Sunday, December 20, 2009

Before the fall

Prior to playing man-on-couch-with-leg-broken-in-two-places, Henry performed in his class Winter Play. The fifth grade did an incredibly creative play loosely based on the story of Persephone who is kidnapped by Hates to the Underworld. Henry played two parts - Helios and Underworld Gardner #2. They were incredibly creative and used both live action on the stage accompanied intermittently by videos that they had recorded earlier and then shown on a GIANT movie screen above the stage. This first clip is the introduction to all the gods. There's no sounds on this one since it was narrated by a live person on the stage. Still the creativity is amazing.

The second is a video of the Henster in his role as Helios. After Persephone is kidnapped by Hades (and his shadies), the other Gods turn to Helios to see if he knows what happened to her. Given that he is the Sun, they had his head realistically sized - e.g. about the size of a volkswagon beetle where this was played...

Helios speaks to Demeter from James Harding on Vimeo.

The last clip is the "Underworld TV" Field of Torment "commercial" that they showed in the middle of the play. The whole thing was incredibly creative AND Henry was on two legs when he did it. All good. All good....

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Blades of Glory

Just when you think you've got a "plan", just when you think you've got the "whole thing wired" something happens that puts a giant monkey wrench in your whole business. Damn that cosmos. Makes you want to write limericks - the red-haired-step-child of poetry...

There was a lithe boy, name of Henry
whose skating career ended in misery
Took one lap 'round the rink
and alas! Done did sink
then broke his leg on the slippery.

And for your viewing pleasure (as if my poetry prowess wasn't enough for you), a quick photo montage to mark the occasion of my first child with a "real" broken appendage. Technically, I was just due for it.

#1: H arrives by ambulance to UCSF Emergency Center

Disappointingly, there were no sirens during transport. What a rip. If you're going to pay $5000 for something,the least they could do was whooop it at least once. Cookie (the bear) was there waiting for him with Mom.

#2 Morphine Administered - Casting Complete

This is H stoned on morphine. I took notice of this particular look - flushed face, large pupils and logged it away for our journey through the teenage years.

I got to help put the cast on. Felt like I was an extra in Grey's Anatomy.

#3 Enthroned at home:

Happy camper? I think not. There are two kinds of people. 1 - people who nut up and grab the problem by the scruff of the neck and endure. 2 - people who sob and wail and shake their fists at fate (as well as anyone around them who gets in the way). Henry is in the second category. That face tells a thousand stories....

And to close - another limerick - cause I just can't help myself (and I am sleep deprived, cause you know who has to get up in the middle of the night again and help someone pee in a tupperware bowl...)

Henry's kin bemoaned his fate
his giant cast they would like to serrate
For eight weeks it will stay
while H hates each damn day
And blames his calamity on a skate.

(O.K. that's weak, I know...)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I'll do that NEXT

Past due for a blog update.

My big giant plan since Monday was to do that "next." Then I got a cold. Then Henry simultaneously imploded and exploded in to a giant fire ball of morning cantankerousness and I had to try to design a new method of grounding him that had parental disciplinary impact. Meanwhile, I had to finish our Christmas cards and send out the year-end fund raiser for Camtom - licking a grand total of seven trillion envelopes and making myself sick on glue. Henry had basketball practice, I supervised a couple of 7th graders and their homework. And,then, George the Elder came home on Monday evening with - GASP!! - the MAN COLD that made my full-on nasal congestion entirely inconsequential. I offered to make his funeral arrangements right on the spot, but he just moaned and headed off to bed. I spent Monday night sleeping on the couch since Mr. MAN COLD was so very near death and my nasal congestion would have impaired his ability to take one step away from Death's Door.

Tuesday morning I had carpool and then I had to run christmas errands (book store and pet supply store) and to - what fun!! - stand in line at both the UPS store and the post-office for 40 minutes each. Little time-suck chunks of joy. Then I had to car pool an Audi wagon full of HIGHLY excited 5th grades to and from the Brava Theater to rehearse for their Winter Play Twice. Get the boys to Kumon, buy candy canes for George the Younger's friends, go grocery shopping field calls from George the Elder who wants to know, "Where are you? What are you doing???"

Today, I caught up on ironing and laundry (o.k. I hadn't ironed for hmmmm - more than three weeks) Car pooled those 5th graders again who are getting more unmanageable in their excited-ness as show time approaches. Got H to cooking class, took George to his basketball game, picked up H from cooking and took him to the basketball game. Watched game, rushed home and finished the ironing. As luck would have it - Man Cold was feeling better and helped get the vittles on the table.

