Thursday, December 27, 2007

Good intentions gone awry

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Ho Ho Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Two days before Christmas...

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

But in the meantime...

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

Monday, December 17, 2007

Moules et Frites

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

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

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Final Words?

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

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Did you miss us?

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Finally Coming Together

We have our final (please please please) itinerary.

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

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Happy Double Digits!

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

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

Saturday, December 1, 2007


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

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

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

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

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