Tuesday, December 09, 2008

T.I.V. Tuesday

We are leaving for the US on Friday and T.I.V. Tuesdays will be suspended until we return in mid-January. Lest my readers think life in Venezuela is solely about food shortages and Chavez's antics, I wanted this final post to be about something positive.

A major benefit of living in Venezuela is that we can afford household help (maids, nannies, drivers, gardeners, etc.). We don't have the need for all of that, but we do employ a full-time, live-in maid who also provides babysitting on nights and weekends. Her name is Mariza, she is Peruvian, loves our boys, is a great cook, regularly cleans, launders and washes our entire house and is a dream come true! Yes, adjusting to someone living in your house can be difficult, but once you realize you haven't done a load of laundry in weeks, you get over the awkwardness posthaste. Mariza is a godsend and makes our lives a lot better than it would be otherwise. I know what you're thinking, "you have a maid, what more do you want?" And it's true, we may not have sugar or milk, but we always have sparkling clean bathrooms!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

"Something Fun"

A couple of weeks ago, desperate to convince Caleb to finish his lunch, I promised him that as soon as he was done we would do "something fun." The tactic worked like a charm, but my steel-trap minded little boy has daily made me regret saying those two words. Now any time he is bored or in need of encouragement or just plain ready for a new diversion he'll come to me and say "Mommy, I need to do something fun." That statement regularly tests my resourcefulness and powers of creativity. Under the guise of doing something fun we have visited the playground countless times, danced to every track on the ipod at least twice, cooked or watched cooking shows (Caleb loves the Food Network), and done every Thanskgiving and now Christmas craft I can think of. Below is a sampling, for posterity's sake, of some of our crafty creations from the last several weeks. Some have been more engaging that others, but I am proud to say I haven't yet failed to produce "something fun" when bidden.
a Caleb sized scarecrow
Indian corn made using punched holes and glue
(this and other ideas are from Amy's blog)
a Thanksgiving crown he refused to wear...
but was happy to share with Isaac
pasta colored with vinegar and food coloring...
for decorating pictures and,
making garlands
it's supposed to be a turkey
yarn stars
more Indian corn, this time painted with q-tips
this too is supposed to be a turkey made from a styrofoam
ball stuck with various beads, strait pins and pipe
cleaners (this project was a big hit with Caleb)
Frosty and Santa
the obligatory hand-print turkey

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

T.I.V. Tuesday

When I was a child, my grandmother, Grammy we called her, used to have her water delivered in 5 gallon jugs. She had one of those water dispensers with both a blue and red nozzle respectively indicating cold and hot water. We thought it was pretty cool -- after all our water just came out of the tap, how provincial! Her brand of water was Arrowhead and ever since I always think of that size of water bottle as Arrowhead Water.
We have running water, but it isn't fit for consumption so our drinking water is delivered in similar bottles every Friday. Though we usually only drain 2 or 3 a week, we always have at least 6 at the ready...just in case (our new life mantra in Venezuela.) I have no idea where this water comes from, but I like to think it too is Arrowhead Water and though thousands of miles away, it's source is lovely, pristine, pure Lake Arrowhead.

Looks inviting, doesn't it? And never more so to me than this last weekend when beginning Thursday night our water slowed to a trickle then stopped altogether not to return until Monday morning. Apparently there was a catastrophic break in a major artery of Caracas' water delivery system and half the city went without running water for more than 72 hours. With the last vestiges in our pipes we filled the bathtubs (and discovered too late only 1 of 3 actually holds water for an extended period), hurriedly washed any dirty dishes and bathed the boys. The bath water was full of red silt and decidedly unpleasant looking so was relegated exclusively to flushing toilets.

Friday morning dawned sans water and with limited options for general cleanliness. Kenny actually went swimming first, but the resulting coat of chlorine solved nothing. We waited as long as possible, hoping for a miracle, but finally we were so offensive to ourselves something had to be done. Enter our emergency "Arrowhead" water. Using a bowlful of heated drinking water and a cup, we took our showers and repeated that each day for the next three. Finally on Sunday night we took the boys to a friend's house for baths. We had tried to keep them clean, but they were filthy and needed a good soak.

