Thursday, December 24, 2015

Jingle Bells

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

First Rock Climbing Adventure

Elise and Clementine went into town and left us guys to have "boys day". We had no car and no plans, so after teaching them how to play Mastermind (as well as I could remember; the instructions were missing from the game), we headed down the street to the rec center, soccer ball in hand. 

We watched a youth ice hockey game until the climbing wall opened. Pete enthusiastically signed up and was soon on the wall.

And not to be outdone by his younger brother--though initially reticent--Sam eventually convinced me to walk back to the cashier and buy him a day pass, too. Good thing. He was a natural.

Pete looked on and cheered/heckled his brother.

"Hi, mom!"

And then Sam was done!

A Day at the Children's Museum

Don't worry! That last photo is not Pete and Sam rock-climbing (more on that in following posts!). They are miniature figurines from the model train exhibit.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Smalltown, U.S.A.

It hasn't been above forty degrees since we arrived in Cheney, Washington. This is no surprise and rather expected. The weather--as I understand it--is rather temperate this time of year. The kids have been wishing for snow, but--with the exception of brief flurries yesterday as I grilled chicken on the Weber--there has been no snow since we landed almost two weeks ago. We did see snowflakes the size of Lays potato chips as we went over Snoqualmie pass on the way to Seattle, but that has been it...much to the children's disappointment.

The weather is still cold for all of us, and the kids are at the age where they just simply need to run free. Being cooped up in the house--regardless of how warm and cozy it is--will drive everyone crazy...especially the adults. So it was imperative that the kids get outside ASAP. 

When we got back from Seattle, Elise had two photo sessions she had to edit. While she was working I marched the kids down the hill to the playground at the city park, despite the clouds and cold. The park is next door to the elementary school, and we watched as classes let out, the kids were dismissed. Buses came and went. We talked about the boys' new school in Fall Church or DC, wherever we should land, and I think it helps for them to see an American elementary school to give them some visiu point of reference. At least maybe now they will have some idea of what their immediate future holds. Elise and I have been trying to inspire home to keep up with their lessons, but with so little structure in our lives right now, it has been almost impossible for us to get them to concentrate on reading or arithmetic, much less science or social studies. Today, I explained to them the difference between professional and collegiate sports. Call it a civics lesson. 

In addition to talking about the upcoming Star Wars movie--which is ubiquitous not only in popular culture, but also as a topic of conversation when Sam, Peter, and Clementine go on walks like these (They have only seen the original Star Wars movie, but are enthralled (along with the rest of America) by the Star Wars mythos. I'm disappointed the new movie is rated PG-13, and that we will have to wait until at least the next installment before We can enjoy the excitement of going to see the new movie in the theater.)--we talked about what it meant to be a safety patrol, where our new house might be and how they might get to and from school. 

Sam said he liked Cheney. I like Cheney, too. For a brief moment I contemplated the simplicity of smalltown life, how much less hectic and stressful our lives might be if we weren't constantly moving from one country to the next, wondering what to pack in our sea freight versus out air shipment, not having to worry about where to stay for two months while we are in between assignments. In truth, I would be lying if I said I was envious of smalltown life. It is interesting to me as a direct point of comparison, the exact opposite of our own existence. That those who live in Smalltown, America, never leaving the same small town and living their entire life in one place, must be equally baffled how someone could constantly move, be in motion, never truly settled. Sometimes, I imagine what it would be like if our train derailed, if we came off the tracks in Cheney and had to stay, had to find a job and enroll the kids in school. What would our lives be like? Could we find contentment? Could I be happy just tuning to the end of Bet Rd everyday, the same seven miles, over and over, the same rolling hills, as beautiful as they are, regardless of the season, knowing every step, every incline, of even hill. A nondescript patch of mud to anyone else would always be the same four mile mark, or six. 

It gets me to thinking of places as a generality. Why do certain places or small towns even exist? What keeps people there? What do people do for work in Cheney? Why is there a Medical Lake, Airway Heights, or Post Falls? I'm sure my father-in-law, a geography professor specializing in the Pacific Northwest would have a good reason each of those places existed, i.e. they were old railroad stops or trading posts. They're located at the confluence of two fur trading routes, but how do they persist, survive. I am even more impressed by the fact that places like Des Moines, IA and Omaha, NE have skylines, legitimate skyscrapers. Not small towns, I know, but how many accountants, roofers, dog walkers, florists can live in a place to sustain a viable economy? What do people do for work in Des Moines? Why is it there? (If you look it up on Wikipedia, the insurance industry is the, there...I answered my own question.)

