Saturday, December 30, 2006

Merry and Happy!

Returned safely from Mississippi last night, with an '02 Honda Accord on a trailer behind our Yukon:  the new kids' car.  Not Colin's car, specifically, as it will be Quentin's as well, when he gets his permit this spring.  We bought it from my sister in Baton Rouge, so it was quite an adventure getting it here. 

As we recover from the Christmas chaos, I will leave you with some mathematical humor (which has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas or New Years' Eve):

Ratio of an igloo's circumference to its diameter: Eskimo pi

Speed of a tortoise breaking the sound barrier: Mach turtle

2,000 pounds of Chinese Soup: won ton

16.5 feet in the Twilight Zone: 1 Rod Serling

2.4 miles of intravenous surgical tubing at Yale University Hospital: 1 I.V. League

Basic unit of laryngitis: 1 hoarsepower

365.25 days of drinking low-calorie beer: 1 lite year

1 million microphones: 1 megaphone

1 million aches: 1 megahurtz

1 millionth of a fish: 1 microfiche

mathtest.jpg

 

Half of a large intestine: 1 semi colon

Time between slipping on a banana peel and striking pavement: 1 bananosecond

1 billion piccolos: 1 gigolo

1 millionth mouthwash: 1 microscope

1 kilogram of falling figs: 1 fig Newton

1 million bicycles: 2 megacycles

Time it takes to sail 220 yards at 1 nautical mile per hour: 1 knot-furlong

Shortest distance between two jokes: a straight line

First step of the first mile of a thousand mile journey: 1 Milwaukee

Monday, December 18, 2006

Signs of A Lazy Blogger

Number 1:  Posting stupid Christmas cartoons.

I guess my literary synapses have shut down, because as of late I haven't been able to create a coherent post.  Not that life hasn't continued in its hasty, fast forward mode.  There is still the usual waking up at 5 a.m. (WHY???) and hitting the ground running, driving the kids to school, laundry, laundry and more laundry, trying to come up with a meal that everyone will like (haven't figured that one out yet), taking Melanie to speech therapy, shopping for Christmas (I think I'm done, but for one or two small things that can wait until the Christmas Eve rush), basketball practice, etc. etc., you get the drift.  I was sick last week, and had to postpone a ladies' brunch that was supposed to be at my house (I've never had to do that before!) but fortunately it was a swift-moving virus (like everything else in my life!)  Lisa came home with a stomach issue on Thursday, and Melanie spent most of Saturday running fever and with her head in a bucket (sparing the details). 

I did go to New York for my annual girlfriends' weekend away.  We had a great time (as usual) hanging around and laughing our bahookeys off.  We rented a limo on Saturday to go into the city (P. lives on Long Island).  We went through Chinatown, and drove by Ground Zero (I hadn't been since it happened .. was hoping there would be more of a place to pay respects, etc. but it's just a construction site now).  We ate lots of great New York food and drank a lot of wine.  Very relaxing.

We're taking off later this week for Jackson.  David's mom thinks she might sell the house this coming year, so it may be our last Christmas there. 

 

 

Monday, December 4, 2006

Happy Times

A picture of the Branch Boys and their mom & dad ...  **Editor's note.  AOL is being snarky and where this picture once was, now isn't, and won't come back.   Will try again to sweep the cobwebs off my computer and post the picture at a later point in time.

 

** Editor's note.  It's back now.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Sadness

David's father, D.R., died on Thanksgiving morning in Jackson, Mississippi.  We knew it was coming, as he had been seriously ill for some time.  But when it finally came, it was very very hard to get our minds around it.  He was such the patriarch ... a true father ... devoted husband ... strong Christian.  I loved how, when he said grace, he still said "thee" and "thou".  There were times when I could have wrung his neck, but in the next instant I loved him again.  He said he knew that I was the one for David, when we were at the beach one time, and I was patiently waiting for David to get all his stuff together.  No one was ever that patient with David, who D.R. nicknamed Uncle Harrison.  Apparently when D.R. was farming, he had a hired hand named Uncle Harrison who never did anything quickly.  David is the same way.  And I guess I had the right stuff to put up with that. 

Boy did D.R. love his grandchildren.  But he and Colin had a special bond.  We lived in Jackson for the first 8 years we were married.  When Colin was in preschool, Granddaddy used to pick him up and the two of them would go to Burger King.  Colin could get Granddaddy back on course if he took a wrong turn in the car.  One time when David wouldn't let Colin have something, Colin picked up the phone to call Granddaddy because Granddaddy would let him have it.  The other kids didn't know Granddaddy that well, because we moved away (and Granddaddy never forgave us!) but they all loved him nonetheless.  Even Melanie started singing right in the middle of the funeral (when everything was quiet, and the preacher was praying) but David said that was music to Granddaddy's ears. 

We can only rejoice that he is no longer suffering.  His blind eyes can see again, he no longer has to "stick" (his term for taking his blood sugar level) or take 10,000 pills with breakfast.  He can sit in the Big Recliner in the sky and watch his grandchildren play.  His golf swing is perfect, and the ball never slices or hooks.  The wind is perfect and the greens are smooth.  He can have grits and bacon every morning, and he won't have to eat broccoli any more.  No more "ambrosia" for dessert ... he can have the pound cake.  And he won't have to miss us any more ... he is with us all the time. 

 

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Kazakh Dinner Party

Last night we had Mona & Jerry over, together with Dave & Jeannie, who adopted "Damir", a little boy from Melanie's group in Taldy-Korgan, and a baby boy, Mikhael.  Dave was on David's 2005 playground trip (the one Quentin went on).  Last summer Dave & Jeannie adopted twin girls from Schuchinsk, and Debi and I had a quick visit with them when we were there on our trip.  (See my trip journal - June 2006)  They were passing through town on their way to the coast, and I decided to do some Kazakh cooking.  I made "plov" ... Kazakh rice dish with carrots, garlic and beef.  David cooked lamb "shashlik" on the grill, and Mona brought an authentic Kazakh salad with carrots and daikon radish.  It was a Korean salad, which I remember getting at the Big Market in Uralsk.  The only thing missing was some "Baltika" beers, though we did have some Russian vodka.  It was great to see everyone again, and to meet the little girls (they didn't yet have custody when we saw them in Kokshetau).  (Note: they stayed in Kokshetau when adopting the girls, and drove every day to Schuchinsk, which is very small and there aren't any hotels there).

Here are some pictures of the fun.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Five Years Ago ...

...we were in Uralsk, Kazakhstan.  It had snowed that day, for the first time on our trip, and a fresh white coat had covered up all the mud and the dirt that had been so pervasive up until that point.  We looked at the snow as a good omen (although our travel partner, Donna, who was from Buffalo, thought otherwise).  We went to court, slipping and sliding along the sidewalks in the nose nipping cold.  The court proceedings started off, only to be cut short by the sound of a bulldozer right outside the window.  The judge moved us all into his chambers, where I stood and made a statement about why we wanted to adopt Lisa.  David gets all emotional when he talks, so I was nominated.  The judge saw that we had visited her for 14 days in the Baby House, and the Baby House Director testified that Lisa (then Asel) had bonded with us and that she recommended that he approve the adoption.  He did.

The afternoon was a flurry of buying flowers, assembling gifts for the Baby House staff and rushing around signing documents at various official looking places.  We finally came to the Baby House with Asel's "going home" outfit, which we turned over to her caregivers.  It was a sort of tradition that the ladies who had cared for her the first 3 years of her life would dress her for the last time, and to say their good byes.  Again, I was chosen to give a little speech to all the ladies of the Baby House.  I'm not emotional, but let me tell ya, I blubbered like a little baby.  I told them I would never let Lisa forget her first mothers.  Or her birth country.

We took Lisa back to the apartment, where we gave her a bath, washed her hair, and dressed her in her flowered nightgown.  We had a dinner of meat dumplings and fruit.  She slept with me the first night, as we had no crib, and poor David slept on the bed of nails ... er, I mean couch.  Not long after we fell asleep, I was awakened by the very loud sound of her sucking her middle two fingers.

Time flies.

Tonight we celebrated with a dinner at her favorite "dress up" restaurant, 131 Main.  Everyone was in a great mood, and a fine time was had by all.  Even her brothers were nice to her ... a small miracle.

 

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Cheesy Smile

Classic bad school picture ... I should be able to bribe her good with this when she's a teenager.

 

Friday, November 10, 2006

Pictures ... Maybe?

Attempting my new picture loading process with our new camera.  Wish me luck!

AHA!  I did it!!! 

Colin and Melanie are out of school today and I have a chiro. visit.  Other than that I might tackle the 100's of piles of laundry around the house. 

Short post!

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Sure Happy It's Thursday

Wow, these weeks fly by.  Monday sucks, Tuesday's not so bad, Wednesday is super, (because the kids have no homework) Thursday's even better (getting close to the weekend!) and, well, we all know that Friday rocks.

We're still having remodeling people trickle in the door.  Yesterday the (beautiful) hood cabinet was installed, but that meant that some of the crown molding had to come down, and it's still down.  Two steps forward, one step back.  Some of the baseboards were installed, but no shoe molding.  We still don't have a threshold between the wood floor and the back sliding door.  The cabinet for the end of the refrigerator won't arrive until after Thanksgiving.  And of course the last coat of finish won't go on the floor until after that.  We did order chairs for the island ... I really like them ... but they won't arrive until next week.  Sheesh ... what an exercise in patience. 

I would LOVE to show pictures of the hood, but we just got a new camera and the memory card is not like the one we had before, and doesn't fit into the computer.  I know it must be something easy and "duh" but I can't figure it out.  Perhaps I should read the instructions, ya think?

Melanie has had a cold/sniffles/cough for a couple of weeks now.  I figured it would go away on its own, but yesterday I took her to the ped. and she has a full-blown ear infection.  What a putz of a mom I am!  But you know, if you take them in too early, the dr. thinks you're an overprotective mom, "What were you thinking bringing her in with just a cold?!?" and if you wait too long you get the, "What were you thinking not bringing her in sooner?" routine.  Sheesh, you can't win.  After just one dose of antibiotic she seemed better, as we didn't have the usual crying and carrying on at breakfast this morning.  She kept saying "My mouth hurts" so maybe she was confusing that sensation with her ear hurting.  40 lashes for me.

