Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Break from Mother Nature

This has been a long week. Trying to get my room painted at a snail's pace. The walls are finally done, I have a little bit of trim to do and then the doors. But it looks so much better already that I will not even complain about my paint-induced headache.

We have had more than 2 weeks of over 100 degree heat. It has been the 2nd hottest June in the 150 + years of recorded weather history. The morning lows barely drop below 80 and the highs are from 103-106. By the time we get up, dressed, and have breakfast (by 9-ish) it is almost too hot to go outside. In the afternoon, the only way it is bearable is to play in the kiddie pool.

I have been trying to fight my natural inclinations... I am the mom who avoids messes: I am the mom who cringes inside when my kids take the box of blocks and dump it on the floor. Why can't they learn to take just the blocks they will need, one by one rather than spreading them all over the floor? I am the mom who insists on not getting clothes wet outside... that is what swim suits are for, am I wrong? And who wants more laundry? Who wants to take wet clothes off and put dry ones on? I am the mom who secretly hopes activities like painting will not be requested--which involve 20 minutes of prep and 20 minutes of cleaning for five minutes of artistic diversion for a 3.5 year old. I am the mom constantly picking up--books, toys, grass, sticks, even though I know they will be back on the floor before I am done with "rounds". I am the mom who discourages my tots from playing with their food, even though I know that is part of the experience of eating at that age. I am the mom who remains fully clothed only dipping feet in the pool, rather than jumping in and splashing around.

Where does that come from?... that desire to keep things clean... that urge to fight chaos and mess? It's not exactly that I am a sidelines-mom. It's not that I won't get on the floor and play... I do that... and as long as things stay orderly, I don't panic.

But I have been fighting that lately... trying to let my kids just be kids... even if disaster ensues, even if clean-up is required.

Today was a good day for that. We had our first break in the heat wave. When we got up the skies were dark and rumbling. It sprinkled/drizzled all morning. While the lightning was still striking and thunder rolled, we took all the pillows to G's room and played and climbed and built a fort (though I kept getting upset with Nico for wrecking the roof--little slip). Then fighting the urge to stay dry we decided to go for a walk in the slight drizzle. I even let G splash through the puddles. That was one happy girl!

I have also been fighting another natural inclination: the constant connection addiction. I literally get on the computer a bazillion times a day--checking email and reading blogs mostly. I think part of it is just craving some kind of activity that is not child-related. I get restless at home all day with the kids: feeding, cleaning, wiping, playing, scolding, holding, bathing... it is endless. The computer is my 2-minute escape. It is a coping mechanism, in some ways, but it also means I am not always "present" and that, like numerous other things, adds to the mommy-guilt.

I can't leave the computer on and not check... so I have been turning it off after checking email in the morning and not turning it on again until naptime--my guilt-free alone time.

I am just getting on now, after our pillow-play, rain-walk, lunch, clean-up, diaper-change, teeth-brushing, potty time, 2 songs-no-3 songs, lights out... and... BREATHE

Ah, my internet connection... I have tried not to long for you all morning... have I missed anything?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Food that Rocks

I have been wanting to cook with this for a long time:

Quinoa (keen-wa)

I believe it originates in the highlands of Bolivia (or therabouts). The Inca called it the "Mother grain". It is the only vegetable source which is a complete protein (i.e. all the essential amino acids). It is loaded with protein and fiber. It is the perfect food. It cooks a lot like rice and you can find it in the grain section of your grocery store, but if you have one of those health food stores that sells in bulk, it is cheaper that way. I buy the regular kind and a red heirloom variety--I like to mix them.

I finally just bought some and then made myself find something to do with it. I found this fast, easy, delicious recipe on allrecipes.com and I am in love with it. We all love it, including both of the kids. I make it at least every 2 weeks and it makes enough for a couple meals.

Without further ado...

Quinoa and Black Beans


1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped (I use more, we love garlic)
1 cup uncooked quinoa
2 cups vegetable broth (I use chicken broth)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I use a little less so it is not too spicy for the tots)
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup frozen corn kernels (I run them under warm water to thaw)
2 (15 ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro (cut just before adding)

I also add the juice from 1-2 limes with the cilantro--I am crazy like that (and it goes well with the other flavors).


1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the onion and garlic, and saute until lightly browned.

2. Mix quinoa into the saucepan, mix with onion/garlic and add broth. Season with cumin, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes.

3. Stir corn and black beans into the saucepan, and continue to simmer about 5 minutes until heated through. Mix in the and cilantro (and lime juice).

