Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Sunday Sigh

Here we are ending January without a clue how this month has passed so quickly. It could be that we spent less than half the month in NYC, or that we spent only half together. This week was the end of a whirlwind of travel activity for a bit. A bit.

I arrived at LaGuardia on Tuesday night and non-intentionally stayed on Pacific Time for the remainder of the week. After work on Wednesday, while every other New Yorker rushed home to avoid the severe winter storm, Dominic and I put on our boots and caught the D train to Manhattan to grab a drink with a friend and fellow RPCV who was in town for for an interview. After reminiscing and getting caught up we were on track to get home well after midnight.

Thursday afternoon I got a call from one of Dominic's cousins who had been trying to fly into JFK for days. About a half an hour later she arrived at our apartment and we spent the evening getting to know one another. She was also in town for an interview [perhaps the state of our union is improving?] and would only be sleeping over for a couple nights, but it was a terrific opportunity to visit, learn more about the cousins, and hear about her international lifestyle. The willingness to travel and visit family members - no matter how often you talk or how well you know each other - is one of the best things about my in-laws. We were up late by default because of Dominic's class times.

On Friday night we hosted a Growing in Faith 101 class in our living room. The church we started attending regularly doesn't have a building yet so the mid-week classes, groups and studies typically take place in someones home. We're thankful for this community and honored to have the opportunity to host our neighbors. More on this to come...

Saturday we said goodbye to our cousin and then Dom voluntarily sacrificed his day to help people complete their taxes at a local nonprofit. I headed down to the South Bronx to read with elementary school students - the least I can do to address the failing school system in this city. We met at the train station and headed to Manhattan for a Mediterranean dinner with our Peace Corps friends. We ran from the restaurant - literally - to Broadway to see Mary Poppins. Mary couldn't have provided a better way to end such a hectic week.

Do you remember Mary Poppins? Surely supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, taken down with a spoonful of sugar, is a delightful memory from childhood. Of course humming Let's Go Fly A Kite is a lighthearted tune for Saturday afternoon chores, but do you remember the message of Mary Poppins? The magic of a talking umbrella and hopping into chalk art, the value placed on family over money, the focus on stewardship? This musical could have been written in 2008. It was a perfect way for Dominic and I to relax, refocus and remember our blessings. We are so grateful for the balance we've found here.

Now if you'll excuse me, I must go feed the birds.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Philippines

As I sit and stare out of the Fordham Library window at this...

....I can’t help but think about the stark contrast from where I was just a few days ago.

Sarah was kind enough to agree to allow me to take advantage of a great opportunity to attend a 2 week Project Assessment course in the Philippines. My first time in Southeast Asia was a wonderful experience.

The trip began auspiciously enough when I was delayed for a whole day. Now the reader may be thinking that this sounds terrible and it would indeed have been if I had been delayed someplace like O’Hare or JFK. Fortunately for me I was delayed here….

…In Guam. I eventually did make it to Manila.

We were hosted for the first week of classes by Ateneo de Manila. Outside of our classroom time we did get to go on some cultural trips and see the city. These included trips to the old city center known as Intramuros as well as Corregidor. This is the island where the Americans and Philippinos fought the last battle before being defeated (initially) by the Japanese in WWII. It was from here that McCarther’s “I shall return” comes.

While in Manila I also got to taste a local delicacy that I heard a lot about called balot. I thought I had eaten some challenging things while abroad in my past, but this one may take the cake. It is a duck egg that has been allowed to fertilize and so it has a nearly developed embryo inside. You break a hole in the top, drink the juice (which tastes a lot like chicken soup) and then proceed to eat the insides; hoping all the while that you don't taste feather or beak which is a sign that the egg has been allowed to fertilize for too long. Here's a photo of my particular egg.

It was rough getting it down, but it actually tasted pretty good.

For the second week of class we traveled to a rural fishing village in the south of Luzon island and spent time living with the local fishing folk. While learning about a local livelihood project (which we were there to assess) we got a chance to go fishing with them. Here we are traveling by boat out to a fishing site.
This was a highlight of the trip. The fishermen spread out these nets that then sink down in the water a few feet in a circular pattern.

They then use these tools which are kind of like large toilet plungers to smack the water. This hopefully startles the fish so that they scramble and get caught up in the net. The video below is of me taking part in the smacking. Our catch was pretty minuscule so perhaps my form can use some work.
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After catching our fish we went to a white sandy beach, started a fire and ate our catch. It was a pretty darn neat experience.

The villagers in Baranguay Uno, Batangas were so friendly. It had been a while since I had stayed with a host family and I forgot how enjoyable and worthwhile it is to stay with locals while traveling; even if only for a few days, as was the case on this trip. here's a picture of the village:

I, as so many others before me, was very enamored of the artistry of the most common mode of public transportation in the Philippines: the Jeepney.

This particular Jeepney caught our eye. Not sure why Mike Tyson is associated with the Bronx? But nonetheless it's pretty sweet.