Wind in the Willows SeriesWe have a mole in our back yard.  It's so hard for me not to think of a mole as wearing a morning coat and wearing wire rimmed glasses, a la "Wind In the Willows".  I always thought they were big animals (well, he was big in the book!) but come to findout they're as small as a mouse.  But man can they do some damage to a yard!  We have a whole habitrail going on out there!  Boudreaux is earning his keep as his breed was meant to do ... digging after the mole.  But that also makes for one muddy-bearded dog (we're talking clumps of mud imbedded in his beard).  I don't think he's caught it yet.  And perhaps there isn't just one .. there's aunt moles and uncle moles and granddaddy moles.  I know they're just feasting on our smorgasboard of grubs (who will disappear when it turns cold .. if ever; it will be 78 tomorrow!) but we can't put out grub poison without killing the dog!  Oh brother, I can't go on.

I can't discuss the elections because David and I have a mixed marriage.  We just don't talk about it.  Suffice it to say that it's amazing that we even got married, as polar opposite as we are politically.  If the Democratic party calls and David answers, watch out.  If the Republican party calls and I answer, watch out.  It's a delicate balance we keep here.  The kids have decided that they are "Republicrats" ... as a result of their parents' affiliations.  We haven't tried to sway them either way, they are just making up their own minds.  As it should be, I guess.

But since this is my blog, I will put in a small "woo hoo!".

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

One More About Kazakhstan and Then I'll Shut Up

My 'Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan'

By Gauhar Abdygaliyeva
Wednesday, November 8, 2006; Page A27

I'm a Muslim Kazakh woman who arrived in the United States two months ago to work on my master's in public administration. Almost every time I meet people and tell them where I come from, they ask me about the "Kazakh journalist" Borat, "the sixth most famous man" in Kazakhstan. I answer that Borat is a satirical fictional character who has nothing in common with Kazakhstan or its people.

Many of my new American friends find Borat's adventures in "US and A" hilarious and his remarks about my country amusing. Unsurprisingly, not many of the people of Kazakhstan are equally amused. So I want to tell you the inside story about Kazakhstan. And, to steal a line from Borat, please read my article, or I will be execute.

 

Kazakhstan is the world's ninth-largest country in land area. It is in Central Asia along the famous Silk Road, which once stretched from Venice to Beijing. We "walk on oil," but that's not the only thing we were blessed with. Our social and economic achievements in the past decade have been remarkable.

But I would rather speak of my people. I am in my mid-20s and am myself a good example of what today's Kazakhstan is about. I was the first of three children born to an average Soviet family in the year of the Moscow Olympic Games and the Oscar-winning movie "Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears." My dad worked at the Space Research Institute of the Kazakh Academy of Sciences, while my mom taught computer science at the National Technical University. The tradition of education in my family, which led me to degrees in international law and business administration and now has brought me to this country, is strong in Kazakhstan. That is why its people are among the most educated in the world and have a 98 percent literacy rate.

Borat says women can now ride "inside of bus" in Kazakhstan. Actually, men and women enjoy equal opportunity, and our women are more likely to be driving the bus. Before arriving in the United States, I worked for the best local law firm and then a U.N. field mission, and I had a car and an apartment in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana.

People in Kazakhstan take pride in their ancestors, the nomadic Turkic tribes that managed to unite and retain a territory the size of Western Europe for centuries, despite their vulnerable location between the Chinese and Russian empires. For many years the mostly Sunni Muslim Kazakhs, first as part of the Russian empire and then the Soviet Union, welcomed Russians, Ukrainians, Germans, Koreans, Jews, Chechens and Uighurs to their land regardless of their religious beliefs. Those people either chose to come or were deported to Kazakhstan by the communists for various reasons. At different periods my country has been affected by wars, famine and repression.

With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, the economic turmoil brought hardship. Many of my Russian, German, Korean and Jewish friends left for their historical homelands, but many others chose to stay and build a modern, thriving Kazakhstan together. Today those troubles are a thing of the past, and our people look to the future with great optimism.

The Kazakh flag Borat uses in the movie, with an eagle soaring in the blue sky under the sun, is our symbol of independence and pride. If your eyes have ever welled up when you saw the Stars and Stripes, you will understand how we feel about it.

The "moviefilm" by Sacha Baron Cohen, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," is playing well in American theaters. One can only applaud the humorist's talent, but the movie is entertaining only because the world is so unfamiliar with reality.

Perhaps that will change. The movie has already created unprecedented interest in Kazakhstan. Not only has Borat promoted our name and flag, he has also indirectly fueled a great wave of patriotism among my fellow citizens.

Please take an opportunity to visit us one day and hear our real language, not Borat's:

"Kazakhstanga kosh keliniz!" -- "Welcome to Kazakhstan!"

The writer is a student from Kazakhstan doing graduate work at George Washington University.

Monday, November 6, 2006

The "Real" Kazakhstan

The Real Kazakhstan
What does Borat get right and wrong about his native land?

First, a disclaimer: My wife and I recently adopted a baby girl from Kazakhstan, so my interest in researching whether Sacha Baron Cohen's new film, Borat, presents a realistic portrayal of the formerly obscure Central Asian republic is more than academic. After all, would you want your daughter associated with a urine-drinking, wife-beating, cow-punching, sister-f*cking, prostitute-ridden, anti-Semitic nation?

Having said that, I assure you I kept an open mind while doing my research. My conclusion: Borat's Kazakhstan bears little resemblance to the real Kazakhstan. Little resemblance, but not no resemblance. Here is a rundown of the many things Borat gets wrong about Kazakhstan, and the few things that he gets right.

Language
Let's start with the man himself. Borat is not a Kazakh name (though there is a name Bolat). No one in Kazakhstan greets you with "Jagzhemash," which is most likely gibberish or mangled Polish. The official language in Kazakhstan is, not surprisingly, Kazakh, although Russian is widely spoken. Among the country's large ethnic Russian population, Russian is the only language they speak. And, oh yes, khrum is not the word for testicles, in either Russian or Kazakh.

Appearance
Ethnic Kazakhs are related to the Mongols, and are direct descendants of the most famous Mongol, Genghis Khan. Kazakhs look Asian. Those in Borat's home village, however, look as if they are Eastern European. This can probably be explained by the fact that they are Eastern European. The opening scene was filmed in a village in Romania, not Kazakhstan.

Anti-Semitism
Borat is a raving anti-Semite, fond of such Kazakh traditions as "The Running of the Jew." This is the characterization that most ranklesthe Kazakhs, and for good reason. When it comes to religion, Kazakhstan, a majority Muslim nation, is remarkably open and tolerant. Kazakhstan has several synagogues and diplomatic relations with Israel. Here's what the National Conference on Soviet Jewry has to say about the country:

Anti-Semitism is not prevalent in Kazakhstan and rare incidents are reported in the press. None have been reported in the last two years.

And, for the record, there is no such event as "The Running of the Jew" in Kazakhstan.

Prostitution
In Borat's Kazakhstan, nearly every woman is for sale. Borat's own sister was voted "number four prostitute in all of Kazakhstan," a fact of which he is evidently proud. Borat's portrayal is, of course, wildly exaggerated, but prostitution is a real problem there. In the 1990s, Kazakhstan was a big exporter of prostitutes, and human trafficking was a problem. Now, given wealth amassed from the oil boom, prostitutes are even more popular, and the country is importing them, as well. Every evening, one street in Almaty is packed with prostitutes looking for customers, and newspapers devote pages of classified ads to "massage girls."

Women's Rights
Borat portrays a country where women cannot vote or drive and are treated like property. In the real Kazakhstan, women, unlike horses, do vote and drive. They also run ministries and corporations, though they enjoy less equality than women in, say, Sweden.

Sports
In Borat's Kazakhstan, popular sports include cow punching and "shurik, where we take dogs, shoot them in a field and then have a party." In reality, Kazakhs, like most of the world, prefer soccer. But they also like horsemanship, wrestling, and, occasionally, buzkashi (literally "grabbing the dead goat"). In this popular game (a precursor to polo), players on horseback try to control the "ball"—the headless carcass of a goat or sheep. Then they have a party.

Food and Beverages
Borat claims that traditional Kazakh wine is made from fermented horse urine. I have tried Kazakh wine, and I can tell you it is definitely not made from fermented horse urine. It just tastes that way. However, Kazakhs, a nomadic people, do have a fondness for horse products. A popular dish is kazy, or smoked horsemeatsausage. Kazakhs like to drink kumyss, fermented mare's milk, which can supposedly cure anything from a cold to tuberculosis. In the country's vast steppes, people also drink shubat, fermented camel's milk. My Lonely Planet guide finds the camel's milk "less salty," but most Westerners find both drinks—how you say?—disgusting. They have the same reaction to mypalau, which is made from sheep's brain and served, eyeballs and all, to "honored" guests.

Relations With Its Neighbors
Borat takes several jabs at "assholes Uzbekistan." At one point in the film, he refers to Uzbeks as "nosy people with a bone in the middle of their brains." Disparaging comments aside, Borat is right that many Kazakhs dislike the Uzbeks, and the two nations have squabbled over territory in the past.

Economy
Borat, in an interview with the Guardian newspaper, claimed that Kazakhstan's major exports are potassium, apples, and young boys to Michael Jackson's ranch. Not true. At least about the potassium and Michael Jackson. Kazakh apples are famous, and, in fact, the name of the country's commercial capital, Almaty, literally means "place with apples." Kazakhstan's main export, accounting for about half of all foreign earnings, is oil. The Tengiz oil field is one of the largest in the world.

So, what is an obscure Central Asian nation to do when faced with a satirical onslaught, not to mention a worldwide publicity campaign? At first, Kazakh officials responded the old-fashioned, Soviet way: with paranoia and thinly veiled threats, shutting down Borat's Kazakh Web site and intimating that lawyers would call. Lately, though, they've taken a more measured approach, taking out pricey ads, touting the nation as an attractive investment and a land of religious tolerance. And in the there-is-no-thing-as-bad-publicity department, a Kazakh travel company has started running tours called "Jagzhemash!!! See the Real Kazakhstan."

