Posted by: Brandon | March 25, 2009

Marshmallow Temples

For Family Home Evening on Monday, Jennifer did the lesson on Temples, why they’re important, and how we can be worthy to enter them.

She also came up with a really fun idea of building Temples out of marshmallows. She made a giant sugar cookie for each of us to use as the base, and we spread green frosting around for the grass. Then we used big and small white marshmallows to build our temples, gluing them together with white frosting. After that we used chocolate frosting for garden soil, and made our flowers (and angel Moroni’s) with nerd candies. I think they turned out pretty cute, and it was a fun way to teach our kids about temples.

Like the symbol-rich temple ceremonies, our candy temples were a bit too much to eat in one sitting. But we enjoyed what we could digest. I also had a bit of fun with symbolism in my temple. Notice there are 7 rows of little marshmallows in the front, 12 big marshmallows total, and 3 spires. Okay, maybe I took this activity a bit too seriously… 🙂 Anyway, check out our temples below.

I also really enjoyed this short video about Temples that the church recently launched on their YouTube page. See more videos at http://www.youtube.com/user/MormonMessages

Posted by: Brandon | March 24, 2009

Family: Isn’t is about time?

Since coming back from Panama, Jennifer and I have been amazed at how quickly life has hit us! It seems there is no end to the distractions that take us away from our family, and our focus on what’s most important.

The first few days at home were wonderful, and we still had what we feel was a healthier mindset. We were still productive, we were happy, and we loved being together. We adored our kids, and always had time for them. We didn’t realize what we had been missing all along until we experienced this – it’s hard to describe how much closer we became being together in Panama. But after a week or two (10 days now) of being home, we feel an immense pull from all our commitments, and with so many distractions, we have found it very difficult to stay in that mindset.

Even though I work from home, it doesn’t seem that we’re spending much time together, and when we are, we don’t feel as close – like we’re too busy with things we “have to do” that we forget what’s really important. We have even become short-tempered and impatient with our kids again – emotions that we just didn’t have much on our trip. Interesting, isn’t it?

An Onslaught of Commitments

We had virtually no responsibilities or commitments while we were on our trip. I still had to run my business, but I could do that on my own time, and I made sure I limited myself to just a few hours a day. Since coming back, however, I’ve had a lot more going on – much of which has been very good, but it’s kept me busy.

For example, in the past ten days, I’ve had two lunch appointments (one for business, one with an old friend), several scheduled business phone calls, tai chi classes, Toastmasters meetings, church meetings (including a fun talent show that I performed in, and responsibilities with my calling), Oratorio Society of Utah rehearsals (which required a lot of piano practice since I accompanied this week), house maintenance (see my last post), a lot of e-mails to answer, programmers’ code to review, and I migrated my music teacher website to a new server to meet growing demands for performance.

The girls have had preschool and dance classes. Jen has been busy taking care of things at home, cooking, cleaning (a bigger deal when you have a bigger place), laundry, entertaining visitors, grocery shopping, doctor’s appointments, visiting teaching, babysitting other people’s kids and babies, and a lot more.

With all of these things going on (and I’m sure this list looks mild compared to some families), we have found it difficult to find time to spend together or with our kids. For example, we have been wanting to go to the “Frog” exhibit that just opened at the Natural History museum, but so far, haven’t found a single day free to go do it! We finally had a couple hours open Saturday, so took the girls to the park, which was fun. But it’s just not enough to keep the feeling of unity and love as strong as it was on our trip.

Is All This Really Necessary?

I’ve started to wonder which of the above commitments are truly necessary. Of course there are many of the above commitments we wouldn’t want to give up, especially ones relating to people we love. And of course there’s joy to be found in the self-improvement, service, and work-related commitments. But as I look at the list of what we’re busy doing, I wonder why so much of it has to occur outside of the family. Isn’t the purpose of family to teach us “self-improvement, service, and work”, and to make us better people? Are we neglecting our most important and rewarding responsibilities by bringing so much else into our lives? I’m starting to feel like some of these things are just distractions, taking me away from what I value most.

Is it really a requirement to do so much all the time, in so many different areas of life? Does it really take going to another country, away from everything, to experience a strong feeling of family unity? Is it really unrealistic to have that kind of feeling in our fast-paced society? Can I really avoid getting sucked in to all that’s going on around me? I experienced a special feeling with my family in Panama (and even a bit after we returned), and I want it back again.

