Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Isn't It Ironic, Don't You Think?

Yes, this is the correct time stamp. I admit to sometimes manipulating my posts' time stamps to reflect when I wish I had had time to write promptly. Well, today at 4:00 a.m. I guess I have time to post since I'm still wide awake anyway.

It all started about half an hour ago. Actually, it all started last night, but 3:33 a.m. is when I woke up with no chance of getting back to sleep any time soon. I just find the situation too funny.

Last night the kids begged and begged us to let them sleep in a tent outside. We didn't have time to set up a real tent, and we were afraid they would be eaten alive by the clouds of mosquitoes we've had this summer if they slept in the open air. So we turned them down. However, they were determined, and frankly, they wore me and Kent down with their petitioning. With their promises that we, their parents, wouldn't have to lift a finger for this endeavor, we let them sleep in their toy tipi. It only stands five feet tall, and I don't know how the square footage accommodates them all, but they managed to fit four pillows, sleeping bags, and children in there.

We gave several words of advice:

1. Cover yourselves in bug repellent.

2. Leave the sliding door slightly open so no one gets locked out during the night.

3. (From Kent) Lay down a tarp so the sleeping bags don't get wet. [Of course, he meant so they wouldn't get wet from the morning dew on the ground.]

4. (From sarcastic me) Try not to let the sprinklers bother you when they come on at three in the morning.

*Note: I didn't know Kent had given his advice about the tarp until I saw them dragging one out during their setup, and they told me what he had said.

Of course, wanting to prove themselves worthy and capable of sleeping outside, they attended to our advice as much as possible, sensing (correctly) that if they became a nuisance at any point during the night, they would not get to repeat this adventure. They even piped down permanently when I called out at 10 p.m. that they were talking too loudly. I had fully expected giggles and shrieks and games of tag at midnight; but they were on good behavior, and I didn't hear a peep from them after that.

I smiled ironically to myself when, at 10:40 p.m. the mosquito abatement truck finally started the rounds on our street for the first time this year. He made several passes with his flashing lights and noisy sprayer pump. Any neighbors who might have been asleep were now awake, and my children were now coated in repellent AND mosquito death spray.

Skip ahead to 3:33 a.m.

#3 knocked on my bedroom door and cautiously came in. When I moaned and rolled over and asked her what she wanted, she sheepishly replied, "One of the sprinklers is really big and we can't get away from it. Could you turn just that one off?"

What? The sprinklers really did come on?!

We've had the system turned off since last Thursday because a line broke. Kent fixed it last evening. When I made my sarcastic little comment to the kids, I thought about the likelihood that the sprinklers would actually come on and decided it wouldn't happen. The system is set to water the lawn every eight days, so really, what are the chances that my kids would get watered? (Yes, I was too lazy to make sure the interval hadn't worked through the eight days while the water had been turned off all weekend.)

My earlier laziness now forced me to put on my bathrobe and head for the sprinkler box in the garage at 3:30-ish a.m. On the way, I noticed a lamp in the front room was turned on.

I adjusted the lawn sprinkler interval to stay off for another day, and #3 tentatively asked, "Are you sure you turned off the big sprinkler?"

"I turned off ALL the sprinklers. I'm sorry you got wet."

After our comments about the sprinklers and the tarp, the kids thought the sprinklers were a necessary evil. They spent half an hour moving the tarp, sleeping bags, and tipi around the yard trying to avoid the cycle of sprinklers before working up the courage to send #3 with the request to turn off just one of the sprinkler heads. (I guess they don't really understand how a sprinkler system works.) Someone must have inadvertently locked the sliding door following a late-night bathroom trip, because she couldn't get in from the deck. Instead, she walked through the wet grass to the front door and rang the doorbell. That must have woken Edwin up, who didn't know how to help them; but he left the lamp on (which also illuminates his quarters) for #3 while she worked up the nerve to wake me.

It became a sleepless night for all of us. Except #1 who spent the night at Grammy's with a friend. Although, knowing Grammy, they are probably also awake watching a movie or talking.

Kent frequently tells me that the great thing about camping is the bonding that happens when the family works together to fix everything that goes wrong. The problems that arise during a camping trip might be annoying at the time, but they make for good--or at least fond--memories. Looks like our family doesn't even have to leave home to get these kinds of experiences.