What will I tell people, post-Borat, when they ask me where my daughter is from? I will proudly say she is from Kazakhstan. It is niiiiice. Big country, peoplegood. People big enough to laugh at themselves. I like. You like?

Eric Weiner is author of the forthcoming book The Geography of Bliss, to be published in 2008.

Saturday, November 4, 2006

Hey Borat! Don't Insult My Kid!

The adoptive parents of kids from Kazakhstan have a message for “Borat” Sagdiyev, the cartoonishly crude Central Asian character from a hot new movie mockumentary: their babies don’t hail from a country of ugly, hairy, horse-urine-swilling anti-Semites.
    “It’s completely inaccurate,” said Susan Saxon, administrative executive director of the Providence-based Kazakh Aul of the U.S. Association for American & Kazakh Families. “It’s a beautiful country with wonderful people. They don’t drink horse urine and the women are beautiful.”
    With yesterday’s release of “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” Americans are being introduced to the bristly-headed Borat, an oafish “reporter” from a backward homeland where letting women ride in a bus counts as social progress.
    Borat is played by British comedian Sasha Baron Cohen. Appearing in the character of Borat, Cohen recently spoke on CNN about Borat’s cross-country pursuit (in the movie) of voluptuous American sex symbol Pamela Anderson.
     “She’s unlike any Kazakh woman I had ever seen,” the Borat character said. “Pamela only had teeth that grow in the inside of her mouth and she had more hair on her head than on her back.”
    Those and other derogatory statements from Borat’s publicity blitz are upsetting parents of the once-orphaned Kazakh children.
    Amanda Clegg, 7, of College Station, Texas, burst into tears when she heard Borat go on VH1 and say Kazahkstan is not a good country for adoption. “It’s hurtful to young kids who don’t get satire,” said her mother, Susan. “She knows she’s from Kazakhstan. It’s not something we try to hide.”
    Alicia Riddell of Bar Harbor, Maine, adopted her daughter from Kazakhstan when she was 4. Now 9, the girl was at home with her family when she heard Kazakhstan mentioned on TV and ran into the room. What the girl saw next was an interview with Borat in which he said would not want to marry a Kazakh woman because they are ugly, her mother said. “She kept saying, ‘Why is he being mean to the Kazakh people?’ ” said Riddell.
    Parents of Kazakh children worry that Borat could become a lasting cultural phenomenon.

   “I think that would be hard to hear: ‘You never want to adopt from Kazakhstan,’ ”said Jill Updegraph of Boxford, who adopted her daughter, Darya, 4, from Kazakhstan in 2003. “We don’t know how it’s going to hit them at different stages of their life.”

From the Boston Herald by Laura Crimaldi

Friday, November 3, 2006

Pondering Borat

BoratEveryone is buzzing about Borat ... Letterman, Leno, Bob & Sheri (those of you who live in Charlotte).  He's all over the 'net ... and I s'pose sooner or later I should say something about him.  While I think he's hysterically funny, and that Sascha Baron Cohen has the accent down pat, on the other hand, I think it's pretty sad that from here on out, people will associate my daughters' birth country with a nutjob.  Why did Sascha Baron Cohen have to make a big joke out of a Real Country?  Why couldn't it have been a fake country like Blagovadistan or something like that?  There are thousands of kids in this country (not to mention other countries, like Spain, England, Netherlands) who were adopted from Kazakhstan.  In spite of this, very few people know where Kazakhstan is, much less that there really exists a country called Kazakhstan.  Now everyone knows about it (thanks to Borat) and thinks it is a backwards, Ugly Babushka, incestuous, drinking, sex-crazed country.  They think that Kazakhs use horses to pull their cars, that they make out with their sisters, and only have one thing on their mind: bonking Pamela Anderson.  I saw a clip from Letterman the other night, when Borat was talking about his wife.  "She's dead!" he said.  "High five! <laugh laugh>  She was boring!  At first she was exciting, but after a few years, when she turned fifteen ..."  Well, I won't go into what else was said, it's not appropriate for a family journal. 

Nothing could be farther from the truth.  There are so many different people in Kazakhstan.  Eurasian, Russian, German, Korean, and a beautiful mix of all of these.  Some of the women I have seen there are stunning.  Drop dead gorgeous.  Sure, there are older, overweight people (aren't there everywhere?)  but don't think that is all there is.  Even the older ladies I met (Aida's mother for one) took great care of the way they look, with fancy hairstyles and clothes you would find in Vogue.

Sure, there are some aspects of Kazakhstan that are backwards.  Technology hasn't really caught up to the rest of the world, but they are trying!  Even in the 3 years from when we first went in 2001 to 2004 when we got Melanie, things has progressed in a big way.  It won't be long.  You can't shake off the shackles of a Soviet regime overnight.  Give them time, and theywill be a world power.  You can bet on it. 

So ... help me spread the word.  Sure, Borat is funny ... we were laughing like crazy watching him on Letterman.  But he is a HUGE caricature.  Probably like a RedNeck here in the states.  Don't you think some people think we are all RedNecks and live in trailers and carry guns in our pickup trucks with the Confederate flag plastered over the back?  Kazakhstan is NOT Borat.

(My favorite radio talk show just came on -- I'm listening to it streaming on the computer -- and they have declared it to be "Borat Day".  Ugh.)

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Pictures from a Crappy Disposable Camera

Not the greatest quality, but I *think* you can tell who's who.

Oh yes, Halloween!

We did have Halloween last night.  Our digital camera has ceased to be, so we're waiting for the new one we ordered to show up.  Lisa chose to be a geisha, and a beautiful one she was too!  Did I hesitate for a minute, wondering if I should really be letting my 8 year old daughter dress up like a Japanese escort woman?  Yeah, yeah, I know they weren't really "prostitutes" officially, but come on, don't you think there was some extracurricular stuff going on with them?  Do you really think the men thought "Oh how well she plays the <Japanese guitar>!  Isn't she a great fan dancer?  Okay, time to go home to the wife and kids!"  Naaahhhh. 

Anyway .. Christian dressed up as an Army paratrooper, and Melanie was a little kitty cat witch.  Very cute.  Quentin stayed home with some of his buddies and watched "Dawn of the Dead".  They handed out the candy, so for the first time in a long time, David and I actually did trick or treat together!  It was fun to see all the people we haven't seen in a while (yes we went to our old neighborhood).  Melanie pooped out pretty early, and when we got home, Quentin had put her to bed and she was sacked out.

Overall a very nice evening.

Speaking of Backs...

I know, everyone hates people who complain about back pain .. something that is not visible to the outside, often used as a fake excuse, etc., etc., but heck on a stick, when it happens to you, it just plain hurts.  And it's a weird, electric shock kind of hurt, reminiscent of the way it felt when I got an epidural, only it hurts.  Pain shooting down the legs hurts.  And <hanging my head in shame> I have had several involuntary "F" words come out of my mouth, more so than usual, ha ha. 

How did it happen?  Was I in a spectacular car crash?  Lifting a 100 lb. bag of fertilizer?  Falling down a huge flight of steps?  No, nothing that exciting.  I was getting ready to get in the shower the other morning, and I lifted my shirt off over my head and ... *boing!* out went my back.  At first it's a sensation of "Oh sh*t that didn't feel good.  Doesn't hurt too bad, but wait for it ... wait for it ... NOW it hurts a LOT!"  That'll teach me to take my shirt off before I get in the shower!  Ha!

I always bend at the knees when picking up heavy objects.  Always try and do the right thing.  Bottom line is, though, according to my new chiropractor, I have a compressed disk ... L-something or other ... and I have a date to see him every day until the pain subsides.  This is day 3 and I still feel a lot of pain, even though he has folded me up like a rag doll, rolled me over until I heard a big crrr---ack and mashed on some pressure points in my skull.  I guess I still feel a little skepticism about the whole chiropractor thing, almost like they're witch doctors or something, but about a year ago I had some really bad neck pain which a (different) chiro. took care of quite well.  So I'm hopeful that this will help.  I did go to my regular doc. for a completely different issue (high cholesterol ... guess I need to cut back on those Big Macs eh?) and I mentioned the pain thing.  She gave me some honking big ibuprofen tabs., and told me to call in a week if I wasn't better and we might look into some prednisone.  Or an MRI.  Whatever.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Backing Down

Okay, okay ... I'm going to leave Madonna alone now.  I watched her speak on the Oprah show (which I never, ever watch ... I even TiVo'ed it so I could see it).  Okay ... and she does have a point about the media putting words in the mouth of the baby's birth father.  They can be ruthless.  And so what if they waived her residency requirement?  Celebrities get special treatment all the time.

It was a dark and gloomy night.  Make that day.  Rain is falling ... the wood floor guy is here hammering and sawing, George is here doing some finishing-up work (lights in the cabinets and filtered water thing).  I got busy and unpacked all the boxes of kitchen crap that we boxed up before the remodel.  Put a lot of stuff in boxes for Goodwill and for the attic.  The kids' Fall Festival was postponed due to the rain, and I'm not too upset about that. 

I don't have anything earth shattering to blog about ... there's a surprise!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Madonna Responds to my Blog

(Yeah right.  If you believe that, I have some real estate in the Mojave Desert you might be interested in...)

"My husband and I began the adoption process many months prior to our trip to Malawi. I did not wish to disclose my intentions to the world prior to the adoption happening as this is a private family matter. After learning that there were over one million orphans in Malawi, it was my wish to open up our home and help one child escape an extreme life of hardship, poverty and in many cases death, as well as expand out family.

Nevertheless, we have gone about the adoption procedure according to the law like anyone else who adopts a child. Reports to the contrary are totally inaccurate. The procedure includes an l8 month evaluation period after which time we hope to make this adoption permanent. This was not a decision or commitment that my family or I take lightly.

I am overwhelmed and inspired by my trip to Malawi and hope that it helps bring attention to how much more the world needs to do to help the children of Africa.

My heartfelt thanks for all the good wishes I have received and I hope the press will allow my family some room for us to experience the joy we feel to have David home.