I wonder what life was like in the days of Adam and Eve, when there were no governments, schools, law, or even churches – when family and the law of God was all there was. We’re told that the main reason Jesus Christ even established a church was to help fathers and mothers teach and take care of their families. Families truly are central to God’s plan for His children. (See The Family: A Proclamation to the World). Are families central in our lives?

The Power of Less

A few days ago, I checked out a book at the library called “The Power of LESS” by Leo Babauta, author of the popular Zen Habits blog – one of my favorite blogs. I have hardly been able to put the book down, and I highly recommend it to anyone trying to simplify their life or get more done (especially important things). The basic idea of the book is that you can be happier and more productive by eliminating the non-essential from your life, and doing/keeping only the essential. Yeah, a simple idea – but very profound when applied.

I certainly found this true in Panama. When we focused on what was most important (our family), and let almost everything else go out the window, we were much, much happier. I’m not saying that we should take our families and go and live like hermits, shutting out anything but each other. But there has to be a better balance than what I’m currently experiencing.

Finding the Balance

How do I find this balance again? Should I take my family on another 6 week trip? Or how about a year or more? Or maybe I should just start to cut some of the clutter out of my life as it is now, making sure I reserve time every day and every week for my family. Maybe we can have a “Family Day” a few times a week, and try to keep out other appointments and commitments on those days. Maybe I can allot specific hours of every day to spend with my kids, and make sure I leave my computer off during those times. But then I think, “How can I possibly get everything done if I do that?” Then again, do I really need to get “everything” done? What’s truly essential?

How do you find time to be with your family among all the pressures of life? And do you feel like it’s enough time? Do you feel as close in your family as you want to be? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Posted by: Brandon | March 20, 2009

Leaky Basement?

Okay, some of you know that even before we left on our trip, we found puddles of water in our basement every week or two. We couldn’t find any correlation with the weather, we were told there was no break in the city water line, and every expert we brought in had a different opinion.

Some thought it was ground water, and suggested sump pumps. Others said it was most likely a plumbing issue and they’d need to “camera” the line to see if they can spot leaks (pretty expensive), then dig up the concrete and fix it (even more expensive). Others said it’s a small enough leak that patching around the edges of the wall would divert the water and fix the problem. (I tried. It didn’t work).

Well, guess what? While we were in Panama, my sister said that we had absolutely NO water in the basement! Even after heavy snowstorms. But as soon as we got home and we ran a few loads of laundry along with the dishwaster, we found our basement soaked the next day.

“That proves it!”, I said. It must be a plumbing issue – a leak in the pipe somewhere! So I called a plumber (a different one than we’d called before – Rescue Rooter). He came in, heard my story, and the first thing he noticed was that the little plastic pipe coming from the water softener wasn’t properly set in the drain. It was just out on the floor. He told me that every week or two, depending on use, water softeners shoot out about a tank full of water as part of the regeneration process.

I didn’t believe him that this could be the cause. The water was much more dense by the wall, and was never near the pipe. And it went clear to the other side of the room, skipping parts in the middle. It couldn’t be! Could it? He put the softener through a regeneration cycle, and sure enough, out came lots of water! Eventually, it all made its way toward the wall, causing some puddles to form.

He put the pipe in the drain properly in under one minute. Problem solved!

Can you believe that I have had over five “professionals” – including the city water guy, city sewer guy, and several plumbers – come into my house, and none were able to figure that out? In addition, most offered expensive solutions (over $1500) to solve the problem, sometimes even just to see if there was a problem! I’m sure glad I had someone else come in before I went ahead and spent the money.

As far as how the pipe got out, I don’t really know. But I think it may have been moved by someone I had come give me an estimate to remodel the basement several months ago.

Anyway, I’m really glad this issue is solved and that we don’t have a leak in our basement! Yay! Now I can get back to putting the storage room (and my office) back together.

Posted by: Brandon | March 17, 2009

The Easy Way to Read Blogs

Do you read a lot of blogs? Or are there just a handful that you like to check up on regularly? I know that a lot of my readers aren’t the “techy” type, but even those who are, I’m surprised to learn, aren’t taking advantage of a great time-saving tool related to reading blogs.

