Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The jury's still out, apparently

Intersection A
Tuesday, 9:30 am. A red car stops for a traffic light.

Man Old Enough to be My Father: [Holds up a pair of green plastic frogs for sale, squeaks them engagingly]

Me: [Shakes head, looks off in another direction]

MOEtbMF: How come you're so pretty?

Me: [Shrugs] Can't help it.

MOEtbMF: I like you. [Walks away]
Intersection B
Tuesday, 10:30 am. A red car slows, signaling a left turn.
Little Old Man with a Walker: [Dinky wave]

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Not so little now

Julia has been going into periodic funks about being "the smallest one" and not being able to do anything right, or well, or by herself. They don't last that long, but she really means it, and definitely doesn't want to hear that "everyone starts out small" or "you're learning more and more all the time" or "there are lots of things you do really well."

I like babies, and like being around them. And I like other grownups of any age. But these in-between ages are really not my forte - it's nice now that we can enjoy watching some of the same videos, and we had some success with the UNO Stacko game my parents sent for Christmas (good call!), but when I'm cooking, say, I'd really just rather get it done than help them "help" me. We tried a little hand sewing a while back, but I had to do so much of the setting up, and the results were so wobbly that I kept putting Robin off when she asked to do some more.

But when Julia got upset about being The Littlest One again yesterday I thought that, with Alex out of town and a Sunday coming up with absolutely nothing at all to do, maybe we could address the situation by actually teaching her to do something that even she couldn't deny was "grown up." I decided to let them start learning to use the sewing machine.

I wasn't sure how well it would work, but I thought that Julia (who is 5) could probably handle it well enough to feel that she had been an active participant.

After breakfast I got out the box of six-inch squares that I collected so avidly and then never actually used, folded back the quilts on their beds, and told them each to lay out a set of squares on the flannel sheets below. I expected this stage to last at least an hour and involve six to eight disputes, but I barely had time to check my E-mail before Julia came out to report that she was ready to start. She had chosen just 12 squares, so I had her transfer them to a flannel-backed quilt and we carried them to the sewing table (which I hastily bulldozed).

I grabbed a couple of scrap squares and showed her how to put them right-sides together, how to line the edges up carefully, and how to align it with the masking tape marking on the machine bed. She learned how to raise and lower the presser foot and sat in front of me on the chair while I pressed the foot pedal. We did a practice seam or two that way and then I let her try the pedal herself. I didn't really think she'd have enough control to sew her project this way, but in fact she had no problem keeping it slow and steady.

After a couple more practice seams, she started on her squares, sewing one seam at a time, removing the piece from the machine, trimming the threads, and going for the next square. She had no trouble figuring out which square went where and how to keep them right side up. All I did was sit behind her on the chair and remind her over and over to keep the fabric straight while feeding it through the machine.

Before long, she had all four rows sewn together, and all I had done was hold the tails of thread off to the side as she began each seam:

I decided it was time to give Robin a turn. Needless to say, Robin picked it up just as quickly, and before long I was nearby but not even watching as she stitched her squares together.

Robin had laid out 36 squares and her foot got tired after assembling a row and a half, so we had lunch and took a break. In the afternoon, I pressed Julia's seams and she sewed her rows together. She learned how to pin, and how to stop sewing to remove the pins or to nudge the seam allowance under the presser foot with a bamboo skewer.

When Julia's quilt top was finished, Robin went back to work and finished sewing all of her squares into rows, with no foot cramp this time. She did get a little ahead of herself and ended up learning how to use the seam ripper when one of the squares came out backwards, but it was easily remedied.

Julia had to be dissuaded from carting her new "blankie" off to be pressed into immediate service, and claims she wants to make "a quilt" next. I guess it has to be bigger to count as a quilt in her book.

Robin decided that she would give hers to Abuela Lela (she's the one featured here).

I don't know if we'll go back to it tomorrow, but hopefully we'll all be up to another day of sewing sometime this week so they can take their projects in to show their teachers when school starts next month.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Or maybe...

I have a new theory.

The red car doesn't look that much like a taxi. The door has been repainted (and surprisingly well), so there's no trace of the triangular insignia. There's no illuminated yellow sign on top. Really all it is now, is a car that happens to be red.

So while Alex may still get flagged down occasionally, I have decided that the people who stare at me when I'm driving it are not in shock at the apparent sight of a female taxi driver, but are in fact appreciating the sight of a good looking girl in a shiny red car.

Yeah, that's probably what it is.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Please don't hate me because it's warm here

(Or, for those in the southern hemisphere, please don't hate me because I was actually uncomfortably chilly sitting out there...)

