Friday, May 30, 2008

Duty Calls

Yes, our life in the diplomatic corps is glamorous and unexpected and lively, but it is not all fun all the time. One of the requirements of Kenny's job is that every once in awhile - so far on 2 3-day weekends, lucky us - he must act as the Embassy Duty Officer. This means that on Wednesday afternoon before he leaves the office he is given a very large, black bag full of reference materials and phone numbers and a cell phone that he must carry on his person at all times until the following Wednesday when he passes the baton to the next victim. The purpose of the duty officer is to make sure the US Embassy in Lima (actually every Embassy in the world) has 24 hour 7 day a week coverage so that Joe Citizen can speak to someone live in the event of a catastrophe (i.e. lost passport, detention by foreign government, accident, arrest etc.). Translation: if the planets align just so, the duty officer and family will likely find themselves embroiled in a fare amount of insanity and interruption over the course of the week, and especially the weekend. Kenny was duty officer over Memorial Day weekend and, sadly for us the cosmos was feeling vengeful and directed its' ire at us.

The week went something like this (warning lots of text and few pictures ahead):

Thursday: No calls. The Embassy was open and people probably assumed that unless you call during business hours you're out of luck. Not so, but let's let them believe what they want.

Friday: Day, no calls, again, Embassy was open. Friday night, just as we were finishing dinner on the town sans children the phone rings. It is Paul (name changed) calling from Somewhere, USA to say some woman from Peru called 2 hours earlier to say his father, let's call him Jeremy, was dead - or so he thinks since he didn't talk to her and she didn't speak much English - and could the Embassy/Kenny help him? Paul doesn't know who called, nor does he have a phone number or anything resembling contact information, nor is he certain his father has passed away, due to the language barrier. Also, Paul isn't sure of his father's age and gives the impression their relationship is strained, at best. Paul says father has been in Peru for 2 years or so and that he was in another city when this happened, but doesn't know where in that city. Paul is unhelpful. We go back to the car and find the big black bag with all the resource materials. Kenny makes a couple of phone calls and determines there is next to nothing he/we (the government) can do without additional information. He calls Paul back tells him to sit tight, wait until he knows more and then call back.

Caleb hiding from the incessantly ringing phone

Then, we head off to see the latest Indiana Jones movie. On our way, phone rings again. It is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force calling from a base stateside. His crew and the multi-million dollar jet that were in Peru earlier in the day and supposed to be on their way back to their home unit when he called were missing. Back to the car and the black bag - its a big bag, not practical for hauling around. Kenny then calls the Defense Attache (DA) assigned to Lima. The nice thing about the military is they take care of their own. The DA tells Kenny not to worry he'll handle the situation and call him when he has located the plane and crew. He does. Kenny then calls the Lt. Colonel and notifies him of the crew's whereabouts. Lt. Colonel guy is none too pleased with his crew and tells Kenny as much, but thanks him for his help.

Now we are in the theater, sitting in seats we found only after making several people move and crawling over them to sit in, previews rolling. Phone rings again, it's Paul again. Kenny leaves the theatre, dispenses with Paul's call quickly and returns shortly thereafter to resume watching Indiana Jones (having missed the first 5 and fairly crucial minutes). 20 minutes later, phone rings again, Kenny leaves and does not return for another 45 minutes at which point I leave the movie as well and we head downstairs to ask for a raincheck. That call was from a friend of now-confirmed deceased Jeremy who lives in Lima.

On the way home, because our night is shot, Paul calls again. He is coming to Lima, he will arrive on Monday. The friend is on her way to Chiclayo (city where Jeremy died from an apparent heart attack) to make arrangements to bring the body back to Lima. Paul says he will keep us posted. Great.

Saturday: We are at the zoo: Gina calls to say she lost her passport and is supposed to fly out on Sunday - she's out of luck. Temporary passports require 2 business days and since Monday is a holiday she can't leave until Wednesday COB.

