Tuesday, March 19, 2013

9 AM

So, this morning was like any other morning right up until it wasn't anymore.

Up at 5:30. Normal. Trouble getting Maya to stay awake to eat her cereal. Normal. Go to check on Maya to see if she's dressed, only to find that she's gone back to bed. You got it. Normal.

Things didn't get weird until about 8:30 this morning, when I needed a bottle of wine  in a big hurry.

On the way to school, I saw a Facebook alert that my friend Sam's birthday is today, which led me to shout, "Crap," for about the fifth time that morning. I'd been really proud of myself for remembering to pick up a nice bottle of wine for another colleague's birthday,  but didn't realize that Sam, who is also a colleague on the same team had her birthday as well. Confused? YEAH! ME TOO!

To make it worse, Sam is a smart cookie who knows the difference between a bottle of bottom shelf crap we bummed from someone's emergency stash (which probably doesn't exist because it's a school), and wine that is worthy of gifting.

Luckily, colleague number three, Troy, assured me that, Jumbo, our nearest big supermarket, opens at 8AM every morning. I have a free period at that time, so problem solved, right? HAH!

Let me preface this by saying that what I'm about to write is not a slam against Chile. Every metropolitan area, from downtown to the burbs, has a certain time every morning when everyone who could potentially piss me off, cut me off, or just generally not get the fuck out of my way, feels compelled to get in their cars, vans, and busses, and hunt me down. Stray dogs feel compelled to lie down in the road in front of my car. People cross the street slowly in front of me, intently focused on texting, kind of like the Walking Dead, but with wifi. Seriously, the five minute drive down the hill to the grocery store couldn't have been more challenging if zombies had formed a line in front of my Hyundai and thrown puppies at my windshield while I tried to bat them away with the windshield wipers.

Okay, so I get to the store, fly through the place, find a bottle of wine from a winery I know and love, which isn't exactly challenging here. Interpret that as you will.

I get the register, where the clerk rings up my peripheral birthday-related purchases. When she gets to the wine, it makes the register shriek, and I honestly don't understand why. Neither does she, until she reads whatever her monitor says. She looks at her watch and says, "You can't buy alcohol until 9AM." (By the way, this conversation is in Spanish, for all of you who thought maybe I lapsed into some alternate, English-speaking Chile.)

Still confused, I offered, "But it's a gift."

She smiled and shrugged her shoulders, "It won't ring up until 9."

I peeked at her watch. It was 8:34.

"So," I asked, "does that mean it would be bad for me to start drinking at 8:34 in the morning?"

She grinned, "Yes, I think that would be bad."

"But in 26 minutes, it will be fine?"

And then she delivered the best line of the morning. "You could come back then." I'm not sure she was trying to be funny, but it cracked me up.

So, just to be clear, our lesson for today is as follows.

Drinking at 8:30AM? Bad.
Drinking at 9:00AM? Good.

Happy Birthday, Sam. I did manage to go back for your wine. I'll bring it in the morning, but paws off until 9. Got it?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Christina and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

I should have known that nothing good could come from getting out of bed today when I almost died putting on my Spanx. Okay, so it was really a Chilean off-brand Spanx-type garment, but I still almost died.

At 5:30 this morning, I was pretty much still asleep because we have to get up at the ass-crack of dawn. I threw together a quick outfit that would sort of accommodate the extra real estate that life in Chile has added to my waistline, only to find the pants were just snug enough to require a little artificial compression. I know it's ridiculous, but I have never walked around with a muffin top and I'm not about to admit to having one now.

Every time I squeeze into one of these tiny tubes of stretchy horror, it reminds me of my formerly Mormon friend, S. She doesn't wear an undergarment OR Spanx because she's not a big phony like I am, BUT she has this adorable way of referring to Mormon undergarments as "angel underwear," and that makes me laugh.

So I was standing in front of the mirror, mostly asleep, trying to slither, arms and head first, into a stretchy tube about half my actual size, when my hand slipped and the damn thing rolled up like a-- well, like a condom, which essentially turned it into an incredibly strong tourniquet around my neck WHILE my arms were still in it up to the shoulders. So now I'm standing in the bathroom being squeezed, unable to do anything with my hands except flap them around in vain as I tried to reach my own shoulders. But, I obviously couldn't reach my shoulders because my arms were being held next to my ears by my own undergarment.

I now know what it's like to be killed by a constrictor, if it's a small constrictor and you manage to block its access to your neck with your armpits. In that moment, all I could think was, "This is it. This is how they're going to find me, stone cold sober with my arms pinned over my head." Only half of that was in the obituary I had at one point imagined might be in my future if I didn't get my life together. This was followed by the more obvious "Where does 'strangled by her own underwear' rank on the list of stupidest ways to die?"

I eventually was able to roll my shoulders enough to inch my textile attacker down over my shoulders and onto my waist where it belonged.

I should have been happy to be alive and called in sick. But no, I just HAD to leave the house.

Thirty minutes later, I was in the car with Rob and the kids, headed to school. Of course, the kids started fighting because that's ninety percent of what they do when they're together. Maya didn't want to put her backpack by her own feet, so she put it by his feet. WWIII ensued. I tried to chuck the offending backpack into the third row seats, only to have one of the clips hit Max in the eye.

Next, I lost the code to log into the school's computer and sign my daughter up for after-school activities. By the time I recovered it, she ended up wait-listed.

Right about then, I realized that I forgot Maya's swim bag for P.E., which meant she would have to go to double Spanish, which is apparently a fate worse than death. I think she could have, at the age of six, sued for emancipation based only on today's screw-ups, and won.

Then, there was a school-related thing that I can't share because I have a strict policy about writing about students.

I kept smiling until 8:00 AM. That's right. This was all before 8. I smiled my way through a quick morning debrief with my students, and then when they left for Spanish class, I FREAKED OUT. I scurried around, sending iChats and trying to find an extra little girl's swimsuit somewhere on campus, while at the same time running to Maya's classroom to let her teacher know about the swimsuit situation. By 8:15, I started to realize that my switch had finally flipped. I think I would have sat down on my classroom floor and cried, if my classroom floor weren't infested with ants.

Yep, that's right. It's ant season in Chile. So, I ended up sitting at my desk, overwhelmed and sobbing while ants bit my feet.

Ultimately, my fabulous colleagues collectively saved my butt. Nicole found a little rash guard. Nancy found a couple of swimsuits. The swim teacher found an extra cap. Bless their hearts, they managed to save one little part of an ant-infested, almost dying in my bathroom kind of morning.

At the end of the day, as my students were walking to their moms or their busses, I was in the hallway and heard a familiar voice yelling, "Mommy!" I turned to see Maya running toward me, hair messy from swimming and carrying a bag with what could only contain her borrowed suit. She kissed me. I asked how swimming class went.

She put her hands on her hips and pouted. "You didn't pack my towel."

I turned my back to her for one minute and did some deep breathing before I turned back around and took her hand. "You're right. Let's go get you a snack."

This is what we do. As parents, we make ourselves crazy, work ourselves to the point of exhaustion, and we make every possible effort to hide all of this from them. If they had any idea what was in store, they might never have kids of their own.

I will, however, make sure she knows the dangers of donning compression garments unsupervised. That's just not safe.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Cafe Con Piernas

When friends hear that I've moved to Santiago, one of of the first questions asked by friends who are familiar with Chile is whether or not we've been to a cafe con piernas. (I know there's an accent there, but my keyboard won't seem to put it there.) This translates as coffee with legs, so you might think you know where this is going. I thought I knew, and I was wrong on so many levels.

It's important to know that Chile is considered to be relatively conservative by Latin standards. That doesn't mean I didn't have to try to distract my 11-year-old's eyes away from the television screen while we waited to file paperwork in the social security office because about ten busty women in thongs and feathers were shaking what they had on a morning show. But, it was Carnivale time, so I guess booby fever was in the air.

ANYWAY, I spent six months with almost no ideas about cafe con piernas. I didn't even think about it unless someone asked, and then I'd just kind of write it off. I saw Samantha Brown's Santiago episode, so I had an idea that these cafes were like the ones we went to in Rome, where there are no chairs, you just down your espresso and go, except for the fact that the waitresses would be wearing short skirts and heels. Honestly, this is Santiago, so you don't have to go downtown to a special cafe to see short skirts and heels. The other day I saw a baby in a short skirt and heels, and she was smoking, but that's another post.

When Rob's mom visited, we were downtown walking between the Mercado Central and Plaza de Armas. It was about 47,000 degrees celcius, so when I saw Cafe Haiti, we popped in because nothing cools you down like a shot of espresso.

I had done zero research, and was still disappointed. I was picturing throngs of leggy chicks and horny guys putting money in their cleavage.


It could have been Denny's, if Denny's only served coffee and cocoa. And if Denny's were impossible shiny and had no chairs or tables. And if your moderately attractive, very maternal Denny's waitress got part of her skirt caught in the slicer and had to finish her shift with half a skirt.

It took about ten minutes to have our coffees, cocoas for the kids, and water. The waitress was sweet to my kids and tried to talk to them in Spanish, even though the first thing my daughter says to anyone Chilean is, "No hablo espanol." I'm trying to teach her, and I thought the extra exposure to the language over our vacation would soften her attitude about learning, but she's still relying on me.

So, I wondered why, if the whole experience was so lackluster, why people kept asking me about it. I googled it and found this.

Apparently, we found a really, really boring cafe con piernas.

 Some cafes are bikini cafes. Others feature lingerie.  I just happened to wander into the most boring sterile
cafe con piernas ever.  These folks found something completely different.

There's also a Miss Cafe Con Piernas pageant.

I was under the impression when we went into Cafe Haiti that I would then be able to report back to friends that I had, indeed, experienced this cultural phenomenon, but I guess I found the lamest version ever. If I see a racier one and I'm with Rob and without the kids, I'll go in, just to satisfy their curiosity. Not mine, of course. I know Rob will be terribly disappointed.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Zombies in My House

It's 8PM on Valentine's Day and my house is completely silent.

No one is sick. No one is angry or upset. Nothing is tragic.

We're just slightly zombified.

It seems pretty harmless to let the kids stay up extra late while you're on vacation. In fact, it's good because they'll sleep extra late. We kind of overdid it on that. After two months of vacation, Maya was staying up until midnight "reading," which in Maya language means dragging all of your picture books into bed and rolling around on them. The upside is that she slept until 11 AM most mornings. Heaven. Max is old enough to set his own sleep hours because he can really read, and he can make his own cereal. The perfect sleep conditions for Mom and Dad.

Until today. We had to get up at 6. All I could think this morning was that if I'm going to get up before the sun, it better be because I'm catching a flight to somewhere awesome. This was not the case. We went to work, sat in meetings, and yawned. Oh yeah, and I also realized that I agreed to give two back to back presentations tomorrow morning and neglected to do one lick of prep work over the vacation. Thus, there were instant extra meetings and a concerted effort on my part to remember ANYTHING I knew about teaching two months ago. There's a distinct possibility I got confused in my exhaustion and showed up at the wrong meeting at the wrong school. I might not even really be a teacher. Keep it under your hat.

In the top five of things I hate and fear in the world are sitting in presentations and public speaking. By volunteering to offer professional development, I have managed combine those two things into a whirling dervish of fear, self-loathing, and dread.

SO now, except for a brief conversation about how awesome it is to have a garbage chute and just thrown unsorted trash down it- plastic touching paper in a way Japanese trash law would never tolerate, we've all been rendered mute with exhaustion.

I think Max just muttered something about brains. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


My plan to post every day for 20 days was thwarted twice. Once by an amusement park and again by a stomach bug.

For the last week, Max and Maya were good sports while we did lots of adult activities when guests visited us. My kids made the best of it when Rob went to New Jersey for nine days, leaving the three of us to our own devices. By that I mean the kids watching The Wizards of Waverly Place in one room, while I watched RHONY reruns in the other. (Sorry, I love Bethenny Frankel. She's me times ten.)

Anyway, we decided that the last outing of our vacation should be the closest amusement park. Fantasilandia is possibly the most urban amusement park ever. We actually street parked. For an amusement park. In Santiago, that means a guy with an orange vest and a stick stood guard over our car for 6 hours. This service cost four dollars. In Tokyo, that would have cost a couple hundred dollars.

Anyway, it's a great park if your kids are tall or brave or both. There's not much for tiny tots, but after some initial hesitance, Maya was ready to take on anything she was tall enough to ride. Luckily, she's tall for her age.

We've all taken our kids to the amusement park. We know what that's like. But the difference between doing it in the States and doing it abroad is ALL THE BOOBS. Unless I missed the Disney mural with Minnie in g-string and pasties, I'm pretty sure we wandered into something that might not fly in the United States.

Okay, so there were butts, too. And a one-eyed girl and bizarre shooting water in your face symbolism. 

To be honest, the only thing I don't really understand is the connection all of this might have to the Easter Island heads. Although, they do seem to be appreciating all the boobs.  

Most of the rest of the day was kind of boobless until the last ride. 

This was the end of me. It wasn't just the bizarre juxtaposition of children and erotica. It wasn't just the sixth hour of blazing Chilean sunshine.

It was the spinning.

Everything was fine until the end of the ride with the scary bottomless-on-a-horse imagery. Right after the pleasant spinning and the lovely view of the Andes from the top of the ride, right to the bottom when you think it's all over, the ride spins you at light speed in circles of flashing light until any plans you had for the rest of the night are lost in a haze of nausea. 

Thus, my lack of a post for that night. 

The next night was lost in a blur of stomach bug, probably contracted from overexposure to poorly drawn boobs.  

Sunday, February 10, 2013


So, in the spirit of posting daily for 20 days, we just returned from dinner with a friend from the Canary Islands. I asked if he had met Chileans who used the word Castelleno to refer to Chilean Spanish. He said yes. I asked what he thought of that. He said, "It is very curious."

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Beginning of the End of the Vacation

Here's the problem with the last few days of vacation. If you're anything like me, you probably start vacation with a list of things you put off until you have some free time. I'll write a blog post. I'll read that book I meant to read for work, but it was too boring and I was too tired to stay awake while school was in session. I'll teach my daughter to read. Then, the free time rolls around, and I feel like I've earned some time to do absolutely nothing.

For two months.

That's right. The most productive thing I've done this summer is clean the turtle tank.

Don't get me wrong.  We entertained guests and traveled to new parts of Chile. It's been a blast. But, now I feel like I need to have this burst of productivity to make up for being a huge slacker.

So, in order to get my ass back in gear, I'm going to tackle one of the jobs I had laid out for myself, which is to share some of what we learned and experienced this summer.

Looking back, it was a lot. I'm positive that it was considerably less than what most of our friends did. But, after the year we had, it's a miracle we got out of bed these last 8 weeks. My parents and sister visited, so we did out best to run them ragged. Rob went to New Jersey for 9 days to prepare our former summer house for rental. Because we're in the Southern Hemisphere, our summer is now January and February, and there's no way we're spending our summer in New Jersey when it's ten degrees outside. Rob's mother visited for 9 days. She just left this evening, and I'm pretty sure she's officially done enough adventuring to hold her for a while.

I tried to think about my favorite part of the summer. What would I take off tomorrow to do again? I have to say the wineries. I haven't found the Chilean beach that I truly love just yet, although I'm more than happy to keep looking. Valparaiso is great, but I feel like I need to go again to learn more about the best way to experience it. There's so much trial and error in visiting a place for the first time. But, the wineries are fabulous every time, regardless of how many times you've been to one. Yes, the presence  of wine helps, but the whole package is fantastic.

When my parents were here, we went to Santa Cruz, mostly because a colleague of ours runs a hotel and restaurant there. It's a family operation. Her daughter is an amazing Italian chef, and they work together to keep everything running smoothly. Both the restaurant and hotel are called Vino Bello. If you live in Chile or are planning a visit,I recommend the trip to Santa Cruz.


We really weren't thinking about wineries when we booked that trip. Once we were there, though, it dawned on us that we should find something to do besides play in the pool. We ended up taking a tour of Viu Manent. We knew very little about growing wine grapes, so the tour was perfect for us. The tour of the vineyards is in a horse-drawn carriage. The guide was personable. We tasted wines at the end. If you've visited wineries anywhere, I'm sure you know the drill. We did the same thing in Italy years ago, and it was similar, so we had an idea of what to expect.

But, I have to say, there was something especially enchanting about Viu Manent. The grounds are welcoming, green, and lush. It truly feels like an estate. There's a restaurant adjacent to the main building, so you can follow up your tour with a leisurely lunch under a trellis covered with grape vines. I really respond well to food and wine in a gorgeous setting. This lunch was  straight out of my fantasies of how I'll live when I have a big house in wine country with a long table out back, laid out with food and wine for all my friends and family.

When Rob's mom came, we toured Vina Undurraga. It's about an hour south of Santiago, so it's a perfect day trip. Again, we had a great guide who know the business inside and out. It was interesting that on both trips we had very knowledgeable guides, but there was very little repetition in the information.

Undurraga is still on the original site, where the Undurraga family home was years ago. The buildings and gardens are fantastic.

There was no carriage ride or lunch, but it was still a trip I would do again.

I won't even begin to analyze the wines. My knowledge is limited to my personal preferences. I have yet to try a Chilean wine that wasn't great. For me, late harvest wines are too sweet, but other than that, I've enjoyed everything that I've tried.

Instead, here's Maya sneaking grapes at Undurraga.

9 AM

So, this morning was like any other morning right up until it wasn't anymore. Up at 5:30. Normal. Trouble getting Maya to stay awake...