Saturday, May 31, 2008

Learning with Hanuman

Lesson books are a bit different in India, starting from the fact that Hindu gods are in many of them.

The numbers book starts fine with 2 apples, moves on to a little more unusual with 5 rats, 8 rockets and 10 scissors.
But this is just plain wrong:
Then it returns to the odd with 14 irons, followed by the misspelled 16 yo-yo and 18 kittles (aka teapots).
I'll order my workbook materials from the States, thanks.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Teacher Assignments are out.

Jonathon has been assigned Ms. Mary Bigwood. I will request a switch because I don't think her open and free learning style will suit him. He needs very clear expectations and guidelines and an exact place to be at all times, or he tends to go a little nuts. Too much freedom or choice is not a good thing for Jonathon. I had Nicholas switched out of her assigned class this year (though Nicholas is a very different student and person than Jonathon is) and I think Jonathon warrants the same attention.

Nicholas will get Ms. Lauri Carlson. She's coming to India after 16 years at the Friends School of Minnesota.

Rebecca will have another new hire, Ms. Erin Duffy. I can't find anything about her on-line at all, though she's supposedly worked at the Shenzhen High School in Taiwan, somewhere in South Korea, as well as in Washington and California state schools.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Time Warp

So at dinner I was telling the kids how I played on a soccer team as a kid (really young), on a basketball team and on a swim team (middle school). I mused that I should show them the photo of me on the basketball team.

Jonathon piped up, "You should search... Michele Hopper, basketball picture. On the computer."

I started to say that no, I wouldn't be able to find it and he adds, "Or try Google."

My dear boy, this photo is laying around dusty in an album somewhere. It was from a time before Google, before internet, before digital cameras, before home computers. It will require me to dig through a closet to locate. But I appreciated the suggestions :)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

When the Cat's Away...

Oh sure, they're having a blast in Singapore. They've eaten at Tony Roma's, seen the new Indiana Jones flick, had breakfast delivered to the room, shopped and shopped some more, eaten at McDs with actual sausage.... the list goes on.

But hey, we're having fun in Chennai too!

Let's see, Rebecca did her afterschool swim yesterday. It was a holiday for me and I stayed home to work on a blanket, get some ironing done, and watch "The Man Who Would be King." I stopped by the Konica shop to drop off a CD of pictures for a calendar. One of the photos wouldn't come up so I figured I'd try again today. I swung by Rashika and dropped off some material and my measurements to have a salwar set made. Nothing like leaving that to the last minute as I've had the material for nearly a year and it will (hopefully) be done the day before I'd like to wear it. And I remembered to return library books that were due last Friday.
Work this morning. I wouldn't have gone since my kids had the science fair today, but with so many people out I was on the schedule for fingerprinting and couldn't get away until 11. So I left early and swung by Konica with my new CD of photos and the contact sheet I'd printed out that proved all the photos were on there. One wouldn't come up. They said it had something to do with the Korean characters in the file name. I stopped by home and fixed it. I think. I'll go back again tomorrow. Then it was off the school to stop by the PTA potluck social for lunch (I didn't bring anything, bad mem I just ate), before going to the 4th grade classroom to see Rebecca and Charlie's project on magic magnets. With a little time on my hands I hung out in the library and I think I feel asleep because I'm pretty sure I woke myself up with my own snoring. Jonathon came by to get me to see the first grade science projects and his favorite: mixing vinegar and baking soda to fill up a balloon. I collected the kids, sent Jonathon off to his friend Marcus's house to play, then plopped myself back in the library for the rising 7th and 8th graders meeting. Next year looks like it will be quite a bit better organized for the kids with team teaching, no more block days and a daily advisory time. The meeting was short and to the point, there were only a handful of parents there as the meeting was advertised once in the Head's Notes, two weeks ago. Rounded up Rebecca and Nicholas, then shuttled down the ECR to pick up Jonathon. He was in the swimming pool when we arrived, so I sat and chatted with the parents for about an hour. Charlotte is the other room mom for 1B and has done way more than I all year in the class. Home just after 7, dinner eaten by 8, a phone call from Singapore to hear about Katherine's day. By the time I got off the phone the boys had put themselves to bed. Rebecca followed suit.
No movie for me tonight. I'm hitting the sack.

Crazy Thoughts in the Morning

Wouldn't the Indian rickshaw be the perfect mass produced, public transport, hybrid vehicle?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Sunday, May 25, 2008

News from Tamil Nadu

It's not new news:

"More than 60% of Christians in Tamil Nadu are Dalits - most converted hoping to find more freedom. But they still have very little voice and are largely shunned in the church.

