Sunday, December 21, 2014

Merry Christmas!

It's a hot, sunny day (like most days here), the bougainvillea is blowing in the breeze, a ripe guava fell into our yard yesterday, I took a new family to the downtown market today to buy produce--and I'm listening to some Scottish bagpipe Christmas number on Grooveshark.  We have our tree and lights up, decorations the kids made at school, and we're lighting our candle and doing advent every night.  I think I've accepted the tropical Christmas as a real Christmas at this point.  It helps that my parents come to stay with us over the holiday break.

We made gingerbread houses again this year, though technically, I guess you'd call them sesame cracker houses.  Our gingerbread houses collapsed the day we made them last year because they couldn't take the humidity.  But I spent a good long time finding sturdy crackers, so this year's are holding up much better.  My kids are so into their g
ingerbread houses that starting around Halloween they start hoarding pretty candy that looks gingerbread-house worthy.

[On a side note, the neighbor's house alarm has been going off for four straight hours this afternoon with little tiny breaks where it went off before getting triggered again.  It is currently quiet, and I am choosing to hope that the neighbors are back and that this is not another pause in the insanity.  Oh dear.  It started up again before I even finished getting that written.]

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Roach Invasion

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

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

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

So thankful to be not seeing roaches!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Micah and Jesse Would Like to Share . . .

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

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

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

Doctor Visits Can Trigger Culture Stress

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 14, 2014

Quotes from Abigail

All in the car on the way home:

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

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

Thursday, November 13, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Dog Update

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

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

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Determined Street Dog

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

Huelga Day and Rain

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Oops! We accidentally adopted a street dog . . .

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween!

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

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

Monday, October 20, 2014

Motorcycle Accident

In front of the kids' school today at pick-up time, a motorcyclist passed the line of cars waiting to enter the school.  I saw him pass my car and a moment later watched as he crashed his motorcycle right at the entrance of the school.  The horrible part of the accident was that he wasn't wearing a helmet and I saw him hit the ground without it.  People came running from their cars to him and someone rolled him onto his back and I think shouted to him to see if he was OK.

 I think apart from how upsetting it was to see the accident, what really struck me was how everyone got involved.  People here have not been scarred by lawsuits here like in the U.S.  There isn't a fear that someone trying to help would be sued.  This is also not a country where ambulances are much in use; people scoop up strangers in their cars and drive them to the hospital after an accident.  The emergency number doesn't reach anyone, from what I hear.  And I have seen ambulances, but there aren't many, and I wouldn't imagine many people here could afford to use one.

It was a relief to see him move after the accident, though it was really serious and he was still lying there when I left the school with my kids (the school nurse and doctor were both with him).  Many people are killed here in motorcycle and car accidents in part because driving is less regulated, and in part because most people don't wear seat belts or helmets.

It was an intense afternoon for the whole school.  All of the parents and students leaving had to pass by the scene.  It strikes me that children are less sheltered here from violence just as they are less sheltered from everything.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Dog, Some Chickens, a Hose, and the Police: a Middle-of-the-Night Incident

So although our new house is beautiful and in a quiet part of the city, it is pretty lively in the middle of the night what with the roosters, chickens, and geese the neighbor across the street raises and his neighbor's yippy dog.  Two nights ago I realized that the two noise sources are connected.  One neighbor's chihuahua was chasing around chickens and roosters in another neighbor's yard--right across the street in front of our bedroom windows.  After being awakened at 4:30 and listening to it bark for an hour (when I just gave up and got up for the day), I decided that next time I'd take action.

Last night turned out to be next time.  In fairness to the yip dog, it all started with another neighbor's house alarm going off at 3:30 in the morning.  After the alarm stopped the dog barked for about 20 minutes straight, and no ear plugs or white noise could quite block it.  So I decided to go for my extremely long hose.  (Owen had told me to get a long one, but apparently he didn't mean it should wrap the whole way around the house.)

I first woke up Owen (who had of course slept through all of it) for a "crazy check."  I find it's always a good idea to get a second opinion with desperate middle of the night, spur of the moment decisions, I find.  But he told me to go for it.