Alex left for some out of town work today, and despite a set of new and carefully-explained rules, I suspect my children have viewed a week's worth of television at the grandparents' house over the past two days, so I decided to take them to the restaurant across the street for some outdoor time.

And that's all there is to tell, really, except that I took the opportunity to translate and print out a recipe for Buffalo chicken wings, in hopes that the place will start offering them and that we can consequently go there more often.

Adrian the bartender read the recipe and seemed to think it was doable. I mean, I've never seen any foreigners there myself, but both Adrian and the owner say they get quite a few gringos, so offering even half-decent Buffalo wings can only be to their advantage, especially with the new wide-screen TV.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Where to, Ma'am?

So we've both driven José's new car around and about. We've both managed to back it out of its cozy little lair without, for the most part, hitting the concrete column. (*cough* wasn't me *cough*)

Alex has gotten a lot of little things fixed on it so, for instance, when one drives at night the dashboard lights now illuminate not only the little dials, but also--and this is key--the needles that point to specific spots on the little dials.

He also got copies of the key for all concerned, installed some plastic thingies at the tops of the windows so the rain won't drip in (not an issue now, but a mighty good thing to have starting about next April), and helped José pick out a new set of tires.

Oh, and he also got the engine block repaired because of this ka-CHUNK sound we kept hearing when stopping, starting, accelerating, braking or turning the car. And this ka-CHUNK kind of thuddy feeling I was getting under my feet on the passenger side. But that's all fixed now (and fortunately the engine didn't fall out on the roadside) and things are looking good.

This frees us up to focus on just how much this car still looks like a taxi. For one thing, Costa Rican taxis are red, and this car is cherry red. For another, it still has a triangular shape on the door where the official taxi insignia was taken off when it stopped being a taxi. But if you don't look too closely, all your eye really registers is, "Yep, there's the triangle. Flag it down!"

And, of course, the illicit "pirate" taxi business is a thriving one in Costa Rica, so any car in any shade of red (up to and including deep burgundy) is potentially a taxi in the mind of the public.

I have not been flagged down, myself. Me, I get the double takes. "Wha...is that a woman driving that thing? Hold the phone. A gringa woman? Wha...huh?" Yeah, not a lot of female taxi drivers around these parts.

Being neither a woman nor a foreigner, Alex is perfectly believable as a Costa Rican taxi driver, so he gets a lot of what a friend of mine used to call the "dinky wave." When you want a taxi or a bus to stop in Costa Rica, you stand on the side of the road and extend your arm, palm down, and make kind of a beckoning motion with just your fingers. (Try it. There's no manly way to do that. Not that that's a bad thing, it's just kind of surprising in a machista culture such as this.)

You know, too, that people expect a certain kind of behavior from a taxi. As a driver in this country, I know for a fact that a red car is more likely to cut me off, or pull out abruptly, or pull over in a no parking zone, or jump the red light, or any number of other things that taxis habitually do. Alex claims not to respond to this - or even to feel it - and I'm not saying I'm a less careful driver in the not-quite-a-taxi, but it does kind of color your responses, knowing that folks are, subconsciously at least, expecting you to be a pushy driver.

Anyway. I wasn't looking forward to driving it at first. Not because of any of the things I've said here, but simply because it's not what I'm used to driving. The Montero is so high off the ground that I feel like I'm sitting right down on the pavement when I'm in the red car. You have to reach up to rest your elbow on the window frame, for crying out loud. And the clutch is less sensitive than the one I'm used to, so I ended up revving the engine at every gear shift and stop sign the first day (of course this fit right in with the whole taxi thing).

But I'm used to it now. And I can appreciate its good qualities, like how it's sleek and sporty and more powerful than a diesel Montero. Even? Maybe? Just a little sexy? A 13 year old Hyundai Elantra with cracked hubcaps? No? OK, forget I said anything.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

It's all about meme

I really feel like posting something today, but I really don't have much to say, what with staying home and changing sheets and doing laundry and washing dishes and making lunch and translating something for Alex and answering his E-mails (and a couple of my own) and starting to put photos in his album and stuff.

I've done plenty, but I've got nothing.

Of course, that's what memes are for.

Although I have to warn you that I was up to something like number 35 in my "100 Things About Me" meme post, and when I pulled the most interesting items for this meme, it suffered well-neigh fatal setbacks. Just so you will appreciate that this comes at a cost.

So. I've seen this in several places, most recently at Charlotte's Web and The Looney Bin and now I bring you my own list of

Five Things You Didn't Know About Me

[Unless you know me in real life, in which case little of this will come as news.]

  1. I am neither musically nor horticulturally inclined. I like pretty plants and a good tune as much as the next guy, but I have no interest in pursuing the creation of either one.

    I'm fortunate to live in a climate where lots of nice things grow themselves and, as for music, the radio is fine with me. If I even remember to turn it on.

