Friday, December 26


I don't do well with this good-bye thing. We have looked forward so much to our family visiting, and it seemed like each day they were here, time kept picking up speed like a rock rolling down a hill. I kept wanting to just stop everything from moving, freeze the moment, and not let it pass. 
The amazing thing is that nine people could share a house and a car and a tiny kitchen together for 10 days and get along. Actually, we more than got along. We laughed, hung out, ate, cooked, danced,  napped, ate some more, played with the new Christmas toys, went sightseeing, kept track of everyone's water-drinking, ate some more, watched YouTube, and just loved being together. 
That is probably the thing I appreciate most about my family. We're far from perfect and are just as dysfunctional as any family, but I love that we can really hang out with no pressure to do anything, no hurt feelings if some people want to go out and some want to stay home. Steve and I kept saying, "They are so easy!"
I loved getting to know Melissa better, too. She fits right into our family and is a blast to have around. She and Justin are a great fit together, and she adds so much to our family.
At some point, I'll write about all we did, but right now, my heart is too full. I have cried a lot this morning, especially when we came back from the airport and walked back into a very still, much t00 quiet house. 
Mom and Dad, Justin and Mel, thank you for coming and for making this Christmas so special for us, for being right at home with us, for never complaining about the challenges of being here. We love you and miss you.

Sunday, November 30

Thanksgiving - Guatemalan Style

We had a GREAT opportunity this week to celebrate Thanksgiving with our neighbors.  One advantage of living away from the States is it forced us to dig a little deeper and reach out a little farther than we would have otherwise.  

Do Guatemalans celebrate Thanksgiving?  Nope.  

Did that stop us from joining in with all of our local neighbors?  No way!

Our kids gave a "presentation" of the history of Thanksgiving, which some of their friends translated into Spanish for our guests.  After hearing how Squanto the Indian helped the Pilgrims to survive in their new land, we appreciated even more what our neighbors had all done at one time or another to help us get the hang of living here in Guatemala.  From the doctor next door that helped curb our panic with our first sick kid, to our landlady who helped us work out our several-month-long telephone and internet hookup issues.  

We ended up with families from four different countries (USA, Guatemala, Columbia, and El Salvador), and it was an opportunity to get past the daily "hola" and "what a beautiful day" ruts that are so easy to get stuck in, especially with another language.

We got to watch the neighbor kids make funny faces as they tried American food, and we laughed with their parents as we told them about our kids first times eating the local food too.  We talked about everything from blueberries to southern accents, and colonial Williamsburg to Bogota Columbia.

We are so blessed!

Tuesday, November 25

Adventure with Nate

I took Nate out about 15 minutes south of our home to a dry riverbed at the base of Volcan Fuego.  It's still an active volcano, and in the pics, you can see some of the plumes of smoke coming out of the top.  

The riverbed was littered with volcanic rock, pumice, and the view of the mountains overhead was magnificent! 

Nate is also showing off two different colored volcanic rocks, which varied from black, to various shades of grey, to reddish hues.


Nearby was bedrock which had been worn smooth by the river, and Nate is sitting at the top of a waterfall.  On the way back into town, the sun was setting, and just lit up the patch-work of farmlands on some of the nearby hills.  


Just a beautiful day to explore, spend with my son, and to enjoy the beauty of clear skies now that dry season has begun!

Monday, November 24

Sad Goodbye

Today we took a team of 20 youth (from our home church, Pathways) to the Malnutrition Center. It's located about an hour north of Antigua, has between 35 and 40 children under the age of eight, and has attracted our attention because it has become neglected in recent years because of its out-of-the-way location.

As several of us were working with the children, the director of the clinic came in and invited me to meet a family that was admitting their daughter. As I entered the room, I saw a mother crying for her two year old child as she said her goodbyes. One of the assistants came in a minute later to take the child to what would be her new home for the next five or six years. I stood there awkwardly as the director asked a few questions from the family in order to update their records. It went something like this....

