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.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Little (and Big) Things I Love About My Life Here:

1.  I just discovered a woman at the market up the street who chops up cabbage into incredibly fine strips and sells a big bag of it for 75 cents.

2.  I can buy limes, strawberries, avocados, and kites at traffic lights.

3.  If you're really in a big hurry and no one's coming you can bend a few traffic laws (not that I should, but I have to be honest, it's an advantage).

4.  We can watch American or Dominican Netflix.

5.  My kids are actually learning Spanish.  Owen and I are actually learning Spanish!

6.  If you tell a Dominican that you're going to do something they say, "if God wills . . ." to remind you "Hey, American!  You're not in control--don't be delusional!"

7.  Guanabana juice, which you've never had if you've never been in the tropics--it's amazing.

8.  Driving in our SUV here is like being in a commercial to show what those bad boys can do.

9.  Tile floors are really cool in hot weather to sit and play games on.

10.  God is good, we're happy, our kids are doing well, and our friends at the school and church have been a huge blessing.  I'm so thankful to see my family thriving, even though we miss loved ones back home.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

We Got Mail!

Through some kind of a mix-up, Owen's graduate school sent him a welcome t-shirt in the mail directly to the Dominican Republic.  Now we'd have bet ten to one that it wouldn't get here that way (and we gave them directions to mail it to a U.S. postal box to be forwarded to us).  But how fun it was to have a mailman come to our door on a motorcycle and light his cigarette while he waited for me to go get a tip!  I mean, that was the only time we'd seen a mailman in our two years here.  Very exciting!  I wasn't even aware that they existed.  A friend of mine said her sister bet her $5 a five-dollar bill in a card wouldn't get to her--and she won.  My friend didn't get it.  Mail is just a hit and a miss here: maybe you get it, maybe you don't.

Photo update

I thought I'd give some recent shots of the family for those of you who don't get to see us so much these days.  Here we are!


Thursday, May 1, 2014

Another one!

I found another one!  Micah stepped on it in socks.  Owen was home this time.  He says baby tarantulas don't look like that, he says they're not that black.  I'm going to go with that.  For sure, way too dark.  Can't be.

Baby Tarantulas . . . a Terrifying Prospect

Tarantulas like plantain trees, my downstairs neighbor grows plantains next to our house.  They killed one in the yard outside the house last year.  My maid swore to me that she got a tarantula in her purse while at our house last year (which I refused to believe).  Now let me say, and I thank God as I type this, that I have not seen a tarantula (or really anything close to one) in my house.

But a Dominican friend of mine changed things for me when she told me about her mom killing a pregnant tarantula when she was growing up and the baby spiders poured out of it and scattered through the house.

So up to this time I have been comforting myself that we are safe from tarantulas because they couldn't fit through our screens--which although a little gappy do not allow anything in nearly as large as Abigail's hand.  But I did not consider babies.  Babies which could get bigger!!!  In the two years we've been here I never saw anything more alarming than a roach.  But a few days ago I killed a small spider that struck me as alarmingly black and spidery.  And today Abigail ran screaming from a small black creepy spider (well, small next to a tarantula, it was the size of a quarter) when she went to get the dustbuster.  Do we have a baby tarantula SITUATION????

So help me, I don't know how long I'll last if I see anything bigger!  The same Dominican friend assured me that, "You don't have to worry, they couldn't kill you."  Hmm, that's an underwhelmingly comforting thought.  It's not actually death by tarantula that worries me, it's seeing one in my house and then never being able to relax again.

I mean, I already get mosquitoes and have to wonder if they're carrying Dengue (causing me to chase after them with my electric racquet) and we already have to set roach traps and I already have to be ready to respond when someone yells "Ant attack!" to come running with the biodegradable spray to kill the hundred or so ants that are in a clump or making a line across the wall.  I really do not need one more pest.

My kids are used to tarantulas from school, they get them regularly in the art room, and Micah assures me he helped trap one for his teacher and will totally catch it in a cup for me if we find one in our house.  I just hope I don't have to pick him up early from school one day to do it.  Because I am NOT doing a tarantula if I can help it.

Friday, April 25, 2014


During Easter Break (Semana Santa), we got the unique experience to see how coffee is processed by hand in the mountains of the Dominican Republic.  A guide was showing us some trails near the lodge where we were staying, and I asked him what the dried seeds were that were spread on the rock in front of a house along the dirt road.  It turned out that they were coffee beans and that the incredibly helpful and friendly woman (Kristina) who was there at the house was his sister-in-law.  She told us to come back in the afternoon so she could show us how to process coffee.  

The coffee beans start out as red berries, and are then washed and dried in the sun.  The picture below shows them after they've had plenty of time in the sun.  

Once dried, the bean is basically covered with what amounts to a casing or some kind of chaff (the berry part dried up makes this).  In that big mortar below, Micah got to crush the coffee a little with the pestle to work the chaff loose.  (He had to be reigned in a little by Kristina, as apparently this is a bit gentler of an operation than we realized and he was mashing away zealously.)  In his hand are some coffee beans stripped of the casing.

The next step was to spread out the beans on that wide sorting board and shake them around.

Then we blew off the casing (while trying not to blow off the beans).  Oh!  I just realized you can actually see the casings flying off a little--action shot!

We didn't see the last two steps (roasting and grinding) because we actually had been stopping by to politely refuse her offer to teach us all this--Jesse had a fever and we had to leave for home early.  But as she wanted to make him a tea to help with his flu symptoms (out of cinnamon and geranium leaf), we had some time to kill and got to try the steps you see above.

This room where they'd roast the beans. They'd put the big lidded pot to the right of the oven over the hole on the top of the oven.  This little room, by the way, is just off the kitchen in her house.

The last step is to grind the coffee in the big grinder she keeps on the ledge in her kitchen near the window.  It was incredible to see, very simple and very beautiful and very much something I would never imagine seeing.  Kristina was incredibly kind and a very gracious host--she invited us all to come and stay with her at her house next time we're in the area.

I have to say, the coffee she brewed us tasted pretty amazing, too!

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


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.