Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Life is Valuable

I chose "Life with Mamita" as a blog name, not only because I hope to share our day-to-day lives with you, but also because life is so valuable to me. Life is precious, and it should not be taken for granted or carelessly disposed of. I have a passion for children - both big and small.

I love teenagers. They have SO much energy and they love to learn and think as they grow into mature adults and begin to really grasp the world around them. They have so much hope for the future.

And I love babies. There is nothing like snuggling with a newly bathed newborn. As you look into their eyes, you see the face of God. They are so innocent and so precious.

So, it makes sense that I would love to teach teenagers about babies. Tonight, I shared with our youth group about unborn babies. We talked about what the Bible says about abortion. Then we covered some gray areas that even pro-lifers have a hard time answering. Next week, we get to the meat of the issue, when I will share the scientific and physical evidence for the personhood of the unborn. Then we'll get into philosophical arguments. It should be very enlightening.

Since we have no news on Cupcake, and since I've been focusing so directly on this issue over the last several weeks as I prepared for tonight and next week, I think I might share with you some of the material we are going over. So, forgive me if I get too deep or step on your toes. This is a passion of mine, and if I help someone else grasp the truth, then I've succeeded in passing on the truth. If you disagree, I'm willing to talk about it.

Blessings to you,
Mamita J

Monday, January 28, 2008

Whew! --- Dodged a bullet!

The new dentist didn't see any significant issues with the x-ray. He wants me to be more gentle when I floss - that's when it hurts. He's a wait-and-see kind of guy. He's not drill happy. :-D If it becomes more troublesome, I can come back and fix it. Otherwise, he'll see me in 6 months.

I still don't know how gentle he'll be with the Novocaine, but at least for now, my stress level has dropped. Oh happy day!

Blessings to you,
Mamita J

Dental Stress

UGH! I have a broken filling. This morning I get to try a new dentist. I have not-so-great teeth and more dental horror stories than you can imagine. So, here I go. I'm going to try to be brave, so I don't pass this fear on to my kids. Thankfully, the big three all have their dad's teeth. None of them have had any real dental work done, except TE had braces. I have a feeling that little Cupcake will be more like me. Poor kid.

I'm hopeful that this one will be the gentle dentist I've dreamed of. I had one once, so I know they exist (but his office is 6 hours away). I talked to the receptionist about the need to be gentle, and she was very reassuring. I'm really not a wimp. I have a very high tolerance for pain. I've just had a string of very bad experiences, ever since I was a kid. I'll let you know how it goes.

I can do this...

I can do this...

Mamita J

Friday, January 25, 2008

Favorite Foto Friday



Blessings to you,
Mamita J

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Cultural Reflections

I don't speak much Spanish. I pick up more and more every time we go, but let's face it...I mangle the language when I speak and I understand very little when I listen. So we rely on body language. It's kind of a fun challenge and the people have always been so gracious to us. It's this experience that leads my thoughts down two roads today.

First, as a traveler in a foreign land, I am so thankful for the kindness of those who graciously tried to communicate with us. They would rephrase questions, point to things, t a l k...m o r e...s l o w l y. All the while, they were friendly and gracious.

There's a lot of emails flying around the Internet these days about the English and Spanish languages here in America. As a matter of public policy, I support English being the official language of the United States. I believe we should encourage immigrants to learn English, not so I won't be inconvenienced, but so they will have a better hope of success.

But, on a personal level, I believe in friendly and gracious behavior. If someone who doesn't speak my language asks me a question, I hope I will take the time to speak slowly, point, and rephrase questions. I hope I will look them in the eye and make them feel welcome. It's the least I can do, since I've been shown this courtesy so often.

My second thought trail comes from observing the body language of others. I believe I learned a lot from focusing in on a few key people and casually observing others.

