Saturday, April 5, 2014

First Win!


Micah and Jesse played in a tournament right near the beach this weekend and experienced their first only . . . win!  We got smeared in the only other tournament they played.  There were only two other teams there, so that one win--plus a tie--put them in the finals.  They ended up losing the final to the team they'd originally beaten, but hey, they still got medals for second place!  (We're working on not crying when we lose, if not everyone looks completely thrilled here.  They took pictures right after we lost the final game.)  Afterwards we went to a birthday party for one of the players at his stunning beach condo complex right nearby.  The ocean was so beautiful and the pool and complex were elegant and it was just lovely, which is a word I don't usually use.  But it was that kind of afternoon.  Bright and sunny and great to be living here.  We all got sunburned and had four hours of commuting, but it was a great day.  


Friday, March 28, 2014

Mountains

We are finding it impossible to get all five of us smiling with eyes open simultaneously these days . . .

We went to the mountains last weekend (a little over an hour and a half away) and stayed in a house of friends (we love you, Barry and Sonia!) in Constanza.  I think it was our third trip there.  This time we went because I have realized that getting to where it's cooler is an essential part of us living here.  Well, it's an essential part of me living here, which has to count for something.  I told Owen I think I need to get out of the heat for a weekend every three months.  The spring weather in the mountains here is kind of like being in New England in summer.  Cool when you're not in the sun, so that you need a sweatshirt if you're on the porch in the shade, warm in the sun (we get hot on our hikes), and then cool enough for a fire in the fireplace at night.  It's awesome!

It's one of the only places we can really hike in the D.R., the kids love the dogs that live there, we can pick wild guavas to eat, we can roast marshmallows, the kids can pretty much run wild in the yard, and it's the only place I can buy red beets with tops in the country (I love Mollie Katzen's recipe for "Complete Beets").


The longer I'm here, the more I'd rather be in the mountains than at the beach.  We still go to the beach more, because, really, who visits us in the D.R. to go to the mountains?  But we're going to Jarabacoa (another mountain) for a few days next month, and I figure that'll give me enough of a break from the heat until we get to visit the states this summer.  It's actually been a little cloudy the last few days, so it hasn't been as hot as usual, but it can be hard for a northerner to be hot mostly all the time.  I think that's one of the most challenging parts of living here for me.  Going to the mountains makes a huge difference.  :)

I'm going to throw in Katzen's recipe for Complete Beets, just for fun--well my summary of it.
  • Cut the tops off of your beets and wash them (and the bottoms) well.  
  • Boil the bottoms in a little bit of water and cook until starting to get soft.  Drain.
  • Cut the tops and saute in olive oil with garlic.  Take off heat.
  • Slice the beet bottoms into small pieces and toss with the tops.  Add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, salt to taste, and heat for one minute with all ingredients combined.
  • Serve!  This is the very best way (and only way, if you're like me and don't really care for beets) to eat beets!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

My Hero: Wesley . . . or Zorro?


We had superhero day at the school for Spirit Week yesterday, so I thought it would be fun to dress up like Zorro's girlfriend, Lolita.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Daylight Savings . . .

Happy Daylight Savings Time!

I love when the U. S. switches to daylight savings, because it makes phone calling so much simpler.  We don't change for daylight savings in the D. R., so "springing ahead" catches you all up to our time zone.  A Dominican friend of ours told us that this country tried it once, but accidentally changed the clocks an hour the wrong direction.  So then the government just issued an order to set all of the clocks back to the original time, and they never tried it again.

I'm not sure if that story's true, but living here, it feels like it might be.  :)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Geranium Eucalyptus Tea Tree Oil Deodorant

First attempt at Homemade Deodorant

As I had a visitor to the school staying this week who makes her own deodorant, and as she made it seem so easy, I had to try it.  Basically a homemade deodorant can just have baking soda, coconut oil, shea butter, corn starch, vitamin E oil (which for some reason I have around, but you can just open up those gel capsules too), and essential oils.  Some recipes call for cocoa butter instead of coconut oil, but hey, I had coconut oil.

