Monday, October 20, 2014

Motorcycle Accident

In front of the kids' school today at pick-up time, a motorcyclist passed the line of cars waiting to enter the school.  I saw him pass my car and a moment later watched as he crashed his motorcycle right at the entrance of the school.  The horrible part of the accident was that he wasn't wearing a helmet and I saw him hit the ground without it.  People came running from their cars to him and someone rolled him onto his back and I think shouted to him to see if he was OK.

 I think apart from how upsetting it was to see the accident, what really struck me was how everyone got involved.  People here have not been scarred by lawsuits here like in the U.S.  There isn't a fear that someone trying to help would be sued.  This is also not a country where ambulances are much in use; people scoop up strangers in their cars and drive them to the hospital after an accident.  The emergency number doesn't reach anyone, from what I hear.  And I have seen ambulances, but there aren't many, and I wouldn't imagine many people here could afford to use one.

It was a relief to see him move after the accident, though it was really serious and he was still lying there when I left the school with my kids (the school nurse and doctor were both with him).  Many people are killed here in motorcycle and car accidents in part because driving is less regulated, and in part because most people don't wear seat belts or helmets.

It was an intense afternoon for the whole school.  All of the parents and students leaving had to pass by the scene.  It strikes me that children are less sheltered here from violence just as they are less sheltered from everything.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Dog, Some Chickens, a Hose, and the Police: a Middle-of-the-Night Incident

So although our new house is beautiful and in a quiet part of the city, it is pretty lively in the middle of the night what with the roosters, chickens, and geese the neighbor across the street raises and his neighbor's yippy dog.  Two nights ago I realized that the two noise sources are connected.  One neighbor's chihuahua was chasing around chickens and roosters in another neighbor's yard--right across the street in front of our bedroom windows.  After being awakened at 4:30 and listening to it bark for an hour (when I just gave up and got up for the day), I decided that next time I'd take action.

Last night turned out to be next time.  In fairness to the yip dog, it all started with another neighbor's house alarm going off at 3:30 in the morning.  After the alarm stopped the dog barked for about 20 minutes straight, and no ear plugs or white noise could quite block it.  So I decided to go for my extremely long hose.  (Owen had told me to get a long one, but apparently he didn't mean it should wrap the whole way around the house.)

I first woke up Owen (who had of course slept through all of it) for a "crazy check."  I find it's always a good idea to get a second opinion with desperate middle of the night, spur of the moment decisions, I find.  But he told me to go for it.

So I went out in my pajamas and dragged the hose into the street--hissing and quietly shouting in Spanish at the dog all the while.  I couldn't quite see the dog, but judging from the aggravated noises it made I think I may have hit it at least once.  It ran around behind the house and came out on the other side barking, so I dragged my hose over there and sprayed.

Eventually it hid behind the chicken house, but I waited for a while because I was hoping to chase it back to its house.  Then I saw the flash of lights as a police truck pulled up our block and decided to get my hose back over into my yard.  I didn't try to run hiding into my house, as that seemed inadvisable, so of course the police stopped next to the crazy gringo in PJs and asked me how I was.  I told them.

To their credit, they did not mock or give me a hard time at all--they actually parked next to the chicken house and listened for a while.  In a country where anything goes and no one seems to care about things like nighttime noise, I found it gratifying to be taken at least somewhat seriously.  Of course, the dog didn't bark then.  But that was OK by me.  It was actually quiet (except for a few yips) the rest of the morning.

Thursday, August 28, 2014


So I know I will get in trouble from some of you that this post still does not contain photos of my new house--I so need to do that, I know.
But I must tell you all why I am having trouble blogging lately.  I'm more of a working Mom than I realized I was going to be!  I mean, I realize I'm only teaching one hour and a half class per day.  But because I'm writing the curriculum and teaching a subject I never have before, I'm spending hours and hours every day on these two every other day block classes.  

