Our family would like to invite you to share in our journey here in Panajachel, Guatemala.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Mysterious Lights of Panajachel......etc.

So a while back Camden noticed that some of the stars in the sky over Panajachel, upon closer scrutiny, appear to not actually be stars.  If you looked really closely you could see blue and red as well a yellow light.  We got out our second hand store binoculars and sure enough - definitely not your average star.  So Camden started tracking them across the sky.  Sometimes they are in a line of three. There are some with a larger one and smaller one beside them.  They move very slowly - so you can only notice if you are watching for a long period of time.  One night he saw one zig-zag more quikly down to the mountain.  We have had much conversation about this and can expect to find Camden, arms folded staring up at the night sky from our outside hallway each night. 

Two nights ago at trivia night a friend of ours who grew up here in Panajachel arrived very excited.  She and her family had just seen a UFO in the sky over one of the mountains.  It appeared large and saucer shaped over the mountain with lights that were red and yellow.  The lights Camden has seen appear further away.  We were thinking that maybe Camden was seeing satilites.  If what we have been seeing are saucer UFO's there are a lot of them.  Interesting.  I can't believe Camden missed the big show though.  Maybe if he keeps watching.......

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Corn Research Paper

The format looks rather wonky, but at least it's readable.

It spread like a wildfire. From a simple remedial plant, it grew. The people nurtured it,
 cared for it, and altered it to fit their needs. It became a food, and spread out across the land. In
 the hands of many, it grew to fit specific needs. Hard and soft, bright yellow and earthy red. The
 westerners brought it back to their world, and it spread there too. It established itself as a trusted
 source of nourishment to nearly every person alive. It crept into more food; cereal, bread, salad.
 Still it spread, inserting itself into paint, furniture, paper, and fuel. It is still growing.

Corn. From the mountains of North America, to the mountains of South America, this
 one word means much to the people of the western hemisphere. It has been a source of lore,
 profit, and life. But what exactly is corn? In this extremely long essay, we will take a brief look
 at what corn has meant and does mean, how it came to be, and the excessive use of it in modern
 times. Is corn a good thing or a bad thing? What are the true motives behind its current use?

            From its start at not existing, corn quickly spread throughout the Americas. Later, we will
 take a look at how corn was born, but for now we can examine when and how corn was used

The earliest uses of the grain were likely medicinal. The use of corn for healing was
 widely explored by the tribes of North America. Among the many uses were making a corn gruel
 to treat diarrhea, making starches for poison ivy rashes, preventing nosebleeds, and curing
 stomach problems (“Corn,” Indians.org). As corn developed, so did its significance. Eventually,
 it became a staple to many civilizations, including the empire of the Maya. Corn became so vital
 to the existence of so many that it even worked its way into myths that detailed its own birth.

            According to the Maya, as well as many cultures surrounding them, corn was originally a
 secret grain, hidden under a mountain and only accessible to the ants. Eventually, the humans
 learned of the grain and convinced the gods to obtain it for them (Morales, Jaun Hose. “Corn and
 the Maya.” Mundo Maya Online). In addition to this myth, many Native American traditions
 taught that corn came from the mouth of a crow, or that it was delivered as a gift by the Great
 Spirit in addition to beans and squash (the other Native American food staples) (“Native
 American History of Corn.”NativeTech: Native American Technology and Art). In essence, what
 these myths show is a sublime form of respect the indigenous people had for corn, a respect so
 great they associated corn with their gods, the foundations of their universe.

            When Christopher Columbus became the first person to discover the New World (aside
 from everyone that already lived there), Western civilization was introduced to the native
 traditions and culture, part of which was corn. While they persecuted the natives for not
 believing exactly what they did, they did find a value in corn that dates back to the first settler’s
 reliance on the grain. When they came, they planted their own crops from Europe, fully
 expecting them to grow (Herbs Master, “The Use of Corn (Zea Mays) as Traditional Cure and
 Medicine.” HubPages). When they did not, corn was the hero who arrived to support their
 existence. They also came to acknowledge its medicinal purposes, using it for bizarre things such
 as a treatment for dandruff.

            While corn was hugely successful with the New World settlers, the people of Europe
 found little need for it. The grain was treated as just another food, if novel for some time after
 its discovery. Despite this, there is often confusion as to what corn exactly means to Europeans.
 This confusion stems from the fact that the word “corn” actually meant “ears of growth” in
 English, referring to wheat or whatever the standard grain of the local area was. In this case, the
 word does not refer to the grain this essay discusses (“The History of Corn.” Versagrain.com).

