Thursday, October 29, 2009

Major and Minor Feats

Major Feat:

Today I handed my dissertation to my committee members. I got all of their signatures on the famous pink paper (it has to be pink--an important administrative detail). I then took the signature sheet, with sample sheets to be checked for format, to the graduate school, one step in one billion administrative steps that must carried out.

But the main thing is giving it to my committee. Now they read it! AHHHH! I defend in two weeks (cross your fingers for me). For some reason, I was so nervous just to give it to them, but now I feel this huge weight lifted. It is not over yet, but it still seems so surreal, even getting to this point. I know there will probably be some changes to be made, I am prepared for that, and left time, but just getting a version out has been a feat of major proportions.

Even the universe was looking out for me. Every day as I dropped my kids at daycare, I sent out my little prayer to the universe "Please don't let them pick up germs! Please don't let them call me about a fever!" When kids this age get sick, they are home for a week, in my experience. That would have meant minimal progress. But, they had nary a sniffle for two months in the germ factory. Today, Nico wakes up and pukes. But it doesn't matter. He gets to stay home and snuggle with papi as I take my "book" to its many destinations. I come home, there is no stress, I am ecstatic. We all take a nap and spend the afternoon together.

Minor Feat:

After weeks of postponing due to days of frantic writing, we finally get a start on the Halloween festivities. I finally got costumes, yesterday, after taking my baby to the printer--I am the bad mama who had to take whatever was left on the shelf. I am thankful that G will go as whatever I get her, she is not picky that way, but she is delighted with her costume. Nico doesn't care as long as it involves little work getting him in it.

I finally got a pumpkin and tonight we carved it. Look, see!

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Joys of English

I don't have time for a big long post, but I am taking a teensy-tinsy break so I will post about a language-nerd detail.

Other languages I have studied are difficult in terms of verb conjugations. English is fairly simple for verb tenses and number of conjugations, but English has the dreaded phrasal verbs or verb-preposition combos that must be so hard for English learners.

Case in point:

Today it was cold and rainy. My husband came home and told me that he had gotten wet earlier but had since "dried up."

I said: "You mean dried out."

Now, how in the dickens would you explain the difference between "dry up" and "dry out"?

Well, I totally made it up on the fly. I said, a lake or a puddle dries up, but your clothes dry out.

So he asks: "So do clothes in the dryer dry out?"


Me: "um, no those clothes just dry, to dry out, they have to get wet kind of unintentionally."

That sounds about right, right?

Man, that's complicated. and we didn't even get into "dry off."

On a totally random note, here are my fav pics of the week:

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Group post: First trips within Chile

It is Sunday. I got a lot of work done yesterday on the dissertation I have one week to finish before getting it printed and to my committee. But there is always one day of the weekend, that gets filled with all the mundane tasks, plus the soccer game, plus all the communication with family etc plus some much needed grading and class prep etc. So I didn't end up working much today and now I am just too tired to try to get into it before calling it a night. So I decided to write here.

One of the bloggers-in-Chile that I read (Emily at Don't call me gringa) initiated a group post about first trips within the country. So, I thought I would oblige. Keep in mind these pics are from the late 90's with an old 35mm, as I was in Chile before digital cameras made their debut. I had to scan them, so they are a bit off.

For my first few months in Chile, I knew very few people. It takes time to get to know people, even other foreigners, (don't even get me started on some of the losers I ended up talking to or some of the awkward situations I got into because I was just so lonely and willing to hang out with anyone).

After figuring my way around Santiago, visiting all the museums, and realizing I still didn't have anyone to take a trip with, I just went by myself--and boy was it lonely. My first trip was to Valparaiso, a port city in central Chile. It is a hilly city so there are stairways and ascensores (like elevators to get up hills). I went to (a Chilean poet) Pablo Neruda's house called "La Sebastiana" (if I remember correctly). I walked around a lot all by my lonesome.

Then I took a trip to another beach town to see Pablo Neruda's most famous house at Isla Negra (which is not an island at all). When I graduated from college, I won some silly little award for which I was given several of Pablo Neruda's books,including one with pictures of all of his houses. This was even before I knew I was going to Chile and the first piece of evidence that it was my destiny.

