Saturday, March 31, 2012


Been thinking about flowers lately now that spring is here and things like the jacaranda trees are in bloom...

An old abandoned hacienda close to our house 
with another jacaranda tree...

Bougainvillea has always been one of my
most favorite flowers, especially when paired
with terracotta roofing tiles...

There is some spectacular bougainvillea at 
church, too...

and a pretty flower of a girl! 

I took this picture last's one
of my favorites.

Miguel brought me some flowers last week...

Then the boys found this bottle outside and 
brought me some flowers, too!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Spring Break Team

If you talk to just about an expat missionary and ask them about the highlights of their time overseas, I would venture to say that receiving visitors from their sending churches would probably rank pretty high.  At least that's the way it is for us. Regardless of the controversy surrounding short-term missions teams (of which we are well aware and also have a few strong opinions about! but I'm not going to get into that here...), we do enjoy receiving visitors and teams from back 'home' (I say 'home', because well, it's hard for this international family to pinpoint exactly where that would be, for our purposes here it will mean the U.S.).

It is Spring Break in Arkansas and our home church has sent out teams to Belize, Guatemala, Mexico (that's us!), Memphis and a camp in Tennessee.  I have a niece and nephew who are in northern Mexico with their church from Kansas this week as well, wish it were closer so I could go see them!

Anyway, our team arrived from Arkansas last night, safe and sound, no luggage lost!  Which is good, because they brought a lot of stuff for us!  Having a team come from the states, is a good chance for Grammy to send chocolate and coloring books and our mail. I also finally got my own copy of One Thousand Gifts, thanks, my know who you are. Can't wait to read it!

It's also a good chance for us to buy things that we can't get here, or at least not as easily or as cheaply. It was interesting to see what we ordered, things like some car parts (the inside door handle on the van broke and it's quite annoying to have to roll down the window, wrench your arm opening it from the outside and then rolling up the window every time!), lots of missions/ministry books, a Wild Brothers video (that we can't wait to watch!), some electronic equipment for a pastor friend, some things Gracia needs for her Irish dance lessons, tennis shoes for Micah, peanut butter (we can get it here, but it's quite expensive!), and a few odds and ends of other things.

What am I most excited about?  Well, when Miguel ordered himself a laptop, he ordered one for me, too!  Woohoo!  It's an older model and refurbished, but I don't mind...Miguel and I are getting tired of vying for the one laptop we had, not to mention that it's also the computer that Micah uses for his home schooling.  So that's pretty cool and very sweet of Miguel to get that for me.

I also asked a friend to buy me some embossing now I am all set to emboss something.  Gracia and I will be playing working with that later on today!  I have gradually built up my collection of scrapbooking/card-making supplies, so this addition is pretty exciting!  :)

My friend also sent me some food grade diatomaceous earth.  For an interesting read on diatomaceous earth, either look it up on the internet or click here. I am interested in trying it and seeing the results! Thanks, friend!

I also noticed that Miguel ordered a few things as thoughtful gifts and it really touched my heart.

There is an old man who comes by our house every week gathering cardboard and other recyclables in order to make a living.  This man is disabled and has a lot of trouble walking. Miguel has noticed that it's very hard for him to handle the large sacks he carries around the neighborhood using an old stick as a cane.  We don't know where he lives or how far he has to walk, but he has to compete with many others who gather recyclables as well, many of whom have bicycles.  It's a rough way to make a living, that's for sure.  So Miguel had a friend buy him a used walker to give to this man.  Like I said, that really touched my heart.

Miguel also asked for some used pairs of tennis shoes.  I thought they were all for Micah and some of them are (that boy goes through shoes like crazy!), but it turns out that there is one pair that Miguel ordered for a boy who is attending the American football practices with Micah on Saturday mornings. Turns out that this boy comes to practice in old dress shoes because that's all he has.  Miguel noticed and took this opportunity to get him some shoes that will work for sports.  Okay, my heart is melting here...

But even if the team hadn't brought us anything, it would still be a pleasure to receive them, to hang out with them, to have a chance to speak into their lives and (hopefully) be a part of expanding their world view.  I won't have the chance to hang out with them too much, probably, because of our home schooling schedule, etc. but Miguel will and I know that will be a blessing for the team because he's so awesome!

