Thursday, October 28, 2010


Resurfaced memories. It's why we have so many tchotchkes lying about. An Indian elephant's decorative headdress, a Turkish cat figure, a carved drinks bar from Thailand. So many reminders of past days.

The other day I had a Christian radio station playing in the car. Often I'll listen to 89.7, they have a ton of programs about Focus on the Family, HomeWord, etc., that I find helpful in my day-to-day parenting. They play some modern Christian music sometimes too. The other day I listened to 107.9 which offers more church music and Biblical teachings. I don't care for their Biblical offerings, they're pretty dry, but the music brings me back to the days my dad was organist at St. Michael's parish in Annandale. He had that position for about 15 years and I sang in his choir for the years I was around in high school and college. On the radio, a men's quintet sang "With a Voice of Singing" and I flashed back to the times we sang that in church. It's such a happy song, and I know all the parts. You can't help but learn every part when in a choir, right? Though the clip I linked to isn't the men's group I mentioned, I thought the high school kids who performed it did a great job.
(Here's one of my favorite songs from 89.7: How You Live by Point of Grace)
As everyone knows who reads this blog or is in the FS, it's bidding season. Mid-level bids were submitted in the beginning of October, CDOs deliberate, handshakes begin to go out on 8 November. Everyone who reads this blog also knows that currently Ian is a Career Development Officer for Entry Level Officers, aka The New Guys. Part of his job brings him to FSI for each new A100 class, so roughly every 6-8 weeks he's there as part of the CDO panel talking about bids, expectations, realities, etc. Since the beginning his talk has been about managing expectations when bidding. The bidding methods have changed since we joined. Back then we received a list of roughly 80 positions, chose our Top 20, and numbered them 1-20. Now, the A100 class receives the same number of roughly 80 positions, and ranks them all in groups or high/medium/low. Managing expectations means you don't put Rome as a High and mark everyone else Low. Trust me, that's the quickest way to get something from the very bottom of your list because CDOs aren't impressed by list twisting. Be reasonable, understand World Wide Availability means just that, have a good number of Highs, a serious chunk of Mediums and the stragglers as Lows. This way you'll feel pretty good about whatever you get, and you're more likely to get something nearer to the top.
Ian illustrates his lecture on realistic lists and being open-minded with the tale of our first bid list. The story has gotten around, and now there are those who doubt its veracity. Some think he's making it up to make a point. Guess what. He's not. For those naysayers out there who see the limited time you have to pull together your list during A100, you know that at best you can kinda-sorta do serious research into 3, maybe maybe 4 posts. The ones that strike you right off as "That would be cool, let's try to go there" and which end up as your High bids. The rest you'll group into rough lumps... the Far East sounds cool, oh, and we've always wanted to go to Central America - those end up as Mediums... we really don't want to go to Africa since the baby can't take Malaria meds, the -Stans are way too cold for my liking - those end up as Lows.
When we pulled together our first bid list, our four kids were aged 18mo-6years. High schools didn't factor in, most posts have decent elementary schools even the places off the beaten path and we figured that doing a smaller, harder post with limited resources would be easier with little kids than say, now. The youngest at 18mo could take meds if needed. Ian had barely been out of the U.S. and was ready for an adventure. I spent 8 years of my youth in Africa between Dem Rep Congo (Zaire), Algeria and Niger, and was ready to go back.
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso made our #1 spot. As far as we knew, only one other person even put Ouaga on their list (remember, back then we didn't have to rank all of them, just our Top 20 from the whole list), and he put it at #2. We were ready. We just knew Ouaga was ours.
On flag day we didn't even hear the CDOs call Ian's name because the flag held up wasn't one we recognized. It wasn't in our top choices. It took a couple pokes from his neighbors for Ian to realize it was truly him they were calling. #16 on our list. #16! Ouaga was given to the other guy! #16 wasn't in Africa. #16 wasn't a small post. #16 was something we barely glanced at, more of a "Uh, we need more posts I guess this one is OK" sort of choice. #16 was a position in Manila, Philippines that would require us to pack up and move in 3 months. We hadn't even cracked open a book on Manila, didn't know anything about the language, hadn't seen a thing on its schools, didn't know squat about it other than it was really far away.
Manila ended up being a great post. We're so glad we served there and looking back wish we'd appreciated it so much more than we did. We complained a lot (the pollution, the kids getting pinched everywhere we went, the smell of pee, the entire house was white... yeah, we were complainers and I apologize for that), and it took moving to Togo after that to realize just how lucky we had been to serve our first tour in The Philippines. Going to Togo led to us moving to India where we met some of our best friends. Chennai led us back to the States, just the right timing for matters that need attention. And now... come Monday we'll be able to say where we're off to next, and (more important to my mom) when.
We didn't get Ouaga and we were baffled, but a different path was laid out for our family and the moral of the story is... that's the point. As Ian tries to get each A100 group of ELOs to understand: Don't get fixated on any one Post, accept that possibly what you want and what the service needs, along with what the CDOs know about different Posts, all play into your assignments. And most of the time, it works out better than you expect.
So yes, the story of our bid list featuring Ouagadougou and resulting in Manila is true. Pass it on.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

