Monday, December 26, 2011

Homestead Heritage: Forge

The last workshop I will share from our homeschooling field trip to Homestead Heritage in Waco, Texas is the forge.

Here the blacksmith started with a metal rod...
and while his assistant pumped air through the bellows to increase the heat,

He gradually beat the piece of the metal into a:

deceptively delicate looking leaf key chain.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Homestead Heritage: Woodworking

Another workshop we visited on our homeschooling field trip to Homestead Heritage in Waco, Texas was the woodworking shop.

Both the stained glass and the doors were created by craftsmen in the community.

Inside was a spacious workplace with a wood stove to keep warm in winter.
Some of the beautiful things they have crafted in the woodworking shop include
a prize-winning violin, (among other instruments,) and really nice furniture.

One such piece of furniture is this handmade wooden bed frame...

which reminded me of a handcrafted wooden bed frame we had in Guatemala. 
Here's a photo for comparison:

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Homestead Heritage: Pottery

This is a continuation of our homeschool group field trip in Waco, Texas to Homestead Heritage touring different workshops. Here we visited the pottery shop:

 At the Potter's House we watched a clump of clay turn into a vase...

 We saw how this lady used a combination of clay and weaving to create...
 this two toned basket that is still in the drying, unfinished process:

 The yellow minerals on the pottery below, after fired in the kiln, turned into...

 the beautiful brown and copper tones seen in pottery like this tea set:
There were many other beautiful pottery colors available as well, like this deep blue:

This is a class I would love to take, though I'm sure my product wouldn't look as nice as some of these!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Homestead Heritage: Gristmeal

This is a continuation of our homeschool group Homestead Heritage field trip in Waco, Texas through the different workshops. Here we visited the gristmill:

Outside of the gristmill, you will find...
this waterwheel, which powers...
these wheels and pulleys so that...
the grindstone can grind the wheat, corn or other grain.
The craftsman in charge of this workshop told us that the freshly ground flour is extremely flammable and that many gristmills in the past went up in flames. From this comes the saying: "Keep your nose to the grindstone..." because that was how the miller could sense if the flour started scorching.

The grooves in the grindstone, combined with centrifugal force, 
push the freshly ground flour off of the grindstone into a collecting place.
Unless the grindstone gets too old to use and then it can be...
turned into a flower planter!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Homestead Heritage: Fiber Crafts

In October several homeschooling families went on a field trip to Homestead Heritage in Waco, Texas. This is a place committed to sustainability and community that I recommend checking out if you're ever in the area. As reflected on their website:

"Our Traditional Crafts Village showcases a community of craftsmen who have returned, not to the past, but to the enduring values exemplified in handcraftsmanship. True craft requires more than skill: it expresses the craftsmen’s care and concern, their personal investment in everything they do. You can visit the shops of our crafts village, watch our craftsmen work, even attend classes to learn craft skills and, in all this, experience with our craftsmen the joy and fulfillment of returning to craft, the art of work."

Because there was so much to see that I think a single post with all of it would be picture and information overload, I'm going to separate the different stations they had into different posts for this week.

One of my favorite workshops to visit was the Fiber Crafts shop.

Here we were introduced to...
a beautiful selection of naturally dyed fibers.

The loom.
I liked the useful decoration of the wooden ceiling beam.
Just looking at the beautiful colors makes me want to make something.
Foot pedals on the loom.
 Batya measuring her weaving.

I loved all of the colorful yarn and threads displayed throughout the shop.
There were many looms for when there is a class.
For comparison, a piece of Guatemalan textile patchwork and...

 a Swedish version of a patchwork weaving.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

SagaUnscripted: The 3rd Chapter- Abu Dhabi

We now know where the next chapter in our saga will probably take place, as Ben has been hired to teach High School English in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates. Here's a map:

The United Arab Emirates is a federation, or group of 7 state-like smaller governments that bind together for certain things but still have their own individual governments/supreme courts etc.

