Wednesday, November 17, 2010

New Christmas in Guatemala 101 Ebook on Sale!

Available now for 25% off normal price during pre-launch - our new ebook Christmas in Guatemala 101: Traditions, Fun Activities, and Recipes for an Authentic Guatemalan Christmas

This ebook offers 40 pages of specific family-friendly information about the Christmas season in Guatemala.  In addition, there are recipes and fun crafts for kids.  Also included (and this perhaps the best part!) are two bonuses: a bilingual cookbook of over 40 recipes for tamales from all regions of Guatemala, and over 50 Guatemalan Christmas coloring pages - fun for classes and kids in general.

Click to find out more about Christmas in Guatemala 101 now!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

50 Shutterfly Christmas Cards

I was excited to hear about Shutterfly's newest promotion, allowing bloggers to blog about their cards for 50 free cards. They have a nice variety (New Year's cards for those who do not celebrate Christmas.) Since we are in Guatemala, winning things free online that can be shipped to one of our parent's houses is the way to go. From there, we can do our thing when we visit in December. I love that I can customize right from Guatemala before sending it off. And... photo cards are the best!

I like the way that this one is easy to save as a not-so-Christmassy keepsake.

And they way this one is square and collaged.

But I think this one is my favorite. It's focus isn't seasonal, and I like the layout. It has a lot of space to include cool Guatemalan pictures from this year for our families to have a neat keepsake of us from our life in Guatemala.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Reflections on Christmas in a "foreign" country

As I'm sitting in my living room in Guatemala City on a quiet Sunday afternoon in early November, listening to a somewhat drunk man outside doing covers of popular Latin pop songs, including "Feliz Navidad," it hits me again.

I live in a "foreign" country.

But do I?

Guatemala is foreign in the sense that life is different, the geography is different, people are different. Different than what should be considered normal, by anyone that I grew up with, and maybe by myself, too.

But the reality is that it's not really "foreign" to me anymore. Oh, it's different, and frustrating, and all of those other things. In spite all that, it's what I call "home" for now. The crazy driving, the loong waits everywhere, the fact that no one is in a hurry (unless they're driving!) - that's all normal to me now.

There are only a few reasons that I can feel this way, though. We speak Spanish, we enjoy the food (well, to some extent; Guatemalan tortillas still don't sit too well with me), and we enjoy meeting new people. I suppose if any of that were different, Guatemala would seem more "foreign."

This year will be different, though. Last year, we spent Christmas with just our little 3-person family alone in Guatemala, and we struggled to find our own traditions, since every other time we'd been with family in the USA. This year, we've decided to visit the US and enjoy the time with our extended family, since that's the main time everyone is guaranteed to be within arm-wrestling distance :D

Even though we won't be in Guatemala for Christmas, that doesn't mean that we won't be celebrating Christmas semi-Chapin style! We've got a lot planned before we go, including a trip to El Salvador over Thanksgiving weekend. I've been burning the midnight oil getting ready for the launch of our "Christmas in Guatemala 101" ebook - stay tuned for more details on that later this week!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Cooking Adjustments in Guatemala Part 1

With a few exceptions, you can cook anything in Guatemala that you would cook in the U.S. However, sometimes there are little things that can throw you off track if you don't know where to look.

For the first year here, I couldn't find baking powder, here called "polvo para hornear" or "Royal" after the brand. This had an impact on biscuit making and other breads.

I also had a less difficult time finding baking soda, or "bicarbonato." Sometimes this is only found in pharmacies, but I have also found it in Paiz. What was confusing for me was that this was not located next to the baking powder.

Corn starch was also a challenge since I didn't know the word for it. I have since then learned that it is Maizena or "fécula o almidón de maíz." This was not only a lack in vocabulary on my part, but it also had a little bit to do with culture. In the U.S., from what I could remember, corn starch is usually found near spices or on the baking aisle with flour, sugar and cornmeal. Here it was found near the cereals and oatmeals. Blanca told me that many people use it as meals, perhaps to make some sort of thickened breakfast soup or drink? If you have more information, please let me know. I am curious to find out how it would be used differently here than in the U.S.

Another adjustment on my part came about when we bought a gas oven here in Guatemala. I have never owned a gas oven before, and wasn't sure what to expect. I have learned that I prefer a gas oven here where power outages usually happen around supper time. We have to be a bit more vigilant for safety reasons (such as when our daughter wants to "help cook") but overall it has been a positive thing. Except for the oven. I couldn't figure out why an oven would only go up to 250 degrees, but I attributed that to gas being harder to regulate... Of course, when I figured out that the oven was in Celsius instead of Fahrenheit, that made me laugh at myself quite a bit! It also explained why things were burning on the bottom and not done on the top! I have found this conversion website helpful since most of my recipes are in Fahrenheit.

A spice that seems to be a Guatemalan staple, different from the seasoning salt at my house in the U.S., is some sort of chicken bouillon, or "consomé" this version at our house in Guatemala:

Something I found surprising was how difficult it is to find cardamom or "cardamomo" in the ground spice form, especially since cardamom is one of Guatemala's exports. I have heard that it is easy to find in markets, but I haven't had any luck with that yet. Cardamom comes from the Cardamom flower. The seeds look like this before they are ground. I believe they can be used green or roasted, if you have information on this, I would love to learn more about the process!
I especially like the unique flavor cardamom gives to fruit breads or challah. We like this recipe for the braided "challah" bread.

The things you just can not get seem to be things that are not grown in this region. For example, in Texas we had a yam-like sweet potato that I loved. They looked like this:
They have a smoother texture and creamy flavor that I find addicting. Something regular potatoes can not compare to! In fact, I used them exclusively- leaving the Irish white potatoes out of our diet while we were in Texas. We loved them mashed with butter and salt like regular mashed potatoes or baked... pretty much any way to cook them was great! The problem is that in Guatemala there is a completely different version of sweet potato that looks like this: These sweet potatoes have a grainier texture. They literally taste like sweet Irish white potatoes instead of the smooth buttery texture of the yam-like sweet potatoes of Texas. If you find out how to get the first version while in Guatemala, please let me know!

I'm sure there are many other things people have experienced that are different in the Guatemalan realm of cooking. I would love to hear about your experiences! What is something you had trouble finding or were excited to discover about cooking in Guatemala? Any recipes using the things I have mentioned? I am always looking for new things to do in the kitchen that have a Guatemalan influence.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Daily Life in Guatemala

The last few weeks have been pretty busy, mentally more than physically. Plans change, needs change, and you have to take steps as a responsible adult, father, husband, to make those changes become what they should.

The violence in Guatemala continues to be an issue, but what is more of an issue is the rainy season, which has been, from what I hear, the worst rainy season in several decades. So at school, traffic jams keep students out, landslides blocking roads - no one ever said living in Guatemala was boring!

On the web site front - is alive and well. Some pages we've added lately:

Guatemala Airports - a series on as many small airports and international airports as we can find

Our new Guatemala Forum - if you have a question, submit it here and we or one of our readers will answer it :)

And the opportunity for readers to submit content - allowing them to channel their inner writer and build a solid resource for those interested in Guatemala at the same time.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Happy Guatemalan Independence Day!

So far the bombas are going off and last night the car horns and trombones were in full force - we'll post more info as the day progresses :)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Hiking Pacaya

Last Saturday, August 21, I met a goal I've been working towards since moving to Guatemala; I hiked the volcano Pacaya.

We woke up at 5:30ish to get going. We arrived and bought the tickets.
They kept asking if we wanted to take a "horse taxi" the 3.something (steep) kilometers up the mountain.

The guide took time to explain the medicinal value of some of the plants we passed, and to describe what kind of animals lived there- though mostly before the latest eruption. He also explained how the eruption affected the community.

When we got to the top it was a little bit foggy so the picture isnt as great as it would be with better visibility.

At the top we poked a stick into one of the lava pores to catch it on fire to roast volcano marshmellows!

This makes three goals I have met: 1)losing weight 2) learning to swim and 3) Pacaya.
Disclaimer: Pacaya is probably a fairly simple hike for most people, I've just never done anything like that before.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Summer Vacation 2010: Driving from Texas to Guatemala as a Family

My summer vacation began June 19th when Talia and I flew back to NE TX to be with my family. Unfortunately, we used the last of our frequent flier miles to get there and Ben, always up for an adventure, drove up later after seeing to the last details of our moving from the apartment to a house in Guatemala. We were glad to see family and friends and Talia really loved going to VBS in Texas!

We left North East TX July 21st and began our epic-like journey back to Guatemala City with a toddler.

July 21: Wednesday we made it all the way to Eagle Pass. We had decided to take a middle route, though on the map it looks longer, because of the tropical storm damage that took its toll on both coasts. This ended up being a very good decision due to great toll roads and hardly any vehicle searches. Ben, who has made this trip on the Gulf route about 4 times (before this one,) said that even if it was a day longer, it was a much better drive and worth it.

