Monday, March 31, 2008

Poker Face

Friday night we hosted poker at our house.

We had a full house (ha! a pun!) with 12 folks split around 2 tables. After the first round the winners from each table then formed a "winners" table and the rest of us formed a "losers" table for a second game. It actually ended up with 7 at the winners table because the last 4 from the first group just went on and on and on. But I liked my group at the (eventual) losers table, they were a fun group of guys. I had offered to simply start off there but no one else liked that idea, so I quickly dropped out of the first round, then won the pot (just my Rupees back from the buy-in) from the second round losers.
Confused yet?
Usually poker involves anywhere from 6-10 guys, this time we had 9 guys and 3 girls. I was pretty much the loser of the girls, the other 2 played at the winners table. Ian made it to the winners table too, with a chance to win a nice sum, but lost his chips about 2/3 of the way through the game. The whole deal didn't end until past 1 a.m. and would have gone on longer if the final two hadn't agreed to just split the pot and call it a night.
We had plenty of beer and soda, vegetable sticks and chicken fingers, with mini-muffins to finish it off. I think everyone had a good time and no one got too mad at me on the final hand at the losers table when it wasn't my turn to deal and I forgot, so I dealt myself a 3 of a kind. No one held it against me when I won that hand and ended the game, even though they took back those cards I dealt, and the dealer put down the read cards and I still won. But I did feel quite stupid. It was after 11 already and those of us that dropped out sat around and watched the "fold.... fold.... fold.... fold.... bet.... fold..." that went on for the next 2 hours. I'm one that enjoys playing to play the hand I'm dealt and see what happens, the rest of my table was the same way. The "winners," well they wanted to win and would only continue with a hand if it was obviously fabulous, otherwise it was fold-city. I won with pairs of 2s, or a high card, or a low straight, with cards that would have been tossed at the other table. But I can guarantee we had more fun!
Ian's Edit: I would only point out that those people that played with a 4-6 off-suit were playing at the "loser's" table, while those of us that waited until we had winnable hole cards played at the "winner's" table. 'Nuff said.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Boring Days

Our weekend was busy, as you could see from our trip to Kanchipuram on Friday, we had a Consulate Easter egg hunt on Saturday, then church on Sunday followed by brunch at Sparky's. None of it was stressful though, unlike what one of my neighborhood friends deals with. I'll take my quiet days just fine if it means avoiding her kind of excitement!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Hookworm Smorgasbord (yeah, I thought it was misspelled too)

Yesterday the family went on a CLO trip to Kanchipuram, a city about 2 hours from here renowned for its silk weavers and stunning saris. It's also home to a huge temple devoted to the gods Siva and Parvati and roughly 999 other temples, one that's one thousand five hundred years old.