Today, we had to get the kids out of the house again, so we walked down to the university with plans to play soccer in the field house. The students have all gone home for the holidays, and the town is deserted. The field house--though open--was vacant and dark. The lights in the gym were off, the indoor track locked. So we went back outside and played a three on two pick-up game of soccer. We ran the kids until Elise's ears started to ache from the cold, then we hiked back up the hill to the warmth of home. 

On a previous day, much similar to the one described above, we ended up at Zips for burgers, fries with tartar sauce, and marshmallow milkshakes. Without a home to call our own, stuck in limbo between our old home in Chennai and our new home at as yet to be determined location within the DC beltway, we find ourselves lingering in restaurants a little longer than normal as we are in no hurry to further impose on the kindness of our hosts. This state of being, as well as two years in India, may have aged me. I don't feel any older, but the woman who took our order didn't seem to agree. And so....this happened for the first time....

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Thoughts Underwater, Part Three

When not in the States, it's hard to think of the U.S. As having distinct cultural geographies. We all speak English. We all eat hamburgers and celebrate the 4th of July. This contrasts starkly with India which has something like twenty different languages and a striking division between the north of the country and south. The only real division I can think of is political. India has its political divides, too, and they are as divisive, but other than that America just sometimes seems like one strip shopping center after another from sea to shining sea.

Then, you land in Dallas.

I immediately appreciated the preponderance of cowboy hats. I loved that there were cowboy hats and country music everywhere even if it did seem completely preposterous on some level, because it was something uniquely American at a time when I am taking giant, purposeful gulps of all things American. As we were boarding our flight from Dallas to Portland, I even overheard a Hispanic man complimenting the young man behind him on his cowboy hat.

Though there was a sense of immediate calm upon arriving in Spokane, amidst the sense of safety and warmth, thoughts of our beloved Chennai permeated our thoughts for those first several days.

Chennai had been the victim of its heaviest monsoon rains in 100 hundred years. The entire city was beneath several feet of water. Many experts blame the economic boom and construction frenzy that made Chennai India's city for the current disaster. The international airport was closed for nearly a week, because all the runways were underwater. Our thoughts were not only with the friends and colleagues we had left behind but also with Sundar, Vasanthi, and Ms. Rita, our household staff that had taken such good care of us for the last two years. Their homes were flooded, all their material possessions washed away. 

It was hard to get information. Friends were marking themselves as "safe" on Facebook, when they had internet at all. Cell phone service was out across the city. We were getting sporadic updates via Facebook messages in the morning. Elise and I would compare notes as we poured the kids their morning bowls of breakfast cereal. "Did you hear from so-and-so?" "So-and-so said this, etc."

The rain persisted for several weeks before we heard the most crushing news of all. The wall to the CGR failed. Our house--the house we had moved out of only four short weeks ago--was filled with five feet of rushing water. Our house was vacant. Our neighbors' wasn't. They lost everything on the first floor. My boss's house next to the tennis courts was gone. My neighbor had to race from work in the middle of the day to rescue his family from the rising waters. He commandeered a mail truck and braved the standing water to reach his home. Photos on Facebook show him in waist-high water, carrying his youngest daughter from their home on his back. 

To say this hit a little too close to home is an understatement. Between Elise and I, there was a sense of survivor's guilt. Of course we are glad we missed the flood, but also wished we could have been there to help, though I can't imagine having to rescue my own children from rushing flood waters. One colleague described the flood waters as several feet "over sweet Clementine's head". There 's a thought to keep you lying awake at night.