            With such a rich history behind it, one may come to wonder: where exactly did corn
 come from? The answer is surprising, as we will soon find out. Throughout corn’s history, it has
 been revered for its simple genius. But the truth of the matter is that corn did not come from
 nowhere. It was made by man himself.

            Yes. Like in a murder mystery in which the investigator suddenly recover from amnesia
 and realizes he is the culprit, corn is a grain that would never have existed were it not for human

            Corn is commonly thought to have begun as a small, 7,000 year old grass now called
 teosinte. As the natives used the grass, they continually used only the samples with the most
 useful attributes, disposing of the rest. As time went on, this allowed these desired qualities to
 become more pronounced. As corn spread throughout the Americas, different attributes were
 favored for different reasons, and as a result the many forms of corn we know of today came to
 be (“The Story of Corn: In the Beginning,” Camp Silos).

            Cornbread, tortillas, and more formed as common uses for corn. As we have already
 discussed, corn was integrated into local myths and legend.

           Corn took its next great step upon its discovery by the European settlers. The versatility
 of its many parts must have captured the imagination of some insane person. It grew alongside
 the United States into the country’s greatest product, used not only as itself, but to improve other
 foods, and not only in foods, but much more.

            And now, finally, after several fleeting mentions of it, we have reached what we truly
 came to discuss: corn as it stands today. Is putting corn in everything good for us? What exactly

            Like Big Brother, corn is everywhere; often disguised by a large, complicated name,
 other times only hidden by the small print of the ingredients list. The average consumer shopping
 at a large chain supermarket is likely buying food with corn in it.
            Of course, to be so omnipresent, one must have numerous ways in which they manifest
 themselves. Corn is no exception to this rule I just came up with.

            Within the realm of snack food, corn’s form is one that many are familiar with: High
 Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS from now on thanks to its exceptionally long name). HFCS is met
 with suspicion by many a person, but Keith-Thomas Ayoob, Ed.D., RD, FADA, boldly claims;

“High fructose corn syrup is just another form of sugar, no better, no worse. Here’s why:
 regular table sugar is sucrose, made up of 50% glucose and 50% fructose. There are two types of
 high fructose corn syrup mainly used in foods and beverages—one is 55 % fructose and the other
 is 42% fructose with the balance for both made up of primarily glucose, almost the same as
 regular table sugar,” (Ayoob, Keith-Thomas. “High Fructose Corn Syrup and ADD/ADHD in
 Children: Is There a Link or Is It a Myth? SweetSurprise.com).

            To be fair, Ayoob’s argument seems valid, and he has three different scientific rankings
 to back him up. However, it is important to note that “researchers at UC Davis and the
 University of Michigan found fructose turns to fat more readily than glucose and it increases the
 level of triglycerides in the bloodstream,” (Wilson, Kelpie. “The Tragic Abuse of Corn.” Energy
 Bulletin. 19 July 2005).

            Most people with a basic knowledge of chemistry understand that even the smallest
 change in molecular structure brings drastic changes. This knowledge, combined with the results
 of the above study, would seem to imply that HFCS does have the negative effects many have

            In any case, the applications of HFCS are questionable. It appears in nearly every
 beverage, condiment, yogurt, baked good, even frozen vegetables, and far more.
 SweetSurprise.com, a website created by the Corn Refiners Association in order to justify the
 uses for HFCS, continually insists that;

"No single food or ingredient is the cause of obesity or overweight children. Eating too
 many calories and getting too little exercise causes it," (Rippe, James M. “HFCS and Childhood
 Obesity.” SweetSurprise.com).

            However, they then go on to list the excessive amount of products HFCS is used to
 improve, a list that stretches so far, even beyond what they list, it renders HFCS an unavoidable
 and every day ingredient! The website cannot justify its claim that, “…it’s not fair to point the
 finger at the sugars themselves but rather the amount of sugars provided…” (Ayoob, Keith-
 Thomas. “High Fructose Corn Syrup and ADD/ADHD in Children: Is There a Link or Is It a
 Myth? SweetSurprise.com) when HFCS is in everything. The website also gives a faux attempt
 at recommending healthy meals, all of which contain HFCS. Many are laughable when thought
 of as nutritious, for example, “Grab ‘n Go Sandwich: toasted whole wheat English muffin with
 American cheese slice, Canadian bacon, cooked egg and glass of orange juice.” (Galeaz, Kim.
 “Teach Your Children the ABC’s of Healthy Eating.” SweetSurprise.com).

            Although HFCS is a major concern, it is far from the only way corn reaches our
 stomachs. One of its more surprising venues is through our meat.

