Saturday, April 16, 2011

Revisited: Three Days in the Life of a Guatemalan Adoption

I had to scrounge around my computer really hard to find it, but here it is. Back by popular demand!...and yes, it is all true and not exagerated in any way... sad, but true.
3 Days in the Life of a Guatemalan Adoption
Written Friday October 17th, 2003

Now that I think everything is done that can be done for our adoption case I
wanted to take a few minutes to memorialize the last 3 days of my
life. This is not reading for the faint of heart... indeed, I warn
you now that it may be fatal.

Prologue to the Hustle:
Saturday night the Hesses(Michael and Naila), friends who were also adopting and sharing a house with me, and I receive a letter from Javier, our Guatemalan attorney, indicating that our cases have been booted out of PGN (the adoption approval agency in Guatemala) with previos (read this as we forgot to litterally dot an "i" or cross a "t").
As Michael and Naila struggle to interpret Spanish nay... GUATEMALAN legalese I sit biting my nails wondering if it's good news that they reviewed my case by the promised date.. or that it's bad news because the previos are so numerous and demanding. After biting my finger nails to stubbs I decide to start on the toes... as I take a taxi to the airport to pick up my visiting friend from the states.

Sunday we fill the day with shopping and speculating about what will happen with our cases. We discuss the 200 page amparro (attempt to shut down adoptions in Guatemala) filed by what must be an escapee of the local insane asylum sure that UNICEF has no one left to fight their cause.

Monday we call Javier/Sue (our adoption coordinator in the states)/Bob/Parents/the Pizza Delivery man... and arrange to go to PGN/Call Sue back/Call Bob back/Blow parents off/ and order "The Dominator" with extra cheese.

