Monday, December 21, 2009

No Longer Dreaming of a White Christmas

It's no secret, over the past weekend we were slammed with a snowstorm that dumped roughly 20 inches of snow in our area. In December. That's big for the winter season in our area and unheard of for December in our area, and it's going to guarantee a somewhat white Christmas.

The kids are over the snow. It was pretty while it came down for 24 straight hours. It was fun to play in a couple times. It's great for canceling these 2 1/2 days of school before the holiday break officially starts Wednesday afternoon. But now we dread that we still don't have a snow shovel, one car is encased, the sidewalk is impenetrable and we'll probably get a nasty note (again... we've gotten one from a "helpful" neighbor telling us when our grass was too long and another stating when our leaves needed collecting, so it's well within the realm of expectancy we'll get one about not clearing our snow fast enough. If they can reach the mailbox).
12/20 Our house from across the street.
The snow interrupted quite a bit of course. Katherine had planned on earning 6 hours of volunteer time on Saturday and Sunday decorating the church and at the Foreign Service Youth Foundation Christmas party, and my parents were going to take the boys to see the new "Christmas Carol" movie.
We have a well-stocked pantry so aside from cautiously making it to church on Sunday, we have stayed home. In our small house with kids who want nothing to do with the snow anymore, that means a lot of TV, computers, cleaning house, cooking food, and a random game here or there. We've discovered the full joys of Netflix on demand. Getting a couple movies out and back over the course of a 4 days was great initially, Netflix makes no sense overseas with the shipping lag time, but now we can make an Instant queue and watch whatever whenever. Yesterday was a Mythbusters, original Twilight Zone and Planet of the Apes kind of day. Today, who knows. With another big storm making its way across the country and threatening us with icy rain on Christmas Day, I'm thinking that tomorrow may be my day to hit the grocery for some particular Christmas meal items (and perhaps a shovel). My parents and grandmother plan to come down and celebrate the day with us. We'll see what the weather brings.
With all the snow I managed to finish Rebecca's blanket and put it under the tree.
Finished Christmas gift.
With all the snow I managed to pick a pattern for Katherine's and decide on her color palette but couldn't get to a craft store, so ordered what I think I want and cross my fingers it works. With all the snow I started on another small project with some cotton yarns I've had for a while. I'm making a multitude of small squares with them and will sew them in a patchwork. They won't make a soft blanket or anything, cotton is more for functional items like place mats or washcloths, but we'll see what it ends up being. If I have enough they might be a nice tree skirt. Somehow in our move I lost both our tree skirts, one the kids decorated back in 2002 and one my mom made. I am bummed.
What I really want to make is this blanket with different colors(hope the link works), but even the sample colors aren't so bad. I do realize that one house can only handle so many afghans, but I'm looking ahead here people, work with me. When my kids grow up and leave the nest (except Nicholas, he's never leaving he says, though I remember when Katherine was this age and saying the same thing... times have changed), they take their stuff with them. They'll each have their clothes and knick knacks, a bed set with comforter, a couple homemade afghans, a case holding their own Christmas ornaments, and a set of dishes and cutlery. I suppose we should toss in a tool kit and a car kit too. Am I planning too far ahead? It doesn't seem that far ahead. Next year Katherine heads off to high school.
Ah, the house is waking up. I was up around 6 a.m. due to bad dreams of being attacked/overrun, so I popped on here to update the blog. Nicholas is up now at 7:15 and I sent him downstairs to get some breakfast. He came back up with the question: "Mom, are we rich, poor, or in the middle." The only correct answer in my book is "Well, what do you think?" He figured we're in the middle, then rattled off that we have a big house, 2 TVs, an XBox, a Wii, etc. etc. I pointed out that we have enough, far more than just enough actually and with all our stuff we certainly sound rich. I think we're rich in more than just stuff though, don't you? Christmas comes in 3 days and sometimes it's a little difficult to keep the focus on the parts not packaged under the tree (we don't "do" Santa, so gifts raining down from a mysterious man in red don't apply), but we'll keep working at it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

There's music in the air.

We went to a Messiah concert on Sunday afternoon, my mom was singing, where the highlight is always the final Alleluia chorus. Tonight we went to the 6th grade chorus concert, the highlight was a "cat duet" song composed entirely of Meows.

This fits right in to both and it'll put a smile on your face (not from our 6th grade program):

Saturday, December 5, 2009

5 December: It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

I never imagined that we would have snow in December.

A few hours later.

It's been snowing for about 7 hours and is sticking. The roads are slushy, the air is fresh and I rather wish we had a fireplace. The reality is this will be one of the few snow "storms" we'll have this winter and neither heavy snow clothes or a fireplace are necessary, but on a day like today it's nice to bundle up and enjoy the view.

The boys and Rebecca played in the yard. Rebecca built a snowpenguin
The Christmas penguin
and the boys soaked each other with snowballs.
Perfect sticky snow for snowballs.
Katherine disappeared with her friends for an afternoon of sledding at the elementary school, so the rest of the family braved the roads for a quick bite and a venture to the VFW tree sale. They have a covered lot with a roaring fireplace. No snowy Boy Scout lots for us.
Bringing home the Christmas tree.
We brought our tree home and are waiting for it to dry a bit before putting it in the stand. A few other decorations made it up. Tomorrow is Saint Nicholas day, the day he fills the kids' stockings with goodies, so they are ready.
Ready for St. Nicholas on the 6th.
For those in the mid-Atlantic, enjoy the evening warm and cozy!

3rd Grade Field Trip

Tuesday was the big field trip for Jonathon's class and all the third graders. A 45-minute ride downtown brought us (yup, call me Chaperone) to the Natural History Museum. The kids have been learning about soil and habitats and animal adaptations, so the chaperones were each assigned 3-5 kids (those with boys got 3, those with girls got 5) and set loose on the museum.

Here is Jonathon's photo journal:

Finally, a good photo!  The Natural History dome.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Thanksgiving may be done, but the Thanks don't stop there.

Our new 12 year old.

My girl

The school won't let me bring her balloons (too disruptive or someone might choke on one, who knows) but after her weekend shopping spree and a dinner tonight at Chik-Fil-A followed by ice cream cake and plenty of gifts, she'll be ready to face her 13th year.

What most impresses us with Rebecca is her work ethic. She's still all about fairness, but she also puts her homework first every night, she attends every drama rehearsal (you'd be surprised how many kids don't), her room is kept neat, she's got a sense of style/fashion, her first quarter grades were straight As, she does her chores and is saving methodically to purchase her own laptop. She's fun and funny, responsible and bright; she makes smart choices and tries to keep her temper in check. I hope she continues to develop and mature the person she is now because she's awesome to have around.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

On the Anniversary of the Mumbai attacks...

We are so very thankful to be all together, without worry of Ian being taken away (he flew to Mumbai the day after Turkey Day last year) or worry of drowning in our yard (Chennai monsoon flood of 2008). This is our first Thanksgiving with my parents since 2002, and my maternal grandmother will be with us at the table tomorrow as well. We are happy, healthy, together and blessed by each other, our children, and our home. We are graced with the comforts of a healthy home, the beautiful outdoors and our memories of travels and daily joys shared.

We miss our friends. Our State Department family is spread around the world, and this is a year we won't spend with any of them. It's a little heart-breaking. We wish them all a warm and comfortable holiday, filled with good food and fellowship. You are in our thoughts, and we miss you.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Cloudy skies = No DC

That's OK. I spent the morning with my boys working on Rebecca's blanket while the boys played a game of football on the Wii. Between runs we watched the birds at the bird-feeder outside, which made Masala practically manic.

He must have worked off a couple ounces with the circles he scampered across the carpet up the chair to one window and then the next and back again. He went even nuttier when a squirrel came into view, a neighborhood cat lazily ambled across the yard and a fox came up to our doorstep.
Morning fox - 11/21/09
Wish I'd grabbed the camera quicker as it was quickly across the street in the neighbor's yard. I did snap some photos of the cardinals, woodpecker and assorted finches, wrens and sparrows that littered the yard. I also wish I had a cleaner window to shoot through.
DC was an idea for the afternoon, not a steadfast plan, so deciding instead to visit IKEA for some replacement parts was good enough. IKEA didn't have the necessary parts seeing as the chair we needed them for we bought 7 years ago. We bought 2 new chairs ($20 each!) instead. They will be the boys' chairs whenever we have company at the table. Awesome ribs (for me) at Chili's followed by a trip to the Dollar Tree and Petsmart and GameStop and Dots and Best Buy. Nicholas bought a couple Christmas gifts at Dollar Tree, we didn't adopt any cats from Petsmart, GameStop did not receive any of our hard-earned cash, but Best Buy did, and Dots will need a repeat visit when Rebecca brings money she's willing to spend. Katherine missed all the fun. She stayed up way too late and was still sleeping when we left.
The afternoon should have seen the house cleaned top to bottom, or at least the middle. The yard caught our attention though, probably due to the cacophony of leaf blowers busy all afternoon.
Leafy burial
We don't own a leaf blower so the boys raked and piled leaves, I raked more, Rebecca and I mowed, sidewalks and driveway were swept and we didn't quit until night had fallen. Rebecca and Nicholas spent a good amount of time playing in the leaf pile buried up to their heads.
Gorgeous, dirty kids
A fantastic day, even without being anything like I had "planned." Love it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

What does $20 and an hour get you on Monday morning?

