Monday, November 30, 2009

Joyful Holiday Decor

I don't know about you guys, but when all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season begins way early I feel myself getting a little anxious. I love joining in on all the fun, but come on now - can't we relax and enjoy Halloween and Thanksgiving without being inundated with reindeer and elves? Having worked retail for the past 5 years, I have developed a bit of a bah-humbug attitude about how early Santa comes to town and the ridiculously over-the-top things that stores do to reel in the shoppers, like "conventiently" cranking up the AC in August, just to get the people to try & buy sweaters (I swear this really happens).

Here in Guatemala early Christmas prepareations have reached a whole new level. Nearly a month and half we stopped by a Cemaco store (think Ace Hardware meets Bed Bath & Beyond) and it just so happened to be the day that they were pulling out all the Christmas stops (October 3rd, I do believe). And believe it or not, shoppers were cruising the asiles with cartfulls of holiday paraphernalia and nothing was even on sale ( I double checked!). How ridiculous! Granted Guatemalans don't really celebrate Halloween or Thanksgiving, but 3 months early - give me a break!

While I'm on this little rant, let's talk about the unoriginality of some of the holiday decor that's out there. Firetruck red, grass green, white, maybe throw in a bit of silver or gold. Boring. Let's get creative people! How about mixing it up with some limegreen, turquoise, or even (gasp!) a "non-holiday" bronze or rust! And don't even get me started on that tacky metallic tinsel or gnarly multi-colored lights. (Maybe I'm feeling a little sensitive because that is all I can seem to find in Antigua.) Just because we are being holly and jolly, doesn't mean that our decor has to go to pot!

Now not that I'm a profesional designer or anything, but I normally at least try to chose decorative items that evoke that warm holiday feeling without being quite so obviously Santa,Rudolph & Frosty. Try garland with white lights, twisted with twine of a cotton ribbon, throw in a few holly berries and pinecones and you've got a very natural Christmas feeling. Maybe go neutral with various fabrics and ribbons in creams, tans, and golds surrounded by white candles reflected by a mirror. Or on a brighter note, pair some metallic grass green with a fuschia print ribbon, toss in some crazy silver and white snowflakes and a couple of limes to accessorize and you've got a more youthful, lively feeling.

Since my holiday decorating buget was cut pretty much eliminated this year, I'm embracing the fact that we'll be keeping things simple. Maybe a couple of pretty ribbons, some great cumcuat garland (that I'm hoping they still have in Xela when we go this weekend) and whatever else this DIYer can scrounge up at the market. With my frugal budget in mind I will say though that when I unexpectly came across a must-have-splurge item a few days ago, I carefully weighed the pros and cons and then dove right in. Look at my joyful find (I hope it's ok that I stole your moniker just this once K & T!).

Holiday themed molas from Panama.

Aren't they amazinly original and representative of our time in Latin America? I've been admiring the molas in a local store for months now, but have wanted to hold out until I make it to Panama to purchase some straight from the source. However, when I saw flipped past the first one that says Navidad 25 (humorsly spelled incorrectly) and came upon the Santas, I just knew I couldn't pass up this opportunity. Won't they be a wonderul holiday keepsake to pass on through the generations of little Lengachers yet to come, as a reminder of when Great Grandmother Krista & Great Grandfather Ben lived in Guatemala? I just know they will be. All that's left to do is fit them up with some simple frames (I'm still shopping around for selection) and get them up on the wall in time for a respectable beginning to our holiday preparations!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

We Give Thanks

While the rest of your have already bellied up to the table are now probably well into the leftovers, it's Turkey Day for us and we're feeling thankful that this day has finally come. This afternoon we'll be joining about 40 other volunteers to participate in the (what we hear is AMAZING) Common Hope annual volunteer Thanksgiving dinner. YUM! Here are a few random things that we are feeling grateful for this holiday season.

