Thursday, September 30, 2010

why it's okay that my kitchen became the little shop of horrors

Behold my beautiful flowers for the party tonight:

The cost of all those flowers, greenery and two houseplants at Palequemao? $25

The cost of the flower arranging class last week where I got the weapon of mass destruction? $12

The cost of the taxi to get stitches as a result of the mishandled weapon? $5

The cost of the medical treatment because it was at the embassy? $0

How happy these gorgeous flowers all over my house make me feel? PRICELESS

24 hours after my kitchen became the little shop of horrors

P.S. Yes, I am trying to win your sympathy vote. Did it work?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

my own weapon of mass destruction

Last week at my flower arranging class I received the following instrument:
The florist who taught the class used this razor blade like it was a paintbrush. She could cut off flower stems effortlessly. I, however, could not. I definitely do not have the decades of experience that she obviously has wielding this tool.

Everybody in the class also had more proficiency than I did. They could cut away from themselves or toward themselves with zero effort and great results.

Well today I had my big trip to the huge flower market here in the city. I bought more flowers than you can possibly imagine for about $25 and will be able to fill vases all over the house for tomorrow night's big soiree.

Even though I don't intend to arrange the flowers until tomorrow, I decided to cut an inch off each stem and put in buckets of water just like the florist instructed last week.

Enter the weapon of mass destruction:
I was whipping along pretty well with the old retractable razor blade when I decided to try and cut towards myself instead of away.

Two words:


I promptly slashed the pad of my thumb. In that second before the blood started flowing, I thought it didn't look too bad.

But then the blood came and the gash opened and the skin flapped around and I knew I'd done a number.

I haven't had stitches since I was 6, so I wasn't really sure if this required stitches.

I called my friend who lives a block away for advice on such matters but she was almost at her Spanish class and couldn't come over to look. She did say that if I was having to wonder whether I needed stitches, I probably did. She also told me the embassy's health unit could give stitches, so I called the health unit and explained that I wasn't sure if I needed stitches or not but that I knew I needed somebody to look at it and should I come to them or to the ER.

They told me to come in so once I stuck the rest of the flowers in water (with nary a stem cut), I called a taxi who sped me to the embassy so fast it made my head spin. I may consistently employ a blood- (or red food coloring-) soaked paper towel wrapped around a body part to get the most direct route and fastest taxi trip in the future.

So I got there, the doctor unwrapped the paper towel that was now stuck to the cut and declared that yes, I did, in fact, need stitches. After three shots of anesthetic in my thumb, a good soak and subsequent scrub in Betadine and saline (my hands were dirty from carrying and touching and cutting plants all morning), the PA took off his cufflinks, rolled up his sleeves and sewed my U-shaped cut with 7 stitches. I never felt a thing.

The anesthetic is wearing off now and when I went to use the bathroom a little while ago, the end of the belt whipped back and hit my thumb, so I'm feeling it now. The good news is that Jimmy has made it back to Bogota despite the tropical storm that rolled through southern Florida this morning and I know I'll have help at home tonight.

P.S. The retractable razor blade has been disposed of and I will return to using scissors to cut the stems. That technique has worked well for me for the last decade or so and there's really no need to change what works.

P.P.S. I took photos with my cheap cell phone at various stages so I could share the trauma with you. If I can ever figure out how to get them off the phone, I will share.

Monday, September 27, 2010

and to add insult to injury shows current temperature in Miami at 84 but it feels like 95.

Bogota? Well shows current and feels-like temperature at a cool 55.

Where's the beach?

and he calls this work?

Jimmy left today for Miami for a couple days of work. He assures me that such trips are no fun whatsoever, but I know better. I give you my arguments, counselor:

1. View from respective bedrooms tonight:

a) the advertised view from his hotel room tonight

b) the current view off my balcony (a video here would do more justice so you could see and hear the pouring rain):

2. Afternoon activities

a)Jimmy's afternoon will be spent driving from Miami in a rental car probably with the windows down and the smell of sea and salt wafting about.

b) my afternoon will be spent with much wailing and gnashing of teeth because of the evil invention known as homework (which now includes practice for the violin which Mac chose to learn but has conveniently forgotten that it came with a requirement to practice. I told him that doing "stomp" and beating on garbage can lids would be much easier but did anybody listen to me? No, I'm just the mom so what do I know?)