A chat with the father of Malcolm Jenkins.

A chat with a Filipina/Japanese nurse who is going to the Philippines next year to bring her mother to the States for a while, who has a daughter who wants to go to university in Manila because of the cost of living, and whose brother was killed in a break-in in Manila when he was 26.

A chat with a Nigerian doctor who of course knew where Togo is.

And a referral to a dermatologist.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Weekend Bliss. Wish I'd brought a camera.

Yesterday morning was slow. 9 a.m. wakeup slow. Ooze into the living room slow. Get out the door at noon slow, when the plan had been a 10 a.m. departure slow.

The goal was to brighten up Ian's office. His awards and plaques have been cluttering up hunkering down in the living room since we unpacked the boxes, and it was time to give them a new home in their rightful place. The walls already had nails from its last occupant so within minutes his little corner was decked out.
Ten minutes in an empty office building is plenty. We walked down to the Lincoln Memorial since Katherine claimed she'd never been. The boys remembered it right off from "National Treasure." We read through the Gettysburg address and tried to avoid the small throng of tourists. It wasn't as bad as a summer Saturday would have been, not by far. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is right near by, so we followed the wall (made of granite brought from Bangalore, India) west to east towards the Washington Monument. There are laminated books at either end of the memorial to check for a particular name out of the 58,261 listed and its location. Rebecca asked if there were women on the Wall, and indeed there are 8 of them, all nurses. According to the book, there are no Beaulieus listed, and about 8 Hoppers, though none from Indiana or Ohio.
We continued our walk to the Declaration of Independence Memorial, an island just past The Wall.
Location of Declaration of Independence Memorial
Silly me still can't find the charger for the portable Canon camera, and didn't bring the big camera, or any camera for that matter, so the junky little cell phone had to fill in. Being a cool gray day, the phone camera didn't do a good job so I don't have images of the signatures of all the Declaration signers. Am I the only one who didn't know Josiah Bartlett was a real person?
The boys ran around and got quite muddy. They couldn't help it, the ground was water logged from the past week of rain, and what little boy can resist running through all those open green fields? Not mine. I'm really hoping the weather forecast is right and this coming weekend will be hovering around 60 and partly sunny. I want to go back downtown while the temperature holds at perfect and the tourists are minimal. Jonathon has a field trip to the Natural History Museum next month, so we'll skip that one, but what to choose instead? American History and Air & Space are good and our normal spots, but there are so many more. Suggestions? What has a great exhibit right now?
I wanted to stay longer, but we had kids to pick up. Some friends from Chennai are in town for language training, the girl is in 8th grade and the boy is in 4th, so it's a perfect match for us. They came to the house for a sleepover. These two are good kids and never a problem so it's easy on all of us. The girls did a little Rock Band while the boys played soccer outside, before I took the girls to the ice rink for a couple hours of freezin'-the-butt-off fun. The Express was playing a game so for a while I got free ice hockey adrenaline. It was better than the Caps game on TV where they lost brilliantly to the NJ Devils. Oh well. I figure if we can't go see an actual Caps game (the 40% off coupons from the Entertainment book aren't being accepted) then perhaps local junior league can fill the gap? OK, probably not, but it's still fun to watch. Speaking of the Entertainment book, there was a B1G1 for the ice rink too. Has the address on it and everything. But the rink changed hands last year and even though the coupon is in the book, with the rink's address right there, they wouldn't honor it. I'm wondering as to the value of this book when items are outdated the day you buy it and/or aren't accepted. The Caps reduced tickets were a huge draw to even buy the book.
The girls were up way too late, the boys were up too late too, but that doesn't stop Sunday morning from rolling around. Everyone made it to church and Rel Ed, followed by a quick stop at the farmer's market and some afternoon football, on TV for Ian and outside for the boys. Katherine, Rebecca and Meghan visited some friends in the neighborhood and ended up bringing another kid, Kevin, back to the house. It was Rock Band time again, the windows were open, the sun was shining, multicolored leaves blanketed the lawn. I wanted to freeze that afternoon, but couldn't figure out how. Our sleepover kids were picked up, we shooed Kevin back to his house, Katherine plunked down with her long-delayed homework (enough of it that she missed choir practice at church), pizza came and was eaten, kids were ushered off to bed and the adults settled in to watch the season 2 finale of "True Blood." No spoilers here, just in case you haven't seen it yet. The season seemed to drag a bit in the last 3-4 episodes but the finale was a pretty good wrap-up with plenty left open for season 3.
Things are good. Things are really good.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Halloween, Stateside

I'm not a fan of Halloween. Did that shock you? Didn't think so.

Dressing up in silly costumes, asking for candy door-to-door while trying not to freeze, or as the case this year, get soaked. Nope, not my cup of tea. But this is the first year all the kids have had a real clue about Halloween and been in the States to enjoy it. We carved pumpkins, twice: the first ones a couple weeks before Halloween turned into moldy piles of goo on the doorstep, as did the second ones done a week before the big night. But here you can see Katherine's masterpiece the day she carved it.
Katherine's carving.
I'd bought 3 enormous bags of candy plus Halloween pretzels and some odds and ends like chocolates wrapped in fang wrappers. We live in a neighborhood filled with kids, the elementary school is only a couple blocks away, I worried it wouldn't be enough. Our largest stainless steel pot (our "cauldron") from India couldn't hold it all.
And it rained.
The boys went trick-or-treating with Ian so for 45 minutes there was no one to man the candy dispensing. That was probably the downfall right there, we have so much candy left to gorge on. Ian took them up and down the streets and noted what Nicholas later admitted himself: He'd rather hand out candy than trick-or-treat. The boys had a good time, but as anyone who knows Nicholas will confirm, he'd prefer to just stay home. He wasn't comfortable in his costume and going up to strangers' doors is not his cup of tea either. Here's a tiny "yay!" from mom. The candy part was OK with him and I'll agree with that, but having a bowl of it at home is just better than begging, you know? Jonathon didn't like his face mask, you'd think he would have thought of that before going as Darth Vader, but the rest of it was right up his alley. Oh well, win some, lose some.
The girls and I had a job to do before the Halloween tradition. For Katherine's Confirmation prep she has a required 20 hours of volunteering to complete. It's not much and her time with the church choir counts (though she still has to find out if practice counts or just the Masses she sings at). The church also provides plenty of opportunities and on the 31st of October we signed up to serve food at the Hilda Barg Family Homeless Prevention Center. For a couple hours we prepped the donated meals, made bag lunches for the following day, then provided for and cleaned up after the current occupants of the shelter. The girls went in costume and handed out little gift bags of candy, and the kids at the shelter were in costumes too. There was so much food and food leftover, some of it was given away, some of it thrown away.
When you've live in the Philippines, Togo and India, a visit to a shelter like this one leaves less of an impact.
By 8:15 we were home and the girls got their bags and headed out for ToT. That's when the clouds really opened. Over an hour later they had gone through the haunted yard nearby, gotten extra pity candy from the houses they visited and returned drenched through. Apparently it was fun? We'll see if they decide to do it again next year.

Quarter 1 complete

Three quarters left in the school year. How did the first shape up? We'll know tomorrow when report cards come home, but here's a run-down of the past 9 weeks in note form...

Rebecca: made the principal's honor roll with straight As, got a supporting role in the drama production
Katherine: As and Bs on her report card, elected Student Council president and has her first meeting Nov 10th, got the role of Ms. Darbus in the drama production, joined the high school church choir, is in the Confirmation class
Katherine elected SCA Prez
(Katherine with a friend, celebrating her election)
Nicholas: looks like straight As, will be tested for the Signet program (p/t conf: his teacher said he's one of her favorites but that's hard to read, he finishes his work quickly)
Jonathon: mostly Bs coming his way, is in First Communion prep (p/t conf: he's fidgety and let's his emotions control his actions, handwriting is improving as is spelling)
There it is, in a nutshell. We'll see if tomorrow brings any surprises.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


I was in Jonathon's classroom for a couple hours this afternoon. I'm trying to make it a twice weekly thing to go in the afternoons and help with their reading centers/writing time. Today I worked with a few kids on reading a few paragraphs about monarch butterflies then answering questions and finding where those answers were in the story. Basic reading comprehension.

I have noticed that Jonathon appears to be the youngest and pretty close to the smallest in his class.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Quick update on a couple points

Remember when I said: " Rebecca will be moved to Extended Math. She'll still have a full period every day, but I'm hoping the syllabus will prove to be more challenging." Her schedule did change, and along with being moved into Extended Math she is now in Extended LA as well. She has the same teacher for math, and unfortunately they aren't going to be moving quicker but according to Rebecca they'll be adding in some other stuff to each lesson. If nothing else hopefully this won't be as boring. They are still doing odds and evens though.... *insert hair pulling here* Becca said the teacher gave small groups 2 die and challenged them to figure out the proportion of odds to evens when adding the die amounts after each roll. While she was talking about the exercise, Becca wrote it out on paper and showed it to her teacher and then to the class (after the class worked on it) how it reached 12 even (roughly 2/3) and 9 (roughly 1/3) odd results.

