Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Roach Invasion

Roaches are a problem in this country.  I've seen some really big ones in my house since I've moved here, and the kids love to reminisce about some of the times I've screamed upon finding a roach (well, mostly they loved my reaction when I found a big one in the back of their paper-stuffed desk).  But I've found that if I use traps sold in the U.S. (brought to me by my parents when they visit--thanks, Mom!) I can keep them under control.

But lately we had a big issue with roaches.  I don't know if it was the rain, but they got bad.  And let me tell you, it sure has tested my commitment to more natural solutions.  Because part of me just wanted to call in the guy with the scary chemicals to blast them all.  (And, let's face it, at some point that's what I'd have to do.)  But thankfully I've had some days now without any sightings or early-morning roach killings.  It seems as though the traps placed everywhere, along with borax sprinkled on my counter at the back edge, along with borax and sugar water-soaked cotton balls stuffed in random places, along with trying to keep the counters very wiped, along with prayer that God would get rid of our roaches--has actually paid off.  I did not have to call in the chemical guy!

It was a very embarrassing problem to have.  I didn't ever want to be one of those houses where each dish and piece of silverware had to be washed before using (which is a common practice here), but I was becoming one.

So thankful to be not seeing roaches!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Micah and Jesse Would Like to Share . . .

I guess Micah and Jesse have learned from watching their mother that important things make the blog.  So they both requested that the following receive a blog post:

School project: representation of Salto de Limon in the D.R. courtesy of Lego.  I liked how
Micah used all the half Legos to show that they were swimming in the water.

Jesse lost his top front tooth, and he's very proud.  It actually got very wiggly and turned gray and the dentist pulled it.
Incidentally, did you know the tooth fairy gives double for dentist-pulled teeth?  Micah gave me some dirty looks when
he found that out.  Jesse's teeth on either side of the hole are very wiggly.  He may soon have some trouble eating pizza.

Doctor Visits Can Trigger Culture Stress

I took Jesse to the doctor today and left feeling very frustrated.  It was not a unique experience.  This is how it often is when I leave the doctor here.  I think it's because what I expect as an American is not working with how things are done here.  There's something very different about how doctors talk to patients.  They do not like to be questioned, or maybe it's that they are so unfamiliar with it that they don't know how to handle it.  

In America, I now realize, we question our doctors.  If they say to use this cream and drink this medicine, we ask what it's for.  We expect them to in some sense educate us, to sell us on their diagnosis.  We realize that there is more than one way to skin a cat, and we'd like to know which method they're proposing.  And we want to make sure the skin really needs to come off, so to speak.  Dominicans don't, they just do what the doctor says.

If we are prescribed a medicine and it doesn't fully work, we expect some kind of explanation for why it didn't work or why he wanted to try it first.  We don't expect to be told that "no medicine is magic" when we say that it's not working (which is what he said to me).  

I explained that coconut oil seemed to work better and was prescribed another medicine.  I asked what the medicine would do, and the doctor said it would soften his skin.  I asked what it would do different than coconut oil, which was softening his skin, and he said it was designed for this skin condition.  This answer didn't really give any new information.  I tried again to see what it would do different than coconut oil, I asked leading questions about how coconut oil would maybe just mask symptoms instead of curing something, and he said it wouldn't cure anything, it would soften his skin.  He said he wasn't familiar with the medicinal properties of coconut oil, but that I was welcome to get a second opinion in the states.

I'm fairly sure there would be a least some medical argument for using his creams and soaps he prescribed, I just wish he would engage in a discussion about it.  If I have castille soap and coconut oil and they'll do the same thing, I'd rather go with those.  But the "less is more" attitude toward medicine has not hit the D.R.  The doctor looks at you with a quizzical look which says, "If you don't want my medicine and my diagnosis, then why did you come here?" which I must say is very effective for making me mumble my thank you's and take my leave.  Frustrated.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Quotes from Abigail

All in the car on the way home:

A:  Mommy, why isn't X married?
V:  Because she didn't meet someone she wants to marry yet.
A:  But when you meet someone you should ask "What is your name?" first, then you can ask them to marry you.
. . .
A:  Mommy, do you know what I'm going to be when I grow up?
V:  What's that?
A:  A Mommy!
V:  Wow, that's a great job!  I love being your mommy!
A:  Yeah, but you're probably going to die before I do.

A:  Mommy where are you going to live when I grow up?
V:  What do you mean?  Am I going to live in the same house?
A:  I mean where will you sleep?  Because I thought I was going to sleep in your room when I grow up.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Today I feel like I live in a third world country . . .

I realize, of course, that I always do live in a third world country, but honestly, I am so spoiled compared to almost everyone around me that I don't feel too deprived.  But tonight, with my kids armed with flashlights and with candles placed strategically around the house, in a completely quiet neighborhood, I feel like I live in a third world country.

Every Thursday the power goes out.  There are surprise days here and there, but we can set our clocks by the Thursday power outages.  They start by 8 or 9 o'clock and go until around 3.  We have an inverter, so when the power goes out we still have lights and can use fans.  But it does usually mean that we don't have water during the time that it's out because the water pump doesn't work.  We also can't use the washing machine, the toaster, the microwave, a hair-dryer, or anything else with a heating element.  And we get to think of our milk and groceries in the fridge all going bad.  We're gone most of the time the water's out and typically not too affected by it, but it does affect our maid (who comes on Thursdays) when she's trying to clean and do laundry and sometimes can't do much of either.