They again find themselves humiliated, with separate pews, services, churches, corteges, enclosures in cemeteries and so on.

Even in areas where they are in a majority, Dalits continue to languish

Recently a tentative effort was made in a village called Erayur to integrate the Dalits in all the services.

But a group of Christians protested and threatened to go back to Hinduism if the Catholic church went ahead with its initiatives.

The diocese had to back down. Right now it is trying to persuade the protesting group to re-open the church they had locked in the first flush of the protest.

But they appear to want an undertaking that the church would not do anything to "hurt" their sentiments. "

There's more to the story, just click on the above passage.

New photos up

Photos from the swim gala last week at AISC added to the flickr set.

Not sad to be gone

The new embassy in Lome' opened in December 2006. Since then it has become the focus of a sit-in (sit-out?) as scores of people are angry that the visa lottery has not handed them guaranteed entry to the United States.

The diversity visa lottery guarantees an interview, and nothing else. They still pay the fees for the interview (something Ian had to enforce since when we arrived people were being allowed to keep their cash if they didn't qualify (!)) and they are still denied if they don't meet the minimum requirements for the visa category. It's pretty straighforward as far as U.S. immigration law is concerned.

Some folks don't feel that's fair.

This last photo really gave me a chuckle as written French was not the author's strong suit.
"No visa ou rien" ("no visa or nothing" - easy decision making there) corrected to "Nos visa ou rien" ("our visa or nothing" - not too difficult a choice either). And it's still a mystery how all those people plan to share a single visa.

When the DJ starts to loop, it's time to go home.

DJs in Chennai are notorious for being lousy. They play some really weird stuff, and the rest comes from no earlier than the 50s and no later than perhaps 1982. They'll cut off great songs about 2 minutes in, but let others that repeat the same 5 words drag on to the very last note.

After having a Becca-friend-sleep-over on Friday night and attending a birthday party at Sparky's Saturday morning, Ian and I went to the end of school year Thank You put on by AISC at the Park Sheraton.

We have no excuse not to go, it's a 10 minute walk from our house. Last year we went also and had planned about 20 minutes: arrive late, make the short round to the people we knew, go home before the awards and dinner. Last night we stayed from 7:30 to nearly 11, an eternity for someone like me who really doesn't enjoy being in a loud room, yelling over the music for hours. And the basic effort of making chitchat with people is still exhausting. When I had my plate of food and sat down to an empty table, I got a couple of odd looks (from people I know, no less), but yes I was quite enjoying the 5 minutes of solitude, if not quietness. I like these people, I really do, but I'm really not a talker.
Anyhow, the official remarks were short, sending off the Board members and teachers who leave this summer. The food was decent, all Indian. The company was good, Consulate and AISC folks. The invite list is a little odd actually. School invitees are those who have given to the school somehow as the Board, the PTA, room parents, etc. Then the entire Consulate is invited: parents, people without kids, singles, everyone. And even crazier, they show up. Anything for a free food, a dance floor and an open bar!
This year we stayed for the festivities, had fun, and decided that when the DJ started playing songs a second time it was a cue to depart. I like "Manic Monday" as much as the next person but it's not really dancing music. Neither is "Dancing Queen" come to think of it.
Today Ian and Katherine head out on their trip and the rest of us will go to a farewell potluck this afternoon. I'm going to miss these busy weekends in 2 weeks.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Magic Tree House Mystery

We have #1-28 in the Magic Tree House series. We've read them all, Nicholas has read most of them again, Jonathon is on book 9 or so in his own reading of them. I'd like to get the rest of the series, but am having issues as it appears that 29-32 are not sold in paperback version, anywhere. I have 33-36 in my amazon cart in paperback. I've checked ebay and the sets only go to 28. If they do include more, the lot is for 1-28, 33-some-other-book-number. I've checked the Scholastic site and it only goes up to 28 even though there are clearly at least a dozen more books out.

What is the deal with that? We want the middle set in paperback but they just don't seem to exist. Weird.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I wore a dress to work today.

I don't wear dresses often. Skirts sometimes, dresses rarely.

My kids asked if I was going to a funeral.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

"But Daddy does things you won't do"

In most cases, there's a reason Mommy won't do X, Y, Z. Mommy would prefer Daddy didn't do them either, but there are times when it's good to have a more fearless, dare I say reckless, adult in the family.

