Monday, December 9, 2013


I hope that you are all well!  I apologize for not sending out something.  Even now, this is only a half-finished story.  We were without power, internet, and telephone for a long time, and I have not had computer access.  This was what I had started, but not finished.  I think I will post another time after this to better complete my journey.  There is a lot more.  For now, however, this will have to do.

Love and prayers,


I think that the motto for my trip might be Every day is a new adventure- make the most of it!  I have been trying to use up every minute of my limited time here to learn something or to teach something.  In the process of exchanging knowledge and customs comes a friendship, a mutual joy. 
That being said, one of my adventures of the past two weeks was to learn more about the food here.  The same types of food that I am used to eating in the United States are cooked differently here, and if possible I wanted to be able to cook Dominican.  
Just about every other day, I went to the Nutrition Center early so that I could watch the ladies prepare breakfast for the children.   The children have a more varied breakfast than the teachers; oatmeal, harina, harina de maíz, or maízena.  Occasionally they eat bread and cheese, and even more rarely cereal.  But since  I know how to cook oatmeal and slice bread, I mainly wanted to learn about the last two foods.
Well, I did learn- to cook harina de maíz for ninety children!  The amounts are just a bit different than what I am used to.  It will take me a couple tries, I think, to scale it down to a manageable size.  The harina de maíz is a sweet corn pudding that is either flavored vanilla or chocolate.  My job was mainly to stir the concoction as it cooked on the stove. 
But first, I had to stir the powdered milk into good water and mix in the corn flour.  That took more time than I had anticipated, due to both the volume of the substances and the tendency of corn flour to clump into little balls.  While I was whisking the milk and flour together, on the stove was a giant metal pot filled with a boiling tea made of cinnamon, sugar, and water.
 When I finally had the approval of the cook, I dumped the milk mixture into the pot.  These ladies are really used to cooking for this amount of people.  I was nervous because after the milk was added, the level of the maíz was only two inches from the brim of the pot.  As I am  struggling with trying to describe the amount of food being prepared,  just know that my milk mixture was three gallons. 
And the stirring began!  Because of the water and milk, at first the harina is a relatively thin liquid, but with the heat, it gradually thickens.  I had to stir it constantly to prewent lumps of corn flour from reforming.  Twenty minutes later, I wondered how the cook did not have disproportionately large arms.  As the mixture thickened, it was more and more difficult to stir. With a huge smile, she took the spoon from me and stirred the harina easily, using her hand but not her whole arm.  Always something to learn.
Well, the harina was very good.  At least, I enjoyed it, and most of the kids ate well that day.  Although, now I understand why towards the end of their bowls, the kids don´t want to eat more.  It  tastes good, but is super filling. 
 I have to say, I am jealous of some of the cooking implements here.  The metal spoon that I used to stir the pudding was huge and heavy duty.  Without a doubt, it could double for a baseball bat.  (Why am I thinking of baseball?  That´s another story) The size of the pot requires two people to carry it.  In my dreams, right?

Back to baseball.  We had a group come and deliver Christmas toys on Friday.  It was chaotic, but very happy.  The kids were in Heaven.  Each  one received one toy, and what strikes me is that they were perfectly happy with the toy that they were given.  Surprisingly, I don´t remember anyone fighting over a toy or being upset that someone had something different.  Instead, they hurried to show the teachers or me.  Look, look, look!  It was easy to get them to shout a hearty thank you to our guests, who enjoyed giving the toys just as much as the children enjoyed receiving them.

Among the mixture of barbies, dolls, helicopters and cars were some plastic bat and ball sets.  Remember my bizarre baseball game with Berlin?  Unfortuantely for him, he wasn´t at class on Friday.   I don´t know which was the case, but when children don´t come to class, it is either because their parents can not bring them, or they are sick.  Either way, he was absent.

After deliberating a bit, I finally asked the group if I could have a toy for Berlin.  They were more than happy to oblige.  I am looking forward to giving it to him.  The teachers told me that for many of these children, the gifts they received with be the same ones that are under the tree later.  Many families don´t have sufficient food, let alone money for toys. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Dear friends and family,

This time, I am trying to be more timely with this blog, but we will see if that will ultimately pan out, because I only have a bit of writing time now.

Well, these past few days have been hectic, and the next few will be too, hence my problems with time.  This weekend there are two groups that are on retreat here, and together they have over forty people.  They are always needing something, and they have the unfortunate habit of eating meals late. Besides that, there are many people who volunteer and work here on the weekends, and they all eat here too.  The eating thing is only pertinent because that means Eliud, Annelie and I have many dishes, sometimes until very late at night.  Oh, and this Sunday is Covenant Sunday, so the Mass is large, and at 4pm.  Did I mention that there is also a wedding today (Saturday)?  

Yesterday was a special day.  Eliud graduated with her English class. She was so excited, because it was not only her class of fifteen students, but many English classes from different technical schools that graduated together.  The ceremony was in Santo Domingo, and the president attended. It was an all day affair.

Annelie and I had been secretly plotting to do something to celebrate Eliud´s graduation.  Eliud is the kind of person that is always helpìng someone.  It is not uncommon for me to find a note or flowers at my bedroom door.  And she has an unending patience for teaching Annelie and I Spanish.  Eliud has been attending this English class daily since February, and I am amazed with all that she has learned in that time.  Besides that, she insists that I correct her English, and is always trying to speak well.  All in all, if anyone is deserving of a graduation celebration, it is Eliud.

My experience this week was not solely my own.  I have a new friend/housemate!  Annelie arrived from Germany almost two weeks ago.  She is still getting accustomed here, but we are all getting along very well.  One day rainy day we were stuck inside so we had a musical afternoon of sorts.  Sr. Mayrelis left her guitar in our house, and Annelie brought her flute with her.  With the guitar was a collection of Spanish songs, but they were written differently than I knew how to play.  However, a few were English that I knew, so we tried those, and a couple German songs from Annelie as well.  The best song was a Christmas one.  I think that if we keep at it, we might have something, provided that Eliud is willing to be the singer.  

While Eliud was out of the house, we realized that our gift options were extremely limited.  However, I have been scouting out the retreat house kitchen little by little, and I thought that we could try to make a dessert for her.  This idea was well received by Annelie, who had planned for cake baking here.  She brought chocolate and ingredients from Germany, as well as some recipes.  Eliud left Wednesday, so we began to translate and choose recipes that night.  

There were two cakes that she had in mind.  The first one was chocolate, but it needed wine, and some ingredients that I hadn´t seen here.  The second was a marble cake.  I picked the tried and true chocolate chip cookies.  Who doesn´t like those?  

On Thursday, as soon as we finished work at the Nutrition Center, we hurried to the Retreat House.  Because of the groups, the ladies would start cooking dinner early, so we had to have our things done or as close to finished as possible before the space was needed.

This turned out to be a very interesting and long afternoon.  It all began with our ingredient search.  Of course, there was no wine to be found.  The cake didn´t need much, only about a cup or so, but it was a necessity in the recipe.  So we thought about making muffins.  However, we were without anything to put in them.  No kind of baking fruit or ground cinnamon.  The marble cake was the last resort.  It called for vanilla sugar, rum, and baking powder, none of which we had.

After some discussion, we used vanilla extract and baking soda mixed with corn starch and hoped for the best.  It looked pretty good in batter form, but Annelie said that it didn´t taste the same.  The next step was to bake it, of course, but the oven here is…..well….strong?  I had never used it before, but Sr. Reiza Maria had explained how to use it.  Because of our time concerns, we had chosen to bake the cake first, and the cookies afterwards.

We turned on the oven, and I started to mix the cookie dough. Butter was lacking.  I couldn´t find any!  So I walked back to Casa Maria and took the last of what was in our refrigerator.  It was for a good cause, after all.  Meanwhile, Annelie washed up her cake dishes.  When I returned in ten minutes with the butter, something was definitely wrong.  The whole kitchen smelled of gas!  I turned off the knob, opened the oven, and started the fan.  It was pretty bad.   Annelie was in another part washing dishes, so she hadn´t noticed the odor.  

The oven is supposed to always be lit, but for some reason, it wasn´t, so the gas was on, but was not combusting.  I had to find one of the sisters to help us light it, but she said we had to wait until all the gas dissipated before we could use the stove.  Instead, she took the cake to the Sisters´ kitchen, and baked it there.  We finished cleaning, and I prepared my cookie dough.  About twenty minutes had passed.  Sr. Reiza Maria came back, cake in hand.  It was charred all over the outside!  Annelie had told her to bake it for fifty minutes, but in twenty it was overcooked.  

Understandably, Annelie was pretty disappointed, but resolved to cut off the burned part and coat the rest with her chocolate.  The next day, when Eliud returned, we tried to melt the chocolate, but burned that too!  That was my fault, though.  It was in a hot water bath, and I was trying to get the bowl out, but instead I spilled the water in it, and it burned.  This poor cake had many mishaps!  Finally, we experimented with making caramel, and found some sprinkles to put on top.  It did look good in the end, but after all that, I don´t know how long it will be until we attempt another cake!

Eliud was very surprised, so all´s well that ends well.  No cake for me, but if I could have tried it, I would have.  I don´t think that Annelie was too pleased with it, but since we don´t know what it should look or tast like, we were satisfied.  At any rate, much time and love went into that pastry.  

Upon further reflection, it is just another one of those experiences that shows how little control you have over things sometimes, but eventually, it works out.  Maybe the cake lacks rum and is burned, but it still has caramel and sprinkles.  

I think that it is a very interesting paradox that I came here partly because I wanted to learn more Spanish, but many people have asked me to help them with their English.  A few weeks ago, some young girls had asked me to teach them some words, so we agreed to meet the following Monday.  

When I looked for the girls, however, there were more than I had originally agreed to teach.  Instead of two, there were seven!  Earlier, I had decided to teach them words for parts of the body.  We began with just learning facial features: eyes, nose, mouth, teeth, lips, and ears.  I first would say it in Spanish, then in English, and then they would repeat it after me.  Some boys were playing nearby, and it wasn´t long before they wanted to join in.  At first, the girls were not in favor of a mixed class, but I allowed them to join anyway.  They were told that if they were disruptive they had to leave.  

When they had the general idea of the head area, we moved on.  I had them learn the body parts for Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.  They sing it in Spanish too, so they caught on very quickly.  We must have been quite a sight, ten Dominican children, one American teacher, and one German assistant playing games in English. A car full of people slowed down to watch us! They found it amusing, I think.

Afterwards, they begged to play more games, so we did Simon says using actions like running, walking, and jumping.  It was a good time, and we were all thoroughly exhausted afterwards.  Tomorrow they return for another round, so I have to think of some more games that can incorporate a few English words.  It is so cute to see them learn.  The words they do know, they are quite proud of.  I believe that they could all count up to ten, and few until twelve.  

I was thinking of my family as this little class was playing with me.  Could it really be a coincidence that there were ten kids?  Although the genders were flipped: there were seven girls and three boys.  Age-wise, I believe the youngest was six and the oldest maybe was twelve years old.  But at the same time, what group of kids befriends a stranger and wants to learn another language?  Most kids would rather do something else, especially immediately after school on a Monday.  I hope that they continue to want to learn, but even if it is just a passing phase, it will be a good experience for all of us, provided that I can help them learn something.

This next week is filled with more teaching, studying, cooking (hopefully), and working with the children.  It will be a good one.  

Many prayers and good wishes to you all!  As it gets closer to the holiday season, I think of you very much.  God bless you! Love,


Monday, November 11, 2013


Greetings to all!  Still having a wonderful time here.  Christmas started at the end of October with trees and decorations, which was strange, especially because there isn{t a fall season.  I wonder just how far into the Christmas season things are in WI.  Has it snowed yet.

I always wonder what to write about, so this time I picked a couple stories about my time at the Nutrition Center, and the food.  It became lengthy as I have not written for a long time.  Sorry.  

After lunch, we play with the kids and wait for their parents to arrive in the sala, which is a large room without any furniture.   Many of the kids, about thirty, ride home in a bus because they live too far away to walk.  While we are all waiting in the sala, the different classes of kids sit more or less with their teachers.  It is pretty relaxed.  The teachers talk to each other while the children either sit quietly, run around, or talk to me.  I like this time because it is not structured, and many of the children promptly on the bus, so I can talk to a few at a time and know them better.  

One day last week, we only had two children left from the class, Berlin and Yomairi. Their parents work, and so they have to wait to be picked up.  Berlin is usually a quiet boy, not causing much trouble, so of course I hadn´t talked to him much.  Somehow it is always the naughty ones that you know more about.  Anyway, I wanted to make friends with him, so I asked him what he was doing.  Remember when I said that children here play with anything?  He had a little piece of plastic and was balancing it on his face.  It was one of those pieces that helps secure toys in boxes. They are usually discarded, but somehow Berlin found this one.  I remember trying to undo the twist ties that hold those pieces of plastic in place when I wanted to open a toy.  They are usually a grey or black color with really small with holes.  We tried it on his nose, chin, and on the top of his head.  He thought that it was really funny, and I enjoyed seeing him laugh.  

Then we started to pass it across the floor, which is made of slippery white tile, so it slides smoothly.  Yes, I do like alliteration.  The rain made it a bit more difficult, because although we have screens, there is no glass, so the water does come in when the metal slats are open, which they were.   But that wasn´t very interesting, and so, I thought of something else.  I had two flipflops.  We had a thingy.  I batted it to him with my shoe, and handed him the other one.  

Soon we were going back and forth. However, because the piece of plastic was so small, when either of us made contact with a shoe, it went flying.  I spent half the time finding the piece!
I gave up trying to hit it back to him, and we shifted into a very improv, very makeshift type of baseball.   He would take up a batter´s stance, and I tossed the piece to him while he swung.  It took a bit, but he caught on.  Every time he made contact, his face just lit up. We had some interesting moments when it flew at one of the teachers.  Oops.  But she laughed too, so we continued to play.  At this point, the girl, Yomairi, who had been playing with the other younger children, came forward to see what we were up to.  She is another one who was more quiet, at least until that day. My other flip flop had been sitting all alone on the floor, so I gave that one to her.  

We had some confusion as to whom I should pitch to first, but it was cleared up to everyone´s satisfaction.  Even when they both missed, neither of them were discouraged.  They spun around and fell onto the floor with good grace.  We played for about an hour.  Our game finally ended when the piece ended up in a puddle.  Guess what?  It wasn´t water!

No matter, since that day Berlin and I have been friends, the upside of which is that I discovered that he is good at drawing.  The downside-he is not always shy with me, now he has his sassy days too.  Oh well.  Afterwards, I realized that I probably would not have encouraged this activity with my own siblings, but for this place and this time, it worked well.

On Friday, we only had half of our usual class size.  The bus couldn´t go to pick up the children from the countryside, and some of the town children were sick or were unable to come either.  The other classes were missing children as well.  For some reason, though, we were rushing through our day.  Breakfast, lesson time, songs, and we were heading to the bathroom almost an hour earlier than normal.  Turns out that we were going to take the classes to the Shrine, so we needed enough time before lunch.

The Shrine is a small chapel, and is the heart of the Schoenstatt Movement.  From the Shrine, the grace of God  is given and received through the intercession of the Blessed Mother.  We have Mass in the Shrine everyday, as well as night prayer.  There are over 180 Schoenstatt Shrines throughout the world.  My favorite is the International Shrine in Waukesha, Wisconsin, but this one is a close second.  For me, it is a great place to go and pray, or just sit.  It´s very peaceful. I highly recommend a field trip.

The shrine here is down the long driveway from the Center, and it takes about five minutes or so to walk from one to the other.  The classes lined up with their respective teachers and we began to walk.  Well, we started off lined up neatly, but of course, some lost shoes, others broke away from the group and started to run around the other, and so it became more like a crowd, and less like an organized field trip.  Although we were no longer in lines, the kids for some reason were mostly holding hands.  I had three girls in a line trailing on one side, and a fourth on the other side.  Luckily there is plenty of room to walk!  Ahead of us, one of the boys was walking with a little girl.  It was one of those Kodak perfect moments.

As we walked we sang, but the kids were not that interested because they were distracted by all the things that we were walking past.  When we approached the Shrine, one of the teachers, Eliza, stopped all of us.  She explained to the children that we had to be quiet and respectful in the church.  We walked into the building in almost complete silence.  I would not have believed that it was possible with forty children.

Eliza led us in prayer and a few songs.  Many of the songs have a leader, and everyone responds, which is perfect for the kids.  By then, many had found their voices, so it was beautiful to have the little church full of children singing and clapping together.

But our fun was not over!  The grounds around the Shrine have many large trees, flowers, and some paths, but with ample open grass. Two large blankets were spread out over the grass in the shade as the children clamored for balls and toys.  A game was made of five hoola hoops placed on the grass.  Teachers and children alike hopped, bounced, or flounced from one to the next.  I preferred to pass a flat soccer ball with a little boy from a younger class.  He didn´t understand the concept of throwing to a person.  I had maybe a ten percent chance of catching the ball, because most of the time it went in the exact opposite direction!  

Then, I saw Berlin with a yellow plastic bat in hand.  Guess who was up for pitching?  This was easier than with the little piece of plastic.  Although, he refused to let me pitch at a close distance.  With a wave of his regal hand, I was delegated farther back.  But without outfielders, I got to run for the ball too, minus sandals.  It was too hard to keep them on anyway.  All went well until someone was hit with a ball.  This almost ended our game, however, the boy was not hurt, and since it wasn´t Berlin´s fault, we played until snack time.

I recognize some children but don´t know all their names because they belong to different classes.  One of the younger girls who always hugs me saw that I was playing with Berlin. She has a really bright smile, and twisted braids.  Altogether she is every bit as cute as her name, Flor Maria.     I don´t remember exactly how it happened, but she ended up piggyback while I pitched. Judging from the giggles, she doesn´t get bounced around like that very often.  

What was everyone else doing as I played baseball?  Some were playing with the hoola hoops, others rested on the blankets, but the majority of the children seemed to be running in a circular shape around the group.  Either they had a ball, or they wanted one.  It was a good time.  I wish that we could do it more often, but I see that I would be really difficult when we had a normal sized class.

One interesting conversational topic is the food here. People are always asking if I like the food, and if we eat differently in the United States.  I was told before I came that it would be a lot of beans and rice.  That has proven very true.  For breakfast here, they eat sandwiches with cheese or a fried salami.  once in a while they have sandwiches with hard boiled eggs instead.  Hot milk for breakfast or a type of fruit juice is common.  I enjoy the juices here, because the fruit is different, and they are a different texture.  Usually, the juice is thicker than I am used to.  Sometimes it even contains oatmeal.

Lunch in the Center is usually beans in a soupy form, cooked with many spices, and eaten with rice.  Normally, we have white rice, but some days it is spiced with different things.  One type is red with pieces of meat, while another is yellow with corn and carrot bits.  But either way, rice and beans.  Also, we have some type of raw vegetable salad.  They don{t eat very much vegetables or fruits here, and only certain kinds are consumed raw.  In fact, I have only seen people eat raw cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers and occasionally lettuce.  I can{t eat any raw vegetables, so I just avoid salad altogether.  Sometimes we have some kind of meat, often quite salty.

Dinner is usually consists of plantains and yucca in some form or other.  Mashed, fried, boiled, baked, or in a casserole, plantains are a staple in the diet here.  Yucca is generally eaten boiled, but sometimes it is grated and made into little balls that are fried.  Another new food for me was the green bananas, which are also eaten boiled.  It{s a lot of starch here.  Besides there are also root vegetables that are made into a soup.  

The amount of food as well as the types are new to me.  People here eat a large midday meal.  Rice is the main food and gets heaped onto plates, with sides of beans, a little bit of salad, and a small piece of meat or two.  Dinner is a smaller meal, with some form of plantains, cheese, and a type of fruit.  If I put in order the types of food according to the amounts consumed, I think it would be something akin to this; starch, starch, dairy,  meat, fruit, vegetables.  The last two are not eaten very much at all, but cheese, mayo, and milk are all used regularly.  

Apparently many people have a difficult time acclimating to the food, but I haven{t had any problems.  In fact, I like trying the different foods.  One of my favorite new foods is pana de fruta, breadfruit.  I didn{t know that it grew here.  After the kernels are boiled and shelled, the taste and the texture are similar to a chestnut.  My only limitations are no eggs, no raw vegetables, and no fruit that can{t be peeled.  I hope that I find time to hang around the kitchen so that I can learn to cook some of the foods here.  

I{m going to a wedding this weekend, so that should be interesting.  I have been told traditions aren’t the same, so I am looking forward to it.  Also, a new girl arrived from Germany!  So now we have meal prayers in a language rotation of Spanish, English, and German.

Happy November to everyone!  I hope you are all doing well in your jobs, families, schoolwork, and activities.  I keep you in my prayers always.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Dear family and friends,

I hope that you are all doing well.  I think of you all often; wondering what things are keeping you busy. Someone told me that it is getting chilly in Wisconsin. Here, when it is seventy degrees I start to hear that it is cold. Of course, I just laugh. 

Today was a terrific day for me in the Nutrition Center.  Unfortunately, because of the colds going around and the rain, only slightly more than half of my class was present.  But nonetheless, the day went very well.

Breakfast was fairly easy, as most of the kids who need to be persuaded to eat were absent.  Today they ate sandwiches, which are popular with the kids.  After the the sandwiches, the kids had hot chocolate.  I rarely have problems with the  children not drinking that.

Afterwards we learned the alphabet using the names of the children.  It was fun, and they remember more easily when they can connect a letter to a person.  We did the homework for the day: coloring numbers, and started to practice the Christmas play.

I love watching them try to practice this play.  It is the Nativity Story, but it begins with the Angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary, includes Elizabeth, Herod, shepherds and the three Magi.  It is a very ambitious production for a rambunctious class of four year olds.

It is precious to see our Mary make a comical face somewhere between horror and wonder when she ¨sees¨ the Angel at first.  And he flaps his arms as his wings when he declares that she shouldn´t be afraid.  It is pretty much word for word from the Bible.  Kids forget their lines, or have thumbs in their mouths, which pretty much has the same overall effect.

When the teachers read the script aloud, the kids all get to know the story, so even when it isn´t their turn to speak, quite frequently the majority of the class with say the lines of St. Joseph, even when he has forgotten them!  We are only about a week into learning it, but at this point they all know who the main characters are and can prompt each other.  I can´t wait to see what it looks like in early December.

We had our daily decade of the Rosary.  I started out sitting on the floor next to one teacher, between two rows of children.  Pretty soon I had two of the boys on top of me, but they were chosen to help lead, so they left.  However, then the class in front of me, the three year olds, slowly inched their way towards me so as not to attract too much attention.  They turned around and looked at me with big dark eyes and shy grins. By the third prayer or so,  I had two children on each leg, and one hugging me from the side.  It was to the point of not being able to move, but I enjoyed it.  Lest you doubt, while these things occur  I do actually pray the Rosary, it is just that I am a human sofa at the same time.

After the Rosary, the kids played with gear toys, kind of like k´nex, while I read to some. I´m not sure how well I read aloud in Spanish, but they were picture books, so I think the girls got the general idea at least.  Oh yes, and of course there were the usual shenanigans in the boys bathroom.  Thirteen little boys, two sinks, one shower, and one toilet.  Half of the time is spent trying to get the boys to sit still and wait their turn to shower or brush their teeth.

Usually I feed the girls during meals at one table while at another table all the boys eat.  But because we had so many children absent, we all squeezed around one table, more or less.  It was tight, but it worked.  So for the first time in a long time I fed the boys instead of the girls. In my opinion, it was ten times easier.  Either they are hungrier, or something, because it isn´t that they listen to me more.  I had to keep pulling the shirt of one boy back onto his body.  Somehow it kept getting wrapped around his head and mouth, but only when a spoon was in the vicinity of his mouth.  But still, the task was much easier than it is with the girls.

After the kids have mostly left, we have about half an hour when the teachers prep for the next day, or do other things.  For the past week, they have been trying to learn some English.  There were some children´s english picture dictionaries donated, and so we go through them very slowly.  I say the word in English while the ladies write the pronunciation as it sounds in Spanish in the book, and then the Spanish word beside it so that I can learn too.  It´s enjoyable for all of us, although sometimes difficult when they can´t pronounce the word, or I can´t pronounce the Spanish one. At any rate, we get our daily allowance of laughter!

But my favorite, favorite part of today was unexpected.  I was cleaning up the bowls from lunch when I heard crying.  That is not an unusual sound because of the number of babies that are in the Center.  What caught my attention was that it sounded like a very young baby.  Newborns have a distinctive wail, and I hadn´t seen any in the Center before.  So as soon as I could, I looked around a bit, and sure enough, there was a little boy clad in only a diaper.  The teacher had just changed it, and so he was upset.

I asked to hold him, and she gave him to me right away.   His hair was dark, baby wispy and slightly curly, matched with his dark chocolate brown skin.  He was not a newborn, but he looked very small. His wrist couldn´t have been bigger than a quarter in diameter.  As always, I asked how old he was.  I couldn´t believe my ears.  He was one year old.  This child looked about two months old!  Besides being small, he had some strange growth by one eye, and was cold to the touch.  We put socks on him, and they reached past his knees.  He didn´t have any teeth yet, and there is absolutely no way that this child could take steps, sit up, or even crawl. Even his little hands were weak.

But he was such a cute sweet little baby!  After I started automatically shifting back and forth, and humming, he stopped crying.  In a few minutes, he was asleep in my arms.  I held him until he had to leave, walking around and singing lullabies in English.  I don´t know the Spanish ones. He didn´t seem to care, as he stayed peacefully slumbering.  The ladies told me that tomorrow I could have him again.  By the grins on their faces, they knew that I was in a baby induced trance.  Irresistable.   I remembered holding my brothers when they were that small.  

He was brand new to the Center, no one that I asked knew his name, only a very common nickname.  I am sure that in a year he will be much better, but it is scary that he is so behind in growth and development.  At least he is now on the road to getting better.

The question has been asked: If I want to make a monetary donation to the Schoenstatt Sisters´ Nutritional Center how do I do so?  You can write a check to the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary and then on the memo part note that it is for the Nutrition Center or Penny Power, which is a group that collects donations for the Nutrition Center.
Then please mail the check to:
Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary
W284 N404 Cherry Lane
Waukesha, WI 53188

If you feel called to do so, I can tell you that the money will be put to good use.  

Tomorrow should be another interesting day.  I plan to watch a Spanish movie with the children, (hopefully not Pinocchio again), write homework, hold the baby, and work on my Spanish.  And I have to do laundry because it was raining for the entirety of my laundry day this week.  Again.  I am beginning to wonder if I should permanently switch my laundry day.

 Please continue to keep me, the children, the teachers, and the Schoenstatt Sisters in your prayers.  God bless you!


Saturday, October 19, 2013


I wasn´t exactly sure what to tell you about this time, but after last night…I decided to talk about my limited wildlife experiences.

So, I have been getting acclimated to the small animals here.  The bugs are a little different than what I am used to, but so far not too bad.  I actually haven´t had to use any of the bug spray that I brought with me.  A few mosquito bits, yeah, but nothing major.  There are these little ants that are everywhere.  Counters, cabinets, floor, sinks, you name it, they are around, especially if even a bit of food is left out.  Hence, the kitchen is always cleaned.  Here it is normal, but it took me a bit to get used to it.  They are pretty small, not the huge carpenter ant kind, but still, when they swarm a cup that used to have juice in it, it looks akin to  a horror scene from an animal documentary.  

Also, because there isn´t glass in the windows, sometimes I find little critters around.  A couple days ago I found a huge cricket-like thing in my mosquito netting. And I was all ready to sleep, too.  That changed my immediate plans, as I rid myself of my little guest.  I´m still unsure as to how it got there.  Once, after a rainfall, I had a frog in the kitchen.  Luckily, I was able to catch it in a plastic cup and dispose of it outside the house.  It was a fun morning, I assure you.  I am just glad that Sr. Miguelina, who also lives in Casa Maria, did not see me attempting to capture it.  She probably would have sent me to the nurse.

Many of the buildings here are built with a courtyard in the middle,  or with planters in the hallways, so there are a lot of rocks, flowers, and leaves.  Little leaping lizards love to live in them. They are kind of cute, in a reptilian sort of way, and range from teeny tiny to five inches long. So far I have seen bright yellow, bright green, red, rusty brown, and dark brown.  Most of the time, I don´t mind them, but when I found one in my bathroom unexpectedly, it was a little different.  However, since it skittered away quickly and I haven't seen it since, I suppose he was harmless.

I have already described the watchdogs, but I had a personal experience a few days ago.  Eliud and I were peacefully walking to morning Mass, minding our own business, when four of the dogs came out of nowhere.  They were snarling and barking as they ran at us.  We were both very surprised, as the dogs are supposed to be put away before 6:15.  Actually, one of us screamed.  I will leave it to you to judge who was guilty of that offense.  ¨POR QUE?!!!¨ One of the Sisters came to our aid just in time, as the circle of territorial canines had us surrounded.  As soon as she clapped her hands, they ignored us completely! We could have been rocks for all the interest they showed.  It was like an instant demon to angel transformation.  

For my final wildlife anecdote, I observed while walking to the Nutrition Center a bunch of cows grazing, and it made me slightly homesick. Who would have thought that the sight of a bovine would be so powerful?  Although, it was unusual and slightly comical to see a Holstein munching next to banana trees.  But the people here like to use cheese and and other dairy products, so it makes sense that there would be cows in the area.

I am not worried about my safety, but I was up late one night, alone in my room when I heard the noise of someone walking outside my window, and it made me uncomfortable.  My first thought was of the night watchman, but he doesn´t make that much noise, so then I thought perhaps the dogs were digging around in the lawn.  There are coconuts as a decorative border around the flowerbeds, and the dogs like to dig them up sometimes.  But whatever was making this noise was right outside my window, and it was too big to be a dog.  So I turned the handle of my shutters a small bit, just so I could peek out, and what did I see but two cows eating my favorite flower bush.  I don´t know what I expected to see, but it certainly wasn´t two huge cows.  

Then my dilemma began.  I knew that cows don´t belong on the lawn, destroying a beautiful flower bush, but at the same time, I don´t know where they do belong.  Besides that, I had no way to get them there, and these Bessies have some serious looking horns.  It was too late to wake anyone up, and even though the dogs did not mind the cows, I wasn´t interested in another encounter by myself.  What really helped my decision was seeing the stereotypical black bull trampling through the flowers.  I have no desire to get on the bad side of a bull.  So, I banged on the metal window with a book.  They moved away a bit, but I still went to sleep with the sounds of cows around me.  

But enough about animals, because I want to tell you about the children.

Because this is October, it is the month of the rosary, and so every day, at the Center, the children gather to pray a decade of the rosary.  I really look forward to this part of the day, because everyone except the babies comes together.  All the children and adults sit on the tile floor together with their classes.  There is my class, four year olds who have a hard time sitting still, the better behaved three year olds, and the little two year old toddlers.  Sometimes, the ladies who care for the babies bring the ones who aren´t napping.  The ladies who work in the kitchen and the ladies who clean, as well as the men take a break from work and pray together.

But we don´t just pray.

I am beginning to seriously doubt the possibility of any activity here that doesn´t include some form of music.  Music is a part of the culture, which is very interesting for me to see.  So we begin with a few songs.  The teachers take their instruments, several tambourines, and a couple toy drums, and we begin.  There is another instrument, but I forgot the name.  It resembles a kitchen grater, and the stick that is rubbed across it to produce sound reminds me of a peeler.  Why they look like kitchen tools, I cannot say, but they do.  The combined sounds of all the simple instruments is amazing.  The drum that is used is exactly like the one my brothers play with, but the way Miranda uses it, I would never guess that it is a kids toy.   Those of us without instruments clap our hands, and so we all participate.  

Many kids have heard the songs often, so they join in with great gusto. When they don´t know the all the words, they make up for it in volume with those they do know.  After a song or two, we begin to pray.

Each lady has a day to lead, but then about four children are selected to help lead.  They stand in front of the group, and say the beginning part of the prayers, while everyone else responds.  Once again, the ability of four year olds amazes me. There are almost 90 children when everyone is present, so leading prayer is impressive.  

It is hard for four year olds to sit still for ten minutes, so some of the kids are usually moving around during prayer time.  Recently, I have begun to have a child or two pray with me.  They sit either right next to me, or on my lap and we clap our hands together when we sing, and fold them when it is time to pray.  So far, it has worked for some of the antsy kids who need something to do.  The only drawback to this approach is that I can only have so many children on top of me at one time.  Once or twice I had to stop them from fighting over praying with me, so that was a little counterproductive.

I have not stopped my wonder at the joy of the children.  Of course, now that I have been here for a longer period of time, I have seen the tears, the small tantrums, the teasing, but still, overall, they are really happy kids.  In the mornings, I walk past two three tables of the two and three year olds before I reach my class, and every time, at least some of them jump out of their benches and run to hug me.  There is no reason why, they just feel like it, and I am perfectly happy to oblige.

I have to go now, because this is the Jubilee Weekend.  we are celebrating 99 years of Schoenstatt, so there are going to be several thousand pilgrims here tomorrow, which is keeping me busy.  You are all in my prayers.