So I went out in my pajamas and dragged the hose into the street--hissing and quietly shouting in Spanish at the dog all the while.  I couldn't quite see the dog, but judging from the aggravated noises it made I think I may have hit it at least once.  It ran around behind the house and came out on the other side barking, so I dragged my hose over there and sprayed.

Eventually it hid behind the chicken house, but I waited for a while because I was hoping to chase it back to its house.  Then I saw the flash of lights as a police truck pulled up our block and decided to get my hose back over into my yard.  I didn't try to run hiding into my house, as that seemed inadvisable, so of course the police stopped next to the crazy gringo in PJs and asked me how I was.  I told them.

To their credit, they did not mock or give me a hard time at all--they actually parked next to the chicken house and listened for a while.  In a country where anything goes and no one seems to care about things like nighttime noise, I found it gratifying to be taken at least somewhat seriously.  Of course, the dog didn't bark then.  But that was OK by me.  It was actually quiet (except for a few yips) the rest of the morning.

Thursday, August 28, 2014


So I know I will get in trouble from some of you that this post still does not contain photos of my new house--I so need to do that, I know.
But I must tell you all why I am having trouble blogging lately.  I'm more of a working Mom than I realized I was going to be!  I mean, I realize I'm only teaching one hour and a half class per day.  But because I'm writing the curriculum and teaching a subject I never have before, I'm spending hours and hours every day on these two every other day block classes.  

My day looks something like this:

7:30- Get kids to school, slather with sunscreen and bug spray, walk to class.  
8:00- Go jogging (3 times a week).
8:30- Clean up and change.  
8:40 to 9:30- Print worksheets and make photocopies in teacher lounge.  Grade papers and plan in library.
9:30 to 11:30- Set up for class, enter grades in computer, teach.
11:30 to 12:30- Grade and prepare for tomorrow's class.  Pick up Abigail at 12:30.
Nighttime- Make worksheets, review lesson for next day.

It's insane.  I'm probably spending 6 or more hours a day a lot of the time on teaching.  And soon I'll run out of the material I planned over the summer!  Then I'll really be scrambling.  I think I'll have to come to terms with the fact that I'm not going to be too great of a mom this year.  Don't have too much play in me.  Hopefully I will get more efficient (I'll just grow a new personality . . .)!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

97% of Dominican fruits and veggies tested as pesticide-free!

This is so great!!  I always have worked from the assumption that we were eating a lot of them--pesticides, that is.  I will say this is perplexing since I've seen plenty of farms spraying here . . .

El 97% de frutas y vegetales del país está libre de plaguicidas, dice estudio

Friday, August 22, 2014

All Moved In . . . and Ready to Drop!

I wasn't really sure if it was ever going to happen.  We basically packed up the house as soon as we got robbed and people started telling stories of other robberies in our area and how dangerous it is in that neighborhood.  But for a month and up until the afternoon before we moved we didn't know if it was going to happen.  It turned out that a previous owner had put in a new meter instead of paying overdue bills--twice.  So the electric company balked at connecting one of them.  The house had illegal wiring rigged up (?!), but the school wanted us to wait until we got legal electricity before moving in.  We're in now!  I don't think the electric company has actually connected the meter yet, but they've been here several times and we do have electricity.  Not sure we're paying for it yet . . .?

We moved in last Friday, worked like dogs all day, and then had a birthday party for the boys with 30 people on Saturday.  That was actually a fantastic idea (especially because my maid and her sister made all of the food) because it made us work super hard all day on Saturday to be ready for a 4:00 party.

Then Monday we started school, and once all of the kids caught their breath, they did really well in their new classes.  Mommy actually had the hardest adjustment out of everyone.  I haven't taught in ten years, and I underestimated how much energy and work one block-scheduled class per day would take.  Maybe when I'm done unpacking and sorting our stuff until 10 or 11 every night I'll do better.

