Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Quick Update Time

Our gardener returned after another week "sick." For a day. And is taking the rest of this week off. I've told him (through our driver) that it seems he's not well enough to do this job for us anymore and I was not hiring his nephew. He promised up and down that he will be fine come Saturday. He blames the doctors. And I learned through the driver that the gardener never did have the surgery he took 6 weeks off to have and recover from. Never Had The Surgery. But if the pain doesn't leave this time he might have to have it.

If he doesn't come back full-time starting Saturday, he'll have plenty of time to have his surgery, and then recover from it.

I sound unforgiveably awful, don't I? The thing is, I really do like this guy. He's always helpful, always has a smile on his face, and does a decent job with the yard. And I sympathize that he's not feeling well. But he's hired as a gardener and if he cannot do a gardening job for us, then I'm not going to keep him hired with a non-gardening proxy showing up each day. He obviously needs the time to get better and honestly, gardening is probably not the best job for him now (or ever again, I don't know). It would be awful if he collapsed while working. For all of us. So, I hope he gets better and start actually working for us again, but if he doesn't I hope he takes his pink slip graciously.
Last week Katherine started going to volleyball practices. Today the names were announced for the Middle School team traveling to Mumbai on the 9th of May. She didn't make the cut. It's even harder that the team is made up of 6 girls, 2 from 6th grade, 2 from 7th and 2 from 8th. Only 3 6th graders came out for it, 2 were chosen, Katherine wasn't one of them. She took it better than expected, and I think it helped that 3 7th graders tried out so one of them was left out too. All I can say is, some days Middle School really really sucks.
Nicholas is still reveling in being 8. I think he's taken a photo of just about every floor tile with his new digital camera, and the Deal or No Deal game is going to run out of power soon. Apparently we've already won well over a million dollars.
Jonathon had a rough week in school last week. Probably induced by way too much of Nicholas's birthday cake, but he couldn't focus, couldn't sit still, was distracting others. He had several bad days in a row, and I got teacher phone calls. No one likes to get teacher phone calls. So after the third day of not-so-good reports, I asked her why she didn't just give him a stack of homework assignments the next time he misbehaved. Her eyes lit up and she asked if I was OK with that. Um, she doesn't know me very well. So I strongly urged her to go ahead. Monday morning she pulled him aside and showed him a stack of homework papers with his name on them (figuratively). And wouldn't you know it, yesterday he came home with a frog. A paper frog saying he had a a Great Day. It's only his third frog this school year, but it came at just the right time.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Grand Theft Auto IV -- Not for kids. Duh.

I've read a lot of stories lately about Grand Theft Auto IV, out now for XBox 360 and the Playstation 3. I haven't seen the media backlash yet, but that's probably just because I'm blissfully unaware of domestic cable news.

Most of the stories will no doubt center upon its content. In this game, like the previous ones in the series, the player is cast as an anti-hero who commits multiple crimes in the pursuit of some goal -- usually honor or glory. The graphics and interactivity increased as the games went on -- as did technology in general.
What I can't quite understand is the automatic assumption that all computer games are meant for and marketed to kids. That's certainly not the case according to my own experience, nor to the industry. According to the Entertainment Software Association, the average player is 33 years old. I'm sure that stat is skewed by "casual games," like solitaire, minesweeper and downloadable arcade games. However, the same organization says the average game buyer is 38. Counting parents of game players, that makes sense.
So what we're really talking about here is whether parents should buy GTAIV, or whether they should allow their kids to surreptitiously do so. While there's an obvious answer, it seems that it's still in question. After all, the game box and rating does make it obvious. It's rated "M" for Mature, similar to an "R" in movies. As if that's not enough, the ratings board lists the reasons on the box: "Intense Violence, Blood, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Partial Nudity, Use of Drugs and Alcohol."
While that may sound awful -- and not particularly entertaining -- I thought of other media that could have the same descriptors:

  • The Godfather

  • The Wire

  • Fight Club

  • The Silence of the Lambs

  • The Killing Fields

I certainly wouldn't buy "Fight Club," for our kids, but it's one of my favorite movies. I'll likely buy GTA IV as well -- once it comes out on PC, so further minimize kid exposure. While I'm sure there are some parents that will buy it for their children, either intentionally or out of ignorance, that's their own fault. Even the game's developer, Rockstar, says it's not for kids.
On a final note, I want to put in a plug for a gaming site for parents, What They Play.

