We didn’t move for the food, but it sure is a perk.

One of the most glorious aspects of living in the Dominican Republic is the food. The rice and beans, the bollo, the locrio – ah… lip-smacking good! I’m taking the risk that people will think I’ve transformed our family blog into a food blog with this post, but I can’t help it. I must share one of our absolute favorite meals we’ve learned to make over the last 2 years. At first, we thought it was a ton of work, but we’ve come to the realization that the pain is worth the price.

Fried Plantains and Salami

So, first, you have to buy some plantains. (They may look like big green bananas, but they definitely aren’t bananas.) You start by peeling the plantains and slicing them into 1 or 2-inch chunks.

Then, you’ll want to heat up the biggest skillet you have and add some oil. This is the part where you just try not to think about how much oil you’re adding and keep pouring until your pan’s a couple inches full of the good stuff. When the oil’s nice and hot, add your plantain pieces. Let those suckers sizzle for a few minutes, turning them every so often (unless your 3-year-old and 2-year old are fighting over a toy… Then just let the plantains sit and hope for the best while you play peace-maker in the other room.)

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When they’ve turned a golden brown (the plantains, not your children), go ahead and pull them out of the oil. (I recommend making this meal if you’re at all stressed – this next step can be somewhat therapeutic.) Get ready for the biggest plantain-smashing party of your life.

DSC05882cropPlace a plantain inside your plantain-smasher-thingy. (I really should look up the technical term for this contraption.) Squish each one of those puppies as flat as you want them.

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DSC05885cropWhen you’re all finished, return the plantains to the piping hot oil for another go-around in the skillet.

DSC05887cropWhile you’re waiting, you can cut up some salami so it’ll be ready for later.

DSC05888cropAfter a few minutes, go ahead and take the plantains out of the skillet again. They should be hot and crispy (a bit like french fries) and ready for devouring.

DSC05891cropSince you’ve got all that oil sitting there, you might as well fry up your salami slices. Throw the salami in the skillet for a couple of minutes. Beware of the “oil fireworks” that may ensue – you could get some crispy arms if you aren’t careful with the popping oil.

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After the salami reaches its desired deliciousness, remove and serve with the plantains for a fantastically fried food-fest. (We like the plantains with a little salt and ketchup, but I’m not sure if that’s common Dominican practice.) Feel free to add some fruit on the side so you don’t feel like you’re eating at a McDonald’s greasepit.

DSC05899cropEnjoy!

Sick No More!

No big update this week. Just praising God for the “little things” this time around. The Great Mitchener Sickness of Spring 2014 has finally left the building. Last week was intense – all three boys were sick. But the Lord was ever so faithful to give me strength and patience for the long days and even longer nights of staying up with them. So thankful for healing and for the few peaceful moments along the way.

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March in Pictures

Here’s a look back at March in pictures.

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A chilly morning truck ride to Lima for school*
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Harvest season has been in full swing for several months now. Carts line up at the weigh stations in the morning, waiting to unload their sugar cane.*
My college roommate came down for a week!
Rockets
Kindergarten learned about outer space and made name rockets.
Visitors
Lots of visitors this month. Scott even came out for a day of fun!
Letters
We wrote letters back to a class in the States who sent down some Christmas goodies for our room.
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Our love for reading is growing!
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Stacy brought a super cute mosaic craft for the kids.
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Recess fun – Estefani and company
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The class hasn’t stopped asking for Chicka Chicka Boom Boom since Brett’s glorious rendition of the book.
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The students continue praying each day. Edward’s sweet smile never goes away, even with his eyes closed!
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The kids are beginning to control their bodies – an accomplishment that will never be seen on a report card, but it’s such a huge deal!
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“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” with Katie and Anllelo
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Beautiful, giggling girls from 3 different bateyes.*
My two cuties enjoying a Sunday afternoon at home. *
And last but not least… my two cuties enjoying a Sunday afternoon at home. And yes, one is pantless.*

Beautiful reminders of God’s faithfulness and blessings.

*Photo credit: Rachel Roberts

A Different Christmas

Christmas was a little quieter this year. No big family gatherings. No giant spreads of food. No expensive gifts under the tree. It was a different kind of Christmas.

