Wednesday, December 31, 2014

favorite books of 2014

I read 52 books this year, a few less than normal as it is a little harder to access English books here.  This is a list of my favorites that I would recommend for your reading in the upcoming year.  I blogged about all these books earlier so if you want to see more detail about a certain book, click on the title. 
  • Wonder by R. J. Palacio-written for older elementary students, anyone with school aged children or who works in a school should find this story engaging and worth reading.
  • Runaway Saint by Lisa Samson-Contemporary fiction novel about secrets and family
  • The Testament by John Grisham-Perhaps my favorite of Grisham's books.  It is the second time that I read it and it was just as good or better the second time around.
  • White Picket Fences by Susan Meissner-This is the second time I read this book that mixes history and the complexity of family in one story.
  • Sing for Me by Karen Halversen Schreck-An historical novel about race relations in the 1930's, it would be a good book for a book club to read and discuss.
  • Foreign to Familiar by Sarah A. Lanier-My only nonfiction book on the list, every adult should read it to better understand other people, especially those of cultures different than their own.
Any recommendations from your year of reading to share?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas in Xela

My Christmas here in Guatemala was different than how I celebrate in the States.  I did go to the service at church on the evening of the 23rd.  We ate paches (a type of tamale), then the young people did a drama and the children sang some songs.  On the night of the 24th, the people eat supper LATE.  I went to supper at the home of some Guatemalans from church, and we ate at 10 PM.  (Some people eat at midnight).  We had roast turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, peas, and bread.  Then we sat around and talked and later ate dessert.  A little before midnight, we went over to the house of the brother-in-law and went on the roof (it is flat) to watch the fireworks.  The fireworks are purchased by individuals and are much grander than the ones people can buy in the US.  There were fireworks going off in all directions.  After that, the family I celebrated with took me home.  I slept late the next day, then hung out in Parque Central and had dinner at Pollo Campero.  It seemed like a good choice, as I could have a burrito and french fries.  Later I got an ice cream for dessert.  A good enough celebration of Christmas, but I do not plan to miss Christmas with my family again anytime soon.

Monday, December 15, 2014

gift ideas

I am not Christmas shopping this year, but if you are and have not finished yet, I have three suggestions for you.  The first is the game Story Cubes.  It is a game that encourages creatity and is appropriate for ages 6 and up.  I have played with adults, teens, and children.  It is non competitive as well, which is a nice change from some games.  There are several different versions, and I have seen it at Target, though I bought mine at Barnes and Noble several years ago.  
The second game I would recommend is one of the versions of the game Spot It! made my BlueOrange games.  I got Spot It Jr! for two different families last year for Christmas, and want to get one for myself.  It is a fast game, where just because you are older does not mean you will win.  I have found some versions of this game at Target.

My third game idea is one of the Brain Box games.  I found this one last year at Toys R Us when I was helping with my dad's Christmas shopping.  It also has a variety of topics-starting with the ABCs and colors.  Again, it is a good game for a mixed age group.

All of these games would be great gifts for a variety of children and families.  I like them because they are educational, but also because they are easy to learn and you don´t get bogged down learning how to play.  Also, the games are not long and drawn out, which could also make them ideal for a classroom on a day when students are not able to get to go outdoors because of the weather. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christmas is coming

Even though it doesn´t seem like December to me (Guatemala is much warmer than Minnesota this time of year), there are other evidences of the coming holiday.  One day my friend and I decorated Christmas cookies.  I hear Christmas carols in English or Spanish when I am out and about.  There is this giant Christmas tree in Parque Central.

Nativity scenes are not super common, but this a big one that was just set up, also in Parque Central. 
Friday was the first day of Las Posadas.  Normally it is an evening event, but at the home for elderly ladies, they do the activity in the afternoon.  Several people carry Mary and Joseph.  They read some from the gospel of Luke, then walk to a posada (a home), sing some more, then place Mary and Joseph in a special spot and have a snack.  The next day they do it all again, moving Joseph and Mary to the new posada.
What I am not doing this year is Christmas shopping, thinking about preparing a big meal for Christmas, or sending Christmas cards.   I am also not anticipating a break from school or having to decide which holiday events that I am going to choose to participate in.  A different feel to the Christmas season, for sure.