We're so excited to have a weekend here with not much to do (except, of course, that Owen has a paper due for his class Saturday night).  We can hopefully enjoy the house and do more casual finishing touches and organizing.  The house is beautiful, it's got a huge bougainvillea growing on an arch above the house and a balcony all along the front of the house.  The kitchen has pretty brown little tile backsplash and the floors are a pretty swirled tile (they won't show dirt as much as the old white ones did.  It's got a great outside space where the kids are skateboarding (well, ripstiking, actually) and scootering everywhere.  It has pretty stained-glass windows (pictures soon, I finally unpacked the camera yesterday) and we even got to help pick wall colors since the owners hadn't painted yet.  So blue, green, and yellow . . . very bright.

The house comes with some major challenges.  For the first week we had to turn the kitchen sink water off at the base each time, because it was leaking out of a little tube previously used as an automatic ice maker.  We flooded the kitchen a few times when we forgot.

And every time it rains really good it comes in the back door and floods the floors.  The day we looked at the house all of the floors were wet, but we foolishly thought that all the men were working hard to get the house all clean for us.  We now realized they must have been clearing out all of the rainwater that had gathered.  Last Sunday Owen spent about four hours sweeping water out the back door.  (I did help an hour before leaving with the kids for church . . .)

Yesterday they put a cover over the back patio and we hoped that would solve the problem.  It helped, but because the patio slants down toward the house, any water that does make it onto the patio basically finds the inside of the house.

(There's supposed to be a hurricane this weekend, so thank you, Sonia, for the loan of the shop-vac!)

We have our phone and internet set up now, and our house is mostly set up . . . we're hoping for a relaxing and productive weekend!

Sunday, August 10, 2014


We had a 4.7 earthquake yesterday.  The kids and Owen felt the house shake as if a big truck was going by, and Micah saw the ceiling fan swaying.  I was shopping, and completely didn't notice.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Our New House

We got it!  Finally!  The new house!  And we should be moving in next week.  Our apartment has been good to us, with its amazing breeze that is the envy of our friends.  And I really do still love it, except for the safety concerns here, but I'm really excited about the house we're moving to.  It turns out it even has a guava tree hanging over the back wall.  Score!  My kids love guavas!  It is also bigger, and we're excited to throw the boys a birthday party in our new house ("parties" were a little claustrophobic in the apartment).

And funny thing, because the landlord never finished painting, we even got to pick some of the same colors from this apartment we just repainted.  What a great surprise.  :)  It's taken so long to get them to sign on this house that, humorously, it has made me really love it all the more (once I realized that we maybe couldn't get it after all it somehow seemed more attractive).

We're just waiting for water and electric and we should be able to move in!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Stuffed Animal Camp Day

The kids and their mother woke up really grumpy today.  And the house is mostly all packed up (their mother was perhaps a bit optimistic on the moving time-line), with almost everything in suitcases and those plastic bags they give you at the grocery store or Walmart because we don't have boxes.  The kids have been using scooters and ripstiks (wiggly skateboard type things) all over the house for a few weeks now, and we're all getting tired of their toys being all packed up.  Hopefully we'll sign on the house today.

In the meantime, rather than unpack here, we're having a stuffed animal camp day.  They love when I give them a camp day (where I dust off my old camp counselor activities for their entertainment), but I thought we all might love if they gave their stuffed animals a camp day.  This way they can be high energy and creative, and Mommy gets a bit of a break.

It's working out wonderfully.  Right now they're working on a scavenger hunt (which in this case is really just a list of activities I made up for them to do while I'm inside on the computer and in the kitchen and lesson-planning for school).

Friday, August 1, 2014

New House

So I'm pretty sure we have found a house.  It's been up and down and on and off with this.  We find a house, they no longer want to rent.  Or, maybe, they don't want to rent to us.  We find another house, we arrange a time to meet to sign papers.  They cancel, they want to reschedule.  They avoid rescheduling.  They want more money.  We start looking for other places.  They call back and do want to sign.  We are now midway through pre-signing paperwork.  Hopefully this week we will have a place!  I will post pictures!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Broken In

When I last posted, a little over a week ago, I figured I'd write again soon and show some vacation pictures and the paint job we had done on the house while we were gone (it looks really good, by the way, which now doesn't really matter).  Our house was a little crazy and it took a while to get unpacked and get everything back together post paint-job.  We were pretty well adjusted by the weekend.

But then that Saturday night we were broken into.  