July 22: Thursday we crossed the border with barely any trouble at all and made it to the state of Coahuila, MX; a beautiful state I wouldn't mind visiting again. We didn't make it very far into MX today because of the long time it took to get the paperwork done at the border and a collapsed bridge that we had to figure out how to detour, but progress, nonetheless. We stopped in Saltillo, MX- I felt very safe here and wouldn't mind living here some day as it is only 2 days drive from my family and it is still in a safer part of Latin America.

July 23: Friday we arrived at Tlaxcala, MX- described as a hidden gem of a town bypassed by most tourists. I would have to agree with that assessment. It was beautiful and had many things I would have loved to browse if it weren't raining this entire day! Unfortunately, Montezuma's revenge found me here. ;)

July 24: Saturday we arrived in Oaxaca, a rather large Mexican town with very confusing roads, especially at night. There were many times two roads going one direction on either side of a middle road going the opposite direction... and the roads on the outside frequently switched into the lanes on the other side of the road at stoplights. Imagine all of this at night with millions of headlights coming out of nowhere at every stoplight. I think this is something you would probably have to experience to get the full benefit of what I am trying to explain. ;) In Oaxaca we were so ready to be finished with the trip and getting pretty stressed. We stayed at a local hotel that had interior parking and weird smells. I didn't sleep very well.

July 25: Sunday- we arrived in Tapachula, the last town on the border in Mexico before crossing into Guatemala! I was thrilled to stay in a very nice Holiday Inn Express here that had wonderfully huge beds and clean showers and free breakfast and working wireless... It was the best night's sleep throughout this entire trip. We debated staying an extra night to just relax, but we were so close to home, only one more day- plus it was expensive at $100 a night.

July 26: Monday- we crossed the Mexican-Guatemalan border and immediately noticed that we were not in Mexico any more! The roads got bumpier, guards with guns were at every convenience store, barbed wire was the most noticeable decoration and, of course, there were locals protesting the increase in electricity prices blocking the only way through to the capital. After waiting in a huge line for about 4 hours, they decided to go home due to the rainy seasons gushing outburst. The next few hours were occupied with me trying to keep Talia occupied so she wouldn't scream while Ben was trying to drive through torrential rain. We stopped at a convenience store for a break and were soaked running the 12 feet to the entrance. This last day was a constant struggle since we were almost home and everyone was so tired. We were very happy to find a Sarita for supper with a great play place for Talia to run around in! We then dragged home and collapsed.

Overall, this was a lifetime experience I will never forget. I could literally feel people praying for us the whole trip. I wish I could explain that feeling. I cried out of gratefulness several times because things went so smoothly. Ben has made this trip about 5 different times now that this one is complete. He was amazed at how few times we were searched and how easy it was when we were. We didn't get any speeding tickets. We didn't have to pay any bribes. The only trouble we had with the vehicle was a flat tire that was on a toll road on the way to Tlaxcala where they have people hired to help you in an emergency. It was perfect because they came and changed the tire for us and if they had not come, Ben would not have known to use a certain tool to get to the spare tire and we would have been stuck! I am crying as I type this because I still feel so amazingly blessed and protected. Driving through Latin America always makes me feel like a spoiled rich kid in comparison to everything around me. Though I try to constantly be appreciative, I still feel like I have so much more than I deserve! If I could voluntarily choose to do this again, I would do everything in my power to fly instead, but I am immensely grateful for His hand on us this trip.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Challenge to My Wonderful 5th Graders as You Graduate

Above the door in my classroom I have a sign that reads: “Through these doors walk the future leaders of Guatemala…” and this is something that I truly believe. I have been honored to teach students who are going to be great parents, politicians, doctors, teachers and businessmen and women. I have seen leadership qualities in the way that you work together and help others in the classroom and know that you have what it takes to be great leaders in the world.

That journey continues with your 5th grade graduation. I have been in Guatemala for 10 months and 3 weeks. That is enough time to see both sides of Guatemala, and I have. I have experienced the beauty, amazing friendships and social environment, but I have also dealt with robbery and fear. You must realize that you are the ones responsible for Guatemala’s future. Perhaps you wonder how, as a 5th grade, soon to be 6th grade student you can make a difference. You must prepare now for future actions. Now, when you see something that is not right there are two things you should do:

1)Think of a way that it could be done better. Don’t fall into the trap of just complaining about something without coming up with a solution.

2) Think of how you are developing in your own life. Are you a fair and just person? Are you developing character traits that Guatemala needs in its leaders? If you cheat on your test now, how do we know that as an official you won’t cheat there?

This is my challenge to you:

1) Search for truth- not popularity or even comfort.

2) Respect all people- regardless of race, intelligence, physical abilities or religion.

3) Embrace learning. Don’t be scared of not knowing- that is where the journey starts, be scared of not caring.

I will miss you, but I look forward to rejoicing with you in all of your successes!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The maids have all the power

Maids (muchachas, empleadas) have the power to make or break your day.

Maids make your breakfast.

Maids wash your clothes.

Maids have the opportunity to rummage through all your belongings.

Maids prepare your lunch.

Maids fold your towels.

Maids take care of your kids.

Maids make your supper.

Maids can switch to decaf without telling you!!

Want to assassinate someone? Talk to his maid.

Want to rob someone? Talk to the maid.

Want to learn Spanish? Talk to the maid.

Be nice to your maid.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Violence in Guatemala

Living in the relatively safe section of Guatemala City that I we do, it's easy to forget the violence that plagues the country. I've lived in towns before that had 300-500 homicides per annum, but I saw a figure city this past March that Guatemala had over 6,000 violent deaths in the first quarter of 2010 alone.

The "good" news is that the majority of violent deaths seem to be hits targeting specific people (rival drug dealers, gang members, wrong end of a business deal, politically motivated, you name it). Also targeted are people with flashy cars or expensive cell phones. Point? There seems to be a point to most of the killing - it's less random than one might think.

So what do I do?

- My car is not fancy and I don't wash it much
- I hide my iPhone, don't use it when I don't have to, or even leave it in the car
- Limit night excursions
- Stay out of known dangerous areas

Additionally, if you speak Spanish fluently, you can try to appear less like a gringo by using Guatemalan Spanish when possible. If you learned Spanish in another country, you've probably noticed that Guatemala has a few unique linguistic traits that other countries don't - if you learned it here, it might not be so obvious. Your accent has to be pretty good to begin with, or you'll be labeled as a gringo anyway.

On the other hand, I know of a former Israeli soldier who has a security company here - in a presentation I was at, he made the statement that kidnappings are less likely to happen to foreigners because of the reluctance to get other governments involved. I haven't had enough experience with kidnappings to say for sure, but that seems at best to be a guess - something to think about, anyway. This wouldn't apply to robbery, though.

The point of this somewhat rambling post is that you learn to live with the violence. It's difficult to deal with when someone you personally know is gunned down (this happened recently) but you deal with it. Or you leave.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Odds and Ends

So we’ve been slow on updating for a bit, but we’re still around. Some significant things that have been happening in our lives here in Guate:

Renting a house – had to negotiate the contract for that, interesting time @ a Guatemalan lawyer’s office. We’re moving in June, close to our current apartment.

I (Ben) passed my master’s exam! That’s been most of the reason for the delay in posting.

Talia is almost completely bilingual – my unofficial observation is that she can probably express in Spanish 90% of what she can say in English, with no discernable accent. Not bad for a 2 ½ yr old.

We’ve been developing our site more –

We’ve also added a Facebook Fan page for – in the right column of the blog. Check it out.

More coming…

Friday, February 5, 2010

Pollo Campero around the world

For a list of all the states and countries where Pollo Campero is located, check out

Check back for pictures of Pollo Campero locations soon.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

In for a sec - Check out our Pollo Campero Page

Check out our Pollo Campero page at

More coming!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dobladas, envueltos and a Guatemalan Challah

I have learned how to make three new things!

Dobladas: these are folded tortilla dough with meat and cheese inside that are then fried.

And, a Guatemalan version of Challah, or a braided bread:

Also, "envueltos," or, wrapped green beans... you just have to see to understand:

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Guatemalan Cooking

I had a lot of fun learning how to make Guatemalan dishes over Christmas break. The first thing we made was the masa recipe that I posted about yesterday. With that masa, we made corn tortillas and pupusas (a very typical dish here made from the corn masa dough and a filling of meat, cheese or beans. It ends up almost like a corn meal based fried pie.)

If you are interested in seeing the process for making pupusas, go here:

To see how we made corn tortillas by hand, go here:

These were a really awesome learning experience and one of my favorite parts of being in Guatemala.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Masa Making

If you are interested in learning the process used to make "masa" from scratch (the dough used to make tamales, corn tortillas etc) I just posted step by step instructions with pictures here:

It was really fun to do and really tasty to eat. Grin Girl One of my favorite parts of being in Guatemala is learning my way around the Guatemalan kitchen.