A cup of steaming café

The other day, over breakfast, we conducted an experiment with Mia.
“Where’s your foot?” we asked her. She lifted one foot, smiling.
“Et ton pied? Où est ton pied?” Again she lifted her foot.
“Donde esta tu cabeza?” She raised both hands up to her head.
“Barkola wa’kan?” And she lifted both her feet, with a look of triumph.

I’ve been wondering how she is digesting four languages. At home we mostly speak English and Spanish to her. One-on-one, je lui parle en français, and Rony speaks to her in Kaqchikel. At 19 months the few words she can say are plucked from all four languages – mama, papa, chichi, duck, dog, nez, nena, fish, nan. I remember watching this video on language development in babies, and it’s comforting to know that she is absorbing it all. Language is a fascinating, fascinating thing…

Photo by this artist

In other news, coffee harvest is in full swing. We hit the fields last week – or rather, Rony, his mom and some friends hit the fields, and I ran after Mia. Now the coffee beans are drying on the rooftop, and Rony’s been climbing up there a few times a day and moving the beans around so that they’ll dry evenly. We have a medieval-looking machine sitting among our confused chickens right now, and we used it to depulp the coffee before hauling it up the to the roof. In a few weeks we’ll hull the dried beans and then, then we’ll roast them ourselves. The journey from bean to cup is a long one – but so, so worth it.

A journalist came to San Lucas a while ago and wrote beautifully about Rony and coffee and permaculture. Her article is here and this is such a great picture of a young Rony that I thought I’d share it too:


And here, because I couldn’t help myself, is the hand-made de-pulping machine:


… and some iphone pictures from the coffee fields.



And that’s what we did

Christmas this year:

  • 2 ducks cooked in olive oil, almonds, black olives and rosemary
  • 10 adults and 6 children eating, drinking, laughing, running around our little house
  • 2 batches of gingerbread cookies (ate the first batch before Christmas, ohhh yes we did)
  • 1 cough, passed around
  • 1 Christmas hike
  • 1 video crew visiting IMAP – video coming soon!
  • lots and lots of photos

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When your child falls asleep in your arms, and you lay your hand on her chest, and you feel the landscape of your own bones under her skin – this is when you’ll know. You’ll know how extraordinary and completely natural it is for life to run through this tiny person, who is a part of you and distinctly separate, all at once.

And then the moment is gone and you’re thinking of unanswered emails or laundry or the novel you started writing, ages ago. My question is this: you’ll deal with the emails and the laundry, but what about the novel?


Having a new baby means you are called to navigate an odd course between self and child, often wishing when you are immersed in one that you were submerged in the other. For the first six months of my daughter’s life, writing for my own pleasure seemed out of the question. No time. No energy. Then right before my daughter’s first birthday, I stumbled across Lost in Living, and its impact was profound. I watched the documentary in spurts, savouring it like a good book. Here, finally, was a place where art and motherhood could intersect. And, most importantly: I wasn’t alone.

There is so much more I want to say about motherhood and creativity. And I will, in time. For now I just wanted to let everyone know that the film is available for free streaming until December 25th. Watch it. It was made with love.


Cookies, volcanos and coffee

Today, to escape the sun, we stayed in the cool kitchen and made Christmas cookies. We boiled down the panela into sweet syrupy molasses for ginger snaps, we rolled out the dough, we filled the oven with drops of deliciousness. Maybe this will become a tradition. Can traditions be created? Doesn’t tradition mean something that’s been happening for a long time already? Meh. Cookies are rule-breakers, always.

This will be my 3rd Christmas in Guatemala. Thankfully I’ll have some family around, and we’ll have a traditional xmas bird and mashed potatoes and the whole bit. It won’t be the same, but it will be another version of something comforting. And hopefully some sense of sameness, of familiarity, will install itself in Mia as the years go by, even without Santa.

Or maybe he’ll make a surprise appearance by stepping out of the volcano?



After lunch we took a tuctuc to our little plot of land to check out how the coffee is doing. In just 2 or 3 weeks it will be ready for picking! I didn’t get any pictures of the coffee beans, but that’s ok because they’re not red yet. Next time they will be bursting with colour, begging to stain our hands with resin.

Mia is always up for an adventure. She kept trying to pick coffee beans off the trees, so I led her down the path and let her jump around for a while in the neighbour’s lot.

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And now the house is as quiet as it can get in San Lucas (read: minimal dog howling / firecrackers / soccer playing in the streets) and it’s time to get some sleep.

But first, just one more cookie …


On shadows and light

There we were, the three of us squeezed into our double bed. On my left, Mia was tossing and turning, trying to get comfortable between spouts of diarrhea. On my right, Rony was battling a fever of 39.5 degrees. Oh dear life, I thought.