  2. When my sister and I get together, we often pick out a 1000-piece puzzle after dinner and finish it before going to bed (admittedly, pretty late).

    If we have two puzzles with similar pictures, we sometimes mix them together before doing them.

    As a logical next step, I got her a 5000-piece puzzle for Christmas. It's nearly 5 feet long and part of the deal was that I'll have my 4-by-8-foot sewing table cleared off and ready when she gets here in two weeks. We can't wait.

  3. I got my first passport for a middle-school trip to France.

    I got my second one in 1988, when I started traveling for college.

    During the 10 years that that passport was valid, it became so full that I had to take it in to the US Embassy to have extra pages inserted. Twice.

    When I got my third passport in 1999, they went ahead and gave me a double-wide (40 pages instead of the standard 20) right off the bat. That one will expire in two years, and over 90% of its pages remain untouched.

  4. I have lived in Latin America for the better part of 20 years; essentially my entire adult life, and yet I could not tell you the difference between salsa and merengue music if you paid me.

    I can often identify a cumbia, but that is largely because, at some point during most cumbia songs, the singer will get so excited that he (in my experience, it's always a he) will let loose and just yell out "Cumbia!"

    Unsurprisingly, I wouldn't have clue one about what to do with any of this music in a popular dance situation. I can, however, quickly learn any choreography that Carlos the aerobics instructor makes up for the salsa, merengue and cumbia music he uses in his dance classes, and I am one of the people the other students will watch and follow if they lose their place.

  5. I applied to be a contestant on the second season of Survivor - that was the Australian Outback one.

    If I had been accepted, or even made it into the very earliest interviews of potential contestants, we would have put off trying to have a second child until it was over. Considering that we got pregnant almost immediately (so very unlike the first time around), there would have been no Julia.

(This non-indented line inserted to make it clear that the word "Whew!" refers to relief at not having missed out on Julia, and not relief at having finished this list.)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

What meets the eye

A man walked down the street and passed me as I was waiting for a bus today.

I could tell from a block away that he was carrying a 50-pound sack of dog food because it's the same brand we buy and the bag is distinctive.

Having personal experience in the matter, I thought about making a comment about how heavy the sack was.

As he got closer, I could see that the sack was only half full, meaning of course that if it was dog food, it was only 25 pounds, and if it was, say, his laundry, it might not have been all that heavy at all.

Still, it was definitely bulky and did look kind of heavy so as he drew abreast of me I went ahead and said "light as a feather, that there," or some such thing. You know, all neighborly like.

There was nobody else around and I said it plenty loud enough, but he didn't respond with a smile or a nod or anything. In fact, he didn't even glance my way.

He continued on and rounded the corner at the end of the block and I wondered if he'd taken me literally and thought I wasn't making any sense, or maybe it seemed like a dumb thing to say. Or maybe he was annoyed or something.

I didn't actually give it that much thought, until he came back around the corner a few minutes later, this time without the sack. There was a woman coming from the other direction, and apparently they knew each other because they both stopped and exchanged a few words.

In sign language.

Which famous feline are you?

You're Hobbes. First of all, the makers of this quiz would like to congratulate you. You have our seal of approval. You are kind, intelligent, loving, and good-humoredly practical. You're proud of who you are. At the same time, you're tolerant of those who lack your clearsightedness. You're always playful, but never annoying. For these traits, you are well-loved, and with good cause.

Take this quiz!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Word of the day: Astroturf

Not just for football anymore...

Define it:

In politics and advertising, the term Astroturf is used to refer not to fake grass, but to fake grassroots.
Use it in a sentence:
The "Center for Consumer Freedom" placed ads in the NYT attacking PETA, a radical pro-animal group. A little digging reveals that the "Center for Consumer Freedom" is an Astroturf organization funded by the fast-food companies that PETA opposes.
I love English.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Note to Lisa:

Remind me to play this for you when you get here:

Friday, January 19, 2007

"Lowbrow" doesn't even BEGIN to cover it

Wednesday is two-for-one day at the video store that has week-long rentals.

At 2x1, we have settled into a pattern of getting two DVDs for the kids (who are happiest when they get to watch theirs over and over anyway), and either two or four for the adults to watch over the course of the week.

Sometimes we all go in together and everybody picks one. Last week, I stopped by on my own and got two of the girls' favorites, plus the ones that Alex and I had had our eyes on the week before, but which hadn't made the final cut.

This week, as it happened, Alex went in on his own. He did fine by the girls (Strawberry Shortcake and Stuart Little), and got four for us. I didn't recognize any of the titles. He says he remembered to ask for An Inconvenient Truth, but that it was unavailable.