Today when we woke up, the power was already out.  We hadn't noticed overnight because the fans switched over automatically to our back-up power.  That was a concern only because it almost never happens (and because we can't shut off the air conditioner in our room when the power is out--when it comes back on, so does the air).  It was also a bummer because our maid usually gets the laundry in before the power goes out.  But when I called her from the school, she told me that at least there was water to clean.  We realized that the maintenance guys from the school must have hooked our water up to our inverter, so the power outage affected us less than usual.

But when it reached 5:00 and the power still wasn't on, we started to get a little uneasy--well, OK, I did.  An inverter only lasts for so long before it needs to get charged again.  We've never been on it for a full 24 hours, and I really don't want to play the How long can this thing last? game.  It went out sometime overnight, and it's now 9:00.  We're approaching our longest time on the inverter.  And on top of that, the water pump has been coming on all day long and using the inverter power.  So we started switching off everything in the house.  We have 2 fans on upstairs for the kids, because it's hot with no breeze, but we made them read with their wind-able IKEA flashlights (best invention ever) instead of their lamp and we turned off every other light and fan in the house.

I don't know what noises we usually hear, but it's a marked difference tonight.  It feels peaceful and weird: I hear crickets and notice every car that goes by, and I hear my neighbors talking quietly.  Occasionally, the street dogs go crazy when someone walks by.  But the later it gets, the less that happens.

Probably the power will come on by morning, I pray that it does, it always has before.  But the thing about living here is that nothing ever feels for sure.  And we need to save our power as much as possible so that we can have water and fans--and our house alarm.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Dog Update

So Grenade is now officially this dog's name.  And she hangs out outside our gate all day.  When our car pulls up she runs to greet her.  We pet her and then go in and wash our hands.  And sometimes we go out and pet her and give her a dog treat.  And sometimes she leaves and goes for walks.  But she hangs out near us most of the time.  We went for a walk with her the other day, and she totally knew what we were doing.  In the mornings we see her jogging with other people in our neighborhood or joining people walking their dog.  The neighbor across the street feeds her each morning.  But she guards our house and barks when people go by.

And she loves us, and we love her.  I'm thinking this is a great relationship.  She stays free, we stay free, and we can enjoy each other.  Not sure everyone will agree with me.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Determined Street Dog

Today was rainy, and Grenade (as dubbed by Micah), the street dog who is not our dog spent much of the day on our porch and in our garage.  Eventually the heartless author of this blog and her heartless spouse put up chicken wire to block the low fence she was entering.  She licked my hands while I did it and laid her face in the way.  She was wet and smelly and very cute and she snuggled right up against me while I worked.  We are truly the worst.  I feel like the villain in a Disney movie.

Huelga Day and Rain

Today is exciting for several reasons.  First, it is a huelga day!  Which is like your northern snow days.  Unexpected fun!  The purpose of the huelga, of course, is more serious.  People in the poorer neighborhood near our school are striking to get paved roads and sewage repairs done.  Last time we held school on a strike day there was a minor incident with a small explosive being set off close to the gate of the school.  So the school is taking the strikes very seriously.

The rain effectively stopped the strike, so now we have no school on a day when we probably could have--but better safe than sorry.

With the rain comes wet-vacuuming.  The slope of our back porch angles toward the house, so water comes right into our office.  But it's totally worth it.  Because it's been cool and drizzly all day so far.  And that hasn't happened here in about half a year!

We've had a wet dog visiting already.  We really need to get up that chicken wire.  She's way too cute!  If we don't do it soon we'll lose our nerve.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Oops! We accidentally adopted a street dog . . .

I am famous at the school for my refusal to get a dog.  Most people here get them for security, but we've resisted (we did get an alarm system).  Everyone knows how much I don't want to get a dog.  But of course my kids are thrilled any time they get to play with a dog.  And this super friendly street dog appeared in front of our house the other day, well-trained and lovely.  So we gave it some dog treats (which we had for our old neighbor's dog, to make it hate us less) and some attention.

And it seemed to go well.  It stopped by from time to time, but kept to the streets.  But then today it got bold enough to squeeze through our gate and visit (after we fed it through our gate and gave it some attention).  And though we chased it out, we found it sleeping in front of our door when we got home from church.  Owen says it's a problem of our own creation: if you pet and feed a neglected dog . . .

Now we need to buy some chicken wire.  Because a dog living at our house is precisely what I was trying to avoid.  I don't want to hear it barking at night, I don't want to deal with fleas and vaccines, I don't want the puppies that will no doubt be forthcoming (it's a girl!), and I don't want to deal with what to do with it every time we go to the beach or leave for long stretches to visit the states.

Why does it feel just a bit unfriendly to put up chicken wire to block some want-to-be family member?

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween!

Here's ninja, Anna, and Owen
There's not really Halloween or trick-or-treating here, but we call up American friends and drop by in costumes (and they usually come up with some candy!).  These costumes were carefully planned months in advance.  We had a blast--our friends came through!  :)  Last weekend we carved our pumpkin (it was looking like it wouldn't make it to this weekend) and we have lots of pumpkin cooked and stored in the freezer.

Carved pumpkins last about 2 days in the D.R. because of the intense heat.

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!"