Friday, June 29, 2007

A Better Day

A bit of sun and everything looks brighter.

Not that we've been out in the sun, but there's light outdoors and that's enough sometimes.
I'm a little crabby and cranky, but the boys are so much better behaved today. Yesterday the neighbor and I took the 4 kids to KFC for lunch and stopped at the school to let them play. That was the plan, but it wasn't quite as idyll as it sounds. My boys were rotten at KFC, standing on the seats, being loud, pushing each other. And the school is under construction again. The 6 new classrooms going up on the 2nd and 3rd floor of the elementary school are right over the little kids' playground, so all the equipment has been wrenched from the earth and is piled on the green field. The bigger kids playground is one of those old things you'd expect in a 1970s yard. I truly think that when the new grounds were build 3-4 years ago that the original equipment was brought from the old school. That's sad, IMO. The stuff isn't nice and certainly isn't safe.
In addition, the halls and field and eveywhere inbetween were littered with sleeping Indians. The "construction crew" on break. The number of flies was crazy from all the grease spots left by the crew from eating on the ground. And something kept dripping on me off the playground cover.
I was glad to go home and take the kids swimming, even in the rain.
This weekend we're having a new family over on Saturday and Sunday is haircut day. I'm looking forward to Skyping with the girls as we haven't had a chance all week. They've been out the door early to go to Fencing Camp and I'd have to get up before 5:30 a.m. to talk to them during their evening. That's not appealing.
We fired our driver last Saturday. It went better than it could have, but still not great. We counted 150 honks (most of them unnecessary to our eyes) on a regular drive to and from Spencers Plaza. But this new guy I'm still trying to figure out. Some of his references were good but old, his most recent employer was the Kindergarden teacher at AISC. He only worked for her for 6 months, not the 2-3 years we expect to see on references. In fact, a bunch of his good references were for short term employment and while he likes to say he has worked for the Consulate before, but a former U.S. Consulate person also fired him for getting cash and "favors" by helping others get job placements. And he was lazy.
I'm really thinking there's no magical fix to this. I "can't" drive and good, honest, pleasant, safe drivers are few and far between.
Enough on that. I have a lot of cleaning and picking up to do before our guests arrive tomorrow afternoon, so I'd best be on it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Just Not a Good Start to the Day

It's only 11 a.m. but I feel like the day has been wasted and is a loss.

It's more to do with me than anything else. As always. I went to bed too late last night so I'm a little cranky this morning. And the boys are wired for some reason so they aren't listening, aren't doing what I've asked, aren't being QUIET. They are procrastinating through their school stuff. I would let them off the hook today, but they didn't do anything yesterday. I finally told them to have a snack thinking they'd come back more focussed. But they ended up in the pantry having a mock fight and banging on the door so I canceled snack, turned off the lights in living room where the school stuff is all laid out, and put them both in their room. I told them to be quiet, they are playing instead. I could take a nap.
There will be no (more) xbox today. And probably none tomorrow either. They played hours yesterday which really was a lot of fun to watch as they finished all the main quests on Lego Star Wars 2. That doesn't mean the game is done, in fact it's about 1/2 done so there are dozens more hours to go. But not today, not soon.
I just want to sleep. I should go out to Cottage Industries, but I just can't pull myself together to go, and I don't want to go with them, but I don't want to leave them at home either because I do think they could use a change of scenery.
Have I mentioned I just want to sleep?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

You gotta be kidding

I know it's not -new- news, but it's news to me because honestly, I don't watch any news reports about the current administration if I can avoid it.

The Cheese Stands Alone

You might have to register (free) at sorry.

What's to say?

There's really not much to report from here. The cloudy, drippy days continue which is wonderful for the weather, not so much for swimming. The rains have also brought back the mosquitoes, both boys are completely bitten up. Hello Dengue and Chikungunya.

