Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Pre-Existing Condition

Today I am ranting. This rant isn't for me, specifically, or even for my sister Crasey, whose recent experiences were the catalyst for this post. This rant is on behalf of all women everywhere in this country under this god-awful, ass-backwards, lying-cheating-stealing health insurance system that would deny a young woman coverage for her birth control pills under the most egregiously inappropriate, chauvinistic, patriarchal, dunder-headed, and asinine regulation I have ever heard in my life.

Here's some background. Crasey just graduated from college this December. Not to brag, but this young woman is awesome. She graduated Magna Cum Laude, a University Scholar, with Honors and Distinction, some 200+ hours of community service, and a double major. She got a B+ in Walking On Water, but that's about the only class she didn't ace. On top of all that, she directed her studies appropriately. Early on she decided she wanted to work in PR or event planning, and chose two majors that ably supported that goal. Every summer between semesters she drummed up some internship or job that built her resume, and at each place earned nothing but the highest praise from her employers. In short, my friends, this kid is smart, a hard worker, a hell of a lot of fun, and prepared to take on the real world.

Before settling into a 9 to 5 job, however, she and her boyfriend of 7 years decided they wanted to see a little something of this world, and have both applied for Work Travel Visas to Australia, where they are moving next month to spend a year working and checking it out Down Under. Another laudable goal -- see something of the world before you're tied to a desk!

So here is the problem. Health insurance. And under the greater rubric of health insurance, a more specific problem. Birth control pills. And not to put too fine a point on it, the problem of the young, unemployed, un-wealthy trying to get appropriate health insurance to cover their health concerns and needs. It's not that Crasey can't get health coverage that will cover her BCP; she can. But the cost is some hundreds of dollars a month, and the girl just graduated college and has no money. The health insurance she can afford (which is still over $100 a month) won't cover BCP. You want to know why?

It's a pre-existing condition.

Let me repeat. The risk of becoming pregnant is classified as A PRE-EXISTING CONDITION. In other words, if I may be so bold as to read between the lines, getting pregnant is an illness. A genetic illness that you were just unfortunate enough to be born with. Sort of like sickle cell anemia. Being a woman = genetically ill.


But the problem is not just that one classification. You should see the byzantine line-diagram I drew to clearly understand Crasey's story as she was telling it to me. The flaming hoops of fire she had to leap through are enough to boggle the mind, and it's only due to her genetic predisposition to be unbelievably stubborn (see: pre-existing condition) that she got as far as she has.

So first step: how much is COBRA insurance for our father's policy, under which she is currently covered? TWELVE HUNDRED DOLLARS A MONTH. $1,200. At the risk of repeating myself, ARE YOU KIDDING ME? That's an effing HOUSE PAYMENT! So, clearly, not so much an option.

Next step, Crasey called up Blue Cross Blue Shield, where after sitting on hold for approximately 40 days and 40 nights, she was told that if she filled out a stack of paper that Crasey claimed would bury her for "weeks and weeks," she might be approved for 3 packs, just once. Fine, thanks so much, but since she'll be gone up to a year, that really won't be all that helpful.

Well, she thought, maybe I should just see how much the packs cost without insurance, so she called a couple of pharmacies to price check: between $50 and $60 a month. Or, as Crasey summed it up, "a utility bill."

She calls her doctors (OB, GP, etc) to see if anybody had sample packs she could take. No luck. She calls Planned Parenthood, and they don't carry that pill. But that pill is the only one Crasey can take that doesn't make her instantly nauseated, so it's that pill that she needs.

Crasey is an enterprising sort, and so she thinks to herself, well heck. I'll just call up the maker of the pill, explain my predicament, and see what they can do for me. So she hunts down (check this out,) the direct phone line for the Associate Director of Public Relations for Bayer (the maker of this pill), and called her up and left a message. So far, nothing back, but she's planning on calling back, maybe even posing as a reporter doing an exposé on the plight of young college graduates as they try to enter the job market and stay healthy and UN-PREGNANT in this economic down-turn. We'll see what happens.

I just want to head you off at the pass here, in case you're thinking, "well, why doesn't she just use a condom/diaphragm/rhythm method, for crying out loud? To that, I say, well, yes, you're right, she probably could, she may even have to. But why. Why should she have to when the birth control method that she and her boyfriend have finally settled on that works for them is a) available, b) accessible, c) legal, and d) provided for under all normal health insurance policies you would get through work? And more importantly, why is being a woman classified as a pre-existing medical condition? This entire situation strikes me as a perfect storm of an un-regulated privatized health insurance system and a social system that has deep roots in patriarchy and gendered inequality. Here you've got a young woman who is doing everything by the book, and is being systematically shut down in her quest to behave in a responsible manner while still trying to take advantage of the opportunities the American system have provided her. Her boyfriend, it might be noted, has no pre-existing medical conditions related to his gender, and his health care costs will be significantly lower as a result.

On behalf of my sister, and on behalf of all women in even remotely similar circumstances, I protest.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Bug's Life

For Christmas this year I got a new camera, and I am so in love. Nothing against my old Olympus point and shoot, but frankly, I'd dropped in one too many times and it was starting to get pretty grumpy. But this new camera, this Nikon of Gold, oh heavens above. I might start drooling if I talk too much about it. It makes such a slick little *cla-chick* noise when I press the button, and I hardly have to wait any time between pictures before I can take a new shot. It's sleek and sexy, and everything a camera should be. If I'm still single when I'm 35 I'm going to marry my Nikon of Gold.

We've taken a few field trips together already, my Nikon of Gold and I, and I'd like to take you on a virtual tour of one of the most interesting of those adventures: A Day In the Life of My Little Brother Bug. Ladies and gents, whoever among you thinks they had it good when they were a kid, I'm sorry to dash your fond memories upon the sharp and jagged rocks of reality, but this little kid has got it made. He's an only child with two doting parents and four older siblings who compete to get him the coolest toys, the sweetest little cars, the greatest Thomas the Tank figurines, and to play the most fun games with him. So far this year I believe I'm winning because I taught him how to build a fort, which is now his favorite thing to do. Mwa-hahahaha! He lives on a farm, has two dogs, and his best friend in the world lives right across the field, and that kid has horses. I really don't think it gets any better than that, as far as little boys' lives go.

So on a cool and sunny Christmas day, I thought I'd go test out the new Nikon of Gold, see what it could do. Bug was outside playing with the dogs, so I started there. Ladies and gentlemen, I present you with: A Boy and His Dog.

I know, unbearably cute and precious, right? Well check this out: A Boy and His Dogs. Plural. I love how none of their feet are on the ground.

Sometimes Obie gets a little rambunctious (he's only 9 months old, if you can believe that), so Bug has to wrestle him away to protect Maddox, the little guy.

So this is where the day turned interesting. Bug, who has never once even enjoyed posing for pictures, became suddenly fascinated with the idea of taking pictures of of all the things on our family's property that he considers important. First stop, the garden, where Maddox thoughtfully fertilized the ground. He ran in, turned around, and called "Take a picha!"

No sooner was the garden shot in the bag than it was, "Ok, c'mon to the pond!" He took off running, puppy and me at his heels. I just can't get over how intent he was on getting the pictures just right. For example, he made me take this one 5 times, and examined the picture each time until I got a shot he liked. Normally Bug makes gettting good pictures of him as difficult as possible, and yet on this day, he was a set director.

"Ok, c'mon, now take a picha of the woods!"

If I were giving somebody a tour of our house and showing them the interesting parts of our land, I probably would have showed them the garden and the pond, but this stack of logs over by the barn? That's all five-year-old logic. These logs were very important. He made me take about 12 shots.

Then of course there's the old run-down, broken-down riding mower. I'm still not clear on why Superdad rode it to our new property from our old house, about 5 miles away, when we moved here, but it was the last hurrah for this riding mower. It's covered in bird poop and spiderwebs, which is perhaps precisely why it registers so high on the awesome scale for a five year old boy.

There were many other stops on our tour of the land. We took pictures of throwing logs in the river, or stepping through puddles on the path through the woods, of the beehives and the flagpole. But after about an hour, Bug got fed up with always being the subject of these photographs, and demanded to be allowed his turn behind the shutter.

I was hesitant to let him touch my sweet new Nikon of Gold, but you know what? I think he might secretly have an artistic eye.

So there you go, folks. A private tour of all the cool things at Bug's house. Hope you enjoyed it as much as he and I enjoyed taking the pictures!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Vas Ist Dis Tvilight?