In this land of perpetual summer I've been having two problems with my natural deodorant:

  1. It tends to crumble a lot because it's not really a true solid at 80 degrees.
  2. One needs a ton of deodorant because it's so hot here (which is hard to accomplish with a deodorant that crumbles).
I decided to leave mine as a thick lotion.  I thought if I added enough cornstarch to make it a solid, I'd be watering down the components that actually work.  Plus, it's easier to use a lot if it's in lotion form.  Today was my first attempt, and it worked great all day.  I'm so excited!  It's pricey to ship Pitt Putty here.  If I can make deodorant myself, and if it stays on longer as a lotion, so much the better!  :)  And the combination of the geranium oil, eucalyptus oil, and tea tree oil smells amazing.

I'm just glad I discovered this before it gets really hot again.

Criollo

Someone recently asked me what I was doing about the hormones in eggs here.  And I was like, Great, another thing to worry about, I thought all those chickens running around everywhere meant that they were being raised naturally.  But I found out that almost everyone raising chickens here is giving them "crecimientos," or hormones, to plump them up (can't let the U.S. have all the fun, I guess) and to get more eggs.

So I went to the Hospedaje (the open market here) to search out some hormone-free hens and eggs.  But I was stumped for a while on how to find out who was legitimately raising poultry without hormones, because here, let me tell you, what you're looking for is what I'm selling.  When some gringa starts asking chicken farmers which eggs and chickens are hormone-free, we're looking at a hormone-free market.

But then I had an Aha! moment.  I went to a man I've bought from and talked to in the past who sells spices, who doesn't even work near the poultry area of the Hospedaje, and I asked him how I could find them, and he said he'd go with me.

He pointed out some little chickens that looked like distant relatives of the large plump ones I'm used to seeing running around everywhere.  He called them "criollos," which based on all of the contexts in which I've heard that word used means something like "traditional."  He told me those little guys never saw a growth hormone.  And since two of them together only weighed 3 and 1/2 pounds, I think I believe him.


Later at the slaughterhouse . . . I must interrupt here to clarify that this was after I myself carried the chickens to the slaughterhouse.  I tried looking squeamish and helpless and asked if there wasn't someone who'd like to carry them over for me (like they did my turkey at Thanksgiving), but they just stood there waiting with their arms extended.  I even had to fish out my money while holding the string by which the chickens dangled by their cinched legs.  The picture is terrible, taken on my Nokia, but I include it as proof--those really are chicken feet I've got there.

So, now, later at the slaughterhouse, I asked the man there where I could by hormone-free eggs.  He told me that those are "criollos" and told me three people at the market sell them, one right outside his door.  So I bought 2 dozen of those as well.  And since no one who gave me information profited as a direct result, I trust my information.  Next time it will be so much easier.



And next time I'll buy four chickens, the two I bought were so tiny they didn't come close to filling my soup pot.  I could probably fit six.  Owen says my chickens are very pigeon-sized.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Carnival

Owen was going to the grocery store the other day and Jesse was playing with Abigail and Micah out front.  As Owen was leaving, Jesse shouted out and asked if he could go with him.

Owen said, "No, you guys are having fun.  I'll see you in a little while.  Stay with your brother and sister, it's good to have some time to play outside."

When Owen got to the grocery store, there was really loud music playing.  Someone dressed like a demon ran at him while he was in an aisle.  He realized it was Carnival here for the month of February (after being charged by a demon), so wasn't too thrown off.  But he said it was insane at the grocery store.


Can you imagine?  Owen was sent to get (among other things) the melons in the bottom left of the picture.  It's a little creepy to thread your way between those guys.  A thoroughly Dominican experience.  :)


Monday, February 10, 2014

Living Loud


On the drive back down the mountains this weekend I was struck with how much I've gotten used to things here, how I've come to adapt to the vividness of life here--what was initially just sensory overload I've come to be able to process more and even appreciate (with the definite exception of loud noises or music at night).


There are stark contrasts here: wide open spaces like rice paddies and long coastal beaches near crowded barrios and trash-littered streets packed with cars, motos, and pedestrians; the sounds of ocean waves with loud music from neighborhood corner-stores;  beautiful orange and red flowering trees, frilly palm trees and tall-reaching ferns growing next to poor and dilapidated houses (perched, at times, precariously on cliffs overlooking breath-taking views).