So, yes, I'm due for an update. I have some pictures of me getting all Martha Stewart with some peppermint candy and a powerdrill last Sunday - - and my plan is to get to that "next" tomorrow. Right after I finish the laundry, drive to the Theater with the 5th graders one more time, play bus to get both George and Henry to and from basketball practice, make a sign for the performance tomorrow night, rush over to the Brava Theater again at 6:30 in time to usher for the holiday play to see Henry play Helios and somewhere between 5:30 and 6:30 manage to feed both the performer and the brother who wants to go to the holiday play about as much as he wants to poke his own eyes out.

I guess we'll see about that update. OH!, and Shannon's birthday is tomorrow. I am officially the mother of a 29 year old. Impossible. But I will think about that "next."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Doing the Laundry

Question: What Napa Valley restaurant can feed 60 guests with two perfect brussels sprouts, one heavenly ripe tomato, 0.5 ounces of sushi grade tuna, a couple of sun chokes, charge what equates to your monthly mortgage payment and still leave each guest feeling like they had the best meal they've ever eaten?

Answer: The French Laundry

For the unaware, The French Laundry is not the name of a local high end dry cleaning establishment. It is a restaurant. A restaurant named for a laundry. I ponder if the name is a little tongue in cheek reference to the sensation that you have when paying the bill? Get it?? Taken to the cleaners? But if that's the inside joke, you can put me on the whitest-white cycle you can find and don't bother me until I've been triple rinsed. If you have the chance to go to this place - do not pass GO. Do not collect $200. Just. Say. Yes. It's that good. As a friend of mine used to say, "It's all that and a bag of chips too!" Except in this case, it's all that and some beautifully wrapped home-made short bread cookies to go.

Sometimes restaurants like this have a tendency to rest on their laurels. They get a lot of hype, they believe their own press and things get shoddy. Not the case here. It takes 3+ hours to get through the menu. 3+ hours of being wowed by each diminutive, flawlessly prepared course. 3+ hours to fervently pray that the 3+ hours were even longer - especially when you started out thinking that you were going to need a snickers bar when the culinary journey was over. I mean, how could you get full on a continuous stream of teensy little courses, no matter how loudly the angels sang as you took each bite? And yet, when the end comes and they hand you your to-go bag of those otherworldly squares of short-bread - the thought of taking another single bite of anything seems an impossibility.

(Note: Sure, I was exaggerating about the two perfect brussels sprouts. Mathematically speaking, it would be impossible to feed every diner with just two. But, assuming that each sprout has 10 good tiny leaves - and each exquisitely prepared "hand rolled parsnip anglotti" course requires 2 faultless leaves - that's five diners per sprout. Calculating that they seat around 60 per evening (as far as we could tell) and half would select this "side" of the menu - - they'd have to have at least 12 brussels sprouts total on hand- realizing that at least a full 1/2 of the miniature little sprout heads might contain less than ideal leaves. It's easy to see where those production costs add up - heh heh heh)

You can see the whole menu at Enjoy just looking at it and imagining having about two to four sumptuous bites of each thing as it is presented using stacks and stacks of impeccable white china which simultaneously make the delectable morsels look even smaller - yet more highly desirable. Awe-inspiring. I posit that this type of presentation also gives the dishwashers a hell of a workout every night. I counted the dishes below one of my courses. There were five. I get the main plate and the charger. What are the names for the other 3? It boggles the mind.

And my last observation about this particular culinary adventure? The Laundry is located in Yountville, CA. It's about 8 miles or so from Napa. The town's name is derived from the name of early pioneer George Calvert Yount. Yount was considered responsible for establishing the first vineyard in the Napa Valley. Presently, Yountville is home to not one, not two but three of Thomas Keller's restaurants. I know there are other restaurants NOT owned by Keller - but I think you have to really exert some energy to finding them. I'm starting to take odds on when the name will officially be changed to Kellerville. It has a ring to it, doesn't it? Their motto, "Kellerville: Where Foodies Come to Die."

Bottom line. Great meal. The perfect surprise by George the Elder for my 50th. He's a peach that way.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Officially Over It

Yup, the deed is done. Today I spent my whole first day in my fifth decade. I can report that I didn't experience any senior moments, any bouts of incontinence and I didn't even take my iron pill. Refreshing that it all didn't go to hell in a hand basket when the clock hit midnight.