We are in the car on the way home from the zoo: Paul calls - the magistrates in Chiclayo won't release the body to the friend but they will to the Embassy - can Kenny call the magistrates and get the body? No, Kenny cannot. The US Government doesn't do that. Paul must deal with them when he arrives.

We are at dinner with 2 very tired and uncooperative children: Eliza calls from Spain to say that her ex-husband, who does not have custody of their 8 year old daughter, has been arrested while traveling in Peru with the daughter and now the child is somewhere in Peru in custody of the authorities. This turns out to be the tip of the iceberg of a very complicated story, some of which was true, much of which was sketchy and patently untrue. It took most of the weekend to unravel.

Isaac trying to sleep through the nightmare

We are buying some last minute items for dinner on Sunday: Paul, again. Kenny tells him he must talk to the magistrates directly and do as they direct. They have told him to call the funeral home.

Sunday: Paul again. He says the magistrates are being difficult. Kenny says, have you called the funeral home? Paul says no, because the magistrates say the US Embassy can intervene and Paul doesn't understand why they (read Kenny) won't. Kenny says, our laws (privacy in particular) apply to our citizens even beyond our borders. Only family can be responsible for a person's remains without a notarized affidavit.

Monday: Paul again. He's in Peru and calling from the airport wanting to know when and where he can meet up with Kenny. Kenny says this is not going to happen and to call the funeral home.

Gina again. Does she really have to wait 2 business days? Yes, says Kenny. Gina says, but can't they expedite the process, I really need to get home. Kenny refrains from saying many things he is thinking and says instead, he can't say one way or the other, today is a holiday and the people who can expedite the process are unavailable.

Eliza again. More sketchiness, more thickening of the plot.

Paul again and again and again. The answer each time? Sorry, but no, the US Government cannot and does not do that.

Tuesday: Embassy is open, the calls stop and we managed to see the rest of Indiana Jones - hurrah!

Wednesday: The final day of duty arrived none too soon and Kenny said "tag you're it" to some other poor soul, happily handing off the black bag and ubiquitous cell phone.

So many crazy problems and people in such a short time. We were so ready to be done by the end of the week and for once very happy to be far away from most of our fellow Americans. Makes you want to join the foreign service doesn't it? Not as glamorous as you thought huh?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

I Know They're Not Twins

Twins do not run in my family or in my husband's family so it's highly likely we won't be blessed with them. And, frankly, I'm not sad about this. As far as I'm concerned, anyone who raises twins (Gabi, Paige, Heather, Shally) or more (Lorena) deserves at the very least a medal and probably automatic sainthood. One baby and one toddler at a time thus far is quite sufficient for me. However, one thing I do envy about twins, probably only because I don't have them, is the inherent justification for dressing them alike that comes with the package. Luckily though, Caleb is still small enough that he fits into many things made in toddler and baby sizes so I get to indulge my penchant for matching outfits. I'm sure someday my kids will look at these pictures and be completely annoyed with their mother and her all too frequent lapses into over the top cuteness - and especially her need to share it with the world wide web. But, I am convinced it would be criminal to squander cuteness of this caliber particularly when there are grandparents who delight in oohing and aahing over the subjects.

let the oohing and aahing begin

matching pajamas I bought for the summer that are already almost too
small for Isaac - guess that just means more matching outfits to come

it's hard to tell, but Caleb is laughing

all the admonitions to be gentle with the baby are paying off

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Something Fishy This Way Comes...Please

