Saturday, October 2, 2010

Thing Number 7 That Used to Be Normal and Now is Not

Hanging clothes on the line to dry.

Not because it was ecologically conscious thing to do or a money saver, but because I did not own a dryer. In fact, for a few years doing my wash consisted of hooking up a portable washer to an outside sink via a garden hose, and the placement of a rock just so to keep the whole thing from tipping during the spin cycle. I think there was a wrench involved too, but can’t remember exactly how.

Thankfully, since most people in the DR don’t own a dryer there are no social qualms about hanging even the most intimate of apparel on the line and, in general, the sun shines in the Caribbean thus most days are great laundry days (until Thing Number 5 that Used to be Normal and Now is Not occurs). Unfortunately, there is also the risk of your clothes getting stolen if there is no one home to watch them, as well as the risk of your laundry day coinciding with trash burning day. There is a reason they don’t market smoky-scented laundry detergent or dryer sheets.

Overall, however, there were only two major annoyances:

1. After a while your clothes get so stretched out they don’t fit (remedy: learn to buy clothes that include lycra)
2. Rainy season (remedy, learn to creatively drape clothes all over your apartment…or find that rare friend who does a have a dryer)

My current neighbor has given me the okay to use her clothesline whenever I want.

Yet, I rarely do.

Even though I believe in saving energy and even though for five years of my life this is what I did. Just goes to show you how easily we get sucked into convenience.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Wonder Woman has a cooler costume, but I guess I'll settle for Batwoman.

I am happy to report that I am now 100% vaccinated for rabies. And, four weeks after my last shot, my left arm finally does not hurt any more.

What state of affairs must occur to require a need for the rabies vaccine, you ask. Let me tell you a story (you might want to use the restroom and freshen up your coffee before proceeding, it’s a long one):

About a month and a half ago I was in my bedroom, minding my own business, sleeping peacefully when I awoke to a rapid ‘phshphshpshphsh’ sound and something fluttering around my room. Honest to goodness, my first thought was “there is a huge bug flying around in my room…perhaps a flying cockroach?” I turned on the bedside lamp and discovered nope, not a huge bug, but a good-sized bat.

My sister is forever on my case about my inability to listen to my Right Brain over my Left Brain. She would have been proud of me in that moment, because my Right Brain definitely dominated the situation. I turned on more lights and started swinging at the disoriented bat (which was now dive-bombing me) with my pillow despite a small voice in the back of my head saying, “this is not helpful.” My ever trusty Left Brain finally fully awoke and the “this is not helpful” became louder and I ducked out of the bedroom and shut the French doors.

I stood there watching it flying around and debated leaving it alone and dealing with it in the morning. But after a few minutes of standing there remembered that it was one of those super hot nights and I would be damned if that bat kicked me out of the coolest room in the house.

Resolved to go after the bat I realized I needed two things: a tennis racket and some clothes. Like I said, it was one of those super hot nights so I wasn’t sleeping in much (anything) and I was not about to go after this bat naked. Left Brain was definitely fully awake at this point, and bat hunting while naked simply did not seem like a good idea.

Exiled from my room (and clothes) I wasn’t sure how I was going to solve the whole “not wanting to kill a bat naked” thing and then I remembered: I keep my dresses in the closet in the spare room. So armed with a tennis racket and looking good (despite a serious case of bedhead) in a cute summer dress, I was ready for action.

I waited for the bat to land on the windowsill and went in for the kill.

It wasn’t pretty (did you know that bats can flatten out to avoid getting squashed-to-death, all the while hissing and squealing and flashing their claws?). I deftly flipped the pinned bat into a bag, put the bag down and beat the thing with the tennis racket. I am not the fiercest of animal rights advocates, but I had just read Time magazine's article about animals ability to think and feel emotion and this made me feel quite guilty as I was pounding away.

Now that I was wide awake, I did what most people do at this point: stole some of my neighbors’ wireless internet and Googled “are bats in your bedroom a bad thing.”

This was a mistake. Because I found pictures like this:

And read statements like this:

In many of the human rabies cases caused by a bat-stain of the virus, there was no known history of a bite from a bat. For that reason, bats represent a special concern. Bats have very small teeth, and a bite from a bat may not be felt. Any direct contact with a bat represents a potential exposure to rabies. Other situations that might qualify as exposures include finding a bat in the same room as a person who may not be aware that contact has occurred, such as finding a bat in the room with a sleeping person, a child, or someone who is mentally disabled or intoxicated. If you think you may have been exposed to rabies from a bat, please DO NOT LET THE BAT GO.