I'm taking this moment to be commensurately reflective of my first five decades (which many of you know is NOT my strong point. Reflection is for people who dwell. I. do. not. dwell.). And by commensurately, I mean that I am going to do this on the fly while I type this. So here goes...
  • I have too many blessed memories to even begin to count them. I tried for just a moment to count them, I got confused and then couldn't remember what number I was on and had to keep starting over.
  • I've had the opportunity to so far live an amazing life doing legions of things that many might only wish for or dream of. Although if you are someone who is wishing for a life that is stable and sedentary and requires living in the same house or place for a long time - then you were not one wishing for my life!
  • When I fill out a "bucket list" there are only a few things I haven't experienced and in one case I didn't even know what it was and when I found out I realized that I didn't really ever want to see or hear a glacier calf (I thought it was an animal - turns out it's a chunk of ice which means you'd have to be damn cold for a large part of time in order to experience. Count me out.)
  • I've lost a few people that meant a great deal to me, but appreciate that I have not born an overabundance of sorrow. And speaking of lost, while "counting" my memories it astounded me to recognize that I have "lost" George the Younger three times in his short life. Once in a Pokemon store in Tokyo for about 15 minutes, second on the subway in Tokyo (although technically I was not the one to lose him - but he was lost nonetheless), and a third time last year while trick-or-treating (although he didn't realize he was lost - we were the only ones who thought so). Sorry for the tangent - thinking about "lost" took a wrong turn.
  • I have three beautiful children that allow me to see a love greater than anything could have imagined. They also allow me to realize that I love them even when I want to leave them on a street corner for an hour while I gather my wits and figure out how to be a better mother than the one who is channeling "The Scream" in living color. Wavy lines and all.
  • I have loved and been loved in return. I have also hated and been hated in return. But on the cosmic scale of balance, I'd like to believe that scale is leaning towards the "love" side.
  • I have had a successful career that I fell in to without planning or worrying or really wishing for. It happened by a little hard work combined with a large dose of good old fashioned luck. I had great bosses that taught me a lot. I had crappy bosses that taught me what I didn't want to be. I had a wonderful time.
  • I have been occasionally selfish and mean spirited and a generally not-so-nice person. I would like to think that I was unselfish, good-spirited and a generally nice person more often - but I have a few more years to make-up for that in the karma bank I think.
  • Many of my most celebrated memories are when I have made people laugh over the years. And of course when I have laughed at myself! I apologize broadly for those times in the past (and future) when my sense of humor wasn't as funny I thought it was going to be! I fully realize my uncanny ability to put both feet in my mouth AND continue talking. Call it a "gift?"
  • I have a family who loves me and whom I love deeply in return (even though I am not always the best at wearing my heart on my sleeve. I hope that they know I really do love them.)
So, here's to the next 50. I only wish that they were not to be accompanied by the requisite aging issues - but I guess the truth is that all those wrinkles and gray hair (Henry noted that my salt and pepper was significantly more salt these days) and the inability to gracefully get up off the floor after sitting there for a while are just signs that you have lived a life. And, so far - I'm smugly proud of having lived a GREAT one.

I guess reflection isn't so bad. For the most part it's like being wrapped in a big giant cosmic electric blanket set on toasty warm. Turns out it's all pretty damn good.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Turkey First

  • On Thursday morning (November 16th) my morning alarm clock quacked on at the normal hour of 6:50. It was quacking "Deck The Halls." I thought it was an anomaly. A joke. A little pre-thanksgiving ha ha ha.

  • Later in the morning I headed over the the local nursery, thinking it would be open at 8:00 a.m. - - but alas didn't open until 8:30. I stopped in the neighborhood McDonald's to grab a cuppa while I waited and while standing in line was assaulted with "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas!" What the heck? I realized that it wasn't a joke, or an anomaly. This was full on Christmas music assault.

To be clear, I like Christmas music. I probably like it more than the normal person. I spend the whole month of December swimming around in Christmas Music, happily immersed in all tunes festive. What I don't like is having Christmas tunes usurp other holidays. Like Thanksgiving. I want to be able to plan my turkey day humming "We Gather Together" and not "Little Drummer Boy."

I know that we're an impatient nation. We (or at least our marketing folks and merchandisers) are eager to have access to Halloween stuff in late August, Easter stuff in January and ,as I'm coming to realize, Christmas stuff all-frickin-year-long. Pretty soon they're just going to have to air Charlie Brown's The Great Pumpkin, The Thanksgiving Special AND the Christmas Special on the same damned day.

