Friday, October 31, 2008

Necessity = Invention

On Wednesday, the Embassy had a Halloween Party. In the morning before Caleb went to school I pulled out his costume (a doctor ensemble I got from K-Mart on sale, my first mistake) just to make sure it was in working order for that afternoon and was HORRIFIED to discover the pants/scrub bottoms were 5 inches too short. He looked ridiculous, RIDICULOUS and the costume was totally unacceptable. At that moment I could either sacrifice a sheet and turn him into a ghost or bust out the sewing machine I inherited from a friend and make some replacement pants. Now, I haven't sewn anything in nearly 5 years and even then it wasn't something to wear. Plus, I didn't even know if the sewing machine was functioning (which it barely is, by the way, and is now going to be replaced), much less if I was going to be able to chew this enormous chunk I was planning to bite off. I don't sew, not really. My Mom does, and well. But, I was always too busy to learn and have lamented that more than once in my life.

Luckily, I had the following things going for me:

1) before moving overseas the first time I stocked up on all manner of things I thought we'd have trouble finding outside of the US including bits of fabric and notions (so I had sufficent cloth, thread and elastic available)

2) I was raised by a mother who never said "I can't do that" she just started doing it and somehow the volcano or cupcakes shaped like trolls or halloween costume came together

3) my cousin Dana has her own site dedicated to all the adorable and successful sewing projects she produces and had provided an excellent tutorial for making pants in addition to lots of references to how "easy" pants can be -- especially if you don't need to put in a fly

4) I'm cheap and buying an acceptable replacement would have cost more than I was prepared to pay

And so, after a few hours and several long minutes wrestling with the cuffs, we went from this:
(seriously, on what planet does size 3T/4T translate into a length of 15 inches?)

to this:

to this:

to this:

I used the original pants to make the cuffs so they would match the top of the outfit
(there was no way I was going to be able to make a shirt) and working with
100% polyester almost did me in

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I Want A Voice

For much of my adult life I have either interned for the government, worked for the government, volunteered for the would-be government, lobbied the government, been part of a government investigation, studied the foundations of the government, or been married to a government employee. My first real foray into the world of government and politics was as a youth delegate to the 1996 Republican National Convention. 10 minutes in and I was completely mesmerized by the process, the glitz, the news cameras, the money, the power...all of it. I may never again be as close to the action as I was then or as I was when working on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, but I will be a lifelong lover of all things political, the good, the bad and the ugly. Nothing gets me more excited that watching and participating in democracy in action. I am thrilled to be able to do my civic duty when the occasion presents itself and vote. I believe that with freedom comes responsibility and I believe our primary responsibility is to stand up and be counted.

As an employee of the federal government living overseas my husband, and myself by extension, is required to be a resident of a US state for the purposes of taxation. As such, we are residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia. We send them our money in exchange for...well, sometimes we drive on their roads and fly into their airports and perhaps someday our children will attend their schools. As residents, we are also registered to vote in that great state and a few weeks ago received, filled-in and sent back our absentee ballots. Like many have said this is an historic election, regardless of who claims victory. I am an adult life-long Republican and I thought long and hard about how I would cast my vote for President this year. I have never been a big fan of John McCain for myriad reasons which I will refrain from going into, but I am also a fiscal conservative and Barack Obama is, well, not. I listened to their speeches and read their party platforms and personal proposals and thought about their choices for Vice President and their personal and political pedigrees and made a decision -- a decision that I proud of and confident is best for America.

Imagine my chagrin when I learned that due to a technicality, many absentee ballots sent to Fairfax, County, Virginia, our county, would not be counted this year. This technicality, a 2002 law which requires both the address and the signature of the witness to be included on the ballot to make it valid -- even though no request was made nor space provided for the address anywhere on the ballot -- is likely to invalidate not just our 2 votes, but many, many ballots from military men and women currently serving overseas, and other government employees. How ironic that we can work for and defend our government, we just can't choose it. The Attorney General of VA is currently in the process of determining if the ballots can still be counted, but this foolishness and the tales of broken machines, hanging chads, illegal registrations and everything else that has come up over the last several months and years, is disheartening, to say the least. I cherish my right to vote. I cling to my status as an American citizen and am grateful every day for the rights and privileges that are mine as a result of that. In spite of the Electoral College and the predictable outcomes of traditionally "red" or "blue" states, I have always voted and further, always believed that my vote counted, even if only as a means to justify my vocal dissent or agreement with current and future government policies. But, for the first time in my life, today, I feel silenced -- it is hard not to when you think your vote, your voice, is lining a wastebasket somewhere in Virginia.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Back From A Blogging Hiatus

This is not a traditional blog in the sense that it is neither a window into my stream of consciousness, nor is it focused around one single topic. The reason for that is that I am sure that next to none of my readers is interested in the random thoughts that cross my mind on a daily basis. Often I think of things to post about and then demur when it occurs to me that having to turn such random ideas into clever posts with appropriate art might require more energy than I can muster. (Confession: I envy bloggers who never post pictures, though secretly skip over most such blogs due almost entirely to their lack of photos -- strange, I know.) Generally speaking, my regular, day-to-day life is really fairly boring, removed from a society I recognize, isolated, often incomprehensible (though my Spanish gets better all the time) and populated by no one else, apart from myself (and my husband for a couple of hours each night), who can put together a complete sentence in English. Despite my penchant for the non-traditional blog, I still enjoy blogging, though it is often not a priority -- as evidenced by this month's paltry showing. I blog because I don't keep a journal and because I know that someday I will want a record of our life overseas and our children as they grew to be contributing citizens of the world at large. I blog because I know there are family and friends, somewhere out there, who are genuinely interested in what we are doing and where we are doing it. I blog because I like to receive comments from my readers.

All of this is a lead up to the fact that I realized today that my most recent post, dedicated to the view from our apartment in Caracas and an afterthought at best, elicited more comments than any single post in my 2 year history as a blogger save only the post heralding the birth of Isaac. This is an astonishing revelation. It was one paragraph of text, 4 pictures and really, I threw it up on the blog because it had been weeks since my last post and I was starting to worry my "regulars" wouldn't come back if I didn't at least make some small effort -- particularly since I have also not been commenting on other blogs for most of the month. The lesson here is: Give the people what they want...and apparently what they want from me is pictures of a dictator-run, third-world, traffic-clogged city and the gorgeous sky overhead.

With that in mind...not long ago we visited a "suburb" of Caracas, El Hatillo. El Hatillo is far enough away that most people we know have been there just once and have no plans to return before leaving Caracas for good. In fact, it is only about 5 miles from our house, but with traffic becomes a day trip. El Hatillo is a small village that has desperately and somewhat successfully clung to its colonial roots in spite of the westernization of surrounding areas. Like most Latin American and European cities/towns/hamlets, El Hatillo is built around a central plaza. Typical of Venezuela, Bolivia and Peru, this square is adorned by a statue of the great liberator Simon Bolivar. The bright colors and architectural styles of the colonial era are visible throughout the small town and it boasts delicious retaurants and an abundance of churro shops. It is also known for its artisan market, though much of Venezuela's cultural heritage has been lost, abandoned or stamped out over the last 30 years and tragically very little is available in terms of traditional Venezuelan handicrafts anymore. El Hatillo is a maze of cobblestoned, narrow, one-way streets and a strange mix of old world and new construction with a gleaming 6 storey shopping mall rising up on the outskirts of town. We enjoyed a pleasant afternoon there chasing the pigeons in the square, indulging in a few too many churros and people-watching.

NB: And with that and the pictures below our blogging hiatus is over. We were taking a break because in the last three weeks we have received 3 shipments of household items totalling more than 175 pieces (huzzah! and sheesh!), and unpacking and finding places for all of that has taken most of my usually ample spare time. Look for a future post about life before and after 175+ boxes came to our now much happier home in Caracas.

a typical street in El Hatillo -- bright colors abound

the second floor Mexican restaurant where we had lunch

so many choices of churro

Simon Bolivar in his usual place

El Hatillo's obligatory church on the main square

not relevant to our visit to El Hatillo, but we thought it was
amusing that the 2 license plates read "Venezuela" and "Wyoming"

narrow streets against the old city wall

typical architecture

the barrios of El Hatillo

Hershey's was doing a promotion during our visit,
so while we didn't make it home with any handicrafts,
we did come back with a great souvenir just the same...

who doesn't love free chocolate?
(note, if we had bought these in the store, they would have cost us roughly $30)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Our View

I suspect that most of our readers have never been to Caracas so by drips and drabs we will try to give some insight into life in the capital of Venezuela. Much of the city is built on hills and our apartment building happens to be at the top of one of them. These are not ordinary hills either, whilst driving from the top to the bottom our ears pop. And the roads snake up them with so many twists and turns that my penchant for motion sickness kicks in almost immediately if I don't keep my eyes straight ahead, focused on the scenery. Single family dwellings in Caracas are almost unheard of and usually only occupied by the uber-rich. All embassy families live in apartment buildings and most come with playgrounds, small gyms and pools. People pay big bucks for a good view and though we indicated the playground and pool were more important in selecting a residence for us, we are very pleased with the view we ended up with. The following photos are what we see of Caracas from our apartment. It is even more spectacular at night!

this is the view from our terrace -- I love how green it is here

a view from the front of our building -- on the right side of the
photo is the city's only major freeway

0ur pools -- come on over, the water is heated year round

the skies over Caracas -- no visible pollution over the city
because the mountains on either side form a funnel that sweeps
all that nastiness out to sea

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Summer in the States

Our present is in chaos so here is a photo montage from our past, otherwise known as "How we spent the rest of our Summer vacation."
This summer we, Caleb and Isaac, spent a lot of time like this;

became acquainted with our new cousin Jacob,

our even newer cousin Sloane,

and our newest cousin Taylor;

picnicked in Provo Canyon on the 24th of July;

threw rocks in Provo River and

Payson Lakes;

rode the ponies (well, Caleb anyway),

milked a cow (not in this picture,
but Caleb did get some milk from her),

and weighed in at Thanksgiving Point;

went to the National Zoo with our friend Nancy
(and her parents) and saw:


and gorillas,

and pandas, OH MY!;

ate and ate and ate at all of our favorite places in UT and DC;

saw an incredible exhibit of Afghan art at the National Gallery of Art

and played in the fountains outside;

and, took a break every once in awhile.

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