Panic Time

When the Wall Street Journal starts commenting it's time to stockpile food in our U.S. pantries, people sit up and take notice. Food riots in Haiti are one thing, a country that's been in turmoil for years doesn't get our hackles up anymore. Tripling food prices in Niger so people starve (even more) doesn't get more than a glance. They've been starving for generations. Rice skyrockets in the Philippines, well, that's 1/2 way around the world and we're more a potato country anyway.

Now some folks are telling Americans to stockpile like they did in the 60s. I don't even know what to think about that. We personally pay a lot for food, and if we had to we could probably live out of our pantry for about a month, but that's it. Then what? We'd have to buy more food and it would still cost a lot.
But it does reinforce the need for folks to look inward. Buying locally, not globally. Supporting food and farmers that are in your state, not elsewhere in the world. Food that doesn't have to travel very far to reach your table. It also reinforces the need for folks to look for affordable alternatives. For example, some Liberians have taken the step of switching from a rice centered diet to a cheaper spaghetti centered diet. If you'd told Liberians 2 years ago they'd choose noodles when rice was sitting in warehouses, they would have laughed. So much of the world is rice-dependent it will be interesting to see the changes these rising prices push through, especially when they reach the "gourmet" market levels. Will millet become a staple rather than an interesting side dish from Whole Foods? Will quinoa finally take its place at the common table?
It's going to be a painful ride, but hopefully some good will emerge on the other end when things settle. I'm going to pull my rose-colored glasses on and say we're not heading for a global collapse of the food markets, but that this is the opportunity people need to change their habits, to make fewer demands on our damaged world and become part of the potential food crisis solution.
A hard first step for us would be to bypass our consumables shipment we were planning this summer and rely purely on local options.
This is going to be harder than I thought.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

So far, no roads lead to "Rome"

If you have borrowed our Season One copy of the HBO series "Rome," could you return it? Please? We have over 400 movies in our library, but for some reason that's the one several folks want to borrow. BSG has made the rounds and returned home, Lost has made the rounds and returned home, Rome went out and never came back.

Friday, April 25, 2008

You know what I mean

The dentist office. An airplane cabin. Both have particularly distinctive smells - one of drill enamel dust, one of stale coffee. Both are none too pleasant.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Continuing the Theme

One of the issues with going to the States for homeleave is having some mobility. We can't bring our cars with us for 3 weeks, 4 weeks, 6 weeks. So we rent. Renting a car for that length of time is a pricey proposition. And with the rising cost of fuel it's almost enough to tell us to just stay home.

Our neighbors are going to Atlanta this summer and facing not just 3 months of apartment living, but 3 months of car rentals and 3 months of filling up the tank to get themselves around the sprawling city. I did a little googling and learned that while it is still in its infancy, hybrid rentals are coming around, especially though Enterprise Rent-a-Car. At this point, it costs more per day to rent one (the options are too limited and the cars cost a bit more to join the fleet) but for long-term rentals they might be worth it. Unfortunately hybrids are still not widely available. Here's hoping by the time we get back the idea will have caught on.

17-JAN-2008: Enterprise-Rent-A-Car wants to do its part to save Mother Earth. But there's only so much it can do.

13-APR-2008: Enterprise Rent-A-Car Company opens 4 'green branches', Hybrid cars will be bulk of stores' lots

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A belated "Earth Day"? Naw, every day should be Earth Day.


Check inside ->

And if this doesn't make you tear up and want to give everyone a big squishy hug, and then go out and hug a tree too...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


There are so many things in life to be dependent on... food, drugs, rock'n'roll. Or in our case, the internet, a driver, and sometimes each other.