If the merchandisers get their way, we may just be able to skip right over Thanksgiving. It's kind of a marketing bust any way. Besides turkey farms, canned yam facilities and Libby's, most suppliers and retailers don't get a big bang out of selling the latest in cornucopia wear. Pumpkins purchased over Halloween are still out on porches - so it's a bit of a two-fer - not good for selling Thanksgiving stuff. The only good thing for retailers has been the traditional "Black Friday" where all manner of things go on "Super Sale!!!" and patrons and workers are killed and mutilated in the stampeding hordes that wish to save $5 on the latest Wii game.

Except I noticed this year, that to avoid the hordes, the stampeding AND the whole idea of "Black Friday" nearly all retailers are open on - - you know it's coming, don't you??? - THANKSGIVING DAY!! Hell, shove your turkey down your gullet and let's get the hell in to the car and head over to Old Navy. Scarves are on sale for $2.50~~ HURRY!!!!

Wrong. It's just wrong. Well, I gotta run to the grocery to shop for my Thanksgiving feast supplies. I will be humming "We Gather Together" as I do it. Any one want to join me?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bills and Medicine Chests

Where have I been lately? Good question. I've been kinda busy. Busy doing what? Well, I sure wish I knew. A whole lotta whatnot.

I've been catching up on Camtom stuff and getting ready for our end of the year giving drive. This is my first year on the board, so it's all new to me. We're putting together a nice holiday card that asks for help in funding for the school and the kids and the expansion of new schools. It's hard to find the right balance between out and out begging, cajoling and then making people realize that we do understand that in these tough financial times it's hard to find the money to give. We're pretty much done with the drafting, so now it's on to the mailing part of it. Hopefully, if you get one of these cards, you will consider donating (or just telling me the card that we made is very very nice!).

I've also become a master at sending out bills to our existing sponsors. It's a mostly manual process, but there's something satisfying about putting addresses and stamps on many envelopes and stuffing them and then finally getting them in the mail box. I am a simple person. Project started, project completed. I am happy. I am also pleased that I spelled most of the cambodian names correctly (I think)!

What's nice about this involvement with Camtom is that I am becoming more intimately involved in the daily operations of the group. I know who's running things, I know how they're being run. I know how much money is spent on the programs and I know how much money is spent on operations. The great thing is that almost nothing falls in to the later category. I gave them my own money before I joined and I was pleased with how things turned out. So, I feel pretty confident asking folks to do the same thing.

Beyond doing some stuff with Camtom, I dusted off my resume and applied for a real job the other day. Not too much to say about that, but that I'm considering dipping my toe back in to the "earn-some-damn-money" realm again. It's a low profile kind of opportunity, no big corporation, no egos of high level managers to deal with, but it is a job that allows me to use all those Operational skills that individually are tedious and relentless, but together make for an interesting profession. We'll see how it goes. I'd like to get it. And, I'm worried about getting back in to it.

And finally, I am still working on stuff for the house remodel. We are off until Spring, but there are plenty of things to do - - not the least is making a decision about flooring. One would think, the way George and I are stuck on this, that we were trying to decide what to put on the floor on the remodeled Louvre or something. Lava rock? Cement? Terazzo? Slate? The choices are endless. The decision is killing us.

We have finally decided on a kitchen counter top (another one that had us all tangled) and tile for two of the bathrooms. We have been amazed at the prices of some things that you just never really think about. A simple steel and glass medicine cabinet for $3000? And it doesn't even come with the illegal drugs that one would assume would be kept in a medicine cabinet that costs $3000. Drag. The least they could do is throw in some Valium to keep you calm while paying for the damn thing.

So, I'm billing and trying to raise money for one part of my life and I'm busy ear-marking things that I am going to spend money on for another part of my life. Luckily for those who trust Camtom to invest their money wisely, I am not a politician. If I were, it is likely that those two parts would have more in common than they do :)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pins and Tuners

Today I headed over to UCSF for my annual visit to the Multiple Sclerosis Research facility. Since this is only my second time, it's kind of an exaggeration to call it "annual" - but indeed, I went last year and I went this year again at the same time.

I am participating in a study about MS and genetics. Tis true that there are some family trees that produce more neurologically deficient apples than others. I am one of those bad apples. But, it also turns out that medical science likes to do research on said fruit and I am game for whatever I can do to try and figure out 1) what causes this bad johnny and, 2) what to do about it if you should happen to have to take a bite out of this rotten apple. I'm a joiner that way.

Today consisted of several hours of allowing myself to be prodded and poked and perplexed. Sounds like a sexual encounter, except in this case, the whole "feel good" part of it consists mainly of knowing you are doing good for science. Not exactly enough to want to make you call out God's name like you actually believe.