November-March seem to be the spring-like temperatures, around 70*-80* and then April-October are scorching 100+ temperatures. Since Ben will get there in January, he will get to experience some of the nicer temperatures.

Something Ben's been interested in since we left Guatemala to have the baby in Texas, besides learning Arabic, is the selection of fruits available in Abu Dhabi; he really misses the variety. He asked some of the teachers who are already there and this was their response:

dragon fruit
prickly pears
lemon grass
...and about twenty fruits I have no idea what they are called. The main thing that is hard to find is berries, so I stock up on frozen when I'm in the city."

And, yes, he was very excited to hear this!

I expect to learn a lot of new things about this part of the world and plan to blog about it as I go.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Narrowing International Teaching Options as an Expat Family

Knowing that there are always trade-offs with any international teaching position, with the multitude of options that are seemingly available, it helps us to have a way to narrow options. All of the following criteria does not have to be met, of course, but it does help serve as a filter! (So, in no particular order:)

1. Do they pay for everyone's flight, not just the person who will be teaching?

2. What other benefits are offered? (Summer flights home for the family, housing, insurance, etc.)

3. Is there enough religious freedom in that country that there is a church we could attend?

4. What does the culture have that would benefit our family or that we would find interesting? Languages, useful or easy to learn? future business opportunities?

5. Are fruits and vegetables readily available? How accessible is a healthy lifestyle?

6. How large is the expat and/or Spanish-speaking community? (If it is not a Spanish-speaking country.)

7. How does that country view child-rearing? Homeschooling?

8. Is there a supported midwife community? Is home-birth available or even legal?

9. Is freedom of speech and technology available? (Are certain sites blocked on the internet in that country? If so is there a way around it?)

10. What is the teaching position available and would the person applying for it enjoy it, or simply endure it for the experience in another country.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

He's Here: Meet Little Man

Saturday: my mom knew somehow that the baby would be coming soon. She began preparing food to have on hand for afterwards. Sunday and Monday were full of irregular baby contractions until around 7 p.m. when I went into active labor with contractions 4 minutes apart and lasting 1 minute by midnight. We called the midwife at 12:40.

I labored all night. It was difficult, but more manageable than people make you think. ;) Elias was born the next morning, Tuesday, December 6 at 10:31, weighing 8 pounds 12 oz and 21 inches long. Talia is fascinated by him!

Homebirth was an incredibly difficult, but very rewarding experience. If you live in North East Texas and are interested in midwife services, I'd recommend Childbirth Services.

We are all doing well and are happy that our little man is here!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Economical Milk Options in Guatemala

Growing up in a family of 5, we went through at least 3 gallons of milk every week, sometimes 4. This milk always came in a big plastic jug bought at the local WalMart with a 2% label and a not-quite-authentic, but familiar flavor.

In Guatemala, one of the first things that was different were the lack of rows of plastic gallons of milk in the refrigerated section. There were a few, but then those seemed to go bad very quickly. Most people didn't buy that version, so if you visited anywhere, it wasn't available. What they used I had never, ever seen or heard of in my life: shelf stable boxed milk:
The flavor, while milk-like, was stronger and though 2% still seemed more concentrated. Visitors from the U.S. never quite got used to it, so they always requested purchasing the plastic jug version. Since it was cheaper and lasted so long, we did acclimate eventually. It seemed to make no difference in baking.

Another economical option for milk in Guatemala is usually done by a young boy who herds goats delivering house to house. The goats are usually in a group of 4-6 with a rope leash and the boy has a whip and sometimes a bell to announce his presence. If you want fresh goat's milk, you either provide the container or he usually brings a disposable cup and squeezes fresh milk for you right there. Many workers buy a cup of goat's milk to go with their breakfast on the way to work and some families are regular customers, buying their milk fresh every day. Here's a YouTube example where a guy buys a cup of warm goat milk for 5Q: (The milk part is in the first third of the video... the views of the guys in the video do not necessarily reflect the views of this blog... blah, blah, blah ;)

Photo found here:

Of course, many people who live in the city use these options, but those who have their own fincas, or farms, sometimes have their own goats or cows. Many times we were stopped suddenly on a narrow, one-lane road at night to avoid hitting cows who had either gotten out or whose owners had let out so that they could eat the grass on the side of the road.