School mornings continue to go well, fun afternoons continue to happen. The boys periodically mention missing their sisters, but they are playing a lot with the neighbors so boredom really hasn't set in. The xbox has seen a lot of activity too. This afternoon Jonathon was invited to a friend's house to play so I think Nicholas and I will go out somewhere for a couple hours to have a change of scenery. Tonight one of the neighbor kids is sleeping over.
On the whole, life is quiet in old Chennai.
The girls over in Virginia, on the other hand, seem to be quite busy. This week they have fencing camp. I haven't heard directly how they like it, but through my mom I heard Katherine thought it was great. Rebecca was apprehensive last week, so I'm curious if the class is as worrisome as she expected.
My mom took them to a garden tea and they spent a lot of time with my grandmother who came down from Wisconsin to visit. They've both gotten their ears pierced, seen Shrek the Third and Nancy Drew, eaten out at every place we dream of and drool over, eaten ice cream on the pier at Old Town Alexandria, and of course shopped and shopped again.
Spending the summer in Virginia, away from mom and dad (and yes, brothers too) is quite a change. I'm looking forward to their thoughts on the 4th of July. Nothing beats Independence Day in our nation's capital.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Good Feeding

For some reason this week has had a new variety of dinners. We haven't had spaghetti once.

Monday we had beef burgundy, sans burgundy made instead with a new bottle of red I uncorked just for the dish. Yum. Now I have to figure out what to do with the rest of the bottle, aside from drinking it straight.
Tuesday we had the neighbors over for enchiladas. It needs real enchilada sauce, and she has to use more than one pan so they aren't all squished together, but made with fresh homemade tortillas it was still tasty.
Wednesday I scampied some shrimp. Mmm. And we sided it with a package of fettucini alfredo, something we haven't eaten in nearly a year. We eat very little packaged food for dinner.
Thursday, tonight, we're having chicken and corn chowder with grilled cheese sandwiches. The package mozzarella here is lousy, but the white cheddar is edible. India is not known for its cheese.
And tomorrow will be Sear Fish steaks with potato pancakes. Hardly a traditional meal but I've wanted to make potato pancakes all week and this is the best option I've had to couple it.
OK, I just realized it's a week with a single chicken dish. That's a record for us, I think.
With the rains and the cooler temps (only to 89 today I think) finding an interesting menu seems to be easier. It's when it's really hot out and no one wants to eat anyway where meal planning gets difficult. I'll take the rains.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Nicholas figured out the dive.

It's been years in coming, but today, it clicked. He stands at the edge, head tucked in, arms extended, knees bent. Before he would basically fall forward into a well executed belly flop. Today though he listened and pushed. That executed a more powerful belly flop. Then a suggestion to reach as far forward as he could into the pool when he pushed off and...

It was beautiful. Even better, it wasn't a fluke.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

New photos

Go to for new photos of the boys playing in the rain.

Dad's Day

Happy Father's Day to all the great dads out there. Ian says the only thing that would have made the day great would have been to be with the girls. Meaning... him in Virginia with the girls. Hmph.