I’m talking about RSS Readers. Don’t let this name scare you. It’s a really simple idea (in fact, RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication”). So, rather than visiting each and every website to see if there’s anything new posted, you just look at one website that tells you which of your favorite blogs have new posts. And then you can either read the posts from there, or go to the actual website of the blog. It aggregates all your favorite blogs in one place.

Can you see how this would save you a lot of time spent going from site to site, especially if you have a lot of favorites? Also, this isn’t just for blogs. Most newspapers, magazines, and other websites have RSS feeds that you can easily pull from to see what’s new.

There are many free RSS readers out there. I use Google Reader, which is attached to my Gmail account. If you have a Gmail account, then you already have Google Reader. Just go to http://www.google.com/reader and you’ll see it. It works kind of like e-mail in that it shows which posts are new, and which ones have been read. You can also “star” posts, e-mail them, and put them into different categories. If you’re interested, Google Reader also keeps track of your “Trends” so you can see which blogs you read the most, which are most popular, and how many posts you read per day or week, etc.

To add your favorite blogs to Google Reader, click the “Add a subscription”  button at the top, copy and paste (or type) the url of your desired blog, and click “Add”.  Or you can search for new blogs this way here, too. Some blogs will have an “RSS” button, or even an “Add to Google Reader” button right on the page that you can click directly and it will add the blog to Reader for you.

As I mentioned earlier, you can categorize your rss feeds (blogs). For example, I have blog categories for “Family”, “Personal”, “Programming”, “Music”, “Travel” and more. So if I’m in the mood to read about travel, I’ll look at my travel category. I’m subscribed to four travel blogs right now. Two of them post every couple days, but one of them only posts every few weeks. So it’s nice to see the new posts there without having to visit the sites continually.

Who knows when I’ll write my next post. If you don’t want to keep checking back on my site every day to see if I’ve posted anything new, just add my blog (https://brandags.wordpress.com) to your Google Reader account, and it will tell you when I’ve posted something new.

If you’ve never used RSS feeds or Google Reader before, why not give it a try? Or check out some of the other free rss feed readers out there (for example, http://www.feedreader.com). If you have used them, feel free to share some of the things you like or don’t like about them. I know Google Reader can do a lot more than what I use it for, and I’m sure others have even more features. Happy reading!

Posted by: Brandon | March 15, 2009

Being Home

This vacation was truly like no other I’ve experienced. Usually, we spend our vacations running from one activity to another, and come back to a mess of things to do, making us even more stressed than before we left. We usually need a vacation from our vacation.

This time, however, we really felt rejuvenated, and have a renewed energy to get back into life. I didn’t have a big pile of things to do because I’d been taking care of the important ones while I was gone. And I realized that most of the things I thought I needed to do so urgently, really weren’t urgent, and that much of my to-do list could just be wiped out without any major effects.

What’s More Important Than Family?

Before I left, I seemed to base much of my happiness on how much I got “done”, and how well I cleared my to-do list. I would work to accomplish what I had planned to do, at the expense of enjoying time with my family, even if the things on my list weren’t very important. In fact, I often didn’t enjoy time spent with my family because I was worrying about the other things I hadn’t accomplished. Pretty sad, isn’t it? I hope I can remember this lesson, and put my family first. It makes life a lot more enjoyable. Who cares how much I do if I’m not enjoying the more important areas in my life?

It’s also much easier to and more enjoyable to deal with kids if you can give them your main focus and play with them, rather than trying to accomplish something on your own while expecting them to entertain themselves. Yes, this takes time and commitment! But what better way can you spend your time?

The day we came back was a busy day that normally would have been a bit stressful. Emily and Marie had both preschool and dance classes, we needed to go shopping for food, and I had some unfinished business to catch up on. But we had a great day and almost no stress! Yes, we ate out for two meals and didn’t get to the store, but we were okay with that! Jen and I enjoyed our date while the girls were at preschool, and we even went to a children’s musical theater that night (“Honk Jr.”) in which my dad had directed the music. What a fun day!

I accomplished what I needed to do that morning (and a little bit in the evening), and spent the rest of the day with my family – just like when we were on our trip. I’ve lived like this for the past six weeks – why shouldn’t I be able to continue doing so? Do I really need to be working or focusing on my own interests for eight hours a day?

