Friday, December 19, 2008

friday five

1. Claire is taking a bottle. What a relief. She'd been doing fine when Justin gave her a bottle but was still fussy about Patricia feeding her. Last night Justin and I went to a school Christmas party while Claire stayed with Patricia. I half expected to come home to a hysterical, hungry baby. Not so. Now there's one less worry when I return to work in January.

2. A forty mile week. Yea for running. Today is a rest day but I'm going to try for ten miles tomorrow morning. That will be the first ten miler I've run since early pregnancy. Running is going well. Yesterday I was two miles into my run when I just couldn't take it anymore: old running shoes. I dug out my new pair and finished the miles running on air. Usually I trade out my shoes every three to four months depending on mileage but this last pair I ran in for almost six months. I need to get back to switching pairs every other day. Saves some money.

3. Missing snow? A week or so ago, we called the Marslenders and Justin and his father talked about the weather. "Oh, it's about seventy degrees and - oh! - there's a hummingbird," I heard Justin gloat. At this time of year, we win. You can't paint Wisconsin snowstorms and windchills glorious and we aren't dumb enough to forget bitter cold and dirty slush. But right now the only snow we see is the giant holiday store decorations - which always makes me wonder: why snowflakes in Colombia? Does Singapore smack up snowflakes everywhere at Christmastime too? Australia? Anyway, there are days when I miss snow. Mostly because I miss wearing sweaters and griping about winter. Also because new snow is pretty.

4. Passaporte la proxima semana. Next week we travel to Bogota for Claire's passport. I picked up her photo this week and she looks like a thug. Like: What of it? You wanna sleep with the fishes? I know people. She should be flanked by bodyguards. Maybe wearing a gold chain and eating her mama's meatballs. Perhaps her photo would have turned out better if she wasn't half asleep.

5. Next year in ___? Last year we celebrated Christmas in Peru and this year we'll be staying in Colombia. We'll be attending the Search Associates Cambridge job fair in February. A few of our teaching friends have also launched their job search and so we're busy comparing notes and dreaming possibilities. Justin and I have our favorites but we know that the job fair weekend is up down all around. We've found schools we like in South America, Africa, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. We're also exploring parts of Asia. So. It's anyone's guess right now. Wow. None of those options include crashing in my parents' basement for a couple of months, so here's to hoping we land a contract. Though I'm sure Ruth and Ellie would share their space and throw nightly slumber parties for Claire.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

hummus amongus

Mmm. Nira and Stetson invited us over for pizza and served this as an appetizer. Super yummy and super easy unless your blender chokes. Which mine did the first time I made this, but not the second. See my suggestions. What I like about this recipe is that there's no garlic. Hummus seems to have too much or too little garlic so here you have it: problem solved. No garlic.

1 can garbanzo beans (13 - 15 oz)
1/4 c olive oil
1 t cumin
1 Tb lime juice

What I suggest: blend half the beans with the olive oil before adding the rest of the beans. Add more or less lime depending on your taste. Serve with toasted pita bread or veggies. Mmm.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

reason #731 to become a parent

renters & losers

We like our apartment. I'll start with that. We aren't far from school or groceries. Cabs can find our place. I feel comfortable walking around the neighborhood - winding streets, big houses hiding behind big walls, cows grazing in open fields. We have a pool we never use but could, should we be so inclined. Hummingbirds fly into our house and cockroaches usually stay out.

But here are some of the less (or more) amusing parts of life at Casa 09 or How to be a Landlord to Americans Who Just Don't Understand:

Insist that the relic of a stove is fine, despite the range rust or the terrific numbing shock sent up your renter's arm anytime she flips an egg. Two renters ago, the woman cooked all the time. Haggle with the school about who should provide a new appliance. Worry about the pregnant renter eating bowls of cereal or what can be prepared in a microwave. Finally buy a new stove. Insist it can be plugged into the wall, nevermind the wildly uneven voltage required and supplied. Be surprised that cooking an egg now blows the breaker.