We're big fish fans in our house. We eat it often, but always out. Peru has some fantastic seafood restaurants and we've enjoyed incredibly prepared and perfectly seasoned meals many times. In Washington, DC, too we ate fish frequently. We are particular fans of ceviche
and sushi,

but our tastes run the seafood spectrum. I grew up in Hawaii and ate a lot of fish - sometimes right from the ocean into the pot and into my mouth - does not get any fresher than that. However, in all my fish eating, I have cooked fish only a handful of times. Something about preparing it always gives me pause. I mean, I have no problems sticking my hands into raw hamburger or marinating chicken or searing juicy steaks (because I think well done meat is a sin), but with fish, well, I am stymied. We won't always live in a place with great seafood options, okay so we will for the foreseeable future, but sometimes its nice not to pay someone else to do what you could do yourself. And, we are trying to eat healthier these days by cutting out all kinds of junk, which includes limiting our starch and red meat intake too. With those goals in mind, I have walked through the fish aisles

many times of late trying to be inspired with what to buy and cook, but my lack of experience is too great a hurdle to overcome and I always leave with more chicken. Clearly, I need, and with this post am fishing (couldn't resist) for help from you, our faithful readers. Please send us your fish recipes, tips, success stories, humorous anecdotes etc. We'll try them out and pick our favorite and send you a prize - not fish related, just fun. A suggestion from you a prize from us - it's that simple and you'll be doing us a HUGE favor.

PS though we love the flavor, we're hoping for dishes that look more like this:

and less like this:

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Animal Mania

We are trying to tie up loose ends before we leave Peru and that includes hitting some sites in Lima we haven't yet visited. Thus, the last two weekends have been spent amongst the animals at the 2 "zoos" near our home. I say 'zoos' because one is an actual zoo and the other is a bunch of cages on the campus of a catholic school. Really. Right outside the grammar school classroom windows are the puma, bear and panther cages. Across from the main auditorium are pens of goats, llamas, alpaca and emu. In the center of the campus is a fenced area with ducks, geese, caged birds, cabybaras (world's largest rodent), deer, a monkey island, more llamas, vicunas and some sort of rodent - called a ronsoco - that looks a lot like the mythical jackalope, sans horns of course. And, on the main road leading in and out of the school is cage after cage of exotic birds - toucans, macaws, parrots and a bunch I didn't recognize and don't remember the names of now.

The main appeal of the zool (zoo school) is that you can feed the animals - well, not the pumas, bears or panthers, but everything else is fair game, no pun intended, and they expect it too. The zool animals were not shy in the least and Caleb had a blast throwing bread at anything that moved. The emu were very aggressive, however, and I was sure wouldn't be able to distinguish between squishy day old hot dog bun and squishy two year old flesh.

Apparently the zool is open daily, but during the week can only be visited after classes have let out for the day. I'm a pretty relaxed parent, and while I appreciate the concept of bringing the field trip to the students and thus eliminating the hassle of buses and permission slips, I'm not sure I'm relaxed enough to send my kid to school just feet away from carnivorous, predatory animals.

spotted jungle panthers sunning themselves - notice the "highly secure" double
chain link fence barrier separating them from us

monkey island

feeding the geese

capybara, world's largest rodent - this one was the size of a labrador -
and clearly the inspiration for the ROUS's (rodents of unusual size) in
S. Morgenstern's The Princess Bride

keeping our distance from the emu


...and the eerily similar jackalope

petting the goats - everyone's favorite zoo animals

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Mom I Want To Be

My Mom and Caleb - August 2006

40 years ago my parents met in their college choir. My Father says of my Mother that "I heard her before I saw her." Once you hear my Mom sing, this is easy to understand. And, though I can't remember, I'm certain that I too heard her before I saw her. She sings all the time, always has. And, since her voice is beautiful, no, other-worldly, this is a welcome trait and one of an innumerable collection that make her the woman/mother/person/mortal I would like to be and try to emulate the most.

Me and my Mom in 1985

I like to think that I have always felt this way about my Mom and while it is true that I didn't go through much teenage rebellion, I can definitely point to a few times when she was not my favorite person. However, upon reaching adulthood and certainly once I became a mother myself, I could not begin to imagine my life without her compassion, example, advice, influence, grace, charity, generosity, humor, intelligence, grace, thoughtfulness, creativity, support, love, etc., etc., etc., etc...

