Wednesday, May 27, 2015

B-Wing

Ever since introducing them to Star Wars and having a screening of the original Star Wars (the kids call it "real life Star Wars" to differentiate it from the animated "Lego Star Wars" cartoons), Peter has been coveting a new Star Wars lego for some time now, a B-Wing star-fighter.

Peter is the star-fighter expert, and can with equal ease draw X-Wing, Y-Wing, B-Wing and probably several other letters of the alphabet-Wings

We (Peter, Sam, and I) also discovered that we have an enormous amount of lego bricks now from all the sets we have purchased. On the lego website, if your instructions get lost or damaged, you can re-print the instructions, which gave me the idea to--instead of buying new sets--to print the instructions to models we don't have and build them with the bricks we do already own.

Sam and Peter constructed Star Wars speeders in an afternoon using this technique, but the real test came when Peter and I tackled the B-Wing.

Believe it or not, the B-Wing lego in this photo below which a beaming and proud Peter is displaying was not bought from the Lego  Store for $150, but built from legos we already owned (on which we probably spent over $1,000 :)  and instructions printed off the internet.

It took several weeks to finish, and Peter did so today.

For me, it was a intertesting mechanical challenge to replicate all the moving pieces in the B-Wing using pieces we already owned, and some parts of the structure had to be re-engineered.

Anyway, Peter and I built 3/4 of the B-Wing together, and he brought it over the finish line all by himself perhaps rising to the biggest challenge of all...the "cockbin" (as he likes to call it)!




Friday, May 22, 2015

Getting Real


Ouch!

So far, this summer has been much cooler than last year thanks to a few unexpected May rains. April and May are usually the hottest months in Chennai. June rains bring cooler weather, and by August, the worst of the summer has passed.

But the early rains are gone, and the worst of the May heat descended upon us this week. We've lapsed into survival mode until the June and July rains do come. Fingers crossed they come soon.

This time last year, Elise and the kids were preparing to head back to Washington State to wait out the molten core of the summer in a land where summer is not characterized by a heat that makes one physically ill, but rather brings to mind days spent playing in sprinklers, eating watermelon, chasing fireflies and drinking cold beers on the back porch or front stoop.

This year, Elise and the kids are not heading back to the States, and we are all preparing--much as someone might prepare for an oncoming typhoon--to brave the worst of the heat. Lots of trips to the pool, ice creams, cool malls and movies.

Looks like Nanny headed home just in time!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Sneeze Rooster

I have not owned an alarm clock in seven years. 

Yet, I have never overslept, been late for a morning appointment or work, or missed an early morning run. 

I have three obvious reasons why that might be, named Sam, Peter, and Clementine. Peter has always, always, always been our earliest riser, and I can remember even now our time in Ballston clearly. Living in a small, two-bedroom corporate housing apartment, Peter would get up early--before the sun. He was tiny then. When we moved to Virginia, he was barely three months old, and we lived there until Peter was almost one-year old. He would wake, and I would go into his room and scoop him up out of his crib and usually carry him into the living room (though I also remember standing at the window in his room, too).

We had a view to what I think is the southwest, down Roosevelt Blvd., connecting Arlington to Falls Church. At the time, Falls Church was a foreign, far-off place, and we couldn't imagine that we would come to call it, too, home. At the time, it was a wooded place, shrouded in dark, shady trees, a place from which, that summer, dark storm clouds and thunder came. We had bad lightning storms that summer. 

I would hold Peter at the window in he and Sam's room, or at the sliding glass door in the living room, and we would both look out the window. We would stand like that for what seemed like hours and may very well have been hours, waiting for the sky to lighten, for the black to give way to indigo, wait for the sun to come up and the sky to turn blue. 

I whispered to him. We watched birds. I sang him songs in low voices, and we just stood like that every morning all summer and into the fall, waiting for mom and big brother to wake up. 

Peter still gets up first. 

