Thursday, December 13, 2012

It's beginning...

So, we put up our tree and decorations. This year we made a pre-setup IKEA run to see if we could spruce up our festive, yet a-bit-sad-looking tree, especially the garland. I got the tree when I first moved here second-hand from another family who used it in their business. The decorations came with the tree, and while I had added my own, the garland was still the second-hand stuff. There was one string of gold, blue, pink, and green, and the ornaments were all different shades of pink. Not that there's anything wrong with that...,
So, we found this more tasteful and thinner red garland at IKEA, and my husband picked out the string of silver balls, too. Along with a couple of red candles and some gift boxes, we were ready to go. The garland has been repurposed in my office, where we'll take any festive cheer we can get. Haha. No, really.
Also at IKEA, we got a prefab gingerbread house, some assembly required.

I thought it was cute that the instructions for the gingerbread house were just as confusing and unreadable as most IKEA instructions. For the icing, in 25 different languages, it said "Mix 10 dL icing sugar, one egg white, and 2 tablespoons water." What the heck is a dL? I know like three languages and could probably read a few more, but that stupid "dL" was in all of them. My husband's guess was "deciliters", which would have meant 100 liters of sugar, and is sugar even measured in liters? The box we had said "250 grams." So, I opened good old Betty Crocker and made her recipe instead. And the house was/is soooo cute. We'll probably attempt to eat it this weekend, and it will probably be appropriately stale. The candies aren't completely fossilized yet, so we might have a chance. I hope our dentist isn't reading this. Hi Trent! I promise to floss afterwards!

The rest of the pre-Christmas festivities this week included having friends over for our 2nd Annual Cookie Decorating Extravaganza. We decided that 2 times constitutes a tradition, so this is our new tradition. Unfortunately, the icing was not as spreadable as we would have liked, but our friend got creative with sprinkle stencils made of wax paper.
Of course, this is all just an excuse to spend times with friends and celebrate in general. I'm so thankful for our friends, and most of all, I'm so thankful for Christ!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Thanksgiving Miracle!

Sorry I haven’t written for a while. I was busy celebrating Thanksgiving THREE TIMES! Living far away from my family, it’s easy to assume that Thanksgiving might be a sad or lonely occasion. When I first moved here, although I enjoyed celebrating with new friends, I definitely felt the absence of my family. I still miss the Arizona Thanksgivings – sitting out on my aunt’s porch, spreading the food out on a ping-pong table covered with a plastic table cloth. Eating turkey, and more turkey, and all of the delicious fixings. Drinking Martinelli’s, or punch. Taking a walk, then coming back just to eat more – pumpkin pie. And more pumpkin pie. I had a little moment on Thanksgiving when I couldn’t access a live stream of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I shed a little tear, yes, I did. Then I watched reruns on YouTube.

Last year, our first year married, I wasn’t sure exactly how we would handle holidays, so we just made stuff up as we went. Thanksgiving rolled around last year, and I thought, I wonder if my in-laws would enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner? We decided to invite the whole family, because, why not? And they came! I think they mostly came last year because they thought, Oh, this poor girl wants to celebrate this holiday and invited us, so we should go. By the week of Thanksgiving, I was more than a bit nervous. Am I crazy? I have to cook all of this food alone? And a turkey? What? The plus side was that no one coming really knew what it was supposed to be. I could have ordered Burger King and put it on fancy plates and no one would have really cared. But I cared, darn it. I cared. And it all turned out wonderfully, with everyone asking immediately after the meal – “You’re doing this next year, too, right?”

Fast forward to this year – the questions about Thanksgiving started around November 1st – When was Thanksgiving again? You’re making pumpkin pie again, right? That felt good. I told everyone we’d do it the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and everyone decided to do a three-day fast before, as a joke. Then it wasn’t a joke. We all, I mean the whole extended family, got a stomach/intestinal bug about three days before Thanksgiving, along with about half of the city, from what we heard. I’ll spare you the details, but I was so thankful that we had decided to keep the two bathrooms as functional bathrooms. Just sayin’.

I was getting nervous, since Thursday was thaw countdown T-3, ie, I had to take the turkey out of the freezer, and that’s the point of no return. My husband said all systems were go, although most systems were still way too much go, if you know what I mean. I went ahead, though, and started thawing the turkey. By Friday most people were better, and on Saturday, everyone was able to eat the dinner. It was a “Thanksgiving Miracle”! We had a great family time, complete with crazy antics from my husband’s hilarious uncle, and his cousin’s 2-year-old being cute in general.

Then, since we had so many leftovers, we invited three people in town from AZ for a repeat the next day. And we STILL had leftovers. Then, since everyone was so sick on Thanksgiving, our friends from church decided to postpone their celebration, so we had another dinner with our church family last Saturday. And another miracle – I didn’t gain any weight! Even that sickness was a blessing in disguise!

So, while I still miss my family in AZ and nothing can replace those times, we’ve also started new traditions here, going with the flow, and so thankful for an overabundance of turkey and times with friends and family this year.