08kanchipuram2.JPGI wish I could remember the names of them, but alas, with the Indian way of naming places Srisivaramaswamy, Ramaswamysiva, etc. I would have had to take notes. But if you're curious, you can see the two temples we visited on the TamilNation page . The top one, Kailasanatha temple, is 1500 years old and is apparently little used anymore, even with it's 58 meditation cubbies where believers are welcome to scrunch themselves in to their favorite one and contemplate all things mortal and not. Apparently #43 is very popular. There's a painting off to the side that is, you guessed it, also 1500 years old.
08kanchipurammango.JPGThe second temple, Ekambaranathar Temple (ok, ok, I did a little research on the ones we went to because otherwise I felt lame), is one of the largest in India with a hall of 1000 pillars and a 3500 year old mango tree at its center. Inside the temple was remarkably dry, and the dogs roaming and bats flying added a certain ambiance. The temple is dedicated to the marriage of Siva and Parvati according to our guide, and the day we were there was the final day of a week long celebration of the same.
It rained on our trip. It's been raining regularly for the past couple weeks. It doesn't rain in March in Chennai, we should be in the midst of a sweltering scorching summer but it's cool and soggy instead. Weird. We didn't bring an umbrella for any of us and that ended OK as we managed to be covered whenever the heavy rains hit, and I made sure we all wore easy to remove shoes. Temples, unlike churches, require removal of footware. For this trip, we all left our shoes on the bus rather than in the muddy spots outside the temple doors, and we walked barefoot past the piles of trash, through the puddles several inches deep, around the stray dogs. The catchword... hookworm. Even when we returned to the bus, there were phantom pains of invisible parasites burrowing into our soles. We of the soft pads, walking along with the hordes of others. Even today the bottoms of my feet don't feel quite right.
Aside from the temple visits we also stopped by a silk weaving demonstration. I'd been curious how the patterns were worked into the silk and finally learned the answer: punch cards. Designs are drawn on graph paper which is translated to fantastic strings of cards. The cards are pulled through the machine across the silk threads to guide each one into its proper position, and the fine details like the gold and silver gilded threads are woven in by hand. Fascinating. 08kanchipuram1.JPGThe demonstration was over a shop, but all commercial silk is woven in the homes of the Kanchipurams. There's a union of sorts, children of weavers go to school full time until they are 12 years old. After 12, they are taught by their fathers (almost all weavers are men) during the day and attend school from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. The weavers are supplied the silk and the patterns and earn 20% of the sale price. It's not much. A Rs10,000 sari will only net the weaver Rs2000, but the sari can take 20 days or more to make depending on the detail.08kanchipuramsilk.JPG
I was encouraged by a recent visitor to Kanchipuram who brought saris back ranging from Rs100 to Rs900. I didn't forget a zero there, because she went with some local staff and went real shopping. But I'm tired of being treated like a true blue tourist. Yes, we're visitors and in the grand scheme are only here for 3 years, but I know a bad deal when I see one and I didn't enjoy feeling like that part of the trip was a waste because I could buy material cheaper down the street from my house. And the fact that the store we went to was on a tourist circuit, we came in after a group and another group entered as we were looking around. Nevermind that we must have passed 20 silk shops just between the lunch stop and our destination shop. Any one of those would have been a more interesting (and our guide wouldn't have made his cut).
There are benefits to traveling in a group, not the least of which having other kids to occupy ours on the journey and not having to worry about parking. But for once I'd like to have my cake and eat it too... the ease of group travel with the great prices of striking it out on your own. But then perhaps there's a ratio requirement too... too many non-Indians and the prices double (or quintuple) anyway no matter how off the beaten track you are. There's a lesson in there somewhere.

The passport problem

I don't normally talk about work, but these stories today on the passport "breaches" have been pretty ridiculous.

It seems that several contractors looked at the passport records of Hillary Clinton, Obama, and McCain. As has been reported, passport records only show the applications that people fill out, and occasionally some sort of proof of citizenship, like a birth certificate. It doesn't say where you've been, where you are now, etc -- we're not that organized. Not that it's unimportant -- these are addresses, social security numbers, etc -- but it's far from nefarious.
There are also stories that say people "hacked" into these records. Some people have access, some don't. There isn't any hacking involved. There is, however, an alarm trigger when people view the records of celebrities, so that their private information isn't seen for no good reason. That happened here, the alarm worked, the three people were caught, and that's it.
No doubt, there will be some sort of security tightening after this. But I hope it all doesn't get out of hand. At the end of the day, they're just three people who did something stupid.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

That Time of Tour Again

We've been looking at a potential bid list. Next week is our 18 month anniversary in Chennai and though we have another 18 months here, it's comforting to say we're on the downswing.

