• the quotidian (2.25.13)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace

    The diligent student: up at 5:30 to do homework.

    Organizing my kitchen: in lieu of cabinet space, a bunch of new baskets.

    Lunch for one: flour tortilla, beans, avocado, tomato.


    Using up the care package colored chalk all in one glorious, messy go.
    (Thank you, Zoe!)

    Curtain-filtered sunlight: I slept in till 6:30 yesterday morning! Such luxury!

    A small rug for our bedroom, purchased in Santiago Atitlán.

    My study: yet to come, a little bulletin board, shelf, and a couple potted plants.
    Fixed: the old washing machine!
    (I’ve named it The Santa Maria
    because something as miraculous as this
    deserves a name.) 

    Dr. Seuss trees: they’re everywhere!

    Boys and a dead snake on a stick.

    Boys and firecrackers.
    Filling up the pool at The Big House.

    Power outage: supper by candlelight.
  • birds and bugs

    The other day I stepped out on the porch and my daughter screamed at me to stop.I looked down.

    What I thought was a stick—and what I nearly stepped on—was a bug, er rather, a very large and scary-looking millepede.

    We all gathered ’round, snapping photos, gesticulating wildly, and trying to ascertain (by drawing on our vast stores of millipede knowledge) whether or not the creature was poisonous.

    We finally decided it was better dead than alive—aren’t bright colors often synonymous with I’m Poisonous Please Kill Me…or did I just make that up?—and the creature was disposed of.

    (Since then, we’ve found them in the house. Also, I’ve learned that they are not poisonous. This, however, does not make me not like them any less.)

    A couple days later, José came running up to the door. A bird had just crashed into their window, he said. It was lying on the ground, stunned, and since I like to take pictures, he thought I might want to come see it.

    I didn’t really react—I’m not much of a bird person, let alone a stunned bird person—so, when José realized I wasn’t hopping to it, he brought to bird to me.

    And then I saw why he was so excited. It was a hummingbird.

    Well. I got my camera out right quick and did that poor stunned bird some photography justice.

    I had never seen a hummingbird up close—it’s miniscule body and shimmering feathers were quite the eye candy.

    It started waking up a little, opening its beak (can you imagine the
    headache it must’ve had, crashing into hard glass with that pointy
    thing?) and flicking its tongue. José carried it back up to the house and gently set it free.

  • pan-fried tilapia

    A little while back, our neighbors gave us a couple pounds of frozen tilapia fillets. Unsure of how to proceed, I stuck them in the freezer and let them sit there for a couple weeks. But then this past Saturday, with the dreary, rainy weather threatening to pull me under, I decided a special supper was in order.

    The fish-giving family had said that we should fry the fillets, but I’m no expert, so I resorted to Google. However, Google was decidedly unhelpful, so later on when my husband headed down to visit the neighbors just for anyhow, I had him call back up with their recipe.

    “Salt the flour till you can taste it,” my husband explained over the cell phone. “Dip it in egg and then the flour—do it two times to make it extra crispy. And then fry it in lots of oil, about a half inch.”

    I did just that (plus boiled a bunch of broccoli and made some lime-chili butter to garnish the rice) and we all went wild and pigged out. (Except for my younger daughter, but she didn’t count because she had a bad attitude.) The next day after church, we ate the leftover fish in sandwiches.

    The decision is unanimous (except for the younger daughter who doesn’t count): we have to make the fish fry a weekly tradition.

    (That night when my husband was visiting the neighbors, he got to watch the father process a fish. After catching a tilapia, he simply sliced off the fillets on either side of the fish without even killing it and then tossed the carcass in a bucket. That’s it. The fish didn’t even flop around, my husband said. I’m equal parts impressed and grossed out.)

    Pan-Fried Tilapia

    1-2 pounds of tilapia fillets
    1-2 cups of flour
    lots of salt
    lots of black pepper
    4 eggs
    1-2 cups of oil

    In one bowl, beat the eggs, and in another bowl, stir together the flour and salt. Taste the flour—if it tastes salty, you’ve added enough salt. Add a bunch of black pepper.

    Pour enough oil into a skillet to fill it about a quarter inch (or more). Heat till shimmering.

    Dip a fillet into egg and then flour. Repeat—egg and then flour. Place the fillet in hot oil. Fill the pan with the flour-coated fillets, and fry for about two minutes on each side, or until the crust is golden brown. Drain the fillets on paper towels. Serve hot.

    Leftover fillets make excellent sandwiches. Simply reheat in a hot skillet and place between two pieces of bread with the toppings of your choice.

  • in the eyes of the beholder

    There once was a girl who had to go live in another country even though she didn’t want to. At first she was very angry and unhappy. She cried a lot and said she would be happy only if her mama and papa would buy her an American Girl Doll. But her mama explained (over and over again) that American Girl Dolls were out of the question, and their price range.

    “I just need a toy!” the little girl sobbed. “I need a doll!”

    “Why don’t you find a stick and tape a paper circle to it for a head—then you’ll have a doll,” the mother suggested cheerfully. She didn’t understand why the girl couldn’t just use her imagination a little.

    “No, I need a real doll.”

    “Well, we’ll look for a doll for you,” the mother sighed. “Remember, your birthday is coming up.”

    And then, on Valentine’s Day, it happened. At the little girl’s school, the students all put their money together to pay for their lunch: Happy Meals from McDonald’s. Along with her hamburger and French fries and little packet of ketchup, the little girl got a toy. A real, honest-to-goodness, piece-of-plastic-crap toy.

    It had blue hair and detachable pieces and the girl glowed with happiness.

    “Mama,” she said that night, “I have a toy. I am so happy now.”

    The end.

  • Monday blues

    I’m achy-sad this morning. My nene (little one) didn’t want to go to school and we made him go anyway and it broke my heart a little.

    He’s been having a really hard time. With zero comprehension and hours of sitting, he is bored out of his mind. And when he’s bored, he starts to think of me and then he gets sad and it’s all downhill from there. His teacher is a very nice woman, but quite reserved—he needs someone to engage him, to draw him in, to do more than just smile at him.

    So this morning he sniffled and whimpered from the moment he woke up, and then when it came time to get in the neighbor’s car, he flat-out refused. So the kids went on their merry way and we took the tearful boy inside and explained to him in no uncertain terms that he was going to go to school period.

    Fifteen minutes later, we were in a taxi, headed to school. He and I sat snuggled up together in the backseat, my arms around him and his arms around his stuffed snake, his sweet head leaning on my shoulder. I sniffed his head and hoped with all my might that the safety and coziness of the moment might, just might, be enough to carry him through the day.

    At school, I walked him to his room—the closer we got to his room, the slower he walked—and when we arrived, he burst into tears and clung to me. But I got out his play dough, and the teacher, a sub (the director for the primary grades and a much more dynamic woman—maybe she’ll catch on that the poor child needs some extra help?), set up his desk and greeted him in English. And then he sat down obediently, and I fled out the door and down the corridor to the waiting taxi, his muffled sobs chasing after me.

    On the way back to the house, the taxi driver ran over a dog, oh my word NO. (It’s not dead, he assured me cheerfully. Whatever.)

    Hello, Monday morning.

    PS. At least the sun is shining.

    Update: he had a great day, hip-hip!

  • buses, boats, and trucks, oh my (and puke)

    Last week we traveled to Guatemala City, met up with the MCC team, and then headed out to Santiago Atitlán for team meetings.

    our bus line

    While in Guatemala City, we stay at CASAS, that Garden of Eden that I mentioned awhile back.

    When we arrived last Tuesday evening, exhausted and hungry, there were six plates of food, salad, fresh pineapple, and a basket of tortillas awaiting us in the kitchen. Just looking at the food, I started to breathe easier, my muscles relaxed, and the tension from the day started to melt away.

    They (not sure who) had reserved one of the apartments for us. In our apartment, there was a kitchen, bathroom, living room, and two bedrooms that slept four each. There were fresh towels galore, and hot water came out of the hot water taps. It was glorious.

    And to make it all even more wonderful, our neighbors from back in Virginia/long-time friends/support team leaders were staying right next door in their own apartment. (They are leading EMU’s Central America Cross-Cultural.)

    Looking into our neighbors’ apartment from the porch: they are all gathered around the computer, attempting to call the States to send birthday wishes to their son-in-law.

    We didn’t see them that first night, but when we got up the next morning, we discovered a note that had been slipped under our door: Coffee next door if you want! Um, YES.

    They also brought me two bags of cocoa from Antigua!

    That afternoon we headed to Santiago. 

    In the host family’s kitchen watching (and later “helping”) them make tortillas. 
    Note the airy walls, the dirt floors, and wood stove.

    We slept and breakfasted in homes, but then we went, via pickup trucks in which we all stood in the back (the kids were thrilled)..

    …to a gorgeous hotel on the edge of the lake for our all-day meeting.

    The hotel grounds had a variety of decorative pools and structures, and there was a huge swimming pool with a diving board and two slides.

    Sadly, however, they were all completely empty.

    Our team is made up of a wide variety of people. Because we have non-English speakers—and the volunteers come from Bolivia, Honduras, El Salvador, Columbia, and the States—all the meetings are in Spanish.

    While this can be difficult at times (hello thirteen years of not speaking Spanish!), I appreciate it. I am here to learn Spanish (among other things), and the meeting-type vocabulary is quite different from day-to-day-living-type vocabulary.

    On the second day, we hopped on a little boat and zipped across the lake to a private beach.

    It’s amazing how quickly it warms up here. Mornings are brrr-cold and require lots of layers. But by 9:00 in the morning, it’s warm enough (for some people) to go swimming.

    The kids were fascinated by the large rocks that floated: lava rock.

    They collected shells and swam and played ball.

    That afternoon we headed back to Guatemala City and my older daughter contracted a stomach bug. At one point we stopped the van (thank goodness it was our own MCC van and not a public bus) and went door to door looking for a bathroom. We stopped several other times—once when my younger son nearly threw up (yes, he got the same bug, too), and then twice when my daughter threw up. The first time we caught it all with a plastic bag…that, we discovered, had holes in the bottom, FREAK OUT. The second time, we double-bagged and things turned out much better.

    entertaining a bored child with a meandering tale

    Our teammates were relaxed about all the puking. They haven’t had young children on the team for a good number of years—one might be inclined to call that bus ride a rude awakening—and they held up marvelously well under all the upheaval (ha! upheaval, get it?).

    That evening, back at CASAS, the kids (expect for the puking daughter) watched videos (a TV! Videos! It really is the Garden of Eden!) while my husband and I walked over to the grocery store to load up on lentils, cheese, salsa (!!!), curry, and other exotics.

    That night, the younger daughter violently hurled her supper all over the bedroom floor (ever try to clean up puke in the middle of the night in an unfamiliar place with no cleaning supplies to be found anywhere? Let’s just say that skillets and spatulas have more than one use), but the next morning at 6 am, we were all on the privately-contracted bus with the EMU students heading north, retching kids and all.

    Here’s a picture of me sitting with my younger son. You can’t see it, but I have a double-bagged plastic bag in my finger tips.

    A couple seconds later, my photo-taking husband had to toss aside the camera and leap to my aid.

    Apparently, my younger daughter decided she’d better document the excitement. (It was a false alarm.) (As the trip wore on, the sick boy started to see the humor in the situation, so he’d sometimes cough and tense up, just to see me jump, the little stinker.)

  • how we do things


    1. Light the pilot light in the gas heater hanging on the shower wall.

    2. Slowly turn the shower on all the way to high. Watch the pilot light through the little hole—when it bursts into a raging flame, you’re in business.

    3. In order to keep yourself from being cooked alive, keep the shower on full blast. Children will wail and shriek in pain, but pay no mind. They wail and shriek in pain when the shower is cold, too. You can not win so do not even try.

    4. Try not to be alarmed at the whooshing sounds. Ignore the singe marks on the wooden ceiling. You are getting a hot shower—be grateful.

    Drink Milk
    1. Buy a bunch of 1-quart bags of milk. Always get more than you think you will need. You will use it.
    2. Get out your hot-pink, two-quart pitcher that still smells of the pineapple juice that Luvia made for you back in the beginning.

    3. Hold the wobbly bag up on its end.
    4. With scissors, snip off a top corner.
    5. Pour the milk out through the hole in the top.

    6. Repeat with a second bag.
    7. Drink milk.

    Wash the Dishes
    1. Mound all the dirty dishes on the little piece of counter sink and in the sink proper.
    2. Turn on the water (only cold in the kitchen) and let it run.
    3. Dip the sponge/scrubby in the dish of hard soap.

    4. Scrub a few dishes.
    5. Rinse and set in the drainer.
    6. Repeat until all the dishes are clean.

    1. Burn everything.
    2. Realize that something has got to change.
    3. Use two upside down tin pans as Burnt Bottom Buffers.

    4. Bake with minimal burning.
    5. Gloat.

    Wash Clothes

    Method Number One
    1. When the day dawns thick with fog, it will be a sunny, hot day. Count your lucky stars (or sunny skies) and get to work.
    2. Throw all the dirty clothes in a big barrel with lots of water and detergent.
    3. Attach the (non-poopy) toilet plunger to a long handled stick and agitate the clothes with steady up and down motions à la the old-fashioned butter churn method.
    4. Let the clothes soak over a period of a couple hours, or overnight.
    5. Periodically agitate the laundry—this is an excellent chore for naughty children.

    6. Wring the clean clothes lightly. Rinse with lots of water.
    7. Wring out the clothes as hard as you possibly can. No matter how strong you are, you will not be strong enough.

    8. Dream out loud (i.e. rant) about having a washing machine.
    9. Ponder all the North Americans who talk about “doing the laundry” as though it’s an enormous burden. Double over, slap your knee, and roar with laughter.
    10. Use cheap, plastic clothespins (that fall apart with alarming frequency) to hang the clothes on the twine that has turned your backyard into one gigantic booby trap.
    11. About 15 minutes later, when gravity has pulled the extra water down to the bottom ends of the clothes, wring out the bottoms of the jeans, shirts, towels, etc. Feel very smart.

    Method Number Two
    1. Show Luvia the basket of dirty clothes.
    2. Go away for the morning.
    3. Return to find the back yard full of sopping wet clothes valiantly struggling to dry in the sun.

    4. Proceed as in Method One, number seven.

  • school: the verdict

    When we went to pick up the kids after their first day, my husband and I arrived a little early and got to watch the younger two exit their classrooms. They were smack in the middle of a mob chatting children. They stood out with their height and blond hair. 

    As we left the school, busloads of children went by. They hung out the windows, waving wildly and calling to our children by name.

    We went into town and headed straight for an ice cream shop. While we ate our double-scoop waffle cones, the children regaled us with tales of their day. They all loved it, they announced, their faces aglow.

    The next day (well, during the night), our younger daughter contracted a stomach bug so she had to stay home, and we took the others out early so we could catch the bus to Guatemala City. They missed the rest of the week of school, so today was the beginning of their first full week.

    Since that first day, their enthusiasm has been tempered by the reality of:

    *getting up at 5:45 every morning
    *a rigid daily schedule
    *their inability to understand anything

    Actually, our older son still looks forward to each day, but the rest take turns saying they don’t want to go back. Last night our older daughter was in tears. Tonight, our younger son was crying.

    Seeing them struggle isn’t much fun, but I feel surprisingly peaceful and confident about our decision to enroll them. I know my children will make friends, and I think they may even grow to love the place. But in the meantime, they rotate between feeling bored, frustrated, happy, scared, embarrassed, and anxious. They are being stretched more than they’ve every been stretched before. I am so proud of them.

    Two days a week they wear gym uniforms. 
    The rest of the time it’s skirts for the girls and dress pants for the boys. 
    I love uniforms. Love, love, love.

    This morning my older daughter was anxious and drawn, her stomach in a knot. As we waited for their ride (the neighbors have offered to transport the kids every day in exchange for the cost of one tank of gas per month—they leave at 6:30 and get home at 2:15), my husband pranced around, poking and boxing at her in an effort to limber her up and get her mind off her fears. By the time the car arrived, she was breathing a little easier.

    We keep telling the children that we are impressed by how hard they are working. We tell them that many adults would shrink from doing what they are doing. We point out all the new things they are learning and experiencing. We help them brainstorm ways they might deal with their anxieties. We feed them approximately five meals a day (oy). We keep the afternoons open for resting, lots of outside playing, chatting about their day, and reviewing their studies. By 7:30 at night, they are sacked out.

    I expect this week will be rocky. I hope next week will be better, but I’m not counting on it. We’ll get there, though. It will get easier…eventually.

  • seven

    On Sunday, my youngest child turned seven.

    The kids had begged and pleaded not to go to church, but we said that we’d go anyway because it’s part of our job description. It would only be a short service (yay for mass!) and then we’d have subs (fake ham on hot dog buns) for lunch and ice the cake and open gifts.

    But then we got a call from some friends inviting us to attend a church outside Chamelco. They could pick us up at 8:30, they said.

    Because they’d be picking us up in a jeep, I opted to wear my nice boots—no need to worry about navigating crater-sized potholes this morning! We, the jeep owners plus Stefan, another guy who works at Bezaleel, piled into the jeep and took off.

    We drove.

    And drove.

    And drove and drove and drove.

    Forty-five teeth-jarring minutes later, we arrived at the top of a mountain. We parked the jeep and set off walking, or rather, slip-sliding down a muddy, suck-at-your-shoes, clay-slicked path. Within seconds, the kids’ good shoes were caked with mud and the cuffs of their pants were smeared up nice and thick.

    Oh well.

    And then there was the service. I didn’t have a watch but I think it lasted three hours. At least. And it was in K’ekchi’. And they had a sound system through which to blast their heartfelt, off-key music. Straight away, Stefan, a.k.a. Mr. Smart Guy, popped in some earplugs. I pulled out the Ibuprofen and passed around pills and a water bottle like communion.

    About halfway through, Stefan slipped my youngest a piece of paper.

    My boy was in awe. He stared at that drawing like he had never seen a picture before, ot maybe like a child who has left all his picture books at home and had been deprived of any visual art for a full three weeks. Based on his reaction, I’d say that sketch was one of his best gifts.

    When our butts had effectively melded to the wooden benches, the service was over. Back down the broccoli-covered mountain we jounced. (I have never seen so much broccoli in my life. The very air smelled of broccoli. It was spectacular. I would’ve taken my camera along if I would’ve known we would’ve been going on such an excursion.)

    We bought this along the road on the way back. 
    They were asking only about USD 6 cents a head. 
    We said that wasn’t enough and paid 12.

    The rest of the day was peaceful. The children played outside while I made the requested broccoli-potato soup and strawberry cake. I used this yellow cake recipe and this fluffy frosting.

    It was quite the adventure, making that cake was. I have no mixing bowl and no handy-dandy combination of electrical outlets and work space, so I took everything out to the porch and made the icing in a soup pan. I got to break in my brand new, super-cheap hand mixer. Within ten seconds I could smell it burning up.

    We took it real slow and it didn’t implode.

    Birthday Boy wanted strawberries between the layers, so I quick made a strawberry marmalade, cooled it, and then folded it into some of the frosting. It worked.

    He was in charge of gussying up the cake with fresh strawberries.

