In praise of the humble cardboard box

Sometimes it’s a treasure chest.  Or a pirate ship.  Or a knight’s helmet. Or a television.  Or a shield.  Or a castle.  Or a bed for a stuffed toy.   With seven of us in the house, I try to buy most of our non-perishable groceries from the local wholesaler, from which a useful by-product is a regular supply of cardboard boxes.   Today’s little project was a  puppet theatre:-

There had to be two curtains, and they had to be red.    And to any of those professionals who have diagnosed short attention span, you miight be amazed at just how long he can concentrate on silly renditions of a frog and a duck singing “the grand old Duke of York”.   “Again… start the puppet show again…”

Imagine a UK city centre where you could take your kids out for icecream at midnight and not find yourself dodging drunk youths, or drunk middle aged wannabe youths.  Sunday night here was the first of a series of “peatonales”,  means pedestrian street.  For a few Sunday nights  every summer they shut the city centre to traffic and folk come out for a party.  It starts at 9 or 10 in the evening, when the temperature drops to the low thirties, and carries on into the wee small hours.  There’s live music to various tastes and ages, a bunch of craft stalls, folk selling food, street entertainers and all the centre eateries are open.  We went for icecream and a mooch, finished up playing in a plaza at one in the morning, and that’s where I found myself musing on what a nice atmosphere it was, and wondering if it would even be possible to do this in the UK without putting up signs warning people to beware of the vomit slicks.

We burnt the candle at both ends because monday morning we had to be at the munical medical facility before six in order to do the annual medical paperwork for school, sports clubs and scouts.  Doors open at six, by which time there were half a dozen families queuing in front of us and many more behind.  When the thing finally gets going I’m reminded of Adrian Plass’s phrase from another context, “explosion in a jumble sale”, with queues snaking in all directions, throngs of people milling around not sure which queue they’re supposed to be in, and at least half the people in any queue not sure what they’re queueing for.   The game is to collect signatures from a dentist and an optician, be weighed and measured by a nurse, update any outstanding vaccinations, and then take all the pieces of paper to a paedriatrician who completes the final checks and signs off the form.  Last year I managed to avoid the municipal dentist and optician by making those appointments privately.  That isn’t permitted this year, so we had to endure the whole package.  The municipal optician has a progressive motor disability.  It is great that they keep employing him where a more cut throat set up might have put him out to grass a decade ago.  However we are now at the point where he could really use a dynamic assistent.  His speech is hard to understand, and his body doesn’t allow for much gesticulation, so he makes a brief futile attempt to explain what he wants the kid to do, gives up and signs the form.  So if you actually want to know whether your child can see, you’re going to need to make that private appointment anyway.

Danny objected to being asked to help with setting the table, so I went into an explanation of how everyone is part of the family, and we all have to help with doing things for the family.    “I’m not going to be in the family any more”   He decided.   Not quite the intended reaction, so I went into another explanation of how not being in the family means going to live on his own and looking after himself and making his own food and washing his own clothes.  “So, where are you going to live?” I concluded.  “On the patio“.    “And what would you eat?”   “Carrots“.    Rubbit hutch out of a cardboard box for our next project?

 

First week of the holidays

I remember last summer in our house as a story of ongoing warfare.  This year, one week in is clearly too short to  call, but the first week at least has gone well.

Danny’s little riding group runs a summer scheme two mornings a week, which includes riding and other outdoor activities.  On Tuesday they made bread and cooked it on a fire.  The limitations of the law of averages can be demonstrated by child-cooked-campfire bread:- black outside and raw inside definitely does not average well cooked loaf.  But he was very happy.

He also finally conceded to learn to use a swing properly without bouncing off the ground on every stroke.

Joni decided to take an art class for the summer, having majored in sports during the rest of the year, so he has two afternoons a week at an art group.  He’s really happy with it, to the extent that he’s thinking about replacing a sport with art as an after school activity next year.   He is also working on his train track in the garage, he and I spent a creative morning mixing colours and experimenting with effects to make water.  I’m told the next job will be mountains out of polistyrene and papier-mache.

