Tuesday, November 23, 2010

pre-Thanksgiving news

We invited Mac's British teacher to join us for Thanksgiving dinner, which he happily accepted because he said he'd never been to a "proper" Thanksgiving dinner before. (That's sounds very British, doesn't it?).

When we extended the invitation, we asked him to bring a couple friends with him if he wanted.

I knew he had a great sense of humor, but today, he emailed me the following:

Sorry it's taken so long to get back to you but it has been a HECTIC week! Just to say if the offer is still open, my friends Suzanne and Rory would like to join us for dinner. Suzanne teaches in year 1, you may have seen her, Australian... and Rory's her (newly wed) husband.

They're both lactose intolerant, vegan Jews, so they do need Kosher food....


... just kidding.

I have to tell you that there was nearly not going to be a Thanksgiving until I read the "just kidding" part because I was nearly dead from panic-induced heart failure.

Two of our other dinner guests only eat seafood (of which there is known on our Thanksgiving menu), raw vegetables and nuts. I think they're bringing their own trail mix because I told them I was southern and southerners only know how to drown vegetables or mix them in a casserole for a big holiday meal.

And while we're excited to receive all of our dinner guests on Thursday night, we're particularly excited that Mac's best friend Logan from last year in South Carolina and his family are flying in tonight and will be with us through Monday. Jimmy's at the airport now to get them and bring them home. We have been counting down the days until Logan's arrival and I'm not what sure what threat I'll be able to hang over Mac's head once this visit is over. It's been a great tool for getting good behavior.

Hope that your Thanksgiving week is going well and that you're looking as forward to the big day as we are.

Monday, November 22, 2010

the botanical gardens

Yesterday afternoon, we took advantage of the sun that finally appeared in Bogota to visit the city's Botanical Gardens. The park was huge, very clean and well-maintained with lots of paths, and had all sorts of different types of gardens and amazing flowers. I only had my little point-and-shoot camera but check out some of the offerings:

(does this look like a Christmas ornament or what?)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

one more Mac-ism

For Spanish homework, Mac generally has to do Spanish spelling words everyday and on Fridays, he has a Spanish spelling test.

They haven't had a Spanish spelling test in weeks, however, so Mac announced today that they were having 3 spelling tests tomorrow to cover some missed tests.

I said, "we better study those old words."

Mac's reply? "I wouldn't sweat it, Mom."

Mac-isms this week

1. "When you look at the Earth from space, it spins so slowly and a day looks like it takes a long time. But when you're living a day, 24 hours goes by sooooo fast."

2. "I've caused a lot of trouble in my life." (When I asked him to elaborate, he said that he'd been in trouble a lot, which isn't true but which leads me to believe that his week-long "electronics restriction" for smarting off at me is working. Hopefully he has a long memory!)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

feeling a little sorry for myself

1. Jimmy "had to go" to Key West for a conference this week. The weather right now in Key West according to weather.com: 82 degrees and Fair. The weather right now in Bogota according to weather.com: 55 degrees and Mostly Cloudy. It would be "mostly cloudy" right now because there can surely be no water left in the heavens after what has poured down on this city in the last 24 hours.

2. God is apparently busy making more rain to replace those empty heavens because weather.com calls for rain all day tomorrow here.

3. Jimmy's in Key West, and I am not.

4. The whole country is flooded and has created devastating losses for a lot of people who didn't have a lot to lose in the first place. I realize I'm being entirely trivial about this so please forgive this rant in the midst of such devastation for so many people: the truck with our shipment out of storage was enroute from the port in Cartagena today (for delivery at my apartment on Friday), but the floods messed up a bridge and the truck can't get through until the bridge is repaired. There is obviously no detour route, and the truck has gone back to Cartagena to wait in a dry storage area. Which means the serving stuff I need for Thanksgiving won't be here by Thanksgiving. Again, this is absolutely petty in the big scheme of things - and I do understand that - but if you knew how we'd been battling against stupid people in Washington, DC who aren't able to do their jobs which means this shipment is arriving more than 2 months after it should have been here, then you might feel just a teensy bit of sympathy for me.