I gave 11 large vials of blood. I played a version of the triangle golf-tee game that used to be found on the counter tops of your road-side Stuckey's with both my right and left hands, and I was forced to do the ultra-frustrating "cognitive-math" test - which is enough to make you want to hunt down and garrote the guy whose voice is on the tape recorder spewing out numbers every 3 seconds.

The "test" goes like this. Bored sounding guy says random numbers every 3 seconds. You listen to the first two - say 3 and 7. You add them up and say 10. Then bored sounding guy says 2. You answer 9, which is the sum of the last two numbers that you heard. In other words, you have to add two numbers, forget what you just said and remember the last number that the guy said and add it to the next number that he said. Try it some time. This little gem of a test goes on for 5 excruciatingly long minutes. I'm not sure whether they are really trying to measure your cognitive ability or if they are surreptitiously attempting to find out at what point of frustration the average person with MS will reach over and whack the test administrator with the very tape recorder that is belching out digits.

After that, I headed down to China Basin to spend the better part of two hours inside the ultra-clinique-soap-dish called the MRI machine. After enrobing myself in the exquisite combo patterned scrub pants, back-tie gown and mismatched robe designed as one-size-fits-all (including, as far as I could tell, participants on the "World's Biggest Loser"), and before being inserted in to the tube of despair, I met with the test coordinator: Sweet-little-miss-I'm-26-and-just-graduated-from-liberal-arts-school-with-no-experience-in-neurology. Her job is to give me a little basic neuro test before I am strapped down on the slidey-thingy with another needle inserted in to my arm so that they can easily inject contrast dye in to my already sore arm, where someone earlier has already been siphoning off 11 tubes of blood, when the time is right. Thanks for that. But, I digress.

For the uninformed that have never been subjected to the standard neuro tests, they can easily be described as the modern day equivalent of determining whether you are a witch by dunking you in water. Yes, they are HIGHLY complex. You get to tap your fingers together as fast as you can, smile, stick your tongue out, blink rapidly, squeeze your eyes shut, walk heel to toe for several feet (note: when you are encased in hospital scrubs comprised of enough fabric to encircle the globe and the majority of that is pooling on the ground around your feet - this test can be even more challenging - or funnier to watch, depending on your vantage point), try to keep your balance with your feet together and your eyes shut (I fail that one every time), follow the doctors finger as it moves through space with only your eyes, then try to touch his finger and then your nose as he randomly moves his finger to different spacial positions, you have your reflexes checked, your strength measured by trying to resist having various limbs pushed and pulled in several directions and finally it's time to pull out the tuning fork and the pins.

Tuning forks and pins are used to determine whether you have feeling in various parts of your body. The coordinators whacks the fork on her hand and asked "can you hears this?" Yup. She whacks it again on her hand, places it on some part of your body (face, hands, feet) and then asks you to tell her when you can't feel the vibrations any more. Face = OK. Hands = Less, but still OK. Feet = Not OK. I can't feel it at all. So she whacks it harder. Still can't feel it. She whacks it even harder. Still can't feel it. She is starting to get pissed. It seemed that in her opinion, I was failing the test. She whacks it so hard that the thing makes a twanging barking sound (I think she broke it!) I finally gently explain that it doesn't matter how had she whacks it. I can't feel it. She seemed perplexed but moved on the the final test....the Pins.

Eyes closed you are supposed to tell her when she pokes you whether the stick is sharp (pointy side of pin) or dull (non-pointy side of pin). Talk about some fun party games! Face = OK (pointy) Hands = OK (mostly pointy). Feet = "I don't know. I can't tell". She pokes my feet some more. Harder this time. "I don't know, I can't tell". She then pokes even HARDER at which I point I interject with, "Could you stop ramming the pin in to my feet? I can't tell if it's dull or sharp. But, if you are going to continue to poke the sharp part in to my feet, there's going to be blood. I won't feel that dripping on to the floor either, but it's kind of annoying." I was reminded of the people who are trying to speak English to a non-English speaker and feel that if they just yelled louder they would be clear. I might have suggested that a hammer and nail would work if she wanted to take it to that level. A nail through my foot? Well, I would definitely tell that sharp end of that.

