Friday, September 28, 2007


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

A Divided Belgium

Belgian Crisis Viewpoints

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Uh oh, it's here.

Madras Eye.

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

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A Productive Sunday

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

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

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Recap and Finale

Swim team is done. For Katherine at least.

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

Friday, September 14, 2007

This fall's TV guide

What looks good??

An Article

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

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

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Work and School

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

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

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Catching Up

Weve been without net access for a while, so here's a rundown of old news...

31 AUGUST 2007 - Pulpectomy
Earlier in the week Jonathon complained about his tooth hurting when he ate. I took a glance and was dumbfounded by the cavity staring back at me. The same tooth on opposite side as his silver cap with a gaping hole. Ian took him to the dentist and they did a freaking root canal, then capped his tooth. For $100. By the end of his adolescence, he's going to look like Jaws from 007.
4 SEPTEMBER 2007 - Prescriptions
I was cleaning up the bedroom a bit and found a prescription for Jonathon on the dresser. An antibiotic for the root canal on Friday. Ian didn't think it was important to tell me about before our trip since the doc had said "only if he got sick in the next day" or so. You'd think the way this kid gets fevers would be enough of a sign that an antibiotic is a given.
5 SEPTERMBER - Disappointment
Katherine didn't make the SAISA swim team. I'm really bummed for her. There's an odd offer though that even though she didn't qualify to swim against other girls in her age group, she could move up and swim in the 15-18 year category. I'm not the only one that thinks it's an uncomfortable compromise. How is that going to benefit the team if she didn't make time to compete against 10-12 year olds? How is that going to benefit her if she lags behind in every heat against kids years ahead and a full head higher than her? What a slap to the ego. And really, what's the purpose of this swim team for Katherine? It's given her a goal of making the SAISA team, get her some exercise and get enjoyment from being part of something bigger. I really would have preferred a Yes or No for the travel team, not this wishy washy potentially negative option they've given her. She wants to go to Sri Lanka and she wants to swim for her school, but it only seems fair to let her do those things when it will be good for the team and for her and I don't see that right now.
I don't want to be the mean mom who says to wait until next year and try again but I do wish her coach had taken that responsibility. I also don't want her to think that if she doesn't go that it's the quitter's choice. But if she does go to Colombo she'll have to intensify her workouts. She's exhausted already. And if she wouldn't do well at the meet, it might just crush her.


After our wonderful stay at the Fort-Palace Neemrana hotel outside Delhi last fall, I looked forward to staying at the De L'Orient in Pondicherry, another Neemrana establishment. We were not disappointed.