5. I think I have whatever that disorder is when you don't see the sun and it's rainy all the time and you get depressed and feel sorry for yourself.

6. Jimmy's on his third trip to the US in 3 months (and has traveled within Colombia at least once every other week since August), and I've left Bogota one time to go to Cartagena for 3 days. I might also have cabin fever besides the disorder in #5.

7. There is interminable construction next door and it's making me crazy. I hear a saw all day long from 7:30am to 5:30pm.

8. I have an earache in my right ear. This, of course, is undiagnosed but it hurts. Add that to ailments in #5 and #6.

9. Did I mention it's been raining nonstop and it's sunny in Key West?

But there are good things that I need to concentrate on:

1. I've met a couple awesome women recently that I love being around.

2. Mac is loving school. He also had a playdate with a new (non-school) friend that went perfectly. They played for close to 6 hours with nary the first bit of bickering or cross words. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.

3. I cooked all day yesterday in anticipation of friends visiting next week and Thanksgiving. My freezer now has 10 cups of cooked chicken ready for stuff like quesadillas and chicken pot pie; 20 cups of homemade tomato sauce; and 30 cups of chicken broth. I can obviously make as much cornbread dressing and gravy as I want to for Thanksgiving with all that broth. Oh, and I made two cheesecakes for the freezer. I feel like eating one right now by myself.

4. I didn't have Spanish today, which, sadly, makes me inordinately happy.

5. Mac's 8th birthday is on Saturday and he is infectiously excited.

6. We have friends coming to town next week and we are soooo excited. They'll be here for Thanksgiving and Mac's birthday party and we feel so blessed to have them here for both events.

I'm going to eat some chocolate. That won't make the rain disappear but it might make me feel better....

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

the gift of an ordinary day

I just saw this on a friend's Facebook page and it was exactly what I needed to hear. Get out your Kleenex. Time is fleeting.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Marine Ball 2010

Last night Jimmy and I went to the Marine Ball held annually to celebrate the birthday of the Marine Corps. We had a great time - it was the best Marine Ball we've ever been to in terms of program and food.

And as always, there was great entertainment in checking out some real doozies in the dress department. A lot of people go with a "less-is-more" theory in the dress coverage department and a "more-is-more" theory in showing off cleavage that may or may not have been surgically enhanced. It's always a good time!

P.S. We went out on a limb and left Mac with Ruth overnight so we could stay at the Sheraton where the event took place. I'm pleased to report - and I know you won't be surprised by this - that the house didn't burn down and Mac was perfectly happy without us.

Friday, November 12, 2010

sweet, sweet vindication

As you know, I have suffered from an inability to breathe and play tennis at the same time here in Bogota. Jimmy's heard my bellyaching after every tennis class, and frankly, I just wasn't feeling the love from him on this one. A girl just wants a little sympathy sometimes and I was getting nada (except his stories of how he goes to the gym and runs 6 miles and lifts weights with no problem).

Since yesterday was a holiday for him, he went to my tennis class with me. The plan was that I'd take the first 30 minutes and he could take the next 30 minutes. Well I huffed and puffed and sucked wind for about 29 of my minutes and then it was Jimmy's turn.

He started out strong. He didn't appear winded or tired.

And then I saw him surreptitiously look at his watch to check the time.

A few minutes later, he looked at his watch again and this time, he tapped the side of his watch (as if it wasn't working and he needed to shake the battery back into action).

Oh my dear darling, the battery is working just fine.

That's called disbelief that time can actually stand still while you're running after a fuzzy yellow ball at 10,000 feet (the tennis instructor confirmed that at the tennis court where we play, we're about 1500 feet above Bogota's 8600 feet). It's really almost like an oxygen-deprivation hallucination. I'm well-acquainted with this hallucination because I have become the master at sneaking glances at my watch during the one-hour class and not seeing the numbers change at all even though I'm sure I've been playing for 4 hours.

By the end of his 30 minutes, Jimmy was breathing awfully hard and, at various stages, was doubled over trying to catch his breath.