    

Teen has been taking exams at school which has probably helped with the warfare thing not to have everyone at home together all week.  The exams haven’t gone too well and she now won’t know till the next round in February whether she is going to be able to progress to the year above.

I went with some Scout leader colleagues to check out the site that we are planning on taking our group to for a week at the end of January.  It’s a small site, but nice looking, with woods and a river nearby, so plenty of scope for the programme.

Three mums don’t often get a chance for a whole day out without kids, so we had to make the most of the opportunity for a  bit of goofing around.

Then back home, we finally managed to get the pool up and running for the kids to take their first test dip yesterday evening.  Still needs topping up and chlorinating, and then hopefully a couple of hours of filtering a day will keep it operational till March.

I haven’t yet thought too hard about Christmas, which apparently is tomorrow.  But I did do the food shopping this morning.  Meanwhile today is Baby’s second birthday, (could be renamed No-longer-Baby) and the house is about to be overrun with rug-rats so I should go cook sausages and tips crisps into bowls.

Not multi-tasking

“The name´s Bad Kitty.  But you can call me Trouble”.  Announced Danny.  He´s more a ball of chaos than real trouble.  But I´d love to know which TV show he got that line from.

Sunday night the temperature dropped and Monday morning dawned a fresh cool 24 degrees or so, causing people to go to work wearing long sleeves.  From which we can deduce something about the sweaty state of the weekend.  Two days later we´re back up to silly degrees centigrade until next time it rains.

Definition of multi-tasking: avoiding doing two or more things at once.  It´s the last week of the school year.  We are all off the scale of tired, Joni voiced a communal moan on Tuesday afternoon; – “Why is this week taking so looooong?”  It´s hot (did I already mention that?), and my tasks for today include to update the blog in English and write a sermon in Spanish.  So what better plan than to attempt the two simultaneously?  Chance that either will make any progress any time soon?

Latest in the series of ridiculous meetings regarding Danny´s education yesterday.  I´m not sure if I dare hope it might be the last for the year.  The rhetoric was so impressively way out that I was left wondering if the authorities even believed themselves.  In a different environment distinguishing ethical failure from sheer incompetence might make an interesting discussion.  Meanwhile a kid´s education is at stake.  He himself is keen to change schools, which I think we can and should facilitate, and doesn´t have too many other opinions beyond hoping that I might buy him a horse for Christmas, which is about the only thing that we can definitely say isn´t going to happen.  I´m holding on to the thought that most people become relatively unscathed adults despite everything that happens in the middle.

The extended family chug through their ups and downs and ensure we´re never bored.   In the last few weeks we´ve been acquiring an extended-extended family, friends of our two girls, who hang out in front of our house of an evening.   There´s an unmet need for some sort of supported living project for teenage survivors of dysfunctional upbringing.   Sadly, or maybe fortunately, we lack every kind of resource to move on that.  So they meet on our front steps and share snacks and juice as they work through their challenges, joys, sorrows, and we try and encourage them to pick up the cigarette butts when they leave.

Seek the welfare of the city
where I have sent you
into exile,
and pray to the Lord
on its behalf,
for in its welfare,
you will find your welfare.

                                                Jeremiah 29:7

Hey if I hit publish now I will have achieved one whole task on the same day that I started it.  It´s OK, I´m totally aware that it´s half a page of jumbled ramblings, but we can celebrate small steps.    

Two and a half thousand years progress

“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”  said Socrates approximately two and a half thousand years ago.  Which was roughly the same time (give or take a few years for inexactitude) that the writer of Ecclesiastes exclaimed that there is nothing new under the sun.

“In a society where busyness is worn as a badge of honour…”  There´s a big electrical storm on outside otherwise I might have gone for a run instead…

“When you signal you’re busy, you’re basically telling others that you are high status and important, not because what you wear is expensive, but [because] you are extremely desired and in high demand,” says Silvia Bellezza, co-author of a Harvard Business School study that argues that an overworked lifestyle, rather than a leisurely lifestyle, has become an aspirational status symbol.”