While I've tried goat's milk and our daughter likes it, we never tried this version in Guatemala. Have you tried milk in Guatemala? Were you surprised by the difference or was it what you expected?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Homeschooling Field Trip: Visiting the Zoo

Above: Talia with a silverback gorilla.

Talia loves animals, so the zoo is an amazing place to her. In Guatemala City, La Aurora Zoo in the capital is a small zoo with mostly little cages for their animals, but it was the first zoo she was old enough to appreciate- being old enough to know what the animals were.

Above: Watching the penguins.

When we had the opportunity to visit the DFW zoo while on a trip to the States, she couldn't wait! This time, she knew their names and if they were herbivores, omnivores or carnivores and she could make more detailed observations. It was a great science extension for what we had been studying in home school.

Above: Snakes, something we'd rather experience in the zoo than in the wild!

She especially enjoyed the water species where she could get a good view up close because of the glass. This turtle (below) was a particular favorite!

Something I like about the zoo is that it is something she can appreciate at many ages and still learn something new every time! How do you use the zoo as a teaching tool?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Champurradas, a Guatemalan "pan dulce" to eat with your hot chocolate or "champurrado"

Pan dulce, (translated literally "sweet bread,") is traditionally eaten with hot chocolate and is a dense, cake-like bread with a sweet topping. These are common throughout the year, and are served at breakfast and dinner with coffee. If you visit a Guatemalan throughout the day, chances are you’ll be served a plate with pan dulce on it. There are several types of pan dulce and one of these is the champurrada.

For more Guatemalan recipes and traditions, check out the ebook here.

While I haven't seen many of varieties of cookies in Guatemala, one that is present in almost every situation is the champurrada. These were at staff meetings at the school, classroom parties, parent conferences and just about any other occasion you could think of. They are traditionally a crunchier version of what I'd call a sugar cookie, sometimes sprinkled with sesame seeds or made with corn flour.

You can make your own at home with the recipe below:

5 ounces of shortening
5 ounces of sugar
A handful of soft flour (not the normal gold medal kind)
Sesame seeds
Mix the first three ingredients, make a ball and flatten the ball to the size and thickness you want the champurrada to be. Sprinkle with sesame seed.
Bake for 25 minutes at 350F. This recipe courtesy of

Another blogger:  has another recipe using the corn and healthier coconut oil option:

Yield: 3 dozen cookies
3 tablespoons ground flax seeds
¾ cup coconut oil, softened but not melted
1 cup unrefined cane sugar
3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup masa harina (corn flour)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
½ cup brown sesame seeds

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Supposedly, chocolate is a pre-columbian discovery beginning in 1200 b.c. in Central, South America and the Amazon regions. It has been found in an ancient Maya "teapot" which "...reopens the whole debate about who first invented chocolate," said Jonathan Haas, curator of the mouthwatering "Chocolate" exhibition at the Field Museum in Chicago. Whether the Maya were the first to invent chocolate or not, they definitely used it. It is even found in the Popol Vuh, a ancient book of mytho-historical narratives of the Post Classic Quiché kingdom in Guatemala's western highlands.

There are many different recipes of the hot chocolate, or hot cocoa, drink; which are apparently not the same thing. In Guatemala, you will find round chocolate disk-shaped patties ready to be prepared into a hot drink. These disks are put into boiling water where they dissolve into this typical drink. This kind of chocolate is different from the hot cocoa people are used to in the States. It has more of a cinnamon-like flavor and isn't as rich. If prepared with milk, you might get different results. Green & Black's , a UK chocolate company, touts their Maya Gold chocolate has some of the same spice flavor you would find in Guatemalan/Maya chocolate. "Traditionally the Maya Indians in southern Belize flavoured their cocoa with spices. We recapture this by blending rich, dark chocolate with a refreshing twist of orange that is perfectly balanced by the warmth of cinnamon, nutmeg and a hint of vanilla."