Friday, November 9, 2012

A new favorite

I am not a great reader, but I do like to read, and I have found an author that I want to share with the world. Maybe you already know her, and I am jumping on the back of the bandwagon. She is Marilynne Robinson, author of Housekeeping, Gilead and Home. I started with Home last year on my Kindle, and I couldn't put it down. When my husband asked what it was about, I realized that it sounded really boring. There is an old, retired preacher whose middle-aged daughter comes home after a failed relationship. Then her brother, the prodigal son, comes home, and it's about their daily life all under one roof again. How can this be interesting? I don't know, except that Robinson is a genius writer. The story totally drew me in. I'm in the middle of Gilead now, which actually has no plot at all. The whole book is a letter from an old preacher (not the same one, the other one's neighbor and friend) to his little son, who will presumably read the letter when he is grown, after his father has died. It's just his musings and little words of wisdom mixed with family history. Again, I don't know why this is so interesting to me, except that Robinson can really write. The book has no chapters and moves really slowly. There is no traditional storyline, but I love this book and recommend both of them wholeheartedly. I have Housekeeping, her other novel, but haven't started it yet. Has anyone else read her books?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Lake Bafa

On our recent vacation we went to a nearby lake. We live on the coast, but neither of us were feeling like a beach holiday. So, we packed our car and drove the two hours to the lake shores. Our hotel was delightful, and the lake was pleasantly clean and untouched. The hotel buildings were situated in a huge olive grove, and our window looked right out onto the lake. I would take the peace and quiet of that lake over crowded beach towns any day. I have found a new favorite.

Anyway, another appeal of this area is that there are about a dozen historical (old, ancient, and pre-historic) sites within an hour or two’s drive from our hotel. On the first day we visited a site on the opposite side of the lake. The modern village is built directly on top of the ancient city, so to walk around the ruins you just walk around the village and try not to step in cow pies. I did not succeed.

The next day we visited two different sites, Miletus and Priene. Miletus is in the Bible, so we thought we’d check it out. It’s in Acts 20, where Paul stopped there and sent for the elders from Ephesus to come to him. Today the port is all silted up and the ocean is miles away, but back then it was a port city. In fact, the lake where we stayed also used to be a port, but with the silting it was cut off and became a lake. Anyway, Miletus is an extensive site, and not much of it is excavated. However, Priene was the best part of the trip for me. The ruins there were cool. It was the first city built on a grid system, so I felt a little at home there J There were also humongous lizards everywhere, which really creeped me out, and I know this is 100% because of Jurassic Park where the little cute lizards end up killing people. In reality, they are totally harmless (says my husband).

"I am cute, but I will spit venom at you and eat you."

But the best part of Priene was the modern village next to it. We stopped there for lunch, and there were women making dolls. Village women making dolls of village women. The dolls were so pretty and unique, true folk art. I decided to get one, and while I was talking to the ladies, they said, “Oh, there’s an American professor here today downstairs in the carpet workshop.” American professor? Carpet workshop? My curiosity had been piqued. After lunch we went down to the said carpet workshop, and low and behold, there were carpets and Trader Joe’s snacks. Evidence of an American.

Anyway, we looked at all the rugs and decided to get one for our living room. Then the esteemed professor came in, and we chatted for a while about the workshop and his art show in Istanbul. The workshop is run by the township, and all of the proceeds go right back to the weavers and the workshop, so I felt good about buying a rug there. I had always avoided buying rugs because they are usually huge schemes for ripping off tourists. Take a look at their website  

Our trip was off the regular tourist path, so I almost felt like a local. Not to mention I was traveling with a local, who I am also married to. Hey, maybe I am a local! Almost…

Monday, September 17, 2012

Strange hobby

I boiled more milk last night and decided to take pictures while doing it. I think this has officially become a hobby of mine. Strange? Absolutely. At least it's a bit useful, nevermind the fact I could just buy milk from the grocery store like most other people on the planet. Actually, do most people buy milk from a grocery store? I heard that in China most people don't really drink milk. That's a big chunk of people who don't buy milk, but I guess they're not boiling it either. Anywaysss.....

Here's the milk in the pan, starting to heat up. It gets a little film on it, which apparently is the milk protein. You skim it off after it has cooled. It tastes preeeety good.

The salt and pepper matryoshkas supervising my milk boiling.

Oh! It's frothing up!

This is the exact point when I turned off the heat. Every time I think "It's going to boil over!" And every time, it doesn't.

I didn't get a picture of the beautiful bottle of milk because I finished this whole process pretty late last night. Just imagine a beautiful bottle of milk until then.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Out with the Old, Please?

Before I visited my hometown this past month I had to ask my husband to promise me that he would not do three things while I was gone – buy or sell ANY large appliance, house or car. Turns out he was planning to buy a new washing machine to surprise me, and with good reason.

We did need a new washing machine, so when I got back, we went down to our new mall near our house and checked out what they had. We had already shopped around a little and pretty much knew what we wanted. We decided on a pretty big and pretty nice washer, since we figured we won’t be buying one now for about 15 years. The old washer was the one my roommate and I bought used when I first moved here. More than one person had compared the sound it emitted to a jet engine taking off. I always felt really bad for our neighbors. It also started leaking water out the bottom recently. We could have gotten that fixed, but I wanted to get a quieter, larger washer anyway, so this was a good excuse, you see.

