Merry Christmas 2017!


We were delighted to celebrate an early Christmas at the start of December with a visit from all of our children.  We are grateful for the gifts this year of life, peace, and joy!  Warm greetings from all of the Elliotts to you and your families.

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Flowering Trees


Antigua has been abuzz with processions, beautiful carpets of colored sawdust or flowers, and lots of tourists all through Lent and Holy Week.  We enjoy the community enthusiasm that is the highlight of the year here.

The lavender jacaranda blooms especially well as an Easter greeting during this time of year as you can see in the picture above.  The following Luci Shaw poem takes up a similar theme.  Happy Easter!

Rising: the Underground Tree
(Cornus sanguinea and cornus canadensis)

One spring in Tennessee I walked a tunnel
under dogwood tees, noting the petals
(in fours like crosses) and at each tender apex
four russet stains dark as Christ’s wounds.
I knew that with the year the dogwood flower heads
would ripen into berry clusters bright as drops of gore.

Last week, a double-click on Botany
startled me with the kinship of those trees
and bunchberries, whose densely crowded mat
carpets the deep woods around my valley cabin.
Only their flowers—those white quartets of petals—
suggest the blood relationship.  Since then I see

the miniature leaves and buds as tips of trees
burgeoning underground, knotted roots like limbs
pushing up to light through rocks and humus.
The pure cross-flowers at my feet redeem
their long, dark burial in the ground, show how even
a weight of stony soil cannot keep Easter at bay.   —Luci Shaw

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Christmas greetings!

Sadao Watanabe, Flight to Egypt

Flight to Egypt by Sadeo Watanabe

Warm greetings and wishes for a wonderful holiday season.  We are thankful for a year full of positive progress on our goals, an enjoyable month in San Diego with our children and other family members, and a long list of guests at our informal B & B.  Here is some Christmas art and poetry that appealed to me—enjoy!


No longer able to believe
That the great Unknowable
Came among us as a child.

He finds a way,
This tinselly time of year,
To the crib and the singing.

In some kind of fealty
To those whose softness
Nourished his growing:

And, for a moment,
Dreams himself back
Into the sweetness. —Pádraig Daly


Golden Sea by Makoto Fujimura


All was taken away from you: white dresses,
wings, even existence.
Yet I believe you,

There, where the world is turned inside out,
a heavy fabric embroidered with stars and beasts,
you stroll, inspecting the trustworthy seems.

Short is your stay here:
now and then at a matinal hour, if the sky is clear,
in a melody repeated by a bird,
or in the smell of apples at close of day
when the light makes the orchards magic.

They say somebody has invented you
but to me this does not sound convincing
for the humans invented themselves as well.
The voice — no doubt it is a valid proof,
as it can belong only to radiant creatures,
weightless and winged (after all, why not?),
girdled with the lightening.

I have heard that voice many a time when asleep
and, what is strange, I understood more or less
an order or an appeal in an unearthly tongue:
day draw near
another one
do what you can.  —Czeslaw Milosz

Hail O favored one, the Lord is with you! –Luke 1:28

My mail carrier driving his stubby white
Truck, trimmed in blue and red, wingless
But wheeled, commissioned by the civil service,
Delivers the Gospel every Advent.

This Gabriel, uniformed in gabardine,
Unsmiling descendant of his dazzling original,
Under the burden of greetings is stoical
But prompt: annunciations at ten each morning.

One or two a three a day at first;
By the second week momentum’s up,
My mail box stuffed, each card stamped

With the glory at a cost of only twenty-two cents,
Bringing the news that God is here with us,
First class, personally hand addressed.  —Eugene Peterson


A tree from the forest is cut down
…men deck it with silver and gold. Jeremiah 10:3,4

My uncle Ernie didn’t believe in God.
At least that’s what he said. But he always
Went to church on Christmas. Which I thought
Seriously compromised his atheism. It was

Nineteen thirty-seven, the year we didn’t
Have a tree. He came to dinner, looked
Around and roared, “Evie” (that’s my mother)
“Where’s the tree? You can’t have Christmas

Without a tree!” “No tree this year, brother.
Just Jesus.” She quoted Jeremiah on the tree
Cut down and decked with baubles and tinsel. Stunned

By her impiety he muttered through a mouth full
Of lutefisk “damn, damn, damn, damn”
All through dinner. Next year the tree was back.

