Author Archives: jjblogger123

Saying Adiós and Teaching Tolerance

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Saying Adiós and Teaching Tolerance

Thanks to the wonders of Internet over-sharing (and by that I mean Facebook), most of you already know we’ve said adiós to Mexico, and have recently relocated to Texas.  But let’s backup a moment…

¡Vaya! has our past year been loco!  We signed up for an adventure – and that’s what we got – the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the tasty and the spicy, the… (enough already, I’m sure you get the idea).

I’d like to thank Mexico for all the wonderful things it has provided to our family this past year.  Breathtaking beauty from driving on pothole-ridden paths through mountains to swimming in cool and pristine rivers and splashing in crystal-clear waterfalls.  The culture is so vibrant and colorful that lives so vividly in its people and the strong family ties that keeps them connected, generation after generation.   Food so good that the extra weight it provided was mostly worth it and has totally ruined most “Tex-Mex” restaurants (and Taco Bell for sure) for us – forever.

Thank you, Mexico, for teaching us that a family is a family, no matter where on this globe they live.  Thanks for teaching me that I had hidden strengths to find, even in my 40s.  Gracias for showing me how much braver my kids are than I am, and for confirming for me in different ways just what an incredible person my husband is, even after thirteen years of marriage.

Mexico, you have taught me that friendships are not defined by how far apart you physically are, or even what language you speak.  And even incurring ridiculous international phone rate charges, there still is no better remedy at solving life’s problems than calling and talking to your mother.

I will no longer take for granted the feeling of cool (and reasonably-priced electricity) air on my skin in a warm house; I will never complain of traffic conditions anywhere in the U.S.; I will feel gratitude every time I turn on a kitchen faucet for clean, drinkable water; and can I get a HALLELUJAH that I won’t have to do math every time I want to go shopping since I won’t be converting pesos into dollars anymore.

Muchas gracias for all the cultural experiences Mexico has provided my two children, both of whom we have learned are total superstars and (pardon my language here) bad-asses.  They both faced all the challenges of moving there, dealing with the differences and the language so much better than us adults and finishing out their their school year with honors (which is extra amazing considering they both were a full-year younger than their foreign speaking classmates).

If we hadn’t gone to Mexico, I would never have guessed that our youngest was the fearless cliff-jumper, waterfall diver, lucha libre luchadora that she became, or that she would totally surpass me in learning a new language (yeah, she’s 8).  We knew our oldest was very academically talented, but for her to go to Mexico and win writing awards, set new school reading records and consistently have the highest scores in the country on their online courses was certainly more than we could have hoped for.  Hubby and I have risen to new levels of being proud parents.

Currently, we’ve been in Texas now for a couple of weeks, getting re-acclimated to home (including the necessity of buying lots of boots, according to our 8 year old), and I have to say one of the biggest life-lessons I have noticed in myself since we’ve returned home is: tolerance.  Quick example:  on Facebook recently I read a post of someone complaining that while at their child’s school they witnessed a fellow child having to translate their teacher’s English to their Spanish-speaking mother.  The Facebook complaint went on and on about how this Spanish woman was now in America – so “they should speak the language”, blah blah blah.  I couldn’t help but notice that lots of people “liked” and agreed with this statement, harshly judging this Spanish mother in an English-speaking country.  Honestly, I may have thought that way once, too.  Then I moved to a Spanish speaking country, only speaking English.  Although I was taking Spanish lessons (working really hard, by the way), taught by the best Spanish teacher ever (Liliana!), I had to have people still translate for me, including my children.

Here’s how my life has changed for the better due to my experiences this past year, the good and the bad:  if I had witnessed the recent Facebook-complaint scenario, rather than so harshly judging that fellow mom, first I’d be so incredibly impressed that her child can already speak two languages (I bet you anything the person doing this FB language whining did not themselves have a bilingual child).  Second, I’d want to commend the foreign mom and her family for potentially seeking out a better life for themselves (as I’m sure that’s one of the biggest reasons a foreigner moves to a different land.  Not always, but sometimes).  Having lived in a foreign country myself for a short time, and the United States – I can say the U.S. is pretty darn amazing, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for wanting to live and raise their family here, too.  And if that’s the case, think about how hard that must have been to leave their family, their country, their culture.  Living in a place where you can’t speak the lanugage is freaking terrifying – and until you have actually done so – who are you to judge someone else?  This foreign-speaking family is in a foreign land for a reason – maybe even for safety reasons – so why judge them for that?  And thirdly and lastly, for all we know, that Spanish speaking mother is, in fact, taking English lessons.  Again, take it from someone who has walked in her shoes, it’s REALLY HARD to learn a new language, and EVEN HARDER to then have the courage to use those new language skills with native speakers.

Regardless of what language you speak or where you live, be it Mexico or the United States – I think all those places would be nicer for us all if we showed more tolerance to one another.  And maybe didn’t spend so much time on Facebook…

And speaking of the possibility of moving due to safety reasons – I will share that safety is one of the reasons why we came home early.  We enjoyed almost everything about Mexico and had so much fun traveling with our friends – and were enchanted by all the places we saw and visited.  I’ve written about all those positive experiences and shared those travels in past blogs so won’t repeat any of those here.  Sadly, in among the friends and food and adventures traveling, we witnessed and experienced fear and uneasiness in the city we lived in (Tampico).  So many things we took for granted here at home in the U.S. caused fear and uneasiness in Tampico: concern over what elected officials and law enforcement might do; criminal attention for having a nice home; concerns of traveling about by automobile; the ramifications of having a successful business or driving a nice car; worry about your children.  We experienced first hand fear of some of these issues ourselves, and then had to decide if the amazing cultural experiences we were accumulating was then worth this fear.  After a year, we made the decision to leave.

