Saturday, December 14, 2013


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


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!  

Homemade Vanilla Extract

This recipe I got from my friend, Amy Z!  You just stick a vanilla bean in vodka and wait a few months.  I read that you should wait three months, but I mean, if you need it sooner, just use a little more since it's less concentrated.  The great thing is that you can keep adding more vodka to the bottle when it gets low (I've been at it a year now, I'm sure I'll need to buy a new bean at some point).  We use more vanilla now that it's so inexpensive to come by, which is great, because it can go in granola, coffee, baked goods, chocolate, and even juices (this I learned from Dominicans, to add just a tiny hint to passion-fruit juice or papaya smoothie).

Aren't these beautiful cloth napkins my mother-in-law got me for my birthday?  My old ones are looking pretty sketchy, but these are too pretty for every day (at least for little kids, who like to smear them with dark juices and avocado and purple dragonfruit) and so I'm keeping the old ones in rotation for now.

Early Halloween Party

In a country that really doesn't celebrate Halloween, you can kind of have it whenever you want.  This weekend some teachers from our school hosted a costume party, and boy, did we have a great time dressing up.  The boys were Snoopy and Woodstock (and they thought of that one on their own, interestingly); Owen and I went in with some friends to be water, fire, earth, and wind; and Abigail went as her version of a fairy (she rejected wings, a fairy-like dress we picked out, and basically all of our ideas and instead had me draw a fairy on her forehead--kind of a free spirit fairy is what we have here).

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Friend Coach

I have come to the conclusion that while all of my Spanish-speaking friends help me in some ways to learn the language, there is a certain kind of friend who is especially helpful to those learning a language.

I do have appreciation for any friend willing to speak Spanish with me--I imagine it takes a lot of patience and commitment to befriend someone who butchers your first language.  When I talk in Spanish I alternate between painfully long pauses while I'm thinking of what to say, choppy passages with embarrassingly poor grammar, and ludicrous phrases where I confuse "mint" with "mind" or "soup" with "soap."  It takes real loving-kindness for someone to bear with me.

But even so, with many of my friends who speak Spanish one of two things happens.
1) They correct my Spanish too abruptly or too often, and I feel stupid or like they're not really listening to what I'm saying because they're listening for mistakes (not too many fall into this group), OR, and this happens far more often,
2) They are too kind to correct me.  

With the first type of people it is difficult to try to speak Spanish.  I find myself unable to even speak up to my current ability level and either switch to English or start to fail wildly and sort of panic (this is not a pretty sight).  With the second, I just keep making the same mistakes over and over.

But again, back to this certain type of friend I was describing.  I have two in particular that come to mind, Diana and Ruth, who are so very good at coaching me without being at all condescending or seeming to be distracted from what we are talking about.  The first way they help me is by being genuinely interested in getting to know me and in hearing my thoughts and ideas.  Trying to communicate beyond shallow subjects requires a grasp of the language which is much more complex and nuanced--and for me to be able to communicate in this way I need some help here and there and someone who is interested enough in my ideas to be willing to wait while I sort through my words to try to express them.

The second way they help me is through a very sweet and subtle system of correction.  This is a delicate art, and I have come to appreciate those few friends who are able to do it well.  Ruth and Diana, as I have mentioned, excel at it.  What they do is to basically use active listening with a twist.  They repeat key words or phrases I have just used in a voice with appropriate emotion (maybe empathy, humor, or exclamation), but they change the words slightly to those I should have used.

So in English it would look like this:

Me:    I was so disappointing this morning when that happen!

Diana:  You were disappointed when that happened? Why?

Me:    Because I think Owen was to be there and he isn't.  And I thought!  No!  I can't handle it!

Diana:   You thought Owen would be there and he wasn't!  Was he still at home?  Did you have all three kids with you?

