Friday, August 31, 2012

Newsflash: Blessed, Overwhelmed, Grateful

In that order.
Just the other night, the fam sat down to dinner and the conversation went something like this:
Me: "We are so lucky to live in the Dominican Republic."
Josh: "Seriously."
Me: "If we were in the States, we would never have a beautiful, big home like this. We would be working way more hours and we wouldn't get to spend nearly as much time with you kiddos. There are so many opportunities here to do the things that are most important to us."
Zora giggled and nodded.
Josh: "Yeah, it is so awesome to walk you guys [Max & Zora] to school in the morning and pick you up in the afternoon. I love having family lunch together everyday."
Max, looking upwards: "Thank you for brainwashing my parents into living here."

Since there is so much I want to share and have borderline neglected you (completely ignored?), dear reader, get ready for this action-packed post which will catch us all up, mostly. Some of our recent shenanigans/news bits really do deserve their own posts, so you'll just have to wait. Ideally, you'll leave today satisfied and I'll leave feeling caught up, ready to tackle the next big to-do on my ever-growing, yet exciting list. Ready? Go.

*We sort of got the house together.

Down to our front gate. We live on the second story of a house.

Dining room, kitchen. Yes, its a whole lotta counter space. And light!

Front of the house is one long, open, bright room. #awesome.
And yes, we frequently have people over. That's just us.

If you're a close friend and are dying to see the bedrooms, laundry room (so big the kids ride their bikes in it) and bathrooms, then come over for cryin' out loud. Or I might be persuaded to offer you a Skype tour.

*Josh got a job that comes with a title. Oooooh. Beginning September 10th, he will be the "Academic Director" of a local English institute. Yes, he has his own office. And an assistant. Weird. He might even appear on tv once in a while. The jury (Josh) is still out on whether or not I can share some of the details I find odd/amusing/cover-your-mouth-giggle-inducing.
He will work close to this place and might eat lunch there regularly.

Mario totally sold out his friend. Shameful.
"Friend chickens" are served up regularly to paying customers.

*Zora celebrated her 5th birthday with her buddy Samil in Santiago. Photographic evidence:

Cupcakes by Vanessa. The best.

Ready, set, paint!

A crowning moment.

 *Zora lost her first tooth. It wiggled for a solid 24 hours, whilst everyone she met offered her a variety of solutions -- none of them appealed to her (and reasonably so since all of them involved verbs like yank, slam, "swift pull"). She's no dummy. Girl got that thing out herself.

*Zora had her first day of school. Our little Bean is a kindergartner!
Tradition: Z's first day of school waffle breakfast.
Heading out our front gate. Happy, happy!
Wait, what?! You're leaving me here?!

Whole lotta girlies in this kinder class.
Having ripped her from my arms not hours before,
I came to pick Zora up & found her thus. The earth continues to spin.
*Max is still doin' his Taekwondo thing, enjoying school and playing for hours on end. He and Josh made pizza for lunch the other day. Remember what I said about being in a place and space where we get to spend so much time with our kids? It looks like this and is awesome:

*And me? I'm still on vacation from my online teaching gig, getting in as much brain candy as possible while lying in a hammock in the Caribbean. And, you know, some other good stuff.
Easy, breezy, beautiful: our back patio.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Revival: First Day of School

Max and Zora have been little balls of anxiety lately. The start of a new school in a new city has them stressed like only a 4 and 7 year old can be. The fact that they homeschooled last year means they've never been in a formal, Dominican classroom. Until now.
In a desperate attempt to comfort my children, I sent out a siren call to family and a few close friends of my offspring. Living far from all those lovely people is tough, but we really are very fortunate to have so many tools at our fingertips which bring us together at any given moment of the day or night. Case in point: last night Max read aloud a chapter of the current book he's reading to his grandparents in Washington. So sweet.
The messages and videos they received in response were ever-so-helpful (Thank you to all!). Max started school this week and Zora starts this Monday. I hope Josh will muster the desire to write about finding the schools and the process of getting them registered. To give you an idea, I have a list of adjectives/verbs that come to mind when thinking of all that loving man had to do: wait, frustrate, inane, insane, jabber, blabber, and bureaucracy. That last word falls hard in the list because that's how it fell on Josh too.
Waffle breakfast for the first day. Mandatory.
Max made up a song for his hermana, attempting to wake her to say goodbye.

"I'm nervous and excited and adorable in my school uniform."
I have about 14 of these photos. Boy loves to make faces, but I'll spare you.
My first trip to Max's school was on his first day of school. We left Zora sleeping at home with our lovely and talented house guest and the three of us walked to school. Bless.

We were met with chaos upon arrival, as was expected. We waited in the school's courtyard as Max desperately clung to Josh and I. Don't leave! Can't you stay the whole day?

Nervous Max

We stayed. First surprised by the placing of Back-to-School decor as children ran wild, we then noticed that there was not a single teacher supervising. And yet, the students were behaving themselves for the most part.

A yellow school bus full of pasty-looking kids. School bus?
An hour after appointed start time, all the students lined up in their respective grades
to listen to a speech by the principal and sing the national anthem.

As the principal waxed on, microphone in hand, we patiently waited. Then he caught sight of us (we kind of stand out in a crowd). "Good morning!" he called out to us from his elevated perch, interrupting his own speech. He turned to the crowd, "This is my American friend, Joshua. We spent a great deal of time together." He chuckled. This was true. Josh waved to the crowd. "And this is..." the principal paused and turned again to Josh, "This is your wife, yes?" I smiled and waved in kind. Then he started to chit-chat with me while everyone waited. "You're American as well?" he asked.
"Yes, I am," I smiled hoping it would end there. Someone behind me interrupted at that point, "We're all Americans here! Isn't that right?" and he turned to Josh for confirmation. Josh gave him an affirmative gesture while the principal continued without recognition of the comment.
"What is your name?" he asked me.
"Ah, I see. Your parents aren't Latino?" he looked at me quizzically.
"No," I was trying to find the balance between keeping the conversation short in respect for the waiting crowd, while still being polite to the principal.
"Huh," he thought. "But they are very religious people, aren't they?"
I wasn't sure what he was after here, so I just nodded.
He turned again to the crowd, "Rebecca has a very special place in the Bible." He smiled at me and then addressed the crowd again, "Joshua does as well." Then he motioned for everyone to applaud, which they did with the enthusiasm of the first day of school. Awkward, but a necessary part of those everyday interactions we have with people here. They take us out of our comfort zone just enough to allow us different perspectives and ways of doing any given task. This is our new normal. We were able to slip out after this as Max marched upstairs to his classroom with his new classmates.

*   *   *

Max is now a second-grader. He attends a school called Renacimiento, meaning revival or rebirth and loves it. As far as I can tell, he plays tag with his friends, copies stuff from the board, sings the alphabet a lot (is that weird to you for a 2nd grader to focus on so much?) and enjoys sharing snacks with his pals at break time. Josh thinks its hilarious that Max constantly practices the alphabet at school, then comes home to read chapter books.
School supposedly starts at 7:45, though this whole week its been 8:30 and ends at 1 pm, though has been 11 am all week. I'm hoping that's just a first-week-of-school thing and not a lasting trend, but you never know. Friday, all classes were canceled due to Hurricane Isaac (snow day in the Caribbean). The rain is coming down in buckets (perhaps barrels) as I type. Josh said he thinks that it rained so much yesterday that it surpassed the yearly rainfall of Toppenish. I bet he's right.
Wish us luck on Monday as we ready and send off both of our babies to school.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Bran Muffins: They're Everywhere

Our last week in Santiago, as has happened with every single place I've ever lived in the last decade, I discovered a health food store. Odd, but true. A month before moving out of the Yakima Valley, I found a health food store. Bins of beautiful whole grains, my favorite cereals, a bran-loving-hippy behind the counter--you know the kind. Literally two days before moving to the DR, I found a health food store in Woodburn. Alfafa seeds, delightful homemade lavender soaps, a beautiful variety of whole grain flours, and a bran-loving-hippy behind the counter. Moving out of Santiago, we went out to eat... and there it was. A health food store. Each time I find myself asking, why? Why didn't I find this sooner? Perhaps I just need to leave more in order to find the places I want to come back to.
I was actually told about the place by a blog reader who commented on my post about Veganos. Thanks, Laur-Andrew!
La Casita Vegetariana has an incredible variety of super-tasty food and lovely juices. If you're ever in Santiago, please have lunch there in my name. You're a good friend.
Yes, that is brown rice. Can you believe it?
Josh ready to dig in to avocado salad and delicious eggplant.
La Casita Vegetariana also offers a diverse array of vitamins and minerals.
And whole grain goodness. What a find!
Happy to break tradition when it serves a greater purpose (or when I didn't care for the tradition in the first place), we found a health food store of sorts here in San Francisco de Macoris just last week. While we were out buying screen for the windows (the war against the mosquitoes wages on), we happened upon none other than a 7th Day Adventist store. Yes, some of the healthiest folks I know. They are offering a wonderful service to the community here. Check it out:
Whole wheat flour! Granted, I can't buy it at $4.50/lb, but its there. Just in case.
A slew of books and a nice variety of educational materials for wee ones is available.
Good stuff including ground flax seed and some soy alternatives should you like that sort of thing.
Josh patiently waited with his screen as I drooled over things I thought I'd never see in our new town.
Upon our return home, I celebrated by making bran-flax bread goodness.
So, there you have it. Either we're moving out of San Francisco de Macoris soon and I don't know it, or I've broken the curse. I found a health food store with plenty of time still to enjoy its proximity. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Our Neighborhood - View from the Top

While we're still getting to know the neighborhood, we have met a great many wonderful vecinos -- though mostly old ladies and children. They seem to be the most approachable and have the most time on their hands.
The retired couple who live on the first level of our house have brought us lunch every. single. day. We also find mangoes, pineapples, plantains, papaya and bananas on our back patio at random hours of the day. We, in turn, make brownies, rolls, cookies, iced coffees, smoothies and buy lovely chocolates to bring them in the late afternoons. It is a wonderful game of sharing (especially since I can make treats like nobody's business, but cooking actual, proper meals often eludes me). They have 11 children (all grown, obviously) and 18 grandchildren, which means that if our kids wanted to host relay races with all their friends and have a live band in the house, they wouldn't be bothered in the slightest. Plus, they're Dominican which I'm learning more and more often means that they enjoy people, loud and lively at all hours.
We met several children the other day when we ventured out to the public school. The buildings, basketball court and gardens (of sorts) are open every day until 10 pm. We donned our Olympic outfits and Max led us in a variety of events including 100 m races, relays, and long-jumping. With a few sticks and fallen leaves arranged just so over the concrete, our Olympic events attracted several other boys who participated and won a few medals.
Like many of our neighbors, we dry our clothes on laundry lines on the roof. I took the camera up there this morning when I realized that the internet connection could handle an upload of such magnitude and recorded a 360 degree, uber-short tour of the view from our roof. The two large, plastic, black containers you see in the video are our tinacos (back-up water tanks).
The neighborhood is, as my brother put it (after I gave him our exact coordinates for Google maps), "rusty". But we have rather enjoyed it thus far. In fact, we like to go up on the roof in the evenings at sunset and pinch ourselves. Are we really here? Do we really live in this beautiful place?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Moving Day and Another Cultural Mix-Up

Much like the coffee fiasco, I made a slightly poor decision based on my lack of savvy and am paying for it with callouses. Perhaps my first hints should have been when we moved into our Santiago house and it wasn't entirely clean. While it wasn't filthy, we spent a solid block of time spiffing it up before putting our things away. Having logged years in the apartment management business, I know its not true for everyone, but the cultural norm I'm accustomed to is to leave your rental clean. When you move into a new rental, its clean. Clean, clean. Like good hotel room clean.

As soon as Josh disappeared into the distance with TheMovingGuy and TheCronies, the cleaning crew got to work. Melanie showed me how Dominicans do it. We cleared everything out of the house and got the hoses.

All kidlets stripped to their undies and enjoyed the indoor pool while the gang
swept/mopped/shooed with our feet & hands all the gunk out of the house.
Not gonna lie--it was fun.
Somewhere an hour into the cleaning/inside-slip-n-slide frenzy, one of sweet Dominican helpers asked me, "So, why exactly are we cleaning?"
"Isn't that what you do when you leave a place?" I asked, slightly confused by her question.
"No... Well, sometimes we sweep all the trash into one corner."
"Huh," I paused, "Well, I guess that takes the pressure off."
We still managed to spend most of the day cleaning and painting despite my lowered standards, with a lime slushee break in between (I wasn't kidding when I said I needed my blender to stay with me!).

Enjoying the clean floors and cold drinks, sans furniture, of course.
We treated ourselves and kiddos to ice cream after a hard day's work. 
As I discovered later--much later--the social agreement here seems to be that you clean your new place, not your old place. So, I arrived to our new home late that night, boxes everywhere, furniture in any old place and another home to clean from top to bottom.
A week later, we're still cleaning. To be fair, we've taken two trips in that week which kept us away four nights, but still. This place was filthy. We're taking it slow, because we're good at that pace. I cleaned the kitchen floors first and don't have a before picture, but did this job just this morning:
Before. The kitchen grout was black. The tile shown here isn't as bad, but as you can see, is still filthy.
After. And we're slowly making all the tile look like this.
I refuse to post pictures of our new home until its nice & clean. Might be a while, there's a whole lotta tile. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Moving Day and How the Blog Saved Me

No, not the one in California. I'm fairly certain a significant number of people exist who actually believe that we've moved to San Francisco, California. Don't worry, we could never afford to live there. And so we aren't.
Now that that's cleared up, let me offer up a portion of the tale of woes and joys that were our move to San Francisco de Macoris, Dominican Republic (yup, we still be on the island).
A week before our move, we called "the moving guy." We met one of his cronies at a party we'd gone to a month earlier. I've found, in this country, that as long as you're out & about talking to people, you'll meet the ones that can help you up & out of whatever it is you're currently struggling with--or you can help them. Dominicans want to help you and are usually distraught if/when they are unable to do so. At the time, I was at a loss how not to get ripped off and hire a moving truck at the same time (well, I'm always interested in the former). TheMovingGuy came to the house, poked around all the rooms and gave us a quote.
I motioned for him to follow me, "Even this piece?" I pointed at an awkward and large piece of furniture we inherited from another Baha'i family that had moved months earlier. He casually nodded, yes. This guy had more than a beat up pick-up truck and the price seemed fair (=less than we had budgeted). We'll take it. See you Saturday at 8 am.
We packed all week. And cleaned. We celebrated two birthdays. The kids played 62 games of Uno. And packed some more. And I graded a ton of essays (yup, online gig's semester doesn't end until mid-August). We found things that belonged to damn near everyone we know here (including long-gone guests from the US). We returned stuff, sold stuff, gave stuff away and had get-togethers every night. Josh and I love having people over--even in chaos. We also checked a few things off of our Santiago bucket list. Posts coming soon (I still have a few essays to grade).

Annery directed one of the night's packing extravaganzas.
Focused Freilyn worked diligently while Kelvin waited to show us his newest magic tricks.  
After Zora packed one box earlier in the week, I forbade her to do anymore "packing".
She is, however, fabulous at cleaning and plays a mean game of Uno.
Somewhere after this photo was taken, the camera was completely forgotten.
Bear with me.
This same evening I got a phone call from a Baha'i in Santo Domingo. A gem of a human. Salt of the earth.
"Hey, so, I'm headed to a RUHI training in Santiago for the weekend you're moving. Sorry I can't help you move, but do you think you could use my car?" he says. At this point my mouth is open and no sound is coming out. We're on the phone, so he has no idea how I'm taking his offer. He goes on, "I can drop it off Thursday to your place in Santiago and then pick it up on Sunday in San Francisco. Whaddyasay?"
I coughed.
He kept talking, "It's a manual."
"That would be amazing," I finally manage to say, still overwhelmed by his generosity. Josh and I had just been brainstorming the very problem of having a moving truck to take all of our stuff, but no way to take ourselves to SF (not to mention all the things that you can't live without for that last day of moving-out-house-clean-up--boom box, cleaning supplies, my blender, the hose I forgot outside).
It's a good thing we'd accomplished/packed/cleaned so much earlier in the week, because with a car, we rocked a to-do list in the city that had been growing since the last time we rented a car.

Saturday morning, we woke to someone knocking on the gate 6 minutes before our alarm went off. TheMovingGuy and his cronies. Dang, they're early. Really early.
"We put the beds into the truck first!" they called as I rubbed sleep from my eyes. I stumbled around the house attempting to direct six overly-eager men throwing boxes this way and that. I almost resorted to a bucket of water to wake my children so TheCronies could take the bed they were sleeping on. Once my glasses were on my face, the world came into focus--this was it! Moving day.
For the next hour, I ran around the house packing up last-minutes to fit on the truck and pulling aside boxes I suddenly didn't trust TheCronies to "Handle with Care". Then I saw it. That awkward, huge piece of furniture. Untouched. And the truck half full already.
"Umm," I stopped Cronie#2, "Don't forget about that piece of furniture."
"Uh, yeah," and he walked off with the box. Upside down.
Ten minutes later, I stopped Cronie#1. "What are you going to do about that huge piece of furniture?"
"Oh," he said with an air of I'm the professional here, lady, "We're putting that in last, at the back of the truck."
"Not what I would have done," I responded, "but I'm sure you know what you're doing." (White lie I told that day, #1)

And then the moment came. All TheCronies were standing around the back of the truck like they'd finished most of their work. TheMovingGuy was inside the truck, just enough space for himself as he adjusted boxes an inch here and there. I walked out and stood there.
"There seems to be a problem," I announced. Only Cronie#3 looked at me. TheMovingGuy kept his head down, pretending to be uber-focused on the exact angle that a particular box should face.
"Can we consult about this?" I asked, leaning my head to catch TheMovingGuy's line of sight.
They all knew exactly what I was talking about. Awkward, large piece of furniture was standing all by itself, in its same place in the house as when they'd arrived.
"It's just too big," TheMovingGuy finally said. I inwardly scoffed. It would have fit quite nicely in the back of the truck. Its large, but not bulky. There isn't much mass to it. Things can easily be packed in and around it.
"Let's find a solution to this," I responded and he got down out of the truck. I found Josh.
"Look," TheMovingGuy said, "that piece of furniture is too big. You just had too much stuff." Well, I agree with that, but not the way he wants me to.
"If you do recall," I said calmly, knowing this was entirely his bad, "the day you came for a quote, I pointed this specific piece out to you and said, 'Even that?' You said yes, then we talked about your son. Remember?"
TheMovingGuy's necklace had his name on it: Felix. Sweet.
Photo credit: Melanie, a better blogger
who said after she snapped the photo,
"I somehow feel that the necklace will be
an important part of this blog post."
"I didn't see the piece," he said, his voice low.
"No, no, no," Josh jumped in, not happy, "I showed it to you that day too."
"And I pointed it out and asked about it twice this morning while there was still plenty of room in the truck," I said. TheMovingGuy was losing this one fast.
"It won't fit in the truck now," TheMovingGuy responded, not going where I wanted him to.
"This, my dear, is not our problem," I looked him straight in the eyes.
He nodded.
"Look," I said, (White lie #2) "I have a blog that all Americans who want to move here read. I really want to write something nice about you." (Okay, more than a white lie) "I'm eager for you to find a solution to this problem."
TheMovingGuy went back and talked to TheCronies.
"I have another truck. For RD$2000 more, I'll take this piece of furniture too," he came back.
I gave him a disappointed look and then Josh called our friend with a truck. In a country where you don't know 80% on any given subject, its important to have people you trust to tell you what is normal/reasonable and what isn't. TruckFriend said it would cost about RD$500 to get to SF from Santiago and back.
"Look," I told TheMovingGuy, "We have a friend who will do it for RD$500, but I'm really hoping we don't have to do that. I really do want to write good things about you in my blog, so I'm sure you'll come up with a better solution that doesn't involve us paying any more money."
He left again. And I waited, hoping he would be inspired.
"Okay, if two of my guys can ride in your car, we can tie the furniture to the top of the truck."
"I was going to offer them a ride anyway," Josh responded with a smile.

The moving truck with awkward, large furniture tied to the top.
Photo credit: Melanie
By nine-something-am, TheMovingGuy, TheCronies and Josh were on the road to San Francisco de Macoris. Me, kids and a gang of sweet helpers stayed behind to clean up and say farewell to our first home in the Dominican Republic.