We’ve been living in Panajachel for about four weeks now, and we’ve put together a family rhythm that is working quite nicely. So nicely in fact, that we’ve decided to maximize our time here in Pana. Instead of driving all the way down to Costa Rica, we’re going to stay put a bit longer and then only travel as far as Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador before our return to Texas at the end of April.
While the kids are away from full-time school and regular music lessons, we’re trying our best to create some structure in our homeschooling to provide engaging and consistent learning opportunities. We split our time between school days and adventure days and service days . . . and we’ve had some marvelous days.
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Here are some of the highlights of our family rhythm while we have stayed put in Panajachel for the 1st three weeks of February:
1. Homeschooling days – These have taken up the majority of our time here, by design. We try to do 3-4 homeschooling days a week, and have drawn up a detailed schedule starting at 6:30am, scheduling the “school” day into 30-minute chunks. It really is going very well, primarily because both Tera and I are here to encourage the structure and help with the learning each day. We all end the afternoon with an outing to the village to practice speaking Spanish – usually to the local market, and then find that we have a ton of free time every evening. We love it! Some of the things we are able to fit in each day include: family and personal scriptures, violin/piano/guitar/ukulele/cello practicing/composing/arranging, online school classes, art, computer coding, calligraphy, reading, math, travel planning, Spanish, etc. We have older kids tutoring the younger kids on instruments, spanish and math. We have an hour each day set aside for family learning (which is never long enough) to watch TED talks, share poetry and current events and passion projects and inspirational thoughts, discuss current events, as well as get through our family & personal finance class. The house here is working out fantastically, with the outside porch and patio, 3 bedrooms & family room all acting as study rooms or practice rooms. It is a busy, and delightful time.
2. Service days with Cultiva and Solomon’s Porch – Blog post #13 talks at length about our service day with Cultiva. We also spent a morning with the folks at Solomon’s Porch, as we went with a service group to a dedication of a home plot, where they will build a new concrete house for a local indigineous family. About 20 of us were gathered together, and it was a touching tribute to generous visitors (both with their time and their money) and grateful recipients of assistance. The culmination of the morning was a dedication prayer that was offered by a volunteer in English, which was simultaneously translated vocally into Spanish, and then from Spanish to Kakquichel (the local indigenous language – the Kakquichel translator did not speak English), all while the English prayer-giver continued, and while the mother, grandmother, and mother-in-law shouted praises aloud pentacostal-style in who knows what language. It was a cacophony of gratitude and adoration to the Most High. This coming week, our family will return to Solomon’s Porch, to spend a few days helping in building and construction activities for the house. I’m not sure exactly what our tasks will be, but I’m excited to find out, and wear myself out in service.
3. Temple trips to the Quetzeltenango Temple – There is an LDS Temple in Quetzeltenango (or Xela, as it is called by the locals). It is about a 2 hour drive from Panajachel, through about 40 minutes of incredibly windy road, and then about an hour of a relatively decent 4 lane highway (still quite windy by western standards). We try to visit the temple once a week with the older kids. It is a beautiful building, both inside and out.
4. Overnight at the “Lake House”, on the shores of Lake Atitlan – We have made some very good friends with the Kelly family here in Panajachel. They have lived here on and off for about 7 years with their 6 children. In that time, they have purchased a beautiful property on the edge of Lake Atitlan and we were lucky enough to score an overnight invitation. The property is about a 10 minute boat ride from the Pana ferry dock. A highlight was waking up early for sunrise yoga overlooking the lake, enjoying the sun gradually lighting up the lake and surrounding volcanoes. We all played in the lake with kayaks and paddle boards, and then rested up afterwards with obligatory games of spades. Good Times.
5. Atitlan Nature Reserve morning – We took a trip with Tera’s cousin, Trista Bytheway, who is also here with her family (twoandafew.com), and went to the nearby Atitlan nature reserve. After first visiting the surprisingly well-kept butterfly garden, we hiked up the hill to see the spider monkeys, with their tails that act as fifth appendages, and a group of raccoon-like creatures resting in the tree above. Then we hiked up the hill to a waterfall and ended the afternoon hiking back down to the lake beach. The whole day was a beautiful scenic trip, with the only negative being the biting black flies that attacked our ankles (and which bites are still visible on my ankles two weeks later).
6. Hanging out with old and new friends – All of the “gringo” families that we’ve met here have been a huge blessing to our trip and to our kids’ lives here. The Jensons, and Kellys, and Bytheways and us have all meshed quite well together, kids and adults alike. We get to spend afternoons and evenings at each other’s homes to eat and play, and we all spend Sunday morning together at church, surrounded by the local Guatemalan members. These families have provided what will be some of our most lasting memories, and I’m sure we’ll keep in touch for years to come.
7. Evening music concerts – We have been able to attend a few music concerts in town. First, with a Vermont-based Celtic fiddling quartet at a local Japanese restaurant. Take a minute to re-think that last sentence. We are a Texas family, living in Guatemala, sitting in a Japanese restaurant, to listen to Irish Celtic music, played by a group based out of Vermont. Quite a cultural mish-mash. The next evening, we went to little rock concert, with a Bass/Guitar/Drum trio. They were a locally based band, with Lloyd Monroe from Solomon’s Porch on the base. They were dang good, and played through a swath of rock songs, modern and old. As Lloyd said at one point in the concert “We’re the only band in Guatemala that will play Johnny Cash followed by Jimi Hendrix”
8. Letting the van lie dormant, while we get to know the city through walking and walking and walking – One of our favorite things about being here is the ability to walk any place we want to go. The van sits out front, and only gets driven about every 10 days or so. All of the other days, we head out the front door, and walk past the van, down the road to the market, or to the church, or to a friends’ house, or to the lake, or to a restaurant, or wherever we need to go.
9. Family time throughout the day and night – We are all finding so much more time now to pursue our individual interests, make new friendships, explore the world, and discover that elusive free time we had only heard about. But our favorite thing about this Gap Year is having lots of time during the day to spend together. It’s a good thing that we like each other and enjoy one another’s company. It is such a breath of fresh air for us not to always have to "divide and conquer" - with each child going in different directions every day. That was definitely the norm while living in Europe and the USA. Fantastic opportunities, but they definitely divided up or whittled away our family time each day. We're able to experience this place together. We’ve been able to explore together and serve together and establish some new traditions of family learning. A favorite has been our morning "circle time", which we explained above in #1 Homeschooling Days, where we all take turns leading an item each day. We’re enjoying family meals multiple times each day. We’re watching movies with popcorn together, many of which end up being Marvel. We’re reading books aloud together. And pretty much everything else we’re doing together, as well. Creating lasting memories, all 8 of us!
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Our first Gap Year was a fabulous "2017-2018 School Year" of travel: from the Netherlands to Jordan to Texas to Hawaii to Mexico to Central America to London and back to the Netherlands. Our "2018 Summer Vacation" took us all around Western Europe, back to the USA on a transatlantic cruise, a road trip through New York and into Canada, and ending up in Utah. We have now kicked off the "2018-2019 School year" with a trip to Asia. Follow along with us on our visits to new places, as well as revisiting some of our favorite places from our time living there. It's going to be great!!