Saturday, December 29, 2007

week two

This has been a quieter week than last week, but still I've spent some time with friends and out and about on errands. Christmas day was warm and clear, and we celebrated our usual way. Christmas is the only time when we all eat breakfast together - homemade cinnamon rolls and eggs, and then we listen to the Christmas story. After that come the presents which we open one at a time to savor the suspense. Because there are six of us, the present-opening takes quite awhile.

My sister and I made waldorf salad, and my dad put the finishing touches on the rest of the Christmas feast. A friend from my parents' small group joined us, and we thoroughly enjoyed the traditional fare.

Another tradition we have is to walk on the beach in the afternoon. With the beautiful warmth and clean air, it was a lovely time. We strolled for about an hour before returning home to play several rounds of Madlibs in the evening.

The rest of the week passed rather quietly. Today I had the opportunity to go with two friends for my first (and at this point only) horse-back riding lesson. My horse Frisco was apparently the crabbiest of the lot, but he didn't cause me any particular problems. The lesson was only 20 minutes, and the fastest we ever went was a trot, but that was fine by me. It seemed fast enough for this raw beginner!

Tomorrow at church we will have a pancake breakfast and then only one service. That will be my last Sunday at Newport Mesa Church for 6 months, since I'll be returning to Puebla Jan. 5.

Friday, December 21, 2007

lots of coffee and late nights

After being up all night Saturday/Sunday, I arrived safe but dazed to LAX. This had to have been the easiest airport check-out ever; I think I was one of the first off the plane, and from there it was absolutely smooth "sailing." From the time the plane touched down to the time I met my dad at curb-side, only about 20 minutes had passed.

Sunday evening my dad and I went to see the elaborate miniature village that a neighbor sets up every year in her home. After that I tried to go to church, but apparently the 6pm services don't exist anymore, so my drive to the church accomplished nothing. Upon returning home, I settled down to watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding with my parents but kept falling asleep.

Monday night I joined several members of my small group to tour Balboa Island (where the other half live) and see the elaborate lights. Stunning! It was fun to catch up with my friends again.

On Tuesday I met one of my best friends at Norms. She and her husband had just flown in from Connecticut, pulling an all-nighter like I had on Sat/Sun, but she was still able to stay awake and coherent until after midnight.

Wednesday night two more friends met with me at Starbucks, and then we went to watch August Rush. Another late night.

My family had waited for our traditional viewing of Muppet Christmas Carol until I came, and then my brother had to work for several nights, so we finally got to watch that Thursday night. Such a classic - it's the only Christmas movie that we insist on watching every year.

Tonight my sisters, dad, and I went to Fashion Island (where the other half shop) to see their 110 foot environmentally friendly tree. While there we took the opportunity to enjoy some of Macy's more entertaining clothing options. Actually, the gold tree skirt worked quite nicely as a cape.

Tomorrow I'll be playing soccer with the same friends I saw Wednesday night, but I actually have no plans for the evening. During the days I've been shopping to pick up things that I can't get in Mexico (like books for my classrooom), writing Christmas cards, visiting the lovely Huntington Beach Public Library which I definitely miss in Mexico, and going to garden centers to buy plants to fill in areas that have died back in the garden. Oh, and I've enjoyed "playing" in my garden too.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

gold, frankenstein, and myrrh

Three weeks of Christmas projects, Christmas stories, and intense practice for the Christmas pageant have ended. Most of the PCS staff left this morning to head to the US. Soon I will also be leaving, but my flight isn't until tomorrow morning. Early. Way too early. It leaves at 7:50am from Mexico City. Calculating backwards - let's see, international flights require passengers to arrive 3 hours ahead. 4:50am. The bus ride from Puebla to Mexico City takes 2 hours. That means I have to be on the 3am bus from here. My poor roommate is dropping me off at the bus station. Hopefully she'll go back to sleep afterwards. I'm not going to bother going to bed tonight.