The plan for this week is a bit different from the Spring Break teams in the past, since they will not be visiting the outreach ministry in the mountains or doing construction.  The plan for this week is for them to have an Encuentro Juvenil, or a Youth Encounter.  They will be hosted by several families from either El Camino or the two daughter churches, preferably those families who have teenagers in their homes.  They will be hanging out together, accompanying their host teen(s) to school or whatever other activities they are involved in, as well as coming together as a group for some different times of worship and teaching.  The main topics will be on community, discipleship, and small groups, I believe.

This Sunday is also El Camino's 16th anniversary celebration, so they will get to be a part of a special service as well.

So I pray that this week will be a special time for each member of the group and that God will use their time here to speak to their hearts.  It is an honor to be a part!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Cultural Perspectives on Modesty

It's not often that culture shock really hits me any more. Not that I am above culture shock, just that I continue to adapt to the Latin culture more and more. While I may have moments of confusion or discomfort, I generally feel fairly comfortable in most situations these days, or at least I can sort of figure out what's going on.

So it really caught me by surprise the other day when something happened that left me standing speechless, mouth hung open.

The kids and I went to a balneario (swimming pool) last Sunday with our neighbors and some of their friends.  I went to the locker room to change into my swimsuit.  I didn't see any changing rooms, so just changed in one of the toilet stalls.  When I came out, that's when I saw it. Women walking around, well, completely naked. No pena (shame). No attempts to even try to cover any part of themselves as they walked back and forth to the showers and toilet stalls.  I think I froze.  I hope I didn't stare!  Am I just a prude?

It's not like I'm not used to nudity...after all, the tribal group my parents worked with in Colombia didn't really use much clothing and it never really bothered or affected me because that's just the way they were and I accepted it.

But I guess this is one aspect of the Mexican culture that I had not yet been exposed to (no pun intended!), because it really caught me unaware.  I returned to where my friends were sitting and I debated whether or not to mention it, but then I realized it was a great opportunity to get some further insight into the culture here.

They laughed when I told them, and it did lead into an interesting conversation about cultural perspectives on modesty, etc.  Apparently, complete nudity is quite common here in women's locker rooms and steam baths and is nothing to be embarrassed about.

They were quite interested in the fact that the nudity would surprise me since they had the idea that everyone from the U.S. is quite liberal in all things.  I shared with them that not all Americans are frat-party, girls-gone-wild, Spring-Break-at-Panama-City-Beach sort of people like they might see on t.v.  That some of us are from staid, Bible-beltish Midwest region and we don't necessarily care to bare ourselves in front of other people at the drop of a hat.

Most locker rooms in the U.S. that I've seen have individual changing rooms and I would say that most people, well, women anyway (I don't think that I am qualified to comment on men's locker room habits), would avail themselves of the changing rooms instead of changing out in the open.  And most would probably use a towel or something to cover at least some part of their bodies in the locker room (of course, I could be out of touch with reality since I'm not that up on popular culture back in the U.S. these days).

We talked about other aspects of modesty, other differences.  In Mexico, many women feel very comfortable showing more cleavage than is normal in the U.S. (well, at least in many places in the states and among more conservative people).  It is more appropriate for women in the U.S. to cover up more of the chest area than here in Mexico.

On the other hand, most Mexican women cover up their legs much more than in the U.S.  My friends told me that until recently, most women still wore skirts in this part of the country.  While pants and blue jeans are now very common here, skirts are still worn by many older women, especially in the more rural areas.

Although it was interesting for me to notice that at the pool, there was a wide range of bathing suits, from quite revealing to rather modest.  I gather that in that particular setting, it is not inappropriate to wear even a very revealing suit. I did notice, however, that while not actually in the pool, most of the women preferred to wear some sort of cover over their suit. And there were quite a few older women who didn't even swim or get close to the pool, they were there just to accompany the family.

In comparison to the U.S., shorts are rarely worn in public here in Mexico except for specific events, such as for exercise and sports.  According to my friends, this is because the sight of skin on legs, especially above the knee, is more of a turn-on for Latin guys.  Pants and jeans are often very tight, but as long as skin is not showing it is considered modest.  My neighbor told me that in many cases of violence against a woman, she might be blamed for the violence by dressing provocatively, showing too much of her legs.

This is an interesting contrast because in the U.S. shorts and short skirts are very common and not necessarily considered immodest or inappropriate for public attire.  

So anyway, I've been thinking more about cultural differences and how much I have yet to learn about the Mexican culture.  There will most likely be some more surprises for me around the corner...

So when it came time to change back into our regular clothes, Gracia and I headed back to the locker room.  We thought about changing in the main room just like everyone else, but when push came to shove, we just couldn't do it was back to the toilet stalls for us...maybe next time.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

What Will be Keeping Me Busy

This is what will be keeping me busy for the next two weeks...getting all these cards ready to mail to our supporters!

