• teen club takes Puerto Rico

    My husband’s nieces arrived on Saturday. Within a day, one of the girls had slapped a sign on the kitchen cupboard:

    The next day, after pouring the concrete floor, this photo popped up in my phone:

    Tee-hee-hee! Looks like “Puerto Rico takes teen club” would be more accurate!

    For three of the four girls, this was their first time off the mainland, but they were so mellow and laid back, you’d never know it. From trying (and failing) to watch a movie two nights in a row to running out of toilet paper (my bad) to getting eaten alive by mosquitos, they took everything in stride, never even batting an eye. Quick to help out, appreciative, and open to new experiences, they were excellent houseguests.

    Even though they weren’t here with MDS, they worked at the jobsite whenever their help was needed which, unfortunately, wasn’t as much as we’d hoped: the process of laying block isn’t very conducive to unskilled labor, plus, they were such quick workers that my husband kept running out of things for them to do! Even so, they managed to work enough — shoveling gravel, hauling cement blocks, cleaning up — to still get sore.

    While it sometimes bothered me that I wasn’t doing more Puerto Rican-y stuff with them (with all our guests/volunteers, I’m torn between my all-consuming work and exhaustion on the one hand, and my desire to host and facilitate a meaningful cross-cultural experience on the other), the girls seemed perfectly content to read books, play games, and talk. Whenever opportunities arose, they were quick to create their own adventure.

    For example:
    *At a street food place close to the jobsite, they bought a sample of everything they were selling.
    *When a huge rainstorm hit (the first big one since we’ve arrived), they all took off to go play basketball, never mind the fact that they’d just showered and gotten ready for bed.
    *They escorted my younger son the four blocks to the barber shop for a much-needed haircut.
    *They spent an afternoon at the fancy local mall trying on clothes just for the heck of it.
    *They worked for a good three hours — all of their own volition, too — to clean up the basketball court next to our house.

    ten bags full

    Three of my kids left on Thursday to go to a youth retreat up in the mountains so then we were down to just five girls in the house. Friday afternoon, after a morning of work at the jobsite and a special lunch — Nilda’s visiting relatives prepared sancocho, a Puerto Rican stew of meat and root vegetables — we headed to the beach for a little downtime.

    Nilda’s daughter warned us that the seaweed rises to the surface when it’s cloudy, and she wasn’t joking!

    There aren’t many good swimming beaches around Ponce. The main beach in Ponce is kind of ruggedly wild, and people don’t seem to swim there much, but we’ve discovered a nice little spot about a 20 minute walk from the parking area. The water is not super deep, but it’s private (and with shade!) and the waves are big enough to toss you around a bit. It’s fast becoming our favorite hang-out spot.

    All of us went swimming, and the girls spent hours playing in the water, hurling fistfulls of seaweed at each other (the Caribbean version of a snowball fight?) and trying to ride the waves. On shore, there was some ballet dancing, seaglass gathering, and a bit of sword (plant) fighting.

    Back home we scurried around getting showers and heating up leftovers before zipping downtown for a bedtime snack of pinchos (Puerto Rico’s famed chicken/beef-on-a-stick) and ice cream.

    What a treat it was, having those girls here!

    This same time, years previous: cherry picking, buttermilk brownies, Korean beef, the quotidian (6.22.15), magic custard cake, walking through water, cilantro beet salad.

  • all before lunch

    Monday morning, the concrete truck was scheduled to arrive bright and early to pour the concrete slab floor. Breakfast for my (getting sick) husband and younger son (my older son is staying in the volunteer trailer with the two other volunteers) was at 5:40.

    As soon as those two were out the door, I got the rest of the gang up and going. This week, four of my husband’s nieces are visiting. (Even though they’re not with MDS, they’re putting in several days of work.) At 6:45, just as we were ready to head to work, I noticed the van had a flat. Since the knowledgeable tire-changers were all otherwise occupied, my daughter, added by a slew of cousins and their assistant Wikihow, changed her first flat.

    Fun times!

    After a very slow and cautious drive on a wobbly spare to the worksite, I deposited the girls, and then, while my husband oriented them to their tasks …

    … I hopped in the truck and drove north of town to a rental place to pick up the power trowel. When I got back, the concrete truck was there, all the kids busily working.

    I snapped a few photos and had just retired to the trailer to make up a grocery list when the engineer stuck his head in. Those concrete truck guys, he reported, were so curious about our group. They’d asked him, Who are these people? Are they paid? And how is it that they’re working so hard together, and they’re so young, too! The engineer explained to me that it’s unusual to see young people working so hard and so efficiently — not goofing off at all — and the fact that they were all volunteers made it all the more unique.

    Later, my husband told me that the man in charge of the truck (in the above photo, in light blue) was so impressed that he worked alongside everyone else to pour the floor, and when my husband went to pay, he slashed the price. This is my drop of sand, he said.