We battled with loneliness more this year than last. Thankfully, we were able to Skype with our parents and give a few virtual hugs. We loved our Christmas Eve visit from the Simos family with their scrumptious cookie delivery. (The cookies didn’t last more than 24 hours – oops.) We also spent some fun nights playing games with the Clines.

We didn’t have our typical turkey-and-potatoes Christmas dinner, but we did enjoy a yummy breakfast casserole for Christmas brunch. (New tradition in the making?)

The boys had a ton of fun opening up their little presents. Funny how the 75-cent bouncy balls and small cups of Playdough were their favorite gifts. They haven’t quit playing with them since Wednesday.

Overall, we loved the slower pace of the week – the time to breathe, love on our boys, and reflect on Christ’s great love for us.

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The boys hanging with Dad by the tree
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iPad fun
Noah's new favorite job: dishes duty
Noah’s new favorite job: dishes duty
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Leyton loved “rearranging” the tree lights and ornaments
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The remains of the delicious Simos Christmas cookies
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A Christmas nap
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The boys “stocking” gifts of fruit snacks, M&M’s and goldfish crackers.
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Breakfast casserole
The bouncy balls were a hit.
The boys and their bouncy balls
A Merry Mitchener Christmas
A Merry Mitchener Christmas

My Christmas Battle

Typical. Just typical. The power would go out on Christmas Eve. This is the one week we have to relax and just be a family.

The dangerous thoughts spread through my mind like poison as we sat there in the darkness.

So much for getting the boys to sleep. No fan to muffle the Christmas celebrations outside. And no blanket for Noah since the washer’s locked. This should be fun.

Leyton’s whimpering snapped me out of my selfish, gloomy reverie for a moment.

“Don’t cry, buddy – Daddy bought some new candles. We’ll be able to see in no time.”

Seriously. No electricity – tonight of all nights?! And right when I’m heating up dinner…

I listened as Scott fumbled in the drawer for the matches. And the guilt settled in.

C’mon, Ang. What a horrible attitude. You’re going to be mad about a simple power outage? This happens all the time. It’s Christmas Eve. Take advantage of these moments with your babies.

The match striking against the box brought me back from my raging, internal mind battle. A small light stabbed out into the night. I paused to stare at the tiny, flickering flame in front of me.

What verse have you been drilling into your kindergartners over the last month, Ang? Could you really have forgotten so quickly?

Then I almost heard the little batey voices shouting out in unison.

Luke 2:11. For unto you is born this day…

Scott lit another candle. Light radiated throughout the kitchen.

… in the city of David…

A third flame. More darkness obliterated.

… a Savior which is Christ the Lord.

Another shining candle. Each new light drowned out more of the shadows that had been lurking in the dining room – and in my heart.

The tea lights in the living room were glowing. I looked around at the bits of brightness that had collectively served to remedy my negative thoughts. My heart was humble and full. My eyes locked on my babies sitting patiently at the table.

“Wow, boys! Look at all the candles! Now we can see!”

“See!” Leyton repeated perfectly in his sweet, high-pitched voice.

“OK – sit tight! Dinner’s coming soon.”

My leftovers-in-the-microwave-for-dinner game plan changed to a new gas-stove strategy. As I continued preparing the food, I was left to my thoughts once again.

Lord, are you really trying to teach me this simple lesson? Surely I’ve learned it by now. I know Christmas isn’t about the turkey dinners and the lights and the perfectly planned parties and the presents. I know tonight isn’t about my Christmas Eve plans complete with electricity. Or… do I?

The candlelight danced across the oven backsplash as visions of a tiny Baby in a dingy, dirty manger waltzed through my mind. And I thanked my Savior anew for setting aside His throne, putting on flesh, and willingly laying down His life. For me.

Anticipating Thanksgiving and Learning to Let Go

The pumpkin roll is in the oven. The pasta salad and guacamole are both chilling. The veggies are cut, and the potatoes are ready to be peeled and mashed in the morning. The pumpkin layer cheesecakes are cooling on the stove. The deluge of food held at bay in the refrigerator will undoubtedly flood the kitchen if I dare open the door. (Before you go thinking WonderAng made all that food by herself, accolades must go to Katie, Scott, and Yuleisy for their hard work prepping this overabundance of pumpkin-y goodness. I sure hope “accolades” and “sharing-my-turkey-and-stuffing” aren’t synonyms in the thesaurus…)

For the record, I am super-duper excited about Thanksgiving. I love food (see above paragraph). And games. And laughing. And getting an extended weekend to mentally recharge my brain-dead self.