Paint and clothing colors are bright.  The sun is harsh.  It is a land of extremes.


Crazy driving, motos toting huge gas tanks, spontaneous dumps near fruit trees and a creek.  Friendly smiles and extreme kindness, impatient honking, neighbors stopping by with herb tea creations for a child sick with stomach flu.


And the more I get used to it the more I wonder how I'll adjust again to a calmer, quieter, more sanitized--muted--life.  I think it may be harder than I'd anticipated.

Cow in Distress

Occasionally we get cows grazing in the empty lot near our house.  We hear mooing sometimes.  Cows wander into the cul-de-sac, but we've never had any problems with them.  I mean, cows can be annoying when they're in the middle of the street, but they move.

So today mid-morning I was struck, though, by some insistent mooing.  The cow I heard out there seemed pretty discontented.  I can't say I was really tuned in too much, Micah was home with a stomach flu and I had bigger fish to fry.  But when Owen brought Abigail home from pre-K and I went with him to drop him back at the office, I pointed to the cow and told him how loud it had been through the morning.  Then as we were pulling away I noticed that it was tied to a rope (not a typical precaution here) and that the rope had gotten tangled and it could barely move.  I felt compelled to try to untangle it and got Owen to pull the car over.  Owen, to his credit, said something to the effect that it was probably best to leave it alone, but I was already out the door. I was more than a little intimidated--I really have become quite the city girl.  I do not normally interact with large animals.

I started out by talking in what I was sure was quite soothing and confident Spanish, though likely cows aren't smart enough to care about languages--but hey, you never know.  I thought I'd look at the rope to see if it was actually tied to something or if the cow was just trailing one behind it and saw that, indeed, someone had actually tied it up. The cow had zigzagged around the space, hooking the rope on stiff weeds as it went, and basically come to a standstill when it used up its last bit of rope to get around a particularly thick and tall clump of weeds.  It must have walked a full circle around it at least once, so it wasn't going anywhere anytime soon.

I figured no one would be back to get it until nightfall (and then only so that no one else would steal it, not out of any concern for the animal's well-being), so I thought I'd have a go at untangling it.  I started with the tangled rope farthest from the cow, but eventually I had to get pretty close to its head.  I managed to pull the rope over the top of the weeds without getting the cow (or myself) too stressed, and left it in pretty good shape.  I was pretty proud of myself, and it seemed to me that the bull looked very thankful.

When I went out later in the afternoon and returned from my second school pick-up, I saw that the cow had gotten all tangled up again.  This time I was a little more confident and actually pulled on the rope firmly to try to get the cow back in the grass and out of the cul-de-sac so it would have more room to move around.  I must have looked pretty good at it because Jesse said, "Nice cow moves, Mom!"

Later, while I was washing dishes I heard some pretty plaintive mooing again and hung up the phone to investigate my cow's latest plight.  This time the rope was wrapped around its neck several times, which was both more compelling and more intimidating.  It looked like this job might require more cow contact than I felt comfortable with.  I mean, it would know I was afraid of it.  Horses do, they don't like me.  Nor do big dogs either, really, especially since I lived next to a pit bull that bit people and growled at me savagely every time I went near the fence.

My neighbor was outside, so I decided to enlist some aid.  I asked him to help me with the cow.  He told me he thought it was okay.  I pointed out that the rope was wrapped around its neck and that it definitely wasn't happy.  He said (in Spanish, of course), "It's not tight, it's okay, the boy will come for it ahorita."  (On a side note, ahorita is a tricky little term.  It technically translates to "a little now" and most countries use if for "in a little while."  But here in the D.R. my contact with the word has caused me to understand it as more like "sometime before tomorrow."  In fact, that's the most technical definition I've been able to get out of anyone.)  So I thought, "Fine, I'll help this cow myself.  But it's strange, I almost feel like my neighbor is scared to come out here."