My day looks something like this:

7:30- Get kids to school, slather with sunscreen and bug spray, walk to class.  
8:00- Go jogging (3 times a week).
8:30- Clean up and change.  
8:40 to 9:30- Print worksheets and make photocopies in teacher lounge.  Grade papers and plan in library.
9:30 to 11:30- Set up for class, enter grades in computer, teach.
11:30 to 12:30- Grade and prepare for tomorrow's class.  Pick up Abigail at 12:30.
Nighttime- Make worksheets, review lesson for next day.

It's insane.  I'm probably spending 6 or more hours a day a lot of the time on teaching.  And soon I'll run out of the material I planned over the summer!  Then I'll really be scrambling.  I think I'll have to come to terms with the fact that I'm not going to be too great of a mom this year.  Don't have too much play in me.  Hopefully I will get more efficient (I'll just grow a new personality . . .)!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

97% of Dominican fruits and veggies tested as pesticide-free!

This is so great!!  I always have worked from the assumption that we were eating a lot of them--pesticides, that is.  I will say this is perplexing since I've seen plenty of farms spraying here . . .

El 97% de frutas y vegetales del país está libre de plaguicidas, dice estudio

Friday, August 22, 2014

All Moved In . . . and Ready to Drop!

I wasn't really sure if it was ever going to happen.  We basically packed up the house as soon as we got robbed and people started telling stories of other robberies in our area and how dangerous it is in that neighborhood.  But for a month and up until the afternoon before we moved we didn't know if it was going to happen.  It turned out that a previous owner had put in a new meter instead of paying overdue bills--twice.  So the electric company balked at connecting one of them.  The house had illegal wiring rigged up (?!), but the school wanted us to wait until we got legal electricity before moving in.  We're in now!  I don't think the electric company has actually connected the meter yet, but they've been here several times and we do have electricity.  Not sure we're paying for it yet . . .?

We moved in last Friday, worked like dogs all day, and then had a birthday party for the boys with 30 people on Saturday.  That was actually a fantastic idea (especially because my maid and her sister made all of the food) because it made us work super hard all day on Saturday to be ready for a 4:00 party.

Then Monday we started school, and once all of the kids caught their breath, they did really well in their new classes.  Mommy actually had the hardest adjustment out of everyone.  I haven't taught in ten years, and I underestimated how much energy and work one block-scheduled class per day would take.  Maybe when I'm done unpacking and sorting our stuff until 10 or 11 every night I'll do better.

We're so excited to have a weekend here with not much to do (except, of course, that Owen has a paper due for his class Saturday night).  We can hopefully enjoy the house and do more casual finishing touches and organizing.  The house is beautiful, it's got a huge bougainvillea growing on an arch above the house and a balcony all along the front of the house.  The kitchen has pretty brown little tile backsplash and the floors are a pretty swirled tile (they won't show dirt as much as the old white ones did.  It's got a great outside space where the kids are skateboarding (well, ripstiking, actually) and scootering everywhere.  It has pretty stained-glass windows (pictures soon, I finally unpacked the camera yesterday) and we even got to help pick wall colors since the owners hadn't painted yet.  So blue, green, and yellow . . . very bright.

The house comes with some major challenges.  For the first week we had to turn the kitchen sink water off at the base each time, because it was leaking out of a little tube previously used as an automatic ice maker.  We flooded the kitchen a few times when we forgot.

And every time it rains really good it comes in the back door and floods the floors.  The day we looked at the house all of the floors were wet, but we foolishly thought that all the men were working hard to get the house all clean for us.  We now realized they must have been clearing out all of the rainwater that had gathered.  Last Sunday Owen spent about four hours sweeping water out the back door.  (I did help an hour before leaving with the kids for church . . .)

Yesterday they put a cover over the back patio and we hoped that would solve the problem.  It helped, but because the patio slants down toward the house, any water that does make it onto the patio basically finds the inside of the house.

(There's supposed to be a hurricane this weekend, so thank you, Sonia, for the loan of the shop-vac!)

We have our phone and internet set up now, and our house is mostly set up . . . we're hoping for a relaxing and productive weekend!