            The concept is simple enough: leftovers from corn production are fed to the animals
 grown to be eaten by us (Wilson, Kelpie. “The Tragic Abuse of Corn.” Energy Bulletin. 19 July
 2005). As a result, the corn nutrients supporting the animals’ body reach us.
 While the subject of meat production in general is an entirely different story, the corn reaching
 us through them may not seem, at least upon first glance, to be harmful.

            When you consider, however, the fact that some form of corn is in almost every food you
 eat, it becomes a major problem. Too much of anything, even something good, is bound to have
 negative side effects, one such example being an allergy to corn. Suddenly, corn in meat is a
 much larger issue. There’s also the fact that cows cannot properly digest corn. Spreading
 sickness that resulted from this was met by the use of antibiotics, something not everyone may
 want to be eating along with their burger.

            Food is only the beginning of corns uses. It has been used in glue, fuel, and so much
 more. When it comes down to it, corn is relied on so heavily that all of civilization would be
 unhinged without it; and maybe that is the greatest problem of all.

            Early on, it was discussed that corn was created by man. And the truth is, it is still
 sustained by him. Without humans to care for it, corn would die out immediately.

            Many would argue corn’s reign cannot continue, however. With each harvest, great
 damage to the surrounding environment is done, perhaps in part due to the continual spraying of
 chemicals over corn crops, which is then washed away and spread throughout the surrounding

            It is clear to see we are caught in a dilemma. We cannot eliminate corn for fear of
 unbalancing our fragile economic system, and we cannot continue for fear of destroying the

            Ironically, the Maya faced a similar problem. The slash and burn techniques they
 employed to grow corn eventually contributed to their downfall, they were destroying far too
 much forest for the process to go on. (“The Rise and Fall of the Mayan Empire.” NASA Science.

            It would be difficult not to attribute at least a grudging respect to corn. It looked innocent,
 and provided life. It won its way through to the modern day, and still lives on through man’s
 support. But is it truly a blessing, or curse already certain in its victory over us? That is for the
 reader to decide.

            As for our chances of continuing on like this, it seems doubtful the production of corn
 can be kept up. It cannot truly be said to be making a profit, and it has been an
 impractical food source for far too long. We can only hope we are ready when even humans can
 sustain it no longer.


Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Living as a minority in another country has opened my eyes in many ways to the struggles of immigrants living in the U.S.  Language and cultural barriers often seem completely overwhelming when trying to accomplish basic, routine tasks.  Just like in the U.S. there are some people who are wonderful and will do anything they can to help you.  There are also others who do not like gringos and will do anything they can to lie, cheat and make your life more difficult.  There are days when we all feel extremely frustrated with it all.

Thankfully, we have some places we can go to alleviate a little of the homesickness we often feel.  One of those places is our favorite hangout, La Palapa.  Picture an outdoor Cheers bar in the middle of Guatemala.  Not only do they have the best hamburger in Central America but it is a place where we can go at any time and talk with other expats from all over the world.  There is a common bond amongst the people on the bar stools in that we are all trying to live a simple life in one of the poorest yet most beautiful places on earth.

Every Thursday night is Trivia Night and anywhere from 25-40 internationals come out for completely random music, movies and (sadly no sports) questions.  The picture above is from one of our championship nights!  Each team pays Q50 to play and winners take home all the money.  It is amazing how just spending a night laughing and talking English can recharge the battery and lift our spirits.

One thing I am sure of is that when I return to the States, I will have an even deeper appreciate and understanding of those from another culture who uproot their lives and begin anew in another country.  Until then, I will remain grateful for the Guatemalan versions of Norm, Cliff, Sam and Diane.     - Brian

Overdue update

Sorry we haven't posted for a long time. You may have seen the pictures that we posted on facebook recently.  Over Thanksgiving we spent time at the hotel of a school board member in Santa Cruz.  It's just a fifteen minute boat ride.  It's absolutely beautiful.  Having Thanksgiving dinner with the expats of Lake Atitlan was great.  Generally the people who gravitate to this area are here for one of two reasons.  If you ask questions about their life and they start giving you evasive answers or cold stares they fall into the group of people who are here to not be found elsewhere. In other words they are hiding from someone - don't get out a camera when they are around.  Other people are here to help with humanitarian efforts.  There are a ton of people here trying to get aid to the Maya people.  (I was told Mayan is a westernization). Also, there are people who have relocated here because it's a beautiful place to be and the cost of living is low.  I think there are some who retire here for that reason. 

I've been teaching art at the school - which is ironic since my brothers are the ones who took all the art classes.  We are having fun though.  It takes a hunk out of my week so getting the laundry all done by hand has been more challenging.  A couple people have told me that I could hire a Maya girl to come in a do it for 10 Q an hour.  So for three dollars for two hours.......quite a dilemma.

