A Season of Sickness

We’ve been hit with one illness after another around here. It all started with a common cold that escalated into something far more serious for me, though the boys got over it fairly rapidly. However, once our immune systems were compromised, that was it! We were fair game for every little virus. The kids all came down with nasty colds again a week after the first one, Dorian’s GI tract has been acting up and we’ve had multiple consults with the doctor about how to manage his issues.

Then the night before last, Dominic woke up vomiting and vomited for several hours before falling asleep, completely empty, and waking up just fine in the morning. I’m not sure what happened there, since we eat the same food!

Finally, we’re getting over all these colds and tummy bugs and whatever else seems to be thrown our way. Here’s to it actually being the end for a while! Now to rebuild these immune systems!

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?

What On Earth is Going On in Guatemala?

The kids and I have been ridiculously ill the past couple of weeks and while the boys are doing fine now, I’m still feverish and not doing a lot, hence the severe lack of posts here. However, some of you may have noticed that something is going on in Guatemala. Something big.

I’m not going to go into it all here, but you can read about what is happening in this Buzzfeed article. It gives a very good overview of things.

What I am going to talk about is my thoughts on this whole thing. I’m proud of Guatemala. This may not be my natal country, but it is most definitely my country now and I have never, in 13 years, seen the people of this country pull together like this. It’s amazing and beautiful.

Guatemala has a bad reputation for being violent. There have been many, many protests in the past, but never have I seen this many people involved, from every social level in this country, protesting . . . not just together, but peacefully! Millions of  people in cities across Guatemala are coming together, sick of the corruption and ready for change. Will it change? Will Guatemala become the country it has the potential to become? Maybe . . . maybe not. I don’t think it will happen all at once, but this, the people of Guatemala getting upset and taking a stand against corruption is what is needed here.

Kids Say the Darndest Things: Episode 91

Me: “Dorian! You’ve grown again!”
Dorian: “Yeah, I know.”
Me: “Who gave you permission to grow?”
Dorian: “Um, God?”
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Dominic had an accident outside because the bathroom was occupied.
Me: “You peed EVERYWHERE!”
Dominic: “No, I didn’t pee on the toilet seat this time.”
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Dorian: holding up a flat tortilla chip. “This looks like the symbol for the Illuminati.”
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Me: “Boys! Dinnertime!”
Dorian: running into the house “It feels like we’re a real family! You know, where the kids play outside until dark and then the mom calls them in for supper.”
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Overheard in the living room. “NO! NO! NO! What if Dominic gets hurt?!”
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Dorian: “I’m taking The Impossible Quiz. Okay, it says . . . is the glass half full or half empty? Wait, I can’t even SEE a glass!”
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Dorian: “Did you know in Ireland they call potatoes ‘spuds?’ I love that word! I’m never saying potato again. I’m only calling them spuds!”
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Dorian: “I noticed you were already awake when we had the earthquake.”
Me: “Yeah, Dominic wasn’t sleeping well.”
Dorian: “He kept you up all night again? Is that why you’re tired? You know, I’ve heard there are sleeping pills, maybe we should get him some . . . ”
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Dominic: “Mama! There’s a spider!!!”
Me: “It’s just a bitty one, don’t worry about it.”
Dominic: “Just PUNCH it, Mama!”
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Dominic: “I have an angry eye and a good eye. What eye do you see?”
Me: “Um, the good one?”
Dominic: “No, that’s the angry one. I’m good and I’m bad, but right now, I’m angry.”
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Dorian: “Dante could get a job in paperwork.”
Dante: “That’s really hard!”
Dorian: “Yeah, you have to make thousands of notes and stamp things and pile papers up. Actually, I’m not sure they pay for that.”
Dante: “I can pick my OWN job!”
Dorian: “They might give you food.”
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I cut Dante’s fingernails, which grow ridiculously fast.
Dante: “I feel so strange without my claws.”
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The boys were watching a YouTube video and I heard familiar music.
Me: “Hey, that’s the music from the Titanic movie I told you about.”
Dorian: “Yeah, we know. This is a Frozen/Titanic mashup. Elsa sinks the Titanic. That’s the REAL story!”
Cue hysterical laughter.
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Me: “Note to self, don’t play Agar.io when baking.”
Dorian: “Why?”
Dante: “Because you get distracted and burn stuff, right, Mama?”
Me: “Yes, I burned these a little.”
Dorian: “So, would that be a life lesson, then?”
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Dominic: “I see ants. Everything has a name and these are named ants. And I call them ants.”
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Dominic: “Mama, do you have bad dreams?”
Me: “Sometimes. And you?”
Dominic: “Yes. I have bad dreams with trees and snakes.”
Me: “Snakes in the trees?”
Dominic: “They climb the trees, so yeah. And they fall on the head and bite and make you sad. It’s a bad dream.”
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Overheard in the living room. “If you don’t stop bugging me, I’ll become hostile.”
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Dominic: “Hey, these jammies have pockets!”
Me: “Oh, nice, I didn’t notice.”
Dominic: “For the money can get in! And the cars.”

