Saturday, March 19, 2011

10k's and Challenges

Since moving to Guatemala in July 2009, I've met several personal goals. One was learning the entire (looong) Guatemalan National Anthem by heart. One was improving my Spanish. One was learning how to cook Guatemalan food. One was reading the entire Bible every year. One was losing 60 pounds. One was learning how to run.

Some of these, like having healthier habits, were made easier just because we were moving and everything was changing anyways. I strove to keep some of those changes going until I could form them into a healthier lifestyle. Other changes were made easier by the lower cost of living, like the price of fresh, healthy produce. Still others were easier because I am surrounded by amazing, active, supportive people at my job. I love the people I work with!

After forming many of these habits (I'm nowhere near finished) I realize how much I could have done at home, but didn't know how or where to start.
-One of the drawbacks here is safety, yet many times I didn't take the chance to walk outside when I could at home... much less run.
-Here, there is a voracious amoeba problem during the rainy season, but I still managed to learn how to swim thanks to an amazing friend. (I only got amoebas once.)
-I had a treadmill and friends with exercise equipment I could have used for free, while here I have to pay for it... but again I didn't know how to use it or where to start!

One of the motivations (out of many) that has been driving me has been that I wanted to get into shape before another baby came along. We plan on using a midwife here. (Hospitals have a 70% cesarean rate here, among other personal reasons.) That thought for me could do two different things: 1)Cause fear because I hadn't educated myself enough or prepared my body for what was coming or 2)Motivate me to educate myself and get in the best shape I could.

I started by walking for an hour every night after putting our child to bed at 8. Then a friend taught me how to swim a little at a time. Then, we started working out at the gym. Then, we ran around her (safer) neighborhood. Then I participated in my first 5k (walking but I knew I could do more.) Then we hiked a bit of a difficult volcano for beginners: Pacaya. Finally, we began jogging regularly after school.

When the next 5k/10k came around I was super nervous, but since it was the same price to enter for either one, I chose to challenge myself with the 10k. I had nightmares the night before... but I finished, though slowly, with a time of 01:03:30.

I have so much more I want to do in life. I will forever be cautious and easier to scare than some people, but I have learned how to not let my fear control me.

Now, I see something that interests me that I have never done and instead of feeling only fear, I also feel the adrenaline rush of a possible new challenge to conquer!


What are you scared of? Can you turn it around and face it as a challenge? I am no super person. Any of this that I did, anyone else can do!

Indigenous Guatemalan Women's Clothing


Guatemala is divided into 22 departments, each having their own famous hand-woven textiles, and many departments are famous for more than one type of textile. People who have grown up here and studied Guatemalan culture can many times pick out a person's indigenous background and region by looking at the type of textiles they are wearing. Especially some of the women's beautiful handwoven clothing.

Guatemalan indigenous women typically wear "huipiles," or colorfully woven, embroidered blouses like the ones pictured below:

They also wear as a skirt a long loop of woven fabric that they step into and then wrap around themselves. This is held up by a very tightly cinched handwoven belt. Sometimes when women would come to the medical missions clinic that we translated for, many complaints were that their stomach's hurt. While sometimes this was caused by normal maladies, many times the doctor would also tell them not to cinch their belts so tightly.


Depending on the region, some women wear their hair covered with a panuelo, or scarf. Many times it is worn in a long, black braid. Sometimes with a cinta, or strip of fabric, braided into the hair. According to ehow.com on Guatemalan Hairstyles, "The cinta is essentially a sash made for the hair. The cinta features colors and patterns that reveal the social status of the woman who wears it. Cintas can be 4 or 5 feet long and are braided into long hair."



Another common and necessary accessory is the handwoven piece of fabric used to hold the baby on their back. The skill of getting their baby on their back and then tying it in all by themselves is something I admire. I've tried. It's very difficult! The fabric, however, is gorgeous.


If you visit any of the markets here in Guatemala, you will find these handwoven items for sale in many varieties. The fabric is made into modern versions of dresses, handbags, backpacks, stuffed animals, shoes/sandals with hand tooled leather, table clothes, and many, many more colorful items.

The hand weaving that goes into these items is very labor intensive, taking a lot of patience and talent. It is usually done on a backstrap loom. Because of the labor, it is also a bit expensive, although never what it would cost in the United States.
Many women are turning to cheaper alternatives, modern used clothing shipped down from the U.S. and sold in second hand shops. Some fear that the skill of backstrap weaving is slowly fading away and that an integral part of Indigenous Guatemalan beauty and pride will only be a memory for future generations. Some non-profit groups, like Education and More, are trying to prevent that from happening by helping the weavers goods get exposure, offering classes for people who would like to learn how to use a backstrap loom (I'd like to!) and, as the name suggests, finding ways to offer education to the indigenous people. As their website says: "Education And More is a Christian, Fair Trade charitable organization providing assistance to artisans and their families through educational opportunities and Fair Trade."

Do you own any hand-woven Guatemalan textiles? Do you know how to use a backstrap loom? What do you think of a Guatemalan women's typical dress?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Awesome 5th Grade Projects from 2010-2011

One of the many benefits of working in the upper elementary grades is that you can do some really cool projects because the kids have developed critical thinking skills and most have a good grasp on logic, cause and effect. Some of the amazing things we have done this year include:

Creating a door decoration that was based on a book for Children's Book Week. My class voted on books and chose "The Diary of a Wimpy Kid." They made the door decoration into a Pacman game with the Pacman as Greg, the antagonists as the ghost guys and the other protagonists as safe places on the game board for Greg to get to. I loved their ideas and the fact that they came up with it by themselves! The art wasn't excellent, but we worked with what we had. ;)


An awesome Science Fair with some great experiments including:
1)How does the color of food affect a person's choice of that food, (girls generally chose pink or purple tinted icing, boys- blue or green.)
2)Which gender can average more push ups in a minute, male or female? (male)
3)Will an older parrot or a younger parrot learn a phrase quicker? (Older in this experiment.)
4)Does the brand of balloon affect the amount of static electricity produced?

While studying integers, we made cartoons explaining absolute value. My kids came up with some interesting things! So far it has worked to keep it stuck in their heads that the absolute value sign means the distance from zero, so it's not negative!


We created a movie utilizing the archetypal patterns of a hero in which my kids came up with a spin-off of the Harry Potter characters: Hairy Potter was the hero, Bald-e-mort was the villain, Dumbledora was the guide, just to name a few. Just the fact that they felt comfortable enough with English to be making puns made up for any of the cheesiness in my opinion. Each section of 5th grade had their own version of a hero archetype based movie. We created a script and recorded the movie and at the end we presented it as a huge 5th grade premiere and invited the principals. They had a lot of fun and really put their spoken English to the test. They also get an awesome keepsake for this year!

We have done a lot of really interesting Science experiments, but one of the prettiest was the "Convection Currents" one. We set up a clear aquarium on wooden blocks with room temperature water. Then, a quarter-sized dot of red dye was injected onto the bottom of one side. A cup of boiling water was placed under the red dye. On the opposite end, we placed a very blue-tinted ice cube. The ice cube represented one of the poles and the hot water represented the equator. The hot, red water rose and moved toward the cold area, while the cold, blue water sank and went towards the warm. This created an amazing visual with swirling red and blue.

Coming up next are some great persuasive topics in our Language debate unit. We plan on getting each section to debate within their classroom and have a winner who will compete against the debate teams who win in each section. They have to use good debate etiquette, such as showing the opponent respect by calling them the "honorable opposition." We have practiced with some fun, but easy topics such as "which is better, chocolate or vanilla?" and they have to come up with arguments for both sides. I feel like a good set of debate skills will prepare them for the future. They need to know where they stand on issues and how to defend their stance! The kids are really getting into this and showing good use of logical reasoning, persuasion and passion! In English! Any second-language learner knows that it's harder to use a second language about something you feel passionately about and are trying to persuade someone with... I love it when they get excited about what they are learning and really get involved!

I truly believe that I am teaching Guatemala's future leaders and I can't wait to see what these kids do with their lives!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Learning to Read: Part 1

Since Talia was 1 1/2 we've been using http://www.starfall.com/ to introduce letters and their sounds (along with the regular old-fashioned book-reading!) Now that she is 3 she knows all of her letters and many of their sounds.

That is no record. I've seen sign-language taught babies reading before 2 years of age. But I'm not wanting to make this into a comparison, good or bad, of my child versus the rest in the world. It's just what we do. The key, I'm finding, is small, consistent steps that follow the pace and interest of your own child.

Starfall isn't something we spend hours on a day, or even visit every day. We go through an average of 4 letters each time, 5 days out of the week. This little bit of consistency, though, has shown results. She can spell her name and is getting better and better at writing the other letters on her own.

Along with this we like to play with the refrigerator magnet letters, point at letters in advertisements, and play with how the letters make funny sounds when you put them together in random (and sometimes mom-influenced) strings.

I teach 5th grade Language to children where, thankfully, most still love to read. The 5 or 6 who don't spend those consistent little bits of time in a book, have a hard time in many other subjects. I want Talia to learn to enjoy discovering words and ideas through reading.

Next year we are planning on beginning the homeschooling process, and, while in Guatemala- Starfall has a promising supplementary program for $35 a year that covers not only reading but other basic math facts, music and more which would be great since it's online. (Less to haul in a suitcase!)I am still looking into other curriculum options, but feel free to put in your opinion!

How do you encourage YOUR kids to read?

(p.s. Starfall is not paying me to write this, I just like the program. ;))