Monday, July 11, 2011

The Memory is the First Thing To Go

Today the chiropractor asked me if anything new and unusual happened to me over the weekend. My answer: I became the mother of a teenager.

On the morn of her birthday, with her present in hand, I crawled into bed with #1. I brutally hugged her awake and proclaimed, "Happy Birthday!" She rolled over and said, "Oh yeah. Oh yeah! It IS my birthday." I'd always thought my memory started declining when sleepless nights with this same child as a newborn started sucking away my brain cells. Now I know: teenage brains really aren't all there from the get-go. It's going to be a long road until she gets her pink slip on life as an adult; I'm sure the time will fly by.

Her Aunt Carolyn brought Grandpa Al's old guitar--I mean, "The Carlos"--down to Provo yesterday and presented it with her gifts. #1 has been wanting to take guitar lessons for quite some time, so maybe now that can become a reality. (Anyone want to teach her in exchange for piano lessons from yours truly?) She had #2 take these pictures of her with her cool new instrument. (I hope The Carlos survives our family of five curious kids. It--he?--almost didn't make it through today as one small pair of hands repeatedly grabbed it from another.)

Happy birthday sweetie!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Mexico Work Project: Saturday

Seeing as how Kent is now in Mexico again with another work project, I should probably tell you how the last one ended so you know what a pleasant day he can look forward to this Saturday. (Yes I messed with the time stamp on this post. I'm actually typing this a month late; but I want it to flow on my blog better, which is why it's in July.)

Saturday is the same with every work project. We clean up the camp, pack the cars, and head over to the orphanage to donate our leftover food and to play and say goodbye. The kids sang to us, we sang to them, and I cried through most of it.

Some of the young girls watched me quizzically, wondering why I was crying. Kent of course asked me to explain myself, which I couldn't do without creating more tears, which he found amusing. The tears were two-fold. Throughout the week, I was amazed by how happy and loving and service-oriented these children were. All of them came from bad situations, most from sexual or physical abuse. But none of them ever came across as victims to me. It was as if because they all come from similar backgrounds and find themselves together, they can move on and be helpful, happy people. Beyond that, I was struck with great gratitude for the full-time caregivers at the orphanages. At Buena Vida, Gabriel and Meche are a young couple with their own baby. Yet just a few months ago, they committed to essentially be foster parents for an ever-growing number of children. Their orphanage relies solely on donations, the majority of which come through A Child's Hope Foundation. They scrimp and plan, and even though they don't always know when or where the food and clothing and supplies will come from, they move ahead in this great work. The orphanage started with eleven children a couple years ago, and they now have 32 kids. I am amazed at the faith and love and patience of these good people who work to improve their situation so they can house and protect more children. Again, I was overcome with gratitude for good people like them. So my tears we happy ones. It was good to work closely for a week with good people: volunteers, children, and caregivers alike.

After saying goodbye, we drove a few minutes to La Fonda for breakfast. La Fonda is an oceanside restaurant that has been around for decades. Sitting there eating banana pancakes while watching dolphins and surfers and chatting with new friends is a very peaceful way to enjoy--and say goodbye to--Mexico.

With full tummies, we all hug and then disperse to our separate vehicles and make a run for the border.

The average wait time to cross the border in Tijuana is two hours, which means a little extra time to shop. We always get some hot churros from the vendors weaving between cars, and Kent and I even hopped out of the van for 20 minutes to browse the shops on the side of the road. Eventually we made it to the border, flashed our passports, and cruised into the U.S., where the stark contrast between the two countries is at once obvious. It is amazing to me that this little line drawn across a street determines a great deal about how a person born on either side will live out his or her life:

In a matter of hours we were landing in Salt Lake and picking up our kids, grateful to be home and grateful for the enrichment we'd had all week.

No matter how hard I work during these projects, I always come away feeling uplifted and blessed by the service to me of those whom I went to serve.

That is part of the reason I am excited to be working officially with the foundation. Beginning at the end of July, I am taking Sarah's place as Administrative Assistant/Work Project Coordinator at the foundation. With all five of my kids starting school, I'll have a few hours each week that I can give to the foundation, and I hope to take on more responsibilities there as my children get older.

