Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Ways to Look at a Day

There are days, and then there are crazy days, and this one certainly fit into the latter category. If one could epitomize reality, or life as I live it, this day would be the prime example.

I've been in hyper-awareness mode most of today for a rather large reason: It is the sixth anniversary of the death of our daughter Keren. Usually I hate January because most of the month is a time of dreaded anticipation. The Day is approaching and there is nothing I can do about it. In Michigan this is compounded with short, dark days and cold, cold weather, or worse, murky, cold-ish weather. 

This year I could see the date approaching on the calendar, but it always took me a little by surprise. I guess there are advantages to sunshine and short-sleeve weather. On top of that, Jon had a stomach bug and was out of school Monday and Tuesday, so my mind was preoccupied with him. And there have been more shifts this January in our already crazy shifting season of life. So, yeah, all that to say, I wasn't depressed about the imminence of January 28.

And today was not depressing. Insane, but not depressing. It was one of those days where half the time I was looking at God and saying, "So, can we just stop and go on to something else?" At the same time, because I was paying close attention to everything today I saw God there in the midst, working in amazing ways.

Here are some of the details:

Con: We got out the door late to drop Jon and Ev off at school. This is not unusual, but it was worse than the norm. Breakfast took longer than expected to make, etc., etc.... I was frazzled as a result, mostly because this was Wednesday and I go straight to Bible Study after drop-off, so there was even more pressure to get out the door in good time. 

And yet, even though we got to school late, we still managed to miss a tardy.

Con: Jon was in tears because he didn't want to go to school after two days off. Yesterday he had an awesome day because he was past the sick point, so of course the idea of school today was anathema. 

And yet, he had a good day and even ate extra at lunch.

Con: Traffic was extra-awful today, and on one of the roads I grated the car over a huge pothole I couldn't see due to the sun being directly in my eyes.

And yet, the car was fine, we got everywhere we needed to go, and one of the main roads that's been under construction is fixed now and actually had much less traffic than usual.

Con: I had to make a Costco run after Bible Study and when I went to check out I discovered I had left my membership card in my other purse.

And yet I was able to get a new card made at the store within fifteen minutes for no cost.

Con: When everything was rung up, my bank card wouldn't go through even though I knew we had more than enough money in the account and I just used it yesterday. Not only that, my credit card was also in my other purse, so I couldn't use that. The lady told me that I needed to call the bank and I could only stare at all the stuff I'd just bought, try to decipher her stream of Spanish, and look around helplessly wishing someone would materialize who could speak English.

And yet God took my panicked wishing as prayer and in my daze I turned to see one of my acquaintances from church saying hi to me. She saw the panic in my face and not only stepped in to speak Spanish but offered to use her card for the order so I didn't have to try to make phone calls right there. This was the huge neon-light point in the day where I suddenly saw that God was right in the midst of it with our family. This perspective changer helped immensely considering the day was only half over....

Con: Back home, when I lifted one of my bags off the counter the strap caught our butter crock and sent it with a smash to the floor.

And yet I just looked at it and laughed instead of blowing up because I couldn't help but see that the craziness, by this point, was inevitable. It was also fun to watch Clare pick up the broken pieces and spend time trying to fit the "puzzle" together. 

Con: I tried to call the bank to figure out what had happened with our card and couldn't get through on any of the numbers. Everything looked okay online, but I needed to make sure the card was okay, so I had to go over to the bank on campus to solve the issue.

And yet this meant some extra exercise, and it turned out that nothing was wrong with the card. I also now know the correct phone number to call and should be able to get a person who speaks English.

Con: I managed to send Evie into tears when I reprimanded her for doing part of Jon's homework (tracing patterns). According to her I yelled at her, and she had no idea that what she did was wrong. She thought they were just trading off with him.

And yet she forgave me and we were able to talk through strategies for how she an let me know I misunderstood something, rather than her running off in tears. We also had time to sit down together and read a book which she's been wanting for a few days now.