These quotes come from a couple of BBC articles that I´m finding thought provoking…

Is there an upside to having no social life

Busy: Badge of honour or a big lie?

It´s interesting that humans have moved on from the early consumerist myth that we were aiming to make life easier, and embraced a new-old myth that we need to free up more time in order to fill it with more stuff.   As mission partners, charity workers, voluntary sector employees, we also feel an added pressure to justify our existence against supporters´ donations, which traditionally most of us do through reporting lists of things achieved or at least projects in progress.  But even that is a bit of an excuse really.  I think I probably use being busy doing some things as a way of avoiding thinking about other things, people, God, that I find more difficult.  And now I´m really hoping it stops thundering and lightning soon so I can go for a run or I might actually have to do the admin that I´m putting off.

 

 

And then it was October

I didn’t write anything for so long that there was too much to write and I didn’t have time to write it so then it got left a bit longer and there was even more to write… repeat to fade.  So this is the heavily editted version.

We went to England, it was a busy time.  We saw a lot of people and we didn’t see a lot of other people, so if you’re in the first group it was lovely to see you, and if you’re in the second group, we’ll prioritise some different places next time.  All the kids had good experiences, including Teen, for whom the whole thing was a massive adventure, and we really enjoyed going on holiday to Devon with the rest of the family.

Key events since then, Joni had his tenth birthday.  He’s tall enough to be thirteen, and it feels like he was only born yesterday.  His cake challenge for me this year was to make a “fidget spinner” so I thought wouldn’t it be great if it actually spun…

I checked out buying a lazy susan but they cost more than I wanted to pay.  So I took a large round ice-cream tub, emptied a bag of marbles into the bottom, put a slightly smaller round ice-cream tub in on top, and hey presto, a Heath Robinson ball-bearing race.  Add a large wooden board, I thought I would have to tape that down but when I tested it, the weight of the cake kept everythng in place anyway.  The kids loved it.  I was still congratulating myself two days later.

Danny learnt to ride his bike without stabilizers…  

“I’m amazing” he squeaked as he flashed past for the umpteenth time.  Lack of engagement with the education system appears not to have dented his self esteem.  Now we’re working on the idea of brakes as a better means of stopping than wearing through the toes of our shoes.

Meanwhile, on formal education.  School continue to present lists of complaints and continue to offer zero suggestions regarding solutions.  The music therapist continues to save my sanity, and through another contact we are hoping to meet informally with the head of another school who may be able to give us a clearer picture of what we really are and aren’t allowed to do, including whether Danny might be better off in a different school or whether it really would just be more of the same.

Tomorrow Joni and I are at a joint activity for the four cub packs in the city.  Today I’ve just finished translating a technical manual which helps to pay the bills.  Next on the list is to make pizza to have with a film this evening, when Martin gets back with the flour.  And now I’ve just remembered that I forgot to buy onions.  Quick trip out while the dough’s rising.

 

 

A different perspective

If you read this like Danny talks, then it absolutely does say Charlie and the Chocolate factory.  But I didn’t figure it out either until he read it to me.

On Monday he disappointed not to be able to go out with Martin, so I explained that Daddy was going to the prison and little boys aren’t allowed.  “Oh, are they going to put him in a cage?” He wasn’t remotely bothered, just curious.

On Wednesday he popped into the kitchen to see what I was doing.  “That smells good, who’s in the oven?”

Yesterday he wasn’t sure we should make a plan to go to Cadbury World with his cousins.  Unpacking his thought processes revealed that he was scared we might abandon him for some sort of Wonka-esque experiment.  “But I don’t want to be chewed into a blueberry…”

Today I realised that this time next week we will be required to be doing something in a church in the UK and we haven’t organised it yet, because it feels like it’s forever away because we’re still in Argentina, and we haven’t yet done a great deal towards organising that part yet.  Fortunately, praise the Lord and the prayer warriors, Teen and Baby have passports.  So we need to get out heads around leaving here and thinking about the next couple of weeks.  I’m feeling slightly daunted by the schedule, and as one of our – soon to be “ex” or possibly chewed into a blueberry if she doesn’t behave herself – friends helpfully pointed out, “you’re not even young anymore”.  Hmpf.  Friday 4th August is reserved for playing at Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in Cadbury World if anyone wants to come and be Willy Wonka or share a picnic.