- How many children do you have? Five.
- One of them is already here, correct? Yes.
- So, you will now have three children at home and two here? Yes.
- Are there any illnesses? For the father, one kidney does not function, and he was admitted to the hospital last week to have his lung drained of fluid. (On his arm was also a very large growth of some kind).
- Actually, how about the child you are admitting? For the child, just a cough.
- Only a cough? Any stomach problems? Yes, she also has frequent diarrhea.
- Are you pregnant? Yes.
- You're pregnant? Yes, (embarrassed glances at each other)... and four months along.
- So this will be your sixth child? Yes.
- Are you breastfeeding any longer? No.
- So, what are you giving the child to drink...milk? No, she doesn't like milk.
- Ok then, some kind of nutritional drink? No, just coffee.
- Coffee? That's all she drinks? Yes, we can't afford nutritional drinks and she won't drink regular milk.
- Ok, tell me about your many rooms, etc? Two rooms, no kitchen, no electricity.
- What type of work do you do? Laborer in a coffee plantation.
- How much do you earn to support your family? Q25 each day (about $3 daily).
- Only Q25 ($3) each day to support a family of eight? Yes.
- How old are you? 35, and my wife is also the same age.

After the questions, the director politely dismissed the couple. As they walked away, the wife patiently waited while the man hobbled with great effort next to her. I stood in stunned silence for a while. Here was a couple my age, looking twenty to thirty years older as the years of hard labor, poor nutrition, and no hope had etched their faces and wrecked their bodies. The child they left behind weighed half of what she should have for her age.

I asked the director if this was typical, and she said yes, since this is such a poor village. An entire village in this same condition is too much to digest, too much to take in. What's harder to grasp is that the pain of poverty and hunger is only a faint shadow of the spiritual darkness and emptiness that is the root of all of this. Where does one begin to help?

Thursday, November 20

Two Weeks in Pictures

We had a special 2 weeks having family here. On their second day here, we had a 5th birthday party for Jackson. Jack likes to combine the words "fiesta" and "pinata" and just call it a "piesta!"

We took them shopping at our Publix, the market...

We celebrated Christmas early...

We celebrated 12 baptisms...

We experienced a Mayan village...

The boys got to experience the zipline at Finka Filadelphia...

We visited the Malnutrition Center and loved on the kids there...

It was a great reminder that family is special, that I am thankful for people who have known us for years, who know our history, our faults and triumphs and who love us just because. Thank you for coming, Mom and Dad O.!

Thursday, November 13

Family Days

Steve's parents are here for 2 weeks, and we're having fun taking a break from the routine and spending time as a family. On Sunday, Nancy, Manolo, Nan and I ran in a 10K in Antigua. Near the finish line, Steve and the kids "ran me in" like they did in the marathon. Our local race website,, got some great shots of the fam!



Tuesday, October 28

How Many Words is a Picture Worth?



Nate and Shelby loving on some children at a Malnutrition Center.

Wednesday, October 22

At the Doctor

Hi. It's Shelby here. Yesterday Bubby and I went to the doctor. At the doctor I sat down and was quiet while Bubby was( well, loud). Then it was time for my checkup while Bubby played. When it was his turn he said to the doctor,"is this going to hurt"? Then( before the doctor) we went to the Epicure. In the car Bubby and I played with Nate, Bub's crab, and Jack,Bub's lepord( these are toys, so you know). It's October 22 today, so you know. Well, that's it. By!

Wednesday, October 15

Because I Needed a Challenge

There aren't enough challenges here, so I thought I'd artificially create one. Let's see, one part pushing my body to its limits, one part running up massive hills, add 2 parts being chased by chicken buses, oh, and one part high altitude. Add a sprinkle of "the race people just ran out of water," and a big scoop of running hard with your friends and what do you get? The Maya Marathon.

Thursday, October 2

Slice of Life

Last week, our Leadership Council from our home church, Pathways Community in Largo, FL, was here for a visit, and I got the chance to hang out with the ladies in the group.
We went to a small village near another small village called San Antonio de Agua Calientes, and we were welcomed into the home of a lady named Victoria. She described to us how she saw a need in her town for the women to be able to earn some money for their families. They were weaving beautiful textiles, but other people were buying them and taking them to the Mercado (market) in Antigua, and the women weren't making much profit.
So, Victoria started a co-op. Each lady had to contribute a piece of aluminum, and together, these pieces formed a roof for a small shelter. On this dirt floor, every day, the group sits and weaves. This is their tradition.
Victoria described their daily life to us, from grinding rice into milk for a drink called Horchata, to how they balance baskets on their heads so they can carry a lunch into the field for their husbands, to the weaving process, to cooking tortillas.
She taught us about their Mayan traditions, and we acted out a Mayan wedding ceremony (I was the groom!). Then, we all made our own tortillas on their small stove, and sat down to a Guatemalan lunch that had taken these ladies hours to prepare for us.
As I listened to the descriptions and ate the amazing food, I felt so humbled. These ladies were kind, generous, and treated us as honored guests. They answered all of our questions, were so loving and hospitable. I felt shallow for my grumbling about my small kitchen and lack of dishwasher when I saw their tiny shack of a kitchen.
I need these reminders more often. It is like jumping into a vat of cold water. I wake up to what's real and true, and the pieces of my life shift back into the proper places.