1. living a dream
2. sunshine (and no more rain)
3. Skype
4. good health
5. flip flop weather everyday
6. extra time
7. comments on our blogs
8. communicating in 2 languages
9. safety
10. mom's who send recipes through email
11. Dewey
12. clean drinking water
13. a beautiful home
14. lazy weekends
15. dad's who tell us they miss us every time we talk
16. fresh fruits & veggies
17. people who like to play board games & cards
18. friends who send messages on Facebook
19. waking up in a sunny room
20. curtains that keep the light out just a little longer
21. anyone who visits
22. the best coffee in the world right at our fingertips
23. freedom
24. officemates that can read our minds
25. friendly neighbors
26. handicrafts
27. places to explore
28. each other
29. puppies
30. and you!

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thankful Lusting

This holiday season we have a lot to be thankful for - our health, safety, a beautiful home to live in, new friends, supportive family, our fulfilling jobs and even the little seed (and no I'm not pregnant). Living and working alongside many who really do have needs, but whom are always thankful for the little that they do have has really helped us to limit our "needs" and at times we can hardly think of anything we really want (with the exception of a few more days off). So this lust didn't come easy because honestly we have pretty much everything we need right now. After some serious thought, we were able to come up with our mutual current lust - something we'll do just fine without, but would be delighted to have nonetheless.

Our current Must Have Lusts
jeans that fit

Maybe it's the pant size or so that I've dropped since first leaving for Xela last year or more likely it's the fact that I have been alternating between the same 3 pair of jeans everyday for the past 9 months so they're just plain stretched out, but I've got the droops. You know, like the look like your pockets are sagging below your buns - hike your pants up by the belt loops so your bootie doesn't peak out, droops. Now for a girl who 1 year ago probably would have not worn the same pair of jean 2 times a week let alone every day, a girl who used to pride herself as being fashion forward, the droops are not good. Granted I'm a little more granola now (I did just fess up and get some Danskos), but it's high time I get back in touch with a bit of that girl from before!

As for Ben, he works in a get dirty kind of job. 9 months ago he arrived with 2 pair of "work" jeans and 2 "nice jeans," but now all he has left is a pair of droopy "work" pants with several ventilation holes and is becoming a bit embarassed about wearing them 5 days a week. Lucky for us we have the ultimate paca (thrift store) in the market just a few blocks from our house. You see he has this complex about not buying new pants to wear to work since he'll just ruin them anyway, but when you are a skinny bean like him, finding your size second hand in the land of tortilla tummies and shorter legs, isn't so easy. I keep pushing him to just buy some cheap new jeans that can become his "work" pants, but like the long line of Lengachers that came before him, he has a hard head (hehehe!!) and so he continues to wear his holy holey pants.

Maybe, just maybe, if we're both nice for the rest of this year, a certain man in a red suit will leave us some presents for us under our fountain of just the right size
(didn't you know, fountains are the new Christmas tree?)!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dani knows best

Our friend Dani had the best idea ever this weekend. Let's make ceviche. And so we did. A Salvadoran that grew up just a hop skip & a jump from the sea, Dani knows ceviche. And now after a quick lesson, I do too!

Without further adieu....

Dani's Ceviches (serves 5)
6 tomatoes (diced)
1 red pepper (diced)
1 red onion (diced)
Juice from 8-10 large limes
1 small bunch of fresh parsley (diced)
1 can veggie cocktail juice
1 lb. calamari
2 lbs. pealed shrimp
2-3 tsp. white vinegar
2-3 tsp. worchestire sauce (salsa inglesa)
salt & pepper to taste (start with 2 tsp. each).

*Technically the lime juice will "cook" the shrimp & calamari, but if you would rather play it safe, you can cook them first.

Cook the calamari in boiling water for about 1 minute then drain. Cook the peeled shrimp in boiling water for about 1 minute (or until slightly orange) then drain. Mix all the ingredients together and chill for 20 - 30 minutes. Serve with saltine crackers, avocado & a cold brew. It's delicious!

