Tag Archives: caribbean

La Vereda Children’s Mural (Mucho Mejor!)

19 Feb


Today we held our fourth mural painting session with the children of La Vereda.  Our new system was mucho mejor!  I am so happy we figured this out.  Like most organizational concepts, it was pretty simple.  As the children arrived we had them sign their name on a list.  The first 5 students would paint for 30 minutes, then the next 5 and so on.

Painting sign-up sheet.

We told each child what time their painting slot was and asked them to come back at their scheduled time.  Almost all of them were happy to comply with the new system though there were several very persistent little cuties who just could not contain their excitement enough to leave and come back, but instead insisted on hanging around until it was their turn.  Lol.  We tried our best to keep them in the shade since it was so hot!  In any case the new system was delightful, allowing for so much more organization and the small group made working more pleasant for the children, as well as us.  There were beautiful moments of little voices chattering about their painting, and even moments of silence as the children found that wonderful space inside the creative process where one is in the so-called “zone” or engaged in what we can also call “flow”, a theory proposed by physchologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  You can read more about the concept of “flow” here.

One of the great parts of the day was the interest of passerby, neighbors, and family.  We had quite a few people stop to watch and admire the children working.  Some were surprised the children had done all of the painting on their own.  We also had a few children we’d never met before pass by and ask if they could participate and because our new system was so efficient it was much more easy to include anyone who expressed interest.  It was really super to feel enthusiasm for the project from the community.

Children painting. Notice the three passerby who stopped to watch us work.

The children did such fantastic work with the mural!  They started out by fixing up some spots from our last session.  Then they added casitas, matas de coco (coconut palms), and a mata de mango (mango tree).  The wee little ones did a great job adding fruits and veggies to the “tierra” layer of the mural.  They painted zanahorias (carrots), cebollas (onions), yucca (cassava), tomate (tomatoes), and calabaza (squash).

Here’s what the mural looks like now:

Lookin' good!

Phew!  After 2 1/2 hours working in the hot sun Renzo and I were quite sweaty, hungry, and thirsty.  As usual Luz & Robert had a delicious Dominican lunch waiting for us.  Before we headed home, Renzo wanted to stop by the back of his Grandfather’s house to see if we could grab some guava off the tree.  We saw some ripe ones but they were pretty high up.  After a few minutes of throwing rocks at the hanging guava, Renzo’s Tio Victor came out of the house to show us how it’s done:

Tio Victor climbing the guayaba tree

Climbing trees is no big deal around here, lol

One of my favorite things about Dominican culture (and Carribean culture in general) is how ready and willing people are to climb just about any tree to procure fruit!  No one around here ever seems too tired or busy to hoist themselves up a tree to grab you something tasty.  There’s something so free-spirited and generous about this characteristic of the culture that I think is very special.  Think about that the next time you feel too tired to get off the couch to get your sweetheart a tasty treat from the kitchen! Jaja.

As we were about to leave with our guayaba (guava) I told Renzo I was craving agua de coco (coconut water) and I asked if he could find out from Victor where we could get some.  Earlier in the day we had seen some vendors passing by but we were too busy painting with the children to bother with buying any.  Of course Victor’s response was something along the lines of “Why buy coconuts, just go out back and get some off the tree.”  So another tree-climbing venture ensued, though this time help was enlisted from Renzo’s very-skilled-at-tree-climbing cousin.  He must have knocked down about a dozen coconuts for us to take home.  (Did I mention Samba LOVES coconuts?  Playing with them, eating them, drinking from them…they are his favorite tropical doggie toys!)  The one they opened for me was soooooooo sweet and delicious!  I am really savoring these special moments with such little time left here.

Ask & you shall receive... agua de coco. YUM

All in all it was a beautiful day.

Here is a slideshow with some pics:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

More updates on the mural (& our plants) in the next few days…

xo A

First Art Class in the Campo: Making Pre-Cut Shape Collages

10 Dec

Los ninos encanta sus collages!

Today we had our first art class in the campo!  We had 12 children in attendance, ages 4-10.  The kids were so super excited about the class that they all showed up 45 minutes early!  Renzo and I hadn’t even left the house yet when we got a call from Luz to come quick!  LOL, so cute.

The children were all smiles as we pulled up in the car and started unloading the supplies.  Renzo got the kids into a circle and kept them busy making name tag necklaces to wear (makes it easier for us grown-ups to learn the children’s names more quickly and the  kids love making them), while I hurriedly set up our work table.

I planned a simple, classic, collage-based art lesson, providing the children with a range of pre-cut geometric shapes in different sizes and colors which they could then arrange and glue to their papers.  I love starting with this type of project because it is interesting and very accessible to a wide-range of abilities and ages.  It provided a chance for us to talk about favorite colors and shapes, speaking the words in both English and Spanish.  (The children were REALLY excited when I told them I want their help to learn their language and that I would teach them art & some English in return).   This type of lesson also gives me a sense of where the children are at both manually (in terms of fine motor skills) and conceptually.  I’ve also taught this lesson many times to different age groups from 2-12, so those past experiences help guide me in placing where the children might be at in their artistic development, and how I might want to proceed from here.  I was actually quite surprised to find out from the children that NONE of the children had ever participated in an art class before.  Given that, I was incredibly taken with how easily they engaged with the project and their confidence in using the materials (glue, etc).