You might think that when you leave the country for an extended period of time things might change while you are away. I used to feel that way, actually: a little worried that while I was gone exploring someplace new, I'd miss something really good, really major back at home. It turns out, however, that generally speaking, nothing really changes in the world. Oh, sure, my sister might cut her hair, and I might see pictures from some absolutely raging awesome party and dude, you SO should have been there! Occasionally there are constellational shifts in the particular solar system I inhabit: once, an aunt of mine passed away while I was gone, another time a friend got married, and a family pet had to be put down. In each instance, I mourned or rejoiced as each situation dictated, but I did not find the landscape of my life significantly altered.

In the grand scheme of things, when I come back home the world seems to be much as I left it, in a global sense. For example, in 2002 when I left for a job in Chile, Jen, Brad, and Angelina were on the cover of People Magazine. Fifteen months later when I landed in Dallas on my way home, guess who was still on the cover (though by that point the threesome had been reduced to two: Jen and Brangelina).

Only two times have I ever returned home to find some sort of seismic shift in the world around me. In February of 2003 when I returned from Chile I stopped briefly at home, and then headed up to New York City to see some friends and family up there. It hadn't hit Durham, North Carolina in any significant numbers yet, but in the Big Apple everywhere I went I saw people plugged into these little white boxes a little larger a cigarette box. They were all identical, and instead of pushing buttons I just saw people running their thumbs in circles over the top. What on earth were they doing, polishing it? Finally I tapped a stranger on the shoulder while riding the subway, and asked him what in the world that little thing was. He looked at me like I might be speaking an ancient dialect of English, so I repeated the question. "Hark, ye fine and bonny lad. Whither goest thou with yon white box, and what be its function?"

"Um, dude, it's an iPod," he said, and opened up to mine eyes the glorious mysteries of Apple.

This time I've hardly been gone long enough for anything major to have happened, and yet I find myself mystified by a new literary phenomenon. What on earth is this Twilight series, and where in the world did it come from? When I left for Nicaragua in August, I had never even heard mention of the name of the first book, yet I come home to find a complete series of 5 or 6 books? How is this possible? And furthermore, why is the world so divided between Twilighters and Twilight-haters? My brother The Fairy King got the first two books for Christmas, and was eager to read them, but Crasey stole them from him and spent the rest of the day THE ENTIRE REST OF THE WHOLE DARN DAY with her nose buried somewhere in the middle of its hundreds of pages. The next day she went out and bought the entire series. I went with her to the bookstor, and let me tell you, that Twilight series is MANIA. The books are stacked dozens deep on the table at Barnes and Noble, and they're flying off the shelves, dancing down the aisle, flitting by the register, and walzing out the door. At Target I heard two girls arguing over who would get the last remaining book 3, and another girl on her phone was asking a friend if she should pick up books 4 and 5 for her, since she'd found them at last.

This is what I know, and let me confess right up front that I'm not predisposed to want to read them. Not that I have anything against entertainment literature (good god, you should see my personal collection of ridiculous romance novels), but I'm not particularly fascinated by vampires, especially ones that sparkle, as I've been told these ones do. Nor do I have a binding interest in gorgeous young men who fall passionately in love and then try very hard not to have premarital sex. I find the idea just stretches credulity too far. Crasey has sworn that they are just the bees knees, the be all and end all of fantastic, and a million kinds of wonderful. Beyond her able use of hyperbole, however, she has thus far failed to impress upon me what exactly it is that makes these books so wonderful.

So, any takers? Can anybody explain where these books came from, and why I ought (or ought not) to read them?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

You Look Mah'velous

You know, I've often spoken on this website about how fortunate I was to have been born with such an innate sense of glamor, such a powerful amount of glorious bouncy beautiful hair, and an inexplicable tendency to leave clouds of sparkly dust in the spaces I have moved through. And it's all true. I am the Jackie Kennedy of style, the arbiter of good taste, the summa cum laude of all that is trendy and fashionable.

The sad thing about this truth is how few people recognize it. Routinely they mock me! Disrespectfully they taunt me for believing in my superior fashion sense! Haughtily they laugh down their noses at my glorious wardrobe choices! Well mark my words, poppets, today marks the day in which these heedless ninnyhammers will rue their silly and reckless behavior. Today is the day they will discover the wonders of...


I know, I know. Try to contain your enthusiasm. Superdad, in his infinite wisdom, gifted me with this precious headpiece for Christmas this year, and I am poised to revolutionize the fashion world. Sure, fur has long been a staple, but not since mink stoles have ACTUAL ANIMAL BODY PARTS been a part of anybody's clothing. Witness, the transformative aesthetic powers of the racoon's tail. What grace, what fluidity, what elegant drapage!

I am so gorgeous when I wear this hat. So gorgeous, in fact, that Fernando the Latin Lover wrote a song just for me.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Hello there, my poppets, I'm sorry I didn't post earlier this week, but sweet lord I've been distracted. I am writing today from the family home in NC, and it's funny how I always forget how effing LOUD this place is. There are never fewer than 3 people talking at the same time, and, being AmazingPantses, each one of us is constitutionally incapable of not interfering in everybody else's business, and also, we fight endlessly over who gets the seat next to the fireplace (Umulu invariably wins), but dear lord I love this gang. I never laugh more, or get more hugs, more cheerful insults, and more unconditional love than I do right here. Yum, yum. I am so happy to be here with the people I love the most, and who love me the most. Compounding the glory, this morning I got a coonskin cap for Christmas. A genuine, Davy Crockett, tail-still-attached coonskin cap. I look marvelous.

I'm amazed at all the changes that have taken place while I've been gone. Captain Mommypants's cute little puppy Obadiah is now the size of a Shetland pony (no joke). The Fairy King also got a new puppy, a little Cairn terrier the size of a guinea pig; he and Obie are now BFF. It's hilarious to watch them playing together, and even more awesome when we separate them, cause they just stare wistfully at each other from across the room. "Oh please please please let me play with my new best friend!" I love dogs.

Bug is growing fast, but the best thing is how much better he's talking! Full-on, complete sentences. But I guess that's life, right? It just keeps ticking on, even when you leave the country for four months.

All right, sorry for the brief and decidedly mundane nature of today's post, but it's Christmas and Bug is calling me to go on a hike in the woods. For a brief second I deliberated: "Internet? Or hiking with my brother. Internet? Brother?" Sorry folks, but Bug won out. I'll check back in later. Hope you all are having wonderful holidays with wonderful people!

Love and all the other wonderful things,
Amazing Cheastypants.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

All I Know Is This Right Now...

One. I am getting on a plane in exactly 10 hours, and that plane will take me to the United States, where two of my best friends in the world are driving 2 hours down to San Antonio to pick me up cause I'm too cheap-ass to get a flight up to Austin. I love my friends.

Two. This whole scenario makes me happy. But I am happy for two reasons. First, because I'm going home, but (importantly), also because I'm excited about coming back in a month or so. Not so long ago I wouldn't have believed that possible.

Three. I will land in Texas at 3:30pm tomorrow afternoon, which means I am 25 hours away from having a cup of coffee with half and half in it. God is good. I've been craving half and half for so long and so hard that my dreams about it are positively scandalous.

Four. In the subsequent 72 hours after my arrival I am throwing a party, getting my hair done, meeting with my advisor, having lunch with friends, unpacking all my storage trunks to find winter-appropriate clothing, repacking my suitcase, getting on another plane and going to North Carolina, where I will be swept up in the bosom of my very large, loud, and boisterous family.

Five. Due to this incipient insanity, I will probably not be posting anything until Tuesday or Wednesday.

Six. I might be the luckiest human being alive and walking the planet today.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

My Nicaraguan Playlist

Those of you who've been following my little bloggie over the past few months have experienced Nicaragua right along with me, but I can't help but feel that maybe I've been holding out on you. I mean, sure, I've told you many tales of adventure, outrage, and hilarity, but I feel I owe you more. I've shared through stories, I've shared through pictures, but we here at Amazing Cheastypants believe in full-on, 3-D, six senses exposure to this little world I inhabit. So today I bring you a new feature I'm trying out: Memories: A Musical Extravaganza (!!!!). All right, so maybe it's not all that exciting. We don't have humans dressed as Cats, we don't have star-crossed lovers, goofy sidekicks, or dark and mysterious romantic heroes. What we have is a small collection of songs that range from the excellent to the ghastly. These are a few of the songs that for the rest of my life will hurl me back in time to the front seat of my friend Monica's car, to a crowded Managua city bus, to the backyard of my house here in the Nicaraguan capital. Granted, the list is not complete. Nobody, for example, can tell me who sings that really annoying and totally catchy little song that goes "la la la la la la la la la la." Googling lots of la's on the internet yields interesting but not particularly informative results, so that one's not on here. (I promise, you'd thank me if you knew what I was talking about.) Incomplete or not, however, here it is: my Nicaraguan Playlist. Some songs are wonderful, some songs are worse than the seventh circle, but for better or worse, these are the songs that have shaped the musical landscape of my four months in Nicaragua.