Click the link if you want to learn more about A Child's Hope Foundation.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Mexico Work Project: Friday

Friday is always the last day a group has to finish up work at the orphanages. When we took our family in December one year, the kids stayed hard at work sanding 20 benches our group had built for a chapel.

The rest of the group came at crunch time to finish the staining.

This last trip, part of the group finished work on the roof...

...others built walls for the girls' bathroom...

...but I was excited to help three other gals with a landscaping project. All we had to do was prep a large planting bed for the two dozen plants that had arrived fresh from a garden center. I took my shovel to work some manure and compost into the soil...and broke about half an inch into the dirt. (Note: While soil is a lovely thing, dirt is a four-letter word.) The dirt had been so compacted by years of little feet running over the bed that we had to use pick axes to break it up before turning in the amendments. You can see our determination to conquer the land!

About three hours into my pick-axe workout, a group of the children saw our plight and pitched in. It turns out I can be even a little hardened against orphans. The single ladies all thought the kids and their efforts at breaking gorund were so cute. I, however, thought someone was going to lose an eye. So the mother in me sent them to the other end of the planter to shovel manure and stay out of our way. (I think the kids knew I was blowing them off a little.) But when the de-roofers finished and picked up shovels to help, the kids realized their work was useful, even if they didn't get to swing sharp, heavy objects with me.

We ran out of time to put the plants in, but we left a bed full of rich, soft soil for another group to do the easy work sometime.

We had to hurry and eat to pack in some carbs for another game of soccer. This time we would play the Buena Vida kids, who are younger than the first team we played, and Kent assured us that victory was imminent. I even volunteered to play fullback, and was happy to discover that I am more coordinated as an adult and got a few good blocks in. Thanks to my prowess, we gave up only four goals in 30 minutes to these younger, "less-experienced" kids...without a single score of our own. To end the embarrassment--and before they thought to ask for a soda pop prize--we distracted them with the option of going swimming before they could run up the score any more.

BUT, we came up with a devious plan. On the way back to camp to grab our swimsuits, someone suggested that Kent bring a high-school soccer team down for a work project sometime. I love it!

We met the Buena Vida kids at the town pool, which is supposed to be heated by natural hot springs. In fact, Kent had communicated with the pool owners before hand to ensure that we would have warm water. Well, actually he asked for "sopa de ninos", hoping we would be swimming in a giant hot tub. The owners, not wanting to lose 54 potential patrons, conveniently forgot to mention that a pump or something to the hot spring wasn't working, so the water was more the temperature of a refreshing mountain spring. Kent was miffed and said he would only pay for those who actually swam. He spent the rest of the outing reading in the van. But the children, who are oblivious to chilly water, jumped right in and the volunteers followed them. We had a fun time splashing and playing chicken and cooling (way) off.

To show their thanks, Buena Vida invited us all to dinner. They served a special treat, which the kids don't get very often: fish tacos!

Kent and I ate with a couple of the boys who are his favorites there. (Yes, we have favorites, just like most parents. I mean, we love all our kids, but we just click with some people better than others. Fellow parents, am I right? Don't deny it!)

Dinner turned into another evening of face painting, games, manicures, and hair styling. Yeah, kind of like a huge slumber party. We kept those kids up way past bedtime!

Eventually we had to say goodnight and wrap up the day with our fireside and a couple rounds of telephone charades.

The game in a nutshell: One player tries to get the next player to understand a series of selected clues (person, place, and thing) who then communicates those clues to the next player--all through charades and jibberish. When Kent was chosen by the group as one of the clues, I had the pleasure of acting him out. I'm pretty sure that imitating his dancing sold it. For Kent's turn, his impression of Justin Bieber had everyone laughing.

Playing and laughing with friends is a great way to wrap up a day of hard work.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Mexico Work Project: Thursday

Thursday was an early day for most of the group. It was a chance to serve breakfast to the children in Tijuana before they headed off to school. These kids come from families who have built homes in the city's old dump, using materials that were discarded. Kent and I went on this outing together a few years ago, and it was the highlight of that trip for me. This time around, leaving at 4:30 a.m. sounded unappealing, so we and a couple others stayed at camp to fix a late breakfast for the rest of the group upon their return.