The new washer was delivered right on time and we promptly began our washing. However, there was still an elephant in the room. Our old washer was now firmly planted in the middle of our bathroom. We had arranged for a used appliance place to come pick it up. In fact, we had arranged two, knowing that at least one of them would lie to us and not come when they said. After a week of calling and stopping by both shops every day, and about 27 lies later, we got the truth – it’s student move-in season, and there’s no way we’ll get around to picking up your old washer before October. Thank you very much.

Enter plans B and C. Plan B was for us to just haul the washer down two flights of stairs ourselves and set it out on the street, hoping that someone would come by and take it, which they probably would have. However, my mother-in-law rightfully pointed out that we would probably injure one or both of our backs doing that, and then we would pay a hospital bill just to get rid of an old washer. Good point. On to plan C.

Here there is a lovely occupation called a “Scrap Collector”. These guys go around either with a truck or just a bicycle or hand cart yelling out that they’ll take our old scrap metal. They usually come by on weekends and a few evenings a night. Except for last week. Not one single scrap collector came by in 10 days. We even had a false alarm when my husband sprinted outside only to find he was chasing a melon seller. “Melon” and “scrap metal” can sound surprisingly similar when you’re desperate. We were in a really bad state, jumping at every sound of yelling in the street, hoping it was the scrap collector. Then, when all hope was lost, our big moment came. We rounded the corner into our neighborhood, and lo and behold, a scrap collector with his hand cart had stopped to buy some veggies. We screeched to a halt, my husband jumped out of the car and ran to the vegetable stand. I’ve never been so happy to see a scrap collector in my life. He said yes, he wanted the machine, so he came to our house, looked it over, and even gave us a few bucks for it! My husband helped him carry it downstairs, and we were free! In the future, we’ll make sure the people who bring the new machine take the old machine as well. I guess you can demand that. We thought we had it covered, but you just never do know. To top it all off, we’ve seen about 5 scrap collectors on our street in the past 3 days. Ain’t that always the way?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Milk and Mechanics

This week I faced new challenges! I did things I had never done before! I realized this week that no matter how long I live here, I will never get past the challenge of doing something for the first time, because there is always something new to do! My first challenge will sound like, well, not a challenge, but it pulled out a feeling in me that I hadn’t felt in a while.

For some reason I had gotten the urge to buy fresh milk (unpasteurized) and boil it myself at home. I had this idea that it would be healthier and better tasting. Conveniently, there is a place that sells fresh milk about a 5 minute walk from our house. So, last Sunday we decided to be spontaneous and go buy some fresh milk (I know, my life is incredibly exciting). We went there, my husband handled the whole transaction, then we came home and he showed me how to boil it and skim the fat off the top, etc. I was having WAY too much fun for what we were actually doing. I was actually giggling. My husband enjoyed it, too, because when he was a kid there was no pasteurized milk, so his mom always used to boil their milk and he and his sister fought over the skimmed cream off the top. So, we had great fun and drank our milk all through the week. Then, a couple of days ago, I said, “Wouldn’t it be nice to buy some more milk?” We happened to be coming up on the milk store (I don’t know if there’s an expression for this in English. Lactisserie? Dairist? Anyone?), so my husband stopped the car and gave me some change from our change pile in the car. But…

I panicked! What should I say? I don’t know how to buy fresh milk? What do I ask for? Is it a kilo or a liter or what? You go! You do it! My husband just put the money in my hand and insisted I go. Ask for a liter. It’s just milk. Of course, he was right. Why did I panic? It was a new thing, but I’ve done thousands of little new things here since I came here four years ago. Buying milk certainly doesn’t even make the top ten of difficult things I’ve done. I even speak the language now. Anyway, I walked in and bought the milk, and everything was fine. I still don’t know why I panicked.

Then, yesterday I had another little episode. Our car seemed to be really close to overheating a few days ago, which is strange because the weather is actually pretty cool these days, so we thought a mechanic should check it out just in case. I insisted I could take it because our mechanic is literally down the street from my workplace. In the past, my father-in-law has taken the car in because he didn’t trust the mechanic yet, and he didn’t want me to get ripped off. But now we know the mechanic is honest, so I said it would be ridiculous for my father-in-law to come all the way down when I was so close. My husband sent me a map and told me what to say (my car vocab is still developing). However, when the time came, I panicked. What if I don’t know what to say? What if I don’t understand him? What if I can’t find it? In the end, I found the place (I only had to make one U-turn), I told him the problem, he checked everything out, and of course I understood everything. Again, why did I panic? Maybe I’ve gotten too comfortable in my routine where I know what to expect all the time. I have to admit, I did feel a sense of accomplishment after both transactions. I’ve decided that new adventures are good for me. Maybe I can even welcome the next one. Has anyone else panicked over something small?

