A dog makes a house a home

Without a dog, you’d never have anyone demonstrate how important it is to stop every day and smell the roses… and then lift your leg on them.
                                                                               W. Bruce Cameron

We sadly had to say goodbye to our dog Cami a couple of weeks ago.  She was 14 which was a good age for a street mutt, especially one who got into as many scrapes as she did.

I said we’d get a new dog, but I wasn’t in a big hurry.  But the kids were, and on Monday afternoon I arrived home to find that Boyfriend (Teen´s) had adopted on our behalf a rescue pup from the “protectora de animales”  (local pound).   In this land where scratching one´s nose in public normally requires twenty pieces of paper completed in triplicate and counter-signed by a notary, there appear to be remarkably few checks as to who can adopt a dog or where they might be taking it.   By the time I got home, it was installed, named, fed, was playing with the kids on the patio, and had very clearly moved in.  Had I had a say, we might have chosen something slightly older and better house trained.  Other than that, she´s pretty much what we could have gone for.

Approximately three months old, going by the name of Lula,     breed indeterminate MBM (medium brown mutt), short haired (hooray), plays nicely with the kids apart from the needle sharp puppy teeth, sleeps at night after the initial protests at being abandoned, and generally appears healthy and well adapted. 

It isn´t always apparent that she isn´t actually allowed on the sofa…

A few things that happened since I last blogged

We held a Scout locro making (traditional stew) weekend fundraiser, which generated sufficient cash from which we can pay our subscription to remain afiliated to (and more importantly, insured by) the Scout association in Argentina.  Boring but essential.

Danny´s celebrated his 7th birthday and we organised a party at home for his friends.

Hazel got into a protracted situation with the tax office whereby they froze my account. In other cultures this might be considered a counterproductive move on their part since I had to go and beg to be allowed to pay them.  In an unrelated incident it transpires that from now on all payments have to be made electronically.  Unfortunately, while my UK visa card works everywhere including the wee butcher over the road from our house, apparently the tax office isn´t yet so technologically advanced.  So now I have to go and open, and pay for every month because they aren´t free here, an Argentinean bank account for absolutely no purpose other than to pay the tax office.  Apparently this comes under the heading of improving customer convenience. Government institutions the world over…

We held our first Scout weekend camp of the year in the local site of El Matrero.  It was cold and sunny and everyone had a good time.

Hazel preached a couple of times.  Martin preached a couple of times too, but he´s more of a professional than I am, so I make more fuss about preparing.  Last Sunday´s was quite sweet I thought.  The feedback suggested people were listening too, always encouraging.

And Martin got back on a horse for the first time in many years.

 

 

 

Three go to Miramar

We had promised ourselves a couple of days in Miramar before schools went back.  First the car broke and then there was a whole hospital thing going on, so the plan got shelved until Joni decided we should set a date and I agreed to organise a camp for Easter weekend.  In the end, Martin’s leg is still open in several places, and he doesn’t love camping anyway.  The girls were in at playtime for skiving school, and for good or for ill I´m starting to get colder and harder about these misdemeanours.  So by default Joni, Danny and I won a rare and exclusive Mummy and boys trip out.

We discovered that the bus takes three hours, and the walk to our favourite campsite isn’t too arduous if you pack properly.  We made our own breakfasts on site, organised picnic lunches out at lunchtime, had icecreams in the afternoons, went out for something with chips in the evenings, and toasted marshmallows over a campfire before bed.  That’s all the major food-groups covered isn’t it?

There are a lot of birds around Miramar this year, water levels are higher than when we last went two years ago, and I enjoyed the big zoom on my camera.  We walked a lot, took photos, flew the kites on the beach, compared water temperatures between the lake; not too bad, versus the campsite pool; freezing.  I confess that twelve years in central Argentina has caused me to become wimpy about cold water although my kids are quite happy with it and they´ve never lived anywhere else so maybe it´s just age, darn it.  We went out on a boat one morning  as is our tradition in Miramar, and enjoyed walking across the top of the new water defences that have been constructed out of long mounds of rocks… Danny said “These ones don´t have a sign telling us to keep off…” Last time he saw a similar pile of rocks it was in England where kids are no longer allowed to risk scraping their shins… needless to say on this trip he went home very happy and sporting a new collection of scabs and bruises.   On Sunday we caught another bus back.  We did debate whether to stay another day while Monday was another bank holiday, but since we’d nearly run out of money, we decided it was time to go home and share Easter eggs with the rest of the family.