I hate feeling dependent. I try to not use the word "hate" too often, it's a strong term, very very rarely applicable to people, and too strong for just about anything else. "Hate" heavy traffic? Well, no, it's frustrating. "Hate" close-minded people? No, I feel more pity for them than anything. Hate hate hate, people use the term so freely, much like love. I try not to use Love for anything but things I truly love. I love the people in my family. I do not love food. Or our car. Or nice weather. Etc. It's a nit-picky thing of mine.
But getting back to dependency. I can say that I truly, honestly, fully, dislike feeling dependent.
Our internet went out sometime yesterday and suddenly I got the jitters because I just had to check e-mail and get in an on-line order and check something inane like a recipe. Getting over the broken-internet jitters only takes a day or so, but while it's going on it's SO annoying.
Worse though was our driver skipped out Monday. OK, his mother-in-law died and I'm not a cold-hearted person but this is the 3rd time this year a relative has died and he's left. Remember, we've only been back since January 25th, so it's been about a death a month. Last time, he didn't come in on a Saturday. We can work with that. This time, a Monday. He called in the middle of the morning, and left. I get off work at 12:30. What now? Thank goodness a friend was picking me up for lunch right by the Consulate. About 10 a.m. Nicholas called from the school, he was feeling sick. Great mom that I am had to tell him that unless he was vomitting or burning up he'd just have to get through the day. I'd told all the kids I'd pick them up from school, instead I called front office, asked them to have Rebecca call me back, and when she did instructed her to get the boys on the bus and tell Katherine she had to take her bus too. Katherine is hit or miss with directions so my lunch buddy offered to have Katherine come home with her son. I figured one way or the other, she'd make it home. By the end of the day I also had my neighbor offering to send her driver and Ian talking to motorpool about whether or not she was taking the bus. She did make it home with her school friend, and Ian carpooled home with our neighbor. Made it through Monday. Today being Tuesday, I got a ride home with my neighbor who was at the Consulate around lunch time, I'd texted another friend to see if Rebecca could come home from afterschool swim with her daughter, told all the other kids to take the bus, and Ian caught the Consulate shuttle back. Made it through Tuesday. Of course, our housekeeper is bolting early tomorrow and won't be in Thursday or Friday, and our gardener didn't show up today. He was out for about 6 weeks March-April "in hospital" and sent his nephew to fill in. The nephew doesn't do much but sweep so after only this past week of our gardener being back and starting to get the yard into some sort of shape, he's gone again and who knows for how long this time.
Yes, I'm about ready to fire them all.
Back to the driver. I'd also scheduled dental appointments for three of the kids Monday evening. Rescheduling appointments is not a simple task here, for anything. Once you have an appointment, you stick with it. As it was, I rescheduled all three for Friday. Of course today I received a call saying the Ped dentist won't be in on Friday and I'd need to reschedule again. For some reason she couldn't grasp it was for more than one kid, and once I got her to two kids ("Yes, Nicholas AND Jonathon...") getting her to add Rebecca was like, well, like pulling teeth. ("There are three children... Nicholas, Jonathon AND Rebecca... Rebecca... Yes, I know you have the two boys, but my daughter Rebecca is coming too... Look, it's the same appointment I had for Monday for three kids and already moved to Friday for three kids... for 3 kids... yes... THREE.... REBECCA.... R... E..., no, not C... B... E... C...C...A... at 4:30... Yes, all three starting at 4:30).
I know all this sounds ridiculous. How hard can life be with a housekeeper, driver, etc. It's back to the dependency thing again. I depend on them to make my life easier because like it or not, the basics in India are more difficult than the basics in America. When my helpers don't (help, that is), I get annoyed. When they are more of a hassle than a help, I start rethinking things. I've gotten to the point (again) of really really wanting to just drive myself. I can shop at four stores, I can clean on my knees, I can even do dishes without a dishwasher. Heck, having the kids do more around the house would be a good thing, I could pass off the dishes to them. I already do all the laundry, most of the cooking....
After work today I attended a short talk by Robin Pascoe. She's doing an India tour and in Chennai has spoken at the school, the Consulate, and a number of other groups. Her talk was general and focussed on the challenges we face raising kids abroad, the strains on our marriage and how going "home" doesn't mean the same thing to any of us (oftentimes even within a family). Sometimes we become too dependent on our spouses for daily needs, on our careers for validation, on our children for self-definition. Dependency, dependency.
Balance, that's what I'm looking for. Balance and reliability. And a stop to the dependence. I need self-reliance and the one major place it's lacking is mobility. I'll make myself a promise.
Before I leave, I will drive in India.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Drat, I was doing so well.

Even with just a blurb, I was trying to get something on the blog each day. Unfortunately, last night I crashed hard at about 8 p.m. To be honest, I was barely keeping my eyes open at dinner, so making it to 8 was pretty good. This morning I was awoken (by a text no less! bad neighbor!) around 7. And because I didn't do anything last night I scrambled to wrap last minute gifts for the birthday boy this morning. In case you missed it, today Nicholas turns 8 years old. We're back to all evens.