The water is back now though rumors are flying of residual problems cropping up as a result of the original break. Our bathtub is full, just in case and we are counting the minutes until we board a plane for UT and my parents' gloriously water-full house. As I stood in the shower last weekend with my cupful of water rinsing soap from my skin I tried to imagine diving into beautiful Lake Arrowhead coming out refreshed and clean. No such luck. It was a beautiful dream never quite realized.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

We Needed A Little Christmas

We are leaving for the US mid-way through the month and will be celebrating Christmas with both sets of grandparents (not together, 2 Christmases). We don't get back until the middle of January so decided there wasn't any point in putting up Christmas decorations only to take them down a week later or be met by them 6 weeks later. But, as I have been reading what seems like hundreds of posts about Thanksgiving turning overnight into Christmas, I have felt like we must do something. As such, I scoured the internet today and happened upon a nifty advent calendar that was easily cobbled together and highly disposable. Though not my own idea I feel confident claiming as proprietary the use of New Yorker magazine covers and patterned plastic bags instead of wrapping paper (we only had 3 varieties). Another twist is I didn't actually place a slip of paper in each envelope for fear the whole thing would come tumbling down, but I made a list of things I otherwise would have included in observance of the advent of Christmas and today's was "Christmas crafts."

We've got Christmas music wafting through the house and gingerbread candles burning...if we don't go or look outside, we almost feel chilly. It is now beginning to look a little like Christmas.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Two For

Today we had the good fortune of celebrating Thanksgiving and Kenny's birthday. We cannot begin to list all the reasons why we are thankful today and every day, but right up at the top of the list is our husband, dad, friend, pal, confidant and playmate Kenny.

Happy Thanksgiving Birthday Kenny!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

T.I.V. Tuesday

In January of this year, in response to a rise in inflation of over 20% in 2007, the Venezuelan government introduced a new currency called the "strong bolivar." The practical effect of this was that new bills and coins were circulated and all denominations lost three zeros (i.e. 80,000 bs. was now 80 bsf.) By the time we arrived in Caracas most of the old paper money had disappeared, but the old coins are everywhere, intermixed with the new making things a little confusing. Most businesses now list their prices in old and new terms, though many people have just refused to make the switch in conversation making it often impossible for me with my poor Spanish to understand how much anything costs without seeing the price in print. And stores often don't list prices anyway because inflation continues to be a substantial factor in the economy and prices tend to change daily, sometimes more than once on the same day. Grocery stores have price check devices throughout so consumers can verify prices on the day of purchase, though even then there is no guarantee the price will not have changed by the time you reach the checkout. But, I digress.

In addition to introducing new coins (pictured below)

the Chavez government also decided to revive the Venezuelan locha. The locha is rooted in Venezuela's colonial period and derived from the old Spanish "piece of eight" and was very popular again about 50 years ago. The locha is worth 12.5 cents.

Apparently, the Chavez govenment believes bringing the locha back will remind the people of times past when life was simpler and more stable. However, nothing is priced to reflect the revival of the coin and as merchants generally round up anyway, that 1/2 cent might as well not exist.

I know a 12 1/2 cent coin is not all that foreign of a concept, the American silver dollar is also based on the Spanish dollar because it was easily cut into 8 pieces or "bits." Maybe if our economy continues to falter we can expect to go back to the "bits" system in an effort to restore consumer confidence? Or, maybe not.

Note: The pictures I took of the coins didn't turn out well so I pulled these from World Coin News, a blog dedicated to the issuance of coins worldwide. It was surprising to me how frequently new coins are circulated.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Hoping to be Wrong

Before moving to Caracas we heard/read myriad reports concerning rampant food shortages throughout Venezuela. It seems following the local elections last fall, Hugo Chavez decided, under the guise of stimulating the economy, to fix prices on many basic goods (i.e. sugar, flour, eggs, chicken, rice, milk, pasta etc.). The result of this brilliant plan was that local food producers couldn't make a profit with the new mandatory pricing levels and stopped production altogether. And, as the cost to import goods is prohibitive many items simply disappeared from the shelves for months. The food shortages came to an end as the next round of elections neared and morale among the populace plummeted. Luckily, for much of the time we have lived in Caracas the stores have been fully stocked. However, in anticipation of a repeat of last year we have been steadily buying basic necessities in bulk, hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.

No confirmation yet, but all signs suggest our fears are on the verge of being realized. In the last week I have been to several grocery stores hoping to find flour, but no such luck. I bought the last 10 liters of milk in a store I went to on Friday. I have seen signs limiting the number of quantities each customer can purchase of coffee and rice. And I haven't seen sugar in weeks. The elections were today and while the results are still unknown, Chavez cronies were not expected to do well in many key races. There were rumors of protests, riots, fires, coups and assassination attempts by the opposition and all manner of bribery, false reporting of results and voter fraud by Chavez and his associates. All reports suggest none of this transpired, but the slowly encroaching food shortages might just be the quiet, insidious result of an angry, dictatorial regime seeking retribution.

I know people all over the world go hungry every day, and I am grateful we have always had plenty. I also know we would not go hungry, we just might be eating a more creative fare. That being said, I don't relish an opportunity to put our food storage or my skills at getting 3 square meals a day from it to the test. I hope I'm wrong and that what we've encountered thus far is simply people like us worried about the future stocking up. But, if I'm right, we are entering upon an exceedingly unpleasant adventure.

