Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year: 2009!

Did you know that this is Ian and my 15th New Year's together? Crazy.

Today was a fun day. The weather, again, was superb so we spent time at the pool in the afternoon. I finished my book, Spook, and was glad it was done. I had a bit of a hard time finishing parts of Stiff, but Spook was just tedious. It required serious skimming to reach the end so I could say I'd actually completed it. You'd think a book on the the science of the afterlife would be engaging, but honestly it could have been written in half the number of pages. That's OK though, it's done, and now I can move on to Benazir Bhutto's autobiography for book club. And The Lord of the Rings. The movie is such an awesome piece of work, and so moving (and yeah, I really like Sean Astin with his character, Sam), that I can't help but dive into the book again. I'm on a bit of a reading binge right now, which is why my crocheting projects and scrapbooking are getting absolutely nowhere.
Before swimming/reading though, I took the girls along with Nicholas and the neighbor girl to see "High School Musical 3" at the Sathyam theater. I had no expectations for this flick, but you know what? It was a blast. All the kids liked it, the music was less Pop than before, and it's probably weird as a 34-year old mom but I have no problem looking at the movie screen sized eyes of the handsome young Zac Efron. Heh. Ian stayed home with Jonathon and watched "The Mummy 3". I know we had the better end of that deal, without Rachel Weiss is a Mummy movie worth watching? Apparently not.
This evening we were invited to a Consulate wide karaoke NYE party at the NIV Chief's home. Again, a great time was had by all. Great food, nice people, bad singing, danger from sparklers and a bonfire... what more does the start of a new year need?
I have high hopes for 2009, we all do. Here's to you and yours that the highs far outweigh the lows!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Glorious Weather.

Don't believe me? Check out Chennai on

Dec 29 Tonight
Mostly clear. Low 67F. Winds light and variable.

Dec 30 Tomorrow
Mostly sunny skies. High 84F. Winds light and variable.

Dec 30 Tomorrow night
A mostly clear sky. Low 67F. Winds light and variable.

The window is open, this is possible for about a month each year. It's chilly outside!

Some holiday photos

Need a job? We're Hiring.

Hiring Window is Open at the Foreign Service

It's an accurate story, but for one line ("One-year hardship postings -- in a region too dangerous to allow an officer's spouse and children to accompany him or her -- are required at least twice in the course of a career") that is either an error or news to me.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

(Almost) perfect Christmas

We didn't overdo it on the gifts this year. Everyone got some useful items, some fun items and some silly items. We only had a couple "oops" gifts, like the dress shirts for Ian that are a size too big. Oops.

It was a lazy morning. A very lazy morning. Somehow the kids got up well before I did (what was it? 10 a.m.?), Rebecca had made herself some eggs, the boys played with their new toys, the Jungle Fury Power Rangers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (from grandparents). I put together a lego tank properly (from one brother to another) because Jonathon insisted there were parts missing and the kit had to be returned which it didn't, and we put batteries in a couple nerf disc shooters (from the neighbors). It sounds like a violent holiday, doesn't it? That's all boy related and you'll notice that none of it came from us! It's what they played with first, so it was all well-received. We opened our gifts at midnight last night, when traditionally we would open them after Midnight Mass. Since we didn't go to Mass yesterday (the "midnight" Mass in English here is at 9:30 p.m.) we went to the friends&family dinner party at Sparky's where the food was amazing and completely off menu, watched "The Muppet Christmas Carol" at home, then opened gifts right at midnight with Nicholas as our Santa.
Books, games, and clothes for the boys and girls. The girls received stacks of clothes, so it's a good thing we recently went through their clothing drawers. Grandparents sent the girls fantastic earrings (Rebecca better hide hers, they are so pretty) and Katherine even received a red streaked bob wig. She was so excited about that one and has plans to wear it the first day of school. I have to say that everything was well-received. Pajamas were a huge hit, a Dunder Mifflin t-shirt brought out giggles, guitar ornaments for the Guitar Hero fans in the family, down to the much needed underwear and socks for the boys. I can only recall one instance of "I hope this isn't...." and it was, but that was by a boy who was up at 1:30 a.m. and wasn't managing it too well by then. He made up for it today, taking a further look into the coolness of a new dinosaur fact book, and reading When Dinosaurs Came with Everything by Elise Broach with me. What an adorable book. The kids also received an assortment of new movies and activity kits. Tomorrow we'll be busy cleaning old Roman coins, something Ian has always wanted to do and the kids are excited. Who knows what treasures await! Next week they'll have friendship bracelets to make, rocks to paint, sushi to attempt, and cross-stitching to start. Yes, even the boys. The best part of all the kid gifts for me... 6 batteries, total. For the most part, these aren't things that beep or talk or move. I like that.
There were several group gifts as well. The full Apples to Apples crate, Trivial Pursuit for Kids, Frog Juice card game (still figuring out the rules on that one), and a fondue set (from Ian's mom). I really like having everyone share the Christmas goodies.
Our neighbors were generous as well. They spent the past week in Bali and Kuala Lumpur and brought back gifts for the whole family. Katherine has a beautiful silky scarf, she's very into scarves lately (and hats, and shoes, and hair and...), Rebecca has a Miss Chatterbox tshirt (while her best friend, the neighbor's daughter, has a matching one), the boys are now annoyi.... uh, entertaining... us with bongo drums, and Ian got a "Balinese Burger" tshirt. The idea of a Balinese burger is an entire suckling pig on a bun. It's hilarious. But I was the luckiest of the bunch. I now have a wonerful set of Balinese decorated woven covered basket boxes, along with a necklace and bracelet set I never would have picked out for myself but will really enjoy wearing. Isn't that a great thing about gifts? Giving an item you know someone would never choose themselves but would enjoy nonetheless.
I actually was the luckiest all around, in my opinion. I'm sure the kids would argue that they had the best time of anyone, but they're wrong. In my opinion only... of course. Continuing the idea of something I'd never buy for myself but consider lucky to have received, was a dressy Citizen EcoDrive Lobella watch. My daily watch is also a Citizen EcoDrive, but this new one is for those occasions when something a little more is called for. It's gorgeous. I needed a new set of pajamas and my parents sent a fuzzy one that will finally keep me warm in this perpetually air conditioned home, along with a full length velour robe from, also from my lovely husband. I felt like a cozy princess today. Rebecca had created two fabulous projects at school, an embroidered pillow and a clock. A real clock. A clock that needs to be framed so it can go on the wall, it's that good. It took her all quarter to make in art class and it's impressive. I need to take a photo of it. But even beyond the watch and the clock, you know what the most touching gift was? A poem written by Katherine. A piece of paper and a pen and I couldn't help but cry. She has come so far.
The neighbors came over bearing maple nut rolls and they baked while I put together a roast in the crockpot for dinner. I'm having to do a lot of dishes without the housekeeper around, so a crockpot is a great way to avoid unnecessary pots and pans. Seeing as Ian didn't get up until nearly 12, we ignored lunch and just had a healthy dose of breakfast rolls. The kids played around, collected limes (into the mop bucket of all things, they definitely needed a bleach soak... the limes, not the kids), showed their friends the tent we pitched outside, then opted for swimming and some Indiana Jones Wii. It was a completely relaxing afternoon with just-right Chennai temperatures. I even finished my book, The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs. I highly recommend it. I especially liked page 114:
"We can never hope to plumb the mystery of God's mind. Bad things happen to good people. Idiots and geniuses, saints and sinners - we all die. The best we can do is try to appreciate the great things God has given us - food, drink, the pleasure of honest work. We should follow the commandments, but we should do so with no guarantee that they will pay off in this life"
and page 268:
"Greenburg says that God is like an artist who is constantly revising his masterpiece. Sometimes He nearly erases his whole work, as with the Great Flood. Other times, He listens to what humans say. Moses, for instance, argues with God and convinces him to spare the lives of the complaining Israelites. "It sounds strange to say it," the rabbi says, "but in the Bible, God is on a learning curve."
Greenburg tells me, "Never blame a text from the Bible for your behavior. It's irresponsible. Anybody who says X, Y, and Z is in the Bible - it's as if one says, 'I have no role in evaluating this.' "
The idea that we can work with God to evolve the Bible's meaning - it's a thrilling idea."
This is a book I think I could read again. Some of it is humorous (to me at least, I'm sure there are plenty out there who do not think of a Creation Museum as humorous, those on both sides of the fence), some of it is touching, much of it is thought-provoking.
Now I'm moving on to Benazir Bhutto's autobiography, if my neighbor can find her copy *ahem* otherwise there's a dozen other books on my waiting shelf, while I finish up Spook and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I'm on a non-fiction kick.
The kids watched "Kung Fu Panda" while I did dishes again, we wished my parents a Merry Christmas on Skype, ate our pot roast dinner, and had church. We've been doing church via and today's Mass had a wonderful Christmas homily on Faith and expectation. I'm not keen on the new music format, previously they had visiting choirs each week and now they have the same four voices that do an odd Gospel mix, but it works. Church no longer involves Ian driving Indian roads and getting irate in the church parking lot, the kids ask questions as it goes along and we can pause and talk about the readings or what this or that part of the Mass is about. It's been a blessing to us. It's not perfect as there is no substitute for attending Mass in person, and though I look forward to going to a real church again, as do the kids, right now this option fits our family's needs. There's the belief that attending Mass isn't for what we get, it's for what we give, that we shouldn't look for comfort or contentment or ease in Mass, but rather accept the difficulties in attending at any cost with the understanding that it's all for God. I'm at fault for not having my children at that level of belief and there is no excuse but my own weakness in Faith.
The growing pains of a strong Faith. We'll all get through this, with God's help of course :)
Now we head into the 12 Days of Christmas. The 12 days are the days after Christmas until Epiphany, when the wise men follow the star and finally reach Bethlehem. Each day, the kids will have a small task to accomplish. I'll let you know how it goes, it should be fun. Just so you know, I like the Christmas season even more than the Advent season (you know, the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day).
It's 1 a.m., we're watching Casino Royale, and my vision is fading with sleepiness, but there's one more thing to consider: Ian's off work all next week, the kids are still home. Anyone have any suggestions??
And with that.... Merry Christmas Everyone!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ah, one of these silly things.