Productivity vs. “Wasting” Time

Just being home for a few days now, I already feel a pull to go back to my old habits of working hard to be productive, and to get as much done as possible each day. Productivity is great, but I’m realizing that I was placing too much emphasis on it. I am a naturally productive person. I have trained myself not to “waste time” and to make sure whatever I’m doing is bringing me closer to my goals.

What I’ve learned on this trip, however, is that “wasting time” is often necessary to truly rejuvenate, clear your mind, and connect with yourself and others. Sometimes it’s more important to “do nothing” than to get something accomplished.

How Blessed We Are!

I didn’t think six weeks would be long enough to forget so much about what life is like at home. But we were amazed when we walked into our house because it looked so clean, and new and nice! Even though it’s just an average home around here, comparing it to where we came from, where they have a different standard of “nice” and “clean”, we were blown away. Our home seems so comfortable, is always the perfect temperature inside because of central air and heating. We have soft carpet instead of hard tile (except in the kitchen), comfortable couches to lay down on, and pure water to drink from the faucet. How blessed we are!

The streets and stores of Salt Lake City are also extremely clean (comparatively). In Panama, we got used to seeing more garbage on the side of the road, run-down or abandoned buildings, and lots of pedestrians. But everything here is very clean, new, orderly, and people generally follow traffic rules. How nice! 🙂 (I do see a lot more sloppy dress here, though. Interestingly, Panamanians generally dress really sharp.)

We’re very happy to be home, to see family and friends again, and to be enjoying the comforts of a 1st world country.

Posted by: Brandon | March 12, 2009

What We’ve Gained from Panama

When we set out on this adventure of spending six weeks in Panama, we didn’t realize how much it would affect our family. We had never spent so much consecutive time together, done so many new things together, and been so far away from home together.

Before we left, we had a few expectations, or at least hopes about what we would gain from this experience. We wanted to grow closer as a family, get away from the routines of home, and gain a greater focus on what’s really important. We also wanted to learn a little Spanish, increase our appreciation for other cultures and how people in other places live, and become more grateful for what we have. This trip has done all of this and more.

Faith and Fear

What we didn’t expect was how all this extra time to talk and think would teach us about other things. One of our greatest realizations was how much we limit ourselves by fear, often without even knowing it. The bad things that happen in life aren’t usually things that you prepare for or think about. When bad things happen, they’re usually unexpected, and you can’t prepare for them anyway. You just need to deal with them when they come. We often waste our energy worrying about those things in advance, especially if we have no control over them. Preparation is good. Worry is not.

There were a lot of things to be afraid of when coming on this trip – a lot of things could have gone wrong. And we were probably overcautious in some areas. But if we had listened to our fears and stayed home, rather than pressing forward in faith, we never would have had this wonderful time together as a family. We also discovered a lot of other areas in life where we have fear, and after analyzing, found our fears mostly unwarranted. The girls even discovered this, having now overcome their fear of bugs. I think we will be living our lives with more faith and courage now than ever before.

I also discovered that I really could continue running my business from a remote location, just checking up on it once or twice a day (or less). We also loved not having the distraction of a telephone. Just hearing it ring causes Jennifer to tense up at home, so we’re thinking about getting rid of our phone – or at least turning the ringer and answering machine off and just using it for outbound calls. Too drastic? Not if it isn’t necessary – we prefer e-mail, since we can answer it on our own time. And friends and family will still have our cell phones if a call is necessary (which it usually isn’t).

A More Connected Family

As you can imagine, we had a lot of time on this trip to interact with each other as a family. It was wonderful to be able to not only watch our children have these new experiences, but to experience it with them!  Jen and I had a lot of time to practice and talk about becoming better parents, and we learned some important things about how we parent, how our kids react and learn, and what our weaknesses and strengths are. Our overall feeling, however, is a much stronger connection between each member of our family. We feel like we know our kids better than before we left, and we love them more. We also feel more love and trust from them. To us, this is priceless. We have a renewed resolve to become better parents for these great children, to set better examples for them, and to get them at least through adolescence without ruining them. 🙂

We thought we might get really tired of being with our kids 24 hours a day, but we realized it’s actually a lot of fun! Whereas before, parenting often seemed like a chore, now it’s a joy. It’s not necessarily any easier, and we’re not necessarily any better at it. And yes, we do take breaks from them. But now more than ever, we love spending time with our kids, teaching them, watching them grow, and experiencing new things with them.