Sunny afternoons

We are getting organised with this year’s routines of programmed activities and free time.   Joni’s doing cycling, French and will start art in April.  Danny’s doing horse riding and has a couple of other ideas hovering in the wings but we’re still trying to figure out timetable clashes and who’s taking who where.  At the moment I’m doing a lot of juggling, but that will get easier once Martin gets up to speed and back on his bike.  For some reason most things have fallen on Tuesdays and Thursdays so in the week we have two really stupid days, and three afternoons  with space to fill with our own activities…

Danny is a fully fledged independent reader in both languages.  He also has this trick where he sets the book he’s reading to the tune in his head, so the other day he was heard doing “The three little pigs” to the melody of “I will survive”, aka Radio 4’s I’m sorry I haven’t a clue.

Our driveway is just steep enough for acceleration, and there is a strip of grass at the bottom which provides just enough braking power to arrest the riders before they hit the road; enough perceived danger to be exciting without any real damage beyond the ubiquitous skinned knees and elbows.

I’m hiding from my new computer.  It’s not the computer’s fault.  The real problem is Windows 10.  The offputter is that start thing in the bottom left hand corner full of chaos and colours and meaning that I can’t find anything.  Especially since some of the already confusing squares do bad things like move or change colour as I approach with the mouse.  Really guys, I was fine with the scroll down list of “all programmes” in black font on a white background.  And since that’s the first thing that happens to me every time I try and open the box, so far I’m dissuaded from attempting to get much further.

Then there’s spider solitaire.  I know, it’s a card game, the world doesn’t depend on it.  But it’s what I do when I’m thinking.  And, Microsoft, if you’re going to rewrite something I would have thought it would make sense to improve it rather than make it worse.  The numbers and symbols on the cards are smaller than the windows 7 version.  Opening the options I found I could change the font size, so I selected as big as possible.  This changed the writing at the top of the screen – score, time taken, statistics, shoe size etc.  but the numbers and symbols on the cards – i.e. that which I require in order to play the game – remain the same size.  Doh!    And then there’s this…

 

In massive letters, (presumably Microsoft proving that they could have made the rest of the game legible if they had felt like it) a warning sign that quitting the game counts as a loss in my statistics.  People, it’s not a cigarrette packet.  I don’t care about my statistics.  Which is just as well since I can’t see the cards in the first place.  What sort of creatures do Microsoft recruit (breed?) for their testing labs?  For now I’m still using my dying Windows 7 box.  When Martin finishes recovering enough to nag me again, I expect I will bite the bullet and learn Windows 10, and go searching online for a functional version of spider solitaire with legible cards and no warning screens.

 

The gospel in chairs

54 minutes well spent to take a look at this.  I’ve seen it three times (Ok so 162 minutes) and I still need to think about it some more, which is why I’m not writing out my raw first reactions.  You may need first to persuade that squeaking evangelical imp with anxiety issues off your shoulder for an hour.  Send him for a tea break or something, he could probably do with one.

On spelling and holidays

  • Martin: Joni I am going to have to teach you to use the spell-checker.
  • Joni (indignant): I already know how to use the spell-checker.
  • Martin: In which case why are you asking me for words every two seconds?
  • Joni (less indignant possibly sheepish):  It’s that my spelling is so bad the computer can’t guess what I’m trying to write.

It has been documented that a common feature of third culture kids is that they can’t spell in any language.  Joni is an excellent reader in both languages, and Spanish has the advantage of being nice and phonetic so his guessed spelling mostly works out fine.  English on the other hand is littered with superfluous letters, and words that rhyme but are spelt differently, not to mention other words that sound completely different from each other but inexplicably share the same spelling patterns.

There are a lot of photos from Scout camp on my facebook page, I put them up there so other Scout leaders and parents can find them.  If you´re a facebook user “friend” me at Hazel Frost and you can take a look.

Then we went on holiday as a family to Arroyito, which isn´t far away and is just as hot as San Francisco but has the saving factor of a nice river which we spent every afternoon in.  We took the bikes across this time in the car, sending most of the family by bus.  It worked out well, we saw a lot more of the town and countryside around, and had more flexibility to come and go without having to walk everywhere.

River in arroyito

Stripping the bikes down far enough to fit all six into a small vehicle was a lot like hard work, think Christmas cracker jokes about elephants in minis, leaving aside the minor mishap that we managed to break the rear windscreen on the way back.  So at the moment I´m praying and looking out for a small second hand trailer for future use.  There are several being advertised on local facebook pages, it´s a question of sitting down and looking carefully at size, quality, and price.

Now we´re back in town and I´m trying to start preparing for school restarting.  Danny is riding this morning.  Joni is practising for being a teenager so he doesn´t get out of bed until after 11.  Martin and I and our landlord went to pay our house taxes this morning, and got out alive.  Those in the UK won´t think of that as particularly newsworthy.  Those who live here will probably understand why we think of it as a minor victory.

 

 

 

 

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.