What else? Oh, the list goes on. Ev announced when I picked her up today that her class is having a party tomorrow and she needed to bring food to share. Thankfully I had a new bag of chips in the cupboard. Jon has to take lunch for his class and we almost didn't get the tote bag that the school provides, but thankfully we realized it before we left the school. I am writing this now at 10:30 because I spent the past couple hours putting the pieces together for the class lunch. And yet, I am sitting here with a working computer, with Kraig across the room busy on lesson prep, and three kids sound asleep. Tomorrow, as Anne Shirley would say, is a new day with no mistakes in it yet. I'm not so silly to assume there won't be mistakes, but I pray that I am wise enough to know that no matter what tomorrow brings, God is in it with me, and He's got it covered. 

Tomorrow is in His hands just as much as was that Wednesday six years ago.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Digesting Christmas

I thought of calling this post "Pondering Christmas" but that was slightly blasé, and this title, "Digesting Christmas," was stuck in my head. The literal feasts of Christmas are long-digested, and that's a good thing. I'm back to daily treks up and down the flights of stairs to our third floor apartment, and that is also a good thing. But I am still digesting our Christmas experience--treasuring the beauty and craziness of it even as I yawn and look for a bed or frown when a bit of emotional reflux hits. I am full, still very full.

We were able to experience a bit of a Guadalajaran Christmas for the first part of December (or even part of November if you count the fact that they were selling live Christmas trees in stores by mid-month). The kids spent a bit of almost every day in November and December practicing for a class dance, and all the classes put on a show on the final day of classes before Christmas. This shindig involved costumes, and I happily plunked down some cash when the class parent of both Ev and Jon's
classes announced they were getting a seamstress to make the "disfraces" (costumes) so all would be the same. The results were much better than anything I could have cobbled together. Clare's costume was adequate, and despite her voiced hatred of the song her class was performing, and her disgust in having to wear a tutu, she put it on with a will on performance day and almost enjoyed herself.

Obviously we had no snow, but the coto (gated community) beside us put up Christmas lights (which are still up--it makes me happy) and poinsettia blossoms adorned every bare inch of landscaping. We didn't get a tree, live or plastic, since we were headed to Michigan for Christmas, but Clare suggested we create a paper one. We did, and the results were terrific. We even strung lights on it as well as festooning lights on our quilt wall-hanging. It was amazing the difference that ambient light made in the apartment. Up till getting the twinkle lights all we've had are the fluorescent ceiling lights. Between the decorations, the school program, the songs at church and the excitement of going "home" for Christmas, we were pretty festive.

 We headed to Michigan on the 19th and were able to stay there through the 3rd of January. It's impossible to know what all to expect from a trip like this, particularly when it is one's family's first return trip. It was incredible and lovely, and so, so hard. At times it seemed like we had never left. But emotions ran wild and off the track like my dad's electric toy train when the kids turn the power knob too high. We saw so many friends and family and the two weeks overflowed with good conversations...and at the same time there were so many friends and family we couldn't or didn't see, and we were bereft with the loss.

Talk and fun with the Grands over Mexican Train.
My friends Laura and Jen tried to create a magazine-perfect pose
while we made cookies with our kids. This was as close as we got.
To tell the truth, Laura couldn't keep a straight face long enough
and my camera kept jiggling because I was laughing so hard.
Jon and Aunt Carrie relax after Christmas dinner.
Cousins!!! (At least some of them....)
One reason it was hard was because it was a homecoming, and yet Michigan is not our home right now. This was particularly tough for the kids. They can't see the big picture like Kraig and I can and they don't have a way to put our time in Michigan within a framework of a year or two or more. To them, Michigan is home and they asked frequently why we had to return to Guadalajara. Michigan is the place where grandparents are and good friends. For Clare this was most tough because she hasn't found good friends in Mexico and she has long-time ones in Michigan--friends who take her as she is and have fun with her rather than expecting her to meet some unspoken criteria. 