My Mom and Caleb - January 2006

On this Mother's Day I am grateful for my Mom because she has taught me:

* there is a difference between being smart and being wise
* try it before you decide you don't like it
* it is foolish to go it (anything) alone if you don't have to
* if I want to know what to serve for a dinner party, how to get my baby to sleep, what takes wax out of silk, who won the Battle of the Bulge, she will have the answer
* it is not possible to read too much
* good manners never go out of style

My Mom, me and her grandmother in 1977

* traditions are still traditions even if you skip a year
* your pantry must always be equipped to handle unexpected dinner guests
* expiration dates are suggestions, very loose suggestions
* you may not be able to have it all, but you can come close and close is darn good
* true love is unconditional
* nothing but people are irreplaceable
* don't just read about somewhere or something, if possible go see and do for yourself
* travel with your own pillow

My Mom and Isaac - February 2008

* there is no such thing as too late/old to start something new
* service is necessary
* some things cannot be fixed and coming to terms with that is critical
* not all women love to shop
* treat your children like the individual personalities they are
* "because I'm the Mom, that's why" is an acceptable response
* after school treats are essential
* be kind, always

and so much more.

Happy Mother's Day to my favorite mother.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Baby Mine

Only 3 and a half months old and Isaac has changed so much already. Here are few of my favorite pictures from the last several days.

getting ready to dance the hula (this means nothing if you've never seen men
dance hula before - but trust me, this is the starting position)

seriously, how cute is he?

this is my favorite of the bunch - there is nothing I love more
than my SLEEPING baby!

yes, he is wearing a jacket and no socks - I put a quilt on him before we
left the house - he didn't need the jacket or the quilt, but it was 70 degrees
outside (the temperature when babies in Peru start wearing snowsuits)
and I just didn't want to hear everyone in the whole country tell me my
child was cold - been there, done that

one more in the bathtub just because

Sunday, May 04, 2008

May Day Is Lei Day...

in Hawaii, and in Peru it is Labor Day and therefore a Government holiday. Isaac went down for his morning nap earlier than normal so we left him home with the maid and headed to Coney Park with Caleb. Coney Park is about the size of half a city block and features coin operated rides, carnival rides and games, bumper cars, cotton candy, popcorn, hot dogs (sort of), face painting etc. Fun? Yes - if you are under 10. Coney Island? No. For about $7 you can buy a wristband that gets you unlimited rides all day long. Children between 80 and 100 centimeters must be accompanied by an adult on most rides so Kenny folded himself into some fairly tight spaces in the name of Caleb's enjoyment. We have been to Coney Park in the past and each time we have had to coax Caleb into doing more than heading straight for and into the ball pit (yes I know they are full of bacteria - but we live in a third world country, bacteria is something we have learned to live with - so we just let Caleb wallow to his heart's content) - this time we were able to convince him to broaden his horizons and try out several other rides before diving in.

the roller coaster

the tower - frankly, I was surprised they let him ride this accompanied or not

the train - Kenny loved this!

the carousel - Kenny tried to ride his own horse but got in trouble for not
holding on to Caleb appropriately and had to get down

the ferris wheel - Caleb had a great view of the ball pit from here so...

he made his way to his personal heaven at last

After crawling into the ball pit myself, we managed to extricate Caleb from it and Coney Park and went home to collect Isaac for phase 2 of celebrating Labor Day. We joined some other non-laborers and headed to the Olive Park near our home for a picnic. The park is roughly 6 blocks long and full of fruit-bearing olive trees. Legend has it that these woods sprouted from just three small branches, planted by the Peruvian saint, San Martin de Porras. The expanse also formed part of the Limatambo hacienda belonging to the Dominican Monks. In the middle of the park is an enormous fountain where we chased the pigeons and did our best to stay dry.

Caleb eyeing the water - he said over and over that he wanted to jump in
(never mind the fact that he cannot swim and that this is not a trick of
the light - the water really is that lovely shade of murky green)

making friends with some other children and their nannies

Isaac doing what he does best - lying around relaxing

our friends Carlos and Heather and their son Sebastian

playing amongst the Olive trees with Daddy

After we took the boys home and put Caleb down for his nap, Kenny and I ended our day at a nearby movie theater where we watched Eastern Promises. Movie options in Peru are fairly limited and this seemed the best option available. Neither of us knew much about the movie and though we found it to be a very good thriller, it was too graphically bloody for my tastes. Not the perfect ending to an nearly perfect day, but Viggo Mortensen was unexpectedly good and there was movie popcorn so not a total loss.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Something About Meat

After months of it sitting in the laundry room Kenny finally decided it was time to break out the BBQ and set it up - just in time - actually not quite - for a BBQ with some local friends and some out of town guests. He started setting up around 2:30 (for a 4:00 BBQ) and we ate at 5ish. Not terrible considering lighter fluid does not exist in Lima and getting the hang of the Peruvian fire starter took a good chunk of the set up time. Below are some pictures of Kenny getting ready to do one of his very favorite things, cook (i.e. commune) with meat. While he was doing all of this setting up and cooking, I was reminded of a story from our past where meat is a central player and that was ultimately critical to our happy ending.

When Kenny and I had been dating for about 2 weeks, Washington, DC, had one of its worst snow storms on record. The entire city was shut down for 3 days. As it happened, I was at Kenny's house the night the storm moved in and by the time I was ready to go home, it was too late and I was snowed in with him and his 4 roommates. I didn't know any of these guys (including Kenny) all that well and the prospect of being their house guest for who knew how long was a little troubling.

It was that beginning stage of a relationship where things had been going very well - well enough that the day before we had celebrated Valentine's Day together - but we were still getting to know each other and see if we were compatible enough to keep things moving forward. There was still the question of whether or not we'd run out of things to say or stop being surprised or impressed by the other one or just get bored. Add to that the fact that I was not prepared for an overnighter, much less a more than overnighter and you can imagine my trepidation. But, it couldn't be helped, the roads were impassable and short of snowshoeing it home, I was stuck.

As it turned out, Kenny and his roommates were wonderful hosts. The house they lived in was large enough that they could accommodate a sixth resident. Their pantry was well stocked for 5 guys in grad school so we had plenty of delicious food as well. We watched movies and played games and talked and talked and talked. I learned a lot about Kenny during those three days and I also learned that I was a little more high-maintenance than I had previously thought. I vividly remember standing in the shower staring at the bar of soap in the dispenser, the only soap available, and dreaming of my Dove body wash back at my apartment. Washing my face with that soap sucked out so much moisture it hurt to smile (no moisturizer available either!!!). By the end of the 3 days I also would have given my left arm for something to wear that didn't have a college or professional team name or mascot emblazoned on it. Now, I wish we had pictures from that adventure, but at the time I was not about to go anywhere near a camera.
The snow finally melted enough that cars could get through, sort of, and Kenny and his roommate drove/slid me home. Power and phone lines was restored across the city, we had all survived, and most importantly, Kenny and I still wanted to see each other again. I wanted to thank the guys for their kindness and enlisted the aid of my good friend Adrianne to help me come up with a suitable gift. She didn't know the guys at all, but after we talked about them and the weekend, suggested they might like some good steaks. After three days I was confident that this was a house of carnivores and couldn't think of a better way to say thank you. We headed off to Costco and bought some very delicious steaks - the kind people in grad school don't usually eat.

When I took the steaks over to give to the guys none of them were there. Instead, I was met with their girl posse - a group of girls who were good friends with the guys in the house and some of whom had dated, were dating or would eventually date most of those same guys. A couple of the girls were vegetarian and incredulous that I would bring a gift in the form of meat, but I assured them it would be well received. And, it was. The guys were all demonstrably grateful...Kenny in particular. I don't know if the gift of meat sealed mine and Kenny's fate, but I know it certainly helped.

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