Monday, December 31, 2007

New Things

I’m not really into New Year’s resolutions. Last year, I had all kinds of good intentions, and as it turned out, I had my hands full just dealing with my family and work. There were visits from friends and family, and we went on a few trips, but there wasn’t much room for anything extra.

This year, though, I do have a couple of things I’d like to work into my life. For one thing, P and I are going on a budget. We’ve only been on it a week so far, so it’s too soon to know how that will go, but I like the idea of a little self-imposed discipline. I’m hoping it will reinforce some of my positive money-management skills and curb some of my unhealthier impulses.

The second thing I want to do is read The Economist on a somewhat regular basis. Oh, I’ve been down this road before. We were strongly encouraged to read it when I was in graduate school, to keep up on current events. I subscribed for a while, but it was hard to get through and I didn’t read it often enough, what with having twins and all, so I canceled my subscription. I’m not sure I would have paid to re-subscribe, because it’s not cheap, but then I found out I could use my extra frequent-flier miles. So this week’s issue is now in my purse. Along with my issue of, um, Entertainment Weekly. Right. But once I get through that, I really will read The Economist.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Few Musings on Language

For someone who is hell-bent on teaching her children Spanish, never mind the fact that I’m a professional translator/interpreter, you would think I’d have done tons of research on the subject, but I haven’t, really. Other than a few articles I’ve read online and in the newspaper, and the information I learned at a wonderful conference on the subject where I was lucky enough to interpret, I really haven’t looked into it. In my case, I’m going mostly on my own experience and what worked for my parents, and what I’ve seen work or not work for others.

My parents used what is now known as the one-parent-one-language approach with my brother and me, though I’m not sure that term existed back in the seventies. We lived in the U.S. until I was eight, and the rule was: Spanish with my mom, English with my dad. Period. The other unbreakable rule was, nothing but Spanish was to be spoken at the dinner table. They were absolute hardasses when it came to both of those rules. If we spoke English at the table, they pretended not to understand and we had to repeat ourselves in Spanish, with their help if we needed it.

There are a lot of things I remember about learning both languages growing up, and the emotional pull of those memories is pretty strong. For one thing, I remember not liking the feeling of standing out. When we lived in the U.S., I really wanted to speak what my friends at school spoke. I didn’t want to be different. I spoke to my brother in English, and that was our special language. When we moved to Costa Rica, the tables were turned. Then we had to speak English at the dinner table. All of a sudden, Spanish was the language that made us fit in, and my brother and I started speaking Spanish with each other, which we still do today. Speaking English would feel unnatural at this point.

My parents owned a business and made an OK living, but they were the kind of people who didn’t need much and actually did without a few things so that we could afford others. Our house was not in the greatest shape and they weren’t so big on home improvement, even though that would have been money well spent, but boy, they made sure we traveled. When we lived in the U.S, we traveled to Costa Rica, and vice versa. The connection to our family, languages and cultures was incredibly important to them. So were books. As a child, I remember all the stories and poems my mother read us in Spanish. In Costa Rica, there was exactly one English-language bookstore in the country when we moved there, and those books were not cheap. Yet my parents took us there regularly and there were no limits on what we could buy. We took Spanish classes in California, and in Costa Rica my parents paid a bundle for our education at a chi-chi bilingual private school (I hated it, which is another story, but I realize I got a great education). When I hear so many second-generation children with surnames like López and García say, “Gee, I wish my parents had taught me Spanish,” I’m all too aware of the tremendous effort it takes to make it actually happen.

Right now, Primo and Secondo speak way more Spanish than English, which I love. I’m strictly enforcing the “Spanish with Mama” rule, and I also plan on being a hardass about it, though I sometimes feel like I’m being rude when we’re out in public. I’ve seen several parents relax that rule, then relax it some more, and it seems to me that then it’s all downhill from there. The boys’ babysitter doesn’t even speak English. Their language skills are coming along and they amaze me every day.

I find my own experience learning two languages as a child both encouraging and scary. For one thing, though I never really rebelled, I remember that feeling of not wanting to feel different. That’s kind of hard to counteract. Plus, Spanish was hard when I was very young. English was easy. That was what I wanted to speak. Also, we moved to a Spanish-speaking country when I was eight, which made all the difference. That will most likely never happen for my kids, so I feel like I’ll be fighting an uphill battle, especially once they start school. I listened to an awesome program on NPR the other day that referred to that as a “tidal wave” of English. The speakers also talked about making the second language fun. I’m as obsessed with books as my parents were. I just dropped a chunk of change on books in Spanish at the bookstore in Costa Rica. The boys’ great-aunt and great-uncle gave them $30, which I spent on more books in Spanish that I found on Amazon. I tend to buy books every time someone gives them cash. My in-laws believe in buying them bonds, I believe in books.