Mark the ones you've done in bold, and the ones you'd like to do in italics. Hee.

1. Started my own blog (Duh)
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than I can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland/world
8. Climbed a mountain
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sung a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched lightning at sea (from the beach still counts, right?)
14. Taught myself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning (pretty sure everyone has)
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown my own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitchhiked
23. Taken a sick day when you're not ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice(wish we could have afforded it!)
29. Seen a total eclipse(great photos in Togo too)
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of my ancestors(I've been to Beaulieu, France at least)
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught myself a new language(been trying to learn French since I was born)
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo's David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa(lived in, actually)
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance(for others, but still..)
47. Had my portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten caviar
72. Pieced a quilt(something I wish I could do!)
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had my picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone's life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby (had 4)
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a lawsuit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Rode an elephant

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Yesterday, I said today was going to be a great day.

A great day would be loads of Christmas card mail, followed by calorie free cookie baking and a sudden snow storm. I didn't get any of that but it was a pretty good day anyway.

Rebecca had her friend sleep over, she was so happy that they're back from their holiday to Bali and KL. After a couple episodes of Walking with Dinosaurs (a 6-episode BBC series, Jonathon is really into dinosaurs, can't wait to take him to Natural History), some pancakes and rounds of Cadoo and Ziggity (both games by Cranium, which we've also played several times the past week), the kids hit the pool with a leftover pizza picnic and then spent some time on the computer. It was a hotter day today than it has been in a week so it wasn't until the evening that the kids played outside. That's when they found the "perfect place for the tent" and Jonathon decided to gather seeds for planting. Did I mention he's also really into gardening? We'll set up the tent and find some pots tomorrow. I know the kids have plans to sleep outside at some point, but with the roving packs of mongeese (man, are they ugly, someday I'll get a photo) and snakes in our yard, along with bats, cats and rats, I don't think so.
Anyway, Rebecca hopped off to Citi Centre with her friend for some last minute shopping, Nicholas and I started baking chocolate pixie cookies. Ian did bring home some mail, Season 4 of Lost/Horton Hears a Who/Dark Knight (which we, uh, already have... our neighbor's penchant for buying multiple copies of movies without intending to seems to be rubbing off on Ian), along with a new backpack for Katherine from She's already decorated it with her name. She wanted the white one so she could write and draw on it, and have her friends sign it too. She was planning to draw flags of all the places she's been, but I think we'll hunt down patches instead.
We pulled together our cheeseburger dinner with homecut potato wedges before deciding on "Elf" for our evening Christmas movie. Oh who am I kidding, it was an easy decision as "Elf" is our only Christmas movie. I suppose I should fix that at some point. Tomorrow we'll borrow "A Muppet Christmas Carol" from the neighbors.
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. How did that happen? I'd best go wrap that last gift that's sitting... waiting...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Reflections from the Ground

It's been a tough year on the ground in Chennai.

When you look at all the nitpitcky details of living here as a representative of the U.S. government, it's had its low moments. When we arrived, fuel was affordable and we could fill up our car on the Consulate compound. Now only official vehicles can fill up and the rest of us, to put it dramatically, are at the mercy of the local supply and the local QA officials. We lost our COLA. We're at greater risk of terrorism as the attacks in Mumbai showed. Living in Chennai has been a haven of safety so far, in the past year alone Hyderabad, Bangalore, Delhi, Jaipur, Mumbai and other spots have been hurt, and with the increase in activity who knows where the next strike will be. A few weeks ago, we were informed of a drop in our differential, from 20% to 15%. We are the only Post in India that dropped, and we are now the lowest differential Post in India. And across the State Department board, we've all lost the perk of flying business class. Yes, we realize it was a perk. It was a perk we very much appreciated. It was only for travel over 14 hours in one shot, which we have been able to take advantage of for each of our Posts.
But no one judges a year solely by what they've "lost." Because really for us it's been a loss of some comforts, and that's about it. We have had more than enough good, personal good, to offset the bad. Rebecca took off in swimming and worked her way to a 42 second 50m freestyle. Katherine did the swim team again this year and competed in Sri Lanka. We all went to cheer her on and ticked another country off our list. Katherine has been getting healthier each day also. She had two trips to Singapore, one with Ian and one with all of us. I've gotten more confident in my job, which is fitting since we're almost done here. Because, you know, we're going home in June. That right there offsets any negative points we might have built up.
There's so much to anticipate. Top points for me would be getting ourselves into a house again (house-hunting trip planned for April), finding a swim team for Rebecca, going to real church again and enrolling the kids in CCD. We'll be able to have Katherine do Confirmation and Jonathon do First Communion without any hassles. I look forward to farmers' markets, weather that changes daily, working in the yard and gardening with Jonathon. He's taken a shine to gardening, and baking/cooking too.
Now that I think about it, this should be a mutating entry. Over the next week, I'll try to add more to it. I might even add a "what I'll miss about India" part.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

This and That

This: I'm giddy about getting Christmas cards. I've sent mine off, and of course the point is to send without expectation of receiving, but I can't help it, I really like getting Christmas cards! I keep cards year to year and this year popped them all into 5x7 photo albums. The photo cards are especially wonderful to go back to.

That: We're on facebook. Look us up :)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Following directions is good for you.

Aside from the no-TV thing falling apart when daddy gets home from work, the days with the kids have been going really well. Monday was truly a growing pains kind of day. The past 2 days Nicholas has turned the TV off on his own when I get up.

Now to be completely truthful, no TV does not mean no computer. I do let the kids play webkinz since they all got new pets in their stockings. They'll play at the same time, so they can "hang out at each other's houses" and play games together. It keeps them busy and gives me some quiet time too.