    While they were still pouring the floor, my younger daughter and I took the van to a tire place to get repaired, and then to Sam’s Club for the week’s groceries and then the house to drop them off. When I returned to the jobsite, the concrete truck was gone … and so was my husband. The power trowel didn’t work, and now, with the cement hardening by the second, he’d had to fly back to the rental to get another. Turned out, it didn’t have enough oil — a bunch of employees fixed the problem lickety-split — and back my husband flew, honking his horn as he drove up the hill.

    I left then, heading back to the house by myself to do office work and to finish off the morning with a soothing lunch of peanut butter apple, cheese, and pretzels.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (6.19.18), language study, the quotidian (6.19.12), Kate’s enchiladas, sour cherry crostatas.

  • the quotidian (6.18.18)

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



    Father’s Day at church: paella for 100.
    an equally delicous Father’s Day present (that I ate).
    Fire hydrant christening: now they’re officially city kids (ha).

    Concrete cuts.

    Ear protection.

    Who needs cups?
    Saturday, all day.

    Struggling to stay above water. 
    Makeshift guestroom (didn’t work — the mosquitos ate them alive).
    Everywhere she goes.

    Island sitting.

    This same time, years previous: puff!, smart hostessing, dobby and luna, street food, a glimpse, when I sat down, cold-brewed coffee and tea.

  • family week

    Last week, my parents and Kenton’s sister and her husband (the parents of the four kids that came to stay with us for a week back in April) and Kenton’s younger brother came to help out. Basically, it was a family reunion but with only a fraction of the usual gang and extended by a bunch of days and and centered around work. They all left this morning (except for Kenton who extended for a third week, fist bump) and now the next group is here. I’m too tired to write actual words but here are a few pictures.

    This same time, years previous: a new pie basket, high entertainment, the quotidian (6.16.14).

  • up, up, up to Utuado

    Last week the project directors met in Utuado for a meeting.

    he takes his meetings with a side of zen

    MDS has three worksites on the island. (Actually, there are more than three, but only Aibonito, Utuado, and Ponce are currently taking volunteers from the States.) Our whole family visited Aibonito a couple weeks back, and my husband went to Utuado with some co-workers one day, but last week was my first trip to Utuado.)

    Remember what I said about Puerto Rico being an inverted valley, flat around the edges and then getting all bunchy and steep in the middle? Well, going inland is like traveling to a different world. The topography is utterly fascinating: hairpin turns and blind corners and impossibly narrow roads that plunge nearly straight down (or at least that’s what it feels like it)

    Everywhere we went, there were houses situated in the most precarious of places: directly along the edge of the road or built into the side of a cliff with 30-foot posts propping up the side that hovers over the abyss.

    The land reminds me of a Dr. Seuss book, jutting out at weird angles with houses sitting at the ends of a long narrow strip of land, drop-offs on both sides. Imagine the land is a dock and the water is air and there is a house at the end of the dock, and there you go. Basically, go out to water the flowers, take one wrong step, and drop fifty feet.

    After our meeting in the town proper, we drove the twenty minutes up to the worksite: two new buildings (a house and a church), and a house repair, all three atop one of those long docks of land.

    We checked out the work, observed the local make-shift plumbing system (we see this type of set-up all over the island), and ate a lunch of pork chops, rice, and fried plantains.

    Fact: project directors must keep one hand on a hip at all times.

    See? Hand on hip.

    The kids ran around, playing with the cats and foraging for mangos and oranges.

    And then back down the mountain we zipped (we passed a handwritten sign at the end of a lane: at the end of this road are people without power, help us), swerving around low hanging electrical wires and washed out bits of road, and honking our horn — an attempt to warn oncoming traffic — around the sharpest of turns.

    The end.

    This same time, years previous: taking flight, the business of belonging, this, too, shall pass, microwave flower press, freezing strawberries, strawberry shortcake.

  • plan our vacation for me please

    Our respite week is fast approaching. The tentative plan is to ferry our van to Vieques, rent a cottage, and crash. Maybe there will be hiking in the rainforest and snorkeling and horseback riding and daytrips to Culebra and fantastic street food and nice dinners out and hammocks and icy sweet drinks with wedges of fruit perched on the rim … or maybe not.

    Quite frankly, at this point we’re too tired to think straight, let alone plan a relaxing vacation for six, so there’s a fair chance we’ll end up never leaving the house at all, instead spending our precious few free days slumped in our chairs, staring at the wall.

    This concerns me.

    So, if you’ve ever vacationed in Puerto Rico and know of inexpensive, not-to-be-missed places/activities, let us know. And if you want to draw up a detailed itinerary, that’d be great, too. The less thinking we have to do, the better.

    P.S. I thought about including other details in this post — like the fact that my husband suggested, in all seriousness, that we not go anywhere (ARE YOUR FREAKING SERIOUS WE ARE IN PUERTO RICO FOR CRYING OUT LOUD), or like how we never go on vacations in the States so I really don’t know the first thing about planning, and spending money on, an entire week of leisure, or like the time when we were in Guatemala and planned a glorious vacation to Belize but then ended up getting on the wrong bus and spending two dismal days on some god-forsaken peninsula where the water was full of raw sewage and stinging jellyfish (if vacation PTSD is a thing, then we for sure have it, which is probably, now that I think about it, why I’m suffering from Vacation Planning Paralysis), or like why we are so exhausted and how this job is more deeply draining and intensely demanding (as well as incredibly fulfilling, rewarding, and fun) than any job we have ever had simply because we can not ever leave it and thus the reason we really need a vacation — but then I was like, I can’t even, and so I didn’t, sorry.

    This same time, years previous: spinach dip, the smartest thing I did, Greek cucumber and tomato salad, sourdough waffles, fresh tomatillo salsa.

  • the quotidian (6.11.18)

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



    Morning broken.

    Jealous: my 4:30 pop-awakes are no fun.

    Happy campers.
    Fresh strawberry jam: what my mama brought me.
    T-shirt with matching gecko.

    Someone got driving clearance!

    Sweetness: even though they think we’re weird for eating “plastic candy,” 
    they bought us some anyway.

    Prepping for the first volunteers.

    Sunday afternoon.

    Fun and games.

    Orientation: safety first!

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (6.12.17), reverberations, photo book, mud cake.

  • ba-BAM

    Once the footers were dug and the first two volunteers arrived (both on Saturday), everything picked up speed. The build was suddenly — ba-BAM — underway. After a full month of mostly invisible, and often tedious, legwork, boy, is it ever gratifying.

    Sunday the rebar was delivered, and Monday was spent bending the rebar and preparing to pour the footers.

    Tuesday, the footers were poured before lunchtime rolled around.

    Here, the concrete truck is a little different: the gravel, sand, cement, and water arrive in separate compartments and then get blended together on site in a giant mixer. It’s loud. 

    Wednesday, sand, block, and cement arrived, and they started laying block, forming up the corners and laying the first course along the back wall.

    When our supervisors showed up for a visit, the jobsite was hopping.

    Thursday, the crew continued to lay block while my husband and I and the two younger kids took off for a project director meeting, but judging by the photos they periodically sent our way, things continued to hum along just fine.

    Friday, today, was more of the same: laying block, ordering supplies, managing volunteers.

    In between and around all that, the tool trailer got a set of dandy shelving, the volunteer trailer got a large awning, a medical kit, fridge, microwave, and power (!), and tons of local volunteers showed up.

    Plus, May’s finances got reconciled (whew), food got cooked, things got cleaned, reported on, emailed, purchased, and washed, basketball games got played and runs got runned, people got hosted (us included), and ice cream got eaten.

    ‘Twas a solid week of work is what I’m trying to say.

    This same time, years previous: pulling the pin, the quotidian (6.8.15), delivery, white icing, thorns, how we beat the heat, on hold, what it’s about.

  • energy boost

    The first volunteers arrived on Saturday.

    what they look like when they leave for work in the morning

    Kenton is my cousin — he’ll be staying for two weeks — and he knows everything about carpentry and has boatloads of energy. He’s a mover (but a strategic one), which helps to keep my husband from over-thinking everything. My husband says it’s been great to not have to be the main decision-maker for a change.

    Chris is some random dude from off the internets, I kid you not.

    Seriously, get this: his wife read my blog post about needing volunteers and then, just last week — LAST WEEK — she commented to Chris that he might like to volunteer in Puerto Rico and he was like, Sure, sounds like fun! Several days later, he was here. He didn’t even know what Mennonites were.

    He and his wife (she sent along a bag of delicious homemade oatmeal raisin cookies for us, thank you wife) are homesteaders, as in, they’ve been gradually building their own house (ordinary) and they make their own shoes (not ordinary). Chris knows his way around a jobsite just fine, is fluent (as he says)“in pointing and smiling,” and is game for anything.

    Both guys wash dishes, clean up after themselves (and others), and are totally chill about the kid chaos, shouty conversations between a particular married couple, jobsite uncertainties, sweltering heat, and five a.m. wake-ups.

    what they look like when they get home 

    It’s a good start, people. A really, really good start.

    This same time, years previous: on pins and needles, chocobananos, Jeni’s chocolate ice cream, strawberry daiquiri base, sour cream ice cream.

  • the quotidian (6.4.18)

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



    The twelve-year-old is on a cake-making kick.

    A couple from church brought us supper: two lasagnas (with cream cheese!) AND two cheesecakes.
    And one of the women at our church manages a KFC, lucky us.
    Re-reading.

    Shnipe!



    Bonus of having an iron-wrapped front porch: after-supper chin-up competitions.

    Entertainment for hours, thanks to a local friend.
    Getting braver: Peace Like a River.
    Workday start.
    Meet Lobo, the MDS’s (informally) adopted street dog.
    For the tool trailer: shelving.

    Step by step…

    Electrical pedestal: check.

    Energy boost: coffee … and the first volunteers!
    Pretty darn comfy.

    One month done.