In our cultural training before coming to live in a foreign land – one of the concepts of being an expat we were warned of was missing our homeland.  But we came to learn that no amount of training or talking or meditating or crying or calls to our mothers would prepare us to live with that concept day after day, week after week.  To the point that we decided we could not do so, year after year.  Additionally, some of the expat friends we met in Tampico are also moving on and away:  one couple to Albania and another teacher to Malaysia.  We wish them nothing but the best on their continued expat travels.

As happy as we are to be back home, part of us is sad, too, and already missing lots of Mexican aspects of our ex-pat life.  We had met and gotten to know some truly wonderful people:  from fellow families at the school, to our two Spanish teachers, to our doctor neighbors across the street, to the nice real estate lady who found us our rental home, and two lovely and beautiful librarian assistants.  We will miss them all – and it was truly hard to say goodbye.

We have all worked hard this past year focusing on the good experiences, the good food, the good people.  Although it was an early goodbye, we left on good terms and happy to take with us all these amazing positive experiences.  However, we needed to leave before the bad experiences outweighed the good – and besides, our time there was always temporary.

So adiós Mexico!  We’ll be back to visit, of that I am certain.  We will keep in touch with several people there, of that I am certain too.  Thank you, Mexico, for all the wonderful things you provided for me to blog about, for myself and for my family, including opening the world to us and teaching us some tolerance.  This obviously will be my last blog.

This truly has been an adventure – the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the tasty and the spicy, the… (oh for heaven’s sake).

And thank you for reading and sharing some of it with me here.

Un cordial saludo,

Johannah

Excuse This Interruption

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I have been writing this blog for lots of different reasons, including to share our new life in Mexico with friends and family (although it’s not all that “new” anymore as we’ve been here for ten months).  I write it for myself to give me something to do – I’m not working here which is the first I haven’t had a job since I was 16 (not including the two times I took off for our newborn girls).  Going from a working-mom to a stay-at-home mom is a huge transition in itself, but maybe that’s a blog for a different day (or not, it’s not all the interesting of a subject).  I find that writing about our life here has done wonders helping me to adjust to it – to ensure I see the beauty, the positive and wonderful (I have to see it or I won’t have anything to write about) – or, at a minimum, to take the not-so positive items and try to spin them in humorous ways (like cockroaches, flat tires, school skeletons, language struggles, lonely days, driving conditions – you get the idea).  In life you have to find ways to cope, and for me struggling to keep my sense of humor has helped me keep my sanity and not allowed these negative aspects greater weight in my world than they deserve.

But I’m going to interrupt my normal blog musings for something a little different today – please excuse the interruption.

One thing my blog is not is political, and regarding my online presence and our life here we have been told to “keep a low profile”.  I have come to learn that that is an interesting attitude to live your life by.  Before we decided to live in Mexico we did lots of research; enrolled in culture training, Skyped and had meetings with Mexicans about the culture and the area we were moving to.  Lots of people had various opinions about our decision to live here (interestingly enough, including people who themselves had never stepped a foot into this country – their “advice” was always my favorite).  Actually, since the opening has presented itself, let me share a quick word of advice:  if you do not have personal knowledge of a subject, then please keep your mouth shut.

These past ten months we have adjusted and learned so many wonderful and amazing things about Mexico.  Maybe if you have a moment or two you are welcome to cruise back in my past blogs and read about a few, as I have not had any problems findings positive things to write about while here.  One thing I haven’t been writing about is the safety issues we face.  I have no way to add a humorous spin to this subject.  I haven’t been writing about them for bunches of reasons, some of them are too personal, some of them don’t make for interesting reading.  But dealing with these differences is the biggest and hardest challenge our family has had to face while being here.  I guess sharing them wouldn’t be considered “keeping a low profile”…, and in the spirit of blogging and sharing at times it has been hard to skirt around this particular issue because it plays a heavy part of our life here.  But I feel compelled to share a little of this today.

I was born and raised in The United States of America.  I’ve always been proud of that fact, for lots and lots of reasons.  Maybe I didn’t always appreciate that fact growing up spoiled with freedoms and safety that I take for granted.  Luckily I didn’t know any better and figured that’s just how the world works, and even reading about other countries with their own problems and issues I’ve always felt the U.S. is the best place to be.  I’m not stating that as a fact – that’s just my opinion, based on personal knowledge.

I love talking to Mexicans here about how much they love their country, how they are proud of their culture, of their history, of their close family relationships.  I love to experience that, to hear that in their voices and see it in their smiles as they share all the beautiful places their country and culture as to offer to us. But there are certainly some darker aspects to Mexico, some of which we now deal with because we live here – either personally, or indirectly through our relationships with these wonderful people.  Security is an issue, and by that I mean crimes are much more common here than what we are used to in the U.S.  Actually, hold up a minute and let me make something clear:  there is crime and violence everywhere in this world, I’m not trying to infer otherwise.  This blog is coming from my own personal experience – from what our life was like back in the U.S. to what it is today in Mexico.  Crime is much more common here.  Specifically, driving at night is not safe.  When out shopping with your kids, your kids cannot browse through the toy department while you pick out toothpaste on the other side of the store:  they have to stay with you at all times.  House burglaries are very commonplace.  You can’t just get in your car here and drive to the next state – many areas are not safe to drive in.  Back in the U.S. you can call authorities at any time and expect assistance (be it police, ambulance, fire, etc.)  It’s not like that here.  I have no crime stats to share with you, but I do know for a fact that sometimes, even when the police are called, they do not show up.  So any stats that might be compiled will be grossly inaccurate.

Remember that we had been contacted by House Hunters International about doing a show?  That was a fun process and I’m happy (and a little proud) to share that we passed the audition and interview process and were proceeding to the scheduling phase.  However, shortly thereafter the show’s producer was contacted by their insurance company, indicating it would not authorize sending their film crew here due to insurance reasons involving the safety conditions.

