Thursday, September 29, 2011

Iguana Sanctuary in Guatemala

One creature you may see in Guatemala is the iguana. I'm not sure how you feel about the leathery-looking, tree-climbing animals, but the Pineda family in Guatemala has 500 of them in an Iguana Sanctuary. (click on the youtube clip below for a documentary view of the sanctuary:)




One of the 5th grade teachers at the international school had a couple of pet iguanas in his classroom as well, so I got to meet them closer than I would have if they'd just been in the wild. He had his with a heated rock and a sun lamp and sometimes they would climb the small trees he had growing in his classroom. A different 5th grade teacher refused to enter his room from the fear that an iguana would jump off of the tree and attack her!

Having an iguana in a classroom could, perhaps, be challenging for the iguanas sometimes. One particularly curious and insensitive boy held down the tail of one of the iguanas until the iguana, following his instincts, released his tail and scrambled up a safer side of the cage. The students learned more about instincts and self-preservation in nature, and hopefully, how to NOT injure an animal on purpose.


Image: PANPOTE / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In a country where iguana is sometimes used as a meat source in areas where protein is a privilege, having a family who would create a sanctuary for iguanas is extraordinary.

Would you visit an iguana sanctuary? Do you have one as a pet? Or, like me, do you just appreciate the miniature dragons from a distance?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Beauty Through my Daughter's Eyes

My little girl sees things differently than I do. She looks at people and doesn't notice weight or symmetry or age or things I've been trained to see, but focuses directly on their smile and how they can connect with her. Those who take the time to talk to her and show her they care get a special title.


She thinks those people are "beautiful."

This goes for women and men alike. The older gentleman who always stops to shake her hand at church is "such a nice man! I like to shake his hand!" Our neighbor who stops feeding her chickens to talk to her is "beautiful!" Age has no bearing, she only sees if people care or not.

I know that from a young age you are shaped by people in your environment and their actions. This impacts me in two ways.
First, it helps me know how children view me and how little things I do can be so big in their eyes.
Second, it helps me realize how I am thankful that my daughter can find beauty in people who might otherwise be overlooked. I hope that one day this will go from seeing beauty in others to developing it in herself and passing it on.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Cooking Adjustments in Guatemala part 2

Something I've written about before, cooking in another country, is always a bit tricky to figure out at first. Take cornmeal for example. It's necessary for that gritty crunch that gives cornbread or hushpuppies their unique flavor. Guatemala is a country where corn is one of the most consumed items. Usually, it is made into corn flour that is then used to make masa; a base for all sorts of things like pupusas, tamales, tortillas etc. Since corn is so abundant, it would seem that corn meal would be really easy to get... but I never discovered where! I am sure it is possible to make your own somehow by taking corn to a grinding meal, but I've never heard of that either. Curiously, some of the pizza places use corn meal sprinkled on and under their crusts. This makes me wonder if it is something that those restaurants import, or if I just really had no clue where to find it.

Another thing I discovered was really hard to find was inspired by a Valentine's Day gift from a student: strawberry flavored heart-shaped marshmallows. For me, the best thing to do with marshmallows, whatever the flavor, is to make them into rice crispy treats! People knew what those were, it's not something you see everyday here, but I figured Rice Crispies existed. After searching Paiz (now bought out by WalMart,) however, and several other stores I found that they apparently do exist, but only in the flavor of chocolate.

In Texas, many people visit border towns in Mexico and make it a point to bring back "real Mexican vanilla." Mexico is just north of Guatemala. For some reason, in Guatemala, all I could find was artificial vanilla. I'm not a super picky cook, but I definitely prefer real spices to their artificial counterparts.

Some other spices I had trouble locating were cream of tartar and sage.

When we first arrived in Guatemala, though much thicker than what we were used to, sour cream was not difficult to find. By this summer, though, I wondered if it were a seasonal item. I know it used to be in the store, but it hasn't been for several months prior to us leaving.

Beyond food differences or disappearances, something else I've noticed is that baking seems to be viewed as more of a "rich" thing because of the price of gas and difficulty in obtaining an oven by the majority of people. I've seen some people who use the oven part only for storage. Another difference with the ovens, besides being in Celsius instead of Fahrenheit, is that every one I've ever seen here only has one baking rack instead of two.

None of these things were major, just things I noticed while trying to prepare food I was used to cooking. Much of it, I am sure, was simply my lack of experience with finding things in Guatemala.

