Thursday, March 24, 2011

NYR 3-24-11 - that anticlimactic visa interview

This morning Jimmy and I went to the Brazilian embassy here in Bogota to apply for our tourist visas. (Minors don't have to apply in person, so Mac didn't go with us.)

I haven't had to apply for a visa to visit a country since I was 18 years old and returning to Australia for a summer visit. And because there's no embassy in Moncks Corner, South Carolina - I know you're shocked - I just had to mail off the application.

But in these intervening years and especially since Jimmy's worked for the State Department, we've never had to worry about that pesky visa process. There have been "people" who take care of that stuff.

Until we decided to return to Brazil for Mac's Easter vacation.

I did the paperwork online but knew that we had to present in person within 30 days of the online application. This has all got to be timed right because you have to have enough time to get the visa processed and put in your passport pre-vacation (within that 30-day window), but you have to show proof of a round-trip ticket and we don't tend to do things too far in advance around here.

So we got the airline tickets, we did the online application and Jimmy and I went to the embassy this morning to present. Now I have never had to "present" for a visa but I'm married to somebody who has worked as a consular officer and we have lots of friends who are still on the opposite side of the visa window. And I know those people can be mean to the visa applicant.

To make matters worse, we all had our visa photos taken yesterday and we look like a family of deranged thugs who escaped from the insane asylum moments before. The directions on the Brazilian embassy's website say you need a neutral facial expression on the visa picture, so I told Mac we couldn't smile when the lady took our pictures. Neutral facial expression for the Storys equals a mug shot for Nick Nolte. We really look like we've been on the lam and just got caught. (Sadly, the visa officer didn't bat an eyelash at the offensive pictures. We just got a gluestick to the back of the head and got stuck right on the page. I guess that means that unfortunately we look in real life as bad as our visa mug shots.)

Then came the moment of pain. We had to pay the visa application fee. Now the fees are reciprocal, so what we (as the US) charge a Brazilian visa applicant is what Brazil charges American visa applicants.

And let me tell you it's a lot of money.

(I would like to apologize now for everybody who came to see us in Brazil and had to pay that fee. I hope your trip was worth it. If it wasn't, I'm very sorry but you can come see us in Colombia without a visa. We will try to make it up to you if you visit us here. And I would also like to apologize now to every Brazilian who just wanted to go see Mickey Mouse and had to pay that fee. I hope you got an inside tour of Cinderella's castle.)

I'm really hoping we get a 5-year (or lifetime if such a thing exists) visa after that hefty payment. We're just going to have to plan semi-annual trips to Brazil to make that visa fee worth it! (And for the record, you pay this fee whether you get a visa or not. In other words, you pay for the pleasure of the visa officer's company. That's how I see it anyway, and no, I don't need to hear from any of you current or former consular officers out there who will give me a line-by-line breakdown of everything that money pays for.)

Now to pay this fee, you have to leave the embassy (which is in a big office building), walk around the corner to the Bank of Colombia and pay the money directly into the embassy's bank account. You can't pay with credit card - we learned that the hard way - so because we hadn't drained our bank account prior to getting in the bank line, we had to leave the bank, go to an ATM, do multiple withdrawals, go back into the bank, wait in the line again, and pay. It would have been easier and maybe less painful for Jimmy to carve out my kidney and hand it over to the consular officer. After all that, the bank teller stamped the slip "paid" which we took back to the consular officer at the embassy.

Now here's the anticlimactic part. We handed over the paid slip and the officer gave us a little card that I have to bring back next week to pick up our passports with new visas.

No questions about our intentions in Brazil, about whether we had money to support our vacation there, about where we were going or staying. NOTHING. I was very disappointed. (For the record, I expected this to be very short and painless because we'd had almost 4 years' worth of diplomatic visas in the past, but still.... It was my one and only visa interview in nearly 40 years and not even one question? I'm starting to think all those visa stories I've heard over the last 13 years are a bunch of baloney!)

So the long and short of it is that I'll return next Wednesday to get our passports and we're set! Insane asylum-worthy, thug photos and all!!

For jumping the last hurdle to our long-awaited Sao Paulo vacation, I am truly thankful!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

NYR 3-23-11 - the BEST lasagna I've ever eaten

Our friend Cammy made us a dish of lasagna for dinner tonight. I consider myself a lasagna connoisseur, and this was simply the best lasagna we have ever eaten....ever. So delicious, in fact, that Mac - our picky eater- said I should go take classes from Mrs. Cammy on Saturdays to learn how to make lasagna like that.

The proof of our love is in the very paltry leftovers:
(Yes, the three of us inhaled that whole pan except for one little corner)

For the most exquisite lasagna ever and the great friend who prepared it, I am truly thankful.

surgery is scheduled

Next Thursday, 7am, is the big day. Wow, I'm excited!