Before we came here we were told (and gleaned from our own research) that safety is “an issue” here.  But what does that mean, exactly?  Saying that something “is an issue” is such a generalized statement that we would wonder:  what does that mean for our family to come and live here?  What does that mean for the local families who were born, raised and are now trying to raise their own families here? How does that apply to life here, and how would I explain it to someone else (even after only living here for a mere ten months)?

What’s confusing and sometimes misleading about this issue is that everyone’s comfort levels are totally different: levels on dealing with stress, culture differences and the weather (as trivial as that sounds) but also on on safety issues.  What one person can be terrified by, another simply shrugs off.  A quick example of this issue is to tell you quickly about some expat friends of ours who live here.  Although we’ve been warned NOT to drive to certain places (and certainly never at night), these guys will get into their rickety truck and drive where ever they want.  So far nothing bad has happened to them (thank goodness) and they have been to some really amazing places (a few with us accompanying them).  They have traveled to places that we were warned by locals NOT to go to – and they went and had a great time with no problems.  Interestingly, as we share our own traveling adventures in Mexico with local Mexicans – I’ve had several locals respond to my own travels stories with “you’ve been to more places in my country than I have!”.  Does that mean we (and our other expat friends) are foolhardy to do the traveling we’ve been doing, or are the locals exaggerating the issues somewhat?  I wonder if those of us that have grown up in the freedom and safety of the U.S. are now bringing with us these spoiled attitudes and applying them to our lives here.

Another quick example and story about these same expat friends:  back in April our city saw some drug-gang related violence.  It was very uncomfortable and the first of which that has happened since we arrived.  The violence included the stealing and setting on fire of large trucks (to create a barricade on a local highway).  Not to be undone, similar violence started breaking out in other places in our city, and our friends came upon a burned-out bus on a street near our school.  At the time my friend was telling me this story, I remember being appalled and scared and asked him if he was scared to come upon this scene?  His response:  “heck no, we stopped and took pictures”.  (I have a copy of his photo to prove it).

My point is that the entire issue of safety, and how it relates to where you live is so personal, so entirely dependent upon your own experiences, your own comfort levels, the differences in your own cultural background to the one you currently find yourself in – that it is hard to even try to explain, especially to someone who has never been here.

My heart has broken several times in the past couple of months while trying to “adjust” to these differences.  We have come to love and admire so many people here that it’s heartbreaking that, compared to our experiences in the U.S., these people are not afforded the same protection, the same security, the same opportunities.  My favorite mom-friend from school will be spending part of their family summer vacation time in Texas, for many reasons including to give their kids an opportunity to simply “play outside”, from riding their bikes through the streets to taking neighborhood walks or playing in the sprinkler in the front yard.  This same mom also recently spoke of the consideration in the future of sending her kids away to study abroad – not necessarily for the cultural experience, but to get them away from Mexico.

Back in the U.S. we took for granted the simple pleasures of our kids riding their bikes through the neighborhood, of simply getting into our car and driving ANYWHERE we wanted; we knew if we called the police that they would show up in a matter of minutes.  We didn’t fear driving at night – all we had to do was make sure our headlights were on.  Can you imagine?  Again, I realize that the above description could also be applied to parts of the U.S., and oh my goodness I realize that in other places of this world, it’s much, much worse – but I do not have personal knowledge of those places.  Also please realize that this blog is not intended to tell you how it is in the entire country of Mexico.  Just my personal knowledge of it.

Funny that we have experienced a huge contradiction while living here:  my naive opinion of the “good of my fellow man” has gone down considerably at moments; while at the same time, I have seen and experienced such caring and support and comfort that it’s like two opposite sides of the same coin.  So hard to adjust to for our family.

This interruption is not to alarm or upset anyone, and certainly not to stop anyone from coming here (be it to live or visit).  It’s an attempt to share a bit of our experience here that I have not already done so.  In writing 33 blogs of our experiences  these past ten months, and only have 1 dealing with a darker side, surely it can’t be all that bad.  I’ve mentioned that my heart has broken on a few occasions here, but I can also say it’s been filled countless times by the warm, friendly welcoming people, the breath-taking sights of natural wonders, the admiration of its cultural family values and sheer delight in experiencing its rich history.

So again please excuse this interruption of our normally scheduled blogs complaining about the humidity and driving conditions, the battles with bugs, how hard it is to learn Spanish and the constant raving about the food.  These more positive ramblings will continue, for my own personal benefit if for no one else.

And if you continue to read them, then thank you.

“Not Enough Humidity” Said No One Ever

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“Not Enough Humidity” Said No One Ever

Mexico is hot.  Really hot.  Hot and sticky and humid (especially in our part of the country which averages one of the highest humidity rates in the entire world… for example, the average humidity in a rainforest is between 77 and 88%… our humidity today is a balmy 79%).  Hot and sticky and humid and it sucks the energy right out of your body.  Here you live your life around where you can be in air conditioning.  I’m sure this is not shocking news.  But come live here for a few months and you will quickly learn the limits of your own personal comfort and realize that air conditioning is one of the most important inventions OF ALL TIME.  You will drive around in your car (if you are one of the lucky ones to have a vehicle) with the AC on its coldest setting, and most likely that will run FULL BLAST your entire drive.  You will aim  every AC vent so that the wonderfully cool air will be hitting as much of YOUR body as you can, ignoring the weak cries of any boiling passengers in your vehicle because they will soon pass out from the sweltering heat anyway – so you won’t have to listen to their complaints for long.