I'm trying not to gloat, but that's not working so well for me.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

EDIT to "one of the joys of parenting"

Besides having no real affinity for the violin, Mac also needs to work on his rock-n-roll presentation. He can't say "on the count of the three" and then count to four if he's going to lead the next Rolling Stones....

one of the joys of parenting

If there's one thing worse than listening to your new violin-playing child practice his new violin...

...it's listening to two new violin-playing children practice their violins. Our friend TJ is staying with us this week while his parents are out of town, and we have to do this for 10 (or did the music teacher say 20?) minutes a day?!??!

Sweet Jesus, have mercy on me.

P.S. In case you didn't recognize that song, it was "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." Don't worry, your hearing's not going bad. It sounded nothing like "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star".

P.P.S. The violin may not be Mac's strong suit. He seems to have a penchant for harder rock.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Mac as King James I

On Friday, Mac's class had an assembly where they presented the story of Guy Fawkes. Mac played the role of King James I (who Guy Fawkes tried to kill when he blew up the Houses of Parliament). I won't subject you to watching the entire video here, but take my word for it that the program was excellent. These second-graders learned so many hard lines and did such a great job. I was very impressed.

We had to come up with a costume to represent King James I. Here's a picture from wikipedia of this illustrious leader:

We had the Harry Potter robe that I intended to re-purpose, but it was that frilly neck collar thing that had me worried. So I put out a request for help from my crafty friends on Facebook. The suggestions ranged from sewing one to having one made it here to using coffee filters to make one.

I decided to give the coffee filter idea a try. I bought a pack of frilly coffee filters (which I think I was supposed to use per the Facebook suggestion) and a pack of the flat, sort of triangular ones that you open up to put in the coffeemaker.

I ended up gluing several flat ones together to make a big circle and cut a bigger neck hole out once it was all dry. Then I made folds in the flat sides of the filter and kept it all clothespinned together for a week (to try to give the collar some poof).

I made three of them (because I figured there would be a tear between the dress rehearsal and the real performance and it was better to be safe than sorry). Mac probably should have worn more than one and I probably should have poofed it up a little before the performance, but here's a photo of Mac from the performance.

All's well that ends well.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Operation Birthday Surprise

Well, yesterday was Jimmy's monumental 40th birthday.

I have fretted over birthday parties and gifts because this is a big one, you know? I thought about having a party here but it seemed a little awkward and imposing to invite people we've only known for a couple months to a birthday party where they feel obliged to buy a present. Plus Jimmy has way less social interaction with people since he's at work all day and I am a lady o' leisure with time to spend with my gal pals, so it would have been a party with my friends and their husbands who we may or may not even really know.

So I thought to myself, "I need to import a friend for the birthday", and who else could I import but Jimmy's very best friend since early childhood, Stephen. This has been in the works for a couple weeks and I've been fraught with anxiety over every step of the way. Jimmy's been suspicious and has questioned everything after I told him a surprise was showing up on his birthday, which just made me more nervous.

The final leg of anxiety came about yesterday when I had to figure out how to keep us awake until the expected arrival time of 10:30pm. We're early-to-bed, early-to-rise kind of folks around here, so 10:30 is a stretch on a school night.

I told Jimmy yesterday morning over this yummy breakfastthat the surprise was being delivered to his office. He didn't have to be there to receive it, but somebody in his office could sign for it.

Around midday, Stephen and his wife Lisa (who decided to come after we had Stephen's ticket) called Jimmy from the Charlotte airport before they boarded the plane to wish him a happy birthday. Jimmy asked him if it was a "local call" because he fully expected Stephen to walk into his office right then. Stephen told him he was crazy and that he was in some sort of work training. Close call.

I called Jimmy a couple more times in the afternoon to see if the surprise had shown up, but miraculously it had not.

