Thursday, March 26, 2009

*Bawk bawk*

Friends here have chickens. I want to have chickens.

More specifically I want something like this so I can have chickens:

Or even cooler:

Yup, I want chickens.

Crazy stuff

A week ago there was a School Board Meeting where next year's scheduled tuition increase was overturned.

Yes. Apparently, complain enough and the continuing facilities expansion no longer needs to get funded. Complain enough and new teachers don't need to be hired to keep the class sizes small (12-16 kids). Complain enough and the massive ESL program (40% of the student population, 26 teachers... I think that's a full quarter of the teachers - just for ESL) doesn't need to continue to improve.

So what happens next year? The huge and still growing ESL population is pushing the need for the building expansion and new teacher requirements, yet the huge ESL parent population is what spear-headed the campaign to pull back the tuition increase that would help pay for it all.

And I'm amazed that there wasn't a compromise made (4% instead of 5.85% maybe?) but a complete backpedal.

I shouldn't care because we won't be here, but I do.

In other news, a blast from our past... we got a notice about non-payment for my medevac. You know, the one from February 2006. The one we paid in July 2006. The one we got a notice for again in September 2006 and had an involved back and forth in e-mail to clear up the fact that we had done our part, our insurance had done its part, and the only part that had messed up was Embassy Togo in the allocation of those $10,000 worth of funds. The mess was between MED and EmbTogo. MED agreed and said we were clear.

Guess what... it's baaaaaaack. I pulled out the signed copy receipt of the funds transfer to EmbTogo, but seeing as I'd never received an "Accounts Paid" message from MED, nothing was cleared. I planned to fax the receipt with an explanation. But then I had a thought: I didn't have the e-mail thread, but did Ian? He keeps everything. I called him up and figured it wouldn't hurt to look.

And he rocks. He pulled up the November 2006 e-mails and forwarded them on to MED again, cced to all sorts of people, and MED agreed (again) that it's in Lome's hands.

After a moment of panic wondering where I'd find $10,000 I now feel like we've got, oh, another 3 or so years of peace before this comes back to annoy us again. I really need to get something in writing from MED this time.

Friday, March 20, 2009

News only for BSG fans

A U.N. Resolution: 'Galactica' Really Rocks

"Other, far more popular television series have gone out with a bang after far-longer runs -- think "M*A*S*H," "Seinfeld" or "The Sopranos." But none has managed "Battlestar's" coup, a packed chamber Tuesday night at the U.N. headquarters in Manhattan. There, top diplomats sat next to the actors and producers from the Sci Fi network's "Battlestar," debating everything from the use of child soldiers in wartime to whether water-boarding could ever be permissible, on humans or on the robotic creatures the show calls Cylons."

Yeah. It's that awesome.

Welcome to Spring

Obamas to Plant White House Vegetable Garden

"While the organic garden will provide food for the first family's meals and formal dinners, its most important role, Mrs. Obama said, will be to educate children about healthful, locally grown fruit and vegetables at time when obesity has become a national concern."

Madras Kids photos are up.

I received a batch of photos which can be viewed at....

Madras Kids Spring 2009 photo set
Here's a sampling:
9, 10, 11 o'clock 12 o'clock rock
Get down on my knees...
The crew for Higher Ground

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Take care of her, please.

A little prayer went up today for our kitten, Raita. She went to the vet to get spayed and didn't survive the surgery. Somehow she aspirated. I did everything I was supposed to - keeping her away from food since 9 last night, keeping her calm in her carrier since 7 this morning without food or water, keeping her warm. The vet said after they put her under and started prepping her she began to froth and when they suctioned some food particles started to come up and she choked. Perhaps she was a slow digester, her tummy was always chubby. Remember when we brought her for an ultrasound because she was so little with a fat tummy we thought she might be pregnant? Just a fat tummy. It seems that even though she was without food for more than 12 hours, she was still full. I didn't know.

Raita was purely Rebecca's cat, Rebecca was Raita's mommy. She would call for Rebecca at bedtime and sleep curled under her chin. She waited by the front door for Becca to return home. She sounded like a Tribble as she chirped and trilled her way around the house, and never could meow properly.