I think back to our time in Togo and while we still reminisce about our house, our pool, our dog, it's plain how unhappy we were there, at least 50% of the family was not happy. The younger three had it pretty good. They loved Coco Beach, they had good teachers at school and along with the aforementioned house/pool/dog, they wanted for nothing. Life was good for them in Togo and even Jonathon still asks when we can go back. Sorry kiddo.
Here we are in Chennai, a full 6 months longer than we were in Lome', and the time has flown. But we're ready to think of what's next, and we're finding it exceedingly difficult. The first two tours for a Foreign Service Officer are directed. We make a wishlist, someone else tells us where we're going. They have to be overseas, one has to be Consular, one has be language designated.... all those restrictions help us create a list based on the daily living things like schools, climate, ease of travel, etc. Now, though we begin with a much smaller list for midlevel positions of about 100 worldwide (versus the 300+ on our second list), the door is wide open. We can stay out, we can go to Washington. We can go to a language post, or not. East side of the planet or West? Ian can stretch, try to get a job in a higher rank than he is now. And all the daily living stuff too. The job has to be right, but so does everything else.
To make it even more difficult, we have to know what our first choice is, then he has to ask for it by talking to the people currently at that Post. And when they ask "Where is this on your list?" he has to answer honestly. Because you can't poke around looking for info on a single Post, right? What if you don't get it, then your name isn't out there interested in a backup. But no Post wants to be just a backup when you're asking around. It's all a little messy and pushes the whole "diplomat" part of this job within your own organization right into the forefront.
Here we are. We have a list, and it's so preliminary it's really not funny or even worth considering because the Iraq cycle hasn't been done yet and the entire list will change come June, and again in August.
But until then, it's fun to dream in no particular order.
Hong Kong

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I'm alive! I'm alive! I'm *cough* alive!

At the very least, I'm functional. I still cough periodically, still have gobs of phlegm and lung crap, my ear still hurts, but I'm functional. Yay, functional!

This past weekend was busy busy. I probably would have felt better a couple days ago, but Saturday I woke up feeling almost OK, then overdid it and paid for it later that night and into Sunday. But Saturday I had stuff to do. Our neighbor had her baby shower in the afternoon and in the evening we went to the CGs house for a farewell dinner for our NIV chief. The dinner was on Indian time, with dessert at about 10:30 p.m. Ouch. Since I'd hardly eaten the past week, the dinner was too much for me. But the dessert was too good to pass up. Sunday, I paid for it. Ian wasn't feeling well either. We did Catechism and Katherine had a manicure and pedicure. She's doing a good job quitting biting but her cuticle skin was a disaster. Her hands looks loads better now.

This week I'm hoping to get back into exercising. The past few weeks have been lousy as I've laid around like a sick little slug. But now it's time to get back in the saddle.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Mama Cat

The day we kittynapped the stray fluffball next door, his mama went missing. We knew she was expecting a new litter of kittens so it wasn't too surprising, but two weeks later there was still no sign of her.

Yesterday, little fluffball (which we released back a few days after his surgery) was in our yard, so Rebecca and I went to our usual spot to feed the kitties. The lady who works in the CGs house was walking by and started chatting about the cats. One of the cats, a big spotted tom we've named Spot, had recent blood spots on his neck. She said he'd gotten into a fight with the nasty orange and white cat that's been around a lot lately. Orange and white has a habit of beating up all the cats in the neighborhood and while we'd really like to toss him in the river with little lead boots on we'd accept just relocating him somewhere far away. First we have to catch him of course, and that's no easy task. He's mean, really mean. She said they'd heard a fight going on and came out to break it up and the old orange and white turned on the people instead of running away. He's that mean.

She also told us Mama Cat had died, apparently in kittenbirth. Mama Cat was weak and sick and just didn't have it in her to make it through. Poor kitty. All her kittens perished too. The staff had already buried her in the pet cemetary on the CGs lot.

Foreign Service Lessons - Consumables

For as long as we do this, we keep learning new lessons. This week's lessons were all about consumables.

1) While preservatives might not be desirable in groceries at home, they definitely are in consumables. Trader Joe's is fine, but they're famous for no preservatives. Result: We have four cases of stale tortilla chips.

2) In your air-conditioned pantry, order food by likelihood of spoilage.
3) Don't cross tours. The box of "Pate a PIzza" bought in Togo isn't good 1.5 years into your next tour.
4) Watch the cereal. When your kids have 12 boxes of cereal open simultaneously, that's too much variety.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Two teeth down

Jonathon lost two of his teeth. Actually, I pulled them out. Well, more exact, one I kinda tugged on and the other basically fell out into my lap and onto the floor. A little gush of blood and 2 new teeth are already present. They were coming in behind his baby teeth. For a couple weeks he seemed closer related to sharks with their multiple rows of chompers.