It looks like this:

I like to serve it in a warm tortilla shell, loaded with diced avocado and shredded cabbage, drizzled with extra lime juice and sprinkled with salt. You could add other "taco" toppings too (tomato, cheese, sour cream). My husband adds other stuff, but I don't like to overpower the mix itself. Or you could do something completely different with it--serve it as a side dish.

It is so easy, it takes 30 minutes. It is light but filling and it just feels so healthy.

You'll come back and thank me after you try it.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sweet Sunday and my Secret Power Wish

Mosey and I are breaking all the blogging rules and posting on the weekend. Who needs family time, I have all week for that. No one else will read our posts, but I feel a little more rebellious and adventurous anyway.

I was painting much of the day yesterday. My husband was a little annoyed because he wanted to do some caulking and sealing and securing of wood on the outside of the house which we are prepping to paint as well. He claims that we had agreed to paint the outside first, as it "is more important." I remember no such thing, and he is the infamous one with no memory, if you remember.

We need to paint the outside too, but with all the prep work, the power-washing and paint-buying that needs to be done first, we won't be opening a paint can for a few weeks. I want to do something that will give me visible results NOW... and I can't stand our room for one more second.

One bonus to moving things around to paint is that you get to clean all of the dust bunnies behind and under furniture that you haven't moved for a while (ok, ok, since we moved in).

All this painting has made me realize what my wish for a secret power would be. I don't want to read other people's thoughts--I don't really think that would help improve human relations very much. I had considered becoming elasti-girl, it might be fun to be kind of bendy, but let me assure you that power would not be put to good use. I have seen and read other interesting powers but now I am convinced that my secret power would be to be able to look at a color card in the paint section of any hardware store and to intuitively visualize exactly what it would look like, DRY, on the room it is intended for. Wouldn't that be useful? Who needs to be bendy anyway?

We decided on a brown-ish color for the room--I am sorry, we are boring that way, we like earthy colors, and what is more earthy than brown? (don't say lilac!--I don't care if it is a flower, it is not classified as earthy) The first two colors we sampled were way too dark--and our room is small and dark anyway (can you say sanctuary?) they were both also sort of purpl-ish. The color now is lilac and I do NOT want a darker-browner purple color. On the color card they both looked TOTALLY brown.

So then I tried a lighter brown from a different hue line. It looked totally light brown on the card--but on the wall it looked grayish-brownish. We were willing to live with it to not sample any more colors and because we are really not ALL that picky--just not lilac anymore, thanks. However, as fate would have it, when I went to get the cans of paint I took a giant leap of faith and decided to go with something of a similar shade but slightly less gray. I bought 2 gallons without sampling it first--I am kind of wild that way--which is actually how my daughter ended up with a blindingly bright green room--but whatever--she likes it.

So I got home and started painting and I am like "CRAP!! I don't like it." I had already bought the paint so I thought, I am painting it anyway. But after it dried, I loved it, especially with the white trim (which, have I mentioned?... is a pain to paint)

This is what it looks like:

I am making progress. I have about 1/3 of the room painted. The rest involves moving furniture, which I will need help with, unless I change my secret power to moving things with my mind.

Can you guess who is going to complain about wasting precious caulking time?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Ah, Friday night...

Have you noticed that no one blogs on Friday night (or Sunday)?

When I am home with the kids, Saturday morning is very much like other mornings, therefore Friday night is very much like other nights. This Friday night is very much like most Friday nights: my man is falling asleep on the sofa, cudding with G as she watches a few minutes of one of her movies. I am catching up on some of my blog reading (catching up?...haha, that's funny-- I read blogs all the time.) I've got a small (ish) glass of a Chilean Cabernet (We always drink Chilean wine--we are very loyal winos.)

All is well in the world... well, mostly well. I do have a couple itches to scratch... or whatever an appropriate phrase here might be.

I have one literal itch: I got bitten by a couple of fire ants yesterday. I used to like ants as a child--I made my own ant farm, I fed them sugar and watched fascinated as they carried it down the little tunnels they had made in the glass jar. I am no longer a friend to ants. I hate them. I am convinced that all ants in Texas are fire ants and no entymologist can persuade me otherwise. These ants are not big or red or mean looking. They look like regular tiny ants. When they bite you can barely feel it... but as the day progresses, the bites start swelling and hurting, then during the wee hours of the night you are constantly awakened by the burning sensation and the overwhelming desire to scratch like a mad-woman. Scratching brings a momentary relief that is both orgasmic and slightly painful, but the minute you stop,it burns like the dickens. My foot is swollen and red and I am irritated with the insect world.