Living in hot and humid weather also causes problems outside of simple constant battles of being comfortable.  If you are prone to any ear problems (like our oldest hija), then your problems will become bigger.  Ear aches (“swimmer’s ear”) are really rampant here due to the weather and the quality of the water in which we take our showers.  Don’t even THINK about filling up the kiddy pool in the yard.  I have never had an ear ache, myself, but if the crying exhibited by our daughter during her latest bout with an ear infection is any indication, they are really, really painful.  And guess what?  The common ear drops used to combat said infections (aptly named “Swimmer’s Ear” available in those little white bottles almost in every store in the U.S.) cannot be found here.  Someone please explain that to me.  So if anyone back in the U.S. wants to send me a shipment of these little bottles – that would be great.  In the meantime we have to make our own preventative ear drop solution (the recipe given to us by the ear, nose and throat doctor, called an “otorrinolaringólogo” – good luck pronouncing that).

Another fun side effect of hot and humid weather:  mold.  You know how your bratty kids never pick up their wet towels off of the bathroom floor, no matter how many times you remind them?  Mold.  Using the closet space in your bathroom to store extra sheets and blankets?  Mold.  Don’t dry off your toothbrush when done?  Yep, mold.  Are you like me and only clean out your coffee maker about once a year?  Yeah, enjoy your moldy coffee (true story).

(hee, hee – don’t let any of the above stop anyone from coming to visit us.  I promise that our AC works really well both in our house and our cars, we’ve paid the electric bill, will wash the sheets and blankets and will not serve you moldy coffee).

So before you even think of moving to a hot and sticky environment yourself, know that it means making changes to your financial lifestyle in order to afford the AC, figuring out how to find an otorrinolaringólogo and being on constant guard for locating and eradicating anything suspiciously green-colored and fuzzy.  You will quickly make note of which public establishments have the best AC, and regardless of the quality of food or services they provide – those are the places you will frequent.

Oh, and I would HIGHLY advise against getting into a taxi here with its windows DOWN.  That means they don’t have the AC on… and no offense to the hard working taxi drivers who mostly exist to run me off the road – I can only imagine how much the inside of that car must stink.

High humidity levels also attract lots and lots of mosquitoes.  I haven’t done any research on the subject but I would bet you a good amount of money that our area probably has the highest mosquito population in the world, so thank you Mexico for this daily treat.  I’ve gotten bombarded by those little bastards just in the four second sprint it takes me to get from the front door of our casa into my car – at times so bad I feel like I’m being attacked and almost carried off by those creepy flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz.

And ladies, good luck on having soft, sleek hair here.  You know the traditional image of the bonita Mexican woman with her blue-black hair slicked back into a gorgeous shiny bun, decorated with flowers and colorful adornments?  Well, let me tell you:  they do that because they HAVE to, not because they like the look.  Don’t get me wrong it looks great – and is really low maintenance – but I’d be interested to see just how much money is spent on gels and oils to get such thick frizzy hair slicked back onto these sleek beautiful buns.  I know hair gel is the second item on our list of financial NECESSITIES to live here, right behind the money needed for electric bills.

There aren’t many benefits to living in an area with high humidity, except maybe clear skin (the constant sweating cleans out the pores and cleanses the body of toxins).

Example of beautiful traditional Mexican woman, hair back in sleek bun

Example of beautiful traditional Mexican woman, hair back in sleek bun

Example of traditional American woman (sadly, me) at salon trying to calm frizzy hair

As lifestyles go, the Mexican culture is definitely driven by its sultry weather – from the way women style their hair to the clothes they wear (lots of white, which I personally hate because black is so much more slimming and flattering), to their socializing (folks around here seem to be much more active as evening falls into dark – so much cooler).  Umbrellas are used to shade the sun more than to block the rain and you need various chemicals, sprays and lotions to go about your daily life to ward against harm (sunscreen, bug spray, homemade ear drops).  Not many bakers here as it’s too hot to use an oven for long (I learned this after inquiring why the baking section at the grocery store only consists of about two shelves).  Unfortunately in the homes it’s necessary keep the blinds and curtains closed to try and limit the sun and heat in the house, which means limiting the pretty views.  And for good reason, you CANNOT find a single unscented product here – be it soap or detergent or lotion (I’ll let you think about that one…)

It’s one perspective to visit a tropical and balmy beach for vacation for a few days – enjoying the blazing sunshine and steamy breezes.  But to live in such weather, day after day, week after week – it changes you.  It changes your outlook on life; it changes your financial attitude; it dictates where you go, what you do and when you do it.  And worst of all it changes your hair.

So the next time you see me, please don’t judge me too harshly.  I’ll be the one huddled around the AC unit, covered in mosquito bites and dressed all in white, hogging the cool air, my frizzy hair pulled hastily back in a messy bun; my face will be covered in white sunscreen and I’ll stink of bug-spray.  I probably won’t hear you much because of the ear plugs; and if my teeth have a slight greenish tint, maybe cut me a little slack.

But hey (and here’s my glass-is-half-full-of-tequila moment): I guess while the rest of me wilts, frizzes and stinks, at least I’ll be free of contamination and have glowing skin.

The Road Less Traveled (probably due to potholes)

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The Road Less Traveled (probably due to potholes)

A lot has happened in the past couple of weeks.  I turned 40 (uggg) and my hubby turned 39 (but I’ve already devoted an entire blog post to his birthday – enough about him already).

We also have been doing  a lot of traveling, which is great because it’s one of our favorite things to do here.  But I can also say that we’re tired today.  I don’t care how magical the place is you are visiting or how enchanting the trip is to get there – it’s exhausting, doubled by the fact that you just don’t sleep very well in a bed that’s not yours.  And if you get the extra treat (like us) of having to sleep with your kids (one of whom kicks, the other snores and both hoard blankets and steal pillows), then you are tired AND a bit grouchy.

But don’t let my sleep-deprived complaining fool you:  we are continually amazed at all the beautiful places we are visiting, the culture we are experiencing, the food we are enjoying, and the company of new friends here we are appreciating.

