January 2008

It is SO cold. We’re talking minus thirty-something, and colder with the wind chill factor. Welcome to winter. We are fine, though. The boys are “doing school”, the collie gets to sleep in the porch at night, and we are staying warm. Note how I am responding to the situation with an attitude of gratitude, rather than complaining! (See previous post.)

There have been a few challenges though, and that is what makes life interesting, so…

The car has been sick. It was losing anti-freeze, so I took it into the shop last week. They flushed the rad and cleaned stuff up, but didn’t find a leak. Anti-freeze continued to disappear, however, so back into the hospital went the car. Dr. Andy diagnosed the problem, recommended a treatment, performed surgery, and called to say the patient was ready for pick-up. This was the day the blizzard hit, so I said I would try to get into town the next day to pick it up.

The next day, however, snow drifts covered our driveway. Lyndon had told me to phone our neighbour Ernie if I needed anything. I hemmed and hawed, but finally phoned him to see if he could clear the yard for me. He came by, said he would be happy to help, and said he could give me a ride in later to pick up the car. Yay for neighbours! Around 4:00 I was on my way into town to finally liberate my car. Sadly, when I arrived the car would not start, even though it had been plugged in. Turns out the cord to the block heater was not working. Back into the shop went the car while I caught a ride home with Nannette from the shop. She said she would bring the car out for me the next day. Okay, it’s all good… not.

That evening Tyson came downstairs to say there was no water in the tap. I tried to run water at the sink and sure enough, nada. I knew right away what the problem was; the pipe had frozen in the dugout. A phone call to Lyndon to see if there was anything I could do about it (no) and then a family meeting to determine where to poo (downstairs bathroom), where to pee (upstairs bathroom), and how to dispose of any toilet paper. Sigh. It feels like we are back in Mexico.

How timely these chapters on “living with a grateful attitude rather than a complaining attitude” are. I’m trying! The conversation I had with my neighbour, Ernie, has helped. He admonished me over and over to not hesitate to phone with any problem I might have, reminding me of the things Lyndon has done to help him over the last few years. “That’s what neighbours are for,” he told me, using the example of the movie Pay it Forward to remind me that if we each help someone else, the goodness just keeps on going. Thanks, Ernie. I needed that.

It is a chilly Saturday morning. Lyndon is downstairs watching cartoons with the boys. We are going to the Mitchell’s for supper tonight, to remember and rehash the Mexico experience. Colton has had a tough week. He has been dragging around the house since the flu bug got him earlier. I think we all have a case of the January blahs.

Colton is my middle son. He is such an interesting young man, turning eleven next month. He has always been a friendly, easy-going, funny boy. Even as a baby, he was happy and content, with a chuckle that made everyone laugh with him. It has been difficult, as his mom, to watch him struggle academically.

Colton has always loved learning, especially about animals (specifically) or nature (generally). He would pore over the pages of our nature books, repeating the words I had read to him many times. He has amassed an incredible knowledge of the natural world, mainly through videos or by having books read to him. But, at the beginning of the last school year, Colton could barely read. He struggled to sound out simple words, and trying to get through a basic story book was torturous for him and for me. It was so painful to watch him try so hard for so little reward. Recognizing his struggles, I began a few years ago to try to find a way to help him.

I knew that as a homeschooling family, we had the option of requesting help from the school board. But, I really did not want to go that route if at all possible. We are not part of that system, and I thought there would be better options for us. At a homeschool conference, I attended the lectures given by Elizabeth Harms, a neurodevelopmentalist, who began and works out of the Hope Centre for NeuroEducational Development in Quill Lake, Saskatchewan. Although Colton’s struggles were not as severe as many of the children Elizabeth works with, she was able to give me some strategies and some direction to begin with.