Wednesday is pretty much a blur at this point. I know I started readingListening for Lions, which I finished by the pool on Thursday, and I know that Nicholas went to his friend's house for the afternoon. I remember we had crockpot pork chops for dinner, and while they were tasty, the cost isn't justified after the bones and fat are removed. Katherine went to the opthamologist in the morning for an odd eye-rolling thing she's been doing. The doctor agreed with my parents (because I totally didn't catch on) that it was most likely an allergic reaction to the eye make-up she's been wearing. She pokes herself in the eye with mascara and smears eyeliner everywhere when she rubs her eyes. I'm sure people wonder why I don't use make-up and it's because I'm just as inept. So... no more eye make-up for her (ever, or at the very least no more funky local brands).
Yesterday we brought Raita to the vet, you've read about that. We made a picnic and the kids hit the pool for a bit but complain it's too chilly these days. I think the temps drop to the low70s at night, so I can see what they mean. Brrr. The boys scootered around the CG compound on various adventures. The girls decided to make the roof of our staff house their "secret" club spot. The roof. Reached via 6ft ladder, onto an overhanging ledge, and a climb over the concrete side "rail." It's only about 8 feet up, and with the high ledge wall, very little chance of falling off. Granted, the getting up and down is tricky, but the girls can manage. Trouble arose, of course, when the boys wanted to go up. More trouble arose when initially the girls didn't tell me they were even up there. Katherine felt she could be the responsible one should anything happen (and of course she thought I'd say No... which led to another discussion on how not telling me doesn't make it OK to do). It took a long while for her to even acknowledge that as the parent I should know when my any of kids are climbing on rooftops. She didn't quite get that if someone fell off, she wouldn't be responsible in the sense of actually being able to DO anything besides run in the house screaming. She also didn't get that her desire to be responsible by omitting key information when claiming "We're watching the sunset"... from the rooftop... meant I had to trust her less and consider her less responsible. UGH. Many days I simply don't get her.
The rest of our day was spent preparing dinner. A friend was coming, so we put together a lasagna. Jonathon is going to become my lasagna maker. He's asked to not have the responsibility until he's about 9, but I think he can handle it now. A few more practice lasagnas and he'll be good to go on his own. We also made buckeyes. I've never made a buckeye before, and they aren't something I'll eat seeing as it's peanut butter rolled in chocolate, but Ian being from Ohio it seemed high time I learned. I scorched the first batch of chocolate and turned over the whole chocolate melting mess to Kelly and buckeye dipping to Ian. Honestly, sometimes I can't even make no-bake treats properly.
It all ended up well, and we had a great cup of Mexican hot chocolate, provided by Kelly, while the buckeyes refroze.
It's already Friday in India. A week out of winter break almost done. I'm going to miss the long breaks in the States, though perhaps not really since here this break comes during the gorgeous season, where everyone wants to be outside for hours. Next week is a 3-day week for Ian and I'm really looking forward to it.
While I'm enjoying being home, I'm missing the travel just a bit. Friends in Cairo are driving over to Jordan to see Petra, lots of friends have gone home to the States and Canada and are all over from California to Niagara to Disney cruises, other friends have hopped to Bali. Spring break is around the corner too, and I hear all these wonderful plans for Cambodia, Thailand, even short jaunts to Kerala. I know it makes the most sense for us to hunker down here until we leave, but sometimes I get that jolt of wishing we could go somewhere else, just for a little bit.
I was up early this morning, so I'm going to curl up on the couch for a bit and wait for the house to wake. The little chipmunk squirrel things are up and about in the trees outside the window, and the dawn bird cacophony has ebbed, so I'll crack the window open and enjoy the quiet.

Raita on Day 4

Raita: a yogurt dish with chopped tomatoes/cucumber/onions/other bits, used as a coolant when eating spicy Indian food.


Raita: cat #4 in the Hopper house.

I had no intentions of keeping the kitten we picked up off Chamiers Road by the Park Sheraton. None whatsoever. It would seem the heavens did not agree with my plans. After a couple weeks and a quick vet visit, we adopted her out to a Consulate family. A week later she was back as one of the kids had an allergic reaction to her. Her name changed from Hiro to Raita, and she's been in the house ever since. Today we estimated her birthday around September 15th, so she's roughly 3 months old. When we first picked her up she wouldn't eat solid foods, so the first couple weeks were a liquid diet of homemade kitten milkshake formula. Since then she's graduated to dry kitten food and has taken over the upstairs, much to the other 3 cats horror. There's still a lot of puffed fur and hissing when there's a face-off and usually Raita will force the bigger cats to turn tail and hide in my bedroom.
Last week, Raita fell in the bathtub full of water. It's her own fault, she stretches out on the bathtub counter whenever one of the girls takes a shower. Looking much like a soggy rat, she took to the den to dry off and we noticed her abdomen was really fat and very pink. It looked weird. So we brought her in to the vet who, after giving her a shot for ear mites, said she was fat though he could feel a little lump and didn't know if it was something in her intestine, a large blob of fat, or perhaps kittens. Though I know she's way too young, and Raita has been inside the house with us, I didn't know what might have occurred when she was gone for a week. Today we brought her back for an ultrasound, just to be sure.
No kittens. Still not sure what the lump is, but it's one less worry. Since she's still so young, we decided to hold off on getting her spayed and did start her vaccinations and pick her next deworming date. I'm not sure why we have to deworm our cats regularly as they eat imported food and are 100% indoor, but OK.
So all told: for the exam, the u/s, the vaccination, the deworming suspension... Rs550. Right around $11.
Now to figure out what to do since I have no intention of bringing 4 cats with us to the States. We'll see how far my plans get me this time.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Day Two, not saying it's all roses, but a whole lot better.

There's a zen thing that settles on the house when the TV is off. I got up about 8:30, the TV went off (hey, I'll let them have it if it means more sleep for me in the morning), and it was off the rest of the day but for about 15 minutes when the boys snuck up to watch Phineas and Ferb. I'll admit I was tempted to leave it on, a new Phineas and Ferb is hard to resist. But off it went, without much grumbling.

So what did we do today?

A little bit of schoolwork. Jonathon finished off a science workbook and did some pages; Nicholas had 4 pages of reading comprehension; Rebecca completed some multiplication and division practice; Katherine read up on Thomas Edison and dug up some of his inventions and their patent dates. Katherine commented on how much of the American History book she still didn't know, and I know that next summer we'll have to spend some serious time in the newly renovated American History Museum in DC, as well as take some trips for local history. I was thinking Philly and Charleston? NYC would be nice too.
We made lunch together. Pasta, that ended up as pasta with veggies, chicken and sauce for the kids and a chilled pasta salad for me. Nicholas made toasted bagels in our new toaster oven (which the kids think is pretty darn cool).
Katherine played the piano quite a bit. She's learning some Christmas carols, and can play Carol of the Bells, kind of. It's getting better. I got in a bit of playing today too, which is always relaxing.
I think at one point the younger three turned the walk-in closet into a club house of sorts. I'm not sure how that's possible as it's packed with rubbermaids and suitcases, but I know the light was on and there was a lot of talking going on.
I read a book. A whole book. It's a kids' book, Coraline, and I give it two thumbs up if you like a quick spooky story that's quite creative. There's a movie (by the creators of The Nightmare Before Christmas) coming out February 6th. I've told Rebecca she has to read the book before she can see the movie. Check out the movie website if your connection is fact enough, it's quite clever.
Out came the Art Attack books. Jonathon just wanted to paint, but Rebecca put together her own mini imaginary island. To be continued tomorrow as we had to go out for a bit and it was getting dark when we returned. The outdoor creative bug kept them busy for a good chunk of the afternoon.
At 3:30 Rebecca, Jonathon and I departed to the Consulate for a Town Hall meeting on our lowered differential (more on that in a different post). I'd slipped Katherine Rs100 to take Nicholas to Amma Naana. He'd been asking to go repeatedly, so I figured that would brighten up his day, and keep the two of them busy while we were gone. Ian came home early with us, loaded with packages. Yay to both. Because Ian was home, the driver was set to leave. But before the driver left for the day we had an interesting conversation, one where I learned that our gardener had hired a sweeper. Here's our gardener saga... our first gardener, Paneer, basically walked off the job, then insisted he didn't, but we'd already hired someone new once he left. Our second gardener, Venkatesh, was pretty good but he fell sick repeatedly and after missing about 3 months out of one 6 month period, we let him go so he could get better. The job just wasn't working for him. So we hired Ravi, who previously had been a dog-watcher for another Consulate family, but sold himself as a gardener. He wasn't good, and in fact the driver and our house-keeper didn't like him at all. They called him lazy and crass. He actually argued with Ian about his duties. Then one day, Venkatesh reappeared at the gate. I wasn't going to hire him back, but after learning his family had moved to Chennai (from somewhere in Andhra Pradesh), and the house-keeper and the neighbor's driver were talking highly of him (so said our driver) we called Venkatesh back. The staff has ways. We fired Ravi and Venkatesh has been working hard to trim, prune, weed, and basically get the yard back up to snuff. He'll be working split time with the neighbors' yard, just like Ravi did, and with that he'll make a very decent salary. Now, the neighbors have always had a sweeper lady come each morning to sweep the hard surfaces... the pathways, the driveway, etc. I don't really know why as that's part of a gardener's job and pretty much all Ravi did with his time. But Venkatesh has taken matters into his own hands. With two jobs each day he's decided he will save himself the sweeping time, and hire the sweeper lady himself to do our hard surfaces, so he can focus on the gardening. More than that, he's paying her out of his salary as he didn't ask us to hire her.
Our staff now has staff. It's a little boggling.
After passing the gardener update to Ian, I wrapped some presents when we returned (presents not actually for my own family!), opened up our mail boxes, tucked gifts under the tree, and we all put together quesadillas for dinner. Again the toaster oven came into play and turned our quesadillas into crispy yet gooey cheesy goodness. Did I mention we like the toaster oven? While dinner was amakin', Katherine asked if the they, the kids, had been less annoying today. Blunt, so I was blunt right back. It had been a much better day, if solely for the fact that if everyone was bored at least I didn't hear about it every minute. In fact, aside from a few instances of telling Nicholas to quit walking in circles, I didn't hear "bored" at all. What did Katherine say? "Well, actually, I wasn't bored at all today."
Bedtime for the boys meant diving into book 3 of the Andrew Lost series. Andrew is now stuck, miniaturized, in a kitchen. The books are a mix of adventure and science. The first book explained how we all have little mites living in oil wells at the base of our eyelashes. Honestly, sometimes the stuff I read kind of makes me wish I didn't know. Like that book by Mary Roach, Stiff I recently finished, about the curious lives of human cadavers. Ever wanted to know just enough details about human decomposition to not get the image out of your head? That's the book for you. Now I'm reading Spook, where science tackles the afterlife. It starts in India with the idea of reincarnation. I've also picked up The Year of Living Biblically which is proving to be a fun and fabulous read about a guy who took a year to live the Bible as literally as possible without going to jail (after all, stoning adulterers just isn't acceptable anymore).
The girls stayed up for a bit to watch some Monk, then slouched off to their room to read. All in all, a much better day than yesterday. Now if we could just get all the cats to get along.