Take driving. We have a driver (yes, you've heard plenty about the driver), but on Sundays or some evening functions Ian will drive. He's getting pretty good with the near miss and he's just a better driver than the guy we've hired ever will be. I really really prefer Ian's handling of the car.
This Sunday Ian and Katherine are off to Singapore for a few days. I realized yesterday when I checked their tickets that they leave at 11 a.m. Sunday morning, so they need to be at the airport by 9, leaving the house at 8:30. Typically we go to Mass at 9:30 Sunday mornings and I've never driven in India. I don't like the idea of hitting the streets by myself, not for the first time at least. There's also a potluck on Sunday evening, a going-away party for a Consulate family. I know how to get to both the church and the house, but when I passed the idea through the kids, Becca looked concerned.
It didn't take her long to point out all my driving deficiencies, not the least of which was how Daddy is willing to take chances and break rules on the road. When Daddy does it we make it to our destination and it doesn't take forever either. Daddy knows how to play the roads-with-no-rules game.
Her doubt as to my ability to adapt were plain to see.
Unfortunately she's also right.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Loads of new pictures are up

Check out our flickr site under:

Crocodile Bank
Koyambedu Market
April-May 08
Madras Kids

Chennai in the News

Thanks to Lynn for pointing out the link to a CNN video by a mom at AISC. She has a son in 2nd grade with Nicholas and a son in 6th grade with Katherine.

Politics and Posters in Chennai.

I pass by some of those banners and painted walls all the time.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

This is like scrapbooking

Getting back onto the wagon of blog posting is tough after an absence. There's so much to catch up on it's overwhelming, and leads more often to no posts at all. Kinda like the scrapbooks that are sitting downstairs. I'm so far behind at this point, even with just our time in India, that I don't know where to start. And starting is the hardest part as we all know. Exercising isn't hard, it's starting to exercise that's hard. Scrapping isn't hard, it's starting up again after 6 months of not touching it that's hard. Finishing these crochet blankets isn't hard, but I haven't been doing it for a month (at least), so starting back up is hard. And since I haven't really blogged in more than a week, getting into the daily habit again... well, I guess I'm going to try right now. First steps, the tough ones.

Last Friday, Ian and I celebrated our Anniversary. It wasn't our Anniversary, that's actually today, but last Friday we had crazy Uncle Brian (our neighbor) over to watch the kids. Katherine was in Mumbai for the Making Friends Volleyball weekend, so we had the three younger ones who aren't quite old enough to stay home alone over night.
The Taj Coromandel is in the luxury line of hotels. By the end of the stay my eyes were a little worn out from all the rolling they did. From the butler who showed us to the room, the other butler waiting at the room, the porter who brought up our one tiny bag, the waiters at the restaurant who interrupted every 4-6 minutes to inquire into our food, our drinks, when can this be brought out, would you like a tour of the wine cellar, say good evening to the chef, here's a cake and flowers and (more) champagne, is there anything at all we can do for you?
The room was gorgeous. There's no such thing as a beauliful view in Chennai, but inside the suite we enjoyed a large living space, bedroom and bathroom, along with a dining room, sitting area, treadmill room, and piano. I wasn't quite prepared for all the options: no music, no tennis shoes. But for a single night, I made do (and paid for it in foot sole blisters), and we thoroughly enjoyed our time together. The next morning I was treated to an ayurvedic massage. In Chennai the sexes are kept strictly apart in these things, so Ian passed on a massage for himself. Ayurveda is not really my cup of tea, but for the experience it was worth it to turn into a slip-n-slide of oily messiness. And get showered after. Like I said, not quite my cup of tea (though actually the hot ginger tea was quite good).
Last night we attended a wine and cheese party at a coworkers home. There was wine and cheese, but also jewelry and carpets. For anyone who follows such things, the 12th Anniversary is the silk anniversary, so we're now the proud owners of a silk-on-silk 4x6 carpet. Eventually we will get a 9x12 for our future home, but it will be most likely be a silk-on-cotton or a wool-on-cotton. Much more affordable and just as lovely.
We've also been to a Cinco de Mayo party this past week, held on the 10th. The food was extensive and delicious and there were even pinatas to smash. I don't drink and Ian only drinks a little, but I have to say that folks who drink excessively can be amusing in short bursts, especially when blindfolded and swinging a foam bat. As long as you stand plenty far away. Apparently the hosting family does this each year. They had a nice mix of people too, some new faces we hadn't seen before.
Some other things have gone on this week as well. Katherine was in Mumbai from the 9-11th. She was able to go with the volleyball team and had a fabulous time staying with her host family. It helped they were Filipino and had 3 girls. She went with the Chennai girls B team, and in the round robin they pulled out a win against the Chennai girls A team. All it takes is a single win to make the whole weekend really worth it.
This past week was the H&L conference at the Consulate. Ian had a presentation one day, attended the rest of the conferece and went to two evening functions. He's bushed. Rebecca went to a sleepover swim birthday party on Friday night. She's still recovering from that. Jonathon went to a sleepover on Friday night, then a birthday swim party Saturday afternoon. He crashed on the couch about an hour after he got home. Ian took Nicholas to see "Ironman" while Jonathon was at his party and while the girls and I were at USA Day talking about family histories. Friday after school Katherine attended the Middle School sports awards, followed immediately by the last MS dance of the year. Friday evening Ian was at poker at the neighbor's house for his 40th birthday.
In addition to all this, over the past week I've had 2 lunches out with friends (we all need downtime!), watched loads of after school swimming, made chocolate chip cookies for Rebecca's class demonstration along with separate ingredients for demonstrating how to make a single cookie (thank goodness they weren't going to eat it because the proportions were just a little off), picked up some outfits from Rashika... ooh, I have to put pictures up of the girls in their outfits! Soooo cute..., hung shell strands in the girls' room, finished 2 books, had the neighbor kid over for 2 nights while his dad was out of town, went through the kids' workbooks for this summer and put together their rough schedule, ordered some supplies for summer activities, ordered from netgrocer, pulled out the dozen or so things we need framed....
The laundry is way behind. And don't even ask me about the ironing.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

