Sunday, August 31, 2008

Oh but wait... one piece of good news!

I'm not sick anymore! On Thursday I woke up and felt normal. I didn't go back to bed after getting the girls off to swimming, I didn't take a nap in the afternoon. Still coughing a bit, but feeling downright human.

I can't wait to no longer be a Tata Indicom "Customer"

Yet another week without Internet access. But if we try to switch providers, that's a huge hassle too.

Rather than write out something new, I'll just cut and paste what I managed to e-mail my parents (edited of course) earlier this week. From work. Shhhh, don't tell.

It's been an interesting week. We started up yoga again on Tuesday. My neighbor, Gwen, has the instructor coming to her house so she doesn't have to schlep the baby around. Of course we missed Thursday and couldn't reschedule for Friday, so on to next week.
Tuesday night was Back to School night for the Elementary school. We visited Nicholas's classroom and Rebecca's classroom and they both have teachers new to the school. Since Jonathon's teacher is the same one Nicholas had last year, we just popped in to say Hi. All 3 of our Elementary teachers this year are very good. Rebecca really likes her teacher and she's so energetic. Nicholas's is very creative. Jonathon's teacher commented right off how different the 2 boys are. No kidding! Next Tuesday we go back to the Middle School Back to School night. That I'm not looking forward to as much, considering Katherine has already made her presence known and not fully in a good way.
Thursday I had a meeting with the Middle School principal about Katherine. Ian came too. She called the meeting so we had no idea what we were going for, as Katherine has been pretty positive about school so far this year. But apparently she's also quite bored. And with boredom comes laziness and, new to this year, with boredom comes an attitude. Now, I'm not really sure what happened, we all know that Katherine's perceptions of things aren't always the same as the rest of the world. One of her teachers said she was talking back, questioning things but in a bad manner, etc. We asked Katherine and she said she's too "scared" of the teacher to ever talk back that way. But I can completely see how she would use a snotty tone and not realize it, and that's something we've pointed out again. I'm thinking we need to drill into her to kill people with kindness (especially teachers), and then she'll come across as "proper" in class. But she's bored. And she did admit that after the teacher has repeated things a bunch of times and the subject is too dull to care about, she pulls out a reading book. Again, we've said that's not allowed. Fake paying attention if she needs to, but otherwise she's being disrespectful.
We'll see how it goes. Her teachers and the principal are gauging how she does this quarter to determine what she needs the rest of the year. Of course, with being bored in some of her classes, the laziness kicks in and she doesn't do what she should and it all backfires. She's not going to get moved up in math if she doesn't complete her assignments because they are "too easy." Actually, one of the things we were told is that she takes forever to get on task in those classes. I told the principal that Katherine knows she can finish in 5 minutes so doesn't bother to just do it. It's something we need to keep working with her. I think I need to tell her (haven't yet) that if she does the easy stuff first and quickly, then there's the opportunity to talk to the teachers for more challenging material to fill the rest of the time. Parent-teacher conferences should be interesting.
Then we had a talk with the Head of School about the bus schedule. Right now there is a single afterschool bus to bring the kids home. But there are 2 release times, so the younger kids are waiting until the older kids arrive a half hour later before anyone can leave. The problem was that the older kids (2 of them, and they aren't always on the bus afterschool, or right now it's often only Katherine they are waiting for) get out at 3:40, and the bus monitor starts pitching a fit if they aren't in the cafeteria at 3:45. Last year, with 2 after school buses, the second bus left at 4 p.m., letting the kids go to their locker, say bye to friends, check in with a teacher if necessary, run to the library, etc. Now, I get a phone call if 3:55 comes around and Katherine hasn't shown up yet. I understand that the younger kids want to go home, and hey, I have 3 of them sitting around waiting, but I also don't think it's fair that Katherine should be frazzled and yelled at because she's not racing. No easy solution has been found yet. Even more annoying though is that when we tell the bus that the older kids are NOT taking the afternoon bus, they will still make the younger kids wait until 3:45 rather than departing at 3:30. Tell me what sense that makes? They drivers have been given a schedule and by golly, they'll stick to it no matter what.