The future is as mysterious as unopened Christmas presents.
We spent the two weeks talking through the future and evaluating. Kraig and I have both felt that if he was offered a second year here in Guadalajara with the same package he should take it. We knew that the package could be offered for a second year. A second year here would help us get our feet under us and know what the best path is for our family after that. What we didn't expect was the proposal he was given just before we left by his department head and another department head he's worked under for the past semester. There has been a staff opening in the department and they wanted Kraig to take it. It would be a local hire position, though, which means a significant pay drop and some other big changes for our family. In all, it didn't seem like a great idea; we haven't been here long enough to really know which end is up for a long-term decision. But we were concerned about relationships with the staff at the university; would Kraig seem ungrateful and greedy if he took the one-year contract extension instead? Would the door to the position have closed if we came to the end of a second year and felt we would want to stay? We've had some clarification since we've returned, but during our time in the States it was a huge discussion point.

School for the kids has been a major factor, too, in our ambivalence about a future here. While we've been very happy with the care and diligence of the staff at the kids' school, the actual education provided hasn't fit how our family has experienced education up to this point. We're used to interactive classrooms and challenges for the kids, and so far that's not what we've experienced here. We decided after talking long and hard over the two weeks that we'd go ahead and pull Clare this semester and homeschool her--a huge change for us. We'll continue to evaluate Ev and Jon's classes this semester and make more decisions later.

On January 3rd we said goodbye to Michigan and flew back "home" to Guadalajara. Goodbye to one home, hello to another. We are a split family, not divided physically, but divided emotionally and culturally. Life is not as straightforward as it was before we moved to Mexico.

It is a truth that will take time to digest.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Blessing of Totato Soup

It's Thanksgiving Day, and our hearts and minds fly to friends and family who are gathering today to feast and celebrate. I love Thanksgiving; even with all of the food prep it is essentially a lazy day. There is no big agenda. The goal is to be. And to be together.

Of course, here in Mexico it's a regular day. The kids are at school and Kraig is giving exams. I went grocery shopping this morning and the laundry is running. It's hard to believe it is Thanksgiving when one looks out on green trees and grass. There's a nip in the air, but that's as close as it will get to cold. I'm glad it's not blatantly obvious what we're missing, but at the same time, I am thankful that we're looking forward to a gathering on Saturday with our friends from Ajijic. There will be turkey and green beans, and I'm bringing pumpkin pie. I found real whipping cream this morning, which I would say is the icing on the cake, but that's a misplaced idiom for this. It's the whipped cream for the pie--literally and figuratively.

Yesterday my sister Jessie who lives in Singapore wrote about the joy of being invited. Even though in some ways it's easy to forget these American holidays when one is in another country, there is still a longing. It is a longing for place and family, but it is also a longing for gathering, particularly with like-minded folks. We can always reach out and bring them into our homes, and as Jess put it, we do that. We were raised to do that. But when someone else turns and says, "Please come, " it means a ton. So we were warmed when Blair and Barb said, "Would you like to come? We don't make a big deal about Thanksgiving, but we like to have something with friends."

When I think of the blessing of gathering it is always associated with food. The best gatherings have food that brightens the eye as well as feeds the stomach. Good food encourages conversation. It can also be said that good food is best when shared. Every time I tell the kids I'm making a certain family favorite, there first question is, "Is someone coming for dinner?" They've already made the association. I wish I answered in the affirmative more often.

There was no question, though, that the first time I was able to make Totato Soup* here in Guadalajara we were going to have guests. For one thing, one pot of Totato Soup can feed a small army (or in this case, our family of five and our Ajijic friends who have four kids, three of them teenagers). For another, it is a melding of flavors that accomplishes everything I have stated good food should do. It is a pleasure to share it.