I also realized at this point that in my pillow fight with the bat, I ended up with a scratch on my wrist and thus was certain that any moment I was going to start foaming at the mouth.

Needless to say, I did not sleep particularly well.

In hindsight, this was perhaps okay because when at 4:30 in the morning I once again heard a rapid ‘phshphshpshphsh’ sound and saw something fluttering in my room, my Left Brain was ready for action and I quickly exited the room.

That’s right people: two bats in one night.

I was pretty sure it was Mama Bat looking for her kid, or the recently deceased bat’s Best Bat Friend wondering where he went. Not wanting to suffer from the wrath of mama-bat or friend-bat, I was content to wait it out on the couch and deal with it in the daylight.

After a couple hours of vivid dreams of being eaten alive by bats, I got up and cautiously went into the bedroom. No bat in sight. My plan was to call my friend Phil who, no joke, loves to capture and release bats and have him take care of bat number two. This plan was thwarted, however, as I was gathering my things for the day and moved a plastic bag that was on the floor only to discover the bat sleeping soundly.

I kid you not: it was all curled up on the carpet, snoring and acting like we shared a room (okay, there wasn’t snoring….but the little sucker did look pretty content).

Not able to bring myself to kill two mammals in one day, and armed with new knowledge from my Google search the night before, I was determined to capture and release this one. So I traded the tennis racket for a Tupperware and piece of cardboard. As soon as I put the Tupperware over the bat, Semi-Cute-Content-Sleeping-Bat turned into Scary-Pissed-Off-I-Will-Kill-You-Bat and I started to breathe deeply and recite things like, “I’m bigger than you,” “you’re more afraid of me than I am of you,” and “vampires only exist in the movies.”

I’m not sure it helped.

But here is the abridged version (I know, finally) of what happened next:

I called my neighbor for moral support.
The doctor’s office called back (being the responsible citizen and slightly neurotic person that I am, I had called to report my scratch) and said the doctor wanted to see me.
Capture/release mode was quickly replaced with “you will die” mode.
I armed my neighbor with the tennis racket, came up with a plan to flip the trapped bat into a bag for the kill.
My trash bin now contained two bats, both in Trader Joe paper bags and, for extra insurance, a plastic Target bag.
The doctor’s visit resulted in me feeling stupid, overanxious, defensive (“I never said it was a bite!”) and at the same time responsible (I was simply following the instructions of the CDC that I found on the internet).
Later that day the doctor, who had all but assured me there was nothing to worry about, calls and says, “we need to talk about this further.” Lovely.
I end up having to dig the bats out of the trash, put them in my freezer for the night, and bring them in to get tested for rabies.
Which, resulted in the following phone call the next night:

“Kate, this is the Ottawa County Health Department. We’ve got a good news/bad news situation here. Good news: one of the bats tested negative for rabies. Bad news: the other bat’s spinal chord was so damaged that we were unable to test it for rabies. Meaning, we have to label it “inconclusive” and we need you to go ahead and get the rabies vaccination.”

What followed was at least six cumulative hours spent in health care facilities over the next two weeks (including an Urgent Care in North Carolina), an upper respiratory infection (from time spent in said Urgent Care), a reaction to the vaccine (from weakened immune system from said infection), eight shots each containing enough vaccine to fill a shot glass, one very sore arm and greater sympathy for people suffering from PTSD (my cat-like reflexes were even more reflexive if even a mosquito buzzed by my head).

All this to say, I think the moral of the story is two-fold:

One, know where to find the nearest tennis racket.
Two, it is not necessary to bludgeon a bat to death. But if you do by mistake, make sure you have good insurance.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Thing Number 6 That Used to be Normal and Now is Not

Expecting that the first thing you order from a menu will not be available.

One time my friends and I went to Pizza Hut and were told they did not have any pizza that day.

Need I say more?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Thing Number 5 that Used to be Normal and Now is Not

As a my brilliantly gifted friend Anne recently stated on her blog “the return to blogging is so embarrassing.” Enough said. On to number 5...