It's just been a plain old quiet weekend. Yesterday we went to two Landmark stores, Ian was searching for a specific book and didn't find it at either. I, on the other hand, had put in a request last weekend for a particular book at the Citi Centre shop and went to pick it up Saturday. They said it would be available this past Tuesday but I wasn't going to the mall for that one thing, so waited until yesterday. They didn't have it and when I inquired as to its future availability I received close to a blank stare. Thank goodness I didn't bother going on Tuesday, huh? So we went to a different, stand-alone Landmark and lo and behold they had the book I wanted (Operation Red Jericho by Mowll), along with Misty of Chincoteague I've been looking for and some wonderful graphic novels* of Agatha Christie stories. Katherine will be excited about those, I guarantee it. Today I found (yes, at Landmark, don't ask why we were there yet again) graphic novels of classics, like Man in the Iron Mask. I didn't buy any of those as the drawings really weren't that good.
This all started when a recent departee of Chennai handed Ian a graphic novel containing a collection of Spiderman, Superman, Justice League... you get the idea... stories. He really enjoyed it and so has been searching the stores for others, like the "Civil War" set. There are Rs15 short books of superheroes he's bought for Nicholas, one of which definitely caught our interest: Spiderman recast as a young Indian boy in Mumbai. His costume waves in the wind, his shoe toes curl up in their sylish red and black pattern, and Pavitr's Auntie Maya keeps him in line, as they share cute little phrases in Hindi. Fun.
So yes, we went back to Citi Centre today. Being Father's Day, Ian and our neighbor chose the restaurant "Zyng" for lunch. The food is good, but their service is declining. No soda drinks aside from Coke (we went next door to the grocery store and bought others), certain dishes were unavailable, it was a tad disappointing. So being at Citi Centre means stopping at Landmark which we dutifully did. I would like to go into Lifestyle some time again too, but that will have to wait.
Being a Sunday, Ian drove the eight of us. We have the scratch marks to prove it. The planning of Citi Centre leaves much to be desired, just read a few posts back about our adventure in movie-going and parking is no exception. The parking garages are for small cars. Folks here treat their cars as they do a moto with a family of five on it. Cars that naturally seat five will become the fabled clown car as nine people pour out. So if a little car can fit nine people, who needs a big car? The parking garage doesn't think anyone drives anything bigger than perhaps a Toyota Qualis. A Sequoia could eat a Qualis. So we can't park in the garage. Which leaves the outdoor parking, a single row in front of the building. The other 3 sides are packed with motos and bicycles, leaving just enough room for, oh, a Toyota Qualis to squeeze through. Our neighbor joked that it would be funny to knock over one and watch the domino pile fall. She almost got her wish but didn't thanks to a quick catch by a couple guys standing nearby, and we only broke a clip on one of our wheel flares.
You have to drive around the entire building to reach the outside car park from the entrance. And then even more ridiculous, you have to drive around the entire building again to pay the parking fee and leave. The same route a car must travel, so do all the people searching for their bikes and there's literally no walking space that isn't also a driving space. And none of it is made for our car.
Ah, driving. It's the one thing I'm going to leave India totally frustrated with. I want to drive. I know how to get to the few places I regularly go. But if I want to go anywhere else I'm pretty much lost. Part of that is the Driver's fault. When there's an option of taking a direct route, he'll take all the side roads which leaves us confused. When we finally decided we didn't want to pay him overtime on Sundays just to take us to church (actually he said he didn't want to work on Sundays anymore, then complained we didn't have him do overtime any other day of the week... which we hadn't asked him before either) we asked him to show us the direct route to Santhome... what took him 15 minutes and countless turns, took us 15 minutes and 1 turn. So with the drastically reduced traffic on Sundays, Ian is our family driver and I really really like that. I can sit next to him, we can talk without extra ears, it's just nice.
And I really don't like our Driver. I don't. He's become careless, he's become really lazy, and he definitely has a second job going over the phone. I don't care what he does when I'm not out and about, but when he takes personal calls while driving, to the point of releasing his hands from the wheel during a tight turn so he can answer the phone, it's too much.
If only, if only, if only I could drive here. But no one does (uh, no one in the expat community I know). And those that do... eventually hire drivers after having one too many accidents. I'm really not kidding. Our neighbor was in an accident just this past week, as I was talking to her on the phone. She wasn't at the wheel, the driver was so even those who know this city backwards and forwards can't avoid a collision with a truck that barrels into them.
It's not fair that I'm stuck to someone else's abilities, someone else's schedule. And heck, it's MY car. OK, and Ian's. But it's mine and I want to drive. But I can't, and I know that, and I'm going to leave India grumbling about it all the way home.
* comic books ;)

Friday, June 15, 2007

PIrates... Savvy?

Saw the third "Pirates" installment today. Can I just say... Loved it! It was so well done and the story was well-woven. Definitely a continuation of the last movie, confusing at bits with the characters constantly switching allegiances, but it all works and will be well worth watching again (and again and again) on DVD.

