Enemy Mine

I’ve recently added to my collection a brand new enemy here in Guatemala. The funny thing is that every single person that has turned out to be a real enemy here was the one who started it. I mean, sure, I consider my MIL to be an enemy and we fight quite often, but that is mutual. These other people . . . they’re just mad that I noticed they were doing something wrong and decided to make life hell.

The guy at Veridas was a good example. “Meg” was another. Apparently you’re supposed to just take what people dish out and ignore the wrongs being done if you want to live peacefully.

This latest debacle involves a rather tantrum-prone man who has threatened me with multiple lawsuits, including one for slander (which, as it turns out, isn’t even legal). He’s called me out publicly on his website, sent me scathingly irate emails, including one that simply said, “Your bipolar” (spelling his, not mine).

What caused this decision to destroy my reputation across Guatemala? Well, see, I did some work for him and he didn’t pay me. Wait, what? HE didn’t pay me and he’s angry about that? Yup.

Not only did he not pay me, he didn’t pay a lot of writers. In fact, only ONE person was partially paid, in all of my investigations. I have spoken to these people, we’ve all had similar experiences. In every case, he hired people to write, then came up with a number of excuses as to why payment was not forthcoming. One woman was told that he forgot to put the check in the envelope (she didn’t get an envelope anyway). I was told that his kids were sick, which is a perfectly legit reason, but that stretched into multiple excuses and finally there was a mass email saying that we were basically all stupid idiots for fighting over a few hundred dollars.

Here’s the thing. When someone does work like this, they’re doing it to support their family. When they do that work, they are taking time away from other work. Work that pays. It may be a few hundred bucks, but it’s a living. And not getting paid means scrambling to find the money elsewhere to pay bills and feed children.

This guy has basically intimidated everyone with his threats of legal action and unpleasantries. His bluster and threats have gone a little too far, however and there is now an angry mob of expats, including more than a few who never worked with him, ready to make sure he doesn’t pull a stunt like this again. Unfortunately, we discovered that this isn’t the first scam he’s been involved in and he has himself a bit of a reputation both here and in the US.

So, if you see a job listing for an online or offline news writing job in Guatemala, run far, far away. If you see anything to do with a Joshua Schmidt, run far, far away. It’s just not worth the hassle. I may have been stupid enough to fall for the scam, along with about a dozen other people, but that doesn’t mean he gets to keep making fools of everyone.

 

Back to School

Weird title for January, huh? Well, here in Guatemala, the school year starts in January, so we do the same, though we do school year round. We took a month off for Christmas and New Year’s and our new year started yesterday.

Dorian is officially in Grade 4 and Dante in Grade 3. I find it really hard to believe that I have children in these grades! Dominic is doing some preschool and some kindergarten work at the moment.

To kick off the new school year, we sat down and worked out some learning goals for the new year. Some were practical. Dominic wants to learn to write his name, read all the letters and learn about police and firetrucks. Dante wants to learn origami, how to do story problems, read a chapter book and learn about Hawaii. Dorian would like to illustrate a story, learn to work with big numbers and learn about Africa and Egyptians.

However, some of their goals were kind of funny. For example, when I asked what they wanted to learn in Science, all three yelled, “Potions!” Dante and Dominic want to earn some money and Dorian would like to learn to cook lasagna. All three want to learn to swim. We are also apparently on track to get a bunny and another cat!

This year is all about practical things and timelines. We’re focusing heavily on history this year, but we’re also going to be working on skills for the future. I hope that by looking at the past, the boys will have a better idea of what they want in the future. Since they are both reading quite a bit now, we’re also doing a lot of that this year. I’ve been ordering books through The Book Depository, which ships free to Guatemala, plus we added a reading corner to their room.

reading room

Irving built the simple book rack and we found some cheap bean bags for the kids to sit in. With their books facing out like this, they spend a lot more time grabbing books to read. We also put a mini shelf by Dominic’s bed for his books.

