Wednesday, October 31, 2007

And No, He Is Not A Cow

Halloween in Peru is a non-starter so we have already done all of our celebrating. In fact, the idea of Halloween is only beginning to catch on here and last year we had kids coming to our house, not a costume in sight and shouting "HALLOWEEN" instead of "trick of treat" - it just doesn't have the same effect. And maybe I'm old-fashioned or just plain mean but I don't give out candy when there are no costumes (even to really poor kids - looks like I am just mean).

We carved our pumpkin last week for Family Home Evening and because of the humidity it became moldy so quickly it has already been thrown away.

The last Friday in October was last week so the Embassy Halloween party was then and thus the only costume donning occasion for Caleb has come and gone. And for the record, in spite of all claims to the contrary, Caleb is dressed as a Giraffe, not a COW! A Giraffe with special powers no less - see here: Sebastian's Crazy Peruvian Life

And, though I spent all last week and especially most of last Thursday and Friday shopping and cutting and taping and planning and setting up the Political and Economic sections combined table for the Embassy party (each section puts together a table or something for the kids to come and trick or treat to - ours was pretty low key though I did create a 7 foot witch using a ladder, oodles of black garbage bags, a whole roll of duct tape, string, cardboard and dowels spray painted black), the one thing I failed to do was capture any of my preparations or final product on film. But, the table did win first place (better than our third place finish last year) in our category and I have a picture of our victory - note, I am including this picture because it is all I have despite the fact that I looked haggard and less than my, well not stellar, but at least better looking self.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

They're There, Just Dormant

I used to cook/bake a lot, okay, maybe not a lot, but definitely more than I do now. Now, we have a maid and she does most of the cooking, despite the fact that for a long time her cooking was bad, actually more like terrible. But, as bad as it was, having her do it still meant that I didn't have to. After we had lived in Peru for a few months our friends starting asking us for our weight loss secrets. Neither of us being on a diet, we thought this curious, until we realized that we had kind of stopped eating. The food served at our house was so bad that we were only eating enough to keep from feeling hungry, but the days of overeating or heaping portions or seconds were long gone.

After some consideration we concluded that the problem was not the ingredients we were buying, but the horrible things happening to the ingredients after leaving the store. Meat was marinated (yes, that's right) in soy sauce and then cooked for HOURS. Vegetables were soaked in salt and oil and then seasoned again with something called Sillao which is Peruvian soy sauce and truly disgusting. Perfectly happy rice and pasta were cooked with whole cloves of garlic and more salt than anyone should eat ever to the point that we consumed half a glass of liquid with every bite. At first I thought it was just that Peruvian food is bad, but we had some solid evidence that such a generalization really couldn't be true. Then, I bought cookbooks in Spanish which I think were looked at, but I'm pretty sure our maid had never learned to follow a recipe (and trust me, I now know this is a skill) so this did nothing to help our cause. Finally, I tried teaching her to make recipes for things we like to eat, Enchiladas, Spaghetti and Meatballs, Chili, but the results were dismal failure. Clearly, something had to be done. We hired a woman from our church congregation to come to our rescue. And did she ever! The food in our house has transformed (back to food). Vegetables and meat are recognizable AND edible! Rice tastes like rice, not garlic, and we are starting to get less Peruvian cuisine and more international variety. SUCCESS!

Ironically, through all of this, mostly because of a language barrier, I spent less and less time in the kitchen - short of doing everything myself I couldn't solve the problem and watching the process was like watching a train wreck knowing you were powerless to intervene. Now, with our food problems on the mend I have returned and rediscovered that when I say I hate to cook, what I actually mean is, I hate to clean up afterwards. My cooking and baking skills have had a rebirth and the proof is in the pudding, or rather cake. I recently make a double chocolate rum cake with raspberry rum glaze and shiny chocolate sauce from SCRATCH!! I dirtied 3 sauce pans, 2 mixing bowls, my kitchenaid and countless utensils and measuring devices but is was DELICIOUS! It was a new recipe for me, and I think the beginning of new culinary adventures...maybe.
Culinary skills dormant no more - and it looks pretty too!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Location, Location, Location

We have just learned this week where the State Department is sending us next. After an anxious and excited wait, we have received our assignment and expect to begin our tenure there sometime in late Summer 2008. Just for fun, we are letting our faithful readership test their divination and geography skills with only the facts below as a guide. The first correct answer will be appropriately recognized (be first and you'll find out exactly what that means...).

Our next country post:

1. Is Spanish speaking

2. Borders a major body of water

3. Has some of the happiest citizens in the world (according to the "World Values Survey" - whatever that is)

4. Has a tri-colored flag (think primary)

5. Is home to one of the largest lakes in the world

6. Contains part of the Amazon Jungle/Rainforest

7. Claims the cuatro as its national musical instrument

8. Has more than 25 million people

9. Has occasional food shortages - we're really looking forward to that

10. Lists baseball as the most popular sport

Any guesses?