But let me back up. The drive from Chennai takes about 2 ½ hours and we caravanned with our neighbors. Actually, we put all the kids in our car, complete with DVD player and movies. They said the trip went by quickly. Ian and I and our two neighbor friends had a longer trip in their, shall we say, basic vehicle. But we all had snacks and drinks and entertainment, so a relatively painless drive all around.
Pondicherry is an old French holding from the colonial days. It is it's own person, separate from the rest of Tamil Nadu. Well, I guess it would have to be since Tamil Nadu is a dry state and the French certainly couldn't survive without their vin! We picked up a few bottles of Indian wine from an actual liquor store at the end of our hotel's street.
Since India just celebrated 60 years of freedom from colonial rule, some of the flavor from the British (in general), Portuguese (Goa) and French (Pondicherry) lingers on. But it seems the French didn't leave much behind beyond some architecture, a lycèe and French street names. In fact, Pondicherry is an Indian town with a mild French flavor and the French quarter only spans four roads inland from the beach, and about a dozen roads north to south. It's easily walkable in a few hours and while the streets are quiet, there's such a thing as too quiet. Doors were bolted, windows were closed and barred. The joy of usable sidewalks was a little dampened by having nowhere to walk to. And that wonder of every French town, the sidewalk café, while perfectly situated for Pondicherry's tree covered lanes was nonexistent. Folks zipped around on their rented bikes and mopeds, or meandered down the wide "boardwalk" looking over the sharp black rocks to the crashing waves 10 feet below. But even the NesCafé stall on the boardwalk didn't have chairs... or serve any coffee.
We had our expectations too high.
What did meet our expectations was our hotel with its open café style restaurant and rooms with huge windows, 18 foot ceilings and fabulous furniture. We had two adjoining rooms, ours with a couple of tiny twins pushed together and drapes hanging only on the backside of the four poster frame. This, we discovered, was the bathroom door as behind the bed were two small partial walls, one partially blocking the toilet from view and one blocking the shower. It sounds odd, and it was, but it was charming as well. The kids had a room as long as our house, with two twin beds for the girls, a chaise longue for Nicholas and a reclining wicker seat that sufficed for Jonathon. I don't really know how to describe the rest, so photos will have to suffice. We were happy.
We had a quick lunch at The Promenade where our neighbors had rooms, then decided to spend the afternoon at our hotel just relaxing. On the way we let the six kids play at a huge playground, well maintained for India and packed with people but not crazy. Of course the equipment would never pass a safety inspection but we left without blood or an ER run so it was all good. Of course all our little kids were snagged at some point to be in random stranger photographs but they had fun anyway.
Ian was bummed the hotel didn't have WiFi. I was not. The rest of the afternoon frittered away with "Monk" before dinner at Le Dupleix. Dupleix doesn't mean anything; it's apparently the name of someone from a by-gone age. Though the appetizers took an hour to reach the table the food was yummy and we enjoyed ourselves. I strongly recommend the Lettuce Salad. The Baby Spinach Salad with grilled fruits was just OK.
2 SEPTEMBER 2007 - Quiet Day
Church in the morning was at Our Lady of Angels, with a view of the beach. We had a choice of 8:30 in the morning in English or 5:15 in the evening in French. I would have really liked to attend the evening service, but hotel sleeping typically means early wake-ups and we didn't know what our plans for the day were. This was a very different vacation from my regular plan-to-the-minute variety.
Our Lady of Angels is a couple blocks north and a block over from De L'Orient. A raised pink building, furnished simply with stations in French, a sleeping dog, bare pews and white walls. The Mass began with "Sing a New Song," more familiar than anything played at a regular Sunday service at the Chennai Basilica and in less than an hour we were returning to our hotel, down quiet lanes under another overcast sky.
Auroville was our morning destination. A created community by the "Mother," it professed to be a place to welcome those of all faiths and walks of life, provided they gave up any semblance of a faith and all outside identifying behavior and activity. The single paved road through the community led to the Visitor's Center and passed tumble down shacks, leaning fences, dirt roads, tourist trap shops and little else. The main attraction is the Matrimandir, a huge metal golf ball about 10 minute walk from the Visitor's Center. Matrimandir means "Temple of the Mother" but the information book was quick to clarify that it was most definitely not a temple but more a free range unguided meditation center. There are grandiose plans of a dozen intricate gardens and fountains to surround the giant shiny nut but little is completed so far. On the whole, we were disappointed to miss the true Aurovillians, those grungy mole type people of myth, who build their own homes yet cannot sell them if they leave or move into larger accommodations, provide service to the community, are forbidden to marry, earn no income, yet provide a monthly due to the community at large. Were the clay-coated foreign-born natives hidden behind the huge promising gates along the road that appeared to lead to nowhere? Were they cooped up, writing letters home asking for another dip into their trust funds and another batch of mom's brownies? Were they preparing for the next meteor shower when the massive pocked sphere would rise into the heavens?
