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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Monserrate with lots of Christmas Lights





On the 23th of December, we made a last minute call to the restaurant the Santa Clara on Monserrate to make reservations. Karina came with us too, and we got in our borrowed car and drove to the bottom of the hill it's on. It took us a while to find the parking lot, but luckily we saved a little time because we got to skip the HUGE line for tickets and go straight to the front. We also cut in line to get onto the trolley (Karina claims it's because of Mom's American face, but it's also because we had reservations). We got the best place in the trolley and got to look down at the city and Christmas lights on the way up. On the way to the restaurant, some Colombians wanted their picture with us, so we let them take one. Once we got to the top, we quickly found the restaurant and sat down. The walls were basically windows, so you could see the city through them. There was a fireplace, but we didn't get much heat from it because the waiters kept warming themselves in front of it. We all got our food, and it was pretty good–the ones that weren't too full got dessert too. When we were all done eating, we went outside and walked around to see all the lights. The city looked really big at night lit up. Monserrate also looked pretty with all the Christmas lights. We walked around and saw a few things, but we were tired so we decided to leave. We didn't get any special treatment going down, andhad to wait in a long line for the cable car. Once we finally were on the way down, we had a really good view of the city. We were tired goinghome, but Monserrate was really nice at night when you could see all the lights, and the city lit up.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Pony Malta


We were out looking at Christmas lights. The day before had been Christmas and we were just beginning to recover from the excitement of the previous day. The lights were spectacular and we walked through crowded parks where street vendors tried to get you to participate in silly games that you were bound to loose.
Then Elizabeth pointed to some items in a vendor's overflowing bucket on the side of the path. "Pony Malta" read one of the bottles.
I flashed back to the night before when I was drinking all of her root beer. She asked me whether or not I had tasted the Colombian equivalent to root beer. I had not, and she told me to try it when I had the chance.
Now was that chance.
We bought the drink and before I opened it Bill warned me, it was not the most enjoyable drink in the world.
Great, I didn't want to drink it anymore. But eventually I collected enough courage, and unscrewed the lid...
and immediately gagged at the smell.
I took a sip - a small one - it tasted horrible. The name was fitting. It tasted like fermented malt, if you can imagine, then that's exactly what it looked and smelled like as well. This Colombian drink might not be for everyone.


Malta:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malta_(soft_drink)

Pony Malta (Colombia):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-u2_IRmM0K0

I have a theory that after the man in this commercial drank the Pony Malta, it was so horrible tasting that he proceeded to jump off the balcony. The producers caught the whole episode on tape and labeled the man's suicide attempts as "parkour". It is a good thing I was not near a balcony when I had a drink.

Christmas Eve


From here on out, each year is going to look different during the holiday season. Each year is going to be special in its own unique way.

This year on Christmas Eve we had a relaxing day at home. I made Swedish Coffee bread for the Porteros in our building. The kids and Chad played games. We rested until 4:00 when we went to church. The service seemed like a typical Sunday service. We did not sing the traditional carols I am used to. We did not light candles. I did not pick-up on the traditions of this church because they were all new to me. But it was still a time for me to turn my thoughts towards God and the gift he gave us in the birth of his Son.

After church we came home. I put the brie in the oven and put-together a couple bags of Christmas cookies. While the brie was baking we walked over to the family we buy wood and flowers from. They were out on the corner hoping to sell some last flowers for the evening. We gave them the cookies and wished them a “Feliz Navidad”.

We took the brie over to some friends for a Christmas Eve party with many acquaintances. Being with people is nice when family isn't around, but the longing to be with those we love and are comfortable with in our sweats took over. We didn't stay long. We headed home, thankful for friends to be with and family to love, got comfy and enjoyed Christmas Eve together.


- Kris

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

It's Christmas Time in the City


“Strings of street lights
Even stop lights
Blink a bright read and green”

I have never been in a city that does Christmas lights like Bogota does. Maybe it's because there is no snow so the feeling of Christmas, as portrayed in the West, is lacking. Maybe it's because it's a Catholic country so they pull-out all stops to celebrate the birth of Christ.
Zona T 
A few blocks from our house in Zona T, plastic lit trees lined the sidewalks. I know, it sounds a bit tacky, but actually the plastic trees added a lot of ambiance. Large angles with tiny white lights lined the street. Little machines mounted above spit-out foam that the city claimed was snow. I saw little kids on their hands and knees scooping the foam up in their hands. When the foam fell on the plastic trees it truly did look like an enchanted forest. And just like home we had to be careful not to slip on the pavement.
We headed over to Usaquan one evening for dinner and found the square full of plastic trees, street artists, music and food. With lights strung overhead and more foam on the sidewalk we enjoyed the festive atmosphere.
Just before Christmas we took the tram up the mountain to see the lights on Monserrate. Looking down on the city we could see large Christmas trees in parks and the city buildings covered in light. On Monserrate 3 wise men with their camels were lit up as well as many other light displays.
Elena, Karina & Maddie on Monserrate


The evening after Christmas we joined some friends 
to explore farther some of the city lights. Our first stop was Parque Bolivar. Again the festive atmosphere of lights, food, street performers, hawkers and musicians boosted the holiday feelings.

We then headed over to the Simon Bolivar Plaza where the government buildings were covered in lights. The square was alive with people. We wandered down the light covered Septima to the church across from the Gold museum. People were selling Christmas wrapping paper, corn on the cob and herbal teas.

Simon Bolivar Square
Some friends Chad picked up along the way
Herbal tea for sale on the street corner
An evening with friends enjoying the lights was a good way to wrap up the Christmas season before putting my own tree back in the box.


- Kris



Tuesday, December 27, 2011

CGB Christmas Concert



Every year CGB (our school) has a Christmas Concert. Which consists of the students show casing their talents (or lack there of). Maddie played in a small band with her flute. Elena played in a group of guitars. When it comes to musical talents, I fall into the category I described above as “lack there of”. Thus, I joined drama.

The concert was a good opportunity for the school to assure the parents that their kids were becoming more artistic, as promised in the school’s philosophy. They didn't want the parents to think these classes were a waste of the older kid’s time, because year 12 and 13 don’t have better things to do (like IB work).

Maddie and Elena’s performances went as expected, and nothing out of the ordinary happened. I was less fortunate. We only started practicing our performance a couple weeks before the concert (remember we only get one class a week). Our drama teacher decided that we were not good enough at The Grinch, which we had already been practicing, so we resorted to preform Los Tres Cerditos (The Three Little Pigs) instead.

Apparently she thought, we would be much better preforming something new, instead of something we had already been practicing for weeks.

If we had preformed the play exactly how we had rehearsed, then we would have been lucky to receive a chuckle from the crowd, let alone a laugh. So we improvised. We inserted jokes when they came to us, and as a result, Los Tres Cerditos was NOT a complete fail. Once again improvisation had saved the day.


Just so you know...

This is the IB. You might see me referencing to it in later posts. This just a little clarification, because here at Inertia we don’t leave anyone in the dark. ;)