And then I said: "There are two schools I'd prefer for Katherine to attend next year. Forest Park is our default school, but for a specialty program it's not the best match. ... So tonight we go and learn what it's all really about." And we learned what it was all about. Aside from the Tech programs and the Fine Arts program, entry is pretty much guaranteed for whichever school she applies to, which is wonderful, and pickups are done at elementary and middle schools. There's a chance she'd be picked up at Montclair, right around the corner.

I have to say that the Hylton International Studies program looked like a ton of fun and I know Katherine would really enjoy it. But looking at the big picture, she lives the International Studies life. She doesn't need more "Global Awareness," foreign student exchanges (oh funny story, she said being overseas didn't count because all the kids she met came from other international schools, they weren't foreign exchange students, nevermind that Americans were rare), or exposure to cultures. Right now, she's supposed to be immersing herself in American culture. So, we're considering applying to Gar-Field and the International Baccalaureate program which should prepare her for finishing up high school overseas.

Public Vs. Private school. Is there really a cost difference?

I want to say yes, I really do because deep down I know that it's true, but it sure doesn't feel like it. The nickel and diming at our public schools from supplies to fundraisers is excruciating.

Every project, every activity has a cost. School supplies: $25+. Join the PTSO: $10. Have to have (at least) one P.E. uniform: $20. Attend the monster mash: $10. Get into school play, need a rehearsal book: $10. A rehearsal CD too? $15. Support the library: $1. Buy from the Marketplace fundraiser: $10 and up (way way up). Yearbook: $30. Entertainment book fundraiser: $30. On and on, all on top of our taxes which I don't begrudge the county at all.

We've only been in school 6 weeks and many of these things are per child. It's a touch wearisome to be asked for money from both schools literally every week.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Life is good.

It can't be the cold weather, that would never make me feel good, right? My hands are just about always chilled so it really can't be the 38 degrees we woke up to today that's putting a bounce in my step. But there's something in the air, something about something that made the past couple weeks pretty darn good.

I wish I could pin it down, but will just take it for what it is: good.

**Watching football on TV makes me happy. Not the Redskins of course, they are simply painful to watch, but we also caught the Vikings/Ravens game, wow. And the Raiders/Eagles game where the Eagles lost and that's always a good thing.
**I got a call today in response to my e-mail to Rebecca's guidance counselor about her math placement. Currently in math class they are talking about odd and even numbers and she says kids in her class still don't get it. This is middle school. So I asked that she be placed in either 7th grade math or pre-Algebra with a feeling that they were a stretch but what I'm learning is that you ask for more than is reasonable and receive what fits. Rebecca will be moving to what's called Extended Math. Just as Katherine is now in Extended 8th grade English in order to accommodate French (usually LA is taught every day but if you take a language then the same time is split between LA and foreign language so LA is a condensed/advanced class), now Rebecca will be moved to Extended Math. She'll still have a full period every day, but I'm hoping the syllabus will prove to be more challenging. In her current class they should be moving into fractions and factoring and Becca did fractions since 3rd grade and factoring last year. Heck, Jonathon was beginning fractions last year in 2nd at AISC which I thought was pretty typical.
**I'm still looking for stuff. The charger for the portable Canon camera. The bathroom scale. You'd think the latter would be pretty easy to find.
**Tonight Katherine is missing Religious Education in order to go to Specialty Programs Information Fair at Hylton high school. In our county we have 11 high schools (and a new Catholic high school, John Paul the Great), nine of which have specialty programs and the kids who apply and are accepted to their chosen program are bussed to that school.
Forest Park High - Center for Information Technology, Network Design and Engineering
Gar-Field High - International Baccalaureate Programme, Integrated Engineering Systems Technology
Hylton High - Center for International Studies and Languages, Television Production, Auto Technology
Potomac Senior High - Cambridge Program, Collision Repair
Osbourn Park High - Bio Technology Center
Woodbridge Senior High - Center for the Fine and Performing Arts, Television Production, Project Lead-the-Way, Cosmetology
Freedom High - The Center for Environmental Sciences
Osbourn Park High - Health Services Specialty
Stonewall Jackson High - Network Design and Engineering, Cosmetology
There are two schools I'd prefer for Katherine to attend next year. Forest Park is our default school, but for a specialty program it's not the best match. Can you guess which two we'd like? And can you guess which one Katherine would choose if left to her own devices? So tonight we go and learn what it's all really about.
**The girls auditioned for the school musical (High School Musical Jr.) and Katherine got the part of Ms. Darbus. Rebecca will be in the cast as a "thespian" so a drama geek. Twice weekly rehearsals start next week.
**Ian and I are going low-carb in our diet efforts. How is this even possible during the cold months when all I want to do is have oatmeal for breakfast, suck down cream soups at lunch, make cheesie pasta for dinner and put peanut butter on toast all the other times? Maybe we should wait until spring? It's just not fair that all the comforting warming foods of winter are carb based. Tips?? Suggestions??
**Looking for a trip? How about this one for only $399 (minus airfare).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Trying to add a little (American) culture

Today the girls and I went to a flute concert by the Woodbridge Flute Chorus.

Look at this:
Contrabass flute in the Woodbridge Flute Chorus
This was the contra-bass flute, large enough to require a tilted photo. Impressive.

Monday, October 12, 2009

911, where is your emergency?

Twice the past week Ian has called 9-1-1 -> neither time was for anyone in our family.

Last Sunday a women below us at church (we sit in the balcony) passed out into the aisle. Ian called 911, along with a dozen other people. Approved used of the cell phone in the church and a time we're all glad we don't really turn off the cells during Mass, just put them away or mute them.

Yesterday we were on our way home from a couple free games of bowling and one of the girls noticed black smoke pouring into the sky from a largely abandoned strip mall along Rt.1. We watched for a second as the smoke got thicker and Ian dialed 911. The kids wanted to see what happened next so we pulled into an adjacent parking lot and realized the smoke was actually coming from the rear of the building. As dark was falling we caught the reflection of the flames on the underside of the smoke as it billowed out. Police, roughly 6 firetrucks, 2 rescue, chiefs and deputy chiefs sirened their way behind the building and we watched the back smoke quickly turn to white as they put out the fire.

Let's see what happens next Sunday.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Northern and Western Hemispheres

There are so many things we think our kids know, and then realize with a shock they don't. This week Jonathon brought home geography homework. His new vocabulary words were "hemisphere" and "Prime Meridian."

Thank goodness we have a relatively current globe on hand because the line drawing of the globe on his homework sheet was barely recognizable as continents and oceans.
Most of the learning done each year in Virginia schools is geared towards the unfortunately acronymed SOLs (Standards of Learning) given each spring. Jonathon will study different forms of government from Ancient Greece, Ancient Italy and Ancient... Mali. I think they mention Socialism and Fascism too, so hello France and, no offense, Spain.
I applaud the attempt to expand the children's minds with the study of democracy in Mali, but am not impressed that the surrounding lessons only go that far. For example, when learning about hemispheres this week, the kids needed to find the 2 hemispheres for an assortment of places (I'd say countries, but I can't). On the list were the obvious: England, France, Spain, Greece, Rome, Mali and Jamestown, VA. If you're like me you're wondering who wrote these assignments. Jonathon was irritated that all the countries were in the northern hemisphere, and rightly so. Then of course aside from VA, they are all clumped in one small area. I mean, even Mali isn't that far away in the global scheme of things. Then we get to the fact that 5 are countries and 2 are listed as cities. I can somewhat forgive them for Jamestown if you're trying to get them to make a connection to where they are now (kind of, we're several hours from Jamestown), but Rome? Rome, is not a country.
If there's work on hemispheres before the more in-depth study of particular governments, then pick a widespread net of countries. We have a huge hispanic community at school. Why isn't Mexico or Panama or Honduras on the list? I'm sure the kids could find China... South Africa (that one gives itself away for location)... or how about Brazil? They couldn't put Australia on the list of hemisphere searches? The kids are learning all the continents, connect the dots.
Obviously I'm nitpicking. It's what I do. It makes me happy, to a degree. With Jonathon we compared how close Chennai was to the Equator (less than 15degrees) with how close Virginia is (closer to 40degrees). Then we found Venezuela where some friends have moved on to and saw its proximity to the Equator too. We talked about the Prime Meridians and it's sister, the International Date Line. I told him how there used to be several Prime Meridians because several countries wanted their favorite city to be point zero but finally it was agreed it would only be in Greenwich. We talked about how polar bears live in the Arctic and penguins in the Antarctic.
It's times like these I definitely see the attraction and feel the pull to homeschooling.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Houston, we have a problem.

