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!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Honduran Tortillas

The Dominican Republic is home to casave (cassava bread, made from dried yuca) and sancocho (a soup with lots of kinds of meat and green bananas and yuca and potatoes).  But while I have eaten sancocho and figured out how to make garlic toast and french toast with the casave, I haven't learned how to make either one.  

What I have learned, from my Honduran friend, Ruth, is how to make tortillas Honduran style.  I first made them at her house, and now tonight I made them in mine.  The flour is an essential part of it, but I know that will be easier to find in the U.S. than here.  (Ruth actually told me that the one store that had it when she came stopped carrying it and she cried in the grocery store, tortillas are such a part of home for her--she was very excited to find that they sell it now at Bravo, our new grocery store which opened a few months ago, which thankfully also sells the only turkey lunch meat I've found here that looks like it's made of turkey.)  

Ruth showed me the steps for making homemade tortillas, and I'm going to show you how she does it.  It's not super fast, but it's not at all difficult.  I was so proud of my Honduran dinner tonight.  Ruth told me I was a regular Honduran "Doña."  

First add the flour to a bowl and some water until the texture is such that you can make a ball.    It's not necessary to measure, which is fortunate, since I pretty much never do.  (At some point here you want to heat up your cast iron griddle, or whatever griddle or frying pan or tortilla pan you want to use nice and hot--do not add oil, you make these dry.)

OK, next two steps:  Cut big circles out of a ziplock bag, you'll get two lying of the exact same size out of one bag.  Smoosh your ball into a patty, and then put it between the two plastic circles on top of a cutting board.  You put another  cutting board on top and lean your weight down until you have a big flat circular tortilla.  So it's cutting board, plastic circle, dough patty, plastic circle, cutting board.  

Then you peel the plastic off of one side of your tortilla, lay the tortilla onto your hand, and peel off the other piece of plastic.  If you're Honduran, there is an in-between-step here where you round the edges so that you have a perfect circle, but when I made them solo you can see I skipped that step.  Don't look, Ruth!

You lay them on the hot griddle and cook the first side for a minute or two, little cracks will form, then flip and do the same to the other side.  (The blackened parts of mine were caused by my messy grill--I was loading some finished ones with beans and spinach and cheese to feed my hungry waiting children before I'd finished all my tortillas and some cheese got on the griddle, yours won't get black edges.)  When you finish the second side you do something a little odd.  Flip back to the first side and press down firmly with a dry washcloth.  If it's done it will puff up in the middle, or where you've just pressed.  It's so cool

Finally, you just tuck the finished tortillas in a towel and wait for them to cool (or, better yet, eat them hot).

I made some blended red beans to go with it, because Ruth told me that's what you serve with them.  When I heat up the leftovers I will refry them, then they'll really be legit.  I made mine with some homemade salsa and extra cilantro, Ruth hasn't yet taught me how to make them.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Dominican Birthday Party

When Abigail turned one, we made a blueberry cake and blew up a few balloons.  My parents came over.  There were some presents.  She took some first steps.  It was an ideal party.  I'd say it registered at about a one on a scale of size, magnitude, and expense.

Such was not our experience at the party for our neighbor's son who just turned one.  Apparently here the one year-old birthday party is a really big deal.  It was at a facility that was decorated at the level I'd expect for a prom or wedding reception (though thematically a little different).  There were photographers, a clown, a juggler, a Mickey Mouse, a man on bouncy stilts, a dancer who also did face painting, a magician, two DJ's, an assistant, and a woman who did cotton candy and popcorn.

But the part that surprised me most of all was the volume of the music.  It was such that I can't imagine the one year-old could bear to listen to it.  I was of course considering the long-term hearing implications for my children.  But they were into it.  Jesse initially covered his ears, but once they started asking, "Quien quiere un premio?" ("Who wants a prize?") he was all in.  They had to clap and jump as loudly and enthusiastically as possible to win.  Abigail won one out of sheer cuteness.  I mean it's hard to compete with a tiny thing jumping with all her might.