Last night our friends didn't go to the dance class, so we didn't go out with them afterwards. Knowing there were four unwatched videos and more than a few leftover beers from Tuesday's trip, we decided to pick up some Chinese food (we're conducting a survey to determine where we can get the best egg rolls) and eat in.

I told him to pick one of the videos, and may have mentioned that I was in the mood for something light. (Did I? Did I say that? Does that make it my fault?)

So we sit down to take-out Chinese food and Alex pops in a little something tasteful.

According to Wikipedia, the film in question, which "was not screened for critics before its release, was universally panned by critics and avoided by moviegoers alike. Three days following its release, the film was ranked number one on IMDb's Bottom 100, and as of January 15th, 2007, it is ranked number #51 in the Bottom 100."

Or, in the words of the reviewers,

  • It's not a movie; it's a cause for dismay.
  • Flatulence ensues.
I didn't giggle throughout what was, essentially, a 90-minute fart joke. Nope, not me. And I most emphatically don't recommend that anyone else take the time to see this movie. No, no.

(But? If you do? Two beers, minimum. And if you haven't spent a significant period of time somewhere at least as far south as North Carolina, you probably shouldn't see it at all.)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Not Puntarenas

The plan, of course, was that the new car would enable the whole family to take trips to the beach together.

"The Beach," to my in-laws, consists most especially of Puntarenas, which is the closest water to where we live. Puntarenas (which means "Sandy Point") is not known as an especially attractive place, but it's nearby and it's what they think of when they think "beach," so it was chosen as the first destination.

The new car performed like an old pro. The old car, however, felt that it was overdue for some mechanical attention and threw a belt before we were even half an hour out of town. The brakes and power steering both went out, but Alex handled it so well that the only reason I knew something was wrong was that I heard him apply the emergency brake, which one doesn't ordinarily do when driving at full speed on a busy highway.

We were just reaching a two-lane bridge, after which the highway widened back out to four lanes, so he was able to pull over into the extra lane, where there was no danger from oncoming cars not noticing us in time. This is fortunate, as most Costa Rican highways have no shoulder to speak of.

We called the others (huzzah for the inventor of the cell phone!), and they turned around and came back to hem and haw over the engine trouble with us.

I called my friend (huzzah!), who lives fairly near to where we broke down, to ask her for her mechanic's number. She got us in touch with him (huzzah!), but before he showed up, we attracted the attention of a traffic cop. He seemed happy to help us tinker, and stayed until he, Alex and Alex's cousin Randall had managed to re-seat the slipped belt. It was frayed and clearly needed to be replaced, but they clipped off the strands that had split off, and we hoped it would get us a mile or so to the nearest service station.

(The cop had the same last name as Alex's mother, and had a small injury to his left ear that I recognized as a parrot bite. In one of the brief lulls in engine tinkering I asked him if he had parrots and we spent a moment comparing scars and defending the birds that gave them to us.)

The re-seated belt held long enough to get us off the highway (about 500 yards), but slipped off again at the exit. There is a plant nursery at the exit, and Alex parked there.

Randall took all the others a few miles down the road to a sort of inexpensive public country club that we've been to before, where they could all have breakfast and the girls could swim. It's no Puntarenas, but given the circumstances, it would make a worthy substitute. They also stopped at a grocery store and bought beer, whiskey, soda, and a cake.

Meanwhile, Alex and I walked across the street for our own breakfast, which was served in Ye Olde traditional Costa Rican style, with the coffee in enameled tin mugs and the food on a wooden board covered with fresh banana leaves. The tortillas were homemade and, having been unnaturally fatigued the day before, I felt it was only prudent to ask for a big honkin' order of bacon with my breakfast. You know, in case it was anemia. (I don't know if that's what made the difference, but I had plenty of energy all day long.)

After breakfast we updated the mechanic guy with our new whereabouts (huzzah!) and then wandered around the nursery looking at beautiful plants.

And some with monkey arms.

Then the mechanic showed up, having gone to three different shops to get the appropriate belt, and fixed our car.

He charged us the cost of the belt ($8) plus $15 for his time. We paid him and then joined the others at the park/club.

Once we pried the children out of the pool, we all sat around in one of the picnic shelters and let Robin serve drinks to whoever would accept one.

Alex's elderly grandmother María was with us. More about her in a minute.

When the drinkers were tired of drinking and the sunbathers were nice and toasty and everyone was about ready to move on, we got out the cake and sang Happy Birthday to Alex's mother, who asked me to confirm the math and then agreed that she was turning 59.

As the afternoon wound down, Yolanda reminisced about where she and her mother had lived when she was a child. It was not the first time that I had heard about how nice it would be to take the grandmother back to her hometown for a look-see, but for some reason it was the first time that I consciously heard the name of the town.

