Archive for Field Trips

Tuesdays With Mooch & Fuss: Bugs and Ethiopia

There are just way too many things worth mentioning. Sheesh. Where do I begin. I guess I’ll type a few paragraphs and direct you to the pictures if you want more.

Fuss took math and ran with it. With basic addition securely under her belt, she is currently learning the different coins. I wanted her to learn the names of them (via sorting) first, and next I’ll teach her what each is worth. I thought doing them simultaneously would be too convoluted.

She’s reading fluently at a first grade level, which I’m ecstatic about, not just because she’s three, but because she has developed the same love of stories the rest of us have. She seems to be resting much better at night as she settles into our new residence, but the nosebleeds persist. I have some new natural things to try (including vinegar). Wish me luck.

I’m moving into a unit on insects for the little one, because the distinctions between bugs seem to be interesting her now. The nature books are a hit! Both girls have recorded moon phases, drawn sunsets, glued leaves and berries, written pinecone poetry, and really discovered the science all around them.

Mooch continues to delve deeper into robotics and engineering. She is currently programming a new rover that she hopes will go to the kitchen to retrieve her snacks. Legos are still in the forefront of her world, and Harry Potter is sitting right beside them. As she becomes more fixated on fantasy, we’re having a hard time finding any fantasy books with at least a couple of black characters in it. This is starting to remind me of our failed search for a musical jewelry box with a black fairy in it.

We have phased out our China research (though the learning is ongoing and the kids immediately notice whenever something China-related pops up), and we are now studying Ethiopia. We watched a documentary on Netflix and took notes afterwards with pictures and factoids. We’ll visit Little Ethiopia this Thursday, so the kids can try the food (I’m no stranger to the place).

Sunday, Mooch performs Shakespeare with Max Greenfield of New Girl and she’s been asked to do several more Cox Cable commercials. She really enjoys acting and storytelling, so it’s always fun when she gets to work. I wish I had known my passion when I was her age.

It is such a pleasure to watch her regain her confidence, focus, and peace. Homeschooling has been good for her. I wish I had never stopped for three years in the first place.

To view them in action, click here.

Comments off

Voyage Update: Video (Final)

Comments off

Voyage Update: Egg Mc Effin’ Muffin

I stared out over a vast carpet of sugar cane and reminisced about the movies Burn and Sugar Cane Alley. I thought about my ancestors working in those fields, organizing, rebelling, and maintaining culture. Shifting my attention to the tour guide, a Caucasian man named Vincent in his mid to late fifties, I grabbed my ipod and prepared to take a few notes on the bus.

Mooch and I had signed up for a course on the Mayan calendar and divination system, followed by a self-guided tour of the ancient city. Our guide began a light discussion of the cosmology during the hour long drive towards Antigua, where we would sit down for the full lecture. As Mooch dozed, I jotted notes about Sephardic Jews being pushed out of Spain and given sugar cane as a means for economic gain. They traveled to the Caribbean and made a fortune in the slave trade. I read Jews, Slavery, and Dixie back at Chapman, and learned that Jewish people had once been quite the racialists, owning enslaved Africans and participating in the trade. A lot of the sugar goes to rum, and much of it is exported as is. Off the record, cocaine is actually the biggest export.

When we got further along, Vincent noted the coffee plants to our right, which are now shaded by trees above. Apparently, environmentalists and consumers have made an impact by requiring that birdsong be present during crop production. There is a film about the coffee crisis as well, which I watched on Netflix called Birdsong & Coffee: A Wake-Up Call. I’m not sure if it’s still there, but give it a Google. It’s quite interesting.

Mooch’s head banged into my shoulder every now and then as the bus swayed this way and that. I was tired, too, because of hour 5am wake up, but this was too interesting for me to sleep through. Someone asked about education, and Vincent said that if a child does not want to go to school or doesn’t seem particularly interested, they don’t have to. Many stay home and help their grandparents while learning various skills from them — cooking, cutting wood, carrying water, etc. Mayans just don’t require that their kids attend school. Children are an integral part of the family income. They are the perfect height for coffee picking. The Mayans prefer to maintain ancestral languages and traditions.

The Maya have to work within the system to continue to live the way that they do. In politics they don’t really have a voice. The local representatives and governors don’t necessarily have their best interest, and most of their votes are paid for. They do go out and vote, though. Sometimes they are tricked into voting for things that don’t suit them well, which sounded very familiar to me. Another similarity between the Mayan community and my own is that they lie on the census or don’t participate at all.