3. Dinner on the run

a) Jimmy can eat wherever he wants, whenever he wants (within the confines of his meeting schedule, of course). He can order room service, go through a drive-through, or eat at a sit-down restaurant of his choosing.

b) I have to feed a finicky 7 year-old who would prefer that I be a short-order cook to meet his whims and fancies. Or if we do as I suggested this morning - go out to eat - we'll have to battle over our restaurant selection because we're probably not going to agree at all on a restaurant. In any event, we'll have to choose a restaurant that's open at 6pm so we can get back home quickly and showered and in bed by 7:15 in order to read until 7:30 when it's lights-out. Oh, and did I mention there's a monsoon going on outside so we'll have to walk in the rain.

4. After-dinner activities

a) Jimmy can crawl into a big king-size bed and flip through a million tv channels with the tv set at whatever volume he wants.

b) Because of the layout of our apartment, our lone tv is very near Mac's bedroom. If I want to watch tv after he goes to bed, I either have to wait for him to fall good and asleep so I can shut his door to block out noise or I have to watch the tv at such a low volume that I practically have to lip-read to understand what's going on.

We sent Jimmy with a Target shopping list so as long as he produces the goods on Wednesday, we'll forgive him for 1a, 2a, 3a, and 4a above (even though 1a is a tough sell for me on a cold, dreary, rainy day when my heels are cracking from lack of exposure to sunlight and sandals!).

Sunday, September 26, 2010

the plant truck

I arranged for the portable nursery truck to come to our apartment yesterday morning at 10am. I knew this guy meant business when he called on Friday to confirm the time.

Promptly at 10:02am, our doorman called to alert us of the truck's arrival. We went down and picked out what we wanted.

We nearly had to sell a kidney for the plants, pots and dirt we bought, but these guys brought up the heavy pots, the bags of dirt, and the plants and they planted everything and swept up after themselves.

The plant truck from our apartment on the 6th floor

our sunroom - no plants yet there but we'll get those when we get our car and can go out to the nurseries outside of town

our three frogs

The most BEAUTIFUL hydrangeas I'v ever seen and a bougainvillea (that big window behind the plants is our master bedroom)

hydrangea blooms up close

our mountain view

the view from our bedroom

the art of baking at high altitude

Bogota is situated at a whopping 8600 feet above sea level. Guadalajara was something like +/-5000 feet so this is easily the highest place we've ever lived.

I don't enjoy baking, but I can follow a recipe to perfection so when the need arises to bake something, I can whip up something that generally tastes delicious and looks decent.

A few weeks ago, Jimmy bought these berries that look like raspberries, but, in fact, taste nothing at all like raspberries. I wasn't sure what to do with them so I decided to bake some muffins. I can bake the Barefoot Contessa's muffin recipe all day long and they are divine. Enter 8600 feet for muffin-baking and the picture totally changes.

I knew that you needed to make adjustments in flour, leavening agents, liquids, etc for baking at high altitude but all the advice I've read says to try your recipe first and see how it goes before making adjustments the second time.

That's a load of hooey.

These muffins were spectacular on top - they had a crown that was superbly browned and beautiful.

Unfortunately, that was the only part of the muffin that rose. The inside was nothing but mush.

The muffins all went in the trash can (with the exception of a couple muffin tops that I ate for quality control purposes).

Yesterday, I decided to make waffles and bacon for breakfast. I always use Bisquick for the waffle mix and the directions on the back of the package said that no high-altitude adjustments were necessary for up to something like 6500 feet. Well what's another 2000 feet between waffles???

Apparently a lot.

The waffles - thankfully - were edible and had good flavor, but they were very dry. Nothing that extra syrup couldn't fix, but you can only dump so much syrup on your kid's plate before you feel guilty.

If I intend to bake here, I'm going to have to learn these tricks of the baking trade.

On second thought, maybe the best trick of the baking trade is to learn where the good bakeries are?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thursday musings

1. I just had my first 2-hour one-on-one Spanish tutoring session with Diana. My head hurts. Because it was a get-to-know-each-other session, there was entirely too much talking that went on. My head hurts. Tomorrow morning we start "real" lessons where she actually teaches me and we don't just converse for 2 hours. Did I mention my head hurts? I have signed up for this tutoring 2 hours a day everyday. I'm going to live with a permanent headache until I quit or reach 156 hours, whichever comes first.

