Happy Thanksgiving

Tom Turkey

I love Thanksgiving.  It falls around my birthday so the 4-day weekend always feels like a special birthday present.  I come from a family of great cooks and the Thanksgiving menu has evolved over the years to include the traditional favorites along with an awesome pumpkin curry soup (thank you, Nikki) and my grandma’s antipasto (because we cannot have a family meal without an Italian dish).   For the past decade, Matt and I escaped to our cottage the Friday after Thanksgiving to relax before the rush of the Christmas season.  We would pull out the sofa bed and watch movies, eat turkey leftovers and not have any company. A real treat!  This year is obviously different.  Matt is working on Thursday as Thanksgiving is not a holiday in Peru (although I noticed that the stores do have “Black Friday” sales).  So I am feeling a little bereft about missing Thanksgiving, while at the same time recognizing that my life is one long weekend and we have a lot to be thankful for.

Because I am not the only expat to feel this way, the American and Canadian expats held a Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday night.  My friend Sarah, the school librarian, and I went to pick up the turkeys on Sunday morning.  We took them to the host’s house to clean them and get them in the oven.  While Sarah and I were each cleaning out the inside of a turkey (no tidy giblet bag here!) and plucking stray feathers, I realized my turkey still had its head!  Thank goodness Sarah is from Alaska and no stranger to cleaning animals, so she gamely lopped off the heads of both turkeys.  Interestingly, the feet were already off but included in the bag.

The feast was really nice; everyone chipped in with a dish or two and we  had a traditional meal.  A few Peruvians were invited as well as a peace corp volunteer, Michelle, who Sarah met at the grocery store.  (When you hear someone speaking English around here, you tend to strike up a conversation.)  My favorite non-traditional part of the meal was a pineapple salsa that Michelle’s Peruvian host mom made for her to bring to the event.  Delicious and perfect with turkey.  If I am ever home for Thanksgiving, I might just have to make this dish a new staple on the family menu.

My favorite part!

My favorite part!

So those of you at home, enjoy it all: the Macy’s parade, football, friends, family and food!  Happy Thanksgiving!

Why I Flunked NaNoWriMo

I initially thought I flunked NaNoWriMo* because I have perfected the art of procrastination.  Just ask my college roommate who watched me furiously write my senior thesis in about two weeks after researching and talking about it all year.  Or my legal mentor who would give me a fake deadline for a brief, knowing full well that I would talk my way out of the deadline, but still manage to come up with a good final product just in time to make the court’s deadline.  I like to have things percolate in my brain before I actually start writing, so my excuses seemed typical, almost predictable for me.  First, I was on a bus snaking through the Andes Mountains at 12:00 on November 1st, which surely absolved me from beginning my novel at the challenge’s official starting time.  Said bus took me on a three day vacation packed with sightseeing and quality time with Matt.  Upon our return from the trip, I had to run household errands and then volunteer that afternoon.  So I started on Tuesday, November 5, and wrote and rewrote an excellent first page.  On Wednesday I wrote a terrible second page.  On Thursday, with a whopping total of 908 words, which I would write as “nine hundred and eight words” if I were still doing the NaNoWriMo challenge, I threw in the towel and decided to paint our bedroom, which was a four-day endeavor.  I actually didn’t admit at that time that I was throwing in the towel, but as I haven’t written another word of my novel, that is exactly what I did.  The ultimate irony? The working title of my two-page, draft novel is Surrender.

The surprising part is that I don’t feel bad about my white-flag-waving retreat from novel writing.  And I have no excuses whatsoever for quitting.  I don’t work by choice and good fortune, so I am not looking for a job or anxious over not having one.  I don’t have kids.  Given that we have only lived here a few months, I don’t know a lot of people or have a lot of time commitments.  Our small, Peruvian town in the Andes mountains has few distractions.  In short, if I can’t write a novel under these perfect conditions, I am not cut out to write a novel.

And I’m not cut out to write a novel.  At least not right now.  I love to write and I write in some form every day, but not a novel.   To create real characters, plausible ones, even if they are trolls or serial killers or goddesses or teenagers or ghosts or whatever, you need to draw on all of your experiences, which includes the people you know.   Friends, relatives, enemies, mere acquaintances and the person you overheard in line at the grocery store.  Even though my intended novel is not remotely autobiographical, its characters have the traits and nuances of those I know.  Distorted and magnified, but still there.  And I’m not ready for that.  I’m not ready for a friend or relative to recognize herself in my writing.  I’m not ready to write uncensored.  Every word on this blog is self-censored.  Matt once expressed some discomfort over two lines I wrote in a post.  Before he told me which lines, I already knew because I had worked and re-worked them a half dozen times to cause as little offense as possible while still conveying my thoughts.   But you can’t write a good novel, a novel with honesty and integrity, if you fear offending your Great Aunt Mabel who just might recognize herself in a minor character.

Is this just another procrastination technique on my part?  To forgive myself for my failure by writing about a plausible excuse for it? I don’t think so.  While I recognize the arrogance in speculating that I would be fortunate enough to publish a novel and that people I know would actually read it (my blog stats showing me that the latter might actually be less likely than the former), this fear of offending hamstrings my writing.

But that is only half of the truth.  I also have a fear of exposing myself.  To write honestly, you must expose your heart, mind, and soul. Put on paper your greatest fears and your greatest loves. Open yourself and the world and characters you create to criticism and ridicule.  A  mother may tell you that is exactly what it feels like to send a child off to school.  But it isn’t.  At some point a child becomes separate from her parent and responsible for her actions.  Your characters don’t – you decide what they do, what they think, whom they hurt and who hurts them.  You decide how they will be presented to the world and that, in turn, presents you to the world (even if that world is limited to the 5 people who read your book). My favorite writing quote is Red Smith’s in which he responded to a question about whether writing a daily column was a chore with “No, you simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.” I thought writing a thesis or a legal brief was hard, but they really only require good research and strong writing. A novel requires so much more.   And I’m just not ready to bleed all over the page.

*NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month and is a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel (or part of a novel) during the month of November.  http://nanowrimo.org/

1st Communion, Peruvian Style

“We’re going to the first communion this weekend,” Matt said when he came home from school one night.

“Okay, whose first communion?” I asked.  Having been to plenty of first communions in the States, including my own, I was interested to see one in Peru.

“I don’t know.  The fourth graders, I guess,” he replied.  “I have an invitation somewhere.”

“All of them?”  I was confused.  Davy is not a Catholic school and while I know Peru is 85-90% Catholic, I didn’t understand why first communion would be associated with the school as opposed to a parish.

“I don’t know, but I’m the principal so we need to go.”

Fair enough.  So last Saturday Matt and I put on church attire and headed to Iglesia Belén (Church of the Nativity) in the center of Cajamarca.  (Once at church I discovered that if I owned a micro mini skirt and stiletto heels those would have been equally appropriate attire for a first communion although I am not sure how I would have sat down…)  We arrived and knew we were in the right place by the host of little angels all around us.

Matt was in hot demand for photos.  Mainly with the girls – like in most countries, the boys stay farther away from the principal.  But Miss Mistina, a fourth grade teacher, was sought after for photos with boys and girls and, in one case, the family scurried down the street after mass to catch her.  We chatted with some parents who spoke excellent English and the mom explained that the children usually make their first communion with their school.  She added that 48 children were participating today and that 1 other student already made her first communion in Lima and the remaining 3 fourth graders “were not participating.”  It was clear she did not approve of the three non-participants. She also explained that the children dress alike to avoid the “miniature bride” factor and competition.  That seems like a great idea and probably an easier sell in a country where uniforms are the norm.

The same mom kindly led us into church and to our assigned seats – places of honor on the side, right up front by the children.  Not my usual back-of-church choice, but we were not alone as the teachers were similarly honored.  The priest even came down to greet all of us before mass, and I almost had a giggle fit when the priest said “Que Tal” to me, which is an informal “How’s it going” greeting.  I managed to stutter back “Buenos Dias” as he continued down the line of teachers.  Then I looked up at the dome and had to stifle my giggles again as the cherubs holding up the dome look like they are making “Nanny-Nanny-Boo-Boo”  faces.  Look and tell me if I am wrong:



While the service lasted two hours, it was very pleasant.  Our years of Catholic education certainly helped as Matt and I generally knew what was going on.  There was also a handy written program, so I could even say the responses (the shorter ones or I got lost) and sing in Spanish.  The Our Father, which should have been easy, was confusing, so I am not exactly sure what was going on for that.  All 48 children participated in some fashion by reading petitions, bringing up the gifts etc., which was nice.  I had considerable anxiety during communion when everyone was taking the wafer directly in the mouth, a practice long discontinued in the US.  So I intently watched the line and was relieved when I saw one woman extend her hands.  Then I saw she was noticeably pregnant.  Was there some special pregnancy rule? By the time we were headed up to the altar, I had seen two other women, neither who appeared to be pregnant, do the same, so I held out my hands and was awarded my host (and not whacked with a ruler by the nun dispensing communion).  Whew.  Poor Mistina, who is not Catholic, was being urged by the children to take communion.  She explained that she was not Catholic and received stunned, uncomprehending looks.  So on Monday she had to explain where her Christian beliefs and their Catholic beliefs intersect and diverge.  She said the kids are still a little shocked that she isn’t Catholic.

After church we wandered to the Belén museum and ended our outing with a baby mummy and a skeleton.  All in all, a lovely day!

Tambo Colorado (Vacation Part VII – Final Site)

First, my apologies for the lack of posts in the past few weeks.  We went out of town (stayed tuned for posts on Huanchaco and Truijillo), I painted our bedroom (never again) and we have had more social/school events to attend. Matt and I both have stepped up our Spanish studies, supplementing our weekly lessons with watching Destinos, a cheesy miniseries designed to teach Spanish to Americans, and Duolingo, an on-line language learning program.  I also started taking yoga twice a week, which I love.  The instructor is great, there are only 5 of us in the class (two whom I knew prior to class) and it is another Spanish immersion event for me.  So life continues to go well for us in Peru.

Our last tour in the Paracas area was a trip to Tambo Colorado, which roughly translates as “red place” or “red resting place.” Built in the mid to late 1400s during the reign of the Incan Pachacutec, Tambo Colorado is believed to have been an administrative site used when the Incan ruling class travelled on the Inca Trail from Cuzco, the historic capital of the Incan empire, to other parts of the empire.  It is strategically located on the road that runs between the coast and the mountains and built into the side of a mountain, overlooking the Pisco Valley.  Due to the desert conditions, the site is the best preserved example of adobe construction from the Incan era and is famous for retaining some original red, yellow and white paint on its walls.

The pictures don’t do justice to the site, which quite large and impressive.  If memory serves me, starting from the river, there was a burial ground, then buildings that were believed to house the lower class workers/animals, the large public square, and then living areas that ascend the hill and end with the ruling class’s  quarters at the top.  The architecture has typical Incan features, such as trapezoid wall niches (double niches in the ruler’s quarters), trapezoid doorways, and geometric ornamentation in the ruling class’s quarters.  The layout of the rulers’ quarters was really interesting  and designed with security in mind: rooms with two doorways, so a quick get-away could be made; narrow hallways that allowed only one person to pass; sentry niches at the doorways believed to be the ruler’s bedroom; and two very nice baths, complete with irrigation systems and drains.

Finally, the site had the added bonus of our first view of the Inca trail (in the picture it winds up the hill).  While it is possible that we have seen it before, this was the first time we realized what it was.  The Incans had an amazing road system, with two main North-South arteries, connected by many branches.  The most famous part of the trail is the hike to Machu Picchu, something we intend to do while we live here.

Inca Trail

Inca Trail