She is missed.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Drive-by at-post

There's a new photo blog up, found at

Photos in a new theme each week, from all around the Foreign Service world. Kudos to Amy in KL for setting it up!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

My calendar is orange.

The iCal on the iMac lets you color code different categories of activities as they are added to the calendar. I'm guessing other calendar programs do this as well, but that's neither here nor there. On my calendar, everything school related from lunch form due dates to after school activities to field trips go down in one color. iCal is awash in orange.

Though my calendar looks like it's been dunked in a vat of Tang, life is remarkably simpler and smoother right now. Madras Kids had their show on Saturday after many months of rehearsals, along with 12 1/2 after school hours just in the past 2 weeks.. Dedicated kids. They may have complained but they didn't do it within my earshot.
March 14th finally came. Just about everyone arrived at the theater on time, then I realized I had forgotten my binder at home, the one with all the lyrics and song order and costume lists and... back home I went because the driver needed to get the stools and bean bags for the show anyway. They wouldn't fit with people and costumes and rubbermaids of extras from the first run.
Finally, dress rehearsal. I do not like leaving dress rehearsal to the last minute, I really really don't. But these are kids and with kids, costumes and accessories end up everywhere. You should have seen the dressing rooms after the show, just disasters. So I didn't want to risk everyone bringing their costumes to school, losing bits here and there before the show even started. Ian didn't even like the idea of letting the kids bring the costumes home at all, but they had to try to them on and ensure they could fill the gaps (black pants, black shoes....). Happily, at the theater all costumes were accounted for, and some kids swapped items that fit them better. Oh, and if we'd done dress rehearsal at school, where would the boys have changed? I guess we could have done it in the gym and had everyone scamper to the locker rooms for costume changes. Stinky.
We managed 1 1/2 run-throughs before pizza dinner and then show time. Everything took forever. Figuring out the horrible sound system (as far as I know Music Academy is one of the theaters in town, and even though we were using the little stage, you'd think they'd have more than a handful of corded microphones.... no ceiling mics, no cordless mics, a crappy sound board and only 2 speakers), figuring out the horrible light system (which basically amounted to on or off), and praying that the A/C would just stay on. We initially started with 17 girls in one changing room, and 5 boys in the other. Then we co-opted a little vestibule type room for the boys and split the girls to 10 on one side (doing particular songs) and 7 in the other. That was much better, but called for a bit of quick restructuring on exits and entrances. One song had it's costume completely revamped mid-rehearsal. We rearranged props and tested make-up. Everything was last minute. The theater rents by the hour and we'd only reserved time on the big day, so that's how it goes.
Finally the lights went down. I made my welcome remarks, said 'uh' way too many times, then let the kids have at it. The time between songs for changes was too long (solo songs do have a purpose, but I'm still glad we didn't have any). The acting was unconvincing. The sound system being what it was, and the kids singing the way they do, several songs couldn't be heard in the back. Too many kids, one of mine included, thought their feet were the most fascinating things on stage. Even more stared dead ahead with no emotion what so ever. Ah, kids.
Having said that, they did great on "Rock Around the Clock," the opening number, the dancing was fun, but the kids all seemed a bit shell shocked to be on stage. We had "Born to Hand Jive" right after and had it end the same way as "Clock" with everyone grouped up and jazz hands, which in hindsight totally looked cheesy and I'd switch it now, but I can't go back in time. We moved into the 60s with "Help!" and I'd do that one different too. I'd change the costumes and I'd switch who was singing so we'd split the kids evenly on melody and harmony. I liked my simple choreography though. The Supremes Medley went over very well though the costume change from 50s sock hop to 60s glam took way too long. Three different girls individually sang "Stop! In the Name of Love" "Come See About Me" and "You Can't Hurry Love". They did a great job. "Da Do Ron Ron" came right on their heels and looked really cute. Katherine had a couple lines and managed to get them out and they DaDoRonRonned their way right off stage. Then the 70s came along with "California Dreamin'". Early on I pushed to have our flautists play the flute interlude and the week before the show I was contemplating yanking them. After months of potential practice time, only two of the four were barely decent. By show night, they still hit some bum notes, but let me say that they were the only ones to get mid-song applause. I was so proud of those girls. And their band instructor was in the audience. Sweet! We finished up the 70s with "Sweet Home Alabama" and a snippet of "Rock and Roll High School" before the system 'crashed' (intentionally) and we went into intermission. Thirty minutes for Act I. It was a record finish.
Act II started with a showdown between Cyndi Lauper and Madonna from the 80s in "Material Girls Just Want to Have Fun." My little neighbor finally strutted ever so slightly as Madonna and the girls had fun as Cyndi's party kids. The boys simply wouldn't get into the idea that they were infatuated with Madonna as they are still in that phase of thinking girls are icky. Which on most days is just fine with me, but this is acting, people! Sheesh. The girls did a too long change for "We Got the Beat" and somehow lost all the pep they'd had in every rehearsal. "We Got the Beat" can't be a boring song... and yet, it was. But that's OK, because Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" came right after and was a crowd favorite. The kids were totally into that one, jamming on their inflated guitars with our two smallest boys singing the verses. The audience loved it. UB40's "Higher Ground" was sung really well, the kids finally nailed the timing though again the sound system didn't do them justice, even with the couple of cordless microphones we'd brought. Another highlight was our five boys singing the Backstreet Boys "I Want it That Way." We managed to have each of them holding a mic, but then the background music got mucked up and the boys did their best to work around it though it did nothing for their nerves. They got a huge round of applause just for trying. We rounded out the show with Del Amitri's "Roll to Me" and finished with Green Day's "Time of Your Life" as all the kids gathered at the front the stage for a cozy finale. That was the one time Ian tried to dim the lights and it kind of fizzled as half the kids ended up in the dark.
Curtain call... "I'm a Believer." Yes, the Monkees song, but the Shrek movie version done by Smash Mouth. See, it ties the whole together! Classic! The kids had a ball with that one, I don't know if it was the song or more to do with the show being done, but I'm guessing it was both. I got through my closing remarks and that was that. We finished in 1 1/2 hours, cleaned up in 30 minutes with lots of help and trekked over to Sparky's for a celebratory snack. Who am I kidding, we were exhausted and hungry and figured the kids would enjoy it before we all crashed hard.
What would I do different?
If I had to do it over again, I'd have sectional rehearsals for particular songs, with additional hours for particular kids to go over just their songs. We didn't have enough one-on-one time, especially for those with solo lines.
I'd bring in someone to do an acting workshop. That's kind of hard to find here in Chennai, but perhaps someone from the Little Theater could have come in for one rehearsal to make an impact on stage presence. And I'd dedicate an entire rehearsal just to running lines and entrances and exits. Somehow we didn't have time, but I think we should have made the time.
I'd find a good theater. I don't know if such a thing exists in Chennai, but... hey, at least this one had working A/C which was light years better than last year's theater at the Alliance Francaise. How about the Consulate auditorium? But that would never fly with all the security passes guests would need.
I'd have a performance done at the school beforehand for the classes. That way, MadKids could have a real "dress rehearsal" in front of a live audience, and get their nerves out. The school kids would know what it was all about, the program would get more interest, more people would buy tickets. And most importantly, the MadKids would get to perform more than once. All those hours of practice for a single performance!!
Having said all that, I was happy to be part of it. Anxiety kicked in for a bit when Gwen left and left it to me and our little band of volunteers, but honestly I had a blast and I'd do it all over again.
Everyone got keychains and tshirts as mementos of their hard work, and the kids were thrilled to keep their costumes. The boys wanted their hats and canes and... guitars. The kids deserved them and rather than stick them in a closet at school perhaps never to be seen again, now they are going to be used for many Halloweens and Book Weeks.
My only serious regret is I took not a single photo. Today, a friend gave me a DVD of a ton of photos and my Mac wouldn't even recognize that the DVD had files on it. I'll try again on a different computer tomorrow. I'm also expecting photos from another friend, so hopefully between the two of them I'll have plenty to put a book together as I'd love to make albums for my girls.
There you have it... Madras Kids Spring 2009 in a nutshell. Back to our regularly scheduled program.
Ian is out all week in Hyderabad, so it's me and the kids. Easy living at the Hopper Clan House. Yesterday we had breakfast for dinner (Rebecca made fried tomatoes while I did the blueberry pancakes and eggs), tonight we had leftover tomato soup with chicken and rice. Tomorrow we'll actually have to have some real cooking done. I think we'll have homemade mac&cheese and broccoli.
Volleyball started this week. It'll be 2 mornings and 2 afternoons a week. I hope Katherine got her schedule, I should probably ask.
Today we signed up for 4th quarter activities. I've asked for all 3 to be in swimming as our free activity (1xweek, they broke it up by grades and by days so now it's not even a twice a week swim program as there are just too many kids), Jonathon will continue with Karate (2xweek), Nicholas is doing soccer (2xweek), and Rebecca wanted to try violin (1xweek).
Jonathon tested in Karate today. I guess we'll find out on Friday if he passed and got his green stripe. He focussed really well in class, but didn't have great control over his moves. I have photos!
Rebecca continues to prepare for the elementary school talent show. This is the brain child of several 5th graders, and they've put a lot of work into pulling it off. Last week they held auditions, and next Monday is the show. I'm looking forward to it. They initiated the talent show because of the Middle School and High School annual Cabaret; the elementary kids didn't like being left out and this is their response. Next year they hope it will be open to the entire elementary, not just 3rd-5th grades, as many of their supporters on their petition were 1st and 2nd graders.
Tomorrow the kitten is getting fixed. I hope. It's been rescheduled 4 times now. The vet's office moved to someplace closer to the school than home. I'm also going out to lunch with the other Consular EFMs (we are ridiculously called Eligible Family Members, rather than the previous and more apt title of Trailing Spouse, which oddly got dropped because the Trailing Spouse's of the day were offended by the term), as Friday is one of my friend's last day before she goes off to join USAID and next Friday is my last day working at the Consulate before I become a bonbon munching TV watching lazy person. Aside from my weekly 30 minutes of tennis, I'm doing nothing for exercise. I have high hopes that once I quit work I'll go to our pool regularly when the kids are off to school. Yeah, maybe.
EFMs with our CONS Chief
Friday night is the Cabaret. Katherine didn't make it, but is still going to see the show to see her friends. Rebecca wants to go too, but I have a going-away party (not for me) to go to at 7, so I'm hoping some of Bec's friends will be going so she has someone to sit with. Her best friend is having a sleepover with another girl I believe so I'll set up my boys with a movie and popcorn, since the party I'm going to is just across the street and we have full-time guards outside anyway.
As a side note, mail is taking for freaking ever. A box my mom sent in February still isn't here, the shoes I ordered (saddle shoes... for the show) and Amazon boxes still haven't made it. They have snackies. They're important.
With Ian gone I'm trying to catch up on my movies and house cleaning. Last night I went to bed at 9:30 after being out all day and getting home at 6. I watched "Who Killed the Electric Car?" today and now have "The Great Escape" on. I rarely watch TV, so I completely forgot to catch Amazing Race last night as I was so tired and had a headache. Only a bit of reading from _Elephanta Suite_ before two Tylenol PM pretty well knocked me out. IMO, don't bother reading it, Paul Theroux's non-fiction is good, this is not.
Hey, how could I forget last Friday's excitement? It was the official end to the 2nd annual month long Moustachio Bashio. Fifteen men at the Consulate started clean shaven a month ago, then on Friday were judged in a number of categories. Best Tamil Actor Impersonator, Best Magnum PI Lookalike, Best Attempt (those poor souls that simply can't grown facial hair), Best Misdirection (one that had more hair on his face than his head)... you get the idea. There was a viewing at work during lunch break, and then a full party in the evening for awards. It was humorous, to say the least.
2nd Annual Moustachio Bashio
In completely unrelated news, I had my lipid test done. Here's the e-mail I got from the doc: I reviewed your labs. Your cholesterol was 207 (normal <200) and the HDL (good component was elevated to 82 with >40 is good) and LDL (bad) 116 (normal <100). Nothing to be concerned about. You have a very high protective subgroup (HDL).
Well. That's good. I guess. I don't think I'll give up my fish pills any time soon though.
And last but not least - Consular Leadership Cable. Read this:
1.Andy and Bryan, I read with great enjoyment Post's excellent
overview of its Consular Leadership Day activities (reftel), which
clearly described the thoughtful approach you took towards examining
how Post does its work and how Post - like all of us - could continue
to improve. I commend your entire staff for their wholehearted
participation, but must specifically single out Brian Simmons and Ian
Hopper for their extraordinary work creating the crisis management
exercise Post used during the day.
2. The CME is one of the most complex that we have seen - as in
depth as any of the exercises created by FSI's Crisis Management
Training division for events like the Olympics - but with a specific
consular focus and attention to the leadership tenets that made it
unique. Brian and Ian created a virtual world in which consular
staff could be stymied by something as simple as a traffic jam, or
rewarded for something as essential as modeling integrity when
speaking with upset "family members". Tying together rewards for
team responses with specific leadership tenets was an inspired way to
drive home the tenet's significance, and all that we in CA are trying
to do to grow the next generation of leaders.
3. I was even more impressed to learn that Brian and Ian
specifically reached out to OCS to share their work. I understand
that ConGen Chennai not only provided its scripts to the ACS Crisis
Management unit, but that Brian and Ian also offered to edit the
exercise to remove Chennai-specific geography and information and to
provide a shorter, simpler version more appropriate for sections with
smaller staffs. By doing so, they have created a document that any
post can pick up and promptly use. ACS Crisis Management plans to
post the exercise on the Intranet, pass to FSI's Crisis Management
Training division, and highlight the exercise encouraging other posts
to use it.
4. ConGen Chennai has clearly taken the Consular Leadership Tenets
to heart. You have built a great team that understands the
importance of learning constantly. And you have lead by example.
Regards, Janice.

Monday, March 9, 2009

I Can Haz Cheezburger

funny pictures of cats with captions
more animals

If that doesn't make you laugh, nothing will. But if you didn't laugh, how about this one?

funny pictures of cats with captions
more animals

Saturday, March 7, 2009

So. Tired.

It's been an exhausting week. Work in the mornings still, and shuttling sick kids around to the doctor who was in town this week. No strep, just a random virus that hit both girls. We had additional Madras Kids rehearsals after school on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Getting home at 6 is for the birds. Friday started the basketball tournament, Katherine played a couple games, had a dance/pool party, got back at 9 p.m., in bed at 11 (she was with me at Ladies Poker since I begged a ride for her from a friend). I did a slow chip bleed at poker and was done by 10:30. Did Madras Kids costume organization until past midnight.

This morning we were all up and at the school at 7:30 a.m. Ian drove. Katherine played 3 games... 8:45, 11:15, 5:30. We had Madras Kids practice from 9-12 and did a hard, fast review of everything, passed out costumes, keychains, tshirts. Another full rehearsal scheduled for Wednesday after school. Had lunch at the school before dropping the other 3 kids at home (Katherine stayed at school all day for basketball and then a movie night). Went to the Music Academy to look closer at the changing rooms, lights, stage and sound board. Back home for a 1 1/2 hour power nap. Back to the school with the boys to catch Katherine's 4th place game in the tournament. Left Rebecca at home as she's out babysitting tonight. Watched the Lady Raptors play a great game (they lost, who cares), came home in time for Ian to go off to his poker game. Katherine got home at 9, Rebecca is still out, Ian is still out, boys are passed out, the neighbor girl is sleeping over. I'm redoing the script, program, etc., since we switched around some songs. I may leave the rest to tomorrow afternoon.

We don't have a driver this weekend, which just makes everything that much more of a hassle.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Drive-By Posting

"De Beers executives estimate that the public holds more than 500 million carats of gem diamonds, which is more than 50 times the number of gem diamonds produced by the diamond cartel in any given year. The moment a significant portion of the public begins selling diamonds from this prodigious inventory, the cartel would be unable to sustain the price of diamonds, or maintain the illusion that they are such a rare stone that their value is, as the ad slogan claims, "forever.""