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!