All in all it was a great trip and a worthwhile class. Hopefully Sarah and I will be able to visit Southeast Asia sometime in the future.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

AeroGarden Part 2

I planted my AeroGarden one week ago today. There couldn't be an easier process. The machine knows when to turn on the lights and when they should go off. Sixteen hours of light, eight hours of dark. The AeroGarden can stay on a healthier schedule than most Americans! Here's what it looks like when I put in my seed pods:

The great thing about the garden is that I know when to expect my plants to sprout. Each plant is labeled with the number of days I should wait before the leaves appear under the little 'greenhouse covers'. I'm proud to say that Genovese Basil (expected in 6-12 days) appeared on Saturday:
I can also see my thyme (7-12 days), lemon basil (4-7 days) and globe basil (4-7 days) today! We can not wait to try these herbs. This garden has been a pleasure to watch.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Crafty Christmas

I spent time over Christmas and New Years with two of the best, most talented women in the world: My Mom and my Mother-in-law. Fortunately for me, they are both willing to share their gifts with others.

A few years ago my mom joined the Prayer Shawl Ministry at church. She's been knitting up a storm ever since. Her newest project is knitting hats for babies in the hospital. She got several different sized looms for Christmas and she offered to teach me how to knit while I was home. As it turns out, knitting hats is really quite easy (and quick) to learn. I finished the hat on the right in just a few days. It's a good thing since the temperatures haven't been over 30 degrees since I returned to NY. Although tight, this hat does the trick in protecting my ears from the overwhelming wind.

For some lucky baby's bald head.

My Mother-in-law is a gifted seamstress who shares her gifts wherever she goes. When she visited Seattle in 2009 she brought a sewing machine in her trunk. I was ashamed to admit that one of the quilts we started together way back then had sat in my closet unfinished until this winter. She graciously agreed to help me complete it.

I sent this bunny-patterned baby quilt to my host sister's daughter in Armenia. Although I'm not sure when I'll be able to return to meet her, I hope this quilt will keep her warm through the winter.

Thank you both for the things you have taught me--crafts and life lessons.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

AeroGardening Part 1

An AeroGarden is the ideal garden for a NY apartment. An AeroGarden is the best gift a husband can give. Thank you for my Christmas present Dom!

We had a small Christmas exchange before leaving for Sacramento. Dominic surprised me with this thoughtful gift for our tiny place. I got the herb garden seek kit with the actual growing machine itself.

The great thing about an AeroGarden is that it grows with water and nutrient packets - no dirt, therefore no bugs! A water pump circulates water up and over through the 'growing sponges' (or seed pods) and on the roots of the plants.

Here's Dom reading the growing instructions:

There aren't many parts, the large frame on the top right is what holds the seed sponges. I can grow seven different plants at a time.

This is the base. To get started you choose what you're growing: herbs, tomatoes/peppers, flowers, etc... and it knows just what to do.

I planted my herb garden on Tuesday, January 11. For the first round I'm growing globe, genovese and lemon basil, tall dill, oregano, mint and thyme.

I'll keep you posted as the AeroGarden works it's magic...

Monday, January 10, 2011

An Ode to Rachel

Rachel o Rachel what can I say?
She's lovely and kind and always makes our day.

She'll love you and call you and never go away,
Even when you move she's willing to pay-
For a ticket, a Metro card a trip to the city,
She'll surprise you at home and make you feel pretty...


She's a professional, responsible and cooks just the best,
Quesadillas, guacamole and dessert better than the rest.

Rachel cares about family and never forgets friends,
Which is why I hope we'll be together until the very end.


Saturday, January 08, 2011

A Day in the Life

Back to the BX*.

I will admit, I am feeling overwhelmed by all there is to say about the past three weeks. I've decided to work backwards starting with my day - well a portion of my day - today.

Before leaving town we did our best to clean out the refrigerator. I have been gearing up for a grocery run for a few days now (trust me, it is necessary to do so) fully anticipating my desire to avoid the neighborhood grocery store in the new year as long as possible. Something I've learned about myself since living here is that I'm willing to travel great lengths and endure great frustrations to shop at a good grocery store. Lucky for us, one exists in Manhattan. I know, I know, there are probably tons in Manhattan and probably tons within the Bronx that I'm not giving a chance, but I have one store where I know I can find what I want, feel good about the quality, and enjoy the customer service. Think customer service doesn't make a difference with all the high-tech self-checkouts these days? I bet if you come shop at our local store you'll change your mind.

I pulled out my GNAUSA cart, grabbed a veggie slice, and caught the train about a half a mile from my house at 12:35 p.m. For whatever reason, however, I forgot to turn on my brain or pay attention to what was happening and I ended up in Brooklyn. For those of you not familiar with the city, this is a very long trip from the Bronx. Long. And yet, just before we crossed the river (after there was anything I could do to remedy the situation) I realized I had gone straight through and out the base of the island. What a delay. At the first stop I got out and headed right back where I had come. I had always looked forward to visiting Brooklyn, but today I was on a mission and couldn't be distracted from the groceries... or so I thought.

I asked a kind gentleman next to me where the next stop was. This is critical for me as I have been known to get on a train thinking I'm heading uptown when it's going the opposite direction. Somehow we struck up conversation and he told me that his name was Arsen and he was in America studying English. Arsen is an Armenian name so I asked him about it. He told me that he is a mechanical engineer but his family owns a florist shop in Istanbul. He's looking for American roommates so he can practice his English. Amazingly, I think he would have moved in with Dom and I today if I would have offered. He was eager to practice English and very chatty, but got off to go shopping with his friend. That's the thing about NY, I think if you're willing to ask people are willing to help. You can't isolate yourself.

I got to 14th and stopped by the farmer's market to see if anything looked good. It is a rough time a year for the market, and even harder for those who have to stand outside in 30 degree weather, so I bought a couple apples and pears. They looked pitiful, but since they're harvested naturally I'm sure they'll taste fine.

I was so close to the store when I got stopped by another guy my age trying to get me to try out a new salon. At first I listened because I thought I could get a free haircut (which I desperately need) but then I realized he wanted me to buy a salon package. I don't know what was wrong with me today - perhaps I was trying to support the poor souls who have to work outdoors in the winter- but after he discounted the haircut to a deal I couldn't pass up I bought the darn package. Shampoo, deep conditioning, cut, blow dry, style, skin analysis, mini European facial, eyebrow wax, lip wax (which I do not want), 20 minute neck and shoulder Shiatsu massage, all for $50. I think the UN should hire me for my negotiation skills. I asked the guy about his work, his lifestyle in midtown, and how he stays warm outside all day. I also found out that he grew up in Cincinnati. When I asked him if he was ripping me off he said "I'm too cute for jail." I should have walked away then, but then I had to think that Ohioans take care of each other. We'll see how the salon is...

The store was packed. It's always packed. When you picture busy you have to shrink the size of whatever establishment you're imagining and double the people inside. I've shopped here a lot since we arrived and every single time the checkout line wraps around the perimeter of the store. My salon marketer friend gave me a good tip to shop the interior first and then just pick up what you want from the exterior as you wait in line. It would have worked today if there were not two lines side-by-side wrapped around the store. No cutting in for eggs when there could be line confusion.

I was trying to shop for more than a month's worth of groceries so I filled my cart completely. I brought four reusable grocery bags and all were filled to the brim.

As 3:30 approached I boarded the train back to the Bronx. This was easier said than done. I took the elevator downstairs and knew I wouldn't be able to fit my full cart through the entrance turnstiles. I waved to the attendant in his booth and asked him to kindly unlock the door from me. He yelled for me to swipe my metro card then push the turnstile. I was flustered (it was crowded) and I started to walk through. Realizing I was getting stuck on the other side - apart from my beloved cart - I panicked and only let one leg through. There I was, holding up traffic and straddling the stupid gate. The man was screaming: "I told you to push, not walk through!" Annoyed and embarrassed I jumped over the darn thing, got my cart and went through the now open emergency exit doorway. I looked at him in his glass office and said, "You don't have to be mean." What a sight I must have been.

Now although there is an elevator from street level into the subway there isn't an elevator to all of the tracks. Once I got through the door I was stranded at the top of the mezzanine trying to figure out how to get my groceries downstairs. Thank goodness a kind man offered to help me carry the cart in its entirety. Lucky me! It was so heavy another guy helped us make it all the way down.

Accessibility is a greater issue, perhaps deserving of an entire post itself, but if this massive grocery run is difficult for me (and I brought it on myself) what do people with strollers do? Who helps people in wheelchairs? What year is it anyway? New Yorkers are nice, but doesn't ADA have a code for public transportation?

Fortunately I had plenty of time on the ride home to make a plan for getting off this train I had so cleverly gotten onto. I knew there were four flights of stairs I would have to make it back down to get to the street to walk to my apartment. There's a different generosity in the Bronx, so realizing I probably wouldn't be able to get someone to carry my burdensome transportation system I decided to unload in a rotation.

Sure enough, the track cleared by the time I made it to the first stairway. I unloaded three of the four bags to the first landing, went back up for the cart, carried the cart to the second landing, reloaded the cart, charged the emergency exit, unloaded three bags to the third landing, carried the card and then reloaded all the bags for the walk home. It was exhausting, but I was proud of my independence.

If it weren't for a sidewalk crack that crashed my cart four blocks from home it would have been a successful trip. I lost a jar of peanut satay sauce and a jar of marinara sauce to that crooked corner. One could blame all that lifting and carrying, or the fact that I bought glass jars, but again I ask you, ADA...

I walked in the door at 4:52 p.m. Here's what I learned from my day:
  • Stay positive. New Yorkers always have somewhere else they need to be that they're in a hurry to get to no matter where you are. It's better to just stay calm and not worry about how fast people are moving around you.
  • Use a buddy system. A.) I would not have spent so extravagantly and B.) Cart carrying is a two-person project.
  • Living takes a little more effort here. Get used to it.
Dom got a scale for Christmas. To add credibility to my story, my bags weighed: 24, 10, 18 and 31 pounds for a total of 83 pounds. Guess I won't need to hit the gym tonight.

*Apparently snow affects an already delicate trash-pickup process. Not for the better as this pile is taller than me.