*You might want to leave the condiments on the table so your guests can "adjust" the flavor to their liking (worchestire sauce, ketchup, salt, pepper, lime, & maybe even cilantro)

slice & dice all the veggies
calamari adds a special flavor

lots and lots of cute little orange shrimps

the magic ingredient

worchestire sauce

presentation is key

and some friendly neighbors are the icing on the cake!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

LOST close to home

We recently checked out a little-known nature sanctuary right outside of Antigua in the village of San Cristobal El Bajo. Tucked inside a farm that sustains itself by mining rock, the real passion of El Pilar is preserving the natural enviroment. A first it appears to be nothing more than a large gravel pit, but after paying a 40 quetzal entrance fee you can head a little futher up the hill where you will encounter 3 spring-fed sky-blue pools of varying depths. Beyond the pools is where the real nature experience begins. Upon entering the "reserve" one may happen upon the more than 130 bird species and various wildlife that make their home there. Coffee grows wildly and naturally as the rays of the sun peak through the lush forest ceiling.

After a little chatting with the friendly guard, we learned that El Pilar was originally purchased with the idea of using the majority of the land as a sustainable timber harvest. However the owner soon learned that his purchase was located in a protected area where altering the natural landscape was strictly prohibited. Now 2 generations later, the grandson of the original owner who has an education background in eco-tourism is hoping to develop a minamally intrusive infrastructure throughout the property to help make it more accessible to like-minded nature enthusiasts.

Across a wooden footbridge you'll pass by man-made ponds where tilapia is cultivated. Then down a winding pathway surrounded by lush greens and brightly colored blossoms, there is a hummingbird garden where visitors can spend hours watching and waiting or simply enjoy a picnic lunch. Beyond the bird sanctuary a strenuous 2 kilometer uphill hike weaves up the face of the mountain. At the end of the trail one may continue further down a gravel road that eventaully opens up to a clearing with cabins or head back down the hill either on the path or a winding gravel road.

Our Sunday morning hike really afforded us the much desired calm and quiteness that we often seek away from the loud, busy streets of Antigua below. We only passed 1 other group of hikers along the way. Upon reaching the end of the trail we chose to return on the gravel road to continue exploring some more. Feeling alone in the middle of nowhere made us dream up notions of how we felt like the survivors of a plane crash on LOST. As we descened we could help but get an erie deserted feeling. It felt like we were looking in on the "Others" campsite, while no one was none the wiser. Take a look at what we observed.

This is where the "Others" work

They even drive a similar looking van....

The children must play here. It looks so sterile.

I wonder if anyone saw us watching them have fun?

What do you think? Have you ever been in a place where you felt LOST?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Black Beauty

Last weekend we were itching for some fun in the sun, so we packed up Dewey and headed to the coast. Not to knock Guatemalan beaches, but they're not the best ever. Along the Pacific (the close beaches) the sand is black, the waves are strong and the heat is hellishly hot. Most of the tourists go to Monterrico (you might remember our previous trips there from here & here). It's about 2 or so hours from Antigua and almost worth the trip for an overnight, but just for the day it's a little too much time in the car for the rewards that you reap (at least for us). An hour closer is Puerto San Jose. It's more of the locals beach -dirtier than Monterrico but with pretty much the same scenery, minus the Gringo priced beer and hammock hangouts. For a quick sun pick-me-up, it seemed like the place to least for a few hours.


Umbrella is absolutely necessary unless you want to melt.

Looks like someone was having fun.....

Watcha reading?

Anyone interested in a shark ride? Doesn't look like it.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


"Fall" is in full swing around these parts with warm sunny days, a brisk breeze in the air and finally No Rain! Although Guatemala really only has 2 seasons, winter (non-rainy) and summer (rainy) I think those in-between times really do feel like spring and fall. With Thanksgiving nearing and my internal body clock sending me messages of it's normal cravings from this time of the year, I have found myself on more than 1 occasion strolling the supermarket asiles on a hunt for pumpkin. Wouldn't my luck have it that canned pumpkin is pretty much non-existant here..... and so isthe real deal (at least as I typically know it in the big orange form). Word on the street is that a few of the specialty grocery stores will get in canned pumpkin sometime this week, but you have to be pretty luck to find it. I think I'll give the search another go today. I'm tired and this sweet & spicy treat would be the perfect pick-me-up!

Pumpkin Spice Latte

makes 1-2 servings

2 cups milk
2 tablespoons canned pumpkin OR 1 teaspoon of Torani Pumpkin Spice Syrup (your choice)
2 tablespoons sugar or sugar substitute - you can halve this amount
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1-2 shots espresso (about 1/4 cup of espresso or 1/2 cup of strong brewed coffee if you don't have an espresso machine.)

In a saucepan combine milk, pumpkin and sugar and cook on medium heat, stirring, until steaming. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla and spice, transfer to a blender and process for 15 seconds until foamy. If you don't have a blender, don't worry about it - just whisk the mixture really well with a wire whisk.

Pour into a large mug or two mugs. Add the espresso on top.

Optional: Top with whipped cream and sprinkle pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg, or cinnamon on top.

recipe courtesy of

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dulces Tipicos

Last week as we (at Common Hope) were hosting many special guests for Graduation, we planned a few special activities for them too. I was lucky enough to be able to participate in some typical Guatemalan cooking classes, the first of which was taught by the sweet aunt of Alejandra, a co-worker in Sponsorship. While she doesn't claim to be a professional, her aunt Carmen does cater events and does all the cooking in her own small kitchen. Fortunately she agreed to pack up her supplies and come spend a morning with us in our "volunteer kitchen,"where she demonstrated the fine art of mollete making. Best described by this gringa as a decadently filled, fried and glazed donut, the mollete is a typical sweet treat present at all special events like holidays, birthday and of course, graduations!

If you're sweet tooth is calling out to you and you've got some extra time to indulge in a cultural culinary experience, I highly recommend giving them a try!


Yields: 15 molletes


15 sweet buns

1 c. of wine (whatever is on hand)

1 bottle of vegetable oil

4 eggs (separated)

15 raisins or plums


1 ½ c. sugar

1 c. whole milk

1 T. cornstarch

1 t. vanilla extract


Prepare the manjar (caramel-like filling). Mix together 1 c. sugar, whole milk, cornstarch, vanilla extract & 1 egg yolk, and cook over medium heat until thick & smooth then cool.

Cut the sweet buns in half (hamburger bun style) and wet each half with 1 t. wine. Place 1 dollop of cooled manjar on bottom half, add 1 (or a few) raisins (or plums) and then top with the other half of the bun.

Whip remaining 4 egg whites until stiff. Fold in yolks. Cover each bun with egg mixture and fry in hot oil until golden brown on both sides. Drain and dry on paper towels.

While buns are frying, prepare the honey glaze. Place enough water to submerge the buns in a frying pan. Add ½ c. sugar and 1 stick of cinnamon. Boil. Submerge buns in the glaze for 5-10 minutes. Remove from glaze and dry.

Stay tuned for another typical Guatemalan delicious dessert coming soon!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It's party time!

Break out your birthday suit because it's time to celebrate!

We'd like to give a shout out to 2 very special people in our family with birthdays this week!

Ben's Dad
November 17th


Krista's Mom
November 18th

We miss you both very much & wish you wonderful birthday wishes!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Double Your Donation

Have you been considering making a donation to a chartiable organization for the holiday season? Maybe after hearing this news, you'll decide today is the day to Give to the Max!

At Common Hope we have some very exciting news to share., a new online giving portal, will match your gift to Common Hope for one day only on Tuesday, November 17. That's today!

With funding from the Bush Foundation, The St. Paul Foundation and The Minneapolis Foundation, has $500,000 in matching funds which will be shared between all gifts given to Minnesota charities through on November 17. In addition to this wonderful gift-matching opportunity, sponsoring foundations have agreed to cover all credit card fees of gifts through the end of 2009, so 100% of any donation you make before the end of the year through will go directly to Common Hope.