Then, as an answer to my prayers, I became aware of a young woman named Faith Smith. Faith was a teacher’s aide in the Kincaid school, which is about 30 minutes drive from here. But she had previously trained as a reading specialist, and was still taking clients in her spare time. I contacted her and she came and assessed Colton in our home, where she discovered he was reading at a low grade 1 level. Although that was no surprise to me, it was another arrow in my heart to see it in black and white. Faith agreed to work with Colton, and we set up appointments twice a week, for an hour each time. One day a week, I would load everyone up and we would drive to Kincaid, where the other boys and I would wait in Faith’s living room while Colton and Faith had a class together. The other day, Faith would drive to our place to meet with him. It was a long haul, but by the end of the school year, Colton was reading above his grade level, and has steadily improved as he continues to read for enjoyment. I am so thankful that God brought Faith into our lives.

What a difference reading has made for Colton. He devours books now, especially books about his beloved animal world. He said to me recently, “Mom, I can’t imagine what it would be like to not be able to read!” It has enhanced his love of learning so much.

While on our recent trip, I was struck again with Colton’s love of learning about the world around him. After we left Mexico, some of us spent an afternoon at Sea World. This experience was a highlight for all of us, but especially for Colton. It was a joy to watch him soak up the atmosphere and take in all of the exhibits and shows. He was almost vibrating! I wish we could have spent more time there. My dad commented several times on how much fun it was to watch Colton experience Sea World.

Colton also loves to share his knowledge and experiences with others, so if you only have a minute, don’t ask him about Sea World. It will take him a while to tell you all about the dolphins, sharks, penguins, rays, sea lions… But, you will get to see his eyes light up!

Oh, I am having such a struggle with my little boy. He always has been a mama’s boy, but the trip to Mexico has made him an I-am-joined-at-the-hip-to-my-mama’s boy. We sat together and slept together on the train coming and going, and he slept in the girl’s cabana with me while we were there. Add to that the absence of Dad during the week, and recent sicknesses, and I am really starting to pull out my hair. It isn’t that I don’t love him, or that I don’t love being with him. But I need a little time to myself! So I am downstairs in the school room while he is upstairs in my bed waiting for me and crying and calling “How long will you be?” every few minutes. I feel like a terrible, insensitive mother. What would the Atachment Parenting crowd say? Oh, my.

I am reading a book, Lord, Change my Attitude (Before it’s too Late), by James MacDonald. We are using it in our small group study. I haven’t read very far yet. I seem to have a hard time concentrating lately on anything that requires actual thought or personal contemplation. (Pause to listen to “Mom, are you almost done, sniff, sniff, I thought you loved me, don’t you care about me more than that computer, sniff, sniff, if you really loved me you wouldn’t leave me up here all by myself”.) I think it will be a good book, though. The first two chapters are titled, Replace a Complaining Attitude… With a Thankful Attitude. (Pause and turn around to face a tearful little face… “I just want to give you a hug, are you almost done, when are you coming upstairs?”)

Sigh… I am truly THANKFUL, Lord, for this little one who is growing up so quickly. I am thankful that he still believes his mama will make everything safe for him. Thank you for all three of my precious treasures.

And now, goodnight. I have a little man upstairs who needs me.

It is building up to a full-scale Saskatchewan blizzard. Outside, the wind in howling and the snow is blowing in all directions at once. The sound is so much like the sound of the ocean. But, the temperature is not at all reminiscent of our time in Mexico.

I was going to write on Monday, as that would have marked two weeks since we arrived home. However, I spent Sunday night in the bathroom with two sick boys. Colton and Carter both came down with the flu at the same time. I fell victim on Monday. How does a homeschool family do sick days? Well, this family camped out in the school room, where we pulled out the hide-a-bed, plugged in some movies, and vegged. Tyson, bless his heart, was the only one feeling well. He brought us apple juice and ginger ale, made lunch and supper for the boys (mom wasn’t feeling like eating), and changed movies as required. And he did it all with an awesome, serving attitude. (It may have helped that he did not have to do any school work that day!)

So, two weeks have passed since we arrived back in Saskatchewan. Life has returned to normal (whatever that is) and our Mexico experience is behind us. I have spent a lot of time reflecting on things since we returned. But first, let me tell you about Zorrillo.