Not having lights** at some point during the day.

This past year I have been appointed to be on the City of Holland’s Sustainability Committee. We talk about many things, including a lot of talk about how to develop an energy plan for the city. At one point someone (jokingly) made a comment about mandatory black outs during the day. Not picking up on their sarcasm at first, I was nodding my head in agreement and thought, “naturally, a great idea.” I even had it worked out in my head how we could have efficient black outs because we would be systematic about it (for instance, you know that every other day from 3pm to 5pm you aren’t going to have electricity). I was about to vocally contribute to the meeting with a, “seriously people, we can do this!” But by then the committee had moved on to the next thing and my mind had stopped daydreaming about how convenient mandatory black outs would be.

The most maddening things about the lights leaving in the DR is this…they have a knack of doing so just when you really need them—like when you needed to print something off for a meeting you have in 10 minutes, or just as you are about to show a video clip to illustrate in important point in a Young Life Club talk. Or when you have invited a bunch of people over for a movie, or right at a crucial point in a movie (sidenote: the lights leaving is the reason I have only seen one and a half of both The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings movies) or when you realize a movie is due and it is still in the DVD player (true story: my good friends took their DVD player to the movie rental place to return a movie to avoid late fees). The worst, however, is in the middle of the night when hum of the fan is cut suddenly and before the blades have even come to a full stop their hum is replaced with the hum of the thirsty mosquitoes whose quest to feed had been thwarted by the breeze of the fan.

You honestly get used to it. And though it doesn’t get less annoying, in an odd way it created a common bond and means for celebration—when the lights would come back there would be cheers, claps and cries of “llego la luz!” (the lights have arrived) throughout the neighborhood. And in some way you felt like you won something and a reason to celebrate.

All this to say: in terms of sustainability, I think the Dominicans are on to something. And we could work it out—if you knew you wouldn’t have lights from 3-5pm you simply could avoid watching movies during that time.

**Thing #5.5 that Used to be Normal and Now is Not—referring to electricity as “lights” as in the ever popular and oft stated phrase: se fue la luz (the lights left).

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Thing Number 4 that Used to be Normal and Now is Not

Waking up and assuming it was going to be a sunny day.

For those of you who live in West Michigan, need I say more?

I actually remember first thinking about this when I lived in the DR and one random day when it was cool and rainy I was awash with a sense of excitement and joy. Yes, the clouds and rain actually put me in a good mood. Why? Because it reminded me of home.

I gave up checking the weather a few weeks ago when a clear pattern emerged: clouds and rain. And in breaking news, one of our Local Weather Experts just confirmed what we all sensed last month: we had a sunshine shortage.

But today is sunny, so that's nice.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Spoiler Alert

Yes, there are actually more than 3 Things that Used to be Normal but Now is (are?) Not. I'm not for listing long excuses for not blogging (okay...not true, I've been known to do it in the past), so here is a short list:

1. The school year started and I somehow neglected to remember how insane that makes life. Never again will I feel guilty about relaxing in the summer.

2. I am in the process of buying a Holland. Never again will I say never. Er, wait...

So, I'll might start up the series again mañana because, as they say, siempre hay mañana.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Thing Number 3 that Used to be Normal and Now is Not

Having to clean up the dishes on the spot for fear of an ant (or larger Outside Thing) infestation.

I really am a fairly clean person and I have always enjoyed doing the dishes as it makes me feel like I have accomplished something. I have even been known to end up with some roommate issues because of my particularity of not leaving dirty dishes in the sink (some might call this particularity being a tad too Type A). However, this all came into handy when I moved to the DR and realized that even the Type B's were forced into Type A-ness when it came to dishes unless they wanted to serve as a film site for the Discovery Channel (seriously, I watched in amazement at the persistence, force and strength of an ant colony). Those buggers would find even the smallest crumb and invite others in for a party. I often kept flour (who knew ants like flour?) and cereal boxes in the freezer to kill the ants. And never, ever would I leave my counter looking like this after dinner:

Which is exactly what I did the other night as my friends and I moved to the front porch for drinks after dinner.

Interestingly enough, I think I am less Type A about the dishes than I was before I moved to the DR--simply for the sheer novelty of leaving something on the counter (even overnight!) and not find yourself under attack. Tracy, my first roommate in the DR, visited me last winter and also commented at one point, "isn't it great that you can leave food out without worrying about animals?" Freedom.

