Sunday, May 31, 2009

On the Eeeeeeepc because the Mac is all packd up.

Our house still doesn't look ready for movers. The washing machine has been going all day, the dust is flying, the donation stuff has been picked up. Thank goodness the kids are in school tomorrow, perhaps there will be fewer secondary messes.

(scroll over the photos for the captions)
Yesterday we cleaned the house all morning and went to Sparky's for lunch which was a nice break.
The corner table where we sat when we first started going to Sparky's.
In the evening we attended the end of year school sponsored party at the Park Sheraton for dinner. It's a time to say farewell to departing teachers, eat, and dance. It was a good time.
Today we were part of the 15 person paintballing crew.
Bring 'em on!
Rebecca tries her sights.
Looking at the flag at the 3-2-1 countdown.
Watching the left.
Katherine took one right in the helmet.
Katherine also took one in the neck.
Armed and Happy.
This is more than a bit frightening to look at.
Once we'd finished 5 or 6 games (and black took all of them, I believe), the remaining pellets were given to the kids for some target shooting. It was hilarious and terrifying at the same time.
Last tennis lesson with Coach Siva.
And Rebecca had her last tennis lesson with Coach Siva.
Thom from Sparky's came by and picked up our king mattress, a wardrobe, a CD cabinet full of CDs, a quantity of food from the pantry, and roughly 30 bags of random stuff from clothes to toys to kitchen ware and books. Ian packed up the electronics. There still feels like so much more to do but we're tired now and sleeping in the guest room. Tomorrow it starts.

Friday, May 29, 2009

As the U.S. heads into summer...

Some sun safety stuff:

Which reminds me, I need to ditch all the sunscreen we have here and buy some new stuff. I think I'll go for the Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock SPF 100+ ( only has it up to SPF 70). Yup, sounds good. Or perhaps the Neutrogena Ultimate Sport Sunblock Lotion SPF 70.

A question for the masses... do you use a shotglass full of sunscreen for a day spent in the sun, with regular reapplications every 2 hours?

I didn't think so.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Feelin' Unexceptional

This morning was the elementary school awards ceremony. None of my kids got anything. One of Nicholas' best friends got the Citizenship award. All of Rebecca's friends got either Presidential Academic Achievement or Presidential Academic Excellence awards (Katherine got the latter when she was in 5th grade), but Becca didn't.

The kids aren't bothered, and that's good. Rebecca had a great year academically, but she's not the star of her class. Nicholas is a good citizen but the winner truly deserved it. Jonathon might earn something in High School. Perhaps class clown.

The thing is that next week the class awards will be given out and I can never decide what to do with them. "Child X was very creative this year." Who cares? "Child Y always cleaned up after himself." Seriously, you want me to put that up in his room? So on the one side I'm sad that none of my 3 earned any awards today (I don't think Katherine will get anything at her awards assembly either), I'm also annoyed that the certificates they will get next week will be, well, silly and meaningless especially as EVERY SINGLE child will get one. Last year none of my kids got any serious awards and it didn't phase me. This year it did.

Kind of a downer day in my book.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The crash will come, but for now just ride the wave.

Isn't it irritating when you start a post, then leave it for a bit, then the power goes out, and since you've already done the brain dump into the computer you can't remember anything that you wrote and moveable type didn't recover the whole entry? Yeah, I thought so too.