It's just a couple of miles off the main road from where we do the Quilt Retreats, and I had even been there myself once, to buy a last-minute cake when one of the ladies at a retreat mentioned that it was her birthday. It was also no more than 15 minutes from where we were sitting at the time.

So once we packed up the extra cake and drinks and wet bathing suits and folding chairs, we all piled into the cars and I showed them the way to the itty-bitty town of Turrúcares. Yolanda had mentioned the train tracks, so we stopped at the old train station.

Costa Rica's rail system was abandoned completely for several years, then revived, then abandoned again. At the moment, there are a couple of tourist trains on the main routes, and one of them comes through here on the weekends, but I'm sure it doesn't stop.

We drove down to the town church, where María used to come to Mass on the weekends. Yolanda took her into the church and said that María said that everything was different - the pulpit, the confessionals, nothing was where she remembered it. Someone overheard her, and said that the church had been rebuilt in the 80s, and that María was correctly describing the way it used to be set up.

She said the town where they actually lived was called Cebadilla, and was far from Turrúcares. Knowing that "far" in the days of foot and train travel might not actually be that long a drive, we asked some guys for directions and found it just a mile or two down the road.

We again stopped at the train station (now just a concrete platform) and Yolanda and María began talking about which way it would have been to their old house, which was near some large concrete troughs used for watering cattle. A man overheard and suggested we drive around a block and up along the tracks, rather than trying to walk there.

We found the place he said, but when we asked someone else, he didn't know the way to the troughs. We walked a ways up the train tracks anyway. We didn't find the troughs, but we apparently would have found them if we had gone farther down the tracks. Yolanda and María felt that they had revisited the old homestead in any case.

I would have liked to end on that picture, but actually we stopped for coffee and chorreadas on the way home. Chorreadas are a sweetened pancake-like food made with fresh corn in the batter. They're served with sour cream and grated cheese on top and this restaurant specializes in all things corn, so they were really good.

Best. Breakdown. Ever.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Sweet anticipation

The photos below are just the first three I took today. There are many, many more.

I may not get to editing and posting the whole series tonight, but just to give you a taste of what lies ahead, I've gone ahead and tagged this post with all the appropriate keywords.

In case you thought I was exaggerating?

I wasn't.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The latest entry...

...in what has apparently become a series. (Click here for previous ones.)

Translation (in flawless Spanish): Julia farted.

ETA: On a relevant (?) note, sounds like good news for expats.

Friday, January 12, 2007

What's new

Well, thank you all. That was considerably more satisfying than last year, I must say. I didn't actually intend to stay away all week myself, but oh my goodness, look at the time.

So, to catch you up, here are the two most eventful occurrences of the week here in the Coasting Richly household:

  1. Alex and I signed up for a month-long beginner's dance class (covers salsa, merengue, cumbia and bolero). We had our first two classes this week, and they were fun. My friend Jan and her husband signed up for the same class, and last night we all went out for dinner afterwards.

  2. My in-laws bought a car.
Now most you are sitting there in your computer chairs thinking, I'm sure they're very pleased. *Yawn*

However, my immediate family are out there leaning slightly back in their computer chairs, raising one eyebrow and saying, "Say what?"

My in-laws, you see, don't drive. They don't live with anyone who drives, and they have no intention of ever learning how to drive. Furthermore, the space between their house and the sidewalk is...wait. I'll draw you a picture.

There. This diagram goes all the way out to the property line in every direction, and shows the street and sidewalk out front to boot:

Let's just meditate for a moment on how long this whole situation is going to last.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Now YOU go

[Inter] National Delurking Week
(January 8-12)

Considering that I just posted my entire life's story, I'm thinking that if you're reading this, you can take a sec to say hi.

I just love it when people say hi!


Oh, OK.

I guess I thought more people knew more about me than they do. And yet why would they? So now they will.

Born & raised:
North eastern United States, including Pennsylvania (before age 1), Rhode Island, (7 years), Connecticut (3 years) and New York state (through high school).

Lacking any specific career goals, I decided to choose a school that had a really solid exchange program. I had always felt an affinity for Asian cultures, and was looking for a college that offered a Junior year abroad in one of them. Boy, did I find one. Friends World College was founded by Quakers and, although it was not a Quaker school, per se, it did retain many Quaker ways and values. At that time, the program had centers in eight countries (US, Costa Rica, England, Israel, Kenya, India, China, Japan) and each student was required to spend at least one semester in each of at least two centers, although in most cases the entire sophomore and junior years are spent abroad. The college offered a non-traditional approach to education that relied on experience and internships with very little formal classroom study. Learning was documented in written form for evaluation by a faculty advisor.

