Posts Tagged With: gratitude

The Rezo

“We can ride through the dark times with the understanding that it will help us to appreciate the light of life and love and spirit more fully.”

July 7, 2014


Here in Paraguay the vast majority of people are Catholic, and devoutly religious. One of their traditions to mourn or remember the dead is through the rezo, which is a funeral or memorial service lasting 9 days. Rezos are held annually for an obligatory 7 years on the anniversary of a loved one’s death, sometimes more than 7 years depending on the family’s preferences and ability to pay for the cost. In some communities rezos are held more often. For example in my site, many families hold a rezo every three months for the first year, then every 6 months for at least seven years. This happens for every deceased person. Recently, we have had weeks and weeks of rezos and the last 3 weeks have been non-stop, at least one rezo every day. It seems perhaps winter had been hard on my people in the past.


What fascinates me is that members of the community never need reminding of a family’s rezo. They remember the date of each person’s passing as if the birth of their own first born. I, on the other hand, usually know a rezo is happening only when I see neighbors flocking to a single house, a sure sign of a rezo. Usually held mid-late afternoon, neighbors arrive 5-20 minutes in advance and socialize in a jovial way, unless it is a funeral when they are more somber.


A person is asked in advance to oversee the service and recite the 20 minute prayer. This person has had training with their local minister or church to learn the ritual. An altar is arranged for the week in the bedroom of the deceased, usually consisting of what looks like a short flight of steps covered with a  white sheet. A candle and vase of white flowers are placed upon each step along with a framed photo of the deceased. The family announces when they are ready, and the guests gather into the room or stand just outside the door. They recite parts of the prayer at the appropriate times. Once complete, the guests return to their circle of chairs on the patio or yard and members of the family come around with trays of cookies, hard candies and soda for each guest. On the 9th and final day, in addition to the regular cookies and candy, a ‘goodie bag’ is given that contains chipa bread made that morning and even more sweets. Guests often talk among themselves, as it’s a great time to socialize and after a respectful amount of time, they head for home. Even though I don’t practice their religion, families are always grateful I attend to pay my respects. It means a lot to this culture which treats their dead almost as good as their living. Forever in memory.

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What’s a Little Mold in the Oatmeal?

“Don’t forget to laugh a little or a lot every single day.” – WW

It wasn’t until I’d poured my second serving of oatmeal this morning that I realized it was moldy. I picked out the visible chunks and decided that, with a little boiling water, perhaps the mold won’t do me in. Why am I surprised? After 7 consecutive days and nights of rain, everything is growing a living surface of green or black and my supply of non-moldy food has dwindled to beans, rice, peanut butter, popcorn, frozen chipa, passion fruit and some citrus from neighbors. Despite all this, I am grateful it hasn’t been bitterly cold like last year.

During a pause in the rain this morning, I finally could burn the bathroom trash in the backyard and empty the water collected from the various leaks in the roof over the week, about 4 gallons in all, and this didn’t include all the water that missed the buckets and landed on the floor (which is estimated at least another 137 gallons itself). It’s nice to have an ‘indoors’ day now and then to catch up on reading, shelling seeds, or planning activities but I’m glad to head to the city in a few days to enjoy human interaction, dry accommodations, supermarkets, and tango!

I’m reminded to laugh and love the beauty of the absurdities in this experience. It reminds me of what’s truly important, what I can tolerate when the rubber hits the road, what I can do without; it challenges me to find creative solutions to situations that present themselves, and makes me a better person. I can choose to be miserable or to laugh. I’ve learned that life is not nearly as serious as we make it and it’s waaaaay better with some levity. I’ll go with laughter and levity. In the grand scheme of things, what’s a little mold  in the oatmeal? Bring it on! Just don’t rain on my bed, the only 30 square feet of space that has yet to leak in my house. Please. Pretty please. haha. Keep smilin’ and have a great day!