Have you had any luck finding these things, or perhaps have ideas for making them yourself?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Goodbye 2nd Trimester, Hello 3rd Trimester; (and babynaming expat challenges)

There's an issue with trimesters. While pregnancy is naturally a 40 week long thing, 40 is not naturally a number divided by 3. Hence, several different numbers are given for when one actually crosses the line between 2nd and 3rd trimester. It's a bit frustrating. I've seen the limit set at 27 weeks, 28 weeks and 30 weeks. To me, it would make more sense to just divide it into 4 terms: one for each set of 10 weeks! In any case, I'm considering this, the end of my 27th week of pregnancy, to be my end of the second trimester!

One thing that the third trimester brings with it for me, is a sense of urgency to decide upon a baby name within these last months. Something expat parents must consider with more detail than maybe those who stay in one spot are how the name of their baby will be said (and if it can even be pronounced) in the native language of the countries they plan to reside in. While I truly enjoy researching names, and believe in choosing meaningful names for my children, sometimes this is a bit challenging. A few conversations between my husband and I have gone like this:


Me: "Hey, what about this name!? It works in both languages."
Him: "Hmmmm, yeah, but you say it COMPLETELY different in both languages. Don't you think that would be confusing for the kid?"
Me: "Why couldn't we just stick with one pronunciation?"
Him: "Remember the what-we-thought-was-an-easily-pronounced-name that certain family still can't say right?"
Me: "You have a point. Let's keep looking..." ;)

Fortunately, (or unfortunately) we only care minimally about what people from the States or the next country we live in will do to mangle what we think is an easily pronounced name, so it doesn't get in the way most of the time. Even then, it just becomes something else to consider.

We've learned to prioritize to see if a name even gets on the list:
1. Is it meaningful? Do we like the meaning?
2. Is at least one of the names able to be pronounced in Spanish?
3. Is at least one of the names Hebrew to go with our family naming tradition?
4. If we choose to call the baby by the Spanish name, will our family be able to mostly pronounce it or will they disown us? (just kidding. ;))

Baby naming aside, the third trimester also has other challenges awaiting. The biggest one for me is managing weight. I have managed to walk a mile for every day of my pregnancy. Now, usually, that means I get up at 7:00 A.M. every week day and walk 2.5 - 3 miles (depending on how awake I am) before my family gets up and needs breakfast. I still say I've only walked a mile for every day in this pregnancy, because I like to round it down to be SURE I'm telling the truth. Be that as it may, that still works out to a whopping 193 miles total as of today. I truly believe that little, daily decisions and routines make big changes in our end results. It's crazy how a little bit every day has built up to so much, and probably more! I appreciate the health I have and want to keep it for as long as I can.

So, here I go into the last stretch of pregnancy! Hopefully, my next pregnancy post will be advertising the birth of our little man. :)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Tribute to Doors in Antigua and to a Photographer who Loved Guatemala

What's a door, really? An entrance. A way to bar yourself from the outside. Something that needs to be strong, yet movable. It's a door.

I've thought about these photographs of doors in particular lately. They were taken by Thomas Richwine, a photographer and friend who came to visit and volunteer in Guatemala. He really enjoyed touring Antigua! He recently passed through the door of this life into the next. He was 28.

I remember when he came back from touring Antigua. He was loaded with information and excited to share what he had learned!


Apparently, in Antigua, you can read more from a door than just it's architectural style and color. While touring Antigua with a guide, our friend reported back that in the colonial times one could know how many servants worked at a house by counting the amount of ornaments on the doors. Many people are fascinated by the architecture of Antigua, and in particular the doors.
I've included several pictures and links to other blogs with great pictures of doors in Antigua.


In the words of Maurenice: "The first thing we look at when entering someone's house is the door and the facade of the home. Antiguan's know the importance of this, and seem to be one step ahead as they have these very inspired and well crafted doors."


David, another visitor, says: "I recently visited Antigua, Guatemala and fell in love with the Spanish Baroque architecture. The city dates back to the early 1500's and has spectacular ruins of Colonial churches. It has been selected as an official UNESCO World Heritage Site. I was immediately drawn to the cobblestone streets and colorful facades. However, what really caught my attention were the fantastic doors on each street."


Many of the doors have intriguing very old hardware; locks, handles, decorations.


As said by neeko, "In the streets of Antigua, walls are everywhere. With its narrow sidewalks and cobblestone streets, it almost feels like you are constantly walking down an alley in some kind of inverted cityscape. From the streets, almost everything is concealed from public view. However, if you pay close attention to the craftsmanship of a door or window, you can get a much better idea of what lays hidden on the other side."


Especially the first time visiting Antigua, many people feel the same as this person from the Antigua Daily Photo who said: "they could just go around Antigua taking shots of just doors and windows."



From fellow bloggers FortyTwentyFour: "Antigua is filled with lovely architectural and design detail. It was hard not taking pictures of everything.I love all the doors in Antigua. Such detail..."