Reading what I’ve written, it strikes me that I may be taking all of this too seriously. It’s just so important to me, for many reasons. Obviously, for one thing, after all of my parents’ hard work, I got my MA in Conference Interpretation, an achievement which makes me incredibly proud. It wasn't easy. But I don’t just want my boys to learn Spanish because it’s useful. Much of my family doesn’t even speak English. And it’s a part of my heritage, and therefore theirs as well. My dad constantly told my brother and me that we had the best of both worlds. And though it might have sounded cheesy and made me roll my eyes as a teenager, he was absolutely right.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Physicists and Interpreters Do Not Think Alike: Exhibit A

P: The decimal point key on this computer is stuck.

Keen: [Pause] You mean, the period?


It’s such a mental transition for me, coming home after a trip to Costa Rica. I get so comfortable there, settle back into the language, the comfort food, the music, the places I knew growing up. I can slip into speaking Spanish the way I grew up speaking it, rough and slangy, instead of using the more polished, neutral version I’ve learned to use as an interpreter.

There is last-minute shopping so I can stock up on tons of coffee, rum and Salsa Lizano. Packing is always an ordeal. Then there are the tearful goodbyes, which make me sad because I never know when I’m going back. It just feels so far away, even though my trip to LA was longer than my trip to Costa Rica. Maybe everyone feels this way about where they grew up, maybe it’s not just me. Maybe I just feel like the cultural and emotional factors make it different. I don’t know. I can’t quite explain it, but it gets me at a gut level

I get to the airport, check in, and feel myself starting to break away. I’m on the plane watching the in-flight movie, and part of me is still not quite there. Then I invariably land in Miami. Maybe that’s one reason I hate that airport so much—to me, it’s that no-man’s-land, always halfway between one of my homes and the other.

And then we staggered home at 1:00 a.m., and the transition was complete, though a little bumpy. Primo has been waking up at 4:00 for the past week and has been inconsolable and then just wakeful. And yesterday I had such an awful allergic reaction to something that I dragged myself to Urgent Care, mostly because my eye was just about swollen shut and I had a translation due at five. Now I’m happily doped up on steroids.

Today is much better. Primo slept until 7:00. I feel much better. I have a large cup of coffee in front of me. I’m ready to rejoin the world, I think.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Back to the Land of No Internet

My mind is mush, partly because the twins have caught my cold and have been having a few sleep issues. Like waking up screaming bloody murder in the middle of the night. And partly because I found some awesome rum & coke in a bottle at the grocery store and, well, I'm on the beach. It just seems like the thing to do.

I meant to get one more good post in before I leave for my brother's tomorrow, but I was just too busy enjoying my vacation. Did I mention the rum & coke? So I'll be incommunicado until I leave for the U.S.

My brother's neighbor does have a wireless connection, but it's password-protected. I've been so tempted to go knock on their door and beg for the password. Instead, I think I'll just relax and enjoy.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Evils of Free Trade (Or: Why I Have No Internet Access)

So, I really have no interest in writing a manifesto on the pros and cons of free trade. This isn’t that kind of blog. And God knows, I’m certainly no expert, and I know it’s a complicated issue. But this is more of a personal anecdote. It’s 9:00 p.m. and the boys are in bed. I’m at my brother’s house. P just arrived, on no sleep for the last 24 hours, so he’s in bed. My brother has been working early morning shifts, so he’s in bed. My SIL is at the beach on a work retreat for a couple of nights. My mom’s reading the paper. So it’s just me and my computer--no Internet--in a very quiet house. It’s lovely, actually, and though I’d normally probably be online, I’m just sitting here writing this, which I will post later, and drinking my rum and Coke. I have no translations to do, so I’ll read for a little while and go to bed early.

In Costa Rica, there is one large state-owned company (read: monopoly) that provides all telephone, cell phone and DSL service. You need it, they’re it. They’re also the power company. Since my brother lives in a remote enough area that he can’t get cable, DSL is his only choice for Internet service, which means going through them. No choice. He’s called and been told he’s not close enough to one of their sites. He’s pointed out that his next-door neighbors have DSL. They’ve told him they’ll look into it. Repeat those last three sentences on an endless loop for a couple of years.

So if you Google CAFTA, you’ll get much better information than I could give you. My simplified version is, Costa Rica was the last holdout in the region, and a couple of months ago the country held a referendum on free trade. This was an incredibly contentious issue and it was all people could talk about for a long time. You were either really, really for it, or really, really against it. According to my family, it was the kind of thing you couldn’t bring up at dinner with your friends if they held the opposite view and you wanted to remain friends. Opening up the telecommunications market is a big part of the deal, and although the phone/power company is a dinosaur and hideously inefficient, they’ve managed to convince a good segment of the population that the company is our “national heritage.” Don’t let the foreigners in, or sell off the country. Patrimonio nacional. I first learned that phrase in that context, which kind of cracks me up. Anyway, the referendum passed, by a very narrow margin. Both my brother and SIL voted for it.

My SIL works at a local hospital, and after the referendum, one of her patients—who also has an important position in the phone/power company—brought it up with her. He couldn’t believe she had voted for it and started joking with her. “How could you vote for that? I can’t believe you would do that. Bad for the country.” After a little while, she’d had enough and told him, “Do you really, really know why I voted for it? Because I’m not sure that you do.” So she told him about the years of calling and calling and trying to get DSL, and apparently, he was contrite and kind of mortified. He told her to bring in the paperwork and give it to him. She said, no, really, you don’t have to do that. He insisted that he would personally take care of things and promised her they would have DSL the following week. Finally, she agreed and took him all the paperwork.

