travel

Road Trip: Kimball and Rapid City


Gonna hit mom’s and my road trip artlessly and list-style because it’s easier that way and — and well it’s easier that way.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The walrus en route to Rapid City

The walrus en route to Rapid City

We left Waukesha, WI and hit the road for Rapid City, SD, with a planned overnight stop in Kimball. We arrived around 7 pm to a town overrun with construction crews and a vague aroma of sweetgrass and pee.

Mmm… Sweetgrass…

Dinner that night was at Doo-wah Ditty’s Diner. The food was decent and the service was friendly, but between the cranked up A/C and the crew of tactless, leering construction doodz at the center table, I was only too glad to get the bill and head on back to the hotel.

Unfortunately the Dakota Winds was all booked up so we stayed in the Super Adequate 8 across the street, where we were checked in against a scrap of paper with room numbers written on it showing which rooms were… or weren’t… or did that one get cleaned yet… available, and checked out by an enormous, but quite docile, German Shepard who trotted over to the desk when we rang the bell the next morning.

Tuesday, July 9, 2014

dfsdf

dsfsdjflskdjfsdfsd…

The next stop on our journey was Wall, SD, home of Wall Drug, a drug-store-turned-tourist-mecca about 50 miles east of Rapid City. I’d been looking forward to a slice of their pie and a cup of their nickel coffee for the better part of a year and a half, but one tuna salad sandwich later I only had room for a cookie. Sometimes life’s hard like that.

Mom and I didn’t spend as much time wandering through Wall Drug this time as we did last time, in part because we’d already seen it all, and in part because it’s tourist season so things were pretty busy. Somehow the prospect of getting one’s picture taken atop a giant jackalope is a lot less appealing when you have to wait 10 minutes for it in the summer sun. Who knew?

While in Wall we wandered into a shop that specializes in Harley shirts, dream catchers, and commemorating animal death.

Neat-o.

We got into Rapid City around lunch time and met up with my friend Angela who we’d be staying with that night. She took us on a walk through Art Alley

Art Alley

Art Alley

…on our way to the local Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory shop, where heckyes we bought things, and then on to Who’s Toy House where we got to see their Perplexus, which was particularly cool since apparently there are only three of these in existence.

Um…

Okay, so here’s the thing: Right now it’s four days after all that stuff happened and I’m in Colorado Springs and there’s thunder outside and cool dogs in the other room and I’m with friends and I have laundry to fold and a cider calling my name and just — yeah. Blogging about the rest of the trip so far can wait! Back tomorrow – or Sunday – with the rest of the scoop!

Heading West


Leaving in 30... 29...

Leaving in 30… 29…

Up at 6:30 am on an open Monday morning, bags in the trunk, walrus packed and ready to go. This can only mean one thing:

Road Trip!

The pinniped (pictured right) and I will be heading out the door within the hour, mom in tow, headed for parts unknown.

And of course by “parts unknown” I mean “at least as far as Rapid City, SD because I kind of love it there.”

October 2010 South Dakota Road Trip

October 2011 South Dakota/Montana Road Trip

To tag along on this summer’s road trip, tune in here for daily* updates, or follow me on Twitter (twitter.com/behnnie) and Instagram (instagram.com/behnnie) for the scoop in  real-time.

Anything you think we simply must see during our travels? Tweet me @behnnie or leave a comment here with the details. We’re going to try to hit all the Major Attractions That Responsible Grown-Ups Make Sure To See, but mom and I are more “local flavor” type travelers, so don’t go holding out on us if you have a favorite ice cream place in Kimball that we shouldn’t miss!

Time to throw the stuffed mammal into the car and hit the road. Next stop? Blue Earth, MN

*BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

I’m Moving!


Surprise.

Meanwhile in California...

Meanwhile in California…

A few weeks ago I got a call from a friend in LA about an opening for a Social Media Something-Or-Other position at a company he works with. Two phone interviews and a few screen-shares later, and here I am packing to move and start my new gig as Ruth Arnell: Something-Or-Other.

The company is located in Ontario, California, which, near as I can tell, is the West Coast’s answer to Cudahy. They’re just south of Rancho Cucamonga, which I learned last week is an actual place, and about 35 miles north-east of Disneyland.

Now — I haven’t looked into it too much yet, but I’m fairly certain their proximity to The Mouse obligates me to “work from Disneyland” at least once, while spending the entire day Tweeting about how hard it is to type with my fingers covered in churro sugar.

Ain’t even sorry.

Oh man. Now that I just announced my plans publicly I’m panicking that Something-Or-Other HQ is gonna call me up tomorrow and be like “Yeeeeah heeeeey. About packing for that move. Maybe… don’t bother?”

Luckily there’s not a whole awful lot for me to do with them remotely right now, so I figure I’m safe for the time being from them discovering what they’re in for and changing their minds.

Ruth Trio

Namely: Child sacrifice, Snoods, and Citrus Hulk.

And if they did change their minds and I stayed in Milwaukee, it’d just mean I’d get to keep on keepin’ on with all y’all fine folks around here, and that’d be alright by me too!

I don’t have much in the way of a long-term plan beyond:

  1. Move to California with whatever fits in my car.
  2. Learn everything I can about my new job and be awesome at it.
  3. Be a Ghostfacer with Sarah at ComicCon. Or maybe just around the apartment.
  4. Find an apartment.

I do know, however, that I shall miss my family and friends here in the Midwest just terribly, and that I am not above using guilt trips to coerce them into flying out for a visit. So you know – get ready for that. And bring cheese curds.

I’ll be traveling for most of June (stay tuned for Virginia Road Trip pics of my mom and Mimi cementing their spots as The Coolest People Ever!), but will return to the Milwaukee area on the 22nd (exhausted and probably broke). I don’t have a set date for when I’ll be moving, but I’m eager to dive into this new gig. All that to say: My remaining time in Wisconsin is probably somewhat limited.

Want to keep in touch while I’m away, or follow along with my travels? I’ll be blogging about everything from here as usual, as well as posting more frequent updates via Twitter and Instagram. I love reading all of your comments and replies so keep ’em coming!!

Deep, Strong, Weird, and Aforementioned


Preferably from your other *other* cell.

Preferably from your other *other* cell phone.