Two weekends ago we visited a quirky hotel about 40 minutes away with a pirate pool (yes, you read that correctly:  pirate pool – a pool with a fully climbable pirate ship), several water slides (due to what I assume to be electricity issues only one slide was operating at a time, so you basically followed the power around), and a short trolley ride through their zoological park filled with different kinds of antelopes, among some other exotic animals.  The next day we embarked on a short boat ride tIMG_8385o cross over a lagoon to find a very nearly deserted beach (filled with beautiful shells and smooth rocks, fun animal life including incredibly fast side-sprinting crabs and geometric-shaped drift wood everywhere).  During our day enjoying this amazing and quiet spot I couldn’t help but think that the U.S. doesn’t offer virgin beach locations like that anymore… back in the U.S. such a private, secluded beach areaWP_20150426_016 would require a fee to enter, and probably have a DQ or at least a Starbucks attached to the parking lot and be completely cramped.  Here in Mexico, places such as this feel undiscovered, and I’m especially thankful that our family continues to experience them.  Oh, and for anyone who would be interested in also visiting this area – or simply curious of the location of the area I’ve just described – we were in Tampico Alto (if you do go, just stay off the beach – it’s mine now).

Just this past weekend we drove a bit farther to enjoy various sights around the state of San Luis Potosi.  We stayed in quaint little hotels, enjoyed walking around the village of Tamasopo, met some very nice locals who shared their grill, food and drinks with us and swam in several waterfalls and rivers (Cascadas de Tamasopo, Puente de Dios, Cascada de Tamul).  The river/waterfall swimming was especially magical – as you can imagine (when would be swimming in a waterfall NOT be magical?)  We visited swimming spots with strong currents that required ropes IMG_8464across the water to help swimmers navigate; caves that were lit up from below offering glimpses of tiny little fish swimming about just under our feet; and our favorite waterfall: Cascada de Tamul, which has a 340-foot drop (which hubby almost learned the hard way).  This waterfall is easily one of the most stunning sights I have ever seen with my own eyes.  To reach it you either canoe down the river (which we couldn’t do – too crowded), or, you endure a very jarring 40-minute drive down the bumpiest dirt-road ever (I’m still doubting it was an actual “road” – I suspect it waIMG_8568s a dry river-bed we were trying to navigate – but whatever – the trip was worth being bounced around in the car like popping popcorn).  We spent most of our time swimming along the river, in and around the connected fairy-pools and smaller waterfalls, the water so clean and clear you could see to the bottom, which was deceptively deep.  Ferns and moss adorned these basins – some you could walk around in, others so deep you simply swam from one rock to the next – the deepest areas  evidenced by a luminous deep turquoise color.  We explored pool after pool – all the way to the top of the falls.  All the adults in our group partook in the treacherous hike down to the bottom of the falls (via rickety-wood and rusty-pipe steps that, due to how steep they became, turned into ladders) to view it from below (you can’t swim at the bottom – the current is too strong).

Our recent travels and experiences compel me to share a few tips regarding traveling and exploring Mexico:

  • for any waterfall/river swimming make sure you wear water shoes, and if you are not a strong swimmer, wear a life jacket (don’t worry you can buy the shoes and rent the jackets at any of these locations, along with some shirts and handmade jewelery and some food and cocos frios and some frog-purses [yes: dead frogs blown-up with a strap – I bet you don’t have one – well, now you know where to get one]);
  • staying on the subject of swimming – don’t be an idiota like me and wear a two-piece bathing suit to do some strenuous swimming and rock jumping;
  • make sure you have some coins for public bathrooms and watch out as they are hard to find sometimes – so maybe limit your liquid intake;
  • don’t be afraid to stop at the taco stands along the roads and partake in the cuisine – very yummy; and probably most importantly
  • do not drive on the highways at night.

I repeat:  do not drive on the highways at night.  We were warned by EVERYONE not to do this:  for safety reasons and due to the conditions of the roads themselves, which are just littered with potholes and unfinished construction (sans any IMG_8407warning signs).  And these highways have no lights and you have no idea how dark it can get here.  We knew all of this – but we also found ourselves about 2 hours away from home and couldn’t find a hotel for the night (due to the three-day holiday weekend here, apparently we weren’t the only ones out and about).  So we hit the road (LITERALLY) as about an hour into this return trek home, after darkness had fully fallen, we hit a pothole and blew out a tire.  We spent about 15 minutes almost panicking as we couldn’t find a tool necessary to change to the tire (necessary!); another car pulled over suspiciously behind us (in hindsight they probably hit the same hole we did, but we were too scared to walk back and ask); and we were alone as our friends in the other car, who had been driving ahead of us, were dodging their own potholes and didn’t realize we had stopped (watching them drive away into the darkness as we limped over was a tad unpleasant).  But it was resolved as after a phone call our friends returned to us, we were able to change the tire, and we all made it home safely.

This one blow-out misadventure notwithstanding, we’ve been having so much fun during these travels, and the experiences for ourselves and our kids are simply priceless.  Seeing our girls bravely jumping off of rocks into rivers, watching them delight in finding tadpoles and shopping for frog-bags and trying new taco sauces and sipping virgin piña coladas and playing with puppies along the way and exploring and their positive attitudes and excitement in planning these trips  – it’s all worth every pothole we hit.

Even the one that blew out our tire.

Mexican Rock-Paper-Scissors: I Lose Every Time

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Mexican Rock-Paper-Scissors: I Lose Every Time

It was my hubby’s birthday a couple of days ago, and all in all, I have to say it was not a good day, made especially worse by the simple fact that it WAS his day of birth, thirty-nine years ago – so surely there’s a law or written rule somewhere that says you should get a nice day on your birthday, right?  Not necessarily the best-day-of-your-entire-life day – I’m not trying to sound greedy or spoiled here – but just, at a minimum, a “nice” day.  I really don’t think that’s too much to ask for, especially for someone as deserving as my hubby.