(yes, it really is that red)
I had to wait for our shipment to make the soup because my big pot was in the shipment. In the waiting time I scoped out stores to be sure I had all of the ingredients. Some items were easy to come by: a chicken, carrots, celery, onions, garlic and canned tomatoes. I had a rosemary plant and thyme, so no need to search for those herbs. Small white potatoes are a staple here; almost as flavorful as Yukon golds. Other ingredients were a little trickier to come by. Sausage here, chorizo, has little variation. In the States I use breakfast sausage with sage for the soup, but here there is basically one kind of sausage and it all has red coloring so cooks up to look rather fiery. It's flavor is not unpleasant, but it is distinctive. I found decent frozen corn at Costco (a lot of corn here is field corn, so tough). I haven't discovered chicken stock or broth in cartons (I expect if I did it would be too expensive), and I didn't have time to make some, so I went with dry bouillon which is available here by the bag.
powdered chicken bouillon

Once I got my pot it was a matter of putting the ingredients together and setting a date for the feast. I was a little apprehensive that it wouldn't taste right--I hadn't been able to find loose sage ahead of time, and I just wasn't sure whether the sausage would be right. But the magic of the recipe worked. The aroma of the bubbling soup filled the apartment and taste-tests freed me from anxiety. I shared some with Rosa our cleaning lady because I couldn't wait to spread its wealth. Our friends came and by the time they left the pot was lightened considerably. And best of all, it had been enjoyed along with good conversation.

I'm already plotting my next pot and am figuring out with whom we will share it. The blessing of Totato Soup has come to Guadalajara.
"papas blancas cambray"
*My Michigan friends can attest to the power of Totato Soup which originated, of course, with the Rabbit Room. They have tolerated my love of all things Rabbit because of blessings like Totato Soup. I can't take any credit for creating it. Hutchmoot chef, Lewis Graham, got the idea for it after reading the first book of The Wingfeather Saga, by Andrew Peterson. Lewis made the soup, and knew it was made to be given to others, so he shared the recipe:

I cooked the chicken in my crockpot this time
One 3 to 5 lb. bag of the small Yukon gold potatoes, sometimes called butter potatoes.

Two boxes of Kitchen Basics chicken stock.

One package Jimmy Dean sausage with sage.

One whole chicken, already roasted at your local store (or baked at home).

Three ears fresh corn (or one bag frozen corn), two whole carrots, three stalks celery, two medium yellow onions.

One large can of whole, peeled tomatoes (or two small cans diced tomatoes).

Fresh garlic, dried thyme, sprig of fresh Rosemary, two dried bay leaves, kosher salt, cracked black pepper, and a healthy pinch of red pepper flakes.

Directions (in Lewis Graham's words):
1. Two or three glugs of good olive oil in Dutch oven. Make warm, add sausage. When the sausage is done, remove from pan but save the grease.

2. Cut potatoes in half, and rub well with sea salt (About one tablespoon is plenty for the batch). Heat the saved grease up in the pot, add potatoes. Let them sit awhile, frying the skins a little.

3. When potato skins have browned a little, add fresh veggies, chopped up of course. Cook them a little; when the onions are translucent and celery pliable, add chicken stock.

4. Add chicken, pulled from bones, sausage, tomatoes, and everything else.

5. Let that bad boy cook awhile. When it boils, reduce the heat and let it simmer.

Lewis concludes: "The rule with soup is the longer it sits, the better it gets. Mind it occasionally, stirring to keep anything from burning in the bottom. Fresh bread is always good. Be sure, absolutely sure, to do a little celebration dance after each taste, each seasoning."

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Planning Ahead...Or Not

A few weeks ago I helped out in Evie's class. Her teacher has wanted to do something special for Thanksgiving and figured Evie and I could give some input there. Why yes! The class decided to do a feast, and I volunteered to make pumpkin pie--real, homemade pumpkin pie. I wanted them to know there was something more to life than the pies one buys at the supermarket.