White House ornament

The high school band is selling the 2010 White House ornaments as a fundraiser, only $20 and I'll even mail it to you. $3 of each sale goes into her account towards the spring New York trip. You want it, you know you do! Just send an e-mail to

Check it out, pretty nice....

October is flying by.

What a wonderful month October has been. Now if we only had some jack-o-lanters.

(Side Note: Why are my photos sideways? Technology and I don't get along, even on straightforward blog tools.)

IMG_9636.JPG Nicholas is still enjoying cello. Last week they began assignments and practice sheets. This week they might start on bowing, I'm not sure, but for now he's pluck-pluck-plucking his way through the strings. He has practice Thursdays and Fridays so brings the cello to school Thursday morning and returns it home on Friday afternoon. So far it's all good and he's building some muscle carrying it to and from school (I wonder how the kid(s) who plays bass manages). Next year he'll do cello in 6th grade orchestra if we're still here. If we're not here, I hope the school we get overseas has a middle school strings program. Cross your fingers for us. Virtual handshakes start going out November 8th... less than two weeks from now. Can you tell I'm getting a little nervous? If it's either of our Top Two we'll be completely giddy, and if it's any from the rest of our list we'll be quite content.
We haven't done much in the way of family nights for a long while. Last week when Katherine suggested Rock Band, we jumped to it. Take a look at the photo and tell me what's shocking** about it (besides, perhaps, Katherine's leopard print PJs). Those who know our family well will see it right off. IMG_9638.JPG Crazy huh? I gave the drums a whirl and have clearly lost the minuscule ability to keep a rhythm I attained in India even on easy. That's OK, it's better than the guitar.
This past weekend was one of those that keeps us on our toes. Katherine went to a Band Girls sleepover on Friday night. Last year the same girl hosted but there were only 6 girls. This year, a total of 10 crammed into their home. They attended the powder puff game at Gar-Field, crashed for a few hours, had a wholesome donut and bagel breakfast before returning to the school to get to a marching band competition. They performed and returned home around 10 p.m. In the meantime, Saturday morning I took the boys to the first chess tournament of the school year. Nicholas won one, drew one and lost the other two. Jonathon won one and lost the other three. Oh well, that's why they're going to chess club Friday mornings this year. During the four hours I sat there I read Rand's Anthem(1937), a novella Katherine is reading for English. It's a quick one-hour read, a dystopian future where technology has been repressed, people are raised to consider all and ignore the one, children are born without families, jobs are prescribed by the council, love and individuality are treated as evil, blah blah blah. It's similar to Huxley's Brave New World(1932), but without the depth of the storytelling. And please don't email me with how totally different they are. I already had one person on draw out the differences for me, but I still hold that the stories are far too similar with Anthem a stripped version of Brave New World with modifications. Argue amongst yourselves.
Anthem done, I read the free sample of World War Z, followed by the free sample of I am Number Four. Ah, the Kindle. How I do enjoy thee. I still read paper books but keep those at home. Nothing beats the Kindle for portability of lots of manuscripts either already downloaded or searchable right on the machine. With the time I spend at chess or swim or doctor offices, it's so handy.
Katherine with her friends and me with the boys, Ian and Rebecca saw "RED" at the theater. We met up with the theater-goers for lunch and mall-walking, went to a park for a bit, then moved to the Mormon church next door. Finally, the summer swim Frogs held their awards ceremony. IMG_9644.JPG Rebecca got her Divisionals shirt, the kids received their participation trophies and Divisional ribbons. Becca was brought up again for something special. The medal reads: "Coaches Award, Becca Hopper, Demonstrating Leadership, Dedication & Enthusiasm, Frogs 2010." A couple kids in each of the five age groups were given the Coaches Award. She was thrilled and we're happy she was recognized for her hard work.
Sunday was church and recovery from Saturday. The kids bagged more leaves, though Monday morning the lawn was worse than before. Katherine went to a friend's house for a bit Sunday evening. Pizza was our regular dinner.
IMG_9647.JPG Monday I volunteered at the elementary school for a half hour at the book exchange, followed by a day of trying to finish a scrap blanket. It appears I don't have enough yarn for the planned last strip. Blast. Time to improvise or do without. While Ian is with Jonathon on the 4th Grade field trip to Jamestown today I'm catching up on phone/email errands. Katherine's appointments? Check. Katherine's refills? Check. Becca's volunteer hours scheduled for the 6th? Check. Inquiries into football/basketball/swimming/etc.? Check.
Time for some lunch. Then back to that future blanket.
**Shocking? Nicholas is singing. Yes. Singing.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Caps Practice