The sleepover went OK. The boys were all fairly well-behaved but Nicholas discovered he liked the idea of a sleepover better than the reality of one. As we all know, kids don't sleep at sleepovers. Nicholas is a creature of habit and routine and while he likes having friends over, when he's tired, he's tired, and a pack of little boys all rolling around, talking, getting up, talking, flicking the light on, flicking the light off, talking, giggling... well, he came out with a pathetic look on his face and whined how they Just Wouldn't Stop Talking And Let Him Sleep. It was finally quiet after 10, not a terribly late night, but plenty late for Nicholas after his exhausting day.
They were all up by 7:30 and I started in on pancakes before heading off to my tennis lesson at 8. Of course, one kid claimed he didn't like pancakes so Rebecca stepped in and got him cereal. Rebecca was fabulous with the boys both days, playing with them, suggesting ideas, getting snacks, keeping an eye out for trouble. She made the time so much easier for me.
"Horton Hears a Who" was at 9:45 so all the boys piled in the car at 9:15 to go to Citi Centre. Apparently they made it just in time, the movie was very funny, and returned home by 11:30 after gorging on popcorn and soda. The girls were at Madras kids from 8:30 to 1:30 (not all practice time, but we need to carpool so...). I had the house to myself. And in what a state it was. At the very least the guest room needed to be cleaned because of the single-bathroom-on-the-main-floor issue. The bathroom had to be cleaned too. The dining table, the living room. I pretended the upstairs didn't exist because otherwise the whole thing would have been overwhelming for 2 hours. I really needed a shower but had someone stopping by to pickup an envelope first. I waited for an hour and baked a birthday cake while I waited and cleaned. Finally I was ready to go, and a mom came to pick up her son. Ian had said noon when she dropped him off and she figured the movie was at our house so she could come early. They didn't get home to 11:30, so one sleepover kid was picked up at 11:30, another at 12:30, another at 1:30.
But by 1:30 we had a dozen other kids in our house for USA Day. I've already said we did a poster on Hillary Clinton. We also heard about Amelia Earhart, Jacquelyn Kennedy, Helen Keller, Sacajawea, and Clara Barton. It was the shortest USA Day since the start of USA Days at around 45 minutes. The rest of the time the kids played upstairs, in the toy room, in the yard, living room, bedrooms. There were kids everywhere and we shared a birthday cake with them. The last stragglers went home at 4. Then the phone buzzed, the neighbors were heading to the pool. Off we went with Rebecca and Katherine. The boys wanted to play on the xBox, so Nicholas joined a bit later. Katherine didn't swim, she chose to read by the pool instead. If the place didn't smell so bad from the nasty sludgy river oozing by, it would be so so pleasant at the pool with the cool breeze. It makes tennis in the mornings bearable, though we still return home drenched thanks to the 50% humidity. The breeze is cool but far from steady, and the temperature in the sun is already hitting 95 with a drop at night to a pleasant 78. It's summertime in Chennai but it's not scorching. Yet.
No one wanted to cook, everyone was hungry. We took the kids to Cappucino at the Park Sheraton where the food was decent as usual. Rebecca ordered a Dosa Masala and Nicholas had a Mushroom Onion Burger. Neither of them quite knew what they were getting, for some reason Nicholas thought the mushroom onion came on chicken. He apparently hasn't fully learned what the Green Dot means in a menu and he asked for Katherine's chicken burger. She wouldn't switch but did share a bite. Rebecca found that the Dosa Masala was way more food than she could manage. I helped her out.
And you know the rest. We came home, the boys fell into bed, I followed suit, the girls were right behind.
Today is a much slower. We all needed a quiet day to recuperate before heading into the coming week and thankfully today will accommodate us. We've had breakfast, gone to church, attended Catechism, and now it's some video game time before lunch. Months ago Nicholas had asked to go to Dhaba Express for his birthday lunch, so that's where we're headed. Cake (yes, more cake) and presents to come.

Friday, April 18, 2008

What a Day! (and it ain't over yet!)

My eyes are tired and I just want to go to sleep. Still another couple hours to go though.