The first fellow was Renando, our driver. As we were leaving Panajachel, we made several stops to pick up extra passengers. At one point, Renando gets out of the van at the same time a young girl is running up the street, her long black hair flowing from side to side. It's clearly his 8-10 year old daughter. He picks her up and gives her a big "daddy hug". Then he gets down on one knee, looks her directly in the eyes, leans in and gives her directions for the day. He gives her some money, you can tell that he is earnestly telling her to take it directly to Mom, and that he will be back tonight. All the time, he's tenderly stroking her hair, smiling, and his eyes are glistening. He gives her another hug and a kiss good-bye, and off she runs down the street. What a beautiful scene! Something about his tenderness just made my heart melt. What an example of the kind of parent I ought to be.

The other fellow is the restaurant owner in Panajachel. He's the one who gave hungry A___ a plate and fork and sat him down at a table. He treated A___ with such dignity. Well, as we sat down to eat that night, the street vendors swarmed our table. The owner was trying to take our order and at the same time, the ladies and children were trying to sell us everything from table runners to bracelets. So Daddy S turns to him and says, "I can't even think here. Can you make them go away?" He turns to the vendors and very quietly, very gently, pleads with them to allow us to order and eat in peace. This is his restaurant. They're disturbing his business. He had every right to bark at them to get out and stay out. But he didn't. He chose to treat them with respect and compassion. I have so much to learn. Oh, if I could treat people who are a pain in my neck with that much love.

The last observation is more general. I noticed that when adults talk to children in Spanish, their voices get high and sing-songy. The volume goes down and they move in close. It's so tender. It's so personal. I want to be more like this.

I never knew I could understand so much from body language.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Our Vacation - Part 10 - Saying "Good-bye"

We have so much love for this little girl. When we look in her beautiful brown eyes, we see so much. There's hurt and anger, fear, questioning, sadness, uncertainty. We see love, playfulness, spunkiness, charm, contentment, happiness. Sometimes, you can see all of this at the same time. Her eyes are SO expressive. She does not hide her feelings. When she smiles, the room lights up. When she pouts, the clouds roll in.

On our last day with Cupcake, she knew we were leaving before a word was said. She knew.

When we came back from breakfast, her ride was waiting. The love and hurt in her eyes was almost too much to bear. For the third time that morning, I explained that today, she will go to her house and we will go to our house, but we will be back for her. Next time, no good-bye!

Then we all walked downstairs and, hugging and crying, they pried her out of my arms. She kicked and screamed in horror. Daddy S and I collapsed in sobs. We could still hear her from the parking lot when we got back to our 4th floor room.

Words cannot describe the heartache that occurred when they carried our baby away. But my hope is this - Next time, no good-bye! Next time, she comes home with us. Next time, her stuff goes in our bags. Next time, we walk out of that hotel as a family.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Our Vacation - Part 9 - Cupcake

Just hanging out, being a family...

Cupcake loves lotion.

Up close and personal.

That's my girl!

With Grandma and the doll Grandma gave her (and the Pizza Goldfish).

Feeding her baby.

Hanging out with Uncle B___ and Sugar.

A couple of cheerleaders, getting ready for the big game.

Helping Sugar with some lip gloss.

Sculpting with Play-Doh.

TE's Play-Doh creation.
He's not some sicko the tombstone...
It was a little hard to go from "run, run, run" to
being cooped up in a hotel for 3 days.

Sweet cheeks.

Listening to Hannah Montana.

In the Hot Tub
(or more accurately, the Slightly Warmer Than Icy Tub).

Swimming with big sis.

Handsome big brother.

Handsome bigger brother, who hates his picture being taken.

Blessings to you,
Mamita J

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Our Vacation - Part 8 - Cupcake / Grand Tikal

On Saturday morning, we packed up once again, this time to see our daughter!!! :-D Our friends, E___ and N___ drove us in to Guatemala City.

As we arrived at the Grand Tikal Futura Hotel, our mouths drop open in awe and wonder. We have never stayed in such a fancy hotel before. The Guatemala City Marriott was elegant and professional. But this was fancy. We're pretty down to earth folks. Here in America, we stay at the Quality Inn almost everywhere we go - you know, clean rooms with a good price. This was not the Quality Inn! I'm sure we looked like the Beverly Hillbillys as we walked into the 11-story lobby with 3 glass elevators, and a glass roof.