This led me to double-check on this cow.  I mean, it wasn't so big (bigger than me, certainly, but not huge), and its horns were short.  But when I looked the cow over to see what my neighbor saw, it struck me that this cow was definitely male.  Hmm, so a male cow is a bull.  Bulls are dangerous, right?  I said, "Es toro?  No es vaca?"  "Si," he told me, "Es toro."  I told him I helped it before, hoping he'd feel more inclined to come out with me, and he told me I was a cowboy.  That sounded to my brain's self-preservation instincts suspiciously like, "You are in way over your head as usual," and I decided I needed to walk away.  The moos did haunt me, and I felt sure that the bull felt betrayed while I walked away.  Thankfully, it was gone when I checked on it an hour later, so it wasn't stuck there too long.

But I thought the story was too funny to not pass on to you.  :)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Seemingly-Boastful, Petty Post

Micah just beat me in Scrabble.  We've been playing a few times a week, and when he was sick we'd play twice a day there for a while.  So he's learned a lot of layering tricks and whatnot from his crafty mother.  And he's been reading a few years now, and loves Calvin and Hobbes, so his vocabulary is pretty good.  But still, he's eight.  And I pride myself on my Scrabble playing.  Our penultimate game (that's just me showing off to make myself feel better) I used all my letters spelling "licorice" and trounced him.  But today the day I knew was approaching way too rapidly has come.  He has beaten me.  He got most of the good letters (I swear, for the last few weeks he's gotten the Q and Z within the first few moves of every game) and his brother got the rest (Jesse was the spoiler, he quit right before the end, but not before he used both the J and X).  But again, he's eight, and I'm pretty sure there's not really a context in which he should have been able to beat his English teacher mother.

You may think that I'm writing this blog to brag about my kid, but really, it's much pettier and sadder than that.  I'm writing this to mourn that I'm being passed already.  I tried everything I could and tried my very hardest to make sure he didn't beat me, and I'm slightly devastated that he still did.

When we started playing we'd multiply his score by two (later by 1.5, and eventually by 1.25) to make it more fair, and so he'd beaten me before--but today he beat me straight, no points added.  You know, I don't think I want my kid to be smarter than me, certainly not yet!  And it's embarrassing to think that he may be already, at eight years-old.  

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Toddler Activities: An Interactive Post

I need your ideas!

I very recently started working with a large group of toddlers in an orphanage who are developmentally delayed--and in some cases disengaged--in a rather chaotic setting.  OK, I went last night for the first time, but I want to get involved regularly.  I am looking for safe large group activities and smaller group activities.  If any of them provide some play therapy or have any tendencies to soothe or help with physical or cognitive development, so much the better.

The catch:  There are a lot of them (30 or so?--maybe it's less, but it feels like 40).  They are not very disciplined and are used to being in front of the television for a large part of the day.  They do not interact well with each other.  They do not pay attention to any kind of group announcement.  Ages vary, but most of them are functioning well below level and all are around 2 or 3 (or appear to be).  They throw things at each other.  If something can be broken, they break it.  If there are small pieces, they put them in their mouths (the smallest ones).  They are starved for attention.  There is a very tiny outdoor patio area where we will be playing.

I want some ideas of activities to do with them, in large and smaller groups (when possible), when I see them weekly.

My large group ideas so far (some from the internet):

  • Blowing bubbles for them to pop
  • Colored chalk on the ground
  • Bringing "activity bottles" of colored water and glitter and little objects in old water bottles (hot-glued shut)
  • Little soft balls (they love to throw things)
  • Giving out stickers to put on their hands and shirts (I know they'll love that one)
  • Play doh (I'd just make a huge batch)
  • Singing songs and clapping (I have got to learn more kid Spanish songs)
OK!  So what other ideas do you have for me?  I think we could do books or puzzles or coloring in smaller groups, but really, my area is high school.  These kids are LITTLE!  And there are SO MANY of them!

I was thinking I'd bring things like matchbox cars, but I realized after being there that those would definitely become weapons.  Nothing hard or sharp or heavy or metal.

I'd like to bring in some toys, too, simple and not too exciting toys (so as not to cause fights), like soft small balls and things.  Any ideas about that would be great, too.

Thanks all!  Look forward to reading your ideas!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Our First Dominican Christmas


My parents came for Christmas, as I mentioned in the previous post, and I thought I'd share some of the pictures from their visit.  My mom made Abigail's apron--is that not completely adorable?  :)

Making gingerbread cookies

Move over, Luke and Leia . . .