Thanks to our neighbors who let the boys sleep over at their place so we four could go out, and now Ian and I have the house to ourselves. Cool :)


It rained today. It didn't dribble, it poured. Not once, but twice. This morning I woke to a strange sound and had to look out the window to see the clothes on the line becoming drenched. I didn't care. It was raining.

We haven't seen rain for about 6 months, this is a momentous day. It rained at 4 a.m. and again at 2 p.m. For the afternoon downpour the boys hightailed it outside, fully dressed, to play soccer, ride their scooters, swing around with their umbrellas and stand under the downspout. They splashed in puddles and were yelled at by the gardener. Rain is precious, but I don't think the Indians revel in it quite like we do.
The drenching was followed by a warm bath and a cup of hot cocoa. A perfect afternoon.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

So we went to the movies

INOX at Citi Centre is a nice theater. It's brand new, only a few months old, clean and pretty comfy. But...

There's always a but, isn't there?

Poor design planning makes it a bit of hassle. There is no waiting area. Oh, there's a large lobby, places to get snacks, movie posters, etc. But you can't get physically into the theater until 15 minutes before your movie. Until then you are shoved to the side, either blocking the ticket windows or blocking the escalator. You and the other 100 people watching the same movie, all crammed together. Heaven forbid there are two movies starting at the same time. Everyone is told is wait in a place about as big as our living room, together with folks in line for tickets, folks trying get by to go down the escalator and folks pushing their way in the middle, forward through security.
Previews start 5 minutes before movie time which leaves 10 minutes allowed for snacks, restroom, whathaveyou. Everyone swarms the snack counters at the same time.
But first you have to go through the security check, which involves men in one line and women in the other. Heaven forbid you're blocking the wrong side (like me, I was blocking the ticket windows on the left when I should have been blocking the escalator on the right in order to avoid pushing my way through the men thronging through the male security check, which I was prevented from passing through). In this security check, they wave their little wands then tell you to open your bags. I refused. I'm going to see Shrek, I have my 2 little boys with me, and yes, I'm carrying a camera (not allowed), a package of cookies (not allowed, even though it's been in my bag for weeks) and gum (definitely not allowed). Too bad for all their Not Alloweds. I said No, she asked what I had in my bag and I said nothing. She waved me through after I repeated again I wasn't opening it and I'm sure I ticked some people off, especially those who had opened their tiny bags and had their open packs of gun confiscated.
It left a sour taste in my mouth, it really did. Our neighbor had an entire grocery store in her bag and she refused to open as well, but told them straight up she was carrying loads of food. They waved her through as well
I don't like being pushy like that. I really really don't. But do I want them to take my camera to prevent me from... what? Pirating the movie somehow? I carry the thing everywhere, and I'm not going to give it to them to put in a little bag and keep on the floor in the lobby of the mall. Nor am I going to hand over five packs of gum and the cookies I carry with me "just in case." (Those with little kids will get that.) It wouldn't have been a hardship, but it would have been a hassle. And really, it's the principle of the thing.
By the way, the movie was OK. The second half was better than the first, by far.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Day Two: A little slower, a lot hotter

This morning the boys did some math, continued with their French lessons and each did a spelling list. Jonathon won't have problems with spelling, he seems to memorize them quickly. Nicholas did piano, Jonathon still needs to do his 10 minutes today.

By late morning we were off to bowling with the neighbor kids and some friends, followed by a snacky lunch at Cafe' Coffee Day and now we're off to the pool.

I want to nap, but I'll go swim instead.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Hopper Summer Camp

I'm sure the boys wish they were in a summer camp right now!