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A Day in The Life of this Peace Corps Volunteer

“A good life is made up by the moments of presence and gratitude that you create throughout your day. Stop, wherever you are. Take a few deep breaths. Focus your attention on the now. What are you grateful for today?” – Rachel Brathen

June 25, 2014

Remembering to be grateful for life, for every breath we take is a blessing to ourselves. So instead of using a recent event to create a story designed to entertain or give you a chuckle, I decided that this post would simply show you what everyday life is like for this PCV. Not that there is ever a ‘normal’ day or that two are ever the same but there is ALWAYS gratitude to be had. And this day was a mostly-stay-at-home-because-it’s-raining-outside-and-no-one-goes-anywhere-or-does-anything-when-it-rains-here kind of day. Nothing ‘special’ yet still providing so so so much to be grateful for. So here we go…

After some meditation and yoga I took advantage of a rare bit of sun and nice breeze to hang wet wool socks on the line for drying then headed to the garden. There was a lot of catching up to do due to a series of recent travels and foul weather that has left it a bit neglected. My mission was to weed the raised beds (or clean them as they say here in PY). I dislike weeding this time of year: it is slow and arduous because the winter weeds tend to form thick mats or spiny nettle-like stems and leaves. Plus you must pay close attention because, when small, many look like carrots, others like tomatoes, still others like chard. It’s hard to know what to pull. (The fact that I dislike this task says I have an opportunity to practice mindfulness and gratitude here. It’s not hard to find when I put away the negative stories I create in my mind about it.)

After an hour I was rained out and forced back into the house. Breakfast was my daily dose of mandio chyryry (without cheese because we’ve had so many rezos lately all the senoras in town have bought up all the cheese to make chipa, which is served on the last of the 9 days of rezos), a treat of good coffee (I’m trying to quit – I always feel better in a caffeine-free body but the taste and smell of coffee in the a.m. is sooooo alluring; grateful for good coffee), and some fresh passionfruit juice made from fruits in the garden (yes, the harvest is finally here! I feared I’d be back in the U.S. before seeing the fruits of my labor.) Definitely grateful for passion fruits!


Lunch was buttered popcorn and a baked potato with green onions and more butter (Don’t worry, Mom, I usually eat better than that). I prepared citrus juice from grapefruit, mandarins, and oranges shared by a nearby senora with an overabundance wasting away in her front yard. Fresh juice is such a treat as it is not available in stores… too expensive for the locals, and those who have their own fruit trees make their own juice anyway. Store-bought “juice” in PY is part fruit juice with lots of sugar, preservatives, colorings and sometimes soy; closer to Tang.

During lunch I made my first attempt at bread dough since being in PY, using a friend’s recipe which we made over the weekend for pizza crust (In a day or so, look for this recipe on the “In The Kitchen” page of this blog site). Being 75 degrees this day, it rose quickly, cooked beautifully, and went down the gullet hot from the oven, soaked in butter (count that as a week’s worth of butter in one meal but it’s oh so delicious). The socks didn’t dry outside before the rains started again so I hung them on the oven door and, presto!, dry socks AND fresh bread. “Winner winner chicken dinner” as they say, without the chicken.

My first loaf of bread since coming to PY.

My first loaf of bread since coming to PY. Notice wool socks drying on the oven door handle. Ha!

Winter in Paraguay is wet wet wet with lots of rain and little sun so everything in the house gets moldy and it’s impossible to dry laundry. PCVs must get creative. I suspended a stretch of bamboo over my oven and use as an additional drying rack to take advantage of the lost heat to dry clothes or towels. Sometimes I even pull the refrigerator away from the wall to use the heat from the coils to dry my things. One must improvise to get by.

Throughout the day I continued to add To-Do items to my chalkboard (I live in an old school with a classroom-sized chalkboard that is The Bomb and I’d be lost without it every day. I will make myself a chalkboard wall at my house when I return to the US after my service!) Today, tomorrow, later this week, notations for another trip to Asuncion, jotting phone numbers, shopping lists, things to do in the city, things to bring back, call the plumber, plant seeds in the field, – because I am a planner and get great satisfaction from my list-making neurosis.

I live in a classroom in an old school and in it is a full-size chalkboard which I use every single day to make To-Do lists, jot phone numbers or write reminders to myself. Here's this week's list. haha

I live in a classroom in an old school and in it is a full-size chalkboard which I use every single day to make To-Do lists, jot phone numbers or write reminders to myself. Here’s this week’s list. haha

In the afternoon I helped one señora and her daughter finish building her solar food dryer (secador in Spanish). With it she will use the sun to dry (dehydrate) fruits, veggies and meats for her family when they are in abundance and to preserve for the leaner months (think dried mangos, onions, beef jerky and more!) No refrigeration is needed, which is a bonus since electricity here is unpredictable and contents of a fridge or freezer are often lost to spoilage. They were quite proud of themselves!