Me: Yes, and . . .  (you get the idea, this conversation isn't really going anywhere)

It may not seem so impressive, but it really is a most patient and effective teaching technique.  It is through hanging out with friends like this that I have improved as much as I have over the last year (y pico--and a little), and it is through continuing to hang out with them that I hope to become fluent in the language.  Fluency turns out to be a much higher goal than I realized.  Here's hoping these friends want to keep hanging out with me!  :)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Mom and Dad

I really think part of the reason I'm doing so well here, and maybe why we all are doing so well here, is that my parents have been such faithful visitors.  They make sure to see us every three months.  They were just out again for another visit.  We always go to a beach for a few days, and then hang out around home and go out to eat when everyone's home from school.  This time we went to a nice restaurant called Camp David that sits on the top of a huge hill (or small mountain, I guess).  It's a former residence of Trujillo, the country's dictator of many years.  And it's got an amazing view.  We had an impromptu family photo shoot and I thought I'd include some pictures.

Barb's Wedding

I went to the states a few weeks ago for Barb's wedding (and Tony's--don't feel left out Tony, I've just known Barb way longer).  It was fun, I was glad to be there, and here are some shots with the bride.

Yes, that's the bride and groom painting a unity painting--this was not your typical wedding ceremony.  :)

Monday, October 7, 2013

Something Crazy is Happening

I am, for the first time in about 9 years, which is right around when I got pregnant with Micah, getting in shape.  Not "in shape" in my new adapted not making any effort kind of way outside of a weekend hike most weeks, but according to my former 20-something definition of "able to run several miles and not feel like I'm going to throw up when playing competitive sports" kind of way.

What happened was simple and amazing.  Abigail started going to school a few mornings a week.  And this really crazy thing happened, I was without a child for several hours and I didn't have to do anything (I mean, you know, specifically in that time period).

And I wanted to run.  This country is hardest for me in it's lack of outdoor exercise and recreation spaces.  We don't hike.  It's hot and there's no where to go.  We go to the pool at the club, but there's no hiking.  And hiking and walking depend on distance if you really plan on getting any exercise.  A twenty minute walk doesn't pack the same punch as a two-hour one does.  So, running.  I'm back.  I realized when I started plotting this that my evening/weekend times were not really going to be consistent or enough to keep me in shape but that early morning jobs could work for me.  So I drop the kids off at school at 7:30, and on the days Abigail is going (2 or 3 days a week), I head over to the soccer field.  I realized if I have to drive somewhere to find a spot to jog I am just not going to have time for it.  But if I'm already there and I have the clothes on and shoes laced so to speak, it's nothing to just take a twenty minute jog.  And just because no one else is using the soccer field as a place to jog (outside of soccer practice), when has what other people are not doing stopped me before?  :)

I'm not really running far (2 miles?) or fast (10 min. miles at best at this point?), but I am running and it feels good.  Did I get my tail kicked yesterday in a soccer game with twenty-somethings fresh off of teams?  Most definitely, in a soul-crushing, humiliating kind of way that seemed to highlight the fact that my baby-producing, years out of shape body would never quite be what it was.  And am I sore today.  Oh yeah.  But I feel like I'm actually physically pushing my body a little for the first time in years.  And that feels great!  :)

Friday, October 4, 2013

Birthday Flowers

I've been meaning to post this picture for a while now--aren't these some gorgeous flowers?  Lilies and bird-of-paradise.  They grow flowers here in the mountains, where it's not so hot.  It's actually cooling off a little at night here now, which is so great.  Soon we'll be able to wear jeans at night and be comfortable!  Come on winter!

Monday, September 30, 2013


The people living in the neighborhoods close to our school today held a strike, or huelga.  A huelga here means tires are burned in the streets to shut things down in the affected areas and keep cars from passing through.  The group of protesters gathered discourages people from trying to cross through on foot, too.  This morning it began just after some of the staff had arrived but before the morning rush of students.  We waited around for a while to tell students that classes were cancelled, and then we had a free day.  Feliz Dia de Huelga, everyone!