NYR 3-22-11 - a surprise is brewing on the homefront

I LOVE surprises.

And I have a HUGE surprise brewing for Mac.

All will be revealed on Friday and he might just wet his pants with excitement when he finds out. And I might just wet my pants with the thrill of surprising him.

For happy surprises, I am truly thankful.

P.S. Stay tuned for more details!

NYR 3-21-11 - a bust of a trip to the waterfall

Today was a Colombian holiday of some stripe, so we took advantage of a day off of school and work to head an hour outside of town to visit this waterfall called Salto de Tequendama.

Unfortunately, about 5 minutes before we got there, a heavy fog descended, the rain started, and when we got out of the car at the overlook, we could only hear the waterfall. Had we been able to see it, it would have looked like this:

We went with friends, so even though the sighting of the waterfall was a bust, we still have a good time. For Monday holidays and the company of good friends, I am truly thankful!

Monday, March 21, 2011

NYR 3-20-11 - three cheers for our boy babysitter!

For the last few months (since our teenaged girl babysitter moved back to the US with her family), we've been using a teenaged boy babysitter and he is awesome.

Two weeks ago, when we were leaving him and Mac at home to go out, Mac said "after you eat dinner, you can go to the mall and hang out or something" in order to get more Colin time. And last night, when I came home earlier than expected, they both looked at me and asked why I was home so soon.

For a sitter who Mac loves and we trust and are comfortable with and who is just good fun for Mac, I am truly thankful.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

NYR 3-19-11 - a great afternoon with friends

Jimmy's had to work all weekend with a Congressional delegation that came down on Thursday night. So I jumped at the chance to go with a big group of friends to Andres Carne de Res outside of town for a fun Saturday afternoon.

Andres is a Bogota institution - it's a huge restaurant that offers delicious traditional Colombian food plus really crazy, wacky, fun entertainment in the form of often weird roving performances. They have a great outside dining area that's right in the middle of the kids area, and that place is heaven for parents and kids alike. For about $6, your child can do any of the activities he wants (all within easy reach and sight of the parents). The activities are diverse and include woodworking, mask-making and painting, bracelet-making, facepainting, stilt-walking, soccer, basketball, cookie baking, rockclimbing, dancing, movies, and puppet shows. I don't know who has more fun - the kids or their parents - because the children are entertained and the parents actually get to enjoy a leisurely afternoon with friends without the constant "when are going to leave?" refrain.

Our group consisted of about 20 really fun and interesting people. Before I knew it, it was 5:30 in the afternoon (and we'd been there since 12:15)!

For a fun afternoon with good food and fun friends, I am truly thankful.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

results of the cornea evaluation

Because I know you've been waiting with bated breath to find out the health of my cornea, I just wanted to share the good news.

The doctor called me this morning - on a Saturday (can you imagine?) - to tell me that all my results came back great.

My corneas are better than average in terms of thickness, elasticity and one other thing that I forgot to write down. So now I just need to call the receptionist on Tuesday (Monday's a holiday here) to schedule the big procedure.

I am moving forward!

Friday, March 18, 2011

NYR 3-18-11 - MURDER averted at Casa Story

Tonight when Mac and I got home from an after-school bowling birthday party, I noticed that our remaining pet fish was hovering over the rocks. He didn't appear to be laying on the rocks like his deceased fish-brother so I wasn't totally convinced that he was dead. Tapping on the tank did nothing to stir young Nick v.2. So I grabbed a lightstick that Mac had from the concert last weekend and stuck it in the tank to nudge him. Well that was all it took. That little fish started swimming like his life depended on it.

If I can be honest, I wouldn't have been devastated had the fish been dead. I know, for you pet lovers out there, this is heresy. Quite frankly, I'm over this experiment with having a pet that nobody helps me take care of.

I will also tell you that I feel bad because I might have/sort of/possibly broken off some of the fish's fins the other day when I changed his water.

But it wasn't entirely my fault. Nick #2 has been acting very skittish since he killed his fish-brother. Even Ruth has noticed that he's acting guilty.

So when it was time to clean his tank the other day, he would not let me scoop him up in the net. I dumped most of the water out and was able to catch him but then when I put him in the reserved water, he would not get out of the net. In a bit of a panic, I might have had to forcibly remove him from the net because he was going to die if I didn't. When I put him and his reserved water back in the big tank, I noticed a little bit of fin on the bottom of the reserve container. And when I checked him, Nick #2 was definitely missing the midsection of his fin area.

He was a little sluggish after the mauling, but he's rebounded these last few days until he decided to play dead tonight. He's lucky he didn't go the way of his fish-brother and meet the inside of the trash can.