Thankfully when I promised this I knew that it was possible to get canned pumpkin, though perhaps tricky and expensive. Friends who have lived here longer spoke of finding it at local Wal-Marts, or even finding whole pumpkins to make it that way. I hoped to go the canned pumpkin route. Unfortunately I didn't see canned pumpkin in the local markets, but thankfully our friends in Ajijic were able to go to one of the big ex-pat stores there and found three big cans for me. The price was worth it. I figured I'd do a big pie-baking bash next week before the kids had their feast and before we had a Thanksgiving dinner with church friends.

Yesterday when I picked up the kids I saw Ev's teacher. "I have the canned pumpkin!" I said. "Good!" she answered. "Our feast is tomorrow!"


I was sure I had heard wrong, but Ev assured me that they had parceled out different types of food to the kids in the class, and as I promised, I was assigned pumpkin pie.

This is not the first time something like this has happened at school. Jon's teachers are notorious for sending home sweet little notes asking for Jon to bring something in the next day. Things like "gel in a bag" and "napoles, cooked". Half the time I'm scratching my head as I try to figure out exactly what the item is, and then have to figure out how in the world we are supposed to find it before the next day. I thought at first that these last-minute requests were because Jon's teachers are fairly young and inexperienced, but apparently not. Clare hopped into the car one day after school and said, "I have to do a poster for tomorrow on a topic." A poster, as you know, requires poster board. I don't usually stock up on poster board. Thankfully, that particular time I had just bought three for another project I had wanted to do and hadn't gotten to yet. All this to say, I shouldn't have been surprised when I was asked to bring in pumpkin pie for two second grade classes (about 36 kids total) the following day.

There was no help for it. We needed evaporated milk, pie tins, and whipped topping of some sort. I knew evaporated milk was easy to come by, as were disposable pie tins. What I hadn't seen was any sort of whipped topping (Cool Whip is not a staple here). I also had faint hope of finding pre made pie crusts, so it looked like I was going to have to make those from scratch as well. I can make a decent pie crust, but they never look as nice as the prefab ones, and a bunch of second-graders weren't going to be concerned with the quality of the crust's flavor.

I hate driving out after school because that's when the traffic builds up, so the kids and I decided to walk down to the corner market, about a five minute walk. Sure enough, we found plenty of evaporated milk and pie tins, but no pre made crusts--sigh! As for whipped topping, I found something that said "whipped topping" in a freezer chest. The box looked like one that would have whipping cream in the States. My hope was that it would suffice. We trekked home and got to work on the pies. Clare put together the innards and Ev and Jon helped me with the crust. Unfortunately Ev didn't realize the water I'd put out for her had to be measured and she dumped it all in before we realized. My shortening was gone, and the crust was now unmanageable. I saved it--we'll see if I can make it work for a cobbler. My patience had about hit its limit, but thankfully Kraig arrived home just then and suggested hamburgers for dinner from a restaurant a stone's throw away. Wise man. He and the kids traipsed off for those while I made new pie crust...with pure butter.

The pies turned out beautifully, and the little bits of crust I tried melted in my mouth. I sent three in with Ev today and we kept one for us. I'm not about to give up all of that pie crust! The class had their feast this morning and the pies were a huge hit. The other teachers got to have some, too, so I think that makes the butter worth it. However I told Kraig last night that from now on I am going to plan for the unexpected. Because apparently that's what one must do here to survive.

How much canned pumpkin do you think I'm going to need?

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Jon's dragon puppet for school
If anyone wants to break out in the "Hallelujah Chorus" now would be the perfect time for it. We have our shipment at last!!! The reality of this has not sunk in, nor have we really begun to unpack (barring a few items the kids discovered in one of the boxes). But over dinner joy was building. Clare mentioned a book she loves and I said, "Guess what! It's in the shipment. And the here!" That kept happening and we'd all look at each other and giggle. Yes, there was a lot of giggling this evening.

Kraig and I are wiped and the kids are out cold. It was a long day. It's been a long four months of waiting, for that matter. Last Friday I went in to the purchasing office again to follow up on things and found that as usual, nothing much was happening. Thankfully a staff member was there who has been able to mediate translation the past few times I've gone in. He hasn't been on the project, but it seemed that every time he was there, movement occurred. Friday was no different. In fact, by the end of the discussion Friday he took over the case--and suddenly things moved. We had word by the end of Friday that our entire family would have to go to the airport in order to retrieve the shipment, and we could go this week.