That's our silver car there with the taillights on, a nice safe distance from the action.  The kids got to sit in there quite a while while the adults were deciding whether or not to cancel school.  The guys up and to the left are SWAT police who happened to be nearby and who were asked by our school to open the street (just because we found them pulled over on a nearby street.  They did push the burning tires into the ditches on either side of the street, but at that point school was cancelled, and once the SWAT teams left the fires resumed in the streets.  We don't know yet about tomorrow.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Amy's Visit!

Aunt Amy visited, and besides the being able to see her and have fun with her and take her to the beach, we ended up with great photos, since she's our photographer friend.  :)

So here are some pictures from Cabarete . . .

Micah actually found this shell himself and pulled it out of the ocean himself . . .

Here are some downtown Santiago shots . . . 

This is a shot from a famous bar in downtown Santiago, and above you can see a shot of Hilary Clinton drinking a local beer in the bar.

Here we are at Centro Espanol, our club with a pool . . .

It's really fun to visit the Davises!  We're excited for whoever comes next!  :)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Homemade Peanut Butter

Peanut butter has been a problem here in the D.R.  Almost every brand contains added oils, sugar, and additives.  And even the peanuts I could buy contain the same added ingredients (I can get Planters at PriceSmart), so I haven't tried to make it.  They do sell all natural peanut butter here, but it's $10.00 a jar.  So I've been bringing it in from the U.S. when I get a chance.

Last week, however, I was very surprised to find a bag of raw peanuts mixed in with the dried bean section.  I know that they're all legumes, but seriously, who looks for peanuts next to dried kidney beans and lentils?  Best of all, they were local peanuts!  So I decided to take a stab at making my own peanut butter.  I don't know if any of you have made your own, but if you have please comment because I'm pretty sure I did some things wrong.

So first I roasted them in our toaster oven at around 350 degrees for around 15-20 minutes.  I did them in three stages.  They had casings on, but they were really tiny and I wasn't about to try to peel them by hand.  Ideas?

Then I blended them in the blender.  That was a little bit of a process.  The peanuts seemed to be too dry to just turn into peanut butter.  I don't know if they were sitting on the shelf too long (not sure if they're in high demand there tucked next to the beans), if they weren't roasted enough, if the casings were a problem, or what.  (Feel free to give input here, anyone!)  So I added a little bit of olive oil.  I had to add it a few times until I got it into a butter--it was more of a chalky mess at first.  But it worked.  It's somewhere between a smooth and a chunky.

I must say I didn't expect rave reviews from the fam on this one, but they really liked it.  One of mine said he likes it better than store bought--well, he said, "I don't really like peanut butter that you buy, but I like this."  Or something flattering like that.  It was very exciting.  Especially because it filled a huge empty olive jar, and I only paid (in pesos) $3.00 for the peanuts.  Way, way better deal than $10.00 for a tiny jar.  :)

I'm storing it in the pantry because I don't think I'll get a knife into it if it even thinks about a refrigerator.  Has anyone else tried this?  Any suggestions?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

First Day of School


Six and Eight!

Another year older, not sure yet about wiser, maybe even sillier . . .

Homemade Confectioner's Sugar

I stumbled onto this in lazy desperation (probably I could have tracked down confectioner's sugar somewhere in Santiago when I needed it, but checking two places is just about my limit for anything).  So I read somewhere about blending or grinding regular sugar with tapioca flour.  And then I went for just the sugar, and I used my coffee bean grinder, and wow, it's perfect!  Just sugar in a coffee grinder for a few seconds does it.  My favorite part is that I can use natural unrefined sugar to make it.  I mean how high-end does that sound, right?  Unrefined confectioner's sugar.  I'm sure it would cost a fortune.  While here, in the D.R., it's actually cheaper to buy unrefined sugar, called azรบcar crema.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Another Spanish Observation

Suddenly I'm feeling a big boost in my Spanish.  While it can't hurt that we've made more non-Dominican Spanish-speaking friends (almost any other country's Spanish is easier to understand) with whom to practice, I actually came up with an unusual theory as to why Owen and I both have gone up a level in our Spanish.

