Archive for February, 2013

19th February
written by Michelle

boy or girl


Little Boy or Baby Girl?

What’s your guess?

My sister and mom think it’s a boy. My other sister swears it’s a girl. My brother-in-law is convinced it’s a boy. My 10-year old nieces are really hoping for a little girl so our baby can play with their little sisters, Emma and Sofia. But according to the Twenty-One Wives’ Tales That May Tell You The Gender of Your Baby, I’m having a boy.

Before I tell you…..You have to watch this video!

Did you know that a baby’s sex is set at conception, but until about 9 weeks we ALL start out with the same little sex bud? And then around 9 weeks the little bud either grows into a penis or moves to form the clitoris. Maybe this is basic biology, but I find it fascinating.

We had an ultrasound last week and saw our healthy, moving, little baby……


{to come tomorrow}

15th February
written by Michelle

I’ve heard it said that any marriage could be cross-cultural when you take two people from two different families with two different personalities and two different genders. Bam. That’s about enough difference to count as cross-cultural, right?

In our case add in two different languages, two very distinct cultures with different socioeconomic levels and then try to discuss something like Valentine’s Day. That was our Sunday night.

I have lived in Guatemala for almost 3 years and know very well that Valentine’s Day like many other US Holidays, is just not really a big deal here. Sure, kids in the school sometimes have an assembly to celebrate Dia del Carino (literally translated: Day of Affection) and thanks to US marketing and China’s production, you will see over-sized teddy bears holding red hearts for sale in the local market, and some single stem red and pink roses wrapped in plastic cellophane being sold on little street corners. But that’s about it for Valentine’s Day.

I also know that my Guatemalan husband, never grew up exchanging Valentine’s with classmates or eating heart-shaped cookies or secretly hoping for someone to bring him flowers and handwritten note that says, “I love you.” But yet every year I still wrestle with something inside that says, I want to make Valentine’s Day special. Or maybe more honestly stated, I want someone to make Valentine’s special for me.

♥     ♥      ♥

On Sunday night as I’m writing on our chalkboard calendar, that hangs between the kitchen and living room, I drew a big heart around Thursday and wrote Valentine’s Day! Dotting my “i” with a heart. From the couch, G looks over, “so what’s the big deal about Valentine’s Day?” Feeling defensive and slightly emotional (I could blame it on the baby, but let’s be honest it’s probably just me) I didn’t have a response.

It’s a good question really. He wasn’t being critical, or mean, just wondering. What is the big deal about Valentine’s Day? I think what he was really asking is why for my 30-year-old wife from California, who I love dearly, is Valentine’s Day a big deal?

As I moped on the bed I couldn’t articulate why. I rationalized all of the reasons why this day could feel like a big deal to me…Maybe it’s because US marketing has convinced me that this is the one day of the year to be loved and chosen by someone else. Or maybe because Hallmark and 1-800 flowers have combined tactics to convince me that I deserve a card, flowers and nice dinner on this day of love.  Somehow I imagine our great- grandparents a 100 years ago, never having a conversation that started with “So, honey, what do you want to do for Valentine’s Day?” But none of these reasons helped me explain, why it still felt like a big deal for me.

What’s funny is that Valentine’s Day was never a huge deal for me when I lived in the states. I was never dating anyone on Valentine’s Day and even if I was, I probably would not have wanted to go out to a fancy, romantic dinner. Just not really my style. I never got on the single-awareness bandwagon, but was also never super excited for Valentine’s Day. It was kind of just a normal day.

But for some reason now that I live away from many of the funny customs and traditions that have been part of my home, I sometimes find myself caring more. Some how the very fact of being away, makes things that were never really important, feel that much more important. Hence, Valentine’s Day in Guatemala feels more important than Valentine’s Day when I was in the states. Usually, I’m pretty good at explaining why I value or want something. But every now and then there is something deeper, something that comes from a gut level. You can’t always explain it or articulate it well, but you feel it.

We both have this feeling, often about different things. Your head knows what is happening may really not be a big deal, but your reaction catches you by surprise. Something gets you at a gut level. Sometimes the hardest things about cross-cultural marriage are the unexplainable.  The kind of things that cannot not be nicely labeled and categorized and don’t really fit in either framework. They are not issue of right and wrong or better and worse. Maybe the challenge is giving each other room to feel those things, even when the other person may not ever fully understand.

♥     ♥      ♥

I woke up yesterday morning to a sweet, smiling husband who took the dog out, got ready and came over to my sleepy side of the bed before I had even opened my eyes.

“Happy valentines day.” Touching my round belly, “to you both.

The he added, “I think I’ll do great getting up with the baby every morning.”

I nodded, still curled up in the comforter, half asleep, thinking how lucky I am.

Maybe the gift and challenge of cross-cultural marriage is that you are forced to re-examine, why and what is really important. And I think what I’ve learned is that Valentine’s Day may always feel more important to me than my husband. And that’s ok. And one day there may be cards I want to decorate with our kids or heart-shaped pancakes I want to make for breakfast, and he may not totally get it. But there is no doubt in my mind that he is the man I want to wake up with every morning.

I will chose him as my Valentine. Always.

Happy Valentine’s Day, sweetie!


Your Complicated-Cross-Cultural-Californian-Living-in-Guatemala Wife

11th February
written by Michelle
Left: 4 week picture taken on my birthday          Right: 20 week picture taken a few days ago
{ I sent the one on the right to my mom to say thanks for my new LuLu birthday outfit, little did she know I was 4 weeks pregnant. Now at 20 weeks I would wear this shirt every day if I could }

We’re at the half-way point and there is definitely a growing, kicking, little life inside of me.  For those of you who are following the life of Baby P and his/her mama (that’s me) here are:

10 Things I Didn’t Expect While Being Pregnant


1. How much I would really enjoy being pregnant.
I’ve always wanted to be mom, but I never really thought much about being pregnant. In fact, I used to imagine making up fun games and science experiments to teach my kids and enlisting their help in the kitchen. Whenever I imagined having kids I always pictured them about 7 or 8. (all of you with 7 and 8 year olds, just let me keep holding onto my idealist picture of child rearing :) I imagined having conversations with my kids and going on hikes together, but somehow imagining the baby years escaped me. Maybe because I spent a lot of time around babies and toddlers and I knew how much work they take, and underneath their baby soft skin, and adorable smile is a little creature who depends on you for everything and doesn’t understand, I’m sorry, sweetie can you wait 5 min while mommy goes to the bathroom?  I’m obviously not in the baby quite stage yet, but I have so enjoyed being pregnant. Watching my belly grow, feeling little kicks against my stomach and praying for this life inside has been better than anything I could have imagined.


2. How for weeks I couldn’t tell the difference between gas bubbles and the baby kicking.
The first time I actually felt him/her kick was in yoga class at about 19 weeks. As I was relaxing in child’s pose I felt the slightest little tap, tap- like someone poking at me from the inside. I imagine the baby saying oh, I like this or hey, mom stop squishing me…probably the latter. Since then I often sit still with my hands on my belly to just feel his/her little movements. I’m convinced that the baby also has an affinity for top 40 tunes- which will make your aunts so proud- because every time we’re at the gym or cleaning the house he/she also starts kicking.
(You didn’t know I listened to top 40, huh? Well let me tell you it makes doing dishes and cleaning the house so much more fun. Next time you have a sink full of dishes or a floor to mop try playing some Gangnam style or Kelly Clarkson or a little Usher. Warning your baby may kick, too.)


3. That Google has become my first go-to source for all questions.
yeah, yeah…I know it’s probably better to email my midwife or ask a dr or a good friend, but sometimes I just want to see what Google says. Here is what I have googled so far: “pregnancy chai tea” “pregnancy bikini wax” “pregnancy iron rich foods” “pregnancy and sex” “pregnancy curly hair” “pregnancy varicose veins” “pregnancy coconut oil” and just this past week “the belly bandit.” As you can see these are very serious topics and questions. Thankfully google has not let me down.


4. How being pregnant is such a great conversation starter with strangers.
I like meeting new people and don’t mind at all when a conversation starts with “So, when are you due?” I find that even across cultural lines and language all women have something to say about being a mom or an aunt or a grandma. And for some reason I don’t even mind when they reach out and touch my belly.


5. How I could love someone who I’ve never even met.
I don’t know how, but I already love this little baby so much. We both do. It’s kind of miraculous really. The whole thing…how a little piece of me and a little piece of Gerber and a whole lot of God make this growing, living, kicking, now blinking and thumb sucking thing inside. We often will talk to the baby at night and as I rub my belly I whisper, te amamos mucho. We love you a lot!


6. How excited G was the moment he felt the baby kick for the first time.
usually our conversation would go something like this
m: ooh, the baby’s kicking…come here!
g: {resting his hand on my belly} I don’t feel anything.
m: I think it stopped.
g: {disappointed}
Of course baby’s don’t kick on demand. But the other night Gerber had his hands resting on my belly and he felt it! I don’t think I have ever seen him smile so big!


7. How extra kind people are because you’re pregnant.
Seriously, I don’t know how it is in the states…but here someone carries my grocery to the car when I ask for help, I get escorted to the front of the bank to the pregnant/with children/elderly line and people in general just seem extra patient. Now, my hope is that those same people are extra patient when I have a screaming, agitated little one strapped to my body and am taking like 30 minutes just to get them into the car-seat.


8. How there is really so little I can do for my baby.
Maybe this is part of being a mom….I mean, I can eat well and take my vitamins and try to get rest, but there is this humbling point where I’ve had to realize I cannot protect you little one from a car accident or from some explosion or a horrible earthquake. Of course, these thoughts enter my mind and when they do I say little prayer.


9. How generous people have been by sharing baby carriers and outgrown clothes and helpful pieces of advice.
We are having the baby here in Guatemala and although there may be lots of things I’d like to have from the good U S of A, we’re going to get by with less. But people both in the states and here have been so kind. Giving us used baby carriers, and newborn clothes. A friend from the states packaged up blankets and baby toys and a nursing cover and sent it down. Another friend who came on a team brought us a baby first aid kit with all those things you need but don’t think about buying. We have felt blessed and encouraged and dear Baby P, you should know how many people love you!


10. How relatively un-stressed I am.
This is so uncharacteristic for me. Any big life change, or really any change at all, usually involves lots of lists and some tears and a whole lot of stress. But for some reason the anticipation and actual pregnancy has been joyful and easy and well, really exciting. When I think back about the past few years and some of the big life changes I am reminded how transitions have often brought me stress. Moving, job changes, dating, even planning a wedding and figuring out marriage were all good, but filled with ups and downs. Almost like a roller coaster, where every so often you want off because it’s just too much. You get a little too scared, too overwhelmed, and too worried that you just cant do it right. Maybe this is what I’ll feel with a newborn. But some part of being pregnant has brought this peace. This odd feeling like this is what my body was made for. And for the moment that feeling has graciously consumed any stress…and I kind of hope it stays that way.
4th February
written by Michelle



The start of a new school year always makes me a little excited. And last Wednesday was the first day of English classes.  (remember Guatemala is on a January - October school calendar…so, dear teacher friends come June I’m always feeling real jealous of you…but for the most part I’ve adapted to this school calendar)

I have been teaching in some capacity for the past 8 years. And I have always been a firm believer that the details matter. When I taught English in Santa Barbara I learned pretty quickly that High School Students are not going to just start spilling information. I know a lot of teachers have students write them a letter on the first day of school, but I never found those to be that genuine. The students that want to sound impressive, do, and the rest that could care less write 5 sentences about their summer vacation. I taught mostly the latter type of students. I wanted something that they could do quickly, finish in class and was slightly fun. I used to have them make a facebook profile.  I gave the categories, like…

music most listened to, people who you love, people who annoy you, what you do when you’re not at school, favorite sports teams, last book you read, favorite and least favorite subject in school, If you had 3 wishes, etc.

And I always got honest, sometimes hilarious, responses. I got the details…the little facts and insights into who I was teaching.

Because I know that before I can teach the what I need to know who I am teaching.



For the past 3 years I have been teaching in Guatemala- different culture, different context and, but same purpose.  I want to know who I am teaching, before I try to teach the what. I want some of details about their lives. In many ways I find it harder to get those details with little nine and ten years old.

In a culture that values the family unit above all else, the question that I have learned to ask my students on the first day of school is:


Who do you live with?


I find out more from this question than any other. I learned early on that if I ask, who is in your family? Then I could get hundreds of cousins and aunts and uncles and little girls look at me with big eyes, as if to say Miss, I have to draw aaaallllll of my family?

So I have changed the question.


I give the girls a worksheet with a blank spot to draw who they live with. And I often find out as much by what is not there. Like this one: She just has her Papa, hermano, and hermana. As I was walking around, I leaned over next to her, “What about your mom?” She looks up, without blinking, “se murrio.” She died.  I am sure she’s not the only one who plays the role of mother in her house.

These are things I want to know.


Another girl draws her dog, chicken and cat. I want to know this, too : )


I love that this girl started to draw her mom wearing a colorful huipil (pronounced we-peel) and corte (the traditional Guatemalan blouse and skirt). She is drawing what her mom, and in fact what almost all most women, wear in her town. She is representing who she lives with. Interestingly enough by the time the girls are in 6th grade, thanks to north American media, fashion and dare I say, Justin Bieber, they no longer draw pictures of women wearing traditional clothes. When asked to draw the people they live with they chose more “American” styles- pants, mini-skirts and tank tops- even tough very few women actually dress this way.

I ask this question and hand out this worksheet on the first day of school because I do what to know them, but I may have a few anterior motives as well.


A Few Simple Teacher Tips I’ve Learned from The 1st Day of School Worksheet


1) I want an easy, non-intimating way to see what they know/remember from the year before

  • Two months is a long enough time to forget “eight” and “three.”
  • I can get a quick idea and overview about what level the class it at
  • And quickly identity what students are going to need some extra help and review

2) I want to see who finishes first and who doesn’t have time to finish

  • This is not a timed activity, but I put a little slash mark on the back of the papers of the girls who jump up first and tell me they’re done. These girls usually are the ones who work quickly, and just get things a little faster. I want to know who they are.
  • I give a 2-min warning when we’re about to finish and without fail there are usually 5-7 girls who are not even close to being done. I collect their papers and tell them it’s ok. But I make a small dot in the corner of their paper. This reminds me that these girls most likely will work slower and need more support.
  • This information is super helpful when I put the girls in groups, because I am able to do mixed ability-level grouping just after the first day.


3) We celebrate little things-like favorite colors and birthdays.

  • When we do our birthday unit I have a calendar on the wall with all of their birthdays written on it.
  • The school also does a big birthday celebration every trimester to celebrate the girls. Many girls don’t ever get to celebrate their birthdays at home and some aren’t even sure when their birthday is. Like this little girl…I asked why she left it blank. Because I don’t know what my birthday is. I told her that was fine. Inside my heart sunk a little bit.


4) Learning girls’ names when they all have TWO

  • When I first started teaching in Guatemala I would look at my roster and see names like this: Rosa Sandra Juarez Chiroc
  • How do I know if she was Rosa or Sandra? Her classmates call her Rosa. Her mom calls her Sandra. I was just lost.
  • So on the first day of every year I have the kids make their own name tags- and I ask them to underline the name that they want ME to call them. This has saved hours of confusion.

Now my homework is to memorize all these names before next week. I sometimes wish I was teaching full-time, but for now my three English classes is enough with the other work I do. I think no matter what country, what age or what school I will always love teaching and get a tad bit excited for the start of a new school year.

Are you a teacher? What are some your favorite things to do at the start of a new year?