For not murdering Nick #2 right in front of my child, I am truly thankful. I just saved myself lots of money paying for Mac's therapy to get over watching his mother throw out his living pet.

NYR 3-27-11 - the cornea evaluation

I had my cornea evaluation and I honestly felt like I was at the Mad Hatter's party. The first test involved a spiral of black and white lines - like a bullseye - with a light in the center. You had to stay focused on the center light while the lines started spiraling. My head was hurting by the end of the first exam.

Then I moved on to the second of the four tests which involved staying focused on this light on a screen (with my head pressed up to the goggle things to see the screen) while the technician did whatever she was doing. I didn't know if I could blink and all I wanted to do was blink. It was like a mind game that I lost.

The third test involved looking at this light (with your head pressed right up to the machine) until a puff of air is shot right into your eye. I jumped every time the air puffed no matter how much I told myself I was ready this time. (The only positive to this test was that the puff had some nice little faint scent that was very pleasant.)

The final test involved the technician smearing this stuff on the bottom eyelid, which immediately made my eyeball feel like it was swollen. The she started poking my eyeball with this computerized rod.

What did any of these exams test?


I got a big stack of beautiful color printouts to take to my ophthalmologist.

I read through the printouts before I delivered them to the doctor today, but they meant NOTHING.

I'm waiting for the doctor to call me back but until then, do I have any idea whether I'm a good candidate for Lasik?


For knowing that no matter what, I don't have to do those eye tests ever again, I am truly thankful.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

NYR 3-16-11 - belated anniversary dinner

Last night Jimmy and I finally had our 13th anniversary dinner out. We were 9 days late, which made it taste that much better.

We went to Harry Sasson's restaurant, which is where we intended to go last week so I could get my steak. Harry Sasson is a youngish, well-known restauranteur here in Bogota and I've been wanting to eat at his restaurant for ages.

We started with this divine warm bread that was accompanied by a beautiful mozzarella ball drizzled in olive oil. Any restaurant that serves me a mozzarella ball and doesn't charge for it is a winner in my book! Then we moved on to the most marvelous calamari with a great spicy dipping sauce. They don't do too much spicy food here, so it's always a treat to get a little heat. Then I ordered beef tenderloin and Jimmy ordered a ribeye for our main courses. Sides were ordered separately and the waiter told us they were big portions but we still ordered two: hash brown potatoes and broccoli al gruyere. The potatoes were like a potato cake - yummy and great flavor but we didn't even eat half of it. And the broccoli was about two heads' worth of broccoli! Needless to say, we didn't eat everything! Jimmy's got to work late tonight so he's taken the leftovers for both his lunch and supper at his desk.

For an amazing dinner with my amazing groom, I am truly thankful.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

NYR 3-15-11 - saying goodbye to contacts forever?

I took the first step in a process for a procedure that I said I'd never ever do. I had my first consultation for Lasik surgery.


Ever since that school nurse in the 5th grade made us take an eye exam and I was sent home with a note "to the parents of Susan West" that said I couldn't see, I've had a love/hate relationship with Dr. Price of Summerville ophthalmic notoriety. I've loved him through nearly 30 years (literally 30 years as he's still my ophthalmologist although I think he's getting ready to retire) of helping me see better, but I've hated (okay, strongly disliked) my visits to see him.

My eyesight has been pretty stable for most of my adult years and I've used contacts with little problem for the last 27 years. If I don't have my contacts in or glasses on, I can still see well enough maybe to drive a car although it would be blurry and I'd be a nervous wreck and would probably drive 14 mph the whole time. The whole point is that my eyes aren't that bad and I have a lot to lose in the eyesight department should something go catastrophically wrong in the surgery.

So I never considered Lasik.

Until I met the sister of a friend who came from the US just to have the surgery. She had the procedure done on a Friday and was playing tennis with me on Tuesday. No contacts, no glasses, no red laser-ed up eyes. Just playing tennis on a sunny day.

So I inquired into the procedure here because tons of people have it while they're posted here for a fraction of the cost that you'd pay for the same surgery in the US.

I started imagining myself swimming without worrying about water getting in my eyes or being able to read the alarm clock in the night without squinting. Or having a full-size bottle of contact lens solution that's clearly over the FAA-allowed 3 oz size confiscated from my carry-on bag when I fly. Or so that I don't lose another bottle of contact lens solution, having to remember to put some solution in the contact lens case so that, for instance, on an overnight flight to Brazil, I can take my contacts out while I sleep.

It all sounded like heaven.

So before I lost my nerve, I called the eye doctor's office on Monday afternoon at 5:20pm. I really thought nobody would answer and I might forget to call later. But lo and behold, the ever-competent Martha answered and said they'd had a cancellation for 7:45 the next morning and why didn't I come then?