No, nothing like imminent death in the outreaches of space. Just a little blog weariness showing its ugly head. We're now in the land of plenty and ease, I don't feel I can complain about the price of anything (yes, I'm willing to pay for every variety of cheese, meat or condiment readily available), or remark on how someone was rude (have you dealt with the "customer service" in India?), or how I got cut off while driving (um, I'm DRIVING). None of that feels right, so I'm letting it all roll right off. Which leaves me with what? What can I write about? It's been two weeks since the last entry, let's see what I can pull up.

OK, let's start with school. School seems to be going fine.
Katherine has really buckled down this year, she's trying really hard to stay on top of things, get her work done AND turned in, making sure she has enough flute practice minutes each week for an A, etc. She's doing a great job. Mornings are still a little rushed for her because if she gets up to take a shower she's primping until it's time to get shoes on and head outside, and if she doesn't shower she delays getting up until the last minute. It's OK though. She hasn't missed the bus yet and has been generally cheerful in the mornings. Classwise, she enjoys band, French 1 is a high school credit course and teaches what she learned several years ago, pre-Algebra again (thanks to her grades last year, though for Katherine grades rarely reflect knowledge level and instead show late assignments or those never turned in, like I said she's doing well this year), language arts is never a problem, science is easy, civics is fun, P.E. is annoying.
Rebecca has proclaimed herself the teacher's aide in her math class. They're covering different sorts of graphs and now moving into fractions and how to reduce them. Stuff she learned last year at AISC. This is the kid who "doesn't like math" and "is no good at math" and she's bored because now the math is all repetitive and easy. This concerns us a bit, because the boys are seeing the same things: the math they are doing here is what they've done in the past few years at AISC. Nicholas is one of the top math kids in his class. Jonathon is adding double digits. In 2nd grade he was doing fractions. Sure it's an easy year (or two) for all of them, but then what?
If this is where we are now, how far behind in math will the kids be when we go back overseas?
Oh well, nothing I can do about all that, is there? Well, of course that's a bald-faced lie, there's a lot I can do to keep the kids up on their learning, it's just going to take some gumption from me to get it going. Here's me... gettin' my gumption goin' :)
Anyhow, life is not all about school. There is After School!
The girls both tried out for the drama program at Saunders. This year they are performing High School Musical Jr. Junior, you say? I did the same thing, a big "say what?" It seems to be a 60 minute condensed story, but I'm not certain. The girls auditioned with a couple songs and a shared skit, the same "Man in Black" skit that was used for Madras Kids last year. Shhh, no one needs to know but us. Today Katherine received a call back sheet for one of the leads. Rebecca didn't get a call back, but we're not sure what to make of that yet. When the whole cast list comes out, then we can cry or cheer. I have high hopes she got a part, and she's fine with a supporting role as a random kid in school. I just really want her to get something.
Katherine and the band played at a pep rally last week. I didn't know about it until after the fact, she says they sounded good and I'll have to take her word for it. Next Friday is 8th grade band night at the local high schools. It's a way for the kids to see what band in high school is all about. Marching band is tough to get into and Katherine had no interest anyway, until we told her it's not just marching around. Then she got a spark of interest. Thankfully she's still enjoying her new flute, though her practice methods leave much to be desired. I'm still looking for a flute teacher who can go one-on-one with her and correct her bad habits. Is there anything like a flute clinic? So she's opted to go to the Forest Park band night with her friend from around the corner, both flautists. I'm thinking the whole family may go to watch a live football game, even if it's high school.
Outside of school related things, we visited with Ian's mom and uncle a couple weekends ago, and my parents took the boys to see Cavalia this past Saturday. The boys had a CD of snippets of the show and it really did look spectacular. They had a great time with their grandparents and said they're excited about their next outing with them. We liked having some time with just the girls too. After lunch out, just the 4 of us, the girls saw a movie while Ian and I wandered the mall and chitchatted. We tried to all go to the indoor mini-golf but it looked devoid of actual mini-golf stuff, and then we tried laser tag but being a Saturday it was crazy busy with over and hour wait. We came home and relaxed.
This week has been a very quiet one. Nicholas has been home the past couple days. Monday he didn't feel well but I sent him to school anyway. Tuesday he woke with a litany of problems: 102.6 fever, muscle aches, stomachache, chills, sore throat, cough, earache, dizziness. I assumed the flu, but this morning most of the symptoms were gone. He still had a stomacheache, sore throat and clogged ears, so he stayed home, but tomorrow he's back to school. It's too bad it hit Tuesday, he missed his first class field trip, but I'm very glad it wasn't any version of flu, bird or swine or regular old type A. He's back to his chipper self, so tomorrow I can be productive again. Since Ian was working from home today and Nicholas was resting, I read Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, and my personal opinion is it's just as good as the first one and definitely a bridge to the third. If you liked Hunger Games, I'm pretty sure you'll enjoy the second installment.
Now I've really got to finish Return of the King, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and The Amber Spyglass.

Monday, September 21, 2009

So if the link below worked...

You heard a bit of Katherine's playing.

Now that she has a real instrument:
Katherine and her new flute.
Do you know how expensive intermediate flutes are? I didn't. Once you start looking at things like open-holes, solid silver head joints, and other bits, the intermediates were averaging $1000-$1500. Um, ouch. I was learning a new language of brands beyond Yamaha (Jupiter, Pearl, Gemeinhartd, Selmer, Armstrong). If you couldn't guess, I don't play the flute or any brass/wind instrument. She's in foreign territory for me, but not for my dad. So on Sunday we took her to another music store (we'd already been to Dale City Music where they had a whopping 3 flutes to try), Foxes Music Company which was an absolute zoo with rentals but they know their stuff inside and out and have a huge selection of instruments and music.
She tried somewhere around 8-10 different flutes, some closed, some open, some silver-plated, some dinged, some new, some used, you get the idea. Finally we were down to three and eventually the Eastman won out. The salesman was quite baffled by the choice. Eastman is known for violins and only recently developed its own flutes. For us it didn't matter as we all liked the sound, Katherine liked the feel and it was exactly what I had been searching for on-line: silver head-joint, offset G, B foot, new and half the MSRP. Score.
She really enjoys playing the pieces from the Movie Instrumental Solos which comes with a CD of orchestration. Nothing makes you feel accomplished like playing with a full orchestra at your back, and with her new flute, she actually made parts sound really good. Today she "entertained" the neighborhood from our back deck.
Katherine playing on the deck.
What I did ask her to do today was show her new flute to her band teacher (she was very excited, so was he), but ask to keep that one at home and use the old flute for class. Not ideal, to be sure, but this way I worry less about it getting dinged, being left on the bus, left in the locker, or whatever might befall a flute. Understandably, the band director wasn't thrilled but agreed anyway. She'll use the Eastman for her concerts, obviously. Not perfect, but still a win-win. This instrument should easily get her through the next 5 years and beyond.

A little flute music.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Quiet Day

I got a call last night from Ian. He'd made it home from DC and was standing by the Sable, the car he uses to drive to the bus stop and then home again. It wouldn't turn over, instead making that sad *click click click* of a dead battery. Since he'd just driven it that morning, seems the battery just couldn't hold much of a charge anymore.

I picked him up, dropped him at home with the kids and bid them all sayonara for the evening as our in-car GPS led me to Falls Church for a little girl time. I don't think I'll trust that the GPS knows the easiest way to get around familiar roads again. An hour later I picked up Kelly, then we found our way to Gwen's house. The plan was scrapbooking. The actuality was a trip to Dunkin' Donuts, a few pages of scrapping and a lot of chatter about Chennai, TV, movies and the silliness of the scrapping hobby. I made it home about 1 a.m.
As a result, this morning ran little slow, but we did eventually make it out the door to jump the Sable and get the battery replaced. Since one car was in the shop, we took the other across the street for its emissions inspection (and to fill the leaking tire). One step closer to being fully registered, yay. We checked out the Scuba shop at the other corner where Ian is now considering getting a certification (I tell you, the man is easily influenced), stopped in to check out some intermediate flutes at Dale City Music (Katherine thinks the open hole flutes are quite a bit harder, can anyone tell me why they are better, especially for $700 used price on what is a $1600 new flute?), took our blood pressures and heart rates in Giant (for me 113/71, 58bmp), dropped a book off at the library that had just closed then picked up both vehicles and went home.
Rebecca mowed the lawn, I cleared out much of the mess of the lilac bush, nearly 1/3 of the branches were dead and are now gone. We played some Beatles Rock Band. I do indeed rock on the drums. On easy. I tried an intermediate once and failed out 3 times. That time I did not rock. I can't get my right foot and left hand in rhythm. I am sad.
We went to the church fall festival which wasn't much. A handful of very young children's games, plenty of food, a small craft section and a closed silent auction couldn't hold our attention too long. We came home to watch "Soylent Green." That movie did not impress the kids. Katherine guessed the secret, and much of the rest confused them. I think that older movies relied a lot on "this is what we're trying to do, go along with it" rather than trying to have it make sense. Our main character breaks into the heavily guarded waste disposal factory which is actually the soylent green factory by riding on top of a truck, then hopping off in clear view of the truck behind him, and wanders through a pristine, nearly-devoid-of-human-life factory and uncovers the horror, all without being seen because there's simply no one around. He then runs out the same way he came in, by running out into the factory parking lot while the alarms are finally going off, the trucks continue going in and out of the facility without noticing the alarms and no guards show up, he hops in the back of a passing truck who still doesn't notice him and escapes. We all got a bit tired of hearing from each other "But why didn't they....??" This is a classic movie people... roll with it!
Tomorrow night, should we even bother with Terry Gilliam's "Brothers Grimm"? We weren't thrilled with "Time Bandits."