Thanks in advance for your support this holiday season!

UPDATE: As of 9.30am this morning Common Hope has raised $8,845 in “matchable” dollars and $15,760 in total donations. YEA! Keep it coming!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dreams do come true!

Just a couple of weeks ago, we posted about madly lusting for the sweet tastes of Fall. Well, today we can proudly say that our lusts have been fulfilled! Last weekend, we made a trip to the market where purchased the ingredients necessary for this apple butter recipe. Then on Sunday evening after returning from an amazing but exhausting day at the kite festival, I decided it was now or never. The recipe that I was working from is designed for a slow cooker, but since I'm working with the bare necessities here, I decided I would just cook it slowly, on the stove, not in a slow cooker. I certainly can't take credit for this deliciously simple recipe {that credit goes here}, but I am looking forward to the day when I can make it in a crock pot, just like the recipe suggests.

Crock Pot Apple Butter {yields 5 pints}

16 peeled, cored & chopped apples
1 1/2 C white sugar
1 C light brown sugar
2 T cinnamon
1/2 t ground cloves
1/2 t ground nutmeg
1/2 t kosher salt

Place all ingredients in crock pot and stir so all apples are coated. Cook on HIGH for 1 hour. Reduce to LOW for 8 to 10 hours; stir occasionally.

Once the apples are a rich brown color and mash easily you can do one of two things. If you like your apple butter thick you can scoop the apple mixture into a mesh colander to drain off excess liquid before blending. If you like it thinner leave liquid in the mixture. With a hand-held blender, blend the apples to a lovely “apple butter consistency” in the pot until you reach your desired consistency. {If you don't have one, then just "pulse" it in your blender a few times}. Then can or freeze for enjoyment all winter long!

Since I don't have the supplies for canning here {and have never actually canned on my own} I just picked up a few of those ziplock reusable containers and popped them in my mini-freezer. The recipe says it yields 5 pints. I suppose I was just really hungry, because I expected a lot more. Next time I think I may double it, can them up real cute {after I purchase some canning materials} and gift them to my friends and family.

Here are a few photos of the work in progress. {Oh and did I mention that I had to get up a few times in the middle of the night to check on my "slow cooking"? It's true - I did.}

the fresh cut apples

coated in delicious sugar & spice

several hours into the cooking

the final product

I love homemaking! One day I'm gonna make someone a real good housewife. {Hint, Hint!}

Then just a few days later, Greg came to Guatemala with a bag full of surprises for us. You'll never guess what made the trip the whole way from Colorado........

That's right! Dechutes Black Butte Porter.

Just so happened that he was sipping on a BBP while reading through our blog one evening back in Denver. Call it luck, call it fate, call it whatever you want......Ben called it just what the wanna-be beer brewer ordered! {And please excuse his tie-dye - he was in the middle of painting when Greg dropped by.}

Monday, November 9, 2009

What's all the stink about?

A walk through the market usually includes {whether you want to or not} a stroll {or beeline} down the meat aisle. The juicy cuts of beef are the most eye catching, but if you look close enough you may even see chicken with little hairs still on it, or even the occasional pigs feet. While it's pretty horrifying for someone like me to enter this part of the market, one thing is for sure {I don't really dig a lot of meat to begin with}, you'll smell it long after you see it.

A few weeks ago, while doing our regular weekend shopping, Ben got a craving for a steak. We just so happened to be in the market already and somehow he convinced me that we should go pick up a cut of beef in the meat section. Having never purchased our meat there before {note we did eat meat from the market all the time in Xela}, we sought out the cleanest stall with the fewest flies and ordered up a side of beef {yea, one of those big ones hanging in the photo}. I watch the "butcher's" every move to make sure it was clean, just so I could put my mind at ease a bit. Later that night Ben grilled it up on our market parilla {remember this one?} and served it up with some fresh spicy salsa. It was delicious.....and we didn't get sick to boot!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Mixco Viejo

With all the craziness of the past month, somehow this blog about our trip to some local ruins got missed. Sorry! Back right before we went private (sore subject, we know) we made took the scenic drive over 2 hours away to the ruins of Mixco Viejo outside of San Juan Sacatépquez.