Since my last regular post I have discovered, fallen in love with, and watched all seven and a half seasons of Supernatural. (And by “since” I mean “within the span of 11 days of extremely dedicated Netflixing.”)

I won’t get into the show too much here as my aforementioned love is deep, strong, and weird, but I will go on record as saying it has made it to my Top 5 Favorite Shows of All Time list.

In no particular order (because who can rank love?), the list is as follows:

1. Star Trek (TNG is my Trek, but I love ’em all)
2. Doctor Who
3. Xena
4. Supernatural
5. Maude

Yes, compadres: It is fun enough to stand amongst giants.

Side note: Mom just took the dog outside, and I can’t tell which of them is barking.

In other news, as good as roofing has been to me, lately I’ve been looking to shuffle off this construction coil. To that end, last week I applied for two positions with the same company, both of which I would 1) be great at! and 2) have a blast doing. They’re the sort of gigs that would provide for plenty of photo ops and fun blog fodder, so any fingers you’d care to cross, prayers you’d care to send up, or candles you’d care to wish on on my behalf, feel free. I shall keep you posted should I receive any good news on that front.

In other other news– boy, a lot of other others ’round these parts today, eh?– I will be traveling to LA next week to stand in a dear friend’s wedding next Saturday. It will be my first time back in California since I left in 2006. So many new people to meet, so many old sushi places to visit; I hope I  can fit the wedding in. And of course, an hour on the CW.com for next week’s episode of Supernatural…

Of Exercises and Escape Dreams


 

I was looking for a book at the library. I found it, but the cover art and dust jacket description totally turned me off so I took home the book next to it instead; I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was, by Barbara Sher. Don’t feel badly, Other Book; it happens.

I Could Do Anything… description from Amazon:

A life without direction is a life without passion. The dynamic follow-up to the phenomenal best-seller WishcraftI Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was (the New York Times Bestseller) guides you, not to another unsatisfying job, but to a richly rewarding career rooted in your heart’s desire. And in a work of true emancipation, this life-changing sourcebook reveals how you can recapture “long lost” goals, overcome the blocks that inhibit your success, decide what you want to be, and live your dreams forever!

As many of you know I’ve been looking for a new job of late. There is always more than one reason to conduct such a search, and most of the time those reasons are uninteresting unless you’re a) the one experiencing them, or b) the one asking about them in a job interview, so I’ll spare you, Gentle Reader, by leaving them out. You’re welcome.

With my job search in mind I performed a few of the exercises in Sher’s book, then decided to go out on a limb- breaking every goal attainment rule in the process- and share my responses. I’m doing this because goodness knows I process information best when it’s weighed and measured in thoughtful discussion (I’m counting on you, Nerdfighters!), but also because I’m eager to read how youwould answer the following questions and can hardly ask you to share your responses unless I’m willing to share my own first. Right? Right.

Ready? Let’s go!

***************************

Chapter 3: Resistance, or What’s Stopping You, Anyway?

© Sam Brown

Exercise #1: Meaningful Work
Here Sher asks readers to write down what the world considers “meaningful work.” She goes on to say “…in the back of your mind is the thought that somehow you have to make a contribution to something, be acknowledged, do something that matters–or you’re just fooling around.” I wrote down what I consider “meaningful work” since, frankly, the idea of pursuing a path simply because the world considers it meaningful sounds exhausting and a little silly.

For work to be meaningful to me

  • It must involve creating something new, which will hopefully be acknowledged by its intended audience as 1) truly different from its alternatives, and 2) helpful.
  • It must involve working with people, either in person or through the written word, to help them understand something better, or appreciate and be enriched by something they hadn’t previously given much thought.

Exercise #2 Part A: The Job from Heaven
Sher instructs readers to include what the job entails, where it would be performed, and who it would be performed with, and not to “limit [themselves] with reality or practicality, because this is Fantasy Time.”

What…

  • Blogging about every day life
  • Travel writing on back road gems, Americana road trip culture, and introducing readers to towns that barely make it to the map
  • Publishing interviews/mini-biographies on “folks” I meet along the way. Not the rich, not the famous, just the folks.
  • Reading to kids at the library, homeschool groups, churches, etc.

Where…

  • On my laptop at the table in my ground floor hotel room with the curtains open no matter how drab the parking lot outside
  • In a notepad during walking tours
  • On my laptop at a large, clean desk in a home office. A home office with a door that locks, plenty of natural light, a love seat, a coffee table, an electric tea kettle, and lots of green and wood and overflowing bookshelves and a giant map of the U.S. painted onto one of the walls. A home office outside the big city, on the edge of a small town– maybe even just outside of it– but with easy access to the city, the library, the theatre, and maybe a local museum or two.

With Whom…

  • When writing I need to be alone, but when traveling I prefer the buddy system

I think I may have missed the point ever so slightly because “Fantasy Time” this ain’t. Is it too late to tack on something like “…and spend every other week riding horses in India and make $80 gajillion dollars a year”? Or should I just be glad that my dream job is more realistically attainable than, say Ballerina or Astronaut?

Exercise #2 Part B: The Job from Hell

What…

  • Processing bills. AP, AR, doesn’t matter. If I had my druthers I wouldn’t process payments.
  • Scheduling international travel itineraries
  • Customer service (for past-due payment collection) over the phone
  • Answering a multi-line phone
  • Being the final decision maker on things involving big costs and make-it-or-break-it deadlines
  • Business professional dress code
  • Long hours on weekdays, with lots of weekend shifts and mandatory overtime to top it off
  • Working for a company which creates goods or provides services I care nothing about, or which I actively dislike

Where…

  • In a cube farm surrounded by windowless gray or institution-green walls
  • In a large metropolitan area
  • In a building with more than four stories, or with a configuration that necessitates taking an elevator to my floor
  • In a room that’s always extremely loud or always silent
  • More than a half hour commute in bumper to bumper traffic

With Whom…

  • Intense, high pressure coworkers who start the day stressed out
  • Coworkers who are cool and stand-offish and who don’t want to sit with me at lunch or show me the ropes when I’m learning my job
  • Coworkers who are perpetually  dramatic, narcissistic, jealous, who harbor cruel opinions, and who are more mouth than eyes and ears
  • Screaming customers upset about issues I have no power to correct or change
  • So many coworkers I can never hope to know all their names
  • Supervisors who make politics part of the job, with the understanding that agreement is the first step to advancement