Note: The pictures of the boys are irrelevant to the post except to demonstrate that presently they are healthy and well-fed.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Rainy Season

Officially, the rainy season in Venezuela runs from May to October with August being the rainiest month. However, apparently this year's rainy season was not quite as water-logged as normal and evidently Mother Nature is picking up the slack this month. It has rained nearly every day in November already, usually only micro-bursts to keep things looking lush and green and the humidity at bearable levels. But, yesterday afternoon is started to rain, pour actually. We had a torrential downpour for 10 hours accompanied by spectacular lightening and thunder claps so loud car alarms spontaneously set off all over the city.

As I've mentioned before, Caracas is set amongst a series of hills many of which did not survive the heavens opening last night. Scores of people sat in traffic for hours last evening eventually abandoning their cars and trudging home through rain and mud. Mudslides covering major thoroughfares turned the bad traffic of Caracas into a parking lot as commuters made their way to work this morning. I dropped Kenny off a quarter mile from the Embassy because it was as close as we could get with mudslides on either side shutting off all points of entry, and he still had to walk through the mud to get there. As I have sat in traffic today I have watched legions of dump trucks filled to overflowing with the mineral-rich, red dirt of Venezuela endlessly moving back and forth to clear the roads. There are downed trees everywhere and many buildings in danger of slipping off their foundations. It is a disaster. Living in a third world country is complicated, living in a third world country when disaster strikes is indescribable. Luckily with all the destruction and loose earth cascading about there have only been 7 reported deaths. The rain has abated for now and we can see blue sky on the horizon, but November isn't over yet...rain, rain, go away, come again next season.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Science in Spanish

We celebrated Veteran's Day by taking the boys to the Children's Science Museum in Caracas. We got there in the early afternoon and the place was deserted. Yes, it was a school day, but it is 4 floors of exhibits, a planetarium and an entire wing dedicated to Space study and exploration and we probably saw fewer than 20 people, which was surprising. Someone asked me how the museum compares with other children's museums we have visited -- but the last one I went to was the San Francisco Exploratorium and if you've ever been there, you know it is the best there is so there is no comparison. Overall though, we were pleased with the museum. Many of the exhibits were broken or only partially functioning, but the staff were wonderfully attentive and Caleb and Isaac had fun, which is always our primary goal.
Caleb learned about static electricity,
and fulcrums,
and equilibrium,
and wind power,
and acoustics,
and plant life/habitats,
and music.
We also saw this very informative display in the section on human biology,
the largest apartment buildings imaginable (these
are behind the science museum and the picture only
captures a third of each building),

and some really beautiful birds in a horribly inadequate aviary.
Oh, and Isaac was there too.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

T.I.V. Tuesday

These signs, which might just be my favorites in all the world, are just down the road for our apartment in very urban Caracas.
Translation: Preservation and Rescue of Sloths (because the word for sloth and lazy are the same in Spanish, the sign actually reads "preservation and rescue of the lazinesses")
1) Always pick the sloth up from behind holding it's arms or torso. The small insects that live on sloths won't hurt you.
2) Keeping the sloth well separated from your body (I'm pretty sure this is intuitive), carry it to a safe place
3) Place the sloth on the trunk of a tree. It's better if the tree is a Yagrumo, it's natural habitat.

It's a good thing these signs exist, because the next time I came across a sloth not in his tree I might just have left him there to fend for himself. Not now though, now I am fully prepared to return him to his natural habitat away from unsuspecting motorists and pedestrians.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Happy Birthday Lyman!

Today should be a T.I.V. Tuesday post, but my baby brother Lyman turns 25 today and in honor of this momentous occasion here is post dedicated to him.

1) Lyman is the only one of the seven of us to have been born in Hawaii
2) He is named after my father's favorite Aunt, Lyman was her last name
3) He married is high school sweetheart, Kelli, though he was pretty popular with the girls so she definitely had to stake her claim -- we're glad she did!
4) Lyman can play all sports well, he is particularly good at snowboarding
5) He has read the Lord of the Rings trilogy a dozen times, if not more
Kelli, Taylor and Lyman

6) Lyman does not cook
7) He served an LDS mission in Japan
8) He is constantly buying snowboarding equipment and works part-time at a snowboarding store to pay for his habit
9) When Lyman was about 18 months old, he would ride around the neighborhood kneeling on a skateboard. He didn't know how to stop so he would just head for a curb and roll off. One time he hit a curb so hard it jolted him forward and he knocked out his 4 front teeth -- he had false teeth for years until the permanent ones came in.