The wave of good-byes is just about going to drown someone. It's funny, because there are some people arriving to Chennai just now, but we're so wrapped up with packing and purging and playing (add your own P words here) that it's hard to pull back a bit and remember that life will go on in Chennai much as it has before and our imprint, small as it was, will be washed away. People don't say Good-bye in the Foreign Service, we say See You Later. For the other folks that I've met and liked here, Good-bye is more realistic. Both are hard though.
I tell people we've lived in India for 3 years. That's not wholly accurate. We arrived at the end of August 2006 and are leaving at the beginning of June 2009, so that drops us to 2 years and 10 months. Subtract out the 3 weeks in summer 2007 we were in the States and the 5 weeks we took R&R over Christmas 2007 and the 10 days we took to buy a house. 2 years, 7 1/2 months. That hardly seems any length of time at all, but it's the longest I've lived anywhere since high school, which means it's the longest my kids have lived anywhere their whole lives. They've put down roots and one in particular is anxious about assimilating into the American school system. Each of them reacts differently to a permanent move. I had an e-mail last week asking about the Foreign Service in general as well as the affects on kids in particular.
Here's what I said to him:
About the kids, every kid will react differently to every move at every age. It's a constant juggle of who is going to be happy and who isn't. With our first move (kids were 7, 5, almost 3, 18mo), the oldest one was quite unhappy. She didn't want to leave home, she didn't want to leave grandparents, she didn't want to leave school. You name it, she didn't want to do it. The other 3 were pretty much oblivious and settled right in. Now, my kids are older (13, 11, 9, 7) and it's still the oldest who doesn't want to leave her friends, the school, etc. On the other side, the 11yo isn't so much sad about leaving India, though she is a bit, she's more anxious about going to school in the States. It's understandable, she's going from a school of 60 5th graders to a school of 350 6th graders and aside from a few months of 1st grade in Virginia when we were between posts, she has very little concept of American schools. And she's disappointed in what American schools don't have and don't do. No swimming pool at the middle school. No international trips for sports competitions. This is the longest we've ever lived anywhere ever so the kids are pretty well settled in here and are accustomed to what the school has to offer. The 9yo has a few friends he'll be sad to leave, but everyone has e-mail now, so he's OK with it. He's a total homebody though, so anywhere that we are and his stuff is he's happy to be. The youngest is a happy-go-lucky-nothing-bothers-him-ever kind of kid.
If we told the kids our next post was the moon the oldest would say we were nuts and swear she'll never ever ever go to the moon, the next would argue all the cons to moon-living but rationally accept our pro-moon arguments, the third would say OK then never leave the moon base, and the fourth we'd lose immediately because he'd just go exploring moon craters. Replace the moon with Nepal or Mongolia or Brazil, and you'd get the exact same response (for this move, at these ages).