Now I’ve shared in the past that there really isn’t any postal service here – so our bills tend to show up on an irregular basis.  For example, the electric company usually staples our electric bill to our gate each month.  This month we have not received a bill, and I will honestly admit that we didn’t realize how much time had passed since we paid last month’s ridiculously high charges.  We didn’t realize this fact all the way up until the electric company guy rang our doorbell, pointed to the electric company logo on his uniform and mimed scissors with his fingers.  In the 20 seconds it took for me to walk from the gate back into our house he had cut all power to our house (get it?  get it?  His “scissors” were not a rock-paper-scissors game challenge like I thought… he was letting me know he was cutting the power).

Here in our part of Mexico, if you don’t pay the electric bill (or a phone bill or similar utility charge) – and a few days go by, they don’t mess around – they turn the service off.  No warnings, notices in the mail, phone calls.  Nada.  They didn’t care that we had never received a bill, and as such, didn’t even know how much money we owed them.  Power.  Cut.  Off.  On my hubby’s birthday.

Ironically – typically things are done very      s   l   o   w   l   y     here in Mexico.  Our immigration paperwork took about 4 months longer than what we were told.  4 months – not days or weeks: but four freaking months – on something as important as legal documentation.  This caused us a good amount of stress these past couple of months during some travels, among other things.  But hey, everyone warned us that things are slower here. Another quick example of how slow things can be here is the repairs on our water pump for our fridge (obviously not as important as our legal status in this country, but still an applicable example none the less).  The repair guy took the broken pump with him three months ago, and we still haven’t received it back, and last time we checked he’s “still working on it.”  Three months and counting to repair a water pump (for a REFRIGERATOR – not for some sort of nuclear reactor or deep sea diving equipment:  a freaking refrigerator).  It’s been over 90 days.  To put things in perspective, do you know the gestation period for wolves?  65 days.  So the animal kingdom can come together, create and deliver LIFE quicker than this guy can repair our water pump.  And that’s just how things stand now – like I said he’s “still working on it”.  For all I know entire canine generations will come and go before we get the repaired pump returned.  Seriously?

I think we’ve been really good on adjusting to this slower pace, learning patience, dealing with the stress it causes and purchasing alternative water delivery methods (insert back pat here).  I mean if I have to manually crush my own ice for my martinis, I can do that – I don’t need to rely on the water pump ice maker to spit out crushed ice when I need a stiff drink.  I’m nothing if not adaptable.

What I can’t adapt to is this inconsistent regard for time here.  It should be the same, across the board – but it’s not and I’m left sitting in my house that is very quiet and quickly getting hot and sticky and my hubby’s bday dinner is getting ruined in the crock pot and his brownies are still a gooey puddle in the cooling oven and all I can think about is that if I was just a little quicker and readily accepted the rock-paper-scissors challenge with a rock (rock beats scissors) then surely they would not have cut off our power.

Back to the hero of my blogs (yes, my poor hubby) – here’s what he had to do (again, remember it’s his birthday).  After dealing with my (I’m sure) annoying and hysterical texts and phone calls while at work, he had to call the electric company to find out how much we owed (no bill, remember?).  So with the amount we owe in hand, hubby had to then drive to the nearest electric company office to pay the bill (we found out later these offices are only open until 2:30 – hubby got there at 2:25…)  With receipt now in hand, hubby returns to his office and has to call the electric company back again to request that our power be turned back on.  We were then given a re-activation code and a very sketchy time frame that our power may be turned back on around 7:30 that evening (it wasn’t – yes, shocking, I know).  Our next set of instructions now were to either post on our door or hand-deliver this re-activation code to the electric company person when they return to our house to prove we’ve paid the bill (really?  In this day and age of digital-information readily accessible by little hand held devices and all these magical clouds everywhere?  We had paid the bill – they already had our money – now I had to physically prove to them that they actually had our money?)

Hubby had to unexpectedly work several hours late and by the time he got home the house was completely dark and hot and stuffy (no power = no lights and AC).  The replacement taco dinner the kids and I had tried to get him wasn’t correct.  In hindsight we were pretty stupid in hoping they’d turn the power on that night and tried to stick it out rather than going to a local hotel (they finally turned the power on about 10am the next day).  The next morning was equally unpleasant due to being sleep-deprived (for us all) and getting ready for the day in complete darkness (with the help of a few flashlights – which were completely noneffective as all the kids did was shine the light DIRECTLY into our retinas – I’m still seeing spots today).  The icing on the birthday-cake he never got here for my hubby:  opening his gifts via flashlight that morning to discover the shirts I got him don’t fit (they never fit and I’m done trying to buy him clothes).

My poor hubby.  Although these events might make for a funny story (and dare I suggest an entertaining blog), I’m pretty sure my hubby would have rather endured a nice, boring, nothing-blog-worthy birthday.

We learned our lesson the hard way and have now created monthly reminders on our smartphones about many monthly utilities.  We were lulled into a false sense of security because nothing happens all that quickly here – especially compared to our time-sensitive U.S. standards.  If a problem occurs, no need to panic – we’ll have time to fix it.  We have experienced, first hand, the much slower pace here, be it with something as important as immigration paperwork, or something as trivial as a broken household appliance.  But apparently that slower pace doesn’t always apply to everything, and unfortunately we learned that the hard way on a day that was supposed to be “nice”.

A very public and belated happy birthday to my hubby, who I can say dealt with all this drama and stress and frustration and trouble and uncomfortableness with a tired smile and a positive attitude and as much good-nature as tequila can possibly provide.  He honestly is an amazing example for our kids, and one I try to aspire to every single day (failing miserably… but I do try).

For the rest of you out there, I finish this blog with a bit of advice that this event has taught me:  Fast or slow paced, in the life version of rock-paper-scissors:  when someone comes at you with the scissors:  you should probably start panicking.