When the rainy season begins express rising concern over the peeling paint and wet plaster by the renters' front door. Insist this has never happened before. Insist that the roof is fine. If only we didn't get so much rain. It is too much. Send your gardener to remove the paint and the plaster. Do this a few times until the wall scar starts to look less like a seahorse and more like South America. Send him again to plaster the crack. Lament that nothing will ever dry because of all this rain.
Provide a lovely view. Forget to tell the renters that by saying, "Our daughter is building a house" you meant that your daughter is building seven houses on postage stamp lots only thirty yards from the renters' front door. That lovely green lot with orange trees you saw? Oh, white tarp is the rage now. It's better, you see?
Tell them what they want to hear: Private security will be here next week. Say it six weeks running. This is important to them because of the construction site. A white tarp isn't good enough for them. When the renter takes out the garbage one night and reports seeing a strange man on the property, suggest he saw a ghost. Insist the property is secure. In the next breath, admit that your nephew is as concerned as the renters about the security. Put your faith in bamboo and barbed wire.

Anyway, security wouldn't be such an issue if those renters wouldn't leave the front gate open all the time. Neighborhood security is always calling to let you know the gate is open. You begin to suspect the renters are just pushing buttons for fun. Come close to suggesting this. When the renters seem to be keeping tally and tattling anytime they notice the gate is open, ignore their triumphant I told you so and insist the renter must have pressed the button accidentally. They should be more careful.

Deliver a panic button. Tell them not to press it unless it's actually an emergency. Undertones suggest that you know just how much these renters enjoy pushing buttons. Know that the renter is tempted to press that button every time she walks by, just to see if it opens the front gate.

For the record and the worriers: Carmen and Pablo really are wonderful. They are kind and helpful and Justin and I (and Claire) enjoy their company. Our property is guarded by a private security firm that does routine night watches to check the neighborhood. Neighbors also keep a look out for anything odd. I think that a private security guard has finally moved onto the construction site and I will ask Carmen if I can meet him. Though my stove took five weeks to arrive, I love it love it love it. Last year my oven either barely breathed upon a batch of cookies or burned them to hockey pucks. Happy medium was found only if I took the time to speak softly to the stove, giving it pats of encouragement. And we do have a panic button and, um, I am tempted to see if it opens the front gate. Finally, while we have a white tarp to stare at, we also have tree growing in our driveway. We like this tree a lot.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

noche de las velitas

Night of the candles. I won't pretend to know much about this tradition but I think it has something to do with lighting the way for the holy couple to find their way to five star accommodations in a stable. Streets, walkways, and driveways around Cali are lined with lit candles. It's very beautiful. Some people light fireworks. This night, Christmas Eve, Christmas, and New Year's Eve you might also here gun shots saluting perhaps not the holiday so much as the end of a bottle of aguardiente.

At Bolivar, Noche de las Velitas means a field of rows of candles, families gathering to chat and enjoy traditional Colombian foods such as pizza and Coke (ha ha), photos with Santa, and Christmas music. Noche de las Velitas also means budding pyromaniacs (I saw smoke signals this year) and rolling melted candles into giant wax heads. Which you then set on fire.

Some of the religious reverence of the night might be lost.

But here we are at Claire's first Noche de las Velitas. She didn't sleep long. But later, when we went out for pizza with friends after lighting our own candles, Claire was snoozing again. In the between time, she loved looking around. Try to imagine what it must be like, to take in so much at once: music, dancing lights, new faces. And here's what happens when you bring a baby: gaggles of girls. This is our friend Scott surrounded by middle and elementary school girls who had to have a look at our darling daughter. If I could post a soundtrack it'd be a repeat of variations of oohawwshe'ssobeautifulhowmanymonthsoohaww.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

poetry shmoetry

My sister Ruth emailed me a poem about colors and how cool they are and all the places you can find colors: schools, pools, mittens, kittens. And I wanted to write a poem back. I found small chunks of time this weekend to start generating ideas but didn't manage much of anything. Made me miss the days when I'd park myself and my lug of a backpack in a dark booth at the Basement Brewhaus on campus and write for three hours, thinking secret thoughts like: I'm brilliant. No more, no more. Later, I'd drive to the Dells and sit in Starbucks nursing a hot chai or peppermint mocha through a couple of hours of fiction starts or poetry attempts.