We did get one immediate concession, Katherine and the other middle school kid will be released 5 minutes early from Advisory, and they'll be allowed an additional 5 minutes on the other end. That gives them 15 minutes, vs. the original 5, to get themselves to the bus. And the Head did agree that yelling at the kids was not the best way to get them moving.
Friday Ian and I had lunch with our friend from Embassy Colombo. Then there was a work meeting at work 2 p.m. Ian wanted me to stay for that.
So now we're on our 3 day weekend. Saturday morning was busy, just like last week. Jonathon and Ian had tennis from 8-9, the girls were at school for swimming from 10-12 for the last time trials, the boys had soccer from 9:30-10:15. We made it to Cedars for lunch with the neighbors before setting the kids up to color paper flags for an impromptu flag ceremony Saturday night. We have 7 first tour Junior Officers who found out their onward assignments. The lucky 7 are headed to Slovenia, Romania, Czech Republic, Pakistan, South Africa, Afghanistan, and Ecuador. All got one of their top 3 bids. Actually, two got their #3, one got her #2, and the other 4 got their #1. Not too shabby.
No, we still don't know where we're going. Probably, hopefully, mid-October.
Oh, we learned that we've lost our second R&R. Here's how it went down. When we arrived we were told that we could take our first R&R in the first year, then a home leave, then a 2nd R&R. R&Rs must be taken after being at Post 6 months and before 6 months from the final departure date. Our original orders didn't include the second R&R, it was then amended to include the 2nd R&R after we explained in detail our curtailment. We've been talking about planning our R&R now, and this month our Management Officer decided to look into it further and determined that while we could have had the 2nd R&R, we had been incorrectly informed regarding the timing. Apparently, we would have had to take the first R&R Christmas time of our first year in 2006 and home leave summer of 2007, leaving a full 24 months left in our tour here to allow for a 2nd R&R, oh, right about now. Since no one told us that, we lose the R&R because from the time we took our homeleave in Dec2007, there are not 24 months left in our tour, so not enough time to "earn" an R&R.
There you have it. More cash for the house fund.
In other news...
We're looking into starting up USA Day each month again. It doesn't seem like we have enough older kids though, all the new families have young kids (3rd grade and under, most in K and under). I think they have the impression that USA Day is a teaching sort of thing, geared towards little kids. It's not, it's a participatory program where the kids do 90% of the work, and 3rd grade and under won't do much or get much from it. It's a lot of effort, but it's still something I'm considering. It needs to start next month if we're going to get it off the ground again.
We're also tossing around a book club and a game night. Game night looks like it'll start up in September, the book club is really something Gwen wants to start up, so I'll just participate there. Madras Kids begins on September 20 and that I'm involved in, we have a lot of work in the next 3 weeks to prepare. It looks like it's be a Music Throught the Ages sort of thing. Have the kids do the "Twist" followed by a Beatles song, followed by something by Madonna, etc. with a play/narrative to go along with it and pull it together. This year there will be one show, performed probably in April, to give plenty of time for sets, costumes and choreography. The songs will lend themselves easily to kid performance.
Tomorrow is Labor Day. A holiday for the lot of us (oh yes, let's keep Labor Day but take away Thanksgiving! Bitter? Me? Nah.). We have plans to go to Ideal Beach. Some folks spend just about every weekend there and we have never been. It's the only resort that sells day passes for the pool and beach, everywhere else requires you to be a guest of the hotel. It's an hour away on the ECR which is a hazard to drive, but I'm looking forward to seeing it. The girls have opted not to swim in the morning, so they'll be swimming T-Fri morning instead, and are getting an extra 15 minutes of sleep as the practices are now moved to 6:15.
And mom? I'm almost done with this blanket I'm working on. Then I can finally get back to scrapping.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

