Sunday, September 30, 2012

taking a break

It seems almost silly to post that I am taking a break from blogging since I have been taking a break for some time now.  My parenting, teaching and homemaking are using up all of my time and energy.  So, I may pop in occasionally to write something, but right now, it is hard to imagine having the time to do it.  Next summer for sure....

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Our trip to the Domincan Republic

The summer of 2011 we traveled for 5-6 weeks of our summer and we loved seeing people we love and new places, but this summer we intentionally decided to reduce our traveling and be home more. It was Jupiter's idea and he was right. Our home feels like a vacation home to us and we want to enjoy it. So, besides a few day trips and a weekend of camping in Cape Cod, our only big trip was to the Dominican Republic.

Jove and Miranda had never been to DR and I had ten years since Jupiter and I went there when we were dating. It was an amazing trip and I hope we can go on a regular basis. We spent part of our time with Jup's aunt Lana and uncle Victor who live in the capital, Santo Domingo. Victor runs an auto mechanic shop adjacent to their house and the house and shop are a very busy and entertaining place. Two of Jup's cousins also live there and one of their sons is Jove's age. We went to various attractions in the capital: the Botanical Garden (an amazing place), the Amber Musuem, the colonial zone (Sto. Domingo was the first city in the Americas and Columbus' son lived there for many years), the Musuem of the Dominican Man and the Malecon (beachfront boardwalk) and parks and restaurants right on the Caribbean Sea.
It was very interesting to contrast the historical lens you looked through at the Alcazar de Colon (Diego Columbus' river front fort/mansion) and the exhibits at the Musuem of the Dominican Man which try to have a critique of colonization and represent the history and culture of the of indigenous people and Africans on the island. But, DR has a long way to go to accept and celebrate its African roots. The day after we went to the museum, Jupiter and I were discussing the lack of awareness of history and identity in the country and I showed him a newspaper article where a Dominican sociologist claimed there were seven "races" in DR. Three of these racial categories had the word "Indian" in them. The day before at the museum, we learned that the entire indigenous population was gone within decades of the arrival of Europeans on the island. Sounds like denial to me...

The city is being developed quickly with a lot more stores, roads and businesses than a decade ago, but it suffers from security issues. There is a tremendous amount of petty crime. The neighborhood that Jupiter grew up in, Villas Agricolas, isn't safe, so we were only able to drive through and briefly stop to show the kids where he lived. People in Jupiter's family and some friends have been telling us for years how bad it has become and we know a lot of people that have been attacked or robbed when they go to DR. The common belief amongst Dominicans is that it is the influence of US criminality on DR and when people are deported after a sentence here, they take back a lot more sophisticated criminal behaviors. These neighborhoods have always been poor, but not dangerous. The childhood that Jupiter had roaming around free isn't possible anymore. And here is the kicker, the underpaid police force isn't going to help you, if fact, you need to avoid them too. The police are so corrupt that if you are stopped in your car, you would expect to pay some money to be allowed to go on your way. We were only stopped once the day before we came home and at this point we were so relaxed about it we were able to continue driving without bribing anyone, we confidently talked our way through it.

When we left the city to travel to Jaragua National Park in the Southwest part of the country near the Haitian border, we drove through beautiful countryside. Most of DR is either tropical lowlands (think sugar plantation), lush mountains, or beaches, but this part is a drier and cactus-filled because it is on the leeward side of the mountains. We drove through scrub desert with only a few small towns where people line the main road with tables selling mangos, green plantains and empty beer bottles filled with gasoline. We stayed at a small hotel called Pirates of the Caribbean in Paraiso (Paradise). One of the funniest moments of our vacation was when we drove to this hotel. Jup had downloaded maps of DR so we could use GPS to navigate and we knew the hotel was near the water at the end of this main street in this small fishing town. So we drive all the way down to the water and see a hotel that looks very run-down and like it is under construction; there were guys putting up the palm thatch roofs around an empty swimming pool. We are a little deflated at this point and wondering how bad it will be and so Jupiter gets out of our rental car to ask the palm thatcher guys if this is the hotel we're looking for and they direct us back a little towards a wall that has our hotel inside of it. Whew!!! we don't have to drink invisible drinks around an empty pool... The real hotel (really a large house with 4 guest rooms) was breezy and had lush gardens filled with fruit trees and singing birds and a big locked wall around it. The owners were two super-friendly ex-pats from Europe who love their job.