Home School

The other thing we didn’t expect was an increased desire to home school our children. I went over this a bit in another post, but I wanted to bring it up again here because it’s something we gained from our trip that was totally unexpected, and will have a huge impact on our family.

Gratitude and Self-Reliance

There were times in our solar-powered house in Bocas when we had neither power, nor water, and very limited food options – and it would cost over $50 to travel by boat to the nearest grocery store. Fortunately, Jen was extremely resourceful (one of her many talents) and was able to come up with some great meals from what we had. We were never able to use the television well in the house because there wasn’t enough sunlight to power both the television and the refrigerator. Most nights, we got ready for bed in the dark, both because we didn’t have power, and also so as not to attract the mosquitoes.

Experiencing this together was actually a lot of fun (except when the Internet went down – I did truly miss that :)). But it helped us gain a much greater appreciation for things like electricity and water which we take so much for granted at home. This experience, along with seeing how those in other small villages live, and our country’s current economic situation, also increased my feeling of urgency for becoming more self-reliant and prepared for emergencies. It makes me want to get more food and water storage, and even look for alternate sources of power. Many people in Panama are completely self-reliant, growing their own food, collecting and filtering their own water, and generating their own power. I had never seen that before.

More Scripture

Every night before bed, we continued to do our nightly ritual of singing a hymn, reading the scriptures together, and praying as a family. Our hymn diet wasn’t diverse. We alternated between English and Spanish versions of “I Am a Child of God” and “Families Can Be Together Forever”, as well as a few others like “Teach Me to Walk in the Light” and “Book of Mormon Stories”. Marie almost always requested “I Am a Child of God – in English”. 🙂 At home, we usually read a verse or two from the scriptures, and then a story from the Friend magazine, or another book. Here, since we wanted to pack light, all we had for reading material was my iPhone, so our reading was entirely from the scriptures.

We started reading the Book of Mormon together this year, page by page, rather than just select chapters like last year. And we’re surprised by how much the girls are interested in it. Rather than just a few verses, the girls usually want me to keep reading and reading. Some nights we got through an entire chapter! This mostly happened during the times when we were without electricity, sitting in the dark. Probably because of the lack of distractions, darkness makes for a nice environment to read and discuss the scriptures. Now that I know our girls can take more, I think we’ll read for longer spurts once we get home as well (at least through these more interesting chapters of 1 Nephi).

Spanish and Panama

We all picked up quite a bit of Spanish, although not as much as I’d hoped. With all the moving around we did to different cities, I never got into a routine of studying for a certain amount of time each day, or anything like that. Most of what I picked up was from listening to Jen. I think if we were to do this again, and language learning was a strong goal, we would pick one spot to stay in for a few months, spend more time meeting the people around us, and take time to study every day. Still, I’m pleased with my progress as I can now actually pick out individual words in a sentence, and understand a lot of what was said.

We learned a lot about Panamanian geography and culture, and what it’s like in the different parts of the country. We gleaned so much more from this trip than if we had done a quick 1-2 week vacation or a few days’ tour of the country. We feel like we really experienced Panama! (Although some may dispute that because we never did ride their “red devil” buses or go to Kuna Yala). But we feel like it was just about the right amount of time to be gone, and that we did all we wanted to do.

A Priceless Adventure

Spending six weeks in Panama has been a fantastic adventure that I am so glad we got to experience, and I feel it was worth every sacrifice to make the effort. I believe it will have an impact on our family for years to come. I truly can say that I personally feel closer to my family than before we left. I feel like our love for each other is stronger. Our appreciation for others who are different from us is stronger. And I am a happier and better person because we went.

So, what will we do from here? Well, we’ll probably stick around Utah for a while, but we’re already looking at other places in the world for our next trip, which we want to make even longer. There is so much to gain from these extended trips that we can’t seem to get at home in quite the same way. So far we’re looking at New Zealand, The Philippines, Thailand, or Mexico, but are nowhere near a final decision of when or where. We just know that we want to do it again.