Bonding gals

We got to see manatees at a national park next to the beach 

Boat trip at the beach, we were at Punta Rucia

Abigail is becoming the family photographer--she loves taking pictures

Monday, January 6, 2014

Sick

We had a fun break for Christmas, but we've also had more time and more testing at the hospital than we've had in a very long time.  Abigail started with what was first diagnosed as strep throat the week before Christmas; several days later we were confused by the fact that her fever still wasn't gone--in fact was still relatively high--and she was complaining of head and body aches (which are red flags for Dengue).  We were praying that she didn't have it, and took her in to the ER.  She was diagnosed with a virus and we were told that we'd have to come back in if the fever didn't go down in three days.  It went down in two, making this a six day fever (one of the longest my kids had had to date).

Jesse started up with it two days later, the day my parents arrived to celebrate Christmas.  We didn't worry too much with him because we figured that it must be the same virus.  And it even seemed to go away by the end of day three.  But Christmas morning he woke up with a headache and a moderate fever, and the day after that his fever was close to 104 (which we realized just as we finished supper).  At that point we were two hours away at the beach, and we made a spur of the minute decision to drive back (at night, over the mountains, which let me tell you is no easy drive) to take him to the ER in Santiago.  That left my parents at the beach with no phone service, no car, and very little Spanish.  Talk about stressful.  Jesse, in the ER, was ruled out for Dengue for the time being (it's never off the table until the fever is gone here), but they couldn't really explain the fever.  We worked from the assumption it was the virus and would wrap up soon.  And we went back to the beach to join the family.

Two days later, Jesse was up to 104 again and we drove for 15 minutes until we got cell reception to call his doctor.  She said he needed to go back to the hospital for more blood tests (again, here, Dengue is always a possibility, and platelet levels need to be monitored) so we left the next morning (a day early), this time with all of the family, and since it was a Sunday that meant the ER once again.  The tests revealed nothing (except to show that the fever was dehydrating Jesse).  His doctor wanted to do a bunch of tests to make sure we weren't missing any infections or anything, so he was in the hospital for at least 12 hours total by the time all was said and done.  And eventually (after ten days of fever), it just sort of cleared up, and we got Jesse to drink and drink before the last urine test so he could pass as hydrated again and be done.

This has been a beast of a virus.  It was quite a time.  I have never had a kid with a fever for over a week, and it's really stressful.  God was protecting Jesse and Abigail, we're really thankful.  Yesterday, Micah got it.  He's on day two and it's pretty mild so far.  Pray for us.  With the other two it picked up on day three or four.  We're praying for him to be done in a few days.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Multi-tasking

One of my favorite parts of living here is how much multi-tasking I'm now able to do while in traffic.  I buy my lemons and oranges from street vendors, I consider avocados, I look sadly at the puppies offered for sale, I once bought a cover for my phone, and I get my windows washed when they need it (and occasionally when they don't--but they pretty much always do, there's a lot of dirt in the air here apparently).

Yesterday I was a few minutes early for picking up Abigail at school and I saw some guys approaching a car behind me to wash it's windows (the driver didn't look too excited about it) and I shouted at them to come and wash my car, which has been dusty and in need of a wash.  They quickly started soaping it up, after giving me a surprised glance.

When the light turned green I had to turn, so I told them to meet me over at the side of the road.  They ran over and washed my car very thoroughly and with careful attention--at rapid speed.  They finished the whole thing and did a thorough rinse from a barrel of clean water (I didn't know about the clean water barrel, the rinse was a bonus I didn't expect) in only six minutes.  I wasn't sure how much they'd expect and I hoped what I scraped together would be enough--but they seemed happy enough and told me to give a shout anytime I needed another wash.

Every multi-tasking bone in my body glows with my traffic light transactions.  :)


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Santa Time!


We were told Santa would come at 4:00 this afternoon.  That time was not posted anywhere in the store, it just said he was coming in "0" days (they had been counting down) on the sign.  I had asked yesterday and called this morning, and been told both times that Santa would come at 4:00.  Owen thought I was delusional making the family go to La Sirena at 4:00 because of course there would be no sign of him, but we got there at 4:10.  He was no where to be seen, nor was there any sign of anything imminent, so I went to "Servicio al Cliente" and asked when he'd be coming.