The Good:

Nicaragua, Nicaraguita, by Carlos Mejia Godoy. This song is iconographic. Mejia Godoy and his musical group are without contest the most famous musicians in Nicaragua. They got their start writing protest songs and revolutionary hymns back in the seventies, and this hymn to "Nicaragua Libre" (free Nicaragua) from 1979 is perhaps the most frequently played, commonly recognized song in the entire country. Catchy tune, sweet sentiment (Nicaragua I've always loved you, but now that you are free, I love you even more), and an accordion. What more could you ask for?

Ilusión, by Julieta Venegas and Marisa Monte. This song is brilliant. Monica bought Julieta Venegas's MTV Unplugged CD, and this song left us both agog. Several months of endless repeats ensued, and yet still I love it as much as I did the first time. Actually, more. Give it a listen; you can thank me later.

Honey Honey, by ABBA. I don't care how much you mock me, world, I refuse to be cowed into silence. I hereby declare to all and sundry, I LOVE THIS ABBA MUSICAL! I know the movie was borderline terrible, and yet I cannot help but think of it as transcendently gorgeous and emotionally fulfilling. Except for that part where Pierce Brosnan sings, but I can always fast-forward that. My housemate has the soundtrack, I have a bootleg copy of the movie, and this song runs through my head for at least 75% of every day. I luuuuuuuuuurve it!

The Bad:

Llamada de Emergencia, by Daddy Yankee. Have you ever been to a Central American nightclub? It is, in a word, wow. Bright flashing lights, murky clouds of cigarette and "atmosphere" smoke, music loud enough to stun cattle in the next county, and boisterous crowds of slick-haired, heavily-perfumed, scantily clad 18-year-olds gyrating their hips so aggressively it's a wonder they don't come unglued. And, of course, the ubiquitous slimy 50 year old men leering over their beers over at the bar. It's a love it or hate it kind of thing. "Ven aquí rápido, ven aquí rápido..."

Angel of the Morning, by The Pretenders. This song is near and dear to my Nicaraguan experience for a number of reasons. First, it is EVERYWHERE. Second, it is TERRIBLE (and by terrible, of course, I mean COMPLETELY WONDERFUL). And third, this one taxi driver. For the rest of my life I will never forget this guy: a short, sweaty, chubby taxi driver with a poorly thought out mustache, belting this song out at the top of his lungs as he drove me over to the Ministry of Health. "Yuss cowmi anyel, obdee mornin, anyelllll......"

Bon Jovi. I have a neighbor who is Bon Jovi's Number One Fan, and I don't mean that in a snarky or facetious way. He really loves Bon Jovi more than any other human being on this planet. He has an enormous stereo set up in his yard and EVERY. SINGLE. EFFING. DAY, he plays two songs, back to back at full volume. "Always," and "Bed of Roses." I've never seen this guy, but I imagine him looking like a Nicaraguan version of Joey Buttafuoco (or however you spell it). Wife beater tank top, graying pompadour, tight little beer belly, and a lawn chair. Some of us need God, some of us need booze, and some of us need Bon Jovi.


Bed Of Roses

The Ugly:

Another Day in Paradise, by Phil Collins. Oh, Managua city buses, how I love you. How I will miss you. Except, as we used to say in junior high, "NOT!!" (hehe) There was a period of about two or three weeks where I felt like every single stupid time I got on a soaking wet, grimy, steamy bus in the never-ending horrific rains and floating piles of garbage on flooded city streets, this song was playing. This part of my life was called "Cheastypants Contemplates Suicide In A Slightly Joking Manner," and this song DID NOT help. Not that there isn't a time and place for depressing-yet-contemplative-and-deeply-felt lyrics, but right then was not that time. It may be quite a while before I can ever forgive Mr. Collins for inflicting this song upon my life.

The End:

So that's it, my precious petunia-pantses. If you've even gotten this far, I congratulate you. If you've listened to even 50% of the songs, I take my hat off to you. If you've listened to them all, I crown you Emperor of the Universe Forever. It's been a trippy run down memory lane for me, but now our Memories: A Musical Extravaganza (!!!!) is over, and it is bedtime for l'il old Cheastypants. Sweet dreams, and a happy tomorrow to you all.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Out With A Bang

Oh, world, on this day I need you to celebrate with me. You are not going to believe what I just did today. In fact, I can't even believe it, and I did it. What I did was so outlandishly difficult, so completely, wildly inconceivable that I am still periodically reaching down to pinch myself, just in case I'm just dreaming it. You want to know what I did? Are you sure? Really?

God, I'm such a tease...

Today I single-handedly defeated the nefarious forces of officious bureaucracy. Or, as I like to call it, bureauCRAZY. (wacka wacka!) OK, so here's what happened. Remember that archive I told you about, the one that won't let me make any photocopies of documents older than 20 years old? And also, digital cameras are prohibited. The only alternative, and this is a hard and fast rule, is to buy scanned digital images that they make at the archive for THREE DOLLARS PER IMAGE. As a reality check, let me add here that I need to make literally a few thousand images. So let's say I want 1,000 copies, that's $3000. No. Effing. Way. I mean, in what world do they believe that that is a rational policy? As a final insult to rhyme and reason, the special top-secret private archive of the former Minister of Health is in that archive, and I've got 3 days to review the whole thing, and today when I requested photocopies of a whole passel of books and documents, I was immediately informed that these books were published in 1988, and were therefore off-limits for photocopying. But of course, I was welcome to order digital images. Are you kidding me.

Well the unbudging bastions of image reproduction have stymied me in the past; I've fumed and pleaded and gifted and groveled, all to no avail. And, oh sweet god, have I wanted to commit bloody murder on these otherwise sweet-natured people at the archive. This is something interesting about Nicaraguans, you see: in general, they are very laid back, and positively laissez-faire about life, almost to a perplexing degree. But give somebody a position of authority, an official-looking stamp, and some meaningless rules and regulations to follow, and holy mary mother of god, I have never met a more overzealous, bossy, needlessly minute group of people in my life. A friend of mine calls them "gatekeepers, rather than door-openers," and I think that's a very apt description. I cannot imagine a more frustrating experience than staring at the blank, occasionally malicious smile of an officious bureaucrat who knows he or she is not going to help, and is just sitting back to watch you beg, cajole, and fulminate. It's enough to make me want to get into a barfight, just so I can hit something.

Over the years I've spent in Latin America, however, it turns out that I have learned something about dealing with these gatekeepers, and today in a brilliant, sparkling, miraculous moment of synergy, it all came together and for the first time in my life, I won. Did you hear me? I. Won. Wow. I'm still not sure what divine spirit guided my words, how I knew when to push, to back off, to smile, to become more assertive, to question, and to offer incentives and alternatives, but somehow I worked my way past a librarian, her supervisor, and all the way up to the director of the library, and there, in the sanctum sanctorum of No-You-Can't, I convinced an absolutely immovable object of a library director to finally smile and say "Yes, you can."


So tomorrow my handy-dandy little digital camera and I are headed to the library to take approximately 1,500 pictures. Wish me luck and some dazzling dust of angels' wings to speed my trigger finger along its way.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Umulu is SO OLD!!

Dear Umulu,

I love you, my dear, more than I ever would have thought possible when we were 14 and 16 years old, physically strangling each other in the front seat of my station wagon over which radio station we were going to listen to on the way home from school. More than I would have thought possible when we were kids and I swore a million times that I would never talk to you again, EVER. Clearly, I was not entirely serious, even in my fury-fueled fits of righteous indignation, for at this point in my life, you are one of my favorite people to talk to, and one of the first people I turn to when things get rough. You are my sister and friend (I would say 'best friend,' but when one has four brothers and sisters, one must be semantically careful at all times), and I love you more than the stars, the moon, and the sun, and all the things in the universe. And, importantly, more than my luggage. Happy birthday, my pet. Welcome to getting older. Let me assure you that you don't have any wrinkles, have you lost weight?, your boobs are perkier than at any other time in your life, and you are still a million times smarter than me. Also, your eyebrows are a work of art.

I'd like now, in a gesture of supreme sisterly love, to catalogue all your fine qualities that I do not mean as a joke, even though all you did on my birthday was leave me a facebook message that said, "hey you never called me. i love you happy birthday!" I'm going to do this both because I love you, and because it will prove once and for all that I am a better person than you are. Finally, redemption!!!! Mwa-hahahahahaha!