Then he called me to say he was leaving work a few minutes early. Well that meant I had a reason to call the alleged delivery company to change the delivery address from the embassy to our home address." Well then, wouldn't you know that I got an email from the "delivery company" after this perfect-for-an-American-Autumn-birthday dinner that said there had been a mistake and that the motorcycle delivery guy for the embassy's location was different from the one in our neighborhood and they weren't going to be able to meet to hand over the surprise so the surprise wasn't coming until tomorow. I pretended to be very upset and disappointed over this and because of my fine acting skills, Jimmy bought it.

(I did all this because I knew there was no way I could keep us up until 10:30 under any seemingly normal pretense. We are in bed by 9pm on weeknights so what in the world could I do to justify 10:30?? I decided it was better just to go to sleep and wake up when they got here.)

I hired a driver to pick up Stephen and Lisa and he was supposed to call me when they were 10 minutes away from the apartment. I knew the plane was supposed to land around 9pm and by the time they cleared customs and immigration and drove home, I thought the best case scenario would be a 10:15 arrival.

Jimmy and I were in bed reading (me) and watching tv (him) until I thought my eyelids would snap shut permanently. Finally at 10:00pm (which is ridiculously late for me), I went to use the bathroom and check email on my phone in case the driver emailed me with an update. I had made it very clear that this was a surprise and he was not to call the house phone under any circumstance. Well, as my luck would have it, he called me on my cell phone while I was using the bathroom to tell me that they were 18-20 minutes away.

I went back to the bedroom, and Jimmy, with a bewildered expression, asked who I was talking to in the bathroom (this is an abnormality as I never even bring my cell phone upstairs). So I used my most exasperated voice and told him that he had to get dressed because the stupid surprise was being delivered now, that only in Colombia would they think it acceptable to bother people at 10:30 at night for a delivery that was supposed to come during the day, blah, blah, blah. Again, it was another award-worthy performance if I do say so myself!

So we went downstairs and waited and here you have it in photos!

We're sharing a wonderful weekend before they return home on Sunday. More to come!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

birthdays and tennis lessons

Today is Jimmy's 40th birthday. It's not everyday you celebrate a new decade of life, so we started with the means to shorten our remaining decades. I made a delicious breakfast of grits, eggs, bacon and biscuits. Of course, since everybody has to get out the door starting at 6:12am (Jimmy) followed by 6:19 (Mac), we shoveled the food in in record time to make sure nobody was late for their respective vans.

So after breakfast, I had my 2-hour Spanish class followed by my tennis class. I have to tell you that I think the full breakfast made a difference in my game. I checked to make sure I wasn't wearing my Wonder Woman underwear - and I wasn't - and I hit tennis balls better than I ever have in my life, so I think it was the eggs and bacon.

So here's what I'm thinking in terms of non-medical high-altitude sports training: if you eat a lot of high-cholesterol, unhealthy, fatty things, they multiply the oxygen cells (or molecules or whatever form oxygen comes in), thereby creating better muscle memory and tone and allowing you as the unathletic person to hone your skills better. Sounds pretty good, right?

Or it could be something as simple as eating more protein gives you more energy for longer. But I like the way that earlier paragraph sounds better.

Regardless, you're going to die earlier because your arteries are clogged with bacon grease, but your tennis game will be much, much improved.

Here's to happy 40th birthdays and better tennis games!

P.S. I'll keep you posted as things develop on this 40th birthday for young James. It's going to be a GREAT day!!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

me and a dude named Juan Pablo

As you may remember, I took a cardio tennis class last year at Pinewood that I loved. It was great exercise, but I found that I also loved playing tennis again.

There are no "public courts" in Bogota, at least not where I live, so the options for playing tennis are to join an expensive club (which we have not done because we'd feel compelled to spend every waking moment there to get our money's worth) or to play at the ambassador's residence which has a lovely court overlooking the city.

So I chose the latter of the options and am now taking a class with a dude named Juan Pablo. I was supposed to be taking this class with a friend but her son was medevaced to the US so I've now been flying solo for all the three lessons that I've had thus far.

In case you've never lived at 8600 feet, let me explain to you how it feels to exert any sort of energy whatsoever: HARD. You can never take a deep, satisfying breath and you breathe entirely too heavily and rapidly with minimal exertion, like when you're just walking around your apartment.