A local senora is mighty proud of her newly-finished solar food dryer built with help from her 7-year old daughter. This will allow them to use the sun to dry fruits, veggies, and meat to save for leaner months.

A local senora is mighty proud of her newly-finished solar food dryer built with help from her 7-year old daughter. This will allow them to use the sun to dry fruits, veggies, and meat to save for leaner months.

Later, I stuck to my renewed commitment for language study and then pulled out two just-for-fun-books I’ve been working through, Turn Right at Machu Picchu and The Heart of the Soul. Their reading was interrupted by a friend’s urgent plea that I read The Red Tent after we discussed my recent yearning to pay attention to signs from the Divine Feminine and a new desire to connect and align more closely with nature’s cycles like the waning and waxing of the moon, especially in respecting and responding to my own energy levels , optimal times to plant the garden and fieldsas well as seasonal movement of birds and insects . Crops really do grow much better when planted in alignment with the right moon cycle! Waxing moon= above ground crops. Waning moon= root crops. By the way, The Red Tent was incredible and I couldn’t put it down (a little slow in the beginning but irresistible thereafter). The Peace Corps office has a terrific library of books shared by volunteers so there’s never a shortage of good old fashioned entertainment for these looooooooong winter evenings. It feels so good to get lost in a great book, something I rarely have time for in the US.

This magical spot deserved a little Namaste to nature.

This magical spot deserved a little Namaste to nature.

Evenings are often filled with reading, phone calls with other PCV friends, or hoping the internet stars align to catch up on the latest news. I feel a bit spoiled (and grateful) saying that but internet sure has been handy in sharing my adventures and the culture of PY with friends and family.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of “A Day in the Life…” It was a fun little diversion from the usual. As always, with gratitude, thanks for reading! Love, S

Some days everywhere I look, I see only love. <3

Some days everywhere I look, I see only love. ❤

Did you know?

-In PY, eggs are the same price regardless of size or color and are usually sold and stored at room temperature. As long as the eggs are never refrigerated they’ll generally stay good up to six months. The exception is during temperature extremes like a Paraguayan summer or freezing temps where it’s better to keep them in the fridge. However, once they’ve been refrigerated they must stay cold until consumed.

-Fireflies (mau mau in guarani) light up after they are killed.

-Paraguayans drink their red wine mixed with soda and always served with ice. Boxed wine is the most popular because it is inexpensive. I think they mix with soda to improve the flavor and make it go further.

-Paraguayans refer to their “soul mate” or “better half” as their “media naranja” (“half orange”).

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Father’s Day

Be present and count your blessings. -WW

June 15, 2014

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there and a special note of thanks for my very own, very special Dad:

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Thank you for all these years of love, guidance, and being there through thick and thin. Thank you for being a model of integrity, generosity, kindness, gentleness, and accepting others as they are without judgement. Thank you for showing me that we need make no excuses for who we are. Thank you for teaching me that quietness is not weakness, but rather strength lying in wait. Thank you for making your family a priority. Thank you for offering a safe, nurturing home where respect, values and hard work were emphasized. Thank you for marrying Mom. Thank you for participating in our lives and our children’s lives and for creating beautiful, grounding memories along the way. Thank you for all you have been and are. You mean the world to me. Lots of love today and always. Wen 


Today is Father’s Day in both the US and Paraguay. I honored the husband of my host family with a large pan of chocolate brownies with which he was ecstatic and slightly possessive. This earned me a lunch invitation where we feasted on BBQd pork, sopa, and cabbage salad. Two of his older kids (seven total) made the long journey from Asuncion to join us. This family is always joking, laughing, smiling and loving each other and today I reveled and found comfort in that love, grateful to be included.