Over the next few days Mia made a brilliant recovery but Rony’s illness expanded and worsened, warranting a trip to the hospital. While we stood outside waiting for his test results, a young mother sat cradling a little girl that looked like Mia 6 months ago, but with different pajamas and a thinner face. My smile dropped a little when the mom told me her daughter was born at the beginning of May – this little skinny girl was actually older than my own. I don’t think I will ever get used to seeing malnourished children. I think their big eyes will keep lingering in my mind long after they’ve been swept off to their home.

It turns that Rony has dengue fever. Dengue! He needs to rest, and then he needs to rest some more – not an easy task for him. I have a friend who once stated, “I love working! Don’t you love working?” At the time I crinkled my nose and shook my head, overwhelmed by the grant application I was working on, but I must admit she has a point. Working means feeling productive and sometimes creative. Not working actually requires a lot of letting go and letting be.


Tomorrow we are heading across the lake to a town that makes me feel like a tourist, which is one of the things I’ve come to abhor. But it’s a trade-off; I will stock up on brown rice and real butter and dulce de leche – yes, totally addicted – and R will finish teaching the PDC course along with Atitlan Organics.

The sun is shining brightly and the light has been so beautiful lately. It filters through the leaves and throws delicate lace-like patterns on the ground in front of you as you walk. It’s time to stir up the dust in the shade of new foliage. Such light. Such life.

Here, now

1. Time It’s true what they say: the days fly by so quickly. They really do. Lately when I think of time I see a thin breath of smoke that rises and twists and disappears, leaving only a trace of memories and a vague sense of bewilderment. The last few weeks have been so busy: we drove to Antigua, spent some lovely days walking and eating and enjoying grandpa time, drove back with Rony’s daughter Ixchel and her mom, ran / fell / rolled around the grass at IMAP, work work worked, made Thanksgiving dinner, and launched the PDC course. Phew. IMG_1507 Hello Antigua

 Grand-papa IMG_1539 Music IMG_1621 Thanksgiving IMG_4275                     Ixxxx! And this: Mia has been sick. There is nothing quite like holding your small child while she empties the contents of her stomach onto your pyjamas, again and again, until the wee hours of the morning. It’s heart wrenching. But after a long nap she woke up cheerful and mischievous, running towards the stairs and looking back to see if we’ll catch her in time. Somehow we always do. IMG_1668 2. Space After a day at IMAP, we sit in the neighbour’s patch of grass and wait for the tuctuc to arrive and carry us home. This little in-between window (leaving / not yet arriving) is often my favourite part of the day. By this time Lucia and Juan are puttering around, sometimes resting in the shade, sometimes carrying overflowing watering cans from the lake to their garden, and back again. They are 74 years old. IMG_1605 - Version 2 IMG_1597 They don’t speak much Spanish, but enough to have a conversation about which vegetables are the fastest growers (radishes), or when I’m going to wean Mia (not yet). A few days ago they asked me about space. How far is Canada? they wondered. Is Spain further than Mexico? I told them that Spain is on the other side of the ocean, but I quickly understood that for them the ocean is just a concept, much like Spain. Words, nothing more. Their world has always been and will always be the small town of Pachitulul, the patch of grass, the garden, the radish. And corn, always corn. Fire-roasted tortillas flipped with rugged fingers, and smoke rising, twisting, disappearing.

Rainbows on the wall

“The days are long, but the years are short,” said Gretchen Rubin in The Happiness Project. This is a graceful way of saying: When your child bites your mother-in-law’s hand, or lifts the cat by the tail for the thirteenth time, don’t sweat it. Soon enough she will grow out of it, and you’ll look back on these days with a sigh.

I don’t feel melancholic about my daughter growing up. I like that she is learning how to be in the world, and I like that one day she will eat a meal without prying her suction-cupped plastic bowl off the table and throwing it across the floor. (That’s the hope, anyway).

In the meantime, childhood.

On Saturday we had fun playing with water and blocks and paints at an early learning center in Santiago, and then we enjoyed the rest of the glorious sunny morning lounging on the grass with new friends.


Some of the views near San Lucas are breathtaking. Really. We spent the better part of the day today showing these folks some really special spots – this lookout, followed by a hike in the only first-growth forest around the lake.

By the time we got home, Mia was silly tired and had some wild energy to burn. She is so fast! I ran after her trying to capture some glimpses of our day. Next time I am in Canada, I will definitely get my camera fixed. In the meantime, iPhone.






She’s 16 years old, and her daughter was born a week before my own. She was fourteen when she found out she was pregnant. Fourteen.

When I opened the door this morning she was steadying a basket of paches – basically a potato-based tamal – that she was carrying on top of her head. Her daughter sat in a sling on her hip. She smiled shyly and offered her paches for less than a dollar apiece.

I paid for the food and ushered them inside. I have some things, I said. Things I’m not using. Frantically I dug through my daughter’s clothes and pulled out small dresses, shoes, socks bundled together. Here, do you want these?