Sunday, August 10, 2014


We had a 4.7 earthquake yesterday.  The kids and Owen felt the house shake as if a big truck was going by, and Micah saw the ceiling fan swaying.  I was shopping, and completely didn't notice.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Our New House

We got it!  Finally!  The new house!  And we should be moving in next week.  Our apartment has been good to us, with its amazing breeze that is the envy of our friends.  And I really do still love it, except for the safety concerns here, but I'm really excited about the house we're moving to.  It turns out it even has a guava tree hanging over the back wall.  Score!  My kids love guavas!  It is also bigger, and we're excited to throw the boys a birthday party in our new house ("parties" were a little claustrophobic in the apartment).

And funny thing, because the landlord never finished painting, we even got to pick some of the same colors from this apartment we just repainted.  What a great surprise.  :)  It's taken so long to get them to sign on this house that, humorously, it has made me really love it all the more (once I realized that we maybe couldn't get it after all it somehow seemed more attractive).

We're just waiting for water and electric and we should be able to move in!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Stuffed Animal Camp Day

The kids and their mother woke up really grumpy today.  And the house is mostly all packed up (their mother was perhaps a bit optimistic on the moving time-line), with almost everything in suitcases and those plastic bags they give you at the grocery store or Walmart because we don't have boxes.  The kids have been using scooters and ripstiks (wiggly skateboard type things) all over the house for a few weeks now, and we're all getting tired of their toys being all packed up.  Hopefully we'll sign on the house today.

In the meantime, rather than unpack here, we're having a stuffed animal camp day.  They love when I give them a camp day (where I dust off my old camp counselor activities for their entertainment), but I thought we all might love if they gave their stuffed animals a camp day.  This way they can be high energy and creative, and Mommy gets a bit of a break.

It's working out wonderfully.  Right now they're working on a scavenger hunt (which in this case is really just a list of activities I made up for them to do while I'm inside on the computer and in the kitchen and lesson-planning for school).

Friday, August 1, 2014

New House

So I'm pretty sure we have found a house.  It's been up and down and on and off with this.  We find a house, they no longer want to rent.  Or, maybe, they don't want to rent to us.  We find another house, we arrange a time to meet to sign papers.  They cancel, they want to reschedule.  They avoid rescheduling.  They want more money.  We start looking for other places.  They call back and do want to sign.  We are now midway through pre-signing paperwork.  Hopefully this week we will have a place!  I will post pictures!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Broken In

When I last posted, a little over a week ago, I figured I'd write again soon and show some vacation pictures and the paint job we had done on the house while we were gone (it looks really good, by the way, which now doesn't really matter).  Our house was a little crazy and it took a while to get unpacked and get everything back together post paint-job.  We were pretty well adjusted by the weekend.

But then that Saturday night we were broken into.  

We were in the house, but we slept through it.  And while some electronics are gone and some credit cards have been cancelled and passwords changed, we are all OK.  Initially we were a little shaken up and Micah and I were both a little scared, but now we are doing much better.  The school put some more bars on the windows and Owen's been pulling his mattress into the hall at night to be keep an eye on the kids--so now I am sleeping again.  

We heard some things about our neighborhood after we were robbed (or burglared, as Cath tells me I'm supposed to say) that made us feel like this would be repeated and it wasn't safe for us to stay.  So we immediately started house-hunting for a new rental in a safer neighborhood.  And because we want to move right away, we basically started packing as soon as we found one we liked (even though we haven't actually signed any papers or anything yet--we are praying that they get signed tomorrow and that we get moved by the end of this week).  So my house is once again (flashback to Philly two years ago) bare and bagged and in varying stages of clutter/packed-ness without us knowing for sure when we will be moving out.  It has been quite a week.

The two things that bothered me the most were my stolen blender (it was a good one, and I use it all the time) and my purse.  I thought they could have had the consideration to take the wallet and leave the purse (or, even better, just take the cash).  And already feeling vulnerable and a little in shock, it was so weird to have nothing to pick up on the way out of the door.  No keys, no license, no nothing.  