Anyway, it was wild.  And I'd have to call it a culture shock moment for me.  Less "culture stress" which I've read is just the fatigue that comes from having to work harder to do every day kind of tasks, and more all out "culture shock."  My ears actually hurt.  And I found the clown a little scary.  But it was a true Dominican experience.

It was as if someone had seen my lame attempt at a one year-old party and said, "You call that a party?  This is a party!"

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Las Terrenas y La Playa Bonita

We just celebrated Dominican Labor Day with a long weekend trip to Las Terrenas, which is in the region of Samana.  It was gorgeous.  Curved beaches with mountains and palm trees and cool rocks in the water.  And there are 60 different varieties of palm trees in Samana.  It's not an area where the beaches are developed, there aren't houses, just stretches of empty beach with occasional restaurants nearby.  It's incredible!  Owen's parents were visiting, and we had a wonderful time there.  We went to a different beach each day.  I wanted to share some photos from our trip:

The rounded beaches with mountains in the background made for stunning landscapes.

Highway view

The road cut through the mountains.

The grandparents with the family on the beach.

Right behind those bushes there was a man who took lunch orders in the morning.  Then he'd take a boat out, catch the fish, and fry it up with some plantains and potatoes on the side.

Saving the computer with rice

The spring rains have apparently started.  Today for the second time it's raining with hail.  We heard about the May rainy season, but didn't take it seriously until this weekend.

When we first came to the Dominican Republic, we made the mistake of leaving the windows open a few times while we were out of the house.  Well, there are windows everywhere to keep air flowing here, and the rain can come in at a right degree angle, so an unbelievable amount of water can get in within ten or 15 minutes.  While mopping up inches of water which had covered the floors in our absence, and anxiously testing out the electric piano to see if it was ruined, we vowed we'd remember to close the windows when we left the house every single time.  And we did stay serious about the windows near the keyboard.

But once the hurricanes were over (late fall), rain didn't come from any direction except the south.  We stopped having a strong respect for the unpredictability of the Caribbean rains.   If it rained at all, it rained in a reasonable manner, and at most we'd have a slight wet patch in front of a window if we left it open.  We were fine for about five months as long as we closed the windows on the south side of the house, and we'd close those pretty faithfully each time we left the house  We also seemed to (almost) always be home when it rained.

All this to say, we were unprepared for the torrents that hit our house on Friday afternoon while we were stuck on the Autopista (major road here).  By the time we got home we had an inch of standing water in several rooms of the house.  More problematically, the computer had been left open near the window next to the balcony, where normally it would be quite safe (it's not your average rain that blows across the balcony and into the living room).  And the computer was wet.  And it wasn't working.

Thankfully, I'd had experience getting water out of our front gate opener (after accidentally throwing it in the laundry in Owen's pants pocket).  Someone told me to put it in a plastic bag with rice for a few days.  And someone else told me to put it in the sun.  So I put it in a plastic bag with rice in the sun and had it working in a few short hours.

So when our computer wasn't working Saturday morning after the Friday afternoon rain exposure (I can't believe we didn't even deal with it until the next day), I put it in a bag with rice.  I didn't like the idea of leaving the computer outside in the sun, and plus it wasn't sunny, so I heated up the oven slightly and turned it off.  Then I put the computer (which was in the bag with the rice) in the oven.  I kept reheating the oven off and on for several hours and kept the computer in there for a while.  When I checked again I could get it to go onto Windows and connect to the internet.  Some of the keys weren't working, enough that I couldn't really type on it.  We watched too much Netflix on the computer last night, which may have heated out the last of the water.  By this morning we were back in business.  As of now, only the "end" key isn't working, and I mean, really, who needs the "end" key anyway?

I thought I'd share this, because who knows who else it dealing with a wet computer?  It worked for us!  We are so thankful to not have to buy a new computer.