It would be really humorous in a quirky sort of way if it wasn't so depressing. Or if I didn't know that Katherine had stayed at a guest house in Auroville when she went to Pondicherry for her French field trip last school year. Ew. But we must have missed the true Auroville, behind the gates, among the trees, passed the edges of the muddy roads. Those hard-working people building and growing and providing for themselves and each other. The schools and the children. Where were the children? Beyond the run-down dilapidated Indian village and the golden egg, there must have been more.
We bailed and went to lunch at Rendezvous back in the French Quarter. The food took forever but was quite good, though Jonathon insisted he wanted grilled Tiger Paws. He was less than thrilled with the Tiger Prawns actually on the menu. The avocat crevette needed a dressing on the avocat, while the crevette had a nice tang. We passed food around, sharing the fried calamari and pizza, seer steak and pasta. Ordering a couple appetizers worked best for me, the food came quickly and was filling; even with just a soup and salad there was no room for dessert. And again the rest of the afternoon was devoted to lounging. My neighbor and I popped into the disappointing Rajasthan Handicraft Fair next door to The Promenade, drove around for a bit for antiquing and clothing, and stumbled upon an elephant giving blessings. For the price of a guava or bundle of grass (Rs10 or so), or better yet a coin, the elephant bonked people on the head with its trunk. This the kids would enjoy seeing. We high-tailed it back to the hotel, piled 11 people into one car (after collecting one who'd been left behind in the room while she was changing... oops), and brought them all to the elephant. With guavas in hand, the kids fed it and most got a full on bonk. For some we bought bundles of grass because the elephant took their guava and moved on, but just about everyone got their blessing. It was nifty and there were scrapbook stickers too, so we were doubly enthused. But the excitement ran out and we made our way back to the hotel. My neighbor and I sat in the courtyard while the kids finished their movie and instead of reading my book Glitter and Greed, I read through most of an article about The Dune hotel just outside Pondicherry, a really quirky resort that sounds fascinating. Each bungalow is a completely different design, from the Kerala house made entirely of rich wood to the Tower that soars upwards. The beach has its own physical doorway. There are artisans in residence and regular evening entertainment. Unfortunately I didn't finish the article, it was in French so it went slowly. If we go back down to Pondicherry (not at all a definite at this point), that's where we want to stay.
Dinner was at the Lighthouse restaurant on the rooftop. Aside from the interminable wait and the sporadic rain drops, dinner was good with the white noise of the Bay of Bengal surf. We all shared meals to save room for dessert but it still took two full hours. A blink for true Frenchmen, an eternity for the rest of us.
3 SEPTEMBER 2007 - Future plans
We came home from Pondicherry and made several future plans. The trip down and back wasn't as harrowing as I'd anticipated though there were still a couple of close calls passing a vehicle on the right, with a bus tearing from the opposite direction.
But knowing that the drive is doable, we have some ideas. Within an hour of Chennai along the ECR are Fisherman's Cove, Temple Bay and Ideal Beach. Just about everyone in Chennai knows these beach resorts but us. We did go to a lunch at Fisherman's Cove once and it's a Taj resort, so we'd like to take a weekend there. Also within an hour is Mahaballipuram/Mamallapuram, an old temple city we didn't stop at. Near Mahaballipuram are some submerged temples (they were further exposed by the receding tsunami waters three years ago), "Krishna's Butterball," a precariously perched massive boulder, salt farms and loads of shrimp hatcheries. One in particular caught our funny bone, a hatchery and orphanage listed on the same sign. Orphanage... not funny... but associated with a hatchery we came up with plenty of "Adopt a Shrimp" lines. On another route south but also within an hour or so of home we've learned of the **Anna Salai Zoo with a lion safari. Thanks to another friend for that tip. Overall I'm just happy we have day trip options.
Jonathon woke with a fever this morning. He crashed on the couch as soon as we got home, took a 2 hour nap and woke hotter than before and reached 105.1F/40.5C. Katherine did her homework, she practiced her flute at the hotel, and our Internet is out so she went to the neighbor's house to do what she could there for her Language Arts class. The rest of the family settled in front of the xBox and Wii. It's a pizza kind of night.