BTW – There’s no problem with the car J

Thursday, September 6, 2012

New Faces

Fall. Cooler nights. Cool mornings. Shorter days. I love this time of year. At work, this time of year is also when all of the new foreign (American) teachers show up for their new overseas adventure. This year we have a really nice group of new teachers. I have to admit I was dreading this week. You just never know who’s going to show up. Unfortunately, my current employer doesn’t offer much in the way of “help” when foreign teachers first get here. I remember preparing to come, thinking “Surely they will help me in some way.” Even the help they promised, picking me up at the airport, didn’t happen. My welcome to my new home was a 50 dollar taxi ride to my friend’s house with three suitcases because no one from my new employer showed up. Anyway, this is to illustrate the point that they really don’t help new staff at all. This means that when the new staff arrive, they need a LOT of help, from finding a place to live, to getting a phone, internet, electricity, and fixing the inevitable thing or two in their new apartment, to finding furniture and moving it all into their apartment. They basically need everything. Some people are extremely self sufficient and have lived overseas before, or already have friends here, as I did. Others arrive and are immediately crippled by culture shock, and latch onto anyone and everyone who could do things for them. I feel so torn in this situation, because I, too, came, and I was extremely blessed to have friends already here who helped me find furniture and move. I already had an apartment and roommate arranged. I remember how hard it was to get internet and a phone line. I remember that no one told me I could pay my bills online, so I stood in long lines every month for about 4 months. Still, in the past few years there have been a few really independent new coworkers, and there have been a few REALLY dependent coworkers. I want to help people, but at the same time, I don’t want to become their personal assistant, being called all hours of the day and night to fix a problem with their rent/shower/heating/phone/bank account. All of these fears are, of course, totally groundless, and the new staff have been really great so far. It’s nice to see fresh faces around, and I’m actually looking forward to getting to know them all better. Hooray for new beginnings!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Legal Immigrant

Well, I hit the ground running yesterday! Part of being a foreigner here is renewing my residence permit every year so I remain a "legal immigrant". My permit expires Thursday, so I knew I would have to go down to the central police office and renew my residence permit sometime this week. Yesterday, I emailed our HR department to ask if they could send over my renewal paperwork right away. I got a phone call an hour later from a colleague who also needed to renew hers saying that they were sending the paperwork for both of us over and we could go together. For some reason you have to go the same day as the contract renewal letter is dated, so we had to go yesterday. So, we trekked down about 1:45. I have to submit a new picture every year, as well as various copies of my passport, so I went to get my picture taken first. Every year I say I’m actually going to have a nice picture taken, but every year I end up going while I’m jet lagged/sick/extremely overheated at the end of August, and I always look depressed and/or deranged in my photos. Yesterday it was the hair that gave me away. I wanted to explain to the police officer that I had just come back yesterday, as he could see from my paperwork, and that’s why my hair is bad in the picture. He didn’t seem to care, though, so I let it go.

We got to the office and got our number at around 2:30. I got number 500, and there were 44 people in front of me, my paper number informed me. Bad sign. So, we decided to go back out and sit in some A/C for an hour. The only problem is that to get into the police compound you have to go through two security checkpoints. My colleague is getting married in 3 weeks and had just received a package with her wedding shoes in it, which she brought with her. So, at every checkpoint the guards made her open the box and they went over the shoes carefully. In total, I think we went through 6 checkpoints yesterday. At least it was her, not me, who mentioned that maybe she shouldn’t have brought the shoes in retrospect. I’m glad we were together, though, because she had her Kindle with her and we played word games while we waited until her battery ran out.

Anyway…we got our paperwork turned in at 4:45, and it just so happens that my husband works next door to that building. Convenient! I just waited 30 minutes or so until he got off work, and we headed home. I should get my documents in about 2 weeks, so that’s all taken care of. I wasn’t expecting it to happen so quickly, so that was definitely a nice welcome home!

In my hometown

My apologies for the almost 2 month blog blackout! Since my last post, I spent a few weeks moping around because my husband couldn't go back to my hometown with me, then I spent about a week getting ready to go and moping some more, then I spent 4 wonderful, fun, relaxing weeks with my family and friends, and I just got back home last night. It was great to see everyone, and I didn't write any blogs because I was just too busy having fun. Here are some highlights:

- I got to go to my cousin's baby shower! I don't get to see my dad's side of the family much as it is, but it just so happened that they scheduled the baby shower for when I was in town. It was great to be in on that family milestone.

- I was at the church where I grew up when they called their new senior pastor. Although I didn't technically "meet" them, I at least got to see the new pastor and his wife in person! It feels strange that there will be a different pastor there now, but I'm really happy for the church. It was exciting to be there for that time.

- My parents, brother and I went camping! We couldn't remember the last time that had happened, so it had been a while. We had planned that when we thought my husband was coming as a little adventure for him, but it turned out to be a bit too adventurous with a driving rain/hail storm and a skunk in our camp (we were in tents). Still, it was tons of fun, complete with smores and guitar and harmonica around the campfire. Props to my brother for his harmonica solos on "When the Saints Go Marching In". (Sidenote - I had never sung all of the verses of that song before. Not all of them are as cheery as the first verse. My personal favorite was "Oh when the mooooooon goes down in blooooood Oh when the moon goes down in bloooooood How I long to be in that number..." Wow.)

