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.

Eating our weight in mangos

It is mango season here!!! We are doing our best to eat our fill and enjoying every single bite!

We also continue to buy and try other produce that is new to us — this one (that none of us can remember the name for) is not one we need to try again. It had to be opened with a machete and had a very strong odor and chalky taste, but it was super cool looking on the outside.

We’ve had a very full past month and it is hard to believe that we have less than four weeks left to our time in Guatemala.

A HUGE highlight for March was a visit from my long-time friend, Christy. This was the first time someone other than our parents has made a trip to visit us overseas and it was so much fun to share our Guatemala-life with her!

Immediately after Christy’s visit, we were able to join a work team from the Porch de Salomon and assist with the construction of a house. It was great to work hard together as a family!

The kids learned how to dig a septic tank and build cinderblock walls. Pretty awesome!

The following Sunday, we were invited to participate in a monthly home-church service held at the Opal House chapel. It felt like a ‘mountaintop experience’ in every sense. The moment our van stopped at the 80-acre ministry compound, tears were flowing from my eyes. The amazing work that is being done there is overwhelming — a Montessori school for the local children, a working farm (avocado, citrus, guava, animals & more!), plus a medical clinic and all of it creating jobs and food for locals. It was incredible to see the extent of the ministry and such an honor to get the opportunity to praise the Lord in such a place.

Meanwhile, Jason started applying and interviewing for jobs for our six months in the States. This process is always full of excitement and adventure, but also thoroughly emotionally exhausting.

Then … Luke turned nine! We were blessed to be able to have his friends & also several of our neighbors join us for a time of swimming, cake, piñata and wonderful fellowship.

And now we lean into this season of Christ’s death and resurrection. Semana Santa (holy week), is the most important holiday time in Guatemala. There are many cultural demonstrations that we don’t entirely understand, but I love that everywhere we look right now we are reminded of this special time. Buildings are draped in purple, dried fish is being sold everywhere and special alfombras (carpets) made of colorful sawdust, pine needles and other natural materials cover roads and courtyards.

“For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.”

I Peter 1:18-19

Witnessing a Miracle

Photo by W. Deeds. Victor can SEE and his legs have healed to the point he no longer needs his walker!

Although we haven’t felt confident in what our purpose in being here is, we have recently been reminded that sometimes God puts us in situations to be observers of the great things He is doing. Last month we shared a bit about our friend Victor and we continue to stand in awe of this one life, changed.

Victor became blind about four years ago after his diabetes got out of control. He was living with his mother until she passed away this past year. Unfortunately, his mother was an alcoholic and when drunk, she abused Victor. In addition to being blind and only weighing 90 pounds, he also had a serious infection in his legs which prevented him from walking very well. The first doctor who examined him did not think he would live very much longer.

Today, he is receiving medications, eating properly, getting treatment for his leg infections and has had successful surgeries on BOTH his eyes!!! He has also gained 30 pounds!

Before and after photos by W. Avila.

We became acquainted with this man when he was blind and could not see us (or anything else) and now he sees us and waves to us from across the street! This one simple gesture catches me completely off guard every time.

Victor has been very eager to return to work and recently began making jewelry once again.

It has been a priviledge to watch this happen right before our eyes. The miracle of sight restored and the additional miracle of people who were willing to take the risk of asking Victor what he needed, and then choosing to walk beside him. Not just being available for a quick-fix, but choosing to live in community with him. To me this has been a beautiful picture of Christ’s example to us, of giving us the Holy Spirit to walk with us every single day.

If you are interested in contributing to Victor’s ongoing medications or treatments, you can give here and put his name in the paypal comments or on the memo line of your check.

Being Tourists in Antigua, Guatemala

Earlier this month we needed to renew our tourist visas in the Capitol and we took the opportunity to stay in the nearby city of Antigua for a few days. We feel so blessed to everyday literally be living out this dream of ours, but it was still delightful to get away from our Pana home routine and just be tourists for a few days.

Jason’s parents generously gifted us a beautiful AirBnB to stay in which we thoroughly enjoyed — it had three marvelous courtyards (with giant leaves!).

Antigua is a beautiful city. This was my fourth visit and I love it every time.

Below is the original “laundry mat” for Antigua — now, a lovely park located right across the street from our AirBnB.

The Central Square — I love the beautiful church, the fountains and surrounding plazas … the kids love feeding and chasing the hundreds of pigeons 🙂

One of the fun things about visiting Antigua was that Luke had been to many of these sites eight years before —

In Antigua there seems to be a beautiful church, or the striking ruins of a church on every block.

On the recommendation of a friend, we spent a morning visiting Caoba Farms. This farm-to-table location was a wonderful place to spend the morning. The kids got to visit a butterfly sanctuary, play on a large play structure (there are very few play structures in Guatemala), and observe some chickens, rabbits & ducks. Plus we all got to enjoy an amazing breakfast!

Our last stop and one of my favorite places to explore was the ruins of the convent at the San Francisco el Grande Church. This large complex was destroyed by an earthquake in the 1700’s and later used as a backdrop for part of the 1935 Tarzan film.

We were very sad to say goodbye, but also glad when we arrived back into our Pana home. Until next time Antigua —

Redefining “work”

Last week marked the half-way point of our time here. It is hard to believe that three months have already flown by and that in just three more months we will return to the US to work towards returning again next Fall!

We celebrated with the privilege of joining these beautiful women of La Casa de la Paz at a lakeside picnic — the very first since the pandemic began. It was incredibly moving to be with them and listen to them support one another.

Photo courtesy W. Deeds

Even the kids got to participate in an activity —

We’ve slowly been realizing that we were not mentally prepared for the fact that we would need a serious detox from our Western cultural expectations of what “work” looks like and how it’s accomplished. Even though we lived here before, it’s been a bit of a rough adjustment and with the ambiguity of our role here, continues to be difficult for us to let go of the cultural ideals we arrived with.

With that being said, we do not feel like we have accomplished very much and at times have wondered, “what are we doing here?” I have remembered my interview for Peace Corps so many years ago when the recruiter asked me how I would feel as a teacher if only 1 out of 20 students actually learned? One life affected positively can be so powerful, but that isn’t our country’s usual standard for success.

We are building community in Pana, both with foreigners and with locals. We are really enjoying our local church — Templo de Alabanza (Temple of Praise) — and the opportunity to build more community relationships through our time there.

We have also been able to support our missionary friends, the Deeds family, in some small ways which was our primary goal in living here. We try to remind ourselves that a ministry of relationship/community sometimes doesn’t look (or feel) like “work” as we would define it.

For us, living in community has looked like this — going on family hikes, joining birthday parties, watching kids for date-nights and spending holidays together —

Our work with La Casa de la Paz has looked different than expected — we have been able to assist in more of an organizational role, assisting their leadership with writing a mission statement for the organization and helping them define roles as the organization expands.

Photos courtesy W. Deeds

And sometimes “work” has meant doing some rather random activities: cutting down trees, pulling stumps, helping at a VBS or building a fence (with Luke getting a rare Coca-Cola afterwards!).

Perhaps the most special situation we have been able to observe is this: the Deeds (along with Will from Dirty Feet Missions) started assisting a blind beggar in November, by simply asking him what he needed. Victor’s response that he needed “friends” was surprising and heart-wrenching. Will and the Deeds have welcomed him into their lives and by association, we also get to spend time with Victor. He is in his early 30’s with no family and has been blind for the past four years. After taking him to numerous doctor’s appointments over the past three months, and fundraising both for the medication to help treat his diabetes and for eye surgery, the Deeds have coordinated a miracle — Victor can see again! One eye surgery is complete and he is scheduled for the next eye. Such an incredible blessing to see this one life affected so profoundly.

Photos courtesy of W. Deeds