Wednesday, December 31, 2008
On a national level this has been a very mixed twelve months with many ups and downs. For the first time in a long time, I feel like there might be hope for us as a country. Our economy is in tatters, but at least 50% of the country cared enough to vote for something different. I sincerely hope we're not too late.
Professionally, well, one just keeps on keeping on (if you know what I mean). It's hard to think in calendar years when you're on an academic schedule, but I realized that the whole bad business of the last school year really only happened in spring of 2008. I'm happy to say that things have largely died down. This is partly because feelings have actually cooled, and partly because I avoid putting myself in certain situations and interacting with certain people. Three things I am learning to keep: a low profile, my door closed, and my mouth shut. Work life may not always be this way, and for now at least I have achieved a tenuous peace.
Luckily, at the same time that work has been less than fun, I've had many events at home to be thrilled about. On a personal level it's simply been a wonderful year. Planning our wedding was fantastic, frustrating, exhilarating, and exhausting. Actually having the wedding was pure happiness. Married life has been a very enjoyable experience (oh Costa Rica!), and I'm really looking forward to many more years. One more heartfelt thanks to all our family and friends who've helped us out in so many different ways.
And so goodbye to 2008! I hope your year was at least good and possibly even great. I hope that next year treats you at least as well and possibly even better. New Year’s resolutions to follow in the new year.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
We set out from Corvallis just before 10am. For the first 30 or 40 miles, things were pretty good. Some light snow was falling, but the road was clear most of the time. Then we came to Salem, and the snowing started in earnest. By the time we came to Portland, you could not see any black on the road, and the traffic was moving at 0-10 miles per hour. Luckily, M really is a good driver (and we were lucky) because we really didn't have any terrifying moments. We saw many terrifying moments happening around us though.
People were slipping all over the place, and we witnessed more than one accident as it happened. We saw a large American car in the ditch with lights on, people sitting inside, and windshield wipers waving. We saw a Jeep that had skidded into a concrete divider, done at least a 180, and ended up facing the wrong way in the "fast" lane. Come to think of it, the worst (in terms of bone-headedness) drivers were all in Jeeps and red Jeeps especially.
One red jeep decided that he didn't want to crawl along in traffic, so he drove between two columns of cars with barely any clearance on either side. He kept having force his way into the row of cars when the gap narrowed, and this caused everyone around him to slam on brakes to avoid him. He ended up driving on the shoulder as well. Another red Jeep decided to bunny hop the traffic until he nearly got creamed by a semi that couldn't stop.
Snow seems to bring out the best and the worst in the average driver. Subaru drivers tend to be more sensible (I know I'm biased) even though they have better traction than most. The key to driving in this kind of weather seems to be remembering that ice is ice no matter what kind of car you're driving. A really thick, slippery patch of ice will cause ANY car, with ANY tires to slip. Besides, even if you are the world's best driver in the world's best car, you cannot control the people around you. Therefore, you still have drive with caution and not behave like a stupid wally (as M would say).
Anyway, we made it home safe, and the only bit of road that was too much for the Subaru was our own driveway. She got stuck half way up in the deep snow. Luckily, my experience with owning a silly, rear-wheel drive car stood me in good stead because I remembered how you can create traction by raking the snow into roughness. Sure enough, the car went up just fine after that. Only 8.5 hours to get home, and we are very glad to be here safe and sound.
Friday, December 19, 2008
It seems that a lovely couple from New Jersey decided (a few years ago) to name their child Adolph Hitler (plus a last name). The father is a fan of Nazism and thinks the SS were a bunch of pretty cool guys. This poor child even has a sister named Jocelyn Aryan Nation. Now this part is not news. Whack jobs inflict horrible things on their children all the time, and I can only hope that poor little Adolph and Jocelyn grow up to think differently than their parents.
The story here is about little Adolph's birthday cake. The whack job went to several cake shops trying to get somebody to write "Happy Birthday Adolph Hitler" on a birthday cake. I'm glad to say that he was refused more than once, and has complained mightily about the "discrimination" against his son. Again, there's nothing much you can do to combat this kind of whack job (freedom of speech and all) except to socially isolate them for their unacceptable beliefs.
However, even social isolation eventually fell apart when Mr. Whack found a bakery to make his chosen cake. What bakery would agree to write that on a cake? You guessed it: the accommodating bakery was found in a Pennsylvania Wal-Mart. Thank you, Wal-Mart, for once again confirming my belief that you suck.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
5am (this morning) --- I happened to wake up (you never sleep soundly on a potential snow day) and look out the window. Only a tiny dusting of snow. I also looked at the district website, and found no news of delays.
5:30am --- The call from the phone tree assured me that we would, in fact, have a two-hour delay. Looking out the window there was a little more snow, but nothing that would make much of an impact.
6:20am --- Another call from the phone tree, and we were cancelled for the day. Looking out the window this time, and it was easy to see why they made the call.
10:21am --- I'm still in my jammies, and a beautiful winter scene is playing out outside the window. The snow is probably up to about 2 or 3 inches, and it is still falling thick and fast. The tiny, grainy flakes we had earlier have given way to fatter, fluffier ones, and my desire for real winter weather is slaked at last. After finishing my leisurely tea and blogging session, I think I will put on my marshmallow coat, and go for a walk to enjoy the scenery. All those prayers to the gods of winter must not have gone unheard after all.
Monday, December 15, 2008
A two-hour delay from school was most welcome this morning since it allowed the sun to rise and shed some light on the patches of ice. At least it is very clear and sunny, so the picture outside the window is absolutely beautiful. However, I'm not sure how many people will actually be going out to enjoy the sun given the extremely low temperatures. The children are strangely calm as they wait to hear what will come out of the sky next. Some weather reports are saying there won't be a day above freezing for the next two weeks. Other reports suggest two days of snow later this week. One thing is certain, it will not be business as usual for the last week of school in 2008.
Friday, December 12, 2008
Things I did not enjoy were the soundtrack (in my head this is mostly a quiet story), the casting of Charlie (waaay too young) the casting of Rosalie (waaay to old) and the hair and makeup done on Carlisle (waaay too laughable). Nevertheless, the faithfulness to the original story impressed me, and I am very much looking forward to seeing the next movie come out in a couple of years.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
-make a political, religious, or environmental statement
-make a judgement about what you are eating
-create a talking point about why I'm a vegetarian
-cause you to change the way you eat
-attack the meaning or historical significance of the day
In short, it's just shouldn't be that big a deal. Think of it as me choosing the peas instead of the green beans or the apple pie instead of the pumpkin. Or better yet, just don't think about it at all. It really isn't any of your business anyway. If you would like to ask a few polite questions, that's fine. However, don't view that as an opportunity to then explain "your side" about how awful, disgusting, or unnatural you think it is. You wouldn't come to my house and tell me I had terrible taste in furniture/pets/dishes/fashion/cars/husbands, so why would you think it was okay to malign my choice of food? Do us all a favor this holiday season and SAVE IT. Thank You.