Two things struck me about the second part of this activity: 1) I was surprised (and slightly embarrassed!) at how much easier it was to come up with the things I don’t want, and 2) the “professional” skill set I’ve spent the last nine years developing lends itself to the kinds of jobs that fit this bill. Uh-oh…

Chapter 4: The Sure Thing

Exercise #1: What Are Your Escape Dreams?
Per Sher, “…make sure they’re true fantasies, and not practical in any way… Escape dream[s hold] a powerful clue to something you really need. It’s like a photo film negative of your life. Whatever in your life is missing, wherever a blank spot exists, it shows up in this fantasy. …[W]e should do something about what’s missing. Because if you don’t use that information to improve your life, you’re using escape dreams to help you avoid life.

Yeah, I can see that.

  • My escape dream involves having enough money in the bank that my needs are met; enough that I can afford to travel simply on a regular basis (road trips, trips to other countries where I could stay in friends’ homes or mid-range hotels); and enough to give generously to support charities and friends’ projects and dreams; all while being able to help family members in need and to put funds aside into a retirement account and into college funds for my kids.
  • In this dream I write, I read to kids, I act in plays, I road trip, I help community theatres in out-of-the-way towns to organize themselves and reach out to their communities, and travel throughout Latin America.
  • I live with my husband, kids, dogs, ferrets, and home library in a ranch house somewhere out West (not the coastal west; the north/central West) where the outside of my office door is painted to look like the TARDIS, and where we own acres and acres of land that will one day go to the kids. It’s land with hills and woods and open fields and creeks and animals you don’t want to run into at night, and there’s a fenced in area and a barn where I house transient livestock rescues for the local animal shelter, and a special room to house all my ferrets, and a tree which for some reason is always filled with crows.

My constantly recurring themes? Family, Security, and Writing. Okay you three, you’ve made your point.

Chapter 6: I Want Too Many Things; I’m All Over the Map

Exercise #1: Time Management for the Person Who Loves to Do Too Many Things
This exercise is geared toward people Sher refers to as “Scanners.” These are folks who “want to taste everything. … Because our culture values… specialization and determination, we too often think of scanners as people who simply won’t get down to work. This is a foolish cultural oversight. … We’re trained to believe that we only get one choice in our lives. But to scanners, one choice sounds like someone’s saying, ‘You can have a coloring book or you can have crayons, but you can’t have both,’ and they’re onto something. Scanners know that life is not stingy. If anything, life is too generous. The choices are dizzying. But there’s a way to manage the riches.”

Part 1. If you were ten people, what would each of you do with your life?

  1. Writer
  2. Teacher/Instructor/Guide
  3. Traveler
  4. Historian
  5. Actress
  6. Physicist
  7. Documentary Filmmaker
  8. Zoologist
  9. Wife and mother
  10. Something with independent ministry projects, focusing on providing education and technical training for children and young adults

Part 2. Quickly answer each of the following questions with one of your ten lives.

  • Which life can you devote yourself to this coming year?
  • Which life can you do when the first one is completed?
  • Which activities can you do for twenty minutes or less each day?
  • Which ones can you do on a weekend?
  • Which ones can you do once in a while?

Naturally I was able to match up bits and pieces- or sometimes even whole “lives”- to each of those questions. And that’s the trick, isn’t it? Being faced with the fact that if you really want to do something you can probably find- or make- time to pursue it? Given that I don’t have much of a natural inclination toward the sciences, and that some of these pursuits can take years just to get the degrees necessary to engage in them for profit and to create the necessary relationships and contacts to make them fulfilling, it’s clearly unlikely that I could pursue each of the above “lives” to its fullest professional extent. But that’s okay too, because if I achieved some of them on a professional level I’d have to spend a great deal of my time doing *mostly* those things, and that wouldn’t satisfy my inner scanner either!

***************************

The book is 322 pages long and I’m only up to page 187, so I can’t speak for the whole thing. What I’ve read so far, though, has provided a thoroughly worthwhile reading experience filled with useful advice and approachable anecdotal support for the author’s opinions. It’s a charming, simple enough read, and I’m looking forward to working my way through a few more of the exercises, particularly those in Chapter 13: A Rage Against the Ordinary, and Chapter 14: The Red Herring, or Trying Hard to Love Something You Don’t Really Want.

I’d love to hear your answers to one, a few, or better still to all of the above exercises. If you’re up to playing along you can leave your responses in the comments, or provide a link in the comments to wherever you’ve answered them elsewhere. I can’t wait to read what you have to say!

Paraguay Blog #11: Nuestra Ciudad


From one of our day trips: The Basilica of Caacupé

In the early part of my trip to Paraguay, my hosts- the Hagerman family– and I spent quite a bit of time traveling. First we headed east for about a week and a half, hitting up Obligado, Encarnacion, Ciudad del Este, and Foz just over the border into Brazil. Since then we’ve also taken day trips to Villeta, Alberdi, Asunción, Areguá, Caacupé, and around our own town of Itauguá. But most days? Most days are gloriously low key and normal, which is truly ideal for this kind of trip.

Well, you know, “normal” plus all this heat and the goats and the lizards and everything.

The average “normal, but with goats and lizards” day for us begins with Ken brewing a pot of coffee in a 90° kitchen in a country suffering from Junior High Awkwardness at the very idea of coffee. To wit: Ken was gifted a bag of Starbucks beans a few weeks ago and responded with what can only be described as giggles, and a face that looked like he’d just been told he’d won Hawaii.

Seriously, man: It’s time to get Paraguay some sister cities in Honduras.

The lack of proficiency- and interest- with coffee in Paraguay is completely understandable, however, given that the better part of the year here includes temperatures in the low 100s every day by 11 AM. There’s not really much call for hot drinks amongst those dripping with sweat. No, what’s needed here is something cool. And if you want to keep cool, and sufficiently hydrated, in this kind of heat, your best bet is to skip the coffee altogether and drink water All The Time. And what better way to drink water than socially and when it’s full of yard weeds, amiright?