Sidenote: speaking of animals, we have one living in the house. Not a pet mind you, more of a squirrel or raccoon type (definitely qualifying as an Outside Thing) that woke me up at 6 am as it was scratching the sheet metal covering the living room vent. Critter Control comes tomorrow, no worries. I'm sure I'll sleep great tonight.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thing Number 2 that Used to be Normal and Now is Not

Having to take your car into the shop if your horn is broken.

A few days ago I was riding in the car with some friends through one of many construction zones that currently exist in Holland. In the midst of a bit of mayhem, we found ourselves behind a car attempting to turn left, with a sign directly to the right of the car that clearly indicated that this was a no-no. Joel sat patiently and after a few seconds I couldn't help it and said, "Honk. Honk! This is your chance to use your horn!" He didn't honk. The car eventually turned and we went on our way.

When I first learned to drive in the DR people would jokingly say,"yeah, here you take your car in if your horn is broken." The thing is, it's not a joke. Driving without a horn in the DR is dangerous for everyone involved (including anyone in your car, anyone in another car, the 5 people on the moto next to you, and the cow wandering aimlessly down the street). At first, I found it annoying and, being the good Dutch West Michigander that I am, even rude. It didn't take long to realize: honk or die. Granted, there are times when the honk is perhaps overused--it was almost like it was a contest to see who could honk first when the light turned green to urge the cars to get on with it already (which always struck me as extremely ironic for a culture that doesn't seem to hurried about most things). As with other things, I adapted and realized that the horn really is a lovely (and practical) part of the car.

That is why I love looking for opportunities to honk here in the States (another reason I may need to move to bigger city). It's tricky since someone can basically almost kill you as they cut you off on a highway, or sit at a light for 10 seconds after it turns green and you look like the idiot (or jerk) if you honk (again, extremely ironic for a culture that seems hurried about most things). I remember my sister even telling me about a friend of hers who got a ticket for "obsessive use of the horn" upon honking hello to some friends on the street.

Cars come with horns for a reason...I think it's time we bring back the honk.

Image from

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Introducing: Things that Used to be Normal and Now are Not

A few months ago when I was Spring Cleaning I discovered this:

A hole about the size of a dime in one of my screens. At first, I was quite consumed by this hole and had visions of all sorts of Outside Things making their merry way inside. And since another one of my screens was not quite in properly, there was at least two entry point for these Outside Things. I remember contemplating calling my neighbors down to help me pop the one screen back in and trying to find some duct tape to temporarily fix the hole. I was quite obsessed about it for a few of days.

And then, it dawned on me: I had lived five years of my life without screens in the Dominican Republic and didn’t think twice about it.

Granted, Outside Things in the DR didn’t include squirrels; but it did include lizards, flying ants, regular ants, cockroaches, rats, mosquitoes and little boys who took advantage of the wide slats of the window and managed to steal the car keys from my kitchen table which was a good five feet from the window. Having screens wouldn’t have stopped some of the Outside Things from getting in anyway, and since hardly anyone had screens it actually didn’t cross my mind to get them.

I often think of myself as having to figure out “how to live like an adult” twice in my life. Phase One happened in another country (I moved to the DR three weeks after graduating from college) and the second time is still underway (Phase Two started about four years ago upon moving back from living in the DR for five years). At first some of the differences were glaringly obvious, but now I don’t think too much about the differences. That is, until something like a dime sized hole in a screen causes me to stop and think about what my life was like in Phase One of becoming an adult.

Thus I have decided to start a mini-series of sorts: Things that Used to be Normal and Now are Not.

Some caveats about said series:

1. This is not an attempt to claim that one way is better than the other or even more “normal” than the other. For at some point in both Phases I have had things shift from “normal” to “abnormal” and vice versa (i.e. my first few weeks in the DR I probably did get the heebies that there weren’t any screens on the windows).
2. This is also not an attempt to pull the “back when I was a missionary we had to walk five miles for water—uphill both ways in the snow” (this obviously is not true because I lived in the Caribbean, and (most days) had running water).