Monday, December 8, 2014


The past couple of weeks I have been spending my mornings at the Hogar de Ancianas (a home for elderly women) here.  It is another way to practice what I have learned in my weeks of language school.  Most mornings, I help some of them get to breakfast, then after breakfast I help them to the room where many like to sit in the sun to get warm.  Then I might help in the kitchen, the laundry, or other miscelaneous tasks.  When there is not a job for me, I sit with the ladies and talk with them.  Around lunch time, I help get the ladies to the dining room and then assist in serving lunch.  Helping out is a way to practice my Spanish, but it is also a good reminder that getting old is not for the faint of heart. 

Monday, December 1, 2014


I kept a thankful book this year again.  Last year I made thankful books for a bunch of people, this year I only made books for my teacher and myself.  Here are some of the things I have been thankful for this past month.

  • my health
  • my family
  • new friends
  • generous people who gave or lent me money when my purse was stolen
  • a good Spanish teacher
  • the Internet as a means to communicate with those far away
  • generous people
  • a place to celebrate Thanksgiving with other Americans
  • I got my passport replaced in one day
  • my visa is renewed
  • the Bible
  • books to read
Are there any things you are really thankful for this year?

Friday, November 21, 2014

feeling at home

I have been here for three months, and this last week I got to do a few things that made me feel at home. 
1.   Sunday I was in the capital and attended a completely English speaking church service.  I usually go to a service only in Spanish, so this was a great treat.
2.   On Tuesday I got to go to an American school in the capital.  I spent the morning visiting the elementary classrooms.  A part that I really enjoyed was just relaxing in the school library that afternoon reading magazines in English.
3.    I spent a few days at the apartment of an American friend.  It felt homey and comfortable.  It was a blessing to be able to relax there.
4.   And finally, returning to Xela felt like home, too.  It is funny how just three months in a place makes it feel like the place where I belong.  I was glad to see familiar faces and know where things are. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

what I have learned

I finished over 250 hours of Spanish classes last week.  Besides learning more Spanish (and I feel like I have learned a lot), I have learned some things that should help me be a better teacher.
1.  If my student doesn't understand, it doesn't mean that they are not trying.  Some days at the end of class I was more than ready for a break.  I wanted to learn the concept, but sometimes I just needed more time to understand.
2.  A positive teacher-student relationship is very helpful.  I really liked my teacher, so I was more motivated to work hard and try to understand.
3.   Context and prior knowledge are really important.  When a sentence or word is not in a broader context, I sometimes have no idea what it means.
4.    Practice, practice, and more practice is so necessary.  I am more fluent than I was eleven weeks ago, but I need lots more practice to get better and build my confidence.
5.   The manner in which correction is done makes a big difference.  It is necessary to correct, but one teacher I had made me want to quit talking because I was afraid that I was going to make a mistake.
6.   Tests can shake a student's confidence.  I did not have any tests until my last day, but I was nervous about taking that test.  I was afraid I would forget everything and do poorly, disappointing both my teacher and myself.  Thankfully, I did well.
7.   Build on a student's interests when possible.  I like to write, so when I got to write stories and in my journal, it didn't seem like a chore.  My speaking practice centered around topics I was interested in.  One day my teacher brought in an article about a well known author because she knew I liked to read.  All these things helped me stay engaged in the learning process.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Here are a few things I saw today...   Roosters looking for food.

Lines of cars...

and more lines of cars, vans and buses.  I was in Cobán for a few days, and today I headed back to the capital.  The trip to Cobán  took under three hours on Sunday.  Today, because some protesters were blocking the highway, we sat in one place for more than seven hours.  Plenty of time to write a letter to my dad, doze, review my Spanish notes, write some e-mails, practice being patient, and wonder what time I would actually end up back in the city.  Good thing that I didn't have an appointment or a tight schedule.  

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


I went to the cemetery here this weekend.  It is the time to go to see it and observe part of a Guatemalan tradition.  The people celebrate Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead).  As you can see, the tombs are above ground.  If a family is wealthy, they have a place where all the members of a family are buried.
Some people do not have a family plot.  Instead they rent a space in the outer wall for a family member.