The kids were off school today. April is like October, the kids just aren't in school much. Spring Break ended, then Tamil New Year on Monday, three days of school, and another day off today. I think they're in school all week next week. I hope they are.
But today the kids were off for parent-teacher conferences. I carpooled to the school with my neighbor so our husbands could carpool together to work (this friendly-with-the-neighbors thing really works to everyone's advantage!). I didn't have my first appointment until 8:45 but the neighbor had hers at 8 so Katherine and I sat in the library for a while flipping through magazines.
My first appointment was with Rebecca's teacher. She's doing great. No news. The second appointment was with Nicholas's teacher. The parent before me ran over, right through my time. Rather than push everyone else late, I rescheduled for right after my last appointment. I'd planned on being gone by 11, now it was pushed to 11:20. Next I waited for my time with Jonathon's teacher. She ran over, right through my time. I rescheduled to after the last reschedule... now my departure was pushed back to 11:45. Oh well.
The PTA store was open so I picked up a cold coffee and some chips. Breakfast of champions.
The rest of the morning went fine, and Ian did make it for a few of the conferences, aided by the delays. For the elementary kids I put in my wishes as far as next year's teachers. The school officially doesn't take requests, but they are open to at least listening to parents. Last year I requested a change for Nicholas and feel that it was exactly the right choice. This year I'll wait to see which teacher assignments we get, then pick my battles. It's not worth being a thorn in anyone's side until I know what we've been dealt. As it is, the school has decided to add another teacher for every elementary grade, pushing some of the specials into trailers next year. If you're keeping track, you'll notice that the teacher count went up to 3 per grade just this year... There's a waiting list of students. Our first grade teacher commented that that when she joined the school in the 2005-2006 year, there were 250 students. This fall the school will open with 650 students. If you're like us, you're thinking that while growth is good, this is going too fast. The teachers feel it, the parents I've talked to feel it. No one seems to know how to get the administration to just calm down for a year or two, let the numbers settle, have a year without construction going on, and allow the teachers to manage the current numbers.
Jonathon's teacher did note he'll continue to need a teacher with a firm hand. I concur and I hope he'll get Nicholas's teacher from this year. For Nicholas, his teacher feels his work ethic in class will allow him to do well with just about any kind of teacher. Good to hear since 3rd grade is completely up in the air. I know exactly who I want for Rebecca next year. Keep your fingers crossed.
Ian took the rest of the day off since he is at a working dinner tonight. We took Katherine to Citi Centre for lunch with a stop at Landmark bookstore. I picked up a birthday gift for Nicholas (from his great-grandma), Katherine got him a birthday gift too, finally got some printer paper for home though we're all out of spare toner so perhaps I should get on that, and Katherine picked out a her book reward. This quarter we've taken over her responsibilities as far as school work. Taken over is perhaps too strong a term, though we've instituted mandatory homework notebook use daily which is checked and noted by mom, locker check daily to ensure all assignments are turned in and all homework makes it home, math checks by dad, daily flute practice (band teacher only requires 4 days a week) to eliminate the "well, I don't feel like doing it today, I'll do it tomorrow" rut, evening school bag check to ensure everything makes it back to school, etc. A big hurdle though is getting her to use the notebook after every class or at the very least at each break. She has to note every class, even if she has no assignment that night. If she successfully fills in the notebook each day with every class for a full week, she earns a trip to the bookstore on Saturday. She came up with her own reward over spring break, so hopefully it'll be worth working for.
Today, she picked a book called Twilight, a book recommended by "all" the girls in 6th grade. We bought it, and it wasn't until we sat down to eat our KFC that I read the back, then later looked it up on amazon.com: "Bella adores beautiful Edward, and he returns her love. But Edward is having a hard time controlling the blood lust she arouses in him, because--he's a vampire. At any moment, the intensity of their passion could drive him to kill her, and he agonizes over the danger. But, Bella would rather be dead than part from Edward, so she risks her life to stay near him, and the novel burns with the erotic tension of their dangerous and necessarily chaste relationship." The book is now put away until she is quite a bit older. Poor kid, but she didn't complain. I told her that if she does well with her notebook this coming week, she can choose 2 books from the store next Saturday.
So we came home. I did a quick cleanup before one of Nicholas's friends showed up for the Big Birthday Sleepover, then we piled in the car to pick up another friend, while the third friend showed up in our absence (Ian was home). Yes, I now have five 6-8 year olds in my house. At first they didn't quite know what to do with themselves. Some played in the toy room, a couple went outside to play soccer. Then the others came out. Then they all went back in. I offered to take them swimming, 1/2 wanted to go. One wanted to play with the DS he brought. I suggested a card game, Apples to Apples Jr. One vehemently didn't want to play, two didn't know what it was and weren't curious. I brought out the Jumanji board game. Three boys played, Rebecca filled the 4th spot, the other boy split his time between watching and playing his DS. We had a snack. Ian took the boys outside to play some football. The kids were split into 2 teams and whichever team got the ball back to Ian received a "point." We tried to keep it not-tackle but kids ended up rolling all over the lawn anyway. They came in for a snack. Back out for more football, even I joined in. Back in to wash up and eat some pizza. A little time playing Worms on the xBox (which we got back for the 3rd time... 4th machine for us, let's hope this one is the last), then a movie on the projector with some popcorn.
That gets us up to... Now. One kid brought 5 different DVDs of Hot Wheels cartoon movies. Nicholas was entirely uninterested and another kid said he wasn't going to watch, but I encouraged them to give it a try and now I'm hearing how good it is. Whatever. I just kinda wish the computer wasn't in the same room as the projector because I don't want to watch/listen to this movie.
Is it bedtime yet?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Take Your Child to Work Day 2008

At the Consulate, Kid to Work Day is open to kids 5 and up of both officers and FSNs. The kids tour the Consulate, visit different offices hang out with their working parent, eat pizza, hold a DVC and a press conference... wait, huh? Well, that isn't all....