Ian took this week of as part of his effort to Use rather than Lose his leave. He has two more weeks of time off in the next couple months too, so I'm enjoying having him home in a quiet house.

Mostly we've been doing errands or bumming around the house. Today we went to the Kettler Ice Rink at Ballston Mall to watch the Washington Capitals practice.
10/20/10: Goal practice 10/20/10: Ovechkin as puck collector
10/20/10: Is that Mike Green? 10/20/10: Backstrom waits for his turn
10/20/10: Ovechkin skates by in a drill 10/20/10: Practicing Drills
It's the closest Ian will ever get to the players. He was so giddy he wore his Caps jersey and Caps cap and had hopes of getting some signatures. The players were not accommodating though. They were probably still cranky about last night's loss to the Bruins.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Half way through October

At the end of last month I took a look at our family calendar and thought, "How will I make it through October?" In the past 2 weeks it's even gotten busier.

Last night we attended the final high school home football game. The Gar-Field Indians won their homecoming game 28-0. So far they've lost two games this season and I have no idea what that entails for post-season games or if the marching band will be involved. All I know is last night the temperature was hovering around 55F with a very brisk and chilly wind blowing. We'd brought our Potomac Nationals squishy seats to keep the cold and hard bleachers off our back ends yet we huddled in a pile as we'd neglected to bring hot coffee, parkas or thermal blankets.
We skipped the first quarter which ended at 0-0 anyway. I made my way over to the band to say to Katherine and I was honestly surprised by how her face lit up when she saw me. You know how teens can be when they're with their friends. After "You came!" was the question "Did anyone else come?" Not a cheap outing at $5/ticket though it's cheaper than a movie and we get to support our kid. Even better, after the half-time show she came up to our seats, something she's never done before, to ask what we thought of their added steps and flair. This weekend there was no competition but if they all nail their new routine steps by next week it does make for a much more enjoyable show. Not just a lot of walking around, but responses to the music they play. Very enjoyable.
This morning we got off to a slow start which was fine by all. By noon we'd played some Zelda and GrandSlam on the Wii and were ready to get out of the house and enjoy some gorgeous weather. Becca suggested real tennis, so to the near courts we went and had a great time. For about an hour we played 2 on 3, 1 on 1, 2 on 2 and 1 on 3. Rebecca did great from the baseline, it was nice to see her begin to remember some from her lessons two years ago. I wish she'd redevelop a love for the sport.
We made a stop at Borders followed by a very late lunch/very early dinner at Chik-Fil-A. Ian gravitated to the travel and language books at Borders. Perhaps not the wisest of moves as he's now wondering how anyone can learn Arabic. (No, that's not telling about our next post other than, yes, there is an Arabic designated post on our bid list). Katherine plopped down with a Fruits Basket manga book. Rebecca found a District 13 poster she wants for her birthday and the boys wandered around. I sighed a sad sigh for all the books we cannot buy thanks to weight restrictions and the Kindle. They sure are pretty.
