Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year: 2009!

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

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

Monday, December 29, 2008

Glorious Weather.

Don't believe me? Check out Chennai on

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

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

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

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

Some holiday photos

Need a job? We're Hiring.

Hiring Window is Open at the Foreign Service

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

Thursday, December 25, 2008

(Almost) perfect Christmas

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

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

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ah, one of these silly things.

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

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

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

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

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

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

Monday, December 22, 2008

Reflections from the Ground

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

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

Sunday, December 21, 2008

This and That

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

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

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Following directions is good for you.

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

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

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

Raita on Day 4

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


Raita: cat #4 in the Hopper house.

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

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

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

So what did we do today?

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

Monday, December 15, 2008

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

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

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

Sunday, December 14, 2008

We're on the hunt. For a house.

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

MLS: PW6936923

MLS: PW6810929

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 8, 2008


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

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

Saturday, December 6, 2008

What. A. Week.

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

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

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

Monday, December 1, 2008

Gifts That Give Back

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

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


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