Friday, March 30, 2012

This week in Hopperville

Two or three times a year, select kids are asked to participate in Quill&Scroll at the elementary school. The topics are varied, from first grader "All About Me" essays to fifth grader chapter stories. This time, Jonathon was asked to read a piece he wrote on the monsoon in India.

3/28/12: Jonathon read at Quill&Scroll

3/28/12: Jonathon reading at Quill&Scroll

The following day, Rebecca had her choral assessment with the 8th grade class, held at Woodbridge HS. She arrived at school early, all dressed up in her long black choral finery. She said they did OK, getting a couple 2s and a 1 from the judges. Ones are top scores. It's been a tough year for this group of kids, their teacher has been absent almost more than he's been present, performances have been canceled, after-school rehearsals have been canceled, and what's most frustrating is that there's not much in place for these kids to keep up. They watch movies, they fill out papers, but they do very little rehearsing when he's gone. With that, I thought 2s were pretty good.

A blood drive was held at Katherine's HS and finally being 16 meant she could try to give with parental permission. We did our own research through the Red Cross site to see what would hinder her and, oddly enough, even with her meds and the countries she's lived in they took her blood. Then she nearly passed out, so much of the rest of her school day was a wash. I don't know if they call and check up on every student who gives, but I got a call today from an INOVA volunteer asking if Katherine was OK. Seriously. I was thinking they called to say they had to dispose of her blood. Guess not.

3/29/12: Katherine gave blood for the first time.  She then nearly passed out.  But she got a tshirt.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

More About Pet Carriers

For our 12"-at-the-shoulder-tall cat

Ugly but lovable Tandoori.

there are not as many options for soft-sided in-cabin options as I'd hoped. I was debating between the Original Deluxe Sherpa Pet Carrier for $63 from

Orginal Deluxe Sherpa Pet Carrier Bag Large Red

And the Sherpa Sport Duffel for $50 through

SHERPA SPORT DUFFLE Dog Cat Animal Pet Carrier Bag & Tote. Airline/Subway/Rail Approved. Size-Medium Color-Red w/ Reflective Sliver Trim
Then I saw the Smart Space Pet Carrier with Flex Room for $33 through

Smart Space™ Pet Carrier with Flex Room Feature

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Traveling with Pet

Last time, I left Ian to figure out the traveling pet situation. It's a good thing too, because leaving India with the 2 cats was a PITB, from getting the vet papers and travel papers within hours of departure to being told to take the cat out of the carrier for the xray machine in the airport with two problems... no way was he taking the cats out of the carriers, and the carriers didn't fit through the xray machine anyway. Then there was no one around who knew what to do with the cats until someone... who knows who... came and took them away and he hoped and prayed they were actually going into the belly of the correct plane.

This time we're flying Austrian, code-shared with United. The Federal Government has this thing called the Fly America Act and most of it seems to fall into United's lap. Huh. United, as all of us in the Foreign Service with pets now know, has greatly increased the cost of their pet shipping fees. To the point that shipping a pet can cost anywhere from $1500 to $4000 per pet (depending on size/breed/destination) thanks to an added fee from the "Pet Safe" program and the associated fees added to shipping pets via Cargo vs Checked Baggage. It used to run between $100-$400 per pet.

Except the military who are PCSing. Which is how it should be. No one should be penalized for moving around the world as demanded by their job, and on top of that be forced to choose whether to bring their pet with them or not. I don't know about you, but we don't have a couple grand to ship the cat. Which is why this time we are bringing him in the cabin with us as an extra piece of carry-on luggage. He's a cat, he'll fit.

We're getting him this lovely travel bag, the Sherpa Sports Duffle, and I'm reading up on travel tips for making it even a little bit less painful. Masala meowed the entire trip, he was hoarse when he arrived home. We still miss him. Tandoori retreats into his own little world, so I don't expect him to make much of a peep at our feet.

Because though the fees have sky-rocketed and the military have been exempted from incurring the cost, the Foreign Service and our affiliates have not. We letter bombed them asking for them to include us as we serve our country in 180 countries/positions around the world.

Cool Tuesday

We took the kids out of school today to get passports done. The process itself took about 10-15 minutes including the initial wait and the 2 trips to the OBC to make copies, but only after the 45 minute drive to FSI.

We dropped off a couple LLBean rolling kid suitcases to our friend Ryan, one stuffed with additional chapter books for his munchkins. I think we made him miss his shuttle. Oops.

Since it was only 11 a.m. but still too late to bother getting the kids to school for any reasonable length of time, off to Kettler Capitals IcePlex to catch the Capitals practice. Apparently it was at 10 a.m. and not 11 a.m. which makes sense on game day, but not something we checked beforehand. So as we drove up to the IcePlex rooftop parking lot, I calmly stated something along the lines of "Just in case you're wondering, that's Ovechkin in front of us" as Ovi wandered across the parking lot in all his shorts, tshirt and flipflops glory. He made his way to his car and we passed him with the windows down shouting a mix of "Good morning, Ovi!" and "Hello!" and whatever else came to mind. He turned, flashed a gappy smile and said Hey. I think Ian had a goofy smile on his face for the next hour.

Checked out the team store as we always do, and walked out with one of their new releases. For me!

(Warning: Hockey talk next)

We saw the nearly empty rink where Nicklas Backstrom was practicing. (Hopefully he'll be back in the line-up for playoffs. If we make it to playoffs. Tonight, once again is a must win game. This time it's really really must-win as we're playing the other team vying for the 8th spot.) And then Joe B. walked past us. I wish we'd stopped him and asked for a photo op. He's really short. And he and his tv partner Craig Laughlin (aka Locker) are great game announcers and have a huge fan base of their own. What I really like about them is they not only have great sense of humor, you must in order to wear Joe Bs suits in public, but they are so knowledgeable about all the teams and players they don't play strict favorites in their broadcast. We've watched broadcasts from other teams and you hear absolutely nothing about the competition, it's all about their own team, and that IMO is boring and not at all helpful for a hockey newbie like me.

So yeah. Today we nearly ran over the superstar of the Washington Capitals. And then we said Hey to Joe B. Sadly we just missed watching the Sabers practice. I would have waited in line to get Ryan Miller's signature, that's for sure.

Tonight Ian and Becca are at the Caps/Sabres game at Verizon, aka the Phone Booth.

I *heart* Kettler Capitals IcePlex. And I *heart* hockey.

Passports and Renewals

Diplomatic passports (unlike tourist passports) are only good for 5 years, doesn't matter your age or rank. Which means we're up for renewal. Our passports expire in October, we travel in July, we need visas before then, time to submit is now.

Aside from the various paperwork we had to gather (birth certificates for the kids, passport applications, letter from the HR Tech saying we actually are going to Post since our Orders are nowhere in sight yet), we also need passport photos.

If you get your passports done at Main State, they can take your photos for you. For our initial passports that's what we did. The photos were terrible, most of us were so washed out we didn't have noses but simply Voldemort-style nostrils. The second time we took our own with a white wall behind us and a plain point-and-shoot camera in hand. Assuring the image was an inch tall and the photo itself 2"x2" was a bit of a pain, but doable.

This time we also took our own photos and followed the guidelines set out on the Passport Photo Requirements Page off The images turned out fine, but the sizing was still going to be a nuisance. Until further down the page you find a link to use the Department of State's photo tool. Upload your photo, adjust, crop and save to your computer. Place them all in a word document (or whatever you wish), print on photo paper, cut out, and done. I've saved the document for future use. Like the pounds of photos needed for visa applications. The ones needed for IDs in Jordan. Two more for each kids' school application.

Just make sure you use good quality photo paper, and that your printer has plenty of good quality ink in its wells.

FSI hosts a "passport office" on Tuesdays. My recommendation, to not garner the disdain of the folks who gather the paperwork, is make copies of everything. Everything. If you have kids, make copies of the parent passports for each kid. Orders or passport authorization forms or whatever you have that says "you are allowed to get your passports renewed," make copies for every application. Make copies of the kids' birth certificates, since you hand over the originals which if you're me makes you very very nervous.

If you don't go to FSI, you can go to Main State and get the same stuff done. Though they'll probably call you or email you or text you or something to let you know they're ready to be picked up. The passport folks at FSI won't, and they'll tell you that right up front.

So in a week, or not, Ian will be checking back to see if they are ready for pick-up. At least our photos don't look too horrible this time.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Music and more music.

The past couple months we've seen Rebecca participate in 2/11/12 All District MS Chorus:

2/11/12 - Rebecca
Somewhere in the middle of the pack, showing half a head.

We've seen Nicholas play in the 2/12/12 Youth Orchestra of Prince William Preparatory Orchestra (no video allowed):

2/12/12 - Nicholas YOPW concert

Katherine played with her school 2/16/12 Wind Ensemble:

Katherine after her 3/11/12 YOPW performance (no video allowed):

3/11/12 - Katherine after her performance.

3/11/12 - Katherine after YOPW concert at Hilton Performing Arts Center

Jonathon and Nicholas had a pyramid concert at Saunders Middle on 3/14/12:

Jonathon next to the kid with the blue cello.

Nicholas right in front of the lady with the red hat.

3/14/12 - The boys after their strings concert

Friday, March 16, 2012

Stuff I've been working on:

For the boys' room in Jordan. Nicholas wants his size Caps themed.

3/13/12 - Caps project beginning

3/13/12 - Caps project in progress

3/14/12 - Finished Caps project

For Rebecca's door, a chalkboard message board:

3/13/12 - Chalkboard beginning

3/13/12 - Chalkboard in progress

3/13/12 - Finished chalk board for Becca

Rescued table as a makeup cart for Becca:

3/12/12 - Trash rescue table, sanded and ready to go

3/12/12 - Becca's table after one coat

3/12/12 - Becca's rolling table, nearly done
Almost done, still need a name or something on the front.

Kids' bathroom before and after:

3/5/12 - Kids' bathroom before

3//5/12 - Kids' bathroom before

3/12/12 - Kids bathroom finished