Now, the rains have slowed but have yet to stop. There are even rumors of the sun showing its face. Photos on Facebook now are of heaps of garbage and not rats swimming through roads. Relief efforts are afoot. One inspiring photo showed traffic stopped for Muslims praying in the streets; the mosque has been washed away. And you can see how a country divided can be brought together in the face of adversity. Though I would never wish the same on our own country, it is sad to say what it needs is adversity to draw us together again--no, not a war, because it takes getting outside of the U.S. To see that we have so much more in common than we think and that regardless of whether we are from Dallas or NYC or Smalltown, Iowa, we are more alike than regional geographic stereotypes might allow. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Thoughts Underwater, Part Two

, Aunt Jackie was also kind enough to help us get the kids in tennis lessons. All the kids had picked up tennis with Coach Shiva and Coach Shrudan while in India. Being able to take group lessons at the North Palm Beach Country Club offered a rare continuity between life in Chenai and life in the States. We hope to continue lessons once we finally land in DC. Both Peter and Clementine took to Coach Marie's group lesson with an enthusiasm heretofore unseen in their previous lessons. With a shorter net, Peter was hitting nearly every ball over the net, and, according to Coach Marie, Clementine had a natural affinity for finding the sweet spot in her hit. If nothing else, the lessons provided some much needed structure amidst what was otherwise continuous chaos.

Toward the end of our stay in Florida, Elise had booked several family sessions and for a few afternoons in a row was having to work. The kids and I fell into the habit of heading down to the beach on these afternoons. We had no plans to swim or do anything other than wander up and down the sand, and we were able to spend a few very peaceful evenings as the sun set. Several hours on the beach went by much easier than if they had stayed stuffed in the condo. One would think that would go without saying, but sometimes the most obvious solutions are also the most elusive. The kids scattered in three different directions back at the rocks from which they were nearly washed out to sea on those first upside down days. Sam stood for hours on the rocks, staring out over the ocean, watching the waves crash against the rocks. Peter loitered nearby, peeking into the shallow pools carved into the rocks, and Clementine camped out on the dune, entertaining herself endlessly with an internal monologue the nature of which I could only begin to guess.

On our last night in Florida, we broke camp in the condo and--because we were leaving for the airport at 4 a.m.--stayed at my mom's. Elise had her final family portrait session, and I scurried the kids out of the house with promises of frozen yogurt so my mom could enjoy some much needed peace and quiet. We walked to the nearby strip center only to find that the frozen yogurt place had closed. It was nearly five and another of our favorite restaurants which just happened to be next door, Leftovers, had just opened. As former restaurant workers, Elise and I are easy to please yet pretty particular when it comes to eating out. Leftovers is one of those few restaurants where I would not change a thing (except maybe get rid of the TVs. I'm still not exactly sure why every restaurant in the States has to have a TV in it. I come from the school of thought that TV distracts from the ambiance, rather than contributes to it. I understand there are those evenings when a TV is Super Bowl Sunday or during the State of the Union those cases, a TV should be wheeled out on a cart). 

I brought the kids and sat them up at the bar. After much negotiation, we finally ordered a banana egg roll (with peanut butter and Nutella) and a slice of S'mores pie. I may have ordered a beer. But the lack of nap finally caught up to Clementine, and I spent most of the time there trying to keep her from crying because of the peanut butter. Best laid plans. 

As we were walking back to my mom's house, twilight hit--as it does in the winter--like a freight train, but as we came upon a group of neighborhood kids playing soccer, we felt ourselves drifting in their direction, thanks to Sam. Without hesitation (okay, maybe there was one quick backward glance), he insinuated himself into their game seamlessly. I am impressed and proud of his ability to quickly and confidently make new friends. But Pete does not yet have the same confidence. He wanted to play, but lacks Sam's natural deftness with a soccer ball and fearlessness. He's more shy and after two false starts, decided it wasn't his day to play. I was torn between advocating on his behalf, asking the kids if Pete, too, could join their game, and wanting him to forge his own path, weighing the merits of both courses of action on his future confidence. Doubtlessly, whatever I decided to do would not adversely affect him for the rest of his formative years, but I felt on some level that this was a step he needed to take for himself because it was something he was going to have to do many times moving forward, but if he did it and I helped him, would he even remember I was there if he recalled the incident?

In the end, he and Clem foot raced from tree to tree in the dark. It was Sam's day. Pete's will come. The next morning we would all rise at 4;00 a.m. to catch a flight to the Big D en route to the PNW. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Thoughts Underwater

So the reason this journal has been filled with so many angst-ridden posts of late is a little thing called "home leave". I clearly recognize most anyone would qualify me as completely insane for complaining about a mandatory, forced two month vacation. After we complete an overseas assignment, my work forces me to take twenty paid office days to "reacquaint" myself with American culture. 