I should plan and take "Before" & "After" pictures.

We cleaned the bedroom this afternoon. It's been months of "I really really need to do this," to the point that the cats were knocking stacks of clothes off my dresser and a wave was collecting on the floor. No more clothes around, though now I have stacks of laundry including everything off our bed. It's a good thing, I'll sleep better tonight, I know it. And I've made the promise that I will work through my "Currently Reading" list on before moving on to anything new. My "anything new" pile is already lined up in my nightstand, very very tempting.

This is Getting Old.

Finally one of my ears popped yesterday. The other is still well plugged, as is most of my head. The sinus drainage continues, and my lungs are releasing the crap they've held on to all week so there's mucus everywhere.

I'm officially done with feeling like Yuck. Bring on the healthy me, please. I have a life to live.

Friday and Saturday were active days. After work on Friday, my neighbor and I took the new CG's wife around a bit of town. After lunch at Peshawri (best Indian restaurant in town, at the Chola Sheraton), we swung by Fab India for bathroom items (they have awesome towels and even better bathroom rugs and bed linens, besides their clothing and other household goods). Then we passed by Spencer's Plaza and Citi Centre though we didn't have time to go in to either. Right outside our neighborhood we showed her the Park Sheraton (Cappuccino rocks, Salon 2000 for hair stuff), Reliance Fresh (vegetables and dry foods), Anna Naana (dry goods, perishables, household items, bathroom and kitchen supplies, a deli), and pointed out Oryza (spa, manicure/pedicure, hair), and Anokhi (clothing, decorative items). All within walking distance from home.
There was enough time to get home and collect the kids from the bus before returning to the Consulate with the brood for a Hail Happy Hour. Lots and lots of new people to chit chat with and welcome to the community. We hung about for an hour or so then had to skeddadle home in order for Katherine to turn right back around, pick up a friend, and attend the first middle school dance of the year. The dance was OK, she said not many folks showed up but she came home in a good mood.
Saturday morning arrived. Activity morning. I pawned off my tennis time to Ian since I'm just not up for moving much these days what with the coughing and stuffy head; Jonathon had his 30 minutes too. Meanwhile some friends picked up the girls to bring them to the school for swimming time trials, only to have the rest of us follow to the school for the boys' Saturday soccer. Next weekend will be a replay. Next weekend's time trials are the big ones, the trials that determine who gets to join the SAISA travel team. Rebecca is in 5th grade, she doesn't qualify; SAISA is only open to MS and HS. We'll leave the decision up to Katherine if she makes the team and not push either way. Swimming is great exercise for her and that's our only goal as parents.
We were starving, so a stop at KFC at Acendas was in order. It used to be that cars could enter the parking lot and park in the visitors section if you were visiting the food court. Then they banned any cars that didn't belong to the businesses in the building (Amazon, Caterpillar, Nokia, etc.) or were visiting those businesses. So we parked along the street and followed the walking entrance to enter the compound. No problem. Yesterday, we parked along the street and had a warning from a friend that the normal entrance we'd used was no longer open to us. So we went to the second entrance as planned, only to be stopped at the gate. Now, in order to even use the food court, we had to check in. Fill in a form... where from, where going, date, signature, etc. He ripped it off the little pad, gave it to us, and we walked in. Picked up our food, left. Never gave the slip to anyone. Blistering heat, formality of a slip of paper, and absolutely no record kept anywhere at the Acendas building. Ah, India. The process torqued us enough to reconsider going there again though I know we'll cave at some point. Probably next Saturday.
By the time we returned home, I was done for the day. Curled up, I read Meyer's Eclipse and whiled the entire afternoon away. Katherine went to a friend's house, Rebecca invited a friend over, and the boys wasted their afternoon on the computer. We did watch a movie at the neighbor's house, something called "Shooter" with Marky Mark. I don't care for Marky Mark, but the movie was pretty good. I even managed more on the blanket I'm slowly trying to finish.
It's how a Saturday should be in the Hopper house.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Bunco Night

Even though I'm sick (have I mentioned that?) and now have practically no voice to speak of (HA! I kill me), last night I hosted Bunco. Though a smaller group than I'd hoped for, we had 2 tables and an extra who was often the baby minder. I've never played Bunco before, but it's an enjoyable way to spend a few hours especially as you can chit chat through the game and the folks at your table are always changing. There are prizes, this time from our pantry.

More later. Still need to get up at 5:15 to push the girls out the door for swimming. It's been a tough week for getting up in the morning, no one wants to move let alone jump in a cold pool. And I have no desire to be up at that time either. So with that, I will down a nyquil and take myself to bed. Went to work today, have work tomorrow. Since I took Monday off I'm pretty sure I've used up my boss's patience for a good long time.

Monday, August 18, 2008

You'd Think a 3 Day Weekend Would Yield More Blog Fodder

Sick again. Sick sick sick. Tired of being sick, but don't want to make others sick, so I stayed home from work again. Four day weekend, sick.

But aside from sick, Happy 7th Birthday to Jonathon! He had the crew at Sparky's sing Happy Birthday on Saturday, Sunday he invited 3 friends over to play and eat cake, today there were cupcakes at school and will be presents tonight after dinner. We prefer to do the birthweek sort of celebrating.

Pictures over at flickr.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Evolution of the Olympics

With the Indian gold in 10m air rifle (yes! really!), suddenly India is paying attention to the Olympics. The coverage suddenly has a ticker on the bottom of the screen. The studio (basement of some guy's house, I think), has a TV showing stuff. Not necessarily what they're talking about, but still.

Can it get any better than this?