Suffice to say, that the exam was over and I had a couple of hours to nap in the MRI machine with my head securely strapped down. And, on a final note - what the heck is it with the need to scratch your nose or your eye brow or whatever when there's no way on earth that you can get it done? I have no feeling in my feet, but apparently, I have enough hyper-feeling in my nose so that I can create phantom itches without the ability to address them. Sheesh. Maybe next year, I will join a scientific research project that focuses on that. Perhaps they don't use pins for that one. Maybe you just get to put on the super-sized scrubs and they throw you in the hospital pool to see if you float?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Meals and Auspicious Ants

It's been some time since I said I was going to "catch-up" on some things we did while in Cambodia. I forgot that when the "mom" leaves for 10 days, it takes an equal amount of time to catch up on those 10 days when you return. Especially when the return is also impacted by a huge national holiday that requires costume making!

One of the grand things about traveling to SE Asia is the food. I have mentioned it before and will mention it again. I believe that just going there to eat for a few weeks without seeing any historic monuments, or water festivals or riding in tuk-tuks would not be a poor use of days. Yup. Just eating breakfast and then sitting around until lunch and then taking a nap before dinner. Heaven.

The ace thing about this last trip to Cambodia was not only that we got to eat some delectable and scrumptious vittles - but that two of those unbelievable delicious meals were served in the homes of local Cambodians. A treat beyond compare. Street food = wonderful. Restaurant food = wonderful. Home-cooking = phenomenal!!

We had lunch with an ex-neighbor (Thyda) of one of my traveling companions. She and her partner had lived there for 9 months in 2008 (I think). We were treated to a meal that had been made by Tyda's mother before she left for work that morning. In reality, I suspect that Thyda's mother worked on that meal for several days beforehand. It's humbling the amount of work that she put in to make us a truly fabulous feast. What's more bewildering is that all of this cooking is accomplished without the benefit of a range top. Or a stove. Or any of the modern conveniences that I couldn't make a cup-o-noodle without. From what I could tell, all of this is painstakingly accomplished using a single gas burner. Gobsmacked, eh?

I was also treated to a fresh coconut, complete with bendy-straw, to drink. At first, I was kind of panicked. Heretofore, I have always hated coconut milk directly from the coconut. Honestly, I tried my first and last one in 1996 in Saigon. It was blazing hot out and I kept seeing these coconut vendors with their fresh coconuts resting on large blocks of ice - leading me to believe that the inside milk would be cool, crisp and refreshing. Not. Coconuts resting on a bed of ice do not, in my experience, suck up any of the cold that is emanating from the block of ice. Instead of cold, crisp and refreshing - I got slimy, warm and thick saliva-like ooze. Thought I was going to puke on the street in front of the closest cyclo driver. Based on this, I wondered how I was going to get past not drinking the coconut and, in turn, insulting our host. As luck would have it - I took a tiny sip and - skies parted and angles sang - the innards were cold! Cold made it not so slimy. Not so slimy made it palatable. Palatable made me not rude. Thank goodness.

Where you see the table all set for us above, that space is usually where the family parks their pride and joy. A spotlessly clean sedan. (If I were a more observant person, or some one who actually knows any thing about cars, I would be able to tell you the make of the car. We saw the car parked in there on our first visit - when we were graciously invited for dinner a few days hence - but the only things I remember were that it was spotless, that it was in the "living room" and that it was beige). We were very honored to take our meal out in the main room. Especially since it is very difficult for the father to either drive it to work or to find another parking place for the car. A wonderful family to do so much for our little lunch.

My second home-cooked meal was at the family home of our Program Manager Sokeum "Ken". His wife is categorically one of the best cooks I have encountered. The whole meal was superb - end to end - - start to finish. The cook did not join us at the table. Neither did "Ken" or three of his four daughters. The oldest daughter was selected to eat with us. The rest of the family sat on a bench parallel to the table and watched us eat. They ate when we were finished - but not at the table. It seemed to give them immense pleasure watching us enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Earlier in the day, while we were driving through rice fields. My travel companion, and fellow board member for Camtom, idly mentioned in passing that one of the most exciting things to see at Ken's house was his ant hill. She mentioned that it was large and was worth seeing. I thought, "OK. An Ant Hill." Immediately after dinner, Elizabeth suggested that we all take a look at the ant hill. As it was already starting to get dark, I thought it make the most sense to see it then - since it would be impossible to see it well without light. But still I thought, "OK. An Ant Hill." Whatever.
Turns out, I should have been a little less skeptical of seeing the ant hill. Turns out I was kind of wrong about how special and unique this particular ant hill was going to be. As we followed "Ken" through the living room - we walked right past the front door. I thought we were going out a side door - but instead we walked right in to a room designed specifically for - you guessed it - - the INDOOR GINORMOUS ant hill.
Apparently, if you have an ant hill on your property it is VERY auspicious. It is such lucky fortune that if, say, an ant hill starts to erupt in your car port - this is not the time to grab your spray can of insecticide. Nope, this is the time to head out to the local "shrine-supply-store" and get some candles, plastic flowers and bowls for offerings of food. And, should you decide to build a larger residence - a residence that will usurp the space where the car port used to be - it makes perfect sense to have the house built around the propitious mound seething with live insects = now turned shrine. Best if it has it's own auspicious room so that nothing can get in the way of it bringing you good fortune.

