Friday, January 31, 2014

Stuff. And stuff.

We're moving. Again.

I count the number of times we've moved every time it happens. I'm too tired to think it through right now, but I'm pretty sure when I counted the other day, it was 15 in 9 years and 1 month of marriage, not counting moving into our first apartment. Apparently this is a family trait (Michael's side) because when I mentioned this number on Facebook several family members boasted very high moving rates as well.

We are practically experts. We've helped friends move using our moving expertise. It's annoying to move, like spring cleaning is annoying. But there's also something freeing about it. We throw away junk (or recycle) or have a yard sale just about every time we move. We accumulate extra stuff in a short period of time and moving helps us simplify. One advantage of moving so often is after awhile, there's not much left to get rid of.

We've learned that the bigger the house/apartment we're in, the more stuff slowly appears. One year we lived in a large house with several rooms, and we were surprised at the end of 12 months how much extra stuff had somehow filled the empty spaces.

10 months ago was our biggest move. We were sorting our belongings into 3 categories:

a) pack to take with us to Guatemala
b) pack away for five years
c) yard sale because it's not going with us and not worth saving for five years

We came to Guatemala with about 8 duffel bags, mostly clothes, toys, books, and necessary coffee making equipment. We moved into a house rented by MCC for years. Every piece of furniture, every plastic cup and fork and pyrex dish was here when we moved in.

Mennonites don't like to throw things away. I imagine the thinking goes like this:
This broken plastic water jug? I'm sure somewhere, someone could fix it. So, we can't throw it away. That would be wasteful. We'll just stick it in the shed until someone in the future wants to fix it.
Cleaning out the shed
Besides all the "fixable" broken or useless junk in the back, this house has been the collecting place for any MCC worker who comes and goes, so we have several extra sets of kitchen supplies, sheets, blankets, lamps, etc.

Moving is a bit different this time in that we are sorting through junk that we inherited, and that could be fixed and/or used someday. 

We are moving because the owners of this house who have rented to MCC for years are leaving the country. We knew this was going to happen, it was just a matter of when. The timing has been a blessing with finding a place to rent within two days of the house selling.

I've been pondering the process of searching for a home within the context of signing a contract to live simply, not to mention while simultaneously working on our program budget for the entire year. That's another post.

For now, I close with silly pictures of my oldest, who, while I was taking pictures of our stuff strewn about, said to me, "Mommy, why don't you take a picture of me?"
I obliged.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Repost: The Disaster that was San Francisco '12

I have several posts half-written. I can't quite work up the motivation to complete them. They're mostly blah.

So, today I thought I'd repost one of my most popular blog posts ever, because, well, I need the reminder that life these days, though insane at times, could be worse.

It's a story of a trip we took to San Francisco with a recently potty trained 2-year old, and a 4 month-old. Here's the link, or you can read the text below.

Warning: excrement is mentioned occasionally in the following post. 

The Disaster that was San Francisco '12

I was looking forward to a fun family day in the Bay. We had never been as a family. Maybe we would get a caricature of the girls or buy some funny souvenirs. We planned to see Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39 and Ghirardelli Square.

As we approached the 7-mile toll bridge before the city, we heard from the back seat, "I'm poopin'."

Those two words used to make me drop what I was doing to race to the nearest bathroom, assuming it was too late. I've learned that this statement actually means, "Mommy, I need to poop now and I can hold it for maybe a few minutes but we better find a potty soon."

As I said, we were approaching the toll bridge. No toilet in sight. "Ellie, you're going to have to hold it and we will find a potty in one minute." Any time we use a time increment, it's always one more minute. "Ellie, you have one more minute of play time. Ellie, you have one more minute of time out." That minute can be anywhere from 30 seconds to several minutes, and in this case, it was looking like it was going to be an eternity.