IB website:
http://www.ibo.org/

IB Diploma Program:
http://www.ibo.org/diploma/

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Cupcakes





For Christmas season, Elena and I decided to make some Christmas cupcakes from a recipe in a cupcake magazine. We started out just making the vanilla bottoms, and luckily we didn't have to change the recipe at all for high altitude. They were perfect except for a small dip in the middle. While they cooled, we ate dinner and then Elena's friend came over, so I made the frosting alone. I stood there for forever frosting the cupcakes–I had only made a third of a recipe, so I didn't know why there was so much. Elena and her friend came in when I was still frosting, so I told them to start the fondant, and that they needed three cups of marshmallows. They looked and looked for about five minutes, and couldn't find any except a bag of long marshmallows in the pantry with gummies in the middle. We didn't want gummies, so they kept looking. I gave them suggestions on where to look while I frosted the cupcakes, and they still couldn't find them. Finally I finished with the frosting and was able to join them in looking. Of course, the second cupboard (which they looked in–or had at least opened) held a bag with about seven normal marshmallows in them. So they started with those while I looked some more. In another cupboard (which they had looked in) I found a bag of long, skinny, colorful marshmallows on the top shelf. Buried a bit behind those was another bag of a few normal marshmallows for them to use. In a few minutes I had found two bags of normal marshmallows and one bag of colorful marshmallows, and all they had found was a bag of colorful marshmallows with gummies in them. Even with the three bags I had found, we didn't have enough and had to get the gummy marshmallows out. We didn't want gummies in our fondant, so Elena started dissecting the marshmallows and pulling long strings of gummy out. We then thought of what we could do with the gummies: since the cupcakes were supposed to look like Christmas ornaments, we could use them as the hooks; so we set them aside and proceeded to follow the rest of the directions. Eventually we got to the part that told us to dump the melted marshmallow mixture onto the counter with lots of powdered sugar and knead it until it was smooth. All that we managed to do was get our hands really sticky. So we washed our hands and Elena and her friend went off while I waited for Mom to get home. When I got Mom up there, I told her what we were supposed to do, and what was supposed to happen. Somehow Mom managed to barely get any extra stickiness on her hands, and kneaded it out very nicely. We colored half of it red and the rest of it green. While Mom rolled it out, I cut out circles and covered the cupcakes and we both made little circles to go decorate with. Near the end, to get the extra powdered sugar off, we wet some paper towel and rubbed the fondant. All went well, except the fondant wouldn't really stick to other fondant, and I discovered that's why there was extra icing–to stick the fondant together with. I tried a piece of the fondant and it was really sweet and good. When we were finished, we all ate one, and they were probably the best tasting cupcakes I've ever had (but some of them looked kind of funny–we ate those first). We learned with those cupcakes to 1. save a little frosting for the fondant, 2. cut the circles bigger to cover the edges of the cupcakes, and 3. leave some of the fondant white to have more color.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Making Cookies


Elena rolling out Pepparkakor

Each country presents its own problems when making Christmas cookies. They are truly an American thing. Each country has it's own challenge. In New Zealand it was too warm. Storage became a problem and my cookies just melted.
Here in Bogota it's the elevation. A few types of cookies just turned to puddles on the cookie sheet. I hadn't adjusted the flour, sugar or baking powder correctly. It's always a stab in the dark figuring out the adjustments.
But we did have fabulous success with our cut-out cookies. And beyond the success was the fun of making them. On a day the girls had off school our friend came over and we had a cookie decorating and baking fest. We spent hours in the kitchen cutting, decorating, baking and frosting. I supplied the dough for the traditional Swedish Pepparkakor and our friend brought sugar cookie dough. We laughed, created and even danced a bit!
Hundreds – or what felt like it – of cookies later we flopped down exhausted and full of sugar. It's so much better sharing tasks like cookies with friends!


Maddie filling the  ping-pong table with baked cookies

- Kris

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas Party at the Ambassador's





Each year the Ambassador hosts a Christmas party for the embassy children. This year the Ambassador's wife wanted to invite some children from some local orphanages so that we could give to the community. This is the type of thing that makes me excited, so I joined the committee. We tracked down the groups she had mentioned and coordinated with the orphanages for 60 kids who are parentless or have sever burns to come to the party. Embassy staff donated money for gifts for Santa to give the kids. The teens wrapped presents. We decorated tables. Then the big day arrived. Kids from the embassy mingled with the guests doing crafts and decorating cookies. The teens oversaw the crafts. The girl scouts sang carols. Maddie and I played our flutes. A kids dance team performed. And Santa passed out gifts. I didn't make a huge difference in anyones life that day, but I hope my effort brought some happiness and joy to both those who have everything in the world and those who don't.

- Kris

Monday, December 12, 2011

It's Donut Time!



