Welcoming 2016!

catnapHard to believe another year has passed by so quickly. It’s been a doozy, but we made it! And quite frankly, despite a large number of setbacks in life throughout 2015, I think we’ve actually come out the other side better for it all.

I know most people fuss and whine about “new year resolutions” and reflecting on the old year, etc. and that is fine, but I happen to LOVE the fresh new start of a brand new, sparkling year and so, if you’re one of those people, you might want to skip this post. ?

This is the first year that we haven’t had a single hospital visit for anyone in our immediate family! Woohoo! We have, however, made multiple ER runs with Melvin and Sofia.

2015 also marks the first year I left my kiddos and went out on my own for three nights. It went surprisingly well and we all enjoyed the little break from each other. And, this is the first year to see us as parents of a double digit preteen, since Dorian turned 10.

While it was a year of firsts, it was also a year of ends. The end of babies in our home. The end of the bakery. The end of more than a few relationships and friendships. That being said, there were also some new friends made and an old one reacquainted.

Truthfully, I feel like this has been a year of massive changes that weren’t necessarily visible from the outside. To me, it’s been months of becoming more self-aware and confident. My kids are at ages where they are more independent now and while I’d love to squash them to my side forever, I am learning to let go and let them spread their wings bit by bit as I watch, nervously, from the sidelines. But this has also freed me up to get more in touch with my real passions. And that is a good thing.

I’ve rediscovered my passion to help people Having a chance to go to the lake and work with Mayan Families and the Lake Atitlan Wellness Clinic helped me reaffirm that goal and so far we’ve delivered about $200 worth of medicines and a lot of baby clothes to the local hospital to help them out. We plan to expand on that in the coming year.

Life has many stages and for both Irving and I, it feels like we’ve moved into a new stage right now. We watch his siblings planning for and waiting for new babies and we smile at each other, comfortable in the knowledge that we’re okay with not having any more babies. Our family is growing up and . . . it’s okay. Bittersweet, but good. We’ve reached a new stage in our relationship, too. We’re able to focus on each other a bit more now that the kids are older and that has made a big difference in how we relate to each other. Hard to believe that after nearly 13 years, we still have things to learn about each other, but we do!

The shift in confidence and self-worth hasn’t just affected me. Irving has been coming into his own as a carpenter, too. He’s sold several pieces that he’s built and has become more excited about creating for others. It’s pretty neat to see!

What does 2016 hold? Who knows? Things rarely go as planned. However, I intend to learn to cook and sew better, build up my writing business and work on a couple of new projects with a friend or two. It’s going to be a good year.

Are you looking forward to 2016?

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Yes, I’m aware that I’m a tad late on the Merry Christmas part of this post, but things were crazy hectic over the holiday!

We like to prepare ahead of time for Christmas, so I buy stocking stuffers and gifts starting in January, when I see a good deal or anything that might not be available during Christmas. So I had most of those little gifts for the boys, plus we got them an Xbox when someone decided they didn’t want to bother moving their collection anymore and sold a massive amount of accessories, plus the original Xbox for a ridiculously low price. We jumped on it, months ago, so that was the big gift taken care of.

However, I wanted to make the kids their Christmas Eve jammies and some rice heating bags. I had a friend bring me the fabric from the US, which was perfect, but then I had to actually sew it. I’ve never done collars before and the first one I did turned out terribly!

In the end, I finished up the pajamas literally minutes before the boys headed to bed! I also made a little jacket for my niece, from fleece.

toddler jacket

rice bags

I also did the boys’ stockings, since Dominic had a baby stocking and was ready to move up to a full-size. Instead of replicating the ones I made for the older boys years ago, I just did new ones and they turned out fairly well! And hats for each kid!

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At midnight, we woke the boys up, but Dominic would just not wake up! So the big kids went out to burn bombas and I stayed in the house, in case Dominic did wake and freak out with all the noise. I needn’t have worried! He slept like a rock most of the night. So, when the kids were done with their firecrackers, they came in for hot chocolate and tamales. Melvin and his wife and Sofia 3 came over, too.

On Christmas Day, the kids opened their stockings and presents, then we had a huge dinner with 15 people on our patio! It was pretty amazing, though I was behind in finishing everything for the dinner. We had over a couple of my friends and one’s children, plus Melvin’s family and Gaby and her husband. It was a very fun afternoon, until we received word that my MIL was on her way home and everyone scattered in panic.

I hope all my readers had a terrific holiday and enjoy the new year.

The Nest

Yesterday, we were sitting in the car while Irving ran in to the post office and we saw a bird’s nest in the post office light.

At first glance, all the kids thought it was a terrible idea for a bird to build a nest in that particular location. I pointed out that it was pouring rain . . . but the nest was still dry. They decided that it might not be such a bad idea to build a nest under a roof.