La Ciudad de México (muy recomendable)

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La Ciudad de México (muy recomendable)

This past week was Spring Break.  Our niñas got two weeks off of school (rather than the typical one week back home).  Rather than pulling my hair out trying to figure out things for us to do and divert the kids’ attentions from their electronic devices (two weeks can be a really long time, you know), we took advantage of the time off to do some traveling and flew to la Ciudad de México (Mexico City) for a few days.  From our home base here in Mexico it’s a very quick flight – it didn’t even take a full hour to fly into the second most populated city in the world (guess which is first – answer below: 1).

We had a great time and would highly recommend anyone to visit and experience it for themselves. After a relatively short taxi-ride from the airport, we arrived at our comfortable hotel located in the Centro Histórico area – which is a great place to stay and experience.  As the name obviously implies – it’s an old part of town, with lots of tall, old buildings offering interesting architecture and muchos places to visit within walking distance.  Cafes, restaurants, taco joints, Sanborns (2), very puffy colorful dress shops and shoe stores pretty much took up most of the historical area we were in.  I’m not opposed to a comfortable pair of zapatos, but BOY do these people love their shoes – I have never seen so many shoes stores before in my life.  And the heels on some of these women’s shoes – most of which would easily add several inches of height and I was constantly amazed at the skill demonstrated by these local ladies in tip-toeing around in these high heels – and further surprised that the street WASN’T littered with fallen ladies on their backs, waving their shopping bags in the air for help – and at times felt extra frumpy in my touristy and comfy white tennis shoes as we walked around the slower (albiet more fashionable and with better-defined calves) locals in their stilted footwear.

We had spoken to lots and lots of people before going to Mexico City and had a very long list of things to do and see, and I think we did a pretty good job of shortening that list by the time we left.  Mexico City has the largest amount of museums in the Americas and the second largest amount in the world (guess who has the world’s largest amount, answer below: 3)  So if you are interested in that sort of thing, you are in for a very charming treat.  We visited several museos and subjected ourselves to fine historical art, huge and colorful murals, architectural delights, archeological sights and even a children’s museum.  I’m not going to go into detail about everything we did, because frankly, it would be boring for you to read (I usually get bored reading others’ travel blogs that simply details where the writer went and what they saw and how it was and what they ate [oh, look, a photo of a taco] and how great it was and blah blah blah…snore…)

Here’s the thing:  go to Mexico City and find out for yourself why it’s so awesome.  Get some advice from others on what’s good to do while you are there (I’ll offer some here), create your own list and GO THERE.  Here’s a few of the places we would highly recommend:

Museo Nacional de Antropologia (National Anthropology Museum):  very cool, lots to see – but I will admit after about an hour all of the cool exhibits started to look alike.  I mean you see one naked little figurine, you’ve seen them all… right?  No disrespect intended, of course.  Not only that but I was constantly reminded of my not-realized childhood dreams of growing up to be Indiana Jones, finding my own naked little figurines and learning to speak all these cool dead languages (which is extra ironic now considering my current dismal attempts at learning Spanish).

Castillo de Chapultepec this is a castle.  I’ll repeat:  it’s a CASTLE.  Do you really need any more reasons than that to want to go there?  If castles just aren’t your thing then: (a) you are a very boring person; (b) please unsubscribe from my blog immediately; and (c) know that the surrounding view of the city is breathtaking from the castle’s balconies, so also for that reason alone it’s worth a visit.  If I remember correctly the castle also has a museum (Museo Nacional de Historia) inside with some art work (seriously, there’s a museum on almost ever street corner) – but again, I was so enchanted with the castle part I didn’t have time to admire the displayed art.

The Templo Mayor (Great Temple):  this is basically Aztec ruins – smack-dab in the middle of the city.  Back in the 1970s some local electric workers were doing some digging and came across some artifacts.  More digging pursued and something like thirteen buildings were knocked down so that they could dig underneath them.  What they basically found was a “main temple of the Aztecs”.  What you do here is tour through the ruins via a walkway (stopping along the way to read the explanations in Spanish), and then you can go into a museum and see many of the artifacts they found in it.  Apparently it was discovered that the Aztecs considered this temple “to be the center of the universe”.  I don’t think we felt anything as momentous as walking around the center of the universe, but hey it was still a lot of fun (and I bet even more enjoyable if you can accurately read the Spanish explanations offered by the tour).  It was pretty nifty to be walking through this historical monument, while looking up and seeing all the modern buildings surrounding us on all sides, including The Metropolitan Cathedral (the church’s full name is below at 4), which apparently is the largest cathedral in the Americas – which is easy to believe as we walked around it.  It’s shadow pretty much covers the entire Aztec ruin site (maybe there’s some symbolism in that?)  Whatever – it just made me wonder what else they’d find in the area if they’d just dig around a bit more…

…and lastly, my remaining recommendation here would be to eat at the Azul Historico: this is a restaurant set in the atrium of a large building with a hotel and shops and wine bars surrounding it via balconies.  The food was very good (in fact the menu lists more awards they’ve won than actual entree selections), the atmosphere romantic (the atrium is surrounded and covered by large indoor trees with hundreds of lit candles hanging down) and the dessert fun (treat yourself to the homemade hot chocolate they make right at your table side – delicious and delightful).

We saw and did more, and my goodness did we do a ton of walking… but about the only other thing that might be interesting to share here would be that they were filming the new James Bond movie in the Zócalo (one of the world’s largest city squares – guess who has the largest one: 5).  The entire square was fenced off, which squished an extremely populated city into a few very narrow sidewalks (I’ll admit that I’m a tad claustrophobic and not a big fan of crowds – or of losing the hand of my 7-year old daughter while walking through such a crowd… but you know what?  That only honestly happened about twice, and both times I remember very quickly panicking and calling out to my daughter – and without fail both times, the other hurried and hassled people in front of me stopped, slowed down or moved aside until it was apparent my child and I had rejoined.  I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it:  people in Mexico are really nice).  So we couldn’t get close to the Hollywood action or get any selfies with stars (OMG I was REALLY hoping to see Daniel Craig) – but we heard some of the movie magic (“places everyone! Set scene and action!”) and did see a crazy helicopter stunt – so we can’t complain and we can’t wait until the movie comes out and recognize those scenes.