First of all, I wasn't joking when I said you are beautiful, because clearly you are. Why just look at this:

You are one good-lookin' gal! But what is better than how beautiful you are on the outside is how truly, astonishingly, gorgeously wonderful you are on the inside. For a girl who routinely pretends in public to be a tough cookie, you are just one big walking mushball with a maternal streak a mile wide. This is actually hilarious, given that you routinely get frustrated with Captain Mommypants for being such a bleeding heart, when your entire life is one long struggle not to adopt every puppy and small child that walks by you. I must say, you've held out remarkably well in the face of such strong adoptive instincts, but you're getting old now, Umulu. Time to start taking in strays and knitting. I mean, after all, something's got to keep you warm on all those long cold lonely nights that stretch in front of you as a spinster. Trust me, I know. Nothing like a homemade afghan and a lapdog.

But this is not the only wonderful thing about you, my dear. Indeed, I could fill a book. You are limitlessly generous, intellectually curious, ferociously intelligent, and unstoppable when inspired to leap to somebody's defense. You are funny enough to leave me in stitches, an unabashedly terrible driver, and never more comfortable than when walking around the house in enormous sweatsuits when it is 80 degrees outside. Also, I have never met another person who can chew as much ice as you can. Positively pantagruelian.

As if all of these wonderful qualities weren't enough, there is one more that tops them all. This is the quality that makes me not only like you and love you, but has lead me to respect you tremendously. What I admire about you the most, Umulu, is your willingness to look hard at yourself, to evaluate your own behavior, and honestly and earnestly set yourself to the task of improving. It takes a particularly strong sort of person to be the super-awesome-wonder-ball that you are, and still look deep within yourself and ask in all seriousness, "Ok. But how can I be a better person?"

Over the years you have frustrated me, angered me, loved me, made me laugh, cheered me up when I was down, come flaming to the rescue when I was in trouble, and shared some of the most memorable experiences of my life with me. I love you, sister. I love you, I admire you, and when I'm old and cranky and full of wrinkles, I hope we can sit together in rocking chairs, surrounded by our millions of kids and lots of dogs, getting drunk, and singing all those old Irish folk songs that only we know.

Happy birthday, my dear. I love you.

Your Older, Wiser, and Infinitely Superior Sister, Amazing Cheastypants.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The First Blush of New Love

Dear Matagalpa,

Hello. I know we've just met, but I want you to know that I think I love you. Please don't be frightened; I'm not going to push you for commitment, at least not yet. I just want to explain why I think we're perfect for one another, in the hopes that one day you might agree, and we might live happily-ever-after for two months this spring.

There are a number of things I like about you, Matagalpa. Why just at first glance, I was entranced by the way you cuddled into the mountains, and the way little curls of woodsmoke artfully decorated your skyline. I was similarly charmed by your simple layout. Twenty blocks long, ten blocks wide, with two main thoroughfares running north and south. I do love symmetry, and the ease with which I learned to navigate your narrow cobbled streets made a little tingle run up my leg.

As I got to know you a little better, however, I realized that this passing crush had the makings of true love. For instance, I saw not one, but two garbage trucks in three days. That would be twice the number of garbage trucks I've seen in almost four months in Managua, and I felt my heart quiver. Also, everywhere I went, people wanted to meet me. "Why, hello!" they said, stretching out a hand in greeting. "I don't think you're from here. Welcome! How do you like Nicaragua? Oh, you're doing dissertation research on public health in the 1980s, you say? Why I have a million people you should meet. Here, let me give you their phone number and addresses. In fact, I'm not busy, I'll just come along and introduce you! Oh, that was fun, wasn't it. Where are you going now; do you have time for me to buy you a drink at this awesome coffee/restaurant/bar with great interior lighting and free wireless internet?" Though I tried to hold firm, Matagalpa, I believe that is when I truly started to envision a future for us together.

But was I sure? No, not really. I was hopeful, but not sure. Optimistic, but not sure. Bright-eyed and blushing, but not sure. Then I found the artisanal chocolate factory, and I was cooked. Matagalpa, you have a chocolate factory. Best of all, I quickly became close friends with the owner, ensuring a lifetime supply of delicious hand-made Nicaraguan chocolate bars and rum balls. Matagalpa, hear me out. It may have taken us 31 years to find each other, but I believe in my heart that we were destined to find one another. I love you, and I think you should love me back. I'm not sure what I will bring to this budding romance besides a delightful smile, some much-needed glamor, and my acres and acres of shiny bouncy beautiful hair, but shouldn't that be enough? Think about it, Matagalpa. I'll see you in a month and a half, at which point I think we ought to sit down and discuss our future.

Amazing Cheastypants.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Brief, Yet Contemplative, Lull

You know, I've been in Managua for a good long time now, and Managua is not a tranquil spot. It's loud and dirty and difficult to navigate and full of strange people that walk too close behind you on the sidewalk, or spit little bits of roasted corn or rice all over your lap when you sit next to them on a madly careening city bus. Or throw large rocks at your head. Don't get me wrong: you do meet nice people in Managua, but even among the nicest folk the general attitude is one of defensive alertness, and just that atmospheric tension can really wear you down.

I've been working in archives where getting information is like playing chess against Bobby Fischer. Hmm... if I move my rook to the right, will the librarian bring me the budget meeting notes that I'm sure she's keeping hidden? Or will she shut me down with an impervious and glacial stare, declaring that "it does not exist." Maybe if I soften her up with gifts she'll let me see the video archive of interviews with health workers that is currently, inexplicably, closed to the public? So I show up with a super-dooper awesome pen in some bright and silly color, and she smiles and thanks me and coos over the smooth rolling tip, but no. Those videos are off-limits, and will continue to be off limits until the VCR machine is fixed. I point out that maybe we could transfer the videos to another place at the university that has a functioning VCR machine, and affix a hopeful smile to my face. No. It is not permitted to transfer the videos. Period. At another archive I've been waiting 2 months for some photocopies that I requested. Two months. I've shown up three times to see if they are ready, only to be met with apologetic smiles and a heap of ridiculous excuses. After the first time I requested the librarian's phone number, and she gave me the number for a local video store. On the third time I arrived to find that the librarian was going to be on vacation until mid-January. No photocopies.

I've lived through 24 consecutive days of torrential downpours, flooded streets, moldy clothes, furniture, bedsheets, you name it. I've been around while the city ground to a near-total standstill for riots, protests, marches, rallies, tear gas, machete-wielding thugs, improvised weapons, homemade mortar explosions, burning buses and cars, and other delightful elements of an electoral meltdown.

Managua has worn me out.

I am in Matagalpa now, a small but busy little city up in the Nicaraguan mountains. I'm drinking rum and coke, debating what I'll order for dinner, and I just want to take a moment to appreciate the moment. I am by myself, in a very hip bar with great lighting, good music, and lively conversations taking place all around me. I've spent the day walking about, introducing myself to new people, explaining who I am, what my project is, and asking them if they'd be willing to sit down with a complete stranger and discuss their personal and medical histories with me. And people here are friendly. Curious. Helpful. Open. Not afraid, not warning me of impending danger around every street corner. Not trying to get in my way, not stopping me from having information. I got in a taxi this morning and did not fear that the driver might beat me up and rob me, which is a thought that always crosses my mind in Managua. I feel relaxed. Not in an "I'm on vacation" kind of relaxed, but in the "I'm just going about my business and everything's cool" kind of relaxed, which is an infinite relief to me.

I like being here.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I Love This Joke, Ten.

Superman was kind of in a funk. He and Lois Lane had broken up, and while he had since developed a massive crush on Wonder Woman, the feisty lady was having none of it. "No way, Superman," she'd told him. "I've had it with men in tights and capes. You're barking up the wrong tree." Superman was disheartened, but he continued to hope that one day his lady love would change her mind.

"Maybe she'll soften up to me when we're at the Superhero Convention in Vegas," he mused. His buddy Spiderman just laughed at him and told him to give it up, but Superman was pretty convinced that the convention would be his big opportunity. After all, what happens in Vegas... well, you know how it goes. So the next day he's flying through the air like a speeding bullet, on his way to the convention, and then, right there in the desert on the outskirts of Vegas, he sees something he never thought he'd see in his whole life. There on the ground lay Wonder Woman, totally naked, and arranged in a position that could only be called 'inviting.' "Woo-hooo!" thought Superman. "I was right! Boy oh boy, does she want me! It's my golden opportunity, and here I go!" And with a flick of the wrist and a dip of the head, zwooom! Down he swooped to take advantage of Wonder Woman's non-verbal offer.

Several hours later, Superman limped into the convention center. His eyes were blackened, his cape torn and dirty, and he was missing a couple of teeth. "Holy sheetballs, Soop!" exclaimed Spidey. "What in the heck happened to you?!"