The Main Event - Do the Hustle with Javier:
Tuesday began the strangest of my days in Guatemala. It started out with Javier arriving at our house to pick up Naila and myself and take us to PGN. Upon opening the door and seeing Javier standing there in his weekend love clothes which consists of what an online chat list must be refering to when they say "hooker jeans". Javier entered with his usual flair and proclaimed he must eat! We had Sabina (our
cook) whip him up some eggs while we discussed strategies for our attack on PGN. This is where I made my first fatal mistake of the day... I neglected to eat breakfast. Ordinarily this would not have been a huge ordeal - but as you will soon see - not a mistake to make when Javier and a car are involved. After strategizing and watching Javier eat... and make about 30-40 phone calls - he suddenly jumped up from the table and procaimed "LETS GO!!" Out the door we followed and into the street we followed... until it was certain... he was leading us to a rusty, broken down 1970 Toyota Celica. When entering the car and adjusting to the smell that all cars in Guatemala have (something akin to sticking your head up the tailpipe of tractor trailer and breathing deeply) and boldly deciding that I would refrain from wearing my seat belt because if this was the way I was going to leave the world, let me crash and burn! While Naila slipped into the backseat and I into the front, certain that her selection of the back
was to assure that she not be hit by any projectile vomit that might pop out of my mouth, Javier adjusted the packing tape that was holding his side mirror onto the car and then slid in beside me and
winked and said... "This is my sportscar". It was then that I realized that I would never recover from this trip. As I remember, we left Antigua on at least two wheels of the car. Naila sat in the backseat giggling and reading things that were lying on the seat that she should have known not to read (!) I closed my eyes and tried to hold back the first wave of car sickness. Javier is laughing and telling jokes and taking phone calls and shifting gears and steering and digging in his glove box for american music CD's... while naturally swerving between cars and taking hairpin turns at "only 40 mph", as he would proclaim. As we began to enter surely the biggest hole in the ozone on this planet, otherwise known as Guatemala City I ponder whether or not I should roll up my window to save my lungs from the thick black smoke pouring out of every car in this city. It is my firm belief that not a single car in Guatemala is equipped with a catelytic converter... much less an exhaust system of any type known to civilized man. It was here that the second wave of car sickness washes over me. Javier is chatting away on his cell phone using as many arm gestures as are humanly possible when all of the sudden he elbows me and shouts something in Spanish to me. I risk yet a third wave of sickness and turn my head back to Naila to
say "what's he saying?". She is so engrossed in reading that she looks up blankly and says "He's on the phone". I turn back and look at Javier who is elbowing me again and speaking gibberish when all of
the sudden the car lurches to the right as he takes his one remaining hand off the wheel to shift gears. It's then that I realize he wanted me to drive the car from the passenger seat while he kept his
foot firmly on the gas pedal and continued his phone call and wild gesturing. I decide that not putting my seatbelt on was the right decision. It is here that I consider the reality of dying while in Guatemala, not by one of the thousands of "armed guards" at every corner, not by a revolution of political unrest... not even by a theif, murderer or rogue... no, it will be my attorney who finally does me in with a 1970 Celica "sportscar" which is now making very strange noises. The noises distract me from my daydream of death long enough to look over and see Javier driving with his head out the window like some crazed dog and frowning and swerving in between cars. He pops his head back in long enough to proclaim he hears a noise and I look at Naila who is by this time rolling in tears in the back seat with laughter... A NOISE???? It sounds as if the whole car is getting ready to self destruct! Does Javier pull over to
investigate??? No, in fact he seems a bit iritated by the noise and cranks the radio up louder to cover it up. By this time I have lost track of how many times I have considered puking on Javier's floorboard and he announces that he has to go by his apartment to change clothes. Naila says "Your apartment?" at which point Javier tells us that his wife threw him out for his indescretions and he laughs like a proud macho latino man should. He cuts through the side streets of Guatemala City much in the manner that he took the hairpin turns and finally comes to a screeching halt outside of a little shack of an apartment which Naila politely called a "Studio". We waited in the car for Jaiver to go change into something not reeking of weekend love in utter silence and disbelief. It was then that the cd player began... it was just a few notes... harmless in their origin... but slowly, they began to take form... it was... yes, hard
to believe....The Hustle. Naila and I sat as if some sureal objects in a Salvador Dali painting. Here we sat... in Guatemala... in a 1970 rundown Toyota Celica... waiting for the biggest meeting of our adoptive journey... listening to and finally singing The Hustle. A record 5 minutes and Javier was dashing from his "Studio" back to the car, this time in a suit. I had taken the few moments that the car
had been parked to try and regain part of my stomach lining and was not having the best of luck. Javier, again on the phone, slips back into the car. It was then that I knew I would abandon all attempts
to "settle my stomach" when for one brief second I actually saw the air before me distort slightly as the fumes rush across the front seat. At once my eyes began to water... and my diesel ridden body shuttered with a new onset of attacks... the "don't take a shower and douse my whole body in cologne" attack sent me reeling toward the other side of the car in tears. I briefly wondered if it was indeed cologne or just a can of tear gas that had been set off. But there is no time to ponder these questions as we are off again, wheels squealing and someone who sounds like Perry Como on the radio. At this point things became a bit fuzzy.. and I am not wholly sure I believed that I really saw a herd of goats in
downtown Guatemala by the courthouse... surely it was just a mirage brought on by my swimming head and stomach and eyes. We make our way to his office where I am determined to try and collect some sense of composure so I step into the ladies room. I briefly eye the bathroom checking for the necessities... 1) a toilet with a seat, 2) toilet paper, 3) soap. Finding only one of the three required items I decide to snoop a bit in the drawers and under the dirty dishes for some secreted toilet paper. Finding more than I had bargained for, and none of it toilet paper I reside myself to the fact that I will
have to drip dry. I bravely plant my butt on the toilet seat (ignoring Naila's triangle and square formation instructions for toilet paper) and pee away, meanwhile wondering if the dirty dishes in front of me were
from an extended "lunch time visit" to the bathroom. For a brief and fleeting moment I consider checking the napkin to see if it might be usable as toilet paper and finally deciding drip drying would be the
safer choice. I finish up with the bathroom trip I had hoped would help me feel better and stagger to Javier's office. Naila jumps up to take her turn in the bathroom when I smile sweetly and say in a
language only the two of us can speak "no tp and don't look in the shower stall or you'll be sorry". She looks at me with the same face as a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. I smile even
more sweetly and take a seat hoping that the drip has sufficiently dried so as not to leave a wet spot on my pants. After a quick stop at Javier's office of one or two hours we are ready to go to PGN. After exiting the office I start walking down the street in search of a full strength Coke and something to eat... I need strength for the meeting ahead and a little soda and crackers was needed to calm my
empty car sick stomach so as not to hurl a gutful of bile on the nice PGN lawyer. After walking half a block, buying food and walking back I see Javier and Naila still in front of the office where they
remained for the next several minutes - but I'm used to this now... it's "Guatemalan time"... which is equal to "sometime today or tomorrow". Finally and abruptly Javier leaps toward the car and announces it is time to go and we jump into the car and make our way to the infamous PGN offices. As I have relayed much of our visit to the offices of the esteemed PGN I will not recount it, save for a small side mention of our visit to the ladies bathroom. We were sure to find it more to our liking than that in Javier's office. We walk in and each select a stall. I, pulling open the door notice a mound of papers about the size of the ticker-tapes swept up off the streets of New York after a parade. I again ponder the triangle or square formation and again throw caution to the wind and plant my fanny firmly on the bare toilet seat. While busily doing my business Naila announces in an off hand way that the sign says not to throw your toilet paper in the toilet. It is then that I turn my head to look at the mound of paper on the floor beside me... now realizing the treasure trove of Guatemalan pee samples that I have stumbled into. I quickly wipe, and without thinking deposit my toilet paper in the toilet, flush and
meet Naila at the sink. "I put my paper in the toilet without thinking" I sheepishly announce only to receive her reply of giggling and a "Me too". We wash our hands and leave.
It is now late afternoon and we invite Javier and another attorney we have picked up somewhere along the way to dinner. Following a repeat performance of the morning's drive, I unlock the front door of our
house, walk in and pronounce that I'll be right back... I have to go vomit. It was a day that was more than my physical and mental abilities could take and I excused myself from dinner, not sure that my stomach could suffer much more. Plans were set for our trip back into the city to visit the British Consulate on Thursday to clear up a wee problem with our Scottish marriage license. I drifted off to sleep thankful for a days rest before having to weather "The Hustle" again.