The first day we drove into Zorrillo, all of my senses were fine-tuned. I didn’t want to miss anything. We bumped along the road (Saskatchewan roads are nothing compared to the roads in Zorrillo) as we passed small businesses, and then houses of all variety, from tarp shacks to “respectable” looking homes. There were dogs everywhere, all of which seemed to be strays. People walked along the streets, looking at us as we looked at them. I was surprised to see a beauty shop on one corner.

Most of the houses were surrounded by a fence of some sort, either makeshift or perhaps chain link. Several fences were covered with laundry drying in the sun. The streets were littered with garbage. Everything seemed to be a shade of brown or gray, from the streets to the buildings to the hills surrounding the main part of the town. In a few minutes, we arrived at the school.

The school buildings sit on a fair chunk of land surrounded by a chain link fence. The buildings that were built last summer line one end of the school yard. The playground is in that area. The entire time we were there, the playground was never without children. At the other end of the yard there now sits two preschool/kidergarden buildings, one that was there when we arrived, and one that we built.

We climbed out of the van and hauled lunch into the existing kindergarden building that was to be out gathering place while we were there. Chickens pecked at the edge of the school yard. Mexican music was being blasted from someone’s home. We worked to that accompaniment the entire week. I glanced across to see an empty cement pad. Yikes, was there really going to be a classroom there in a few days! (The boys were excited to hear that when the pad had been poured a few days earlier, the workers had seen a tarantula with two babies on her back.) The workers that were already at the site gathered, we all introduced ourselves, and then had our first meal together. Local children gathered at the fringes of our picnic, and were served the first of many lunches. (By the end of the week, we were packing double the number of sandwiches we needed for ourselves, to give to the children that were always there.) And then we got to work.

The job took over the rest of our time and energy while in Mexico. Between working and feeding workers, there was little time left over for anything else. At the end of each day, we would spend a little time after supper singing along with Clint as he played the guitar, or visiting a little, but it wasn’t long before the “old” folks (that means me) were nodding off in our seats. The younger crowd managed to stay up later, spending time at the beach or playing games in the cabana. I think we were all exhausted by the end of the week, but it was very gratifying to stand in front of a finished classroom for a group picture.

So, what have I been reflecting on these past two weeks? One thing that has been in my mind is the thought that I have been “washing away Zorrillo” since I got home. The mountain of laundry, some of which had to be washed twice, is done and the clothes are put away. Colton washed his sea shells and they now sit, clean and shiny, in a bowl on the dining room table. I even threw away our toothbrushes and bought new ones. I have enjoyed, more than I can explain, my clean kitchen, my bed, my home. It still gives me pleasure to be able to flush my toilet and wash my hands, to open my fridge and decide what to eat, to look outside and see the clean, snowy prairie beyond my door. I am almost ashamed at the pleasure it has given me to wash away Zorrillo. I don’t know what that says about me. I haven’t had a chance to be quite that introspective. But I do know that Mexico has wrangled it’s way into my heart. When we arrived in Zorrillo the first day, it was all images – different and even shocking. But when we left, it was the people I saw, not the dirt or the garbage or the squalor. I saw moms and dads and children. I cried when Lapita hugged me and said “God bless you,” the only english I heard her speak the whole week I worked with her. Lyndon and I are already talking about the next trip.

Today is Sunday. Two weeks ago we worshipped with a wonderful group of believers in Zorrillo. It was a beautiful experience. As we walked up to the church building, several of the members waiting ourside came over and shook our hands. It didn’t take Carter long to find some buddies to run around with. The rest of us waited, smiling and nodding at each other because of the language barrier. Someone arrived with a key, and we began filing in.