For my first Chilean Independence Day (Sept. 18) I went on my first trip to northern Chile, in the Atacama Desert, with a friend from work. We went to San Pedro, a tiny little town with dirt roads and a picturesque white-washed church, which fills to the brim with foreigners. Though I liked San Pedro and the Valley of the Moon and the salt lake with flamingos, I didn't truly learn to like the desert until a later trip.

My first trip down south, I went with my then boyfriend, now husband and his family to a lake called "Lanalhue" (near Los Angeles). There are so many funny things I could say about this "family vacation" but a link to a previous post will have to serve as my only hint.

During this trip we went to a Parque Nacional Nahuelbuta, which is a forest of Monkey-Puzzle trees, known as Araucarias in their native land. They are one of my favorite trees and also part of the proof that it was my destiny to go to Chile.

A camping trip to El Enladrillado (near Vilches) gave me one of the most beautiful views of the Andes.

And of course, everyone who enjoys hiking has been to "Siete tazas" (seven "cups" or pools).

So there you have it, quite unpoetic and lacking in description and details (except the link which may now qualify as TMI). Short and not-exactly-sweet, but peppered with photos.

I went to Quintero (a beach town) so often with my now-husband, that I totally forgot to add that as a first-trip (maybe I'll talk about it if I ever get to how we started dating).

There was also a trip in there somewhere to La Serena and Valle del Elqui (once home to Gabriela Mistral--another Chilean poet and center of Pisco production).

Other first trips: Abby, Lydia, Lucie, and Clare. The link to Emily's original post is above.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Statistical eating

I have been so busy that I missed my blog-iversary. Yes, Saturday, my blog turned one. It has been a good time to be busy because there is nothing to read on the blogosphere. What is everybody doing that they can't keep my 15 minutes-to-waste filled with interesting things to read?

So, I will post about all I have learned about blogging later, when I have more time, but I thought for now, I will share something I wrote last week.


One night, I am eating dinner a little late because I was writing. My husband had already eaten, but was accompanying me at the table. It was spaghetti and I had heated up some corn because I am weird and that is one of my all-time favorite combinations. I was happily chewing (and talking with my mouth full—how rude!) and I kept coming across little pieces of the cob on the bottoms of the corn kernels. It was a little like chewing straw so I took it out and put it on the edge of my plate (oh shoosh, it's not like I was in a five-star French restaurant).

A few minutes later, hubs points to it and says: “You do that a lot, why don’t you just eat it?”

I told him that it was inedible. He says: “You do that with oranges too, peeling off all the white stuff” (he looks at me like I am so neurotic). I kindly offer that if he doesn’t want to waste the corn cob, he could eat it, and I hold it out to him. He says: “You know me, I’ll eat it.”

Yes, I know, he will.

So I turn it around and say: “Yeah, what is up with that? You talk like I am some neurotic eater, but you eat the entire apple—core and all. I don’t know why you even bother to peel your bananas or oranges at all.”

When he eats something with bones, his prey looks like those fish bones that cats eat in the cartoons—where they put an entire fish in their mouth and pull out just the skeleton. When he eats a chicken leg, the bone is sucked clean—there are no ligaments, cartilage, gristle, nothing. It is impressive and a little nauseating.

Then I added, “But if we polled one hundred people I bet my eating habits would be closer to the norm than yours.

He says: “How many standard deviations away would you be?” (note: SD is the average distance from the average score)

Me: I would be pretty close to the mean (the average). YOU on the other hand, would be on one extreme… you’d probably be an outlier actually (one of those points far away from “normal”).

He is one of those people who will eat things, just so they don’t go to waste. I am all for not wasting, and I don’t think I am “a typical wasteful ‘American,’” but I have food standards. I try to use up what we have and to be conscious of waste etc. But I have limits. I generally don’t eat something past the expiration date. Most leftovers that have been in the fridge past about 5 days are questionable. (I know some people who won’t even go that long.) I’ll go up to a week with something like spaghetti sauce. He’ll eat meat from over a week ago or half-rotten grapes, just so we don’t throw them away. I understand that it probably won’t kill me, but I just can’t do it.

So where are you on the neurotic eating habits? How long are leftovers safe? Do you peel all the pith off of the orange? Will you eat something after the expiration date?

