Wednesday, June 22, 2005

A little modern art, a little art history

Julia's artwork has suddenly gone representational. Well, she's been drawing hearts for a while, but she's upped the detail considerably this past week or so. Observe...

A person:

An Apple Monster:

A self portrait:

Me: Tell me how you made it

Julia: Well, This is the hair, this is the nose, these are the eyes, this is the mouth, these are the dientes [teeth], this is the circle [the head itself] and this is the jar of honey [upper left].

She then took it away to color it in and add a cup, a plate, something green (I forget what it is), and "a curly thing" that the scanner didn't pick up.


And now a flash back to some of Robin's early portraits, created in the (empty) bathtub of our High Point apartment (2002) using tub crayons:

When did this happen?

The surface of my desk currently holds: two computers (one laptop, one desktop), a scanner, a CD burner, two telephones (one regular, one cellular), four cameras (one 35mm, two digital, one video), seven passports (four expired,* three valid), a lamp and a lightbulb (?). The printer is close at hand, but not technically on the desk.

Three weeks ago when Robin had hives I took some pictures of her in case we wanted to refer back to them if she got worse or something. Her only comment: "Don't put them on the Internet, Mommy." Bless her little heart.

* Extra credit: Whose?

Life in the Internet Age...sort of

So you know how I posted my itinerary for next week's trip back when I bought the tickets? Eighteen days ago? Does it strike anyone else as odd that I don't actually have tickets yet?

It's not that they're E-tickets - I've gotten used to the ephemeralness of the E-ticket and it don't make me nervous anymore. I know I can walk into the airport with confidence, bearing nothing more than a copy of my itinerary printed out on scrap paper (well, and my passport).

No, it's not that. It's that the airline hasn't processed it yet. I log into my account and get the same page I saw when I first completed the purchase on June 4. It says, and I quote, Your reservation is confirmed. Within 4 hours, an e-ticket confirmation will be sent to: (my E-mail address). End quote.

Ummm, U.S. Airways? Not to be pushy, but a hundred and eight four-hour periods have passed since you told me that. After not receiving my e-ticket confirmation the first day, I kind of forgot about it. I remembered again when my credit card statement came - for under a hundred bucks.

I've called U.S. Airways at two different numbers and in two different languages, and been reassured that my purchase is queued (boy, that word has a mess of vowels in it), and that they have a little man chained to a desk under a flickering fluorescent somewhere, processing payments as fast as his trembling hands can type.

I may be paraphrasing.

The second person I spoke with also explained that they apply a kind of triage procedure, where flights coming up the very next day get special priority in the processing process. And here I was worried there that things would get tight. (Do you suppose this has any bearing on whether the flight will be overbooked, allowing me to graciously offer my seats in return for lots of money and free tickets to exotic lands? Or in my case, FROM exotic lands?)

Now call me crazy (not that you will...after all, not one person took me up on the invitation to judge me last week...), but I thought the whole point of online transactions was that they are efficient and instantaneous. No more calling 800-numbers and being put on hold. But apparently there's some other purpose because, people? I done been put on hold.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Judge me! Judge me!

Well, now I've done it. I went and introduced myself to the new family members and invited them here. To read this. (Hi guys! Glad you could make it...) After hitting "send" I popped over and skimmed the current entries. Ulp. You usually get a little more control over the first impression...

So, um, first let me explain that I'm not obsessed with the cost of things. The economic differences between Costa Rica and the states are interesting. You pay over $3 a gallon for regular, but then you can get a flat fixed for a buck. It's cultural. It's educational. It's, um, historical. It's not a fixation. Honest.

And, er, the whole "People Watching" post is, ahh, hmmm. Well anyway. Welcome to my blog. Poke around if you want, leave comments (oh, you MUST leave comments), and what the heck, go ahead. Judge me! Judge me!

Monday, June 13, 2005

What I did today, by Jen

This morning I discovered that something was very wrong when I backed the car out to take Robin to school. I knew what I was going to see when I pulled over and got out to look; all I was really doing was checking to see which tire was flat. It was the right rear. Sitting right down on the rim.

How did it happen? I don't know, but I'd like to find a way to blame Scruffy. He's responsible for most everything else; he can jolly well take the blame for this too.

We limped back onto the property and set out to walk to school. Luckily the local "pirate" (unlicensed) taxi came by and drove us instead so she was hardly late at all.