After lunch I made a visit to one of the poorest families in my community. I think for the first year, the kids were afraid of me but one day as they returned from the local despensa with flour and sugar and our paths crossed while I was out for a morning run, they joined me. Barefoot and hair askew they ran alongside me, occasionally racing me despite pounds of food in their arms. We laughed and giggled the whole way. It was our breakthrough and they’ve smiled, waved and said hello to me ever since. My heart smiles at the thought every time. And so I watch them as we slowly come to know each other and it is clear the family doesn’t have much. Though it is winter, I’ve seen these kids come to school without shoes or warm clothes. Their clothes appear to be handed down through many siblings. I have refrained from giving gifts or give-aways in my site for a variety of reasons but today I made an exception. I received some great toys and socks from friends in the US and decided this family would be the recipient of that generosity. The mother was delighted and the kids were initially apprehensive, afraid to believe luck might allow them to possibly keep these goodies. But then the smiles came. Big broad smudgey grins, twinkly eyes, giggles and squeals. The four-year old held a tiny doll in her grubby hands and stared, fascinated. I don’t think she’d ever had a doll before and didn’t even know how to play with it. I took it and showed her how to move the legs and arms to make her appear to dance and twirl. Her eyes lit up. Her whole face smiled. Her shoulders hugged her ears in a bashful display of excitement. She paraded back and forth past me every couple of minutes, looking me straight in the eye with her radiant face as if to say thank you, because she had no words. The older siblings aged 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15 (yes that mama is GUAPA) took turns trying out their toys in the privacy of the tiny, run-down house and then eventually running around the yard with them. Wow. Talk about feel-good, warm fuzzies! I wish I could see this happen every single day.  It’s not the kids’ fault they are poor but there are plenty of things I can do to lift them up and make those kids’ lives a little brighter, material goods aside. A kind smile and a bit of encouragement goes a looooooong way.


Finally, to end the day I went to a neighbor’s rezo. Immediately, a man in his 60s began asking if I knew him. Whoa – Of course! When I first moved to my community in December 2012 I joined my host family for a New Year’s Eve party at this house where he and I danced and laughed ridiculously for HOURS until the rain drove us under cover (We made our own version of Dancing with the Stars, or better yet, Dancing Under the Stars). And then in true Paraguayan fashion, everyone at today’s rezo began affectionately recounting the story of how he’d stole me from my younger dance partner after just one dance, and how we danced barefoot that night on the cool grass in the yard inside a seated circle of about 80 amused and enthusiastic family and friends, and then how we danced under the breezeway when the rain came and never sat down until the lightning brought that party to a halt. He’d worked hard to copy my style of ‘tango-accented-freestyle” while I’d done a terrible job mirroring his practiced Paraguayan dance moves. He promised to come back to dance with me again in November before I leave. I asked why he was waiting so long. Everyone had a good laugh and are looking forward to our finale.

On the way home, I paused in a secluded turn in the road and just stood still. I could hear my heart beat, the occasional snap of a branch breaking as a bird hopped through the canopy, the zippy buzz of a hummingbird behind me, the trickle of water making its way through the mud-laden ditch, the wind rustling the roadside leaves, the chirp of a cricket in the sugar cane field, the wooden knocking of tall bamboo against itself. I felt the hardness of the packed red soil under my feet, the weight of my empty backpack freed of its children’s treasures, the breeze lifting my hair, the smile creasing my eyes and the pressure of my heart swelling with joy and gratitude and love for the gifts of today. Some call it “stop and smell the roses.” I call it “be present and count your blessings.”

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Courage or Comfort?

“You can choose courage or you can choose comfort. You cannot have both.”- Dr. Brene Brown

May 24, 2014


Normally I’d like to think I choose courage most of the time but right now – I’m opting for comfort! Winter is here and I’m a wimp, a tropical girl. It’s been cold and windy, like 40 degrees F when I awoke this morning. There is no insulation or central heat. It’s like winter camping. I wear my layers to bed and again the next day. I don’t remember the last time I bathed. Today, I’m remembering to be grateful for not having to shovel snow, having time for indoor activities like shelling seeds, and for electricity that provides hot soup, coffee, and will soon power a brand new space heater. My neighbors will surely remind me that this is yet another excellent reason why I need a man…he would keep me warm. At least laughter generates heat, right?!


I laugh and I complain but it’s all part of this amazing journey and, in the end, I wouldn’t change a thing. I trust it unfolds by its own design, in its own time and shame on me if I fail to appreciate every blessed second of it. xo


Check out fun new photos on the “Eye Candy” page and the latest news and touristy spots here in PY on the “News and History” page!