So this morning at 10 a.m. we met a university van and our staff member, Israel, and started off for the airport. The kids were thrilled to get out of school for the day, though we tried to warn them that waiting would be part of the events of the day. Little did we know....

First off, it rained last night. It's dry season now in Guadalajara, and we haven't had rain for a couple weeks. Apparently the weather decided it was time to make up for this, because not only did it rain during the night, but it kept up all day. When it rains, streets flood, and accidents occur. Today was no exception. We were only about seven kilometers from the airport when we got stuck in a traffic jam for at least half-an-hour. The kids played games and we inspected the ads on trucks and cars passing us.

When we reached the airport and the place where packages and shipments are stored until retrieved Kraig told the kids to leave their backpacks in the van. We didn't want them to have to cart them all over the place while we tracked down shipping questions. Once we got into the gatehouse (I can't think of a better name for the first building we entered) we discovered that no, the whole family was not needed, just the passports. In fact, kids weren't allowed into the shipment area because of all of the moving equipment. Kraig waved goodbye and he and Israel headed through creaking turnstiles while the kids and I commandeered two of the three seats available in the gatehouse.

And we waited. We probably arrived there at about 11:30. In the course of the next few hours we caught two glimpses of Kraig and Israel--once passing out of the main office, and once in the distance by the entrance of a warehouse. At two or so, Kraig came through the gate and grabbed all of the cash I had...and the next time we saw him was at about 5 when he and Israel came up from the street.

Can I just say, the kids were pretty amazing. It was probably the most boring day of their lives. We made do with Clare's tablet and my phone for a few games, but batteries ran low, and then it was a chapter of one of the Chronicles of Narnia (but not the one we're on as a family 'cause that was stuck in the van), and paper from a notebook I had. There was a game of Simon Says when they got antsy and on each others nerves (and mine), and they ran races down the chain link-lined walkway leading from the street to the gatehouse. Thankfully I packed a substantial lunch, so we had food, but that wore off toward the end. I also was thankful that while it seemed the kids weren't needed after all we had brought them, because if we hadn't they would have had no one to pick them up from school.

There were a few workers in the gatehouse--a man and a woman behind the check-in desk and a security lady who used her security wand to check all of the workers and visitors flowing in through the gate. They accepted my kids with smiles. At one point in the afternoon a young man with horn-rimmed glasses and blue rubber bands on his braces was checking out and chatted with us a bit. He'd spent a year in Minneapolis as an exchange student and wanted to know what had brought us here. We waved goodbye after the chat, but a few minutes later he returned with a simple wooden toy in hand for Jon (who was pretty cranky at that point). "I found this in my car," he said as he handed it to my now-grinning boy. "I remember playing this game many times when I was a kid. My dad was a physician and I had to wait without him a lot."

Kraig and Israel's final return was a huge relief, no question, and even more a joy when we saw that the van was packed with our fourteen trunks. All had been done! Israel headed back toward the apartment in that van while our family got in another that had been ordered since the trunks took up a lot of room. Kraig gave me the rundown of his adventures which involved a ton of standing and waiting and getting wet in the rain.

The biggest item that we'd been concerned about was the storage fee payment. The university was covering it, but there was no way to cut a check ahead of time since we didn't know the amount, and we didn't know how much cash we needed on hand (and weren't sure we could afford it even if we did know the amount). As it turned out, we couldn't retrieve cash there as the airport only uses one bank, which isn't ours. At first Kraig and Israel thought they'd have to leave to go get it from the university, but then Israel stepped up and personally pulled all of the money from his bank account. He'll be repaid by the university, but it was a huge thing that he did. Kraig and I are both a little overwhelmed by it. The cost of the late fees was equal to what it cost to ship our things here in the first place. Not only did this guy help us immensely this past week and today, he went above and beyond what was needed to give us an amazing gift. We might not have had time to retrieve everything today if he hadn't chipped in personally. He was so nonchalant about it, too, when we thanked him. His only request was that we call him when we needed a guide for some of the places in town as he loves to show people the city. To say the least, we'll be taking him up on this, but we're busy figuring out what more we can do for him.