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!

Keeping Busy

Work has picked up lately, which means that everything has picked up, of course. Isn’t that always the way? Here’s what has been going on around here:

Dominic is:

  • Reading sentences and wants to practice reading daily
  • Playing in the rain and mud
  • Arranging the flowering plants (in pots) to his liking around the patio

Dante is:

  • Sculpting with the clay some wonderful blog readers brought us
  • Painting up a storm
  • Bugging his brothers
  • Crafting and reading

Dorian is:

  • Preparing to become a “Youtuber”
  • Taking a programming course on Khan Academy
  • Creating comics

Irving is:

  • Making furniture, signs, and shelves from pallets to sell on Antigua Rustico
  • Playing music gigs (as usual)
  • Taking the kids for hikes while I work

I’m:

  • Writing for several clients, including sales copy, a novel and website copy
  • Baking up a storm, by myself, with friends and for business
  • Redoing my websites to be FDA compliant
  • Sewing NICU vests and gowns for preemies

What are you up to?

A Third World Hospital

Just what is a third world hospital like? It all depends on where you go. I’ve had quite a few experiences with the public hospitals in Guatemala, but most of those were years ago, when I miscarried our early babies and when the two older boys were born. Dorian’s later surgeries and Dominic’s birth were in private hospitals, so dealing with my mother-in-law being in a public hospital was a return to a familiar world.

Most people know that third world hospitals aren’t going to be that great, but what other option do people have if they don’t have money? Something I’ve learned is that the system has gotten far, far worse than when I was giving birth in San Felipe’s hospital. Or perhaps it was simply because I was there for something natural and normal, rather than needing special help. Either way, here’s a look at what a public hospital in Guatemala is like these days.

1. Bring Your Own _____

The hospital will give you food and a bed. That’s pretty much it. The food is very basic, as is to be expected. There’s no fancy JELLO here! You’ll be served a spoonful of beans, a piece of bread and a melamine cup of atol (a thick drink, like gruel). If you’re lucky, you’ll get a side of veggies or a piece of plantain. It’s not filling, but it will keep you alive. Let me just say that this tiny amount of food is NOTHING when you’ve just had a baby and haven’t eaten in 12+ hours!

Now, while this is provided, there is NO water offered in the hospital. You will need someone to bring you a bottle of water or you will have to drink from the unfiltered taps in the bathroom. Which I’ve seen many women do, since there is only one visiting hour in the day. If you have your baby or go in early in the morning, you’re kinda hooped until 2pm.

2. Call Buttons, Shmall Buttons

Don’t expect to be able to call a nurse when you need one! There are no call buttons here and if you do get up to find a nurse, you’ll most likely be scolded and sent back to bed without any real help. I suspect the nurses are jaded and underpaid here and are tired of being unable to tell a patient that a doctor is on his way or give out any concrete information.

3. What to Wear

You can’t take anything into the hospital with you. When you arrive at the ER, one person may accompany you and that person will be given everything you have on you in a plastic bag, including earrings, underwear, and shoes and socks. You will be given a gown that may be in pretty poor condition (my MIL wore one with a huge tear in the side and no ties).

During the visiting hour, family or friends can bring you flip flops and such. Until then, you get to show off your assets. ?

4. Need Meds? Buy Them Yourself

The hospitals here work on a very limited budget and have virtually no supplies. When Dante had to go into the ER a couple of years back, there was a child brought in who had drowned in a well. They were trying desperately to resuscitate this little boy and one of the doctors was pacing the hall, calling every resource she could think of to try and find a ventilator so they could try and save this little one. They were bagging by hand until they could get hold of one. Can you imagine? That’s a vital piece of equipment for a hospital that serves at least a dozen towns!