A little mission has built a kitchen and dining room along with a chapel to provide this daily meal for the children. Volunteers show up early to prep the food, serve it, and clean up afterward.

This time around, they also had a quick birthday celebration before school. Lauren is the one cutting the cake. She is a volunteer from California who fell in love with this work and has lived at Door of Faith for almost two years. She manages the visiting volunteer groups and is our go-to person when we're on site at the orphanage.

Following breakfast, volunteers usually have a bit of time to play with the kids and get in a quick tour of the neighborhood. Look at how the houses are built almost on top of each other.

Check out the power grid that residents have created.

Who said tobogganing wasn't a sport in Baja?

The two things I love about the people at the dump are their ingenuity (did you see those walls built from old tires?) and their self-respect. The children who came for breakfast were clean with neat clothes, many in school uniforms. The girls had their hair carefully styled. And they were all happy. When I was cleaning dishes, two little boys brought me flowers for my hair as a thank you gift. There is always a sense of gratitude from those good people, and never entitlement.

Because the majority of our group had waken early, we gave them the option of resting up for our big soccer game against another orphanage that afternoon. A few of us, though, went back to Buena Vida to work on building a bathroom for the girls' dorm. Our job was to make the floor. It was interesting to learn how to mix cement by hand...and it made me grateful for cement trucks. That heavy stuff is hard work!

Kent had prepped us mentally for that afternoon's activities. The group would all travel to Casa de Paz Orphanage in the valley above Ensenada, where we would deliver supplies, play with the kids, and most importantly DEFEAT THE ORPHANS AT SOCCER for the first time ever! Every trip, the volunteers play against these kids, and every trip we end up buying sodas for said kids because they ALWAYS win. But Kent assured us that was not going to happen this time!

The half hour drive is beautiful. The valley is covered with vineyards and olive groves. Kent kept our "team" pumped up--or at least entertained--with his music and dance moves in the van.

In no time at all, the game was on!

Admittedly, we had the advantage in numbers. I think it was six of them versus a dozen or so of us.

Within 10 minutes, we had four goals unanswered by them. They were probably making us feel good about ourselves, because at that point the tide turned.

After they ran the score up to ten goals against our original (and only) four, we called it quits.

You'll notice that I was only behind the camera. Soccer brings up bad childhood memories, so I was happy to watch from the side and jump rope with a few of the kids. By the time the game ended, I had learned a new jump rope song; but it was in Spanish, so I have no idea what we were singing!

We wrapped up our time at Casa de Pas by making crafts...

...and making good on our loser's treat.

While Kent was off buying soda, I fell in love with this little three year old. During the end of the soccer game, he stood next to me on the picnic bench, wrapped his little arm around my neck and pointed with his free hand to the players. When the field was empty, his caregiver blew bubbles, which he happily chased for half an hour. (He reminds me of #5.)

In the evening we headed to Ensenada for shopping and dinner. Sometimes we do our shopping in Rosarito. Either way, without fail someone always buys a sombrero and a serape.

Luchador masks are also popular, and on past trips my kids have always found the candy store.

I've learned to buy small, easily packed items, such as jewelry, which I selected while Kent enjoyed a seated massage out on the street.

Kent always takes the group to his favorite restaurant in Ensenada. He loves the birria there.

Birria is basically a bowl of meat in soupiness that you eat with corn tortillas. I'm not a big fan, but it is fun to enjoy Kent enjoying it. On his trip this past April, someone promised $1,000 to the foundation if Kent would eat the serrano chili from his plate. Kent's throat swelled and turned red and he desperately searched for something to take away the burn, but he earned that donation!

I'm including a picture from 2008 where I'm sitting with the Bratt Family. Perry is the president of A Child's Hope Foundation and has led most of the work project trips with Kent. He just happened to not be able to come this time around.

Adios for now!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mexico Work Project: Wednesday

Somehow I ended up on kitchen duty a few trips back, so Wednesday morning I get to wake up an hour before the group and make breakfast with whomever has volunteered to help me that day. (It's really not a big deal, since I wake up early on my own anyway. I just think it's funny that my role as cook is always assumed. I used to cook for 50-60 employees at Jacob Lake Inn each night, which turned out to be good preparation for this little work project role.)