It's Day One of "home all day with mom." The boyss got up (they've moved themselves into Katherine's bed for the duration) and made themselves breakfast, then by 8 a.m. our day was rolling. Here's a breakdown:
Math: Both boys have math work to do. Everyday Math may not be perfect for in-class work, but it's great for at-home review. A problem of this, a problem of that, nothing too long or involved and therefore not boring. Last week I tore apart the kids' used math books from the school year and pulled all the pages that hadn't been finished. Nicholas is doing Rebecca's incomplete pages, and Jonathon is doing Nicholas's. Working on these through the summer will keep topics like measuring, time and adding money in daily use aside from normal activities.
Reading: I expect each kid to read every day, it's not so much to ask. Jonathon has several _Now I'm Reading_ sets he hasn't finished, and Nicholas has chapter books to work through. In the evening we'll have regular storytimes again.
Piano: Each boy did 10 minutes of piano practice. Again, it's to keep things fun, short with a little learning. A measure here and there of practice means over time playing will get smoother. I'm not looking for little Mozarts, just kids who enjoy figuring out a piece of music.
French: Two lessons of Rosetta Stone each. We started at the beginning again. Easy stuff, fun and quick. It'll get harder over time, but no need to get frustrated yet, right?
Letters: I'm going to have the boys regularly writing to keep up their handwriting, spelling and getting thoughts on paper. Today they wrote letters to their sisters, but other days it will be different.
Spelling: From the "100 Words" books, we started with 1st grade. Of the 17 words Jonathon had in Group 1, he got 12 correct. Sure, it starts with words like "as" and "it" but that's a good way to have him start with success. Nicholas did Group 6 in the 1st grade book and missed one. He'll do the rest of the groups as review over this week then he'll move to the 2nd grade lists.
I'm not looking to confuse or frustrate the kids this summer. It will be a lot of review, some new stuff, and useful things too. This afternoon we'll bake cookies, tomorrow we'll go bowling, and we'll do a lot of swimming and Dance Dance Revolution too. There will be plenty of laundry folding and room cleaning as well.
I know not all days will be as productive as today, but my goal is to keep us moving. We have a list up so the boys know what to expect each day and I'm always up for alternatives.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Landmark is a Costly Store

Today I bought:

The 7 books in the Pendragon Series by D.J. Machale. I've read 5 while in Togo, having skipped The Never War and not had the chance to read Quillan Games.

The 6 books in Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain. Never read them and always wanted to read The Black Cauldron.

Dead Famous: Al Capone, Dead Famous: Isaac Newton, Dead Famous: Queen Victoria

Stories for 9 Year Olds, for Rebecca

The Plague by Philip Wooderson, two books in one with My Side of the Story... a girl's story on one end, flip the book over and a boy's story on the other.

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett. Had never heard of this book but saw it on a recommended reading list, then saw it in the store, and bought it.

Hugo Pepper by Paul Stewart. The neighbor's kid liked it.

Operation Typhoon Shore by Joshua Mowll. I put in a request for the first book, Operation Red Jericho. The books are touted as "A Da Vinci Code for children."

Some Rs15 superhero comic books for Nicholas.

And 5 VikramAditya stories... The Snow Leopard Adventure, Ladakh Adventure, Ranthambore Adventure, and two Andaman Adventure stories. Written by an Indian, the books are obviously set in India and have a conservationist bent to them.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Welcome to Summer

The local kids started back to school this past week. Our kids had their last (half) day on Friday and we now have a 1st grader, 2nd grader, 4th grader and 6th grader. Yup, parents to a middle schooler.

The girls made it to Virignia. Aside from being a long trip they sounded happy, had time for McDonalds in Frankfurt, and I think they grew up on their 20 hour trip. The family who acted as their guardians on the trip, well, I can't thank them enough. As far as I know, they ran into no troubles traveling with minors not their own. I'm thankful. They are in for several fun weeks in Virginia and I'm excited for them.
All the kids did well on their report cards, all moved up. I guess that's rather a "duh" comment. Katherine made straight As but for a B in P.E. That's my girl, I never did well in P.E. either. At the Awards Assembly on Wednesday, Katherine received the President's Award for Educational Excellence. Her teacher had called me the day before to ensure I would be present, and I was. Katherine hadn't been told she was receiving anything so her face was priceless when they called her name.
I spoke with Nicholas's teacher, she's leaving this year to move back to Stafford, VA. If we keep in touch there's a good chance we'll see her when we're back in a couple years.
I also asked in the library to help out next year, either Book Week, reading to the younger kids, or something of the sort. I did not sign up to be class parent or anything of the sort. That depends a lot on the teacher and how much involvement from parents they want.
Next year is full already.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Today is the Day

The girls head out tonight. I'm nervous. How do people do this? It will be the longest 24 hours of my life, I know it.