I used to scoff at such a notion. The world is smaller than ever. With American fast food chains replicating across the globe like bunnies, Amazon Prime able to  fulfill our every whim, and the ability to speak face-to-face with family via Skype, I discounted the need for reassimilation into American society, but the past few weeks--as I have so unelequenty attempted to recount herein--have proven that even in this day and age of modern connectivity, when two cultur s are so very different as India and America, there are unforeseen challenges when moving from one to the other and visa-versa.

We spent the first four weeks in my dad's vacant oceanside condo in Jupiter, Florida, my hometown. We then flew to Cheney, Washington, Elise's hometown. As soon as I got off the plane, I felt a sense of ease that had been alluding me in Florida. In the car on the way back from the airport, I attempted to explain to Elise's father just how hard the last four weeks were. I know I keep rehashing it over and over here, but I do that when I am bothered by something that I cannot wholly explain. I keep going over in my mind what exactly went wrong in those first four weeks in Florida in hopes that by understanding how a so-carefully-constructed plan could go awry, I can avoid making those same mistakes the next time we are forced to take home leave. I explained to Dan that home leave this time around was a confluence of a lot of difficulties. Jet lag. Reverse culture shock. Moving from home. Leaving Chennai. A feeling of limbo, being stuck floating between a point of departure and a destination. The fear of worrying about unwell family and catching up on the lives of those whose lives we had thought had been put in a sort of suspended animation for two years only to find out that two years passed in Florida the same way it did in India. 

After only two days, I can safely say that the second half of home leave is already better than the first. Elise's home is warm and comforting. Everything our vacant condo wasn't. Not having to worry about what's going to be for dinner for the last two nights has alone reduced my personal stress level immensely. I feel lucky to only be responsible for sweet potato fries (even though I ruined them).

This is not to say the first half of home leave was a complete disaster. The unequivocal highlight of our trip to Florida was the side vacation to Orlando. My Aunt Jackie and Uncle Bill were generous enough to share their timeshare points with us so we could all stay together, and my mom picked up five tickets to Disney which we never could have afforded otherwise without taking out loan. The day at the Magic Kingdom was truly magical. The kids favorite ride were the race cars in Tomorrowland; they went three times. All held up all day without naps or breaking down. On two separate occasions, Peter and I peeled off from the main group so he and I could ride roller coasters. First the Seven Dwarfs Mine ride and then Splash Mountain. One of the greatest things about Petey is that he literally cannot control his excitement. When he gets excited about something (like a new Star Wars--Force Awakens trailer or Splash Mountain), you can see the enthusiasm coursing through his body like lightning. It starts in his smiles and in his heart and runs down the length of his four limbs as though he's been electrocuted. It's wonderful to see and it is impossible not to share that same excitement when you do.

After we got off Splash Mountain (only lightly sprinkled), Pete and I tried to catch up with the main group in Adventureland, but were stopped by the Mickey Mouse parade. He was on my shoulders and as the parade went by, I glanced up at him and could see him waving to the characters unprompted; it was a moment right out of a Disney commercial. Mission accomplished.

My mom, Jackie and Bill were even kind enough to watch the kids so Elise and I could go on a much needed date night. It had been only the second such date night since we left India. The first date night we went to our favorite restaurant in Jupiter, Coolinary Cafe. This time we went to one of our old standbys--though a chain restaurant--Bonefish Grill. As far as chain restaurants go, Bonefish is pretty top notch. We sat at the bar (Elise looked at me before we saddled up to the bar. Seeing the empty bar stools, she said to me, "Sometimes, we like to sit at that bat." What she meant was, Always, we like to sit at the bar. We took our time. Drank beer and wine. Had bread with pesto. Stone crab claws were in season, a special and unexpected treat. AND complimentary dessert when we told the bartender we were escaping our three small children.