All that aside, the past three weeks went very well. We had more than enough Christmas projects to fill the time, and then this last week all the kids had practice for the pageant that they were in Thursday. By the way, did you know that the wise men brought gold, Frankenstein, and myrrh to the baby Jesus? So says one of my students anyway. Do you think the wise men invited Frankie, or did he force his way along with them?

That in itself was a story. The pageant started at 6:30. I went over to the school at 6 to get a ride over, but no one came. I tried calling some people's cell phones, but no one answered. By 6:30, the school's cleaning ladies had arrived, and they called a cab for me, but when the cab came, the driver didn't know where the church was and neither did I. I tried more cell phones with no results. They ladies called another cab, but just when it arrived, one of the PCS teachers also drove up. He'd been sent to find me. Unfortunately, the cab driver demanded payment for the call, even though I didn't ride over to the church with him.

On Friday the parents of my students came with Christmas food for lunch. Not all of them could be there, but it was nice to have the ones that could come.

Now I've finished my lesson plans for the first week of school - Jan 2008! and I'm all packed. Ten more hours til I have to be at the bus station.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

staying home

Perhaps I'm related to Scrooge or the Grinch. Just perhaps. Anyway, whether I'm related to one of them or not, I have chosen to stay home from a PCS friends and family Christmas party that starts in an hour. I wavered - there will be carol singing and cookies galore, but there will also be scads of people, including many kids. I'm not in the mood for that much noise and socializing.

We actually already had a Christmas party, just last night, in fact. That party was for PCS staff and the board members - adults only. Even with the invitation narrowed down, there were still times during the party when the noise of talking was overwhelming. There was plenty of tasty finger food available, since Jenna, the director's wife, had been preparing the goodies all day.

After returning from the party in the evening, Bethany and I took a walk up to the Catholic church on the hill to see if they had put up Christmas lights since the church on the pyramid in Cholula had put up lights. The church here hadn't, but some houses nearby had. We strolled around part of the neighborhood, searching for the perfect place to take a picture of the chapel capola, a "tree" of lights strung up one of the television broadcast towers, and the massive Mexican flag. No success on that front, but we did get a nice walk.

Today Janelle and I grocery shopped at Walmart early on to avoid the massive weekend crowds, and then I took care of some school business - still not lesson planning (that will be on tomorrow's agenda after church). Early in the afternoon, Bethany and I caught a bus to downtown so she could finish some Christmas shopping.

On Wednesday much of Mexico will be honoring the Virgin de Guadalupe. For this reason right now there are singles, couples, and groups of pilgrims walking through here

on their way to the Basilica in Mexico City. What a walk! As Bethany and I neared home this afternoon, we saw a particularly notable group of pilgrims wearily trudging down the street. They paused briefly for refreshment and rest before continuing the long trek. It's hard to see in the picture, but the young man with the white baseball cap has a glass case strapped to his back. In it is the image of the virgin. Many of the pilgrims have large framed paintings or images strapped to their backs as they walk. Downtown we passed an enclosure where an image of the virgin had been painstakingly created out of dyed rice and brown sugar.

I can't help but think of the contrasts in belief systems. Last night at the Christmas party, one of the board members talked about God's giving us the free gift of his Son Jesus. He came to earth as a humble baby, born in a stable and destined to die for our sins. A free gift. Salvation and a place in heaven for all eternity doesn't depend on us making a tiring, painful trek on foot each year to a center of worship. We don't have to carry any burdens on our backs as we process from home to the Basilica. Christmas is about celebrating or freedom in Christ. May these pilgrims find the same hope in Jesus, not the Virgin de Guadalupe.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

around town

The week back from vacation sped by in a blur. We worked on many Christmas related crafts, stories, and activities in school. Two more weeks before vacation begins again, this time for 3 weeks.

This morning a friend from Dios es Amor came by so that we could go to El Centro together. She wanted to show me a couple of places that I hadn't seen yet, so we caught the bus that took us downtown. She showed me the street where the hippies sell their wares. Some of it is really original and well made, and some of it... well, I don't think I'd want a necklace or earrings patterned with psychedelic mushrooms or marijuana leaves.

After going there, we visited a weekend market that sells just about anything. We could have bought Christmas trees or furs, or any number of other gadgets and knick-knacks. As we strolled the streets, we saw all kinds of stores and markets. Finally, after a few hours of walking, we were both hungry and stopped at a restaurant. Finishing our lunches, we explored more of downtown before finding Reforma and walking the 45 minutes back to my home.

Last night I went to Dios es Amor for the bimonthly Friday night youth group. Abraham and I arrived early, so we played kickball with the neighbor kids for awhile. My roommate is driving back from Texas with her new (to her) van, so she wasn't there to teach the young ladies' class. We stayed with the young men, taught by Mario.

With the Spanish from last night and all day today, I actually found it difficult to think of words in English when one of the PCS students saw me returning from El Centro and started talking to me. That doesn't mean I'm fluent in Spanish by any means, but the Spanish saturation had taken over my brain for the time being.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

vacation ends

Who knew that one week filled with absolutely no plans could go so quickly? School errands took up most of Monday and Tuesday, and then Tuesday night I attended Bible study at the Basiles'. Because I didn't have to be at work the next day, when the study ended at close to 10, I went with some other Bible study people to the home of four Bible study people. There we stayed and talked until close to midnight.

On Wednesday I did quite a bit of baking. Every week the PCS seniors sell hot dogs, nachos, and dessert to raise money for their trip, and every week someone brings a ton of dessert so they can sell it. This coming week is my turn, so I decided to get that finished while I had time. Now there are several dozen chocolate chunk cookies (it's basically impossible to get chocolate chips here, so the best method is to chop up candy bars) and a pan of pumpkin cheesecake bars in the freezer.

Thursday Janelle returned from church to pick me and another PCS teacher up to go to Ruth and Manuel's house for comida. All the traditional Thanksgiving spread was available - turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, 14 pies... One family from church came for their first Thanksgiving meal. In Mexico Thanksgiving doesn't exist.

After we'd eaten, helped clean up, and sat and chatted for awhile, Janelle took me over to the home of a PCS family that was gone for the week. They needed someone to take care of their dog and rabbits, and I was happy to have a quiet house far from the school. They live about 1/2 hour away from home.

For the first time since coming to Mexico I had time to paint. That's what I spent most of Friday and Saturday doing, in addition to hours of leisurely reading. It was incredibly relaxing.

Today at church one of the youth celebrated her quinceaƱos, so the service was devoted to her ceremony. There was a feast of rice, tortillas, pipian, and cake afterwards, and then it we cleaned up. The service was actually shorter than usual, so we returned home much earlier than I had anticipated. Now all that remains of vacation is one afternoon. Tomorrow, back to the alarm clock.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

vacation - Happy Thanksgiving!

Ah, a week of vacation. Not that I don't love my job, but just now a whole week off is such luxury. Last week was a blur of tiredness - the camping weekend, then back in time Sunday to rush a load of laundry and prepare food for the Thanksgiving potluck Monday night. Monday work, then the potluck with over 30 people. It was fun but certainly not restful. Tuesday evening I skipped Bible study to work on preparation for Pumpkin Day Thursday, but Wednesday night I still went to Oansa at Dios es Amor. Because of the weekend camping trip, I was behind on school preparations, so I had to get to school early Thursday morning and rush around getting ready for the excitement of Pumpkin Day with my little ones.

We started out with several pumpkin related activities. After recess, the kids came over to my apartment to make pumpkin tassies (basically small pies) and to weigh, measure, count seeds, and guess the float-ability of a pumpkin. If you've ever had 8 excited 1st and 2nd graders crowded in one apartment, you know how tiring that can be. If you've never tried it, let me advise you to get a solid night's sleep before you do.

I was counting the hours until school got out Friday, but still it wasn't time to rest yet. At 5 I caught a bus to Dios es Amor for Bible study. This Friday the young ladies didn't have actual Bible study because it was our turn to make the snack for the church. Janelle had the idea to make turkey cookies, so that's what we passed the time doing.

Saturday passed quickly with house cleaning, laundry, and classroom fish-tank cleaning, and Janelle and I spent most of today at church and then baking. Tomorrow I'll be lesson planning and organizing some things at school and having Spanish class with Abraham, but from then on, the week is an empty slate - except for Thursday when I'll be at my pastor's house. Bliss. I genuinely love doing most of the things I listed above, but there has to be time off once in awhile. Thank goodness PCS takes the whole week off for Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 12, 2007

If I thought it was cold before...

Puebla city may be plenty cold at night, but it ain't got nothing on El Chico after the sun sets! This past weekend was the junior and senior high camping trip two states north of here (Hidalgo). El Chico is even higher altitude than Puebla city, so once the sun went down, oh man! - layer the coats, gloves, hats, and socks cuz folks, you're talking below freezing.

You can see in this picture people huddled around the campfire using thick clothing and body heat to try to thaw. I know, because I was one of the huddlers, that it was an only semi-successful method of warming frozen selves. Really, after the sun set, there was no way to be warm.

All that aside, I enjoyed the time immensely. We left school at noon Friday and drove about 4 hours north to the national park. Our campground was within sight of a lake and was surrounded by woods - mostly pine.
The air was clear, and when night came the stars were scattered with generous quantity across the sky. We saw several shooting stars too. We pitched most of our tents up a tiny hill, and then the middle level section was where the cooking pavilion, campfire, and volleyball were located. Downhill from there on the road and too near the lake was where we played soccer.

The campsite was beautiful, but it did lack running water and bathroom facilities. Any water you needed, you had to bring with you, and when nature called, well, it was off to the woods. I was so glad for a hot shower when we returned home Sunday evening!

After we'd set up camp Friday, some of us started a game of monkey-in-the-middle soccer. The only semi-level place large enough to play on was the scree-covered road. Just as night began to fall, one of the players kicked the ball with too much energy, and it soared into the lake, immediately floating away from the shore. Fortunately, there were paddle boats tied nearby, and once I'd assured them I'd take any blame for "stealing" the boat, two boys set out after the ball. The rudder didn't work too well, so one of the boys had to lean over the back of the boat and manually push it from side to side so they could stop peddling in a circle and actually get the ball. Hilarious!

After everyone had eaten their many and varied dinners, we gathered around the campfire for worship and a message from one of the fathers. By 10:30 we dispersed to our tents, supposedly to sleep. However, anyone who has been around a large group of teenagers knows that sleep is strictly optional for some of them, and they believe it's optional for the rest of us. By 1:30 the director's wife had to get up and tell the girls to quiet down because they had been loudly talking and laughing almost since we'd gone to bed.

At 4:30 it was the boys' turn to wake the campsite. Finding they were too cold to continue sleeping, one tentful of them decided to play cards. Not quiet cards, but loud, laughing, yelling cards. Oh mercy.

When I got up, layering on practically all the clothes I'd brought with me, I shivered my way outside and saw frost sparkling on all the plants. Preparing breakfast involved thawing the milk in a pan of boiling water since it had frozen through.

After devotions, some people left for rock climbing, but I stayed with the majority at the camp and played soccer again for a long time. The volleyball tournament was set for the afternoon, and I had originally planned to just watch since the last time I played volleyball was third grade. I should have gone with my original plans, but some perverse notion persuaded me to sign up with two of the youngest boys (the games were 3 on 3). If the games hadn't been rally scored, we wouldn't have gotten a single point since the three of us never got the ball across the net. As it was, we lost "only" 2 - 15. Watching and taking pictures of other players was much more fun.

After dinner, worship, and speaking that night, 23 of us drove up to a large field with woody areas at both ends for a game of capture the flag. The teachers went to guard the boundaries rather than play. Brr! The game ended close to 1 in the morning, and numb with cold, we piled the 23 of us back into the 15 passenger van, returned to our campsite and gathered around the fire. That was a mistake on my part, because after that, I felt too tired and dopey to move. People began to move off to their tents, until I and 3 tenth grade boys were the only ones still by the fire. Two of the boys lay down and soon fell asleep on the ground. Finally the fire fell so low that no warmth could reach us, so the two of us still awake woke the two sleepers and we all went to our tents. It was 3:15 by then.

On Sunday after we'd breakfasted, we spent the rest of the time packing and cleaning up. Our long trip home was interrupted only by a lunch stop at Burger King. You'd better believe almost everyone slept the drive away. I think everyone who had been on the camping trip passed the school day today in a fog. Only 4 more days until Thanksgiving vacation! We get a whole week off.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

things that explode in the night

I woke up with a sudden fright in the wee hours last night. Did something outside just blow up? I thought I'd heard a shattering, window-rattling bang. As the minutes stretched on, I lay wakeful. Had I just dreamed it?

Crash! The resounding sound repeated, making me jump. Not imagined then. What was going on? Did my roommate hear it too? She's said she is a sound sleeper, but honestly, how could she sleep through this?

I shifted the curtains aside and peered into the darkness outside. Nothing.

With the cold in the room, I decided there wasn't anything I could do anyway, and persuaded myself to stay in bed. Just as I drifted off, the explosive sound rattled the large windows by my bed again. Surely this time Janelle would wake up also. Maybe this sort of thing happened regularly, and she'd know what was going on. As more minutes passed, I heard no sound of her waking in the other room.

Again the warmth of my bed kept me from getting up, and again I started to fall asleep. Into the half-dream world the sound intruded once more. This pattern continued for quite some time. Scared, but tired and fuddled by sleep, I couldn't summon the gumption to actually get up and see whether this noise could be stopped or even if something was seriously wrong.

After quite a long time of this, a new thought occurred to me. What if one of us had left the stove on and gas was leaking out, and exploding from some source of flame. What about the water heater? The same thing could be happening there!

This idea did finally get me shivering out of bed. I cautiously opened the bedroom door. No smell of gas, but perhaps I'd become accustomed to it. I ventured into the kitchen where no burned wreckage met my eyes. What then was happening? I left our apartment and went next door where I saw the living room lights on although it was 4:15 in the morning. My neighbors must have heard the explosive sounds and were awake too. I knocked on their door. No answer; they had accidently left the lights on when they went to bed.

Now I was thoroughly puzzled. Why wasn't anyone else waking up? The mystery was soon solved. As I returned to my room, I noticed how much colder it was there than anywhere else in the apartment. Aha. When Abraham had come by earlier in the day, I had opened the window and leaned out to tell him I'd be right down. I hadn't properly latched the window, and now it was periodically slamming shut in the wind. Since the frames are metal, and the windows are right by my bed, the sound was loud enough and window-rattling enough to trick my sleep-confused brain into inventing explosions.

If only solving that simple problem hadn't cost me about an hour's uninterrupted sleep...

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

sabor americano

Here is irrefutable evidence that we went for the "american" (and limited edition) pizza. Janelle asked the lady at the counter twice if the pizza came just as advertised. The lady assured us it did. She was right.

I'm enjoying a nice big bite of "american" pizza. So - um - interesting.

Janelle looks a bit scared to eat this special pizza. I can't think why that would be!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Welcome to the new blog!

With the unannounced end of iblog, I switched to here. I hope you saw all the previous postings from iblog because they are gone forever. Sigh. Such is technology.