Kids. They add whole new dimensions to the anxiety and frustrations and excitement and sadness of a PCS.
We're not the only people leaving. That's pretty obvious. And it makes it both easier and harder. If we knew everyone else would stay, there would be a reason to come back to visit. Or at the very least it would be easy to keep track of folks. No, instead a number are staying, and a greater number are leaving to places as varied as Shanghai, Prague and Caracas. Thank goodness for e-mail and facebook and blogs (oh my!) because these friends have no excuse for not sticking. My father recently mentioned that of the people we spent years with overseas when I was a kid, perhaps one or two still send a Christmas card. That's out of 15 years abroad. I hope that "modern technology" will increase our success rate several-fold.
Thursday a newer friend of mine had a party at her apartment. It's strange, we'd been invited several times to play poker with them and never made it, for which we have no excuse. They literally live across the street. Shirley was a friend of a friend, a parent of a Madras Kid, but only recently became a "real" friend. She invited me to her going-away potluck and I saw her surrounded by 30 of her closer friends. During her two years here she got involved in everything and it showed. She's a great hostess, a wicked poker player, a friendly out-going volunteer of time and energy and food no matter the activity. She's off to Shanghai with her family.
Right after the potluck I hopped over to the Consulate for another farewell ceremony. Chennai was Larry and his family's first overseas post, but it didn't show. He was here for 2 years (cut a little short by his current month long TDY in... Florence. Yes, Italy. He deserved it) and in that time adjudicated 42,000 visa applications. 42 THOUSAND. You do the math. Even better than the straight number, he did the interviews concisely, respectfully, legally and often in Telugu, his FSI language. In honor of this accomplishment, Window 7 (the language window) has a plaque recognizing Larry's time spent there:
Larry thanked the Consular Section with a poem written in the style of Dr. Seuss. He's got a great sense of humor and is plain fun to be around. We'll miss playing poker with him too. Larry's wife Kerry ended up working full-time in the ACS section and kept the place going. She was so excited to go to Florence, but we're all a little sad that the TDY cut their time short with us. The next post for the family will be Bucharest and I don't think he has to learn Romanian, but he's going to anyway.
Oh wait, there was a cake with that party. The cake was originally just for Larry, but at the last minute had an addition written on it. Take a look at this:
The cake that looked like it was decorated on a boat.
What it would have said had it not looked like it was written on a boat during a squall: Farewell Larry / Congratulations to *** on Nepal
See, we have quite a few jokesters in the Consular Section. And we all know that the Foreign Service is anything but boring. One of our ELOs got caught up in mass confusion regarding his assignment and he ended up floating in the wind for a while with a potential offer of Bangkok. Well, he decided to pull a fast one and sent a creative e-mail to the mid-levels claiming he had instead been assigned to Nepal. Now, no offense to Nepal, but he did not want to go there, certainly not immediately following India. He had people giving him hugs, crying, offering condolences, getting angry on his behalf. A few congrats were thrown in, but on the whole we all knew that Nepal was not right. Well, somehow or other (I won't give away all Ian's secrets), Ian found out it was a sham and decided to play it out by adding the congrats on Nepal to the cake. After Larry had finished his poem, the other ELO (you're right, I'm not giving out his name) finally came clean. There were some very upset Officers when he did!
You know, reading back on that you really had to be there for the whole week to watch it unfold. It really was funny. As a follow-up though, he did finally get an assignment: Baghdad. Considering he was originally supposed to go to Kabul, he's OK with it.
Thursday couldn't handle any more farewells. Friday came and we thought about hiding at home for a bit. Instead, we were summoned (*ahem*... Kelly) to the Park Sheraton for a Happy Hour at the Westminster bar. I think it's called the Westminster. Since we don't go to bars I wasn't really paying attention. Oh that reminds me though, apparently there's a new restaurant at the Park Sheraton called "On the Rocks" and it's good. Let me know if you go, ok? So, we went to Happy Hour, which I never ever go to, because I don't drink and sitting around drinking has no appeal to me. But these are our friends and it's the last Happy Hour and it's walkable from home, so we went. Also because Kelly called and asked why we weren't there. Nothing like a little guilt to get us moving. The place is actually pretty comfy and though we were about 90 minutes "late" it wasn't until another hour passed that the seats filled up with other people. We chatted, we laughed, we shared stories. Then we went home and remembered again that we're short-timers.
Short-timers coincides with the end of the school year for most of us. End of school means standardized test results come in. Rebecca did MAP testing at the beginning, middle and end of year so we don't have those yet, but the other three had ITBS testing in February. They did well. As I told others, Katherine rocked the house in the language arts portion, Jonathon's vocab is top notch, and Nicholas excels in math. None of which is a surprise.
So, we made it to Saturday. Saturday morning was the International Day thing at school. We didn't go. Instead we spent a couple hours at Spencer's Plaza. Spencer's Plaza is a bit like a rabbit warren and is crowded and dingy most days. Saturday we managed to be there during one of the rolling power outages, making it crowded, dingy, hot, dark and generally miserable. Our purpose? To get wraps as gifts for friends back home. The shop I go to is a little hole in the wall near the end (or beginning, depending on which way you enter) of a side avenue overloaded with t-shirts and handbags and shoes. It's run by a lady, which makes a difference to me as nothing irritates me more in Spencer's (aside from the lack of electricity and the bathrooms) than the guys who try to cajole foreigners into their shops with "Pashmina, madame! Pashmina! Come see!" Erg, just leave me alone. No, I wanted wraps and I get them from her and I'm happy, except when there's no power. Then I have a very cranky Ian (crankier even than the norm when we go to Spencer's) who stands outside the shop to sweat, the lady's assistant starts frantically flapping a paper fan over me while the battery powered lantern flickers ominously and threatens to die. Ian had wanted to look in a few other places to get things less feminine, but once I was done he was done. We dared to have lunch at the Subway, which I'm pretty sure didn't have any refrigeration going on, before bailing on the mall. Our last visit there, and it went pretty much as expected. It's now Tuesday and no one got sick from their sandwiches, so we'll chalk that visit up as a success.
