Saturday, January 7, 2017

Favorite Author Found! Catherine Ryan Hyde

As my last post elucidated, I've taken up reading.  One of the first books I downloaded on Kindle Unlimited was Take me With You by Catherine Ryan Hyde.  She has easily become one of my favorite authors in the three books by her I have read.  The other two are When I Found You and Walk me Home.  (And I didn't realize until this moment, she wrote Pay it Forward.  I enjoyed the movie years ago and now I may pick up the book!

There is something about the way she writes that I connect with emotionally.  I often "catch" myself thinking about her characters and their life choices, personalities, and stories.  I can't say that I relate to any individual or story personally, but I develop a fondness for each one and feel like I understand that particular plight a bit better.  Each character seems to be an average person.  He or she may or may not go above and beyond expectations and maybe will only do something extraordinary once or never in their lifetimes.  This leads to realistic narratives and plots, easily to follow and enjoy.

Take me With You starts with a middle-aged widower at a mechanics shop waiting for his RV to be repaired.  August, the widower, ends up bringing the mechanics two young boys with him on his annual National Parks trip with the goal being Yellowstone.  My dad felt it should have ended when he dropped the boys off at the end of the summer with their alcoholic father, but I'm glad it went a bit further.  I needed the ending to cry my happy and sad tears and to feel the story was complete.  I do not care for stories/movies where the ending is left up to the audience's imagination.

Walk me Home is about two tween/teen sisters who attempt to walk from New Mexico to California.  Their mom and her boyfriend are killed in a car accident (murder-suicide, we never find out) and the older sister decides they need to find their mother's ex-boyfriend who was the only other person who ever cared for them.  They stumble onto a fictional Native American reservation where they come face-to-face with a shotgun belonging to an almost blind woman.  I was elated when the younger sister chose to stay with the old woman, they each needed each other and their bond developed organically, unspoken.  The older sister continues her journey to California solo, unable to believe that anywhere else could be home except with her mom's ex boyfriend.  I won't spoil the ending!

When I Found You was my least favorite of the three because it was a difficult read, emotionally.  Don't get me wrong, it was well-written, but every step of the way I wanted the plot to resolve and the characters to find peace.  There was too much toil and turmoil and I felt uneasy while reading, maybe even too much despair as your hopes were constantly dashed by the choices of one of the main character.  The story begins with a childless, introspective tax accountant/duck hunter finding a day-old newborn in the woods.  He asks the police to adopt the child, who ends up with his maternal grandmother.  Although he buys a present for the child every birthday and Christmas, it isn't until the boy reaches his teens that they actually meet.  At 15 the grandmother deposits the boy with "The Man Who Found Him in the Woods," seemingly washing her hands of him.  The accountant tells him that no matter what happens, he'll never wash his hands of him, and he doesn't.  Maybe he should have, far to many times along the way.  It is sticking with me, constantly on my mind.  Could the accountant have done anything any differently?  The grandmother?  The boy's young wife?  His boxing coach?  Fortunately, the "boy" finds a semblance of peace at the end, otherwise I would have been tempted to hate the book!

The beauty of her writing is nothing feels forced, neither dialogue nor circumstance.  I never felt she sat in front of her manuscript wondering what she could write that would get her characters to do x.  Maybe the stories take her to the end with a life of their own, or possibly it all develops naturally for her?  There were a few times when I wished I could shake some sense into the characters, especially in When I Found You, but that's only normal.  In real life I want to shake sense into people more than I care to admit.  Catherine Ryan Hyde continues to give us hope every step of the way, even when everything feels lost.  The hope is in the relationships, not only hoping the individuals with do the right thing or read a self-help book!  She seamlessly connects disparate characters with not just their FOILs, but the person they most need to find personal fulfillment and happiness.

Stay tuned to see what other reading adventures I have!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Reading as a Hobby - I never knew how much I enjoyed reading until now!