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Meet My Community – The Story of Ismael, A Man of Many Abilities

May 22, 2014

Ismael with his handmade sheepskin fleece saddle and equipment. Photo courtesy Emily Rosenblatt. Check out her beautiful work at

Ismael with his handmade sheepskin fleece saddle and equipment. Photo courtesy Emily Rosenblatt. Check out her beautiful work at


Doñ Ismael was one of the first neighbors I met upon arriving in my little compañia in November 2012. His broad, warm smile and bright, twinkly eyes made him immediately endearing and his upbeat, cheerful tranquilo nature is contagious. In greetings, he is never anything less than ‘fantastic’. At 52 years old, he never married or had children but takes care of his 83 year old Aunt Ramulda who is almost deaf and blind. Aunt Ramulda never had children either but raised as her own her sister’s son, Eduardo, now in his 30s, who has lived with them for five years and helps around the farm.


Aunt Ramulda, Ismael, and Eduardo

Aunt Ramulda, Ismael, and Eduardo having terere


Ismael is the town barber, braids lassos using hides from his own cattle and makes saddles from sheepskin, has given me lasso-throwing lessons, grows the most beautiful roses in town, helps neighbors butcher their animals, and is a masterful guitarista and patient teacher. In an earlier post I mentioned that I had started guitar lessons with him earlier this year but other priorities forced that onto the backburner for now. Maybe this winter…we’ll see. As a thank you for the lessons I gave him some honey and a bottle of homemade kombucha which he loved. I adore visiting this neighbor as he is supremely patient with my language foibles (and doesn’t make fun of me!) and really wants to help me learn, understands the challenges of being away from my own family/learning a new language/being in a different culture, and is a great example of how not to take ourselves or life too seriously.


My neighbor, Ismael, teaching me to throw a lasso. So fun!

My neighbor, Ismael, teaching me to throw a lasso. So fun!


This cowboy’s daily routine includes rising at 2:30am to make fried tortillas for breakfast which he brings with him to eat in the saddle when he drives the cattle onto the prairie for grazing by 3am. He brings the cattle back again in late morning in time to prepare lunch for everyone, followed by siesta. Afterward, he works in the garden or field and, in late afternoon, he herds cattle for his cousins from the soccer field into their holding pens on their various farms for safekeeping during the night.


During semana santa Ismael invited me to dine with him and his nieces after an afternoon of making puchero, which is a soup made from neck meat of a cow. What I didn’t realize until I walked up to the house was that the cow providing the neck meat was killed just minutes before my arrival and the neighborhood men were just beginning to remove the skin. They offered to let me help and normally I would have jumped at the chance but was not dressed for the occasion. It turns out I wasn’t dressed for any part of this day except eating and supervising the preparation of innerds: cleaning intestines to make blood sausage, cleaning the stomach, cutting fat and meat parts, sawing bone. In less than an hour, huge chunks of cow were hanging above my head from every rafter of the patio, the neighborhood dogs were crazy with blood lust and representatives from nearly every family in the community were arriving to purchase fresh beef. In 3 hours, the cow was killed, every part was gone and not a single piece went to waste. An argument nearly broke out between two señoras vying for the head, four feet and lower legs which they love to cook with beans. Even the skin is saved to make various leather goods including lassos, ropes, whips and others. When the work was done we all sat down to fill hungry bellies and the half dozen neighborhood men who helped went home with several kilos of meat in payment for their efforts.


Whenever I’m having an off day I visit Ismael because I’m guaranteed to feel better after all those smiles, laughter, the occasional shared meal of homemade chicken or beef, and singing with the guitar. Grateful for neighbors like this!


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Coffee in the Moonlight

Ye have no time but this present time, therefore prize your time for your soul’s sake. – George Fox

May 16, 2014

Rising extra early, I took my coffee outside this morning, into the pre-dawn darkness, sitting on my front patio bathed in the light of a nearly-full moon, taking in the sounds as my community slowly came to life: roosters taking their job of greeting the day with “Rise and Shine!” a little too enthusiastically, seagull-like tero-tero birds cawing in the air, neighbors softly clucking to cattle and murmuring to each other in the darkness, the clang of a metal milk pail against a fence post, lights from a nearby community flickering like tiny bonfires across the prairie. Slowly we moved from the darkness of night to the light of a new day, so gradually one can’t pinpoint the actual moment, like that in-between time when you awake so leisurely from your dreams you’re unsure if you’re still asleep or half-awake. The heat from my cup and love of my community warmed my heart. I’m going to start more days like this.