As our bus pulled into the small colonial town, I was immediately aesthetically pleased. I didn’t want to reach down and gather my things for fear of missing an arched doorway or tiled roof. The colors were like a painting, each one situated next to another that complimented it so well. People were sparse, but they were there — perched in doorways reading fine literature, strolling the stone roads, and enjoying the peace. It was quiet in Antigua, but that was part of its charm.

We pulled up at Y Tu Pina, and got out. This quaint, yellow, trendy coffee shop was where our lecture would be. There had been no available breakfast on the ship at the early hour we left, so we were starving. I ordered french toast for each of us and we took our seats in the second room of the cafe. Mooch plopped down on a couch in the last seat available, and I grabbed a wooden chair. My friend, Daniella, pointed up to a faded sign on the wall, and in the cutest aqua font, it read: “Free Wi-Fi.” I had my ipod, and would later use the web to calculate my birthdate on the Mayan calendar. I pointed out to her the words “Egg McFuckin Muffin” on the menu, and we both chuckled. It was my kinda place. The french toast was like none I’d ever tasted. It was doused in cinnamon and the two halves had a thin layer of cream cheese in between. The whole ensemble was laid over a bed of strawberries. It was the best I’ve ever had, and that was without syrup!

There are 22-32 different Mayan languages and different dialects within each. Religion differs based on location — highlands, bush, forrest, etc. Vincent has lived with the Mayans since 1987, and he speaks K’iche, Spanish and Kaqchikel. He has also written a book on the Mayan calendar and divination system. There are priests specifically called to “day keep.” Though he is not one of them, he has been allowed to study with them.

I found so many parallels between Ifa (the Yoruba tradition from Nigeria) and the Mayan divination system. The Maya determine the destiny of a person based on their date of birth, according to the “Sacred Count Days.” In their cosmology, humans are said to be created from maize, and the “Sacred 260 Day Calendar” orders both the lives of humans and the way the crops are tended and harvested. Gestation takes 260 to complete in the womb of a woman, and it takes that same amount of time for a maize plant to be birthed in the Maya highlands. There are also 260 Odu Ifa (divination signatures) in the Yoruba system.

The Maya observed that humans have 13 pulses (one at the neck, two at the wrists, two in the elbows, two in the shoulders, two in the hips, two at the knees, and two at the ankles) and 20 digits (ten fingers and ten toes). 13 times 20 equals 260. At birth a person enters their day, their sun, and their destiny and is named after the day they were born. I could bore you to death with numerology and parallels or you could just order Vincent’s book, The Sacred Count of Days. It includes a detailed introduction, a page on each deity, and character tendencies for people based on their birth dates. Mooch was wide awake and attentive during the lecture. She couldn’t wait to calculate her own. She had read the characteristics of each, and found mine before we even calculated it.

After a very informative lecture, I was ready to set sandal to street and explore the nooks and people of Antigua. The first thing I spotted reminded me of Hannibal. Just across the street on a colonial wall, in a medium white speech bubble with a dark black outline were the words, “Ay Robot Comics.” “A comic book shop?” I thought. After a photo with the sign, I went in and spoke to a white guy in his twenties with a handlebar mustache. He was a very nice expatriate (from Canada, I think), who made me feel the warmest I’ve ever felt in a comic book shop. He had a lot of vintage comics in one section, and all of his current stuff in another. He gave me a tour of the titles, and Hannibal and Vince (our friend back home) would have been proud of my ability to carry on the conversation. Based on my tastes, he recommended Y: The Last Man — Paper Dolls for me. I read half of it on the tour bus back to the port. So far so good.

Mooch took a horse ride around Central Park, we watched a mime near a pretty fountain, we ate gelato, and walked through a few churches before it was time head back to the bus.

I really appreciated the oversized doors. One can open half of the door for the horse, both doors for the carriage, and there is a small door that opens as a “people” door. Large door knockers are located up high for the horsemen and a each building had a beautiful brass doorknocker for people. Brass lions and hands are of Moorish (Muslim/Arabic) influence that the Spanish brought from Spain to Guatemala after 1524. There also seemed to be Moorish influence in the beautiful tachones, which may be in the form of rosetas (brass or iron decorations) that were initially placed on doors so that the camels in the Muslim world would not rub against the doors and knock them over. Alas, there were no lions or camels in Guatemala but the beautiful decorations remain.

The street vendors were very persistent, but I thoroughly enjoyed the people and architecture in this pretty little town, and I’d gladly sleep in a sleeping bag on the cobblestone to be a part of it.

