Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks

This hasn't been the greatest of weeks...come to think of it, hasn't been the greatest of months, to be honest with you.  The kids were sick towards the beginning of November with a stomach flu and then we had just a few healthy days before they got sick again with a respiratory infection/tonsilitis.  In the middle of that, Micah fell in the street at a friends' house and partially dislocated one of the bones in his arm at the wrist...we are very thankful that it didn't fracture, as it could have been a lot more serious than a minor dislocation.  However, he has had to keep a splint on his arm and had to quit soccer practice and I miss my noon-time dish-washer! 

As if that weren't enough, over the weekend I realized that I had a UTI that was already affecting my kidneys a little and spent most of Sunday and Monday in bed guzzling gallons of water and juice and natural remedies in an effort to avoid taking antibiotics.  By Tuesday, I was feeling much better but still not over it and I had to face the fact that I wasn't really able to plan well for Thanksgiving.  I normally would have baked some pies and cornbread dressing and perhaps a chicken or two, but not having an oven kind of put a damper on those ideas.

Wednesday found me feeling stressed and feeling...something, but I wasn't really sure.  And then it hit me, I felt sad!  My first instinct was to shut it down (old habits die hard...), but then I realized that I needed to give myself permission to be sad and I let myself grieve.  I think the depth of my grief surprised me because I hadn't sensed it before.  I grieved being so far away from family and friends on a holiday that really is all about sharing a special meal with family and friends...I also grieved not being able to provide my family with traditional favorites that we usually try to enjoy even if we're overseas.  I would have loved to have shared a meal with some of our new friends here, but grieved not being able to invite someone and then provide them with traditional Thanksgiving fare either. 

I pretty much concluded this Thanksgiving was going to be an epic fail and cried myself to sleep last night.  Some of the last words that went through my mind as I drifted off to sleep were "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning" (Psalm 30:5b) and oh how I hoped that joy would come in the morning! 

It didn't feel like much joy had come in the morning, however, and I found my stress levels rising as I dragged myself out of bed late, prepared breakfast, dealt with our puppy who has been less than cooperative this week, and got the family up and around for the day...I found myself easily irritated and raising my tone of voice to the kids and then Miguel about things I could have communicated to him much more calmly and concisely. 

Stressing about the puppy's behavior, I began remembering what I've been learning about puppy training, how dogs can pick up on our emotions and anger/impatience/stress is perceived by dogs as weakness and then they can lose respect for their owners and begin reacting to the 'negative energy' instead of learning how to follow a confident, firm leader.  The articles I've read advise dog owners to visualize the desired positive behavior instead of focusing on the negative behavior the dog is showing so that their pet won't pick up on those negative emotions and react accordingly.  How it's important to relax and enjoy the interactions with the dog so that trust and confidence can be built into the relationship. 

Ironically, it was those puppy training techniques that got me...I began to feel convicted about the way I often  interact with my family, allowing my emotions to run amuck...I began to see how that often my 'negative energy' spills over onto everyone else (puppy included).  How I tend to maximize the negative and minimize the positive and so I tend to see my kids as bundles of failures instead of accepting them just as they are in all their I am often not relaxed enough to just enjoy my kids or my husband.  How trust and confidence struggle to grow in an environment like that.  I began to realize that something about me needs to change...a lot of change has happened in the last few years, but this is God taking it down another level...

I apologized for my behavior and that's when it happened, peace and joy returned.  Control established, relaxed and peaceful, and with renewed energy I was able to move on into my day with a new confidence that everything was going to be okay.  Things aren't perfect, but they are good and this was going to be a good day.

And it really was.  Puppy cooperated (for the most part...) and the kids and I worked on our new family tradition, a Thanksgiving tree, while Miguel was out shopping for lunch.  Then we gave thanks for home-made mashed potatoes and a roasted chicken and a cheesecake-type pie and we were more than satisfied. 

And while giving thanks, our thankfulness 'grew'.  

Counting blessings is a blessing in and of itself because there are so many to count. 

So there it is, our first Thanksgiving in Puebla. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cooking Class

A couple of weeks ago a friend from church invited me to a cooking class she attends at a local DIF (stands for Desarrollo Integral de la Familia, translation 'Integral Development of the Family').  Local DIFs offer many kinds of classes and services, from cooking to hair-styling to crafts to sports.  Classes are sometimes free, although the cooking classes cost a little to help offset the expenses.  Each class costs 25 pesos, or about 2$ US.

These classes are offered several times a day every day of the week except Sunday, but my friends only go on Wednesday nights.  While the ladies are at the class, the guys usually take all the kids over to the park to ride their bicycles and then everyone eats supper together afterwards.

I decided to go since the ladies are learning to make traditional Christmas dishes and also because it's a good chance to hang out with friends.  I was also curious about the class and figured it would be a great cultural experience!  Since it was somewhat a last-minute invite, I didn't have any ingredients to make anything that day, so I just watched and took pictures.

One of my friends made a carrot cake, but I was more interested in my other friend who made cochinita pibil, a traditional Mexican slow-roasted pork dish.  We love cochinita pibil and I was pretty excited to see it made.

Some of the ingredients for cochinita pibil:  oranges,
lemons, peppercorns, red onions, dried chiles, habanero peppers, 
achiote paste (red annatto seeds mixed with 
vinegar, salt, garlic and spices)

First of all, the cook helped select the right banana leaves to wrap the pork in while it was roasting in the oven.  They put the pork pieces in the oven to bake for about 1/2 an hour before adding the sauce.

Then the dried chiles were de-seeded, soaked in water, warmed and then blended together with some orange juice, the achiote paste and the peppercorns.  Salt, garlic and chicken bullion can be added, too.  Once the sauce was ready, they pulled the pork out of the oven and poured the sauce over the pork and baked for another hour or so.