My MIL needs a metal plate in her shoulder. The hospital does not provide this. Instead, they give you a prescription for it, should you be lucky enough to get a surgical consult, and it’s up to you to go and buy it. If you don’t have the money, your loved one remains in limbo, waiting until the family can get the pieces and the medications they need. The blood tests she required were also extra out of pocket costs.

As Irving put it, “This is basically a public hospital now, because you have to pay for everything except the bed!” This makes it extremely difficult for families who are unable to raise the money for a necessary operation.

 5. Doctors Off Call

When I had Dorian, there were no doctors in the hospital. Since the hospital in San Felipe is a teaching one, it’s full of interns and residents who seem really resentful of their need to be there. When things go wrong, there isn’t always a doctor around to step in and that can be dangerous. Fortunately, I never had an issue with that, but there are people who have.

All that being said . . .

I am very grateful that there ARE public hospitals here. They aren’t the best and they have many, many faults, but they also provide medical care to those who can’t afford it elsewhere. There are some doctors, like Dorian’s surgeon, who are true to their oaths and are willing to help their patients and make life better for them.

While most of my experiences have been bad, Dante’s birth was a wonderful experience with the help of two amazing female doctors in the same hospital where I had such a terrible experience with Dorian’s birth. So, I think there are a number of people working in these poor conditions, trying their best to help, but without the necessary resources to do so. That’s sad, but it gives me hope that things can get better.

Why My Children Are Allowed to Play Computer Games

There’s a lot of opinions out there against screen time for kids. I had a friend with a 9 year old who had no idea how to use a computer and I’ve seen many, many people criticizing parents for allowing their children to play computer games.

In our house, we’re gamers. That’s the way it is and I’m not going to apologize for it, for several reasons. First, it’s our decision as parents to let our kids have computer time. Second, we’ve actually found computer games to be beneficial in many ways. I know those are crazy words, but let’s take a look at some of the things my boys have learned from playing games.

1. How to Use a Computer

I think children MUST learn to use the computer these days. Not many jobs exist where you aren’t going to be using a computer at least a little. Not allowing children to gain valuable skills in technology is doing them a disservice in my opinion.

2. Language Skills

Yes, you can learn vocabulary from books and other methods, but I’ve seen quite the jump in vocabulary, thanks to my kids playing games. The in-game stories are often advanced and give them vocabulary you might not hear normally from an 8 and 9 year old.

3. Reading Skills

When my kids were just learning to read, they were reluctant to pick up a book. Give them a game, however, and they were all over it! Dorian looks up information online to read about games he enjoys and reading instructions kept them learning early on.

4. Reasoning and Strategy

There’s no shortage of reasoning and strategy when it comes to computer games. Yes, some are mindless and dumb. My boys find those kinds of games boring for the most part. They do love games where they have to plan out their moves and where they need to strategize.

5. Problem-solving Skills

Have you ever played a computer game where you were required to figure out a combination or assemble a puzzle in order to proceed to the next level? These are simple to an adult, but to a child who has yet to learn problem-solving, they can be incredible learning experiences.

6. Math Experience

When I was learning math, it took me forever. I wanted to know WHY I needed to know it. HOW was I going to use it? Well, my sons never ask those questions because they’re already using math and are fully aware of it. Dorian was multiplying and dividing, as well as skip counting long before he was learning it in school, simply because he needed it to pass his game levels.

7. Play Nicely with Others/Teamwork

Some games that the boys play are online and require them to work with other players. These games can be very challenging because they aren’t in control of everything. Learning to work with others can be a challenge, but it’s a necessary lesson. Dante has built houses with others in Minecraft, while Dorian has organized teams that head out to fight monsters. There are plenty of opportunities for learning in these games.

I don’t expect everyone to agree with me on these things. I know too much screen time is a bad thing and we do strive to keep something of a balance in our home. The boys have specific times they can play and the rest of their time is spent outdoors or crafting, reading, etc. Balance is key, as it is with everything.

Our favorite games include:

Minecraft: An excellent, open world game where you can collect resources, explore the world above and below ground, fight monsters and build awesome structures. There’s even some basic electricity included so you can wire your home or roller coaster.

Potatoman Seeks the Troof: This is a fun game that involves strategy and planning as you maneuver Potatoman through a series of obstacles. It’s a cute game, but keeps kids figuring out how to move forward.

Limbo: Dorian really likes darker, scarier games and Limbo is the perfect option for a kid who isn’t necessarily ready to play adult games, but wants something a little creepier than the average cartoon. It’s also extremely complicated and requires quite a bit of strategy to move through the various levels, including sequencing, strategy and planning ahead.