We did almost no work to practice Spanish while we were in the states for five weeks.  I was a little terrified that I'd find I'd lost a lot of ground when I got back.  But you know of that phenomenon when you're struggling to solve some kind of problem and just can't come up with the answer?  And then you take a nap or wash dishes or do something mindless--and then the answer comes to you?

I think my five week break in the states was the equivalent of a nap.  I was frustrated and tired of struggling with Spanish and I just set it down for a while.  And then when I came back to it, it was like my brain had figured out a few things while I wasn't using it.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Homemade and Natural Replacements

I blogged about this a few years ago, but I thought I'd offer my updated list of cosmetic items for anyone who's interested (with a few cleaning product replacements thrown in):
  • soap-- castille soap Dr. Bronner or, here in the Dominican Republic, they sell bars of unscented olive oil-based castille soap
  • shampoo-- castille soap (both have to be watered down) that I rotate with Lemon Tea Tree shampoo from Desert Essence Organics
  • toothpaste-- Trader Joe's (no sweetener or color added)
  • deodorant-- Pitt Putty (Bubble and Bee)
  • lotion-- shea butter 100% Organic West African Shea Butter 16 oz
  • hair gel-- shea butter (Owen)
  • after-shave-- rubbing alcohol (not exactly "natural," but better than the scented and chemical-filled alternatives), these days Owen doesn't use it b/c he uses a natural moisturized soap 
  • shaving cream-- Oatmeal and Honey soap from Trader Joe's 
  • sunscreen-- Purple Prairie botanicals, or (for those in tropical climates or for a beach day, the less natural but waterproof Pure and Simple kids or baby 50 (Coppertone)
  • lip balm-- Western family all natural (I found it at Giant in the check out lane for really cheap)
  • perfume--Ecco Bella Organic
  • mouthwash-- vodka, peppermint oil, and water
  • detergent for dishes-- Trader Joe's
  • laundry detergent-- Econuts
  • floor cleaner-- vinegar, dish soap, and water (with some clorox added for a stronger job--a less natural addition that my maid here insists on adding because she's convinced I'm not taking the germs here seriously enough)

For more ideas, visit (Environmental Working Group).

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Parental Restrictions (A very recent top ten list)

  1. Don't smack your food at the table.
  2. Don't talk about how you're going to win food smacking world records when you grow up at the table.
  3. Don't stretch your shirt up over your head and elbows.
  4. Don't bite your mother to express overwhelming affection.
  5. Don't shout directly in your parents' ears.
  6. Don't lick your washcloth.
  7. Don't jam your stuffed animals down your pants.
  8. Don't tell grown-ups: "You're a peacock cheesecake!"
  9. Don't poke at a lizard to get the tape off it's back, it's just shedding its skin.
  10. Don't use your siblings names as characters in your stories who die in battle--too upsetting for the family.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Cabarete, otra vez! (A last family getaway before school starts . . .)

We stayed for the weekend again in a condo with this gorgeous tropical garden view from our balcony.  Especially when the kites start up, it's amazing.

We love this beach at the edge of Cabarete, right near a kite surfing, trapeze teaching, Spanish language schooling, healthy restaurant hotel.  The food's good over at the hotel's beach front cafe and the kites are beautiful in the afternoons.  We do have to be careful of kite surfers if we go to the beach late afternoon--they wait to start surfing until the wind really kicks up, and can get pretty close to our swimming children.  At that part of the beach, the wind is so hard in the afternoons that it's hard to walk and sand stings your legs and arms.

The great thing about the beach there is that it's so beautiful and isolated.  Even the vendors, who are many, in Cabarete, don't come as far as our beach.  Just the peanut brittle salesman.  And once we saw someone selling lemoncelli, which is like little mini-limes that taste like key lime pies with enormous pits.