Need a hint?
It's one of the countries on this map

Saturday, October 27, 2007

That Used to be My Line

Yesterday I was setting up for an Embassy Halloween event with a woman/girl who works in the Economic Section of the Embassy (I don't remember her name). Anyway, as we were setting up, the DJs were getting their system ready and playing some music in the interim. At one point she said to me "is that Alanis Morisette? Don't they have anything more current or at least more Halloween themed to play?" She's new to the Embassy so I told her that Alanis Morisette is about as current as these particular DJs get and at least it wasn't the sountrack to Grease. A few minutes later another song came on and I said, "see, like this for example, I'm pretty sure this is early Debbie Gibson." To which she replied, "Debbie who? Never heard of her, she must be before my time."

I was stunned into silence, noteworthy in and of itself. My jaw hit the ground, well almost since my 6 months pregnant self got in the way. I couldn't believe it, I thought "when did I become so old that anything wasn't before my time?" Granted, Debbie Gibson was definitely a short-lived phenom (something she knows too having since reinvented herself as Deborah Gibson and shifted her focus to live theater) but, come on, in her heyday she was big, you remember, "Lost In Your Eyes", "Electric Blue, "Only In My Dreams" (I know some of you are humming these right now!).

I was reminded of when I worked in the US Senate and a colleague asked me what year I was born. When I told him 1976 he visibly paled and said "You mean, Nixon resigned before you were born? How old does that make me?" I realize now that this conversation took place almost a decade ago (that I graduated from college a decade ago, and HS, well, let's not even talk about that). So now I'm the one shocked, pale and having to accept the fact that at 31 I am apparently and officially...old? Or at least, I have been replaced by whatever comes after Generations X and Y. I suppose at this point my only recourse is to spend all of my time with Baby Boomers. (Speaking of which, who comes up with these generational monikers anyway? - Can I have that job?)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Let's Hear It for the ADA!

That's right folks, this post is a tribute to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) - keep reading, I promise it won't be too technical. We have just returned from our glorious 2 week jaunt to France and so as not to interfere with the glowing reports we have shared I am dispensing with the one less than bright spot of our entire fortnight in quite possibly the most wonderful place on the planet with its own post. For those looking for a little background, the ADA was signed into law by President Bush numero uno in 1990. The law includes 5 sections covering 1) Employment; 2) Public Services (and public transportation); 3) Public Accommodations (and Commercial Facilities); 4) Telecommunications; and 5) Miscellaneous Provisions. Generally speaking this law was passed in an effort to protect the civil rights of the disabled and to prevent discrimination as a result of said disability. Now back to the reason for this post...Paris is wonderful for so many reasons, not the least of which is that it is an extremely accessible city for residents and tourists alike. Nearly every point in the city is reachable by bus, train, metro or on foot. The first three modes of transportation can get you to almost any point in the city with very little effort on your part. Their timetables and destinations are varied, the trains and buses are clean and, here is the kicker, if you can get yourself on them, they can get you where you want to go. I say "if", because in 2 weeks of taking the train or metro almost everyday we encountered, wait for it, no more than 5 elevators or escalators. When we bought our stroller, we spared no expense, we plunked down the cash for super deluxe, super compatible, super light. And, our child is well below the curve on weight, at 20 months he still does not weigh 25 pounds. But, 5 and a half months pregnant or not, VERY quickly I was tired of either lugging him in the stroller of out of the stroller up the thousands (not an exaggeration) of stairs to get ourselves from one spectacular locale to another (for those who know, the stairs leading up to Sacre Coeur nearly killed me). And while walking was a far more aesthetically pleasing alternative, at some point the body begins to rebel (particularly since on the maps everything looks so much closer and flatter than it really is - in reality, Place de la Concorde is not just a hop skip and a jump from the Arc de Triomphe). In truth, all the walking we did was probably a good antidote for all the high calorie, high fat, high flavor, devil may care eating we did as well, but still, by the time we hauled ourselves, our child, his stroller and our carry-on baggage up/down the last set of staircases at Charles de Gaulle airport (seriously, no escalators in an airport!!??) I was DONE. On the other hand, all this lugging was rare good news for Lima. Never before having equated being pregnant with being disabled I am nonetheless grateful that in most parts of Lima that's exactly what being pregnant means and as such elevators, escalators and ramps abound, as do lines and parking spaces specifically for someone in my "condition", or GASP! with a child in tow, something completely disregarded by the French. Hooray for Lima, hooray for the ADA and once again, God bless America!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