Last night Dad decided he wanted to make some homemade donuts. So, on Saturday morning we got up, and watched the Alton Brown donut making episode, and started. Dad, Damon, Maddie and I helped make them. It was a project that was mainly about learning and took a lot longer than expected. We got everything together, and made the dough first. We let the dough rise for 1 hour and then rolled it out and cut the donut shapes. We didn’t have any donut hole cutters so instead we used a yeast bottle and a cup. After we cut out the donuts we let them rise again for another hour. When they came out again we started heating up the oil to fry them. That was a mistake! The oil didn’t get hot fast enough, so the donuts that we had ready started to fall so they did not turn out very good. The first two that came out were burned but as we went along we got better and better. We had some spare dough so we started making donut holes. We used the cut outs from the inner hole on a donut and we fried those. Dad started making the icing for the donuts from the Alton Brown video and then we covered them after they cooled. A couple of Mom and Dad’s friends came over and ate homemade donuts together! They ended up turning out very good, but we also learned a couple things for when we make them in the future to speed it up a bit.

-Elena

Here are the videos we followed to make them if you would like to make them for yourself.


http://youtu.be/ZLACCFjhyBE

http://youtu.be/AP8L9FXVNq4

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Marine Ball


The birthday of the United States Marine Corps is celebrated throughout the world with formal balls. Because Marines provide the security at embassies, the ball is an anticipated event throughout the world.

In years past I've read about other friends attending the balls, looked at their pictures on facebook and just generally dreamed of my own “Cinderella” moment – the fancy dress, make-up, hair and the general atmosphere. You know I love it!

This was my first ball. We really weren't sure who we knew was going to be attending, but we bought tickets anyway. I had a lovely afternoon primping and getting ready. My little mice (the girls) did my hair and scurried around to find me the perfect scarf and hair jewels. Chad put on his tux and together (with the help of youtube) we got his bow tie tied. The girls “oohed” and “awed” over us before sending us off in our pumpkin, I mean armored embassy van.

I stepped out of the van (a bit difficult with a long dress and spiky shoes) to sea of women in long gowns and men in formal military uniforms and tuxedos. We entered, handed in our tickets and did the “oh so elegant” spread eagle while having the security team wave a wand around us.

We did some socializing, found our seats, watched a video presentation on 9/11 and the Marine Corps presence, listened to some speeches, ate, socialized some more then looked at our watches. Suddenly the evening had passed before us and the clock was about to chime midnight. Yawning, we accepted a ride home with friends.

Now that I've turned back into a normal person and gotten a bit of sleep, I think of the evening I enjoyed with my husband wistfully - being dolled up a bit and feeling special. It's not an everyday thing and that's what makes it special!


- Kris

Friday, October 14, 2011

Monserrate


A few weeks ago we planned on hiking up to Monserate, a church on top of the mountain. We prepared for the hike, then called a taxi and rode to the entrance. Unfortunately, the hike was closed. So, we had to buy tickets for the tram on the way up and the cable car on the way down. We waited a while in the line for the tram, and finally it came. We were about to go to the front of the tram, but Dad heard that it was a better view in the back, because you could look down. Elena didn't believe him, but we got in the back anyway. The view was quite good, you could look down and see Bogota, and a lot of trees in front of us. We went around a curve and saw a tunnel, with another tram seeming to come right at us. The tracks split though, and it went right past us. Then we were plunged into darkness as we went into the tunnel.We came to the top, and as we got out, we could see down – it was very steep. Up some stairs, along a path, and we were there. We walked around some before going up to the edge and looking down.We could see almost the whole city. There were mountains surrounding it. I knew Bogota was big, but from up high I could see it was much bigger thanI thought.We went intothe big church, but mass was going on, so we went out. Hungry, we walked down to the market.We got distracted on the way down; there were little brown humming birds flying around apatch of flowers, so we spent awhile trying to get a decent picture of one, which took awhile. Finally we continued on to the market. Somehow, Dad found a snack that was really big and gross looking – ants. He decided to get them. First Damon and Dad tried one, then convinced Elena to do it too. Apparently they didn't taste too bad, and kind of salty. Ew. We finished walking through the small market and got the food. It was a long line of little places selling all kinds of things, including intestines, which Mom, Dad, and Damon tried. They didn't like it of course. When we got to the end, we decided to see the view, then come back. The view was amazing (again); this time we could see more mountains covered with trees, and the occasionaltiny house in the distance. We walked back down, petting a friendly horse on the way. We ate at the last little place we had seen; we got chorizo, some kind of other meat, potatoes, and plantain with cheese on it. I liked the potatoes and the plantain best, but the two meats weren't too bad. We walked around a bit, but Dad got a call from work and had to go, so he went to take the tram because it was faster, and the rest of us got in line for the cable car. It was very tippy, packed with people, and high up, but the view was very pretty. When we got to the bottom, we waited and waited for Dad, and finally he came. He ended up taking the cable car anyway, because the tram wasn't open anymore. So much for going faster. After that we went back to the apartment.