2. We have had a really fun visit with a friend of Jimmy's from Georgetown days. Chris has been working on a TDY in Haiti for the US Treasury and he popped down on Monday for a little R&R here before heading today to Cartagena and then Belize before he goes back to DC to work. Chris's visit was a great excuse to do a few touristy things and eat at some favorite restaurants (and to get all the boxes unpacked in 3 days before he got here on Monday!).

3. The cocktail party is still on for a week from today. Apparently +/-100 invitations have gone out, but if +/-100 people come, I have no idea where they're going to stand or sit. I hope they all like each other. "They" say that we should expect 30-50 people, but we need to pray very, very hard for no rain next Thursday night so everybody can enjoy our fab-u-lous terrace and sunroom.

4. I have a woman coming over shortly who makes fitted slipcovers. I want to get some of the embassy-provided beige out of my living room. We have a beige couch, beige loveseat, and 2 beige chairs. And that's in the living room. You look one room over and there are three more beige chairs in the study. YUCK. The only splash of color is the beautiful red rug Jimmy got in Afghanistan and red throw pillows. It's gloomy otherwise. I wonder if she can make them before next Thursday?

5. I have also called the guy who drives the plant truck around the city and he's coming with his portable nursery on Saturday morning at 10am. You go down to the truck and point out what plants and flowers you need and want and what pots you want them planted in. He does all the dirty work in the truck and then hauls it up to your terrace. I do love a service-oriented society.

6. Our shipment from SC came, but we are still waiting for word on the stuff that was being sent out of storage in DC. If all goes as well as it possibly can, I don't know that we'll get it before Thanksgiving. That shipment has all our formal entertaining stuff in it, so I don't have the first platter or nice tablecloth or piece of silver in my apartment right now. This is concerning me because of those 30-100 people who may be at my house next week. We can borrow stuff from the embassy and I keep reminding Jimmy to do that, but nobody seems nearly as stressed as I do about this. They'll all learn the hard way when I have to whip out the paper plates and Solo cups next week and put them on top of a tablecloth from Target.

7. They have resumed painting in the garage of our apartment, so more of my brain cells are dying by the minute and what little part of my head wasn't hurting from Spanish class is now hurting from the fumes.

I'm off to rest for 28 minutes until the embassy guy comes to hang the pictures that came in our SC shipment. More later!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

flower arranging 101

Today I took a 2-hour flower arranging class offered by the embassy. Flowers are so cheap and prolific here and it was a great idea to offer the class.

Let's just say that I have not missed my calling.

I am not meant to be a florist and think I'll just stick to my "stick it in the vase" modus operandi which has worked so well for me for all these years.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

our sea shipment arrived. sigh.

On Friday, we received our sea shipment. This is always a fairly monumental moment in our life because it means we can resume at least a normal home life even if outside our walls, we live in a very different place. We can fill our space with our things that make somebody else's apartment filled with ugly State Department furniture "our home".

We've been very, very lucky with our shipments. Over the course of 12.5 years, our stuff has been trucked to Washington, DC from SC; to Mexico (I guess by truck?); to Mozambique and back to DC and then to Brazil by ship (and by truck once it got to the port in Brazil); then by truck from Brasilia to Sao Paulo; by ship and truck to SC; and now by ship to Cartagena after which it was trucked to Bogota last week.

In all that movement, I can count on one hand everything that's been broken plus we had a VCR that mysteriously disappeared between DC and Guadalajara. As I said, we've been extraordinarily lucky because there was a lot of room for error.

Our luck changed with this move.

The guys started unloading around 4:15pm on Friday afternoon (after the 11am arrival got pushed back to 2pm which got pushed back to 4:15pm). One of the first boxes they brought in was crushed on the top so we opened it up and found this:

Anyone care for lopsided muffins or a misshapen cheesecake?

Then they started pulling out all these wet boxes. At this point, we have no idea where the water damage happened. It didn't rain in SC when they were loading the boxes into the truck, and the area at the port in Cartagena where the crates cleared customs is covered. Somewhere between A and Z, things got wet.

Fortunately and for whatever reason, the wet hadn't infiltrated too much of the contents even though boxes tore apart in our hands when we tried to pick them up. I use a lot of those big plastic totes, so thankfully, the plastic boxes protected most of the contents. Otherwise, I probably would have lost all my Christmas decorations, Mac's toys and a lot of other stuff.

As it was, we had one box that was completely destroyed and the contents were all moldy. And our older big box tv was moldy. Those items are currently sitting in our storage closet in the garage so I can inventory it for the claims form.
a pocketbook that has seen better days - that's mold all over it.
the wet box that reduced me to tears. Mac got that huge teddy bear as a baby shower present in Mozambique. He was only a little damp so we're going to take him to the cleaners and get him all spiffed up.
the wet tv packaging - thank goodness it wasn't our prized flat screen tv!

the wet box that housed my brand new little table for the sunroom. Fortunately, everything was protected by plastic since it was new.
an example of how much "wet" we're talking about - the photo's dark but the changes in color on the box are where it's wet
my brand-new microwave got a dent in it. I'm sort of scared to use it in case something inside got dented and it explodes!

Monday, September 20, 2010

and a nice photo of the handsome Mardy Fish instead of all those sweaty, bloody ones

It's a teeny picture but he's a good-looking dude!

Davis Cup, Colombian style

The United States and Colombia played three days of tennis against each other this weekend as part of the World Group playoffs for the Davis Cup. It was Colombia's first bid for the highest-level World Group and the US was attempting to retain its World Group spot. I don't really know what any of that means; I just looked it up on the Davis Cup website ( if you need to study it more.)

We bought tickets for yesterday's matches, of which there were supposed to be two but the second was rained out. It doesn't really matter because we saw an amazing match between Mardy Fish and Santiago Giraldo. As you can imagine, Santiago was the crowd favorite in the very unusual but very cool tennis setting of a bullfighting ring.

Normally I would have researched a little who we were going to see play but I was otherwise preoccupied with my sea shipment's arrival (more on that in another post), so I knew nothing. I'm embarrassed to admit that when I heard Mardy Fish's name when we got there, I had no idea who that was. Turns out he lost about 30 pounds over the last year, his game improved, and his ranking rose from over 100 to #19 in the world in 12 months. So he's made marked strides in his tennis game. And he showed it yesterday. It was a long match - over 4 hours (which to our accompanying 7 year-old apparently seemed like 4 days) - and at 8600 feet and with a fairly hostile crowd, it had to seem like 4 days to Mardy Fish as well.

Speaking of the crowd, the Colombians that I've met are all very polite, very reserved people. These people were not at the Davis Cup yesterday. Imagine you're watching a professional US football game at the most hostile-to-outsiders stadium in America. Say you're in Pittsburgh or Green Bay. So you're surrounded by what seems like a million people pulling for Pittsburgh and you're in the very small minority of people who traveled a LONG way for the away game. You wave your flag proudly but these people around you are just so rude and mean and jeering that you decide you might have to get rude and mean and jeering back. They displayed no tennis etiquette whatsoever. I may not know a lot about tennis but I know that you do not cheer and clap and hoot and holler when the opponent faults on his first serve. I know you don't whistle every time the opponent has to serve. And I can assure you there were no air horns at the Family Circle Tennis Cup matches I went to earlier in the year.

Jimmy thought we were at a Berkeley County football game, but it was worse than that. Somebody threw their seat cushion at poor Mardy Fish. Can you imagine?

But when all was said and done, Mardy Fish pulled out all the stops and won in a 5-set marathon match. And to be fair to all those crazy Colombians in the bullring, they were very gracious losers.

All I know is that I wouldn't want to go to a sport they're really nuts about if they act like this at a so-called gentleman's sporting event!

Some photos follow to commemorate the event.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

the embarrassment of having a housekeeper

When you're a stay-at-home mom, it feels really decadent to have a housekeeper three days a week. Don't get me wrong - I can survive the guilty feelings, but it does feel bad. I feel like I should be curing cancer or something instead of surfing the internet when Ruth is here, so generally that means I leave home during her hours of work.

So today when Ruth got here, I took inordinate pleasure in the fact that I really was working. I am in the process of updating sponsor information on the corn maze website, so I was able tell her - truthfully - that I'm a partner in a business in the US and that I was working on the website. Not exactly curing cancer, but I could tell she thought that was important.

I kept working, but I could hear the blender going. The next thing I knew, she was bringing me a freshly juiced glass of passionfruit juice. She said it helps with attention.

D-E-C-A-D-E-N-T. I love this woman.

P.S. For you corn maze lovers out there, check out for everything that's going on this year at the maze. Everything's been updated but the sponsorship information. This year, there's a reward program with our sponsors, so you can get all sorts of neat discounts and free food, etc.

P.P.S Our sea shipment is being delivered on Friday morning at 11am.

Mac and his violin