Madonna Ritchie October 17, 2006 London, England"

Okay, even if everything is on the up and up, that doesn't change their residency requirements, and apparently the 2 year evaluation period has been shortened to 18 months.  Maybe she bought a house in Malawi to establish her residency there?  Hm.

 

Adopting from Malawi? I don't think so!

Just for grins I checked out the adoption requirements for Malawi:

RESIDENCY REQUIREMENTS: Adoptive parents must be resident in Malawi to adopt.

TIME FRAME: Malawian law requires a lengthy pre-adoption foster care period (at least two years). 

PLEASE NOTE: Adoptive parents must foster a prospective adoptive child for 24 months in Malawi before an adoption may be finalized.

ADOPTION PROCEDURES IN MALAWI: Prospective adoptive parents often identify a child for adoption through local churches, orphanages, hospitals or missions.  They then need to retain a lawyer to handle the application. The lawyer files a petition with the Magistrate Court of the district in Malawi where the adoptive parents reside. Once that is done, the Court chooses a social worker to be the child’s "Guardian ad Litem” who investigates the circumstances of the prospective adoptee(s) and submits a Court Social Report (a home-study) to the High Court.  The Guardian ad Litem monitors the adoptive family during the 24 months by making home visits. After the 24 month foster care period is completed, the Court will rule whether the adoption can be finalized. The 24-month period starts from the time the child is placed in the home of the adoptive parents.

These are some of the strictest adoption laws that I know of.  And I do know a lot about international adoption.  The two-year thing really blows Kazakhstan out of the water!  Ha!  And we were griping about being there for 5 WEEKS!

Now, I know that Meg Ryan waited over a year for her daughter from China.  I'm not sure of the circumstances of Angelina's adoption from Cambodia.  I know that there was a lot of hoo-ha about the fact that Cambodia was closed to US adoptions at the time, but I also heard that because Angelina's mother is French, (or French-Canadian?  My fact-checker is on her coffee break) AJ may hold dual citizenship.  That is completely unconfirmed, but would make me feel better if it was true.   I do know that she used a US adoption agency (Wide Horizons) to adopt Zahara, and I assume (making an ass out of u and me, I guess) that she went through proper channels.  I would HOPE that an agency with the stature of WH would require anyone, even one of such lofty status as AJ (oops let me dig my tongue out of my cheek) to follow the rules as written.  I know that our agency does not readily suffer fools, and I can see Jim (director) rolling on the floor laughing if asked by some lofty person to bend some rules. 

So ... I guess my stand today is that Madonna gets a big thumbs down from me (such as it is worth) ...

Friday, October 20, 2006

Baby's Hitting the Sauce

I swear, sometimes Melanie gets so worked up giggling and acting up -- doing the sistah dance and shaking her head -- that it seems like she's drunk!  You know, the slack jawed laugh as if you just told the funniest joke on the planet ... and be honest!  Haven't you ever had to help your soused roommate put on her pajamas ... complete with limp body and flailing arms & legs?  That's exACTLY what it's like with Melanie sometimes.  The other night we ate at Olive Garden (blech) and she had a few sips of tea -- spiked with caffeine -- and it was as if she had been on a two-day bender.  Squealing and laughing, throwing her head back.  I swear if she could have, she would have called all her old boyfriends in the middle of the night and told them she loooooovved them ... well, you get my drift.  It's too funny ... she's such a tornado.

It's gotten to where I purposely don't go places with her because I know she'll be out of control.  No amount of preparation or discussion beforehand helps.  She doesn't want to ride in the buggy at Target any more, and she says, "I won't run away!"  By the time we get to the first aisle, she's disappeared, and I have to put her in the buggy (or cart, whatever you people from different geographical regions call it!) and then she proceeds to cry at the top of her lungs.  I try and try and try to just ignore it.  And I do ... talking quietly over the din, saying, "well, I'm sorry, you said you wouldn't run away, and you ran away, and now you're in the buggy" ... Eventually she quiets down, but boy are her mood swings dramatic.

Another thing I've noticed is how she is with people who come to the house.  Be it the carpenter, or Heidi the designer, or the cable guy, she always tries to take their hand and lead them somewhere, or act up and start being silly in front of them.  She'll beg them to pick her up (sometimes they'll comply, thinking aww, isn't she cute?) but part of me doesn't know how to nip this in the bud.  On the other hand I don't want to dampen her enthusiastic, happy and personable spirit!  She will go up to complete strangers in stores and get in their face and say "HI!" really loud. 

Maybe it's my age.  Why didn't someone take me aside when we were pursuing her adoption and just do the MATH?  I will be S-I-X-T-Y (60) years old when she graduates from high school!  Six-freakin'-ty.  46 year olds aren't supposed to have 4 year olds!  Our joints can't withstand the constant hammering!  Our geritol-deprived blood is too tired!  We don't think Dora the Explorer is cute any more!  With one hand I'm helping my oldest child fill out college applications and with the other, I'm saying "What color is this, Melanie?"  Goodness sakes alive.

I know all you grandmothers and friends are nodding and thinking, "Uh HUH ... I could have told you that!!"  Okay, well, go right ahead, but don't do it in front of me!  And of course, you understand that I would never in a zillion years trade her for anything.  She is a joy and full of beans and a great sparkle in our lives.  She is God's way of telling us that our family is complete.  Finished.  My cup is overflowing.  I am blessed.  But I am tired.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Tirade Thursday

I read in someone's blog recently about how they seemed to offend people without even trying.  That things happened unexplicably to them, mysteriously and randomly.  I suffer from the same disease.  A few years back, I pulled out in front of a little old lady (in her opinion -- I had plenty of time and space).  She followed me to the post office, where she blocked me into my parking place, walked over to my window and proceeded to launch the most vicious four letter words at me that I have ever heard come out of a person's mouth.  I politely asked her to not use language like that in front of my child (I had Christian with me) and she said, "I DON'T GIVE A *bleep!*" and carried right on with her spouting.  I did manage to get her license number and called the police, but they wrote her off as a crazy.  Probably right.

The other day, I was in one of my mad rushes from hither to yon, picking up one child, taking another somewhere.  I looked down & realized that I was pretty near out of gas, so I pulled into the nearest station I could find, a skanky place that has been there for a few hundred years, so old that it doesn't even have pay at the pump.  Of course, as soon as I started filling up, Melanie started screaming, "Potty!  Potty!" so I dispatched Lisa to take her inside.  A few seconds later, they came out, saying there was no bathroom.  I went inside to pay for my gas, and asked if they had a rest room, or if the Chicken King next door had one.  For some reason this was totally offensive to the little old man who worked behind the counter (the owner?)  He started spouting off at me about how sick & tired he was of people coming in and pestering him for a restroom.  That he had no restroom, and "I have had it up to here with people coming and jumping all over me about not having a rest room" ... blah blah blah.

It took me a minute to realize that he was ranting at me, and I said, "I'm so sorry, but when you have a four year old who has to go, she has to go now .. ha ha ..."  But his sense of humor had retired long long ago.  He continued to rant and rave at me, and I said, "Well, you've certainly lost me as a customer, there is no call for this ..."  and he says, "Good!  I don't want your type coming in here raising cain ..."  I took my credit card and ran out, shoving the door open kind of hard.  This old coot then came running out after me, yelling all the while, running behind the car and taking down my license plate number.  "You messed up my door!  Yes you did, I have witnesses!  I'll get you for messing up my door!"  I said, "I did no such thing..." but he kept yelling.  I got in the car lickety split and drove off.  I didn't know what to do other than call 911.  By this time I was hyperventilating and crying, out of my mind scared.  The kids are all sitting in the car pie eyed scared.  The 911 operator told me to go to the police station.  After dropping the kids at home, I went to the station. 

The officer listened to my story, then nodded and said, "Yes, ma'am, we were actually just there with an ambulance, a report of a man who was having trouble breathing had to be transported to the hospital after a dispute with a customer.  I guess that would be you, hmm?"  I told him what had happened, and he nodded as if to say, "Yep, he was just another crazy..."  I've since heard from other people that they've had run-ins with this old codger before, so it's not just me.  He's just plain nuts.

Good grief!  Now I keep checking the obituaries to see if I killed him.  And all just because Melanie had to pee. 

 

Friday, October 6, 2006

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

...is not a train!  We have countertops!  We have appliances!  Best of all, we have a SINK!  I took great pleasure last night in washing the dishes ... (ha!  wonder how long that will last!) and putting a few pots and pans away (away!  as in, IN THE CABINET! and not on a wire shelf in the dining room!)

Minor problems:  the granite folks cut three holes for the faucet instead of just one, and they actually had the actual faucet kit AT THE SHOP.  <scratching head>  However, they have fessed up to messing up and are going to cut a new slab and replace it next week.  AND take care of hooking the plumbing back up.  Major oops.

The crown moulding still needs to be done, as well as what they call "light rail" or moulding around the bottom of the cabinets.  I need to go buy the under-cabinet lights for George to install next week.  I went to the tile gallery (gallery!  sounds like the Louvre or something) to pick out some tile for the backsplash, and the lady is coming Monday morning to measure and give me an estimate.  <gulp>  George still needs to do some baseboards, and put glass in the cabinets with glass doors.  The floor has to be fixed and refinished.  We need to do some painting of walls and siding outside that was replaced.  Is this ever going to be done???

There was a small miscommunication about the measurement of one wall; the designer didn't tell us that she had shortened the cabinet length to account for the light switch, but we assumed that it would be the longer length, and we put the switch in the dining room.  So now we are 10" short.  After some deep head scratching and pondering, (we of course immediately dismissed the idea of doing the cabinets all over), we decided to put in a floor to ceiling shelf unit for all of my decorative *crap* (David's words!) to cover up those last 10".  An added expense, of course, but what remodel job doesn't have little surprises built in?  Heh.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

They All Look Alike to Me ...