"4:00" they told me.  
"Well, it's 4:10."
"4:30, he'll be here at 4:30."

Hmm . . .

So we went shopping and killed some time and at 4:30 we stopped back at Santa's station.  He wasn't there.  Back to Servicio al Cliente.  So, about Santa's visit . . .

"He's here, they assured me.  He's getting ready.  15 minutes."
"Will he be here tomorrow?  We have dinner guests coming."
"No, just today.  I think you should wait, he's almost ready."

So by 10 of 5:00 Owen started to get antsy, "Val, people are coming for supper, we have to leave.  We can go to another place to see him another day."

But, oh no! I was not about to do the whole scenario all over again tomorrow!

Finally, right around 5:00, Santa emerged from Customer Service.  And then Owen and I really almost lost it, well, OK, I did.  He proceeded to take pictures and hold babies for about 10 minutes as he crossed over to his Santa chair, paying no attention to the line of people who'd been waiting for an hour for him and posing for random phone shots with people walking by.

As soon as he sat down, we pulled out Owen's cell phone (I don't know why I assumed there'd be a photographer there, still too new here I guess) and got the picture above.  The kids looked green and I had to doctor it up as well as I could on SkyDrive, but Merry Christmas!  We got our picture!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Found: Yams, Yet to Buy: Live Turkey

So I'm getting ready for Thanksgiving, and I'm pleased to say I found American yams at the grocery store today, so we're all set with those.  (Dominican yams are white and very dry, and they just don't candy with brown sugar the same way.)  I'm going to have a really big green salad, yams, cranberry relish (which they sell here this time of year for the Americans), rice (because I really hate making both mashed potatoes and stuffing and I don't really like eating them, and you have to have something to put the gravy on), and the fresh local turkey.

Which means that Monday is turkey day.  My friend Hollie and I are going to go to the Hospedaje again to pick out a live one and get it slaughtered.  After all kinds of warnings that my turkey would be tough and gamey last year, I cooked it in an oven bag someone gave me and coated it with a blended relish of garlic, apple juice, cilantro, and red onion.  It was really good, so I'll be doing that again.  Finding the oven bags was a bit of a chore; when I asked at different grocery stores, I was directed to the ziplocks.  I eventually tracked them down, I am so happy to say, so we should have another good year for turkey.

I have to keep my Thanksgiving simple, because we celebrate it a day early so we can go to the beach for a few days.  The school has a half day on Wednesday, after a morning of Thanksgiving activities (activities with which I will be helping, thus the easier meal plan).  I mean to try to make some pumpkin pie, I froze some of the fresh cooked pumpkin from our jack-o-lantern and saved it.  I will have to do some pie-making on Monday or Tuesday afternoon.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  Happy planning!  :)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Small World

You have no doubt had the experience of meeting someone that you realize you know from somewhere else, but it takes a really long time to figure out how you know each other.  It happened to me twice in a week, and as a new person in another country I realized that it has become an extremely uncommon event.

A week ago I went to a marriage retreat at a resort.  (As a side note, I think churches here find it much easier to recruit couples for marriage retreats since they host them at beautiful resorts.  It was amazing, so relaxing, so kid-free!)  And I ran into someone who was trying to figure out how he knew me, and eventually we realized that he's my waiter at a restaurant I go to occasionally for breakfast (they sell an enormous plate of food for only $3).  That was surreal to me, because again, there aren't many places from where I could know someone here.

But then again last night I ran into someone, an American visiting the country for a week.  And he remembered me by my maiden name.  And we realized, after about 20 minutes talking, that we worked together at Water Street Rescue Mission as camp counselors when we were in college.  He and his family are amazing, and doing some amazing health outreach to people throughout the world in remote villages, and it was so interesting to talk to him.