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Oh my Who-ness...

We're looking forward to seeing the latest "Horton Hears a Who." It's gotten rave reviews and the clip I saw made me chuckle. But IHOP, oh IHOP, did you really have create Who Meals?? The sad thing is, if we were able to go to an IHOP, we might actually go... and we might actually order one of those concoctions. How sad are we?

Monday, April 14, 2008


Back on January 15th I mentioned we'd taken the kids to Alley Cat Rescue in Brentwood, Maryland. What I neglected to mention at the time was how we found out about the volunteer opportunity of playing with the cats and kittens still waiting for homes.

In November I'd done some research into places that would allow relatively young kids to "help out." Most places won't let kids play any role until they are in their teens, but Alley Cat Rescue welcomes anyone who wants to spend some time socializing with the felines. After all, a human socialized cat is an easier cat to adopt out.
That's where VolunteerMatch.org came into play. All it asks is where you are, how far you're willing to travel and what your interests are. It will spit back loads of options, both limited offerings like weekend adoption clinics, or long-term efforts like the Alley Cat Rescue. The interest options vary far and wide from animals to politics to refugee support. Most of the opportunities don't require a heavy time requirement from the volunteer either, so they can be tailored to your own availability.
Plug in your zip code and see what comes up. You might be surprised and perhaps you'll find you do have that time and energy to truly give back to the community you live in, doing something you really love.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Hmm, seems it works an alternate way. Whatever.


Earth Conscious

Last week we made an attempt at being a little more aware of the world around us.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
(Sorry, I'm getting a 500 Error from Movable Type whenever I try to add a photo now.)

Saturday, April 12, 2008

An Improvement

Chennai is not a pretty city. There are parts that have a charm, but on the whole, it's a lot of crumbling sidewalks, walls plastered with posters, and massive billboards lining every street.

It would seem someone got their knickers in a twist recently, because some the hoardings, pardon me... billboards, are coming down. Over 4000 of them. They are the ones that are "unauthorized or unlicensed or billboards that obstructed visibility or posed a hazard." And a hazard they are. They block buildings and they take up 1/2 of sidewalks with their scaffolding. Apparently they are also distracting for drivers whenever a new one goes up. And I have to admit that over the past few weeks I've muttered to myself and pretty much anyone else sitting in the car with me, that the city would look so much better without the billboards literally stacked on top of each other into the sky. One building I counted had 15 signs on it, from the mere 4 footers to the 20 foot long monstrosity. Of course others in the city are quite a bit bigger, but buildings can only handle so much dead weight. The next step would be to scrub the buildings exteriors because some of the architecture here is quite lovely, but it's not easy to see with the layers of grime from neglect. Now that they're better exposed, will anyone notice? Or more to the point, care?
Now, I'm not sure what's going to happen with these removals. I have a feeling they'll grow back over time. But for now, it's a nice change.

The Hindu - article on hoardings - 4/10/08

The Hindu - article on hoardings - 4/11/08

Friday, April 11, 2008

Clean Water

We watched Idol Gives Back last night, all 2 1/2 hours of it. The first hour was spent wondering when they'd get to the elimination which never came. Oh well. But of all the tear jerker moments and touching stories from the countries of Africa and America, the one bit with Jennifer Connelly about clean water really roused me. To see people drinking from pumps or filling their tanks from streams is nothing new for us. But somehow it never really sunk in how fortunate we are, not just us personally but all Americans. Here in India we are so lucky to have trucks that deliver relatively clean water and a distiller that purifies it to perfection.

You can check out the bit I'm talking about on You Tube. I'm not nearly savvy enough to paste it directly to our site, but it's worth a minute and six seconds of your time. Clean water is a basic necessity every human being should have access to, don't you agree?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Foreign Service Journal - March 2008

The Foreign Service Journal is a magazine put out by AFSA, the American Foreign Service Association.