Enter: Tereré.

A typical tereré kit: termo, attached cup holder, guampa. Click the pic to view the source post and to leave Betty lots of nice comments! (We love that sort of thing. ;) She has a great blog about Paraguay, and life in general. Worth a read. :)

Tereré (pronounced teh-deh-DAY) is the Guarani name for a drink almost everyone in these parts consumes daily in enormous quantities. It’s prepared by scooping yerba (dried herbs from a certain kind of holly plant) into a guampa (a cup traditionally made from wood or a hollowed out cow’s horn), pouring ice water over it, and drinking it through a bombilla (a long metal straw with a spoon-shaped sieve at the end to keep the herbs from going up the straw). If you’re with friends you’re expected to share your tereré with all present, refilling it with water after each drinker finishes their turn. It’s all very “puff puff pass,” and you’d do well to just dive right on into drinking it as soon as you arrive.

Most streets here are peppered with vendors selling ice and water so folks can replenish their termos (thermoses) of cold water throughout the day. You’ll find you’re also never far from a place where you can buy remedios (remedies) to add to the water for extra flavor, extra pep, or to cure any number of ailments. These remedios come in the form of herbs, roots, bits of tree bark, etc. which get crushed and mixed into the tereré water. If, by some sort of contrary miracle, you should find yourself with nary a remedio shop in sight, there are always plenty of free alternatives growing in your own back yard, or up between the cracks in the sidewalk. Cure away, friends.

Lomito Arabe and a bottle of guaraná make for one happy gringa!

Meal time is also pretty laid back here at the house where I’m staying. Breakfast can be anything from toast, to cereal, to a piece of pan Felipe (large, white rolls) with butter and a cup of coffee. My favorite breakfast so far has been a roll with veggies and a piece of white cheese. See? Laaaaid baaaack.

Lunch and dinner will usually be something whipped up by one of the Hagerman girls, Camille (15) and Caroline (13). Egg salad, rich casseroles, mandioca (cassava), baked chicken and the like are staples at the Hagermans’ house, and with good reason: Those two girls know their way around a kitchen. And lucky for all of us that includes knowing their way around serving up some pretty tasty desserts, too. This week’s treat was a batch of K Bars, courtesy of Caroline. And a week or so before that we were treated to Camille’s Avocado Mousse.

We’ve had dinner out a few times as well, favorite spots being Tia Pachi’s, home of $0.75 empanadas, and Allo Beirut, home of the Lomito Arabe. We stopped there the other night after church and ooooh was that some good eatin’.

The hottest part of the day is usually spent inside the house fixing things (if you’re Ken), reading, blogging, working on chores, or doing school work. The weirdest part about that to me is that the girls are actually working on chores or doing school work. I know. Crazy, right? But day in and day out they get it all done. Cool kids, huh?

Milciades’ trophy is too big for the shelf. Life’s tough, eh? ;)

During the cooler parts of the day- that is: when it’s down into the low to mid-90s in the morning or the early evening- there’s almost always company here at the house. Kids from Hogar Ganar will stop by to play with the girls or with Saúl, or maybe church friends will come over to chat in the hammock or practice their English. Last week we got to enjoy the company of some missionary friends of theirs from the US for a few days while they were passing through town on their way home after a conference in Chile. Never a dull moment around here!

One of our most frequent visitors is Milciades, the all-purpose maintenance guy and grounds’ keeper here at Hogar Ganar. Yesterday he came by to show us the trophy he won for a 7k race he ran in San Bernardino Saturday night. He took 2nd place out of 1,500 runners!

He entered several Hogar Ganar kids into the race as well; boys he’s been training with for a long time now. Sometimes we’ll see him working with them in the yard outside his house doing drills, running sprints, and learning what it means to develop the skills necessary to pursue something they care about. All the kids are young- I think the oldest boy is maybe 12- but they’re doing so well with him and have come such a long way. They run because they enjoy it, and because they look up to Milciades and he enjoys it. He’s just this young guy, but he’s so attentive and dedicated to these kids. It’s really a neat thing to see. Go Team!

We generally wind down the day reading and chatting on the front porch, taking turns in the hammock while the dog runs his fool self ragged through the fields and woods around the grounds. He comes back exhausted but happy, and absolutely covered in small, green burrs. Gotta love a dog!

And then finally? A nice, normal, everyday sunset…

…with palm trees.

Happy trails!

Paraguay Blog #10: What do you do with a drunken sailor?


I’ve never really known. Not that it matters right now, of course. Drunken sailors have nothing to do with this post. Goats, however, make an appearance at one point, and they’re about equally as likely to butt heads with each other.

But first: A trip to the salon grocery store.

Camille being a great sport by letting me snap pics while she looked *slightly* ridiculous.

Camille wanted to put purple streaks in her hair for her upcoming birthday party, which is awesome. Her parents were totally on board with the idea, which is also awesome. Maybe even awesomer.

But before heading to the salon to undergo the actual coloring process, she had to head over to the grocery store to buy the hair color for the stylist.

Now maybe that’s not unusual where you come from, and I don’t mean to diss it because it’s just a different way of playing the same game, but where I come from the hospital doesn’t make you bring your own bedding, bandages, and medicine, and the salon doesn’t make you bring your own hair dye.

But there we were at Stock (the local grocery store) combing the shelves for just the right shade of purple hair dye to take with us to the shop.

And then we got to the shop…

…and it was not like shops I have known.

Good Sport Camille going through the final rinse

And you know what? That is A-OK. And Camille’s hair turned out super cute. And I got to watch the whole thing from my perch on the living room couch, right at the heart of all the action.

Another thing you don’t  often run into back home in good ol’ Waukesha, WI are Porch Goats. You know, like– the kind that wander around the yard? And then find their way onto your porch? And then lick bugs and bird poop off the bricks on your house while you’re busy fixing your car?

*lick lick lick*

Like I said: Porch Goats.

They like to hang out around Porch Ken while he fixes Porch Car. Though sometimes he gets it wrong and ends up trying to take Porch Bidet out for a drive.

*vroom vroom vroom*

But most of the time he gets it right so the car drives just fine. (The bidet not so much.)