Last night Justin took Claire out for a driveway walk and I grabbed my notebook and started writing. They came in a few minutes later. I looked up. "We can go back out," Justin said. Claire squeaked. I thought about how someday I'll have all the time in the world to write because my daughter will be grown up and she'll have gone off and done something crazy, like move to Colombia.

So right now I'm learning to take the little bits of time I get to write and enjoy them, even if I end up with more shmoetry than poetry.

So this is what I'm working on: a conspiracy theory sestina. I'll probably scrap the whole thing as ridiculous when I can't get the words to do what I need them to do but until then, I'll have my fun. For one thing, sestinas, like other poetry forms, can be a good challenge. Playing with words on paper. If the sestina seems a little complicated, try a pantoum - relatively simple, nonthreatening form that loops repeated lines. Have fun with it.

If I'm going to write a conspiracy theory sestina, I need six well-founded, thoroughly researched, non-kooky theories, one for each stanza. I googled "conspiracy theories" and found more than six, none of them that well-founded or thoroughly researched and most of them kooky. My favorites: the moon landing was staged, the Royal Family are actually shape-shifting reptiles, Microsoft wingdings contain hidden messages, Paul McCartney is actually dead, and the Freemasons are running the world. Room for one more. Barcodes controlling us? 9/11 orchestrated by the U.S. government? The ever popular Kennedy assassination?

Oh, I just might become a very fun person to live with. Lucky Justin.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

farming out, reining in

A month or two ago, another import teacher and I were talking about our stuff. All the stuff we left behind when we moved. And where it is now. Shannon and her husband, Fabian, are planning to move back to Canada at the end of this school year and she wondered if she'd be able to track down all her stuff.

"And after five years, can you really ask for it back?" Shannon said, "Isn't it more theirs than mine now?"


My sister and her husband visited us the May before we moved to Colombia. We were in a fit of get-rid-ot-it-ness and they, lucky ducks, arrived with a U-haul. Right now, she's negotiating the price of our mattress and box spring and wants to know if she can also buy that blue thing. What blue thing? Oh, the painted-antiquey-pine-hutch thing.

"We also have an end table and a coffee table."

Really? If she hadn't told me, I'd probably have forgotten. I think Justin has a list somewhere of our stuff and its guardians. But right now, as we've just launched our second international job search, I look at all the stuff we've managed to accumulate in just a year and a half in Colombia. Last year, we said good-bye to our friends Phil and Katy and their two kids the night before their flight out. Katy sat down on the floor with a drawer pulled from a cabinet: the last drawer of stuff to go through. Old passports, random papers, store cards. Already, I'm looking around our apartment and boxing a few things in my mind: send on to the next place, storage in my parents' basement closet, try to sell, give away, toss.

I'm hoping that we stay at our next place for three or four years but perhaps I'll have to pretend I'm moving after two, just to keep a rein on all the stuff.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

two months of books

Here's what I read during the past two months:

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris. A book about an office and the quirky characters hiding in cubicles. One of my favorite parts was when a guy, who didn't want his doctor wife to be right about his depression, self-medicated by stealing a coworker's antidepressants. When you write it out like that, it doesn't sound so funny. One of my favorite characters is a guy who quotes Emerson and Thoreau and sends long, wandering personal emails and rants to the entire office. Too frequently. A fast read and fun.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, a Canadian author. Not sure what I think of this, even two months later. It's a circus book, set in the 1930s. There's love, rage, inequality. The author went to the Circus World Museum in Baraboo to research. So I learned a bit about circus life and circus trains.

