Saturday, November 30, 2013

Serving at Yo'onik

Yo'onik is one of our favorite projects we work with down here in Mexico. It is a remedial education program that helps children with math and reading. It has been so rewarding to see the progress in the children and to get to know them and enjoy time at the center. 
Caitlin with a group of girls hugging her right when we got there.
We have been talking about Yo'onik a lot to our families, and since Caitlin's parents were coming down for Thanksgiving, we asked if they wanted to participate and help with the school. They brought down a ton (seriously, like an entire suitcase) of supplies to help out at the school, and spent a day there volunteering, doing math, reading, and doing art time with the kids. 
Caitlin's dad can speak Spanish, but her mom and brother were able to volunteer with a language barrier, and they did amazing. They brought some great games that we were able to play with the kids, and I really think the interactive learning techniques will really help accelerate the learning of all the kids at the center. 

We also had all of the kids draw pictures of themselves so we could hang them on the wall that we have deemed our art wall - and they did so great. Some of the kids were super detailed and did the embroidery on their clothes. I was amazed. It was such a great experience, and I think that everyone enjoyed there time there a lot. I know the kids appreciated receiving new supplies that they can use in the school. Now our next step is gathering enough funds to build a new center and decorate... and we are almost there. If you want to donate, check out the Yo'onik page and make a donation. It would be so cool to see the building constructed before we leave. We are about half way there with materials, and the land has already been donated. So close I can almost taste it. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

En Llamas

We are huge Hunger Games fans. Last year, we went to the midnight showing of the first movie, and even made shirts and lamb stew. We have read the books multiple times, and we highly anticipated the new movie. We were really nervous that Mexico would have a later premiere than the US, but we were pleasantly surprised that they actually opened on the same day - and we were even more excited when we found out that they had it both dubbed and subtitled. Yay! We could see it in English!

So we decided to go on Friday (rather than the midnight showing) - and we were two of the six people in the stadium style movie theater. Opening day of En Llamas, and there were only 6 people! Crazy sauce. And it only cost $3 (USD) each for our tickets. We were so happy the entire time we were watching it. It is so strange to see the difference in cultures. Yes, there is a lot of consumerism in Mexico, I think that is something that has penetrated every country. But we were all alone in our movie theater for one of the biggest movies of the year. I figured we would have to buy our tickets way in advance, but we showed up 20 minutes before and then went to the grocery store to buy snacks. Maybe Mexicans aren't so keen on children being locked in an arena and killing each other. Makes me glad I'm from the US, where I can appreciate that type of entertainment. :)
I am a super fan of the Hunger Games, not so much for the love story, but for the political parallels that we find in the world. It really gets me thinking, which I hope is part of the reason Suzanne Collins wrote them. And if she didn't mean for that to happen, she is an undiscovered genius. And haven't seen Catching Fire yet? Go do it. Actually, go read the books, and then go watch the movies. The movies are just great compliments to amazing young adult literature. So there it is - go read three books, and then go watch two movies. You can get that all done this weekend, I'm pretty sure. :)

Weekend Visitor

A few weekends ago, we had our friend Ian, who works with Natik, come and visit us in San Cristobal - and we had a blast showing him around and enjoying some of the activities that the city offers. 

Ian has been working with our projects in Santiago Atitlan for the past month, so he was eager to see the projects here in SC, so we took him to Yo'onik in Zinacantan, which is always an amazing experience. And then we took him out around the city at night to see some of the festivities they had in the center. 

Of course, Ian had to sample some churros (on more than on occasion), and we were more than happy to help him sample them. 

A little view of the show they had in the center. 

Caitlin and I had a good time being tour guides. It was our first time having a visitor, and I think we got a lot of practice with Ian before Caitlin's parents came this past week. 

Ian is extremely white (meaning blonde hair and blue eyes), and we were surprised with how much that changed the dynamic of the people we encountered. We got a lot of yells of guero (which is a term for fair skinned person), and we had a few girls ask to take pictures with us (Ian and myself), and were were also approached by a group of architecture students who had to describe the facade of one of the churches to foreigners for an assignment. We have never been approached or harassed that much since being here. I guess that blonde hair really makes you stand out. 

On his last day, we took Ian up to one of the viewpoints of SC so he could overlook the entire city. It is quite a hike, but well worth the view and solitude at the church at the top. 
This is what you hike up.

Ian was just finishing a 3-month overland trip from Colombia to Mexico and he blogged about his entire experience, so we were happy to host him and help him on his trek up to Mexico City before returning to the US. If we ever end up in DC, we will for sure be friends with him and his wife. 

Things We Miss

Every time we travel or move, there is always something we miss about the previous location. When we moved from Rexburg to Provo, we missed our Idaho friends. When we moved from Provo to New England, we missed being close to family, having the temple so close, and having conveniences (shopping center, bank, grocery store, etc.) within walking distance. And now that we have moved from New England to Mexico, there is a whole long list of things we miss about living in the states. 

Now, even though we have a long list of things we miss, that does not mean we do not absolutely love it here - it just means that we have come to appreciate so many things you can find so easily in the states.

The first thing we miss (but mainly I miss) is peanut butter. Oh the glorious goodness of that tasty treat. Yes, you can get peanut butter here - but it is like $50 pesos, which is really expensive considering the jar is ultra small. And then Ellen has to rub it in our faces that it is National Peanut Butter Month in the states. What an evil lady. :)

We also miss the change of seasons. Actually, we just miss the New England fall - which is the best season in the entire world. We have rain, sun, and soon to come, "the ice season" - which everyone hypes as the ultra cold months of December and January where water turns to ice if you leave it outside. Luckily there is no snow that comes along with the cold though. 

We are also dying to have some luscious, extravagant carpet. Our house is all tile, and most buildings are that way. We miss having warm carpet under our feet. And speaking of extravagance, we would love to have some comfortable couches and chairs. All the furniture we have experienced down here is not the most comfortable. It is functional, but lacks that "ahhh sink into the couch" feeling.

Sometimes, we even miss driving. I know that sounds crazy - and we actually really like that we walk everywhere - but sometimes I just wish I could get places faster and go places that I've never been before. I feel like I get such a great understanding of a city by just driving around. And we miss the traffic laws from the US. We are so orderly, which seems strange if you've ever driven in one of the major US cities - but I understood the laws so much better up there.

We also miss the ease of communicating with our friends and family. We have actually gotten used to this little thing, and have been a lot better about Skyping,but it is still so much easier to send texts or pick up a phone and call someone. I can't imagine how people did it back in the day when they had to write letters to stay in contact. 

We also miss knowing where everything is in the grocery store, and actually being able to buy all the ingredients we need for an exotic meal. Here, you have extremely limited options at the grocery store, and we actually do the majority of our shopping at the neighborhood markets. But we miss the ease of having everything so readily available. I guess we were spoiled in the US to have ingredients from all over the world. 
And the last thing I want to mention, which I think is the thing Caitlin misses most about the US - is not having a washer and dryer. We hand wash all of our clothes and then hang them on the clothes line to get them dry. It actually isn't that bad, but we miss the ease of doing laundry. Now it seems like such a long process, and we really realize how many clothes we wear. Workout clothes, pajamas, Sunday clothes, etc. Seriously, why do we have so many clothes? And to think, we only brought a suitcase of clothes down here. This would be even worse if we were still stateside without a washer and dryer.

But again, we absolutely love it here. And we have talked a lot about if we knew we were going to be living here fora longer time, there would definitely be some things we would need to acquire in order to live a more comfortable life. But for now, it is great and we love it... even though we long for the luxuries of home. 

Month of Thanksgiving

I have seen a lot of daily Facebook posts about giving thanks the entire month of November. It is nice to have constant reminders to be grateful, and I feel like this year we have so much to be thankful for. But since Mexico doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving, it has taken a while to get into the holiday spirit. But it is finally getting cold here (really cold), and I just wanted to express my gratitude for all that I have been blessed with. 

I have an amazing wife that cares for me and understands me - even on days when I am horrible to live with.
I have the best family, seriously. I have always gotten so much support from them and they are always excited for even the littlest things we skype them about.
We have the greatest friends, both in the States and in Mexico. They are so kind and generous. I know I never blogged about it, but our friends pitched in and bought Caitlin and I a new camera after ours was stolen. We seriously have been so blessed with amazing friends. 
We have great jobs that challenge us and that we are good at. Caitlin is teaching English, and is an amazingly talented teacher, and I get to work at a small NGO and really learn the ins and outs of working in development. 
We have a church that is less than a mile away from our house that we are able to walk to on Sundays and enjoy the spirit that we can feel there. 
We have a great house to live in in a beautiful city. We get to improve our Spanish every day and have truly amazing cultural experiences. We have healthy bodies and are able to walk everywhere and not feel exhausted. We have plenty of money to buy food and even have a little bit of fun. 