- We spend tons of family time with my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandma. Those can be crazy times. Unfortunately, when we all went out for dinner at the steakhouse, another patron had to come tell us to keep it down because our shrieking laughter had hit rather high octaves. He didn't actually ask us to keep it down. He just came over to where we were, stared at us for a while, and said, "Holy s*%&!" True story. My apologies to you, dear man.

- We also scrapbooked all together to get all of my cousin's pictures into a scrapbook. It was a daunting task, but when we all worked together, we got more than half of it completed, and it was a special time of looking at her pictures and remembering her life.

- I got to see many close friends, including my dear, dear friend who lives in China. She was back visiting family, too, so we did some karaoke together, among other things. We dueted "A Whole New World" pretty well, but I definitely need more practice to catch up to her skills.

There are a lot of other things I haven't mentioned because I am seriously jetlagged at the moment, but those were some highlights.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Foreign Fourth

July 4th as an expat is always interesting. And by interesting, I mean "dull". I always want to do something, but I usually end up just making a flag fruit pizza and singing the Star Spangled Banner by myself. It’s just about as boring as it sounds. This year as July 4th was approaching, I kept wishing that there were some picnic or barbeque I could go to.  Then, the day before, I decided to take the bull by its redcoat tails and organize my own bash. I texted two American coworkers, and they were both excited too (I had saved them from their own fate of lonely high notes), so it was set! One girl brought her “native” boyfriend, who was at first apprehensive about being around “all of those Americans”. I guess we’re a scary bunch, or she had exaggerated the size of the party to him. There were three Americans and two “natives”, including my incredibly supportive husband who was just as excited as I was about the party. He even hooked up his laptop to the TV so we could watch youtube videos of fireworks. On the menu were “grilled” burgers,

baked beans (with bacon bits!!!), chips, homemade lemonade, and, of course, a flag fruit pizza.

I had brought over some little flags a few years ago, and we did get a little flag waving in during the fireworks finale.

Everyone had fun, and no one was singing off key alone. This land was made for you and MEEEEEEEEE!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


I think it’s time to write about driving. Driving sounds like no big deal, but it has been a major hurdle for me. When I moved to this country 4 years ago, some friends suggested I buy a car, and I basically laughed in their faces. “No way am I driving here!” I said. I scoffed. I was a scoffer. Why, you may ask? Drivers here are crazy. Traffic is crazy. Lane lines are usually non-existent, and when present, are taken as polite suggestions. Traffic lights are also suggestions, unless there is a police officer standing at the intersection. I just heard yesterday from a local – only the stopped police write tickets. The ones driving around are also breaking the rules, so you don’t have to worry about them. Wow. Laws are there, they just aren’t enforced. It’s perfectly normal to park a car on a main road. Just stop in the right lane and get out. As a courtesy, you might put on your blinkers to let people know that you are at a complete stop on a major road full of moving traffic.

And the pedestrians. Oh, the pedestrians. First of all, they are everywhere. They can jump in front of you on any road at any time. One classic from earlier this year was a man eating pudding while crossing the road. Nope, he couldn’t wait that extra 30 seconds. He was standing between two lanes of moving traffic just eating his pudding, waiting for a space to clear. And that’s pretty normal.

I describe all of this to support my position of not driving here, ever. I haven’t even mentioned the motorbikes, recycle carts, horse-drawn wagons, tractors, trucks, busses (we saw a bus literally rip the side off of a car one day AND JUST KEEP GOING!), and the dream team - taxis, shared taxis, and shared minibus taxis. These wonderful fellows’ normal mode of operation is to cut in front of everyone available, slam on their brakes, then speed ahead until they see another passenger, at which time they repeat their dance all over again. I did not want to drive.

Then we bought a car. Then we said “It would be a good idea for Marie to learn to drive.” Did I mention we bought a manual transmission? Did I mention I never got around to learning manual transmission? My first lessons were on the nearby college campus, which is built on a mountain top and whose entrance road is a big, steep hill with speed bumps. There are also wild dogs living on that campus. Oh, and the campus busses. Thankfully, it was pretty empty on weekends, so I got some good practice in. That was in January. I’ve driven about twice a month in the city since then, and I’ve been traumatized about twice a month since January. I’m happy to say, though, that after a debacle on Sunday when I couldn’t even get the car out of our neighborhood without stalling out (our neighborhood is really hilly, ok?) we made a new game plan. For three days this week my husband has been driving us to his work, then I switch over and drive to my work alone. It’s a 20 minute trip, all flat, lots of traffic, starting, stopping, etc. It’s perfect practice for me until I can get my confidence back up. I only had one mishap on Monday morning when I tried to start in 2nd gear. Other than that, I think I’m improving ever so slightly. And I’m even starting to enjoy it. I can do things here that I always wanted to do in the States, but knew would never fly, like inventing new lanes of traffic for myself, honking my horn at annoying people, and cutting people off in traffic. Confession – I also stop in the right lane on a major road when I’m waiting for my husband after work. No one even gets upset because it’s the normal mode of operation! Hey, I might get into this.