There is a group coming from our home church in Arkansas next week, so this will be a great chance for us to send mail.  The postal service isn't used very much here in Mexico, so we wait for these kinds of opportunity to send mail to the U.S.  We're also looking forward to having the group here, it's a group of high school seniors accompanied by some leaders and our missions pastor.  Miguel has been helping plan and coordinate their trip and will be hanging out with them while they are here.

I made all these cards last week, there are about 50 of them or so...I kind of lost count after a while and I secretly hope I will need to make some more because it was fun!  I felt a bit sad when I was done because I think I really enjoy making the cards more than I enjoy writing in them!  It's not that I don't like writing letters because I really do, especially imagining people receiving a little note from us, but I really do like making cards!

This is a fairly simple pattern.  I used white or colored card stock and chose either a patterned or solid colored paper for the front panel.  I stamped the front panel before pasting it (I really like to use a glue or tape runner) to the front of the card.  Some of the cards say 'Thanks Very Much' and 'Gracias', some say 'greetings from Mexico!'.  But this card would be cute as a birthday card or something else.

Side note:  I often use the clear stamps (also called cling stamps) because then I can use the alphabet sets to write all different kinds of things or write in Spanish.  There aren't many rubber stamps available in Spanish, so the alphabet sets have been really useful to me.  I have invested in several different alphabet sets in various sizes in both the clear and rubber stamps.  This also saves on storage since I don't have a lot of different stamps to keep track of.

On some of the papers, I took a napkin (a q-tip would have probably worked better, lol!) and rubbed some black ink around the edges of the panel. I really liked how it dressed up the card.

I stamped a matching flower pattern on different paper, again, either a solid color or print, and then I cut out the flower and used a double sided adhesive foam pad to make it stand out from the card.  As an added touch, I pasted a flower and stamped a little 'hola' on the inside.

Cutting out the flowers was by far the most time-consuming part of making this card, but it was worth it because I really love how it turned out.

So, now I really need to get to work on writing in them!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Life on Tochtli Street

We were recently offered another house to rent here in Puebla and we considered it, since our current house is a bit tight for our family of six (plus dog, turtle and snail).  But as I began thinking about moving to a different neighborhood, I realized how much we've made a home here on Tochtli Street and how much I would really hate to leave!

Our house is on the other side of 
that tall white one.

Within one or two blocks from our house, we have at least three little neighborhood stores that sell anything from diapers to candy to onions and tomatoes.  Prices are a little higher than at the bigger stores, but in a pinch, it's handy to have somewhere to buy a liter of milk or a half a kilo of eggs when we suddenly run out.  We also have a papelería two streets over...I have not visited the papelería, but they sell things like paper products, pens, pencils, wrapping paper and they also make copies.  Again, probably a little more expensive than a larger store, but nice to have in the neighborhood as well.  Other businesses in the neighborhood include estéticas (beauty shops), at least one lavandería (laundromat), a little gift shop and several houses on our street cook and sell tacos and other yummy Mexican antojitos (cravings, literally) most evenings.

We're getting to know a lot of the neighbors (and their children!).  The neighbors that live in the tall white house next door invited us to eat at their house a few weeks ago and we enjoyed spending some time with them.  They have an amazing house!  One thing that was really interesting was the large round window that separates their garage area from the living room area on the ground floor...I don't think I've ever seen anything like that before and it is really cool.  That top floor is a laundry room and the second floor has a really amazing play room.  They showed us how they installed glass stairs and hallways on the different floors so that the light comes down from the fourth floor all the way to the kitchen on the ground floor!  It is very common for  people to add on to their houses since the original houses are very small.  This is an example of how a small house on a small lot can be turned into a very large house with a little creativity!

We don't see these particular neighbors a whole lot, we usually just greet them as we pass in the street.  Their kids are very nice, but unfortunately don't play outside with the other kids very much so our kids haven't had much opportunity to make friends with them.  The other day, however, this neighbor's truck wouldn't start, so Miguel helped him find the problem.  We always like to look for ways to be good neighbors by helping out whenever we can.

I think it's the tallest house in the neighborhood 
and it can be seen from blocks around.  