I'm wondering if an ant farm - you know the kind you can buy from kids-do-science places - would also be auspicious? Maybe we should just forgo the laundry room we are planning and see if we can't convince some ants to start construction there. (Oh and in case you were curious - - yes - I did sneak a little poke of the finger to see how solid that thing was. Lucky for me it was pretty cement like - those ants have got some sticky spit to mix in with that dirt. It would have been very INauspicious for me to have knocked the whole things down!)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Tricks and Treats

Ah, the end of another Halloween season and this year comes complete with the change of daylight savings on the morning after. Cool beans.

Last night marked the high water point of amount of candy ever given out by the Wisniewski family. We managed to get through 2,000 pieces of candy! At the beginning of the night, we were being generous with a couple pieces per visitor, but near the end, we had to scale back when the "real crowds" starting coming. The door never closed and we ended up just setting up a chair in front of the door to feed the starving masses of ghosts and goblins.

Our little group of "hander-outers" was tough on the crowd. We required a resounding "trick-or-treat" before handing out the loot and we pretty much gave the kids without costumes a rough time. I'm of the ilk that it's a give and get situation. You give me something by showing up in a costume and you'll get the candy. Next year, I'm going to put up a sign that says "No costume, No candy, No exceptions!" We even had a couple of "solo" adults. No kidding. I'm talking older than 30 in full costume. What the? And, it must be said that if you are trick or treating with your child who is not yet able to walk and the hander-outer gives your child candy, this is not your invitation to then hold out your own bag for a treat. This happened more times than not. Hmmm?

So, on with the photos. First one's from before I left for Cambodia at the Punkin Patch. Rule was the same as last year: If you can pick it up, you can have it.

Next up are the boys last night. George the Younger went out with "the big kids" - all alone - but carrying a myriad of cell phones. As luck would have it, we neither had to call him or the police. It was a banner night since George the Younger made it home on his feet instead of in the back of an unmarked police car. (For back story, please refer to blog entry in Oct 2008 Halloween 911)

Henry also made it out with his fellow fifth graders. They were trailed at a respectable distance by George the Elder. Turns out that when you are "trailing" you also get to play sherpa for the evening. George the Elder came home holding a few masks and weapons that were impediments to the job of getting a boat-load of candy from the neighbors.

I would also like to give a shout out to George the Elder, who in the face of choosing between taking Henry door-to-door and watching Game 3 of the Series, was a real stand-up guy and went for father-hood-memory-moments. All that and the Phillies lost. I think George the Elder is wondering if he had stayed home and sent his mojo through the screen to the game that the results may have been different.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Home Again and Behind

Have so much more to post on trip to Cambodia which I will start doing tomorrow. We got "blogged" down in the hotel room at Le Royal and too frustrated by writing and having it go away. So, stopped.

Trip home was the usual 17 hours of bliss. *Sarcasm intended* But without incident. It was nice to have the cab pull up and see my own Khmer King Henry, and the Georges. With the exception of having to run the vacuum cleaning within about 30 minutes of arriving - the boys held down the fort with amazing aplomb.

So, I'm off to change time zones. Pictures and what not commence tomorrow!

Glad to be home, but already miss the hum of Phnom Penh. Do you think that starting a tuk-tuk brigade here would work???

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday Part II - New Hope Village

I FINALLY got a somewhat representative shot of the "bus" of folks traveling along the road from Phnom Penh to Kompong Speu today. It's not great, but I hope this helps with my inadequate description from the other day. Oddly, the rest of the road in this photo seems clear of other vehicles. This is NOT typical. Imagine this same shot, but add a few more motorbikes, a motorbike hauling a few pigs in pokes, a family of 4 riding like a pyramid on their moto (only the driver wearing a helmet, the rest bareheaded and the youngest toddlers standing on their mother's lap so that they can get a view of the street) as well as some trucks, regular bikes and a truck or two spewing diesel fuel with people sitting on the top. If you can imagine that you get the whole scene....