 Do any of you have driving stories? Did anyone else have trouble learning manual transmission?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Home Improvement

This post is not about the tv show, but I just want to say – they don’t make television like they used to. Home Improvement, Full House, Family Matters. I never thought I would say this, but I miss the 90s.

Ok, the real subject of this post are the home improvements that have been going on around our house for the past year:
  • The Great Leak of ‘11
  • Tore out our old wood floor that had gotten water under it during the Great Leak of ’11
  • Added windows to our balcony to make them more functional year-round
  • Fixed a leaky shower
  • Got an air conditioning unit installed (yay!)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, getting repair people to come out to your house here is nearly impossible. For example, the Great Leak of ’11 started about 4 days before our wedding. My parents, my brother and I were staying in the new house the week before the wedding. Everything was already getting pretty stressful, then a phone call came from my soon-to-be husband one night after everyone had checked in – the neighbors had called him to say we were leaking on them and could I go downstairs and check it out. I was sleeping in the living room, so I had to wake everyone up just to find some clothes, and went downstairs. Yep. We were leaking. We called the guy who had done our bathroom remodel every day for the next three days, but somehow he just couldn’t squeeze us into his schedule. To me, this was an emergency. We could not take showers. We could not do laundry. I was getting married. He finally got around to coming while we were on our honeymoon. My in-laws (they aren’t reading this, but a big shout-out to them) came and took care of it while we were gone. My mother-in-law told me after the fact she actually broke out in cold sores after seeing a three foot high pile of rubble in what used to be our bathroom, and all of the new flooring torn out. When we got back the house looked exactly the same as when we left, and the leak was fixed. Turned out it wasn’t the bathroom guy’s fault after all. Faulty furnace pipes.

Our wood floor didn’t take too nicely to all of that water, though, so we finally decided we should replace it after my MIL and also my best friend who was visiting fell through the floor a little. Having guests falling through the floor is something to be avoided, if you can. So, in March sometime we had the floor replaced in the living room, which meant clearing out all of the furniture, paying a guy to come tear up the floor, re-plastering the bottom of the walls ourselves, painting the room, then getting the new floor put in. We decided not to do the floor ourselves since it didn’t cost that much more to just have someone else who knew what they were doing do it. It took a total of about 4 days.  My father-in-law saved us by coming each day to let the workers in and supervise them. He also came when the windows were installed on the balcony, and before we even moved into the house he came to supervise the bathroom , new windows, and new furnace projects. He’s a life saver!

                            Here's me enjoying the new floor before we moved in all the furniture!

I repaired the leaky shower myself finally after the shower guys flaked out on us five times or so. I felt like quite the handy woman with my silicone gun and fixity powers.

Our most recent project is the A/C unit that came last night. The guys were an hour late, and we started panicking and calling them every 10 minutes. Turns out the delivery guy’s phone ‘ran out of battery’ and that’s why we couldn’t contact him. My guess is he was eating dinner, which is fine, but I just wish people would tell the truth. Two installation guys came, and they decided that the best way to install it would be to lower it with a rope from our upstairs neighbor’s house. Wait, WHAT? Is this normal? Why do I ask if things are normal anymore? So, I was assigned the lovely task of going upstairs and asking our neighbors who we’ve never met if we can lower our air conditioning from their balcony with a rope. At least we got to meet our neighbors! They said sure, not problem, and we gave them some cherries as a thank you. They didn’t actually lower the a/c. They tied a rope and one guy pulled it up out of our house and positioned it from their balcony. We were a little disappointed at the end when he told us that we were all set – and we would just have to get an electrician to hook everything up now. Um, what? I thought that was your job. Anyway, we’ll try to get an electrician tonight and hopefully sit in a blissfully climate-controlled room tonight. You just never know what will happen here. I’m trying to roll with the punches.


Has anyone in other places had unreliable home improvement people? I am starting to realize why the DIY movement is so big in the US. If want something done right…DIY!

Pictures to come!

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Why did I call this blog Marie in Stitches? Well, I think my life is pretty funny sometimes, but also, always the lover of double meanings, I do actually sew. I won’t show all of my projects here, because many of my projects remind me of Vanessa’s sewing project for Theo. (Cosby Show, anyone?) In case you missed that episode (you should really watch all of the episodes of the Cosby Show) Vanessa offers to duplicate a designer shirt for Theo for a fraction of the cost, and the final product is awesome, in that it would take incredible skill to make a shirt look that bad on purpose. It was so horrible that it was almost cool in its horribleness. But it didn’t look like the original. Anyway, some of my projects are like that, but some actually turn out, like this shirt that I made recently. It was my first try at a men’s button-down, and I have to say I was pretty pleased with the result. The owner, (Mr. In Stitches) has even worn it in public without incident or anyone asking if the shirt was homemade. That is the definition of success in my book!

I also made this puppy dog hooded towel a couple of months ago. (Sorry for the sidewaysiness.)