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Vegetarians (SPCV)
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Slate does indeed have a great article about the famous Obama charm. Much has been made of the immense power he has over all types of people, and he's been called a thesaurus-full of words describing charisma. In this article Emily Yoffe explores the idea that Obama taps into a previously unrealized emotion called elevation. This emotion, to paraphrase deeply, causes people to feel uplifted, hopeful, and elated. It makes people feel connected to the object of their "elevation" and many people even feel "spreading warmth" their chests. In other words, you just can't seem to get enough of this person.
Doesn't this all sound kind of familiar? Wasn't there already an emotion like this? Wait, wait, it will come to me! Oh yes, I think that hopeful, elated, oooey gooey warm, connected feeling used to be called love! Yes love. Does this mean that people are in love with Obama? Millions of heterosexual male Obama fans might not like that idea very much. Perhaps it is too simplistic to say that people are in love with him. After all, there are many different kinds of love.
One of the studies mentioned in the article consisted of taking a large group of women with babies, and showing them a video. Half the women got to watch Obama, while the other half watched something else. Of those who watched Obama, a large portion suddenly felt the urge to nurse their babies. Why? The study's authors believe it's because the women experienced an increase in their oxytocin levels when they watched Obama speak.
Oxytocin is, of course, that chemical our brain produces when it want us to feel connected to someone be it a new baby, a new boyfriend, or even a president-elect. Perhaps it's not just that we love Obama, but that we have NEW love for him. You know this feeling. When our unconscious brain feels a need for a strong connection with another person, it feeds us large quantities of oxytocin (potent happy drugs) to make us seek out and maintain that relationship. Viola! Warm fuzzies whenever we see the object of our affection.
This all raises so many questions. The first has to be: why Obama? What is it about him that causes us to feel such "elevation" for him? Do our unconscious brains know something that we don't? Is he somehow gaming our natural systems to make us feel that he is deserving of an oxytocin benefit? Then there's the somewhat scary reality. Most of what I've read about the natural high of new love says that most humans have a "four year itch" where the happy drugs usually peter out.
If this is all true, what does this mean for Obama's chances for re-election in 2012? Perhaps, by that time, we will have learned to love him for himself alone. To ensure a successful re-election bid, maybe he should institute a policy of throwing his socks in the hamper, putting down the toilet seat, and being nice to our mothers.
Saturday, December 06, 2008
from Quotes of the Day
"Home computers are being called upon to perform many new functions, including the consumption of homework formerly eaten by the dog." (Doug Larson)
It made me think of this excuse note that I received from a parent explaining why the kid could not turn in her homework:
Dear Mrs. Nitwit (not my real name ;)
Prudence (not her real name) will not be able to turn in her essay today because she was unable to print. It seems that my husband had a problem yesterday, and he couldn't get it up again until this morning.
Sincerely, Mrs. Patience
I showed this note all around school and found it to be an excellent judge of personality type. Some crack up with instantly while others simply stand there waiting for the punch line. One person went so far as to say "you actually find this amusing?" Needless to say, this guy could have opened soda bottles with his bottom.
Friday, December 05, 2008
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Friday, November 28, 2008
The Slate reviewer admits that she could never actually make it through the book, but she thinks the movie is probably pretty much the same (well how exactly would you know that?). Another group slams the movie for being too complicated and subtle to appeal to children! Children?! Who said anything about taking kids? I wouldn't expect The Nieces to enjoy something like this, and I wouldn't try to make them.
It is almost as if some of the reviewers had already made up their minds to hate this movie before they actually went to the show. Afterwards, they cast around for some reason to throw out there to account for the negative review. I am strongly reminded of the Harry Potter haters who, when you pinned them down, admitted they’d never actually cracked a book!
Why do the self-appointed keepers of popular culture insist on dismissing and misinterpreting anything they deem immature? God forbid we should actually like something that is intended for YOUNG PEOPLE! Eww what an icky thought! That might harm our credibility as SERIOUS and GROWN UP people. Gah! What about trying to judge the thing based on its merits?
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Seethed [boiled] Lobster (not considered particularly ritzy at the time)
Boiled Turkey (boiled?! boiling meat was a very common cooking method)
Fricase of Coney
Pudding of Indian Corn Meal with dried Whortleberries (yeah, I'd never heard of them either)
Stewed Pumpkin (the open-faced pie was not a common cooking method of the time)
Roasted Venison with Mustard Sauce
Savory Pudding of Hominy (Hominy is corn that has been soaked in lye until the flavor is gone)
Fruit and Holland Cheese
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Our bay is full of lobsters all the summer and affordeth variety of other fish; in September we can take a hogshead of eels in a night, with small labor, and can dig them out of their beds all the winter. We have mussels ... at our doors. Oysters we have none near, but we can have them brought by the Indians when we will; all the spring-time the earth sendeth forth naturally very good sallet herbs. Here are grapes, white and red, and very sweet and strong also. Strawberries, gooseberries, raspas, etc. Plums of tree sorts, with black and red, being almost as good as a damson; abundance of roses, white, red, and damask; single, but very sweet indeed… These things I thought good to let you understand, being the truth of things as near as I could experimentally take knowledge of, and that you might on our behalf give God thanks who hath dealt so favorably with us.
Monday, November 24, 2008
The first Thanksgiving was celebrated on December 12th, 1621 in Plymouth Colony. The reason for the feast was two-fold. The last of the colony's harvests had just come in, and for the first time, the often starving colonists felt that they had a bounty. The second reason was a visit from "King" Massasoit, an important leader of a nearby native tribe. A colonist named Edward Winslow reported on the feast:
Our corn [i.e. wheat] did prove well, and God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn, and our barley indifferent good, .... Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.