This is what happens when the internet goes down.

And it might as well have been the whole darn internet when you can't get on for days and days. Frustrating.

I only have a minute, it's going on 10:30 and I've been hopping all day so I'll leave you with this for now:

Thursday, May 8, 2008

And she's off

Katherine is heading to Mumbai this afternoon with the volleyball team. I'm sure she'll have loads of stories to tell when she gets home Sunday night. They'll have to wait until Monday though, since a friend is picking her up from the airport for us.

She says she'll call every night. I don't think she will, I think she'll be having too much fun. And part of me hopes she doesn't call. She's with a good group of kids and I feel she'll be quite secure.

Nicholas will have the hardest time with her absence. Oh, how he hates change.

ETA: She DID call tonight! And she sounds fabulous. There was a small issue on the plane having to do with the giggles from others after Katherine fell asleep on the shoulder of her seatmate... a Boy... but she sounds like she's handling it just fine. And guess what, her host family is from the Philippines and has 3 girls, one a "really really cute 2nd grader!" OK, we may not even get our girl back at the end of this!

Soo Youn (Yes, I probably just massacred her name, poor girl), Katherine, Melissa and Meghan.
Soo Youn and Katherine are roommates with their host family, Melissa and Meghan are roommates with theirs. Katherine, Melissa and Meghan are the only 6th grade girls going, so they'll be pretty tight for the weekend.
I'm not at all nervous about this trip for her. Which is usually a sure sign that something catastrophic will happen. Let's all cross our fingers that this time it'll be different and she'll come back healthy and strong in every way. Not like the folks that came back from SAISA Track and Field in Delhi recently.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Until We Meet Again

Several of our good friends are leaving this summer, they've done their 3 years in Chennai. Another family is heading to the States for the summer to have a baby. By the time they get back the others will have gone, so we had the bunch over for a little get-together, a sort of farewell.

Because in the Foreign Service there really isn't Goodbye.
Our paths will cross again.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Madras Kids

This spring semester the girls have been involved in the musical theater group, Madras Kids. The program was started Spring 2007, we saw our first show Fall 2007, and now Spring 2008 the girls were singing and dancing under the lights with 20 other kids. They spent weeks rehearsing selections from the Lion King, Wizard of Oz, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Mulan and Priscilla Queen of the Desert (what can I say, the Director is a little nuts! The kids thoroughly enjoyed it). I spent today helping out backstage, flipping kids through costumes and tossing them on stage. With the Director's husband, Ian worked magic with the projected backdrop and getting the music pulled together. Brian had the vision, Ian fixed the bugs and together they made it work seamlessly. It was a blast. The boys got to play unlimited DS during rehearsal and Nicholas was in charge of the video camera during the show with a front row view, so they had a wonderful time.