After breakfast, the whole group headed to Door of Faith Orphanage (DOFO) for a tour of their facilities peppered with Q&A about their philosophy and how they manage the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of 100+ kids. I won't go into that here, but it is amazing how smoothly they operate and care for their very large family. It comes from many years of trial and error and the wisdom and experience of their staff of 27 caregivers and long-term volunteers.

Kent usually wanders off to prep for the work we'll be doing, but I always love to tag along on the tour. Here are some photos of recently completed projects at DOFO.

The new dorm for elementary-aged boys. The wing on the left is a library, and the wing on the right is the barber shop. (Can you imagine keeping up with haircuts for over 100 children?!)

I love the bright colors of the buildings, inside and out. Fun tile murals are everywhere, too. Check out the tile in the new boys' dorm:

This year a landscaper came down with a volunteer group and turned a packed dirt bed into a lovely and productive vegetable garden. Some of the kids get to help maintain it, and the food goes straight to the kitchen and poorer families in the community.

Here are some interior shots of the baby dorm, which was built largely by ACHF over the course of several work projects. While the DOFO kids have their routines and jobs to stick to, this is the one building where volunteers are always welcome to come play with the babies.

After the tour, we have to pull the volunteers away from the children and get to work!

Kent divides the group into smaller teams to work on different projects at Door of Faith Orphanage and Buena Vida Orphanage. This trip our group was asked to gently demolish the old boys' dorm, starting with the roof. We were being careful to save materials, which DOFO had promised to neighbors in La Mision who needed to make repairs to their homes. I spent Tuesday pulling nails from plywood. A smaller group put in a track for a sliding gate at Buena Vida and painted some of their dorms. Other typical work projects include laying block walls, framing interior walls, applying stucco and paint for exteriors, landscaping, and pouring cement floors and paths. When we have families with us, the children are typically put to work painting or scraping mortar alongside the adults building walls.

I usually give Kent a hard time because he does very little "work" on these work project trips. I see him doing a lot of this:

Sure, I know someone has to coordinate the projects and drive people to work sites and fetch the tools and track down directions from the orphanage directors. It's just hard not to covet his cushy job while the rest of us are swinging hammers in the sun. (I'll also admit that it doesn't get that hot; usually only up to 80 at the highest.) But still...

This trip, however, I witnessed a miraculous thing. Kent put on his work gloves...

...and picked up...

...a granola bar! (Bossing people around all morning works up a person's appetite!)

Oh yeah. Then he picked up a sledge hammer--so I really should cut him some slack.

Between 1:00 and 2:00 p.m., we put away the tools and took our lunch the taco stand! Then we took a vote to see who wanted to go to the beach. The result was 20 to one in favor of the beach, with Kent being the only naysayer. When I realized a few years ago how much he doesn't like the beach, I had to consider that maybe some people just simply don't enjoy the peaceful sound of the tide and the soft sand between their toes. After our vote, I've concluded that the rest of us do like those things, and I married the only person alive who isn't enchanted by the beach. Oh well. Marriage is about sacrifice, so Kent came with us and didn't complain once...though he was really excited when I suggested we go warm up in the van and get the group headed back to camp. (The Pacific Ocean is COLD!)

(Did you notice in that last photo, where Kent gets to have chili-lime coconut, he is almost smiling while at the beach?)

After cleaning sand off our clothes, we went back to Buena Vida for dinner and we spent the evening doing what always becomes the group's favorite activity: playing with the orphans until bedtime.

This cutie is Mia. She is a tiny five-year-old who wouldn't speak but only made cute cat noises once her face was painted. She went from person to person encouraging us to pet her head. I wish I could bring her home--along with about four other kids!

What I always love about these kids is that our groups bring games and crafts for the orphans' enjoyment, and the kids always turn it around and make things for Americans.

After saying goodnight to the kids, we wrapped things up with a nice devotional and a hilarious round of phone charades, which I will tell you more about on Friday's post when we had a repeat performance.

Nighty night!