I looked at her face. She looked worried. We all realized she might not hold it. We paid the toll and slowly scooted across the bridge. "Look, Ellie, boats!" I tried to distract her. As the beautiful downtown San Francisco skyline came into view I had one thought: "That's a lot of buildings. I bet there are hundreds, no, thousands of toilets staring at us, but we can't get to even one of them."

I don't remember when I realized it was too late. My poor girl couldn't hold it any longer. She informed me that her pants were wet. She seemed sheepish and confused. I felt bad for her and was also feeling badly for the parent that would be cleaning up the mess.

We started pulling in to a parking space as another car started backing in. After a passive aggressive discussion with the older couple (I wanted to yell out my window, "we have a poopy toddler in here! That trumps you being old!" but I only mumbled it loud enough for Michael to hear), we caved in and drove to the parking garage with all of its outlandish fees.

Michael gets the hero award for cleaning up the mess of a carseat and child while I nursed Hazel in the cold, dark parking garage. We were determined to be positive and still had a whole day in front of us. This was only the second pants change of the day, after all. No big deal. (The first change was a few hours earlier. Despite making it to the toilet at the gas station Ellie's aim was off and she still needed a change of clothes. Who knew girls could aim out the toilet too?)

We loaded up our two strollers and headed towards Fisherman's Wharf. We had been given a few recommendations for lunch and were looking forward to some yummy food. We got to the restaurant and were deciding where to sit when we heard a tiny voice, "potty." Michael pushed her stroller to the bathroom and a few minutes later returned, shaking his head. Apparently they were too late, and the stroller and her pants were soaked. Of course I forgot to throw in a new pair of pants so back to the car Michael went, a 15-minute walk each way.

At lunch. Hazel was a happy girl, at least.
I found a new restaurant closer to the car and 30 minutes later I finally saw two little side ponytails up on Michael's shoulders heading my way.

After a somewhat disappointing 2PM lunch we decided we must go to Ghirardelli Square. We walked towards the chocolate tourist trap and once again heard, "potty." We were a few blocks from the Square and the public restroom within it. Michael took Ellie and started running and I would meet them there.

I got to the fountain and waited with Hazel. It was starting to get chilly outside.

Here we are waiting, the Ghirardelli sign behind us.
A more accurate depiction of how I felt about the day so far.
Michael came around the corner carrying Ellie. I was hopeful. He had made it all the way to the men's restroom only to stand in line. Several stalls of men sitting and looking at their smart phones caused my poor girl to pee on Michael's arm as they stood there, so close, yet not close enough. Thank you, men of San Francisco, for taking your sweet time on the pot so my little girl could have yet another accident.

The parking garage with our car was directly below the Square. We decided to head to the car. I could feed Hazel again, Michael could change Ellie and also get a new shirt since his was wet with pee, and then we could return for the long awaited chocolate ice cream.

Michael changed Ellie once again in the cold parking garage. 4 hours after our arrival we were in the same spot again, a few accidents later, and nothing but a quick lunch in between. We decided we were paying way too much to use the parking garage as a changing center without even getting to enjoy much of the Bay. It was getting too cold for ice cream anyway.

We had heard there are several great coffee shops to try in San Francisco. There is nothing Michael and I like more than to find a warm, cozy coffee shop on a cold day and enjoy a good cup of joe. Hopefully this would help salvage the day.

We drove a few miles and as we were parking, once again from the back seat: "I'm poopin'."

Seriously? Are you serious? You need to go AGAIN? "We're almost there. One more minute."

We parked. We got Ellie out and she started crying, "I'm poopin," and this time I knew she meant IT'S TOO LATE, I'M LITERALLY POOPING RIGHT NOW. I quickly grabbed a plastic bag, pulled her pants down, and tried to get her to squat and finish in the bag. It was a mess. She was a mess.

We debated just loading back up and heading for the hotel. I was done. The Bay had been a disaster with zero fun had by us all, except maybe Hazel who enjoyed walking around in the baby carrier. It was getting cold and our frustration level was reaching its max.

