a bunch of stuff

I made a list of a bunch of stuff to tell you—odds and ends, nothing big enough to warrant its own post—but then I lost it and had to remake it and now the list is shorter and I can’t remember what I’m forgetting. Naturally.

1. Maseca Cornbread, Updated

I made it again, but this time I omitted all white flour and used roughly 1½ cups maseca and ½ cup cornmeal. The resulting bread turned out less cake-like and more cornbready—flatter and heavier—and delicious. I actually think I might prefer it this way.

And then the other night I made it yet again, this time with about half maseca and a quarter each cornmeal and whole wheat flour. So good.

Ps. Guess who linked to my cornbread post. I know! I nearly peed my pants.

2. Chocolate Icing

I want to make this (because you can never have too many chocolate icing recipes) and I fully intend to…when I get home.

3. Vanilla Beans

I can’t get real vanilla out here. I already told you that. But lately, I haven’t even been able to get artificial vanilla flavoring in our grocery store. I finally decided to ask a market lady, one of the women presiding over a bonafide stall.

“You mean the bean or the liquid?” she said.

“The liquid,” I said, and then I paused, speechless. “Do you have vanilla beans?”

“I don’t, but the lady over there does.”

I bought a bottle of the fake stuff for fifty cents and hustled across the aisle.

“Do you have vanilla beans?” I asked, hardly daring to hope.

“Sure,” the woman said. She dug around on the shelf behind her and pulled out a tied-shut, green plastic bag.

“A Chinese man bought all the big ones this morning,” she apologized. “I only have small beans, but I’ll be getting more tomorrow.”

I bought three, about 24 US cents per bean. I felt like dancing.

And now I’m wondering: is it legal to import vanilla beans? I read online that I might have to declare them. What does that mean exactly? Anyone have any experience bringing a suitcase full of vanilla beans into the US? I’d rather not invest my life savings and then have them thrown in the garbage.

4. Language Learning

In my last newsletter, I wrote a little bit about language learning and how it’s going. Here’s what I said..


Spanish hasn’t come as easily to the children as I had hoped. Enough of their classmates speak some English that they aren’t forced to articulate themselves. They are understanding more, and the younger ones are starting to string together simple sentences. Maybe we have unreasonable expectations? Maybe this is how learning another language, via semi-immersion, progresses?  (Something funny: the younger two children equate speaking Spanish with speaking English with a Spanish accent. This drives us absolutely batty. We’re forever yelling, “Speak Spanish! Or speak proper English so the other kids can learn!”)

Language has been a struggle for my husband and me, too. We forgot a lot of our Spanish over the last thirteen years, and jumping right in without any Spanish lessons, while doable, is kind of starting to trip us up now. We’re ready to move beyond the superficial chatter and plunge into deeper conversations, but our lack of vocab and correct verb usage keeps getting in the way. We’re looking into getting some brush-up Spanish tutoring for us (and concentrated one-on-one time for the children), but we’re still not sure if this will be a possibility or not. In the meantime, we bumble along…


In response to my letter, a friend from church sent me this article: Myths and Misconceptions about Second Language Learning.

In the article, the author debunks the myths that children are natural language learners, that it’s easier for them than for adults, that complete immersion is as wonderful as we think it is. He concludes that, “Second language learning by school-aged children takes longer, is harder, and involves more effort than many teachers realize.”

You guys, you have no idea how happy this article made me. My kids are normal! Struggling is normal! Learning another language is hard work, for everyone and maybe even more so for children!

As soon as I finished reading the article, I picked up the phone and made arrangements for a language teacher to come to the house for an interview. (She’s teaching the children as I type this.) And MCC has generously agreed to let us—all six of us—have one full week of language study at a school in Cobán, go us! 

5. Why all the trash?

When I wrote about the trash situation, some of you asked, Why? Why is there such a littering problem? Why don’t they throw stuff away instead of down?

I have the same questions. I always assumed it had something to do with poverty and a lack of education. But for some reason, that pat answer didn’t sit well with me. So I googled it and found this article.

To sum up: after ruling out the poverty and lack of education reasons, the author said that he believes people litter because of a lack of belonging. Except for in their houses, which they claim as their own and keep spotless, they don’t feel like they belong. The two foreign countries I know the best, Nicaragua and Guatemala, have both been ravaged by wars funded/egged-on by outside, domineering governments (hello, United States) and the people have been repeatedly stripped of their dignity. Also, both countries are full of trash. 

This theory fascinates me. I don’t know if it’s true, but it might actually make sense. What do you think?


On a similar note (contamination in the form of chemical pollution), Guatemalan farmers make some crazy-heavy use of pesticides. Fruits and veggies in the states get some pretty heavy pesticides coat-age, but
in Guatemala there isn’t the same level of supervision and regulation. It’s so bad that, if I think about it for more than two seconds, I get twitchy feelings about feeding produce to my children. This may be ridiculous, but not too ridiculous, I don’t think. Get this: at Bezaleel, the gardener (not the volunteer from the states) sprayed the green beans every single day up until the day they were picked. So if I come back with a third eye, you’ll know why.

6. Cabbage Is Good For You

I said that cabbage is pallid and devoid of nutrients. My friend commented to tell me I was wrong. I cheered, and made round two of spicy cabbage, this time with a whole head (head?) (and it was a small, half dead one) of celery stalks and leaves, plus a bunch of squash leaves (puntos de guisquil).

7. Fake phone calls

The Bloggess wins, hands down, when it comes to writing made-up (though she says they’re real) phone conversations. The best line? Fire-proof orphans.

8. Friday Link-Ups

Savvy bloggers do this thing on Fridays where they link to the interesting, profound, useful, and silly. I am not savvy so I don’t do them. But still, I enjoy them and I thought you might, too. Of a Friday, if you’re in the mood for some good, old-fashioned internet trolling, hit up these link-up queens: Mama Congo, Motley Mama, The Wednesday Chef, Cup of Jo.


  • Anonymous

    Re: trash, the US has:
    1. "adopt a highway" programs and prison work teams and volunteer teams picking up trash from parks and highways
    2. fines/penalties for littering
    3. paid street sweeping/public space cleanup by custodians (see Paris – lots of litter, but it all goes away every 24 hours?)
    4. education programs about littering
    And there's still generally a pretty large collection of litter in the US wherever 1 & 3 fail, as long as there's a large enough population. Many people don't think or don't care about the cumulative effects of their actions – it's just one can/bag/whatever and they can't be bothered to pack it along, so it goes out the car window and drifts up against freeway overpasses. Drives me nuts. I think there are societal stigmas against littering in some cultures, though (seen as bad form/irresponsible/etc., like wiping your mouth on the tablecloth or something), but it takes a while for those to take root enough to mostly wipe a practice out (see: smoking in the US). I think taking ownership of the place and its care can definitely be one preventative against littering, though (in addition to general societal disapproval), and one restorative, as people will pick up occasional litter that doesn't belong to them if clean space is important to them and if it doesn't seem totally futile (I'd probably give up on those corn fields too).

  • Suburban Correspondent

    I disagree with the theory. It is simply a matter of cultural acceptance. There are refuse piles all over the streets of the capital city of Morocco, for instance. Why? Well, for one, that is how they feed their poor – indigents pick through the piles of trash. Also, there are no laws requiring trash pick-up and disposal – and, let's face it, people are slobs if you let them follow their natural inclinations.

    At least, I am.

  • Kate

    (I'm still a kid and just took three years of German and one year of Greek. It was sooooooo haaaaaaard.)

    Learning languages is really hard! And I've noticed that if other kids in my class have trouble with English, they have trouble with whatever language it is they're learning. But, if they know two languages while learning a third or fourth, it comes much more easily. It's also really hard for kids to learn another language because we don't always know how to say something in English, let alone Spanish or German (which is what I took). Something that helped me learn German was sending an awful lot of time reading and listening to it without an English translation. So, I'd do things like find a Schubert song and read it. It'd be divided into little chunks of two-five words. Dad taught me how to do this. (He teaches Latin and Koine Greek online and has done that for about fifteen years.) 1. Read over quickly getting the general idea. 2. Make little chunks. 3. Read over again. 4. Read each little chunk and translate it into Englishese (real bad English 'cause you is ejucated). 5. Read over again. 6. Translate into real English (really good English that an English teacher would be proud of). When I was listening, I couldn't do that though, so would try to understand without translating while listening. It normally took a couple times to get everything that was said, but the first listen got everything important.

  • Shannon

    Another thought on the trash situation that someone here pointed out to me. When foods are eaten in their natural form, throwing the waste on the ground (i.e. apple cores) is also natural and composts back into the earth. When plastics are introduced into this environment, it seems natural to also throw the plastics on the ground and there it becomes a problem.

  • katie

    Hey, I can't comment directly to the trash situation due to my severe lack of foreign travel in recent memory however, Joel's description of rural India came back much like your description of Guatemala. Hello, British Empire!

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