We seriously have been so blessed. 

I'm sure that all of you have been immensely blessed as well - and how great is it that we get to celebrate our blessings through our Thanksgiving in November? I am grateful for that special holiday - and grateful that even though we aren't living on US soil, we can still celebrate some of the holidays that we have grown up with.

Now enjoy this amazing video about Thanksgiving. You wont be disappointed. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Working Out is Insanity

Have you ever heard of Insanity? It is a crazy exercise program that is mainly cardio with a handful of resistance training. And for some reason, Caitlin and I want to have fit bodies, so we are trying to exercise every morning at 6:30. 

Yes, work out at 6:30 every single morning (with a break on Sunday).

So far it has been going really well. We missed Friday and Saturday of last week because Caitlin was super sick, and I couldn't motivate myself to get up and work out without her. But we have done it for 10 days so far - and here are some things I've learned about exercise in the past 10 days.

1. I love the feeling of exercising. Maybe the motion of exercising isn't my favorite, but the feeling after you finish a hard workout is seriously one of the best feelings. 
2. I am so much more conscious of how food affects my body. I am not a health freak. Actually, I love sugar. I'm probably addicted to it - but now I feel how much that affects how my body feels. 
3. I am flexible. Seriously. I have always been a super stiff person. I have never been able to touch my feet or do any crazy stretches, but now I can. It is crazy how exercise, paired with stretching can improve your flexibility. 
4. Sore muscles feel better than fat. Even if I can barely get out of bed in the morning (which hasn't happened since the first few days) it feels a lot better than how your body feels when it is covered in a thick layer of fat. 

I'm sure there are a lot of other things that I've learned, but these few stick out in my mind. I am not a fitness expert, nor do I really know a whole lot about exercise - but I love it. And Caitlin is a really good motivator. She can't believe that I used to be a lot bigger than I am - and I think we're both a little paranoid that one day I'm going to gain all my old weight back. So we obsess over reading nutrition labels and we watch the Biggest Loser as frequently as we can in the hopes that we can avoid the all-American fate of obesity. So far it is working.

If you are out of shape, overweight, or not as happy with your body as you think you should be - I would highly recommend Insanity. I would also recommend finding a good workout buddy. Working out with Caitlin is a lot more fun than working out by myself. Seriously, she is so much fun to work out with and really helps me want to work out. And when one of us has a bad day, the other is there to pick us up. One of my fitness goals is to complete all of Insanity (60 days). I don't think we will be able to do a complete 60 days in 2013, but 2014 isn't too far away, and hopefully we can condition ourselves to get ready for next year. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Feria en la Iglesia de San Diego

Since moving to Mexico, Caitlin and I have been trying to be better about having weekly date nights. It has been hard since we spend the majority of our time together, so we sometimes forget to plan something special for date night. But every once in a while we remember that it's Friday night, and we plan a fun date. 

This past week we went to a fair at the San Diego church in San Cristobal. There are over a dozen catholic churches in San Cristobal, and each one of them has a special week where they celebrate their saint, or something (I'm so sorry for my lack of knowledge about Catholic celebrations). And they always have food, music, games, and in this case a bunch of carnival rides for little kids. 
A random HUGE statue near the church.
We went out and had dinner at the fair, some tacos, pizza, and a horrible hot fruit drink that is pretty popular here. They have two that they offered us. One that is a fruit cocktail, which tastes like hot jello with cooked fruit in it. Super sugary and not our favorite. The other one they had was pineapple, where the break off pieces of sweet bread and fill the cup with the bread and pour hot pineapple drink over the bread and eat it with a spoon. We haven't tried that one yet. 

I think we got there too early to really experience much else. The rides weren't going, and there weren't a ton of people either. It was dinner time so we ate, hung out for a little, talked to a drunk guy, and then decided to walk home. Super exciting, I know. :) But it is always fun to have new cultural experiences, even if it is just a hot drink on a Friday night. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Giving a Sacrament Talk

So when Caitlin and I got married, she found out that I have a curse when it comes to speaking in church. Every single time I move into a new ward, or visit a ward for any amount of time I have to give a talk in church. This isn't normal. Some people go years and years without having to speak. But I must be one of the exceptions to that rule. Let me break it down for you (the past 5 years starting with the end of my mission): 
  1. Leaving Houston, I gave my last talk in Spanish (2008).
  2. Went to visit my mom in Oregon, it was Fast Sunday and I wasn't assigned to speak - but they asked me to take the first 10 minutes anyway and give a brief talk (2008).
  3. Went to my dads house in Idaho, he moved while I was in Texas, so I had never been to his ward - but they asked me to speak my first Sunday there (2008).
  4. Went to BYU-Idaho and in my first ward there, they asked me to speak within my first semester (2008).
  5. Eventually, I moved to another apartment, and of course, I had to speak the first semester I lived there (2009).
  6. I left Idaho to go on an internship in Houston, and I was assigned to speak on Halloween (2010).
  7. I moved back to Idaho, and gave a talk in my new ward a few weeks before I graduated (2011).
  8. After I graduated, I moved to Burley and attended a singles ward there while Caitlin and I were engaged - they asked me to speak the week before I found a job in Utah and moved (2011).
  9. When I moved to Utah (in November of 2011) I didn't attend a ward down there - I kept going up to Rexburg to visit Caitlin, or Thanksgiving with family, or San Diego for Christmas, so I didn't really get to know the ward that I was officially assigned to until the new year. I had exactly 5 Sundays before I got married and moved into another ward. The speakers didn't speak for long enough on my last Sunday, so the bishop asked me (over the pulpit) to speak for the remaining 15 minutes of sacrament meeting (2012).
  10. Caitlin and I went to a ward in Provo, where we were both assigned to speak. My tenth time in 5 years, and her first time in 5 years. Seriously, I had given 10 talks and she was on her first (2012). 
  11. We moved to Massachusetts, and I was not assigned to speak!!! But the curse passed to Caitlin, and she had to speak. I kind of felt bad for her - but that didn't last long. Because as soon as we moved to Mexico I was assigned to speak. Yes, that's right - we have only been here for 2 months and I gave a talk this past Sunday... in Spanish. Although it was my 11th time speaking, it was only my second in Spanish in the past 5 years. 
It actually wasn't all that bad, and I actually really enjoy preparing talks and speaking in church. It gives me a chance to really dive deeper into the scriptures and understand a gospel topic with much more clarity. I'm hoping that by the time we leave Mexico Caitlin will be fluent enough in Spanish to keep the curse (blessing) going and give her third talk in 2 years. With as much as we move, she might just catch up to me! 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Field Trip to Tapachula

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to accompany a handful of students from UNICH (The Intercultural University of Chiapas) on a field trip to Tapachula, Mexico to study immigration. 

Tapachula is located near the Guatemalan border, but interestingly enough, we didn't focus on Guatemala to Mexico immigration, but rather Japan to Mexico immigration. Who would've thought?

We spent our first day exploring a smaller municipality and having Japanese cultural lessons. We learned how to make origami, speak a few japanese words and say the alphabet, and we also learned how to use chop sticks. Crazy thing is, this was new to most of the Mexican students - which seems strange coming from the US where we are surrounded by so many different cultures all the time. 
With my origami crane.
We had a chop stick using contest, and I am happy to say that I won. But it was kind of unfair since I was the only one who had ever used chop sticks before. 

We were down there the week before Dia de los Muertos, so we stopped by a cemetery to check out the different Japanese/Mexican style graves. All of them were bright colors. I'm not sure which culture that comes from, but it was a lot of fun to walk around the cemetery and see the different crypts. 

On our second day, we went to a banana plantation to see how bananas are grown and shipped to the United States. Can I just say, we are so spoiled. Everything they do at this plant (which shipped Chiquita bananas) was tailored to our super picky market. They had to make sure the bananas had absolutely no blemishes, and even that they grew at the right angle in order to ship them to the United States. They also have to be washed in chlorinated water and prepared special just for us. 

The second batch ones went to a lesser known US banana seller. These were bananas that weren't necessarily grown in the right angle or that didn't have enough bananas in the bunch to be classified as perfect. The third batch ones (or the leftovers) were the ones sold in local markets or shipped to different parts of Mexico to sell. They seriously get the third string bananas. It reminds me so much of the Hunger Games, with the United States being the capitol. Eventually we're going to have a revolution.

The canopy of banana leafs.
We also went to a cool Mayan museum, except it wasn't a Mayan museum. The tour guide kept telling us that these things weren't Mayan, but the Mayan had the same things. It was kind of weird, and maybe something was lost in translation. Too bad my Spanish isn't perfect, it makes me wonder if he knew what he was really talking about, or if I can't understand Spanish as well as I thought. 
This was my favorite piece in the exhibit. It is a real skull with turquoise, gold, and jade. It was so cool. It was how Mayan royalty was buried. So interesting. 

I actually had a really good time on the field trip, but I had to come back early because I had work that I had to do, but it was fun to get out of San Cristobal and see another, completely different part of Mexico. Hopefully we will get to do a lot of exploring in the near future. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Why is November affectionately referred to as Movember? Simple play on words. Mustache and November - officially making November a month about men (although I think eating a ton of turkey and watching football all day long on Thanksgiving kind of already gave November over to the guys). 

I have always wanted to grow a beard, and Caitlin has kindly discouraged it. And I've also been very nervous to grow a beard... what if it looked disgusting? What if it was all patchy and looked like I was still passing through puberty? But I told myself that when we moved out of the country for my practicum, I would spend at least a month growing a beard. 

And of course, there are a few bearded icons out there that make growing a beard look super manly. The guys from Duck Dynasty go for the all out crazed look of a mountain man that has never seen a razor. And who could forget Ron Swanson and his luscious, perfectly manicured mustache that makes almost every man jealous? 

And seeing these guys gave me a little bit of hope - maybe one day I can be as manly as them and start growing a beard. And eventually, I worked up the courage and started letting my scruff lengthen. And at first I just let it be, thinking that growing a beard would be easy work. You really don't have to do anything - just let it go. But then I realized I didn't really know anything about beard growing. Yes, my facial hair grew naturally, so that part wasn't hard. But how do you maintain a beard? How do you trim it, and make it look good? That took a bit of research, and I'm proud to say I kind of understand how to grow a beard now.
Caitlin didn't like the neck beard, so that was the first thing to go. I had no idea how to trim a neck so I watched Youtube videos, and googled all sorts of beard trimming techniques. After a week, it was essential to trim the neck and I think it turned out exactly how it is supposed to. But then my mustache started getting too long, and there were weird hairs sticking out that needed to be trimmed, and all of a sudden, I realized that maintaining a beard was actually a lot of work. I feel like I spend more time researching beards and how to upkeep them than I ever spent researching how to shave your face. 

And although I'm actually enjoying the beard, I am getting excited to shave it off. Granted, I'm ridiculously good looking with a beard, but it is too much work - and Caitlin doesn't like to kiss a beard. And kisses are way more important to me than any type of facial hair. So in 2 weeks, this baby is gone. But for now, all the newest pictures on our blog will have a bearded man (a real man, cause real men have beards).

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Strolling of the Heifers

How did I never blog about one of the greatest cultural events to ever happen in Vermont? I am seriously shocked that it has taken so long to tell the worlds of these spectacular happenings. :)

So on this beautiful day, we went to downtown Brattleboro to watch a parade of cows. Yes, a parade of cows. There were also high school marching bands, and little girl dancers in the parade, but the majority of what was featured were a bunch of cows. And we absolutely loved it! Where else in the world would you see such a display of country loving?

After the parade, there were a ton of booths set up with samples of food, the circus school was putting on shows, and of course, you could get up close and personal with the cows in a type of petting zoo. 

It was all sorts of Vermonty, with goat races, organic kale juices, a port-a-potty that collected urine to use as fertilizer. Everyone was out there to have a good time and show off their stuff. 

We ended up finding a bunch of SIT students and hung out with them almost the whole time we were there. After getting samples from almost all the food stands, we were pretty much at a loss for things to do, so we headed up to the petting zoo and got to know some of the animals. 

One of the saddest parts of the petting zoo was that we saw a cow fall down on a child. The kid was probably 5 or 6 years old, and the cow (baby cow) fell down out of exhaustion right on top of the kid. So sad! But luckily my cow was a trooper and let me snap this picture with her before she went home for the day. 

But in all honesty, is there anywhere else in the world that has a type of festival/parade like this? If so, I want to go and visit! We had so much fun hanging out with the country folk for the day. We don't get many opportunities to see cow parades here in Mexico, but if there is one, we will be in the crowd (with a good view too, since we are so tall here).