The girls of course had a fabulous time.

I'm hoping next year to play a bigger role in the production, perhaps lend a hand with individual/small group singing guidance. Our choreographer is leaving this summer, so I may put in my two cents with stage movement too if we don't get someone else to fill the gap. Of course all this is only if the Director will have me, and she promises she won't hate me by the end of it all! A Consulate friend, Kelly, was a huge asset backstage too, managing the mikes, doing makeup and shushing left and right along with me, we may have to draft her again.
I do think one top recommendation is finding another performance hall. Last year the kids performed in the school gym, which was way too big for 100 people to sit without feeling lost and the kids' voices did get lost. This time the theater was almost too small, the room was packed and actually that's a nice feel. But, the a/c really didn't work. And backstage was open air, meaning absolutely no a/c and 25 active bodies producing massive amounts of heat in a cramped space. There was even a "skylight." Thank goodness it didn't rain, because the big hole in the ceiling, uh skylight, would have created quite a bit more chaos. If the cast (and therefore the audience) gets any bigger using a larger venue will be become a necessity, which isn't a bad thing. Each year the performance and the tech support get better, so I have no doubt the Fall show will be even more wonderful.
So proud of my family. Katherine did a great scarecrow and really got into "I'll Make a Man Out of You."
Becca's already prepping her audition song for the Fall.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Even though nothing (Western) works in Africa

Stories like this one from really give me hope. As in anything else, recognizing there's a problem is huge step #1. The doing, well, we'll see what comes of that.

Leaders Agree on Plan to Save Niger River

Summary: "Nine West African countries have agreed an $8bn, 20-year plan to save Africa's third-largest river, the Niger. The programme, which aims to prevent the river silting up completely, was approved at a meeting in Niamey, Niger. Since the 1980s, there has been a 55% fall in the river's flow, due mainly to climate change, industrial waste and problems caused by population growth."

When I was a kid living in Niger, I assumed the Niger River was limited just to "my" country. Years later I actually looked at it on the map and realized it is a massive waterway providing water, food and livelihood to millions of people in a bunch of nations. All I remember is crossing the Kennedy Bridge in Niamey (to reach the one good hotel) and seeing huge sandstone boulders when the water levels dropped in the dry season. I remember taking pirogue trips down the river with my family and classmates hunting for hippos. I remember camping out next to it for Girl Scouts and Middle School overnight trips under a sky so clear and devoid of light pollution the moon would have us cast shadows.

It's still "my" river in my mind, and news stories about trying to save it give me hope. Protecting the people starts with protecting our resources and it's good that the Niger is recognized for the life-giving properties it holds.

Changes in Brain Patterns

"Yesterday as we walked to the health clinic, I noticed this gentleman walk up to the wall and start spraying." - the Dinoia family blogsite

I live in India. I read this and my initial thought is what I observe everyday. Spray=Pee. Sorry, just the way it is.

But that sentence comes from a blog entry by an FS family in Iceland. The man was in fact spraying the wall with paint to erase graffiti. Spraying with paint. What an interesting concept. And I'm guessing no one pees on walls in Iceland. Ever.

Finding small ways around having an "India Day"

"India Day": adj. when everything you try to do is just difficult enough that by the end of the day you wish you could a) transport away to deserted island with plenty of freshly cleaned veggies and a nice grilled steak and no need to drive anywhere; or more close to home b) drown your sorrows in a bag of chocolate and/or bottle of wine [whatever won't get you arrested, I guess]

A friend of mine in the neighborhood had an India Day yesterday when she tried to put together a lasagna dinner for guests and ran into the problem of having only rank ricotta cheese in the freezer and no cottage cheese available. They made the best of it with the cheese they had but I have a recommendation for next time.

A decent substitute for lasagna cheese can be found with a package or two of paneer. Put the paneer through a food processor to crumble it up. It's a tough food to mash with a fork so the processor really does a nice job. But paneer is also a very dry food, so you'll need to mix in some additional things like 3 or 4 eggs, and maybe even a touch of milk to make it a little creamier. Toss in a bunch of parmesan cheese and/or mozarella cheese, whatever herbs you want and you have a decent cheese layer for a tasty lasagna.

So there you go. My one suggestion for being served lemons and making lemonade. It's a small substitution victory but some days, that's all it takes to feel like we're doing alright.

How do you define your "India Day"?

And what suggestions do you have for turning an "India Day" into a "Victory Day"?