I laughed when I heard that story. But that was a couple of months ago, and obviously, my brother and SIL still don’t have DSL. So last night I asked my SIL to tell me the rest of the story.

Nothing ever came of it, she said. She heard him complaining in the hall one day recently about how all people ever do is ask him for favors. She snarked back something about how maybe people shouldn’t make promises they don’t intend to keep. Now he avoids her like the plague.

Next up: No, Really, You’re Next On the Waiting List
(Or: Trying to Get a Cell Phone—A Two-Year Adventure. My mother’s story. But hey, she has DSL, so maybe she should just shut up already.)

ETA: Obviously, I'm now online. And I do have to admit that those four days without access to the Internet or my cell phone were pure bliss. I took a quick break and ran to an Internet cafe for a quick look at my e-mail, and it was back to reality, which I didn't really want.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Things I Learned About Traveling Alone With Twins

  • Waking toddlers up at 3:30 a.m. to catch a 6:00 flight makes them super cranky.
  • When traveling alone with twins, going through security is the part that sucks the most. The rest of it isn’t exactly fun, but flight attendants will at least be charmed by your babes and will also feel sorry for you, so they’ll help you out. Going through security, you walk alone. TSA agents will not be charmed. You are so not their problem. They will be annoyed, pissed off, even, as you try to deal with car seats, your stroller and wrangle twins who run away in opposite directions the second you put them down. Other passengers won’t be charmed, either. Especially when the airport is packed to the gills, you’ve waited in that check-in line for an hour and everyone, including you, is running late.
  • I have one foot firmly planted in the Combi camp and the other in the Maclaren camp when it comes to side-by-side strollers (I could, and maybe will, write about both of them later), but the Maclaren rocked on this trip. You can loop the straps of one convertible car seat over each handle and just push. It’s cumbersome, but it works really well. I don’t know how else I would have carried both of them with me. They’re huge.
  • Even if you’re running a little late, stopping at the newsstand to pick up a bottle of water for filling up your sippy cups is an excellent idea. It’ll only take a couple of minutes. If you find a concession stand that sells little cartons of milk, that’s even better.
  • Getting seats as close to the front of the plane as you possibly can while still having a row in front of you so you can stash your diaper bag really, really helps.
  • It might be a good idea to skip the pre-boarding and get on the plane last, especially if you are close to the front. This means less time on the plane for the twins. Also, flight attendants will have dealt with everyone else by then and can help you out, because you’re the only one left, and you obviously need to board. If the flight attendants give you a hand getting your crap, and kids, on the plane, it really won’t take you long to set up, especially if you can install a car seat in your sleep.
  • Take a smallish diaper bag, if you can. You will have enough crap to worry about. I carried way less than I usually do, and it was fine. I was even able to spare a couple of diapers for another mom at the gate. I guess I usually carry a lot.
  • Flying when you have a bad head cold makes takeoff and landing excruciatingly painful. I know this has nothing to do with flying with twins, but ow. Owww.
  • If you have purchased three tickets and have a three-seat row to yourself, you will still only be allowed to carry one car seat on board. Regulation: Only one car seat per row, in the window seat. I did not know this.
  • The twin that does not get to sit in that window seat will not be happy about sitting in a regular seat. It will be too big for him, and so will the seat belt. He will hate it, actually, and will scream bloody murder and claw at you in desperation. So you will end up with a 35-pound toddler in your lap and an empty seat next to you.
  • If you then board a larger plane that has a 2-4-2 configuration, however, you will be allowed to put both car seats in the middle of the 4-seat row. If your twins are tired and cranky, they will get comfortable and will sleep through the entire flight. So will you. Life will be so, so good.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Word choice

I have a really tough time saying no to work. Usually, I'll only turn it down if: 1. The pay is crap 2. I don't think I'm qualified for the job, or 3. It conflicts with other work. It's an especially difficult choice to make if it conflicts with something going on in my personal life, because I have a harder time justifying it. And I feel horrible admitting it, but I've missed a couple of my boys' appointments with the doctor. I missed my Parents of Multiples consignment sale this fall, which seems like a silly thing but it really bummed me out. Like, to the point of tears. And I was out of town for my very first wedding anniversary.

It's taken me a long time to trust that work will come. And I still don't, not completely. So when things are good, I'm often way overworked, because I feel like the lean times must be right around the corner. I've been a little freaked out lately because I'll be on (unpaid) vacation for two weeks, yet we're still paying for child care. And I don't know how slow January might be.

It wasn't until just a couple of days ago that I realized my attitude really needed adjusting. I received two job offers and had to turn them down because of my Christmas trip. I wrote one of the project managers, "Unfortunately, I'll be on vacation." Then I stared at what I had written for a long time. And then wrote, in parentheses, "Actually, not so unfortunately at all."
It made me feel a lot better, like I was finally giving myself permission to let go of it.