—Eugene Peterson

ART:  Sadao Watanabe (1913-1996), born and raised in Tokyo, was a Japanese prinmaker famous for biblical prints in the mingei folk art tradition of Japan.
Makoto Fujimura is a 21st-century artist. He graduated from Bucknell University, then studied in a traditional Japanese painting doctorate program for several years at Tokyo National University.  He is the artist for the  “The Four Holy Gospels” project commemorating the 400th year of the King James Bible.
POETS: Pádraig Daly is a contemporary Irish poet working as an Augustinian priest in Dublin who has published numerous collections.  This poem is from God in Winter.
Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004) was a Polish poet, writer, translator and diplomat. A Catholic, he aided Jews in Warsaw during the Nazi occupation. He defected to the West in 1951 and became a professor in the United States. In 1980 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Eugene Peterson’s The Message is a remarkably fresh paraphrase of the Bible.  he is author of at least 30 books, each of which is wise and beautiful and helpful.  These poes are from the collection Holy Luck.
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Peace and Joy

Boys as Shepherds

Little boys dressed as shepherds in front of La Merced church.

Warm regards for the holidays!  My your traditions fill you with peace, joy, and hope for the New Year.

Our Antigua Christmas traditions are becoming more familiar:  a small tree on a table with Guatemala-made ornaments,  stockings on the fireplace, the stellar Messiah performance at Casa Santo Domingo, Posada processions in the streets, out-of-country visitors coming by, several enjoyable opportunities to sing Christmas carols including on Christmas Eve, the spectacular multiple fireworks displays visible at midnight from our terrace, a Christmas reading and a few gifts in the morning, and an American-style Christmas dinner.

This year I learned something new about the Posadas.  This widespread Latin American tradition originated in Spain, but Santo Hermano Pedro, Antigua’s own saint from the 1600s, is credited with introducing this to the new world.  It is a daily procession for nine days that follows Mary and Joseph on their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Families organize this with their friends.

Crowd in front of the church holding candles in colored lamps.

Crowd in front of La Merced 
holding candles in colored lamps.

I did not know, however, that the images set up to be carried through the streets are brought to the church to be blessed before a Sunday evening Mass.  I went to La Merced Catholic parish and families arrived carrying eight different little platforms with images of Mary and Joseph and set them in front of the church. People accompanied each tableau. carrying candles in colored lanterns, and a crowd included little girls dressed as angels, and little boys as shepherds.


A posada procession on the street in front of La Merced.

Before the church doors opened to welcome everyone inside, a traditional Posada carol was sung.  It begins:

Pray give us lodging, dear sir, in the name of heav’n.
All day since morning to travel we’ve giv’n.
Mary, my wife, is expecting a child.
She must have shelter tonight. Let us in, let us in!

Those inside responded:

You cannot stay here, I won’t make my house an inn.
I do not trust you, your story is thin.
You two might rob me and then run away.
Find somewhere else you can stay. Go away, go away!

This took me back to the Posadas we celebrated along the US/Mexico border in San Diego/Tijuana, and the ever-present issue of how much we are willing to welcome the stranger, and how much we are able to see the Holy Family in families in need.

After numerous pleas and negations, those inside finally sang:

Joseph, dear Joseph, oh how could I be so blind?
Not to know you and the Virgin so fine!
Enter, blest pilgrims, my house is your own.
Praise be to God on his throne! Please come in, please come in!

Enter, enter, holy pilgrims, holy pilgrims.
Welcome to my humble home.
Though ‘tis little I can offer,
all I have please call your own.

One of the smaller images of Mary and Joseph on a stand for carrying through the streets.

One of the smaller images of Mary and Joseph on a stand for carrying through the streets.

Merry Christmas!

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The winner!

As of Sunday, October 25th, Guatemala’s president-elect is Jimmy Morales, who will take office in January.   An actor, producer and comedian, he was the “none-of the above, non-politician” choice after national disgust over serious corruption.  His effectiveness remains to be seen, but the country seems willing to take a risk on an outsider in a “life imitates art” moment for a man who played the comedic part of a poor farmer who became president.

This is yet another of dramatic political events we have been living through.  In April a corruption scandal provoked massive peaceful protests demanding the resignation of high officials.  Numerous ones were incarcerated, and in May the Vice-President resigned and she is currently in jail and has a strong case against her.  The protests continued every Saturday for 19 weeks and the President finally resigned on September 2 and was in jail and court the next day, with an interim president appointed to replace him.