"Well, remember how I told you I thought maybe Wonder Woman would want to hook up with me?" began Superman. Spidey nodded, and Superman told him how he'd seen Wonder Woman out in the desert, naked and spread out on the ground, and how he'd taken that for an invitation. "Ooooooh, man! And you got your ass kicked!" exclaimed Spiderman. "Looks like Wonder Woman was pretty surprised to see you!"

"Yeah, she was surprised all right," grumbled Superman, "but not half as surprised as The Invisible Man."

Ahhhh, wacka wacka wacka! Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Happy Birthday, Cheastypants!

Oh, you're never going to believe it, world. I, Amazing Cheastypants, have been on this planet 31 years, as of right now. I know, I know, the years have just flown by. Lucky for me, I am ageless. Thus, while having accumulated the wisdom and experience of 31 years, you would never know it to look at me. I have absolutely no wrinkles, nary a gray hair, and a startling lack of sagging bits. I only wish all of you could be so lucky. Perhaps this Christmas that will be my gift to the world: Amazing Cheastypants's Anti-Aging Potion. Also remarkably good for healing bruises when applied topically, and from time to time has been known to turn spontaneously into gold dust, which of course explains why the air often shimmers magically when I walk by.

So yes. It is my birthday, and while I've spend many years trying to pretend birthdays weren't that big a deal, and oh-i-didn't-want-to-draw-attention-to-myself and so on and so forth, I have now decided that is nonsense. It is my birthday, and I give you all, friends, family, internet, two assignments, both of which I hope you will enjoy.

Assignment Number One: As many of you know, on my friends' and families' birthdays I like to make a big deal out of the person whose birthday it is. Well now it's my birthday, and despite what I'm sure is my rather outsized ego, I'm certainly not going to wax lyrical about myself on this of all days. Instead, my precious petunias, I ask you to do it for me. Let loose your inner poet, unleash your deepest Dickens. You'll have to do it anyway when we eventually get around to my funeral, but frankly I'd rather hear it today. Enthuse away, world, and wish me a happy birthday, either in the comments, or via email. Happy birthday, Cheastypants!

Assignment Number Two: Your second assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to spread the birthday love. Go find that person you greet daily with a peck on the cheek and give them an "I haven't seen you in two years" hug. Write a letter (on paper! imagine that!) to the sister that lives on the other side of the country, and tell them how much they mean to you, and why. Get in contact with that 12th grade teacher that made you imagine life in a new way, and tell them thank you. Sit your children down and tell them exactly why they are the most special people in the universe, and how they're going to set the world on fire. I don't know, get creative, have fun with it, but do it. It'll make that person's day, and you'll help me pay back some serious karmic debt I owe from last May.

Last spring when I was in the living hell of preparing for my comprehensive exams, I went to housesit for a professor of mine right before the big test, and she had done one of the nicest things anybody's ever done for me. I walked in the house lugging bags and boxes of books, and found that every room in the house was covered in dozens of star-shaped yellow sticky notes with silly little encouraging slogans on them. "It's Cheasty's world," one of them proclaimed. "Everybody else just lives in it!" On the kitchen window: "You can't stop Cheasty, you can only hope to contain her!" I opened the bathroom door, and saw "Cheasty is a winner!" and "Cheasty is a superstar!" on the mirror. She'd left me a bottle of wine, carefully labeled "Cheasty's Special Elixir." (Am I really so transparent?) Anyway, point is, it probably only took her 10 minutes to do it, but those silly sticky notes made me smile, and made me feel more confident, more capable, and more supported in my task than I had before. I'll never be able to thank her enough for that extra boost to help me through a really tough time.

Spread the love!

Friday, December 5, 2008

I've Got a Golden Ticket

As I type this I am simultaneously thrilled and outraged, an emotional condition which, up until right now I did not know was metaphysically possible, but there you go. I am; thus, it is possible. Just one more of my Amazing Superpowers. Simultaneous opposite emoting.

I just had my long-anticipated interview with Dora María Téllez, formerly Comandante Dos of the FSLN, and also the ex-Minister of Health (1985-1990), which, of course, was why I wanted to talk with her. Public Health Girl, that's me. I am not one prone towards having personal heroes, but if I were, Dora María would be a top candidate for the position of Personal Hero to Amazing Cheastypants. (Hmmm. I like this idea. Perhaps I'll design some sort of decorative sash to go with the honor. Or a lovely little crown of laurel leaves?) Anyway, I was decidedly nervous going in to the interview. What if she thinks I'm an idiot? What if I'm so nervous I can only speak retardo-Spanish? (don't laugh, it's happened before.) What if I don't know whether to shake her hand or lean in for the Nicaraguan kiss cheek, and then we have that awkward hand-tugging-head-bobbing moment? Arrrrghghgh!

Well, I shouldn't have worried. The interview went as smoothly as can be expected, I managed to tell her it was an honor to meet her without sounding either a) dumb, or b) sychophantic, and she answered my questions in a business-like and concise fashion. Ta-daaa! A totally functional, pleasant, and productive interview. As we wrapped things up, however, that's when this simultaneous opposite emoting began.

"So, Amazing Cheastypants," said Dora María. "Have you looked at the collection of all my documentation from when I was the Health Minister?"
"Um, no," I responded, feeling very very dumb. "Where is it kept?"
"Why right here in the archive downstairs!" she exclaimed, looking surprised. "Don't tell me you haven't looked in this archive yet!?"
"Well, actually, I have, several months ago," I managed to say. "They showed me a lot of different documentation, but nothing from your collection."
"Huh!" exclaimed Dora María. "Well, let's send somebody down there to make sure you're allowed to see it, then, ok?"


So the takeaway here is actually fantastic. I will be the first person ever to look at and work with these thousands of pages of documentation right from the desk of the former Minister of Health. Score. As quality documentation is thin on the ground around here, this could really, really help me out.

The frustrating part is that, due to national holidays, scheduled archive closures, a necessary trip up to Matagalpa to set up my oral history project, and a departure date of Dec. 19, I only have about 4 days to look over all the documents and order photocopies, which means I can't really even read them. I've just got to look, evaluate, decide, move on. Copy all that looks relevant and hope I'm right. I'm going to pull all my hair out.

I wrote a couple of months ago about how frustrating it is to use archives in Latin America, because in the absence of any good cataloguing system, you've got to describe your project to a librarian and just hope he or she brings you everything in their stacks that might be relevant. I am always convinced that they don't actually do that, but I've tried to chalk it up to different training, different ways of approaching history? Maybe because they don't really understand how I'm looking at a question, they bring me only the most obvious documentation? But here, now, I cannot imagine why, when I said I'm studying public health in Nicaragua during the 1980s, they didn't ever show me the collection from Dora María Tellez.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Question, In All Seriousness

My sister Umulu sent me and another glamorous single friend of ours the following email this morning:

Per Gail Collins in today's New York Times: “Single women comprise between 43 percent and 51 percent of the adult women in the country, depending on how you count.”

We are doomed.

My initial response to such depressing news is to buy a dilapidated house with a sagging front porch and begin collecting cats. I am one of many, and my chances look dim. On the other hand, I'm only 30, (all right, I'll be 31 in a very short few days, but who's counting) and while I know women have this whole biological clock thing to worry about, I'm entirely open to adoption, and not entirely enthusiastic about the process of squeezing something the size of a basketball out of a hole the size of a marble. Plus, as my mother informed me last Christmas, one does not need to be married in order to have babies. (Captain Mommypants is a minister, by the way. A woman of God. After decades of telling me to save it for marriage, you could've scraped me off the floor with a spatula after she told me to go ahead and start reproducing as a singleton.) So let's take my child-bearing shelf-life off the table for the moment, and just focus on this marriage thing.

Do I really want it? I mean, for the longest time I assumed, as does almost every little girl, that I would find somebody. Do I want to get married? Sure! Who doesn't? In fact, I thought I would marry at 24, have my three children at ages 26, 28, and 30, and ta-daaa! That was the plan I wrote in my journal when i was 14. I'm pretty sure the next step was to become the president. Or a movie star. Now, however, I wonder whether that's even something I want. Not the movie star thing, the marriage thing. Duh. Who doesn't want to be a movie star?

I guess what I've been pondering is what marriage means to me. Is it a religious sacrament? A civil contract? What does it mean to say you're married to somebody, versus just in a relationship? I guess there are some nice tax breaks, and I know my mother would luuuuuurrve to officiate a marriage ceremony for one of her children. Plus, you get some nice presents, and lord knows I could use a new blender, not to mention a knife set. But I'm not particularly religious, so what would it mean to promise God or the government to stay with somebody until death do us part? Plus, from what I hear, marriage is seriously stressful. It must have it's charming parts as well, or why else would people do it, but I can't quite see past the big white dress to understand what those perks might be.