Really we'd wanted to go to Sparky's for lunch, but didn't have enough time. Sparky's opens at noon and we had a party (yes, a going-away party) to get to at 1. Only later did Thom tell us we should have just shown up at 11 and gone in through the side entrance. Like we're supposed to know this. You know, it never crossed my mind to ask the owner of a restaurant if we could just show up early, walk in the working entrance and get served. Would that have crossed your mind to ask? Friend or no friend, it's not something I'd ever have considered.
We had a party to get to. Nicholas' best friend wanted to throw him a going-away party and he could invite anyone he wanted. He chose 5 people, and one of those was another girl because he thought the hostess would like her to be there. Yup, his best friend is Carissa and they are two peas in a pod. Nicholas isn't exactly smitten with Carissa, not in that way, but he sure does like her a lot. He wanted this to be a dress-up party, so he wore a new shirt and tie, and Carissa wore a dress:
She's adorable and so sweet, like her mom. Darlene is our 3rd grade room mom and a wonderful lady and she's another person I wish I knew better and earlier. She has been here 2 years but it's only been in the last few months that I've spent time with her. Who knows though, she's from the Southwest and a huge traveler so I have high hopes our paths will cross again. Darlene is also one of the bravest people I know. Just over a week ago she got her first tattoo right here in Chennai. It's very pretty, an Om in a lotus flower. I keep going back to the idea of getting a tattoo, but honestly the only thing that would make any sense would be a Dalmatian, and I'm no fireman. If you know me, you'll understand.
Back to the party. Three of the people he invited didn't show up, the two others did, and Nicholas was fine. I think I've mentioned he's a homebody. He's also not a huge crowd person and while he doesn't avoid crowds he's just fine with one or two good friends and that's what he got (as well as his siblings and Carissa's brother). They swam, they ate, they enjoyed playing together. Darlene had ordered a really good cake with awesome decorations:
And ice cream from Arun is quite yummy:
Later, I repaid Darlene in part with nearly a case of apple sauce we couldn't finish. Not that she needed any repaying because she's just plain nice, but you know what I mean.
As we chatted we learned that Darlene's husband is a poker player. Well, wouldn't you know there was a poker game scheduled for that very night, so we invited him. At the last minute he ended up not being able to go, long story there - enough for its own blog entry, and that was a bummer because we'd love for the big poker nights to continue after we'd gone. By the end of this summer, 7 of the players that night (of the 16) will have left Chennai. Another one won't be playing because she was a visiting mother-in-law. That's an entire table. Sad. Once there were enough losers, Guitar Hero/Rock Band was turned on upstairs. What a guy thing to do.
And it wasn't enough for one night, because the next night was a scheduled Guitar Hero/Rock Band night. Six guys, plenty of leftover poker night beer, 2 guitars, a set of drums, a microphone and a Wii game projected on the wall. Rock on.
I'm getting ahead of myself though, because when Sunday rolled around I was tired, really tired. Poker makes for a late night and I'd smartly set my alarm for sometime Sunday morning. Ian and the kids went with the neighbors to Sparky's, I did Marriott brunch with Kelly and her visiting mom. Niiiice. We had a quick stop in Kalpa Druma (on Cathedral Road across from the Chola Sheraton) where I picked up a nice lined jute bag as Rebecca's summer swim bag and a couple other bags as gifts before we met up with a couple other ladies at Nalini jewelry. Nalini's uses a lot of stones both precious and semi-precious. The price tags are nothing to sneeze at either so I didn't feel too bad that the handiwork wasn't my style at all. I'm not kidding on the prices, a $1500 necklace would make any sane person reconsider though admittedly not all were that expensive. I wish I could link to the site, but it gives me a Malware warning and I don't really want to bother that much. While waiting for the others to make their purchases I settled in with a couple books on choosing good stones and found the process quite fascinating. I've also learned I don't like perfect stones, as it's the imperfections that make them interesting. I'm sure there's some sort of profound thought in there that can be attributed to life.
Guitar Hero/Rock Band:
Part 2 of Guyapalooza weekend: Rock Band/Guitar Hero night.
They are such goobers.
And then, Memorial Day rolled around. Could this weekend get any longer? The guys had plans, oh yes, they had plans. I made plans too, kind of. Mine were more of the variety of "I don't want to clean out anything else, I'll call Kelly." So I called her and asked if she and her mom wanted to come with us to GRT Jewelry and the Rathna store. Remember the Rathna store from the Rickshaw Challenge:
The Great Chennai Rickshaw Challenge - Rathna
It's a fun place to go for a short time. The problem is that you can't spend a short time in there as there's so much to poke through and then when you do have a basket of items it goes to one counter to be checked out, another to be paid for, another to get packaged and everything has to be stamped repeatedly by different people. The store is always crowded and it is always hot. Ian was not pleased. Why is it everywhere I want to go is so blasted uncomfortable? Oh right... India in the summertime. GRT was no better because I didn't want to go to the new place, I like the older one as we're not quite so obvious and they don't have the opportunity to cater quite so much. At the shiny new shop, everything feels almost formal as someone escorts you around. At the older one, it's a tussle to get by people and the counter girls have a slight aire of boredom. Yeah, Ian wasn't thrilled there either. Just can't win. I knew exactly what I wanted though and in 15 minutes we were done. It's only moderately more efficient than Rathna as far as the steps involved in purchasing anything, but it was enough.
We had to scurry home so Ian could go off to Part 3 of Guyapalooza (after poker night and rock band night):
Part 3 of Guyapalooza weekend: Paintball
Honestly. Paintball?? They all came home injured. Those rifles are powerful things even if they are only shooting out little balls of powdery paint. Oooh, I should take some photos of Ian's bruise. Katherine has been asking to go paintballing for a while now, and even the site of her injured father didn't make an impression. Sometimes I don't understand her. But what the heck, looks like this coming weekend we'll all go out and shoot at each other. Not the younger kids of course, you've got to be a teenager to play. And then we'll go to Sparky's. Then we'll come home to nurse our wounds and realize how old we are. Or not.
Why couldn't this weekend have been long and boring and unfun? Do you know how hard it is to say good-bye to people?
Sidenote: A plus side to moving, especially moving to the U.S.? I can ignore all the and and e-mails I regularly receive.
Non Sequitur: Check out Jorge Garcia's blog, whether or not you're a Lost fan.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Fun fun fun