Teaching the class itself was interesting given the language barrier between me and the class.  I did my best to speak as much Spanish as I could, but often needed Renzo to translate, especially for giving out more explicit instructions and getting the children’s attention.  Classroom management is much more of a challenge in this scenario.  It’s definitely a little strange for me because I’m usually able to read and react to situations very quickly when they arise in the classroom, but not having a firm grasp of the language means losing precious seconds having to ask Renzo to translate or me struggling to find words which I needed to come out much more quickly!  I think anyone who has been a teacher will know exactly what I mean.

In terms of the children’s work, they mostly placed their shapes in different ways on the page,  playing with having shapes touch and overlap- or not.   A fewer number of children represented things from life (mostly faces, which is not a surprise).  There were a few that began representing other objects like trees, flowers, and houses, generally in their second collage (again, not a surprise).  All of the children made two (sometimes three) collages which was fantastic for me to see, because the first collage in this situation is always going to be like getting your feet wet, getting used to new materials and a new way of working, and then subsequent collages are all about new discoveries and beginning to master the materials and process which is soooo exciting for all of us.

After the children had all had a chance to make multiple collages we hung the work up on the wall and sat around for a discussion.  I asked the kids if anyone wanted to share about their collage and…………crickets.  No one wanted to share and they seemed a little embarrassed….it was probably new for them.  So instead I asked if anyone would like to speak about a collage someone else had made that they liked.  Bingo!  The children opened right up and suddenly everyone was out of their shell, wanting to talk about their friends’ work.

I am thinking about what we will do next week.  For sure I want to get my hands on another table so the children can be less cramped.  I think I also want to sit the younger children at one table and the older children at another to make it easier for us to modify the project for the different age levels.   I’m certain that I’d like us to work with collage again, but would like to encourage the children to see how they can change the paper shapes (by folding, twisting, crumpling, etc).  I’m also interested to see how the older children handle scissors (younger ones a little later on).  I’m also thinking about hanging collages…there are some great beams on the ceiling we could hang strings from, literally turning things upside down (so much fun)!

Lots of good stuff to think about.  So glad to be teaching again!

xo A


Soil Tests & More Germinating Seeds

1 Dec

After a week back in NY for the Thanksgiving holiday, we returned to find some of our seedlings had become strong enough for transplantation.  This was great because we’d been having some concerns over whether our site for the medicinal garden had viable soil, so yesterday we decided to head out and do some soil testing.  We chose four different sites, all located within walking distance of each other- our friend Robert’s house, the backyard of Renzo’s grandfather’s house, Renzo’s grandfather’s larger plot of land (the site we’d originally planned for our garden), and Renzo’s mom’s land (which is known to have good soil).  The three herbs we transplanted at the sites were milk thistle, licorice, and burdock.

We planted at Robert’s house first:

As you can see the soil at Robert's land is dark and rich. It is the same soil we used to germinate our seeds. We planted licorice there.

Next we experimented with the soil in the yard adjacent to Renzo’s grandfather’s house.  We planted one of each the herbs there.

The soil in the backyard adjacent to Papa's house was not as rich, dark, and well aerated as the soil at Robert's house. The soil here was more clay-like. We planted all three herbs here.

Our third site was Papa’s large plot of land.  This is the site where we had originally intended to do our cultivation project.  More recently we had been told that the soil may not be very good, and that there are some diseased trees on the property.  This was our first trip there to take a closer look at the soil and the current condition of the land.

The soil here was a yellowish-brown color and was thick and muddy. It didn't appear to be as nutrient dense as the other soil sites. We were told by Renzo's Tio Rafael that some time ago outside soil was purchased for use on this land and subsequently had a negative impact on the health of the original soil make up. We have also been told there are drainage problems. We are very curious to see what happens to the milk thistle seedling we planted there.

Our fourth and last test site was Renzo’s mom Taty’s plot of land.  This land is known to have great soil.  In fact Robert’s wife Luz gave us a calabaza squash and a piece of yucca that had been grown there by Nelson, the farmer who tends the land for Taty.  She told us that everything he grows does well there.

Luz’s son John came along to help us navigate to the site. Here’s a picture of John and Renzo transplanting the seeds:

The soil on Taty's land is rich, dark, and clay-like. There were lots of earthworms in her soil. We planted licorice and burdock there. We know the health of the soil is good because Nelson grows many vegetables and some fruits there already. The only problem with Taty's land is that is is quite crowded. There is not much space available for new plantings.

It was threatening to rain all day today which we were happy about as our little seedlings could use some water.  If it doesn’t rain tomorrow we will most likely head back out to the sites and water them ourselves.  We are in the rainy season so you never know, we may get lucky.  In any case we will be checking the sites again in a few days, or possibly next week depending on the rainfall.

We also planted 216 new seeds today comprising 24 different species of medicinal herbs and plants.