Friday, September 11, 2009

9/11 Eight Years On

Everyone remembers where they were when that gorgeous morning was torn into a million pieces.

I was in our house in Woodbridge with Jonathon, about 3 1/2 weeks old, Nicholas at 18 months and Rebecca at almost 4 years. It really was a gorgeous fall day outside. Ian was at work at the AP, a few blocks down from the Capitol in Washington DC. He called and told me to turn on the news. Footage was replaying about a plane that had rammed into one of the twin towers in New York. The speculation was a terrible accident, but the footage just didn't fit to me. I told him I didn't think it was an accident at all.

The second plane collided. We can all readily recall the chaos that swept the City from there.

When the Pentagon was hit I think we settled into a daze. What was going on?

And then it seemed random that a plane came down in a field in Shanksville, PA, almost an afterthought, an aside. A tragedy, true, but the horror of watching the twin towers collapse split screen with the smoke billowing from the crushed side of the Pentagon overwhelmed anything happening in an empty field.

Of course we know better now. The people on United Flight 93 sacrificed themselves and saved hundreds, possibly thousands. The theory is the plane was turning towards the Capitol, we'll never really know, but if that's true then Ian came home safely that day thanks to the people who overcame the odds. One of those people was my uncle.

Today is a rainy, dreary, chilly day. A fitting day to take a moment and say Thanks, in memory of those who lost their lives and touched all of ours.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

25 minutes to eat

The school year has started. We now have an 8th grader, 6th grader, 4th grader and 3rd grader. The girls hop on a bus that picks up in front of our house at 7:52 a.m. and I walk the boys to school at 8:45 a.m. Considering the boys were up early enough to see Ian off just after 6 a.m., they have quite the lazy morning. The only rush comes with getting Katherine at the curb on time. It's going to be interesting seeing if she learns that the bus stops at the bus stop and picks up whoever is there, the bus does not stop at the bus stop to pick up Katherine.

First day of School - SaundersMS
The school days are short in the U.S., roughly 45 minutes shorter than at AISC. Middle school runs 8:20 to 2:50, and Elementary school runs 9:00 to 3:30. The girls get home at 3:15, the boys get home at 3:40. I'm thinking this will work well if/when the kids have after school activities. I don't know if the Middle school has an activity bus, another thing to figure out.
Overall, the kids seem to have gelled just fine. There are some adjustments as in any school. The shorter school day means Middle school doesn't get any break aside from lunch, and lunch is a whopping 25 minutes with no free time to play around. The girls say that some kids are still getting food in the lunch line when the bell rings. How does that work?? I'm letting the kids buy lunch once a week, and Rebecca seems to be leaning towards bringing every day because it ensures she'll get to eat. Both boys have commented that their recess time is way too short, and yesterday Nicholas' class worked right through recess. They don't get a snack break either so basically they do school work from 9 until lunch, have 25 minutes to eat, and back to the classroom. Jonathon's class does get a snack in the morning because they have the "late" lunch at noon. Katherine has lunch at 10:30 in the morning.
With the entire school enclosed and many of the classrooms interior rooms including the gym, another adjustment is the lack of fresh air and sunshine between classes. I realize that it's already getting cooler and the kids will be in school over the winter months, but it's still a big change to go from plenty of vitamin D to none at all during the day.
First day of School - MontclairES
Nicholas has brought up that the school certainly does like lines. Line up to enter the school in the morning. Line up to go to the bathroom. Line up between classes. Line up to leave the school in the afternoon. Lines, lines, lines. No looking around, no talking, clasped hands so no touching... anything. He's unimpressed with the lines.
A lot more kids (Nicholas is #17 out of 27 in his class, Katherine says most of her classes have 30+... AISC typically had classes around 18 kids), fewer classrooms, more schools overall and a limited number of buses requiring staggered start times. With schools located within neighborhoods, there's no campus for kids to walk around freely, everything is timed and lined and locked. It's just different.
Rebecca really likes her Chorus teacher, Nicholas' teacher seems great (former military I think), Katherine has P.E. and Band every day (seems excessive to me that P.E. bit, and I think we'll need more uniforms), and Jonathon hasn't been sent to the Principal's office.
I know it sounds like I'm complaining, but really, I'm not. It's an adjustment and anyone who knows me knows I don't do change well (yeah... don't say what you're thinking, OK?). But as school gets into swing I know some great things will start happening and the weird scheduling will melt into the background. For now though, I'm missing AISC a bit, the familiar is calming.
As for me, the house is finally getting pulled together. Pictures have gone up on the walls which completely changes the feel of the place. We're down to a dozen boxes in the garage, 2 are filled with Rathna stuff, 2 more have the telescope in them. What haven't we discovered yet? Our Chinese paintings, and the knives that go in the woodblock. I have the block... no knives. The rest we should probably just burn as whatever is in them won't be missed. More shelving is called for in the basement and garage to hold tools and little used kitchen items, and more junk need to be booted to the curb. I've been ruthless with the books on the shelves (a little late? uh, yes) and I'm reading the book Clutter's Last Stand by Don Aslett as I try to find room for stuff. I'm realizing that I don't need more room (this is house so much smaller), I need less stuff. A couple pages of that book before I open another box and suddenly I don't feel bad for throwing/giving things away. My mantra at the moment: I don't want a bigger house, I want less clutter... I don't want a bigger house, I want less clutter. I think it's actually going to work. After I get a mixer, a food processor and some cookie sheets.
Today is the crossing guard's birthday. After I go to Target, pick up a book from the library and clean up the main floor, I'm going to bake something for him. I have 5 hours.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

No update since the 17th huh? Oh well.

We had the Open House for 7-8th graders at the Middle School. Sixth graders are kept separate to keep them away from all the scary 13-14 year olds and we'll go back tomorrow to find out her homeroom teacher. That's pretty much it though. Today I bought lunch cards for both girls, P.E. uniforms for both girls, got logins to the school website for both girls and "joined" the PTSO. I did not buy spirit wear, and I was informed that they need athletics physicals if they want to try out for any teams. I knew that before but for some reason our Med doc in India didn't fill out those forms so now I have to scramble and get it done before school starts, because wouldn't you know, tryouts for Volleyball are the first week of school. yay. Hopefully next week. Funny story though, we looked up the nearest doctors that take our current health coverage (we're in the process of switching), and of the 10 closest recommendations, 4 graduated from Indian colleges, one from a Pakistani college, one from a Philippine college, and two others spoke Tagalog too. Next week we have the Elem Open House for the boys. Jonathon got a "Welcome to 3rd grade" postcard from his teacher today. That was pretty cool.