There is also the part for the poor people.  It is in farther from the entrance, and has a different look.  Regardless, the people clean and paint the tombs of family members.  They also bring fresh flowers or wreaths to decorate the tombs.  Families may choose to eat there, and others fly kites.  People are in the cemetery selling snacks.  Outside the cemetery it is like a fair, with food, flowers, and other miscellaneous items.  All around the city, people make a special food called fiambre.  It is a cold dish made of different vegetables and cold cuts.  It is pretty good and I am not quite sure why it is only eaten once a year.  The cemetery reminded me a bit of those in New Orleans, where the tombs are also above ground. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Chajil Siwan

Sunday I went to Totonicopán, another department of Guatemala and visited Chajil Siwan.  I was glad to see green spaces, lots of trees, and be away from the city.  A guide accompanied my group along the trail.  He seemed rather knowledgable, but spoke only Spanish, so I didn't get everything. 
It was quite a change from Xela, but well worth getting up before six o'clock in the morning and riding in a microbus with 15 other people and one dog.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Swiss Family Robinson

I have plenty of time to read here, which is one of the reasons that I picked up The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Swys  at the used book store (this edition is almost 500 pages).  A teacher who used to work at the same school as me read an abridged version to his class each year, then showed the Disney version of the movie.  The story is about a family from Switzerland who is shipwrecked and needs to survive on an uninhabited island.  The family includes both a mother, a father and their four sons.
     This book made me think about how dependent I am on others for both my needs and wants.  I can cook, clean, and sew.  But I would not be able to build a decent shelter, cook over a fire, or know how to make something from nature into clothing.  For all our advantages there are to our modern civilization, it seems like  we are less knowledgable about skills that make it possible to take care of ourselves.
     If I taught older elementary or middle school students, I would consider reading it aloud to my class.

a new doll

Last week one of the activities at school was a visit to a place where a small group of people make dolls.  The dolls are made of recycled materials and their clothing reflect typical Mayan dress.  (Mayans are the indigenous people of Guatemala and parts of Mexico.)  It was interesting to see people at work making the dolls, as well as the large variety of dolls.  I see many women dressed in typical Mayan clothing, and the colors and designs reflect what town or village the women are from.  This doll is dressed in clothing representative of the designs the people from Quetzaltenango wear.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

language school

I finished my sixth week of language school.  Most of the time I feel like I am learning a lot.  The picture to the right shows where I spend my mornings.  Classes are one on one, so I get to learn at my pace.  The focus of my lessons has been on grammar (especially all the different forms of verbs) and conversation.  Class is Monday through Friday, and I am at school for five hours.  There is a break mid-morning.  There are daily assignments, usually a combination of reading, writing, and grammar practice.  I enjoy the homework
Some afternoons and Saturday mornings there are activities.  The first week I got to know the city a bit and visited another town nearby.  Other activities have been hikes in the mountains or a visit to a tourist site.  One Saturday I went to some hot springs.  This week I went biking in the mountains. My favorite activities have been the opportunities to get out of the city to enjoy nature.
While studying, I am staying with a local family.  I have a place to stay and all my meals are provided.  I do not have to think about grocery shopping, cooking, or washing dishes, though I am beginning to miss all three.
If you ever visit Central America for an extended period of time, I would suggest beginning your stay with a couple of weeks at a language school.  It will give you an opportunity to learn more Spanish, get adjusted to a new place, and interact with local people.

Monday, September 8, 2014

enough water

Saturday I went to Fuentes Georginas with the directors of my school.  To get there, we took a bus from Xela to Zunil.  Once we got off the bus, we hopped into the back of a Toyota pickup.  The Toyota pickups here are a bit modified.  They have some bars around the outside and down the center of the back so passengers can lean against them, or stand and hang on.  The drive was about five miles up the mountain past many fields.  We stood so we could get a better view of things.  We got off the truck at Fuentes Georginas, a place to enjoy the hot springs.  After getting my fill of sitting in hot water, we headed down the mountain.  It felt like we were walking through the clouds.  A nice peaceful walk where I could see the fields and there wasn´t much noise.  As we descended the mountain, it got cooler and at times quite foggy.  We had walked about an hour when it started to sprinkle, then rain.  We caught a ride on another Toyota pickup to speed our return to Zunil.  After just a few minutes, the driver stopped.  I wondered what was going on.  He proceeded to pull out a big piece of black plastic like you might find on the farm and handed it to us.  We held on to the plastic and used it to keep most of the rain off of us until we got back to Zunil.  Then we walked a bit more in the rain to get on the bus to return to Xela.  A good way to spend the morning, made more memorable by getting soaked.  I did tell the director I had enough water for the day. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Testament

If you have never read anything by John Grisham, I suggest his book The Testament.  It is the second time I read the book, and it was just as good or better the second time.  The story revolves around the heirs of billionaire Troy Phelen, including a daughter who is a missionary in South America, whom the children never knew.   Grisham is an excellent story teller with likable, realistic characters.  It would be a good book for a book club to read and discuss.