Obviously if you're not in the FS you probably have never heard of it, but each issue can be viewed on-line in its entirety and the March 2008 issue has an interesting article for those of us in the Blogosphere. Scroll down to March 2008 and click on Features - 41/ Welcome to the Blogosphere. It's a .pdf download, so I'm warning you now. Not that it needed warning, but you know.
I read or have read before most of the blogs mentioned, yet one is near and dear to our hearts. See if you can find which one.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Political Fever

So, we're going to keep the kids out of school on election day. Results will come in on our Wednesday morning, November 5th, so we'll equip each kid with a blank map and red and blue markers and spend the morning munching on snacks and keeping score. What kids in schools might consider a drag, ours are looking forward to and not just because they'll play hooky. Yes, political fever has hit even our home and kids in this remarkable election year.

In a couple weekends our Consulate USA Day will focus on Women's History (it was last month but last month didn't work for anyone). I chose Hillary Cinton as our woman of choice. This week the kids have been putting together a poster for USA Day with photos and fast facts.

Jonathon has no interest in participating. He has his own ideas.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Crocodile Bank

Last fall we went to the Crocodile Bank for a 1st grade birthday party. Today we went again for a Consulate Kids spring break outing. It was that or stay home to do homework and piano practice. The kids practically jumped at the chance to get out of the house to a destination that didn't involve shots, and didn't grumble (much) about waking up before 8 a.m.

08crocsign.JPGThe Crocodile Bank is actually one of those little bright spots around Chennai as far as destinations go. It's only worth about 1 1/2 - 2 hours out of your morning, and takes about 45 minutes to get to by car, but it's quiet and shady and has a (small) variety of reptiles. What it lacks in variety, it makes up for in numbers. A couple of the pits have hundreds of crocs in them, and the sign that warns of sitting on the wall or putting your hands over the edge is no joke.
08crocmouth.JPGCrocs can jump, as we saw when feeding time came up. It wouldn't take any effort to snatch a kids arm. But that's part of the draw of the Crocodile Bank, you're up close and personal with these dinosaurs. And might I say, they are quite quite ugly? Not just a little ugly - really ugly. But they play their role in the ecosystem and I won't hold their lack of pretties against them too much.
08crocfunkycroc.JPGActually, there was one croc that caught my attention. It's just so darn interesting looking with its long pointy snout. Another one of its kind hangs about the bottom of the pond and I wondered if it was actually alive. Nicholas and I hung about long enough to see it raise its snout for air, which was lucky for us since some crocs can hold their breath for hours.
08crocturtle.JPGAnd like I said, it's not just crocodiles and alligators that are bred for conservation at the Crocodile Bank. Snakes and turtles are also kept and an extensive number of poisonous snakes are milked regularly to provide antivenom for much of south India. I didn't watch the milking this time, though the kids did. Several of the snakes are allowed to roam free while waiting their turn, slithering among hundreds of covered pots holding their breathren. It's rather eery and unnerving.
08crocjonsnake.JPGThe kids had a good time, holding an assortment of baby animals. I don't know what it is about pythons but the kids just love them right along with the baby croc and the turtle.
After the Bank, we stopped by Basera for lunch. With an outdoor playground, indoor airconditioning, and fish&chips on the menu, the 16 kids, 5 adults and 1 baby were all happy. I won't mention the hair I found on my roti (though it appeared to be cooked on at least), because the rest of the food was quite good. And our bill ended up Rs4400. Right around $110 for all of us. Can't beat that for food, drinks, appetizers, and 10 bottles of water. It's worth a stop if you're on the ECR.

Monday, April 7, 2008


I don't think it's much of a secret anymore that Chennai is finally able to join, well, the 60s at least, with its very first McDonalds. The storefront opened April 2nd and we've been twice. I've also been sick in the tummy since then. Coincidence? Probably not.

Can a McDonald's really be a McDonald's without beef? The short answer is No. A McAloo Tikki (that's a spiced potato veg patty to you all) cannot take the place of a BigMac. The Indian attempt at a Mac.. the MaharajaMac... while comparable in size, is a couple spicy chicken patties with plenty of lettuce and mayo and the requisite extra slice of bread. Katherine couldn't finish hers, too spicy she said, and she'll eat anything.
There are those who say the only relevant part of the McDonald's menu are the french fries. They do have a point. Though if I were in in the U.S. I'd still put McD fries well below, say, Wendy's. But we're in India, so being fair means comparing McDonald's India to KFC India or Pizza Hut or Dominoes India or even Subway India. McDonald's wins the fry war down here in Tamil Nadu. It's an easy choice, seeing as the others don't really have fries. Of course, the local fast food includes ChicKing, RedE, Dhaba, and others, many of which do serve fries. I'll give McDs it's deserved credit, their fries are superior.
Overall, as far as quality and comparison to U.S. expectations go for the entire menu, KFC and Dominoes are the winners in our book. KFC chicken is tasty and crispy. Dominoes has pepperoni. See, we're very easy to please.
KFC was quite perturbed when McDonald's opened up next to one of their only 2 resturants in the city. It was desolate in there last week when McD opened. But I'm not worried and neither should they be. Their clientele will return. We have no intentions of patronizing the fry king in the near future. But some fried chicken sounds pretty darn good.
McDonald's sell burger for Rs.400,000
Source: Indo-Asian News Service

Chennai: A vegetable burger, that ordinarily is priced at Rs.42, was sold for a whopping Rs.400,000 at McDonald's first Chennai outlet on Tuesday.
Kick-starting its first outlet at Ascendas IT Park, McDonald's auctioned its first burger and donated the proceeds to the Banyan, a city-based NGO. The successful bidder was Shiva Kumaar P.R., managing director of Saravana Bhavan Holdings LLC.
"The opening of the restaurant in Chennai is in line with our expansion plans in southern India," said Amit Jatia, managing director of Hardcastle Restaurants Pvt Ltd. The Mumbai-based Hardcastle, which is operating in southern and western parts of India, is a 50:50 joint venture between McDonald's and the Jatia family.
The company has set up 56 McDonald's outlets in the two regions and has plans to increase the numbers.
"We will be opening around 30 restaurants in these two regions in two years time with each outlet involving around Rs.30 million outlay excluding lease rental," Jatia added. In the south, the company is looking at Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad for expansion apart from other towns like Coimbatore.
Declining to give the average amount per bill Jatia added, "The average turnaround time per table is around 30 minutes. We serve around 4,000 to 6,000 customers per day."
According to him, part of McDonald's success in India is attributed to its ability to build an efficient supply chain and to respect for Indian customs and culture. "We source fresh lettuce from Pune, Delhi, Nainital and Ooty, Cheese from Dynamix Dairies, Maharashtra, fresh buns from Bector Foods and others," he added. Each outlet has just three days stock of food articles and there are no central commissaries.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

BSG: Beginning of the End


This is not your parents' Battlestar.

For the fans out there, you already know how awesome (yes, I use the word awesome) the revival of Battlestar Galactica is. For those who don't know, don't knock it until you try it. Gone are the cheezy dog/robot creations. Gone are the tacky uniforms and ridiculous dialogue. This isn't science fiction enthralled with its own gadgets or its desire to "boldly go where no one has gone before." This is a tightly scripted drama filled with fascinating characters and actors who knew their roles from the moment the miniseries aired. There was no warming up. There was no gentle ease into the devastation and survival of the human race.
A couple weeks ago we started watching the show again to reaquaint ourselves with some of the lesser story lines and we made it through the first season before the new season started. We rarely watch anything in real time so waiting a week between episodes will be an adjustment, but at least we have the other 2 seasons to rewatch to fill the gaps.
It all sounds silly, doesn't it? But honestly, give it a try. You'll forget it's on spaceships or that the evildoers are robots. You'll wonder why anyone cared that Starbuck and Boomer are girls now. And more, you'll wonder why you wasted all that time on shows like "Desperate Housewives" or even "Jericho."
OK, maybe not. I have to admit I haven't seen either of those shows. But if I give them a chance you have to promise to give Battlestar Galactica a chance.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Radio Silence

Nothing really happening over here. The kids are off on Spring Break for 2 weeks which means my normal afternoon blogging time is non-existent. I was working each morning, leaving the kids lists of chores/assignments/projects to complete before I returned at lunch time. Today is Friday and I'm taking the day off to hang about with my kids. We've had weekend company (Chris and Anne from our time in Manila are now an hour away in Colombo), I went to a baby shower on Saturday (for another EFM), my neighbor and I took our 4th graders out for ice cream on Saturday (report card time). This week the kids have been in the clinic twice to finish up our Med clearance stuff and both girls have gone out for sleepovers while the boys had a friend stay over here. I wish I could say I've taken loads of great photos and we've all been busy doing fun stuff, but it's just not the case. I'm going to have to be more creative for the two months over the summer though. Trips to the clinic are not going to cut it as far as excitement.