It was late afternoon when we arrived and we were looking for something to do before dinner and they recommended a nearby freshwater swimming hole. The Balineario los Patos (Ducks Swimming pool) was the most unexpected little excursion of our trip. We don't have any of our own pictures because we tended not take the big camera to places if we weren't sure about crime. This spot is beautiful, a very clean river empties into the sea and forms a natural swimming pool. The cold, fresh water was beautiful and felt so refreshing on a 90+ degree day. All of the tourists here were Dominicans and there were small plastic tables set up at the water's edge and you could order a drink and some food. If you waded through the river for 200 meters you got to the Caribbean Sea.
Taking a chartered bus trip (a gira) to visit a countryside spot of natural beauty is the most common form of internal tourism in DR. Tati, my mother-in-law, loved this spot and it brought back a lot of memories for her of trips she went on with Jupiter to swim in rivers in the country when he was young.

The next day we drove across a peninsula to one of the farthest west parts of DR. The land here is mainly ranchland and at various points we had to stop and wait for cattle or goats to move off the road. The poverty and harshness of life here was omnipresent. In the dry and hot (over 100 degrees F) conditions, we saw young children walking along the roads with little to no clothing. Often when we stopped the car in this part of the country, children, and sometimes adults, would beg for food or money. The DR-Haiti border is porous and a lot of people come from Haiti and squat in lands in this part of the country. Jupiter and I feel strongly that we want our kids to be aware of living conditions in the developing world and this part of the trip changed them.

The next morning we get up to drive across the peninsula; at the end of this long dirt road, there is a palm thatched restaurant at the edge of a turquoise sea. You park here and hire a small boat to take you to the Bahia de las Aguilas (bay of the eagles) which is a beach inside Jaragua National Park which is only accessible by boat. After a fifteen minute boat ride zooming by limestone cliffs, you arrive at the most beautiful beach I have ever seen. We spent the day here swimming and looking for critters. I ran down the beach and would dive in every so often to cool off. The color of the water and the heat gave this place a dream-like quality.

The next day we went to Laguna Oviedo on the eastern side of Jaragua Nat'l Park. This salt water lake is three times saltier than the ocean and is the remnant of an ancient sea that covered this whole part of the country. We visited the recently constructed ranger station and hired the biologist/park ranger and boat to take us out on the lake. The lake has 24 islands and many of them are nesting spots for birds. We saw juvenile flamingos, roseate spoonbills, great white egrets, terns, ibis and may more species. One of the cays is known for its rhinocerous iguana population. Our guide had done his thesis on the rhinocerous iguana so we learned a lot about it. We disembarked and hiked around the island. The mangrove trees were fruiting, so the kids picked the fruits and gave them to the iguanas. My mother-in-law who is not a huge fan of reptiles had to be convinced that iguanas are harmless and vegetarian. There were a lot of iguanas and you could hear them walking through the dry leaf litter before you could see them. We climbed a observation tower to look out over the lake and its islands.

The National Park participates in a sea turtle conservation program. On a beach just over a little spit of land from Laguna Oviedo, three species of sea turtles build nests. A park guard goes out every night during nesting season and when a sea turtle lays their eggs, the nest is excavated and brought back to a protected area to allow hatching under watchful eyes. The day we were there, baby leatherbacks had hatched that morning and we were able to hold them before they got released that night.

