Exploring Guatemala’s Coast & More

Last month we enjoyed a fantastic trip to Guatemala’s Pacific Coast compliments of Jason’s parents who had given us a few nights away as a Christmas present. We had never been to this area and it was amazing to drive through the sugar cane fields and rubber trees on our way. I love being able to show our kids how things we use everyday are grown. The coast was balmy and very peaceful. The kids will most remember the fantastic swimming pool facilities where we stayed.

We also enjoyed some special events these past few weeks — the kids finished up a month of swimming lessons, we celebrated sweet Simeon’s birthday, received a visit from friends, made Valentine’s Day pancakes and Mabel got a tooth extracted!

Jason and Will hosted a boys youth group campout on our neighbors’ compound last month. 16 boys showed up, which was awesome! They had a meaningful evening of fellowship, singing, games and food; followed by a mostly sleepless night and a hot breakfast together the next morning.

We also got to join in a special Guatemalan Day celebration at our friend Danielito’s school in which all the students dressed in traditional outfits from different areas of Guatemala and performed dances. It was really wonderful to see all the traditional outfits in one place and so fun to watch Danielito.

Several of the board members of La Casa de la Paz visited last month to discuss the continued care for the women of La Casa and also to determine if now is a good time for expanding the ministry to try to assist some of the men in our community who struggle with addiction. We enjoyed meeting these board members that we have only ever seen in on-line meetings before.

We are excited to share that the La Casa ministry will be expanding to include men. Many of you are familiar with Victor’s story and it is incredible to watch how God is growing his story. Last month these three men below (to the left of Victor) named Julian, Eduardo & Carlos asked if they could please be taken to a rehab center. The Deeds immediately sponsored them and you can see the difference in them in the second picture.

Photos courtesy W. Deeds

Victor and the Deeds know that rehab is only the first step in their recovery journey. Due to their addiction, these men have no family support, no homes and no jobs. They need additional assistance and, most importantly, community who will walk with them. In seeing this need, the Deeds have organized a home to serve as a type of half-way house (something that does not exist here) and are serving these men in hopes of restoring dignity and helping find God’s purpose for their lives.

We are thrilled to share that Jason has been hired in a seasonal position again in the Sequoia National Forest beginning in May and that we will get to spend another six months among the big trees … but as seems to often be our predicament, we are still searching for a place to live. We are looking forward to seeing how God will work this out for us this time around.

Celebrating … life with others

Happy New Year! I’ve been slow to post an update this month because it has been difficult to summarize well all that we have been up to. I started and stopped a number of times and could not find the right words until I realized that the overarching theme for our month was celebration. We spent the last five weeks celebrating life in so many different ways. Here are a few snapshots —

Jason and Luke were able to help install a new patio roof at this home (above and below) which opens it’s space each week for the local La Casa de la Paz group of women to meet together.

We joined a short-term missions team from Indiana and went across the lake to visit two alcohol and drug rehabilitation centers. Our time with both the men and the women was really meaningful. I was inspired by their bravery in choosing to get help for their addictions. The women celebrated us by giving every person in our group a handmade hat.

Mabel celebrated losing her first tooth (finally!). Sadly, she swallowed it while eating, but luckily the tooth fairy has certificates for swallowed teeth.

Jason and Mabel spent time with the English students in Tierra Linda celebrating Christmas with a special program of songs and games. Mabel was a little overwhelmed by having her blonde hair petted by so many kids at once.

Before we knew it, Christmas arrived. And with the special day came many, many delicious tamales and A LOT of fireworks! We had a beautiful time celebrating Christ’s birth and the many blessings that have been poured out over us.

The year would not be complete without trying more new fruits – Cushin or the “ice cream bean” was first. We were told to eat only the white fluffy stuff off the seeds, and it was surprisingly tasty. The other fruits are Chico fruits. They smelled like potatoes and (to us) tasted like very overripe pears. I love that our kids are always willing to try these things no matter how strange the seem.

Our year ended with a short boat ride across the lake and a beautiful hike between villages with a wonderful family that God has blessed us with here. It was a perfect year-end celebration.

Early in the New Year, I got to join Leigh in a kid-free day to participate in the three year anniversary of the women’s alcohol and drug rehabilitation center – Casa Ixoqi (ee-show-key). Shockingly, we have been told that this is the ONLY women’s-only rehab center in all of Guatemala. I am thankful to Dirty Feet Misisons for seeing this gap in care and helping start the women’s center three years ago. It was a huge privilege to join these women in their celebration.

We even got to join together with our neighbors and celebrate the birthday of our compound’s caretaker together with his family. Esquipulas has been kind, helpful and patient with us since day one. It was an honor to get to celebrate him.