Well Martha, I can think of a thousand reasons, but I doubt you'll buy any of them so yes, I'll be there at 7:45am.

The doctor's office is in a medical complex a mere 7 (long) blocks from my apartment so I didn't need to leave to walk there until about 7:15 and that gave me more than enough time.

What one should not do at 7am on the day of their consultation when they're leaving in 15 minutes is go to the FDA website on Lasik surgery. After reading about the cornea being cut open and flipped back and tissue being dried off and the calibrated laser zapping the cornea, I was ready to vomit. By the time I walked the 7 blocks, I was seriously nauseous, probably very pale, and was sweating like I'd sprinted there instead of leisurely strolled.

The very nice Martha saw me into the examination room, which looked very much like Dr. Price's examination room (except it is Colombia so there was a vase of fresh flowers). While I was waiting for the doctor to come in, I had time to quickly study his diplomas on the wall. He graduated from Emory University which pleased me and he's a member of the American Academy of Ophthalmologists (or whatever it's called). So he was credible and not some quack trying to get my money.

The doctor is very nice and instills great confidence. I told him I wasn't sure about this at all and he kept telling me that it's "just an option" to consider. No pressure. The exam was fine - I found out I have great eye lubrication (you can't have the surgery if you have dry eyes) and "beautiful" corneas. Based on the initial assessment, he thinks I'd be a good candidate for Lasik should I choose this "option".

I have been wearing my glasses since after the appointment yesterday in preparation for my big cornea evaluation which is tomorrow afternoon. If I pass that evaluation, then I just need to make the appointment.

The surgery is less than 5 minutes per eye, and he assured me the worst that can happen is that I'll still need contacts after it's over. Right. What about if he loses control of the laser and burns a hole in my cornea? Has he given that any thought?

In the last 8 years, this doctor has done Lasik on some 500 US Embassy personnel and countless other people, and he's never had any problems. I hate to be the naysayer, but there's always a first and I don't want to be the first. Haven't you seen the commercials for medicine on tv? It works great for most people, but too bad, so sad if you're the one who dies from the medicine that you were taking for your allergies.

The FDA website says this surgery is NOT for you if you're not a risk-taker. I am so not a risk-taker, but what I wouldn't give to swim in Brazil next month without contacts. Or to sit on the beach and not worry about sand blowing in my contact.

I think I'm going to do it. And I think I'm going to do it two weeks from tomorrow.


For the very idea that I could be contact- and glass-free in time for my 40th birthday, I am truly thankful.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

NYR 3-14-11 - what got into Mac?

Mac came home from school "STARVING, MOM", ate his snack and then without nagging and pushing and prodding by me, did his homework. Not just the required Tuesday homework, but stuff that's not even due until Friday! Then when he finished, he didn't rush off to watch tv or play computer games. No, my boy decided to paint a little canvas that he wants to take to his art teacher on Monday. He said their school snack was brownies so maybe that give him a little pep in his step?

For a happy child who did his assignments sans battle, I am truly thankful (and praying that that continues all week).

As an aside, I've just finished reading the controversial "The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother". Maybe you know this book? Amy Chua, a Yale law professor of Chinese descent who's married to a very American Jewish guy, wrote about parenting her two girls using the strictest Chinese parenting model. She's caught all sorts of grief from people who have criticized her for being too strict, unyielding, etc. I'm not giving anything away by telling you that her younger daughter was the straw that broke the Chinese parenting camel's back so she's now assumed a slightly more "western" style of parenting.

Anyway, the book has given me lots of food for thought. I used to think I was kind of tough, but I'm a joke compared to Chua. Mac's not practicing his violin for 6 hours a day and we certainly don't haul that puppy away on vacations so he can practice. Amy Chua's old model was that she was unequivocally in charge.

Today I read a quote by Tina Fey in InStyle Magazine. She said "Kids are definitely the boss of you. Anyone who will barge into the room while you are on the commode is the boss of you. And when you explain to them that you're on the commode and that they should leave but they don't? That's a high-level boss."

I'm pretty sure we run more of a Fey-esque household around here, but I'd really like to get more of my Tiger Mother groove on!

Monday, March 14, 2011

update to Shakira and the rain

The view from our balcony - damp, cold, mountain shrouded in fog - today at 7:22am:

This morning when the alarm clock went off at 5:40am, I got out of bed and headed to the bathroom to brush my teeth and put my contacts in.

From the bathroom (which does not front a street and which is on the 7th floor), I could hear cars driving in the rain.

You know that sound?

I used to not know that sound as well as I do now, but am sadly very well-acquainted with it.

The rain has returned which makes me even more appreciative of the perfect weather this weekend!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

NYR 3-13-11 - Shakira!