Now enter me playing tennis at 8600 feet and you get a really pathetic picture. I spend what seems like half the class with my arms over my head, trying to expand my lungs, and the other half of the class doubled over to make the lightheadedness go away.

And then when the hour's over, my body is so sore that I barely have the strength to wash my hair in the shower, let alone blowdry it afterwards. My hair's pretty short now so neither of those actions take too terribly long.

So today, because I felt like such a total wimp after class, I decided to research training at high altitude.

From eHow, I got the following on training (running in particular) at high altitude. My notations are in bold.

1. Appreciate the fact that exertion at high altitude is more difficult than at sea level. This is so because of the reduced partial pressure of oxygen as elevation rises. The decrease in oxygen pressure impairs the oxygenation of blood flowing through your lungs, ultimately resulting in a corresponding diminished oxygen supply to working muscles. Studies by the Federation of Sport at Altitude have shown that the lack of oxygen at elevations above 10,000 feet translates to 25-40% less muscle power. Since we're at 8600 feet, my loss of muscle power should be maybe 15%-30% or so, but given my performance as a non-athlete attempting to play tennis, I'd say my muscle power loss is right at about, oh say, 100%. Additionally, I believe - medically speaking - that the oxygen supply to my nonexistent muscles is not diminished, but absent.

2. Acclimate. To compensate lack of oxygen at altitude, your heart will have to work harder to maintain the same pace. Your body will also alter its blood composition to compensate for altitude. After approximately 14-60 days of altitude acclimatization, your body produces more red blood cells and hemoglobin - the iron-protein compound that transports oxygen. Having been here now for 88 days, I'm pretty sure that I have more red blood cells and hemoglobin than is humanly possible. In fact, I probably don't need to eat a steak for 12 more years.

3. Dope naturally (Shhhh. We don't talk about "dope" too loud in these parts.). Altitude causes the kidneys to increase production of erythropoietin or EPO, which stimulates bone marrow production to increase both the concentration of red cells in the blood and total plasma volume (maybe I could be a plasma donor with all my extra plasma - don't you get paid for that in the US?). Working muscle tissue also learns to rely on more fatty acids, rather than the common glycogen source of energy fuel. What I'm reading here is that I'm a fat-burning machine. Does that sound right to you?

4. Be sensitive to the fact that everyone adapts to altitude differently and some people even adjust to elevation differently at different times. Studies have shown that the physiological response to altitude training varies widely, depending upon individual characteristics. Customize your altitude training based upon advice from a coach, exercise physiologist, or other certified trainer. I believe that means that maybe I should take to resting on the couch to watch "Oprah" and skip all that exercise nonsense as I don't think I've acclimitized fully yet.

5. Train on trails to be comfortable with your off-road running abilities. There are very few paved roads above 12,000 feet. My tennis coach told me today that it's impossible to run outside in Bogota because of thieves. I heard him say that myself. So there will be no running off-road (or on-road for that matter).

6. Adapt to high altitude running by focusing on maintaining a steady rhythm with regular breathing (I just focus on breathing period. As in "to stay alive". As in "to keep whatever paltry bit of oxygen there is in my body circulating around so I don't kill off brain cells).Slow down (I keep telling my tennis coach that, but he doesn't listen very well) and use a shorter stride (if my stride were any shorter, I'd be motionless) to keep from becoming out of breath. Walk when necessary (always), especially when the grade is steep.

7. Familiarize yourself with orienteering and hone your navigational skills, given the lack of trodden paths, signposts, or other landmarks at high altitudes. Also be alert that the lack of oxygen to the brain causes disorientation. Forget orienteering and navigational skills- I won't be needing those. I'm more interested in that part about the lack of oxygen causing disorientation. Is that my problem? I knew there had to be a medical reason for my looniness.

Now if you'll excuse me, my arms are tired from typing and I need to drink a Coca-Cola. I think that was supposed to be Step 8 but they forgot to put it in.