Comments off

Voyage Update: Still The Same OG (Nicaragua)

Litter filled gutters flanked dirt roads traveled by pedicabs and tired sun kissed people. M-80s went off every few seconds. A deep throaty male voice called out, “Come here, redbone. Damn, girl!” as I made my way out of the port. After a mental double take, I realized that what I heard was, in fact, English, and did sound like someone from the deep south. When I glanced in the direction of the Dizzy Gillespie-esque voice, what I actually found was a small Nicaraguan man drinking his troubles away.

Instructions from the ship had warned women not to smile at or make eye-contact for too long with men in Nicaragua, because it is seen as a romantic invitation. I kept it moving. I was headed to a bank, which would ultimately decline my transaction due to too many strange charges. I notified my credit union of my travels and provided them with a list of where I’d be on each date, but things happen. My friend loaned me ten bucks, and that was all I needed to have a great time.

Shop owner in Nicaragua

I didn’t have high hopes for Nicaragua before my arrival. Based on my research, there is a lot of crime, dirty beaches, and poor people. Fortunately, I’m not a boring person and I wasn’t accompanied by boring people. Most things in Nicaragua (as you’ll note in the pics) are made in China, so it was difficult to find hand crafted items. The security guard at the port had told us we were already in downtown when we asked how to get to el centro. It didn’t look like it. Each single story row of establishments was shared by residences and businesses. We could barely tell the difference between the two. The bank really did look like a bank, though. That was about it.

Like in previous countries, I appreciated the multi-colored paint on each dwelling. It had a certain charm. Shortly after we left the bank (still on foot), a small parade came through. I’m not sure what it was about, but I’m pretty sure they were carrying the Virgin Mary. Well, it was a replica of her. When we finally found the “park” the guard had mentioned at the center of “downtown,” we stumbled on a young man named Hamilton. He spoke very good English, which he learned largely from rap music. Despite the origin of his vocabulary, he was very respectful, and offered to show us around for about 3 or 4 bucks. This included his friend on a pedicab. He promised a beach that didn’t have black water like the one near the port did.


We told him we’d be going to the ship to eat, but we’d take him up on his offer at one o’ clock. He agreed. While we were browsing the products of the one craftsperson we could find, we spotted a starving little boy. Our future guide was also hungry, so we promised to smuggle them both burgers from the ship. Hamilton walked us back to the port and told us to meet him under a Coca Cola awning a block from the ship.

With a stack of napkins, large purses, and even larger hearts, we wrapped burgers at lunch time. Cups of fries, and two brownies also made their way into our sacks. After lunch we each ran to our cabins to place our beach attire under our dresses and hurried off to meet Hamilton. He was there, but because we were ten minutes late, he was worried that we had tricked him. Determined to find the little boy, we made the pedicab wait. The boy was so happy when we handed him all of the food. Hamilton saved burger and fries for the beach.

Hamilton and Bobby

When we piled into the tiny cab, I thought it’s metal pipe frame would bend. Each time the poor guy pedaled over a speed bump, I was sure he’d have a heart attack. We were heavy. There were also five of us! I admired the roosters, ducks, kids, and small dogs as we rolled by. Hamilton would ask us what various words meant along the way. He was really trying to master his English. He asked what it meant to “stir up” something (as in stir up trouble). We had fun answering all of his questions. Some of them were so random. That’s how I figured out that he learned a lot of English through rap music. He wanted to know what “gibberish” meant. When I asked him where on earth he’d heard that word, he said:

Nowadays everybody wanna talk like they got somthin to say/
But nothin’ comes out when they move their lips/
Just a bunch of gibberish
” –Eminem

The whole pedicab broke out in laughter (except for Mooch and Empress). He said it just like Eminem with no latin accent. It was hilarious. Anyway, the beach had a lot of litter above it, but when we got down near the rocks, it was okay. I actually got in, and I probably have cholera, but that’s okay, because I enjoyed myself, right?

Me getting cholera


Comments off

Voyage Update: “Somewhere Out There” (Costa Rica)

A man with a strap sent my baby across the jungle. I’m pretty sure my heart went with her. By the third time, her feet brushing against the tree tops didn’t bother me as much. I stood on the small brown milk crate, and waited for the operator, Juan, to connect my third hook to the pulley. My body rocked backwards and I crossed my shivering ankles as I had been told. He asked if I was ready, but I don’t think I replied before he let go. Extending my right arm behind my head, I rested my gloved hand gently on the thick cable. The next thing I knew, I was admiring Costa Rica, greenery from above. Ziplining was thrilling! I don’t think I’ll do it again, though. It’s one of those things where once is enough.


The country itself, on the other hand, has much more for me to explore. Our sassy, extremely educated, awesome tour guide shared so much detailed information. On the hour long bus ride to the rain forrest she told us about Costa Rica’s main exports. No one guessed that microchips were number one. Bananas and pineapples were behind that, and coffee is in the top ten. Eighty percent of people in Costa Rica work in tourism in some capacity. The people are very educated, because school is mandatory, and the government does so much to help people along (free books, uniforms, etc.). The country stopped having an army long ago, to invest that money in education. The only reason to attend private school is if one wants to study a foreign language, and that’s not very expensive either. There are many colleges, both public and private as well. Costa Rica’s public colleges are ranked 18th in the world, so a degree from one is far from toilet paper. The private ones are around $4000 per year.

Health care is free as well. There are also private medical facilities for those who don’t wish to wait. Since the private doctors and dentists have to remain competitive with the free public ones, their rates aren’t very high either. Many tourists go to Costa Rica for plastic surgery and dental care. Our tour guide got her entire two years worth of braces (Invisalign) for $250. I hadn’t picked my jaw up off of the bus floor before she backtracked to tell us that room and board, books, and a stipend for living expenses were included in a public college education.

Mooch on a string

I, of course, asked if there was an ethnic enclave of Costa Ricans of African descent. She said it was about six hours away in Limon. That’s the same thing that happened in Ecuador both times. According to our tour guide, the government had shipped Italians and Chinese people over to build the railroads, but they weren’t able to, so they ended up using people of African descent, who were already in the Caribbean. As a result, a large population of black Costa Ricans live near that coast. They speak Spanish, English and patois. I met a few on the strip when we got back to the port.

With a 98% literacy rate, there are no Costa Ricans working in the banana fields, because they are all so educated. Immigrants from Nicaragua and Guatemala work in the fields for $400 per month and receive free housing, a bicycle, free school nearby for their kids, and free food. The country is behind Ecuador in banana production, because Costa Rica is a green country, and requires that companies refrain from using plastic bags during production, and dispose of waste properly (not in the ocean). Certain companies (Dole, Chiquita, etc.) don’t want to spend the extra resources to reduce, recycle, and reuse, so they operate primarily in Ecuador, where their carbon footprint goes unnoticed. Costa Rica is fine with that. In fact, the government has bought large swaths of land and turned them into protected parks, so they could preserve forrest areas that various companies were begging to burn down. Colombia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Brazil are way ahead of Costa Rica in terms of coffee production. The country, however, boasts that quality over quantity is their motto in this regard. I tasted a small sampling of the good stuff, and I must agree, they know what they’re doing.

The president of Costa Rica is a woman. When the bus found out, we all cheered. Then we found out that she was still a douche bag, who spent the 80 million dollars China gave the country on her own social media image instead of repairing the country after a recent earthquake. We all yelled, “Booooo!” She only has 13.7% popularity with the people. Speaking of earthquakes, Puntarenas (the city we visited) will be a separate island after two more shakes like the last one. The country sits on a lot of fault lines, and is highly prone to quakes. That’s nothing I’m not used to, though. *wink*

Almost everyone I met on the strip spoke both English and Spanish, and their English was good! Most of them went to private school. People smiled and spoke, and everyone was polite. Shish-kabobs, ceviche, ice cream, fish, and more were all sold right on the street out of little carts. You know, like downtown Los Angeles. I didn’t get in the beach water in Costa Rica, because close to the port, it always looks like gasoline. The locals had no problem riding the waves. We watched them occasionally as we picked up trinkets from the local artisans. In Costa Rica, the items didn’t say, “Made in China” on the bottom, so that was comforting.

Stick meat

Our second day, we returned to an internet cafe we had found the first evening. Everyone checked in with their families, and then we strolled along the strip. I couldn’t find a t-shirt to suit my fancy, but I got a small owl puzzle for Fuss. There weren’t any black dolls in this area either. I’d be interested to return to Costa Rica and hang out in Limon. Our tour guide from the first day said there was no use tasting Costa Rican food unless I was in Limon, so I didn’t. All of my meals were eaten on the ship. I’m trying to save money wherever I can. Outside of tacos in Cabo, I don’t see us spending on food again. I can get Guatemalan food from my neighbors in the states, and the food in Nicaragua today didn’t seem appetizing. Ciao!

Me on a String

Comments off