So, anyway. Did anyone notice I haven't been ranting lately? I haven't posted, that's true, but I still could rant if I wanted to! About the $15 fine on Rebecca's library card from 2003. Yeah, so she was 5 and most of the books I checked out, but still. Six years later? They don't forget and they want their money. Or that I can't find paneer in the grocery stores. How does "Global Food" only have Korean and Latino foods anyway? That's not "global." Or that to get out of my neighborhood I hit 2 lights a block apart and if I'm late pulling out from a stop when the first turns green, the second one is already red. But truly, it seems a waste of time and energy to complain. I'm still so tickled at living in the States that the annoyances aren't really there. I do a lot of shrugging and "so what"ing. The frustrations from Chennai are still plenty fresh. Not surprisingly, our only current real annoyance hails back to Chennai still.
We got our boxes. We now know why we couldn't bring our piano. Our corner desk. Or our heavy duty safe. See, you can't bring those things when 4 pencils get wrapped&wrapped&wrapped in 4 huge pieces of paper. You can't bring those things when a box labeled "glassware" that is roughly 2'x2.5'x2' has 6 plates and 6 small cups in it. Each individual cup and each individual plate are wrapped in: tissue paper - at least 5 huge pieces of packing paper wrapped and wrapped and wrapped - and bubble wrap. Then the box is lined with styrofoam, the items carefully placed and not necessarily touching, with a couple inches of shredded paper on the bottom, another couple inches on the top, and more filling any gaps in the middle. You could throw each perfect packages against the wall and it would be fine which I realize was the point, but when you live your life by weight and come into a country 1000lbs underweight (and with nothing broken), and leave the country with only one new major weight purchase, it hurts to know that some items are given up needlessly.
We only manage unpacking a few boxes at a time because once we've done few like that, we take a break to regain our composure.
We got our car. The battery was dead, as expected. But it was really dead. Really really dead. And one of the connectors had so corroded it snapped and fell off the terminal. Our excitement at getting the car was quickly replaced by a $1400 repair bill for a tow, a special order battery, new connector thing, new brake pads, oil change, wiper blades, inspection, labor hours... Apparently a strut (is that right??) by one of the brakes is dry (I think I'm messing this up) and to replace it would cost another $2K from these guys, but we don't think the car will explode if that's not done immediately so we'll deal with it later. It is so nice to drive our own car again. I really don't like the Kia Sedona we've been renting, so to return it tomorrow will feel great.
Last Saturday was an all around bad day though. Sending the car off on a tow truck when a quick jump didn't work, that was already painful. It was a grayish, drippy day and Ian was home with the boys waiting to hear about the car when his laptop died. It had been acting wonky and he was going to start over so he backed everything up (I married a smart one), wiped it clean, started reinstalling and... *poof*. Took it to Best Buy and seems the motherboard was fried. The car shop closed and no one called to say what was going on. We were heading to dinner with our friend Gwen so stopped by the garage on the way and cornered a mechanic who was lingering. His response was "Well, the boss didn't have anything to tell you." Hmm, here's an idea, before closing time, call the owners of the cars you're working on and give them an update, especially when you're closed the next day. Seems like good way to keep customers in the loop. All's well that ends well. We picked up the car Wednesday morning and I've been driving it since.
There's another story to go with last Saturday's suckiness. The girls heard about an audition to hopefully be in the next "Twilight" movie. Katherine texted in and I got a call back along with an appointment time for the girls to show up at the Youth Film Academy. Sounded like an adventure, something fun to check out. We got the audition script, brought photos of the kids, sat with 200+ other kids and listened to the slick talkers. We parents were asked if we were committed, if we were willing to do what needed to be done, even to fly to L.A. on Monday should our kid have what they were looking for.
Hah. You don't have to hear the insincere lines "I am not a salesman" and "I've tried to talk your kids out of this, now you have to talk to them too" too many times before they start to stink. The girls did their auditions, we went home with a time to call back the next morning and find out if they made it for a callback. Sunday morning we called. Rebecca didn't, Katherine did. They wanted Katherine to come back that afternoon and if she was "chosen" we'd have to move ahead immediately. The guy didn't say what "move ahead" fully entailed other than she was really "green" and would need training. At no point was money/tuition mentioned, and when I told him that I preferred her to do the callback audition, see if she passed, get all the info and THEN make a decision, well that was a no-go. He was all rush-rush-rush, make-a-decision-now. No mention of a role in anything and in fact if you google the names on their "guest speakers" page, most of them turn up blank. If you're really the guy who found/casted the kids in "Suite Life of Zack and Cody" your name should come up somewhere in the vast world wide web.
To say we had broken-hearted girls is putting it mildly. When Rebecca didn't make the callback she burst into tears. When we told Katherine we'd turned down her callback because it was a scam to get people enrolled in the Youth Film Academy, she was teary/angry/frustrated/disbelieving.
I don't know what's going on in their heads now, but they've both composed themselves. They probably still talk about it between them, but they aren't complaining aloud and I'll take it. We weren't the only ones taken in, and yes, you can say we should have known. If we had looked a little deeper and realized it was simply an audition for the school, that would have been one thing, it was the silly expectation of it being for more than that. I have no doubt that YFA may be worth it for those who audition specifically for entry to the school and can afford the programs. All they need to do is be honest what their auditions are really for, be upfront about their costs, and get rid of the crazy push and sense of urgency.
My mom had come with us to the audition and we went shopping at Tysons Corner afterwards, so it was all OK. We came home, dropped the kids with my mom, went to Red Hot and Blue with Gwen and drowned out the day in ribs and pitchers of soft drinks.
On a completely different note, we've met a couple neighbors. One stopped by and chatted over 4th of July. Another sent their girls over with some cinnamon bread that was amazingly good. We sent a few pashmina/scarves over in return and stayed to chat for a bit. They'll be homeschooling the kids this year. Seems a bit odd when there's a supposedly great school in walking distance, but OK. She's a nurse at the hospital, so I know who to call should any of my kids try to mangle themselves over the next couple years. Another neighbor left us a friendly note in the mailbox telling us to mow our lawn. Oddly, whoever it was didn't sign it so I could thank them.
Oh, and that cats are still fighting.
That's all for now. Tomorrow I'm hoping we'll make it to the Spy Museum.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Still Waiting

HHE did not arrive on Thursday. Car did not arrive on Thursday. Friday my mom came down and Ian took the day off work, both to help unpack boxes and register a car we didn't have. So, we went to Home Depot and to Dolphin Beach instead. Works for me. It's what we could do to salvage some of the lost/wasted time, and the kids really needed some fresh air and exercise after a lazy week at home. Next week is full day camp for all of them and the TV will get a break.

Saturday was about as great as I could wish. For the most part the kids didn't bicker too much, but I don't think it would have cast much of a pall anyway.
This is going to sound strange, but I think this tour may place a slightly higher strain on our family and marriage than the others. There are so many pros to living here, basically it boils down to the ease of it all, but what we also have is a dad/husband who is gone by 6:15 a.m. and gets home by 7 p.m. With the kids getting to bed late during summer break and Ian hitting the hay by 10, we don't have any time just the of us during the week. I miss home leave quite a bit right now, though I know it'll get better once the kids are in school, are going to bed at a normal time, and we've all had some time to adjust.
So we're making the most of our weekends. Ian came with me to yard sales. Yes, he was that desperate to spend some time together, but I think if he was truly honest he'd say he had fun. I had a blast. We came home with a pair of blue barstools for the kitchen island, some Wii and DS games for Christmas and a couple Harry Potter puzzles for the meantime. We met a guy who just returned from 6 months in Iraq and is back with his wife and 3 little kids. Another family was a couple streets down from us and so pitied our HHE delay they gave us Mindtrap to play. We chatted with folks, drove down streets we hadn't seen before, and came back with some nifty stuff. Yeah, he had fun too. We grabbed the kids (when we left boys weren't interested, girls were sleeping) and trekked to Potomac Mills. It's a zoo on Saturdays, sometimes we forget that, yesterday was one of those days. S&K Menswear is going out of business so Ian bought 2 new suits for cheap and since they are selling everything in the store, I picked up 20 clip hangers for $2. The furnishings were on the block too, but there was no way for us to get them home, and all the mannequins had already been claimed. Would have looked cool in the girls' room for their scarves and hats.
Katherine had Class 1 of her two day volleyball clinic at the fitness center so we dropped her off and went to Best Buy, One of the most fun games we've bought recently is Wii Sports Resort. It's been a blast rowing and throwing frisbees and chopping things with swords, a great time this hot week in August. We highly recommend it. Best Buy sold nerf type swords to hold Wiimotes for the swordplay games, but Ian said No. Something about not wanting to encourage the kids to swing things at the TV. Jonathon and I examined the way cool fridges and washer/dryer sets while the others bought him a birthday gift. I don't know what it is, but if it's from Best Buy, should be good. Katherine is at Class 2 of her volleyball clinic now, and the rest of the fam are playing Resort again. I tell you, if you have a Wii but don't have this game already, you should.
A quick run through Costco to get snack/lunch foods for daycamp next week and we were picking up Katherine and driving to my parents' house for an early birthday party for Jonathon. He turns 8 on Tuesday and was tickled with his coin bank and new YuGiOh cards. Some cool weather clothes rounded things out. He'll get his other gifts on Tuesday, along with a trip to Chuck E Cheese. See, some things really are more painful Stateside.
The boys crashed in the car and the girls put themselves to bed at 9:30, so Ian and I popped in a movie. "Panic Room" - pass. We made it through about 10 minutes and decided it was too convoluted. Popped in "Into the Wild" - pass. Once we figured out the movie was -serious- and was going to be -deep- and -thought-provoking-, flashback filled and supposedly true about some rich kid who gives it all up to live in the tundra... we put in episode 1 of True Blood instead. And then episode 2. True to form, HBO has a violent, nudity-filled show peppered with curse words that is fascinating. I know that True Blood fans are saying "Where's she been? Under a rock?" Well, duh. But hey, I'll make a decision on the Bill/Edward debate at the end of the season, 'kay?
Tonight we're going to see "District 9" while the kids watch "Bandslam." They start right around the same time and are the same length, so it's all good.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Lazy days of summer.

I get to laze around this week. Our HHE is coming later on so it won't last, but today I had kids scraping wallpaper, painting rooms and making dinner. I read more in the _Golden Compass_ while inhaling paint fumes. Ahhhh.

Ian is into his second week as a CDO and wanted me to send a shoutout to the current A100 class and future members of A100 classes over the next 2 years. Any questions, any problems... send them on over.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Our stuff is scheduled for delivery on Thursday!

Just about 2 months door to door, not bad! Better than when we went to Togo and it took 4 months to get our household effects, this is practically light speed. Even better, our car is scheduled for the same day. Cars can take 3-4 weeks to get through customs, but somehow ours arrived on the same day as the HHE and made its way through customs at the same rate as the boxes. That means we can give back the Kia Sedona we've been renting. I really like minivans, but not this one. There is something wrong with the headrests, the shifting gears are wonky and there are tons of blind spots. It does have great trunk space and the kids like the second row captain's chairs, but on the whole I'm looking forward to getting my Sequoia back.

The Sequoia is going to need a detailing, and I'm going to have to choke down the miserable gas mileage. We should get more than 11mpg in the U.S. though, and that's a comfort because it's not like we can benefit from the Cash for Clunkers program. Our Sequoia is no clunker, even after being in Togo and India for 4 years. It will be a nice drive for the rest of our summer camp programs (next week is day camp for all 4 kids and the following week is Fencing) and on into the school year.
School started in Chennai today. Here in Prince William County school doesn't begin until September 8th. The kids will have had a full 3 months off, just like Phineas and Ferb. But back to school they will go, and that first day they will be carting what appears to be half of Target with them. Have you seen these school supply lists? When I was a kid a new backpack, a lunch box, perhaps a special pencil case and we were good to go. For my kids, I have a full sheet of supplies for each one, and most of the items appear to be for the general class population. At least I don't think the boys will be using 10 glue sticks each.
Rather than go by kid, here's a combined shopping list for Fall 2009, for 3rd, 4th, 6th and 8th graders:
(7) pkg wide-ruled loose leaf paper
(3) black and white wide-ruled composition notebooks
(14) packages #2 pencils
(2) manual sharpeners
(6) regular folders with pockets
(1) plastic binder insert folder [I haven't even figured out what this is yet]
(2) 2-pocket hard plastic folders
(5) wide-ruled lined spiral notebooks, 70-page count
(2) 3-ring notebooks
(2) multiple section spiral notebooks
(26) large glue sticks
(3) pairs of scissors
(1) pair 7" scissors
(2) 24 pk crayons
(1) 24 pk colored pencils
(1) 12 pk colored pencils
(6) thick Expo dry erase markers
(8) washable markers
(3) 12-inch standard and metric ruler
(2) pencil box [I'm having the kids use their own from last year]
(9) highlighters
(1) standard size clipboard
(2) 1" 3-ring binder
(1) 3" heavy duty binder
(4) red ballpoint pens
(2) pkg blue/black ballpoint pens
(8) book covers
(2) calculator [we have a couple]
(2) math pack [protractor, etc. I bought a second set]
(1) flash drive [We have one of these]
(7) large box of tissues
(2) ream of copy paper
(2) box of sandwich size Ziplock bags
(1) bottle of hand soap
Fall clothing?? There's cash left for that? Mostly kidding there, but no, I haven't gotten around to any cool weather clothing (it is August still and particularly warm this week) or new lunch boxes or shoes yet and every place I've been to so far has been completely out of wide-ruled loose leaf and glue sticks anyway. Oooh, and guess what's still coming, the open house where we get to buy meal cards and P.E. uniforms and and and. Who said public schools are free? Who?!
Pictures from our summer are still to come, promise. Katherine got me a fabulous scrapbook for my birthday last month, so I have the book to fill from our sad Chennai departure to the beginning of school and all the fun in-between. They'll be up on Fickr, hopefully this weekend.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Well Rested and Home Again

We had a fabulous week. Pictures coming soon, promise.

There's no place I like better than the beach and spending a week (thanks, parents!) is always a great time. The kids had a blast, Jonathon is 2 tones darker with highlights in his hair. How he is our kid, I'll never know.

It's good to be home, but I miss the sand and waves already.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Mixed Results

I'll write more about the Divisionals swim meet when we're back at home, but for a quick overview: Rebecca broke her 40s 50m freestyle mark (yay!), Jonathon won third for his 25m butterfly as one of the few kids who actually made it across the pool legally (yay!), Katherine was DQed out of her 50m breastroke which broke all our hearts as she did two strokes under water before coming up because she had 4th place (boo!), Nicholas was lazy and actually added time to all his swims (boo!), Katherine's relay team came in 3rd out of 6 (yay!), and there were other ups and downs too, but there you go. We did have any Frogs of the Year or coaches awards, so there's plenty to work towards next year. As for going year round, we're going to let it go for now, and see where we are in a few months. We may go for it if they don't find other activities they want to do in the meantime, of if they miss it too much. Until then, we'll just enjoy our summer camps next month, start school, and get into a normal routine of work/school/house cleaning. It'll be good.

This week we're at Beach Babies house in Sandbridge. If you go to for Beach Babies you can see the house.
What you can't see is the peeling paint all over the outside and underside of the house, which makes it truly ugly compared to the neighbors. The non-working outdoor shower. The lack of space to sit outside because the seating is all old wooden furniture that's pretty nasty. The plethora of HUGE spiders all over the outside (the first time my mom walked down the outside stairs to the beach she went with a broom in hand to clear the webs), and the cobwebs all over the inner corners inside. The broken towel bars, the broken shower knobs. No coffeepot. Dead bugs and old food stuck to various pieces of furniture. Light switches that don't work. Torn screens, rusted fixtures, one grill that's never been cleaned and another that looks like it's about to fall apart.
More later. Thank goodness the great room is pretty good as that's where we do spend our indoor time, but really, for the price, these sorts of things should not happen.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Questions for the experts

Our cats have gone nuts and what to do about swim team.

Our cats are 2 1/2 years old. We brought Tandoori and Masala with us from Chennai. Both male, both neutered, siblings, have gotten along since day one. Tandoori has always been skittish with anything new, loud, different. Masala is into everything, keeps escaping from the house, eventually warms up to everyone. A couple days ago,Tandoori flipped out at Masala: hissing, growling, the works. Eventually nails, teeth, fur and spit go flying. Masala usually is just passing by or checking things out and is always the one to walk away at the end, and he's gotten a few scratches too, so though he's clearly the dominant cat in character, he's also not the one instigating the confrontations. Tandoori feels threatened, that's obvious. The "experts" have all sorts of ideas from battling over resources to new surroundings to misdirected aggression. We've doubled the food and water dishes and added a second litter box, but the relationship has not improved. Each cat still curls up with us and wants petting. Periodically we segregate them to allow some peace, locking one in the basement while the other hangs out with the family. But how long can this go on? And will it stop?
The swimming issue is still just that. I feel strongly that the girls should continue with swimming through the school year. Actually, I'm not the only one, their coach would like them as well (that's her job, I know). There's the registration ($125/kid), the yearly cost ($1000/kid), plus additional training tools (hundred dollars/kid?). And then the time involved, 3-4 days a week for the next 7 months plus meets, some of which involve travel. So what are the pros? They enjoy it and have made friends who will be on the team, they'd improve and have regular exercise, they'd have something they could bring to our next post and be really good at. I do understand Ian's POV. Give the girls the year to adjust to school here and let them explore other activities we didn't have access to overseas. I do get it, and I do agree. But... Ack. They have such potential. Did I just use the word potential? I'd hate for all their progress from the past 8 weeks to be entirely lost with the absence of swimming til next summer.
So what say you, knowledgeable folks of cats and swimming. What are our next moves?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


We saw the midnight showing of Half-Blood Prince and thoroughly enjoyed it. Go go go! Yes, there were people dressed up in silly wigs and capes, but they behaved themselves and there was dead silence during the final big scene. By far the funniest and cutest of the saga I also thought it had an easy flow and the actors seemed at ease with their characters. I look forward to seeing it again.

There was a trail of people returning home along our street at 3 a.m. We are not alone.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


... and we're back.

Nope, didn't go anywhere, just enjoying and readjusting to having more stuff (more stuff to clean really and we have no idea where our HHE will fit in this house besides in boxes in the basement), a new mattress too thick for any sheets we've found yet, my UAB, a trip to Kings Dominion courtesy of my mom, and of course swimming swimming swimming on top of Ian's birthday, 4th of July, my birthday, and afternoons at our lake beach. Did I mention that all 4 kids are swimming now? Yeah I thought I had. Today was the first meet for all of them.