Things that Used to be Normal and Now are Not is more for my own benefit as I have seen that thinking through the differences between my Phases of Adulthood explain a bit why I am the way I am about certain things. Moreover, thinking through these differences gives you one big fat perspective check. So, here’s to a new series…and I welcome anyone who has had a similar experience to share their own Thing that Used to be Normal but Now is Not.

Monday, August 10, 2009

I Heart My Honda

Lest you think after my last post that I play favorites in regards to my means of transportation, I thought I would dedicate a post to another love of my life: my Honda Accord. She may not be a beauty, but she’s gem.

Nope, that’s not dirt on the front bumper, nor is it dead bugs. Apparently some Hondas made in ’98 received a bum paint job. Just last week someone commented on it because they know someone else with the same problem and they suggested we start a group to file a class action suit. That sounds like a lot of work and, quite frankly, the peeling paint makes it easy for me to find my car in a parking lot.

I love my Honda because she drives like a champ despite her age, has some funky electrical quirks (I’ve always found quirky people endearing, so why not cars?) and she came with an old school car phone system, including the actual old phone that you can still charge up and play Snake on when you are stuck in traffic. What I may love most about my Honda, however, is how she is a tangible reminder of how God really does indeed provide exactly what we need (and even want).

The story goes like this:

I was living in the Dominican Republic and was on my 2nd vehicle, a little Toyota Tercel. The Tercel was also quite endearing after driving a ’74 Nissan Patrol that drove like a tractor (you turned it off by pulling a kill cord) and left you smelling like diesel anytime you rode in it because fumes would seep up through the floorboards. I loved the Tercel even after I had to have the engine rebuilt (a story of love, loss and enduring friendship despite a cracked oil pan resulting from said friend driving my car) and I loved it up until it was totaled on a mountain road as a drunk driver swerved into my lane. Which resulted in again not only dealing with police stations and Pokemon notebooks, but also insurance companies, car dealers and pervasive thoughts of “get me out of this country….now.”

Right about this time I remember talking with Jen and Scott who had left the DR and moved back to North Carolina. I remember Jen telling me about their transition back and all the details that went with moving a family back to the States after 10 years overseas. And I remember being a bit covetous when she told me that they were driving a Honda Accord that her brother had sold to them dirt-cheap after driving it for business (I don’t know much about cars but know enough to know that “highway miles” is supposed to elicit an “ahh” along with a nod of approval). In fact, I vividly remember thinking to myself, “Oh, that sounds nice. Maybe someday I’ll live in the States again and if I do I hope that I get to drive a Honda Accord” (said in a dreamy, longing voice, most likely punctuated with a sigh).

Fast forward three years: I’ve just moved back to the States after 5 years in the DR. Scott and Jen drove up to Michigan from North Carolina to attend the wedding of mutual friends. Scott and Jen were asking me what the transition had been like so far and I mention this, that and the other thing including the fact that I was anxious to have my own transport again. Scott looks at me and says, “Would you want to buy this car?”

“This car” was the very Honda Accord that I had pined for three years earlier. I mean literally it was the same car. True story. Why yes, yes I did want to buy that car. So, I also got a steal of a deal and it has been the smoothest car relationship I’ve ever had: four years and going strong.

I remember reading Richard Foster’s book Freedom of Simplicity the very first summer I spent in the DR. Great book….challenging book. One of the things he encourages is to pray about things before you buy them to see if God will provide what you need before you buy it. Now, I am pretty sure he was referring especially to major purchases and I remember thinking, “that seems like a good idea….buuuut, so like, how long do you have to wait? How much advance notice do you need to give God? Should I pray before I buy my groceries? Does it “work” best if you give God specifics or just a general idea of what you are looking for?”

I think about this every time I think of my car. I almost felt like I needed to pull an OT move and rename the Honda “el-something-or-another-cool-sounding-in-Hebrew” (roughly translated: God Provides) because I really do believe that God desires to provide for us. And I really do believe that we muck it up not only for ourselves, but also for others, when we get anxious, greedy and impatient when it comes to our needs/wants. And while I don’t believe that there is some magic formula to how it works, I do believe it has a whole lot to do with perspective and patience as well as some intentional sorting through needs versus wants.

I Heart My Honda.

And, as cheesy as the next sentence I am about to write is, I Heart My Honda because it reminds me that God Hearts Me (and yes, if I could figure out how to embed the chorus of Our God is an Awesome God or Shine, Jesus Shine into this post I would).