We were in the house, but we slept through it.  And while some electronics are gone and some credit cards have been cancelled and passwords changed, we are all OK.  Initially we were a little shaken up and Micah and I were both a little scared, but now we are doing much better.  The school put some more bars on the windows and Owen's been pulling his mattress into the hall at night to be keep an eye on the kids--so now I am sleeping again.  

We heard some things about our neighborhood after we were robbed (or burglared, as Cath tells me I'm supposed to say) that made us feel like this would be repeated and it wasn't safe for us to stay.  So we immediately started house-hunting for a new rental in a safer neighborhood.  And because we want to move right away, we basically started packing as soon as we found one we liked (even though we haven't actually signed any papers or anything yet--we are praying that they get signed tomorrow and that we get moved by the end of this week).  So my house is once again (flashback to Philly two years ago) bare and bagged and in varying stages of clutter/packed-ness without us knowing for sure when we will be moving out.  It has been quite a week.

The two things that bothered me the most were my stolen blender (it was a good one, and I use it all the time) and my purse.  I thought they could have had the consideration to take the wallet and leave the purse (or, even better, just take the cash).  And already feeling vulnerable and a little in shock, it was so weird to have nothing to pick up on the way out of the door.  No keys, no license, no nothing.  

And seriously, they needed a nice blender to do what?  It felt like one last jab.  It somehow made it more personal.  I blend all the time.  OK, I realize I can't really explain my attachment to my blender, you'll just have to take my word on my sense of loss.  I should also mention that I didn't realize the blender was gone until a few days had passed--which made it feel like I was robbed a second time.

So it was ironic when our landlord found those two items on our roof this morning investigating a water issue.  I guess they went through my purse on the roof.  And I guess they decided the blender was too heavy to toss to the next roof (it's a heavy base).  It was also great that they left the keys, and, hilariously, Micah's hat that he'd been looking for (I'm guessing one guy said to another, "Seriously, you're really going to take that hat?" only in Spanish.  It's a Dominican Republic hat, patriotic perhaps, but I can't imagine it would help anyone's street cred.  

It was such an encouragement to me, like God was giving me very personal and direct comfort in the midst of all of the drama and chaos--he returned the two things that made it hard for me to get past the break-in.  And somehow after a week on the roof in the hot tropical sun and after a shower or two, nothing seems any worse for wear.  

He is so faithful, and so specifically so.  It was like he was saying, "Here Val, I know this has been hard.  I've had your back.  Look!"

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.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Daylight Savings . . .

Happy Daylight Savings Time!

I love when the U. S. switches to daylight savings, because it makes phone calling so much simpler.  We don't change for daylight savings in the D. R., so "springing ahead" catches you all up to our time zone.  A Dominican friend of ours told us that this country tried it once, but accidentally changed the clocks an hour the wrong direction.  So then the government just issued an order to set all of the clocks back to the original time, and they never tried it again.

I'm not sure if that story's true, but living here, it feels like it might be.  :)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Geranium Eucalyptus Tea Tree Oil Deodorant

First attempt at Homemade Deodorant

As I had a visitor to the school staying this week who makes her own deodorant, and as she made it seem so easy, I had to try it.  Basically a homemade deodorant can just have baking soda, coconut oil, shea butter, corn starch, vitamin E oil (which for some reason I have around, but you can just open up those gel capsules too), and essential oils.  Some recipes call for cocoa butter instead of coconut oil, but hey, I had coconut oil.

In this land of perpetual summer I've been having two problems with my natural deodorant:

  1. It tends to crumble a lot because it's not really a true solid at 80 degrees.
  2. One needs a ton of deodorant because it's so hot here (which is hard to accomplish with a deodorant that crumbles).
I decided to leave mine as a thick lotion.  I thought if I added enough cornstarch to make it a solid, I'd be watering down the components that actually work.  Plus, it's easier to use a lot if it's in lotion form.  Today was my first attempt, and it worked great all day.  I'm so excited!  It's pricey to ship Pitt Putty here.  If I can make deodorant myself, and if it stays on longer as a lotion, so much the better!  :)  And the combination of the geranium oil, eucalyptus oil, and tea tree oil smells amazing.