- Maddie

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Co-corriculars

Damon, Maddie, and I go to Colegio Gran Bretana (CGB), which is where Co-corriculars take place. Co-corriculars are 2 classes worth of time taken out of the end of each Tuesday and Thursday. In place of the time they took out, they put in activities such as French Cooking, Football (a.k.a. soccer), Tennis, Horseback Riding, Field Hockey, Photography, Rock Climbing, Robotics, Basketball, Scuba Diving, Taekwondo, Rugby, Volleyball, ect. which everyone is required to participate in. There are a lot of choices and one that will fit each person. To join you have to sign up on the school's online program and pick a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choice. As long as you sign up immediately you are almost guaranteed a spot in that activity. I like co-corricular a lot, one of the main reasons I like it is because it saves time that you might have to take at other schools to do this at the end of your day after school. Also, because everyone is required to do one of these choices twice a week you often end up doing it with friends, which makes it all the better!

For special sports like Football, Volleyball, Basketball, and Field Hockey you go both days of the week, for the rest you only go once, twice a week being an open option if desired. Maddie's first choice for Tuesday was French Cooking, but she arrived to find that it was taught by the French teacher in only French so she dropped out and switched to her second choice of Tennis. (Even though the sign-up sheet listed French Cooking under English.) My first choice was Tennis on Tuesdays and I was all alone with some people of different ages I didn't know all who spoke Spanish with a non-English speaking teacher. I was surprised when my friend Gemma showed up due to the problem of Robotics only having boys in it and not enough people to carry forward with that activity, then Maddie joined because she didn't speak French! Damon's first choice was Football which was one of the few sports that you are required to attend every Tuesday and Thursday and will soon form a real team selected from the best players. Maddie and I for Thursday somehow both ended up with Horseback Riding, it was my first choice and I don't know how Maddie ended up in it with me! Co-corriculars are very fun and I look forward to it every Tuesday and Thursday. We will keep you posted about the different activities we join as they will change every Term!

Thanks for reading,

Elena

Carbon

For years I have always wanted a big dog. A dog to go running with and to play fetch with. Our last dog, Maggie was shitzu, and as we once heard on the radio, "the breed of dog with the least amount of intelligence". In other words the only thing she learned was to be house trained, and that took her two years before she was consistent.

When we found out we were moving to Bogotá, my parents told me if we were allowed to, I could get a dog there. I did not spend much time looking into breeds until a few months before we were said to leave. I researched many breeds, but never acted on any of them, and we left.

Bogotá is a dog city. Dog walkers will have up to 12 dogs at the same time, and people are always out walking dogs by themselves. Although in Bogotá, the dogs are different. Almost every dog is extremely socialized and is happy to make friends and play with any dog that is passing by. Only a few dogs bark and jump when near other dogs, but the majority just want to play nicely.

With Bogotá's vast population of canines, we thought it would be simple to find a dog. It wasn't.

Siberian Husky was the breed of dog we decided on. A female Siberian Husky. We called everywhere, and no one had Siberian Huskies. Part of our difficulties was the language. We wrote out scripts for our phone calls, but were left stranded if the person we were talking to strayed from the conversation we had anticipated.

After weeks of this we made a call to a Siberian Husky breeder, and found out she was not a Siberian Husky breeder. In fact she hates Siberian Huskies, but what she did breed was Belgian Shepherds. When I had researched breeds I had stumbled upon the breed and like what I saw. We jumped at the opportunity and bought the one puppy she had for sale. He is a male Groenendale Belgian Shepherd, 4 months old.