The building was larger than I expected, and in a few moments it was almost full. We listened as different men led prayers (at the end of each the members all chimed in with AMEN), and several songs were led. Through the translation of Misial, a young man who joined our group on Sunday and stayed with us during the rest of our time in Mexico, we understood they wanted us to sing a song. Brett Mitchell stood up and led us in As the Deer Pants for the Water. After a few minutes, I understood it was time for the children to go to class, so Patty took Zoi and I took Carter and we went outside to the back of the building. There, sitting outside on a covered deck, the preacher’s wife Yolonda taught a children’s class. The children sat on chairs and listened as Yolonda spoke and asked them questions. Carter and Zoi became restless as they couldn’t understand anything, but before long colouring pages and crayons were handed out and everyone was occupied for a while. At the end of the class, Yolonda brought out a box and handed a bracelet to each child. Someone must have donated them. Each bracelet had the name Jennifer on it. The kids were thrilled and I spent several minutes fastening Jennifer ID bracelets on the arms of little boys and girls. Then we all went back into the main building.

Although I had missed the sermon, I learned after that Roy’s son Robbie translated the message given by Franco, the preacher. Franco spoke about caring for others, telling the members that “there are many in our community even poorer than we are.” At the end of the message, he asked Robbie if he would like to say anything. Apparently this is a common practice, to invite the guest to participate. Although Robbie is not a church-goer, he seemed moved by Franco’s message and his request for his comments. Robbie spoke beautifully in Spanish and English about his distress at the inequalities experienced by the Mexican people. He talked about how the things we (North Americans) have and take for granted in the United States and Canada are often due to the poorly paid efforts of Mexican labourers, and how we protect our wealth with violence. His tears as he spoke were shared by those of us who listened.

Finally, we shared communion together. What a beautiful experience. (Part way through, Carter and a new-found friend slipped out of the building and were found in the courtyard, happily throwing dried dog dung at each other. Just another Mexico experience!)

Sunday morning was a highlight of our trip. It was a chance to connect in a personal way with some of the people, and to share our joy in our mutual faith. I met Gloria that morning, a special mother-of-four who I will always remember. She gave me such a warm hug, and I was so happy to see her at the job site that afternoon. She spent much of her time with us over the next few days, singing as she painted with us, her smile lighting up our days.

I am not able to upload my own photos right now, but here are a few that I borrowed from an email sent by Patty.

Here is a beautiful sunset in Zorrillo, as those not height-challenged work to finish the roof.

Working on the roof

This is the almost-finished kindergarden, on the last afternoon. Most of the workers are here, minus a few Canadians who went for a walk.

FinishedWe are loaded up and ready to leave the campground. The bags on the top of Roy and Patty’s van were listing rather alarmingly by the time we arrived in San Diego.

Leaving Zorrillo

The Mexican border is only a few minutes from San Diego. Crossing the border was surprisingly easy; we drove right through. It was dark and we were so tired that the actual trip (about an hour and a half) to the campground is a head-bobbing blur. I remember stopping three times to pay tolls, and feeling the alien-ness of being in a foreign country close in around me. Hearing spanish instead of english, seeing the spanish signs, and simply sensing the difference of it all. I was glad Kimmie was driving.

We arrived at the Villarino Campground at about 5:00 a.m. We dragged our things into the cabins, and crawled into whatever beds were available. As we were going to bed, several of the workers were getting up and preparing to go to the job site.

Lyndon and the two older boys settled into the guys’ cabin. Carter came with me to the girls’ cabin. It didn’t take any of us long to crash, and we didn’t get up until around 10:00 that morning. I kept thinking, throughout the night, that I was at home and it was storming outside. I realized in the morning that I was hearing the ocean surf crashing on the beach, just down the hill from our cabin. What a view as I brushed my teeth outside the cabin the first morning. The campground is on a little bay, and I could see fishing boats and sailing boats in the water. The bay is framed by cliffs, beautiful.

The shower felt great. The water is from a mineral spring, and our hair and skin felt wonderful the entire time we were there. We had our first breakfast, made sandwiches to take to the job site for lunch, organized our luggage and beds a little better as we hadn’t realized we would be split up into separate cabins, and finally headed out on our first trip to Zorrillo. So many things to see on that first ride…

The road from the campground is mined with horrendous speed bumps. As we soon learned, the driving technique consisted of speeding along until almost upon a speed bump, braking suddenly and then bumping over the speed bump, and then accelerating rapidly until encountering the next speed bump. This was, we discovered during the time we were there, especially tricky at night, as the warning signs were typically spray painted and were therefore not reflective. Hence, several bone-jarring, whiplash-producing encounters with speed bumps were experienced. But I digress…

The half hour drive from the campground to Zorrillo was a study in cultural differences. The first part was along a resort area, with several campgrounds and what looked like holiday homes crowded between the road and the beach. It reminded me a little of driving along the Shuswap in British Columbia. We even saw horses tied up to a fence at one spot. A tourist opportunity, I assume. Because it was winter, most of the roadside tamale stands and shops were boarded up. I am sure it would be a much busier place in the summer.

Before long, we were driving through little communities, interspersed with fields and hills. There was little activity in the fields, again because of the time of year. We saw some vegetable crops, and a few bony cows here and there. Winter is a tough time for the people in the villages. Most of them are farm labourers, and there is not enough work during the cold season. I heard that those wanting to work stand along the roads in the mornings, hoping to be picked up by a work truck going to the fields. If they do work, they make about $13.00 a day. Many people are hungry during the winter.

As we drove, the land became hilly with sparse, shrubby trees. The roads were littered with garbage, and mangy-looking dogs wandered everywhere. And then we arrived at Zorrillo…

We’re back! It is so good to be home. Our Mexico adventure was amazing, challenging, rewarding, exhausting… so many things that will take time to really process. I will have to spit it out in small bits here as there is so much to say.

Let me start with Amtrak. I was not sure what to expect. I’ve never travelled by train before. I was definitely surprised by the number of travellers. The trains were completely full the entire trip down. We embarked (note the train verbage) in Glasgow on December 26th. Glasgow is a non-manned station. We piled all of our luggage (there was a ton of it as there were 12 of us) on the platform and waited, and waited, and waited. The train was late. When it did finally arrive there was a mad scrammble to get all of our luggage (and children) onto the train before it pulled out again. A little stressful. The train, as I mentioned before, was very full. Dad, the boys, and I were in one car and the rest were in another car. We were able to gather together in the Observation Car, however, where we played games, read, visited, and watched the scenery. In Whitefish, several skiers detrained, so we shuffled and were able to get seats together.

We stopped in Portland, Oregon, where we had about a four-hour layover. It was nice to get out and stretch our legs. A woman from a church there showed up at the train station with a bag full of food for us, leftover turkey, buns (excuse me, rolls) and other good stuff. We did some ticket-changing in Portland as we had changed our return travel dates. We reorganized our luggage so that we could check some of it through to L.A., and then we went for a walk. Had lunch at a little Mexican fast food place, and looked for a place to buy a few groceries for the rest of the trip. We ended up in an organic grocery store – a first for the ranching members of our travelling party! Dawn tried to take a picture of Clint standing by a display of some kind of organic something-or-other. Management came over and asked us not to take pictures! We did end up with some yummy treats, though. The kids especially enjoyed the lemon and poppyseed scones.

Back on the train, the trip south continued. We saw the backsides of many little towns. We sometimes saw little shacks or tents in the ditches or along the outskirts of various communities. It was so interesting to see the landscape change as we travelled west and then south. We were late arriving in L.A. so ended up on a bus from L.A. to San Diego. Standing on the sidewalk outside the San Diego train station at 2:00 in the morning, waiting for Patty to pick us up, was a rather surreal experience. It was warm and the city was surprisingly quiet. Taxis kept stopping to see if we needed a ride. Finally Patty and her step-daughter Kimmie arrived. We loaded up and headed for the border.

The train was a great way to travel with a group such as we had. The seats were pretty comfortable, we could move around and visit. The kids slept great, and the adults slept okay. We could visit in the Observation Car, or go below to the snack area to buy coffee or junk food. We had packed most of our food with us, as eating on the train was quite expensive. The bathrooms, however, left much to be desired. Frankly, they were disgusting. I don’t know if it was because the trains were so full or if they are always bad, but using the Amtak facilities was not a pleasant experience! And then we got to Mexico….