Then I look at my life, at how I live, and I wonder whether this marriage thing should really be a goal, as it has been for so long. I like my life. I like my lifestyle. I love my family and my friends, I like the freedom I have. I think I'd like to have a man to be my special partner, my buddy, the person who always stands by me, but I suspect I may have read too many romance novels to tell whether that's a realistic goal. Of course, I'm so single I could be a file (hehe. get it? single file. hehe. god i'm funny), so this exercise is purely academic right now, and by no means am I saying I don't want to get married; I guess I'm just thinking things over.

So what do you say, married folk out there. Is it worth it? What's it like?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Moxi and her Hijo

So here's a fun story.  About three weeks ago, as many of you know, my wonderful and fluffilicious friend Moxi the Amazing Fifi Poodle arrived here in Nicaragua to visit me and have a wild and crazy vacation time. Those first few days, however, I was still finishing up some archival work, and had send to her off on her own. This made me a little nervous. Why? Well for one thing, Moxita is a real head turner with bright blonde curly hair, beautiful blue eyes, a great smile, and her figure is way more va-va-va-voom than Olive Oyl, if you know what I mean. Here in Nicaragua men are not at all shy about following, touching, talking to, and harassing women they find on the street. Also, though Moxi is a multi-lingual wunderkind, she doesn't speak a word of Spanish. Well, that's not exactly true. Perhaps it's more accurate to say that she speaks just enough Spanish to get herself in trouble. Nonetheless, she was confident and brave, so she set off with her camera and some carefully detailed handwritten notes in her pocket, and when I came home several hours later, I found her like this:

Just kidding. Really she looked more like this, only without the volcano as backdrop.

"Hey, Moxita, you're back! How was your trip to Masaya?" I asked, as we relaxed that evening with a bottle of rum (weee-hee-hee-hee!).
"Oh, it was really fun, Cheasty! I loved Masaya, and the people all wanted to talk to me a lot."
"Really? What'd they say?"
"Well this one guy in the town square was trying to sell me some nuts..."
"He he. Nuts. He he."
"Oh, Cheasty, you're so funny! I love it when you make erudite jokes that make me laugh."

OK, she didn't say that. But I did make some sort of "deez nuts" joke, I'm almost positive. Cause that's the kind of funny gal I am. Now, back to the story.

"Yeah, he kept following me around and saying that I was bonita and his nuts were exelente portamente! So finally I bought some nuts so he would leave me alone, but that didn't work, because then he started asking me if I had a boyfriend."
"Ooh, was he cute?"
"Well, he was only about 10 years old."
"Wow, that's cheeky!"
"Yeah, I know! He kept following me around and asking me "tiene un hijo?" until finally I said yes to scare him away."
"Um, Moxi, hijo means son, not boyfriend. He was asking if you have any children, not if you are in a relationship."

Moxi stares at me for a second, then bursts into peals of laughter.

"Ooooh hooo hooo hooo! Waaa-hahahahaaaa!" she guffawed. I laughed along, but then her reaction seemed a little outsized, so I probed for more info.
"So what'd the kid do when you told him you had a son?"
"Oh, he asked me how old he is," Moxita gasped, wiping tears from her eyes. (Moxita always cries when she laughs really hard. It's one of her more endearing traits).
"So how old is your son, Moxi?"I laughed, finally getting the joke.
"Th-th-th-thirty-two!" spluttered my 28-year-old friend, before collapsing into a hysterically laughing blob on the couch. "And he's very big and strong," (pause for wheezing gasps of laughter), "and has a m-m-m-mustache!!"

Ah, yes. They breed them large in Germany.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Travel Divas, Part III (sort of)

Hello there, world, it's Cheastypants again. I know Umulu and I were supposed to author the last installation of our Travel Divas story together and post it on Sunday, but circumstances beyond our control intervened. And by "circumstances beyond our control," of course, I mean copious amounts of rum and a gathering of affable folk. Much merriment ensued, and we did not write our Travel Divas Travelogue on Saturday night. Sunday morning Ums was on a plane back to Texas, which leaves the onerous task to me, your regularly-scheduled raconteur. Hope you aren't too disappointed.

So where did we leave off? Wednesday night, was it? Thankfully, there isn't that much left to tell. On Thursday morning we bid a misty-eyed farewell to León and the Hotel La Perla, our new favorite place in the world, and made tracks for Granada, stopping en route to pick up our friend Mariana de la Noche from the airport in Managua. Mariana and Umulu are, like, BFF back from their wild-and-wolly college days, while she and I have formed a more recent friendship based on common interests and living in Central America.

Granada is widely touted as the most beautiful colonial city in Nicaragua; the Lonely Planet (whose dubious merits I've already discussed in an earlier post) describes the city as "Nicaragua at its most photogenic," but personally, I think they're dead wrong. I mean, sure, the buildings have been freshly painted, but add to that the super-touristy atmosphere and aggressive begging culture, and just give me León any day. I mean, who wants to sit at a sidewalk cafe while children come up and press their bellies to your table, asking you to give them your lunch and a couple dollars? Oh, and massive Diva Points to Umulu. As we were getting ready to eat our lunch, this seriously unhinged homeless guy walking up the sidewalk reached over, grabbed the chicken off the top of her salad, and then ran off to a safe distance where he waved it in the air and laughed at us (wha-ha-haha! I got your chicken, bitches!) while alternately shoving it in his mouth and then spitting it out again to wave it at us. Ugh. Justifiably, Ums was a little put off her meal, but she gamely "ate around it" and didn't insist that we leave immediately and check into a Four Seasons. Way to go, little sis! We spent an afternoon wandering around from coffee to snacks to dinner, but when all was said and done, we were kind of anxious to be on our way the next day.

Wanna know where we were going? You're going to be shocked when I tell you. No really, you'd better sit down for this, cause you're not going to believe it. Ok, ready? We went..... to the Laguna de Apoyo!!! I know, I know. What a surprising move. This was what, my fourth visit? Well, sue me. I love it. In fact, I luuuuuurve it. I also luuuurve the place we stayed at, a small hotel on the lakefront called The Crater's Edge. All you travelers out there? Adjust your itinerary and make a stop here. So here our story really stops, because while lazing around in hammocks, lying on the floating dock, swimming in crystal clear blue-green water, eating delicious food and relaxing in the sun are all very very eminently wonderful things to do, let's face it. It makes for a boring story. As a highlight, I might point out with pride that Umulu has finally come over to the Dark Side and started using sunscreen. As a result, for perhaps the first time in her life, she went home with a tan, and not a sunburn. Hooray! Proof that you really do get smarter as you get older. Not that she's old. I'm just saying, you know? And that's really it, folks. Planes were caught, rental cars returned, and real life has returned.

I'm still trying to get the Laziest Librarian In the World to finish making the photocopies I ordered two months ago, I've got one heck of a job in front of me trying to organize my oral history project that I'll be doing in January and February, and to make it all better, I've been struck down by some stomach virus today, which is complicating things, given my limited time frame. Ugh. But, never fear, my Amazing Spirit and Bouncy Hair will prevail and all shall end well. Now if only I could get my neighbor to take Bon Jovi's "Bed of Roses" off repeat play... Seventeen days till Austin!

Monday, December 1, 2008

The White Flag of Surrender

All right, fine. I admit it. I may have inadvertently started a little war, and I suppose it now falls to me to end it. So here I am, waving a white flag of surrender, though it pains me bitterly to do so.

It all started innocuously enough. My friends Mutt and Nan (tricksters and merry-makers the both of them) have a blog in which they are chronicling their year in Panama while Mutt does his dissertation research. Nan isn't much of a dancer, and when they posted an entry about Nan voluntarily getting out on the dance floor, I might have posted a comment encouraging her to learn to dance really well. So well, in fact, that she'd make Mutt look silly (all right, I might have said 'bad') and then we could both laugh at him. While I meant this in a purely jocular manner, I confess that this might not have been the most polite thing to write, though it is entirely in character for our friendship.  Mutt and I mock each other mercilessly.  It's a hobby. But after my comment, Mutt posted this response:

Dear Ms. Amazingcheastypants,

As editor of this fine publication, my job entails monitoring and deleting all inappropriate and offensive comments. Your comment above has undergone an intensive investigation and review process by our editorial board. We have decided to leave your boarder-line threats posted for the time being. Please note that Mutt's feelings are easily hurt and he does not liked to be laughed at, especially on an online forum. We expect that you will take more responsibility for your online chatter.