Elise and I aren't the only ones feeling the affects of the move. Sam, too, left a lot of friends behind. And hasn't played over with anyone is age in weeks. It's wearing him down not to have his favorite outlet. He's been quick to anger and short with his brother and sister. It goes without saying that leaving the comforts of the only home they can remember is not easy either. The last week or so we were in Florida were rainy and incredibly windy. One of the best mornings we had there we drive down to Juno Beach so the kids could ride boogie boards and play in the surf (There are a lot of rocks along the beach on Jupiter Island). On the way back to the condo, we stopped at one of our favorite lunch spots, Dune Dog. But because it had been so windy, we couldn't head down to the beach, and the kids were getting cabin fever, so I took everyone down to the grassy lawn adjacent to the condo to play soccer. Unlike Eliae who was the captain of her high school soccer team, I can't play soccer, but I can run. So Peter and I took on Sam in a pick-up soccer game. Sam jumped out to an early lead, but--with the wind at our backs--Pete and I quickly caught up, then took the lead. We weren't outside long, but that afternoon was one of my favorite during that stretch of our trip.

Boat Ride

The Most Beautiful Woman on the Face of the Earth

During our recent trip to Florida, we were fortunate to spend two days with Elise's dad--Granddad to the kids--on his way to South Carolina to spend Thanksgiving with his mother. 

The morning of day one we decided to drive down to Lantana to have breakfast at a seaside cafe called Benny's on the Beach. We picked up Granddad in front of his hotel and got on 95 to make the short drive down to south Palm Beach. In the car, Dan brought us up to speed on Turbeville family news. Elise's brother, Dan, and his new bride, Janice, are playing newlywed in their new single family home in Everett, WA, and Dave is continuing to see a girl he's been dating for about six months from Florence. Not Florence, SC but Florence, Florence. She is a jewelry exporter and spends much of her time jet-setting between NY, Palm Beach, and Italy. As the story goes, Dave caught her eye as he was tending bar at the Hyatt where he used to work. She had been staying at the Hyatt on and off for three years, and when Dave broke off an engagement with his previous fiancĂ©e, Camilla wasted no time expressing her interest in him. 

Dave was initially uninterested. He had just gotten out of one long-term relationship and wasn't ready to start another. When his friend told him that Camilla was interested in him, Dave suggested that he should take her out. Or so the story goes. they say...the rest is history. Dave has been to Italy. Twice. And the two of them are getting along great. The yin to his yang, they are saying, and given the pictures I've seen posted to Facebook, I believe every word of it. Elise's parents had a chance to meet her on their last trip to visit Dave in Florida. In describing her, Dan said she was, "the most beautiful creature on the face of this Earth." Or something very close and equally flattering. He went on to elaborate that what she lacked in physical beauty she made up for in grace. 

At the time, I was too caught up in the narrative to argue. As everyone who knows Dan can attest, he is quite the orator. One would be hard-pressed to have as successful a career as he has had as a college professor if he couldn't hold an audience. But later on, I got to thinking. Hey....wait a sec...I know someone else who may also be able to hold down that title. I kick myself now for not saying anything then, but in the spirit of family peace, it may have been best that I held my tongue. But I just would like it in the public record that Elise--though not Italian--is also quite stunning. 

We have moved on from Florida and are now spending time with Elise's parents in Cheney, Washington, in the home where Elise grew up and went to high school. Photos of her in high school are scattered around the house. On a precious visit, I told her I would have had a crush on her in high school, too, and it is true. We will celebrate ten years of marriage next month, and I think this fact bodes well for our relationship as we grow older together. 

Maybe there is something in a father's brain that doesn't permit him to think of his own daughter as beautiful, as a father would not have romantic feelings for his own daughter. I haven't crossed that bridge with Clementine yet. She is still just "cute", though has a beautiful disposition (most days. When she is well-rested and well-fed). I know Dan does not mean to lessen the beauty of his own wife or daughter (In Diane's home office, there is a now-framed card from him detailing the forty ways in which she is beautiful that he gave to her as a gift on her fortieth birthday) in extolling the virtues of his daughters-in-law (Today, in describing Janice, he commented that he could not have found a better daughter-in-law if he had gone down to Colorado and handpicked her himself), and I know I take superlatives too literally. But I can imagine one day thinking of Clementine as the second most beautiful woman on the face of the Earth. I just hope Peter and Sam follow their uncles leads and find women (or men) whose beauty rivals their mother's and sister's (or mine).