While researching the history of chocolate, I found this story pretty funny:

"Thomas Gage (1603-1656), an English Dominican friar and traveler, tried to intervene with the Bishop of Chiapas, Mexico over the congregation drinking chocolate during services. The women were fond of chocolate and turned church services into a coffeehouse. The Bishop tried to end this, and was consequently found dead. Poisoned chocolate was sent to the Bishop and Thomas Gage fled Chiapas. The rumor was that the women, who so hated the Bishop for this restriction, poisoned him with chocolate, hence the proverb "Beware the chocolate of Chiapa."

There are, of course, many claims that hot cocoa has curative powers, especially for high blood pressure due to a study done with the Kuna Indian tribe. "Studies show the flavonols in cocoa stimulate your body's production of nitric oxide --boosting blood flow to your heart, brain, and other organs. In fact, one study found cocoa thins your blood just as well as low-dose aspirin" It is also claimed to help treat blocked arteries, congestive heart failure, stroke, dementia, and impotence.

But, did you really need an excuse to enjoy chocolate? Have you tried the Guatemalan version?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Benefits I Find Walking in Nature

While we are visiting in the States waiting on Little Man to be born, I've been walking every morning on a trail I've created in the back of my parents property. Since they live outside of the city limits, there are not leash laws and dogs all around the neighborhood bark and chase anyone who walks by. Instead of fending them off every morning, and since not walking is not an option, I decided to walk around the (large) back part of their property. I was surprised to find benefits to this besides just avoiding pesky dogs.

Walking between trees means I get to see lots of colorful birds every morning. Blue jays, cardinals, finches, mockingbirds, hummingbirds and wrens are common with an occasional rarer sighting of a painted bunting. Besides seeing them, hearing them can be therapeutic. Julian Treasure, a sound expert says "We are losing our listening." In a short talk, below that I think is more than worth your time to listen to, he shares five ways to re-tune your ears for conscious listening -- to other people and the world around you. In this speech he mentioned listening to birds, wind and water as healing forms of sound- two of which I get to experience every morning while walking. This morning time without loud sounds is so nice.

Going along with the lack of loud sound, comes the ability to think, pray, and analyze things. I'm not very good at sitting still and just thinking most of the time. There always seems to be way too much to do. I need to keep my body moving in order to think. If I'm walking, just the fact that my body is moving and that there is relative auditory peace gives my brain the freedom and time to meditate. Everyone needs some sort of time to do this. I don't realize how badly I need this until I miss it during the weekend and the contrast is stark.

Another benefit has been developing stronger ankle muscles from walking on uneven terrain. This means I have had to be more cautious, especially in the beginning, but now I appreciate that. I like the hills that are almost unexpected. It makes walking on a road or a track almost boring and harsh. :D (Not to mention treadmills, which have a different set of benefits.)

The (heightened-during-pregnancy) sense of smell also benefits. Have you ever walked around a neighborhood when all of the trash cans were out for trash day? Enough said. The trees and grass and even occasional dog presents still smell better than any roadside experience!

In the mornings, especially, I can also sense the changing seasons stronger than at any other part of the day. In our triple digit summer, walking outside not long after daybreak was the only cool time of the day... it was also the first time I could sense the gradual fall-like cooling of temperatures that quickly heated up to our normal, hot summer days just prior to autumn.

Though I normally walk before anyone else is up now that the school year has started, when I had to walk with Talia during vacations, walking outside was great because she could play while I was walking. I could see her at any point on the trail since she usually played in the middle and she loved getting to be outside. For us, it was a win-win.

Something that has been challenging is knowing distance, but a pedometer would make that simple.

Do you prefer walking outside, at a gym, on a track, on a road or is hiking more your style? I see benefits to all of them. Most of all, I love the privilege of being able to walk and intend to do it for as long as I'm able.