From there, the ideas began to flow!

“The lightbulb might keep the babies warm at night, when the mama has to find food.”

“Well, they’ll ALWAYS find their nest at night because it has a light!”

“There are bars on the side so the eggs can’t roll out and the babies will stay in.”

“I bet lots of people drop food on the street that they can eat.”

“The big roof is good, but the light has a roof, too. The birds will NEVER get wet!”

I found it fascinating to watch the process of going from “what a terrible idea” to “that’s a great spot!”

It also made me think that we need to use this skill in our everyday lives. How often do we think of things in a negative light? I know I’m quite the pessimist (well, I consider myself a realist, but that’s a whole other blog post)!

I think I’m going to try and apply this positive twist thinking to other areas of my life.

Kefir and Growing Cultures

A friend of mine recently gave me some milk kefir grains. I’ve made water kefir before, but my BIL drank it and tossed the grains, thinking they were just junk. Oops. With the milk kefir, I’ve been making “yogurt” and using it in smoothies and ice cream. This is the way to get it into little bellies!

The boys haven’t realized yet that the kefir is what is making their yogurt, but with some fresh fruit and a little honey, it tastes pretty much like the normal yogurt, but with super amounts of probiotics. We’re hoping this will help Dorian’s intestines, but I think it will be great for the whole family.

So far, I’m still learning. My first two batches overcultured rather quickly. I suppose a tropical country isn’t ideal . .. the kefir is done in about 24 hours here! However, the thicker kefir is great for making yogurt and I want to try draining it to create “cheese” but that hasn’t happened yet, since we’ve used it all up in other dishes. The main issue with culturing the kefir for so long is that it gets a little sour. Nothing a bit of honey won’t fix, though!

On the topic of cultures, I’ve also started a sourdough culture so I can begin to offer sourdough bread in the bakery. I suspect it will be a big deal, since it’s not something you see around here. Next up? Sauerkraut! I’ve been dying for some good sauerkraut and need to find a crock or something similar to make it in, since my last attempt went bad due to using a poor container. We’ll see what happens!

Do you have a favorite culture?

The Expat Freelancer

As everyone knows, I totally need more projects to keep me busy. So, I’ve started to work more on a site that I’ve actually had for a year and have been mucking about with from time to time. I recently revised my main writing site, Ink Your Way and it seemed natural to build up the side blog, too. The “new” blog is called The Expat Freelancer and as the name implies, it’s mainly for expats who are looking to earn a living writing.

Part of the reason this all came about now is that I joined Gumroad’s Small Product Lab and my product is a pricing guide for freelance writers. It ties in perfectly with the website, so I figured I’d start building it up again. I’m really enjoying working on this side of things, teaching people instead of just writing for them.

That being said, writing is going fairly well. I am working on a number of client projects, some exciting, some not-so-much, but there’s at least a steady stream of work, for which I am grateful!

 

 

What Do You Miss From Home?

If you’d asked me this question when I’d been in Guatemala a year, I could have given you a loooong list of things I missed terribly. Stuff like Twizzlers, cornbread, real hamburgers, the ocean, walking into a store and picking up what you want instead of asking for it . . .the list went on.

Now that I’ve been here nearly 13 years, the question doesn’t have the same weight. There was a time when I would yearn for things from Canada, sad that Guatemala didn’t have the basics that I was used to. Over the years, that’s changed. When someone asks me what I miss, I’m hard-pressed to remember things that I once would have traded my left arm for.

This is partially due to the fact that many things are available here now and they weren’t back in the day. Over a decade has passed and you can now find things like Bragg’s Amino acids, root beer and plenty of other once impossible items in the supermarket. And part of my lack of things to miss is that I’ve simply forgotten them or gotten used to the alternatives here.

Soy sauce was once the bane of my life in Guatemala. It was sweeter than I liked  and my sister would bring me bottles of China Lily when she came down. Now, I could care less. I’ll happily swap those bottles of China Lily for something else.

Things I still do vaguely miss, when I think of them, include:

  • Blueberries (though they are available here, but they’re crazy expensive)
  • Cherries
  • Real lemons, the yellow kind
  • Black forest ham
  • Dates
  • Libraries

Yes, it’s nearly all food. Funny how that works, isn’t it? But then again, if I were to move back to Canada, I would miss avocados, pitaya, pineapple and tamales an awful lot! I think food is very much a part of culture.

If you’d told me 12 years ago, or even 10 years ago, that I would stop missing things from my home country, I probably would have shaken my head adamantly and told you that you were terribly mistaken. But it’s true. After a while, things just don’t matter anymore. Sure, they’re nice to have, but they’re not pieces of home that cause you homesickness anymore.

I guess, if you live somewhere long enough, anything can become the norm!

Getting Closer!