We continue to celebrate this spectacular location that we get to live – even when we lose our electricity for nearly four days and I need to use my headlamp to see for cooking. We are filled with gratitude for the people God places in our path.

Jumping from Fall to Summer

We arrived safely back to our Panajachel home last month and exchanged cold weather for very predictable 75 degree days and 50 degree nights. This area of Guatemala has two seasons, rainy/winter and dry/summer. Even though Guatemala is north of the equator, we are currently in what locals call “summer.” Woo-hoo!

On our final USA day, we had a wonderful goodbye with family, followed by a sunset walk at Santa Monica beach and dinner with our friend, Christy … then the kids had their first red-eye flight! They quickly realized spending the night on an airplace was not nearly as fun as they thought it would be!

We are settled back into the same home we rented last year. Being able to rent the same space again has been a beautiful blessing. Both the Deeds family and also our neighbors welcomed us back with gusto — stocking our fridge, creating welcome back signs and moving our stored items back for us. Our landlord had also swapped out old/non-working furnishings and done some other upgrades too. We feel incredibly blessed and humbled by all these good gifts.

The kids both caught a strong stomach bug our first week back. They recovered quickly and still enjoyed Thanksgiving even if their appetites weren’t back in full force. Our compound shared a feast together, which was delicious, and the setting was pretty amazing too!

We have again been looking for and trying produce that we aren’t familiar with — starting with these nisperos or loquats and curuba or banana passionfruit. The nisperos were delicious with apple/citrus/peach taste and crisply juicy. The curuba has a wonderful flavor, but the seeds are very crunchy and bitter, so eating it was not great.

Our calendar has quickly filled up with the normal life things of Spanish school, homeschool, basketball and dance. We returned just in time for Mabel to participate in her Christmas dance recital which was so much fun to watch!

Last weekend, Jason joined Will and Daniel (and 1,100 other cyclists) to complete a 45-mile annual race around Lake Atitlán.

We continue to be alert for opportunities to help where we can. This coming week, we get to assist with the children’s program for the year-end celebration for La Casa de la Paz. About 180 women from ten different communities will come together for a day of celebration and fellowship. Meanwhile, Jason has returned to assisting with the boys youth group that started last year.

We are continually thankful for the Deeds family who have welcomed us to join them in this life together and also for the many new friends who God has placed in our path — some simply friends we made on the street and others who are here serving with different ministries.

I find myself shocked anew everyday by the beauty of this place and it’s people —

Keeping cozy and packing up

Our mountain temperatures have been dropping and I’ll admit, I’m feeling ready for our warmer, Guatemalan, home! Our rental cabin is not insulated. In the summer, that meant that on 100 degree days it was 90-95 inside. Now with 30-40 degree days, we wake up to 46 degree inside temperatures. However, in spite of the cold we were all THRILLED to find some snow last week and we’ve been extremely thankful for our fireplace!

Before the cold arrived, we had a spectacularly beautiful month — starting with celebrating my Dad’s 80th birthday with the entire family.

We were fortunate to spend a weekend camping down at the base of Kings Canyon National Park — we’ve loved living less than 10 miles from the entrance to this spectacular park.

The kids and I then got to go on a fantastic adventure to Sacramento and meet up with special South Dakota friends — the Haan gals! These amazing folks were our next door neighbors when we first arrived in Rapid City. Mary effortlessly included us in the life of her family. We were so blessed by them then and it was really special to reconnect.

Before we left Sacramento, the kids and I did a homeschool fieldtrip day – visiting the Capitol, the State Railroad Museum and sharing a Boba tea at Happy Lemon.

And then it was time for Halloween – a favorite holiday of the kids. Getting to spend it with family was a huge highlight!

This week has been a difficult week of saying goodbyes to all the people and places that made our summer wonderful. We are excited to return to Guatemala, but that doesn’t make the goodbyes any easier…and then there is all the packing to be done! We are so thankful to have my parents barn apartment as a refuge while we transition once again.

We would really appreciate your prayers as we return to Guatemala (on November 15th!) – for smooth transitions and mostly that we will have eyes to see who God places in our path. If you are interested in partnering with us financially, please visit our donation page – and thank you so much!

Stretching out the fun

Visiting the nearby Boole Tree with Jason’s parents.

This month has felt like a beautiful whirlwind of fun which we feel incredibly blessed to be part of. We’ve had visitors to the cabin (not just bears!), we’ve gone on trips, celebrated a 7th birthday and purchased our return tickets to Guatemala – departing November 15th!!

We also had a bat visit us in our bedroom in the middle of the night. That was not part of the “fun whirlwind.” Ha!

Early in the month Jason traveled to Spokane to spend a few days with his parents and sister, then returned in time to enjoy a visit from our special friends – the Botts family! We met Randy & Sarah in a young-marrieds bible study group over 15 years ago. We have loved being able to stay connected with them and now it’s a blast to watch our kids together too.