Monday, November 14, 2011

"Bee-Bim Bop!" Beginning Reading Outloud with Homeschooling

Sometimes when I'm tired and reading out loud to Talia is sounding like more than I can handle, we like the stories that are read out loud online. One of our favorite places is found at PBS Kids Stories. Since this website wasn't available in Guatemala, this is one of the advantages of being back in the States for a bit, especially since pregnancy and being tired seem to go hand-in-hand!

An online story Talia has preferred since she was 1 year old, and still enjoys, is called "Bee-Bim Bop" and tells the story of a young Korean girl trying to help her mother make a dish called Bee-Bim Bop for supper. It's very simple and the rhyme and music make it fun. I think she also appreciates watching other little girls helping their mamas in the kitchen like she likes to do.

Something, then, that was really neat, was to see (spelled differently) Bi Bim Bop at a local restaurant lunch special menu. My mom remembered the name of the book and took this photo when she saw it on the menu.

It sounds delicious and is something we both want to try! If not at the restaurant, maybe with a good recipe.

Have you ever made Bi Bim Bop? I'd love for you to share your recipe and help this story come alive even more for Talia!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Brilliant Blue Indigo Bunting Birds Winter in Guatemala

Our neighbor is very good with animals and fond of birds in particular. She has shared her love of birds with Talia through books and feathers and stories of birds that come to her feeder and what they do. As a result, Talia really likes birds too. One of their favorite birds is the Indigo Bunting, a brilliantly blue bird that is not often seen around here.

They are usually found "in brushy and weedy areas along edges of cultivated land, woods, roads, power line rights-of-way, and in open deciduous woods and old fields. Winters in weedy fields, citrus orchards, and weedy cropland."

While looking for it online to show Talia a picture and let her hear his song, (her favorite part,) I found a map that showed the Indigo Bunting wintered in Guatemala! (As well as many parts of Central America.) This map shows where they have been spotted in Guatemala:

Some cool facts about the Indigo Bunting from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

"* The Indigo Bunting migrates at night, using the stars for guidance. It learns its orientation to the night sky from its experience as a young bird observing the stars.
* Experienced adult Indigo Buntings can return to their previous breeding sites when held captive during the winter and released far from their normal wintering area.
* The sequences of notes in Indigo Bunting songs are unique to local neighborhoods. Males a few hundred meters apart generally have different songs. Males on neighboring territories often have the same or nearly identical songs.
* Indigo and Lazuli buntings defend territories against each other in the western Great Plains where they occur together, share songs, and sometimes interbreed."

Something I love about homeschooling is the flexibility for Talia to learn about things that she finds interesting. I know we've both enjoyed learning about this bright blue songbird.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Childhood Artwork

My daughter, like most kids, has always loved drawing. She is constantly creating pictures on her magnetic drawing board, in the dirt with a stick, with colors on her paper or any other way she can figure out. I love it when she draws because it shows me a little bit more what the world looks like through her eyes... and most of the time, her depictions make me laugh in appreciation!

One of her favorite things to draw are bugs, spiders, butterflies and bumblebees. Once, a little, smiling bug appeared on the lid of her laundry pail (below.) He was so jovial and full of character, it was hard to explain how it wasn't appropriate to draw on the furniture with a straight face.

I think it's interesting that her pictures always involve characters from nature at this point in time. I like that she has enough contact with nature to feel that it is the natural thing for her to draw. However, it always has her own twist, like the spider (below) who looks quite startled!

At first, she would only use one color, when she used colors, to draw the entire picture. But as she has matured, she has begun to use multiple colors together to create a picture, like this picture of ducks in a pond:

Also, instead of drawing just outlines of things, she has recently begun coloring in some of her picture. Here, she was making a picture of a painted bunting for our neighbor as a thank you card for a book about birds for her birthday. I thought her bird turned out cute and had all of the right colors. He made me smile! :)

Do I think my child is a genius artist in the making? Not really... but I love seeing her art develop and appreciate all of the laughs and smiles she brings me with her whimsical pictures.