Sometimes we swim in the little pool behind the condo, where we're protected from the wind and can relax in the water.  We're beginning the second year of our family adventure here in the D.R. (or R.D., as they write it here), and we're praying that it's another good one, with lots of growth and joy in the midst of our challenges.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Two Hilarious Internet Timewasters . . .

OK, I don't usually do this, but tonight, I can't help myself.  I'm putting internet humor clips on my blog. Here's for a good laugh:

1)  I love this video, here's to you Owen!

2)  These pictures could be from any of our photo albums, well, most of them.  Hello 80's!

Awkward Family Photos

Saturday, July 27, 2013

10 Year Milestone!

Owen and I had our 10th anniversary yesterday!  Wow, right?  :)  We were not on the beach yesterday, I am using a picture from a few months ago, we were out at an Italian restaurant and had a great night talking and reminiscing about the last 10 years and our move here.  God has been very good to us.

Spanish Acquisition Update

I thought it would be fun to post about our family's learning of Spanish.

I definitely started with the most Spanish of the five of us, and at this point I can usually understand whatever someone is trying to tell me (though I do often have to get people to repeat themselves throughout a conversation) and I can communicate what I'm trying to say--even if it sometimes feels like I'm playing Outburst with a store employee or friend: "I need that thing that you put in the sink to keep the water in the sink" (plug) or "Don't keep the blender on high, do like cchhhhh,  ccchhhhh,  cchhhhh" (pulse).  It has helped me that I do a lot of our shopping and interactions with others outside our home.  I've had to learn.

I felt good the other day with my Spanish level because I was able to catch an error and communicate it.  I called a pharmacy to get some medicine (they'll deliver a few pills at your house for you) for my son and after I got them I wasn't convinced by the packaging that it was the right strength (it was supposed to be 20 mg but didn't say that anywhere and there was a 50 randomly on the back of the pills and I thought, "Surely that can't be 50 mg?").  I called the pharmacist and he assured me it was the right strength and I explained about the 50 and still he still said it was right.  But then I said it was for a child and I wanted to be sure and he went and double-checked.  Then he came back and said, "Oh, sorry, we made a mistake, I'll send you the right pills."  And I thought, wow, I'm glad my Spanish is good enough to question him and make him check again.

Owen's Spanish will soon become more accurate than mine because he is more disciplined to do the Spanish drills on his ipad and he has a Latin background which helps him.  He will probably never sound as natural or conversational as me (occasionally someone makes my day by asking me if I'm from Spain--they can tell I'm not Dominican but don't think I sound American) but he is already starting to correct my word choices in Spanish just as he corrects them in English.  He will also never speak as fast in Spanish because he is just a slower processor than I am.  But all of the Dominican teachers in the school appreciate that their American boss tries to communicate with them primarily in Spanish and that he has improved so drastically in just one year.

Micah is our oldest and moved here just after he passed the window for easy language learning.  I read that through age six kids will easily pick up a foreign language through exposure.  Micah turned seven right after we moved here.  So he was the child I thought might have the most trouble.  But he had an excellent teacher at school who taught him so much last year, and we had him (and Jesse) tutored after school once a week.  He has a great accent and is acquiring a substantial vocabulary.  At first he didn't want to interact with anyone speaking Spanish.  But now, having heard Spanish spoken around him for a year and having the base from his class, he's willing to speak some with friends or adults.  While we were in the states (and I was worried that they may be forgetting all their Spanish) I quizzed him and his brother by saying things in Spanish and seeing if they knew what I was saying.  And I was shocked to find that he knew almost everything I was saying.