Posted by: Brandon | March 10, 2009

Last few days in Panama

Sunrise in Bocas

Sunrise in Bocas

Yesterday, we bid goodbye to Bocas on a half-rainy, half-sunny day, and headed back to Panama City for another two nights before coming back home to Utah. We had a great time in Bocas, although being so far away from civilization for a week was a bit of a challenge for us, especially when we didn’t have power or water. But it was still a great experience.

Today was our last day in Panama. We fly home tomorrow!! We’re really going to miss this place. Jen even cried for a few minutes today (unusual for her) because she doesn’t want to leave. But there are things we miss at home too. Personally, I’m ready to get back to the familiar comforts of Utah for a while, and Marie wants to see her friend Evie and one of her stuffed animals. Emily seems to be content either way.

Girls at Benihana in Multiplaza

Girls at Benihana in Multiplaza

On our last day in Panama, we went to a mall downtown called Multiplaza, which has a lot of high-end fashion stores that were way out of our price range. We did splurge on a meal though, and took the girls to Benihana! 🙂 It was a fun show and good food, but definitely not cheap. We also let the girls ride the merry-go-round and a little train that took them around the mall, and got them some ice cream. They enjoyed that. Jen and I had smoothies.

On the way back, we found a taxi driver named Johann who was excited to be able to practice his English a bit. He wants to start a transportation company helping tourists and businesses people get around in Panama. He’ll be taking us to the airport tomorrow, too.

At the pool in Albrook Inn

At the pool in Albrook Inn

This time in Panama City, we’re staying at Albrook Inn, which is a really nice place. They have wifi, but again unfortunately, it doesn’t reach into my room so I have to come to their business center to use it. But they have a restaurant and a decent free breakfast, as well as a pool, which we enjoyed swimming in this morning. (Forgot to mention that.)

We took a walk around the neighborhood in the evening, and came to a park where the girls played for a while. It’s funny how they complain about their feet hurting from walking – until they see a park, and then they run with enthusiasm to play. Anyway, this walk was a nice way to end our day, and to end our stay in Panama. Last time we left Panama City, we were staying downtown, and were glad to get out of the noise and the busy-ness. This time, we’re happy to be back in civilization in a quieter neighborhood, and back to 50% humidity instead of 80% (even paper felt damp there :)). We do love all the birds around here, and the weather is great!

One thing I’ve also wanted to mention for a while but keep forgetting is the funny sound we often hear when driving, whether in our own car or a taxi. It’s the sound of a loud thunk that comes from the back-right seat of the car. Any car. Any guesses, car experts?

It’s actually the sound of Marie’s head bonking against the door! Marie can fall asleep in seconds once she gets in a car, and since we haven’t been using car seats in Panama, her head flops around a lot, and that’s a sound we heard all too often, sometimes followed by a whine or a little talking in her sleep, then she was back to dreamland. Once she’s asleep, it’s nearly impossible to wake her. (Although mentioning cookies or ice cream seems to have more effect than other methods).

Funny kids

Lastly, following in my sister’s footsteps of posting funny things her daughter says, I want to post a Marie-ism and an Emily-ism I heard today:

Marie: Daddy, why are you putting that stuff on your face? [It was sunblock]

Daddy: So I won’t get sunburned.

Marie: The sun’s not going to say, “Ha Ha Ha, I’m going to burn you!!” [imagine her sinister laugh]

Here’s one from Emily:

Emily: [Very dramatic panic] Marie’s putting my shoe on!!!!

Mom: So?

Emily: It will shrink!!!

Aren’t kids fun? See you soon!!!

Posted by: Brandon | March 9, 2009

Bocas Town

On Friday night, the waves were very high and crazy on the beach that night, spilling out over into the sand and making big puddles around our house. Along with the rain, the sound was almost deafening.

Probably because of the sounds, I had a dream that night that our house was carried away by a big river, and that once we got out, Marie walked to the edge of a cliff. I told her not to move, but she looked out over it and fell right off, fortunately bouncing off a couple people who were standing half-way down the cliff. When she hit bottom, she cried, so I knew she was alive. At that point, I woke up and was so glad it was just a dream. 🙂

On a park bench in Bocas Town

On a park bench in Bocas Town

On Saturday, we decided to spend the day in Bocas Town, about a 30 minute boat ride from where we’re staying. It actually turned out to be a very sunny day, and it was really hot in Bocas. But we ate at a couple restaurants, which were decent, but pricier than most we’ve been to. They did have great fruit juices, though – lots of variety, including Sour Sop. We had some snacks, looked around the town, and even took a little boat ride up to Boca del Drago, which had a beautiful beach. The waves were very choppy though so it was a bumpy ride.