All the names we had been thinking of had been for a female Siberian Husky, not a male Belgian Shepherd. If you have seen both dogs you will know the coloring is the opposite, Belgian Shepherds are pure black, while Siberian Huskies are white, tan and cream colored. When we were thinking of names, one name had come up that fit our new puppy perfect. Carbon.

We have now had Carbon for two months, and it has been great. He was sick and we did not what was wrong with him for a while, but once we gave him the right medicine it made the world of a difference. He has been happier and easier to house train. Before we got Carbon he lived on a farm, so all the noises of the city scared him a lot at first. Now he is getting better, but he still really doesn't like horses.

Carbon is a great dog and is really fun to have. I'm glad we decided to get him.

-Damon

Friday, October 7, 2011

Dia de la Raza - Food



Every year CGB has Dia de la Raza. Dia de la Raza is a day where you get together with other people in the school from your home country and show the rest of CGB a little piece of home. The USA is a fairly large part of CGB, second to the Colombians. Each country gets a tent to sell food from and to decorate with the country’s colors and symbols.


The USA tent sported a map of the USA and countless items of red white and blue. Steamers, flags, and shirts are just a few things in our tent that just screamed USA.



Each country picked the food that they thought would best represent their country. These foods are foods no other country has. The USA chose pulled pork, hot dogs, brownies and a few other solely American foods.


My friend and I, when near the USA tent felt it was July 4th and we were back home, ready to light off some fireworks.


I ate a tamale from Mexico which was delicious and a sausage from Argentina, which was also delicious.


Later I had some extra money and bought a hot dog from the USA, and tasted a Colombian snack.


I only tried a few countries foods, but if I was more hungry I would have tried more.


- Damon

Friday, September 23, 2011

Volcan de Lodo el Totumo

About half way between Barranquilla and Cartagena, sticking 49 feet from the flat landscape, is a mud mound that looks like a small volcano. Indeed it is a volcano, but rather than spewing lava it is filled with mud.

An ancient legend claims the volcano used to spew fire. The local priest believed it to be the work of the devil so he would sprinkle it with holy water. He extinguished the flames and turned the lava into mud which drowned the devil.

There are around 700 mud volcanos in the world. Most of these are in highly remote locations that are not accessible. Many are small and some are steaming hot. These volcanos emit gasses such as methane and helium. So, to find one that I can play in is a real treat.


We arrived mid-day when it was nice and quiet. We paid our $5,000 pesos (about $3.00 US), changed into our swimsuits and began the trek up the mud covered wooden staircase to the top. I didn't know what to expect. I came to the lip of the crater and looked down into a round pool that can hold 10-15 people smooth with mud. A staircase led into the pool. I turned around and began slowly descending into the mud. I didn't know when or if I would touch bottom. Now that I think about it, it is a volcano so according to definition there would be no bottom.

A man came over to assist my decent. The mud was thick and slightly warm. It had a bit of grit to it and a chunk every once in a while, but the mud is said to have healing properties. The man came over and began to massage me – included in the $3.00 fee. At this point I had lost all inabitions and just floated there enjoying the sun and the slimy feel of mud. The mud makes you very buoyant. It took concentration to keep from floating on the surface. Chad decided to go under. It's not possible by yourself, it took the masseuse all his weight to get Chad under.

After laughing and enjoying our soak we got out and started down the ladder. About half way down Chad wondered what it would be like to jump in. We went as quickly as possible with our slippery, muddy feet back up the wooden ladder. Chad pencil jumped then I followed with a cannon ball. Now we felt we had enjoyed the experience to the fullest.

We walked down the dirt road to the lagoon looking like complete zombies. At the lagoon we were met by some women ready to rinse us off. (Again included in our $3.00 fee.) It took quiet a bit of scrubbing before I began to feel the mud wash away but I was presented with a problem. A swimsuit full of mud giving me that “full diaper” feeling. I didn't care anymore – off with the suit. I felt like a maiden in Egypt bathing in the Nile River: warm water being poured on my head, reeds surrounding us, a boat in the distance... I ducked in the water, put my suit back on and headed to the changing room to get dressed.

We bought some cokes before we got back in the car to head to Barranquilla. It was probably one of the silliest, fun things I have ever done.

- Kris