View looking up.

View from the top floor looking down.

The lobby.

Well, we had a couple of hours to wait until our room was ready, and a couple of hours to wait until Cupcake was brought to us. So, we took turns exploring the place with the kids. There was an indoor pool and 3 hot tubs, a work-out room, and a roof that you can go out on to see the city. That took about 5 minutes. We twiddled our thumbs, and then we went exploring some more. Our room was ready after about 2 hours, so we unloaded our luggage and scrambled back downstairs to wait. Did I mention that time stood still while we were waiting for Cupcake. It's this time of breathless expectation. You can hear the "tick...tick...tick" of your watch. You watch people come in and out. You look in every car that drives through the drop-off zone. You check your watch. You walk outside to see if they are coming in. You sit back down. And so it goes.

Finally, I see R___, our facilitator. THEY'RE HERE! The moment we've been waiting for. Will she remember us? Will she cry? She did last time. They walk in the door. She looks so grown up. She looks worrried. She hugs R___'s leg. We talk about the case while she holds on to him. At one moment, she grabs her bag, puts it on her shoulder and with her head held high, walks for the door. You can just see her little mind thinking, "I am NOT doing this! I am so out of here!"

Finally, it's time for R___ to go. When the elevator door shuts, the screaming begins. LOUD, WAILING SCREAMS!!! This poor girl has been through so much change in her short life. She doesn't like being handed off from one person to another. She doesn't like not being told what is happening. All I can say is, "I'm sorry. Mama's here." All I want to do is protect my baby's heart. I want her to know that we will always, always love her, and once those papers are signed, we will NEVER, NEVER give her back.

After a time, she calms down and looks around. She meets her brothers and sister. She remembers TE. He met her more than a year ago. She recognizes Sunshine and Sugar from the pictures we sent. She remembers Grandma from our last visit. She takes to my brother easily. She's mad at Daddy...I don't know why.

Pretty soon, we're just enjoying family life together; interacting and getting to know each other. Just hanging out. Ahhh.

Blessings to you,
Mamita J

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Our Vacation - Part 7 - Antigua I was saying, Mom and I beat the guys back to the hotel by a few minutes. When they got in, my brother and I were putzing around in the courtyard, trying to figure out when to go to Burger King for dinner. These two cute Mayan girls come up to us and say to my brother, "I remember you from the market. What was your name?" We're thinking, "Do we remember them? There are a million kids in the market. Did we really talk to them?" So they "re-introduce" themselves . Their names are F___ and V___. They are 9 and 8, respectively. They're making small talk, and all the while, we're looking for their parents, who are nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, it occurs to us that they must have followed us in. (There is a locked gate at the entrance, for security.)

So, one of the girls asks, very politely, "What are you going to get me for Christmas?"


"For Christmas, what will you get me?"

"Why would I get you something for Christmas?"

"Because you're rich. And I'm not."

"Oh?, Oh."

"What sorts of things do you want for Christmas?"


I'm thinking leather Sketchers or something, but they mean flip-flops. It's pretty late and we have no idea where to buy flip-flops. Secretly, I'm thinking about the bazillion pairs of unused/old flip-flops that clutter up our coat closet. They could have each had one in 5 different colors. If I'd only known.

So, my brother leans over and whispers, "Why don't we take them out to eat with us?"

Great idea!

"How about if we take you out to dinner for Christmas?"

"Oh, thank you. Thank you.", squeak two little voices.

"We're going to Burger King."

"Could we go to Pollo Campero, instead?"

By this time, we're almost rolling on the floor laughing at their boldness. But all the time, they are very sweet and humble... and a little bit mischievous.

On the way to Burger King, V___ ran off into Central Park. F___ tells us she is running to ask her mom. The mom comes over, says, "Good evening" to us, looks us over, and tells the girls to have fun.

The girls had a great time together. They are just Sugar's age, and they spoke very good English.

The conversation turned again to Christmas. We asked what would be a normal Christmas for them. V___ told us that they normally get a new shirt, pants, shoes and a jacket, except she won't get a jacket this year, because there is no money. I might add that it was a cool night, and she was not wearing a jacket. Sugar leans over to me and says, "Mom, she could have my sweatshirt."

We all had such a delightful time with them. After the meal, my brother asked if we could get their addresses, so we could keep in touch. V___ ran off again, to ask her mom. Mom must have said okay, because they gave us their addresses.

We headed back to the hotel to get Sugar's sweatshirt. On the way back, F___ starts rubbing my sweatshirt and admiring it.

Well, you guessed it. They both got new (gently used) jackets for Christmas. And dinner. And my mom gave them each enough money to buy flip-flops. I hope it was the best Christmas ever for those girls.

Now, here's the best part....

After we got home, I brought my pictures over to my friend's house. She has been such a blessing to us. She speaks Spanish and she is the one who introduced us to E___ and N___, who have the booth at the market. Well, my friend spent the summer in Guatemala, near Antigua. I'm showing her the pictures and she sees the one with F___ and V___. Her jaw drops open. She exclaims, "That's... that's..." She recognizes F___!! F___ happens to be E___'s niece!!!! NO WAY!

WAY! Isn't God cool?

It's a small world, after all. We will definitely, be keeping in touch with these two. :-D

Blessings to you,
Mamita J

Monday, January 14, 2008

Our Vacation - Part 6 - Antigua

After the day at Chichi, we jumped back in the van to head to Antigua. A couple of hours later, we arrived at the Hotel Aurora.

This is my favorite hotel in Guatemala. It's not a big, fancy 4 star hotel or resort, but it is beautiful, and it feels like home...except it's clean...and peaceful.

The garden courtyard, the tile floors, the gentle hospitality of this charming hotel just make you want to go "Aaaahh...relax."

...And we did, for a minute.

Then we had to get going.

So much shopping, so little time. :-D

We only had an evening and a day in Antigua, so we relaxed as much as we could and shopped as much as we could, and squeezed in some sights along the way. It was great fun.

We saw our dear friends, E___ and N___, who have a stall at the Artisan's Market. They are Christians, and have been a huge blessing to us.

At the end of the full day in Antigua, we were pretty exhausted from all the walking on cobblestones. We were still at the Artisan's Market, which is about 6 blocks from the hotel. I was starting to worry about Mom walking that far. So we decide to take a tuk-tuk. A tuk-tuk is a scooter-cab, with room for 2 in the back, although we've seen 4-5 people in one before.

So, life's an adventure, right?

Off we was a WILD RIDE!!! Someone should have died! But we laughed hysterically all the way back. He's driving 1/4 inch away from big trucks, and there are pedestrians, and cars... and the bumping of the cobblestones....and the beep-beep of the horns. It was a HOOT!

Seriously, it was an adventure I'll never forget.

We made it back to the hotel safely.

But our adventure in Antigua was not over yet...

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Our Vacation - Part 5 - Chichicastenango

Okay, so this is my feeble attempt to show you the panoramic view from our room on the top floor of the Posada de los Volcanes. We really liked the hotel. The rooms were VERY CLEAN and the showers were hot. The staff was friendly and helpful and the view was lovely. We would recommend this hotel for everyone, except honeymooners. (The walls were a little thin.) However, if you look closely in the lower right hand picture, you can see some roosters. Contrary to popular belief, roosters do not crow in the morning to wake the farmer up. They actually crow from 3:00-6:00 am, and it's not really a crow. It's more of a strangled screech. But it's all part of the cultural experience, and we even think fondly of the roosters, now that we're home and sleeping through the night again.

This is a picture taken from the window in our room looking out on the balcony. We occupied the entire fourth floor, with our party of 7. That's Sugar, my brother, and Mom.

One of the best parts of our hotel was the driver, Renando. He drove us all over and we all felt completely safe with this man. He backed down streets that I would have been afraid to drive forward on. And good driving is important on those roads.