Somewhat akin to Porch Goats are Yard Horses. They’ve only wandered across the grounds once since I’ve been here, and they didn’t stick around long once the dog poked his head outside to let them know whose house this is, but they did stay around long enough for me to snap a few picks.

A caballo is a caballo, of course. Of course! And no one can talk to a caballo, of course...

All along the water tower
Caroline kept the view
While all the horses came and went.
Barefoot gringas, too…

Caroline, resident cowgirl

In conclusion: ALL THE CHEESE AT THEIR GROCERY STORE IS WHITE!!

...white cheese, white cheese, white cheese, olives...

Or ecru, linen, mother-of-pearl…

...white cheese, white cheese, white cheese in a yellowish wrapper, white cheese...

Sure is good, though. ;)

Paraguay Blog #9: Cosas ‘n’ Such


Welcome to a post about, you know, just some stuff that’s popped up the past week or so.

1) Blemish: (tr. v) to mar or impair by a flaw; (n) an imperfection that mars or impairs; a flaw or defect.

I... Ah... So this floor cleaner does what exactly then?

2) And then there are the napkins. Lawd ha’mercy we can’t forget about the napkins:

I wonder if the 'tude is balanced out since they were free with purchase?

3) Caroline has been picking these off one of the trees in the front yard and sharing them with me. They call them “manzanitas” (little apples) in these parts, though you may’ve heard of them referred to as “acerola” or somesuch.

They're about as big around as a quarter, and easily four times as delicious.

4) One of the dessert treats I couldn’t wait to get my hands on when I got here was a Paraguayan style alfajor. It’s basically a cookie sandwich with dulce de leche in the center and all around the sides, rolled in coconut flakes. I got this one at Tia Pachi’s in Itauguá. (They also serve up some mad delicious empanadas. This place merits a stop if you ever find yourself in Itauguá!)

Tia Pachi's Alfajores: Worth the travel costs.

For a much brighter picture of a Paraguayan alfajor, read someone else’s blog.

5) If you’re going to drink tereré here- and you’re going to drink tereré here- make sure to hit up your local remedio shop, remedio roadside stand, or patch of weeds in the back yard first to collect just the right mixture of herbs to add to your water.

One of many such shelves in a Caacupé remedio shop.

No matter what’s wrong with you- hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, eczema, fondness for telenovelas- there’s a remedio that will cure it.

6) And wouldn’t you know there’s a hammock out front that’s almost always calling my name?

Alternately maxin', and relaxin' all cool.

Sitting in a hammock drinking ice water by the bucketful and reading one book after another while birds sing, lizards flick through fallen leaves, and breezes rustle your pages is no way to live an entire life. But let me tell ya’: It’s not a bad way to live part of one. ;)

Paraguay Blog #6: Ribbit


Things Which Have Gotten Awesomer For Me Since Arriving In Paraguay

6. Alfred has more time to do stuff outside.
  1. My skin cleared up.
  2. I’m drinking a lot more water.
  3. I’ve lost a couple of (admittedly unnoticeable) pounds.
  4. For the first time in over a year and a half my hair doesn’t feel like I didn’t rinse out all the shampoo.
  5. I get to hang out with Nico, the Hagermans’ friendly, obedient boxer. First order of business upon returning to the States? Convincing my parents to add one of these awesome dogs to their household zoo (which currently consists of: One of these, named Patches) (well, and the ferrets too, I suppose, but that’s only temporary).

Things Which Have Gotten Less Awesome For Me Since Arriving In Paraguay

  1. I’m covered in itchy red bites. I think they’re from mosquitoes.
  2. Now that I’ve finally had guarana after a 19 year dry spell, I get the shakes just thinking about going without it again in a couple weeks.

A Really Neat Moth That Landed On The Table Last Night While I Was Blogging

Cool, huh?

Things Which I Already Knew In Theory, But Have Been Reminded Of In Practice, Since Arriving In Paraguay

  1. Leave spiders alone. If you see a spider in your house, it’s because there is something else living there upon which said spider would like to dine, and it is quite likely that you would rather deal with an unobtrusive Charlotte or two (or thirty) than the hordes of insects on which they are feeding.
  2. While you’re at it, leave the lizards, frogs, toads, and all the other bug-eaters alone too.
  3. If you want to check your cup for bugs before taking a drink, that’s fine, but don’t let that glance linger. If it’s small enough to miss visual detection, it’s (probably) small enough to miss oral detection. You’ll survive. Bottoms up.
  4. It’s tacky when people with things like summer houses, weekend cars, and quarterly vacation plans bemoan their fellows’ unwillingness to donate to humanitarian causes when they themselves are similarly unmoved. (You’re darn right I’ve been guilty of this myself more than once!) Either give, or stop complaining about how others aren’t.
  5. I really need to learn how to drive stick.

Paraguay Blog #5: Fish Soup


January 16, Monday

Moringa Oleifera: Ooooh... Aaaah... (Click the pic to read about its uses.)

Yesterday was “Tour Itauguá” day, so that’s what we did. Neat little town. We hit up a place I’m sure is pretty popular with all us tourist-types since it had such a wide variety of Paraguayan art and souvenirs, but we were a bit put off by some of the prices so we didn’t buy anything. The guy wanted 300 mil Gs ($65) for an item I wanted to buy for my mom, but that seemed a little high. Christie took us to another place a little farther down the road so we could shop  from a friend of hers, a charming 71 year old woman you’d swear was 10 years younger, who was selling the exact same item for $28. Score!

And because she could clearly be trusted more than Señor Gringo-Tax at the first place, I decided to also buy a bag of miracle tea- she swears by it- from her for a measly $2.60. Because really: What price miracles? I’ll let you know how all of our various ailments are faring after we’ve had a chance to take it for a whirl.

We pressed on in our Itauguá jaunt, stopping for ice cream at a place I’d eat all my meals if I lived near there, before landing in a plaza outside a beautiful white cathedral. It was so nice to be able to sit and people-watch for a bit. Some of the people available to watch actually put on quite the show!

Cool. And also Ouch.

There was a group of about 10 or so young people out practicing flips and handstands and the like on a lawn across from us. You’ve never seen so many double jointed, upside down, spinning sideways in mid-air young people in your life outside of a circus. At which you were hallucinating. Perhaps on Moringa Oleifera. I’m sorry we’ll miss whatever they were practicing for; no doubt it will be awesome.