The owner has also been using it regularly, although not in public, and seems quite happy with it. However, I will not be showing a picture of the matching hand puppet that I made. That was a “Vanessa”. I still gave it to the intended recipient, and, as I thought, he didn’t notice that the puppet had a perpetual smirk or that I used dark thread on white terrycloth and could not for the life of me remove the stitching (For those who care - don’t make a wrong stitch on terry cloth.)

 So, there you have it. I am Marie. These are my stitches.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Flowers, Flowers Everywhere!

I haven’t written lately because I’ve been so busy having various adventures! Here is one:
We went to a flower festival a couple of weeks ago about 1.5 hours from where we live. I heard about it from a Scottish coworker, and since I got the flower loving gene from my mom, I immediately wanted to go. Unfortunately, the week before the festival we had to rip out our living room floor (or more accurately, pay someone to rip it out) in anticipation for our shiny, new, non-squeaky floor that visitors and kin would not fall through. But that is another story, or two, so back to the flower festival. As written in a previous post, workers and repairmen are not the most reliable crowd here. In fact, their unreliability is quite reliable. We had offered to take our Scottish friend to the festival with us, but then had to cancel and reinstate those plans about 47 times during that week. The final word on Friday night was that the new floor was going in on Monday, so the flower festival was a go! At that point our living room floor was bare cement and all of the things that had been in the living room were then not in the living room and had found homes in our other two rooms or kitchen. So, the house was a bit difficult to live in, and a day out at the flower festival was looking better all the time. So off we went to pick up our friend.
It was a pleasant journey, until we reached the part of the highway that they had decided to turn into an unimproved dirt road, which was the last 30 kilometers of our journey. There was a water-sprayer truck, which seemed to help a bit with the dust, but also created a bit of mud. When we got back into the city, the guy at the carwash was amazed – “Where did you go with this car?” It looked like we had driven to Siberia and back, driving directly through any lakes or rivers in our way. Actually, I felt pretty cool driving around like that for a few hours. Oh yes, we are cool enough to have a car THIS muddy.
Anyway, when we entered the little town holding the festival, it was instant charm. They had posted signs for a free parking lot, which turned out to be someone’s olive grove. We just chose a tree and parked under it. Then, we followed the sound of the banging of drums to the main part of the festival. Inexplicably, there was a group of about 10 middle-aged women dancing quite rambunctiously around the drummer. This spontaneous drumming and dancing lasted the whole day. It looked like a little mini-wedding wherever they popped up. We all just had to shrug our shoulders and say “Whatever”, because there was no real rhyme or reason to it.
And we come to the festival itself. There were a hundred or so stands of flower sellers laid out on two main streets in the city. They had also set up the normal market, so there was quite a large area to walk around. The flowers were, of course, beautiful, and even better, really cheap. We got 3 rose plants between the three of us for about 4 dollars each, and many plants were just one or two dollars. We had lunch in a nice little hidden garden cafĂ© that our friend knew about (he goes every year), which was a nice reprieve from the drum and dance routine. We came home with 6 plants total, some of which I don’t know the names. One was a kind of daisy, one is called the “Prayer Plant”, one succulent I found online and identified as a blue echeveria (?), and two roses, as I said. We gave the orange rose to my MIL and kept the pink one. All plants seem happy so far and are playing well with the other plants.

All in all, the festival was quite cute and worth the drive.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Wild Grapes

In honor of Easter I have been reading part of John Stott's "Through the Bible" daily devotional book. Today I hit a devotional about John 15 - The Vine and the Branches. A few years back God used these verses to cause some growth in my spiritual life and hammer out some "trust issues" I had been having with Him. So, it was really nice to be reminded of this teaching. It felt like returning to and old friend's house.

Then, in the middle of the devotional there were some suggested readings the normal verses about the fruit of the Spirit, and then Isaiah 5. So, I looked at Isaiah 5. God found some good soil, planted a vineyard, made it all nice, but then the vines gave wild grapes instead of grapes. I don't know what wild grapes are, but apparently not the result He was going for, because he proceeds to trample the vineyard, undo everything He had done, and let it get overgrown with weeds and thorns. I just keep thinking - what are wild grapes? So, I looked it up.

Most commentators that I read about commented that wild grapes are beautiful, but sour and even poisonous. Also, they are what you would expect in the wild if nothing was done to cultivate a vineyard. So, rather than just even being unfruitful, which perhaps would have warranted more care (just my speculation), God's vineyard had actually produced bad fruit as if He had done nothing at all. So, in my life, wild grapes would be the natural sin from my sin nature. Is there good fruit in my life? Do I live as if God has done anything at all for me? Sometimes I wonder, but then I go back to the vine and the branches. Christ is the true vine. If I am living in Him, I will produce fruit. The branch can't say "Well, I feel like producing fruit today." It just does.