When I got home I checked the back of the car but didn't see a jack, so I called on my big-burly-neighbor-who-thinks-I'm-cute and he came over and showed me where the jack was (sneaky hidden compartment) and then changed the tire for me.

I felt like such a girl.

I had even forgotten about loosening the lugnuts before jacking up the car. Duhhh. And then I felt kind of dumb when I didn't approve of his technique with the jack. (Aside: Whew! Stopped myself just in time from writing "his jacking technique") But I was right. He even dropped my car. A tiny little bit. But we got things going okay after that and changed the tire without further incident.

Fortunately my day and my self esteem shaped right up once the tire was taken care of.

I came in and finished my taxes (due June 15 for people living outside the U.S.), and even saved myself some bucks by discovering that our gross income was so paltry that were exempt from state filing. We can't get a refund for what was withheld when Alex was still working in Charlotte in January, but at least we don't have to pay the additional $47 we would have had to if required to file (I had already filled everything out by the time I found out we didn't have to.)

I printed out a clean copy of all our forms & schedules, wrote my (hefty) federal check, "assembled my return," and (IRS employees close your eyes a sec) signed Alex's name (Okay! You can look now!) just in time to head out and pick up Robin and head down to Yolanda's.

Turns out there's no school tomorrow (no word on why), so Robin decided to spend the night there. We picked up (Alex's cousin) Elberth and he showed me a good place to get the tire fixed. Last time I had a flat it cost 1000 colones ($2.10 at today's rate) which I found amazing. Today it only cost 600 ($1.25). Probably partly because it was a cheaper place, and partly because the tire was already off the car.

Then we stopped by to talk to my mechanic because the car is making a new noise. He said to come by at 3:00 and he'd take a ride to see how it sounded.

We came up home and put the repaired tire back on the car and returned the spare to its rightful place. This time I knew what was what and did half of it myself. (I am woman, hear me roar.)

Then we tracked down a guy who is rumored to have a lawnmower for sale for 25,000 colones (around $50), when the cheapest new ones are over $150 and right now I'm paying a guy with a mower more than $15 every time the grass gets long. Now that the rainy season has kicked in, it's adding up fast.

It took a little perseverance but not only did we find him, but he's got two mowers and the smaller one (fine for my needs) is just 20,000 colones (leaving a nice little commission for the guy who told me about it).

Elberth trimmed the bamboo which was 3 or 4 feet higher than the fence in spots, then we headed back down the hill. I mailed the taxes (certified), dropped off Elberth and got to the mechanic's right on time. We took a spin around San Rafael and he confirmed that my vibration-like noise is probably a vibration, not dangerous but worth looking into. He suggested that the muffler would be a good place to start looking. I had been meaning to have the muffler serviced because it was backfiring, but it's kind of quit that so I had forgotten. It'll be nice if it's that. I drop the car off tomorrow morning...when Robin doesn't have school.

Then we stopped for cookies and came back home, where I installed and configured a firewall on my computer. For free! There are now free anti-virus and firewall products that are robust enough to warrant a positive review from PC Magazine. Good enough for me.

I even got a load of laundry done somewhere in there. Oh, and bought kitty litter. We'll see how that goes. And now Juila and I am going across the street for a beer. Well, she'll probably have juice.

And that's what I did today, The End.

P.S. How multifacedted am I?

Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Sunday afternoon picture show

Here's what can be had at the farmers' market for about $6.50 on a Sunday morning. Without the strawberries it would have been closer to $4.

Okay, I give. I will get a litterbox.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Poor Alex

I had fun making the South Park figures a couple of weeks ago. I don't even know how many of my (legion) blog readers actually even know what South Park is, but it provided me with a moment of entertainment and that, of course, is what really matters.

When I finished each one, instead of starting over for the next one, I just turned it into the next person by changing each option (skin, eyes, mouth, shirt, pants, accessories).

When I was doing the candid shot I did myself first, then Alex. Apparently nobody noticed that, in doing so, I forgot to remove the boobs. My bad.

If this looks like your kind of fun, click here to make your own.

People Watching

So yesterday I took Robin to this Burger King/Papa John's that has a play place. There was a pregnancy test in the garbage in the ladies' room.

[Robin: Mommy, what were you saying to that lady?
Me: I was just telling her it would be a good idea to empty the the trash...]