Kings Dominion was awesome. The kids didn't go on any huge coasters through no fault of their own. We did a few things everyone could enjoy then moved to the log flume and rapids before going to the water zone. Ian would have enjoyed it and would have insisted on a big scary coaster, too bad he was still in India. He made it back in time for his birthday, we took him out to Famous Dave's where I've discovered they do not have the best ribs in town. They were actually not that good at all, bummer. But who cares this early in our American tour? We have choice and we have the ability to get ourselves there whenever we feel like. Not having a driver is AWESOME. Can't say that enough. AWESOME. When we go out to eat I don't bother asking where the kids want to go but instead what kind of food they want. We have everything and everything is accessible. Yup, awesome. I smile whenever we drive down a broad, windy, tree-lined road with a brilliant blue sky above us.
We've taken some time to just enjoy our new surrounds. Our neighborhood has 2 man-made beaches to go with the man-made lake. During the weekday afternoons there are just enough people to make it fun for the kids but not too many to let me find a shady spot and chill for a few hours. Sweet. We've managed to get together with our Chennai neighbors a few times as well, had them and my parents over for a 4th of July cook-in (don't have a grill yet or deck furniture), plus a few afternoons at the house and beach. It's been a nice. They're in Ecuador and Colorado now, will have a couple weeks back here and then off to Venezuela for their next tour.
We're also trying to enjoy our little house. Like goldfish we'd grown accustomed to our large residences abroad. Now that we have our items from storage and my UAB, the house is full. Not a clue where Ian's UAB or our 7000 pounds of HHE will go. Seriously, not a clue. We have plans to finish the basement into useable space and the couch, recliners, TV, Rock Band will go down there, but that's not until next spring so for now it's all on the main floor. Our living room furniture simply doesn't fit the space at all but at the moment it's not worth investing in all new furniture. Of a more urgent nature is getting the carpet taken out and the wallpaper down. We're checking out bamboo flooring and really just need to make a decision and get it done ASAP. We'd planned on buying paint and choosing flooring tomorrow until I remembered we have a baptism after church. There was no time today with the home meet, lunch out with my mom who came to see the meet (yay!), a quick run through the mall for a gift and then a collapse at home.
Meets are exhausting, and obviously I'm not one swimming. Ian was conscripted into being a time recorder today and we'd donated 196 hot dog buns and 2 cases of Coke. We were far behind on our volunteer hours but have caught up a bit with helping set-up last night, donating food and being a time recorder. It's a way the team keeps costs down, by having family volunteers do loads of the work.
The boys had never been in a swim meet but did, forgive me, swimmingly. OK, Nicholas had a bit of a rough day, disqualified in 4 of his 5 events. When you do butterfly, both hands must touch the wall together and feet must pump together, same with breast stroke. When you do backstroke, you cannot take a stroke on your tummy, even if it's to touch the wall at the end or if you're scared to whack your arm on the wall. He has a killer freestyle. His technique needs some tweaking but the speed is there. His freestyle relay team fizzled on him (2 swimmers had already left the pool?!) but he wanted to swim and one of the 11/12 boys swimmers was missing so Nicholas filled in and kept pace, almost too easily. It was actually a little freaky to watch. Rebecca was awesome in her freestyle as well, keeping pace with her time of 40.46 in the 50m Free. For some reason she was 3rd in the Free Relay instead of anchor, but I'm sure her coaches had a reason for that. She did great in the 100m Individual Medley and won her heat. Katherine swam the 100m IM for her age group and had a bit more trouble with butterfly but did awesome in her preferred stroke, the 50m Breast, coming in 1/3 of a second behind the heat winner. Jonathon won his 25m backstroke heat and came in second in the 25m breast stoke heat. Our family provided nearly 30 points to the overall team total which isn't huge but pretty cool to us.
Next week is an away meet at Lake Ridge, then we see if any of our kids make it to Divisionals the following week. Rebecca really wants to continue with year round swimming with the PWC Amberjax but the cost jumps significantly, and the Stuff requirement jumps as well. The actual practice time drops to only 2-3 hours a week so it wouldn't impact school too much, but we're torn between having her continue to improve and encouraging her to make time to try other things while she has the chance. Decisions decisions.
Before I log off for tonight, and hopefully our connection will continue to hold and we've finally left behind the non-connectivity nonsense, I wanted to say a huge thanks for all the birthday wishes. I turned 35 on Wednesday and life is good, made all the better by wonderful family and friends. It's going to be a great couple of years.
P.S. Remember the heat pump that kept me up at night? It was set on "ON" not "AUTO" Hmph.

Friday, July 3, 2009

It's 1:20 a.m. and I'm the one awake?? Yes, yes I am.

Though I love my husband dearly there is one thing in particular I did not miss when he was gone, and in fact I'm having a very hard time adjusting back to having it in my life Which would be why after about 2 hours asleep I'm now downstairs and wide awake. And pondering the mysteries of the heat pump.

I've never experienced a heat pup before and I'm both confused and worried about it. Is it normaI for the fan to not turn off? That seems like a huge waste of electricity especially on cool days like today was. Did I break it somehow when I moved the thermostat a degree upwards last week to 76? Does it work subtly (and constantly) rather than freezing a house into submission? All I can think is that something isn't quite right as it's cool outside and the thermostat reads 75 but it's still too warm in the house. This is what's keeping me up right now.

That and the fact my husband snores so loudly it woke me up and then steadily grew, even after I kicked him, until I moved to the couch. I don't have jetlag but I'm the one awake. Not cool.

Oh well. Anyone have suggestions/thoughts? I'll take them on both the heat pump and the snoring.
Our bleeding credit cards were slowly starting to recover, then Ian came home. Yay! He made it with kitties in tow! It took Tandoori about 24 hours to accept that this is the end of the torture ride, the poor thing was resigned in his carrier and wouldn't even look at us. It took Masala about 3 seconds to pop out of the carrier, only to continue complaining loudly and continuously about the horrors of international travel. I think he forgot now to NOT meow because in the house he made his voice heard for hours. They're here, they're alive, that's what we care about and they remain devoted lap cats.
Ian's arrival meant we could start plunging into all the things I hadn't yet gotten around to. Garbage pickup for one thing. I simply hadn't arranged it, figuring the garage couldn't really burst with just one more box shoved into it. It's not kitchen trash piling (that would require foodstuffs and cooking... foodstuffs I got on Monday, cooking should commence in the near future), it's moving boxes and painting materials. Ian squared that away. Today we went shopping. Again. A fan for the boys' room (see: complaints about heat pump), a toaster, a mattress (see complaints: about snoring, maybe it'll help? Has to be better than a 10 year old full sized futon mattress on the floor, right?) for our arriving-at-some-point-in-the-future-from-India platform bed, and a TV, That is all you shall hear about the TV.
Swimming was canceled due to a broken pool pump, something we only learned once we waited at the pool at 6 p.m., and since I doubt the pump will be fixed between 7 p.m. Thursday and 8 a.m. Friday I doubt we'll have swimming in the morning either.
Everything is coming together. It's been a long month and I'm tired now (see: snoring, previous mentions of illness and busy days). If I can get over the fact that the heat pump won't stop bowing, maybe the couch will be a comfortable place to sleep.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Gimme a break, gimme a break...

Break me off a piece of that ***********. What do you think "The Office" fans? A cat food jingle?

Sorry, it's 10:30p.m., we got home about half an hour ago and I'm a little wired tonight. Spending loads of money does that I guess. We joined Cosco. Was I the only one who didnt know they only took American Express? Well, now I know, and now Ian does, and now we have to keep tabs on our American Express card, the one that never gets used. Until Cosco. Which will get quite a bit of business over the next week.

It's hard to remember back to all that's happened in the past week. It's been busy, I know that. How about I just pull from my facebook updates and fill in here and there.
Saturday: had a day of getting up at 5 a.m. to go to a swim meet, which was stormed out before 11 a.m., then painted 2 rooms all afternoon with the help of 4 kids and a mom, had a quick dinner out before going to Home Depot for more Home Depot type stuff... like new toilet seats... and is finally back at the parents' house at 10 p.m.
Sunday: Happy Father's Day! I ordered Omaha Steak foods for both fathers in my life. Now if it would stop raining enough to grill. Oh...and I need to buy a grill. Tack that on to my list of things to buy, like a vacuum. Church, lunch at home, a trip to KMart for new pillows for all of us, a choir music concert in the evening.
Monday: slept in too late, and rushed to get to the house for carpet cleaners at 8:30, who showed at 9:30. Got the kitchen ready for the maid service, taped off another area to paint, put the kids to work washing windows, dusting, cleaning pantry shelves, etc. Finally got through the DMV, and ordered the boys' bunkbeds from the furniture store. Lunch at ChikFilA before 2 libraries, gas, groceries and 3-hr swim.
Monday was a bad day overall. The boys were at each other all day and by 3 p.m. I decided that if they were going to behave like I didn't exist then I would do the same to them. Childish? Absolutely. But it sure felt good.
Tuesday: had the maid service come in and they did a good job on the kitchen and a great job on the bathrooms. Finished some painting, started some new areas. Took the kids to Ruby Tuesday, joined Cosco and shopped until the AmEx bled, unpacked then watched another 3-hour swim. Home at 10. Tomorrow, hopefully storage delivery. And no swimming! Yay!
Hmm, doesn't seem I have too much to add. There have been a number of priceless moments of readjusting for the kids. Nicholas has commented how there's nothing to see out the windows when we drive, and I can't argue there. Cars, houses, clouds. That's about it. No camels, no cows, no refrigerators on the back of motorcycles. No shoe sellers or piles of watermelons. No one peeing on the wall. Boring, and I'll take it. Rebecca has noticed that the radio station they like only plays 5 songs. OK, exaggeration, but you know what I mean. She also thinks the commercials are very strange. Katherine thinks they are hilarious and I have to agree with Katherine. The Maryland Inner Harbour "OH! The dinosaurs and jellyfish!" commercial cracks us up every time. Here's a TV ad, but it's not as funny.

I've been driving alot, Hundreds of miles in the past 2 1/2 weeks. I'm a little offended that even my mom was worried about be getting behind the wheel after so many years away. Sheesh. Like riding a bicycle, people.
OK,11:35 p.m. and I have to sleep. Tomorrow we should have 2740 pounds of who knows what delivered at some point in the day from our storage unit. We'll see what stays and what goes on the curb after 6 years of collecting dust.