Spanish Lessons Online

I love that my kids have grown up in a bilingual household. They speak English and Spanish fluently and are able to communicate their feelings easily with both languages. Even if you didn’t grow up with the benefit of speaking two languages, there are quite a few options available, including online lessons.

One of my teachers and a good friend is offering classes online. She’s pretty awesome and is the main reason I don’t speak like the street kids I picked my Spanish up from. She’s also a work at home mom of two. If you’re interested in learning Spanish, she offers both online classes and offline ones (if you’re in Guatemala), so there’s plenty of options!

Online classes run $8/hour and offline ones are $4/hour, but she’s offering a free trial, so you might want to take advantage of that!

 

Playing Games

One of the games that I got for the boys for Christmas was Spot It, a game that looked like it would be fun and had tons of great reviews. My sister brought it down after I had it sent to her house and I saved it for Christmas.

The game was much smaller than I expected, but it turned out to be just the right size for playing. Each round card has a bunch of images on it, in all different sizes. There are five different games you can play and everyone here has their favorite. Dante and I really enjoy The Poisoned Gift.

Spot It

To play this game, you each get a card and the stack is turned upside down in the middle. You have to match an image from the middle to one of your opponent’s cards and then put the card from the middle on their stack. The person with the fewest cards at the end wins. You have to be quick and super observant!

What I like about this game is that kids can play it without needing to read or anything. It’s all visual. In fact, it would work in any language because of this, too. Plus, it forces you to think quickly and process the information rapidly. I suspect this is even more helpful for adults than kids.

We all enjoy playing. Irving and Dorian are particularly competitive. Dominic takes his time, but usually gets a few matches in and is thrilled with his lot. Dante and I are a tad slower, but we hold our own and even win sometimes!

There are a bunch of other versions of the game, too, which we might just have to try out!

Adios 2014 and Hello 2015

Last night, we bade 2014 farewell and moved on to the new year. I know it’s just another day in the long run, but I always get excited for a whole new year, brand-spanking and shiny. Call me silly, but I love coming up with goals and feeling like it’s a fresh start.

new year

2014 wasn’t a bad year, but it wasn’t the best either. Irving was diagnosed with diabetes just before Christmas in 2013, so the early part of the year was spent trying to get his blood sugar levels under control. However, we did well with that and he has been pretty stable.

We started the year off with a number of financial setbacks that made me want to throw in the towel on writing and just get a real job. Toward the end of the year, however, things really started to pick up and I ended up working right through Christmas! In fact, I have four jobs as we speak, so that’s not bad at all.

Irving and I had a rocky start to the year, as well, but our relationship has strengthened drastically over the past months. It wasn’t easy, but then again, relationships never are, right? It takes some hard work to make it all happen.

Two of my sisters visited this year, which was pretty awesome. My bakery got off the ground. My brother-in-law, Melvin, got married on the 26th. So in the end, we finished up 2014 on a good note.

Now, here we are, on the first day of 2015 and I find myself eager to get this party started. Irving and I have big plans this year. My sister is getting married this year. Dorian is going into Grade 4 and Dante Grade 3. We plan to do a little traveling in Guatemala this year, if possible, and take more field trips with the boys.

I plan to take the bakery to the next level this year and Irving wants to start his carpentry business. There is no shortage of enthusiasm and entrepreneurship this year, for sure!

Of course, writing will still be a big part of my earning strategy, but I want to add more of my own books and increase my prices a little so I can take the higher quality jobs. That will also leave me more time to teach the boys. Hopefully in the new schoolroom, which we are working on over the next two months!

I’m sure there will be plenty of ups and downs in 2015, just like any year, but hopefully it will be good overall for everyone.

How is your year shaping up? Do you have any goals or do you think the whole thing is stupid?