A bit of history {thanks to Lonely Planet - there are absolutely zero informational signs at the site}. Mixco Viejo was the active capital of the Poqomam Maya when the Spaniards invaded Guatemala. The location is awesome, wedged between deep ravines with only 1 way in and 1 way out. To add to the impressiveness, the Poqomam people built a rock wall around the entire city. Legend says that it took Conquistador Pedro Alvaro and his troops more than a month to conquer Mixco Viejo, which at the time of it's height was said to support close to 10,000 people. After the invasion, Alvaro had the city burnt and depopulated.

The ruins themselves are architecturally different than any other ruins we have seen. Strangely, they look new - almost too new - like they were renovated a little too well! Archeological excavations were carried out from 1954 through 1967 by the Musee de l'Homme of Paris under the direction of archaeologist Henri Lehmann, who believed that he was excavating the Pocomam capital as described in Colonial records. The ruins consist of 15 groups containing the remains of over 120 major structures, including temples, palaces, and courts for playing the Mesoamerican ballgame.

The day we were there, the parking lot appeared like not another soul was in sight. After being charged a shifty entrance fee {the tickets had been stamped with the "new" price on the back side}, we hiked in where we surprisingly came across a large group of Guatemalans who were having a bit of a get together. It was killer hot, but Ben really wanted to climb to the top of some of the temples. Interestingly enough the Guatemalan's weren't very interested in mixing with the tourists. {see 1st photo in last set}

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A different kind of Halloween

With the idea of embracing the Guatemalan culture this year, we pretty much skipped right over Halloween this year and decided to celebrate the day after instead. You've probably heard about the November 1st Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico with all those cute little skeleton guys in big sombreros, but here things are much different.

Here the day is called
El Día de los Difuntos (day of the deceased) and is celebrated by families cleaning and adorning the graves of their loved ones past with cut flowers (marigolds & chrysanthemums), candles, incense and cut tissue paper. They also honor the dead with festive foods - tamales, candied fruits and fiambre (a cold meat and veggie dish). El Día de los Difuntos is very important through Guatemala, but especially in the town of Santiago Sacatépquez, when there is a heavy Kakchiquel (Mayan) population. It is there that the traditional kite flying ritual takes place. The kites are thought to raise messages to the deceased, informing them of where they can come down and visit their family members.

Preparation for the big day begin more than a month before, when kids begin to construct the kites from tissue paper. Customarily men did the majority of the work, but these days both women and children. The huge kites are intricately designed, often supporting religious, cultural and political themes. Before the kite making begins though, the unmarried men of the villages will travel to the coast to search out bamboo to be used for the frames. Tradition says that this journey marks the passage from boys to men. Upon their return the bamboo is distributed to the various kite making groups and the processes begin.
The kite making process is all natural. Glue is prepared from yucca flower, lemon peel and water. The ropes used to hold the kites is made from maguey (the plant from which tequila is extracted). Even the kite tails, which are adorned with hand written messages, are made from woven cloth.

There are 3 main styles of kites. "Crown" kites measure 3-5 meters in diameter and have a circular frame with an empty center, "Moon" kites are larges circles that are 10-15 meters in diameter, and "Diamond" kites are shaped like a diamond and range up to 10 meters with a long tail.

Around 4am on November 1st, the people of Santiago begin to fill the cemetery where they clean, paint and decorate the family tombs while the reminisce about the deceased. It is a time of joy. The young people wait for the first strong wind to raise their kites. They kites soar until 4pm, when they are brought down so that all the people can return home to await the arrival of the souls

Fortunately for us, we also happen to live in the department of Sacatépquez. Sunday morning we headed out with the masses to take in the spectacular kites. Albeit super crowded, the display of kites was absolutely amazing.