Add to that the driver decided he was sick, so now we scramble to get people places this evening. The girls are clearing out their school desks (oh, we got Nicholas's teacher assignment for next year, Ms. Bigwood, a new hire), and then we do a final room clean-up at home, double check everything is together, and take them to the Feldmann's house.

And that will be that. Skype on!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

End of Year

The end of year (school year that is) is a busy time.

People are leaving so everyone feels they have to DO something. I figure one "something" is enough, but seems no one agrees with me as everyone is doing their own "something" for all the same people. Tell me the logic of that?
Other news first. No dead cats. Two fine boy cats and one quite angry girl cat, but no dead cats. Definitely an improvement over last time. Even better, the cats are on antibiotics for 5 days and that's not as miserable as it sounds. The first pill was a pain as I shoved it down each little kitty throat. But after the check-up with the vet he recommended mixing the crushed pill with a little honey or jam and rubbing it on their paws. It works. They hate having anything on their fur, they lick it off no matter how vile it may taste. Masala and Tandoori are all healed up and hopping around the house, Tikka is a hissing sausage (she's all wrapped up to provide abdominal support) sequestered to the cat room until she can play nice again. All will be well.
The end of year party at school on Friday was fun. I watched over the Sponge Toss, which is exactly as it sounds. Half the kids on one side, half on the other, water and spongers. Wet sponges... throw. Simple enough and the kids didn't mind soaking their already soaked classmates for 15 minutes straight. There was a break in the schedule when Nicholas was swimming, so I played with him in the pool. I only caught the tail end of the disco, the girls had a blast, and next year I know to provide fruit of some sort not the requested cookies or chips.
Nicholas had a friend come over after school Friday, and we all picked up the cats from the vet. That evening Ian picked up TDYers from Manila and came home at 1 a.m. It was a tiring start to the weekend for him.
Saturday's party went off well, but as a neighbor said, it would have helped to advertise. An e-mail invite went out on Tuesday, the plans were in place for 100 people for dinner. I think we had half that. Our fridge is packed with leftovers. The earlier kid time was well-attended, bouncy castles packed and face painters busy. The women's time was well-attended as well, I bought a couple pieces of jewelry as gifts and passed on the manicures/pedicures in favor of chatting a bit with Ms. Whitson, Jonathon's teacher for next year. I didn't know he'd been assigned to her, but she knew and brought it up and thankfully is excited about having him.
So now we know 2 of our teacher assignments for next year. Jonathon has Ms. Whitson and Rebecca has a new hire, Ms. Forgie. She's not completely new to us and here's one of those small world moments... Ms. Forgie was a 2nd grade teacher at IS Manila when Katherine was in second grade at ISM. Ms. Forgie says she remembers Katherine even though she wasn't in her class. They did cross grade teaching there just like here.
So the evening dinner of biryanis, dhals, raitas, green salads, fruit salads, chapati, cakes and desserts was well-received. Oh, Ian assured me no one would be in the house except to get food and use the restroom, but we cleaned up anyway and the tents in the yard went largely unused as folks came in for food and stayed for the air conditioning. The last folks departed around 11, minor cleaning was left for the morning.
Today, we have a family coming over for lasagna and swimming. This is the family in charge of the girls on their trip to Virginia on Friday, but really the girls haven't spent much time with them. I need to get cracking on putting the lasagna together, but now I'm thinking if I do it early where will I put it? The fridge is bursting. As it is, the fruit salad from yesterday is in the pantry awaiting its demise into fruit shakes this afternoon. I'll probably do the lasagna right before out guests get here and just put it straight into the oven. The nice thing about the cook working yesterday evening (she never works on the weekends for us) is the kitchen is clean and the dishes are washed. I can make a mess today.