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Saturday, June 7, 2014

Baja Bound House Building Trip - Ensenada, Mexico

A few months ago I saw a Facebook post from a high school friend, Jonathan Shinn, announcing a housebuilding trip for a family in Mexico over Memorial Day Weekend.  I was immediately interested, and after working out the detail with Jimmy, my mom, and my mom-in-law, I was excited to be able to join the group.  

The build was coordinated by an organization called Baja Bound Ministries (, who joins the families in need (working poor, via a local pastor in Ensenada), arranges for a Baja Bound trip coordinator, a builder, and all the building supplies needed.  We just had to provide the funds (donations) and the manpower to build.  Our building group was not associated with any church, but rather just a mix of friends and family who have a heart to help a poor family and the time available to do it, and it was a great group!  We all worked really well together, and had a lot of fun doing it!

Since I was one of the few team members not from SoCal, I ended up flying down on Thursday, and got to spend some time with the fam - a quick lunch with Joey, Lindsey, and Jackson, then pick up our nephew Deacon from his preschool, and the afternoon and dinner with David, Dana, Deacon and Delanie.  Also squeezed in a quick hello to my S-I-L April before we crossed the border.  It was fast but so fun to see them and the kids!



This is the family we were building for:  the Perea Quiroz family, which we are still a bit uncertain of how everyone is related (language barrier), but it appears to be three brothers, two of whom are married and have children, and a few of those children have kids of their own.  They are immigrants from the state of Oaxaca, and actually speak very little Spanish.  Their native language is a called Mixteco, an indigenous language that sounds nothing like Spanish.  We were able to communicate more easily with the men than the women, as they are out working in the fields and have more necessity for learning Spanish. Their current home is made from tarps and rope sitting up on a rocky, dusty hillside overlooking the town and out toward the sea.  Great views, horrible conditions.

Concrete slab for the new house foundation.  Two of their three house tents on the right, one of which was built in part with an old Chipotle ad banner.  Ironic.

The first part of our group headed toward the border Friday morning - there were actually only 7 of us working for a half day on Day 1, including the builder and his two teenage sons, and the other dozen or so arrived midday Saturday.  On day one we framed the house, leaving me with some lovely elbow pain from all that hammering, but amazed at how quickly the structure of a house came together!

Building buddies, Jon and Alaa
Standing by their water supply
Juana doing laundry on her washboard
When the men returned from working in the fields on Friday night, they joined in the building process - on the bucket is Natalio's son, and Natalio is in the background. 
Next to me is Cecilia, and Juana is in the aqua shirt in the middle.  So great to see smiles on their faces!
The Day 1 framing crew, including Baja Bound founder, John Rose in the yellow shirt

Day 2:  Roof, painting and hanging outside paneling, insulation, and drywall...  Once the rest of the team arrived we were really able to pick up pace, and several members of the family helped wherever they could.  

Despite their absolute poverty, the family brought us juices and sodas on several occasions.  We would of course prefer that they saved their money for themselves, but we graciously accepted them each time.  This little guy is making one of the deliveries.


This picture (below) is right after Juana and I finished the second coat of paint on the white trim behind us.  We sat down to rest while it dried and had a chance to talk (as best as we could communicate with one another) about our families.  I showed her pictures of my babies, and she shared that she also has a son and a daughter that live in California, along with two more grandchildren.  It was so great just getting to spend time and talk with her, and I think she really appreciated it, too. 

(Notice all the blue paint on boys hands far right... done intentionally and he was quite excited about it!)

Guess I must have said something funny to make Juana laugh... :)

Beautiful view, right?  The ocean is in front of that peak on the horizon.

At the end of day 2, Nancy Alvarado (our awesome Baja Bound trip coordinator and member of the building team, holding her arms up in the middle), Jon (gray T-shirt), and Natalio (man smiling in front of them) were trying to learn how to say something in their language, Mixteco.  He was teaching us how to count to 10 in Mixteco... eee (1), ubee (2), unee (3), comee (4), oo-oo (5)... that's all I can remember. Fun to see him light up as he was teaching us. 

Day 3: Finishing the details, dry-wall and mudding, visiting the orphanage, and presenting the house to the family.