We celebrated Mabel’s 7th birthday with family. She’d requested a donut cake and a piñata for her celebration. Several cousins were sick and couldn’t come which was pretty sad, but we all still had a fun time celebrating. So glad God has gifted us with this funny, sweet girl.

Mabel even got to have a ‘ketchup party’ with her oldest cousin, Elijah, who shares her affinity for eating A LOT of ketchup.

My Aunt Lori and Uncle Steve were our next visitors. My aunt brought crafts to do with the kids and her favorite caramel recipe to teach them the art of making perfect caramels. YUM! And of course, we went to see some ridiculously large trees too.

The kids and I took a quick trip to the L.A. area last week to catch up with some special friends. I am so thankful for these strong, beautiful women in my life — Julie, Pam, Marti, Christy and Sydney – who make time in their schedules to see and host us. We also took a field trip to the awesome La Brea Tar Pits!

Jason & Luke made their annual overnight backpacking trip – into the Jennie Lakes Wilderness.

And lastly, Jason’s parents spent this past weekend visiting and boy did we stretch ourselves to do all the exploring that we could with them! We feel incredibly blessed to be living less than 10 miles from Kings Canyon National Park and only a bit farther from Sequoia National Park.

Finding Community (& eating a lot of blackberries)

We had a surprise visit from this family a few weeks ago which was quite a thrill! We were drying out our camping gear and they decided it needed to be checked out. Although these are “only” black bears (and about as dangerous as oversized racoons), we were still glad to enjoy them from inside our house.

We are enjoying getting to know some of Jason’s co-workers this summer, who I refer to as “tree-people.” In addition to getting to know these cool people, I have also thoroughly enjoyed the variety of tattoos the “tree-people” are sporting — from a redwood tree branch, to the cross-cut of a largest felled tree, to a “butt-mark,” which is a unique marking each forester places at the base of every tree they mark. It’s been educational to say the least!

We have all been feeling very thankful for our tiny community and the warm reception we have received here. Mountain people definitely have their own way of life and we’ve been loving the chance to get a glimpse of it. We’ve been fellowshipping on Sundays at the local Hilltop Chapel, and can’t remember ever attending a more friendly church. It turns out a number of our new church friends live on our road and now we see someone we know nearly every time we go on our daily walk. That makes me so happy.

Another component to our community this summer has been our monthly visits to my parents. We are loving getting a chance to know our extended family better; with trips to the beach, walks to the donut shop, impromptu meet-ups with Nana and getting to hold the newest cousin.

We started our new homeschool year this week and continue to be thankful for the flexibility it gives our family during this season of moving from place to place and exploring this world together as a family.

Last thing that we are loving – chowing on blackberries! Of course, we know they are invasive and a nuisance, but they are delicious! And we have so many growing along our driveway and along the road. YUM!

We love living in daily awe of the wonder of God’s creation all around us.

Getting Cabin Fever

We made it to our final summer house! This was our 3rd and hopefully final move until we return to Guatemala in November. It’s been both a fun and a difficult transition. It’s a beautiful thing to be living in a tranquil cabin in the woods; but, it has also come with some unique challenges that we are still working through.

Our new hometown is Miramonte and we are glad to contribute to a significant population spike!

Our very first visitor – a bear! Now the trash & recycling get to come inside every night.

We have had other visitors that we’ve been WAAAY more excited to see — my siblings and the kid’s cousins.

And some special friends on a road-trip from Seattle to Arizona drove out of their way to hang with us!

We are loving that we have two amazing National Parks within an hours drive to explore whenever we get the chance.

The backpacking opportunities abound here! Jason and Mabel went on their annual Father-Daughter backpacking trip together to Weaver Lake and then later on Jason went on his own 3-day trip through the Rae Lakes Loop.

We continue to enjoy being a mere three-hour drive away from many of my family members. We got to celebrate the 4th together, plus special July birthdays and I got to meet my new nephew when he was less than a day old. Pretty awesome.

This Sunday, we celebrated the first of our family’s three summertime birthdays. It was kind of grounding to celebrate a birthday in this new space. Somehow it felt more like our home. My birthday is next, then Mabel’s in a few weeks. Woo-hoo!

Settling in — summer home # 2 of 3

We completed our June move on Sunday and are getting to know our new place. It’s great to be living together as a family again and also to see where Jason’s been living and working.

We had a wonderful time visiting with both our families in May. To have Jason living 3 hours away during the week wasn’t our favorite; but, the kids and I had a great time being in the same community with grandparents, cousins and other family.

During our road trip north, we celebrated our 15 year anniversary with Jason’s family — a few additions to this group in the last 15 years! So thankful for the Schlafmann family!