First year was spent in the United States, with a core curriculum in the first semester and an internship in the second. Mine was at a farm that formed part of a residential facility for emotionally disturbed children in Brewster, NY.

Knowing that I wanted to spend Junior and possibly Senior year at the Japan center, I decided to spend my first year abroad in a culture as different from that as possible. To that end, I spent my Sophomore year in Kenya (East Africa). Again, the first semester was spent on the campus of the center, and the second in an internship. My internship was spent at Bombolulu, an organization located in Mombasa, through which physically disabled adults learned to earn income by making and selling craft items.

The year in Kenya was a difficult experience due to culture shock, and without giving it a lot of conscious thought, by the end of the second semester I realized I had decided not to go on to Japan, at least not immediately. I found myself planning to spend the following year at the Latin American Center, which was physically the closest to the United States, and culturally probably more similar than any other center except London (which I think I may have viewed as something of a cop-out because it is so similar.)

So it was that I entered Costa Rica for the first time on September 8, 1989, despite never having felt any particular interest in either the Spanish language or the Latin culture. Once again, the first semester was spent covering a core curriculum and the second in independent study which, in my case, meant traveling to Nicaragua to observe the 1990 elections.

As my senior year approached, I found that I was heartily sick of moving around. Every single college semester to date had been spent in a different city; it was time to sit still. I had felt much more comfortable in both Costa Rica and Nicaragua than I had in Kenya (interestingly, one of my friends had happened to spend all three years in the same countries I did, and she had the opposite reaction to the two cultures.) Figuring that moving back to the US at that point would probably invoke return culture shock, I reasoned that I knew my way around San José, I spoke enough of the language to get by, and I knew a few of the students who were currently studying at the Latin American Center. I decided to remain in Costa Rica for my senior year.

I had taken the most basic of Spanish courses as part of my first semester in Costa Rica, but the time in Nicaragua had not included any formal language study. I asked to be placed back into the Spanish classes for the first semester of Senior year, although I was a little disappointed to find that, when they gave me a placement test, they put me in a class that emphasized phonics and pronunciation rather than, say, correct Spanish grammar.

I don't remember what (other than phonics) I studied in the first semester of Senior year, but one thing I did do was sit down with my advisor and review the credits I had earned to date. Looking at the distribution, it appeared that I was majoring in Social Sciences, so we went ahead and designed the Senior year to round out any missing requirements. My Senior Project was a study of women's literature (in English), in which I read and reviewed as wide a variety of women's writing as I had access to, and wrote a series of my own poetry and essays.

Oh! I just remembered part of what I did in that first semester. I was the student representative for that particular group of students, and participated in faculty meetings, facilitated community meetings, and such.

As graduation drew near, the faculty discussed and eventually approved the idea of hiring me as a kind of student liaison for the following year. So it was that I decided to go ahead and stay in Costa Rica beyond graduation. (Oh by the way, I met and began dating Alex just before beginning my final semester, not that that influenced my decision at all...)

OK, I'm getting a little bored of writing all this, so let's start skimming.

I returned to Costa Rica after graduation and worked with current students, translating lectures, offering a cross-cultural seminar, discussing culture shock, etc.

By the time I felt the need to move on, my Spanish was strong enough to land me a job as a translator for IPS, an international news agency based in San José. When the agency decided to move its Latin American headquarters to Montevideo, Uruguay, the translators were invited to relocate since, apparently, there are precious few native English speakers in Uruguay. Alex and I considered going, but ultimately decided not to. One result of considering the whole issue, though, was that we decided to get married.

August 6, 1994 (which we just discussed a couple of days ago.)

Once the translation job left town, I found work with a small Internet company in San José. The job involved mainly web design and installation of Internet software (which at that time meant configuring dial-up scripts on Win 3.1 machines). I knew nothing about either of these things, but learned a lot and ultimately even designed and offered a course in HTML when the company struck a deal with a local computer training school. I also did freelance translation for a client passed on to my by one of the other translators from IPS.

I left the office job when Robin was born in 1998, but continued working with my translation clients.

Big move
As Robin grew older, Alex and I decided it was time to spend some time in the States. We made a 3-month trip to see how it all looked, and then decided to move up for a longer period, which we did when Robin was 18 months old. Alex found work with a small survey company and, after a few months with my parents, we moved into our own apartment in High Point, NC.

More progeny
Julia was born in August 2001. Alex took Robin to Costa Rica for Christmas that year, while Julia and I stayed back in NC with my family.

Alex began to feel it was time to move back to Costa Rica, especially when work became slow at the (very small) company where he worked, and he was laid off for a while.

Small move
However, the new house he had designed (as you know) wasn't actually built yet so when a Costa Rican friend of Alex's offered him a short-term job in Mississippi he decided to take it. The girls and I moved in with my parents (who had moved to eastern NC by then) while he worked and construction began on the house in CR.

Another move
Three months turned into six, and by the time he left the Mississippi job he had been told about other work in other places and wanted to look into the options before leaving the country. As a result, he took a job with a survey company in Charlotte, NC and the four of us moved into an apartment there.

And another
The job wasn't bad, but the pull of Costa Rica (on Alex) was stronger and as soon as we could get out of our lease, we went ahead and moved back down in February 2004. The girls were 5 and 2.5 years old.

We all lived together in the new house for one year before Alex got a phone call from someone offering him another job in North Carolina. We discussed it and ultimately decided he should go, at least for a month, and see how it went. It went fine (for both of us) and he stayed for what turned out to be a year and a half, with one month-long visit from us and several shorter visits by him. He returned in September 2006.

And that is all.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Living Room 2.0

Our living room had a long gestation. Or, perhaps more accurately, a difficult adolescence.

Alex designed our house, and he did a good job. I picked up some home design catalogs for 50 cents at the library book sale, and he took a couple of plans he found in the catalogs and combined them into a design that he liked.

He spent a lot of time playing with it on the computer and I mostly tried to ignore him, since at that time I had no interest in moving back to Costa Rica. When he had a plan that he liked, he finally called me over to the laptop and showed me the design.

I surprised myself by liking it very much. It had character. It had style. It wasn't just a cinder block box. And somehow, the thought of building a house that nice suddenly made the thought of moving back to Costa Rica a lot more palatable. There had been nothing particularly wrong with the house we had lived in prior to moving up to the states, but this...this was a Very Nice House.

So I added some minimal input (More windows! More! Bwahahahaha! More!) and he took care of the rest. When we moved into it, it was almost exactly like his design (don't ever build a house without being there. Trust me.) And, it was a lot bigger than I had imagined.

The square footage is just...really, really abundant. Which is nice, for the most part. But it's actually a problem in the living room, which we've never been able to arrange satisfactorily. We have a living room set (sofa, coffee table & two chairs) and a round dining table with four chairs, and no matter how I arranged them, they always looked kind of lost in all that space.

Anyway, a while after Alex came home in September, I suggested moving the television from our bedroom down to the living room. I thought it would be nice if getting into bed weren't always something one did with one's thumb on the remote, and while I know he really enjoys watching the news (simultaneously with whatever's on the other 12 channels) in the evening, if I'm not in the right frame of mind it can really wreck my own transition into blissful slumber.

He didn't think it sounded like that great an idea, so I just dropped it. Then two weeks ago he came up to me with this revolutionary new thought: what if we were to put the television in the living room??? Well, I thought we could give it a try, so we did.

Before moving back to Costa Rica, you see, he had gone to Wal-Mart and bought a home theater system. He shipped it here in a box with a bunch of other stuff that arrived a month or so ago, and apparently he had gotten the urge to try it out. The configuration of the bedroom, however, didn't really lend itself to the proper placement of the five little speakers that need to be arrayed about in a magical mystery configuration.

And you know what? We all like it down there. We spent the afternoon hooking red cables to red terminals and blue cables to blue terminals and Tab A and Slot B and, having given up on caring much about the living room furniture, I just shoved it into position across from the television, then sat down with the girls and watched their favorite movie. Which sounded great with the home theater, by the way.

And when we were finished with that nice, snuggly family time, we stood up, looked around and said, "Damn if this furniture doesn't look pretty good, sitting there where it is!"

After a week, Alex and I went down to the town and bought a small entertainment unit that can comfortably hold all of our consumer electronics and I spent another afternoon fitting Tab A into Slot B, this time adding masking tape to show which of the four identical plugs in the power strip belongs to which of the not-so-identical aparati above. I even had a pack of actual cable ties that I put to good use so the back of the thing looks a little less like a plate of multicolored spaghetti.

While we were visiting furniture stores and comparing entertainment units, it occurred to us to ask about couches. You see, we have this old ratty couch (not the one in the living room) that we had been planning to reupholster. We picked out fabric last week, but hadn't bought it yet because we needed to talk to whoever was going to do the work and find out how many meters of fabric it would actually take.

So in passing, while looking at entertainment units (and nightstands), we asked the guy at one place about the sofas. They don't usually sell just the sofa, because they receive them as part of a living room set. But this place works directly with the manufacturers, and any given couch can be ordered as a stand-alone. Just for the heck of it, we asked how much this particular one was, and it turned out to be about 30% less than we were getting ready to spend on repairing the old ratty one. And then we sat down on it and it was soooo comfortable.

It's actually a love seat - a two-holer, you could say. And it's got a simpler design that we both like better than the one we were going to redo. And it's solid blue, which matches our other furniture. And when the girls watch their bedtime video, their feet won't have to touch in the middle of the couch because they'll each have their own couch.

Boy was that a no-brainer.

Unfortunately, we couldn't bring both the sofa and the entertainment unit home on the same day because, well, we have a roof rack but there are limits. So we'll have to go back for the sofa on Monday.

But I think the living room has finally come of age. We've started using it again for the first time since we built the house, and even sat down around the coffee table and played animal Bingo with the girls before bed the other night.

I took a picture for you, and while I was taking it I noticed that an appropriate song was playing on the radio.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The topic of weddings

I got together with three friends today and the topic of weddings came up (along with the topic of sofas, the topic of breast cancer, the topic of items being put away in the wrong place, the topic of germs, the topic of customs duty [the kind you pay on imports], the topic of storage containers, the topic of hamburgers, the topic of God, the topic of alterations [the kind that make your clothes fit better], the topic of household help, the topic of...well, anyway. There were some topics.)

The topic of weddings evolved into a discussion of the cost of weddings, and we each ended up describing our own weddings and what they had cost. Granted, two of the four ceremonies described were second marriages, which probably makes a difference.

But still:

Civil ceremony in a friend's cabin in the woods.
Food and cake supplied by relatives.
The dress was a gift from my father in law. I saw something I liked (not designed as a wedding dress) in a shop window. We bought the fabric and had a local seamstress custom make mine because it was cheaper than buying the one in the window. I don't remember, but I would guess it probably cost $50 or so.
Expenses: The lawyer's fee, however much that was, and Alex bought a new pair of slacks.

Ultra-small ceremony when A (a fisherman) came into port.
She made her own dress.
Total Cost: Under $100

Married at city hall, called friends & family afterwards to let them know.
Total Cost: Whatever city hall charges.

Pagan ceremony in her back yard.
The friends who attended ordered pizza after she & D left to drive to Mexico.
Total Cost: None
(When they later got legally married, the ceremony was similarly simple and homemade.)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Sore subject

Oh dear. I mean, hmm. How to put this delicately...

So I was at Yolanda's house today and accidentally let two of the dogs out when I opened the gate. They ran off down the street to play with the other dogs in the neighborhood - not the first time, and surely not the last. Nobody was too concerned about it.

Twenty minutes or so later, some of the kids on the street came to the gate calling for Yolanda, saying Junior was stuck.

Yeah, that kind of stuck.

He had jumped up and wormed through the gate of a neighbor's house in order to court the alluring young thing in their yard. The bars of the gate are six or seven inches apart and he's a very small dog, so that wasn't a problem. The gate doesn't go all the way down to the ground, but rests on a concrete wall that came up to about my knee. No deterrent to a dog of any size, and particularly not to this particular canine Houdini.

Having attained his copulatory objective, Junior apparently determined that it was time to move on. Unfortunately, the lovely lady, with whom he retained a close personal relationship, declined to follow.

Our more sensitive gentleman readers may wish to avert their eyes for a moment here...

So when I stepped out of Yolanda's gate and looked up the street, I saw a small black dog dangling, head down, between the bars of the gate, his front paws not quite reaching the sidewalk, his rear legs all akimbo, and his manly bits firmly affixed to an even smaller white dog who had no intention of tumbling backwards through the gate and down to sidewalk level. I lifted him up just as the forces uniting them gave way.

OK, you can look now!

Now really. Nature is all kinds of subtle and miraculous. Is this really the best she could do by the canine species? And if for some reason it just has to be this way, couldn't there be some special hormone released that would, just for those few minutes, encourage even the most doltish of dogs to just stay put?

And yet? The little fool was fine. No muss, no fuss, no PTSD. Go figure.

Monday, January 01, 2007

A good start

My new year's day included lots of the kinds of things I'd be happy to see more of in 2007, including but not limited to:

  • Getting up a little later than usual
  • Eating leftover cookies and coffee cake for breakfast
  • Spending plenty of time online without anybody resenting it
  • Finally visiting a blog I'd been hearing about and finding it even better than I expected
  • Showering and having my new haircut look good after air drying
  • Going out together as a family
  • Visiting friends
  • Meeting new people
  • Taking a few pictures and having some of them come out really good
  • Giving homemade cookies to people who will appreciate them
  • Demonstrating patience with my children
  • Getting home at a reasonable hour
  • Making plans to get together with neighbors later this week
  • Having both Alex and I voluntarily get some cleaning up done around the house while the girls watch their video
  • Coming up with something worth posting on the blog
  • Relaxing with a beer and a grown-up video after the kids are in bed

How was your new year's day?

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