We got home, did… some stuff… probably… Man I was so tired most of the day I really don’t remember how the rest of the evening played out. Was last night the night I joined Camille by the cancha for a little while to watch the kids play volleyball, or was that the night before? All I know is I ended last night early with a Benadryl for my bites and my itchy eyes, and then a luxurious crawl into bed- –

– -interrupted by an update that the groundskeeper here, a 23 year old charmer who likes to “practice his English” with the interns here, had just brought me a bowl of homemade fish soup.

Fish soup.

It’s cream based, and the fish in it are described locally as being like vegetarian piranhas because they look just like piranhas but they feed on plants.

Fish. Soup.

I just about died laughing. I was so glad I’m sharing a room with Camille (15) and Caroline (13) on this trip because it was such a pleasure being able to share the laughter and ridiculousness of Fish. Soup. with two people I knew would find it as giggle-inducing as I did.

I haven’t tried the soup yet (I was already in bed when he brought it by just after 10 pm, and I had other leftovers to work through today), but I’m told this boy is quite the cook and that his soup is delicious. I guess when you have to make a pot every time there’s a new intern you get plenty of practice…

January 17, Tuesday

We hit the road for Asuncion this morning, with a pre-city stop off in Areguá. It didn’t result in any purchases- that had been the plan; it’s the home of a particular shop I’m trying to find- but it was a nice drive regardless with some great views of the lake and lots of colorful roadside stands to get me thinking on what I might want to take home to the fam.

Somehow I got video of Camille's birthday dance, but no photos. So instead, please enjoy this picture of my fried mandioca.

Back on track we stopped at a cambio house at Shopping del Sol, then went to TGIFridays for their lunch special. $6.50 got me a fried mandioca appetizer, a fettucine alfredo entree, one of their “dessert shooter” things, and a guarana. Bring it on, man. I’m ready! Christie told our server it’s Camille’s 15th birthday, so her lunch concluded with an ice cream and brownie dessert.

And a chicken dance. Of which I have video.

Christie apologized for suggesting American food since somehow we keep ending up chowing down on some pretty US-style dishes. My meals have been more conventionally American over the past week than they probably have been over the past 6 months! But prices like that can’t be beat when you’re trying to find a place to feed five people with different tastes, and it’s not the norm for them, so I hopped right on board! You know me: Always ready to make the big sacrifices. Heh. ;)

Next order of business: The Tour…

A Tour Of Ruth’s Childhood As Dictated By A Google Map Of Uncertain Accuracy

Doesn't that face just scream "Native American"? And "Bookclubasaurus"?

Back in the day my family attended a church in Asunción called Centro Familiar de Adoración, so I added that church to my map of must-sees for this here Paraguayan Adventure. There was a “Parade of Nations” event there one night back then, and all the kids were asked to wear a costume for it representing the native population of their home country, or of another country if there were too many of us showing up in traditional Paraguayan garb. That is how I came to be a representative of the native peoples of the US, in my blonde braids and my fringed dress, accented by an enormous American flag and a Guarani necklace we probably bought from a street vendor at the Expo in Loma Pyta.

We drove past CFA‘s new location first, but not intentionally. It just sorta popped up. We passed by it pretty quickly on our way to see the old location- the one my family went to- but the address I got online for that didn’t turn up anything that meant anything to anybody in the car, so we continued on our way.

The next stop on the TORCADBAGMOUA was the house my family lived in when we first moved to Asuncion in July 1990. It was a little tricky finding the right street- the area has gotten so built up- but we did eventually come to it. And sure enough, there was the house. I wouldn’t have recognized it if I hadn’t remembered the house number and seen it written there out front.

360 Aca Caraya, Asunción, PY

I hopped out and snapped a pic from across the street, then walked up to the front gate to see if I could get a pic of the front of the house through the bars. I clapped to see if the current residents were home; maybe I could step inside the gate, too? But there was no answer. I thought about ringing the bell when I heard a noise coming from the patio area outside the kitchen, followed by total silence. Maybe no one was home and something had simply fallen? No matter. I’ll get a pic from between the bars and be on my way. Caroline joined me outside at that point and rang the bell for me anyhow. Doesn’t hurt to try, right? Yeah… right…

The empleada poked her head out of her living quarters to the right of the car port, and put on her “shocked and appalled” face for the duration of her dealings with me.

“Is the lady of the house home?”
“No.”
“My family lived in this house when I was a little girl. Can I take a picture of the front of the house from here outside the gate?”
“No.”
“Not even just from right here? I don’t need to come in. I just want a picture of the front of the house. Just by the door.”
“No.”

Why didn’t I take it right away? I should’ve. I was about to! Before Super Commando Mega-Maid came out. Doggonit.

“Thanks anyway…”

Sometimes memories are clearer than reality. Are they better?

And then I snapped a kind of crooked, blurry one anyhow as I stepped away, because I’m a fat, greedy, war-mongering American and we do shockingly and appallingly evil things like take pictures of houses while standing on public property.

The whole thing made me feel all kinds of sad. For 18 years I’ve wanted to see that house again, to test my memory as much as for anything else. And there I was so close to a place I once felt so at home, so full of life, so wrapped up in adventure, and now it’s serviced by a woman who is afraid to let me take a picture of the outside of it from out on the street. I understand. It’s not her house, she has to answer to the lady of the house about the decisions she makes, and I’m just some stranger with a questionable accent.

It was still sad.

Next up we hit the road for our third house on a tiny street off Sacramento between España and my old school, Asunción Christian Academy. There are only two streets that fit that bill, but I didn’t remember which one. It turned out the first one we tried wasn’t it, and the second one has been incorporated into a gated community with a guard house. Oops. So much for seeing house number three!

212 Mandeyupecua, Loma Pyta, PY

Our final planned stop was my family’s second house, in Loma Pyta, and wouldn’t you know it was right where I thought it’d be and nobody came out and yelled at me when I took a picture of it? I didn’t even get an earful when Camille offered to take a picture of me standing in front of it! But all these near-misses on finding places I couldn’t quite map out, and the cool reception at the first house, kept my eagerness at bay, so I refrained from attempting to ask for anything more of the house’s current residents.