 

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

I’ve been lax with posting, mostly due to the fact that I have been run off my feet with work, while simaltaneously fighting off multiple illnesses, baking up a storm for the bakery and getting ready for Christmas. It’s all done now, except for the work, which keeps pouring in. I’m hoping that means a successful 2015! In the meantime, I thought I’d catch you all up on the holidays around here.

We always have pjs for the boys to open on Christmas Eve, but this year, they added a bunch of other gifts for . . . ME! :) I was so thrilled.

I was making tamales when Irving came in and suggested that it might be faster and easier if I used a food processor. I said I was going to get one and he said, “That would be so much faster and easier if you used your Christmas present.” Heh, so guess who got to open her gift early? Here it is, in use on Christmas Eve.

That night, we got the kids up for the midnight burning of bombas and fireworks. Normally we go to the other house, but recent events have put us even more at odds with Irving’s mother and his father no longer lives here, so we just hung out in the space between houses, stopping in just long enough to drop off gifts for the Sofias and pick up the ones for the boys.

On Christmas morning, the kids were super excited, of course. The older boys opened their stockings and went to play outside so we could sleep in until six or so, when Dominic got up. He was very confused as to why there were MORE gifts. He kept saying that he’d already opened his and the presents were all done.

Here are my gifts from the boys. Dante made me a stand up fireplace and Dorian wrote me some stories. So cute!

The kids got several games this year. In fact, most of their gifts were shared! We’ve had a lot of fun playing Candyland and Spot It over the past few days. These are awesome games because all three kids can join in the fun.

You’ll recall that we were also making the kids some gifts. They turned out really well!

All three boys got hobby dragons (like hobby horses, but cooler).

hobby dragons

hobby dragon

Dominic got a set of wooden cookies for matching. He loves playing with these and has been building houses and towers, as well, not just playing matching games.

If you’re wondering why these pictures are such lousy quality, it’s because my camera is on its last legs and most of these were taken with my phone camera . . . which is not very modern. :)

On the 25th, we had Melvin, Alejandra and Sofia 3 over for Christmas dinner. Then, we went to their wedding on the 26th! Pretty cool. We’ve decided to make it a tradition to have our own Christmas dinner, despite attempts from my MIL to ruin it all. It was so much fun being with people we enjoy being around! Plus, Sofia is really getting to love being around her cousins and they all adore her.

Works in Progress

As usual this December, I’ve been slammed with work. Last minute projects that everyone wants finished up before the holidays, but I think this year has been even worse than last . . . thanks to being on Elance. I’m still finishing up a couple of projects and Christmas is just a few days away.

We ended up finding some awesome deals on some games for the boys this year, so they’ll be getting several. I’m very excited because I actually found a copy of Candyland for them to play. They’ve been obsessed with it since they found a mod for Candyland in Minecraft and have asked to buy the game for months now. Well, I found it and cheap, so there will be some very happy little boys on Christmas morning.

However, we do like to give them some handmade stuff, too and despite working so much (Irving has been working nearly every day, as well) we managed to come up with some fun ideas. I designed these dragon heads to become hobby dragons and Irving cut them out of wood.

hobby dragon in progress

Irving took the boys to his band’s Christmas party today so I could work and while they were gone, I put some paint on the dragons. They’re far from being finished, but I think I’ll make it.

dragon hobby horses

We are also making a wooden cookie matching game for Dominic, since many of the games are a bit too old for him yet. I saw it on a Montessori website and figured we could easily make them. Irving has cut out 24 wooden circles and sanded them, so now it’s up to me to get them painted by Christmas! I figure I’ll sew up a little bag to put the cookies into, though a cookie jar would be more appropriate.

Are you handmaking any gifts this year?

Dorian Turns Nine

I have a nine year old. How weird is that? Dorian’s birthday was on the 14th, but we celebrated over two days since Irving had to work on the actual date.

First, the cake. Dorian is obsessed with Garfield right now, having read something like 10-12 Garfield books that my sister brought down, in a month! So, naturally, his cake was Garfield. I can’t say how fun it was to do a non-zombie theme for the first time in years!