After our wild west adventure, we headed back to the city for a day and took a day trip to a country house with Jupiter's dad before heading east to a resort in the Punta Cana area. We have never stayed in a resort before and I had always assumed that I would get bored after a couple of days... but, I didn't. It was the most relaxed I have felt in a long time. We stayed at Natura Park Resort and got a great deal. We brought Jove and Miranda's cousin with us. We spent our days in the ocean, swimming and snorkeling. The resort had activities for kids and our kids made some friends for us. The kids all loved the games, classes and performances they got to participate in. The guests at the resorts were mostly from Spain, Portugal, Russia, Germany and there were a few people from the US, mostly Latinos from the New York Area. The kids continued to use Spanish at the resort because it was mostly Spanish kids that they played with. Miranda spent an entire afternoon making "albondigas" in the sand with her friend from Galicia and I asked her if she knew what albondigas are and when I told her they were meatballs, she laughed. Miranda is a staunch vegetarian who can barely handle walking through the meat section of a supermarket.
The resort had evening entertainment which included two dance performances, one was Dominican history though dance which was amazing. Since we had built in babysitting, Jupiter and I were able to go out and dance and have some alone time.

So, for our first true international trip with the kids, we are pleased that everything seemed manageable and enjoyable. We may try the mix of more adventurous travel followed by pampering again and when the kids are a little older we hope to introduce volunteering to our trips.

Monday, July 2, 2012

horsin' around in Stamford

Every year the city of Stamford commissions artists to paint sculptures that will be displayed on the downtown streets.  When we first drove around Stamford to see if we wanted to move here there were cat and dog sculptures everywhere.  This year there are horses everywhere.  There are at least 40 and some are related to their location (like the horse book ends in front of the library!!).  I love Stamford for so many reasons and the public art is one of them.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Kindergarten here she comes...

Miranda has completed her Montessori preschool tenure, three years which have taken her from toddlerhood to a reading and writing, singing her heart out, sassy outfit wearing, little girl. Next fall, she will join Jove at our local public school, which may be a bit of a let down after having two teachers for a class of only 5-6 kids, lessons in music, foreign language, etc. I have convinced myself that the elitism of private school is somehow more permissible for little pre-schoolers than older kids. She has had an amazing pre-school experience and I was choked up when we left on her last day knowing that all of the people that were such a big part of her life won't be a part of her life anymore.
Miranda's pre-school graduation was equal parts ridiculously cute and ridiculous. Caps and gowns and speeches by five year olds.... Oh my!! My favorite part was the kids singing and playing instruments, they were happy and free and not so focused on "graduating."

Saturday, May 26, 2012

It's that time of year....

All along the east coast of the United States in estuaries like Long Island Sound and Chesapeake Bay, during the month of May horseshoe crabs come ashore to deposit their fertilized eggs in the sand.  In the top photo above, the larger female in the front of the pack is being pursued by multiple smaller males who would like a chance to be the lucky father.  Yesterday afternoon, the kids and I visited our local beach, in what has become a sort of annual pilgrimage to see the the horseshoe crabs.  We used to see them every year when we lived in the Bronx and the kids would occasionally, accidentally uncover their small green eggs while digging to build sand sculptures.

I still feel awe every time we visit the ocean and I don't take it for granted that I can drive for fifteen  minutes to the beaches in my city: to watch wildlife, swim, comb the beach for treasures and listen to the waves.  As someone who grew up in Michigan with its Great Lakes, I could always appreciate the immensity and beauty of big water. But, I don't think I ever saw or felt the ocean until a trip to Florida when I was maybe ten years old and I didn't see the Pacific Ocean until I lived in Costa Rica when I was nineteen.

 Every time we go to the ocean I see something new.  Yesterday, it was low tide when we arrived at the beach and we found a lot of live oysters and slipper shells that had washed ashore.  Many of the oysters had what looked a larval form of some creature attached.  Jove is holding a clump of oysters below.  We haven't been able to figure out what it is yet.    Clue: they are not oyster spat (juveniles), which was my first guess.  Any guesses??  We threw it back in the sea after snapping this photo so they oysters could live on.

Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.--- Rachel Carson

Monday, April 9, 2012

big girl birthday

Miranda turned five on the first day of Spring and we had a big flower party at our house to celebrate. We have a tradition of big birthday parties for the kids and they dream and plan for months about what they want to do at their parties. Miranda wanted crafts and flower games and flowers on her cake. The flower idea first popped up when we gave Jupiter's mom fresh cut flowers on her birthday and Miranda said she wanted fresh flowers on her birthday, too.

Although Miranda leaving her baby ways behind her has been happening for awhile, this birthday seemed momentous. I am trying not to get sappy about my baby growing up, but I have been feeling a little nostalgic lately. I am going to attempt to describe all of Miranda's ways as she embarks on being a big kid. If I had to describe Miranda simply, I would say that she pays attention to everything and knows so much. Miranda has opinions about things, her own analysis of people and ideas. She is detail oriented. She tells me everything she does in school. She asks a lot of "why" questions ... a lot. Miranda memorizes songs she hears once. She loves foreign languages, stories, singing, dancing and painting. Miranda does not like injustice and feels particularly upset about people killing animals to eat them (she is the only true vegetarian left in the house). Miranda loves to be outside, run and climb (especially rock climbing walls). Miranda cares about how things look and appreciates beauty. She loves to bejewel and put glitter glue on every thing imaginable. Miranda is very affectionate and loves to cuddle and be cuddled. She is motherly towards babies, our bunnies and her dollies. I can imagine Miranda as a ten year old and I know she will be kind and smart and probably more girly than I ever was.

Spring vacation

Spring vacation is upon us and we are so enjoying being home together. We have a few fun things on the calendar this week but mostly we plan to relax and play at home. This semester I have the heaviest teaching load I have ever had and I need to rest and catch up on everything else that has been pushed aside the past couple of months.

The kids have been playing together so much and have elaborate invented games going on all day. They will run into a room to get something they need (scissors, legos, a blanket) and run back to wherever they are playing. Yesterday, they made slime which was a birthday present mailed to Miranda by our good friends across the miles. They had so much fun pretending the slime was a beard, tongue, snake, etc. My kids remind me constantly that the formula for a happy childhood is simple: a few toys, friends (or brother or sister or bunny) and the freedom to play.

Our neighbors whose grandchildren are visiting, hosted an egg hunt in their yard and we spent Easter afternoon hunting for missing eggs and visiting while the kids played. We have have only two houses right next to us but it feels like we have a neighborhood because our neighbors are such good people.

Miranda's big news, which she would gladly tell you herself, is that she got her first haircut. Her hair had become quite uneven over time and although her long locks were beautiful it had to be done. She is quite excited to have short hair especially because the older girl who lives next door also just got her her hair cut short. Miranda now says that she looks at least like a six year old, maybe even eight.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Harry and Rosie

We are very happy to welcome two baby bunnies into our family. They are ten weeks old and ridiculously cute and funny to watch. Jove and Miranda rush through all other necessary activities to make sure they have bunny time every morning and night. Miranda turned five last week and the bunnies were her birthday present from Jupiter and I. She loves taking care of animals and pretending to take care of her dollies and stuffed animals. She carries Rosie around like a baby. We have "bunny jackets" on a leash so that the bunnies can get some outside time. The plan is (was) to put them outside in a hutch with the chickens we are going to get but I like having them around. Two things I never knew about bunnies is that they can be litter box trained (which they are already) and they need to have their nails trimmed. Who knew??

Saturday, March 3, 2012

good news

As many of you know, my brother moved to Connecticut a little less than a year ago to improve his job hunting prospects. Jason, or Tío Jason as he's called here, is a chemist and had a lot of trouble finding a job in Michigan. He worked for a few months at Macy's department store here and just last week was hired as a scientist by the local health department. It is a great position and comes with all of the benefits and security of public employment. After years of unemployment and underemployment, we are all so thrilled for him. Congratulations Jason!!!

Friday, January 6, 2012

a few of my favorite things

My favorite view in the house

Holiday celebrations with family
Playing beauty parlor with grandpa (Miranda's favorite)

Celebrating with school friends

Trying something new