The year is over. I'm closing up shop, and we'll see what January brings.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Take me away

I leave for Costa Rica on Wednesday, and it hasn’t really hit me yet. Two weeks of hanging out with family and friends, a birthday party for the boys, and hopefully plenty of hanging out on the beach. Or at least near the beach, drinking beer and eating ceviche.

Right now I just want to go to sleep and wake up when I get there, for a few reasons. Packing and getting ready has taken a backseat to a big translation I’m working on. It’s going to come right down to the wire, and I’m beginning to think I’m going to have to finish up the editing when I get there, which I really don’t want to do. Plus, this is my first solo flight with the boys, and I’m more than a little nervous. P likes to lord it over me, since he flew solo with them the time I ditched him in the Midwest after a good job came up. But his was a two-hour flight, whereas mine is longer and includes a layover in my own personal Airport Hell. (Ah, Miami. The place I was once sent to meet two different groups of international visitors arriving within minutes of each other at different terminals. I tried, and missed them both.)

Add to that the nasty head cold I woke up with today, and I’m not looking forward to the next two days very much. But once I get there, I’ll be very, very happy. So even though it sounds like I am, I'm not complaining.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

But they don't fall down

P and I like wine. A lot. And we break wine glasses. A lot. Like, sometimes several in one night, and it (usually) has nothing to do with how much wine we've actually had to drink. Often I'll break one as I'm washing it in the sink. Also, hardwood floors and granite countertops are not very forgiving.

So even though I once drank Pinot Noir out of one of those beautiful Riedel glasses the size of my head and felt like a goddess, I know we can never buy them. It would just be sad. Instead, we get our wine glasses at IKEA, where you can get six for three bucks or something.

Well, we recently ran out of those and started drinking wine out of juice glasses, which we also started to break. But I liked those glasses. They felt a lot more stable than actual stemware. So when I saw stemless wine glasses at World Market the other night for two bucks a pop, a little light bulb went on and I bought four of them.

P is still not convinced, but I love them. The best part: I almost knocked one over the other night. And though it wobbled and spun, as I stared, mesmerized, it didn't fall over, and not a drop of wine was spilled. I'm sold.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

I didn't know I missed you.

I have such mixed feelings about Southern California. I lived here for a few years when I was a child. After we moved to Costa Rica, we would come back and visit family here, and our cousins taught us all the new slang we were missing out on in the eighties: awesome, rad, and even (shudder) tubular. I didn’t stop using the word “stoked” until I was in my twenties, and only because non-Californians laughed at me when I said it. I went to college here. It was all I knew of the United States, unless you count a trip to Disney World and two weeks in D.C. when I was a teenager. I thought the rest of the country was just like SoCal, because, really, why wouldn’t it be?

Then I moved away for good, lived in Northern California, the Midwest, the East Coast, and was completely disabused of that notion. And I have to admit that my main feeling was, how nice. How nice, not to sit in traffic for hours, to use public transportation, to have real seasons with colored leaves and white Christmases and summers that are green instead of dusty brown. How nice, not to have smog that hides the mountains you know are right there, or water shortages or earthquakes or sweeping forest fires every year. And I often think, why would anyone in their right mind ever want to live there?

And here I am, in LA for a weekend trip. And now what I’m thinking is, how nice. How nice, to see my family and friends and have buried childhood memories come to the surface. To go see the snow only if you feel like it, to have palm trees everywhere, and bougainvillea in December and beautiful sunsets, and produce aisles that are overflowing with such exquisite, inexpensive offerings it makes me want to weep. To eat real Mexican food and discover new California wines. To feel the stress I brought with me from the East coast evaporate the minute I got off the plane and walked into the flip-flopped crowd. And I think, yeah, I can see why you would live here.

I’m glad I got to come back. I came to attend a good friend’s wedding and it was completely worth it even though I wasn’t even here for 48 hours. I managed to cram a lot in and even indulge in a couple of things that, at least to me, are so uniquely Californian. One is See’s Candies. I have a couple of boxes in my bag. I know you can get them online. I know I can even get them at a mall in my area, but it doesn’t matter. I got them here.

The other? God help me, it was Hot Dog on a Stick. And it was good, too. I'm not ashamed to admit it.

Now if only I’d been able to go get an In-N-Out burger, my trip would have been complete.

Friday, November 30, 2007


Working from home is awesome, now that I've been doing it more often and have become more efficient and disciplined about it. I'm wearing sweats, I've got my snack and my cup of coffee, and I have the TV on because I felt the need for some background noise. I'm free to take work calls immediately, because I'm not out interpreting somewhere, and I have constant access to e-mail. I know that's not such a big deal to most people who work in an office, but again, usually I'm out interpreting and can't check my e-mail all day. You can miss out on jobs that way.

Obviously, it's also wonderful because I waste no time commuting and get to spend more time with the boys. It's nice having someone take care of them at home, because it means when I'm done, I can just run downstairs and my workday is over. Also, I can listen to what's going on and have a good idea of how long they napped and so on.