My metaphorical itch is to get some painting done. I have a friend down the street who has painted each room in her house (bigger than mine even) no fewer than 4 or 5 times (no joke) to find just the right shade of green or brown. This makes me feel like a huge loser/slacker because we have lived here for 3 YEARS and I have painted exactly one small room--once--even though it was a much brighter shade of green than I had imagined. In my defense I will say this:

1) I do not have a decorator's gene. I do want colors that I like, but not to really make the perfect room--that takes way more money and time and thought than I have to dedicate to home decor. I don't even decorate a "nursery" for my babies... WAY too much effort.

2)There were other arguments in my defense, but I have forgotten--so now you can just think I am lame and lazy.

Most of the rooms are painted in colors I can at least live with (even if the paint jobs are shoddy--which annoys the crap out of me--because if you are going to paint a room, can't you at least do a good job or leave extra paint so the new home-owners can at least do the touching-up you were too lazy to do?). But the two rooms that really needed painting--needed it everywhere (closets and trim--which is a royal pain--because there is carpet). So I painted G's room because it had the worst paint job/colors I have ever seen. But it was painstaking... (and there was hardly anything in there because we were just moving her out of the crib room.)

The other room is the master bedroom--which is supposed to be your sanctuary or some such nonsense. You can just take that to mean it is not a sanctuary. For starters it is an awful lilac color. No offense to you, of course, if you agonized over exactly which shade of lilac to paint your own sanctuary... but lilac is not my color of choice. The doors and trim--adding insult to injury is a nasty beige color--not even a light and fluffy cream color that you could live with--it has to go. The window treatment left by the previous owners consists of forest green blinds and then kind of mauve-ish curtains with an beige flower pattern--atrocious right?

I refuse to post a picture, I am too embarrassed that I have lived in here for three years. I probably won't even post an after picture because I'll still have crappy hand-me-down furniture and all my dissertation material (gathering dust) in here. Well, maybe one wall, but we'll see...

The effort to move all of the furniture (some of it very heavy) in order to paint-walls, closet, bathroom (all lilac) plus the doors and trim (taping all the carpet down) seems so monumental that I have a mini-breakdown just thinking about it. But I have to get it painted... as soon as I finish my blog post--haha.

No, actually, I started painting last night, and I have exactly one door jamb painted.

I'll be done in no time.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Impressions of Chile

View of Stgo from Sta. Lucia in 2004

Me atop Sta. Lucia during our August, 2004 trip

My husband and I with the in-laws. August, 2004 Quintay--everyone's favorite "caleta" (little fishing port).

I recently stumbled upon several blogs written by “gringas” living in Chile. They had just done a group post on first impressions of Chile. Reading them brought back so many memories of things that I loved about Chile and things that drove me nuts. Margaret of Cachando Chile initiated the idea to celebrate her 18 years in Chile. She invited to me write a post about my first impressions. You can find links to all the posts on Margaret’s post and read what they have to say. These gringas already mentioned quite a few of the impressions I also had, so I tried to cover a few others.

In 1996, I had recently graduated from college with a double major in English and Spanish. I had exactly 4 months of living “en el extranjero” under my belt—a semester abroad in Guayaquil, Ecuador. That is all it took to get the travel bug—that unique rush that comes from seeing the world from a different perspective. I almost went back to Guayaquil to teach English, but at the last minute I found a teaching job in Santiago and decided to try a new country.

I left the U.S. headed for Santiago, Chile on July 4th 1996. I arrived at about 1:30a.m. July 5th. My first impression was… BRRR! It was raining and much colder than I had expected—even knowing it would be winter. It has been over 12 years since I first arrived in Chile (lived there for almost 4, now married to a Chilean for almost 8 years, with visits to Chile). Some of my initial impressions are nebulous at best, and perhaps even tainted from having so much contact and undergoing that process in which the novel becomes quotidian. But I still have a list of what I consider to be my impressions in those first months.

Water: you can drink it! After living in Ecuador where we were repeatedly warned not to drink the water and I was terrified for the first few days even to brush my teeth, it was a relief not to worry about that. I usually prefer bottled water for the taste, but I have drunk water all over Chile with no problem at all.

Pay to pee: though I had become accustomed to… shall we say, “unpleasant” bathrooms, (and I developed a strange sense of pride that I can “do my business” virtually anywhere) I was not accustomed to paying to use them. In Chile, I was surprised to find that I had to pay (100 pesos) to use a bathroom almost anywhere. If there is a bathroom, there is almost always a bathroom attendant, standing vigilant, receiving your coins, and many times doling out a ration of toilet paper (sometimes not enough).

Plumbing: also bathroom related is dealing with old-city plumbing. I was a little surprised to find that in most places I went in Santiago, you were not supposed to flush “confort” (toilet paper)—no matter what you had done with it. Even today, when my father-in-law comes to visit, I remove the trash can from the guest bathroom. (shhh!)