But one of the things I’m most looking forward to is simply spending some time with my babies.

I don’t think I truly understood the plight of the working mom before becoming one. Since moving to the Dominican, I have added the role of teacher to my repertoire (yes, I did just say “repertoire”, and yes, I do think I deserve a cookie for saying it). In all seriousness, one of my biggest struggles has been figuring out how to balance work and family. There are days I can’t seem to cast off the guilt that comes with not accomplishing everything on my daily docket. I just want to cook dinner for my family and clean my house and keep up with the laundry and spend time with my husband and bathe my kids and have perfectly planned kindergarten lessons and exciting activities and a seamless curriculum and…

Then reality hits. And I realize that where I want to be and where I actually am as a wife, mother, and teacher are on completely opposite ends of this spectrum that I call my life.

I look at the Proverbs 31 woman and then look in the mirror and think, “There is no way I’ll ever be that.” I fall so short. When I get to the end of the day, absolutely exhausted and with so little crossed off my to-do list, I can’t help but let the frustration and apprehension and worry take reign for those last few moments before I drift off to sleep.

But thankfully, God’s been sharpening me and growing me over the last few months. He’s been showing me that my mind’s dial has been turned to the “wrong-thinking” position and that my perspective has been bent. I’ve recently been learning how to release the insecurities and regrets and feelings of not measuring up. I’ve been challenged to quit comparing myself to others and to just complete the tasks God has for me each day instead of looking to finish the jobs I’ve assigned myself. Some days I do better than others at finding this mental balance. I hate that I often give certain situations over to my Savior, only to later take them right back out of His hands – as if I know how to better handle them than He does. It’s been painful, this chiseling process. Letting go is a hard lesson to learn, and I don’t think I’ve aced it yet.

I know that I want to let the Lord have control of every area in my life – even in this battle of the mind. I’m praying that this Thanksgiving weekend allows me some moments to just reflect. Maybe while I’m scarfing down a second third piece of pumpkin pie, I can remember once again the amazing blessings I have in my family and in the opportunity to work here in the Dominican. I want to be able to share the testimony Jesus gave of His time spent in this world: “[Father,] I have glorified thee on earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do” (John 17:4, KJV).

This Started Out as an Update about Summer School…

What a whirlwind. We’re finishing up Week 5 of our water-themed, English-focused summer school. On a scale of “tired” to “bone-weary”, I’ve surpassed all normal exhaustion levels and moved into the “fatigue” arena. Most mornings, I wake up all fuzzy-brained and achy. I don’t feel like my Spanish (or my English) make any sense whatsoever. On top of that, my own little tornadoes (Noah and Leyton) need so much attention at this stage of life – I am constantly chasing them, attempting to keep them from demolishing everything they touch. Either that, or I’m feeling guilty for putting them to sleep in their cyclone of a room because I literally don’t have the strength to pick up every toy they own for the fifth time that day.

Sometimes I feel discouraged. Ok, scratch that. Most of the time, I feel discouraged. I get so drained from sending the same kids to the time-out corner in kindergarten. There are days that I am positive not one single word I belt out actually “sticks” in their brains. I hate that I don’t get to spend the amount of time I want to learning about each of their likes and dislikes and family life and social circles.

Frustration levels are through the roof. My computer just died a terrible death. We think we’ll be able to salvage the 2+ years of photos I never backed up. (Smart, Ang. Real smart.) If that file rescue doesn’t happen, I don’t want to think about the countless hours of lost research and planning and documents that I had prepared – for kindergarten alone.  Today, the power company cut our lights because the last tenants didn’t pay a ginormous bill. Thankfully, we’re stealing internet from our missionary friends. We’ve dropped a power cord down from their third story apartment to keep our fridge running. Welcome to mornings with cold showers and nights without fans. In other news, our jeep is with the mechanic – again. C’mon now. Wasn’t it just in the shop last week? (We missionaries get all giddy inside when we go a month without a car repair.)

There is no good conclusion here. Scott and I – we’re just tired. And discouraged. And frustrated. And maybe we’re complaining a little bit. In our minds, we know that the physical and mental and emotional exhaustion is temporary. We understand that if we let Him, God can use these little hardships to grow us in our relationships with Him. We realize that we are so blessed to have our home churches and families and friends encouraging us through visits and financial support. But in the middle of the difficulties, it’s hard to see the trials for what they are – more opportunities to allow God be lifted up in our lives.