So let's poll my three readers: Are you more like me or are you more like my sweet freak of a husband?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Eye tacos and our new business plan

The other day in the Spanish class I teach, we were looking at the vocabulary section for the chapter we are covering. It is sports vocab (yawn yawn snooze drool). I asked my students if they like watching certain sporting events, like say a swim meet. One of them said she only likes it if there are “dulces de ojo”. At first I had no idea what she was trying to say, until one of the other students figured it out: Eye candy.

She asked me if there was a way to say that. I told her that I hadn’t heard a good equivalent. One of the other students, who is Mexican-American (and totally doesn’t belong in a beginning Spanish course) said that she had heard of “Taco de ojo” a.k.a. Eye taco.

I almost had a comically induced fit. That is hilarious.

I was telling my hubs about it today, and after I told him about my student saying “dulce de ojo” he said, ah, Taquito de ojo. I should have known he would have heard it before, not because they say it in Chile, in fact, tacos are not even eaten there. (A taco in Chile is a traffic jam… and “traffic jam-eye” is probably something else entirely)… But he works with some Mexican guys.

That got us talking about how to say it in Chilean. All he could think of was “recrear la vista” which is essentially “visual recreation”. For some reason that brought him to how perverted Chileans were with their “Cafés con piernas.” (See how progressive he is).

Café con piernas (coffee/café with legs) is basically a coffee shop where the girls are very scantily clad. It is a strip club for your morning coffee. They are all over downtown Santiago and filled with men in business suits sipping their “café cortado” (coffee and milk). There is one that reportedly has a “million dollar minute” where the girls take off their tops.

Nice. Huh?

So I told him my theory that these joints are basically society and work sanctioned daytime strip-clubs. Since you can’t go to a night club and drink a cocktail at 9:30 a.m., they have invented coffee shops with a cheap thrill.

I told him I was surprised there weren’t more kinds of places like that:

Panadería con piernas (bakery with legs)
Verdulería con piernas (veggie stand with legs)
Carnicería con piernas (butcher shop with legs)

...where you could get your cheap thrills as you run all of your errands.

And he suggested that that might be our business plan when we move back there.

So there you have it, we will be the proud owners of a bakery where you can get some sweets with your sweets. (I had tons of little metaphors to put in here, but I don’t want you to think I am being crass).

Monday, October 5, 2009

Who doesn't like a little blink blink?

When my husband and I first met, I spoke Spanish pretty well and he spoke very little English. He was actually a student of mine at an English Institute in Santiage. Though, as soon as we were seriously dating, I could no longer really instruct him--as it often goes with couples. Our first 4-5 years together were "conducted" nearly all in Spanish.

(btw I never let him live down the fact that though he rarely corrected my Spanish, because he said it was perfect, he corrected my grammar once during a small tiff we had--which made me even more annoyed: He says "oh and after 'intentar' you don't use 'a'--it is hilarious now, but in the moment... not so much)

So when he came to the U.S. our modus operandi as far as communication started changing. As he learned more English, we spoke a more balanced amount of the two. Until we could finally argue, each in his/her native tongue--which must sound funny. But seriously, few things are more frustrating than getting angry in a language that isn't yours.

We spent many evenings during his first few months having conversations about vowel sounds and discriminating between words, like this:

He: Say "bicho" in English

Me: bug

He: Now say "bolsa"

Me: bag

He: They sound the same

Me: No they don't--look, bug/bag

He: ok, you said bolsa then bicho

Me: no I said bicho then bolsa

He: Ok, say them again... say one of them

Me: bug

He: you said "bolsa"

Me: no that was "bicho"

....... and on and on. It was endless.

Now, his English is nearly perfect. And he has a cute little accent to boot. But he still makes amusing little mistakes. One day I asked him what he thought of a new pick-up truck that was passing. He said he didn't like it because there was too much "blink blink" I said, you mean "bling, bling." Too funny. That is one of those things you hear but not necessarily see often, and the endings do sound really similar to a Spanish speaker.

He also says some expressions a little off. Like "Jeez, Louise" where Louise ryhmes with Jeez (loo-eez). Well for the longest time, he'd say "Jesus Louis" where Louis is pronounced (loo-iss) Doesn't ryhme at all.

(Which reminds me that when I was little I couldn't say "jee" because it was too close to Jesus--which was considered sacriligious to say like that. I couldn't say "gosh" either.)