 

Blessings and Challenges

Currently listening and reflecting on this…

I went to Cordoba to take my Spanish exam, I think it went well but I won’t know till July.  I did a bunch of other stuff in Cordoba, mostly shopping for kids’ needs, and stayed a night by myself in a hotel.  Last time that happened I was six months pregnant with Joni, so almost exactly ten years ago.

Weekend involved visit from mission colleague, thank you P, was nice to see you in more relaxed circumstances.  Unfortately we did also manage two trips to A and E.  Saturday evening one member of the household broke another’s finger.   4.30 Sunday morning two of them crashed a motorbike.   Fortunately no-one badly hurt and it appears that there might not be any comeback neither from the owner of the motorbike nor the car they hit, so they got off lightly.  Hopefully the memory of the now healing scrapes and bruises might serve as a longer-term reminder.

Yet another pointless meeting re Danny at school on Tuesday.  The education system really sucks.  Fortunately he doesn’t care.

Martin bought an iron.  I enjoyed watching him explain it to the kids… “This thing is called an iron, it gets hot…”  never seen one of those in action in their lives so far.  Then they got to watch Martin doing the ironing, so now they know it’s a job for a real man.  I see no reason whatsoever to intervene.  Our future daughters in law are going to be so grateful.

Sweet little moment today when Teen announced that she is going to try to become cleaner and tidier and more ordered, so that then she might be a good example to help the other young lady currently staying here, who could definitely use some positive role models regarding keeping one’s person and stuff in a clean and roughly ordered condition.

Danny and Baby are currently chasing each other around the house brandishing pirate swords.  Danny has just paused briefly in order to remind me that “A person’s a person no matter how small….” (Dr. Seuss – Horton hears a Who).

Meanwhile, the schedule for this coming weekend doesn’t look too bad, and I think I’ve had more than my quota of hospital trips for a while.  And right now I need to go cook some fish and hopefully time lunch to co-incide somewhere between the owner of the broken finger arriving home from his check-up, and Joni coming in from school.

Keep calm and say “Yo ho me hearties”.

Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates.
Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi

We entertained twenty eight young pirates at home for Danny’s sixth birthday.

I  was highly chuffed with myself with how the cake turned out.

Luckily it didn’t rain despite threatening, so most of the pirates spent the afternoon outside.  I also set up activities around the house – train tracks to build, lego, colouring, puppets and the like, so they entertained themselves in an approximately organised fashion, apart from a few incidents of bombarding each other with lemons off the tree.  After all, one can’t expect pirates to be too civilised.

The pirates went home.  We cleared up, bathed everyone, and congratulated ourselves on a day well seized.

At ten thirty at night, ex-prisoner friend turned up.  We were sort of expecting him, but anything can happen.  This time the anything that happened was that he had two of his children in tow, and despite Martin having spoken to both him and his wife on several occasions throughout the day, neither of them imagined that we might have preferred to have been given that small piece of information in advance.  I was very tired.  I was probably less than gracious.  I pointed out that there are already eight of us in the house this week, and if all eight brought along “only two more” without checking first, we might be struggling to fit the twenty four of us round the table.

Today we have posted them back to Cordoba.  Tomorrow we need to have a slightly less stressed conversation regarding boundaries and channels of communication.

Well who knew?

Danny spent a couple of days carrying around a stick around as his pirate sword.  He took it to music therapy, and went in, explaining to Gustavo, music therapist, that it was his sword.  Then they were playing together on the piano, and Danny started using the stick as a baton to conduct while Gustavo played.  So Gustavo asked him whether it was a sword or a conductor’s baton.  At which, Gustavo says, Danny looked at him like he was bonkers and said “it’s a stick…!”  No flies on my kids.