If you think of it, we could use a little extra prayer tonight. We don’t just want to “grin and bear it.” Somehow, we want our Savior to be glorified in the middle of the mess.

 But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.

Job 23:10

 (Update: more extension cords are now running through our house – we have airflow! Praise Jesus.)

A Shoe Shine

“Shine ’em up real nice and I’ll pay you good.”

Scrawny, 9-year-old Moises reached into his backpack and slowly pulled out a rusty paint can, his brown and black shoe polishes, and some old buffing rags. I can’t imagine what was running through his little mind as Neal sat down on the stone bench and plopped a heavy boot up on the bucket for Moises to begin his work.

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“How long have you been at this today?” Neal curiously asked. “Since 7 o’clock,” Moises replied matter-of-factly.

It was late into the afternoon. People walked by, staring, smiling, even begging.

“How many customers have you had?” Without making eye contact, Moises answered quietly, “You’re my first one today.” He silently began cleaning Neal’s boots.

“Do you live with your parents?” was the next question. “No. With my grandma.”

Moises gingerly retied the shoe strings, added some polish, rubbed the color in with his index finger, and then buffed it all out.

Neal leaned forward. “You’re a hard worker, you know. I like that in a man. It’s important to work hard. You’re making a difference for your family in the right way. You’re not begging. And you’re not sitting back and just hoping things will work out.”

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Moises looked up. He gave the tiniest head nod in acknowledgement as he soaked in Neal’s words. Then he started working on the second boot.

Conversation drifted in and out. Neal told Moises about a work accident he’d endured years before. He’d cut off the tip of his thumb working hard on a job. Moises grimaced and shook his head. “You know what I’ve learned over the years, Moises? Never give up. Don’t ever quit doing the right thing, even if it’s hard to continue.”

A few minutes later, Moises gave Neal’s foot a pat as if to say he was finished. Neal inspected the boots. With a smile and a nod, he handed Moises his pesos and told him to keep up the good work. That little boy watched us as we walked back to our car, pulled away, and blended into the evening traffic.

What a small intersection in time. The gospel wasn’t given. Not in so many words. But a message full of wisdom and encouragement and love was passed from man to boy on the park sidewalk in the middle of San Pedro.

Maybe I’m being too optimistic or hopeful when I witness these simple moments. Maybe I romanticize the little things in life too often. But I can’t help but dream of the miraculous change that could take place in the life of Moises if God becomes the master of his ways.

Right now, Moises’s easel is his old, dented paint bucket. His paints are some cheap, colored shoe polishes. And his brushes are those old, cut-up rags he keeps in his little red bookbag.

Maybe one day, Moises will paint more than shoes.  Maybe someday, he’ll create gorgeous pictures for his customers – word pictures of God’s great love and mercy and grace and provision in his life. Maybe his conversation with Neal was a starting point. Or maybe some other Christ-follower will cross his path and show him the height and depth and richness of a Savior’s love.

I think that’s what I love so much about working with our little pre-schoolers. We don’t have to hope and pray for God to send us “shoe-shine” moments – although He still does. The amazing part is that we get to witness God transforming lives right before our very eyes. Every single day.

Click here to get involved!

January 2013

The first whirlwind month of 2013 has come and gone. We made a quick trip back to the States for a family wedding. It was so (cold but) wonderful to see our parents and siblings for a few short days, yet we are excited to be back on the ground gearing up for a busy year.

Tomorrow, Ang starts subbing for the 3’s in our pre-school while the Simos family is back on furlough. You can pray for her as she has the opportunity to interact on a deeper level with these impressionable little guys and gals for a couple of weeks.

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Tomorrow is also Scott’s last day of his very first VBS teaching in Batey Piñones. You can pray for him as he finishes up his sessions on Elijah and gets ready to start the same VBS in Batey Lima in a few weeks.

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In February, we’re continuing on with our building project – hoping to raise $20,000 this month alone! It seems like such a daunting task, but God is able. Pray with us as we construct a permanent place for our teachers to “set up shop” and for our students to continue learning and growing. Visit our website to learn more about owning a “share” in the education of one of our kiddos!