Back home again for some yard work. Rebecca tried out the boys' bike, Jonathon made some headway on the skateboard, Nicholas and I raked and bagged leaves. Our trees have barely begun to shed but if we go out once or twice a weekend from here on out it should be manageable. We have some nasty weedy grass trying to take over our lawn and I'm wondering what the proper course of action is to stop it in its tracks aside from extreme and expensive sod action. I would be willing to incur bare patches and then attack them in the spring with fertilizer and new seed. I'm wondering if elbow grease and hours on my knees pulling it up would work? We filled up one lawn bag of leaves, I mowed the same patch we raked (I think we're just about at the end of mowing season) and called it a day. Tomorrow we'll go out and fill one or two more bags.
The rest of the afternoon was very low key. Rebecca caught up on "Top Chef: Desserts" and later Ian and I will try to watch "Chuck" and "Glee." We finished season 2 of "Fringe" on DVD last night... wow. Looking forward to seeing the current season.
Guess what tonight is?
Katherine's friend, Josh, showed up around 7:20. He needed a ride to Homecoming. At 7:45 Katherine's "date" showed up to pick her up. Either he forgot to mention it to her, or she forgot he mentioned it to her. Either way, she went in our car with Josh while Pablo met her at school... and Josh's mom will bring Katherine back home.
10/16/10: Homecoming 10/16/10: Homecoming 10/16/10: Homecoming
The first is with Pablo, a fellow Frog from summer swim and now freshman classmate at Gar-Field. The next two are with Josh. The first he was standing as tall as he could while Katherine tried to shrink. Becca's keeping her from tipping over. The third is them as Jersey Shore people. I've never seen Jersey Shore, I don't think have either, but whatever. And of course... one with her little sis. Katherine wanted to take Becca to the dance, but regulations prohibit middle schoolers from attending. No doubt it's to protect the middle schoolers.
10/16/10: Homecoming
We hope she has a wonderful time. (Now that she's at the dance... because she called not 5 minutes after Ian got home to say she'd forgotten her school ID... and when we delivered it to her she said she'd learned just her ID number was fine... It's not a Katherine event if it's not convoluted in some way!)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Sharing the Kids

Ian got his promotion. YAY! Out went the -03 bids with lovely Warsaw, Lima, Riga, Casablanca and various Canadian posts. In came... well, can't say yet as it can be a little unnerving when you see friends with the same positions on their lists. Bidding for -02 positions is a good thing, more responsibility and less boredom await Ian.

Four of the positions are next summer departures. Three are an extra 9-12 months here for language. Each has various pros and cons though they are all good matches for us. We'll see what happens and will hopefully hear before Thanksgiving.