    Gifts were a simple affair. Every time we went into town during the last couple weeks, we tried to pick up one more thing: a soccer ball, some Lego imposters, a stuffed animal, gum, a bag of marshmallows…

    And then it was off to bed because the next day was the first day of school. (More on that coming soon, pinky promise!)

  • in which we enroll our children in school

    Big news, y’all! We, the forever homeschoolers, enrolled our children in school.

    I kid you not.

    dress code shoes, ready to go

    This was not the original plan. We had intended to continue homeschooling, with me and my husband taking turns going to work. But other expats kept suggesting school. They’ll learn Spanish quickly, they said, and they’ll make more friends. As we settled into our home and began to get a feel for our surroundings and the work we’d be doing, the idea started to appeal to us. 

    We brought it up with the kids. At first, they baulked. “We don’t care about grades,” we said, “just that you learn Spanish and make friends.” Their eyes lit up.

    All except for our younger daughter. She said, No way and I’m not going and You can’t make me so there.

    And then I had a stroke of mother genius. The day I was to go visit the school, I told Resistant Daughter that she was the only one who could come with me, just her and me together, checking out the school. We took a tour and met with the directors. The staff oohed and aahed over her, hugged her, and told her not to be afraid. By the end of the visit she had decided that she wanted to go after all.

    The students are given very specific requirements for materials, down to the ounce-amount of glue 
    and the color of notebook. The woman at the bookstore covered and labeled each notebook. 
    And then she delivered it to our door!

    So last week, we set about filling out paperwork, buying uniforms and loncheras (lunch boxes), depositing money (oof!) and obtaining supplies, all under the generous tutelage and assistance of the former MCCers (who still have two children in the high school there).

    All week long the girls kept dressing up in their uniforms. The excitement mounted.

    This morning we woke them at 5:30. Resistant Daughter was up before us, chomping at the bit to get going.

    I packed their loncheras with bananas, brownies, and cheese-lettuce-and-tomato sandwiches. I gave them three pieces of candy each: one for you and two to share with your new friends. I stuffed rolls of toilet paper in their bags in case there wouldn’t be any in the bathrooms (which is normal here—it’s BYOTP everywhere you go).

    While we waited for the taxi to arrive, I took pictures.

    We still haven’t worked out the transportation piece, but between buses, taxis, walking, and neighbors who also attend, we’ll figure something out.

    On the way there, we reviewed basic phrases: buenos dias, lo siento, compermiso, baño, por favor, etc. We did some deep breathing. We pumped them up with encouragements.

    I went with each of the children to their rooms and introduced them to the students who were already milling around. I informed the group, my eyes big, that my daughter (or son) didn’t speak any Spanish and needed lots of help. In my older daughter’s 6th grade class, the students rushed to find her a desk. When I left the room, there was a small crowd around her chattering happily.

    The same thing happened with my older son and younger daughter—they were greeted merrily (though my poor son was mortified because he had worn his standard uniform and all the other kids were wearing their gym uniforms since it was gym day).

    But it was a different story with the youngest. Although the kids swarmed him there, too, the girls mothering him, fixing his chair and showing him where to put his lonchera, and the boys explaining to him in clear, slow Spanish that they were going to teach him how to talk, my boy just clung to me and hid his face in my sweater. And then he broke down and sobbed. After much work, I finally got him to sit at a desk and share a math book with the boy beside him. I explained the problems and gave him some paper to draw on. Then I slipped out.

    My husband was waiting out by the gate, his eyes watery. “Are you sure we can go? Can we leave him? Will they be all right?”

    “Yes,” I said, laughing at him. “They’re fine. They can do this. Come on.” I grabbed his hand and drug him down the drive to catch a bus back to town.

    We spent our morning visiting Bezaleel, shopping, buying bus tickets, and doing laundry. And now it’s time to go pick up the children and then go get donuts (or maybe ice cream—it’s hot today!) to celebrate. I can’t wait to hear their stories!