I've been trying to find a hobby.  That sounds like I started the other day and I am still going strong, though the truth is that I have been searching for years!  Google tells me that a hobby is "an activity done regularly in one's leisure time for pleasure."  I have never had a true hobby in the long-term.  I was in band, I played the piano, I was on the golf team my senior year of high school and then again my senior year of college, never really did any of those things on the weekend, though I do still enjoy music and golf.  In Japan (the first time) I did crossstitch to bide my time in classes I didn't understand and when I was supposed to be doing homework I couldn't read and tried my hand at naginata.  In college I had a part-time job and studied languages (maybe that is the closest thing I've had to a hobby?).  Post-college I started beading, failed at knitting (except for "easy knitting" which is amazingly fun and easy!), and had spurts where I swam, did yoga, biked to work, etc.

The kids are slightly older and now I have a few minutes each day where I can spend time on myself or a hobby!  So the other day I renewed my search by googling "how to pick a hobby."  There are A LOT of ideas out there, many of which I had heard or seen, but never really considered.  Did I mention I'm pretty conservative spender, so that ruled out starting an acrylic ring making business by suspending nature in clear resin (for eternity?).  Buying a Stand-Up-Paddle board or a kayak seem great, but they start at a few hundred dollars!

[SIDE NOTE: I'm sitting outside in Dar and I just killed a mosquito on my leg as she was mid-suck.  :-(]

I still have hundreds beads upstairs, I spent a lot of money on them, but I never was a passionate beader.  My neighbor has offered to buy them all from me once I decide on a price = start-up costs for new hobby, check!  I'm not sure why I hesitate to sell them, I haven't done it for years, why I am so worried I will pick it up again?  In addition, I still have some yarn left from my 6 months of knitting (but I'll keep that to use with the looms).  Theoretically I could make money off both these as hobbies, with high quality and high output, but with a full-time job and full-time kids, that doesn't seem likely.

Now, back to the first word of title of this post, "Books."  Reading is a timeless hobby that has withstood the test of time (until my generation and our electronics addiction), why couldn't it work for me?  I never particularly enjoyed reading as a kid, but I wished I had been a voracious reader.  My dad blamed my mother for only letting us read library books, but truthfully I'm not sure why I never got into it until now.  There are only a handful of books which have stuck with me, Black Rain Einstein's Dreams, Anne of Green Gables, The Five People you Meet in Heaven, and others.  I'm excited for my 12 months of KindleUnlimited and simultaneously filling up my book wish list.  Is there a way to flag the books on my list for Amazon sales?
Wish me luck on my new hobby!  Maybe I'll even post some book reviews here?

Saturday, December 10, 2016

December 2016 - Greetings from Dar es Salaam!

For those of you who don't know, the Streett Family moved to Dar es Salaam in June 2016.  I'd say we are firmly settled into life in Dar these days.  We decided to put N into the French School system, which we hope to keep him at future posts.  They have picked up a few words of Kiswahili and we are under the assumption that N is learning French.  We only hear a few words here and there, vert, orange, rouge, deux, trois, etc.  N taught M Freres Jacques and so she wanders around singing that all day long.  They have a nursery program that'll start next summer when she turns three.  I think she'll like school more than N does. 

I'm not sure when N stopped taking daily afternoon naps, but it has been at least a year by now.  Fast forward to a month ago and N came home proudly declaring that they let him take a nap at school and they brought a bed in from the nursery classroom to let him sleep in.  He was excited!  Who knows what they think of us as parents!?  He strongly refuses to take a nap most days, but I guess napping at school is the thing to do!  

M on the other hand has quite the little social circle.  The nannies coordinate and visit each other's houses, the playground and trampoline.  She has two little best friends and the nanny periodically sends photos of them holding hands.  M has turned into quite the little ham.  Whenever someone is taking her picture or shows her even the tiniest bit of attention, she goes into full on celebrity mode.  She pretends to be shy, then giggles, then she'll make faces, such a cutie!  
Evidence of M enjoying the spot light!
Although I haven't been blogging, we've been busy.  We've already taken three quick trips in Tanzania.  We went to Bomani Beach where we took a dhow ride and swam in the ocean (and we got lost on our way to the ruins).  N and S walked around the village and brought back 15 children in tow.  The hotel let them come onto the grounds, it was a bit chaotic.  Eventually N and M got tired of the attention and the hotel staff shooed the children away.  

Next we did two nights in Morogoro, we had a nice place lined up and then they called to say they only had one of our two nights available.  I really don't like the idea of changing hotels for one night each (though in retrospect we probably should have).  The place we ended up was nicely furnished, but there was absolutely nothing to do.  I know now it is used as a stopover point between safari and Dar.  They advertised a short hike to a waterfall, which left much to be desired.  We wandered around in people's backyards up a hill to find a dribble of water coming down the rocks.  I guess it is nice if you go further, but the kids didn't have the stamina (and me!).  I didn't take any pictures the whole hike, that's how unscenic it was.  
The only picture that turned out from Morogoro, the rooms were cylindrical chalets with a loft.

Lastly, we spent 5 days on Zanizabar.  We went to a resort on the eastern coast for the first four days and transferred to a hostel O_O for the last night so we could easily board the 9am ferry.  Overall the trip was great, the only downside was the hostel.  It was loud and hot and there isn't even a tripadvisor page for it to write a review!  The resort owner said her friend had rooms she rented for the night, which seemed more like a B&B the way she described it.  Oh well, you live and you learn.  Luckily our trip to Zanzibar began and ended with Royal Class seats on the ferry.  

Royal Class Streetts

We did one excursion from the hotel, we did a spice tour, which included lunch and a quick stop at some ruins.  The kids loved exploring the old building and seeing what the potties and showers looked like.  

Exploring the ruins on Zanzibar

Near the ruins, where the owner of the ruins landed her boat

3/4 Family photo at ruins

After the ruins we went to the spice farm and the kids were exhausted before we even got there.  It is hard to convey that we'd actually like to skip portions of the paid tour in interest of the children.  It isn't that they aren't child-friendly, they just have their plan that they stick too.  We tried to get him to skip the woodcarving stop, which was a sales pitch disguised as a "tour" with lots of donation boxes as you walked around the famous Zanzibar woodcarvers.  The kids had a good time smelling and tasting the spice plants, but were getting more and more tired and right before the end of the tour it started POURING!  A lovely, never-ending tropical rainstorm.  S got separated from us in a different shelter.  After about 10 minutes of wrangling the kids, I decided to carry them over to the other shelter to see if we could eat lunch.  A tourguide felt sorry for us and carried N, both to S and then the lunch tent.  We were all MUCH happier with food in our bellies, though our shoes are still stained from the red clay soil.  

Post Spice Farm Tour Lunch 

If you can't see the rain behind us in the other photo, this is what was happening while we were eating.  
Besides the excursion, we spent most of our time at the resort swimming, eating, playing in the sand and walking up and down the sandy beach.  The sand isn't sand castle sand, but more like white flour.  So the kids didn't build anything with the sand, they rolled around in it and poured it like water.  It was so soft!  

Resort swimming, we swam at least twice a day!

For our last evening in Zanzibar, we ate out at a restaurant S recommended in Stone Town (he had come on a Kiswahili immersion trip in August).  The restaurant was good, but there was no play area.  We ate quickly and walked to the edge of the waterfront and watched the sunset.   


The sun is just about gone
Sticking her tongue out for the camera
Father and son watching the sunset


Saturday, November 14, 2015

November 2015

You'll note the boring title to this blog post, it was made that way because there are so many events and happenings that I haven't blogged about and there is nothing exciting about this particular day in November.

M is now 15 months old and N is 3 years old.  Both their birthday parties were a lot of fun.  For M we did a brunch with mini-pancakes, bacon, eggs, fruit, etc.  N got into his own planning, picking a monster theme and spaghetti with a toppings bar.  N and I spent many hours designing, creating and painting cardboard and paper monsters for the walls (many of which are still hanging on the walls).  We don't have any of our own pictures from either because we lost our camera in PA in May and I didn't get a new one until (unfortunately) after our trip to Roatan in early October (future post).
So happy after cake!

See the picture? N hung one of himself...I guess he was worried about being forgotten at her party. 

I'd like to say that August as a whole was uneventful, but work was very stressful as we 2 visa adjudicators transitioned part-time so we shared them with their new positions and it was the height of "bidding" season.  For those who aren't with State, bidding is what we call our process for finding our next jobs in the Foreign Service.  Basically it consists of hundreds of emails to people all over the globe.  You hope that they like you as much as you like them and then you wait, a lot of waiting.  Sometimes you'll get interviewed, but unfortunately many times you don't hear anything more than "thank you for your interest, we'll get back to you."  I went in to work on Saturdays or Sundays most weekends to keep myself afloat and to send bidding emails.  I even had a few interviews on Sunday evenings because it made the most sense for the time difference.  To top it all off, I contracted chikungunya too (July's post informed you that M caught it before me).  The older you are (I am a lot older than M), the worse the pain is and the longer it lasts, to this day nearly 4 months later I have near constant arthritic pain that comes and goes in intensity.

Moving on to happier times...September 19th, N's 3rd birthday party and our 6th anniversary.  Our anniversary was not celebrated, but N sure was!   These pictures were taken today, but I wanted to show everyone all the work N and crew did to prepare for his party.  He had a great time and was utterly exhausted by the time his guests started to leave.  Hopefully he'll be as excited by homemade party ideas in the future as well, I'm not eager to spend a bundle on a Paw Patrol or Spiderman themed party.

Fast forward to the end of October, I was surprised one Monday morning with an email offering me the Human Resources Officer position in:

Flag of?
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Home to the Serengeti
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It's own version of Roatan, Zanzibar
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My dad's favorite, Ngorongoro Crater!
  (Note: Images are not my own, they are google image search results.)  

TANZANIA!  Although only one person visited us in Honduras, we hope that that same person (my dad) and others make it to visit us on the other side of the world and equator!  Wish us luck over there!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

July 2015

Despite June and May being good months for blogging, I've gone back to slacking off.  July has been a mediocre month.  July 1st was the official forth of July event for our Embassy and I was the co-coordinator for the whole thing. It felt like Thanksgiving, a ton of preparation and then the day flew by, fortunately without a hitch!  We recieved many compliments and things were going extra smoothly that I was able to take a break and enjoy the tail end of the event. This year we brought in 3 celebrity chefs, one from Alaska, Florida and Hawaii. Despite their impressive resumes, they were really nice people. They created a fabulous sampling of their home state cuisine, very seafood heavy, but tasty nonetheless! I think the model will be continued for the rest of this Ambassador's tenure. 

Although once in June, I ended up with mastitis 3 times since June 29th. Luckily it was mild and cleared up in a day each time. But spiking a fever go 102 is never pleasant nor worry free... I've been more careful about nursing and M's partial weaning in favor of EVERYTHING and ANYTHING edible!  She eats way more than her tiny stomach should be able to hold.  Our house seems to be always infested with Mosquitos, so we have been on the constant look out for dengue and chikungunya... M got bit and ended up with chik. It was a terrible week, her fever hit a high of 104.1 and luckily dropped slowly from there. She seemed to be in constant pain and couldn't get comfortable. It has only been in the last week where she seems like herself again. Poor little babecita! 

Here we are nearing the end of July and my mom doesn't seem to be getting any better.  I think at last calculation she had lost nearly 30 pounds since April/May. Being so far away is hard, but I can only imagine how much harder it is for my sister and dad who are so close. 

Lastly, to top off July in its mediocrity, we are just beginning the bidding process for our next assignment.  You have to network, lobby, send your resume to potential supervisors and hope that you can make an impact and get a job. Last year's numbers were terrible and it is undecided whether this will be any better.  Everyone might regret not visiting us in Tegucigalpa if we end up in Haiti or Nigeria...

However, overall, we are all back to healthy and excited that M will be 1 on the 7th!!  I can't believe how fast time has flown by. We are going to host a brunch in celebration, though I have yet to send invites or plan it all. That's where Pinterest come in, it has shown me mini pancakes, French toast sticks, etc. Should be tasty even if not fancy!  Today we headed to the playground, enjoy some pictures:

Like father like daughter!
Can't smile long, trying to clean up the park!
All aboard!
Mommy and M selfie

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Copan Ruinas

Back in October, the Streett clan took its first trip outside of Tegucigalpa and visited the Mayan Ruins of Copan.  (I'm not counting our 1-day cruise ship stop in Roatan last Christmas.)  Neither kid seems to be designed for long car rides unfortunately.  But we made it before dark to all our intended stops!  The hardest part of the trip was making it out of Tegucigalpa, we ended up in a very poor, unsafe neighborhood and barely made it out of there.  There were so many confusing streets and people milling about in the small little shops scattered about.  It was terrifying!  No GPS, gangs, worried about carjackings.  I don't think I've ever feared for my family more than that moment.

After successfully escaping Comayaguela, we had an uneventful trip to Lake Yojoa where we made it to a hotel called Finca Las Glorias where we were spending our first night.  We ended up being the only guests and so they had to open the whole place up for us.  In a B&B it is a good thing to be the only guests, at a full scale hotel, not so much...  A freshly opened kitchen means freshly thawed dinner that takes an hour.  I've heard great things about this hotel for other times, so I'd be willing to give it another shot.

Here are some pictures of the first hotel:

Trying to coax N onto the horse
Here we go!
N did not like to hold on.  I had to hold onto him and the horse

M was only 2 months old, but still wanted to be part of the action (or at least the pictures!)

For our second night, we stayed close to the Mayan Ruins at a beautiful hotel called Hacienda San Lucas.  Fabulous room, location, view and food...but not kid friendly!  Only glassware and the rooms are light by candle after dark.  There was a solar electric light in the bathroom though.  The staff loved the kids and were wonderful, but we only ended up staying one night.  The road getting there was so bumpy so I was holding poor little M's head for the 20 minute journey (remember, she was 2 months old at this time).  Pictures exploring the grounds:

The next day we packed up the car and headed out to the ruins.  Below is our tour guide who couldn't figure out a way to do a shorter, cheaper version than his normal $40 a person talk/walk.  While informative, with two little kids and two exhausted parents, we had to keep shooing him along.  Eventually we just said enough and walked back to the entrance.  He was not amused and kept trying to guide us to things on the way back.  He can't complain too much because we paid full price!  He was a nice guy though.

N was exhausted and refused to move any further, but didn't want to be carried.  We kept walking, figuring he'd eventually come.  Some Honduran decided we were bad parents and went and picked him up and brought him to us...oops!
After the long day at Copan, we decided to hit a smaller site before leaving town the next day.  We had moved to the Clarion hotel and this was within walking distance.  N and S walked up and I drove M up in the car.  Enjoy:

Our final stop on the trip was Macaw Mountain, a beautiful bird sanctuary with swimming hole.  Unfortunately for the Streetts, there wasn't enough water in the creek so we couldn't swim, but we enjoyed the walk around:

Trying to navigate 

This leaf is as big as me! 

Swimming hole is normally on the right of the waterfall, I guess the water covers the whole area when open for swimming?
N could have spent ALL day watching the water

 A few final pictures: