Friday, May 30, 2008

We own the biggest gas guzzler

No kidding. Our family car, nicknamed the Blackhawk, is a Toyota Sienna minivan and according to an article on is up there with the Ferraris and Lamborghinis in being the least fuel efficient*. Too bad we don't have the glamour associated with being a foreign exotic sports car. At least we have bragging rights in claiming that we're "classified with Lamborghini"!

While we were up in the San Francisco Bay Area this past weekend for a wedding, I was adamant about not paying $4.09 for a gallon of gas. Little did I know that I would end up paying $4.19 and the $4.09 I tried to backtrack to was the best deal in what seemed like a 30 mile radius.

Since we've arrived in LA ten months ago, I've seen the gasoline prices rise from $2.89/gallon to $4.15! That's an increase over over 43% in less than a year! Granted we're a one-car family and Air Boss doesn't require a car to "commute" to his "office," we're still flabbergasted by the prices. When I would gas up the car, I used to manually stop the pump once the total price hit $50 - even if I was short of a full tank. There was just some mental barrier for paying over $50 for a tank of gas. Now, if I continued that practice, I may not have enough fuel to drive back home from the gas station!

All this is to say that we're now seriously contemplating getting a second car sooner than expected. A much more fuel efficient car than the Blackhawk. Air Boss has been eyeing the 2008 Nissan Altima Hybrid. Yup, we're gonna spend $35,000 (not including insurance, registration, smog fees) so we can save $2,300 a year on the gasoline difference between our gas-guzzler and a hybrid.

Yup. Makes total sense to me. = ]

Photo: Texas Tech Marketing Department

*Incidentally, for those of you who drive an Odyssey or Caravan, the Sienna has you beat by a SLIGHT margin. It's just ironic that the manufacturer that came up with the epitome hybrid (Prius) also makes the most fuel inefficient minivan.

Monday, May 26, 2008

My new favorite game

Blokus champion
Originally uploaded by radioflyer007
One of Lolli's birthday presents this year was "Blokus". Incidentally, it is pronounced "BLOCK-us" and not "BLOKE-us" as I had originally thought. If my pronounciation was correct, I guess the British version of this game would have to be "DUDE-us" or something like that.

Anyway, I had picked this game thinking that if it had won over ten toy awards, it must be good. Even though I thought it would be a bit advanced for her, I figured she could grow into it.

It turns out that Lolli is a whiz at this game. She can manipulate the pieces to fit in her favor (think back to those Tetris days!) and totally block me from my moves (I guess it's not unfathomable that four year olds can strategize).

The other day, Lolli and I had introduced the game to Air Boss. The three of us played it laying down on the floor of her bedroom (as you can see from the picture, with Mimi the duck watching). Air Boss and I were so intent on dominating the board and playing offense to each other's colors that we weren't really paying attention to what Lolli was doing with her pieces. She won.

"That was just beginner's luck," I had thought to myself. I had also thought that if Air Boss and I weren't so ruthless with each other and paid a bit of attention to Lolli, we MIGHT have been able to block some of her moves.

Well, today Lolli and I introduced the game to 'Shroom. Although 'Shroom understood the basic concept of the game (be the first to place all your tile pieces on the board while preventing others from doing the same), he didn't really have strategy. She won. Hands down. And embarrassingly, I WAS paying attention to her moves. It's just that her brother was also putting down some moves that utterly blocked me!

Okay - so maybe I'm not the best player and may never learn to play chess but I don't necessarily think a four year old is an equal opponent for me.

Yeah, you're right. She's not my equal.

She's way better.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Thoughts on Adoption

Our family had gone out for an early dinner yesterday and as we sat in local Taiwanese restaurant and waited for our food, we couldn't help but listen to the news on the TV in the corner of the restaurant. Although the entire news broadcast was in Chinese, I didn't need Air Boss to translate what the news was about.

There were video clips of earthquake survivors talking to news reporters. The backdrop was always the same. Piles and piles of rubble. Dirt, mess, newly homeless people sifting through the aftermath of China's worst earthquake in 30 years.

I have seen photos of sobbing mothers laying next to their deceased children. Pictures of distraught family members searching desparately for lost relatives. Wordless captures of shock and disbelief on the faces of countless Chinese. I've read accounts of how teenage boys survived for three days in the rubble.

Somehow even having seen and read those accounts, I was still blown away by the film footage and the Chinese newscast in the restaurant. Air Boss translated the reporters questions and the responses from the local survivors. One man lost everything. His wife, his two kids, his house, all his belongings. The only things he had were the clothes on his back and a cooked piece of meat that was carried in a bucket.

Survivors were trying to decide to stay or leave. With no means of transportation, any "leaving" would be on foot. The young reporter spoke a few minutes and then wished the few survivors the best on their journey of rebuilding their lives. As the camera panned to the backside of the newly widowed and childless man carrying his bucket of meat, the young female reporter broke down and started crying. It difficult for me not to cry.

I had just read that the Christian singer Steven Curtis Chapman had lost his five year old daughter in a tragic accident. The fact that she was Chinese and adopted again brought my thoughts back to the topic.

Although I don't know if we'll ever adopt, or if we do, from which country our child will be, my heart totally goes out to the millions of people in Myanmar and China who are struggling to survive these monstrous natural disasters. We'll have to wait to see what God places in our hearts to love and parent other children.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Noah's Ark

Over the weekend, the family along with a couple of friends checked out the Skirball Cultural Center in LA (just north of the Getty Center).

Although we had pre-purchased timed admissions tickets to this Jewish cultural center, we weren't there to necessarily catch up on our Israeli history or learn to read Hebrew. We were there to see their permanent exhibit of "Noah's Ark."

'Shroom and Lolli (along with the adults) didn't know what to expect other than to see a big boat and lots of animals. We found it amusing to see lots of animals made from all sorts of recycled products (like kiwis made from boxing gloves, a flying crane made from what looked like a Coach purse and plastic combs, and a polar bear made from a cast iron claw foot bathtub).

In the picture to the right, you can see the elephant's trunk is made from bamboo steamers and the zebra's mane is made from a piano keyboard - how creative (not to mention resourceful)!

We had fun simulating rain, thunder, lightening and the rocking of the ark in the flood. We even had the chance to scoop up animal poop (Lolli kept asking "Is it real? Is it real? Are you sure it's not real?") as I'm sure Noah and his family had to do with so many animals on board!

At the end, we walked outside through a mist and saw two rainbows! 'Shroom and Lolli watched us adults scamper through the mist like a bunch of giggling kids running through a sprinkler. They hung back, refused to join us and probably thought we were so immature.

Somehow going to a museum where you can touch and play with everything you see brings out the kid in all of us!

[all photos taken from Air Boss' flickr:]

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Okay, I've got another gripe . . .

I guess waking up early in the morning to squeeze in some study time is just making me less tolerant of things that may not be such a big deal because I have another gripe . . .

. . . the noise we've had to put up with for the past 2-3 months so far (with no end in sight). Right now, I'm not really liking our living environment thanks to the construction noise and inconveniences going on next door.

We're the second unit in an apartment complex. Think of a loaf of bread that is cut into four thick slices. The first slice faces the street and we're the second slice. The construction is going on in that "first slice" and we're not talking about just installing new carpet (although that is in the scope). Right now, the next door unit has been gutted to the wall studs (in some cases, the entire wall and studs are gone) and floor rafters. So far we've endured sledgehammers knocking down drywall, jigsaws cutting 2x4's, banging on pipes for removal, metal cutting tools on cast-iron pipes, and jack hammers for four days straight (for several hours at a time). The noises get so loud that Air Boss can't carry on a phone conversation and with him working remotely, he relies on the phone like a teen relies on text messaging. Lolli was sitting IN MY LAP as I was reading a story and she couldn't hear a word I was saying. She started wigging out when the guys next door started cutting the sewage pipe. I'm only guessing it was the sewage pipe because we couldn't use our toilets or sinks for a couple of hours (with one whole hour for advance notice).