I’ve always wanted a piece of land with some animals and some semblance of self-sufficiency. My parents were very self-sufficient for most of my life and I had a huge stack of Mother Earth News magazines from the early days that inspired me.

Life happens though, and while I do live in one of the best countries for homesteading (hello, banana trees!) it just hasn’t been something we’ve gotten into. BUT, we’re getting closer. Irving has finally accepted the idea of getting some chickens. Zanelle has a chicken at her house, which is on a sort of leash, like a dog. I take all my kitchen scraps to it and the chicken is like a little puppy, jumping around when it sees me coming, cooing at me and eagerly grabbing for the strawberry tops and cucumber peels that I toss.

Even more recently, we were on one of our hikes and the boys spotted a goat. Now, I’ve wanted goats for a long while. I was raised with a herd of goats on our land and it seems more practical than a cow. Plus, goat’s milk makes pretty good cheese, which I’d love to sell.

Anyway. The boys were talking to the goat and the goat was talking back. Irving stopped to check it out and said, “You know, we could have a goat and take it up the mountain to graze sometimes.” That was all the encouragement I needed! I started to check out the goats for sale in the area and grill my dad about raising them.

While we probably won’t be getting the goats for a bit yet, chickens are definitely coming home soon. Irving will be building a little coop for them. He’s already building me some planters for the fruit trees and herbs I want. Bit by bit, we’re getting closer to the dream.

The Past Two Weeks

Life is definitely a rollercoaster. There are times when it’s so awesome, you just can’t help but whoop. And then there are times when you just feel horrible and want the whole thing to stop so you can get off.

The past two weeks have been like that around here. Irving hasn’t had much work lately, which is usually fine, because I tend to have work when he doesn’t. And I did. But somehow, three of my regular clients just stopped paying me. Why? I’m not even sure. I did the work, sent it, and . . . crickets. It was actually four clients, but I managed to get one to pay.

Just after his birthday, Dante started to complain of stomach pain. It came and went, so we figured it was amoebas or something and gave him basil tea. It didn’t help and on the third day, he was in so much pain, he was doubled over crying and the pain was worse when his stomach was pressed. We rushed him to the doctor . . . only to find the doctor was on vacation. With a crying child in the backseat, we headed for the ER. After a somewhat traumatic exam, it was determined that he had an intestinal infection. We scraped up the cash to get his meds and headed home. On the way home, the car died and we got a phone call from our niece saying that Dorian was vomiting (he’d had an enema earlier). Talk about amping up the stress levels!

After about 10 minutes, Irving discovered that the battery connections were loose. With those fixed, the car started up and we took off for home. Fortunately, both boys recovered fairly quickly.

Hospital visits are never easy with children and for Irving and me, they can be a scary reminder of past visits. I can’t walk into Hospital Hermano Pedro without my stomach clenching and my heart starting to pound. Though it’s the hospital where Dominic was born, it will always be the place I ran into with a nearly lifeless child in my arms and that trauma apparently doesn’t fade! Fortunately, Dante doesn’t have those memories, so he was mostly bored while we sat around waiting for test results.

It’s been two weeks and my clients are still non-responsive. While Irving is picking up odd gigs here and there, life with two freelancers in the house can be . . . shall we say, challenging? ? In addition to the previously mentioned issues, our car is broken down and several other things have gone wrong. When it rains, it pours, right?

Fortunately, life is like a roller coaster. You have dips and twists and all manner of unpleasant downs, but there’s always an up again, at some point. Here’s to that up coming sooner, rather than later.

 

Laundry Weather

We’re gearing up for the rainy season here, but before it starts, the dry season is really giving its all to make things dry. This means HOT sun all day long most every day. Great laundry weather!

Unfortunately, while this much sun is nice for drying towels and jeans, it’s kinda melty human weather. Apparently it’s not even 30º, but let me tell you, with the tin roof, it’s nearly unbearable! Practically an oven in here.

That being said, I know that very soon, we’ll be getting torrential downpours all evening and night. That will be nice, though the damp brings its own problems like mold and leaks in the roof that never appear until it’s REALLY pouring. Each season has it’s pros and cons, so I’ll just try to enjoy them all.

35 is Halfway to 70

I turned 35 on the 12th. It was a quiet day. No sister here to bake a cake and all that this year, but the boys were up late making me gifts the night before. In the morning, they presented me with their creations. :) Dorian wrote me a comic book and Dante drew me several pictures. It was very sweet and they both made me laugh with their goofy humor. Dominic regaled me with kisses, since he’d been sent to bed on time the night before.

Irving bought me some wine and smoked Gouda to enjoy while we watched Arrow that evening, so that was nice. Plus, a friend stopped by to wish me Happy Birthday in person.

Overall, it was a pretty good day. The downsides were grumpy kids and tantrums from Dominic, as one might expect as a mother! No breakfast in bed, but that Gouda was delicious!