Yesterday afternoon, Jimmy, Mac and I went to the Shakira Pop Festival, an outdoor music festival hosted by Colombia's most famous international music star: the one and only Shakira.

For the record, I don't want people to think I'm a bad mom for taking Mac to see Shakira. I may be a bad mom for other reasons, but not that one. This festival was meant for children 7 and over, there was no alcohol sold or permitted, and they had a circus tent set up for kids to enjoy (supposedly but we didn't see it). Shakira wanted children to feel welcome and it certainly felt like a safe, clean environment (or as clean as it can be when Shakira's doing her thing!).

The festival was held in Bogota's version of Central Park. Anything planned outdoors in Bogota is a huge gamble because it rains and rains and rains all the time. Somebody got their prayers answered, though, because it didn't rain on Friday, Saturday (the day of the concert) or even today. Not only did it not rain, but there were beautiful blue skies and daytime temperatures in the 80s. We took ponchos in case things took a turn for the worse, but it was beautiful the whole time. You need to understand that this is so rare as to be remarkable enough to devote an entire paragraph in my blog to it!

The gates opened at 11am for a 1pm start. The first three bands were bands we didn't know, so we decided to arrive around 5pm in time for the 5:30pm showtime by Train, the Grammy-winning band of "Hey Soul Sister" fame.

Just before we got to the entrance gate, a man was outside the gate (who did not look like an official) asking me for my belt which was visible because I had my shirt tucked into my jeans. Well I wasn't taking off my belt and giving it to this man, so I untucked my shirt before we went through entrance with the "official" people. Later, I found out from talking to a Colombian woman at the concert that anytime there's a big event in a stadium-type setting, they don't allow belts because people take off the belts and start slinging them around like lassoes, potentially causing injury. Have you ever heard of such a thing? Note to self: next time wear tighter pants so I don't need a belt!

Train was AWESOME. They played for their allotted hour and they did not disappoint. They even ended with my all-time favorite Train song, "Drops of Jupiter". It was a great show.

Shakira was supposed to start at 7pm, but the diva in her must have wanted to get the crowd of 35,000 really riled up because she finally came out at 7:40. She walked through the crowd, singing one of her slow ballads in a very demure and covered-up long pink gown with a pink headdress sort of thing.

Then the stage went dark, the Jumbotrons went black, she whipped off that pink dress and the Shakira that we all know and love and expected appeared, decked out in a sparkly middriff top and tight, tight, tight black pants that came about 3 inches below her belly button.

If you're of a certain generation, I don't need to tell you that Shakira gyrates and swivels and shakes and shimmies like nobody you've ever seen. She wears very little and changes from one fairly skimpy outfit to another fairly skimpy outfit a lot.

As you might imagine, I could barely see the stage because of all the people jumping and carrying on, so most of the photos I took were from the Jumbotrons. Here are a couple:

Shakira really was the performer that everybody said she was. She was obviously very excited to be "home" (even though home is Barranquilla on the coast and not Bogota). She had a very receptive audience who loves her dearly and she returned the love.

Great shows, great performers who interacted nonstop with the crowd, and a great Colombian evening with my boys.

And for that, I am truly thankful.

NYR 3-12-11 - news on the job front

For entirely unexpected, but oh-so-welcome good news on the job front that alleviated some major worries that I've been stewing over for weeks (LITERALLY), I am truly thankful.

NYR 3-11-11 - a good steak can cure what ails you

As you know, we were supposed to have our anniversary dinner out at a restaurant of my choosing and I chose a restaurant that is known for its great steaks. But we ended up eating hot dogs because Jimmy was sick.

Then we sponsored a new State Department couple that arrived on Thursday night and we arranged for a group dinner out at a French bistro that serves wonderful steaks.

Except that when I called on Thurday morning for a Friday night reservation, they said they couldn't accommodate our group of 12 people on a Friday night.


Why was the universe against my desire for a good steak?

I ended up making a reservation at Club Colombia, which is a lovely restaurant a couple blocks from our apartment that serves traditional and nouveau Colombian food. I didn't want traditional or nouveau anything - I just wanted a steak.
(a tiny little picture of Club Colombia, which appears to be a lovely old converted hacienda)

I was sooooo not disappointed. I ordered a beef tenderloin with these wonderful caramelized onions and a side salad of avocado, tomatoes and onions in a light vinaigrette. I am already dreaming of my return for a repeat performance.

For a great steak, cooked perfectly, that totally hit the spot, I am deeply grateful.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

a P.S. to the hairdryer story

I used a little of my Bumble and bumble styling product (which was probably not the best use of what I think is an expensive bottle of stuff), dried Mac's hair using a round brush and when it was all over, he declared it "nice". Now if he could just sing....