The tooth fairy was good to him. Somehow, he actually believes in the tooth fairy. Go figure.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Back to the grind stone.

I went back to work and the kids were all in school today. They seem to all be doing OK now, a 24 hour fluke of illness. Me, I'm still coughing up a lung. Hey, it's only been since we landed in Beijing and that was what... January 18th or so? The Advair inhaler worked immediately when I started at the beginning of February, and lasted nearly a week before the cough slowly revved up again. Once my cold/flu hit around March 5th it was in full-swing. So, nearly 2 months later and I'm where I started. Getting a little tired of being sick.

Little rainy season has started. It's way early. Usually it shouldn't start until the summer months, June timeframe. Little rainy season is all about the west coast monsoon season, so why we have rain now is beyond me. I'd look it up on-line but the Indian on-line news is just as insightful as the Indian print news: Not.

Filled up the car today. Rs4000 for one tank. Ouch.

I could rant a bit about Katherine, but I won't.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Alright already!

Katherine, Rebecca, Nicholas and I stayed home today. The girls had thrown up during the night and felt lousy. Nicholas had a "pokey" tummy and a headache. I didn't throw up but, um, the other end isn't so great.

This too shall pass.... this too shall pass...

Monday, March 10, 2008

Yak... yak.... spews

What is there to say about our house right now? A lot of yakking going on, and not the good kind that involves family harmony and shared ideas. Nicholas and Jonathon have succumbed, though it seems to be mostly a tummy issue. They aren't listless or anything, though Jonathon did fall asleep on the bus ride home and took himself promptly to bed for a nap when he walked in the door. I nearly lost my breakfast this morning but managed to hold off by spitting out the granola bar I was attempting to eat.

So, life is moving along a little slower than normal for the three of us.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

And the winner is...

So I told the CLO I'd bring a pot of chili to the chili cook-off because earlier this week it seemed no one had told her they were bringing anything and I didn't want it to be a chili-free chili cook-off.

Well, among the 7 or 8 pots of non-veg chili, I won. I'm not sure what that means since everything in mine came out of a package or a can! But it was a fun afternoon and now my voice is really failing. It's definitely time for sleep.

Friday, March 7, 2008

There's another plus side to texts and blogs.

For those times, like now, when you're struck with laryngitis. Usually a cold for me will end with a lengthy time of coughing. Sometimes, that tickle in my throat lands on my vocal cords and here I am. I don't think it would bother me nearly as much if it also also didn't extend to my ears. *swallow* Ouch.

We also have 2 in the house with tummy pains. I can't pinpoint the cause because it seems random throughout the day and is not consistent between the two. After tennis for Rebecca, sometimes at school, sometimes when she walks in the door at home. Even more sporadic for Nicholas, sometimes after he eats or just when watching TV. I've told them both they probably have worms.

Another week gone, where is the year going?

I've been sick this week.

We've also been fostering a kitty this week. He's a very friendly stray in our compound and figured it was a good time to get him fixed. His momma is pregnant again and we wish we could catch her, but she's really nasty. We'll do what we can with the cats we can catch. So he's been living with us this week, was fixed on Tuesday and will be released tonight after he finishes his course of antibiotics. I'll try to get a picture of him. He's really really pretty but not at all happy about his temporary forced domestication.

In other news, Jonathon is getting his bottom 2 teeth. He still has his bottom 2 baby teeth, so it's funky. Katherine is also getting a new tooth though it appears to be an extra tooth. Weird.

Ian put together our new computer desk. Looks great and has plenty of space for stuff. The best part though is the mass of wires is organized and hidden.

Tonight we're off to see "Enchanted" at the Consulate.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Little Frustrations

We've had any and all business class travel pulled. Used to be that a trip over 14 hours would allow us to travel in a little comfort.

Today we learned our COLA dropped from 10% to 5%. As the dollar tanks and prices shoot through the roof in India.

We're no longer allowed to fill up our cars at the Consulate gas tank. A convenience to be sure when we could pay with a U.S. check in one lump sum every month or two. Now we get to use even more cash to visit the neighborhood station.

What next? Pull the commissary?