The triumph of the non-violent movement to demand clean government energized so many people.  One point of anger was that because of the millions stolen from the importation taxes, there was not enough money for basic supplies and salaries for public hospitals.  The most remarkable thing has been how unified the public has been.  Students from public and private universities created a coalition for demanding change, something that has never happened before.  Further, on the day when there was a national strike, not only were the university students out in force, so were doctors and teachers and small business owners, and finally, the coalition of big businesses.   Mayan organizations led demonstrations throughout the country.  At the same time large chains closed, like popular Polo Campero.  There is a commitment for citizens to hold the new government accountable.

On a personal note, I enjoyed two weeks on the east coast in the US to attend my niece’s wedding. (Absolutely beautiful!)  The visit allowed me to spend time with our daughters, my family, two of Steve’s sisters and their families, and several friends.  Steve preferred to avoid the stress of traveling and stayed in good health in my absence, surrounded by caring people.  It is good to visit, and it is good to be home.

We wish our new president well!

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Five Great Trips and…

Erupting volcano Fuego seen from the southern side, with the lights of Antigua in the distance.  Foto by Juan Pablo Palma.

Erupting volcano Fuego seen from the southern side, with the lights of Antigua in the distance. Photo by Juan Pablo Palma.

…the latest in Antigua is that one of our nearby volcanoes, Fuego, is erupting again.  Some lava is even visible on our side of the volcano.  So life is never dull here!

Since January we have had five great trips, and while at home have had some on-going home repairs.

Putting up the barrier to be able to repair the roof.

Putting up the barrier to be able to repair the roof.

In January we had two University of San Diego classes here for three weeks, and among the special speakers was our friend Antonio Caba, telling his compelling story of human rights work. We enjoy a stream of house guests and were particularly delighted to have my nephew Rob come through on his way to and from his site for service in Puerto Barrios. Of course, all of you are invited as well!

Trip #1: At the end of January we took a week-long trip to Ixil country, including a visit to Antonio’s home in Ilom. Steve and I presented linguistic theory to a group of young Ixiles. We enjoyed traveling with Susanna Place and husband Scott. She is author of A Guatemalan Journey Among the Ixil Maya, a book about the area with lots of great information and terrific photographs.  See

Steve receiving a gift from the Ixil students studying linguistics.

Steve receiving a gift from the Ixil students studying linguistics.

Susanna sharing her book with a woman from Chajul while Scott and a staff member from a scholarship organization look on.

Susanna sharing her book with a woman from Chajul while Scott and a staff member from a scholarship organization look on.

Scene from the market in Chajul.

Scene from the market in Chajul.

Trip #2: Professor Shirley Saad from University of San Diego came to experience the Holy Week festivities in Antigua. In addition to seeing things here, we enjoyed a short trip up to Lake Atitlán.

Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlán

Trip #3: Steve and I celebrated 41 years of marriage with another trip to the Lake. A beautiful and appropriate place for anniversary celebrations since it was our honeymoon site.

Trip #4: Because it is such an important symbol for Guatemala, I have long wanted to see the Resplendent Quetzal live, not just in photos, videos and artwork. A beautiful green bird with red chest and a meter-long tail, it is an icon occurring all over in art, on the currency, and on the flag. One image of the bird is the Starbucks logo for coffee from Antigua. I went to a preserve with two of my friends for a weekend, and had the immense good fortune of watching a pair of Quetzals perch and fly for about 20 minutes early in the morning. A highlight of my life!

Fortunately, another visitor with a much better camera was willing to share her photos.  We memorialized our sighting by writing a comment, date and our names on the walls of the restaurant, just as others had done before us.

A male quetzal in the forest.

The male Quetzal we watched flying through the forest. Photo by Alejandra Zamora.

Close-up of the quetzal I watched!  Foto by Alejandra Zamora.

Close-up of the Quetzal I watched! Photo by Alejandra Zamora.

Trip #5: My nephew Peter Cooper married Lydia in Chicago on June 20th and I was able to go and spend time with 24 members of my extended family, including all my children. Could not have been better for me as a way of spending good time with them!

Peter and Lydia Cooper

Peter and Lydia Cooper

My son Jon had just broken his collarbone in a mountain-biking accident and had not yet had his surgery, but he came anyway and participated despite the pain. After getting back to San Diego he had a five-hour surgery and is okay!

Jon with broken collar bone, Lissa, Marie, Bec, and friend Joe

Jon with broken collarbone, Lissa, Marie, Bec, and friend Joe. Photo by Dan Elliott

Chicago deep dish pizza with nephews John and Jonathan, my son Jon, Joe and Bec.

Chicago deep dish pizza with my brother Chuck, nephews John and Jonathan, my son Jon, Joe, Bec, and my mom.

The other end of the table: my mom, sis-in-law Chris, Marie, me, Lissa, and niece Emily.

The other end of the table: my mom, sis-in-law Chris, Marie, me, Lissa, and niece Emily.

From the Chicago River boat tour we took as a family the day after the wedding.

From the Chicago River boat tour we took as a family the day after the wedding.

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Christmas greetings

As we celebrate Christmas, I appreciate artists who help us see it again. Recently I went to an art exhibit of one Guatemala’s outstanding artists, one who contributed so much to the excellent public art in the capital city. This exhibit included his many book and magazine illustrations, and something I had never seen — so many exquisite Christmas cards he had made through the years. Here is one of Roberto González Goyri‘s images accompanied by a poem by Joseph Brodsky as my Christmas greeting to you.

A Christmas image from Roberto González Goyri.

A Christmas image from
Roberto González Goyri.

Christmas Star

In a cold time, in a place more accustomed
To scorching heat, to flat plains than to hills,
A child was born in a cave to save the world.
And it stormed, as only winter’s desert can.

Everything seemed huge to him: his mother’s breast,
The yellow steam of the camels’ breath, the Magi,
Balthazar, Caspar, Melchior, their gifts, carried here.
He was all of him just a dot.  And the dot was a star.

Attentively and fixedly, through the sparse white clouds
Upon the recumbent child, on the manger, from afar,
From the depths of the universe, from its very end,
A star watched over the cave.  And that was the father’s gaze.

Note on the author: The Russian poet Joseph Brodsky wrote an annual Christmas poem from 1962 to 1993. He came to the US as an exile in 1972, received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987, was appointed US Poet Laureate in 1991, and died in 1996.

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Recorrido de Guatemala

Bec at Tikal

Bec at Tikal

We thoroughly enjoyed having our daughter Marie with us for the past several months, and loved having Bec join us for three weeks.  They both returned to San Diego last week, Marie to work in immigration law, and Bec to work with peacemaking education. We loved our time together with many great experiences, will miss them, but have a lot of memories to celebrate!  One highlight was our week-long, 1000 mile road trip as a foursome.  We saw many places we have never been (e.g. the island town of Flores), took Marie and Bec to the Tikal ruins (which they had never seen), and drove through a lot of beautiful green landscapes.

Marie, Steve and Elaine on the trip.

Marie, Steve and Elaine on the trip.

Marie took (or asked others to take) quantities  of photos, and Bec put a selection of them together with a map on Tripline.  Click on the following to see our amazing road trip!

GuateMAYA [TripLine] — Click on the pictures below the map.

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Mayan Poems


Gaspar Pedro Gonzalez and Elaine holding his new book at the presentation.

Gaspar Pedro Gonzalez and Elaine holding his new book at the presentation.

When we first returned to Guatemala, Gaspar Pedro Gonzalez, whose first novel I translated, asked me to translate some of his recent poems into English.  Xumakil, the tri-lingual book-Q’anjob’al Maya, Spanish, Englishwas just formally presented. The presentation was held at CIRMA, the research center where Steve formerly worked as director, and it was a lovely event on Saturday, July 26th.

Here is one of his poems. 

The Language of Nature   by Gaspar Pedro Gonzalez

The language of nature
You will find in the falling of leaves;
In the wind that rocks the wheat fields of summer,
In the subtle flight of butterflies.

To hear it you have only to close
The ears of the body
And open those of the spirit.

The language of nature
Comes over a horizon of white clouds
And rests on the crystal waters
Of a quiet lake
To found its home in the spirit.

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An Erupting Volcano


Volcán Pacaya – photo: Rudy Girón

So our son Jonathan was hoping to see something like these pictures in person on his recent visit.  The best we could do on a cloudy day was a ride through greenery on horseback up to the Pacaya crater full of lava rocks from the recent eruption (March 2, 2014), roast marshmallows from the heat, and ride back down!

Fuego Volcano near Antigua

We hoped to see more than a puff of smoke from Fuego, one of three volcanoes near Antigua. However, we missed seeing the new lava flow on the Friday and Saturday they were here because it was on the south side, away from Antigua.

It was lovely to have Jon, his wife Lissa, and her parents Tim & Ronda here for a week. Lots of nice time together, with many activities. Our daughter Marie is also here visiting for several months and we love having her here!

Extremely windy and cold on Pacaya Volcano!

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