Monday, September 1, 2014


On Saturday, our school activity was hiking in the mountains.  Quetzaltenango is surrounded by mountains.  We walked out of the city, then into the country.  We saw lots of small fields with vegetables like corn, brocoli, and leeks.  It felt good to get out of the city.  We walked  to a nearby town, Almolonga, saw the market there, then returned to Xela via chicken bus.  The music on the chicken bus made me laugh, as it was the song Red, Red Wine by UB40.    

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

First Day of School

Yesterday was my first day of school.  This year is going to be so different than previous years because learning more Spanish is much different than teaching children English.  I spent much of my morning talking with my teacher in Spanish.  It is challenging, because I know what I want to say, but my vocabulary is so limited in my second language.  I also know how to speak in the present tense, not in the future or past. When my teacher was talking to me, sometimes I didn´t understand what she was saying because of my limited vocabulary.  Besides learning a lot of Spanish, I think I am going to gain much empathy for my students as well.  While a student here, there will be multiple opportunites to take field trips, too.  My first excursion was a walking tour of the things nearby with one of the directors of the school.  She showed me good places to get pizza and hot chocolate, as well as a big market I might frequent if I need something.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Healing Quilt

The Healing Quilt is Wanda Brunstetter's latest book in her Amish quilting series.  In this book, Emma is now married to Lamar and the two have moved to Florida.  Emma decides to teach another quilting class.  Once again, she has a diverse group of students who learn much about quilting and life.  Characters from The Half-Stitched Amish Quilting Club and The Tattered Quilt are part of this new book, but the story also makes sense without having read them.

Friday, August 8, 2014


I went on a two week vacation with my dad.  We drove a lot of miles (over 5500) and saw more than I expected.  Some places we saw include Mount Rushmore, eight different national parks, a couple of quilt/sewing shops, the ocean, Bakersfield, and lots of cattle and farms.  We visited some family and a couple of my friends, too.
Here are pictures of a few highlights...
Rocky Mountain National Park
Mesa Verde National Park

Grand Canyon

beach at Morro Bay
mission in San Luis Obispo

Zion National Park

Rainbow Bridge at Bryce Canyon National Park
Morro Bay, California is where we stayed for two days.  My aunt and uncle were there so we spent our time with them.  It was good to see them, and I got to give them quilts (see pictures here and here.  It was also nice to stay in the same place for a bit to catch up/slow down.  I also loved being near the ocean and walking on the beach.  When we left on vacation, I had no idea we would see so many national parks.  Some day I hope to return to both Grand Canyon National Park and Zion National Park.  Both were impressive and worth visiting again.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

green and blue quilt

I finished this green and blue quilt in July.  It is a lap sized quilt inspired by a quilt from Amy Smart's book Fabulously Fast Quilts.  I was flipping through my sister's copy of the book.  It is a simple and traditional looking pattern, which made it easy to put together.  I made it for a gift, but wouldn't mind keeping it.  It was one of two quilts that I delivered on my vacation, this one was for my uncle. (You can see the other quilt here, which I made for my aunt.)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Hope Runs

Hope Runs by Claire Diaz-Ortiz and Samuel Ikua Gachagua is a book I finished reading this week.  The book is about two very different lives intersecting-one of a twenty something American woman, the other of a teenage Kenyan boy who lives at an orphanage.  Their lives intersect and are soon woven together in a story that changes both of their lives.  It is humbling to read the story of Sammy and it made me think about how being born in a certain place and time truly affects a person's life.  Chapters are written alternately by Claire and Sammy, and tell things from their perspective.  This is worth reading if you want a better understanding of the challenges orphans face.  It is an inspiring book because it shows how an individual can choose to make a difference in other people's lives.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Child of Mine