Garfield cake

Dorian requested bacon and eggs for breakfast and we had pizza for lunch. After breakfast, the boys played with their new Slugterra blasters and played with Dorian’s Doctor Dreadful – Alien Autopsy.

Doctor Horrible Alien Autopsy

Alien Autopsy Intestines

Nice and gross. You didn’t think we’d have a birthday without ANY gore, did you? ;) The boys really enjoyed playing with the Alien Autopsy, especially with the oobleck stomach contents. There is a vibrating motor under the alien that makes the stomach contents crawl up and look like worms wiggling out and then back down again. It’s actually pretty cool.

Supposedly the candy is all edible, but the stomach was basically tiny cookie crumbs in cornstarch, with water added, so that was pretty unappetizing. They tasted it and then just watched it crawl around for a good 15 minutes. The intestines were far more appetizing and involved squeezing blue goo into the intestinal cavity with a syringe which everyone had to try. That produced a kind of gummy candy that you had to fish out of the liquid . . . perfectly gross fun.

The second part of the celebration was going to Florencia yesterday. We took along Sofia and her parents and everyone had a blast! The kids ran and rolled and played until they were exhausted while the adults supervised and cooked up some meat and potatoes on the built-in grills. It was very relaxing.

Florencia

Iximche: Visiting an Ancient Civilization

While my sister, Caily, was here, we tried to get in a few ruins visits. We went to San Francisco, which she’d seen before, as well as the ruins at La Merced. But, by far the best adventure we had was a trip to Iximche in Tecpan, about 1 1/2 hours from Antigua. We packed a simple picnic lunch and headed out after some baked goods deliveries (more on that in a future post).

Iximche Guatemala

The ruins were incredible. Despite having been in Guatemala for well over a decade, I’ve never been to any Mayan ruins. Even the boys were impressed. We had talked about the Mayans and studied a little before we went, but reading a few articles on the topic was NOTHING compared to actually seeing the old temples and plazas and being able to walk across palace floors.

Temple in Iximche

Only the bases of the temples remain, but they are still pretty darn impressive. Here, Dante and Irving in Plaza A.

Another temple, in Plaza B, I believe.

Plaza B, Iximche

This was inside the royal palace. While the walls are long gone, you can still see where everything was.

ruins

I wonder what these were for? Irving and I have decided that we need to learn a bit more about Mayan architecture.

This is a terrific place for kids! There were things to climb and lots of open space for running. They were EXHAUSTED by the end of the day. As were we, but they ran around about ten times more than we did.

At the back of the town, there is this lovely little path . . .

ruins path

Which leads to this, a sacrifice site. Just beyond this is a very steep drop off that made me nervous with the boys. There are also bathrooms back there. The Mayan people still come here on auspicious days to celebrate.

Mayan Sacrifice

On the way out, there is a little museum. It’s not terribly interesting, but it does have a model of the site and some artifacts found there, including these skulls, which were apparently stabbed with obsidian knives (also displayed in the museum).

Mayan skulls

Overall, it was a fun day trip and a great place to take the family. We’ll be going back once we’ve learned more about the history. It’s so weird to think of this as the boys’ heritage!

Simple Nativity Suncatchers

We decided to make some nativity suncatchers, inspired by this post, today. We needed a simple activity since three of us have been sick over the past few days, but something that would keep everyone occupied for a bit since Irving is playing gigs pretty much every day and three hyper boys are a little much for this under-the-weather mama when they are going all day long!

nativity suncatchers

I pre-cut the nativity scenes out of black construction paper and put them on contact paper with help from Dante. Then all three boys put squares of tissue paper over the whole thing.

nativity suncatchers

We sealed the back with another layer of contact paper and then trimmed the pictures and hung them in the window so they were backlit. They all turned out really well!

nativities

The order, from top to bottom is Dorian, Dante and Dominic. As you can see, even toddlers can get great results!

Nativity