And seriously, they needed a nice blender to do what?  It felt like one last jab.  It somehow made it more personal.  I blend all the time.  OK, I realize I can't really explain my attachment to my blender, you'll just have to take my word on my sense of loss.  I should also mention that I didn't realize the blender was gone until a few days had passed--which made it feel like I was robbed a second time.

So it was ironic when our landlord found those two items on our roof this morning investigating a water issue.  I guess they went through my purse on the roof.  And I guess they decided the blender was too heavy to toss to the next roof (it's a heavy base).  It was also great that they left the keys, and, hilariously, Micah's hat that he'd been looking for (I'm guessing one guy said to another, "Seriously, you're really going to take that hat?" only in Spanish.  It's a Dominican Republic hat, patriotic perhaps, but I can't imagine it would help anyone's street cred.  

It was such an encouragement to me, like God was giving me very personal and direct comfort in the midst of all of the drama and chaos--he returned the two things that made it hard for me to get past the break-in.  And somehow after a week on the roof in the hot tropical sun and after a shower or two, nothing seems any worse for wear.  

He is so faithful, and so specifically so.  It was like he was saying, "Here Val, I know this has been hard.  I've had your back.  Look!"

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Fam: Stateside and Back

We've pretty much given up on getting all family members to look forward and smile all at once, it's just not worth it.  By the time everyone is looking ahead, not blinking, smiling, etc. both parents have veins popping out of our necks from all the yelling through gritted grinning teeth.

So the very long silence was caused by our visit to the States.  My cousin let me know that it is not cool to leave such a very long silence--so this one's for you, Darin.  :)

We had a blast visiting with family, and even got to do some sight-seeing (hello, Plymouth Plantation and Mount Washington).    Lots of World Cup watching (sorry, Argentina, we pulled for you, along with all the Spanish-speaking teams), lots of kids up late and eating desserts every night--real ones, not Mommy's healthy alternatives, lots of time with my parents and Owen's and the cousins and the aunts and uncles.

While we were gone, our apartment was painted.  Now our home is not all-yellow as it was before, it's got other bright colors to keep yellow company.  We have a creamy yellow, a bright yellow, and a bright avocado green in the entryway, dining room, living room, and kitchen.  Lavender in the laundry room/guest suite and office, a muted greeny-turquoise in our room, yellow-orange in Abigail's, and green in the boys'.  I'm so ecstatic.  The paint is not pealing, there are no hand prints, no furniture or water damage has scraped or bubbled up any paint.  We should probably just live on the balcony so it will stay so beautiful.

Apparently I told everyone I knew here in the D.R. that I was getting back a week from now, so it was like, "Surprise!  We're back early!"  I'm not always on top of the details.

This year I'll be teaching one Bible class a day while Abigail is in class.  I did not see it coming, I wasn't looking for anything yet in the every day department, but I'm really excited about.  And slightly stunned, as I've only ever taught English.  So in addition to some initial planning, I bought a really pretty binder (cloth-covered, from Target) to help ease my transition back into work.  Floral, pinks and greens and I think some yellow, totally worth whatever ridiculous price I paid I'm sure--it's out of character for me, but I think I'm a little intimidated about going back.  It's just an hour and a half a day, but actually it seems crazy to me that I'll be working every day!  I mean, it's been 9 years!  At least it's only an hour and a half a day.  I mean, that's the length of a Disney movie.  And I'll have that pretty binder.

It was a little hit or miss with our return flight, because (naturally) the Dominican Embassy waited until the last minute to mail us back our passports with the visas.  And so we were scheduled to get them after we'd have already had to leave to catch our flight.  So a big thanks goes out to the lovely and  reasonable Fed Ex worker who was there on a Saturday, willing to dig through the next business day mail pile so Owen could drive an hour to pick it up early.

Never a dull moment.  It is a cultural requirement to absolutely wait until the last minute to do anything, pretty much across the board.