Friday, November 21, 2008
100 Big and Small Things for Which I Am Thankful
(in no particular order)
1. Hot Cocoa
2. A Great Book
3. Autumn Leaves
4. Spring Flowers
5. Blue Jeans
6. My Husband
7. Thai Food
8. The Right To Vote
9. A Great Movie
10. My Parents
11. Fresh Summer Tomatoes
12. Flannel PJ’s
14. The Symphony
15. My School
16. Great Friends
17. Sweet Crisp Apples
18. My Aunties
23. My Nieces
24. A Good Joke
25. Candy Corn
26. Fresh-Cut Grass
27. My Brothers
29. My Garden
30. A Fire in the Fireplace
31. Word Games
32. Backyard BBQ
33. Sweet Tea
36. Mt. Rainier
40. Good Health
42. Snow Days
43. My Music
45. Clean Water
46. Sitting After a Long Day
47. My Computer
49. American Democracy
50. American Liberties
51. Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate
53. Soft Slippers
54. Friday Night
55. Ripe Peaches
56. Central Heating
57. Dinner with Friends
58. Sunshine, Sunshine, Sunshine
60. Grilled Cheese
64. Friendly Email
68. Sunday Brunch
69. Ice Skating
72. A Nice Hot Bath
75. Baseball Games
77. The Dishwasher
78. The Washer and Dryer
81. Basketball in the Park
83. The Pacific NW
84. Farmers’ Markets
85. Cozy Sweaters
92. Indian Food
94. Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
95. The Beach
97. Travel to Other Lands
99. Friendly Dogs
Thursday, November 20, 2008
To My Dear and Loving Husband
by Anne Bradstreet
If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee;
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me ye women if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold,
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee give recompense.
Thy love is such I can no way repay;
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let's so persever,
That when we live no more we may live ever.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
In the end, I would recommend the first book in this series to nearly everyone (okay, to be fair, to nearly all women and older girls). For the adult reader, it takes just a couple days to finish the novel, and it is such a fun ride that you won't have time to worry about whether it represents highbrow or low. If you are still concered about looking silly being seen with the now famous cover, grab this for a plane ride, and tell everyone around you that your niece is making you read it.
Monday, November 17, 2008
First, I am thankful to Stephenie Meyers for writing on a level that works for such a wide array of kids. Her situations and settings may sometimes be a touch simplistic, but her characters are so beautifully drawn that readers really start to care what happens to them. This is another wonderful phenomenon, like Harry Potter, where I am seeing huge numbers of kids being hooked into reading by these books. Many kids, both good readers and poor, are telling me that these were the first books they ever read where they stopped noticing how many pages or minutes went by.
One little girl told me that it used to take her two weeks to read a short (roughly 150 page) book. She wasn't so sure about reading Twilight because it is so long (498 pages), but she was actually able to read it over a long weekend. She only stopped reading when her eyes were starting to hurt. When we had our booktalk about her reading, it was clear that her quick read had not hurt her comprehension in the slightest. That's a pretty engaging book if you ask me. She's also gone on to read the other three monster books in this series.
Success like this is invaluable to a struggling reader. Looking at a shelf full of big books, and knowing that YOU actually read, understood, and even enjoyed them is a huge thing for many of my kids. Lest you worry, I am happy to report that when this girl finished with Edward and Bella, she went on to read other books and series. This to me is the whole point of YA literature. If a kid happens accross just the right book at just the right time, it can mean a lifelong change in attitude towards books and reading. The trick is to keep exposing kids to different kids of books in hopes of hitting on that magic one.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Many men appear to think about their devices almost constantly. They caress them, play with them under the table, worry about their health, buy cases and decorations for them, and some even have them engraved. Then there is the urge to compare. When two device-owning males get together, they immediately begin competing to see whose is more powerful. If social convention would allow it, I think men would be playing with their devices 24/7 and in all situations. It seems that if the device-loving man doesn't get some quality time with his "little friend" every day, he gets very grumpy indeed.
I'm sure you've had experience with all this. You may have heard stories about men like this, you may have met a man or two who fits the profile, or you may even have a man in your life who's fallen victim to the scourge of small device envy. Precious hours of your relationship/marriage may have been purloined by these tiny devils that hold such captivating power over our men.
What can be done? Not a whole heck of a lot in my experience. If you are lucky enough to have a device-free male, thank you lucky stars, and try to ensure that he stays away from those already infected. The spread of this crisis is rampant because there is nothing the device lover enjoys more than showing off his special tool.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
The first thing you notice about the Dyckhoff's (yes, there are two of them) is that they really want to know about you and what kind of music/presentation you would like. Our wedding was fun and romantic, and they absolutely worked to create that feel in both the music and the announcements. They also did a great job of noticing the mood of the crowd and modifying the music to fit.
Last, but not least, the part where there are two of them was invaluable to our event. Having two people meant that one could actually play the music while the other helped keep people organized and made sure that everything ran smoothly. These DJ's even pitched in when they saw a need. From comforting flower girls to smoothing the aisle runner, they were very helpful all around. Bamboo beats doesn't just play the music, they also help your whole wedding to run more smoothly. Thanks very much to DJ Tecumseh and Johanna!
We found the quality of the food to be very good, and if you're still not sure about that, be sure to visit one of their tasting parties. We were also very pleased to discover that the Ravishing Radish chef was able and willing to create lovely vegetarian dishes for half our guests. Even better than the food, though, was the way Junko and the other servers managed our event. They were willing to help out with all sorts of tasks from arranging tables to positioning the cake and creating beautiful centerpieces. Having such well-rounded team meant that we did not have to worry so much about every little detail. I would highly recommend Ravishing Radish for any type of event.
When M and I were planning our wedding, I used a number of different methods for choosing our vendors. Firsthand recommendations were my favorite, but in the absence of those, I often did some web searching to see what strangers had to say. I found that some long-lived businesses with thousands of past customers still had no feedback either on Yelp, Citysearch, etc, or on a simple google search. I was very surprised by this, so I vowed to write a few for the best of our vendors. If you are a friend or family member who attended the wedding, the next few posts will be really boring, but it's all for the greater good (if you know what I mean).
Sunday, November 09, 2008
Also, in news that was nearly ignored by much of our state, Randy Dorn appears to have won the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction. I am really very excited about this victory. Like Obama, Dorn is taking charge at a time when it will be tough just to do business as normal. However, I'm really hoping he will make some progress on a few of the more annoying issues that face education in Washington State. Canning or reducing the WASL and the Pro Cert, for example, would actually be a way to SAVE money, and I think he should get to work on that one right away.
Thanks very much to those of you who supported Dorn!
Friday, November 07, 2008
1. At school we all attended the Veterans Day assembly, and the kids actually sat and listened in polite silence for ALMOST the whole time.