Jesse is at the same level as  Micah, but he picked up his Spanish from friends in his class.  While the school is taught in English, the kids in the pre-K classes speak almost no English.  So almost all of their communication is in Spanish, and Jesse picked a lot up last year just listening to his friends.  His accent is perfect (according to our best Dominican friend) and, although I am told I have a great accent, he'll correct me on the pronunciation of one of his friend's names and though I can't hear any difference in how we're saying it, I think he just has a more finely attuned ear for slight differences.  He's still in that magical age range to absorb language effortlessly.  He had never been able to roll his "r's" in the states, and he picked it up without trying last year.  I predict that he'll be able to speak like a Dominican in a few years.

Abigail's language learning fascinated me most of all.  She approached Spanish as she had approached English as a one year-old.  She turned two right when we moved here (right after, actually, so we could have her fly here as a lap child).  She was speaking clearly in English and had a huge vocabulary, she no longer used baby talk in English.  But hearing Spanish, she behaved like I would imagine an infant raised in a Spanish-speaking country would behave.  She didn't initially like if people spoke Spanish to her (and she really didn't like how often people wanted to touch her cheek and tell her "How beautiful, God bless her!").  But the longer we were here and the more she watched me speaking Spanish with people, the more I'd hear her echoing the sound of the words I'd just said, imitating me softly while playing or standing behind me.  I'd be on the phone or talking and it when I'd stop I'd hear the sound of the last thing I'd said echoed back. She'll pick up a book and pretend to read to herself in Spanish, and make very Spanish-sounding noises with some Spanish words mixed in.  And now she'll talk to people in Spanish some.  With fairly accurate Spanish, usually.  She'll throw in some made up Spanishy words sometimes and my maid will ask me what she said.  And I say, "I don't know, she's not speaking English either."

I find it incredible to see how well all three of my kids are doing using three different approaches to learning the language.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

State Side Star Wars

We had an awesome visit to the states!  Here's our kids playing Star Wars with their cousins.  It was great to see family and friends, my kids were so excited about seeing their old friends and especially with playing with their cousins.  And I think I bought about two suitcases full of thrift and consignment store clothes.  And at least another one full of books (the boys are both reading chapter books and we really didn't have many at the house for them).  We had nasty virus and then strep throat for a good chunk of our time home, but still had a good visit (we finally saw a doctor a few days before we flew back to the DR).

We're back, we're getting into the swing of things again.  Our car battery was dead and our washing machine flooded a good section of the house the first load I tried to do, so that made things a little exciting, but we seem to be feeling home again and re-adapting well.  Spanish has stayed with us, contrary to my fears and despite almost no practice while we were in the states.  The all day heat takes some time to getting used to, it's really exhausting.  We were in air conditioning for those five weeks.

I owe my readers some blogs.  I'll get on it!  Sorry for the long silence.  :)

Friday, June 14, 2013

Caribbean Soda

 We bought some coconut milk (water) today as a last Caribbean treat   Usually we drink it out of the shells, which is by far the earth-friendlier option (and it looks really cool), but today as I watched the man fix the drink in front of me and mix it with sugar and ice, I thought, Hmmm, maybe it would actually taste good that way.  And, oh boy, it does!  The guy who lives up at the end of our street takes the tops off of the coconut with flourish: he taps the top with the knife, causing a little splash to come out, then sweeps the top off in one swift motion.  Normally this is the point when they hand it to me, but today I asked for the last fancy step.  He poured sugar into the shell and stirred it with a spoon, then put it in a cup with ice.  Wow, it's like the taste that soda is going for.  Delicious!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Shirt Off His Back

I thought today it would be fun to write about some of my favorite parts of Dominican culture.  Some of the things that make me think, "Wow, these people are amazing!"

The inspiration for this post came today when I innocently told one of our friends (who was over for lunch after church) that I loved his shirt because the colors were so beautiful.  He told me, "Oh, I'll give it to Owen."  I didn't really take him seriously at first, though I did say something like "No, no!  I'm sure your wife likes it, too," but within a minute he was stripped to a t-shirt and handing a really nice Ralph Lauren shirt to Owen.  He meant it, he wanted Owen to keep it, it was the overflow of a generous heart.  A friendship here is a big commitment.  There is little one wouldn't do for a friend.