A day of rest and relaxation. My friend Maureen and I went with my weaver friends to their house in San Antonio Agua Caliente. The house was typical of rural Guatemala and it was a nice touch that
they had strung a big blue tarp around a concrete pipe in the back yard just for our "business". Neither Maureen nor I luckily had to decide triangle or square formation during our visit. Then, most certainly, I must have faltered from the extreem stress of the previous day, when I accepted some strange small green fruit (with peal and frozen) to eat. Not wanting to offend our hosts I quickly ate one and prayed not to regret it. The rest of the visit went wonderfully, I learned new weaving techniques, made tortillas, and bargained for beautiful woven skirt. It was time then to go home. And then it hit... sometime around 7pm, luckily in the comfort of my own bathroom without blue tarp. It started with a tiny gas pain... and within 30 minutes turned into full fledged, toss the toilet paper formation out the window and just make it to the bathroom in time event!!! The next wave was only 10 minutes later, followed by chills and then more visits to the bathroom. I decided to take quick and swift action and
took half a bottle of Immodium Advanced. I'll let you know if my
intestine ever start working again. (Note added after this writing: This was the beginning of a month long battle that was finally cured by some backstreet pink pills that a pharmacists shoved through a slot in the door to me). I wearily climed into bed holding my cramping stomach wondering how I would survive another day with Javier on Thursday. Just before drifting off to sleep I dreamed of taking my diarheah ridden body back to PGN and obey their no toilet paper in the bowl rule. And yes, I did ponder the similarity of the toilet rules and my previos.

This day we wisely hired a taxi to safely deposit us at Javier's office at 9am. Somewhere between Antigua and Guatemala City we received a call indicating we should meet Javier at the British Consulates office instead. So we alter our course and make our way to the Banco International building. Naila and I quickly navigate our way to the 11th floor and deposit our cell phones and my camera at the security gate and enter the office to wait for the arrival of our attorney. It is 9am... 9:15...9:30... and then the
phone rings. It's Javier asking "Where are you??" He apparently is in the lobby downstairs. It takes him another 10 minutes to find his way to the BC office at which point he must stand outside the security gate until he finishes his phone call (of course!). We make our way to the window and explain why we have come. The nice lady takes my dossier and passport and promises to return. We wait anxiously. She returns and explains they can not do what we have asked and to make a long story short - I burst into tears, throw myself on the sofa and sob wildly. The poor woman behind the glass looks aghast and asks if I am going to be alright. Javier wastes no time taking advantage of the situation and pleads
with the woman to write the letter so I will stop crying. After much fanagling the consulate finally agrees and I throw myself against the bullet proof glass and offer her my undying affection. Before exiting the building and heading back to Javier's office we decide our bathroom survival chances are better now in the bank building than back at the Javier bathroom and grill. We enter what appears to be a new bathroom, but alas there is a major lack of toilet paper. We laugh in disbelief and begin searchin all the stalls. I find one last remaining roll with about 20 sheets remaining and dash for the stall. As we exit the building Javier decides we need to eat and it's off for bean soup at 10am. After soup, the plan was for Javier to stop by his office and then take us back to our house and do the witness statements, an activity that momentarily drifts into oblivion until approximately 4pm in the afternoon when he jumps up from his desk and proclaims it is time to go. In pure Javier fashion we manage to return to our house narrowly missing death trap after death trap along the way. Javier comes in with his computer and printer and hooks them up... it appears we are getting moving again... when all of the sudden Michael is sent to the living room for a DVD of Benji for Javier to play on his computer. I decide I need to puke
and excuse myself. For the next 3 hours we make no progress when suddenly Javier begins to type madly on his computer. We excuse ourselves to the living room to allow him to work. A few moments
later we hear a crash and Javier has jumped from the table and is frantically whiping his cell phone. He has tipped a drink over and in his maddened rush to save his cell phone he leaves Michael's and Maureens passports in a puddle of Pepsi. I dart to save them, swooping them up and running for the kitchen. Micheal and I work quickly to dry them and agree that we could both thank our lucky stars that the cell phone was saved! The rest of the night went pretty much the same until at 10pm we abandoned him to his pizza while we checked the scores on the Red Sox and Yankee's game... meanwhile a little tune keeps running through my head.... "do the hustle" to which I glibbly add..."do the Guatemalan hustle".

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Busy Days

For the last several days we have been without phone and internet due to a bad cable.  As I tried hard not to stress out about all the wonderful conversations going on in my art froup that I was missing, I threw myself into busy work!  Last year we had an addition added to our home for my mother to move into.  The construction started last April and finished the day before Thanksgiving.  By that time I was a basket case! lol!  The new addition has given me something I didn't have here before and something that I was sorely lacking in my life.  I have always been a garden person.  I've built gardens at every home I've been at.  When we moved to a farm with more land than I had ever called my own before, I was paralyzed at how to garden.  I'm a small, intimate, garden room gal type and all this space was just too much for me to think about.  The last garden I built was in Massachusetts in a little city-sized lot.  I built a four room garden with nothing more than my sweat and hard work... but I was much younger then!  This time I am going to enlist men-with-machines help!  Below are the pre and post construction pictures of Pennwood Farm.
In this picture you see the original house.  The deck which extended off the back of the house on the right side of the picture has aready been removed.

In this photo this is all the new addition placed onto the back of the house (right side where deck used to be on photo above). 

I now have a wonderful new area for gardening!

And to that end, I, of course, need a new garden journal!  I ran across the cutest journal in the January/February issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine using a file folder.  It has pockets that hold little cards and/or books.  So I spent the day today making my new garden journal.

I started with a few booklets such as, "Plant List".  This will be a place for me to list all the plants I put in the garden so that I can go back later and know which variety I have. 

More pockets and booklets!

I've also been working on some ideas for a new garden gate book swap.
 These are poppies from a rubytuesday tutorial.  They are supposed to be made out of tyvek envelopes, but I was fresh out and the post office was closed so I tried it out using tissue paper.  I think they turned out pretty nice.

This next picture was made using some new fun things from my great wool swaper friends! I layered on circle stencils in different colors and sizes.  I then did packing tape transfers of the photo's of Xio and added those.  Then a little painted flowers and voila!

This picture is just a watercolor background on bristol board with flowers painted using acrylics and gel medium.  I love sunflowers!
So it was a busy several days.  I spread grass seed, fertilizer and 15 bales of straw, cleaned out the gutters, mucked out the hay bin and danced around with my paints and brushes!  It certainly was a productive time, but I sure missed my art froup!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Happy Birthday Xio!

Xio turned 8 this past Monday and so last weekend we had a birthday party for her.  It was her very first real live birthday party.  For the past three years her birthday was celebrated in a hospital, nursing home and then again in a hospital.  So it was a pretty big event for her!  She invited all her little girl friends and they had a great time. 

I made rainbow cupcakes and found the cutest cupcake liners in the shape of flowers!  How cool is that? 

The girls made ATC's (artist trading cards) and had fun swapping them among themselves.

The big highlight of the day was the pinata.  I found one that you have to whack with a stick and they must have worked on that thing for a half hour before getting all the candy and toys out of it!

Xio (in pink) blowing out the candles on a great birthday celebration!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Wet Felting - A Tutorial

Wet felting a piece for an art project can be simple and fun to do.  Despite what you might see and read about it, you don't really need any special equipment.  When making felt for an art piece I don't mind if I have varying thicknesses or a rustic look.  I am not making an article of clothing that has to undergo the rigors of washing and wearing.

Step 1. 
You need wool that has been washed, combed and if desired, dyed.  I like to have mine in a batt just as it comes off the drum carder.  I find working with roving can be a bit more cumbersome.