So, on the 2nd morning, we packed up and loaded the van to head to Chichicastenango. This is a huge open air market. People come from all over Guatemala to sell their goods. It goes on for as far as you can see and it is a "sensory overload" experience. Here are some pictures...

These women are all lined up carrying their chickens in their arms and babies on their backs.

Colorful textiles.

The chicken bus booth.

Some people and scenery.

Now, here is a picture of us with some of the street vendors. In the middle is my mom. If you look closely, I think you can see written on her forehead, the words, "Please show me your stuff. I want to buy something." More than once, my brother had to grab her hand and rescue her from the mob of street vendors. Or did he rudely interrupt a good bargain? We may never know. :-)

Blessings to you,
Mamita J

Friday, January 11, 2008

Our Vacation - Part 4 - Lake Atitlan

While in Panajachel, we took a boat tour of the lake. The natural beauty is overwhelming and pictures just do not do it justice. The lake is over 3000 feet deep, and it is surrounded by 3 volcanoes. The mountains literally fall directly into the water. There are no gently sloping shores. The shades of blue are so dramatic, it's indescribable.

We left early in the morning and sailed for over an hour to the first village, San Pedro la Laguna. As we arrived at the village, I begin to fear that we have bitten off more than we can chew. My mom is with us. She's over 70 and had a stroke a couple of years ago. She's not the most stable, sturdy walker I've ever seen. And this village goes straight up the mountain. Can we do this?

Yes, we can.

Anything that has the motivation of shopping is a challenge my mom can conquer. :-D Up the hill we went, cobblestones and all. We stopped at lots of shops along the way and rested every so often, but we did it.

We jumped back in the boat and headed to the next village, Santiago la Laguna (I think that's the name). This was a much smaller village and it was flat! Hallelujah! They had market stalls all along the road and we enjoyed a short time there.

Back to the boat. Another ride to Santa Catarina Polapo. This village was very small with lots of kids playing. The women and girls of this village wear their hair up in a special way. In one of the shops, a lady did Sugar's hair up so we could see how they do it.

Here are three little girls all dressed in their village clothes. Aren't they adorable?

All in all, it was a wonderful day and we had a lovely time experiencing the unique culture that each village has to offer.

Blessings to you,
Mamita J

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Our Vacation - Part 3 - Panajachel

...Sorry to leave you hanging.

The next morning, we woke up and toured Lake Atitlan all day. I'll share about that next time. When we returned to Panajachel, guess who was waiting for us....M__ and her younger son T___. Yes, we bought some more stuff. This is me with M___ on the right and T___ in the middle. I am a whopping 5'2". I feel like a giant in the land. But I digress.

After making our purchases, we headed back to the hotel, and then straight to dinner. We had not eaten since breakfast, because we did not know what food was safe in the villages. So, we headed back to the "good meat restaurant".

TE, Sunshine, and I ordered "Dinner for Two" to share between the three of us. The menu said, "comes with two steaks, two chicken breasts, two pork chops, two Italian sausages, and two pork sausages". So, we figured this means little appetizer bites, since it is meant to feed two people. Well, out comes a platter piled high with meat. Each chicken breast was twice the size of a regular restaurant portion. We all ate our fill, and this was what was left...

So, we're all sitting around, digesting, and trying to figure out what to do with all this leftover meat...and who should come by to sell me bracelets???? It was A___, the young man with the bad language. He looks at me and then at the meat...and then I knew what to do.

So, I called the restaurant owner over to ask for a box for my friend. The owner brings him a plate and fork and sits him down at the table behind us. This man treated A___ with such dignity, it was truly humbling. And again, I was reminded that the little boy behind me was not only A___, he was Jesus in disguise.

After he ate, we boxed up the rest of the meat and vegetables for his family. It felt good. This time when I said "Dios bendiga", he said "gracious".

I know I can't solve the problem of their overwhelming poverty with a piece of chicken. But, that night, A___ went to bed without the gnawing pain of hunger in his side. And I went to bed at peace with myself.