Anyway, more blogs to come.  But I am back.  And again, apologies to Darin and anyone else aggrieved by the long silence.  :)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Cherry Picking

Our wonderful neighbors asked us multiple times to come pick their fruit from trees in their yard.  This week it was cherries.  They asked us yesterday to send the boys but I told them one of the boys were sick.  They asked me today and I said that now both of them are sick.  They said, "It's time, all the cherries will fall tomorrow."  So Abigail and I went to pick them.  And they're beautiful!  We can't eat them, they're just for juice.  But yummy juice!  Anyway, we're going to pack our freezer.  We'll be set for a while.  :)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Three Weeks to Destruction: You Get What You Pay For

Exhibit A

Micah's shoes were destroyed two months ago, such that I could not wait until we could get to the states to get him a new pair--and by "could not" I mean his sock was touching pavement.  But I thought, Hey! I'll just get this cheap $10 pair--it only has to make it 2 months!  Perfect!  I mean, any sneaker can make it two months, right?

I submit exhibit A, above, as evidence that you get what you pay for.  That horrific demonstration of shoe disrepair happened in three weeks.  After his entire foot was falling out of his shoe--again, three weeks after aforementioned purchase of the $10 shoes--and both shoes flapped while he walked, I had to get him another! short-term replacement pair of shoes here to hold him over until we got to the states.  This time I went to the PayMore they have here that they call (at their copyright peril) PayLess and bought their cheapest pair, for $20.  Theirs is guaranteed for 30 days, so that's a step up.  They should at least make it 6 weeks . . .

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Helping Foot

I'm realizing lately that there are things I've grown accustomed to that are too great to leave out of my blog.  One of them I remembered when I saw it again on my way home from dropping the boys off at school.  Lots of people here use motorcycles ("motos")  instead of cars, even large families pile onto single moto--they're just cheaper to own.  But many times people run out of gas before they get to a gas station.  And while I've seen the occasional moto being pushed down the road, what is way more common is to see him get a "push" from another moto.  The cyclist with the bike that's working holds out his foot and pushes the footrest of the bike that's not, and they clip along that way at traffic speed until, presumably, they reach a gas station.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Flying Ant Attack

We're sitting in the dark.  The flying ants have won.

Some kind of flying ant invades our house about twice a year.  It's infrequent enough that we pretty much forget about them in-between times.  Owen thinks it has something to do with lots of rain.  Anyway, it's bizarre and almost Alfred-Hitchcock worthy.

I tried but failed to get a photo that explains our predicament and it's just not possible.  You'd have to see them just covering the room and the (ineffective) screens, coming after the light.  Their wings fall off, they lay dead all over the floor, they fly around, they are gross in their sheer numbers.  

I mean, what's really sad is how clean my floor was earlier today before it started raining and all these messy winged ants came in.  I took the dust-buster and went after them.  It was a very effective clean-up method--I was even able to catch some out of the air--and it was soon full and swarming with live bugs.  So I switched on the front outside light and took it outside in the rain to dump it.  Only due to the amount of diligent attention the landlords give to the grooming of the patio, I couldn't just dump it out off the front balcony.  I have to go out in the rain and dark and try to get the bugs out of it.

So I took it apart and tried to knock the bugs off on the outside of the wall that surrounds our property.  (Did I mention it's raining?)  And of course a piece of the vacuum ends up falling outside of the fence, which involves a lot of shouting to Owen to buzz the gate and find a flashlight (it also causes some familiar irritation with his rather slower reaction times--did I mention it was raining?) as well as some digging around in weeds in the dark.

I got back in with a wet dust-buster and laid all the pieces out to dry--only to realize that leaving the balcony light on through all of that called every winged creature into our windows while I was out there.  Our screens are not equal to their determination.  So our living room is filled back up with bugs.  

We turned the light out, it's the only true solution.  And I guess even if it doesn't work, at least we won't see them, right?