P.S. Jimmy, I am not doing permanent damage. Do not worry.

NYR 3-10-11 - Mac and his newfound love of the hairdryer

From the time Mac was about 3, his visits to the barber shop/salon have involved no other words except "use the #3 all over, please". Then he got a little older and realized he could make decisions about his hairstyle and that he didn't have to have a shaved head all the time. So for the last couple years, he's gone through periods of letting his hair grow out, getting tired of it, and going back to the #3.

Over the Christmas break, he let it grow out, but I insisted he needed to get it cleaned up a little before our trip to the Dominican Republic. We went to the salon at the embassy where the hairdresser absolutely butchered his sweet mop of hair. Mac got very upset and I decided I wouldn't say another word about his hair.

The hair grew back out and he's got a little Bieber Fever thing going on. For a few nights now, he's told me that he needed the back trimmed up a little and I offered to do it. I have years of experience of small trims and knew I could do this minor job. So last night he stood in the shower and I trimmed it up and then I suggested that we blowdry his hair out.

Well this is probably the one and only time in my life as a parent of a very boyish boy that I'll know the pleasure of having a little girl.

He LOVED having his hair blown out. It looked VERY Bieber-esque and he was thrilled with the look. (And for the record, Jimmy was not impressed by any of this while it was going on, but he humored me and didn't say anything.)

Too bad the finished look doesn't survive a night in the bed. Mac most certainly did not have a Bieber thing going on this morning. It was more of an "Ozzy Osbourne after a long night" look complete with grumpy attitude and all.

Tonight Mac got a little pep in his step going to the shower when I reminded him that we'd blowdry his hair if he hurried up and took his shower. And since Jimmy's not home, I might even put a little "product" in Mac's hair to see how it does!

Bieber Fever lives!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

NYR 3-9-11 - Mac and the annual hot dog eating contest

Mac does not like hot dogs. He is quite possibly the only American kid who just refuses to eat them.

My niece's birthday is tomorrow and the last and only hot dog that Mac has ever eaten in his life was last year at her birthday party. And that was actually just a part of a hot dog. We left the party, drove the hour and a half to get back to our rental house, Mac went to bed, and promptly woke up violently sick.

He blamed it on the hot dog and said he'd never eat another one as long as he lived.

It turned out it was that crazy norovirus that swept through the area (even the cruise ship that docked in Charleston was dubbed a "sick" ship because of all the people who kept getting sick on it). It was horrible and even though I Lysoled and Cloroxed everything in that house, I also got the norovirus two days later.

My love of hot dogs was not diminished, but Mac's certainly was.

He's not eaten another hot dog.

Until tonight!

Jimmy and I were supposed to go out for a belated anniversary dinner (Wednesdays are our "date night" and Ruth stays late a couple times a month so we can go out by ourselves). As luck would have it, Jimmy came home early today because he was sick, so date night was off. I decided to make up for that fancy steak I was planning to eat by making hot dogs with homemade chili, baked beans and french fries. A totally decadent meal and the only time I've cooked hot dogs since we moved to Bogota 7 months ago.

(And let me just tell you that the meal was perfect and completely hit the spot).

Most surprising is that Mac ate most of a hot dog and some chili. And he said the hot dog was pretty good. You could have blown me over with a feather.

For a child who finally eats hot dogs (even if they're loaded with all sorts of awfulness), I am truly thankful!

today was a local kind of day

The longer we live in one place, we gradually come to feel more like locals and less like foreigners. Actually I said that wrong. We come to feel less foreign than when we first arrived.

Over the course of a 2-year assignment, you always end up finding a car repair shop because inevitably something goes wrong with the car that can't be fixed at the corner gas station. And nothing makes you feel more local than becoming a regular at the local car repair shop!

A couple weeks ago, the dashboard light in our car just died. We don't do a lot of nighttime driving here and it's impossible to speed so it hasn't been a huge hindrance not to see the numbers on the speedometer, but it's very disconcerting to be totally in the dark with no ambient light radiating from the dashhboard. The interior overhead light still worked so I turned that on as necessary, but even our parking garage is nearly pitch-black-dark, so it's just annoying to not see if the car's in Drive or Neutral.

Today I was at the embassy and asked one of the drivers in Jimmy's office what he thought was the problem and where I should get it fixed. He did not believe that there was a blown-out lightbulb as I suggested and he adamantly vetoed my suggestion to go to the Toyota dealership. Instead, he sent me to the mechanic who services the office cars and he actually offered to take me there when he got off work this afternoon. But I was determined to get it done earlier and on my own (that's part of becoming "local", right?) so I set off with my trusty GPS.

I found the place on a street full of mechanic shops which was a teensy bit overwhelming. The guys were super-nice and helpful, but clearly they don't get many Americans nor do I think they get many women in there. Most people probably send their cars with their drivers who wait for the repairs. I don't think they really knew what to do with me. I stood around for a little while before they offered me a chair in the office. They gave me the newspaper to read and then the old owner offered me a cup of coffee to warm up (it was chilly in the garage). I took the newspaper but declined the coffee because I could only imagine the last time the coffee maker was cleaned with soap and water (seeing as there were no women working there to ensure such "high" hygienic standards). The owner kept me company by talking about narcotrafficking in Colombia and Mexico (and the resulting crime and violence), why we drove a Japanese car and not an American car (inheritance = no car payment, my friend), and when was President Obama coming to Colombia (no idea).

Less than an hour later, I had a new fuse - the driver was right and I was wrong and it wasn't a lightbulb! - and functioning dashboard lights, and they even topped off my AC coolant. All for $25. Including labor. I feel so local.

NYR 3-8-11

Tennis class is really nearly killing me. I am serious. This is not an exaggeration. For surviving yet another tennis class, I am truly thankful.

Monday, March 7, 2011

NYR 3-7-11 - on the occasion of our 13th wedding anniversary

Some days, I'm pretty sure I stepped into my mother's grown-up life.

How can I be almost 40 with an 8 year-old, celebrating my 13th wedding anniversary today when I still feel like a 20-something year-old?

Sometimes I feel like I have no idea how that happened, but I can tell you that it's gone by in the blink of an eye.

13 years?


And it's been bigger and better and more fun than anything I could have ever imagined for my life.

For the charmed life that I live with my love and my son, I am so eternally and truly and profoundly grateful. Happy Anniversary, Babe!

NYR 3-6-11 restructuring my poker face

Yesterday afternoon we had some friends over for delicious Beaufort Stew on a dreary, rainy Bogotano Sunday afternoon. After we ate, we played a little more poker and guess what? I doubled my buy-in!!

For great food, great friends, and great fun, I am truly thankful.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

NYR 3-5-11 - poker face

For a fun girls' night out AND for realizing that poker isn't my strong suit (thankfully with just a $10 buy-in), I am truly thankful.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

and then there was one...

Today, on Nick's 5th week anniversary in residence, he joined the ranks of his fellow pet fish the world over. He died.

Mac was doing some school research on birds on my laptop which was set up next to the aquarium. All of a sudden, Jimmy and I heard him scream that there was a dead fish. Upon shaking the aquarium to see if he "playing dead" down there on the rocks (he wasn't floating after all which is what I thought dead fish did), we determined that Nick was, indeed, deceased.

So I fished him out with the net and gave him a little autopsy inspection. Interestingly, all his fins were gone. He looked kind of naked with nothing on top and nothing on bottom. What happened to his fins? When a fish dies, do the fins just fall off?

I have my own theory about what transpired.

Mike turned into a cannibal.

The other day when I fed the fish, I noticed that Nick was just happily doing his thing, minding his own business and eating the food. There was plenty of food for both of them, but I watched as Mike, the bigger fish, picked a little at the food and then turned into a bully with Nick. He was nipping at him as Nick tried to eat his food. I tapped on the tank to get him to leave Nick alone and that probably just turned the volume up on his bully tendencies and made him more aggressive when I wasn't looking.

I am sure that they were both alive yesterday when I fed them, so something catastrophic happened in 24 hours. Maybe there really was carbon monoxide poisoning in the apartment yesterday like Jimmy questioned when he witnessed Mac's and my lethargy last night. Or maybe that bully Mike just pecked at poor little Nick's fins until he couldn't swim anymore and then he just laid down and died.

We've had an unceremonious burial for Nick in the trash can - we would have flushed him but we've had issues with the toilets flushing everything down and I just couldn't bear the thought of poor dead Nick re-surfacing after every flush.

In any event, Mac seems to be over the trauma of the death. Within 30 seconds of discovering the death, he renamed the cannibalistic Mike "Nick" which seems terribly traitorous given my autopsy report. Seeing as how nobody in this family except me has interacted with the fish (or fed, or cleaned the tank and the fake tree and the rocks -just for public record) in the last 5 weeks, I guess his attachment disorder could be considered normal.

And since I'm solely responsible for the care and feeding of Nick #2, he better hope that I quickly forgive him. One thing's for sure: we will not be introducing another fish into the aquarium with that bully fish.

NYR 3-4-11

I was soooooo tired after my group tennis lesson today. I think because it was for an hour at noon, and I was starving, it just sapped all my energy. I came home, ate, showered, and fell into a hole. When Mac got home from school, I let him build a fort and watch as much tv as he wanted from inside the fort while I sprawled out in the chair with a good book. Jimmy got home and asked if there was a carbon monoxide leak in the house because we appeared so out of it.

