Return to American Halloween

Aiden is approaching Halloween like it’s his job. “So… 8 more days? We need to plan our route. I’m going to bring 4 pillowcases and fill each one. Mom, who is staying home to give out candy? Sorry, I think you need to stay home. Someone has to do it. Dad’s more… you know.”

I think he means fun? For some reason I’m shocked. I love Halloween! I protest and tell him about the weeks that used to go into my own Halloween preparations, our trips to the rich neighborhoods where full size candy bars were distributed; my commitment to canvasing the neighborhood as long as possible, despite the fact that in Vermont it was usually snowing and we had to wear winter jackets over the costumes we had spent so long planning. He is unmoved.

Takoma Park’s Halloween parade took place a week before the big day, and was a practice run for the real deal.


This is some serious method acting.

Aiden strategized some more as we headed to a friend’s house for dinner after the parade. “So, I think Sam needs to change his costume. It doesn’t have the cuteness factor. Sam, I think you should be a policeman or a fireman.”

“No, I want to be a coat hanger.”

I point out that there will be dozens of firemen out there and the randomness of Sam’s costume (i.e. the 7 coat hangers hanging off him, looking like he got tangled up a closet, which I think is how he landed on this idea in the first place) will gain him some points. Grown-ups like originality. Aiden’s zombie executive is sure to strike a chord in this neighborhood. And apparently I have gotten caught up in his logic that their costumes will have an impact on the amount of candy they’ll receive.

He goes on to ask, “ And Madeline, what are her advantages?” He answers his own question, “She’s got the cuteness factor, and she’s fast. I think we could make it to a lot of places. Dad, which way do you think we should go?” Andrew suggests they skip Maple Avenue because the houses are farther apart. What!? He’s crazy; Maple is the heart of the action! Everyone will be home on Maple, if not dressed up and waiting on their porches, and prepared with buckets of candy. There are houses on Maple that stage elaborate theatrical performances. Skip Maple?! Again, I can’t believe I have been relegated to Halloween home duty.

Halloween 2012 was the saddest I have ever seen Aiden. Colombia celebrates Halloween, but they kind of miss the point. It’s more about sexy costumes for adults than chocolate for kids. I will never forget the image of Aiden sobbing into his plastic jack-o-lantern bucket, empty except for 3 sad hard candies. Hard candy?! Come on, Colombia, after dinner mints do not a Halloween make.

Since then, Aiden has been dreaming about the day we would be back for a Takoma Park Halloween. That’s a lot of pressure for any town, and he has been concerned something might go wrong. He started worrying about the weather a few weeks ago, but he’s past that now. He told me there could be a tsunami or a tornado and he would still go trick-or-treating. No, the weather is not the problem. The biggest threat we’re facing now that we’re back in the Halloween promised land? Teal pumpkins.


Teal pumpkins show that you have non-food treats, and raise awareness about food allergies. Are we really not aware of the prevalence of food allergies?! I briefly considered having an ambulance standing by the first time I gave my child peanut butter. Not that he would eat much peanut butter, because it was not allowed in preschool. I know a number of kids with serious food allergies, and they have to be very careful about what they eat. It’s a real pain. I assume their parents will be going through their Halloween candy at the end of the night, scouring it for allergens, just like our parents searched our candy for razor blades. (That was a thing, right?) We didn’t need special colored pumpkins to indicate the houses with razor blade free treats. Or did we? Maybe I blocked that out.

One neighborhood listserv member posted that she is participating in the teal pumpkin project and will have “non-good items available.” The typo says it all. I have seen a candy-free Halloween and it is not good. It was very, very sad. Aiden is aware of the sugar-free threat on the horizon and he is not amused. I literally saw him wringing his hands, considering the possibilities. This is the stuff of nightmares. The thought of a street lined with teal pumpkins… truly terrifying.


Nightmare Pumpkin








Be afraid. Be very afraid.



Happy Halloween!