In the meantime, she prepared the topping to eat with the cochinita pibil...grated carrot, sliced red onions, sliced habanero peppers (yes, it was SPICY!!!) along with lemon and orange juice.  She didn't happen to have another dish handy, so she improvised and used this baking dish.  I thought it looked pretty cool...

When the pork was finally done, we tasted a bit before heading home...the end result was absolutely delicious!  Cochinita pibil is traditionally shredded and then served  inside of corn tortillas and topped with the carrot/onion mixture.

For an actual recipe and more complete instructions on how to make cochinita pibil, check out this page!  It has a few differences from the process I observed, but is probably more complete and therefore more yummy.  :)  I don't have an oven or I would have tried this recipe at home already!

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to go to cooking class last week and my friend couldn't go this week, but I am looking forward to learning how to make something interesting next week!

Friday, November 11, 2011

For my Missionary Mama Friends-Giveaway

Just saw this awesome giveaway idea over at Mrs JohninGhana for missionary women...go check it out!

If I were to get a package from the U.S. I think I'd ask for Starbucks coffee, whole bean (we do have Starbucks here, but it's a bit pricey), maybe some candles, scrapbook materials (paper, stamps, punches, etc) and definitely some chocolate chips or other candy (like Dove dark chocolate...mmmm!).

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Days of the Dead

I've always been a little confused about what exactly is the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) here in Mexico and I assumed that it had something to do with the American celebration of Halloween.  I have learned a little bit more about this celebration, however, and have found out that the origin of Halloween is really All Hallows' Eve.  All Hallows' Eve is the night before All Saints' Day, which falls on November 1st.  And November 2nd is All Souls' Day.  

So while Halloween kind of has something to do with the Día de los Muertos, the American celebration of Halloween that I am familiar with and the Mexican celebration of the Día de los Muertos is a lot different (Mexicans do still participate in Halloween-like activities, such as dressing up in costumes and trick-or-treating...yesterday I saw a little boy in a fringed cowboy costume made completely out of newspaper!).     Obviously, there is an entire history behind these celebrations and the customs will vary from place to place, but this year we have been doing our own culture study on this celebration and are learning from our neighbors and other sources here about their beliefs regarding the Día de los Muertos.

What we have learned is that these are days when families remember and honor their dead loved ones and it is traditionally a time to visit and decorate their graves.  While this reminds me of Memorial Day in the U.S., there is a lot more involved with the Día de los Muertos than merely remembering loved ones.

A Triqui woman pouring Coca-Cola on the grave
of a loved one, Baja California.

It is believed that once a year, the ánimas (souls) of dead loved ones come back from the dead to visit their relatives.  The souls of children and unmarried young people are believed to come on All Saints' Day and the souls of adults or married people are believed to come on All Souls' Day.  Ofrendas (offerings) are made on sometimes elaborate altars in homes or cemeteries to honor and receive the souls.  Candles are burned as it is believed that their light will guide the souls to the altars.  Brightly colored flowers with strong smells, such as marigolds are commonly used to also guide the souls to the offerings.  Incense, such as copal (tree resin incense) is also burned by some.

A trail of flower petals leading into a house.

A trail of flower petals leading to an ofrenda at a school.

Many different foods or other things can be included in the offering, such as pan de muerto (literally, the bread of the dead), whiskey and other drinks, tamales, cigarettes, mole (a traditional chile and chocolate dish), sugar skulls, toys and candy (for the younger souls), sugarcane, fruit and other items that may have been favorites of the dead loved ones.

Pan de muerto, topped with bone-like decorations.

While the Día de los Muertos isn't necessarily a state holiday, we have observed that the 1st and 2nd day of November are días festivos (festive days) and that schools are closed on November 2nd.  Many of our friends who are followers of Christ do not send their children to school around this time of year in order to avoid having their children participate in the celebrations they view as demonic and pagan.

The sign on the gate of the preschool next door to our house says: 
"Homework for everyone: bring a written skeleton for 
Monday and fruit for the offering.  Thank you."

An ofrenda at a town government office.

Another example of an ofrenda set up at a police station.

There is a sign on this ofrenda that says,
"Please don't take anything off of the offering."

An ofrenda set up inside a Catholic church.

Traditionally, on November 3rd families have parties where the offerings are eaten in honor of their dead loved ones.  It is believed that the essence or aromas and the colors of the food and flowers are 'eaten' or used by the dead and some would say that the food that is left has no nutritional value.  

I'm sure that there is a lot more to learn about the Día de los Muertos, but this has been an interesting glimpse into these traditions here in Puebla.  

Weekend at Camp

Miguel and Micah are back from their weekend at camp...I thought they would be home on Monday, but camp went one day longer than we thought, so they got home yesterday afternoon.  The camp they went to was in the northern part of the state of Puebla, about four hours away from here, and it was for Totonac young people from the states of Puebla and Veracruz.  The part of the sierra (mountains) where they were was lush and at night and warmish during the day.

Miguel helped with various things, including setting up, washing pots and pans and packing up when camp was over.

He was also able to hang out with the kids during their activities.  Miguel said he had several opportunities to talk with the young people and their leaders about various things, such as discipleship, issues they are facing and community life in their churches.

Micah had a pretty good time, although he got sick with tonsilitis on Friday night and had to go see a local doctor for some medicine.  There were several children his age there, so he made a few friends as well.

I am very glad that Miguel and Micah were able to take this opportunity to serve at this camp and to build some relationships there in the sierra.  It's good to have them back, though!  It is also always interesting to see what Miguel brings back for me on his trips (besides the piles of dirty laundry)...

house plants...the one on the right is a coffee bush!

Café Tierras Altas (Coffee from High Lands)...

a few interesting rocks...


and I am so glad that he brought me back my son!