Egg soup: my first meal in Chile was scrambled eggs, made for me by the owner of the pension where I lived for my first few months. She “cooked” my eggs in literally ¼ cup of oil for literally 30 seconds. I felt so bad trying to explain that I like my scrambled eggs cooked until almost dry. When the gringas from work went for breakfast at a nearby café it took us a few weeks to “train” the café staff on how to cook eggs to our liking. They jokingly called it “huevos a la gringa”. But no, seriously what is with eating raw eggs? (Though I don’t mind the egg white in a pisco sour.)

Peeling: What is up with peeling fruits and vegetables? I can see it from a sanitization point of view—but if you wash produce well, I’m pretty sure peeling is unnecessary... plus it is SO much extra work. Besides, most of the vitamins, minerals and fiber are in the peel. My husband’s family thought I was inept in the kitchen for a long time because it would never have occurred to me to peel the tomatoes for an “ensalada chilena” (tomato and onion) when I offered to help the “asado” preparation. They changed their minds when I made Christmas dinner one year with turkey, breadsticks from scratch, and a homemade strawberry pie.

Prices: While Chile is not the cheap deal that some other countries are, it is still mostly cheaper than the U.S. Especially produce! Here in Texas, our Chilean friends joke about the cost of a red pepper. Paying US$3.00 for one artichoke hurts when you remember seeing a street vendor selling 10 artichokes for 1000 pesos (about US$2). Books, on the other hand, are outrageously expensive if bought new. I remember the pain of paying 20,000 pesos (about US$50, then) for a book by Octavio Paz on Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz that I just had to have (and which I still haven’t read... but whatever…)

Wine: my taste for wine was born in Chile. I like heavy, full bodied Chilean red wines. I am sometimes disappointed by wines from other wine-producing regions. I loved trying new wines in Chile. Even though Chilean wine is more expensive in the U.S. (than in Chile), for the quality in its price range, it is a great deal. My husband and I will soon be making our own Chilean Carmenère.

Eternal Pololeos: Chileans date FOREVER… I first discovered this in one of my classes. I had a boyfriend/girlfriend pair in the same class who had been dating for over 7 years. I would soon come to find that this was fairly normal. They both had good jobs so money wasn’t the issue (though sometimes it might be). They were thinking about marriage, but just weren’t really sure. They ended up breaking up. My Chilean husband and I dated for over 4 years. After about 3 years when he still was still squirmy about taking it to the next level (whatever that was—didn’t even have to be marriage) I told him I was going back to the U.S. for grad school. He followed soon after that on a fiancé visa. I won't flatter myself by saying he couldn't live without me... I'll let you come to your own conclusions.

Psychotherapy anyone? Everyone is depressed. Living in a city where people work long hours, commute on packed buses and metros, deal with smog, lack of green spaces, play spaces etc, it seems logical that Santiaguinos are stressed, but I have never known so many people who are depressed, in crisis, and seeing a therapist—it’s almost a fad. Of course I have never been to NYC…

Idiosyncrasies: every country/culture has its own funny little contradictions, but I was surprised to find that Chile was one of 2 or 3 countries where divorce was still illegal though it has since been legalized (2004). While that was surprising, I was floored to find out that though you could not get a divorce, you could get an annulment, even years later, with kids and all, if there was something as silly as a wrong/fake address on your marriage certificate.

Race: I have heard on more than one occasion that Chileans are not racist (like all people from the U.S. are assumed to be) because… (are you ready for this)… there are no black people in Chile (which is true btw). If you ask Chileans if Chileans are racist they will say no, but (without getting into a discussion of what constitutes race and what issues of power and dominance constitute racism) they will also tell you that they dislike the Chinese, Peruvians, Argentines, Bolivians etc. And if you look Mapuche or have a Mapuche last name, you will be at a distinct social disadvantage in Chile.

Class: though Chileans do not consider themselves racist, they readily admit to being classist. Class is evident in all aspects of life: how you talk, how you dress, what high school you went to, what university you went to, what newspaper you read, what neighborhood you live in etc. While U.S. English has a plethora of words to call some one an idiot, Chilean Spanish has just as many to call someone low-class (rasca, roto, picante, ordinario) or a snob (cuico, pituco, etc.).

PDA: everywhere!

Gypsies: I have a slightly horrifying story for later.

The best thing about finding these blogs is that I don’t feel quite as ambivalent about moving back to Chile (at some future date) as before. There are a lot of things I love about Chile, but I also have had a lot of reservations about relocating there. Seeing how “gringos” have made a place for themselves long-term in Chile has helped assuage some of those fears. (Just don’t tell my hubby--there is still some negotiating to do).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tabula rasa

One of my favorite Spanish-language writers is Jorge Luis Borges, from Argentina. He writes amazing short stories. I remember reading one, in translation in a world lit class when I was still taking beginning Spanish classes. I loved it so much, I decided that I wanted to learn Spanish well enough to read it in its original language. Anyway, he has one story called “Funes el memorioso” which is about a man who is plagued by his memory. He remembers every single thing he has seen or experienced: the cloud formation on such a date and such an hour, the feeling of the air, the ticking of the clock. He remembers every second of every day—so that in remembering he relives it exactly as it occurs.

My husband does NOT have that problem.

One of the … uhm… quirks… of living with my husband is his memory, or better put, his lack of it. Actually, his memory is good for some things—it’s kind of a type of selective memory—but not selective in the sense that he just remembers what he wants to—he has a very good visual memory, especially for people.

For example, once while I was living in Chile, we were hitchhiking/backpacking in the south (it is a long thin country so south is one of the two directions you can travel). We were eating a long leisurely lunch at a beach-side restaurant on a remote corner of this quaint island called Chiloé. (below)

See more pics (not mine) here.

He started asking the waiter questions: are you from here? how long have you worked here? Did you used to work at a restaurant in a nearby town? It turns out, this guy waited on my husband and his family, in a totally different restaurant, while they were on vacation 8 or 9 years before. That is how good his visual memory is.

His audio-lingual memory, on the other hand is virtually non-existent: he has no recollection of anything he has said or heard. Sometimes, it drives me nuts. The whole point of language and memory is so that you can reference previous events and conversations and save yourself a whole lot of time (and irritation). Most of our conversations go something like this:

He: We did some work right there in that shopping center.

Me: Is that where you were when I called you the other day?

He: (blank look) When?

Me: … the other day, like 4 days ago, I called you as I was going to pick up the kids and you said you were near our house at a new shopping center.

He: (blank look) What?

(it’s a silly example, and ultimately unimportant, but our conversations are FULL of them)

Or like this story I told his dad: The last week of classes I was preparing a movie to watch in the Spanish class I was teaching. It is a Chilean movie called “Machuca” that portrays the time period up to and including the Chilean coup d’etat in 1973. I asked hubs if he wanted to watch it with me (I hadn’t seen it since it came out in theatres in Chile in 2006). He said: “No, it’s too sad, let’s watch the Netflix movie.” Se we watched “After the Wedding” a Danish movie which was so utterly heart-wrenching we both sat on the sofa blubbering like babies and then sat stunned into silence when it was over.

So, as I was telling his dad this, hubs asks: What was that movie about again?

Seriously, people, it was one of those movies that makes you cry so hard you don’t forget for a looooong time. It was literally a movie we had seen 10 days before and he had absolutely no clue what it was about. I had to outline the entire plot before he remembered.

He rarely has any idea what I am talking about. Sometimes he’ll pretend he remembers, (especially after seeing the look of annoyance on my face that he can’t recall the conversation we were having the day before) but there’ll be enough doubt in his eyes that I’ll say: “You have no clue, do you?” And he’ll shake his head sadly. He rarely has one of those “aha!” moments where he remembers all the details I told him before, preventing me from basically having to tell him the exact same story as before.

It is the exact opposite of Borges’ Funes. I tell him it is like waking up next to Aristotle’s “tabula rasa”—(blank slate) every morning.

Now, to be perfectly honest, there are some advantages to blank slate. Not saying I have done or would ever do this, but hypothetically speaking, if I were to “remind” him of something that I had really neglected to tell him, I could probably get him to think that I had told him and he forgot, not that I had forgotten to tell him and was now telling him for the first time. Of course, my very high ethical standards would prevent me from doing such a thing. The biggest bonus is that he never remembers if we were arguing the evening before or what we were arguing about and he never wakes up mad.

I guess it's a pretty good trade-off.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Grand Canyon: part III

This chica here... who does pretty decent without a nap, falls asleep happily in the car and can verbalize what she needs...had a fairly good time:

She loved getting on a big bus...

She enjoyed running around, climbing, and jumping...

She was even brave enough to pose with a Cowboy during a Wild West Shoot-out Show...

She found ways of entertaining herself during meals...

The other little guy here, was not so fortunate. He spent meals pretty much looking like that (or more miserable!) And he spent most waking moments in the car like this:

I felt so bad for him!

I did love having some inspiring scenery as the backdrop for playing a little more with my camera. Playing with the shutter speed here:

Trying to get some close-ups (I need a macro lens)