Farewell Colombia

We’ve been saying our goodbyes for a few weeks and we are down to our last 2 days in Colombia. Thanks to friends who have already departed for summer vacation, we get to leave in style, staying in their lovely apartment with a bathtub the size of a swimming pool, an Xbox, gorgeous mountain views and an espresso machine. Thanks Lisa and Iain!  Colombia is in a very good mood after their first world cup wins in 16 years and we are feeling tranquilo. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself. The next two days will test our ability to remain calm and handle the no and que pena con usted (what a pity for you) that usually accompanies our attempts to accomplish anything here. Information gathering and multiple backup plans are in place. Now, let’s see how much of Colombia has rubbed off on us… my motto for the next few days and weeks, maybe forever, is tranquila. Relax, lady.

In preparation for our departure, I have been enjoying the beauty of Medellin and trying to do all the things we hadn’t gotten around to doing yet. Now that I’ve done most of them, the city is starting to feel pretty small. I have a long list of things I’m sad about leaving, and an equally long list of  things I’m happy to leave behind. Overall this has been an amazing experience and it feels like it’s ending at the right time. But that’s just me. Here’s how I think the rest of us are handling our imminent departure:


We were waiting for the US World Cup game to start the other day and Sam said, “I like Colombia more than the Estados Unidos.” That pretty much sums up his attitude right now. He has spent about half his life here and he is feeling very Colombian. He was fully immersed in Spanish every day at school and is the most bilingual of all of us. He says things like “how do you say rompecabeza in English?” When we told him we were leaving he gave Andrew all the pesos in his BanColombia piggy bank so we could stay (and almost made a grown man cry).  Aiden has been helpfully talking up all the fun things back home, so Sam is slowly warming up to the idea of moving to ‘Koma Park. But he says he would like to come back to Colombia later, to live for the rest of his life.


Andrew loves Colombia more than almost anyone I know. He loves the things paisas love; mountains, horseback riding, eating copious amounts of meat. He has been known to say he wants to live here forever. Such passion, perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that his love affair has ended just as passionately. He has started to lash out in frustration, every time we drive, wait in line, try to pay a bill, or lose our phone service again, he raises his fist in the air and curses Colombians for being their own worst enemies. He is still forging ahead with his plans to start a biofuels company here, so he hasn’t given up on Colombia completely. I know Andrew will be here again one day, probably soon, riding a horse in the countryside, Club Colombia in one hand, giant piece of grilled meat in the other.


I have learned a lot about Aiden over these past two years and have been continually impressed by his adaptability, optimism, and ability to make friends wherever he goes. And like the rest of it, he has handled this change really well. He was so sad the day he had to say goodbye to his friends and his teacher, but then he started looking ahead to the next phase. He planned out his perfect day back home, which includes playing with the next-door neighbor in the back yard, going to the zoo, dinner at his favorite sushi place and a little more backyard time before bed. He’s excited about going to the cottage in Canada and to the beach at the Jersey Shore, which he says he loves equally.

We’re so excited to see family and friends, and most of us are looking forward to going back home. We will really miss Colombia, although we’ll probably be ready for a break after these next two days. And we’ll be back. Tranquila.

Moms and Explosives

It’s Mother’s Day in Medellin and it’s time to light some stuff on fire! Fireworks, paper lanterns, and my favorite, paper lanterns filled with fireworks. The sounds of the explosions bounce off the mountains surrounding the city, set off car alarms and drive dogs insane.

Mother’s Day is a very big deal around here. The boys have been talking about it for weeks, and this had me thinking about what I’d want if I could ask for anything for Mother’s Day. The first thing that came to mind was silence. Sometimes I just want it to be quiet for a little bit. If my kids bought a bunch of fireworks in my honor I’d be pissed! Is this just another way I am not like the Colombian mamas? Or maybe the fireworks are like the clay ashtrays and paperweights we used to make for our moms; there’s no nice way to say ‘no thank you, I don’t want that present.’ So they keep blowing things up to show how much they care.

The mom festivities in Medellin also involve a lot of drinking. The police reported 260 altercations before 5 pm, which was an improvement over last year. Those poor, poor mamas. Just take them out for a nice dinner and keep the police out of it! Maybe Colombia should start celebrating Cinco de Mayo, and then everyone could get their booze fueled antics out of their system before Mother’s Day. Or maybe it’s the fact that brunch doesn’t exist here. Introducing the mother’s day brunch might help keep the peace. You can only get so drunk before noon.

Judging by the pyrotechnics, Christmas, Mother’s Day and game day are the most important events in Medellin.  (Not just any game, of course, but I’m not enough of a football fan to know which games are the most important).

When Andrew’s parents were in town we were almost killed by the local team’s celebratory exploding paper ballon. Ok, that’s not true, but we did save one of Medellin’s tourist attractions from burning down. Or at least a tree.  We were enjoying a lovely afternoon at the Castle, once a private home that is now a museum and garden…

day at the castle

The sun was shining, the parrots were showing off….


We spotted Andrew’s doughier doppelgänger…


Andrew with 20 more pounds and a man purse.

And then this, a giant Nacional balloon, with a tail!


And then the tail disappeared.


And fell into a tree in a ball of fire.


The tail got caught in a tree and sent sparks to the ground, lighting some hay bales and dry grass on fire. I thought it would be best to alert the security guard. He thought it best to spread the fire around with a dry leaf.



A police officer got in on the action with some casual foot-tapping. Sam was in his underwear because he fell in a fountain earlier.


Man eventually prevailed over fire and the castle was saved!




Andrew climbed the tree and claimed a souvenir. Andrew’s parents question his decisions in life.

Happy Mother’s Day all! I hope your day was as eventful or uneventful as you hoped it would be.  I dedicate this fireball to you.



The Waiting is the Hardest Part (and other song lyrics that describe my life)

We are down to the wire. The kids finish school in six weeks. Our visas expire in seven weeks. At some point very soon we have to give notice to our landlord here and our tenant in the US. But we don’t know if we’re staying or going. Going or staying?! Staying or going? Aaack! This indecision me molesta.

We are waiting for a call about a job and a possible relocation. The call, which has been delayed for a variety of reasons, will determine if we stay or go. We are not waiting patiently. Andrew checks all possible forms of communication every few minutes, and then sings the ‘watched pot never boils’ song. He reads his horoscope daily, looking for answers. One site is not enough- he has broadened his astrological horizons and checks a number of sites, in English and Spanish. I found him the other day on Dogstrology. I think that may have been an accident, unless he’s wondering how all this uncertainty is effecting our dog.

In the next few weeks we will have to set some plan in motion. Any plan. I don’t care at this point. And that’s how I deal with the situation. I say things like, I don’t even care at this point. I’m trying to live in the moment and not stress too much because there isn’t a lot I can do about it. I think my mom would say I need to envision what I want and put that out into the universe (or tell me to move to VT). But I’m not sure what I want. There are so many things that would make me really happy about going home: being closer to family, friends and Trader Joe’s, making phone calls in my own language, seeing my nephew who I haven’t met yet (who I accidently referred to as my grandson in Spanish today and the person I was talking to didn’t even blink, which is terrifying).

But when I think about leaving Colombia, I immediately start to miss it. I’ll miss the mountains, the flowers, the birds, and the elegant Colombian Spanish. I’ll miss our friends here, although most of them are leaving too. Most of all, I’ll miss the weather. While that might sound shallow, you need to understand that Medellin has the world’s best climate. The temperature ranges from 75-85, every day, year round. You can leave the windows open all the time, no heat or AC required. In the evening, the air is the exact same temperature as your skin. It’s like being in a sensory deprivation tank. It is perfect. Why would you live anywhere else? I grew up in a place where you need to wear a winter hat inside and there are no leaves on the trees from October to June. I cannot overstate the importance of Medellin’s perfect climate on my happiness and well-being. And it’s hard to imagine leaving it.

A perfect climate means you can grow almost anything, anytime. Something is always in bloom. And the birds…  Do you know that Colombia has more species of birds than any other country? The Birds of Colombia book is 996 pages long. I really shouldn’t leave until I can identify at least a dozen, by their real names. I got hung up on the guacamaya- the macaw parrot. I’m so fixated on the guacamaya I haven’t learned the proper names of the others I see all the time, which I refer to as medium powder blue bird, tiny red bird, swallow looking bird that likes bamboo, the bird that sounds like a screaming toddler, yellow and black bird that’s everywhere, and super aggressive wetland bird that hangs out by the school. If we ever get another paycheck, I will buy that giant Birds of Colombia book.

Instead of deciding what I actually want, or putting some plan in motion, or packing the boxes, I will wait a little longer and share these photos of the flowers of Medellin, which make me stop to smell them every day.

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And bonus, the guacamayas!


A Conversion in Colombia

Like all other 3rd graders at the Columbus School, Aiden has been preparing for his First Communion. Unlike the other 3rd graders, he’s not actually Catholic, has not been baptized, and he thinks he’s half Jewish. This has presented a few challenges. In honor of Holy Week, here is the guide to becoming Catholic in Colombia. Like everything else we’ve done in Colombia, we did most of it incorrectly, and only had a vague idea of what was going on.

Step 1: Religion Class

My kids have attended 2 different pseudo-international schools, and both had religion class. And religion means Catholicism. We met with the religion teacher, Carlito,  at a parent-teacher conference halfway through the year and Aiden confirmed his interest in participating in the First Communion. He said that, while he thought there were some real problems with the story of Adam and Eve and Noah’s Ark, he believed in God and Jesus. This wasn’t really a surprise. Aiden has always been curious, and opinionated, about religion. When his brother was born he lobbied hard for him to be named John the Baptist. We explained our status to Carlito, that we weren’t a Catholic/Jewish family as Aiden had reported, and he offered to get us in touch with a priest who could help with the process of getting Aiden baptized.

Step 2: Get Baptized

Andrew and I met with the priest on a rainy night to try to convince him we should be approved. I thought they were eager for converts and would just be happy we were there, but that didn’t seem to be the case. As a former Sunday school teacher, Andrew’s credentials are much better than mine. I thought I could get away with feigning no Spanish, but when the priest started talking about how important it was that all the family members were involved in the process, it was clear I would need to step up to make my son’s religious dreams come true. I told him I come from a Catholic family, my grandparents were devout, my mom feels a deep connection to Mary and my dad lives like Jesus. (Andrew mentioned the time my dad gave all his money to undocumented workers while taking care of his dad in Florida). I have no idea what he made of us, but he sent us on our way and said he’d be in touch.

Step 3. Get Pardoned

All the parents were required to attend a Ceremonia del Perdon. As we were getting ready to go I made a joke about our upcoming spiritual cleansing. Aiden called me out and told me this was important, and he didn’t think I was taking it very seriously. Yikes. I apologized and told him it was more that I didn’t understand what was going on. So much of religion is about ritual and community. If you don’t understand the rituals and you’re not part of the community, it can feel very alienating. And of course that’s why the priest had reservations about us and wanted to make sure we were all on board, to support our child during the process instead of make fun of it. (As they say in church here, mi culpa, mi culpa, mi gran culpa.)

We gathered with all the other parents at a religious center to listen to a priest and reflect on the upcoming First Communion. Or I think that’s what was happening. I understood: Jesus, sin, table, church. The priest mumbled into the microphone in an Argentine accent. I think he said our children might ask why we go to church so infrequently, and that we are welcome any time. There was prerecorded music and reflection and then we were all dismissed. Or maybe pardoned. Not sure.

Step 4. Get Baptized, Part 2.

After a few failed attempts we were told Aiden could be baptized the following Sunday morning and we would need a padrino, or godfather, with us. Perfect, because the uncles were coming to town that weekend!















The Godfathers?

This happened to fall on a holiday weekend and we planned my brothers’ 5-day visit around the commitment to be in town early Sunday morning. On Sunday we obsessively called the priest and Carlito to find out what time we were supposed to be there. We finally heard back that it would need to be postponed; they needed a copy of Aiden’s birth certificate and our Colombian IDs before they could do anything. Was this a Colombian stall tactic/brush off (they hate to say no) or a legitimate need to register our details with the mothership? The First Communion was less than 2 weeks away and I was getting a little nervous. At this point in the process, the first thing out of Aiden’s mouth every morning was “Am I getting baptized today?!”

Step 5: Confess

A week before the First Communion all the kids were required to go to church for their first confession. Sam decided at the last minute he wanted to come too, and even agreed to wear a button shirt, the first miracle associated with the whole endeavor. Both kids have an unusual fear of buttons and generally refuse to wear anything with snaps, buttons, or zippers. I wish I had filmed the process of them trying to get dressed for church. Aiden was like an unfrozen caveman lawyer; he yanked at the collar of his shirt until the top button flew off. He pulled his pants up and yelled, “they don’t fit!” not realizing they didn’t have an elastic waistband like all his other clothes and needed to be unsnapped and unzipped first. He has no buttoning skills. I have failed as a parent, but the zipper-button-snap lesson would have to take place another day.

As fancy as it gets around here.

As fancy as it gets around here.

We were the last family to make it to the church; there were 50 kids ahead of us waiting for their turn to confess. Sam fixated on the scene at the front of the church: Jesus on the cross, who he referred to as “the dead guy.” And the questions began:
”Where does God live? Is he dead? Is Jesus dead? Why did they kill him? Do I have sins? God and Jesus both live in my heart? Do they each live on one side?”

I referred him to Andrew.


Pondering the big questions.

At one point Sam started to get a bit loud and I told him he had to keep his voice down.

Sam: Why?

Me: Because if you don’t, they’ll tell you to be quiet.

Sam: Who?

Me: The Priest.

Sam: And the dead guy?

Finally, after 2 hours, Aiden got his chance to confess. Just moments beforehand, I realized he was probably the only kid in the church who hadn’t been baptized. Can you confess if you haven’t been baptized? What if they didn’t let him do it and all this was for nothing? What are the rules here? As usual, I had no idea what was going on. The priest we had met with, who we still hadn’t heard back from regarding the baptism, was one of 3 priests taking confession. I made the mistake of voicing my concerns and said I hoped Aiden didn’t end up with the guy in the white robe because he might not let him confess. Sam took it upon himself to warn Aiden, at the top of his lungs. He continued to try to intervene until the last moment when Aiden was sent to the guy in the purple robe, who I’m guessing had no idea about the process we were going through or the half pagan-half United Church of Canada unbaptized gringo child before him.

Sam, trying to shut the whole thing down.

Sam, trying to shut the whole thing down.


Aiden confessed and seemed to enjoy himself. He said he wasn’t going to tell us what he said, which was fine with me. I’m pretty sure it had something to do with his brother.

Step 6: Get Baptized, Part 3; Find Godparents

We received another call about the baptism. It could be held the next day, less than 24 hours before the first communion, but we needed to provide copies of the godparents’ IDs. The uncles were gone and we had no godparents. The search was on… At this point Aiden had been practicing for months at school. They had had 3 dress rehearsals, which involved several hours on the bus to and from the University theater. I think they had given up on school at that point. Songs were memorized and parties planned. I started asking around and found a Lutheran friend with a Catholic husband. They agreed to be Aiden’s godparents. Mission accomplished! We found our padrinos and were all set to be at the church the next day.

Step 7: Get Baptized, Finally.

Aiden got home from school 10 minutes before we were supposed to be at the church. We left Sam behind this time and rushed off, only to find the padrinos waiting at an empty church. I started freaking out about this never happening and all Aiden’s hard work going to waste. His madrina informed me that she was authorized to conduct emergency baptisms, actually all Catholics and Lutherans are, so if all else failed she would take care of it. I wish I had known this before.

The priest finally showed up and the ceremony got under way. He read, asked questions, and paused when we were supposed to say something in return. We mumbled and mispronounced, and sometimes stared blankly. I can only imagine what he made of us, but I felt like a deer in the headlights. He started pointing to the parts in the book where we were supposed to answer or repeat. A script would have been very helpful. He poured water over Aiden’s head, put oil on his forehead and hands and completed the ceremony. He told Aiden he was probably the most prepared of all the children for the First Communion, and joked that he would arrive ‘clean, clean, clean’ (with less than 10 waking hours left to sin before the ceremony.) The priest congratulated us, took pictures, and then we headed to the bar next door for a celebratory drink.


Padres y Padre



Step 8: First Communion

The next morning we took a taxi to the University of Medellin for the First Communion. Families who had contracted with the professional photographer had to be at the theater at 8:00. We opted out of the wedding-style photos and got there at 9:30.

taxi foto shoot

Pre-Communion taxi photo shoot

Aiden lined up with the other kids and we went to our seats. Sam’s shirt had only 2 buttons. As this event was in a theater, not a church, there were fewer questions.

Mine is the pious looking one in the back.

The ceremony was the most well-organized event I have been to in Colombia. It started on time and went off without a hitch. All the kids were involved; some sang, and everyone had to say a line or two. The girls looked like brides. The boys were (thankfully) casual in turtlenecks and blue cords. Two by two, they received the First Communion.


Finally, the moment arrives

leaving the theater

At the end of the ceremony everyone gathered outside and the kids ran around distributing cards, mementos, or chocolate bars commemorating the event. This was one of many things I had no idea about.










I also had no idea that Aiden might be expecting gifts or a party. We had nothing (except for the card and cash provided by his amazing, last minute, super Madrina). Aiden informed us that the party was actually a very important part of the First Communion.

Step 9: Have a Party

I had signed Aiden up for the class party at the school the next day, which seemed very pricy to me at $140 per family. I had no idea that most of the kids would also be having their own First Communion parties that cost as much as a wedding, and they’d be receiving gold and envelopes full of cash. As we were leaving, Aiden expressed his disappointment about the lack of gifts from us. I tried to appeal to his Catholic side and asked what Jesus would do. Andrew said I was being mean. (In my defense, we had spent the previous weekend in Florida to renew our visas and had taken the kids to a toy store, a book store and to Whole Foods to buy their favorite things. That seemed like enough gifts for a while. And the over-the-top parties in Medellin drive me crazy, especially considering the poverty here and the city’s status as one of the most unequal in Latin America. It would be nice to see more charity and fewer thousand-dollar extravaganzas for little kids. Ok, rant over.)

We told Aiden we would spend the afternoon celebrating as a family and he could choose anywhere he wanted to go for lunch. Woohoo! We hopped in a cab and Aiden directed the driver to Dominos Pizza. We celebrated with a large cheese pizza and a liter of Colombiana. Then we went to several bakeries to find the best cake– chocolate with chocolate frosting- and bought M&Ms to decorate it with. While I’m sure this atypical First Communion party was another reminder of how different he is from his friends here, Aiden is now officially the most assimilated of us all. I have been completely befuddled by the whole experience, but I am really proud of him. He worked hard, he was committed to the process and took it very seriously. He can sing songs in Latin and Spanish. My grandparents would have been very happy. And if you’re going to become Catholic now, you get to have this Pope.



  Amen! And happy Easter.

A Dog in Colombia

Andrew keeps asking why it took us so long to get a dog. I can think of 8,000 reasons not to get a dog. That is the difference between us. But, we all love dogs and this was actually a great time to get one. We’re home a lot more than we ever were in DC, basically all the time, and the kids are older and will help out when forced. (The tragic deaths of three cats in two years also made us think it was time to go in a new pet direction.)


Skinny and nervous, leaving the pound

Lupita was named after the most charming and juiciosa girl in Sam’s class. Lupita has made Aiden’s life complete. He says things like, “now that I have a dog and a cat, life is perfect.” One morning in December he was all sleepy at breakfast, looking at the Christmas tree, and I heard him say to himself, “I’m so happy… it’s Christmastime, and I have a dog.” We’re all pretty happy with Lupita. She’s really fast, like a mini greyhound, and she goes on runs with Andrew. She sleeps in Sam’s bed at night. And she is teaching me new things about Colombia. I’m learning about dog culture in Medellin, I’ve picked up some dog-related vocabulary and, I’ve let go of many old pairs of shoes.

Here are some things I’ve learned as a dog owner in Colombia:

1. The word juiciosa. This is very important in a dog (and a child). The most common questions I get about Lupita are about her race, and if she’s juiciosa. My dictionary defines juiciosa as judicious, level-headed and wise. But I think it just means well-behaved. Honestly, I don’t think anyone in our house is juiciosa (except the cat) but I always enthusiastically confirm that Lupita is very juiciosa. Gotta represent for mutts.

Lupita being juiciosa. Sam not being juicioso.

Lupita being juiciosa. Sam, not.

2. Colombians don’t like mutts. They may think it’s noble for someone else to have one, and countless times other dog walkers have told me that mutts are the best, most loyal, friendly dogs. But they all have purebreds. These are their favorites, in order: Boston Terrier, Chihuahua, Schnauzer, Bulldog, Jack Russell, Goldon Retriever, Lab, Pitbull. The small ones are the weirdest. Honestly though, the gene pool here is pretty small and there are a lot of weird dogs. But they look good, I guess, and looks are everything in Medellin.

This dog, being walked by the maid, is wearing sneakers.

This dog, being walked by the maid, is wearing sneakers.


Lupita can’t even look. Too humiliating.

Frolicking with Terriers

Frolicking with Terriers

3. Leashes are optional. There are no leash laws or any rules concerning pets. Also, you’re more likely to advertise for a novia (a girlfriend) for your dog than to get it neutered.


The upside of no rules is you get to bring your dog to a restaurant!

4. Many people are afraid of dogs. And the first question children ask when they approach a dog is, does it bite. (See #3)

5. Picking up poop is optional. One day I was talking to an American friend here about some bureaucratic nightmare she had recently endured (spending days paying a parking ticket) and I asked if she thought there was anything that was easier to do in Colombia than back home. She thought for a while and said, “you don’t have to pick up dog poop if you don’t want to.” If I (hypothetically) get lazy about the doo, nobody will ever chase me down the street and chastise me, or send in turds for DNA analysis.

6. When walking a dog with children, the ideal child:dog:parent ratio is 1:1:1. After a few unpleasant experiences, I vowed to never take Lupita and the boys out without another adult present. It takes some effort to keep Lupita from getting tangled in the leash or run over, but the kids, together, are worse. Sam often tries to assert his independence in the middle of the road, and drivers here are merciless. Once, early on, I took the boys and the dog on a big walk to the park. Aside from Sam and the dog almost getting run over, which was terrifying and stressful, both kids had to pee, they got in a fight while walking on a rock wall, Aiden pushed Sam off the wall, they got yelled at by a security guard for walking on the wall, Sam cried and then sat down because he had to poop and didn’t want to, the dog ate a stick, threw up the stick, and then tried to eat it again. I was trying to drag everyone home but they weren’t cooperating. And then, in a clear sign from the universe that I had made a terrible mistake, a bird pooped on my head. I almost lost my mind and told the kids I would never take them on another walk with the dog again. They slowly made their way back home and got yelled at again by a different security guard while scaling a grass cliff. It was such a monumental disaster, I have kept my promise and have not taken the two of them out with the dog, on my own, for 6 months.  Maybe things will change when they get a little older, but I’m not taking my chances for at least another few years. Now, one kid : one dog is a totally different story, and usually leads to some quality time and a nice conversation.

1 kid:1 dog:1 parent= lovely walk and chat.

2 kids:1 dog:1 parent= lots of poop, pee, barf, fighting, security guard reprimands, crying, bird poo.


Getting yelled at by a security guard.

About to get yelled at by the security guard.

About to get yelled at by a different security guard.

7. Dogs cull the herd of toys and encourage de-cluttering.

We got rid of 90% of our belongings before we moved to Colombia, so I have been feeling pretty detached from stuff. Lupita has taken it to a new level. I have lost four pairs of shoes, plus Aiden’s flip-flops, Sam’s sneakers, and a sweatshirt. The kids have lost countless toys, stuffed animals and a watch. They haven’t seemed too upset about any of it (except for the watch, which Sam was really attached to).

Here is a small sampling of things Lupita has enjoyed:

I know, you’re probably thinking we should crate her. But she freaked out in the crate and ate the blanket and bed we put in there for her. And then she ate the hard plastic bottom of the crate. We gave her rawhide bones, in a variety of flavors and sizes, and they went untouched. After many tries we have finally found the dog-appropriate toys she loves; a large rope toy and a plastic bone. She carries them from room to room and for the most part leaves our stuff alone. We have learned to put our toys and shoes away, or suffer the consequences. And honestly, we needed that.


The Most Beautiful Flower is a Woman!

This was a big weekend in Colombia. It was International Women’s Day on Saturday and Election Day on Sunday.

Women’s Day is a big deal here. It’s like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day rolled into one. Restaurants are all booked up, rose petals are thrown around and random people send you their best wishes for a happy day of the woman. It’s a nice idea, but it can get a little strange… like when you receive a note from the school suggesting that all the girls dress up like princesses and the boys bring candy to give to each little princess on their big day. I have a feeling they’re not using the opportunity to discuss rights and equality, but I could be wrong.

Signs like this are common:


I received a card from Sam’s teacher wishing me a happy day of the woman, reminding me that a woman is a symbol of tenderness and love. I haven’t been feeling very tender lately, especially towards Sam, who continues to wake me up at least twice a night. (He’s almost 5! When will this end??)

International Women’s Day also coincided with Ley Seca, the dry law. No alcohol was sold anywhere from Saturday afternoon through Monday morning, due to Sunday’s congressional elections. No voting while hungover or drunk. It was pretty quiet around town this weekend, a perfect storm of respecting women, and sobriety. Unlike every other significant event in Colombia, there were no fireworks or loud music. Fortunately we had no plans this weekend. If it had been my birthday, or if I had a big Woman’s Day night out planned, this would have made me sad:

Danger do not cross! Forget it!

Danger do not cross. Forget it.

The elections seemed to go smoothly; only 42 people arrested for attempted vote-buying or intimidation, which is a 90% decrease from the last election. And there was an increase in the number of women elected to the House and Senate. Representation of women increased from 12% to 16% in the House, and from 16% to 21% in the Senate. The presidential elections take place in a few months, and there are several female candidates. Marta Lucia Ramirez was a Senator and former Minister of National Defense. She was also a Fellow at Harvard.  Here she is giving a boy scout the finger:
Or is that two fingers? Did he offer her candy?
Here is some art from her campaign:
The other female candidate, Clara Lopez Obregon, is a Harvard educated Economist and former Mayor of Bogotá. (Interesting fact: she attended a girls’ high school outside of Washington, DC, whose alumnae include Katherine Graham, Stockard Channing and Campbell Brown.)
Lopez's 'tough on crime' pose.

Lopez’s tough-on-crime pose.

Clara López Obregón, alcaldesa (e.) de Bogotá., Foto: Andrea Moreno / EL TIEMPO

Marta Lucia and Clara Lopez represent the far right and far left parties, respectively, and neither is likely to win more than a few percent of the vote. But it is good to see them in the race.  Maybe one day, the most powerful flower will be a woman.