He has also picked up on expressions here in Texas, that even I don't say. Once we had guests and I was in the bedroom with the baby. Hubs comes in and says "I think they're fixin to leave." The only logical response is: "did you just say fixin to". That just seems so Southern.

I love the language learning process, so it has been cool to see him go from beginning to fluent, picking up all the slang on the way.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Dostoyevsky unraveled

I have been thinking about that Dostoyevsky novel, Crime and Punishment. I read it first in high school and then again in college. Most people don’t seem to like it, but for some reason it was one of my favorite books. It must be my Russian blood. It is the story of Raskolnikov, who commits a murder just because he thinks he can get away with it. The book takes you inside his mind; it is a psychological exploration into the mind of a criminal and the internal consequences of crime.

I have been confronted with several times with the human side of crime and punishment. I have seen glimpses of what makes a criminal that has fundamentally changed how I think of “justice.”

I am a senior in high school and I am at a new school in a new state. It is a small town that I grow to hate in the year I am there. I have few friends. I am shy. I hate that we are poor and my clothes are old and ugly. I take the bus to school and spend my mornings and lunches reading in the library. I meet Max. He is a sophomore and knows my brother. He rides our bus too. He wears over-sized glasses. He has greasy hair. He is poor. He starts hanging out with me in the library. He confides in me more than I’d like. He has been abused all of his life, sexually, emotionally, physically. He is like a little boy. He is absolutely stunted in many ways and it is gut-wrenching. He wants to hang out with my little brother. My mom says a forceful, unmistakable NO! She knew. We all knew what was in the making. We had long been aware of cycles of abuse. His cards had been long dealt.

Fast-forward years. I have gone to college and graduated. I have gone to Chile and come home for a brief visit before zooming off again to Europe and back to Chile. At home, my mom tells me that Max was arrested for sexually assaulting a young boy.

It is nauseating. Of course he has to stand accountable for what he has done. Justice must be served, right? If I were the mother of that boy that was assaulted I would want to hurt him myself; I would want the maximum penalty. And yet, there is something so terrible about how he has been treated all of his life, how no one protected him, how there was no justice for all that he suffered, how he will be treated in jail, what he will do when he gets out, how there is really no hope for him and how he is a victim too. He has to answer for what he has done, but there is something unsettling about it.


This week, one morning I see a news story. A young woman tries to rob a bank. She hands a note to the teller asking for $300. She hints that she has a gun in her pocket and threatens to use it. There is something both comedic and pathetic about the story and the way it is recounted in the news. The silent alarm is set off. The police show up. The would-be-robber has something in her mouth. Police suspect it is a meth-rock. She is arrested for robbery 2 and drug possession. She will go to prison.

I think about the teller and how frightening that must be, even if the robber is child-size and it turns out there is no weapon. I think about the would-be-robber and her obvious desperation. What is it like to feel that desperate, that hopeless? I think about her state of mind, strung out on meth, to think that she can just walk into a bank, pretend to have a gun, and walk away with a few bucks. I think about how pathetic it is to demand $300 and think that that sum, even if you got away with it, is going to solve your problems. I wonder if she really gets what she has done… and how she will feel when she comes out of this drug haze. It is a punch in the stomach that takes my breath away because the “would-be-robber” is my sister (and not even the same sister I bailed out of jail a few weeks ago).

How do I say that out loud? My sister tried to rob a bank. I can’t say it out loud. It is hard to say; it is even harder to fathom. It sounds like fiction.

I don’t want to say it, to tell anyone. It is not that I am embarrassed. I know it is not a reflection of me. I want to protect her; I want to take her mug shot off of the news. Don’t laugh; don’t judge so harshly. I don’t want anyone thinking of her that way. Don’t tell me that there are others who have suffered and don’t turn into criminals. I am not making excuses for her. She will pay for the choices she has made. But there are so many people who have hurt her, that will never pay. That is justice

I hate when people ask me about my family. “They’re fine.” There is no way to talk about it. How can I explain why they are stuck where they are stuck? How can I describe the horror of a childhood, the abuse, abandonment, betrayal, conflict, more abuse, more abandonment, drugs, alcohol, drop-outs, depression, eating disorders, low self-esteem, sexual violence, domestic violence… it is endless… it never stops. It is exhausting to feel this much pain over people you love.

So my week has pretty much sucked.