In the meantime my parents are enjoying the kids too. Two weekends ago they took the boys to see Cirque Du Soleil's "Ovo." According to the boys it was great. The grandparents took them out to eat, bought them new clothes and generally spoiled them rotten. Last weekend they kidnapped Rebecca for the whole weekend, took her shopping, baked sweets, and just let her enjoy being an only child for a bit. It's been wearing on Rebecca as she's stepped up to fill in for the times I'm gone. She collects her brothers from school several times a week, makes sure they do their homework, and if we're gone in the evening she'll read to them and get them to bed after making sure they've done their chores. With all Katherine's doctor appointments it's been great to have her step up but the boys can be tiring for a 12yo. Katherine will get to spend some time with the grandparents too, but not until after marching band ends and that's not until sometime in November.
Speaking of doctor appointments, I just made dental apnts for the younger three. Jonathon just went in August but a couple days ago he chipped a molar. How he did that I have no idea. The other two haven't been to the dentist since we got here so they are due. Katherine is too, but she just might scream if she has to squeeze another thing in during band season.
Yesterday Katherine had her orthopaedic apnt. The x-ray was so cool. From what I could tell her curve, or curves, are thoracolumbar, meaning they are both in the upper and lower spine, essentially an S shape not a C. She has a 20degree curvature in the top half and a 23degree curvature on the lower half. It looks a lot like this, though I don't have a copy of her own x-ray:
The good news is that for now all she should do is add calcium supplements to her diet. No special exercises, no brace, nothing out of the ordinary. She should exercise regularly, eat well and try to stand up straight. She has a follow-up x-ray in 6 months to see if the scoliosis is progressing. The "bad" news is that according to her pelvic growth seen on the x-ray she's no where near done growing. My 5'8" girl has a couple years of growth ahead of her and with that comes a greater chance that her spine will continue to curve. But it's not definite so we'll keep tabs and move on to the next challenge that rears its head.
So we share our kids with my parents, with doctors, and of course the schools. This year is going swimmingly for Nicholas, he enjoys school, loves Signet, has friends. Finally, after last year he needed a good experience.
Jonathon is having some adjustment issues primarily with the increased expectations of 4th grade. Turning in homework on time matters! Working well with others is important! These and other things are causing him to grouch a little. Each day he has some homework, 20-30 minutes of reading for a log, papers to have me look at/sign, his agenda gets signed, spelling word activities, plus additional spelling and typing assignments I've given him on the laptop. He's disorganized so remembering to turn in items completed and on-time is a huge challenge. He's enjoying Signet this year too.
Rebecca is OK in 7th grade but she's not having fun. A few teachers cause her grief (one loses her completed/graded assignments before putting them in the grade book, another penalizes the entire class when some are misbehaving, another has no control over the class at all), and in the others she's bored. Math is better, she's in extended math so this year they will cover the 2nd half of 7th grade math, complete all of 8th grade, then take the 8th grade SOL in the spring. At least she won't be ages behind everyone else when we go back overseas. I'm attempting to arrange conferences with two of her troublesome teachers. We'll see how that goes.
Katherine is getting better with managing high school. Band is no issue, Algebra is a breeze (as it should be since she did pre-Algebra 2 times... long story there and nothing to do with not getting the math!), P.E. eh, French is old news, Language Arts is her thing. Social Studies will require more work as it's in a format she's unfamiliar with, so once she gets that down it'll be fine. Biology is her favorite class and the one she needs to improve the most. As always with her, it's not a matter of understanding the material it's finishing the assignments and turning them in. I'm glad it appears to be just one class, a definite improvement over the past few years. Yesterday the high school had "In-Touch" conferences. All the teachers piled into the gym and parents could have short 3-5 minute conferences with them. I didn't get how it would work, but somehow it does. We spoke with the Biology teacher and passed on some useful information to Katherine on how to get her grade back up.
Time to get some lunch, update my day planner with new additions from the wall calendar, sew up some buttons and loose hems, make a vet apnt, continue with the laundry, prepare dinner (butternut squash and apple soup)... 3:45 will be here before I know it and this evening is packed until 9p.m.