One more part of the devotional that struck me was about pruning. I thought of my mom and grandma. They always get so much grief over their overpruning practices ("Don't kill the thing!"), but in the springtime, my mom's garden is really something to see. There is color everywhere. Stott mentions also that spiritual growth is rarely disconnected with some kind of suffering. This is a great thought. Happy Easter everyone! He is Risen!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Obvious Tax

It's tax time! Having just finished my taxes, I've got taxes on the mind. I'll just print out my forms and mail them off tomorrow - I won't even need the automatic foreign resident 2 month extension this year! Sometimes I feel silly filling taxes here. While I'm filling out the forms I feel like I'm doing a fake out with the IRS - here's how much money I made on line 347 OOPS! I made it all outside of the US on line 758. Gotcha! It seems like a lot of form filling, adding lines 5-61 and multiplying by .4749283 to write the number "0" at the bottom, but it is pretty amazing, when you think about it, that they made a handful of two page forms to accomodate the various life situations of over 300 million people. It's also amazing, that with five thousand here and three thousand there, they collect enough to run a country (I know, there's a huge deficit, but it's still amazing). I wouldn't be saying it's amazing if my number wasn't zero, but when you think about it, it is big job.

Then I was thinking, what if I and others around me could collect a little here and there as a tax. I like saying "If I had a nickel for every time...", but since nickels are out of style, I'll up it to a quarter. The first tax I would collect is the Obvious Tax. When people tell me something obvious about myself, I will collect a quarter. If they are married, have children, or were born after 2002, they get a deduction, 5 cents for each that applies. Examples of "Obvious" qualifying statements include, but are not limited to - "You are tall." and "You look tired, (teacher)." These two will be enough, actually. I could finance my own Department of Transportation with that tax.

The second tax I would collect is the Spam Tax. This would be harder to enforce, but if I only enforce it with spam text messages, I should be able to collect enough from my bank and telephone company alone to finance my Ministry of the Interior Design. Who ever heard of a bank spamming its customers? Do banks in the US do this?

PS - As a disclaimer, just because I don't pay taxes in the US doesn't mean I don't pay taxes. I'm actually really thankful that the US doesn't double-tax citizens who live in foreign countries. That was a great, merciful idea, whoever thought of it.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Kleenex vs. Reality

Welcome! If you're reading this, thanks.

I have many moments when I think "Yeah, I've got this down. Oh yeah, I've adapted to this place. That old me that first came here was so naive. Ha! I am so wise. My wisdom overwhelms me." Then, usually what happens after these thoughts is I get annoyed when I overhear someone whispering about that foreigner over there (that's me. It's always me. Even in my hometown, if someone is talking about the incredibly foreign looking person, it's me.) Or I get stonewalled by some bureaucratic process and hit play on my now memorized mental rant about the inefficiency of EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS PLACE. So, maybe I haven't adapted so much. Maybe I don't want to. I have been realizing more and more, though, that I really do compare my adopted home to a version of my original home that, if I could paint a picture of it for you, you might describe as heaven, but a little better. Everything works smoothly in this idealized land. Everyone is polite and waits their turn (post office, people?), but no one waits too long (banks, anyone?). Busses never break down and always run on time, and people only ride busses if they want to save the environment, because gas is free and cars get you everywhere you want to go in 10 minutes. Students are respectful, teachers are wildly educated, schools are clean and churn out overachieving critical thinkers by the thousands every year.

Now, if you are reading this blog, it means that you know me, and you know the place I am describing - the place I am from. Let's call it "Kleenex, Barizona" for the argument's sake. Everyone is polite? I can remember some not-so-polite behaviors. What immediately comes to mind is a woman who spit a mouthful of her pancake breakfast at the bus she had been kicked off of because no food or drinks are allowed. I've never seen that in my new homeland. Yeah, I was on that bus. It took an hour to go anywhere, but I was riding the bus to save money on gas. Yes, my friends, it wasn't free. I have waited for an hour or more at many a post office, bank, government office, and on and on in "Kleenex". My students in the Land of Facial Tissue weren't really that respectful. In fact, I had one threaten me. I've never been threatened here. And not to say this is good or bad, but I haven't had to be trained to recognize homicidal tendencies in students' writings here like I was in "Barizona". I've never even been afraid of a student here. My first week of teaching in "Barizona", a student asked me if he could write a descriptive paper describing the experience of carrying a gun on campus. (My answer was, "Um, no.")

I am generally against comparing the two places, because every place and person is so different, and comparing leads to generalizations that are neither true, healthy, nor useful. But, it is useful for me to remember that the version of my hometown that I created in my mind on the plane on the flight over to my new home is wildly sensationalized. All of the bad aspects were sucked down the airplane vacuum toilet - never to be seen again. (Aside - there is still a part of my mind that believes that the vacuum toilet sprays its contents into the atmosphere over the ocean, and I always say a little prayer that some poor, unsuspecting sailor won't be caught unawares. Can anyone confirm or deny this thought with scientific data? Thanks.) That was a wild aside. In any case, I'll just keep trying to keep everything in perspective. Bureaucracy is bureaucracy everywhere. Being a foreigner involves a lot of paperwork, and yes, I did choose this. Repairmen don't come when they say they will no matter where you are, used car salesmen's job is to rip people off everywhere, and I'm sure in London, Siberia and Nairobi alike car repairs don't work on the first try. So, these are my thoughts today as I wait for the plumber to come for the second time in one week. Do any of you fantasize about life being greener on the other side of the ocean? Can anyone confirm or debunk my vacuum toilet fear?