Wednesday, September 17

Guatemala's Independence Day

Here are some shots of the festivities in Parque Central. The fireworks mainly consisted of VERY loud booms...they're pretty much like bombs going off. You can see by Shelby's face that she wasn't too crazy about the noise, but the parades were fun, and the ice cream cones were the perfect way to top things off. (We've decided that ice cream is the Otto family way to celebrate any holiday!)

Tuesday, September 9

A Day at the Malnutrition Center

By Shelby

Hi there. I want to tell you I had a day at the Malnutrition Center.
And some of these babies have bad bug bites. I really want to help them. They are so cute and kind, and the boys and girls there too are kind and they are nice.

They are friendly and they also got to play with us on the playground.
And I was having a great time there. I think they need more food and water.

By Nate

I had a great day there. I really wish I could go again. We played dodgeball and soccer. We really had a great time.

Some kids needed medicine and stuff. When I walked in the baby room, I found out that they needed lots of care and they looked sad. I played with them. I held two.

I really want to head back again.

Saturday, September 6

The View from Here

Steve and I spent some time last night watching some of the convention speeches on the internet. It was a surreal experience.

I have never watched a convention from another country.
I have never been so interested in a speech that I would watch it twice.
I have never been so thankful to be an American citizen.

I think the emotions rose up in my heart because our conventions are so uniquely American. The flags, the patriotism, the hope and pride, the fact that we, unlike so many places, get to choose our leader. We are not made to vote. We are not coerced or threatened into voting for a particular candidate. We vote, and it counts.

I remember the excitement I felt when I finally got to vote in my first election. I lost that feeling for awhile, but after these last few days, that thrill is back.

I am thankful for the country I live in, the place God has called our family. But every time I have boarded a plane this last year, I have realized what a gift that blue passport is, how many people dream of the day they can have one, and how I don't want to take it for granted.

God has brought us to a new country, and He has proven that He can tenderly change my heart to feel contentment and even happiness in a new and very different place. He keeps drawing us to relationships, to meeting people that we already have grown to love. But, when I send that absentee ballot in this year, I will not think of it the same again. God bless America, and God bless us all.

Wednesday, August 27

A Tale of One Tree

**This is to be sung to the tune of "The Beverly Hillbillies." Oh yes. All together now.

Come and listen to my story of a boy named Nate,

He loved climbing trees, he was feelin' pretty great.

And then one day, he was up high all alone,

He took a little dive and did somethin' to his bone...

Broke, that is.


Guatemala style.

Well, the first thing ya know to the hospital he goes.

He got checked out from his head down to his toes.

Everything was fine, except his elbow's broke...

So the lesson in this tale is to go cut down that rope....

Swing, that is.

Hangin' there, from the tree.

It won't come back now, ya hear??

The end **Actually, there's no chance of the rope coming down. Nate's already trying to get back on it!**

Wednesday, August 20

My Veggie Tale

I liked the veggies. And the fruit.
Apparently, it was not mutual.
Yesterday, I was officially diagnosed (I will spare you the details, but said diagnosis involves traipsing down the street with your sample in a baggie and delivering the lovely baggie to the lab). Anway, I was officially diagnosed with parasites. This is super-common here and most people get it at one time or another, but the strain I have is a particularly, uh, tenacious one.

So, after googling all the words on my completely-in-Spanish-lab-report, we figured out what it was, and my sweet hubby picked up some super-fun medicine for me to take. The list of side effects were quite exciting, and quite accurate. One of the web sites had described that you might have a "metallic taste" in your mouth.
Oh yeah.
I woke up in the middle of the night feeling like I was chewing on a wad of tin foil. Yum.

Actually, I am thankful that we figured out why I was sick, and that there's a fix for it.
In the meantime, those veggies can rest easy for awhile.

Saturday, August 16


The missions team that was here this week did a street evangelism event for the children of Santa Maria de Jesus (a village nearby with mostly indigenous, Mayan descent. They typically have very little exposure outside of their village - even though it is only a 20 minute drive outside of Antigua).

The activities involved a Gospel Magic show, a pinata, face painting, and crafts. Nate and Shelby manned the chalk station!