All the best,

The Editors of the xxRedactedxxx Post

My response was probably misguided: "Mutt smells like socks."

They responded via email:

Dear Ms. Amazingcheastypants,

This is your final cease and desist notice from the editorial board at the Potsusaker Post. We are prepared to take legal action if necessary. Also, if I (Mutt) had my way I would delete ALL your comments. Fortunately for you, my editorial colleague (Nan) vetoed my "rash" response. But I am prepared to take my own course if pushed.

The Editors at the Postusaker Post

ALL my comments?!  I'll have you know that ALL of my comments are quite nice, thank you very much.  And how about that sign off: "threateningly"? I'll show you threateningly... 

I may or may not have informed Mutt that I'd hired a lawyer who went by the nickname "Bonecrusher," after which Mutt let me know that he was "not afraid to use guerrilla tactics on yo' ass." The emails got progressively feisty from that point. The back-and-forth included such exchanges as:

It's a free country, and I can write anything I want! Like check this out: Merry Chistmas. Is it Christmas? No. Can you stop me? No! I win.


Oh please. Words are like lightning to my thunder. Start counting:
one thousand one, one thousand two, ....

Then Mutt went rogue. I got an email from Townhall.com that went something like this, "Dear Amazing, We are so happy to add you to our weekly email report. Conservatives of the world unite!" Then I got one from Rush Limbaugh. Then Ann Coulter (with a special offer to buy her new book "If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans." Hyuck, hyuck). Then Chuck Norris. "Dear Fellow Conservative," he wrote...

Oh, ho! I thought. Two can play that game! So I signed him up for the Log Cabin Republicans, Martha Stewart, and one other I can't remember now. Then I got emails from Pat Buchanan, Mitch McConnell, and the Conservative DVD and Book Club, which informed me that I was also subscribed for "Carefully selected offers from Third Parties." Oh, righteous indignation!! And then I couldn't unsubscribe from Rush Limbaugh without the zip code he used to sign me up, and it wasn't mine, so I couldn't unsubscribe AT ALL. I tried for a truce:

Dear Mutt,
All right, no more signing each other up for republican porn sites. i can't unsubscribe from rush limbaugh without the zip code you entered, and mine didn't work. which one did you use? also, can't unsubscribe from Mitch McConnell. damn you, republican porn star. damn you!

Mutt was unresponsive to my request:

Why Amazingcheastypants, why do you think I would do something like that? That's so terrible!

whoo whoo whoo haaa haa!! I'm laughing so hard my stomach hurts! It was worth spending an entire Saturday morning being mischevious.

So, is that a white flag of surrender? There is a chance that I could remember the zip... But since I'ma responsible warlord, I only sit down for negotiations after certain preconditions are met. Namely, you waving a white flag of surrender. I'm far too busy just to sit down with enemies and chit chat over truffles.

Also, has Senator Joseph Lieberman contacted you yet about how to support independent voices while living abroad?

Up next: Governor Palin, Sean Hannity (he'll hannitize your inbox), and the soft-spoken delights of Ann Coulter.

The Enemy You Should Have Thought Twice About,

Mutt, republican pornstar diva

Surrender? Never! In a fit of pique, I went back online to sign Mutt up for more stuff, but (and this really pains me to admit it) in the heat of battle I froze. My starch wilted, my upper lip de-stiffened, my righteous indignation and spark of mischievousness deserted me. I started to feel a little guilty (oh, traitorous emotion!). I did not immediately surrender - in fact, I blustered for a while, informing Mutt that "The flaming sword of justice swings always at my hip, and a crown of laurel leaves adorn my noble brow. A lowlife Republican Porn Star such as yourself may fashion wings of wax, but beware flying too close to the sun, my child. As much as you bedevil me, I would mourn the loss of such an able adversary. Yours in egregious excellence, Amazing Cheastypants." Sadly, I didn't mean a word of it, and he called my bluff. As much as I hate to ever admit defeat, I am about to surrender to an evil adversary who has proved himself far superior to me in the fine art of internet war.

Mutt, I am waving the White Flag of Surrender. Please accept my hand in friendship and reconciliation.  I think you dance beautifully, and you decidedly do not smell like socks.  

Now will you please unsubscribe me from Rush Limbaugh?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Travel Divas, Nicaragua, Part II

Editor's note: The following travel writing was co-authored by Amazing Cheastypants and her wonderful sister Umulu on Thanksgiving Day. Part III to follow tomorrow.

Travel Divas Strike Again, Part II

For those who haven’t been here before, Nicaragua is a country with a rich and storied history – one often intertwined with U.S. history, though not always in a positive way. For example, back in the early 20th century, the U.S. staged a hotly-contested military occupation of Nicaragua that lasted over 20 years and engendered one of the first guerrilla wars ever waged. Eventually, however, we withdrew after setting up a puppet president about whom FDR once famously remarked, “He’s a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” Several sons of bitches later, the Nicaraguan people would rise up and the Sandinistas would execute the second successful social revolution in Latin American history. Sadly, the Sandinistas danced too close to American fears of communism, and as part of our attempt to “stem the red tide” in the 1980s, the Reagan administration funded the Contra War, with disastrous effects for Nicaragua’s social infrastructure, particularly in the arenas of health and education. This has had predictable long-term consequences for Nicaragua’s political and social development, though with a healthy dose of internal corruption and bureaucratic incompetence (and, most recently, election fraud), in some arenas it seems that the country has hamstrung itself. Today, Nicaragua is the second-poorest country in the western hemisphere, Haiti having won the day in a photo-finish.

Troubled history and present challenges aside, however, Nicaragua is a fascinating place to visit. It possesses the beauty typical of Central America, with lush mountain vistas, brightly colored flora and fauna, friendly people, and a large quantity of semi-starved livestock wandering around the streets. Don’t worry, the locals know who owns them.

The plan was to hit up a few key locations for Emily to see the country, learn some history, and get a tan, while Cheasty relaxes in the wake of some truly frightening post-electoral violence in Managua. Accordingly, the first two days were spent at a locally-famous beach resort named Montelimar, highly recommended by the Lonely Planet. Before continuing, we’d like to pause for a brief public service announcement about The Lonely Planet Tour Guides. Please adhere to the following rule of thumb: when traveling in Latin America, always assume that no matter what the Lonely Planet tells you, the exact opposite is likely true. In 2003, the Travel Divas braved South America with a Lonely Planet guide written by a series of authors, the majority of whom, a CNN exposé would later reveal, had never set foot on the continent. Thus, we once visited an Argentinian town touted in the LP as “the Berkeley, California of South America.” Allow us to assure you this was not the case. To this day we have a running joke that uses the line “the Berkeley of South America,” to signify something so incongruous to expectations as to induce cardiac arrest, hysteria, or impromptu fainting spells.

Nonetheless, we once again find ourselves at the mercy of the Lonely Planet, and suffice it to say, Montelimar was hilarious, mostly because of the terrible food and exceedingly bad mood music. It was the Clampetts go to Maui, except we were Maui and Montelimar was the Clampetts. It was like going to dinner at your neighbor’s house, and she tells you she’s busting out the good china for the meal. Then you look down and find Elvis Presley peering up at you through your peas. Have you ever had fish cooked so hard that when it hits your plate it clatters? What about pasta pomodoro that turns out to be tomato soup over mushy noodles? A pancake that was so hard to chew Umulu actually spat it out? To be fair, all would have been well had we not landed at the tail end of a tropical depression, but instead of sunbathing and windsurfing, the steady rains kept us actively engaged in a murderous bout of Rummy 500 and occasional hysterical bursts of laughter as we pondered our circumstances.

Happily, we have moved on. En route to our next destination, Cheasty disproved years of Umulu’s skepticism about her older sister’s “superior driving skills,” navigating with the skill of a rally driver some of the worst roads either of us have ever seen, even with our combined experience in developing nations. “How bad?” you ask? These weren’t potholes, they were cavernous pits that would’ve taken out the axle out of a Panzer tank if hit at more than 10 kilometers an hour. Tricky going, but we made it, and boy did we make it.