Step 2.
It generally helps to have a work surface that can contribute some friction against the wool as it is laid down.  If you want to make a nicer piece of wool you can use the plastic canvas that is used for embroidery.  I find a cookie rack inside of an old cookie sheet works just fine for my needs.  If you don't have those, don't worry, you can just use the countertop, but it may take just a bit longer for the felting process.

Step 3.
Begin laying down your wool by pulling off little tufts from the batt.  I generally start in the upper left hand corner and work my way across horizontally.  Lay the tufts down so that the fibers are aligned north to south. The second row starts back at the left side and slightly overlaps the first row.  In the picture on the left you can see what size of tufts I use, but you can use smaller for a finer end product.

Step 4.
Continue laying tufts down row after row until you get to the end of the rack.  If you will notice, the fibers are aligned north to south.  Turn your tray 90 degrees so that the fibers you have laid down are now aligned east to west.  Repeat laying down another layer with the fibers going north to south.  This will produce a layer with the fibers going in the opposite direction as the first layer.  Continue this process turning the tray 90 degrees at each layer until you have a nice thick stack of fibers.

Step 5.
At this point, or really at any point in the process you can add other colors.  If you choose to add them to the final layer then lay them "any-which-way" to get a free-formed look.  I like to check my layers for any light spots by picking up the cookie rack and looking through it.  You should be able to get a pretty good idea if your layers are consistent.  If you find any light spots, just fill them in with additional tufts of wool.

Step 6.
Once you think you have enough wool it's time to wet the wool down.  I take the rack to the sink to do this but if you don't have access to one that you can use, I have place the plastic canvas into a shallow rubbermaid tote and used a spray bottle.  The important thing here is to use hot-hot water.  This causes the scales on the wool fibers to "open up".  Wet the wool down well.

Step 7.
You now need to add soap to the wool.  Some folks say you have to use a special soap, I say pa-sha! I use whatever is at my sink and in a pinch I've used bar soap!  You don't need very much soap to do the job.  We always have diluted dish soap at the sink so it is somewhat watery and I find this helps when trying to get the soap all over the piece without over doing it.  If you use diluted dish soap just dribble it all over the top of your wool.

Step 8.
Now it's time to actually make felt!  Begin gently patting the wool.  As the hot water begins to cool the scales on the wool fibers will begin to "close", catching the other fibers and producing a matted product.  Continue to pat all over the wool and when it has begun to bind together gently and carefully flip the piece over.  Continue pattying and flipping until you feel it is fairly well matted.

Step 9.
At this point you want to gently ball the felt fabric up in your hands.  At this stage I like to hold it over the sink or tub and let the water drain out so that the felt fabric is not so water-logged.

Step 10.
Begin gently tossing the ball of felt fabric down onto the countertop.  Alteratively you can toss it into the bottom of the sink, this generally helps to contain the mess a bit.  For this size piece I am working with I continue this action for approximately 10-15 minutes.  During this time I periodically spread the felt fabric out on the countertop and straighten the edges if they look like they are starting to curl and felt on top of themselves.

Step 11.
You will begin to notice as you continue this action that the wool begins to shrink.  This is the action of the scales locking together.  The wool will most likely begin to look "bumpy".  Don't worry about this at all, it adds to the natural beauty of hand felted pieces.  The longer you continue to "aggitate" the wool by tossing it down, the smaller and more tightly matted the felt fabric will become.  It's all a matter of preference.

Step 12.
Once you have the felt fabric like you want it, rinse the soap out of the fabric with cold water.  Gently squeeze and repeat until all the soap has been rinsed out.

Step 13.
Lay your piece of felt fabric onto a clean, dry towel and roll it up.  Squeeze as much of the excess water out as possible and then hang to dry!

Now wasn't that simple?! and fun?!  You can now take your felt piece and cut out any shape you want.  The edges will not ravel so you could use your cut-outs for applique or sew them together like I did for the yellow bird in my previous post.
Happy Felting!

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Caged Bird Sings

I forgot that I was supposed to make something for a local gallery show - well I didn't forget, I just forgot WHEN! Well the WHEN is next week!  Yikes! So I got busy today!  The theme of the show is "Something old is new again".  I decided to try and make a bircage from salvaged pieces and hand felt a bird. The cage frame was a Salvation Army find and the cage wire was some old rusty wire I found out in the barn.  The bird is hand felted and stiched together.  The face of the bird was sculpted with sculpy clay.  The little piece of music ephemra has the word "Run" over the notes.  The piece is based on the poem by Maya Angelou:
"I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings".
The free bird leaps
on the back of the win
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and is tune is heard
on the distant hillfor the caged bird
sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze
an the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.