Most days, I get up before him, quietly go downstairs to start the dishes left over from dinner the night before, make breakfast and Sam's school lunch. 

Some mornings, I emerge from our room and Peter is already on the couch in the TV room, waiting for me. Sometimes, I am not sure if he is awake or if he has fallen back to sleep on the couch. On those mornings, he will follow me downstairs, but whether he is already awake or still asleep, he will emerge in the kitchen only a short time after me, his frizzy hair sticking from the top of his hair like the feathers of a peacock's fanned tail. 

In Peter, we have our own rooster. But Peter doesn't crow or cock-a-doodle-do. As Nanny learned during her recent visit, our rooster sneezes. Once. Maybe twice. Every single morning. 

When Peter sneezes that's when you know he is awake, the day has started, and it is time to get up. One little ah-choo. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Charades

Recently, during Nanny's visit, we had a family game night of Charades, the kids' first. Each kid "coupled-up" (please forgive the Thomas the Tank Engine reference) with an adult who coached them in on their acting.

Sam and Elise were one team. Nanny and Pete another, and me and Clem the third. Pete, our actor (you really should see his impression of an old man), was a natural, but when it came to Clementine's first turn, she definitely--in my opinion anyway--stole the show.

Clementine spun the spinner and chose a card. On our card was the word 'refrigerator'. Clem came up to me smiling, and I whispered in her ear, "Pretend that you are getting something out of the refrigerator."

Clementine walked up to the impromptu "stage", still smiling, put her arms at her side and stood completely still.

No one could guess what she was.

After a minute or two, the boys gave up, and Clementine--having stayed completely still the whole time--finally burst, squealing, "I am a refrigerator!"

Best charades player ever.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Wild 'n' Woody Art

This is a photo of one of Pete's drawings from summer camp, a picture of him whale-watching:


I love the smile on the octopus' face.

We had family movie night last night and watched "How to Train Your Dragon", so stay tuned for a gallery of drawings of dragons. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Lessons in Mortality

When I was in Tamil language training before coming to India, I learned that Indians have a very interesting relationship with death and mortality. In the United States, though death is an every day occurence, as it is anywhere in the world, it does not seem to be a big part of our every day lives or occupy a big space in our conscious thoughts. Unless a loved one or someone close to us passes, which does not happen often, we do not think about death. Death is something that is far away and happens most often to people we don't know. Death is something that happens in foreign lands.

Contrarily, in India, death is much more in the fore, and--for reasons I will not begin to try to explain or understand--death is a bigger part of daily life, and death is not something that is to be feared or hidden, but is most often accompanied by a celebration of the life that was and less a mouring for the life that was lost.

This week at summer camp, Peter is learning about natural disasters. When I was in Tamil language training in Washington, we did a unit on disaster and accident vocabulary. Later in the course, we spent a week on terrorism vocabulary. During the natural disaster unit, we were shown videos of the 2004 tsunami that hit the east coast of India and Sri Lanka hard. We were subjected to repeated images of giant waves overturning buses and people being swept out to sea. I was made to watch videos of people clinging to the trunks of coconut palms, wailing for help, and trapped on the tops of houses, crying. During the week on terrorism, you can only imagine the videos we were made to watch.

At one point, I asked the instructor to stop, failing to see how watching videos of death and destruction was improving my comprehension of Tamil.

This is part of the reason I was so upset when I learned Peter may have been shown similar videos during his "Wild 'n' Woody" summer camp. They learned about volcanos, and Peter came home and drew no fewer than 12 pictures of volcanos erupting magnificently, lava spewing in various colors all over the paper. It was both awe-inspiring and more than a little frightening. Pete's study of volcanos was something that could either be seen in the MoMa or in the shuttered apartment of a crazy person.

When they learned about tsunamis, I received an email from the school saying they played a few games and learned a new Zumba move. Only later did I find out from Elise what they really did.

Elise asked Peter what he did at school. He replied that he watched a video. "What video did you watch?" she asked him.

"Tsunamis!"

When she asked him what he saw in the video he said he saw people crying and looking scared.

When she shared this with me over email, I was both incredulous and furious, because I knew exactly what he had seen.

I wasn't mad at the school, per se. Or with India. Though Peter isn't hold enough to connect what he saw to the larger concepts of death and mortality, I was mostly angry with myself for letting it happen at all. And not to say he does not feel deeply or is not empathetic, but of any of our kids he would be the least affected by what he saw, but as a parent, I feel strongly it is my responsibility (if not right) to decide when my child is introduced to the ideas of death and mortality.

Our kids have seen a lot in India, and we have had to explain some things to them we may not have had to explain to them if they lived in the U.S., but, in the end, they are still kids, just kids that live in India. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Birthday in Sri Lanka

Last week, Elise and I took the kids and my mom on a beach vacation to Unawatuna, Sri Lanka, a tiny, tourist, beach town three hours south of Colombo and a short ten minute tuk-tuk ride from the Dutch colonial town of Galle on Sri Lanka's southern shore.

We stayed at a private villa with its own pool, butler, and cook. We left Chennai in the morning. The flight to Colombo was short, but the experience was nothing less than luxurious on Sri Lankan Airlines, easily the kids' new favorite airline. As soon as they wiggles their tiny tizus into their seats and snapped their seat belts closed, the flight attendant brought them cups of apple juice, cookies, and coloring books. Though the flight was only going to be an hour, all the seats had TVs in the headrests, and the kids immediately plugged their headphones in and dived into cartoons. Lunch was shortly served after take-off.

Come to find out, the flight was the short part of the trip. After arriving in Colombo, we were greeted by our driver, Nihal, who was almost as friendly and accomodating as Sundar is. He guided us through the parking lot to an eight-seater Toyota van. Unfortunately, there were no seat belts for our three hour drive south to Unawatuna, but the real challenge was keeping everyone on their aforementioned tizus for the drive.

After passing through Colombo, we got on the highway south. Everything around us was green. We passed rice paddies and water buffalos, not an uncommon sight in Chennai, but watching them wade against the backdrop of rolling hills really made me feel like we were in a foriegn land.

When we arrived at the villa, a late lunch was waiting for us on the table set for six on the veranda, a tomato pasta and fresh fish. The kids love fish which would be a good thing on this trip.

We never got an early start on this trip which was a good thing. At 8:00 sharp, the chef would arrive to prepare for us a resort-worthy breakfast, combining Western eggs, toast and fruit for the kids, with more traditional Sri Lankan breakfast items which were fantastic. Before coming to Sri Lanka, I had assumed it would be a Little India or India "Lite" and was surprised to find Sri Lanka as culturally distinct as it was. It had obvious Indian influences, but it was also a unique combination of Indian and Asian. There were South Asian, Chinese and Buddhist influences in the architecture and food. The people shared the same kindness towards strangers that South Indians do, but many of the similarities ended there.

After breakfast on our first full day in Sri Lanka, we headed to the beach. Jungle Beach, to be specific. We took an auto from our villa up a small hill. The auto sputtered like the Little Engine that Could trying to get up the hill, and when it finally did, the road dipped, then undulated. Peter squealed like we were on a roller coaster. We pulled over along the side of a dense forest where our auto driver guided us down a steep trail to the secluded Jungle Beach.

The bottom of the trail opened up to a small cove with blue water and white sand. There was a small restaurant/cafe there, too, under a thatched roof. We weren't the only ones on the beach, and we would discover that Sri Lanka was a popular spot for Russian tourists. Everyone at Jungle Beach was Russian, and everyone at the resort in Hikkaduwa we would go to on the following day was also Russian.

We played in the ocean the better part of that day. I remember Sam yelling, "This is the best day ever!" even as thunder rumbled ominously in the distance. Dark clouds hovered on the horizon over the Indian Ocean, but stayed offshore which was fortunate, because had they decided to take the beach, we had no shelter and no way to keep Elise's camera dry.

Even Clementine got into the surf. She was fearless. The boys were still very wary of the ocean when they were her age, but perhaps seeing how carefree they were in the water helped free her of any inhibitions she may have harbored.

The day we went to Jungle Beach was a Tuesday and just also happened to be my 43rd birthday. Our cook made a magificent meal of grilled shrimp and calamari. Even Sam and Pete tried a calamari ring. Toward the end of dinner, Elise started whispering secret instructions to Sam, and he disappeared inside for a few minutes.

When he came back, Elise made me get up from the table on the veranda and walk around the villa. It was dark. In the grass, were candles flickering in the breeze. There was a chocolate cake on a table by the pool and flowers. That morning, at breakfast, Elise had given me the first of what would be a deluge of gifts. She said they were all things I needed, but I wasn't so sure about that, because the first was a pair of sunglasses which I really did need and which came in handy at Jungle Beach. The second was a new watch. Yes, my old watch was broken beyond repair, but I didn't ever think I needed a new one. I mean, my cell phone tells the time. It is a nice watch, and I am not wholly sure I deserve, but I am going to keep it anyway.

They sang me happy birthday, and we had cake. I felt loved, and there were even fireflies that came out, twinkling intermittently in the dark.

As mentioned, the next day we took a forty-five minute auto ride to a beach resort in Hikkaduwa where we had heard we could swim with sea turtles.

The boys immediately stripped to their swimsuits and waded into the surf. I watched from the beach as the boys, holding hands, splashed in the ankle-high surf, scanning the water for turtles. Elise and Nanny soon joined them, then Clementine and I went out. Sam put on his goggles and looked for turtles and we soon spotted several. Everyone was a little hesitant at first to get too close. Pete has for the longest time had, Dottie, his stuffed animal sea turtle and to see him eventually get close enough to touch one (while holding my hand) was like watching him reunite with his spirit animal (until the say he swims with blue whales. There is no doubt in my mind he will).

We purchased a day pass, and I had been specifically warned not to pay for the buffet lunch which I was told I would be suckered into doing. Well, unbeknownest to me when I checked into the hotel, I bought the buffet lunch. But--for us, anyway--this ended up being a good thing. The kids ate way more than they would have off the back of a lounge chair (more fried fish!) than they would have otherwise, and everyone needed a break from the sun...not to mention an ice cold Lion lager to help cool off. We swam in the pool afterward and, before we knew it, it was late afternoon already and time to head back to our villa.

On our last full day in Sri Lanka, we did a little sight-seeing in the nearby colonial town of Galle. Originally founded inside a colonial Dutch fort, the town was quaint with good shops. We toured the forts ramparts before stopping at Exotic Roots where Elise spied a totally awesome new dream-catcher made from feathers, seashells, and porcupine quills to catch our dreams. We escaped the heat by ducking into a cafe with no A/C. It wasn't as hot as it sounds. We feasted on french fries and milkshakes, and made no general swift movements to the exit. Rather, let the kids make puzzles and read childrens' books from a convenient stash in the restaurant.

That night, we searched out the best burgers in Unawatuna. When I told Pete that we were going out for burgers, he asked me, "What's a burger?"

Oh, India.

We sat at a table on the beach sands. As it grew darker, tiki torches were lit in both directions, and down the long stretch of beach, one could see tiki hut after tiki hut serving ice cold Lions and fried delicacies from the sea. The whole time, I couldn't help think about Elise's dad, lover of good tiki bars, because the beach at Unawatuna was like one giant long tiki bar.

We were visited by a kind, stray dog that slept in the sand next to my chair and one of the restaurant's owners, craddling a newborn, trying to get him to go back to sleep. They lived above the restaurant in one room, married to an American ex-pat, with two other children who would grow up on the beach, barefoot the whole time, no doubt, loping in and out of the waves whenever they wanted. The only other existence that could possibly be better than that is ours.