Mark your calendars, folks, for your upcoming vacation to Nicaragua. The Hotel La Perla in León is FANTASTIC. Owner Jim Petersen has done a stunning job restoring this neo-classical architectural gem in the heart of one of the oldest, most beautiful, and historically significant colonial cities in Central America. Here’s where you find William Walker and his Fillibusters, major events in the Sandinista Revolution, the home of famous poet Rubén Darío, and other key historical events and figures, all of which are depicted in beautiful murals throughout the city. Our wonderful tour guide Julio, of Julio Tours, did a wonderful job interweaving his own personal history and experience of the revolution with the broader national historical narrative, and again, we would highly recommend his services should you ever chance this way. Last but not least, we also spent several fascinating hours wandering through the Ortiz Modern Art museum, where Umulu, truly not a fan of modern art museums (no really, ask her some time about an exhibit called “Light Turning On and Off” for the full measure of her disdain) found herself enthusing over the exhibits just as much as Cheasty did. It was really something special. While the art collection itself is widely acknowledged to be the best in Central America, the setting is amazing, and enhances the experience. Housed in a Spanish-style colonial mansion, the interior courtyards, fountains, stucco walls, tile roof, and enormous shutter windows lend ambience and grace to what is already a memorable art collection. We loved it.

This afternoon we whiled away the time with delicious rum and cokes, gossiped and chatted with Jim the Affable Owner, and dined on typical Nicaraguan food at a nearby restaurant. A lazy half hour in the plaza and an unexpected Carnaval-style parade rounded off the evening, and we find ourselves winding down for a long winter’s nap. (ha ha.) Tomorrow we’re off to pick up our friend Meredith at the airport, and head to Granada, another famous colonial city here in Nicaragua. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. Love and kisses to those for whom love and kisses are appropriate, and warmest greetings to everybody else.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Continued Adventures of Umulu and Cheastypants

Editors note: The following series of updates from Nicaragua were co-authored by Amazing Cheastypants and her beloved sister Umulu. The story of our week-long vacation will be serialized over the next few days, but here is the first installation, written a few days ago. First, a little background...

Travel Divas Strike Again

For those of you new to this travelogue series, Travel Divas began back in 2003 when Umulu and Cheasty, sisters and friends, took off for the wilds of South America with only a leaky tent, a sense of adventure, their backpacks, and, who are we kidding, several carry-on bags for company. Adventures, discoveries, near-death experiences, and handsome Australian fire-fighters ensued. We would expect no less of Travel Divas.

“But what is a Travel Diva?” we hear you ask. Why that’s an excellent question! Let’s see. Ideally, Travel Divas are laid-back, open-minded, economical, compassionate, and above all, competent travelers. For example, a Travel Diva would never leave her map on the plane (Cheasty). She would never fail to bring water on a bike trip in a desert so dry the houses do not have roofs (Umulu). And she would NEVER trust a travel agent with a walrus moustache, no matter how paternal and trustworthy he appears. (Damn you, Mr. Danannaman!) On the other hand, Travel Divas would take off on bikes with a hand-drawn map instead of signing up for the 15-person guided tour of the salt flats. She would carry her sister’s backpack out of the wilderness when that sister is injured, or lend an encouraging hand when her sister is afraid of heights. She knows when it’s worth it to chuck the Ramen noodles and order a steak and a fine Cabernet, and she knows how to smile gamely and keep chewing when whatever it is you’ve got to eat isn’t really what you’d like to eat. To be a Travel Diva, in other words, is to seize the moment, to maximize the opportunity, all while preserving life and limb for future forays into The Great Unknown.
As independent travelers, neither one of us really lives up to the dream that is Travel Divascocity. Cheasty’s a little too cheap and a little too laissez-faire, while Umulu routinely makes a bee-line for the nearest walrus moustache or Four Seasons Hotel, whichever is closest. Together, however, we are greater than the sum of our parts. As a team, we are Travel Divas, and oh, the adventures we’ve had together.

Which explains how now, in 2008, Emily found herself boarding a plane for Nicaragua, a country that appeared to be on the brink of civil war, with four bikinis, ten romance novels, five U.S. dollars in cash, and a tiny bottle of hand sanitizer. The plan was for Cheasty to pick up Ums at the Managua airport at 9pm sharp, but having learned from The Terrifying Incident of Lost in the Desert, not to mention The Astonishingly Frightful Episode of Where is My Scuba Diving Buddy, we had a five-fold contingency plan that involved both the U.S. Embassy, the world-famous Intercontinental Hotel, and 25 different phone numbers. Astonishingly, the one time we were actually prepared for disaster, it turned out to be completely unnecessary, and the next morning we set off for what turned out to be the relative comfort of a slightly sketchy Nicaraguan beach resort.

Turn in tomorrow to see what happens as our Travel Divas take on Nicaragua...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

For My Family On Thanksgiving

Oh, who are we kidding. For my family? Six of the seven members of the AmazingPants clan will hate me for this, but my littlest brother will love it. This is for you, Bug, your favorite song in the world. Delight yourself endlessly.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. Wish I were there with you all at Granddad and Julie's place, but Umulu and I will do our best to find a fine turkey dinner here in Nicaragua. Gobble, gobble, gobble!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Of Yogurt and Other Natural Wonders

Do you ever get the feeling that whatever it is you're supposed to be taking away from a certain situation is not at all what you're taking away? I sometimes wonder about myself. For example, all I remember from 7th grade social studies class is that there was a boy behind me whose first name rhymed with his last name in iambic pentameter, and one day he pulled out every single eyelash on his left eye. Shouldn't I remember something more social-studies-ey than that? Shouldn't I be able to tell you the exact powers of the electors in the electoral college? Shouldn't I be able to expound upon the details of the Missouri Compromise? Nope. All I can tell you is that my 7th grade social studies teacher was rumored to be having a torrid affair with my homeroom teacher, who used entirely inappropriate amounts of hairspray. An embarrassing take-away for a student who did her homework diligently, but there you have it. I'm impressed by all the wrong things.

I have the slightly unsettling feeling that this might also be the case for my recent trip to the mountains with Moxita the Amazing Fifi Poodle and Varunski. You see, I know for a fact that we saw beautiful mountains, visited glorious coffee farms, explored cool places and met interesting people. But for the rest of my life I think I will only remember the yogurt.

"The yogurt?" you ask in patent disbelief. "Yes, the yogurt," I reply. You'd have to have seen it to believe it, but I have never had yogurt like this before, and I doubt I ever will. This was a magical and blessed yogurt. Just take a look at this:

I should probably say up front that if you're not a yogurt lover, the glories I am about to describe may be lost on you, in which case I apologize, and encourage you to scroll down to see boisterous photos of our Leap-a-Palooza. But for you yogurt lovers, I will rhapsodize intemperately. Have you ever had a yogurt like this? So light, so textured, grainy and yet smooth, tart and yet slightly sweet, with just the perfect amounts of fat to roll across your tongue; it was an experience that reduced us (only momentarily, I assure you) to stunned silence. Wildest of all, however, was the consistency. I have never in my life had a yogurt quite this sticky, though sticky seems an inappropriate word for it. Like taffy, when you picked up a spoonful, it stretched and maintained viscosity in a stunning and beautiful way. You could stretch it and curl it and whirl it around, and the yogurt wouldn't break, but somehow, magically, it still tasted light as a feather. I will never understand, but I will always remember. For the rest of my life when talking about this vacation I will tell a story that begins with "Oh, and this one time I had the greatest yogurt." Embarrassing, but true.

After Moxita and I had finished our first little bowls of Magic Yogurt, we stared disconsolately into the bottom of our bowls and contemplated crying. Then it struck us: we could order more! Oh, joy, oh bliss! Dance of Immoderate Joy! As the waiter approached with our new bowl of yogurt our fingertips tingled, and sparks flew from the haloes around our heads. My boisterous curls woke up from their Long Nicaraguan Siesta to bounce briefly upon my head. Then Moxita dipped her spoon in and we almost cried. It wasn't the same at all. Oh, it was still delicious and beautiful, but not stretchy, not so grainy and light. I was just your run-of-the-mill very excellent yogurt, and you'd have thought from our reaction that it was the worst thing ever in the history of the universe. What is this dreck?! Where is our Magic Yogurt?! BRING ME MY MAGIC YOGURT!!!!!!!

We hammed it up for a while, filmed a video, which hopefully I can someday put up on youtube cause it's hilarious, and took loads of hilarious pictures like the following one. I love this picture for two reasons. One, Moxita really does feel as bummed out as she looks, and two, LOOK AT MY FACE.

So let me sum up by saying that the rest of the vacation really was wonderful. We cruised around the mountains, then headed out to the lake, and enjoyed a peaceful few last days together in my favorite place in the world. Let me recommend, for any who travel this way, the Crater's Edge, a small hotel/hostel on the edge of the Laguna de Apoyo. Absolutely charming, both in terms of the location, the owner, and the food. I could've died happy there, but it was not to be, thank goodness, and now I'm with my dear sister Umulu on wonderful adventures of our own, which I'll tell you about shortly. Travel Divas strike again. Love to you all, my poppets. I'll end with some fabulous pictures of leaping, because I'm sure you haven't seen enough of those yet. :)

And just for shits and giggles, these two, which I love: