Archive for March, 2014

31st March
written by Michelle


It’s been a loooonnnggg week over here. I feel like with two working parents and a schedule that changes week by week we have finally figured out a good routine, or maybe rhythm is a better word, for us as a family…but then someone gets sick and everything tips out of balance.

I really have nothing to complain about. Elena has only had one other cold in the history of her 9 months of life. I’ve never even taken the girl’s temperature cause she’s just always been pretty healthy. But last week she started getting the sniffles and the dripping mocos and then the horrible congestion. She is as happy as can be during the day, but poor girl just can’t breathe very well at night. So she wakes up every 2 hours, then ever 45 minutes and then finally I just end up holding her. I’m sure all of the mothers of the world have sat up at night holding a sick, stuffy baby. In between praying “please go to sleep” prayers and patting her sweaty head I started wondering, Why can’t babies blow their nose? I mean wouldn’t have that been a great evolutionary advance for humans? I’m gonna have to take that one up with God. That and why cockroaches exist. That’s another topic. But I am convinced they are from the devil.

So, we’ve been doing steam showers, essentials oils and of course lots of sucking with this thing. She hates it. So I usually hold her arms down, and Gerber sucks. We’re a good team like that. And you know how sleep has been a challenge for her already… so now it feels like were back at ground zero. Baby sleep kinda feels like two steps forward, one step back, right? Maybe that’s what motherhood in general feels like.

Speaking of motherhood, earlier this week someone we work with asked Gerber, “IF I WAS PREGNANT?” what the….?!? Apparently they had seen me and noticed my panzita and so they asked him. (Sweet man, told me cause he knows I would always rather hear it from him instead of someone else) Now, I can take it with a grain of salt. In Guatemala, most women have panzitas (tummy) and commenting on a woman’s body is more common, not so offensive here. But still, I’m not Guatemalan so I was slightly offended. So naturally, I turned to google. And started researching 9 months post-partum tummy and basically diagnosed myself with diastasis recti. Maybe just to make myself feel better I emailed a picture of my tummy to a good friend. And she said all the encouraging, true and beautiful things that good friends say. Usually, I am pretty comfortable with my body and quite thankful for how it grew a tiny human, but some days the crazy voices and google can take over.

Part of my journey in becoming a mom has been accepting that I cannot measure my success during a week by how much I get done. I just can’t. Productivity and motherhood don’t belong in the same sentence. I really want to enjoy Elena, this stage, and all her baby-ness. (well, except the sleeplessness. I don’t enjoy that) And I realize by choosing to enjoy the now it means other things have to give. It means I often have piles and unfinished projects. It means I sometimes compose blog posts in my head that never make it to the screen and I save lists of books that I want to read, but I know their pages may never be opened. I know I am a better mom and wife when I exercise and have my nails painted and get to connect with friends, but lots of other things just have to wait.

Maybe one of the surprising challenges of becoming parents for us is how much work it takes to keep a healthy marriage. I think Gerber and I both are really good at loving our daughter. But it’s been harder for us to figure out how to keep loving each other well. Having a baby changes things, in a wonderful, wouldn’t-go-back- kinda way. But it involves some adjusting and re-learning. And we’re still figuring that out. Day by day, booger-sucking-night, by booger-sucking-night.

So, after a long week and a stuffy baby, this morning our sitter called in sick. She probably got Elena’s cold, poor thing. Because I stumble and stress over what to do when plans change, I am so thankful I married a man who shines in the moment. Last minute, spontaneous planing is his favorite. So after one frantic text message, we rearranged our schedules. I took Elena for the morning and he stayed with her for the afternoon. Because we usually don’t have a free Monday morning together I threw the diaper bag and stroller in the car and drove to Antigua. We walked around the park. Looked for birds and watched the fountain. I did some emails, she ate an apple.

Before leaving town we walked into Cafe Barista. And I snapped this photo. Isn’t she precious?!


I really love being her mom, even if she can’t blow her nose yet.

20th March
written by Michelle

{Week 10: The Pila}

I posted this picture yesterday as part of my year long photo project to document my town. It’s a small way for me to practice noticing, appreciating and being thankful for where I live.

 . . .

Now, if f you live in Guatemala or have visited than you probably have seen these public washing basins before. Every town in Guatemala has one, sometimes a few. It’s called a pila. /pronounced: pea-luh/ Earlier this week I was doing a tour of Santa Maria de Jesus with a group of high school students from Canada. We usually ask some of the girls who have recently graduated from Proximos Pasos, our girls school, to be the tour guides. We believe that since they live there, they really are the experts of their town. As we walked by one of the many pilas in Santa Maria  one of the Canadian students asked out of curiosity, “Do boys ever wash clothes at the pila?” I translated the question for Roxana, our local student tour guide. She shook her head without thinking. No, only women and girls. Her response was has matter of fact as if has asked, “Is the sky blue?

 . . .

Now I realize for Roxana, and for most of the Guatemalans who live in towns like Santa Maria, this is just a way of life. The way it’s always been. A division of labor based on gender. Men work in the fields. Women cook. Boys play soccer. Girls carry their younger siblings on their backs. Men pull horses carrying piles of wood. Women wash clothes at the pila. And you see how it goes. This goes against everything I believe and understand about equality and sharing responsibility and dividing household roles based on skills and abilities, not gender. However, maybe this has always worked here. Or maybe it works because it’s how you survive. I am aware how dangerously easy it is to critique a culture that is not my own. I bet if someone from a majority world country came to the US for the first time they may be shocked how we throw food and electronics in the trash. And they would probably critique us for how we consume 40% of the world’s resources without even blinking an eye. And maybe rightfully so. Maybe sometimes it’s good to have an outsiders perspective. Someone to say, ya know there is another way to do this? If know me well or have read along on this blog, then you know that there are numerous things that I absolutely love about Guatemala:

the resilience and beauty of people who know how to work hard

the friendly way you greet one another

how the community matters more than the individual

the color of the fresh fruits and vegetables

how nothing is wasted and everything is re-used

how people live with less and yet, are so generous.

And how every-time I hear a Guatemalan pray they start with, “Thank you God for another day of life” because nothing is taken for granted.

  . . .

But the one thing, probably more than anything else, that drives me crazy about life here in Guatemala is the deeply machismo (or machista) culture. I could rant for days about this, but I won’t. I have accepted that part of living here means I have to accept how things are. A s a women, I hate it. As a mother raising a daughter here, it angers me. As a human, I will never fully understand this patriarchal tradition of giving power and division and privilege to men. I know I am over simplifying a very complex idea and way of life. Of course, not all Guatemalans are machista. Sometimes men are actually more open to equal opportunities and it’s the grandmothers or the suegros who keep women in the kitchen and men out. The truth us I will never like it, but I know I can’t change an entire culture. All I can do is work toward changing the next generation. That’s why I want to teach my daughter how to wash clothes. And one day if we have a son. I will teach him, too. Although let’s be honest, it will probably be in a washing machine, not at the pila. I want my daughter to know that when she grows up she can be a doctor or engineer or teacher, and one day if we have a son, I want him to know the same. I want my little girl to learn how to make pasta and pancakes and really good banana bread, and I would want my little boy to learn the same. I hope my daughter learns how to take out the trash and mop a floor and was a car because those are such good life skills, and the same would go for our son. If my daughter wants to play soccer on a team, I will work to form a girls league, because a most teams are reserved only for boys. I know for most of you, these ideas for probably just a given, but in Guatemala sometimes I feel like they are radical. Some days I get discouraged and frustrated. I worry about the girls at the school where I used to teach and my own daughter. What kind of message are we sending them? What happens when a little girl grows up and only sees women cooking or only boys playing soccer? How will she know something different? Sometimes I lose hope. And then sometimes I notice; something is changing. Slowly.

  . . .

As Elena and I took our afternoon walk yesterday, we walked by the pila in our town. We stopped to look at the water, which we often do. There were the usual group of women. Women of all ages standing, scrubbing, hunched over, arms engaged in a rapid back-and-forth motion. Dipping their plastic buckets into the water, rinsing off the suds. Working their way through the pile of wet clothes, methodically, calmly. And then I saw something I have never seen before. Two men. Probably in their 30s or 40s. Washing clothes. At the Pila. Men! My little heart applauded. Now I don’t know if they were brothers, or husbands, or fathers, but they were washing clothes. They were helping to take care of their households. I smiled and kissed the top of Elena’s head. A small step in the right direction. A small step toward a society where men and women will be given equal opportunities. And where both women and men will wash clothes at the pila.


{Week 11: It’s Spring…Bougainvillea}

11th March
written by Michelle

As a foreigner, living in a Spanish speaking country, I get asked this question a lot. Are you fluent?

I never know quite how to answer. I shrug my shoulders, umm kinda? I mean I don’t feel fluent. I still struggle with the woulda/shoulda/coulda tenses and I have huge gaps in my vocabulary. When I go the hardware store I end up gesturing with my hands when I realize I don’t know how to say “drawer handle” or when I go to the grocery store to buy a funnel and spend ten minutes trying to show the guy by making my hand into a fist and pouring water “through it.” Pathetic. And at a medial/dental clinic I was helping at last month I realize I don’t know the words for blink, heel or gargle. So, see I am still learning.

Often times volunteers or mission groups or new expats living here ask me, How did you learn your Spanish?

And this is what I tell them or what I would tell anyone who wants to learn a 2nd language:

 1) Use what you ALREADY know. It’s true what hey say, what you don’t use, you lose. So if all you know how to say is “Hola, me llamo Michelle.” Then say that 100 times a day. The people who I’ve seen learn a language fastest are not the perfectionists who sit in a coffee shop writing gzillions flashcards (ahem, me) it’s the people who go out and talk with people and stumble through awkward conversations and lots of big hand gesturing.

 2) Expect to be frustrated. When you start learning a 2nd language you may feel like a 7-year-old every time you begin a conversation. Your vocabulary drops and your sentences become 1-3 words max. You may be a teacher or lawyer or the head of your speech and debate club back at home, but when you’re operating in your 2nd language you will be at a 2nd grade level for awhile. And that’s ok.

 3) Don’t compare, don’t compare, don’t compare. I used to feel most insecure with my Spanish when another foreigner was there who spoke better Spanish than I did. I would fumble over my words and imagine them correcting me in their head. I still feel this way if I have to translate and know that there is someone in the group who speaks better English/Spanish than me! I’ve learned you have to block out those voices and insecurity. It’s been proven when you’re stressed and worried there is actually a part of our brain called the affective filter that goes up and prohibits any coherent sentences from coming out. Like my very first Spanish teacher told me. Go out with a group of Spanish speaking friends, have a glass of wine and stop thinking, just talk.

 4) Find someone who can help you understand the language and interpret the culture. I have had four or five different Spanish teachers over the years and they may have helped me learn new verbs and words, but they also explained the context and culture behind those words and when to use them. This may have been even more valuable than the actual grammatical lessons. Especially if you’re going oversees find a person (not a computer program) who can be a cultural interpreter for you.

 5) Practice speaking with anyone you can. This is especially true if you’re living in the US where the language you’re learning isn’t the dominant one.  Be intentional to find people who speak the language you want to learn. When I was in Santa Barbara I often stayed late in my classroom just so I could talk to the janitors who came by every afternoon to clean. At our local farmers market I would visit the same stands and bring extra money to buy something just so I could talk to the growers in Spanish. Word of caution, don’t just assume speaks Spanish or any other language based on their physical characteristics. I always found it respectful to ask the person, “Do you speak Spanish (or whatever language you want to learn)?” and if they say yes, then proceed to tell them how you are trying to practice and ask if it’s ok to speak to them in that language.

 6) Listen to the radio. In my opinion you can read all the books and newspapers that you want, but there is something about listening to the radio that helps you hear how people actually talk. I’m not saying it’s always interesting or fun, but when I lived in Santa Barbara I made myself listen to 90.3 radio (nueva vida punto tres…said thick Mexican accent) every morning on the way to work. I didn’t really love the music, but hearing it did force me to listen to Spanish every day. I guess you could do the same with a TV program but radio always seemed easier to me because I could do it while drivin. If you’re in Guatemala and if you have a car, I’d say just try it. Make yourself listen to the radio and you might be surprised at how much you start to understand and what insights you get into the culture. The advertisements themselves are sometimes even better than the music. The local Antigua station is 102.5 and there are lots in Guatemala City. I usually tune it 104.1 or 93.5

 7) Talk with kids. Kids are great to practice with! They usually repeat words numerous times, use no more than 4 words in a sentence and can play the “point and tell me how to say this” game for hours. If you’re not around kids, get your hands one some simple kids books. I found reading kids books can be a great, easy way to start.

8) Be gracious with yourself. It takes years to learn a 2nd language. My first full-year living here I used to get so frustrated because I wanted my Spanish to be as fluent as my English. Which is just an absurd expectation, as Gerber would so often remind me. So, maybe right away let go of the expectations that your 2nd language will be a good as your first. Unless, you’re born bilingual or have some uncanny knack for languages just accept that you will probably never be quite as comfortable or fluent in your 2nd language as your first. Learning a 2nd language is hard. I’ve seen especially among other North American adults that we get frustrated so easily when we can’t communicate in the same way or at the same level that as we’re used to. It’s a humbling and hard and I think it anything can gives us a little insight into what people feel like in our own country who come and are in the process of learning English. It’s hard to learn a 2nd language and I think it’s even harder as an adult.

 9) Have fun. It’s true, right? If you’re having fun you’ll be motivated to keep doing it. If you have the chance to study abroad and live with a family. Do it. If you can spend an evening each week playing soccer with friends who only speak Spanish, then go for it. One of my mentors and pastors used to encourage any student before coming on a mission trip to spend an hour each week just sitting in a little Spanish bakery on one side of town. She told them, buy a pan dulce, pick up a Spanish newspaper and just listen, watch and make friends with the women behind the counter. In my experience the more you can put yourself in situations where you have to use what you know and make friends with someone while doing it then the faster you’ll be able to learn a 2nd language.

Que suerte!

Do you speak two language? What’s helped you learn your 2nd language? Do you have any tips? Have you always wanted to learn a 2nd language? What’s stopped you?

P.S. If you’re seriously interested in improving your Spanish, I have a few friends/teachers here in Antigua who do Spanish lessons via skype. It’s a great experience to have a native speaker as your teacher and half the price as what it would cost you in the states. If you’re interested leave a comment here or email me and I can connect you.

7th March
written by Michelle


I briefly mentioned in a few facebook and instagram posts over that past month about hiring a sleep consultant and have gotten lots of questions. So I figured I’d take a minute to explain. (clearly, as you can see in the photo Elena thinks it was a great idea)

I am firm believer in asking for professional help when you need it. I hire an accountant to do my taxes because all the numbers and forms overwhelm me. I have seen a counselor at various seasons of my life when I needed help processing and working through tough stuff. So I figured why not pay a sleep consultant when I realized I was spending more time working to get Elena to sleep, then she was actually sleeping?

I reached a point where I was stuck. Baby sleep felt confusing and stressful and what I was doing wasn’t working, so I asked for help.

{Let me give you a little disclaimer:  I don’t claim to know a lot about baby sleep nor do I think there is one right way to get babies to sleep. I write this only to share what’s been working for us and if you’re in the middle of baby sleep woes know that you’re not along. And if baby sleep means nothing in your world right now, you can just skip over this whole post. }

So a little background:

Elena has never been a great sleeper. Or maybe better stated she has never been a great sleeper when sleeping alone. Since day 1 she has really only slept well while being carried or bounced or in someone’s arms. She slept well while nursing to sleep. And she slept really well while being curled up next to me. So like most new moms, I did whatever worked. And to be be honest it worked well for about 3 months. I was on maternity leave and getting rest, she was sleeping 7-8 hours through the night and we were all pretty happy. We didn’t have a nursery or a crib at that point so she napped on the bed and slept next to me at night.

Then right around month 3 or 4 something changed. Call it the 4-month sleep regression or growth spurt or whatever. But getting her to sleep became my full-time job. And then she’d wake up every 45 minutes. And we’d start the process all over again. There were literally days that I would spent 5-6 hours of my day holding her in the rocking chair. I wrote this post which gave you just a little insight into our days. I started to feel like what I was doing was not sustainable, for me, or for her or for our family.

After reading this book: The Sleepeasy Solution, recommended by a good friend of mine and on Cup of Jo’s blog, I felt ready to try sleep training. Elena had just turned 5 months old. In short, it went horribly. Looking back I think it was too much too soon. We were trying to transition her from our bed, to a new room, to a new crib, etc. We found out we had a quite a persistent little girl. And she didn’t just cry, she screamed. I was trying to so hard to “follow the book” but I felt stuck whenever she woke up before the “set” feeding time or cried longer than the book said. She wasn’t the baby in the book.

After three days, I threw in the towel. Something wasn’t working. I went back to nursing her to sleep and holding her for all of her naps. Our evenings were stressful. Gerber and I would eat in shifts, taking turns rocking and maybe get in a 10 min conversation.

Then in December I found Nicole and the Baby Sleep Site. And I gave myself a Christmas gift of a sleep consultant. Best $90 I’ve ever spent.

Right away what I appreciated about Nicole and her team is her philosophy- she says “nothing’s a problem, until it’s a problem.” So you wanna nurse your baby to sleep? Go ahead. You wanna drive your little one around the block to nap, sure thing. You wanna co-sleep and snuggle, go for it. And when you want help changing some of those habits they’ll help you.

So I spent one evening filling out a detailed sleep history form on Elena, her temperament, our parenting philosophy and what were our short term and long term goals. Then I emailed it in to the company and a few days later I received a personalized sleep plan and was assigned a sleep consultant who was available to ask questions along the way, follow up on new situations that arise and be a resource once we started.

And we decided that since Gerber can’t stand to hear Elena cry, he could best support me by not being in the house when we started. So we started one of the weeks he was gone.

Here’s what I appreciated most:

-They gave me a step by step plan based on what we had tried and what they knew of my sweet girl and they offered support along the way when what they suggested didn’t work (this was HUGE for me).

-They talked about how important consistency was, and yet they acknowledge that YOU as the mom or parent know your baby best and sometimes you or the baby may will have an off day or night. And it’s not a reason to get discouraged.

-They celebrate small successes, and acknowledge that all babies and kids “learn how to sleep” in different ways.

- There are tons of FREE resources on their website and her newsletters have lots info about baby sleep patterns, pacifiers, traveling with babies, nap-time vs nighttime sleep, etc. All things I knew very little about.

-They take into account your baby’s temperament and your parenting style and preferences. They offer a gentle approach or a more traditional cry-it-out or a combination.

-It was like having a supportive friend right there next to you saying, “you’re doing a good thing. You’re teaching your baby how to sleep. You’re not a horrible mom.” And I needed to hear this, because there were many nights I thought, ahh I can’t do it.

So, where are we are now:

-It’s been about 5 weeks since we started sleep training. Granted we probably had an extra challenge, given that our little girl had never slept the whole night in her crib before and had never, ever fallen asleep on her own. And she’s quite particular and persistent. So we had a long road ahead of us.

-The first few weeks were the hardest, but we were consistent. And they got progressively better. We did baby steps: At first we just focused on her falling asleep by herself, then any wake-up after that I nursed and held her like I always did. After a week or so, we started letting her sooth herself back to sleep and only went in at the set feeding time.

-Elena now goes to sleep EVERY night by herself in her crib! It still amazes me, because there were weeks and days where I imagined myself rocking and holding my 8-year old child to sleep. So this has part has gone great!

-If she wakes up around 8pm or 9pm and cries she usually will go right back to sleep. Again, huge improvement!

-There were about 2-3 nights she slept through the whole night! And I was ecstatic. But then she started teething and I wanted to be able to nurse her at night so she’s been waking up 1-2 times at night again. But I trust we can get back on a good schedule.

-She still wakes up super early…(like 5am early) and is not one of those babies that will play happily in her crib. So we’ll keep working on this little by little.

-She still naps while being held by me or our sitter. However, since she’s learned to sleep better at night she has also started learning to fall asleep in her carseat and stroller. Which I know isn’t ideal long term, but again, she never did this before. So the week Gerber is gone we’ll start working on naps. I tried it early on, but it was too much while also trying to work on night time sleep. The sleep consultant recommend we work on night sleep before naps, because they can affect each other.

There you have it.

More than you probably ever wanted to know about baby sleep. Somehow I think I had this idea in my head that when you lay a baby down in their crib they just magically go to sleep. I never knew that it could be so much work to get a little one to sleep. Now, I recognize living in Guatemala, this is really all so cultural. Most Guatemalans that I know don’t own a crib and babies are usually carried everywhere by their mom, or grandma or the niñera, so babies sleep whenever and wherever. Obviously this way works, too. But I must say it has felt so good to be able to leave Elena at night and know that she is at home resting and sleeping.

So if you’re struggling and feeling like you don’t know what else to do to help your baby or toddler improve their sleep I cannot recommend this service enough. Here’s their homepage where you can sign up for the FREE newsletter and here’s the page for a sleep consultant.

Cheers, for sleeping babies!


** I was not paid or compensated by the BabySleep Site in anyway. I am just really thankful and appreciate the service. And hope if you’re exhausted and struggling with getting your baby to sleep that you’d know there are resources out there.**