Pull Out the Party Hats

Madras Day on 22 August
"Madras Day focuses on the city, its history, its past and its present and the core team motivates communities, groups, companies and campuses in the city to host events that celebrate the city.
Heritage walks, school exchange programmes, talks and contests, poetry and music and quiz, food fests and rallies, photo exhibitions and bike tours . . . . these and more are the ways in which the city is celebrated."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Links everyone should read (according to me)

Op-ed Column from the IHT: Make Diplomacy, Not War
"In short, the United States is hugely overinvesting in military tools and underinvesting in diplomatic tools. The result is a lopsided foreign policy that antagonizes the rest of the world and is ineffective in tackling many modern problems."

IHT Sports: India Takes Notice of the Olympics

"The Beijing Games were a minor event until Bindra's victory. Olympic sponsorships are low-key here, advertising has been minimal and the government channel carrying the Games seems to be staffed by announcers with little knowledge of sports."

IHT Sports: Togo Take Home its First Every Olympic Medal
In Kayaking!! "Boukpeti wanted to compete for France, but injured both shoulders and needed surgery. By the time he had recovered he was too old for the training program. He opted for Togo, even though it meant he had no team structure and had to seek help where he could from other leading canoeists."

IHT: Everything in India is Changing, Except One Thing
"India is changing so fast that it is starting to look like someplace else. Skyscrapers are sprouting. Towns are ballooning. The young date, drink, smoke freely. But many of the people who are making the new India new - from the stockbrokers to the bedecked socialites - are responsible for preserving a certain gloomy element of the Indian past: a tendency to treat the hired help like chattel, to taunt and humiliate and condescend to them, to behave as though some humans were born to serve and others to be served."

Monday, August 11, 2008

Olympic Fever

Update: We can't catch anything off The site is reserved for U.S. viewers only. That bites. But if you happen to be one of the lucky Olympics watchers within the U.S. borders, you can watch the men's 4x100m freestyle relay here.

Here Kitty Kitty

This morning got off to a bit of a tough start. After going to bed with a headache (I took medicine, it didn't take), I woke at about 2:30 with a worse pounding headache. Another couple of pills and I tried to get back to sleep. Only Masala thought it was play time.

With a hairband, he tossed it around my bed, pounced on it, and wouldn't suffer doing it all at the end of the bed where I wouldn't care as much. No, he spent the entire time playing all over me, as close to my head as possible. And it was even better when I'd shake the covers to get him off and throw the rubber band on the floor, because then it turned into a game of fetch too. Ian asked why I didn't throw him out of the room and close the door. I don't know. Instead, I grabbed my pillow and blanket and moved to the couch. My head still hurt anyway, no biggee. The cat followed me. As my head calmed down, in he sauntered with his rubber band, hopped on the couch and continued his game. It was going on 4 a.m. by then and I only had another hour to sleep, so I ignored him as best I could.
Then I got the girls up at 5:15, the driver showed up by 5:30 to take them to the pool and while I was giving instructions... with the door open... Masala snuck out and under the car. We were on a time crunch and eventually the noise spooked him enough that he ran to the small patch of lawn out front, so the girls left and I collected the cat. Silly cat.
We went to work, and on the way home the driver was all in a tizzy about Masala being out of the house. I told him I'd already brought the cat in, but no, apparently at some point he'd gotten out again. They spotted him in the yard when they returned from shopping. It seems they cornered him up on a window ledge and that was as far as they got. The gardener tried to pull him out and got bitten for his effort. Duh, the cat was terrified. Masala thinks he's a big brave cat, all excited about the great outside world, but he's not, he's really not. Thankfully it was a small nick and Masala is vaccinated, so no biggee in my book. Masala readily moved over to me, but wouldn't come out from behind the window grill, so I went in the house, opened the window, popped the screen out and in he came. Beyond being filthy and scared, he was fine, but I don't know if the staff will be!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Everything Athens

We were so excited to get our bid list in this past week. It felt good to know that folks from Chennai were getting their first choices, ranging from Ankara to Vancouver, so we had high hopes. Then we heard back from the powers-that-be and they took a bit of wind from our sails, saying they'd do their best but our combined choices were a little bit of a stretch as far as jobs and places. In other words, it was almost too nice a list to be realistic. We still have our fingers crossed, but now I'm nervous. When you figure our #2 choice is still a 15% differential and 10% COLA Post it makes me wonder what would have been a good list.