While we were in the Northwest, we recorded the kids measurements on our traveling doorjamb – they’d both grown a lot in the past year!

We had an amazing time catching up with family & friends along our route in Oregon, Washington & Idaho.

The kids and I made the drive back to California on our own as Jason returned earlier to start his new job. We had some great stops along the way — staying in an Oregon yurt, collecting rocks and watching the sun set at Gold Beach, driving through Redwood National Park and over the Golden Gate Bridge!

To keep ourselves out of trouble, we helped create a (hopefully) deer-proof garden area at my parents house for the whole family to use. We motivated ourselves by putting the gate up first.

In between times, we made it over to the coast for several wonderful beach days — meeting up twice with long-time Spokane friends, the Drozdovs, who were in the area.

Some of the joys of living near family:

  • my kids getting to help their cousin with his dog-walking job
  • my dad, my husband and my nephew all showing up to church wearing the same shirt
  • my parents getting to see the kids as they leave for “crazy-hair-day” at VBS
  • going for rides in dad/papa’s classic car
  • where every occasion feels special because it’s cousin/family time

And one final, special moment before we moved — getting to spend Father’s Day with my dad for the first time in over 15 years. My older sister and I even got a father-daughter date with him. I love that since we’re living just 3 hours away, the special days and time together can continue for many more months!

Drinking tap water & going mask-less

We are back in the USA and drinking water straight from the tap! After six months of living in dread of getting stomach sickness from a drop of tap water landing in our mouths or on our food, it is SUPER strange to try to revert our minds to believing that tap water is safe. It is a welcome change, but still weird.

Another big change is that after six months of being required to mask both outside and inside, we are now living essentially mask-free. Another welcome change, but it felt very, very weird when we boarded our first flight and promptly removed our masks.

We arrived just in time to spend Mother’s Day with my mom – the first time in ten years we got to celebrate together.

We are thoroughly enjoying being home and visiting with family. We already got in a brief all-family campout with Carrie’s family at Refugio State Beach. A rare and special moment to get our parents, all four siblings and most of the grandkids together —

Our kids have been absolutely thrilled to have access to a full-fledged library again — and going to the library with a cousin? Even more amazing!

And finally — a housing update! We *think* we have our housing lined up! We’d hoped to have a single home to land in for this six month period, with the thought that a single place would help create some stability for our kids in this move-around lifestyle we are living. Instead, we will be blessed to have three lovely places to live this summer!

My parent’s barn will be our home until June 19th. Jason’s job provides a bunkhouse for employees, so he will bunk there during his work week and we’ll get to see him over the weekends. We are super thankful for the incredible support my parents have given us during our many transitions — storing boxes for us, keeping our car running smoothly while we’re away, providing lovely housing and most of all, welcoming arms.

After the barn, we’ll move to an airbnb near Jason’s work for three weeks before moving to our final destination – the Ponderosa Cabin for four months. We are thankful for the provision of each of these places.

And now…we’re on a road trip to the Pacific Northwest to spend time with Jason’s family before he starts his job. Such a huge difference in landscape and lifestyle from Guatemala and we are definitely in the thick of reverse culture shock! But, so so good to be here.

Finding our summer home

Grant Grove Village Reviews | U.S. News Travel
Photo from here

Jason recently accepted a six-month Forester job with Great Basin Institute working in the Sequoia National Forest of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. We are super excited about this opportunity and I am thrilled that we will live a mere three-hour drive from my family. This will be the first time that we will be closer than an 18-hour drive from them and we are really looking forward to it.

The last time we visited this area was during the camping portion of our honeymoon — 15 years ago!

This past month has been full of huge ups and downs as Jason worked to find employment and we both scoured the internet to find some sort of housing for our family. Jason had to turn down one job offer because we just could not find any housing. He accepted this one because we were able to line up housing, but it has subsequently fallen through (twice!). So, we are still on the hunt and waiting to see what God will do. Third time is the charm, right?

As we come to the end of our time here, there are even more ups and downs. We’ve questioned ourselves more than once, asking “why did we think living in two places every year would be a good idea?” The packing up, finding storage for the things that will stay here, the hunt for a new job & new place to live, and the uprooting of our kids (again!) has all left us feeling exhausted and emotionally depleted. And yet … we feel weirdly confident that this is what we are supposed to be doing. So, here we are once again saying some super hard goodbyes and looking forward to what is to come.

Final boat rides, swim dates and hikes with friends (for now)

We completed our final Spanish class and the school had a “graduation” for us and another departing student. It seems very strange that I won’t be chatting with my teacher (on the far left) for an hour every morning anymore.

We will miss the people and landscape of this place very much while we are away. The life-changing images of the Maya women’s beautiful strength will remain with us always.