Sunday afternoon afforded us a little time to head about 15 minutes away from our school in KS over to the New Hope for Cambodian Children Village. I think it was supposed to have taken 15 minutes, but we got lost on some dirt roads, ran smack in to a dead-end with a pagoda and realized that we had taken a wrong turn. Our substitute driver (Program Manager Ken was sick today) kept calling sick-Ken to get directions. I wish I could explain it better - but remember that we are off the paved streets, we are back amongst the rice fields and farms. The road is single lane, hole pitted, dirt. There are no street signs, no road markers, nadda. Sub-driver had a "map", but for the life of me I don't know what he was using to determine where he was. The funniest thing was that he would not stop and ask any of the villagers for directions. Typical man. But indeed, we reversed our direction - took a "right" instead of a "left" and an arbitrary fork in the road and made it to New Hope. (Note: Yes, sub-driver had a cell phone. In fact, lots of Cambodians do. There is no electricity past about 500 yards from the main road, there is no water, no sewer, no other utilities, but there is cell phone reception. You can't see in the dark past 8:30 p.m., you have to go out to the woods to do your business, you need to haul up water from your well - but, hey! You can make a call on your cell phone while you are doing all that)

All I can say about this place is it is a veritable power-house of an NGO. In three years, a couple of ex-catholic missionaries (still catholic, but no longer missionaries) have managed to put together the largest HIV/AIDS village in Cambodia. They have an amazing paradigm. Bill Clinton supplies all the meds. They got funding to buy 21 acres. The built 8 pods of buildings. Each pod has several sleeping dorms connected to kitchens. They have enough pigs to supply all the methane gas they need. (Although I have to say that when we were touring one of the pig houses, they were cleaning out the pig-pooh to make the pig-pooh-water that creates the methane gas and I nearly puked as the shovel of pig-pooh passed too near my face - no farmer am I!) In addition, they raise something like 2000 chickens a cycle and sell them to KFC (while keeping the ones they need to eat). The kids are loved and hugged and it's like a giant family.

In a million years, this is not what Camtom is going to be doing - but it was one of the best "field trips" I have ever taken. They are awesome. Check out their website if you get a chance. This is an organization that is 100% HEART.

Sunday Part 1 - GIFTS!!!

Sunday here in Phnom Penh. We headed back out to KS Orphan Center for the visit that we planned specifically to bring gifts to the children. I think that the grinning face on the first photo pretty much summed the whole afternoon up...

This smile was a welcome relief after the day had started somewhat inauspiciously when I dropped my camera in the Russian Market. I think it is dead-kaput-gone-daddy-gone - but I am sure I can get the pictures off of it when I get home. But, like the title of my blog "why dwell" - there's nothing that can be done about it, so no crying over spilt cameras! I bummed a spare from my traveling companion and got some photos.

We once again stopped by our favorite fruit dealers in the Kompong Speu Town market and picked up a "branch o' bananas" to take with us along with about 80 baguettes!

Along with the "healthy stuff", we brought along all the gifts from the children's sponsors - those wonderfully generous folks who support each child for English lessons, computer lessons, and some other basic needs like rice and nanny support. We are eternally grateful, and as you can see - the children are too!

I got a shot of some of the boys in their "new" blue jeans. After lugging more than 240 pounds of stuff with us from the US - most of it gifts and blue jeans, it was rewarding to see them being immediately put to use. It does seem a bit odd to see them in jeans when the thermometer reads in the high 90's - but yesterday I saw a woman walking down the street in a winter coat. Why? Maybe she was chilly.

As I mentioned before, an old friend from HS of mine lovingly hand poured some lovely lollipops for all the kids.
And, BOY, were they a hit. The kids were initially very circumspect - I mean it is unlikely
that they have had a lollipop before, but once they took the first few tentative licks - all was right with the world. Interestingly, the lollipops were all poured in primary colors and in different shapes, so the kids had fun calling them out loud "THIS IS AN ORANGE OVAL!!"
as they were handed to each. Smiles, smiles and more smiles.

Finally, we gathered for a last group shot.
When I look at the picture I am reminded of the Sesame Street Song - "One of These Things is not like the other" - but we managed to squeeze in amidst the loud sucking noises and the gifts from sponsors and took our last kodak moments.

And then, we were driving away to our next stop - the New Hope Cambodian Children village just down the road. So sad to leave. So pleased to see that they are well taken care of, that their needs are being met and the the school is a success.

I said to our two teachers before we left that what Camtom built was just a building. It was just a building until they joined us, and, together as teachers, they made it a "school".

And, as a footnote - I am have LOADS of trouble getting photos uploaded and in the right place - - so my apologies!!