It’s fascinating some of the ground we cover when I am taking English conversation classes.  This week I discovered that in the state school system here for every teacher covering a class there are seven teachers being paid a salary.  Which is why they aren’t better paid because the country couldn’t afford it.  So why don’t we just stop paying a few of the other six inactive staff for every post?  Because there is a constitutional clause making it almost impossible to get rid of any public sector employee no matter what they did or didn’t do.  Apparently in the last twenty five years in San Francisco two people have been successfully sacked from the municipal payroll, and both of those were for murder, so for anything less, forget it.

Meanwhile, on another tab I am waiting for a page to load, headed “datos personales”.  This is the next step in the painful process of registering myself as a potential employee in said education system.  So far I still don’t have a recognisable degree, but with my now recognised secondary certificate there are apparently jobs I could apply for if I can get myself onto the list.  Two trips by bus to Cordoba, a lot of walking, a fair amount of arguing, and a few emails in between finally won me a registration number written in thick black felt tip pen and handed to me with a “Don’t lose that”.  Now I need to upload the same, along with my other personal details to the centralised educational employment pages.  I have been doing this on and off for the last two days, with varying levels of frustration.  I suspect the server of not being entirely up to the task.  The idea of having a centralised employment system was something that I thought might be interesting, maybe even more efficient than having to apply seperately for every job as in my passport country.  This may still be true.  Somewhere else.  Here, the form is indeed centralised.  But on the first line of your form you have to specify which schools you would like to work in, up to a maximum of three.  So your first task is to guess which three schools out of the forty or so in your local area, might have a vacancy between now and the end of 2018, that you would be a. interested in and b. eligible to apply for.  Which might seem rather to defeat the point of having a centralised system.

  • Me to Joni: Didn’t I ask you to go through your drawers and give me all the clothes that don’t fit you? (i.e. pretty much everything he owns) so we can see what we need to buy you (i.e. a whole new wardrobe)
  • He: Yes, but I haven’t been bored enough yet.

 

 

Little things…

…please little minds, and a set of six brightly coloured food boxes with “poo” embossed on the lids was enough to do it for me.

School has been happening on a regular basis for the last couple of weeks. It appears that even the teachers are finally bored with perennial  industrial action.  Every couple of days the news publishes another date for the next strike, but the number of staff adhering to them appears to be dwindling to none, at least in the state schools in our neck of the woods., for which we are highly grateful.

The timetable on the other hand is taking some getting used to.  Back in the dark ages, we used to go to school at the same time every day, and come home at the same time every day, and know that every other school in the country was starting and finishing along with us, give or take half an hour here or there.  Here things are more complicated.

Baby goes to the municipal nursery, that’s from eight till twelve.  Danny is in first grade of the local primary school.  That’s also from eight till twelve.  Luckily they’re close together and the nursery is fairly tolerant about times for working parents, so I dump Baby off the bike at one, and carry on with Danny to the other.  Joni is in forth grade primary, that’s usually from eight till two unless otherwise informed.  Teen is in forth year secondary.  She starts at twelve thirty on Monday and Thursday, and one fifteen the rest of the week unless otherwise informed, usually finishing at six thirty or thereabouts, but on Wednesday she also has p.e. from seven thirty till eight thirty in the morning.

Factor in to this that the main cooked meal in Argentina is at midday, because food in the evening doesn’t normally happen until nine o’ clock or later.  The nursery feed Baby which is handy, but school doesn’t provide food, so Danny needs feeding when he comes home, Teen needs hers before she goes in, but Joni will come back ravenous for his an hour after Teen started school.  Add in everyone’s homework and yes they all get homework most days (apart from Baby who spends the homework hour pulling things off the table and pushing chairs around).  Scatter through the week a bunch of extracurricular activities, and all of a sudden we have a recipe for chaos, or at least we can start to understand why my sense of humour has descended to the level where bottom jokes are about as sophisticated as I can muster.