We (and European Vacations) are the Lucky Charm

My husband is a Red Sox fan, not a baseball fan, a Red Sox fan, kind of a big one. He has not achieved, or descended to, the level of fandom of Jimmy Fallon's character in "Fever Pitch" yet, but perhaps only because we do not live in Boston. He follows them religiously and, though he knows I couldn't care less, is forever telling me of their progress throughout the baseball season, the unbelievably long baseball season. He gets giddy as opening day approaches (this is in April) and as the season reaches September (that's right, 6 months later) the tension over who will make the playoffs is palpable, "will they (the Red Sox) or won't they". And, prior to 2004, the answer was a resounding, "they most definitely will not!" And, then, under the most improbable circumstances ever they came back from a 3-0 game deficit against the New York Yankees in the ALCS to win the next 4 games and eventually to win the 2004 World Series after an 86 year drought. (The amazing thing about this post is that all of these stats are spilling from my brain without the help of trusty Wikipedia, or Red Sox Nation or my resident expert - how scary is that?) I am not a sports fan, well not really. I like Olympic sports, Tennis and will watch Professional Football if it's on. But since meeting and marrying Kenny I have spent a lot more time watching, hearing about, reading and even playing sports. He likes Sports Center, a lot, he gets excited for March Madness (I fill out my bracket based on uniform color and mascot), and he worships the Red Sox (I can recite the starting line-up and their positions - really!). In 2004 during their amazing road to victory we were in Ireland and following their progress via Internet updates on my blackberry. Last night, after overcoming a 3-1 game deficit, the Red Sox clinched the ALCS and a berth in the 2007 World Series. And, while we didn't watch the game (because it wasn't broadcast here) we did "watch" the play-by-play online and celebrated with them in spirit as they trounced the Cleveland Indians 11-2. Needless to say, Kenny is pretty excited and is looking forward to Wednesday night's first World Series game like a child waits for Christmas. The other thing is that baseball fans in general and especially Red Sox fans are EXTREMELY superstitious. They eschew all things that could potentially be a bad omen. When something good happens for the team, they try to recreate the exact circumstances under which said something transpired in the hopes that lighting will strike twice or seventeen times or whatever. In that vein as we were getting ready for bed last night Kenny said, "so I guess every time the Red Sox reach the playoffs from now on we need to go to Europe - it worked in 2004 while we were in Ireland and it worked this year while we were in France - if they win the World Series again I can probably get other Red Sox fans to contribute to our European Vacation fund by telling them that our being their is a necessary catalyst to the team's victory." He's a little nuts though so are Red Sox fans, so it could work. I mean, they're a good team, the best in the League this year, and I am not opposed to a European jaunt even when the result of a lot of superstitious baseball mumbo jumbo. So, come Wednesday night I'll be right there cheering them on - Go Red Sox!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

There Must Be A Better Way

Peru does not have a system that registers people at birth. Instead, every so often (really, no regular interval to speak of) they decide to count ALL the people living in Peru (including expatriates and tourists, yep!) by going door to door. This oh so scientific head count, or National Census as they have dubbed it, is taking place today between the hours of 8 am and 6 pm during which time all residents are required to stay indoors. All church services, sporting events and school activities are suspended during this time and all commercial establishments will be closed. The sale of alcohol was prohibited after 10 pm last night and not at all today. This is not a joke. Peruvians have been instructed to be in their homes with all family members present and wait for the volunteers who will be coming to their homes to collect the necessary data required for the Census - including questions like "how many persons in your household over the age of 6 (not a typo) work?" - so many things wrong when a country has justification for asking something like that. Further, all residents are requested to keep house pets under control while the volunteers are present so as not to interfere with the efficiency and accuracy of the process - yeah, because the dogs and cats of Peru are the most likely reason why the final count wouldn't be obtained efficiently and/or accurately.

As American citizens we too are being counted but the Peruvian government has allowed the Embassy to handle the collection of this data. As such, we have been given a sticker to place on our door so the Census volunteers will pass us by - sticker, lamb's blood, whatever it takes. Essential personnel (the definition of which is pretty hazy - might include taxi drivers, might not) and some working in tourist industry related jobs were supposed to "count" themselves over the last week and leave their completed forms at home to be collected by the volunteers - another nod to accuracy. We have been told that the requirement to stay indoors applies to all residents, including us, and that if we venture out of doors we do so without the protection of the Embassy -- cue ominous music here. The Peruvian government has said anyone found outside will be cordially requested to return home with an official escort and should they resist will be arrested. In spite of this warning, our friends are having a Census party and we have decided to, with diplomatic passports in hand, throw caution to the wind and head for their house. Technically, we can't be arrested for anything other than capital crimes so, we'll see...

No relevant art for this post so here are some pictures of Caleb just because.

More Pictures From France

Here is another installment of pictures documenting our stay in France. Again, we have not included captions and remind you of the iterated caveat that more information on any and all pictures can be provided with a simple query from you.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Pictures Galore!

We took nearly 1000 pictures while in France, below is just a smattering...(I felt like captions would be superfluous, but if you're really curious about something you can always comment and I will respond with all sorts of details and anecdotes).


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