Drywall team - Angela, Anna, Kelsey, Alaa, and me

Three pieces of meat drying in the sun to make jerky

Natalio and Juana's daughter, Elena, and her 18-month-old son, Salvador

We had a short visit to a nearby orphanage to play and do crafts with the kids.  Wish we had had more time to spend with them - it passed much too quickly...
Blanca, who wanted to be pushed on the swings
This is Perla (which means 'pearl') - she didn't want to leave the swings to come back to where the rest of the kids were, but I started telling her about birthstones for each month of the year, and that pearl is the stone for June, which was when my birthday is.  I asked her when her birthday was, and she said June, to which I told her that may have been where she got her name.  She seemed to think that was really cool, wanted to know how I knew about the birthstones thing, and then very willingly walked back over with me to join the other kids.  Sweet girl.

On the second day I noticed this tiny peach tree growing out of the crack between some rocks and the side of one of the family's tent.  I thought it was so beautiful to see something alive and healthy growing in the midst of dirt, dust, and rocks.  The same for the shoot of red flowers growing randomly and alone above their property.  

On Day two Juana and Natalio gave me a gift - this woven white bird, made by Natalio (I happened to see him carrying it around as he was making it, but at that time unsure what it was), made from the plastic straps like you would find wrapped around a case or pallet.  I felt very privileged that they made something special just for me!  

The finished house!  Two bedrooms, a living room area, and a loft with a ladder, four windows, insulation, electrical wires ready for them to connect when they are ready, and a locking front door.  Simple, but an enormous improvement from what they have now!

Presenting the keys to the house

A tight squeeze to try to fit our building team inside with the families for a group shot.  

On the third day (Sunday) we also gave the families different gift we had brought for them, including some clothing, hair accessories, nail polish, and a few sundry items just for fun.  I had also brought with me a painting of a Stargazer Lily that I had done in high school, and that I thought they would appreciate to have hanging in their home to remember our group.  

So in 48 hours, a group of 15 people was able to transform these families' lives and gift them a fresh start, and a chance at getting ahead.  Such an amazing feeling to be able to bless them in this way!  I'm so thankful to Jimmy and our families for their hard work back in Lodi, too, taking care of Caleb and Landon so that I could be a part of this experience.  It is something that I love doing, and pray and hope that I will be able to shine God's love on more families and children on future building trips!

Bonus:  Most of the group ended up crossing back to California on Sunday night since our building work was completed, but I stayed with my friend Jon and a couple of others until Monday morning. We had to take a detour on our way up to the border due to a section of the highway that had washed out back in December and is still under repair, and we decided on a whim to make a leisure stop at a beautiful new winery called Cuatro Cuatros (  We got to taste some wine and have a tour around the CabaƱas and little restaurant that are on the premises.  It was gorgeous!  A very unique detail that first caught our attention from the highway was that their vineyards are planted in concentric circles!  Click above on their website link to see a picture... Who knew that Baja California has its own little Ruta del Vino (wine route)!

Huge doors folded open to a outdoor patio and tasting bar

Thursday, June 5, 2014

May 2014

At the beginning of May, Caleb's school had an end-of-the-year program that they worked hard practicing and learning songs for.  The all looked so cute dressed up nice, and with little paper doggy ears on, though they sort of acted like a horse's side blinders as Caleb's gaze wandered around the room at different people instead of looking forward and focusing on the program.  We did see him do some of the hand motions and sing some of the song lyrics, but we could tell this is so not his thing, not at this stage of development anyway.  After their songs a slideshow played with pictures from throughout the school year - a fun window to gaze into since most moms and dads don't see them doing their thing at school when we aren't watching!

At Caleb's preschool each child gets to be 'Star of the Week', generally very close to their birthdays. Well since Caleb has a summer birthday his turn came this month instead.  We filled out this poster (below) to tell his classmate about himself and his family.  Caleb's answers were surprising to me - not the things I would have answered if I had to guess, but we wrote down what he told us...  After more than a year of everything needing to be blue (many clothes, shoes, forks, plates, cups, etc), his new favorite color seems to be GREEN.