We planted 24 new types of medicinal seeds today. They are: alfalfa, echinacea, mad dog skullcap, ephedra, chaste tree, stinging nettles, st. john's wort, marshmallow, valerian, eleuthero, chickweed, blue seed poppy, white sage, wormwood, mullein, lemon balm, mugwort, ribgrass plantain, eucalyptus, chaparral, aloe, thyme, uva ursi (bearberry), and tulsi (holy basil).

Here is a list of just a few of the many medicinal uses for these plants:

Blue Seed Poppy– sedative for insomnia, anxiety, and nervous tension, reduces fever, analgesic, antispasmodic

Eleuthero– superior adaptogen, prevents harmful changes in human biochemistry due to stress, increases oxygenation of blood and red-blood cell count, softens cancerous tumors, inhibits metastasis and growth of new cancers, protects against radiation and chemotherapy.

Eucalyptus– antiseptic (esp. for upper lungs/bronchials), stimulates immunity, repels cockroaches and other insects

Echinacea– strong antiseptic, king of blood & lymphatic cleansers, good for blood poisoning (inc. snake bites), strong antiviral/antibacterial, immune system stimulant and strengthener, tumor inhibiting for carcinosarcoma & lymphatic leukemia

Mugwort– promotes lucid dreaming, good for chronic gastritis, helps inhibit fat cravings, good for nervousness, shaking, and insomnia, topical anesthetic, traditionally used in shamanism to aid in shifting into another time-space dimension

Marshmallow– anti-inflammatory (esp. for mucus membranes of the respiratory and urinary tract),  helps tonify the kidneys and soothes pain of passing kidney stones, relieves allergic food reactions in children

Mullein– tonic for ears, cleansing/soothing/building, swimmer’s ear, ear mites/infections in animals, useful for hyperthyroidism, soothing tonic to lungs/bronchials

Ma Huang/Ephedra– treats colds, flu, asthma, and allergies, dilates the bronchial passages while drying the mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract (especially the sinuses)

Mad Dog Skullcap– you can read about skull cap in a previous post here.

Valerian– lowers blood pressure, sedates central nervous system (induces sleep), alleviates insomnia, lessens pain throughout the body

Aloe– internally strengthens cell walls, protects mucus membranes and stimulates healthy cell renewal, cancer/general disorders of the GI tract, anti-fungal/anti-viral, enhances immune system, great carrier for helping other substances/herbs pass through the skin, anti-aging/decreases wrinkles, increases collagen, has anti-tumor activity, helps lesions/skin cancers, cancer of the bone and connective tissue

Tulsi (Holy Basil)– reduces blood/sugar levels, reduces cholesterol, antioxidant, protects from radiation poisoning and cataracts, promotes immune system function, adaptogen (helps the body adapt to stress)

Alfalfa– Good for thickening blood, full of B vitamins, chlorophyll/mineral-rich, strengthens connective tissue, useful for arthritis, strengthens fingernails/hair

Chickweed– brings tissue into proper structural balance,  helps tonify lungs and nasal tissue, psoraisis

St John’s Wort– antidepressant, helps restore damaged nerve tissue, lessens nerve pain, strengthens urinary organs, very useful for treating athletic injuries w/nerve damage and/or pulled muscles and ligaments, useful for chronic disease such as: arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and AIDS

Ribgrass Plantain– astringent, anitfungal, repairs internal organs and tissues, soothing internally and externally, anti-inflammatory, useful in salves for itching/skin irritations, psoriasis, eczema, impetigo, anti-inflammatory (soothes skin), classic first aid for the skin (helps stop bleeding, helps heal cuts & wounds)

Chaste Tree (Vitex)– balances pituitary gland/regulates progesterone, improves symptoms of pms and menopause, calming for emotional distress associated with menopausal depression, helpful with heavy menstrual bleeding, cramps and painful periods, and amenorrhea

Lemon Balm– aids digestion, alleviates nausea, gas, and diarrhea, relieves physical and mental tension related to PMS or menopause

Uva Ursi (Bearberry)– helps with bladder, kidney, and urinary tract infections

Chaparral– strong antioxidant,blood purifier, strong anti-cancer, can use topically for skin cancer

White Sage– decreases appetite, calming to stomach, expectorant, for sore irritated/inflamed throat

Thyme– warming/drying anti-fungal, immune stimulant, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, aids respiratory infections/colds, contains anti-cancer compounds, helps alleviate symptoms of Epstein-Barr

Stinging Nettles– helps with high blood pressure, nutritive, rich in nitrogen and other minerals, useful for anemia, enhances absorption of calcium, strengthens bones and connective tissue, classic herb for arthritis

Some of the seeds are so very tiny!  Check out St. John’s Wort:

With all of our new plantings we were very excited to bring back with us a special purchase we made while we were back in NY.  Check out our new mini-greenhouse:

This small greenhouse allows us more control over the environmental factors that affect the seeds. We can keep it closed if it's too cool, open when it's warm, and it protects the delicate seedlings from too much rain (which we have been having a lot of). It's also very useful protection from our favorite four-legged friend!

Well that’s the latest news from around here.  More updates soon once we check on our transplanted seeds!