We had dinner in Bocas town, and on our way back home, we were joined by a woman who’s serving in the peace core in the little community we visited a few days earlier. It was interesting to hear of her experiences and how she’s been living and helping out the past nine months.

Sunday, we ended up not going to church because it was over an hour away by boat, and would have cost about $150 to get there. Plus, we didn’t know exactly where it was or even what time it started. So we just did some private study and reading. Here are some pictures from the past few days.

Posted by: Brandon | March 8, 2009

How the kids entertain themselves, and more drawings

Emily and Marie have played together very well on this trip. Every morning here in Bocas, before Jen and I get up, the girls are outside playing in the sand, blowing bubbles, or on some imaginary adventure. I’m glad they’re such good friends. This isn’t to say they have always gotten along. They’ve gotten on each others’ (and our) nerves, and we’ve had to separate them on occasion, or get them to stop certain behaviors. But overall, we have been surprised and pleased with how good our kids have been, especially without any of the typical kids toys they have at home.

In fact, we didn’t bring any toys with us to Panama, and have only purchased a few things along the way, such as a drawing pad and crayons, and bubbles. (They were also very entertained with paper airplanes made from the drawing pad paper). We’ve been amazed at how much fun our kids can have with simple toys or none at all.

However, when we’re not doing fun things together, Emily or Marie will often want to play on the “little computer”, our 9″ laptop running Ubuntu Linux (you may call this a toy :)). When we’ve had a fast enough Internet connection, they’ll play Flash -based games on the Playhouse Disney website, or Nick Jr., like at home. But they’ve also enjoyed a few games that came with the computer such as a penguin racing game (where you, as a penguin, “skii” down a mountain on your belly), chess (yes, since we played live chess in Boquete, they actually have enjoyed playing chess on the computer!), and Tux Paint, a drawing game for Linux. The girls have created some pretty cute scenes with Tux Paint, which I proudly share with you below.

“Palm Tree” by Emily

“Palm Tree” by Emily

“Fairies” by Emily

“Fairies” by Emily

"Just a Little Picture" by Marie

"Just a Little Picture" by Marie

Posted by: Brandon | March 6, 2009

Dolphins and Starfish

Dolphins

Dolphins

What a fun day! When we woke up, we were happy to see the sun shining brightly, making the sand yellow, and the water blue! And except for a few showers throughout the day, the sun stayed with us, which changed the whole mood of the place. We were glad we got to see Mr. Sun while here.

Jen made hojaldres for breakfast (see other great Panamanian recipes on her blog), and then we went on a boat ride to see some dolphins. We saw several sets of them come up out of the surface of the water, and even a little baby dolphin. It was really fun. I felt so relaxed on this boat ride, just enjoying being here with my family, feeling the sun, and breathing the air.

After snorkeling

After snorkeling

We stopped at a little restaurant and had some shrimp and chicken – a bit pricey, but good. The girls didn’t like it much – no kid food. This restaurant sat on top of the water and you could see fish swimming underneath. The fish loved to eat the food people dropped.

So we decided to go snorkeling there, and fortunately we had brought our swimsuits. We saw lots of beautiful fish, including iridescent rainbow colors, black and yellow stripes, and more. Emily got in and swam around with her life jacket, and even tried the snorkel for a few minutes, but the mask was too big so water kept seeping in.

Marie was too afraid to get in the water, but she had fun throwing crackers in the water for us, so all the fish would come. 🙂 And the water was so clear, she could see the fish from above – some would even jump out of the water to get the crackers.

Emily holding a starfish

Emily holding a starfish

After we got back from the boat ride, we took a long walk along the beach and through the jungle just to see what there was. We were gone for a couple hours and the girls got pretty tired. On the way back, we saw a starfish, and found more cool shells. Before we left on our walk, Marie had found a really cute hermit crab, who she wanted to keep as her pet. She was very distraught when Mommy made her put it back during our walk, so it wouldn’t die. But she eventually recovered.

We had some spaghetti, bread and carrots for dinner, and had a good night’s rest. Check out some very cute pictures from the day, below.

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