A couple of last quick tips for you while you are visiting Mexico City:

  • Watch where you are walking at all times – the sidewalks and roads are pretty treacherous – lots of holes, large curbs, concrete blocks that don’t match up, cars speeding by disturbingly close, etc.;
  • Ladies, if you want to take advantage of all the many shoe stores, make sure you know your Mexican shoe size (it’s not the same as the U.S. – need some help?  Check out this handy chart);
  • If you plan accordingly, you can visit many museums for free; the Castle and the Museum of Anthropology are not open on Mondays (yes, we learned that the hard way);
  • Make sure you visit Mexico City on a Sunday – every Sunday morning from 9 until 2 a main highway (Paseo de la Reforma) is closed to traffic, opening the way for bikers and walkers.  It was a nice change to dodging bicycles rather than speeding cars – and made walking around much more enjoyable;
  • Take a tour on a double-decker Turibus.  Just plan your route out better than we did – at the end of the day it felt like we spent more time standing around waiting for the next Turibus to arrive than we spent at any of the locations we wanted to visit.  Oh, and make sure your kids DON’T fall asleep on the bottom of the bus – which is really boring.  Always go to the top. And lastly
  • Always buy the churros – every time you see the churros guy.

Getting to visit and experience beautiful and amazing places in Mexico is one of our favorite things about living here, and spending a few days in la Ciudad de México just further reinforces that.  And I’m sure even the kids would pause their games a second to look up and agree and tell you the time spent away from their electronic devices was time well spent.  But don’t take our word for it that Mexico City is so great – go and see for yourself.

We guarantee you will not be disappointed.

_____

1.  Tokyo

2.  Sanborns is a big chain in Mexico:  it’s a restaurant, retail store, pharmacy and department store all together.

3.  London

4.  The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven (Spanish: Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de la Santísima Virgen María a los cielos)

5.  China

What 8 Months In Mexico Has Taught Me

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What 8 Months In Mexico Has Taught Me

It is hard to believe that one year ago – this month – hubby and I visited our current area in Mexico while contemplating moving here for three years.  Now, exactly a year later, here we are with 8 months of Mexican living behind us.  We’ve survived and stayed cool in our first scorching Mexican summer (I have the electric bills to prove it); we’ve been here for our first major holiday (Christmas, made a little more exciting thanks to constant decoration battles with kittens – who are no longer small and kitten-cute so subsequent plant battles are not nearly as charming); and we’ve made a dent in our español language skills (some more than others, but I don’t like to brag). In some ways I think our family has just now started to ease into a living routine in our Mexican home.  We are no longer “adjusting”, so to speak.  We’ve either figured it out or acknowledged that some things are just too different (aka: difficult) and we just need to deal with that.  That “dealing” is sometimes harder than it sounds, especially when sometimes it seems like EVERYTHING we are adjusting to, dealing with – is all contradictions. Por ejemplo:

  • people here are awesome, just not when they are behind the wheel of a moving vehicle;
  • the food here is amazing, but surely that’s not the reason my jeans are getting tighter (no, no – it’s not all the extra carbs from the incredibly fresh tortillas we seem to be addicted to now… I’m sure the heat here is shrinking all my clothes….);
  • we love LOVE our Mexican kitties and they bring so much joy to our lives, but I apparently forgot why you can’t have plants AND cats;
  • Mexico might have some of the MOST beautiful places in the entire world to visit and see (see El Cielo Biosphere Reserve), but it is not safe to go there.

There’s more, but I think these four ejemplos get to my point rather well.  I realize life is full of contradictions but I’ve never fully felt – or lived them – before until I came and lived in Mexico, as these contradictions have a huge impact on our way of life (or, at least, how we are dealing with our way of life here).  I hope I’m not coming off as too whiny because I don’t mean to sound like I’m complaining – it’s just an interesting state of mind looking and dealing with the world around us through these contradictions.  I believe my view through these contradictions will then dictate how happy I am (and, as a mother I do feel many times the added pressure of working at that happiness, because if I’m unhappy, then most likely that unhappiness will translate and affect the rest of my family – and I’m sure many fellow mothers will agree with that statement and added pressure).

I can focus on the bad driving conditions and how hard it is to constantly make healthy eating habits here and how I am CONSTANTLY vacuuming up dirt and half-chewed leaves from two cats who apparently are always starving no matter how much food we give them.  And how we are so very excited to travel and see many of the beautiful sights while we are in Mexico – we just have to be careful where we go and how we get there.  And after 8 months of living here I have yet to see a single worm in the house so I’m starting to seriously think hubby fabricated his worm-encounter altogether.

After living here for ocho meses I would describe Mexico as one big, crazy, colorful, loud and friendly contradiction in and of itself.  Mexico will never change for me, no matter how hard I try and be a good driving example, or how much I change authentic Mex cuisine recipes to lighter, less caloric fare (by the way, don’t bother – it’s not worth it).  Its security issues aren’t going to improve just for the sake of our family’s travel wishes; and scolding my unblinking kitties yet again for digging in my plants is also a wasted effort.

My favorite idiom about contradictions and how we perceive them is the “glass half empty or half full” phrase.  Some days the glass is half full – some days half empty – it’s simply how you perceive it, right?

Well, living in Mexico for 8 months has taught me that on the “half empty days” – simply fill your glass with some tequila.