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It’s A Grand Life

“One day your story will be told. Are you satisfied with the way it’s being written? If not, what are you going to do about it?” – WW

May 3, 2014


Seriously, at what other time in my life will these activities be considered normal except during this life in PY: burning my bathroom trash (tissue isn’t flushable here), making sausage with intestines from a freshly killed pig, cleaning cow manure from my porch several times a week, having calves or roosters (or during a recent heavy rainstorm, the neighbor’s bull!) stroll through my front door when I’m not preoccupied, never having to iron because I simply walk out in my wrinkly clothes and – Presto!- by the time I reach my destination the humidity has made me presentable, regularly sweeping large spiders from the walls in my house and knowing when tarantula season begins, buying homemade cheese from a neighbor every week, growing passionfruits and sponges in the garden, randomly showing up at neighbors’ homes unannounced and always being welcomed as if it was their best surprise of the week, doing all laundry by hand in a basin on the floor, harvesting peanuts with a family after meeting them just once, getting 3 dozen bee stings at once and thinking it’s just another day at the hive, not questioning which cut of meat is in your stew because it’s better if you don’t know, meeting preparations that always entail looking up key words in other languages, planning a trip based on the bus schedule and the subsequent long hot bus rides to get ANYwhere, where waiting an hour or two for a bus is no big deal and when it doesn’t show because it broke down but you’re told the next one is in an hour you think ‘only an hour? Oh good, that’s not bad at all!’ and you actually mean it, saying hello to everyone you pass whether or not you know them, and so much more. Some days leave me bewildered, others with a smile too big for my face. But everyday I try to be grateful for each experience, each teacher that comes my way, for this opportunity doing these crazy, wonderful things. It’s a good life.

Beautiful poisonous catepillar

Beautiful poisonous catepillar. Just another example of amazingness here in PY.

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Being Loved

“What the caterpillar calls the end, the rest of the world calls a butterfly.” ~ Lao Tzu

April 25, 2014

Sometimes I hesitate to visit people in my community because I worry I’m bothering them when they have so much work to do. Recently, I had to swing by to see a senora and didn’t think it had been THAT long since my last visit but she quickly reminded me how wrong my philosophy was when she reveled in my presence at her front gate and told me I hadn’t visited since January 28 (she knew the exact date!) I was not a bother…she’d missed me. She held up that ‘mirror’ for me to show I still have some work to do on appreciating my value and allowing myself a more honest, and loving, take on the community’s image of me and my work. It’s nice to be loved.

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Rainy Days

“Being guided isn’t like making a cake, where you mix it up and sit back until it’s baked. It’s more like dancing with a partner. If you’re not following continual subtle motions, you aren’t being led…” – Julie Shaul


April 11, 2014


A real humdinger of a rain/thunderstorm that lasted all night and through the morning resulted in dozens of caterpillary-worms (gusanos) crawling under my door searching for dry land. Outside this morning I watched as they crept over the edge of the tiled patio then swam through puddles on the floor toward the house. After smooshing a few dozen, I went back inside to make coffee and upon hearing footsteps, I turned around to find my neighbor’s bull already head and shoulders through the door looking for shelter too. I got a dirty, disgruntled look after telling him there was no vacancy and shooing him out with a broom (expletives might have been involved). The door will stay closed until further notice. (I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.) The upside was that the frogs are exquisitely happy with all the rain and have been singing a beautiful chorus of song since midnight. Plus it makes for good storytelling. And while I do love the occasional ‘indoors day’ which provides downtime for planning, reading, studying or alone time, I am disappointed that the rain will cancel today’s Women’s club and likely tomorrow’s Kids’ Club (rain here in the campo is like a big snow day in Maine where everything closes). The kids have asked me every day for the past five days if we are having Kids’ Club and English class this weekend because they really look forward to it. How can I say no to kids who are so open and eager to learn? That kind of excitement and engagement is what makes my service so fulfilling! When you listen and let life guide you, you can’t go wrong.

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