What do you think? Does it open the doors to your desire to travel to a place like Antigua, Guatemala? They inspired Thomas and continue to remind me of him to this day.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Texas Wildfires are Raging

In Guatemala, the disasters we experienced were earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, and swine flu. In Texas, the extremely dry summer has parched the ground making wildfires a huge problem. Add to that the extremely strong winds this week and it was a recipe for fire disaster. There are many burning right now:


According to the Texas Forest Service:


"Wildfire update – Sept. 6, 2011

Current situation:

· Yesterday Texas Forest Service responded to 22 new fires for 7,544 acres, including 10 new large fires.

· In the past seven days Texas Forest Service has responded to 181 fires for 118,413 acres.

· It appears that in the past 48 hours, more than 700 homes have been destroyed. As better assessments come in, we will continue to update the situation report.

· 251 of the 254 Texas counties are reporting burn bans.

· Daily detailed fire information can be found at inciweb.org.

New large fires from yesterday (more than 100 acres in timber, 300 acres in lighter fuels; or where homes were lost):

*Note: Details on many fires are still unconfirmed. The Dispatch Tracker System was down most of yesterday and went down again this morning. Most of the details below are from late last night."

Many people I know have had to evacuate their homes and many more are in danger.

Please keep Texas in your prayers!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Birthdays with Family in the States

Something nice about being home for the baby's birth is that we also made it home in time for Talia's birthday! Birthday's just aren't the same without family... So this year is special for that reason, if not because it's her last birthday as an only child. :)


Talia requested chocolate cake with chocolate icing and strawberries. I made the cake and icing and put the strawberries, but my mom gets the credit for the creative edging. I thought it was delicious, the baby must have too (from the way he kicked afterwards) and, importantly, Talia loved it!

Something we had to be careful about were presents. We were clear up front that anything received would have to be able to fit into a suitcase for our next adventure once little man is born, or it might get left behind. That's just how it goes. Happily, Talia's still at the age where cutting the ribbon off of the package and ripping open the paper are totally what makes getting a present, not the actual gift... but our family was very thoughtful and her gifts are definitely stuff we can use and she'll enjoy!


Talia woke up this morning so excited because it was her birthday. It's funny to see how much she can understand and appreciate now. I'm glad we were able to share this one with family!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Getting Ready for Homeschooling Abroad

Talia has been doing really well recognizing letters and knowing which sounds go with them, including some blends, for a while now. Since I am homeschooling this year, part of my challenge has been figuring out which of the millions of options will work best for me in a place outside of the States and where shipping is not really worth it. Suitcases are already limited with space on the trips home, so that's not the greatest, or only option I would like to have.

Part of this problem we solve by using Starfall's online supplementary curriculum. Some of the reading challenges will be solved by using the online accessible Reading A-Z program and other online stories. However, though my daughter likes working on the computer, it's not really something I want her stuck to all of the time. Learning is so much more than a brain thing. Especially at her age, the whole body helps her learn!

Something she's really enjoyed is an "Alphabet Fun Sticker Book" by School Zone. It has helped reinforce all of the letters and their sounds, and taken it to the next step of recognizing which sounds words begin with. (Plus, she loves getting the stickers neatly in their boxes.) After working with this slowly over a few days, she came up to me and started talking about all of the words she could think of that started with the "ssss" sound, even though we hadn't studied the "S" in the book yet. She knew that "S" made that sound and came up with: snake, sock, sun and several other words that also started with "S." I was excited that she was making that connection with oral language and not just with the written letters in front of her. She can take the sounds of a word and spell it with the refrigerator letter magnets, but hasn't quite gotten that in reverse yet putting all of the sounds of a written word back together to quite be completely reading yet. But soon!

With reading, I have a plan and an idea of how to work with her at home, at least for this coming year. With math, I felt a little helpless. Talia knows how to count to 29 consistently, and if I tell her what comes after the following _9's, she can continue to 100. She has made the connection between each hand having 5 fingers and says "Look, mommy, two 5's make 10!" or "I have 2 bananas and there's 1 over there, that makes 3!" So I think addition will be a natural next step for her. I just have to get over my own phobia of numbers. I found several workbooks in the States for math that I think will help with that. I have ideas for manipulatives as well. Advice from people who've done this before, though, is always welcome!


Part of homeschooling is knowing your child and where they are in different areas and focusing on how to get them to the next level, no matter how nontraditional or unschool-like that approach might, or is able to be. Surely at first it is always a bit apprehensive to think of what will be needed before you have experience, but hopefully this will improve when I gain that experience.

Do you have any ideas for math or reading that worked for you starting out? How about homeschooling abroad? Or just sorting through the many, many homeschooling options without going broke or crazy? I'd love to hear other parents' thoughts who've gone down this road before.