2. We got to sing at the assembly.
3. It's Friday!
4. I get to go on a mini road trip with my Very Superior Husband (more on the VSH label later).
5. The autumn leaves are even more beautiful against the gray sky.
6. I get to have a lovely, sweet, steaming mug of tea this afternoon since I don't have to go to bed early (I know, this seems pitiful, but it means something to me.)
7. All the make-up wedding china arrived without a single broken piece.
8. Everybody in my family is gainfully employed.
9. I get to have dinner with my Aunties this weekend.
10. Pretty soon I won't have to hear Bush's awful voice or see his picture anymore.
11. Democrats control Congress!
12. Democrats control the Senate!
13. There's about to be a Democratic president in the White House!
14. The country cannot be quite a racist as I had feared.
15. The Nieces are coming along on the road trip!
Thursday, November 06, 2008
"Today we may say aloud before an awe-struck world: 'We are still masters of our fate. We are still captain of our souls." -Churchill
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
A part of me has been living in the proverbial darkness for eight long years, and it feels unbelieveably good to come back out into the sunlight. Of course there will be challenges, of course he (and they) will make mistakes, of course the situation out there is absolutely grave, but at least we now have some chance of seeing positive outcomes. Republican leadership has literally run this country into the ground over the last eight years, and it is now time to try and repair the damage. Hopefully Barak Obama is feeling up to a challenge. Hooray!
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
However, those must have been the people rushing to make it to work. Right now, the voters are coming and going at a steady clip, but the lines are not bad at all. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that no one is waiting more than 15 or 20 minutes. Nevertheless, I plan to flee by 3pm to avoid the post-work rush. If you're thinking of leaving work at 5pm and heading down to the polls, be sure you bring your dinner and a book because this could get ugly.
The political science part of me is still happy to see this happen. Granted, it took both national and international calamity to get people to sit up and take notice, but still it's good to have so many voters involved. Perhaps if more lazy liberals had done something last time, we wouldn't be in this mess now. Happy voting!
Monday, November 03, 2008
Friday, October 31, 2008
Yesterday, in honor of the holiday, NPR had a wonderful story about 2nd graders who learned a portion of the "Three Witches" poem from MacBeth. They especially enjoyed the poem because you just HAVE to use a scary voice when you read it out loud. It was incredibly cute.
Macbeth, Act IV, Scene I [Round about the cauldron go]
by William Shakespeare
The three witches, casting a spell
Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison’d entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights hast thirty one
Swelter’d venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg, and howlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
Witches’ mummy, maw and gulf
Of the ravin’d salt-sea shark,
Root of hemlock digg’d i’ the dark,
Liver of blaspheming Jew,
Gall of goat, and slips of yew
Sliver’d in the moon’s eclipse,
Nose of Turk, and Tartar’s lips,
Finger of birth-strangled babe
Ditch-deliver’d by a drab,
Make the gruel thick and slab:
Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron,
For the ingredients of our cauldron.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
She picked Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, and The Lord of the Rings. I almost lost my composure (which would have horrified her) I was so delighted. I don't know if those are my favorites of all time, but they are certainly up there among my top picks. This must be what it is like for an evangelical Christian to hear their niece or nephew start spouting the bible. Of course, this virtually guarantees that my own children will be obsessed with sports or fishing or something of the sort.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
We find that even this small amount of time gives kids enough perspective to better understand the history we are trying to teach. We also find that by teaching religions up front, we get less complaining (but that's another blog post) when the subject comes up in our history lessons.
Anyhow, we were about half way through our week of religions when we came to our study of Hinduism. A significant part of our lesson is a short video featuring young people talking about their religious beliefs and traditions. We saw the festival of Divali in particular including all the lights and a table full of sweets. After the video was over, we discussed it as a group.
Someone mentioned the sweets and I said "Oh yes, Indian sweets are wonderful, and I'll have to visit the Indian bakery and bring some in sometime." Now sitting in the front row of this class is a little girl who had not yet spoken. In fact, she has not done much speaking since the school year began. However, when she heard me say this, she raised her hand and said in her sweet Indian accent "Mrs. X! Mrs. X! I am a Hindu! I have sweets!"
It turns out that she is very excited to share some of her culture with her classmates in the form of goodies. It also turns out that her mom is a very talented cook. We then discussed a time when she might be allowed to bring in such goodies. Not to be outdone, three of the Jewish students (there are several) also piped up to talk about religiously-themed sweets.
In very short order, we had organized a class "culture" day where anyone can bring a food that is somehow tied to their heritage or religion. Nothing too perishable of course (cookies? yes beef dumplings? not so much). I'm lucky that my school doesn't have a "no home-cooked food" rule. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.
Friday, October 24, 2008
Therefore, I was incredibly grumpy when a ballot measure similar to the Oregon law passed (I voted against it, but with no luck) in Washington state. Fortunately, the office of elections was unable (for several years) to ready itself for mail elections, and so we were saved. If they are to be believed, the election of 2008 will be the last polling place election in Washington State. Ever after, we will all have those awful mail-in ballots. Aw well, I thought to myself, at least we get to vote properly one more time. I was particularly happy that we would get to do things the traditional way for this, an historic presidential election.
Imagine my surprise, and displeasure, when I received a mail-in ballot at my house. I checked my voter status online, and found that I was listed as a permanent absentee. This was news to me since I'd never filled out the paperwork or checked the box for absentee. Calling the office of elections, I discovered the problem. Since all people will be mail-in soon, the elections people have decided to force some people to make the switch early. How did I have the fortune of being one of their victims? I had the temerity to change my name.
In fact, any kind of change to your voter information automatically tripped this switch. The helpful elections person on the phone informed me that there was no way to put me back on the rolls of poll voters. If I really wanted, I was welcome to drive down to my polling place with my ballot and fill it out in a little booth. Of course, I still can't put it into the machine because they expect mine to come in an envelope with my signature. Gah! They are missing the point! I might as well go into my garage, get out a cardboard box, and put in head in it while I mark my ballot.
It makes me sad to think that I won't get to take my children to vote with me the way my parents took me. I clearly remember the excitement of going to the public school with my mom, getting a look at the all important ballot, and squeezing into the little booth with her as she made her choices. It was the first time I ever thought about what it meant to be a citizen. Sometimes symbolic actions are important to remind people that they are part of something greater than themselves. So I'll mark my ballot, I'll sign my name, and I'll put the thing in the post box with my fingers crossed. However, I can't help feeling like we've lost something here.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
"Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America.
This is something I've been thinking about for quite some time, and he managed to sum it up in such a clear and precise way. I do believe we are engaging in a double standard when we say that it is not okay to paint all Christians, Jews, or Buddhists with the same brush, but we can and should do this with Muslims. Either we have religious tolerance in the United States or we do not. What is one of the best ways to ensure this essential tolerance? A true separation of church and state.
Friday, October 17, 2008
Younger Niece, like so many younger siblings, really wants to prove that she can be just as mature and grown up as her sister. She also does not want to miss out on anything that might possibly be described as fun. We warned her and warned her that the symphony was hard going and that, in the words of Grandma, "lots of adults have trouble sitting still that long." Younger Niece remained undaunted and assured everyone that she would be as still and quiet as a statue.
Thus it was that we found ourselves in front of Benaroya Hall. Elder Niece was very elegant in slacks and a gold satin blouse, while Younger Niece was quite lovely in a red gown with black velvet ribbons. The usher was very kind as he welcomed them to the show, and then we were off to find our seats. A few people in the row behind us gave looks of utter disgust to see children at the symphony, but luckily, I don't think the nieces noticed. We were careful to arrange children and gown-ups so as to avoid conflict between siblings. Then the music began. I waited with baited breath. Would they misbehave? Would they talk or snuffle or tap their feet?
The results were quite impressive. With one or two reminders about tiny things (crinkling the program for example) they were in great shape. I would say that the behaved better than many of the other people who were sitting around us. At one point, I was just about to lean over and ask Younger Niece to be quiet, and then I realized that it was actually the middle-aged woman behind her making the noise! After the music ended, and people were getting up to go, the man behind us leaned down to compliment Younger Niece on her excellent behavior: "You did better than I did!" This made her smile at the floor, and mutter "thank you."
On the whole, I was very pleased with this symphony experience. I won't be buying the nieces season tickets, but I will feel comfortable taking them along a couple times a year. This also gives me the confidence to take them to other kinds of performances too. Given that Elder Niece likes "the clashing banging music" best, I'm wondering what she will review something like the Phantom of the Opera or Swan Lake. As they get older, it's fascinating to watch them develop a sense of self and of personal taste about all kinds of different things. One day they're telling you about their favorite stuffed animal, and then suddenly they're explaining why Mozart is better than Tchaikovsky. Amazing.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Monday, October 13, 2008
During the vice-presidential debate, I was very happy to see how well Joe Biden presented himself. He was knowledgeable, down to earth, and even likable. In that sense, the debate went well for our side. Still, one statement Biden made really hurt my impression of him, of Obama, and of the Democratic Party platform.
When asked about the issue of gay marriage, Biden dissembled. He said (to paraphrase) that both he and Obama support all the rights of a civil union, but that "marriage" was a "religious" matter and he/they would not use that word. When I got married, I had to get a MARRIAGE license from the government. I had to get an approved official (it certainly didn't have to be a priest/rabbi/etc) to make my MARRIAGE official. Afterwards, I was able to order a copy of my official MARRIAGE certificate from the state government. Saying that marriage is a purely religious event is not only patently ridiculous, but it also steals the significance of secular marriages like my own. In short, I am pissed six ways to Sunday! What a massive cop out.
In another era, liberals took a stand (sometimes an unpopular one) about racial inequality, and it was, without a doubt, the right thing to do. I see this situation in much the same light, but this time Democrats are trying to straddle the proverbial fence. Gay rights is THE civil rights issue of our era, and it amazes me that the supposedly liberal party is not standing up and making a strong statement in support. I am so disappointed with my party. Once again, I am reminded of the fact that my vote in November will be one against McCain but not really for Obama.
Friday, October 10, 2008
Anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Think of the worst logging road you've ever been down. Now add about 50% more and larger potholes. Now stick that road to the side of a sheer cliff. Now add a lot of twists and turns and a fair amount of on-coming traffic (busses, heavy equipment, SUV's, and cattle). I'm not sure what it is in our biology that causes us to look green, but I was definitely there for much of the trip. After what seemed like hours (but was probably 90 minutes) we reached the top. I was very surprised by the size of the town. This place is many treacherous miles from anywhere, but it is a decent-sized little city perched in the saddle of two mountains.
Feeling more than a little green, we finally reached the town at the top of the mountain. It's quite a surprise to drive for miles upon miles through the most rural areas, and then arrive at a fairly large town. Monteverde is, by no means, a city. However, it does have quite a few businesses and homes clustered together around a central road. It's even more striking when you remember that everything in the town has to be trucked all the way up that long and terrible road.
Surprise, surprise, the town closest to the famous cloud forest is often lost in the mist. When we got to Monteverde Lodge, it was blanketed in white, and you could hardly make out the surrounding buildings or the ravine down below. The lodge itself was very well kept and clean, but it was something right out of the 1970s with dark wood paneling, avocado paint, and even a full sized wallpaper mural in the dining room. Speaking of the dining room, the food was beyond terrible. By far, this was the toughest part of the trip in terms of food. I'm sure the need to truck everything from far away didn't help, but there were just some very bad ideas residing on that menu.
Fortunately, there were also several good things about Monteverde. The Rainario or World of Frogs was beautiful and fascinating with dozens of different living frogs on display. We managed to see the two types of poison dart frogs we hadn't managed to see in the wild. We also got to visit the butterfly (and other bug) museum where I held a tarantula just to prove to myself that I could. The various butterfly houses were most impressive, and I have to confess that my impression of butterflies has changed since we went. I've always kind of written them off as being the symbol of silly people, but now I have a more fair and balanced appreciation for them.
Another wonderful animal we saw in Monte Verde was the horse. No, no, not wild horses running loose in the jungle. These were the domesticated kind with saddles and bridles. In fact, we went on M's very first horse ride ever. It was also my first time back on a horse since the painful loss of mine as part of my move to Washington. I think it went extremely well.
My horse, El Raton, was tall, thin, and did not like mud. We got along great because I let him pick his way around the mud puddles and run up all the hills. I remembered why I liked riding in the first place. M's horse, Mambo, was enormous in all dimensions. M had a harder time with his horse because Mambo did not like to move period. This meant that a stable hand had to ride along behind Mambo and yell at him to make him move. M got in a few decent canters, and I was very impressed that he did not seem inclined to fall off. We definitely need to do more horse riding in the future.
Last, but definitely not least, we went hiking in the cloud forest. Up so high, the climate is quite different from the jungles of the lowlands. Most of the reptiles are missing, and so are many of the bugs. However, the animals that love to live up that high are the birds. It seemed like there were birds and bird calls almost everywhere we went. The high point of our hiking was seeing the rare and beautiful Quetzal. We were certainly excited about this, but our guide was absolutely thrilled. We spent some time running up and down trails as he heard the call and tried to find her.
Finally, our last day came. We had another harrowing, sick-making trip down the mountain. We were driven back to the major city of San Jose, and back to that original hotel, Grana Del Oro. We had another fancy, French-inspired dinner, and then we were getting up early to take a short trip to the airport. I don't think either one of us was quite ready to go Our trip to Costa Rica was certainly one for our personal record books, and not just because it was our honeymoon. Usually, I'm not a fan of returning to places we've already been, but this is one place to which I would absolutely go back.
Monday, October 06, 2008
Thursday, October 02, 2008
Thoroughly incensed, I moved on to the paper products. Now many people are saying that things like paper towels and napkins need to go anyway because they are a waste of money and resources. For the time being I can't seem to break my addiction. Pondering a box of facial tissue, I noticed another sneaky pricing crime. 1 box of tissues cost $1.09 while three boxes of exactly the same type, brand, and count were $4.00. Of course producers are banking on people thinking that buying in bulk saves money. Unfortunately, it probably works quite a lot of the time.
Last, but not least, when I got up to the check-out counter, I found my final sign of the times. There was a new screen on the debit card reader. Between entering the pin and approving the amount was a new message "do you want to put the entire amount on one card?" Because you don't have enough credit left on either card, so you need to use two? If these are symbols of our current situation, we may be in serious trouble.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
It seems McCain got invited to a "better" party, so he dumped his old commitments and lied about it. That's the sort of thing that middle school girls do to each other. How NOT very presidential of him! Letterman gave as good as he got. While interviewing Keith Olbermann (not exactly a McCain fan) he explained the situation and showed a live feed of McCain being made up for his Couric interview. You can just imagine the commentary. The latest polls show Obama up by 8%.
Friday, September 26, 2008
This week she met with several heads of state as part of a visit to the United Nations, but the press was kept almost entirely out of those meetings. Which reporters were allowed inside? Those taking still photos only. In other words, the Palin camp wanted a photo op, but did not want to risk having anyone hear what she actually said. The is an unprecedented move in such a situation. Surely the McCain camp must know how this looks to the public? Are they THAT worried about how she will come off when she opens her mouth? One can only wonder.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
This morning I asked all the kids interested in running to stand up, one at a time, and explain why they would make a good representative. Mostly their reasoning was kind of dubious. For example, one kid stood up and said "I will plan to make school more funner and less educational." Another kid said "I am a good reader, so I will be good at this." In other words, they were not exactly inspiring speeches. Then came one real knucklehead, he explained, with great seriousness why he wanted to be our "USB rep." He was not kidding around, and none of the other kids noticed his mistake.
Lucky for all of us, one girl gave a very thoughtful speech about her qualifications for the job. She spoke about being organized, determined, and having good listening skills. My faith in the youth of our country is moderately restored. Lucky the other kids saw it this way too and elected her as representative #1. Oh yes, position #2? That went to USB kid.
Monday, September 22, 2008
Thus the need for night-before decision making. What should I put in the yellow bag this time? I don't have any kids to pack for yet, but getting my own take-along lunch together is quite enough of a challenge. I make lunch by four important laws: Can I make it healthy? Can I make it inexpensive? Can I make it appealing? Can I make it in five minutes? Repetition is constantly a problem. Apple/lowfat cheese/soup or apple/pasta salad or apple/burrito/cheese. You get the idea. I really need to get more creative, but this is a challenge on busy weeks. At least I'm lucky in that I have access to a microwave.
I also miss the fun of picking out a new lunchbox every autumn. My mom used to take my brother and me, and we would spend forever choosing just the right one. My favorite was bright red with a panda on the side and a matching red thermos. Those were the days! I hate! hate! hate! even the idea of Lunchables or the grown up equivalent. They violate every lunch law ever made except the one about being ready in under five minutes. Ugh!
Friday, September 19, 2008
The town of Quipos seemed large to us after all our time spent in the Osa Peninsula, but really it is a small place that was originally built to house the workers who picked bananas for Chiquita. This is not a glamorous destination, and the only evidence of tourism are the shops and restaurants geared more to the backpacking crowd. Like in so many other places, it turns out that the "fancy" people live higher up the mountain.
Leaving Quipos behind, you begin to climb into the hills, and as you do so, you start to notice a change. The landscape is still beautiful, and the views get better and better, but the houses and shops begin to thin out. In there place are condos and hotels. Masses of condos and hotels. They seem practically to be stacked on top of each other, and by the time you reach the plateau, they've become so opulent and ostentatious that they can only mean one thing. Americans. A vanishingly small number of Costa Ricans can pay 600k for an Italianate condo with views of the ocean. An even smaller number can afford to live in the gated communities that feature homes in the millions of American dollars. Welcome to nouveau colonialism at its finest.
Don't get me wrong, our accommodations were very nice, the pool was astonishingly lovely, and you could take a private van down to the beach, but there was always an undercurrent of ickiness about the place. This is not really Costa Rica. The only actual Costa Rican people you see are the ones who serve you, and they've been taught not to chat with the guests.
That said, we did have some good experiences while we were there. One of our guides recommended a restaurant called Ronnie's Place. We took a taxi through the pouring rain, followed the long and very rutted driveway, and eventually ended up at a cute little open-air dining room with a roof but no walls. The food was a decent quality Italian, the ceiling was covered in teeny tiny lizards (geckos and anoles for anyone who cares), and a little gray kitten made the rounds of all the diners. Out over the ocean, a lightening storm kept giving us those split second illuminations of the valley and beach below us. It was a most memorable time.
The beach was also quite something. You know that classic clear blue water/golden sand/palm tree image on postcards and in movies? Yeah, they film and photograph a lot of that in Manuel Antonio. While some parts of our visit there were not great, the beach was the best we found on our whole trip. We lay on beach chairs, ran in the waves, and M even spent some time body boarding! I took one of my favorite pictures there as well. When it's cold and gray in Seattle, I'll be looking at that picture and remembering that beach.
All in all, Quipos and Manuel Antonio might be great places to stay if you don't mind being in tourism central, and you are very careful about the kinds of accommodation you get. The nature reserve and the beaches are great, and probably there are more nice spots for dinners and shopping and such. Just do a lot of homework before you go so you don't end up thinking that Costa Rica is just the land of the expensive condo.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Sometimes you go to a hotel or resort, and find the grounds to be lovely, but your room is then a disappointment. This was not the case at Lapa Rios. We actually had the room used in the promotional pictures. I shouldn't actually say "room" since each bungalow is stand-alone with a balcony over the hillside complete with hammock. The beds are large, white, and draped in yard upon yard of white mosquito canopy. The effect is incredibly romantic. Why am I trying to describe this place in words? Here is the website complete with pictures. Keep in mind that the reality is better than the pictures.
The food was the next pleasant surprise. Many vegetarian options were available at every meal, and the quality of the food was excellent. We tried all sorts of new things. My favorite recipe was something called Volcano salad which involved native greens (a bit like spinach only tougher and more flavorful), red cabbage, peanuts, and tofu tossed in sesame lime dressing. I still dream about it at unexpected moments. M was very happy with the seafood offerings as well. Probably being close enough to see the ocean help quite a bit in this department.
As for entertainment, Lapa Rios is well-prepared for those travelers who are willing to be at least a little energetic. Many different hiking opportunities, both guided and un, are available. M and I did some of both, and we were amazed by the number of animals were got to see on the one mile self-guided tour near the lodge. Monkeys (that one above is an actual pic I took near the lodge), Poison Dart Frogs, Agouti, and Toucans just to name a few. The guides at Lapa Rios are also quite incredible in just how much they know about the ecosystem of the area. We went on night hikes, coast hikes, and hikes along the Osa Trail. It was the kind of experience where you stop yourself part way through and think "Wow, I'm really here doing this!"
If you ever have the chance to visit Lapa Rios, TAKE IT! This was, by far, the best accommodation on our trip. The only people for whom I would not recommend Lapa Rios are those who want to shop and see city life, or those who cannot handle a lot of walking. We loved the lodge, we loved the staff, we loved the jungle, we loved the animals, and we didn't want to leave.
Monday, September 15, 2008
Friday, September 12, 2008
Nevertheless, there are certain signs of fall in the air. Last week, on the first day of school, a thick blanket of mist covered our neighborhood as I left for work. You could certainly tell that the sun would win out later in the day, but for that moment, there was a definite edge of something colder in the air. I'm ashamed to admit that I actually had to turn on the car's heater because I was wearing a light, summer skirt and sandals.
The days are also getting noticeably shorter. If I want to take a walk before dark, I pretty much have to do it on my own. If I wait for M to arrive, it is usually during blue twilight. All too soon, daylight savings will bring home that point all the more forcefully. Add to all this the pumpkins and chrysanthemums in the stores, the overflowing farm stands, and the return to school, and you have sure proof of the end of summer. This is not necessarily a bad thing since autumn has some very nice feature too. However, if it could just remain a sunny fall...
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
In the state of Washington, all teachers are paid on a state-mandated pay scale. That means districts must pay the same regardless of where the schools are located. Equal pay is a good thing right? Not always. In most industries, employers link their compensation offers to new employees to the cost of living for the local community. In other words, if your employee has to pay $2000 a month to rent a decent apartment near work, you know you will have to offer more in his/her paycheck. In other words (again) you have to pay people more in Manhattan than you do in Columbus.
In Washington, everyone gets the same base pay. Period. There are some sneaky ways that districts can offer more if they have it, such as the extra duties contracts that many districts have. However, a state cap on the amount of money a district can raise in taxes also hobbles the ability to offer more pay. You can see where this is going.
A teacher in a small town in Eastern Washington earns enough pay to afford a comfortable standard of living. A teacher in a pricey city like Bellevue will have a much harder time affording a house, a car, and groceries at the same time. We lose so many excellent teachers every year who either leave the city for cheaper homes in the outlying areas, or simply leave teaching so they can afford to stay in the Seattle area. My school lost one of its top teachers to this very effect just this year.
Now many people would argue that teachers should vote with their feet when it comes to pay. If they don't think they earn enough, then maybe they should quit and go somewhere else. However, I don't believe it is right to ask teachers to make huge personal sacrifices just so that they can continue to teach in certain areas. If you don't want to pay teachers more, then offer subsidized housing, mortgage vouchers, or any of a number of programs to offer non-cash assistance. In the end, this is as much a state level problem as it is a district one, and I sincerely hope that Olympia is paying close attention to the situation in Bellevue.
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
The next part of our journey required us to fly back from Tortuguero to San Jose. This is often the case in Costa Rica because the roads are not very good (or completely non-existent) in many places. Sometimes, even if you only want to travel 100 miles up the coast, you still have to go back to San Jose, in the center of the country, and take a plane. We took our plane from San Jose to a place called Golfito in the SW of the country. This town was not our destination; in fact it was not even the place where we were supposed to land, but the air strip in Puerto Jimenez was closed, so Golfito it was.
Our plane this time was huge and modern boasting at least ten seats and TWO, count em, two pilots. Of course they still organized the seating arrangements based on the size of each passenger, but this one felt a lot less like a box kite with an engine. We were supposed to fly to another location to drop off a few people and then head to Golfito, but a most impressive bank of storm clouds turned us back. By the time we landed in Golfito, the weather there was sunny, warm, and of course, incredibly humid.
A taxi took us the mile or two from the airstrip to the ferry. The only exciting this about this bit being the way the taxi driver drove at full speed to the very end of the rickety wooden pier in his 20-30 year old conversion van. Stopping on the proverbial dime, he tossed us and our stuff into the speedboat that would take us the rest of the way across the bay.
When I think of ferries, I'm usually imagining the goliaths that carry cars around the Puget Sound. This ferry was, as I mentioned, a speed boat with some rough seats for passengers, and the luggage arranged to provide ballast against the heavier people. A boy who looked about eight took our fares, and then proceeded to chat up one of the other kids who was also a passenger. The ride was great fun. We went quite fast, and we were traveling over the kind of clear blue ocean that appears in the movies. The only sad part was not seeing the whales that sometimes frequent the gulf.
After reaching the town of Puerto Jimenez (motto: We're the "big city" around here even if we don't have any paved roads) we were bundled into an SUV driven by a friendly ex-pat German, and we began our trip up into the mountains. The travel agency warns female tourists to bring along a sports bra for this leg of the trip. The reason becomes immediately clear. The roads are not just rutted; they are full of huge holes that would toss you from one side of the car to the other if you weren't wearing the seatbelt. In places, small rivers wash over the road, and the car is past its tires in water. It was a very good thing that we hadn't had the chance to eat much that day because I was feeling fairly green by the time we arrived at Lapa Rios. Fortunately, one look at the view from the lodge, and any ill feelings were quickly forgotten.
Monday, September 08, 2008
Any newspaper story you read that says the strike is "over pay and curriculum" is only half right. Pay really is not the issue (I have inside sources who are quite clear about this). The district likes to say it's about pay because that makes the teachers sound mercenary. In fact, teachers are striking over the question of who will determine exactly how curriculum is delivered to students. For the last ten years or so, the Bellevue School District has been implementing a "top-down" model of curriculum design. This means that teachers get little or no say in what they will teach and how the will deliver instruction.
This may not seem like such a big issue to someone on the outside. Bosses the world over tell their workers exactly what to do on the job. What's the big deal? The big deal is that no two classes and no two kids are exactly the same. Even if we leave aside questions about creativity and personal strength (it turns out no two teachers are exactly alike either), the piece about pacing cannot be ignored.
A huge part of being a good teacher is in gauging what each kid needs, and in finding ways to challenge that child correctly. There is plenty of research available to defend this perspective. In Bellevue, slowing a class down or speeding one up is not just frowned upon, it can actually get you into trouble with administration. I've heard stories of teachers actually papering over their windows so that administrators can't observe them straying from the set curriculum by offering enrichment activities. A climate like that cannot be good for kids.
Administrators in Bellevue need to trust more in the professionalism of their staff, or they will certainly see more strikes. Not only that, but the more subtle effect of their micro-management is clear to me every day I go to work. In our district, we are lucky enough employ many excellent teachers who used to work in Bellevue.
Thursday, September 04, 2008
In fact, there are not any real roads at all (at least none that we saw), and I can't recall seeing a single car or truck. The river provides the only sort of transportation that matters. Just a few short steps from where our plane landed we discovered a dock complete with the sort of flat-bottomed motor boat that is so common to the area. Boats do take the tourists to their inns and on wildlife tours, but they are not just there to amuse the foreigners. We saw boats full of locals going to work, boats laden with all types of groceries, building supplies, and other goods; we even saw a boat that was ferrying dirt from one building site to another. It turns out that Venice does not have a corner on the water highway lifestyle.
The first thing you notice about Tortuga Lodge is the fact that it actually hangs out a little over the river. The second thing you notice is the noise. The wall of sound created by an unseen cloud of cicadas is unbelievable. There can be no doubt that the jungle and the swamps are all around. The lodge itself is not meant to be overly glamorous or impressive. Instead, the surrounding gardens and the setting on the water are the main attractions.
The first thing we did upon arrival was go up to the dining room for some food (it was only about 8:30am). This is where we had our very first taste of Costa Rican breakfast. The main dish is something called Gallo Pinto which is made from the rice and beans from last night's dinner. They are cooked together with another Costa Rican specialty, a sauce called Salsa Lizano. Both gallo pinto and salsa Lizano are most delicious especially when paired with the eggs, fried plantain, and sliced avocado and tomato that complete the breakfast. Did I mention the fruit? Oh the fruit!
The main entertainment at Tortuga Lodge is taking the boat to view the wildlife. On our very first visit out we saw a crocodile almost immediately, but our guide told us that, at about six or seven feet long, it was considered a small one. We also saw turtles, layman, hundreds of birds including a very friendly Brown Pelican, and even some monkeys swinging from the vines just the way monkeys should. We also managed, on that very first boat ride, to get fairly impressive sunburn. Why, oh why, didn't I remember the sun block? I blame lack of sleep and lack of caffeine.
The other big attraction at Tortuguero is the GIANT sea turtles. Remember the surfer turtles in the movie "Finding Nemo?" These are the very same ones only without the comic relief. They never come to shore except to lay their eggs, and they only do so at night. Therefore, we left the lodge at about 10pm, took a short boat ride to the village, walked through the village and jungle for half an hour, and ended up on the beach. It just so happened that a lightening storm was coming in over the ocean, so a sudden flash of lightening illuminated the beach from time to time. This was pretty much the only light we saw since flashlights and other white light are not allowed around the turtles.
It was kind of a surreal experience with a long line of people waiting on the dark beach for their turn to look at the turtles up close. The tiny red lights held by the guides gave the turtles a kind of strange glow, and I felt a bit like a voyeur looking up the back end of the turtle as she tried to lay her eggs into a hole in the sand. They looked exactly like leathery, cream-colored ping pong balls, and each turtle was capable of laying hundreds in various different places along the beach.
Tortuguero is not the sort of place you forget in a hurry. The boats, the turtles, the breadfruit, all combine for that classic image of tropical life. However, one of the most memorable incidents of our visit did not have anything to do with the local area. Most of the rooms in Costa Rica do not actually have windows, or at least they don't have glass. Instead, shade cloth is used to keep out the bugs but let the air flow through. This means that you hear every single thing that happens outside your room. One night, with the curtains drawn, we lay on the bed and listened to American teenagers trying to shock each other by discussing drug use. Now you might be horrified (teens and drugs!) but it was so obviously a show meant to impress, that M and I lay there laughing silently in the dark.
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
Monday, August 25, 2008
When we first arrived at the private airfield early in the morning, we saw many small planes around and made all sorts of guesses about which one would be ours. In fact, our plane was nowhere in sight until the last minute when we were asked to walk out onto the runway. There it was in all its four-seater glory, the smallest airplane I'd ever seen up close.
Needless to say, there wasn't any jet way or even a set of roll-away stairs. There was only one small door. The pilot actually had to fold his seat forward to let us get in the back, and we were asked to pitch our luggage in the narrow space behind our seats. It smelled like the inside of a 1968 Dodge Dart.
The pilot climbed in (I could have reached up and tapped him on the shoulder we were so close) and began his pre-flight check. All of a sudden there was a yell, and the pilot opened his door again to admit a last-minute passenger. This person actually climbed over the pilot in order to take the co-pilot's seat. He handed back his backpack for stowage, and we were off.
I know I should have been scared by the whole situation, but sometimes, when I know I can't do anything to impact the things, I just stop worrying. This meant that I was actually able to enjoy the flight quite a bit. It was fun watching the city disappear, giving way to farms, and then nothing but mile upon mile of jungle. We remained low enough to see much more detail than on the average flight.
By the end of the 25 minutes, we could see the island on which we would land including the grass/dirt landing strip. It was truly like something out of Indiana Jones to climb out of that tiny plane and see nothing but jungle and river beyond the airstrip. And the humidity, did I mention the humidity? It slaps you like a wet towel and reminds you once more that you are not, in fact, still in Seattle.
We'd arrived safely on the island of Tortuguero.
*Plane in first pic is obviously not our actual one. How the heck would I take that pic?