Oh but that street! It was just how I remembered it! Right down to the neighbors’ houses alongside and across the street! There was the “overgrown lot” next door, now pared back some, and the house across the way where the man who lived there watered his flowers every evening after dinner, and the despensa where my friend Liliana lived. It was even still the same shade of pre-Tigo blue.

My “known” map points reached, we set off for Shopping Mariano, a relatively new mall there in Loma Pyta a few kilometers past the Expo center. We wandered around in the air conditioning a bit, looked for sneakers for Camille, and picked up a knee brace for Christie.

The food court. *food court... food court...* Echo! *echo... echo...*

It was a lovely mall- albeit a bit deserted- but somehow it felt… awkward? Maybe I’m just used to pushy shop keepers, but the entire time not one store employee said anything more to me than “Gracias,” and that was only after I said it first– as I was leaving. And I lost count of the number I sent a quick “Hola” to on my way in, only to be met by a quickly averted gaze, followed up by looks of either annoyance, distaste, or distracting apathy. Clearly their paychecks are not commission based…

I couldn’t figure out if their responses were the norm or not since only twice were we in stores with other patrons, (Like I said: Deserted.) and those were department stores so I couldn’t make any direct comparisons. And if their responses to me were not the norm, if they really do talk to shoppers, why the cold shoulder no matter how warm or small my own smile? Is it simply a cultural difference and shop keepers at the malls here simply don’t talk to patrons as a general rule?

Whatever the reason, it was unnerving.

But then why do I remember more conversations between my family and strangers? More greetings? More smiles? Surely the fact that I remember so many so clearly means they really happened, right? So where did they go?

Or maybe it’s me. Maybe a big, blonde, North American adult really is that much less welcome a presence than a round-cheeked, blonde, North American child of ten. I mean heck: I’d rather hang out with 10 year old me…

On our drive back home to Itauguá I decided to grab some video footage of Ruta 9 when we stopped at a traffic light and I realized CFA II, my family’s second church in Paraguay, was right there in my view finder!

Centro Familiar de Adoración II, Loma Pyta, PY

I snapped as many pics as I could before the light changed. What a sight to see! My dad helped build that church, joined at one point by a group of his construction buddies from our old church in Chicago. Even my sibs and I got to lend a hand once or twice in splitting tiles, tamping down rocks and dirt– you know: kid stuff.

When we left Paraguay to move back to the States I think the church still had a dirt floor throughout most of the building, the walls were all exposed brick, and there were no lights in the “bathrooms.” But now? Wow how it has grown! And hopefully not just in the areas of flooring, paint, and stucco. ;)

He is just a poor boy, though his story's seldom told...

So here I sit, blogging at the kitchen table of this amazing family, their amazing dog alternately pacing and resting his head in my lap, fans whirring all around me, children laughing in the dimly lit yard outside, a bowl of fish soup waiting for me in the fridge…

…and I don’t know what to think. I’ve forgotten how. I’ve forgotten what it feels like to think ahead, to plan for tomorrow. I’ve lived so long by myself, for myself, with no changes in sight, that even though I have this vague notion that I could really “rise up,” so to speak, with all this at my back, I find I haven’t the faintest idea how to do so.

Or what that would look like.

Or if I even want to.

Writing on the wall and flashing neon arrows welcome.

Paraguay Blog #4: Catching Up


Time to get chronological-y with these posts or I am never gonna get down on paper the kind of memory-prompt record I need. Ready? Here we go…

January 11, Wednesday

Still chilling at the R’s house, we started the day with grits- courtesy of Ken- and orange juice to get our blood pumping red, white, and blue.

Gringo Bait: Potato salad

Around 11:30 we took off for a beach in Bella Vista for an asado and to swim in the Paraná. We were a pretty sizable group, and not just in the “wide and towering North American” sense. It was the Hagermans, the R’s, the Kurrles with Julie’s mom and their friend Michael, and me. An impromptu 15-person asado ain’t half bad!

We set up the food under a thatched roof quincho near the water; burgers, potato salad, sweet bread, and watermelon. Gloooorious. Norberto and J cooked the burgers over a charcoal fire on the ground using a grate borrowed from a nearby group of picnickers. We thought there’d be grills there to use, so when we discovered there weren’t any we decided to use a piece of corrugated metal (cleaned off with a rock) someone had found there on the grounds. What is it about makeshift arrangements that makes things feel more adventure-y?

Sweetest baby you ever met.

While most of the group headed down to swim, I stayed at the quincho with Christie, A, and baby F. It was up around 110° F (43° C) and breezeless, but I just wasn’t feeling the “jump in the river” urge. Or maybe I just wasn’t feeling the “change into my bathing suit in a 120° outhouse with its accompanying baked aromas” urge.

On our way back to the R’s that afternoon we stopped at a roadside shop with a giant US flag painted on the front. They get in shipments of used goods from the States and sell them for the most random prices you’ve ever seen. Ken found a Star Trek mug there for me. Somehow it just doesn’t feel right that my second souvenir purchase was a $1 mug from the States. I calmed my uneasiness with a second helping of Camille’s chicken and pasta dish at dinner that night.

January 12, Thursday

We took off that morning for Jamie and Marion Lee’s house in Ciudad del Este. Their gig primarily involves working with kids there in CdE, and painting these giant boards with a verse and an image from the Bible and then donating them to schools, hospitals, and the like. The boards are pretty awesome, especially when they end up in places with no real color to speak of; a bare-walled elementary school, the children’s ward at a hospital, etc.

Jamie and Marion, both from the London area, are also pretty awesome.

When we got to the house we were greeted by Marion, a dog named Cheeky, five tortoises (two of which were at least a foot long), and a steaming pot of bori bori (a kind of meat and dumpling stew). Paraguayan food– at last! After lunch the girls and I took a dip in the pool. Naturally the rain came five minutes after I got in. ;) It’s all good, though. Much of the country has been experiencing a terrible drought so the rain was welcome.