But oh, the idea of sitting in a warm coffee shop caressing a mug beckoned us. A cup of good espresso can fix a lot of bad in our book. We were determined to have at least one good thing happen in our day. Never underestimate the power of good coffee. We set off on a hunt for this shop, wondering if we had enough pants to make it through the rest of the day.

A few blocks later we found what we were searching for, only, it wasn't. It was an outdoor coffee stand. With little garden chairs to sit on. In the cold.

I forced myself to be positive: "I WILL enjoy this coffee, despite the cold. I WILL sit and relax and forget about this crazy day. I WILL enjoy a few minutes with my daughter so we can all have one good memory of this day."

The coffee was good. I sat on the cold patio furniture and released the day, trying not to be distracted by how cold I was. Ellie was sipping her first hot chocolate. Ever. It was a sweet moment. She sipped it and said, "yummy inside." Michael and I smiled at each other. "Finally. This moment is helping redeem the whole day," I thought to myself. "Despite the cold and the atmosphere, this is a precious moment." 
Ellie's first hot chocolate.
Then this happened.
I'm pretty sure she had two sips. I may have shed a few tears. Seriously. I couldn't take it anymore. The fleeting thought of redemption through hot chocolate was flowing away down the sidewalk.

We finished our coffee, let Ellie play on a nearby play structure for a few minutes, and left for the hotel.

I could explain how the hotel charged us for parking for the week when it was supposed to be included.  I could mention how tired and hungry we were and how our patience was down to zero. I could mention our tired toddler or our crying baby. But I'll move on past the hotel lobby and the two cranky parents yelling at the hotel employees.

Michael and Ellie had a fun time in the pool. We ordered room service pizza. We considered finding a laundromat because two pairs of clean pants didn't seem enough for the next day of travel, but we decided to risk it. We all slept well.

We enjoyed our complimentary breakfast. The front desk ladies couldn't change the parking situation but we did get free breakfast and we were upgraded to the Executive Floor-the quiet floor with no kids. We got some dirty looks from the businessmen in their suits the next morning as our daughter yelled happily down the hallway past all of the Shhhhh! signs on each door.

We were waiting for the airport shuttle and Michael was paying at the front desk. I looked over at Ellie. She looked away and her face turned red. "Ellie, are you pooping?" It was happening right in front of me.

I threw Hazel in the car seat, bonking her head as she started to cry, scooped Ellie up, yelled to Michael across the lobby for all to hear, "She's pooping!" and ran to the bathroom as fast as I could holding 25 pounds by the armpits.

The good news was her pants could still be worn. The bad news was the shuttle had arrived and the driver made it clear he was not happy to be waiting. Michael came into the empty women's bathroom, grabbed a shoeless Ellie, I grabbed the messy clothes wrapped in paper towels, and we all ran to the front of the hotel, making the shuttle late and getting dirty looks from all aboard.

At the airport we made the decision to put a pull-up on Ellie. A little late for that thought. She stayed dry on the plane. Of course.

Ellie's first plane ride as an official passenger.
On our drive from Denver to Colorado Springs she mentioned something about potty but we just drove. She had a pull-up on and there was no way we'd make it to a toilet anyway.

Someday we hope to go back to San Francisco. I'd like to eat some ice cream at Ghirardelli Square.

Ellie did well in Colorado. The first day she was a bit tentative, but after a couple of days she was back to her potty-trained self. I think the first incident in the car on the toll bridge confused her and threw her off for a few days, but I'm happy to report that we're home and she did great both on the airplane and on our drive home. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

So far in January...