*** don't jump on me for the title of this post, it's said completely tongue in cheek.

Melanie has been having an awesome time at her school.  All of the kids have various "issues" of special need, be it non-English speaking, some type of developmental disorder, speech (Melanie), whatever.    The preschool is technically for "4 year olds who are at risk of not succeeding in kindergarten".  I saw a little boy with Downs the other day in the carpool line.  While part of me is a little sad that Melanie is considered "special needs" (well, duh!  She is!  And it's not really a surprise to me!) the other part of me is thinking, well, maybe this will give her an opportunity to be a leader, or a comforter, or a nurturer for those kids in her class who may have more serious problems than she does.

One of her little classmates is a little girl who was adopted from China.  I'll call her Kim.  Melanie and Kim are exactly the same height, have the same black hair (of course ... duh part II) and are of course, both cute as buttons.  (Kim wears glasses!)  But for some reason, the ladies in the pickup like ALWAYS get the two mixed up.  Yesterday the lady had Melanie in Kim's mom's car, IN THE CARSEAT, before Kim's mom said, 'Um, that's not my kid!'  I was gesturing out the window that they were putting Melanie in the wrong car ... and this is not the first time it's happened.  One time they tried to put Kim in MY car.   Yesterday, our two cars were right next to each other, so we moms took the opportunity to introduce ourselves, and have a little laugh about it.  But it's really kinda sad!!  Do they ever put the little white kids in the wrong car?  Oh well ... what are you gonna do? 

I'm almost (ALMOST) tired of living like a vagabond.  I'm almost tired of not being able to find anything, of having all the stuff in my pantry strewn around the dining room.  I'm almost tired of the dust in the entire house, of sawdust in my coffeemaker.  Of having to rinse the dishes in the powder room, or cart them downstairs in a bucket to rinse them in the laundry room.  Of having to squeeze myself between the dining room chairs and the sideboard to make lunches.  Of permanently having dusty goo between my toes when I walk around barefoot.  Of having people in my house (even if they are really, really nice people).  Okay, complaining is over.  Granite folks come today to make the templates.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Cabinet Meeting

Thought you might like to see the cabinets in their raw, uninstalled form.  They really are nice, but man is it a mess.  George spent Saturday installing the hood for the range (which closely resembles a UFO) and re-routing the plumbing.  Previously, the sink was not centered under the window (strange!) so we fixed that.  No asymmetry in our house, no sir!  The bad news is that, now we have no sink until October 4 (when the countertops will be installed).  We've been toting the dishes down to use the laundry sink in the basement.  But last night we went to BJ's and invested in a whole bunch of plastic plates and utensils.  Sorry, environment! 

The cabinet guy (David) ... (the floor guy is David also, as is, of course, my David) ... was here all day Friday assembling the jigsaw puzzle, as it were.  He did get the pantry installed, and part of the built in hutch.  The island is in place, though not bolted down.  The appliances will all be delivered next Friday.

I also picked out the hardware for the cabinets (drawer pulls and knobs).  I would post a picture, but the digital camera died.  We're going to give it a proper funeral and get a new one before we go to Disney.

Over and out.

 

Friday, September 22, 2006

All is Klaar, Herr Kommissar

(Don't know how I come up with these titles ... anyway!)

Melanie came through surgery just great.  She was of course uncomfortable when she first woke up, but the nurse gave her a big shot of something in her IV and off to dreamland she went.  We were told both by the hospital and the doctor's office that we would be spending the night, but they kicked us out at 5:00.  Ahhh. 

She was still a little drunk when we got home, but felt good enough to want to walk around the house.  Make that RUN around the house.  We had to sit on her to keep her quiet and still (no easy feat!)  She has a little blood coming out of her nose, and is drooling up a storm.  Other than that ... she ate ice cream, scrambled egg and yogurt.  No problem.  Last night I gave her a little hydrocodone and she slept all night (in my bed).

The cabinets were delivered ... the installer comes this morning.  It had been so long since I ordered them, I forgot what I ordered.  They're really really pretty!

 

 

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

And furthermore more ...

Good grief will it ever end?  Quentin called last night from the high school retreat (near Asheville, 2 hours away from here) reporting that he lost his glasses swimming in a lake.  He is as blind as a bat without them.  Don't know how he's coping without them; I added an errand to Lenscrafters to my already packed schedule, but they need some kind of "pupil distance" measurement, so I suppose after I pick him up tomorrow we'll be going back to Lenscrafters.  Where you get your glasses in an hour.  If you lived in Louisiana in the 70's and 80's you'll remember the TV ads with a very Cajun lady talking about Lenscrafters, "I came all the way from Opelousas to get my glasses in an OW-AH and I got my glasses in an OW-AH.  Hilarious ...

My body is in a state of complete exhaustion and muscle aches.  Dr. Matthews says all is well to go ahead with Thursday's appointment.  We'll have to take it easy at Disney, which means she and I will go back to the room every day to take a nap.  Darn!  <---note sarcasm.

Monday, September 18, 2006

And furthermore ...

I completely miscalculated my dates, and now they are even crazier.  We leave for Disney NEXT THURSDAY the 28th of September.  Double AUGH.  That means Melanie will be going to Disney 1 week post-surgery!  I have a pre-op meeting with Dr. Matthews on Tuesday, and I'm going to discuss postponing the surgery if he feels that would be in her best interest.  She has come down with a cold in the past day or two (just runny nose and cough, no fever) so I'm wondering if he wouldn't postpone it for that reason anyway.

So I need to get ahold of the floor guy to see if they can refinish the floors next week ... oh and find Boudreaux a hotel. 

David painted the kitchen over the weekend, and it's a very pretty color.  I think I'm going to like it.

**** AND I FORGOT TO TAKE MELANIE TO SPEECH!!!!  What a ditz.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

...add a car accident and stir...

Just as I was getting over the nausea created when I contemplated the next few weeks ... I decided to take a "day off" of the stress and go shopping with Mom and Lisa.  A nice girls' day out ... very "Scarlett O'Hara" of me .. I'll think about it tomorrow.  After all tomorrow is another day.

I was looking for a parking place at the very chi-chi mall (where they check your bank balance before they let you in the door .. hey, we just wanted to look!) when a girl in a little white Maxima came around the corner and sideswiped my van.  Not much damage, really, but it took 2 hours for the Charlotte police to come to a report, and my stress came back with a vengeance and increased exponentially.  Ugh ... just what I needed. 

The door and window go in tomorrow ... look at the bright side.  One day at a time.  This too shall pass ... and all those other cliches about having a crummy week.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Oh, for the love of ...

How in the H-E-double-hockey-sticks do we get ourselves into these things?  In what strange order have the planets aligned themselves so that everything difficult that can happen to a human being happens all at one time??  Where can I get a permanent Valium IV installed into my arm for the next month or so?

1.  Kitchen remodel is nearing its zenith.  Cabinet installation will happen Friday the 22nd.  Door and window will be installed this Monday or Tuesday.

2.  *Surprise!* Dr. Matthews has scheduled Melanie's surgery for Thursday the 21st!  Overnight stay ... oh, and our social worker's 2 year post placement visit is scheduled for the evening of the 21st.  Guess she'll have to come see us in the hospital.  Soft diet for 4 weeks.  *Note to self:  get 6 photos of Melanie for SW.

3.  The granite company will come on Wed. the 27th to do the template for our countertops.  They will install on Wed. the 4th of October. 

4.  We leave for Disney Thursday the 5th of October.  Maintaining the soft diet for Melanie on the trip.

5.  While we are gone, the floor company will refinish all the wood floors on the main floor.  Which means that ...

6.  We have to have all the furniture out of the main level before we leave for Disney.  Which means that ...

7.  Boudreaux will have to go to doggie camp and

8.  We'll have to get a moving company to take all our furniture and store it for the weekend.  It's like we're moving again!!!  Then we'll have to move back in after driving home from Orlando.  WTF????  (Okay, this is a family blog ... the "f" stands for "frick".  Right.)

<SCREAM!>

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Snorting Cocaine at Four

Yeah, thought that would get your attention.  Seriously .. Melanie's endoscopy went well.  They use a form of medical cocaine (get your head out of the gutter!) to numb her nose before the procedure .. don't think I wasn't tempted to ask for some for myself.  Ha ha.  While they had the "cocaine" in her nose (in the form of a very long q-tip) they (the speech pathologist, nurse and Dr.) tried to play with her, Dr. Matthews tying a blown-up rubber glove to her shoe.  She wasn't buying it for one minute.  Then they had a plastic alligator with push-button teeth that would snap your finger at random points.  No go there, either.  Finally after 10 minutes of number, up went the scope; a very tiny, spaghetti width tube with a light on the end (and a camera, of course).  I held her on my lap and watched the fun on the screen, and Melanie sat quietly and serenely while all this was going on.  NOT NOT NOT.  She was pretty upset at having a long tube shoved up her nose, numbed or not.  However, we all got her to say "TAKE IT OUT!" so Dr. Matthews could observe her palate in motion.  No closure whatsoever.  Which, of course, means the "S" word.  He will do some type of surgery on her where he'll take tissue from (where?) somewhere and lengthen her palate.  Don't know when yet ... he's going to check his schedule.  Sorry I didn't document everything with pictures, but I was busy holding her hands and head still.

It was really kinda cool to see her throat anatomy ... there was a small little tulip-shaped thing that opened and shut, which Dr. M. told me was her epiglottis.  If we had kept going, we would have seen her larynx.  But he had seen enough, and he stopped after that.  Then it was off to eat breakfast.  The paperwork had said "no food 12 hours before" but Dr. Matthews said, oh heck, you could have fed her breakfast!  Sheesh.  I thought for sure she would crash, and eventually I think I would have paid her $500 to take a nap, as I was fighting the rack monster in a big way.  Getting up at 5 a.m. will do that to you.  Nothing doing ... except later in the afternoon, on the way to Quentin's orthodontist, what does she do?  Right ... fast asleep in the car.  Who was Murphy anyway, and who came up with his law?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Another Calgon Day, and it's only 10 AM!

No, I'm not homicidal or maniacal or psychotical or anything like that.  Just found this on another blog and loved it ... I am on the edge though.  I had a major anxiety attack last night, mostly because this is the week Melanie has her endoscopy, David will be out of town that day, and my mom is coming, the next day and the kitchen is nearing completion and there are still some things I need to do, and there isn't time to do them.  Today I have to work as a lunch lady at the kids school, and by the time that's over I'll have to get Melanie and that leaves no more time for granite shopping or tile shopping.  I have to leave three kids at home alone in the morning while I drive Melanie to school, and today I got the "Mom, they're fighting and hitting each other with their toothbrushes!" call.  Sheesh.  David was in the 3rd grade and his mom had to leave to teach school an hour before he left to catch the school bus.  Why can't my kids at 14, 9 & 8 do the same thing???  Argh.  At least the weather is beautiful .. not humid, rather cool (low 80's) and very pleasant.  I have to find something good in all this! 

Saturday, September 9, 2006

The Man From Brazil

The floor guys came yesterday ... and the floor she is fixed!  I heard them speaking Portuguese all day, as they are from Brazil.  Apparently, 80% of the hardwood floor work done in the area is done by Brazilians ... it seems to be their *thing*.  They did an excellent job ... they will come to sand and refinish the floor on Tuesday.  Unfortunately that is the same day (or fortunately?) that Melanie has her nasal endoscopy ... they are putting a camera down to look at how her palate works (or doesn't work as the case may be) and I anticipate after this we will talk about surgery no. 2.  Jamie (her speech therapist) thinks there is a fistula (opening) in the roof of her mouth, which may account for her hypernasality.  We seem to have reached a plateau in her speech improvement, so surgery may be the next step.  Luckily it won't be as extensive as when her palate was repaired back in Feb. of 2005. 

Melanie had her first full week of school last week, and seems very happy to go.  Other than complaining (loudly) at my waking her up at 6:30 (who wouldn't?) she goes happily out of the car and is happy when I pick her up at 1:45.  I think she is a tough kid and is enjoying the structure.  On the 2nd day of school, though, I woke her up and she was burning up with fever!  Strange ... especially since it went away and she was right as rain the next day.  Go figure.

The George team is due to return this coming week (she said, hopefully) to install the new sliding door and to swap out the garden window with the new casement window.  I need to get on the stick and go get my granite slab picked out and paid for, because the next week is supposed to be cabinet week!  Woo hoo.  I am *beginning* to be tired of living without a kitchen ... not desperate yet, but getting there.  I think there will be a convergence of events that will have me hopping to and fro.

We've booked a trip to Disney over the kids' fall break.  Although Colin and Melanie don't have the same fall break .. so we'll just make it a long weekend.  We haven't been there since Christian was a baby, so I think it will be a lot of fun.  Maybe there won't be hoardes of people there in October (she said, hopefully).

Mom is coming for a visit next week ... which will be nice.  Haven't seen her in a while.  She'll get my rear in gear and get organized while I wait forthe kitchen to be finished.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Melanie Goes to School

...and David paints.  And I helped!!  (It's Shake & Bake!)  He nearly broke his back doing the ceiling ... Nothing much else has happened this week.  The George team came by to fix some spots on the ceiling on Monday, but other than that, it's been quiet.  The floor guy was *supposed* to come do the patching this week, but as of yet, no word from him.

Yesterday Melanie's new teachers came to the house (what service!) to meet her, and to have me fill out some forms.  I really liked them both, and feel that this program will do Melanie a lot of good.  Today M. and I went to the school to look around, see her new classroom and where she'll eat and play.  We also met her speech therapist, who I really liked a lot.  Melanie seemed right at home and school will start for her on Tuesday of next week.  She'll have 15 kids in her class ...

Right now a huge thunderstorm is blowing through so I guess I should get off this thing before I become a human shish-ke-bab.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Even This Shall Pass Away

My dad is a very wise man.  He always had pearls of wisdom to cast on all of my ups and downs in life.  He rarely lost his temper when we were young.  He is a treasure trove of stories; his travels around the world as an international businessman could probably fill volumes.  Now he is enjoying his retirement, although I think his physical ailments (lingering effects of non-Hodgkins' lymphoma a few years ago) prevent him from being the athlete that he used to be.  He used to run 1/2 marathons in his late 60's and early 70's.  If only I had inherited that athlete gene!!  I got the curly hair gene.  (It's okay dad .. I really don't mind!)

His job took us to Japan, Belgium, the Philippines and Singapore.  He left his family in Pampa, Texas to join the US Navy at the end of WWII (it ended while he was in boot camp) and served his time on a mine sweeper in the Pacific.  He tells stories about sitting on the bridge, looking for mines.  When they saw one, they would shoot at it with a rifle and detonate it.  He studied Mechanical Engineering at the University of Texas on the G.I. Bill .. where he met my mother.  His one and only job was straight out of college with a company called Ethyl Corporation (they used to make tetraethyl lead additives for gasoline).  In 1965 he was assigned to open an office in Tokyo, where we lived for 3 years.  His job was director of sales & marketing, although later in his career I think he used his engineering skills to design "blending units" for offloaded crude oil.  He spent many years negotiating with the completely corrupt Indonesian government and oversaw the building of a terminal on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines.  He used to go to countries behind the Iron Curtain when you just simply didn't do that!  He scared us to death with his story about crossing the border into Romania on foot in the early 1970's on New Year's Eve.  I think my dad was James Bond.  There was tragedy, as well ... the time that several men in Taiwan climbed into a railroad tank car that had been filled with an extremely toxic chemical, to clean it.  They all died from the fumes.  He tells the story of his first time in India ... arriving in Calcutta in the middle of the night, and being so moved by the abject poverty and filth.  I used to marvel at his passport, which had about 20 inserts that folded out intolong strips to accommodate all of his visas.

Every time I hit a bump in the road, he would tell me, "Just remember the lesson that you have learned."  He never yelled at me in frustration .. just sat back and let me live my life.  One of his favorite poems is this one, which I share with you today.  Its refrain has been the mantra of my life for a very long time.  It was written by a Theodore Tilton. Happy (belated) 79th Birthday, Dad!

Once in Persia reigned a king, who upon his signet ring Graved a maxim true and wise, Which if held before the eyes, Gave him counsel at a glance, Fit for every change and chance.  Solemn words, and these are they:  "Even this shall pass away".

Trains of camels through the sand Brought him gems from Samarcand; Fleets of galleys through the seas, Brought him pearls to match with these.  But he counted not his gain Treasures of the mine or main; "What is wealth?" the king would say; "Even this shall pass away".

In the revels of his court At the zenith of his sport, When the palms of all his guests Burned with clapping at his jests; He amid his figs and wine, Cried, "Oh, loving friends of mine!  Pleasure comes but not to stay; Even this shall pass away."

Fighting on a furious field, Once a javelin pierced his shield;  Soldiers with a loud lament Bore him bleeding to his tent; Groaning from his tortured side, "Pain is hard to bear," he cried,  "But with patience, day by day, -- Even this shall pass away."

Towering in the public square, Twenty cubits in the air, Rose his statue, carved in stone, Then the king, disguised, unknown, Stood before his sculptured name.  Musing meekly, "What is fame?  Fame is but a slow decay.  Even this shall pass away."

Struck with palsy, sere and old, Waiting at the gates of gold, Said he with his dying breath, "Life is done, but what is death?"  Then, in answer to the king, Fell a sunbeam on his ring, Showing by a heavenly way, "Even this shall pass away."

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

If These Walls Could Talk

We have walls!!  The "George Team" put up the sheetrock yesterday (very quickly, I might add) and today they are putting up the joint compound.  They will do three coats of mud, over the next few days, then sand.  After that we just need to wait for the window and door to arrive.  The floor guy is coming this afternoon to see how much patching he'll have to do.  Of course, there's the gap where the knee wall used to be, and the place where the pantry used to be.  When the floor is done, it's just a matter of waiting for the cabinets.  I bought the sink the other day, and need to go pay for my granite slab.  Tile backsplash is the very last thing to think about, but I already have some ideas.

 I'm learning so much about home building and remodeling, just watching them at work.  It's amazing how all the details seem to fall into place.

We had a successful shopping trip to get dress shoes, belts, socks, etc. for the big "Dress Uniform Day" today.  Now that Quentin's in high school he has to wear a blazer and a tie, and looks very handsome!  Rats, should have taken pictures but I was in a sleep deprived state this morning.  David got in from Minnesota after 11, and of course it took him a couple of hours to wind down.  He's been gone since last Thursday, so it's good to have him home!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Let There Be Lights!

We have cannister lights!  The wiring is almost complete!  We still have no sheetrock!  By the end of the week, we should have it!  In the meantime, we seemed to have settled into a routine.  I've learned to cook around the mess, and put up more shelves in the dining room to make more room.  The dust is there, but my lungs seem to have gotten used to it.  I'm posting some more pictures of the great crew who is taking care of us.

In the meantime, we have Colin's open house today ... will he really be a junior in high school?  Melanie is all set to go to the Bright Beginnings Preschool on Sept. 5.  She'll go from 7:30 - 1:45 every day.  On Sept. 12 she'll have her nasal endoscopy (what fun!) and I suppose after that Dr. Matthews will let us know what (if any) surgery will be needed to get her that closure.  Her speech is still not really clear, although now & then she'll say something clear as a bell (like "LET GO!" or "STOP IT!")  I know she knows all the words, she is quite fluent in English, that's not a problem.  It's all mechanics from this point.  Bless her heart.

The other three seem to have settled into their school routine; except that Christian announced last night (Sunday!) at 8:30 that he had some homework to do.  ARKGHGH!!!!  Oh well, he got it done in 30 minutes.  He seems really happy to go to school, as does Lisa.  Quentin is slogging through Homer's "The Odyssey".  I have to say I never read that in all my years of education, although I did once have to read "The Brothers Karamazov" over Christmas break.  What agony that was!  For my part, I have just finised "Flags of My Fathers" about the Iwo Jima folks.  It was so good, now David is reading it.  I came across a book called "Waltzing With a Dictator" about the US foreign policy during the Marcos regime in the Philippines.  It's somewhat dated, written in 1987, before the bases were shut down, but it's a fascinating read for someone who lived her tender teenage years there (me).  Amazing to know all the stuff that was going on.  Lots of discussion about Ambassador Sullivan, who lived down the street from us, literally, and who went to our church.  I'm such a history geek ... I really, really need to go back to school.  Hello UNCC?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Mess to the Nth Degree

Well, the fun has started!  The contractor started demolishing our kitchen on Monday.  After two days I'm ready to call it quits!  But I suppose it's a little like being in labor; once you get started, there's no going back.  I guess I'll just have to get used to the taste of sheetrock dust in the back of my throat, and the feeling of it on the bottoms of my feet.  The rest of the house is covered with dust; should I dust every day?  Or is that a losing battle?  Ack ack ack. 

On the positive side, the men who are doing the work are such nice folks.  Very pleasant and dedicated -- it's a man and his three sons ... a really nice family, all around.

They are doing the "prep" work ... sheetrocking, running electrical lines, plumbing, etc. (since we are moving the refrigerator from one spot to another, and the dishwasher will move too).   When they're done, the floor guys will come and patch the wood floor (we pulled up a knee wall and the island, so there are some gaps) and refinish it.  That will require a three day vacation of the house.  The cabinets are scheduled for mid to late September, so we'll be camping out for a while.

<sigh>

I keep telling myself that it will be beautiful when they're done, this is only temporary.  And then I remind myself of the folks who are living in FEMA trailers at a FEMA camp ... for a year now.  And how about the people in Iraq?  A little sheetrock dust is nothing compared to sand.  I'm so spoiled.

Monday, August 7, 2006

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Well, Melanie has joined the club of little kids who, at or around the age of four, decide they have had enough of their present hairstyle, and take a pair of scissors to their tresses.  Quentin did the same thing at age four, on the very day we were scheduled to have our family portrait taken for the church directory.  At least for him it was only his bangs.  Melanie, on the other hand, did a fine job of chopping one entire side of her head to scalp length.  I couldn't decide whether to laugh, cry or take pictures. 

In the Baby Houses, they keep all the little kids' hair very short; many of the boys are buzzed cleanly bald.  The little girls at least have a little hair.  When Melanie came to us, her hair was shorter than a bob (see Oct. 2004 archives for photos!)  In the past 18 months or so, Melanie has finally had hair long enough to put into ponytails ... and such beautiful hair she has too!  Shiny and black and soft.

After a trip to the Hair Cuttery this morning, we are back to Baby House short.  I will have to go heavy on the pink dresses and pink bows to make sure that her "girlness" is still there.

Oh well, it's only hair.  It will grow back.  And I can still run my fingers through Lisa's long beautiful hair!

Friday, August 4, 2006

Doldrums

I absolutely hate it when bloggers (or journalers, whatever I'm called) don't add entries for day upon day.  The main reason I haven't posted is that most people aren't particularly interested in my forays to Staples to buy school supplies, or taking kids to get haircuts, or to the uniform shop.  Blah blah blah.  But that pretty much sums up the past week or so.  Oh, okay, Quentin did get his braces off yesterday, and got his mop-top ... er, hair cut yesterday, and he looks like a completely different person.  Talk about extreme makeover.  I love his haircut, but it's still a little long, I'm hoping that the school (which is very ticky about hair length) will accept it, cause I don't want to take him for another cut and listen to him gripe about it.  That's what you get when you go to a private school.  I keep telling him he can go to Colin's school (public .. free) and he can grow his hair down to his waist if he so chooses.  But no, he's very happy at Southlake, and will probably be there for the duration (unless David decides he's had it with corporate life and quits his job to live on a commune and grow tomatoes.  Which is probably as likely as monkeys flying out of the proverbial ... well, you know ... this is a family blog after all!)

It's going to be ugly next week.  Southlake starts back on Wednesday.  The days of sleeping until noon (or later, in Quentin's case) are soon to be over, and it won't be pretty re-setting their body clocks.  Quentin still has to read and write about a C.S. Lewis book, and write about "The Chosen" by Chaim Potok.  (I love saying his name out loud!)  Christian has to finish "The Trumpet of the Swan" ... so we've been lying on my big bed reading together.  I've been reading "Flags of Our Fathers" by James Bradley.  I couldn't put the darn book down ... it's about the battle of Iwo Jima, the famous "photograph" of the flag raising, and the post-war lives of the men who were in the photo.  (Soon to be a major motion picture with Ryan Philippe ... coming October 20 and supposedly better than Saving Private Ryan!)  I know, I'm a geek.  I don't like fiction at all, and for some reason I'm fascinated with WWII (how many girls do you know are interested in THAT?)  I also read "Flyboys" by the same author.  George Bush the First was there, and narrowly escaped becoming a Japanese POW (which pretty much meant death ... the death rate of US soldiers in Japanese camps was 37% whereas in Europe it was more like 1%).  Didn't know that.  Then I picked up "The Greatest Generation" by Tom Brokaw, but sorry, I don't like the way Tom writes.  He should stick to broadcasting. 

Having lived in the Philippines, of course, I was interested in reading about the battles there.  Corregidor, Bataan ... places that I lived very near to (or is it "near to which I once lived" ... never end a sentence with a preposition, right mom?)  For some reason my mom and dad never took me around to these places while we were there ... probably because my dad was away on business, and my mom was so miserable being in Manila (she HATED it) that she didn't care to take me on field trips.  Manila was her least favorite overseas post ... unlike Tokyo and Brussels, I think she just doesn't like being hot.  Ironic, since I loved Manila ... as it was the prime of my life (high school) up to that point and it was enchanting to live there.  Dad did have something to do with building a refinery on the Bataan peninsula, but that's as close as I got to an actual battlefield in the Philippines.  Okay, there was the American cemetery at Fort Bonifacio (is that right?  Twenty some-odd years of time and cobwebs may have messed up my memory), with the acres and acres of white crosses.  Our house wasn't far from there, and we drove through it from time to time.  But I don't think we ever got out to look closely at the names on the tombstones.

So I didn't think I had anything to write about. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Chicago is Wicked

Yes, we actually went to see Wicked Friday night in Chicago.  I am not really a big fan of plays ... I went to see "Phantom" once and my friends had built it up into this huge, life changing event, but when the last curtain fell, I was like, "Wha?  That's it?"  But, lemme tell you, "Wicked" was, like, totally awesome.  The sets were stunning eye candy, the singing phenomenal, the story hilarious ("But there's a goat on the lam!" was my favorite line).  I can't wait until they put Wicked on the road and they come to Charlotte.  It was just too ... too ... well, really good.

I actually made it to Chicago without incident (our reunions are usually fraught with missed flights, bad weather, etc.  Need I remind myself of the time returning from Minneapolis I had to sleep, literally, on the floor of the Detroit airport?)  I found two of our group of 7 and we cabbed it to the condo.  We walked to the Jewel (grocery store) and stocked up on noshes and wine.  Ordered in Chinese for dinner as we waited for the last of our group to arrive (Pattie).  We stayed up too late talking and reading magazines ... perfect!  The next day we spent at MiSpa on Michigan avenue -- very nice, but very slow.  They were so late in serving us our lunches that we were about to eat the sea shell scrub they were using on our feet.  But I have beautiful red toenails to show for it.  We dolled ourselves up that night for a nice dinner at an Italian restaurant that was decorated like Captain Nemo's ship, very trippy!  We then sprinted for the Ford Oriental Theater (it was a little farther away from the restaurant than we thought).  We found our seats, and almost immediately the lights went down. 

The next morning we got up around noon (isn't that what girls' weekends are all about?) and headed to the Navy Pier.  UGH ... don't go there.  Really, don't.  Avoid it at all costs.  Can you say MILLIONS of people?  Okay, the only redeeming thing about it was sitting on the end of the pier (with the millions of people behind us) and watching the boats go by on Lake Michigan.  It was a beautiful day, not too hot, cool breezes, sunshine.  And for a moment you could forget the teeming hordes of humanity.  We made our way up to the Magnificent Mile and did some shopping. Then as the sun went down, we went to the Hancock Building observatory.  Beautiful views of the city, but a little tricky for yours truly, who has a terrible fear of heights.  Let's just say I spent the whole time with my body plastered against the inner wall of the building.

The next day we spent browsing in all the little shops and boutiques in Bucktown ... very bohemian, hippy type area.  That night we had dinner at the Chicago Firehouse.  Excellent food.  What would a girls' weekend be, of course, without someone getting sick .. we lost two of our ladies to a stomach scourge. 

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end.  Tara and I slipped out of the condo before 7 Monday morning and schlepped our stuff to the train for the airport.  She was going to O'Hare and I to Midway, so we hopped on our respective lines.  Unfortunately, I got on the wrong train -- Green instead of Orange.  Luckily I realized it after only one stop, so I just hopped off and got on the train going the other way.  No time was lot, thank goodness.  I thought it was going to be the usual transportation disaster.  I was home by noon to some children who were really glad to have their mom back.  I have been gone entirely too much this summer, and now I'm ready to put my mom hat back on.  School for three of them starts August 9th (ACK!) so we have to do some speed reading of our required summer books.  Uniform shopping ... school supplies ...  

MyCamera had died in Kazakhstan, so I'm relying on my girls to loan me their pictures.  Stay tuned! 

Chilling in Chicago

Forgive me, oh BLOG GODS* for stealing this picture from another blogging mom who also spent last week in Chicago.  This picture has meaning especially for my group of friends because Debi's** husband actually works for Target (pharmacy) and we all would have been falling to the ground dying of laughter if we had actually seen this sign.  We joked about Target all weekend, because like any lawyer or doctor at a party (Doc, I have this pain right here ...) Debi and her husband always get people complaining to them about things that happened to them at Target, as if they OWNED the darn place!  We always get chastised by Debi for shopping at some *other* store (which shall remain nameless, but which starts with the letters W&M)  Looking out the 24th floor of our condominium (*mom hates it when we say "condo") we could see Chicago's newest state of the art Target store.  But no ... we didn't actually shop at Target while in Chicago. 

* Okay, apparently there is a huge book of Blog etiquette that I haven't been privy to, and please, please forgive me if I've broken one of its laws by posting this picture.  I mean, it's a public blog and there are no children in the picture whose privacy I have invaded.  It's just too funny and apropos of the weekend I just had.

**Not my sister Debi, although they spell their names the same way.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Melanie's Birthday Party

Some pictures of Melanie's birthday party today.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Summer Sensational Stress

Last week I did nothing.  No.  Thing.  I was an absolute jellyfish.  The laundry piled up, I caught up on my sleep, the kids ate peanut butter.  It was glorious.  This week I have been slapped with teaching Vacation Bible School (which in and of itself is a lot of fun) and preparing for my trip to Chicago this Thursday (what another trip?  What the --?) speech, sleepovers.  Blah blah blah.  Oh, and did I mention Melanie's birthday is today (HAPPY BIRTHDAY MELANIE!) and planning a party for Wednesday afternoon?  ACK!  Oh well, if you want to play you have to pay the fiddler, (or whatever).

While we were in Destin, we were invited by a business associate of David's to go on a cocktail cruise on their 56 foot cabin cruiser, along with all his family and children.  It was a lovely sunset cruise and the kids were all over the boat.  I won't go into the fact that this is NOT an every day occurence for us, and we were quite like country rubes coming to the big city for the first time (gosh dang, Jethro!  Look at that BOAT!)  We tried to be suave about it and not gush too much.  Let's just say that this man's brother will probably be the next governor of Alabama.  Nuff said.  They are really, really nice people though, and were so nice to send us this picture.  Guess Melanie still believes that taking a person's photograph will steal her soul. 

Did I mention that it is HOT here?  I suppose it's hot all over the place.  But thank goodness we have air conditioning.  Oh, is that a fever I feel coming on?

 

 

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Trip to Kaz., Part 6

SCROLL DOWN TO PART 1 TO READ ENTRIES IN ORDER!

 

On Wednesday, after saying good-bye to our trusty team, now our good friends for life, Debi and I, with Jim, set out driving to Kokshetau.  Jim and his wife, Cindy, had adopted two babies from the maternity hospital there, and wanted to meet with Natalia, the chief doctor, and tour the hospital.  Friends of David’s and mine were there adopting twin girls, so I invited myself to go along with Jim.  It was a 2 hour drive to Kokshetau from Petro … in a nice van, but a really nasty driver who yelled at me for slamming the door too hard, and for letting a suitcase lean against the window.  I was afraid to touch anything!!  Luckily in Kokshetau we changed drivers.  After a very brief visit with Dave & Jeannie, our friends, we were off to the hospital.  Again, we were told to put on doctors’ coats for the tour … we saw some very tiny babies and older children, in the most grim of circumstances.  The hospital was more than adequate, I suppose, but dark and dingy.  I saw children as old as 8 or 9 lying on beds, no mothers to be seen anywhere.  It was quite depressing, but then I told myself this was all they knew …

 

We were handed off to another car for the 4 hour jaunt down the road to Astana.  The “frontier” of Kaz, as I call it, is just immense, and immense doesn’t seem to be adequate to describe its bigness.  Imagine about 10 Kansases lined up side by side … and you get an idea of how flat and infinite it seems.  Just grass … forever.  Occasionally a forest, but then back to more flat … grass, and maybe some crops growing here & there.  Lots of little reamshackle houses and a gas station popped up occasionally.  We got to experience a true Kaz. outhouse at a couple of the gas stations, but it couldn’t be helped.  Debi and I experienced more squatty potties on this trip … and have the strong thighs to show for it.  Having lived in Japan when we were younger, we fear no squatty potty but some of them were more horrendous than others.

 

The flight to Almaty was a true pleasure.  It was quite the polar opposite from the Yak 40 – a beautiful Boeing 737.  We even got a hot meal and coffee … no hard candy here!  Tired and bruised we fell into bed at the Almaty Hotel, our new abode for the next 36 hours or so.  Again, we found the air conditioner, but it was in the living room of our suite, and very little of the air managed to turn the corner into where the beds were.  I literally dragged my mattress into the living room and fell into a heap on the floor.  I didn’t care … I was cool.  My sweat glands were revolting in a big way  (and I mean the verb there, not the adjective.  Well, I hope so anyway).

 

Our last day was spent sightseeing in Almaty.  Our driver, Vitalik (who had been our driver in 2004) took us around from place to place … to buy an oriental rug, to the national museum, the Ramstore (to look at more amber) and finally Panfilov Park, where there is a behemoth of a war monument … I didn’t think Debi’s trip to Almaty would be complete with a visit to that.  It was sooo hot again, that by 3 in the afternoon, we collapsed back in our hotel room.  Aida came to meet us for dinner,and we were packed and ready to be picked up for the airport by 11 p.m.  Our flight left at 1:45, made a quick stop in Astana(who knew!!  We could have stayed there!) then we were off to Frankfurt.   We had to dash, OJ Simpson style, to the other end of the earth, er I mean, terminal to catch our flight to Munich.  In Munich (which by the way has a beautiful airport, as opposed to that abomination in Frankfurt) we grabbed some breakfast and were able to rest for a while.  The flight to Charlotte started out to be sardine city again, but a bunch of kids on a youth tour had been separated from each other, so we happily swapped with two girls who had bulk head seats.  We had hit the jackpot … our legs were free!!

 

And so, dear reader, I come to the end of my little travelogue.  It was a trip filled with aching muscles, sweat (did I mention the sweat??) and hard work, but every moment of it was enjoyable, thanks to a great group of people.  The smiles on the faces of the children as they played on their new playground were worth a million bucks … Debi can’t wait to go again next year …

 

 

 *** Post Script ... if anyone has been able to overcome their ADD and read the entire thing, thanks for following along.  We got home on Thursday, and left for a week in Florida on Saturday.  I am going through "coming back home" transition and am in somewhat of a fog.  I should be up & running shortly!

2005 Trip to Kaz., Part 5

I looked around hopefully for the hidden air conditioner in our new hotel.  It was hidden too well … I never found it.  Ha ha.  I did shell out a few tenge at a street market for a fan.  First night, when I put it together, there was a broken piece.  Second night:  I left it at the Baby House after taking it to the market for a replacement part.  Third night:  Finally used the fan.  Fourth night:  we left.  Sure got a lot of use out of that fan!  Actually sleeping with the windows open was okay, except for the kamikaze mosquitos that divebombed our ears all night.  How do they know where our ears are??

 

We had our work cut out for us at the Petro Baby House.  We weeded the entire play area and spread sand over the whole thing (twice!  The first sand wasn’t the right kind), and dug 36” holes for the swing set.  We had a power auger, which was fine and dandy for the first 6 inches.  Then we ran into sheets of rock and shale.  (I say ‘we’ collectively … meaning the men who actually operated the power auger).  Debi and I did tackle one hole with a long “breaker bar” which was a piece of rebar that weighed about 20 pounds, but when hoisted up and down helped break up the layers of rock.  Try doing this repeatedly for 4 hours straight (stopping from time to time to remove the bits of small rock from the hole) and see how YOUR arms feel afterwards!  No one could say we didn’t at least attempt to pull ourown weight!   And did I say that it rained off an on the whole time?  At least it wasn’t blazing hot; look at the bright side, I always say.

 

For three days in a row for lunch we hit the same shashlik guy (shashlik being Kazakh shishkebabs)  I do like shahslik, but after three days I had quite had my fill. 

 

By the time Debi’s suitcase was supposed to have appeared, no one seemed too disturbed by her wearing the same clothes three days in a row.  However SHE was a little perturbed and generally pissed off that no one seemed to care.  I took the bull by the horns and said very loudly that we NEEDED TO SEE ABOUT THE SUITCASE.  Kate rode with us out to the airport at the time the flight from Kokshetau was supposed to arrive, but we were about an hour early.  She need to get back to the baby house, so she left us sitting in the dingy gray concrete Soviet airport alone.  She did, however, arrange with a nice lady behind a counter to help us get a taxi back to the baby house.  When the plane landed we were praying every type of prayer we knew, from every religion known to man.  And it worked.  We whooped and hollered as the familiar black case with the lime green tags appeared in the doorway.  A quick change into fresh clothes for Debi, and we were back at the Baby House performing our duties.

 

One night after dinner we went strolling around Petro.  At one point we ended up in a park, supposedly to take a short cut back to our hotel.  We followed Jay like a bunch of  obedient scouts, until we ended up ankle deep in mud.  When my shoes came off every time I took a step, I lost it, laughing my head off.  I had to go find a quiet bush (ahem) with Debi standing guard.  When we emerged from the undergrowth, all the men were nowhere to be found.  It was getting dark, and strange Kazakh men were following us.  We had a few choice words to say about the fact that not only was chivalry dead, it was rotten and decomposing in its grave.  After finding our way back to the main drag, we ran into Jay, the ONLY man who came back to see what had happened to us.  He earned great big brownie points because of his rescue mission.

 

The opening day of the playground was quite an event.  The news media was there, with TV cameras and interviewing reporters.  Jay became a minor celebrity in the town, with people coming up to speak to him after they saw him on TV that night.  The children came out dressed in new clothes and played happily on the playground as we all watched.  All the hard work had been worth it … a thousand times over.  The BH director had a little “tea” for us … although I saw less tea and more vodka and champagne.  There were cakes and cookies and chocolates … and a lot of good will wafting around the room (though very little cool air).  We felt very loved and very satisfied at what we had accomplished.

 

We celebrated our last night in Petro at an authentic Russian restaurant.  There was a large party of about 20 folks at the other table.  They kept sending us bottles of vodka, and we would reciprocate.  Oh, and here's a bottle of cognac ... we sent them a bottle of pepper vodka.  And on and on it went.  We toasted them, they toasted us.  We danced ... the director of the orphanage where Serik had lived after the Baby House, Yuri, joined us for dinner.  He was a stereotypical Russian man, with heavy mustache and a twinkle in his eye.  I asked him to find my sister a nice Kazakh husband.  He replied, (all through Kate, of course) "I regret that I myself am already married; and unfortunately I was the last worthy man left in Kazakhstan!"  Yuri danced with Debi and me, and kissed our hands at the end like a perfect gentleman.  Debi stood up and told everyone what a magical, wonderful trip this had been.  I think I saw a little tear in her eye!