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. This novel is set in 1982 England and the narrator is a thirteen-year-old named Jason Taylor. I really liked this book. Jason is a guy that's on the outside at school. At home he's on the peripheral as his older sister gets ready to go to college and his parents' marriage is falling apart. But he takes his relationships as they come: we see him with his family, with another outsider from school, with an old lady who teaches him about poetry. There isn't a moral to the story and the end isn't the end, but I really liked Jason. I want to meet Jason when he's thirty.

The Power of One by Bryce Courteney. Set in South Africa, this book gives us a look at daily apartheid. The narrator, Peekay, is focused on becoming a boxing champion. The story spans about twenty years, beginning in Peekay's childhood. Great chunks of this book just made me sad. A student recommended it. I don't think I can read it again.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. A young adult book a lot of students read. Frequently compared to Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I think it's also one of the most challenged and banned books.

The Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven, both by Barbara Kingsolver. Last year, I read The Poisonwood Bible and while I still think that's the best Kingsolver book I've read yet, I really enjoyed these two. The first starts with Taylor Greer heading west; when a woman hands her a toddler in a parking lot, she becomes mom to a girl she calls Turtle. The second book picks up with Taylor and Turtle in Arizona. Turtle's adoption is challenged and Taylor hits the road, taking her daughter with her. You can read The Bean Trees and skip Pigs in Heaven if you have to choose one or the other.

Sharp North by Patrick Cave. Futuristic, set in England. Don't bother reading it. You'll choke on all the red herrings. You'll keep thinking it'll get better and it won't. And at the end (I can tell you this because you aren't going to read it), the author just starts killing off all the characters. Oh, and characters that should have been dead suddenly reappear.

Man Gone Down by Michael Thomas. I liked this book but it's difficult to say exactly why. The unnamed narrator is looking for work in New York, trying to drum up rent and tuition for his sons' schooling. He flashes back to growing up in Boston, a black kid in the 1970s. He married a white woman and spends much of the book thinking about what happened to his marriage. The end is good. Really good.

Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah. Another young adult book, this one centered on a Muslim girl who decides to wear the head scarf full-time. I liked the humor. The book tells a little about the Muslim faith and its practices and illustrates the difficulty of standing strong in what you believe.

Speak by Laurie Halse-Anderson. Probably one of my favorite young adult authors, this was the first book that brought Halse (rhymes with waltz)-Anderson attention. The narrator is Melinda, a ninth-grader who arrives to high school friendless after calling the cops to a summer party. But no one knows that the reason she called the cops was she was raped. She keeps that secret and it eats at her all year. The title says it: Melinda needs to learn to speak. I taught this book during my first year of teaching and will teach it again this next semester. I like this book because Melinda grows.

Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot. I'm actually going to write more on this later. An excellent, thought-provoking book. Like I said, though, more later.

we take better care of claire

Monday, December 1, 2008


This is the window in our hotel room. What I like about Salento is its color. That could be said of Colombia too. Bright colors. When I walk through town, I see people leaning out their windows, standing against door jambs, just watching what there is to watch: horses clip-clopping uphill, a mom circled by three dark-haired kids, backpackers here for a night or two.

I thought about the front porch and wondered why we don't sit on front porches anymore, just watching what there is to watch. I was also reminded of a story Justin told me about his neighbors, a retired couple would would park their lawn chairs in front of their open garage door and just watch summer happen. Hm. Thinking of my parents' place this past summer, maybe we don't sit on front porches because the mosquitoes will eat us alive.

Anyway. Salento was great. Quiet. Justin went horseback riding while Claire and I had a day in town. We wandered through a few shops and Claire was fascinated by a hummingbird mobile.
Then we found a barcaferestaurante and parked it for a couple of hours. She napped, we both ate. Missing Thanksgiving, I was so happy to find that my chicken and mushroom crepe actually tasted like turkey with stuffing and gravy. How do they do it? I had a chance to read and write a bit before returning to our hotel for a fake nap. Later, we ate trout. Here's what happens when you show up at a restaurant for dinner at six-thirty:
You qualify for the early-bird special. Early-fish special?