For a lazy afternoon, I am truly thankful

Friday, March 4, 2011

my wake-up song

We have Direct TV out of Puerto Rico and while we get a lot of Caribbean weather reports by a man in a Hawaiian shirt with a fake parrot on his shoulder and a lot of commercials for drugstores in places like the Cayman Islands, the early morning news is from the network affiliates in New York City.

Every morning since the Discovery Space Shuttle launched, the NBC affiliate plays a little clip of the song that NASA plays to wake up the astronauts who are currently docked with the International Space Station. NASA actually held a voting contest and I guess the top songs are being played during the mission. The winning songs include such hits as "Blue Sky" by Big Head Todd, the Star Trek Theme Song, "Magic Carpet Ride" by Steppenwolf, "Countdown" by Rush, "Over the Rainbow" by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole.

As I've heard the news of the wake-up song and actually seen the footage of the astronauts stirring to the music, I started thinking that it might be nice to have my own wake-up music other than that awful, harsh beeping of two alarm clocks. (We obsessive-compulsive Type A personalities always set 2 alarm clocks in case the batteries die in one overnight.)

So then I thought "what could be my inspirational, get-up and get-moving music playlist?" I googled "theme music for housewives" and do you want to know what I got?

1. Desperate Housewives Theme Song
2. The Real Housewives of Atlanta Theme Song
3. The Real Housewives of New Jersey Theme Song

I took out the "theme" and just googled "music for housewives" and got a hit for the "Music for Lonely Housewives" CD and "Music for Desperate Housewives" CD.

Then I saw a top 10 list of "songs for housewives" that was just created in late January. You want to know the list (as copied exactly by one "dunmurry" on Prepare to be depressed:

10 The B-52´s - Housework
9 Lady Madonna - Beatles
8 Leiber and Stoller's "I'm A Woman"
7 Help me- Sonny Boy Williamson II.
6 Shake Rattle And Roll - Loved Ones / Bill Haley
5 Dust My Broom - Renee Geyer / Elmore James
4 Stan Rogers - Lies
3 My Little Town - Paul Simon ['....hanging out shirts in the dirty breeze'
2 Semi Detached Suburban Mr James - Mannfred Mann['.....hanging things upon the line as your life slips away .....'
1 Dreams Of The Everyday Housewife - Wayne Newton [best version IMO :)]

The astronauts get "Over the Rainbow" and I get "Dust My Broom"???? Are you kidding me?

I'm just sticking to the beeping alarm clock.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


For getting back into tennis (with a new instructor because my old instructor is a master of disappearing), I am truly grateful (even if my body says otherwise).

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

a funny from my friend Beth K in Sao Paulo

The worm in the broccoli is proof that the early bird really does get the worm!!! Thanks for the chuckle Beth!

and would you like some roasted worm on the side?

I roast just about any vegetable that can be roasted and I roast veggies often, but for some reason, it never crossed my mind to roast broccoli. Then I read a friend's Facebook post about roasted broccoli and decided to try it tonight.

I bought a beautiful head of broccoli this morning (read below for more about that big 10% discount I got on that broccoli!), cut it up and washed it this afternoon.

I put the broccoli on the roasting pan, added some olive oil and salt, and put that pan in the oven to let the magic begin.

Soon the smells of roasted broccoli were wafting around the apartment. I went down to toss the broccoli around to make sure it was cooking evenly and imagine my horror when I found this:

Now you might be saying, "Well Susan, I can't really see what that is next to the broccoli. It looks like it could be a worm, but surely you weren't roasting worms?"

Yes, sadly, I was roasting a very big, very fat, very black worm that apparently had been hiding out in the tree part of the broccoli. I'm ready to vomit. And throw that cookie sheet away forever since it's got roasted worm juice on it now.
I don't know when I'm going to next decide to eat broccoli, but I can assure you that it will be cut into such small pieces before cooking that it won't even resemble broccoli.

NYR 3-2-11 - early bird specials!

This morning I'd planned to go grocery shopping with a friend before our tennis class. The tennis class got cancelled because of rain, but the grocery trip went off as planned, except for the savings we incurred just by shopping early.

Several chains here do a weekly "sunrise special" where you get some percentage off your groceries just for shopping before 9am. Unbeknownst to us, we early birds got the worm this morning at our store.

The worm? 10% off our grocery bills!

It was our lucky day and for that, I am truly thankful!

NYR 3-1-11

For a mother who taught me how to cook and gave me confidence to try new recipes, I am truly thankful.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

NYR 2-28-11

For the wonderful healing powers of Zithromax, I am truly thankful.