She looked around. We have a floor, a real floor, and a roof that isn’t made of tin. I wanted to give her so much more. Her daughter hardly moved a muscle, and her eyes had a hollow look that defied her short one and a half years.

I know people hate reading about this, because it makes them feel guilty. I feel guilty too, for having been born in a place with a washing machine and a kitchen and a bed big enough for three Guatemalan sisters. Worse: I grew up without even knowing I was privileged.

It’s just not fair. It’s so completely, inherently unfair that it’s much easier not to think of the disparity at all. And, really, aside from stuffing baby dresses in a young mother’s arms, what can we do?

A few days ago I came across a satire about volunteerism. Although it’s rather extreme, the point rang true. When the wealthy visit the poor there is often a compelling drive to “make a difference”. But who really experiences this difference? By the end of the trip, whose life is most affected – the local people’s, or the volunteer’s?


Volunteers come to Guatemala in swarms. Every single one I’ve met means well. We all mean well, don’t we? But beyond intention, I think that so much depends on one’s attitude. I think that change takes time. I think that asking local people how they see the world is the best way to rock your own, and in a big way.

And yes, guilt will probably always be there – but in the end, when walking through a foreign land, it’s a small burden to carry. It may sound cliché, but I have to admit it’s true: the mothers and campesinos and grandfathers you’ll meet along the way will be among the most authentic, happy, positive people you’ll ever meet. And the simple fact of getting to know them, and learning from them – that’s a special kind of privilege, too.

Photo credit goes to Agustina Zamin and her husband Mariano, two awesome IMAP volunteers.

Little bird

It’s crazy, so crazy, to sit here and write a blog post while work needs to be done and lunch needs to be made and emails remain unanswered. And yet. It is primal, this drive to create, at least for me. It keeps me going. (That, and coffee).

Tomorrow I’ll be bringing Mia to a cool playgroup in Santiago. I haven’t been there in ages, and it’s time for Mia to socialize with kids other than her little cousins. And time for mama to meet other mamas.

The rains have gone. It is bright and sunny and I dearly wanted to go to IMAP today to do some work, but instead I have to stay home and call my bank because the bank machine swallowed some of my money – and never spit it back out. But if I get it all sorted we’ll hop a tuctuc and Mia will (hopefully) fall asleep in my arms, and when we get to IMAP I’ll touch base with the volunteers and plan the upcoming PDC with Rony and a weight will fall from my mind because of all the green, and the bright blue sky, and the lack of noisy tuctucs/buses/firecrackers. Maybe we’ll sit on the long stretch of grass by the lake and see a white crane raising its wide wings and lifting off its delicate feet.

Mia has just started to understand that the potty is for pipi and popo, and her favourite thing now is to sit on it, fully clothed, and hold a book on her lap. It is possibly the cutest thing ever.

The funny thing is that her book-of-the-week pick is all about sleeping. Hum. Now if some of it can rub off on her, if she can only get the hang of reading herself to sleep, and then staying asleep for 8 hours straight…. then, then we’ll be laughing, ohhh yes we will.

Just One

I wanted to start this blog when my daughter turned one. But this being life, and this life being mine, all I wrote was a journal entry. But I’m still posting it here as the very first blog post.

* * * * *
May 30, 2014

Hanging off the edge of the bed, one foot on the cold cement floor, in case baby wakes up. Roosters, children laughing, birdsong. There is always birdsong in the morning. When I woke this morning up my first thought was of parasites, and papaya seeds – can an infant consume too many papaya seeds? Will they really rid her of her parasites?

Mia Quetzali is one year old today. I should have started writing as soon as she was born. I should have captured her wide-eyed wonder, and her father’s too. Rony is sleeping right now in the hamac. How can he sleep in the middle of all the chaos? No idea. But of course he is used to this, he’s lived among roosters and children his whole life.

Mia, “mine” in Spanish, a name that is rolls off the tongue in English, French, Spanish, and Kakchiquel. I wonder how all those languages will twist together in my daughter’s mouth, and which will dominate, and at what price. She will be Mia in Canada, eating salmon with chubby fingers. She is Mia Chiquita in Guatemala. She is Mia Quetzali when she visits her Mayan grandmother. She is my wild little girl, on the verge of becoming a toddler.

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She is Mia Chiquita because I am Mia Grande. Guatemalans absolutely adore nicknames, much to my dismay. I’ve always been Myriam, and when they call me Mia it takes me a while to realize they’re talking to me. Sensing my bewilderment, they’ve kindly tacked on Chiquita and Grande, solving the problem in true Guatemalan style. Now I am the only one who is confused, but this is something that happens a lot here. I’m getting used to it. Kind of.

So we share a name, my daughter and I. In this small way she will pick up the thread and weave her own story, poco a poco, as her precious little loom keeps spinning beneath the hand of this country that is already guiding her fate.