In the meantime, I'm enjoying sites like these:

Best of Athens

Greece Survival Guide

Athens Quiz (and other countries if you scroll down the WorldWise quizzes)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Here We Go Again

Swim seasons has started. I'm up at 5:10 in the morning to get kids up and out the door to practice. Thank goodness this only goes til the end of September!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Day 3 of school

I stopped by the school today after work to drop off a ream's worth of forms. Health forms, physical forms, bus forms, lunch forms. It was nice to be back in the familiar halls and checking out new books from the library.

Said hello to Jonathon's teacher, Ms. Roberston, who was Nicholas's teacher last year so I know he'll have a great year. She rules a no nonsense classroom, but has a lot of fun with the kids and they really like her.
I met Nicholas's teacher when I popped my head in to say Hi. She started right off with how wonderful he is. Because he's so quiet?, I asked. No no no, he's outgoing and chatty and a leader and..., she said before I stopped her. You're talking about Nicholas? I queried with a sort of "you're kidding, right?" tone. She was serious. I told her that of my 4 kids he's the most reserved, always has been pretty mellow, just ask Ms. Robertson across the hall. She commented my house must be a little crazy if he's the quiet one. Honestly, I'm not quite sure what to make of it!
I stopped into Rebecca's class to say Hello, but didn't get a chance to meet her teacher, though Rebecca again said her teacher is the best one ever, so I'm thinking she's going to have a great year too. I tried to grab Ms. D after school but she was talking to another parent and I didn't get a chance to break into the conversation introduce myself politely. Next time.
I'm really pleased with all the teacher placements this year, even with Katherine's classes. Katherine is doing really well, I'm very pleased, even while I watch her with a more knowledgable eye. Today she was downright perky after school, when I caught up with her walking down the hall with a new girl... Katherine.
I can't help thinking it's going to be a great year for my little brood.

It's probably just me...

But this made me chuckle...

A dude on the bike, in his robe, barefoot and helmet-free.


"Never trust a skinny chef."

Stop by the diner for a "homecooked" lunch, and purchase your own Sparky's fan shirt.
Get a coke float too.

Monday, August 4, 2008

First Day of School: Check

They survived. The first day of 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 7th has come and gone, and by all accounts was a successful day. After all... no homework!

Katherine came home with an "OK" which was a far cry better than "the worst day of school" she was expecting. Rebecca was all bubbly about her teacher, the glacier-climbing one. Nicholas, well, Nicholas didn't want to leave home this morning. No tantrum or anything, my kids don't tantrum (anymore), he just would have preferred to stay home. He said his teacher was nice though. Jonathon was completely oblivious. As Mr. Happy-Go-Lucky, he'll do anything and came home with scraped knees so I guess it was a good day.

Onward. The year is going to fly by.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Sound of Silence

And... we're back. A word to the wise, if you're in Chennai and need internet access, do not use Tata Indicom. Their customer service is terrible, their connectivity is unreliable. In the 3 weeks of July we were actually here, we were out for 8 days. Whatever. Though we're up and running now, we're looking for a new service.

In the meantime we've been getting ready for school and enjoying the last few lazy days of summer. Folks are returning from their holidays, my calendar is getting pencilled in, and I start work again on Monday. Why didn't I take Monday off to enjoy it to myself?

Today we went back to Sparky's for lunch. The food is decent, it's the diner feel and the laid back comfort that really is attractive. Thom, the owner, is always up for a chat and you're bound to run into some friends no matter when you go.

Earlier in the week I had my meltdown; I'm better now. The neighbors returned with 7-week old Racquel, which has been both a wonderful thing and a bit like a spike in the heart. What can I say, I'm still hopeful for us. It's been 7 years (7! Jonathon turns 7 on the 18th, OhMyGoodness) since my last baby but I've never given up the dream. I think my brain is broken.

But that's not what you want to hear about. Bid list is getting turned in very soon. Research has continued, changes have been made. Curious? Read on.

#1 - Athens
#2 - Sydney
#3 - Bucharest
#4 - FSI
#5 - Brussels
#6 - London
#7 - Athens
#8 - EL CDO
#9 - London
#10 - Istanbul
#11 - St. Petersburg
Surprised? It's what happens as we learn about the jobs, the schools, the opportunities. Multiple city entries mean different job positions. EL CDO is a Career Development Officer for Entry Level officers. FSI is a teaching job for ConGen. FSI and CDO bring us to the DC area for 2 years-3 years. Athens, Bucharest, Istanbul and St. Petersburg would bring us back for a year of language. Brussels, London, and Sydney would mean just a Home Leave vacation before going on to the next Post.
Wish us luck.
Oh, and now for something completely different:

This was on TV here!