In these 2-3 months of work, there has been no communication with us with regards to the potential disturbances or anything else remotely related to the construction. What's even worse is that the "contractor" for this job is some family member so the work is long and drawn out. I had emailed the landlady for some sort of idea of how long we have to put up with this (not in so many words). I wanted "to know how to re-adjust our expectations" in light of this construction process. No response. She didn't respond until after I got Air Boss to write a second email. I was ready to let her know that if she wasn't willing/able to communicate with us, I would have to resort to finding answers myself by going to City Hall to see what the construction schedule was (incidentally, I don't see a construction permit displayed in any windows so my guess is that City Hall doesn't have any records of this project).

I want to know what are my rights as a tenant? The landlord knows fully well that we have young kids, my husband works from home, and the noise is so loud we can't even "get away" from it (our unit is only 15 feet wide). Air Boss and I often take the kids out of the house with no where to go. We just need to get out just to get out.

At this point, I am not asking for monetary compensation for the inconveniences. I am simply asking for some sort of communication as to how long this will continue and what the working hours are (right now, anything goes). The landlady finally responded to Air Boss' email with a "Teflon" reply. It's not her project so talk to her brothers about it. In my first email, I had explicitly stated that if she is not the point person, she would need to let me know who that person is and his/her contact info. Apparently, it is up to us to track down these brothers and find out the answers ourselves. If this continues, I may think of asking for monetary compensation or simply withholding rent.

Am I simply acting like a person short on sleep or do I have some tenant's right to know what's going on?

Rules, Rules and More Rules

This past week I've been so frustrated with my Bible study group that I nearly walked out in the middle of the small group discussion time. While this is a large international organization with tons of members and volunteers involved, it seems like there are just as many rules and guidelines. Although I've enjoyed the Bible study and Lolli has learned so much in the kids' program, this past year has been quite difficult for me to swallow. Rules, rules, and more rules. Many of them stated and mentioned. But none of them written down. When I had asked if I could type up the rules (so I don't have to have my hand slapped when I "break" a rule that I hadn't even realized was a rule), the leader discouraged me from doing so.

"We don't want a list of rules to get in the wrong hands," was her explanation. "If that happens, our organization which is made unique by these rules, will no longer be unique. Other people can copy those rules and make their own study group. Also, if a non-believing person saw this list of rules, it would deter them from wanting to come and learn about the Bible."

I couldn't believe my ears. Was she for real?

"I've often heard that imitation is the best form of flattery," I had rebutted. "So what if some renegade group wants to copy the rules? I had always thought what made this group unique was the curriculum. And we know that is already copyrighted."

I also secretly thought (but with much restraint did not say) "do you honestly think that all these rules are what makes people want to join a group like this?"

But I DID say, "With regards to the list getting into the hands of a non-member and their freakin' out over the sheer volume of rules, well, at least they're getting an accurate picture of what the group is about."

I wasn't asking to change the rules nor was I asking permission to bend them. I was just asking if they could be published in a list so that we all would get the same information and have some sort of refrence tool to remember the 20 gagillion rules. I had even offered to type them up and make them available for distribution. I may has well asked to make photocopies of the copyrighted lessons for mass distribution to the public.

Well, I've said my piece. I do recognize this organization as one doing a great service in helping many learn about the Bible but I guess in my case, I may just do better in another type of environment that isn't so rule-based. It just seems so ironic that we had studied earlier this year how many of the religious leaders of Jesus' time had upheld the traditions and man-made rules much higher than God's intent for these rules. I guess the letter of the law is more important than the spirit of the law.

Quite ironic, huh?