Silly sister moments
Trucks with Daddy 
First lickings of a beater
Good-bye, pacifier.
We cut the tip off, so despite Hazel's best efforts to find a way to use it, it's officially retired.
We're all still coping. Naps will never be the same again.
Sister moment caught on the stairs
This duo.
Because the only thing more fun than pizza is a pizza picnic outside...
...followed by smores.
Unlike her sister, this one has a major sweet tooth.
Quick work trip to the north. Ellie makes new friends wherever we go. 
Ellie painted this mug for Mother's Day 2 years ago. She was 18 months old. 
We brought it to Guatemala. This week, it shattered into hundreds of pieces on the floor.
Sad day for this momma. 
And now this one is 18 months old.
Happy 1 1/2 years, Hazelnut.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A mob, a massacre, a mudslide, and MCC


During the civil war, Santiago Atitlan, like many areas of Guatemala, felt the weight of heavy military presence. The particular area where the Peace Park now sits was a military zone, a “temporary” base that remained for more than ten years. 

On the night of December 1, 1990, an incident changed this place forever. There are different accounts of how it all started, but a young person was shot by the military after a skirmish with the new military commander. Neighbors went to the town square and rang the church bells to gather a group to address the military. A large group of local indigenous men, women and children formed (between 3000 and 6000) and headed to the base. The mayor asked for the commander to be turned over, and in the course of a few minutes the soldiers opened fire on the crowd, killing 13 people, including some children and a young boy of five years old. 

The site where 5 year old Nicholas was shot by soldiers on December 2, 1990.
This incident received national attention, and in a short time the president ordered the military to leave. Santiago Atitlan has the distinction of being the only large town in the country where the military left during the civil war. 
The Peace Park: ANADESA staff telling the story of  the massacre on December 2, 1990.
The Peace Park includes the letter from the President ordering the military to leave as well as the gravestones of all 13 people who died. Each gravestone is placed in the exact location that each body was found. (For more information about the history of this area, go here.) Some call this history a massacre. Others label it an uprising, as the "mob" was carrying sticks and stones and were ready to take action.

Mass is held here the 2nd of every month, and every December 2nd there is a service to commemorate the events. 


During Hurricane Stan in 2005 there was torrential rainfall for several days around Santiago Atitlan. Finally, in the middle of one terrible night, the rain caused a severe mudslide on the side of a volcano. The mud spewed down the volcano, covering houses, schools, and killing hundreds of people sleeping in their homes. 
An abandoned home.
Many of the survivors relocated to a nearby town, leaving hundreds of damaged homes behind.
This plaque from the house above indicates that it was built just a year before the mudslide destroyed it. 
MCC in Santiago Atitlan

MCC works with ANADESA, a local organization in Santiago Atitlan that emerged out of the aftermath of the mudslide and Hurricane Stan.

ANADESA focuses on community education, with an after school program for children, as well as adult education programs. The literacy rate among adults is extremely low in this area.

Today, ANADESA has a co-op where men and women make jewelry to sell to visitors. They make all-natural shampoo, disenfectant, and candles as well. ANADESA offers educational tours of the area and home stay experiences where one can stay with a local indigenous family. 

On our visit, we took a walk through the areas damaged by the mudslide. 
 Homes abandoned after Hurricane Stan in 2005
They seemed like ghost towns. Empty, abandoned houses spotted the countryside, the ominous, dormant volcano sitting quietly behind. The quiet was eery. 
The mudslide started up on this volcano.
The government refuses to help rebuild in this area because it's a high risk zone, although it seems to many that anything near a volcano is in a high risk zone. 

Recently, ANADESA moved its offices from the directors house (see my last post) to a newly constructed building with plans to continue to expand. The office is right next to Atitlan’s Peace Park.

Here they sell products from the co-op.

Bracelets and necklaces.
Key chains.

One our staff's host families makes jewelry for the co-op.
Lake Atitlan is surrounded by three volcanos. Santiago Atitlan has a rich history and is one of the few towns where many of the men still wear the indigenous dress.
Men's pants for sale.
This area is known for the beautiful embroidery work of birds and bright purple colors in the clothes.
We currently send one young adult here every year as part of the MCC young adult live and serve program. We have an opening for next year if you know anyone who might be a good fit! Check out our current staff person's blog. He has some great stories of living and working near Lake Atitlan.
Avocado day at the central market in Santiago Atitlan.