Lyman and Isaac

10) Lyman can make friends with anyone
11) He is a clothes horse and a pack-rat and never, NEVER throws anything out
12) He is an excellent father to his new baby girl Taylor and is very patient with all children
13) Lyman pretends to be surly and stubborn but he is really very generous and helpful, though he wouldn't want that to get out
14) When we was little he used to refer to his G.I.Joe's as his "guys" and we could never go anywhere, church, errands, bed without, "my guys, my guys" -- he probably still has them somewhere
15) He has very small feet
16) Lyman is an eagle scout and was the youngest of my three brothers to get his eagle

Lyman teaching Caleb how to make a big splash

17) He went to Rock Canyon Elementary School, Centennial Middle School and Timpview High School -- the only one of us to have attended any of those three schools, a major achievement in a family of 7 kids
18) His college major is Recreational Management
19) Lyman is very particular about his sleeping environment, he has a white noise maker that he uses every night and travels with and he and Kelli use separate quilts on the same bed so they don't interfere with each other's temperature requirements
20) He takes the longest showers of anyone I know
21) He loves his wife of two years and does things for her no one ever thought Lyman would do, like dressing up in not so manly Halloween costumes, manual labor, babysitting, and giving up Nintendo and Rock Band to play with his nephews

Lyman with some of his friends, he has thousands

22) Lyman loves to travel and has already visited 5 of 7 continents
23) He has a great sense of humor and loves to share jokes and funny stories or YouTube videos with anyone who will listen
24) He never gets tired of watching SportsCenter
25) His first name is Makaio (which means Matthew in Hawaiian) and he famously said at 5 or 6 years old to a strange little girl while waiting in line at Disneyland "my name is Makaio, but you can call me Lyman"

Happy Birthday Lyman!!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Greetings and Salutations

We recently watched the much acclaimed mini-series John Adams based on the book of the same name by bestselling and Pulitzer Prize winning author David McCullough. This is not a pitch for either the book or the mini-series though both are excellent and certainly worth reading or watching respectively. Among the bonus features included with the 7-part series is a short piece narrated and starring David McCullough about how he conceived the idea to write books in the first place and "John Adams" in particular. During the hour long piece he talks about becoming a writer and how much he loves his work and shows the audience his typewriter and writing "shed" and snippets from his decade long stint as host of PBS's American Experience. He has led a fascinating life and appears wholly uncorrupted by his fame and subsequent wealth.

He also opens a window into his personal life with interviews from his wife and children. During their interview his daughters shared an anecdote that occurred around the time McCullough began to be really famous. They were leaving for a trip and before walking through the airport McCullough told his daughters to take note of all the people who recognized him and said hello. His daughters laughingly report that while it was true nearly everyone they passed in the airport did acknowledge their father the reason wasn't because he was famous, but because he greeted them first. In response to this revelation David McCullough tells the viewing audience he believes it is important to acknowledge people as you pass them or you run the risk of having life pass you by altogether. And then, to prove that these are words he lives by, the camera follows him as he walks across the Brooklyn Bridge, along the Battery, down Pennsylvania Avenue and everywhere else he goes saying hello and/or introducing himself to everyone he sees.

David McCullough

David McCullough's words got me to thinking about one of the things I love about living in South America: the very friendly people we have encountered. Perfect strangers say hello or good morning to each other regularly. I grew up in a small town in a small state where everyone was your friend or brother or auntie even without a formal introduction. After living on the east coast of the US for several years, my childhood tendency of never meeting a stranger was decidedly curbed. But, after a few short weeks in Peru and now more than two years later living south of the border I am back in the habit. I have to say the world is a lot brighter when you aren't surrounded by strangers and some habits were definitely not meant to be broken.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Sick Day

Caleb came home from school yesterday with a mild fever. Caleb is in preschool, this happens a lot. But, this morning he still had it and was really lethargic, something almost unheard of for the boy with endless energy, so, I kept him home and we had a sick day. His lethargy wore off quickly and he was not interested in napping at 10 am so we had to get creative. He watched some Dora the Explorer and Little Einsteins and entirely too much Backyardigans and then I turned the tv off and he began to show his displeasure, loudly. Isaac was napping so we had to do something and quick. Then I remembered a new and fantastic blog my friend Amy just started called "Fun 4 Kids." We picked an activity recently featured on Amy's blog and had a great time.

so easy, so fun and set-up and clean-up were a breeze

Amy has a degree in Early Childhood Education and used to teach before becoming a stay-at-home mom. Her ideas are clever and adaptable to children of all ages. She has excellent suggestions for ways to get your kids doing things they and you will both enjoy. Check out her site and have FUN!

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