We're trying to decide what to do for Christmas.  We may visit more towns around the lake or visit Maya ruins.  We probably won't venture too far.  Cian is still pretty young for long bus rides and hikes.  He will turn four on December 27th.  We found a new playground this week.  There are about sixteen things to play on. I'm pretty sure they are from the 1950's. When we walked in, he just stood staring for a long time.  Then he said he wanted to stay all day and play.  A little girl about nine years old played with him.  Older kids here are so protective of younger kids.  It doesn't even have to be siblings.  They take Cian in and he is included in their community.  He is something of a legend around town.  Where ever we go kids are calling out "hola Cian" or the other nicknames they have given him.  One two year old loves to see Cian.  He says, "hola coche" (bondie).  We'll try to update sooner next time! Jill

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Life in the Hood

Life in our little urban neighborhood continues to go very well.  Despite our ongoing struggles with Spanish, our neighbors go out of their way to befriend us and make us feel at home as the lone gringos on our street.  Any time the front gate is open, our yard fills quickly with little children who come to play with Cian (who is quickly becoming known as "Blanco").

Jill is building friendships with the Mayan women selling their fruits and vegetables at the market.  We continue to be amazed at the low price and incredible taste of fresh food.  Jill also spends every morning doing laundry by hand in our outdoor wash tubs.  She then hangs it on lines in the yard to dry until the afternoon rains start and we frantically move the lines to hang under the covered porch.

Camden just had one of the guys at school give him an entire suitcase full of Lego bricks.  For those of you who know Camden, you realize this is the greatest thing anyone could have done for him!  He is doing great in school and will probably be the first one of us to be fluent in Spanish.

Atira is also doing well at school.  A couple weeks ago we were informed that she now has a "boyfriend".  Since then, I have not slept.  Even typing those last two sentences send me into a panic attack!

Cian knows Pana inside and out as he spends so much time walking the streets with Jill.  He is a local celebrity.  I think everyone in town knows who he is.  He gives people greetings in Spanish and if he isn't sure what to say then he just makes up new Spanish words.  You can see from the picture that he and his friends take their "hide & seek" very seriously.

This weekend as well as Monday and Tuesday is the conclusion of the 2 week long celebration of St Francis' feast day.  The people of Pana definitely know how to appreciate their patron saint.  We will take pictures at the fair during the next 2 days and post them soon.

Thanks for reading!   Brian

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Strange fact: The 7up logo is different here.

Now there may be numerous problems with the corporations these days, but changing the 7up logo is where I draw the line. I used to hold some small hope they still cared. Now that hope has been thrown away, like just so much trash.

How can the world go on, when the very symbol of the 7up industry has been horribly mutilated and disfigured? Who will know, when they buy that Lemon / Lime soda from any Central American store, that it's actually their favorite drink? It a travesty. It's the apocalypse.

And why? What kind of marketing strategy is this sick joke? Is 7up supposed to sell better if it looks like Sprite? All I can say is that 7up has lost my interest, my money, and a valuable market. 7UP CHANGE YOUR LOGO BACK OR I WONT BUY ANYTHING EVER AGAIN.HOW DO YOU LIKE THAT, HUH?!!!1111?!!?!11!!!!/?

(The above speech was written by a random fanatic who appeared and took over my blog post. I apologize and promise I'll have something better next time.)

Conserving in Guatemala

I am amazed at how much people reuse things here.  Instead of just throwing something away  a lot of thought goes into if it could still be used.  It could be used for another purpose or fixed to keep using.  For instance, This week two things happened.  First, the clothes shelves we worked so hard to get, started molding.  Yes, a lesson in furniture manufacture.  If you get lumber straight from the lumber yard here, it's green, therefore wet.  It's rainy season.  This adds up to mold.  A lot of mold.  It took me a couple of weeks to acknowledge my mistake. Finally, a few days ago I went to the secretary at the school, Karin, and asked her if she might be willing to help me get something built for our clothes that was actually dry and treated. That is all going to work out fine, but my point was about reusing things.  The man who is building our new shelves also took away our old, extremely moldy ones to refinish and sell.  He paid us for them.

Then the shower started not draining.  A plummer came and cleaned everything out.  Then he spent some time telling me he was going to take away the drain cover and do something to it and bring it back in 15 minutes.  I had no idea what he was saying, but figured he knew what he was doing.  So I just said Si, Si (yes, yes) and waited for him to return.  He came back and had somehow drilled new holes in the drain and cut the whole bottom lip off of it.  It's working great.  I did feel a bit put to shame though.  I used to feel like I was fairly good at conserving resources.  I am learning from the people of Panajachel that I haven't even begun to know the meaning of conserving.  Jill