And that was that. Our ride back to the apartment was amazingly traffic-free, and the trunks were unloaded in no time. Now they're scattered throughout the apartment waiting for their contents to be revealed. Everything was accepted by customs, so as far as we know, everything we packed is there. My fingers are itching to dig...but not tonight. Tonight, I'll just sing.

Ten of the fourteen trunks. The others were already transferred to other rooms.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Still Finding Home

And here we are and it's October 31. I've actually managed to write a post a day, and I certainly haven't exhausted topics that fit with my theme of Finding Home in Guadalajara. As I said a couple days ago, I do hope to continue posting regularly, but I sincerely doubt it will be every day. There is overkill after all...or maybe it's too much of a good thing :-) . See, I've been taking so much time writing that I haven't stopped to figure out little details like placing emoticons in my post.

We're still discovering our new home here, and it will be an ongoing process. I do feel, though, that these posts this month have helped me look more closely at things and I needed to do that. Writing always helps me see things more clearly. We've been learning how to navigate, physically and culturally. We've maintained routines and started new ones. We've explored new places and deepened new friendships. We've cried, and stressed, and learned, and hopefully we have grown. Sounds like normal living to me and like every home I've lived in.

The Plan
(Complete with Mom's blood, sweat and
tears. Oh wait, that's a stamp smudge.)
As we step into November, our family has a new project for the month--at least till Thanksgiving, but maybe all month. It's been hard to be thankful as certain stresses continue (shipment delays! Endless work for Kraig!), and it's been easy to complain. Days get busy, too, and when responsibilities aren't taken care of it adds to the stress. So we're creating some charts that hopefully will help us tackle these in a positive way.

First of all, we have our Give Thanks chart. Ev traced my writing and drew the owl; Clare drew the tree. The goal will be to take a sticky note and write one thing a day that we're thankful for throughout November and stick it onto the tree as "leaves" (our tree will be a Michigan Fall tree in reverse).

Secondly, we'll have a chart with Philippians 2:14-16 written out on it.
Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life--in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not labor for nothing.
We still need to write out the verse, but Jon has already started decorating it with suns. The main goal with this one is to have it memorized by Thanksgiving (and Kraig and I have to memorize it along with the kids). The secondary goal is that this truth will start influencing our attitude.

Finally, we just have a plain old responsibilities check-off chart, but with a verse reminder about the relationship between kids and their parents. We did something like this a couple years ago when the kids were having a horrible time getting ready in time in the morning and for bed at night. It had a monetary incentive, which we're considering again, but it worked so well that after a year we didn't need the chart any more. Times being what they are, though, we need it again....

We'll see how it goes. I'm sure I'll be able to give an update down the road.

 Until then, ¡hasta luego! See you later!

Our Alternate Education Day

Since the kids didn't go to school today, we were able to take a few extra breaths before doing anything. Unfortunately Thursday is one of Kraig's busiest days, so he was off and running by eight. The kids and I finished breakfast, thought through a couple possible outings, and decided to get over to the children's museum that's about a fifteen-minute drive from us. We were there once just after we came to Guadalajara and had a great time, but we'd never taken the chance to go since. It seemed to be the perfect day to go, with the added bonus that it's free on Thursdays.

The museum glows with color and fun areas. It's not huge, but it has lots of open space. The outside space struck me when we went the first time. I'm used to museums in the north that have to be mostly internal. Here, weather isn't an issue, and so half of the property is area for outside exploration and three nice playgrounds. And that's after we've had fun outside of the entrance.