Monday, December 15, 2008

One Day Down... full throttle into the holiday break.

I wish I could say today was a great day. It wasn't. It was actually quite the mix of good and bad.

The bad... the kids. The kids were whiners and complainers and "I'm bored"ers and plain unpleasant. Mean mom for letting them watch Goblet of Fire this morning, turning the TV off at 10 and leaving it off the rest of the day. The entire rest of the day. No TV. The horror. They moaned, they groaned, they were rude and snotty. They ignored my suggestions and walked in circles and layed on the couch, and complained some more. *I sat Nicholas at the piano for a little practice. He refused, saying he was playing recorder now. We have an extra recorder at home. He said he didn't have music. I pulled out a recorder song book. I taught him 2 new notes, he played a couple times. I told him to go slower, he played faster. Said there was no rush and asked why he was racing. He said he wanted to get through it fast because he plain didn't. want. to. do. it. I sent him to his room. He fell asleep for 2 1/2 hours. *Katherine came up with an idea to dress everyone into a nativity scene, then decided she didn't want to be in it. A face-off ensued. That ended ugly. *Jonathon simply couldn't control his body and danced around, spun in circles, pushed, kicked, sang out loud, hit, bounced, stuck his feet into everything, play fought all day long, driving everyone absolutely nuts. He set us up for a game of Go, then insisted on a rule that was plain wrong. Insisted, to the point of yelling "YES! IT IS!" over and over again at me. That ended abruptly when I walked away. *Rebecca won Ms. Snotty for the day. She gave orders, she yelled at her siblings, she was short with me. Just had her very unpleasant moments.
The good... the kids. After the movie ended we packed up a picnic and went to the pool for a swim. The weather was gorgeous and food just tastes better when eaten outside. They swam and played fairly nicely for about an hour with no major mishaps. Jonathon was left out of the game, but sat with me for a while and was pleasantly chatty. I don't recall the topic, but I don't think it was video game related. We went home and the boredom set in, but all that moaning and groaning eventually faded. Rebecca cleaned up part of her room, Katherine made cookies, Nicholas took a nap, Katherine addressed her Christmas cards and pulled out a project to work on, Jonathon worked on some crocheting with me and made a Christmas gift, they all got some DS time, Rebecca worked on an old unfinished art project, Nicholas and I played a game of air hockey, Katherine practiced the "Carol of the Bells" on the piano, the boys helped make dinner and turned our honey-garlic biscuits blue with food coloring, and after dinner, rather than the tube turning on, we played Cranium while the kitten pounced around and Jonathon listened to his Sansa Shaker with earbuds. The night even ended on a positive note with Katherine, which is always a big deal.
An up day. A down day. A little too much on the extremes, IMO. Let's hope tomorrow goes better.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

We're on the hunt. For a house.

Since we're coming home this summer, and there will be no better time to buy a house, that's what we're planning. Back in our old haunting ground, we've been searching through and to see what's on the market now. Want to see the houses I really like?

MLS: PW6936923

MLS: PW6810929

Others we're keeping an eye on:
PW6898559 (12115 Tango Lane)
PW6930530 (14142 Rockinghorse Drive)
PW6898658 (13508 Photo Drive)
PW6926899 (13417 Princedale Drive)
PW6936272 (13819 Rosewood Drive)
PW6909787 (6188 Preston Court)
PW6799713 (14611 Brook Drive)
PW6933173 (13342 Pelican Road)

Ian says: DON'T BUY OUR HOUSES. Ok? ;)

Cell Phones aren't (just) for Calling anymore.

I like my new cell phone. It's red, slidey thing, a Nokia something or other, and it has all sorts of gadgetry options (Bluetooth, Flickr, and other things I can't actually use in India) that make it way cool. Ian got an iTouch recently, and the only thing it doesn't do is make calls. That would require an iPhone, which he has his eye on for next summer, because you know, his Razr just isn't good enough anymore. The iPhone does everything... EVERYTHING... so I'm not sure why he bothered with the iTouch in the first place. But while I kind of understand why folks would feel the need to do things besides call or SMS on their cells, what I'll never get is the ability, and the desire, to manage just about everything in your life over the cell.

In India, or at the very least in Chennai, it takes an act of God to get a SIM card. Where as other places you can pop into the corner store (for prepaid) or walk up to a TMobile kiosk (for account driven) to purchase a SIM card, here they are only given out through approved centers that ask for photos, copies of passport pages, proof of address, and first-born children. The last one is only a small stretch from reality, but you get my point. For this reason, we go through the Consulate to get our SIM cards, and apparently my SIM was previously owned because I get regular SMS updates on deposits and withdrawals from an ICICI bank account. Not my ICICI account. I don't have an ICICI account.

People do banking over their cell phones. I understand it's possible, but I can't understand why people do it. It seems so insecure, seeing as how I get a regular play-by-play of someone else's monetary activities. It's enough exposure for me to never want to do more than use my phone for it's original purpose... to call someone (though I prefer SMS to actual talking). That's plenty good enough.

Monday, December 8, 2008


Heads up to those getting Christmas cards from us. Someone should have told me that green lettering on a brown background wouldn't work. Looked fine on the computer, not so fine in reality. Actually, barely readable. Sorry.

UPDATE: After some Christmas card surgery, the cards are relatively presentable and will be in the mail next week. They'll be late, no way to get around that, but at least I can feel good about sending them out.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

What. A. Week.

It's crazy for me to recall this past week. Just so busy. A quick rundown would look like this:

2 Dec: Rebecca's birthday! Work in morning. Make cake. Bring cupcakes to school. Swimming after school. Bunco night out w/ Rebecca. Late night for girls.
3 Dec: Work in morning. Buy more ice cream for Becca's party. 2 p.m. ASA mtg at school. Make cookie dough. Ian came home. Kids stayed up late to see him.
4 Dec: Work 6 hours. Elementary school program 3:30-4:30. "Dinner" at school after program. Bake cookies for Tea.
5 Dec: Bake more cookies for Tea. Tea with GSO at our house 10-11 with about a dozen EFMs. Work. Rebecca has 5 friends come for a sleepover - cookie baking, dinner out at Benjarong, ice cream sunday bar & movie night. Nicholas goes to a birthday party 5-8. Jonathon and Katherine sleepover at friends' houses.
6 Dec: St. Nicholas Day stockings. Madras Kids 9-12. Lunch at Sparky's. NAP. We were supposed to go to a school dinner at the Park Sheraton tonight, but none of us were up to it. Jonathon is now sporting an illness of some sort. And I still can't find any duct tape for Nicholas's wart.

Oh no. We forgot to decorate the tree today. Guess there's always tomorrow.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Gifts That Give Back

I'm giving our stuff away. They are items we don't need and/or want anymore, or items that never found a place in our hearts, so off they go to make someone else happy. At work I'm giving away various things like unworn kids clothing and outgrown specialty toys (today was a stack of LeapFrog LeapPad books with their cartridges.. without the LeapPad). Some of the folks at the Consulate have lightning fast typing skills as the items I put up for grabs through e-mail were nabbed literally within seconds. I hope no fights break out. A stack of movies now donated to the CLO library. Big piles of outgrown clothing for an orphanage. Stacks of toys/games/puzzles for the school's toy drive. There was a brand new men's dress shirt, still in the box, that the housekeeper asked for. For her grown son. It has vibrant pink stripes with an almost solid pink tie. Why did we have this? I really don't want to answer that, suffice to say that our housekeeper is now, shall we say, tickled pink. Her son will apparently just love this shirt and wear it for Christmas. One man's trash...

You've heard me mention as a site for the average Joe to become a philanthropist any day of the year. It's UK based, don't let that scare you. There's also and other microfinancing establishments if you'd like to go that way. But, there are plenty of other ways to give back too. Some are recipient-guided, some are giver-guided, most are worth your time and money.


One-stop shop
More than 15,000 eco- and socially conscious goods are available (some from as low as $2.50) on Shop by gift category, or, if you'd like, "purchase impact," be it eco- , animal-, or people-friendly. Each product is vetted and comes with a short description so you can see exactly where your money is going. Fair-trade lip balms, organic soaps and bath fizzers are all under $15 and make excellent stocking stuffers.
Not just a pretty package
Pangea Organics' gift packages come stocked with bar soaps, shower gels, and lotions and arrive in a stylish (really, skip the wrapping paper!) recycled box inlaid with spruce seeds -- soak them, plant -- and in two weeks a baby Spruce tree will appear, along with, we assume, softer skin. Holiday gift sets start at $30 at OK, I highlighted this one just because I think it's so cool. I've seen gift cards that are impregnated with flower seeds and the idea just rocks, but something as drastic as a spruce tree? Fabulous.
Buy a gift, fund a business,
At online boutique Nest,, the $30 you spend on patchwork Guatemalan tote will go toward ... creating more Guatemalan totes! The site sells original apparel, jewelry, home and paper goods made by more than 75 exclusive artists and designers and gives microcredit loans to women in developing countries, enabling them to start and maintain a business selling their own products -- which are then offered on the site itself.
Another likeminded organization,, sells handwoven bracelets made by native tribes in Argentina and traditionally patterned silk scarves made by women in Cambodia. Global Goods Partners is dedicated to alleviating poverty and promoting social justice and funds women-led market initiatives in local communities in 18 countries.
For pets
Already have the perfect present for Fido? Attach a card from Hooray for the Underdog, a line by photographers Janet Healey and Joe Grisham -- a husband-and-wife team who sell stylish greeting cards featuring pictures of dogs and cats up for adoption in shelters. Ten percent of proceeds ($3 for cards) go to animal welfare groups and shelters.
For animal lovers
The animal lovers in your life may have already overdosed on cute cards (and books and toys and screensavers), but they might not have saved their very own elephant. The International Fund for Animal Welfare's Gifts for Animals program helps protect pachyderms, as well as bear cubs and seals, and also provides funds for urgent pet care and animal rescue. Each gift comes with a full-color pamphlet telling your animal's story, and there's no leash required. Donations start at $25.
Guilt-free indulgence
Lush Cosmetics Charity Box, $20.45;
Lush's hand and body lotion is made with fair-trade cocoa-butter, and proceeds -- 100 percent after taxes -- go to the organization featured on the lid of each pot. WaterCan, TreePeople, Amazon Conservation Team and International Fund for Animal Welfare are only a few.
Celebrate the season of light with Jimmy Belasco all-natural candles ($34). They're made of soybeans, vegetable oil and fragrance -- nothing else -- but the best part of this fragrant treat are the wrapping options. Choose from a wide selection of boxes decorated with cityscapes, calming landscapes, pop art patterns, and holiday themes. Five dollars from the sale of each candle goes to a good cause: You select one from a list of Jimmy's staffers' 10 favorites (with more options on the way).
Buying in bulk?
Good Cards ( are the gift certificates of the philanthropy world. You set the price; recipients pick the charity. Perfect for those bosses, co-workers and clients you're stumped on.
Last minute,
Click, click, done. Two organizations simplify making a difference around the world. Oxfam's gift site,, offers to more than 57 charitable donations, including a pair of sheep ($90) that allow women to generate their own income by making textiles, a small business fund to help get entrepreneurs started ($100), and a veterinarian's field kit ($35). Products are organized by price, with 28 options under $50, and recipients receive a card explaining what the donation will provide. coordinates donations to more than 200 aid organizations, including East Meets West, Helen Keller International, and more.
For those big-ticket items,
You know those auctions your kids always have in elementary school or the ones your office frequently puts together, where you bid for signed memorabilia, electronic items and original prints? Think of BiddingforGood as one giant elementary school auction: Type in the item you're looking for (we got seven hits for the Nintendo Wii) and bid to win. Check the "Cool Picks" section for really original ideas: Tickets to two shows at New York City fashion week, a CSI set pass, and tickets to the 2009 U.S. Open golf championship. Each purchase benefits the auctioneer's charity of choice. Still haven't found what you're looking for? Try to find auctions from high-profile groups.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


There are days, normal days, where I feel like I'm going in circles. Yesterday was a Circle Day, but it felt far from normal. I guess it's just being jittery. Ian called at dinner time and talked to all the girls. He's frustrated and I'm frustrated for him. I hope today is a better day for him. If he's having a good day, then we will too.

In the meantime I've turned the turkey carcass into stock (stacked in the freezer, ready for use), I'm doing a lot of dishes (the housekeeper has been out since Wednesday because of the cyclone, which is finally done), cleaning up (one word: kids), putting together gifts (blasted Snapfish *grumble*), rahrahing the offspring into using their chore charts (it's so much fun to hear them complain about no money when they've had chore charts for weeks... and haven't done them), on-line window shopping (nothing will make it for the holidays anymore), etc etc etc. The gas ran out on the stove when I was making some turkey soup and I don't feel like changing the tank, so it'll be nuked. I really should be whipping up some additional cookie doughs for Thursday and Friday, and continuing my crochet projects. Make a "Free Cats" sign for the kitten and Tikka. And my bedroom needs some serious attending to. Instead, I'm sitting here feeling like I'm going in circles.
Isn't it funny how the computer sucks away time? I'm going to write a list for this afternoon and stop sitting here checking
So what did I do with my afternoon? I didn't clean my bedroom like I wanted, that's a bummer and I may still take a swing at it before taking a shower and getting some sleep. Maybe. I did bring the kids to the pool as it was remarkably clean after the cyclone, and picked up the kitchen a bit. Not all the dishes, that's practically a living creation now with the stacks of dirty dishes in the sinks. I threw out the trash because the turkey carcass wasn't being kind to my nose. A couple more loads of laundry done, school lunches for tomorrow made, played a round of Harry Potter Scene It with the boys, litter boxes cleaned, chore charts printed, a round of Holy Cow with Jonathon, the Free Cats poster page just needs photos of Tikka and Raita, a few pages of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle read, a double batch of ginger cookie dough is in the freezer, and that's about it. We had the neighbors over for Sunday night pizza and the Christmas lights were all aglow. Katherine did her Mitosis project which turned out pretty cool (have I mentioned how I really miss taking science classes?) and I learned that the ugly little bump on Nicholas's thumb is actually a wart.
Ew, a wart. I read up a bit on wart treatments and seems a simple thing called Duct Tape Occlusion Therapy works as well and often better than freezing/cutting/other doctor invasive methods. The idea is to cut pieces of duct tape just the size of the wart and adhere it to the spot for 6 days, then scrape off the dead cells with a pumice stone and repeat the process until the wart is gone. It doesn't hurt, isn't dangerous, and takes less time that more painful methods to clear it out. And that's when I discovered I have no duct tape. Scotch? check. Packing? check. Electrical? check. Duct? nope. One more thing to put on the shopping list.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Smoke and Fire Tenders

Around 60 hours into the siege in Mumbai and the Taj Mahal Hotel is on fire again. Gunfire is heard steadily on the Headline News channel. A body was just pushed through a 1st floor window. Reports refer to carnage inside.

Ian won't be in that danger zone, but he's off to Mumbai this morning for the After Time. The time when the hotel is secure, and the dead need to be identified, families notified, Americans need to get home, passports replaced. There is a Consulate in Mumbai already, but no single Consulate is staffed to single-handedly manage this sort of emergency, so we do what we can to help.

What a weird day.

I told the housekeeper not to come in today. Never mind that the entire entry is layered in mud. With the rains comes the flooding in from the street. With the flooding comes plenty of debris, trash and mud. Our driveway is slick with mud and plastic. The mud comes into the house on the feet of mostly small people. The small people were out for several hours (rain or not) in their swimsuits, creating additional lakes, rivers, waterfalls, islands, etc. The biggest of the little people decided to bring in a dead frog that was supposed to be some crow's lunch but was dropped in our driveway. She then put it in the sink and dissected it. The kid can't stand bugs, but give her a half-mangled frog and she's happy as a clam. OK.

So the day has been rather fruitful. They played outside, always a good thing especially as the temperature is so nice. I keep opening windows to listen to the rain, they keep shutting them. I gave in and made some breakfast, French Breakfast Puffs. I doubt they're French at all, but hey what do I know. They were OK, more muffiny than I think they were supposed to be, but that's probably a result of my being unable to cream the crisco/sugar since our beater died, making them slightly heavy.
Our beater died a while ago. It wasn't a huge surprise. For a multispeed mixer it was stuck on 1 for several years, and it wasn't a slow 1. Everything required hand beating before using the mixer so it didn't fly all over the kitchen. But that's what plugging things into transformers does. It kills them. It's even worse for items with heating elements which brings me to our toaster. It died this week. Waaah! My parents sent it to us as a gift when we lived in Manila, it was a great 4 slice toaster, wide enough for most bagels even. It was a suddent death. It started acting wonky on Monday and by Wednesday it had passed on to toaster heaven. We use our toaster a lot, so we'll purchase a 220v to use the rest of our time here and store it when we return next year. In the meantime, raw bread.
Our slow cooker won't be coming home with us. It's from a decade ago, has a single Off/Low/High knob, and I want a new one with a delay button. The last time we made stewed apples it cooked too long and we ended with applesauce. Good applesauce, but not what we aimed for. I've come to really like the crockpot. It's so convenient, I think I'll look around for a crockpot cookbook beyond the one the cooker came with.
Our food processor won't come with us either. It's from before we got married, has 3 options, On/Off/Pulse and 2 shredder disks. Again I just want a new one. Is that so wrong? It's had a long, good life.
OK, enough with the kitchen talk. Well, one more thing, Katherine made lunch today. I didn't ask, she just did. Of course I didn't offer to feed the crew either and it was already 2 p.m., but hey, I was busy. Busy putting up Christmas! The tree is up, the lights are on it, the stockings are up, the Advent calendar is ready.
This coming week is the toy drive at the school, and we have quite the pile being donated. I've gone through the toy room and the gift box and pulled out everything the kids have outgrown or items that have become outdated. Mr. Potato Head is great, but not the favorite nor often played with. To be honest, Darth Tater was never the favorite, no matter how cute he is. The Magnetix are going also, along with old puzzles, games, and books. Time to clean house and give to others. Two birds, one shot. Just another reason I like the Season.
So now it's time to dig up some food again. Tomorrow I'll make a turkey pot pie with most of the leftover bits from Thanksgiving, but honestly I'm not hungry now so it'll be a foraging night for the kids. We're running a little late on everything but it doesn't matter too much as Ian is still at work for a DVC. As of right now, he's heading to Mumbai tomorrow as back-up. I'm not thrilled, but that's part of the job. I'm actually more not thrilled because he'll also be gone from the 15th-23rd in Hyderabad, and I don't know how long he'll be in Mumbai seeing as the situation there is not over, 2 days after it started. The kids are understandably worried for his safety, I know he'll be safe but I don't like him going anyway. Maybe they'll change their minds between now and tomorrow. Cross your fingers for us and keep praying for those currently in Mumbai. All ~17 million of them.

Fun stuff

It's another day off from school. Work isn't shut down, but I'm staying home with the kids. The rain comes in bursts, flooding is periodic in our road/driveway/yard, but many homes in the city have been completely flooded out. We have rain in our forecast for the next week, but it will be tapering off as the cyclone blows itself out. So, another day at home in the sogginess. Now I have plenty of time to de-meat the turkey.

**International Children's Digital Library

**Peanut Butter Pumpkin Pie: Not bad. Not bad at all. For those of you who don't like to suffer through straight pumpkin pie, and really like peanut butter, this is for you. I'm more a cream cheese pumpkin pie person, or straight up with whipped cream, but like I said, this is a tasty alternative.

Pastry for single crust pie (I did a graham cracker crust)
3 eggs
1 (16 oz.) can pumpkin
1/2 c. light brown sugar
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. creamy peanut butter
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. light cream or half & half

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Press pastry into 10 inch pie dish or 9 inch deep dish pie plate; set aside. In large bowl, beat eggs. Add pumpkin, both sugars, peanut butter, spice, and salt; beat well. Gradually add light cream, beating until blended. Pour into prepared crust and bake 65 to 70 minutes or until pie tests done. Let cool. Makes about 8 servings.

Note: If you don't have pumpkin pie spice, substitute 1/2 teaspoon each ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mumbai: We are Fine. Cyclone: We are Fine.

Mumbai is across the country from us, so we are not in immediate danger (think 1300km, roughly NY to Kansas?). That's not to say the horrors in Mumbai aren't affecting us. Our people are heading to Mumbai to help out, and of course we do have a Consulate there with ~40 of our colleagues.
Read CNN or BBC.
A cyclone hit us yesterday. Cyclone=Hurricane, just in the Indian Ocean intead of the Atlantic (Typhoon is reserved for the Pacific Ocean, but it's the same thing). It hasn't been devistating as far as wind damage, though some large branches have fallen and I haven't seen the roads since I woke up 30 minutes ago, but the rains have flooded everything. Our driveway, carport, yard is a river. The rains are coming in powerful bursts. School is canceled for today. It's the second time since we've been here that school has been out for weather.
So, what has been skipped over lately?
Katherine had her Week Without Walls. The 7th grade trained out to Mysore in the state of Karnataka, and spent 4 full days abusing the King's Park Sanctuary resort, hiking through Nagarhole National Park, rapelling and rock climbing, dipping in a waterfall, tracking animals on safari, and team-building before visiting a Tibetan monastery and Mysore Palace. They took the night train back and didn't seem too worse for wear, but for the mussed hair and slightly stinky clothing. More importantly, Katherine made new friends, had a good friend as one of her roommates, was full of inside jokes and had plenty of stories to share. She saw her first shooting star. She had fun. She came back happy. I can't tell you how nervous I was sending her out there, even equipped with seabands. And yes, she had some moments on the trip. Katherine needs time alone, she needs time to regroup, she needs time to read and just be apart. Not a lot, not even every day, but some. And as we all know about school trips, times of being alone are non-existent. From the bus to the train to the hotel to the activities and meals, everyone is in a group, or at the very very least, has a buddy, and no one sleeps enough or drinks enough or eats enough (even when, ahem, mom packs a week's worth of supplimental nutrition in the suitcase). By Wednesday evening Katherine was crying at nothing and running a fever. She went to bed early and had regrouped enough by morning to get through the busy day. But she did it, and while my fears weren't completely unfounded, she was fine and was happy.
Speaking of being happy, Katherine is so much happier this school year. The big differences being she has friends, and she doesn't pick sides. It was funny to hear her on the phone (she called several times on her trip) about how the girls were all divided and doing the bit "Well, you just go tell HER that I'm blah blah blah" and Katherine would tell her to go say it herself. Katherine is making a big effort to stay out of the confrontations, to realize they are dumb and ever-changing, and to become comfortable with herself and the way she wants to be.
I know many parents will disagree with this next statement, but I'll say it anyway. It's OK for us that our previously straight-A student is now pulling Bs and a couple Cs. Duh, we're not thrilled with the Cs. But she's emotionally healthier now as she seems to have spent 1st quarter developing her friendships and her own self-esteem, and emotional health means more to us than the difference between an A and a B. We're working on the grades, she knows they are her responsibility, and I do think that 2nd quarter will see an improvement. Every one of her teachers at conference time (and I mean - every - single - one) said that Katherine is not just smart but really really smart, and her grades reflect not her brains, but her organization, participation and responsibility. Her participation has improved since then, as we've heard from several of her teachers in the past weeks. We encouraged her math/science teacher to continue to let her help other students in class once her own work is done. She needs to feel useful, and as she finishes her work so far ahead of everyone esle, helping out prevents boredom. We also peeked a glance at the class grades for both Math and Science... not a single A was given. So her Bs in both those classes were actually the highest grades handed out. Her language arts/social studies teacher seems to understand her quite well and says she delivers great oral presentations. Her French teacher says she a sponge and now that she's sitting in the front row she's much more involved.
Band is a funny thing. She's slouchy. She doesn't like to practice (who does?). But she actually plays flute quite well. She can sightread pretty well too. Last night after our weekly Heroes, she came home and played the piano for about 45 minutes. She hasn't played piano since starting the flute last year, but she picked her way through several songs she hadn't played before, with both hands together. It would be nice if it continued. We'll see.
So what about the other kids' conferences? Jonathon has issues with self-control. They aren't getting better. We did discuss his handwriting and I told her about the writing mat and the yoropencil he uses at home. She was intrigued by the idea that lefties develop their letters differently. I also asked her to allow Jonathon to keep an eraser at his seat. She has the kids cross out and continue to avoid massive erasing and torn paper, but for Jonathon he needs an eraser to correct his backwards numbers and letters. Often, he'll notice it's backwards as soon as he's written it, so she agreed.
Rebecca is doing well in school, As and Bs. The big goal for Rebecca will be her reading speed and her spelling. She's made a huge improvement in both over the past few weeks, really making an effort to finish her books by reading every night, even just a chapter. She's my "responsible one" (don't you just hate it when parents label their kids? yeah, me too). When something needs to go to school, I send it with her. When something happens at school, I know she'll call. I can rely on her to think 2 steps ahead and figure things out. She has to really work for her grades, but work she does.
Nicholas' teacher had nothing but positive things to say about him, and she had him totally pegged. He sits back and observes before jumping into any situation, be it school, class, a project, a game, anything. He doesn't like being reprimanded, and withdraws when he is. She commented on how at the beginning of the year he had a stomacheache and headache every day. Now, they're gone. We always say that Nicholas is our homebody. He likes to stay home, and he likes everyone else to stay home too. There's been steady improvement since the beginning of the year, and last week was the final step. He stayed home with what I supposed was pink eye, and I went to work. He was so bored, he kept calling me to ask when he could come to the Consulate (to see the doc). He was so bored, he was relieved it wasn't pink eye and he could return to school the next day. Since then, he says he wants to see his friends, he wants to go to class, and his teacher has noticed the change too. He didn't even withdraw when she reprimanded him this week, and instead completed his work and showed her straight off. It's only taken 8 years, but Nicholas is finally coming into his own.
That's it for now. I really really have to get my turkey in the oven and the sides acookin'. Thank goodness I did the pies last night. Have a wonderful Turkey Day, and we give thanks for all our blessings, espcially on this day of uncertainty.

Friday, November 21, 2008

I promise to come back with a real post soon. Promise.

One very cool thing and one very frightening thing.

Cool: Thin Film Solar Panels It would be great to have affordable solar power, wouldn't it?

Frightening: The Dynamic Tower Eighty. Rotating. Floors. *shudder*

Obama stuff behind the cut tag.

A cool Obama thing:

A primer on Obama
, great for kids too. In .pdf form, printable into a little booklet.
Obama Poised to ReBrand America: " "The arrival of Obama, as an African-American president, gives people a reason -- an excuse even -- to start loving America again," Oakley said.
But with expectations so high, experts say Obama will have to work to capitalize on the opportunity before him.
"Obama needs to show that he is prepared to listen to America's allies, to consult with them genuinely on issues like Afghanistan and climate change, to open up to new thinking about Iran and Cuba, to re-shape the world's economic institutions," Oakley said."
++What I found most interesting about this article, is that I read it right after reading the Diplomacy Book Club choice for November, an essay by Samuel P. Huntington entitled "The Lonely Superpower." The essay was written in 1999, and includes this passage: "First, it would behoove Americans to stop acting and talking as if this were a unipolar world. It is not. To deal with any major global issue, the United States needs the cooperation of at least some major powers. Unilateral sanctions and interventions are recipes for foreign policy disasters. Second, American leaders should abandon the benign-hegemon illusion that a natural congruity exists between their interests and values and those of the rest of the world. It does not. At times, American actions may promote public goods and serve more widely accepted ends. But often they will not, in part because of the unique moralistic component in American policy but also simply because America is the only superpower, and hence its interests necessarily differ from those of other countries. This makes America unique but not benign in the eyes of those countries."

Monday, November 10, 2008

Palin 2012? Say it ain't so.

Turn up the sound and click away... it's interactive! (Watch for the dinosaur out the windows too...)

Top 10 Foreign Issues for Obama to Contend With

Iraq and Afghanistan, sure... but plenty of others too.

November 4: President-Elect Obama's Speech

"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer...

It's the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference.
It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled -- Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.
It's the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful, and doubtful of what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.
It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.
I just received a very gracious call from Senator McCain. He fought long and hard in this campaign, and he's fought even longer and harder for the country he loves. He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine, and we are better off for the service rendered by this brave and selfless leader. I congratulate him and Governor Palin for all they have achieved, and I look forward to working with them to renew this nation's promise in the months ahead.
I want to thank my partner in this journey, a man who campaigned from his heart and spoke for the men and women he grew up with on the streets of Scranton and rode with on that train home to Delaware, the Vice President-elect of the United States, Joe Biden.
I would not be standing here tonight without the unyielding support of my best friend for the last sixteen years, the rock of our family and the love of my life, our nation's next First Lady, Michelle Obama. Sasha and Malia, I love you both so much, and you have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House. And while she's no longer with us, I know my grandmother is watching, along with the family that made me who I am. I miss them tonight, and know that my debt to them is beyond measure.
To my campaign manager David Plouffe, my chief strategist David Axelrod, and the best campaign team ever assembled in the history of politics -- you made this happen, and I am forever grateful for what you've sacrificed to get it done.
But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to -- it belongs to you.
I was never the likeliest candidate for this office. We didn't start with much money or many endorsements. Our campaign was not hatched in the halls of Washington -- it began in the backyards of Des Moines and the living rooms of Concord and the front porches of Charleston.
It was built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give five dollars and ten dollars and twenty dollars to this cause. It grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation's apathy; who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep; from the not-so-young people who braved the bitter cold and scorching heat to knock on the doors of perfect strangers; from the millions of Americans who volunteered, and organized, and proved that more than two centuries later, a government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished from this Earth. This is your victory.
I know you didn't do this just to win an election and I know you didn't do it for me. You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime -- two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century. Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us. There are mothers and fathers who will lie awake after their children fall asleep and wonder how they'll make the mortgage, or pay their doctor's bills, or save enough for college. There is new energy to harness and new jobs to be created; new schools to build and threats to meet and alliances to repair.
The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America -- I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you -- we as a people will get there.
There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government can't solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it's been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years -- block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.
What began twenty-one months ago in the depths of winter must not end on this autumn night. This victory alone is not the change we seek -- it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you.
So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. Let us remember that if this financial crisis taught us anything, it's that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers -- in this country, we rise or fall as one nation; as one people.
Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House -- a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity. Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, "We are not enemies, but friendsÂ…though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection." And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn -- I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too.
And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world -- our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand. To those who would tear this world down -- we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security -- we support you. And to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright --tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.
For that is the true genius of America -- that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.
This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that's on my mind tonight is about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She's a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing -- Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.
She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn't vote for two reasons -- because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.
And tonight, I think about all that she's seen throughout her century in America -- the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can't, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.
At a time when women's voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.
When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs and a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.
When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.
She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that "We Shall Overcome." Yes we can.
A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination. And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change. Yes we can.
America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves -- if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?
This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time -- to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth -- that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people:
Yes We Can. Thank you, God bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America."

Yes We Can

Even more meaningful now.

Obama's Speech from New Hampshire... in January 2008

"A few weeks ago, no one imagined that we'd have accomplished what we
did here tonight. For most of this campaign, we were far behind, and
we always knew our climb would be steep.
But in record numbers, you came out and spoke up for change. And with
your voices and your votes, you made it clear that at this moment - in
this election - there is something happening in America.
There is something happening when men and women in Des Moines and
Davenport; in Lebanon and Concord come out in the snows of January to
wait in lines that stretch block after block because they believe in
what this country can be.
There is something happening when Americans who are young in age and
in spirit - who have never before participated in politics - turn out
in numbers we've never seen because they know in their hearts that
this time must be different.
There is something happening when people vote not just for the party
they belong to but the hopes they hold in common - that whether we are
rich or poor; black or white; Latino or Asian; whether we hail from
Iowa or New Hampshire, Nevada or South Carolina, we are ready to take
this country in a fundamentally new direction. That is what's
happening in America right now. Change is what's happening in
You can be the new majority who can lead this nation out of a long
political darkness - Democrats, Independents and Republicans who are
tired of the division and distraction that has clouded Washington; who
know that we can disagree without being disagreeable; who understand
that if we mobilize our voices to challenge the money and influence
that's stood in our way and challenge ourselves to reach for something
better, there's no problem we can't solve - no destiny we cannot
Our new American majority can end the outrage of unaffordable,
unavailable health care in our time. We can bring doctors and
patients; workers and businesses, Democrats and Republicans together;
and we can tell the drug and insurance industry that while they'll get
a seat at the table, they don't get to buy every chair. Not this
time. Not now.
Our new majority can end the tax breaks for corporations that ship our
jobs overseas and put a middle-class tax cut into the pockets of the
working Americans who deserve it.
We can stop sending our children to schools with corridors of shame
and start putting them on a pathway to success. We can stop talking
about how great teachers are and start rewarding them for their
greatness. We can do this with our new majority.
We can harness the ingenuity of farmers and scientists; citizens and
entrepreneurs to free this nation from the tyranny of oil and save our
planet from a point of no return.
And when I am President, we will end this war in Iraq and bring our
troops home; we will finish the job against al Qaeda in Afghanistan;
we will care for our veterans; we will restore our moral standing in
the world; and we will never use 9/11 as a way to scare up votes,
because it is not a tactic to win an election, it is a challenge that
should unite America and the world against the common threats of the
twenty-first century: terrorism and nuclear weapons; climate change
and poverty; genocide and disease.
All of the candidates in this race share these goals. All have good
ideas. And all are patriots who serve this country honorably.
But the reason our campaign has always been different is because it's
not just about what I will do as President, it's also about what you,
the people who love this country, can do to change it.
That's why tonight belongs to you. It belongs to the organizers and
the volunteers and the staff who believed in our improbable journey
and rallied so many others to join.
We know the battle ahead will be long, but always remember that no
matter what obstacles stand in our way, nothing can withstand the
power of millions of voices calling for change
We have been told we cannot do this by a chorus of cynics who will
only grow louder and more dissonant in the weeks to come. We've been
asked to pause for a reality check. We've been warned against
offering the people of this nation false hope.
But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been
anything false about hope
. For when we have faced down impossible
odds; when we've been told that we're not ready, or that we shouldn't
try, or that we can't, generations of Americans have responded with a
simple creed that sums up the spirit of a people.
Yes we can.
It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the
destiny of a nation.

Yes we can.
It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail
toward freedom through the darkest of nights.

Yes we can.
It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores and
pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness.

Yes we can.
It was the call of workers who organized; women who reached for the
ballot; a President who chose the moon as our new frontier; and a King who took us to the mountaintop and pointed the way to the Promised Land.
Yes we can to justice and equality. Yes we can to opportunity and
prosperity. Yes we can heal this nation. Yes we can repair this
world. Yes we can.

And so tomorrow, as we take this campaign South and West; as we learn
that the struggles of the textile worker in Spartanburg are not so
different than the plight of the dishwasher in Las Vegas; that the
hopes of the little girl who goes to a crumbling school in Dillon are
the same as the dreams of the boy who learns on the streets of LA; we
will remember that there is something happening in America; that we
are not as divided as our politics suggests; that we are one people;
we are one nation; and together, we will begin the next great chapter
in America's story with three words that will ring from coast to
coast; from sea to shining sea - Yes. We. Can."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

This is Cool.

Another reason to like


I didn't know this.

I'm in the process of reading Stephenie Meyer's Breaking Dawn. The stories are quite "addictive" in that they read quickly and have a fun plotline. Hardly fabulous literature, but enjoyable. The author was writing a 5th book, basically starting from the beginning of the story but from the POV of the other main character. What I didn't know was that it had been leaked.

How frustrating is that, to put in month after month of work only to have a half-finished project released? That would take the air totally out of my sails. Well, the author wrote about it on her blog back in August, and included a downloadable "official" unfinished/unedited version. She figures that since it's out anway folks should see her latest efforts. Hopefully this won't frustrate her so much that she never finishes it.

I won't read the download, but I appreciated her efforts to contain the mess.

New photos are up...

Just a few from Halloween at our flickr site.

Election Eve (for us)

If you have kids, I hope they're keeping up with this election too! We've decided to keep the kids home from school tomorrow (we're playing hooky too). They'll watch the returns, color in their maps, and play on websites that explain our political system. Here are some great sites...
Historical elections and how the electoral votes broke down:
A blank map to color in for electoral votes:
When the polls will close nationwide:

Saturday, November 1, 2008

What a week.

Last you heard, I was sick. That's not changed.

I stayed home from work Tuesday while our neighbor took our kids and his to the Planetarium down the road. Apparently it's like stepping through a time portal, straight back to circa 1963. Few of the exhibits worked, as is typical.
The vet came in the afternoon. I'd locked the cats in the playroom which was a mistake. Our cats freak at the sight of the vet. They just know. And with all the toys around, the cats tore through the room knocking everything down and out of their way. They got their shots anyway, and we had the vet check out Hiro, our foster kitten.
Wednesday I coughed my way through work then helped the kids carve their pumpkins. I have pictures.
Thursday I coughed my way through work again. Afterwards we brought Katherine to Salon 2000 over at the Park Sheraton to get her hair cut. She chose a really great style and it looks wonderful on her. In the evening we all trucked over to Sparky's for a Halloween party/buffet. I have pictures.
Friday, again with the coughing at work. Then Katherine went back to Salon 2000 and got her hair highlighted with copper highlights. It was a compromise. She wanted purply-black highlights, or crayon red highlights, she accepted gentle copper highlights. At the very least she now knows the process for getting color, and didn't thoroughly enjoy it, but may go a bit brighter next time. She got back just in time to don her costume again (vampire 70s prom girl) to go to the Consulate Halloween party. I have pictures.
Once home, we'd been asked to walk next door to the CGs to watch a skit by the Little Theater kids coming by. They arrived all in costume with Trick-or-Treat bags, and no skit. Quickly, we arranged for them to stop by the Simmons house and our house for T-o-Ting. The kids and I scooted back home to split out the give away candy from the loot they had just gotten at the Consulate, we lit up the jack-o-lanters, and did our bit.
We caught the latest episode of Heroes before I finally crashed hard at 10:30, and hardly stirred until 9:30 (except for that cat... oh Tandoori, if you make it out of India alive I'll owe it all to my self-restraint. See, the previous 2 nights, the cats have gotten into the bedroom. Tandoori would curl up for a while, but then he'd start this maddening ritual of sitting on me. Not sleeping, just sitting. He's easily 12 pounds, so over and over again he would sit on my stomach and stare at me. I'd wake up enough to throw him off the bed. He'd meow a few times, go to the rug to sharpen his claws for a bit, then hop back up on the bed, walk on me, sit down on my stomach, stare... repeat. For 2 nights he did this. So last night I put all the cats in the hallway, closed and bolted the door (they can open our doors otherwise by reaching up and pulling down the handle). He couldn't get in, so he spent hours reaching the handle and pulling it down, then meowing when it wouldn't open. *Thwap* goes the handle. *Meow* *meow* *thwap*... *thwap*...*meow*... *thwap* *thwap*... *meow* *meow* *meow*... *thwap*... He is seriously irritating).
Rebecca is back from her sleepover last night, where I heard she was up until 3 a.m. Sounds like an early bedtime for everyone today. But first, we need to feed Hiro and check to see if the deworming meds worked. You know how that goes. Nicholas fed the guinea pig, and I'm hoping for rain one of these days so we can release the frogs. It hasn't rained since last weekend, and now should be the start of the monsoon season, not the end. Monday the guinea pig goes back to school, yay! I don't think the kids will ever ask to have one of their own, so it was successful experience.
On to my day... feed the kitten, get dressed, eat something, and I'm off to go glasses shopping with friends. Down to one pair and I don't especially like these anyway. So it's time for something fresh and new. Here's hoping.