Fleeing Pedestrian Sign

I love this depiction of the fleeing pedestrians.  It so captures the country for me.  "Look out!  Against all odds, there may be people taking their lives into their own hands to try to cross this street."  I've seen other signs like this while we were driving, but generally they are posted places where it's not safe to stop to get the picture.  Generally they are posted where it's not safe to cross if you are a pedestrian.  My uncle and cousin are visiting, so we took advantage of the great spot to get a family photo.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Fruit Guy

Today I saw the fruit guy again, and I really can't believe I haven't blogged about him yet, but this blog is past due.

One of my favorite examples of Dominican culture is the fruit vendor right at the intersection of a very busy and crazy highway right near my house.

Actually, interesting side note, the Dominican Republic is ranked the second-most dangerous country in the world for driving, which means that red lights are considered suggestions and you can have people passing you on your left as you are signaling and turning left--and red lights go out with the frequent power outages, and then it's somewhat of a free-for-all.

Anyway, the fruit guy is right on the corner of this highway that we take to get everywhere.  And for the last two years I have observed the same pattern repeated again and again.

He sets up a card table on a tiny "island" between where different lanes are turning onto and off of the highway and puts out his bananas, papayas, mangoes, and pineapples.  He keeps this same system going for a few weeks.  Then one day, he hangs up a tarp from the tree branches above to block the sun and rain from his stand.  A few weeks or months after that, he brings in a little wooden stand and sets it up next to the card table.  His display expands and grows until it stretches beyond the island into the road feeding onto the highway.

Then one day, AMET, the local traffic police, comes by and tells him to take down his stand.  (This is conjecture, but I'm pretty sure about this.  I've watched the pattern many times.)  It won't be the first time that AMET has seen him, but I'm thinking that either he's gone too far with his stand or that an important government official is going to drive by that day.  Anyway, they decide that it's no longer OK for him to have his stand there.  So he disappears for a few weeks, then starts back with the card table.

I've watched this again and again.  But after the last time they closed him down he never came back.  Month turned into month turned into month.  And the fruit guy stayed away.  I knew from the past pattern when to start looking for him, and was almost giving up on him.  It would be so unexpected if he actually gave more than a respectful "break" in his business and took the police seriously enough to close down altogether.

But today he was back!  And my understanding of Dominican culture is confirmed.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Check Out What I Found on Our Balcony!

This horned beetle was on our screen outside our living room window.  I knocked it off onto the floor of the balcony to get a picture.  Isn't it amazing looking?  Not pretty exactly, but so wild!

Cassava Bread French Toast . . . and Grilled Cheese

For those of you in the U.S., cassava bread is not readily accessible unless you live near a grocery store with good international or latino selections.  However, I feel it my duty to pass on any easy and inexpensive gluten-free substitutes because so many gluten-free options cost an arm and a leg.  And cassava bread is the one cheap, local gluten-free bread I can get here.  It's just dry and choky unless you do something with it (I guess unless you grow up with it--I have Dominican friends that can pick this up and just start chewing away, but to me it tastes like stale cardboard).  Drizzling it with olive oil, baking it, and finishing it with some salt and garlic powder makes a delicious toasted side dish with a meal.  But after two years here I have perfected two more creative uses for this yuca-based "bread":  french toast and grilled cheese.  I found these lovely thin small rounds of cassava, and they are key to my success.

Grilled cheese took a little while to figure out, because it took me a while to think of sprinkling the bread with water to soften it (you just can't get it soft enough with butter alone).  Once I figured out that trick, and was very generous with butter, I found the grilled cheese to be pretty simple.  Any grilled cheese is helped by adding arugula (which they sell here, thankfully) and some sliced turkey.

The french toast wasn't really working well until I started using the super-thin cassava bread a few months ago.  I soak them in the milk and egg for about twice as long as you'd have to soak regular bread, and it tastes delicious.  Of course, it doesn't hurt to drizzle it with the chinola (passion fruit) honey they sell here.  :)

Friday, May 9, 2014

Some Local Color

I added some local art/souvenirs to add some color to the house.  Really like the effect!  :)

Micah found this one--and dragged it out of the water himself!

Technically a fruit and not a decoration, guanabanas are as interesting to taste as to see.  They make a great juice that is supposed to be incredibly cancer-fighting.