I'm just glad I discovered this before it gets really hot again.


Someone recently asked me what I was doing about the hormones in eggs here.  And I was like, Great, another thing to worry about, I thought all those chickens running around everywhere meant that they were being raised naturally.  But I found out that almost everyone raising chickens here is giving them "crecimientos," or hormones, to plump them up (can't let the U.S. have all the fun, I guess) and to get more eggs.

So I went to the Hospedaje (the open market here) to search out some hormone-free hens and eggs.  But I was stumped for a while on how to find out who was legitimately raising poultry without hormones, because here, let me tell you, what you're looking for is what I'm selling.  When some gringa starts asking chicken farmers which eggs and chickens are hormone-free, we're looking at a hormone-free market.

But then I had an Aha! moment.  I went to a man I've bought from and talked to in the past who sells spices, who doesn't even work near the poultry area of the Hospedaje, and I asked him how I could find them, and he said he'd go with me.

He pointed out some little chickens that looked like distant relatives of the large plump ones I'm used to seeing running around everywhere.  He called them "criollos," which based on all of the contexts in which I've heard that word used means something like "traditional."  He told me those little guys never saw a growth hormone.  And since two of them together only weighed 3 and 1/2 pounds, I think I believe him.

Later at the slaughterhouse . . . I must interrupt here to clarify that this was after I myself carried the chickens to the slaughterhouse.  I tried looking squeamish and helpless and asked if there wasn't someone who'd like to carry them over for me (like they did my turkey at Thanksgiving), but they just stood there waiting with their arms extended.  I even had to fish out my money while holding the string by which the chickens dangled by their cinched legs.  The picture is terrible, taken on my Nokia, but I include it as proof--those really are chicken feet I've got there.

So, now, later at the slaughterhouse, I asked the man there where I could by hormone-free eggs.  He told me that those are "criollos" and told me three people at the market sell them, one right outside his door.  So I bought 2 dozen of those as well.  And since no one who gave me information profited as a direct result, I trust my information.  Next time it will be so much easier.

And next time I'll buy four chickens, the two I bought were so tiny they didn't come close to filling my soup pot.  I could probably fit six.  Owen says my chickens are very pigeon-sized.

Monday, February 17, 2014


Owen was going to the grocery store the other day and Jesse was playing with Abigail and Micah out front.  As Owen was leaving, Jesse shouted out and asked if he could go with him.

Owen said, "No, you guys are having fun.  I'll see you in a little while.  Stay with your brother and sister, it's good to have some time to play outside."

When Owen got to the grocery store, there was really loud music playing.  Someone dressed like a demon ran at him while he was in an aisle.  He realized it was Carnival here for the month of February (after being charged by a demon), so wasn't too thrown off.  But he said it was insane at the grocery store.

Can you imagine?  Owen was sent to get (among other things) the melons in the bottom left of the picture.  It's a little creepy to thread your way between those guys.  A thoroughly Dominican experience.  :)

Monday, February 10, 2014

Living Loud

On the drive back down the mountains this weekend I was struck with how much I've gotten used to things here, how I've come to adapt to the vividness of life here--what was initially just sensory overload I've come to be able to process more and even appreciate (with the definite exception of loud noises or music at night).

There are stark contrasts here: wide open spaces like rice paddies and long coastal beaches near crowded barrios and trash-littered streets packed with cars, motos, and pedestrians; the sounds of ocean waves with loud music from neighborhood corner-stores;  beautiful orange and red flowering trees, frilly palm trees and tall-reaching ferns growing next to poor and dilapidated houses (perched, at times, precariously on cliffs overlooking breath-taking views).

Paint and clothing colors are bright.  The sun is harsh.  It is a land of extremes.

Crazy driving, motos toting huge gas tanks, spontaneous dumps near fruit trees and a creek.  Friendly smiles and extreme kindness, impatient honking, neighbors stopping by with herb tea creations for a child sick with stomach flu.

And the more I get used to it the more I wonder how I'll adjust again to a calmer, quieter, more sanitized--muted--life.  I think it may be harder than I'd anticipated.