And it was also a great pleasure to run into an old friend in a new world.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Carnival


I've been meaning to post this picture of our visit to the Carnival display that they have at the free cultural museum in downtown Santiago.  The statue behind the kids is attired in a traditional dress designed by a really famous designer (whose name escapes me because, frankly, most names do--and the energy I spend learning names is better invested on those who go to my church or the kids' school).  A man wore this costume for Carnival, which is a Mardi Gras type Dominican festival celebrated the month of February every weekend.  He's dressed in the "Steal the Chicken" role, which Wikipedia tells me men in dresses adopted originally as a clever way to steal chickens, stuffing their dress with chickens to serve as hips and breasts.  There are other statues in the room also of the other central character of Carnival, The Limping Devil.  That's the guy behind Abigail with horns holding the silk bag.  He's a fancy version of the real thing.  Normally the silk bag is an animal bladder filled with air that I have been warned is used to hit girls on the butt.  A fascinating celebration, sometime I'll have to ignore the strong warnings to the contrary (i.e. this is not the place for a gringo) and go to see it for myself.  It doesn't sound like a real family-oriented scene, so logistically speaking, it may not be soon.  But I may just have to see this for myself someday.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Pumpkin Madness--Using the Whole Thing!

We paid a relative fortune for our shipped pumpkin, but we sure got our money's worth.  We carved it and everyone gave input on one feature. I harvested as much of the meat of the pumpkin while doing so (scraping the sides thin and keeping the peelings, taking off the dark orange skin from the eyes and mouth and nose and tossing those in my pot).  I cooked down the pumpkin to make pumpkin puree, half of which I made into pumpkin ice cream and half of which I am freezing and saving for a pumpkin pie.   And we saved the seeds to roast (they are in the oven now spread on a cookie sheet with a little olive oil worked in, I'll salt 'em later)!  So I'm feeling pretty good about that $13 we spent.  I bet we were the only people in the country eating pumpkin ice cream (try the recipe, it was amazing) this week!  The craziest thing about having a pumpkin here is that with our warm temperatures, some of the seeds were sprouting when we opened the pumpkin.  Here are the photos:

I think the kids look scarier than the pumpkin, right?




Sprouting!  Can you believe it?


I cooked this with just a half inch or so of water.


Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Natural Mosquito Spray

I've been trying to use natural mosquito sprays (from essential oils) in the place of the chemical variety because I don't want to expose my kids to DEET every day--but it's a pretty high stakes experiment because Dengue fever is a problem here and I also don't want to expose my kids to that.  And I was pretty stressed last year because my kids were getting a fair number of bites.

I had a discovery this year that's pretty exciting, though.  I had decided that my most recent batch of essential oil-based sprays wasn't working and had tried to use it up so that I could try a different brand.  Which is how I discovered that quantity matters.  I started dousing us in the stuff--again, in order to use it up--and suddenly it became a very effective mosquito deterrent.  My children went from scabbed and bitten skin to smooth arms and legs.  The mosquitoes actually started going down their shirts to bite them in order to avoid the spray (a problem easily solved by a squirt down the front and back of the shirt).  It worked!

When that spray ran out I mixed up a batch of my own using a blend of essential oils called "Pest-off" from Plantlife.  It has lemon eucalyptus, lemongrass, citronella, and peppermint, among others.  I think catnip is the only notable ingredient missing (I've read that that stuff's really great at repelling mosquitoes).  I put some of the oils in my empty repellent spray bottles.  And I used filtered water, alcohol, and glycerin to water it down.  And once again, it's working!

I found some essential oil blends on Amazon that contain catnip (which is a really expensive ingredient, so I don't want to buy it separate) but that don't contain lemon eucalyptus.  So I ordered Plant Therapy's Bug Off Synergy Blend (you can check out different brands, I just liked that it was affordable and had catnip along with other ingredients I see used a lot in natural sprays) and a separate bottle of essential lemon eucalyptus.  A note on lemon eucalyptus: I was almost suckered into buying a blend of lemon oil and regular eucalyptus masquerading as lemon eucalyptus (and as lemon eucalyptus is FDA approved, along with citronella, you want to get the right one).  What is commonly known as lemon eucalyptus is actually called eucalyptus citriodora, so you can check to make sure you're getting the right one.

It's so empowering to be providing my kids with very natural, very safe protection.  I love it!