Across the street from us there is a carpenter who has made a shop in his carport.  This is very common, we've seen many 'home carpenter' shops around.  He used to live a few houses down, but had to store all of his tools away every night since that house didn't have a front gate/fence.  Now they live in this house a few doors down with a gate, which is much more convenient for them, I'm sure.  The carpenter works all hours of the day and night and we often hear him still hammering at 10 p.m. or so!  Good thing he doesn't live next door to us!  Miguel has helped the carpenter deliver his finished pieces several times since he doesn't have a vehicle and once lent him some money to buy some varnish so he could complete an order.  One time his son had an ear ache, so we gave them some medicine for it.

Right next door to our house is a little kindergarten.  Classes usually run from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.  There are about 20 children who attend this school and they can make a lot of racket!  Most of the time, however, there is no one there and it means that we can park our van right in front of both houses at night (our van is longer than the house is wide and doesn't fit in front of our house!).  We used to park the van in our garage, but it is such a tight fit that now we just leave it outside.  Many people park their cars outside at night and it doesn't seem to be a problem.  On weekday mornings, we try to remember to move the van before 9 a.m. so that we don't block their gate when the kids start arriving.

Down the street, there is a lady who has a soft spot for animals.  She is always rescuing dogs or cats and also has a lot of parakeets.  If we want to have a conversation with her, we just ask her about her animals.  She also feeds the pigeons and other birds that hang around the neighborhood.

There are some neighbors that haven't been as friendly, however, such as the family that lives about five houses down from us who never, ever greet us.  They also drive their van down the street a little too quickly and we worry about the kids playing in the street sometimes.  There is also a lady that lives across the street who allows her rather aggressive dog to run loose sometimes.  This dog, named Lucky, has bitten Jojo and a few weeks ago also bit a friend who was here visiting Micah.  When Miguel and our friend's mom went to confront the lady about it, she denied everything and then began to tell us about all the bad things our kids have supposedly done to her house and car.  She even threatened to take us to court, but I don't think she was serious, I think she was just defending herself and trying to deflect attention from the real issue.  We have noticed that the dog hasn't been running free so much lately, so hopefully they will keep it restrained more in the future and we do hope we don't have any more problems with it!

Some other neighbors told us that this lady's older son is in jail for drugs and that her other son is a drug addict, which if true, is a very sad situation.  Her son does like to have really loud parties and crank the music up sometimes.  One weekend the music was on pretty much nonstop day and night.  A week or so ago, we began hearing really loud music again and we thought it was coming from this house, but it turned out to be a seafood restaurant that opened up one street over.  According to a Mexican friend, seafood restaurants have a fama (reputation) for playing their music really loud and this apparently attracts customers.  We haven't heard the music so much this week, so maybe it was on to announce the grand opening.

Two doors down, on the other side of the kindergarten, is a family who is staying there temporarily while they wait for their house to be ready.  They have a son who is about Gracia's age and our kids play with him often.  Sometimes we've given him drinks or snacks and he often borrows our kids' bicycles and scooters.  The other day, the dad talked with Miguel and told him how much they appreciated how kind we were to their son and that we had always treated them well.  They offered to take Gracia to Irish dance classes at an Irish dance school that they and their older son own and they aren't charging us anything for the classes.  So now Gracia goes to dance classes with them twice a week and is loving it!

Three doors down live our closest friends here on the block, Liberal and Gloria.  We've spent quite a bit of time with them and celebrated New Year's Eve with them and their extended family.

Liberal and Gloria with a Mexican dish cooked
in a traditional clay pot.

When we travel, we leave some house keys for them so they can watch our house.  Our kids often hang out at their house and they treat them like their own.  Liberal and Gloria have both been an invaluable resource for us regarding Mexican culture, Mexican cooking, prices, places to go, interesting cultural events and even neighborhood issues.  I often go visit Gloria and we keep an eye on the kids or enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee and talk about all kinds of things.  I have really enjoyed connecting with Gloria and I hope that our friendship can continue for many years.

A few weeks ago, we started noticing a young man carrying around some American football equipment, which was interesting since American football is not very common here.  It turns out that he lives at the end of the street and is the son of one of Gloria's good friends, Maribel.  Miguel has struck up a friendship with this joven (young man) and we are getting him some much-needed football equipment from the U.S. since it is hard to find in this area.  Maribel also has two younger boys who play with Jojo most afternoons.

Although our street is fairly quiet, there is quite a bit of movimiento (movement) every begins around 6:30 a.m. with the bottled gas trucks making their rounds.  Each truck has a unique alarm, song or sound to let their clients know that they are coming and it's always very loud!  Throughout the day, there are other alarms or notifications of services, from the clanging bell that announces the trash to the drinking water trucks to the guy that rides by on his bicycle with a whistle (not sure exactly what he offers yet!) to the people selling tlacoyos (sort of a bean or pork rind stuffed tortilla), etc.  Every night there is a man who comes by selling pastries who has a very unique   (and loud) call/yell.  There is also a little Volkswagon van that faithfully shows up around 10 p.m. at night with the same announcement playing on the loudspeaker every time offering healthy, home-cooked food.  One night we happened to be out when it went by and we actually saw two little old ladies sitting inside cooking up the food!

Every morning when we walk the dog, we pass by this food stand located at the entrance to our neighborhood.

It is open Tuesdays through Sundays from about 7 a.m. to noonish.  It is run by a neighbor lady and we've been making friends with her since we often buy her quesadillas.  The corn dough is delivered fresh every morning and she has a griddle inside where she cooks the tortillas and gorditas and other items she makes to sell.  Our favorite quesadilla comes with a shredded tomato/chicken sauce, boiled potatoes and string cheese.  Each once costs 13 pesos, or about 90 cents.  Our whole family can eat well for around 80 pesos or about 6$ USD if we don't buy drinks...delicious!  Sometimes Miguel and I will sneak in a quesadilla or two in the mornings before the kids wake up...

We also like having the soccer fields so close to our house so that we can go walk the dog or throw his ball.  There are two full-size soccer fields and two smaller fields in this huge empty lot.  The kids like to go with us and ride their bikes or play while we exercise the dog.  Many people from the neighborhood walk their dogs or exercise at the campos (the soccer fields) and we're beginning to recognize some of them.  On Sundays the campos are really busy since a lot of soccer games and tournaments are played there on the weekends.  If we buy quesadillas on Sundays, we like to get their early before the rush!

In the end, we decided not to take the other house, mostly because of it's location.  It's all the way on the other side of the city and we prefer to stay on this side to be closer to our church and our friends.

And while I'd really love to have a bigger house, I think I'm rather relieved that for now, we'll stay in our little house here on Tochtli Street.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Family Camp

What started as an online friendship with the ABCDs has developed into a real-life friendship now that we're living in central Mexico.  Besides enjoying their friendship, we've also enjoyed their library plus their invitation to join them at what was termed MK Family Spiritual Emphasis Camp 2012 by our fearless director.

Basically, we thought of it as family camp since we went as a family and there were several other families there as well.  It was also a nice family 'vacation' for us, even though we kinda "worked" (didn't feel much like work, though) and were in different cabins.  We were able to take the puppy also and he really enjoyed spending some time in the great outdoors (sadly, the snail and the turtle had to stay behind).

Miguel and I had the opportunity to teach the older youth during their chapel times and we covered four stories about the Israelites found in Numbers 11-15 as a way of illustrating and exploring some Bible storying concepts.  Miguel was the counselor for the older boys and we helped out a bit in the kitchen and with crafts.  

It was a lot colder at camp than here in Puebla, so we were glad that we went prepared for the colder weather!  During the day, it was very nice, but as soon as the sun went down the temps really dropped...there was a significant altitude difference, which is why the weather was cooler there.  

Here are few pictures of our adventure at camp...for more pictures, go here or here or here

We enjoyed the scenery on the way to camp...that's
really red dirt there!  

The view from the front of my cabin...the 
kitchen/auditorium area
is down beyond those vehicles and the bathrooms
are in the building on the right of the picture.  The
cabins were very comfortable, but it sure
was hard to get out of my nice warm bed
at 3 a.m. to trek all the way over there to go potty!  

We had some great worship times led
by another missionary.  I think Miguel was 
making a J for J-O-Y although
it looks like everyone else had 
already moved on to Y!  

Jkaile with a buñuelo, similar to a funnel cake.

Meals were delicious!

I think the snack shop was our kids' favorite 
'activity' at camp!  

Their not-so-favorite thing...dishes!

On our way back from camp, we stopped by a little
town known for selling clay pots and other decorative items.
Apparently jack-o-lanterns are in high demand, 
they were everywhere! 

I got a kick out of these pots
drying on top of this building.  They
are all so perfectly lined up!

We stopped at several of the different was
hard to choose what to buy!  So many pretty things...

I loved this one!  We bought several of these,
but unpainted.  

I really loved these iguanas painted
in the talavera style...maybe next time!  

It was also interesting to see many Otomí people
in traditional dress...there are many communities
of Otomí in this area.  

We are already looking forward to camp next year!