See-sawing in front of the museum on our first visit

Today's escapade

A Rodo Padilla sculpture doubles as a turning-toy


We haven't explored much in the entry building yet because both on our first visit and today we were immediately drawn outside to the central court which has a fountain and is surrounded by flowering trees.

Today the kids wanted to explore the exhibits in the back building first, so we headed into a large open room that is filled with all sorts of interactive science displays. What was fun this time was that I could read a lot more of the descriptions--apparently I am learning some Spanish!

Discovering the effect of sonic wave frequencies on water

A full-size pin board

Using geometric shapes to create pictures

Air balls and Bernoulli's Principle

I love coming to places like this while most kids are in school. We had the run of the place except for a few school tours. The kids could explore and experiment with a number of activities without my concern that they were hogging it from someone else.

Once we'd had our fill of the big room we headed out to the side of the building with the three playgrounds. These are geared to different age-levels, but once again, since there really weren't many people the kids could go where they wished. They spent a good hour pretending they were visiting each other's houses or restaurants, etc. Magic was involved. I'm sure there were bad guys. When they start playing like this, I love to step back and let them go. They certainly don't need me. It's wonderful, too, to see all three of them engaged. So often when Clare and Ev get playing, Jon is excluded. I understand why--he's only five and he's a boy so his play is different than the girls. But it makes me sad, and so I treasure these times when all three are a part of the game.

Consulting in the shade

Jon's house (today)

The day was beautiful, and the views were lovely. The museum rests on the verge of a hill that dives down into a valley. Across the valley are high rises and houses, but the valley is a flood plain and full of greenery. Cars and trucks trundle past on the road out front, but they are removed from us. We can hardly even smell their exhaust.

We'll have to go again. It's worth the visit. And after all, I've promised the kids that next time we'll take the train ride....

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Street Where We Live

I thought I'd throw a song reference into this title to spice things up a bit. To tell the truth, while I'm not running out of topics to cover this month, I am running out of energy from writing these every day. The writing process is happening later and later in the day, and so nothing else gets done once the kids are in bed. How do days fill up so quickly? I don't have half as much on my calendar as I did back in Michigan! I'm planning to keep up with more regular posts once we hit November, but not every day.

But I digress. I realized I haven't given you many glimpses of what our immediate surroundings look like, and I thought you might find them interesting.

Our apartment building sits a little back from a main road, directly across from the campus where Kraig is teaching. If you head east on the road, you'll end up in more congested areas. If you head west, you'll soon be traveling through cornfields separated by occasional gated communities, horse farms and the barracks of a nearby military base. Jon's greatest thrill are the army trucks and cars filled with camouflaged soldiers that regularly travel back and forth on our road.

When it rains, the part of the road directly in front of our building becomes a river for a few hours. There are no ditches or drains off of it, so everything sits until it gradually seeps into the ground on one side of the road or the other, or evaporates in the sun. When we lived in the front first floor, it was incredibly noisy with the splashing of vehicles heading back and forth. Last week I meant to take my camera out so I could get some pictures of the terrific potholes that had developed, but I missed my chance. On Tuesday a truck came by and some men patched up all the holes. The good news is that we no longer have to worry about breaking an axle on our van. The bad news is now you just have to imagine the road pitted with hazards.

Most of the day things aren't too busy, but from three and five in the afternoon the traffic can back up like this:

The crazy thing is that within minutes it can look like this:

It all depends on what is happening at the light of the intersection just a bit further east, or how many cars are trying to get out of the university parking lot (through that silver exit building in the right of the photo).

Each day I'm thankful that the kids and I are home before the traffic kicks in. And each day I am thankful that the length of Kraig's journey from his office to home is a walk across campus, through a gate, and across this street.

We're already thinking through what we where we would want to live if we ended up living here more than a year. We're strongly leaning toward finding a home in the gated community (coto) that's directly beside us. For twelve years Kraig studied and worked in Detroit, a good forty minute drive from home. Now, he's across the street. We're thoroughly spoiled. It's not a perfect street by any means, but we'll take it.