). The dishes are done, the laundry is as caught up as it's going to be at the moment, the dining table is clear and relatively clean, even the den can be walked through. True, I still have about a thousand shirts to iron and my scrapbook is begging to be worked on, but here I sit, enjoying the quiet. Even the cats quit meowing for once. And it looks like it might rain. Perhaps I'll go for a nap.

But not just yet. First I want to put down all the things that we've been up to.
Friday, Ian had work in Cochin, Kerala, the state to the west of Tamil Nadu and one of the four south Indian states that are part of Chennai's Consular district (the other two are Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.) He had meetings to attend and talks to give so the kids and I tagged along for a much needed break outside of Chennai.
There are real benefits to traveling this way for weekend jaunts. The hotel is arranged by the travel office. Car pick-ups to and from home, to and from hotel are arranged, the airline tickets are arranged. All we have to do is pay for my portion and the kids' portions. Once checked in and Ian spirited off to his first obligation, the kids and I have a day to do nothing or everything. This time, they swam all morning in the forever pool, had a poolside lunch, made spa appointments for Saturday morning, napped in the afternoon (a side effect of waking at 4 a.m. to catch a 6:30 flight), shopped in the hotel gift shops, watched fishermen bring in their catch from the sunset cruise, learned a bit about Kathakali (kaht-KAH-lee) performance, and had dinner in the Rice Boat restaurant.
What's not to enjoy?
The Taj Malabar hotel is right at the tip of Willingdon Island, where three rivers meet and pour out into the Arabian Sea. It's a shipping lane, so cruise ships and cargo ships pass while ferries and fishing boats scoot around and canoes avoid sinking by the larger vessels. There's always something to watch. Our second floor balcony allowed a view of the dolphins at midday and a fantastic lightning show at dusk. Within our executive suite, they crammed an additional two twin beds, kept the fruit&cookies&chocolates stocked and had the most gorgeous bathroom. Katherine wanted to keep the flat screen hanging plasma TV. I just wanted the tub.
The kids spent much of the weekend swimming. A forever pool is built so the water appears to continue out to the sea, a trick of the eye and relaxing to sit by. On Saturday morning the girls dried off enough to have a manicure (Becca) and a pedicure (Katherine) after I'd completed my facial. When I look up such treats at spas in the U.S. I wonder how they can charge the prices they do.
We didn't say overnight on a kettuvallam, a Kerala houseboat, nor did we take a day long tour of the backwaters by houseboat. We scheduled a half day backwater tour by canoe, that brought us to a village home to make rope from coconut fibers, a canal boat ride through coconut groves (formerly rice paddies, but all the young folk are leaving and coconut groves need fewer people to manage them), and a stop for cardamom tea, pink water and coconut dosas. The pink water was boiled river water, boiled with the heartwood of either the Sappanwood tree or the Pathimugham tree (they both dye red), said to have medicinal effects, keeping the locals healthy. Quite a Kerala secret because I can't seem to find anything on-line about it. The water tasted perfectly normal and was a curiousity for the kids. Kerala's foremost income producer is tourism and the Keralites take it seriously. The backwaters are clean and healthy systems, so clean the kids dangled their feet overboard and I didn't freak. Rebecca brought home a bottle of river water we dutifully labeled "Do Not Drink" because even with the natural shades of green from river life, the water in the bottle came perfectly clear.
Cochin/Kochi is a quiet city of about 2 million people (a million live there with the rest and more coming in for work and school), filled with Catholic churches thanks to the Portugese colonial influence, and still has the periodic elephant tromping down the road. The plantlife was a vibrant green with monsoon season kicking in and the temperatures 5-10C degrees cooler than the 40C we returned to in Chennai. I guess it could have been worse, up north this summer temperatures are hitting anywhere between 41-47C. Here's a handy online conversion site for those who refuse to learn centigrade. For the ones too lazy to even look that part up, 40C=104F. In Chennai, that's not dry heat. It's "I'm swimming to the busstop" heat.
I'm looking forward to going back to Cochin some day. We have another 2 1/2 years here and it's such an easy, relaxing and enjoyable trip to make.
God's Own Country. Indeed.