Construction Zone!  Our neighborhood has been under major construction since the beginning of the month for the installation of new water pipes and water meters. Its a dusty mess, and since the boys (mostly Caleb) aren't so into the construction stuff any more, its not nearly as entertaining for them as I imagined it would be.  Here is a peek at some of the work...

Installing our new water meter 

The rumble of the machines shook our house as they got started at 7am this day...
They seem to be nearing the end of work in our neighborhood, which is kind of nice.  I'm ready to wash the dust off my car!

What Caleb is into:  Green anything, Flip-flops, Transformer-type toys (animals into vehicles, etc), building with the little Legos, the Lego Movie, Paw Patrol (a show on NickJr.), a kids book that is essentially a dictionary with pictures!, and the Lilo and Stitch surfing song.

What Landon is into:  Singing the Pete the Cat song in the car, building with the (little size) Legos, the color Yellow, telling us that Paw Patrol is "on Nick Jr.", riding his bike and the scooter, playing play-doh, and (as of my return from Mexico), calling me "mama" instead of mommy - so cute how he says it!

My Spring session of Spanish classes ended in the beginning of May, and I decided it was time to commit to potty training Landon (2 1/2).  He has been wearing pull-ups and showing plenty of signs during the past several months, so I felt pretty confident that he was ready... thankfully I was right!  I can confidently say that after a week he was trained.  Hooray!!

He put on daddy's slippers and grabbed the swiffer and said "I go to work now." :)

Several of you have seen this on my Facebook, but this was what Caleb said about me for Mother's Day... hilarious!

Garage Sales!  I have only ever done one garage sale, and my part of it was quite small.  A girlfriend and I decided to get rid of a bunch of stuff, and it turned out we had a ton between the two of us!  This was the night before Sale #1.

Even after getting rid of stuff for the first sale, I continued finding things we needed to move on, and at the end of the month another girlfriend and I joined our stuff for another sale.  Call me crazy, two garage sales in a month!  No pictures taken, but our things combined with some contributions from family filled a very long driveway!

Fun times at Harney Lane Winery's pick-up party - the boys got to enjoy some delicious miniature ice cream cones.

Micke Grove Zoo outing and picnic with the Elsons

One of Jimmy's stocking stuffers at Christmas this year was a subscription to Games magazine, something he used to love when he was young.  There are tons of puzzles, brain teasers, and the like, and he was more excited about that one gift than anything else we gave him.  I love it.  He is one happy camper when the new issue arrives each month!

Swimming at Grandpa Howard's birthday party with C & L's second cousins (Chantel's kids) - the boys were jumping into the spa with the floatie rings, submerging their heads under water for a long time that day - good warm-up for the upcoming swim lessons!

Zach and the boys are all very into 'Paw Patrol' right now, a show on Nick Jr. Here they are watching it after swimming.

Landon's only real haircuts in the past nine months have all occurred when I have been out of town and the boys are with Jimmy for the weekend - once in October, once in January, and we finally got him to sort of allow the hairdresser to give him a trim last weekend when the girls and I were having our garage sale.  There must be something about not having mommy in his frame of thinking that makes him more willing to cooperate...  So glad it worked!!  Cutting sections here and there while he sleeps is NOT fun!

High energy playtime with our cousins!

Super Caleb and Super Landon!

Swim lessons!  This year is pretty much the first time the boys have had any swim lessons.  I had no idea what to expect from them, and prepared their teacher, Haley, for the worst on day one just in case. To my pleasant surprise they have done amazingly well, with no resistance from Caleb and just a little from Landon.  We are almost to the end of week two, and I can see Caleb getting close... I think he will be swimming on his own before the end of the summer!
Happy boy after his first lesson!

Park play date!  

After our baby bath tub was recently returned to us, the boys (mostly Landon) have loved playing in it and driving it around calling it a boat.

I have some cute videos that I wanted to include in this post, but am having trouble getting them into the right format to upload.  (They are IMG files in iPhoto, so it won't let me upload...)  If anyone knows how to change this, let me know!

Can't leave out one of the biggest things during the month of May for me - my house building trip to Mexico!  More on that in the next post...