My maid is like that, too.  Any time I've complimented a hair clip or a bandanna or anything, she has tried to give it to me.  And she is not in any kind of a financial position to be doing that, so I do my best to keep her from giving or buying me anything, but she cares about us and looks for ways to give.

If someone here has any mode of transportation, it is loaded with people.  If you have a motorcycle, of course you will drive your neighbor or your sister-in-law and her child or whoever when you leave in the morning.  I often see bicyclists giving rides, and wow, seeing them on a hill I think, "That's friendship."  And of course if you have a car you can always give a ride to as many as ask you--I'm pretty sure my pastor's wife has given rides to about 15 at a time in their SUV.  And I mean, it's not that big.

It is humbling and inspiring.  I love that characteristic of Dominican culture.  It is so un-American.

Another characteristic that comes to mind is genuine interest in and compassion for children.  About a month ago, Abigail tripped next to the cafeteria line and cried to me.  A ten year-old boy we had never met ran over from the line to help her up and ask her if she was OK, with genuine compassion and interest.  My jaw dropped.  I tried to picture that happening in America, and I was just unable to conjure up the image.

At the pool a few weeks ago we ran into a twelve year-old  boy who had befriended us when we visited his church when we first arrived in the country.  At the time, he had given the boys a lollipop each week and practiced his English talking to us.  At the pool, once he remembered how he knew us, he joined my boys in playing Marco, Polo and spent a few hours playing with them--and a five and seven year age gap is no small thing.

And every time Abigail and I go onto the school campus to pick up Micah or Jesse (or these days, for her to go to class while I help in a classroom) she is greeted by no less than a dozen students on our short walk, sometimes considerably more.  Kids from pre-K through 12th grade try to talk to her and make friends.  And, again, she's two.

I guess what's so amazing to me is that while kids are kids everywhere, and there is some posturing and acting "cool" on the school campus, it does not require children to snub younger children and ignore their existence.  The compassion adults here show for children in every social context I witness is such that even their children exhibit the same kind of compassion for children younger than themselves.  I love it.

And as our visit to the states approaches, I thought I'd think about what I'll miss while we're gone.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


We had a sad loss at the school last week, and the teachers and students have all been hit hard.  There was a need for parents and community members to get involved.  I (along with others) have been helping out in some of the classes.  I've worked with kindergarteners, 2nd graders, 3rd graders, and 4th graders.  Jesse's wonderful teacher has been letting Abigail tag along so that I am free to be in classrooms, and she loves it.  It's been so many years since I've worked in the classroom.  It's been challenging, but I've also loved it.  I have been surprised and relieved, since I never taught the lower elementary grades, to conclude, "Wow, I really do love being around kids" (I mean in addition to my own, of course).  I was a camp counselor with middle elementary aged students in college and I ran an elementary after-school program for one year after teaching, but (contrary to what I expected) I actually think that having kids of my own has made me connect more with these young kids.  I would have guessed that I didn't have energy to deal with other people's young children at this point in my life, but I guess God just gave me the energy to do it, and it's been a great experience for me.  It makes me realize that I might be more ready to get back into the education/work world sooner than I thought.

I wanted to give some explanation for why I haven't been blogging and why I probably won't be for some time.  Got to go, have some volume, area, and perimeter tests to look at . . .  :)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Guava (Guayaba) Jelly

Guavas (guayabas in Spanish) make amazing jelly.  This was my second attempt.  The first time I made it, I left the seeds in, and it was a daunting challenge to eat.  This time was much more successful but took forever, because after cooking the guava and sugar (I didn't measure, just a healthy pile of sugar on top of whole guavas), I had to strain out the seeds.  Guavas are loaded with seeds.  And then I added some of the skins back in (which are soft and thick and tasty) while trying to leave behind as many seeds as possible.  The result: a gourmet jelly, in a comparatively small quantity.  Thanks for the guavas, Holly!