We went up to the play place while we were waiting for our pizza and there were some people there already. Unfortunately I'm very much against the phrase "white trash," so I can't use it here. It would have helped me describe this family (who, of course, were Costa Rican and not white anyway.) But I can probably describe them without the objectionable phrase. They included:

  • A cute little 2.5 year old girl with a dirty face, playing in the ball pit
  • An overweight Grandmother fanning herself with one of the children's socks, and whose blouse is too short to cover her stomach. She keeps telling the girl, "Don't go up there [to the big-kid part]. If you go up there, nobody's going to go and get you down."
  • A 5 year old boy with 2/3 of a butt cheek hanging out because his pants are 2 sizes too big and his tightie-whities have crept up into a monster wedgie. (Predictably, the grandmother keeps telling him to pull up his pants.)
  • An adolescent girl who appears to be the childrens' mother is stretched out full-length on the padded bench outside the play area, disinclined to pay much attention to anything. (One's mind wanders back to the pregnancy test in the bathroom...)
  • An additional young woman who seems much more together than any of the others...I decided she was the first girl's friend.

When we got there, they started talking to each other about how Robin and I were speaking English to each other. It seemed to be a source of confusion and/or wonder, and there was quite a bit of discussion and a few clarifications before they lapsed back into telling the boy to pull up his pants.

The boy had switched from the ball pit to the big kid playground, and once the adults realized that he had access to the two-story spiral slide winding down into a large, windowed well beside us, they began to call to him:

- Adolescent girl: Go! Go down it! Go down the slide! You'll fall on those pillows! [Note: there are no pillows]
- Grandmother: Don't you go down there!
- Girl: Go! Go down that slide!
- Grandmother: Don't you go down there!
- (etc.)

Robin went up into the vicinity of the slide and wandered around a bit. We couldn't really see where either of the kids were most of the time, but the boy must have said something to her, because one of the girls called up to him, "She doesn't speak Spanish."

- Me (in Spanish): Of course she does.
- Girl: She does??
- Me: Yeah.
- Girl: Oh.

Neither of the kids ended up going down the slide and then it was time for us to go down and get our pizza. The playground family must have been hungry too because when we got back upstairs they had given the little girl a squirt of mayonaise in her hand for a snack while they got the kids ready to go. I realized they had not actually bought any food, but had just come in to use the playground.

It was a little surreal to see this American stereotype so fully played out in a different culture.

On our way back up to find a table close to the playground we passed three tables of high school students (A demographic that, has anyone else noticed, is seriously getting younger every year. Maybe these were middle schoolers.) That was when I was forced to reevaluate my theory, because I picked up just one word of one conversation, and that word was pregnant.

And I had to admit that, while sadder, it really made more sense. I never took a pregnancy test in a public restroom. Who would? Obviously, someone whose mom would notice it in the trash at home. I tried to eavesdrop a little but they were too far behind me so I couldn't tell if they were talking about it.

And yes, I checked. The test was negative.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Say what?

Robin: I want more carrots!
Julia: Don't forget to wash them Mommy!
Me: Who are you and what have you done with my children?

Monday, June 06, 2005

It's a big deal

Okay, so let's say you build go carts. It's a hobby, it's fun. You have a little club.

Now let's say it turns out your club is invited to do a couple of exhibition laps at the Indy 500. Not competing against the pros (duhhh) but your little go cart is going to be right there at the event. With the real race cars.

I don't build go carts. I make quilts. Sometimes. When I have the time. I made the parrot quilt for "The Shapes and Colors of Costa Rica," an exhibit of quilts by Costa Ricans and residents like me. A quilt guild in Sioux City, Iowa sponsored this exhibit as a way to reach out to the local Hispanic community. The Costa Rican quilts will be displayed in the Sioux City quilt show for two days in October. (Here's a link to some information about the project.)

And today we found out that after the Sioux City quilt show, "The Shapes and Colors of Costa Rica" will be shipped to Houston to be included as a special exhibit at the International Quilt Festival. With the real race cars.

How cool is that.

Saturday, June 04, 2005


It's finally official and here are the details:

Wednesday June 29:

U.S. Airways 730
San Jose (12:50 p.m.) - Ft Lauderdale (5:35 p.m.)
(Don't worry, there's a time difference. It's really only about 2.5 hours)
U.S. Airways 1416
Ft. Lauderdale (7:50 p.m) - Charlotte (9:51 p.m.)
U.S. Airways 276
Charlotte (10:45 p.m.) - Raleigh (11:35 p.m.)