Child of Mine by David and Beverly Lewis is a novel I finished reading last week.  It is two stories-one of Kelly Maines, the other of Jack Livingston.  Kelly has been looking for her only  daughter, Emily, for eight years-she had been kidnapped as an infant.  Jack is raising his brother's daughter Natalie because his brother and his brother's wife died in an accident.  Soon Kelly and Jack's stories become intertwined.  This is a longer book (over 400 pages) that had plenty of twists in the plot that I did not expect.  It would be a good book for a book club to discuss.  It would also likely make a good movie. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

tie dye

Tie dyed shirts is a craft project I tried this week.  I haven't made anything tie dyed before, but I needed eight shirts for Camp Clair  (see posts here and here for more about that).  They didn't end up the way I expected, but I am happy with the results.  If you never have tie dyed shirts before, there are a few things that you may want to know.  One, if you are dyeing a bunch of shirts, buy more dye than you think you may need.  As soon as I began dyeing the shirts, I knew I was going to run out of dye.  So I made an extra trip to the store that was over thirty minutes away to get more.  Second, get the rubber bands really, really tight.  It seemed like the bands were tight.  Apparently not, as I don't have any white lines on the shirts.  It would have likely been better to use less dye, too.  Third, buy the dye kits from a craft store.  The ones I used were Tulip Tie-Dye supplies which are available at Joann's.  They were easy to use and came with decent instructions.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

zipper pouches

This week I have been doing a little bit of sewing besides the quilt I am working on.  I made this red, white, and blue zipper pouch.  It has a boxed bottom so it can stand up and hold something that is not really flat.  The bottom part did involve some trial and error, making it smaller than I originally planned on. 
This is the other zipper pouch.  It is flat, but still holds a variety of items.   It will be a gift for a little girl I know.  Zipper pouches go together rather quickly, I plan on making several more to add to my gift stash for my travels. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Chateau of Secrets

Chateau of Secrets by Melanie Dobson is one of three novels I read this week, and it is the one I would recommend over the others.  It is two stories in one.  The first is of Gisele, a young women living in France during World War II.  The second is the story of Chloe, Gisele's granddaughter who lives in present day Virginia.  Reading this novel will make you think more about the difficulties and dilemmas that people living in Nazi occupied countries faced.  If you like history and stories of courage, look for this at your library or bookstore.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Foreign to Familiar

Foreign to Familiar by Sarah  A. Lanier is a book worth reading.  Lanier wrote the book for others going to live overseas, but would be helpful for those living and working in a community of diverse cultures.  This brief book (it is less than 150 pages) is written about hot and cold-climate cultures.  As a member of a cold-climate culture, it gave me food for thought on how to interact and better appreciate individuals who do not think or act like me because they were raised in another culture.  This book is not a manual for the easily identified parts of culture (music, food, clothing, language).  It does talk about the intangible parts of culture.  Some of the chapters include Relationship versus Task Orientation, Individualism versus Group Identity, Different Concepts of Hospitality, and Different Concepts of Time and Planning.  I knew about some of the things that she mentions, but Lanier has put it all together to help others be more sensitive to differences in communication because of culture.

Saturday, May 31, 2014


This is the quilt I finished this week.  It is made up completely of solid Kona fabrics.
 It about 60 inches by 70 inches, perfect for a lap sized quilt. 
It went together pretty quickly.  For the quilting, I stitched in the ditch, diagonally, vertically, and horizontally. 
The back I like just as much as the front, even though there is a lot of purple.  This is the second time I made a quilt with all solids (see the other one here), and although they both turned out well, I am ready to go back to make things with prints again.    
Among other finishes for the week...
I am not teaching a GED class anymore, which has been a part time job since the fall of 2010.  Teaching adults is much different than teaching seven, eight, and nine year olds.
My piano lessons are done, for now.  It was the first time I have taken any kind of music lessons, and I enjoyed it.  I memorized one song (Allouette) and can play some others passably well with the music.    
I completed my twelfth year as an elementary ESL teacher.  That boggles my mind.  Twelve years is three times as long as I was in college, and more than twice as long as I was a teacher in California.

With all these finishes, now there is time to do travel planning for my next adventure-learning more Spanish.