Tonight was the Varsity sports banquet at school. It's for those in 6th grade and up who participated in a SAISA travel team this year. While Katherine did swimming, basketball and volleyball, swimming was the only SAISA sport, but with that she could stand up with the swim team and earned herself a letter. Yup, for the first year at AISC letters were given out. She has a big blue "C" and a little "swim team" to add to her patches. Very cool. In fact, it was kind of funny because right before the awards started we'd mentioned how sad it was that the kids go through these sports and get certificates, but no letters. Glad to be proven wrong!

In other news, gardening is on my mind. Yes, still.

Shared Neighborhood Gardens

For Urban Gardeners, Lead is a Concern

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Gonna get physical, physical

Oh great, now that song is stuck in your head too. Sorry.

Yesterday the kids had their physicals. Everything is fine, no one is blind or missing a limb. Heights and weights were taken. We're set for school registration this fall.

Jonathon: 53lbs/4'1"/5'8.5" - Nicholas: 65lbs/4'2.5"/5'7.5"
Rebecca: 119lbs/5'1"/5'7" - Katherine: 133lbs/5'4.5"/5'6"

I had a check-up too, at least my skin did. Roughly once a year I get my moles/spots checked. Periodically one is biopsied to make sure nothing untoward is happening (though they tend to come back unless fully excised and if excised I replace the mole with a prominent scar). Then 2006 came along with the BCC, and I'm a little more paranoid. Nothing has been really amiss since then, but this time was a little different. Once we get our new health insurance this summer I'll find a dermatologist and have a full skin exam because the doc found 5 spots that could become... something. Since I've had one BCC, he said there's a strong likelihood that others will develop, and in unexpected places. It's no surprise when skin cancer comes along on the face, hand or shoulder, but mind tend to be other spots. On shoulder blade? check. On bottom of foot? check. You get the idea. I have the fun of photographing them and marking on a diagram(forgive me if that's a login site) where they are located. Actually, this part is kind of fun and I probably should have started doing it 10 years ago. The good thing is that while BCC are cancer, they are not malignant.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Join the conga line with me!

We have got our or-DERS!

We have got our or-DERS!


Yesterday the kids had their physicals to start school in the fall. We have our flight reservations for the 7th, flying through London. Yesterday was also the packout survey.

Three + half weeks to go.

A great idea: Bananas

Bananas for energy in Africa

Seems like a great project for USAID to encourage.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The rat aside, the rest of the weekend was good.

Katherine was gone all weekend to Mumbai with her volleyball team. She had a blast, just like last year. I kind of wish I'd gone to watch since it was my last chance to visit Mumbai (never been) and it would have been fun to watch her play. She really likes volleyball, so I'm glad she's signed up for a beginner/intermediate clinic this summer.

She was gone Thursday morning to Sunday afternoon. Saturday we did our normal Sparky's run for lunch, then had a good time at the Mexicali party that evening. A couple of our Consulate families, who luckily live in a duplex, do a yearly shindig right around Cinco de Mayo. It's adults only with the flowing liquor and blind-folded-manic-stick-waving drunk people attacking a pinata or two. The food was excellent and we left at 10, so it was all good.

The culling continues. Rebecca went through her clothes and gave away roughly 2/3 of them. Today I'll go through Jonathon's clothes. We'll be sure to dispense with all the size 6 clothes (the size 4s and 5s were given away in the fall even if they still fit him) and ensure room for the overalls he says he wants. Overalls? Katherine and Nicholas get a bit of a reprieve because they provide hand-me-downs, though we'll do a once-through anyway.

We've realized we need to buy bookshelves. Several of them.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

3 cats + 1 rat = ?

You'd think it would be pretty straight forward.

We're in heavy duty stuff-purging mode. The piles are growing. We've purged roughly 100 books, the same number of movies and slightly fewer video games. Trash is going out in bundles. A rather huge pile is forming for donation. Thom over at Sparky's is involved in several charities and is willing to send over his truck to pick up our donation items as well as all our leftover consumables.
Of course, to put things in order means creating a path of chaos. Our bedroom is always the dumping ground and the last place to get any attention. Suitcases from our trip, piles of clothing, rolled carpets, boxes and bags of, well, I'm not sure... but anyway, it's a veritable playground for all things small and furry aside from the fact that is probably all reeks of cat. Ian was in the bedroom yesterday afternoon and called me over. We had a mouse and it had just run into the bathroom. It came up through the drainage drain behind the toilet which Ian had now stuffed a toilet scrubber into until something more permanent could be arranged. Usually the drain has a metal sieve on top and it was neatly pushed aside. I didn't see the critter but had no doubts it was around.
This morning, we both saw it in the bedroom. It was no mouse but a rat easily 5 inches long, with another 6+ inches of tail.
Well, we knew what to do with that thing:
Shut the bathroom door
Shut bedroom door
Grab 1 cat... another cat.. a third cat...
Toss three cats in the room with the giant rodent.
A couple hours later we checked on what was going on. We hadn't heard any meowing, no rat shrieks, nothing falling off counters, definitely no suggestion of a mighty chase.
The cats were all hiding under the bed. We gave them more time.
A couple hours later, one is still under the bed, another is warily sniffing around, and the other is sleeping on the dresser.
These felines would fail miserably in the wild. We released them back to the rest of the house, acquired a sticky pad mouse trap, placed it in the bathroom between the door and the drain and left.
Success. The rat had gotten itself so stuck it hardly seemed to be breathing, which was a good thing since the next step was to drown the poor thing. These sticky pads are roughly in the middle between a killing machine like a classic trap and a life preserving cage trap. They catch the animal in a thick sticky slimy goo that is impossible to remove without heavy doses of vegetable oil and a thorough scrubbing with soap. Needless to say, not going that far to rescue a rat that invaded the house. But it also doesn't kill them. So we're left with an alive creature that is impossible to release. Drowning is quicker than starving and it seemed that it had gotten so gooped up it didn't squeak once as it's head was stuck too.
Ian did the dirty deed. Now, we assume the critter hadn't already invited his family to move in.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Another one bites the dust.

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned how Indian power killed a hand mixer and a toaster. One day they just didn't turn on. I also killed a large coffee maker that wasn't even ours by plugging it into a flat-pronged outlet in the kitchen, thinking it was 110 outlet. Came to learn that it's supposed to be 110, but all the kitchen outlets are wired (and some miswired) 220, no matter what they look like. I've also killed the power supply for the Roomba by plugging it into a power strip that was plugged into the wall, not into a transformer. Ian ordered a 110/220 replacement. Two XBox 360s have died here (another one died in Togo), but we can't figure if that's solely due to power issues or a combination of power and getting their innards shaken to death in transit from the States. Maybe you remember way far back when I mentioned that just about every box we receive has been well crushed in the pouch? A couple months ago the power brick for one of the laptops died. At least we're hoping it's just the power brick even though the local electrician couldn't make heads or tails of it. The laptop now sits on a dusty shelf, alone and neglected. The VCR died about 6 months back. The electrician couldn't figure that one out either, and it's only a VCR. I can see a Wii-mote confusing a local electrician, but a VCR? About the same time we noticed the buttons on the TV didn't do what they're supposed to anymore. Volume buttons might change the channel, for instance. I say "might" because we never really know what was going to happen each time. It doesn't really matter though, since the cable box went kaput this week so we can't watch regular TV anyway. Thank goodness for downloads (American Idol!) and DVDs.

Do I tempt fate by asking, "What next?"

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Watch This.

From March 23, 2009 at the Central train station in Antwerp.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A reprieve

Since we don't have Orders (sensing a theme?) our packout dates have been pushed back to the 1st and 2nd of June. Which is good because I'm spending all my quiet home time these days napping. See, I went to sleep around 11:30 last night and I'm up at 3:30 this morning, even with the help of Nyquil which I usually can't shake out of for 9-10 hours. I know the only way to get over this quick is to push through the nap wall, but I just can't do it. Today I will limit myself to a 2 hour nap, rather than the 3 I've been taking. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Where to begin?

There's no sense starting at "the beginning" as that doesn't really exist, does it?

Months ago we decided we'd take a trip back to Virginia, just the 2 of us, to buy a house. We allotted 2 weeks, we'd stay with my parents, and thought we'd even get around to purchasing a car.

I have to say, things worked out pretty well.

We didn't go on the trip alone. While we left our kids behind, we took the neighbors' 10 month old baby from Chennai to Virginia. As good as she was, it's still exhausting traveling with a baby, let alone someone else's. For the first 15 hours, she slept a grand total of just under 3 hours. During the last 8 hours, she dozed through 7 of them, but since she didn't eat right before sleeping, she dozed in 20 minute spurts... drink from bottle for a minute, doze for 20 minutes... drink from bottle, doze for 20 minutes... pacifier, doze for 20 minutes... drink from bottle... you get the idea. During the last 15-20 minutes she was done with being cooped up and we were "those people" that everyone hates. All together, it made for a very tiring and extremely long day. I like to sleep on planes and that just didn't happen. The British Airways Chennai flight timings are better than Lufthansa though, as we had the chance to sleep about 6 hours before going to the airport (for a 5:30 a.m. flight), something we can't do with the 1:45 a.m. flight to Germany.
But we made it and handed the baby off to her mom who was waiting at the airport. My parents were there to pick us up.
You know what the best things in the world are? Hearing the "Welcome Home" from the immigration/homeland security guy (yes, it still makes me cry sometimes), and the smell of the air when you first step outside. I don't care that we're in the parking lot of the airport; there is no sweeter and fresher smell than that air after you've lived in someplace like Chennai where every street corner is a urinal or worse and the heavy blanket that settles over you when you leave the house smells like damp and sweat and body waste. It was very hard to return less than 14 days later. How odd to be enticed by the weather at home... what will it do today? 50 and rainy? 90 and sticky? Overcast? Breezy? Who knew?!? There's no question in Chennai. It's going to be smicky (sticky + mucky). Unless it's January, then it's nice. Don't leave Chennai in January.
But return we did. And our packout is scheduled for May 18th-20th. What better way to celebrate out Anniversary than to be hip deep in boxes and packing tape. Bring it on. We might even have Orders by then.
It's a little unnerving packing and giving an address to a home we're buying but haven't bought. What if the whole process falls through? I shudder to think about it. We'll all just cross out fingers and pray that all will go well. The folks we're buying from are selling out of convenience. The house was on the market for nearly a year and they wouldn't budge on anything regarding the sale which was quite the bummer. But it was the nicest house we saw, though a little on the small side until the basement is finished, and definitely in the nicest neighborhood. Montclair was a gated community when it was built 40 years ago, but the gates came down when the neighborhood decided they wanted the VDOT to maintain the roads. I think living in a gated community would have been a bit too much seeing as we lived in one in Manila, and have had high walls and guards since then. Let us out!! So... no gates. Instead we have a well-established community built around a man-made lake. Lake Montclair is built as a skinny lake with lots of fingerlings jutting off. Lots of lakefront properties that way, not that our house will be one of them, but hopefully we can find a quick walking path to one of the lakeside playgrounds and/or beaches. The neighborhood also houses a golf course, a swimming pool that is scheduled to be enclosed, and year round tennis. I'd already signed Rebecca up for the Dale City Frogs summer swim program, before learning that we'd be in Montclair and they have their own summer swim club. Ah well, at least we're not up to Amberjax speed yet. The lake has the aforementioned beaches along with boating and fishing. Playgrounds, walking/biking paths abound. There's a vet and a dentist in the neighborhood. There's a Target 5 minutes away. And a Panera. And... a drive-through Starbucks.
The Montclair elementary school is a 3 minute walk from the house. The middle school is the farthest away at roughly 10 minutes drive, the highschool we haven't figured out yet as there are 2 nearby but each high school in Price William County offers a special program, so if you're interested in one (say, Environmental Sciences) you can apply to a different school than the one you're zoned for. If accepted, they'll bus you over to the chosen school. The two nearest schools to us have an IT program and an IB program. Thank goodness we'll have 6 months or so to decide what to do. These schools are no slouches, and the application process is competitive.
We hunted through a bunch of houses before coming back to this one. The house is OK, the neighborhood is what I really wanted and I think you can see why.
We ate out a lot during our visit, had dinner with 3 other former Chennaites at Harry's Tap Room at Pentagon City, another dinner out with our long-time friend Jeff to Outback, plenty of fast food from Chik-Fil-A/Wendy's/Arby's/Taco Bell, meals with my folks... it was all a bit much, but what else is there to do than indulge? Five more weeks in Chennai then we buckle down to real-life living in the States.
We didn't buy a car. With the house financing, and an offer from my mom to use her car in June, we decided to hold off. What we do know is Ian will get himself a Prius. It's a sweet set of wheels filled with gadgety things we had to avoid drooling over as they could have shorted out the car. Kidding, of course, but I enjoyed driving it as much as he did. We haven't decided what to do about a family car though we're leaning heaving towards a Sienna. I wanted a hybrid Highlander, but remembering back to the Highlanders we saw last time, and with bigger kids now, that third row is just too tight. I have no qualms about driving a minivan, and in fact like them quite a bit. Just do me a favor and call me a swim mom or a volleyball mom, not a soccer mom. A Sienna can come with us to our next post too, a hybrid of any sort most likely cannot. Quick kudos to the rental people at Tysons Koons Toyota dealership. We rented the Prius for 2 weeks what it would have costed for 1 week from a typical rental place, and the process was painless and the people nice. The only catch is that they don't deliver the car to you, but my parents brought us over so it worked for us.
Oh, speaking of volleyball, Katherine had her last practice this morning. Tomorrow she flies off to Mumbai for her tournament and will return on Sunday. She's actually a pretty good player, I was impressed watching yesterday afternoon. I don't know why there isn't more discipline with the sports here (no mandatory uniform for practices, not even mandatory shoe-wearing?) but she's enjoying herself and made the team without any issues. Remember last year? OK, let's not remember last year.
Quick updates on the other kids... Nicholas's hair is growing growing growing. It really needs a trim in the front. He looks really cute. For his birthday, the day before we left, Ian bought him a soccer jersey/shorts/shin guards/cleats set and he wore it that afternoon at soccer practice. My shaggy haired boy was all tucked in on the field. It's not surprise that the gifts with the biggest punch after the soccer outfit were the 2 dress shirts and matching ties from the grandparents.
Rebecca held it together while we were gone. She actually e-mailed us, so we brought her back some really green pairs of shorts which she was thrilled about, a sunscreen stick and High School Musical 3. Anyone know where to get the colored sunscreen sticks? I looked and couldn't find any of the fun sticks in purple, green or blue. Weird, but then it was a little early for the swim season. I bought the shorts at Justice, formerly Limited Too from what I gather. The clothing is bright and mostly respectable, I was impressed.
Jonathon looks a bit like a gopher. He has his two adult middle bottom teeth, but has lost the next ones out, along with the top two front teeth. Two came out normally, one got knocked out when he was playing with his brother, and the other he forcefully wiggled to death. The one that got knocked out caused one of the neighbor's kids to freak and call Brian with "an emergency" which led him to leave us a message about an emergency, with no details. Do you know how nerve-racking it is to get an e-mail when you're eating in Panera 8000 miles away that there's an emergency back home? We didn't know if it had to do with work or the kids. If the kids, which kid (though we guessed it involved Jonathon)? And then, about what? I immediately envision a kid with a deadly snake bite, someone with a broken arm, head trauma from falling down the stairs, expulsion from school, drowning. I asked my mom to call India when she went home for lunch to find out what was going on since we were 30 minutes away and heading back to Woodbridge.
A knocked out tooth? Whatever.
I'm glad to be home.

Fan Flicks

Making Middle-earth on a shoestring.

I'd watch it.