Total travel time: about 8.5 hours

Tuesday August 2:

U.S. Airways 212
Raleigh (5:50 a.m.) - Charlotte (6:40 a.m.)
U.S. Airways 287
Charlotte (7:50 a.m.) - Ft Lauderdale (9:43 a.m.)
U.S. Airways 729
Ft Lauderdale (10:55 a.m.) - San Jose (11:47 a.m.)

Time difference again. Total travel time: about 8 hours

I admit that the Raleigh end is a little hellish, but we are cleared to stay at Alex's house (even though he's just renting a room) or, possibly, at the apartment of a friend of his on the first & last nights. Either way we're reasonably close to the airport.

I got three seats together on five of the (gulp) six flights. For some reason seating assignments didn't show up for the first flight out of Costa Rica, but I'll call the airline and maybe they can assign them for me.

Actually my theory (and considering how much cheaper this itinerary is than any of the others it's a healthy one) is that the additional excitement/confusion/activity of the layovers will be more interesting for the kids than fewer, longer flights. Yup. That's what'll happen. Mmmmm-hmm. Yessirreee. Hey, did I mention that these flights are so delightfully short that there's no meal service on any of them?

Friday, June 03, 2005

Robin and the private health system

Well, I've learned a bit about hives this week (it's hives, by the way) and the ice cream has been exonerated, in my mind at least.

Apparently, although the causes are known, most people never know what causes them. By which I mean that researchers doing "aggressive detective work" have been known to identify the cause of hives up to 50% of the time, but in normal life it's more like 25%. They can be an allergic reaction to food, topical irritants, inhaled stuff or bug bites. They can also be caused by a virus. Or a bacteria. Or heat. Or cold. Or stress. Or tight clothing. (For general information click here, here, or here.)

The fact that they can usually not identify a cause makes some doctors believe that most cases are caused by a virus.

So back to Robin. She had cleared up dramatically by Monday night. Everything was normal until Wednesday after dinner, when she started to break out again. They started small and just kept coming, and by the time I was ready for bed she was covered again. I moved her to my bed so I could tell if she started having any respiratory symptoms, and woke up every time she moved. In the morning I decided to go back to the clinic, but to get an appointment this time so the doctor could spend a few minutes paying actual attention to her.

We got there at 6:30 a.m. this time - just 18 people ahead of me. The person behind me kept my place in line while I ran Robin down to school at 7:00, but to no avail; they gave out the last appointment to someone about six places ahead of me in the line. I didn't see the point in having them see her on an emergency basis again, because I wanted to be able to talk to the doctor, not just get more drugs, so I went home and opened up the yellow pages.

There were three dermatologists listed in Heredia. I called the one with the biggest ad (including "private parking lot") and got an appointment for 2:45 that afternoon ($42).

I also took some time to get a little more information online, and in addition to the stuff about not being able to identify the cause, I also found out that respiratory problems are less common in children, and usually occur right at the outset, not hours or days after the hives appear. So I was feeling a little better about that by the time we went to the doctor.

He told me to discontinue the steroids, saying they make it worse. He approved the antihistamine syrup, and added a second one. He looked at her feet for fungus and her teeth for decay because either of those conditions can trigger hives. He gave her a shot in the forearm ($21) which she says was horrible, and he said to bring her back in 10 days.

The hives began to fade noticeably within an hour after the shot. We had a sundae at McDonald's and got a little toy at the store before going back to pick up Julia. Life was good. Until bedtime. Then they started breaking out again, including on her face. So I brought her back to my bed and checked her through the night. In the morning all her hives were better looking - lighter in color and maybe not so raised, but she had them from head to foot, including much of her face. The ones on her face weren't very noticeable, although they made her look a little different because she was a little puffy. I kept her home from school so I could keep an eye on her, and there were a few minutes where she said she was having trouble swallowing and I started envisioning emergency trips to somewhere, but it subsided and they continued to fade.

I called the doctor and he said that even with hives on the face, respiratory problems are very extremely unlikely. But I still don't like it.

The one good thing in all of this is that even when she looks awful, Robin seems to feel just fine. Probably because of the anthihistamines, she's hardly had any itching at all. Her take on the situation: "I like being like this because I get all the tension." Not all of it, child. Not all of it.

A click a day for good causes

The Hunger Site The Breast Cancer Site The Child Health Site The Literacy Site The Rainforest Site The Animal Rescue Site

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