That's also the hardest part about working at home. Right now they're all giggles and happy shrieks, and boy, would I love to go join them. Even for just a quick break. But I can't do it. They can't even know I'm here, or the minute I try to come upstairs the laughter will turn to tears and heart wrenching wails of Maaamaaaa... So I come upstairs in the morning with my coffee and my breakfast. If I want anything from downstairs later, I wait until they're at the park, or taking a nap.

They're no dummies, though. I'm starting to suspect they know I'm here and know that I'm off-limits when I'm upstairs. The other day, as they were coming upstairs for their nap, Primo was chanting, "Mama, Mama" quite happily. When his nanny told him Mama was at work, he stopped just outside of the office door and said, "AQUI." Yeah. No dummy.

So, not too bad for a rookie. I managed to blog 20 out of 30 days in November. Looking back, I suppose what strikes me is just how mundane my posts are. But it's a pretty accurate record of my life. Also, watching the posts build up is kind of addictive. I like my little blog. I think I'll keep it.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The contents of my shopping basket tonight

  • Two gallons of milk (The real reason I went to the store. Two gallons will last three days, max.)
  • A container of plain yogurt
  • A baguette
  • A little box of Camembert
  • A bottle of Bogle Old Vine Zin, my favorite $10 bottle of wine

So far, it's been a good night.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Even before the boys were born, I had visions of them sharing a crib. Wouldn't that be sweet? I thought. Surely they would need each other and be comforted by each other's presence.

That lasted about eight weeks, or until Secondo started scooting around in his sleep and kicking Primo in the head. I can still picture the quizzical look on his face when I walked in the nursery one morning and wham, wham, wham, Secondo's feet in his little sleep sack were kicking him relentlessly.

Since Primo was our good sleeper, we just couldn't have that. P came home with a new (Craigslisted) crib when they were ten weeks old and I nearly fell and kissed his feet. It made such a huge difference--all four of us got more sleep, which was a good thing.

The other night I put the boys in the same crib while I read them their stories. Then I moved Secondo back to his own crib, and he started wailing. I tried to comfort him, and then the penny dropped and I put him back in his brother's crib. Not only did he stop wailing immediately, he started to do his trademark happy dance, which caused Primo to giggle hysterically and say, "Gagi, Gagi!"

I tried to separate them again (because I'm an idiot), and the results were exactly the same. In the end, I left them in Primo's crib. When I checked in on them a few minutes later, they both kind of raised their heads to look at me, groggy and content. After a few more minutes, they were both fast asleep. I separated them later that night, but I can hardly believe that they fell asleep together for the first time since they were ten weeks old. The feeling that came over me was just indescribable.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

More Thanksgiving

I saw this on another blog and loved it. It's a little late, but what the hey, I'm still feeling Thanksgiving-y.

Ten things I'm grateful for that money can't buy:

1. My wonderful husband, my two sweet boys, and the rest of my family.
2. Our health. I've seen too many people's health fail them this year, and I've cried many tears for a few of my friends and members of my family.
3. The wonderful memories I have of the loved ones I've lost.
4. My friends, both near and far. And my friends in the area are the main reason I love, love living where I do.
5. My husband's gourmet cooking. Also, the fact that he does 99.9% of the cooking.
6. The fact that I have a job I love so much I can still hardly believe I get paid to do it.
7. The sound of my boys' laughter.
8. The changing of the seasons, nice, crisp weather.
9. Afternoons at the park with the boys.
10. Phone conversations with my mom.

Ten things I'm grateful for that money can buy:

1. My shiny new MacBook. Mmmmm.
2. Our widescreen, 46-inch TV. It makes me not care that I don't go to the movies much.
3. Eggnog lattes.
4. Good wine.
5. My plane ticket to LA. I'm going to my best friend from high school's wedding next weekend.
6. Our cozy little condo. It's where my husband and the boys are, and it's home. Maybe I should put that under things money can't buy, but it's costing us a pretty penny.
7. The down comforter.
8. My desk chair, of course.
9. Books, both for me and for the boys.
10. My new work purse--I love it with a passion.

One more thing I'm grateful for: It was easier making the first list than the second.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The highlight of my day

I was at the park today with the boys and my friend N. We were just watching the boys run around, when Primo started saying, "Gagi, Gagi, Gagi!" His name for Secondo. He just sounded like he was so happy and excited he could hardly stand it. He ran over to his brother and gave him the biggest hug.

Twins don't interact much in the beginning, and it's been fun watching them become increasingly aware of each other. Now they have a blast together, run and play together, cry unless the other is around. But that hug today, full of the purest joy, was beautiful.

I'd never heard that one before

Today, when I was standing in line at Starbucks with the boys in the double stroller:

Mother, to her little boy: Look, twins! There's two of them!

Little boy: Only two of them?

Keen: [Laughs hysterically.]

I've never really minded getting comments about the twins. Are they natural? Are they identical? Who was born first? Ooooh, double trouble! And so on and so forth. I can make my answer as long and friendly or as short and curt as I want to depending on my mood. Mostly, people are just being nice, which I'll take any day over people who are bitter or mean, and I've had a couple of those encounters, too.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


When I was growing up, Thanksgiving Day meant nothing to me. We lived in Costa Rica, so it was just another Thursday. Although my brother and I were on summer vacation, my parents worked, so there was no celebrating in November. I don't really remember our Thanksgivings in the U.S. before that.

However, that's not to say that we didn't celebrate Thanksgiving. On some random day in March, my dad would randomly announce, "We're having Thanksgiving on Sunday!" Just because he felt like it. In the beginning, turkeys were not easy to come by in Costa Rica. My dad had to ask for leads about farmers who might possibly raise turkeys and would be willing to sell us one. The two of us drove all over Creation trying to find them. It was always the two of us, because I loved running errands with him. Later on, an American meat market started selling them. (Along with pastrami and corned beef.) Now you can get them at any grocery store, but in the beginning it was a challenge, which made it all the more special.

We would invite my mom's side of the family, my grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, anyone who just wanted to come have a good meal and celebrate this Gringo holiday. We did it enough times that everyone started really looking forward to it, and people would ask when the next Thanksgiving would be. Sometimes we would do it twice a year, maybe more.

My dad's mother had taught my mother how to prepare a good old-fashioned Thanksgiving dinner years earlier. She made everything but the turkey and the mashed potatoes. Those were my dad's domain, his Aunt Mary's family recipe. It involved adding a whole stick of butter and making them nice and fluffy with the mixer. And we would hoard cans of cranberry sauce family or friends would bring down from the U.S., until it became available in Costa Rica.

Things change. The celebration expanded to include my Costa Rican sister-in-law's family. My dad is no longer with us. It is now celebrated at my brother's house (the house we grew up in) and my mother has passed the baton to my sister-in-law, who now cooks a mean Thanksgiving dinner. I remember the day my mom pulled out all of my grandmother's old recipes and "trained" her. She was so nervous the first time, writing everything down in her little notebook, and now she's a pro. Heck, I've never been in charge of an entire Thanksgiving dinner, and I feel slightly guilty that I never took my mom up on her offer to teach me. I make some great side dishes, but they all come from those gourmet magazines and include ingredients like ginger and orange zest (though I can't stand stuffing that includes any weird ingredients, like oysters, nuts or raisins). My family, who still like their cranberry sauce straight from the can, would be appalled.

We're hosting Thanksgiving for the second time this year. No traveling, just some good friends who I can't wait to see. There will be eight of us at the table. We've decided to host Thanksgiving at home as often as we can. The Thanksgivings we've had since we moved here have been awesome, and memorable. There was our first Thanksgiving, which P and I celebrated alone in a rented apartment. The Thanksgiving we spent in the Midwest with his family. The Thanksgiving we celebrated with friends just four days before I gave birth, when I decided to have a glass of wine and someone got a great picture of me balancing my wine glass on my massive belly.

But every Thanksgiving I think about the old days, and miss them just a little. The days of celebrating Thanksgiving just because we felt like it.

Monday, November 19, 2007

And it's not even midnight

I finished my translations. I'm so relieved to be done. The office/guest room is even more of a disaster area than usual. On the bookshelf and on my desk: the bowl I used for breakfast, my huuuuge Café du Monde coffee cup (perfect for jobs like this one), two empty cans of sparkling water, and an empty glass of wine.

Tomorrow, appropriately, my main mission was going to be cleaning the guest room, since we actually have a guest arriving tomorrow and one arriving on Wednesday. Instead, my main mission will be interpreting during a deposition in the morning. I was assured it will be short--we'll see. Now my "cleaning" will consist of quickly putting all of the crap that's on the bed and the floor in boxes and shoving them in the closet.

I suppose this issue would be an entirely different post, but I have a hard time turning down work for no good reason, and I think my problem is actually defining what a good reason is. When it comes down to making a choice between cleaning my guest room, which I desperately need to do, or getting paid to work, well, that choice usually wins. Especially if I'm paying the babysitter anyway.

Just took a long break to console a screaming toddler. Secondo's having a bad night.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Ode to my chair

A few weeks ago, I did a huge editing job. Every time I thought I was done, the agency I was working for would dump 50 extra pages on me. And then 50 more. I was interpreting during the day, and was editing on weekends and on weeknights until the wee hours of the morning. There was barely enough room in my life for anything else for a couple of weeks. My "breaks" consisted of playing with the boys in the evenings, bathing them, reading them some stories and putting them to bed, before I worked some more. That was when I discovered that I could work until 3:30 a.m., but not until 4:00. Somehow, it just seemed so much worse, especially if I had to get up at 7:00. That was a bad time, and it involved obscene amounts of coffee.

One of the worst parts about the whole thing was that I had no decent workspace. My fold-up desk in the guest room was crammed full of junk. Hell, I couldn't even get to it. My desk chair was a three-dollar stool from IKEA. (We used to have two of them--freebies we got with a purchase off Craigslist--but they're so cheap that one of them collapsed.) So I worked at the kitchen table, and in bed. By the time I was done, what with the lack of decent lumbar support and the 3+ hours of sleep I was getting, I was in so much pain. My neck, my back, my shoulders, you name it, it ached. My body was so relieved when I was done, and it took a few days for my body to get back to normal.

Once I got a check for another job I had done (I still haven't been paid for that particular job, and I'm starting to get antsy), I started looking at desk chairs. There was just no way I was going to go through that again. I ordered the chair online, assembled it and then waited for another big job to come my way. Also, I cleared off my desk. I'm so smart.

It's a weird chair. I ordered it online, sight unseen, which made me a little nervous. It cost $100, which might seem cheap of me, considering my line of work. But I honestly couldn't bring myself to go to Staples and buy a $500 desk chair (is there such a thing? Probably.), so I decided to risk it. Hey, I'm a freelancer, it's tax-deductible, right?

I've now put in a couple of days of serious translating and editing, and I am surprised by how much I love it. I thought I might, but I was basing that on the fact that I'd sat in a kneeling chair at a friend's place once while I used her computer and thought it was cool. It's true that the chair is a little hard on my shins. But when I get tired, I can rock it back, rest my feet on the floor and stretch a little. My back, neck and shoulders feel great, almost as if I haven't been chained to my desk for several days.

I hope it's not another 3:30 night for me. I'm thinking 1:00 or 1:30. But I do have a deadline to meet tomorrow, so I'd better get to it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Yeah, a little too quiet

It's so quiet around here. I start a job tomorrow, so I flew home tonight, leaving P and the boys back in the Midwest for another day. And it feels so incredibly strange.

I've traveled for work this year, so it's not like I haven't spent time away from them (but that's another post). But as I sit here tonight, I can't remember the last time I was completely alone in the house. It's been a couple of years, that's for sure. And I'm kind of relishing the solitude. I just found out I start later than I thought tomorrow, at 10:00 instead of 8:00. So I'm not going to pick out my outfit for tomorrow. I'm going to get up at 8:00 or even 8:30. I'll make coffee, or go over to the coffee shop. Then I'll put together what I need for work. There will be no mad rush, no making breakfast for little people while being assailed by plaintive cries of ¡Hambre, hambre, hambre! I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around that concept.

When I say things like that, I always feel like I need to include a million disclaimers. Of course, I miss them already. Of course, I can't wait to go pick them up at the airport tomorrow night. Of course, I already called P so I could hear their sweet, sweet voices.

But I'm so going to enjoy tomorrow morning.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Fall colors

I was in court a few weeks ago and one of the defense attorneys I really like took a look at me and said, "Don't take this the wrong way, you look good, but are you in mourning?" And I was, indeed, dressed in black from head to toe, except for the white flowers on my blouse.

I suppose I didn't need to have to take it to heart, but it does seem like everything I own is black. So recently I've refused to buy anything black and have made it a mission to add more color. Black was just easy, you know, goes with anything, blahblahblah. And I have to say I'm pretty happy with the results. I now own a bright orange purse, and a purple one. So much nicer than my old black bag. I've bought a few tops in beautiful, rich colors. And I just feel so good. Who knew?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Some nicknames

I really hate to be all cutesey. And yet I'm also a teeny bit paranoid about putting real names out there. So for the purposes of this blog, my boys will be Primo and Secondo. Those are two of their many actual nicknames, after the brothers in Big Night, which I think has become my favorite movie ever. And believe me, there was some stiff competition. (Though I don't know...Barbara Billingsley as a Jive interpreter...that's hard to beat. Hmmm.)

As for me, many of my friends call me, well, Keen. And P is just going to have to be P, because the only nickname I have for him is the Spanish version of his name. Not too original, but we're not big into nicknames.

I'm off to bed. I suppose this was kind of an obligatory post--to myself, because who's reading?--but I wanted to follow through. Though this weekend will be dicey. We're headed to the Midwest for the weekend to visit P's family. It'll be nice to get away.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Shirking my civic duties

I left work today at 4:30. I got on the Metro, and as we neared the Pentagon, we stopped. And waited. And were informed there was a fire at the Pentagon, and waited some more.

I try not to think freaky thoughts on the Metro, which is usually not a problem for me. But I have to admit I hate being stuck on the Metro. I couldn't help but think about the teeny flashlight I always carry in my purse, especially once I smelled the smoke. I was relieved once we backed up and started moving again--our train was sent back into the District-- but I was even more relieved once we were on the tracks over the Potomac and I could see the Pentagon, all in one piece.

My 40-minute commute stretched into almost 2 1/2 hours. It wasn't until I got home that I remembered that the polls closed at seven. I had 12 minutes to rush over and vote, and didn't. But boy, that was some commute.

Monday, November 5, 2007


I have nothing much to say today. I do have lots of things I'd like to write about, all of which would require more time than I care to spend right now, time that I could spend zoning out in front of the TV, which is what I'm doing. It was that kind of day.

The boys were stir-crazy when I got home, so I put them in the stroller and went to the grocery store. We needed milk for the boys and potatoes for dinner. Then I came across a 12-pack of Sam Adams Winter Lager--on sale. I spent a good five minutes wrestling with it, desperately trying to figure out if there was a way I could stuff in into the stroller basket or get it home somehow. In the end, what with the gallon of milk and the potatoes, there was just no way, so I oh-so-reluctantly left it there.

I suppose I could have put it on one of the boys' laps, like I did with the huge pumpkin I lugged home from the store last week. One of the boys carried it home on his lap and was just pleased as punch about it. But, a toddler with a pumpkin on his lap = cute. Toddler with a 12-pack on his lap = just a tad inappropriate, I thought. Damn.

Ah, well. Again, it was just that kind of day.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

How I'm spending my extra hour

Falling back is not nearly as exciting as it used to be (an extra hour of sleep!) now that I have toddlers. When I got up with them this morning it was 6:30 after the time change, which actually wasn't bad. It could have been much earlier.

The house is a mess. The kitchen needs cleaning. So does my desk, and my closet. But instead of dealing with any of those things, I'm going to crawl into bed and just take a nap. It'll be my way of claiming that extra hour.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The streak is over.

There were two things that as a freelancer, I had always been proud of, perhaps somewhat irrationally. The first was that I had not taken a sick day since 1999. It's simple: I don't have a regular employer. I call in sick, I run the risk of screwing up an event, making a judge continue a hearing, pissing off my colleagues, or my client simply may not call me again. You really don't want to get a reputation as a flake. I've gone to work sick and just sucked it up, and a couple of times I was so hoarse that I really had no business working. That streak finally came to an end last year. In the end, I was more upset about it than anyone else. It was one of my regular clients, who was very understanding, and there were plenty of my colleagues around to pick up the slack. What upset me the most was that I wasn't even sick. My niece, who was here to babysit the boys, became violently ill, and my husband had fractured his foot over the weekend and was in a splint and on crutches. Definitely unable to take care of two seven-month olds. So I stayed home and tended to two babies, my niece and husband. Last Woman Standing.

The other thing I'd never done was double-booked myself. Finally, last Monday, I got that call. As I got off the subway to go to one job, I got the message from another client that said, "Where are you? Because you're supposed to be HERE." I still have no idea what happened. I'm so careful about updating my Palm, and I just do what it tells me to.

The first assignment was short, so I did go to the second one. I practically ran the twenty minutes to the subway station. They were short-staffed when I got there. I was stuck in a courtroom for an hour and a half with no replacement. It was also the day of a friend's funeral, too sudden and far away for me to attend. So I was sad, stressed and out of sorts. In all, a bad, bad day.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Why NPR is bad for you. Or maybe just me.

I was so very good this Halloween. I'm making such an effort to eat better, cut back on the sweets and wine, and go to the gym. I'm not going to extremes, but I'm doing well and have lost a few pounds. At the Halloween party I went to, I had exactly one hot dog, a small cupcake, and half a glass of wine. (Though I only stopped at half a glass because I was chasing my rambunctious toddlers all over the place and forgot about the wine. It was hard enough finding a couple of seconds to scarf down the hot dog.) I even went to the store yesterday and bought a few bags of half-price Halloween candy, figuring the teeny boxes of Milk Duds and Junior Mints would be the perfect size to toss in with my sack lunches. I'm not even tempted by them.

But then I listened to my podcasts and heard this Ode to Candy Corn. And I immediately became consumed by the desire to, well, consume candy corn. I scoured our local grocery stores and drugstores, hoping to find individually-wrapped packages, just to keep myself in check, but no dice. So I bought a bag and figured I would be good and eat it little by little. Right?

Damn that podcast. It had been a long time since I had candy corn. I never really give it a second thought. But yesterday, I was unable to resist it. I didn't eat the whole bag, which is good. Or even half the bag. But boy, it got the best of me. And it was sooooo good.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Here goes

So. I've been thinking about doing this for a while now. If I really think about it, one of the things that's stopped me is the fact that there are some really good blogs out there, and when I read them I think: Oh, if I can't be that good, then no. I can't put another bad blog out there. I just can't.

But really, who cares? This is for me. Maybe people will find it. Maybe they won't. Maybe it'll be interesting, maybe not. But if I keep obsessing over all that, or try to get every single word right, I'm never going to do it. Plus, I've read several blogs faithfully for a few years, and really, though I do love reading them, why not spend some of my time writing my own? I'd like to create something for myself.

About me: I'm in my mid-thirties and married to P, a scientific/academic type who is the only person I know who can be more scatterbrained than I am. We have twin boys who will soon turn two. We live in a place we can afford in a big city, which means the four of us (plus approximately one kajillion plastic toys) share about 900 square feet of living space. I'm a Spanish translator and interpreter and love, love, love what I do. I'm a freelancer, which makes me my own boss but also sometimes makes me feel like less of my own boss than you would think.

I'm trying to figure out how I feel about the blogosphere and being a part of it. Do I want to be found? Do I want to leave comments? How much personal information do I want to reveal? Is blogging even for me? Don't know. But I do know about National Blog Posting Month, which I thought just might be the motivation I needed to get myself to write. So, here goes.

That wasn't so hard.