Brit Art

While staying there I was treated to my own room, which rocked a great deal. Thank you Marion for being willing to give up your office for three days! I had my own bed, a desk with a chair, and an air conditioner. I could live with just that for the rest of my days and be blissfully happy. Having Jamie’s colorful prints hanging on almost every wall of the house was the icing on the cake. The experience made me want to start looking at houses I could buy back in Milwaukee just so I could finally have colorful walls of my own. ;)

After lunch Ken and Jamie stayed at the house doing boy stuff while Marion took Christie, the girls, and I to a salon so Christie could get a 35,000 G ($7.58) haircut. While waiting I watched the city’s trash floating downhill outside in the floods of rainwater filling the streets. I guess the moral of the experience there was that if you’re moving to CdE, aim for the high ground.

KUAT!

A few hours later we all hit the road for a shopping mall across the Brazilian border in Foz so we could eat at a Subway there in the food court. I ordered the  frango with azeitona, tomate, and alface. You know– because I needed another language to struggle with on this trip. Gah! Incidentally: Fast food cashiers in Brazil quietly speed-mumble just as much as fast food cashiers in the States. Nice to know some things stay the same no matter where you find yourself.

On our way to Foz, Marion pointed out the trash covering one of the roads we were on. I figured it was what had collected there during the day’s rain, but Marion said the place we were driving through- deserted at the time- was  actually where the smugglers remove the packing from the goods they’re going to ship to save weight and space, before wrapping everything up in black trash bags before moving it across the border.

Oh.

We finished up the night listening to the story of how Marion and Jamie got together, and about the time Marion’s brain broke and she went to heaven– like y’do. It’s a pretty incredible story. If I could come back here and record one story to share, it would be this one. She’s a powerhouse, that one is. A powerhouse, and one half of a kickass comedy team. Seeing the two of them playing off each other so well renewed my belief in the “there’s somebody just right for every one of us” idea.

January 13, Friday

EMPANADAS AT LAST!!

The next day brought a leisurely morning for all, followed by a lunch of chipa guazu, empanadas, milanesa, and salad from Ña Morocha, a local eatery Marion loves. One bite into my long awaited ham and cheese empanada was the “proof in the pudding” for how this place has become such a favorite in the Lee household. Man oh man was that some good eatin’!

A little while later we were treated to afternoon tea, complete with tea kettle, cups and saucers, and cookies biscuits with the Union Jack stuck in ’em on toothpicks. You know– just to make sure we got the full British experience during our stay.

Good grief. You’re going to think all we did was eat on this trip. I promise that’s not the case, it’s just that every visit took place during a meal. A really, really good meal.

Christie and Marion at tea time. Doesn’t a laugh like that make you want to smile along? :D

That evening we headed over to Clint and Rita Vernoy‘s house to have dinner- hot dogs and chocolate chip cookies!- with them, their daughters Jewel and Jade, and Janice their Great Dane, at their house on the edge of town there in CdE. Rita? You serve up one heckuva hot dog. Clint and Rita lived in Venezuela for a number of years, then moved on down to Paraguay, spending most of their time living in this, that, or the other jungle.

Back to Jamie and Marion’s to chill with Camille and Caroline for a bit before rejoining the big kids for a few relaxing hours of conversation in the living room. Man. What a neat couple. They’re both neat couples. What a great trip!

Ate turrón #6 that night. Merciful heavens was it good.

January 14, Saturday

Dulce buckets? Commence drooling!

Jamie and Marion sent us on our way with a bag full of goodies: bananas, rolls with dulce de leche, and cups of yogurt. It blows my mind how some people have such a gift for hospitality that its impact carries on even when you’re not around them any more.

Tooling along Ruta 2 we stopped at Lactolanda, home of 11 lb blocks of butter for $7.58, and 55 lb tubs of dulce de leche for $64.94. We left with a single cup of $0.22 coconut yogurt ’cause I needed to relive a memory. Dad and I used to buy that stuff at the co-op where we’d get our bread and eggs and all that. Mm-mm was it good. It’s not like US yogurt; it’s thin and drinkable. And ooh is it sweet! Good times.

We went to Viva el Sabor for lunch. More ham and cheese empanadas with a guarana? Don’t mind if I do!

Shortly thereafter we passed by an Arnell family favorite from back in the day, La Casa del Mani. We used to stop there for thinly sliced roast beef sandwiches and soft serve ice cream back in the day on our way out to the Teen Challenge camp in Pirareta. At that time the camp was still under construction, so it often served as a camping spot for folks from the mission who were looking to get out of the city for a bit, and who didn’t mind bucket-flush toilets, no electricity, and fire ants. On our way out there we’d enjoy one last luxury of civilization: Casa del Mani, home of what was then the only soft serve machine in the country.

La Casa del Mani (The Peanut House)

From there it was only a half hour or so back to the Hagerman’s home in Itauguá. We unpacked, sweated, napped, sweated, swatted giant flying insects, and sweated until evening when Christie and Ken took Caroline to the hospital to make sure she hadn’t come down with something weird. Poor thing’s eye was all puffy and oozy, she had a headache, joint pain, arm rash, swollen glands– the works. When you come down with symptoms like that after taking a dip in the Paraná, source of more than one case of leptospirosis in the past few years, it’s better to be safe than sorry! Turned out she has pink eye and the flu. Poor girl. She’s taking it all in stride, though, and handling the whole thing very well. And luckily she’s still got three and a half Harry Potter books left to keep her company while she recovers.

January 15, Sunday

The view from Viva el Sabor

I’m sitting here with the remains of a cup of coffee (Who knew I could drink coffee on 100° days??), having just finished a waffle with homemade syrup. The family’s boxer, Nico, is asleep on the floor next to me, the fans are spinning away, the birds outside are singing like they’re getting paid for it, the sun is shining, and I’m not sweating yet.

Amen amen amen!

Paraguay Blog #3: On A Log?


Trees on Ruta 6, Encarnación to Ciudad del Este

There were ghost ants covering my toothbrush. I rinsed them off and brushed my teeth.

Tonight’s rain left trails of clean on my arms.

Last night we talked about Pilar, PY and 1909 Reina-Valera nutjobs proponents.

The night before we talked about “seeker churches” and Louisiana accents.

Tonight we shared “How I ended up with this piece of metal in me” stories.

I wish you were here, but only if you would enjoy this as much as I am, because I am really, really enjoying this.